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Title: Louise Imogen Guiney
Author: Brown, Alice
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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    New York

    _All rights reserved_


    COPYRIGHT, 1921,

    COPYRIGHT, 1921,

    Set up and electrotyped. Published September, 1921.

    Press of
    J. J. Little & Ives Company
    New York, U. S. A.



Louise Imogen Guiney was born in Boston on January 17, 1861, and died
at Chipping Campden, England, on November 2, 1920. Of Chipping Campden
she had, in 1913, done, in a few strokes, a beguiling little picture
comforting now to hang in the mind beside that stark record of her

It is, she says, “a stone-built paradise of a village not far from
Oxford. There is an April wind blowing, and forty-three roses adorn
one cottage doorway just out of sight from here. The old collie and I
had a walk yesterday, and I dipped my stick in Shakespeare’s Avon at

This was the woman, yet not much changed in high intent and gayest
vagabondage from the girl New England—and, indeed, this western
world—uniquely loved. Still, to us, is she a figure of bright
beginnings and the swiftest road to her is that backward pathway to her

Her father, General Patrick Robert Guiney, a soldier of the Civil War,
was her exemplar and her adoration, and his death an overwhelming
grief. “My _preux chevalier_ of a father,” she was proud to call
him, in a quick flaming up of passionate remembrance. Though he died
in her girlhood—and died of his wound, as it fed her ardent soul to
remember—she never ceased to feel a living allegiance to him. Her
plastic inner life had been molded by him, the picture her mind made
of him touched into enduring colors by the manner of his death. There
was between them that “marriage of true minds” which is more lastingly
productive than the tie of blood, and she was proud if you could
trace in her the reflex of those qualities she held highest in him:
his active patriotism, his slack hold on life, if it could be nobly
given, and a tenacity of devotion to the brave fight. Of her remoter
background she says, with a pleasing touch of swagger, a slightest
waving of the plume:

“My grandfather and great gran’, too, were ‘out’ in the ’98; and the
old man had been ‘out’ in the ’45. I hope to make his acquaintance in
the sojer-boy’s Paradise, which is my bourne, if I be good.”

In one of her earliest essays, “A Child in Camp,” she makes her bow
thus, with a pretty grace:

“Like the royal personages in the drama, I was ushered on the stage of
life, literally, ‘with flourish of trumpets.’ The Civil War was at its
bursting point, the President calling for recruits: it was impertinent
of me, but in that solemn hour I came a-crowing into the world. And
since I was born under allegiance, a lady whom I learned to love with
incredible quickness,

    ‘O bella Libertà! O bella!’

rocked my fortunate cradle.”

This was Irish stock with a strain of English, Scots and French, a
quicksilver blend of buoyancy and happy wit, duly tempered by a special
potency of Gallic grace with its apprehension of the _mot juste_ and
its infallible divination in forms of art. The road between the two
boundary dates of her life ran without much incident we vitally need to
know. Her portrait, painted here chiefly for the friends who marveled
at her and equally at their own luck in the fortunate incident of ever
so slight a knowledge of her, may best be done with the broad strokes
of a brush dipped in remembrance, against a blurred background of time
and place. She herself, in her life of Hurrell Froude, quotes the
expert dictum of George Tyrrell, who guessed what sort of biography is
likely to live longest:

“We have cause to care less for a full inventory of the events which
make up a man’s life or for the striking nature of those events in
themselves, than for such a judicious selection and setting of them as
shall best bring out and explain that individuality which is our main
interest. We care less for what a man does and more for what he is; and
it is mainly as a key to what he is that we study the circumstances
which act upon him and the conduct by which he acts upon them.”

Louise Imogen Guiney, poet, essayist and scholar, was an
extraordinarily limpid and valiant soul, whose death seems, in no
sense referable to our own responsive emotion, but one of bare fact
and calm inevitableness, a rebirth into a sort of present immortality
in letters, a new affirmation of response to her unique accomplishment
even among those to whom she had become only a name out of the
many-syllabled past. For the last third of her life she had been living
in England, with breaks of a few months each in America, and though
the remembered vision of her was not dimmed among us, still that
impalpable medium made up of the day’s demands, the helter-skelter of
this world of disordered strivings and later the wreckage of the war,
had risen between her and her western affiliations. The rude stumbling
servitors of life had crowded between her and the America she loved
with a passion lineally her own. Time and circumstance had been as
remorseless to her as to us. She was, in these later years, “every
day i’ the hour” when her somewhat unstable balance of health would
allow it, immersed in work, the scholar’s drudgery, the pain that ends
in perfectness: and yet it made her studious delight, this rescue of
half-forgotten names, unwearied research upon long trails where only
the spirit of the born antiquary never tires nor falters. The warm,
persistently light-hearted letters came to us less frequently; but
they came, unfailingly at Christmas, like gay holly sprays flung from
December to young January, as if in token of the lastingness of things.
She was so rare a creature, our common memories had been so mingled
of life and laughter, that she had become one of the certainties in a
fleeting and tumultuous world. We were stupidly used to her, as you are
used to sunrise or a star. Then without warning the news came, and the
word went from lip to hushed lip: “Lou Guiney is dead.” That was the
name, Lou Guiney, as it had been in the day of her youth. And at once
we became poignantly alive to her with a more sensitive appreciation,
a new awareness. We turned renewedly to her work and found in it a
more quickly breathing presence. We had been recalled, in a shock of
haste, to crown it before our own hands should be too lax to lift the
heaviness of laurel. So it was that she seemed to have stepped at once
into that porch of continued being which is the house of an immortality
of love and praise, the only thing the world has really to offer the
spirits of its dead.

To recall the form and color of her youth is the eager task likely to
give her oldest friends their first imperfect solace. For it is the
pathetic human instinct to catch at the mantle of time past, as if
to assure itself of something in the web of life that holds. Those
who knew her at twenty and thirty need not err widely in their guess
at her at fifteen. For being one of that gay fellowship for whom “a
star danced” and who buoyantly refuse infection from the “hungry
generations” that “tread” us “down,” she stayed, in every sense, except
that of the disciplined mind and an acquired patience of the heart,
unaffectedly young. Age, the age of mere years, brutal to attack and
vanquish, could never, even in his ultimate assaults, if they had been
permitted him, have withered her bright fecundities of speech and
glance. For there is something in a certain quality of youth that will
not be downed. It is the livingness of a mind refreshed at wells of
immortalities. Of outward vain pretense—the affectation of a persisting
juvenility—it is divinely innocent. You could hardly imagine her, at
any age, without her girl’s grace, her mystic smile. A long-legged romp
in petticoats far beyond the milestones when childhood is apt to slink
away abashed before oncoming desires and dignities, she was early in
love with the sweet seclusion of books and equally with gay adventure
out of doors. The fields, on a day of spring, the river under skies
dull or bright, were her abiding joys. Her “winding Charles” was the
young navigator’s track to seas of pleasure. She

    “could not have enough of this sweet world.”

Those who knew her soon enough to play with her the duplex game of
bodily delight and mental inebriety, remember hours so near the wild
sanity of natural life that only old Arcadian names are spacious
enough to bound them. There was the summer day of riotous vagary when
she and her young chum set forth to navigate the Charles, a block of
ice in the boat for adventurous but uncatalogued uses, and the delays
and mishaps of the voyage, and all the long, insect-thridded night
spent in the boat, the two inventive young heads on the ice which
was their diminishing pillow. There was the tramp across fields from
Auburndale (the Auburndale transmuted by James Jeffrey Roche, in a
gallant paraphrase, to “loveliest village of the prepossessing”) into
an iris-blue swamp, this after earnest debate whether it is a more
delirious fun to dash in “accoutred as you are,” to the ruination
of shoes and stockings or make the assault barefooted with skirts
kilted away from the blessed unction of black mud. To the everlasting
richness of memory, it was barefooted the two hoydens made their
plunge, and sank, with every sucking step, from sun-warmed mud above
to icy cool below. Wild with the bliss of it they waded furiously, and
the day was of so ineffable a light and texture as to lull them into
forgetfulness of the iris itself for which they had adventured, and it
was left behind, piles of withering beauty, entrancing, like fabrics
and translucent gems. Only that night were they remembered, and she who
was Lou Guiney wrote in magnificent surety:

    “You shall have them in Paradise.”

There was the adventure of the field, in company with her dog, he “so
big and so unsophisticated,” and the imminence of a heifer with an
inherited prejudice against dogs of all degrees.

“She’ll chase him,” said Lou Guiney, from her liberality to varying
events. “We shall have to run for it.”

There was no conceivable need of crossing the field, and equally there
was nothing, to her simple fearlessness, in the least eccentric
in wilfully creating a situation you might have to use your wits
to abandon; and so infectious was her unthinking bravery that, as
occasion and she determined, you fought or ran. As it was prophesied,
so it was. The incursion was made, the heifer attacked in good form,
the trio fled in close formation, and the safe side of the fence was
vaultingly attained with no loss of heart but, gloriously, the guerdon
of a memory. All manner of robust childish adventures were natural in
her company. Fields were made to be invaded, swamps to be forded, and
rivers followed until you found they beat your endurance and were going
to make their harbor of the sea and you’d have to leave them to that
blest consummation and go home to supper. She was Atalanta at a race
in the days when a heart, as yet untired, backed her to the limit.
In her reminiscent essay On a Pleasing Encounter with a Pickpocket,
when my gentleman had adroitly abstracted her purse and she almost
ran him down, she celebrates, with some just pride, “my legs (retired
race-horses, but still great at a spurt).” And her fearlessness, the
robust handmaid of reckless action, may have been an unthinking bravado
of youth; equally it may have been the result of a rapid fire of prayer
and answer between her and her defending saints. She anticipated
danger as little as a child. To entertain suspicion was to admit evil
company to her inviolate mind. But, from whatever delicately abstruse
causes, she wore a brave decorum of courage, a feather in the cap, a
sword of high behavior. On lonely roads she would walk unconcerned,
her mind coursing over the centuries, her whimsical smile responsive
to warnings from the more circumspect and foreboding. She was the
child of nature, the child of God; should she quake in a world which
was, though uncoveted, her inheritance? Then, as in later life, she
sometimes seemed to be walking through “worlds not realized,” “whether
in the body or out of the body, I know not; God knoweth.” And this is
no matter for wonder. Thin silvern echoes from the past were always
chiming on her inward ear, majestic syllables drew on her imaginings,
and while she dwelt on “old, unhappy, far-off things” the new wine of
her youth and the immediate loveliness of this present life mingled an
intoxicating cup. And suddenly the spell of the past would fall from
her, and she would be as irresponsibly alive to the bright beauties of
the challenging day as a dryad on holiday out of her tree.

As a girl, she was uniquely dear to the older men and women pleasurably
stirred by the literary event of her early blossoming into essays
and verse, and charmed anew, when they had found her out in her shy
fastnesses, by the unstudied simplicities of her modest behavior. Mrs.
James T. Fields and Sarah Orne Jewett were hers admiringly, Mrs. Louise
Chandler Moulton, known by the affectionate brevet of Godmam, adopted
her into a special sanctity of literary and personal regard, and T. W.
Parsons hailed her as a compeer with whom he was eager to count over
the pure coin out of their scholarly acquisition. It was he who, in
some form of words not to be precisely recalled, confirmed her right
to legitimacy in a bright succession in the arts, by telling her she
was, in the genius of her, “Hazlitt’s child.” Edmund Clarence Stedman,
Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Richard Watson Gilder, Henry Mills Alden, gave
her work that generous welcome the noblesse of any art have in waiting
for the acolyte bringing the cup new filled. And _les jeunes_, poets
or pretenders, were hers to command. There were banners waving; only
this was not in the fashion of present day acclaim when a new actor
challenges his due. These were the dark chaplets and fragrant posies
the Muses love: no canopies and red carpets and the blare of jazz.
There were individual voices, low-pitched, grave, and their verdict
holds. Time may have snowed it under and his jealous lichen sought to
eat it up, but still it holds.

In those early years she published a bit of work, anonymous but
signalized by her unique charm, and a magnate of the critical world
saluted it.

“Your praise,” she wrote him, “is a charming Cinderella slipper, and
here’s my shy foot to fit it.”

