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Title: Questions at Issue
Author: Gosse, Edmund
Language: English
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QUESTIONS AT ISSUE


      *      *      *      *      *      *

_Other Works by Mr. EDMUND GOSSE_


_IN VERSE_

     _On Viol and Flute. New edition. 1890_

     _Firdausi in Exile, and other Poems. Second edition. 1887_


_IN PROSE_

     _Northern Studies. 1879. Popular edition. 1890_

     _Life of Gray. 1882. Revised edition. 1889_

     _Seventeenth Century Studies. 1883. Second edition. 1885_

     _Life of Congreve. 1888_

     _A History of Eighteenth Century Literature.
       1889. Second edition. 1891_

     _Life of Philip Henry Gosse, F.R.S. 1890_

     _Gossip in a Library. 1891. Second edition. 1892_

     _The Secret of Narcisse. A Romance. 1892_

      *      *      *      *      *      *


QUESTIONS AT ISSUE

by

EDMUND GOSSE


[Illustration: Logo]



London
William Heinemann
1893

[All rights reserved]



_TO_

_JOSEPH HENRY SHORTHOUSE_

This Volume is Dedicated

_BY_

_HIS AFFECTIONATE FRIEND_

_THE AUTHOR_



Preface


To the essays which are here collected I have given a name which at
once, I hope, describes them accurately and distinguishes them from
criticism of a more positive order. When a writer speaks to us of the
works of the dead masters, of the literary life of the past, we demand
from him the authoritative attitude. That Homer is a great poet, and
that the verse of Milton is exquisite, are not Questions at Issue. In
dealing with such subjects the critic must persuade himself that he
is capable of forming an opinion, and must then give us his opinion
definitely. But in the continent of literary criticism, where all else
is imperial, there is a province which is still republican, and that is
the analysis of contemporary literature, the frank examination of the
literary life of to-day.

In speaking of what is proceeding around us no one can be trusted to be
authoritative. The wisest, clearest, and most experienced of critics
have notoriously been wrong about the phenomena of their own day.
Ben Jonson selected the moment when _Hamlet_ and _Othello_ had just
been performed to talk of raising "the despised head of poetry again,
and stripping her of those rotten and base rags wherewith the times
have adulterated her form." Neither Hazlitt nor Sainte Beuve could be
trusted to give as valuable a judgment on the work of a man younger
than themselves as they could of any past production, be it what it
might. To map the ground around his feet is a task that the most
skilful geographer is not certain to carry out with success.

The insecurity of contemporary criticism is no reason, however, why
it should not be seriously and sincerely attempted. On the contrary,
the critic who has been accustomed to follow paths where the laws
and criteria of literature are paramount, may be glad to slip away
sometimes to a freer country, where the art he tries to practise is
more instinctive, more emotional, and more controversial. In the
schools of antiquity, when the set discourse was over, the lecturer
mingled with his audience under the portico of the Museum, and then, I
suppose, it was not any longer of the ancients that they talked, but of
the poet of last night, and of the rhetorician of to-morrow.

The critic may enjoy the sense of having abandoned the lecturing desk
or the tribune, and of mingling in easy conversation with men who are
not bound to preserve any decorum in listening to his opinions. In
the criticism of the floating literature of the day an opportunity is
offered for sensibility, for the personal note, even for a certain
indulgence in levity or irony. The questions of our own age are not yet
settled by tradition, nor hedged about with logical deductions; they
are still open to discussion; they are still Questions at Issue. Such
are all the aspects of the literary life which I endeavour to discuss
in this volume of essays.

There can, nevertheless, be no reason why, although the dress and
attitude be different, the critic should not be as true to his radical
conceptions of right and wrong in literature, when he discusses the
shifts and movements about him, as when he "bears in memory what has
tamed great nations." The attention of a literary man of character may
be diverted to a hundred dissimilar branches of his subject, but in
dealing with them all he should be the servant of the same ideas, the
defender of the same principles, the protector of the same interests.
The battle rages hither and thither, but none of the issues of it
are immaterial to him, and his attitude towards what he regards as
the enemies of his cause should never radically alter. His functions
should rather become more active and more militant when he feels that
his temporary position deprives him of accidental authority; and even
when he admits that the questions he discusses are matters of open
controversy, he should, in bringing his ideas to bear upon them, be
peculiarly careful to obey the orders of fundamental principles.
All this is quite compatible, I hope, with the sauntering step, the
conversational tone, the absence of all pedagogic assertion, which seem
to me indispensable in the treatment of contemporary themes.

Of the essays here reprinted, nearly half are practically new to
English readers, having been written for an American review, and having
been quoted only in fragments on this side of the Atlantic. At the
close of the volume I have added a Lucianic sketch, which, when it
appeared anonymously in the _Fortnightly Review_, enjoyed the singular
and embarrassing distinction of being attributed, in succession, to
four amusing writers, each of whom is deservedly a greater favourite
of the public than I am. I have seen this little extravaganza ticketed
with such eminent names that I almost hesitate to have to claim it at
last as my own. I hope there was none but very innocent fooling in it,
and that not a word in it can give anybody pain. I think it was not
an unfair representation of what literature in England, from a social
point of view, consisted two years ago. Already death has been busy
with my ideal Academy, and no dreamer of 1893 could summon together
quite so admirable a company as was still citable in 1891.

LONDON, _April 1893_.



