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Title: Hours in a Library Vol. III (of 3) - New Edition, with Additions.
Author: Stephen, Leslie
Language: English
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CHARLOTTE BRONTË                                            1

CHARLES KINGSLEY                                           31

GODWIN AND SHELLEY                                         64

GRAY AND HIS SCHOOL                                       101

STERNE                                                    139

COUNTRY BOOKS                                             175

GEORGE ELIOT                                              207

AUTOBIOGRAPHY                                             237

CARLYLE'S ETHICS                                          271

THE STATE TRIALS                                          306

COLERIDGE                                                 339



Mr. Swinburne, in his recent essay upon Miss Brontë, has, as usual,
bestowed the most enthusiastic and generous praise with a lavish hand,
and bestowed it upon worthy objects. And, as usual, he seems to be
a little too much impressed with the necessary connection between
illuminating in honour of a hero and breaking the windows or burning
the effigies of the hero's rivals. I do not wish to examine the
justice of his assaults, and still less to limp on halting and prosaic
feet after his eloquent discourse. I propose only to follow an inquiry
suggested by a part of his argument. After all, though criticism
cannot boast of being a science, it ought to aim at something like
a scientific basis, or at least to proceed in a scientific spirit.
The critic, therefore, before abandoning himself to the oratorical
impulse, should endeavour to classify the phenomena with which he
is dealing as calmly as if he were ticketing a fossil in a museum.
The most glowing eulogy, the most bitter denunciation, have their
proper place; but they belong to the art of persuasion, and form no
part of scientific method. Our literary, like our religious, creed
should rest upon a purely rational ground, and be exposed to logical
tests. Our faith in an author must, in the first instance, be the
product of instinctive sympathy, instead of deliberate reason. It may
be propagated by the contagion of enthusiasm, and preached with all
the fervour of proselytism. But when we are seeking to justify our
emotions, we must endeavour to get for the time into the position
of an independent spectator, applying with rigid impartiality such
methods as are best calculated to free us from the influence of
personal bias.

Undoubtedly it is a very difficult task to be alternately witness
and judge; to feel strongly, and yet to analyse coolly; to love
every feature in a familiar face, and yet to decide calmly upon its
intrinsic ugliness or beauty. To be an adequate critic is almost
to be a contradiction in terms; to be susceptible to a force, and
yet free from its influence; to be moving with the stream, and yet
to be standing on the bank. It is especially difficult in the case
of writers like Miss Brontë, and of critics who were in the most
enthusiastic age when her fame was in its early freshness. It is
almost impossible not to have overpowering prejudices in regard to
a character so intense, original, and full of special idiosyncrasy.
If you did not love her you must hate her: or, since hatred for so
noble a sufferer would imply unreasonable brutality, we may say,
feel strongly a hopeless uncongeniality of temperament. The power
of exciting such feelings is, indeed, some testimony to an author's
intrinsic force; and it may explain the assertion of her latest
biographer. If it be true, as he says, that she has been comparatively
neglected of late years, that is what may easily happen in the case
of writers more remarkable for intensity than comprehensive power.
Their real audience must always be the comparatively small number who
are in sympathy with their peculiar moods. But their vigour begins
by impressing and overawing a large number of persons who do not feel
this spontaneous sympathy. They conquer by sheer force minds whom they
do not attract by milder methods. In literature, at any rate, violent
conquests are generally transitory; and after a time, those who have
obeyed the rule against their natural inclination fall away and leave
an audience composed of those alone who have been swayed by a deeper
attraction. Charlotte Brontë, and perhaps her sister Emily in an
even higher degree, must have a certain interest for all intelligent
observers of character. But only a minority will thoroughly and
unreservedly enjoy the writings which embody so peculiar an essence.
Some scenery—rich pasturage and abounding rivers and forest-clad
hills—appeals more or less to everybody. It is only a few who really
love the lonely cairn on a wind-swept moor. An accident may make it
the fashion to affect admiration for such peculiar aspects of nature;
but, like all affectations, it will die away after a time, and the
faithful lovers be reduced to a narrow band.

The comparative eclipse, then—if eclipse there be—of Charlotte
Brontë's fame, does not imply want of power, but want of
comprehensiveness. There is a certain _primâ facie_ presumption
against a writer who appeals only to a few, though it may be amply
rebutted by showing that the few are also fit. The two problems must
go together; why is the charm so powerful, and why is it so limited?
Any intense personality has so far a kind of double-edged influence.
Shakespeare sympathises with everybody, and therefore everyone with
him. Swift scorns and loathes a great part of the world, and therefore
if people in general read Swift, or said honestly what they felt,
many readers would confess to a simple feeling of aversion to his
writings. There is, however, a further distinction. One may dislike
such a man as Swift, but one cannot set him aside. His amazing
intellectual vigour, the power with which he states some of the great
problems of life, and the trenchant decision of his answer, give him
a right to be heard. We may shudder, but we are forced to listen. If
with equal force of character his intellectual power had been less,
we should feel the shock without the mysterious attraction. He would
be an unpleasant phenomenon, and one which might be simply neglected.
It is because he brings his peculiar views to bear upon problems of
universal interest that we cannot afford simply to drop him out of
mind. The power of grasping general truths is necessary to give a
broad base to a writer's fame, though his capacity for tender and deep
emotion is that which makes us love or hate him.

Mr. Swinburne takes Miss Brontë to illustrate the distinction between
'genius' and 'intellect.' Genius, he says, as the most potent faculty,
can most safely dispense with its ally. If genius be taken to mean
the poetic as distinguished from the scientific type of mind—that
which sees intuitively, prefers synthesis to analysis, and embodies
ideas in concrete symbols instead of proceeding by rule and measure,
and constructing diagrams in preference to drawing pictures—the
truth is undeniable and important. The reasoner gives us mechanism
and constructs automata where the seer creates living and feeling
beings. The contrast used to be illustrated by the cases of Jonson
and Shakespeare—by the difference between the imaginative vigour of
'Antony and Cleopatra,' and the elaborate construction of 'Sejanus.'
We must add, however, that the two qualities of mind are not mutually
exclusive. The most analytic mind has some spark of creative
power, and the great creators are capable of deliberate dissection.
Shakespeare could reflect; and Jonson could see. The ideally perfect
mind would be capable of applying each method with equal facility in
its proper place.

Genius, therefore, manifested in any high degree, must be taken to
include intellect, if the words are to be used in this sense. Genius
begins where intellect ends; or takes by storm where intellect has
to make elaborate approaches according to the rules of scientific
strategy. One sees where the other demonstrates, but the same
principles are common to both. To say that a writer shows more genius
than intellect may mean simply that, as an artist, he proceeds by
the true artistic method, and does not put us off with scientific
formulæ galvanised into an internal semblance of life. But it may
mean that his reflective powers are weak, that he has not assimilated
the seminal ideas of his time, and is at a loss in the higher regions
of philosophic thought. If so, you are setting limits to the sphere
of his influence, and showing that he is incapable of uttering the
loftiest aspirations and the deepest emotions of his fellows. A great
religious teacher may prefer a parable to a theory, but the parable
is impressive because it gives the most vivid embodiment of a truly
philosophical theory.

Miss Brontë, as her warmest admirers would grant, was not and did
not in the least affect to be a philosophical thinker. And because a
great writer, to whom she has been gratuitously compared, is strong
just where she is weak, her friends have an injudicious desire to make
out that the matter is of no importance, and that her comparative
poverty of thought is no injury to her work. There is no difficulty
in following them so far as to admit that her work is none the worse
for containing no theological or philosophical disquisitions, or for
showing no familiarity with the technicalities of modern science and
metaphysics. But the admission by no means follows that her work does
not suffer very materially by the comparative narrowness of the circle
of ideas in which her mind habitually revolved. Perhaps if she had
been familiar with Hegel or Sir W. Hamilton, she would have intruded
undigested lumps of metaphysics, and introduced vexatious allusions
to the philosophy of identity or to the principle of the excluded
middle. But it is possible, also, that her conceptions of life and
the world would have been enriched and harmonised, and that, without
giving us more scientific dogmas, her characters would have embodied
more fully the dominating ideas of the time. There is no province of
inquiry—historical, scientific, or philosophical—from which the artist
may not derive useful material; the sole question is whether it has
been properly assimilated and transformed by the action of the poetic
imagination. By attempting to define how far Miss Brontë's powers
were in fact thus bounded, we shall approximately decide her place
in the great hierarchy of imaginative authors. That it was a very
high one, I take to be undeniable. Putting aside living writers, the
only female novelist whom one can put distinctly above her is George
Sand; for Miss Austen, whom most critics place upon a still higher
level, differs so widely in every way that 'comparison' is absurd. It
is almost silly to draw a parallel between writers when every great
quality in one is 'conspicuous by its absence' in the other.

The most obvious of all remarks about Miss Brontë is the close
connection between her life and her writings. In no books is the
author more completely incarnated. She is the heroine of her two
most powerful novels; for Lucy Snowe is avowedly her own likeness,
and Lucy Snowe differs only by accidents from Jane Eyre; whilst her
sister is the heroine of the third novel. All the minor characters,
with scarcely an exception, are simply portraits, and the more
successful in proportion to their fidelity. The scenery and even the
incidents are, for the most part, equally direct transcripts from
reality. And, as this is almost too palpable a peculiarity to be
expressly mentioned, it seems to be an identical proposition that
the study of her life is the study of her novels. More or less true
of all imaginative writers, this must be pre-eminently true of Miss
Brontë. Her experience, we might say, has been scarcely transformed in
passing through her mind. She has written down not only her feelings,
but the more superficial accidents of her life. She has simply given
fictitious names and dates, with a more or less imaginary thread of
narrative, to her own experience at school, as a governess, at home,
and in Brussels. 'Shirley' contains a continuous series of photographs
of Haworth and its neighbourhood; as 'Villette' does of Brussels: and
if 'Jane Eyre' is not so literal, except in the opening account of
the school-life, much of it is almost as strictly autobiographical.
It is one of the oddest cases of an author's self-delusion that
Miss Brontë should have imagined that she could remain anonymous
after the publication of 'Shirley,' and the introduction of such
whole-length portraits from the life as the Yorke family. She does
not appear to have been herself conscious of the closeness of her
adherence to facts. 'You are not to suppose,' she says in a letter
given by Mrs. Gaskell, 'any of the characters in "Shirley" intended
as real portraits. It would not suit the rules of art, nor of my
own feelings, to write in that style. We only suffer reality to
_suggest_ never to _dictate_.' She seems to be thinking chiefly of
her 'heroes and heroines,' and would perhaps have admitted that the
minor personages were less idealised. But we must suppose also that
she failed to appreciate fully the singularity of characters which,
in her seclusion, she had taken for average specimens of the world
at large. If I take my village for the world, I cannot distinguish
the particular from the universal; and must assume that the most
distinctive peculiarities are unnoticeably commonplace. The amazing
vividness of her portrait-painting is the quality which more than
any other makes her work unique amongst modern fiction. Her realism
is something peculiar to herself; and only the crudest of critics
could depreciate its merits on the ground of its fidelity to facts.
The hardest of all feats is to see what is before our eyes. What is
called the creative power of genius is much more the power of insight
into commonplace things and characters. The realism of the De Foe
variety produces an illusion, by describing the most obvious aspects
of everyday life, and introducing the irrelevant and accidental. A
finer kind of realism is that which, like Miss Austen's, combines
exquisite powers of minute perception with a skill which can light
up the most delicate miniatures with an unfailing play of humour.
A more impressive kind is that of Balzac, where the most detailed
reproduction of realities is used to give additional force to the
social tragedies which are being enacted at our doors. The specific
peculiarity of Miss Brontë seems to be the power of revealing to us
the potentiality of intense passions lurking behind the scenery of
everyday life. Except in the most melodramatic—which is also the
weakest—part of 'Jane Eyre,' we have lives almost as uneventful as
those of Miss Austen, and yet charged to the utmost with latent power.
A parson at the head of a school-feast somehow shows himself as a
'Cromwell, guiltless of his country's blood;' a professor lecturing
a governess on composition is revealed as a potential Napoleon; a
mischievous schoolboy is obviously capable of developing into a
Columbus or a Nelson; even the most commonplace natural objects,
such as a row of beds in a dormitory, are associated, and naturally
associated, with the most intense emotions. Miss Austen makes you feel
that a tea-party in a country parsonage may be as amusing as the most
brilliant meeting of cosmopolitan celebrities; and Miss Brontë that
it may display characters capable of shaking empires and discovering
new worlds. The whole machinery is in a state of the highest electric
tension, though there is no display of thunder and lightning to amaze

The power of producing this effect without stepping one hand's-breadth
beyond the most literal and unmistakable fidelity to ordinary facts is
explicable, one would say, so far as genius is explicable at all, only
in one way. A mind of extraordinary activity within a narrow sphere
has been brooding constantly upon a small stock of materials, and a
sensitive nature has been exposed to an unusual pressure from the hard
facts of life. The surroundings must surely have been exceptional, and
the receptive faculties impressible even to morbidness, to produce so
startling a result; and the key seemed to be given by Mrs. Gaskell's
touching biography, which, with certain minor faults, is still one
of the most pathetic records of a melancholy life in our literature.
Charlotte Brontë and her sister, according to this account, resembled
the sensitive plant exposed to the cutting breezes of the West Riding
moors. Their writings were the cry of pain and of only half-triumphant
faith, produced by a life-long martyrdom, tempered by mutual sympathy,
but embittered by family sorrows and the trials of a dependent life.
They afforded one more exemplification of the common theory, that
great art is produced by taking an exceptionally delicate nature and
mangling it slowly under the grinding wheels of the world.

A recent biographer has given us to understand that this is in great
part a misconception, and, whilst paying high compliments to Mrs.
Gaskell, he virtually accuses her of unintentionally substituting a
fiction for a biography. Mr. Wemyss Reid's intention is excellent; and
one can well believe that Mrs. Gaskell did in fact err by carrying
into the earlier period the gloom of later years. Most certainly one
would gladly believe this to be the case. Only when Mr. Reid seems to
think that Charlotte Brontë was a gay and high-spirited girl, and that
the people of Haworth were thoroughly commonplace, we begin to fear
that we are in the presence of one of those well-meant attempts at
whitewashing which 'do justice' to a marked character by obliterating
all its most prominent features. If Boswell had written in such a
spirit, Johnson would have been a Chesterfield, and Goldsmith never
have blundered in his talk. When we look at them fairly, Mr. Reid's
proofs seem to be distinctly inadequate for his conclusions, though
calculated to correct some very important misconceptions. He quotes,
for example, a couple of letters, in one of which Miss Brontë ends
a little outburst of Tory politics by saying, 'Now, Ellen, laugh
heartily at all that rhodomontade!' This sentence, omitted by Mrs.
Gaskell, is taken to prove that Charlotte's interest in politics was
'not unmingled with the happy levity of youth.' Surely, it is just a
phrase from the school-girl's 'Complete Letter-Writer.' It would be
as sensible to quote from an orator the phrase, 'but I fear that I
am wearying the House,' to prove that he was conscious of being an
intolerable bore. The next letter is said to illustrate the 'infinite
variety of moods' of her true character, and its rapid transitions
from grave to gay, because, whilst expressing very strongly some
morbid feelings, she admits that they would be contemptible to
common-sense, and says that she had been 'in one of her sentimental
humours.' Did anybody ever express a morbid feeling without some such
qualification? And is not 'infinite,' even in the least mathematical
sense, rather a strong expression for two? A sentimental mood and a
reaction are mentioned in one letter. That scarcely proves much gaiety
of heart or variety of mood. If, indeed, Charlotte had always been at
her worst, she would have been mad: and we need not doubt that she too
had some taste of the gladness as of the sorrows of childhood. The
plain truth is, that Miss Brontë's letters, read without reference
to the disputes of rival biographers, are disappointing. The most
striking thing about them is that they are young-ladyish. Here and
there a passage revealing the writer's literary power shines through
the more commonplace matter, but, as a whole, they give a curious
impression of immaturity. The explanation seems to be, in the first
place, that Miss Brontë, with all her genius, was still a young
lady. Her mind, with its exceptional powers in certain directions,
never broke the fetters by which the parson's daughter of the last
generation was restricted. Trifling indications of this are common
in her novels. The idealised portrait of Emily, the daring and
unconventional Shirley, shows her utmost courage by hinting a slight
reluctance to repeat certain clauses in the Athanasian Creed; and the
energy with which the unlucky curates are satirised shows the state
of mind in which even the youngest clergyman is still invested with
more or less superhuman attributes. The warmth is generated by the
previous assumption that a young gentleman who dons a white neckcloth
must, in the normal state of things, put off the schoolboy and
develop a hidden pair of wings. The wrath excited by their failure to
fulfil this expectation strikes one as oddly disproportionate. And, in
the next place, it seems that, even in writing to her best friends,
Miss Brontë habitually dreaded any vivid expression of feeling, and
perhaps observed that her sentiments when spread upon letter-paper
had a morbid appearance. There are many people who can confide in
the public more freely than in the most intimate friends. The mask
of anonymous authorship and fictitious personages has a delusive
appearance of security. The most sacred emotions are for ourselves or
for the invisible public rather than for the intermediate sphere of
concrete spectators. The letters may dissipate some of Mrs. Gaskell's
romantic gloom, but they do not persuade us that the Brontës were ever
like their neighbours. The doctrine that the people of Haworth were
really commonplace mortals may be accepted with a similar reserve.
Undoubtedly every Scotch peasant is not a Davie Deans, nor every
Irishman a Captain Costigan. There are natives of the mining districts
who do not throw half-bricks at every stranger they see; there are
Yankees who do not chew tobacco, and Englishmen who do not eat raw
beef-steaks. And so one may well believe that many inhabitants of
Haworth would have passed muster at Charing Cross; and one may hope
and believe that a man like Heathcliff was an exaggeration even of
the most extravagant of the squires in Craven. If there were many such
people in any corner of this world, it would be greatly in want of
a thorough clearing out. And, therefore, one may understand why the
good people of Haworth should be amazed when Mrs. Gaskell set forth
as common types the gentleman who fired small-shot from his parlour
window at anyone who came within convenient range, and the man who
chuckled over his luck in dying just after insuring his life.

But, for all this, it would be permissible also to suppose that there
was a strongly-marked provincial character in that region, even if
Miss Brontë's life-like portraits were not their own sufficient
evidence. All people seem to be commonplace to the commonplace
observer. Genius reveals the difference; it does not invent it.
In one sense, doubtless, the people were commonplace enough, and
in that fact lay part of their offensiveness. Many of the upper
classes, one may guess, were hard, crabbed men of business, with
even less than the average of English toleration for sentiment or
æsthetic fancies; and their inferiors were sturdy workmen, capable
of taking a pride in their own brutality, which would have shocked
gentler races. But the precise degree in which these characteristics
were manifested must be left to the decision of local observers. We
cannot affect to know accurately in what proportion the charge of
originality is to be shared between the Brontës and their neighbours;
how far the surroundings were unusually harsh and the surrounded
abnormally tender. In any case, one may assume that Miss Brontë and
her sisters were at once even morbidly sensitive and exposed to the
contact of persons emphatically intolerant of morbid sentiment.
Their ordinary relation to the outside world seems to be indicated
by one peculiarity of Miss Brontë's writing. When young Mark Yorke
sees that Moore has been flattered by hearing a lady describe him
as 'not sentimental,' that offensive lad gets down a dictionary and
endeavours to dash Moore's pleasure by proving that 'not sentimental'
must mean destitute of ideas. The trait is very probably from life,
and is at any rate life-like. There are many amiable people who take a
keen pleasure in dashing cold water upon any little manifestation of
self-complacency in their neighbours. To find out a man's tenderest
corn, and then to bring your heel down upon it with a good rasping
scrunch, is somehow gratifying to corrupt human nature. A kindly wit
contrives to convey a compliment in affected satire. But the whole
aim of a humourist of this variety is to convey the most mortifying
truths in the most brutal plain-speaking. Now speeches modelled upon
this plan are curiously frequent in Miss Brontë's conversations.
Hunsden, the first sketch of the Yorke type in the 'Professor,'
composes his whole talk of a string of brutal home-truths. The worst
characters, like Miss Fanshawe in 'Villette,' thoroughly enjoy telling
a friendless governess that she is poor, plain, and sickly. And
even her favourites, Rochester and Shirley and Paul Emanuel, have
just a leaning to the same trick of speech, though with them it is
an occasional bitter to heighten the flavour of their substantial
kindness. Miss Brontë has as little sense of humour as Milton or
Wordsworth; but her nearest approach to it is in some of those shrewd,
bitter sayings which are rather more of a gibe than a compliment. When
one remembers that the originals of the Yorkes were amongst her most
cherished and cultivated friends, and that they are admittedly painted
to the life, one may fancy that she had received a good many of those
left-handed compliments which seem to have done duty for pleasant
jests in the district.

The soliloquies in which her heroines indulge proceed upon the same
plan. Jane Eyre sits in judgment upon herself, and listens to the
evidence of Memory and Reason, accusing her of rejecting the real and
'rabidly devouring the ideal.' And she decides in accordance with
her witnesses. 'Listen, Jane Eyre, to your sentence; to-morrow place
the glass before you and draw in chalk your own picture, faithfully,
without softening one defect; omit no harsh line; smooth away no
displeasing irregularity: write under it, "Portrait of a governess,
disconnected, poor, and plain!"'

Similar passages occur in 'Shirley' and 'Villette,' and obviously
represent a familiar mood. The original of this portrait was
frequently engaged, it would seem, in forcing herself to hear such
unpalatable truths. When other people snubbed her, after the fashion
of the Yorkes, she might be vexed by their harshness, but her own
thoughts echoed their opinion. Lucy Snowe is rather gratified than
otherwise when Miss Fanshawe treats her to one of these pleasing fits
of frank thinking aloud. She pardons the want of feeling for the sake
of the honesty.

Sensitive natures brought into contact with those of coarser grain may
relieve themselves in various ways. Some might have been driven into
revolt against the proprieties which found so harsh an expression.
The scamp Branwell Brontë took the unluckily commonplace path of
escape from a too frigid code of external morality which leads to
the public-house. His sisters followed the more characteristically
feminine method. They learnt to be proud of the fetters by which they
were bound. Instead of fretting against the stern law of repression,
they identified it with the eternal code of duty, and rejoiced in
trampling on their own weakness. The current thus restrained ran all
the more powerfully in its narrow channel. What might have been bright
and genial sentiment was transformed and chastened into a kind of
austere enthusiasm. They became recluses in spirit, sternly enforcing
a self-imposed rule, though, in their case, the convent walls were
invisible and the objects of their devotion not those which dominate
the ascetic imagination.

Theorists who trace the inheritance of race characteristics might
be interested in the curious development thus effected. The father
of the family was an Irishman, and the mother a Cornish woman; the
aunt, who succeeded her in the management of the household, had a
persistent dislike for the character of her northern neighbours;
even Charlotte herself, we are told, spake in her childhood with a
strong Irish accent. And yet, as we find her saying in reference to
the troubles of 1848, she has 'no sympathy' with French or Irish. She
had been spiritually annexed by the people with whom she lived. She
was obtrusively and emphatically a Yorkshire woman, though only by
adoption; she is never tired of proclaiming or implying her hearty
preference of rough Yorkshire people to cockneys, sentimentalists, and
that large part of the human race which we describe contemptuously
as 'foreigners.' She is a typical example of the 'patriotism of the
steeple.' She loved with her whole heart the narrowest insular type.
She idolised the Duke of Wellington, with his grand contempt for
humbug and ideas, terms synonymous—perhaps rightly synonymous—with
many people. When she came in contact with fine foreigners and
Papists, it only increased her hearty contempt for forms of character
and religion which, one might have fancied _à priori_, would have had
many attractions for her. If at times she felt the æsthetic charm of
parts of the Catholic system, she was but the more convinced that it
was a poison, dangerous in proportion to its sweetness. The habit of
trampling on some of her own impulses had become a religion for her.
She had learnt to make a shield of reserve and self-repression, and
could not be tempted to lay it aside when gentle persuasion took the
place of rougher intimidation. Much is said by her biographers of the
heroic force of will of her sister Emily, who presents the same type
in an intensified form. Undoubtedly both sisters had powerful wills;
but their natures had not less been moulded, and their characters,
so to speak, turned inward by the early influence of surrounding
circumstances. The force was not of that kind which resists the
pressure from without, but of the kind which accepts and intensifies
it, and makes a rigid inward law for itself of the law embodied in
external conditions.

The sisters, indeed, differed widely, though with a strong
resemblance. The iron had not entered so deeply into Charlotte's
nature. Emily's naturally subjective mode of thought—to use the
unpleasant technical phrase—found its most appropriate utterance in
lyrical poetry. She represents, that is, the mood of pure passion, and
is rather encumbered than otherwise by the necessity of using the more
indirect method of concrete symbols. She feels, rather than observes;
whereas Charlotte feels in observing. Charlotte had not that strange
self-concentration which made the external world unreal to her sister.
Her powers of observation, though restricted by circumstances and
narrowed by limitations of her intellect, showed amazing penetration
within her proper province. The greatest of all her triumphs in
this direction is the character of Paul Emanuel, which has tasked
Mr. Swinburne's powers of expressing admiration, and which one feels
to be, in its way, inimitable. A more charming hero was never drawn,
or one whose reality is more vivid and unmistakable. We know him
as we know a familiar friend, or rather as we should know a friend
whose character had been explained for us by a common acquaintance of
unusual acuteness and opportunity of observation. Perhaps we might
venture to add, that it is hardly explicable, except as a portrait
drawn by a skilful hand guided by love, and by love intensified by the
consciousness of some impassable barrier.

Mr. Swinburne compares this masterpiece of Miss Brontë's art with
the famous heroes of fiction, Don Quixote, Uncle Toby, and Colonel
Newcome. Don Quixote admittedly stands apart as one of the greatest
creations of poetic imagination. Of Colonel Newcome I will not speak;
but the comparison with Uncle Toby is enough to suggest what is the
great secret both of Miss Brontë's success and its limitations.
In one sense Paul Emanuel is superior even to such characters as
these. He is more real: he is so real that we feel at once that he
must have been drawn from a living model, though we may leave some
indefinable margin of idealisation. If the merit of fiction were
simply its approach to producing illusion, we might infer that Paul
Emanuel was one of the first characters in the world of fiction. But
such a test admittedly implies an erroneous theory of art; and, in
fact, the intense individuality of Paul Emanuel is, in a different
sense, the most serious objection to him. He is a real human being
who gave lectures at a particular date in a _pension_ at Brussels. We
are as much convinced of that fact as we are of the reality of Miss
Brontë herself; but the fact is also a presumption that he is not
one of those great typical characters, the creation of which is the
highest triumph of the dramatist or novelist. There is too much of the
temporary and accidental—too little of the permanent and essential.

We all know and love Uncle Toby, but we feel quite sure that no such
man ever existed except in Sterne's brain. There may have been some
real being who vaguely suggested him; but he is, we assume, the
creation of Sterne, and the projection into concrete form of certain
ideas which had affected Sterne's imagination. He is not, indeed,
nor is any fictitious character, a creation out of nothing. Partly,
no doubt, he is Sterne himself, or Sterne in a particular mood; but
Uncle Toby's soul, that which makes him live and excite our sympathy
and love, is something which might be expressed by the philosopher
as a theory, and which has been expressed in an outward symbol by an
artist of extraordinary skill. Don Quixote is of perennial interest,
because he is the most powerful type ever set forth of the contrast
between the ideal and the commonplace, and his figure comes before us
whenever we are forced to meditate upon some of the most vital and
most melancholy truths about human life. Uncle Toby, in a less degree,
is a great creation, because he is the embodiment of one answer to
a profound and enduring problem. He represents, it has been said,
the wisdom of love, as Mr. Shandy exemplifies the love of wisdom.
More precisely, he is an incarnation of the sentimentalism of the
eighteenth century. It is a phenomenon which has its bad and its good
side, and which may be analysed and explained by historians of the
time. Sterne, in describing Uncle Toby, gave a concrete symbol for
one of the most important currents of thought of the time, which took
religious, moral, and political, as well as artistic shapes. In many
ways the sentiment has lost much of its interest for us; but though
an utterance of an imperfect doctrine, we may infer that Uncle Toby's
soul will transmigrate into new shapes, and perhaps develop into
higher forms.

When we measure M. Paul Emanuel by this test, we feel instinctively
that there is something wanting. The most obvious contrast is that M.
Emanuel is no humourist himself, nor even a product of humour. The
imperfections, the lovable absurdities, of Uncle Toby are embedded in
the structure of his character. His whims and oddities always leave
us in the appropriate mood of blended smiles and tears. Many people,
especially 'earnest' young ladies, will prefer M. Paul Emanuel, who,
like his creator, is always in deadly earnest. At bottom he is always
(like all ladies' heroes) a true woman, simple, pure, heroic and
loving—a real Joan of Arc, as Mr. Thackeray said of his creator, in
the beard and blouse of a French professor. He attaches extravagant
importance to trifles, indeed, for his irascible and impetuous
temperament is always converting him into an Æolus of the duck-pond.
So far there is, we may admit, a kind of pseudo-humorous element in
his composition; but the humour, such as it is, lies entirely on the
surface. He is perfectly sane and sensible, though a trifle choleric.
Give him a larger sphere of action, and his impetuosity will be
imposing instead of absurd. It is the mere accident of situation which
gives, even for a moment, a ludicrous tinge to his proceedings.

Uncle Toby, on the contrary, would be even more of a humourist
as a general on the battle-field than in his mimic sieges on
the bowling-green. The humour is in his very marrow, not in his
surroundings; and the reason is that Sterne feels what every genuine
humourist feels, and what, indeed, it is his main function to
express—a strong sense of the irony of fate, of the queer mixture
of good and bad, of the heroic and the ludicrous, of this world of
ours, and of what we may call the perversity of things in general.
Whether such a treatment is altogether right and healthy is another
question; and most certainly Sterne's view of life is in many respects
not only unworthy, but positively base. But it remains true that the
deep humourist is finding a voice for one of the most pervading and
profound of the sentiments raised in a philosophical observer who
is struck by the discords of the universe. Sensitiveness to such
discords is one of the marks of a truly reflective intellect, though a
humourist suggests one mode of escape from the pain which they cause,
whilst a philosophic and religious mind may find another and perhaps a
more profound solution.

Now M. Paul Emanuel, admirable and amiable as he is, never carries us
into the higher regions of thought. We are told, even ostentatiously,
of the narrow prejudices which he shares, though they do not make
him harsh and uncharitable. The prejudices were obvious in this case
to the creator, because her own happened to be of a different kind.
The 'Tory and clergyman's daughter' was rather puzzled by finding
that a bigoted Papist with a Jesuit education might still be a good
man, and points out conscientiously the defects which she ascribes to
his early training. But the mere fact of the narrowness, the want of
familiarity with a wider sphere of thought, the acceptance of a narrow
code of belief and morality, does not strike her as in itself having
either a comic or a melancholy side. M. Paul has the wrong set of
prejudices, but is not as wrong as prejudiced; and therefore we feel
that a Sterne, or, say, a George Sand, whilst doing equal justice to
M. Emanuel's excellent qualities, would have had a feeling (which in
her was altogether wanting) of his limitation and his incongruity
with the great system of the world. Seen from an intellectual point
of view, placed in his due relation to the great currents of thought
and feeling of the time, we should have been made to feel the pathetic
and humorous aspects of M. Emanuel's character, and he might have been
equally a living individual and yet a type of some more general idea.
The philosopher might ask, for example, what is the exact value of
unselfish heroism guided by narrow theories or employed on unworthy
tasks; and the philosophic humourist or artist might embody the answer
in a portrait of M. Emanuel considered from a cosmic or a cosmopolitan
point of view. From the lower standpoint accessible to Miss Brontë he
is still most attractive; but we see only his relations to the little
scholastic circle, and have no such perception as the greatest writers
would give us of his relations to the universe, or, as the next order
would give, of his relations to the great world without.

Although the secret of Miss Brontë's power lies, to a great extent, in
the singular force with which she can reproduce acute observations of
character from without, her most esoteric teaching, the most accurate
reflex from her familiar idiosyncrasy, is of course to be found in
the characters painted from within. We may infer her personality
more or less accurately from the mode in which she contemplates her
neighbours, but it is directly manifested in various avatars of her
own spirit. Among the characters who are more or less mouthpieces
of her peculiar sentiment we may reckon not only Lucy Snowe and
Jane Eyre, but, to some extent, Shirley, and, even more decidedly,
Rochester. When they speak we are really listening to her own voice,
though it is more or less disguised in conformity to dramatic
necessity. There are great differences between them; but they are
such differences as would exist between members of the same family,
or might be explained by change of health or internal circumstances.
Jane Eyre has not had such bitter experience as Lucy Snowe; Shirley is
generally Jane Eyre in high spirits, and freed from harassing anxiety;
and Rochester is really a spirited sister of Shirley's, though he does
his very best to be a man, and even an unusually masculine specimen of
his sex.

Mr. Rochester, indeed, has imposed upon a good many people; and he
is probably responsible in part for some of the muscular heroes who
have appeared since his time in the world of fiction. I must, however,
admit that, in spite of some opposing authority, he does not appear to
me to be a real character at all, except as a reflection of a certain
side of his creator. He is in reality the personification of a true
woman's longing (may one say it now?) for a strong master. But the
knowledge is wanting. He is a very bold but necessarily unsuccessful
attempt at an impossibility. The parson's daughter did not really
know anything about the class of which he is supposed to be a type,
and he remains vague and inconsistent in spite of all his vigour. He
is intended to be a person who has surfeited from the fruit of the
tree of knowledge, and addresses the inexperienced governess from the
height—or depth—of his worldly wisdom. And he really knows just as
little of the world as she does. He has to impose upon her by giving
an account of his adventures taken from the first novel at hand of
the early Bulwer school, or a diluted recollection of Byron. There
is not a trace of real cynicism—of the strong nature turned sour by
experience—in his whole conversation. He is supposed to be specially
simple and masculine, and yet he is as self-conscious as a young lady
on her first appearance in society, and can do nothing but discourse
about his feelings, and his looks, and his phrenological symptoms, to
his admiring hearer. Set him beside any man's character of a man and
one feels at once that he has no real solidity or vitality in him.
He has, of course, strong nerves and muscles, but those are articles
which can be supplied in unlimited quantities with little expense to
the imagination. Nor can one deny that his conduct to Miss Eyre is
abominable. If he had proposed to her to ignore the existence of the
mad Mrs. Rochester, he would have acted like a rake, but not like a
sneak. But the attempt to entrap Jane into a bigamous connection by
concealing the wife's existence, is a piece of treachery for which
it is hard to forgive him. When he challenges the lawyer and the
clergyman to condemn him after putting themselves in his place, their
answer is surely obvious. One may take a lenient view of a man who
chooses by his own will to annul his marriage to a filthy lunatic;
but he was a knave for trying to entrap a defenceless girl by a mock
ceremony. He puts himself in a position in which the contemptible Mr.
Mason has a moral advantage.

This is by far the worst blot in Miss Brontë's work, and may partly
explain, though it cannot justify, the harsh criticisms made at the
time. It is easy now to win a cheap reputation for generosity by
trampling upon the dead bodies of the luckless critics who blundered
so hopelessly. The time for anger is past; and mere oblivion is the
fittest doom for such offenders. Inexperience, and consequently
inadequate appreciation of the demands of the situation, was Miss
Brontë's chief fault in this matter, and most certainly not any
want of true purity and moral elevation. But the fact that she,
in whom an instinctive nobility of spirit is, perhaps, the most
marked characteristic, should have given scandal to the respectable,
is suggestive of another inference. What, in fact, is the true
significance of this singular strain of thought and feeling, which
puts on various and yet closely-allied forms in the three remarkable
novels we have been considering? It displays itself at one moment
in some vivid description, or—for 'description' seems too faint a
word—some forcible presentation to our mind's eye of a fragment of
moorland scenery; at another, it appears as an ardently sympathetic
portrayal of some trait of character at once vigorous and tender;
then it utters itself in a passionate soliloquy, which establishes
the fact that its author possessed the proverbial claim to knowledge
of the heavenly powers; or again, it produces one of those singular
little prose-poems—such as Shirley's description of Eve—which, with
all their force, have just enough flavour of the 'devoirs' at M.
Heger's establishment to suggest that they are the work of an inspired
school-girl. To gather up into a single formula the meaning of such
a character as Lucy Snowe, or, in other words, of Charlotte Brontë,
is, of course, impossible. But at least such utterances always give
us the impression of a fiery soul imprisoned in too narrow and too
frail a tenement. The fire is pure and intense. It is kindled in a
nature intensely emotional, and yet aided by a heroic sense of duty.
The imprisonment is not merely that of a feeble body in uncongenial
regions, but that of a narrow circle of thought, and consequently
of a mind which has never worked itself clear by reflection, or
developed a harmonious and consistent view of life. There is a certain
feverish disquiet which is marked by the peculiar mannerism of the
style. At its best, we have admirable flashes of vivid expression,
where the material of language is the incarnation of keen intuitive
thought. At its worst, it is strangely contorted, crowded by rather
awkward personifications, and degenerates towards a rather unpleasant
Ossianesque. More severity of taste would increase the power by
restraining the abuse. We feel an aspiration after more than can be
accomplished, an unsatisfied yearning for potent excitement, which is
sometimes more fretful than forcible.

The symptoms are significant of the pervading flaw in otherwise most
effective workmanship. They imply what, in a scientific sense, would
be an inconsistent theory, and, in an æsthetic sense, an inharmonious
representation of life. One great aim of the writing, explained in the
preface to the second edition of 'Jane Eyre,' is a protest against
conventionality. But the protest is combined with a most unflinching
adherence to the proper conventions of society; and we are left in
great doubt as to where the line ought to be drawn. Where does the
unlawful pressure of society upon the individual begin, and what are
the demands which it may rightfully make upon our respect? At one
moment in 'Jane Eyre' we seem to be drifting towards the solution that
strong passion is the one really good thing in the world, and that
all human conventions which oppose it should be disregarded. This was
the tendency which shocked the respectable reviewers of the time. Of
course they should have seen that the strongest sympathy of the author
goes with the heroic self-conquest of the heroine under temptation.
She triumphs at the cost of a determined self-sacrifice, and
undoubtedly we are meant to sympathise with the martyr. Yet it is also
true that we are left with the sense of an unsolved discord. Sheer
stoical regard for duty is represented as something repulsive, however
imposing, in the figure of St. John Rivers, and virtue is rewarded by
the arbitrary removal of the obstacles which made it unpleasant. What
would Jane Eyre have done, and what would our sympathies have been,
had she found that Mrs. Rochester had not been burnt in the fire at
Thornfield? That is rather an awkward question. Duty is supreme, seems
to be the moral of the story; but duty sometimes involves a strain
almost too hard for mortal faculties.

If in the conflict between duty and passion the good so often borders
upon the impracticable, the greatest blessing in the world should be
a will powerful enough to be an inflexible law for itself under all
pressure of circumstances. Even a will directed to evil purposes has a
kind of royal prerogative, and we may rightly do it homage. That seems
to be the seminal thought in 'Wuthering Heights,' that strange book to
which we can hardly find a parallel in our literature, unless in such
works as the 'Revenger's Tragedy,' and some other crude but startling
productions of the Elizabethan dramatists. But Emily Brontë's feeble
grasp of external facts makes her book a kind of baseless nightmare,
which we read with wonder and with distressing curiosity, but with
even more pain than pleasure or profit. Charlotte's mode of conceiving
the problem is given most fully in 'Villette,' the book of which one
can hardly say, with a recent critic, that it represents her 'ripest
wisdom,' but which seems to give her best solution of the great
problem of life. Wisdom, in fact, is not the word to apply to a state
of mind which seems to be radically inconsistent and tentative. The
spontaneous and intense affection of kindred and noble natures is
the one really precious thing in life, it seems to say; and, so far,
the thought is true, or a partial aspect of the truth; and the high
feeling undeniable. But then, the author seems to add, such happiness
is all but chimerical. It falls to the lot only of a few exceptional
people, upon whom fortune or Providence has delighted to shower its
gifts. To all others life is either a wretched grovelling business,
an affair of making money and gratifying sensuality, or else it is
a prolonged martyrdom. Yield to your feelings, and the chances are
enormously great that you are trampled upon by the selfish, or that
you come into collision with some of those conventions which must be
venerated, for they are the only barriers against moral degradation,
and which yet somehow seem to make in favour of the cruel and the
self-seeking. The only safe plan is that of the lady in the ballad,
to 'lock your heart in a case of gold, and pin it with a silver pin.'
Mortify your affections, scourge yourself with rods, and sit in
sackcloth and ashes; stamp vigorously upon the cruel thorns that strew
your pathway, and learn not to shrink, when they lacerate the most
tender flesh. Be an ascetic, in brief, and yet without the true aim
of the ascetic. For, unlike him, you must admit that these affections
are precisely the best part of you, and that the offers of the Church,
which proposes to wean you from the world and reward you by a loftier
prize, are a delusion and a snare. They are the lessons of a designing
priesthood, and imply a blasphemy against the most divine instincts of
human nature.

This is the unhappy discord which runs through Miss Brontë's
conceptions of life, and whilst it gives an indescribable pathos
to many pages, leaves us with a sense of something morbid and
unsatisfactory. She seems to be turning for relief alternately
to different teachers, to the promptings of her own heart, to
the precepts of those whom she has been taught to revere, and
occasionally, though timidly and tentatively, to alien schools of
thought. The attitude of mind is, indeed, best indicated by the
story (a true story, like most of her incidents) of her visit to the
confessional in Brussels. Had she been a Catholic, or a Positivist,
or a rebel against all the creeds, she might have reached some
consistency of doctrine, and therefore some harmony of design. As
it is, she seems to be under a desire which makes her restless and
unhappy, because her best impulses are continually warring against
each other. She is between the opposite poles of duty and happiness,
and cannot see how to reconcile their claims, or even—for perhaps
no one can solve that or any other great problem exhaustively—how
distinctly to state the question at issue She pursues one path
energetically, till she feels herself to be in danger, and then
shrinks with a kind of instinctive dread, and resolves not only that
life is a mystery, but that happiness must be sought by courting
misery. Undoubtedly such a position speaks of a mind diseased, and a
more powerful intellect would even under her conditions have worked
out some more comprehensible and harmonious solution.

For us, however, it is allowable to interpret her complaints in our
own fashion, whatever it may be. We may give our own answer to the
dark problem, or at least indicate the path by which an answer must
be reached. For a poor soul so grievously beset within and without by
troubles in which we all have a share, we can but feel the strongest
sympathy. We cannot sit at her feet as a great teacher, nor admit
that her view of life is satisfactory, or even intelligible. But we
feel for her as for a fellow-sufferer who has at least felt with
extraordinary keenness the sorrows and disappointments which torture
most cruelly the most noble virtues, and has clung throughout her
troubles to beliefs which must in some form or other be the guiding
lights of all worthy actions. She is not in the highest rank amongst
those who have fought their way to a clearer atmosphere, and can help
us to clearer conceptions; but she is among the first of those who
have felt the necessity of consolation, and therefore stimulated to
more successful efforts.


The recently-published Memorials of the late Canon Kingsley do not
constitute a biography of the normal type. In other words, the book
does not profess to answer every question which the curiosity of
readers might suggest; and, on the whole, one may be very glad that
it does not. To many such questions the most appropriate answer is
silence, not unmixed with contempt. To others, which may be taken as
the expression of a legitimate interest in an eminent man, a reader of
moderate intelligence may be trusted to find a sufficient answer in
the ample materials placed before him. There is no great difficulty
in seizing the main outlines of so strongly marked a character; and,
on the whole, Kingsley well deserves the labour. Few writers of his
generation gave clearer indications of power. Had he died at the age
of five-and thirty (when 'Westward Ho!' was already completed), we
should have speculated upon the great things which we had lost. The
last twenty years of his life added little or nothing to his literary
reputation. Perhaps, indeed, some of his performances—the lectures
at Cambridge, and the unfortunate controversy with Newman—reflected
a certain discredit upon his previous achievements. The explanation
is not far to seek, when one has read the story of his life; but the
fact makes it rather difficult to recall the feelings with which the
rising generation of the years between 1848 and 1855 regarded the
most vigorous champion of a school then in its highest vigour. The
'Saint's Tragedy,' 'Yeast,' 'Alton Locke,' 'Hypatia,' and 'Westward
Ho!' did not exactly reveal one of the born leaders of mankind; but
their freshness, geniality, and vigour seemed to indicate powers
which might qualify their possessor to be an admirable interpreter
between the original prophets and the inferior disciples. There was
the buoyancy of spirit, the undoubting confidence that the riddle
of the universe had at last been satisfactorily solved, and the
power of seizing the picturesque and striking aspect of things and
embodying abstract theories in vivid symbols which marks the second
order of intellects—the men who spread but do not originate fruitful
and transforming ideas. Thinkers of the highest rank may be equally
self-confident: for it cannot be denied that unreasonable trust in
one's own infallibility is a great condition of success in even the
highest tasks; but the confidence of great minds is compatible with a
deeper estimate of the difficulties before them. They may hold that
evil will be extirpated, but they are aware that its roots strike
down into the very heart of things. Kingsley's exuberant faith in his
own message showed the high spirits of youth rather than a profound
insight into the conditions of the great problems which he solved so
fluently. At the time, however, this youthful zeal was contagious.
If not an authority to obey, he was a fellow-worker in whom to trust
heartily and rejoice unreservedly. Nobody, as Matthew Arnold says
in a letter published in the Life, was more willing to admire or
more free from petty jealousies. This quality gave a charm to his
writings. There was always something generous in their tone; a desire
to understand his antagonist's position, which was due to his own
temperament as much as to the teaching of his leader, Maurice; and,
in short, a warmth and heartiness which led one to overlook many
defects, and rightly attracted the enthusiasm of men young enough to
look up to him for guidance.

The earlier pages in Mrs. Kingsley's volumes give a vivid picture of
this period of his life, or at least of one side of it. Something is
said—as of course it is proper to say something—of the speculative
doubts and difficulties through which he won his way to a more settled
and happier frame of mind. But it is impossible to take this very
seriously. Kingsley, as his letters prove, started in life, like other
lads, with a ready-made theory of the universe. Like other lads, he
was perfectly confident that it rested upon an unassailable basis and
would solve all difficulties. He intended, it is true, to perfect
himself in a few branches of study which he had hitherto neglected;
he was to learn something about metaphysics, theology, ecclesiastical
history, and other branches of knowledge; but it is quite plain that
Kant and Augustine and other great teachers of mankind were to be
called in, not to consult upon the basis of his philosophy, but to
furnish him with a few tools for polishing certain corollaries and
increasing his dialectical skill. His is quite ready to provide his
correspondents immediately with a definitive philosophical system,
and shows his usual versatility in applying at least some of the
metaphysical phraseology caught from his intellectual idols. Many lads
learn to modify the speculative apparatus with which they started
in life. Absolute conversions, it is true, are almost unknown in
philosophy. No one ever deserts from the empirical to the _à priori_
school, or _vice versâ_; for a man's attitude in such matters depends
upon intellectual tendencies which assert themselves in early youth
as much as in riper years. But men of real power go through a process
of development, which, though it leaves a certain homogeneity between
their earlier and their later views, softens the crudeness and lessens
the superficiality of the first guesses. No such process is traceable
in Kingsley. His first theory is his last, except that in later years
his interest in abstract speculation had obviously declined, and his
declarations, if equally dogmatic in form, show less confidence than
desire to be confident. He is glad to turn from speculations to facts,
and thinks that his strength lies in the direction rather of the
natural sciences than of speculative thought.

Probably he was quite right. It would, at any rate, be a mistake to
regard any process of speculative development as determining his
career. He was no real philosopher, though capable of providing
philosophical dialogues quite good enough to figure in an historical
novel. He was primarily a poet, or, at least, a man swayed by the
imagination and emotions. He felt keenly, saw vividly, and accepted
such abstract teachings as were most congenial to his modes of seeing
and feeling. The true key to his mental development must therefore
be sought in his emotional history, and not in the intellectual
fermentation which determines the career of a true thinker. The story
of his life in this aspect, though indicated rather than directly
told, seems to be simple enough. Few people, it is probable, possess
greater faculties of enjoyment than Kingsley. His delight in a fine
landscape resembled the delight of an epicure in an exquisite vintage.
It had the intensity and absorbing power of a sensual appetite. He
enjoyed the sight of the Atlantic rollers relieved against a purple
stretch of heather as the conventional alderman enjoys turtle-soup.
He gave himself up to the pure emotion as a luxurious nature abandons
itself to physical gratification. His was not the contemplative mood
of the greater poets of nature, but an intense spasm of sympathy which
rather excluded all further reflection. Such a temperament implies
equal powers of appreciation for many other kinds of beauty, though
his love of fine scenery has perhaps left the strongest mark upon his
books. He was abnormally sensitive to those pleasures which are on the
border-line between the sensuous and the intellectual. He speaks in
an early letter of the 'dreamy days of boyhood,' when his 'enjoyment
was drawn from the semi-sensual delights of ear and eye, from sun
and stars, wood and wave, the beautiful inanimate in all its forms.'
'Present enjoyment,' he adds, 'present profit, brought always to me a
recklessness of moral consequences which has been my bane.' The last
expression must of course be taken for what it is worth—that is, for
next to nothing: but he is no doubt right in attributing to himself a
certain greediness of pleasures of the class described, which became
more intellectual and comprehensive but hardly less intense in later

It is needless to point out what are the dangers to which a man is
exposed by such a temperament. He describes himself (at the age of
twenty-two) as saved from 'the darkling tempests of scepticism,'
and from 'sensuality and dissipation;' saved, too, 'from a hunter's
life on the prairies, from becoming a savage and perhaps worse.'
The phrase savours of his habitual exaggeration, but it has a real
meaning. Young men with a strong taste for pleasure are ruined often
enough, though they do not go so far as 'the prairies' to effect that
consummation. We can see with sufficient clearness that during his
college life Kingsley went through serious struggles and came out
victorious. Partly, no doubt, he owed that victory over himself to the
fact that his tastes, however keen, were not coarse. He had a genuine
vein of poetry; that is to say, of really noble feeling. His intense
delight in the higher forms of beauty was a force which resisted
any easy lapse into degradation. The æsthetic faculties may, as has
been too clearly proved, fall into bondage to the lowest impulses
of our nature. In the case of a man so open to generous and manly
impulses, so appreciative of the charms which outward scenery reveals
to healthy and tender minds and to them alone, the struggle against
such a bondage must have been in any case prolonged and vigorous.
But stronger men than Kingsley have yielded, and one may see in him
the type of character which, under other conditions, produces the
'diabolical' or rather the animalistic school of art and literature.
An external influence, we are left to infer, had a share in saving
him from so lamentable a descent. Kingsley, in short, was rescued, as
other men have been rescued, by the elevating influence of a noble
passion. It is inevitable that this fact, tolerably obvious as it is,
should be rather indicated than stated in the biography. But he was
not slow to proclaim in all his writings, and we need not scruple to
assume that his utterance was drawn from his own experience, that,
of all good things that can befall a man in this world, the best is
that he should fall in love with a good woman. It is not a new truth;
indeed, most truths of that importance have an uncomfortable habit of
revealing themselves to the intrusive persons who have insisted upon
saying all our best things before us. Still, true as it is, many young
men are apt to ignore it, or to consider it as repealed instead of
limited by obvious prudential maxims. Kingsley, led to recognise it,
and even to exaggerate its exclusive importance by his own history,
insists upon it with an emphasis which may not only be traced through
his writings, but which seems to have affected all his conceptions
of life. It may almost be regarded as the true central point of his
doctrine. The love of man for woman, when sanctified by religious
feeling, is, according to him, the greatest of all forces that work
for individual or social good. This belief, and the system of which
it forms a part, gives the most characteristic colouring to all his
work. It appears to be decided by general consent that a novel means
the same thing as a love-story. Some writers, indeed, have been bold
enough to maintain, and even to act upon the opinion, that this view
exaggerates the part played by the passion in actual life; and that
men have some interests in life which survive the pairing period.
Kingsley's doctrine differs from that of the ordinary novelist in
another way. Love may not be the ultimate end of a man's life; but it
is, as Shakespeare puts it—

                           The ever-fixed mark
    That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
    It is the star to every wandering bark
    Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

It is the guide to a noble life; and not only affords the discipline
by which men obtain the mastery over themselves, but reveals to them
the true theory of their relations to the universe. This doctrine,
treated in a rather vacillating manner, supplies the theme for his
earliest book, the 'Saint's Tragedy.' Lancelot in 'Yeast,' and
even the poor tailor, Alton Locke, owe their best stimulus towards
obtaining a satisfactory solution of the perplexed social problems
of the time to their love for good women. Hypatia, the type of the
feminine influence whose lofty instincts are misdirected by a decaying
philosophy, and poor Pelagia, with no philosophy at all, excite the
passions by which monks, pagans, and Goths are elevated or corrupted;
and the excellent Victoria—a lady who comes too distinctly from a
modern tract—shows the philosopher Raphael how to escape from a
despairing cynicism. The Elizabethan heroes of 'Westward Ho!' take the
side of good or evil according to their mode of understanding love
for the heroines. In 'Two Years Ago,' the delicate curate, and the
dandified American, and the sturdy Tom Thurnall, all manage to save
their souls by the worship of a lofty feminine character, whilst poor
Tom Briggs _alias_ Vavasour is ruined by his failure to appreciate
the rare excellence of his wife. The same thought inspires some of
his most remarkable poems, as the truly beautiful 'Andromeda,' and
the 'Martyrdom of Saint Maura,' considered by himself to be his best,
though I fancy that few readers will share this judgment. Lancelot
in 'Yeast' designs a great allegorical drawing called the 'Triumph
of Woman,' which sets forth the hallowing influence of feminine
charms upon every variety of human being. The picture is one of those
which could hardly be put upon canvas; but it would be the proper
frontispiece to Kingsley's works.

Such a doctrine, it may be said, is too specific and narrow to be
considered as the animating principle of the various books in which
it appears. This is doubtless true, and it must be taken rather as
the most characteristic application of the teaching of which it is
in a logical sense the corollary, though ostensible corollaries are
often in fact first principles. When generalised or associated with
congenial theories of wider application, it explains Kingsley's
leading doctrines. Thus the love of good women is the great practical
guide in life; and, in a broader sense, our affections are to guide
our intellects. The love of nature, the rapture produced in a
sensitive mind by the glorious beauties of the external world, is to
teach us the true theory of the universe. The ultimate argument which
convinces men like Tom Thurnall and Raphael Aben Ezra is that the
love of which they have come to know the mysterious charm must reveal
the true archetype of the world, previously hidden by the veil of
sense. It wants no more to explain a problem which seems[1] to have
puzzled Kingsley himself—why, namely, the mystics should supply the
only religious teaching which had 'any real meaning for his heart.'
A man who systematically sees the world through his affections is so
far a mystic; though Kingsley's love of the concrete and incapacity
for abstract metaphysics prevented him from using the true mystical
language. Still simpler is the solution of another problem stated
by his biographer. It is said to be 'strange' that Kingsley should
have acknowledged the intellectual leadership at once of Coleridge
and Maurice and of Carlyle. The superficial difference between the
two first and the last of those writers is indeed obvious. But it
requires no profound reasoner to detect the fundamental similarity.
They all agree in seeing facts through the medium of the imagination,
and substituting poetic intuition for the slow and chilling processes
of scientific reasoning. They agree in rejecting the rigid framework
of dogma and desiring to exalt the spirit above the dead letter. To
Kingsley, as to his teachers, and to most imaginative minds, science
seemed at one time to mean materialism in philosophy and cynicism in
morals. Men of science subordinate the satisfaction of the emotions
to the satisfaction of the intellect; they seek to analyse into their
elements the concrete realities which alone interest the poet, and see
mechanical laws where their opponents would recognise a living force.
To Kingsley they appeared to be drying up the source of his most
rapturous emotions, and reducing the beautiful world to a colourless
museum of dead specimens. Instead of regulating they were suppressing
the emotions. It is less remarkable that he should have opposed a
doctrine thus interpreted, than that he should have gradually become
less hostile to the scientific aspect of things. He accepted, instead
of reviling, Darwin's teaching; and seems to have been convincing
himself that, after all, science was not an enemy to the loftier
sentiments. His keen eye for nature, his love of beast and bird and
insect, made him sympathise with the observers, if not with the
reasoners, and led him to recognise a poetic and a religious side in
rightly interpreted science.

His antipathy to another kind of dogmatism is equally intelligible.
To him it appeared (rightly or wrongly) to be hopelessly tainted by
the evil principle which he generally described as Manichæism. It
ordered him (or so he supposed) to look upon nature with horror or
suspicion, instead of regarding it as everywhere marked with the
indelible impress of the creative hand, and therefore calculated to
stimulate the highest emotions of reverence and awe; and, still more,
it set up a false and attenuated ethical standard, which condemned
all natural impulses as therefore bad, and placed the monkish above
the domestic virtues. It was clearly inevitable that a man who
regarded human love as the very centre and starting-point of all
the good influences of life, and the delight in nature as the very
test of a healthily-constituted mind, should look upon teaching thus
understood with absolute detestation. Possibly he caricatured it;
at any rate he spared no pains to attack it by every means open to
him, and especially by setting forth his own ideal of character. He
created the 'muscular Christian'—the man, that is, who, on the showing
of his antagonists, is an impossible combination of classical and
Christian types, and, on his own, implies the harmonious blending
of all aspects of the truth. He protested, fruitlessly enough,
against the nickname, because it seemed to imply that his version
of the character subordinated the highest to the lowest elements.
It suggested that he had used Christian phraseology to consecrate a
blind admiration for physical prowess and excess of animal vigour. His
indignation—expressed in an imprudently angry letter to one of his
critics—was intelligible enough. The imputation was cruel, because it
was at once false and plausible. It was false, for Kingsley's ideal
heroes—whether properly to be called Christians or not—are certainly
not mere animals. They have their faults, but they are not sensual
or cynical, though in some of their literary descendants the animal
side of their nature seems to have developed itself with suspicious
facility. Amyas Leigh would probably have hanged his Guy Livingstone
from a yard-arm before the voyage was over. To readers, however,
looking at Amyas from a different point of view, the likeness might
be deceptive; and in asserting the value of certain qualities too
much depreciated by his critics, he naturally seemed to give them an
excessive value.

A vague impression that Kingsley was somehow a potential defender of
the faith—that he had seen through the doubts and difficulties which
perplex other minds—counts for something in his popularity. It is
quite needless to dispel this pleasant vision, if anybody holds it;
but I shall venture to take it for granted that it would be useless to
look to him for any very profound statement of the grounds of belief.
Doubtless he was what is called a sincere believer; but one cannot
forget that all hagiologists are apt unconsciously to heighten the
halo of religious unction which surrounded their heroes when alive.
Kingsley did not carry so much of the pulpit frame of mind into
ordinary life as innocent readers might fancy. Nobody would have been
better pleased to follow jolly Bishop Corbet into his cellar and pitch
away cassock and bands with 'There goes the parson,' and 'There goes
the bishop.' He had not the dignified calm which stamps the caste of
bores and philosophers; and, indeed, the impetuosity of temperament
which disqualified him for such tasks is but too perceptible in his
artistic work. Its most obvious fault is a want of repose and harmony.
He can never be quiet for a moment. Every sentence must be emphatic
and intense. He seizes the first aspect of a subject; dashes out a
picture—sometimes of perfectly admirable vigour—in half-a-dozen lines;
but cannot dwell upon a particular strain of thought or tone down the
brilliant hues of fragmentary passages by the diffused atmosphere of
calm reflection. He could hardly sit quiet for a moment, as one of
his admirers tells us; and his strong-minded heroes, who ought to
be self-sustained and tranquil, are always in as great a fever as
himself. The result of this tendency is too plainly written upon his
life as upon his books. He was always, in a sanitary sense, living
upon his capital, and taking more out of his strength than his powers
justified. He knocked himself up completely by writing 'Yeast' before
he was thirty, and every subsequent work seems to have involved
an effort which told heavily upon his constitution. The natural
consequence of such a process is to be seen in the fact already
noticed that his literary productiveness rapidly declined; and that
in his later works we have the emphasis which has become habitual,
without the force which saved it from affectation. It must, however,
be said to his credit that he had the merit—a lamentably rare one—of
abandoning the attempt to rival his own earlier performances when the
vein no longer flowed spontaneously.

The strength and the weakness of such a temperament are illustrated by
his poetry, of which some fragments will probably survive (and few,
indeed, are the poets who survive by more than fragments), though we
may doubt the truth of his own opinion that they would supply his most
lasting claim upon posterity. He explains, however, very frankly why
he can never be a great poet. He is wanting, he says,[2] in the great
poetic faculty—the 'power of metaphor and analogue—the instinctive
vision of connections between all things in heaven and earth.' His
mind, in other words, was deficient in the direction of philosophic
imagination. He could not, like Milton, converse habitually with

    Him that yon soars on golden wing,
    Guiding the fiery-wheeled throne,
    The cherub Contemplation.

He was too restless and impetuous to be at ease on those heights
from which alone the widest truths become perceptible and excite the
emotions which are at once deepest and calmest. His songs represent
jets and gushes of vivid but rather feverish emotion. A pathetic or
heroic story, or the beauty of some natural scene, moves him deeply,
and he utters his emotion in an energetic burst of vivid language.
But he is too short-winged for a long flight, or for soaring into the
loftiest regions of the intellectual atmosphere.

Every short lyric is the record, one must suppose, of some such
mood of intense excitement. But it makes all the difference whether
the excitement takes place in a mind already stored with thought,
and ready to pierce instantaneously to the deepest meaning of a
particular scene or incident, or in a mind incapable of sustained
reflection, and accustomed to see things by brilliant flashes which
reveal only their partial and superficial aspects. When, however, we
do not blame Kingsley for not being somebody else, we must admit him
to be excellent within his limits. The 'Andromeda' is in every way
admirable. It is probably the most successful attempt in the language
to grapple with the technical difficulties of English hexameters;
and he also seems to find in the Pagan mythology a more appropriate
symbol for his characteristic tone of sentiment, and an imagery which
fits in better with his nature-worship than in regions more familiar
to him. He can abandon himself unreservedly to his delight in the
beautiful without bothering himself about the Manichees or showing the
controversial theologian under the artistic dress. The shorter poems
have generally a power of stamping themselves upon the memory, due, no
doubt, to their straightforward, nervous style. They have the cardinal
merit of vigour which belongs to all genuine utterance of real
emotion, and are delightfully free from the flabby affectations of
many modern rivals. The mark may not be the most elevated, but he goes
at it as straight as he would ride at a fence. His 'North-Easter' does
not blow from such ethereal regions as Shelley's 'Southwest Wind.' It
verges upon the absurd, and is perhaps not quite free from that taint
of vulgarity which vitiates all artistic reference to field-sports.
But given that such a sentiment was worth expressing, the tones in
which it is couched are as ringing and vigorous as could be wished. He
can rise much higher when he is pathetic and indignant. It would not
be easy to find a better war-cry for the denouncer of social wrongs
than the ballad of the Poacher's Widow. And to pass over the two
songs by which he is best known, such poems as 'Poor Lorraine'—first
published in the biography—or the beautiful lines in the 'Saint's
Tragedy,' beginning, 'Oh, that we two were maying!' are intense enough
in their utterance to make us wonder why he fell short of the highest
class of song-writing. Perhaps the defect is indicated by a certain
desire to be picturesque, which prevents him from obtaining complete
success in the simple expression of pathos. The poems have a taint of
prettiness—and prettiness is a deadly vice in poetry. There is about
them a faint flavour of drawing-room music. But, when we do not want
to be hypercritical, we may be thankful for poetry which, if not of
the highest class, has the rarest of merits at the present day—genuine
fervour and originality.

The fullest expression of Kingsley's mind must be found in the works
which appeared from 1848 to 1855. Those seven years, one may say, saw
his literary rise, culmination, and decline. The 'Saint's Tragedy'
represents the period of mental agitation. It will hardly live longer
than many other modern attempts by men of equal genius to compose
dramas not intended for the stage. The form in such cases is generally
felt to be an encumbrance rather than a help, and one cannot help
thinking in this instance that Kingsley might have done better if he
had written a picturesque history instead of forcing his story into an
uncongenial framework. Nobody is now likely to share Bunsen's belief
that the author had proved himself capable of continuing Shakespeare's
great series of historic dramas. But one is also rather surprised
that a performance which, with all its crudities and awkwardness,
showed such unmistakable symptoms of power, did not make a greater
impression. Perhaps the most vital fault is the want of unity, not
merely in plot but in the leading thought, which was the natural
result of the mode of composition. He began it in 1842—that is, at
the age of twenty-three—and it was not published till 1848. As this
includes the period during which Kingsley passed through his acutest
trouble, it is not wonderful that the book should show signs of
confusion. It has, indeed, a purpose, and a very distinct one. It is
the first exposition of that doctrine which, as I have said, Kingsley
preached in season and out of season. He wishes to exhibit the beauty
of his own ideal of feminine meekness as compared with the monastic
and ascetic ideal. It cannot, I think, be denied that this central
idea was capable of artistic treatment. A dramatist might surely
find an impressive motive in the conflict set up in a mind of purity
and elevation by the acceptance of a distorted code of morality.
There is a genuine tragic element in this interpretation of poor
Elizabeth's sufferings. Nature tells her that her domestic affections
are holy and of divine origin; the priests tell her that they are
to be crushed and mortified. She is gradually tortured to death by
the distraction of attempting to obey the two voices, each of them
appealing to the loftiest and most unselfish motives. The history is
probably inaccurate, but the conception is not the less powerful. The
execution remains unsatisfactory, chiefly for the obvious reason that
Kingsley was not quite a Shakespeare nor even a Schiller, and that
his work is therefore rather a series of vigorous sketches than an
effective whole; but partly also because his own sentiment seems to be
vacillating and indistinct. A thorough hater or a thorough adherent of
the theories impugned would have made a work more artistically telling
because more coherently conceived. Kingsley is really feeling his way
to a theory, and therefore undecided in his artistic attitude. The
whole becomes patchy and indistinct. He is feverishly excited rather
than deeply moved, and inconsistent when he ought to be compassionate.
Briefly, he wants firmness of hand and definiteness of purpose, though
there is no want of very remarkable vigour.