To rehearse the names that were her sponsors at this entrance into
recognition would give you a brilliant list, with hardly a gap, of
the intellectuals of some thirty to thirty-five years gone. In her
simplicity of response to this rare quality of praise, her genius of
fancy and acquisition flowing, like a magic ichor, through the veins of
her artless Americanism, there was something as new as it was piquing.
She belonged to the “dewy beginnings” of a fresh decade of literature,
a phase authoritative and unique. If her head was not turned by the
response she got to the fine timidities of her first achievement, it
was because that symmetrical treasury of perfectly classified fact
and fancy was permanently set, eyes to the past, where dwell the
ever-living forerunners of literary glories, the authentic names that
are “eternal blazon,” the exemplar and despair of lesser men. She was
timid, not before the contemporary critic, but the great witnesses
of all time—simply, and in her reverent mind tremulously, a child of
promise, heir to those old authentic glories, but not presuming on that
lineage. Tremendously believed in, she trod her earth lightly, yet
becomingly, and carried her full cup with steady hands. No taint of
ambition was in her, no trace of the base alloy of prize-getting and
wearing. She had seen the “cloud capp’d towers” of the halls of light
where the blessed everlastingly dwell, she had guessed at the shades
and green valleys, the refuge of those “ordained to fail,” and she knew
thus early, through reverent intuition, that “it has become almost an
honor not to be crowned.” Even then at the beginning, when chaplets
were being woven for her, she might have written that later recital of
her secular creed:

    “To fear not possible failure
     Nor covet the game at all.”

At that time the game was in her hands: the game of youth and gayety
and a blameless resolve to make the most of it all in the only way the
great unseen censors, the Fates that spin and weave, allow.

She was a goodly picture of girlhood, Diana not so likely to be
enamoured of Endymion as sandalled for the chase. Not tall, yet
long-legged enough to give her advantage on the road or the English
downs, she had a free grace of movement, untrammeled by the awkwardness
of fear. Even so early, she was slightly deaf, and one of her prettiest
individual poses—yet how unstudied!—was, standing, bent slightly
forward like Atalanta ready for the race, the rounded cup of her palm
behind her ear, beseeching almost whimsically in the low voice that
was half whisper without its sibilance: “Please!” Her misfortune was
not a blemish; she made it a grace. Over that and the drawback of eyes
ineffectual without the help of glasses she never wasted a breath
of impatience: she adopted instead a humorous acceptance of these
latter extraneous servitors as personified faculties of her own. The
act of vision she ascribed to her spectacles alone, and took a never
diminished joy in reminding you how Thackeray did it before her.

“If one dastard of a misplaced comma has escaped me,” she writes, of
printers’ proofs corrected to the last degree of accuracy, “these
spectacles fail to find it.”

Upon one victorious error, chased down and down and still cropping up
in the last proof, she declares:

“Tragedy! how could it have come about? I’d give my spectacles to know.”

Probably nobody so unspoiled and humble in willingness to share
the common lot, or with less respect for the subterfuge called
temperament, ever had less practical acquaintance with the domestic
functions exalted into dull shibboleths, or was more irreconcilably
estranged from the art of the _modiste_ and the rites whereby the
incomprehensible gods of “style” are commonly propitiated. If you could
boil an egg acceptably and enliven it with an agreeable quota of salt
and pepper, she would have made you _cordon bleu_ on the spot. That
the sleeve of a garment could be removed by the simple adjunct of a
pair of scissors and replaced again with a symmetry more conformable
to the arm, was a mystery before which she frankly quailed, and any
force of self-confidence she might have brought to bear went down
like nine-pins. Running rivers of verse, pinnacles of dates, names,
cosmogonies of thrones, principalities and powers, found room in that
exquisitely ordered world which was her brain: yet you could throw her
into a cold sweat of apprehension by confronting her with some homely
task or implement as familiar to the Marthas of civil life as the use
of fork and spoon. And this was no affectation of sensitiveness to
crumpled rose leaves, no arrogance of privilege. She had an appetite as
responsive to good things as if their chemistry had not been as dark to
her as that of lost elixirs, and for some inconspicuous ribbon of her
dress she would cherish an affection almost poignant in its childlike
intensity. She was herself alternately petrified and convulsed by
accumulating instances of her unfitness for the monstrous requisitions
of a concrete world. Returning again and again to the assault, she
is uniformly worsted. She sees, with an eye momentarily sharpened
to recognition, in a modest kitchen, the commonest adjuncts to
dishwashing, and leaves early that she may buy the duplicates of the
magic implements and set them up before the gods of home. And forthwith
she writes, in a rollicking delight:

“And behold! their like had been in this house from of old, and I was
subject to much scorn.”

Helpful kindness itself, she dashes into town to buy a flannel wrapper
for an exacting old lady for whom she has a kindness and who is sick
and destitute, and next day explains, between helpless gusts, “those
spectacles” dashed with tears:

“And lo! it should have been a female garment and I bought a male.”

And these things are to be remembered of her, not because the ox may
take brute pleasure in deploring the delicacy of his brother, the
race-horse, not only that they made her an irresistibly fascinating
blend of power and helplessness, but because her natural inability to
deal with the drudgery that smooths the way of life bore hard upon
her in those later years when she was like a butterfly bound upon the
wheel of this difficult world. She was simply a creature of highly
specialized aptitudes, and the eyes of her mind, they that needed
no fortifying lenses, were set so steadily upon the brightness of
an inward achieving that they could never be focused for the clear
perception of a certain type of immediate needs. To the inequalities
of the road of usage over which her feet obediently traveled, she was
blind, unless indeed the road began to wave green branches, and there
were vistas of beauty, and the birds sang. Then the human awoke in her
and also sang in untrammeled lusti-hood and she was at once that earth
spirit who gathered iris and squandered and forgot it, yet knew all
such forgettings should be hers in Paradise. But even then she was the
vagabond of the road as she conceived it: a matter of smoothly running
caravans and magic camp fires,—not corners of ingenious torment where
one shaped garments and boiled eggs.

And this antagonism was inevitable: for the earth, as it is made, is
forever hostile to that other earth, immortal, invisible, where alone
the highly imaginative can live without nostalgia. If they have to
fight the rude conditions of the visible world, they do it pining “for
what is not.” The imps of time and place have an implacable enmity for
the angels of thought and pure imagination and hinder them at every
step. They devote their mischievous activities to the clipping of
wings, especially of pinions tipped with rose or gold. And the facts of
the case are forever on their side. Man must be fed. And unless he has
been born the darling of sheer luck, he must set his hand to wresting
from the earth the bare right to live. The product of Louise Guiney’s
genius was not, in any large sense, marketable. The most fantastically
hopeful of partisans could not have predicted for her work any valid
recognition whatever, save from the few who have themselves caught the
gleam of Hesperidean fruit and know by natal wisdom that this is no
gold to be minted into coin. Inevitably she was among the

        “delicate spirits pushed away
    In the hot press of the noonday.”

And she had the open palm. Money ran away from her like a rillet
down a slope. She would give beyond prudence and reason, and gladly
acquiesce in her own resultant leanness. She demanded as little of that
complexity of cunningly ornamented indulgence which is luxury as her
own saints, and although she could not, without a distress deadening
to her legitimate activities, fight with any efficacy the battle of
keeping the world a house of ordered rooms, she made brave thrusts at
it. Appointed to the post-office at Auburndale, and later to a position
in the Boston Public Library, she briskly clapped harness on her horses
of the sun and was anxiously intent on doing well. But the only road
for her was still the path of escape to the open, to the free fields of
thought and the fellowship of the written word.

Hers was a youth of picturesque loyalties, one of them to the
lost cause of the Stuarts, a confessed congenital bias. The Irish
Jacobities, of whom there were many, had “claimed the Stuarts as of the
Milesian line, fondly deducing them from Fergus.” Born into that direct
succession of race loyalty, she was in addition, (and this seems to be
the true argument) incalculably beguiled by the sheer fascination of
that luckless house. Her Inquirendo into the Wit and Other Good Parts
of His Late Majesty King Charles the Second ties you a pretty nosegay
of the oak twig and the white rose. How should she not have loved
Charles II., if only that he was, in her own words, “a choice wag?”
“Charles might have confessed with Elia, ‘How I like to be liked, and
what don’t I do to be liked!’” Certainly His ill-starred Majesty could
have desired no liking more whole-hearted, albeit discriminating, more
merrily tolerant than hers. He had cast his magnetic spell upon her pen
and it turned to some good-natured vindicating of his varied parts.
Perhaps she never took her adherence very seriously, off the printed
page. She was beguiled by picturesqueness, not so much concerned with
lineal rights; perhaps, also, it tickled an impish fancy to repudiate
the “dull Georgian farce.” But Charles never had a more humorous
apologist, one who gave him full value as an apostle of good taste and
of a “wheedling charm.”

The sum of her appraisement is of a captivating genius who had found
himself “in the king business” and got addled and spoiled. And who
knows how she must have loved him for his adaptability to portraiture
of a pen like hers, and for the rush and glow of the Restoration, the
very circumstances that inspired her Hazlitt to his glorious inventory
of rustling silks and waving plumes, of gems and people! The time and
the gay immortalities of it go to her head.

“There was an astonishing dearth of dull people; the bad and bright
were in full blossom, and the good and stupid were pruned away.”

She adores “the sworded poets of the Civil Wars, with their scarcely
exerted aptitude for the fine arts, whose names leave a sort of
star-dust along the pages of the anthologies.” And it was, this
star-dust of the period, immediate to one of her own dreams, a labor
she delighted in: the making of a perfect anthology of the seventeenth

Her first book was Songs at the Start (1884) and the first collected
essays Goose-Quill Papers (1885). The essays, despite a wilful
archaism, an armored stiffness of light attack learned out of library
shelves, are astonishingly mature for a pen so young—if by youth or
age we mean the mere cumulative sum of time passed. Indeed, the author
thought well enough of the scintillant little papers to include two of
them, An Open Letter to the Moon, and On Teaching One’s Grandmother to
Suck Eggs, in her later Patrins. You have but to love Louise Guiney to
find Goose-Quill Papers a jovial self-betraying little book to recur
to when you long for her whimsical face again or the cascading gamut
of her laugh. It is spiced with playfulness, a learned playfulness,
it must be owned, and yet, if you know her, you know also how much
learning was waiting in her teeming mind, eager to get into the book
and cram it, cover to cover, and you are grateful for the sense of
just values that let you off so gently. For she had one of those
fructifying minds which absorb like a sponge; everything they draw in
breeds something else, and the two, fact and mother wit, breed again
until you are swept along on a stream of rushing lineage. And over her
happy selection of topics quaint and gay, her own illuminating humor
plays like a thread of gold in tapestry moved lightly by a wind. We may
not, of course, actually assume, so objective is she even then, that
her whimsies of the first person are literally self-betraying; but they
do sometimes open a window upon her as we know her, the gay relish of
life that was hers, the ardor for the great game of chasing a happy
fancy to its born destiny of an ultimate end, and stroking it into the
gentle complaisance of the willing captive; the healthy, untrammeled
revolt against bugaboos “nature itself cannot endure”—notably
mathematics when she “roars you” like any lion (albeit smiling behind
his whiskers as begging to remind you he has no idea of resorting to
the argument of claws).

When she has mounted her gaily caparisoned jennet of unforced humor,
she takes the world by inversion; you shall follow her circumspectly,
or her steed will throw up his heels in your face and gallop off in the
dust of his own making. “My novitiate page,” she ruefully confesses,
invoking the influence of Hazlitt, “smelled hard of that dear name,
likewise of Browne, Taylor, and Cowley, and Lamb, and of one R. L.
S., a Romany chal then utterly unknown, whom I had found in secret
and in secret worshiped.” It was a brave beginning, this slender book
of little essays, and it was dedicated to Oliver Wendell Holmes. How
charmingly, with what engaging gallantry he must have taken it!

