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Title: Shelburne Essays, Third Series
Author: More, Paul Elmer, 1864-1937
Language: English
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SHELBURNE ESSAYS

by

PAUL ELMER MORE

THIRD SERIES


[Greek: Tini chrê krinesthai ta mellonta kalôs krithêsesthai;
ar' ouk empeiriai te kai phronêsei kai logoi;]
                                        PLATO, _Republic_.



G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press
1905

Copyright, 1905
by
Paul Elmer More

The Knickerbocker Press, New York

       *       *       *       *       *

ADVERTISEMENT

    The last essay in this volume, though written several years
    ago, has never before been printed. For permission to reprint
    the other essays thanks are due to the publishers of the
    _Atlantic Monthly_, the _Independent_, and the New York
    _Evening Post_.

       *       *       *       *       *



CONTENTS


                                                          PAGE
  THE CORRESPONDENCE OF WILLIAM COWPER                       1
  WHITTIER THE POET                                         28
  THE CENTENARY OF SAINTE-BEUVE                             54
  THE SCOTCH NOVELS AND SCOTCH HISTORY                      82
  SWINBURNE                                                100
  CHRISTINA ROSSETTI                                       124
  WHY IS BROWNING POPULAR?                                 143
  A NOTE ON BYRON'S "DON JUAN"                             166
  LAURENCE STERNE                                          177
  J. HENRY SHORTHOUSE                                      213
  THE QUEST OF A CENTURY                                   244



SHELBURNE ESSAYS

THIRD SERIES



THE CORRESPONDENCE OF WILLIAM COWPER


If, as I sometimes think, a man's interest in letters is almost the
surest measure of his love for Letters in the larger sense of the word,
the busy schoolmaster of Olney ought to stand high in favour for the
labour he has bestowed on completing and rearranging the _Correspondence
of William Cowper_.[1] It may be that Mr. Wright's competence as an
editor still leaves something to be desired. Certainly, if I may speak
for my own taste, he has in one respect failed to profit by a golden
opportunity; it needed only to print the more intimate poems of Cowper
in their proper place among the letters to have produced a work doubly
interesting and perfectly unique. The correspondence itself would have
been shot through by a new light, and the poetry might have been
restored once more to its rightful seat in our affections. The fact is
that not many readers to-day can approach the verse of the eighteenth
century in a mood to enjoy or even to understand it. We have grown so
accustomed to over-emphasis in style and wasteful effusion in sentiment
that the clarity and self-restraint of that age repel us as ungenuine;
we are warned by a certain _frigus_ at the heart to seek our comfort
elsewhere. And just here was the chance for an enlightened editor. So
much of Cowper's poetry is the record of his own simple life and of the
little adventures that befell him in the valley of the Ouse, that it
would have lost its seeming artificiality and would have gained a fresh
appeal by association with the letters that relate the same events and
emotions. How, for example, the quiet grace of the fables (and good
fables are so rare in English!) would be brought back to us again if we
could read them side by side with the actual stories out of which they
grew. There is a whole charming natural history here of beast and bird
and insect and flower. The nightingale which Cowper heard on New Year's
Day sings in a letter as well as in the poem; and here, to name no
others, are the incidents of the serpent and the kittens, and of that
walk by the Ouse when the poet's dog Beau brought him the water lily.
Or, to turn to more serious things, how much the pathetic stanzas _To
Mary_ would gain in poignant realism if we came upon them immediately
after reading the letters in which Cowper lays bare his remorse for the
strain his malady had imposed upon her.

A still more striking example would be the lines written _On the Receipt
of My Mother's Picture_. By a literary tradition these are reckoned
among the most perfect examples of pathos in the language, and yet how
often to-day are they read with any deep emotion? I suspect no tears
have fallen on that page for many a long year.

  Oh that those lips had language! Life has passed
  With me but roughly since I heard thee last.
  Those lips are thine--thy own sweet smile I see,
  The same that oft in childhood solaced me;
  Voice only fails, else how distinct they say,
  "Grieve not, my child, chase all thy fears away!"

       *       *       *       *       *

  Short-lived possession! but the record fair,
  That memory keeps of all thy kindness there,
  Still outlives many a storm that has effaced
  A thousand other themes less deeply traced.
  Thy nightly visits to my chamber made,
  That thou mightst know me safe and warmly laid;
  Thy morning bounties as I left my home,
  The biscuit or confectionary plum:
  The fragrant waters on my cheeks bestowed
  By thy own hand, till fresh they shone and glowed:
  All this, and more enduring still than all,
  Thy constant flow of love, that knew no fall,--

do you not feel the expression here, the very balance of the rhymes,
to stand like a barrier between the poet's emotion and your own
susceptibility? And that _confectionary plum_--somehow the savour of
it has long ago evaporated. Even the closing lines--

  Me howling blasts drive devious, tempest-tost,
  Sails ripped, seams opening wide, and compass lost--

need some allowance to cover their artificial mode. And it is just this
allowance that association with the letters would afford; the mind would
pass without a shock from the simple recital in prose of Cowper's ruined
days to these phrases at once so metaphorical and so conventional, and
would find in them a new power to move the heart. Or compare with the
sentiment of the poem this paragraph from the letter to his cousin, Mrs.
Bodham--all of it a model of simple beauty:

    The world could not have furnished you with a present so
    acceptable to me, as the picture you have so kindly sent me.
    I received it the night before last, and viewed it with a
    trepidation of nerves and spirits somewhat akin to what I should
    have felt, had the dear original presented herself to my embraces.
    I kissed it and hung it where it is the last object that I see at
    night, and, of course, the first on which I open my eyes in the
    morning. She died when I completed my sixth year; yet I remember
    her well, and am an ocular witness of the great fidelity of the
    copy. I remember, too, a multitude of the maternal tendernesses
    which I received from her, and which have endeared her memory to
    me beyond expression.

To read together the whole of this letter and of the poem is something
more than a demonstration of what might be accomplished by a skilful
editor; it is a lesson, too, in that quality of restrained dignity, I
had almost said of self-respect, which we find it so difficult to
impress on our broken modern style.

Some day, no doubt, we shall have such an interwoven edition of Cowper's
prose and verse, to obtain which we would willingly sacrifice a full
third of the letters if this were necessary. Meanwhile, let us be
thankful for whatever fresh light our Olney editor has thrown on the
correspondence, and take the occasion to look a little more closely into
one of the strangest and most tragic of literary lives. William Cowper
was born at Great Berkhampstead in 1731. His father, who was rector of
the parish, belonged to a family of high connections, and his mother,
Anne Donne, was also of noble lineage, claiming descent through four
different lines from Henry III. The fact is of some importance, for the
son was very much the traditional gentleman, and showed the pride of
race both in his language and manners. He himself affected to think more
of his kinship to John Donne, of poetical memory, than of his other
forefathers, and, half in play, traced the irritability of his temper
and his verse-mongering back to that "venerable ancestor, the Dean of
St. Paul's."[2] It is fanciful, but one is tempted to lay upon the old
poet's meddling with coffins and ghastly thoughts some of the
responsibility for the younger man's nightly terrors. "That which we
call life is but _Hebdomada mortium_, a week of death, seven days, seven
periods of life spent in dying," preached Donne in his last sermon, and
an awful echo of the words might seem to have troubled his descendant's
nerves. But that is not yet. As a boy and young man Cowper appears to
have been high-spirited and natural. At Westminster School he passed
under the instruction of Vincent Bourne, so many of whose fables he was
to translate in after years, and who, with Milton and Prior, was most
influential in forming his poetical manner.

    I love the memory of Vinny Bourne [he wrote in one of his
    letters]. I think him a better Latin poet than Tibullus,
    Propertius, Ausonius, or any of the writers in his way, except
    Ovid.... He was so good-natured, and so indolent, that I lost more
    than I got by him; for he made me as idle as himself. He was such
    a sloven, as if he had trusted to his genius as a cloak for
    everything that could disgust you in his person.... I remember
    seeing the Duke of Richmond set fire to his greasy locks and box
    his ears to put it out again.

After leaving Westminster he spent a few months at Berkhampstead, and
then came to London under the pretext of studying law, living first
with an attorney in Southampton Row and afterwards taking chambers in
the Middle Temple. Life went merrily for a while. He was a fellow
student with Thurlow, and there he was, he "and the future Lord
Chancellor, constantly employed from morning to night in giggling and
making giggle, instead of studying the law. Oh, fie, cousin!" he adds,
"how could you do so?" This pretty "Oh fie!" introduces us to one who
was to be his best and dearest correspondent, his cousin Harriet Cowper,
afterwards Lady Hesketh, and who was to befriend him and cheer him in a
thousand ways. It may introduce us also to Harriet's sister, Theodora,
with whom Cowper, after the fashion of idle students, fell thoughtlessly
in love. He would have married her, too, bringing an incalculable
element into his writing which I do not like to contemplate; for it is
the way of poets to describe most ideally what fortune has denied them
in reality, and Cowper's task, we know, was to portray in prose and
verse the quiet charms of the family. But the lady's father, for reasons
very common in such cases, put an end to that danger. Cowper took the
separation easily enough, if we may judge from the letters of the
period; but to Theodora, one fancies, it meant a life of sad memories.
They never exchanged letters, but in after years, when Lady Hesketh
renewed correspondence with Cowper and brought him into connection with
his kinsfolk, Theodora, as "Anonymous," sent money and other gifts to
eke out his slender living. It is generally assumed that the recipient
never guessed the name of his retiring benefactress, but I prefer to
regard it rather as a part of his delicacy and taste to affect ignorance
where the donor did not wish to be revealed, and think that his
penetration of the secret added a kind of wistful regret to his
gratitude. "On Friday I received a letter from dear Anonymous," he
writes to Lady Hesketh, "apprising me of a parcel that the coach would
bring me on Saturday. Who is there in the world that has, or thinks he
has, reason to love me to the degree that he does? But it is no matter.
He chooses to be unknown, and his choice is, and ever shall be, so
sacred to me, that if his name lay on the table before me reversed, I
would not turn the paper about that I might read it. Much as it would
gratify me to thank him, I would turn my eyes away from the forbidden
discovery." Could there be a more tactful way of conveying his thanks
and insinuating his knowledge while respecting Theodora's reserve?

But all this was to come after the great change in Cowper's life. As
with Charles Lamb, a name one likes to link with his, the terrible
shadow of madness fell upon him one day, never wholly to rise. The story
of that calamity is too well known to need retelling in detail. A first
stroke seized him in his London days, but seems not to have been
serious. He recovered, and took up again the easy life that was in
retrospect to appear to him so criminally careless. In order to
establish him in the world, his cousin, Major Cowper, offered him the
office of Clerk of the Journals to the House of Lords. There was,
however, some dispute as to the validity of the donor's powers, and it
became necessary for Cowper to prove his competency at the bar of the
House. The result was pitiable. Anxiety and nervous dread completely
prostrated him. After trying futilely to take his own life, he was
placed by his family in a private asylum at St. Albans, where he
remained about a year and a half. His recovery took the form of
religious conversion and a rapturous belief in his eternal salvation.
Instead of returning to London, he went to live in the town of
Huntingdon, drawn thither both by the retirement of the place and its
nearness to Cambridge, where his brother John resided. Here he became
acquainted with the Unwins:

    ... the most agreeable people imaginable; quite sociable, and as
    free from the ceremonious civility of country gentlefolks as any I
    ever met with. They treat me more like a near relation than a
    stranger, and their house is always open to me. The old gentleman
    carries me to Cambridge in his chaise. He is a man of learning and
    good sense, and as simple as Parson Adams. His wife has a very
    uncommon understanding, has read much to excellent purpose, and is
    more polite than a duchess. The son, who belongs to Cambridge, is
    a most amiable young man, and the daughter quite of a piece with
    the rest of the family. They see but little company, which suits
    me exactly; go when I will, I find a house full of peace and
    cordiality in all its parts.

The intimacy ripened and Cowper was taken into the family almost as one
of its members. But trouble and change soon broke into this idyllic
home. Mr. Unwin was thrown from his horse and killed; the son was called
away to a charge; the daughter married. Meanwhile, Mrs. Unwin and Cowper
had gone to live at Olney, a dull town on the Ouse, where they might
enjoy the evangelical preaching of that reformed sea-captain and
slave-dealer, the Rev. John Newton.

The letters of this period are filled with a tremulous joy; it was as if
one of the timid animals he loved so well had found concealment in the
rocks and heard the baying of the hounds, thrown from the scent and far
off. "For my own part," he writes to Lady Hesketh, "who am but as a
Thames wherry, in a world full of tempest and commotion, I know so well
the value of the creek I have put into, and the snugness it affords me,
that I have a sensible sympathy with you in the pleasure you find in
being once more blown to Droxford." Books he has in abundance, and happy
country walks; friends that are more than friends to occupy his heart,
and quaint characters to engage his wit. He finds an image of his days
in Rousseau's description of an English morning, and his evenings differ
from them in nothing except that they are still more snug and quieter.
His talk is of the mercies and deliverance of God; he is eager to
convert the little world of his correspondents to his own exultant
peace; and, it must be confessed, only the charm and breeding of his
language save a number of these letters from the wearisomeness of
misplaced preaching.

Cowper removed with Mrs. Unwin to Olney in 1767. Six years later came
the miraculous event which changed the whole tenor of his life and which
gave the unique character to all the letters he was to write thereafter.
He was seized one night with a frantic despondency, and again for a year
and a half, during all which time Mr. Newton cared for him as for a
brother, suffered acute melancholia. He recovered his sanity in ordinary
matters, but the spring of joy and peace had been dried up within him.
Thenceforth he never, save for brief intervals, could shake off the
conviction that he had been abandoned by God--rather that for some
inscrutable reason God had deliberately singled him out as a victim of
omnipotent wrath and eternal damnation. No doubt there was some physical
origin, some lesion of the nerves, at the bottom of this disease, but
the peculiar form of his mania and its virulence can be traced to causes
quite within the range of literary explanation. He was a scapegoat of
his age; he accepted with perfect faith what other men talked about, and
it darkened his reason. Those were the days when a sharp and unwholesome
opposition had arisen between the compromise of the Church with worldly
forms and the evangelical absolutism of Wesley and Whitefield and John
Newton. Cowper himself, on emerging from his melancholia at St. Albans,
had adopted the extreme Calvinistic tenets in regard to the divine
omnipotence. Man was but a toy in the hands of an arbitrary Providence;
conversion was first a recognition of the utter nullity of the human
will; and there was no true religion, no salvation, until Grace had
descended freely like a fire from heaven and devoured this offering of a
man's soul. To understand Cowper's faith one should read his letter of
March 31, 1770, in which he relates the death-bed conversion of his
brother at Cambridge. Now John was a clergyman in good standing, a man
apparently of blameless life and Christian faith, yet to himself and to
William he was without hope until the miracle of regeneration had been
wrought upon him. After reading Cowper's letter one should turn to
Jonathan Edwards's treatise on _The Freedom of the Will_, and follow the
inexorable logic by which the New England divine proves that God must be
the source of all good and evil, of this man's salvation and that man's
loss: "If once it should be allowed that things may come to pass without
a Cause, we should not only have no proof of the Being of God, but we
should be without evidence of anything whatsoever but our own
immediately present ideas and consciousness. For we have no way to prove
anything else but by arguing from effects to causes." Yet the
responsibility of a man abides through all his helplessness: "The Case
of such as are given up of God to Sin and of fallen Man in general,
proves moral Necessity and Inability to be consistent with
blameworthiness." Good Dr. Holmes has said somewhere in his jaunty way
that it was only decent for a man who believed in this doctrine to go
mad. Well, Cowper believed in it; there was no insulating pad of worldly
indifference between his faith and his nerves, and he went mad.

And he was in another way the victim of his age. We have heard him
comparing his days at Huntingdon with _Rousseau's description of an
English morning_. Unfortunately, the malady also which came into the
world with Rousseau, the morbid exaggeration of personal consciousness,
had laid hold of Cowper. Even when suffering from the earlier stroke he
had written these words to his cousin: "I am of a very singular temper,
and very unlike all the men that I have ever conversed with"; and this
sense of his singularity follows him through life. During the Huntingdon
days it takes the form of a magnified confidence that Heaven is
peculiarly concerned in his rescue from the fires of affliction; after
the overthrow at Olney it is reversed, and fills him with the certainty
that God has marked him out among all mankind for the special display of
vengeance:

  This all-too humble soul would arrogate
  Unto itself some signalising hate
  From the supreme indifference of Fate!

Writing to his mentor, John Newton (who had left Olney), he declares
that there is a mystery in his destruction; and again to Lady Hesketh:
"Mine has been a life of wonders for many years, and a life of wonders I
in my heart believe it will be to the end." More than once in reply to
those who would console him he avers that there is a singularity in his
case which marks it off from that of all other men, that Providence has
chosen him as a special object of its hostility. In Rousseau, whose
mission was to preach the essential goodness of mankind, the union of
aggravated egotism with his humanitarian doctrine brought about the
conviction that the whole human race was plotting his ruin. In Cowper,
whose mind dwelt on the power and mercies of Providence, this
self-consciousness united with his Calvinism to produce the belief that
God had determined to ensnare and destroy his soul. Such was the strange
twist that accompanied the birth of romanticism in France and in
England.

The conviction came upon Cowper through the agency of dreams and
imaginary voices. The depression first seized him on the 24th of
January, 1773. About a month later a vision of the night troubled his
sleep, so distinct and terrible that the effect on his brain could never
be wholly dispelled. Years afterwards he wrote to a friend:

    My thoughts are clad in a sober livery, for the most part as grave
    as that of a bishop's servants. They turn upon spiritual subjects;
    but the tallest fellow and the loudest among them all is he who
    is continually crying with a loud voice, _Actum est de te;
    periisti!_ You wish for more attention, I for less. Dissipation
    [distraction] itself would be welcome to me, so it were not a
    vicious one; but however earnestly invited, is coy, and keeps at a
    distance. Yet with all this distressing gloom upon my mind, I
    experience, as you do, the slipperiness of the present hour, and
    the rapidity with which time escapes me. Every thing around us,
    and every thing that befalls us, constitutes a variety, which,
    whether agreeable or otherwise, has still a thievish propensity,
    and steals from us days, months, and years, with such unparalleled
    address, that even while we say they are here, they are gone.

That apparently was the sentence which sounded his doom on the night of
dreams: _Actum est de te; periisti_--it is done with thee, thou hast
perished! and no domestic happiness, or worldly success, or wise counsel
could ever, save for a little while, lull him to forgetfulness. He might
have said to his friends, as Socrates replied to one who came to offer
him deliverance from jail: "Such words I seem to hear, as the mystic
worshippers seem to hear the piping of flutes; and the sound of this
voice so murmurs in my ears that I can hear no other."

But it must not be supposed from all this that Cowper's letters are
morbid in tone or filled with the dejection of melancholia. Their merit,
on the contrary, lies primarily in their dignity and restraint, in a
certain high-bred ease, which is equally manifest in the language and
the thought. Curiously enough, after the fatal visitation religion
becomes entirely subordinate in his correspondence, and only at rare
intervals does he allude to his peculiar experience. He writes for the
most part like a man of the world who has seen the fashions of life and
has sought refuge from their vanity. If I were seeking for a comparison
to relieve the quality of these Olney letters (and it is these that form
the real charm of Cowper's correspondence), I would turn to Charles
Lamb. The fact that both men wrote under the shadow of insanity brings
them together immediately, and there are other points of resemblance.
Both are notable among English letter-writers for the exquisite grace of
their language, but if I had to choose between the two the one whose
style possessed the most enduring charm, a charm that appealed to the
heart most equally at all seasons and left the reader always in that
state of quiet satisfaction which is the office of the purest taste, I
should name Cowper. The wit is keener in Lamb and above all more artful;
there is a certain petulance of humour in him which surprises us oftener
into laughter, the pathos at times is more poignant; but the effort to
be entertaining is also more apparent, and the continual holding up of
the mind by the unexpected word or phrase becomes a little wearisome in
the end. The attraction of Cowper's style is in the perfect balance of
the members, an art which has become almost lost since the eighteenth
century, and in the spirit of repose which awakens in the reader such a
feeling of easy elevation as remains for a while after the book is laid
down. Lamb is of the city, Cowper of the fields. Both were admirers of
Vincent Bourne; Lamb chose naturally for translation the poems of city
life--_The Ballad Singers_, _The Rival Bells_, the _Epitaph on a Dog_:

  Poor Irus' faithful wolf-dog here I lie,
  That wont to tend my old blind master's steps,
  His guide and guard; nor, while my service lasted,
  Had he occasion for that staff, with which
  He now goes picking out his path in fear
  Over the highways and crossings, but would plant
  Safe in the conduct of my friendly string,
  A firm foot forward still, till he had reached
  His poor seat on some stone, nigh where the tide
  Of passers-by in thickest confluence flowed:
  To whom with loud and passionate laments
  From morn to eve his dark estate he wailed.

Cowper just as inevitably selected the fables and country-pieces--_The
Glowworm_, _The Jackdaw_, _The Cricket:_

  Little inmate, full of mirth,
  Chirping on my kitchen hearth,
  Wheresoe'er be thine abode,
  Always harbinger of good,
  Pay me for thy warm retreat,
  With a song more soft and sweet;
  In return thou shalt receive
  Such a strain as I can give.

       *       *       *       *       *

  Though in voice and shape they be
  Formed as if akin to thee,
  Thou surpassest, happier far,
  Happiest grasshoppers that are;
  Theirs is but a summer song,
  Thine endures the winter long,
  Unimpaired, and shrill, and clear,
  Melody throughout the year.

  Neither night nor dawn of day
  Puts a period to thy play:
  Sing, then--and extend thy span
  Far beyond the date of man;
  Wretched man, whose years are spent
  In repining discontent,
  Lives not, agèd though he be,
  Half a span, compared with thee.

There is in the blind beggar something of the quality of Lamb's own
life, with its inherent loneliness imposed by an ever-present grief in
the midst of London's noisy streets; and in the verses to the cricket it
is scarcely fanciful to find an image of Cowper's "domestic life in
rural leisure passed." Lamb was twenty-five when Cowper died, in the
year 1800. One is tempted to continue in the language of fable and ask
what would have happened had the city mouse allured the country mouse to
visit his chambers in Holborn or Southampton buildings. To be sure there
was no luxury of purple robe and mighty feast in that abode; but I think
the revelry and the wit, and that hound of intemperance which always
pursued poor Lamb, would have frightened his guest back to his
hiding-place in the wilderness:

                        ... me silva cavusque
  Tutus ab insidiis tenui solabitur ervo!

Cowper, in fact, was the first writer to introduce that intimate union
of the home affections with the love of country which, in the works of
Miss Austen and a host of others, was to become one of the unique charms
and consolations of English literature. And the element of austere gloom
in his character, rarely exposed, but always, we know, in the
background, is what most of all relieves his letters from insipidity.
Lamb strove deliberately by a kind of crackling mirth to drown the sound
of the grave inner voice; Cowper listened reverently to its admonitions,
even to its threatenings; he spoke little of what he heard, but it
tempered his wit and the snug comfort of his life with that profounder
consciousness of what, disguise it as we will, lies at the bottom of the
world's experience. We call him mad because he believed himself
abandoned of God, and shuddered with remorseless conviction. Put aside
for a moment the language of the market place, and be honest with
ourselves: is there not a little of our fate, of the fate of mankind, in
Cowper's desolation? After all, was his melancholy radically different
from the state of that great Frenchman, a lover of his letters withal,
Sainte-Beuve, who dared not for a day rest from benumbing labour lest
the questionings of his own heart should make themselves heard, and who
wrote to a friend that no consolation could reach that settled sadness
which was rooted in _la grande absence de Dieu?_

It is not strange that the society from which Cowper fled should have
seemed to him whimsical and a little mad. "A line of Bourne's," he says,
"is very expressive of the spectacle which this world exhibits,
tragi-comical as the incidents of it are, absurd in themselves, but
terrible in their consequences:

  Sunt res humanæ flebile ludibrium."

Nor is it strange that he wondered sometimes at the gayety of his own
letters: "It is as if Harlequin should intrude himself into the gloomy
chamber, where a corpse is deposited in state. His antic gesticulations
would be unseasonable, at any rate, but more especially so if they
should distort the features of the mournful attendants into laughter."
But it is not the humour of the letters that attracts us so much as
their picture of quiet home delights in the midst of a stormy world. We
linger most over the account of those still evenings by the fireside,
while Mrs. Unwin, and perhaps their friend Lady Austen, was busy with
her needles--

  Thy needles, once a shining store,
  For my sake restless heretofore,
  Now rust disused, and shine no more,
                          My Mary!--

and while Cowper read aloud from some book of travels and mingled his
comments with the story of the wanderer:

    My imagination is so captivated upon these occasions that I seem
    to partake with the navigators in all the dangers they
    encountered. I lose my anchor; my mainsail is rent into shreds; I
    kill a shark, and by signs converse with a Patagonian, and all
    this without moving from the fireside.

And here I cannot but regret again that we have not an edition of these
letters interspersed with the passages of _The Task_, which describe the
same scenes. I confess that two-thirds at least of that poem is indeed a
task to-day. The long tirades against vice, and the equally long
preaching of virtue, all in blank verse, lack, to my ear, the vivacity
and the sustaining power of the earlier rhymed poems, such as _Hope_
(that superb moralising on the poet's own life) and _Retirement_, to
name the best of the series. But the fourth book of _The Task_, and,
indeed, all the exquisite genre pictures of the poem:

  Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
  Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
  And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
  Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
  That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
  So let us welcome peaceful evening in--

all this intimate correspondence with the world in verse is not only
interesting in itself, but gains a double charm by association with the
letters. "We were just sitting down to supper," writes Cowper to Mrs.
Unwin's son, "when a hasty rap alarmed us. I ran to the hall window, for
the hares being loose, it was impossible to open the door." It is
fortunate for the reader if his memory at these words calls up those
lines of _The Task_:

                    One sheltered hare
  Has never heard the sanguinary yell
  Of cruel man, exulting in her woes.
  Innocent partner of my peaceful home,
  Whom ten long years' experience of my care
  Has made at last familiar; she has lost
  Much of her vigilant instinctive dread,
  Not needful here beneath a roof like mine.
  Yes--thou mayst eat thy bread, and lick the hand
  That feeds thee; _thou mayst frolic on the floor
  At evening_, and at night retire secure
  To thy straw couch, and slumber unalarmed;
  For I have gained thy confidence, have pledged
  All that is human in me, to protect
  Thine unsuspecting gratitude and love.
  If I survive thee, I will dig thy grave;
  And when I place thee in it, sighing say,
  I knew at least one hare that had a friend.

How much of the letters could be illustrated in this way--the walks
about Olney, the gardening, the greenhouse, the lamentations over the
American Rebellion, the tirades against fickle fashions, and a thousand
other matters that go to make up their quiet yet variegated substance.
For it must not be supposed that Cowper, in these Olney days at least,
was ever dull. I will quote the opening paragraph of one other
letter--to his friend the Rev. William Bull, great preacher of Newport
Pagnell, and, alas! great smoker,[3] "smoke-inhaling Bull," "Dear
Taureau"--as a change from the more serious theme, and then pass on:

    _Mon aimable et très cher Ami_--It is not in the power of chaises
    or chariots to carry you where my affections will not follow you;
    if I heard that you were gone to finish your days in the Moon, I
    should not love you the less; but should contemplate the place of
    your abode, as often as it appeared in the heavens, and
    say--Farewell, my friend, forever! Lost, but not forgotten! Live
    happy in thy lantern, and smoke the remainder of thy pipes in
    peace! Thou art rid of Earth, at least of all its cares, and so
    far can I rejoice in thy removal.

Might not that have been written by Lamb to one of his cronies--by a
Lamb still of the eighteenth century?

But the Olney days must come to a close. After nineteen years of
residence there Cowper and his companion (was ever love like theirs,
that was yet not love!) were induced to move to Weston Lodge, a more
convenient house in the village of Weston Underwood, not far away.
Somehow, with the change, the letters lose the freshness of their
peculiar interest. We shall never again find him writing of his home as
he had written before of Olney:

    The world is before me; I am not shut up in the Bastille; there
    are no moats about my castle, _no locks upon my gates of which I
    have not the key_; but an invisible, uncontrollable agency, a
    local attachment, an inclination more forcible than I ever felt,
    even to the place of my birth, serves me for prison-walls, and for
    bounds which I cannot pass.... The very stones in the garden-walls
    are my intimate acquaintance. I should miss almost the minutest
    object, and be disagreeably affected by its removal, and am
    persuaded that, were it possible I could leave this incommodious
    nook for a twelvemonth, I should return to it again with rapture,
    and be transported with the sight of objects which to all the
    world beside would be at least indifferent; some of them perhaps,
    such as the ragged thatch and the tottering walls of the
    neighbouring cottages, disgusting. But so it is, and it is so,
    because here is to be my abode, and because such is the
    appointment of Him that placed me in it.

Often while reading the letters from Weston one wishes he had never
turned the key in the lock of that beloved enclosure. Fame had come to
him now. His correspondence is distributed among more people; he is
neither quite of the world, nor of the cloister. Above all, he is
busy--endlessly, wearisomely busy--with his translation of Homer. I have
often wondered what the result would have been had his good friends and
neighbours the Throckmortons converted him from his rigid Calvinism to
their own milder Catholic faith, and set him in spiritual comfort to
writing another _Task_. Idle conjecture! For the rest of his life he
toiled resolutely at a translation which the world did not want and
which brought its own tedium into his letters. And then comes the
pitiful collapse of Mrs. Unwin, broken at last by the long vigil over
her sick companion:

  The twentieth year is well-nigh past,
  Since first our sky was overcast;
  Ah would that this might be the last!
                            My Mary!

  Thy spirits have a fainter flow,
  I see thee daily weaker grow--
  'T was my distress that brought thee low,
                            My Mary!

The end is tragic, terrible. In 1794, Cowper sank into a state of
melancholia, in which for hours he would walk backward and forward in
his study like a caged tiger. Mrs. Unwin was dying. At last a cousin,
the Rev. John Johnson, took charge of the invalids and carried them away
into Norfolk. The last few letters, written in Cowper's ever-dwindling
moments of sanity, are without a parallel in English. The contrast of
the wild images with the stately and restrained language leaves an
impression of awe, almost of fear, on the mind. "My thoughts," he writes
to Lady Hesketh, "are like loose and dry sand, which the closer it is
grasped slips the sooner away"; and again to the same faithful friend
from Mundesley on the coast:

    The cliff is here of a height that it is terrible to look down
    from; and yesterday evening, by moonlight, I passed sometimes
    within a foot of the edge of it, from which to have fallen would
    probably have been to be dashed in pieces. But though to have been
    dashed in pieces would perhaps have been best for me, I shrunk
    from the precipice, and am waiting to be dashed in pieces by other
    means. At two miles distance on the coast is a solitary pillar of
    rock, that the crumbling cliff has left at the high-water mark. I
    have visited it twice, and have found it an emblem of myself. Torn
    from my natural connections, I stand alone and expect the storm
    that shall displace me.

There is in this that sheer physical horror which it is not good to
write or to read. Somewhere in his earlier letters he quotes the
well-known line of Horace: "We and all ours are but a debt to death."
How the commonplace words come back with frightfully intensified meaning
as we read this story of decay! It is not good, I say, to see the
nakedness of human fate so ruthlessly revealed. The mind reverts
instinctively from this scene to the homely life at Olney. Might it not
be that if Cowper had remained in that spot where the very stones of the
garden walls were endeared to him, if he had never been torn from his
natural connections--might it not be that he would have passed from the
world in the end saddened but not frenzied by his dreams? At least in
our thoughts let us leave him, not standing alone on the crumbling cliff
over a hungry sea, but walking with his sympathetic companion arm in arm
in the peaceful valley of the Ouse.



WHITTIER THE POET


Last month we took the new edition of Cowper's Letters as an occasion to
consider the life of the poet, who brought the quiet affections of the
home into English literature, and that may be our excuse for waiving the
immediate pressure of the book-market and turning to the American poet
whose inspiration springs largely from the same source. Different as the
two writers are in so many respects, different above all in their
education and surroundings, yet it would not be difficult to find points
of resemblance to justify such a sequence. In both the spirit of
religion was bound up with the cult of seclusion; to both the home was a
refuge from the world; to both this comfort was sweetened by the care of
a beloved companion, though neither of them ever married. But, after
all, no apology is needed, I trust, for writing about a poet who is very
dear to me as to many others, and who has suffered more than most at the
hands of his biographers and critics.

It should seem that no one could go through Whittier's poems even
casually without remarking the peculiar beauty of the idyl called _The
Pennsylvania Pilgrim_. It is one of the longest and, all things
considered, quite the most characteristic of his works. Yet Mr. Pickard
in his official biography brings the poem into no relief; Professor
Carpenter names it in passing without a word of comment; and Colonel
Higginson in his volume in the English Men of Letters Series does not
mention it at all--but then he has a habit of omitting the essential.
Among those who have written critically of American literature the poem
is not even named, so far as I am aware, by Mr. Stedman or by Professors
Richardson, Lawton, Wendell, and Trent. I confess that this conspiracy
of silence, as I hunted through one historian and critic after another,
grew disconcerting, and I began to distrust my own judgment until I
chanced upon a confirmation in two passages of Whittier's letters.
Writing of _The Pennsylvania Pilgrim_ to his publisher in May, 1872, he
said: "I think honestly it is as good as (if not better than) any long
poem I have written"; and a little later to Celia Thaxter: "It is as
long as _Snow-Bound_, and better, but nobody will find it out." One
suspects that all these gentlemen in treating of Whittier have merely
followed the line of least resistance, without taking much care to form
an independent opinion; and the line of least resistance has a miserable
trick of leading us astray. In the first place, Whittier's share in the
Abolition and other reforming movements bulks so large in the
historians' eyes that sometimes they seem almost to forget Whittier the
poet. And the critics have taken the same cue. "Whittier," says one of
them, "will be remembered even more as the trumpet-voice of Emancipation
than as the peaceful singer of rural New England."

The error, if it may be said with reverence, can be traced even higher,
and in Whittier we meet only one more witness to the unconcern of Nature
over the marring of her finer products. The wonder is not that he turned
out so much that is faulty, but that now and then he attained such
exquisite grace. Whittier was born, December 17, 1807, in East
Haverhill, in the old homestead which still stands, a museum now, hidden
among the hills from any other human habitation. It is a country not
without quiet charm, though the familiar lines of _Snow-Bound_ make us
think of it first as beaten by storm and locked in by frost. And,
notwithstanding the solace of an affectionate home, life on the farm was
unnecessarily hard. The habits of the grim pioneers had persisted and
weighed heavily on their dwindled descendants. Thus the Whittiers, who
used to drive regularly to the Quaker meeting at Amesbury, eight miles
distant, are said to have taken no pains to protect themselves from the
bleakest weather. The poet suffered in body all his life from the rigour
of this discipline; nor did he suffer less from insufficiency of mental
training. Not only was the family poor, but it even appears that the
sober tradition of his people looked askance at the limited means of
education at hand. Only at the earnest solicitation of outsiders was the
boy allowed to attend the academy at Haverhill. Meanwhile, he was a
little of everything: farm worker, shoemaker, teacher--he seems to have
shifted about as chance or necessity directed. There were few--he has
told us how few--books in the house, and little time for reading those
he could borrow. But if he read little, he wrote prodigiously. The story
of his first printed poem in the _Free Press_ of Newburyport and of the
encouragement given him by the far-sighted editor, William Lloyd
Garrison, is one of the best known and most picturesque incidents in
American letters. The young poet--he was then nineteen--was launched;
from that time he became an assiduous writer for the press, and was at
intervals editor of various country or propagandist newspapers.

The great currents of literary tradition reached him vaguely from afar
and troubled his dreams. Burns fell early into his hands, and the
ambition was soon formed of transferring the braes and byres of Scotland
to the hills and folds of New England. The rhythms of Thomas Moore rang
seductively in his ears. Byron, too, by a spirit of contrast, appealed
to the Quaker lad, and one may read in Mr. Pickard's capital little
book, _Whittier-Land_, verses and fragments of letters which show how
deeply that poison of the age had bitten into his heart. But the
influence of those sons of fire was more than counteracted by the gentle
spirit of Mrs. Hemans--indeed, the worst to be said of Whittier is that
never, to the day of his death, did he quite throw off allegiance to
the facile and innocent muse of that lady. It is only right to add that
in his later years, especially in the calm that followed the civil war,
he became a pretty widely read man, a man of far more culture than he is
commonly supposed to have been.

Such was the boy, then--thirsting for fame, scantily educated, totally
without critical guidance or environment, looking this way and that--who
was thrust under the two dominant influences of his time and place. To
one of these, transcendentalism, we owe nearly all that is highest, and
unfortunately much also that is most inchoate, in New England
literature. Its spirit of complacent self-dependence was dangerous at
the best, although in Whittier I cannot see that it did more than
confirm his habit of uncritical prolixity; it could offer no spiritual
seduction to one who held liberally the easy doctrine of the Friends.
But to the other influence he fell a natural prey. The whole tradition
of the Quakers--the memory of Pastorius, whom he was to sing as the
Pennsylvania Pilgrim; the inheritance of saintly John Woolman, whose
Journal he was to edit--prepared him to take part in the great battle of
the Abolitionists. From that memorable hour when he met Garrison face to
face on his Haverhill farm to the ending of the war in 1865, he was no
longer free to develop intellectually, but was a servant of reform and
politics. I am not, of course, criticising that movement or its
achievement; I regret only that one whose temper and genius called for
fostering in quiet fields should have been dragged into that stormy
arena. As he says in lines that are true if not elegant:

  Hater of din and riot,
  He lived in days unquiet;
  And, lover of all beauty,
  Trod the hard ways of duty.

It is not merely that political interests absorbed the energy which
would otherwise have gone to letters; the knowledge of life acquired
might have compensated and more than compensated for less writing, and,
indeed, he wrote too much as it was. The difficulty is rather that "the
pledged philanthropy of earth" somehow militates against art, as
Whittier himself felt. Not only the poems actually written to forward
the propaganda are for the most part dismal reading, but something of
their tone has crept into other poems, with an effect to-day not far
from cant. Twice the cry of the liberator in Whittier rose to noble
writing. But in both cases it is not the mere pleading of reform but a
very human and personal indignation that speaks. In _Massachusetts to
Virginia_ this feeling of outrage calls forth one of the most stirring
pieces of personification ever written, nor can I imagine a day when a
man of Massachusetts shall be able to read it without a tingling of the
blood, or a Virginian born hear it without a sense of unacknowledged
shame; in _Ichabod_ he uttered a word of individual scorn that will rise
up for quotation whenever any strong leader misuses, or is thought to
misuse, his powers. Every one knows the lines in which Webster is
pilloried for his defection:

  Of all we loved and honoured, naught
    Save power remains;
  A fallen angel's pride of thought,
    Still strong in chains.

