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Title: Idle Hours in a Library
Author: Hudson, William Henry
Language: English
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                        Idle Hours in a Library


                 │                                   │
                 │        By the same Author         │
                 │                                   │
                 │  _The Church and the Stage_       │
                 │                                   │
                 │  _Introduction to the Philosophy  │
                 │    of Herbert Spencer_            │
                 │                                   │
                 │  _Studies in Interpretation_      │
                 │                                   │


                        Idle Hours in a Library


                          William Henry Hudson

          Professor of English Literature, Stanford University


                             William Doxey

                        At the Sign of the Lark

                             San Francisco


                            COPYRIGHT, 1897

                             WILLIAM DOXEY

                            THE DOXEY PRESS



                                F. E. H.

                         IN REMEMBRANCE OF THE
                             DEAR OLD DAYS



The title of this little volume was chosen because it seems to indicate
a characteristic possessed in common by the otherwise unrelated essays
here brought together. They may all be described in a general way as
holiday tasks—the results of many hours of quiet but rather aimless
browsing among books, and not of special investigations, undertaken with
a view to definite scholastic ends. They are, moreover, as will readily
be seen, completely unacademic in style and intention. Three of the
papers were originally put into shape as popular lectures. The remaining
one—that on the Restoration novelists—was written for a magazine which
appeals not to a special body of students, but to the more general
reading public. The title, hit upon after some little searching, will, I
believe, therefore be accepted as fairly descriptive, and will not, I
hope, be condemned as overfanciful.

A word or two of more detailed explanation may, perhaps, be permitted.
Of the essays on Pepys’s Diary and the “Scenes of Bohemian Life,” I
would simply say that they may be taken to testify to the unfailing
sources of unalloyed enjoyment I have found in these delightful books;
and I should be pleased to think that, while they may renew for some
readers the charm of old associations, they may perhaps send others here
and there for the first time to the works themselves—in which case I
shall be sure of the gratitude of some at least of those into whose
hands this little volume may chance to fall. I can scarcely say as much
as this for the study of Mrs. Behn and Mrs. Manley—for most readers will
be quite as well off if they leave the lucubrations of these two ladies
alone. But in these days we all read novels; and it has seemed to me,
therefore, that my brief account of some of the early experiments in
English fiction may not be altogether lacking in interest and
suggestiveness. Thus, after some hesitation, I decided to find a place
for the authors of “Oroonoko” and “The New Atalantis” in these pages. So
far as the chapter on Shakspere’s London is concerned, it is needless to
do more than indicate the way in which it came to be written. A number
of years ago, while engaged for other purposes in the study of
Elizabethan popular literature, and more especially of the drama of the
period, I began, for my own satisfaction, to jot down, as I lighted upon
them, the more striking references and allusions to manners, customs,
and the social life of the time. I presently found that I had thus
gathered a good deal of miscellaneous material; and it then occurred to
me that, properly organized, my memoranda might be made into an
interesting popular lecture. The lecture was presently prepared, and was
frequently delivered, both in England and in this country. Naturally
enough, the paper can lay no claim to exhaustiveness; it is scrappy,
formless, and sometimes superficial. But the reader of Shakspere may
find it of some value, so far as it goes.

The essay on the Restoration novel is reproduced, greatly changed and
somewhat amplified, from the English magazine, “Time.” The remainder of
the volume has not before been in print.

In such a book as this, it would be pedantic to make a display of
authorities and references, though I hope that any direct indebtedness
has always been duly recorded in the proper place. But I must do myself
the pleasure of adding, that here, as elsewhere in my work, I have
gained more than I can say from the help and encouragement of my wife.

                                                   WILLIAM HENRY HUDSON.

    _Stanford University, California, 1897_



             London Life in Shakspere’s Time             1

             Pepys and His Diary                        65

             Two Novelists of the English Restoration  125

             A Glimpse of Bohemia                      181


                    London Life in Shakspere’s Time


                    London Life in Shakspere’s Time

It is the purpose of the present paper to give some glimpses of
every-day life in the English metropolis in the latter part of the
sixteenth and the early part of the seventeenth centuries. Our subject
will take us from the main highways of history into by-paths illuminated
by the popular literature of the time. It is not the grave historian,
the statesman, or the philosopher, but rather the common playwright, the
ballad-monger, the pamphleteer, whom we must take here as our guides.
Yet ere we intrust ourselves to their care it will not be amiss if, with
the view of making the clearer what we shall presently have to say, we
pause for a moment at the outset to consider some of the more general
aspects of the period with which we are to deal.

Looking, then, first of all, at the political conditions of the time, we
may describe the history of the reign of Elizabeth as the history of
consolidation rather than of superficial change. What strikes us most is
not the addition of fresh culture-elements, but the reorganization and
expansion of elements already existing. The forces of evolution had
turned inward, acting more upon the internal structure than upon the
external forms of society. The Wars of the Roses were now things of
recollection only, the fierce contentions which the struggle between
York and Lancaster had produced having subsided with most of the bitter
feelings engendered by them. Save for the collision with Spain, which
ended in the defeat of the great Armada, England enjoyed a singular
immunity from complications with foreign powers; and an opportunity,
freely made use of, was thus offered for the development of foreign
trade. The growth of a strong commercial sentiment, consequent on this,
acted as a powerful solvent in the dissolution of feudal ideas and the
disintegration of feudal forms of life. The conflict was now mainly
between opinions—between rival forces of an intellectual and moral
character. The power of the upper classes—the representatives of the
ancient _régime_ of chivalry—was on the wane; the power of the middle
classes—the representatives of the modern _régime_ of commerce—showed
corresponding growth. The voice of the people, through their delegates
in Parliament, began to be acknowledged by the caution exhibited on
sundry critical occasions by the crown; the country at large was growing
richer and stronger; the sense of English unity was intensified by the
very dangers which menaced the national life; and as men came more and
more to recognize their individualities, they demanded greater freedom
of thought and speech. “England, alone of European nations,” as Mr.
Symonds pointed out, “received the influences of both Renaissance and
Reformation simultaneously.” The mighty forces generated by these two
movements in combination—one emancipating the reason, the other the
conscience, from the trammels of the Middle Ages—told in countless ways
upon the masses of society. But with all this,—partly, indeed, in
consequence of all this,—there was a deep-seated restlessness at the
very springs of life. The contests of opposing parties were carried on
with a fierceness and acerbity of which we know little in these more
moderate days; the minds of men were set at variance and thrown into
confusion by a thousand distracting issues; and, unrealized as yet in
all their significance and power, those Titanic religious and political
agencies were beginning to take shape which were by and by to rend
English society to its very core.

When we turn from the political character of the age to the moral
character of the people, we find it difficult to avoid having recourse
to a series of antitheses, after the familiar manner of Macaulay, so
violent and surprising are the contrasts, so diverse the component
qualities which analysis everywhere brings to light. The age was virile
in its power, its restlessness, its amazing energy and fertility; it was
virile, too, in its unrestraint, its fierceness, its licentiousness and
brutality. Men gloried in their newly conquered freedom, and in that
wider knowledge of the world which had been opened up to them by the
study of the past, by the scientific researches of Copernicus, Kepler,
and Galileo, by the discoveries of Amerigo Vespucci, Columbus,
Jenkinson, Willoughby, Drake. National feeling was strong; the national
pulse beat high. Yet, in spite of Protestantism and an open Bible, it
was essentially a pagan age; in spite of its Platonism and Euphuism, a
coarse and sensual one. You had only to scratch the superficial polish
to find the old savagery beneath. Your smiling and graceful courtier
would discourse of Seneca and Aristotle, but he would relish the
obscenest jest and act his part in the grossest intrigue. Your young
gallant would turn an Italian sonnet, or “tune the music of an ever vain
tongue,” but within an hour he might have been found in all the blood
and filth and turmoil of the cockpit or the bear-ring. The unseemliest
freedom prevailed throughout society—amidst the noble ladies in
immediate attendance upon the queen, and thence all down the social
scale. Laws were horribly brutal, habits revoltingly rude. All the
powerful instincts of a fresh, buoyant, self-reliant, ambitious, robust,
sensuous manhood had burst loose, finding expression now in wild
extravagance, indulgence, animalism, now in great effort on distant
seas, now in the mighty utterances of the drama; for these things were
but different facets of the same national character. Still, with all its
gigantic prodigality of energy, with all its untempered misuse of genius
and power, the English Renaissance kept itself free from many of the
worst features of the Spanish and Italian revivals. It was all very well
for Benvenuto Cellini to call the English “wild beasts.” Deep down
beneath the casuistry and Euphuism, beneath the artificiality and the
glittering veneer, beneath the coarseness and the brutalism, there was
ever to be found that which was lacking in the Southern character—a
stern, hardy, tough-fibred moral sense, which in that critical period of
disquietude and upheaval formed indeed the very sheet-anchor of the
nation’s hopes. It must never be forgotten that it was this age of
new-found freedom, and of that license which went with it like its
shadow, that produced such types of magnificent manhood as Raleigh,
strong “the fierce extremes of good and ill to brook”; as Spenser,
sweetest and purest of poets and of men; as Sidney, whom that same
Spenser might well describe as “the most noble and virtuous gentleman,
most worthy of all titles, both of learning and chivalry”; as Shakspere,
whom, all slanders notwithstanding, we, like his own close friends,
still think and speak of as our “Gentle Will.”

Such, so far as we are able to sum them up in a few brief sentences,
were some of the salient characteristics of the great age of the Virgin
Queen—an age, as Dean Church has said, “of vast ambitious adventure,
which went to sea, little knowing whither it went, and ill-provided with
knowledge or instrument”; but an age of magnificent enterprise and
achievement, none the less. And now it is for us to follow down into
some of the details of their private, every-day existence the men and
women who, to use a suggestive phrase of Goethe’s, were the citizens of
this period, and whose little lives shared, no matter in how small and
obscure a way, in the movements and destinies of the large world into
which they were born.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Just a quarter of a century before Queen Elizabeth’s death, a
proclamation was issued, reciting that her Majesty foresaw that “great
and manifold inconveniences and mischiefs” were likely to arise “from
the access and confluence of the people” to the metropolis, and making
certain stringent provisions with a view to keeping down the population
of the city. This enactment is useful as showing us that even at that
early date,—as later on, in the time of Smollett,—the enormous growth of
London was held to be matter for alarm. London was indeed increasing
rapidly in extent, population, wealth, and power; and Lyly was hardly
guilty of extravagance when, in his “Euphues,” he wrote of it as a place
that “both for the beauty of building, infinite riches, variety of all
things,” “excelleth all the cities of the world; insomuch that it may be
called the storehouse or mart of all Europe.” Yet we are most of us
probably unable without much effort to realize how different was the
English metropolis of Elizabeth’s time from the metropolis of the
present day.

We have to remember, in the first place, that the London with which we
are now concerned was a walled city, and that the territory which lay
within the walls,—that is, the metropolis proper,—represented but a very
small portion of what is now included within the civic area. Newgate,
Ludgate, Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Cripplegate, and Aldersgate, still mark
out and perpetuate by their names the narrow lines of those protecting
walls which held snug and secure the mere handful of folk of which
London was then composed. At nine o’clock in the evening, when Bow-bell
rang, and the voices of the other city churches took up the
curfew-strain, the gates were shut for the night, and the citizens
retired to their dwellings under the protection of armed watchmen who
guarded their slumbers along the walls. Westward from Fleet Street and
Holborn, beyond which so much of modern London lies, the city had not
then penetrated.

Within and about the walls there were many “fair churches for divine
service,” with old St. Paul’s in their midst—the Gothic St. Paul’s of
the days before the great fire; and many prisons to help the churches in
their philanthropic work. Open spaces were very numerous; trees were
everywhere to be seen; fields invaded the most sacred strongholds of
commercial activity; conduits and brooks (whereof Lamb’s Conduit Street
to-day carries a nominal reminiscence) flowed through every part of the
town. The narrow, straggling streets ran hither and thither with no very
marked definity of aim; for county councils had not as yet come into
existence, and metropolitan improvements were still hidden in the womb
of time; and so unsanitary were the general conditions that they were
seldom free from epidemic disease. Cheap, with its old cross just
opposite the entrance to Wood Street, was a famous spot for trading of
all kinds; but there were other localities which had their specialized
activities. St. Paul’s, for instance, was the acknowledged quarter for
booksellers, as indeed it has continued to be down to the present time.
Houndsditch, like the Houndsditch of to-day, and Long Lane in
Smithfield, abounded in shops for second-hand clothing—_fripperies_, as
they were called. “He shows like a walking frippery,” says one of the
characters in “The City Madam”; while it was in the latter place that
Mistress Birdlime in “Westward Ho” speaks of “hiring three liveries.” In
St. Martin’s-le-Grand clustered the foreign handicraftsmen of doubtful
character, who manufactured copper lace and imitation jewellery; and
Watling Street and Birchin Lane were the haunts of the tailors. Then,
again, it was in Bucklersbury that the grocers and druggists most did
congregate. “Go to Bucklersbury and fetch me two ounces of preserved
melons,” says Mistress Tenterhook in “Westward Ho.” Fleet Lane and Pie
Corner were so famous for their cook-shops that Anne in “The City Madam”
might well exclaim, when the porters enter with their baskets of
provisions, that they smell unmistakably of these localities; while to
Panyer Alley repaired all true lovers of tripe. Even religious opinions
had their special homes. Bloomsbury and Drury Lane, for example, were
favorite haunts of Catholics; and the Puritans were particularly strong
in Blackfriars. This explains the words put by Webster into the mouth of
one of his characters: “We are as pure about the heart as if we dwelt
amongst ’em in Blackfriars,” and Doll Common’s description of Face, in
“The Alchemist,” as—

            “A rascal, upstart, apocryphal captain,
             Whom not a Puritan in Blackfriars will trust.”

And through all this jumble of wealth and dirt, away past the suburbs
and into the open country beyond, ran “the famous River Thames”—the
“great silent highway,” as it has been called,—fed by the Fleet and
other forgotten and now hidden streams, and bearing upon its majestic
current its hundreds of watermen, its boats, its barges, and its swans.
It was spanned by a single bridge, of which Lyly speaks enthusiastically
in his “Euphues,” and which is described by the German traveller, Paul
Hentzner, as “a bridge of stone, eight hundred feet in length, of
wonderful work. It is supported,” this writer continues, “upon twenty
piers of square stone, sixty feet high and thirty broad, joined by
arches of about twenty feet diameter.” And he adds, touching in a brief
sentence upon a characteristic of its structure which must seem
particularly curious to modern readers: “The whole is covered on each
side with houses, so disposed as to have the appearance of a continued
street, not at all of a bridge.”

But if the difference between to-day and three centuries ago is striking
enough within the city walls, still more striking does it become as we
pass beyond the gates. Fleet Street, where Dr. Johnson was presently to
enjoy watching the ceaseless ebb and flow of the great tide of human
life, was still suburban; Chancery Lane, with its wide gardens on the
eastern side and Lincoln’s Inn enclosure on the western, possessed only
a few scattered houses at either end. The Strand—

                   “That goodly thoroughfare between
                           The court and city,”

as a Puritan poet called it—was a long country road flanked with
noblemen’s houses (“a continual row of palaces, belonging to the chief
nobility,” Hentzner says), the gardens of which on the one side ran down
to the river, and on the other backed upon the fine open space of
pasture-land called Covent (that is, Convent) Garden. At Charing there
was an ancient cross, and beyond, wide fields known as the Haymarket,
the quiet stretches of St. James’s Park, and the wide country road
called Piccadilly, the regular highway to Reading and the west. St.
Martin’s Lane ran up between hedgerows and meadows to Tottenham, or
Totten Court. In the other direction, towards Westminster, there was the
Court, with its Tiltyard, standing where the Horseguards now stand, and
beyond this the city of Westminster, with its abbey and great hall,
lying in the quiet fields. Just opposite, on the other bank, in an
unbroken expanse of country, stood Lambeth Palace, whence a long, lonely
road led eastward, through Lambeth Marsh, to the city purlieus on the
Surrey side of the water.

What we know as the suburbs of London were then separate villages, to
reach which one had to make a tedious journey over open country and
along desolate lanes. Finsbury Field was covered with windmills, and
there the archers met for practice. Islington was famous, to quote Ben
Jonson, for the citizens that went a-ducking—that is, duck-hunting—in
its ponds. Pimlico and Holloway were favorite resorts of
pleasure-seeking townsfolk on Sunday afternoons. Hoxton and Hampstead
and Willesden lay far away in the country; Holborn was a rural highway
running through the little village of St. Giles’s towards Oxford; and
the Edgeware Road took you away to Tyburn, the spot which has acquired
such grim notoriety in the annals of crime. Highway robberies took place
at Kentish Town and Hampstead; even the Queen’s Majesty was mobbed by a
handful of ruffians in the sequestered neighborhood of Islington, which
stood alone among the hills to the north; while no man who valued his
life would venture to walk after nightfall, unarmed or unprotected, as
far into the country as Hyde Park Corner.

Let us now look a little more closely at the street life of the city
which we have thus roughly sketched.

There was little of that never-ceasing bustle with which we are
familiar—little of the eternal hurry, the intense strain, the rush and
turmoil of our modern existence; but the buzz of commerce was everywhere
to be heard, telling us that the world was not asleep. The streets were
rough, ill-paved, and narrow, and the appearance of a vehicle in them
was sufficiently rare an occurrence to attract attention; though the
ostentation of the rich in making use of carriages on every possible
occasion was already beginning to be satirized by the writers of the
time—as, for instance, by Massinger in “The City Madam,” and by Cooke in
“Greene’s Tu Quoque.” There were the churches—six score or so of them,
Lyly tells us, within the walls; the inns, with their wide hostleries;
the private houses, built not in long uniform rows, but irregularly, as
though they desired to preserve some traces of personal character. Their
upper stories were frequently built out, and sometimes projected so far
across the narrow streetway that Jonson pictures a lady and her lover
exchanging confidences from the topmost windows of opposite
tenements—“arguing from different premises,” as Dr. Holmes would say.
There, too, were the shops, looking more like booths in a fair, with
their quaint and picturesque signs, and their merchandise exposed to
public gaze on open stalls, while in front of them paced the young
apprentices, besieging the ears of every passer-by with their ceaseless
clamor of “What d’ye lack?” and their long-winded recommendations of the
articles which they had for sale. In Middleton’s “Michaelmas Term” we
have a scene before Quomodo’s shop, and Quomodo himself calling out to
Easy and Shortyard: “Do you hear, sir? What lack you, gentlemen? See,
good kerseys and broadcloths here—I pray you come near.” Many other
passages of similar import might be added. Nor were these the only, or
even the noisiest, symptoms of commercial enterprise. Itinerant vendors
of the Autolycus tribe also patrolled the streets, murdering the Queen’s
English, like their descendants of to-day, as in loud, hoarse voices
they advertised their miscellaneous wares. There were fishwives,
orange-women, and chimney-sweeps, broom-men, hawkers of meat pies and
pepper, of rushes for the floor, of mats, oat-cakes, milk, and coal; and
numerous Irish costermongers (of the kind Face refers to in “The
Alchemist”) who trafficked in fruit and vegetables. In addition to all
these, and to complete the confusion of the streets, there were
mountebanks, jugglers, and ballad-singers, full of strange tricks and
new songs, whereby to attract attention and pick up a few odd coins.

The daily round of existence in the city streets offered, therefore, no
small amount of interest and variety; while from time to time the
ordinary routine was broken in upon by fresh elements of excitement. Now
it might be a splendid procession—perhaps of one of the great livery
companies, purse-proud and ostentatious; perhaps of the newly-installed
Lord Mayor, on his way back from Westminster; perhaps of the Virgin
Queen and her retinue, coming cityward on some state occasion from
Richmond or Whitehall. Now, again, it might be a procession of a very
different kind—a mob following a thief who was going to be put into the
pillory, or a woman of disreputable character who, meeting the fate
dreaded by Doll Common, was carted through the streets to the
accompaniment of a brass band, and amid the cries and hootings of the
populace; or a group of felons who were led out of the city along
Holborn to Tyburn, there to pay the last penalty of the law. Sometimes,
too, there were large gatherings in St. Paul’s churchyard to hear some
famous preacher—like Bishop Jewell—discourse from the steps of the great
cross; and sometimes there were street fights between retainers of rival
houses, or bands of hot-tempered ’prentices belonging to the different
city guilds—fights which generally ended in bloodshed and broken heads.
The ’prentices of the city were indeed notoriously a turbulent tribe,
and they figure in many a brawl and squabble in the plays of the time.
“If he were in London, among the clubs, up went his heels for striking
of a ’prentice,” says Gazet, in Massinger’s “Renegado,” referring in
this phrase to the fact that clubs were habitually kept in the shops
ready for use in the event of any affray. So that the London streets
were not so dull as one might at first suppose; while for the rest there
was plenty of quiet, steady activity from dawn till dusk. Though the
struggle for wealth was not then so keen as it is to-day, and men on the
whole took things more easily, life was full of earnestness and purpose,
and commercial ambition shared the magnificent vigor and energy of the
Elizabethan nature with the fever of adventure and a youthful,
spontaneous, and unabashed delight in the pleasures of sense. Wide roads
were open to the young man of brains and courage, roads which would lead
to place and power. Fortunes were to be made, positions won; and the
’prentice, starting out in his career, had many examples of self-made
and successful men to remind him that the world was all before him where
to choose, and that the future largely depended upon himself. Thus,
though the London of Shakspere’s time was far different from the London
of to-day as regards its commerce, its activities, its habits and daily
life, it was still a thriving city, the object of ambition, the
dreamland of the aspiring youth, the great heart which set the blood
pulsing and dancing through all the arteries of the land.

As for the shops themselves, we must dismiss them with a very few words.
The modern difficulty—the importation of foreign wares, and the
immigration of foreign dealers—was already to the front; and Italian,
French, German, Spanish, and Flemish tradesmen were to be found in
almost every street—each with his peculiar class of custom. Some writers
of the time, like William Stafford, in his “Brief Conceit,” grow violent
over the inroads of these aliens, and roundly proclaim, with Bishop
Hall, that all the vice of the city was to be laid at their doors. But
in the ordinary walks of business the Englishman, in spite of a good
deal of characteristic bluster and grumbling, still held his ground. The
apothecary sold love-charms and philters, tobacco, cane, and pudding, as
well as drugs; but there were regular tobacco merchants, also, whose
shops were of unrivalled splendor. The immense vogue of this novel
luxury is sufficiently shown by the statement made by Barnaby Riche in
“The Honesty of this Age,” that seven thousand shops in London “vented”
tobacco, and by the passing remark of Hentzner, that it was smoked (or
“drunk,” as the phrase then went) everywhere. At the theatre and all
such places of public resort, the pipe was the Englishman’s habitual
companion, and from sundry passages in Jonson, Dekker, Marston, and
other dramatists, we infer that it was sometimes carried even to church.

Among the most noteworthy of the tradesmen of the time were the barbers,
who, be it remembered, were surgeons as well, and would cut your beard
or bleed you, trim your hair or pull out your teeth, with absolute
impartiality. Their shops were the favorite resorts of idlers, as they
had been long since in the days of Lucian; and owing to the immense
attention then paid to hair and beard, the more accomplished among them
drove an enormous trade. Their garrulity was proverbial. “Oh, sir, you
know I am a barber and cannot tittle-tattle,” says Dello, in Lyly’s
“Midas,” in a scene which is full of curious information concerning the
barbers of the time. The Cutbeard of Jonson’s “Silent Woman,” is another
illustration in point. It may be mentioned, as an odd feature of their
establishments, that a lute was commonly kept in readiness for the
amusement of those who might have to wait for attention, as the
newspapers and comic weeklies are kept to-day. “Barbers shall wear thee
on their citterns,” says Rhetias to Coculus, in Ford’s “Lover’s
Melancholy,” referring to the grotesque figureheads by which these
instruments were often decorated.

In the matter of the relations of sellers and purchasers, we may note,
as one of those little touches of nature which make the whole world kin,
that customers, as we learn from more than one old play, often indulged
in the quite modern practice of having half the goods in a shop laid out
for inspection before buying the most trumpery article. Nor, on the
other hand, were the dealers of the time much behind their descendants
of to-day in what are known as the tricks of trade. Adulteration was a
crying evil; some of the methods often employed, for example, for the
“sophistication” of tobacco, will be recalled by all readers of “The
Alchemist.” Another common practice among shopkeepers was that of
darkening their stores to disguise the inferiority of their merchandise.
This is constantly referred to by contemporary writers. The sturdy
Stubbs attacks the abuse in his “Display of Corruptions.” “They have
their shops and places where they sell their cloth very dark and
obscure,” he writes, referring to the mercers and drapers of his time,
“of purpose to deceive buyers.” Webster, in “The Duchess of Malfi,”
employs this familiar abuse in the turn of a compliment: “This darkening
of your worth is not like that which tradesmen use in the city; their
false lights are to rid bad wares off;” and Quomodo, in “Michaelmas
Term,” boasts, humanly enough, that his shop is not “so dark as some of
his neighbors’.” Again, Brome, in the “City Wit”: “What should the city
do with honesty? Why are your wares gummed? Your shops dark?” In
“Westward Ho” we read that the shop of a linen-draper was generally “as
dark as a room in Bedlam,” and, not to multiply quotations, Middleton,
in “Anything for a Quiet Life,” speaks of shopwares being habitually
“set in deceiving lights.” Colliers, too, were so notorious for short
measure and other crafty practices that Greene, in his “Notable
Discovery of Cosenage,” includes a special “delightful discourse” on
purpose to lay bare their knavery.

The houses were not yet numbered, and all trading establishments were
known by their tokens—great signboards decorating every shop with
strange mottoes and fantastic devices, which took the place of the
advertising media of the present day. Milton, we remember, was born at
the Spread Eagle, in Bread Street, and well on in the eighteenth century
the imprints of publishers still refer to these customary signs; as in
the case of the famous “left-legged Tonson,” who did business at
“Shakespeare’s Head, over against Catherine Street, in the Strand.”
Quotations illustrative of these trading tokens and the part they played
in the commercial life of the time might be indefinitely multiplied; but
we must content ourselves with a single bit of evidence from “The
Alchemist.” Abel Drugger, the young tradesman, is opening a new shop,
and comes to Subtle to take his advice about the choice of a suitable
device. In the one suggested by Subtle, Jonson satirizes the wildly
absurd combinations frequently employed, like the foolish advertisements
of our own century, to attract or compel public attention:—

               “He shall have a bel, that’s Abel;
            And by it standing one whose name is Dee,
            In a rug gown, there’s D and Rug, that’s _drug_;
            And right anenst him a dog snarling Er—
            There’s Drugger, Abel Drugger—there’s his sign.”

It is hardly necessary to add that though these signs have practically
disappeared from general use, they survive in trademarks and in the odd
and often outlandish trading tokens still to be seen over the doors of
English public houses and inns; though just why public houses should
have kept up a practice otherwise almost universally abandoned since the
numbering of houses came into vogue, it would be difficult to say.

But with the oncoming of the night, silence, for the most part, fell
over the city and its surroundings. There was as yet no public lighting
of the streets, but the good citizens were supposed to do their
individual shares towards illuminating the dark thoroughfares, to insure
which the watchmen, with lanterns and halberts, would pace their solemn
rounds, hoarsely bawling at every doorway, “Lantern and a whole
candle-light! Hang out your lights here!” Writing from Paris in 1620,
and referring to the terrible condition of the streets in the French
capital, Howell says: “This makes one think often of the excellent
nocturnal government of our city of London, where one may pass and
repass securely all hours of the night, if he gives good words to the
watch.” Yet it is to be feared that this patriotic comment puts the
matter in a somewhat too favorable way. The impression one derives from
reading the plays and pamphlets of the time certainly is that the roads
were always more or less dangerous after dark, and that good,
law-abiding townsfolk were best off within doors, or, at all events, in
the immediate neighborhood of their own houses. If they were forced to
go farther afield, they would do well to take a link-boy with them to
guide them with his light, unless they were like Falstaff, who, as we
remember, once told Bardolph that he been saved a thousand marks in
links and torches walking between tavern and tavern, owing to the fiery
and luminous character of the said Bardolph’s nose. A stout ’prentice
boy with a well-weighted club was a desirable companion, too, for those
who valued purses and pates. For the streets were infested by “roaring
boys” and wild young bloods, whose principal amusement, besides fighting
among themselves, was in persecuting quiet citizens, and who came into
almost nightly conflict with the doting old Dogberry watchmen, who
endeavored to cope with them, often with but very slight success. These
are the fine fellows described in Shirley’s “Gamester,”—

                                         “that roar
          In brothels, and break windows, fright the streets,
          And sometimes set upon innocent bell-men to beget
          Discourse for a week’s diet,”

and whom Jonson’s Kastril looked up to with so much admiration and

                  *       *       *       *       *

I could not hope by any series of thumbnail sketches to conjure up the
manifold details of the daily life of Elizabethan London as one finds it
portrayed in the plays of Jonson, Middleton, Dekker, Cooke, and the
strange pamphlets of Nash and Greene. But we must not linger over these
street scenes. It is ample time that we should pass on to consider a
little the various classes which went to make up the population of the
metropolis in the days of which we speak.