To leap the fecund years to the Patrins of her later youth is to
follow the same whimsical and reflective vein. This book, deriving its
fortunate title from patrin, “a Gypsy trail: handfuls of leaves or
grass cast by the Gypsies on the road, to denote, to those behind, the
way which they have taken,” is primarily for him whom reading “maketh a
full man.” The style, with a scholarship better tempered and easier to
carry, being, as it were, woven into chain mail, not the armor of her
earliest adventuring, is the despair of the less agile and instructed
mind. It is tinctured with her personal quality, and is incredibly
rich, the richer when you return to it after absence and intercourse
with more immediate things, to find fruits of her commerce with far
off civilisations and loving sentience to the “hills of home.” Like
the buyer in Goblin Market, she drips with juices from the very fruits
of life, antidote for our dull ambitions: the years “wasted in prison
on casuist industries.” It is full of a not too quaint and bookish but
an altogether delicious persiflage. She praises the scholar’s right
to “fall back with delight upon a choice assortment of ignorances.”
Yet, with whatever innocent suavity she puts it, you suspect her of
having few scholarly ignorances of her own to fall back upon. So
absolutely four-square was her tower of recondite knowledge that you
imagine her as having some ado to prevent its shadow from falling on
the reader less equipped and terrifying him into escaping her spell
altogether. It is a book of praise. Most of all does she advertise the
great narcotic of out-of-doors: the enchanting diversion of walking
until the rhythm of the first arduous stretch dulls into the monotony
of muscles settling into their slowly apprehended task. She betrays
an unimpeachable bodily sanity. Though urban by birth, she is also,
through adoptive kinship of Pan and all the nymphs, a sylvan, to her “a
dear Elizabethan word.” You may find her beside the sea until conscious
response to it ebbs into that trance of wonder which is the withdrawal
of the soul into ultimate chambers, the inviolable retreat whence it
comes forth washed clean of the injuries time has dealt it. She sings
a remorseful dirge over the “defeated days” of captive animals. She
quickens her pace, at moments, to the measures of a hilarious mind.
Throughout that mischievous “encourager of hesitancy,” the Harmless
Scholar, she all but dances.

“The main business of the scholar,” she informs you, with a wicked
twinkle behind her spectacles, “is to live gracefully, without mental
passion, and to get off alone into a corner for an affectionate view of

This she concedes you as an egg warranted to hatch into something you
don’t expect, or a bomb likely to burst harmlessly, if disconcertingly,
under your chair. For she knows, by diabolic instinct, just what your
idea of the scholar is: the conserver of chronologies and sapient
conclusions fit chiefly to be waved in pedagogical celebrations or
trumpeted at authors’ readings. No such sterile destiny as this for
her, as she shall presently “fructify unto you.”

“Few can be trusted with an education.” This she tells you with a
prodigious lightness of self-assurance. “The true scholar’s sign-manual
is not the midnight lamp on a folio. He knows; he is baked through; all
superfluous effort and energy are over for him. To converse consumedly
upon the weather, and compare notes as to ‘whether it is likely to hold
up tomorrow,’—this, says Hazlitt, ‘is the end and privilege of a life
of study.’”

Mark you how humbly she proceeds, this multi-millionaire of the mind.
Her intellectual barns are bursting with fatness, her cattle are on
a thousand hills; yet she spares you not only the inventory of her
acquisitions but any hint of her respect for them. One is smilingly
glad to note that sometimes the challenge of the world’s intellectual
penury is really too much for her, and she cannot help rushing to the
rescue with armies of notable names and historic data. Still she did
converse consumedly upon the weather also, and it is one of the happy
incredibilities of her delightful disposition that she never repudiated
the intercourse of honest minds, even if they were dull. She adroitly
refrained from tossing them the ball she knew they could never return,
though with a curve imperfectly transcribed. She talked with them
about dogs and mushrooms—for there also she was sapient in a lore that
could be worn lightly and the more easily concealed—and the merciful
recipe for killing a lobster painlessly before you plunge him in the
ensanguining pot, of kittens and young furry donkeys and the universal
boon of weather. And she had a store of absurdities, never anecdotes
in the dire sense of cut-and-dried obstructors of the traffic between
mortal minds, but odd quips and spontaneous incongruities she was ready
to shower you withal. No less pretentious scholar ever walked a world
more suavely aware of her gracious charm, more happily oblivious of
the breaches she could make in worn conventions if she brought up her

The personal revelations in Patrins are unmistakable to those who knew
her. She writes On the Delights of an Incognito. Who can fail to see L.
I. G. herself in the person of the hypothetical R., walking home after
“the day at a library desk” where he “had grown hazy with no food and
much reading?” And passing the house where he was always delightedly
welcome and where he loved to be, he looked in at the shining dinner
table where sat the family, unconscious of him and yet—he knew it—only
to be the merrier if he dropped in, and “hurried on, never quite so
paradoxically happy in his life as when he quitted that familiar
pane without rapping, and went back to the dark and the frost,
unapprehended, impersonal, aberrant, a spirit among men.” For Louise
Guiney, prettily as she conformed herself to accepted rules, was by
nature a vagrom under conventional roofs, a wandering breeze, an addict
of fern seed, a cloud, a rainbow fancy, whatever could make itself, as
speedily as might be, impalpable to the eye and only a memory to the
too-inquisitive mind. As to the inner philosophy of her, the cup of
strength she kept ever by her in intimate stillnesses, there it stands
in another essay, The Precept of Peace. This bears much dwelling on,
not only by the mystic but the honest mind distraught in the terrifying
assaults of modern life. How to serve the world while renouncing it,
how to possess your own soul, in the peace that lets it grow and ripen
seed! She is in love, not with indifference, but the brave behavior it
endows you with.

“A very little non-adhesion to common affairs,” she tells you, “a
little reserve of unconcern, and the gay spirit of sacrifice, provide
the moral immunity which is the only real estate.”

A benevolent receptiveness surrounds her. She lets you interrupt her
because you cannot actually reach her inner strongholds; she is at
heart and head so engrossed in intimate concerns so far from you that
you cannot possibly borrow or steal the key to burst in and stumble
about in them. Out of her general kindliness she will deal gently with
you, hospitably even, that, being dulled and satisfied, you may go
away the sooner and leave her to the only aims worth, to her special
aptitudes, pursuing eagerly. This, it must be remembered, was the
gay bravado of youth, with so much in its treasury it could afford
to squander time and a rain of friendliness on even the invading
bore. The day came later when the world jostled her and she had to
double and turn to avoid it; but always she cherished a philosophy
of courteous endurance. Personages nobly nurtured learn early not to
whimper. So, when Demos finds a use for their heads, they die with
a grace seemingly reserved for kings and martyrs. And the use Demos
finds for the heads of the nobly born in the arts is to weary them
with much crowning and to sap them with the foolish requisition that
they shall appear in public arenas. But the great brotherhood our L. I.
G. subscribes to “hold the world but as the world” and make no outcry
over these hindrances to a consecrated life. They do not shy at uncouth
contraptions on the road. They have adopted the blinders of a mind
inwardly withdrawn, and—to o’erleap the metaphor!—they smile in their
daily dying. This book, Patrins, smiles all through. It informs you,
chiefly by an innocently indirect implication, that the phenomenon of
being, while it may be taken by schoolmen and moralists for a balance
between good and ill, is a whimsical business, and the more you see of
it the more firmly you will determine to view it aslant, with an eye to
pleasing paradox.

As the tree of her mental life grew and broadened into wider air, it
cast a shade not even her votaries were always zealous to penetrate.
She tended more and more to the obscure, the far-off and dimly seen.
In her biographical work she was the champion of lost causes, the
restorer of names dropped out of rubricated calendars through sheer
inattention of an unlearned world, or rusted by time in chantries no
longer visited. She would sail, not for those known islands on every
map where harbors are charted and the smallest craft can coal and
water, but for some lost Atlantis, even if she might only moor in its
guessed neighborhood and hear, at least, the plash of ripples over it.
She was always listening, the generous hand to the responsive ear, to
echoes from “forgotten or infrequent lyres.”

“Apollo,” she says, “has a class of might-have-beens whom he loves:
poets bred in melancholy places, under disabilities, with thwarted
growth and thinned voices; poets compounded of everything magical and
fair, like an elixir which is the outcome of knowledge and patience,
and which wants, in the end, even as common water would, the essence of

It is not quite easy to tell why she delighted so absolutely in digging
for ore in spots of incredible difficulty. It was not that she was
ill-grounded in the greater, more entirely accepted cults. Shakespeare
was hers and Milton, and in Dante she did authoritative work. And it is
idle to wonder whether, so many of the big critical jobs being done,
she had a keen eye to the market value of such unconsidered trifles
as were left. The practical worth of a task would never have been an
incentive; it might have been a deterrent. Like Mangan, there was
that in her which bade her not to cross the street to advance her own
interests; it persuaded her to what seemed even wilful adoption of
the losing cause. (That she did, in many senses, harness herself to
drudgery, as life drove her the more pitilessly to the wall, is the
more to her lasting renown; by nature she was single in devotion to
the tasks she loved and ready to forswear the body’s ease.) Nor was
her attachment to the imperfectly known by any means the pleasure of
the chase, the exhilaration of the hunt when dates and genealogical
and critical sequences had “gone away” from her hounds of scent and
swiftness. It was simply true that she had an inextinguishable love
for the souls “ordained to fail.” As it made no difference to her
whether a lasting line of verse were hers or another’s, so she had the
patience of the born annalist in picking up and conserving every least
coin of the realm of letters or of manly and romantic deeds.

One of the floating bits of wreckage she gave a hand to confirming in
the illustrious place given him by a few discerning minds, was Mangan,
the uniquely brilliant author of an authoritative version of My Dark
Rosaleen, a perverse and suffering soul, prey to a blackness of mind
and the Nemesis of his own wandering will. There were “two Mangans,”
she quotes from a previous biographer, “one well known to the Muses,
the other to the police; one soared through the empyrean and sought the
stars, the other lay too often in the gutters of Peter Street and Bride

He was a worshipper of that which is above us, and prey to what is
below, the body’s slave, the poor brain’s mistaken ministrant, striving
alternately to fire it to new apprehensions and drug it with a despair
of its own possibilities. In this Study, James Clarence Mangan, (1897)
Louise Guiney says:

“One can think of no other, in the long disastrous annals of English
literature, cursed with so monotonous a misery, so much hopelessness
and stagnant grief. He had no public; he was poor, infirm, homeless,
loveless; travel and adventure were cut off from him, and he had no
minor risks to run; the cruel necessities of labor sapped his dreams
from a boy; morbid fancies mastered him as the rider masters his horse;
the demon of opium, then the demon of alcohol, pulled him under, body
and soul, despite a persistent and heart-breaking struggle, and he
perished ignobly in his prime.”

Could a combination of evils have been imagined more poignantly
appealing to this young champion of shipwrecked souls? My Dark Rosaleen
alone was enough to enlist her generous pen. As Mangan himself rescued
it from the indifferent fame of an archaic fragment, a norm of beauty,
and clothed it with the flying draperies of a glorifying fancy, so
she unfolded its history and holds it up to new appreciation in a
world not given to dwell upon the historically obscure. Mangan, she
tells us, “was a pattern of sweet gratitude and deference, and left
his art to prosper or perish as heaven should please.” How this moved
her as an appeal she understood! for she also was of those who sow
their seed in the wild garden of the world’s indifference and pass on,
meekly unaware of any right of mankind, born to heavenly destinies,
to stay and gather. He was dear to her. She treated him tenderly, yet
his strange humors moved her to a smile. He was “so ludicrous and so
endeared a figure that one wishes him but a thought in Fielding’s
brain, lovingly handled in three volumes octavo and abstracted from the
hard vicissitudes of mortality.”

This Study of hers reflects, with an especial clarity, the form and
color of her own critical genius. In the comparison of masterpieces and
the measurement of values by accepted standards, she was at ease in a
large activity. If we would understand her method, we may look on it
here. The shallow conception of the critic’s task, as an expression
of personal preference, was not even germane to the richness of
preparation she brought to even the most inconsiderable reviewing. Here
are no snap judgments, ingenuous betrayal of temperamental likings.
The genesis of criticism is the tool in her hands. Lead her to the
slenderest rill of poetry and, out of her witch-hazel magic, she
locates the spring that fed it. She bows before “the few whose senses
are quick at literary divination.” In this Study learning ran, not
wild, but at a splendid even pace over the road of past achievement,
saluting guideposts by the way. Literary resemblances, the least
intentional, are rarest joys to her. She is enchanted to find some of
Mangan’s lighter verse rattling on like a Gilbertian libretto.