Contents

                                               PAGE
THE TYRANNY OF THE NOVEL                          1

THE INFLUENCE OF DEMOCRACY ON LITERATURE         33

HAS AMERICA PRODUCED A POET?                     69

WHAT IS A GREAT POET?                            91

MAKING A NAME IN LITERATURE                     113

THE LIMITS OF REALISM IN FICTION                135

IS VERSE IN DANGER?                             155

TENNYSON--AND AFTER                             175

SHELLEY IN 1892                                 199

SYMBOLISM AND M. STÉPHANE MALLARMÉ              217

TWO PASTELS:--
   I. MR. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON AS A POET      237
  II. MR. RUDYARD KIPLING'S SHORT STORIES       255

AN ELECTION AT THE ENGLISH ACADEMY              295

APPENDICES                                      323


_The following Essays originally appeared in 'The Contemporary
Review,' 'The Fortnightly Review,' 'The National Review,' 'The New
Review,' 'The Forum,' 'The Century Magazine,' 'Longman's Magazine,' and
'The Academy.'_



THE TYRANNY OF THE NOVEL



The Tyranny of the Novel


A Parisian Hebraist has been attracting a moment's attention to his
paradoxical and learned self by announcing that strong-hearted and
strong-brained nations do not produce novels. This gentleman's soul
goes back, no doubt in longing and despair, to the heart of Babylon and
the brain of Gath. But if he looks for a modern nation that does not
cultivate the novel, he must, I am afraid, go far afield. Finland and
Roumania are certainly tainted; Bohemia lies in the bond of naturalism.
Probably Montenegro is the one European nation which this criterion
would leave strong in heart and brain. The amusing absurdity of this
whim of a pedant may serve to remind us how universal is now the
reign of prose fiction. In Scandinavia the drama may demand an equal
prominence, but no more. In all other countries the novel takes the
largest place, claims and obtains the widest popular attention, is the
admitted tyrant of the whole family of literature.

This is so universally acknowledged now-a-days that we scarcely stop
to ask ourselves whether it is a heaven-appointed condition of things,
existing from the earliest times, or whether it is an innovation.
As a matter of fact, the predominance of the novel is a very recent
affair. Most other classes of literature are as old as the art of
verbal expression: lyrical and narrative poetry, drama, history,
philosophy--all these have flourished since the sunrise of the world's
intelligence. But the novel is a creation of the late afternoon of
civilisation. In the true sense, though not in the pedantic one, the
novel began in France with _La Princesse de Clèves_, and in England
with _Pamela_--that is to say, in 1677 and in 1740 respectively.
Compared with the dates of the beginning of philosophy and of poetry,
these are as yesterday and the day before yesterday. Once started,
however, the sapling of prose fiction grew and spread mightily. It took
but a few generations to overshadow all the ancient oaks and cedars
around it, and with its monstrous foliage to dominate the forest.

It would not be uninteresting, if we had space to do so here, to
mark in detail the progress of this astonishing growth. It would
be found that, in England at least, it has not been by any means
regularly sustained. The original magnificent outburst of the English
novel lasted for exactly a quarter of a century, and closed with the
publication of _Humphrey Clinker_. During this period of excessive
fertility in a field hitherto unworked, the novel produced one
masterpiece after another, positively pushing itself to the front and
securing the best attention of the public at a moment when such men
as Gray, Butler, Hume, and Warburton were putting forth contributions
to the old and long-established sections of literature. Nay: such was
the force of the new kind of writing that the gravity of Johnson and
the grace of Goldsmith were seduced into participating in its facile
triumphs.

But, at the very moment when the novel seemed about to sweep everything
before it, the wave subsided and almost disappeared. For nearly forty
years, only one novel of the very highest class was produced in
England; and it might well seem as though prose fiction, after its
brief victory, had exhausted its resources, and had sunken for ever
into obscurity. During the close of the eighteenth century and the
first decade of the nineteenth, no novel, except _Evelina_, could
pretend to disturb the laurels of Burke, of Gibbon, of Cowper, of
Crabbe. The publication of _Caleb Williams_ is a poor event to set
against that of the _Lyrical Ballads_; even _Thalaba the Destroyer_
seemed a more impressive phenomenon than the _Monk_. But the second
great burgeoning of the novel was at hand. Like the tender ash, it
delayed to clothe itself when all the woods of romanticism were green.
But in 1811 came _Sense and Sensibility_, in 1814 _Waverley_; and the
novel was once more at the head of the literary movement of the time.

It cannot be said to have stayed there very long. Miss Austen's brief
and brilliant career closed in 1817. Sir Walter Scott continued to be
not far below his best until about ten years later. But a period of two
decades included not only the work of these two great novelists, but
the best books also of Galt, of Mary Ferrier, of Maturin, of Lockhart,
of Banim. It saw the publication of _Hajji Baba_, of _Frankenstein_,
of _Anastatius_. Then, for the second time, prose fiction ceased for
a while to hold a position of high predominance. But Bulwer Lytton
was already at hand; and five or six years of comparative obscurity
prepared the way for Dickens, Lever, and Lover. Since the memorable
year 1837 the novel has reigned in English literature; and its tyranny
was never more irresistible than it is to-day. The Victorian has been
peculiarly the age of the triumph of fiction.