  All else is gone; from those great eyes
    The soul has fled;
  When faith is lost, when honour dies,
    The man is dead!

  Then pay the reverence of old days
    To his dead fame;
  Walk backward, with averted gaze,
    And hide the shame!

It is instructive that only when his note is thus pierced by individual
emotion does the reformer attain to universality of appeal.
Unfortunately most of Whittier's slave songs sink down to a dreary
level--down to the almost humorous pathos of the lines suggested by
_Uncle Tom's Cabin_:

  Dry the tears for holy Eva,
  With the blessed angels leave her....

What he needed above everything else, what his surroundings were least
of all able to give him, was a canon of taste, which would have driven
him to stiffen his work, to purge away the flaccid and set the genuinely
poetical in stronger relief--a purely literary canon which would have
offset the moralist and reformer in him, and made it impossible for him
(and his essays show that the critical vein was not absent by nature) to
write of Longfellow's _Psalm of Life_: "These nine simple verses are
worth more than all the dreams of Shelley, and Keats, and Wordsworth.
They are alive and vigorous with the spirit of the day in which we
live--the moral steam enginery of an age of action." While Tennyson and
Matthew Arnold were writing in England, the earlier tradition had not
entirely died out in America that the first proof of genius is an
abandonment of one's mind to temperament and "inspiration." Byron had
written verse as vacillating and formless as any of Whittier's; Shelley
had poured forth page after page of effusive vapourings; Keats learned
the lesson of self-restraint almost too late; Wordsworth indulged in
platitudes as simpering as "holy Eva"; but none of these poets suffered
so deplorably from the lack of criticism as the finest of our New
England spirits. The very magnificence of their rebellion, the depth and
originality of their emotion, were a compensation for their licence,
were perhaps inevitably involved in it. The humbler theme of Whittier's
muse can offer no such apology; he who sings the commonplace joys and
cares of the heart needs above all to attain that _simplex munditiis_
which is the last refinement of taste; lacking that, he becomes himself
commonplace. And Whittier knew this. In the Proem to the first general
collection of his poems, he wrote:

      Of mystic beauty, dreamy grace,
  No rounded art the lack supplies;
      Unskilled the subtle line to trace,
      Or softer shades of Nature's face,
  I view her common forms with unanointed eyes.

      Nor mine the seer-like power to show
  The secrets of the heart and mind;
      _To drop the plummet line below
      Our common world of joy and woe,
  A more intense despair or brighter hope to find._

But at this point we must part company with his confession. His reward
is not that he showed "a hate of tyranny intense" or laid his gifts on
the shrine of Freedom, but that more completely than any other poet he
developed the peculiarly English _ideal of the home_ which Cowper first
brought intimately into letters, and added to it those _homely comforts
of the spirit_ which Cowper never felt. With Longfellow he was destined
to throw the glamour of the imagination over "our common world of joy
and woe."

Perhaps something in his American surroundings fitted him peculiarly for
this humbler rôle. The fact that the men who had made the new colony
belonged to the middle class of society tended to raise the idea of
home into undisputed honour, and the isolation and perils of their
situation in the earlier years had enhanced this feeling into something
akin to a cult. America is still the land of homes. That may be a lowly
theme for a poet; to admire such poetry may, indeed it does, seem to
many to smack of a bourgeois taste. And yet there is an implication here
that carries a grave injustice. For myself, I admit that Whittier is one
of the authors of my choice, and that I read him with ever fresh
delight; I even think there must be something spurious in that man's
culture whose appreciation of Milton or Shelley dulls his ear to the
paler but very refined charm of Whittier. If truth be told, there is
sometimes a kind of exquisite content in turning from the pretentious
poets who exact so much of the reader to the more immediate appeal of
our sweet Quaker. In comparison with those more exalted muses his nymph
is like the nut-brown lass of the old song--

  But when we come where comfort is,
    She never will say No.

And often, after fatiguing the brain with the searchings and inquisitive
flight of the Masters, we are ready to say with Whittier:

  I break my pilgrim staff, I lay
    Aside the toiling oar;
  The angel sought so far away
    I welcome at my door.

There, to me at least, and not in the ballads which are more generally
praised, lies the rare excellence of Whittier. True enough, some of
these narrative poems are spirited and admirably composed. Now and then,
as in _Cassandra Southwick_, they strike a note which reminds one
singularly of the real ballads of the people; in fact, it would not be
fanciful to discover a certain resemblance between the manner of their
production and of the old popular songs. Their publication in obscure
newspapers, from which they were copied and gradually sent the rounds of
the country, is not essentially different from the way in which many of
the ballads were probably spread abroad. The very atmosphere that
surrounded the boy in a land where the traditions of border warfare and
miraculous events still ran from mouth to mouth prepared him for such
balladry. Take, for example, this account of his youth from the
Introduction to _Snow-Bound_:

    Under such circumstances story-telling was a necessary resource in
    the long winter evenings. My father when a young man had traversed
    the wilderness to Canada, and could tell us of his adventures with
    Indians and wild beasts, and of his sojourn in the French
    villages. My uncle was ready with his record of hunting and
    fishing, and, it must be confessed, with stories, which he at
    least half-believed, of witchcraft and apparitions. My mother, who
    was born in the Indian-haunted region of Somersworth, New
    Hampshire, between Dover and Portsmouth, told us of the inroads
    of the savages, and the narrow escape of her ancestors.

No doubt this legendary training helped to give more life to Whittier's
ballads and border tales than ordinarily enters into that rather
factitious form of composition; and for a while he made a deliberate
attempt to create out of it a native literature. But the effect was
still deeper, by a kind of contrast, on his poetry of the home. After
several incursions into the world as editor and agitator, he was
compelled by ill health to settle down finally in the Amesbury house,
which he had bought in 1836; and there with little interruption he lived
from his thirty-third to his eighty-fifth year, the year of his death.
In _Snow-Bound_ his memory called up a picture of the old Haverhill
homestead, unsurpassed in its kind for sincerity and picturesqueness; in
poem after poem he celebrated directly or indirectly "the river hemmed
with leaning trees," the hills and ponds, the very roads and bridges of
the land about these sheltered towns. On the one hand, the recollection
of the wilder life through which his parents had come added to the
snugness and intimacy of these peaceful scenes, and, on the other hand,
the encroachment of trade and factories into their midst lent a
poignancy of regret for a grace that was passing away. Mr. Pickard's
little guide-book, to which I have already referred, brings together
happily the innumerable allusions of local interest; there is no spot in
America, not even Concord, where the light of fancy lies so
entrancingly:

  A tender glow, exceeding fair,
  A dream of day without its glare.

For it must be seen that the crudeness of Whittier's education, and the
thorny ways into which he was drawn, marred a large part, but by no
means all, of his work. There are a few poems in his collection of an
admirable craftsmanship in that genre which is none the less
difficult--which I sometimes think is almost more difficult--because it
lies so perilously near the trivial and mean. There are others which
need only a little pruning, perhaps a little heightening here and there,
to approach the same perfection of charm. Especially they have that
harmony of tone which arises from the unspoiled sincerity of the writer
and ends by subduing the reader to a restful sympathy with their mood.
No one can read much in Whittier without feeling that these hills and
valleys about the Merrimac have become one of the inalienable domiciles
of the spirit--a familiar place where the imagination dwells with
untroubled delight. Even the little things, the flowers and birds of the
country, are made to contribute to the sense of homely content. There is
one poem in particular which has always seemed to me significant of
Whittier's manner, and a comparison of it with the famous flower poems
of Wordsworth will show the difference between what I call the poetry
of the hearth and the poetry of intimate nature. It was written to
celebrate a gift of _Pressed Gentian_ that hung at the poet's window,
presenting to wayside travellers only a "grey disk of clouded glass":

  They cannot from their outlook see
  The perfect grace it hath for me;
  For there the flower, whose fringes through
  The frosty breath of autumn blew,
  Turns from without its face of bloom
  To the warm tropic of my room,
  As fair as when beside its brook
  The hue of bending skies it took.

  So from the trodden ways of earth
  Seem some sweet souls who veil their worth,
  And offer to the careless glance
  The clouding grey of circumstance....

There is not a little of self-portraiture in this image of the flower,
and it may be that some who have written of Whittier patronisingly are
like the hasty passer-by--they see only the _grey disk of clouded
glass_.

And the emotion that furnishes the loudest note to most poets is subdued
in Whittier to the same gentle tone. To be sure, there is evidence
enough that his heart in youth was touched almost to a Byronic
melancholy, and he himself somewhere remarks that "Few guessed beneath
his aspect grave, What passions strove in chains." But was there not a
remnant of self-deception here? Do not the calmest and wisest of us
like to believe we are calm and wise by virtue of vigorous
self-repression? Wordsworth, we remember, explained the absence of love
from his poetry on the ground that his passions were too violent to
allow any safe expression of them. Possibly they were. Certainly, in
Whittier's verse we have no reflection of those tropic heats, but only
"the Indian summer of the heart." The very title, _Memories_, of his
best-known love poem (based on a real experience, the details of which
have recently been revealed) suggests the mood in which he approaches
this subject. It is not the quest of desire he sings, but the
home-coming after the frustrate search and the dreaming recollection by
the hearth of an ancient loss. In the same way, his ballad _Maud
Muller_, which is supposed to appeal only to the unsophisticated, is
attuned to that shamelessly provincial rhyme,

  For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
  The saddest are these: "It might have been!"

It is a little so with us all, perhaps, as it was with the judge and the
maiden; only, as we learn the lesson of years, the disillusion is likely
to be mingled strangely with relief, and the sadness to take on a most
comfortable and flattering Quaker drab--as it did with our "hermit of
Amesbury."

If love was a memory, religion was for Whittier a hope and an
ever-present consolation--peculiarly a consolation, because he brought
into it the same thought of home-coming that marks his treatment of
nature and the passions. Partly, this was due to his inherited creed,
which was tolerant enough to soften theological dispute: "Quakerism," he
once wrote to Lucy Larcom, "has no Church of its own--it belongs to the
Church Universal and Invisible." In great part the spirit of his faith
was private to him; it even called for a note of apology to the sterner
of his brethren:

  O friends! with whom my feet have trod
    The quiet aisles of prayer,
  Glad witness to your zeal for God
    And love of man I bear.

  I trace your lines of argument;
    Your logic linked and strong
  I weigh as one who dreads dissent,
    And fears a doubt as wrong.

  But still my human hands are weak
    To hold your iron creeds:
  Against the words ye bid me speak
    My heart within me pleads....

And the inimitably tender conclusion:

  And so beside the Silent Sea
    I wait the muffled oar;
  No harm from Him can come to me,
    On ocean or on shore.

  I know not where His islands lift
    Their fronded palms in air;
  I only know I cannot drift
    Beyond His love and care.

  O brothers! if my faith is vain,
    If hopes like these betray,
  Pray for me that my feet may gain
    The sure and safer way.

  And Thou, O Lord! by whom are seen
    Thy creatures as they be,
  Forgive me if too close I lean
    My human heart on Thee!

Not a strenuous mood it may be, or very exalted--not the mood of the
battling saints, but one familiar to many a troubled man in his hours of
simpler trust. We have been led to Whittier through the familiar poetry
of Cowper; consider what it would have been to that tormented soul if
for one day he could have forgotten the awe of his divinity and _leaned
his human heart on God_. It is not good for any but the strongest to
dwell too much with abstractions of the mind. And, after all, change the
phrasing a little, substitute if you choose some other intuitive belief
for the poet's childlike faith, and you will be surprised to find how
many of the world's philosophers would accept the response of Whittier:

  We search the world for truth; we cull
  The good, the pure, the beautiful,
  From graven stone and written scroll,
  From all old flower-fields of the soul;
  And, weary seekers of the best,
  We come back laden from our quest,
  To find that all the sages said
  Is in the Book our mothers read.

Such a rout of the intellect may seem ignominious, but is it any more so
than the petulance of Renan because all his learning had only brought
him to the same state of skepticism as that of the gamin in the streets
of Paris? Our tether is short enough, whichever way we seek escape. It
is worth noting that in his essay on Baxter (he who conceived of the
saints' rest in a very different spirit) Whittier blames that worthy
just for the exaltation of his character. "In our view," he says, "this
was its radical defect. He had too little of humanity, he felt too
little of the attraction of this world, and lived too exclusively in the
spiritual and the unearthly."

And if Whittler's faith was simple and human, his vision of the other
world was strangely like the remembrance of a home that we have left in
youth. There is a striking expression of this in one of his prose tales,
now almost forgotten despite their elements of pale but very genuine
humour and pathos, as if written by an attenuated Hawthorne. The good
physician, Dr. Singletary, and his friends are discussing the future
life, and says one of them:

    "Have you not felt at times that our ordinary conceptions of
    heaven itself, derived from the vague hints and Oriental imagery
    of the Scriptures, are sadly inadequate to our human wants and
    hopes? How gladly would we forego the golden streets and gates of
    pearl, the thrones, temples, and harps, for the sunset lights of
    our native valleys; the woodpaths, where moss carpets are woven
    with violets and wild flowers; the songs of birds, the low of
    cattle, the hum of bees in the apple-blossoms--the sweet, familiar
    voices of human life and nature! In the place of strange
    splendours and unknown music, should we not welcome rather
    whatever reminded us of the common sights and sounds of our old
    home?"

It was eminently proper that, as the poet lay awaiting death, with his
kinsfolk gathered about him, one of them should have recited the stanzas
of his psalm _At Last_:

  When on my day of life the night is falling,
    And, in the winds from unsunned spaces blown,
  I hear far voices out of darkness calling
    My feet to paths unknown,

  Thou who hast made my home of life so pleasant,
    Leave not its tenant when its walls decay;
  O Love Divine, O Helper ever present,
    Be Thou my strength and stay!

       *       *       *       *       *

  I have but Thee, my Father! let Thy spirit
    Be with me then to comfort and uphold;
  No gate of pearl, no branch of palm I merit,
    Nor street of shining gold.

  Suffice it if--my good and ill unreckoned,
    And both forgiven through Thy abounding grace--
  I find myself by hands familiar beckoned
    Unto my fitting place.

I would not call this the highest religious poetry, pure and sweet as it
may be. Something still is lacking, but to see that want fulfilled one
must travel out of Whittier's age, back through all the eighteenth
century, back into the seventeenth. There you will find it in Vaughan
and Herbert and sometimes in Marvell--poets whom Whittier read and
admired. Take two poems from these two ages, place them side by side,
and the one thing needed fairly strikes the eyes. The first poem
Whittier wrote after the death of his sister Elizabeth (who had been to
him what Mrs. Unwin had been to Cowper) was _The Vanishers_, founded on
a pretty superstition he had read in Schoolcraft:

  Sweetest of all childlike dreams
    In the simple Indian lore
  Still to me the legend seems
    Of the shapes who flit before.

  Flitting, passing, seen, and gone,
    Never reached nor found at rest,
  Baffling search, but beckoning on
    To the Sunset of the Blest.

  From the clefts of mountain rocks,
    Through the dark of lowland firs,
  Flash the eyes and flow the locks
    Of the mystic Vanishers!

Now Vaughan, too, wrote a poem on those gone from him:

  They are all gone into the world of light,
    And I alone sit lingering here;
  Their very memory is fair and bright,
        And my sad thoughts doth clear.

  It glows and glitters in my cloudy breast,
    Like stars upon some gloomy grove,
  Or those faint beams in which this hill is dress'd,
        After the sun's remove.

  I see them walking in an air of glory,
    Whose light doth trample on my days:
  My days, which are at best but dull and hoary,
        Mere glimmering and decays.

It is not a fair comparison to set one of Whittier's inferior
productions beside this superbest hymn of an eloquent age; but would any
religious poem of the nineteenth century, even the best of them, fare
much better? There is indeed one thing lacking, and that is _ecstasy_.
But ecstasy demands a different kind of faith from that of Whittier's
day or ours, and, missing that, I do not see why we should begrudge our
praise to a genius of pure and quiet charm.

I have already intimated that too complete a preoccupation with the
reforming and political side of Whittier's life has kept the biographers
from recognising that charm in what he himself regarded as his best
poem. In 1872, in the full maturity of his powers and when the national
peace had allowed him to indulge the peace in his own heart, he wrote
his exquisite idyl, _The Pennsylvania Pilgrim_. Perhaps the mere name of
the poem may suggest another cause why it has been overlooked. Whittier
has always stood pre-eminently as the exponent of New England life, and
for very natural reasons. And yet it would not be difficult to show
from passages in his prose works that his heart was never quite at ease
in that Puritan land. The recollection of the sufferings which his
people had undergone for their faith' sake rankled a little in his
breast, and he was never in perfect sympathy with the austerity of New
England traditions. We catch a tone of relief as he turns in imagination
to the peace that dwelt "within the land of Penn":

  Who knows what goadings in their sterner way
  O'er jagged ice, relieved by granite grey,
  Blew round the men of Massachusetts Bay?

  What hate of heresy the east-wind woke?
  What hints of pitiless power and terror spoke
  In waves that on their iron coast-line broke?

It was no doubt during his early residence in Philadelphia that he
learned the story of the good Pastorius, who, in 1683, left the
fatherland and the society of the mystics he loved to lead a colony of
Friends to Germantown. The Pilgrim's life in that bountiful valley
between the Schuylkill and the Delaware--

  Where, forest-walled, the scattered hamlets lay
  Along the wedded rivers--

offered to Whittier a subject admirably adapted to his powers. Here the
faults of taste that elsewhere so often offend us are sunk in the
harmony of the whole and in the singular unity of impression; and the
lack of elevation that so often stints our praise becomes a suave and
mellow beauty. All the better elements of his genius are displayed here
in opulent freedom. The affections of the heart unfold in unembittered
serenity. The sense of home seclusion is heightened by the presence of
the enveloping wilderness, but not disturbed by any harsher contrast.
Within is familiar joy and retirement unassailed--not without a touch of
humour, as when in the evening, "while his wife put on her look of
love's endurance," Pastorius took down his tremendous manuscript--

  And read, in half the languages of man,
  His _Rusca Apium_, which with bees began,
  And through the gamut of creation ran.

(The manuscript still exists; pray heaven it be never published!) Now
and then the winter evenings were broken by the coming of some welcome
guest--some traveller from the Old World bringing news of fair Von
Merlau and the other beloved mystics; some magistrate from the young
city,

          Lovely even then
  With its fair women and its stately men
  Gracing the forest court of William Penn;

or some neighbour of the country, the learned Swedish pastor who, like
Pastorius, "could baffle Babel's lingual curse,"

  Or painful Kelpius, from his forest den
  By Wissahickon, maddest of good men.

Such was the life within, and out of doors were the labours of the
gardener and botanist, while

              the seasons went
  Their rounds, and somewhat to his spirit lent
  Of their own calm and measureless content.

The scene calls forth some of Whittier's most perfect lines of
description. Could anything be more harmonious than this, with its
economy of simple grace,

  Slow, overhead, the dusky night-birds sailed?

No poem would be thoroughly characteristic of Whittier without some echo
of the slavery dispute, and our first introduction to Pastorius is,
indeed, as to a baffled forerunner of John Woolman. But the question
here takes on its most human and least political form; it lets in just
enough of the outside world of action to save the idyl from unreality.
Nor could religion well be absent; rather, the whole poem may be called
an illustration through the Pilgrim's life of that Inner Guide, speaking
to him not with loud and controversial tones, as it spoke to George Fox,
but with the still, small voice of comfortable persuasion:

              A Voice spake in his ear,
  And lo! all other voices far and near
  Died at that whisper, full of meanings clear.
  The Light of Life shone round him; one by one
  The wandering lights, that all misleading run,
  Went out like candles paling in the sun.

The account of the grave Friends, unsummoned by bells, walking
meeting-ward, and of the gathered stillness of the room into which only
the songs of the birds penetrated from without, is one of the happiest
passages of the poem. How dear those hours of common worship were to
Whittier may be understood from another poem, addressed to a visitor who
asked him why he did not seek rather the grander temple of nature:

  But nature is not solitude;
  She crowds us with her thronging wood;
  Her many hands reach out to us,
  Her many tongues are garrulous;
  Perpetual riddles of surprise
  She offers to our ears and eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

  And so I find it well to come
  For deeper rest to this still room,
  For here the habit of the soul
  Feels less the outer world's control;
  The strength of mutual purpose pleads
  More earnestly our common needs;
  And from the silence multiplied
  By these still forms on every side,
  The world that time and sense have known
  Falls off and leaves us God alone.

For the dinner given to Whittier on his seventieth birthday Longfellow
wrote a sonnet on _The Three Silences of Molinos_--the silence of
speech, of desire, and of thought, through which are heard "mysterious
sounds from realms beyond our reach." Perhaps only one who at some time
in his life has caught, or seemed to catch, those voices and melodies is
quite able to appreciate the charm of Whittier through the absence of so
much that calls to us in other poets.



THE CENTENARY OF SAINTE-BEUVE


It is a hundred years since Sainte-Beuve was born in the Norman city
that looks over toward England, and more than a generation has passed
since his death just before the war with Germany.[4] Yesterday three
countries--France, Belgium, and Switzerland--were celebrating his
centenary with speeches and essays and dinners, and the singing of
hymns. At Lausanne, where he had given his lectures on _Port-Royal_, and
had undergone not a little chagrin for his pains, the University
unveiled a bronze medallion of his head,--a Sainte-Beuve disillusioned
and complex, writes a Parisian journalist, with immoderate forehead
radiating a cold serenity, while the lips are contracted into a smile at
once voluptuous and sarcastic, as it were an Erasmus grown fat, with a
reminiscence of Baudelaire in the ironic mask of the face. It is
evidently the "Père Beuve" as we know him in the portraits, and it is
not hard to imagine the lips curling a little more sardonically at the
thought of the change that has come since he was a poverty-stricken
hack and his foibles were the ridicule of Paris.

Yet through all these honours I cannot help observing a strain of
reluctance, as so often happens with a critic who has made himself
feared by the rectitude of his judgments. There has, for one thing, been
a good deal of rather foolish scandal-mongering and raking up of old
anecdotes about his gross habits. Well, Sainte-Beuve was sensual. "Je
suis du peuple ainsi que mes amours," he was wont to hum over his work;
and when that work was finished, his secretary tells us how he used to
draw a hat down over his face (that face _dont le front démesurément
haut rayonne de sérénité froide_), and go out on the street for any
chance liaison. There is something too much of these stories in what is
written of Sainte-Beuve to-day; and in the estimate of his intellectual
career too little emphasis is laid on what was stable in his opinions,
and too much emphasis on the changes of his religious and literary
creed. To be sure, these mutations of belief are commonly cited as his
preparation for the art of critic, and in a certain sense this is right.
But even then, if by critic is meant one who merely decides the value of
this or that book, the essential word is left unsaid. He was a critic,
and something more; he was, if any man may claim such a title, the
_maître universel_ of the century, as, indeed, he has been called.

And the time of his life contributed as much to this position of Doctor
Universalis as did his own intelligence. France, during those years from
the Revolution of 1830 to the fall of the Second Empire, was the
seething-pot of modern ideas, and the impression left by the history of
the period is not unlike that of watching the witch scenes in _Macbeth_.
The eighteenth century had been earnest, mad in part, but its intention
was comparatively single,--to tear down the fabric of authority, whether
political or religious, and allow human nature, which was fundamentally
good, though depraved by custom, to assert itself. And human nature did
assert itself pretty vigorously in the French Revolution, proving, one
might suppose, if it proved anything, that its foundation, like its
origin, is with the beasts. To the men who came afterward that
tremendous event stood like a great prism between themselves and the
preceding age; the pillar of light toward which they looked for guidance
was distorted by it and shattered into a thousand coloured rays. For
many of them, as for Sainte-Beuve, it meant that the old humanitarian
passion remained side by side with a profound distrust of the popular
heart; for all, the path of reform took the direction of some individual
caprice or ideal. There were democrats and monarchists and imperialists;
there was the rigid Catholic reaction led by Bonald and de Maistre, and
the liberal Catholicism of Lamennais; there was the socialism of
Saint-Simon, mixed with notions of a religious hierarchy, and other
schemes of socialism innumerable; while skepticism took every form of
condescension or antagonism. Literature also had its serious mission,
and the battle of the romanticists shook Paris almost as violently as a
political revolution. Through it all science was marching with steady
gaze, waiting for the hour when it should lay its cold hand on the heart
of society.

And with all these movements Sainte-Beuve was more or less intimately
concerned. As a boy he brought with him to Paris the pietistic
sentiments of his mother and an aunt on whom, his father being dead, his
training had devolved. Upon these sentiments he soon imposed the
philosophy of the eighteenth century, followed by a close study of the
Revolution. It is noteworthy that his first journalistic work on the
_Globe_ was a literary description of the places in Greece to which the
war for independence was calling attention, and the reviewing of various
memoirs of the French Revolution. From these influences he passed to the
_cénacle_ of Victor Hugo, and became one of the champions of the new
romantic school. Meanwhile literature was mingled with romance of
another sort, and the story of the critic's friendship for the haughty
poet and of his love for the poet's wife is of a kind almost
incomprehensible to the Anglo-Saxon mind. It may be said in passing that
the letters of Sainte-Beuve to M. and Mme. Hugo, which have only to-day
been recovered and published in the _Revue de Paris_, throw rather a
new light on this whole affair. They do not exculpate Sainte-Beuve, but
they at least free him from ridicule. His successful passion for Mme.
Hugo, with its abrupt close when Mme. Hugo's daughter came to her first
confession, and his tormented courtship of Mme. d'Arbouville in later
years, were the chief elements in that _éducation sentimentale_ which
made him so cunning in the secrets of the feminine breast.

But this is a digression. Personal and critical causes carried him out
of the camp of Victor Hugo into the ranks of the Saint-Simonians, whom
he followed for a while with a kind of half-detached enthusiasm.
Probably he was less attracted by the hopes of a mystically regenerated
society, with Enfantin as its supreme pontiff, than by the desire of
finding some rest for the imagination in this religion of universal
love. At least he perceived in the new brotherhood a relief from the
strained individualism of the romantic poets, and the same instinct, no
doubt, followed him from Saint-Simonism into the fold of Lamennais.
There at last he thought to see united the ideals of religion and
democracy, and some of the bitterest words he ever wrote were in memory
of the final defalcation of Lamennais, who, as Sainte-Beuve said, saved
himself but left his disciples stranded in the mire. Meanwhile this
particular disciple had met new friends in Switzerland, and through
their aid was brought at a critical moment to Lausanne to lecture on
_Port-Royal_. There he learned to know and respect Vinet, the
Protestant theologian and critic, who, with the help of his good friends
the Oliviers, undertook to convert the wily Parisian to Calvinism.
Saint-Beuve himself seems to have gone into the discussion quite
earnestly, but for one who knows the past experiences of that subtle
twister there is something almost ludicrous in the way these anxious
missionaries reported each accession and retrogression of his faith. He
came back to Paris a confirmed and satisfied doubter, willing to
sacrifice to the goddess Chance as the blind deity of this world,
convinced of materialism and of the essential baseness of human nature,
yet equally convinced that within man there rules some ultimate
principle of genius or individual authority which no rationalism can
explain, and above all things determined to keep his mind open to
whatever currents of truth may blow through our murky human atmosphere.
He ended where he began, in what may be called a subtilised and refined
philosophy of the eighteenth century, with a strain of melancholy quite
peculiar to the baffled experience of the nineteenth. His aim henceforth
was to apply to the study of mankind the analytical precision of
science, with a scientific method of grouping men into spiritual
families.

Much has been made of these varied twistings of Sainte-Beuve's, both for
his honour and dishonour. Certainly they enabled him to insinuate
himself into almost every kind of intelligence and report of each
author as if he were writing out a phase of his own character; they made
him in the end the spokesman of that eager and troubled age whose
ferment is to-day just reaching America. France scarcely holds the place
of intellectual supremacy once universally accorded her, yet to her
glory be it said that, if we look anywhere for a single man who summed
up within himself the life of the nineteenth century, we instinctively
turn to that country. And more and more it appears that to Sainte-Beuve
in particular that honour must accrue. His understanding was more
comprehensive than Taine's or Renan's, more subtle than that of the
former, more upright than that of the latter, more single toward the
truth and more accurate than that of either. He never, as did Taine,
allowed a preconceived idea to warp his arrangement of facts, nor did he
ever, at least in his mature years, allow his sentimentality, as did
Renan, to take the place of judgment. Both the past and the present are
reflected in his essays with equal clearness.

On the other hand, this versatility of experience has not seldom been
laid to lightness and inconsistency of character. I cannot see that the
charge holds good, unless it be directed also against the whole age
through which he passed. If any one thing has been made clear by the
publishing of Sainte-Beuve's letters and by the closer investigation of
his life, it is that he was in these earlier years a sincere seeker
after religion, and was only held back at the last moment by some
invincible impotence of faith from joining himself finally with this or
that sect. And he was thus an image of the times. What else is the
meaning of all those abortive attempts to amalgamate religion with the
humanitarianism left over from the eighteenth century, but a searching
for faith where the spiritual eye had been blinded? I should suppose
that Sainte-Beuve's refusal in the end to speak the irrevocable word of
adhesion indicated rather the clearness of his self-knowledge than any
lightness of procedure. Nor is his inconsistency, whether religious or
literary, quite so great as it is sometimes held up to be. The
inheritance of the eighteenth century was strong upon him, while at the
same time he had a craving for the inner life of the spirit. Naturally
he felt a powerful attraction in the preaching of such men as
Saint-Simon and Lamennais, who boasted to combine these two tendencies;
but the mummery of Saint-Simonism and the instability of Mennaisianism,
when it came to the test, too soon exposed the lack of spiritual
substance in both. With this revelation came a growing distrust of human
nature, caused by the political degeneracy of France, and by a kind of
revulsion he threw himself upon the Jansenism which contained the
spirituality the other creeds missed, and which based itself frankly on
the total depravity of mankind. He was too much a child of the age to
breathe in that thin air, and fell back on all that remained to
him,--inquisitive doubt and a scientific demand for positive truth. It
is the history of the century.

And in literature I find the same inconstancy on the surface, while at
heart he suffered little change. Only here his experience ran counter to
the times, and most of the opprobrium that has been cast on him is due
to the fact that he never allowed the clamour of popular taste and the
warmth of his sympathy with present modes to drown that inner critical
voice of doubt. As a standard-bearer of Victor Hugo and the romanticists
he still maintained his reserves, and, on the other hand, long after he
had turned renegade from that camp he still spoke of himself as only
_demi-converti_. The proportion changed with his development, but from
beginning to end he was at bottom classical in his love of clarity and
self-restraint, while intensely interested in the life and aspirations
of his own day. There is in one of the recently published letters to
Victor Hugo a noteworthy illustration of this steadfastness. It was, in
fact, the second letter he wrote to the poet, and goes back to 1827, the
year of _Cromwell_. On the twelfth of February, Hugo read his new
tragi-comedy aloud, and Sainte-Beuve was evidently warm in expressions
of praise. But in the seclusion of his own room the critical instinct
reawoke in him, and he wrote the next day a long letter to the
dramatist, not retracting what he had said, but adding certain
reservations and insinuating certain admonitions. "Toutes ces critiques
rentrent dans une seule que je m'étais déjà permis d'adresser à votre
talent, l'excès, l'abus de la _force_, et passez-moi le mot, la
_charge_." Is not the whole of his critical attitude toward the men of
his age practically contained in this rebuke of excess, and
over-emphasis, and self-indulgence? And Sainte-Beuve when he wrote the
words was just twenty-three, was in the first ardour of his attachment
to the giant--the Cyclops, he seemed to Sainte-Beuve later--of the
century.

But after all, it is not the elusive seeker of these years that we think
of when Sainte-Beuve is named, nor the author of those many
volumes,--the _Portraits_, the _Chateaubriand_, even the
_Port-Royal_,--but the writer of the incomparable _Lundis_. In 1849 he
had returned from Liège after lecturing for a year at the University,
and found himself abounding in ideas, keen for work, and without regular
employment. He was asked to contribute a critical essay to the
_Constitutionnel_ each Monday, and accepted the offer eagerly. "It is
now twenty-five years," he said, "since I started in this career; it is
the third form in which I have been brought to give out my impressions
and literary judgments." These first _Causeries_ continued until 1860,
and are published in fourteen solid volumes. There was a brief respite
then, and in 1861 he began the _Nouveaux Lundis_, which continued in the
_Moniteur_ and the _Temps_ until his last illness in 1869, filling
thirteen similar volumes. Meanwhile his mother had died, leaving him a
house in Paris and a small income, and in 1865 he had been created a
senator by Napoleon III. at the instigation of the Princesse Mathilde.

In his earlier years he had been poor and anxious, living in a student's
room, and toiling indefatigably to keep the wolf from the door. At the
end he was rich, and had command of his time, yet the story of his
labours while writing the latest _Lundis_ is one of the heroic examples
of literature. "Every Tuesday morning," he once wrote to a friend, "I go
down to the bottom of a pit, not to reascend until Friday evening at
some unknown hour." Those were the days of preparation and plotting.
From his friend M. Chéron, who was librarian of the Bibliothèque
Impériale, came memoirs and histories and manuscripts,--whatever might
serve him in getting up his subject. Late in the week he wrote a rough
draft of the essay, commonly about six thousand words long, in a hand
which no one but himself could decipher. This task was ordinarily
finished in a single day, and the essay was then dictated off rapidly to
a secretary to take down in a fair copy. That must have been a strenuous
season for the copyist, for Sainte-Beuve read at a prodigious rate,
showing impatience at any delay, and still greater impatience at any
proposed alteration. Indeed, during the whole week of preparation he was
so absorbed in his theme as to ruffle up at the slightest opposition.
In the evening he would eat a hearty dinner, and then walk out with his
secretary to the outer Boulevards, the Luxembourg, or the Place
Saint-Sulpice, for his digestion, talking all the while on the coming
_Lundi_ with intense absorption. And woe to the poor companion if he
expressed any contradiction, or hinted that the subject was trivial,--as
indeed it often was, until the critic had clothed it with the life of
his own thought. "In a word," Sainte-Beuve would cry out savagely, "you
wish to hinder me in writing my article. The subject has not the honour
of your sympathy. Really it is too bad." Whereupon he would turn angrily
on his heel and stride home. The story explains the nature of
Sainte-Beuve's criticism. For a week he lived with his author; "he
belonged body and soul to his model! He embraced it, espoused it,
exalted it!"--with the result that some of this enthusiasm is
transmitted to the reader, and the essays are instinct with life as no
other critic's work has ever been. The strain of living thus
passionately in a new subject week after week was tremendous, and it is
not strange that his letters are filled with complaints of fatigue, and
that his health suffered in spite of his robust constitution. Nor was
the task ended with the dictation late Friday night. Most of Saturday
and Sunday was given up to proofreading, and at this time he invited
every suggestion, even contradiction, often practically rewriting an
essay before it reached the press. Monday he was free, and it was on
that day occurred the famous Magny dinners, when Sainte-Beuve, Flaubert,
Renan, the Goncourts, and a few other chosen spirits, met and talked as
only Frenchmen can talk. Every conceivable subject was passed under the
fire of criticism; nothing was held sacred. Only one day a luckless
guest, after faith in religion and politics and morals had been laughed
away, ventured to intimate that Homer as a canon of taste was merely a
superstition like another; whereupon such a hubbub arose as threatened
to bring the dinners to an end at once and for all. The story is told in
the _Journal_ of the Goncourts, and it was one of the brothers, I
believe, who made the perilous insinuation. Imagine, if you can, a party
of Englishmen taking Homer, or any other question of literary faith,
with tragic seriousness. Such an incident explains many things; it
explains why English literature has never been, like the French, an
integral part of the national life.

And the integrity of mind displayed in the _Lundis_ is as notable as the
industry. From the beginning Sainte-Beuve had possessed that inquisitive
passion for the truth, without which all other critical gifts are as
brass and tinkling cymbals. Nevertheless, it is evident that he did not
always in his earlier writings find it expedient to express his whole
thought. He was, for example, at one time the recognised herald of the
romantic revolt, and naturally, while writing about Victor Hugo, he did
not feel it necessary to make in public such frank reservations as his
letters to that poet contain. His whole thought is there, perhaps, but
one has to read between the lines to get it. And so it was with the
other men and movements with which he for a while allied himself. With
the _Lundis_ came a change; he was free of all entanglements, and could
make the precise truth his single aim. No doubt a remnant of personal
jealousy toward those who had passed him in the race of popularity
embittered the critical reservations which he felt, but which might
otherwise have been uttered more genially. But quite as often this
seeming rancour was due to the feeling that he had hitherto been
compelled to suppress his full convictions, to a genuine regret for the
corrupt ways into which French literature was deviating. How nearly the
exigencies of a hack writer had touched him is shown by a passage in a
letter to the Oliviers written in 1838. His Swiss friend was debating
whether he should try his fortunes in Paris as a contributor to the
magazines, and had asked for advice. "But where to write? what to
write?" replied Sainte-Beuve; "if one could only choose for himself! You
must wait on opportunity, and in the long run this becomes a transaction
in which conscience may be saved, but every ideal perishes,"--_dans
laquelle la conscience peut toujours être sauve mais où tout idéal
périt._ Just about this time he was thinking seriously of migrating with
the Oliviers to this country. It would be curious to hear what he might
have written from New York to one who contemplated coming there as a
hack writer. As for the loss of ideals, his meaning, if it needs any
elucidation, may be gathered from a well-known passage in one of his
books:

    The condition of man ordinarily is no more than a succession of
    servitudes, and the only liberty that remains is now and then to
    effect a change. Labour presses, necessity commands, circumstances
    sweep us along: at the risk of seeming to contradict ourselves or
    give ourselves the lie, we must go on and for ever recommence; we
    must accept whatever employments are offered, and even though we
    fill them with all conscientiousness and zeal we raise a dust on
    the way, we obscure the images of the past, we soil and mar our
    own selves. And so it is that before the goal of old age is
    reached, we have passed through so many lives that scarcely, as we
    go back in memory, can we tell which was our true life, that for
    which we were made and of which we were worthy, the life which we
    would have chosen.

Those were the words with which he had closed his chapters on
_Chateaubriand_; yet through all his deviations he had borne steadily
toward one point. In after years he could write without presumption to a
friend: "If I had a device, it would be the _true_, the _true_ alone;
and the beautiful and the good might come out as best they could." There
are a number of anecdotes which show how precious he held this integrity
of mind. The best known is the fact that, in the days before he was
appointed senator, and despite the pressure that was brought to bear on
him, he still refused to write a review of the Emperor's _History of
Cæsar_.