The two novels, 'Yeast' and 'Alton Locke,' are far more effective; and
indeed 'Alton Locke' may be fairly regarded as his best piece of work.
It is not creditable to the discernment of the intelligent public
that Kingsley should have been taken for a subversive revolutionist
on the strength of these performances. The intelligent public indeed
is much given to the grossest stupidity; and, as Kingsley more or
less deceived himself, it is not wonderful that he should have
been misunderstood. He announced himself at a public meeting to be
a Chartist; and when a man voluntarily adopts a nickname, he must
not be surprised if he is credited with all the qualities generally
associated with it. In fact, however, he was not more of a genuine
Radical than when in later years he declared that he would, if he
could, 'restore the feudal system, the highest form of civilisation—in
ideal, not in practice—which Europe has yet seen.'[3] There is much
virtue in the phrase 'not in practice;' and perhaps Kingsley was no
more of a genuine feudalist than he was of a genuine Chartist. In his
earlier phase he was simply playing a part which has often enough
been attempted by very honest men. Missionaries of a new faith see
the advantage of sapping the old creed instead of attacking it in
front. Adopting its language and such of its tenets as are congenial
to their own, they can gradually introduce a friendly garrison into
the hostile fort. The conscious adoption of such a method might have
been called jesuitical by Kingsley, and in his mouth such an epithet
would have been damnatory. But it was in all sincerity that he and his
friends considered themselves to be the 'true demagogues'—to quote the
title of the chapter in which the moral of 'Alton Locke' is embodied.
They had not the slightest sympathy, indeed, with the tenets of the
thoroughgoing Radical. Kingsley believed in the social as much as
in the ecclesiastical hierarchy; and with an intensity which almost
amounted to bigotry. He would no more put down the squires than the
parson; and himself a most energetic parson, he certainly did not
undervalue the social importance of the function discharged by his
order. In 'Alton Locke' the bitterest satire is directed, not against
self-indulgent nobles or pedantic prelates, but against the accepted
leaders of the artisans. The 'true demagogue,' as is perfectly
natural, holds the false demagogue in especial horror. Kingsley is
the friend, not Cuffey. He hates the 'Manchester school' as the
commonplace version of Radicalism and the analogue of the Materialist
school in politics. From these, he says,[4] in 1852, 'heaven defend
us; for of all narrow, conceited, hypocritical, and anarchic and
atheistic schemes of the universe, the Manchester one is precisely
the worst. I have no words to express my contempt for it.' Briefly,
Kingsley's remedy for speculative error was not the rejection, but the
more spiritual interpretation, of the old creed; and his remedy for
bad squires and parsons was not disendowment and division of the land,
but the raising up a better generation of parsons and squires.

There is a superficial resemblance between this theory and that of
the Young England school, who, like Kingsley, would have restored the
feudal system in a purified state. Some of his writing runs parallel
to Lord Beaconsfield's exposition of that doctrine. The difference
was, of course, vital. He hated mediæval revivalism as heartily as
he hated the demagogues; and his prejudices against the whole order
of ideas represented by the 'Tracts for the Times' were perhaps the
strongest of his antipathies. He looked back to the sixteenth, not to
the twelfth century; and his ideal parson was to be no ascetic, but
a married man with a taste for field-sports, and fully sympathising
with the common-sense of the laity. The Young England party seemed to
him to desire the conversion of the modern labourer into a picturesque
peasant, ready to receive doles at the castle-gate and bow before the
priest with bland subservience. Kingsley wanted to make a man of him;
to give him self-respect and independence, not in a sense which would
imply the levelling all social superiorities, but in the sense of
assigning to him an honourable position in the social organisation.
He was no more to be petted or pauperised than to be set on a level
with his social superiors, or set loose without guidance from his
intellectual teachers.

Some such doctrines would be verbally accepted by most men; and I
cannot here ask whether they really require the teaching with which
Kingsley associated them. The demagogues and the obstructives were
both, according to him, on a wrong tack; and he could point out
the one true method of reuniting development with order. Whatever
the value of his theories, the sentiment associated with them was
substantially healthy, vigorous, and elevated. That part of his
fictions in which it is embodied is probably his most valuable work.
Nobody can read the descriptions of the agricultural labourers or of
the London artisan in 'Yeast' and 'Alton Locke' without recognising
both the strength of his sympathies and the vigour of his perceptive
faculties. He was drawing from the life, and expressing his deepest
emotions. 'What is the use of preaching to hungry paupers about
heaven?' he asks. 'Sir, as my clerk said to me yesterday, there is a
weight on their hearts, and they call for no change, for they know
they can be no worse off than they are.' The phrase explains what
was the curse which rested upon Kingsley's parishioners, and in what
sense he had to 'redeem it from barbarism.' He did his work like a
man. He was daily with his people 'in their cottages, and made a
point of talking to the men and boys at their fieldwork till he was
personally intimate with every soul, from the women at their washtubs
to the babies in the cradle, for whom he had always a loving word and
look.' Whatever we may think of his 'socialism' or 'democracy,' there
was at least no want of depth or sincerity in his sympathy for the
poor, and therefore there is no false ring in his description of their
condition. He writes with his heart—not to serve any political purpose
or to gain credit for a cheap display of charitable feeling.

No books can show more forcibly the dark side of English society
of the time. The aspect in which Kingsley views the evil is
characteristic. The root of all that is good in man lies in the purity
and vigour of the domestic affections. A condition of things in which
the stability and health of the family become impossible is one in
which the very foundations of society are being sapped. Nobody could
be more alive to the countless mischiefs implied in the statement that
the poor man has nothing deserving the name of home. The verses given
to Tregarva in 'Yeast' sum up his diagnosis of the social disease
with admirable vigour. Many scenes in that rather chaotic story are
equally vivid in their presentation of the facts. The description of
the village feast is a bit of startlingly impressive realism. The
poor sodden, hopeless, spiritless peasantry consoling themselves with
strong drink and brutal songs, open to no impressions of beauty, with
no sense of the romantic except in lawless passion, and too beaten
down to have even a thought of rebellion except in the shape of
agrarian outrage, are described with singular force. Poor Crawy, the
poacher, scarcely elevated above the beasts, looking to the gaol and
workhouse for his only refuge, so degraded that pity is almost lost
in disgust, is the significant product of the general decay. The race
is deteriorating. It has fallen vastly below the standard of the last
generation. All the lads are 'smaller, clumsier, lower-brained, and
weaker-jawed than their elders.' Such higher feeling as remains takes
the form of the dog-like fidelity of Harry Verney, the gamekeeper.
Kingsley never wrote a better scene than the death of the old man
from a wound received in a poaching affray; when he suddenly springs
upright in bed, holds out 'his withered paw with a kind of wild
majesty,' and shouts 'There ain't such a head of hares on any manor in
the country! And them's the last words of Harry Verney.'

'Alton Locke' is a more ambitious and coherent effort; and the
descriptions of the London population, and of the futile attempt at a
rising in the country, are in the same vigorous vein. Perhaps a more
remarkable success is the old Scotchman, Mackaye, who seems to be the
best of Kingsley's characters. He has some real humour, a quality in
which Kingsley was for the most part curiously deficient; but one
must expect that in this case he was drawing from an original. It is
interesting to read Carlyle's criticism of this part of the book.
'Saunders Mackaye,' he says,[5] 'my invaluable countryman in this
book, is nearly perfect; indeed, I greatly wonder how you did contrive
to manage him. His very dialect is as if a native had done it, and
the whole existence of the rugged old hero is a wonderfully splendid
and coherent piece of Scotch bravura.' Perhaps an explanation of the
wonder might be suggested to other people more easily than to Carlyle;
but, at any rate, Mackaye is a very felicitous centre for the various
groups who play their parts in the story; and not the less efficient
as a chorus because he is chiefly critical and confines himself to
shrewd demonstrations of the folly of everybody concerned.

Carlyle gives as his final verdict that his impression is of 'a fervid
creation still left half chaotic.' In fact, with all the genuine force
of 'Alton Locke'—and no living novelist has excelled the vividness
of certain passages—there is an unsatisfactory side to the whole
performance. It is marred by the feverishness which inspires most of
his work. There is an attempt to crowd too much into the space, and
the emphasis sometimes remains when the power is flagging. Greater
reserve of power and more attention to unity of effect would have been
required to make it a really great book. But the most unsatisfactory
part is where the author forgets to be a novelist and becomes a
preacher and a pamphleteer. The admirable heroine is forced to deliver
what is to all purposes a commonplace tract of two or three chapters
at the end of the story, when her thoughts, to be effective, should
really have been embedded in the structure of the story. Anybody can
preach a sermon when no contradiction is allowed; but the novelist
ought to show the thought translated into action, and not given in
a raw shape of downright comment. As it is, Lady Ellerton is a mere
lay-figure who can talk very edifying phrases, but is really tacked on
to the outside of the narrative. The moral should have been evolved
by the natural course of events; for when it is presented in this
point-blank fashion we begin to cavil, and wish that the Chartist
or Mackaye might be allowed to show cause against the sentence
pronounced. As they can't, we do it for ourselves.

The historical novels which followed indicate a remarkable change.
When he published 'Two Years Ago,' Kingsley had become reconciled to
the world. There is an apparent and decidedly unpleasant inconsistency
between the denouncer of social wrongs and the novelist who sings the
praises of squires, patrons, and guardsmen, with a placid conviction
that they sufficiently represent his ideal. The explanation is partly
that, as I have said, Kingsley never accepted the revolutionary
remedy for the grievances which he described. He was quite consistent
in regarding the old creed as expressing the true mode of cure. But
one must still ask whether the facts had changed. Was the world
regenerated between 1848 and 1855? Were English labourers all
properly fed, housed, and taught? Had the sanctity of domestic life
acquired a new charm in the interval, and was the old quarrel between
rich and poor definitely settled or in the way to settlement? That
appears to have been Kingsley's own view, if we may judge from the
prefaces to later editions of his book; and the great agency to which
he assigns the strange improvement was the outbreak of the Crimean
war. That crisis, it seems, had taught the higher classes a deeper
sense of their responsibility, and roused us from the dangerous
slumber of peace and growing wealth. Mr. Herbert Spencer has lately
expounded a very different theory as to the results of an increased
intensity of the military spirit. Without discussing so wide a
question, it may, I fancy, be pretty safely assumed that the future
historian will not take quite this view of recent affairs, and will
attribute any improvement that may have taken place to some deeper
cause than that assigned. When a whole social order is rotting, as the
author of 'Yeast' supposed ours to have been, it is not often cured by
a little splutter of fighting; nor does the belief in the efficacy of
such a remedy seem to fit in very well with a spiritual Christianity.
Perhaps we may further assume, therefore, that the change was rather
in the spectator than in the spectacle. If so, Kingsley was not the
first man to account for an alteration in his personal outlook by a
movement of the rest of the universe. His parish had been got into
better order; his combative instinct had grown weaker; and, like
other men who grow in years and domestic comfort, he had become more
content with things in general. Fathers of families are capable, we
know, of everything, and, amongst other things, of softening the
fervour of their early enthusiasms. There is nothing at all strange
in the process; but it must be taken to illustrate the fact that, if
Kingsley's sympathies were keen, his intellectual insight was not very
deep. A man who holds that a social disease is so easily suppressed,
has not measured very accurately the constitutional disorder which it

'Two Years Ago,' the book in which this conclusion is plainly
announced, is in many respects a painful performance. It contains,
indeed, some admirable descriptions of scenery; but the sentiment
is poor and fretful. Tom Thurnall, intended to be an embodiment
of masculine vigour, has no real stuff in him. He is a bragging,
excitable, and at bottom sentimental person. All his swagger fails
to convince us that he is a true man. Put beside a really simple and
masculine nature like Dandie Dinmont, or even beside Kingsley's own
Amyas Leigh, one sees his hollowness. The whole story leads up to a
distribution of poetical justice in Kingsley's worst manner. He has a
lamentable weakness for taking upon himself the part of Providence.
'After all,' he once wrote in 'Yeast,' 'your "Rake's Progress" and
"Atheist's Deathbed" do no more good than noble George Cruikshank's
"Bottle" will, because everyone knows that they are the exception and
not the rule; that the atheist generally dies with a conscience as
comfortably callous as a rhinoceros-hide; and the rake, when age stops
his power of sinning, becomes generally rather more respectable than
his neighbours.' It is a pity that Kingsley could not remember this
true saying in later years. He seems to have grown too impatient to
leave room for the natural evolution of events. He gives the machinery
a jerk, and is fidgety because the wheels grind so slowly, though they
'grind exceeding small.'

Between 'Alton Locke' and 'Two Years Ago' there luckily intervened
'Hypatia' and 'Westward Ho!' They are brilliant and almost solitary
exceptions to the general dreariness of the historical novel. To
criticise them either from the historical or the artistic point of
view would indeed be easy enough; but they have a vivacity which
defies criticism. I have no doubt that 'Hypatia' is fundamentally
and hopelessly inaccurate, and that a sound historian would shudder
at innumerable anachronisms and pick holes in every paragraph. I
don't believe that men like the Goths ever existed in this world,
and am prepared to give up the whole tribe of monks, pagans, Jews,
and fathers of the Church. If 'Westward Ho!' is (as I presume) less
inaccurate because dealing with less distant ages, it is still too
much of a party pamphlet to be taken for history. The Jesuits are
probably caricatures, and Miss Ayacanora is a bit of rather silly
melodrama. But it is difficult to say too much in favour of the
singular animation and movement of both books. There is a want of
repose, if you insist upon applying the highest canons of art; but
the brilliance of description, the energy and rapidity of the action,
simply disarm the reader. I rejoice in the Amal and Wulf and Raphael
Aben Ezra, as I love Ivanhoe, and Front de Bœuf, and Wamba the
Witless. The fight between 'English mastiffs and Spanish bloodhounds'
is as stirring as the skirmish of Drumclog in 'Old Mortality.'
'Hypatia,' according to Kingsley himself, was written with his heart's
blood. Like other phrases of his, that requires a little dilution.
But, at any rate, both books stand out for vividness, for a happy
audacity and quickness of perception, above all modern attempts in the
same direction.

The problems discussed in these historical novels and the solutions
suggested are of course substantially the same as in his earlier
books. The period of 'Hypatia' bears a striking analogy to the
present. In the heroes described in 'Westward Ho!' he supposed himself
to recognise the fullest realisation of the fundamental doctrines of
his own creed. Much might be said, were it worth saying, as to the
accuracy of these assumptions. Kingsley's method is in any case too
much tainted by the obvious tendency to see facts by the light of
preconceived theories. In the earlier writings he may be one-sided
and exaggerated; but his imagination is at least guided by reference
to actual observation. It seems as if in this later period he had
instinctively turned away to distant periods where men and events
might be more easily moulded into conformity with his prejudices.
However skilful a man may be in accommodating fact to fancy, he is
apt to find difficulties when he paints from the life around him. But
when nobody can contradict you except a few prosaic antiquaries, the
outside world becomes delightfully malleable. You do not find any
fragments of rigid material in the clay which shapes itself so easily
in your fingers. Kingsley has faith enough in his teaching to give a
genuine glow to these hybrid beings begotten half of fancy, half of
the external world. But we feel too plainly that the work will not
stand the test of close examination, either by the historian or the
literary critic. Such a nemesis naturally overtakes men who admit too
easily an appeal from fact to sentiment. They begin to lose the sense
of reality, and their artistic work shows signs of flimsiness as their
theories of arbitrary assumption. The great writer pierces to the true
life of a period because he recognises the necessity of conforming his
beliefs to realities. The inferior writer uses his knowledge only to
give colouring to his dreams, and his work tries to represent what
he would like to be the truth instead of showing genuine insight into
what is actually true.

Whatever else in Kingsley may have been affected or half-hearted,
his appreciation of nature remained true and healthy to the end.
If anything it became more intense as he seemed to grow weary of
abstract discussions, and turned for relief to natural scenes.
Nobody has ever shown a greater power of investing with a romantic
charm the descriptions of bird, beast, and insect. There are no more
delightful books than those which express the naturalist's delight in
country sights, from the days of Izaak Walton to White of Selborne,
or Waterton, or our most recent discovery, the Scotch naturalist
Edward. Amongst such writers, Kingsley is in the front rank; and his
taste is combined with a power of catching wider aspects of scenery,
such as few of our professional describers can rival. It would be
interesting to lay bare the secret of his power. He has done for
Devon and Cornwall, for the heaths and chalk-streams of the southern
counties, and even for the much-depreciated fens, what Scott did for
the Highlands. One secret is of course the terseness and directness of
his descriptions. He never lays himself out for a bit of deliberate
bombast, and deals always with first-hand impressions. The writing
is all alive. There is no dead matter of conventional phrases and
imitative ecstasies. And again, his descriptions are always dramatic.
There is a human being in the foreground with whom we sympathise. We
do not lose ourselves in mystic meditations, or surrender ourselves
to mere sensuous dreaming. We are in active, strenuous enjoyment;
beguiling the trout of his favourite chalk-streams, sailing under the
storm-beaten cliffs of Lundy, and drinking in the rich sea-breeze
that sweeps over Dartmoor, or galloping with clenched teeth through
the fir-woods of Eversley. One characteristic picture—to take one at
random from a hundred—is the evening ride of Zeal-for-Truth Thoresby
of Thoresby Rise in Deeping Fen as he rides slowly homeward after
Naseby fight along one of the fen-droves. One could swear that one
had been with him, as Kingsley no doubt was merely embodying the
vivid recollection of some old Cambridge expedition into the Bedford
Level, a scenery which has a singular and mysterious charm, though few
besides Kingsley have succeeded in putting it on paper.

Some wonder has been wasted on Kingsley's descriptions of the tropical
scenery which he had never seen. Even men of genius do not work
miracles; and so far as I know they always blunder in such attempts.
Johnson showed his usual sense in regard to a similar criticism upon
the blind poet, Blacklock. If, he said, you found that a paralytic
man had left his room, you would explain the wonder by supposing that
he had been carried. Similarly, the explanation of Kingsley and of
Blacklock is that they described not what they had seen, but what they
had read. The description in 'Westward Ho!' may easily be traced to
Humboldt and other sources where they are not explicable by a visit to
Kew Gardens. A minute criticism would show that they are little more
than catalogues of gorgeous plants and strange beasts, and show none
of those vivid touches, so striking from their fidelity, which give
animation to his descriptions of English scenery. In his pictures of
Devonshire we can tell the time of the day and night and the state
of the weather as clearly as if he were a meteorologist. In South
America he leaves us to generalities. The true secret of his success
is different. He describes vividly not the outward fact, but the
inward enjoyment. One need not go to the tropics to imagine the charm
of luxurious indolence. Perhaps we enjoy it the more because we have
not really been exposed to its inconveniences. The dazzling of the eye
by blazing sunlight and brilliant colours, the relief given by the
cool deep streams under luxuriant foliage, the vague consciousness of
wondrous forms of life lurking in the forest depths, can be realised
without any special accuracy of portraiture. The contagion to which we
are really exposed is that of the enthusiasm with which Kingsley had
read his favourite books of travel. But of downright description there
is little, and that little not very remarkable. If anybody doubts
it, he may read the passage of river scenery which concludes with
a quotation from Humboldt, and observe how vividly the fragment of
actual observation stands out from the mere catalogue of curiosities;
or, again, with any of Kingsley's own Devonshire scenes, where every
touch shows loving familiarity with details and a consequent power of
selecting just the most speaking incidents.

We may put two passages beside each other which will illustrate the
difference. Describing, after Humboldt, the mid-day calm of the
forest, he says, 'The birds' notes died out one by one; the very
butterflies ceased their flitting over the treetops, and slept with
outspread wings upon the glossy leaves, undistinguishable from the
flowers around them. Now and then a colibri whirred downwards towards
the water, hummed for a moment round some pendent flower, and then
the living gem was lost in the deep darkness of the inner wood, among
tree trunks as huge and dark as the pillars of some Hindoo shrine; or
a parrot swung and screamed at them from an overhanging bough; or a
thirsty monkey slid lazily down a liana to the surface of the stream,
dipped up the water in his tiny hand, and started chattering back,
as his eyes met those of some foul alligator peering upward through
the clear depths below.' This and more is good enough, but there is
nothing which would not suggest itself to a visitor to the British
Museum or the Zoological Gardens. It is a catalogue, and rather too
full a catalogue of curiosities, without one of those vivid touches
which reveal actual observation. At the end of the same volume we have
a real sketch from nature. Amyas and his friends walk to the cliffs of
Lundy: 'As they approached, a raven, who sat upon the topmost stone,
black against the bright blue sky, flapped lazily away, and sank down
the abysses of the cliff, as if he had scented the corpses beneath
the surge. Below them, from the gull-rock rose a thousand birds, and
filled the air with sound, the choughs cackled, the hacklets wailed,
the great black-backs laughed querulous defiance at the intruders, and
a single falcon, with an angry bark, darted out from beneath their
feet, and hung poised high aloft, watching the sea-fowl which swung
slowly round and round below.' That gives the atmospheric effect,
and what we may call the dramatic character. Every phrase suggests a
picture, and the whole description, of which I have quoted a bit, has
real unity of effect, instead of being a simple enumeration of details.

When one reads some passages inspired by this hearty and simple-minded
love of nature, one is sometimes half tempted to wish that Kingsley
could have put aside his preachings, social, theological, and
philosophical, and have been content with a function for which he
was so admirably adapted. The men who can feel and make others feel
the charms of beautiful scenery and stimulate the love for natural
history do us a service which, if not the highest, is perhaps the
most unalloyed by any mixture of evil. Kingsley would have avoided
many errors and the utterance of much unsatisfactory dogmatism if he
could have limited himself to such a duty. But to do so he must have
been a man of narrower sympathies, less generous temper, and less
hearty hatred of all evil influences. We could hardly wish him to have
been other than he was, though we may wish that he had developed under
more favourable circumstances. The weaknesses which marred his work
and led to the exhaustion of his faculties were to be regretted, but
were not such as to diminish the affection deserved by so cordial a
nature. He is more or less responsible for those offensive persons,
the Viking and the muscular Christian. The Viking, I suppose, must
have been partly a humbug like other products of graphic history, and
too much has been made of his supposed share in our ancestry. Kingsley
had a feminine tenderness and an impatient excitability indicative of
a different ancestry. He admires the huge, full-blooded barbarians,
but only belongs to them on one side. He is as near to his delicate
as to his muscular heroes, to Francis as to Amyas Leigh, and to the
morbid poet, Vavasour, as to the more vigorous Tom Thurnall. In these
days, when the Viking or Berserker element seems to be dying out of
our literature, even this qualified and external worship of masculine
vigour is valuable. There is something hectic and spasmodic about it,
though it implies a homage to more healthy ideals. Kingsley, at any
rate, hated the namby-pamby, and he tried, with too obvious an effort,
to be simple and unaffected. His aims were thoroughly noble, though
marred by his want of reserve and of intellectual stamina. He was too
timid or too impatient to work out consistent theories or acquire much
depth of conviction. But with all his shortcomings he succeeded in
giving forcible utterance to truths of vital importance, and brought
vividly before our minds problems which most urgently press for a
solution more satisfactory than he was able to reach.


[1] _Life_, vol. i. p. 420.

[2] _Life_, vol. ii. p. 55.

[3] _Life_, vol. ii. p. 357.

[4] _Life_, vol. i. p. 314.

[5] _Life_, vol. i. p. 244.


The poetic and the metaphysical temperaments are generally held to
be in some sense incompatible. Poets, indeed, have often shown the
highest speculative acuteness, and philosophy often implies a really
poetical imagination. But the necessary conditions of successful
achievement in the two cases are so different that the combination of
the two kinds of excellence in one man must be of excessive rarity.
No man can be great as a philosopher who is incapable of brooding
intensely and perseveringly over an abstract problem, absolutely
unmoved by the emotion which is always seeking to bias his judgment;
whilst a poet is great in virtue of the keenness of his sensibility
to the emotional aspect of every decision of the intellect. For the
one purpose, it is essential to keep the passions apart from the
intellect: for the other, to transfuse intellect with passion. A few
of our metaphysicians have ventured into poetical utterance. Berkeley
wrote a really fine copy of verses, and Hobbes struck out one famous

    And like a star upon her bosom lay
    His beautiful and shining golden head—

in a translation of Homer, otherwise not easily readable. Scott
proposed to publish the whole poetical works of David Hume, consisting
of a remarkable quatrain composed in an inn at Carlisle.[6]

    Here chicks in eggs for breakfast sprawl,
    Here godless boys God's glories squall,
    Here Scotchmen's heads do guard the wall,
    But Corby's walks atone for all.

The only exception to this rule in our literature seems to be
Coleridge. Coleridge undoubtedly exercised a vast influence upon
the speculation of his countrymen, whilst his poems possess merits
of the rarest order. It is more worthy of remark that his poetry is
most successful where it is most independent of his philosophy. In
'Christabel,' the 'Ancient Mariner,' or 'Kubla Khan,' we can only
discover the philosopher by the evidence of a mind richly stored with
associations, and by the tendency to discover a mystical significance
in natural objects. Some people would urge that his philosophy would
have been improved if it had been equally free from poetical elements.
In any case, Coleridge is an example of a combination of diverse
excellence not easily to be paralleled. Another poet was supposed by
some of his admirers to have similar claims upon our respect. Shelley
seems to have thought himself as well fitted for abstract speculation
as for poetry; and his widow declared that, had he lived longer,
he might have 'presented to the world a complete theory of mind; a
theory to which Berkeley, Coleridge, and Kant would have contributed;
but more simple, unimpugnable, and entire than the systems of those
writers.' The phrase is by itself enough to prove Mrs. Shelley's
incompetence to form any opinion as to her husband's qualifications
for this stupendous task. It is not by forming a patchwork of
Berkeley, Kant, and Coleridge that a 'complete theory of mind' is
likely to be evolved; nor does it appear that Shelley really knew much
about either of the latter writers; certainly, he has not given the
smallest proof of a power of original speculation in such matters.
And yet, though it would be absurd to treat Shelley seriously as an
originator of philosophic thought or even as a moderately profound
student of philosophy, there is no doubt that his poetry contains
a philosophical element which deserves consideration, if only to
facilitate the comprehension of his poetry.

Enough has been written by the competent and the incompetent, the
prosaic and the poetical, the hyperbolical panegyrists and the calm
analytical critics, of Shelley considered primarily as a poet. Nobody,
as it seems to me, is entitled to add anything who has not himself a
very unusual share, if not of Shelley's own peculiar genius, at least
of receptivity for its products; and after all that has been written
by the ablest writers, one can learn more of Shelley by getting, say,
the 'Adonais' or the 'Ode to the Skylark' by heart than by studying
volumes of talk about his works. At any rate, I feel no vocation to
add to the mass of imperfectly appreciative disquisition. Recent
discussions, however, seem to show both that some interest is still
taken in the other aspect of Shelley's writings, and that an obvious
remark or two still remains to be made. People are in doubt whether to
classify Shelley as atheist, pantheist, or theist; they dispute as to
whether his writings represent the destructive spirit which undermines
all that is good amongst men, or, on the contrary, are the fullest
expression yet reached by any human being of the divinest element
of religion. Were it not that some parallel phenomena might be very
easily suggested, it would be surprising that the meaning of a writer,
who had extraordinary powers of expressing himself clearly and an
almost morbid hatred of anything like reticence, should be seriously
doubtful. The explanation of the wonder is not, I think, very far to
seek. For one thing, people have not yet made up their minds as to
the true bearing of some opinions which Shelley undoubtedly held. The
question whether they were of good or evil import is mixed up with
the question as to whether they were true or false. Upon that problem
I shall not touch; but a few pages may be occupied by an attempt to
indicate what, as a matter of fact, Shelley actually held, or rather
what was his general attitude as to certain important questions. One
result will probably be that it matters very little what he held so
far as his influence upon our own conclusions is concerned. For, to
say nothing of Shelley's incapacity to deal satisfactorily with the
great controversies of his own time, our point of view has so much
shifted that we can consider his opinions almost as calmly as those of
the Eleatics or the Pythagoreans. They are matters of history which
need affect nobody at the present day.

The volume of essays by the late Mr. Bagehot, recently published,
contains one upon Shelley, which deals very clearly and
satisfactorily, as far as it goes, with this part of Shelley's work.
Mr. Bagehot showed with his usual acuteness how Shelley's philosophy
reflected the abnormal peculiarities of his character. He speaks
less, however, of certain extraneous influences which must have
materially affected Shelley's intellectual developments, and, indeed,
seems to have partly overlooked them. He tells us, for example,
that Shelley's poems show an 'extreme suspicion of aged persons.'
Undoubtedly a youthful enthusiast is apt to be shocked by the dogged
conservatism of older men who have been hammered into a more accurate
measure of the immovable weight of superincumbent prejudice in
the human mind. Shelley could not revolt against things in general
without contracting some dislike to the forces against which he
inevitably ran his head at starting. Even here, indeed, the charm
of Shelley's unworldly simplicity for men of an opposite type, for
cynics like Hogg, and Peacock, and Byron, is one of the pleasantest
indications of his character. He attracted, and doubtless because he
was attracted by, many who had nothing but contempt for his favourite
enthusiasms, and it is still more evident that, however wayward was
his career in some relations of life, he had a full measure of the
young man's capacity for reverence. Dr. Lind seems to have been his
earliest idol; but a far more important connection was that with
Godwin. Godwin was in his fifty-sixth, and Shelley in his twentieth
year, when their correspondence began, and Godwin's most remarkable
book was published when Shelley was in the cradle. Young gentlemen
of nineteen, even though they belong to the immortals, consider a
man of fifty-six to be tottering upon the verge of the grave. Books
published before we could spell appear to have been composed before
the invention of letters. To Shelley, in short, Godwin was to all
intents and purposes a venerable sage, and a fitting embodiment
of hoary wisdom. A guide, philosopher, and friend—an oracle who
can sanction his aspirations and direct him to the most promising
paths—is almost a necessity to every youthful enthusiast; the more
necessary in proportion as he has more emphatically broken with
the established order. What J. S. Mill was to men who were in their
early youth some twenty or thirty years ago, or Newman to young men
of different views at a slightly earlier period, that Godwin was to
Shelley in the years of his most impetuous speculation. A lad of
genius reads old books with eager appetite and learns something from
them; but to get the full influence of ideas he must feel that they
come from a living mouth, clothed in modern dialect, and applied
to the exciting topics of the day. Perhaps neither Mill nor Newman
said anything which might not be found implicitly contained in the
writings of their spiritual ancestors. Much of Mill is already
to be found in Locke, and Newman is at times the interpreter of
Butler. But then Butler and Locke have been dead for a long time;
and what the impatient youth requires is the direct evidence that
the ancient principles are still alive and efficient. The old key
has probably become rusty, and is more or less obsolete in form. The
youth cannot wait to oil and repair it for himself. He wants the
last new invention spick and span, and ready to be applied at once
to open the obstinate lock. Shelley read Helvetius and Holbach, and
Berkeley and Hume; but, though they supplied him with a tolerably
modern version of some ancient theories, they could not tell him by
anticipation what precise form of argument would best crush Paley,
or what specific policy would regenerate Ireland out of hand. For
such purposes a young man wants the very last new teacher, and the
chances are that he will read even the older philosophers through the
spectacles which such a teacher is kind enough to provide.

Thus, when looking about in this dark world, given over, as he
thought, to antiquated prejudice embodied in cruel injustice, Shelley
greeted the writings of Godwin as the lost traveller greets a
beacon-fire on a stormy night. They seemed to contain a new gospel.
When he discovered the author to be a real human being, not one of
the fixed stars that have been already guiding us from the upper
firmament, he threw himself at the philosopher's feet with the rapt
fervour of a religious neophyte. In his first letters to Godwin he
pours out his heart: 'Considering these feelings' (the feelings,
namely, of reverence and admiration which he has entertained for the
name of Godwin), 'you will not be surprised at the inconceivable
emotions with which I learnt your existence and your dwelling. I had
enrolled your name in the lists of the honourable dead. I had felt
regret that the glory of your being had passed from this earth of
ours. It is not so; you still live and, I firmly believe, are still
planning the welfare of human kind.' A letter written soon afterwards
from Dublin is still more significant. It begins with a kind of
invocation, as to a saint. 'Guide thou and direct me,' exclaims the
young gentleman; 'in all the weakness of my inconsistencies bear
with me; ... when you reprove me, reason speaks; I acquiesce in her
decisions.' He presently defends the impatience which Godwin has
blamed by an argument which evidently struck even Godwin as having an
absurd side. The 'Political Justice,' he says, was first published
nearly twenty years before (or almost at the dawn of history!), but
yet what has resulted from the general diffusion of its doctrines?
'Have men ceased to fight? Have woe and misery vanished from the
earth?' Far from it! Obviously something must be done, and that at
once. Do I not well to be impatient, he says, when such reasonable
expectations have been so cruelly disappointed?

It must be a most delightful sensation to have so ardent a disciple;
but it must also be a trifle provoking when the ardour is of a kind
to justify some misgiving as to the sanity of the proselyte. Even
the vanity of a philosopher could hardly blind him to the fact that
such extravagance tended to throw ridicule upon its object. Godwin,
however, kept his countenance—a little too easily perhaps—and gave
very sensible advice to his proselyte. He pointed out in substance
that it was not altogether amazing that vice and misery had survived
the publication of his wonderful book, and still recommended patience
and acceptance of the strange stupidity of mankind. We are aware that
in later years Shelley's reverence lost a little of its warmth: he
came to know Godwin personally. Moreover, among his other tenets,
the calm philosopher held the comfortable doctrine that philosophers
might and ought to receive pecuniary assistance from the rich without
any loss of dignity. His practical application of this theory is
described by Professor Dowden. It no doubt soon convinced Shelley that
Godwin was not altogether free from earthly stains, and in fact not so
indifferent as he ought to have been to the possible advantages of a
connection with the heir to a baronetcy and a good estate.

For the present, however, Shelley sat humbly at Godwin's feet He
declared that from the 'Political Justice' he had learnt 'all that
was valuable in knowledge and virtue.' He mixed with the queer
little clique of vegetarians and crotchet-mongers who shared his
reverence for Godwin and excited the bitter contempt of Hogg. It is,
therefore, not surprising that we find Shelley's doctrines to present
a curiously close coincidence with Godwin's. Partly, no doubt, it was
simply a coincidence. Shelley's temperament predisposed him to accept
conclusions which were in the air of the time, and which were to be
found more or less represented in many of his other authorities. But,
at any rate, we may fairly assume not only that he, as he was eager to
proclaim, learnt much from Godwin, but also that his whole course of
thought was guided to a great degree by this living representative of
his favourite theories. He studied the 'Political Justice,' pondered
its words of wisdom, and examined its minutest details. One trifling
indication may be mentioned. Amongst Shelley's fragmentary essays is
one upon 'A System of Government by Juries'—a 'singular speculation,'
as Mr. Rossetti naturally remarks. But the explanation is simply that
Godwin's theory, worked out in the 'Political Justice,' sets forth
government by these so-called juries as the ultimate or penultimate
stage of human society. Shelley, like a faithful disciple, was
writing an incipient commentary upon one of his teacher's texts. The
fragmentary 'Essay on Christianity,' of about the same date (1815), is
virtually an attempt to show that the valuable part of the Christian
religion is its supposed anticipation of Godwin's characteristic
tenets. But the coincidence does not consist in any minute points of
external resemblance. Godwin's poetical writings seem to have been
pretty well forgotten, though some interest in him is maintained by
'Caleb Williams' and by his relationship to Shelley. Hogg is evidently
anxious to sink as much as possible the intellectual obligations of
the disciple to so second-rate a teacher; and later writers upon
Shelley are content to speak vaguely of Godwin as a man who had some
philosophic reputation in his day, and some influence upon the poet.
A full exposition of Godwin's theories would display the closeness
of the mental affinity. That may be found elsewhere; but a brief
indication of his main tendencies will be sufficient for the present

Godwin appeared to many youthful contemporaries—as may be seen from
the brilliant sketch in Hazlitt's 'Spirit of the Age'—as a very
incarnation of philosophy. 'No work in our time,' says Hazlitt,
'gave such a blow to the philosophical mind of the country as the
celebrated "Enquiry concerning Political Justice." Tom Paine was
considered for the time a Tom fool to him, Paley an old woman, Edmund
Burke a flashy sophist. Truth, moral truth, it was supposed, had here
taken up its abode, and these were the oracles of thought.' Hazlitt
is not given to measuring his words, and he was probably wishing to
please the decaying old gentleman. But doubtless there is some truth
in the statement. Godwin was admirably fitted to be an apostle of
reason, so far as a man can be fitted for that high post, by the
negative qualifications of a placid temper and singular frigidity
of disposition. He works out the most startling and subversive
conclusions with all the calmness of a mathematician manipulating a
set of algebraical symbols. He lays down doctrines which shock not
only the religious reverence, but the ordinary conscience of mankind,
as quietly as if he were stating a proposition of Euclid. An entire
absence of even a rudimentary sense of humour is of course implied in
this placid enunciation of paradoxes without the slightest perception
of their apparent enormity. But then a sense of humour is just the
quality which we do not desiderate in a revered philosopher.

It admits of more doubt whether Godwin possessed in any marked degree
the positive qualification of high reasoning power. What is called
'remorseless logic'—the ruthless sweeping aside of every consideration
that conflicts with our deductions from certain assumptions—is as
often a proof of weakness as of strength. Nothing is so easy as to be
perfectly symmetrical and consistent, if you will calmly accept every
paradox that flows from your principles and call it a plain conclusion
instead of a _reductio ad absurdum_. A man who is quite ready to say
that black is white whenever the whiteness of black is convenient for
his argument, may easily pass with some people for a great reasoner.
Godwin, however, was beyond question a man of considerable power,
though neither vigorous enough nor sufficiently familiar with the
wider philosophical conceptions to produce results of much permanent
value. Crude thinkers habitually mistake the blunders into which they,
like their fathers before them, have fallen for genuine discoveries.
They have once more made the old mistakes, and do not know that the
mistakes have been exposed.

Godwin was familiar with the recent school of French materialists, and
with the writings of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. He worked out by their
help a system which curiously combines opposite modes of thought. He
was, in one sense, a thoroughgoing sceptic. Nobody could set aside
more completely the whole body of theological speculation. He assumes
that all the old religions are exploded superstitions. He did not
argue against Theism, like Shelley; and, indeed, arguments that might
lead him into personal difficulty were not much to his taste. But he
virtually ignores all such doctrine as undeniably effete. So far he,
of course, sympathises with the French materialists, and with them he
abolishes at one blow all the traditional and prescriptive beliefs
of mankind. The fact that a doctrine has been generally accepted is
a presumption rather against it than in its favour. He will believe
nothing, nor even temporarily accept any practical precept which is
not capable of direct scientific proof. But, in the next place, Godwin
did not in any sense accept the materialism of the French writers.
He, like other English thinkers, had been profoundly impressed by the
idealism of Berkeley. But then he extends Berkeley by the aid of Hume.
He abolishes not only matter but mind. It may be still convenient to
use the word mind, but in fact there is nothing, so far as we know,
but a chain of 'ideas' which somehow link themselves together so as
to produce the complex idea we generally know by that name. Of any
substratum, any internal power which causes the coherence of these
ideas or of the universe in general, we know and can know absolutely

When a man has got so far, he not unfrequently begins to feel himself
a little bewildered. Nothing is left—to quote from a philosopher of
whom neither Godwin nor Shelley apparently ever heard—but 'ceaseless
change.' 'I know of no being, not even of my own. Pictures are—they
are the only things which exist, and they know of themselves after
the fashion of pictures; pictures which float past without there
being anything past which they float, which by means of like pictures
are connected with each other; pictures without anything which is
pictured in them, without significance and without aim. I myself am
one of these pictures—nay, I am not even this, but merely a confused
picture of the pictures. All reality is transformed into a strange
dream, without a life which is dreamed of, and without a mind which
dreams it; with a dream which is woven together in a dream of itself.
Perception is the dream; thought is the dream of that dream.'

This description of the thoroughgoing sceptical position might pass
(to anticipate for a moment) for a description of the state of
mind produced by some of Shelley's poetry. It is, at any rate, a
state of mind from which a reasoner is generally anxious to provide
some escape, lest all ground for reasoning should be cut away.
How can knowledge be possible if the mind is merely a stream of
baseless impressions, cohering or separating according to radically
unknowable laws? Godwin, however, goes on calmly, without any attempt
to solve our difficulties, and proceeds to build up his scheme of
perfectibility. Upon this shifting quicksand of utter scepticism he
lays the foundations of his ideal temple of reason. For, as he argues,
since a man is nothing but an aggregate of 'ideas' he is capable of
indefinite modification. Education or the influences of climate or
race can have no ineradicable power upon this radically arbitrary
combination of flitting phantasms. Anything may be the cause of
anything; for cause means nothing but the temporary coherence of two
sets of unsubstantial images. And hence, we may easily abolish all the
traditional ties by which people have hitherto been bound together,
and rearrange the whole structure of human society on principles
of mathematical and infallible perfection. The force which is to
weave ropes of sand, or rather to arrange the separate independent
unsubstantial atoms in a perfect mathematical sphere, rounded,
complete and eternal, is the force of reason.

Godwin is troubled by no misgiving as to the power of reason when all
reality seems to have been abolished. He quietly takes for granted
that reason is the sole and sufficient force by which men are or may
be guided, and that it is adequate for any conceivable task. Not only
can it transform society at large, but it is potentially capable
of regenerating any given individual. The worst scoundrel could
be made into a saint if only you could expose him to a continuous
discharge of satisfactory syllogisms. Reason, as he calmly observes,
is 'omnipotent.' Therefore, he infers, when a man's conduct is wrong,
a very simple statement will not only show it to be wrong—just as it
is easy to show that two sides of a triangle are greater than the
third—but make him good. No perverseness, he thinks, would resist
a sufficiently intelligible statement of the advantages of virtue.
From this agreeable postulate, which he regards as pretty nearly
self-evident, Godwin draws conclusions from some of which, great as
was his courage in accepting absurdities, he afterwards found it
expedient to withdraw. Thus, for example, morality, according to him,
means simply the right calculation of consequences—I must always act
so as to produce the greatest sum of happiness. The accidental ties,
the associations formed by contingent circumstances, are no more to
override this principle than a proposition of Euclid is to vary when
applied to different parts of space. Three angles of a triangle are
as much equal to two right angles in England as in France. Similarly
the happiness of an Englishman is just as valuable as the happiness of
a Frenchman, and the happiness of a stranger as the happiness of my
relations. Hence—so runs his logic—friendship, gratitude, and conjugal
fidelity are simply mistakes. If my father is a worse man than a
stranger, I should rather save the stranger's life than my father's,
for I shall be contributing more to human happiness. If my wife and I
are tired of each other, we had better form new connections, for it
is unreasonable to sacrifice happiness to any accidental ties. Any
particular rule, indeed, is so far a mistake; for to act upon such a
rule is to disregard the general principles of reason. In every action
and in every relation of life, I should hold myself absolutely free
to act simply and solely with reference to the greatest happiness.
Habits are bad, for habits imply disregard of reason, and all promises
are immoral, for to keep a promise is to pay a blind obedience to the
past. To punish is unreasonable; for, in pure reason, we have no more
right to hate a villain than a viper or a cup of poison. The only
legitimate end of punishment is reform, and reform should be produced
by argument instead of imprisonment. All coercion is clearly bad, for
coercion is not argument; and, since all government implies coercion,
all government is immoral. Society, in short, must be reduced to an
aggregate of independent atoms, free from all conventions, from all
prescriptive rights and privileges, without the slightest respect for
any traditional institutions, and acting at every moment in obedience
to the pure dictates of reason.

When these principles have forced their way, and the omnipotence of
reason shows their triumph to be only a question of time, we shall
reach the millennium. Mind will then be omnipotent over matter (though
it is rather hard to say what either of those two entities may be);
kings, priests, laws, and family associations will disappear; and
every man will live in perfect peace and happiness in the light of
reason. One difficulty, indeed, suggests itself. Why, if reason be
thus omnipotent, has it done so little in the past? Whence this
persistence of inequality and injustice, this enormous power of sheer
obstinate, unreasoning prejudice in a set of beings who are to be
so completely regenerated by the power of pure reason? Monarchy, he
declares summarily, is founded on imposture. How, if reason be the one
force, has imposture been so successful, and, if successful for so
long, why should it not be successful hereafter?

To this Godwin has no very intelligible answer, or perhaps he hardly
sees that an answer is desirable. But, in truth, his whole system
appears to be so grotesque when brought to one focus and distinctly
stated, that we must in fairness recall two things: first, that
most philosophical systems appear absurd when summarised after their
extinction; and, secondly, that in bringing out in a very brief space
the most salient features of such a doctrine, it is quite impossible
to avoid caricature. There is enough not only of apparent philosophy
in it, but of really intelligent—though strangely one-sided—reflection
to enable us to understand how this deification of reason, falling
in with the most advanced movements of the time, should affect
Shelley's simple, impulsive, and marvellously imaginative nature. Men
of much stricter logical training considered Godwin to be a great,
if paradoxical, thinker, and Shelley, who had rather an affinity
for abstract metaphysical ideas than a capacity for constructing
them into logical wholes, was for a time entirely carried away.
When after reading Godwin's quiet prosaic enunciation of the most
startling paradoxes in the least impassioned language, we turn to
Shelley's poetical interpretation, the two seem to be related as the
stagnant pool to the rainbow-coloured mist into which it has been
transmuted. Shelley's fervid enthusiasm has vapourised the slightly
muddy philosophic prose, changed it into impalpable ether, and tinged
it with the most brilliant, if evanescent, hue. Shelley had certainly
learnt from others besides Godwin, and in particular had begun those
Platonic readings which afterwards generated his characteristic
belief in a transcendental world, the abode of the archetypal ideas
of beauty, love, and wisdom. But through all his poetry we find a
recurrence of the same ideas which he had originally imbibed from his
first master.

The Godwinism, indeed, is strongest in the crude poetry of 'Queen
Mab,' where many passages read like the 'Political Justice' done into
verse. So, for example, we have a naïf statement of the incoherent
theory which has already been noticed in Godwin's treatise. After
pointing to some of the miseries which afflict unfortunate mankind,
and observing that they are not due to man's 'evil nature,' which, it
seems, is merely a figment invented to excuse crimes, the question
naturally suggests itself, to what, then, can all this mischief be
due? Nature has made everything perfect and harmonious, except man. On
man alone she has, it seems, heaped 'ruin, vice, and slavery.' But the
indignant answer is given:—

                       Nature! No!
    Kings, priests, and statesmen blast the human flower
    Even in its tender bud; their influence darts
    Like subtle poison through the bloodless veins
    Of desolate society.

According to this ingenious view, 'kings, priests, and statesmen' are
something outside of, and logically opposed to, Nature. They represent
the evil principle in this strange dualism. Whence this influence
arises, how George III. and Paley and Lord Eldon came to possess an
existence independent of Nature, and acquired the power of turning all
her good purpose to nought, is one of those questions which we can
hardly refrain from asking, but which it would be obviously unkind
to press. Still less would it be to the purpose to ask how this
beneficent Nature is related to the purely neutral Necessity, which is
'the mother of the world,' or how, between the two, such a monstrous
birth as the 'prolific fiend' Religion came into existence. The crude
incoherence of the whole system is too obvious to require exposition;
and yet it is simply an explicit statement of Godwin's theories put
forth with inconvenient excess of candour. The absurdities slurred
over by the philosopher are thrown into brilliant relief by the poet.

Shelley improved as a poet, and in a degree rarely exemplified in
poetry, between 'Queen Mab' and the 'Prometheus'; but even in the
'Prometheus' and his last writings we find a continued reflection
of Godwin's characteristic views. Everywhere as much a prophet as a
poet, Shelley is always announcing, sometimes in exquisite poetry,
the advent of the millennium. His conception of the millennium, if
we try to examine precisely what it is, always embodies the same
thought, that man is to be made perfect by the complete dissolution
of all the traditional ties by which the race is at present bound
together. In the passage which originally formed the conclusion to
the 'Prometheus,' the 'Spirit of the Hour' reveals the approaching
consummation. The whole passage is a fine one, and it is almost a
shame to quote fragments; but we may briefly observe that in the
coming world everybody is to say exactly what he thinks; women are to

                gentle radiant forms,
    From custom's evil taint exempt and pure;
    Speaking the wisdom once they could not think,
    Looking emotions once they feared to feel.

Thrones, altars, judgment seats, and prisons are to be abolished when
reason is absolute; and when

    The loathsome mask has fallen, the man remains
    Sceptreless, free, uncircumscribed, but man
    Equal, unclassed, tribeless, and nationless,
    Exempt from awe, worship, degree, the king
    Over himself.

To be 'unclassed, tribeless, and nationless', and we may add, without
marriage, is to be in the lowest depths of barbarism. It is so, at
least, in the world of realities. But the description will fit that
'state of nature' of which philosophers of the time delighted to
talk. The best comment is to be found in Godwin. The great mistake
of Rousseau, says that writer, was that whilst truly recognising
government to be the source of all evil, he chose to praise the state
which preceded government, instead of the state which, we may hope,
will succeed its abolition. When we are perfect, we shall get rid of
all laws of every kind, and thus, in some sense, the ultimate goal
of all progress is to attain precisely to that state of nature which
Rousseau regretted as a thing of the past and which is described in
Shelley's glowing rhetoric.

The difficulty of making this view coherent is curiously reflected in
the mechanism of Shelley's great poem; great it is, for the marvel of
its lyrical excellence is fortunately independent of the conceptions
of life and human nature which it is intended to set forth. If all the
complex organisation which has slowly evolved itself in the course of
history, the expression of which is civilisation, order, coherence,
and co-operation in the different departments of life, is to be set
down as an unmitigated evil, the fruit of downright imposture, all
history becomes unintelligible. Man, potentially perfectible, has
always been the sport of what seems to be a malignant and dark power
of utterly inexplicable origin and character. Shelley, we are told,
could not bear to read history. The explanation offered is that he
was too much shocked by the perpetual record of misery, tyranny, and
crime. A man who can see nothing else in history is obviously a very
inefficient historian. Godwin tells us that he had learnt from Swift's
bitter misanthropy the truth that all political institutions are
hopelessly corrupt. A fusion of the satirist's view, that all which
is is bad, with the enthusiast's view, that all which will be will
be perfect, just expresses Shelley's peculiar mixture of optimism and
pessimism. When we try to translate this into a philosophical view or
a poetical representation of the world, the consequence is inevitably

Thus Shelley tells us in the preface to the 'Prometheus' that he could
not accept the view, adopted by Æschylus, of a final reconciliation
between Jupiter and his victim. He was 'averse from a catastrophe
so feeble as that of reconciling the champion with the oppressor of
mankind.' He cannot be content with the intimate mixture of good and
evil which is presented in the world as we know it. He must have
absolute good on one side, contrasted with absolute evil on the
other. But it would seem—as far as one is justified in attaching any
precise meaning to poetical symbols—that the fitting catastrophe to
the world's drama must be in some sense a reconciliation between
Prometheus and Jupiter; or, in other words, between the reason and the
blind forces by which it is opposed. The ultimate good must be not
the annihilation of all the conditions of human life, but the slow
conquest of nature by the adaptation of the life to its conditions.
We learn to rule nature, as it is generally expressed, by learning to
obey it. Any such view, however, is uncongenial to Shelley, though
he might have derived it from Bacon, one of the professed objects of
his veneration. The result of his own view is that the catastrophe of
the drama is utterly inexplicable and mysterious. Who are Jupiter and
Demogorgon? Why, when Demogorgon appears in the car of the Hours, and
tells Jupiter that the time is come, and that they are both to dwell
together in darkness henceforth, does Jupiter immediately give up
with a cry of Ai! Ai! and descend (as one cannot help irreverently
suggesting) as through a theatrical trapdoor? Dealing with such high
matters, and penetrating to the very ultimate mystery of the universe,
we must of course be prepared for surprising inversions. A mysterious
blind destiny is at the bottom of everything, according to Shelley,
and of course it may at any moment crush the whole existing order
in utter annihilation. And yet, it is impossible not to feel that
here, too, we have still the same incoherence which was shown more
crudely in 'Queen Mab.' The absolute destruction of all law, and of
law not merely in the sense of human law, but of the laws in virtue
of which the stars run their course and the frame of the universe
is bound together, is the end to which we are to look forward. It
will come when it will come; for it is impossible to join on such a
catastrophe to any of the phenomenal series of events, of which alone
we can obtain any kind of knowledge. The actual world, it is plain,
is regarded as a hideous nightmare. The evil dream will dissolve and
break up when something awakes us from our mysterious sleep; but that
something, whatever it may be, must of course be outside the dream,
and not a consummation worked out by the dream itself. We expect a
catastrophe, not an evolution. And, finally, when the dream dissolves,
when the 'painted veil' called life is drawn aside, what will be left?

Some answer—and a remarkable answer—is given by Shelley. But first
we may say one word in reference to a point already touched. The
entire dissolution of all existing laws was part of Shelley's, as of
Godwin's, programme. The amazing calmness with which the philosopher
summarily disposes of marriage in a cursory paragraph or two, as
(in the words of the old story) a fond thing, foolishly invented
and repugnant to the plain teaching of reason, is one of the most
grotesque crudities of his book. This doctrine has to be taken into
account both in judging of Shelley's character and considering some of
his poetical work. It is, of course, frequently noticed in extenuation
or aggravation of the most serious imputation upon his character.
We are told that Shelley can be entirely cleared by revelations
which have not as yet been made. That is satisfactory, and would be
still more satisfactory if we were sure that his apologists fully
appreciated the charge. According to the story as hitherto published,
we can only say that his conduct seems to indicate a flightiness and
impulsiveness inconsistent with real depth of sentiment. The complaint
is that he behaved ill to the first Mrs. Shelley, considered not as
a wife, but as a human being, and as a human being then possessing
a peculiar and special claim upon his utmost tenderness. This is
only worth saying in order to suggest the answer to a casuistical
problem which seems to puzzle his biographers. Is a man the better
or the worse because, when he breaks a moral law, he denies it to be
moral? Is he to be more or less condemned because, whilst committing
a murder, he proceeds to assert that everybody ought to commit murder
when he chooses? Without seeking to untwist all the strands of a very
pretty problem, I will simply say that, to my mind, the question
must in the last resort be simply one of fact. What we have to ask
is the quality implied by his indifference to the law? If a man acts
wrongly from benevolent feeling, misguided by some dexterous fallacy,
his error affords no presumption that he is otherwise intrinsically
bad. If, on the other hand, his indifference to the law arises from
malice, or sensuality, it must of course lower our esteem for him in
proportion, under whatever code of morality he may please to shelter
his misdoings.

In Shelley's particular case we should probably be disposed to ascribe
his moral deficiencies to the effect of crude but specious theory
upon a singularly philanthropic but abnormally impulsive mind. No
one would accuse him of any want of purity or generosity; but we
might regard him as wanting in depth and intensity of sentiment.
Allied to this moral weakness is his incapacity for either feeling
in himself or appreciating in others the force of ordinary human
passions directed to a concrete object. The only apology that can
be made for his selection of the singularly loathsome motive for
his drama is in the fact that in his hands the chief character
becomes simply an incarnation of purely intellectual wickedness; he
is a new avatar of the mysterious principle of evil which generally
appears as a priest or king; he represents the hatred to good in
the abstract rather than subservience to the lower passions. It is
easy to understand how Shelley's temperament should lead him to
undervalue the importance of the restraints which are rightly regarded
as essential to social welfare, and fall in with Godwin's tranquil
abolition of marriage as an uncomfortable fetter upon the perfect
liberty of choice. But it is also undeniable that the defect not only
makes his poetry rather unsatisfying to those coarser natures which
cannot support themselves on the chameleon's diet, but occasionally
leads to unpleasant discords. Thus, for example, the worshippers of
Shelley generally regard the 'Epipsychidion' as one of his finest
poems, and are inclined to warn off the profane vulgar as unfitted to
appreciate its beauties. It is, perhaps, less difficult to understand
than to sympathise very heartily with the sentiment by which it is
inspired. There are abundant precedents, both in religious and
purely imaginative literature, for regarding a human passion as
in some sense typifying, or identical with, the passion for ideal
perfection. So far a want of sympathy may imply a deficiency in poetic
sensibility. But I cannot believe that the 'Vita Nuova' (to which we
are referred) would have been the better if Dante had been careful to
explain that there was another lady besides Beatrice for whom he had
an almost equal devotion; nor do I think that it is the prosaic part
of us which protests when Shelley thinks it necessary to expound his
anti-matrimonial theory in the 'Epipsychidion.' Why should he tell us

    I never was attached to that great sect,
    Whose doctrine is that each one should select
    Out of the crowd a mistress or a friend,

and so on; in short, that he despises the 'modern morals' which
distinctly approve of monogamy? Human love, one would say, becomes a
fitting type of a loftier emotion, in so far as it implies exclusive
devotion to its object. During this uncomfortable intrusion of a
discordant theory, we seem to be listening less to the passionate
utterance of a true poet than to the shrill tones of a conceited
propagator of flimsy crotchets, proclaiming his tenets without regard
to truth or propriety. Mrs. Shelley does not seem to have entered
into the spirit of the composition; and we can hardly wonder if she
found this little bit of argument rather a stumbling-block to her

To return, however, from these moral deductions to the more general
principles. It is scarcely necessary to insist at length upon the
peculiar idealism implied in Shelley's poetry. It is, of course,
the first characteristic upon which every critic must fasten. The
materials with which he works are impalpable abstractions where other
poets use concrete images. His poetry is like the subtle veil woven
by the witch of Atlas from 'threads of fleecy mists,' 'long lines
of light,' such as are kindled by the dawn and 'star-beams.' When
he speaks of natural scenery the solid earth seems to be dissolved,
and we are in presence of nothing but the shifting phantasmagoria
of cloudland, the glow of moonlight on eternal snow, or the 'golden
lightning of the setting sun.' The only earthly scenery which recalls
Shelley to a more material mind is that which one sees from a high
peak at sunrise, when the rising vapours tinged with prismatic colours
shut out all signs of human life, and we are alone with the sky and
the shadowy billows of the sea of mountains. Only in such vague
regions can Shelley find fitting symbolism for those faint emotions
suggested by the most abstract speculations, from which he alone is
able to extract an unearthly music. To insist upon this would be
waste of time. Nobody, one may say briefly, has ever expanded into an
astonishing variety of interpretation the familiar text of Shakespeare—

                   We are such stuff
    As dreams are made on, and our little lives
    Are rounded with a sleep.

The doctrine is expressed in a passage in 'Hellas,' where Ahasuerus
states this as the final result of European thought. The passage, like
so many in Shelley, shows that he had Shakespeare in his mind without
exactly copying him. The Shakespearean reference to the 'cloud-capped
towers' and 'gorgeous palaces' is echoed in the verses which conclude
with the words:—

                                           This whole
    Of suns and worlds, and men and beasts, and flowers
    With all the violent and tempestuous workings
    By which they have been, are, or cease to be,
    Is but a vision: _all that it inherits_
    Are motes of a sick eye, bubbles and dreams;
    Thought is its cradle and its grave, nor less
    The future and the past are idle shadows
    Of thought's eternal flight—they have no being.
    Nought is but that it feels itself to be.

The italicised words point to the original in the 'Tempest;' but
Shelley proceeds to expound his theory more dogmatically than
Prospero, and we are not quite surprised when Mahmoud is puzzled
and declares that the words 'stream like a tempest of dazzling mist
through his brain.' The words represent the most characteristic effect
of Shelley as accurately as the aspect of consistent idealism to a
prosaic mind.

It need not be said how frequently the thought occurs in Shelley.
We might fix him to a metaphysical system if we interpreted him
prosaically. When in 'Prometheus' Panthea describes to Asia a
mysterious dream, suddenly Asia sees another shape pass between her
and the 'golden dew' which gleams through its substance. 'What is it?'
she asks. 'It is mine other dream,' replies Panthea. 'It disappears,'
exclaims Asia. 'It passes now into my mind,' replies Panthea. We are,
that is, in a region where dreams walk as visible as the dreamers,
and pass into or out of a mind which is indeed only a collection of
dreams. The archaic mind regarded dreams as substantial or objective
realities. In Shelley the reality is reduced to the unsubstantiality
of a dream. To the ordinary thinker, the spirit is (to speak in
materialist language) the receptacle of ideas. With Shelley, a little
further on, we find that the relation is inverted; spirits themselves
inhabit ideas; they live in the mind as in an ocean. Thought is the
ultimate reality which contains spirits and ideas and dreams, if,
rather, it is not simpler to say that everything is a dream.

The Faery-land of Spenser might be classified in our inadequate
phraseology as equally 'ideal' with Shelley's impalpable scenery.
But Spenser's allegorical figures are as visible as the actors in a
masque; and, in fact, the 'Faery Queen' is a masque in words. His
pages are a gallery of pictures, and may supply innumerable subjects
for the artist. To illustrate Shelley would be as impossible as to
paint a strain of music, unless, indeed, some of Turner's cloud
scenery may be taken as representative of his incidental descriptions.

This language frequently reminds us of metaphysical doctrines which
were unknown to Shelley in their modern shape. Nobody, perhaps, is
capable of thinking in this fashion in ordinary life; and Shelley,
with all his singular visions and hallucinations, probably took the
common-sense view of ordinary mortals in his dealings with commonplace
or facts. It is surprising enough that, even for purely poetical
purposes, he could continue this to the ordinary conceptions of object
and subject. But his familiarity with this point of view may help to
explain some of the problems as to his ultimate belief. It is plain
that he was in some sense dissatisfied with the simple scepticism of
Godwin. But he found no successor to guide his speculations. Coleridge
once regretted that Shelley had not applied to him instead of Southey,
who, in truth, was as ill qualified as a man could well be to help
a young enthusiast through the mazes of metaphysical entanglement.
It is idle to speculate upon the possible result. Shelley, if we may
judge from a passage in his epistle to Mrs. Gisborne, had no very
high opinion of Coleridge's capacity as a spiritual guide. Shelley,
in fact, in spite of his so-called mysticism, was an ardent lover
of clearness, and would have been disgusted by the haze in which
Coleridge enwrapped his revelations to mankind. But Coleridge might
possibly have introduced him to a sphere of thought in which he could
have found something congenial. One parallel may be suggested which
will perhaps help to illustrate this position.

Various passages have been quoted from Shelley's poetry to prove that
he was a theist and a believer in immortality. His real belief, it
would seem, will hardly run into any of the orthodox moulds. It is
understood as clearly as may be in the conclusion to the 'Sensitive

              —in this life
    Of error, ignorance, and strife,
    Where nothing is, but all things seem,
    And we see the shadows of the dream.

    It is a modest creed, and yet
    Pleasant if one considers it,
    To own that death itself must be
    Like all the rest, a mockery.

    That garden sweet, that lady fair,
    And all sweet shapes and odours there
    In truth have never passed away;
    'Tis we, 'tis ours have changed; not they.

A fuller exposition of the thought is given in the 'Adonais;' and
some of the phrases suggest the parallel to which I refer. I have
already quoted from one of the popular works of Fichte, the 'Vocation
of Man,' a vigorous description of that state of utter scepticism,
which seems at one point to be the final goal of his idealism, as
it was that of the less elaborate form of the same doctrine which
Godwin had learnt from Berkeley. Godwin, as I have said, was content
to leave the difficulty without solution. Fichte escaped, or thought
that he escaped, by a solution which restores a meaning to much of
the orthodox language. Whether his mode of escape was satisfactory or
his final position intelligible, is of course another question. But it
is interesting to observe how closely the language in which his final
doctrine is set forth to popular readers resembles some passages in
the 'Adonais.' I will quote a few phrases which may be sufficiently

Shelley, after denouncing the unlucky 'Quarterly Reviewer' who had the
credit of extinguishing poor Keats, proceeds to find consolation in
the thought that Keats has now become

            A portion of the eternal, which must glow
      Through time and change, unquenchably the same
    Whilst thy cold embers choke the sordid hearth of shame.

      Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep—
      He hath awakened from the dream of life;
      'Tis we who, lost in stormy visions, keep
      With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
      And, in mad trance, strike with our spirit's knife
      Invulnerable nothings—_we_ decay
      Like corpses in a charnel, fear and grief
      Convulse and consume us day by day,
    And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.

So, when Fichte has achieved his deliverance from scepticism, his
mind is closed for ever against embarrassment and perplexity, doubt,
uncertainty, grief, repentance, and desire. 'All that happens belongs
to the plan of the eternal world and is good in itself.' If there
are beings perverse enough to resist reason, he cannot be angry with
them, for they are not free agents. They are what they are, and it is
useless to be angry with 'blind and unconscious nature.' 'What they
actually are does not deserve my anger; what might deserve it they
are not, and they would not deserve it if they were. My displeasure
would strike an impalpable nonentity,' an 'invulnerable nothing,'
as Shelley puts it. They are, in short, parts of the unreal dream to
which belong grief, and hope, and fear, and desire. Death is the last
of evils, he goes on; for the hour of death is the hour of birth to
a new and more excellent life. It is, as Shelley says, waking from
a dream. And now, when we have no longer desire for earthly things,
or any sense for the transitory and perishable, the universe appears
clothed in a more glorious form. 'The dead heavy mass, which did but
stop up space, has perished; and in its place there flows onward
with the rushing music of mighty waves, an eternal stream of life,
and power, and action, which issues from the original source of all
life—from thy life, O Infinite One! for all life is thy life, and only
the religious eye penetrates to the realm of true Beauty. In all the
forms that surround me I behold the reflection of my own being, broken
up into countless diversified shapes, as the morning sun, broken in a
thousand dewdrops, sparkles towards itself,' a phrase which recalls
Shelley's famous passage a little further on:—

    Life, like a dome of many coloured glass,
    Stains the white radiance of eternity.

The application, indeed, is there a little different; but Shelley has
just the same thought of the disappearance of the 'dead heavy mass' of
the world of space and time. Keats, too, is translated to the 'realm
of true beauty.'

      He is a portion of the loveliness
      Which once he made more lovely; he doth bear
      The part, while the one spirit's plastic stress
      Sweeps through the dull dense world, compelling there
      All new successions to the forms they wear!
      Torturing the unwilling dross that checks its flight
      To its own likeness, as each mass may bear;
      And bursting in its beauty and its might
    From trees, and beasts, and men, into the heaven's light.