In the history of France something of the same fluctuation might be
perceived, although the production of novels of a certain literary
pretension has been a feature of French much longer and more steadily
than of English life. As Mr. Saintsbury has pointed out, "it is
particularly noteworthy that every one of the eight names which have
been set at the head" of the nineteenth-century literature of France
"is the name of a novelist." Since the days of Flaubert--for the last
thirty years, that is to say--the novel has assumed a still higher
literary function than it held even in the hands of George Sand and
Balzac. It has cast aside the pretence of merely amusing, and has
affected the airs of guide, philosopher, and friend. M. Zola, justified
to some extent by the amazing vogue of his own writings, and the vast
area covered by their prestige, has said that the various classes of
literary production are being merged in the novel, and are ultimately
to disappear within it:


                 _Apollo, Pan, and Love,_
                 _And even Olympian Jove_
     _Grow faint, for killing Truth hath glared on them;_
                 _Our hills, and seas, and streams,_
                 _Dispeopled of their dreams,_


become the mere primary material for an endless series of naturalistic
stories. And even to-day, when the young David of symbolism rises to
smite the Goliath Zola, the smooth stones he takes out of his scrip are
works of fiction by Maurice Barrès and Edouard Rod. The schools pass
and nicknames alter; but the novel rules in France as it does elsewhere.

We have but to look around us at this very moment to see how complete
the tyranny of the novel is. If one hundred educated and grown
men--not, of course, themselves the authors of other books--were to
be asked which are the three most notable works published in London
during the season of 1892, would not ninety-and-nine be constrained to
answer, with a parrot uniformity, _Tess of the D'Urbervilles_, _David
Grieve_, _The Little Minister_? These are the books which have been
most widely discussed, most largely bought, most vehemently praised,
most venomously attacked. These are the books in which the "trade"
has taken most interest, the vitality of which is most obvious and
indubitable. It may be said that the conditions of the winter of 1892
were exceptional--that no books of the first class in other branches
were produced. This may be true; and yet Mr. Jebb issued a volume of
his Sophocles, Mr. William Morris a collection of the lyric poems of
years, Mr. Froude his _Divorce of Catherine of Aragon_, and Mr. Tyndall
his _New Fragments_. If the poets in chorus had blown their silver
trumpets and the philosophers their bold bassoons, the result would
have been the same: they would have won some respect and a little
notice for their performances; but the novelists would have carried
away the money and the real human curiosity. Who shall say that Mr.
Freeman was not a better historian than Robertson was? yet did he make
£4,500 by his _History of Sicily_? I wish I could believe it. To-day
Mr. Swinburne may publish a new epic, Mr. Gardiner discover to us the
head of Charles I. on the scaffold, Mr. Herbert Spencer explore a fresh
province of sociology, or Mr. Pater analyse devils in the accents
of an angel--none of these important occurrences will successfully
compete, for more than a few moments, among educated people, with the
publication of what is called, in publishers' advertisements, "the
new popular and original novel of the hour." We are accustomed to
this state of things, and we bow to it. But we may, perhaps, remind
ourselves that it is a comparatively recent condition. It was not so in
1730, nor in 1800, nor even in 1835.

Momentary aberrations of fashion must not deceive us as to the general
tendency of taste. Mr. Hall Caine would have us believe that the public
has suddenly gone crazy for stage-plays. "Novels of great strength and
originality," says the author of _The Scapegoat_, "occasionally appear
without creating more than a flutter of interest, and, meanwhile,
plays of one-tenth their power and novelty are making something like
a profound impression." What plays are these? Not the Ollendorfian
attitudinisings of M. Maeterlinck, surely! The fact is that two years
ago it would have been impossible for any one to pen that sentence of
Mr. Caine's, and it is now possible merely because a passion for the
literary drama has been flogged into existence by certain able critics.
With a limited class, the same class which appreciates poetry, the
literary drama may find a welcome; but to suppose that it competes, or
can, in this country, even pretend to compete, with the novel is a
delusion, and Mr. Caine may safely abandon his locusts and wild honey.

That we see around us a great interest in the drama is, of course, a
commonplace. But how much of that is literary? When the delights of
the eye are removed from the sum of pleasure, what is left? Our public
is interested in the actors and their art, in the scenery and the
furniture, in the notion of large sums of money expended, lost, or won.
When all these incidental interests are extracted from the curiosity
excited by a play, not very much is left for the purely literary
portion of it--not nearly so much, at all events, as is awakened by
a great novel. After all that has been said about the publication of
plays, I expect that the sale of dramatic contemporary literature
remains small and uncertain. Mr. Pinero is read; but one swallow does
not make a summer. Where are the dramatic works of Mr. Sydney Grundy,
which ought--if Mr. Caine be correct--to be seen on every book-shelf
beside the stories of Mr. Hawley Smart?

If, however, I venture to emphasise the fact of the tyranny of the
novel in our current literature, it is without a murmur that I do so.
Like the harmless bard in _Lady Geraldine's Courtship_, I "write no
satire," and, what is more, I mean none. It appears to me natural and
rational that this particular form of writing should attract more
readers than any other. It is so broad and flexible, includes so vast
a variety of appeals to the emotions, makes so few painful demands
upon an overstrained attention, that it obviously lays itself out to
please the greatest number. For the appreciation of a fine poem, of
a learned critical treatise, of a contribution to exact knowledge,
peculiar aptitudes are required: the novel is within everybody's range.
Experience, moreover, proves that the gentle stimulus of reading about
the cares, passions, and adventures of imaginary personages, and their
relations to one another--a mild and irresponsible mirroring of real
life on a surface undisturbed by responsibility, or memory, or personal
feeling of any kind--is the most restful, the most refreshing, of all
excitements which literature produces.