In the common relationships of class with class the age of Elizabeth
differed widely from our own. Sociability was one of the main
characteristics of the time, and this the guild life of the larger towns
did much to foster. In the places of common resort—in the tavern, the
theatre, at St. Paul’s Walk, or the Archery Ground at Finsbury, men
daily met their neighbors and brother-citizens, and rubbed shoulders and
chopped opinions with a warmth and open-heartedness which, if they had
little of modern propriety, also knew little of modern restraint.
Moreover, London was not then the vast, overgrown, incoherent city which
it has since become, and its inhabitants still took that personal
interest in one another’s doings, and felt, to some extent at any rate,
that sense of family sympathy which, though they are common traits of
provincial town life, are characteristic of the metropolis no longer.
Nevertheless, the classes remained absolutely distinct, cut off from one
another by chasms of custom and interest, and even law, which were
never, save with the rarest exceptions, bridged over. The enactments
which had been promulgated at the beginning of the reign to fix with
rigid certainty the special garbs of the various ranks of the community,
are sufficient to show to what extent the caste system, with its
attendant prejudices and conventions, was still rooted deep in English
life. The young ’prentice might haply make a fortune, and reach a
position of great civic distinction. This much was open to him; but for
his helpmeet in life he looked no higher than his master’s daughter. The
successful merchant might even reach the Lord Mayor’s bench, but he was
still a citizen, and laid no claim to set his foot within the charmed
circle of gentle life. This condition of things is illustrated again and
again in the plays of the time, as in Middleton’s “City Madam” and
Dekker’s “Shoemaker’s Holiday.” There was practically no overlapping of
interests, no intermingling of class with class. Money could do much,
but it could not, as it will at present, purchase an entrance into the
most select society; nor, in the matrimonial market of that day, was a
coronet ever knocked down for a dower. But this is only one side of the
question. If there was little class sympathy, there was little class
rivalry also. Society was more diffuse than it is to-day—held together
less firmly, but with less of the friction which is a necessary
preliminary to that readjustment of social arrangements which the
industrial movements of the modern world are tending slowly to bring
about. The classes touched externally, but that was all. In spirit they
stood aloof—each content to go its own way, to live its own life, but
each, for the most part, equally ready to let the others freely do the

Of the various classes which went to the making of the population of
Shakspere’s London, two only will here demand attention—the gentry and
the citizens. Of course, within both of these great groups there were
many grades, but time will not allow us to subdivide. Of course, too,
beyond and outside these altogether, lay the seething mass of
miscellaneous humanity—the vast fringe of the population—which then, as
now, formed so dark and so dangerous an unabsorbed element in the city’s
general life. Threads from this dingy and tangled social frilling were
sometimes caught up and woven for picturesque purposes into the pattern
of the plays of the time. But the epic of the submerged tenth was as yet
undreamed of; and all this side of Elizabethan civilization must for the
present be left out of view.

The citizens lived for the most part at their shops or places of
business; the gentlefolk were more distributed. Some still had their
habitations in the commercial portions of the city, and those of them
who regularly lived in the country and came to town during
term-time—which then constituted the London season,—were often content
to find temporary lodging over some druggist’s or barber’s shop. But the
exodus of the gentry and courtiers from the centres of trade and labor
was already beginning, and the aristocratic neighborhoods were
admittedly outside the walls. In “Greene’s Tu Quoque” when Lionel Nash
is knighted, he delivers up his store to his head ’prentice, and
announces his intention of moving the next day into the Strand; which
may be taken as showing that for the retired tradesman,—and still more,
therefore, for the gentleman or courtier,—a residence well removed from
the city was deemed the proper thing.

It is difficult to speak in general terms of the houses of the time,
since, naturally enough, the comfort and luxury of the domestic
arrangements varied considerably as one passed up or down the social
scale. A few broad statements may, however, be made. In the average
dwelling the ceilings were covered with plaster of Paris, and the inner
walls wainscoted and tapestried; the tapestry being worked with
landscapes and figures often of a very elaborate character. This
explains Lyly’s simile in “Midas”—“like arras, full of device.” Enough
space was left for any one to hide between the arras and the wall—a
fact, it will be remembered, frequently made use of by the Elizabethan
dramatists, as by Webster in “The Duchess of Malfi,” where Cariola
conceals herself behind the hanging to overhear what goes on between the
Duchess and Antonio; and by Shakspere in “Henry the Fourth,” where
Falstaff goes to sleep and has his pocket picked; and even more notably
in the famous rat-killing scene in “Hamlet.” In addition, pictures were
often used for decoration, and when valuable were protected by curtains.
“I yet but draw the curtain; now to the picture,” says Monticelso in
Webster’s “White Devil”; and, again, “We will draw the curtain and show
you the picture,” says Olivia in “Twelfth Night,” as she removes her
veil. The halls were lighted by candelabras or torch-bearers, and
watch-lights, or night-lights, were in common use. At the foot of the
master’s bed, rolled under during the day and drawn out at night, was a
truckle-bed for his page. “Well, go thy ways for as sweet a breasted
page as ever lay at his master’s feet in a truckle-bed,” says Dondolo in
Middleton’s “More Dissemblers Besides Women.” The tables had flaps, and
the floors were strewn with rushes, for carpets were as yet unknown.
These rushes were renewed for fresh-comers. “Strangers have green
rushes, while daily guests are not worth a rush,” says Lyly, in “Sapho
and Phao”—a remark in which, by the way, we are reminded of the origin
of one of our familiar phrases. Brick was costly, and the buildings were
mostly of wood; but a new fashion was just coming in—that of employing
well-constructed stoves in place of the open, smoky fireplaces hitherto
general. The houses were now, too, provided with glass for the windows,
which had not been the case a hundred years before, horn or wicker
lattice-work having been used for the purpose. But this new notion was
opposed by William Stafford, who saw in it the symptom of growing
fondness for what he contemptuously called foreign nick-nacks. Chimneys,
too, of which some years before there had been a few specimens only in
every large town, were now general in the ordinary dwellings of the
middle classes. The old wooden platters were giving way to pewter,
which, though still rare, was gradually coming into use. Tin spoons also
were making their appearance. China, gold, and silver plate were to be
seen on the tables of the wealthy, and Venetian glass was sometimes
employed, though, as this was very expensive, many people still drank
from their mugs of burnt stone. Instead of the straw bundle and log on
which people had formerly been content to sleep, proper sheets, pillows,
and bolsters were now employed; not, however, without incurring the
ridicule or the wrath of lovers of the good old times and moralists of
severe complexion. “What makes us so weak as we now are?” demands Sir
Lionel, in “Greene’s Tu Quoque,” abusing the new generation with all the
vigor of a hale old man. “A feather bed! What so unapt for exercise? A
feather bed! What breeds such pains and aches in our bones? Why, a
feather bed!” Yet houses were so scantily furnished that uninvited or
unexpected guests often used to bring their own stools with them, a
practice referred to by Massinger in his “Unnatural Combat,” where he
speaks of those who, “like unbidden guests, bring their own stools.”
Many of the household arrangements, especially in the way of sanitation,
were from our own point of view still crude and primitive enough. But
the age of Elizabeth, as regards domestic economy generally, was
distinctly a period of progress, and we have only to compare the
sixteenth century with the centuries which went before, to sympathize
with old Harrison, when, dealing with this very matter, he exclaims in a
kind of fervent rapture—“God be thankt for his good gifts!”

Turning from the houses themselves to the home life of the time, we may
notice that in the establishments of the ancient nobility the
arrangements were still on a large and almost regal scale, savoring yet,
in spite of the slow movements conspicuous throughout society, of the
feudalism which was now on the wane, and the old customs which, in an
age of transition, were gradually being left behind. In the greater
households a number of young gentlemen of good family, usually the
younger sons of knights and esquires, continued to offer personal
service as in former days. Beneath these were the retainers, so-called,
who, not living in the house or being liable to any menial duty,
attended their lord on occasions of public ceremony; while, in the third
place, there were the servants proper, who formed actual portions of the
establishment, and on whom its various duties devolved. These were
headed by the steward, under whose control was the common herd of
serving men and women and pages. With these must be reckoned the poor
tutor, passing rich on five marks a year, who sat below the salt, and,
as Hall’s satire shows, had to endure all kinds of indignity. And,
finally, there was the jester, the privileged personage of the
household, who could say and do things on which no one else would
venture. “There is no slander in an allowed fool, though he do nothing
but rail,” says Olivia in “Twelfth Night”; while the melancholy Jaques,
speaking of his desire to assume the motley dress, protests:—

                            “I must have liberty
             Withal, as large a charter as the wind,
             To blow on whom I please; for so fools have.”

Thus the jester was able to find in his wit and position an excuse
generally, though not invariably, sufficient to cover every freedom
taken with master or guests. But in Shakspere’s time this ancient and
long-famous appurtenance to the larger households was already passing
out of existence, a fact to which the dramatist himself makes reference
in “As You Like It”: “Since the little wit that fools have was silenced,
the little foolery that wise men have makes the greater show.”

But when we pass from these huge and ostentatious establishments to the
dwellings of the middle and trading classes, we find the transitional
character of the period far more marked. Evidences of domestic
development and improvement reveal themselves on every side. The
essential traits of mediævalism were gradually disappearing; and with
the steady realization on the part of the commercial elements in the
community of their increasing importance in the complex life of the
time, there went many significant changes, indicating the slow collapse
of the old _régime_ and the consolidation of society upon its modern

Nevertheless, in the internal policy and arrangement of the Elizabethan
household there was still much that would strike a present-day observer
as remarkable—for the older spirit still made itself felt, though
ancient forms were passing away. For instance, the relations existing
between the head of the house and those about him and dependent upon
him, if no longer what they were a hundred years before, had not yet
begun to assume their distinguishing modern characteristics. The
position of servant, ’prentice, or journeyman still partook of a certain
suggestion of servitude, which it has required many years of social
evolution to wear partially away. Our nineteenth-century notion of
contract based upon terms something like equal, at least in theory,—of
so much money paid in return for such and such services rendered,—had
not yet established itself; and while the understanding between employer
and employed was gradually acquiring more and more of a commercial
quality, it had not by any means lost all its personal implications. The
’prentices of the time, for example, were something more and something
less than those occupying analogous positions in our own days. They
belonged to the establishment, lived with their master, ate at his
table, formed part of the family; yet at the same time wore coats of
blue—the color which everywhere symbolized servitude, and even
constituted, as we know from “The City Madam” and other plays, the
livery of Bridewell. They not only were their master’s assistants in the
work of the shop; they furnished him also a kind of body-guard, or
retinue,—for on occasions when he had to make excursions after dark they
went with him, bearing torches or lanterns to light the way, and stout
clubs, for use in case of sudden assault. But the personal character of
such relationships is perhaps most fully shown in the fact that masters
and mistresses dealt out corporal punishment to their servants, a
universal practice, which, as Chamberlayne tells us in his “Survey,” was
expressly sanctioned by law. In Heywood’s “English Traveller,” young
Geraldine accounts for the circumstance that Bess, Mrs. Winscott’s maid,
tells slanderous stories about her, by the supposition that—

                         “Perhaps her mistress
              Hath stirred her anger by some word or blow,
              Which she would thus revenge.”

In the establishments of the gentry, the porter’s lodge was the
recognized place for the corporal punishment of servants, male and
female, a fact to which many references will be found in the
contemporary drama; as, for instance, in Shirley’s “Grateful Servant”
and “Triumph of Peace,” and Massinger’s “Duke of Milan” and “The City
Madam.” Indeed, the whole domestic economy of the time still exhibited
much of the semi-patriarchal character of former centuries, when those
in authority not only exacted due service from the men and maidens
beneath them, but held it also as part of their paternal responsibility
to educate and chastise.

As for the children, they too were far differently situated from the
boys and girls of the present day. There was as yet no talk of the
rights of childhood, and household law was rigid and severe. At school
the rudiments of knowledge were pounded into young brains by sheer force
of arm; and when the children went from the schoolhouse to the home,
they merely exchanged one form of despotism for another. In every
well-ordered family, the young people habitually stood or knelt in the
presence of their elders, not venturing to sit down without express
permission; while correction by blows continued to be their lot so long
as they remained under the parental roof and control. Even the children
of the wealthiest and noblest families in the land were subjected to the
same kind of treatment; and we know that in their early years Queen
Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey had been pinched and cuffed and smacked
like their less famous sisters. All this has been changed now, and we
have grown in some respects wiser, in others simply more sentimental.
Yet, with whatever feelings we may look back at the harshness of the
past, let us, at all events, have the candor to acknowledge that the
discipline which produced men like Sidney and Raleigh and Spenser, and
women like the two just referred to, cannot be pronounced altogether a

                  *       *       *       *       *

And now a word or two about some of the every-day habits of the time.
Among the middle classes, as a whole, the ancient doctrine of early to
bed and early to rise, upon which Charles Lamb threw such well-merited
ridicule, was currently accepted, and this almost of necessity.
Artificial lights were as yet in little use, and being thus more
dependent upon the natural alternations of day and night, the good folks
under the Virgin Queen inevitably kept better hours than do the
Londoners of the present time. In Dekker’s “Shoemaker’s Holiday,” the
master shoemaker is depicted roundly rating his wife and maids for their
laziness in not having breakfast ready, and his anger seems at least a
trifle excessive to the modern Cockney, since it subsequently turns out
that it is not yet seven o’clock. In reading the old comedies, we are
again and again struck by the complementary facts that the activities of
life were well advanced while the day was still young, and that few
scenes of a social character are laid in the evening time.

As regards eating, important as the subject doubtless is, we need not
say much. Comparing the Elizabethan age with the immediate past, we may
safely assert that men were more temperate now than they had been—that
they fed less grossly, and spent less time at table. But the
abstemiousness was, after all, only relative. It was still, from our
point of view, a period of gluttony. The early breakfast of meat and
ale; the morning luncheon, or bever; the twelve-o’clock dinner, with its
exceedingly substantial fare; and, finally, in the evening, what Don
Armado, in “Love’s Labor’s Lost,” described as “the nourishment which is
called supper,”—all these made up a series of gastronomic undertakings
at which we can look back only with mingled amazement and disgust. The
staple articles of diet were the various kinds of meat, which were
partaken of in immense quantities, with but little bread and only a
limited accompaniment of vegetables. But almost as important as the
meats was the pudding, for which the English had acquired so great a
reputation that a contemporary foreigner fairly goes into a transport of
enthusiasm about it. The worst feature of all was the enormous
consumption of intoxicating liquors. Tea, coffee, and cocoa—those
delightful cups that cheer but not inebriate, for which we moderns can
hardly be too thankful—were as yet unknown in England; and, in their
absence, every meal was washed down with mighty draughts of ale and
sack. Testimony to the drunkenness of the English at this time is
appalling, whether we turn to the plays themselves, or to the writings
of professed moralists, such as Camden’s “Elizabeth,” Reeve’s “God’s
Plea for Nineveh,” Tryon’s “Way to Health,” Dekker’s “Seven Deadly
Sins,” Wither’s “Abuses Stript and Whipt,” and Thomas Young’s “England’s
Bane,” which may be mentioned as specimens of a voluminous output of
similar character. No wonder that, as Iago and Hamlet remind us, the
English people had become a byword for inebriety among the nations of
the continent.

It must, however, be added, as one favorable sign of the times, that
table manners were, on the whole, distinctly improving. Bad as they
still were in many important particulars, a change for the better was
quite perceptible. For instance, people thought it incumbent on them now
to wash before and after dinner, a ceremony all the more needful, as
fingers were still commonly used where we use forks, “the laudable use”
of which, as Jonson has it, came in towards the close of Shakspere’s
life; and generally a certain amount of delicacy in what Ouida has
pronounced the essentially disgusting operation of eating, was for the
first time beginning to be looked for, at any rate amongst those in the
higher ranks of society.

Hardly less important in social economy than eating is dress, which in
turn demands a share of our attention. Unfortunately, however, it is
impossible in the small space here at our disposal to give any adequate
idea of the extent, variety, and extravagance of the fashions prevalent
during the period with which we are now dealing, and which form a
curious offset to the crudities we have noticed in household furniture
and appliances. Harrison, in his “Description of England,” declares that
the taste for change and novelty had simply run wild; and he and the
outspoken Stubbs are never weary of declaring that while other nations
have their own special extravagances, the English gather up and adopt
the follies of all the rest of Europe. Here is a passage from another
contemporary writer, Thomas Becon, on the same subject: “I think no
realm in the world, no, not among the Turks and Saracens, doth so much
in the variety of their apparel as the Englishmen do at this present.
Their coat must be made after the Italian fashion, their cloak after the
use of the Spaniards, their gown after the manner of the Turks; their
cap must be of the French fashion; and at the last their dagger must be
Scottish with a Venetian tassel of silk. To whom may the Englishman be
compared worthily, but to Esop’s crow? For as the crow decked himself
with feathers of all kinds of birds, even so doth the vain
Englishman.... He is an Englishman; but he is also an Italian, a
Spaniard, a Turk, a Frenchman, a Scotch, a Venetian, and at last what

This is only a sample; passages of similar import might be multiplied
almost without number. The fashions of the day were indeed absurd and
extravagant to the last degree. Richness and picturesqueness were the
two things aimed at alike in male and in female costume; and in both
cases the colors were as brilliant as the stuffs were costly. The
following speech of Sir Glorious Tipto, in Jonson’s “New Inn,” will give
some idea of the run of masculine modes, as seen by the vigorous old

                                 “I would put on
            The Savoy chain about my neck, the ruff
            And cuffs of Flanders; then the Naples hat
            With the Rome hatband and the Florentine agate,
            The Milan sword, the cloak of Genoa, set
            With Brabant buttons—all my given pieces,
            Except my gloves, the natives of Madrid.”

Over against such a strange human specimen as is thus pictured in the
imagination, we may well set the women of the time, as painted, rouged,
highly scented, bejewelled, bewigged, in French hoods, starched Cambric
ruffs, close-fitting jerkins, and embroidered velvet gowns, they look
down upon us from the walls of many an Elizabethan house, and fill the
busy scene in many a contemporary play. Women, Lyly thought—so far had
the artifices of the toilet carried them,—were in reality the least part
of themselves. Some of their freaks of fashion in particular drew down
the ire alike of the playwright and of the more serious satirist. One
was the habit of painting the face, so frequently referred to by
Shakspere and others. A second was the very common practice of wearing
false hair, treated at length, along with nearly all similar
extravagances of the period, by the irrepressible Stubbs. Every reader
of Shakspere will recall the passage from Bassanio’s moralizings on
“outward shows,” in which this fashion is alluded to:—

                                       “Look on beauty,
            And you shall see ’tis purchased by the weight;
            Which therein works a miracle in nature,
            Making them lightest that wear most of it;
            So are those crisped snaky golden locks
            Which make such wanton gambols with the wind,
            Upon supposed fairness, often known
            To be the dowry of a second head,
            The skull that bred them in the sepulchre;”

and the parallel lines in the sixty-eighth sonnet, in which the same
point is touched on, with striking similarity of phrasing. The “golden”
color of the locks, here specially emphasized, it may be noted in
passing, was particularly popular, on account of the reddish, or, as her
flatterers would insist, the golden, hue of Queen Elizabeth’s head-gear.
Finally, a great deal was said about the altogether needless and
reprehensible extravagance shown in certain small details of dress. We
may take the one item of foot-covering as an example. Herein all the
worst taste of the day was illustrated; for shoes were made of the most
expensive materials, and were frequently covered with artificial flowers
and other kinds of decoration. Thus, Massinger, in “The City Madam,”
speaks of rich “pantofles in ostentation shown, and roses worth a
family”; while Stubbs, in his “Anatomy of Abuses,” refers to shoes
“embroidered with gold and silver all over the foot.”

Yet, upon the whole, truth compels us to admit that, if we are to trust
contemporary evidence, masculine fashions exceeded in wildness,
absurdity, and monstrous barbarity those of the other sex. “Women are
bad, but men are worse,”—such is the distinct judgment of Burton, in his
“Anatomy of Melancholy”; and while we know from the speculative Jaques
that “the city madam,” would sometimes bear “the cost of princes on
unworthy shoulders,” Burton again is our authority for the statement
that it was no uncommon thing for a man to put a thousand oxen into a
suit of apparel, and to wear a whole manor on his back.

I mentioned incidentally just now that class distinctions were severely
marked out by differences in costume. Certain sumptuary enactments
promulgated about this time undertook to regulate down to the minutest
details what should and what should not be worn by the various classes
of the community, wealth and social standing being taken together as the
basis on which to settle the problems of the toilet and personal
adornment. But within the limits allowed by such regulations, and
sometimes even irrespective of them (for grandmotherly legislation here
as always stood foredoomed to failure) extravagance in fashion remained
throughout one of the salient characteristics of the day. The dress of
the citizen and his wife, if less elegant, was equally showy, and
sometimes quite as expensive, as that of the man of mode and the woman
of the court; and so it was through all grades of society, from the
highest to the lowest, or, as Harrison put it in his vivid phrase, from
the courtier to the carter.

While we are still concerned with this item of dress it is amusing to
notice that three hundred years ago people were to be found worrying
their tailors and abusing their dressmakers as it is the custom to do at
the present day. We might quote illustrations from more than one comedy;
but let us once more fall back upon Harrison. “How many times,” says
this quaint old writer, “must a garment be sent back to him that made
it? What chafing, what fretting, what reproachful language doth the poor
workman bear away.... For we must puff and blow and sweat till we drop,
that our clothes may stand well upon us.” As we read such a passage as
this in its original strange old spelling (which, for the sake of
uniformity, we have not here reproduced), we have surely to
acknowledge—though it goes much against the grain to do so—that our
manners have at bottom changed less than our orthography.

                  *       *       *       *       *

And now we must leave the ranks of the citizens and trading folks to
deal for a moment or two with the more fashionable world.

The society of the time, to employ the word which in modern parlance has
assumed a highly specialized meaning, was artificial to an absurd and
almost inconceivable extent. Affectations, indeed, made up the larger
part of life; and yet beneath them all were a core of sound reality and
a healthy element of spontaneity. Euphuism and Italianism had for the
time being taken full possession of the whole aristocratic world. Yet
Euphuism and Italianism were but external crazes; and it was one mission
of the age to show that men could be heroes in the foolishest dress, and
do great deeds with the most ridiculous of phrases upon their lips. We
could not here enter upon the task of analyzing the life and aims of the
men and women who surrounded the Queen at her court; but as an offset to
the steady-going middle classes of whom we have had much to say, we must
try to present, if only in rapidly sketched outline, the typical
Elizabethan gallant, or fashionable young man about town, as we find him
portrayed for us in the plays and pamphlets of the time.

The accomplishments of the young man of this description were numerous
and varied enough; but they were all in keeping with the character of
the perfect gentleman as set forth by Castiglione in his “Cortegiano,” a
work which had been translated by Thomas Hoby in 1561, and had forthwith
become a kind of text-book or Bible for the youthful fashionable world.
He could dance, sing, and play the viol de gamba; fence, ride, and hunt;
write verses, turn pretty compliments, and take his part in the exchange
of witty repartees, stocking his memory with scraps of plays and
stories, lest his own mother-sense should fail him. He could read the
three languages of Portia’s summary of requirements in which
Falconbridge was lacking—Latin, French, and Italian,—and was perfectly
at home in what Jonson calls the “perfumed terms of the day”; he had
some acquaintance with the poets in vogue; played cards, tennis, and
other fashionable games, as a matter of course; and, last but not least,
was learned in all matters connected with the drama, etiquette, and

These were not great qualifications; but such a young man had little
need of great qualifications, since he had no great aims or ideals. Let
us read over his every day’s experiences and doings as we find them
given in Dekker’s “Gull’s Horn Book” and other similar productions, and
this statement will call for no further commentary.

He was not an early riser—for, wearied with his overnight exertions, he
scarcely ever left his couch till the plebeian Londoner was already
thinking seriously about his midday meal. Then began the first important
task of the day—the toilet, which was so elaborate a matter that Lyly,
in his “Midas,” speaks of its being almost “a whole day’s work to
dress.” But when at length he stood erect in his scented doublet and
gold-laced cloak, with the roses in his shoes, the bunch of toothpicks
in his hat, the watch hung about his neck, his earrings, and his sword,
he was ready to partake of a breakfast of meat and ale with such
appetite as he could muster for the occasion, and then, jumping on his
horse, with his page and horse-boy behind him, to sally forth upon the
regular adventures of the day.

Curiously enough, as it may well seem to us, his first place of resort
would very probably be St. Paul’s Cathedral. One may well ask what
object could possibly take him thither. The answer lies in the fact that
St. Paul’s Church in those days was the great place of rendezvous for
all the gay and fashionable world. “Thus,” says Dekker, “doth my middle
aisle show like the Mediterranean Sea, in which as well the merchant
hoists sails to purchase wealth honestly as the rover to light upon
prize unjustly. Thus am I like a common mart, where all the commodities
(both the good and the bad) are to be bought and sold. Thus, while
devotion kneels at her prayers, doth profanation walk under her nose, in
contempt of religion.” Francis Osborne, writing as late as 1658, says
that it was a fashion of the times for the principal gentry, lords,
commons, and professions, to meet in St. Paul’s Church by eleven, and
walk in the middle aisle till twelve, and after dinner from three till
six, “during which time some discourse of business, others of news.”
Many bustling scenes in the old comedies are laid in this same middle
aisle, where, amid bills posted as advertisements, and crowds of
servants looking out for places, of sharpers, like Jonson’s Shift, with
a keen eye for prey, and of loafers, with nothing else to do, all sorts
of people strolled about, with their hats on, chatting, laughing, and
discussing finance or politics or scandal, till the whole place was
alive with the hum of voices, the rustle of raiment, and the jingle of
spurs. “I walked in St. Paul’s to see the fashions,” remarks a character
in one of Middleton’s plays. There Face threatened to advertise Subtle’s
misdeeds; and it is a matter of common history that Falstaff picked
Bardolph up in the same spot. It was thus its reputation as a place of
general convenience, and one in which to see and to be seen, that gave
St. Paul’s the importance it undoubtedly possessed in the social life of
the time.

St. Paul’s Walk and its varied interests would keep our young man
occupied till the hour of dinner, a meal of which he would probably
partake in the bustle and excitement of the ordinary. The ordinary—the
forerunner of the modern restaurant and _table d’hôte_—was then a novel
institution, and as such enjoyed immense popularity among the gilded
youth. Three grades were commonly recognized—the aristocratic ordinary,
for which, to judge from a remark in Middleton’s “Trick to Catch the Old
One,” about two shillings would be charged; the twelvepenny ordinary,
frequented by tradesmen, professional people, and middle-class citizens;
and the threepenny, to which flocked only the lowest and most
questionable characters. The first-named of the three, Dekker tells us,
was the great resort of all the court gallants. There friends and
acquaintances met, ate, gossiped, laughed, and not infrequently
quarrelled, together; there braggarts, like Lafeu in “All’s Well that
Ends Well,” “made vent of their travel”; there the latest intelligence
was circulated, the latest scandal discussed, the latest fads of fashion
displayed in all their grotesqueness. A good picture of the ordinary
during the dinner hour will be found in the twelfth chapter of Scott’s
“Fortunes of Nigel”; but the genuine atmosphere is best caught in such a
contemporary piece of writing as the “Gull’s Horn Book.”

Dinner over, with its customary game of primero, there were many ways in
which our gallant could kill time. There was the theatre, with its more
intellectual attractions; the bull-ring and the cockpit; the juggler’s
booth and the tennis-court; the shops along Cheapside and about St.
Paul’s, among which the connoisseur in letters, jewellery, and kickshaws
would find it easy enough to while away an afternoon. But however he
might pass the hours between dinner and supper, he would probably appear
in full time for the latter meal, for which he might repair to “The
Devil,” in Fleet Street, or “The Mitre,” in Cheap, or “The Mermaid,” in
Bread Street; at which last-named place he might peradventure catch
snatches of the conversation and laughter of a little group of men in
one corner, among whom we should recognize, though he might not, the
burly form and surly face of rare old Ben, and the serene countenance
and deep, clear eyes of one who is more to all of us to-day than any
other Englishman who ever lived—Will Shakspere, playwright and actor.
After that would not improbably follow the wildest episodes of the day,
which likely enough would end in deep carousal behind the flaming red
doors of a tavern, or at the gambling-table, or even in more doubtful
places of resort. When in Heywood’s “Wise Woman” old Chartley is looking
for his son, he bids his servants “inquire about the taverns,
ordinaries, bowl-alleys, tennis-courts, and gaming-houses, for there I
fear he will be found,” a direction which gives us a fair idea of the
favorite haunts of the young men of the day. Gambling particularly, in
all its forms, was one of the prevalent manias of the time, and was
often carried to such an extent that men would stake their very clothes,
and even their beards, which might be used to stuff tennis-balls. In
“Greene’s Tu Quoque” will be found a wonderfully realistic scene of a
quarrel following a dispute over the cards and dice, and ending in a
challenge for a duel. Then when the time came for him to reel homeward
through the darkness with one sleepy page to light his way with a torch,
our gallant would be either uproariously cheerful, or contentious, or
maudlin, as his habit might be when in his cups. He would bellow out
loose songs upon the night air, molest straggling by-passers, come
sometimes into conflict with the watch, and once in a while, when luck
went against him, might find himself lodged for the night in one of the
prisons of the metropolis. So the day would end; and with it must close
this part of our study. But, after all, very inadequate justice can be
done to such a theme in so brief and rapid a sketch. We must go straight
to the pages of Dekker, Greene, Nash, and Peele, if we would gain any
adequate conception of the wilder aspects of Elizabethan social life.

                  *       *       *       *       *

In such a paper as the present, there is always danger lest the final
impression left should be, if not a false, at any rate an inadequate
one; for the temptation is strong to seize only the picturesque traits,
and to pay such undue attention to grouping, color, and general effect,
that we fail in preserving proper perspective, and throw portions of our
description into unnatural relief. The risk of doing this is, of course,
increased when, as in our own case, we take the point of view of the
playwright and the popular writer, and study the world of men and
affairs mainly through the medium of their pages. I trust none the less,
that we have not erred on the side of painting life in Shakspere’s
London in too bright or seductive colors. Yet, to tone down our picture,
let us say a closing word about its darker aspects; for these were many,
and they were very dark indeed.

As Mr. Swinburne has pointed out, one of the most difficult problems
meeting the student of the Elizabethan drama, is that of reconciling the
elements of lofty thought and gross passion, of high idealism and coarse
savagery, which lie so close together, which are indeed bound up
inextricably, in the very woof and texture of the plays of Shakspere’s
time. The literature of the stage shows us with startling distinctness
how in the world of the playwright there frequently went, along with the
deepest and most original thought a revolting ferocity of manners, and
along with a lofty sense of the beautiful and the pure a crude love of
violence, a revelling in blood, a thirst for wanton outrage and low
excitement. All these diverse elements are, separately, prominent enough
in modern letters, as in modern civilization; what seems so strange and
puzzling in our great romantic drama is the way in which they constantly
blend in the most intimate association.

Now, these extraordinary incongruities are not alone to be found in the
world of the playwright; they penetrated the life of Elizabethan
society. To some phases of the coarse brutalism which formed one aspect
of the complex spirit of the English Renaissance incidental reference
has more than once been made. Did space permit, we might here add much
corroborative testimony. But as space does not permit, I will content
myself with accentuating very briefly the difference in temper between
the age of Elizabeth and our own, as exemplified in one very crucial
matter—in the treatment of the large criminal class.