Both the sense of disillusion, which was really inherent in him from his
youth, and the passion for truth hindered him in his "creative" work,
while they increased his powers as a critic. He grew up, it must be
remembered, in the midst of the full romantic tide, and as a writer of
verse there was really no path of great achievement open to him save
that of Victor Hugo and Lamartine and the others of whose glory he was
so jealous. Whatever may have been the differences of those poets, in
one respect they were alike: they all disregarded the subtle _nuance_
wherein the truth resides, and based their emotions on some grandiose
conception, half true and half false; nor was this mingling of the false
and true any less predominant in one of Hugo's political odes than in
Lamartine's personal and religious meditations. Now, the whole bent of
Sainte-Beuve's intellect was toward the subtle drawing of distinctions,
and even to-day a reader somewhat romantically and emotionally inclined
resents the manner in which his scalpel cuts into the work of these
poets and severs what is morbid from what is sound. That is criticism;
but it may easily be seen that such a habit of mind when carried to
excess would paralyse the poetic impulse. The finest poetry, perhaps, is
written when this discriminating principle works in the writer strongly
but unconsciously; when a certain critical atmosphere about him
controls his taste, while not compelling him to dull the edge of impulse
by too much deliberation. Boileau had created such an atmosphere about
Molière and Racine; Sainte-Beuve had attempted, but unsuccessfully, to
do the same for the poets of the romantic renaissance. His failure was
due in part to a certain lack of impressiveness in his own personality,
but still more to the notions of individual licence which lay at the
very foundation of that movement. There is a touch of real pathos in his
superb tribute to Boileau:

    Let us salute and acknowledge to-day the noble and mighty harmony
    of the _grand siècle_. Without Boileau, and without Louis XIV.,
    who recognised Boileau as his Superintendent of Parnassus, what
    would have happened? Would even the most talented have produced in
    the same degree what forms their surest heritage of glory? Racine,
    I fear, would have made more plays like _Bérénice_; La Fontaine
    fewer _Fables_ and more _Contes_; Molière himself would have run
    to _Scapins_, and might not have attained to the austere eminence
    of _Le Misanthrope_. In a word, each of these fair geniuses would
    have abounded in his natural defects. Boileau, that is to say, the
    common sense of the poet-critic authorised and confirmed by that
    of a great king, constrained them and kept them, by the respect
    for his presence, to their better and graver tasks. And do you
    know what, in our days, has failed our poets, so strong at their
    beginning in native ability, so filled with promise and happy
    inspiration? There failed them a Boileau and an enlightened
    monarch, the twain supporting and consecrating each other. So it
    is these men of talent, seeing themselves in an age of anarchy
    and without discipline, have not hesitated to behave accordingly;
    they have behaved, to be perfectly frank, not like exalted
    geniuses, or even like men, but like schoolboys out of school. We
    have seen the result.

Nobler tribute to a great predecessor has not often been uttered, and in
contrast one remembers the outrage that has been poured on Boileau's
name by the later poets of France and England. One recalls the scorn of
the young Keats, in those days when he took licence upon himself to
abuse the King's English as only a wilful genius can:

                Ill-fated, impious race!
  That blasphemed the bright Lyrist face to face,
  And did not know it,--no, they went about,
  Holding a poor decrepit standard out
  Marked with most flimsy mottoes, and in large
  The name of one Boileau!

I am not one to fling abuse on the school of Dryden and Pope, yet the
eighteenth century may to some minds justify the charge of Keats and the
romanticists. Certainly the critical restraint of French rules, passing
to England at a time when the tide of inspiration had run low, induced a
certain aridity of manner. But consider for a moment what might have
been the result in English letters if the court of Elizabeth had
harboured a man of authority such as Boileau, or, to put it the other
way, if the large inspiration of those poets and playwrights had not
come before the critical sense of the land was out of its swaddling
clothes. What might it have been for us if a Boileau and an Elizabeth
together had taught Shakespeare to prune his redundancies, to
disentangle his language at times, to eliminate the relics of barbarism
in his dénouements; if they had compelled the lesser dramatists to
simplify their plots and render their characters conceivable moral
agents; if they had instructed the sonneteers in common sense and in the
laws of the sonnet; if they had constrained Spenser to tell a
story,--consider what this might have meant, not only to the writers of
that day, but to the tradition they formed for those that were to come
after. We should have had our own classics, and not been forced to turn
to Athens for our canons of taste. There would not have been for our
confusion the miserable contrast between the "correctness" of Queen
Anne's day and the creative genius of Elizabeth's, but the two together
would have made a literature incomparable for richness and judgment. It
is not too much to say that the absence of such a controlling influence
at the great expansive moment of England is a loss for which nothing can
ever entirely compensate in our literature.

Such was the office which Sainte-Beuve sought to fulfil in the France of
his own day. That conscious principle of restraint might, he thought,
when applied to his own poetical work, introduce into French literature
a style like that of Cowper's or Wordsworth's in England; and to a
certain extent he was successful in this attempt. But in the end he
found the Democritean maxim too strong for him: _Excludit sanos Helicone
poetas_; and, indeed, the difference between the poet and the critic may
scarcely be better defined than in this, that in the former the
principle of restraint works unconsciously and from without, whereas in
the latter it proceeds consciously and from within. And finding himself
debarred from Helicon (not by impotence, as some would say, but by
excess of self-knowledge), he deliberately undertook to introduce a
little more sanity into the notions of his contemporaries. I have shown
how at the very beginning of his career he took upon himself privately
such a task with Hugo. It might almost be said that the history of his
intellect is summed up in his growth toward the sane and the simple;
that, like Goethe, from whom so much of his critical method derives, his
life was a long endeavour to supplant the romantic elements of his taste
by the classical. What else is the meaning of his attack on the excesses
of Balzac? or his defence of Erasmus (_le droit, je ne dis des tièdes,
mais des neutres_), and of all those others who sought for themselves a
governance in the law of proportion? In one of his latest volumes he
took the occasion of Taine's _History of English Literature_ to speak
out strongly for the admirable qualities of Pope:

    I insist on this because the danger to-day is in the sacrifice of
    the writers and poets whom I will call the moderate. For a long
    time they had all the honours: one pleaded for Shakespeare, for
    Milton, for Dante, even for Homer; no one thought it necessary to
    plead for Virgil, for Horace, for Boileau, Racine, Voltaire, Pope,
    Tasso,--these were accepted and recognised by all. To-day the
    first have completely gained their cause, and matters are quite
    the other way about: the great and primitive geniuses reign and
    triumph; even those who come after them in invention, but are
    still naïve and original in thought and expression, poets such as
    Regnier and Lucretius, are raised to their proper rank; while the
    moderate, the cultured, the polished, those who were the classics
    to our fathers, we tend to make subordinate, and, if we are not
    careful, to treat a little too cavalierly. Something like disdain
    and contempt (relatively speaking) will soon be their portion. It
    seems to me that there is room for all, and that none need be
    sacrificed. Let us render full homage and complete reverence to
    those great human forces which are like the powers of nature, and
    which like them burst forth with something of strangeness and
    harshness; but still let us not cease to honour those other forces
    which are more restrained, and which, in their less explosive
    expression, clothe themselves with elegance and sweetness.

And this love of the golden mean, joined with the long wanderings of his
heart and his loneliness, produced in him a preference for scenes near
at hand and for the quiet joys of the hearth. So it was that the idyllic
tales of George Sand touched him quickly with their strange romance of
the familiar. Chateaubriand and the others of that school had sought out
the nature of India, the savannahs of America, the forests of Canada.
"Here," he says, "are discoveries for you,--deserts, mountains, the
large horizons of Italy; what remained to discover? That which was
nearest to us, here in the centre of our own France. As happens always,
what is most simple comes at the last." In the same way he praised the
refined charm of a poet like Cowper, and sought to throw into relief the
purer and more homely verses of a Parny: "If a little knowledge removes
us, yet greater knowledge brings us back to the sentiment of the
beauties and graces of the hearth." Indeed, there is something almost
pathetic in the contrast between the life of this laborious recluse,
with his sinister distrust of human nature, and the way in which he
fondles this image of a sheltered and affectionate home.

But the nineteenth century was not the seventeenth, neither was
Sainte-Beuve a Boileau, to stem the current of exaggeration and egotism.
His innate sense of proportion brought him to see the dangerous
tendencies of the day, and, failing to correct them, he sank deeper into
that disillusion from which his weekly task was a long and vain labour
of deliverance. He took to himself the saying of the Abbé Galiani:
"Continue your works; it is a proof of attachment to life to compose
books." Yet it may be that this very disillusion was one of the elements
of his success; for after all, the real passion of literature, that
perfect flower of the contemplative intellect, hardly comes to a man
until the allurement of life has been dispelled by many experiences,
each bringing its share of disappointment. Only, perhaps, when the hope
of love (the _spes animi credula mutui_) and the visions of ambition,
the belief in pleasure and the luxury of grief, have lost their sting,
do we turn to books with the contented understanding that the shadow is
the reality, and the seeming reality of things is the shadow. At least
for the critic, however it may be for the "creative" writer, this final
deliverance from self-deception would seem to be necessary. Nor do I
mean any invidious distinction when I separate the critic from the
creative writer in this respect. I know there is a kind of hostility
between the two classes. The poet feels that the critic by the very
possession of this self-knowledge sets himself above the writer who
accepts the inspiration of his emotions unquestioningly, while the
critic resents the fact that the world at large looks upon his work as
subordinate, if not superfluous. And yet, in the case of criticism, such
as Sainte-Beuve conceived it, this distinction almost ceases to exist.
No stigma attaches to the work of the historian who recreates the
political activities of an age, to a Gibbon who raises a vast bridge
between the past and the present. Yet, certainly, the best and most
durable acts of mankind are the ideals and emotions that go to make up
its books, and to describe and judge the literature of a country, to
pass under review a thousand systems and reveries, to point out the
meaning of each, and so write the annals of the human spirit, to pluck
out the heart of each man's mystery and set it before the mind's eye
quivering with life,--if this be not a labour of immense creative energy
the word has no sense to my ears. We read and enjoy, and the past slips
unceasingly from our memory. We are like the foolish peasant: the river
of history rolls at our feet, and for ever will roll, while we stand and
wait. And then comes this magician, who speaks a word, and suddenly the
current is stopped; who has power like the wizards of old to bid the
tide turn back upon itself, and the past becomes to us as the present,
and we are made the lords of time. I do not know how it affects others,
but for me, as I look at the long row of volumes which hold the
interpretation of French literature, I am almost overwhelmed at the
magnitude of this man's achievement.

Nor is it to be supposed that Sainte-Beuve, because he was primarily a
critic, drew his knowledge of life from books only, and wrote, as it
were, at second hand. The very contrary is true. As a younger man, he
had mixed much with society, and even in his later years, when, as he
says, he lived at the bottom of a well, he still, through his friendship
with the Princesse Mathilde and others of the great world, kept in close
touch with the active forces of the Empire. As a matter of fact, every
one knows, who has read at all in his essays, that he was first of all a
psychologist, and that his knowledge of the human breast was quite as
sure as his acquaintance with libraries. He might almost be accused of
slighting the written word in order to get at the secret of the writer.
What attracted him chiefly was that middle ground where life and
literature meet, where life becomes self-conscious through expression,
and literature retains the reality of association with facts. "A little
poesy," he thought, "separates us from history and the reality of
things; much of poesy brings us back." Literature to him was one of the
arts of society. Hence he was never more at his ease, his touch was
never surer and his eloquence more communicable, than when he was
dealing with the great ladies who guided the society of the eighteenth
century and retold its events in their letters and memoirs,--Mme. du
Deffand, Mme. de Grafigny, Mlle. de Lespinasse, and those who preceded
and followed. Nowhere does one get closer to the critic's own
disappointment than when he says with a sigh, thinking of those
irrecoverable days: "Happy time! all of life then was turned to
sociability." And he was describing his own method as a critic, no less
than the character of Mlle. de Lespinasse, when he wrote: "Her great art
in society, one of the secrets of her success, was to feel the
intelligence _(l'esprit)_ of others, to make it prevail, and to seem to
forget her own. Her conversation was never either above or below those
with whom she spoke; she possessed measure, proportion, rightness of
mind. She reflected so well the impressions of others, and received so
visibly the influence of their intelligence, that they loved her for the
success she helped them to attain. She raised this disposition to an
art. 'Ah!' she cried one day, 'how I long to know the foible of every
one!'" And this love of the social side of literature, this hankering
after _la bella scuola_ when men wrote under the sway of some central
governance, explains Sainte-Beuve's feeling of desolation amidst the
scattered, individualistic tendencies of his own day.

There lie the springs of Sainte-Beuve's critical art,--his treatment of
literature as a function of social life, and his search in all things
for the golden mean. There we find his strength, and there, too, his
limitation. If he fails anywhere, it is when he comes into the presence
of those great and imperious souls who stand apart from the common
concerns of men, and who rise above our homely mediocrities, not by
extravagance or egotism, but by the lifting wings of inspiration. He
could, indeed, comprehend the ascetic grandeur of a Pascal or the
rolling eloquence of a Bossuet, but he was distrustful of that fervid
breath of poesy that comes and goes unsummoned and uncontrolled. It is a
common charge against him that he was cold to the sublime, and he
himself was aware of this defect, and sought to justify it. "Il ne faut
donner dans le sublime," he said, "qu'à la dernière extrémité et à son
corps défendant." Something of this, too, must be held to account for
the haunting melancholy that he could forget, but never overcome. He
might have lived with a kind of content in the society of those refined
and worldly women of the eighteenth century, but, missing the solace of
that support, he was unable amid the dissipated energies of his own age
to rise to that surer peace that needs no communion with others for its
fulfilment. Like the royal friend of Voltaire, he still lacked the
highest degree of culture, which is religion. He strove for that during
many years, but alone he could not attain to it. As early as 1839 he
wrote, while staying at Aigues-Mortes: "My soul is like this beach,
where it is said Saint Louis embarked: the sea and faith, alas! have
long since drawn away." One may excuse these limitations as the "defect
of his quality," as indeed they are. But more than that, they belong to
him as a French critic, as they are to a certain degree inherent in
French literature. That literature and language, we have been told by no
less an authority than M. Brunetière, are pre-eminently social in their
strength and their weakness. And Sainte-Beuve was indirectly justifying
his own method when he pointed to the example of Voltaire, Molière, La
Fontaine, and Rabelais and Villon, the great ancestors. "They have all,"
he said, "a corner from which they mock at the sublime." I am even
inclined to think that these qualities explain why England has never
had, and may possibly never have, a critic in any way comparable to
Sainte-Beuve; for the chief glory of English literature lies in the very
field where French is weakest, in the lonely and unsociable life of the
spirit, just as the faults of English are due to its lack of discipline
and uncertainty of taste. And after all, the critical temperament
consists primarily in just this linking together of literature and life,
and in the levelling application of common sense.

Yet if Sainte-Beuve is essentially French, indeed almost inconceivable
in English, he is still immensely valuable, perhaps even more valuable,
to us for that very reason. There is nothing more wholesome than to dip
into this strong and steady current of wise judgment. It is good for us
to catch the glow of his masterful knowledge of letters and his faith in
their supreme interest. His long row of volumes are the scholar's Summa
Theologiæ. As John Cotton loved to sweeten his mouth with a piece of
Calvin before he went to sleep, so the scholar may turn to Sainte-Beuve,
sure of his never-failing abundance and his ripe intelligence.



THE SCOTCH NOVELS AND SCOTCH HISTORY


Like many another innocent, no doubt, I was seduced not long ago by the
potent spell of Mr. Andrew Lang's name into reading his voluminous
_History of Scotland_. Being too, like Mr. Lang, sealed of the tribe of
Sir Walter, and knowing in a general way some of the romantic features
of Scotch annals, I was led to suppose that these bulky volumes would be
crammed from cover to cover with the pageantry of fair Romance. Alas, I
soon learned, as I have so often learned before, that a little knowledge
is a dangerous thing; and I was taught, moreover, a new application of
several well-worn lines of Milton. Amid the inextricable feuds of
Britons, Scots, Picts, and English; amid the incomprehensible medley of
Bruces, Balliols, Stuarts, Douglases, Plantagenets, and Tudors; amid the
horrid tumult of Roberts, Davids, Jameses, Malcolms (may their tribes
decrease!), Mr. Lang's reader, if he be of alien blood and foreign
shores, wanders helpless and utterly bewildered. On leaving that _selva
oscura_ I felt not unlike Milton's courageous hero (in courage only, I
trust) before the realm of Chaos and eldest Night, where naught was
perceptible but eternal anarchy and noise of endless wars. Yet with
this bold adventurer it might be said by me:

                            I come no spy,
  With purpose to explore or to disturb
  The secrets of your realm; but by constraint
  Wandering this darksome desert, as my way
  Led through your spacious empire up to light.

For throughout the labyrinth of all this anfractuous narrative
there was indeed one guiding ray of light. As often as the author
by way of anecdote or allusion--and happily this occurred pretty
frequently--mentioned the works of Scott, a new and powerful interest
was given to the page. The very name of Scott seemed providentially
symbolical of his office in literature, and through him Scots history
has become a theme of significance to all the world.

On the other hand, one is equally impressed by the fact that the novels
owe much of their vitality to the manner in which they voice the spirit
of the national life; and we recognise the truth, often maintained and
as often disputed, that the final verdict on a novelist's work is
generally determined by the authenticity of his portraiture, not of
individuals, but of a people, and consequently by the lasting
significance of the phase of society or national life portrayed.

The conditions of the novel should seem in this respect to be quite
different from those of the poem. We are conscious within ourselves of
some principle of isolation and exclusion--the _principium
individuationis_, as the old schoolmen called it--that obstructs the
completion of our being, of some contracting force of nature that dwarfs
our sympathies with our fellow-men, that hinders the development of our
full humanity, and denies the validity of our hopes; and the office of
the imagination and of the imaginative arts is for a while to break down
the walls of this narrowing individuality and to bestow on us the
illusion of unconfined liberty.

But if the end of the arts is the same, their methods are various, and
this variety extends even to the different genres of literature. The
manner of the epic, and in a still higher degree of the tragedy, is so
to arouse the will and understanding that their clogging limitations
seem to be swept away, until through our sympathy with the hero we feel
ourselves to be acting and speaking the great passions of humanity in
their fullest and freest scope; for this reason we call the characters
of the poem types, and we believe that the poet under the impulse of his
inspiration is carried into a region above our vision, where, like the
exalted souls in Plato's dream, he beholds face to face the great ideas
of which our worldly life and circumstances are but faulty copies. In
this way Achilles stands as the perfect warrior, and Odysseus as the
enduring man of wiles; Hamlet is the man of doubts, and Satan the
creature of rebellious pride. It may be that this effort or inspiration
of the poet to represent mankind in idealised form will account in part
for the peculiar tinge of melancholy that is commonly an attribute of
the artistic temperament,--for the brooding uncertainty of Shakespeare,
if as many think Hamlet is the true voice of his heart, for the feeling
of baffled despair which led Goethe to create Faust, and for the
self-tormenting of Childe Harold. It is because the dissolving power of
genius and the personality of the man can never be quite reconciled; he
is detached from nature and attached to her at the same time. On the one
hand his genius draws him to contemplate life with the disinterestedness
of a mind free from the attachments of the individual, while on the
other hand his own personality, often of the most ardent character,
drags him irresistibly to seek the satisfaction of individual emotions.
Like the Empedocles of Matthew Arnold, baffled in the ineffable longing
to escape themselves, these bearers of the divine light are haled
unwillingly

  Back to this meadow of calamity,
  This uncongenial place, this human life.

What to the reader is merely a pleasant and momentary illusion, or a
salutary excitation from without, is in the creative poet a partial
dissolution of his own personality. Shakespeare was not dealing in empty
words when he likened the poet to the lover and the lunatic as being of
imagination all compact; nor was Plato speaking mere metaphor when he
said that "the poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is
no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses
and the mind is no longer in him." In the hour of inspiration some
darkened window is opened on the horizon to eyes that are ordinarily
confined within the four walls of his meagre self, a door is thrown open
to the heaven-sweeping gales, he hears for a brief while the voice of
the Over-soul speaking a language that with all his toil he can barely
render into human speech;--and when at last the door is closed, the
vision gone, and the voice hushed, he sits in the darkened chamber of
his own person, silent and forlorn.

I would not presume to describe absolutely the inner state of the poet
when life appears to him in its ideal form, but the means by which he
conveys his illusion to the reader is quite clear. The rhythm of his
verse produces on the mind something of the stimulating effect of music
and this effect is enhanced by the use of language and metaphor lifted
out of the common mould. Prose, however, has no such resources to impose
on the fancy a creation of its own, in which the individual will is
raised above itself. On the contrary, the office of the novel--and this
we see more clearly as fiction grows regularly more realistic--is to
represent life as controlled by environment and to portray human beings
as the servants of the flesh. This, I take it, was the meaning of
Goethe in his definition of the genres: "In the novel sentiments and
events chiefly are exhibited, in the drama characters and deeds." The
procedure of the novel must be, so to speak, a passive one. It depicts
man as a creature of circumstance, and its only method of escape is so
to encompass the individual in circumstance as to lend to his separate
life something of the pomp of universality. It effects its purpose by
breadth rather than by exaltation. Its truest aim is not to represent
the actions of a single man as noteworthy in themselves, but to
represent the life of a people or a phase of society; in the great sweep
of human activity something of the same largeness and freedom is
produced as in the poetic idealisation of the individual will in the
drama. Thus it happens that the artistic validity of a novel depends
first of all on the power of the author to portray broadly and
veraciously some aspect of this wider existence.

Balzac, in some respects the master novelist, was clearly conscious of
this aim of his art; and his _Comédie Humaine_ is a supreme effort to
grasp the whole range of French society. Nor would it be difficult in
the case of the greater English novelists to show that unwittingly--an
Englishman rarely if ever has the same knowledge of his art as a
Frenchman--they obeyed the same law. We admire Fielding and Smollett not
so much for their individual characterisations as for the joy we feel in
escaping our conventional timidity in the old-time tumultuous country
life of England, with all its rude strength and even its vulgarity. By a
natural contrast we read Jane Austen for her picture of rural security
and stability, and are glad to forget the vexations and uncertainties of
life's warfare in that gentle round of society, where greed and passion
are reduced to petty foibles, and where the errors of mankind only
furnish material for malicious but innocent satire. With Thackeray we
put on the veneer of artificial society which was the true idealism
inherited by him from the eighteenth century; and we move more freely
amidst that _gai monde_ because there runs through the story of it such
a biting satire of worldliness and snobbishness as flatters us with the
feeling of our own superiority. In Dickens we are carried into the very
opposite field of life, and for a while we move with those who are the
creatures of grotesque whims and emotions: caricatures we call his
people, but deep in our hearts we know that each of us longs at times to
be as humanity is in Dickens's world, the perfect and unreflecting
creature of his dearest whim--for this too is liberty. Thus it is that
the interest of the novel depends as much, or almost as much, on the
intrinsic value of the national life or phase of society reproduced as
on the skill of the writer. The prose author is in this respect far less
a free agent than the poet and far more the subject of his environment;
for he deals less with the unchanging laws of character and more with
what he perceives outwardly about him. It is this fact which leads many
readers to prefer the English novelists to the French, although the
latter are unquestionably the greater masters of their craft.

Now the peculiar good fortune of Scott in this matter was most strongly
brought home to me in reading the narrative work of Mr. Lang. Fine and
entertaining as are Scott's more professedly historical novels, such as
_Ivanhoe_ and _Quentin Durward_, I do not believe they could ever have
resisted the invasion of time were they not bolstered up by the stories
that deal more directly with the realities of Scotch life. There is, to
be sure, in the foreign tales a wonderfully pure vein of romance; but
romantic writing in prose cannot endure unless firmly grounded in
realism, or unless, like Hawthorne's work, it is surcharged with
spiritual meanings. Not having the power possessed by verse to convey
illusion, it lacks also the vitality of verse. Younger readers may take
naturally to _Ivanhoe_ or _The Talisman_, because very little is
required to evoke illusion with them. More mature readers turn oftenest
to _Guy Mannering_ and those tales in which the romance is the realism
of Scotch life, finding here a fulness of interest that is more than a
compensation for the frequent slovenliness of Scott's language and for
the haphazard construction of his plots.

These negligences of the indifferent craftsman might, perhaps, need no
such compensation, for we have grown hardened at last to slovenliness
in fiction. But there are other limitations to Scott's powers that show
more clearly how much of his fame rests on the substratum of national
life on which he builds. An infinite variety of characters, from kings
in the council hall down to strolling half-witted gaberlunzies, move
through the pages of his novels; but, and the fact is notorious, the
great Scotchman was little better at painting the purple light of young
desire than was our own Cooper. There is something like love-making in
_Rob Roy_, and Di Vernon has been signalised by Mr. Saintsbury as one of
his five chosen heroines; but in general the scenes that form the
ecstasy of most romance are dead and perfunctory in Scott. And this is
the more remarkable since we know that he himself was a lover--and a
disappointed lover, which is vastly more to the point in art, as all the
world knows. But in fact this inability to portray the softer emotions
is not an isolated phenomenon in Scott; he skims very lightly over most
of the deeper passions of the heart, seeming to avoid them except in so
far as they express themselves in action. His novels contain no adequate
picture of remorse or hatred, love or jealousy; neither do they contain
any such psychological analysis of the emotions as has made the fame of
subsequent writers. But there is an infinite variety of characters in
action, and a perfect understanding of that form of the imagination
which displays itself in whimsicalities corresponding to the
"originals" or "humourists" of the Elizabethan comedy.

The numberless quotations from "old plays" at the head of Scott's
chapters are not without significance. At times he approaches closer to
Shakespeare than any other writer, whether of prose or verse. In one
scene at least in _The Bride of Lammermoor_, where he describes the
"singular and gloomy delight" of the three old cummers about the body of
their contemporary, he lets us know that he has in mind the meeting of
the witches in _Macbeth_, and I think on the whole he excels the
dramatist in his own field. After all is said, the Shakespearian
witch-scene is an arbitrary exercise of the fancy, which fails to carry
with it a complete sense of reality: the illusion is not fully
maintained. The dialogue in the novelist, on the contrary, is instinct
with thrilling suggestiveness, for the very reason that it is based on
the groundwork of national character. The superstitious awe is here
simple realism, from the beginning of the scene down to the warning cry
of the paralytic hag from the cottage:

    "He's a frank man, and a free-handed man, the Master," said Annie
    Winnie, "and a comely personage--broad in the shouthers, and
    narrow around the lunyies. He wad mak a bonny corpse; I wad like
    to hae the streiking and winding o' him."

    "It is written on his brow, Annie Winnie," returned the
    octogenarian, her companion, "that hand of woman, or of man
    either, will never straught him; dead-deal will never be laid on
    his back, make you your market of that, for I hae it frae a sure
    hand."

    "Will it be his lot to die on the battle-ground then, Ailsie
    Gourlay? Will he die by the sword or the ball, as his forbears hae
    dune before him, mony ane o'them?"

    "Ask nae mair questions about it--he'll no be graced sae far,"
    replied the sage.

    "I ken ye are wiser than ither folk, Ailsie Gourlay. But wha
    tell'd ye this?"

    "Fashna your thumb about that, Annie Winnie," answered the sibyl.
    "I hae it frae a hand sure eneugh."

    "But ye said ye never saw the foul thief," reiterated her
    inquisitive companion.

    "I hae it frae as sure a hand," said Ailsie, "and frae them that
    spaed his fortune before the sark gaed ower his head."

    "Hark! I hear his horse's feet riding aff," said the other; "they
    dinna sound as if good luck was wi' them."

    "Mak haste, sirs," cried the paralytic hag from the cottage, "and
    let us do what is needfu', and say what is fitting; for, if the
    dead corpse binna straughted, it will girn and thraw, and that
    will fear the best o' us."

But more often Scott approaches the lesser lights of the Elizabethan
comedians, whose work is in general subject to the same laws as the
novel, and who filled their plays with whimsical creatures--

  Bawd, squire, impostor, many persons more,
  Whose manners, now called humours, feed the stage.

You cannot read through the _dramatis personæ_ of one of these plays
(Witgood, Lucre, Hoard, Limber, Kix, Lamprey, Spichcock, Dampit, etc.)
without being reminded of the long list of originals that figure in the
Scotch novels; and in one case at least, Baron Bradwardine of
_Waverley_, Scott goes out of his way to compare him with a character of
Ben Jonson's. And you cannot but feel that Scott has surpassed his
models on their own ground, partly because his genius was greater and
partly because the novel is a wider and freer field for such characters
than the drama--at least when the drama is deprived of its stage
setting. But Scott's greatest advantage is due to the fact that what in
England was mainly an exaggeration of the more unsociable traits of
character seems in Scotland to reach down to the very foundation of the
popular life. His characters are not the creation of individual
eccentricities only, but spring from an inexhaustible quaintness of the
national temper. From every standpoint we are led back to consider the
greatness of the author as depending on his happy genius in finding a
voice for a rare and noteworthy phase of society.

Much of the Scotch temperament, its self-dependence, clan attachments,
cunning, its gloomy exaltations relieved at times by a wide and serene
prospect, may be traced, as Buckle has so admirably shown, to the
physical conditions of the land; and in reading the history of Scotland,
with its stories of the adventures of Wallace and Bruce and its battles
of Bannockburn and Prestonpans, it seems quite fitting that the wild
scenery of the country should be constantly associated with the deeds
of its heroes. There is something of charm in the very names of the
landscape--in the haughs, corries, straths, friths, burns, and braes.
The fascination of the Scotch lakes and valleys was one of the first to
awaken the world to an admiration of savage nature, as we may read in
Gray's letters; and Scott, from Waverley's excursion into the wild
fastnesses of highland robbers and chiefs to the lonely sea-scenes of
Zetland in _The Pirate_, has carried us through a succession of natural
pictures such as no other novelist ever conceived. And he has maintained
always that most difficult art of describing minutely enough to convey
the illusion of a particular scene and broadly enough to evoke those
general emotions which alone justify descriptive writing. Perhaps his
most notable success is the visit of Guy Mannering to Ellangowan, where
sea, sky, and land unite to form a picture of strangely luminous beauty.
He not only succeeded in exciting a new romantic interest in Scotch
scenery, but he has actually added to the market price of properties. It
is said that his descriptions are mentioned in the title deeds of
various estates as forming a part of their transmitted value.

But the scenery depicted by Scott is only the setting of a curious and
paradoxical life, and it is the light thrown on this life that lends the
chief interest to Mr. Lang's History. Owing in part to the peculiar
position and formation of the land, and in part to the strain of Celtic
blood in the Highland tribes, there was bred in the Scotch people an
unusual mingling of romance and realism, of imagination and worldly
cunning, that sets them quite apart from other races; and this
paradoxical mingling of opposite tendencies shows itself in the quality
of their politics, their religion, and in all their social manners.

Not the least interesting of Mr. Lang's chapters is that in which he
analyses the feudal chivalry of Scotland, and explains how it rested on
a more imaginative basis than in other countries; how the power of the
chief hung on unwritten rights instead of formal charters, and how the
loyalty of the clansmen was exalted to the highest pitch of personal
enthusiasm. But to complete the picture one should read Buckle's
scathing arraignment of a loyalty which was ready to sell its king and
was no purer than the faith that holds together a band of murderous
brigands. So, too, in religion the Scotch were perhaps more given to
superstition, and were more ready to sacrifice life and all else for
their belief than any other people of Europe, except the Spaniards,
while at the same time their bigotry never interfered with a vein of
caution and shrewd worldliness. There is in _Waverley_ an admirable
example at once of this paradoxical nature, and of the true basis of
Scott's strength. In the loyalism of Flora MacIvor he has attempted to
embody an ideal of the imagination not based on this national mingling
of qualities--though, of course, isolated individuals of that heroic
type may have existed in the land; and as a result he has produced a
character that leaves the reader perfectly cold and unconvinced. But the
moment Waverley comes from the MacIvors and descends to the real life of
Scotland, mark the change. We are immediately put on terra firma by the
cautious reply of Waverley's guide when asked if it is Sunday: "Could na
say just preceesely; Sunday seldom cam aboon the pass of Bally-Brough."
Consider the mixture of bigotry and worldly greed in Mr. Ebenezer
Cruikshanks, the innkeeper, who compounds for the sin of receiving a
traveller on fastday by doubling the tariff. In any other land Mr.
Ebenezer Cruikshank would have been a hypocrite and a scoundrel; in
Scotland his religious fervour is quite as genuine as his cunning; and
the very audacity of the combination carries with it the conviction of
realism.

The same contrast of qualities will be found to mark the lesser traits
of character. Consider the long list of servants and retainers with
their stiff-necked devotion and their incorrigible self-seeking. In one
of his notes Scott relates the story of a retainer who when ordered to
leave his master's service replied: "In troth, and that will I not; if
your honour disna ken when ye hae a gude servant, I ken when I hae a
gude master, and go away I will not." At another time, when his master
cried out in vexation: "John, you and I shall never sleep under the
same roof again!" the fellow calmly retorted, "Where the deil can your
honour be ganging?" In like manner the mixture of devotion and
self-seeking in that quaintest of followers, Richie Moniplies, is worth
a thousand false idealisations. To read almost on the same page his
immovable loyalty to Nigel and his brazen treachery in presenting his
own petition first to the King, is to gain at once an entrance into a
new region of psychology and to acquire a truer understanding of Scotch
history. At another time, when catechised about the alleged spirit in
Master Heriot's house, the good Moniplies gives an example of combined
superstition, scepticism, and cunning, which must be read at length--and
all the world has read it--to be appreciated. Perhaps the most useful
illustration to be gained from this same Moniplies is the strange
contrast of solemnity and humour, of reverence and familiarity,
exhibited by him. I need not repeat the description of that
"half-pedant, half-bully," nor quote the whole of his account of meeting
with the King; let it be enough to call attention to the curious
mingling of mirth and solemnity in the way he apostrophises the royal
James: "My certie, lad, times are changed since ye came fleeing down the
backstairs of auld Holyrood House, in grit fear, having your breeks in
your hand without time to put them on, and Frank Stewart, the wild Earl
of Bothwell, hard at your haunches." There is in the temper of worthy
Moniplies something wholly different from the boisterous humour of
England and from the dry laughter of America; and this is due to the
continually upcropping substratum of imagination and romance in his
character. He would resemble the grotesque seriousness of Don Quixote,
were it not for a strain of sourness and suspicion that are quite
foreign to the generous Hidalgo.

So we might follow the paradox of Scotch character through its union of
gloomy moroseness with homely affections, of unrestrained emotionalism
with cold calculation, of awesome second-sight with the cheapest
charlatanry. In the end, perhaps, all these contradictions would resolve
themselves into the one peculiar anomaly of seeing the free romance of
enthusiasm rising like a flower--a flower often enough of sinister
aspect--out of the most prosaic grossness. Certainly it is the chief
interest of Scotch history--by showing that these contradictions
actually exist in the national temperament and by explaining so far as
may be their origin--to confirm for us our belief in what may be called
the realism of Scott's romance. This is that guiding thread which leads
the weary voyager through the mists and chaotic confusions of Caledonian
annals up to light. And in that region of light what wonderful cheer for
the soul! Here, if anywhere in prose, the illusions of the imagination
may take pleasant possession of our heart, for they come with the
authority of a great national experience and walk hand in hand with the
soberest realities. Even the wild enthusiasm of a Meg Merrilies barely
awakens the voice of slumbering scepticism in the midst of our secure
conviction. And sojourning for a while in that world of strange
enchantment we seem to feel the limitations that vex our larger hopes
and hem in our wills broken down at the command of a magic voice. It is
as if that incompleteness of our nature, which the schoolmen called in
their fantastic jargon the _principium individuationis_ and ascribed to
the bondage of these material bodies, were for a time forgotten, while
we form a part of that free and complex existence so faithfully
portrayed in the Scotch novels.



SWINBURNE


It is no more than fair to confess at the outset that my knowledge of
Swinburne's work until recently was of the scantiest. The patent faults
of his style were of a kind to warn me away, and it might be equally
true that I was not sufficiently open to his peculiar excellences.
Gladly, therefore, I accepted the occasion offered by the new edition of
his Collected Poems[5] to enlarge my acquaintance with one of the
much-bruited names of the age. Nor did it seem right to trust to a hasty
impression. The six volumes of his poems, together with the plays and
critical essays, have lain on my table for several months, the
companions of many a long day of leisure and the relish thrown in
between other readings of pleasure and necessity. Yet even now I must
admit something alien to me in the man and his work; I am not sure that
I always distinguish between what is spoken with the lips only and what
springs from the poet's heart. Possibly the lack of biographical
information is the partial cause of this uncertainty, for by a curious
anomaly Swinburne, one of the most egotistical writers of the century,
has shown a fine reticence in keeping the details of his life from the
public. He was, we know, born in London, in 1837, of an ancient and
noble family, his father, as befitted one whose son was to sing of the
sea so lustily, being an admiral in the navy. His early years were
passed either at his grandfather's estate in Northumbria or at the home
of his parents in the Isle of Wight. From Eton he went, after an
interval of two years, to Balliol College, Oxford, leaving in 1860
without a degree. The story runs that he knew more Greek than his
examiners, but failed to show a proper knowledge of Scripture. If the
tale is true, he made up well in after years for the deficiency, for few
of our poets have been more steeped in the language of the Bible. In
London he came under the influence of many of the currents moving below
the surface; the spell of that master of souls, Rossetti, touched him,
and the dominance of the ardent Mazzini. Since 1879 he has lived at "The
Pines," on the edge of Wimbledon Common, with Mr. Watts-Dunton, in what
appears to be an ideal atmosphere of sympathetic friendship. Mr.
Douglas's recent indiscretion on _Theodore Watts-Dunton_ tells nothing
of the life in this scholarly retreat, but it does contain many
photogravures of the works of art, the handicraft of Rossetti largely,
which adorn the dwelling with beautiful memories.