There are important differences, as the metaphysician would point
out, between the two conceptions, and language of a similar kind
might be found in innumerable writers before and since. I only infer
that the two minds are proceeding, if one may say so, upon parallel
lines. Fichte, like Shelley, was accused of atheism, and his language
would, like Shelley's, be regarded by mere readers as an unfair
appropriation of old words to new meanings. Shelley had of course
no definite metaphysical system to set beside that of the German
philosopher; and had learnt what system he had rather from Plato than
from Kant. It may also be called significant that Fichte finds the
ultimate point of support in conscience or duty; whereas, in Shelley's
theory, duty seems to vanish, and the one ultimate reality to be
rather love or the beautiful. But it would be pedantic to attempt
the discovery of a definite system of opinion where there is really
nothing but a certain intellectual tendency. One can only say that,
somehow or other, Shelley sought comfort under his general sense that
everything is but the baseless fabric of a vision, and moreover a
very uncomfortable vision, made up of pain, grief, and the 'unrest
which men miscall delight,' in the belief, or, if belief is too strong
a word, the imagination of a transcendental and eternal world of
absolute perfection, entirely beyond the influence of 'chance, and
death, and mutability.' Intellectual beauty, to which he addresses one
of his finest poems, is the most distinct name of the power which he
worships. Thy light alone, he exclaims—

    Thy light alone, like mist on mountains driven,
    Or music by the night wind sent
    Through strings of some still instrument,
    Or moonlight on a midnight stream,
    Gives peace and truth to life's unquiet dream.

In presence of such speculations, the ordinary mass of mankind will
be content with declaring that the doctrine, if it can be called a
doctrine, is totally unintelligible. The ideal world is upon this
vein so hopelessly dissevered from the real, that it can give us no
consolation. If life is a dream, the dream is the basis of all we
know, and it is small comfort to proclaim its unreality. A truth
existing all by itself in a transcendental vacuum entirely unrelated
to all that we call fact, is a truth in which we can find very small
comfort. And upon this matter I have no desire to differ from the
ordinary mass of mankind. In truth, Shelley's creed means only a vague
longing, and must be passed through some more philosophical brain
before it can become a fit topic for discussion.

But the fact of this unintelligibility is by itself an explanation
of much of Shelley's poetical significance. When the excellent
Godwin talked about perfectibility and the ultimate triumph of truth
and justice, he was in no sort of hurry about it. He was a good
deal annoyed when Malthus crushed his dreams, by recalling him to
certain very essential conditions of earthly life. Godwin, he said
in substance, had forgotten that human beings have got to find food
and standing-room on a very limited planet, and to rear children
to succeed them. Remove all restraints after the fashion proposed
by Godwin, and they will be very soon brought to their senses by
the hard pressure of starvation, misery, and vice. Godwin made a
feeble ostensible reply, but, in practice, he was content to adjourn
the realisation of his hopes for an indefinite period. Reason, he
reflected, might be omnipotent, but he could not deny that it would
take a long time to put forth its power. He had the strongest possible
objections to any of those rough and ready modes of forcing men to be
reasonable which had culminated in the revolution. So he gave up the
trade of philosophising, and devoted himself to historical pursuits,
and the preparation of wholesome literature for the infantile mind.
To Shelley no such calm abnegation of his old aims was possible. He
continued to assert passionately his belief in the creed of his early
youth; but it became daily more difficult to see how it was to be
applied to the actual men of existence. He might hold in his poetic
raptures that the dreams were the only realities, and the reality
nothing but a dream; but he, like other people, was forced to become
sensible to the ordinary conditions of mundane existence.

The really exquisite strain in Shelley's poetry is precisely that
which corresponds to his dissatisfaction with his master's teaching.
So long as Shelley is speaking simply as a disciple of Godwin, we
may admire the melodious versification, the purity and fineness of
his language, and the unfailing and, in its way, unrivalled beauty
of his aerial pictures. But it is impossible to find much real
satisfaction in the informing sentiment. The enthusiasm rings hollow,
not as suggestive of insincerity, but of deficient substance and
reality. Shelley was, in one aspect, a typical though a superlative
example of a race of human beings, which has, it may be, no fault
except the fault of being intolerable. Had he not been a poet
(rather a bold hypothesis, it must be admitted), he would have been
a most insufferable bore. He had a terrible affinity for the race of
crotchet-mongers, the people who believe that the world is to be saved
out of hand by vegetarianism, or female suffrage, or representation of
minorities, the one-sided, one-ideaed, shrill-voiced and irrepressible
revolutionists. I say nothing against these particular nostrums, and
still less against their advocates. I believe that bores are often
the very salt of the earth, though I confess that the undiluted salt
has for me a disagreeable and acrid savour. The devotees of some of
Shelley's pet theories have become much noisier than they were when
the excellent Godwin ruled his little clique. It is impossible not to
catch in Shelley's earlier poetry, in 'Queen Mab' and in the 'Revolt
of Islam,' the apparent echo of much inexpressibly dreary rant which
has deafened us from a thousand platforms. The language may be better;
the substance is much the same.

This, which to some readers is annoyance, is to others a topic of
extravagant eulogy. Not content with urging the undeniable truth that
Shelley was a man of wide and generous sympathy, a detester of tyranny
and a contemner of superstition, they speak of him as though he were
both a leader of thought and a practical philanthropist. To make such
a claim is virtually to expose him to an unfair test. It is simply
ridiculous to demand from Shelley the kind of praise which we bestow
upon the apostles of great principles in active life. What are we to
say upon this hypothesis to the young gentleman who is amazed because
vice and misery survive the revelations of Godwin, and whose reforming
ardours are quenched—so far as any practical application goes—by the
surprising experience that animosities fostered by the wrongs of
centuries are not to be pacified by publishing a pamphlet or two about
Equality, Justice, and Freedom, or by a month's speechification in
Dublin? If these were Shelley's claims upon our admiration, we should
be justified in rejecting them with simple contempt, or we should have
to give the sacred name of philanthropist to any reckless impulsive
schoolboy who thinks his elders fools and proclaims as a discovery the
most vapid rant of his time. Admit that Shelley's zeal was as pure as
you please, and that he cared less than nothing for money or vulgar
comfort; but it is absurd to bestow upon him the praise properly
reserved for men whose whole lives have been a continuous sacrifice
for the good of their fellows. Nor can I recognise anything really
elevating in those portions of Shelley's poetry which embody this
shallow declamation. It is not the passionate war-cry of a combatant
in a deadly grapple with the forces of evil, but the wail of a dreamer
who has never troubled himself to translate the phrases into the
language of fact. Measured by this—utterly inappropriate—standard,
we should be apt to call Shelley a slight and feverish rebel against
the inevitable, whose wrath is little more than the futile, though
strangely melodious, crackling of thorns.

To judge of Shelley in this mode would be to leave out of account
precisely those qualities in which his unique excellence is most
strikingly manifested. Shelley speaks, it is true, as a prophet;
but when he has reached his Pisgah, it turns out that the land
of promise is by no means to be found upon this solid earth of
ours, or definable by degrees of latitude and longitude, but is an
unsubstantial phantasmagoria in the clouds. It is vain, too, that he
declares that it is the true reality, and that what we call a reality
is a dream. The transcendental world is—if we may say so—not really
the world of archetypal ideas, but a fabric spun from empty phrases.
The more we look at it the more clearly we recognise its origin; it
is the refracted vision of Godwin's prosaic system seen through an
imaginative atmosphere. But that which is really admirable is, not
the vision itself, but the pathetic sentiment caused by Shelley's
faint recognition of its obstinate unsubstantiality. It is with
this emotion that every man must sympathise in proportion as his
intellectual aspirations dominate his lower passions. Forgetting all
tiresome crotchets and vapid platitudes, we may be touched, almost in
proportion to our own elevation of mind, by the unsatisfied yearning
for which Shelley has found such manifold and harmonious utterance.
There are moods in which every sensitive and philanthropic nature
groans under the

            heavy and the weary weight
    Of all this unintelligible world.

Whatever our ideal may be, whatever the goal to which we hope to see
mankind approximate, our spirits must often flag with a sense of our
personal insignificance, and of the appalling dead weight of multiform
impediments which crushes the vital energies of the world, like Etna
lying upon the Titan. This despair of finding any embodiment for his
own ideal, of bridging over the great gulf fixed between the actual
world of sin, and sorrow, and stupidity, and the transcendental
world of joy, love, and pure reason, represents the final outcome
of Shelley's imperfect philosophy, and gives the theme of his most
exquisite poetry. The doctrine symbolised in the 'Alastor' by the
history of the poet who has seen in vision a form of perfect beauty,
and dies in despair of ever finding it upon earth (he seems, poor man!
to have looked for it somewhere in the neighbourhood of Afghanistan),
is the clue to the history of his own intellectual life. He is
happiest when he can get away from the world altogether into a vague
region, having no particular relation to time or space; to the valleys
haunted by the nymphs in the 'Prometheus;' or the mystic island in the
'Epipsychidion,' where all sights and sounds are as the background
of a happy dream, fitting symbols of sentiments too impalpable to be
fairly grasped in language: or that 'calm and blooming cove' of the
lines in the Euganean hills.

The lyrics which we all know more or less by heart are but so many
different modes of giving utterance to—

    The desire of the moth for the star,
      Of the night for the morrow,
    The devotion to something afar
      From the sphere of our sorrow.

He is always dwelling upon the melancholy doctrine expressed in his
last poem by the phrase that God has made good and the means of good
irreconcilable. The song of the skylark suggests to him that we are
doomed to 'look before and after,' and to 'pine for what is not.' Our
sweetest songs (how should it be otherwise?) are those which tell of
saddest thought. The wild commotion in sea, sky, and earth, which
heralds the approach of the south-west wind, harmonises with his
dispirited restlessness, and he has to seek refuge in the vague hope
that his thoughts, cast abroad at random like the leaves and clouds,
may somehow be prophetic of a magical transformation of the world. His
most enduring poetry is, in one way or other, a continuous comment
upon the famous saying in 'Julian and Maddalo,' suggested by the sight
of his fellow-Utopian, whose mind has been driven into madness by an
uncongenial world.

                  Most wretched men
    Are cradled into poetry by wrong;
    They learn in suffering what they teach in song.

Some poets suffer under evils of a more tangible kind than those which
tormented Shelley; and some find a more satisfactory mode of escape
from the sorrows which beset a sensitive nature. But the special
beauty of Shelley's poetry is so far due to the fact that we feel it
to be the voice of a pure and lofty nature, however crude may have
been the form taken by some of his unreal inspiration.


[6] Hume's biographer, Mr. Hill Burton, gives some other verses
attributed to Hume; but the impartial critic must admit that they are
of inferior merit.


A remark is every now and then made about Gray by somebody who has
just been reading his charming letters. Gray, it is announced, was
one of the first prophets of the true faith, or, as others call it,
the modern superstition, of which mountains are the temples and
Alpine clubs form the congregations. Their creed may be compressed
into the single article that a love of mountains is the first of the
cardinal virtues. To that doctrine, with some slight reservations, I
yield a very hearty assent and consent; and I am glad to reckon Gray
amongst its sound adherents. A mountainous country alone, he says,
can furnish truly picturesque scenery. His early enthusiasm for the
Chartreuse, his admiration in later years of the Vale of Keswick and
the Pass of Killiecrankie, are symptoms of an orthodoxy creditable,
because rarer in his time than our own. But, though Gray shared the
sentiment which was then growing up, it would be absurd to attribute
to him any influence in its propagation. His descriptive letters are
admirable, and show that he had a true eye for scenery; but they
were not published till after his death, and certainly his 'Life and
Writings,' clipped and docked by the precise Mason, was not the kind
of book to generate a new enthusiasm. The real glory of revealing
to mankind the new pleasure must be given—so far as it can be given
to any individual writers—to men like Rousseau, whose passionate
rhetoric made the love of nature a popular watchword, and Saussure,
who first showed a thorough appreciation of the glories of the Alps.
But in England, and not in England alone, even Rousseau was, in this
respect, eclipsed by Ossian. The general estimate of those singular
poems, considered as descriptive of a mountainous region, coincides,
I imagine, with that of Wordsworth. The mountains of Ossian are mere
daubs, vague abstractions of mist and gloom, gigantesque unrealities
which speak of anything but first-hand impressions of actual scenery.
You may read through Ossian—if you can read through it at all—without
gaining any more distinct impressions of Highland scenery than you
would have received in the Highlands themselves any time since last
November. But the extraordinary influence of Ossian upon the minds
of MacPherson's contemporaries is a matter of history. When Goethe
went to Switzerland, he evidently considered it the correct thing to
have passages from Ossian at his fingers' ends for application to the
Alps; it was the mountaineer's text-book, to be quoted in Switzerland
as a later generation quoted Byron or the present the writings of
Mr. Ruskin. Gray was one of the earliest enthusiasts, and, though he
had a critical qualm or two, was apparently more moved by the new
poems than by any literary event of his time. He is '_extasié_ with
their infinite beauty,' makes 'a thousand inquiries' about their
authenticity, and in one letter declares himself to be 'cruelly
disappointed' with the 'Nouvelle Héloïse,' and able to admire nothing
but Fingal. He studies Croma (who now knows Croma even by name?), and
picks out the finest phrase in it as though he were criticising a book
of the 'Iliad.'

The Ossian fever was symptomatic of a widely-spread sentiment or
fashion, due to causes far more general than the influence of any
individual. It would be easy enough to show that worshippers of the
picturesque had discovered the chief beauties of England before Gray
wrote his letters. The tourist was already abroad. When Gray visited
Gordale Scar, in Craven, he already found landscape-painters settled
at the neighbouring inn and preparing views for the engraver. The
reader of that maddest of books, 'John Buncle,' may remember that the
hero contrives at one place to emerge out of a mysterious cavern in
the mountains of Westmoreland. He observes on the occasion that the
Vale of Keswick is considered to offer the finest views in England,
and that they were, in truth, finer than even the Rev. Dr. Dalton
had been able to make them appear in his descriptive poem. Yet
Buncle thinks that Keswick is surpassed by the 'shaded fells' in the
neighbourhood (apparently) of Ambleside, and that the cascades there
are superior to 'dread Lodore.' The 'Rev. Dr. Dalton' appears to have
published his poem—a poem, I am sorry to say, unfamiliar to me—in
1755, some years before Gray's visit. But it is needless to enlarge
upon this point. It is clear enough, from many symptoms, that the love
of picturesque scenery was becoming fashionable in the middle of the
century, and that Gray, as a man of taste, was amongst the first to
feel the impulse.

The whole matter is, perhaps, of less importance than is sometimes
attached to it. There is, after all, a good deal in Macaulay's
common-sense explanation of the phenomenon—that a love of mountain
scenery means simply the formation of good roads and comfortable
inns in mountain districts. But Gray's taste in this respect is
at least significant as to Gray's own position. His contempt for
Rousseau and his love of Ossian are inversions of the judgment of
later times; for no one would now deny the power of Rousseau, or
find much pleasure—unless possessed by some antiquarian or patriotic
mania—in the epics of the mythical bard. And yet we can see that Gray
represents a vein of sentiment allied to some modern modes of thought,
and generally regarded as antipathetic to the spirit of his own time.
With all his popularity, he appears to be an isolated phenomenon.
Everybody knows his poetry by heart. The 'Elegy' has so worked itself
into the popular imagination that it includes more familiar phrases
than almost any poem of equal length in the language. The 'Bard' and
the lines upon Eton have become so hackneyed as perhaps to acquire
a certain tinge of banality. If few English poets have written so
little, none certainly has written so little that has fallen into
oblivion. And yet, though Gray is in this sense the most popular poet
of his day, though he is more read than Young, or Thomson, or Collins,
or Goldsmith, or many others, we do not think of him as stamping his
image upon the time. He stands apart. His poetry is taken to be like
an oasis in the desert; it is a sudden spring of perennial freshness
gushing out in the midst of that dreary didactic, argumentative,
monotonous current of versification poured forth by the imitators of
Pope. He never used Pope's measure for serious purposes, except in
one fine fragment—the least read of his poems—and is, as it were, an
outsider in the literature of the time. And yet, again, it must be
remembered that Wordsworth picked him out for special condemnation as
the worst offender in the use of conventional language. He definitely
accepted and has enlarged upon the theory which Wordsworth attempted
to upset—that poetry should use a language differing from that
of common life. Indeed, he gets upon stilts as deliberately and
consciously as any poet of the day, and is nervously sensitive to the
risk of a lapse into the vernacular.

It would be easy to give a paradoxical turn to these remarks, and to
show how Gray was at once the opponent and the representative of the
poetical creed of his day. The puzzle, such as it is, arises from
our habit of absurdly exaggerating the difference between ourselves
and our grandfathers, and speaking as if everybody was 'artificial'
in the reign of Pope and 'natural' in the reign of Wordsworth. No
two words in the language cover more confusion of thought than those
famous phrases. It would be easy enough to twist them so as to prove
that Wordsworth was more artificial than Pope, quite as clearly as
the opposite is so often demonstrated; and, for my part, I am fully
convinced that there was just as much human nature and as little
affectation in the days of Queen Anne as in those of Victoria or in
those of Elizabeth. The contrast usually drawn has, I doubt not, an
important meaning; but it is so obscured by the vague talk about
'nature' that I never see the word without instinctively putting
myself on my guard against some bit of slipshod criticism or sham
philosophy. I heartily wish that the word could be turned out of the
language. Though that, alas! is impossible, we may try to avoid the
misleading associations which it continually introduces. Gray, at any
rate, was a human being who liked looking at trees and hills as much
as anybody does now; and he certainly succeeded in writing some verses
which concentrate into a couple of pages a depth of genuine emotion
such as would furnish whole volumes of modern verbiage. It is another
question whether he ought to be called a natural or an artificial poet.

In the first place, however, it may be observed that Gray was not
so solitary a phenomenon as we might at first sight fancy. He never
entered the circle of literary men who lived in London, and who, in
the later part of his career, acknowledged Johnson as their dictator.
He shrank from the roughness of the 'great bear,' who, in his turn,
seems to have despised Gray as a literary fop—a finikin and affected
spinner of verses, who tried to be grand and succeeded only in being
pompous and obscure. Gray, in his quiet cloister, led the life of a
recluse and followed his own fancies with little direct reference to
the public opinion of accepted dispensers of literary reputation. But
no man is really independent of his time, and Gray had his allies and
his followers. Amongst them were men still worth remembering, though
all of them, like Gray himself, stood more or less apart from the main
current of literature. In one of his early letters he speaks of the
Odes just published by two young authors, who 'both deserve to last
some years, but will not.' Collins, the first of these, has lasted,
though destined to an early death, and scarcely more voluminous than
Gray himself. Collins, like Gray, was sensitive and solitary, though
in a still more morbid degree. It is recorded of him—and I know of
no similar case except that of Landor in regard to 'Pericles and
Aspasia'—that he repaid his publisher for the loss incurred by his
Odes. It is, perhaps, not irrelevant to add that his mind soon gave
symptoms of approaching imbecility. The other young poet was Joseph
Warton, still remembered for his essay on Pope, the elder brother of
Thomas Warton, the historian of poetry; and the two brothers were the
heads of what was once called the school of the Wartons. The 'school'
was not a very large one, and the poems of both the brothers—though
Thomas is held to be better than Joseph—are not amongst the things
that have lasted. The influence of the Wartons, however, was very
conspicuous in reviving the study of the earlier models of our
literature. Joseph tried to persuade the world—unsuccessfully at the
time—that Pope was inferior to Spenser; and his brother's history
is a considerable landmark in that revival of interest in poetical
antiquities indicated by such works as Percy's 'Reliques,' or by the
forgeries of Chatterton and MacPherson. I might have quoted Joseph
Warton's earliest poem (1740) to show that what is called the love
of nature was by no means a novelty when Gray went to the lakes.
It is enough to give the title—'The Enthusiast; or, The Lover of
Nature'—and to observe that Warton wishes to seat himself on a
'pinetopt precipice, abrupt and shaggy,' and to listen to 'Boreas'
blasts' and the sounds of 'hollow winds and everbeating waves,' in the
most approved romantic fashion. Both brothers, too, have a taste for
the 'moss-grown spire and crumbling arch;' and Tom's best sonnet—one
much admired by Lamb—is written on a blank leaf of Dugdale's
'Monasticon' and expresses his delight in surveying the records of
'cloister'd piety'—

    Nor rough, nor barren, are the winding ways
    Of hoar Antiquity, but strewn with flowers.

In another he wishes to know whether 'his pipe can aught essay to
reach the ear' of that 'divine bard' Mr. Gray, for whose 'Elegy' and
'Bard' he expresses the warmest admiration.

The similarity of taste shown by the Wartons and Gray does not appear
to have led to personal intercourse. They were divided by that broad,
though to the outward world invisible, gulf which still separates
Oxford from Cambridge. Gray's most enthusiastic disciple, Mason, had
come under his influence at Cambridge, and his first performance led
to a passage of arms with Tom Warton. Mason attacked the Jacobitism
of Oxford in a poem called 'Isis,' stating, of course in a purely
poetical sense, that Oxford men held 'infernal orgies' to the foes of
freedom. Warton replied in verses which Mason admitted to be better
than his own. Modesty, however, was not Mason's strong point. Years
afterwards, when riding into Oxford, he remarked that he was glad that
it was already dark; otherwise, as he intimated, a mob would naturally
have gathered to avenge his insults to the University. Mason's odes
and choruses are so obviously an echo of Gray's that one is rather
surprised to find Gray praising them in language which implies that
he was not aware of his responsibility. Mason himself was cordially
proud of the relationship, though he took amazing liberties as an
editor of his master's letters, and occasionally gave himself airs
of equality, or even patronage, which strike one as a little absurd.
A more distant, but perhaps still more enthusiastic, admirer of Gray
was Beattie, whose early odes (which he judiciously endeavoured to
suppress) are feebler echoes than Mason's of the same model, and
who reverently submitted his best poem, the 'Minstrel,' to Gray's
correction and, more wonderful to relate, accepted one or two of his
critic's emendations. And, finally, we must include in the school of
Gray the man whose levity and coxcombry has blinded many readers to
his very remarkable ability. Horace Walpole, who quarrelled with Gray
as with many others of his friends, for a time, and who, unlike Gray,
was thoroughly immersed in the central current of London society, was
no poet, but was in thorough sympathy with Gray's antiquarian tastes,
and by the 'Castle of Otranto' and the sham Gothic of Strawberry
Hill did more than profounder antiquarians to restore an interest in
mediæval art.

The names thus brought together, to which others might of course be
added, give a sufficient indication of the general tendencies of what
I have called the school of Gray. They did not form a clique, like
most schools, for they lived in remote regions, and most of them
showed the touchiness and even sensibility which is rubbed off by the
friction of large societies. Tom Warton, who was certainly sociable
enough in a fashion, was buried at Oxford for nearly fifty years. Gray
was so secluded in his Cambridge cloister that the young men made a
rush to see him in later years—leaving their dinners, it is said; but
that is scarcely credible—when he appeared by some rare accident in
the college walks. Beattie stuck with equal persistence to his college
in Aberdeen, and could not be induced even to take a professorship in
Edinburgh, being afraid, apparently, that his 'Essay on Truth' would
expose him to unpleasantness from the more metropolitan circle which
admired and respected his antagonist Hume. The alarm, indeed, was more
reasonable than Mason's alarm about Oxford, for the essay was not
only vehement in its abuse, but had succeeded in making a great stir
in the world. Mason, again, fixed himself in his Yorkshire living and
his canonry, emerging only at intervals to pay a few visits to his
aristocratic friends. And even Walpole made a kind of sham cloister
at Strawberry Hill, and, though a man of the world, a gossip, and
a politician, was as irritable and uneasy a companion as the most
retired of hermits. The great movements of thought generally spread,
it is supposed, from the metropolitan centres, where intellectual
activity is stimulated by the constant collision of eager and excited
minds. But a new taste may make its appearance in the corners to which
sensitive men retire from the uncongenial atmosphere of the world,
and cultivate at their ease what is first an individual crotchet and
afterwards develops into a fashionable amusement.

Gray, beyond all doubt, was the one man of genius of the school after
the early death of Collins, for it would be strained to give a higher
name than talent even to Horace Walpole's remarkable intellectual
vivacity. Tom Warton's biographer (it is impossible to speak of
Thomas) has drawn an elaborate parallel, in the proper historical
fashion, between his hero and Gray. They were both dons, professors,
students of antiquities, lovers of nature and of the romantic,
composers of odes, and so forth. The parallel contains a good deal of
truth, but it is consistent with an amusing contrast. Tom Warton was
the thoroughly jovial, undignified don of the period. His poetry—even
if his 'Triumph of Isis' be superior to Mason's 'Isis,' and his
sonnets deserve some praise in a century barren of sonnets—is not
generally refreshing; the poor man had to construct some of those
fanciful pieces of verse which laureates in those days were bound
to manufacture for the sovereign's birthday, and one cannot glance
at them (nobody can read them) without profound sympathy. But his
humorous verses have still a pleasant ring about them. There is a
contagion in the enthusiasm with which he celebrates the virtues of
Oxford ale. When he imagines himself discommuned for his indulgence,
and unable even to get longer 'tick' at the pothouse, he daringly
compares himself to Adam exiled from Paradise. In another poem we
have the characteristic triumph of the steady don, who has stuck to a
bachelor life, over the misguided victim to matrimony and a college
living. Thus will the poor fellow lament as butchers' bills and school
fees become heavier year by year:—

    Why did I sell my college life
    (He cries) for benefice and wife?
    Return, ye days when endless pleasure
    I found in reading or in leisure,
    When calm around the common room
    I puffed my daily pipe's perfume,
    Rode for a stomach, and inspected
    At annual bottlings corks selected,
    And din'd untaxed, untroubled, under
    The portrait of our pious founder!

These of course are youthful productions; but, if all tales be true,
the tastes described did not die out. Once, it is said, Warton's
presence was required on some grand public function. The Professor
was not to be found till an ingenious person suggested that a drum
and fife should be sent through the streets performing a jovial and
Jacobite tune; and before long the sweet notes enticed Warton from a
public-house, pipe in mouth and with rumpled bands, to be miserably
deceived in his hopes of fun. More creditable, and apparently more
authentic, anecdotes relate how he took part in the boyish pranks of
his brother's pupils at Winchester, and once at least composed a copy
of Latin verses for a youthful companion, and insisted upon taking the
half-crown which had been offered as a reward for their excellence
before the mild imposture was detected.

Most men grow tired of pipes and ale and the jolly bachelor life of
common rooms soon after they have put on their master's hood. In the
old days, before commissions and reform, when the Universities were
more frequently regarded as a permanent retreat for men who could
find a pipe a sufficient substitute for a wife, such jolly fellows
as Warton formed a larger part of the college society. Most of them,
however, were duller dogs than Tom Warton, who, with all his enjoyment
of such heavy festivities, managed to write some laborious books. A
proud, fastidious, and exquisitely sensitive man like Gray looked upon
the whole scene with infinite contempt and scorn. It does not appear
to be very clearly made out why he should have resided permanently
at Cambridge, except for the sake of the libraries. Apparently he
had resented some of Walpole's supercilious conduct, and possibly
conduct which deserves a harsher name; for it is said that Walpole
opened a letter addressed to Gray in the expectation of finding some
disrespectful notice of himself. Anyhow, Gray erased Walpole from his
list of friends, though he consented to resume acquaintanceship. He
might previously have condescended to accept some of the appointments
which Walpole could have easily procured during his father's ministry.
But the father was turned out of office whilst the son was a discarded
friend, and Gray, unwilling to enter the struggle of professional
life, settled down at the University, though he always regarded it
and its inhabitants with unqualified contempt. Gray—as his letters
prove—had a very keen sense of humour, and when he chose could put a
very sharp edge to his tongue. He let his fellow-residents know that
he thought them fools—an opinion which they were perverse enough to
resent. The poem with which he greeted Cambridge on first returning
from his travels, headed a 'Hymn to Ignorance,' is a curious contrast
to Warton's enthusiastic 'Triumph of Isis.'

    Hail, horrors, hail! ye ever gloomy bowers,
    Ye Gothic fanes and antiquated towers,
    Where rushy Camus' slowly winding flood
    Perpetual draws his humid train of mud—

is the opening of his uncomplimentary address to his _alma mater_. 'At
the very time,' says Parr, in that style of delicious pomposity which
smells of his immortal wig, 'in which Mr. Gray spoke so contemptuously
of Cambridge, that very University abounded in men of erudition
and science, with whom the first scholars would not have disdained
to converse; and who shall convict me of exaggeration when I bring
forward the names' of the immortal so-and-so? The names include, it
is true, some which have still a claim upon our respect—Bentley,
Waterland, and Conyers Middleton, for example—but the most eminent
were just dead or dying when Gray came into residence, and dignified
heads of houses, like Bentley and Waterland, were in a seventh heaven
of dignity, quite inaccessible to the youthful poet. It does not now
appear that it can ever have been a great privilege to live in the
same town with 'Provost Snape,' 'Tunstall the public orator,' or
'Asheton of Jesus.' Gray knew something of Middleton (who died in
1750, when Gray was 34), and speaks of his house as the only one in
Cambridge where it was easy to converse; and he takes care to add
that even Middleton was only an 'old acquaintance,' which is but an
indifferent likeness of a friend. He made a few intimacies—chiefly
with younger men, like Mason, who soon ceased to be residents—but
the bulk of the University was in his eyes contemptible; and, on the
whole, contemporary evidence would lead to the conclusion that his
opinion was not far wrong. Cambridge had possessed very eminent men in
the days of Bentley, Newton, Waterland, Sherlock, and Middleton, and
it has had very eminent men at a later period, but Gray was himself
almost the only man in the middle of the eighteenth century whom
anybody need care to remember now. At any rate, there was a large
proportion of that ale-drinking, tobacco-smoking element amongst
the jolly fellows of the combination room, whose society Warton
might relish, but whom Gray regarded with supreme contempt. The
fellow-commoners appear by his account to have exceeded in audacity
the young gentlemen who lately exhibited their sense of playful humour
by defacing certain statues at Oxford. The wits of an earlier day put
poor Gray in fear of his life. He ordered a rope ladder, to be able
to escape from his rooms in case they set the college on fire; and,
if I remember the tradition rightly, they set a 'booby trap' for the
poet, and, raising an alarm, induced him to descend his rope ladder
into a water-butt. Anyhow, poor Gray was driven from Peterhouse to
Pembroke, and there abstracted his mind from the academical noises
by a course of study which, according to his admirers (but who shall
answer for the admirers?), made him profoundly familiar with every
branch of learning except mathematics. Meanwhile his appearance and
manners were calculated to intensify the mutual dislike between
himself and his rougher surroundings. His rooms were scrupulously
neat, with mignonette in the windows and flowers elegantly planted in
china vases; he spoke little in general society, and compiled biting
epigrams or classical puns with a derisory application to his special
associates. In short, in outward appearance he belonged to the class
fop or _petit-maître_, mincing, precise, affected, and as little in
harmony with the rowdy fellow-commoners as Hotspur's courtier with the
rough soldiers on the battle-field.

The want of harmony between Gray and his surroundings goes far to
explain his singular want of fertility. In fact, we may say—without
any want of respect for a venerable institution—that Gray could
hardly have found a more uncongenial residence. Cambridge boasts
of its poets; and a University may well be proud which has had,
amongst many others, such inmates as Spenser, Milton, Dryden, Gray,
Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, and Tennyson. If a sceptic chooses to
ask what share the University can claim in stimulating the genius of
those illustrious men, the answer might be difficult. But, in any
case, no poet except Gray loved his University well enough to become
a resident. If it were not for Gray, I should be inclined to guess
that a poet don was a contradiction in terms. The reason is very
obvious to any one who has enjoyed the latter title. It is simply
that no atmosphere can be conceived more calculated to stimulate
that excessive fastidiousness which all but extinguished Gray's
productive faculties. He might wrap himself in simple contempt for
the ale-drinking vanity of the don. He could, in the old college
slang, 'sport his oak' and despise their railings, and even the
shouts of 'Fire!' of the worthy fellow-commoners. But a poet requires
some sympathy, and, if possible, some worshippers. The inner circle
of Gray's intimates was naturally composed of men fastidious like
himself, and all of them more or less critics by profession. The
reflection would be forced upon his mind, whenever he thought of
publishing, What will be thought of my poems by Provost Snape, and
Mr. Public-Orator Tunstall, and Asheton of Jesus, and those other
luminaries whom Dr. Parr commemorates? And undoubtedly their first
thought would be to show their claim to literary excellence by picking
holes in their friend's compositions. They would rejoice greatly when
they could show that faculties sharpened by the detection of false
quantities and slips of grammar in their pupils' Latin verses were
equal to the discovery of solecisms and defective rhymes in the work
of a living poet. Gray's extreme sensitiveness to all such quillets
of criticism is marked in every poem he wrote. Had he been forced
to fight his way in literature he would have learnt to swallow his
scruples and take the chance in a free give-and-take struggle for
fame. In a country living he might have forgotten his tormentors and
have married a wife to secure at least one thoroughly appreciative
and intelligent admirer. But to be shut up in a small scholastic
clique, however little he might respect their individual merits, to
have the chat of combination rooms ever in his ears, to be worried by
bands of professional critics at every turn, was as though a singing
bird should build over a wasp's nest. The 'Elegy' and the 'Odes' just
struggled into existence, though much of them was written before he
settled down as a resident; but Gray, like many another don of great
abilities, finished but a minute fragment of the work of which he
more or less contemplated the execution. The books contemplated but
never carried out by men in his position would make a melancholy and
extensive catalogue. The effect of these influences upon his work is
palpable to every reader of Gray. No English poet has ever given more
decisive proof that he shared that secret of clothing even an obvious
thought in majestic and resounding language, which we naturally call
Miltonic. Though he modestly asserts that he inherits

    Nor the pride nor ample pinion
      That the Theban eagle bear,
    Sailing with supreme dominion
      Through the azure deep of air,

yet we feel that none of his contemporaries—perhaps none of his
successors—could have equalled, in dignity and richness of style,
the noble passage in which that phrase occurs. And yet we must
also feel that if his 'car,' as he says of Dryden's, is borne by
'coursers of ethereal race,' they are constantly checked before they
can get into full career. He takes flight as if the azure deep were
the natural home in which he could sail suspended like the eagle
without perceptible effort. But the wings droop before they are
well unfurled, and the magnificent strain ceases without giving the
promised satisfaction. Even the 'Elegy' flags a little towards the
end; the 'hoary-headed swain' becomes rather flat in his remarks,
and the concluding epitaph has just a little too much twang of
epigrammatic smartness. I sometimes agree, indeed, with Wolfe that it
was a far greater achievement to write the 'Elegy' than to storm the
heights of Abram, and then hold (though I also incline to a different
opinion) that only a soldier, or author, or civilian of ultra-military
enthusiasm could suppose that such a comparison involved condescension
on the side of the general. Gray and his personal admirers seem to
have been annoyed at the preference given to this above his other
writings. It proved, so he argued, that the stupid public cared for
the subject instead of the art; that they liked the 'Elegy' as they
liked Blair's 'Grave,' and would have liked it as well if the same
thoughts had been expressed in prose. Undoubtedly the public will
always refuse to make that distinction between form and matter which
seems so important to the critical mind. It is not, however, that
they are unaffected by the artistic skill, but that they are affected
unconsciously. The meditations of Blair, of Young, and of Hervey,
equally popular in their day, have fallen into disrepute for want of
the exquisite felicity of language which has preserved the 'Elegy.'
It is a commonplace thing to say that the power of giving freshness
to commonplace is amongst the highest proofs of poetical genius.
One reason is, apparently, that it is so difficult to extract the
pure and ennobling element from the coarser materials in which any
obvious truth comes to be embedded. The difficulty of feeling rightly
is as great as the difficulty of finding a worthy utterance of the
feeling. Everybody may judge of the difficulty of Gray's task who
will attend to what passes at a funeral. On such an occasion one is
inclined to fancy, _à priori_, mourners will drop all affectation and
speak poetically because they will speak from their hearts; but, as a
matter of fact, there is no occasion on which there is generally such
a lavish expenditure of painful and jarring sentiment, of vulgarity,
affectation, and insincerity; and thus Gray's meditations stand out
from other treatments of a similar theme not merely by the technical
merits of the language, but by the admirable truth and purity of the
underlying sentiment. The temptation to be too obtrusively moral and
improving, to indulge in inappropriate epigram, in sham feeling,
in idle sophistry, in strained and exaggerated gloominess, or even
on occasion to heighten the effect by inappropriate humour, is so
strong with most people that Gray's kindness and delicacy of feeling,
qualities which were perceptible to the despised public, must be
regarded as contributing quite as much to the success of the 'Elegy'
as the technical merits of form, which, moreover, can hardly be
separated from the merits of substance.

Indeed, when we come to the other odes which have similar qualities of
mere style, we are at no loss to explain the difference of reception.
The beautiful 'Ode upon Eton,' for example, comes into conflict with
one's common-sense. We know too well that an Eton boy is not always
the happy and immaculate creature of Gray's fancy; and one feels that
the reflections upon his probable degradation imply a fit of temporary
ill-humour in the poet, supervening, no doubt, upon a deeper vein of
melancholy. The sentiment is too splenetic to be pleasing. The 'Bard,'
which has, I suppose, been recited by schoolboys as frequently as
the 'Elegy,' is a more curious indication of the peculiarities of
Gray's method of composition. Mason gives an account of the remarkable
transformation which it underwent. Gray's first intention, it appears,
was that the bard should declare prophetically that poets should never
be wanting 'to celebrate true virtue and valour in immortal strains,
to expose vice and infamous pleasure, and boldly censure tyranny and
oppression.' Undoubtedly this gives a meaning to the ode worthy of the
beginning. The victim could not make a more effective retort. But,
unluckily, when the bard had got into full swing, it struck him that
the facts were not what his theory required. Shakespeare, says Mason,
liked Falstaff in spite of his vices; Milton censured tyranny in
prose; Dryden was a court parasite; Pope, a Tory; and Addison, 'though
a Whig,' was a poor poet. The poor bard was therefore in the miserable
position—one of the most wretched known to humanity—of a man who has
begun a fine speech and does not see his way out of it. If Gray had
taken a wider view of the poet's true function, he might still have
found some embodiment for his thoughts; for English poetry, though it
may not have been Whiggish, may certainly be regarded as the fullest
expression of the more liberal and humanising conceptions of the world
which have to struggle against the pedantry and narrowness of prosaic
professional theorisers. But the bard required sound Whig precedent
to point his moral, and it was not forthcoming. Consequently he has
to take refuge in the very scanty consolation afforded by the bare
reflection that Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton would begin to write
some time after the descendants of a Welshman had ascended the throne.
One would not grudge any satisfaction to an unfortunate gentleman just
about to commit suicide; but one must admit that he was easily pleased.

This want of any central idea converts the ode into a set of splendid
fragments of verse, which scarcely hold together. Contemporary critics
complained grievously of its 'obscurity'—a phrase which seems ill
placed to us who know by experience what obscurity may really mean.
An obscurity removable by a slight knowledge of English history and
a recollection of the fact that Richard II. is said to have been
starved instead of stabbed, as in Shakespeare, by Exton, is not of a
very grievous kind; but the absence of any intelligible motive in the
bard's final rupture is more serious. A poet surely might have acted
upon the _tant pis pour les faits_ theory, and proceeded to make his
general assertion without waiting for confirmatory evidence. A writer
who, like Gray, secretes his poetry line by line and spreads the
process over years, seems to fall into the same faults which are more
frequently due to haste. He pores over his conceptions so long that
he becomes blind to defects obvious to a fresh observer, and rather
misses his point, as he introduces minute alterations without noticing
their effect on the context. One wonders how a man of Gray's exquisite
perception could have introduced the lines—

    And gorgeous dames, and statesmen old
    In bearded majesty appear—

without seeing that we are only saved by a comma, and a comma easily
neglected, from assuming that a Julia Pastrana would have been a usual
phenomenon at the court of Elizabeth. Correction continued after
the freshness of the impression has died away is apt to lead to such

The learned and fastidious don shows through the inspired 'bard'
by many equally unmistakable indications. His editor, Mitford,
collected a number of parallel passages which curiously indicate
the degree in which his mind was saturated with recollections of
poetical literature. It seems to be now considered as unjustifiable
plagiarism for a poet to assimilate the phrases of his predecessors.
We may, indeed, find abundant proofs of familiarity with Shakespeare
in Shelley, and in more recent writers; but they are generally of
the unconscious kind, and would otherwise be avoided as sins against
originality. The poets of the last century, such as Goldsmith, and
especially Pope, had no scruples in the matter. Their work did not
profess to be a sudden and spontaneous inspiration. It was a slow
elaboration, with which it was perfectly allowable to interweave any
quantity of previously manufactured material so long as the juncture
was not palpable. Gray's adaptations seem sometimes to make the whole
tissue of his poetry. He owns to an unconscious appropriation from
Green (author of the 'Spleen') of the main thought of his 'Ode to the
Spring,' the comparison of men to ephemeral insects. But everywhere
he is giving out phrases which he has previously assimilated. So in
the very spirited translation from the Norse, 'Uprose the king of men
with speed,' we have a verse from the 'Allegro'—'Right against the
Eastern Gate'—cropping up naturally in quite a fresh connection. A
single phrase seems to combine several semi-conscious recollections.
The words in the 'Bard' 'dear as the ruddy drops that warm my heart'
come from Shakespeare, and the preceding 'dear as the light that
visits those sad eyes' are perhaps from Otway. But it is useless to
accumulate instances of so palpable a process.

It is only in character, again, that Gray should have clung to a
peculiar dictum, as he would have insisted upon wearing his proper
academical costume in a performance in the senate-house. He would no
more have dropped into Wordsworth's vernacular than he would have
smoked a pipe in one of Warton's pot-houses. Wordsworth considered
this dignity to be unnatural pomposity; and undoubtedly the language
is frequently conventional and 'unnatural,' and a stumbling-block of
offence to the generation which gave up wigs. Equally annoying was
Gray's immense delight in semi-allegorical figures. We have whole
catalogues of abstract qualities scarcely personified. Ambition,
bitter Scorn, grinning Infamy, Falsehood, hard Unkindness, keen
Remorse, and moody Madness are all collected in one stanza not
exceptional in style—beings which to us are almost as offensive as
the muse whom he has pretty well ceased to invoke, though he still
appeals to his lyre. This fashion reached its culminating point in the
celebrated invocation, somewhere recorded by Coleridge, 'Inoculation,
heavenly maid!' The personified qualities are a kind of fading
'survival'—ghosts of the old allegorical persons who put on a rather
more solid clothing of flesh and blood with Spenser, and with Gray
scarcely putting in a stronger claim to vitality than is implied in
the use of capital letters. The 'muses' were nearly extinct, and in
Pope's time the gods and goddesses had come to be regarded as so much
'machinery' invented by Homer to work his epic poetry. They were, in
fact, passions and qualities in masquerade; and they therefore found
it very easy, in the next generation, to drop even this thin disguise,
and fit themselves for poetic usage, not by taking the name of a
pagan deity, but by a simple typographical device.

What would Gray have done under more congenial circumstances if he
produced such inimitable fragments under such adverse conditions—when
his learning threatened to choke his fire, when his exquisite taste
was pampered with excessive fastidiousness, and his temper and
position alienated him from the most vigorous intellectual movement of
the day? Perhaps—for the region of the might-have-been is boundless—he
would have produced a masterpiece of the 'grand style,' worthy of a
place by Milton's finest work; or, as possibly, he would have done
nothing. It is an amusing exercise of the imagination to place our
favourite authors in different countries and centuries, and to trace
their hypothetical development a century earlier. I fancy that Gray
would have buried himself still more profoundly from the political
convulsions which attracted Milton's sterner and more active spirit;
he would have studied Plotinus and Maimonides, and found sympathetic
companionship amongst the Cambridge Platonists; he would have written
some fragment of semi-mystical reverie, showing stupendous learning
and philosophic breadth of thought, and possibly have composed some
divine poems for the admiration of Henry More or John Norris. Warton,
doubtless, would at any period have enjoyed Oxford ale, and joined
in the jolly song, 'Back and side go bare, go bare;' he would have
sometimes accompanied Burton on the rambles where he was thrown into
fits of laughter by listening to the ribaldry of the bargees at the
bridge end; he would still have been an antiquarian, and his note-book
might have contributed quaint scraps of learning to the 'Anatomy of
Melancholy.' Mason, anxious not to sink the man of the world in the
country parson, would have racked his unfortunate brains for conceits
worthy to be placed beside the most fashionable compositions of
Donne or Cowley. Horace Walpole would, of course, have been at any
time the prince of gossips; he would have kept most judiciously on
the safe side in the most dangerous revolutions, and have come just
near enough to collect the most interesting scandals in the courts
of the Stuarts; but probably his lively intellect would have led him
to drop in occasionally at the meetings of the infant Royal Society,
and to have been one of the early cultivators of a taste for ancient
marbles or a judicious patron of Vandyke. It is, perhaps, harder to
assign the precise place in our own days, when the separate niches
are not so distinctly marked off, and even the Universities scarcely
afford a satisfactory refuge for the would-be recluse; but at least
one may assume that each of them would have been æsthetic to his
finger's ends, and have been thoroughly on a level with the last new
developments of taste, whether for mediæval architecture or the art
of the Renaissance, or that style which is called after Queen Anne.
The snapdragon which Cardinal Newman saw from his windows of Trinity,
and took for the emblem of his perpetual residence in the University,
was probably flourishing when Warton's residence in the same college
ceased; and Warton, in spite of that love of ale which is perhaps
more prominent than it should be in our impressions of his character,
would beyond all doubt have been a member of that school of which his
successor was the greatest ornament, and which has given a new meaning
to the old phrase High Church. It was amongst the Wartons and their
friends that the word 'Gothic,' used by earlier writers as a simple
term of abuse, came to have a more appreciative meaning; they were
the originators of the so-called romanticism made popular by Scott,
and which counts for so much in the Anglo-Catholic development.

The paradox, in short, with which I started comes simply to this: that
Gray and his friends were eclectics. This taste for the 'Gothic' was
a kind of happy thought, a lucky discovery made by men feeling round
rather vaguely for a new mode of literary and artistic enjoyment—not
quite content with the exceedingly comfortable and respectable century
in which they lived, and yet not clearly seeing how to improve upon
it. Horace Walpole, the shrewdest of all and the least of a recluse,
was, on one side, a thorough man of his time; he was a freethinker
of the Voltaire type; believed—so far as he believed in anything—in
Pope's poetry and Locke's philosophy; he sneered at enthusiasm and
sentimentalism, and at any revolutionary movement calculated directly
or indirectly to deprive Horace Walpoles of comfortable sinecures. But
he had a taste, and money to spend upon it; so he made Gothic chapels
and halls of lath and plaster, played with antiquarian researches, and
wrote a romance which was made of literary lath and plaster to match
the materials of Strawberry Hill. Gray's dilettanteism was far more
serious and systematic, but it necessarily took the same direction.
He did more than dabble in antiquarianism: he read with insatiable
appetite; he became, I suppose, profound in Gothic architecture, so
far as isolated efforts could make a man profound. But his attempts
at putting his theory in practice were clearly of the Strawberry Hill
kind. He instructs his friend to buy bits of plain coloured glass, and
arrange the tops of his windows in a 'mosaic of his own fancy,' only
observing that, to give them a 'Gothic aspect,' it will be enough
to turn the fragments 'corner-ways.' Then he manages to procure
'stucco paper' at threepence a yard, which is 'rather pretty and
nearly Gothic,' and apparently represents Gothic arches and niches. It
will produce an awkward effect, as he admits, where the pattern has to
be turned the wrong way; and, indeed, he is awake to the inadequacy
of the crude revival. Painters, as he says, make objects which are
more like goose pies than cathedrals. The new toy was still in a very
imperfect and rickety state.

One of the quaintest illustrations of the Gothicism of that time is in
Mason's 'English Garden.' It is a weary bit of didactic poetry, and a
most amiable and lenient critic, Hartley Coleridge, pronounces it to
be the dullest poem which he ever attempted to read. It is hard, says
Coleridge, to suppose it 'wholly destitute of beauties, especially'
(why especially?) 'as it consists of 2,423 lines of blank verse;' but
he does not seem to have discovered any. Had the critic persevered to
the end of the fourth book, he might at least have been rewarded by
a smile at the author. Mason tries to enliven his performance by a
story about a pattern man of taste and virtue, named Alcander, whose
tragical sorrows are soothed by religion and landscape gardening. It
is enough to notice his performances in the last capacity. Alcander,
as his name suggests, is an English country gentleman, possessed of an
ancient mansion,

    Coeval with those rich cathedral fanes
    (Gothic ill-named) whose harmony results
    From disunited parts.

Alcander shows his taste by a restoration in the manner of the time.
Let every structure, he proclaims,

                           needful for a farm
    Arise in castle-semblance; the huge barn
    Shall with a mock portcullis awe the gate
    Where Ceres entering, o'er the flail-proof floor
    In golden triumph rides; some tower rotund
    Shall to the pigeons and their callow young
    Safe roost afford, and every buttress broad
    Whose proud projection seems a mass of stone
    Give space to stall the heifer and the steed.
    So shall each part, though turned to rural use,
    Deceive the eye with those bold feudal farms
    Which fancy loves to gaze on.

He afterwards adopts a similar method

    To hide the structure rude where Winter pounds
    In conic pit his congelations hoar;

concealing his ice-house and dairy behind a modern 'time-struck
abbey.' Alcander thus displays those admirable qualities of head
and heart which enable him to bear with resignation the melancholy
death of a beloved object. He finally consoles himself by placing
her monument in a sham hermitage. The Gothic revival of a century
ago sounds absurd enough to our ears, and it must be confessed that
our foolery is more systematic and scientific, as it is probably
more destructive. Alcander, happily, did not 'restore' his castle,
though he surrounded it with those queer farm buildings and brand-new
ruins. Pope, it seems, had set the fashion of landscape gardening on
the little plot of ground which, as Horace Walpole tells us, he had
'twisted and twirled, and rhymed and harmonised, till it appeared two
or three sweet little lawns, opening and opening beyond one another,
the whole surrounded with thick, impenetrable woods.' Mason, Spence,
Shenstone, and other persons of literary note helped, according to
their opportunities, to promote the revolt against the old-fashioned
style in which, as Mason puts it, Folly combined with Wealth

    To plan that formal, dull, disjointed scene
    Which once was call'd a garden.

He denounces the stiff canals, the clipped yews and holly hedges, and
the geometric patterns of 'tonsile box' with the zeal of a reformer.
The theory seems to be that a garden ought to look as if it were not
a garden. The change of taste, however, was doubtless symptomatic
of the growing 'love of nature,' though I do not presume to discuss
its merits. It was a development parallel to the literary change
implied in the renewed taste for old ballads, for archaic poetry, or
what passed for such under the names of Ossian and Rowley, and for
Elizabethan literature.

Such tastes, however significant of the advent of a literary
revolution, did not imply any revolutionary purpose in their
cultivators. If Gray loved Spenser, he was even more enthusiastic
about Dryden, from whom he professed to have learnt the art of
versification. Cowper tried to supersede Pope's Homer. Gray declared
that nobody would ever translate Homer as well as Pope. Gray was as
orthodox in his literary as in his philosophical profession of faith;
and his most avowed disciple Mason was, on the whole, of the same
persuasion. In Warton and Beattie there is clearly some anticipation
of Scott's romanticism, but Mason's experiments were rather in the
classical direction. His 'English Garden' was his most ponderous and
unsuccessful performance. In some other efforts he showed a keenness
of style, a causticity of satire, which induced the late Mr. Dilke to
suggest him (not quite seriously, I fancy) as a possible candidate
for the questionable honour of being the real Junius. It would be
difficult indeed to imagine that Junius could by any possibility have
been a country clergyman, living for the greatest part of the year
at a distance from the political gossip of the day, however much
interested in the spread of sound Whig principles. It is amusing to
read the correspondence between Mason and his two friends Gray and
Walpole, and to note how the respectful disciple, reverently receiving
from his teachers little hints of criticism—laudatory, it is true, for
the most part, but also dashed with tolerably sharp sarcasm—gradually
develops into the rather dandified clergyman, anxious to show that
the man of the world is not altogether sunk in the rustic parson;
that he is no pedant, but a man of taste, and capable of tagging his
remarks with bits of fashionable French, and even of occasionally
repaying in kind his correspondent's affluence of the latest scandals.
Mason's clerical gown did not sit very well upon him, though he seems
to have been conscientious and independent and not without some
genuine kindliness of nature. But he always gives one the impression
of being out of place in his cassock. It would not be easy to find
a more quaint expression of the unprofessional turn of mind in a
clergyman than a defence of Christianity in one of his sermons. 'If,'
he says, 'the British Constitution will not enable a man to dispense
with religion, we must admit that nothing can;' and he proceeds to
establish a proposition which certainly would not be considered as
requiring defence in a modern pulpit—that even the Magna Charta and
the Bill of Rights did not supersede the Gospels. His claims to be a
conceivable Junius seem to depend chiefly upon the clever squib called
'Heroic Epistle' which is an amusing burlesque of the architectural
crotchets of Sir W. Chambers, and implies a want of reverence for
George III. Mason took immense pains to conceal the authorship of
this and some less successful sequels, and so far followed the steps
of Junius; but it is impossible to fancy that the great pamphleteer
would have made such a cackling over such a trifle, or have been so
sensitive to the praises of his confidant Walpole.

Gray speaks of Mason's 'insatiable reforming mouth,' and remarks
that he has no passions 'except a little malice and revenge.' There
was a good deal of acidity in his nature, developed, perhaps, by
his uncongenial position and by domestic trouble, if he had not the
rancour and force which make a great satirist; but in earlier days
Gray found in him a simple-minded and enthusiastic disciple, who read
little or nothing, but wrote abundance, 'and that with a design to
make a fortune by it.' His two poems 'Elfrida' and 'Caractacus' were
fruits of this early fluency. They have been criticised elaborately
by Hartley Coleridge, but belong, I think, to that kind and class of
literature upon which serious criticism would be rather wasted. It is
not that they are bad; rather they suggest an uncomfortable reflection
upon the quantity of real talent, as well as conscientious effort,
which may be thrown away in producing work unmistakably second-rate
and void of genuine vitality. We can better estimate the extreme
rarity and value of genius by measuring it against the achievements of
remarkable cleverness. Hastily read, or read whilst still possessing
the gloss of novelty, Mason's work might look like Gray's. Here, for
example, is the first stanza of a chorus from 'Caractacus,' which Gray
not only praised to Mason, but cites in one of his notes as a proof
that sublime odes could still be written in English:—

    Hark! heard ye not yon footstep dread,
    That shook the earth with thund'ring tread?
      'Twas Death. In haste
      The warrior past;
    High towered his helmed head:
    I mark'd his mail; I mark'd his shield;
    I 'spyed the sparkling of his spear;
    I saw his giant arm the falchion wield;
    Wide wav'd the lickering blade, and fir'd the angry air.[7]

Longer quotation might be tiresome; but Mason continues to the end
with all the manner of a genuine poet, and doubtless cheated himself
as well as Gray into the impression that he had the real stuff in him.
The effect is respectable at a little distance, though the work will
not bear a moment's inspection.

The general design of the plays, however, is more to my purpose
than the merits of their execution. At that time the worship of
Shakespeare, though sometimes extravagant, had not become a mere
slavish idolatry. It was still permitted to see spots in the sun, and
not yet fashionable for poets to try to revive the Elizabethan style,
though Mason made one feeble attempt at a play 'on the English model.'
Gray, with his catholic taste, admired Racine, and began a play in
imitation of 'Britannicus;' and the faithful Mason decided that a
'medium between the French and English taste would be preferable
to either.' He had also a fancy that the ancient chorus might be
restored, so as at once to give greater opportunities for poetical
descriptions and the graceful introduction of 'moral reflections.'
Though Gray ridiculed his arguments pretty sharply, he stuck to his
plan as obstinately as Sam Weller when insisting, in defiance of
paternal remonstrances, upon a poetical conclusion to his love-letter.
Accordingly, in 'Elfrida' and 'Caractacus,' certain bands of British
virgins and druids talk the twaddle and burst into the lyrical
irrelevance which are the functions of a chorus. Mason had abundant
self-complacency; and though his plays had only a moderate success,
owing to the bad taste of the public, he felt that his ingenious
eclecticisms combined the various merits of Sophocles, Racine, and
Shakespeare. Unsuccessful authors may well invoke blessings on the man
who invented conceit. But Mason, after all, writes like a cultivated
scholar, with sensibility to poetic excellence, though without real
poetic power; and if we laugh at his taste, our grandchildren will
probably laugh with equal self-satisfaction at ours.

In truth, this fashion of writing plays not intended, or scarcely
intended, for the stage, of which Mason was one of the first
originators, is characteristic of the whole school. I will not argue
a large question here, or deny that something may be said for the
practice; and yet it seems as though a play which is not to be acted
has a more than superficial resemblance to the feudal castles which
were not meant for defence, and the abbeys in which there were to
be no monks. The form is dictated by conditions which are no longer
present to the writer's mind, and are therefore apt to be a mere
encumbrance. If you build a portcullis to let in cows, not to exclude
marauders, it is apt to become rather ludicrously unreal. If you know
that your play is to be read and not to be seen, the whole dramatic
arrangement is on the way to become a mere sham. It does not grow out
of the poetical conception, but is fitted on to it in compliance with
a fashion. Why bother yourself to make the actors tell a story, when
it is simpler and easier to tell it yourself?

In this sense literature grows more 'artificial' as it is encumbered
with more dead forms having no significance except as remnants of
extinct conditions. There was a time, we are told, when art was
perfectly spontaneous, and the critic was happily not existent. People
sang or recited by instinct, without asking how or why. That golden
age—if it ever existed since men were monkeys—had long passed away
even in the beginning of modern literature. Spenser and Shakespeare,
for example, probably thought about the principles of their art
almost as much as their modern critics, and were very consciously
trying experiments and devising new forms of expression. But as the
noxious animal called a critic becomes rampant, we have a different
phase, which seems to be illustrated by the case of Gray and his
fellows. The distinction seems to be that the critic, as he grows
more conceited, not only lays down rules for the guidance of the
imaginative impulse, but begins to think himself capable of producing
any given effect at pleasure. He has got to the bottom of the whole
affair, and can tell you what is the chemical composition of a
'Hamlet,' or an 'Agamemnon,' or an 'Iliad,' and can therefore teach
you what materials to select and how to combine them. He can give you
a recipe for an epic poem, or for communicating the proper mediæval
or classical flavour to your performance. If he is as clever a man
as Mason, he will perhaps go a little further, and show not only how
to extract the peculiar essence of a Racine or a Shakespeare, but
how to mix the result so as to produce something better than either.
In one respect he has clearly made an advance. He is beginning to
appreciate the necessity of an historical study of different literary
forms. In such quaint, old-fashioned criticism as Addison applied to
Milton, where Longinus, and Aristotle, and the learned M. Bossu are
invoked as final authorities about the 'fable' and the 'machinery'
and the character of the hero, we perceive that the critic is still
persuaded that there is one absolutely correct and infallible code
of art, applicable in all times and places. Milton and Homer are
regarded as belonging to the same class, and are to be judged by the
same laws. The later critic, taking a wider survey and rummaging
amongst the antiquarian stores to discover any pearls hidden under
Dryasdust's accumulations, began to see that there were many different
types of art, each of which possessed its own charm and characteristic
excellence. He scarcely saw at first that each form was also the
outgrowth of a particular set of conditions, and could not be produced
independently of them. It seemed easy to restore anything that struck
him as picturesque or graceful. He could give the old ballad air by an
arbitrary combination of bad spelling, or make his ruined abbey out of
a scene-painter's materials.

This early race of critics had no direct hostility to their own
century or to its early classicalism. They were not iconoclasts, but
only adding some new idols to the old pantheon. They aimed at being
men of finer and more catholic taste than their neighbours, but wished
to extend the borders of orthodoxy, to repeal the anathema which
had been pronounced upon the 'Gothicism' and barbarism of our old
authors, not to anathematise the existing order in revenge. They were
quiet, orthodox, and substantially conservative, even if nominally
Whiggish, and feared or detested revolutionary impulses of any kind
from the bottom of their hearts. Such men as Mason or the Wartons
tried literary experiments which are now of no great value, because
they represent at best the attempts of a superficial connoisseur of
talent. They did something by attracting interest to researches which
produced greater results when carried on by more thorough workers in
the same mine. But it is also true that they were amongst the first
to fall into the blunders, since repeated on a more gigantic scale by
successors, who have tried more systematically to galvanise extinct
forms into a semblance of vitality.

Gray, the man of real poetic genius, was also, if his friends judged
rightly, the most profound antiquarian and the most deeply read of
the whole school. Many of his critics have lamented the time which he
spent in making elaborate tables of chronology, in studying genealogy,
and annotating Dugdale's 'Monasticon,' or Grosier's 'History of the
Chinese Dynasties,' or the 'Botany' of Linnæus, when he might have
been writing more elegies. There is so much to regret in the world
that one would not waste much lamentation upon might-have-beens. It
is a thousand pities that Burns took to drink, that Byron quarrelled
with his wife, that Shelley was drowned in a squall, and that Gray
wasted intellect upon labours which were absolutely fruitless, but
we cannot afford to sit down and cry over it all. We must take what
we can get, and be thankful. But neither can one quite accept the
optimist theory that Gray really did all that he could have done under
different circumstances. The fire was all but choked by the fuel, and
the cloisters of Pembroke acted as a tolerably effective extinguisher
upon what was left. The peculiar merit of Gray is that he had force
enough, though only at the cost of slow and laborious travail, to find
an utterance for genuine emotion, which was enriched instead of being
made unnatural by his varied culture. The critic in him never injured
the quality, but only reduced the quantity, of his work. What little
he left is so perfect in its kind, so far above any contemporary
performances, because he never forgot, like some learned people, that
the ultimate aim of the poet should be to touch our hearts by showing
his own, and not to exhibit his learning, or his fine taste, or his
skill in mimicking the notes of his predecessors. He could rarely
cast aside his reserve, or forget his academical dignity enough to
speak at all; but when he does speak he always shows that the genuine
depth of feeling underlies the crust of propriety. He cannot drop, nor
does he desire to drop, the conventionality of style, but he makes
us feel that he is a human being before he is a critic or a don. He
wears stately robes because it is an ingrained habit, but he does
not suppose that the tailor can make the man. In his letters this is
as clear as in his poetry. His habitual reserve restrains him from
sentimentalising, and he generally relieves himself by a pleasant vein
of sub-acid humour. But now and then he speaks, as it were, shyly or
half afraid to unbosom himself, and yet with a pathetic tenderness
which conquers our sympathy. Such is the beautiful little letter to
Mason on the death of his wife, or still more the letter in which he
confides to his friend Nichols how he had 'discovered a thing very
little known, which is that in one's whole life one can never have
more than a single mother.' Sterne might have written a chapter of
exquisite sentimentalising without approaching the pathetic charm of
that single touch of the reserved and outwardly pedantic don. His
utterance is wrung from him in spite of himself, and still half veiled
by the quaintness of the phrase.

Gray's love of nature shows itself in the same way. He does not
make poetical capital out of it, and indeed has an impression that
it would be scarcely becoming. He would agree with Pope's contempt
for 'pure description.' Fields and hills should only be admitted in
the background of his dignified poetry, and just so far as they are
obviously appropriate to the sentiment to be expressed. But when he
does speak it is always with the most genuine feeling in every word.
There is a charming little description of the Southampton Water and
of a sunrise—he can 'hardly believe' that anybody ever saw a sunrise
before—which are as perfect vignettes as can be put upon paper within
equal limits, worth acres of more pretentious word-painting. He rather
despised Mason's gardening tastes, it seems, on the ground that his
sham wildernesses and waterfalls could never come up to Skiddaw and
Lodore. To spend a week at Keswick is for him to be 'in Elysium.' He
kept notes, too, about natural history, which seem to show as keen
an interest in the behaviour of birds or insects as that of White of
Selborne himself. And yet his sensibility to such impressions has
scarcely left a trace in his poetry, except in the moping owl and the
droning flight of the beetle in the 'Elegy.' The Spring has to appear
in company with the 'rosy-bosom'd hours,' and the Muse and the insects
have to preach a pathetic little sermon to justify the notice which
is taken of them. Obviously this is not the kind of mountain worship
which would satisfy Scott or Wordsworth. Gray was, perhaps, capable
of feeling 'the impulse from the vernal wood' as truly as Wordsworth,
but he would have altogether rejected the doctrine that it could teach
him more than all 'the sages,' and resisted the temptation to throw
his books aside except for a brief constitutional. A turn in the backs
of the colleges was enough for him, as a rule, and sometimes he may
thoroughly enjoy a brief holiday by the side of Derwentwater as a
delightful relief after the muddy oozings of the Cam. Nobody could,
in this sense, love nature with a more sincere and vivid affection;
but such a love of nature is not symptomatic, as with Wordsworth,
or Cowper, or Rousseau, of any preference of savage, or rustic, or
simple life to the existing order of civilised society. It implied
at most the development of a new taste, inadequately appreciated by
the cockney men of letters of his own or the preceding generation,
but not that passionate longing for relief from an effete set of
conventions, poetical, political, and social, characteristic of the
rising school. His head, when he travels, is evidently as full of
Dugdale's 'Monasticon' as of Ossian, and he reconstructs and repeoples
Netley Abbey in fancy to give a charm to the Solent. He places in it a
monk, who glances at the white sail that shoots by over a stretch of
blue glittering sea visible between the oak groves, and then enters
and crosses himself to drive away the tempter who has thrown that
distraction in his way. Gray himself pretty much shared the sentiments
of his imagined monk, and only catches occasional glimpses of natural
scenery from the loopholes of his retreat in an eighteenth-century


[7] The last line is an emendation for 'Courage was in his van and
Conquest in his rear,' a line still more _à la Gray_, but removed in
compliance with a criticism of Gray's.


'Love me, love my book' is a version of a familiar proverb which one
might be slow to accept. There are, as one need hardly say, many
admirable persons for whose sake one would gladly make any sacrifice
of personal comfort short of that implied in a study of their works.
But the converse of the statement is more nearly true. I confess that
I at any rate love a book pretty much in proportion as it makes me
love the author. I do not of course speak of histories or metaphysical
treatises which one reads for the sake of the information or of the
logical teaching; but of the imaginative books which appeal in the
last resort to the sympathy between the writer and the reader. It
matters not whether you are brought into contact with a man by seeing
or hearing, by the printed or spoken word—the ultimate source of
pleasure is the personal affinity. To read a book in the true sense—to
read it, that is, not as the critic but in the spirit of enjoyment—is
to lay aside for the moment one's own personality, and to become a
part of the author. It is to enter the world in which he habitually
lives—for each of us lives in a separate world of his own—to breathe
his air, and therefore to receive pleasure and pain according as the
atmosphere is or is not congenial. I may by an intellectual effort
perceive the greatness of a writer whose character is essentially
antagonistic to my own; but I cannot feel it as it must be felt for
genuine enjoyment. The qualification must, of course, be understood
that a great book really expresses the most refined essence of the
writer's character. It gives the author transfigured, and does not
represent all the stains and distortions which he may have received
in his progress through the world. In real life we might have been
repelled by Milton's stern Puritanism, or by some outbreak of rather
testy self-assertion. In reading 'Paradise Lost,' we feel only
the loftiness of character, and are raised and inspirited by the
sentiments, without pausing to consider the particular application.