“Behold the exhumed precursor of The Mikado!”

Nothing rewards her more indubitably than the discovery of even a
quasi-lineage, a shadow of likeness not to be developed into the
actual relationship supported by time and place. She does not often
floor you with unimpeachability of dates, but she knows the very
complexion of her time, “his form and color.” She remembers what wings
beat the air of fortunate decades, dropping pinions more than one
imitator snatched in falling and wore brazenly in his cap. She can
rehearse the unbroken descent of metres. Her parallel between Mangan
and Poe, their dependence on the haunting adjunct of the refrain, does
revolve about chronology; but chiefly she relies upon the convictions
of her divining mind. She compares the “neck and neck achievements
of Mangan and Poe.” She traces both back to the colossus Coleridge,
with his wells of color. His was the spring of youth, and they bore
away full flagons. It is hardly possible to overrate her value to the
student of literature in these learned but uncharted flights all over
the visible sky of the periods where her subjects moved. Literature,
she knows, is a species of royal descent. The Titans may not live to
see the faces of their own children, yet out of those rich fecundities
of authentic utterance children are born and show trace of august
lineage. And it is hers, the “abstract and brief chronicler” of values,
to find it.

To Louise Guiney, there were two transcending realities: poetry and
what men call, with varying accent, religion. She believed in poetry
as, in the old sense, an ecstasy. She loved archaic phrases and grieved
because fit words should perish, mourning them as men would mourn if,
believing there were children of immortal lineage among them, they
discovered these could die. To her there were archetypes of beauty,
the living heavenly substance we have, with an unshaken prescience,
learned to call undying. Wandering evanescences, we persuade them down
to us or snatch at them and cage them in our heavier atmosphere with
the hope, sometimes bewilderingly justified, of their singing on and
on. One condition of our even hearing the beat of those wings bending
their swallow flight to the responsive mind, is the high vibration in
ourselves, the intense activity of what we call imagination. And this
vibration is so often the effervescence of youth, the overplus of a
richness of physical life—the speed of the blood, a quick sensibility
of the brain—that after the pulse slows and the brain responds less
eagerly the poet sings no more; or he clouds his verse with moralities
and loads it with the stiff embroidery of intellectual conceits. Louise
Guiney’s singing life was not long, because, after the impulse, in its
first capricious spontaneity, had left her, she did not urge it back
again. It would have been impossible for her, at any period, to select
desirable subjects for poetry as the landscape painter marks a lovely
spot in his mind’s eye, to return with tubes and brush. Once she did
own to the tempting exercise of composing a poem in cold blood. It
turned out to be compact of beauties appealing to the public mind, and
she viewed it thenceforth from a hurt and wistful wonder. You might say
she cherished a distaste for it, as being a child of indirect lineage,
a mood disloyal to the greater gods. She was ever the acolyte in that
temple, never beseeching at the altar, but serving it. For she was of
those pilgrims of destiny who are perpetually referring this world to
the pattern of worlds existing before time began. To her, poetry is an
unspoken allegiance to the very essence of mysticism, magic, glamourie.
It is the echo from far hills of space. It is never without the
witchery of the unknown, the guessed-at, the adored but never seen. Not
all its dances are woven under the sky we scan chiefly for the weather,
but in the elusive gleaming where not we but our dreams are denizens.
It is perpetually looking from “magic casements.” It brings the
twilight feeling. It may not be melancholy, yet it inspires melancholy.
It may not be joyous, yet the pleasure it awakens is more exquisite
than it has words to celebrate. These are matters far from the market
where we buy and sell and measure our worth by cleverness in exploiting
it. These are courts where our poet’s “shy foot” dared penetrate with
the confidence of a daughter of the house.

From Songs at the Start to Happy Ending (1909) this last bearing
her stamp as comprising “the less faulty half of all the author’s
published verse,” her work hardly varies in a certain cool, limpid,
sometimes austere content. Songs at the Start is distinctly unlike the
familiar books of perfervid and unbridled youth. Almost childlike, in
some instances, the songs are always restrained within due measure.
The gusts of a too tempestuous heart, the revolt of youth against
a world ready made for it, are not hers. She might be the child of
a pagan ardency of simple joy, singing to the echo in some waking
spring. These are the dewy recognitions of a world “not realized.” The
faults she showed in this first printing are the ones that plagued her
throughout, though she recognized them with a rueful self-dispraise and
mock extravagance of remorse. They are the infrequent lapses of a not
invariably musical ear. To the end, she would, from stanza to stanza,
unconsciously change her cadence. It might be a fault for her to
redress; but who among her lovers would complain of it now? It was an
individual flaw, the little human imperfection like a mole on beauty’s
cheek; the too studied reverse of it might have been something not
only “icily regular” but “splendidly null.”

The White Sail, part legend and part lyric, with an academic ballast
of sonnets, sang out in fuller tone, though with no less individual a
measure. The legends ring curiously scholastic in these days when the
industrious versifier celebrates the small beer of his own “home town”
in untrained eccentricities all too faithful to his villageous mood.
Her legends were the tall pines of the fairy grove she wandered in.
There were pillared aisles and porticos, not New England dooryards,
tapestries shaken by winds of the past, not leaves, red and gold,
blown her from the swamps and hills she knew. Yet her bookish fetters
were straining from within, and in Daybreak she sings out with a more
individual note, a faint far music, as if some young chorister dared
part the antiphonal ranks of ordered service and try the song he heard
that morning when he and the lark together saluted the hills of dawn.

    “The young sun rides the mists anew; his cohorts follow from the sea.
     Let Aztec children shout and sue, the Persian lend a thankful knee:
     Those glad Auroral eyes shall beam not anywhere henceforth on me.

    “Up with the banners on the height, set every matin bell astir!
     The tree-top choirs carouse in light; the dew’s on phlox and lavender:
     Ah, mockery! for, worlds away, the heart of morning beats with her.”

This she did not reclaim for the authorized last printing, and none can
say whether she would let us snatch it out of its young obscurity. But
it is so unmistakably one of the first trial flights of the pure lyric
in her, it sings so melodiously, that the mere chronology of her work
demands it. In the same book beats the haunting refrain:

    “Youth is slipping, dripping, pearl on pearl, away.”

And as you are about to close the door on this virginal chamber of
April airs and cloistral moonlight, of ordered books breathing not
leather only but the scent of “daffodilean days,” your heart rises up,
for here is The Wild Ride, a poem which first beat out its galloping
measure in a dream, and continued, with the consent of her own critical
mind, to the last book of all. The beginning and the end are like
nothing so much as the call of youth and the answer of undaunted age.
It was, one may guess, her earliest lyric runaway, the first time she
lost herself in the galloping rush of a stanza’s trampling feet.

    “I hear in my heart, I hear in its ominous pulses
    All day, on the road, the hoofs of invisible horses,
    All night, from their stalls, the importunate pawing and neighing.

    “Let cowards and laggards fall back! but alert to the saddle
    Weather-worn and abreast, go men of our galloping legion,
    With a stirrup-cup each to the lily of women that loves him.

    “The trail is through dolour and dread, over crags and morasses;
    There are shapes by the way, there are things that appal or entice us:
    What odds? We are Knights of the Grail, we are vowed to the riding.

    “Thought’s self is a vanishing wing, and joy is a cobweb,
    And friendship a flower in the dust, and glory a sunbeam:
    Not here is our prize, nor, alas! after these our pursuing.

    “A dipping of plumes, a tear, a shake of the bridle,
    A passing salute to this world and her pitiful beauty:
    We hurry with never a word in the track of our fathers.

    “(I hear in my heart, I hear in its ominous pulses
    All day, on the road, the hoofs of invisible horses,
    All night, from their stalls, the importunate pawing and neighing.)

    “We spur to a land of no name, out-racing the storm-wind;
    We leap to the infinite dark, like sparks from the anvil.
    Thou leadest, O God! All’s well with Thy troopers that follow.”

In The Roadside Harp (1893) (and this she calls, as late as 1911, “my
best book”) she is in full swing of that individual color and form
of verse that were hers thenceforth, hall-marked, inimitable, of a
delicate yet imperishable fragility of loveliness, unique as the hand
they were written in. Here sounds her own true note. Here were more
plainly distinguishable the defined colors of the braided strands of
destiny that made her so rare a nature and were perhaps—it is well to
put it softly, this question—to hinder her in robustness and variety of
performance. Irish by birth, she had not to the full, what she finds
in Mangan, that “racial luxuriance and fluency.” And, like him, her
“genius is happier on Saxon than on Celtic ground.” She was too subject
to varied impulses to be the exponent of one. Her love in letters ran
passionately to the Anglo-Saxon; the seventeenth century was her home.
She was devoutly Catholic, yet living fibres in her knew the earth as
it was in its unsymbolized freshness before the Great Deliverer came.

“You are a natural Christian,” she wrote once to a friend poor in the
consolations of belief, “with a birthright of gladness and peace,
whether you seize it or not; whereas I am the other fellow, a bed-rock
pagan, never able to live up to the inestimable spiritual conditions to
which I was born.”

This was humility only, no wavering from her transcending faith. Yet
the wholesome natural man in her was acutely sensitive to that earth
which saw the immortal gods. You find her listening, responsive, to
the far heard echoes of Greek harmony. She was ready with her cock to
Æsculapius, the tribute of her gentle allegiance to those kingly pagans
who loved the light of the sun and shrank from the “dishonor of the
grave,” who knew the face of Nemesis and were, above all, disciples of
the law of Aidôs, the negation of excess. In the rich exposition of
Gilbert Murray:

“Aidôs implies that, from some subtle emotion inside you, some ruth or
shame or reflection, some feeling perhaps of the comparative smallness
of your own rights and wrongs in the presence of the great things of
the world, the gods and men’s souls and the portals of life and death,
from this emotion and from no other cause, amid your ordinary animal
career of desire or anger or ambition, you do, every now and then, at
certain places, stop.”

Now this, of course, concerns emotion, conduct. But the same sense of
just limit concerns also art. Your emotion must be “recollected in
tranquillity” lest it drag the hysteric Muse into frenzied measures. We
must—stop. Louise Guiney knew this through a flawless intuition, but
she went pace by pace with the Greeks while they counselled her anew.
It is not merely her choice of Attic subjects, like Simoisius, or
the Alexandriana that are, we are told, so faithful in spirit, though
she had no Greek. It is that in this book we are renewedly conscious
of the oneness of mortal longing and earth loveliness, so tightly are
they entwined. Here is a sentience to the throes of that earth which
is not solely the earth set to man’s uses, but mysteriously made and
mysteriously continued, with its uncomprehended language of light and
dark and its ebb and flux eternally in sway. Christian in belief, she
was pagan in her listening nerves. And her harp, hung in the window
opening on what we call eternity, thrilled to many breezes. Being
Christian, she was, as in her life, all devotion, all pure obedience,
rapt celebrant of the story of the Birth and the Cross, a vowed Eremite
to the belief that counts all things loss, save One. Hands of diverse
angels reached out of the sky and touched her harp to song or Litany.
There was the spirit of an assured immortality. There was, too, the
voice of Erda, the Earth, crooning from the root caverns in abysses of
time past. The pagan heart of her, the heart that was still immovably
centred in the gentle certainties of Christ, is embedded in The Still
of the Year. She knows the earth, because she has entered into the
very spirit of created things and her mortal part suffers the pang of
awakening which, to the earth, is spring. But what is it to the soul?

    “Up from the willow-root
     Subduing agonies leap;
     The field-mouse and the purple moth
     Turn over amid their sleep;
     The icicled rocks aloft
     Burn saffron and blue alway,
     And trickling and tinkling
     The snows of the drift decay.
     Oh, mine is the head must hang
     And share the immortal pang!
     Winter or spring is fair;
     Thaw’s hard to bear.
     Heigho! my heart’s sick.”