Such is the meagre outline of Swinburne's life, nor do the few other
events recorded or the authentic anecdotes help us much to a more
intimate knowledge of the man. Yet he has the ambiguous gift of
awakening curiosity. Probably the first question most people ask on
laying down his _Poems and Ballads_ (that _péché de jeunesse_, as he
afterwards called it) is to know how much of the book is "true." Mr.
Swinburne has expressed a becoming contempt for "the scornful or
mournful censors who insisted on regarding all the studies of passion or
sensation attempted or achieved in it as either confessions of positive
fact or excursions of absolute fancy." One does not like to be classed
among the _scornful or mournful_, and yet I should feel much easier in
my appreciation of the _Poems and Ballads_ if I knew how far they were
based on the actual experience of the author. The reader of Swinburne
feels constantly as if his feet were swept from the earth and he were
carried into a misty mid-region where blind currents of air beat hither
and thither; he longs for some anchor to reality. In the later books
this sensation becomes almost painful, and it is because the earlier
publications, the _Atalanta_ and the first _Poems and Ballads_, contain
more of definable human emotion, whatever their relation to fact may be,
that they are likely to remain the most popular and significant of
Swinburne's works.

The publication of _Atalanta_ at the age of twenty-eight made him
famous, _Poems and Ballads_ the next year made him almost infamous. The
alarm aroused in England by _Dolores_ and _Faustine_ still vibrates in
our ears as we repeat the wonderful rhythms. The impression is deepened
by the remarkable unity of feeling that runs through these voluble
songs--the feeling of infinite satiety. The satiety of the flesh hangs
like a fatal web about the _Laus Veneris_; the satiety of disappointment
clings "with sullen savour of poisonous pain" to _The Triumph of Time_;
satiety speaks in the _Hymn to Proserpine_, with its regret for the
passing of the old heathen gods; it seeks relief in the unnatural
passion of _Anactoria_--

  Clothed with deep eyelids under and above--
  Yea, all thy beauty sickens me with love;

turns to the abominations of cruelty in _Faustine_; sings enchantingly
of rest in _The Garden of Proserpine_--

  Here, where the world is quiet,
    Here, where all trouble seems
  Dead winds' and spent waves' riot
    In doubtful dreams of dreams;
  I watch the green field growing
  For reaping folk and sowing,
  For harvest-time and mowing,
    A sleepy world of streams.

  I am tired of tears and laughter,
    And men that laugh and weep,
  Of what may come hereafter
    For men that sow to reap:
  I am weary of days and hours,
  Blown buds of barren flowers,
  Desires and dreams and powers
    And everything but sleep.

Now the acquiescence of weariness may have its inner compensations, even
its sacred joys; but satiety with its torturing impotence and its
hungering for forbidden fruit, is perhaps the most immoral word in the
language; its unashamed display causes a kind of physical revulsion in
any wholesome mind. My own feeling is that Swinburne, when he wrote
these poems, had little knowledge or experience of the world, but, as
sometimes happens with unbalanced natures, had sucked poison from his
classical reading until his brain was in a kind of ferment. While in
this state he fell under the spell of Baudelaire's deliberate perversion
of the passions, with results which threw the innocent Philistines of
England into a fine bewilderment of horror. That the poet's own heart
was sound at core, and that his satiety was of the imagination and not
of the body, would seem evident from the abruptness with which he
passed, under a more wholesome stimulus, to a very different mood.
Unfortunately, his maturer productions are lacking in the quality of
human emotion which, however derived, pulsates in every line of the
_Poems and Ballads_. There is a certain contagion in such a song as
_Dolores_. Taking all things into consideration, and with all one's
repulsion for its substance, that poem is still the most effective of
Swinburne's works, a magnificent lyric of blended emotion and music. It
is a personification of the mood which produced the whole book, a cry
of the tormented heart to our Lady of Satiety. It is filled with regret
for a past of riotous pleasure; it pants with the lust of blood; it is
gorgeous and heavily scented, and the rhythm of it is the swaying of
bodies drunken with voluptuousness:

  Fruits fail and love dies and time ranges;
      Thou art fed with perpetual breath,
  And alive after infinite changes,
      And fresh from the kisses of death;
  Of languors rekindled and rallied,
      Of barren delights and unclean,
  Things monstrous and fruitless, a pallid
      And poisonous queen.

  Could you hurt me, sweet lips, though I hurt you?
      Men touch them, and change in a trice
  The lilies and languors of virtue
      For the raptures and roses of vice;
  Those lie where thy foot on the floor is,
      These crown and caress thee and chain,
  O splendid and sterile Dolores,
      Our Lady of Pain.

No doubt you will find here in germ all that was to mar the poet's later
work. The rhythm lacks resistance; there is no definite vision evoked
out of the rapid flux of images; the thought has no sure control over
the words. Dolores is almost in the same breath the queen of languors
and raptures; she is pallid and rosy, and a hostile criticism might find
in the stanzas a succession of contradictions. Compare the poem with the
few lines in _Jenny_ where Rossetti has expressed the same idea of
man's inveterate lust:

  Like a toad within a stone
  Seated while Time crumbles on;
  Which sits there since the earth was cursed
  For Man's transgression at the first--

and the difference is immediately apparent between that concentration of
mind which sums up a thought in a single definite image and the
fluctuating, impalpable vision of a poet carried away by the
intoxication of words. All that is true, and yet, somehow, out of this
poem of _Dolores_ there does arise in the end a very real and memorable
mood--real after the fashion of a mood excited by music rather than by
painting or sculpture.

The _Poems and Ballads_ are splendid but _malsain_; they are impressive
and they have the strength, ambiguous it may be, of springing, directly
or indirectly, from a genuine emotion of the body. The change on passing
to the _Songs Before Sunrise_ (published in 1871) is extraordinary.
During the five years that elapsed between these volumes the two master
passions of Swinburne's life laid hold on him with devastating
effect--the passion of Liberty and the passion of the Sea. Henceforth
the influence of Mazzini and Victor Hugo was to dominate him like an
obsession. Now, heaven forbid that one should say or think anything in
despite of Liberty! The mere name conjures up recollections of glory
and pride, and in it the hopes of the future are involved. And yet the
very magnitude of its content renders it peculiarly liable to misuse. To
this man it means one thing, and to another another, and many might cry
out in the end, as Brutus did over virtue: "Thou art a naked word, and I
followed thee as though thou hadst been a substance!" Certainly nothing
is more dangerous for a poet than to fall into the habit of mouthing
those great words of liberty, virtue, patriotism, and the like,
abstracted of very definite events and very precise imagery. To
Swinburne the sound of liberty was a charm to cast him into a kind of
frothing mania. It is true that one or two of the poems on this theme
are lifted up with a superb and genuine lyric enthusiasm. The _Eve of
Revolution_, for instance, with which the _Songs Before Sunrise_ open,
rings with the stirring noise of trumpets:

  I hear the midnight on the mountains cry
    With many tongues of thunders, and I hear
  Sound and resound the hollow shield of sky
    With trumpet-throated winds that charge and cheer,
  And through the roar of the hours that fighting fly,
    Through flight and fight and all the fluctuant fear....

But even here the reverberation of the words begins to conceal their
meaning, and such abstractions as "the roar of the hours" lead into the
worst of Swinburne's faults. Many of the longer hymns to liberty are
nearly unreadable--at least if any one can endure to the end of _A Song
of Italy_, it is not I. And as one goes through these rhapsodies that
came out year after year, one begins to feel that Swinburne's notion of
liberty, when it is not empty of meaning, is something even worse. Too
often it is Kipling's gross idolatry of England uttered in a kind of
hysterical falsetto. It was not pretty at a time of estrangement between
England and France to speak of "French hounds whose necks are aching
Still from the chain they crave"; and one needed not to sympathise with
the Boers in the South African war to feel something like disgust at
Swinburne's abuse:

  ....... the truth whose witness now draws near
  To scourge these dogs, agape with jaws afoam,
  Down out of life.

Probably the poet thought he was giving voice to a righteous and
Miltonic indignation. The best criticism of such a sonnet is to turn to
Milton's "Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints."

I have read somewhere a story of Swinburne's driving up late to a dinner
and entering into a violent altercation with the cabman, to the vast
amusement of the waiting guests within the house. That incorrigible wag
and hanger-on of genius, Charles Augustus Howell, was of the party and
acted as chorus to the dialogue outside. "The poet's got the best of
it, as usual," drawls the chorus. "He lives at the British Hotel in
Cockspur Street, and never goes anywhere except in hansoms, which,
whatever the distance, he invariably remunerates with one shilling.
Consequently, when, as to-day, it's a case of two miles beyond the
radius, there's the devil's own row; but in the matter of imprecation
the poet is more than a match for cabby, who, after five minutes of it,
gallops off as though he had been rated by Beelzebub himself." Really,
'tis a bit of gossip which may be taken as a comment on not a few of
Swinburne's dithyrambs of liberty.

Not less noble in significance is that other word, the sea, which
Swinburne now uses with endless reiteration. In his reverence for the
weltering ocean ways, the bulwark of England's freedom, he does of
course only follow the best traditions of English poetry from _Beowulf_
to _The Seven Seas_ of Kipling, who is again in this his imitator. Nor
is it the world of water alone that dominates his imagination, but with
it the winds and the panorama of the sky ever rolling above. Already in
the _Poems and Ballads_ there is a hint of the sympathy between the poet
and this realm of water and air. One of the finest passages in _The
Triumph of Time_ is that which begins:

  I will go back to the great sweet mother,
    Mother and lover of men, the sea.
  I will go down to her, I and none other,
    Close with her, kiss her and mix her with me.

But for the most part the atmosphere of those poems was too sultry for
the salt spray of ocean, and it is only with the _Songs Before Sunrise_,
with the obsession of the idea of liberty, that we are carried to the
wide sea "that makes immortal motion to and fro," and to the "shrill,
fierce climes of inconsolable air." Thenceforth the reader is like some
wave-tossed mariner who should take refuge in the cave of Æolus; at
least he is forced to admire the genius that presides over the gusty
concourse:

                Hic vasto rex Æolus antro
  Luctantis ventos tempestatesque sonoras
  Imperio premit ac vinclis et carcere frenat.
  Illi indignantes magno cum murmure montis
  Circum claustra fremunt.

The comparison is not so far-fetched as it might seem. There is a
picture of Swinburne in the _Recollections_ of the late Henry Treffry
Dunn which almost personifies him as the storm-king:

    It had been a very sultry day, and with the advancing twilight,
    heavy thunder-clouds were rolling up. The door opened and
    Swinburne entered. He appeared in an abstracted state, and for a
    few minutes sat silent. Soon, something I had said anent his last
    poem set his thoughts loose. Like the storm that had just broken,
    so he began in low tones to utter lines of poetry. As the storm
    increased, he got more and more excited and carried away by the
    impulse of his thoughts, bursting into a torrent of splendid verse
    that seemed like some grand air with the distant peals of thunder
    as an intermittent accompaniment. And still the storm waxed more
    violent, and the vivid flashes of lightning became more frequent.
    But Swinburne seemed unconscious of it all, and whilst he paced up
    and down the room, pouring out bursts of passionate declamation,
    faint electric sparks played round the wavy masses of his
    luxuriant hair.... Amidst the rattle of the thunder he still
    continued to pour out his thoughts, his voice now sinking low and
    sad, now waxing louder as the storm listed.

The scattered poems in his later books that rise above the _Poems and
Ballads_ with a kind of grandiose suggestiveness are for the most part
filled with echoes of wind and water. That haunting picture of crumbling
desolation, _A Forsaken Garden_, lies "at the sea-down's edge between
windward and lee." One of the few poems that seem to contain the cry of
a real experience, _At a Month's End_, combines this aspect of nature
admirably with human emotion:

  Silent we went an hour together,
    Under grey skies by waters white.
  _Our hearts were full of windy weather,
    Clouds and blown stars and broken light._

And the sensation left from a reading of _Tristram of Lyonesse_ is of a
vast phantasmagoria, in which the beating of waves and the noise of
winds, the light of dawns breaking on the water, and the floating web of
stars, are jumbled together in splendid but inextricable confusion. So
the coming of love upon Iseult, as she sails over the sea with
Tristram, takes this magnificent comparison:

  And as the august great blossom of the dawn
  Burst, and the full sun scarce from sea withdrawn
  Seemed on the fiery water a flower afloat,
  So as a fire the mighty morning smote
  Throughout her, and incensed with the influent hour
  Her whole soul's one great mystical red flower
  Burst....

Further on the long confession of her passion at Tintagel, while
Tristram has gone over-sea to that other Iseult, will be broken by those
thundering couplets:

  And swordlike was the sound of the iron wind,
  And as a breaking battle was the sea.

But even to allude to all the passages of this kind in the poem--the
swimming of Tristram, his rowing, and the other scenes--would fill an
essay. In the end it must be confessed that this monotony of tone grows
fatiguing. The rhythmic grace of the metre is like a bubble blown into
the air, floating before our eyes with gorgeous iridescence--but when it
touches earth, it bursts. There lies the fatal weakness of all this
frenzy over liberty and this hymeneal chanting of sky and ocean; it has
no basis in the homely facts of the heart. Read the account of Tristram
and Iseult in the wilderness bower; it is all very beautiful, but you
wonder why it leaves you so cold. There is not a single detail to fix an
image of the place in the mind, not a word to denote that we are
dealing with the passion of individual human beings. Then turn to the
same episode in the old poem of Gottfried von Strassburg; read the scene
where the forsaken King Mark, through a window of their forest grotto,
beholds the lovers lying asleep with the sword of Tristram stretched
between them:

    He gazed on his heart's delight, Iseult, and deemed that never
    before had he seen her so fair. She lay sleeping, with a flush as
    of mingled roses on her cheek, and her red and glowing lips apart;
    a little heated by her morning wandering in the dewy meadow and by
    the spring. On her head was a chaplet woven of clover. A ray of
    sunlight from the little window fell upon her face, and as Mark
    looked upon her he longed to kiss her, for never had she seemed so
    fair and so lovable as now. And when he saw how the sunlight fell
    upon her he feared lest it harm her, or awaken her, so he took
    grass and leaves and flowers, and covered the window therewith,
    and spake a blessing on his love and commended her to God, and
    went his way, weeping.

It is good to walk with head lifted to the stars, but it is good also to
have the feet well planted on earth. If another example of Swinburne's
abstraction from human interest were desired, one might take that
rhapsody of the wind-beaten waters and "land that is lonelier than
ruin," called _By the North Sea_. The picture of desolate and barren
waste is one of the most powerful creations in his later works (it was
published in 1880), yet there is still something wanting to stamp the
impression into the mind. You turn from it, perhaps, to Browning's
similar description in _Childe Roland_ and the reason is at once clear.
You come upon the line: "One stiff, blind horse, his every bone
a-stare," and pause. There is in Swinburne's poem no single touch which
arrests the attention in this way, concentrating the effect, as it were,
to a burning point, and bringing out the symbolic relation to human
life. Yet I cannot pass from this subject without noticing what may
appear a paradoxical phase of Swinburne's character. Only when he lowers
his gaze from the furies and ecstasies of man's ambition to the
instinctive ways of little children does his art become purely human. It
would be easy to select a full dozen of the poems dealing with
child-life and the tender love inspired by a child that touch the heart
with their pure and chastened beauty. I should feel that an essential
element of his art were left unremarked if I failed to quote some such
examples as these two roundels on _First Footsteps_ and a _A Baby's
Death_:

  A little way, more soft and sweet
    Than fields aflower with May,
  A babe's feet, venturing, scarce complete
    A little way.

  Eyes full of dawning day
    Look up for mother's eyes to meet,
  Too blithe for song to say.

  Glad as the golden spring to greet
    Its first live leaflet's play,
  Love, laughing, leads the little feet
    A little way.

       *       *       *       *       *

  The little feet that never trod
  Earth, never strayed in field or street,
  What hand leads upward back to God
    The little feet?

  A rose in June's most honied heat,
  When life makes keen the kindling sod,
  Was not more soft and warm and sweet.

  Their pilgrimage's period
  A few swift moons have seen complete
  Since mother's hands first clasped and shod
    The little feet.

Despite the artificiality of the French form and a kind of revolving
dizziness of movement, one catches in these child-lyrics a simplicity of
feeling not unlike Longfellow's cry, "O little feet! that such long
years." Swinburne himself might not relish the comparison, which is none
the less just.

It is not often safe to attempt to sum up a large body of work in a
phrase, yet with Swinburne we shall scarcely go astray if we seek such a
characterisation in the one word _motion_. Both the beauty and the fault
of his extraordinary rhythms are exposed in that term, and certainly his
first claim to originality lies in his rhythmical innovations. There had
been nothing in English comparable to the steady swell, like the waves
of a subsiding sea, in the lines of _Atalanta_ and the _Poems and
Ballads_. They brought a new sensuous pleasure into our poetry. But with
time this cadenced movement developed into a kind of giddy race which
too often left the reader belated and breathless. Little tricks of
composition, such as a repeated cæsura after the seventh syllable of the
pentameter, were employed to heighten the speed. Moreover, the longer
lines in many of the poems are not organic, but consist of two or more
short lines huddled together, the effect being to eliminate the natural
resting-places afforded by the sense. And occasionally his metre is
merely wanton. He uses one verse, for example, which with its
combination of gliding motion and internal jingles is uncommonly
irritating:

  Hills and _valleys_ where April _rallies_ his radiant squadron of
          flowers and _birds_,
  Steep strange _beaches_ and lustrous _reaches_ of fluctuant sea that
          the land _engirds_,
  Fields and _downs_ that the sunrise _crowns_ with life diviner than
          lives in _words_,--

a page of this sets the nerves all a-jangle.

And if Swinburne is one of the obscurest of English poets, it is due in
large part to this same element of motion. A poem may move swiftly and
still be perfectly easy to follow, so long as the thought is simple and
concrete; witness the works of Longfellow. Or, on the other hand, the
thought may be tortuous and still invite reflection, so long as the
metre forces a continual pause in the reading; witness Browning. Now, no
one will accuse Swinburne of overloading his pages with thought; it is
not there the obscurity lies. The difficulty is with the number and the
peculiarly vague quality of his metaphors. Let me illustrate what I mean
by this vagueness. I open one of the volumes at random and my eye rests
on this line in _A Channel Passage_:

  As a tune that is played by the fingers of death on the keys of life
          or of sleep.

If one were reading the poem and tried to evoke this image before his
mind, he would certainly need to pause for a moment. Or I open to
_Walter Savage Landor_ and find this passage marked:

  High from his throne in heaven Simonides,
    Crowned with mild aureole of memorial tears
  That the everlasting sun of all time sees
    All golden, molten from the forge of years.

The sentiment is simple enough, and it might be sufficient to feel the
force of this in a general way, were it not that the metaphorical
expression almost compels one to pause and form an image of the whole
before proceeding. Such an image is, no doubt, possible; but the
mingling of abstract and concrete terms makes the act of visualisation
slow and painful. At the same time the rhythm is swift and continuous,
so that any pause in the reading demands a deliberate effort of the
will. The result is a form of obscurity which in many of the poems is
almost prohibitive for an indolent man--and are not the best readers
always a little indolent? And there is another habit--trick, one might
say--which increases this vagueness of metaphor in a curious manner.
Constantly he uses a word in its ordinary, direct sense and then repeats
it as an abstract personification. I find an example to hand in the
stanzas written _At a Dog's Grave_:

  The shadow shed round those we love shines bright
    As _love's_ own face.

It is only a mannerism such as another, but it recurs with sufficient
frequency to have an appreciable effect on the mind.

Indeed, if this vagueness of imagery were only an occasional appearance,
the difficulty would be slight. As a matter of fact, no inconsiderable
portion of Swinburne's work is made up of a stream of half-visualised
abstractions that crowd upon one another with the motion of clouds
driven below the moon. He is more like Walt Whitman in this respect than
any other poet in the language. Whitman is concrete and human and very
earthly, but, with this difference, there is in both writers the same
thronging procession of images which flit by without allowing the reader
to concentrate his attention upon a single impression; they are both
poets of vast and confused motion. Swinburne is notable for his want of
humour, yet he is keen enough to see how close this flux of
high-sounding words lies to the absurd. In the present collected edition
of his poems he has included _The Heptalogia, or Seven against Sense_, a
series of parodies which does not spare his own mannerisms. Some
scandalised Philistines, I doubt, might even need to be told that
_Nephelidia_ was a parody:

  Nay, for the nick of the tick of the time is a tremulous touch
          on the temples of terror,
    Strained as the sinews yet strenuous with strife of the dead
          who is dumb as the dust-heaps of death:
  Surely no soul is it, sweet as the spasm of erotic emotional
          exquisite error,
    Bathed in the balms of beatified bliss, beatific itself by
          beatitude's breath.

Pretty much all the traits of Swinburne's style are there--the long
breathless lines with their flowing dactyls or anapæsts, the unabashed
alliteration, the stream of half-visualised images, the trick of
following an epithet with its own abstract substantive, the sense of
motion, and above all the accumulation of words. Of this last trait of
verbosity I have said nothing, for the reason that it is too notorious
to need mentioning. It may not, however, be superfluous to point out a
little more precisely the special form his tautology assumes. He is
never more graphic and nearer to nature than when he describes the
ecstasy of swimming at sea. He is himself passionately fond of the
exercise, and once at least was almost drowned in the Channel. Let us
take, then, a stanza from _A Swimmer's Dream_:

  All the strength of the waves that perish
    Swells beneath me and laughs and sighs,
  Sighs for love of the life they cherish,
    Laughs to know that it lives and dies,
  Dies for joy of its life, and lives
  Thrilled with joy that its brief death gives--
  Death whose laugh or whose breath forgives
    Change that bids it subside and rise.

Pass the fault of beginning with the abstraction "strength"--the first
two lines are graphic and reproduce a real sensation; the second two
lines are an explanatory repetition; the last four dissolve both image
and emotion into a flood of words. It is the common procedure in the
later poems; it renders the regular dramas (with the exception of the
earlier _Chastelard_) almost intolerably tedious.

And what is the impression of the man himself that remains after living
with his works for several months? The frankness with which he parodies
his own eccentricities might seem to indicate a becoming modesty, and
yet that is scarcely the word that rises first to the lips. Indeed, when
I read in the very opening of the Dedicatory Epistle that precedes the
present edition of his poems such a statement as that "he finds nothing
that he could wish to cancel, to alter, or to unsay, in any page he has
ever laid before his reader," I was prepared for a character quite the
contrary of modest, and as I turned page after page, there became fixed
in my mind a feeling that I should hesitate to call personal
repulsion--a feeling of annoyance at least, for which no explanation was
present. Only when I reached _Atalanta in Calydon_, in the fourth
volume, did the reason of this become evident. That poem, exquisite in
many ways, is filled with talk of time and gods, of love and hate, of
life and death, of all high-sounding words that lend gravity to poetry,
and yet in the end it is itself light and not grave. The very needless
reiteration of these words, their bandying from verse to verse, deprives
them of impressiveness. No, a true poet who respects the sacredness of
noble ideas, who cherishes some awe for the mysteries, does not buffet
them about as a shuttlecock; he uses them sparingly and only when the
thought rises of necessity to those heights. There is a lack of
emotional breeding, almost an indecency, in Swinburne's easy familiarity
with these great things of the spirit.

And this judgment is confirmed by turning to his prose. I trust it is
not prejudice, but after a while the vociferous and endless praise of
Victor Hugo in his essays had a curious effect upon me. I began to ask:
Is the critic really thinking of Hugo alone, or is half of this frenzied
adulation meant for his own artistic methods? "Malignity and meanness,
platitude and perversity, decrepitude of cankered intelligence and
desperation of universal rancor," he exclaims against Sainte-Beuve; and
over the other critics of his idol he cries out, "The lazy malignity of
envious dullness is as false and fatuous as it is common and easy." Can
one avoid the surmise that he has more than Hugo to avenge in such
tirades? It is the same with every one who is opposed to his own notions
of art. Of Walt Whitman it is: "The dirty, clumsy paws of a harper whose
plectrum is a muckrake." Of a French classicist: "It is the business of
a Nisard to pass judgment and to bray." And of those who intimate (he is
ostensibly defending Rossetti) that beauty and power of expression can
accord with emptiness or sterility of matter: "This flattering unction
the very foolishest of malignants will hardly in this case be able to
lay upon the corrosive sore which he calls his soul." Sometimes, I
admit, this manner of invective rises to a sublimity of fury that sounds
like nothing so much as a combination of Carlyle and Shelley. For
example: "The affection was never so serious as to make it possible for
the most malignant imbecile to compare or to confound him [Jowett] with
such morally and spiritually typical and unmistakable apes of the Dead
Sea as Mark Pattison, or such renascent blossoms of the Italian
renascence as the Platonic amorist of blue-breeched gondoliers who is
now in Aretino's bosom." It's not criticism; it's not fair to Mark
Pattison or to John Addington Symonds, but it is sublime. It is a storm
of wind only, but it leaves a devastated track.

Enough has been said to indicate the trait of character that prevails
through these pages of eulogy and vituperation. It is not nice to apply
so crass a word as _conceit_ to one who undoubtedly belongs to the
immortals of our pantheon, yet the expression forces itself upon me.
Listen to another of his outbursts, this time against Matthew Arnold:
"His inveterate and invincible Philistinism, his full community of
spirit and faith, in certain things of import, with the vulgarest
English mind!" Does not the quality begin to define itself more exactly?
There is a phrase they use in France, _épater le bourgeois_, of those
artistic souls who contrast themselves by a kind of ineffable contempt
with commonplace humanity, and who take pleasure in tweaking the nose,
so to speak, of the amiable plebeian. Have a care, gentlemen! The
Philistine has a curious trick of revenging himself in the long run. For
my own part, when it comes to a breach between the poetical and the
prosaic, I take my place submissively with the latter. There is at least
a humble safety in retaining one's pleasure in certain things of import
with the vulgarest English mind, and if it were obligatory to choose
between them (as, happily, it is not) I would surrender the wind-swept
rhapsodies of Swinburne for the homely conversation of Whittier.



CHRISTINA ROSSETTI


Probably the first impression one gets from reading the _Complete
Poetical Works_ of Christina Rossetti, now collected and edited by her
brother, Mr. W. M. Rossetti,[6] is that she wrote altogether too much,
and that it was a doubtful service to her memory to preserve so many
poems purely private in their nature. The editor, one thinks, might well
have shown himself more "reverent of her strange simplicity." For page
after page we are in the society of a spirit always refined and
exquisite in sentiment, but without any guiding and restraining artistic
impulse; she never drew to the shutters of her soul, but lay open to
every wandering breath of heaven. In comparison with the works of the
more creative poets her song is like the continuous lisping of an æolian
harp beside the music elicited by cunning fingers. And then, suddenly,
out of this sweet monotony, moved by some stronger, clearer breeze of
inspiration, there sounds a strain of wonderful beauty and flawless
perfection, unmatched in its own kind in English letters. An anonymous
purveyor of anecdotes has recently told how one of these more exquisite
songs called forth the enthusiasm of Swinburne. It was just after the
publication of _Goblin Market and Other Poems_, and in a little company
of friends that erratic poet and critic started to read aloud from the
volume. Turning first to the devotional paraphrase which begins with
"Passing away, saith the World, passing away," he chanted the lines in
his own emphatic manner, then laid the book down with a vehement
gesture. Presently he took it up again, and a second time read the poem
through, even more impressively. "By God!" he exclaimed at the end,
"that's one of the finest things ever written!"

  Passing away, saith the World, passing away:
  Chances, beauty, and youth, sapped day by day,
  Thy life never continueth in one stay.
  Is the eye waxen dim, is the dark hair changing to grey,
  That hath won neither laurel nor bay?
  I shall clothe myself in Spring and bud in May:
  Thou, root-stricken, shalt not rebuild thy decay
  On my bosom for aye.
  Then I answered: Yea.

  Passing away, saith my Soul, passing away:
  With its burden of fear and hope, of labour and play,
  Hearken what the past doth witness and say:
  Rust in thy gold, a moth is in thine array,
  A canker is in thy bud, thy leaf must decay.
  At midnight, at cockcrow, at morning, one certain day
  Lo the Bridegroom shall come and shall not delay;
  Watch thou and pray.
  Then I answered: Yea.

  Passing away, saith my God, passing away:
  Winter passeth after the long delay:
  New grapes on the vine, new figs on the tender spray,
  Turtle calleth turtle in Heaven's May.
  Though I tarry, wait for Me, trust Me, watch and pray:
  Arise, come away, night is past and lo it is day:
  My love, My sister, My spouse, thou shalt hear Me say.
  Then I answered: Yea.

And Swinburne, somewhat contrary to his wont, was right. Purer
inspiration, less troubled by worldly motives, than these verses cannot
be found. Nor would it be difficult to discover in their brief compass
most of the qualities that lend distinction to Christina Rossetti's
work. Even her monotone, which after long continuation becomes monotony,
affects one here as a subtle device heightening the note of subdued
fervour and religious resignation; the repetition of the rhyming vowel
creates the feeling of a secret expectancy cherished through the
weariness of a frustrate life. If there is any excuse for publishing the
many poems that express the mere unlifted, unvaried prayer of her heart,
it is because their monotony may prepare the mind for the strange
artifice of this solemn chant. But such a preparation demands more
patience than a poet may justly claim from the ordinary reader. Better
would be a volume of selections from her works, including a number of
poems of this character. It would stand, in its own way, supreme in
English literature,--as pure and fine an expression of the feminine
genius as the world has yet heard.

It is, indeed, as the flower of strictly feminine genius that Christina
Rossetti should be read and judged. She is one of a group of women who
brought this new note into Victorian poetry,--Louisa Shore, Jean
Ingelow, rarely Mrs. Browning, and, I may add, Mrs. Meynell. She is like
them, but of a higher, finer strain than they ([Greek: kalai de te
pasai]), and I always think of her as of her brother's Blessed Damozel,
circled with a company of singers, yet holding herself aloof in chosen
loneliness of passion. She, too, has not quite ceased to yearn toward
earth:

  And still she bowed herself and stooped
    Out of the circling charm;
  Until her bosom must have made
    The bar she leaned on warm,
  And the lilies lay as if asleep
    Along her bended arm.

I have likened the artlessness of much of her writing to the sweet
monotony of an æolian harp; the comparison returns as expressing also
the purely feminine spirit of her inspiration. There is in her a passive
surrender to the powers of life, a religious acquiescence, which wavers
between a plaintive pathos and a sublime exultation of faith. The great
world, with its harsh indifference for the weak, passes over her as a
ruinous gale rushes over a sequestered wood-flower; she bows her head,
humbled but not broken, nor ever forgetful of her gentle mission,--

  And strong in patient weakness till the end.

She bends to the storm, yet no one, not the great mystics nor the
greater poets who cry out upon the sound and fury of life, is more
constantly impressed by the vanity and fleeting insignificance of the
blustering power, or more persistently looks for consolation and joy
from another source. But there is a difference. Read the masculine poets
who have heard this mystic call of the spirit, and you feel yourself in
the presence of a strong will that has grasped the world, and, finding
it insufficient, deliberately casts it away; and there is no room for
pathetic regret in their ruthless determination to renounce. But this
womanly poet does not properly renounce at all, she passively allows the
world to glide away from her. The strength of her genius is endurance:

  She stands there like a beacon through the night,
    A pale clear beacon where the storm-drift is--
  She stands alone, a wonder deathly-white:
  She stands there patient, nerved with inner might,
    Indomitable in her feebleness,
  Her face and will athirst against the light.

It is characteristic of her feminine disposition that the loss of the
world should have come to her first of all in the personal relation of
love. And here we must signalise the chief service of the editor toward
his sister. It was generally known in a vague way, indeed it was easy to
surmise as much from her published work, that Christina Rossetti bore
with her always the sadness of unfulfilled affection. In the
introductory Memoir her brother has now given a sufficiently detailed
account of this matter to remove all ambiguity. I am not one to wish
that the reserves and secret emotions of an author should be displayed
for the mere gratification of the curious; but in this case the
revelation would seem to be justified as a needed explanation of poems
which she herself was willing to publish. Twice, it appears, she gave
her love, and both times drew back in a kind of tremulous awe from the
last step. The first affair began in 1848, before she was eighteen, and
ran its course in about two years. The man was one James Collinson, an
artist of mediocre talent who had connected himself with the
Pre-raphaelite Brotherhood. He was originally a Protestant, but had
become a Roman Catholic. Then, as Christina refused to ally herself to
one of that faith, he compliantly abandoned Rome for the Church of
England. His conscience, however, which seems from all accounts to have
been of a flabby consistency, troubled him in the new faith, and he soon
reverted to Catholicism. Christina then drew back from him finally. It
is not so easy to understand why she refused the second suitor, with
whom she became intimately acquainted about 1860, and whom she loved in
her own retiring fashion until the day of her death. This was Charles
Bagot Cayley, a brother of the famous Cambridge mathematician, himself a
scholar and in a small way a poet. Some idea of the man may be obtained
from a notice of him written by Mr. W. M. Rossetti for the _Athenæum_
after his death. "A more complete specimen than Mr. Charles Cayley,"
says Mr. Rossetti, "of the abstracted scholar in appearance and
manner--the scholar who constantly lives an inward and unmaterial life,
faintly perceptive of external facts and appearances--could hardly be
conceived. He united great sweetness to great simplicity of character,
and was not less polite than unworldly." One might suppose that such a
temperament was peculiarly fitted to join with that of the secluded
poetess, and so, to judge from her many love poems, it actually was. Of
her own heart or of his there seems to have been no doubt in her mind.
Even in her most rapturous visions of heaven, like the yearning cry of
the Blessed Damozel, the memory of that stilled passion often breaks
out:

  How should I rest in Paradise,
  Or sit on steps of heaven alone?
  If Saints and Angels spoke of love,
  Should I not answer from my throne,
  Have pity upon me, ye my friends,
  For I have heard the sound thereof?

She seems even not to have been unfamiliar with the hope of joy, and I
would persuade myself that her best-known lyric of gladness, "My heart
is like a singing-bird," was inspired by the early dawning of this
passion. But the hope and the joy soon passed away and left her only the
solemn refrain of acquiescence: "Then I answered: Yea." Her brother can
give no sufficient explanation of this refusal on her part to accept the
happiness almost within her hand, though he hints at lack of religious
sympathy between the two. Some inner necessity of sorrow and
resignation, one almost thinks, drew her back in both cases, some
perception that the real treasure of her heart lay not in this world:

  A voice said, "Follow, follow": and I rose
    And followed far into the dreamy night,
    Turning my back upon the pleasant light.
  It led me where the bluest water flows,
  And would not let me drink: where the corn grows
    I dared not pause, but went uncheered by sight
    Or touch: until at length in evil plight
  It left me, wearied out with many woes.
  Some time I sat as one bereft of sense:
    But soon another voice from very far
      Called, "Follow, follow": and I rose again.
    Now on my night has dawned a blessed star:
      Kind steady hands my sinking steps sustain,
    And will not leave me till I go from hence.

It might seem that here was a spirit of renunciation akin to that of the
more masculine mystics; indeed, a great many of her poems are,
unconsciously I presume, almost a paraphrase of that recurring theme of
the Imitation: "Nolle consolari ab aliqua creatura," and again: "Amore
igitur Creatoris, amorem hominis superavit; et pro humano solatio,
divinum beneplacitum magis elegit." She, too, was unwilling to find
consolation in any creature, and turned from the love of man to the love
of the Creator; yet a little reading of her exquisite hymns will show
that this renunciation has more the nature of surrender than of
deliberate choice:

  He broke my will from day to day;
  He read my yearnings unexprest,
  And said them nay.

The world is withheld from her by a power above her will, and always
this power stands before her in that peculiarly personal form which it
is wont to assume in the feminine mind. Her faith is a mere transference
to heaven of a love that terrifies her in its ruthless earthly
manifestation; and the passion of her life is henceforth a yearning
expectation of the hour when the Bridegroom shall come and she shall
answer, Yea. Nor is the earthly source of this love forgotten; it abides
with her as a dream which often is not easily distinguished from its
celestial transmutation:

  O dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet,
    Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,
  Where souls brimful of love abide and meet;
    Where thirsting longing eyes
      Watch the slow door
  That opening, letting in, lets out no more.

  Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live
    My very life again though cold in death:
  Come back to me in dreams, that I may give
    Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
      Speak low, lean low,
  As long ago, my love, how long ago.

It is this perfectly passive attitude toward the powers that command her
heart and her soul--a passivity which by its completeness assumes the
misguiding semblance of a deliberate determination of life--that makes
her to me the purest expression in English of the feminine genius. I
know that many would think this pre-eminence belongs to Mrs. Browning.
They would point out the narrowness of Christina Rossetti's range, and
the larger aspects of woman's nature, neglected by her, which inspire
some of her rival's best-known poems. To me, on the contrary, it is the
very scope attempted by Mrs. Browning that prevents her from holding the
place I would give to Christina Rossetti. So much of Mrs. Browning--her
political ideas, her passion for reform, her scholarship--simply carries
her into the sphere of the masculine poets, where she suffers by an
unfair comparison. She would be a better and less irritating writer
without these excursions into a field for which she was not entirely
fitted. The uncouthness that so often mars her language is partly due to
an unreconciled feud between her intellect and her heart. She had
neither a woman's wise passivity nor a man's controlling will. Even
within the range of strictly feminine powers her genius is not simple
and typical. And here I must take refuge in a paradox which is like
enough to carry but little conviction. Nevertheless, it is the truth. I
mean to say that probably most women will regard Mrs. Browning as the
better type of their sex, whereas to men the honour will seem to belong
to Miss Rossetti; and that the judgment of a man in this matter is more
conclusive than a woman's. This is a paradox, I admit, yet its solution
is simple. Women will judge a poetess by her inclusion of the larger
human nature, and will resent the limiting of her range to the qualities
that we look upon as peculiarly feminine. The passion of Mrs. Browning,
her attempt to control her inspiration to the demands of a shaping
intellect, her questioning and answering, her larger aims, in a word her
effort to create,--all these will be set down to her credit by women who
are as appreciative of such qualities as men, and who will not be
annoyed by the false tone running through them. Men, on the contrary,
are apt, in accepting a woman's work or in creating a female character,
to be interested more in the traits and limitations which distinguish
her from her masculine complement. They care more for the _idea_ of
woman, and less for woman as merely a human being. Thus, for example, I
should not hesitate to say that in this ideal aspect Thackeray's
heroines are more womanly than George Eliot's,--though I am aware of
the ridicule to which such an opinion lays me open; and for the same
reason I hold that Christina Rossetti is a more complete exemplar of
feminine genius, and, as being more perfect in her own sphere, a better
poet than Mrs. Browning. That disconcerting sneer of Edward
FitzGerald's, which so enraged Robert Browning, would never have
occurred to him, I think, in the case of Miss Rossetti.