We who are privileged to live in an epoch of growing humanity may well
be startled and shocked at many of the facts brought to light by even a
casual inquiry in this direction. Executions, be it remembered, were
almost invariably public, and formed, as we have seen, not infrequent
distractions in the monotonous round of life. Felons were hanged, drawn,
and quartered; pirates were hanged on the seashore at low water; and
capital punishment was in use for an enormous number of petty offences,
including even theft from the person above the value of one shilling.
The mere circumstance that we read of seventy-four persons being
sentenced to death in one county in a single year, itself speaks
volumes. Indeed, the severity of punishments was held something to boast
of, and men were still of the opinion of Fortescue, who, in the reign of
Henry the Sixth, had proudly proclaimed that “more men are hanged in
England in one year than in France in seven, because the English have
better parts.” Public malefactors of position were usually beheaded, and
their heads exposed in prominent places, as on London Bridge or Temple
Bar. On the tower of the former, Hentzner “counted above thirty” placed
“on iron spikes.”[1] Witches were burnt alive; a horrible fate also
reserved for women who killed their husbands, which crime stood on the
statute-books not as murder, but as petty treason. Heretics, too, were
frequently burnt. Perjury was punished by the pillory and branding, and
rogues and vagabonds, irrespective of age and sex, were sent to the
public stocks and whipping-post.

           “In London, and within a mile, I ween,
            There are of jails and prisons full eighteen,
            And sixty whipping-posts, and stocks, and cages,”

writes Taylor, the Water Poet. Scolds were ducked, and many minor
offences were rewarded by burning the hand, cropping the ears, and
similar mutilations. Finally, felons refusing to plead were subjected to
the _peine forte et dure_, notwithstanding the proud and oft-repeated
boast that torture has always been unknown to the English law.

Footnote 1:

  Allusions to the continuance of this revolting practice are numerous
  as late as the eighteenth century. See, _e. g._, Pope’s “Essay on
  Man,” iv., 251-252, and the famous anecdote of Johnson and Goldsmith
  (Boswell, _anno_ 1773).


Surely it is needless for us to go farther than all this, unless it be
to add the striking fact that, despite such brutal severity in
punishment, crimes and outrages of every description remained alarmingly
common throughout the whole of the period with which we have been
concerned. Enough has been said to throw in some of the heavier shadows
necessary to complete the slight sketch we have been trying to furnish
of the social life and every-day manners of Shakspere’s time.

                  *       *       *       *       *

With this as our last word, then, we take leave of “the spacious times
of great Elizabeth,” and become once more denizens of our own century.
And here it would be easy, of course, to fall into the cheap
Macaulay-vein of moralizing; to strike a contrast between present and
past, point out all the manifold and magnificent achievements of modern
civilization, and end with rhetorical rhapsodies over our “wondrous,
wondrous age.” It would be easy, I say, to do this; and I doubt not that
it would be effective. But when in my study of the literature of any
bygone generation I make myself at home for a time among dead things and
long-forgotten people, I do not, I must confess, find myself in any mood
for brass-band celebrations. The feeling left with me is a vaguer and
sadder one. For, as I turn back into our own world, I remember that this
past was once verily and actually the present; that these dead things,
these long-forgotten people, were once intensely alive; that the tragedy
and the comedy of existence went on then as it goes on to-day; and that
in the breasts of men and women fashioned like ourselves beat human
hearts, after all, very like our own. Hope and disappointment, joy and
despair; the memory of yesterday, the expectation of the morrow; the
hunger and thirst of the spirit; the lust of the eye; the pride of life;
the “ancient sorrow of man,”—all that goes to make up the sum total of
our little earthly lot,—was their portion, too, as it will presently be
the portion of the countless generations by which we in our turn shall
be replaced. And thus, musing, I think of the nameless young men and
maidens of that dim, far-off age, who repeated the sweet old story of
love, as their fathers and mothers had done before them, as their
distant descendants do to-day, while there was confusion in high places,
and storm and struggle about the land. I think of the tears that were
shed as gentle hearts broke in anguish; of the brave deeds wrought; of
the tales of the faith of sturdy manhood and the trust of womanly
devotion, which will never be retold. I think of the lives that ran
their placid course; of the children that came as years went by,
bringing “hope with them and forward-looking thoughts”; of mothers
weeping over empty cradles; of tiny graves, long since obliterated,
where many a bright promise found “its earthly close.” I think of lives
that were successful, and of lives that were failures; of prophecies
unfulfilled; of splendid ambitions realized only to bring the inevitable
disillusion; of sordid aims accomplished; of vile things said and done.
The whole dead world seems to take form and flesh in my imagination; the
men and women start from the pages of the book I have been reading—a mad
world, my masters, and a strange one; but behold, a world singularly,
almost grotesquely, like our own. And then my thought takes a sudden
spin; and this age of ours seems to slip some three centuries back into
the past, and becomes weird, and phantasmal, and unreal. And I find
myself peering across the misty years into this throbbing world of
multitudinous enterprise and activity from the standpoint of an era when
you and I will be long since forgotten—when no one will know how we
toiled and suffered and loved and died, when no one will care where we
lie at rest. How curious to think of it all in this way! And with what
tempered enthusiasms and sobered judgments must we needs go back to take
up again the burden of life knowing that the deep, silent current of
time is sweeping us slowly into the great darkness, and that hereafter
the tale will be told of us as it has been told generation after
generation since the world began: Lo, their glory endured but for a
season, and the fashion of it has passed away forever!


                          Pepys and His Diary


                          Pepys and His Diary

I have undertaken to talk to you this evening about a singular book—a
book that holds a place practically by itself on our library
shelves,—the Diary of Samuel Pepys.[2] The writer of this book was not a
great man, or a strong man, or in any way a man of transcendent mental
or moral characteristics. The work itself has none of those qualities by
virtue of which a piece of literature will, in the average of cases, be
found to survive the lapse of time and the changes of fashions and
tastes. With the acknowledged masterpieces of autobiographic
narration—with the “Confessions” of St. Augustine or Rousseau, for
example, or the “Memoirs” of Benvenuto Cellini or Gibbon, or the
“Dichtung und Wahrheit” of Goethe, or the “Journal” of Amiel, we should
never think of comparing it; for Pepys’s garrulous pages have no
eloquence, no literary quality, no magic of style—they record no intense
spiritual struggles, reveal no deep upheavals of thought and feeling,
flash no new light upon the dark places or into the mysterious recesses
of motive and character. What, then, is the secret of Pepys’s enduring
fascination? Wherein lies the curious spell, the undeniable vitality of
his work? Why do we continue to read this chaotic chronicle of his,
when, in the pressure of modern affairs, so many books of the
past—better books, wiser books, nobler books—are left to slumber in
serenity in those vast mausoleums of genius, our public libraries,
undisturbed, all but forgotten?

Footnote 2:

  As the pronunciation of our diarist’s name is often under discussion,
  I subjoin, for the reader’s guidance in the matter, some clever
  verses, originally published a few years ago in the London “Graphic”:—

         “There are people, I’m told,—some say there are heaps,—
          Who speak of the talkative Samuel as Peeps;
          And some, so precise and pedantic their step is,
          Who call the delightful old diarist, Pepys;
          But those I think right, and I follow their steps,
          Ever mention the garrulous gossip as Peps!”


I say nothing now about the historic value of Pepys’s journal—for
historic value may have no kind of relationship with broad popular
interest; and it is with the popular interest, and not with the special
significance of the work before us, that we are at present concerned.
And therefore my question, concretely put, is just this: How is it that
you and I, who may care little or nothing for the information that Pepys
gives us about the degraded politics and miserable court intrigues of
the Restoration, may still find in his daily capricious jottings a charm
which, as literature goes, is almost, if not absolutely, unique?

For any one who has ever dipped into the Diary at all, the answer to
this question is not far to seek. Pepys’s memoranda have lasting
interest for us on account of their naïve frankness, their plain and
simple spontaneity, their transparent honesty of self-expression. As we
read, we realize that, for once at least, we are brought into the
closest, the most vital contact with a living man, and that this man
speaks to us, who, by the irony of fate, chance to overhear his
unconsidered utterances, without disguise, without reticence or reserve,
of the things which stand nearest to his heart. The reader of Pepys’s
Diary knows Pepys himself better than his acquaintances knew him at the
office, in the coffee-house, at the street-corner; better than his
friends knew him at the social board, spite of the truth that there is
in wine; better even than his wife knew him in the intercourse of the
home. To us he lays bare without sophistication or guile thoughts and
impulses, desires and disappointments, concealed from them beneath the
conventional wrappings of daily manners and life—personal criticisms and
private experiences which, living, he confided to none. Does this strike
you as a small matter? Then, pause for a moment and ask yourselves of
what other man whose written words have ever come into the fierce white
glare of publication such statements as these could truthfully be made?
Autobiographies, memoirs, journals, confessions, letters we have, of
course, without number, and the value of these as human documents may in
most cases be great, in some cases inestimable. But do we, after all,
accept literature of this character as the truth, the whole truth,
nothing but the truth? Do we not rather know that, as a matter of
course, such literature must almost always be, in varying degrees,
forced, unreal, overwrought, theatrical? The moment a man begins to talk
about himself, the dramatic instinct inevitably comes into play; the
least vain of mortals colors his own experiences, the least
self-conscious manipulates his motives and transfigures his feelings.
That which we ought to know best—our own heart—is precisely that which
of set purpose we are forever debarred from describing with more than an
approximation to the stern and solid fact. You remember the famous words
in which Rousseau announced his intention of writing the plain,
unvarnished story of his life: “I enter upon an undertaking which never
had an example, the execution of which will never have an imitation. I
desire to show my fellow-creatures a man in all the truth of his
nature—and this man will be myself.” And with this rhetorical exordium,
the great sentimentalist proceeds, as Mr. Lowell happily phrased it, to
throw “open his waistcoat, and make us the confidants of his dirty
linen.” The very condition of deliberate self-revelation places an
embargo on perfect candor and unconsciousness; an autobiographer, as
George Sand said, always makes himself the hero of his own novel, even
if he be a hero of the dirty vagabond type, as in the case just referred
to. Here, then, is the ultimate secret of Pepys’s peculiar charm. Beside
him, Rousseau is a mere _poseur_, and the rest are nowhere. “Is not,”
asks Mr. Lowell, “is not old Samuel Pepys, after all, the only man who
spoke to himself of himself with perfect simplicity, frankness, and
unconsciousness?” That he should have done this is no trifling thing. He
remains, seemingly for all time, “a creature unique as the dodo, a
solitary specimen, to show that it was possible for nature once in the
centuries to indulge in so odd a whimsey.”

In speaking of the difficulties inherent in autobiographical writing, I
lay stress, it will be observed, on the set purpose, the deliberate
intention, generally characterizing it. No small part of the secret of
Pepys’s success as a diarist is to be found in the simple fact that with
him the set purpose, the deliberate intention, and the resultant
disturbing self-consciousness are almost entirely absent. Pepys did not
write for the public eye, or for any glance save his own; he recorded
his impressions and enterprises, his pleasures, anxieties, ambitions,
aims, and passing fancies because he found satisfaction in thus summing
up “the actions of the day each night before he slept”; and not at all
because he proposed to draw a full-length portrait of himself for the
benefit of his contemporaries or the amusement of posterity. It has been
suggested by one of the wiseacres who can never leave a simple fact
alone, that Pepys regarded his Diary as material towards a fully
developed autobiography. Possibly so. But we may be certain that had
such autobiography ever been written, the self-delineation of its pages
would have differed in many important particulars—in details put in, and
even more seriously in details left out—from that contained in the
journal itself. As it is, we have an odd and uncomfortable sense, when
we first open the Diary, of intruding where we have no proper business,
of breaking in upon the privacy of a man’s life, and surprising him in
the undress which he might wear for himself, but in which he would not
willingly be caught by even his closest friend. For remember that the
six small volumes which contain the manuscript diary are filled with
densely packed short-hand, peppered with occasional words and phrases
from the French, Spanish, Latin, and Greek; and that it was only after
immense labor that the script was transliterated, and the secrets which
poor Pepys had, as he fondly supposed, buried there forever, given to an
impertinent and unsympathetic world.[3] Writing thus for himself, and
for himself alone, and guarding himself by every means within his power
against the possibility of exposure, our chronicler was enabled to make
his narrative the luminous, because free and spontaneous, expression of
his innermost life. A man may be honest with himself in cipher for whom
long-hand, to say nothing of the thought of subsequent publication,
would bring the inevitable and fatal temptations to sophistication.
Could Pepys have foreseen the ultimate fate of his journal, it is safe
to say that it would never have been written, or, once written, would
have been discreetly burned. Poor fellow! His sense of complete
security, of inviolable self-concealment, made possible such confidences
as otherwise would never have been committed to paper.

Footnote 3:

  A curious circumstance in connection with the first reading of the
  Diary is worth mentioning. An indefatigable student, it is said,
  toiled at its decipherment from twelve to fourteen hours a day for the
  space of three or four years. All the while—such is the strange
  untowardness of earthly things—Pepys had left in his library a
  long-hand transcript of his short-hand account of Charles the Second’s
  escape, and this, had it been known at the time, would have served the
  purpose of the required key.


But this is not all. Pepys’s unreserved frankness is to be partially
accounted for by the fact that he had no fear lest any one but himself
should ever read what he found such curious pleasure in writing down.
Yet allowance must at the same time be made for a deeper cause, to be
sought in an analysis of the character of the man himself. Plenty of
people who can write short-hand and appreciate the usefulness of a
diary, contrive none the less to go through life without finding
themselves under the imperative necessity of recording the minute
happenings, the petty annoyances and satisfactions, the casual meetings,
conversations, comings and goings of the common routine of existence.
They may enjoy their dinner without feeling impelled at the end of the
day to make a solemn note of the fact and add the bill of fare; they may
fall asleep during a sermon, and yet allow the astonishing circumstance
to pass unrecorded; they may say and do a dozen foolish, hasty, and
unnecessary things, and see no cause to dwell upon them, and perpetuate
them, when the evening accounts are made up. But the little things of
life were great to Pepys, its trifles singularly, grotesquely
significant. He was a man, it is clear, of a curiously naïve and
garrulous temper, a born lover of gossip, even when he was gossiping
only of and to himself, and when some of the matters he found to talk
about did not by any means redound to his credit.

Mr. Lowell somewhere speaks of the unconscious humor of the Diary. This
unconscious humor is, I think, to be referred very largely to this
extraordinary naïveté; to the irresponsible loquacity, the love of
commonplace and frivolous detail, which seem to have been among Pepys’s
most salient characteristics, and to his amazing lack of any sense of
perspective—in other words, to his congenital inability to disentangle
the momentous from the trivial in the complex occurrences of life. An
interview with the King, a discussion with the naval authorities, the
manning of a ship, the arrangements for a war, were serious matters to
him; but so, too, were the purchase of a new periwig, the sight of a
pretty face in the theatre, a specially succulent joint of meat at the
midday repast, a game of billiards or ninepins. It is needful to lay
stress on these personal qualities, because they are of the very essence
of the man, of the very essence of the Diary. That it should have seemed
to him worth while to place on record, if only for his own perusal, so
many things that most of us would give no second thought to—that is the
point to be noted, as one only a little less astonishing than the
diarist’s odd plainness of dealing with himself. I have said that the
use of a cipher which none of your family or acquaintances can read, is
in itself a premium upon veracity. Yet Pepys’s singular, remorseless
honesty of self-expression remains still in the last degree surprising.
The Diary is full of confessions which, I venture to think, you and I
would hardly feel called upon to make, even to ourselves, so strong, so
irresistible does the dramatic tendency become in most of us the moment
we begin to touch our own lives. If we are fond of reading, it would be
natural to us, I suppose, to jot down the names of the books we buy or
dip into, and any criticism we may have to make upon them; but I wonder
how many of us would think it incumbent upon us to commit ourselves to
such an entry as this?—“To the Strand, to my bookseller’s, and there
bought an idle, roguish French book, ‘L’Escholle des Filles,’ which I
have bought in plain binding, avoiding the buying of it better bound,
because I resolved, as soon as I have read it, to burn it, that it may
not stand in the list of my books, nor among them, to disgrace them if
it should be found.” A declaration like this may strike us as absurdly
familiar when we light upon it, but it takes a Pepys to make it, after
all; and we therefore feel that in the solemnity and precision with
which such an experience is recorded, rather perhaps than in the
experience itself, which is neither very important, nor very creditable,
nor very singular, is to be found the key to much that is most
interesting and significant in the pages of the Diary. Pepys, for
instance, quarrels with a captain in the army, and goes about in mortal
dread of possible consequences. Thousands of men, I dare say, have found
themselves in just such a predicament; but Pepys makes a note of the
fact, plainly, straightforwardly, with no pretence at apology or
self-deception, with no tendency towards heroics. Again, he lies awake
one night quaking in fear of robbers, and starting at every sound. You
and I may have done the same; but I do not imagine that our journals, if
searched, would contain any indication of the fact. Take such an entry
as the following: “After we had dined came Mr. Mallard, and I brought
down my viol.... He played some very fine things of his own, but I was
afraid to enter too far into their commendation, for fear he should
offer to copy them for me out, and so I be forced to give or lend him
something,”—and I wonder how many of us could lay our hands on our
hearts and honestly say that this presentation of motive strikes us as
remote, unfamiliar, alien. But while we would hardly dare to look a bit
of conduct of this kind squarely in the face, Pepys does so, and
unflinchingly sets down the not over-flattering results of his
observation. And he does this not because he has the modern man’s morbid
love of self-analysis, or any of the grim desire of many a recent writer
to show himself up as a sorry fellow, but simply because it is his habit
all through to report frankly and unreservedly the various circumstances
of his life, withholding nothing, adding nothing, disguising nothing.

All this helps to bring the essential naïveté of Pepys’s character into
high relief. He tears his new cloak on the latch of a door, and is
greatly troubled, though the darning is successfully done; he rejoices
when Mr. Pierce’s little girl draws him for her valentine, because a
present to her will cost him less than one to a grown-up person; he
drinks large quantities of milk and beer, and gets pains in consequence;
he acts the sycophant and the tuft-hunter towards those in power,
swallowing his own opinions and rejoicing in the success of his
diplomacy; his appetite for supper is taken away by the sight of his
aunt’s dirty hands; he makes up his mind to try how eating fish will
suit him, before vowing to diet himself in Lent;—and down all such
matters go pell-mell in the Diary. He wrangles with his mother; breaks
an oath never to go to see a play without his wife; gets a headache by
drinking overmuch wine; thinks he sees a ghost; rejoices to find himself
addressed as Esquire;—and down go all these things, too. He puts his
thumb out of joint boxing his footboy’s ears; in a fit of anger he
tweaks Mrs. Pepys’s pretty nose; is “vext to the heart” when Sir William
Pen’s page chances to catch him kicking his cook-maid, “because I know
he will be telling their family of it”;—and all these occurrences, once
again, are given due record and chronicle. Finally,—not to multiply, as
one might do indefinitely, such illustrations of our writer’s singular
simplicity and artlessness,—he even notes being “mightily troubled” with
snoring in his sleep, a statement which I have reserved as a kind of
climax, since I find the allegation of snoring to be about the last that
sensitive humanity is willing to bear. Charge a man with theft, if you
will; but, as you value your life, do not suggest that he snores.

To this brief analysis of some of the personal peculiarities upon which
the curious charm of Pepys’s Diary so largely depends, it would be
unfair to the writer not to add mention of a characteristic of a
somewhat different order. If a diarist, like a poet, is rather born than
made, then justice compels us to acknowledge that Pepys was a born
diarist—a man who, by reason of his strength and his weakness alike, was
an almost ideal chronicler of daily affairs and small beer. For he
possessed something more than the native garrulousness, the itch to
chatter and to tattle, of which we have already said enough. His, too,
was another rare quality of equal importance for the success of his
chosen undertaking—a keen, immense, tireless interest in “men, women,
and things in general.” He was, in the fullest sense of the term, a
_viveur_—a man who made it his business to get the most possible out of
existence, and who, as matters went in his day, touched the world at an
amazing variety of points. Immersed as he was in practical
responsibilities, fond as he was of money and affairs, he nevertheless
threw himself with the utmost avidity and ardor into the life of his
time, an unheroic Ulysses, forever setting forth upon a voyage of new
discovery and fresh adventure. He loved, after his own fashion,
literature and painting; he was a devotee of music and an amateur of the
drama; and he had the shrewdest eye for character, the largest
appreciation of the picturesqueness resulting from the clash of motives,
the contests of opinion and feeling, and outworkings of ambitions and
passions in the tragedy and comedy of men’s every-day social world. He
was indeed, as Sir Walter Scott said of him, a man of the “most
undiscriminating, unsatiable, and miscellaneous curiosity.” Although
“exceptionally busy and diligent in his attendance at the office,” this
same writer continues, “he finds time to go to every play and every
execution, to every procession, fire, concert, riot, trial, review, city
feast, public dissection, or picture-gallery that he can hear of. Nay,
there seems scarcely to have been a school examination, a wedding,
christening, charity sermon, bull-baiting, philosophic meeting, or
private merrymaking in his neighborhood at which he was not sure to make
his appearance, and mindful to record all the particulars.” He had an
unbounded love of pleasure, a craving for new sensations, an
indefatigable courage in the pursuit of experience, a versatility of
enthusiasm simply amazing, an industry in multitudinous enterprises
which makes us breathless as we read. “He is the first to hear all the
court scandal, and all the public news; to observe the changes of
fashions, and the downfall of parties; to pick up family gossip, and
retail philosophical intelligence; to criticise every new house or
carriage that is built, every new book or new beauty that appears, every
measure the King adopts, and every mistress he discards.” In one
sentence he will report a debate in Parliament—in the next, carefully
itemize the points in a lady’s dress; now he is deeply concerned over
the problems of the navy, and anon is to be found mourning the death of
a canary, or the ruin of his fine bands, which he has carelessly
slobbered with chocolate. Accounts of state crises, details of court
profligacy, particulars of his own matrimonial misunderstandings,
literary criticisms, headings of sermons, accounts of plays,
disquisitions on music and finance, on dinners and dancing, and a
thousand other matters, important and petty, are jumbled together in
bewildering confusion in his pages, along with sketches of character,
bits of the frankest self-delineation, scraps of wisdom and folly, keen
judgments of men and circumstances, and those notes of success and
failure, of aspiration, achievement, disappointment, of penitence, and
sometimes of remorse, which belong to the true story of his inner life.
Such is Pepys’s Diary—the record of the daily doings and feelings of a
busy, restless, vain, easy-tempered, pleasure-loving, ambitious, shrewd,
yet often fatuous, man of the world; take it for all in all, a book
without an equal, almost without a rival, in its class.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The author of this extraordinary book, despite some rather aristocratic
connections, was the son of a not very successful tailor, and was born,
perhaps in London, perhaps in Brampton, Huntingdonshire, (the point
remains unsettled,) on 23d February, 1632. He seems to have been at one
time at school in Huntingdon; but he afterwards entered regularly as a
scholar of St. Paul’s, London, passing thence, in 1650, to the
University of Cambridge. Of his college career we know little; but we
have the record of one incident, interesting as foreshadowing the
convivial tendencies which come out so often and so strongly in the
pages of the Diary. In the Regents’ Book of Magdalene College appears
the following highly suggestive entry:—

    “Oct 21, 1653. Mem. That Peapys and Hind were solemnly
    admonished by myself and Mr. Hill for having been scandalously
    overserved with drink y^e night before. This was done in the
    presence of all the fellows then resident, in Mr. Hill’s

                                    “[Signed] JOHN WOOD, Registrar.”

Yet, notwithstanding this episode, and whatever it may be taken to stand
for as an exemplification of Pepys’s way of life, as an undergraduate he
became the good friend of some of the most industrious of his
contemporaries, and, we have reason to believe, acquitted himself in his
own studies, if not brilliantly, still with a very fair measure of
success. At all events, he took his bachelor’s degree, in 1653—the very
year, it will be observed, of his bacchanalian misadventure,—and
received his mastership seven years later. Meanwhile, as we learn from a
passing note in the Diary, made a long while after, he dabbled in
literary composition to the extent of beginning a romance, called “Love
a Cheat.” The manuscript of this he tore up and destroyed on 30th
January, 1663, adding to his chronicle of the event: “I liked it very
well, and wondered a little at myself, at my vein at that time, when I
wrote it, doubting that I cannot do so well now if I would try.” Pepys
may not have shown himself in every emergency of life a strong man or a
brave; but thus to sacrifice the first heir of his invention, even on
finding it, after all, rather better than he had imagined—let us
recognize here resolution and courage not by any means to be sneered at.

Pepys was but twenty-three when he married Elizabeth St. Michel, an
exceedingly pretty girl of fifteen, the daughter of a Huguenot who had
come to England with Elizabeth Maria on her union with Charles the
First. Of the relations of husband and wife we shall have something to
say by and by. Poor St. Michel was a man of countless resources and
infinite ingenuity, and in consequence was frequently both a burden to
himself and a tax upon his friends. He had the genius for inventing
things without, it would appear, the talent for turning his inventions
to much practical account. He obtained a patent for curing smoky
chimneys, and another for cleaning muddy pools; evolved plans for the
raising of submerged ships; and in a moment of special illumination
actually discovered the whereabouts of King Solomon’s gold and silver
mines—in this respect anticipating the interesting performance of Mr.
Rider Haggard. In view of these facts, it is hardly necessary to add
that, Micawber-like, he was always in an impecunious condition, and,
pending the establishment of the said mines on a modern working basis,
was fain to support himself and wife on the offerings of his daughter’s
husband, with an additional four shillings a week contributed out of the
charitable fund of the French church in London. To one so keenly alive
to the meaning and value of money, and so cautious and economical in the
management of his own affairs, as Mr. Pepys, the visions and vagaries of
such a father-in-law must have given constant cause for dissatisfaction
and alarm.

Mrs. Pepys thus brought her husband no fortune but her beauty, and as,
at the time of their marriage, Pepys himself had obtained no settled
position, the early years of their wedded life were rendered picturesque
(from an artistic point of view) by financial difficulties, and often
harassed by the ancient problem of how to make one shilling do the work
of two. The young couple, however, seem to have put a brave face on the
matter, and to have kept faith in each other, and in the coming of
better days. At this period, it must be remembered, the Diary had not
been started, and direct information, therefore, fails us. But in after
years, as wealth grew, and his prosperity became firmly established,
Pepys would often cast a back-glance at these early times of anxiety and
struggle, indulging, after his manner, in many quaint expressions of
thankfulness to God over the change, and frequent prayers for strength
and courage in case of sudden fall.

On the first page of his Diary he notes that, though “esteemed rich”, he
was in reality “very poor,”—a combination of circumstances which is apt
at times to be trying even to the most philosophical. His salary was
then only fifty pounds a year, and the straitened character of his
domestic conditions is shown by the fact that, when the curtain rises on
the journal, we discover Mr. and Mrs. Pepys dining in the garret on the
remains of a turkey—in the preparation of which, be it mentioned as
matter of history, poor Mrs. Pepys burned her hand. But changes were
pending. Chosen secretary to Sir Edward Montague on his taking command
of the fleet sent to bring Charles the Second to England, Pepys was
shortly afterwards made clerk to the King’s ships, a position in which,
through his industry and astuteness, he was presently to be of great
service to the country in very critical times. This appointment was not,
however, secured without complications and difficulties. The actual
incumbent of the coveted office—one Barlow—was a rival in the field,
with personal prestige and influence strong enough to fill poor Pepys
with dismal misgivings concerning his own chances of success. Matters at
length were amicably settled between the candidates on the basis of a
rather singular compromise. Pepys was inducted into the position on
undertaking to pay the said Mr. Barlow fifty pounds a year so long as
his (Pepys’s) salary was not increased, and one hundred pounds a year
when it was raised to three hundred and fifty pounds or more. The tax
seems a heavy one, but Pepys was willing to accept the responsibility on
observing, as he duly notes in the Diary, that Mr. Barlow was “an old
consumptive man,” and therefore, assumably, not one likely to call for
many annual payments. The old consumptive man lived till 1665, and the
entry made by Pepys on hearing of his decease is too characteristic not
to be reproduced in full:—

    “9 Feb., 1665. Sir William Petty tells me that Mr. Barlow is
    dead; for which, God knows my heart, I would be as sorry as it
    is possible for one to be for a stranger, by whose death he gets
    £100 per annum.”

While still a young man, Pepys was made Clerk of the Privy Seal, and a
justice of the peace, the latter appointment “mightily” pleasing him,
though he notes the somewhat unfortunate circumstance that he was
“wholly ignorant” of the duties of the post. Little by little he rose to
be the most important and influential of the naval officials, with a
steadily improving financial condition, the record of which is given,
year by year, in great detail in the Diary. Trouble came presently in
the shape of failing eyesight, and by and by he lost his wife; but
material fortune continued to attend him through years which were
fraught, for the world of English politics, with vast fluctuation and
change. At length reverses came. In 1679-80, he was imprisoned for
alleged complicity in the famous Popish Plot. After his release he was
made Secretary to the Admiralty, and was for two consecutive years
President of the Royal Society. In 1690, he was again imprisoned, this
time on the charge of Jacobinism. With this occurrence, Pepys’s active
life may be said to have come to a close. His constitution had long been
undermined by a malady which had been intensified by his sedentary
existence, and in 1700 he was persuaded by his physicians to leave his
house in York Buildings and take up his abode at the home of his old
friend and servant, William Hewer, at Clapham. There he died on 26th
May, 1703, having just passed the Scriptural term of life.