If this be true in some degree of all imaginative writers, it
is especially true of humourists. For humour is essentially the
expression of a personal idiosyncrasy, and a man is a humourist just
because the tragic and the comic elements of life present themselves
to his mind in new and unexpected combinations. The objects of other
men's reverence strike him from the ludicrous point of view, and he
sees something attractive in the things which they affect to despise.
It is his function to strip off the commonplaces by which we have
tacitly agreed to cover over our doubts and misgivings, and to explode
empty pretences by the touch of a vigorous originality; and therefore
it is that the great mass of mankind are apt to look upon humour of
the stronger flavour with suspicion. They suspect the humourist—not
without reason—of laughing at their beards. There is no saying where
he may not explode next. They can enjoy the mere buffoonery which
comes from high spirits combined with thoughtlessness. And they can
fairly appreciate the gentle humour of Addison, or Goldsmith, or
Charles Lamb, where the kindliness of the intention is so obvious
that the irony is felt to be harmless. It represents only the tinge
of melancholy which every good man must feel at the sight of human
folly, and is used rather to light up by its gentle irradiation the
amiable aspects of weakness than to unmask solemn affectation and
successful hypocrisy. As soon as the humourist begins to be more
pungent, and the laughter to be edged with scorn and indignation,
good quiet people who do not like to be shocked begin to draw back.
They are half ashamed when a Cervantes or a Montaigne, a Rabelais
or a Swift, takes them into his confidence and proposes in the true
humourist's spirit to but show them the ugly realities of the world
or of his own mind. They shrink from the exposure which follows of
the absurdity of heroes, the follies of the wise, the cruelty and
injustice of the virtuous. In their hearts they take this daring
frankness for sheer cynicism, and reject his proffered intimacy. They
would rather overlook the hollowness of established conventions than
have them ruthlessly exposed by the sudden audacity of these daring
rebels. To the man, on the contrary, who is predisposed to sympathy
by some affinity of character, the sudden flash of genuine feeling is
infinitely refreshing. He rejoices to see theories confronted with
facts, solemn conventions turned inside out, and to have the air
cleared by a sudden burst of laughter, though it may occasionally have
something rather savage in it. He welcomes the discovery that another
man has dared to laugh at the idols before which we are all supposed
to bow in solemn reverence. We love the humour in short so far as we
love the character from which it flows. Everybody can love the spirit
which shows itself in the 'Essays on Elia;' but you can hardly love
the 'Tale of a Tub' or 'Gulliver' unless you have a sympathy with
the genuine Swift which overpowers your occasional disgust at his
misanthropy. But to this general rule there is one marked exception in
our literature. It is impossible for any one with the remotest taste
for literary excellence to read 'Tristram Shandy' or the 'Sentimental
Journey' without a sense of wondering admiration. One can hardly read
the familiar passages without admitting that Sterne was perhaps the
greatest artist in the language. No one at least shows more inimitable
felicity in producing a pungent effect by a few touches of exquisite
precision. He gives the impression that the thing has been done once
for all; he has hit the bull's eye round which inspiring marksmen go
on blundering indefinitely without any satisfying success. Two or
three of the scenes in which Uncle Toby expresses his sentiments are
as perfect in their way as the half-dozen lines in which Mrs. Quickly
describes the end of Falstaff, and convince us that three strokes
from a man of genius may be worth more than the life's labour of the
cleverest of skilled literary workmen. And it may further be said that
Uncle Toby, like his kinsmen in the world of humour, is an incarnation
of most lovable qualities. In going over the list—a short list in any
case—of the immortal characters in fiction, there is hardly any one
in our literature who would be entitled to take precedence of him. To
find a distinctly superior type, we must go back to Cervantes, whom
Sterne idolised and professed to take for his model. But to speak of
a character as in some sort comparable to Don Quixote, though without
any thought of placing him on the same level, is to admit that he is a
triumph of art. Indeed, if we take the other creator of types, of whom
it is only permitted to speak with bated breath, we must agree that it
would be difficult to find a figure even in the Shakespearean gallery
more admirable in its way. Of course, the creation of a Hamlet, an
Iago, or a Falstaff implies an intellectual intensity and reach of
imaginative sympathy altogether different from anything which his
warmest admirers would attribute to Sterne. I only say that there is
no single character in Shakespeare whom we see more vividly and love
more heartily than Mr. Shandy's uncle.

It should follow, according to the doctrine just set forth, that
we ought to love Uncle Toby's creator. But here I fancy that
everybody will be sensible of a considerable difficulty. The judgment
pronounced upon Sterne by Thackeray seems to me to be substantially
unimpeachable. The more I know of the man, for my part, the less I
like him. It is impossible to write his biography (from the admiring
point of view) without making it a continuous apology. His faults may
be extenuated by the customary devices; but there is a terrible lack
of any positive merits to set against them. He seems to have been fond
of his daughter and tolerant of his wife. The nearest approach to a
good action recorded of him is that when they preferred remaining in
France to following him to England, he took care that they should have
the income which he had promised. The liberality was nothing very
wonderful. He knew that his wife was severely economical, as she had
good reason to be; inasmuch as his own health was most precarious,
and he was spending his income with a generous freedom which left
her in destitution at his death. Still we are glad to give him all
credit for not being a grudging paymaster. Some better men have been
less good-natured. The rest of his panegyric consists of excuses for
his shortcomings. We know the regular formulæ. He had bad companions,
it is said, in his youth. Men who show a want of principle in later
life have a knack of picking up bad companions at their outset. We
are reminded as usual that the morals of the time were corrupt. It
is a very difficult question how far this is true. We can only make
a rough guess as to the morals of our own time; some people can see
steady improvement, where others see nothing but signs of growing
corruption; but when we come to speak of the morals of an age more or
less removed, there are so many causes of illusion that our estimates
have very small title to respect. It is no doubt true that the clergy
of the Church of England in Sterne's day took a less exalted view
than they now do of their own position and duties; that they were
frequently pluralists and absentees; that patrons had small sense of
responsibility; and that, as a general rule, the spiritual teachers of
the country took life easily, and left an ample field for the activity
of Wesley and his followers. But, making every allowance for this,
it would be grossly unfair to deny, what is plainly visible in all
the memoirs of the time, that there were plenty of honest squires and
persons in every part of the country leading wholesome domestic lives.

But, in any case, such apologies rather explain how a man came to be
bad, than prove that he was not bad. They would show at most that we
were making an erroneous inference if we inferred badness of heart
from conduct which was not condemned by the standard of his own day.
This argument, however, is really inapplicable. Sterne's faults were
of a kind for which if anything there was less excuse then than now.
The faults of his best known contemporaries, of men like Fielding,
Smollett, or Churchill, were the faults of robust temperament with
an excess of animal passions. Their coarseness has left a stain upon
their pages as it injured their lives. But, however much we may
lament or condemn, we do not feel that such men were corrupt at heart.
And that, unfortunately, is just what we are tempted to feel about
Sterne. When the huge, brawny parson, Churchill, felt his unfitness
for clerical life, he pitched his cassock to the dogs and blossomed
out in purple and gold. He set the respectabilities at defiance,
took up with Wilkes and the reprobates, and roared out full-mouthed
abuse against bishops and ministers. He could still be faithful to
his friends, observe his own code of honour, and do his best to make
some atonement to the victims of his misconduct. Sterne, one feels,
differs from Churchill not really as being more virtuous but in not
having the courage to be so openly vicious. Unlike Churchill, he could
be a consummate sneak. He was quite as ready to flatter Wilkes or to
be on intimate terms with atheists and libertines, with Holbach and
Crébillon, when his bishop and his parishioners could not see him.
His most intimate friend from early days was John Hall Stevenson—the
country squire whose pride it was to ape in the provinces the orgies
of the monks of Medmenham Abbey, and once notorious as the author of
a grossly indecent book. The dog-Latin letter in which Sterne informs
this chosen companion that he is weary of his life contains other
remarks sufficiently significant of the nature of their intimacy.
The age was not very nice; but it was quite acute enough to see
the objections to a close alliance between a married ecclesiastic
of forty-five[8] and the rustic Don Juan of the district. But his
cynicism becomes doubly disgusting when we remember that Sterne
was all the time as eager as any patronage hunter to ingratiate
himself into the good graces of bishops. Churchill, we remember,
lampooned Warburton with savage ferocity. Sterne tried his best to
conciliate the most conspicuous prelate of the day. He never put
together a more elaborately skilful bit of writing than the letter
which he wrote to Garrick, with the obvious intention that it should
be shown to Warburton. He humbly says that he has no claim to an
introduction, except 'what arises from the honour and respect which,
in the progress of my work, will be shown the world I owe so great a
man.' The statement was probably meant to encounter a suspicion which
Warburton entertained that he was to be introduced in a ridiculous
character in 'Tristram Shandy.' The bishop was sufficiently soothed to
administer not only good advice but a certain purse of gold, which had
an unpleasant resemblance to hush-money. It became evident, however,
that the author of 'Tristram Shandy' was not a possible object of
episcopal patronage; and, indeed, he was presently described by the
bishop as an 'irrevocable scoundrel.' Sterne's 'honour and respect'
never found expression in his writings; but he ingeniously managed to
couple the 'Divine Legation'—the work which had justified Warburton's
elevation to the bench—with the 'Tale of a Tub,' the audacious satire
upon orthodox opinions which had been an insuperable bar to Swift's
preferment. The insinuation had its sting, for there were plenty of
critics in those days who maintained that Warburton's apology was
really more damaging to the cause of orthodoxy than Swift's burlesque.
We cannot resist the conviction that if Warburton had been more
judicious in his distribution of patronage, he would have received a
very different notice in return. The blow from Churchill's bludgeon
was, on any right, given by an open enemy. This little stab came from
one who had been a servile flatterer.

No doubt Sterne is to be pitied for his uncongenial position. The
relations who kindly took him off the hands of his impecunious father
could provide for him most easily in the Church; and he is not the
only man who has been injured by being forced by such considerations
into a career for which he was unfitted. In the same way we may pity
him for having become tired of his wife whom he seems to have married
under a generous impulse—she was no doubt a very tiresome woman—and
try to forgive him for some of his flirtations. But it is not so
easy to forgive the spirit in which he conducted them. One story,
as related by an admiring biographer, will be an amply sufficient
specimen. He fell in love with a Miss Fourmantelle, who was living
at York when he was finishing the first volumes of 'Tristram Shandy'
at the ripe age of forty-six. He introduced her into that work as
'dear, dear Jenny.' He writes to her in his usual style of lovemaking.
He swears that he loves her 'to distraction,' and will love her 'to
eternity.' He declares that there is 'only one obstacle to their
happiness'—obviously Mrs. Sterne—and solemnly prays to God that
she may so live and love him as one day to share in his great good
fortune. Precisely similar aspirations, we note in passing, were to
be soon afterwards addressed to Mrs. Draper, on the hypothesis that
two obstacles to their happiness might be removed, namely, Mr. Draper
and Mrs. Sterne. Few readers are likely to be edified by the sacred
language used by a clergyman on such an occasion; though biographical
zeal has been equal even to this emergency. But the sequel to the
Fourmantelle story is the really significant part. Mr. Sterne goes
to London to reap the social fruits of his amazing success with
'Tristram Shandy.' The whole London world falls at his feet; he is
overwhelmed with invitations, and deafened with flattery; and poor
literary drudges like Goldsmith are scandalised by so overpowering a
triumph. Nobody had thought it worth while to make a fuss about the
author of the 'Vicar of Wakefield.' Sterne writes the accounts of
his unprecedented success to Miss Fourmantelle: he snatches moments
in the midst of his crowded levees to tell her that he is hers for
ever and ever, that he would 'give a guinea for a squeeze of her
hand;' and promises to use his influence in some affair in which she
is interested. Hereupon Miss Fourmantelle follows him to London. She
finds him so deeply engaged that he cannot see her from Sunday till
Friday; though he is still good enough to say that he would wish
to be with her always, were it not for 'fate.' And, hereupon, Miss
Fourmantelle vanishes out of history, and Mr. Sterne ceases to trouble
his head about her. It needs only to be added that this is but one
episode in Sterne's career out of several of which the records have
been accidentally preserved. Mrs. Draper seems to have been the most
famous case; but, according to his own statement, he had regularly on
hand some affair of the sort, and is proud of the sensibility which
they indicate.

Upon such an occurrence only one comment is possible from the
moralist's point of view, namely, that a brother of Miss Fourmantelle,
had she possessed a brother, would have been justified in
administering a horse-whipping. I do not, however, wish to preach a
sermon upon Sterne's iniquities, or to draw any edifying conclusions
upon the present occasion. We have only to deal with the failings of
the man so far as they are reflected in the author. Time enables us
to abstract and distinguish. A man's hateful qualities may not be of
the essence of his character, or they may be only hateful in certain
specific relations which do not now affect us. Moreover, there is
some kind of immorality—spite and uncharitableness, for example—which
is not without its charm. Pope was in many ways a far worse man than
Sterne; he was an incomparably more elaborate liar, and the amount
of gall with which his constitution was saturated would have been
enough to furnish a whole generation of Sternes. But we can admire the
brilliance of Pope's epigrams without bothering ourselves with the
reflection that he told a whole series of falsehoods as to the date of
their composition. We can enjoy the pungency of his indignant satire
without asking whether it was directed against deserving objects.
Atticus was perhaps a very cruel caricature of Addison; but the lines
upon Atticus remain as an incomparably keen dissection of a type which
need not have been embodied in this particular representative. Some
people, indeed, may be too virtuous or tender-hearted to enjoy any
exposure of human weakness. I make no pretensions to such amiability,
and I can admire the keenness of the wasp's sting when it is no longer
capable of touching me and my friends. Indeed, almost any genuine
ebullition of human passion is interesting in its way, and it would be
pedantic to be scandalised whenever it is rather more vehement than a
moralist would approve, or happens to break out on the wrong occasion.
The reader can apply the correction for himself; he can read satire
in his moments of virtuous indignation, and twist it in his own mind
against some of those people—they are generally to be found—who really
deserve it. But the case is different when the sentiment itself is
offensive, and offensive by reason of insincerity. When the very thing
by which we are supposed to be attracted is the goodness of a man's
heart, a suspicion that he was a mere Tartufe cannot enter our minds
without injuring our enjoyment. We may continue to admire the writer's
technical skill, but he cannot fascinate us unless he persuades us of
his sincerity. One might, to take a parallel case, admire Reynolds for
his skill of hand, and fine perception of form and colour, if he had
used them only to represent objects as repulsive as the most hideous
scenes in Hogarth. One loves him, because of the exquisite tenderness
of nature implied in the representations of infantile beauty. And
if it were possible to feel that this tenderness was a mere sham,
that his work was that of a dexterous artist skilfully flattering
the fondness of parents, the charm would vanish. The children would
breathe affectation instead of simplicity, and provoke only the
sardonic sneer which is suggested by most of the infantile portraits
collected in modern exhibitions.

It is with something of this feeling that we read Sterne. Of the
literary skill there cannot be a moment's question; but if we for a
moment yield to the enchantment, we feel ashamed, at the next moment,
of our weakness. We have been moved on false pretences; and we seem to
see the sham Yorick with that unpleasant leer upon his too expressive
face, chuckling quietly at his successful imposition. It is no wonder
if many of his readers have revolted, and even been provoked to an
excessive reaction of feeling. The criticism was too obvious to be
missed. Horace Walpole indulged in a characteristic sneer at the
genius who neglected a mother and snivelled over a dead donkey. (The
neglect of a mother, we may note in passing, is certainly not proven.)
Walpole was too much of a cynic, it may be said, to distinguish
between sentimentalism and genuine sentiment, or rather so much of
a cynic that one is surprised at his not liking the sentimentalism
more. But Goldsmith at least was a man of real feeling, and as an
artist in some respects superior even to Sterne. He was moved to his
bitterest outburst of satire by 'Tristram Shandy.' He despised the
charlatan who eked out his defects of humour by the paltry mechanical
devices of blank pages, disordered chapters, and a profuse indulgence
in dashes. He pointed out with undeniable truth the many grievous
stains by which Sterne's pages are defaced. He spoke with disgust of
the ladies who worshipped the author of a book which they should have
been ashamed to read, and found the whole secret of Sterne's success
in his pertness and indecency. Goldsmith may have been yielding
unconsciously to a not unnatural jealousy, and his criticism certainly
omits to take into account Sterne's legitimate claims to admiration.
It is happily needless to insist at the present day upon the palpable
errors by which the delicate and pure-minded Goldsmith was offended.
It is enough to indulge in a passing word of regret that a man of
Sterne's genius should have descended so often to mere buffoonery or
to the most degrading methods of meeting his reader's interest. 'The
Sentimental Journey' is a book of simply marvellous cleverness, to
which one can find no nearer parallel than Heine's 'Reisebilder.'
But one often closes it with a mixture of disgust and regret. The
disgust needs no explanation; the regret is caused by our feeling that
something has been missed which ought to have been in the writer's
power. He has so keen an eye for picturesque effects; he is so
sensitive to a thousand little incidents which your ordinary traveller
passes with eyes riveted to his guide-book, or which 'Smelfungus'
Smollett disregarded in his surly British pomposity; he is so quick at
appreciating some delicate courtesy in humble life or some pathetic
touch of commonplace suffering, that one grows angry when he spoils a
graceful scene by some prurient double meaning and wastes whole pages
in telling a story fit only for John Hall Stevenson. One feels that
one has been rambling with a discreditable parson, who is so glad to
be free from the restraints of his parish or of Mrs. Sterne's company
that he is always peeping into forbidden corners, and anxious to
prove to you that he is as knowing in the ways of a wicked world as a
raffish undergraduate enjoying a stolen visit to London. Goldsmith's
idyllic pictures of country life may be a little too rose-coloured,
but at least they are harmonious. Sterne's sudden excursions into the
nauseous are like the brutal practical jokes of a dirty boy who should
put filth into a scent bottle. We feel that if he had entered the
rustic paradise, of which Dr. and Mrs. Primrose were the Adam and Eve,
half his sympathies would have been with the wicked Squire Thornhill;
he would have been quite as able to suit that gentleman's tastes as
to wheedle the excellent Vicar; and his homage to Miss Olivia would
have partaken of the nature of an insult. A man of Sterne's admirable
delicacy of genius, writing always with an eye to the canons of taste
approved in Crazy Castle, must necessarily produce painful discords,
and throw away admirable workmanship upon contemptible ribaldry. But
the very feeling proves that there was really a finer element in
him. Had he been thoroughly steeped in the noxious element, there
would have been no discord. We might simply have set him down as a
very clever reprobate. But, with some exceptions, we can generally
recognise something so amiable and attractive as to excite our regret
for the waste of genius even in his more questionable passages.

Coleridge points out, with his usual critical acuteness, that much of
'Tristram Shandy' would produce simple disgust were it not for the
presence of that wonderful group of characters who are antagonistic
to the spurious wit based upon simple shocks to a sense of decency.
That group redeems the book, and we may say that it is the book. We
must therefore admit that the creator of Uncle Toby and his family
must not be unreservedly condemned. To admit that one thoroughly
dislikes Sterne is not to assert that he was a thorough hypocrite of
the downright Tartufe variety. His good feelings must be something
more than a mere sham or empty formula; they are not a flimsy veil
thrown over degrading selfishness or sensuality. When he is attacked
upon this ground, his apologists may have an easy triumph. The
true statement is rather that Sterne was a man who understood to
perfection the art of enjoying his own good feelings as a luxury
without humbling himself to translate them into practice. This is the
definition of sentimentalism when the word is used in a bad sense.
Many admirable teachers of mankind have held the doctrine that all
artistic indulgence is universally immoral, because it is all more
or less obnoxious to this objection. So far as a man saves up his
good feelings merely to use them as the raw material of poems, he is
wasting a force which ought to be applied to the improvement of the
world. What have we to do with singing and painting when there are
so many of our fellow-creatures whose sufferings might be relieved
and whose characters might be purified if we turned our songs into
sermons, and, instead of staining canvas, tried to purify the
dwellings of the poor? There is a good deal to be said for the thesis
that all fiction is really a kind of lying, and that art in general is
a luxurious indulgence, to which we have no right whilst crime and
disease are rampant in the outer world.

I think, indeed, that I could detect some flaws in the logic by which
this conclusion is supported, but I confess that it often seems to
possess a considerable plausibility. The peculiar sentimentalism
of which Sterne was one of the first mouthpieces would supply many
effective illustrations of the argument; for it is a continuous
manifestation of extraordinary skill in providing 'sweet poison for
the ages' tooth.' He was exactly the man for his time, though, indeed,
so clever a man would probably have been equally able to flatter the
prevailing impulse of any time in which his lot had been cast. M.
Taine has lately described with great skill the sort of fashion of
philanthropy which became popular among the upper classes in France in
the pre-revolutionary generation. The fine ladies and gentlemen who
were so soon to be crushed as tyrannical oppressors of the people had
really a strong impression that benevolence was a branch of social
elegance which ought to be assiduously cultivated by persons of taste
and refinement. A similar tendency, though less strongly marked, is
observable amongst the corresponding class in English society. From
causes which may be analysed by historians, the upper social stratum
was becoming penetrated with a vague discontent with the existing
order and a desire to find new outlets for emotional activity.
Between the reign of comfortable common-sense, represented by Pope
and his school, and the fierce outbreak of passion which accompanied
the crash of the revolution, there was an interregnum marked by a
semi-conscious fore-feeling of some approaching catastrophe; a longing
for fresh excitement, and tentative excursions into various regions
of thought, which have since been explored in a more systematic
fashion. Sentimentalism was the word which represented one phase of
this inarticulate longing, and which expresses pretty accurately
the need of having some keen sensations without very well knowing
in what particular channels they were to be directed. The growth of
the feminine influence in literature had no doubt some share in this
development. Women were no longer content to be simply the pretty
fools of the 'Spectator,' unworthy to learn the Latin grammar or to
be admitted to the circle of wits; though they seldom presumed to be
independent authors, they were of sufficient importance to have a
literature composed for their benefit.

The phrase 'sentimentalism' became common towards the middle of the
century, as I have remarked in speaking of Richardson. Some time
earlier Sterne was writing a love letter to his future wife, lamenting
the 'quiet and sentimental repasts' which they had had together, and
weeping 'like a child' (so he writes) at the sight of his single
knife and fork and plate. We have known the same spirit in many
incarnations in later days. Sterne, who made the word popular in
literature, represents what may be considered as sentimentalism in its
purest form; that which corresponds most closely to its definition as
sentiment running to waste; for in Sterne there is no thought of any
moral, or political, or philosophical application. He is as entirely
free as a man can be from any suspicion of 'purpose.' He tells us as
frankly as possible that he is simply putting on the cap and bells
for our amusement. He must weep and laugh just as the fancy takes
him; his pen, he declares, is the master of him, not he the master
of his pen. This, being interpreted, means, of course, something
rather different from its obvious sense. Nobody, it is abundantly
clear, could be a more careful and deliberate artist, though he
aims at giving a whimsical and arbitrary appearance to his most
skilfully devised effects. The author Sterne has a thorough command
of his pen; he only means that the parson Sterne is not allowed to
interfere in the management. He has no doctrine which he is in the
least ambitious of expounding. He does not even wish to tell us,
like some of his successors, that the world is out of joint; that
happiness is a delusion, and misery the only reality; nor, what often
comes to just the same thing, is he anxious to be optimistic, and to
declare, in the vein of some later humourists, that the world should
be regarded through a rose-coloured mask, and that a little effusion
of benevolence will summarily remove all its rough places. Undoubtedly
it would be easy to argue—were it worth the trouble—that Sterne's
peculiarities of temperament would have rendered certain political
and religious teachings more congenial to him than others. But he did
not live in stirring times, when every man is forced to translate
his temperament by a definite creed. He could be as thoroughgoing
and consistent an Epicurean as he pleased. Nothing matters very much
(that seems to be his main doctrine), so long as you possess a good
temper, a soft heart, and have a flirtation or two with pretty women.
Though both men may be called sentimentalists, Sterne must have
regarded Rousseau's vehement social enthusiasm as so much insanity.
The poor man took life in desperate earnest, and instead of keeping
his sensibility to warm his own hearth, wanted to set the world on
fire. When rambling through France, Sterne had an eye for every pretty
vignette by the roadside, for peasants' dances, for begging monks, or
smart Parisian grisettes; he received and repaid the flattery of the
drawing-rooms, and was, one may suppose, as absolutely indifferent to
omens of coming difficulties as any of the freethinking or free-living
abbés who were his most congenial company. Horace Walpole was no
philosopher, but he shook his head in amazement over the audacious
scepticism of French society. Sterne, so far as one can judge from his
letters, saw and heard nothing in this direction; and one would as
soon expect to find a reflection upon such matters in the 'Sentimental
Journey' as to come upon a serious discussion of theological
controversy in 'Tristram Shandy.' Now and then some such question just
shows itself for an instant in the background. A negro wanted him to
write against slavery; and the letter came just as Trim was telling a
pathetic story to Uncle Toby, and suggesting doubtfully that a black
might have a soul. 'I am not much versed, Corporal,' quoth my Uncle
Toby, 'in things of that kind; but I suppose God would not have made
him without one any more than thee or me.' Sterne was quite ready to
aid the cause of emancipation by adding as many picturesque touches
as he could devise to Uncle Toby, or sentimentalising over jackdaws
and prisoners in the 'Sentimental Journey;' but more direct agitation
would have been as little in his line as travelling through France
in the spirit of Arthur Young to collect statistics about rent and
wages. Sterne's sermons, to which one might possibly turn with a view
to discovering some serious opinions, are not without an interest of
their own. They show touches of the Shandy style and efforts to escape
from the dead level. But Sterne could not be really at home in the
pulpit, and all that can be called original is an occasional infusion
of a more pungent criticism of life into the moral commonplaces of
which sermons were then chiefly composed. The sermon in 'Tristram
Shandy' supplies a happy background to Uncle Toby's comments; but even
Sterne could not manage to interweave them into the text.

The very essence of the Shandy character implies this absolute
disengagement from all actual contact with sublunary affairs.
Neither Fielding nor Goldsmith can be accused of preaching in the
objectionable sense; they do not attempt to supply us with pamphlets
in the shape of novels, but in so far as they draw from real life
they inevitably suggest some practical conclusions. Reformers, for
example, might point to the prison experiences of Dr. Primrose or of
Captain Booth, as well as to the actual facts which they represent;
and Smollett's account of the British navy is a more valuable
historical document than any quantity of official reports. But in
Uncle Toby's bowling-green we have fairly shut the door upon the
real world. We are in a region as far removed from the prosaic fact
as in Aladdin's wondrous subterranean garden. We mount the magical
hobby-horse, and straightway are in an enchanted land, 'as though of
hemlock we had drunk,' and if the region is not altogether so full of
delicious perfume as that haunted by Keats's nightingale, and even
admits occasional puffs of rather unsavoury odours, it has a singular
and characteristic influence of its own. Uncle Toby, so far as his
intellect is concerned, is a full-grown child; he plays with his toys,
and rejoices over the manufacture of cannon from a pair of jack-boots,
precisely as if he were still in petticoats; he lives in a continuous
daydream framed from the materials of adult experience, but as
unsubstantial as any childish fancies; and when he speaks of realities
it is with the voice of one half-awake, and in whose mind the melting
vision still blends with the tangible realities. Mr. Shandy has a
more direct and conscious antipathy to reality. The actual world is
commonplace; the events there have a trick of happening in obedience
to the laws of nature; and people not unfrequently feel what one
might have expected beforehand that they would feel. One can express
them in cut-and dried formulæ. Mr. Shandy detests this monotony. He
differs from the ordinary pedant in so far as he values theories not
in proportion to their dusty antiquity, but in proportion to their
unreality, the pure whimsicality and irrationality of the heads which
contained them. He is a sort of inverted philosopher, who loves the
antithesis of the reasonable as passionately as your commonplace
philosopher professes to love the reasonable. He is ready to welcome a
_reductio ad absurdum_ for a demonstration; yet he values the society
of men of the ordinary turn of mind precisely because his love of
oddities makes him relish a contradiction. He is enabled to enjoy the
full flavour of his preposterous notions by the reaction of other
men's astonished common-sense. The sensation of standing upon his head
is intensified by the presence of others in the normal position. He
delights in the society of the pragmatic and contradictious Dr. Slop,
because Slop is like a fish always ready to rise at the bait of a
palpable paradox, and quite unable to see with the prosaic humorist
that paradoxes are the salt of philosophy. Poor Mrs. Shandy drives him
to distraction by the detestable acquiescence with which she receives
his most extravagant theories, and the consequent impossibility of
ever (in the vulgar phrase) getting a rise out of her.

A man would be priggish indeed who could not enjoy this queer region
where all the sober proprieties of ordinary logic are as much inverted
as in Alice's Wonderland; where the only serious occupation of a
good man's life is in playing an infantile game; where the passion of
love is only introduced as a passing distraction when the hobby-horse
has accidentally fallen out of gear; where the death of a son merely
supplies an affectionate father with a favourable opportunity for
airing his queer scraps of outworn moralities, and the misnaming of an
infant casts him into a fit of profound melancholy; where everything,
in short, is topsy-turvy, and we are invited to sit down, consuming a
perpetual pipe in an old-fashioned arbour, dreamily amusing ourselves
with the grotesque shapes that seem to be projected, in obedience to
no perceptible law, upon the shifting wreaths of smoke. It would be as
absurd to lecture the excellent brothers upon the absurdity of their
mode of life as to preach morality to the manager of a Punch show,
or to demand sentiment in the writer of a mathematical treatise. 'I
believe in my soul,' says Sterne, rather audaciously, 'that the hand
of the supreme Maker and Designer of all things never made or put a
family together, where the characters of it were cast and contrasted
with so dramatic a felicity as ours was, for this end; or in which
the capacities of affording such exquisite scenes, and the powers
of shifting them perpetually from morning to night, were lodged and
entrusted with so unlimited a confidence as in the Shandy family.' The
grammar of the sentence is rather queer, but we can hardly find fault
with the substance. The remark is made _à propos_ of Mr. Shandy's
attempt to indoctrinate his brother with the true theory of noses,
which is prefaced by the profoundly humorous sentence which expresses
the leading article of Mr. Shandy's creed: 'Learned men, brother
Toby, don't write dialogues upon long noses for nothing.' And, in
fact, one sees how admirably the simplicity of each brother plays
into the eccentricity of the other. The elder Shandy could not have
found in the universe a listener more admirably calculated to act as
whetstone for his strangely-constructed wit, to dissent in precisely
the right tone, not with a brutal intrusion of common-sense, but with
the gentle horror of innocent astonishment at the paradoxes, mixed
with veneration for the portentous learning of his senior. By looking
at each brother alternately through the eyes of his relative, we are
insensibly infected with the intense relish which each feels for the
cognate excellence of the other. When the characters are once familiar
to us, each new episode in the book is a delightful experiment upon
the fresh contrasts which can be struck out by skilfully shifting
their positions and exchanging the parts of clown and chief actor. The
light is made to flash from a new point, as the gem is turned round by
skilled hands. Sterne's wonderful dexterity appears in the admirable
setting which is thus obtained for his most telling remarks. Many of
the most famous sayings, such as Uncle Toby's remark about the fly,
or the recording angel, are more or less adapted from other authors,
but they come out so brilliantly that we feel that he has shown a
full right to property which he can turn to such excellent account.
Sayings quite as witty, or still wittier, may be found elsewhere. Some
of Voltaire's incomparable epigrams, for example, are keener than
Sterne's, but they owe nothing to the Zadig or Candide who supplies
the occasion for the remark. They are thrown out in passing, and shine
by their intrinsic brilliancy. But when Sterne has a telling remark,
he carefully prepares the dramatic situation in which it will have
the whole force due to the concentrated effect of all the attendant
circumstances. 'Our armies swore terribly in Flanders,' cried my
Uncle Toby, 'but nothing to this.' Voltaire could not have made a
happier hit at the excess of the _odium theologicum_, but the saying
comes to us armed with the authority of the whole Shandy conclave.
We have a vision of the whole party sitting round, each charged with
his own peculiar humour. There is Mr. Shandy, whose fancy has been
amazingly tickled by the portentous oath of Ernulfus, as regards
antiquarian curiosity, and has at once framed a quaint theory of the
advantages of profane swearing in order to justify his delight in
the tremendous formula. He regards his last odd discovery with the
satisfaction of a connoisseur; 'I defy a man to swear out of it!'
It includes all oaths from that of William the Conqueror to that
of the humblest scavenger, and is a perfect institute of swearing
collected from all the most learned authorities. And there is the
unlucky Dr. Slop, cleverly enticed into the pitfall by Mr. Shandy's
simple cunning, and induced to exhibit himself as a monster of
ecclesiastical ferocity by thundering forth the sounding anathema at
the ludicrously disproportioned case of Obadiah's clumsy knot-tying;
and to bring out the full flavour of the grotesque scene, we see it
as represented to the childlike intelligence of Uncle Toby, taking
it all in sublime seriousness, whistling lilliburlero to soothe his
nerves under this amazing performance, in sheer wonder at the sudden
revelation of the potentialities of human malediction, and compressing
his whole character in that admirable cry of wonder, so phrased as
to exhibit his innocent conviction that the habits of the armies in
Flanders supplied a sort of standard by which the results of all human
experience might be appropriately measured, and to even justify it in
some degree by the queer felicity of the particular application. A
formal lecturer upon the evils of intolerance might argue in a set
of treatises upon the light in which such an employment of sacred
language would strike the unsophisticated common-sense of a benevolent
mind. The imaginative humourist sets before us a delicious picture of
two or three concrete human beings, and is then able at one stroke to
deliver a blow more telling than the keenest flashes of the dry light
of the logical understanding. The more one looks into the scene and
tries to analyse the numerous elements of dramatic effect to which
his total impression is owing, the more one admires the astonishing
skill which has put so much significance into a few simple words. The
colouring is so brilliant and the touch so firm that one is afraid to
put any other work beside it. Nobody before or since has had so clear
an insight into the meaning which can be got out of a simple scene
by a judicious selection and skilful arrangement of the appropriate
surroundings. Sterne's comment upon the mode in which Trim dropped
his hat at the peroration of his speech upon Master Bobby's death,
affecting even the 'fat, foolish scullion,' is significant. 'Had he
flung it, or thrown it, or skimmed it, or squirted it, or let it
slip or fall in any possible direction under Heaven—or in the best
direction that could have been given to it—had he dropped it like a
goose, like a puppy, like an ass, or in doing it, or even after he had
done it, had he looked like a fool, like a ninny, like a nincompoop,
it had failed, and the effect upon the heart had been lost.' Those
who would play upon human passions and those who are played upon,
or, in Sterne's phrase, those who drive, and those who are driven,
like turkeys to market, with a stick and a red clout are invited to
meditate upon Trim's hat; and so may all who may wish to understand
the secret of Sterne's art.

It is true, unfortunately, that this singular skill—the felicity
with which Trim's cap, or his Montero cap, or Uncle Toby's pipe—is
made to radiate eloquence, sometimes leads to a decided bathos. The
climax so elaborately prepared too often turns out to be a faded bit
of sentimentalism. We rather resent the art which is thrown away
to prepare us for the assertion that 'When a few weeks will rescue
misery out of her distress, I hate the man who can be a churl of
them.' So we hate the man who can lift his hand upon a woman save
in the way of kindness, but we do not want a great writer to adorn
that unimpeachable sentiment with all the jewels of rhetoric. It
is just in these very critical passages that Sterne's taste is
defective, because his feeling is not sound. We are never sure that
we can distinguish between the true gems and the counterfeit. When
the moment comes at which he suddenly drops the tear of sensibility,
he is almost as likely to provoke sneers as sympathy. There is, for
example, the famous donkey, and it is curious to compare the donkey
fed with macaroons in the 'Tristram Shandy' with the dead donkey of
the 'Sentimental Journey,' whose weeping master lays a crust of bread
on the now vacant bit of his bridle. It is obviously the same donkey,
and Sterne has reflected that he can squeeze a little more pathos out
of the animal by actually killing him, and providing a sentimental
master. It seems to me that, in trying to heighten the effect, he
has just crossed the dangerous limit which divides sympathetic from
derisive laughter; and whereas the macaroon-fed animal is a possible,
straightforward beast, he becomes (as higher beings have done) a
humbug in his palpably hypocritical epitaph. Sterne tries his hand
in the same way at improving Maria, who is certainly an effective
embodiment of the mad young woman who has tried to move us in many
forms since the days of Ophelia. In her second appearance, she comes
in to utter the famous sentiment about the wind and the shorn lamb. It
has become proverbial, and been even credited in the popular mind with
a scriptural origin; and considering such a success, one has hardly
the right to say that it has gathered a certain sort of banality.
Yet it is surely on the extreme verge at which the pathetic melts
into the ludicrous. The reflection, however, occurs more irresistibly
in regard to that other famous passage about the recording angel.
Sterne's admirers held it to be sublime at the time, and he obviously
shared the opinion. And it is undeniable that the story of Le Fevre,
in which it is the most conspicuous gem, is a masterpiece in its
way. No one can read it, or better still, hear it from the lips of a
skilful reader, without admitting the marvellous felicity with which
the whole scene is presented. Uncle Toby's oath is a triumph fully
worthy of Shakespeare. But the recording angel, though he certainly
comes in effectively, is a little suspicious to me. It would have been
a sacrifice to which few writers could have been equal, to suppress or
soften that brilliant climax; and, yet, if the angel had been omitted,
the passage would, I fancy, have been really stronger. We might
have been left to make the implied comment for ourselves. For the
angel seems to introduce an unpleasant air as of eighteenth-century
politeness; we fancy that he would have welcomed a Lord Chesterfield
to the celestial mansions with a faultless bow and a dexterous
compliment; and somehow he appears, to my imagination at least,
apparelled in theatrical gauze and spangles rather than in the genuine
angelic costume. Some change passes over every famous passage; the
bloom of its first freshness is rubbed off as it is handed from one
quoter to another; but where the sentiment has no false ring at the
beginning, the colours may grow faint without losing their harmony.
In this angel, and some other of Sterne's best-known touches, we seem
to feel that the baser metal is beginning to show itself through the
superficial enamel.

And this suggests the criticism which must still be made in regard
even to the admirable Uncle Toby. Sterne has been called the English
Rabelais, and was apparently more ambitious himself of being
considered as an English Cervantes. To a modern English reader he is
certainly far more amusing than Rabelais, and he can be appreciated
with less effort than Cervantes. But it is impossible to mention
these great names without seeing the direction in which Sterne falls
short of the highest excellence. We know that, on clearing away the
vast masses of buffoonery and ribaldry under which Rabelais was
forced, or chose, to hide himself we come to the profound thinker and
powerful satirist. Sterne represents a comparatively shallow vein
of thought. He is the mouthpiece of a sentiment which had certainly
its importance in so far as it was significant of a vague discontent
with things in general, and a desire for more exciting intellectual
food. He was so far ready to fool the age to the top of its bent; and
in the course of his ramblings he strikes some hard blows at various
types of hide-bound pedantry. But he is too systematic a trifler
to be reckoned with any plausibility amongst the spiritual leaders
of any intellectual movement. In that sense, 'Tristram Shandy' is
a curious symptom of the existing currents of emotion, but cannot,
like the 'Emile' or the 'Nouvelle Héloïse,' be reckoned as one of the
efficient causes. This complete and characteristic want of purpose
may indeed be reckoned as a literary merit, so far as it prevented
'Tristram Shandy' from degenerating into a mere tract. But the want
of intellectual seriousness has another aspect, which comes out
when we compare Tristram Shandy, for example, with Don Quixote. The
resemblance, which has been often pointed out (as indeed Sterne is
fond of hinting at it himself) consists in this, that in both cases
we see lovable characters through a veil of the ludicrous. As Don
Quixote is a true hero, though he is under a constant hallucination,
so Uncle Toby is full of the milk of human kindness, though his
simplicity makes him ridiculous to the piercing eyes of common-sense.
In both cases, it is inferred, the humourist is discharging his true
function of showing the lovable qualities which may be associated with
a ludicrous outside.

The Don and the Captain both have their hobbies, which they ride with
equal zeal, and there is a close analogy between them. Uncle Toby
makes his own apology in the famous oration upon war. 'What is war,'
he asks, 'but the getting together of quiet and harmless people with
swords in their hands, to keep the turbulent and ambitious within
bounds? And heaven is my witness, brother Shandy, that the pleasure I
have taken in these things, and that infinite delight in particular
which has attended my sieges in the bowling-green, has arisen within
me, and I hope in the Corporal too, from the consciousness that in
carrying them on we were answering the great ends of our creation.'
Uncle Toby's military ardour undoubtedly makes a most piquant addition
to his simple-minded benevolence. The fusion of the gentle Christian
with the chivalrous devotee of honour is perfect; and the kindliest
of human beings, who would not hurt a hair of the fly's head, most
delicately blended with the gallant soldier who, as Trim avers, would
march up to the mouth of a cannon though he saw the match at the very
touchhole. Should anyone doubt the merits of the performance, he might
reassure himself by comparing the scene in which Uncle Toby makes the
speech, just quoted, with a parallel passage in 'The Caxtons,' and
realise the difference between extreme imitative dexterity and the
force of real genius.

It is only when we compare this exquisite picture with the highest art
that we are sensible of its comparative deficiency. The imaginative
force of Cervantes is proved by the fact that Don Quixote and his
followers have become the accepted symbols of the most profoundly
tragic element in human life—of the contrast between the lofty
idealism of the mere enthusiast and the sturdy common-sense of
ordinary human beings—between the utilitarian and the romantic types
of character; and as neither aspect of the truth can be said to be
exhaustive, we are rightly left with our sympathies equally balanced.
The book may be a sad one to those who prefer to be blind; but in
proportion as we can appreciate a penetrative insight into the genuine
facts of life, we are impressed by this most powerful presentation
of the never-ending problem. It is impossible to find in 'Tristram
Shandy' any central conception of this breadth and depth. If Trim
had been as shrewd as Sancho, Uncle Toby would appear like a mere
simpleton. Like a child, he requires a thoroughly sympathetic audience
who will not bring his playthings to the brutal test of actual facts.
The high and earnest enthusiasm of the Don can stand the contrast of
common-sense, though at the price of passing into insanity. But Trim
is forced to be Uncle Toby's accomplice, or his Commander would never
be able to play at soldiers. If Don Quixote had simply amused himself
at a mock tournament, and had never been in danger of mistaking a
puppet-show for a reality, he would certainly have been more credible,
but in the same proportion he would have been commonplace. The
whole tragic element which makes the humour impressive would have
disappeared. Sterne seldom ventures to the limit of the tragic. The
bowling-green of Mr. Shandy's parlance is too exclusively a sleepy
hollow. The air is never cleared by a strain of lofty sentiment. When
Yorick and Eugenius form part of the company, we feel that they are
rather too much at home with offensive suggestions. When Uncle Toby's
innocence fails to perceive their coarse insinuations, we are credited
with clearer perception, and expected to sympathise with the spurious
wit which derives its chief zest from the presence of the pure-minded
victim. And so Uncle Toby comes to represent that stingless virtue,
which never gets beyond the ken or hurts the feelings of the easy-going
epicurean. His perceptions are too slow and his temper too mild to
resent an indecency as his relative, Colonel Newcome, would have done.
He would have been too complacent, even to the outrageous Costigan.
He is admirably kind when a comrade falls ill at his door; but his
benevolence can exhale itself sufficiently in the intervals of
hobby-riding, and his chivalrous temper in fighting over old battles
with the Corporal. We feel that he must be growing fat; that his pulse
is flabby and his vegetative functions predominant. When he falls in
love with the repulsive (for she is repulsive) widow Wadman, we pity
him as we pity a poor soft zoophyte in the clutches of a rapacious
crab; but we have no sense of a wasted life. Even his military ardour
seems to present itself to our minds as due to the simple affection
which makes his regiment part of his family rather than to any
capacity for heroic sentiment. His brain might turn soft; it would
never spontaneously generate the noble madness of a Quixote, though he
might have followed that hero with a more canine fidelity than Sancho.

Mr. Matthew Arnold says of Heine, as we all remember, that:—

    The spirit of the world,
    Beholding the absurdity of men—
    Their vanities, their feats—let a sardonic smile
    For one short moment wander o'er his lips—
      That smile was Heine.

There is a considerable analogy, as one may note in passing, between
the two men; and if Sterne was not a poet, his prose could perhaps
be even more vivid and picturesque than Heine's. But his humour is
generally wanting in the quality suggested by Mr. Arnold's phrase.
We cannot represent it by a sardonic smile, or indeed by any other
expression which we can very well associate with the world-spirit.
The imaginative humourist must in all cases be keenly alive to the
'absurdity of man;' he must have a sense of the irony of fate, of the
strange interlacing of good and evil in the world, and of the baser
and nobler elements in human nature. He will be affected differently
according to his temperament and his intellectual grasp. He may be
most impressed by the affinity between madness and heroism; by the
waste of noble qualities on trifling purposes; and, if he be more
amiable, by the goodness which may lurk under ugly forms. He may
be bitter and melancholy, or simply serious in contemplating the
fantastic tricks played by mortals before high heaven. But, in any
case, some real undercurrent of deeper feeling is essential to the
humourist who impresses us powerfully, and who is equally far from
mere buffoonery and sentimental foppery. His smile must be at least
edged with melancholy, and his pathos too deep for mere 'snivelling.'

Sterne is often close to this loftier region of the humorous;
sometimes he fairly crosses it; but his step is uncertain as of one
not feeling at home. The absurdity of man does not make him 'sardonic'
He takes things too easily. He shows us the farce of life, and feels
that there is a tragical background to it all; but somehow he is not
usually much disposed to cry over it, and he is obviously proud of
the tears which he manages to produce. The thought of human folly
and suffering does not usually torment and perplex him. The highest
humourist should be the laughing and weeping philosopher in one;
and in Sterne the weeping philosopher is always a bit of a humbug.
The pedantry of the elder Shandy is a simple whim, not a misguided
aspiration; and Sterne is so amused with his oddities that he even
allows him to be obtrusively heartless. Uncle Toby undoubtedly comes
much nearer to complete success; but he wants just that touch of
genuine pathos which he would have received from the hands of the
greatest writers. But the performance is so admirable in the best
passages, where Sterne can drop his buffoonery and his indecency, that
even a criticism which sets him below the highest place seems almost

And this may bring us back for a moment to the man himself. Sterne
avowedly drew his own portrait in Yorick. That clerical jester, he
says, was a mere child, full of whim and gaiety, but without an
ounce of ballast. He had no more knowledge of the world at 26 than
a 'romping unsuspicious girl of 13.' His high spirits and frankness
were always getting him into trouble. When he heard of a spiteful
or ungenerous action he would blurt out that the man was a dirty
fellow. He would not stoop to set himself right, but let people think
of him what they would. Thus his faults were all due to his extreme
candour and impulsiveness. It wants little experience of the world to
recognise the familiar portrait of an impulsive and generous fellow.
It represents the judicious device by which a man reconciles himself
to some very ugly actions. It provides by anticipation a complete
excuse for thoughtlessness and meanness. If he is accused of being
inconstant, he points out the extreme goodness of his impulses; and
if the impulses were bad, he argues that at least they did not last
very long. He prides himself on his disregard to consequences, even
when the consequences may be injurious to his friends. His feelings
are so genuine for the moment that his conscience is satisfied
without his will translating them into action. He is perfectly candid
in expressing the passing phrase of sentiment, and therefore does
not trouble himself to ask whether what is true to-day will be true
to-morrow. He can call an adversary a dirty fellow, and is very proud
of his generous indiscretion. But he is also capable of gratifying
the dirty fellow's vanity by high-flown compliments if he happens to
be in the enthusiastic vein; and somehow the providence which watches
over the thoughtless is very apt to make his impulses fall in with
the dictates of calculated selfishness. He cannot be an accomplished
courtier, because he is apt to be found out; but he can crawl and
creep for the nonce with anyone. In real life such a man is often as
delightful for a short time as he becomes contemptible on a longer
acquaintance. When we think of Sterne as a man, and try to frame a
coherent picture of his character, we must give a due weight to the
baser elements of his composition. We cannot forget his shallowness
of feeling and the utter want of self-respect which prompted him to
condescend to be a mere mountebank, and to dabble in filth for the
amusement of graceless patrons. Nor is it really possible entirely to
throw aside this judgment even in reading his works; for even after
abstracting our attention from the rubbish and the indecency, we are
haunted in the really admirable parts by our misgivings as to their
sincerity. But the problem is often one to tax critical acumen. It
is one aspect of a difficulty which meets us sometimes in real life.
Every man flatters himself that he can detect the mere hypocrite. We
seem to have a sufficient instinct to warn us against the downright
pitfalls where an absolute void is covered by an artificial stratum of
mere verbiage. Perhaps even this is not so easy as we sometimes fancy;
but there is a more refined sort of hypocrisy which requires keener
dissection. How are men to draw the narrow and yet all-important line
which separates—not the genuine from the feigned emotion—but the
emotion which is due to some real cause, and that which is a cause in
itself? Some people we know fall in love with a woman, and others are
really in love with the passion. Grief may be the sign of lacerated
affection, or it may be a mere luxury indulged in for its own sake.
The sentimentalism which Sterne represented corresponded in the main
to this last variety. People had discovered the art of extracting
direct enjoyment from their own 'sensibility,' and Sterne expressly
gives thanks for his own as the great consolation of his life. He has
the heartiest possible relish for his tears and lamentations, and it
is precisely his skill in marking this vein of interest which gives
him his extraordinary popularity. So soon as we discover that a man
is enjoying his sorrow our sympathy is killed within us, and for that
reason Sterne is apt to be repulsive to humourists whose sense of
the human tragi-comedy is deeper than his own. They agree with him
that the vanity of human dreams may suggest a mingling of tears and
laughter; but they grieve because they must, not because they find it
a pleasant amusement. Yet it is perhaps unwise to poison our pleasure
by reflections of this kind. They come with critical reflection,
and may at least be temporarily suppressed when we are reading for
enjoyment. We need not sin ourselves by looking a gift horse in the
mouth. The sentiment is genuine at the time. Do not inquire how far it
has been deliberately concocted and stimulated. The man is not only a
wonderful artist, but he is right in asserting that his impulses are
clear and genuine. Why should not that satisfy us? Are we to set up
for so rigid a nature that we are never to consent to sit down with
Uncle Toby and take him as he is made? We may wish, if we please, that
Sterne had always been in his best, and that his tears flowed from
a deeper source. But so long as he really speaks from his heart—and
he does so in all the finer parts of the Toby drama—why should we
remember that the heart was rather flighty, and regarded with too much
conscious complacency by its proprietor? The Shandyism upon which he
prided himself was not a very exalted form of mind, nor one which
offered a very deep or lasting satisfaction. Happily we can dismiss an
author when we please; give him a cold shoulder in our more virtuous
moods, and have a quiet chat with him when we are graciously pleased
to relax. In those times we may admit Sterne as the best of jesters,
though it may remain an open question whether the jester is on the
whole an estimable institution.


[8] Sterne says in the letter that Hall was over forty; and he was
five years older than Hall.


A love of the country is taken, I know not why, to indicate the
presence of all the cardinal virtues. It is one of those outlying
qualities which are not exactly meritorious, but which, for that very
reason, are the more provocative of a pleasing self-complacency.
People pride themselves upon it as upon early rising, or upon
answering letters by return of post. We recognise the virtuous hero
of a novel as soon as we are told that the cat instinctively creeps
to his knee, and that the little child clutches his hand to stay
his tottering steps. To say that we love the country is to make
an indirect claim to a similar excellence. We assert a taste for
sweet and innocent pleasures, and an indifference to the feverish
excitements of artificial society. I, too, love the country—if such a
statement can be received after such an exordium; but I confess—to be
duly modest—that I love it best in books. In real life I have remarked
that it is frequently damp and rheumatic, and most hated by those
who know it best. Not long ago, I heard a worthy orator at a country
school-treat declare to his small audience that honesty, sobriety,
and industry, in their station in life, might possibly enable them
to become cabdrivers in London. The precise form of the reward was
suggested, I fancy, by some edifying history of an ideal cabman; but
the speaker clearly knew the road to his hearers' hearts. Perhaps the
realisation of this high destiny might dispel their illusions. Like
poor Susan at the corner of Wood Street, they would see

    Bright volumes of vapour through Lothbury glide,
    And a river flow on through the vale of Cheapside.

The Swiss, who at home regards a mountain as an unmitigated nuisance,
is (or once was) capable of developing sentimental yearnings for the
Alps at the sound of a _ranz des vaches_. We all agree with Horace
that Rome is most attractive at Tibur, and _vice versâ_. It is the man
who has been 'long in populous cities pent' who, according to Milton,

    The smell of grain or tedded grass or kine,
    Or daisy, each rural sight, each rural sound;

and the phrase is employed to illustrate the sentiments of a being
whose enjoyment of paradise was certainly enhanced by a sufficiently
contrasted experience.

I do not wish to pursue the good old moral saws expounded by so many
preachers and poets. I am only suggesting a possible ground of apology
for one who prefers the ideal mode of rustication; who can share
the worthy Johnson's love of Charing Cross, and sympathise with his
pathetic remark when enticed into the Highlands by his bear-leader
that it is easy 'to sit at home and conceive rocks, heaths, and
waterfalls.' Some slight basis of experience must doubtless be
provided on which to rear any imaginary fabric; and the mental opiate,
which stimulates the sweetest reverie, is found in chewing the cud of
past recollections, but with a good guide, one requires small external
aid. Though a cockney in grain, I love to lean upon the farmyard gate;
to hear Mrs. Poyser give a bit of her mind to the squire; to be lulled
into a placid doze by the humming of Dorlecote Mill; to sit down in
Dandie Dinmont's parlour, and bestow crumbs from his groaning table
upon three generations of Peppers and Mustards; or to drop into the
kitchen of a good old country inn, and to smoke a pipe with Tom Jones
or listen to the simple-minded philosophy of Parson Adams. When I lift
my eyes to realities, I can dimly descry across the street a vision
of my neighbour behind his looking-glass adjusting the parting of his
back hair, and achieving triumphs with his white tie calculated to
excite the envy of a Brummel. It is pleasant to take down one of the
magicians of the shelf, to annihilate my neighbour and his evening
parties, and to wander off through quiet country lanes into some
sleepy hollow of the past.

Who are the most potent weavers of that delightful magic? Clearly,
in the first place, those who have been themselves in contact with
rural sights and sounds. The echo of an echo loses all sharpness of
definition; our guide may save us the trouble of stumbling through
farmyards and across ploughed fields, but he must have gone through it
himself till his very voice has a twang of the true country accent.
Milton, as Mr. Pattison has lately told us, 'saw nature through
books,' and is therefore no trustworthy guide. We feel that he has
got a Theocritus in his pocket; that he is using the country to
refresh his memories of Spenser, or Chaucer, or Virgil; and, instead
of forgetting the existence of books in his company, we shall be
painfully abashed if we miss some obvious allusion or fail to identify
the passages upon which he has moulded his own descriptions. And,
indeed, to put it broadly, the poets are hardly to be trusted in this
matter, however fresh and spontaneous may be their song. They don't
want to offer us a formal sermon, unless 'they' means Wordsworth; but
they have not the less got their little moral to insinuate. Shelley's
skylark and Keats's nightingale are equally determined that we shall
indulge in meditations about life and death and the mysterious
meaning of the universe. That is just what, on these occasions, we
want to forget; we want the bird's song, not the emotions which it
excites in our abnormally sensitive natures. I can never read without
fresh admiration Mr. Arnold's 'Gipsy Scholar,' but in this sense
that delightful person is a typical offender. I put myself, at Mr.
Arnold's request, in the corner of the high half-reaped field; I see
the poppies peeping through the green roots and yellowing stems of
the corn; I lazily watch the scholar with 'his hat of antique shape,'
roaming the countryside, and becoming the living centre of one bit of
true old-fashioned rustic scenery after another; and I feel myself
half persuaded to be a gipsy. But then, before I know how or why,
I find that I am to be worrying myself about the strange disease
of modern life; about 'our brains o'ertaxed and palsied hearts,'
and so forth; and instead of being lulled into a delicious dream, I
have somehow been entrapped into a meditation upon my incapacity for
dreaming. And, more or less, this is the fashion of all poets. You can
never be sure that they will let you have your dream out quietly. They
must always be bothering you about the state of their souls; and, to
say the truth, when they try to be simply descriptive, they are for
the most part intolerably dull.

Your poet, of course, is bound to be an interpreter of nature;
and nature, for the present purpose, must be regarded as simply a
nuisance. The poet, by his own account, is condescending to find
words for the inarticulate voices of sea, and sky, and mountain. In
reality nature is nothing but the sounding-board which is to give
effect to his own valuable observations. It is a general but safe
rule that whenever you come across the phrase 'laws of nature,' in an
article—especially if it is by a profound philosopher—you may expect
a sophistry; and it is still more certain that when you come across
nature in a poem you should prepare to receive a sermon. It does not
in the least follow that it will be a bad one. It may be exquisite,
graceful, edifying, and sublime; but, as a sermon, the more effective
the less favourable to the reverie which one desires to cultivate.
Nor, be it observed, does it matter whether the prophet be more or
less openly and unblushingly didactic. A good many hard things have
been said about poor Wordsworth for his delight in sermonising; and
though I love Wordsworth with all my heart, I certainly cannot deny
that he is capable of becoming a portentous weariness to the flesh.
But, for this purpose, Wordsworth is no better and no worse than Byron
or Shelley, or Keats or Rousseau, or any of the dealers in praises of
'Weltschmerz,' or mental dyspepsia. Mr. Ruskin has lately told us that
in his opinion ninety-nine things out of a hundred are not what they
should be, but the very opposite of what they should be. And therefore
he sympathises less with Wordsworth than with Byron and Rousseau,
and other distinguished representatives of the same agreeable creed.
From the present point of view the question is irrelevant. I wish to
be for the nonce a poet of nature, not a philosopher, either with a
healthy or a disturbed liver, delivering a judicial opinion about
nature as a whole or declaring whether I regard it as representing a
satisfactory or a thoroughly uncomfortable system. I condemn neither
opinion; I will not pronounce Wordsworth's complacency to be simply
the glow thrown from his comfortable domestic hearth upon the outside
darkness; or Byron's wrath against mankind to be simply the crying
of a spoilt child with a digestion ruined by sweetmeats. I do not
want to think about it. Preaching, good or bad, from the angelic or
diabolical point of view, cunningly hidden away in delicate artistic
forms, or dashed ostentatiously in one's face in a shower of moral
platitudes, is equally out of place. And, therefore, for the time, I
would choose for my guide to the Alps some gentle enthusiast in 'Peaks
and Passes,' who tells me in his admirably matter-of-fact spirit what
he had for lunch and how many steps he had to cut in the _mur de la
côte_, and catalogues the mountains which he could see as calmly as
if he were repeating a schoolboy lesson in geography. I eschew the
meditations of Obermann, and do not care in the least whether he got
into a more or less maudlin frame of mind about things in general as
contemplated from the Col de Janan. I shrink even from the admirable
descriptions of Alpine scenery in the 'Modern Painters,' lest I should
be launched unawares into ethical or æsthetical speculation. 'A plague
of both your houses!' I wish to court entire absence of thought—not
even to talk to a graceful gipsy scholar, troubled with aspirations
for mysterious knowledge; but rather to the genuine article, such
as the excellent Bamfylde Moore Carew, who took to be a gipsy in
earnest, and was content to be a thorough loafer, not even a Bohemian
in conscious revolt against society, but simply outside of the whole
social framework, and accepting his position with as little reflection
as some wild animal in a congenial country.

Some kind philosopher professes to put my thoughts into correct
phraseology by saying that for such a purpose I require thoroughly
'objective' treatment. I must, however, reject his suggestions, not
only because 'objective' and 'subjective' are vile phrases, used for
the most part to cover indolence and ambiguity of thought, but also
because, if I understand the word rightly, it describes what I do not
desire. The only thoroughly objective works with which I am acquainted
are those of which Bradshaw's Railway Guide is an accepted type. There
are occasions, I will admit, in which such literature is the best
help to the imagination. When I read in prosaic black and white that
by leaving Euston Square at 10 A.M. I shall reach Windermere at 5.45
P.M., it sometimes helps me to perform an imaginary journey to the
lakes even better than a study of Wordsworth's poems. It seems to give
a fixed point round which old fancies and memories can crystallise; to
supply a useful guarantee that Grasmere and Rydal do in sober earnest
belong to the world of realities, and are not mere parts of the
decaying phantasmagoria of memory. And I was much pleased the other
day to find a complimentary reference in a contemporary essayist to
a lively work called, I believe, the 'Shepherd's Guide,' which once
beguiled a leisure hour in a lonely inn, and which simply records the
distinctive marks put upon the sheep of the district. The sheep, as
it proved, was not a mere poetical figment in an idyll, but a real
tangible animal, with wool capable of being tarred and ruddled, and
eating real grass in real fells and accessible mountain dales. In our
childhood, when any old broomstick will serve as well as the wondrous
horse of brass

    On which the Tartar king did ride,

in the days when a cylinder with four pegs is as good a steed as the
finest animal in the Elgin marbles, and when a puddle swarming with
tadpoles or a streamlet haunted by water-rats is as full of romance
as a jungle full of tigers, the barest catalogue of facts is the
most effective. A child is deliciously excited by 'Robinson Crusoe'
because De Foe is content to give the naked scaffolding of direct
narrative, and leaves his reader to supply the sentiment and romance
at pleasure. Who does not fear, on returning to the books which
delighted his childhood, that all the fairy-gold should have turned
to dead leaves? I remember a story told in some forgotten book of
travels, which haunted my dreams, and still strikes me as terribly
impressive. I see a traveller benighted by some accident in a nullah
where a tiger has already supped upon his companion, and listening to
mysterious sounds, as of fiendish laughter, which he is afterwards
cruel enough to explain away by some rationalising theory as to
gases. How or why the traveller got into or emerged from the scrape,
I know not; but some vague association of ferocious wild beasts and
wood-demons in ghastly and haunted solitudes has ever since been
excited in me by the mention of a nullah. It is as redolent of awful
mysteries as the chasm in 'Kubla Khan.' And it is painful to reflect
that a nullah may be a commonplace phenomenon in real life; and that
the anecdote might possibly affect me no more, could I now read it for
the first time, than one of the tremendous adventures recorded by Mr.
Kingston or Captain Mayne Reid.

As we become less capable of supplying the magic for ourselves, we
require it from our author. He must have the art—the less conscious
the better—of placing us at his own point of view. He should, if
possible, be something of a 'humourist,' in the old-fashioned sense
of the word; not the man who compounds oddities, but the man who is
an oddity; the slave, not the master, of his own eccentricities; one
absolutely unconscious that the strange twist in his mental vision
is not shared by mankind, and capable, therefore, of presenting
the fancies dictated by his idiosyncrasy as if they corresponded to
obvious and generally recognised realities; and of propounding some
quaint and utterly preposterous theory, as though it were a plain
deduction from undeniable truths. The modern humourist is the old
humourist _plus_ a consciousness of his own eccentricity, and the
old humourist is the modern humourist _minus_ that consciousness.
The order of his ideas should not (as philosophers would have it) be
identical with the order of things, but be determined by odd arbitrary
freaks of purely personal association.

This is the kind of originality which we specially demand from an
efficient guide to the country; for the country means a region
where men have not been ground into the monotony by the friction
of our social mill. The secret of his charm lies in the clearness
with which he brings before us some quaint, old-fashioned type of
existence. He must know and care as little for what passes in the
great world of cities and parliaments as the family of Tullivers
and Dodsons. His horizon should be limited by the nearest country
town, and his politics confined to the disputes between the parson
and the Dissenting minister. He should have thoroughly absorbed the
characteristic prejudices of the little society in which he lives,
till he is unaware that it could ever enter into any one's head to
doubt their absolute truth. He should have a share of the peculiarity
which is often so pathetic in children—the unhesitating conviction
that some little family arrangement is a part of the eternal and
immutable system of things—and be as much surprised at discovering
an irreverent world outside as the child at the discovery that there
are persons who do not consider his papa to be omniscient. That is
the temper of mind which should characterise your genuine rustic. As
a rule, of course, it condemns him to silence. He has no more reason
for supposing that some quaint peculiarity of his little circle will
be interesting to the outside world than a frog for imagining that
a natural philosopher would be interested by the statement that he
was once a tadpole. He takes it for granted that we have all been
tadpoles. In the queer, outlying corners of the world where the father
goes to bed and is nursed upon the birth of a child (a system which
has its attractive side to some persons of that persuasion), the
singular custom is so much a matter of course that a village historian
would not think of mentioning it. The man is only induced to exhibit
his humour to the world when, by some happy piece of fortune, he has
started a hobby not sufficiently appreciated by his neighbours. Then
it may be that he becomes a prophet, and in his anxiety to recommend
his own pet fancy, unconsciously illustrates also the interesting
social stratum in which it sprung to life. The hobby, indeed, is too
often unattractive. When a self-taught philosopher airs some pet
crotchet, and proves, for example, that the legitimate descendants of
the lost tribes are to be found amongst the Ojibbeways, he doubtless
throws a singular light upon the intellectual peculiarities of his
district. But he illustrates chiefly the melancholy truth that a
half-taught philosopher may be as dry and as barren as the one who has
been smoke-dried according to all the rules of art in the most learned
academy of Europe.