Some of the verse from this middle period is so fragile and austerely
tremulous, like bare boughs moved by a not unkindly wind, that you
are aware of what has, in another sense, been called “scantness.”
Not only does she adventure delicately in her shallop, she is fain
of archaic brevity and pauses that do unquestionably halt the
accompanying voyager, to his discomfiture. A Ballad of Kenelm was such
as they chanted “on a May morning” in other days than ours. It has the
consonance of prose trembling into verse. We are too luxurious for it.
We want to be borne along on a lilting wave, we who have not found it
possible to accommodate ourselves to the peg-leg-to-market of free
verse (what our poet herself once called, in a mischievous snap-shot of
judgment, “the rag-tag of _vers libres_”). Even the loving apostrophe
to Izaak Walton is more chant than song, justified rather by the spirit
than the form. One who knew her unceasing pains with verse and prose,
how a stanza could never count itself finished beyond possibility of
being smashed into unrecognizable fragments and remade, remembers this
as an instance of her ruthlessness to her children even after they
had grown up and gone their ways into the ultimate stronghold of the
printed page. Here the opening lines run:

    “What trout shall coax the rod of yore
     In Itchen stream to dip?”

Months after printing, the incorrigible dissonance of the two opening
words struck her and, having no smallest modicum of professional
vanity, she must needs admit a friend immediate to her to the excellent
fooling of the discovery, and went about shouting, between gusts of
mirth: “What trout! what trout!”

The harsher the discord she could lend the unfortunate twain, the more
gustily she laughed, and in Happy Ending the choppy sea subsided into
unimpeachable cadence:

    “Can trout allure the rod of yore
     In Itchen stream to dip?”

But in The Roadside Harp, though her metres were sometimes inhospitable
to the ear unprepared, she did attain the topmost reaches of the hills
of words’ delight. The Two Irish Peasant Songs ran with a light step,
and a breath as sweet as the whispers over Ireland’s harp. Here also
is an imperishable beauty of a lyric, fit for some ecstatic anthology,
so rare in form and color that the listening ear scarce cares for the
meaning, so its music may go on and on.

    “When on the marge of evening the last blue light is broken,
     And winds of dreamy odor are loosened from afar,
     Or when my lattice opens, before the lark hath spoken,
     On dim laburnum-blossoms, and morning’s dying star,

    “I think of thee, (O mine the more if other eyes be sleeping!)
     Whose great and noonday splendors the many share and see,
     While sacred and forever, some perfect law is keeping
     The late, the early twilight, alone and sweet for me.”

What is the piper piping when the thin sweet sound comes down the
valley like water dripping from stair to rocky stair, or “petals from
blown roses on the grass”? You do not need to guess. You know it is
in absolute accord with the night breeze and the long shadows and the
hylas fluting in the year. It is music only, and all your heart answers

    “Piper, pipe that song again.”

Here, too, is that poignant lament, To a Dog’s Memory.

    “The gusty morns are here,
     When all the reeds ride low with level spear;
     And on such nights as lured us far of yore,
     Down rocky alleys yet, and through the pine,
     The Hound-star and the pagan Hunter shine;
     But I and thou, ah, field-fellow of mine,
     Together roam no more.”

All Matthew Arnold’s musical place names in Thyrsis and The Scholar
Gypsy: the “Ilsley Downs”, “the track by Childsworth Farm”, “the Cumner
range”, “the stripling Thames at Bablock Hythe”—these are emulated in
a not inferior accent in the sombre music of this threnody. Almost,
remembering the flowers in Lycidas, you long to strew them on her
darling’s grave.

    “There is a music fills
     The oaks of Belmont and the Wayland hills
     Southward to Dewing’s little bubbly stream,——
     The heavenly weather’s call! Oh, who alive
     Hastes not to start, delays not to arrive,
     Having free feet that never felt a gyve
     Weigh, even in a dream?”

For those who knew her this poem carries a footnote of poignant
history. She was in London when letters came from home, and were
opened in a quaint restaurant, the Apple Tree Inn, a vegetarian
resort where three merry souls were met to be glad over lentils and
strange innocences of diet cunningly spiced to resemble the ensanguined
viands repudiated and abhorred. She opened her letter and read, and
her young—always young and childlike—face trembled into an unbelieving
grief. She could not speak. The day was dead for her and those for
whom she would have made the constant spark in it and afterward the
memory. On the heels of the ill tidings she went with one friend to
whom she could not tell the news, but whom she asked not to leave her,
to Hampstead Heath, and the two sat all the afternoon in silence on a
secluded slope, their feet in English green and her eyes unseeingly on
the sky. Her dog was dead.

There are those for whom the conduct of life, either a passion or a
malaise, according to individual temperament, transcends even the magic
of pure fancy. For them there are trumpet calls in this book, perhaps
the most widely known and praised, The Kings, its last stanza the
battle-cry of the faint yet brave:

    “To fear not possible failure,
     Nor covet the game at all,
     But fighting, fighting, fighting,
     Die, driven against the wall.”

This is metal for sounding clarions. And so too is The Knight Errant:
the second stanza an epitome of grand quotable abstractions:

    “Let claws of lightning clutch me
     From summer’s groaning cloud,
     Or ever malice touch me,
     And glory make me proud.
     Oh, give my youth, my faith, my sword,
     Choice of the heart’s desire:
     A short life in the saddle, Lord!
     Not long life by the fire.”

You find admonishing whispers from a mind grown expert in counsel:

    “Take Temperance to thy breast,
     While yet is the hour of choosing,
     As arbitress exquisite
     Of all that shall thee betide;
     For better than fortune’s best
     Is mastery in the using,
     And sweeter than anything sweet
     The art to lay it aside.”

Here is the reflective, the scholastic, penetrating the hall of song
and hushing more abounding measures to its own consecrating uses.
She was in love, not with death as it was the poetic fashion to be
in a past era of creative minds, but with gentle withdrawals, fine
appreciations of ultimate values, cloistral consecrations. Her steady
hand on the reins of her horses of the sun, they took the heavenly
track of world-old orbits, not galloping at will, now high, now low,
from sunrise to the evening star. And this not because she feared, like
Icarus, to fall, but that she was perpetually referring beauty to its
archetype; she had, to paraphrase her own words, “eternity in mind.”

    “Waiting on Him who knows us and our need,
     Most need have we to dare not, nor desire,
     But as He giveth, softly to suspire
     Against his gift with no inglorious greed,
     For this is joy, though still our joys recede.”

If she had been more rather than less in love with life, not as a
trinket she could relinquish with no ado, but a mysterious ardor it
was anguish to dream of losing, if she could have besought her Lord,
in moments of a child’s resistless longing, to give even the gifts
that are not solely to His glory, her song might have a fuller sweep,
a wilder melody. Out of earthly hungers the music of earth is made. As
she grew in spiritual aspiration, her verse attuned itself more and
more to the echoes of a harmony heavenly if austere. Some of these
devout lyrics are so individual her very personality flashes out before
you, and you hear her own lips chanting her own song. She is the figure
in the stained glass window, saint or warrior, dimming the outer light
to woo the eye to the ecclesiastical richness of the surrounding red
and gold. Or she is a young knight riding at twilight to service in
the chantry you have never sought, and you look up from your table
spread with meat and wines and watch him in bewilderment of spirit;
and the figures on the arras tremble, as it might be from the wind of
his passing. And having once seen the erect slender body riding to his
passion of prayer, you turn to the moving figures of the arras with
new eyes, wondering if, begot of earthly looms, they are as beautiful
as you had thought. Here is no passion but the unfed passion of the
soul, the life sustained not through plethora but lack, the everlasting
verity of renunciation which is the pale reflex of the face of Christ.
Her later work, the greater part of it, is again like the trembling of
bare exquisite branches against a sunset sky, the sky of a gold and
green limpidity a world away from roseate dawns. She was like a spirit
withdrawn from a turmoil she would neither recognize nor enter, sitting
in her tower above the world, spinning flowers out of frost.

The Martyr’s Idyl (1899) she wrote with a fervor of devotional
conviction, and in the same volume, a fringe upon the hem of its
brocaded stateliness, is An Outdoor Litany, a cry full of earth’s blood
and tears, and more immediate to earth’s children who also suffer than
the high counsels of the abstinent:

    “The spur is red upon the briar,
     The sea-kelp whips the wave ashore;
     The wind shakes out the colored fire
     From lamps a-row on the sycamore;
     The bluebird, with his flitting note,
     Shows to wild heaven his wedding-coat;
     The mink is busy; herds again
     Go hillward in the honeyed rain;
     The midges meet. I cry to Thee
     Whose heart
     Remembers each of these: Thou art
     My God who hast forgotten me!”

Here are beauties dear to the mortal mind to which an anguish of
discontent is comprehensible because “it is common.” Here is the
sum and circle of nature, tagged with the everlasting paradox: the
mindlessness and indifference of the beauty wherewith we are surrounded
and our hunger to which it will not, because it cannot, minister.
This is great writing: for here the soul walks unabashed, articulate,
impassioned, the finite crying to the infinite, the perishing atom
appealing to the sky of the universal over him. Perhaps there can
be nothing greater in a dramatic sense, in our prison-house under
the encircling sky, than the accusatory or challenging voice of the
creature, through the unanswering framework of his mortal destiny,
to the God Who created both him and it. Lear, in the storm that was
unmindful of him, set his breath against its blast. When the cry breaks
into hysteria, then the man is mad. The merciful reaction that lies in
nature’s anodynes sets in to counteract and dull. But our poet, though
she can write:

    “Help me endure the Pit, until
     Thou wilt not have forgotten me,”

never challenges her God with mad interrogation. It is not His justice
she assails; she but beseeches the quickening of His will to save.
There is an immeasurable distance between entire overthrow and the
sanity of the creature who, though sorely wounded, has lost no jot of
faith in divine medicaments. Her plea is only that she may share the
wholesome life of His birds and trees.

    “As to a weed, to me but give
     Thy sap!”

The poem may have been written in the period she calls “my calendar of
imprisonments,” perhaps in the two years given over to “nerves.” This
includes the eight years from 1894, when she entered the Auburndale
post-office, through 1902. They were weighted with the routine work she
desperately essayed at post-office and library. The summer of 1895,
given to a walking trip in England, she illuminates by a rapt “_annus
beatus_,” and two years were eaten into by the illness and death of
the aunt she dearly loved, “the only being,” she writes, “who was all
mine from my birth.” It was a cruelly large gulp for the dragon of
time to make at the precious substance of her later youth. There was
some fugitive versifying, but little of the steady routine of pen and
book to make her life as she loved it. Some of her most significant
verse did come in here, bright splashes of sunset red on the flat marsh
lands of her way. Especially in the _annus beatus_ there was exquisite
writing and some immediately after in that surge of remembered passion
risen over and over again in those who love England and have said
good-bye to her, only to return in homesick thought. Of this period
Arboricide stands alone and stately, like the tree of her lament.

    “A word of grief to me erewhile:
     _We have cut the oak down, in our isle_.

    “And I said: ‘Ye have bereaven
     The song-thrush and the bee,
     And the fisher-boy at sea
     Of his sea-mark in the even;
     And gourds of cooling shade, to lie
     Within the sickle’s sound;
     And the old sheep-dog’s loyal eye
     Of sleep on duty’s ground;
     And poets of their tent
     And quiet tenement.
     Ah, impious! who so paid
     Such fatherhood, and made
     Of murmurous immortality a cargo and a trade.’

    “For the hewn oak, a century fair,
     A wound in earth, an ache in air.”

But the actual crown of the book is in the two stanzas called
Borderlands. Within the small circle of recurrent rhythm this poem
holds the ineffable. It is a softly drawn and haunting melody on the
night wind of our thoughts, it hints at the nameless ecstasies that may
be of the rhythm of the body or the soul—but we know not!—it is of the
texture of the veil between sense and the unapprehended spirit.

    “Through all the evening,
     All the virginal long evening,
     Down the blossomed aisle of April it is dread to walk alone;
     For there the intangible is nigh, the lost is ever-during;
     And who would suffer again beneath a too divine alluring,
     Keen as the ancient drift of sleep on dying faces blown?

    “Yet in the valley,
     At a turn of the orchard alley,
     When a wild aroma touched me in the moist and moveless air,
     Like breath indeed from out Thee, or as airy vesture round Thee,
     Then was it I went faintly, for fear I had nearly found Thee,
     O Hidden, O Perfect, O Desired! O first and final Fair!”