Pepys’s only acknowledged piece of literary work was “The Memoirs of the
Royal Navy,” published in 1690, though a small volume entitled “Relation
of the Troubles in the Court of Portugal.” and bearing the initials, S.
P., is sometimes ascribed to him by bibliographers. Apart from the
Diary, however,—the peculiar qualities of which, it will be understood,
remove it altogether from the region of comparison—Pepys’s most useful
and lasting achievement was the foundation of the famous library at
Cambridge, which still bears his name—a collection of manuscript naval
memoirs, prints, old English ballads, and curious miscellanea, which, by
the judgment of high authorities, remains to-day one of the richest of
its class. The visitor to Magdalene College, Cambridge, may still
inspect this library as it stands in Pepys’s original book-presses; and
if he be a student of the journal, and withal a man of any imaginative
power, he will hardly fail to recall with what true bibliomaniac delight
the old collector gathered these treasures about him in his own home,
with what twinges of conscience he sometimes laid out larger sums than
he felt he could well afford in their acquisition, with what enthusiasm
he pored over their pages, with what satisfaction and pride he arranged
and rearranged them on many a dull and tedious day.

                  *       *       *       *       *

I have sketched in brief the external history of Pepys’s life, but you
must not be under the impression that the whole, or even the larger part
of his career, is covered by the voluminous Diary. This daily record
comprises some ten years only, extending from 1st January, 1659-60, when
the writer was nearly twenty-seven, to May, 1669, when he had recently
completed his thirty-seventh year. Just how and why he came to open his
secret chronicle, he nowhere tells us; but he makes it very clear that
he closed it at length, not because he had grown weary of it, or ceased
to find satisfaction in its composition, but simply on account of the
failure of eyesight, above referred to. Very pathetic is the final

    “And thus ends all that I doubt I shall ever be able to do with
    my own eyes in the keeping of my journal, I not being able to do
    it any longer, having done now so long as to undo my eyes almost
    every time that I take a pen in my hand; and, therefore,
    whatever comes of it, I must forbear; and, therefore, resolve
    from this time forward to have it kept by my people in
    long-hand, and must be contented to set down no more than is fit
    for them and all the world to know; or if there be anything, I
    must endeavor to keep a margin in my book open, to add here and
    there a note in short-hand with my own hand. And so I betake
    myself to that course, which is almost as much as to see myself
    go into my grave; for which, and all the discomforts that will
    accompany my being blind, the good God prepare me.” May 31,
    1669. S. P.

Few readers probably will rise from the perusal of the Diary, dismissing
it with such an entry as this as the closing note, without regretting
that the end should have come just when it did; for we would well have
liked to know how Pepys responded to some of his later experiences, and
especially in what spirit he accepted the tragic accidents which
presently forced his manhood to the test. About these matters we can now
only speculate, with the feeling that had the journal been continued for
even a few years longer, we should perhaps have been brought into
contact with a deeper, stronger, more earnest side of the writer’s
character than actually makes itself apparent in the narrative. We
little guess what resources of courage and power lie somewhere
mysteriously stored up in men and women seemingly the least heroic, to
be drawn upon only when the great and decisive moments of a lifetime
come; and it might well give us, we fancy, a certain sense of
satisfaction if we could follow the vain and garrulous Pepys through his
season of growing wealth and prosperity onward to the time when he fell
on evil days, and watch him in the enveloping darkness, bowing his head
amid reverses of fortune, or standing face to face with death beside his
wife’s open grave. But it is useless to indulge in hypothesis. We must
accept the Diary as it is, and be thankful that the years covered by it
were so full of matters of private interest and public importance.

And if we only think for a moment of all that happened in a public way
during these ten critical years, and remember that Pepys, by virtue of
his official position, was often drawn into very close relations with
some of the moving forces and figures of the time—“names that in their
motion were full-welling fountain-heads of change,”—we can realize at
once that on the historical side this Diary has immense value. I do not
dwell upon this side now, for time is limited, and there are other
matters, not so frequently dealt with, to which I want to direct
attention. Yet it is necessary just to say that, as documentary evidence
concerning the inner life of the court and society, the inconceivable,
the unutterable profligacy of the King and his followers, the
irresponsibility of those in charge of public affairs, the complete
demoralization of the upper classes during the early years of the
Restoration, Pepys’s chronicle furnishes a record that we cannot afford
to overlook. His simplicity, insouciance, and habitual self-possession
are often more telling than the most eloquent descriptions of
historians, the most fervid denunciations of moralists. An accidental
word of his will often lay bare a condition of things which lengthy
analysis, supported by innumerable references to authorities will hardly
make us realize, a few passing sentences, penned _au jour le jour_,
having frequently the power of throwing some circumstance, otherwise
almost incredible, into sudden and lurid relief. Indeed, the mere fact
that the temper of moral indignation is not one to which Pepys often or
easily gives way, itself lends added force to all he writes, and
intensifies the meaning of his rare exclamations of horror or protest.
If Pepys had any political convictions at all, they were of the most
flexible kind; he did not cultivate the sort of conscience which has the
troublesome faculty of interfering at unexpected times with its owner’s
chances of worldly advancement and success. Brought up under the
Commonwealth, and, for a time at least, marked by Roundhead
proclivities, he readily and rapidly transferred his allegiance to the
new _régime_, his only anxiety being, it would seem, lest his earlier
opinions should be resuscitated, with unpleasant practical results.
Oddly enough, though the Diary opens in the midst of a great political
crisis—when Monk was marching from Scotland, and English affairs were
hanging poised in the balance of fate,—it nowhere contains any utterance
of strong party feeling, any distinctly enunciated wish, either for the
restoration of the Stuarts or for the preservation of the Commonwealth.
When the Merry Monarch was settled upon the throne, Pepys quietly
accepted the fact—along with the very desirable office in the Admiralty
secured thereby. You say that the spirit thus shown is not a manly, not
a noble one. Alas! no. Pepys, I am afraid, had but one firmly rooted
political principle—the principle proverbially associated with the
celebrated Vicar of Bray, of looking out for himself and his own
welfare. Here, of course, we are strongly tempted to indulge by the way
in a little conventional moralizing, and to congratulate ourselves that
in our own days, in enlightened America, the low aims and sordid
ambitions of poor old Pepys are quite unknown. But I restrain my
eloquence, having other matters on hand. The point I want to dwell on
for the moment is, that testimony to the political and social corruption
following the Restoration, coming from such a man as this, is testimony
of almost unique value, on account of the very character of the witness.
To lead you through the miry places of the Diary is no part of my
present plan; but let me just say that when such a man, albeit unused to
the chiding mood, bursts out with the exclamation, “So they are all
mad!—and thus the kingdom is governed!”—when, as sometimes happens, he
speaks with genuine sorrow of what he has heard, or perhaps seen, in the
high places of the land; when he scatters among his small talk and
frivolous details sentences full of dismal apprehension concerning the
country’s position and outlook,—then things must have come to a pretty
pass indeed. Pepys was professionally committed to the Stuart dynasty;
yet, as has been well said, a splendid eulogy of Cromwell could be
gathered from the _obiter dicta_ of his pages. Certainly, we need hardly
travel outside the Diary itself, if we seek only to understand and
estimate the iniquities and political short-sightedness of those who
succeeded Cromwell in place and power.

                  *       *       *       *       *

But now we will descend from the dignity of history—if these things
belong to the dignity of history—to the plane of common every-day life.
Abandoning our quest for edification, we will wander for a little while
about the Diary, for no other purpose than that of deriving what
amusement we may from its personal banalities and social tittle-tattle.
Pepys tempts us to be as unsystematic and inconsequential as himself. We
will assume, therefore, the privilege which, according to Hazlitt,
Coleridge so constantly abused in his conversational monologues—that of
beginning nowhere in particular, and ending, if we see fit, in the same

It has been said that in Pepys’s ten years’ record there are more than
five hundred references to dress and personal decoration. I have not
checked the statement, but I can easily believe it. This gives, roughly
speaking, an average of one such notice to each week covered by the
journal. Dress and the affairs of the toilet were indeed for Pepys
always matters of serious importance, not to be disregarded in the midst
of the greatest strain of public events. We learn that at times Mrs.
Pepys’s feminine desire for a new gown or some expensive bit of finery
gave rise to domestic bickering and husbandly reproof, and that the
money laid out on tailoring and haberdashery occasionally caused an
uneasy hour. Yet, with all his thrift, Pepys seems to have had a
remarkably free hand when questions of this kind stood in the way. He
reports, without remorse, the payment of twenty-four pounds for a single
suit—the best, he adds, “that I ever wore in my life”; and later on,
notes the spending of eighty pounds for a necklace for his wife—though
in this case he has misgivings. It is sad to relate that, on the whole,
our diarist was much less concerned about his own personal extravagances
than about the extravagances of his better-half—a fact which shows us
that husbands, like other conveniences of life, have been improved by
the course of civilization. At any rate, once noting, to his great
sorrow and alarm, a month’s outlay of seventy-seven pounds on dress and
its accompaniments, he adds that about twelve pounds of this had gone
for his wife, and the small remaining balance—some fifty-five pounds—for
himself. Charity begins at home; but economy, like justice, often starts
next door. Pepys’s marital parsimoniousness frequently manifests itself
in very petty ways; as when, for example, under date 14th February,
1666-7, he writes—“I am also this year my wife’s valentine, and it will
cost me £5; _but that I must have laid out if we had not been

Once upon a time, Mr. and Mrs. Pepys went to the theatre together, and
there they saw “Mrs. Stewart, very fine, with her locks done up with
puffs, as my wife calls them, and several other great ladies had their
hair so, though I do not like it; but my wife do mightily; but it is
only because she sees it is the fashion.” This is all very well as a
piece of superior masculine judgment; but unfortunately our moralist
betrays no such scruples when social opinion prescribes a new departure
in his own accoutrement. We notice with interest in the jottings of the
journal the first appearance, or early reappearance, of several curious
customs in dress. Patches were used by Mrs. Pepys, for the first time
“since we were married,” on 30th August, 1660; and on 12th June, 1663,
after observing the growth of the practice then indulged in by ladies,
of wearing vizards, or masks, at the theatre—a practice we can
understand better as we come to know more of the character of the
performances given on the Restoration stage,—Mr. Pepys goes forthwith to
the Exchange “to buy things with my wife; among others, a vizard for
herself.” On 3d November, in this same year, he reports the adoption by
himself of the new mode of wearing a periwig in place of the natural
hair. It went a little to his heart, we find, to part with his own
head-gear. However, he was somewhat reassured when, causing all his
maids to look upon him, he observed their satisfaction with the result;
though he notes intense self-consciousness and some embarrassment when,
the next day, he went abroad for the first time in his new guise. About
the same period he begins to shave himself—a performance which pleases
him “mightily,” as promising to save both time and money. “Up betimes
and shaved myself,” so runs a later entry, “after a week’s growth; but
Lord! how ugly I was yesterday, and how fine to-day.”

One is sorely tempted here to reproduce a few of the many passages in
which the vain old chronicler gloats over his handsome clothing, and the
imposing figure cut by him at the theatre, or on the promenade, or in
church. But one or two must suffice as specimens:—

    “July 10, 1660. This day I put on my new silk suit, the first
    that ever I wore in my life.”

    “Feb. 3, 1661, (Lord’s Day). This day I first begun [sic] to go
    forth in my coat and sword, as the manner now among gentlemen

    “April 22, 1661. Up early, and made myself as fine as I could.”

    “Oct 19, 1662, (Lord’s Day). Put on my first new lace-band; and
    so neat it is, that I am resolved my great expense shall be
    lace-bands, and it will set off anything else the more.”

    “May 17, 1668, (Lord’s Day). Up and put on my new stuff suit,
    with a shoulder belt, according to the new fashion, and the
    bands of my vest and tunique laced with silk lace of the colour
    of my suit; and so very handsome to church.”

Alas, poor Pepys! Where be your lace-bands now? your shoulder-belts?
your rich silk vests?

The prominence of dress in the Diary may well surprise us, but we are
scarcely less astonished by the amount of space given by our busy man of
affairs to the most various kinds of pleasure and simple merrymaking.
Amongst the games in which Mr. Secretary Pepys seems to have found
special satisfaction, tennis, ninepins, and billiards hold high place;
but these, after all, never yielded him a tithe of the pure enjoyment
that he derived from his more intellectual pastimes, reading and music.
Pepys was a genuine musician; and we get the impression from the journal
that his love of music reached the proportions of a real passion—the
only passion, indeed, of his life. On the other hand, he was not a
systematic scholar, though he devoured books with avidity, keeping in
touch with the literary output of his day, and at least tasting all
sorts of things, from Cicero, the Hebrew grammar, and Hooker’s
“Ecclesiastical Polity,” downward to Audley’s “Way to be Rich,” and the
last-published comedy of the popular playwrights of his time. Here are a
couple of sample entries:—

    “Feb. 10, 1661-2. To Paul’s Churchyard, and there I met with Dr.
    Fuller’s ‘England’s Worthys,’ the first time that ever I saw it;
    and so I sat down reading in it; being much troubled that
    (though he had some discourse with me about my family and arms)
    he says nothing at all, nor mentions us either in Cambridgeshire
    or Norfolke. But I believe, indeed, our family were never

    “July 1, 1666. ... Walked to Woolwich, reading ‘The Rivall
    Ladys’[4] all the way, and find it a most pleasant and fine writ

Footnote 4:

  This is a tragi-comedy by Dryden, written partly in blank verse,
  partly in rhyme. Pepys had seen it performed some two years before,
  and had then pronounced it “a very innocent and most pretty witty


Pepys’s passing opinions have not much critical value, but they are his
own, which is more than can be said of many literary _dicta_ far more
pretentious than his. It is rather instructive to follow some of his
fluctuations in taste. We notice—to take a single illustration only—that
when the first part of “Hudibras” was issued, he bought a copy for half
a crown, having heard it much cried up for its pungent wit; but was so
much disappointed when he came to dip into it, that he sold it again the
same afternoon for eighteen-pence. Still every one talked of the poem,
and Pepys began to wonder whether he had given it a fair trial. So a few
days later he purchased another copy, resolved on closer study. Now, I
will venture to say that in this emergency poor Pepys kept himself by no
means free from the sham admiration and cuckoo-criticism which is the
bane of our drawing-rooms, and, for that matter, of some of our college
classrooms, at the present day. Had you met him in social gatherings,
and had the talk turned on “Hudibras,” as it would almost certainly have
done, then, doubtless, you would have found that Pepys, fearful of
appearing deficient in acumen or taste, would have little or nothing to
say about his adverse judgment, and might even consent to laugh
perfunctorily at jokes he really did not think funny, and at doggerel
rhymes which in his heart of hearts he held to be simply stupid.
Meanwhile, he confides to his Diary the expression of his honest
opinion, promising himself that, on the appearance of the second part of
the poem, he will borrow it from some friend, and buy it only if, on
inspection, it should turn out to be better than the first part. All
this is surely edifying.

Here we ought perhaps to add that, in an ill-advised moment, Mr. Pepys
undertook to learn to dance. “The truth is, I think it a thing very
useful for a gentleman, and sometimes I may have occasion of using it,
and though it cost me what I am heartily sorry it should,” (he deeply
deplores the payment of ten shillings entrance fee to the class,) “yet I
am resolved to get it up some other way.... So, though it be against my
stomach, yet I will try it for a little while.” The subsequent
introduction of a dancing-master, whose name was Pemberton, turned out,
however, to be the introduction of a serpent into Pepys’s matrimonial
Paradise. Mrs. Pepys, crazy over the new accomplishment, insisted on his
coming twice a day, which, as Mr. Pepys properly protested, was “a
folly.” Moreover, he by and by grew jealous of his wife’s attention to
the said Pemberton, and some heartache and much petulance were the
result. Pepys gives us one graphic description of himself, too angry to
join his wife at her lesson, yet walking up and down in his own chamber,
“listening to hear whether they danced or no.” But he presently became
an adept in the art, and danced his own part, infinitely to his
satisfaction, in many a corranto and jig.

For Pepys, as we have said, was a highly convivial person, and abandoned
himself to the pleasure of the moment with an ardor and
whole-heartedness which fill the grimly serious modern reader with
something like amazement. The thought of the morrow rarely for him
disturbed the enjoyment of to-day, though with the coming of the morrow
he sometimes found that he had applied himself to the good things of
this life not wisely but too well. Accounts of suppers, of social
festivities kept up until ever so much o’clock in the morning, of
mirthmaking of the most boisterous kind, abound in his pages, mixed up
with matters of more serious import in quite a bewildering way. Pepys
will often round off some such detailed report with a characteristic
comment expressive of deep satisfaction; as, for example, “mighty
merry,” or “so home, mighty pleased with this day’s sport.” _Carpe diem_
was evidently his counsel of perfection. There is something charming
about the man’s juvenile capacity for enjoyment, though we are
frequently inclined to wonder how he managed in certain emergencies to
keep his clear head and his steady hand. Yet only occasionally does the
journal record any marked reaction from even the most roistering
overnight carousal. Here, however, is just one case in point. On 14th
August, 1666,—in the midst, be it noted, of a good deal of mental
disturbance caused by a misunderstanding between himself and Lord
Peterborough,—Pepys describes at length an evening of wild frolic and
buffoonery. After dinner, with his wife and wife’s maid, Mercer (who
played a rather prominent part in subsequent domestic unpleasantnesses),
he takes a turn at the Bear Garden, where there is much wine-drinking.

    “Then we supped at home, and very merry. And then about 9
    o’clock to Mrs. Mercer’s gate, where the fire and boys expected
    us, and her son had provided abundance of serpents and rockets;
    and there mighty merry (my Lady Pen and Pegg going thither with
    us, and Nan Wright) till about 12 at night, flinging our
    fireworks and burning one another and the people over the way.
    At last our businesses being most spent, we into Mrs. Mercer’s,
    and there mighty merry, smutting one another with candle-grease
    and soot, till most of us were like devils. And that being done,
    then we broke up, and to my house, and there I made them drink;
    and upstairs we went, and there fell into dancing (W. Batelier
    dancing well), and dressing him and I and one Mr. Banister ...
    like women; and Mercer put on a suit of Tom’s like a boy, and
    mighty mirth we had; and Mercer danced a jig, and Nan Wright and
    my wife and Pegg Pen put on periwigs. Thus we spent till three
    or four in the morning, mighty merry; and then parted and to

Do we wonder that the next day’s entry should significantly open—“Mighty
sleepy; slept till past eight of the clock”?

As wine-bibbing, and even downright drunkenness, occupy so large a space
in our record, it may be proper to note indications contained in it of
the rise of domestic forces destined to do much in a quiet way towards
the gradual improvement of general manners in this particular respect.
From the point of view of social history, there is much to interest us
in Pepys’s occasional references to tea, coffee, and chocolate. These
three beverages found their way into England within a few years of one
another, about the middle of the seventeenth century, cocoa leading the
way, and tea bringing up the rear. We have seen that on one occasion our
diarist spoilt his bands by spilling chocolate upon them. The
coffee-house was an accomplished fact in his time. There he often met
distinguished men on business; there he passed many a chatty hour; there
he once reports seeing “Dryden the poet ... and all the wits of the
town.” For tea he never seems to have acquired special fondness. I have
marked but two references to it in the Diary. Once, on 28th September,
1660, he notes: “I did send for a cup of tea (a China drink), of which I
never had drank before,”—and unfortunately, for a wonder, he does not
tell us how he liked it. And again, on 28th June, 1667, he chronicles
returning home to find his wife “making of tea, a drink which Mr.
Pelling, the Potticary, tells her is good for her cold.” Tea, by the
way, was enormously dear in those days, and was supposed to possess
astonishing and mysterious medicinal properties, concerning which we may
read much in a broadside issued by Thomas Garway, the coffee-man of
Change Alley,—a rare and curious document, a copy of which is still
preserved in the British Museum.

It does not, of course, surprise us to learn that this pleasure-loving
man of the town was a regular attendant at all the public amusements of
his time. He visited the cockpit, the bear-garden, the gambling-room,
the prize-ring; though, much to his credit, he found little pleasure in
these places of popular resort—a fact which makes it harder for us to
understand his frequent presence at public executions, in witnessing
which, as many entries serve to show, he found a curious kind of
satisfaction. On the other hand, his enthusiasm for everything connected
with the theatre was simply unbounded; his Diary remaining to-day an
important source of first-hand information on all matters pertaining to
the drama of the Restoration. From his miscellaneous jottings we gain a
wonderfully vivid impression of the manners and customs of the playhouse
of the period, together with a sense of life in things otherwise dead
beyond recall. For Pepys saw the great Betterton in all his glory, and
was bewitched by the beautiful and fascinating Nell Gwynne. When his
record opens, boys were still playing female parts, as they had done in
Shakspere’s time, and the introduction of women to the English stage is
duly registered by him as an event. He details, after his manner, all
the odds and ends of scandal concerning prominent theatrical people; was
himself on very friendly terms—somewhat too friendly at times for
domestic peace—with various pretty actresses; and was an occasional
visitor to that mysterious realm which lies behind the scenes. Once in a
while, however, he acknowledges the disillusion caused by such
excursions. The extremely human proportions into which the heroes and
heroines of that magic stage-land dwindled when seen at close
quarters,—the dust, noise, confusion, paint, powder, and general
dinginess of the dressing-rooms and coulisses,—these are subjects of
frequent remark. Perhaps his most disenchanting experience was one
connected with Nell Gwynne—“pretty, witty Nelly,” as he fondly calls
her,—(we will not forget that the Diary was written in cipher). He finds
her once behind the curtain,—alas, that we should have to repeat
it!—swearing like a trooper because of the smallness of the audience.
Now, a small house is a trial sufficient to tax the philosophy of any
actress; but we are sorry that pretty, witty Nelly, should have behaved
herself in this way. Pepys confesses that on this occasion he went home
a sadder and a wiser man.

Let us not imagine that Pepys followed his career of pleasure without
twinges of conscience and occasional remorse. The expense involved
frequently worried him, and again and again he reproved himself for
wasting valuable time. It saddened him once in a while, too, to realize
that he could not say “No” when temptation came in his way,—“a very
great fault of mine which I must amend in.” Sometimes he argued the
matter out to a logical issue; as, for instance, when, on 9th March,
1665, he writes:—

    “The truth is I do indulge myself a little more in pleasure,
    knowing that this is the proper age of my life to do it; and out
    of my observation that most men that do thrive in the world do
    forget to take pleasure during the time they are getting their
    estate, but reserve that till they have got one, and then it is
    too late for them to enjoy it.”

This eminently philosophical generalization appears to have given him a
good deal of relief. Still, the qualms would come, philosophy
notwithstanding. The thought of neglected business is like a death’s
head at the feast when he dines once with Lady Batten and Madame
Williams; and when, on another memorable occasion, he goes to the
playhouse when he knows well enough that he should have been elsewhere,
he is so thoroughly ashamed of himself that he sneaks in and takes a
back place—only to be immediately singled out by an acquaintance, who
spies him out from afar, and, much to his mortification, insists on
sitting beside him. Incidents of this kind are numerous enough to show
us that the way of the transgressor was sometimes hard.

Pepys, however, managed upon occasion to get even with himself in these
delicate matters by a very curious device. He registered solemn
vows,—as, for instance, not to drink wine for a specified period, or not
to go to the play till after a certain date,—inflicting various
penalties upon himself for infraction. These penalties habitually took
financial forms—payments to charities and the like; and we note that in
cases of infraction—and these were sufficiently frequent—Pepys was more
deeply concerned about the spent money than about the broken vow.
Moreover, it has to be acknowledged that some fine casuistry is now and
then shown by him in the way in which he manages to elude the sense of
an obligation while technically fulfilling its letter. Under pledge not
to touch wine, he consumes hypocras, a mixture of red and white wine
with sugar and spices, and comforts himself with the extraordinary
theory that this is, “to the best of my personal judgment, ... only a
mixed compound drink, and not any wine.” Equally dubious are some of his
theatrical doings. Once he congratulates himself that he has kept his
vow because he arrives at the playhouse too late to make it worth his
while to go in—a really magnificent confusion of intention with result.
Once again, he allows an acquaintance to pay for him, and exonerates
himself on the ground that he was taken to the performance, and did not,
so to speak, take himself—did not, in other words, go as a free agent,
and of his own impulse and will. And on yet another occasion,—such is
his subtlety,—he gets Mr. Creed to treat him in this way, actually
lending the said Mr. Creed the money necessary for the purpose. This,
however, he felt to be going rather too far, even for an ethical
theorist. In reporting the incident, he adds that this “is a fallacy
that I have found now once, to avoid my vow with, but never to be more
practised, I swear.”

I said that in this part of my lecture I should make no attempt to
maintain logical consistency. This must be my excuse for leading you by
an abrupt transition from the stage to the pulpit. Pepys occasionally
stayed at home on Sundays to work up his accounts, or look over his
papers, and once (but he was sick that day) to read plays; but he was,
on the whole, a faithful church-goer, and, as we have had occasion to
observe, made special use of the Lord’s Day for a display of his new
clothes and finery, a practice which to modern readers must needs seem
both strange and reprehensible. His notes of discourses heard by him are
sometimes extremely interesting; while his criticisms—and he was
evidently by no means easy to satisfy in the matter of sermons—are often
as pungent and incisive as they are quaint and characteristic. “A lazy,
poor sermon,” he writes, after hearing Dr. Fuller. Once he reports “an
unnecessary sermon upon original sin, neither understood” by the
preacher himself “nor the people”; and another time he hears a young man
“play the fool upon the doctrine of Purgatory.” Considerable space is
given in his jottings to a certain poor young Scotchman, who had a
perfect genius for preaching “most tediously,” and who becomes for Pepys
a sort of type and standard of dulness and nebulosity. Poor little Scot,
thus to be pilloried to the end of time! Pepys had, however,—let us put
it euphemistically,—a wonderful power of withdrawing into himself, when
the exercises of the pulpit became unusually trying—when, to adapt the
phrase of Madame de Sévigné, a preacher abused the privilege preachers
have of being long-winded and tiresome. Over and over again he
chronicles sleeping soundly through a sermon, and waking refreshed, if
not edified, at the close. “After dinner, to church again, where the
young Scot preaching, I slept all the while.”—“So up and to church,
where Mr. Mills preached, but I know not how; I slept most of the
sermon.”—“So to church, and slept all the sermon, the Scot, to whose
voice I am not to be reconciled [one would suppose that he had become
pretty well reconciled to it, judging by its soporific influences]
preaching.” I pick these at random, as specimen entries. There were
seasons, however, when, the sermon being bad, and himself unable to
achieve the benign relief of slumber, Pepys confesses to killing time in
less innocent ways. Susceptible to an extreme degree to feminine charms
and graces, he often passed the hour of exhortation in looking out for
pretty women, and in studying carefully their various styles of beauty
and of dress. Here are a few instances to the point. “To church, where,
God forgive me! I spent most of my time in looking on my new Morena
[brunette] at the other side of the church.” So runs one of his
confidences. And again: “After dinner, I by water alone to Westminster
to the parish church, and there did entertain myself with my
perspective-glass up and down the church, by which I had the great
pleasure of seeing and gazing at a great many very fine women; and what
with that and sleeping, I passed away the time till the sermon was
done.” He even reports that once, at St. Dunstan’s, in the midst too of
an “able sermon,” he found himself beside a “pretty, modest maid,” whom
“I did labor to take by the hand, but she would not, but got further and
further from me; and at last I could perceive her to take pins out of
her pocket, to prick me if I should touch her again, which seeing I did
forbear, and was glad I did spy her design. And then I fell to gaze upon
another pretty maid in a pew close to me, and she on me; and I did go
about to take her by the hand, which she suffered a little, and then
withdrew. So the sermon ended, and the church broke up, and my amours
ended also.”

This time, by a transition strictly logical, we are led to speak for a
moment about the most intimate side of Pepys’s domestic existence—his
relations with his wife. The subject is a difficult and delicate one; it
is, moreover, too complicated to be dealt with in any detail here. A few
general words must suffice.

Their marriage had been one of love, and it can hardly be called, on the
whole, an unfortunate one, in spite of many unhappy episodes and a good
deal of misunderstanding; for even in the white glare of the Diary,
where every fleck shows, their home life often comes out in a very
pleasant light. Still there were unquestionably, even from the very
beginning, little rifts within the lute, and these rifts widen terribly,
we notice, as the journal runs its course. To the outside world, very
probably, such rifts were not often apparent; but we are privileged to
see matters close at hand, and from the inside; and this undercurrent of
tragedy, beneath the broad stream of prosperity and success, becomes at
times painfully manifest as we read.

I suppose it can hardly be said that in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Pepys’s
various matrimonial difficulties, the entire blame rested on either pair
of shoulders. Mrs. Pepys was extremely pretty and attractive, and her
husband admired her thoroughly, and was after his own rather singular
fashion, devotedly attached to her. Yet she was evidently whimsical,
somewhat capricious, apt to get into what Pepys calls “fusty” humors,
and at times exceedingly trying to the nerves. Many a little crisis, not
serious perhaps, but distinctly unpleasant, seems to have been brought
about by a word unnecessarily spoken, a look or a phrase interpreted
amiss. But, after all, we fear that the main burden of responsibility
rested with Pepys himself. Why would he undertake to teach the poor
young woman astronomy and arithmetic, when, admittedly, she had neither
taste nor talent for such subjects? Why was he so much upset on finding
that her ear for music was not nearly as good as he thought it should
have been? Why did he cut her short so peremptorily on one most
unfortunate occasion when she was telling that long-winded story of hers
from “The Grand Cyrus”? Why was he petulant with her, at another time,
for no better reason, as he himself confesses, than that he was hungry,
and she had dressed herself, as she not infrequently did, in a manner
that displeased him? Why, finally, when she was berating him rather
roundly about her deficient wardrobe, did he fall to reading Boyle’s
“Hydrostatics” aloud, “and let her talk till she was tired, and vexed
that I would not hear her”? It is surely, to say the least of it, far
from tactful in a husband to declaim from a treatise on hydrostatics,
when his wife is determined to discuss more serious matters. These may
be trifles; but such trifles are important things, when viewed from the
standpoint of domestic peace. But all this touches merely the fringe of
the problem. The really serious troubles were generally, if not always,
caused by poor Mr. Pepys’s fatal over-sensibility—that characteristic
weakness of his, to which he himself from time to time became only too
keenly alive. The simple fact of the matter is, that our diarist had a
fondness for the society of pretty women; that his wife, naturally
enough, grew jealous; and that all sorts of unpleasantness, deepening
sometimes into genuine domestic tragedy, was the inevitable result. I
have not time now to go into the ins and outs of what is really a very
long story, to follow the rapid fluctuations of feeling, or mark out the
converging lines of approach to the unavoidable catastrophe. But I
cannot resist the temptation of recounting one curious episode—that of a
neat joke once played by Mrs. Pepys on her susceptible better-half.
Pepys, early in the period of the Diary, had fallen in with his wife’s
desire to have a girl to live with them—a kind of companion and lady’s
maid. He did not like the expense incurred; but as long as the young
lady was sufficiently well-favored to be a pleasant object to look on,
he saw but little other cause for complaint—though cause for complaint,
and good cause too, Mrs. Pepys was presently to find. Well, on one
occasion his wife told him she had engaged a new maid—a girl so pretty
and winsome, she went on to say, that positively she was already
jealous. Mr. Pepys was a little uneasy about all this. However, he
concluded that she “meant it merrily,” and awaited with a good deal of
ill-repressed excitement the coming of the domestic beauty. In due
season, Hebe arrived; and judge his astonishment and disgust, when he
found, as he plaintively reports, that she was not pretty at all, but a
very ordinary wench! For once, at all events, the laugh was on Mrs.
Pepys’s side.