There are a few familiar books in which a happy combination of
circumstances has provided us with a true country idyll, fresh and
racy from the soil, not consciously constructed by the most skilful
artistic hand. Two of them have a kind of acknowledged pre-eminence
in their own department. The man is not to be envied who has not in
his boyhood fallen in love with Izaak Walton and White of Selborne.
The boy, indeed, is happily untroubled as to the true source of
the charm. He pores over the 'Compleat Angler' with the impression
that he will gain some hints for beguiling, if not the wily carp,
who is accounted the water-fox, at least the innocent roach, who
'is accounted the water-sheep for his simplicity or foolishness.'
His mouth waters as he reads the directions for converting the
pike—that compound of mud and needles—into 'a dish of meat too good
for any but anglers or very honest men;' a transformation which, if
authentic, is little less than miraculous. He does not ask what is
the secret of the charm of the book even for those to whom fishing
is an abomination—a charm which induced even the arch-cockney Dr.
Johnson, in spite of his famous definition of angling, to prompt the
republication of this angler's bible. It is only as he grows older,
and has plodded through other sporting literature, that he can at all
explain why the old gentleman's gossip is so fascinating. Walton,
undoubtedly, is everywhere charming for his pure simple English,
and the unostentatious vein of natural piety which everywhere lies
just beneath the surface of his writing. Now and then, however, in
reading the 'Lives,' we cannot quite avoid a sense that this excellent
tradesman has just a touch of the unctuous about him. He is given—it
is a fault from which hagiographers can scarcely be free—to using
the rose-colour a little too freely. He holds towards his heroes the
relation of a sentimental churchwarden to a revered parish parson.
We fancy that the eyes of the preacher would turn instinctively
to Walton's seat when he wished to catch an admiring glance from
an upturned face, and to assure himself that he was touching the
'sacred fount of sympathetic tears.' We imagine Walton lingering near
the porch to submit a deferential compliment as to the 'florid and
seraphical' discourse to which he has been listening, and scarcely
raising his glance above the clerical shoe-buckles. A portrait taken
from this point of view is apt to be rather unsatisfactory. Yet,
in describing the 'sweet humility' of a George Herbert or of the
saintly Mr. Farrer, the tone is at least in keeping, and is consistent
even with an occasional gleam of humour, as in the account of poor
Hooker, tending sheep and rocking the cradle under stringent feminine
supremacy. It is less satisfactory when we ask Walton to throw some
light upon the curiously enigmatic character of Donne, with its
strange element of morbid gloom, and masculine passion, and subtle and
intense intellect. Donne married the woman he loved, in spite of her
father and to the injury of his own fortunes. 'His marriage,' however,
observes the biographer, 'was the remarkable error of his life;
an error which, though he had a wit able and very apt to maintain
paradoxes, yet he was very far from justifying it.' From our point of
view, the only error was in the desire to justify an action of which
he should have been proud. We must make allowance for the difference
in Walton's views of domestic authority; but we feel that his
prejudice disqualifies him from fairly estimating a character of great
intrinsic force. A portrait of Donne cannot be adequately brought
within the lines accepted by the writer of orthodox and edifying

In spite of this little failing, this rather excessive subservience
to the respectabilities, the 'Lives' form a delightful book; but we
get the genuine Walton at full length in his 'Angler.' It was first
published in dark days; when the biographer might be glad that his
pious heroes had been taken from the sight of the coming evil; when
the scattered survivors of his favourite school of divines and poets
were turned out of their well-beloved colleges and parsonages, hiding
in dark corners or plotting with the melancholy band of exiles in
France and Holland; when Walton, instead of listening to the sound
and witty discourses of Donne, would find the pulpit of his parish
church profaned by some fanatical Puritan, expounding the Westminster
Confession in place of the Thirty-nine Articles. The good Walton
found consolation in the almost religious pursuit of his hobby. He
fortified himself with the authority of such admirable and orthodox
anglers as Sir Henry Wotton and Dr. Nowel, Dean of St. Paul's. Dr.
Nowel had, 'like an honest angler, made that good, plain, unperplexed
Catechism which is printed with our good old service-book;' for an
angler, it seems, is most likely to know that the road to heaven is
not through 'hard questions.' The dean died at the age of ninety-five,
in perfect possession of his faculties; and ''tis said that angling
and temperance were great causes of those blessings.' Evidently
Walton had somehow taken for granted that there is an inherent
harmony between angling and true religion, which of course for him
implies the Anglican religion. He does not trust himself in the evil
times to grumble openly, or to indulge in more than an occasional
oblique reference to the dealers in hard questions and metaphysical
dogmatism. He takes his rod, leaves the populous city behind him,
and makes a day's march to the banks of the quiet Lea, where he can
meet a likeminded friend or two; sit in the sanded parlour of the
country inn, and listen to the milkmaid singing that 'smooth song
made by Kit Marlow, now at least fifty years ago,' before English
fields had been drenched with the blood of Roundheads and Cavaliers;
or lie under a tree, watching his float till the shower had passed,
and then calling to mind what 'holy Mr. Herbert says of such days
and flowers as these.' Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright!—but
everybody has learnt to share Walton's admiration, and the quotation
would now be superfluous. It is nowhere so effective as with Walton's
illustrations. We need not, indeed, remember the background of storm
to enjoy the quiet sunshine and showers on the soft English landscape,
which Walton painted so lovingly. The fact that he was living in the
midst of a turmoil, in which the objects of his special idolatry had
been so ruthlessly crushed and scattered, may help to explain the
intense relish for the peaceful river-side life. His rod was the magic
wand to interpose a soft idyllic mist between his eyes and such scenes
as were visible at times from the windows of Whitehall. He loved his
paradise the better because it was an escape from a pandemonium. But
whatever the cause of his enthusiasm, its sincerity and intensity are
the main cause of his attractiveness. Many poets of Walton's time
loved the country as well as he, and showed it in some of the delicate
lyrics which find an appropriate setting in his pages. But we have to
infer their exquisite appreciation of country sights and sounds from
such brief utterances, or from passing allusions in dramatic scenes.
Nobody can doubt that Shakespeare loved daffodils, or a bank of wild
thyme, or violets, as keenly as Wordsworth. When he happens to mention
them, his voice trembles with fine emotion. But none of the poets of
the time dared to make a passion for the country the main theme of
their more pretentious song. They thought it necessary to idealise
and transmute; to substitute an indefinite Arcadia for plain English
fields, and to populate it with piping swains and nymphs, Corydons
and Amorets and Phyllises. Poor Hodge or Cis were only allowed to
appear when they were minded to indulge in a little broad comedy. The
coarse rustics had to be washed and combed before they could present
themselves before an aristocratic audience; and plain English hills
and rivers to be provided with tutelary gods and goddesses, fitted for
the gorgeous pageantry of a country masque. Far be it from me—with the
fear of æsthetic critics before my eyes—to say that very beautiful
poems might not be produced under these conditions. It is proper, as
I am aware, to admire Browne's 'Britannia's Pastorals,' and to speak
reverently of Fletcher's 'Faithful Shepherdess,' and Ben Jonson's 'Sad
Shepherd.' I only venture to suggest here that such work is _caviare_
to the multitude; that it requires a fine literary sense, a happy
superiority to dull realistic suggestion, and a power of accepting
the conventional conditions which the artist has to accept for his
guidance. Possibly I may go so far as to hint without offence that
the necessity of using this artificial apparatus was not in itself
an advantage. A great master of harmony, with a mind overflowing
with majestic imagery, might achieve such triumphs as 'Comas' and
'Lycidas,' in which even the Arcadian pipe is made to utter the true
organ-tones. We forgive any incongruities or artificialities when they
are lost in such a blaze of poetry. The atmosphere of Arcadia was not
as yet sickly enough to asphyxiate a Milton; but it was ceasing to
be wholesome; and the weaker singers who imbibed it suffered under
distinct attacks of drowsiness.

Walton's good sense, or his humility, or perhaps the simple ardour
of his devotion to his hobby, encouraged him to deal in realities. He
gave the genuine sentiment which his contemporaries would only give
indirectly, transfigured and bedizened with due ornaments of classic
or romantic pattern. There is just a faint touch of unreality—a barely
perceptible flavour of the sentimental—about his personages; but
only enough to give a permissible touch of pastoral idealism. Walton
is painting directly from the life. The 'honest alehouse,' where he
finds 'a cleanly room, lavender in the windows, and twenty ballads
stuck about the wall,' was standing then on the banks of the Lea, as
in quiet country nooks, here and there, occasional representatives of
the true angler's rest are still to be found, not entirely corrupted
by the modern tourist. The good man is far too much in earnest to be
aiming at literary ornament; he is a genuine simple-minded enthusiast
revealing his kindly nature by a thousand unconscious touches. The
common objection is a misunderstanding. Everybody quotes the phrase
about using the frog 'as though you loved him;' and it is the more
piquant as following one of his characteristically pious remarks.
The frog's mouth, he tells, grows up for six months, and he lives
for six months without eating, 'sustained, none but He whose name is
Wonderful knows how.' He reverently admires the care taken of the frog
by Providence, without drawing any more inference for his own conduct
than if he were a modern physiologist. It is just this absolute
unconsciousness which makes his love of the sport attractive. He has
never looked at it from the frog's point of view. Your modern angler
has to excuse himself by some scientific hypothesis as to feeling in
the lower animals, and thereby betrays certain qualms of conscience
which had not yet come to light in Walton's day. He is no more cruel
than a schoolboy, 'ere he grows to pity.' He is simply discharging
his functions as a part of nature, like the pike or the frog; and
convinced, at the very bottom of his heart, that the angler represents
the most eminent type of enjoyment, and should be the humble inheritor
of the virtues of the fishers of Galilee. The gentlest and most pious
thoughts come naturally into his mind whilst his worm is wriggling on
his hook to entice the luckless trout. It is particularly pleasant
to notice the quotations, which give a certain air of learning to
his book. We see that the love of angling had become so ingrained
in his mind as to direct his reading as well as to provide him with
amusement. We fancy him poring on winter evenings over the pages of
Aldrovandus and Gesner and Pliny and Topsell's histories of serpents
and four-footed beasts, and humbly accepting the teaching of more
learned men, who had recorded so many strange facts unobserved by the
simple angler. He produces a couple of bishops, Dubravius and Thurso,
as eye-witnesses, to testify to a marvellous anecdote of a frog
jumping upon a pike's head and tearing out his eyes, after 'expressing
malice or anger by swollen cheeks and staring eyes.' Even Walton
cannot forbear a quiet smile at this quaint narrative. But he is ready
to believe, in all seriousness, that eels, 'like some kinds of bees
and wasps,' are bred out of dew, and to confirm it by the parallel
case of young goslings bred by the sun 'from the rotten planks of
an old ship and hatched up trees.' Science was not a dry museum of
hard facts, but a quaint storehouse of semi-mythical curiosities; and
therefore excellently fitted to fill spare hours, when he could not
meditatively indulge in 'the contemplative man's recreation.' Walton
found some queer texts for his pious meditations, and his pursuit is
not without its drawbacks. But his quaintness only adds a zest to
our enjoyment of his book; and we are content to fall in with his
humour, and to believe for the nonce that the love of a sport which so
fascinates this simple, kindly, reverent nature must be, as he takes
for granted, the very crowning grace of a character moulded on the
principles of sound Christian philosophy. Angling becomes synonymous
with purity of mind and simplicity of character.

Mr. Lowell, in one of the most charming essays ever written about a
garden, takes his text from White of Selborne, and admirably explains
the charm of that worthy representative of the Waltonian spirit. 'It
is good for us now and then,' says Mr. Lowell, 'to converse in a
world like Mr. White's, where man is the least important of animals;'
to find one's whole world in a garden, beyond the reach of wars and
rumours of wars. White does not give a thought to the little troubles
which were disturbing the souls of Burke and George III. The 'natural
term of a hog's life has more interest for him than that of an
empire;' he does not trouble his head about diplomatic complications
whilst he is discovering that the odd tumbling of rooks in the air is
caused by their turning over to scratch themselves with one claw. The
great events of his life are his making acquaintance with a stilted
plover, or his long—for it was protracted over ten years—and finally
triumphant passion for 'an old family tortoise.' White of Selborne did
not live in the rough old days when a country house had occasionally
to be a fastness; nor in our own, when he would have to consider
whether his property ought not to be 'nationalized.' He was merely a
good, kindly, domestic gentleman, on friendly terms with the parson
and the gamekeeper, and ready for a chat with the rude forefathers
of the hamlet. His horizon, natural and unnatural, is bounded by
the soft round hills and the rich hangers of his beloved Hampshire
country. There is something specially characteristic in his taste for
scenery. Though 'I have now travelled the Sussex Downs upwards of
thirty years,' he says, 'I still investigate that chain of majestic
mountains with fresh admiration year by year;' and he calls 'Mr.
Ray' to witness that there is nothing finer in any part of Europe.
'For my own part,' he says, 'I think there is somewhat peculiarly
sweet and amusing in the shapely figured aspects of chalk hills in
preference to those of stone, which are rugged, broken, abrupt, and
shapeless.' I, for my part, agree with Mr. White—so long, at least,
as I am reading his book. The Downs have a singular charm in the
exquisite play of long, gracefully undulating lines which bound their
gentle edges. If not a 'majestic range of mountains,' as judged by an
Alpine standard, there is no want of true sublimity in their springing
curves, especially when harmonised by the lights and shadows under
cloud-masses driving before a broad south-westerly gale; and when
you reach the edge of a great down, and suddenly look down into one
of the little hollows where a village with a grey church tower and a
grove of noble elms nestles amidst the fold of the hills, you fancy
that in such places of refuge there must still be relics of the quiet
domesticities enjoyed by Gilbert White. Here, one fancies, it must
be good to live; to discharge, at an easy rate, all the demands of
a society which is but a large family, and find ample excitement in
studying the rambles of a tortoise, forming intimacies with moles,
crickets and fieldmice, and bats, and brown owls, and watching the
swifts and the nightjars wheeling round the old church tower, or
hunting flies at the edge of the wood in the quiet summer evening.

In rambling through the lanes sacred to the memory of White, you may
(in fancy, at least) meet another figure not at first sight quite in
harmony with the clerical Mr. White. He is a stalwart, broad-chested
man in the farmer's dress, even ostentatiously representing the old
British yeoman brought up on beer and beef, and with a certain touch
of pugnacity suggestive of the retired prizefighter. He stops his
horse to chat with a labourer breaking stones by the roadside, and
informs the gaping rustic that wages are made bad and food dear by
the diabolical machinations of the Tories, and the fundholders and
the boroughmongers, who are draining away all the fatness of the land
to nourish the portentous 'wen' called London. He leaves the man to
meditate on this suggestion, and jogs off to the nearest country
town, where he will meet the farmers at their ordinary, and deliver
a ranting radical address. The squire or the parson who recognises
William Cobbett in this sturdy traveller, will mutter a hearty
objurgation, and wish that the disturber of rustic peace could make
a closer acquaintance with the neighbouring horsepond. Possibly most
readers who hear his name have vaguely set down Cobbett as one of the
demagogues of the anti-reforming days, and remember little more than
the fact that he dabbled in some rather questionable squabbles, and
brought back Tom Paine's bones from America. But it is worth while
to read Cobbett, and especially the 'Rural Rides,' not only to enjoy
his fine homespun English, but to learn to know the man a little
better. Whatever the deserts or demerits of Cobbett as a political
agitator, the true man was fully as much allied to modern Young
England and the later type of conservatism as to the modern radical.
He hated the Scotch 'feelosophers'—as he calls them—Parson Malthus,
the political communists, the Manchester men, the men who would break
up the old social system of the country, at the bottom of his heart;
and, whatever might be his superficial alliances, he loved the old
quiet country life when Englishmen were burly, independent yeomen,
each equal to three frog-eating Frenchmen. He remembered the relics
of the system in the days of his youth; he thought that it had begun
to decay at the time of the Reformation, when grasping landlords and
unprincipled statesmen had stolen Church property on pretence of
religion; but ever since, the growth of manufactures, and corruption,
and stockjobbing had been unpopulating the country to swell the towns,
and broken up the old, wholesome, friendly English life. That is the
text on which he is always dilating with genuine enthusiasm, and the
belief, true or false, gives a pleasant flavour to his intense relish
for true country scenery.

He looks at things, it is true, from the point of view of a farmer,
not of a landscape-painter or a lover of the picturesque. He raves
against that 'accursed hill' Hindhead; he swears that he will not go
over it; and he tells us very amusingly how, in spite of himself, he
found himself on the very 'tip top' of it, in a pelting rain, owing to
an incompetent guide. But he loves the woodlands and the downs, and
bursts into vivid enthusiasm at fine points of view. He is specially
ecstatic in White's country. 'On we trotted,' he says, 'up this pretty
green lane, and, indeed, we had been coming gently and gradually
up-hill for a good while. The lane was between high banks, and pretty
high stuff growing on the banks, so that we could see no distance from
us, and could receive not the smallest hint of what was so near at
hand. The lane had a little turn towards the end, so that we came,
all in a moment, at the very edge of the hanger; and never in my life
was I so surprised and delighted! I pulled up my horse, and sat and
looked. It was like looking from the top of a castle down into the
sea, except that the valley was land and not water. I looked at my
servant to see what effect this unexpected sight had upon him. His
surprise was as great as mine, though he had been bred amongst the
North Hampshire hills. Those who have so strenuously dwelt on the dirt
and dangers of this road have said not a word about the beauties, the
matchless beauties, of the scenery.' And Cobbett goes on to describe
the charms of the view over Selborne, and to fancy what it will be
'when trees, and hangers, and hedges are in leaf, the corn waving, the
meadows bright, and the hops upon the poles,' in language which is
not after the modern style of word-painting, but excites a contagious
enthusiasm by its freshness and sincerity. He is equally enthusiastic
soon afterwards at the sight of Avington Park and a lake swarming with
wild fowl; and complains of the folly of modern rapid travelling. 'In
any sort of carriage you cannot get into the _real country places_. To
travel in stage-coaches is to be hurried along by force in a box with
an air-hole in it, and constantly exposed to broken limbs, the danger
being much greater than that of ship-board, and the noise much more
disagreeable, while the company is frequently not a great deal more to
one's liking.' What would Cobbett have said to a railway? And what has
become of the old farmhouse on the banks of the Mole, once the home
of 'plain manners and plentiful living,' with 'oak clothes-chests,
oak bedsteads, oak chests of drawers, and oak tables to eat on, long,
strong, and well supplied with joint stools?' Now, he sighs, there is
a '_parlour_! aye, and a _carpet_, and _bell-pull_ too! and a mahogany
table, and the fine chairs, and the fine glass, and all as barefaced
upstart as any stockjobber in the kingdom can boast of!' Probably the
farmhouse has followed the furniture, and, meanwhile, what has become
of the fine old British hospitality, when the farmer and his lads and
lasses dined at one table, and a solid Englishman did not squeeze
money out of his men's wages to surround himself with trumpery finery?

To say the truth, Cobbett's fine flow of invective is a little too
exuberant, and overlays too deeply the picturesque touches of scenery
and the occasional bits of autobiography which recall his boyish
experience of the old country life. It would be idle to inquire how
far his vision of the old English country had any foundation in fact.
Our hills and fields may be as lovely as ever; and there is still
ample room for the lovers of 'nature' in Scotch moors and lochs, or
even amongst the English fells, or among the storm-beaten cliffs of
Devon and Cornwall. But nature, as I have said, is not the country.
We are not in search of the scenery which appears now as it appeared
in the remote days when painted savages managed to raise a granite
block upon its supports for the amusement of future antiquaries. We
want the country which bears the impress of some characteristic social
growth; which has been moulded by its inhabitants as the inhabitants
by it, till one is as much adapted to the other as the lichen to the
rock on which it grows. How bleak and comfortless a really natural
country may be is apparent to the readers of Thoreau. He had all the
will to become a part of nature, and to shake himself free from the
various trammels of civilised life, and he had no small share of the
necessary qualifications; but one cannot read his account of his
life by Walden pond without a shivering sense of discomfort. He is
not really acclimatised; so far from being a true child of nature, he
is a man of theories, a product of the social state against which he
tries to revolt. He does not so much relish the wilderness as to go
out into the wilderness in order to rebuke his contemporaries. There
is something harsh about him and his surroundings, and he affords an
unconscious proof that something more is necessary for the civilised
man who would become a true man of the woods than simply to strip off
his clothes. He has got tolerably free from tailors; but he still
lives in the intellectual atmosphere of Cambridge debating-rooms.

To find a life really in harmony with a rustic environment, we must
not go to raw settlements where man is still fighting with the outside
world, but to some region where a reconciliation has been worked out
by an experience of centuries. And amidst all the restlessness of
modern improvers we may still find a few regions where the old genius
has not been quite exorcised. Here and there, in country lanes, and
on the edge of unenclosed commons, we may still meet the gipsy—the
type of a race adapted to live in the interstices of civilisation,
having something of the indefinable grace of all wild animals, and
yet free from the absolute savagery of the genuine wilderness. To
mention gipsies is to think of George Borrow; and I always wonder
that the author of the 'Bible in Spain' and 'Lavengro' is not more
popular. Certainly, I have found no more delightful guide to the
charming nooks and corners of rural England. I would give a good
deal to identify that remarkable dingle in which he met so singular
a collection of characters. Does it really exist, I wonder, anywhere
on this island? or did it ever exist? and, if so, has it become a
railway-station, and what has become of Isopel Berners and 'Blazing
Bosville, the flaming Tinman?' His very name is as good as a poem,
and the battle in which Borrow floored the Tinman by that happy
left-handed blow is, to my mind, more delightful than the fight in
'Tom Brown,' or that in which Dobbin acted as the champion of Osborne.
Borrow is a 'humourist' of the first water. He lives in a world of
his own—a queer world with laws peculiar to itself, and yet one which
has all manner of odd and unexpected points of contact with the
prosaic world of daily experience. Borrow's Bohemianism is no revolt
against the established order. He does not invoke nature or fly to
the hedges because society is corrupt or the world unsatisfying, or
because he has some kind of new patent theory of life to work out.
He cares nothing for such fancies. On the contrary, he is a staunch
conservative, full of good old-fashioned prejudices. He seems to be
a case of the strange re-appearance of an ancestral instinct under
altered circumstances. Some of his forefathers must have been gipsies
by temperament if not by race; and the impulses due to that strain
have got themselves blended with the characteristics of the average
Englishman. The result is a strange and yet, in a way, harmonious and
original type which made the 'Bible in Spain' a puzzle to the average
reader. The name suggested a work of the edifying class. Here was a
good respectable emissary of the Bible Society going to convert poor
papists by a distribution of the Scriptures. He has returned to write
a long tract setting forth the difficulties of his enterprise, and
the stiff-neckedness of the Spanish people. The luckless reader who
took up the book on that understanding was destined to a strange
disappointment. True, Borrow appeared to take his enterprise quite
seriously, indulges in the proper reflections, and gets into the
regulation difficulty involving an appeal to the British minister.
But it soon appears that his Protestant zeal is somehow mixed up
with a passion for strange wanderings in the queerest of company. To
him Spain is not the land of staunch Catholicism, or of Cervantes,
or of Velasquez, and still less a country of historic or political
interest. Its attraction is in the picturesque outcasts who find ample
roaming-ground in its wilder regions. He regards them, it is true, as
occasional subjects for a little proselytism. He tells us how he once
delivered a moving address to the gipsies in their own language to his
most promising congregation. When he had finished he looked up and
found himself the centre of all eyes, each pair contorted by a hideous
squint, rivalling each other in frightfulness; and the performance,
which he seems to have thoroughly appreciated, pretty well expressed
the gipsy view of his missionary enterprise. But they delighted to
welcome him in his other character as one of themselves, and yet as
dropping amongst them from the hostile world outside. And, certainly,
no one not thoroughly at home with gipsy ways, gipsy modes of thought,
to whom it comes quite naturally to put up in a den of cutthroats,
or to enter the field of his missionary enterprise in company with
a professional brigand travelling on business, could have given us
so singular a glimpse of the most picturesque elements of a strange
country. Your respectable compiler of handbooks might travel for years
in the same districts all unconscious that passing vagabonds were so
fertile in romance. The freemasonry which exists amongst the class
lying outside the pale of respectability enables Borrow to fall in
with adventures full of mysterious fascination. He passes through
forests at night, and his horse suddenly stops and trembles, whilst he
hears heavy footsteps and rustling branches, and some heavy body is
apparently dragged across the road by panting but invisible bearers.
He enters a shadowy pass, and is met by a man with a face streaming
with blood, who implores him not to go forwards into the hands of a
band of robbers; and Borrow is too sleepy and indifferent to stop, and
jogs on in safety without meeting the knife which he half expected.
'It was not so written,' he says, with the genuine fatalism of your
hand-to-mouth Bohemian. He crosses a wild moor with a half-witted
guide, who suddenly deserts him at a little tavern. After a wild
gallop on a pony, apparently half-witted also, he at last rejoins the
guide resting by a fountain. This gentleman condescends to explain
that he is in the habit of bolting after a couple of glasses, and
never stops till he comes to running water. The congenial pair lose
themselves at nightfall, and the guide observes that if they should
meet the Estadéa, which are spirits of the dead riding with candle in
their hands—a phenomenon happily rare in this region—he shall 'run
and run till he drowns himself in the sea, somewhere near Muros.' The
Estadéa do not appear, but Borrow and his guide come near being hanged
as Don Carlos and a nephew, escaping only by the help of a sailor who
knows the English words knife and fork, and can therefore testify to
Borrow's nationality; and is finally liberated by an official who is
a devoted student of Jeremy Bentham. The queer stumbling upon a name
redolent of everyday British life throws the surrounding oddity into
quaint relief. But Borrow encounters more mysterious characters. There
is the wondrous Abarbenell, whom he meets riding by night, and with
whom he soon becomes hand and glove. Abarbenell is a huge figure in a
broad-brimmed hat, who stares at him in the moonlight with deep calm
eyes, and still revisits him in dreams. He has two wives and a hidden
treasure of old coins, and when the gates of his house are locked,
and the big dogs loose in the court, he dines off ancient plate made
before the discovery of America. There are many of his race amongst
the priesthood, and even an Archbishop, who died in great renown for
sanctity, had come by night to kiss his father's hand. Nor can any
reader forget the singular history of Benedict Mol, the wandering
Swiss, who turns up now and then in the course of his search for the
hidden treasure at Compostella. Men who live in strange company learn
the advantage of not asking questions, or following out delicate
inquiries; and these singular figures are the more attractive because
they come and go, half-revealing themselves for a moment, and then
vanishing into outside mystery; as the narrator himself sometimes
merges into the regions of absolute commonplace, and then dives down
below the surface into the remotest recesses of the social labyrinth.

In Spain there may be room for such wild adventures. In the trim,
orderly, English country we might fancy they had gone out with the
fairies. And yet Borrow meets a decayed pedlar in Spain who seems to
echo his own sentiments; and tells him that even the most prosperous
of his tribe who have made their fortunes in America, return in their
dreams to the green English lanes and farmyards. 'There they are with
their boxes on the ground displaying their goods to the honest rustics
and their dames and their daughters, and selling away and chaffering
and laughing just as of old. And there they are again at nightfall in
the hedge alehouses, eating their toasted cheese and their bread,
and drinking the Suffolk ale, and listening to the roaring song and
merry jests of the labourers.' It is the old picturesque country life
which fascinates Borrow, and he was fortunate enough to plunge into
the heart of it before it had been frightened away by the railways.
'Lavengro' is a strange medley, which is nevertheless charming by
reason of the odd idiosyncrasy which fits the author to interpret
this fast vanishing phase of life. It contains queer controversial
irrelevance—conversations or stories which may or may not be more
or less founded on fact, tending to illustrate the pernicious
propagandism of Popery, the evil done by Sir Walter Scott's novels,
and the melancholy results of the decline of pugilism. And then we
have satire of a simple kind upon literary craftsmen, and excursions
into philology which show at least an amusing dash of innocent vanity.
But the oddity of these quaint utterances of a humourist who seeks
to find the most congenial mental food in the Bible, the Newgate
Calendar, and in old Welsh literature, is in thorough keeping with
the situation. He is the genuine tramp whose experience is naturally
made up of miscellaneous waifs and strays; who drifts into contact
with the most eccentric beings, and parts company with them at a
moment's notice, or catching hold of some stray bit of out-of-the-way
knowledge follows it up as long as it amuses him. He is equally at
home compounding narratives of the lives of eminent criminals for
London booksellers, or making acquaintance with thimbleriggers, or
pugilists, or Armenian merchants, or becoming a hermit in his remote
dingle, making his own shoes and discussing theology with a postboy, a
feminine tramp, and a Jesuit in disguise. The compound is too quaint
for fiction, but is made interesting by the quaint vein of simplicity
and the touch of genius which brings out the picturesque side of
his roving existence, and yet leaves one in doubt how far the author
appreciates his own singularity. One old gipsy lady in particular,
who turns up at intervals, is as fascinating as Meg Merrilies, and
at once made life-like and more mysterious. 'My name is Herne, and
I comes of the hairy ones!' are the remarkable words by which she
introduces herself. She bitterly regrets the intrusion of a Gentile
into the secrets of the Romanies, and relieves her feelings by
administering poison to the intruder, and then trying to poke out his
eye as he is lying apparently in his last agonies. But she seems to
be highly respected by her victim as well as by her own people, and
to be acting in accordance with the moral teaching of her tribe. Her
design is frustrated by the appearance of a Welsh Methodist preacher,
who, like every other strange being, is at once compelled to unbosom
himself to this odd confessor. He fancies himself to have committed
the unpardonable sin at the age of six, and is at once comforted by
Borrow's sensible observation that he should not care if he had done
the same thing twenty times over at the same period. The grateful
preacher induces his consoler to accompany him to the borders of
Wales; but there Borrow suddenly stops on the ground that he should
prefer to enter Wales in a suit of superfine black, mounted on a
powerful steed like that which bore Greduv to the fight of Catrath,
and to be welcomed at a dinner of the bards, as the translator of the
odes of the great Ab Gwilym. And Mr. Petulengro opportunely turns
up at the instant, and Borrow rides back with him, and hears that
Mrs. Herne has hanged herself, and celebrates the meeting by a fight
without gloves, but in pure friendliness, and then settles down to the
life of a blacksmith in his secluded dingle.

Certainly it is a queer topsy-turvy world to which we are introduced
in 'Lavengro.' It gives the reader the sensation of a strange dream in
which all the miscellaneous population of caravans and wayside tents
make their exits and entrances at random, mixed with such eccentrics
as the distinguished author, who has a mysterious propensity for
touching odd objects as a charm against evil. All one's ideas are
dislocated when the centre of interest is no longer in the thick
of the crowd, but in that curious limbo whither drift all the odd
personages who live in the interstices without being caught by the
meshes of the great network of ordinary convention. Perhaps the oddity
repels many readers; but to me it always seems that Borrow's dingle
represents a little oasis of genuine romance—a kind of half-visionary
fragment of fairyland, which reveals itself like the enchanted castle
in the vale of St. John, and then vanishes after tantalising and
arousing one's curiosity. It will never be again discovered by any
flesh-and-blood traveller; but, in my imaginary travels, I like to
rusticate there for a time, and to feel as if the gipsy was the true
possessor of the secret of life, and we who travel by rail and read
newspapers and consider ourselves to be sensible men of business,
were but vexatious intruders upon this sweet dream. There must,
one supposes, be a history of England from the Petulengro point of
view, in which the change of dynasties recognised by Hume and Mr.
Freeman, or the oscillations of power between Lord Beaconsfield and
Mr. Gladstone, appear in relative insignificance as more or less
affecting certain police regulations and the inclosure of commons. It
is pleasant for a time to feel as though the little rivulet were the
main stream, and the social outcast the true centre of society. The
pure flavour of the country life is only perceptible when one has
annihilated all disturbing influences; and in that little dingle with
its solitary forge beneath the woods haunted by the hairy Hernes, that
desirable result may be achieved for a time, even in a London library.


Had we been asked a few weeks ago to name the greatest living
writer of English fiction, the answer would have been unanimous. No
one—whatever might be his special personal predilections—would have
refused that title to George Eliot. To ask the same question now would
be to suggest some measure of our loss. In losing George Eliot we have
probably lost the greatest woman who ever won literary fame, and one
of the very few writers of our day to whom the name 'great' could be
conceded with any plausibility. We are not at a sufficient distance
from the object of our admiration to measure its true elevation. We
are liable to a double illusion on the morrow of such events. In
political life we fancy that all heroism is extinct with the dead
leader, whilst there are within the realm five hundred good as he.
Yet the most daring optimist can hardly suppose that consolatory
creed to be generally true in literature. If contemporaries sometimes
exaggerate, they not unfrequently under-estimate their loss. When
Shakespeare died, nobody imagined—we may suspect—that the English
drama had touched its highest point. When men are crossing the lines
which divide one of the fruitful from one of the barren epochs in
literature, they are often but faintly conscious of the change. It
would require no paradoxical ingenuity to maintain that we are even
now going through such a transition. The works of George Eliot may
hereafter appear as marking the termination of the great period of
English fiction which began with Scott. She may hereafter be regarded
as the last great sovereign of a literary dynasty, who had to bequeath
her sceptre to a comparatively petty line of successors: though—for
anything that we can say to the contrary—it may also be true that
the successor may appear to-morrow, or may even be now amongst us in
the shape of some writer who is struggling against a general want of

Ephemeral critics must not pretend to pronounce too confidently upon
such questions. They can only try to say, in Mr. Browning's phrase,
how it strikes a contemporary. And a contemporary is prompted by
the natural regret to stray into irrelevant reflections, and dwell
needlessly in the region of might-have-beens. Had George Eliot lived
a little longer, or begun to write a little earlier, or been endowed
with some additional quality which she did not in fact possess,
she might have done greater things still. It is very true, and
true of others besides George Eliot. It often seems as if even the
greatest works of the greatest writers were but fragmentary waifs and
strays—mere indications of more splendid achievements which would
have been within their grasp, had they not been forced, like weaker
people, to feel out the way to success through comparative failure,
or to bend their genius to unworthy tasks. So, of the great writers
in her own special department, Fielding wasted his powers in writing
third-rate plays till he was five-and-thirty, and died a broken-down
man at forty-seven. Scott did not appear in the field of his greatest
victories till he was forty-three, and all his really first-rate work
was done within the next ten years. George Eliot's period of full
activity, the time during which she was conscientiously doing her
best under the stimulus of high reputation, lasted some twenty years;
and so long a space is fully up to the average of the time allowed
to most great writers. If not a voluminous writer, according to the
standard of recent novelists, she has left enough work, representative
of her powers at their best, to give a full impress of her mind.

So far, I think, we have little reason for regret. When once a writer
has managed to express the best that was in him to say, the question
of absolute mass is trifling. Though some very great have also been
very voluminous writers, the immortal part of their achievement
bears a slight proportion to the whole. It is melancholy to look at
the 'complete works' of famous writers and compute the quantity of
comparative rubbish that has been piled over the jewels. Hardly any
great English writer has left a greater quantity of work representing
the highest level of the author's capacity than is equivalent to the
'Scenes of Clerical Life,' 'Adam Bede,' the 'Mill on the Floss,'
'Silas Marner,' 'Romola,' and 'Middlemarch.' Certainly, she might
have done more. She did not begin to write novels till a period at
which many popular authors are already showing symptoms of exhaustion,
and indulging in the perilous practice of self-imitation. Why, it
may be said, did not George Eliot write immortal works in her youth,
instead of translating German authors of a heterodox tendency? If
we could arrange all such things to our taste, and could foresee a
writer's powers from the beginning, we might have ordered matters
differently. Yet one may observe that there is another side to the
question. Imaginative minds often ripen quickly; and much of the
finest poetry in the language derives its charm from the freshness of
youth. But writers of the contemplative order—those whose best works
represent the general experience of a rich and thoughtful nature—may
be expected to come later to their maturity. The phenomenon of early
exhaustion is too common in these days to allow us to regret an
occasional exception. If during her youth George Eliot was storing
the thoughts and emotions which afterwards shaped themselves into
the 'Scenes of Clerical Life,' we need not suppose that the time was
wasted. Certainly, I do not think that any one who has had a little
experience in such matters would regard it as otherwise than dangerous
for a powerful mind to be precipitated into public utterance. The
Pythagorean probation of silence may be protracted too long; but it
may afford a most useful discipline; and I think that there is nothing
preposterous in the supposition that George Eliot's work was all the
more powerful because it came from a novelist who had lain fallow
through a longer period than ordinary.

If it is rather idle to pursue such speculations, it is still more
idle to indulge in that kind of criticism which virtually comes to
saying that George Eliot ought to have been Walter Scott or Charlotte
Brontë. You may think her inferior to those writers; you may dislike
her philosophy or her character; and you are fully justified in
expressing your dislike. But it is only fair to ask whether the
qualities which you disapprove were mere external and adventitious
familiarities or the inseparable adjunct of those which you admire.
It is important to remember this in considering some of the common
criticisms. The poor woman was not content simply to write amusing
stories. She is convicted upon conclusive evidence of having indulged
in ideas; she ventured to speculate upon human life and its meaning,
and still worse, she endeavoured to embody her convictions in
imaginative shapes, and probably wished to infect her readers with
them. This was, according to some people, highly unbecoming in a woman
and very inartistic in a novelist. I confess that, for my part, I am
rather glad to find ideas anywhere. They are not very common; and
there are a vast number of excellent fictions which these sensitive
critics may study without the least danger of a shock to their
artistic sensibilities by anything of the kind. But if you will permit
a poor novelist to indulge in such awkward possessions, I cannot see
why he or she should not be allowed occasionally to interweave them
in her narrative, taking care of course to keep them in their proper
place. Some of that mannerism which offends many critics represents in
fact simply George Eliot's way of using this privilege. We are indeed
told dogmatically that a novelist should never indulge in little
asides to the reader. Why not? One main advantage of a novel, as it
seems to me, is precisely that it leaves room for a freedom in such
matters which is incompatible with the requirements, for example, of
dramatic writing. I can enjoy Scott's downright storytelling, which
never reminds you obtrusively of the presence of the author; but with
all respect for Scott, I do not see why his manner should be the
sole type and model for all his successors. I like to read about Tom
Jones or Colonel Newcome; but I am also very glad when Fielding or
Thackeray puts his puppets aside for the moment and talks to me in
his own person. A child, it is true, dislikes to have the illusion
broken, and is angry if you try to persuade him that Giant Despair
was not a real personage like his favourite Blunderbore. But the
attempt to produce such illusions is really unworthy of work intended
for full-grown readers. The humourist in particular knows that you
will not mistake his puppet-show for reality, nor does he wish you
to do so. He is rather of opinion that the world itself is a greater
puppet-show, not to be taken in too desperate earnest. It is congenial
to his whole mode of thought to act occasionally as chorus, and dwell
upon some incidental suggestion. The solemn critic may step forward,
like the physician who attended Sancho Panza's meal, and waive aside
the condiment which gives a peculiar relish to the feast. It is not
prepared according to his recipe. But till he gives me some better
reason for obedience than his _ipse dixit_, I shall refuse to respect
what would destroy many charming passages and obliterate touches which
clearly contribute to the general effect of George Eliot's work.

Were it not indeed that some critics in authority have dwelt upon
this supposed defect, I should be disposed simply to plead 'not
guilty,' for I think that any one who reads the earlier books with
the criticism in his mind, and notes the passages which are really
obnoxious upon this ground, will be surprised at the rarity of the
passages to which it applies. One cannot help suspecting that what is
really offensive is not so much the method itself as the substance of
the reflections introduced, and occasionally the cumbrous style in
which they are expressed. And upon these points there is more to be
said. But it is more desirable, if one can do it, to say what George
Eliot was than what she was not; and to try to catch the secret of her
unique power rather than to dwell upon shortcomings, some of which, to
say the truth, are so obvious that it requires little critical acumen
to discover them, and a decided tinge of antipathy to dwell upon them
at length.

What is it, in fact, which makes us conscious that George Eliot had
a position apart; that, in a field where she had so many competitors
of no mean capacity, she stands out as superior to all her rivals; or
that, whilst we can easily imagine that many other reputations will
fade with a change of fashion, there is something in George Eliot
which we are confident will give delight to our grandchildren as it
has to ourselves? To such questions there is one obvious answer at
hand. There is one part of her writings upon which every competent
reader has dwelt with delight, and which seems fresher and more
charming whenever we come back to it. There is no danger of arousing
any controversy in saying that the works of her first period, the
'Scenes of Clerical Life,' 'Adam Bede,' 'Silas Marner,' and the
'Mill on the Floss,' have the unmistakable mark of high genius. They
are something for which it is simply out of the question to find
any substitute. Strike them out of English literature, and we feel
that there would be a gap not to be filled up; a distinct vein of
thought and feeling unrepresented; a characteristic and delightful
type of social development left without any adequate interpreter. A
second-rate writer can be more or less replaced. When you have read
Shakespeare, you can do very well without Beaumont and Fletcher, and
a study of the satires of Pope makes it unnecessary to plod through
the many volumes filled by his imitators. But we feel that, however
much we may admire the other great English novelists, there is none
who would make the study of George Eliot superfluous. The sphere which
she has made specially her own is that quiet English country life
which she knew in early youth. It has been described with more or
less vivacity and sympathy by many observers. Nobody has approached
George Eliot in the power of seizing its essential characteristics
and exhibiting its real charm. She has done for it what Scott did
for the Scotch peasantry, or Fielding for the eighteenth-century
Englishman, or Thackeray for the higher social stratum of his time.
Its last traces are vanishing so rapidly amidst the changes of
modern revolution that its picture could hardly be drawn again, even
if there were an artist of equal skill and penetration. And thus,
when the name of George Eliot is mentioned, it calls up, to me at
least, and, I suspect, to most readers, not so much her later and
more ambitious works, as the exquisite series of scenes so lovingly
and vividly presented in the earlier stage: snuffy old Mr. Gilfil,
drinking his gin-and-water in his lonely parlour and dreaming of the
early romance of his life, with his faithful Ponto snoring on the rug;
and the inimitable Mrs. Poyser in her exquisite dairy, delivering
her soul in a series of pithy aphorisms, bright as the little flames
in Mr. Biglow's pastoral, that 'danced about the chaney on the
dresser;' and the party in the parlour of the 'Rainbow' discussing
the evidences for 'ghos'es;' or the family conclaves in which the
affairs of the Tulliver family were discussed from so many and such
admirably contrasted points of view. Where shall we find a more
delightful circle, or quainter manifestations of human character,
in beings grotesque, misshapen, and swathed in old prejudices, like
the mossy trees in an old fashioned orchard, which, for all their
vagaries of growth, are yet full of sap and capable of bearing mellow
and toothsome fruit? 'It was pleasant to Mr. Tryan,' as we are told
in 'Janet's Repentance,' 'to listen to the simple chat of the old
man—to walk in the shade of the incomparable orchard and hear the
story of the crops yielded by the red-streaked apple-tree, and the
quite embarrassing plentifulness of the summer pears—to drink in
the sweet evening breath of the garden as they sat in the alcove—and
so, for a short interval, to feel the strain of his pastoral task
relaxed.' Our enjoyment is analogous to Mr. Tryan's. We are soothed
by the atmosphere of the old-world country life, where people, no
doubt, had as many troubles as ours, but troubles which, because they
were different, seem more bearable to our imagination. We half wish
that we could go back to the old days of stage-coaches and waggons
and shambling old curates in 'Brutus wigs' preaching to slumbrous
congregations enshrouded in high-backed pews, contemplating as little
the advent of railways as of a race of clergymen capable of going to
prison upon a question of ritual.

So far, indeed, it can hardly be said that George Eliot is unique.
She has been approached, if she has not been surpassed, by other
writers in her idyllic effects. But there is something less easily
paralleled in the peculiar vein of humour which is the essential
complement of the more tender passages. Mrs. Poyser is necessary to
balance the solemnity of Dinah Morris. Silas Marner would lose half
his impressiveness if he were not in contrast with the inimitable
party in the 'Rainbow' parlour. Omit the few pages in which their
admirable conversation is reported, and the whole harmony of the
book would be altered. The change would be as fatal as to strike
out a figure in some perfect composition, where the most trifling
accessory may really be an essential part of the whole design. It
might throw some light upon George Eliot's peculiar power if we could
fairly analyse the charm of that little masterpiece. Psychologists
are very fond of attempting to define the nature of wit and humour.
Hitherto they have not been very successful, though of course, their
failure cannot be due to any want of personal appreciation of those
qualities. But I should certainly despair of giving any account of
the pleasure which one receives from that famous conflict of rustic
wits. Why are we charmed by Ben Winthorp's retort to the parish clerk:
'It's your inside as isn't right made for music; it's no better nor
a hollow stalk;' and the statement that this 'unflinching frankness
was regarded by the company as the most piquant form of joke;' or by
the landlord's ingenious remarks upon the analogy between a power
of smelling cheeses and perceiving the supernatural; or by that
quaint stumble into something surprising to the speaker himself by
its apparent resemblance to witty repartee, when the same person
says to the farrier: 'You're a doctor, I reckon, though you're only
a cow-doctor; for a fly's a fly, though it may be a horse-fly'? One
can understand at a proper distance how a clever man comes to say a
brilliant thing, and it is still more easy to understand how he can
say a thoroughly silly thing, and, therefore, how he can simulate
stupidity. But there is something mysterious in the power possessed
by a few great humourists of converting themselves for the nonce into
that peculiar condition of muddle-headedness dashed with grotesque
flashes of common-sense which is natural to a half-educated mind.
It is less difficult to draw either a perfect circle or a purely
arbitrary line than to see what will be the projection of the regular
figure on some queer, lop-sided, and imperfectly-reflecting surface.
And these quaint freaks of rustic intelligence seem to be rags and
tatters of what would make wit and reason in a cultivated mind, but
when put together in this grotesque kaleidoscopic confusion suggests,
not simple nonsense, but a ludicrous parody of sense. To reproduce the
effect, you have not simply to lower the activity of the reasoning
machine, but to put it together on some essential plan, so as to bring
out a new set of combinations distantly recalling the correct order.
We require not a new defect of logic, but a new logical structure.

There is no answer to this as to any other such problems. It is enough
to take note of the fact that George Eliot possessed a vein of humour,
of which it is little to say that it is incomparably superior, in
depth if not in delicacy, to that of any feminine writer. It is the
humour of a calm contemplative mind, familiar with wide fields of
knowledge and capable of observing the little dramas of rustic life
from a higher standing-point. It is not—in these earlier books at any
rate—that she obtrudes her acquirements upon us; for if here and there
we find some of those scientific illusions which afterwards became
a kind of mannerism, they are introduced without any appearance of
forcing. It is simply that she is awake to those quaint aspects of
the little world before her which only show their quaintness to the
cultivated intellect. We feel that there must be a silent guest in
the chimney-corner of the 'Rainbow,' so thoroughly at home with the
natives as to put no stress upon their behaviour, and yet one who has
travelled out of sight of the village spire and known the thoughts
and feelings which are stirring in the great world outside. The guest
can at once sympathise and silently criticise; or rather, in the
process of observation, carries on the two processes simultaneously
by recognising at once the little oddities of the microcosm, and
yet seeing them as merely one embodiment of the same thoughts and
passions which present themselves on a larger scale elsewhere. It is
in this happy combination of two characteristics often disjoined that
we have one secret of George Eliot's power. There is the breadth
of touch, the large-minded equable spirit of loving contemplative
thought, which is fully conscious of the narrow limitations of the
actor's thoughts and habits, but does not cease on that account to
sympathise with his joys and sorrows. We are on a petty stage, but
not in a stifling atmosphere, and we are not called upon to accept
the prejudices of the actors or to be angry with them, but simply to
understand and be tolerant. We have neither the country idyll of the
sentimentalist which charms us in some of George Sand's stories of
French life, but in which our enjoyment is checked by the inevitable
sense of unreality, nor the caricature of the satirist who is anxious
to proclaim the truth that base passions and grovelling instincts are
as common in country towns as in court and city. Everything is quietly
set before us with a fine sense of its wider relations, and yet with a
loving touch, significant of a pathetic yearning for the past, which
makes the whole picture artistically charming. We are reminded in Mr.
Gilfil's love-story how, whilst poor little Tina was fretting over
her wrongs, the 'stream of human thought and deed was hurrying and
broadening around.' 'What were our little Tina and her trouble in this
mighty torrent, rushing from one awful unknown to another? Lighter
than the smallest centre of quivering life in the water drop—hidden
and uncared for as the pulse of anguish in the breast of the tiniest
bird that has fluttered down to its nest with the long-sought food,
and has found the nest torn and empty.' It is this constant reference,
tacit or express, suggested by pathetic touches, and by humorous
exhibition of the incongruities and contrasts of the little drama of
village life to the outer world beyond, and to the wider universe in
which it too is an atom, that distinctly raises George Eliot above
the level of many merely picturesque descriptions of similar scenes.
We feel that the artist is at an intellectual elevation high enough to
be beyond the illusions of the city fashion; but the singular charm
springs out of the tender affection which reproduces the little world
left so far behind and hallowed by the romance of early association.

George Eliot's own view of the matter is given in more than one of
these objectionable 'asides' of which we have had to speak. She
entreats us to try to see the poetry and the pathos, the tragedy and
the comedy, to be found in the experience of poor dingy Amos Barton.
She rarely looks, she says, at 'a bent old man or a wizened old woman'
without seeing 'the past of which they are the shrunken remnant; and
the unfinished romance of rosy cheeks and bright eyes seems sometimes
of feeble interest and significance compared with that drama of hope
and love which has long ago reached its catastrophe, and left the poor
soul, like a dim and dusty stage, with all its sweet garden scenes
and fair perspectives overturned and thrust out of sight.' To reflect
that we ought to see wizened old men and women with such eyes is of
course easy enough; to have such eyes—really to see what we know
that we ought to see—is to possess true genius. George Eliot is not
laying down a philosophical maxim to be proved and illustrated, but is
attempting to express the animating principle of a labour of love. Mr.
Gilfil, the person who suggests this remark, is the embodiment of the
abstract principle, and makes us feel that it is no empty profession.
Everybody has noticed how admirably George Eliot has portrayed certain
phases of religious feeling with which, in one sense, she had long
ceased to sympathise. Amongst subsidiary actors in her stories,
none are more tenderly and lovingly touched than the old-fashioned
parsons and Dissenting preachers—Barton and Gilfil and Tryan, and
Irwin and Dinah Morris in 'Adam Bede,' and Mr. Lyon in 'Felix Holt.'
I do not know that they or their successors would have much call to
be grateful. For, in truth, it is plain enough that the interest is
in the kindly old-fashioned parson, considered as a valuable factor
in the social system, and that his creed is not taken to be the
source of his strength; whilst the few Methodists and the brethren in
Lantern Yard are regarded as attaining a very imperfect and stammering
version of truths capable of being very completely dissevered from
their dogmatic teaching. In any case, her breach with the creed of her
youth involved no breach of the ties formed by early reverence for its
representatives. The change involved none of the bitterness which is
sometimes generated by a spiritual revolt. Dickens—who is sometimes
supposed to represent the version of modern Christianity—could
apparently see nothing in a Dissenting preacher but an unctuous and
sensual hypocrite—a vulgarised Tartufe such as Stiggins and Chadband.
If George Eliot had been the mere didactic preacher of mere critics,
she might have set before us mere portraits of spiritual pride or
clerical charlatanism. But whatever her creed, she was too deep a
humourist, too thoughtful and too tender, to fall into such an error.
She never sinned against the 'natural piety' which should bind our
days together. The tender regard which she had retained for all the
surroundings of her youth did not fail towards those whose teaching
had once roused her reverence, and which could never become the
objects of indiscriminate antipathy.

In this one may perhaps say George Eliot was a true woman. Women,
indeed, can be fully as bitter in their resentment as the harsher
sex; but their bitterness seems to be generated in the attempt to
outdo their masculine rivals, and to imply perverted rather than
deficient sensibility. They seldom exhibit pachydermatous indifference
to their neighbour's emotions. The so-called masculine quality in
George Eliot—her wide and calm intelligence—was certainly combined
with a thoroughly feminine nature; and the more one reads her books
and notes her real triumphs, the more strongly this comes out.
The poetry and pathos which she seeks to reveal under commonplace
surroundings is found chiefly in feminine hearts. Each of the early
books is the record of an ordeal endured by some suffering woman. In
the 'Scenes of Clerical Life' the interest really centres in the women
whose fate is bound up with the acts of the clerical heroes; it is
Janet and Molly Barton in whom we are really interested; and if poor
little Tina is too weak to be a heroine, her vigorous struggle against
the destinies is the pivot of the story. That George Eliot succeeded
remarkably in some male portraits, and notably in Tom Tulliver, is
undeniable. Yet the men were often simply women in disguise. The
piquancy, for example, of the famous character of Tito is greatly
due to the fact that he is the voluptuous, selfish, but sensitive
character, not unfamiliar in the fiction which deals with social
intrigues, but generally presented to us in feminine costume. We are
told of Daniel Deronda, upon whose character an extraordinary amount
of analysis is expended, that he combined a feminine affectionateness
with masculine inflexibility. To our perceptions, the feminine vein
becomes decidedly the most prominent; and this is equally true of
such characters as Philip Wakem and Mr. Lyon. Adam Bede, indeed, to
mention no one else, is a thorough man. He represents, it would seem,
that ideal of masculine strength which Miss Brontë tried with curious
want of success to depict in Louis Moore—the firm arm, the offer of
which (as we are told _à propos_ of Maggie Tulliver and the offensive
Stephen Guest) has in it 'something strangely winning to most women.'
Yet if Adam Bede had shown less Christian forbearance to young Squire
Donnithorne, we should have been more convinced that he was of
masculine fibre throughout.

Here we approach more disputable matters. George Eliot's early books
owe their charm to the exquisite painting of the old country-life—an
achievement made possible by a tender imagination brooding over a
vanishing past—but, if we may make the distinction, they owe their
greatness to the insight into passions not confined to one race or
period. Janet Dempster would lose much of her charm if she were
transplanted from Milby to London; but she would still be profoundly
interesting as representing a marked type of feminine character.
Balzac—or somebody else—said, or is said to have said, that there
were only seven possible plots in fiction. Without pledging oneself
to the particular number, one may admit that the number of radically
different motives is remarkably small. It may be added that even great
writers rarely show their highest capacity in more than one of these
typical situations. It is not hard to say which is George Eliot's
favourite theme. We may call it—speaking with proper reserve—the woman
in need of a confessor. We may have the comparatively shallow nature,
the poor wilful little Tina, or Hetty or Tessa—the mere plaything
of fate, whom we pity because in her childish ignorance she is apt,
like little Red Ridinghood, to mistake the wolf for a friend, though
not exactly to take him for a grandmother. Or we have the woman with
noble aspirations—Janet, or Dinah, or Maggie, or Romola, or Dorothea,
or—may we add?—Daniel Deronda, who recognises more clearly her own
need of guidance, and even in failure has the lofty air of martyrdom.
It is in the setting such characters before us that George Eliot has
achieved her highest triumphs, and made some of her most unmistakable
failures. It is here that we meet the complaint that she is too
analytic; that she takes the point of view of the confessor rather
than the artist; and is more anxious to probe the condition of her
heroines' souls, to give us an accurate diagnosis of their spiritual
complaints, and an account of their moral evolution, than to show us
the character in action. If I must give my own view, I must venture
a distinction. To say that George Eliot's stories are interesting as
studies of human nature, is really to say little more than that they
deserve serious attention. There are stories—and very excellent and
amusing stories—which have comparatively little to do with character;
histories of wondrous and moving events, where you are fascinated by
the vivacity of the narrator without caring much for the passions of
the actors—such stories, in fact, as compose the Arabian Nights, or
the voluminous works of the admirable Alexandre Dumas. We do not care
to understand Aladdin's sentiments, or to say how far he differed from
Sinbad and Camaralzaman. The famous Musketeers have different parts
to play, and so far different characters; but one does not care very
much for their psychology. Still, every serious writer must derive his
power from his insight into men and women. A Cervantes or Shakespeare,
a Scott, a Fielding, a Richardson or Thackeray, command our attention
by forcible presentation of certain types of character; and, so far,
George Eliot's does not differ from her predecessors'. Nor, again,
would any truly imaginative writer give us mere abstract analyses of
character, instead of showing us the concrete person in action. If
George Eliot has a tendency to this error, it does not appear in her
early period. We can see any of her best characters as distinctly, we
know them by direct vision as intimately, as we know any personage in
real or fictitious history. We are not put off with the formulæ of
their conduct, but persons are themselves revealed to us. Yet it is,
I think, true that her stories are pre-eminently studies of character
in this sense, that her main and conscious purpose is to set before
us the living beings in what may be called, with due apology, their
statical relations—to show them, that is, in their quiet and normal
state, not under the stress of exceptional events. When we once know
Adam Bede or Dinah Morris, we care comparatively little for the
development of the plot. Compare, for example, 'Adam Bede' with the
'Heart of Midlothian,' the first half of which seems to me to be one
of the very noblest of all fictions, though the latter part suffers
from the conventional mad woman and the bit of commonplace intrigue
which Scott fancied himself bound to introduce. Jeannie Deans is, to
my mind, a more powerfully drawn and altogether a more substantial
and satisfactory young woman than Dinah Morris, who, with all her
merits, seems to me, I will confess, to be a bit of a prig. The
contrast, however, to which I refer is in the method rather than in
the characters or the situation. Scott wishes to interest us in the
magnificent trial scene, for which all the preceding narrative is a
preparation; he is content to set the Deans family before us with a
few amazingly vigorous touches, so that we may thoroughly enter into
the spirit of the tremendous ordeal through which poor Jeannie Deans
is to pass in the conflict between affection and duty. We first learn
to know her thoroughly by her behaviour under that overpowering
strain. But in 'Adam Bede' we learn first to know the main actors by
their conduct in a number of little scenes, most admirably devised
and drawn, and serving to bring out, if not a more powerful, a more
elaborate and minute manifestation of their inmost feelings. When we
come to the critical parts in the story, and the final catastrophe,
they are less interesting and vivid than the preliminary detail of
apparently insignificant events. The trial and the arrival of the
reprieve are probably the weakest and most commonplace passages; and
what we really remember and enjoy are the little scenes on the village
green, in Mrs. Poyser's dairy, and Adam Bede's workshop. We have there
learnt to know the people themselves, and we scarcely care for what
happens to them. The method is natural to a feminine observer who has
learnt to interpret character by watching its manifestations in little
everyday incidents, and feels comparatively at a loss when having
to deal with the more exciting struggles and calamities which make a
noise in the world. And therefore, as I think, George Eliot is always
more admirable in careful exposition—in setting her personages before
us—than in dealing with her catastrophes, where, to say the truth, she
sometimes seems to become weak just when we expect her full powers to
be exerted.

This is true, for example, of 'Silas Marner,' where the inimitable
opening is very superior to the sequel. It is still more conspicuously
true of the 'Mill on the Floss.' The first part of that novel
appears to me to mark the culmination of her genius. So far, it is
one of the rare books which it is difficult to praise in adequate
language. We may naturally suspect that part of the singular
vividness is due to some admixture of an autobiographical element.
The sonnets called 'Brother and Sister'—perhaps her most successful
poetical effort—suggest that the adventures of Tom and Maggie had
some counterpart in personal experience. In any case, the whole
account of Maggie's childhood, the admirable pathos of the childish
yearnings, and the quaint chorus of uncles and aunts, the adventure
with the gipsies, the wanderings by the Floss, the visit to Tom in
his school, have a freshness and brilliance of colouring showing
that the workmanship is as perfect as the sentiment is tender. But
when Maggie ceases to be the most fascinating child in fiction, and
becomes the heroine of a novel, the falling off is grievous. The
unlucky affair with Stephen Guest is simply indefensible. It may,
indeed, be urged—and urged with plausibility—that it is true to
nature; it is true, that is, that women of genius—and, indeed, other
women—do not always show that taste in the selection of lovers which
commends itself to the masculine mind. There is nothing contrary to
experience in the supposition that the imagination of an impulsive
girl may transfigure a very second-rate young tradesman into a lover
worthy of her; but this does not excuse the author for sharing the
illusion. It is painfully true that some women, otherwise excellent,
may be tempted, like Janet Dempster, to take to stimulants. But we
should not have been satisfied if her weakness had been represented
as a creditable or venial peculiarity, or without a sense of the
degradation. So it would, in any case, be hardly pleasant to make our
charming Maggie the means of illustrating the doctrine that a woman of
high qualities may throw herself away upon a low creature; when she
is made to act in this way, and the weakness is not duly emphasised,
we are forced to suppose that George Eliot did not see what a poor
creature she has really drawn. Perhaps this is characteristic of a
certain feminine incapacity for drawing really masculine heroes, which
is exemplified, not quite so disagreeably, in the case of Dorothea
and Ladislaw. But it is a misfortune, and all the more so because
the error seems to be gratuitous. If it was necessary to introduce a
new lover, he should have been endowed with some qualities likely to
attract Maggie's higher nature, instead of betraying his second-rate
dandyism in every feature. But the engagement to Philip Wakem, who
is, at least, a lovable character, might surely have supplied enough
tragical motive for a catastrophe which would not degrade poor Maggie
to common clay. As it is, what promises to be the most perfect story
of its kind ends most pathetically indeed, but yet with a strain which
jars most painfully upon the general harmony.

The line so sharply drawn in the 'Mill on the Floss' is also the
boundary between two provinces of the whole region. With Maggie's
visit to St. Ogg's, we take leave of that part of George Eliot's
work which can be praised without important qualification—of work so
admirable in its kind that we have a sense of complete achievement. In
the later stories we come upon debatable ground; we have to recognise
distinct failure in hitting the mark, and to strike a balance
between the good and bad qualities, instead of simply recognising
the thorough harmony of a finished whole. What is the nature of the
change? The shortcomings are, as I have said, obvious enough. We have,
for example, the growing tendency to substitute elaborate analysis
for direct presentation; there are such passages, as one to which I
have referred, where we are told that it is necessary to understand
Deronda's character at five-and-twenty in order to appreciate the
effect of after-events; and where we have an elaborate discussion
which would be perfectly admissible in the discussion of some
historical character, but which, in a writer who has the privilege
of creating history, strikes us as an evasion of a difficulty. When
we are limited to certain facts, we are forced to theorise as to the
qualities which they indicate. Real people do not always get into
situations which speak for themselves. But when we can make such
facts as will reveal character, we have no right to give the abstract
theory for the concrete embodiment. We perceive when this is done
that the reflective faculties have been growing at the expense of the
imagination, and that, instead of simply enriching and extending the
field of interest, they are coming into the foreground and usurping
functions for which they are unfitted. The fault is palpable in
'Romola.' The remarkable power not only of many passages but of the
general conception of the book is unable to blind us to the fact
that, after all, it is a magnificent piece of cram. The masses of
information have not been fused by a glowing imagination. The fuel
has put out the fire. If we fail to perceive this in the more serious
passages, it is painfully evident in those which are meant to be
humorous or playful. People often impose upon themselves when they are
listening to some rhetoric, perhaps because, when we have got into a
reverential frame of mind, our critical instincts are in abeyance.
But it is not so easy to simulate amusement. And if anybody, with the
mimicry of Mrs. Poyser or Bob Jakin in his mind, can get through the
chapter called 'A Florentine Joke' without coming to the conclusion
that the jokes of that period were oppressive and wearisome ghosts
of the facetious, he must be one of those people who take in jokes
by the same faculty as scientific theorems. If we are indulgent, it
must be on the ground that the historical novel proper is after
all an elaborate blunder. It is really analogous to, and shows the
weakness of, the various attempts at the revival of extinct phases
of art with which we have been overpowered in these days. It almost
inevitably falls into Scylla or Charybdis; it is either a heavy mass
of information striving to be lively, or it is really lively at the
price of being thoroughly shallow, and giving us the merely pretty and
picturesque in place of the really impressive. If anyone has succeeded
in avoiding the horns of this dilemma, it is certainly not George
Eliot. She had certainly very imposing authorities on her side; but I
imagine that 'Romola' gives unqualified satisfaction only to people
who hold that academical correctness of design can supply the place of
vivid directness of intuitive vision.

Yet the situation was not so much the cause as the symptom of a
change. When George Eliot returned to her proper ground, she did not
regain the old magic. 'Middlemarch' is undoubtedly a powerful book,
but to many readers it is a rather painful book, and it can hardly be
called a charming book to anyone. The light of common day has most
unmistakably superseded the indescribable glow which illuminated the
earlier writings.

The change, so far as we need consider it, is sufficiently indicated
by one circumstance. The 'prelude' invites us to remember Saint
Theresa. Her passionate nature, we are told, demanded a consecration
of life to some object of unselfish devotion. She found it in the
reform of a religious order. But there are many modern Theresas who,
with equally noble aspirations, can find no worthy object for their
energies. They have found 'no coherent social faith and order,' no
sufficient guidance for their ardent souls. And thus we have now and
then a Saint Theresa, 'foundress of nothing, whose loving heart-beats
and sobs after an unattained goodness tremble off and are dispersed
among hindrances instead of centring in some long recognisable deed.'
This, then, is the keynote of 'Middlemarch.' We are to have one more
variation on the theme already treated in various form; and Dorothea
Brooke is to be the Saint Theresa with lofty aspirations to pass
through a searching ordeal, and, if she fails in outward results,
yet to win additional nobility from failure. And yet, if this be the
design, it almost seems as if the book were intended for elaborate
irony. Dorothea starts with some admirable, though not very novel,
aspirations of the social kind with a desire to improve drainage and
provide better cottages for the poor. She meets a consummate pedant,
who is piteously ridiculed for his petty and hide-bound intellect, and
immediately takes him to be her hero and guide to lofty endeavour.
She fancies, as we are told, that her spiritual difficulties will be
solved by the help of a little Latin and Greek. 'Perhaps even Hebrew
might be necessary—at least the alphabet and a few roots—in order to
arrive at the core of things and judge soundly on the social duties of
the Christian.' She marries Mr. Casaubon, and of course is speedily
undeceived. But curiously enough, the process of enlightenment seems
to be very partial. Her faith in her husband receives its death-blow
as soon as she finds out—not that he is a wretched pedant, but that he
is a pedant of the wrong kind. Will Ladislaw points out to her that
Mr. Casaubon is throwing away his labour because he does not know
German, and is therefore only abreast of poor old Jacob Bryant in the
last century, instead of being a worthy contemporary of Professor Max
Müller. Surely Dorothea's error is almost as deep as ever. Casaubon is
a wretched being because he has neither heart nor brains—not because
his reading has been confined to the wrong set of books. Surely a man
may be a prig and a pedant, though he is familiar with the very last
researches of German professors. The latest theories about comparative
mythology may be familiar to a man with a soul comparable only to a
dry pea in a bladder. If Casaubon had been all that Dorothea fancied,
if his knowledge had been thoroughly up to the mark, we should still
have pitied her for her not knowing the difference between a man and a
stick. Unluckily, she never seems to find out that in this stupendous
blunder, and not in the pardonable ignorance as to the true value of
his literary labours, is the real source of her misfortune. In fact,
she hardly seems to grow wiser even at the end; for when poor Casaubon
is as dead as his writings, she takes up with a young gentleman who
appears to have some good feeling, but is conspicuously unworthy of
the affections of a Saint Theresa. Had 'Middlemarch' been intended
for a cutting satire upon the aspirations of young ladies who wish
to learn Latin and Greek when they ought to be nursing babies and
supporting hospitals, these developments of affairs would have been
in perfect congruity with the design. As it is, we are left with the
feeling that aspirations of this kind scarcely deserve a better fate
than they meet, and that Dorothea was all the better for getting the
romantic aspirations out of her head. Have not the commonplace people
the best of the argument?