There is a curious comment on this contrast in the introduction to
Christina Rossetti's _Monna Innominata_, a sonnet-sequence in which she
tells her own story in the supposed person of an early Italian lady.
"Had the great poetess of our own day and nation," she says, "only been
unhappy instead of happy, her circumstances would have invited her to
bequeath to us, in lieu of the _Portuguese Sonnets_, an inimitable
'donna innominata' drawn not from fancy, but from feeling, and worthy to
occupy, a niche beside Beatrice and Laura." Now this sonnet-sequence of
Miss Rossetti's is far from her best work, and holds a lower rank in
every way than that passionate self-revelation of Mrs. Browning's; yet
to read these confessions of the two poets together is a good way to get
at the division between their spirits. In Miss Rossetti's sonnets all
those feminine traits I have dwelt on are present to a marked, almost an
exaggerated, degree. They are harmonious within themselves, and filled
with a quiet ease; only the higher inspiration is lacking to them in
comparison with her _Passing Away_, and other great lyrics. In Mrs.
Browning, on the contrary, one cannot but feel a disturbing element. The
very tortuousness of her language, the straining to render her emotion
in terms of the intellect, introduces a quality which is out of harmony
with the ground theme of feminine surrender. More than that, this
submission to love, if looked at more closely, is itself in large part
such as might proceed from a man as well as from a woman, so that there
results an annoying confusion of masculine and feminine passion. Take,
for instance, the twenty-second of the _Portuguese Sonnets_, one of the
most perfect in the series:

  When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
  Face to face, drawing nigher and nigher,
  Until the lengthening wings break into fire
  At either curvèd point,--What bitter wrong
  Can earth do to us, that we should not long
  Be here contented? Think. In mounting higher,
  The angels would press on us, and aspire
  To drop some golden orb of perfect song
  Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay
  Rather on earth, Beloved,--where the unfit
  Contrarious moods of men recoil away
  And isolate pure spirits, and permit
  A place to stand and love in for a day,
  With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

That is noble verse, undoubtedly. The point is that it might just as
well have been written by a man to a woman as the contrary; it would,
for example, fit perfectly well into Dante Gabriel Rossetti's _House of
Life_. There is here no passivity of soul; the passion is not that of
acquiescence, but of determination to press to the quick of love. Only,
perhaps, a certain falsetto in the tone (if the meaning of that word may
be so extended) shows that, after all, it was written by a woman, who in
adopting the masculine pitch loses something of fineness and
exquisiteness.

A single phrase of the sonnet, that "deep, dear silence," links it in my
mind with one of Christina Rossetti's not found in the _Monna
Innominata_, but expressing the same spirit of resignation. It is
entitled simply _Rest_:

  O Earth, lie heavily upon her eyes;
    Seal her sweet eyes weary of watching, Earth;
    Lie close around her; leave no room for mirth
  With its harsh laughter, nor for sound of sighs.
  She hath no questions, she hath no replies,
    Hushed in and curtained with a blessed dearth
    Of all that irked her from the hour of birth;
  _With stillness that is almost Paradise.
  Darkness more clear than noonday holdeth her,
    Silence more musical than any song;_
  Even her very heart has ceased to stir:
  Until the morning of Eternity
  Her rest shall not begin nor end, but be;
    And when she wakes she will not think it long.

Am I misguided in thinking that in this stillness, this silence more
musical than any song, the feminine heart speaks with a simplicity and
consummate purity such as I quite fail to hear in the _Portuguese
Sonnets_, admired as those sonnets are? Nor could one, perhaps, find in
all Christina Rossetti's poems a single line that better expresses the
character of her genius than these magical words: "With stillness that
is almost Paradise." That is the mood which, with the passing away of
love, never leaves her; that is her religion; her acquiescent Yea, to
the world and the soul and to God. Into that region of rapt stillness it
seems almost a sacrilege to penetrate with inquisitive, critical mind;
it is like tearing away the veil of modesty. I will not attempt to bring
out the beauty of her mood by comparing it with that of the more
masculine quietists, who reach out and take the kingdom of Heaven by
storm, and whose prayer is, in the words of Tennyson:

  Our wills are ours, we know not how;
  Our wills are ours, to make them Thine.

It will be better to quote one other poem, perhaps her most perfect work
artistically, and to pass on:

UP-HILL

  Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
    Yes, to the very end.
  Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
    From morn to night, my friend.

  But is there for the night a resting-place?
    A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
  May not the darkness hide it from my face?
    You cannot miss that inn.

  Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
    Those who have gone before.
  Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
    They will not keep you standing at that door.

  Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
    Of labour you shall find the sum.
  Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
    Yea, beds for all who come.

The culmination of her pathetic weariness is always this cry for rest, a
cry for supreme acquiescence in the will of Heaven, troubled by no
personal volition, no desire, no emotion, save only love that waits for
blessed absorption. Her latter years became what St. Teresa called a
long "prayer of quiet"; and her brother's record of her secluded life in
the refuge of his home, and later in her own house on Torrington Square,
reads like the saintly story of a cloistered nun. It might be said of
her, as of one of the fathers, that she needed not to pray, for her life
was an unbroken communion with God. And yet that is not all. It is a
sign of her utter womanliness that envy for the common affections of
life was never quite crushed in her heart. Now and then through this
monotony of resignation there wells up a sob of complaint, a note not
easy, indeed, to distinguish from that _amari aliquid_ of jealousy,
which Thackeray, cynically, as some think, always left at the bottom of
his gentlest feminine characters. The fullest expression of this feeling
is in one of her longer poems, _The Lowest Room_, which contrasts the
life of two sisters, one of whom chooses the ordinary lot of woman with
home and husband and children, while the other learns, year after
tedious year, the consolation of lonely patience. The spirit of the poem
is not entirely pleasant. The resurgence of personal envy is a little
disconcerting; and the only comfort to be derived from it is the proof
that under different circumstances Christina Rossetti might have given
expression to the more ordinary lot of contented womanhood as perfectly
as she sings the pathos and hope of the cloistered life. Had that first
voice, which led her "where the bluest water flows," suffered her also
to quench the thirst of her heart, had not that second voice summoned
her to follow, this might have been. But literature, I think, would have
lost in her gain. As it is, we must recognise that the vision of
fulfilled affection and of quiet home joys still troubled her, in her
darker hours, with a feeling of embittered regret. Two or three of the
stanzas of _The Lowest Room_ even evoke a reminiscence of that scene in
Thomson's _City of Dreadful Night_, where the "shrill and lamentable
cry" breaks through the silence of the shadowy congregation:

  In all eternity I had one chance,
    One few years' term of gracious human life,
  The splendours of the intellect's advance,
    The sweetness of the home with babes and wife.

But if occasionally this residue of bitterness in Christina Rossetti
recalls the more acrid genius of James Thomson, yet a comparison of the
two poets (and such a comparison is not fantastic, however unexpected it
may appear) would set the feminine character of our subject in a
peculiarly vivid light. Both were profoundly moved by the evanescence of
life, by the deceitfulness of pleasure, while both at times, Thomson
almost continually, were troubled by the apparent content of those who
rested in these joys of the world. Both looked forward longingly to the
consummation of peace. In his call to _Our Lady of Oblivion_ Thomson
might seem to be speaking for both, only in a more deliberately
metaphorical style:

  Take me, and lull me into perfect sleep;
    Down, down, far hidden in thy duskiest cave;
  While all the clamorous years above me sweep
    Unheard, or, like the voice of seas that rave
  On far-off coasts, but murmuring o'er my trance,
  A dim vast monotone, that shall enhance
    The restful rapture of the inviolate grave.

But the roads by which the two would reach this "silence more musical
than any song" were utterly different. With an intellect at once
mathematical and constructive, Thomson built out of his personal
bitterness and despair a universe corresponding to his own mood, a
philosophy of atheistic revolt. Like Lucretius, "he denied divinely the
divine." In that tremendous conversation on the river-walk he represents
one soul as protesting to another that not for all his misery would he
carry the guilt of creating such a world; whereto the second replies,
and it is the poet himself who speaks:

  The world rolls round forever as a mill;
  It grinds out death and life and good and ill;
  It has no purpose, heart or mind or will....

  Man might know one thing were his sight less dim;
  That it whirls not to suit his petty whim,
  That it is quite indifferent to him.

There is the voluntary ecstasy of the saints, there is also this stern
and self-willed rebellion, and, contrasted with them both, as woman is
contrasted with man, there is the acquiescence of Christina Rossetti and
of the little group of writers whom she leads in spirit:

  Passing away, saith the World, passing away....
  Then I answered: Yea.



WHY IS BROWNING POPULAR?


It has come to be a matter of course that some new book on Browning
shall appear with every season. Already the number of these manuals has
grown so large that any one interested in critical literature finds he
must devote a whole corner of his library to them--where, the cynical
may add, they are better lodged than in his brain. To name only a few of
the more recent publications: there was Stopford Brooke's volume, which
partitioned the poet's philosophy into convenient compartments, labelled
nature, human life, art, love, etc. Then came Mr. Chesterton, with his
biting paradoxes and his bold justification of Browning's work, not as
it ought to be, but as it is. Professor Dowden followed with what is, on
the whole, the best _vade mecum_ for those who wish to preserve their
enthusiasm with a little salt of common sense; and, latest of all, we
have now a critical study[7] by Prof. C. H. Herford, of the University
of Manchester, which once more unrolls in all its gleaming aspects the
poet's "joy in soul." Two things would seem to be clear from this
succession of commentaries: Browning must need a deal of exegesis, and
he must be a subject of wide curiosity. Now obscurity and popularity do
not commonly go together, and I fail to remember that any of the critics
named has paused long enough in his own admiration to explain just why
Browning has caught the breath of favour; in a word, to answer the
question: Why is Browning popular?

There is, indeed, one response to such a question, so obvious and so
simple that it might well be taken for granted. It would hardly seem
worth while to say that despite his difficulty Browning is esteemed
because he has written great poetry; and in the most primitive and
unequivocal manner this is to a certain extent true. At intervals the
staccato of his lines, like the drilling of a woodpecker, is interrupted
by a burst of pure and liquid music, as if that vigorous and exploring
bird were suddenly gifted with the melodious throat of the lark. It is
not necessary to hunt curiously for examples of this power; they are
fairly frequent and the best known are the most striking. Consider the
first lines that sing themselves in the memory:

  O lyric Love, half-angel and half-bird,
  And all a wonder and a wild desire--

there needs no cunning exegete to point out the beauty of these. Their
rhythm is of the singing, traditional kind that is familiar to us in all
the true poets of the language; the harmony of the vowel sounds and of
the consonants, the very trick of alliteration, are obvious to the least
critical; yet withal there is that miraculous suggestion in their charm
which may be felt but cannot be converted into a prosaic equivalent.
They stand out from the lines that precede and follow them in _The Ring
and the Book_, as differing not so much in degree as in kind; they are
lyrical, poetical, in the midst of a passage which is neither lyrical
nor, precisely speaking, poetical. Elsewhere the surprise may be on the
lower plane of mere description. So, throughout the peroration of
_Paracelsus_, despite the glory and eloquence of the dying scholar's
vision, one feels continually an alien element which just prevents a
complete acquiescence in their magic, some residue of clogging analysis
which has not quite been subdued to poetry--and then suddenly, as if
some discordant instrument were silenced in an orchestra and unvexed
music floated to the ear, the manner changes, thus:

  The herded pines commune and have deep thoughts,
  A secret they assemble to discuss
  When the sun drops behind their trunks which glare
  Like grates of hell.

And, take his works throughout, there is a good deal of this writing
which has the ordinary, direct appeal to the emotions. Yet it is
scattered, accidental so to speak; nor is it any pabulum of the soul as
simple as this which converts the lover of poetry into the Browningite.
Even his common-sense admirers are probably held by something more
recondite than this occasional charm.

  You see one lad o'erstride a chimney-stack;
  Him you must watch--he's sure to fall, yet stands!
  Our interest 's on the dangerous edge of things--

says Bishop Blougram, and the attraction of Browning to many is just
watching what may be called his acrobatic psychology. Consider this same
_Bishop Blougram's Apology_, in some respects the most characteristic,
as it is certainly not the least prodigious, of his poems. "Over his
wine so smiled and talked his hour Sylvester Blougram"--talked and
smiled to a silent listener concerning the strange mixture of doubt and
faith which lie snugly side by side in the mind of an ecclesiastic who
is at once a hypocrite and a sincere believer in the Church. The mental
attitude of the speaker is subtile enough in itself to be fascinating,
but the real suspense does not lie there. The very balancing of the
priest's argument may at first work a kind of deception, but read more
attentively and it begins to grow clear that no man in the wily bishop's
predicament ever talked in this way over his wine or anywhere else. And
here lies the real piquancy of the situation. His words are something
more than a confession; they are this and at the same time the poet's,
or if you will the bishop's own, comment to himself on that confession.
He who talks is never quite in the privacy of solitude, nor is he ever
quite conscious of his listener, who as a matter of fact is not so much
a person as some half-personified opinion of the world or abstract
notion set against the character of the speaker. And this is Browning's
regular procedure not only in those wonderful dramatic monologues, _Men
and Women_, that form the heart of his work, but in _Paracelsus_, in
_The Ring and the Book_, even in the songs and the formal dramas.

Perhaps the most remarkable and most obvious example of this suspended
psychology is to be found in _The Ring and the Book_. Take the canto in
which Giuseppe Caponsacchi relates to the judges his share in the
tangled story. It is clear that the interest here is not primarily in
the event itself, nor does it lie in that phase of the speaker's
character which would be revealed by his confession before such a court
as he is supposed to confront. The fact is, that Caponsacchi's language
is not such as under the circumstances he could possibly be conceived to
use. As the situation forms itself in my mind, he might be in his cell
awaiting the summons to appear. In that solitude and uncertainty he goes
over in memory the days in Arezzo, when the temptation first came to
him, and once more takes the perilous ride with Pompilia to Rome. He
lives again through the great crisis, dissecting all his motives,
balancing the pros and cons of each step; yet all the time he has in
mind the opinion of the world as personified in the judges he is to
face. The psychology is suspended dexterously between self-examination
and open confession, and the reader who accepts the actual dramatic
situation as suggested by Browning loses the finest and subtlest savour
of the speech. In many places it would be simply preposterous to suppose
we are listening to words really uttered by the priest.

  We did go on all night; but at its close
  She was troubled, restless, moaned low, talked at whiles
  To herself, her brow on quiver with the dream:
  Once, wide awake, she menaced, at arms' length
  Waved away something--"Never again with you!
  My soul is mine, my body is my soul's:
  You and I are divided ever more
  In soul and body: get you gone!" Then I--
  "Why, in my whole life I have never prayed!
  Oh, if the God, that only can, would help!
  Am I his priest with power to cast out fiends?
  Let God arise and all his enemies
  Be scattered!" By morn, there was peace, no sigh
  Out of the deep sleep--

no, those words were never spoken in the ears of a sceptical, worldly
tribunal; they belong to the most sacred recesses of memory; yet at the
same time that memory is coloured by a consciousness of the world's
clumsy judgment.

It would be exaggeration to say that all Browning's greater poems
proceed in this involved manner, yet the method is so constant as to be
the most significant feature of his work. And it bestows on him the
honour of having created a new genre which follows neither the fashion
of lyric on the one hand nor that of drama or narrative on the other,
but is a curious and illusive hybrid of the two. The passions are not
uttered directly as having validity and meaning in the heart of the
speaker alone, nor are they revealed through action and reaction upon
the emotions of another. His dramas, if read attentively, will be found
really to fall into the same mixed genre as his monologues. And a
comparison of his _Sordello_ with such a poem as Goethe's _Tasso_ (which
is more the dialogue of a narrative poem than a true drama) will show
how far he fails to make a character move visibly amid opposing
circumstances. In both poems we have a contrast of the poetical
temperament with the practical world. In Browning it is difficult to
distinguish the poet's own thought from the words of the hero; the
narrative is in reality a long confession of Sordello to himself who is
conscious of a hostile power without. In Goethe this hostile power
stands out as distinctly as Tasso himself, and they act side by side
each to his own end.

There is even a certain significance in what is perhaps the most
immediately personal poem Browning ever wrote, that _One Word More_
which he appended to his _Men and Women_. Did he himself quite
understand this lament for Raphael's lost sonnets and Dante's
interrupted angel, this desire to find his love a language,

  Fit and fair and simple and sufficient--
  Using nature that's an art to others,
  Not, this one time, art that's turned his nature?

It would seem rather the uneasiness of his own mind when brought face to
face with strong feeling where no escape remains into his oblique mode
of expression. And the man Browning of real life, with his training in a
dissenting Camberwell home and later his somewhat dapper acceptance of
the London social season, accords with such a view of the writer. It is,
too, worthy of note that almost invariably he impressed those who first
met him as being a successful merchant, a banker, a diplomat--anything
but a poet. There was passion enough below the surface, as his outburst
of rage against FitzGerald and other incidents of the kind declare; but
the direct exhibition of it was painful if not grotesque.

Yet in this matter, as in everything that touches Browning's psychology,
it is well to proceed cautiously. Because he approached the emotions
thus obliquely, as it were in a style hybrid between the lyric and the
drama, it does not follow that his work is void of emotion or that he
questioned the validity of human passion. The very contrary is true. I
remember, indeed, once hearing a lady, whose taste was as frank as it
was modern, say that she liked Browning better than Shakespeare because
he was more emotional and less intellectual than the older dramatist.
Her distinction was somewhat confused, but it leads to an important
consideration; I do not know but it points to the very heart of the
question of Browning's popularity. He is not in reality more emotional
than Shakespeare, but his emotion is of a kind more readily felt by the
reader of to-day; nor does he require less use of the intellect, but he
does demand less of that peculiar translation of the intellect from the
particular to the general point of view which is necessary to raise the
reader into what may be called the poetical mood. In one sense Browning
is nearly the most intellectual poet in the language. The action of his
brain was so nimble, his seizure of every associated idea was so quick
and subtile, his elliptical style is so supercilious of the reader's
needs, that often to understand him is like following a long
mathematical demonstration in which many of the intermediate equations
are omitted. And then his very trick of approaching the emotions
indirectly, his suspended psychology as I have called it, requires a
peculiar flexibility of the reader's mind. But in a way these
roughnesses of the shell possess an attraction for the educated public
which has been sated with what lies too accessibly on the surface. They
hold out the flattering promise of an initiation into mysteries not open
to all the world. Our wits have become pretty well sharpened by the
complexities of modern life, and we are ready enough to prove our
analytical powers on any riddle of poetry or economics. And once we have
penetrated to the heart of these enigmas we are quite at our ease. His
emotional content is of a sort that requires no further adjustment; it
demands none of that poetical displacement of the person which is so
uncomfortable to the keen but prosaic intelligence.

And here that tenth Muse, who has been added to the Pantheon for the
guidance of the critical writer, trembles and starts back. She beholds
to the right and the left a quaking bog of abstractions and metaphysical
definitions, whereon if a critic so much as set his foot he is sucked
down into the bottomless mire. She plucks me by the ear and bids me keep
to the strait and beaten path, whispering the self-admonition of one who
was the darling of her sisters:

  I _won't_ philosophise, and _will_ be read.

Indeed, the question that arises is no less than the ultimate
distinction between poetry and prose, and "ultimates" may well have an
ugly sound to one who is content if he can comprehend what is concrete
and very near at hand. And, as for that, those who would care to hear
the matter debated in terms of _Idee_ and _Begriff_, _Objektivität_ and
_Subjektivität_, must already be familiar with those extraordinary
chapters in Schopenhauer wherein philosophy and literature are married
as they have seldom been elsewhere since the days of Plato. And yet
without any such formidable apparatus as that, it is not difficult to
see that the peculiar procedure of Browning's mind offers to the reader
a pleasure different more in kind than in degree from what is commonly
associated with the word poetry. His very manner of approaching the
passions obliquely, his habit of holding his portrayal of character in
suspense between direct exposition and dramatic reaction, tends to keep
the attention riveted on the individual speaker or problem, and prevents
that escape into the larger and more general vision which marks just the
transition from prose to poetry.

It is not always so. Into that cry "O lyric Love" there breaks the note
which from the beginning has made lovers forget themselves in their
song--the note that passes so easily from the lips of Persian Omar to
the mouth of British FitzGerald:

  Ah Love! could you and I with Him conspire
  To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
    Would not we shatter it to bits--and then
  Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!

Is it not clear how, in these direct and lyrical expressions, the
passion of the individual is carried up into some region where it is
blended with currents of emotion broader than any one man's loss or
gain? and how, reading these words, we, too, feel that sudden
enlargement of the heart which it is the special office of the poet to
bestow? But it is equally true that Browning's treatment of love, as in
_James Lee's Wife_ and _In a Balcony_, to name the poems nearest at
hand, is for the most part so involved in his peculiar psychological
method that we cannot for a moment forget ourselves in this freer
emotion.

And in his attitude towards nature it is the same thing. I have not read
Schopenhauer for many years, but I remember as if it were yesterday my
sensation of joy as in the course of his argument I came upon these two
lines quoted from Horace:

  Nox erat et cælo fulgebat luna sereno
    Inter minora sidera.

How perfectly simple the words, and yet it was as if the splendour of
the heavens had broken upon me--rather, in some strange way, within me.
And that, I suppose, is the real function of descriptive poetry--not to
present a detailed scene to the eye, but in its mysterious manner to
sink our sense of individual life in this larger sympathy with the
world. Now and then, no doubt, Browning, too, strikes this universal
note, as, for instance, in those lines from _Paracelsus_ already quoted.
But for the most part, his description, like his lyrical passion, is
adapted with remarkable skill towards individualising still further the
problem or character that he is analysing. Take that famous passage in
_Easter-Day_:

                And as I said
  This nonsense, throwing back my head
  With light complacent laugh, I found
  Suddenly all the midnight round
  One fire. The dome of heaven had stood
  As made up of a multitude
  Of handbreadth cloudlets, one vast rack
  Of ripples infinite and black,
  From sky to sky. Sudden there went,
  Like horror and astonishment,
  A fierce vindictive scribble of red
  Quick flame across, as if one said
  (The angry scribe of Judgment), "There--
  Burn it!" And straight I was aware
  That the whole ribwork round, minute
  Cloud touching cloud beyond compute,
  Was tinted, each with its own spot
  Of burning at the core, till clot
  Jammed against clot, and spilt its fire
  Over all heaven....

We are far enough from the "Nox erat" of Horace or even the "trunks that
glare like grates of hell"; we are seeing the world with the eye of a
man whose mind is perplexed and whose imagination is narrowed down by
terror to a single question: "How hard it is to be A Christian!"

And nothing, perhaps, confirms this impression of a body of writing
which is neither quite prose nor quite poetry more than the rhythm of
Browning's verse. Lady Burne-Jones in the Memorials of her husband tells
of meeting the poet at Denmark Hill, when some talk went on about the
rate at which the pulse of different people beat. Browning suddenly
leaned toward her, saying, "Do me the honour to feel my pulse"--but to
her surprise there was none to feel. His pulse was, in fact, never
perceptible to touch. The notion may seem fantastic, but, in view of
certain recent investigations of psychology into the relation between
our pulse and our sense of rhythm, I have wondered whether the lack of
any regular systole and diastole in Browning's verse may not rest on a
physical basis. There is undoubtedly a kind of proper motion in his
language, but it is neither the regular rise and fall of verse nor the
more loosely balanced cadences of prose; or, rather, it vacillates from
one movement to the other, in a way which keeps the rhythmically trained
ear in a state of acute tension. But it has at least the interest of
corresponding curiously to the writer's trick of steering between the
elevation of poetry and the analysis of prose. It rounds out completely
our impression of watching the most expert funambulist in English
letters. Nor is there anything strange in this intimate relation between
the content of his writing and the mechanism of his metre. "The purpose
of rhythm," says Mr. Yeats in a striking passage of one of his essays,
"it has always seemed to me, is to prolong the moment of contemplation,
the moment when we are both asleep and awake, which is the one moment of
creation, by hushing us with an alluring monotony, while it holds us
waking by variety." That is the neo-Celt's mystical way of putting a
truth that all have felt--the fact that the regular sing-song of verse
exerts a species of enchantment on the senses, lulling to sleep the
individual within us and translating our thoughts and emotions into
something significant of the larger experience of mankind.

But I would not leave this aspect of Browning's work without making a
reservation which may seem to some (though wrongly, I think) to
invalidate all that has been said. For it does happen now and again that
he somehow produces the unmistakable exaltation of poetry through the
very exaggeration of his unpoetical method. Nothing could be more
indirect, more oblique, than his way of approaching the climax in
_Cleon_. The ancient Greek poet, writing "from the sprinkled isles, Lily
on lily, that o'erlace the sea," answers certain queries of Protus the
Tyrant. He contrasts the insufficiency of the artistic life with that of
his master, and laments bitterly the vanity of pursuing ideal beauty
when the goal at the end is only death:

                      It is so horrible,
  I dare at times imagine to my need
  Some future state revealed to us by Zeus,
  Unlimited in capability
  For joy, as this is in desire for joy.
  ............................... But no!
  Zeus has not yet revealed it; and alas,
  He must have done so, were it possible!

The poem, one begins to suspect, is a specimen of Browning's peculiar
manner of indirection; in reality, through this monologue, suspended
delicately between self-examination and dramatic confession, he is
focussing in one individual heart the doom of the great civilisation
that is passing away and the splendid triumph of the new. And then
follows the climax, as it were an accidental afterthought:

                          And for the rest,
  I cannot tell thy messenger aright
  Where to deliver what he bears of thine
  To one called Paulus; we have heard his fame
  Indeed, if Christus be not one with him--
  _I know not, nor am troubled much to know._
  Thou canst not think a mere barbarian Jew,
  As Paulus proves to be, one circumcised,
  Hath access to a secret shut from us?
  Thou wrongest our philosophy, O King,
  In stooping to inquire of such an one,
  As if his answer could impose at all!
  _He writeth, doth he? well, and he may write._
  Oh, the Jew findeth scholars! certain slaves
  Who touched on this same isle, preached him and Christ;
  And (as I gathered from a bystander)
  Their doctrine could be held by no sane man.

It is not revoking what has been said to admit that the superb audacity
of the indirection in these underscored lines touches on the sublime;
the individual is involuntarily rapt into communion with the great
currents that sweep through human affairs, and the interest of
psychology is lost in the elevation of poetry. At the same time it ought
to be added that this effect would scarcely have been possible were not
the rhythm and the mechanism of the verse unusually free of Browning's
prosaic mannerism.

It might seem that enough had been said to explain why Browning is
popular. The attitude of the ordinary intelligent reader toward him is,
I presume, easily stated. A good many of Browning's mystifications,
_Sordello_, for one, he simply refuses to bother himself with. _Le jeu_,
he says candidly, _ne vaut pas les chandelles_. Other works he goes
through with some impatience, but with an amount of exhilarating
surprise sufficient to compensate for the annoyances. If he is trained
in literary distinctions, he will be likely to lay down the book with
the exclamation: _C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la poésie!_ And
probably such a distinction will not lessen his admiration; for it
cannot be asserted too often that the reading public to-day is ready to
accede to any legitimate demand on its analytical understanding, but
that it responds sluggishly, or only spasmodically, to that readjustment
of the emotions necessary for the sustained enjoyment of such a poem as
_Paradise Lost_. But I suspect that we have not yet touched the real
heart of the problem. All this does not explain that other phase of
Browning's popularity, which depends upon anything but the common sense
of the average reader; and, least of all, does it account for the
library of books, of which Professor Herford's is the latest example.
There is another public which craves a different food from the mere
display of human nature; it is recruited largely by the women's clubs
and by men who are unwilling or afraid to hold their minds in a state of
self-centred expectancy toward the meaning of a civilisation shot
through by threads of many ages and confused colours; it is kept in a
state of excitation by critics who write lengthily and systematically of
"joy in soul." Now there is a certain philosophy which is in a
particular way adapted to such readers and writers. Its beginnings, no
doubt, are rooted in the naturalism of Rousseau and the eighteenth
century, but the flower of it belongs wholly to our own age. It is the
philosophy whose purest essence may be found distilled in Browning's
magical alembic, and a single drop of it will affect the brain of some
people with a strange giddiness.

And here again I am tempted to abscond behind those blessed words
_Platonische Ideen_ and _Begriffe, universalia ante rem_ and
_universalia post rem_, which offer so convenient an escape from the
difficulty of meaning what one says. It would be so easy with those
counters of German metaphysicians and the schoolmen to explain how it is
that Browning has a philosophy of generalised notions, and yet so often
misses the form of generalisation special to the poet. The fact is his
philosophy is not so much inherent in his writing as imposed on it from
the outside. His theory of love does not expand like Dante's into a
great vision of life wherein symbol and reality are fused together, but
is added as a commentary on the action or situation. And on the other
hand he does not accept the simple and pathetic incompleteness of life
as a humbler poet might, but must try with his reason to reconcile it
with an ideal system:

  Over the ball of it,
    Peering and prying,
  How I see all of it,
    Life there, outlying!
  Roughness and smoothness,
    Shine and defilement,
  Grace and uncouthness:
    One reconcilement.

Yet "ideal" and "reconcilement" are scarcely the words; for Browning's
philosophy, when detached, as it may be, from its context, teaches just
the acceptance of life in itself as needing no conversion into something
beyond its own impulsive desires:

  Let us not always say,
  "Spite of this flesh to-day
  I strove, made head, gained ground upon the whole!"
  As the bird wings and sings,
  Let us cry, "All good things
  Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more, now, than flesh helps soul!"

Passion to Shakespeare was the source of tragedy; there is no tragedy,
properly speaking, in Browning, for the reason that passion is to him
essentially good. By sheer bravado of human emotion we justify our
existence, nay--

  We have to live alone to set forth well
  God's praise.

His notion of "moral strength," as Professor Santayana so forcibly says,
"is a blind and miscellaneous vehemence."

But if all the passions have their own validity, one of them in
particular is the power that moves through all and renders them all
good:

  In my own heart love had not been made wise
  To trace love's faint beginnings in mankind,
  To know even hate is but a mask of love's.

It is the power that reaches up from earth to heaven, and the divine
nature is no more than a higher, more vehement manifestation of its
energy:

  For the loving worm within its clod
  Were diviner than a loveless god.

And in the closing vision of _Saul_ this thought of the identity of
man's love and God's love is uttered by David in a kind of delirious
ecstasy:

  'T is the weakness in strength, that I cry for! my flesh, that I seek
  In the Godhead! I seek and I find it. O Saul, it shall be
  A Face like my face that receives thee; a Man like to me,
  Thou shalt love and be loved by, forever: a Hand like this hand
  Shall throw open the gates of new life to thee! See the Christ stand!

But there is no need to multiply quotations. The point is that in all
Browning's rhapsody there is nowhere a hint of any break between the
lower and the higher nature of man, or between the human and the
celestial character. Not that his philosophy is pantheistic, for it is
Hebraic in its vivid sense of God's distinct personality; but that man's
love is itself divine, only lesser in degree. There is nothing that
corresponds to the tremendous words of Beatrice to Dante when he meets
her face to face in the Terrestrial Paradise:

        Guardami ben: ben son, ben son Beatrice.
        Come degnasti d' accedere al monte?
        Non sapei to the qui è l'uom felice?

  (Behold me well: lo, Beatrice am I.
  And thou, how daredst thou to this mount draw nigh?
  Knew'st thou not here was man's felicity?)--

nothing that corresponds to the "scot of penitence," the tears, and the
plunge into the river of Lethe before the new, transcendent love begins.
Indeed, the point of the matter is not that Browning magnifies human
love in its own sphere of beauty, but that he speaks of it with the
voice of a prophet of spiritual things and proclaims it as a complete
doctrine of salvation. Often, as I read the books on Browning's gospel
of human passion, my mind recurs to that scene in the Gospel of St.
John, wherein it is told how a certain Nicodemus of the Pharisees came
to Jesus by night and was puzzled by the hard saying: "Except a man be
born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." There is no lack of
confessions from that day to this of men to whom it has seemed that they
were born again, and always, I believe, the new birth, like the birth of
the body, was consummated with wailing and anguish, and afterwards the
great peace. This is a mystery into which it is no business of mine to
enter, but with the singularly uniform record of these confessions in my
memory, I cannot but wonder at the light message of the new prophet: "If
you desire faith--then you've faith enough," and "For God is glorified
in man." I am even sceptical enough to believe that the vaunted
conclusion of _Fifine at the Fair_, "I end with--Love is all and Death
is naught," sounds like the wisdom of a schoolgirl. There is an element
in Browning's popularity which springs from those readers who are
content to look upon the world as it is; they feel the power of his
lyric song when at rare intervals it flows in pure and untroubled grace,
and they enjoy the intellectual legerdemain of his suspended psychology.
But there is another element in that popularity (and this, unhappily, is
the inspiration of the clubs and of the formulating critics) which is
concerned too much with this flattering substitute for spirituality.
Undoubtedly, a good deal of restiveness exists under what is called the
materialism of modern life, and many are looking in this way and that
for an escape into the purer joy which they hear has passed from the
world. It used to be believed that Calderon was a bearer of the
message, Calderon who expressed the doctrine of the saints and the
poets:

  Pues el delito mayor
  Del hombre es haber nacido--

(since the greatest transgression of man is to have been born). It was
believed that the spiritual life was bought with a price, and that the
desires of this world must first suffer permutation into something not
themselves. I am not holding a brief for that austere doctrine; I am not
even sure that I quite understand it, although it is written at large in
many books. But I do know that those who think they have found its
equivalent in the poetry of Browning are misled by wandering and futile
lights. The secret of his more esoteric fame is just this, that he
dresses a worldly and easy philosophy in the forms of spiritual faith
and so deceives the troubled seekers after the higher life.

It is not pleasant to be convicted of throwing stones at the prophets,
as I shall appear to many to have done. My only consolation is that, if
the prophet is a true teacher, these stones of the casual passer-by
merely raise a more conspicuous monument to his honour; but if he turns
out in the end to be a false prophet (as I believe Browning to have
been)--why, then, let his disciples look to it.



A NOTE ON BYRON'S "DON JUAN"


It has often been a source of wonder to me that I was able to read and
enjoy Byron's _Don Juan_ under the peculiar circumstances attending my
introduction to that poem. I had been walking in the Alps, and after a
day of unusual exertion found myself in the village of Chamouni,
fatigued and craving rest. A copy of the Tauchnitz edition fell into my
hands, and there, in a little room, through a summer's day, by a window
which looked full upon the unshadowed splendour of Mont Blanc, I sat and
read, and only arose when Juan faded out of sight with "the phantom of
her frolic Grace--Fitz-Fulke." I have often wondered, I say, why the
incongruity of that solemn Alpine scene with the mockery of Byron's wit
did not cause me to shut the book and thrust it away, for in general I
am highly sensitive to the nature of my surroundings while reading. Only
recently, on taking up the poem again for the purpose of editing it, did
the answer to that riddle occur to me, and with it a better
understanding of the place of _Don Juan_ among the great epics which
might have seemed in finer accord with the sublimity and peace of that
memorable day.

In one respect, at least, it needed no return to Byron's work to show
how closely it is related in spirit to the accepted canons of the past.
These poets, who have filled the world with their rumour, all looked
upon life with some curious obliquity of vision. We, who have approached
the consummation of the world's hope, know that happiness and peace and
the fulfilment of desires are about to settle down and brood for ever
more over the lot of mankind, but with them it seems to have been
otherwise. Who can forget the recurring _minynthadion_ of Homer, in
which he summed up for the men of his day the vanity of long
aspirations? So if we were asked to point out the lines of Shakespeare
that express most completely his attitude toward life, we should
probably quote that soliloquy of Hamlet wherein he catalogues the evils
of existence, and only in the fear of future dreams finds a reason for
continuance; or we should cite that sonnet of disillusion: "Tired with
all these for restful death I cry." And as for the lyric poets, sooner
or later the lament of Shelley was wrung from the lips of each:

  Out of the day and night
  A joy has taken flight:
    Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar
  Move my faint heart with grief, but with delight
    No more--oh, never more!

This, I repeat, is a strange fact, for it appears that these poets,
prophets who spoke in the language of beauty and who have held the
world's reverence so long--it appears now that these interpreters of the
fates were all misled. Possibly, as Aristotle intimated, genius is
allied to some vice of the secretions which produces a melancholia of
the brain; something like this, indeed, only expressed in more recondite
terms, may be found in the most modern theory of science. But more
probably they wrote merely from insufficient experience, not having
perceived how the human race with increase of knowledge grows in
happiness. Thus, at least, it seems to one who observes the tides of
thought. Next year, or the next, some divine invention shall come which
will prove this melancholy of the poets to have been only a childish
ignorance of man's sublimer destiny; some discovery of a new element
more wonderful than radium will render the ancient brooding over human
feebleness a matter of laughter and astonishment; some acceptance of the
larger brotherhood of the race will wipe away all tears and bring down
upon earth the fair dream of heaven, a reality and a possession for
ever; some new philosophy of the soul will convert the old poems of
conflict into meaningless fables, stale and unprofitable. Already we see
the change at hand. To how many persons to-day does Browning
appeal--though they would not always confess it--more powerfully than
Homer or Milton or any other of the great names of antiquity? And the
reason of this closer appeal of Browning is chiefly the unflagging
optimism of his philosophy, his full-blooded knowledge and sympathy
which make the wailings of the past somewhat silly in our ears, if truth
must be told. I never read Browning but those extraordinary lines of
Euripides recur to my mind: "Not now for the first time do I regard
mortal things as a shadow, nor would I fear to charge with supreme folly
those artificers of words who are reckoned the sages of mankind, for no
man among mortals is happy." [Greek: Thnêtôn gar oudeis estin eudaimôn],
indeed!--would any one be shameless enough to utter such words under the
new dispensation of official optimism?

It is necessary to think of these things before we attempt to criticise
Byron, for _Don Juan_, too, despite its marvellous vivacity, looks upon
life from the old point of view. Already, for this reason in part, it
seems a little antiquated to us, and in a few years it may be read only
as a curiosity. Meanwhile for the few who lag behind in the urgent march
of progress the poem will possess a special interest just because it
presents the ancient thesis of the poets and prophets in a novel form.
Of course, in many lesser matters it makes a wider and more lasting
appeal. Part of the Haidée episode, for instance, is so exquisitely
lovely, so radiant with the golden haze of youth, that even in the wiser
happiness of our maturity we may still turn to it with a kind of
complacent delight. Briefer passages scattered here and there, such as
the "'T is sweet to hear," and the "Ave Maria," need only a little
abridgment at the close to fit them perfectly for any future anthology
devoted to the satisfaction and the ultimate significance of human
emotions. But, strangely enough, these disturbing climaxes, which will
demand to be forgotten, or to be rearranged as we restore old mutilated
statues, do, indeed, point to those very qualities which render the poem
so extraordinary a complement to the great and accepted epics of the
past. For the present it may yet be sufficient to consider _Don Juan_ as
it is--with all its enormities upon it.