Towards the latter part of the Diary the conjugal misunderstandings pass
into a very acute stage, and for a time a break-up of the Pepys
establishment seems imminent. But we are glad to be able to record that
the crisis was a comparatively brief one. Mr. Pepys, sorrow-smitten and
full of remorse over his recent ill-doings, undertakes to mend his ways,
and sets manfully, though with some misgivings and much difficulty,
about the task of so doing. And thus the curtain falls upon what
promises to be a complete reconciliation; and we close the Diary with
the hope that the new peace lasted for the few brief years that were
destined to elapse before the life of poor Elizabeth Pepys was brought
to its untimely end. There is one odd commentary on matrimony, which I
must needs add for its characteristic strain. Pepys, going to church one
day, happens by accident to witness a wedding, and is much interested in
what Thackeray described as “the happy couple, as the saying is.” In
chronicling this incident, he makes the following extraordinary remark:
“Strange to see what delight we married people have to see these poor
fools decoyed into our condition, every man and woman gazing and smiling
upon them.”

There is much still on the purely personal side of the Diary about which
I should well have liked to speak; and, in particular, I had hoped to
dwell for a little on Pepys’s notices of the Great Plague (which are
much more interesting, as well as accurate, than Defoe’s well-known
romancing book), and on his graphic account of the fire of London, which
forms an admirable commentary on the second half of Dryden’s famous, if
somewhat unmanageable, poem, “Annus Mirabilis.” But these matters, and
many other such, cannot now be even touched upon. Meanwhile, in bringing
these rambling memoranda to a close, I do not feel inclined to apologize
for what may seem the frivolous character of my material. The unique
charm of Pepys’s Diary, as I said at the outset, lies very largely in
the frankness, the naïveté, the unsophisticated directness of its
record; it is, as I insisted, really and truly what other chronicles of
the kind have been simply in name, a _journal intime_. Something of this
frankness, this naïveté, it has been my aim to illustrate, and to show
you at the same time how quaint and startling are some of the results.
And let me ask you not to judge too harshly of the man into whose
existence we have thus ventured to pry. Remember that we have been
privileged in his case to push aside the curtain which men habitually
keep carefully drawn across the penetralia of their lives; that we have
caught him often enough at unfair advantage, and in a light fiercer than
that which, Tennyson says, beats upon a throne, blackening each blot. At
any rate, I, for my own part, see no reason why, as we lay his Diary
aside, we should indulge in platitudes of criticism—still less, why we
should console ourselves with the flattering thought of moral
superiority. Pepys was not a great man, it is true: he was often weak,
often foolish; the temptations of the world again and again proved too
much for him; at many important points, his theory and practice of life
were alike unsound. But it might be well perhaps, before we undertake to
throw stones at his glass house, to look a little carefully into the
vitreous mansion in which we ourselves dwell. And if you and I were
forced to lay bare, as he has done for himself, the secret thoughts and
feelings, the passing fancies, the unspoken desires, the foibles and
failures of our every-day existence, I wonder how many of us would see
reason to be proud of the revelation so made. O my brothers, let us be
humble and charitable! Humility and charity are excellent things; and
humility and charity, I confess, I find constantly forced upon me
whenever I dip, for an hour’s genuine amusement, into the Diary of old
Samuel Pepys.


                      Two Novelists of the English


                      Two Novelists of the English

It is the object of this brief paper to introduce the good-natured
reader, who, as a well-organized human being, is undoubtedly possessed
of a proper love of fiction, to two women who had much to do with
settling the English novel into its true line of development. I confess
I could wish that the ladies in question were, socially and morally, a
trifle more presentable. I can well remember the time when I myself made
their acquaintance in the library of the British Museum, and how I was
almost ashamed of myself, despite the fact that I had the definite
purposes of a student to support me, when I thought of the hours I had
been fain to spend in their singularly unedifying company. But in the
study of literary evolution, as in that of the history of the world at
large, it is not always possible to be over-fastidious. When we are
interested in a thing done, we must consider, as cheerfully as may be,
the doer and the doing of it, though we may have fault enough to find
sometimes with the character of the former and the manner of the latter.

The women to whose personalities and writings we are presently to
turn—Mrs. Behn and Mrs. Manley—stand out among the least attractive
products of an age of low ideals and scandalous living. But they none
the less remain figures of some permanent attractiveness to those of us
who care to investigate the beginnings of our great modern prose
fiction; and it is on account of their relative or historic importance
that I have undertaken to say something about them in this place.

In order, however, to make such historic importance clear, we must go
back a little in our inquiry.

The titanic imaginative energy of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods
had found its principal outlet in the drama. It was on the stage and
through the literature of the stage that, during the most brilliant era
of its intellectual activity, the genius of the English people, for the
most part, sought expression. The drama thus became the representative
and the embodiment of all that was strongest and most characteristic in
the national life. In it we find the great mental and moral movements of
the time gathered up and made vocal; to it we turn for the fullest and
richest manifestation of the national mind. As Mr. Symonds truly said:
“The drama, its own original creation, stood to the English nation in
the place of all the other arts. England ... needed no æsthetic outlet
but the drama.”

But little by little the close connection between the stage and the
national life was severed; and cut off from its sources of deepest
impulse and inspiration, the drama fell gradually into a condition of
decrepitude and decay. For many years before the Revolution the breach
between theatre and people had been a slowly widening one; and by the
time the Restoration once more gave free rein to dramatic art, the
separation had become complete. No longer making catholic appeal to the
whole community, no longer absorbing into itself, by way of nourishment
and stimulation, the broad and generous interests of a varied social
life, the drama now became the mouthpiece and the mirror of one class
only—of the aristocratic class, which had brought foreign fashions,
tastes, morality, with it from abroad. The theatre of Shakspere and his
contemporaries had been, as it were, the flower and fruitage of a period
of intense national vigor and excitement; the theatre of Congreve and
Wycherley was little more than the passing amusement of the idle and
demoralized fashionable world. Harassed by Puritan austerity on the one
hand, and more seriously perverted by Royalist profligacy upon the
other, the drama was forced into a relationship with the larger mass of
the people at once unnatural and most disastrous; and thus the plays of
the time, in spite of all their pungency of wit and glitter of dialogue,
lack that breadth of horizon, earnestness of purpose, and firm grasp of
life, without which no body of literature—and no body of dramatic
literature especially—can lay claim to permanent value and significance.

Meanwhile a new taste was growing up, and with it a fresh channel was
opened for imaginative activity. While the drama, sapped at its
foundations, was sinking deeper and deeper into corruption, and before
as yet any effort had been put forth to save it from its fate, the first
noteworthy experiments were being made towards the development of a
class of literature which has since acquired unrivalled popularity, and
every year continues to fill a larger and larger place in public
estimation, as well as upon our library shelves. The causes which
combined to bring about the decline of the drama and the rise of the
modern novel were so varied in character and intricate in their
outworkings, that even the briefest discussion of them here would commit
us to an unwarrantable digression; though it should be said, and said
emphatically, that the change is not to be regarded as a mere matter of
shifting literary taste, since it was unquestionably related, in the
most direct and intimate way, with some of the largest and deepest
movements of the time in society, manners, and general thought.[5]
Suffice it for us now to remark the simple fact that, while the
dramatists of the Restoration were engaged upon works which, fortunately
for English society and letters, left but little permanent mark upon the
history of the theatre, the foundations were being slowly but firmly
laid upon which the vast superstructure of modern fiction was presently
to be reared.

Footnote 5:

  Taking always in my own study of literature the wider line of inquiry
  just indicated, I am grateful to Professor Royce for pointing out the
  connection between two phenomena apparently so radically diverse as
  the spread of prose fiction and the appearance of the Lockian
  philosophy. (See his delightful volume—a model of popular
  exposition—“The Spirit of Modern Philosophy,” pp. 80-81.)


So thoroughly absorbed had men been in the drama, and so natural had it
seemed for those of imaginative power to turn directly to the stage,
that hitherto prose fiction, though by no means neglected, had done
little towards making a decisive start. Some popular stories, then long
current, had been gathered up and circulated in chap-books, and had in
sundry cases furnished materials for contemporary playwrights;
translations had been made from several foreign languages, and in this
way “Don Quixote,” and the works of Rabelais, Boccaccio, Montemayor, and
others, introduced to English readers; while such collections of
versions and adaptations as those of Painter and Turbervile might have
been found, it is said, so great had been their temporary vogue, on
almost every London bookstall. Moreover, the form of fiction had been
occasionally employed by philosophers for broaching new theories of life
and government; as by More, in his “Utopia,” and Bacon, in his “New
Atlantis.” And, far more important than any such sporadic efforts as
these, there were the romances produced by some of the early
dramatists—Lyly, and his most famous followers, Lodge and Greene, in
particular. To these have to be added the chivalrous pastoral of Sir
Philip Sidney, “warbler of poetic prose”; and in a very different
category, the stories and sketches of Thomas Nash, Dekker, and Chettle,
whose work, apart altogether from any question of absolute merit, is of
supreme significance to the student of English fiction, because in it we
find the crude beginnings of the picaresque novel of later times.

Lumped together in this way—and the above paragraph makes no pretence at
completeness of statement,—the amount of prose fiction of one and
another kind produced in England under Elizabeth and James the First may
seem to be considerable, and certainly no student of the evolution of
literature, or of the many-sided intellectual activity of the
Shaksperian age, would to-day think of underrating it. Yet it is
possible perhaps to go to the other extreme, and to exaggerate its
historic importance. To trace the connection between the tentative
output of the ’prentice-writers just referred to and the fully grown
fiction of the eighteenth century—to indicate, for example, the lines
along which Nash leads us through Defoe to Smollett and Fielding, and
the points of unexpected contact between Sidney and Richardson is an
inquiry full of curious interest for the special student. But too much
might easily be made of the results brought to light thereby. After duly
allowing for the isolated productions of the Elizabethan period, which
undoubtedly broke ground in many directions, we come back still to the
broad fact, that it was not until after the Restoration, and largely as
a result of what was then undertaken and accomplished, that the novel
firmly established itself as a well-defined form of literary art. With
the Restoration, therefore, it may fairly be said that we open a new
chapter in the history of English fiction.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The new era, however, began badly enough, in the midst of a byway of
most absurd experiment, which could not, in the nature of things, lead
to any permanent achievement. For along with so much else that was
French in manners, fashions, morals, turns of speech, there had already
been imported into England a taste for the peculiar form of romance—the
_roman à longue haleine_—which was just then enjoying amazing popularity
in the country of its birth, on the other side of the Channel. As we
turn back to the dull and monstrous productions of the class now in
question, we find it difficult enough to conceive that in any place,
under any possible circumstances, there should have been men and women
able to derive not simply enjoyment, but passionate and continuous
enjoyment, from their pages. But the famous Hôtel de Rambouillet had set
its mark upon them, and in the well-prepared country of the “Arcadia,”
they realized instant and complete success, not only among the
ultra-fashionables of a Gallicized society, but also in the more general
reading world.

We must glance for a moment at one or two of the most salient
characteristics of the school of fiction which thus became for a time so
widely influential, that we may at once appreciate its stultifying
tendencies, and bring into clear perspective what we shall presently
have to say about the work of Mrs. Manley and Mrs. Behn. In doing this
we need go no farther than the examples furnished by the three most
prominent French leaders of polite taste—Gomberville, La Calprenède, and
Mlle. de Scudéri.

In the first place, the would-be student of the so-called
classical-heroic romances of these once celebrated writers is staggered
by their tremendous bulk and inordinate prolixity. The modern reader
shudders at Richardson, and takes his “Pamela” and “Sir Charles
Grandison” in condensed editions. But Richardson is brevity itself
compared with these earlier indefatigable laborers in the field of the
novel. Gomberville’s “Polexandre” began in four volumes quarto, and in
its later editions comprised some six thousand pages; the “Cléopâtre” of
La Calprenède, when finished, filled twelve octavo volumes; “Pharamond,”
written partly by the same author, and partly by Pierre d’Ortigue de
Vaumorière, reached nearly the same length; while the “Clélie” and “Le
Grand Cyrus” of Mlle. de Scudéri—who in the matter of resolute
long-windedness was, naturally enough, more than a match for her
masculine rivals—extended respectively to some eight thousand and
fifteen thousand octavo pages.[6] These, and such as these, were the
works that Pope was ridiculing when in “The Rape of the Lock” he built
out of them an altar for the due celebration of the “adventurous
baron’s” religious rites; and he was surely justified in describing them
as “huge French romances.” It makes us feel how little of permanence and
stability there is in any matter of taste, when we remember that these
colossal productions, over which the most patient reader of to-day would
soon catch himself yawning, were once awaited with interest and devoured
with avidity.

Footnote 6:

  The reader of Pepys, recalling Mrs. Pepys’s fondness for these
  interminable stories, will remember that, as we have seen, “Le Grand
  Cyrus” once gave rise to considerable unpleasantness between husband
  and wife.


But even more important, from the standpoint of literary history, than
the mere size of these overgrown absurdities were their structural
principles and peculiarities of style. An offshoot apparently from the
chivalrous and pastoral romances of earlier date, with the addition of
what it pleased writers and readers alike to regard as an “historical”
blend of interest, the classical-heroic romance proper presents a
bewildering jumble of the most far-sought and incongruous materials. In
fine disregard of anachronism and inconsistency, their authors carry us
hither and thither about the world, introducing us to Greeks and Romans,
Egyptians and Persians, Knights of the Round Table, Paladins of
Charlemagne, shepherds and shepherdesses of nowhere in particular, and
even Peruvian Incas. The main plot, as a rule deceptively simple, is
complicated from first to last by enormous and intricate ramifications
of secondary actions; a characteristic due to the fact that every fresh
individual introduced, whether in the central narrative, or in some
excrescence from it, persists in recounting his own adventures at
tremendous length. Thus we have story within story, wheel within wheel,
till the reader completely loses his hold upon the tangled threads of
intrigue, and collapses into a condition of dazed despair.[7] But this
is not the worst. The characters seem to be totally unable to tell their
experiences in a straightforward fashion and have done with it. They
linger by the way—time being of no importance to any of them—to indulge
in everlasting conversations and soliloquies, discourse learnedly on
delicate questions of gallantry and honor, quote, criticise,
sentimentalize, pour out page after page of inflated rhapsody, and cavil
remorselessly on the ninth part of a hair. Thus the so-called “historic”
element in these romances, is nominal only. The heroes and heroines, of
whatever race, clime, or era, are only masquerading men and women of
seventeenth-century France, with the ridiculous jargon of the Hôtel de
Rambouillet incessantly upon their lips.

Footnote 7:

  Novel-readers will not need to be reminded that the
  “story-within-story” device survived long after the classical-heroic
  romance had passed into oblivion. It is employed, for instance, by
  both Fielding and Smollett, and traces of it are to be found in the
  earlier work of Dickens, and in other writers quite near our own time.


It will be seen from this brief description that the classical-heroic
romance was absolutely artificial and unreal; that it had, and pretended
to have, no touch or contact with the things of solid existence.
Characters, incidents, sentiments, speech were all of a world
apart—Utopia, Arcadia, No-Man’s-Land. Life was not distorted, as it is
in the writings of many romantic novelists and most of our modern
realists. It was simply not considered at all.

At the time when these ponderous and vapid productions reached the
climax of their popularity on their native soil, French was well
understood by the educated classes in England; and it was in their
original tongue, therefore, that they made their way at first among the
fellow-countrymen of Milton. But translations soon followed with a
rapidity that bore startling testimony to the strength of the new taste.
“Polexandre” appeared in an English version as early as 1647; “Ibrahim,”
“Cassandra,” and “Cléopâtre” in 1652; while “Clélie,” “Astrée,”
“Scipion,” “Le Grand Cyrus,” “Zelinda,” and “Almahide” were all
translated and published between the latter date and 1677. On the heels
of these regular translations soon came sundry imitations which, after
the manner of imitations in general, reproduced with scrupulous fidelity
all the worst features of the original works. “Eliana,” issued in 1661,
reads almost like a burlesque of the heroic style, and abounds in
long-drawn descriptive passages of the most florid and fantastic kind.
Running this very close in overwrought extravagance of theme and
language, the “Pandion and Amphigenia” of Crowne the dramatist saw the
light four years later. But the most celebrated of the English specimens
of this exotic school is a somewhat earlier work—the “Parthenissa” of
Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery; a production left incomplete after reaching
more than eight hundred folio pages. This is pronounced by Dunlop, whose
industry and patience in reading the romances of this period must have
been little short of superhuman, to be the best English specimen of its
class; and most of us will probably be more ready to accept his judgment
than to undertake its verification.[8]

Footnote 8:

  A delightfully witty account of this work, and of the classical-heroic
  romance at large, will be found in Jusserand’s “English Novel in the
  Time of Shakspere,” a book which combines with the erudition of the
  German specialist the verve, tact, and lucidity of the
  French—qualities which are commonly to be sought in vain in the
  voluminous and too often chaotic lucubrations of Teutonic scholarship.


Both “Eliana” and “Parthenissa” were broken off abruptly, the latter in
the middle of one of its most interesting situations; and Dunlop is
probably right in regarding this fact as evidence of the gradual decline
of the taste out of which they had grown and to which they had appealed.
Indeed, so far as England was concerned, the classical-heroic romance
could not have been otherwise than ephemeral. It had no real hold upon
English society, and was fundamentally out of harmony with the spirit of
an age in which chivalry had degenerated into empty gallantry, and
playing at pastoral simplicity had ceased to be an aristocratic
amusement. The temper of which it was one manifestation for a time made
its influence deeply felt in almost every department of literature; it
invaded even poetry; and directly inspired that extraordinary form of
drama, so familiar to the student of Davenant and Dryden—the heroic
play. But the prose fiction to which it gave existence carried in its
essential qualities the seeds of early decay. It is true that in certain
quarters it retained a faint and shadowy kind of reputation longer than
might have been expected.[9] But the rise of a totally different school
of novelists in the last decades of the seventeenth century, practically
marks the close of its career; and dying, it left no issue.

Footnote 9:

  Translations of several of the great French romances, including
  “Clelia,” “which opened of itself in the place that described two
  lovers in a bower,” are given in the list of books on Leonora’s
  shelves (“Spectator,” No. 37); and suggestive mention is made of
  “Pharamond” and “Cassandra” as late as 1711 (“Spectator,” No. 92).
  Mrs. Lennox’s satire, “The Female Quixote,” may be taken to show that
  even in 1752 these works were still sometimes read.


                  *       *       *       *       *

We are now at length prepared to appreciate the historic significance
and interest of what, in a rather loose way, is commonly called the
prose fiction of the Restoration.

Says Mrs. Manley, in the introductory address to the reader in her
“Secret History of Queen Zarah”:—

    “Romances in France have for a long time been the diversion and
    amusement of the whole world; the people ... have read these
    works with a most surprising greediness; but that fury is very
    much abated, and they are all fallen off from this distraction.
    The little histories of this kind have taken place [sic] of
    romances, whose prodigious number of volumes were sufficient to
    tire and satiate such whose heads were most filled with these
    notions.... These little pieces which have banished romances are
    much more agreeable to the brisk and impetuous humor of the
    English, who have naturally no taste for long-winded
    performances; for they have no sooner begun a book than they
    desire to see the end of it.”

These remarks will doubtless strike some readers as curious, and we may
well wonder what the followers of Taine, particularly, would make of the
“brisk and impetuous humor” here alleged to characterize the English
people. But they are valuable to us, irrespective of their psychology,
because they enable us to understand how the new fiction—the fiction in
which, despite all adventitious differences, we can clearly recognize
the beginnings of the modern novel—arose to take the place of the
Anglo-French romance. The “little histories” to which Mrs. Manley refers
grew up by the most natural process of reaction against the “prodigious
number of volumes” into which, as we have noted, the older narratives
had run. Nor was it in measure only that a change was initiated. As we
shall presently see, the novel of the Restoration, broadly so-called,
differed from its predecessors not merely in length, but also in the
more important qualities of subject-matter, treatment, and style. The
old Arcadia was finally forsaken for the solid earth, and lengthy
descriptions, multifarious episodes, wearisome soliloquies, and needless
tortuosities of plot were at the same time left behind. Real life now
formed the basis of the story, and, despite occasional reminiscences of
the older manner, crispness of narration became one of the writers’
principal aims.

We have here undertaken to consider a little this healthy and
significant change from the romance to the novel in the writings of two
of its representative exponents—Mrs. Behn and Mrs. Manley. It should be
understood, however, that in adopting this course we have no intention
of throwing their work into undue prominence. They were but part-factors
in a general movement, and must be contented to share its honors with a
number of their contemporaries. Nevertheless, they possess a special
interest for the student of English literature, for two very good
reasons. In the first place, taken together, they illustrate with
remarkable clearness those broader characteristics of the new fiction
which it is our principal concern in this little essay to bring to
light; and, secondly, there is the fact that they were women. It is
surely in itself instructive to find that while the great Elizabethan
drama can adduce no example of a woman-writer, it is in the productions
of a couple of women that we can study to the best advantage some of the
rudimentary developments of the modern novel.[10]

Footnote 10:

  Common fairness leads me to state, though it must be in the
  quasi-obscurity of a foot-note, that in any exhaustive treatment of
  the Restoration novel, place should be found for a third female
  name—that of Swift’s “stupid, infamous, scribbling woman,” Mrs.
  Haywood. But though this lady produced, between 1720 and 1730, a
  number of short stories that might fittingly be touched upon here, her
  best-known works, “The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless” (1751) and
  “The History of Jeremy and Jenny Jessamy” (1754), belong to the times
  of Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett, and therefore to another school
  and period of fiction entirely. She would thus be very likely to tempt
  us too far afield for the purposes we have here in view.


It will be convenient for us to ignore the strict demands of chronology
and begin with the work of Mrs. Manley, which, though somewhat later in
date than Mrs. Behn’s, may properly be taken first, since it is at once
cruder in form and historically of minor importance.

Mrs. De la Riviere Manley—“poor Mrs. Manley,” as Swift calls her, in the
“Journal to Stella”—enjoyed anything but a peaceful life. It seems to be
an accepted tradition among biographers of men and women of letters to
begin their narratives by protesting that the lives of authors seldom
furnish exciting materials, and then to go on to add that their
particular heroes or heroines are exceptions to the general rule.
Certainly Mrs. Manley was an exception, if rule indeed it be, which I
think open to question. She herself has given us some account of her
adventures and misfortunes in different portions of her “New Atalantis,”
and more particularly in “The History of Rivella”—an autobiography and
_apologia pro vitâ sua_—published in 1714, under the pseudonym of Sir
Charles Lovemore. There is no need for us to follow her through all her
varied experiences, the record of which, though often lively enough, is
seldom of a very improving character. It will be sufficient to give the
briefest outline of her career.

She was born in Guernsey about the year 1677, her father, Sir Roger
Manley, being, as is generally stated, governor, or, as seems more
probable, deputy governor, of that island. According to her own account,
she grew up into a sharp-witted, impressionable girl, who, receiving
rather more than an average education, early gave signs of an
intelligence beyond what, at that time, was considered the fair
endowment of her sex. Her tribulations, too, began early. Her parents
died when she was still very young, and she fell into the hands of a
male cousin, who unfortunately became enamored of her. The man was known
to be married already, but he asserted that his wife was dead; and
Rivella, deceived by his protestations, entered into a secret marriage
with him. The theme of one of her most unsavory stories seems to have
been directly suggested by this tragic episode in her own life. After a
while, of course, the truth came out. Then her scoundrelly husband
abandoned her, and she was left to shift for herself as best she might.
About this time she gained the patronage of the famous Duchess of
Cleveland, one of Charles the Second’s mistresses, in attendance upon
whom she remained during some six months. But the Duchess was a woman of
fickle temper. She soon grew tired of Mrs. Manley; and, by pretending
that she had discovered her in an intrigue with her son (and there may
possibly have been more ground than poor Rivella admits for the
allegation), found an excuse for dismissing her from her service. It was
now that Mrs. Manley appears to have taken up her pen in earnest—and a
very reckless and caustic pen it by and by turned out to be. Her
tragedy, “The Royal Mistress,” acted in 1696, proved so successful that
she found herself courted by all the dandies and witlings of the day;
and for some years, as a consequence, she spent her time principally in
getting out of one intrigue into another. Nevertheless, she found
leisure, amid all her excitements, to write and produce her “Secret
Memoirs and Manners of Several Persons of Quality, from the New
Atalantis”—a work which, under the most thinly disguised names, attacked
in an extremely violent and outspoken manner the men who had been mainly
instrumental in bringing about the Revolution. In virtue of this
production Mrs. Manley may be said to have secured the doubtful honor of
being the first political woman-writer in England. So successful was the
satire in reaching those for whom it was intended, that the printer was
straightway apprehended; but Mrs. Manley—who, as Swift contemptuously
put it, “had generous principles for one of her sort”—would not allow
him to suffer in her behalf. She appeared before the Court of King’s
Bench, and declared herself solely responsible for the entire
undertaking, maintaining, moreover, “with unaltered constancy, that the
whole work was mere invention, without any cynical allusion to real
characters.”[11] Mrs. Manley, indeed, seems to have cared a great deal
more about getting her printer out of a scrape than about sticking too
solemnly to the simple truth; since, apart altogether from the
manifestly satirical intention of the book, we know that she made its
publication the basis of a personal application to the ministry. In the
“Journal to Stella,” Swift tells us how he afterwards met Mrs. Manley at
the house of Lord Peterborough, and adds that she was there “soliciting
him to get some pension or reward for her service in the cause, by
writing her ‘Atalantis.’” Still we must frankly admit that her loyalty
to the printer in such a crisis throws her character into a rather
favorable light.

Footnote 11:

  Scott’s edition of Swift’s works (1824), vol. ii., p. 303, _note_.


However, after a short period of confinement, and sundry appearances
before the court, Mrs. Manley was allowed to go free, and the matter
dropped. After this adventure, she produced several dramatic pieces,
wrote some pamphlets of a political kind, and for a time conducted “The
Examiner,” which had then been relinquished by Swift. Indeed, she
appears to have remained in the full swing of activity to the close of
her life. She died, aged about forty-seven, in 1724, at the house of one
John Barber, an alderman of the City of London, with whom it is supposed
she had for some time past been living.

In person, as she herself very candidly tells us, Mrs. Manley was fat,
and her face had been early marked by that terrible scourge of the age,
the smallpox; notwithstanding which defects, her fascination of manner
and conversation was so great, that she was always popular with the
other sex. Of her moral character, perhaps, the less said the better.
Circumstances had not been kind to Rivella; and at this distance of
time, and with all the intrigues in which she was involved, it is not
always easy to say how far she was sinned against, and how far sinning,
or whether her own statement came anywhere near the facts of the case
when she boldly declared that “her virtues” were “her own, her vices
occasioned by her misfortunes.” Still we must admit the truth of the
words which she has put into the mouth of d’Aumont in the “History of
Rivella”: “If she have but half so much of the practice as the theory,
in the way of love, she must certainly be a most accomplished person.”
And a most accomplished person, after her own fashion, she evidently
seems to have been.

The most famous of her writings—if the word _famous_ can properly be
used, when they have all passed into oblivion—is, of course, the “New
Atalantis”—that veritable “cornucopia of scandal,” as Swift dubbed it.
This work swept its author into temporary notoriety, and for a few years
was perhaps as much talked of and discussed as any publication of the
time. But the life has long since gone out of its personalities and
topical allusions, and the ordinary reader of English literature, if he
recall it even by name, is likely to remember it only for the use Pope
makes of it in a well-known passage in “The Rape of the Lock”:—

            “Let wreaths of triumph now my temples twine!
             (The victor cried); the glorious prize is mine!
             While fish in streams, or birds delight in air,
             Or in a coach and six the British fair;
             As long as Atalantis shall be read,
             Or the small pillow grace a lady’s bed;
             While visits shall be paid on solemn days,
             When numerous wax-lights in bright order blaze;
             While nymphs take treats, or assignations give,
             So long my honor, name, and praise shall live!”

But though this book, as we shall hereafter find, is not without its
significance for the student of the English novel, it is less
interesting and important from our point of view than “The Power of
Love: In Seven Examples,” to which for the present we will confine our

As the title indicates, this volume consists of seven separate
stories—“The Fair Hypocrite,” “The Physician’s Stratagem,” “The Wife’s
Resentment,” “The Husband’s Resentment” (in two examples), “The Happy
Fugitives,” and “The Perjured Beauty.” The keynote of the whole
collection is clearly struck in the following passage from the
first-mentioned of the tales:—

    “Of all those passions which may be said to tyrannize over the
    heart of man, love is not only the most violent, but the most
    persuasive.... A lover esteems nothing difficult in the pursuit
    of his desires. It is then that fame, honor, chastity, and glory
    have no longer their due estimation, even in the most virtuous
    breast. When love truly seizes the heart, it is like a malignant
    fever which thence disperses itself through all the sensible
    parts; the poison preys upon the vitals, and is only
    extinguished by death; or by as fatal a cure, the accomplishment
    of its own desires.”