It would be very untrue to say that the later books show any defect
of general power. I do not think, for example, that there are many
passages in modern fiction so vigorous as the description of poor
Lydgate, whose higher aspirations are dashed with a comparatively
vulgar desire for worldly success, gradually engulfed by the selfish
persistence of his wife, like a swimmer sucked down by an octopus.
On the contrary, the picture is so forcible and so life-like that
one reads it with a sense of actual bitterness. And as in 'Daniel
Deronda,' though I am ready to confess that Mordecai and Daniel are
to my mind intolerable bores, I hold the story of Grandecourt and
Gwendolen to be, though not a pleasant, a singularly powerful study.
And it may certainly be said both of 'Romola' and of 'Middlemarch'
that they have some merits of so high an order that the defects upon
which I have dwelt are felt as blemishes, not as fatal errors. If
there is some misunderstanding of the limits of her own powers, or
some misconception of true artistic conditions, nobody can read them
without the sense of having been in contact with a comprehensive and
vigorous intellect, with high feeling and keen powers of observation.
Only one cannot help regretting the loss of that early charm. In
reading 'Adam Bede,' we feel first the magic, and afterwards we
recognise the power which it implies. In 'Middlemarch' we feel the
power, but we ask in vain for the charm. Some such change passes over
any great mind which goes through a genuine process of development.
It is not surprising that the reflective powers should become more
predominant in later years; that reasoning should to some extent take
the place of intuitive perception; and that experience of life should
give a sterner and sadder tone to the implied criticism of human
nature. We are prepared to find less spontaneity, less freshness of
interest in the little incidents of life, and we are not surprised
that a mind so reflective and richly stored should try to get beyond
the charmed circle of its early successes and to give us a picture of
wider and less picturesque aspects of human life. But this does not
seem to account sufficiently for the presence of something jarring and
depressing in the later work.

Without going into the question fully, one thing may be said: the
modern Theresa, whether she is called Dorothea, or Maggie, or Dinah,
or Janet, is the central figure in the world of George Eliot's
imagination. We are to be brought to sympathise with the noble
aspirations of a loving and unselfish spirit, conscious that it cannot
receive any full satisfaction within the commonplace conditions of
this prosaic world. How women are to find a worthier sphere of action
than the mere suckling of babes and chronicling of small beer is a
question for the Social Science Associations. Some people answer it
by proposing to give women votes or degrees, and others would tell
us that such problems can only be answered by reverting to Saint
Theresa's method. The solution in terms of actual conduct lies beyond
the proper province of the novelist. She has done all that she can do
if she has revealed the intrinsic beauty of such a character, and its
proper function in life. She should make us fall in love with Romola
and Maggie, and convert us to the belief that they are the true salt
of the earth.

Up to a certain point her success is complete, and it is won by high
moral feeling and quick sympathy with true nobility of character.
We pay willing homage to these pure and lofty feminine types, and
we may get some measure of the success by comparing them with other
dissatisfied heroines whose aspirations are by no means so lofty or
so compatible with delicate moral sentiment. But the triumph has its
limits. In the sweet old-world country life a Janet or a Dinah can
find some sort of satisfaction from an evangelical preacher, or within
the limits of the Methodist church. If the thoughts and ways of her
circle are narrow, it is in harmony with itself, and we may feel its
beauty without asking awkward questions. But as soon as Maggie has
left her quiet fields and reached even such a centre of civilisation
as St. Ogg's, there is a jar and a discord. 'Romola' is in presence of
a great spiritual disturbance where the highest aspirations are doomed
to the saddest failure; and when we get to 'Middlemarch' we feel
that the charm has somehow vanished. Even in the early period, Mrs.
Poyser's bright common-sense has some advantages over Dinah Morris's
high-wrought sentiment. And in 'Middlemarch' we feel more decidedly
that high aspirations are doubtful qualifications; that the ambitious
young devotee of science has to compound with the quarrelling world,
and the brilliant young Dorothea to submit to a decided clipping
of her wings. Is it worth while to have a lofty nature in such
surroundings? The very bitterness with which the triumph of the lower
characters is set forth seems to betray a kind of misgiving. And it
is the presence of this feeling, as well as the absence of the old
picturesque scenery, that gives a tone of melancholy to the later
books. Some readers are disposed to sneer, and to look upon the heroes
and heroines as male and female prigs, who are ridiculous if they
persist and contemptible when they fail. Others are disposed to infer
that the philosophy which they represent is radically unsatisfactory.
And some may say that, after all, the picture is true, however sad,
and that, in all ages, people who try to lift their heads above
the crowd must lay their account with martyrdom and be content to
be uncomfortable. The moral, accepted by George Eliot herself, is
indicated at the end of 'Middlemarch.' A new Theresa, she tells us,
will not have the old opportunity any more than a new Antigone
would 'spend heroic piety in daring all for the sake of a brother's
funeral; the medium in which these ardent deeds took shape is for ever
gone.' There will be many Dorotheas, and some of them doomed to worse
sacrifices than the Dorothea of 'Middlemarch,' and we must be content
to think that her influence spent itself through many invisible
channels, but was not the less potent because unseen.

Perhaps that is not a very satisfactory conclusion. I cannot here ask
why it should not have been more satisfactory. We must admit that
there is something rather depressing in the thought of these anonymous
Dorotheas feeling about vaguely for some worthy outlet of their
energies, taking up with a man of science and discovering him to be an
effete pedant, wishing ardently to reform the world, but quite unable
to specify the steps to be taken, and condescending to put up with
a very commonplace life in a vague hope that somehow or other they
will do some good. Undoubtedly we must admit that, wherever the fault
lies, our Theresas have some difficulty in fully manifesting their
excellence. But with all their faults, we feel that they embody the
imperfect influence of a nature so lofty in its sentiment, so wide in
its sympathies, and so keen in its perceptions, that we may wait long
before it will be adequately replaced. The imperfections belong in
great measure to a time of vast revolutions in thought which produce
artistic discords as well as philosophic anarchy. Lower minds escape
the difficulty because they are lower; and even to be fully sensitive
to the deepest searchings of heart of the time is to possess a high
claim on our respect. At lowest, however we may differ from George
Eliot's teaching on many points, we feel her to be one who, in the
midst of great perplexities, has brought great intellectual powers
to setting before us a lofty moral ideal, and, in spite of manifest
shortcomings, has shown certain aspects of a vanishing social phase
with a power and delicacy unsurpassed in her own sphere.


Nobody ever wrote a dull autobiography. If one may make such a bull,
the very dulness would be interesting. The autobiographer has _ex
officio_ two qualifications of supreme importance in all literary
work. He is writing about a topic in which he is keenly interested,
and about a topic upon which he is the highest living authority. It
may be reckoned, too, as a special felicity that an autobiography,
alone of all books, may be more valuable in proportion to the amount
of misrepresentation which it contains. We do not wonder when a man
gives a false character to his neighbour, but it is always curious to
see how a man contrives to present a false testimonial to himself.
It is pleasant to be admitted behind the scenes and trace the growth
of that singular phantom which, like the Spectre of the Brocken, is
the man's own shadow cast upon the coloured and distorting mists of
memory. Autobiography for these reasons is so generally interesting,
that I have frequently thought with the admirable Benvenuto Cellini
that it should be considered as a duty by all eminent men; and,
indeed, by men not eminent. As every sensible man is exhorted to
make his will, he should also be bound to leave to his descendants
some account of his experience of life. The dullest of us would in
spite of themselves say something profoundly interesting, if only
by explaining how they came to be so dull—a circumstance which is
sometimes in great need of explanation. On reflection, however, we
must admit that autobiography done under compulsion would be in danger
of losing the essential charm of spontaneity. The true autobiography
is written by one who feels an irresistible longing for confidential
expansion; who is forced by his innate constitution to unbosom himself
to the public of the kind of matter generally reserved for our closest
intimacy. Confessions dictated by a sense of duty, like many records
of religious experience, have rarely the peculiar attractiveness of
those which are prompted by the simple longing for human sympathy.
Nothing, indeed, in all literature is more impressive than some of
the writings in which great men have laid bare to us the working
of their souls in the severest spiritual crises. But the solemnity
and the loftiness of purpose generally remove such work to a rather
different category. Augustine's 'Confessions' is an impassioned
meditation upon great religious and philosophical questions which
only condescends at intervals to autobiographical detail. Few books,
to descend a little in the scale, are more interesting, whether to
the fellow-believer or to the psychological observer, than Bunyan's
'Grace Abounding.' We follow this real pilgrim through a labyrinth
of strange scruples invented by a quick brain placed for the time
at the service of a self-torturing impulse, and peopled by the
phantoms created by a poetical imagination under stress of profound
excitement. Incidentally we learn to know and to love the writer, and
certainly not the less because the spiritual fermentation reveals no
morbid affectation. We give him credit for exposing the trial and the
victory simply and solely for the reason which he alleges; that is
to say, because he really thinks that his experience offers useful
lessons to his fellow-creatures. He is no attitudiniser, proud at the
bottom of his heart of the sensibility which he professes to lament,
nor a sanctimonious sentimentalist stimulating a false emotion for
purposes of ostentation. He is as simple, honest, and soundhearted
as he is tender and impassioned. But these very merits deprive the
book of some autobiographical interest. It never enters his head that
anybody will care about John Bunyan the tinker, or the details of
his tinkering. He who painted the scenes in Vanity Fair could have
drawn a vivid picture of Elstow and Bedford, of Puritanical preachers
and Cromwellian soldiers, and the judges and gaolers under Charles
II. Here and there, in scattered passages of his works, he gives us
graphic anecdotes in passing which set the scene before us vividly as
a bit of Pepys's diaries. The incidents connected with his commitment
to prison are described with a dramatic force capable of exciting the
envy of a practised reporter. But we see only enough to tantalise us
with the possibilities. He tells us so little of his early life that
his biographers cannot make up their minds as to whether he was, as
Southey calls him, a 'blackguard,' or a few degrees above or below
that zero-point of the scale of merit. Lord Macaulay takes it for
granted that he was in the Parliamentary, and Mr. Froude thinks it
almost proved that he was in the Royalist army. He tells us nothing of
the death of the first wife, whose love seems to have raised him from
blackguardism; nor of his marriage to the second wife, who stood up
for him so bravely before the judges, and was his faithful companion
to the end of his pilgrimage. The book is therefore a profoundly
interesting account of one phase in the development of the character
of our great prose-poet; but hardly an autobiography. The narrative
was worth writing, because his own heart, like his allegorical
Mansoul, had been the scene of one incident in the everlasting
struggle between the powers of light and darkness, not because the
scene had any independent interest of its own.

In this one may be disposed to say Bunyan judged rightly. The wisest
man, it is said, is he who realises most clearly the narrow limits of
human knowledge; the greatest should be penetrated with the strongest
conviction of his own insignificance. The higher we rise above the
average mass of mankind, the more clearly we should see our own
incapacity for acting the part of Providence. The village squire who
does not really believe in anything invisible from his own steeple,
may fancy that he is of real importance to the world, for the world
for him means his village. 'P. P. clerk of this parish' thought that
all future generations would be interested in the fact that he had
smoothed the dog's-ears in the great Bible. A genuine statesman who
knows something of the forces by which the world is governed should
have seen through the humbug of history. He should have learnt the
fable of the fly and the chariot wheel, and be aware that what are
called his achievements are really the events upon which, through some
accident of position, he has been allowed to inscribe his name. One
stage in a nation's life gets itself labelled Cromwell, and another
William Pitt; but perhaps Pitt and Cromwell were really of little more
importance than some contemporary P. P. This doctrine, however, is
considered, I know not why, to be immoral, and to smack of fatalism,
cynicism, jealousy of great men, and other objectionable tendencies.
We are in a tacit conspiracy to flatter conspicuous men at the expense
of their fellow-workers, and he is the most generous and appreciative
who can heap the greatest number of superlatives upon growing
reputations, and add a stone to the gigantic pile of eulogy under
which the historical proportions of some great figures are pretty well
buried. We must not complain, therefore, if we flatter the vanity
which seems to be the most essential ingredient in the composition of
a model biographer. A man who expects that future generations will be
profoundly interested in the state of his interior seems to be drawing
a heavy bill upon posterity. And yet it is generally honoured. We are
flattered perhaps by this exhibition of confidence. We are touched
by the demand for sympathy. There is something pathetic in this
belief that we shall be moved by the record of past sufferings and
aspirations as there is in a child's confidence that you will enter
into its little fears and hopes. And perhaps vanity is so universal a
weakness, and, in spite of good moralising, it so strongly resembles
a virtue in some of its embodiments, that we cannot find it in our
hearts to be angry with it. We can understand it too thoroughly.
And then we make an ingenious compromise with our consciences. Our
interest in Pepys's avowals of his own foibles, for example, is partly
due to the fact that whilst we are secretly conscious of at least
the germs of similar failings, the consciousness does not bring any
sense of shame, because we set down the confession to the account
of poor Pepys himself. The man who, like Goldsmith, is so running
over with jealousy that he is forced to avow it openly, seems to
be a sort of excuse to us for cherishing a less abundant stock of
similar sentiment. This is one occult source of pleasure in reading
autobiography. We have a delicate shade of conscious superiority in
listening to the vicarious confession. 'I am sometimes troubled,'
said Boswell, 'by a disposition to stinginess.' 'So am I,' replied
Johnson, 'but I do not tell it.' That is our attitude in regard to the
autobiographer. After all, we say to ourselves, this distinguished
person is such a one as we are; and even more so, for he cannot keep
it to himself. The conclusion is not quite fair, it may be, when
applied to the case of a diarist like Pepys, who, poor man, meant only
to confide his thoughts to his note-books. But it applies more or
less to every genuine autobiographer—to every man, that is, who has
deliberately written down a history of his own feelings and thoughts
for the benefit of posterity.

The prince of all autobiographers in this full sense of the word—the
man who represents the genuine type in its fullest realisation—is
undoubtedly Rousseau. The 'Confessions' may certainly be regarded
as not only one of the most remarkable, but as in parts one of the
most repulsive, books ever written. Yet, one must add, it is also
one of the most fascinating. Rousseau starts by declaring that he
is undertaking a task which has had no precedent, and will have no
imitators—the task of showing a man in all the truth of nature,
and that man himself. How far he is perfectly sincere in this, or
in the declaration which immediately follows, that no one of his
readers will be able to pronounce himself a better man than Jean
Jacques Rousseau, is a question hardly to be answered. The avowal is
at any rate characteristic of the true autobiographer. It reflects
the subtle vanity which, taking now the guise of perfect sincerity,
and now that of deep humility, encourages us to colour as highly as
possible both our vices and our virtues as equally entitling us to the
sympathies of mankind: that strange and Protean sensibility which we
are puzzled to classify either as an excessive craving for admiration,
or a mere morbid desire for self-abasement. Certainly in Rousseau
it sometimes shows itself in a shamelessness which it is very hard
to forgive unless we will admit the ambiguous and well-worn plea of
partial insanity. The pleasure—always, it must be granted, a very
questionable one—of recognising our own failings in our superiors,
passes too often into sheer disgust or shuddering horror at the
spectacle of genius grovelling in the mire. But Rousseau represents
an abnormal development of all the qualities of his class; and this,
the ugliest amongst the autobiographic instincts, is hardly developed
out of proportion to the rest. And, therefore, if we cannot quite
forgive, we are not altogether alienated. We read, for example, one
of those amazing confessions of contemptible meanness which makes
us wonder that human fingers could commit them to paper: the story
of his casting the blame of a petty theft upon an innocent girl, to
her probable ruin; of his desertion of his friend lying in a fit on
the pavement of a strange town; of the more grievous crime of his
abandonment of his own children to the foundling hospital. How can
any interest survive in the narrator except that kind of interest
which a physiologist takes in some ghastly disease? It would be a
libel upon ourselves to suppose that we see the reflections of our
own hearts in such narratives, or that we can in any degree take them
as an indirect flattery to our own superiority. Such an emotion may
conceivably be present in some other passages. When, for example, we
read how, on the death of a dear friend, Rousseau confesses to one
who loved them both that he derived some pleasure from the reflection
that he should inherit an excellent black coat, he may perhaps be
giving to us the sort of satisfaction which we derive from a keen
maxim of Rochefoucauld. We recognise the truth—painful though it may
be in itself—that some strand of mean and selfish feeling may be
interwoven with genuine regret; and we may reconcile ourselves by
interpreting it as a proof that some of the sentiments for which we
have blushed are not inconsistent with real kindness of heart. We may
smile still more harmlessly at the quaint avowal of absurdity when
Rousseau decides that he will test the probability of his future fate
by throwing a stone at a tree trunk. A hit is to mean salvation, and
a miss, damnation. He chooses a very big trunk very close to him,
succeeds in hitting it, and sets his mind at rest. We may congratulate
ourselves without malice on this proof that men of genius may indulge
in very grotesque follies. A student of human nature may be grateful
for a frank avowal now and then of the 'fears of the brave and follies
of the wise.' But how can we justify ourselves in point of taste—to
say nothing of morality—at not shrinking back from the more hideous
avowals of downright depravity contained in this strange record
which is to convince us that none amongst the sons of men can claim
superiority to Rousseau?

The answer is not far to seek. One leading peculiarity of Rousseau,
the great prophet of sentimentalism, is that exaltation of the
immediate sensation at the expense of hard realities which is the mark
of all sentimentalism. He can enjoy intensely, but cannot restrain
a single impulse with a view to future enjoyment. He can sympathise
keenly with immediate sufferings, but shrinks from admitting that
indulgence may be the worst cruelty. His only rule of life is to give
free play to his impulses. All discipline is tyranny. Education is
to consist in stimulating the emotions at the expense of the reason.
And, therefore, facts in general are on the whole objectionable
and inconvenient things. Your practical man is merely a wheel in
a gigantic machinery, for ever grinding out barren results and
never leaving himself time for the pure happiness of feeling. He
would abolish space and time to make one dreamer happy. Dreamland
is the only true reality. There facts conform to feeling instead of
crushing it out of existence. There we can be optimists; see virtue
rewarded, simplicity honoured, genius appreciated, and the substance
of happiness pursued instead of its idle shadows—external show,
and hard-won triumphs that pall in the fruition. Nothing is more
characteristic of this tendency than the passage in which he describes
the composition of the 'Nouvelle Héloïse.' The impossibility, he
says, of grasping realities cast him into the land of chimeras:
seeing nothing in existence which was worthy of his delirium, he
nourished it in an ideal world which his creative imagination soon
peopled with beings after his own heart. He was in love—not with an
external object, but with love itself; he formed out of his passionate
longings those beautiful, unreal, highstrung beings, whose ecstasies
and agonies kept fine ladies sitting up all night in forgetfulness
of balls and assemblies, and which now, alas! have faded, as unreal
things are apt to fade, and become rather wearisome and slightly
absurd. Facts revenge themselves upon the man who denies their
existence; and poor Rousseau did not escape the inevitable Nemesis.
His follies and his crimes sprang from this fatal habit of sacrificing
everything to the immediate impulse; his reveries seduced him into the
region of downright illusions; and his optimism—by a curious, but not
uncommon inversion—became the strongest proof of his actual misery.
He found realities so painful that he swore that they must be dreams;
as dreams were so sweet, that they must be the true realities. 'All
men are born free,' as he says in his famous sentence; 'and men are
everywhere in chains.' That is the true Rousseau logic. Everything
must be right in some transcendental sense, because in an actual sense
everything is wrong. We say that men take a cheerful or a doleful
view of the universe according to the state of their own livers; but
sometimes the reverse seems to hold good. It requires, it would seem,
unusual buoyancy of spirits to endure the thought that the world is
a scene of misery; and the belief in its happiness is sometimes the
attempt of the miserable man to reconcile himself to his lot. Anyhow,
Rousseau had learnt this dangerous lesson. He suffered from a morbid
appetite for happiness; his intense longing for enjoyment stimulated
an effeminate shrinking from the possibility of the crumpled
rose-leaf. He identified himself with the man who left his mistress
in order to write letters to her. The absent—in this sense—have no
blemishes. And this is true of the past as of the distant. Foresight,
he says, always spoilt his enjoyment; the future is pure loss to him;
for to look forward is always to anticipate possibilities of evil. He
lives entirely, as he says elsewhere, in the present; but in a present
which includes the enjoyment of the past pleasures. 'Not heaven itself
upon the past has power,' and we can nowhere be absolutely safe except
in brooding over the moments of happiness which have survived by
reason of their pleasantness.

This is part of the charm of the 'Confessions.' Finding no pure
enjoyment in the present, he says, he returned by fits to the serene
days of his youth. He chewed the cud of past delight, and lived again
his life at the Charmettes. Hence sprang the 'Nouvelle Héloïse,'
placed amongst the scenery of his early youth and constantly reviving
real experiences. He apologises for giving us the details of his
youth; but the apology is clearly needless. He gives what he delights
in. His youthful memories grow brighter as the latter become effaced;
the least facts of that time please him, because they are of that
time. He remembers the place, the people, the time; the servant moving
in the room, the swallow entering the window, the fly settling on
his hand whilst he writes his lesson; he trembles with pleasure as
he recalls the minutest details—and we feel the reflection of his
delight. Indeed, this is one secret of most autobiography. There is
something touching in those introductory fragments which are so common
in autobiographies. The old man, we see, has been enticed to write
a book by the charm of the first chapter. He tells us with eager
interest the story of his early days; he remembers the village school
and his initiation into the alphabet, or calls up the sacred vision of
the mother whose figure still stands out amidst the mists of memory;
but as he reaches the point where the light of common day blends with
the romantic colouring of childhood, his hand fails, and he sums up
the remainder of his history, if he has the courage to continue, in a
few barren facts and dates. The phenomenon recurs again and again and
leaves us to infer, according to our tastes, that infancy is the time
of real happiness, or that the appearance of happiness always belongs
to the distant. Rousseau tries to explain it in his own case. He long
remained a child, he says; objects always made less impression upon
him than their memories; and as all his ideas were images, the first
engraved were the deepest, and the later rather blended with them than
effaced them.

To explain Rousseau's power over his generation, and even his
strongest interest for us, we should require to add other
considerations. Rousseau's dreams, in fact, were not those of the
mystic or of the poetical philosopher. If he cared, in one sense,
very little for facts, it was because the past and the present
overpowered the future. He could not cut himself apart from the
world, as some meditative minds have done who live by choice in the
region of abstract speculation. His temperament was too sensuous, his
sympathies with those around him too keen, to permit him to find a
permanent refuge in the gorgeous but unsubstantial world of poetic
imagery. His senses bound him fast to realities as upon a rock on
which he was always struggling impatiently and spasmodically. It
is in the vicissitudes of this struggle that the interest of his
personal story consists. For it leads him to find that solution
which has been preached in one form or other by so many moralists
in all ages, and which had a special meaning for the society of his
day. Ancient philosophers said that the great secret of life is in
placing your happiness in things which depend upon ourselves, and
not in things which are at the mercy of circumstance. Happiness,
says a modern prophet, is to be found by lessening your denominator,
not by increasing your numerator; by restricting your wants, not
by multiplying your enjoyments. The great illusion of life is the
childish fancy that you can get the moon by crying for it, instead
of learning that the moon is beyond your reach. You must learn the
great secret of renunciation. Rousseau's version of this doctrine
was given with an intensity of conviction which moved the hearts of
his contemporaries; and the 'Confessions' are a kind of continuous
comment upon the text. Are we, it may be asked, to take the ascetic
view—to admit that happiness is impossible in this life, and to
seek future blessedness by mortifying the affections which seek
for present gratification? No, Rousseau would say; happiness is
everything; to get as much enjoyment out of life as we possibly
can is the one conceivable end of a human being. Nobody could be a
more thorough hedonist. Then, should we seek for happiness in active
life devoted to some absorbing ambition, or rather in courting those
lofty emotions or those intellectual tastes which are the fruit of
a thorough cultivation of our faculties? No, again; for active life
means weariness and disappointment, and exchange of substance for
vain shadows; and the more men are cultivated, the more sophisticated
and unreal become their lives, and the less their real powers of
enjoyment. Then, should we be Epicureans of the vulgar type, and give
ourselves up to the indulgence of animal appetites? That, again,
though Rousseau sometimes falls into perilous approximation to that
error in practice, is as far as possible from his better mind.
Nobody, in fact—and it is the redeeming quality in his life—could set
a higher value upon the simple affections. A life of calm domestic
tranquillity—the idyllic life of unsophisticated country villages,
of regular labour, and innocent recreation—is the ideal which he set
before his generation with all the fervour of his eloquence. That
he made a terrible mess of it himself is undeniable; it is equally
undeniable that the praises of domestic life come with a very bad
grace from the man who sanctioned the worst practices of a corrupt
society by abandoning his own children, though he tries to represent
even that amazing delinquency as a corollary from his principles; and
it must also be admitted that his Arcadia has too often the taint of
sentimental unreality. But the doctrine takes a worthier form, not
only in those passages of his speculative writings which manifest his
deep sympathy with the poor and simple crushed under an effete system
of social tyranny, but in the many passages of the 'Confessions'
where he recalls his brief approximations to a realisation of his
dreams. He might claim to have found 'love in huts where poor men
lie;' and to have been qualified by experience for recognising the
surpassing beauty of simple happiness. That is the secret charm of
those eloquent passages to which the jaded fine ladies and gentlemen
of his days turned again and again with an enthusiastic sympathy
which it would be grossly unjust to set down as mere affectation.
Such, for example, is his description of the delicious strolls by his
beloved Lake of Geneva, where every scene was redolent of youthful
associations; where he seemed to be almost within reach of that sweet
tranquil life which was yet for him but a vanishing mirage; and where
alone he declares that he might obtain perfect happiness, if he had
but a faithful friend, a loving wife, a cow, and a little boat. He
smiles sadly enough at the simplicity which has frequently led him to
that region in search of this imaginary bliss, and at the contrast
between the dream and the reality. Even in Paris he could grasp a like
phantom. Here with his half-idiotic Theresa (who had, however, the
heart of an angel), he found perfect happiness for a time. He pictures
himself sitting at the open window, the sill forming his table, for
a frugal supper; looking down upon the street from the fourth story,
and enjoying a crust of bread, a few cherries, a bit of cheese, and
a bottle of wine. Who, he exclaims, can feel the happiness of these
feasts? Friendship, confidence, intimacy, gentleness of soul, how
sweet is the seasoning you bring! And, of course, he soon passes to
a confession proving that his paradise had its snake. But the better
sentiment, though clogged and degraded by ignoble passions, almost
reconciles us to the man. Rousseau represents the strange combination
of a kind of sensual appetite for pure and simple pleasures. On
one side he reminds us of Keats, by his intense appreciation of
sensuous beauty; and, on the other, of Cowper, by his love of such
simple pleasures as our English poet enjoyed when sitting at Mrs.
Unwin's tea-urn. It is a strange, almost a contradictory mixture;
but Rousseau's life is a struggle between antagonisms; and until you
admit that human nature is in some sense a contradictory compound,
and can take delight in the queer results which grow out of them, you
are hardly qualified to be a student of autobiography. Your proper
biographer glides over these difficulties, or tries to find some
reconciliation. The man who tells his own story reveals them because
he is unconscious of their mixture.

Rousseau, I said, was the type of all autobiographers; and for the
obvious reason, that no man ever turned himself inside out for the
inspection of posterity so completely, and that even when he was
unconscious of the exposure. Even his affectations are instructive.
But when we think of some other autobiographers we may be inclined to
retract. There are, when one comes to reflect, more ways of killing a
cat than choking her with cream: and there are more ways of revealing
your character than by this deliberate introspection, this brooding
over past feelings, and laying bare every impulse of your nature. So,
if Rousseau is to be called the typical autobiographer, it is perhaps
in virtue simply of those strange contradictions which give piquancy
to his 'Confessions,' and to those of many other men to whom the great
problem of existence presented itself in different terms. So, for
example, it would be difficult to imagine a more complete antithesis
to Rousseau than we find in Benvenuto Cellini, whose autobiography
is almost equally interesting in a totally different way. He is a
man in whose company the very conception of sentimentalism seems to
be an absurdity; who is so incapable of reflective brooding that
he is just as proud of his worst crimes as of his greatest artistic
achievements; who tells with equal glee how he struck his dagger into
the nape of his enemy's neck, and made a gold button of unparalleled
beauty for the Pope's cope; who is so full of energy that his life
seems to be one desperate struggle, and who is most at home in the
periods of most overpowering excitement, whether firing guns at the
siege of Rome, or pitching all his plate into the furnace to help the
fusing of the statue of Perseus; so full of intense vitality that when
we read his memoirs it becomes difficult to realise the fact that
all these throbbing passions and ambitions are still for ever, and
that we peaceable readers are alive; at once a man of high artistic
genius, and yet such a braggart and a liar as to surpass Bobadil
or the proverbial Ferdinand Mendez Pinto; a standing refutation of
that pleasant moral commonplace which tries to associate genius with
modesty; a queer compound of reckless audacity and defiance of all
constituted authority with abject superstition; a man, in short,
who makes us wonder, as we read, whether the world has advanced
or gone back; whether we have gained or lost by substituting the
douce, respectable jeweller, and the vulgar blackguard of modern
London, for this magnificent goldsmith bravo of the Florence of the
sixteenth century. The only writer in our own literature who, at a
long interval, recalls this brilliant apparition, is Lord Herbert
of Cherbury. In him, too, we find the singular combination of the
fire-eating duellist with the man of high intellectual power. Horace
Walpole, who procured the publication of his autobiography, says
that the reader will be astonished to find that the 'history of Don
Quixote was the life of Plato.' Herbert, it is true, was not quite a
Plato nor a Quixote. His thirst for chivalrous adventures may indeed
remind us of the Don or of Cellini; yet somehow, though he wandered
through Europe in true knight-errant spirit, always on the look-out
for occasions of proving that courage for which, so he declares, he
had as high a reputation as any man of his time, and was as irritable,
punctilious, and given to dare-devil deeds as the most precise of
cavaliers could desire, he seems to have had singular ill-luck.
Somehow, the authorities always interpose to prevent his fighting.
The vanity of Lord Herbert is of a more reflective and priggish type
than that of Cellini. Instead of taking himself for granted, with
the superlative audacity of his predecessor, he contemplates his
own perfections complacently, and draws his own portrait for the
benefit of his descendants, as an embodiment of the perfect gentleman
accomplished in all knightly arts, and full to overflowing of the
most becoming sentiments. He has, in fact, a rather obtrusive moral
sense, whereas an entire absence of any encumbrance of that kind is
one of Cellini's peculiarities; or, at least, the Italian assumes
that whatever he does must be right, whereas the Englishman is simply
convinced that he does whatever is right. Herbert parades himself
as a model with an amazing consciousness of his own perfection, and
sets forth his various natural endowments—such, for example, as the
delicious odour which exudes from his body and perfumes even his
clothes—as a kind of providential testimony to his merits. When a
voice from heaven orders him to publish his great book 'De Veritate,'
we feel that no human _imprimatur_ would be adequate to so important
an occasion. And, in spite of his swelling self-satisfaction, we must
admit that he has real claims upon our respect; in fact, Herbert,
though not so great a poet as his brother George, at least wrote one
poem which has a curious interest as anticipating, not only the metre,
but, in some degree, the sentiment, of 'In Memoriam;' and, though
less conspicuous as a philosopher than Bacon or Hobbes, wrote books
in which it is possible to trace some remarkable analogies to the
teaching of Kant. When Walpole and Gray first tried to read the life
they could not get on for 'laughing and screaming,' and Walpole was
rather vexed when people took Herbert a little too seriously, and were
inclined to admire him as a worthy successor to Sir Philip Sidney.
Yet Herbert is but one of many proofs (perhaps Walpole himself was
another) that all coxcombs are not fools.

We have, it is plain, got a long way from Rousseau. We are almost,
it may be said, at the very opposite pole of character. If vanity be
a determining force in both cases, it is in the two cases controlled
and directed by opposite passions. Combined with a morbid tendency to
retrospection, a weak self-pity, an effeminate shrinking from pain, it
reveals itself as a perverse pleasure in baring to public gaze those
viler impulses which most men shrink from revealing to themselves. In
the masterful, overbearing, active character, it appears in the more
natural shape of straightforward ostentation, though it sometimes
leads to the same end; for it displays follies and vices, not because
they are shameful, but for the opposite reason that it sees nothing in
them to be ashamed of. Whether it should be called by the same name,
as manifested in the one or in the other combination, is a question
for the unlucky psychologist who has already a sufficient burden
of insoluble problems. And we might find new puzzles in abundance
for the same person by tracing the manifold transformations of the
same Protean quality. We might skip from the Quixote-Plato—rather,
one might say, the Bobadil-Kant—to another biographer, like him
in little but the power of amusing, the vivacious Colley Cibber.
Cibber's vanity is of a simpler type. It seems to be an unaccountable
freak of nature that Cibber should have been the descendant of a
Schleswig-Holstein father and an English mother. We could have sworn
that he was a born Frenchman. His vanity is that which we generally
attribute to the race whom we used to call our 'lively neighbours.'
In other words, instead of being priggish or sulky like the English,
it is closely allied to good sense, good humour, and simplicity. It
implies unfeigned self-complacency quite unalloyed by self-deception.
It supplied the excellent Colley with an armour of proof which made
him absolutely impervious even to the most vicious stings of Pope's
poisonous satire. He took all ridicule with the most imperturbable
good temper, because he fully recognised, and was perfectly reconciled
to the fact that he was ridiculous. He writes his life, as he tells
us with admirable serenity, because he was vain, and liked to talk
about himself. What can the critic say more? 'Expose me? Why, dear
sir, does not every man that writes expose himself? Can you make
me more ridiculous than nature has made me?' To hurt such a man by
correct portraiture was impossible; and when Pope tried to injure
him by giving him the absurdly incorrect name of Dunce, the satirist
missed his mark too palpably to hurt anybody but himself. And so,
though the laughing-stock of all the wits, assailed by Pope and
Fielding, the lucky Cibber, lapped in his invulnerable vanity, went
gaily through his eighty-six years of life, as brisk and buoyant to
the end as when he had only to go upon the stage with his natural
manners to be the ideal representative of the Foppingtons and Easys
of his own comedy. If the autobiography be slightly deficient on the
side of sentiment, we may console ourselves by admitting that some of
the descriptions of the actors of the time would not disgrace Charles
Lamb. Would we find another variety of innocent and excessive vanity?
Take up the memoirs—unfortunately fragmentary—of one whose long life
ran side by side with Cibber's for some eighty-two years, though
in oddly different surroundings,—Swift's 'wicked Will Whiston,' so
called because so transparently guileless and well-meaning that even
bigots could only smile at his absurdities. In reading him we fancy
that we must be studying a new version of the 'Vicar of Wakefield.'
In truth, however, that good Dr. Primrose was one of Whiston's
disciples, and got into trouble, as we may remember, by advocating a
crotchet learnt from his predecessor a little too warmly. The master,
however, suffered longer than the disciple, and shows just the same
innocuous vanity in regard to his own supposed discoveries, and the
same simple-minded wonder that others should fail to be converted,
or should refuse to sacrifice preferment to crotchets about the date
of the Apostolic Constitutions. Whiston's self-complacency reappears
with a difference in Baxter's ponderous autobiography. The copious
outpourings of the good man help us to understand the report, which he
can happily deny, that his multitudinous publications had ruined his
bookseller; but it is full of interesting display of character, and
nowhere more than in the profound conviction that if he had been able
to apply a few more sermons he would have converted Cromwell and his
troopers from their rebellious purposes, and the innocent enthusiasm
with which he hurls his elaborate syllogisms at the heads of Charles
II.'s bishops, believing, poor man, in all good faith that the policy
of the Restoration government was to be determined by scholastic

If we seek for an excellent contrast we may go to those admirable
representatives of the worldly bishop of the now extinct type, Newton
or Watson. There is something quite touching in Watson's complaints
of an unappreciative world. He had been made a professor of chemistry
without having studied the very elements of the science, a professor
of divinity without having studied theology before, or taking the
trouble to study it afterwards. He was appointed to a bishopric
because he was a sound Whig, and passed his life in a delightful
country town on the banks of Windermere without ever bothering himself
to reside in his Welsh diocese. But the stoppage of his preferment
at this point is for him a conclusive proof that true Christian
principles could not meet with their reward in this world. How else
account for this scandalous neglect of one who, in addition to all
his other merits, had taken great trouble to plant trees, and to make
an honourable provision for his children—as well as giving them a
sound education? It is a natural corollary that the man whose memoirs
are thus a continuous grumble over the absence of preferment should
specially pride himself on his thorough self-respect. He belongs, he
says, to the oaks, not to the willows. Whenever he asks for a vacant
bishopric, he explains that it is only in deference to the wishes
of his friends. For himself he asks for nothing better than a life
of retirement, though the king and his ministers will be eternally
disgraced for having left him to enjoy that blessing. The finest
satirist, Fielding or Thackeray, might have been proud of portraying
this ingenious and yet transparent self-deception; of unravelling the
artifice by which worldliness and preferment hunting are so wrapped
in blustering self-assertion as to appear—to the actor himself—as
dignified independence of spirit.

Running over such varieties of character, we may ask whether it
is fair to set down the autobiographic impulse as in all cases a
manifestation of vanity. Or if we call it vanity, must we not stretch
the meaning of the word beyond all bearing? The old psychologists
used to maintain that every passion was a special form of self-love;
and, if we may take such a license, we may call every man vain who
takes an interest in his own affairs, and expects that others may be
interested. He may hold that opinion even whilst sincerely believing
that his success in the game of life was more due to the cards he held
than to his intrinsic skill. If that still imply the presence of some
latent vanity, some bias to our judgment lying below the region of
conscious reflection, it is certainly of a scarcely perceptible kind.
Vanity in this sense is but the inverse side of a man's philosophy of
life. It is the value which he sets upon certain qualities of mind
and character, which is, no doubt, apt to be more or less connected
with the trifling circumstance that he takes them to be his own. But
in some cases this latter consideration has so little prominence that
we almost overlook it. The autobiography takes so much the form of a
philosophical sermon on the true principles of conduct, that we quite
forget that the preacher is his own text. He treats himself with
apparent impartiality, as if he were merely a scientific specimen
whose excellent adaptation to the general scheme of things deserves
the notice of an impartial inquirer. It happens to be the case
nearest at hand, but is interesting only in the light of the general
impersonal principle.

It is curious to trace this in one of the most interesting of
modern autobiographies. J. S. Mill begins his recollections by
disavowing—with obvious sincerity—any egoistic motive. He wishes
to show the effect of a particular mode of education, to trace
the influence upon a receptive mind of various currents of modern
thought; and, above all, to show how large a debt he owed to certain
persons who, but for this avowal, would not receive their due meed
of recognition. He is to give a lecture upon his own career as
dispassionately as Professor Owen might lecture upon a creature which
died in the palæozoic era. In pursuing this end, Mill made more
revelations as to his own character than he perhaps knew himself.
The book is much else, but it is also an exposition of a definite
theory of life. Some readers were astonished to find that, as Mill
puts it, a Benthamite might be something more than a mere 'reasoning
machine.' That description, he admits, was applicable in some cases,
and even to himself at one period of his life. But nothing could be
clearer to readers of the autobiography—as, indeed, it was clear
enough to the observers of his later career—that, so far from being
a mere reasoning machine, Mill was a man of strong affections, and
even feminine sensibility. And in this, as some critics have said,
consists the peculiar pathos of the book. It was the story of a man
of strong feelings, who had been put into a kind of moral and logical
strait-waistcoat and kept there till it had become a part of himself.
The diagnosis of the case showed it, upon this understanding, to be
one of partial atrophy of the affections—or rather—for the affections
clearly survived—illustrated the effect of depriving them of their
natural sustenance. To Mill himself, it was rather a record of the
means by which the strait-waistcoat had been forced to yield. Like
Bunyan, he had been locked up by Giant Despair, and had escaped
from the dungeons, though by a different method. The account of the
crisis in his moral development which corresponds to a conversion in
the case of Bunyan, gives the real key to his story. He had been put
into the strait-waistcoat by that tremendous old gentleman, James
Mill, whose force of mind produced less effect through his books
than by his personal influence upon his immediate surroundings. His
doctrine repelled most readers till it had been made more sympathetic
by passing through the more sensitive and emotional nature of his
son. The ultimate effect was not to suppress J. S. Mill's affections,
but to confine them to certain narrow channels. The primary effect,
however, was to produce that 'reasoning machine' period in which the
son was a simple logic-mill grinding out the materials supplied by the
father and Bentham. Now old Mill was not simply a kind of personified
'categorical imperative'—a rigid external conscience imposing a fixed
rule upon his filial disciple, but his doctrine was certainly a trying
one. He held that the sole end of morality was to produce happiness,
and at the same time he did not believe in happiness. 'He thought
human life a poor thing at best after the freshness of youth and
unsatisfied curiosity had gone by.' He and his disciples denounced all
emotion as 'sentimentality,' and fully shared that English prejudice
which, as J. S. Mill declares, regards feeling, especially if it has
a touch of the romantic or exalted, to be something intrinsically
disgraceful. Here then was the uncomfortable dilemma into which
the younger Mill was driven, and which made him miserable. A rigid
sense of duty was the sole rule of life; duty meant the production
of happiness; and happiness was a mere illusion and unsubstantial
phantom. No wonder if a period followed during which the world seemed
to him weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable. To feel that all that
is left for one is to be a machine grinding out theorems in political
economy is certainly not an exhilarating state of things.

The escape from this condition, as Mill represents, involved two
discoveries, which, like all such discoveries, are old enough in
the state of abstract theory, and new only in so far as they become
actual possessions and active principles of conduct. Happiness, he
discovered, was to be found by not aiming at happiness; by working
for some external end and not meditating upon your own feelings.
And, secondly, he discovered the importance of cultivating those
sympathies and sentiments which he had previously been inclined
to despise as mere encumbrances to his reasoning machinery. But
do not the two doctrines clash? Is not an æsthetic cultivation of
happiness a name for that introspective brooding of which Rousseau
is the great example, implying precisely that thirst for happiness
as an ultimate end and aim which his other principles showed to
be suicidal? Consciously to cultivate the emotions is to become a
sentimentalist—the very thing which he was anxious to renounce.
The apparent paradox was solved for him by the help of Wordsworth,
who taught him that the charm of tranquil contemplation might be
heightened instead of dulled by a vivid interest in the common
feelings and common destinies of human beings; and that æsthetic
delight in nature was perfectly compatible with scientific interest
in its laws. The famous ode proved to him that the first freshness
of youthful enjoyment could be replaced by a wider interest in our
fellows; and that the thoughts which gather round the setting sun
are not something distinct from, but really identical with, those
suggested by a watch over man's mortality. This teaching, he says,
dispersed for ever his youthful depression.

The problem seems a simple one when thus stated. How to cultivate
your feelings without becoming sentimental? Find your happiness in
the happiness of others; and regard even the grinding of that logical
mill as work done for the benefit of your kind. Problems, however,
which have to be worked out by modifying your own character take a
good deal more labour than is implied in putting together a couple
of syllogisms. And it is in this modification of character that the
peculiar interest of the autobiography consists. The aversion of
his mind from his own private interests, the intense devotion of
his mental energies to what he regarded as the great needs of his
fellow-men, the constant reference of his apparently most abstract
speculation to practical reforms, are obvious and most honourable
characteristics of Mill as a thinker. One may doubt whether women will
be as much improved by receiving votes as he anticipated; one cannot
doubt the generosity with which he revolted against their supposed
'subjection.' But there is another sense in which this theory of the
vast importance of 'extra-regarding' habits brings out some curious
results. We are all such adepts at self-deception that we need not
wonder if the very resolution not to think of oneself sometimes tends
to a more refined kind of self-consciousness. I have often fancied
that nobody can be so dogmatic as your thoroughly candid person. The
fact that he has listened to all sides gives him a kind of right in
his own opinion to speak with the authority of a judge. It has been
said that a tendency to be 'cock-sure' is a special characteristic of
Mill's school; and perhaps we may recognise it in their master not
the less because it is combined with a scrupulous desire to grant a
hearing to all antagonists. But another manifestation of character
is more interesting. No one could be more anxious than Mill to
arrogate nothing to himself. Nobody could state more explicitly that
his merit was less in original thought than in willingness to learn
from others, and thus that his true function was to mediate between
the public and the original thinkers. And therefore it is natural to
find him insisting with passionate eagerness upon the superlative
merits of the woman who was, according to him, the guide of his mature
years, as his father had been of his infancy and youth. Here was the
practical commentary on the text of cultivating the emotions. If he
withdrew from society and many social enjoyments, it was because his
whole emotional strength was concentrated upon a single object. We
listen with some mixture of feeling to his rather strained and exalted
eulogy. It may be true that Mrs. Mill was more of a poet than Carlyle,
and more of a thinker than Mill himself; that she was like Shelley,
but that Shelley was but a child to what she ultimately became;
that her wisdom was 'all but unrivalled,' and much more to the same
purpose. It may, I say, be true, for one cannot prove a negative in
regard to a person of whom the world knows so little. Yet it is a
weakness, though an amiable weakness, to attempt, by force of such
language, to overcome the inevitable decree of circumstances, and
to try to dictate to the world an opinion which it cannot receive
upon any single authority. It may be profoundly melancholy that such
exalted merit should vanish without leaving more tangible traces; but
it is useless to resent the fact, or to suppose that when such traces
are non-existent, the defect can be supplied by the most positive
assertions that they might have existed. And Mill would have seen
in any other case what was the inevitable suggestion to his readers.
He could not, he says, 'detect any mixture of errors' in the truths
which she struck out far in advance to him. What are the opinions in
which a man detects no mixture of error? Plainly his own. But these
were far in advance of him. That means that they were deductions from
his own. Is it possible, to speak it plainly, to resist a strong
impression that these extravagant expressions of admiration may have
been lavished upon a living echo—an echo, it is true, skilful enough
to anticipate as well as to repeat, but still essentially an echo?
We know, for Mill has told us, what he did alone, and we know what
he did in co-operation; and if the earlier work was not his best, it
certainly contained the whole sum and substance of his later teaching.
That his wife must have been a remarkable woman may be a fair
deduction from his admiration; that she was all that he then thought
her would be, to say the least of it, a very rash conjecture.

Happiness, says Mill, is to be found by aiming at something different
from happiness. And if we thus cheat ourselves into happiness, we
may attain to the vanity of self-esteem by a similar expedient. By
lavishing all our enthusiasm upon one who is but a second self,
we may deprive our appreciation of our own merits of its apparent
arrogance. This, indeed, is one of the many illusions which give a
peculiar interest to the unconscious confessions of autobiographers.
But neither is it to be roughly set down as an illusion, and still
less as an unworthy sentiment. It in no sort diminishes our interest
in discovering that this so-called reasoning machine was a man of the
most delicate fibre and most tender affections. It is easy to forgive
the illusions against which a thick cuirass of tough selfishness
is the only known safeguard of complete efficacy. Rather it helps
to convince us that Mill should be classed in some respects with
the unworldly enthusiasts of the Vicar of Wakefield type whose very
simplicity leads them to a harmless vanity which exaggerates their
own infallibility and importance to the world. He had the character,
though not the crotchets, of the life-long recluse. Though his
intellect was deeply interested in the great problems of contemporary
thought, and though he had been for many years in State affairs, there
was a wall of separation between himself and his contemporary society.
When he came into Parliament he came as re-entering the world from
a remote hermitage. Hermits, whether they come from deserts or from
the India Office, have a certain tendency to intolerance and contempt
for the social part of the species. They have lost some human feeling
and preach crusades with a reckless indifference to consequences. I
cannot determine how far Mill might be rightly accused of a want of
practical sense. But in any case he had nothing of the bitterness or
the harsh pedantry of the solitary theorist. Even his enemies could
see that his sympathies were fresh and generous, and that his impulses
were invariably generous. As a philanthropist, his philanthropy was
not of the merciless and inhuman variety. The discovery of the fact
was a surprise at the time to those who believed in the traditional
Benthamite and Malthusian. The autobiography, with its strange
bursts of emotion, perhaps reveals the true secret. If he naturally
exaggerated the merits of the partner of his hermitage, he did not
necessarily exaggerate her services to him. It is easily credible that
her company saved him from ossifying into a mere grinder of formulæ
and syllogisms. We shrink a little from certain over-strung phases,
but they reveal to us the pathos of the man's life. Admit that his
affection produced illusion, or that it covered and was combined with
a sort of vicarious self-conceit, yet at bottom it represents the
intense devotion which springs only out of simplicity and tenderness
of nature.

It would be tempting here to draw the obvious parallel between Mill
and Carlyle, which must just now be in everyone's mind; for certainly
whatever may be said of the 'Reminiscences' just published, they
contain one of the most remarkable self-revelations ever given to
the world, and the relations of the two men to vigorous fathers
and passionately adored wives have singular points of contrast and
resemblance. But I must be content to close this ramble through some
famous autobiographies by touching upon one which often seems to me
to be the most delightful of its class. I know, as everybody knows,
what may be said against Gibbon: against his want of high enthusiasm,
his deficient sympathy with the great causes and their heroes, the
provoking self-sufficiency and apparent cold-bloodedness of the fat
composed little man. And yet, when reading his autobiography and
contrasting it with some of those we have considered, I find myself
constantly led to a conclusion not quite in accordance with the
proper rules of morality. After all, one cannot help asking, did not
Gibbon succeed in solving the problem of life more satisfactorily
than almost anybody one knows? Other autobiographies are for the most
part records of hard struggles with fate, plaintive lamentations over
the inability to obtain any solid satisfaction out of life, appeals
of disappointed vanity to the judgment of an indifferent posterity,
vain-glorious braggings over successes which should rather have been
the cause of shame, weak regrets for the vanishing pleasures of youth
and hopeless attempts to make the might-have-been pass muster with the
actual achievement. The more a man prides himself upon his successes,
the more we feel how good a case a rival's advocate could make on
the other side: and when he laments over his failures, the more we
are inclined to say that after all it served him right. But when in
imagination we take that famous turn with Gibbon upon that terrace at
Lausanne beneath the covered walk of acacias, gaze upon the serene
moon and the silent lake, and hear him soliloquise upon the conclusion
of the 'Decline and Fall,' we feel that we are in presence of a man
who has a right to his complacency. He has not aimed, perhaps, at the
highest mark, but he has hit the bull's-eye. Given his conception of
life, he has done his task to perfection. With singular felicity, he
has come at the exact moment and found the exact task to give full
play to his powers. Nobody had yet laid the keystone in the great
arch of history; and he laid it so well that his work can never be
superseded. Somebody defines a life to be _une pensée de jeunesse
exécutée par l'âge mûr_. It was Gibbon's singular good fortune to
illustrate that saying as few men have done. Though his plan ripened
slowly and with all deliberation, he acted as if he had foreseen the
end from the beginning. If he had been told in his boyhood, You shall
live so long a life, with such and such means at your disposal, he
could hardly have laid out his life differently. To mistake neither
one's powers nor one's opportunities is a felicity which happens
to few; and Gibbon had the additional good fortune that even his
distractions seem to have been useful. The interruption to his Oxford
education made him a cosmopolitan; his service with the volunteers
helped him to be a military historian; and even his parliamentary
career, which threatened to absorb him, only gave to the student the
tone of a practical politician. It seems as though everything had been
expressly combined to make the best of him.

What more could be desired by a man of Gibbon's temperament?
Undoubtedly to be a man of Gibbon's temperament is to have a moderate
capacity for certain forms of happiness. In the lives of most great
men the history of a conversion is a record of heart-rending struggle,
ending in hard-won peace. Gibbon merely changed his religion as
he changed his opinion upon some antiquarian controversy; it is a
question as to the weight of historical evidence, like the question
about the sixth Æneid, or a dispute about the genealogy of the house
of Brunswick. Whatever pangs and raptures may require religious
susceptibility were clearly not within his range of feeling. And in
another great department of feeling we need not inquire into the
character of the author of the inimitable sentence, 'I sighed as a
lover, I obeyed as a son.' One is tempted to put it beside a remark
which he makes on another occasion, 'I yielded to the authority of
a parent, and complied, like a pious son, with the wish of my own
heart.' Perhaps the heart which sanctioned his filial obedience in the
latter case was not so opposed to it in the other as he would have us
believe. It is better worth noting, however, that, in spite of the
very tepid disposition illustrated by these familiar passages, Gibbon
has affections as warm as are compatible with thorough comfort. He
was not a passionate lover; and we cannot say, for he was not tried,
that his friendship was of an heroic strain; but he had a very good
supply of such affections as are wanted for the ordinary wear and
tear of life—to provide a man with enough interests and sympathies to
make society pleasant, and his family life agreeable. Nay, he seems
to have been really generous and considerate beyond the ordinary
pitch, and to have been a faithful friend, and excellent in some very
delicate relationships. For a statesman, a religious teacher, or a
poet, much stronger equipment in this direction might be desirable.
But Gibbon had warmth enough to keep up a pleasant fireside, if not
enough to fire the hearts of a nation. He clearly had enough passion
for his historical vocation. A more passionate and imaginative person
would hardly have written it at all. It requires a certain moderation
of character to be satisfied with a history instead of a wife, and
Gibbon was so great an historian because he could accept such a
substitute. No one capable of being a partisan could have preserved
that stately march and equable development of the vast drama of
human affairs which gives a monumental dignity to his great book.
Even if you do not want to write another 'Decline and Fall,' is not
such a disposition the most enviable of gifts? If such a life has
less vivid passages, is there not something fascinating about that
calm, harmonious existence, disturbed by no spasmodic storms, and yet
devoted to one achievement grand enough to extort admiration even from
the least sympathetic? Surely it is a happy mean; enough genius to be
in the front rank, if not in the highest class, and yet that kind of
genius which has no affinity to madness or disease, and virtue enough
to keep up to the respectable level which justifies a comfortable
self-complacency without suggesting any awkward deviations in the
direction of martyrdom. That is surely the kind of composition which
a man might desire if he were to calculate what character would give
him the best chance of extracting the greatest possible amount of
enjoyment out of life. Luckily for the world, if not for its heroes,
men's characters cannot be fixed by such calculations; and a certain
number of perverse people are even glad to possess vehement emotions
and restless intellects, however conscious that the fiery soul will
wear out the pigmy body. We try to persuade ourselves that they are
not only choosing the noblest part, but acting most wisely for their
own interests. It may be so; for the problem is a complex one. But
it has not yet been proved that a man can always make the best of
both worlds, and that the sacrifices imposed by virtue are always
repaid in this life. Certainly it seems doubtful, when we have studied
the self-written records of remarkable men, whether experience will
confirm that pleasant theory; whether it is not more probable that for
simple employment it is not best to have one's nature pitched in a key
below the highest. Most of us would make a very fair compromise if we
should abandon our loftier claims on condition of being no worse than


I have sometimes wondered of late what would have been the reception
accorded to an autobiographical sketch by St. John the Baptist.
It would, one may suppose, have contained some remarks not very
palatable to refined society. The scoffers indeed would have covered
their delight in an opportunity for lowering a great reputation by
a plausible veil of virtuous indignation. The Pharisees would have
taken occasion to dwell upon the immoral contempt of the stern prophet
for the maxims of humdrum respectability. The Sadducees would have
aired their orthodoxy by lamenting his open denunciations of shams,
which, in their opinion, were quite as serviceable as real beliefs.
Both would have agreed that nothing but a mean personal motive could
have prompted such an outrageous utterance of discontent. And the
good, kindly, well-meaning people—for, doubtless, there were some
such even at the court of Herod—would have been sincerely shocked
at the discovery that the vehement denunciations to which they had
listened were in good truth the utterance of a tortured and unhappy
nature, which took in all sincerity a gloomy view of the prospects of
their society and the intrinsic value of its idols, instead of merely
getting up indignation for purposes of pulpit oratory. They—complacent
optimists, as kindly people are apt to be—have made up their minds
that a genuine philosopher is always a benevolent, white-haired
old gentleman, overflowing with philanthropic sentiment, convinced
that all is for the best, and that even the 'miserable sinners'
are excellent people at bottom; and are grievously shocked at the
discovery that anybody can still believe in the existence of the
devil as a potent agent in human affairs. If we have any difficulty
in imagining such criticisms, we may easily realise them by reading
certain criticisms upon the 'Reminiscences' of the last prophet—for
we may call him a prophet whatever we think of the sources of his
inspiration—who has passed from among us. The reflection which has
most frequently occurred to me is one put with characteristic force
by Carlyle himself in describing the sight of Charles X. going to see
the portrait of 'the child of miracle.' 'How tragical are men once
more; how merciless withal to one another! I had not the least pity
for Charles Dix's pious pilgriming to such an object: the poor mother
of it, and her immense hopes and pains, I did not even think of them.'
And so, the average criticism of that most tragical and pathetic
monologue—in reality a soliloquy to which we have somehow been
admitted—that prolonged and painful moan of remorse and desolation
coming from a proud and intensely affectionate nature in its direst
agony—a record which will be read with keen sympathy and interest when
ninety-nine of a hundred of the best contemporary books have been
abandoned to the moths—has been such as would have been appropriate
for the flippant assault of some living penny-a-liner upon the
celebrities of to-day. The critics have had an eye for nothing but the
harshness and the gloom, and have read without a tear, without even a
touch of sympathy, a confession more moving, more vividly reflecting
the struggles and the anguish of a great man, than almost anything in
our literature.

Enough of this: though in speaking of Carlyle at this time it is
impossible to pass it over in complete silence. I intend only to
say something of Carlyle's teaching, which seems to be as much
misunderstood by some critics as his character. It should require
little impartiality or insight at the present day to do something like
justice to a teacher who belonged essentially to a past generation.
When Carlyle was still preaching upon questions of the day, my
juvenile sympathies—such as they were—were always on the side of his
opponents. But he and his opinions have passed into the domain of
history, and we can, or at least we should, judge of them as calmly
as we can of Burke and of Milton. In the year 1789 you might have
sympathised with Mackintosh, or with Tom Paine, rather than with the
great opponent of the Revolution; and you may even now hold that they
were more in the right as to the immediate issues than Burke. But it
would, indeed, be a narrow mind which could not now perceive that
Burke, as a philosophic writer upon politics, towers like a giant
amidst pigmies above the highest of his contemporaries; and that
the value of his principles is scarcely affected by the particular
application. Though Carlyle touched upon more recent events, we can
already make the same distinction, and we must make it if we would
judge fairly in his case.

The most obvious of all remarks about Carlyle is one expressed (I
think) by Sir Henry Taylor in the phrase that he was 'a Calvinist who
had lost his creed.' Rather we should say he was a Calvinist who had
dropped the dogmas out of his creed. It is no doubt a serious question
what remains of a creed when thus eviscerated; or, again, how long it
is likely to survive such an operation. But for the present purpose it
is enough to say that what remained for Carlyle was the characteristic
temper of mind and the whole mode of regarding the universe. He often
declared that the Hebrew Scriptures, though he did not adhere to the
orthodox view of their authority, contained the most tenable theory
of the world ever propounded to mankind. Without seeking to define
what was the element which he had preserved, and what it was that
he had abandoned, or attempting the perilous task of drawing a line
between the essence and accidents of a creed, it is in any case clear
that Carlyle was as Scottish in faith as in character; that he would
have taken and imposed the Covenant with the most thoroughgoing and
_ex-animo_ assent and consent; and that the difference between him
and his forefathers was one rather of particular beliefs than of
essential sentiment. He had changed rather the data upon which his
convictions were based than the convictions themselves. He revered
what his fathers revered, but he revered the same principle in
other manifestations, and to them this would naturally appear as a
profanation, whilst from his point of view it was but a legitimate
extension of their fundamental beliefs.

The more one reads Carlyle the further one traces the consequences of
this belief. The Puritan creed, one may say, is not popular at the
present day for reasons which might easily be assigned; and those
who dislike it in any form are not conciliated by the omission of
its external peculiarities. And, on the other hand, the omission
naturally alienates many who would otherwise sympathise. When Carlyle
speaks of 'the Eternities' and 'the Silences,' he is really using a
convenient periphrasis for thoughts more naturally expressed by most
people in the language peculiar to Cromwell—the translation is often
given side by side with the original in the comments upon Cromwell's
letters and speeches—and his mode of speech is dictated by the feeling
that the old dogmatic forms are too narrow and too much associated
with scholastic pedantry to be appropriate in presence of such awful
mysteries. He is, as Teufelsdröckh would have said, dropping the old
clothes of belief only that he may more fittingly express the living

To Carlyle, for example, the later developments of Irvingism, the
speaking with tongues, and so forth, appeared as simply contemptible,
or, when sanctioned by the friend whose memory he cherished so
pathetically, as inexpressibly pitiable. It was a hopeless attempt to
cling to the worn-out rags, a dropping of the substance to grasp the
shadow; ending, therefore, in a mere grotesque caricature of belief
which made genuine belief all the more difficult of attainment. You
are seeking for outward signs and wonders when you should be impressed
by the profound and all-pervading mysteries of the universe; and
therefore falling into the hands of mere charlatans, and taking the
morbid hysterics of over-excited women for the revelation conveyed
by all nature to those who have ears to hear. Has not the word
'spiritual,' till now expressive of the highest emotions possible to
human beings, got itself somehow stained and debased by association
with the loathsome tricks practised by impostors aided by the prurient
curiosity of their dupes? The perversion of the highest instincts
which leads a man in his very anxiety to find a true prophet and
spiritual leader to put up with some miserable Cagliostro—a quack
working 'miracles' by sleight of hand and phosphorus—appeared to
Carlyle, and surely appeared to him most rightly, as the saddest of
all conceivable aberrations of human nature; saddest because some men
with a higher strain of character are amenable to such influences.
But when Carlyle came to specify what was and what was not quackery
of this kind, and included much that was still sacred to others, he
naturally had to part company with many who would otherwise have
sympathised. Miss Martineau, he tells us, was described as not only
stripping herself naked, but stripping to the bone. Carlyle seems to
some people to be performing this last operation, though to himself it
appeared in the opposite light.

To Carlyle himself the liberation from the old clothes or external
casing of belief constituted what he regarded as equivalent to the
conversion of the 'old Christian people.' He emerged, he tells us,
into a higher atmosphere, and gained a 'constant inward happiness that
was quite royal and supreme, in which all temporal evil was transient
and insignificant:' a happiness, he adds, which he never quite lost,
though in later years it suffered more frequent eclipse. For this he
held himself to be 'endlessly indebted' to Goethe; for Goethe had in
his own fashion trod the same path and achieved the same victory.
Conversion, as meaning the conscious abandonment of beliefs which
have once formed an integral and important part of a man's life, is
a process which indeed must be very exceptional with all men of real
force of character. Carlyle, it is plain, was so far from undergoing
such a process, that he retained much which would have been little in
harmony with the teaching of his master. For, whilst everybody can
see that Goethe reached a region of philosophic serenity, we must
take Carlyle's 'royal and supreme happiness' a little on trust. If
his earlier writings have some gleams of the happier mood, we are
certainly much more frequently in the region of murky gloom, shrouded
by the Tartarean and 'fuliginous' vapours of the lower earth. If his
studies of Goethe and German literature opened a door of escape from
the narrow prejudices which made the air of Edinburgh oppressive to
him, they certainly did not help him to shake off the old Puritan
sentiments which were bred in the bone, and no mere external trapping.

Critics have spoken as though Carlyle had become a disciple of
some school of German metaphysics. It is, doubtless, true enough
that he valued the great German thinkers as representing to his
mind a victorious reaction against the scepticism of Hume, or the
materialism of Hume's French successors. But he sympathised with
the general tendency without caring to bewilder himself in any of
the elaborate systems evolved by Kant or his followers. The reader,
he says in the earlier essay on Novalis, 'would err widely who
supposed that this transcendental system of metaphysics was a mere
intellectual card-castle, or logical hocus-pocus ... without any
bearing on the practical interests of men. On the contrary ... it
is the most serious in its purport of all philosophies propounded
in these latter ages;' and he proceeds to indicate their purport,
and to hint, as one writing for uncongenial readers, his respect
for German 'mysticism.' He thought, that is, that these mystics,
transcendentalists, and so forth, were vindicating faith against
scepticism, idealism against materialism, a belief in the divine order
against atheistic negations; and, moreover, that their fundamental
creed was inexpugnable, resting on a basis of solid reason instead
of outworn dogma. As for the superstructure, the systems of this
or that wonderful professor to explain the universe in general, he
probably held them to be 'card-castles'—mere cobwebs of the brain—at
best arid, tentative gropings in the right direction. He had far
too much of true Scottish shrewdness—even in the higher regions of
thought—to trust body or soul to the truth of such flimsy materials.
This comes out in his view of Coleridge, who so far sympathised with
him as to have imbibed consolation from the same sources. No reader
of the life of Sterling can forget the chapter—one of the most vivid
portraits ever drawn even by Carlyle—devoted to Coleridge as the
oracle of the 'innumerable brave souls' still engaged in the London
turmoil—a portrait which suggests incidentally how much was left
unspoken in the hastier touches of the 'Reminiscences.' We can see
the oracle not answering your questions, nor decidedly setting out
towards an answer, but accumulating 'formidable apparatus, logical
swim-bladders, transcendental life-preservers, and other precautionary
and vehiculatory gear for setting out; ending by losing himself in
the morass and in the mazes of theosophic philosophy,' where now and
then 'glorious islets' would rise out of the haze, only to be lost
again in the surrounding gloom. In his talk, as in him, 'a ray of
heavenly inspiration struggled in a tragically ineffectual degree
against the weakness of flesh and blood.' He had 'skirted the deserts
of infidelity,' but 'had not had the courage, in defiance of pain
and terror, to press resolutely across such deserts to the new firm
lands of faith beyond.' Many disciples have of course seen more in
Coleridge; but even his warmest admirers must admit the general truth
of the picture, and confess that if Coleridge cast a leaven of much
virtue into modern English speculation, he never succeeded in working
out a downright answer to the philosophical perplexities of his day,
or in promulgating a distinct rule of faith or life. To Carlyle this
was enough to condemn Coleridge as a teacher. Coleridge, in his view,
failed because he adhered to the 'old clothes;' tried desperately
to breathe life into dead creeds; and, encumbered with such burdens,
could not make the effort necessary to cross the 'desert.' He
lingered fatally round the starting-point, and succeeded only in
starting 'strange spectral Puseyisms, monstrous illusory hybrids, and
ecclesiastical chimeras which now roam the earth in a very lamentable

The judgment is in many ways characteristic of Carlyle. To the genuine
Puritan a creed is nothing which does not immediately embody itself
in a war-cry. It must have a direct forcible application to life. It
must divide light from darkness, distinguish friends from enemies—both
external and internal—nerve your arms for the battle, and plant your
feet on solid standing-ground. It must be no flickering ray in the
midst of gloom, but a steady, unquenchable light—a permanent 'star to
every wandering bark.' Coleridge would stimulate only to uncertain
musings, instead of animating to strenuous endeavour. The same
sentiment utters itself in Carlyle's favourite exaltation of silence
above speech—a phrase paradoxical if literally taken, but in substance
an emphatic assertion of the futility of the uncertain meanderings in
the regions of abstract speculation which hinder a man from girding
himself at once to deadly wrestle with the powers of darkness.