And, first of all, we shall make a sad mistake if we regard the poem as
a mere work of satire. Occasionally Byron pretends to lash himself into
a righteous fury over the vices of the age, but we know that this is all
put on, and that the real savageness of his nature comes out only when
he thinks of his own personal wrongs. Now this is a very different thing
from the deliberate and sustained denunciation of a vicious age such as
we find in Juvenal, a different thing utterly from the _sæva indignatio_
that devoured the heart and brain of poor Swift. There is in _Don Juan_
something of the personal satire of Pope, and something of the whimsical
mockery of Lucilius and his imitators. But it needs but a little
discernment to see that Byron's poem has vastly greater scope and
significance than the _Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot_, or the spasmodic
gaiety of the Menippean satire. It does in its own way present a view
of life as a whole, with the good and the evil, and so passes beyond the
category of the merely satirical. The very scope of its subject, if
nothing more, classes it with the more universal epics of literature
rather than with the poems that portray only a single aspect of life.

Byron himself was conscious of this, and more than once alludes to the
larger aspect of his work. "If you must have an epic," he once said to
Medwin, "there's _Don Juan_ for you; it is an epic as much in the spirit
of our day as the _Iliad_ was in that of Homer." And in one of the
asides in the poem itself he avows the same design:

      A panoramic view of Hell's in training,
  After the style of Virgil and of Homer,
  So that my name of Epic's no misnomer.

Hardly the style of those stately writers, to be sure, but an epic after
its own fashion the poem certainly is. That Byron's way is not the way
of the older poets requires no emphasis; they

                reveled in the fancies of the time,
    True Knights, chaste Dames, huge Giants, Kings despotic;
  But all these, save the last, being obsolete,
  I chose a modern subject as more meet.

Being cut off from the heroic subjects of the established school, he
still sought to obtain something of the same large and liberating effect
through the use of a frankly modern theme. The task was not less
difficult than his success was singular and marked; and that is why it
seemed in no way inappropriate, despite its occasional lapse of
licentiousness, to read _Don Juan_ with the white reflection of Mont
Blanc streaming through the window. Homer might have been so read, or
Virgil, or any of those poets who presented life solemnly and
magniloquently; I do not think I could have held my mind to Juvenal or
Pope or even Horace beneath the calm radiance of that Alpine light.

I have said that the great poets all took a sombre view of the world.
Man is but _the dream of a shadow_, said Pindar, speaking for the race
of genius, and Byron is conscious of the same insight into the illusive
spectacle. He has looked with like vision upon

            this scene of all-confessed inanity,
  By Saint, by Sage, by Preacher, and by Poet,

and will not in his turn refrain "from holding up the nothingness of
life." So in the introduction to the seventh canto he runs through the
list of those who have preached and sung this solemn, but happily to us
outworn, theme:

  I say no more than hath been said in Dante's
  Verse, and by Solomon and by Cervantes.

It must not be supposed, however, because the heroic poems of old were
touched with the pettiness and sadness of human destiny, that their
influence on the reader was supposed to be narrowing or depressing; the
name "heroic" implies the contrary of that. Indeed their very
inspiration was derived from the fortitude of a spirit struggling to
rise above the league of little things and foiling despairs. It may seem
paradoxical to us, yet it is true that these morbid poets believed in
the association of men with gods and in the grandeur of mortal passions.
So Achilles and Hector, both with the knowledge of their brief destiny
upon them, both filled with foreboding of frustrate hopes, strive nobly
to the end of magnanimous defeat. There lay the greatness of the heroic
epos for readers of old,--the sense of human littleness, the melancholy
of broken aspirations, swallowed up in the transcending sublimity of
man's endurance and daring. And men of lesser mould, who knew so well
the limitations of their sphere, took courage and were taught to look
down unmoved upon their harassed fate.

Now Byron came at a time of transition from the old to the new. The
triumphs of material discovery, "_Le magnifiche sorti e progressive_,"
had not yet cast a reproach on the earlier sense of life's futility,
while at the same time the faith in heroic passions had passed away. An
attempt to create an epic in the old spirit would have been doomed, was
indeed doomed in the hands of those who undertook it. The very language
in which Byron presents the ancient universal belief of Plato and those
others

  Who knew this life was not worth a potato,--

shows how far he was from the loftier mode of imagination. In place of
heroic passion he must seek another outlet of relief, another mode of
purging away melancholy; and the spirit of the burlesque came lightly to
his use as the only available _vis medica_. The feeling was common to
his age, but he alone was able to adapt the motive to epic needs. How
often the melancholy sentimentality of Heine corrects itself by a
burlesque conclusion! Or, if we regard the novel, how often does
Thackeray in like manner replace the old heroic relief of passion by a
kindly smile at the brief and busy cares of men. But neither Heine nor
Thackeray carries the principle of the burlesque to its artistic
completion, or makes it the avowed motive of a complicated action, as
Byron does in _Don Juan_. That poem is indeed "prolific of melancholy
merriment." It is not necessary to point out at length the persistence
of this mock-heroic spirit. Love, ambition, home-attachments, are all
burlesqued; battle ardour, the special theme of epic sublimity, is
subjected to the same quizzical mockery:

  There was not now a luggage boy, but sought
    Danger and spoil with ardour much increased;
  And why? because a little--odd--old man,
  Stripped to his shirt, was come to lead the van.

In the gruesome shipwreck scene the tale of suffering which leads to
cannibalism is interrupted thus:

  At length they caught two Boobies, and a Noddy,
  And then they left off eating the dead body.

The description of London town as seen from Shooter's Hill ends with
this absurd metaphor:

  A huge, dun Cupola, like a foolscap crown
  On a fool's head--and there is London Town!

Even Death laughs,--death that "_hiatus maxime defiendus_," "the dunnest
of all duns," etc. And, last of all, the poet turns the same weapon
against his own art. Do the lines for a little while grow serious, he
suddenly pulls himself up with a sneer:

  Here I must leave him, for I grow pathetic,
    Moved by the Chinese nymph of tears, green tea!

I trust, however, it has been made sufficiently clear that _Don Juan_ is
something quite different from the mere mock-heroic--from Pulci, for
instance, "sire of the half-serious rhyme," whom Byron professed to
imitate. The poem is in a sense not half but wholly serious, for the
very reason that it takes so broad a view of human activity, and because
of its persistent moral sense. (Which is nowise contradicted by the
immoral scenes in several of the cantos.) It is not, for example,
possible to think of finding in Pulci such a couplet as this:

  But almost sanctify the sweet excess
  By the immortal wish and power to bless.

He who could write such lines as those was not merely indulging his
humour. _Don Juan_ is something more than

  A versified Aurora Borealis,
    Which flashes o'er a waste and icy clime.

Out of the bitterness of his soul, out of the wreck of his passions
which, though heroic in intensity, had ended in quailing of the heart,
he sought what the great makers of epic had sought,--a solace and a
sense of uplifted freedom. The heroic ideal was gone, the refuge of
religion was gone; but, passing to the opposite extreme, by showing the
power of the human heart to mock at all things, he would still set forth
the possibility of standing above and apart from all things. He, too,
went beyond the limitations of destiny by laughter, as Homer and Virgil
and Milton had risen by the imagination. And, in doing this, he wrote
the modern epic.

We are learning a new significance of human life, as I said; and the
sublime audacities of the elder poets in attempting to transcend the
melancholia of their day are growing antiquated, just as Byron's heroic
mockery is turning stale. In a few years we shall have come so much
closer to the mysteries over which the poets bungled helplessly, that we
can afford to forget their rhapsodies. Meanwhile it may not be amiss to
make clear to ourselves the purpose and character of one of the few, the
very few, great poems in our literature.



LAURENCE STERNE


A number of excellent editions of our standard authors have been put
forth during the last two or three years, but none of them, perhaps, has
been of such real service to letters as the new Sterne edited by
Professor Wilbur L. Cross.[8]

Ordinarily the fresh material advertised in these editions is in large
measure rubbish which had been deliberately discarded by the author and
whose resuscitation is an impertinence to his memory. Certainly this is
true of Murray's new Byron; it is in part true of the great editions of
Hazlitt and Lamb recently published, to go no further afield. But with
Sterne the case is different. The _Journal to Eliza_ and the letters now
first printed in full from the "Gibbs manuscript" are a genuine aid in
getting at the heart of Sterne's elusive character. Even more important
is the readjustment of dates for the older correspondence, which the
present editor has accomplished at the cost of considerable pains, for
the setting back of a letter two years may make all the difference
between a lying knave and an unstable sentimentalist. In the spring of
1767, just a year before his death, Sterne was inditing those rather
sickly letters and the newly published _Journal_ to Eliza, a susceptible
young woman who was about to sail for India. "The coward," says
Thackeray, "was writing gay letters to his friends this while, with
sneering allusions to his poor foolish _Brahmine_. Her ship was not out
of the Downs, and the charming Sterne was at the 'Mount Coffee-House,'
with a sheet of gilt-edged paper before him, offering that precious
treasure, his heart, to Lady P----." It is an ugly charge, and indeed
Thackeray's whole portrait of the humourist is harshly painted. But
Sterne was not sneering in other letters at his "Brahmine," as he called
the rather spoiled East India lady, and it turns out from some very
pretty calculations of Professor Cross that the particular note to Lady
P[ercy] must have been written at the Mount Coffee-House two years
before he ever knew Eliza. "Coward," "wicked," "false," "wretched
worn-out old scamp," "mountebank," "foul Satyr," "the last words the
famous author wrote were bad and wicked, the last lines the poor
stricken wretch penned were for pity and pardon"--for shame, Mr.
Thackeray! Sterne was a weak man, one may admit; wretched and worn-out
he was when the final blow struck him in his lonely hired room; but is
there no pity and pardon on your pen for the wayward penitent? You had
sympathy enough and facile tears enough for the genial Costigans and the
others who followed their hearts too readily; have you no _Alas, poor
Yorick!_ for the author who gave you these characters? You could smile
at Pendennis when he used the old songs for a second love; was it a
terrible thing that Yorick should have taken passages from his early
letters (copies of which were thriftily preserved after the fashion of
the day) and sent them as the bubblings of fresh emotion at the end of
his life? "One solitary plate, one knife, one fork, one glass!--I gave a
thousand pensive, penetrating looks at the chair thou hadst so often
graced, in those quiet and sentimental repasts--then laid down my knife
and fork, and took out my handkerchief, and clapped it across my face,
and wept like a child"--he wrote to Miss Lumley who afterwards became
Mrs. Sterne; and in the _Journal_ kept for Eliza when he was broken in
spirit and near to death, you may read the same words, as Thackeray read
them in manuscript, and you may call them false and lying; but I am
inclined to believe they were quite as genuine as most of the pathos of
that lachrymose age. The want of sympathy in Thackeray's case is the
harder to understand for the reason that to Sterne more than to any
other of the eighteenth-century wits he would seem to owe his style and
his turn of thought. On many a page his peculiar sentiment reads like a
direct imitation of _Tristram Shandy_; add but a touch of caprice to
Colonel Newcome and you might almost imagine my Uncle Toby parading in
the nineteenth century; and I think it is just the lack of this
whimsical touch that makes the good colonel a little mawkish to many
readers. And if one is to look for an antetype of Thackeray's exquisite
English, whither shall one turn unless to the _Sermons_ of Mr. Yorick?
There is a taint of ingratitude in his affectation of being shocked at
the irregularities of one to whom he was so much indebted, and I fear
Mr. Thackeray was too consciously appealing to the Philistine prejudices
of the good folk who were listening to his lectures. Afterwards, when
the mischief was done, he suffered what looks like a qualm of
conscience. In one of the _Roundabout Papers_ he tells how he slept in
Sterne's old hotel at Calais: "When I went to bed in the room, in _his_
room, when I think how I admire, dislike, and have abused him, a certain
dim feeling of apprehension filled my mind at the midnight hour. What if
I should see his lean figure in the black-satin breeches, his sinister
smile, his long thin finger pointing to me in the moonlight!"
Unfortunately the popular notion of Sterne is still based almost
exclusively on the picture of him in the _English Humourists_.

It is to be hoped that at last this carefully prepared edition will do
something toward dispelling that false impression. Certainly, the
various introductions furnished by Professor Cross are admirable for
their fairness and insight. He does not attempt a panegyric of Sterne,
as did Mr. Fitzgerald in the first edition of the _Life_, nor does he
awkwardly overlay panegyric with censure, as these are found in the
present revised form of that narrative; he recognises the errors of the
sentimentalist, but he does not call them by exaggerated names. And he
sees, too, the fundamental sincerity of the man, knowing that no great
book was ever penned without that quality, whatever else might be
missing. I think he will account it for service in a good cause if, as
an essayist taking my material where it may be found, I try to draw a
little closer still to the sly follower of Rabelais whom he has honoured
by so elaborate a study.

Possibly Professor Cross does not recognise fully enough the influence
of Sterne's early years on his character. It is indeed a vagrant and
Shandean childhood to which the Rev. Mr. Laurence Sterne introduces us
in the _Memoir_ written late in life for the benefit of his daughter
Lydia. The father, a lieutenant in Handaside's regiment, passed from
engagement to idleness, and from barrack to barrack, more than was the
custom even in those unsettled days. At Clonmel, in the south of
Ireland, November 24, 1713, Laurence was born, a few days after the
arrival of his mother from Dunkirk. Other children had been given to the
luckless couple, and were yet to be added, but here and there they were
dropped on the wayside in pathetic graves, leaving in the end only two,
the future novelist and his sister Catherine, who married a publican in
London and became estranged from her brother by her "uncle's wickedness
and her own folly"--says Laurence. Of the mother it is not necessary to
say much. The difficulties of her life as a hanger-on in camps seem to
have hardened her, and her temper ("clamorous and rapacious," he called
it) was in all points unlike her son's. That Sterne neglected her
brutally is a charge as old as Walpole's scandalous tongue, and Byron,
taking his cue from thence, gave piquancy to the accusation by saying
that "he preferred whining over a dead ass to relieving a living
mother." Sterne's minute refutation of the slander may now be read at
full length in a letter to the very uncle who set the tale agoing. The
boy would seem to have taken the father's mercurial temperament, though
not his physique:

    The regiment [he writes] was sent to defend Gibraltar, at the
    siege, where my father was run through the body by Capt. Phillips,
    in a duel (the quarrel began about a goose!): with much difficulty
    he survived, though with an impaired constitution, which was not
    able to withstand the hardships it was put to; for he was sent to
    Jamaica, where he soon fell by the country fever, which took away
    his senses first, and made a child of him; and then, in a month or
    two, walking about continually without complaining, till the
    moment he sat down in an armchair, and breathed his last, which
    was at Port Antonio, on the north of the island. My father was a
    little smart man, active to the last degree in all exercises, most
    patient of fatigue and disappointments, of which it pleased God to
    give him full measure. He was, in his temper, somewhat rapid and
    hasty, but of a kindly, sweet disposition, void of all design; and
    so innocent in his own intentions, that he suspected no one; so
    that you might have cheated him ten times in a day, if nine had
    not been sufficient for your purpose.

Lieutenant Sterne died in 1731, and it would require but a few changes
in the son's record to make it read like a page from _Henry Esmond_; the
very texture of the language, the turn of the quizzical pathos, are
Thackeray's.

Laurence at this time was at school near Halifax, where he got into a
characteristic scrape. The ceiling of the schoolroom had been newly
whitewashed; the ladder was standing, and the boy mounted it and wrote
in large letters, LAU. STERNE. The usher whipped him severely, but, says
the _Memoir_, "my master was very much hurt at this, and said, before
me, that never should that name be effaced, for I was a boy of genius,
and he was sure I should come to preferment." From Halifax Sterne went
to Jesus College, Cambridge, at the expense of a cousin. An uncle at
York next took charge of him and got him the living of Sutton, and
afterwards the Prebendary of York. Just how he came to quarrel with this
patron we shall probably never know. Sterne himself declares that his
uncle wished him to write political paragraphs for the Whigs, that he
detested such "dirty work," and got his uncle's hatred in return for his
independence. According to the writer of the _Yorkshire Anecdotes_, the
two fell out over a woman--which sounds more like the truth. Meanwhile,
Laurence had been successfully courting Miss Elizabeth Lumley at York,
and, during her absence, had been writing those love-letters which his
daughter published after the death of her parents, to the immense
increase of sentimentalism throughout the United Kingdom. They are, in
sooth, but a sickly, hothouse production, though honestly enough meant,
no doubt. The writer, too, kept a copy of them, and thriftily made use
of select passages at a later date, as we have seen. Miss Lumley became
Mrs. Sterne in due time, and brought to her husband a modest jointure,
and another living at Stillington, so that he was now a pluralist,
although far from rich. The marriage was not particularly happy. Madam,
one gathers, was pragmatic and contentious and unreasonable, her
reverend spouse was volatile and pleasure-loving; and when, in the years
of Yorick's fame, they went over to France, she decided to stay there
with her daughter. Sterne seems to have been fond of her always, in a
way, and in money matters was never anything but generous and tactfully
considerate. A bad-hearted man is not so thoughtful of his wife's
comfort after she has left him, as Sterne's letters show him to have
been; and even Thackeray admits that his affection for the girl was
"artless, kind, affectionate, and _not_ sentimental."

But the lawful Mrs. Sterne was not the only woman at whose feet the
parson of Sutton and Stillington was sighing. There was that Mlle. de
Fourmantelle, a Huguenot refugee, the "dear, dear Kitty" (or "Jenny" as
she becomes in _Tristram Shandy_), to whom he sends presents of wine and
honey (with notes asking, "What is honey to the sweetness of thee?"),
and who followed him to London in the heyday of his fame, where somehow
she fades mysteriously out of view. "I myself must ever have some
Dulcinea in my head," he said; "it harmonises the soul." And, in truth,
the soul of Yorick was mewed in the cage of his breast very near his
heart, and never stretched her wings out of that close atmosphere.
Charity was his creed in the pulpit, and his love of woman had a curious
and childlike way of fortifying the Christian love of his neighbour.
Most famous of all was his passion--it seems almost to have been a
passion in this case--for the famous "Eliza." Towards the end of his
life he had become warmly attached to a certain William James, a retired
Indian commodore, and his wife, who were the best and most wholesome of
his friends. At their London home he met Mrs. Elizabeth Draper, and soon
became romantically attached to her. When the time drew near for her to
sail to India to rejoin her husband, he wrote a succession of notes in a
kind of paroxysm of grief for himself and anxiety for her, and for
several months afterwards he kept a journal of his emotions for her
benefit some day. He was dead in less than a year. The letters she
kept, and in due time printed, because it was rumoured that Lydia was to
publish them from copies--a pretty bit of wrangling among all these
women there was, over the sentimental relics of poor Yorick! The
_Journal_ is now for the first time included in the author's works--a
singular document, as eccentric in spelling and grammar as the sentiment
is hard to define, a wild and hysterical record. But it rings true on
the whole, and confirms the belief that Sterne's feelings were genuine,
however short-lived they may have been. The last letter to Eliza is
pitiful with its tale of a broken body and a sick heart: "In ten minutes
after I dispatched my letter, this poor, fine-spun frame of Yorick's
gave way, and I broke a vessel in my breast, and could not stop the loss
of blood till four this morning. I have filled all thy India
handkerchiefs with it.--It came, I think, from my heart! I fell asleep
through weakness. At six I awoke, with the bosom of my shirt steeped in
tears." All through the _Journal_ that follows are indications of wasted
health and of the perplexities of life that were closing in upon him.
Only at rare intervals the worries are forgotten, and we get a picture
of serener moments. One day, July 2nd, he grows genuinely idyllic, and
it may not be amiss to copy out his note just as he penned it:

    But I am in the Vale of Coxwould & wish You saw in how princely a
    manner I live in it--tis a Land of Plenty--I sit down alone to
    Venison, fish or wild fowl--or a couple of fowls--with curds, and
    strawberrys & cream, (and all the simple clean plenty w^{ch.} a
    rich Vally can produce)--with a Bottle of wine on my right hand
    (as in Bond street) to drink y^{r.} health--I have a hundred hens
    & chickens [he sometimes spelt it _chickings_] ab^{t.} my yard--and
    not a parishoner catches a hare a rabbit or a Trout--but he brings
    it as an offering--In short tis a golden Vally--& will be the
    golden Age when You govern the rural feast, my Bramine, & are the
    Mistress of my table & spread it with elegancy and that natural
    grace & bounty w^{th.} w^{ch.} heaven has distinguish'd You...

    --Time goes on slowly--every thing stands still--hours seem days &
    days seem Years whilst you lengthen the Distance between us--from
    Madras to Bombay--I shall think it shortening--and then desire &
    expectation will be upon the rack  again--come--come--

But Eliza never came until Yorick had gone on a longer journey than
Bombay. In England once more, she traded on her relation to the famous
writer, and then reviled him. She associated with John Wilkes, and
afterwards with the Abbé Raynal, who writ an absurd, pompous eulogy on
"the Lady who has been so celebrated as the Correspondent of Mr.
Sterne." It is engraved on her tomb in Bristol Cathedral that "genius
and benevolence were united in her"; but the long letter composed in the
vein of Mrs. Montagu and now printed from her manuscript belies the
first, and her behaviour after Sterne's death makes a mockery of the
second.

All this new material throws light on a phase of this matter which
cannot be avoided in any discussion of Sterne's character: How far did
his immorality actually extend? To Thackeray he was a "foul Satyr";
Bagehot thought he was merely an "old flirt," and others have seen
various degrees of guilt in his philanderings. Now his relation to Eliza
would seem to be pretty decisive of his character in this respect, and
fortunately the evidence here published in full by Professor Cross
leaves little room for doubt. There is, for one thing, an extraordinary
letter which is given in facsimile from the rough draft, with all its
erasures and corrections. It was addressed to Daniel Draper, but was
never sent, apparently never completed. The substance of it is, to say
the least, unusual:

    I own it, Sir, that the writing a letter to a gentleman I have not
    the honour to be known to--a letter likewise upon no kind of
    business (in the ideas of the world) is a little out of the common
    course of things--but I'm so myself, and the impulse which makes
    me take up my pen is out of the common way too, for it arises from
    the honest pain I should feel in having so great esteem and
    friendship as I bear for Mrs. Draper--if I did not wish to hope
    and extend it to Mr. Draper also. I am really, dear sir, in love
    with your wife; but 'tis a love you would honour me for, for 'tis
    so like that I bear my own daughter, who is a good creature, that
    I scarce distinguish a difference betwixt it--that moment I had
    would have been the last.

Follows a polite offer of services, which is nothing to our purpose.

Now it is easy to say that such a letter was written with the
hypocritical intention of allaying Mr. Draper's possible suspicions, and
certainly the last sentence overshoots the mark. Against the general
innocence of Sterne's life there exist, in particular, two damaging bits
of evidence--that infamous thing in dog-Latin addressed to the master of
the "Demoniacs," whose meaning must have been quite lost upon the
daughter who published it, and a pair of brief notes to a woman named
Hannah. Of the Latin letter one may say that it was probably written in
the exaggerated tone of bravado suitable to its recipient; of both this
and the notes one may add that they do not incriminate the later years
of Sterne's life. As an offset we now have that extraordinary memorandum
in the _Journal to Eliza_, dated April 24, 1767, which states
explicitly, and convincingly, that he had led an entirely chaste life
for the past fifteen years. It is not requisite, or indeed possible, to
enter into the evidence further in this place, but the general inference
may be stated with something like assurance: Sterne's relation to Eliza
was purely sentimental, as was the case with most of his philandering;
at the same time in his earlier years he had probably indulged in a life
of pleasure such as was by no means uncommon among the clergy of his
day. He was neither quite the lying scoundrel of Thackeray nor the "old
flirt" of Bagehot, but a man led into many follies, and many kindnesses
also, by an impulsive heart and a worldly philosophy. It is not his
immorality that one has to complain of, and the talk in the books on
that score is mostly foolishness; it is rather his bad taste. He cannot
be much blamed for his estrangement from his wife, and his care for her
comfort is not a little to his credit; but he might have refrained from
writing to Eliza on the happiness they were to enjoy when the poor woman
was dead--as he had already done to Mlle. Fourmantelle, and others, too,
it may be. Mrs. Sterne, not long after the departure of Eliza, had
written that she was coming over to England, and the _Journal_ for a
time is filled with forebodings of the confusion she was to bring with
her. One hardly knows whether to smile or drop a tear over the
Postscript added after the last regular entry:

    Nov: 1^{st.} All my dearest Eliza has turnd out more favourable
    than my hopes--M^{rs.} S.--& my dear Girl have been 2 Months with
    me and they have this day left me to go to spend the Winter at
    York, after having settled every thing to their hearts
    content--M^{rs.} Sterne retires into france, whence she purposes
    not to stir, till her death.--& never, has she vow'd, will give me
    another sorrowful or discontented hour--I have conquerd her, as I
    w^{d.} every one else, by humanity & Generosity--& she leaves me,
    more than half in Love w^{th.} me--She goes into the South of
    france, her health being insupportable in England--& her age, as
    she now confesses ten Years more, than I thought being on the edge
    of sixty--so God bless--& make the remainder of her Life happy--in
    order to w^{ch.} I am to remit her three hundred guineas a year--&
    give my dear Girl two thousand p^{ds.}--w^{th.} w^{ch.} all Joy,
    I agree to,--but tis to be sunk into an annuity in the french
    Loans--

    --And now Eliza! Let me talk to thee--But What can I say, What can
    I write--But the Yearnings of heart wasted with looking & wishing
    for thy Return--Return--Return! my dear Eliza! May heaven smooth
    the Way for thee to send thee safely to us, & joy for Ever.

So ends the famous _Journal_, which at last we are permitted to read
with all its sins upon it. And I think the first observation that will
occur to every reader is surprise that a master of style could write
such slipshod, almost illiterate, English. The fact is a good many of
the writers of the day were content to leave all minor matters of
grammar and orthography to their printer, whom it was then the fashion
to abuse. More than one page of stately English out of that formal age
would look as queer as Sterne's hectic scribblings, could we see the
original manuscript. But the ill taste of it all is quite as apparent,
and unfortunately no printer could expunge that fault, along with his
haphazard punctuation, from Sterne's published works. In another way his
incongruous calling as a priest may be responsible for a note that
particularly jars upon us to-day. Too often in the midst of very earthly
sentiments he breaks forth with a bit of religious claptrap, as when in
the _Journal_ he cries out, "Great God of Mercy! shorten the Space
betwixt us--Shorten the space of our miseries!"--or as when, in that
letter to Lady Percy which so disgusted Thackeray, he dandles his
temptations, and in the same breath tells how he has repeated the Lord's
Prayer for the sake of deliverance from them. Again, I say, it is a
matter of taste, for there is no reason to believe that Yorick's
religious feelings were not just as sincere, and as volatile, too, as
his love-making. They sometimes came to him at an inopportune moment.

"Un prêtre corrumpu ne l'est jamais à demi"--a priest is never only half
corrupt--said Massillon, and there are times when such a saying is true.
It is also true, and Sterne's life is witness thereof, that in certain
ages, when compassion and tenderness of heart have taken the place of
religion's austerer virtues, a man may preach with conviction on Sunday,
and on Monday join without much disquiet of conscience in the revelries
of a "Crazy" Castle. There is not a great deal for the moralist to say
on such a life; it is a matter for the historian to explain. At
Cambridge Sterne had made the acquaintance of John Hall Stevenson, the
owner of Skelton, or "Crazy," Castle, which lay at Guisborough, within
convenient reach of Sterne's Yorkshire homes. An excellent engraving in
the present edition gives a fair notion of this fantastic dwelling
before its restoration. On a fringe of land between the edge of what
seems a stagnant pool and the foot of some barren hills, the old pile of
stone sits dull and lowering. First comes a double terrace rising sheer
from the water, and above that a rambling, comfortless-looking
structure, pierced in the upper story by a few solemn windows. Terraces
and building alike are braced with outstanding buttresses, as if, like
the House of Usher, the ancient edifice might some day split and crumble
away into the lake. At one end of the pile is a heavy square tower
erected long ago for defence; at the other stands a slender octagonal
turret with its famous weathercock, by whose direction the owner
regulated his mood for the day. The whole bears an aspect of bleakness
and solitude, in startling contrast with the wild doings of host and
guests. A study yet to be made is a history of the clubs or associations
of the eighteenth century, which, in imitation, no doubt, of the newly
instituted Masonic rites, were formed for the purpose of adding the
sting of a fraternal secrecy to the commonplace pleasures of
dissipation. Famous among these were the "Monks of Medmenham Abbey," and
the "Hell-Fire Club," and to a less degree the "Demoniacs" whom Hall
Stevenson gathered into his notorious abode. If Sterne found his
amusement in this boisterous assembly, it is charitable (and the
evidence points this way) to suppose that he enjoyed the jovial wit and
grotesque pranks of such a company rather than its viciousness. It is at
least remarkable that Hall Stevenson, or "Eugenius," as Sterne called
him, seems to have tried to steady the eccentric divine by more than one
piece of practical advice. Above all, there lay at Skelton a great
collection of Rabelaisian books, brought together by the owner during
his tours on the Continent; and to this Sterne owed his eccentric
reading and that acquaintance with the world's humours and
whimsicalities which were to make his fortune.

Here, then, in the library of his compromising friend, he gathered the
material for his great work, _Tristram Shandy_; and, indeed, if we
credit some scholars, he gathered so successfully that little was left
for his own creative talents. It is demonstrably true that he made
extraordinary use of certain old French books, including Rabelais, whom
he counted with Cervantes as his master; and from Burton's _Anatomy of
Melancholy_ he borrowed unblushingly, not to mention other English
authors. We are shocked at first to learn that some of his choicest
passages are stolen goods; the recording angel's tear was shed, it
appears, and my Uncle Toby's fly was released long before that gentleman
was born to sweeten the world; so too the wind was tempered to the shorn
lamb in proverb before Sterne ever added that text to the stock of
biblical quotations. But after all, there is little to be gained by
unearthing these plagiarisms. _Tristram Shandy_ and the _Sentimental
Journey_ still remain among the most original productions in the
language, and we are only taught once more that genius has a high-handed
way of taking its own where it finds it.

The fact is that this trick of borrowing scarcely does more than affect
a few of those set pieces or purple patches by which an author like
Sterne gradually comes to be known and judged. These are admirably
adapted for use in anthologies, for they may be severed from their
context without cutting a single artery or nerve; but let no one suppose
that from reading them he gets anything but a distorted view of Sterne's
work. They are all marked by a peculiar kind of artificial pathos--the
recording angel's tear, Uncle Toby's fly, the dead ass, the caged
starling, Maria of Moulines (I name them as they occur to me)--and they
give a very imperfect notion of the true Shandean flavour. In their own
genre they are no doubt masterpieces, but it is a genre which gives
pleasure from the perception of the art, and not from the kindling touch
of nature, in their execution. They are ostensibly pathetic, yet they
make no appeal to the heart, and I doubt if a tear was ever shed over
any of them--even by the lachrymose Yorick himself. To enjoy them
properly one must key his mind to that state in which the emotions cease
to have validity in themselves, and are changed into a kind of exquisite
convention. Now, it is easier by far to detect the inherent
insubstantiality of such a convention than to appreciate its delicately
balanced beauty, and thus it happens that we hear so much of Sterne's
false sentiment from those who base their criticism primarily on these
famous episodes. For my part I am almost inclined to place the story of
Le Fevre in this class, and to wonder if those who call it pathetic
really mean that it has touched their heart; I am sure it never cost me
a sigh.

No, the highest mastery of Sterne does not lie in these anthological
patches, but first of all in his power of creating characters. There are
not many persons engaged in the little drama of Shandy Hall, and their
range of action is narrow, but they are drawn with a skill and a
memorable distinctness which have never been surpassed. Not the bustling
people of Shakespeare's stage are more real and individual than Mr.
Shandy, my Uncle Toby, Corporal Trim, and Dr. Slop. Even the minor
characters of the servants' hall are sketched in with wonderful
vividness; and if there is a single failure in all that gallery of
portraits, it is Yorick himself, who was drawn from the author and is
foisted upon the company somewhat unceremoniously, if truth be told. Nor
is the secret of their lifelikeness hard to discern. One of the constant
creeds of the age, handed down from the old comedy of humours, was the
belief in the "ruling passion" as the source of all a man's acts. The
persons who figure in most of the contemporary letters and novels are a
succession of originals or grotesques, moved by a single motive. They
are all mad in England, said Hamlet, and Walpole enforces the sentence
with a thousand burlesque anecdotes. Now in Sterne this ruling passion,
both in his own character and in that of his creations, was softened
down to what may be called a whimsical egotism, which does not repel by
its exaggeration, yet bestows a marvellous unity and relief. It is his
_hobbyhorsical_ philosophy, as he calls it. At the head of all are
Tristram's father and uncle, with their cunningly contrasted
humours--Mr. Shandy, who would regulate all the affairs of life by
abstract theorems of the mind, and my Uncle Toby, who is guided solely
by the impulses of the heart. Between them Sterne would seem to have set
over against each other the two divided sources of human activity; and
the minor characters, each with his cherished hobby, are ranged under
them in proper subordination. The art of the narrative--and in this
Sterne is without master or rival--is to bring these characters into a
group by some common motive, and then to show how each of them is
thinking all the while of his own dear crotchet. Take, for example, the
tremendous curse of Ernulphus in the third book. Mr. Shandy had "the
greatest veneration in the world for that gentleman, who, in distrust of
his own discretion in this point, sat down and composed (that is, at his
leisure) fit forms of swearing suitable to all cases, from the lowest to
the highest provocation which could possibly happen to him." That is Mr.
Shandy's theorising hobby, and accordingly, when his man Obadiah is the
cause of an annoying mishap, Mr. Shandy reaches down the formal curse of
Bishop Ernulphus and hands it to Dr. Slop to read. It might seem tedious
to have seven pages of excommunicative wrath thrust upon you, with the
Latin text duly written out on the opposite page. On the contrary, this
is one of the more entertaining scenes of the book, for at every step
one or another of the listeners throws in an exclamation which intimates
how the words are falling in with his own peculiar train of thought. The
result is a delightful cross-section of human nature, as it actually
exists. "Our armies swore terribly in _Flanders_, cried my Uncle
_Toby_--but nothing to this.--For my own part, I could not have a heart
to curse my dog so."

But it is not this persistent and very human egotism alone which makes
the good people of Shandy Hall so real to us. Sterne is the originator
and master of the gesture and the attitude. Like a skilful player of
puppets, he both puts words into the mouths of his creatures and pulls
the wires that move them. No one has ever approached him in the art with
which he carries out every mood of the heart and every fancy of the
brain into the most minute and precise posturing. Before Corporal Trim
reads the sermon his exact attitude is described so that, as the author
says, "a statuary might have modelled from it." Throughout all the
dialogue between the two contrasted brothers we follow every movement of
the speakers, as if we sat with them in the flesh, and when Mr. Shandy
breaks his pipe the moment is tense with expectation. But the supreme
exhibition of this art occurs at the announcement of Bobby's death. Let
us leave Mr. Shandy and my Uncle Toby discoursing over this sad event,
and turn to the kitchen. Those who know the scene may pass on:

    ----My young master in _London_ is dead! said Obadiah.--

    ----A green sattin night-gown of my mother's, which had been twice
    scoured, was the first idea which _Obadiah's_ exclamation brought
    into _Susannah's_ head....

    --O! 'twill be the death of my poor mistress, cried
    _Susannah_.--My mother's whole wardrobe followed.--What a
    procession! her red damask,--her orange tawney,--her white and
    yellow lutestrings,--her brown taffata,--her bone-laced caps, her
    bed-gowns, and comfortable under-petticoats.--Not a rag was left
    behind.--"_No,--she will never look up again_," said _Susannah_.

    We had a fat, foolish scullion--my father, I think, kept her for
    her simplicity;--she had been all autumn struggling with a
    dropsy.--He is dead, said _Obadiah_,--he is certainly dead!--So am
    not I, said the foolish scullion.

    ----Here is sad news, _Trim_, cried _Susannah_, wiping her eyes as
    _Trim_ stepp'd into the kitchen,--master _Bobby_ is dead and
    _buried_--the funeral was an interpolation of _Susannah's_--we
    shall have all to go into mourning, said _Susannah_.

    I hope not, said _Trim_.--You hope not! cried _Susannah_
    earnestly.--The mourning ran not in _Trim's_ head, whatever it did
    in _Susannah's_.--I hope--said _Trim_, explaining himself, I hope
    in God the news is not true--I heard the letter read with my own
    ears, answered _Obadiah_; and we shall have a terrible piece of
    work of it in stubbing the Ox-moor.--Oh! he's dead, said
    _Susannah_.--As sure, said the scullion, as I'm alive.

    I lament for him from my heart and my soul, said _Trim_, fetching
    a sigh.--Poor creature!--poor boy!--poor gentleman!

    --He was alive last _Whitsontide_! said the
    coachman.--_Whitsontide!_ alas! cried _Trim_, extending his right
    arm, and falling instantly into the same attitude in which he read
    the sermon,--what is _Whitsontide_, _Jonathan_ (for that was the
    coachman's name), or _Shrovetide_, or any tide or time past, to
    this? Are we not here now, continued the corporal (striking the
    end of his stick perpendicularly upon the floor, so as to give an
    idea of health and stability)--and are we not--(dropping his hat
    upon the ground) gone! in a moment!--'T was infinitely striking!
    _Susannah_ burst into a flood of tears.--We are not stocks and
    stones.--_Jonathan, Obadiah_, the cookmaid, all melted.--The
    foolish fat scullion herself, who was scouring a fish-kettle upon
    her knees, was rous'd with it.--The whole kitchen crowded about
    the corporal.

There is the true Sterne. A common happening unites a half-dozen people
in a sympathetic group, yet all the while each of them is living his
individual life. You may look far and wide, but you will find nothing
quite comparable to that fat, foolish scullion. And withal there is no
touch of cynical satire in this display of egotism, but a kindly,
quizzical sense of the way in which our human personalities are jumbled
together in this strange world. And in the end the feeling that lies
covered up in the heart of each, the feeling that all of us carry dumbly
in the inevitable presence of death, is conveyed in that supreme gesture
of Corporal Trim's, whose force in the book is magnified by the
author's fantastic disquisition on its precise nature and significance.