The “love” shadowed forth in these sentences is that which dominates
each of the seven “Examples” in this little book, which are thus only
variations on a single persistent theme. It is the merest animal
passion—passion unrefined by sentiment, uncolored by emotion; the love
of Etheridge and Wycherley. Upon the gratification of this in a licit,
or, as frequently happens, in an illicit way, the plot is, with the
monotony of a modern French novel, everywhere made to turn. The heroes
of her stories are all, like Mr. Slye, in the author’s rather amusing
sketch, the “Stage-Coach Journey to Exeter,” “naturally amorous”; her
heroines, like the Fair Princess in “The Happy Fugitives,” are one and
all “born under an amorous constellation,” and like her, are forever
“floating on the tempestuous sea of passion, guided by a master who is
too often pleased with the shipwreck of those whom he conducts.” So
violent are the experiences portrayed that we can hardly avoid the
thought that Mrs. Manley must have adhered in practice to the maxim of
“Astrophel and Stella”—“Look in thy heart, and write,”—and must have
gone straight to some of the stormiest episodes of her own career for
the pictures which she gives us. Passion and gratification—these, then,
are the regular ingredients of her stories. Of the larger and finer
influence of love; of its strengthening and ennobling power; of the way
in which its subtle mastery will work through life,—

            “Not only to keep down the base in man,
             But teach high thought, and amiable words,
             And courtliness, and the desire of fame,
             And love of truth, and all that makes a man,”—

of all these things, familiar enough, fortunately, to the reader of
modern fiction, we have scarcely a trace. So far as the influence of
love is shown at all, it is consistently shown as a debasing influence.
This point, clearly set forth in the quotation already made, may be
illustrated from the record of the writer’s own life. In the “History of
Rivella,” she tells us that, when quite a girl, she was infatuated with
a handsome young soldier who, when the gaming-tables were brought out,
found, to his embarrassment, that he had no money to play with. Noticing
this, Rivella went to her father’s drawer, stole some money, and gave it
to him. Now, mark the author’s commentary upon the action: “Being
perfectly just,” she says, “by nature, principle, and education, nothing
but love, and that in a high degree, could have made her otherwise.”
Here we have, then, a fair expression of the kind of love which is
presented to us in these “Examples.” A despotic animal appetite,
unchecked in its fierce, impulsive play by any nobler considerations
whatever, it drives human nature downward, captive and slave to the
“fury passions” which civilization has been struggling to bring under
partial control.

These seven stories, therefore, are anything but pleasant reading,
unless they be, like certain incidents referred to in the “New
Atalantis,” “pleasant ... to the ears of the vicious.” It is not only
that they are repulsive because of the undisguised licentiousness that
everywhere prevails in them; they are occasionally disgusting on account
of the large part played by the merely horrible. So intimately related
are unemotionalized passion and utter brutality, that, as might be
expected, here, where the one is so conspicuous, the other has
considerable place. The revenge taken by the woman upon her worthless
husband in “The Wife’s Resentment” (Did recollection of her own wrongs
add bitterness to Rivella’s pen, we may well wonder?) may be cited as an
example of this. Don Roderigo, a Spanish gentleman, after trying for
fifteen months to seduce a poor girl named Violenta, marries her in a
moment of thoughtlessness, but keeps the marriage a secret from his
friends. Before long he is forced by his family into a second and public
union with a wealthy heiress. The news of his inconstancy fills Violenta
with delirious passion; and nothing will appease her but revenge, sudden
and complete. She decoys Roderigo into her apartment, murders him while
he is asleep, and, not contented with this, deliberately tears out his
eyes and mangles “his body all over with an infinite number of gashes”
before throwing it out into the street. And what is particularly
noteworthy is, that the narrator herself does not seem to be in the
least impressed by the loathsome details accumulated in her description.
She reports the incident as though it were a matter of course, and
quietly tells us that when Violenta was brought to justice for her
crime, the duke, the magistrates, and all the spectators were amazed “at
the courage and magnanimity of the maid, and that one of so little rank
should have so great a sense of her dishonor.”

Unquestionably the most pleasing of all these stories, alike from a
literary and from a moral standpoint, is “The Happy Fugitives,” a simple
tale, containing comparatively little to which exception could be taken.
The plots of “The Physician’s Stratagem” and “The Perjured Beauty,” on
the other hand, are too hideous to be reproduced. As a whole, the book
is desperately dull and tiresome; for the pornographic horrors of its
pages are unredeemed by any excellencies of style. Its only interest for
us here, therefore, is an historic one; and about this side of the
matter, we shall have a general word or two to say later on.

                  *       *       *       *       *

If, morally considered, she is equally open to stricture, our second
woman-novelist, Mrs. Behn, at least bulks out as a more considerable
figure in the annals of English letters. Highly eulogized by some of the
most distinguished of her contemporaries—Dryden, Otway, and Southerne
among the number,—she must still be spoken of with the respect due to
her undoubted talents, versatility, industry, and courage. That she is
to be regarded as “an honor and glory” to her sex, as one of her
enthusiastic admirers roundly declared, it would now, for many reasons,
be out of the question to maintain. But the one fact that she was the
first woman of her country to support herself entirely by the pen,
itself establishes her right to a certain place in the long line of
female writers who have since her day done so much for literature.

Aphra (or Aphara) Johnson, afterwards Behn, (known as the “Divine
Astræa” in the exuberant language of the time,[12] and long commonly
referred to as an “extraordinary woman,”[13]) was born towards the end
of the reign of Charles the First. While still a girl, she was taken to
the West Indies by her father, who had been appointed lieutenant-general
of Surinam.[14] Johnson himself “died at sea, and never arrived to
possess the honor designed him.” But the family settled in the colony—a
“land flowing with milk and honey,” they are said to have found it,—and
continued to reside there till about 1653. A high-colored description of
her life abroad is given in her best-known work, as it was during this
period that she made her hero’s acquaintance, and became interested in
the story of his love and tragic fate. It is characteristic of the
tendencies of the age that her biographer should feel it necessary to
pause at this point in her narrative to contradict some current town
gossip about the kind of relationship which had existed between Astræa
and the African prince. Returning to England, she married a man named
Behn, who seems to have been “a merchant in the city, tho’ of Dutch
extraction,” but concerning whom our information is of the most meagre
sort. Of him we hear little or nothing in connection with Aphra’s
subsequent adventurous career; and she was a widow before 1666. Attached
to the court of Charles the Second, she attracted so much attention, we
are told, by her keenness of intellect, alertness, and wit, that she was
employed by the Merry Monarch in some delicate diplomatic affairs during
the Dutch war. These took her to Antwerp in the character of a spy, in
which capacity she succeeded so well that in course of time, and by
means principally of her innumerable love intrigues, she obtained
possession of some secrets of considerable value. “They are mistaken who
imagine that a _Dutchman_ can’t love,” remarks her biographer, in
commenting upon these incidents; “for tho’ they are generally more
phlegmatic than other men, yet it sometimes happens that love does
penetrate their lump and dispense an enlivening fire,”—now and then with
disastrous results, as we perceive. Her information, however, was
neglected by the English Government, and in disgust the patriotic lady
threw up politics and diplomacy altogether, and presently returned to
London, narrowly escaping death by shipwreck on the way.

Footnote 12:

  This is the name under which Mrs. Behn enters the satire of Pope:-

                “The stage how loosely doth Astræa tread!”

  The second line of the couplet may be left unquoted.

Footnote 13:

  See “Apotheosis of Milton” in the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” for 1738
  (vol. viii., p. 469).

Footnote 14:

  This, according to Mr. Gosse (“Dictionary of National Biography”) was
  “a relative whom she called her father.” Mrs. Behn certainly does
  speak of him as her father in “Oroonoko.” And in the Life, “by one of
  the Fair Sex,” prefixed to the first collected edition of her works,
  we read: “Her father’s name was _Johnson_, whose relation to the Lord
  Willoughby, drew him, for the advantageous post of Lieutenant-General
  of many isles, besides the continent of _Surinam_, from his quiet
  retreat at Canterbury to run the hazardous voyage of the West Indies.”
  I do not know what is the source and origin of Mr. Gosse’s implied


Once more in London, Mrs. Behn, now thrown entirely upon her own
resources, turned to her pen for the means of support, and thenceforth
continued to occupy herself with literature and pleasure till her death,
in 1689. Say what one may about the general quality of her work, its
total amount remains remarkable, especially when one takes into
consideration the conditions of poverty, failing health, and many
harassing distractions under which it was produced. For a number of
years, with unabated industry but varying success, she poured out plays
which were calculated, in style and morality, to hit the prevailing
taste; and so boldly did she meet her masculine rivals on the common
ground of licentiousness, that she earned for herself the highly
significant nickname of “the female Wycherley.” Miscellaneous tracts and
translations kept her busy in the intervals of dramatic activity, during
which time she also threw off a couple of very curious treatises, the
characters of which are perhaps sufficiently indicated by their
titles—“The Lover’s Watch; or, The Art of Making Love,” and “The Lady’s
Looking-Glass to Dress Herself by; or, The Whole Art of Charming All
Mankind.” As manuals of conduct, it is to be feared that these
lucubrations hardly tend to edification.

Finally, to leave out for the moment what is, of course, for us now the
most important item, her experiments in fiction, which we will deal with
by themselves, Mrs. Behn also managed to write and publish a good deal
of verse. As work actually done, this must be mentioned, because it
swells her account; but it may be said at once that most of it—and
particularly her one ambitious effort, the allegorical “Voyage to the
Isle of Love,”—is without value or interest. Here and there in her
plays, however, she touches a true poetic note, as in the really fine
song in “Abdelazer,” for which—though it is doubtless familiar to
readers of the anthologies—space may be found here:—

              “Love in fantastic triumph sate,
                 Whilst bleeding hearts about him flowed,
               For whom fresh pains he did create,
                 And strange tyrannic power he showed;
               From thy bright eyes he took his fires,
                 Which round about in space he hurled;
               But ’twas from mine he took desires
                 Enough to undo the amorous world.

              “From me he took his sighs and tears,
                 From thee his pride and cruelty,
               From me his languishment and fears,
                 And every killing dart from thee;
               Thus thou and I the god have armed,
                 And set him up a deity,
               But my poor heart alone is harmed,
                 While thine the victor is, and free.”

Her biographer tells us that Mrs. Behn “was a woman of sense, and by
consequence [mark the consequence!] a lover of pleasure; as indeed,” it
is added, “all, both men and women, are,” though “some would be thought
above the conditions of humanity, and place their chief pleasure in a
proud, vain hypocrisy.” It needs hardly to be said here that I am not at
all concerned to defend the character of Astræa’s life or the tone of
her writings; and at this time of day any denunciation of the one or the
other would surely be a work of supererogation. But we should at least
try to be fair in our judgments; and if the very flattering description
given “by one of the fair sex” who “knew her intimately” is even
approximately correct, she must have been generous, frank, and
thoroughly good-hearted. These are not bad qualities in a world which in
practice knows only too little about them, though we might hesitate to
add, with her anonymous friend, that, being thus endowed, “she was, I’m
satisfied, a greater honor to our sex than all the canting tribe of
dissemblers that die with the false reputation of saints.” So far as her
writings themselves are concerned, it has only to be said that when she
found herself dependent for a livelihood upon her talents and industry,
she took what seemed to be the shortest and easiest way open to success,
and undertook to produce just what the reading public of her day was
most willing to pay for—and the reading public of her day was
unfortunately ready to pay highest for the most wanton and scandalous
things. Herein she was neither better nor worse than the majority of her
contemporaries who, like her, wielded the professional pen, though the
fact that she was a woman undoubtedly adds heinousness to her offences
against the ordinary decencies of life. “Let any one of common sense and
reason,” she says in her own defence—and the circumstance that, like
Dryden and others, she was driven into explanation and apology is
noteworthy,—“read one of my comedies, and compare it with others of this
age; and if they can find one word which can offend the chastest ear, I
will submit to all their peevish cavils.” This is the familiar
argument—However bad I may be, my neighbors are a trifle worse. I should
be very sorry, for Mrs. Behn’s sake, to take up her challenge; sorrier
for my own to have it supposed that what has been said above was said in
the way of palliation or excuse. Mrs. Behn wrote foully; and this for
most of us, and very properly, is an end of the whole discussion. But it
is as idle in these matters of sentiment, taste, expression, as it is
elsewhere, to ignore in any final judgment the subtle but profound
influence of the time-spirit; and though we may regret that such a
distinction should have to be made, we must still, in common fairness,
remember that Mrs. Behn was a woman of the seventeenth century, and not
of our own generation.[15]

Footnote 15:

  How vast was the change in taste between, say, the opening and the
  close of the eighteenth century, is shown by Sir Walter Scott, in an
  anecdote which has special interest for us here, as bearing directly
  upon the woman now in question. A grand-aunt of his, Mrs. Keith, of
  Ravelstone, towards the close of a very long life, asked Scott if he
  had ever seen Mrs. Behn’s novels. “I confessed the charge. Whether I
  could get her a sight of them?—I said, with some hesitation, I
  believed I could; but that I did not think she would like either the
  manners or the language, which approached too near that of Charles the
  Second’s time to be quite proper reading. ‘Nevertheless,’ said the
  good old lady, ‘I remember them being so much admired, and being so
  interested in them myself, that I wish to look at them again.’ To hear
  was to obey. So I sent Mrs. Aphra Behn, curiously sealed up, with
  ‘private and confidential’ on the packet, to my gay old grand-aunt.
  The next time I saw her afterwards, she gave me back Aphra, properly
  wrapped up, with merely these words: ‘Take back your bonny Mrs. Behn;
  and, if you will take my advice, put her in the fire, for I found it
  impossible to get through the very first novel. But is it not,’ she
  said, ‘a very odd thing that I, an old woman of eighty and upwards,
  sitting alone, feel myself ashamed to read a book which, sixty years
  ago, I have heard read aloud for the amusement of large circles,
  consisting of the first and most creditable society in London!’” (See
  Lockhart’s Scott, chap. liv.)


But we must now turn to her novels—her “incomparable novels,” as they
used to be called. The collected edition of 1705, containing, according
to its own statement, “All the Histories and Novels Written by the Late
Ingenious Mrs. Behn,” includes, besides the two treatises to which
reference has been made, the following stories: “The History of
Oroonoko; or, The Royal Slave,” “The Fair Jilt,” “The Nun,” “Agnes de
Castro,” “The Lucky Mistake,” “Memoirs of the Court of the King of
Bantam,” and “The Adventure of the Black Lady.”

The first-mentioned of these—“Oroonoko,” the novel with which Mrs.
Behn’s name is to-day almost exclusively associated—is from every point
of view by far the most interesting of her works. It represents the
first really noteworthy experiment in the fiction of the time to descend
from the misty realms of the old romance to the plain ground of actual
life. The history—which, as Miss Kavanagh has said, “is the only one of
her tales that, spite of all its defects, can still be read with
entertainment”[16]—was written at the special request of Charles the
Second, to whom Mrs. Behn, on her return from the West Indies, had given
“so pleasant and rational an account of his affairs there, and
particularly of the misfortunes of _Oroonoko_, that he desired her to
deliver them publicly to the world.” The narrative is, indeed,
represented by the author as a direct transcript from her own
experiences. “I was,” she says, “myself an eye-witness to a great part
of what you will here find set down; and what I could not be witness of,
I received from the mouth of the chief actor in this history, the hero

Footnote 16:

  “English Women of Letters,” vol. i., p. 31.


The motive of the story is the tragedy of Oroonoko’s life, and this is
worked out simply, but with a good deal of power. The grandson of an
African king, and a youth of great strength, courage, and intelligence,
Oroonoko early becomes enamored of Imoinda—“a beauty, that to describe
her truly, one need only say she was female to the noble male,”—but to
whom, unfortunately, his grandfather also takes a fancy. The young
people are secretly married; notwithstanding which, the old king has the
girl carried to his palace and placed among his mistresses. In
desperation, the husband makes his way by night to Imoinda’s chamber.
Here he is discovered by the king’s guards; Imoinda is sold into
slavery; and after a while Oroonoko shares the same fate—“a lion taken
in a toil.” By a remarkable coincidence, they are brought at length to
the same place—the colony where Aphra and her family were then living.
Thus unexpectedly reunited to the woman he had deemed lost to him
forever, Oroonoko is for a time contented with his lot; but presently,
growing weary of captivity, he plans a revolt among the slaves, upon the
suppression of which he is brutally punished. After this he escapes to
the woods with his young wife, whose fidelity and never-failing devotion
are very touchingly set forth. Then comes the final tragedy. Dreading
that she may fall into the hands of the whites, he deliberately and with
her full consent, murders her; and after remaining for several days
half-insensible beside her corpse, he is again taken by the colonists,
and hacked to pieces limb by limb. With his death, the simple story

Now, in the first and casual reading of this novel, we may very probably
be struck rather by its points of similarity to the older romances than
by its qualities of essential difference from them. For Mrs. Behn
frequently adopts the heroic, or “big bow-wow” strain, especially in her
sentimental situations, and where she desires to be particularly
effective. Her language is often stilted and conventional, and there are
occasions when we are more than half-convinced that Surinam is, after
all, only another way of spelling Arcadia. But further study of the work
will convince us that we must not attach too much importance to what are
really superficial characteristics. In the deeper matters of substance
and purpose, the story belongs not to the old school of fiction, but to
the new; and that Mrs. Behn herself understood what she was about, is, I
think, made clear by what she says in the opening paragraph:—

    “I do not pretend, in giving you the history of this royal
    slave, to entertain my reader with the adventures of a feigned
    hero, whose life and fortunes fancy may manage at the poet’s
    pleasure; nor in relating the truth, design to adorn it with any
    accidents, but such as arrived in earnest to him. And it shall
    come simply into the world, recommended by its own proper merits
    and natural intrigues; there being enough of reality to support
    it, and to render it diverting, without the addition of

Two points, then, are noticeable in this work. In the first place, it
depends for its interest not on astonishing adventures, high-flown
diction, or extravagant play of fancy, but simply on the sterling
humanity of the narrative. The unfortunate hero and his wife are, of
course, drawn upon the heroic scale, but they still possess the solid
traits of real manhood and womanhood, and, applying the supreme test in
all such cases, we find that we can believe in them. The chasm which
separates such an achievement as this from the windy sentimentalities of
the Anglo-French romance is a very wide one, and Mrs. Behn’s boldness of
innovation was, therefore, the more remarkable. In the second place,
“Oroonoko” is written with a well-defined didactic aim. It is a novel
with a purpose—the remote forerunner of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and the
whole modern school of ethical fiction. Thus, together with a marked
tendency towards realism, Mrs. Behn’s book exhibits a no less marked
bias in the direction of practical teaching. Its historic significance
is therefore twofold.[17]

Footnote 17:

  Another matter of curious interest in connection with “Oroonoko” calls
  for passing mention, though too far removed from our special subject
  to detain us here. This is the remarkable way in which, in its
  presentation of the “noble savage,” and the innocence, purity, and
  high moral character of the “natural man,” the story anticipates
  Rousseau and the later romanticists. Jusserand, who points this out,
  goes so far as to say that Mrs. Behn “carries us at once beyond the
  times of Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding, and takes us among the
  precursors of the French Revolution.” It may be added that, in the
  hands of “Honest Tom Southerne,” the story of Oroonoko became a
  successful play.


Mrs. Behn’s other tales show less originality, and are neither so
attractive nor so valuable. They are short love-stories which, though
not so radically and aggressively impure as her plays, are still tainted
through and through by the prevailing grossness of the time. Like Mrs.
Manley, Mrs. Behn makes mere physical appetite—the passion which “rages
beyond the inspirations of _a god all soft and gentle_, and reigns more
like _a fury from hell_”[18]—the turning-point of all her plots; like
Mrs. Manley, she centres the entire interest of her narratives in the
gratification, not in the influences, of this passion. Like Mrs. Manley,
too,—and here the severest judgment might well pass unprotested,—she is
as harsh and free-spoken as the most profligate of male cynics regarding
the foibles of her own sex. Vain, selfish, salacious, intriguing,
spiteful, her female figures, as a whole, are simply repulsive in their
unqualified animality; and as we read of their lives and their doings,
we no longer wonder at the open savagery of a Wycherley, or the
undisguised contempt of a Congreve, in an age when a woman could thus
write of women, without fear, almost without reproach. Finally, like
Mrs. Manley, Mrs. Behn is ready at times to indulge not only in scenes
of the utmost coarseness, but also in pictures of the most revolting
brutality. An instance of this might be given from “The Fair Jilt”,
where the unskilful execution of Tarquin is detailed with horrible
minuteness. The best of these shorter stories is “The Lucky Mistake,” a
tale written throughout with comparatively good taste. They are nearly
all based on fact—many on direct observation; and this renders them,
from a student’s point of view, interesting. But there is a great
sameness in the incidents described, and on the side of characterization
they are very weak indeed. The plots are all made up out of the same
classes of material; and the men and women of any one story are hardly
to be distinguished otherwise than by name from those of any other.

Footnote 18:

  “The Fair Jilt.”


                  *       *       *       *       *

And now, in returning to the question of the historic significance of
the two writers into whose books—habitually allowed to stand undisturbed
upon the library shelf—we have here rather rashly ventured to pry, we
shall find, if I mistake not, that little remains to be said. Brief as
our analysis of the heroic romances and the tales of Mrs. Behn and Mrs.
Manley has necessarily been, it will, if it does not fail entirely of
its purpose, suffice to mark the points of fundamental contrast between
them. The nature and importance of the changes exemplified in these
story-tellers of the Restoration will thus be made clear.

Hitherto, as we have seen, fiction had made little or no attempt to deal
frankly with life. In other words, it had not as yet found its proper
sphere. Purely a thing of the imagination, it had sought its subjects
afar, proudly ignoring the common matters of the world—the joys and
sorrows, the hopes and struggles of every-day humanity. The words which
the author of a life of Sidney, prefixed to one of the early editions of
the “Arcadia,” applies to that work, we might with equal fairness apply
to almost the entire mass of fiction thus far written. “The invention is
wholly spun out of the fancy,” he says. The scene was laid in some
far-away dreamland, not the less remote and visionary because
occasionally called by a familiar earthly name; the characters were
swollen out to superhuman proportions, and were endowed with qualities
that no mortal being has ever been known to possess; their adventures
were on the face of them impossible; they thought, acted, talked as no
man or woman had thought, acted, talked since the world began. Life and
fiction stood entirely apart. The real world of tangible flesh and blood
found for the time its only expression in the drama. In fiction there
was as yet no human interest whatever.

With Mrs. Behn commenced the tendency to deal with life—to make the
novel in some sense a reproduction of actual experience. We may regret
that the special phases of the human comedy that she deliberately chose
to write about, were only too often phases the least worthy of
attention; that her interests were narrowed down, and her work crippled,
by considerations of the most cramping and disastrous kinds; that she
knew nothing of proportion and perspective, and little of the higher and
finer developments of motive and character; that she could not see life
steadily, and did not see it whole. But all this must not stand in the
way of our insisting that she was one of the first writers of prose
fiction—perhaps the first in England—to substitute the solid stuff of
reality for the flimsy material of the imagination. Crude and partial as
her observations were, she at least observed; sorry as are most of the
results of her study of the world, she did study it at first hand—did
hold the mirror up to nature. What she accomplished in thus opening up
the field of the modern novel, what Mrs. Manley accomplished in
following her lead, are matters, therefore, of sufficient importance to
call for distinct recognition. We do not claim for the books of these
two women any individual merit or interest. But when we lay aside one of
their stories, bearing in mind the conditions of the time at which it
was written, we realize that, artistically, if not always morally, they
represent a step in advance; that it was by such work as this—poor and
hopelessly dull as it may seem to us to-day—that the folios of La
Calprenède and De Scudéri were overthrown, the way made clear for Defoe
and Richardson, and the foundations of modern fiction firmly laid.

But now let us notice the suggestive circumstance that, like nearly all
innovators, these first realists seriously overstepped the mark. In
their early attempts to exchange Fairy Land for the actual world, we
find too large a place given to fact, in the most hard and circumscribed
sense of the word. In place of pure fancy, they sought to give absolute
and undiluted reality; in place of a picture without existing
counterpart, they strove to secure the detailed verisimilitude of a
photograph. Indeed, for a time the aims and methods of fiction were
almost entirely lost sight of. And it is easy to see how this
unfortunate result was brought about. Weary of the conventionalities of
the old romances, and of the shadowy heroes and heroines with whose
tedious adventures and even more tedious disquisitions their pages were
filled, the novelists of the Restoration made a bold endeavor to get
back to the life with which they were familiar, and to deal with the
world as they knew it to exist. But for the moment, there seemed only
one way of doing this. Instead of fancy, they must have fact; instead of
wandering off into the impossible, they must limit themselves to the
things which had actually happened—which had really, in Charles Reade’s
witty phrase, gone through the formality of taking place. Hence, for the
present, the constructive work of the imagination—which some of us, in
these days of so-called Naturalism, are still old-fashioned enough to
hold essentially important—was almost entirely neglected. Nearly every
story was statedly “founded on fact”; and the business of the novelist
was practically reduced to the task of presenting, with but slight
embellishment or rearrangement, specific occurrences in life. Thus we
have an early example of the tendency, just now so conspicuous, towards
what M. Brunetière has happily called “reportage” in literature. In the
reaction against the school of heroic romance, the new story-writers,
therefore, went to the other extreme. To take the materials of familiar
existence and to reorganize them, thus producing a work of art which is
at once all compact of truth and imagination, was for the time being
beyond their ken. To their limited view, realism meant slavish reality.

It was only after this mistake had been made that the possibility of
avoiding the airy unrealities of old romance, without being bound down
to the skeleton facts of life, gradually became apparent. The discovery
that a writer could be true to experience and human nature without
necessarily reproducing actual events or photographing individual men
and women, was the outcome of many experiments and much failure, and was
at length hit upon in a half-blind and fortuitous way. It was only
little by little that the element of acknowledged fiction was allowed to
encroach upon the domain of truth; only little by little that people
began to understand that the art of fiction and the art of lying are not
one and the same, and that the boldest play of imagination in the
treatment of life is not always to be associated with the distortion of
reality. In the works of Mrs. Manley and Mrs. Behn we see the English
novel stumbling painfully towards the comprehension of its own objects.
We have reached firm ground, and that is a great achievement; for only
when we move on firm ground is the novel possible. But the dead weight
of the actual is too heavy for us; we cannot synthesize the results of
experience; we gather observations, but we are unable to make artistic
productions out of them. Thus, we have a “New Atalantis” (and the book
is historically significant just for this reason) which is little more
than a jumble of personal scandal, filled in with occasional false
incidents and mendacious details; an “Oroonoko,” which is rather a
fanciful biography than a tale; we have a “Wife’s Resentment,” a “Fair
Jilt,” a “Lucky Mistake,”—stories all of which are based more or less
exclusively on historic occurrences or on events that had come under the
direct observation of the relaters.[19] Even where there is a lack of
truth, the appearance of truth is still carefully preserved. Things
which have not actually happened are nevertheless related as facts; real
characters are put through unreal incidents; the novel is supposed to
give history; fiction and falsehood are as yet confused.

Footnote 19:

  Mrs. Manley, in her Dedication to Lady Lansdowne, says that her
  stories have truth for their foundation—_i.e._, are based on fact.
  Mrs. Behn calls her “Nun” a “true novel.”


                  *       *       *       *       *

With this brief summary of the qualities and shortcomings of our two
women-novelists, this little paper might properly close. But it may be
interesting if, having carried our inquiry thus far, we add a paragraph
about the way in which the rigid reality of the works at which we have
been glancing grew gradually out into the genuine realism of the later

Properly to understand this tendency towards an equilibrium between fact
and imagination, we should turn aside to examine the profound influence
exerted over the fiction of the time of the “Tatler” and the
“Spectator.” But for our present purposes we shall find the movement
forward clearly enough exemplified in the work of one man—the author of
“Robinson Crusoe,” whose writings, therefore, we will take as our clue.

Beginning with the production of history, or semi-history, in which real
characters, slightly exaggerated, move through real scenes, or through
scenes to but small extent imaginary, Defoe proceeded little by little
to import more of fiction into his narrative, to the detriment of the
small substratum of truth still retained. By and by, he did no more than
preserve the mere frame-work of history—as in “The Journal of the Plague
Year” and the “Memoirs of a Cavalier,” in which most of the characters
and many of the incidents are purely fictitious. After this, the
remaining element of truth was gradually eliminated, and he reached the
production of narratives of fictitious characters in fictitious settings
and among fictitious scenes. “From writing biographies with real names
attached to them,” says Professor Minto, in his Life of Defoe, “it was
but a short step to writing biographies with fictitious names.” Even
when that short step was taken, the artifices resorted to by him to
preserve the apparent truthfulness of his narrations show us that he was
by no means satisfied that it would be desirable to let matters of fact
slip out of his work entirely. Though what he wrote was false, he still
tried to palm it off upon the world as true. This makes the writing of
Defoe more like lying than fiction, and goes far to explain the
extraordinary minuteness of the circumstantial method adopted by him.
But it marks, also, the transitional quality of his work. As Mr. Leslie
Stephen has neatly put it, “Defoe’s novels are simply history _minus_
the facts.” Only in his latest works do we find this pseudo-history
making way for fiction proper; and then we recognize in Defoe the
distinct forerunner of the great novelists of the eighteenth century.

But to follow this matter farther would take us beyond the due bounds,
already somewhat transgressed, of our present study. As we may now see,
the story of English fiction from the period of the Anglo-French romance
to the time of Fielding and Smollett, is a long one, and we have
undertaken to deal with only one chapter here—the chapter which tells of
Mrs. Behn and Mrs. Manley, of what they did, and of what they failed to
do. That finished, our task is at an end.


                          A Glimpse of Bohemia


                          A Glimpse of Bohemia

The Bohemia with which the following pages are concerned is not that
inland country of Europe which Greene and Shakspere, to the indignation
of all right-minded commentators, so generously endowed with a
sea-coast. We must at once dismiss from our minds all thought of Prague
and the Czechs; for the country into which we are about to offer a
personally conducted excursion finds no place on our maps and no mention
in our geographies. Our Bohemia is, in a word, none other than the
Bohemia of Paris.

The confines and landmarks of this strange country have, fortunately for
us, been authoritatively established. Bohemia, according to the painter
Marcel, of whom we shall hear more anon, and who certainly knew well
what he was talking about, is “bounded on the north by hope, work, and
gayety; on the south by necessity and courage; on the west and east by
calumny and the hospital.”[20] Yet it is just possible that these
cryptic phrases may fail to convey to some readers any very definite
geographical information; since even Rodolphe, to whom they were first
addressed, is reported to have shrugged his shoulders and responded with
a simple “Je ne comprends pas.” Hence, it may be well at the outset to
attempt to describe, as succinctly as possible, the limits of that
seductive land through which our road is now to lie.