This is but a new version of the Puritan contempt for the vain
speculations of human wisdom when he is himself conscious of an inner
light guiding him infallibly through the labyrinths of the world.
The Puritan contempt for æsthetic enjoyments springs from the same
root, and is equally characteristic of Carlyle. He can never see much
difference between fiction and lying. 'Fiction,' he says, 'or idle
falsity of any kind was never tolerable, except in a world which did
itself abound in practical lies and solid shams.... A serious soul,
can it wish, even in hours of relaxation, that you should fiddle
empty nonsense to it? A serious soul would desire to be entertained
either with silence or with what was truth, and had fruit in it, and
was made by the Maker of us all,'—a doctrine which will clearly not
commend itself to an æsthetic world. 'Poetry, fiction in general, he
(Carlyle the father) had universally seen treated as not only idle,
but false and criminal,' and the son adhered to the opinion except
so far as he came to admit that fiction might in a sense be truth.
The ground-feeling is still that of some old Puritan, preaching,
like Baxter, as 'a dying man to dying men,' and at most tolerant of
anything not directly tending to edification. Carlyle, of course,
belonged emphatically to the imaginative as distinguished from the
speculative order of minds. He was a man of intuitions, not of
discursive thought: who felt before he reasoned: to whom it was a
mental necessity that a principle should clothe itself in concrete
flesh and blood, and if possible in some definite historical hero,
before he could fully believe in it. He wanted vivid images in place
of abstract formulas. His indifference to the metaphysical was not
simply that of the practical man who regards all such inquiries
as leading to hopeless and bottomless quagmires of doubt and a
paralysis of all active will; as an attempt, doomed to failure from
the beginning, to get off your own shadow, and to twist and twirl
till your pigtail hangs before you; though this, too, counts for much
in his teaching; but it was also the antipathy of the imaginative
mind to the passionless analyser who 'explains' the living organism
by reducing it to a dead mechanism. It is, indeed, remarkable that
Carlyle had a certain comparative respect even for the materialist
and utilitarian whom he so harshly denounced. Such a man was at
least better than the ineffectual dilettante or dealer in small
shams and phantasms. Anything thoroughgoing, even a thoroughgoing
rejection of the highest elements of life, so far deserved respect
as at least affording some firm starting-point. But, for the most
part, the scientific frame of mind, so far as it implies a tranquil
dissecting of concrete phenomena into their dead elements, jarred
upon every fibre of his nature. Political economy, which treats
society as a complex piece of machinery, and the logic which resolves
the universe itself into a mere heap of separable atoms, seemed to
him hopelessly barren, and uninteresting to the higher mind. Mill's
talk and books—which specially represented this mode of thought for
him—were 'sawdustish;' for what is sawdust but the dead product of
a living growth deprived of its organising principle and reduced
to mere dry indigestible powder? To the poetic as to the religious
nature of Carlyle, such a process was to make the whole world weary,
stale, flat and unprofitable. Carlyle, therefore, must be judged as
a poet, and not as a dealer in philosophic systems; as a seer or a
prophet, not as a theorist or a man of calculations. And, therefore,
if I were attempting any criticism of his literary merits, I should
dwell upon his surpassing power in his peculiar province. Admitting
that every line he wrote has the stamp of his idiosyncrasies, and
consequently requires a certain congeniality of temperament in the
reader, I should try to describe the strange spell which it exercises
over the initiated. If you really hate the grotesque, the gloomy, the
exaggerated, you are of course disqualified from enjoying Carlyle. You
must take leave of what ordinarily passes even for common-sense, of
all academical canons of taste, and of any weak regard for symmetry
or simplicity before you enter the charmed circle. But if you can get
rid of your prejudices for the nonce, you will certainly be rewarded
by seeing visions such as are evoked by no other magician. The
common-sense reappears in the new shape of strange vivid flashes of
humour and insight casting undisputed gleams of light into many dark
places; and dashing off graphic portraits with a single touch. And if
you miss the serene atmosphere of calmer forms of art, it is something
to feel at times as no one but Carlyle can make you feel, that each
instant is the 'conflux of two eternities;' that our little lives, in
his favourite Shakespearean phrase, are 'rounded with a sleep;' that
history is like the short space lighted up by a flickering taper in
the midst of infinite glooms and mysteries, and its greatest events
brief scenes in a vast drama of conflicting forces, where the actors
are passing in rapid succession—rising from and vanishing into the
all-embracing darkness. And if there is something oppressive to the
imagination when we stay long in this singular region, over which the
same inspiration seems to be brooding which created the old Northern
mythology with its grim gigantesque, semi-humorous figures, we are
rewarded by the vividness of the pictures standing out against the
surrounding emptiness; some little groups of human figures, who lived
and moved like us in the long-past days; or of vignettes of scenery,
like the Alpine sunrise in the 'Sartor Resartus,' or the sight of
sleeping Haddington from the high moorland in the 'Reminiscences,' as
bright and vivid for us as our own memories, and revealing unsuspected
sensibilities in the writer. Though he scorned the word-painters
and description-mongers, no one was a better landscape painter.
It is perhaps idle to dwell upon characteristics which one either
feels or cannot be persuaded into feeling. Those to whom he is on
the whole repugnant may admit him to be occasionally a master of the
picturesque; and sometimes endeavour to put him out of court on the
strength of this formula. A mere dealer, many exclaim, in oddities
and grotesques, who will sacrifice anything to produce a startling
effect, whose portraits are caricatures, whose style is torn to pieces
by excessive straining after emphasis, and who systematically banishes
all those half-tones which are necessary to faithful portraiture in
the search after incessant contrasts of light and shade.

Let us first remark in regard to this that Carlyle himself
peremptorily and emphatically denied that the distinction here assumed
between the poet and the philosopher could be more than superficial.
The philosopher only reaches his goal so far as his analysis leads
to a synthesis, or as his abstract speculations can be embodied in
definite concrete vision. And the poet is a mere idler, with no
substantial or permanent value in him, unless he is uttering thoughts
equally susceptible of philosophical exposition. 'The hero,' he says,
'can be poet, prophet, king, priest, or what you will, according to
the kind of world he finds himself born into. I confess I have no
notion of a truly great man that could not be all sorts of men. The
poet who could merely sit on a chair and compose stanzas could never
make a stanza worth much. He could not sing the heroic warrior, unless
he himself were an heroic warrior too.' To this doctrine—though with
various logical distinctions and qualifications which seem incongruous
with Carlyle's vehement dogmatic utterances—I, for one, would
willingly subscribe; and I hold further that in strenuously asserting
and enforcing it Carlyle was really laying down the fundamental
doctrine of all sound criticism, whether of art or literature or
life. Any teaching, that is, which attempts to separate the poet from
the man as though his excellence were to be measured by a radically
different set of tests is, to my mind, either erroneous or trifling
and superficial. The point at which one is inclined to part company
with this teaching is different. I do not condemn Carlyle for judging
the poet as he judges the hero, for the substantial worth of the man
whom it reveals to us; but I admit that his ideal man has a certain
stamp of Puritanical narrowness. So, for example, there is something
characteristic in his judgments not only of Coleridge, but of Lamb
or Scott. He judges Lamb as the spoilt child of Cockney circles, as
the Baptist in his garment of camel's hair might have judged some
favourite courtier cracking jokes for the amusement of Herodias'
daughter. And of Scott, though he strives to do justice to the pride
of all Scotchmen, and admits Scott's merit in breathing life into the
past, his real judgment is based upon the maxim that literature must
have higher aims 'than that of harmlessly amusing indolent languid
men.' Scott was not one who had gone through spiritual convulsions,
who had 'dwelt and wrestled amid dark pains and throes,' but on the
whole a prosperous easy-going gentleman, who found out the art of
'writing impromptu novels to buy farms with;' and who can therefore
by no means claim the entire devotion of the rigorous ascetic prophet
to whom happiness is inconceivable except as the reward of victorious
conflicts with the deadly enemies of the soul. To me it seems that
the error in such judgments is one of omission; but the omission is
certainly considerable. For Carlyle's tacit assumption seems to be
that the conscience should be not only the supreme but the single
faculty of the soul; that morality is not only a necessary but the
sole condition of all excellence; and, therefore, that an ethical
judgment is not merely implied in every æsthetic judgment, but is
the sole essence and meaning of it. Our minds, according to some
of his Puritan teachers, should be so exclusively set upon working
out our salvation that every kind of aim not consciously directed
to this ultimate end is a trifling which is closely akin to actual
sin. Carlyle, accepting or unconsciously imbibing the spirit of such
teaching, reserves his whole reverence for rigid and lofty natures,
deserving beyond all question of reverence, but wanting in elements
essential to the full development of our natures, and therefore, in
the long run, to a broad morality.

This leads us to his most emphatically asserted doctrines. No one
could assert more forcibly, emphatically, and frequently than Carlyle
that morality or justice is the one indispensable thing; that justice
means the law of God; that the sole test of the merits of any human
law is its conformity to the divine law; and that, as he puts it,
all history is an 'inarticulate Bible, and in a dim intricate manner
reveals the divine appearances in this lower world. For God did make
this world, and does for ever govern it; the loud roaring loom of
time, with all its French revolutions, Jewish revelations, "weaves
the vesture thou seest Him by." There is no biography of a man, much
less any history or biography of a nation, but wraps in it a message
out of heaven, addressed to the hearing ear and the not-hearing.' It
is needless to quote particular passages. This clearly is the special
doctrine of Carlyle, embodied in all his works; preached in season
and (often enough) out of season; which possesses him rather than is
possessed by him; the sum and substance of the message which he had
to deliver to the world, and spent his life and energy in delivering
with emphasis. And yet we are constantly told that Carlyle was a cynic
who believed in nothing but brute force. If such a criticism came
only from those who had been repelled by his style from reading his
books—or again, only from the shallow and Pharisaical, who mistake
any attack upon the arrangements to which they owe their comfort for
an attack upon the eternal laws of the universe—it might be dismissed
with contempt. And this is, indeed, all that much of the average
talk about Carlyle deserves. But there is a more solid ground in
the objection, which brings us in face of Carlyle's most disputable
teaching, and is worth considering.

We have, in fact, to consider the principle so often ascribed to him
that Might makes Right; and this may be interpreted into the immoral
doctrine that force is the one thing admirable, and success the sole
test of merit. Cromwell was right because he cut off Charles's head,
and Charles wrong because he lost his head. Frederick's political
immorality is condoned because Frederick succeeded in making Prussia
great; Napoleon was right so long as he was victorious, and was
condemned because he ended in St. Helena. That, as some critics
suppose, was Carlyle's meaning, and they very naturally denounce it as
an offensive and cynical theory.

Now in one sense Carlyle's doctrine is the very reverse of this.
His theory is the opposite one, that Right makes Might. He admires
Cromwell, for example, and Cromwell is the hero after his own heart,
expressly on the ground that Cromwell is the perfect embodiment of
the Puritan principle, and that the essence of Puritanism was to 'see
God's own law made good in this world.... Eternal justice; that God's
will be done on earth as it is in heaven; corollaries enough will flow
from that, if that be there; if that be not there, no corollary good
for much will flow.' How does a doctrine apparently at least implying
an unqualified belief in the absolute supremacy of right, a conviction
that nothing but the rule of right can give a satisfactory basis for
any human arrangement, get itself transmuted into an appearance of the
opposite, of being a kind of Hobbism, deducing all morality from sheer
force? Such transmutations, or apparent meetings of opposite extremes,
are not uncommon, and the process might perhaps be most forcibly
illustrated by a history of the old Puritans themselves. But it will
be quite enough for my purpose to indicate, as briefly as may be,
Carlyle's own method, which is of course guided as well by his temper
as by his primary assumptions. He is predisposed in every way to take
the sternest view of morality. He means by virtue, by no means an
indiscriminate extension of all-comprehending benevolence, of goodwill
to rogues and scoundrels, or amiable desire that everybody should have
as pleasant a time of it as possible. Justice, according to him, and
the most stringent and unflinching justice, is the essential basis
of all morality. Love, doubtless, is the fulfilling of the law; but
along with that truth you must also recognise the awful and mysterious
truth, that hell itself is one product of the divine love. Love itself
implies the destruction of evil and of the evil-doers. From this
assumption it is not surprising if much modern philanthropy appeared
to him as mere sentimentalism, a weak sympathy even for the suffering
which is the divinely appointed remedy for social diseases, the mere
effeminate shrinking from the surgical knife. The cardinal virtue from
which all others might be inferred is not benevolence, but veracity,
respect for facts and hatred of shams. This was not with Carlyle, as
with some of his teachers, an abstract theorem of metaphysics, but the
expression of his whole character, of that Puritanic fervour which
tested all doctrine by its immediate practical influence upon the
will, and which forced even his poetical imagination to spend itself
not in creating images, but in realising as vividly as possible the
actual facts of history.

Carlyle's application of these principles brings out a remarkable
result. 'Puritanism,' he says, 'was a genuine thing, for Nature
has adopted it, and it has grown and grows. I say sometimes, that
everything goes by wager of battle in this world; that _strength_,
well understood, is the measure of all worth. Give a thing time; if
it can succeed it is a right thing.' This is one form of Carlyle's
essential principle, and is it not also the essential principle of Mr.
Darwin's famous theory? It is an explicit assertion of the doctrine
of the struggle for existence, though applied here to Knox and the
Puritans instead of to the origin of species. And yet, as we may
note in passing, the evolutionists are, as a fact, the most ready to
condemn Carlyle's immorality, whilst Carlyle could never find words
adequate to express his contempt for them. In that thorough carrying
out of this principle, Carlyle is approaching that profound problem
which in one shape or other haunts all philosophies: What kind of
victory may we expect for right in this world? If Might and Right
were strictly identical, it would seem here that we might start
indifferently from either basis. 'This succeeds; therefore it is
right,' would be as tenable an argument as—'This is right; therefore
it will succeed.' Yet one doctrine has an edifying sound, and the
other seems to be the very reverse of edifying. Moralists vie with
each other in proclaiming their belief in the ultimate success of good
causes, and yet indignantly deny that the goodness of a cause should
be inferred from its success. We agree to applaud the prophecy, cited
with applause by Carlyle himself, that Napoleon's empire would fail
because founded upon injustice; but we are startled by an inference
from the failure to the injustice. But why should there be so vast a
difference in what seem to be equivalent modes of reasoning? Carlyle's
answer would follow from the words just cited. You must, he says,
'give a thing time.' Nobody can deny the temporary prosperity of
the wicked, and certainly Carlyle could not deny that injustice may
flourish long before it produces the inevitable crash. 'The mills of
God grind slowly, though they grind exceeding small.' And, therefore,
it may make all the difference whether we make the success the premiss
or the conclusion. For though, in the long run, the good causes may
be trusted to succeed in time, and we may see in history the proof
that they have succeeded, yet at any moment the test of success may be
precarious whilst that of justice is infallible. We may distinguish
the wheat from the tares before the reaper has cast one aside and
preserved the other. At the moment the injustice of Napoleon's empire
was manifest, though the cracks and fissures which were to cause its
crumbling were still hidden from any observer.

By what signs, then, other than the ultimate test of success, can
we discern the just from the unjust? That, of course, is the vital
point which must decide upon the character of Carlyle's morality; and
it is one which, in my opinion, he cannot be said to have answered
distinctly. He gives, indeed, a test satisfactory to himself, and he
enforces and applies it with superabundant energy and variety of
phrase. That is right, one may say briefly, which will 'work.' The
sham is hollow, and must be crushed in the tug and wrestle of the
warring world. The reality survives and gathers strength. Veracity in
equivalent phrase is the condition of vitality. Truth endures; the
lie perishes. But in applying this or his vast vocabulary of similar
phrases, we come to a difficulty. 'The largest veracity ever _done_
in Parliament' was, he says, Sir Robert Peel's abolition of the Corn
Laws. But how can you _do_ a veracity? What is a lie?—a question, as
he observes, worth asking by the 'practical English mind;' and to
which he accordingly proceeds to give an answer. He insists, that
is, very eloquently and vehemently, upon the inevitable results of
all lying, and of all legislative and other action which proceeds
upon the assumption of a falsity or an error which passes itself off
for a truth. In all which I, for one, admit that there is not only
truth, but truth nobly expressed and applied to the confutation of
some most pestilent errors; and yet, as one must also admit, there
is still an ambiguity. May it not, in fact, cover that exaltation
of mere success which is so often objected to him? Some tyrannical
institution—slavery, for example—lives and flourishes through long
ages. Is it thereby justified? Is it not a fact, and if fact and truth
are the same things, is it not a truth sanctioned by the eternal
veracities and so forth, and therefore entitled to our respect? This
is one more form of that fundamental problem which really perplexes
Carlyle's moral teaching, and which he has at least the merit of
bringing into prominence, though not of answering. In fact, we may
recognise in it an ancient philosophical controversy not yet set
at rest; for, since the beginning of ethical theorising, thinkers
of various schools have tried in one way or other to deduce virtue
from truth, and to identify all vice with error. But the reference
is enough to show the difference of Carlyle's method. He might
respect the metaphysician who held a doctrine so far analogous to his
own; but the metaphysical method appeared to him as a mere formal
logic-chopping where the essence of the teaching escaped amidst barren
demonstrations of verbal identities.

The real answer is here again a new version of the old Puritan answer.
The Puritan fell back upon the will of God revealed through the Bible,
whose authority was manifest by the inner light. If the wicked were
allowed to triumph for a time, there was no danger of being misled by
their success, for they were condemned in advance by the plain fact
of their renunciation of the inspired guide. For Carlyle, the 'hero'
takes the place of, or rather is put side by side with, the older
organs of inspiration. Every hero conveys in fact a new revelation to
mankind; he conveys a divine message, not, it is true, with infallible
precision, or without an admixture of human error, but still the very
kernel and essence of his teaching. He may come as prophet, king,
poet, or philosopher, and you may reject or accept his message at your
peril. You may recognise it, as the Puritan recognised the authority
of his Bible, by the spontaneous witness of your higher nature, and
you will recognise it so long as you have not given yourself up to
believe a lie. And if you demand some external proofs you must be
referred, not to some particular signs and wonders, but to what you
may, if you please, call the 'success' of the message; the fact,
that is, that the hero has contributed some permanent element to the
thoughts and lives of mankind, that he has revealed some enduring
truth, created some permanent symbol of our highest feelings, or
wrought some organic change in the very structure of society. There
is a danger undoubtedly of confounding some temporary crystal palace
or dazzling edifice of mere glass with an edifice founded on the rock
and solid as the pyramids. The hero may be confounded with the sham,
as unfortunately shams and realities are most frequently confounded in
this world. But they differ for all that, and the true man recognises
the difference, as the religious man knows the hypocrite from the
saint. The test is indifferently the truth or the soundness of the
work; they must coincide; but the test can only be applied by one who
really loves the truth.

It is easy to point out the dangers of this position. It rests, after
all, you may say upon the individual conviction, and lends itself
too easily to that kind of dogmatism in which Carlyle indulged so
freely, and which consists in asserting that any doctrine or system
which he dislikes is an incarnate lie, and pronouncing that it is
therefore doomed to failure. And, on the other hand, it may be equally
perverted in the opposite direction by claiming a sacred character
for every 'lie' not yet exploded. Carlyle, beyond all question, was a
man of intense prejudices, and the claim to inspiration, even to the
inspiration of our teachers, very easily passes into a deification of
our own prejudices. No one was more liable to that error; but it is
better worth our while to look at some other aspect of his teaching.

For we may surely accept without hesitation one application of the
doctrine, which is of the first importance with Carlyle, and which
he has taught so incessantly and impressively, that to him more than
to any other man may be attributed the general recognition of its
truth. The success of any system of thought—the permanent influence,
that is, of any great man or of any great institution—must be due
to the truth which it contained, or to its real value to mankind.
This doctrine has become so much of a commonplace, and harmonises
so fully with all modern historical methods, that we are apt to
overlook the service done by Carlyle in its explicit assertion and
rigorous application to facts. When he was delivering his lectures
upon hero-worship, intelligent people were still in the attitude of
mind represented, for example, by Gibbon's famous explanation of the
success of Christianity, as due, amongst other things, to the zeal of
the early believers, as if the zeal required no explanation; when,
on the other side, it was thought proper to explain Mahometanism,
not by the admixture of genuine truth which it contained, but as a
simple imposture. Carlyle still speaks like a man advancing a disputed
theory when he urges in this latter case that to explain the power of
Mahomet's sword, you must explain the force which wielded the sword;
and that the ingenious hypothesis of a downright cheat will by no
means serve the turn. This doctrine is now generally accepted, unless
by a few clever people who still cherish the wire-pulling heresy which
makes history a puppet-show manipulated by ingenious scoundrels,
instead of a vast co-operation of organic forces. Carlyle, however,
has done more than any writer to make such barren and degrading
explanations impossible for all serious thinkers. His 'Cromwell'
has at least exploded once for all the simple-minded 'hypocrisy'
theory, as the essay upon Johnson destroyed the ingenious doctrine
that a man could write a good book simply because he was a fool.
Whether his portraits are accurate or not, they are at least set
before us as conceivable and consistent human beings. The prosaic
historian and biographer takes the average verdict of commonplace
observers: if he is a partisan, he is content with the contemporary
caricatures of the party to which he belongs; if he wishes to be
impartial, he strikes a rough average between opposite errors; and if
he wishes to be dazzling, he calmly combines incompatible judgments.
Macaulay's works, with all their merits, are a perfect gallery of such
portraits—rhetorically excellent, but hopelessly flimsy in substance:
of angelic Whigs and fiendish Tories, and of strange monsters like
his Bacon and his Boswell, made by quietly heaping together meanness
and wisdom, sense and folly, and inviting you to accept a string of
paradoxes as a sober statement of fact. The truly imaginative writer
has to go deeper than this. He begins where the rhetorician ends. A
great work, as he instinctively sees, implies a great force. A man
can only leave his mark upon history so far as he is animated, and
therefore worthy to be animated, by a great idea. The secret of his
nature is to be discovered by a sympathetic imagination acting by
a kind of poetical induction. Gathering together all his recorded
acts and utterances, the masses of recorded facts, preserved, often
in hopeless confusion and misrepresentation, by his contemporaries,
you must brood over them till at last you gain a clear vision of the
underlying unity of character which manifests itself in these various
ways. Then, at last, you may recognise the true hero, and discover
unsuspected unity of purpose and strength of conviction, where the
hasty judgments passed by contemporaries and those who set them
upon isolated fragments of his career, make a bewildering chaos of
inconsistency. The process is admirably illustrated in the study of
Cromwell, and the result has the merit of being at least a possible,
if not a correct, theory of a great man.

This, again, is connected with another aspect of Carlyle's
teaching—as valuable, though perhaps its value is not even now as
generally recognised. For the tendency of his mind is always to
substitute what is sometimes called the dynamical for the merely
mechanical view of history. It is a necessity for his imagination
to penetrate as much to the centre instead of remaining at the
circumference; to unveil the actual forces which govern the working of
the superficial phenomena, instead of losing himself in the external
phenomena themselves. The true condition for understanding history
is to gain a clear perception of the genuine beliefs, the wants and
passions which actually sway men's souls, instead of working simply
at the complicated wheels and pulleys of the political machinery,
or accepting the masses of idle verbiage which conceal our true
thoughts from ourselves and from each other. An implicit faith in the
potency of the machinery, and an equal neglect of the real driving
force, was, in his view, the original sin of political theory. The
constitution-mongers of the Delolme or Siéyès type, the men who
fancied that government (as one of them said) was like 'a dance where
everything depended on the disposition of the figures,' and nothing,
therefore, on the nature of the dancers, have pretty well passed away.
Carlyle saw the same vital fallacies in such nostrums as the ballot
or the scheme so enthusiastically advocated by Hare and Mill. 'If of
ten men nine are recognisable as fools, which is a common calculation,
how in the name of wonder will you get a ballot-box to grind you out
a wisdom from the votes of those ten men? Never by any conceivable
ballot-box, nor by all the machinery in Bromwicham or out of it, will
you attain such a result.' Whether Carlyle was right or wrong in the
particular application I do not presume to say. Such a change as
the ballot may perhaps imply more than a mere change of machinery.
But I certainly cannot doubt that he is right in the essence of his
contention: that a perception of the difference between the merely
mechanical details and the vital forces of a society is essential
to any sound political theorising; and that half our pet schemes of
reform fail just from this cause, that they expect to change the
essence by modifying the surface, and are therefore equivalent to
plans for obtaining mechanical results without expending energy.

To have asserted these principles so emphatically is one of
Carlyle's greatest merits; and if he obtained emphasis at the cost
of exaggeration, overstatement, grotesque straining of language and
imagery, and much substantial error as to facts, I can only say that
the service remains, and is inestimable. But there is a less pleasing
qualification to be made. The objection to the ballot as a purely
mechanical arrangement is combined, as we have just seen, with the
objection founded upon the prevalence of fools. That stinging phrase,
'mostly fools,' has stuck in our throats. The prophet who tells us
that we are wicked may be popular—perhaps, because our consciences
are on his side; but the prophet who calls us fools is likely to
provoke our wrath. I, at least, never met a man who relished that
imputation, even if he admitted it to contain a grain of truth.
But, palatable or not, it is clearly fundamental with Carlyle.
The world is formed of 'dull millions, who, as a dull flock, roll
hither and thither, whithersoever they are led;' the great men are
the 'guides of the dull host, who follow them as by an irrevocable
decree.' They are the heroes to whom alone are granted real powers
of vision and command; realities amongst shams, and knowers amongst
vague feelers after knowledge. We need not ask how this theory was
reached; whether it is the spontaneous sentiment of a proud and
melancholy character, or really a fair estimate of the facts; or,
again, a deduction from the 'hero' doctrine. With that doctrine, at
any rate, it naturally coincides. To exalt the stature of your hero,
you must depress his fellows. If Gulliver is to be a giant, he must
go to Lilliput. There is, however, a gap in the argument which is
characteristically neglected by Carlyle. He would never have fairly
accepted the doctrine—whose was it?—that, though a man may be wiser
than anybody there is something wiser than he—namely, everybody.
The omission is critical, and has many consequences. For one may
fully admit Carlyle's estimate: one may hold the difference between
a Shakespeare and an average contributor to the poet's corner of a
newspaper, or between a born leader of men, a Cromwell and a Chatham,
and the enormous majority of his followers, as something hardly
expressible in words: one may admit that the history of thought or
society reveals the more clearly, the more closely it is studied, the
height to which the chosen few tower above the average; one may even
diminish the percentage of the wise from a tenth to a hundredth or a
thousandth: and yet one may hold to the superior wisdom of the mass.
No ballot-box, it is true, will make the folly of the nine equal to
the wisdom of the one. Or it can tend that way only if the foolish
majority have some sense of the need of superior guidance. But the
ignorance and folly of mankind, their incapacity for forming any
trustworthy judgment on any given point, may also be consistent with
a capacity for groping after truth, and they have the advantage of
trying experiments on a large scale. The fact that a creed commends
itself to the instincts of many men in many ages is a better
proof—Carlyle himself being the judge—that it contains some truth
than the isolated judgment of the most clearsighted philosopher. The
fact that an institution actually makes men happy and calls forth
their loyalty is a more forcible argument in its favour than the
opinion of the most experienced statesman. And, therefore, the fact
that any society is chiefly made up of fools is quite consistent with
the belief that it is collectively the organ through which truth
gradually manifests itself and wins a wider recognition. _Securus
judicat orbis_ may be a true maxim if we interpret it to mean that
the world decides—not as the experimenter but as the experiment.
Carlyle systematically overlooks this blind semi-conscious process
of co-operation upon which the 'hero' is really as dependent as the
dull flock which he leads. History, as he is fond of saying, is
the essence of innumerable biographies. To find the essence of the
biographies, again, he goes to the essential biographies; that is,
to the biographies of the men who give the impulse, not of those who
passively submit to the impulse. This apotheosis of the individual is
dictated by his imaginative idiosyncrasy, as much as by his theory
of history. He must have the picturesque concrete fact; the living
hero to be the incarnation of the idea; and, accordingly, history in
his page is like a gigantic panorama in which the painter sacrifices
everything to obtain the strongest contrasts, and makes his lights
stand out against vast breadths of unspeakable gloom. The hero is thus
made to sum up the whole effectual force, and all that is done by the
Greeks is attributed to the arm of Achilles. Some awkward results
follow. Frederick is a hero who has obvious moral defects, and readers
are startled by Carlyle's worship of such an idol. Yet it follows
from the assumptions. For Frederick, in Carlyle's theory, means the
development of the German nation. That the growth of the German
influence in Europe was a phenomenon which naturally and rightfully
excited Carlyle's strongest enthusiasm requires no demonstration.
If the credit of that, as of every other great achievement, must be
given to some solitary hero, Frederick doubtless has the best claim
to the honour. We may no doubt say that Frederick, in spite of this,
was selfish and cynical, and may confine our praises to allowing
his possession of perspicacity enough to see the capabilities of
his position. A great man may do an involuntary service to mankind,
because his genius inclines him to range himself on the side of the
strongest forces, and therefore of what we vaguely call progress. But
the hero-worshipper naturally regards him as not merely an instrument,
but the conscious and efficient cause of the progress itself.

Hence, too, the apparent immorality which some people discern in
Carlyle's denunciations of 'red tape' formulas, and the ordinary
conventions of society. Undoubtedly, such fetters must snap like
packthread when opposed to the deeper forces which govern the growth
of nations. No set of engagements on paper will keep a nation on its
legs if it is rotten at the core, or maintain a balance of power
between forces which are daily growing unequal. It is idle to suppose
that any contract could bind, or otherwise can preserve, the vitality
of effete institutions. And hence arise a good many puzzling questions
for political casuistry. It is hard to say at what precise point it
becomes necessary to snap the bonds, and when the necessity of change
makes revolution, with all its mischiefs, preferable to stagnation.
The hero-worshipper who regards his idol as the supreme moving
force, has to make him also the infallible judge in such matter. He
stands above—not the ultimate rules of morality, but—the whole system
of regulations and compromises by which men must govern themselves
in normal times—and decides when they must be suspended in the name
of the higher law. The only appeal from his decision is the appeal
to facts. If the apparent hero be really self-seeking and vulgarly
ambitious, he and his empire will be crushed like Napoleon's. If, on
the whole, his decision be right, as inspired from above, he will lay
the foundations of a new order on an unshakable basis. And, therefore,
Carlyle is naturally attracted to the revolutionary periods, when
the underlying forces come to the surface; when the foundations of
the great deep are broken up, all conventions summarily swept aside,
and the direct as well as the ultimate attention is to the great
principles of its social life. Therefore he sympathises with Mirabeau,
who had 'swallowed all formulas,' and still more with Cromwell,
whose purpose, in his view, was to make the laws of England a direct
application of the laws of God. Puritan and Jacobin are equally
impatient for the instantaneous advent of the millennium, and so far
attract equally the man who shares their hatred of compromise and
temporising with the world.

Here we come to the final problem. Cromwell's Parliament, he says,
failed in their attempt to realise their 'noble, and surely necessary,
attempt.' Nay, they 'could not but fail;' they had 'the sluggishness,
the slavish half-and-halfness, the greediness, the cowardice, and
general fatuity and falsity of some ten million men against it—alas!
the whole world and what we call the Devil and all his angels against
it!' This is the true revolutionary doctrine. The fact that a reform
would only succeed fully if men were angels is with the ordinary
Conservative a reason for not reforming at all; and with your genuine
fanatic a reason not for declining the impracticable, but for
denouncing the facts. We have, however, to ask how it fits in with
any such theory of progress as was possible for Carlyle. For some
such theory must be held by anyone who makes the victory of truth and
justice over shams and falsehoods a corner-stone of his system. It
has been asked, in fact, whether there is not a gross inconsistency
here. If Cromwell's success proved him to be a hero, did not the
Restoration upset the proof? The answer, frequently and emphatically
given by Carlyle, as in the lecture on the hero as king, is an obvious
one. Cromwell represents an intermediate stage between Luther and the
French Revolution. Luther told the Pope that he was a 'chimera;' and
the French gave the same piece of information to other 'chimeras.'
The whole process is a revolt against certain gigantic shams, and the
success very inadequately measured by any special incident in the
struggle. The French Revolution, with all its horrors, was a 'return
to truth,' though, as it were, to a truth 'clad in hellfire:' and
its advent should be hailed as 'shipwrecked mariners might hail the
sternest rock, in a world otherwise all of baseless seas and waves.'
And throughout this vast revolutionary process, our hope rests
upon the 'certainty of heroes being sent us;' and that certainty
'shines like a polestar, through murk dustclouds, and all manner of
down-rushing and conflagration.'

It is well that we have a 'certainty' of the coming hero; for the
essay seems to show the weakness of all excessive reliance upon
individuals. Cromwell's life, as he tells us emphatically, was the
life of the Commonwealth, and Cromwell's life was at the mercy of a
'stray bullet.' Where then is a certainty of progress in a world
thus dependent upon solitary heroes, in a wilderness of fools, liable
to be snuffed out at a moment's notice? So far as certainty means a
scientific conviction resting on the observation of facts, we, of
course, cannot have it. It is a certainty which follows from our
belief in the overruling power which will send heroes when there is
work for heroes to do. And Carlyle can at times, especially in his
earlier writings, declare his faith in such a progress with full
conviction. 'The English Whig,' says Herr Teufelsdröckh, 'has, in the
second generation, become an English Radical, who, in the third, it
is to be hoped, will become an English rebuilder. Find mankind where
thou wilt, thou findest it in living movement, in progress faster
or slower; the phœnix soars aloft, hovers with outstretched wings,
filling earth with her music; or, as now, she sinks, and with spheral
swansong immolates herself in flame, that she may soar the higher and
sing the clearer.' And the phrase, as I think, gives the theory which
in fact is more or less explicitly contained in all Carlyle's writings.

It is plain, however, that progress, so understood, is a progress
consistent with long periods of the reverse of progress. It implies an
alternation of periods of reconstruction and vital energy with others
of decay and degeneration. And in this I do not know that Carlyle
differs from other philosophers. Few people are sanguine enough to
hold that every generation improves upon the preceding. But the modern
believer in progress undoubtedly believes that this actual generation
is better than the last, and that the next will be better still; and
is very apt to impute bad motives to anyone who differs from him.
Here, of course, he must come into flat opposition to Carlyle. For
Carlyle, to put it briefly, regarded the present state of things as
analogous to that of the Lower Empire; a time of dissolution of old
bonds and of a general ferment which was destroying the very tissues
of society. So far he agrees, of course, with many Conservatives; but
he differs from them in regarding the process as necessary, and even
ultimately beneficial. The disease is one which must run its course;
the best hope is that it may run it quickly; the attempt to suppress
the symptoms and to regain health by making time run backwards is
simply chimerical. Thus he was in the painful position of one who sees
a destructive process going on of which he recognises the necessity
whilst all the immediate results are bad.

To the ardent believer in progress such a state of mind is, of course,
repulsive. It implies misanthropy, cynicism, and disbelief in mankind.
Nor can anybody deny that Carlyle's gloomy and dyspeptic constitution
palpably biassed his view of his contemporaries as well as of their
theories. The 'mostly fools' expresses a deeply-rooted feeling, and we
might add 'mostly bores,' and to a great extent humbugs. And this, of
course, implies a very low estimate of the powers of unheroic mankind,
and therefore of their rights. If most men are fools, their right
to do as they please is a right to knock their heads against stone
walls. Carlyle perhaps overlooked the fact that even that process may
be useful training for fools. But even here he asserted a doctrine
wrongly applied rather than false in principle. It shocks one to find
an open advocacy of slavery for black Quashee. But we must admit,
and admit for the reasons given by Carlyle, that even slavery may be
better than sheer anarchy and barbarism; that, historically speaking,
the system of slavery represents a necessary stage in civilisation;
and therefore that the simple abolition of slavery—a recognition of
unconditional 'right' without reference to the possession of the
instincts necessary for higher kinds of society—might be disguised
cruelty. The error was in the hasty assumption that his Quashee
was, in fact, in this degraded state; and the haste to accept this
disheartening belief was but too characteristic. That liberty might
mean barbarism was true; that it actually did mean it in certain given
cases was a rash assumption too much in harmony with his ordinary
aversion to the theorists of his time.

This applies to all Carlyle's preachings about contemporary politics;
the weakest of his writings are those in which his rash dogmatism,
coloured by his gloomy temperament, was employed upon unfamiliar
topics. But the pith and essence of them all is the intense conviction
that the one critical point for modern statesmen is the creation
of a healthy substratum to the social structure. That the lives of
the great masses are squalid, miserable, and vicious, and must be
elevated by the spread of honesty, justice, and the unflinching
extirpation of corrupt elements, the substitution of rigorous rulers
for idle professors of official pedantry, busy about everything but
the essential—that is the sum and substance of the teaching. That
he attributes too much to the legislative power, and has too little
belief in the capacities of the average man, may be true enough.
But this one thing must be said in conclusion. The bitterness, the
gloom, even the apparent brutality, is a proof of the strength of his
sympathies. He is savage with the physician because he is appalled
at the virulence of the disease and the inadequacy of the remedy. He
may shriek 'quack' too hastily, and be too ready to give over the
patient as desperate. And yet I am frequently struck by a contrast. I
meet a good friend who holds up his hands at Carlyle's ferocity. We
talk, and I find that he holds that in politics we are all going to
sheer destruction or 'shooting Niagara'; that the miserable Radicals
are sapping all public spirit; that faith is being undermined by
malcontents and atheists; that the merchant has become a gambler,
and the tradesman a common cheat; that the 'British workman' is a
phrase which may be used with the certainty of provoking a sneer; and,
briefly, that there is not a class in the country which is not on the
highroad to decay, or an institution beyond the reach of corruption.
And yet my friend sits quietly down and enjoys his dinner as heartily
as if he were expecting the millennium. What shall I say? That he does
not believe what he says, or that his digestive apparatus was in most
enviable order? I know not; but certainly Carlyle was not capable of
this. He took things too terribly in earnest. When workmen scamped
the alterations in his house, or the railway puffed its smoke into
his face, he saw visible symbols of modern degeneracy, and thought
painfully of the old honest wholesome life in Annandale—of steady
God-fearing farmers and self-respecting workmen. All that swept away
by progress and 'prosperity beyond example'! That was his reflection;
perhaps it was very weak, as certainly it was very unpleasant to worry
himself about what he could not help, and sprang, let us say, all from
a defective digestion. And yet, though I cannot think without pity
of the man of genius who felt so keenly and thought so gloomily of
the evils around us, I feel infinitely more respect for his frame of
mind than for that of the man who, sharing, verbally at least, this
opinion, can let it calmly lie in his mind without the least danger to
his personal comfort.


It sometimes strikes readers of books that literature is, on the
whole, a snare and a delusion. Writers, of course, do not generally
share that impression; and, on the contrary, have said a great many
fine things about the charm of conversing with the choice minds of
all ages, with the _innuendo_, to use the legal phrase, that they
themselves modestly demand some place amongst the aforesaid choice
minds. But at times we are disposed to retort upon our teachers. Are
you not, we observe, exceedingly given to humbug? The youthful student
takes the poet's ecstasies and agonies in solemn earnest. We who have
grown a little wiser cannot forget with what complacency the poet has
often devised a new agony; how he has set it to a pretty tune; how he
has treasured up his sorrows and despairs to make his literary stock
in trade, has taken them to market, and squabbled with publishers and
writhed under petty critics, and purred and bridled under judicious
flattery; and we begin to resent his demand upon our sympathies.
Are not poetry and art a terrible waste of energy in a world where
so much energy is already being dissipated? The great musician,
according to the well-worn anecdote, hears the people crying for
bread in the street, and the wave of emotion passing through his mind
comes out in the shape, not of active benevolence, but of some new
and exquisite jangle of sounds. It is all very well. The musician,
it is probable enough, could have done nothing better. But there are
times when we feel that we would rather have the actual sounds, the
downright utterance of an agonised human being, than the far-away echo
of passion set up in the artistic brain. We prefer the roar of the
tempest to the squeaking of the Æolian harp. We tire of the skilfully
prepared sentiment, the pretty fancies, the unreal imaginations, and
long for the harsh, crude, substantial fact, the actual utterance of
men struggling in the dire grasp of unmitigated realities. We want
to see Nature itself, not to look at the distorted images presented
in the magical mirror of a Shakespeare. The purpose of playing is,
as that excellent authority is constantly made to repeat, to show
the very age and body of the time his form and pressure. But, upon
that hypothesis, why should we not see the age itself instead of
being bothered by impossible kings and queens and ghosts mixed up
in supernatural catastrophes? If this theory of art be sound, is
not the most realistic historian the only artist? Nay, since every
historian is more or less a sophisticator, should we not go back to
the materials from which histories are made?

I feel some touch of sympathy for those simple-minded readers who
avowedly prefer the police reports to any other kind of literature.
There at least they come into contact with solid facts; shocking, it
may be, to well-regulated minds, but possessing all the charm of their
brutal reality; not worked into the carefully doctored theories and
rose-coloured pictures set forth by the judicious author, whose real
aim is to pose as an amiable and interesting being. It is true that
there are certain objections to such studies. They generally imply a
wrong state of mind in the student. He too often reads, it is to be
feared, with that pleasure in loathsome details which seems to spring
from a survival of the old cruel instincts capable of finding pleasure
in the sight of torture and bloodshed. Certainly one would not, even
in a passing phrase, suggest that the indulgence of such a temper can
be anything but loathsome. But it is not necessary to assume this evil
propensity in all cases; or what must be our judgment of the many
excellent members of society who studied day by day the reports of the
Tichborne case, for example, and felt that there was a real blank in
their lives when the newspapers had to fill their columns with nothing
better than discussions of international relations and social reforms?
You might perhaps laugh at such a man if he asserted that he was
conscientiously studying human nature. But you might give him credit
if he replied that he was reading a novel which atoned for any defects
of construction by the incomparable interest of reality. And the reply
would be more plausible in defence of another kind of reading. When
literature palls upon me I sometimes turn for relief to the great
collection of State Trials. They are nothing, you may say, but the
police reports of the past. But it makes all the difference that they
are of the past. I may be ashamed of myself when I read some hideous
revelation of modern crime, not to stimulate my ardour as a patriot
and a reformer, but to add a zest to my comfortable chair in the club
window or at the bar of my favourite public-house. But I can read
without such a pang of remorse about Charles I. and the regicides. I
can do nothing for them. I cannot turn the tide of battle at Naseby,
or rush into the streets with the enthusiastic Venner. They make no
appeal to me for help, and I have not to harden my heart by resisting,
but only feel a sympathy which cannot be wasted because it could not
be turned to account. I may indulge in it, for it strengthens the bond
between me and my ancestors. My sense of relationship is stimulated
and strengthened as I gaze at the forms sinking slowly beyond my grasp
down into the abyss of the past, and try in imagination to raise them
once more to the surface. I do all that I can for them in simply
acknowledging that they form a part of the great process in which I
am for the instant on the knife-edge of actual existence, and unreal
only in the sense in which the last motion of my pen is unreal now.
'I was once,' says one of the earliest performers, 'a looker-on of
the pageant as others be here now, but now, woe is me! I am a player
in that doleful tragedy.' This 'now' is become our 'once,' and we
may leave it to the harmless enthusiasts who play at metaphysics to
explain or to darken the meaning of the familiar phrase. Whatever
time may be—a point, I believe, not quite settled—there is always a
singular fascination in any study which makes us vividly conscious
of its ceaseless lapse, and gives us the sense of rolling back the
ever-closing scroll. Historians, especially of the graphic variety,
try to do that service for us; but we can only get the full enjoyment
by studying at first-hand direct contemporary reports of actual words
and deeds.

The charm of the State Trials is in the singular fulness and apparent
authenticity of many of the reports of _vivâ voce_ examinations.
There are not more links between us for example, and Sir Nicholas
Throgmorton—whose words I have just quoted—than between us and the
last witness at a contemporary trial. The very words are given
fresh from the speaker's mouth. The volumes, of course, contain
vast masses of the dismal materials which can be quarried only by
the patience of a Dryasdust. If we open them at random we may come
upon reading which is anything but exhilarating. There are pages
upon pages of constitutional eloquence in the Sacheverell case about
the blessed revolution, and the social compact, and the theory of
passive resistance, which are as hopelessly unreadable as the last
parliamentary debate in the 'Times.' If we chance upon the great
case of Shipmoney, and the arguments for and against the immortal
Hampden, we have to dig through strata of legal antiquarianism
solid enough to daunt the most intrepid explorer. And, as trials
expand in later times, and the efforts of the British Barrister to
establish certain important rules of evidence become fully reported,
we, as innocent laymen, feel bound to withdraw from the sacred
place. Indeed, one is forced to ask in passing whether any English
lawyer, with one exception, ever made a speech in court which it was
possible for any one not a lawyer to read in cold blood. Speeches,
of course, have been made beyond number of admirable efficacy for
the persuasion of judges and juries; but so far as the State Trials
inform us, one can only suppose that lawyers regarded eloquence as
a deadly sin, perhaps because jurymen had a kind of dumb instinct
which led them to associate eloquence with humbug. The one exception
is Erskine, whose speeches are true works of art, and perfect models
of lucid exposition. The strangely inarticulate utterance of his
brethren reconciles us in a literary sense to the rule—outrageous in
a moral and political point of view—which for centuries forbade the
assistance of counsel in the most serious cases. In the older trials,
therefore, we assist at a series of tragedies which may shock our
sense of justice, but in their rough-and-ready fashion go at once
to the point and show us all the passions of human beings fighting
in deadly earnest over the issues of life and death. The unities of
time and place are strictly observed. In the good old days the jury,
when once empanelled, had to go on to the end. There was no dilatory
adjourning from day to day.[9] As wrestlers who have once taken hold
must struggle till one touches earth, the prisoner had to finish
his agony there and then. The case might go on by candlelight, and
into the early hours of a second morning, till even the spectators,
wedged together in the close court, with a pestilential atmosphere,
loaded, if they had only known it, with the germs of gaol fever, were
well-nigh exhausted; till the judge confessed himself too faint to sum
up, and even to recollect the evidence; till the unfortunate prisoner,
browbeaten by the judge and the opposite counsel, bewildered by the
legal subtleties, often surprised by unexpected evidence, and unable
to produce contradictory witnesses at the instant, overwhelmed with
all the labour and impossibility of a task to which he was totally
unaccustomed, could only stammer out a vague assertion of innocence.
Here and there some sturdy prisoner—a Throgmorton or a Lilburne—thus
brought to bay under every disadvantage, managed to fight his way
through, and to persuade a jury to let him off even at their own
peril. As time goes on, things get better, and the professions of
fair-play have more reality; but it is also true that the performance
becomes less exciting. In the degenerate eighteenth century it came
to be settled that a minister might be turned out of office without
losing his head; and it is perhaps only from an æsthetic point of
view that the old practice was better, which provided historians with
so many moving stories of judicial tyranny. But in that point of view
we may certainly prefer the old system, for the tragedies generally
have a worthy ending; and instead of those sudden interventions of
a benevolent author, which are meant to save our feelings, at the
end of a modern novel, we are generally thrilled by a scene on the
scaffold, in which it is rare indeed for the actors to play their
parts unworthily.

The most interesting period of the State Trials is perhaps the last
half of the seventeenth century, when the art of reporting seems to
have been sufficiently developed to give a minute verbal record—vivid
as a photograph—of the actual scene, and before the interest was
diluted by floods of legal rhetoric. Pepys himself does not restore
the past more vividly than do some of those anonymous reporters. The
records indeed of the trials give the fullest picture of a social
period, which is too often treated from some limited point of view.
The great political movements of the day leave their mark upon the
trials; the last struggle of parties was fought out by judges and
juries with whatever partiality in open court. We may start, if
we please, with the 'memorable scene' in which Charles I. won his
title to martyrdom; then comes the gloomy procession of regicides;
and presently we have the martyrs to the Popish Plot, and they are
followed by the Whig martyr, Russell, and by the miserable victims
who got the worst of Sedgemoor fight. The Church of England has its
share of interest in the exciting case of the Seven Bishops; and
Nonconformists are represented by Baxter's sufferings under Jeffreys,
and by luckless frequenters of prohibited conventicles; and beneath
the more stirring events described in different histories, we have
strange glimpses of the domestic histories which were being transacted
at the time; there are murderers and forgers and housebreakers, who
cared little for Whig or Tory. Superstition is represented by an
occasional case of witchcraft. And we have some curious illustrations
of the manners and customs of the fast young men of the period, the
dissolute noblemen, the 'sons of Belial flown with insolence and
wine,' who disturbed Milton's meditations, and got upon the stage to
see Nell Gwynn and Mrs. Bracegirdle in the comedies of Dryden and
Etherege. It is unfair to take the reports of a police court as fully
representing the characteristics of a time; but there never was a
time which left a fuller impression of its idiosyncrasies in such an
unsavoury Record Office. Let us pick up a case or two pretty much at

It is pleasantest, perhaps, to avoid the more familiar and pompous
scenes. It is rather in the byplay—in the little vignettes of real
life which turn up amidst more serious events—that we may find the
characteristic charm of the narrative. The trials, for example, of
the regicides have an interest. They died for the most part (Hugh
Peters seems to have been an exception) as became the survivors of the
terrible Ironsides, glorying, till drums beat under the scaffold to
silence them, in their fidelity to the 'good old cause,' and showing
a stern front to the jubilant royalists. But one must admit that
they show something, too, of the peculiarities which made the race
tiresome to their contemporaries as they probably would be to us. They
cannot submit without a wrangle—which they know to be futile—over
some legal point, where simple submission to the inevitable would
have been more dignified; and their dying prayers and orations are
echoes of the long-winded sermons of the Blathergowls. They showed
fully as much courage, but not so much taste, as the 'royal actor'
on the same scene. But amidst the trials there occurs here and there
a fragment of picturesque evidence. A waterman tells us how he was
walking about Whitehall on the morning of the 'fatal blow.' 'Down
came a file of musketeers.' They hurried the hangman into his boat,
and said, 'Waterman, away with him; begone quickly.' 'So,' says the
waterman, 'out I launched, and having got a little way in the water,
says I, "Who the devil have I got in my boat?" Says my fellow, says
he, "Why?" I directed my speech to him, saying, "Are you the hangman
that cut off the King's head?" "No, as I am a sinner to God," saith
he, "not I." He shook, every joint of him. I knew not what to do.
I rowed away a little farther, and fell to a new examination of
him. "Tell me true," says I, "are you the hangman that hath cut off
the King's head? I cannot carry you," said I. "No," saith he;' and
explains that his instruments had been used, but not himself; and
though the waterman threatened to sink his boat, the supposed hangman
stuck to his story, and was presumably landed in safety. The evidence
seems to be rather ambiguous as concerns the prisoner, who was accused
of being the actual executioner; but the vivacity with which Mr.
Abraham Smith tells his story is admirable. Doubtless it had been his
favourite anecdote to his fellows and his fares during the intervening
years, and he felt, rightly as it has turned out, that this accidental
contact with one of the great events of history would be his sole
title to a kind of obscure immortality.

Another hero of that time, unfortunately a principal instead of a
mere spectator in the recorded tragedy, is so full of exuberant
vitality that we can scarcely reconcile ourselves to the belief
that the poor man was hanged two centuries ago. The gallant Colonel
Turner had served in the royal army, and, if we may believe his dying
words, was specially valued by his Majesty. The colonel, however,
got into difficulties: he made acquaintance with a rich old merchant
named Tryon, and tried to get a will forged in his favour by one of
Tryon's clerks; failing in this, he decided upon speedier measures.
He tied down poor old Tryon in his bed one night, and then carried
off jewels to the value of 3,000_l._ An energetic alderman suspected
the colonel, clutched him a day or two afterwards, and forced him to
disgorge. When put upon his defence, he could only tell one of those
familiar fictions common to pickpockets; how he had accidentally
collared the thief, who had transferred the stolen goods to him,
and how he was thus entitled to gratitude instead of punishment. It
is not surprising that the jury declined to believe him; but we are
almost surprised that any judge had the courage to sentence him. For
Colonel Turner is a splendid scoundrel. There is something truly
heroic in his magnificent self-complacency; the fine placid glow of
conscious virtue diffused over his speeches. He is a link between
Dugald Dalgetty, Captain Bobadil, and the audacious promoter of some
modern financiering scheme. Had he lived in days when old merchants
invest their savings in shares instead of diamonds, he would have
been an invaluable director of a bubble company. There is a dash of
the Pecksniff about him; but he has far too much pith and courage
to be dashed like that miserable creature by a single exposure.
Old Chuzzlewit would never have broken loose from his bonds. It is
delightful to see, in days when most criminals prostrated themselves
in abject humiliation, how this splendid colonel takes the Lord Chief
Justice into his confidence, verbally buttonholes 'my dear lord'
with a pleasant assumption that, though for form's sake some inquiry
might be necessary, every reasonable man must see the humour of an
accusation directed against so innocent a patriot. The whole thing is
manifestly absurd. And then the colonel gracefully slides in little
compliments to his own domestic virtues. Part of his story had to
be that he had sent his wife (who was accused as an accomplice) on
an embassy to recover the stolen goods. 'I sent my poor wife away,'
he says, 'and, saving your lordship's presence, she did all bedirt
herself—a thing she did not use to do, poor soul. She found this
Nagshead, she sat down, being somewhat fat and weary, poor heart!
I have had twenty-seven children by her, fifteen sons and twelve
daughters.' 'Seven or eight times this fellow did round her.' 'Let
me give that relation,' interrupts the wife. 'You cannot,' replies
the colonel, 'it is as well. Prythee, sit down, dear Moll; sit thee
down, good child, all will be well.' And so the colonel proceeds with
amazing volubility, and we sympathise with this admirable father of
twenty-seven children under so cruel a hardship. But—not to follow
the trial—the colonel culminated under the most trying circumstances.
His dying speech is superb. He is honourably confessing his sins, but
his natural instinct asserts itself. He cannot but admit, in common
honesty, that he is a model character, and speaks under his gallows
as if he were the good apprentice just arrived at the mayoralty. He
admits, indeed, that he occasionally gave way to swearing, though he
'hated and loathed' the sin when he observed it; but he was—it was the
source of all his troubles—of a 'hasty nature.' But he was brought up
in an honest family in the good old times, and laments the bad times
that have since come in. He has been a devoted loyalist; he has lived
civilly and honestly at the upper end of Cheapside as became a freeman
of the Company of Drapers; he was never known to be 'disguised in
drink;' a small cup of cider in the morning, and two little glasses
of sack and one of claret at dinner, were enough for him; he was a
constant churchgoer, and of such delicate propriety of behaviour that
he never 'saw a man in church with his hat on but it troubled him very
much' (a phrase which reminds us of Johnson's famous friend); 'there
must be,' he is sure, when he thinks of all his virtues, 'a thousand
sorrowful souls and weeping eyes' for him this day. The attendant
clergy are a little scandalised at this peculiar kind of penitence;
and he is good enough to declare that he 'disclaims any desert of his
own'—a sentiment which we feel to be a graceful concession, but not
to be too strictly interpreted. The hangman is obliged to put the
rope round his neck. '_Dost thou mean to choke me, fellow?_' exclaims
the indignant colonel. 'What a simple fellow is this! how long have
you been executioner that you know not how to put the knot?' He then
utters some pious ejaculations, and as he is assuming the fatal cap,
sees a lady at a window; he kisses his hand to her, and says, 'Your
servant, Mistress;' and so pulling down the cap, the brave colonel
vanishes, as the reporter tells us, with a very undaunted carriage to
his last breath.

Sir Thomas More with his flashes of playfulness, or Charles with his
solemn 'Remember,' could scarcely play their parts more gallantly
than Colonel Turner, and they had the advantage of a belief in the
goodness of their cause. Perhaps it is illogical to sympathise all the
more with poor Colonel Turner, because we know that his courage had
not the adventitious aid of a good conscience. But surely he was a
very prince of burglars! We turn a page and come to a very different
question of casuistry. Law and morality are at a deadlock. Instead of
the florid, swaggering cavalier, we have a pair of Quakers, Margaret
Fell, and the famous George Fox, arguing with the most irritating
calmness and logic against the imposition of an oath. 'Give me the
book in my hand,' says Fox; and they are all gazing in hopes that he
is about to swear. Then he holds up the Bible and exclaims, 'This book
commands me not to swear.' To which dramatic argument (the report, it
is to be observed, comes from Fox's side) there is no possible reply
but to 'pluck the book forth of his hand again,' and send him back to
prison. The Quakers vanish in their invincible passiveness; and in the
next page we find ourselves at Bury St. Edmunds. The venerated Sir
Matthew Hale is on the bench, and the learned and eloquent Sir Thomas
Browne appears in the witness-box. They listen to a wretched story
of two poor old women accused of bewitching children. The children
swear that they have been tormented by imps, in the shape of flies,
which flew into their mouths with crooked pins—the said imps being
presumably the diabolical emissaries of the witches. Then Sir Thomas
Browne gravely delivers his opinion; he quotes a case of witchcraft
in Denmark, and decides, after due talk about 'superabundant humours'
and judicious balancing of conflicting considerations, that the fits
into which the children fell were strictly natural, but 'heightened
to a great excess by the subtlety of the devil co-operating with the
malice of the witches.' An 'ingenious person,' however, suggests an
experiment. The child who had sworn that the touch of the witch threw
her into fits, was blindfolded and touched by another person passed
off as the witch. The young sinner fell into the same fits, and the
'ingenious person' pronounced the whole affair to be an imposture.
However, a more ingenious person gets up and proves by dexterous
logic, curiously like that of a detected 'medium' of to-day, that, on
the contrary, it confirms the evidence.[10] Whereupon the witches were
found guilty, the judge and all the court being fully satisfied with
the verdict, and were hanged accordingly, though absolutely refusing
to confess.

Our ancestors' justice strikes us as rather heavy-handed and dull-eyed
on these occasions. In another class of trials we see the opposite
phase—the manifestation of that curious tenderness which has shown
itself in so many forms since the days when highway robbery appeared
to be a graceful accomplishment if practised by a wild Prince and
Poins. Things were made delightfully easy in the race which flourished
after the Restoration. Every Peer, by the amazing privilege of the
'benefit of clergy,' had a right to commit one manslaughter. Like a
schoolboy, he was allowed to plead 'first fault;' and a good many
Peers took advantage of the system.

Lord Morley, for example, has a quarrel 'about half-a-crown.' A Mr.
Hastings, against whom he has some previous grudge, contemptuously
throws down four half-crowns. Therefore Lord Morley and an attendant
bully insult Hastings, assault him repeatedly, and at last fall upon
him 'just under the arch in Lincoln's Inn Fields,' and there Lord
Morley stabs him to death, 'with a desperate imprecation.' The
Attorney-General argues that this shows malice, and urges that Mr.
Hastings, too, was a man of good family. But the Peers only find
their fellow guilty of manslaughter. He claims his privilege, and is
dismissed with a benevolent admonition not to do it again. Elsewhere,
we have Lord Cornwallis and a friend coming out of Whitehall in the
early morning, drunk and using the foulest language. After trying
in vain to quarrel with a sentinel, they swear that they will kill
somebody before going home. An unlucky youth comes home to his
lodgings close by, and after some abuse from the Peer and his friend,
the lad is somehow tumbled downstairs and killed on the spot. As it
seems not to be clear whether Lord Cornwallis gave the fatal kick,
he is honourably acquitted. Then we have a free fight at a tavern,
where Lord Pembroke is drinking with a lot of friends. One of them
says that he is as good a gentleman as Lord Pembroke. The witnesses
were all too drunk to remember how and why anything happened; but
after a time one of them is kicked out of the tavern; another, a Mr.
Cony, is knocked down and trampled, and swears that he has received
what turned out some days later to be mortal injuries from the boots
of Lord Pembroke. The case is indeed, doubtful; for the doctor who
was called in refused to make a post-mortem examination on the ground
that it might lead him into 'a troublesome matter;' and another was
disposed to attribute the death to poor Mr. Cony's inordinate love of
'cold small beer.' He drank three whole tankards the night before his
death; and when actually dying, declined 'white wine posset drink,'
suggested by the doctor, and 'swore a great oath he would have small
beer.' And so he died, whether by boots or beer; and the Lord High
Steward in due time had to inform Lord Pembroke that his lordship was
guilty of manslaughter but, being entitled to his clergy, was to be
discharged on paying his fees. The most sinister figure amongst these
wild gallants is the Lord Mohun, who killed, and was killed by, the
Duke of Hamilton, as all the readers of the 'Journals' of Swift or
of 'Colonel Esmond' remember. He appears twice in the collection. On
December 9, 1690, Mohun and his friend Colonel Hill came swaggering
into the play-house, and got from the pit upon the stage. An attendant
asks them to pay for their places; whereupon Lord Mohun nobly refuses,
saying, 'If you bring any of your masters I will slit their noses.'
The pair have a coach-and-six waiting in the street to carry off Mrs.
Bracegirdle, to whom Hill has been making love. As she is going home
to supper, they try to force her into it with the help of half-a-dozen
soldiers. The bystanders prevent this; but the pair insist upon seeing
Mrs. Bracegirdle to her house, and mount guard outside with their
swords drawn. Mrs. Bracegirdle and her friends stand listening at
the door, and hear them vowing vengeance against Mountford, of whom
Hill was jealous. Presently the watch appears—the constable and the
beadle, and a man in front with a lantern. The constable asks why
are the swords drawn. Mrs. Bracegirdle through the door hears Mohun
reply, 'I am a Peer of England, touch me if you dare.' 'God bless your
honour,' replies the constable, 'I know not what you are, but I hope
you are doing no harm.' 'No,' said he. 'You may knock me down, if
you please,' adds Colonel Hill. 'Nay, said I' (the lantern-bearer),
'we never use to knock gentlemen down unless there be occasion.' And
the judicious watch retire to a tavern in the next street, in order,
as they say, 'to examine what they (Mohun and Hill) were, and what
they were doing.' There was, as the constable explains, 'a drawer
there, who had formerly lived over against him,' and might throw some
light upon the proceedings of these polite gentlemen. But, alas! 'in
the meantime the murder was done.' For as another witness tells us,
Mr. Mountford came up the street and was speaking coolly to Mohun,
when Hill came up behind and gave him a box on the ear. 'Saith Mr.
Mountford, what's that for? And with that he (Hill) whipped out his
sword and made a pass at him, and I turned about and cried murder!'
Mountford was instantly killed; but witnesses peeping through doors,
and looking out of windows, gave conflicting accounts of the scuffle
in the dim street, and Lord Mohun, after much argument as to the law,
was acquitted. Five years later, he appears in the case reported by
Esmond, with little more than a change in the names. An insensate
tavern-brawl is followed by an adjournment to Leicester Fields; six
noblemen and gentlemen in chairs; Mr. Coote, the chief actor in the
quarrel, urging his chairman by threatening to goad him with his
sword. The gentlemen get over the railings and vanish into the 'dark
wet' night, whilst the chairmen philosophically light their pipes. The
pipes are scarcely alight, when there is a cry for help. Somehow a
chair is hoisted over the rails, and poor Mr. Coote is found prostrate
in a pool of blood. The chairmen strongly object to spoiling their
chairs by putting a 'bloody man' into them. They are pacified by a
promise of 100_l._ security; but the chair is somehow broken, and the
watch will not come to help, because it is out of their ward; 'and
I staid half-an-hour,' says the chief witness pathetically, 'with
my chair broken, and afterwards I was laid hold upon, both I and my
partner, and kept till next night at eleven o'clock; and that is all
the satisfaction I have had for my chair and everything.' This damage
to the chair was clearly the chief point of interest for poor Robert
Browne, the chairman, and it may be feared that his account is still
unsettled. Mohun escaped upon this occasion, and, indeed, Esmond is
unjust in giving to him a principal part in the tragedy.