It is commonly said, in all countries, that women are the chief readers
of novels. It may well be that they are the most numerous, and that
they read more exhaustively than men, and with less selection. They
have, as a rule, more time. The general notion seems to be that girls
of from sixteen to twenty form the main audience of the novelist. But
I am inclined to think that the real audience consists of young married
women, sitting at home in the first year of their marriage. They find
themselves without any constraint upon their reading: they choose what
they will, and they read incessantly. The advent of the first-born
baby is awaited in silent drawing-rooms, where through long hours the
novelists supply the sole distraction. These young matrons form a much
better audience than those timorous circles of flaxen-haired girls,
watched by an Argus-eyed mamma, which the English novelist seems to
consider himself doomed to cater for. I cannot believe that it is
anything but a fallacy that young girls do read. They are far too busy
with parties and shopping, chatting and walking, the eternal music and
the eternal tennis. Middle-aged people in the country, who are cut
off from much society, and elderly ladies, whose activities are past,
and who like to resume the illusions of youth, are far more assiduous
novel-readers than girls.

But, if we take these and all other married and unmarried women into
consideration, there is still apparently an exaggeration in saying
that it is they who make the novelist's reputation. Men read novels
a great deal more than is supposed, and it is probably from men that
the first-class novel receives its _imprimatur_. Men have made Mr.
Thomas Hardy, who owes nothing to the fair sex; if women read him now,
it is because the men have told them that they must. Occasionally we
see a very original writer who decidedly owes his fame to the plaudits
of the ladies. M. Paul Bourget is the most illustrious example that
occurs to the memory. But such instances are rare, and it is usually to
the approval of male readers that eminent novelists owe that prestige
which ultimately makes them the favourites of the women. Not all men
are pressed by the excessive agitations of business life which are
habitually attributed to their sex. Even those who are most busy
find time to read, and we were lately informed that among the most
constant and assiduous students of new novels were Lord Tennyson and
Mr. Gladstone. Every story-teller, I think, ought to write as though he
believed himself addressing such conspicuous veterans.

As I say, I do not revolt against the supremacy of the novel. I
acknowledge too heavy a debt of gratitude to my great contemporaries
to assume any but a thankful attitude towards them. In my dull and
weary hours each has come like the angel Israfel, and has invited me
to listen to the beating of his heart, be it lyre or guitar, a solemn
instrument or a gay one. I should be instantly bankrupt if I sought
to repay to Mr. Meredith or Mr. Besant, Mr. Hardy or Mr. Norris, Mr.
Stevenson or Mr. Kipling--to name no others--one-tenth part of the
pleasure which, in varied quantity and quality, the stories of each
have given me. I admit (for which I shall be torn in pieces) that the
ladies please me less, with some exceptions; but that is because, since
the days of the divine Mrs. Gaskell, they have been so apt to be either
too serious or not serious enough. I suppose that the composition of
_The Daisy Chain_ and of _Donovan_ serves some excellent purpose;
doubtless these books are useful to great growing girls. But it is not
to such stories as these that I owe any gratitude, and it is not to
their authors that I address the presumptuous remarks which follow.

A question which constantly recurs to my mind is this: Having secured
the practical monopoly of literature, having concentrated public
attention on their wares, what do the novelists propose to do next? To
what use will they put the unprecedented opportunity thrown in their
way? It is quite plain that to a certain extent the material out of
which the English novel has been constructed is in danger of becoming
exhausted. Why do the American novelists inveigh against plots? Not,
we may be sure, through any inherent tenderness of conscience, as
they would have us believe; but because their eminently sane and
somewhat timid natures revolt against the effort of inventing what is
extravagant. But all the obvious plots, all the stories which are not
in some degree extravagant, seem to have been told already, and for a
writer with the temperament of Mr. Howells there is nothing left but
the careful portraiture of a small portion of the limitless field of
ordinary humdrum existence. So long as this is fresh, this also may
amuse and please; to the practitioners of this kind of work it seems
as though the infinite prairie of life might be surveyed thus for
centuries, acre by acre. But that is not possible. A very little while
suffices to show that in this direction also the material is promptly
exhausted. Novelty, freshness, and excitement are to be sought for at
all hazards, and where can they be found?

The novelists hope many things from that happy system of nature which
supplies them, year by year, with fresh generations of the ingenuous
young. The procession of adolescence moves on and on, and the front
rank of it, for a month or a year, is duped by the novelist's report
of that astonishing phenomenon, the passion of love. In a certain
sense, we might expect to be tired of love-stories as soon as, and
not before, we grow tired of the ever-recurring March mystery of
primroses and daffodils. Each generation takes its tale of love under
the hawthorn-tree as something quite new, peculiar to itself, not to be
comprehended by its elders; and the novelist pipes as he will to this
idyllic audience, sure of pleasing, if he adapt himself never so little
to their habits and the idiosyncrasies of their time.