Footnote 20:

  “La Vie de Bohème,” act i., scene 8.


This is far from being an easy task, however. Often as the word
_Bohemia_ is used, in the broad sense here attached to it, so many
writers have colored it with so many different shades of meaning, that,
though we may understand vaguely its general significance, it seems
well-nigh impossible to bring it satisfactorily within the terms of a
strict definition. “Vive la Bohème!” cries George Sand, at the end of
her novel, “La Dernière Aldini”; and “Vive la Bohème!” has found many an
echo and re-echo in the pages of French literature, down to the present
day, when it would seem that, as a free and independent country, Bohemia
is practically disappearing from the face of the earth. But each one of
the many explorers of this dark and mysterious corner of our modern
world, has brought back with him his own report of the territory and its
inhabitants; and these travellers’ stories by no means tally one with
another. To some it has seemed to be peopled by the lowest classes of
those who, as the phrase goes, live upon their wits; by beggars, petty
swindlers of all descriptions, and men and women who, through idleness
or misfortune, are unable to obtain a livelihood, we will not say in
honest ways, but in any way that society chooses to recognize as honest.
To others the population has appeared to be composed of those who follow
undignified and precarious careers, as cheap-jacks, circus-riders,
street-conjurers, acrobats, bear-trainers, sword-swallowers, and
itinerant mountebanks of kindred descriptions. A third class of writers
has made Bohemia a regular sink of society, the receptacle of all such
outcasts and human abominations as Eugène Sue and his followers loved to
depict; villains of the deepest dye—vitriol-throwers, house-breakers,
assassins. While to a fourth group this same domain has been the land of
literature and the arts, where philosophy and beer, music and debt,
painting and hunger, criticism and tobacco-smoke, combine to make life
picturesque and inspiring; a land the denizens of which either die of
penury in the streets or the hospital, uncared for, unknown, or, living,
at last take their rightful places in the front rank, among the
painters, composers, and writers of their time.

Wherein these various critics agree, is in describing Bohemia as a
country lying on the outskirts of ordinary society, and inhabited by
those who cannot, or will not, yield to that society’s conventions—the
failures or the incompatibles of decent modern civilization. It is
hardly worth while to try to decide as to what particular portion of
this vast and complex community has the best right to a name which has
thus been used with great elasticity of meaning. It will be sufficient
if we say at once that the phase of Bohemian life with which we here
purpose to deal is not that reflected in the romances of Xavier de
Montépin, Féval, or Sue. Our Bohemia is the Bohemia of art and letters;
and, as our guide through this romantic region, we will take the man who
has drawn its life for us with such marvellous power and vividness—Henri
Murger, himself the representative Bohemian, alike in the struggles and
lurid contradictions of his career, and alas! in his early and tragic

    “To-day, as of old, every man who devotes himself to art, with
    no other means of subsistence than art itself, will be forced
    to tread the pathways of Bohemia. The majority of our
    contemporaries who display the most beautiful heraldry of art
    have been Bohemians; and, in their calm and prosperous glory,
    they often recall, sometimes perhaps with regret, the time
    when, climbing the green slopes of youth, they had no other
    fortune, in the sunshine of their twenty years, than courage,
    which is the virtue of the young, and hope, which is the
    fortune of the poor. For the uneasy reader, for the timorous
    bourgeois, for all those who can never have too many dots on
    the _i_’s of a definition, we will repeat in the form of an
    axiom: Bohemia is the probation of artistic life; it is the
    preface to the academy, the hospital, or the morgue.”

Thus writes Murger, in the preface to his immortal “Scènes de la Vie de
Bohème,” and the words will be found to furnish a startling commentary
about the kind of life with which his volume deals—a life made up of
extraordinary contrasts; of dazzling dreams and the most sordid of
realities; of hope alternating with despair; of high talents ruined by
reckless excesses; of splendid promises defeated by the Fates; of
brilliant careers cut short by premature death. “The true Bohemians,”
continues this writer, who, more than any other, speaks as their
accredited mouthpiece and historian, “are really the called of art, and
stand a chance of being also the chosen.” But the country of their
adoption literally “bristles with dangers. Chasms yawn on either
side—misery and doubt. Yet between these two chasms, there is at least a
road, leading to a goal, which the Bohemians can already reach with
their eyes, while awaiting the time when they shall touch it with their
hands.” But till such time shall come, even if it ever comes at all, the
young enthusiast must turn a brave face upon all the troubles, the
anxieties, the privations, the fears, the petty worries and
distractions, by which his self-chosen career will be everywhere begirt.
For those who have once set their feet in the alluring but perilous
pathway, which will lead to fame or misery, to immortality or death,
there must be no trembling, no hesitation, no looking backward with
regretful eyes to the safe, though humble, beaten tracks which they have
left below. They have dared to devote themselves, brain and soul, to
art, in a world which cannot understand their aims, which sneers at
their aspirations, which is very likely to leave them to starve, and
will at best yield them only a grudging and tardy welcome. Hence, every
day’s existence becomes for them “a work of genius, an ever-recurring
problem.”[21] Nor is it surprising that, in the haphazard life which
they are thus forced to lead, they should inevitably acquire those
habits of carelessness, that easy-going morality, and often enough that
want of settled purpose, which make them the black sheep of respectable

    “If a little good fortune falls into their hands, they
    forthwith begin to pursue the most ruinous fancies ... not
    finding windows enough to throw their money out of; and then,
    when the last écu is dead and buried, they begin again to dine
    at the table d’hôte of chance, where their cover is always
    laid; and to chase, from morning till night, that ferocious
    beast, the hundred-sous-piece.”[22]

Footnote 21:

  “La Vie de Bohème,” act i., scene 8.

Footnote 22:



Such is the tenor of their way; certainly not a noiseless one, nor one
running through the cool, sequestered vale of life. Little wonder, then,
that with all the frivolities and uncertainties of their journey, with
all its physical hardships and moral perils, so few should survive their
pilgrimage through Bohemia, or, when they finally reach a quieter
resting-place, should have the heart to recount, with frankness and
simplicity, their varied experiences in the probationary land.

Yet the Bohemians are a great race, and may boast a proud extraction.
The founder of their illustrious family was none other than the great
father of Western song, who, “living by chance from day to day, wandered
about the fertile country of Ionia, eating the bread of charity, and
stopped at eventide to hang beside the hearth of hospitality, the
harmonious lyre that had chanted the loves of Helen and the fall of
Troy.”[23] Descending the centuries to modern times, the Bohemian
reckons his ancestors among the prominent figures of every great
literary epoch. In the middle ages, the great family tradition is
perpetuated among the minstrels and ballad-makers, the devotees of the
gay science, the whole tribe of the melodious vagabonds of Touraine;
while, as we pass from the days of chivalry to the dawn of the
Renaissance, we find “Bohemia still strolling about all the highways of
the kingdom, and already invading the streets of Paris itself.” Who does
not know of Pierre Gringoire, friend of vagrants and foe to fasting? Who
cannot picture him as “he beats the pavements of the town, nose in air,
like a dog’s, sniffing the odors of the kitchens and the cook-shops”;
and “jingling in imagination—alas, not in his pockets!—the ten crowns,
which the aldermen have promised him for the very pious and devout farce
he has written for their theatre in the hall of the Palais de Justice”?
Who, again, does not recall Master François Villon, “poet and vagabond,
_par excellence_,” whose ballads to-day may still make us forget the
ruffian, the vagabond, the debauchee? These are names with strange power
still over the imagination. And, when we come to the splendid outburst
of the Renaissance, is it not to find ourselves face to face with men in
whose veins the rich old blood was fierce and strong, with Clément
Marot, and the ill-starred Tasso, with Jean Goujon, Pierre Ronsard,
Mathurin Regnier, and who shall say how many more? Shakspere, and
Molière, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and d’Alembert—these, too, the historian
of Bohemia must include in his annals, to say nothing of the long line
of great writers in England (whom Murger does not even allude to), by
whom the name of Grub Street was made illustrious in the chronicles of
the eighteenth century.

Footnote 23:

  In this slight historic sketch of Bohemianism, we simply follow,
  without comment or criticism, Murger’s original preface to the “Scènes
  de la Vie de Bohème.”


Two groups of Bohemians in Paris—where perhaps alone to-day artistic
Bohemianism is still possible—have within more recent years made their
voices heard and their influence felt in the literature and art of their
time. The first was that which gathered about poor Gérard Labrunie,
better known as Gérard de Nerval, the unfortunate young writer whose
works have yet to reap their due appreciation, but whose translation of
“Faust,” as Goethe told Eckermann, made the great German proud “to find
such an interpreter.” That group was composed of such men as Corot,
Chesseriau, Arsène Houssaye, Théophile Gautier, Jules Janin, and
Stadler; the mere recital of whose names is enough. Shortly after this
band was broken up—some, like Nerval, dying tragically and long before
their time; others reaching high rank in the world of French
letters—another famous _cénacle_ arose, the central figure of which was
the prince of modern Bohemia, Henri Murger himself. Among those who
toiled and suffered with him, we may make passing mention of Auguste
Vitu, Schaune, and Alfred Delvau; but there were, of course, others,
whose names are less familiar to the reading public of to-day,
especially in this country. The romance of this second Bohemia has been
written for us by Murger in the “Scènes de la Vie de Bohème”; and it is
to the pages of this fascinating book that we purpose presently to turn.
But to understand these aright, to appreciate their pathos and their
comedy, to realize their intensity of meaning, we must first of all know
something of the writer’s personality and career. I do not mean that it
will be necessary for us to retell in detail the whole sad story of
Murger’s life. But so much of his character and experiences find
embodiment in this book of his, that we should miss half its charm and
more than half its significance, if we did not, to begin with, make
ourselves acquainted with at least the larger facts of his existence.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Henri Murger was born in 1822. His father, a Savoyard, moved to Paris
either just before or just after his son’s birth; obtained a situation
as janitor; and while attending to the demands of this position, carried
on at the same time his trade as a tailor. Murger _père_ was a hard,
severe, unsympathetic man, totally unable to understand his son’s
early-developed literary propensities, and with no higher ambition in
life than that of making a decent income by the exercise of his craft.
His intention from the beginning was to bring young Henri up as an adept
at shears and thimble, so that he might by-and-by turn out a
hard-working, thrifty ninth part of a man, like himself. But Henri
rebelled; and as his mother sided with him, having, as it would seem,
some faith in the child’s talents, or perhaps only a womanly yearning to
make a gentleman of him, the long struggle with paternal authority
finally closed, though not without the breeding of bitterness, in his
favor. The original scheme of training him to manual labor was
abandoned, and he received such education as his parents could afford,
which, after all, was poor enough.

While still a mere boy he entered the practical business of life through
the narrow and dingy portals of a lawyer’s office; but like many another
youth under similar conditions, the itch for verse was too strong for
him, and he relieved with the inditing of stanzas the dry technicalities
of the legal routine. Meanwhile, an academician, M. de Jouy, had taken a
fancy to him; and through his influence, at the age of sixteen, he
obtained an appointment as secretary to Count Tolstoï, a Russian
diplomatist then resident in Paris. Forty francs a month represented the
material advantages of this position; not a lordly remuneration,
certainly, but acceptable enough, none the less; more especially as the
duties, anything but cumbersome at the start, dwindled considerably with
lapse of time and presently became almost nominal. With a small definite
income to fall back upon, and plenty of leisure on his hands, Murger now
began to give free scope to his literary impulses, passing his hours in
the study of the poets, and making a humble start in his own productive
career. But his good fortune was destined to be of short duration; for
through a rather ludicrous misadventure his connection with Tolstoï was
after a while brought to a sudden close. At that time he was engaged to
furnish a certain amount of daily copy to one of the Parisian papers. It
so chanced that during the Revolution of 1848 Tolstoï found it necessary
to put his secretarial services once more into active requisition; and,
what with getting off his daily supply of matter for the press and
preparing dispatches for the Czar of all the Russias, the young man
unexpectedly found his energies taxed to the full. One memorable day the
functions of diplomatist and author unfortunately became entangled, and
in his hurry and excitement he sent off his _feuilleton_ to the Russian
Court and his dispatch to the “Corsaire.” With this ill-timed
performance, Murger’s political career ignominiously ended, and—what was
by far the most serious part of the matter—the monthly recompense of
forty francs, which had seemed to him a veritable Peruvian gold-mine,
ended also. Nor was this all. Ere this his mother had died, and with the
cessation of her mediatorial influence, the feud between himself and his
father had broken out afresh. Thus Murger was thrown entirely on his own
resources, with nothing but his pen to look to for the means of support.
His father peremptorily refused to have anything to do with him. “He
contents himself with giving me advice,” wrote Henri to a friend, in a
season of special tribulation, “and with insulting me whenever we meet.”
And it is well known that one cannot live on advice, while insults,
though more stimulating, are not a whit more nutritious.

It was at this point, then, that Henri Murger became a dweller in
Bohemia. He was now one of those who, in his own words, have no other
means of subsistence beyond that afforded by art itself; one of those
described by Balzac, “whose religion is hope, whose code is faith in
oneself, whose budget is charity.” Through nearly all the varied
experiences of which he was afterwards to write with such wonderfully
sustained graphic power, the young man himself now passed; through the
days of careless idleness or strenuous exertion; through the nights of
homeless wandering or furious dissipation; through all the grim poverty
and suffering, all the doubt and restlessness, all the fierce
fluctuations of assurance and despair, which presently went to the
making of his book. Even while he had still been in receipt of Count
Tolstoï’s allowance, things had sometimes gone hardly enough with him;
for, needless to state, he was not of the thrifty or frugal kind, “Your
friend,” he writes in a letter, as early as 1841, “has found the means
of swallowing forty francs in a fortnight; but happily for him there are
still forty sous left to carry him to the end of the month. His
existence, then, has been during the past fortnight diversified with
beefsteaks ... and Havana cigars”; while for the remaining two
ill-omened weeks, recourse must be had to that “table d’hôte of chance”
already referred to. With the discontinuance of this tiny but periodic
dropping from the great Cornucopia of Providence, the beefsteaks and
Havana cigars became less and less frequent apparitions in his life, and
the famous inn which bears the “Belle Etoile” as its sign and trading
token, found in him a pretty constant guest. To make his shoes last more
than six months, and his debts forever, now became an urgent problem for
him. Sometimes fortune would pay him a flying visit, and on such
occasions he describes himself as being temporarily in possession of
more money than he knows what to do with; but libraries, tailors,
restaurants, cafés, theatres, Turkish tobacco-pipes, and friends,
combined to help him over this perplexing difficulty with extraordinary
ease and rapidity. Once, in the intense excitement of a sudden windfall,
he went to bed and dreamed that he was the Emperor of Morocco and was
marrying the Bank of France. But such seasons of miraculous plenty were
few and far between, and visions of this extraordinary kind, when they
came at all, were less likely to arise from repletion than from an empty
stomach; for sometimes he was brought face to face with actual
starvation. Now, he reports borrowing right and left from any
acquaintance who had a franc to lend; now, again, “S—— is paying me the
thirty francs he owes me, fourteen sous at a time.” So from month to
month he struggled on, without seeming to get any nearer to the goal he
had in view, or, in point of fact, to any goal at all; often tortured
with physical pain and privation; often driven half-wild with despair;
but, after the fashion of the true Bohemian, keeping always a brave
heart, and a ready jest for the good friends who stuck close to him
through all, and who would have been only too willing to help him in his
need, but for the single unfortunate circumstance that they were as
badly off as himself.

Unhappily, Murger was, in one important respect, particularly
ill-adapted for the kind of life into which he was thus driven. A man
who trusts to his pen for daily bread should at least be a facile and
ready writer, able to turn off indefinite quantities of copy in a given
time, and willing to undertake the writing up of any subject upon which
public interest may be temporarily aroused, and an article required.
When literature becomes a business, the higher ambition to produce only
good work must almost inevitably be subordinated to the lower and more
practical aim of making the thing pay. Now, the difficulty with Murger
was, that although literature was his livelihood, his regular trade and
calling, he persistently refused to regard it mainly in that
light—refused to sacrifice artistic excellence to temporary advantage,
and to debase a sacred mission into mere routine work, the immediate, if
not indeed the sole, object of which was to turn so much intellectual
labor into so much food and clothing. He himself has remarked concerning
one of his characters that, after the fashion of genius—a generalization
which may or may not be partially true,—he had a tendency to be lazy.
Murger was not exactly lazy; but he was whimsical and uncertain; his
energies were not always under command; and he did not, with Anthony
Trollope, put firmer faith in a piece of beeswax on the seat of his
chair than in all the promptings of the divine afflatus. Like Goldsmith,
he recognized that the conditions of his life rendered it impossible for
him to pay court to the “draggle-tail Muses”; they would simply have
left him to starve outright. So he turned to prose; but with prose
things were nearly as bad. There were times when he could not and would
not write—when the spirit was not upon him; and when he could not work
as an artist, he would not work as a day-laborer or publisher’s drudge.
And even when he was in full swing, his delicate taste, his almost
morbid care in composition, his constant desire to do his best,
prevented him from ever producing with the rapidity necessary to make
the results really remunerative. Never, even under the greatest stress
of circumstances, would he consent to write hastily, or allow his
manuscript to leave his hands without what he conceived to be its proper
share of thought and revision. Money to him was always the secondary
consideration; even hunger had to wait, that the artistic sense might be
satisfied. Rather than prove traitor to his lofty ideals, he would live
for weeks on dry bread.

Thus he had more than the usual difficulty in making ends meet. But the
misfortune did not stop there. A slow and exceedingly painstaking
writer, he could produce but little in the normal hours of work; hence,
the limit had to be frequently extended; and, for this purpose, recourse
was had to the perilous aid of artificial stimulants. We now touch the
saddest part of Murger’s sad story. He wrote at night, and generally in
bed—a practice which he had probably adopted in days when fuel was a
luxury beyond his reach;[24] and his work was almost invariably done
with the assistance of strong and incessant potations of coffee. When
the house was perfectly quiet, when darkness and silence had fallen over
the city, then Murger, like Balzac, commenced the labors of the day.
With these desperate measures, there can be little doubt that he began
very early to undermine a constitution which had never been robust. The
story of the habits thus formed, and of the tyranny they acquired over
him, is a terribly tragic one, and might furnish a fearful warning to
many a jaded brain-worker, did we not know that it is the everlasting
law of human nature that no one shall profit by any one else’s
experiences. “I am literally killing myself,” he writes to a friend.
“You must break me of coffee. I count on you.” “There are nights,” he
declares at another time, “when I have consumed as much as six ounces of
coffee, and only end by convincing myself more than ever of my lack of
power—and this, yes, this has lasted three months. So that at present I
am broken down by the application of these Mochas.... And here I am
still passing my nights drinking coffee like Voltaire, and smoking like
Jean Bart.” As a direct consequence of these suicidal habits, he
gradually contracted a terrible disease—known to medicine as
“purpura”—which took him again and again to the hospital. Once, when the
hand of sickness had smitten him with more than usual severity, he made
a determined attempt to reform. He banished his coffee, and strove, by
closing the shutters and lighting the candles, to trick himself into
working, not of course by daylight, but simply during the day. But it
was too late to inaugurate so radical a change. Ere long his nocturnal
instincts reasserted themselves, and continued in full force to the end
of his career. Doubtless, it is in the pathological conditions thus
brought about, that we have to seek the explanation of the fearful
restlessness which presently came to characterize him, and which earned
for him the nickname of the Wandering Christian.

Footnote 24:

  A story to the point is worth repeating here. When the playwright,
  Barrière, went to him one afternoon to propose the dramatization of
  the “Scenes of Bohemian Life,” he found Murger in his attic in the
  Latin Quarter, in bed. It subsequently came out that a Bohemian
  friend, having occasion to pay a business visit to some important
  functionary, had borrowed his only pair of trousers, which had the
  advantage of being a trifle better than his own; and Murger had to
  remain in bed, with such patience as he could command, until they
  should be restored.


It was only after his constitution had been shattered, and he had grown
prematurely old, that Murger found his way out of Bohemia. The path into
that land of glamour and enchantments had been easy enough, like the
road to Avernus; the passage back again into the common world was in his
case, as in the case of so many others, a steep and difficult one. But
after months and years of toil and waiting, success came at last, and
little by little he was able to break with tenacious old associations,
and settle down to a more steady and regular routine of life. He
established a connection with the “Revue des Deux Mondes”; and with a
position now practically assured, took up his abode at Marlotte, near
Fontainebleau. Here he had every chance of restoring his enfeebled
health, and starting his career anew upon a different and a wiser plan.
But the hour had gone by. A brief period of work and quiet happiness was
brought to a close in January, 1861, when Henri Murger breathed his last
in the house where he had already spent so many weeks of suffering—in
the Hôpital St. Louis. He had not completed his thirty-ninth year.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Of the general work of Murger, this is not the place to speak. It is
considerable in quantity, and much of it has substantial claim to
critical attention; for his prose is finely wrought, and his
lyrics—instance the superb “Chanson de Musette,” so highly but justly
praised by Gautier,—are sometimes of rare purity and sweetness. But it
is by the “Scenes of Bohemian Life,” and by these alone, after all, that
Murger keeps his hold to-day upon the broader reading public. It has
been said that he only wrote at his best when he was writing straight
out of his own life. This is perhaps at bottom the reason why this one
singular book possesses vitality far in excess of all his other
productions. These may still be read with enjoyment, though in the
tremendous stress of modern affairs, and with the ceaseless activity of
the printing-press, they are more likely to be ignored by all but
special students. But the “Scenes of Bohemian Life,” as Mr. Saintsbury
has rightly insisted, take a permanent place in the literature of
humanity. Here we may notice one more illustration of the curiously
distorted judgments which authors often pass upon their own works. In
later years he was accustomed to speak slightingly and almost petulantly
of the volume which has carried his name over into a new generation;
even, it is said, going so far as to affirm that “that devil of a book
will hinder me from ever crossing the Pont des Arts”—that is, from
entering the Academy, which was one of the unfulfilled ambitions of his
life. But, in another and finer sense, it has placed his name among
those of the Immortals.

We may now pass from the author to his volume, on the title-page of
which he might well have written the famous _quorum pars magna fui_ of
Virgil’s hero. “Murger, c’est la Bohème, comme la Bohème fut Murger,”
was the declaration of one of his personal friends; and the stuff of his
wonderful scenes, with all their extravagance and rollicking absurdity,
with all their poignant pathos and whimsical humor, is, as we have said,
stuff furnished by close observation and intimate experience, though the
crude material is transmuted into gold by the secret alchemy of genius.
It has been said that many of Murger’s chapters were actually written—in
the French phrase, for which we have no satisfactory equivalent—_au jour
le jour_; that he made the scenes of his Bohemian life into literature,
so to speak, while they were still being enacted. To this effect
Théophile de Banville reported that “that which was done by
Rodolphe”—who, as we shall presently see, is generally to be identified
with Murger himself—“during the month when he was Mademoiselle Mimi’s
neighbor, has perhaps had no parallel since letters began. His days he
passed in composing verses, sketching plots of plays, and covering
Mimi’s hands with kisses as with a glove; but his daily bread was his
_feuilleton_ for the ‘Corsaire,’ and as Rodolphe had neither money nor
books to invent anything but his own life, each evening he wrote as a
_feuilleton_ for the ‘Corsaire’ the life of that day, and each day he
lived the _feuilleton_ for the next. It was thus that the morrow of I
know not what quarrel, after the fashion of the lovers of Horace, Mimi,
leaning on her lover’s arm, was bowed to in the Luxembourg by the poet
of the ‘Feuilles d’Automne,’ and returned home quite proud to the _Rue
des Canettes_; and that same evening Rodolphe wrote on this theme one of
his most delightful chapters.”[25] This account of the connection
between Murger’s book and his daily life, probably overstates the
matter, or is to be accepted as approximately true only in regard to
exceptional occurrences, like the one directly referred to. But that the
substance of the volume was throughout furnished by experience is
certain. The principal characters, and even some of the minor ones, have
long since been traced back to their archetypes; the spots rendered
famous by many a memorable scene—such as the Café Momus and the shop of
the old Jewish bric-a-brac dealer, Father Médicis—are known to have
actually existed in the old Latin Quarter, though in the evolution of
modern Paris the historic landmarks have been swept away; while there is
no question that in most of his stories Murger either drew immediately
upon actual circumstances, or at least built his superstructure of fancy
upon a very solid foundation of fact.

Footnote 25:

  The passage in which reference is made to the meeting with Victor Hugo
  will be found at the close of chapter xiv. of the “Scenes.” “After
  lunching together, they started for the country. In crossing the
  Luxembourg, Rodolphe met a great poet, who had always behaved to him
  with charming kindness. For propriety’s sake, he was going to pretend
  not to see him. But the poet did not allow him time; in passing, he
  gave him a friendly recognition, and bowed to his young companion with
  a gracious smile. ‘Who is that gentleman?’ asked Mimi. Rodolphe
  replied by mentioning a name which made her blush with pleasure and
  pride. ‘Oh,’ said Rodolphe, ‘this meeting with a poet who has sung so
  well of love, is a good omen, and will bring luck to our
  reconciliation.’” Banville’s statement of the way in which Murger fed
  his fiction day by day upon the happenings of his own life, reminds us
  somewhat of Mr. Robert S. Hichens’ grim and powerful story, “The


                  *       *       *       *       *

The heroes of the “Scenes of Bohemian Life” are four in number. To each
member of the strange group—the “Quatuor Murger,” as it came to be
called—we will yield the honor of a separate paragraph or two of

First we have Alexandre Schaunard, who, though he cultivates “the two
liberal arts of painting and music,” devotes the larger part of his
attention to the latter, and is indeed particularly engaged at the time
when we make his acquaintance, in the composition of an elaborate
symbolic symphony which might almost be said to anticipate some of the
crazy theories of more recent doctrinaires, representing as it does “the
influence of blue in the arts.” This strange production had a real
existence, and its originator in the book has been identified with
Alexandre Schaune, who also drove an artistic tandem with much
enthusiasm for a season, though he subsequently forsook Bohemia and
adopted a more profitable career in the toy-making business. He and
Murger became acquainted in 1841, lived together at one time in the
closest intimacy in the Rue de la Harpe, and remained friends till the
latter’s death. Schaune survived among “new faces, other minds,” till
1887, and only a short time before he died published some memoirs which
contain many matters of interest for the Murger student. He bore among
his companions the nickname of Schannard-sauvage, and in Murger’s
original manuscript the name was so written—Schannard. By a printer’s
error, however, the first _n_ was turned into a _u_, and the historian
thought well, in reading the proof, to let the blunder pass.

Schaunard in the book is specially distinguished among his acquaintances
for having raised borrowing to the level of a fine art. By dint of many
careful observations and delicate experiments he has discovered the days
when each one of his friends is accustomed to receive money, and thus,
following the periodic ebb and flow of the financial tide, spares
himself the trouble and annoyance of appealing to the generosity of
those who, at the given moment, are likely to be in as low water as
himself. Having, furthermore, “learned the way to borrow five francs in
all the languages of the globe,” the painter-musician is able, as a
rule, to keep pretty firmly on his feet. By a critical friend he was
once described as “passing one half of his time in looking for money to
pay his creditors, and the other half in eluding his creditors when the
money has been found.”[26] But it should be remembered that this calls
for some discount as a friend’s judgment, and likely, therefore, to be a
trifle over-colored; and it is but doing justice to Schaunard to say
that, towards the immediate companions who had come to his rescue from
time to time, he behaved upon a more honorable plan. To facilitate, and
at the same time to equalize so far as possible, the “taxes” which he
levied, he “had drawn up, in order of districts and streets, an
alphabetical list containing the names of all his friends and
acquaintances. Opposite each name was inscribed the maximum sum which,
having regard to their state of fortune, he might borrow from them, the
times when they were in funds, their dinner-hour, and the ordinary bill
of fare of the house. Beside this list, Schaunard kept in perfect order
a little ledger, in which he entered the amounts lent to him, down to
the minutest fractions; for he would never go beyond a certain figure,
which was within the fortune of a Norman uncle whose heir he was.[27] As
soon as he owed twenty francs to an individual, he closed the account,
and liquidated it at a single payment, even if for the purpose he had to
borrow from others to whom he owed less. In this way he always kept up a
certain credit, which he called his floating debt, and as people knew
that he was accustomed to pay when his personal resources permitted,
they willingly obliged him when they could.”

Footnote 26:

  This passage, like sundry others already cited, is taken from the
  dramatization of the “Scenes of Bohemian Life,” which was, as we have
  seen, made by Murger in collaboration with Théodore Barrière, and was
  extremely successful. It differs in many particulars from the book,
  the scattered scenes of which are reduced to coherence and unity, but
  the male characters preserve their general traits.

Footnote 27:

  The “Norman uncle” very possibly stands for Schaune’s father, the
  toy-manufacturer, to whose business he presently succeeded.


Schaunard plays his part to the amusement, if not always to the
edification, of the reader in many delightful episodes in the “Scenes.”
It is through his misadventures with his landlord that the establishment
of the club is largely, though indirectly, brought about; it is he who
paints the provincial Blancheron’s portrait in fancy dressing-gown,
while Marcel goes off to dine with a deputy in his—the said
Blancheron’s—coat; it is he, again, who is hired by an Englishman to
play the piano from morning till night, as a means of getting even with
an actress living near by, whose parrot and shrill declamation combined,
have proved rather too much for even British nerves,—a transaction out
of which, we need scarcely add, the _virtuoso_ made a good deal more
money than he did from his famous symphony. On the whole, however, of
the four friends with whose doings our volume is mainly occupied,
Schaunard is by far the least attractive figure. He is coarse and
morose; has a harsh, rasping voice; is apt to be put out about trifles;
sometimes treats his male friends with scant courtesy; and has an
unpleasant habit of employing, with his more intimate associates of the
other sex, Captain Marryatt’s _argumentum ad feminam_—in other words, of
conversing with them occasionally through the medium of a stout cane.
Poor Phémie—the melancholy Phémie—had every right more than once or
twice to complain of the strength and efficacy of his logic; nor were
matters made very much better for her, we may opine, when, after one of
their quarrels, he gave her in grim joke, and as a keepsake, the stick
with which he had addressed to her so many telling remarks.