Such were the sights to be seen occasionally in London by the
watchman's lantern or the candle glimmering across the narrow alley,
or some occasional lamp swinging across the street; for it was by
such a lamp that a girl looked into the hackney coach and saw the
face of a man who had sent for Dr. Clench ostensibly to visit a
patient, but really in order to strangle the poor doctor on the way.
These are strange illuminations on the margin of the pompous page of
official history; and the incidental details give form and colour to
the incidents in Pepys' 'Journals' or Grammont's 'Memoirs.' We have
kept at a distance from the more dignified records of the famous
constitutional struggles which fill the greatest number of pages. Yet
those pages are not barren for the lover of the picturesque. And here
I must put in a word for one much reviled character. If ever I were to
try my hand at the historical amusement of whitewashing, I should be
tempted to take for my hero the infamous Jeffreys. He was, I dare say,
as bad as he is painted; so perhaps were Nero and Richard III., and
other much-abused persons; but no miscreant of them all could be more
amusing. Wherever the name of Jeffreys appears we may be certain of
good sport. With all his inexpressible brutality, his buffoonery, his
baseness, we can see that he was a man of remarkable talent. We think
of him generally as he appeared when bullying Baxter; when 'he snorted
and squeaked, blew his nose and clenched his hands, and lifted up his
eyes, mimicking their (the Nonconformists') manner, and running on
furiously, as he said they used to pray;' and we may regard him as his
victims must have regarded him, as a kind of demoniacal baboon placed
on the bench in robes and wig, in hideous caricature of justice. But
the vigour and skill of the man when he has to worry the truth out of
a stubborn witness is also amazing. When a knavish witness produced a
forged deed in support of the claim of a certain Lady Ity to a great
part of Shadwell, Jeffreys is in his element. He is perhaps a little
too exuberant. 'Ask him what questions you will,' he breaks out, 'but
if he should swear as long as Sir John Falstaff fought' (the Chief
Justice can quote Shakespeare), 'I would never believe a word he
says.' His lordship may be too violent, but he is substantially doing
justice; and shows himself a dead hand at unmasking a cheat. The most
striking proof of Jeffreys' power is in the dramatic trial of Lady
Lisle. The poor lady was accused of harbouring one Hicks, a Dissenting
preacher, after Sedgemoor. It was clear that a certain James Dunne
had guided Hicks to Lady Lisle's house. The difficulty was to prove
that Lady Lisle knew Hicks to be a traitor. Dunne had talked to her in
presence of another witness, and it was suggested that he had given
her the fatal information. But Dunne tried hard in telling his story
to sink this vital fact. The effort of Jeffreys to twist it out of
poor Dunne, and Dunne's futile and prolonged wriggling to escape the
confession, are reported at full, and form one of the most striking
passages in the 'State Trials.' Jeffreys shouts at him; dilates in
most edifying terms upon the bottomless lake of fire and brimstone
which awaits all perjurers; snatches at any slip; pins the witness
down; fastens inconsistencies upon him through page after page; but
poor Dunne desperately clutches the secret in spite of the tremendous
strain. He almost seems to have escaped, when the other witness
establishes the fact that some conversation took place. Armed with
this new thumbscrew, Jeffreys leaps upon poor Dunne again. The storm
of objurgations, appeals, confutations, bursts forth with increased
force; poor Dunne slips into a fatal admission; he has admitted some
talk, but cannot explain what it was. He tries dogged silence. The
torture of Jeffreys' tongue urges him to fresh blundering. A candle
is held up to his nose that the court 'may see his brazen face.' At
last he exclaims, the candle 'still nearer to his nose,' and feeling
himself the very focus of all attention, 'I am quite cluttered out of
my senses; I do not know what I say.' The wretched creature is allowed
to reflect for a time, and then at last declares that he will tell
the truth. He tells enough in fact for the purpose, though he feebly
tries to keep back the most damning words. Enough has been wrenched
out of him to send poor Lady Lisle to the scaffold. The figure of
the poor old lady falling asleep, as it is said, while Jeffreys'
thunder and lightning was raging in this terrific fashion round the
feeble defence of Dunne's reticence, is so pathetic, and her fate so
piteous and disgraceful, that we have little sense for anything but
Jeffreys' brutality. But if the power of worming the truth out of a
grudging witness were the sole test of a judge's excellence, we must
admit the amazing efficiency of Jeffreys' method. He is the ideal
cross-examiner, and we may overlook the cruelty to victims who have so
long ceased to suffer.

In the post-revolutionary period the world becomes more merciful
and duller. Lawyers speak at greater length; and even the victims
of '45, the strange Lord Lovat himself, give little sport at the
respectable bar of the House of Lords. But the domestic trials
become perhaps more interesting, if only by way of commentary upon
'Tom Jones' or 'Roderick Random.' Novelists indeed have occasionally
sought to turn these records to account. The great Annesley case
has been used by Mr. Charles Reade, and Scott took some hints from
it in one of the very best of his performances, the inimitable 'Guy
Mannering.' Scott's adaptation should, indeed, be rather a warning
than a precedent; for the surpassing merit of his great novel consists
in the display of character, in Meg Merrilies and Dandie Dinmont and
Counsellor Pleydell, and certainly not in the rather childish plot
with the long-lost heir business. He falls into the common error of
supposing that the actual occurrence of events must be a sufficient
guarantee for employing them in fiction. The Annesley case is almost
the only one in the collection in which facts descend to the level of
romance. The claimant's case was clearly established up to a certain
point. There was no doubt that he had passed for Lord Annesley's son
in his childhood; that he had for that reason been spirited away
by his uncle, and sold as a slave in America; and, further, that,
when he returned to make his claim and killed a man by accident (an
incident used by Scott)—his uncle did his best to have him convicted
for murder. The more difficult point was to prove that he was the
legitimate son of the deceased lord by his wife, who was also dead.
A servant of the supposed mother gave evidence which, if true,
conclusively disproved this assumption; and though young Annesley
won his first trial, he afterwards failed to convict this witness of
perjury. The case may therefore be still doubtful, though the weight
of evidence seems decidedly against the claimant. The case—the
'longest ever known' at that time—lasted fifteen days, and gives
some queer illustrations of the domestic life of a disreputable Irish
nobleman of the period. Perhaps, however, the most curious piece of
evidence is given by the attorney who was employed to prosecute the
claimant for a murder of which he was clearly innocent. 'What was
the intention of the prosecution?' he is asked. 'To put this man out
of the way that he (Lord Anglesea, the uncle) might enjoy the estate
easy and quiet.' 'You understood, then, that Lord Anglesea would
give 10,000_l._ to get the plaintiff hanged!' 'I did.' 'Did you not
apprehend that to be a most wicked crime?' 'I did.' 'If so, how could
you engage in that project, without making any objection to it?' 'I
may as well ask you,' is the reply, 'how you came to be engaged in
this suit.' He is afterwards asked whether any honest man would do
such an action. 'Yes, I believe they would, or else I would not have
carried it on.' This is one of the prettiest instances on record of
that ingenious adaptation of the conscience, which allows a man to
think himself thoroughly honest for committing a most wicked crime in
his professional capacity. The novelist who wishes rather to display
character than to amuse us with intricacies of plot, will find more
matter in less ambitious narratives. A most pathetic romance, which
may remind us of more famous fictions, underlies the great murder
case in which Cowper, the poet's grandfather, was defendant. Sarah
Stout, the daughter of a Quaker at Hertford, fell desperately in
love with Cowper, who was a barrister, and sometimes lodged at her
father's house when on circuit. She wrote passionate letters to him
of the 'Eloisa to Abelard' kind, which Cowper was ultimately forced
to produce in evidence. He therefore had a final interview with her,
explained to her the folly of her passion, there being already a
Mrs. Cowper, and left her late in the evening to go to his lodgings
elsewhere. Poor Sarah Stout rushed out in despair and threw herself
into the Priory river. There she was found dead next morning, when the
miller came to pull up his sluices. All the gossips of Hertford came
immediately to look at the body and make moral or judicial reflections
upon the facts. Wiseacres suggested that Cowper was the last man seen
in her company, and it came out that two or three other men attending
the assizes had gossiped about her on the previous evening, and one
of them had, strange to relate, left a cord close by his trunk. These
facts, transfigured by the Hertford imagination, became the nucleus
of a theory, set forth in delicious legal verbosity, that the said
Cowper, John Masson, and others 'a certain rope of no value about the
neck of the said Sarah, then and there feloniously, voluntarily, and
of malice aforethought did put, place, fix, and bind; and the neck and
throat of the said Sarah, then and there with the hands of you, the
said Cowper, Masson, Stephens, and Rogers, feloniously, voluntarily,
and of your malice aforethought, did hold, squeeze, and gripe.' By
the said squeezing and griping, to abbreviate a little, Sarah Stout
was choked and strangled; and being choked and strangled instantly
died, and was then secretly and maliciously put and cast into the
river. The evidence, it is plain, required a little straining, but
then Cowper belonged to the great Whig family of the town, and Sarah
Stout was a Quaker. Tories thought it would be well to get a Cowper
hanged, and Quakers wished to escape the imputation that one of their
sect had committed suicide. The trial lasted so long that the poor
judge became faint and confessed that he could not sum up properly.
The whole strength of the case, however, such as it was, depended
upon an ingenious theory set up by the prosecution, to the effect that
the bodies of the drowned always sink, whereas Miss Stout was found
floating, and must therefore have been dead before she was put in the
river. The chief witness was a sailor, who swore that this doctrine
as to sinking and swimming was universal in the navy. He had seen the
shipwreck of the 'Coronation' in 1691. 'We saw the ship sink down,'
he says, 'and they swam up and down like a shoal of fish one over
another, and I see them hover one upon another, and see them drop away
by scores at a time;' some nine escaped, 'but there were no more saved
out of the ship's complement, which was between 500 and 600, and the
rest I saw sinking downright, twenty at a time.' He has a clinching
argument, though a less graphic instance, to prove that men already
dead do not sink. 'Otherwise, why should Government be at that vast
charge to allow threescore or fourscore weight of iron to sink every
man, but only that their swimming about should not be a discouragement
to others?' Cowper's scientific witnesses, some of the medical bigwigs
of the day, had very little trouble in confuting this evidence; but
the letters which he at last produced, and the evidence that poor Miss
Stout had been talking of suicide, should have made the whole story
clear even to the bemuddled judges. The novelist would throw into
the background this crowd of gossiping and malicious _quidnuncs_ of
Hertford; but we must be content to catch glimpses of her previous
history from these absurdly irrelevant twaddlings, as in actual life
we catch sight of tragedies below the surface of social small-talk.
Sarah Stout was clearly a Maggie Tulliver, a potential heroine, unable
to be happy amidst the broad-brimmed, drab-coated respectabilities of
quiet little Hertford. Her rebellion was rasher than Maggie's, but
perhaps in a more characteristic fashion. The case suggests the wish
that Mr. Stephen Guest might have been hanged on some such suspicion
as was nearly fatal to Cowper.

Half a century later our ancestors were in a state of intense
excitement about another tragedy of a darker kind. Mary Blandy,
the only daughter of a gentleman at Henley, made acquaintance with
a Captain Cranstoun, who was recruiting in the town. The father
objected to a marriage from a suspicion, apparently well founded,
that Cranstoun was already married in Scotland. Thereupon Mary Blandy
administered to her father certain powders sent to her by Cranstoun.
According to her own account, she intended them as a kind of charm
to act upon her father's affections. As they were, in fact, composed
of arsenic, they soon put an end to her father altogether, and it
is too clear that she really knew what she was doing. It was sworn
that she used brutal and unfeeling language about the poor old man's
sufferings, for the poison was given at intervals during some months.
But the pathetic touch which moved the sympathies of contemporaries
was the behaviour of the father. In the last day or two of his life,
he was told that his daughter had been the cause of his fatal illness.
His comment was: 'Poor love-sick girl! What will not a woman do for
the man she loves!' When she came to his room his only thought was
apparently to comfort her. His most reproachful phrase was: 'Thee
should have considered better than to have attempted anything against
thy father.' The daughter went down on her knees and begged him not
to curse her. 'I curse thee!' he exclaimed. 'My dear, how couldst
thou think I should curse thee? No, I bless thee, and hope God will
bless thee and amend thy life.' And then he added, 'Do, my dear, go
out of the room and say no more, lest thou shouldst say anything to
thy prejudice; go to thy uncle Stevens, take him for thy friend; poor
man, I am sorry for him.' The tragedy behind these homely words is
almost too pathetic and painful for dramatic purposes; and it is not
strange that our ancestors were affected. The sympathy, however, took
the queer illogical twist which perhaps, who can tell? it might do
at the present day. Miss Blandy became a sort of _quasi_ saint, the
tenderness due to the murdered man extended itself to his murderer,
and her penitence profoundly edified all observers. Crowds of people
flocked to see her in chapel, and she accepted the homage gracefully.
She was extremely shocked, we are told, by one insinuation made by
uncharitable persons; namely, that her intimacy with Cranstoun, who
was supposed to be a freethinker, might justify doubts upon her
orthodoxy. She declared that he had always talked to her 'perfectly
in the style of a Christian,' and she had read the works of some of
our most celebrated divines. In spite of her moving conduct, however,
the 'prejudices she had to struggle with had taken too deep root in
some men's minds' to allow of her getting a pardon. And so, 5,000
people saw poor Miss Blandy mount the ladder in 'a black bombazine,
short sack and petticoat,' on an April morning at Oxford, and many,
'particularly several gentlemen of the University,' were observed to
shed tears. She left a declaration of innocence which, in spite of its
solemnity, must have been a lie; and which contained an allusion from
which it appears that Miss Blandy, like other prisoners, was suspected
of previous crimes.

'It is shocking to think,' says Horace Walpole, in noticing Miss
Blandy's case, 'what a shambles this country has become. Seventeen
were executed this morning, after having murdered the turnkey on
Friday night, and almost forced open Newgate.' Another woman was
hanged in the same year for murdering her uncle at Walthamstow;
and the public could talk about nothing but the marriage of the
Miss Gunnings and the hanging of two murderesses. Fielding, then
approaching the end of his career, was moved by this and other
atrocities to publish a queer collection of instances of the
providential punishment of murderers. Another famous author of the
day was commonly said to have turned a famous murder to account in
a different fashion. Foote, it is said, was introduced at a club in
the words, 'This is the nephew of the gentleman who was lately hung
in chains for murdering his brother;' and it is added that Foote's
first pamphlet was an account of this disagreeable domestic incident.
A more serious author might have found in it materials for a striking
narrative. Captain Goodere commanded his Majesty's ship 'Ruby,' lying
in the King's Road off Bristol. He had a quarrel with his brother
Sir John Goodere, about a certain estate. The family solicitor
arranged a meeting in his house, where the two brothers appeared to
be reconciled. But Sir John had scarcely left the house, when he was
seized in broad daylight by a set of sailors who had been drinking
in a public-house, and carried down forcibly to the Captain's barge.
The Captain himself followed and rowed off with his brother to the
ship. There Sir John was confined in a cabin, a suggestion being
thrown out to the crew that he was a madman. A few hours later, one
Mahony, who played the part of 'hairy-faced Dick' to Hamilton Tighe,
strangled the unfortunate man, with an accomplice called White.
Attention had been aroused amongst the crew by ominous sounds, groans,
and scufflings heard in the dead of the night, and next morning,
the lieutenant, after a talk with the surgeon, resolved to seize
their captain for murder. A more outrageous and reckless proceeding,
indeed, could scarcely have been imagined, even in the days when a
pressgang was a familiar sight, and the captain of a ship at sea was
as absolute as an Eastern despot. Every detail seemed to be arranged
with an express view to publicity. One piece of evidence, however, was
required to bring the matter home to the captain; and it is of ghastly
picturesqueness. The ship's cooper and his wife were sleeping in the
cabin next to the scene of the murder. The cooper had heard the poor
man exclaim that he was going to be murdered, and praying that the
murder might come to light. This, however, seemed to be the wandering
of a madman, and the cooper went to sleep. Presently his wife called
him up: 'I believe they are murdering the gentleman.' He heard broken
words and saw a light glimmering through a crevice in the partition.
Peeping through he could distinguish the two ruffians, standing with a
candle over the dead body and taking a watch from a pocket. And then,
through the gloom, he made out a hand upon the throat of the victim.
The owner of the hand was invisible; but it was whiter than that of
a common sailor. 'I have often seen Mahony's and White's hands,' he
added, 'and I thought the hand was whiter than either of theirs.' The
trembling cooper wanted to leave the cabin, but his wife held him
back, as, indeed, with three murderers in the dark passage outside,
it required some courage to move. So they watched trembling, till he
heard a sentinel outside, and thought himself safe at last: he roused
the doctor, peeped at the dead body through a 'scuttle' which opened
into the cabin; and then urged the lieutenant to seize the captain.
The captain was deservedly hanged, bequeathing to us that ghastly
Rembrandt-like picture of the white hand seen through the crevice by
the trembling cooper on the throat of the murdered man. There is no
touch which appeals so forcibly to the imagination in De Quincey's
famous narrative of the Mar murders.

I have made but a random selection from the long gallery of grim and
grotesque portraiture of the less reputable of our ancestry. It must
be confessed that a first impression tends to reconcile us to the
comfortable creed of progress. The eighteenth century had some little
defects which have been frequently expounded; but it can certainly
afford to show courts of justice against its predecessor. The old
judicial murder of the Popish Plot variety has become extinct; if the
judges try to strain the law of libel, for example, the prisoner has
every chance of making a good fight; for which the readers of Horne
Tooke's gallant defences, and of some of Erskine's speeches, may be
duly grateful. The ancient brag of fair play has become something of a
reality. And the character of the crimes has changed in a noticeable
way. There are hideous crimes enough. A brutal murder by smugglers
near the case of Mary Blandy surpasses in its barbarity the worst
of modern agrarian outrages; though it is not clear that in number
of horrors the present century is unable to match its predecessor.
When the wild blood of the Byrons shows itself in the last of the
old tavern brawls à la Mohun, we feel that it is a case (in modern
slang) of a 'survival.' The poet's granduncle, the wicked Lord
Byron, got into a quarrel with Mr. Chaworth about the game laws at a
dinner of country gentlemen at the Star and Garter; whereupon, in an
ambiguous affair, half-scuffle and half-duel, Byron sent his sword
through Chaworth's body, and then politely requested Mr. Chaworth to
admit that he (Byron) was as brave a man as any in the Kingdom. But
this little ebullition required Byronic impulsiveness, and was not
a recognised part of a gentleman's conduct. Lord Ferrers, a short
time before, was hanged, to the admiration of all men, like a common
felon, for shooting his own steward; whereas in our day, he would
almost certainly have escaped on the plea of insanity. Other cases
mark the advent of the meddlesome, but perhaps on the whole useful
person, the social reformer. Momentary gleams of light, for example,
are thrown upon the scandals which ruined the trade of the parsons of
the Fleet. Poor Miss Pleasant Rawlins is arrested for an imaginary
debt, carried to a sponging-house, and there persuaded (she was only
seventeen or thereabouts) that she could obtain her liberty by an
immediate marriage to an adventurer who had scraped acquaintance with
her and taken a liking to her fortune. The famous (he was once famous)
Beau Feilding falls into a trap unworthy of an experienced man of
the world. He is persuaded that a lady of fortune has fallen in love
with him on seeing him walking in her grounds at a distance. A lady,
by no means of fortune, comes to his lodgings, and passes herself
off as this susceptible person. Hereupon Feilding sends off for a
priest of one of the foreign embassies, gets himself married at his
lodgings the same evening, and discovers a few days afterwards that he
is married to the wrong person. It is exactly a comedy of the period
performed by real flesh and blood actors. The catastrophe is painful.
Mr. Feilding ventures to grant himself a divorce, and to marry the
wretched old Duchess of Cleveland; and in due time the Duchess finds
it very convenient to have him tried for bigamy. It did not take more
than half a century or so of such scandals to get an improvement in
the marriage law, which implies, on the whole, a creditable rate of
progress. Another set of cases illustrates a grievance familiar to
novel-readers. In 'Amelia' the atrocities of bailiffs, sponging-houses
and debtors' prisons are drawn with startling realism. We may easily
convince ourselves that Fielding was not speaking without book. The
bailiff who has arrested Captain Booth gives a 'wipe or two with his
hanger,' as he pleasantly expresses it, to an unlucky wretch who
gives trouble, and delivers an admirable discourse upon the ethics
of killing in such cases. It might have come from the mouth of one
Tranter, a bailiff, who, a few years before, had stabbed poor Captain
Luttrell, for objecting to leave his wife in a delicate state of
health. Soon after, we find a society of philanthropists headed by
Oglethorpe of 'strong benevolence of soul,' endeavouring to expose
the horrors of the Fleet and the Marshalsea. A series of trials,
ordered by the House of Commons, had the ending too characteristic
of all such movements. Witnesses swore to atrocities enough to
make one's blood run cold—of men guilty only of impecuniosity,
half-starved, thrust naked into loathsome and pestiferous dungeons,
beaten and chained, and persecuted to death. But then arise another
set of unimpeachable witnesses, who swear with equal vigour that the
unfortunate debtors were treated with every consideration; that they
were made as comfortable as their mutinous spirit would allow; that
they were discharged in good health and died months afterwards from
entirely different causes; that the accused were not the responsible
authorities; that they had never interfered except from kindness, and
that they were the humanest and best of mankind. Nothing remained but
an acquittal; though the investigation did something towards letting
daylight into abodes of horror which Mr. Pickwick found capable of
improvement a century later.

Other cases might show how in various ways the strange power called
Public Opinion was beginning to increase its capricious and desultory
influence. The strange case of Elizabeth Canning (1753) is one of the
most picturesque in the collection. Miss Canning was a maid-servant,
who disappeared for a month, and coming home told how she had been
kidnapped by a gipsy and finally escaped. Officious neighbours
rushed in, and by judicious leading questions managed to help her to
manufacture evidence against a poor old gipsy woman, preternaturally
hideous, who sat smoking her pipe in blank wonder as the crowd of
virtuous avengers of innocence rushed into her kitchen. Mary Squires,
the gipsy, was sentenced to be hanged, and doubtless at an earlier
period she would have been turned off without delay. But in that
delicious calm in the middle of the last century, when wars, and
rebellions, and constitutional agitations were quiet for the moment,
and people had time to read their modest newspapers without spoiling
their digestions and their nerves, the case aroused the popular
interest. If the news did not flash through the country as rapidly as
that of the Lefroy murder, it slowly dribbled along the post-roads and
set people gossiping in alehouses far away in quiet country villages.
A whole host of witnesses appeared and proved an _alibi_ by giving
a diary of a gipsy's tour. We follow the party to village dances;
we hear the venerable piece of scandal about the schoolmaster who
'got fuddled' with the gipsies; and what the gipsies had for dinner
on January 1, 1753, and how they paid their bill; we have a glimpse
of the little flirtation carried on by the gipsy's daughter, and
the poor trembling little letter is produced, which she managed to
write to her lover, and which cost her sevenpence; threepence being
charged for it from Basingstoke to London, and fourpence from London
to Dorchester. After more than a week spent in overhauling this and
other evidence, proving amongst other things that the scene of the
girl's supposed confinement was really tenanted the whole time by
a man strangely and most inappropriately named Fortune Natus, the
jury decided that the accuser was guilty of perjury, but boggled
characteristically as to its being 'wilful and corrupt.' However,
Elizabeth Canning got her deserts and was transported to New England,
still sticking to the truth of her story. Her guilt is plain enough,
if anybody could care about it, but the little details of English
country life a century ago are as fresh as the doings of the rustics
in one of Mr. Hardy's novels.

It all happened a long time ago, but we cannot hope with the old lady
who made that consolatory remark about other historical narratives
that 'it ain't none of it true.' On the contrary such vivid little
pictures flash out upon us as we read that we have a difficulty in
supposing that they were not taken yesterday. Abundance of morals may
be drawn by historians and others who deal in that kind of ware; it
is enough here to have indicated, as well as we can, what pleasant
reading may be found in the dusty old volumes which are too often left
to repose undisturbed on the repulsive shelves of a lawyer's library.


[9] In the trial of Horne Tooke in 1794 it was decided by the judges
that an adjournment might take place in case of 'physical necessity,'
but the only previous case of an adjournment cited was that of Canning
(in 1753).

[10] This case was in 1665. It is curious that in the case of
Hathaway, in 1702, a precisely similar experiment convinced everybody
that the accuser was an impostor; and got him a whipping and a place
in the pillory.


In the period which intervened between the Great War and the first
Reform Bill, there were two centres of intellectual light in England.
Jeremy Bentham, in his cheerful old age, reached his eightieth
birthday in 1828, still, as he phrased it, codifying like any dragon,
solving all problems by the application of his famous formula about
the greatest happiness of the greatest number, and adding day by day
to the vast piles of manuscript which were to embody the principles of
all future legislation. To his hermitage in Westminster were admitted
a little group of chosen disciples, the stern political economists,
rigid utilitarians, and energetic reformers, some of whom were in the
coming years to assume the title of philosophical radicals. Another
band of enthusiasts sought a different shrine. They listened to an
oracle which taught them that utilitarianism was 'moral anarchy,'
political economy a 'solemn humbug,' radicalism the direct road to
ruin, and true wisdom only to be found in regions of contemplation
which Bentham could never enter—for a reason analogous to that which
forbids pachydermatous quadrupeds to soar into the empyrean. We know
pretty well what was the manner of man at whose feet these disciples
sat. The keenest of contemporary observers has left a picture which
must be laid under contribution for every description of Coleridge.
Carlyle saw an old man—though in point of actual years he was
Bentham's junior by nearly a quarter of a century—with the brow of
a philosopher and the eye of a poet, but with the irresolute flabby
mouth of a sensuous dreamer of dreams, consuming cups of tea, lukewarm
but better than he deserved, or strolling, corkscrew fashion, along
both sides of a garden path, unable to make up his mind to either. You
put him a question; he replied by accumulating 'formidable apparatus,
logical swim-bladders, transcendental life-preservers, and other
precautionary and vehiculatory gear for setting out;' but rambled
into the universe at large, treated you 'as a mere passive bucket, to
be pumped into' (fancy a Carlyle for a passive bucket!), and finally
left you 'swimming and fluttering in the mistiest wide unintelligible
deluge of things, for the most part in a rather profitless
uncomfortable manner.' Yet, at times, we are told, 'balmy sunny
islets, islets of the blest and intelligible,' would rise out of the
haze; and upon these islets the enthusiastic Sterling and others would
try to cast anchor. Had they reached the solid foundation of creation,
or had they, like Milton's pilot of the small night-foundered skiff,
mistaken some metaphysical Kraken for the permanent framework of

That question may be answered dogmatically by any one who pleases.
Immovable limits of time and capacity forbid me from attempting
to answer it now. My excuse for venturing to say something of
Coleridge—certainly one of the most fascinating and most perplexing
figures in our literary history—is simply this: I have been forced
to investigate with some care the details of his career; and I ought
to be able not to answer the question, but to provide a little
'vehiculatory gear' towards answering it. Coleridge's philosophy must
of course be judged by considerations extraneous to his personal
history. Yet I think, as a professional biographer is in duty bound
to think, that philosophy is, more often than philosophers admit,
the outcome of personal experience; and Coleridge's singular history
may throw some light upon his teaching. Here we meet the hagiologist
and the iconoclast, the twin plagues of the humble biographer. The
hagiologist burns incense before his idol till it is difficult to
distinguish any fixed outline through the clouds of gorgeously-tinted
vapour. Coleridge thought himself to have certain failings. His
relations fully agreed with him. His worshippers regard these meek
confessions as mere illustrations of the good man's humility, and even
manage to endow the poet and philosopher with all the homely virtues
of the respectable and the solvent. To put forward such claims is to
challenge the iconoclast. He, a person endowed by nature with a fine
stock of virtuous indignation, has very little trouble in picturing
the poet-philosopher as a shambling, unreliable, indolent voluptuary,
to whom an action became impossible so soon as it presented itself
as a duty, and who, even as a man of genius, must be condemned as
unfaithful to his high calling. And so we raise the usual edifying
discussion as to the privileges of genius. Do they include superiority
to the Ten Commandments? Can you expect a poet to confine himself
to one wife? May a man neglect his children because he has written
the 'Ancient Mariner' and 'Christabel'?—points of casuistry, of
which, with your leave, I will postpone the consideration to a future

For my purpose it is enough to ascertain the facts. I have not
to decide whether Coleridge should receive excommunication or
canonisation; whether he deserved to go straight to heaven or to pass
a period—and, if so, how long a period—in purgatory. It is difficult
to settle such questions satisfactorily. I desiderate an accurate
diagnosis, not a judicial sentence. Coleridge sinned and repented. I
take note of sin and of repentance as indications of character. I do
not pretend to say whether in the eye of Heaven the repentance would
be an adequate set-off for the sin. But I premise one apology for
anything that may sound iconoclastic, and which I think is worth the
consideration of the amiable persons who undertake to rehabilitate
soiled reputations. A man's weakness can rarely be overlooked without
underestimating his strength. If Coleridge's intellect were, as De
Quincey said in his magniloquent way, 'the greatest and most spacious,
the subtlest and most comprehensive, that has yet existed among men'
(what a philosopher one must be to pronounce such a judgment!) why
were the results so small? Because the ethereal soul was chained to a
fleshly carcase. To deny this is to force us to assume that what he
did was all that he could do. You must either exaggerate his actual
achievements beyond all possible limits, or save your belief in his
potential achievements by admitting that his intellect never had fair

Let us consider the antecedents of the prophet of Highgate Hill. Was
there ever a young man fuller of intellectual promise or of personal
charm than the youth of twenty-five, who, in 1797, rambled through
the Quantocks discussing and composing poetry with Wordsworth?
Circumstances apparently unfavourable had only served to stimulate
his intellectual growth. Separated from his family in infancy, to
become one of the victims of our public school system—ill-fed,
ill-nursed, and ill-taught at Christ's Hospital; urged upon the
treadmill of a sound classical education by a rigid schoolmaster,
he had assimilated with singular aptitude whatever intellectual
food had drifted within his reach. He had caught glimpses of high
metaphysical secrets; he had peered into the mysteries of medical
practice; he had bolted a miscellaneous library whole; he had been
infected with poetical enthusiasm by the study of that minute
day-star, W. L. Bowles; and he had completed his training by falling
desperately in love with the inevitable sister of a schoolfellow. It
is a comfort to reflect that the best regulated systems of education
break down somewhere. Coleridge, it would have seemed, ran every
risk of being driven sheep-like along the dull high road of Latin
grammar. Nature had prompted him to leap the fences, to expatiate
in the wide fields of intellectual and imaginative pasture, and to
derive a keener zest for his nourishment from the knowledge that the
indulgence was illegitimate. Cambridge, the mother of poets, received
him with the kindness she had so often shown to her children. We—I
speak as a Cambridge man—we flogged (or nearly flogged) Milton into
republicanism; we disgusted Dryden into an anomalous and monstrous
preference for Oxford; we bored Gray till, half stifled with academic
dulness, he sought more cheerful surroundings in a country churchyard;
we left Byron to the congenial society of his bear; we did nothing for
Wordsworth, except, indeed, that we took him to Milton's rooms, and
there for once (it must really have done him some good) induced him
to take a glass too much; and we, as nearly as possible, converted
Coleridge into a heavy dragoon. We ordered him to bow the knee to
Euclid, and to Newton's 'Principia,' the only idols whose merits were
altogether beyond his powers of appreciation, and by such kindness
in disguise induced him to plunge into a precocious breach with the
proprieties. A fellowship might have converted him into a solid Church
and State don, an oracle of the Combination Room, and a sound judge
of port wine. We sternly withheld the temptation. A reformer has to
start in life as a rebel. Coleridge sympathised with the rebellious
William Frend, who was being banished from Cambridge for excessive
liberalism. He offered his youthful incense to Priestley, the
'patriot and saint and sage'—so the young enthusiast called him—who
was soon to be expelled by the exuberant loyalty of Birmingham from
an ungrateful country. Though never a Jacobin, he became what, in
some form or other, a young man ought to become—an enthusiast for
the newest lights, a partisan of the ideas struggling to remould the
ancient order and raise the aspirations of mankind. The Master of
the College shook his reverend head, kindly enough at times, at the
lad's vagaries, and forgave him even for that preposterous attempt to
become a trooper which never enabled him, with all his subtlety of
distinction, to form any clear conception of the difference between a
horse's head and its tail. But he could not run in the regular track.
He was thrown into the chaotic world to sink or swim by his unassisted
abilities. No man had, in some ways, a better floating apparatus. The
poetic vein, soon to manifest itself in his best work, was indeed
still turbid with the alloy of didactic twaddle. But already he had
the versatility, the inherent vitality of intellect, the power of
embodying philosophic thoughts in poetic imagery, which made him
unrivalled in monologue. He talked better, I am apt to think, with
his chum, Charles Lamb, at the 'Cat and Salutation,' than he ever
talked to his worshippers at Highgate Hill. A man is at his best
before he is recognised. Coleridge's early letters and essays show
the fulness and intellectual vigour, without the too elaborate and
slightly sanctimonious circumgyrations, of his later effusions. And
his genius was such as implied a double portion of the power of making
friends, which, with most of us, wanes so lamentably as the years
go by. Lamb, his earliest and latest friend, was already devoted to
this brilliant schoolfellow; and if Lamb was an easy conquest, men of
less conspicuously tender nature were equally attracted. He had only
to meet Southey at Oxford to swear at once an eternal friendship—a
friendship to be cemented by a regeneration of the world.

Coleridge was to be the Plato of a new society to be founded in the
wilds of America. There a short and healthy space of daily toil was to
provide all that was necessary for a band of poets and philosophers,
too benevolent to care for separate property, and worthy founders of
an Arcadia of perfect simplicity, refinement, and equality. As for the
Eves of the Paradise, were there not three Miss Frickers? Coleridge
repelled for a time the too obvious foreboding that Pantisocracy
was but a province of dreamland. Dreamland was his reality. For the
demands of butchers and bakers he had still a lordly indifference.
He had the voice which could charm even a publisher. The prim and
priggish Cottle was at once annexed by Coleridge, and all the natural
caution of a tradesman did not withhold him from promising a guinea
for every hundred lines to be produced by a still untried new poet.
What were one hundred lines to the genius which could turn off an
act of a tragedy in a morning, and which soon afterwards could build
the shadowy palace of Kubla Khan in a dream? Coleridge was justified,
in point of bare prudence, in marrying at once on the prospect.
Somehow the poetry did not come so fast as the bills. But Coleridge
had other strings to his bow. He set up as a lecturer and journalist.
His marvellous eloquence condescended for the nonce to wile promises
of subscription even from dealers in tallow; and the philosopher—not
without a humorous sense of his own absurdity—became a successful
commercial traveller. The newspaper of course collapsed almost on the
spot. All the arrangements were absurd, and Coleridge's eloquence
proved to be somehow uncongenial to the tallow-dealing interest. But
meanwhile, in the course of his journey, Coleridge had incidentally
and, as it were, by the mere side glance of his eye, swept up
Charles Lloyd, son of a rich banker, who, fascinated and enthralled,
left the bank to become an inmate of his teacher's house, and, no
doubt, a contributor to its expenses. Poole, a most public-spirited
and intelligent man, offered him an asylum at Nether Stowey. The
Unitarians, to whom he more or less belonged, were ready to open their
pulpit to a preacher whose eloquence promised to rival even the most
splendid traditions of the age of Leighton and Jeremy Taylor.

Hazlitt, not yet soured and savage, heard Coleridge preach in 1798;
and tells us in true Hazlittian style how his voice rose like a storm
of rich distilled perfumes; how he launched into his subject like an
eagle dallying with the wind; how, in brief, poetry and philosophy had
met together, truth and genius had embraced under the eye and with the
sanction of reason. The Unitarian firmament was too cramped for this
brilliant meteor; the philosophy expounded from the pulpits seemed to
him meagre and rigid; and, while hesitating, he received an offer from
the generous Wedgwoods, anxious to spend some part of their wealth in
the patronage of genius.

Rumours had reached England by this time that a great intellectual
light had arisen in Germany. The Wedgwoods gave Coleridge a modest
annuity, unfettered (as I can now say) by any condition whatever, a
fact which makes the subsequent withdrawal a harsher measure than has
been supposed. Coleridge resolved to go to Germany, catch the sacred
fire of the Kantian philosophy, and return to England to regenerate
the mind of his countrymen. He started in September 1798, when he
was just twenty-six, in company with the friend who alone could be
compared to him in intellectual power. Wordsworth had been attracted,
as Lamb and Southey had been attracted before him. Coleridge and
Wordsworth had discussed the principles of their common art; and
Coleridge had applied them in those wonderful poems, the 'Ancient
Mariner' and 'Christabel' (the first part), which were to be but the
prologue to a fuller utterance; a wonderful prologue, for, though
followed by nothing, it remained unique and inimitable. Coleridge was
not yet _déterré_, as Pope said of Johnson; the ordinary critics had
only a passing smile or sneer for the little clique which published
its obscure utterances in a provincial town. Monthly and critical
reviewers—the arbiters of taste—would have been astonished to hear
that Coleridge and Wordsworth and Lamb and Southey would soon stand
in the very front ranks of English literature; and he must have a
clearer conscience than I who would cast a stone at critics for not
at once detecting the first germs of rising genius. But, as _ex
post facto_ prophets, we are able to see that Coleridge already
had not only given proofs of astonishing power, but had won what
was even more valuable, the true sympathy and cordial affection of
young men who were the distinct leaders of the next generation. Even
material support was not wanting from such men as Poole and Wedgwood,
sufficient to ensure a fair start for the little band of prophets. We
should have been justified in foretelling, with unusual confidence, a
career of surpassing brilliancy for the youth, of whom it seemed only
questionable whether he would choose to be a second Bacon or a second

And if, at that time, any one could have shown us the same Coleridge
at a distance of eighteen years, the worn, depressed, prematurely aged
man who took up his abode with Gillman in 1816, we should have been
shocked, and yet, perhaps, have been able to utter our complacent
'I told you so.' What so far had been the achievements of the most
brilliant genius of the generation: a man not only of surpassing
ability, but of surpassing facility of utterance; a man whom to set
going at any moment was to unlock a perpetually flowing fountain
of abounding eloquence? A few newspaper articles and some courses
of lectures, he said in 1817, constituted his whole publicity. It
may be added that he had jotted down on the margins of books enough
detached thoughts to have made some volumes of admirable reflections.
But he had achieved nothing to suggest concentrated thought or
sustained labour. In a shorter period Scott poured out the whole
of the Waverley Novels, besides discharging official duties, and
writing a number of reviews and miscellaneous works. I say nothing
as to the quality. I am simply thinking of the amount of work; and
Coleridge's work cost little labour, for his power of improvisation
was among his most marvellous faculties. Why, then, was the work so
limited in quantity? The internal facts are sufficiently significant.
After his return from Germany in the autumn of 1799, he wrote some
articles which certainly proved that his intellect was in full
vigour, translated 'Wallenstein,' and then, in 1800, retired with
his family to Keswick. Here at once ominous symptoms begin to show
themselves. A strange disquiet is betrayed in his letters; there are
painful complaints of ill-health; his poetic inspiration breathes
its last in the 'Ode to Dejection.' He sought in vain to distract
painful thought by metaphysical abstractions; he rambled off in
1804 to spend two years and a half in Malta and Italy. Returning to
England, he tried lecturing at the Royal Institution, and then settled
at Grasmere—separated by fifteen miles of mountain roads from his
wife—and repeated his 'Watchman' experiment by writing the 'Friend.'
The youthful buoyancy, even flippancy, has departed, though it shows
far riper thought and richer intellectual stores. But weariness
of spirit marks every page; the long sentences somehow suggest a
succession of stifled groans; as the enterprise proceeds, it can
only be kept up by introducing any irrelevant matter that may be on
hand—such as old letters from Germany which happened to be in his
portfolio, and an extravagant panegyric upon his patron at Malta, Sir
Alexander Ball.

The 'Friend' soon falls dead, and Coleridge drifts back to London.
There he makes efforts, pathetic in their impotence, to keep his head
above water. He tries journalism again, but without the occasional
triumphs which had formerly atoned for his irregularity. He lectures,
and is heard with an interest which shows that, in spite of all
impediments, his marvellous powers have at least roused the curiosity
of all who claim to have an intellectual taste. He has a gleam of
success, too, from the production of his old tragedy, 'Remorse,'
written in the days of early vigour. But some undertow seems to be
sucking him back, so that he can never get his feet planted on dry
land. He retires to Bristol, and thence to Calne, where he seems to
be sinking into utter obscurity. He has almost passed out of the
knowledge of his friends, when a last despairing effort lands him at
Highgate, and there a rather singular transformation, it may seem at
first sight, enables him to become the oracle of youthful aspiration,
wisdom, and virtue. Painfully, and imperfectly with their aid, he
gathers together some fragments of actual achievement—enough to
justify a great, but a most tantalising reputation.

What was the secret of this painful history? Briefly, it was
opium. Coleridge said so himself, and all his biographers have
stated the facts. Without this statement the whole story would be
unintelligible, and we could have done justice neither to Coleridge's
intellectual powers nor even to some of his virtues. To tell the
story of Coleridge without the opium is to tell the story of Hamlet
without mentioning the Ghost. The tragedy of a life would become a
mere string of incoherent accidents. Nor are the facts doubtful.
Coleridge, I fear, composed, or invented, for the benefit of Gillman,
a certain picturesque 'Kendal black drop'—a treacherous nostrum, it
is suggested, which gave him relief in his sufferings at Keswick, and
overpowered his will before he had recognised its nature. The truth
is, as can be abundantly proved by his letters at the time, that he
was taking laudanum in large quantities in 1796, that is when he was
just twenty-four, under the pressure of illness, but certainly well
knowing what he was taking. It was at Keswick, not that he first
indulged, but that he first became aware of his almost hopeless

After reading many painfully conclusive proofs of this passion, I
confess that I think it less remarkable that his demoralisation in
this respect seemed to be complete about 1814, than that he succeeded,
under Gillman's care, in so far breaking off the habit as to make a
certain salvage from the wreck. I simply take note of these facts,
and leave anybody who pleases to do the moralising; but I am forced
to add a few words upon another topic, to which his apologists have
resorted in order to extenuate the opium-eating. Briefly, it has been
attempted to save his character by abusing his wife. Undoubtedly, as
the recently published Coleorton papers prove, there was a complete
want of sympathy. The same documents show that it was not, as had been
generally supposed, a case of gradual drifting apart. Proposals for
a regular separation had been made by the time of Coleridge's return
from Malta. Coleridge's apologists have said that Mrs. Coleridge
was one of Iago's women, born 'to suckle fools and chronicle small
beer,' and quite unable to appreciate Kantian metaphysics, or even
'Christabel.' A very doubtful legend has been put about, that she
once said, 'Get oop, Coleridge' (a remark for which one can conceive
a sufficient justification), and no man can be expected to care for a
woman who says 'Get oop,' or for her children. From letters of hers
which I have seen, I am inclined to think that Mrs. Coleridge must
really have been a very sensible woman, who worked hard to educate her
own children and the children of her sister, Mrs. Southey, in French
and Italian, and who could express herself in remarkably good English.
She was no doubt inappreciative of a genius which could not be set
to bread-winning. And moreover, when a man has an ecstatic admiration
for another woman, it is not likely to make his relations to his wife
more pleasant. To speak of all this as a moral excuse for Coleridge is
to my mind unmanly. If a man of genius condescends to marry a woman,
and be the father of her children, he must incur responsibilities. The
fact that he leaves her, as Coleridge did, his small fixed income, the
balance of her expenses to be made up by his brother-in-law and other
connections, is so far to his credit, but does not excuse him for a
neglect of those duties, not to be measured in pounds, shillings, and
pence, which a husband and father owes to an innocent woman and three
small children. Coleridge's position was no doubt difficult, but the
mode in which he solved the difficulty is a proof that opium-eating is
inconsistent with certain homely duties.

An experienced person has said, 'Do not marry a man of genius.' I have
no personal interest in that question, nor will I express any opinion
upon it, but one is inclined to say, Don't be his brother-in-law, or
his publisher, or his editor, or anything that is his if you care
twopence—it is probably an excessive valuation—for the opinion of
posthumous critics.

But, again, I would avoid moralising. I only ask what is the true
inference as to Coleridge's character. And that consideration may
bring us back to less painful reflections. It is preposterous to
maintain the thesis that Coleridge was the kind of person to be held
up as a pattern to young men about to marry. Opium had ruined the
power of will, never very strong, and any capacity he may have had—and
his versatility was perhaps incompatible with any great capacity—for
concentration on a great task. The consequences of such indulgence had
ruined his home life, and all but ruined his intellectual career. But
there is also this to be said, that at his worst Coleridge was both
loved and eminently lovable. His failings excited far more compassion
than indignation. The 'pity of it' expresses the sentiment of all
eye-witnesses. He was always full of kindly feelings, never soured
into cynicism. The strange power of fascination which he had shown in
his poetic youth never deserted him. As De Quincey has said: 'Beyond
all men who ever perhaps have lived, he found means to engage a
constant succession of most faithful friends. He received the services
of sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, from the hands of strangers
attracted to him by no possible impulses but those of reverence for
his intellect and love for his gracious nature. Perpetual relays were
laid along his path in life of zealous and judicious supporters.'
Whenever Coleridge was at his lowest, some one was ready to help him.
Poole, and Lloyd, and Wedgwood, and De Quincey, had come forward in
their turn. Through the dismal years of degradation which preceded his
final refuge at Gillman's, the faithful Morgans had made him a home,
tried to break off his bad habits, and enabled him to carry on the
almost hopeless struggle. When Morgan himself became bankrupt, it is
pleasant to know that Coleridge, among whose faults pecuniary meanness
had no place, gave what he could—and far more than he could really
spare—to help his old friend. When he delivered his lectures or poured
out an amazing monologue at Lamb's suppers, or in Godwin's shop, young
men, at the age of hero-worship, were already prepared not only to
wonder at the intellectual display, but to feel their hearts warmed
by the real goodness shining through the shattered and imperfectly
transparent vessel. Coleridge's letters may reveal some part of this
charm, though some part, too, of the drawback. His long involved
sentences; compared by himself to a Surinam toad with a brood of
little toads escaping from his back, wind about in something between a
spoken reverie and a sympathetic effusion of confidential confessions.
When they touch the practical, _e.g._ publishers' accounts, they
are apt to become hopelessly unintelligible. When they expound a
vast scheme for a _magnum opus_, or one of the various _magna opera_
which at any time for thirty years were just ready to issue from
the press, as soon as a few pages were transcribed, we perceive,
after a moment, that they are not the fictions of the begging-letter
writer, but a kind of secretion, spontaneously and unconsciously
evolved to pacify the stings of remorse. There are moments when
he is querulous, but we must forgive them to the man who had been
hopelessly distanced in popular fame by his inferiors; whose attempts
at public utterance had utterly collapsed; whose 'Wallenstein' still
encumbered his publisher's shelves; whose poetical copyrights had
been deliberately valued at _nil_; and whose name was only mentioned
in the chief reviews as a superlative for wilful eccentricity and
absurdity. And then, at every turn, we come upon frequent gleams,
not only of subtle thought and imaginative expression, but of shrewd
common-sense, and even at times of a genuine humour, which seems to
imply that Lamb was partly serious when he said that Coleridge had
so much 'f-f-fun' in him. After reading many of the letters, which
still remain unpublished, I may say that it is my own conviction
that a life of Coleridge may still be put together by some judicious
writer, who should take Boswell rather than the 'Acta Sanctorum' for
his model, which would be as interesting as the great 'Confessions,'
which should by turns remind us of Augustine, of Montaigne, and of
Rousseau, and sometimes, too, of the inimitable Pepys or Boswell
himself; which should show the blending of the many elements of a most
complex character and a most versatile and opulent intellect; which
should often call forth wonder, and smiles, and sighs, and indignation
smothered by pity, in one of those unique combinations which it
would take a Shakespeare to portray and act, and defy the skill of a
psychologist to define.

Only a faint indication of this is to be found in Coleridge's
'Apologia,' or, as he called it, his 'Biographia Literaria,' of which
I must now say a word. It was written at his very nadir, and published
just after he had reached his asylum at Highgate. In this sense it
has a special biographical value, though its statements, coloured by
the illusions to which he was then specially subject, have passed
muster too easily with his biographers. Its aim is chiefly to protest
against the neglect of the public and the dispensers of patronage.
Such complaints generally remind me of a rifleman complaining that the
target persists in keeping out of the line of fire. But if we must
pardon something to a man so grievously tried for endeavouring to
shift a part of the responsibility upon other shoulders than his own,
we must be upon our guard against accepting censures which involve
injustice to others. Nothing but Coleridge's strange illusions could
be an apology, for example, for his complaints that the Ministry had
not rewarded a writer whose greatest successes had been scornful
denunciations of their great leader, Pitt. The book, of course, is put
together with a pitchfork. It is without form or proportion, and is
finally eked out with a batch of the old letters from Germany which
he had already used in the 'Friend,' and apparently kept as a last
resource to stop the mouths of printers.

Now it is remarkable that even at this time, when his demoralisation
had gone furthest, he could still pour out many pages of criticism,
quite irrelevant to the professed purpose of the book, and yet such as
was beyond and above the range of any living contemporary. Coleridge
at his worst lost the power of finishing and concentrating—of which he
had never had very much—but not the power of discursive reflection.
He must be compared not to a tree, which has lost its vital fibre,
but to a vine deprived of its props, which, though most of its fruit
is crushed and wasted, can yet produce grapes with the full bloom of
what might have been a superlative vintage. But there is one fact of
the 'Biographia' for which the apology of illusion is more requisite
even than for his misstatements of fact. Coleridge has often been
accused of plagiarism. I do not believe that he stole his Shakespeare
criticism from Schlegel, and, partly at least, for the reason which
would induce me to acquit a supposed thief of having stolen a pair
of breeches from a wild Highlandman. But it is undeniable that
Coleridge was guilty of a serious theft of metaphysical wares. The
only excuse suggested is that the theft was too certain of exposure
to be perpetrated. But as it certainly was perpetrated, this can only
be an apology for the motive. The simple fact is that part of his
scheme was to establish his claims to be a great metaphysician. But
it takes much trouble and some thought to put together what looks
like a chain of _à priori_ demonstration of abstract principles.
Coleridge, therefore, persuaded himself that he had really anticipated
Schelling's thoughts and might justifiably appropriate Schelling's
words. He threw out a few phrases about 'genial coincidence'—perhaps
the happiest circumlocution ever devised for what Pistol called
'conveying'—and adopted Schelling in the lump. When he had come to an
end of Schelling's guidance, he proceeded—with an infantile simplicity
which disarms indignation—to write a solemn complimentary letter from
himself to himself, pointing out that the public would have had enough
of the discussion, and 'Dear C.' politely agreed to drop the subject,
with proper compliments to his 'affectionate, etc.'

And now I come to the very difficult task of indicating, as briefly
as I can, the bearing of these remarks upon Coleridge's multifarious
activity. It is not possible to sum up in a few phrases the
characteristics of a man who wrote upon metaphysics, theology, morals,
politics, and literary criticism; who made a deep impression in all
the departments of thought; whose utterances are scattered up and
down in fragmentary treatises, in complex arguments which generally
break off in the middle, and in miscellaneous jottings upon the
margins of books; whose opinions have been differently interpreted by
different disciples, and have in great part to be inferred from his
comments upon other writers, and can only be intelligible when we have
settled what those writers meant, and what he took them to mean; who
frequently changed his mind, and who certainly appears, to thinkers
of a different order, to add obscurity even to subjects which are
necessarily obscure. Nor is the difficulty diminished when, as in my
case, the commentator belongs to what must be called the antagonistic
school, and is even most properly to be described as a thorough
Philistine who is dull enough to glory in his Philistinism. All that
I shall attempt is to select a certain aspect of the Coleridgian
impulse, and to say what impression it makes upon a radically prosaic

The brilliant Coleridge of Nether Stowey, the buoyant young
poet-philosopher who had not been to Germany, was still a curious
compound of imperfectly fused elements. His Liberalism had led him
to the Unitarianism of Priestley and the associative philosophy of
Hartley. But he had also dipped into Plotinus and into some of the
mystical writers who represent the very opposite pole of speculation.
The first doctrine was imposed upon him from without, the other was
that which was really congenial to his temperament. For Coleridge was,
above all, essentially and intrinsically a poet. The first genuine
manifestations of his genius are the poems which he wrote before he
was twenty-six. The germ of all Coleridge's utterances may be found—by
a little ingenuity—in the 'Ancient Mariner.' For what is the secret of
the strange charm of that unique achievement? I do not speak of what
may be called its purely literary merits—the melody of versification,
the command of language, the vividness of the descriptive passages,
and so forth—I leave such points to critics of finer perception and a
greater command of superlatives. But part, at least, of the secret is
the ease with which Coleridge moves in a world of which the machinery
(as the old critics called it) is supplied by the mystic philosopher.
Milton, as Penseroso, implores

    The spirit of Plato to unfold,
    What worlds or what vast systems hold
    The spirit of man that hath forsook
    Her mansion in this fleshy nook,
    And of those demons that are found
    In fire, air, flood, and underground,
    Whose powers have a true consent
    With planet and with element.

If such a man fell asleep in his 'high lonely tower' his dreams
would present to him in sensuous imagery the very world in which
the strange history of the 'Ancient Mariner' was transacted. It
is a world in which both animated things, and stones, and brooks,
and clouds, and plants are moved by spiritual agency; in which, as
he would put it, the veil of the senses is nothing but a symbolism
everywhere telling of unseen and supernatural forces. What we call
the solid and the substantial becomes a dream; and the dream is the
true underlying reality. The difference between such poetry, and
the poetry of Pope, or even of Gray, or Goldsmith, or Cowper—poetry
which is the direct utterance of a string of moral, political, or
religious reflections—implies a literary revolution. Coleridge, even
more distinctly than Wordsworth, represented a deliberate rejection of
the canons of the preceding school; for, if Wordsworth's philosophy
differed from that of Pope, he still taught by direct exposition
instead of the presentation of sensuous symbolism. The distinction
might be illustrated by the ingenious criticism of Mrs. Barbauld,
who told Coleridge that the 'Ancient Mariner' had two faults—it was
improbable and had no moral. Coleridge owned the improbability,
but replied to the other stricture that it had too much moral, for
that it ought to have had no more than a story in the 'Arabian
Nights.' Indeed, the moral, which would apparently be that people who
sympathise with a man who shoots an albatross will die in prolonged
torture of thirst, is open to obvious objections.

Coleridge's poetical impulse died early; perhaps, as De Quincey said,
it was killed by the opium; or as Coleridge said himself, that his
afflictions had suspended what nature gave him at his birth,

    His shaping spirit of imagination.

So that his only plan was

    From his own nature all the natural man,
    By abstruse research to steal,

and partly, too, I should guess, for the reason that this strange
mystic world in which he was at home was so remote from all ordinary
experience that it failed even to provide an efficient symbolism for
his deepest thoughts, and could only be accessible in the singular
glow and fervour of youthful inspiration. The domestic anxieties,
the pains of ill-health, the depression produced by opium, were a
heavy clog upon an imagination which should try to soar into vast
aerial regions. But it may be doubtful whether this peculiar vein of
imagination, opened in the 'Ancient Mariner' and 'Christabel,' could
in any case have been worked much further.

At any rate, Coleridge, as his imaginative impulse flagged, passed
into the reflective stage; and, as was natural, his mind dwelt much
upon those principles of art which he had already discussed with
Wordsworth in his creative period. In saying that Coleridge was
primarily a poet, I did not mean to intimate that he was not also a
subtle dialectician. There is no real incompatibility between the
two faculties. A poetic literature which includes Shakespeare in the
past and Browning in the present is of itself a sufficient proof that
the keenest and most active logical faculty may be combined with
the truest poetical imagination. Coleridge's peculiar service to
English criticism consisted, indeed, in a great measure, in a clear
appreciation of the true relation between the faculties, a relation,
I think, which he never quite managed to express clearly. Poetry, as
he says, is properly opposed not to prose but to science. Its aim,
he infers, is not to establish truth but to communicate pleasure.
The poet presents us with the concrete symbol; the man of science
endeavours to analyse and abstract the laws embodied. Shakespeare was
certainly not a psychologist in the sense in which Professor Bain is
a psychologist. He does not state what are our ultimate faculties, or
how they act and react, and determine our conduct; but, so far as he
creates typical characters, he gives concrete psychology, or presents
the problems upon which psychology has to operate. Therefore, if
poetry, as Coleridge says after Milton, should be simple, sensuous,
passionate, instead of systematic, abstract, and emotionless, like
speculative reasoning, it is not to be inferred that the poet should
be positively unphilosophical, nor is he the better, as some recent
critics appear to have discovered, for merely appealing to the senses
as being without thoughts, or, in simpler words, a mere animal.
The loftiest poet and the loftiest philosopher deal with the same
subject-matter, the great problems of the world and of human life,
though one presents the symbolism and the other unravels the logical
connection of the abstract conceptions.

Coleridge, having practised, proceeded to preach. That a poet should
also be a good critic is no more surprising than that any man should
speak well on the art of which he is master. Our best critics of
poetry, at least, from Dryden to Matthew Arnold, have been (to invert
a famous maxim) poets who have succeeded. Coleridge's specific merit
was not, as I think, that he laid down any scientific theory. I
don't believe that any such theory has as yet any existence except
in embryo. He was something almost unique in this as in his poetry,
first because his criticism (so far as it was really excellent) was
the criticism of love, the criticism of a man who combined the first
simple impulse of admiration with the power of explaining why he
admired; and secondly, and as a result, because he placed himself at
the right point of view; because, to put it briefly, he was the first
great writer who criticised poetry as poetry, and not as science. The
preceding generation had asked, as Mrs. Barbauld asked: 'What is the
moral?' Has 'Othello' a moral catastrophe? What does 'Paradise Lost'
prove? Are the principles of Pope's 'Essay on Man' philosophical? or
is Goldsmith's 'Deserted Village' a sound piece of political economy?
The reply embodied in Coleridge's admirable criticisms, especially
of Shakespeare, was that this implied a total misconception of the
relations of poetry to philosophy. The 'moral' of a poem is not this
or that proposition tagged to it or deducible from it, moral or
otherwise; but the total effect of the stimulus to the imagination
and affections, or what Coleridge would call its dynamic effect. That
will, no doubt, depend partly upon the philosophy assumed in it; but
has no common ground with the merits of a demonstration in Euclid or
Spinoza. It is this adoption of a really new method which makes us
feel, when we compare Coleridge, not only with the critics of a past
generation, but even with very able and acute writers such as Jeffrey
or Hazlitt, who were his contemporaries, that we are in a freer and
larger atmosphere, and are in contact with deeper principles. It
raises another question, for it leads to Coleridge's most conscious
aim. Nothing is easier than to put the proper label on a poet—to call
him 'romantic,' or 'classical,' and so forth; and then, if he has a
predecessor of like principles, to explain him by the likeness, and
if he represents a change of principles, to make the change explain
itself by calling it a reaction. The method is delightfully simple,
and I can use the words as easily as my neighbours. The only thing
I find difficult is to look wise when I use them, or to fancy that
I give an explanation because I have adopted a classification.
Coleridge, both in poetry and philosophy, conceived himself to be one
of the leaders of such a reaction. He proposed to abolish the wicked,
mechanical, infidel, prosaic eighteenth century and go back to the
seventeenth. I do not believe in the possibility or the desirability
of any such reaction. I prefer my own grandfathers to their
grandfathers, and myself—including you and me—to my grandfathers. I am
quite sure that, if I did not, I could not make time run backwards. We
are far enough off to be just to the maligned eighteenth century, and
to keep all our uncharitableness for our contemporaries—it may do them
some good. I would never abuse the century which loved common-sense
and freedom of speech, and hated humbug and mystery; the century
in which first sprang to life most of the social and intellectual
movements which are still the best hope of our own; in which science
and history and invention first took their modern shape; the century
of David Hume, and Adam Smith, and Gibbon, and Burke, and Johnson, and
Fielding, and many old friends to whom I aver incalculable gratitude;
but I admit that, like other centuries, it had its faults. It was, no
doubt, unpoetical at its close—almost as unpoetical as the latter half
of the nineteenth; and somehow it had fallen into that queer blunder
of judging poetry by the canons of science. The old symbolism of an
earlier generation had faded, and for Pagan or Christian imagery we
had frigid personifications, such even as Coleridge quotes from some
prize poem: 'Inoculation, heavenly maid!' a deity who could be only
adored in a rhymed medical treatise. And Coleridge's charge against
the philosophy of the time was really identical with his charge
against the poetry.

Poetry, without the mystic or spiritual element, meant Darwin's
'Botanic Garden'—an ice-palace, as he called it, a heap of fine
phrases and sham personifications. Take the same element from
theology, and you have Paley's 'Evidences;' from morals, and the
residuum is Bentham's utilitarianism. Coleridge's nomenclature
expressed this, in a fashion. He was fond of saying that all men were
born Aristotelians or Platonists: Platonists, if, in his favourite
distinction, the reason and the imagination dominated in them,
and Aristotelians, if they had only the understanding, the almost
vulpine cunning, which was shared even by the lower animals, which
meant prudence in morality, reliance upon mere external evidence in
theology, and pure expediency in politics. How the Aristotelians
had come to rule the world ever since the opening of the eighteenth
century is a question which, so far as I know, he never answered. But
the effect of their dominion was equally to dethrone reason as to
asphyxiate imagination. The two were allies, if not an incarnation of
the same faculty. Inversely the Benthamites, till Mill was converted
by Wordsworth, regarded poetry as equivalent to mere tintinnabulation
and lying, or, as Carlyle's friend put it, the 'prodooction of a rude
age.' It was as much in his character of poet as of philosopher
that Coleridge hated political economy, the favourite science of the
Benthamites; for, according to him, it was an illustration of their
destructive method. The economist deals with mere barren abstractions,
and then misapplies them to the concrete organism, the life of
which, according to the common metaphor, has been destroyed by his
dissecting knife. Coleridge goes too far in speaking as if analysis
were in itself a mischievous instead of an important process, much as
Wordsworth thought that every man of science was ready to botanise on
his mother's grave. But, on the other hand, the clear conviction that
a society could only be explained as an organic and continuous whole
enables him to point out very distinctly the limits of the opposite
school. One indication of this contrast may be found in Coleridge's
theory of Church and State. It is curious that Mill, in his essay
upon Coleridge, especially admires him for taking into account the
historical element in which Bentham was deficient. It is curious
because it is remarkable that the leader of a school which boasted
specially of resting upon experience, should admit that it was weak
precisely in not appreciating the historical method on which surely
experience should be founded. It seems almost as if the antagonists
had changed weapons like the duellists in 'Hamlet.' The _à priori_
thinker rests upon experience, and the empiricist upon a really _à
priori_ method.

The ambiguity indicates Coleridge's peculiar position towards the
opposite school. He regards society as an organism, a something which
has grown through long centuries, and therefore to be studied in
its vital principle, not to be analysed into a mere mechanism for
distributing certain lumps of happiness. In doing so he was saying
what had been said by Burke, whose wisdom he fully appreciated and
whose real consistency he recognised. To my mind, indeed, Burke as a
political philosopher was far greater than Coleridge. But Burke hated
the metaphysics in which Coleridge delighted, and therefore with
him we seem at best to come upon blank prejudice, or prescription,
as the ultimate ground of political science. Coleridge feels the
necessity of connecting his organic principles with some genuine
philosophical principle, and Mill admits that Conservatism in his
treatment was something very superior to the mere brute prejudice to
which Eldon and Castlereagh appealed, and which was used as a bludgeon
by 'The Quarterly Review.' Unluckily it is here, too, that we find
the weakness of Coleridge's character. He tried to put together his
views at a time when his mind had been hopelessly enervated; when he
could guess and beat about a principle, but could never get it fairly
stated or see its full bearings. He is struggling for utterance, still
clinging to the belief that he can elaborate a system, but never
getting beyond prolegomena and fruitful hints. He says that to study
politics with benefit we must try to elaborate the 'idea' of Church
and State, and the 'idea,' as he explains, is identical with what
scientific people call a law. But how the law or laws of an organism
are to be determined by some transcendental principle overruling
and independent of experiences, is just the point which remains
inexplicable. He seems to appreciate what we now call the historic
method. He uses the sacred phrase 'evolution,' which is simply the
general formula of which the historic method is a special application.
But we find that by evolution he means some strange process suggestive
of his old mystical employment, and even at times talks of heptads
and pentads and the 'adorable tetractys,' which is the same with the
Trinity; and connects chemical laws of oxygen and hydrogen gas with
the logical formulæ about prothesis, and antithesis, and mesothesis.
To state the theory of evolution in verifiable and scientific terms
was reserved for Darwin; when we meet it in Coleridge we seem to be
going back to Pythagoras; and yet it is the same thought which is
struggling for an utterance in singular and bewildering terms, and
moreover it was just the theory which Mill required.

But, to come to a conclusion, though I cannot think that Coleridge
ever worked with his mind clear, or was, indeed, capable of the
necessary concentration and steadiness of thought by which alone
philosophical achievements are possible; though I hold, again, that
if he had succeeded he would have found that he was not so much
refuting his opponents as supplying a necessary complement to their
teaching, I can still believe that he saw more clearly than any of his
contemporaries what were the vital issues; that in his detached and
desultory and inconsistent fashion he was stirring the thoughts which
were to occupy his successors; and that a detailed examination would
show in how many directions a certain Coleridgian leaven is working in
later fermentations.

Besides the able and zealous disciples who acknowledged his
leadership, we may find many affinities in Carlyle's masculine if
narrow teaching; or again, in a school which diverged in a very
opposite direction, for the theory of Church authority sanctioned
by the Oxford disciples of Cardinal Newman is, in spite of its
different result, closely allied to Coleridge's; while the modern
Hegelians—though they regard him as a superficial dabbler—must admit
that he rendered the service (of doubtful value, perhaps) of infecting
English thought with the virus of German metaphysics, and will perhaps
admit that, in principle, he anticipated some of their most cogent
criticisms of the common enemy. Coleridge never constructed a system.
If a philosophy, or its creator, is to be judged by the systematic
characters, Coleridge must take a very low place. But when we think
what philosophical systems have so far been; what flimsy and air-built
bubbles in the eyes of the next generation; how often we desire,
even in the case of the greatest men, that the one vital idea (there
is seldom so much as one!) could be preserved, and the pretentious
structure in which it is involved permitted once for all to burst; we
may think that another criterion is admissible; that a man's work may
be judged by the stimulus given to reflection, even if given in so
intricate a muddle and such fragmentary utterances that its disciples
themselves are hopelessly unable to present it in an orderly form.
Upon that ground, Coleridge's rank will be a very high one, although,
when all is said, the history, both of the man and the thinker, will
always be a sad one—the saddest in some sense that we can read, for
it is the history of early promise blighted and vast powers all but
running hopelessly to waste.


[11] A lecture delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain,
9th March, 1888. It seems desirable to say that some of the statements
in the Lecture rest upon an examination of original documents, many
of which have not hitherto been accessible to biographers. I owe my
acquaintance with them chiefly to Mr. Dykes Campbell, whose knowledge
of the subject is most minute and exhaustive. A complete biography
still remains to be written; it may be expected from Mr. Ernest
Coleridge, who is in possession of a great mass of his grandfather's




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The Rev. Dr. JESSOP in the _Nineteenth Century_.—'The greatest
literary undertaking that has ever been carried out in England.... We
shall have a Dictionary of National Biography such as no other nation
in Europe can boast of, and such as can never be wholly superseded,
though it will need to be supplemented for the requirements of our

THE LANCET.—'The usefulness, fulness, and general accuracy of this
work become more and more apparent as its progress continues. It is a
classic work of reference as such, WITHOUT ANY COMPEER IN ENGLISH OR

THE PALL MALL GAZETTE.—'As to the general execution, we can only
repeat the high praise which it has been our pleasing duty to bestow
on former volumes. To find a name omitted that should have been
inserted is well-nigh impossible.'

London: SMITH, ELDER, & CO., 15 Waterloo Place.

       *       *       *       *       *

  | Transcriber's Notes:                                    |
  |                                                         |
  | Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_). |
  | Text enclosed by equals is in bold (=bold=).            |
  | Silently corrected typographical errors.                |
  | Spelling and hyphenation variations made consistent.    |
  |                                                         |

       *       *       *       *       *

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