That theory would work well enough if the novelist held the chair of
Erotics at the University of Life, and might blamelessly repeat the
same (or very slightly modified) lectures to none but the students
of each successive year. But, unfortunately, we who long ago took
our degree, who took it, perhaps, when the Professor was himself in
pinafores, also continue to attend his classes. We are hardly to be
put off with the old, old commonplaces about hearts and darts. Yet our
adult acquiescence is necessary for the support of the Professor. How
is he to freshen up his oft-repeated course of lectures to suit our
jaded appetites?

It would be curious to calculate how many tales of love must have been
told since the vogue of the modern story began. Three hundred novels a
year is, I believe, the average product of the English press. In each
of these there has been at least one pair of lovers, and generally
there have been several pairs. It would be a good question to set
in a mathematical examination: What is the probable number of young
persons who have conducted one another to the altar in English fiction
during the last hundred years? It is almost terrible to think of this
multitude of fictitious love-makings:


     _For the lovers of years meet and gather;_
       _The sound of them all grows like thunder:_
       _O into what bosom, I wonder,_
     _Is poured the whole passion of years!_


One would be very sorry to have the three hundred of one year poured
into one's own mature bosom. But how curious is the absolute unanimity
of it all! Thousands and thousands of books, every one of them, without
exception, turning upon the attraction of Edwin to Angelina, exactly
as though no other subject on earth interested a single human being!
The novels in which love has not formed a central feature are so few
that I suspect that they could be counted on the fingers of one hand.
At this moment, I can but recall a single famous novel in which love
has no place. This is, of course, _L'Abbé Tigrane_, that delightful
story in which all the interest revolves around the intrigues of two
priestly factions in a provincial cathedral. But, although M. Ferdinand
Fabre achieved so great a success in this book, and produced an
acknowledged masterpiece, he never ventured to repeat the experiment.
Eros revels in the pages of all his other stories.

This would be the opportunity to fight the battle of the novelists
against Mrs. Grundy. But I am not inclined to waste ink on that
conceded cause. After the reception of books like _Tess of the
D'Urbervilles_ and even _David Grieve_, it is plain that the English
novelist, who cares and dares, may say almost anything he or she likes
without calling flame out of heaven upon his head. There has been a
great reform in this respect since the days when our family friend Mr.
Punch hazarded his very existence by referring, in grimmest irony,
to the sufferings of "the gay." We do not want to claim the right,
which the French have so recklessly abused, of describing at will, and
secure against all censure, the brutal, the abnormal and the horrible.
No doubt a silly prudishness yet exists. There are still clergymen's
wives who write up indignantly from The Vicarage, Little Pedlington. I
have just received an epistle from such an one, telling me that certain
poor productions I am editing "make young hearts acquainted with vice,
and put hell-fire in their hearts." "Woe unto you in your evil work,"
says this lady, doubtless a most sincere and conscientious creature,
but a little behind the times. Of her and her race individually, I wish
to say nothing but what is kind; but I confess I am glad to know that
the unreflecting spirit they represent is passing away. It is passing
away so rapidly that there is really no need to hearten the novelists
against it. I am weary to death of the gentleman who is always telling
us what a splendid novel he would write, if the publishers would only
allow him to be naughty. Let him be bold and naughty, and we will see.
If he is so poor-spirited as to be afraid to say what he feels he
ought to say because of this kind of criticism, his exposition of the
verities is not likely to be of very high value.

But I should like to ask our friends the leading novelists whether
they do not see their way to enlarging a little the sphere of their
labours. What is the use of this tyranny which they wield, if it
does not enable them to treat life broadly and to treat it whole?
The varieties of amatory intrigue form a fascinating subject, which
is not even yet exhausted. But, surely, all life is not love-making.
Even the youngest have to deal with other interests, although this may
be the dominant one; while, as we advance in years, Venus ceases to
be even the ruling divinity. Why should there not be novels written
for middle-aged persons? Has the struggle for existence a charm only
in its reproductive aspects? If every one of us regards his or her
life seriously, with an absolute and unflinching frankness, it will
be admitted that love, extended so as to include all its forms--its
sympathetic, its imaginative, its repressed, as well as its fulfilled
and acknowledged, forms--takes a place far more restricted than the
formulæ of the novelist would lead the inhabitant of some other planet
to conjecture.

Unless the novelists do contrive to enlarge their borders, and take
in more of life, that misfortune awaits them which befell their
ancestors just before the death of Scott. About the year 1830 there
was a sudden crash of the novel. The public found itself abandoned
to Lady Blessington and Mr. Plumer Ward, and it abruptly closed its
account with the novelists. The large prices which had been, for twenty
years past, paid for novels were no longer offered. The book-clubs
throughout the kingdom collapsed, or else excluded novels. When fiction
re-appeared, after this singular epoch of eclipse, it had learned its
lesson, and the new writers were men who put into their work their best
observation and ripest experience.

It does not appear that in the thirties any one understood what was
happening. The stuff produced by the novelists was so ridiculous
and ignoble that "the nonsinse of that divil of a Bullwig" seemed
absolutely unrivalled in its comparative sublimity, although these were
the days of _Ernest Maltravers_. It never occurred to the authors when
the public suddenly declined to read their books (it read "Bullwig's,"
in the lack of anything else) that the fault was theirs. The same
excuses were made that are made now,--"necessary to write down to a
wide audience;" "obliged to supply the kind of article demanded;"
"women the only readers to be catered for;" "mammas so solicitous for
the purity of what is laid before their daughters." And the crash came.