The line:

    “Keen as the ancient drift of sleep on dying faces blown,”

is one of those pervasive beauties which, though in a perfect
simplicity, invoke the universal that is beauty’s self. You see in
it—or you fancy, for it falls on the sensitive plate of emotion that
far outranks your intellect—all the faces of all the dead from the
shepherd slain outside Eden past the Pharaohs and queens that “died
young and fair” to him “that died o’ Wednesday.”

Happy Ending is her renewed hail and her farewell. Here are some of
the old beauties and, gathered up with them, the later buds of a more
sparsely blossoming fancy, snowed under time and yesterday. It is a sad
book, for all its nobility; it breathes the accent of farewells. To a
friend who challenged the appositeness of the title she said, smiling,
it was, on the contrary, exact, for her life of verse was done. In
1917, she wrote:

“The Muse, base baggage that she is, fled long ago. (I knew what I was
up to when I called it Happy Ending.)”

The additions of this later period are slightly more involved, much
more austere. The world does not call to her now in the manifold
voices of that vernal time when she and her dog went field-faring. It
is a spot, though still dearly loved, to leave. In Beati Mortui she
celebrates the “dead in spirit” who, having renounced the trappings of
a delusive day, are henceforth like angel visitants in a world where
they hold no foot of vain desire. The sonnet “Astræa,” her actual
farewell, has the poignant sestette:

    “Are ye unwise who would not let me love you?
     Or must too bold desires be quieted?
     Only to ease you, never to reprove you,
     I will go back to heaven with heart unfed:
     Yet sisterly I turn, I bend above you,
     To kiss (ah, with what sorrow!) all my dead.”

Next to the Golden City of belief she had, as she began, continued to
love poetry, the making of it, the “love of lovely words.” And though
an initiate world had hailed her, when, like a young shepherd wandered
into town, a bewildering “strayed reveller,” she came “singing along
the way,” man had been finding out many inventions and kept no ear
for strains out of Arcady or long notes prophetically echoed from the
New Jerusalem. He was laying the foundations of a taste which was to
flower in jazz and the movies and the whirling of wheels on great
white ways. She had her own small public always. To these, her books
were cool colonnades with the sea at the end. But she had learned, now
with no shadow of doubt, that there would never be any wider response
from the world of the printed word. She was not, in the modern sense,
“magazinable.” Editors were not laying up treasure in the safety
deposits of the immortalities; they were nursing their subscription
lists. If she had kept on singing, it would have been into that
silence whence the poet’s voice echoes back to him with a loneliness
terrifying to hear. Need that dull his fancy and mute his tongue? Not
in youth, perhaps. When the blood flows boundingly, you write your
verses on green leaves, so they are written, and if nobody wants the
woven chaplet of them, you laugh and cast it on the stream. Through the
middle years it is different. You must be quickened by an unquenchable
self-belief or warmed at the fire of men’s responsive sympathy to write
at all. There is something in the hurt an unheeding world can deal you
that, besides draining the wounded heart, stiffens the brain and hand.
And Atalanta’s pace may be slackened by the misadventures of the way.
Her sandal may come loose, or she slips on a pebble and strains the
tendon of that flying foot.

For poetry is a matter of the mounting blood as well as the tempered
mind. It has, in spite of those who have suffered the horrible
disaster of physical overthrow and yet have kept on singing, something
intimately dependent on the actual coursing of the blood, the beat
of the physical heart. The only verse Louise Guiney prized, was the
verse with wings, spontaneous as the gestures of childhood or the
oriole’s song. She could knock her lines into a wild ruin and rebuild,
but that was after the first swift assembling of stone on stone. Any
idea of verse soberly and slowly evolved, as an intellectual feat,
was afar from her. “Our best things,” she said, “are the easiest.
They’re no trouble.” They did cost, in the last sweet pangs of intent
consideration, of rearranging, polishing, and hunting down the best
and only word. When the poetic impulse seized her, she bent to it in
obedient delight. She never coaxed or beckoned. Only into the living
spring did she dip her cup: no thrifty piping it to the house in
forethought of the day when the frost creeps and “no birds sing.” The
greatest beauties in her verse were as spontaneous as they dropped
from the skies and she set them in their chaste enduring gold. Though
she was so unwearied in polishing and changing, in their general scope
and temper the poems came as from the hand of God, and when her own
hand fell too laxly to receive them, they did not come. Her resultant
loneliness of mind she accepted with a decorum due the gods who give
and take away again; you might almost have called it unconcern. For
she was not greedy of life: only grateful for its temperate dole. She
might own, under anxious accusation, to having “no luck, no leisure, no
liberty,” but that was only for the intimates who inevitably “knew.”

“As to the Muse,” (this in 1916) “she has given me the go by. No
matter: this dog has most hugely enjoyed his day, which was Stevenson’s
day, and Lionel Johnson’s, and Herbert Clarke’s, and Philip Savage’s.”

Though the last years of her middle age were the less robust, as to
the intellectual life she had no waning. Her mind was no less keen
nor, except in the sudden exhaustion of a tragic illness, were her
activities dulled. She died young. And though the heart that is the
bravado of sheer courage was never allowed to fail her, the bodily
heart did fail. Those who had walked with her knew its weakness, and
that, a race-horse on the road, she was speedily exhausted in a climb.
One day, lost on Exmoor, her walking mate, looking back for her, would
find the world empty of her altogether. Knowing the sort of spirit
she was, it was easy to guess the Little People had kidnapped her or
an archangel hidden her in the brightness of his wings while they
discoursed together on topics of the upper sky. But the heather had
simply closed over her; she had lain down to rest her tired heart. And
as the physical world, out of the strange jealousy of its predestined
enmities, is forever fighting the spirit, so the feebler action of a
weakening heart might dull those swift spontaneities that are man’s
answer to the beauty of things—his protest to the earth that cajoles
and challenges the while it fulfils its mysterious hostility and
overthrows him in the end. In her prose work of editing and reviewing,
the blade was sharper as time wore upon it and she grew more recondite
in knowledge and more desperately exact, omitting no extreme of patient
scrutiny. But poetry was her youth, and youth was gone. And youth is
not a matter of years. It is what the years have done to us.

If we may borrow a tag of appreciation for her verse, we could hardly
do better than quote her resumé of Hurrell Froude’s, the “clearness,
simplicity, orderly thought and noble severity” she found in him.

His poems “have a strong singleness and sad transparency, the tone of
them a little chilly, yet almost Virgilian, and arrestingly beautiful;
. . . abstinent, concentrated, true.”

Now primarily Froude’s verse is not in the least like Louise Guiney’s.
It is scarcely more than the first note leading up the scale. In the
amazed apprehension of beauty, he is leagues behind her. Yet the
“almost Virgilian” of her comment fits her to perfection. And if she is
not always “clear” she is, marvelously again, “a little chilly,” with
the chill of spring twilights when earth scents are in the air, the
lily-of-the-valley just bloomed out of the cold, or the damp richness
of the April woods.

Two little volumes, Monsieur Henri, the story of the Count of La
Rochejaquelein (1892) and A Little English Gallery (1894) are of the
essence of that exhaustive research and fine rehabilitation which
were the fruit of her later years. The war of the Vendée, with its
religious appeal, its romance of feudal catchwords, took irresistible
hold on her, and the young Count of La Rochejaquelein, blazoned in
youthful ardor, shone as the sun. In thus regilding a futile struggle
she strives, by discarding political minutiæ, to “romanticize such dry
facts as we mean shall live.” “A background,” she concludes, “may be
blurred for the sake of a single figure. I tried, therefore, to paint
a portrait, willing to abide by the hard saying of Northcote: ‘If a
portrait have force, it will do for history.’” Nor could she have
resisted him of whom history says, as he mounted and rode away to his
feat of arms:

“Then first came the eagle look into his eyes which never left them

To Louise Guiney, born to the love of good fighters, the eagle look of
courage and consecration was as thrilling as, to the soldier himself,
the call to arms, and the little “footnote to French history” is
written on such a sustained level of affectionate enthusiasm that
it strikes you, despite its theme of blood and loss, as almost a
gay little book. Monsieur Henri is one of her own chosen exemplars,
a gallant figure in the martyrology of the world, of those who, to
paraphrase her almost envious tribute, are willing to spill their lives
as a libation to the gods.

The Little English Gallery, six biographical essays in her individual
manner of a condensed bewilderment of research, holds the seed of
what might be accounted her life work. For not only does her portrait
pen paint you a fine enduring picture of Lady Danvers, Farquhar,
Beauclerk, Langton and Hazlitt, but here also is the preface, as
it might be called, of her Henry Vaughan, to whose gentle service
she bent the intermittent work of later years. During that English
summer of 1895, she went on pilgrimage to the grave of Vaughan, at
Llansaintffread. This was a part of Wales hardly touched by tourists,
for the ubiquitous motor car had not begun its devil’s business of
shedding profanation over silent ways. To walk here was to withdraw as
deeply as you would into the fragrance of past simplicities. Louise
Guiney was reft away into a trance of inward peace. She trod the paths
her poet loved, and she was, also with him, where her mind would ever
be, in the seventeenth century. This was one of her ardent quests,
her passionate rescues: for Vaughan was forgotten on his own familiar
ground. Literally the places that had known him knew him no more.
Even his grave had been desecrated by the slow attrition of neglect.
A coal shed had encroached on it, coal had fallen on his stone, cans
and broken glass littered the sacred spot. The two Americans, in a
haste of ruth, cleared the stone with hands and walking sticks, and
Louise Guiney drew to her two bent and blear-eyed Hodges working near
and preached to them Vaughan, the good physician, and his right to
the seemliness of an ordered resting-place. And she stayed not in her
doing, but called later upon England and America for a fund to put
the grave in order and suitably to commemorate the poet. The Vaughan
essay, in her own copy of the Little English Gallery, grew thick with
notes, confirmatory or expanded, in this browsing over Welsh ground,
and the Vaughan editing ran on and on through following years into what
must be the authoritative edition of his work. Why did she so love and
serve him? Not only because his thoughts take hold on heaven and, like
the breath of man, fly upward, that spirit of devotion—the negation of
earthly desires so intoxicating to her—but because he might otherwise,
as in his own elegies, “stop short of immortality.” His silent footstep
seemed to have left no mark beside his darling Usk. His soul, like her
own, in never questioning acceptance, perpetually sought eternity. He
loved learning, and he had an “eye and ear for the green earth.” He
had also a “sweet self-privacy,” and his inexhaustible delight in the
created world was not impaired or qualified by his childlike love of
heaven. He is temperate, he is remote. Louise Guiney would have loved
to walk and laugh with him, for he was one of the few with whom she
chose to dwell. To know him a little is to know her better, not so much
from their likeness, but to learn what minds were dear to her.

Hazlitt, too, was dear. He, it must be remembered, like Charles Lamb,
Izaak Walton and the more authentic of the older worthies, was her
godfather in letters. He, too, had remoteness, though of another sort
than Vaughan’s. Not for him withdrawal into the heaven of heavens, but
to Winterslow Hut, to write his Lectures in a passionate privacy. Him,
too, in 1895, she sought in his familiar haunts, and relished her cold
chicken at Llangollen in a happy maze, in that Hazlitt had sat down
there to the same fare and the New Eloïse. At Wem, in Shropshire, where
he had his immortal meeting with Coleridge, she came, through much
pains, upon an oldest inhabitant who could give her faint shrilling
echoes of “Billy ’Azlitt” in his youth, yet nothing more pertinent
than that the yeasty Billy used to “lie under the ’edges and frighten
the maids a-going to market.” To Winterslow Hut she went, on Salisbury
Plain, an enchantment of larks and heather, and fain would have carried
away the old discarded sign of the Pheasant Inn it had become save that
it was “so mortal heavy.”