It begins to grow clear, I think, that we have here something more than
an ordinary tale in which a few individuals are set apart to enact their
rôles. Somehow, this quaint household in the country, where nothing more
important is happening than the birth of a child, becomes a symbol of
the great world with all its tangle of cross-purposes. There is a
philosophy, a new and distinct vision of the meaning of life, in these
scenes, which makes of Sterne something larger than a mere novelist. He
was not indulging his author's vanity when he thought of himself as a
follower of Rabelais and Cervantes and Swift, for he belongs with them
rather than with his great contemporaries, Fielding and Smollet, or his
greater successors, Thackeray and Dickens. Nor is his exact parentage
hard to discover. In Rabelais I seem to see the embryonic humour of a
world coming to the birth and not yet fully formed. Through the crust of
the old mediæval ideals the new humanism was struggling to emerge, and
in its first lusty liberty mankind, with the clog of the old
civilisation still hanging upon it, was like those monsters that Nature
threw off when she was preparing her hand for a higher creation. There
is something unshaped, as of Milton's beast wallowing unwieldy, in the
creatures of Rabelais's brain; yet withal one perceives the pride of the
design that is foreshadowed and will some day come to its own.
Cervantes arose in the full tide of humanism, and there is about his
humour the pathetic regret for an ideal that has been swept aside by the
new forms. For this young civilisation, which spurned so haughtily the
ancient law of humiliation and which was to be satisfied with the full
and unconfined development of pure human nature, had a pitiful
incompleteness to all but a few of Fortune's minions, and the memory of
the past haunted the brain of Cervantes like a ghost vanquished and made
ridiculous, but unwilling to depart. He found therein the tragic humour
of man's ideal life. Then came Swift. Into his heart he sucked the
bitterness of a thousand disappointments. Even the semblance of the old
ideals had passed away, and for the fair promise of the new world he saw
only corruption and folly and a gigantic egotism stalking in the
disguise of liberty. Savage indignation laid hold of him and he vented
his rage in that mocking laughter which stings the ears like a buffet.
His was the sardonic humour. But time that takes away brings also its
compensation. To Sterne, living among smaller men, these passionate
egotisms are dwindled to mere caprices, and a jest becomes more
appropriate than a sneer. And after all, one good thing is left. There
is the kindly heart and the humble acknowledgment that we too are
seeking our own petty ends. It is a world of homely chance into which
Sterne introduces us, and there is no room in it for the boisterous
mirth or the tragedy or wrath of his predecessors. His humour is merely
whimsical; his smile is almost a caress.

I can never look at that portrait of Sterne by Sir Joshua Reynolds, with
the head thrown forward and the index finger of the right hand laid upon
the forehead, but an extraordinary fantasy enters my mind. I seem to see
one of those pictures of the Renaissance, in which the face of the
Almighty beams benevolently out of the sky, but as I gaze, the features
gradually change into those of Yorick. The mouth assumes the sly smile,
and the eyes twinkle with conscious merriment, as if they were saying,
"We know, you and I, but we won't tell!" Possibly it is something in the
pose of Sir Joshua's picture which lends itself to this transformation,
helped by a feeling that the Shandean world, over which Sterne presides,
is at times as real as the actualities that surround us. That portrait
at the head of his works is, so to speak, an image of His Sacred
Majesty, Chance, whom a witty Frenchman reverenced as the genius of this
world.

It may be that we do not always in our impatience recognise how artfully
the caprices of Sterne's manner are adapted to creating this atmosphere
of illusion. Now and then his trick of reaching a point by the longest
way round, his wanton interruptions, the absurdity of his blank pages,
and other cheap devices to appear original, grow a trifle wearisome, and
we call the author a mountebank for his pains. Yet was there ever a
great book without its tedious flats? They would seem to be necessary to
procure the proper perspective. Certainly all these whimsicalities of
Sterne's manner fall in admirably with the central theme of _Tristram
Shandy_, which is nothing else but an exposition of the way in which the
blind goddess Chance, whose hobby-horse is this world itself, makes her
plaything of the lesser caprices of mankind. "I have been the continual
sport of what the world calls Fortune," cries Tristram at the beginning
of his narrative, and indeed that deity laid her designs early against
our hero, whose troubles date from the very day of conception. "I see it
plainly," says Mr. Shandy, in his chapter of Lamentation, when calamity
had succeeded calamity--"I see it plainly, that either for my own sins,
brother _Toby_, or the sins and follies of the _Shandy_ family, Heaven
has thought fit to draw forth the heaviest of its artillery against me;
and the prosperity of my child is the point upon which the whole force
of it is directed to play."--"Such a thing would batter the whole
universe about our ears," replies my Uncle Toby, thinking no doubt of
the terrible work of the artillery in Flanders. Mr. Shandy was a man of
ideas, and Tristram was to be the embodiment of a theory. But
alas,--"with all my precautions how was my system turned topside-turvy
in the womb with my child!" There is something inimitably droll in this
combat between the solemn, pedantic notions of Mr. Shandy and the
blunders of Chance. The interrupted conception of poor Tristram, his
unfortunate birth, the crushing of his nose, the grotesque mistake in
naming him,--all are scenes in this ludicrous and prolonged warfare. Nor
is my Uncle Toby any the less a subject of Fortune's sport. There is, to
begin with, a comical inconsistency between the feminine tenderness of
his heart and his absorption in the memories of war. His hobby of living
through in miniature the campaign of the army in Flanders is one of the
kindliest satires on human ambition ever penned. And it was inevitable
that my Uncle Toby, with his "most extreme and unparalleled modesty of
nature," should in the end have fallen a victim to the designs of a
woman like the Widow Wadman. It is, as I have said, this underlying
philosophy worked out in every detail of the book which makes of
_Tristram Shandy_ something more than a mere comedy of manners. It
shatters the whole world of convention before our eyes and rebuilds it
according to the humour of a mad Yorkshire parson. And all of us at
times, I think, may find our pleasure and a lesson of human frailty,
too, by entering for a while into the concerns of that Shandean society.

Sterne, on one side of his character, was a sentimentalist. That, and
little more than that, we see in his letters and _Journal_. And in a
form, subtilised no doubt to a kind of exquisite felicity, that is the
essence of his _Sentimental Journey_, as the name implies. He was
indeed the first author to use the word "sentimental" in its modern
significance, and for one reason and another this was the trait of his
writing that was able, as the French would say, to _faire école_. It
flooded English literature with tearful trash like Mackenzie's _Man of
Feeling_, and, in a happier manner, it influenced even Thackeray more
than he would have been willing to admit. It is present in _Tristram
Shandy_, but only as a milder and half-concealed flavour, subduing the
satire of that travesty to the uses of a genial and sympathetic humour.

Probably, however, the imputation of sentimentalism repels fewer readers
from Sterne to-day than that of immorality. It is a charge easily flung,
and in part deserved. And yet, in all honesty, are we not prone to fall
into cant whenever this topic is broached? I was reading in a family
edition of Rabelais the other day and came across this sentence in the
introduction: "After wading through the worst of Rabelais's work, one
needs a thorough bath and a change of raiment, but after Sterne one
needs strychnine and iron and a complete change of blood." It does not
seem to me that the case with Sterne is quite so bad as that. Rabelais
wrote when the human passions were emerging from restraint, and it was
part of his humour to paint the lusty youth of the world in colours of
grotesque exaggeration. Sterne, coming in an age of conventional
manners, pointed slyly to the gross and untamed thoughts that lurked in
the minds of men beneath all their stiffened decorum. It was the purpose
of his "topside-turvydom," as it was of Rabelais's, to turn the under
side of human nature up to the light, and to show how Fortune smiles at
the social proprieties; but his instrument was necessarily innuendo
instead of boisterous ribaldry, Shandeism in place of Pantagruelism.
Deliberately he employed this art of insinuation in such a way as to
draw the reader on to look for hidden meanings where none really exists.
We are made an unwilling accomplice in his obscenity, and this perhaps,
though a legitimate device, is the most objectionable feature of his
suggestive style.

One may concede so much and yet dislike such broad accusations of
immorality as are sometimes laid against him. I cannot see what harm can
come to a mature mind from either Rabelais or Sterne. And if the _pueris
reverentia_ be taken as the criterion (the effect actually produced on
those who are as yet unformed, for good or ill, by the experience of
life) I am inclined to think that the really dangerous books are those
like the _Venus and Adonis_, which throw the colours of a glowing
imagination over what is in itself perfectly natural and wholesome; I am
inclined to think that Shakespeare has debauched more immature minds
than ever Sterne could do, and that even Pantagruelism is more
inflammatory than Shandeism. So far as morals alone are concerned there
is a touch of what may be called inverted cant in this discrimination
between the wholesome and the unwholesome. Sir Walter Scott, in his
straight-forward, manly way, put the matter right once for all: "It
cannot be said that the licentious humour of _Tristram Shandy_ is of the
kind which applies itself to the passions, or is calculated to corrupt
society. But it is a sin against taste if allowed to be harmless as to
morals." The question with Sterne's writings, as with his life, is not
so much one of morality as of taste. And if we admit that he
occasionally sinned against these inexorable laws, this does not mean
that his book as a whole was ill or foully conceived. He merely erred at
times by excess of his method.

The first two volumes of _Tristram Shandy_ were written in 1759, when
Sterne was forty-six, and were advertised for sale in London on the
first day of the year following. Like many another too original work, it
had first to go a-begging for a publisher, but the effect of it on the
great world, when once it became known, was prodigious. The author soon
followed his book to the city to reap his reward, and the story of his
fame in London during his annual visits and of his reception in Paris
reads like enchantment. "My Lodging," he writes to his dear Kitty in the
first flush of triumph, "is euery hour full of your Great People of the
first Rank, who striue who shall most honor me;--euen all the Bishops
have sent their Complim^{ts.} to me, & I set out on Monday Morning to
pay my Visits to them all. I am to dine w^{h.} Lord Chesterfield this
Week, &c. &c., and next Sunday L^{d.} Rockingham takes me to Court."
Nor was his reward confined to the empty plaudits of society. Lord
Falconberg presented him with the perpetual curacy of Coxwold, a
comfortable charge not twenty miles from Sutton. The "proud priest"
Warburton sent him a purse of gold, because (so the story ran, but it
may well have been idle slander) he had heard that Sterne contemplated
introducing him into a later volume as the tutor of Tristram.

Sterne planned to bring out two successive volumes each year for the
remainder of his life, and the number did actually run to nine without
getting Tristram much beyond his childhood's misadventures. At different
times, also, he published two volumes of _Sermons by Mr. Yorick_, which,
in their own way, and considered as moral essays rather than as
theological discourses, are worthy of a study in themselves. They are
for one thing almost the finest example in English of that style which
follows the sinuosities and subtle transitions of the spoken word.

But soon his health, always delicate, began to give way under the strain
of reckless living. Long vacations in Paris and the South of France
restored his strength temporarily, and at the same time gave him
material for the travel scenes in _Tristram Shandy_ and for the
_Sentimental Journey_. But that "vile asthma" was never long absent,
and there is something pitiable in the quips and jests with which he
covers his dread of the spectre that was pursuing him. We have seen how
the travail of his broken body wails in the _Journal to Eliza_; and his
last letter, written from his lodging in London to his truest and least
equivocal friend, was, as Thackeray says, a plea for pity and pardon:
"Do, dear Mrs. J[ames], entreat him to come to-morrow, or next day, for
perhaps I have not many days, or hours to live--I want to ask a favour
of him, if I find myself worse--that I shall beg of you, if in this
wrestling I come off conqueror--my spirits are fled--'tis a bad omen--do
not weep my dear Lady--your tears are too precious to shed for
me--bottle them up, and may the cork never be drawn.--Dearest, kindest,
gentlest, and best of women! may health, peace, and happiness prove your
handmaids.--If I die, cherish the remembrance of me, and forget the
follies which you so often condemn'd--which my heart, not my head,
betray'd me into. Should my child, my Lydia want a mother, may I hope
you will (if she is left parentless) take her to your bosom?"--I cannot
but feel that the man who wrote that note was kind and good at heart,
and that through all his wayward tricks and sham sentiment, as through
the incoherence of his untrimmed language, there ran a vein of genuine
sweetness.

He sent this appeal from Bond Street, on Tuesday, the 15th of March,
1768. On Friday, the 18th, a party of his roistering friends, nobles and
actors and gay livers, were having a grand dinner in a street near by,
when some one in the midst of their frolic mentioned that Sterne was
lying ill in his chamber. They dispatched a footman to inquire of their
old merry-maker, and this is the report that he wrote in later years; it
is unique in its terrible simplicity:

    About this time, Mr. Sterne, the celebrated author, was taken ill
    at the silk-bag shop in Old Bond Street. He was sometimes called
    "Tristram Shandy," and sometime "Yorick"; a very great favourite
    of the gentlemen's. One day my master had company to dinner, who
    were speaking about him; the Duke of Roxburgh, the Earl of March,
    the Earl of Ossory, the Duke of Grafton, Mr. Garrick, Mr. Hume,
    and Mr. James. "John," said my master, "go and inquire how Mr.
    Sterne is to-day." I went, returned, and said: I went to Mr.
    Sterne's lodging; the mistress opened the door; I inquired how he
    did. She told me to go up to the nurse; I went into the room, and
    he was just a-dying. I waited ten minutes; but in five he said,
    "Now it is come!" He put up his hand as if to stop a blow, and
    died in a minute. The gentlemen were all very sorry, and lamented
    him very much.

We have seen Corporal Trim in the kitchen dropping his hat as a symbol
of man's quick and humiliating collapse, but I think the attitude of
poor Yorick himself lying in his hired chamber, with hand upraised to
stop the invisible blow, a work of greater and still more astounding
genius. It was devised by the Master of gesture indeed, by him whose
puppets move on a wider stage than that of Shandy Hall.



J. HENRY SHORTHOUSE


Probably few people expected a work of more than mediocre interest when
they heard that Mrs. Shorthouse was preparing her husband's _Letters and
Literary Remains_ for the the press.[9] The life of a Birmingham
merchant, who in the course of his evenings elaborated one rather
mystical novel and then a few paler and abbreviated shadows of it, did
not, indeed, promise a great deal, and there is something to make one
shudder in the very sound of "literary remains." Nor would it have been
reassuring to know that these remains were for the most part short
essays and stories read at the social meetings of the Friends' Essay
Society of Birmingham. The manuscript records of such a club are not a
source to which one would naturally look for exhilarating literature,
yet from them, let me say at once, the editor has drawn a volume both
interesting and valuable. Mr. Shorthouse contributed to these meetings
for some twenty years, from the age of eighteen until he withdrew to
concentrate his energies upon _John Inglesant_, and it is worthy of
notice that his early sketches are, on the whole, better work than the
more elaborate essays, such as that on _The Platonism of Wordsworth_,
which followed the production of his masterpiece. He was to an
extraordinary degree _homo unius libri_, almost of a single thought, and
there is a certain freshness in his immature presentation of that idea
which was lost after it once received the stamp of definitive
expression. Hawthorne, we already knew, furnished the model for his
later method, but we feel a pleasant shock, such as always accompanies
the perception of some innate consistency, on opening to the very first
sentence in his volume of Remains, and finding the master's name: "I
have been all my life what Nathaniel Hawthorne calls 'a devoted epicure
of my own emotions.'" That, I suppose, was written about 1854, when
Hawthorne's first long romance had been published scarcely four years,
and shows a remarkable power in the young disciple of finding his
literary kinship. Indeed, not the least of his resemblances to Hawthorne
is the fact that he seems from the first to have possessed a native
sense of style; what other men toil for was theirs by right of birth. In
the earliest of these sketches the cadenced rhythms of _John Inglesant_
are already present, lacking a little, perhaps, in the perfect assurance
that came later, but still unmistakable. And at times--in _The Autumn
Walk_, for instance, with its "attempt to find language for nameless
sights and voices," in _Sundays at the Seaside_, with their benediction
of outpoured light upon the waters, offering to the beholder as it were
the sacrament of beauty, or in the _Recollections of a London
Church_,--at times, I say, we seem almost to be reading some lost or
discarded chapter of the finished romance. This closing paragraph of the
_Recollections_, written apparently when Shorthouse was not much more
than a boy--might it not be a memory of King Charles's cavalier
himself?--

    Certes, it was very strange that the story of this young girl whom
    I have never seen, whom I knew so little of, should haunt me thus.
    Yet for her sake I loved the church and the trees and even the
    dark and dingy houses round about; and as with the small
    congregation I listened to the refrain of that sublime litany
    which sounded forth, word for word, as she had heard it, I thought
    it all the more divine because I knew so certainly that in her
    days of trouble and affliction it had supported and comforted her:

    By Thine agony and bloody sweat; by Thy cross and passion; by Thy
    precious death and burial; by Thy glorious resurrection and
    ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Ghost, Good Lord deliver
    us.

And the Life, too, in an unpretentious way, is decidedly more
interesting than might have been expected. The narrative is simply told,
and the letters are for the most part quiet expositions of the idea that
dominated the writer's mind. Here and there comes the gracious record of
some day of shimmering lights among the Welsh hills;--"a wonderful
vision of sea and great mountains in a pale white mist trembling into
blue," as he writes to Mr. Gosse from Llandudno, and we know we are with
the author of _John Inglesant_. Joseph Henry Shorthouse was born in
Birmingham on September 9th, 1834. His parents belonged to the Society
of Friends, and the boy's first schooling was at the house of a lady who
belonged to the same body. He was, however, of an extremely sensitive
and timid disposition, and even the excitement of this homelike school
affected him deplorably. "I have now," says his wife, "the old copy of
Lindley Murray's spelling book which he used there. His mother saw, to
her dismay, when she heard him repeat the few small words of his lesson,
that his face worked painfully, and his little nervous fingers had worn
away the bottom edges of his book, and that he was beginning to
stammer." He was immediately taken from school, but the affection of
stammering remained with him through life and cut him off from much
active intercourse with the world. He acknowledged that without it he
would probably never have found time for his studies and productive
work, and the eloquence of his pen was due in part to the lameness of
his tongue. At a later date he went for a while to Tottenham College,
but his real education he got from tutors and still more from his own
insatiable love of books.

It appears that all his family associations were of a kind to foster the
peculiar talents that were to bring him fame. His father while dressing
used to tell the boy of his travels in Italy, and so imbued him with a
love for that wonderful country which he himself was never to see. In
after years, when the elder Shorthouse came to read his son's novel, he
was surprised and delighted to find the scenes he had described all
written out with extraordinary accuracy. Even more beneficial was the
influence of his grandmother, Rebecca Shorthouse, and her home at
Moseley, where every Thursday young Henry and his four girl cousins, the
Southalls, used to foregather and spend the day. One of the cousins has
left a record of this garden estate and of these weekly visits which
might have been written by Shorthouse himself, so illuminated is it with
that subdued radiance which rests upon all his works. I could wish it
were permissible to quote at even greater length from these pages, for
they are the best possible preparation for an understanding of _John
Inglesant_:

    The old house at Moseley ... was surrounded by a large extent of
    garden ground and ample lawns. The gardens were on different
    levels--the upper was the flower garden. No gardener with his
    dozens of bedding plants molested that fragrant solitude, but
    there, unhindered, the narcissus multiplied into sheets of bloom,
    the little yellow rose embodied the summer sunshine, the white
    roses climbed into the old apple trees, or looked out from the
    depths of the ivy, and we knew the sweet-briar was there, though
    we saw it not.

    Below, but accessible by stone steps, lay the low garden,
    surrounded by brick lichen-covered walls, beyond which rose banks
    of trees. [The "blue door" in this garden wall is introduced in
    the _Countess Eve_, and another part of the garden in _Sir
    Percival_.] On these old walls nectarines, peaches, and apricots
    ripened in the August sun. In the upper part of this walled garden
    stretched a winding lawn, made in the shape of a letter S, and
    surrounded on all sides by laurels. This was a complete seclusion.
    In the broad light of noon, when the lilacs and laburnums and
    guelder-roses were full of bees, and each laurel leaf, as if newly
    burnished, reflected the glorious sunshine, it was a delicious
    solitude, where we read, or talked, or thought, to our hearts'
    content. But as night fell, when "the laurels' pattering talk was
    over," there was a deep solemnity in its dark shadows, and in its
    stillness and loneliness.

_Qualis ab incepto!_ Are we not in fancy carried straightway to that
scene where the boy Inglesant goes back to his first schoolmaster, whom
he finds sitting amid his flowers, and who tells him marvellous things
concerning the search for the Divine Light? or to that other scene,
where he talks with Dr. Henry More in the garden of Oulton, and hears
that rare Platonist discourse on the glories of the visible world,
saying: "I am in fact '_Incola coeli in terrâ_,' an inhabitant of
paradise and heaven upon earth; and I may soberly confess that
sometimes, walking abroad after my studies, I have been almost mad with
pleasure,--the effect of nature upon my soul having been inexpressibly
ravishing, and beyond what I can convey to you." Indeed, not only _John
Inglesant_, but all of Mr. Shorthouse's stories could not be better
described than as a writing out at large of the wistful memory of that
time when men heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in
the cool of the day--and were still not afraid. But we must not pass on
without observing the more individual traits of the boy noted down in
the record:

    That which strikes one most in recalling our intercourse with our
    cousin at this time is that our conversation did not consist of
    commonplaces; we talked for hours on literary subjects, or, if
    persons were under discussion, they were such as had a real
    interest; the books we were reading were the chief theme. The low
    garden was generally the scene of these conversations, and it was
    here we read and talked all through the long summer afternoons ...
    Nathaniel Hawthorne had a perennial charm,--his influence on our
    cousin was permanent,--and we turned from all other books to
    Hawthorne's with fresh delight. There is in existence a well-worn
    copy of the _Twice-Told Tales_ that was seldom out of our hands.
    [It is in the Preface to this book that Hawthorne boasts of being
    "the obscurest man of letters in America."]....

    Our cousin was at this and all other times very particular about
    his dress and appearance; it seemed to us then that he assumed a
    certain exaggeration with regard to them; we did not understand
    how consistent it all was with his idea of life....

    He was not at all fond of walking, and it is doubtful if he cared
    for mountain scenery for its own sake. He responded to the moods
    of Nature with a sensitiveness that was natural to him, but it was
    her quiet aspects which most affected him. He was a native of "the
    land where it is always afternoon."

But life was not all play with young Shorthouse. At the age of sixteen
his father took him into the chemical works which had been founded by
the great-grandfather, and, although his father and later his brother
were indulgent to him in many ways, the best of his energies went to
this business until within a few years of his death. There is something
incongruous, as has been remarked, in the manufacture of vitriol and the
writing of mystical novels. In 1857 he married Sarah Scott, whom he had
known for a number of years, and the young couple took a house in
Edgbaston, the suburb of Birmingham in which they had both grown up and
where they continued to live until the end. Mrs. Shorthouse tells of the
disposition of his hours. He went regularly to business at nine, came
home to dinner in the middle of the day, and returned to town till
nearly seven. The evenings, after the first hour of relaxation, were
mostly devoted to studying Greek, reading classics and divinity, and the
seventeenth-century literature, which had always possessed a peculiar
fascination for him. During the years from 1866 to 1876 he was slowly
putting together his story of _John Inglesant_, and with the exception
of his wife, no one saw the writing, or, indeed, knew that he had a work
of any such magnitude on hand. For four years he kept the completed
manuscript, which was rejected by one or two publishers, and then, in
1880, he printed an edition of a hundred copies for private
distribution. One of these fell into the hands of Mrs. Humphry Ward,
and through her the Macmillans became interested in the book, and
requested to publish it. No one was more amazed at the reception of the
story than was the author himself. He was immediately a man of mark, and
the doors of the world were thrown open to him. Other stories followed,
beautiful in thought and expression, but too manifestly little more in
substance than pale reflections of his one great book; his message
needed no repetition. He died in 1903, beloved and honoured by all who
knew him, and it is characteristic of the man that during his last years
of suffering one or another of the volumes of _John Inglesant_ was
always at his side, a comfort and a consoling voice to the author as it
had been to so many other readers.

Religion was the supreme reality for him as a boy, and as a man nearing
the hidden goal. His family were Quakers, but in 1861 he and his wife
became members of the Church of England, and it was under the influence
of that faith his books were written. Naturally his letters and the
record of his life have much to say of religious matters, but in one
respect they are disappointing. It would have been interesting to know a
little more precisely the nature of his views and the steps by which he
passed from one form of belief to the other. That the anxiety attendant
on the change cost him heavily and for a while broke down his health, we
know, and from his published writings it is easy to conjecture the
underlying cause of the change, but the more human aspect of the
struggle he underwent is still left obscure.

Nor is his relation to the three-cornered embroglio within the Church
itself anywhere set forth in detail. Almost it would seem as if he dwelt
in some charmed corner of the fold into which the reverberations of
those terrific words _Broad_ and _High_ and _Low_ penetrated only as a
subdued muttering. To supplement this defect I have myself been reading
some of the literature of that contest, and among other things a series
of able papers on _Le Mouvement Ritualiste dans l'Église Anglicane_,
which M. Paul Thureau-Dangin has just published in the _Revue des Deux
Mondes_. The impression left on my own mind has been in the highest
degree contradictory and exasperating. One labours incessantly to know
what all this tumult is about, and I should suppose that no more
inveterate and vicious display of parochialism was ever enacted in this
world. To pass from these disputes to the religious conflict that was
going on in France at the same time is to learn in a striking way the
difference between words and ideas; and even our own pet transcendental
hubbub in Concord is in comparison with the Oxford debate vast and
cosmopolitan in significance. The intrusion of a single idea into that
mad logomachy would have been a phenomenon more appalling than the
appearance of a naked body in a London drawing-room, and it is not
without its amusing side that one of Newman's associates is said to have
dreaded "the preponderance of intellect among the elements of character
and as a guide of life" in that perplexed apologist. Ideas are not
conspicuous anywhere in English literature, least of all in its
religious books, and often one is inclined to extend Bagehot's cynical
pleasantry as a cloak for deficiencies here, too: the stupidity of the
English is the salvation of their literature as well as of their
politics. For it is only fair to add that this ecclesiastical battle, if
paltry in abstract thought, was rich in human character and in a certain
obstinate perception of the validity of traditional forms; it was at
bottom a contest over the position of the Church in the intricate
hierarchy of society, and pure religion was the least important factor
under consideration.

Two impulses, which were in reality one, were at the origin of the
movement. Religion had lagged behind the rest of life in that impetuous
awakening of the imagination which had come with the opening of the
nineteenth century; it retained all the dryness and lifeless cant of the
preceding generation, which had marked about the lowest stage of British
formalism. Enthusiasm of any sort was more feared than sin. Perhaps the
first widely recognized sign of change was the publication, in 1827, of
Keble's _Christian Year_, although the "Advertisement" to that famous
book showed no promise of a startling revolution. "Next to a sound rule
of faith," said the author, "there is nothing of so much consequence as
a sober standard of feeling in matters of practical religion"; and
certainly, to one who reads those peaceful hymns to-day, sobriety seems
to have marked them for her own. Yet their effect was undoubtedly to
import into the Church and into the contemplation of churchmen something
of that enthusiasm, trained now and subdued to authority, which had been
the possession of infidels and sectaries.

  What sudden blaze of song
      Spreads o'er the expanse of Heaven?
  In waves of light it thrills along,
      The angelic signal given--
  "Glory to God!" from yonder central fire
  Flows out the echoing lay beyond the starry choir;--

such words men read in the hymn for _Christmas Day_, and they were
thrilled to think that the imaginative glow, which for a score of years
had burned in the secular poets, was at last impressed into the service
of the sanctuary.

Another impulse, more definite in its nature, was the shock of the
reform bill. In his _Apologia_, Cardinal Newman, looking back to the
early days of the Tractarian Movement, declared that "the vital question
was, How were we to keep the Church from being Liberalised?" and in his
eyes the sermon preached by Keble, July 14, 1833, on the subject of
_National Apostasy_, was the first sounding of the battle cry. Impelled
by the fear of the new democratic tendencies, which threatened to lay
hold of the Church and to use it for utilitarian ends, the leaders of
the opposition sought to go back beyond the ordinances of the
Reformation, and to emphasise the close relation of the present forms of
worship with those of the first Christian centuries; against the
invasions of the civil government they raised the notion of the Church
universal and one. The first of the famous Tracts, dated September 9,
1833, puts the question frankly:

    Should the Government and the Country so far forget their God as
    to cast off the Church, to deprive it of its temporal honours and
    substance, _on what_ will you rest the claim of respect and
    attention which you make upon your flocks? Hitherto you have been
    upheld by your birth, your education, your wealth, your
    connexions; should these secular advantages cease, on what must
    Christ's ministers depend?

A layman might reply simply, _On the truth_, and Shorthouse, as we shall
see, had such an answer to make, though couched in more circuitous
language. But not so the Tract:

    I fear we have neglected the real ground on which our authority is
    built--OUR APOSTOLICAL DESCENT.

That was the Tractarian, or Oxford, Movement, which united the claims of
the imagination with the claims of priestcraft, and by a logical
development led the way to Rome. In the Church at large, the new leaven
worked its way slowly and confusedly, but in the end it created a
tripartite division, which threatened for a while to bring the whole
establishment down in ruins. The first of these, the High Church, is
indeed essentially a continuation, and to a certain extent a
vulgarisation, of the Oxford Movement. What had been a kind of epicurean
vision of holy things, reserved for a few chosen souls, was now made the
vehicle of a wide propaganda. The beautiful rites of the ancient worship
were a powerful seduction to wean the rich from worldly living and no
less a tangible compensation for the poor and outcast. At a later date,
under the stress of persecution, the leaders of the party formulated the
so-called Six Points on which they made a final stand: (1) The eastward
position; (2) the eucharistic vestments; (3) altar candles; (4) water
mingled with the wine in the chalice; (5) unleavened bread; (6)
incense--without these there was no worship; barely, if at all,
salvation. The Low Church was, in large part, a state of pure hostility
to these followers of the Scarlet Woman; it was loudly Protestant,
confining the virtue of religion to an acceptance of the dogmas of the
Reformation, distrusting the symbolical appeal to the imagination, and
finding the truth too often in what was merely opposition to Rome.
Contrary to both, and despised by both, was the Broad Church, which held
the sacraments so lightly that, with the Dean of Westminster, it joined
in communion with Unitarians, and which treated dogma so cavalierly
that, with Maurice, it thought a subscription to the Thirty-nine
Articles the quickest way to liberty of belief. Yet I cannot see that
this boasted freedom did much more than introduce a kind of license in
the interpretation of words; it transferred the field of battle from
forms to formulæ.

From this unpromising soil (intellectually, for in character it
possessed its giants) was to spring the one great religious novel of the
English language. I have thought it worth while to recall thus briefly,
yet I fear tediously, the chief aspects of the controversy, because only
as the result of a profound and, in many respects, violent national
upheaval can the force and the inner veracity of _John Inglesant_ be
comprehended. Mrs. Shorthouse fails to dwell on this point; indeed, it
would appear from her record that the noise of the dispute reached her
husband only from afar off. Yet during the years of composition he was
dwelling in a house at Edgbaston within a stone's throw of the Oratory,
where, at that time and to the end of his life, Cardinal Newman resided,
having found peace at last in the surrender of his doubts to authority.
The thought of that venerable man and of the agony through which he had
come must have been often in the novelist's mind. And it was during
these same ten years of composition that the forces of Low and High
were lined up against each other like two hostile armies, under the
banners of the English Church Union and the Church Association. The
activity of this latter body, which was founded in 1865 for the express
purpose of "putting down" the heresy of ritualism, may be gathered from
the fact that at a single meeting it voted to raise a fund of some
$250,000 for the sake of attacking High Church clergymen through the
processes of law. Not without reason was it dubbed the Persecution
Company limited.

Now it may be possible with some ingenuity of argument--Laud himself had
aforetime made such an attempt--to regard the Battle of the Churches as
a contest of the reason; in practice its provincialism is due to the
fact that it was concerned, not with the truth, but with what men had
held to be the truth. That Mr. Shorthouse was able to write a book which
is in a way the direct fruit of this conflict, and which still contains
so much of the universal aspect of religion, came, I think, from his
early Quaker training and from his Greek philosophy. It would be a
mistake to suppose that, on entering the Church of England, he closed in
his own breast the door to that inner sanctuary of listening silence,
the _innocuæ silentia vitæ_, where he had been taught to worship as a
child. At the time of the change he could still write to one who was
distressed at his decision: "I grant that Friends, at their
commencement, held with a strong hand perhaps the most important truth
of this system, the indwelling of the Divine Word." In reality, there
was no "perhaps" in Mr. Shorthouse's own adherence to this principle,
both before and after his conversion; only he would place a new emphasis
on the word "indwelling." The step signified to him, as I read his life,
a transition from the religion of the conscience to that of the
imagination, from morality to spiritual vision. This voice, which the
Quakers heard in their own hearts alone, and which was an admonition to
separate themselves from all the false splendours of the world, he now
heard from stream and flowering meadow and from the decorum of courtly
society, bidding him make beautiful his life, as well as holy.
Henceforth he could say that "all history is nothing but the relation of
this great effort--the struggle of the divine principle to enter into
human life." And in the same letter in which these words occur--an
extraordinary epistle to Matthew Arnold, asking him to embody the
writer's ideas in an essay--he extends his Quaker inheritance so far as
to make it a cloak for humour, a humour, as he says, in "a sense beyond,
perhaps, that in which it ever has been understood, but which, it may
be, it is reserved to _you_ to reveal to men." One would like to have
Mr. Arnold's reply to this divagation on _Don Quixote_. Mr. Shorthouse
had, characteristically, adapted the book to his own spiritual needs as
a representation "of the struggles of the divine principle to enter
into the everyday details of human life."

It was, I say, his unforgotten discipleship to George Fox and to Plato
which preserved Mr. Shorthouse from the narrowness of the movement while
permitting him to be faithful to the Church. In the Introduction to the
Life an ecclesiastical friend distinguishes him from the partisan
schools as a "Broad Church Sacramentarian." I confess in general to a
strong dislike for these technical phrases, which always savour a little
of an evasion of realities, and bear about the same relation to actual
human experience as do the pigeonholes of a lawyer's desk; but in this
case the words have a useful brevity. They show how he had been able to
take the best from all sides of the controversy and to weld these
elements into harmony with the philosophy of his inheritance and
education. The position of Mr. Shorthouse was akin to that of the
Low-Churchmen in his hostility to the Romanising tendencies and his
distrust of priestcraft, but he differed from them still more
essentially in his recognition of the imagination as equally potent with
the moral sense in the upbuilding of character. To the Broad-Churchman
he was united chiefly in his abhorrence of dogmatic tests. One of his
few published papers (reprinted in the Life) is a plea for _The Agnostic
at Church_,--a plea which may still be taken to heart by those troubled
doubters who are held aloof by the dogmas of Christianity, yet regret
their lonely isolation from the religious aspirations of the community:

    There is, however, one principle which underlies all church
    worship with which he [the agnostic] cannot fail to sympathise,
    with which he cannot fail to be in harmony--the sacramental
    principle. For this is the great underlying principle of life, by
    which the commonest and dullest incidents, the most unattractive
    sights, the crowded streets and unlovely masses of people, become
    instinct with a delicate purity, a radiant beauty, become the
    "outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace."
    Everything may be a sacrament to the pure in heart.... Kneeling in
    company with his fellows, even if all recollection of a far-away
    past, with its childhood's faith and fancies, has faded from his
    mind, it is impossible but that some effect of sympathy, some
    magic chord and thrill of sweetness, should mollify and refresh
    his heart, blessing with a sweet humility that consciousness of
    intellect which, natural and laudable in itself, may perhaps be
    felt by him at moments to be his greatest snare.

But he separated himself from the Broad Church in making religion a
culture of individual holiness rather than a message for the "unlovely
masses of people," in caring more for the guidance of the Inner Voice
than for the brotherhood of charity or the association of men in good
works. In his idea of worship he was near to the High Church, but he
differed from that body in ranking sacerdotalism and dissent together as
the equal foes of religion. The efficacy of the sacrament came from its
historic symbolism and its national acceptance, and needed not, or
scarcely needed, the ministration of the priest. He thus extended the
meaning of the word far beyond the narrow range of ecclesiasticism.
"This sunshine upon the grass," he wrote, "is a sacrament of remembrance
and of love." When, in his early days, Newman visited Hurrell Froude's
lovely Devonshire home, there arose in his mind a poignant strife
between his loyalty to created and to uncreated beauty. In a stanza
composed for a lady's autograph album he gave this expression to his
hesitancy:

    There strayed awhile, amid the woods of Dart,
    One who could love them, but who durst not love;
    A vow had bound him ne'er to give his heart
    To streamlet bright, or soft secluded grove.
    'T was a hard humbling task, onward to move
    His easy-captured eye from each fair spot,
    With unattached and lonely step to rove
    O'er happy meads which soon its print forgot.
  Yet kept he safe his pledge, prizing his pilgrim lot.

No such note is to be found in the letters written by Mr. Shorthouse
during his holidays among the Welsh hills; he looked upon the inherited
Church as the instrument chosen by many generations of men for their
approach to God, but he was not afraid to see the communion service on
the ocean waters when the heavenly light poured upon them, even as he
saw it at the altar table.

If he differed from the Broad Church mainly in his loyalty to Quaker
mysticism, it was Platonism which made the bounds of the High Church
too narrow for his faith. He did not hesitate at one time to say that
Plato possessed a truer spiritual insight than St. Paul, and it was in
reality a mere extension of the sphere of Platonism when, in what
appears to be the last letter he ever wrote (or dictated rather, for his
hands were already clasped in those of beneficent Death), he avowed his
creed: "That Image after which we were created--the Divine
Intellect--must surely be able to respond to the Divine call. The
greatest advance which has ever been made was the teaching, originally
by Aristotle, of the receptivity of matter.... I should be very glad to
see this idea of _John Inglesant_ worked out by an intelligent critic."
Beauty was for him a kind of transfiguration in which the world, in its
response to the indwelling Power, was lifted into something no longer
worldly, but divine; and he could speak of our existence on this earth
as lighted by "the immeasurable glory of the drama of God in which we
are actors." It was not that he, like certain poets of the past century,
attempted to give to the crude passions of men or the transient pomp of
earth a power intrinsically equivalent to the spirit; but he believed
that these might be made by faith to become as it were an illusory and
transparent veil through which the visionary eye could penetrate to the
mystic reality.

For the particular act in this drama, which he was to write out in his
religious novel, he went back to the seventeenth century, when, as it
seemed to him, the same problem as that of the nineteenth arose to
trouble the hearts of Englishmen, but in nobler and more romantic forms.
There was, in fact, a certain note of reality about the earlier struggle
of Puritan, Churchman, and Roman Catholic, which was lacking to the
quarrel of his own day. John Inglesant is the younger of twin sons born
in a family of Catholic sympathies. A Jesuit, Father Hall, who reminds
one not a little of Father Holt in _Henry Esmond_, is put in charge of
the boy and trains him up to be an intermediary between the Church of
England and the Church of Rome. To this end his Mentor keeps his mind in
a state of suspense between the faiths, and the inner and real drama of
the book is the contest in Inglesant's own mind, after his immediate
debt to Rome has been fulfilled, between the two forms of worship.