The crash will come again, if the novelists do not take care.
The same silly piping of the loves of the drawing-room, the same
obsequious attitude towards a supposititious public clamouring for
the commonplace, inspire the majority of the novel-writers of to-day.
Happily, we have, what our fathers in 1835 had not, half a dozen
careful and vigorous men of letters who write, not what the foolish
publishers ask for, but what they themselves choose to give. The
future rests with these few recognised masters of fiction, and with
their successors, the vigorous younger men who are preparing to take
their place. What are these novelists going to do? They were set down
to farm the one hundred acres of an estate called Life, and because
one corner of it--the two or three acres hedged about, and called the
kitchen-garden of Love--offered peculiar attractions, and was very easy
to cultivate, they have neglected the other ninety-seven acres. The
result is that by over-pressing their garden, and forcing crop after
crop out of it, it is well-nigh exhausted, and will soon refuse to
respond to the incessant hoe and spade; while, all the time, the rest
of the estate, rich and almost virgin soil, is left to cover itself
with the weeds of newspaper police-reports.

It is supposed that to describe one of the positive employments of
life,--a business or a profession, for example,--would alienate the
tender reader, and check that circulation about which novelists talk
as nervously as if they were delicate invalids. But what evidence is
there to show that an attention to real things does frighten away the
novel reader? The experiments which have been made in this country to
widen the field of fiction in one direction, that of religious and
moral speculation, have not proved unfortunate. What was the source
of the great popular success of _John Inglesant_ and then of _Robert
Elsmere_, if not the intense delight of readers in being admitted,
in a story, to a wider analysis of the interior workings of the mind
than is compatible with the mere record of the billing and cooing of
the callow young? We are afraid of words and titles. We are afraid of
the word "psychology," and, indeed, we have seen follies committed in
its name. But the success of the books I have just mentioned was due
to their psychology, to their analysis of the effect of associations
and sentiments on a growing mind. To make such studies of the soul
even partially interesting, a great deal of knowledge, intuition,
and workmanlike care must be expended. The novelist must himself be
acquainted with something of the general life of man.

But the interior life of the soul is, after all, a very much less
interesting study to an ordinarily healthy person than the exterior.
It is surprising how little our recent novelists have taken this into
consideration. One reason, I cannot doubt, is that they write too
early and they write too fast. Fielding began with _Joseph Andrews_,
when he was thirty-five; seven years later he published _Tom Jones_;
during the remainder of his life, which closed when he was forty-seven,
he composed one more novel. The consequence is that into these three
books he was able to pour the ripe knowledge of an all-accomplished
student of human nature. But our successful novelist of to-day begins
when he is two- or three-and-twenty. He "catches on," as they say, and
he becomes a laborious professional writer. He toils at his novels as
if he were the manager of a bank or the captain of an ocean steamer.
In one narrow groove he slides up and down, up and down, growing
infinitely skilful at his task of making bricks out of straw. He
finishes the last page of "The Writhing Victim" in the morning, lunches
at his club, has a nap; and, after dinner, writes the first page of
"The Swart Sombrero." He cannot describe a trade or a profession, for
he knows none but his own. He has no time to look at life, and he goes
on weaving fancies out of the ever-dwindling stores of his childish and
boyish memories. As these grow exhausted, his works get more and more
shadowy, till at last even the long-suffering public that once loved
his merits, and then grew tolerant of his tricks, can endure him no
longer.

The one living novelist who has striven to give a large, competent,
and profound view of the movement of life is M. Zola. When we have
said the worst of the _Rougon-Macquart_ series, when we have admitted
the obvious faults of these books--their romantic fallacies on the one
hand, their cold brutalities on the other--it must be admitted that
they present the results of a most laudable attempt to cultivate the
estate outside the kitchen-garden. Hardly one of the main interests of
the modern man has been neglected by M. Zola, and there is no doubt
at all that to the future student of nineteenth-century manners his
books will have an interest outweighing that of all other contemporary
novels. An astonishing series of panoramas he has unrolled before us.
Here is _Le Ventre de Paris_, describing the whole system by which a
vast modern city is daily supplied with food; here is _Au Bonheur des
Dames_, the romance of a shop, which is pushed upwards and outwards by
the energy of a single ambitious tradesman, until it swamps all its
neighbours, and governs the trade of a district; here is _L'Argent_,
in which, with infinite pains and on a colossal scale, the passions
which move in _la haute finance_ are analysed, and a great battle
of the money-world chronicled; here, above all, is _Germinal_, that
unapproachable picture of the agony and stress of life in a great
mining community, with a description of the processes so minute and so
technical that this novel is quoted by experts as the best existing
record of conditions which are already obsolete.

In these books of M. Zola's, as everyone knows, successive members
of a certain family stand out against a background of human masses
in incessant movement. The peculiar characteristic of this novelist
is that he enables us to see why these masses are moved, and in what
direction. Other writers vaguely tell us that the hero "proceeded to
his daily occupation," if, indeed, they deign to allow that he had an
occupation. M. Zola tells us what that occupation was, and describes
the nature of it carefully and minutely. More than this: he shows us
how it affected the hero's character, how it brought him into contact
with others, in what way it represented his share of the universal
struggle for existence. So far from the employment being a thing
to be slurred over or dimly alluded to, M. Zola loves to make that
the very hero of his piece, a blind and vast commercial monster, a
huge all-embracing machine, in whose progress the human persons are
hurried helplessly along, in whose iron wheels their passions and
their hopes are crushed. He is enabled to do this by the exceptional
character of his genius, which is realistic to excess in its power of
retaining and repeating details, and romantic, also to an extreme,
in its power of massing these details on a huge scale, in vast and
harmoniously-balanced compositions.