If her own Goose-Quill Papers show the parentage she owns, it is
preëminently of Hazlitt. She was enamored of him, his amiable and
delightful style that is not too homespun for the scholar nor in
any wise too recondite for men of lowlier apprehension. And if the
intellect of man has loves of its own, quite apart from inclinations
of the heart, Hazlitt may be said to be the friend and comrade of
affectionate minds. Indeed, his authoritative note in criticism was
the less beguiling to her who could be outspoken herself, on high
occasion, than some personal quality of sensitive receptiveness to
life. This was, to her, most endearing. He had, moreover, the courage
of withstanding great upheavals and lamenting lost causes; she loved
his love of walking, and one line she is never tired of quoting or
prompting her friends to quote for the enhancement of some page: “a
winding road and a three-hours’ march to dinner.” His aloofness,
albeit with the foil of the kindest of hearts, his sensitiveness that
could, by a word or a look askance, be cut to the raw,—do not these
perhaps admit him to the list of the humanly ill-equipped who enlist
her chivalry? Or was it his humor that was the living bond, that and
his clarity of English? To his Unitarian cast of temperament she is
handsomely generous, and though not always averse to giving those who
wear their rue of faith with a difference a sly dig on occasion (“the
timid, domestic and amateurish thing which Anglicanism must be, even
at its best!” that, one must believe, with a twinkle behind “those
spectacles”) she tolerates his ignorance of sacerdotal certainties and
not too curtly deprecates his “imperfect development.”

“As Mr. Arnold said so patiently of Byron, ‘he did not know enough.’”

Yet she could have better spared a more ecclesiastic man, and in
her affectionate summing up she decorates him with her heartfelt
thankfulness that he is what he is:

“He stalks apart in state, the splendid Pasha of English letters.”

She is forced to judge him as the pure intellectual must judge the man
of tumultuous and undirected genius. His confidential egoism might well
have been her own despair, so disinclined is she really to open her
heart to you save under pretty disguises, and you would hardly have
thought his style, soaring “to the rhetorical sublime” or dropping to
“hard Saxon slang” to be the style she loved. Yet this was she who
did not choose her friends for the intellectual rightness in them but
something pure human, as wayward, when you would define it, as the tang
of the weather. Toward the close of this essay she rushes into some
fine direct English of her own. Hazlitt’s diction, she affirms, is
“joyously clear,” “sumptuously splendid” and concludes that “no right
style was ever founded save out of a sincere heart.” This, later on
when life had taught her things hard to learn, she said, in a fuller
form, as touching not style but letters in their entirety:

“After all, life, not art, is the thing.”

To that same growing conviction it was that Hazlitt appealed, a “born
humanist,” with a “memory like a loadstar, and a name which is a toast
to be drunk standing.”

Her bright light—perhaps not the guiding light, for her genius was
ever an individual one and moved, for the most part, unperturbed in
its own orbit—was Robert Louis Stevenson. The youth of his day will
remember how he took hold on even the popular imagination, fighting
his predestined fight with disease and weather, doubling on death,
and, while he fled—the hovering fate bound, in the end, to clutch
him—setting his mind to the weaving of bright adventure and his hand to
the writing of it. That gayety of temperamental bravado, that piquing
drama of a man tied to his bed for helpless intervals and sending
out his mind to roam the seas and centuries, were intoxicating to
venturesome spirits. In 1895, Louise Guiney writes of hearing from a
“most brilliant boy” in San Francisco:

“He says something that has set me up for life: that Mrs. Stevenson
told him R. L. S. had a great fancy for my little doings, and used to
‘search for them in such magazines as came to Samoa.’ I will keep on
writing, I will; I shall never despair after that.”

To Robert Louis Stevenson: A Study, privately printed in 1895, she
contributed a notable sonnet, the sestette beginning:

    “Louis, our priest of letters and our knight,”

and a longer Valediction of a metre disturbing to the unpractised ear,
but full of isolated lines of an individual beauty and also of a real
grief: the lament of the pupil over his master, signalized in the
significant line:

    “The battle dread is on us now, riding afield alone.”

There is a light-heartedness, too, about the poem, like burnished
fringes on a mourning robe. For youth is in it as well as sorrow. Her
lamentation can break into the iridescent foam of a stanza like this,
where she pre-figures the living spirit of Tusitala absorbed into the
island life he loved and blossoming from it forever:

    “There on summer’s holy hills
     In illumined calms,
     Smile of Tusitala thrills
     Through a thousand palms;
     There in a rapture breaks
     Dawn on the seas,
     When Tusitala from his shoon unbinds the Pleiades.”

Who could spare that outburst of young extravagance at the end?

It was she who, in the first shock of the news, when the wondering word
went from lip to lip, “Stevenson is dead!”—as if long apprehension
could never have prepared us for a calamity so amazing—said to those at
one with her in Stevenson worship:

“Let us wear a band of crêpe.”

And they did, this group of mourning followers.

The complete bibliography of her work would include introductions,
studies, notes, all characterized by her unhastened scrutiny of
“passionate yesterdays”: Matthew Arnold, Robert Emmet, Katherine
Philips, Thomas Stanley, Lionel Johnson, Edmund Campion,—these were
a few of those whose memory she illumined and clarified. No estimate
could overrate her continuing and exhaustless patience; she was content
with nothing less than living within arm’s length of all the centuries.
Poet first, poet in feeling always, even after the rude circumstance
of life had closed her singing lips, she was an undaunted craftsman at
prose. It is true she did expect too much of us. She did, especially in
those later days, more than half believe we could delight in pouncing,
with her own triumphant agility, on discoveries of remote relationships
and evasive dates. Her multiplicity of detail had become so minute
and comprehensive, especially as touching the Restoration, that even
literary journals could seldom print her with any chance of backing
from the average reader. It was inevitable to her to run on into the
merely accurate data prized by the historian and genealogist alone.
Who can expect the modern spirit, prey to one sociological germ after
another, to find antidote in the obscurities of seventeenth century
English? Yet she never veered from the natal bent of her trained mind.
Still was she the indomitable knight errant of letters. She had to go
on rescuing though the damsels she delivered died on her hands. Where
did her anxiety of pains find its limit? not with the printing: there
she had always striven untiringly for perfection of form, unblemished
accuracy. One remembers exhaustive talks with her on the subtleties
of punctuation. The Wye Valley, the Devon lanes, were vocal, in that
summer of 1895, with precepts of typography. The colon especially
engaged the attention of these perfervid artisans. Was it not, this
capricious and yet most responsive of all marks of punctuation, widely
neglected in its supremest subtlety? Something of this argumentation
was afterward echoed in her paper on Lionel Johnson:

“Nothing was trivial to this ‘enamoured architect’ of perfection. He
cultivated a half mischievous attachment to certain antique forms of
spelling, and to the colon, which our slovenly press will have none
of; and because the colon stands for fine differentiations and sly
sequences, he delighted especially to employ it.”

There were serious conclaves, in those years, when excerpts for the
Pilgrim Scrip, a magazine of travel, were concerned, whether a man’s
punctuation, being the reflex of his own individuality, should not be
preserved in exactness. An English essayist of the nomad type, who was
a very fiend of eccentricity, proved an undevoured bone of contention.
His stops were enough to make the typographically judicious grieve. But
had not he his own idea of the flow of his prose, and should not his
punctuation be inviolate? Her own corrected proofs were a discipline to
the uninitiate in scholarly ways, a despair, no doubt, to the indurated
printer, and her ruthlessness toward her own work such as Roman and
Spartan parents would have gasped at and found themselves too lax to
emulate. Yet through these excesses of literary precision she went
merrily. She was no Roundhead of the pen, taking her task in sadness.
The ordinary proof reader, of set intentions and literal meanings, was
her delight. In Songs at the Start is the line:

    “O the oar that was once so merry!”

One of the battles she fought untiringly was over the vocative O,
contending that it should never be followed by the intrusive comma. Yet
the comma would sneak in,

    (“Abra was ready ere I called her name;
    And though I called another, Abra came!”)

and in this case author and printer had fought it out, forward and
back, unwearied play of rapier and bludgeon, until she wrote, properly
enisled in the margin, after the careted O: “no comma.” And behold! the
line appeared, in the final proof:

    “O no comma the oar that was once so merry!”

And when, after another tussle with her mulish adversary, she thought
she had him, the book itself fell open in her hand at his victorious

    “O no, the oar that was once so merry!”

The tale of her defeat was perennially delightful to her. She was never
tired of telling it.

Once, quoting the line:

    “Hoyden May threw her wild mantle on the hawthorn tree,”

she was enraptured to see the innocent hawthorn walking back to her
personified into “hoyden Mary.” The vision of hoyden Mary, concrete as
Audrey and her turnip, was thenceforth one of the character studies on
her comedy stage. Her own copies of her books were flecked with spear
dints from the battles she had waged in their doing and undoing. The
“passion for perfection” left her in no security in an end seemingly
attained. Her pen knew no finalities. When she had reached the goal
and you ran to crown her, she simply turned about to go over the
course again at a more uniform pace or with a prettier action. Her
biographical and critical work was never finished, even when it reached
the final fastnesses of print. A new shade of insight would be cast
by some small leaf of data just sprung up, to be noted in the margin.
And how moved she was over the restoration of an old word to active
use or shy experiment with one of valid lineage yet unaccustomed form!
One remembers serious, even anxious, conversation with her on the word
“stabile.” It was more poetic than other derivatives of the same root
and had a subtly dignified access of meaning. Should it be used? Could
one venture? And she did use it in the first printing of what became
the last Oxford Sonnet, only, in her anxious precision, to revert to
the authorized “stable” in the last printing of all.

Of her one book of stories, Lovers’ Saint Ruth (1894) written in a
rather wistful response to optimistic persuasion, she says:

“I had no hold whatever on narrative.”

And how should she have taken hold on beguiling and effective drama,
she whose inner mind, when it was not musing in mediæval cloisters,
was hedged about with tolerances, who was not shaken by the tempestuous
prejudice and fierce resisting passions of which drama is made? Was
she lax in a certain remote acceptance of mankind so long as it would,
like Alexander, get out of the sun whereby she was regarding the Middle
Ages or the soul? Not always: there was in her a sudden unexpected
fierceness that amazed you, after you thought yourself used to her
self-preservative withdrawals. On a delicate piece of literary work
where a wife, hideously used, had suffered all things and forgiven all
things, she commented tersely:

“Not right. It hinders justice.”

But as to the book of stories, she entered upon it with premonitory
omen and probably did it under a stress of will. For tasks not native
to her mind, as well as those remotely capable of being construed
into pot boilers, she began “with a little aversion,”—indeed, with so
much more than a little that the mere suggestion of them was usually
declined as soon as offered.

Like Henry James, she was an expatriate, though not even under the
argument of our aloofness from Europe between 1914 and 1917 did
she, like him, bear testimony to her love for England by becoming
naturalized. Still an ardent American, her answering love flowed back
to us as in 1898, when she dedicated one of the most breathlessly
beautiful of her poems to The Outbound Republic. There had come the
challenge to enter world counsels and world clashes. We heard, and she
heard it with us:

    “As the clear mid-channel wave,
     That under a Lammas dawn
     Her orient lanthorn held
     Steady and beautiful
     Through the trance of the sunken tide,
     Sudden leaps up and spreads
     Her signal round the sea:
     _Time, time!
     Time to awake; to arm;
     To scale the difficult shore!_”

This was first published anonymously and one reader, at least,
instantly detected her hand. It took no special acumen. Lines were
never written more intensely charged with personal quality.

And if we think her heart, in its love for England, ever grew alien to
us, we may go back to the last of the twelve stately London Sonnets:
In the Docks. What a banner she waved there of an implied creed, a
passionate belief!

    “Where the bales thunder till the day is done,
     And the wild sounds with wilder odors cope;
     Where over crouching sail and coiling rope,
     Lascar and Moor along the gangway run;
     Where stifled Thames spreads in the pallid sun,
     A hive of anarchy from slope to slope;
     Flag of my birth, my liberty, my hope,
     I see thee at the masthead, joyous one!

     O thou good guest! so oft as, young and warm,
     To the home-wind thy hoisted colors bound,
     Away, away from this too thoughtful ground
     Sated with human trespass and despair,
     Thee only, from the desert, from the storm,
     A sick mind follows into Eden air.”

Our inherited traditions were like wine to her, our lapses drained
her soul; and as it was in 1890, when that sonnet was written, so it
continued to be through the years when our star sank, in 1914, to be
so long in rising. In 1915, she wrote:

“I have been disappointed over our country’s official attitude: there
should be no ‘neutrality’ of opinion where rights and wrongs are as
plain as the nose on one’s face!”