In part the actual narrative is well conducted. Johnnie's relations to
Charles I., and especially his share in that strange adventure when the
King was terrified by a vision of the dead Strafford, are told with a
good deal of dramatic skill. So, too, his own trial, the murder of his
brother by the Italian, his visits to the household of the Ferrars at
Little Gidding, and some of the events in Italy--these in themselves are
sufficient to make a novel of unusual interest. On the human side, where
the emotions are of a dreamy, half-mystical sort, the work is equally
successful; in its own kind the love of Inglesant and Mary Collet is
beautiful beyond the common love of man and woman. But the novel fails,
it must be acknowledged, in the expression of the more ordinary motives
of human activity. Johnnie's ingrained obedience to the Jesuit is one of
the mainsprings of the plot, yet there is nothing in the story to make
this exaggerated devotion seem natural. In the same way Johnnie's
attachment to his worldly brother is unexplained by the author, and
sounds fantastic. A considerable portion of the book is taken up with
Inglesant's search for his brother's murderer, and here again the
vacillating desire of vengeance is a false note which no amount of
exposition on the part of the author makes convincing. Mr. Shorthouse's
hero burns for revenge one day, and on the next is oblivious of his
passion, in a way that simply leaves the reader in a state of
bewilderment. Curiously enough, it was one of the incidents in this
hide-and-seek portion of the story, found by Mr. Shorthouse in "a
well-known guide-book," that actually suggested the novel to him. For my
own part, the sustained charm of the language, a style midway, as it
were, between that of Thackeray and that of Hawthorne, not quite so
negligently graceful as the former nor quite so deliberate as the
latter, yet mingling the elements of both in a happy compound--the
language alone, I say, would be sufficient to carry me through these
inadequately conceived parts of the story. But I can understand,
nevertheless, how in the course of time this feebleness of the purely
human motives may gradually deprive the book of readers, for it is the
human that abides unchanged, after all, and the divine that alters in
form with the passing ages. Hawthorne, in this respect, is better
equipped for the future; his novels are not concerned with phases of
religion, but with the moral consciousness and the feeling of guilt,
which are eternally the same.

And yet it will be a real loss to letters if this nearest approach in
English to a religious novel of universal significance should lose its
vitality and be forgotten. Almost, but not quite, Mr. Shorthouse has
gone below the shifting of forms and formulæ to the instinct that lies
buried in the heart of each man, seeking and awaiting the light. I have
already referred to those early chapters, the most perfect in the book I
think, wherein is told how Johnnie, a grown boy now, visits his
childhood's masters and questions them about the Divine Light which he
would behold and follow amid the wandering lights of this world. Mr.
Shorthouse believed, as he had been taught at his mother's knee, that
such a Guide dwelt in the breasts of all men, and that we need only to
hearken to its admonition to attain holiness and peace. He thought that
it had spoken more clearly to certain of the poets and philosophers of
Greece than to any others, and that "the ideal of the Greeks--the
godlike and the beautiful in one"--was still the lesson to be practised
to-day. "What we want," he said, "is to apply it to real life. We all
understand that art should be religious, but it is more difficult to
understand how religion may be an art." And this, as he avows again and
again in his letters, was the purpose of his book; "one of many failures
to reconcile the artistic with the spiritual aspect of life," he once
calls it.

But if, intellectually, the vision of the Divine Light was vouchsafed to
Plato more than to any other man, historically it had been presented to
the gross, unpurged eyes of the world in the life and death of Jesus.
The precision of dogma, even the Bible, meant relatively little to Mr.
Shorthouse. "I do not advocate belief in the Bible," he wrote; "I
advocate belief in Christ." Somehow, in some way beyond the scope of
logic, the idea which Plato had beheld, the divine ideal which all men
know and doubt, became a personality that one time, and henceforth the
sacraments that recalled the drama of that holy life were the surest
means of obtaining the silence of the world through which the Inner
Voice speaks and is heard.

To some, of course, this will appear the one flaw in the author's
logic--this step from the vague notion of the Platonic ideas dwelling in
the world of matter, and shaping it to their own beautiful forms, to the
belief in the actual Christian drama as the realisation of the Divine
Nature in human life. Yet the step was easy, was almost necessary, for
one who held at the same time the doctrines of the Friends and of Plato;
their union might be called the wedding of pure religion and pure
philosophy, wherein the more bigoted and inhuman character of the former
was surrendered, while to the latter was added the power to touch the
universal heart of man. As Mr. Shorthouse held them, and as Inglesant
came to view them, the sacraments might be called a memorial of that
mystic wedding. They brought to it the historic consciousness and the
traditional brotherhood of mankind; they were the symbolism through
which men sought to introduce the light into their own lives as a
religious art. Now an art is a matter to be perceived and to be felt,
whereas a science, as Newman and others held religion to be, is a
subject for demonstration and argument. How much religion in England
suffered from the attempt to prove what could not be caught in the mesh
of logic, and from the endeavour to make words take the place of ideas,
we have already seen. You may reason about abstract truth, you cannot
reason about a symbolism or a form of worship. The strength of _John
Inglesant_ lies in its avoidance of rationalism or the appeal to
precedent, and in its frank search for the human and the artistic.

It was in this sense that Mr. Shorthouse could speak of his book as
above all an attempt "to promote culture at the expense of fanaticism,
including the fanaticism of work": but we shall miss the full meaning
of his intention if we omit the corollary of those words, viz.: "to
exalt the unpopular doctrine that the end of existence is not the good
of one's neighbour, but one's own culture." I do not know, indeed, but
this exaltation of the old theory that the chief purpose of religion is
the worship and beatitude of the individual soul, in opposition to the
humanitarian notions which were even then springing into prominence, is
the central theme of the story. Certainly with many readers the scene
that remains most deeply impressed in their memory is that which shows
Inglesant coming to Serenus de Cressy at the House of the Benedictines
in Paris, and, like the young man who came to Jesus, asking what he
shall do to make clear the guidance of the Inner Light. There, in those
marvellous pages, Cressy points out the divergence of the ways before
him: "On the one hand, you have the delights of reason and of intellect,
the beauty of that wonderful creation which God made, yet did not keep;
the charms of Divine philosophy, and the enticements of the poet's art;
on the other side, Jesus." And then as the old man, who had himself
turned from the gardens of Oxford to the discipline of a monastery, sees
the hesitation of his listener, he breaks forth into this eloquent
appeal:

    I put before you your life, with no false colouring, no tampering
    with the truth. Come with me to Douay; you shall enter our house
    according to the strictest rule; you shall engage in no study
    that is any delight or effort to the intellect; but you shall
    teach the smallest children in the schools, and visit the poorest
    people, and perform the duties of the household--and all for
    Christ. I promise you on the faith of a gentleman and a priest--I
    promise you, for I have no shade of doubt--that in this path you
    shall find the satisfaction of the heavenly walk; you shall walk
    with Jesus day by day, growing ever more and more like to Him; and
    your path, without the least fall or deviation, shall lead more
    and more into the light, until you come unto the perfect day; and
    on your death-bed--the death-bed of a saint--the vision of the
    smile of God shall sustain you, and Jesus Himself shall meet you
    at the gates of eternal life.

We are told that every word went straight to Inglesant's conviction, and
that no single note jarred upon his taste. He implicitly believed that
what the Benedictine offered him he should find. But he also knew that
this was not the only way of service--nor even, perhaps, the highest. He
turned away from the monastery sadly, but firmly, and continued his
search for the light in that direction whither the culture of his own
nature led him; he showed--though this neither he nor Mr. Shorthouse,
perhaps, would acknowledge--that at the bottom of his heart Plato and
not Christ was his master, and that to him practical Christianity was
only one of the many historic forms which the so-called Platonic insight
assumes among men. To some, no doubt, this attempt to make of religion
an art will savour of that peculiar form of hedonism, or bastard
Platonism, which Walter Pater introduced into England, and _John
Inglesant_ will be classed with _Marius the Epicurean_ as a blossom of
æsthetic romanticism. There is a certain show of justification in the
comparison, and the work of Mr. Shorthouse quite possibly grants too
much to the enervating acquiescence in the lovely and the decorous; it
lacks a little in virility. But the difference between the two books is
still more radical than the likeness. Though absolute truth may not be
within the reach of man, nevertheless the life of John Inglesant is a
discipline and a growth toward a verity that emanates from acknowledged
powers and calls him out of himself. The senses have no validity in
themselves. He aims to make an art of religion, not a religion of art;
the distinction is deeper than words. The true parentage of the work
goes back, in some ways, to Shaftesbury, with whom an interesting
parallel might be drawn.

In the end Inglesant returns to England, after years spent in France and
Italy among Roman Catholics, and accepts frankly the religious forms of
his own land. His character had been strengthened by experience, and in
following the higher instincts of his own nature he had attained the
assurance and the sanctity of one who has not quailed before a great
sacrifice. The last scene in the book, the letter which relates the
conversation with Inglesant in the Cathedral Church at Worcester, should
be read as a complement to the earlier chapters which describe his
boyish search for what he was not to find save through the lesson of
years; the whole book may be regarded as a link between these two
presentations of the hero's life. It would require too many words to
repeat Inglesant's confession even in outline. "The Church of England,"
says the writer of the letter, "is no doubt a compromise, and is
powerless to exert its discipline.... If there be absolute truth
revealed, there must be an inspired exponent of it, else from age to age
it could not get itself revealed to mankind." And Inglesant replies:
"This is the Papist argument, there is only one answer to it--Absolute
truth is not revealed. There were certain dangers which Christianity
could not, as it would seem, escape. As it brought down the sublimest
teaching of Platonism to the humblest understanding, so it was
compelled, by this very action, to reduce spiritual and abstract truth
to hard and inadequate dogma. As it inculcated a sublime indifference to
the things of this life, and a steadfast gaze upon the future, so, by
this very means, it encouraged the growth of a wild unreasoning
superstition."

It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that those words, taken with the
plea which follows, express the finest wisdom struck out of the long and
for the most part futile Battle of the Churches; they were the creed of
Mr. Shorthouse, as they were the experience of the hero of his book. I
would end with that image of life as a sacred game with which Inglesant
himself closed his confession of faith at the Cathedral door:

    The ways are dark and foul, and the grey years bring a mysterious
    future which we cannot see. We are like children, or men in a
    tennis court, and before our conquest is half won the dim twilight
    comes and stops the game; nevertheless, let us keep our places,
    and above all things hold fast by the law of life we feel within.
    This was the method which Christ followed, and He won the world by
    placing Himself in harmony with that law of gradual development
    which the Divine Wisdom has planned. Let us follow in His steps
    and we shall attain to the ideal life; and, without waiting for
    our "mortal passage," tread the free and spacious streets of that
    Jerusalem which is above.



THE QUEST OF A CENTURY


    [The scientific part of this essay, indeed the central idea which
    makes it anything more than a philosophic vagary, is borrowed from
    an unpublished lecture of my brother, Prof. Louis T. More, who
    holds the chair of Physics in the University of Cincinnati. If I
    have printed the paper under my name rather than his, this is
    because he, as a scientist, might not wish to be held responsible
    for the general drift of the thought.]

The story is told of Dante that in one of his peregrinations through
Italy he stopped at a certain convent, moved either by the religion of
the place or by some other feeling, and was there questioned by the
monks concerning what he came to seek. At first the poet did not reply,
but stood silently contemplating the columns and arches of the cloister.
Again they asked him what he desired; and then slowly turning his head
and looking at the friars, he answered, "Peace!" The anecdote is
altogether too significant to escape suspicion; yet as _The Divine
Comedy_ is supposed to contain symbolically the history of the human
spirit in its upward growth and striving, so this fable of the divine
poet may be held to sum up in a single word the aim and desire of the
spirit's endless quest. So clearly is the object of our inner search
this "peace" which Dante is said to have sought, and so close has the
spirit come again and again to attaining this goal, that it should seem
as if some warring principle within ourselves turned us back ever when
the hoped-for consummation was just within reach. As Vaughan says in his
quaint way:

  Man is the shuttle, to whose winding quest
    And passage through these looms
  God ordered motion, but ordained no rest.

It is possible, I believe, to view the ceaseless intellectual
fluctuations of mankind backward and forward as the varying fortunes of
the contest between these two hostile members of our being,--between the
deep-lying principle that impels us to seek rest and the principle that
drags us back into the region of change and motion and forever forbids
us to acquiesce in what is found. And I believe further that the moral
disposition of a nation or of an individual may be best characterised by
the predominance of the one or the other of these two elements. We may
find a people, such as the ancient Hindus, in whom the longing after
peace was so intense as to make insignificant every other concern of
life, and among whom the aim of saint and philosopher alike was to close
the eyes upon the theatre of this world's shifting scenes and to look
only upon that changeless vision of

        central peace subsisting at the heart
  Of endless agitation.

The spectacle of division and mutation became to them at last a mere
phantasmagoria, like the morning mists that melt away beneath the
upspringing day-star.

Again, we may find a race, like the Greeks, in whom the imperturbable
stillness of the Orient and the restless activity of the Occident meet
together in intimate union and produce that peculiar repose in action,
that unity in variety, which we call harmony or beauty and which is the
special field of art. But if this harmonious union was a source of the
artistic sense among the Greeks, their logicians, like logicians
everywhere, were not content until the divergent tendencies were drawn
out to the extreme; and nowhere is the conflict between the two
principles more vividly displayed than in that battle between the
followers of Xenophanes, who sought to adapt the world of change to
their haunting desire for peace by denying motion altogether, and the
disciples of Heraclitus, who saw only motion and mutation in all things
and nowhere rest. "All things flow and nothing abides," said the
Ephesian, and looked upon man in the midst of the universe as upon one
who stands in the current of a ceaselessly gliding river. The brood of
Sophists, carrying this law into human consciousness, disclaimed the
possibility of truth altogether; and it is no wonder that Plato, while
avoiding the other extreme of motionless pantheism, regarded the
sophistic acceptance of this law of universal flux as the last
irreconcilable enemy of philosophy and morality alike. "The war over
this point is indeed no trivial matter and many are concerned therein,"
said he, not without bitterness.

It is, when rightly considered, this same question that lends dramatic
unity and human value to the long debate of the mediæval schoolmen.
Their dispute may be regarded from more than one point of view,--as a
struggle of the reason against the bondage of authority, as an attempt
to lay bare the foundation of philosophy, as a contest between science
and mysticism; but above all it seems to me a long conflict in words
between these two warring members within us. The desire of infinite
peace was the impulse, I think, which drove on the realists to that
"abyss of pantheism," from the brink of which the vision of most men
recoils as from the horror of shoreless vacuity. In this way Erigena,
the greatest of realists, spoke of God as that which neither acts nor is
acted upon, neither loves nor is loved; and then, as if frightened by
these blank words, avowed that God though he does not love is in a way
Love itself, defining love as the _finis quietaque statio_ of the
natural motion of all things that move. On the other hand it was the
impulse toward unresting activity which led the nominalists to deny
reality to the stationary ideas of genera and species, and to fix the
mind upon the shifting combinations of individual objects. In this
direction lay the labour of accurate observation and experimental
classification, and it is with prefect justice that Hauréau, the
historian of scholastic philosophy, closes his chapter on William of
Occam, the last of the schoolmen, with these words: "It is then in truth
on this soil so well prepared by the prince of the nominalists that
Francis Bacon founded his eternal monument,"--and that monument is the
scientific method as we see it developed in the nineteenth century.

The justification of scholastic philosophy, as I understand it, was the
hope of finding in the dictates of pure reason an immovable
resting-place for the human spirit; the recoil from the abyss of
pantheism and absolute quietism was the work of the nominalists who in
William of Occam finally won the day; and with him scholastic philosophy
brought an end to its own activity. But a greater champion than William
was needed to wipe away what seems to the world the cobwebs of mediæval
logomachy. Kant's _Critique of Pure Reason_ accomplished what the
nominalistic schoolmen failed to achieve: it showed the impossibility of
establishing by means of logic the dogma of God or any absolute
conception of the universe. Henceforth the real support of metaphysics
was taken away, and the study fell more and more into disrepute as the
nineteenth century waxed old. Not many men to-day look to the pure
reason for aid in attaining the consummation of faith. That
consummation, if it be derived at all from external aid, must come
henceforth by way of the imagination and of the moral sense. We say
with Kant: "Two things fill the mind with ever-new and increasing
admiration and reverence, the oftener and the more persistently they are
reflected on: the starry heaven above me, and the moral law within me."

But neither the imagination nor the conscience alone, any more than
reason, can create faith. They may prepare the soil for the growth of
that perfect flower of joy, but they cannot plant the seed or give the
increase; for they, both the imagination and the conscience, are
concerned in the end with the light of this life, and faith looks for
guidance to a different and rarer illumination. Faith is a power of
itself; _fidem rem esse, non scientiam, non opinionem vel
imaginationem_, said Zwingle. It is that faculty of the will, mysterious
in its source and inexplicable in its operation, which turns the desire
of a man away from contemplating the fitful changes of the world toward
an ideal, an empty dream it may be, or a shadow, or a mere name, of
peace in absolute changelessness. Reason and logic may have no words to
express the object of this desire, but experience is rich with the
influence of such an aspiration on human character. To the saints it was
that peace of God which passeth all understanding; to the mystics it was
figured as the raptures of a celestial love, as the yearning for that

  Passionless bride, divine Tranquillity.

To the ignorant it was the unquestioning trust in those who seemed to
them endowed with a grace beyond their untutored comprehension.

Even if the imagination or the conscience could lift us to this blissful
height, they would avail us little to-day; for we have put away the
imagination as one of the pleasant but unfruitful play-things of youth,
and the conscience in this age of humanitarian pity has become less than
ever a sense of man's responsibility to the supermundane powers and more
than ever a feeling of brotherhood among men. Of faith, speaking
generally, the past century had no recking, for it turned deliberately
to observe and study the phenomena of change. We call that time, which
is still our own time, the age of reason, but scarcely with justice. The
Middle Ages, despite the obscurantism of the Church, had far better
claim to that title. One needs but to turn the pages of the doctors,
even before the day of Abelard who is supposed first to have been the
champion of reason against authority, to see how profound was their
conviction that in reason might be discovered a justification of the
faith they held. And indeed Abelard is styled the champion of reason
because only with him do men begin to perceive the inability of reason
to establish faith. Better we should call ours an age of observation,
for never before have men given themselves with such complete abandon to
observing and recording systematically. By long and intent observation
of the phenomenal world the eye has discovered a seeming order in
disorder, the shifting visions of time have assumed a specious
regularity which we call law, and the mind has made for itself a home on
this earth which to the wise of old seemed but a house of bondage.

  For life is but a dream whose shapes return,
    Some frequently, some seldom, some by night
  And some by day, some night and day: we learn,
    The while all change and many vanish quite,
  In their recurrence with recurrent changes
  A certain seeming order; where this ranges
    We count things real; such is memory's might.

From this wealth of observation and record the modern age, and
especially the century just past, has developed two fields of
intellectual activity to such an extent as almost to claim the creation
of them. Gradually through accumulated observation the nineteenth
century came to look on human affairs in a new light; like everything
else they were seen to be subject to the Heraclitean ebb and flow; and
history was written from a new point of view. We learned to regard eras
of the past as subject each to its peculiar passions and ambitions, and
this taught us to throw ourselves back into their life with a kind of
sympathy never before known. We did not judge them by an immutable code,
but by reference to time and place. Nor is this all. Within the small
arc of our observation we observed a certain regularity of change
similar to the changes due to growth in an individual, and this we
called the law of progress. History was then no longer a mere chronicle
of events or, if philosophical, the portrayal and judgment of characters
from a fixed point of view; it became at its best the systematic
examination of the causes of progress and development. And naturally
this attention to change and motion, this historic sense, was extended
to every other branch of human interest: in religion it taught
Christians to accept the Bible as the history of revelation instead of
something complete from the beginning; in literature it taught us to
portray the development of character or the influence of environment on
character rather than the interplay of fixed passions; in art it created
impressionism or the endeavour to reproduce what the individual sees at
the moment instead of a rationalised picture; in criticism it introduced
what Sainte-Beuve, the master of the movement, sought to write, a
history of the human spirit.

But history, like Cronos of old, possessed a strange power of devouring
its own offspring. Gradually, from the habit of regarding human affairs
in a state of flux and more particularly from the growth of the idea of
progress, the past lost its hold over men. It became a matter of
curiosity but not of authority, and history as it was understood in
Renan's day has in ours almost ceased to be written. Science on the
other hand is the observation of phenomena regarded chiefly in the
relation of space--for it is correct, I believe, to assert that the
laws of energy may be reduced to this point--and as such is not subject
to this devouring act of time. It frankly discards the past and as
frankly dwells in the present. It is not my purpose, indeed it would be
quite superfluous, to reckon up the immense acquisitions of the
scientific method in the past century: they are the theme of schoolboys
and savants alike, the pride and wonder of our civilisation. Nor need I
dwell on the new philosophy which sprang up from the union of the
historic and the scientific sense and still subsists. Not the system of
Hegel or Schopenhauer or of any other professor of metaphysics is the
true philosophy of the age; these are but echoes of a past civilisation,
voices and _præterea nil_. Evolution is the living guide of our thought,
assigning to the region of the unknowable the conceptions of unity and
perfect rest, and building up its theories on the visible experience of
motion and change and development. It has reduced the universal flux of
Heraclitus to a scientific system and assimilated it to our inner
growth; it has become as essentially a factor of our attitude toward the
natural world as Newton's laws of gravitation.

But if our thoughts are directed almost wholly to the sphere of motion,
yet this does not mean that the longing after quietude and peace has
passed entirely from the mind of man; the thirst of the human heart is
too deep for that. Only the world has learned to look for peace in
another direction. In place of that faith which would deny valid
reality to changing forms, we have taught ourselves to find a certain
order in disorder, which we call law,--whether it be the law of progress
or the law of energy,--and on the stability of this law we are willing
to stake our desired tranquillity.

In this way, through what may be called the offspring begotten on the
historic sense by science, the mind has turned its regard into the
future and seemed to discern there a continuation of the same law of
progress which it saw working in the past. Hence have arisen the
manifold dreams and visions of socialism, altruism, humanitarianism, and
all the other isms that would fix the hope of mankind upon some coming
perfectibility of human life, and that like Prometheus in the play have
implanted blind hopes in the hearts of men. It is indeed one of the most
curious instances of the recrudescence of ideas to see the mediæval
visions of a city of golden streets and eternal bliss in another
existence brought down to the future of this world itself. What to the
mystic of that age was to come suddenly, with the twinkling of an eye,
when we are changed and have put away mortal things, when the angel of
the Apocalypse has sworn that time shall be no longer,--all this, the
heavenly city of joy and endless content, is now to be the natural
outcome here in this world of causes working in time. The theory is
beautiful in itself and might satisfy the hunger of the heart, even
though its main hope concerns only generations to come, were it not for
a lingering and fatal suspicion that progress does not involve increased
capability of happiness to the individual, and that somehow the race
does not move toward content. Physical comfort has perhaps become more
widely distributed, but of the placid joy of life the recent years have
known singularly little; we need but turn over the pages of the more
representative poets and prose writers of the past sixty years to
discover how deep is the unrest of our souls. The higher literature has
come to be chiefly the "blank misgivings of a creature moving about in
worlds not realised"; and missing the note of deeper peace we sigh at
times even for

  A draught of dull complacency.

Alas, those who would find a resting-place for the spirit in the
relations of man to man seem not to reckon that the very essence--if
such a term may be used of so contingent a nature--that the very essence
of this world's life is motion and change and contention, and that Peace
spreads her wings in another and purer atmosphere. One might suppose
that a single glance into the heart would show how vain are such
aspirations, and how utterly dreary and illusory is every conceived
ideal of progress and socialism because each and all are based on an
inherent contradiction. He who waits for peace until the course of
events has become stable is like the silly peasant by the river side,
watching and waiting while the current flows forever and will ever flow.

Not less vain is the hope of those who would find in the laws of science
a permanent abiding place--perhaps one should say was rather than is,
for the avowed gospel of science which was to usurp the office of
olden-time religious faith is already like the precedent historic sense,
itself becoming a thing of the past. Yet the much discussed war between
science and religion is none the less real because to-day the din of
battle has ceased. It does not depend on criticism of the Mosaic story
of creation by the one, nor on hostility to progress offered by the
other. These things were only signs of a deeper and more radical
difference: religion is the voice of faith uttering in symbols of the
imagination its distrust of the world as a scene of deception and
unreality, whereas science is the attempt to discover fixed laws in the
midst of this very world of change. If to-day the strife between the two
seems reconciled, this only means that faith has grown dimmer and that
science has learned the futility of its more dogmatic assumptions.[10]

The very growth of science is in fact a gradual recognition of motion as
the basis of phenomena and an increasing comprehension of what may be
called the laws of motion. When motion was regarded as simple and
regular, it seemed possible to explain phenomena by correspondingly
simple and regular laws; but when each primary motion was seen to be
the resultant of an infinite series of motions the question became in
like manner infinitely complex, or in other words insoluble. But to be
clear we must consider the matter more in detail.

From the days of the old Greek Heraclitus, who built up his theory of
the world on the axiom of eternal flux and change, the Doctrine of
Motion as a distinct enunciation has lingered on in the world well-nigh
unnoticed and buried from sight in the bulk of suppositions and guesses
that have made up the passing systems of philosophy. Now and then some
lonely thinker took up the doctrine, but only to let it drop back into
obscurity; until during the great burst of scientific enquiry in the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it assumed new significance and began
to grow. From that time to this its progress in acceptance as the basis
of phenomena may be regarded as a measure of scientific advance.

By a strange fatality Kant, who had been so efficient as an iconoclast
in metaphysics, was perhaps with his nebular hypothesis, followed later
by the work of Goethe on animal and plant variations, the one most
largely responsible for the new hope that in science at last was to be
found an answer to the riddle of existence which had baffled the search
of pure reason. The achievement of Kant both destructive and
constructive is well known, if vaguely understood, by the world at
large; but it is not so well known that a contemporary of Kant did
precisely for science what the sage of Königsberg accomplished in
metaphysics. In the very decade in which _The Critique of Pure Reason_
saw the light, Lagrange, a scholar of France, published a work which
carried the analytic method, or the method of motion, to its farthest
limit. In this work, the _Mécanique Analytique_, Lagrange develops an
equation from which it can be proved conclusively that to explain any
group of phenomena measured by energy an infinite number of hypotheses
may be employed. So, for instance, if we establish any one theory which
will sufficiently account for the known phenomena of light, such as
reflection, refraction, polarisation, etc., there will yet remain an
infinite number of other hypotheses equally capable of explaining the
same group of phenomena. Or to use the words of Poincaré: "If then we
can give one complete mechanical explanation of a phenomenon, there will
also be possible an infinite number of others which will account equally
well for all the particulars revealed by experiment." That is to say, no
_experimentum crucis_ can be imagined which will reveal the truth or
error of any given theory. This restriction on the finality of our
knowledge is borne out in all physical reasoning,--and I venture also to
say in the other sciences; thus in optics we can perform no experiment
which will establish as finally true the theory that light is caused by
the motion of corpuscles of matter emitted from a luminous body, or
that it is due to vibrations propagated through a medium by a wave
motion, or that it is generated by certain disturbances in the
electrical state of bodies. Each of these hypotheses has its advantages
and disadvantages; and in our choice we merely adopt that theory which
explains the greater number of phenomena in the simplest way.

If any one should here ask: Granted that from phenomena expressed in
terms of energy no ultimate law can be educed, yet may not some other
view of phenomena lead to other results? We answer that no other view is
possible. Not that the system of the universe, if we may use such an
expression, is necessarily constructed on what we call energy, but that
our minds can conceive it only in terms of energy. An analysis of the
concepts which enter into the idea of energy must make it evident that
in our understanding of nature we cannot go beyond this point.

There is an agreement among philosophers and scientists that the concept
of space is not derived from external experience, but is inherently
intuitive. As stated by Kant:

    The representation of space cannot be borrowed through experience
    from relations of external phenomena, but, on the contrary, those
    external phenomena become possible only by means of the
    representation of space. Space is a necessary representation, _a
    priori_, forming the very foundation of external intuitions. It is
    impossible to imagine that there should be no space, though it is
    possible to imagine space without objects to fill it.

The concept of space therefore makes possible the intuition of external
phenomena; but these phenomena to be realised must appeal to one of our
senses, and this connecting link between the outer world and our
consciousness is the concept which we call time. Quoting again from
Kant:

    Time is the formal condition, _a priori_, of all phenomena
    whatsoever. But, as all representations, whether they have for
    their objects external things or not, belong by themselves, as
    determinations of the mind, to our inner state;... therefore, if I
    am able to say, _a priori_, that all external phenomena are in
    space, I can, according to the principle of the internal sense,
    make the general assertion that all phenomena, that is, all
    objects of the senses, are _in time_, and stand necessarily in
    relations of time.

It follows, then, that our simplest possible expression for phenomena
will be in terms of space and time, and that beyond this the human mind
cannot go.

Turning here from metaphysical to scientific language, we speak of space
and time as the fundamental units from which we deduce the laws of the
external world. The fact that space appeals to us only through time
furnishes us with our concept or unit of motion, which is the ratio of
space to time. The external phenomena so revealed to us we call the
manifestations of mass or energy, thus providing ourselves with a second
unit. It must be observed, however, that mass or energy is not a new
concept, but bears precisely the same relation to motion as Kant's
_Ding-an-sich_ bears to space and time: it is the unknowable cause of
motion--or more properly speaking it is the ability residing in an
object to change the motion of another object and is measured by the
degree of change it can produce. And I say mass or energy, advisedly,
for the two are merely different names or different views of the same
thing; we cannot conceive of matter without energy or of energy without
matter. Our choice between the two depends solely on the simplicity and
convenience with which deductions may be made from one or the other.
From a physical standpoint the concept energy is rather the simpler, but
mathematically our deductions flow more readily from the concept mass.

If then our explanations of phenomena must ultimately involve the two
units of motion and of energy or mass, and if it can be demonstrated
that on this basis we may account for any group of phenomena in an
infinite number of ways, what shall we say but that the attempt to
attain any resting-place for the mind in the laws of nature is, and must
always be, futile? Further than this, any given law is itself only an
approximate explanation of phenomena, and must be continually modified
as we add to our experimental knowledge. In all cases a law must be
considered valid only within the limits of the sensitiveness of the
instruments by which we get our measurements. With more delicate
instruments variations will be observed that must be expressed by
additional terms in the formula. Thus we maintain that the law of
gravitation is true only within the range of our observation; it does
not apply to masses of molecular dimensions. Another formula, the
well-known law of the pressure of gases, can be shown by experiment to
be merely an approximation, because the variations in it are not of a
dimension negligible in comparison with the sensibility of our
instruments. As the pressure increases the error in the formular
equation becomes constantly greater. To remedy this a second
approximation, which is still inadequate, has been added to the equation
by Van der Waals; yet greater accuracy will require the addition of
other terms; and a complete demonstration would demand an infinite
series of approximations.

The meaning of all this is quite plain: there is no reach of the human
intellect which can bridge the gap between motion and rest. Our senses
are adapted to a world of universal flux which is, so far as we can
determine, subject to no absolute law but the law of probabilities. He
who attempts to circumscribe the ebb and flow of circumstance within the
bounds of our spiritual needs, he who attempts to find peace in any
formula of science or in any promise of historic progress, is like one
who labours on the old and vain problem of squaring the circle:

  Qual è'l geomètra, che tutto s'affige
  Per misurar lo cerchio, e non ritrova,
  Pensando, quel principio ond' egli indige.

The desire of peace, as the world has known it in past times, signified
always a turning away from the flotsam and jetsam of time and an attempt
to fix the mind on absolute rest and unity,--the desire of peace has
been the aspiration of faith. And because the object of faith cannot be
seen by the eyes of the body or expressed in terms of the understanding,
a firm grasp of the will has been necessary to keep the desire of the
heart from falling back into the visible, tangible things of change and
motion. For this reason, when the will is relaxed, doubts spring up and
men give themselves wholly to the transient intoxication of the senses.
Yet blessed are they that believe and have not seen. It was the peculiar
quest of the nineteenth century to discover fixed laws and an unshaken
abiding place for the mind in the very kingdom of unrest; we have sought
to chain the waves of the sea with the winds.

And how does all this affect one who stands apart, striving in his own
small way to live in the serene contemplation of the universe? I cannot
doubt that there are some in the world to-day who look back over the
long past and watch the toiling of the human race toward peace as a
traveller in the Alps may with a telescope follow the mountain-climbers
in their slow ascent through the snows of Mont Blanc; or again they
watch our labours and painstaking in the valley of the senses and wonder
at our grotesque industry; or look upon the striving of men to build a
city for the soul amid the uncertainties of this life, as men look at
the play of children who build castles and domes in the sands of the
seashore and cry out when the advancing waves wash all their hopes away.
I think there are some such men in the world to-day who are absorbed in
the fellowship of the wise men of the East, and of the no less wise
Plato, with whom they would retort upon the accusing advocates of the
present: "Do you think that a spirit full of lofty thoughts, and
privileged to contemplate all time and all existence, can possibly
attach any great importance to this life?" They live in the world of
action, but are not of it. They pass each other at rare intervals on the
thoroughfares of life and know each other by a secret sign, and smile to
each other and go on their way comforted and in better hope.



FOOTNOTES:


[1] _The Correspondence of William Cowper._ Arranged in chronological
order, with annotations, by Thomas Wright, Principal of Cowper School,
Olney. Four volumes. New York: Dodd, Mead, & Co., 1904.

[2] In a newly published volume of the letters of William Bodham Donne
(the friend of Edward FitzGerald and Bernard Barton), the editor,
Catharine B. Johnson, throws doubt on this supposed descent of Cowper's
mother from the Poet Dean.

[3] How refreshing is that whiff of good honest smoke in the abstemious
lives of Cowper and John Newton! I have just seen, in W. Tuckwell's
_Reminiscences of a Radical Parson_, a happy allusion to William Bull's
pipes: "To Olney, under the auspices of a benevolent Quaker.... I saw
all the relics: the parlour where bewitching Lady Austen's shuttlecock
flew to and fro; the hole made in the wall for the entrance and exit of
the hares; the poet's bedroom; Mrs. Unwin's room, where, as she knelt by
the bed in prayer, her clothes caught fire. The garden was in other
hands, but I obtained leave to enter it. Of course, I went straight to
the summer-house, small, and with not much glass, the wall and ceiling
covered with names, Cowper's wig-block on the table, _a hole in the
floor where that mellow divine, the Reverend Mr. Bull, kept his pipes_;
outside, the bed of pinks celebrated affectionately in one of his
letters to Joseph Hill, pipings from which are still growing in my
garden."--The date of the Rev. Mr. Tuckwell's visit to Olney is not
indicated, but his _Reminiscences_ were published in the present year,
1905.

[4] Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve was born at Boulogne-sur-Mer, December
23, 1804, and died at Paris, October 13, 1869.

[5] _The Poems of Algernon Charles Swinburne._ In six volumes. New York:
Harper & Brothers. 1904.

[6] _The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti._ With Memoir and
Notes, etc. By William Michael Rossetti. New York: The Macmillan Co.,
1904.

[7] _Robert Browning._ By C. H. Herford. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co.,
1905.

[8] _The Complete Works of Laurence Sterne._ Edited by Wilbur L. Cross.
Supplemented with the Life by Percy Fitzgerald. 12 volumes. New York: J.
F. Taylor & Co. 1904.

[9] _Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of J. H. Shorthouse._ Edited by
his wife. In two volumes. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1905.

[10] Yet even while I read the proof of this page there lies before me
an article in the _Contemporary Review_ (July, 1905), in which Sir
Oliver Lodge utters the old assumptions of science with childlike
simplicity. "I want to urge," he says, "that my advocacy of science and
scientific training is not really due to any wish to be able to travel
faster or shout further round the earth, or to construct more extensive
towns, or to consume more atmosphere and absorb more rivers, nor even to
overcome disease, prolong human life, grow more corn, and cultivate to
better advantage the kindly surface of the earth; though all these
latter things will be 'added unto us' if we persevere in high aims. But
it is none of these things which should be held out as the ultimate
object and aim of humanity--the gain derivable from a genuine pursuit of
truth of every kind; no, the ultimate aim can be expressed in many ways,
but I claim that it is no less than to be able to comprehend what is the
length and breadth and depth and height of this mighty universe,
including man as part of it, and to know not man and nature alone, but
to attain also some incipient comprehension of what the saints speak of
as the love of God which passeth knowledge, and so to begin an entrance
into the fulness of an existence beside which the joy even of a perfect
earthly life is but as the happiness of a summer's day." The sentiment
is beautiful, but what shall we say of the logic? To speak of attaining
through _science_ a comprehension, even an incipient comprehension, of
that which passeth _knowledge_, is to fall into that curious confusion
of ideas to which the scientifically trained mind is subject when it
goes beyond its own field. "Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will
demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the
foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding." Has Sir
Oliver read the Book of Job?


THE END.


       *       *       *       *       *



Shelburne Essays

By Paul Elmer More

  3 vols.   Crown octavo.

  Sold separately.   Net, $1.25.   (By mail, $1.35)


  _Contents_

    FIRST SERIES: A Hermit's Notes on Thoreau--The Solitude of
    Nathaniel Hawthorne--The Origins of Hawthorne and Poe--The
    Influence of Emerson--The Spirit of Carlyle--The Science of English
    Verse--Arthur Symonds: The Two Illusions--The Epic of Ireland--Two
    Poets of the Irish Movement--Tolstoy; or, The Ancient Feud between
    Philosophy and Art--The Religious Ground of Humanitarianism.

    SECOND SERIES: Elizabethan Sonnets--Shakespeare's Sonnets--Lafcadio
    Hearn--The First Complete Edition of Hazlitt--Charles Lamb--Kipling
    and FitzGerald--George Crabbe--The Novels of George
    Meredith--Hawthorne: Looking before and after--Delphi and Greek
    Literature--Nemesis; or, The Divine Envy.

    THIRD SERIES: The Correspondence of William Cowper--Whittier the
    Poet--The Centenary of Sainte-Beuve--The Scotch Novels and Scotch
    History--Swinburne--Christina Rossetti--Why is Browning Popular?--A
    Note on Byron's "Don Juan"--Laurence Sterne--J. Henry
    Shorthouse--The Quest.


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