I would not be misunderstood, even by the most hasty reader,
to recommend an imitation of M. Zola. What suits his
peculiarly-constituted genius might ill accord with the characteristics
of another. Nor do I mean to say that we are entirely without something
analogous in the writings of the more intelligent of our later
novelists. The study of the Dorsetshire dairy-farms in Mr. Hardy's
superb _Tess of the D'Urbervilles_ is of the highest value, and more
thorough and intelligible than what we enjoyed in _The Woodlanders_,
the details of the apple-culture in the same county. To turn to a
totally different school: Mr. Hall Caine's _Scapegoat_ is a very
interesting experiment in fresh fields of thought and experience, more
happily conceived, if I may be permitted to say so, than fortunately
executed, though even in execution far above the ruck of popular
novels. A new Cornish story, called _Inconsequent Lives_, by that very
promising young story-teller, Mr. Pearce, seemed, when it opened,
to be about to give us just the vivid information we want about the
Newlyn pilchard-fishery; but the novelist grew timid, and forebore to
fill in his sketch. The experiments of Mr. George Gissing and of Mr.
George Moore deserve sympathetic acknowledgment. These are instances
in which, occasionally, or fantastically, or imperfectly, the real
facts of life have been dwelt upon in recent fiction. But when we have
mentioned or thought of a few exceptions, to what inanities do we not
presently descend!

If we could suddenly arrive from another planet, and read a cluster
of novels from Mudie's, without any previous knowledge of the class,
we should be astonished at the conventionality, the narrowness, the
monotony. All I ask for is a larger study of life. Have the stress
and turmoil of a successful political career no charm? Why, if novels
of the shop and the counting-house be considered sordid, can our
novelists not describe the life of a sailor, of a gamekeeper, of a
railway-porter, of a civil engineer? What capital central figures
for a story would be the whip of a leading hunt, the foreman of a
colliery, the master of a fishing smack, or a speculator on the Stock
Exchange! It will be suggested that persons engaged in one or other
of these professions are commonly introduced into current fiction,
and that I am proposing as a novelty what is amply done already. My
reply is that our novelists may indeed present to us a personage who
is called a stoker or a groom, a secretary of state or a pin-maker,
but that, practically, they merely write these denominations clearly
on the breasts of lay-figures. For all the enlightenment we get into
the habits of action and habits of thought entailed by the occupation
of each, the fisherman might be the groom and the pin-maker the
stock-broker. It is more than this that I ask for. I want to see
the man in his life. I am tired of the novelist's portrait of a
gentleman, with gloves and hat, leaning against a pillar, upon a
vague landscape background. I want the gentleman as he appears in a
snap-shot photograph, with his every-day expression on his face, and
the localities in which he spends his days accurately visible around
him. I cannot think that the commercial and professional aspects of
life are unworthy of the careful attention of the novelist, or that he
would fail to be rewarded by a larger and more interested audience for
his courage in dealing closely with them. At all events, if it is too
late to ask our accepted tyrants of the novel to enlarge their borders,
may we not, at all events, entreat their heirs-apparent to do so?

_1892_



THE INFLUENCE OF DEMOCRACY ON LITERATURE



The Influence of Democracy on Literature


It is not desirable to bring the element of party politics into the
world of books. But it is difficult to discuss the influence of
democracy on literature without borrowing from the Radicals one of the
wisest and truest of their watchwords. It is of no use, as they remind
us, to be afraid of the people. We have this huge mass of individuals
around us, each item in the coagulation struggling to retain and to
exercise its liberty; and, while we are perfectly free to like or
dislike the condition of things which has produced this phenomenon,
to be alarmed, to utter shrieks of fright at it, is to resign all
pretension to be listened to. We may believe that the whole concern is
going to the dogs, or we may be amusing ourselves by printing Cook's
tickets for a monster excursion to Boothia Felix or other provinces of
Utopia; to be frightened at it, or to think that we can do any good
by scolding it or binding it with chains of tow, is simply silly. It
moves, and it carries the Superior Person with it and in it, like a
mote of dust.

In considering, therefore, the influence of democracy on literature,
it seems worse than useless to exhort or persuade. All that can in any
degree be interesting must be to study, without prejudice, the signs of
the times, to compare notes about the weather, and cheerfully tap the
intellectual barometer. This form of inquiry is rarely attempted in a
perfectly open spirit, partly, no doubt, because it is unquestionably
one which it is difficult to carry through. It is wonderfully easy to
proclaim the advent of a literary Ragnarok, to say that poetry is dead,
the novel sunken into its dotage, all good writing obsolete, and the
reign of darkness begun. There are writers who do this, and who round
off their periods by attributing the whole condition to the democratic
spirit, like the sailor in that delightful old piece played at the
Strand Theatre, who used to sum up the misfortunes of a lifetime with
the recurrent refrain, "It's all on account of Eliza."