After Schaunard comes Marcel the painter, a character of more amiable
type, who appears to be a compound portrait of the two artists, Tabar
and Lazare. He is essentially a good fellow, bright, enthusiastic,
happy-go-lucky, and shiftless; and though, after the fashion of the
world in which he lives, he has an “insolent confidence in luck,” he is
manly enough, upon occasion, to “give fortune a helping hand.” He is the
hero of many amazing and some very ludicrous adventures, of which we can
find space here only for a single specimen. Like Schaunard, he is
devoting as much of his time and energy as he can save from the
manufacture of pot-boilers and the consideration of the “terrible daily
problem of how to get breakfast,” to the composition of one great work,
which is to be his _open sesame_ to fame—“The Passage of the Red
Sea.”[28] Was ever so much labor expended with such little practical
result, one may wonder, by any artist whatsoever—painter, musician, or
poet? For five or six years Marcel had worked away at his canvas with
unflagging diligence and courage, and “for five or six years this
masterpiece of color had been obstinately refused by the jury”; so that,
by dint of going and returning from the artist’s studio to the
exhibition, and from the exhibition back to the studio, the picture had
come to know the way so well, that, had it been set on wheels, it could
have gone to the Louvre by itself. Marcel, of course, attributed the
policy of the jury to the personal spite of its members, and persisted,
in the teeth of all discouragement, in regarding his production as the
pendant to “The Marriage in Cana.” Hence, nothing daunted, he returned
again and again to his vast design, after indulging in a sufficient
amount of abuse to relieve his ruffled temper. At length, under
conviction that the child of this world might possibly succeed where the
child of light had failed, he began to seek for means whereby, without
altering the general plan of his gigantic undertaking, he might deceive
the jury in supposing it to be an entirely fresh and hitherto unexamined
work. Thus, one year he turned Pharaoh into Cæsar, and the “Passage of
the Red Sea” became “The Passage of the Rubicon.” This ruse failing, he
covered, as by miracle, the Red Sea with snow, planted a fir-tree in one
corner thereof, dressed an Egyptian in the costume of the Imperial
Guard, and sent forth his canvas as “The Passage of the Beresina.” But,
unfortunately, the jury had wiped its glasses that day and was not to be
duped. It recognized the inexorable picture by dint of a multi-colored
horse—his “synoptic table of fine colors,” Marcel privately called this
astonishing steed—that went prancing about on the top of a wave of the
Red Sea; and again the masterpiece was churlishly blackballed. “Till my
dying day I will send my picture to the judges,” vowed Marcel, after
this new repulse; “it shall be engraved on their memories.”—“The surest
way of ever getting it engraved,” remarked Colline, who chanced to be
near by. And so the poor painter might have been left to try further and
still wilder experiments, but for the kindly intervention of Daddy
Médicis, an old Jew who had constant dealings with the Bohemians, and
often managed to do them a friendly turn without, as may be imagined,
sacrificing himself overmuch in the transaction. This singular
individual, coming one evening to Marcel’s room, offered to purchase the
famous picture “for the collection of a rich amateur,” and proposed one
hundred and fifty francs as a fair price. At first, the artist grumbled;
there was at least a hundred and fifty francs’ worth of cobalt in the
dress of Pharaoh alone, he protested. But the Jew stood firm, and at
last the painter yielded; whereupon Daddy Médicis gave the Bohemians a
dinner, at which “the lobster ceased to be a myth for Schaunard, who
contracted for this amphibious creature a passion bordering on madness.”
As for Marcel himself, his intoxication came near upon having deplorable
results. Passing his tailor’s shop, at two o’clock in the morning, he
actually wanted to wake up his creditor, and give him on account the
hundred and fifty francs he had just received. A ray of reason, which
still flitted in the mind of Colline, stopped the artist on the brink of
this precipice.

Footnote 28:

  This incident of Marcel’s picture is said to have had its prototype in
  a composition of Tabar’s, originally sketched as “The Passage of the
  Red Sea,” and afterwards exhibited in the Salon as “Niobe and Her
  Children Slain by the Arrows of Apollo and Diana.”


And now for the sequel of the story.

    “A week after these festivities, Marcel found out the gallery in
    which his picture had been placed. In passing through the
    Faubourg St. Honoré, he stopped in the midst of a group which
    seemed to be watching with curious interest a sign that was
    being placed over a shop. This sign was neither more nor less
    than Marcel’s picture, which had been sold by Médicis to a
    grocer. Only, ‘The Passage of the Red Sea’ had undergone one
    more change, and bore a new name. A steamboat had been added,
    and it was now called ‘The Harbor of Marseilles.’ The curious
    onlookers, when they saw the picture, burst out in a flattering
    ovation; and Marcel returned home in ecstasy over the triumph,
    murmuring—‘The voice of the people is the voice of God.’”

What part the synoptic charger was now called on to fill, unfortunately
we cannot say.

The third member of our quartet is Gustave Colline, student of
“hyperphysical philosophy,” and inveterate perpetrator of alarming puns.
He too is a composite character, the principal ingredients of his
make-up being furnished by two of Murger’s old associates—Jean Walton
and Trapadoux, both of whom were men of immense and curious erudition
and many eccentricities. Colline himself, of a somewhat more steady way
of life than his companions, gains a fairly regular income by teaching
mathematics, botany, Arabic, and various other subjects, as occasion
demands, and spends the greater part of it in the accumulation of
second-hand books. “What he did with all these volumes,” remarks the
historian, “so numerous that the life of a man would never have sufficed
to read them, no one knew—he least of all.” But still he goes on adding
tome to tome, and when he chances to return to his lodgings at night
without bringing a new specimen to his store, he feels that, like the
good Titus, he has wasted his day. Thus his strange, shapeless mouth,
pouting lips, double chin, shaggy light hair, and threadbare,
hazel-colored overcoat, are well known upon the quays and wherever
ancient volumes are exposed for sale. His tastes are catholic in the
extreme; for he will buy anything and everything that is to be bought,
provided only it is rare, out of the way, and for all practical purposes
useless. Some idea of the range and versatility of his interests may be
given by reference to a single episode in his history. When, in company
with Marcel, Rodolphe gave that famous Christmas entertainment, whereof
the record is to be found in its proper place in the annals of Bohemia,
he insisted on borrowing for the occasion the philosopher’s famous
swallowtail coat. Now, this coat, as the chronicler justly suggests,
deserves a word or two. By courtesy it was held to be black by
candle-light, though it was really of a decided blue. It was also cut
upon a wild and startling plan, very short in the waist and exceedingly
long in the tails. But its most astonishing features were the
pockets—“positive gulfs, in which Colline was accustomed to lodge some
thirty of the volumes which he everlastingly carried about with him;
which caused his friends to say that during the times when the libraries
were closed scientists and men of letters could always seek information
in the skirts of Colline’s coat—a library always open to readers.” Well,
on this particular day, strange to relate, the great swallowtail
apparently harbored only a quarto volume of Bayle, a treatise in three
volumes on the hyperphysical faculties, a volume of Condillac, two of
Swedenborg, and Pope’s “Essay on Man.” “Hullo!” exclaimed Rodolphe, when
the philosopher had turned out this odd collection and allowed the other
to don the imposing habit; “the left pocket still feels very heavy;
there is still something in it.”—“Ah!” replied Colline, “that is true; I
forgot to empty the foreign language pocket.” Whereupon he drew out two
Arabic grammars, a Malay dictionary, and “The Perfect Stock-Breeder” in
Chinese—his favorite reading.[29] Nor was this quite all. Later on, in
looking for his handkerchief, Rodolphe came accidentally upon a small
Tartar volume, overlooked in the department of foreign literature.

Footnote 29:

  This famous volume appears in an “édition princeps,” with “notes in
  modern Syriac,” in the very amusing story, “Son Excellence Gustave
  Colline,” which really forms an episode of the “Scènes de la Vie de
  Bohème,” though it is published in the collection of miscellanies
  entitled “Dona Sirène.”


For the rest, Colline is a very agreeable companion, pleasant of manner,
and courteous of bearing; and his conversation is amusingly spiced with
quaint technical expressions and the most outrageous puns. Unlike his
three companions, who are in perpetual bondage to love, he passes on,
for the most part, in bachelor meditation, fancy free, as becomes a
philosopher of the “hyperphysical school.” Once in a while, we find him
flirting a little with the _bonne amie_ of one of his friends, and we
recall a single occasion on which, according to his own statement, he
had an appointment of a romantic character. We read also, in the most
incidental way, of his devotion to a waistcoat-maker, whom he keeps day
and night copying the manuscripts of his philosophical works. But at
these, as at all other times, the lady of his affections remains
“invisible and anonymous.” In general, it may be said that he shows
himself markedly superior to the human weakness which does so much to
disturb the byways of Bohemia no less than the highways of the outer

Music, painting, and philosophy are thus well represented in the
Bohemian _cénacle_, and in Rodolphe, the last of the group, the sister
art of poetry finds a worthy exponent. Rodolphe is the real hero of the
book, and is indeed an approximately faithful sketch of the author
himself. In the fancy-poet of the Latin Quarter, the man who, in the
very cut of his clothes, manners, appearance, conversation, “confessed
his association with the Muses,” many of Murger’s well-known traits of
character and personal idiosyncrasies are frankly reproduced. We have a
brief but sufficiently detailed description of him when he makes his
first appearance in the Café Momus, and there can be no doubt as to the
artist’s model from which the study is made. He is presented as “a young
man whose face was almost lost in an enormous thicket of many-colored
beard. But, as a set-off against this abundance of hair on the chin, a
precocious baldness had dismantled his forehead, which looked like a
knee, and the nakedness of which a few stray hairs that one might have
counted vainly endeavored to cover. He wore a black coat, tonsured at
the elbows, and with practical ventilators under the armpits, which
could be seen whenever he raised his arm too high. His trousers might
once have been black, but his shoes, which had never been new, seemed to
have several times made the tour of the world on the feet of the
Wandering Jew.” In all this—in the precocious baldness and parti-colored
beard especially—we have the historian of Bohemia himself. We do not,
therefore, wonder that the character of Rodolphe should stand out from
among the other figures of the “Scenes,” by reason of a certain
autobiographic distinctness of outline and color, nor that he should
prevail upon us by a kind of personal charm which his companions rarely

To follow Rodolphe’s various adventures and enterprises back to their
originals in Murger’s life, would be an interesting task, but it is one
that cannot be attempted here; and for the time being we must keep to
the poet in the book. Like his friends Schaunard and Marcel, this young
man has pinned his faith to one ambitious work, a drama called the “The
Avenger,” which has already gone the round of all the theatres of Paris,
and of which in the course of a couple of years, he has accumulated a
dozen or so huge manuscript copies, weighing collectively something like
fifteen pounds. “The Avenger” was ultimately produced, and ran for five
successive nights, after large portions of these carefully wrought
versions had been used up in the humble service of lighting the fire.
But this does not come till towards the end of the story; and during the
days when we know him best, Rodolphe, awaiting his dramatic triumph, is
willing enough to turn his literary talents to account in less dignified
ways. The main sources of his income appear to be “The Scarf of Iris,” a
fashion-journal, and “The Castor,” a paper devoted to the interests of
the hat-trade, both of which he edits, and in which he publishes from
time to time his opinions on tragedy and kindred subjects. It is to the
columns of the latter periodical, by-the-by, that Gustave Colline
contributes a discussion on “The Philosophy of Hats, and Other Things in
General”—how much to the amusement and instruction of its readers we are
unfortunately not told. Probably the financial advantages of these two
undertakings are of a rather slight and unsubstantial character; at any
rate, the editor-in-chief shows himself at all times ready to supplement
his official emoluments whensoever occasion offers. Witness his most
famous piece of hack-work, the composition of “The Perfect Chimney
Constructor.” Rodolphe, who has been sadly down on his luck for a
time—fluctuating between going to bed without supper and supping without
going to bed—happens accidentally to run across his Uncle Monetti, a
stove-maker and physician of smoky chimneys, whom he has not seen for an
age. Now, Monsieur Monetti is an enthusiast in his art, and has
conceived the idea of drawing up for the benefit of future generations,
a manual of chimney-construction, in which his own numerous patents
shall be given adequate presentation. Finding his nephew fallen upon
evil days, he intrusts him with this literary enterprise, promising him
a remuneration of three hundred francs, and rashly giving him outright
fifty francs on account. Of course, Rodolphe incontinently disappears,
and only turns up again when the money has disappeared also. Uncle
Monetti then resorts to drastic measures. He locks the volatile young
gentleman in a small room, six stories up, with stoves and ovens for his
company, and takes away his clothes, leaving in their stead a ridiculous
Turkish dressing-gown. In this attic solitude the unfortunate young poet
is fain to wax eloquent over ventilators, till he is rescued in the most
romantic way by a certain Mademoiselle Sidonia, as the reader will find
recorded at length in its proper place in the Bohemian chronicles.

In connection with one extraordinary episode in Rodolphe’s career—his
sudden receipt of five hundred francs in hard cash—we have an excellent
opportunity of studying some of the mysteries of Bohemian finance. He
and Marcel, who was then his fellow-lodger, regarded this colossal sum
as practically inexhaustible; they were not a little surprised,
therefore, to find, before a fortnight had gone by, that it had vanished
into air, as though by magic. The strictest frugality had presided over
all their expenditures, and the question was, where in the world the
money could have gone to. Into this problem the two economists forthwith
made inquisition, analyzing their accounts, and carefully weighing them
item by item. This is about the way in which the audit was conducted:—

“March 19.—Received five hundred francs. Paid, one Turkish pipe,
twenty-five francs; dinner, fifteen francs; miscellaneous expenses,
forty francs,” Marcel read out.

“What in the world are these miscellaneous expenses?” asked Rodolphe.

“You know well enough,” said the other. “It was the evening when we
didn’t come home till morning. At any rate, that saved us fuel and

There is nothing like rigid economy, as we see.

“March 20.—Breakfast, one franc, fifty centimes; tobacco, twenty
centimes; dinner, two francs; an opera glass”—needed by Rodolphe, who,
as editor of the “Scarf of Iris,” had to write a notice of an art
exhibition; and so on, and so on. As the account continued,
“miscellaneous expenses” reappeared with ever-increasing frequency;
indeed, the two financiers had in the end to admit that this “vague and
perfidious title,” as Rodolphe called it, had proved a delusion and a

                  *       *       *       *       *

Such, then, are the four principal characters with whose doings and
misdoings the “Scenes of Bohemian Life” are mainly occupied. A word only
about the women of the book.

It is while he is in their company, I suppose, more than at any other
time, that the Anglo-Saxon reader feels how far the pathways of Bohemia
lie outside the boundaries of respectable society. Louise, the fickle
bird of passage; Musette, vagabond and careless; Mimi, charming,
heartless, ill-fated; Phémie, beneath whose delicate exterior was
concealed a veritable volcano of passion;—yes, the face of the moralist
will certainly harden as he dwells on the giddy vagrancy of their lives,
and the hopeless tragedy in which the music and the laughter inevitably
find their earthly close. About this matter I shall try to say something
presently. For the moment I want only to point out that, though the
women of Murger’s book are drawn from known or conjectured originals,
the portraiture does not seem to be nearly as close as it is throughout
in the case of the men. This does not mean only that each girl in the
“Scenes” is a more or less blurred compound of various famous figures of
the old Latin Quarter; it means, also—and this is, of course, far more
important,—that the characters have undergone much transfiguration. The
magic and grace by which, amid all their personal shortcomings and
delinquencies, these heedless adventurers of the studio and the café are
actually marked, are largely, it is to be feared, the results of
Murger’s own idealizing imagination and delicately poetic touch.

There is an important point, suggested by the present part of our
subject, which demands a moment’s attention. The principle indicated in
the well-known lines of Lafontaine—

            “Deux coqs vivaient en paix: une poule survint,
             Et voilà la guerre allumée!”—

is generally held to be one of universal applicability. But the life of
our Bohemian brotherhood for once gives it the lie direct. Never, even
in the most trying seasons of love and jealousy, did the ties slacken
which bound the four companions—Colline, the great philosopher; Marcel,
the great painter; Schaunard, the great musician; and Rodolphe, the
great poet—as they called one another. Rodolphe and Mimi might lead a
cat-and-dog life; Marcel might quarrel with Musette, and make it up only
to quarrel again; Schaunard might see fit to address some of his telling
observations to the person of the melancholy Phémie; but artist and
poet, philosopher and painter, rubbed on together in peace; and if the
truth must be told, smoked many a pipe in company over the grave of
their dead passions. Truly the domestic side of their life left much to
be desired. At one time they all occupied the same house, and then the
unfortunate neighbors lived, as it were, on a volcano. Six months went
by; things grew daily more and more intolerable; and then the final
breaking-up of the establishment came about. “But,” adds Murger—and the
remark exhibits clearly the kind of understanding which existed among
the strangely-assorted friends—“in this association, despite the three
young and pretty women who formed part of it, no sign of discord
appeared among the men. They frequently gave way to the most absurd
caprices of their mistresses; but not one of them would have hesitated a
moment between the woman and the friend.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Amid all the uncertainties and anxieties, the follies and the vices of
their daily life, these brother Bohemians are possessed of a very keen
and genuine enthusiasm for art, and of a sturdy faith in themselves and
their own high calling. This is one good aspect of their character;
another and complementary aspect, upon which Murger lays much stress, is
their complete freedom from stiff-necked virtuosity and dilettante
affectations. There are Bohemians who chatter only of “art for art’s
sake,” who hold with inflexible obstinacy and stoical pride to the
narrow path they have marked out for themselves, who scorn to descend,
upon any pretext, for any purpose whatsoever, to the plane of common
affairs. But Murger takes pains to make it clear that Rodolphe and his
friends do not belong to this unfortunate class—the “Buveurs d’Eau,” as
they are called, the first tenet of whose creed is that no one of their
number, on penalty of expulsion from the society, shall accept any work
outside pure art itself.[30] Rodolphe, as we know, is working hard upon
his great tragedy; Marcel, upon his “Passage of the Red Sea”; Schaunard,
upon his symbolic symphony; Colline, upon his system of “Hyperphysical
Philosophy”: but there are no cant phrases of art-worship everlastingly
upon their lips, and they are ready enough to turn their energies, when
opportunity offers, into more remunerative, if less ambitious,
undertakings. We have seen something already of the practical means,
sometimes adopted by them, of putting a figure before the cipher, which
unfortunately, as a rule, constitutes their entire available capital. If
further evidence be demanded, we need only refer to the occasions when
Rodolphe versifies an epitaph for an inconsolable widow and turns off a
rhyming advertisement for a dentist, and when Marcel paints eight
grenadiers at six francs apiece—likenesses guaranteed for a year, like a

Footnote 30:

  See “Les Derniers Buveurs d’Eau,” in “Dona Sirène”; “Les Buveurs
  d’Eau”; “Scènes de la Vie de Jeunesse”; and the “Scènes de la Vie de
  Bohème,” preface, and the story of “Le Manchon de Francine.”


                  *       *       *       *       *

Of the “Scenes of Bohemian Life” as a whole, it would be hopeless to
endeavor to give any general idea within the limits of a rapid sketch.
It is little to say that from cover to cover of this wonderful book
there is not a dull or indifferent page—not a page that does not teem
with quaint description, brilliant bits of characterization, vivid
pictures of manners and life. Of the range and opulence of its humor
some hint has perhaps been given, though the merest hint only, in the
personal delineations attempted above. Mirth-compelling the “Scenes”
certainly are, and we feel in their case, as we cannot always feel with
the masterpieces of the French comic genius, that the laughter they
provoke is generous, hearty, wholesome—laughter without taint of
cynicism or spite. But the humor of the volume, rich and racy as it is,
and the ebullient wit that glitters and flashes in its dialogues and
incidental touches of comment and criticism, are not by any means the
only qualities that deserve attention. Murger was a true humorist, and,
like all true humorists, he had the keenest realization of the pathos
and tragedy of life, the most delicate apprehension of “the sense of
tears in mortal things.” Though it can hardly be said of the “Scenes of
Bohemian Life,” as it has been rightly said of the great body of the
author’s work, that the dominant note is one of poignant melancholy, the
minor chords are heavy and frequent enough to tone down the exuberant
gayety of the volume, and to cause the final impression left by it to be
rather sombre than exhilarating. Murger saw much of the reckless and
irresponsible life of the Latin Quarter on its grotesque side, and he
has given this side extraordinary prominence in this particular book,
reserving many of the harsher features, which from personal contact he
knew equally well, for the “Scenes de la Vie de Jeunesse” and the
“Buveurs d’Eau.” But the reader who follows to their close the chapters
we have here more especially been considering—and who can put them down
unfinished?—will find that their brilliancy of light and color are
thrown up against a very dark background, and that the shadows gather
and deepen about us as the story runs its course. At length, the wild
music ceases altogether; the mad laughter is silenced; and the book is
laid by, not with a burst of final merriment, but with a gulp and a
pang. _Ah, comme nous avons ri!_ Yes, the struggles, the privations, the
absurdities of Bohemia are comical enough; but life is stern, even in
this Land of Romance; there is death in it, and many a heartbreak; and
if we escape the suffering of failure, we must accept the inevitable
disillusion of success. Life, too, is fleeting; the golden sands slip
through our fingers as we try to clutch them. _Eheu fugaces!_ It is the
old-world burden that we must needs end with—“La jeunesse n’a qu’un

No—“ce n’est pas gai tous les jours, la Bohème.” For my own part, I know
not whither one could turn to find pages of purer tenderness and pathos
than those in which Murger has written of Francine’s muff and of the
death of poor little Mimi. And yet, there is no effort, no melodramatic
striving after effect. The lips quiver, the eyes grow dim as we read;
but so admirably is the art concealed, so perfect is the reserve under
which it is all done, that it is only when we come to turn back over the
chapters for the express purpose of analyzing them, that we begin to
realize the author’s exquisite perception and tact, and the genius with
which he carries his meaning straight home to our hearts. Poor Francine!
Poor Mimi! These fragile slips of womanhood from the dingy old Latin
Quarter are filled with the life that the poet alone can give. We meet
them once in a few pages of print; and their hungry eyes and poor, worn
faces linger with us forever.

                  *       *       *       *       *

And now we must revert for a moment to a question already touched on—the
loose morality not infrequently charged against this record of Bohemian
life. I promised that I should try to say something about this matter
ere I brought these jottings to a close; but now that it is definitely
before us, I do not feel, after all, that there is very much to be said.
Our judgment on such a book as this, ethically considered, must finally
depend on the point of view from which we regard it, and this point of
view will always be at bottom so much an affair of temperament, outlook,
training, bias, that it is not likely to be much affected by any
arguments, adverse or favorable. “Certainly,” Murger once imagines one
of his readers saying, “I shall not allow this story to fall into the
hands of my daughter.” To this, doubtless, most Anglo-Saxon fathers
would say amen, and there is little question that they would, on the
whole, be wise in so doing. I readily admit that it would be better that
the perusal of such a work as this, as of many other great and enduring
pieces of literature, should be left for those whose minds have been
schooled and sobered by the discipline of real life, and who are thus in
a position to bring Murger’s imaginary scenes, with all their bewitching
humor, magic of description, and charm of style, to the touchstone of
actual experience. But while I concede this much, I cannot for a moment
go with those who would, therefore, place the volume on their unofficial
“Index Expurgatorius,” on the score that it will be found dangerous to
morality. Such a notion seems to me simply absurd, and due to an entire
misapprehension of what it is in literature that renders it injurious in
its effects. Murger drew his material from a world he had known and
lived in, and he incorporates all its irregularities of conduct, and
very much of its wantonness. Yet I challenge any intelligent and
broad-minded reader to deny that the atmosphere of his “Scenes” is
almost always fresh and wholesome. Those at least who know something of
the French novel, from “La Dame aux Camélias” onward, and of some of the
English fiction produced within recent decades, by writers who boldly
claim place in the ranks of the moralists, will hardly feel called upon
to attack our author on this particular head. Nowhere, let it be said
emphatically, does Murger deliberately give himself up to the worship of
the great Goddess of Lubricity; nowhere does he willingly throw the halo
of poetry over mere physical passion; nowhere does he go out of his way
to show vice as vice in glowing or attractive colors. These may read
like phrases of the most conventional criticism, but they are here
thoroughly to the point. The very story which the writer stops short for
a moment to interject the imaginary comment quoted above, is as pure and
delicate as a love-story well could be, and only a reader capable of
sucking poison out of a lily, could be disturbed in the slightest degree
by the irregularity of the relations existing between Jacques and poor
Francine. It can never be often urged that in such a case as
this—perhaps in all art whatsoever—the one fundamentally essential thing
is treatment; and with Murger’s handling of his theme, no possible fault
could be found, even by the most austere and exacting critic.

A more substantial charge may, I think, be brought against the “Scenes,”
on the ground that in their delightful pages the shiftless, improvident,
hand-to-mouth existence of Rodolphe and his friends is made too engaging
and seductive. Are there not, it may be asked, scores of young men who
believe that they have (in very large capitals) Genius and a Mission in
Art, and who need nothing but the incentive of such a volume as this to
lead them to throw aside the sober concerns of law or commerce, and
voluntarily exchange a career of useful, if monotonous, toil, for one
wherein immediate misery is practically certain, and ultimate success
only a remote chance? Youths of some sensibility and ambition, who hate
the counting-house and the desk; who have written verses or made
sketches which have been praised by injudicious friends; and who have
devoured the numerous biographies of those who, having commenced life in
uncongenial labor, boldly kicked over the traces and finally made for
themselves a position and a name, are prone enough, it may be alleged,
to mistake themselves for great men in embryo, and to set up their backs
against the daily routine and the common task, without the aid of a book
which paints Bohemia so constantly on its pleasantest side, and gives to
even its struggles and sufferings a romantic charm, which the jog-trot
round of experience does not possess. All this, perhaps, is true. At any
rate, I have myself known one young fellow of the class referred to who,
under Murger’s inspiration, played for a time at Bohemianism, allowed
his hair to grow down over his shoulders, wore by preference a
threadbare coat, and posed as an unappreciated genius. His genius, I
believe, remains unrecognized still; but he has long since assumed a
respectable garb, and given other outward and visible signs of his
perversion to conventionality. And yet, even with this instructive case
well in mind, I think too much might easily be made of the harmful
tendencies of Murger’s book. The _Sturm und Drang_ period of youth, the
period of ferment, and aimless experiment, and general unrest, will
always be fraught with perils of one or another kind; and a few wild
dreams of vague ambition, some spiritual green-sickness, an attack or
two of the hysterics of social revolt, a little affectation of Byronism,
or Shelleyism, or Murgerism, are not the worst of these. Fortunately,
the real world is a businesslike and remorseless disciplinarian, and in
the school of practical experience, a nature essentially healthy will
presently right itself, and be none the worse—perhaps even the
better—for a handful of battered illusions and some pricked bubbles of
fancy. And as for the natures not fundamentally healthy—well, Life the
Schoolmistress has her own effectual way with these also.

But should there perchance be any young man in danger of taking the
Bohemian fever a trifle too seriously, we will refer him for treatment
to a very satisfactory physician, a specialist, one may say, in the
complaint—Murger himself. Properly read, and read through to the end,
the “Scenes” should prove their own corrective; and if their full
significance is not clear, the preface furnishes the needed commentary.
It is but simple justice to Murger to say that he himself had no
sympathy whatever with the indefinite ambitions and mawkish
sentimentalism of a certain class of young men, who mistake the cravings
of aspiration for the promptings of genius, and turn to art because they
are fit for nothing else. Again and again does he insist upon the stern
realities of the artist’s probation; again and again does he raise the
voice of warning to those who would rashly decide to commit themselves
to the artist’s career.

    “Il en est dans les luttes de l’art à peu près comme à la
    guerre—toute la gloire conquise rejaillit sur le nom des chefs.
    L’armée se partage pour récompense les quelques lignes d’un
    ordre du jour. Quant aux soldats frappés dans le combat, on les
    enterre là où ils sont tombés, et une seule épitaphe suffit pour
    vingt mille morts.”[31]

Footnote 31:

  “Les Derniers Buveurs d’Eau,” in “Dona Sirène.” Murger uses precisely
  the same words in the preface just referred to.


These are solemn and uncompromising words. And scarcely less solemn are
the phrases in which he describes the life of Bohemia as “charming but
terrible, having its conquerors and its martyrs”—a life upon which no
one should enter “who is not prepared beforehand to submit to the
inexorable law of _Væ Victis_!” Woe to the conquered indeed! In the
brilliant pages of the world’s history, the name and fortune of the one
who succeeds alone are inscribed; those of the nine hundred and
ninety-nine who ignominiously and miserably fail pass into everlasting



                          Transcriber’s note:

Page 13, ‘sequested’ changed to ‘sequestered,’ “in the sequestered

Page 48, ‘euphuism’ changed to ‘Euphuism,’ “Yet Euphuism and Italianism

Page 69, comma inserted after ‘Lowell,’ “asks Mr. Lowell,”

Page 80, ‘euthusiasm’ changed to ‘enthusiasm,’ “versatility of

Page 137, comma struck after “Cléopâtre”

Page 137, comma inserted after “Le Grand Cyrus”

Page 148, ‘D’Aumont’ changed to ‘d’Aumont,’ “into the mouth of d’Aumont”

Page 158, comma struck after ‘prevailing,’ “to hit the prevailing taste”

Page 159, ‘ambibitious’ changed to ‘ambitious,’ “her one ambitious

Page 159, ‘consquence’ changed to ‘consequence,’ “mark the consequence!”

Page 175 footnote, second ‘a’ struck before ‘true,’ ““Nun” a “true

Page 188, ‘cookshops’ changed to ‘cook-shops,’ “kitchens and the

Page 188 footnote 30, single quote changed to double quote before
“Scènes de la Vie de Bohème”

Page 205, ‘thfs’ changed to ‘this,’ “this meeting with a poet”

Page 208, ‘Medicis’ changed to ‘Médicis,’ “bric-a-brac dealer, Father

Page 216, ‘courtersy’ changed to ‘courtesy,’ “By courtesy it was held”

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