And in February, 1917:

“‘Come, let your broadsides roar with ours!’ as Tennyson says. Only
I never shall get over the unexpected and staggering vision of my
own idealistic land having behaved for nearly three solid years in
this selfish, provincial way, with the masterly vision of a village
schoolmaster who sees as far as his village pump, and not one inch
beyond it.”

When she went to England for the second time, lights were burning,
just lighted then: Lionel Johnson, soon to die, William Watson, Arthur
Symons, Aubrey Beardsley, Nora Hopper, Katherine Tynan, Dora Sigerson,
in her young beauty, (afterward married to Clement Shorter, another
devoted friend of L. I. G.) and W. B. Yeats—their glittering names are
many. And there was Herbert Clarke, tragic figure of non-fulfilment,
without mention of whom no footnote to her life would be complete,
because they were mirrors of kindred tastes and proud aloofness from
the market-place. He died before he knew the heart-break of the War,
and Louise Guiney wrote:

“And now his bright thwarted star is out, at least in this world where
he never had his dues. . . . Thinking of him gone away is to think of
what Dickens calls in Bleak House ‘the world which sets this world

Edmund Gosse, Richard Garnett, Mrs. Meynell,—the list of her
friendships rivals in fulness that of her beginnings in America.
And those of the first years were but the beginning. Today they are
numbered “in battalions.”

Though so ardent an American, England was her spirit’s home. The odor
of musty archives was as delicious in her nostrils as “hawthorn buds
in May.” Half effaced inscriptions were dearer to her than whole
broadsides of modern pæans to success. A crusader knight on his back in
some immemorial dimness was as immediate to her soul as Apollo walking
down the aisles of song. London, when she was away from it, haunted
her “like a passion.” To come upon her great little picture of pre-war
London makes a blessed interlude in the shrieking present. For we have
gained the motor car, and the price the smiling gods exacted is that
we have lost the broodingness of cities—their murmurous tranquillity.
That essay, Quiet London, dated 1890, has heart-break in it, as well
as beauty, for those who knew the London of old and who will see
it no more. Here are the very lineaments of that great fog-soaked,
rain-darkened beneficence and terror which once was London. You walk in
it with her and are at home in an inherited peace.

“There is no congestion of the populace; yet the creeks and coves
of that ancient sea remain brimmed with mortality, hour after hour,
century after century, as if in subjection to a fixed moon. It is the
very poise of energy, the aggregation of so much force that all force
is at a standstill; the miraculous moment, indefinitely prolonged,
when achieved fruition becalms itself at the full, and satiety
hesitates to set in.”

Here is the rain-swept atmosphere:

“The hushing rain, from a windless sky, falls in sheets of silver on
gray, gray on violet, violet on smouldering purple, and anon makes
whole what it had hardly riven: the veil spun of nameless analogic
tints, which brings up the perspective of every road, the tapestry
of sun-shot mist which Théophile Gautier admired once with all his
eyes. . . . At the angles of the grimiest places, choked with trade, we
stumble on little old bearded graveyards, pools of ancestral sleep; or
low-lying leafy gardens where monks and guildsmen have had their dream:
closes inexpressibly pregnant with peace, the cæsural pauses of our
loud to-day.”

In her ecstatic browsings, her rapt withdrawal into old centuries,
she was the best Londoner of them all. And here is her gay tribute to
English weather:

“The mannerly, vertical showers . . . fall sudden and silent, like
unbidden tears, while you look forth from the wild purple coast of
Ireland at the slant and tawny fishing sails, or lean against the wall
of a ruined abbey in the fold of the Mendip Hills. Always at your
side is this gentle, fickle, sun-shot rain, spinning itself out of an
undarkened sky, and keeping the grass immortal and the roads pure of
dust. You reach, before long, to a full sympathy and comprehension
of what good Bishop Jeremy Taylor had before him when he drew his
simile of ‘a soft slap of affectionate rain.’ It is the rain of
the Plantagenets, Tudors, Stuarts, and Hanoverians, the immemorial
law-giver, and the oldest inhabitant of the isles. Wheresoever it
descends, there are perpetual freshness and peace.”

To walk with her was to add day to storied day in a calendar rubricated
from end to end.

    “Nor ever can those trees be bare.”

Still living in the English landscape is that alert figure, rapt yet
ready for the absurdities of the moment, silent in understanding
withdrawals and, in her own words of another, “almost as good company
as a dog.” This was a masterpiece of praise by inversion, and “those
spectacles” gleamed over it prodigiously. One remembers her by the
crested blue of Devon and Cornish seas, subdued into stillness and then
breaking out in a wild hail of the

    “cruel, crawling foam!”

One remembers her on a Midland road, sticking a pheasant’s feather
in her hat and swaggering rakishly, or walking into Shrewsbury, so
disheveled from the rain and dust of varied weathers, that landladies
looked askance, and one, more admittedly curious than the rest, queried:

“Is there a play to-night?”

For the two wayfarers did look the ancient part of rogues and
vagabonds, no less.

One remembers her climbing the slope, blue with wild hyacinths, at
Haughmond Abbey, or taking the straight “seven long miles” across
Egdon Heath, the sun darkened in a livid sky and floods of rain
to follow before the wayfarers found refuge in the little church
where D’Urbervilles lie, significant in nothing now save an envious
immortality on Thomas Hardy’s page. The clouds in that thunderous sky
were piled into imperial semblances, Emperors of old Rome, and out of
their brief pageant sprang Louise Guiney’s poem of Romans in Dorset,
the first three stanzas as illuminative as the sun and dark that ruled
the air:

           “A stupor on the heath,
            And wrath along the sky;
            Space everywhere; beneath
    A flat and treeless wold for us, and darkest noon on high.

           “Sullen quiet below,
            But storm in upper air!
            A wind from long ago,
    In mouldy chambers of the cloud had ripped an arras there,

           “And singed the triple gloom,
            And let through, in a flame,
            Crowned faces of old Rome:
    Regnant o’er Rome’s abandoned ground, processional they came.”

One remembers her, a last rite before leaving England, not knowing she
should return, feeding the doves in Paul’s Churchyard and, again at
Shrewsbury, packing, among dear mementoes, a sod of English earth.

To speak of her letters, those floating immortalities she cast about
with so prodigal a hand, is to wonder anew at an imaginative brilliancy
even beyond what she put into her considered work. To open one was an
event. Almost you were miserly over the envelope itself, and treasured
it, the script on it was of so rare a beauty. For her handwriting
had an individual distinction. Done in haste or at leisure, it was
the same. Her tumultuous jottings on margins of print or bits of
scribbling paper kept the line of grace. And the subject matter! it
was as varied as flowers and jewels and shells. In some cases, her
books may have suffered from too anxious a care. Her affluent learning,
deeply as it enriched her poetic gift, may have done something toward
choking it, burying it under the drift of yesterdays. For having at
her memory’s call the immortal lines of our English tongue, a despair
may well have overtaken her with the impulse to enter that great
company. She lacked the crude yet wholesome audacity of those to whom
the world is young. But if her considered work may possibly have
suffered from “much cherishing,” her letters made their bright advent
unhindered. In them she lost her sense of studious responsibilities
and—strange paradox of time!—it is they who may go farthest toward
making her immortal. She was simply not self-conscious about them,
and the haste with which they left her hand for the post was what
saved them in their living delightfulness. And they were plentiful
as leaves in Arden. Never did she let her correspondence “come tardy
off.” Courteous, good-natured, ever the prey of bores and sympathetic
listener to requests and comment, she wrote you promptly and with the
most engaging personal touch. If you sent her your book, she read it
with a painstaking intentness and returned you, not a formal note of
thanks, but a full and rich review wherein you were praised to the top
of your deserts, your failings touched lightly but honestly and your
errors spotted with the scholar’s acumen. And if she could commend
you whole-heartedly, and with no even courteous reservations, then
she was as happy in the writing as you in reading it. There was no
smallest trace in her of carping for the satisfaction of showing how
brave a critic she could be, no sense of blustering privilege. But the
letters! written in a gush of mental exuberance, sometimes the faster
the better, a tumultuous beauty of diction,—you shook the tree and you
got such fruit; the wind of your favor blew her way and unloosed on you
that petalled or ripened shower. Those were the spontaneities of her
life; those, in their lasting evanescence, she has yet to bequeath us,
a priceless legacy.

What did the war do to her? We cannot wholly say. We know how deeply
she had breathed in the life of Oxford, and that she was among those
who suffered pangs over

        “the Oxford men
    Who went abroad to die.”

There are tenderest and most admiring allusions to this or that boy
who stayed not upon the order of his going into khaki.

“War, war!” was one of the first cries from her. “It is unbelievable,
yet it is. England is on the defensive: God save her, I say! Boys I
know are being rushed off in the Territorials and Reserves to keep the
coast; and there are already rumors that there will be no October Term
for the University. . . . Terly-terlo! as the trumpets say in the old
Carol. ‘If it be not now yet it will come: the readiness is all.’”

And again, in 1915:

“It enrages me to be an Alien ‘neutral.’ You’ll remember the passionate
affection I have ever shown for everything German. Bah!” (No need of
indicating to those who knew her the thread of irony in this last!)
“Would I were at the front. . . . If England doesn’t pull through, no
more will liberty and civilization.”

And she had her prophetic despondencies. In March, 1919, she wrote with
a bitterness unfamiliar from her bounding pen:

“Oh, what a rabble of a world it is! and why did the wretched
soft-soapers interrupt Foch by granting that armistice when another
three weeks of him would have cut the claws of all the Devils forever!
_A bas les civiles!_”

There spoke the unhesitating mind of one who knew the grim job ought
to have been effectively ended, the tongue of one who came of soldier

We may guess that the strain of those last years sapped and undermined
her in ways the soldier spirit would not betray. We know she qualified
in them for that Paradise she most desired, of those who

    “die, driven against the wall.”

If we seek about for mitigation of our bewilderment over her loss to
earth, the way seems to be not only the old road of unquestioning
thankfulness when a soul arrives at sanctuary from pain, but the solace
of a more intimate friendship with her work. Curiously personal to her
sounds that exquisite translation from Callimachus on the death of his
friend, the poet Heraclitus:

    “They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead:
     They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
     I wept, as I remembered how often you and I
     Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.

    “And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
     A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
     Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
     For Death, he taketh all away, but these he cannot take.”

Of this Edmund Gosse says, in a prose so authoritatively beautiful
that it hangs level in the balance with the rich “poetry of elegiacal

“No translation ever smelt less of the lamp and more of the violet than
this. It is an exquisite addition to a branch of English literature
which is already very rich, the poetry of elegiacal regret. I do not
know where there is to be found a sweeter or tenderer expression of
a poet’s grief at the death of a poet-friend, grief mitigated only
by the knowledge that the dead man’s songs, his ‘nightingales,’ are
outliving him. It is the requiem of friendship, the reward of one who,
in Keats’s wonderful phrase, has left ‘great verse unto a little clan,’
the last service for the dead to whom it was enough to be ‘unheard,
save of the quiet primrose, and the span of heaven, and few ears.’”

This picture, delicately austere, is fitted, line for line, to the
obedient humility of Louise Guiney’s life. She wrought in seclusion,
asking nothing save the silent approval of the unseen gods; and still,
in the mysterious thicket of our mortal life, are her “nightingales”

In what niche shall we set her statue of renown? She has done the
most authentic and exquisite verse America has yet produced. Is it
not rather to its honor and our defeated fame that no widespread
recognition of it could have been predicted? Is Hazlitt largely read?
Does Charles Lamb sell by the million or the seventeenth century
lyrists by the hundred thousand? Louise Guiney was, like so much that
is austerely beautiful in the modern world, a victim of majorities.
The democracy of taste and intellect is perhaps the master, perhaps
the puppet, of this ironic time. But the time itself has its martyrs
in these children of illustrious line who cannot, sadly willing as
they may be, quite speak the common tongue. It is the suffrages of the
purchasing majority that determine what publishers shall print. And for
us,—Diana’s chariot in the heavens means less to us than a limousine on
earth. But the gods who endowed Louise Guiney with something ineffable
out of their treasury alone know about these things. Under their eyes
stands her slender last collection among its peers. And the book itself

    “Unto the One aware from everlasting
     Dear are the winners: thou art more than they.”

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