The "uncreating words" of these pessimists are dispiriting for the
moment, but they mean nothing. Those of the optimist do not mean much
either. A little more effort is required to produce his rose-coloured
picture, but we are not really persuaded that because the brown marries
the blonde all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Nor
is much gained by prophecy. We have been listening to a gentleman,
himself a biographer and an historian, who predicts, with babe-like
_naïveté_, that all literary persons will presently be sent by the
democracy to split wood and draw water, except, perhaps, "the historian
or biographer." In this universal splitting of wood, some heads, which
now think themselves mighty clever, may come to be rather disastrously
cracked. It was not Camille Desmoulins whom Fate selected to enter into
his own Promised Land of emancipated literature.

We gain little by a comparison of our modern situation with that of the
ancient commonwealths. The parallel between the state of literature in
our world and that in Athens or Florence is purely academic. Whatever
the form of government, literature has always been aristocratic, or at
least oligarchic. It has been encouraged or else tolerated; even when
it has been independent, its self-congratulations on its independence
have shown how temporary that liberty was, and how imminent the
relapse into bondage. The peculiar protection given to the arts by
enlightened commonwealths surrounded by barbaric tyrannies was often of
a most valuable character, but it resembled nothing which can recur in
the modern world. The stimulus it gave to the creative temperament was
due in great measure to its exclusiveness, to the fact that the world
was shut out, and the appeal for sympathy made within a restricted
circle. The Republic was a family of highly trained intelligences,
barred and bolted against the vast and stupid world outside. Never can
this condition be re-established. The essence of democracy is that it
knows no narrower bonds than those of the globe, and its success is
marked by the destruction of those very ramparts which protected and
inspirited the old intellectual free States.

The purest and most elevated form of literature, the rarest and, at
its best, the most valuable, is poetry. If it could be shown that the
influence of the popular advance in power has been favourable to the
growth of great verse, then all the rest might be taken for granted.
Unfortunately, there are many circumstances which interfere with our
vision, and make it exceedingly difficult to give an opinion on this
point. Victor Hugo never questioned that the poetical element was
needed, but he had occasional qualms about its being properly demanded.


     _Peuples! écoutez, le poète,_
       _Écoutez le rêveur sacré;_
     _Dans votre nuit, sans lui complète,_
       _Lui seul a le front éclairé!_


he shouted, but the very energy of the exclamation suggests a doubt
in his own mind as to its complete acceptability. In this country,
the democracy has certainly crowded around one poet. It has always
appeared to me to be one of the most singular, as it is one of the most
encouraging features of our recent literary history, that Tennyson
should have held the extraordinary place in the affections of our
people which has now been his for nearly half a century. That it
should be so delicate and so Æolian a music, so little affected by
contemporary passion, so disdainful of adventitious aids to popularity,
which above all others has attracted the universal ear, and held it
without producing weariness or satiety; this, I confess, appears to me
very marvellous. Some of the Laureate's best-loved lyrics have been
before the public for more than sixty years. Cowley is one of the few
English poets who have been, during their lifetime, praised as much as
Tennyson has been, yet where in 1720 was the fame of Cowley? Where in
the France of to-day are the _Méditations_ and _Harmonies_ of Lamartine?

If, then, we might take Tennyson as an example of the result of the
action of democracy upon literature, we might indeed congratulate
ourselves. But a moment's reflection shows that to do so is to put
the cart before the horse. The wide appreciation of such delicate
and penetrating poetry is, indeed, an example of the influence of
literature on democracy, but hardly of democracy on literature. We
may examine the series of Tennyson's volumes with care, and scarcely
discover a copy of verses in which he can be detected as directly
urged to expression by the popular taste. This prime favourite of the
educated masses never courted the public, nor strove to serve it. He
wrote to please himself, to win the applause of the "little clan,"
and each round of salvos from the world outside seemed to startle him
in his obstinate retirement. If it grew easier and easier for him to
consent to please the masses, it was because he familiarised them more
and more with his peculiar accent. He led literary taste, he did not
dream of following it.

What is true of Tennyson is true of most of our recent poets. There is
one exception, however, and that a very curious one. The single English
poet of high rank whose works seem to me to be distinctly affected by
the democratic spirit, nay, to be the direct outcome of the influence
of democracy, is Robert Browning. It has scarcely been sufficiently
noted by those who criticise the style of that great writer that the
entire tone of his writings introduces something hitherto unobserved
in British poetry. That something is the repudiation of the recognised
oligarchic attitude of the poet in his address to the public. It is not
that he writes or does not write of the poor. It is a curious mistake
to expect the democratic spirit to be always on its knees adoring the
proletariat. To the true democracy all are veritably of equal interest,
and even a belted earl may be a man and a brother. In his poems Robert
Browning spoke as though he felt himself to be walking through a world
of equals, all interesting to him, all worthy of study. This is the
secret of his abrupt familiar appeal, his "Dare I trust the same to
you?" "Look out, see the gipsy!" "You would fain be kinglier, say,
than I am?" the incessant confidential aside to a cloud of unnamed
witnesses, the conversational tone, things all of which were before his
time unknown in serious verse. Browning is hail-fellow-well-met with
all the world, from queen to peasant, and half of what is called his
dramatic faculty is merely the result of his genius for making friends
with every species of mankind.

With this exception, however, the principal poetical writers of our
time seem to be unaffected by the pressure of the masses around them.
They select their themes, remain true to the principles of composition
which they prefer, concern themselves with the execution of their
verses, and regard the opinion of the millions as little or even less
than their great forerunners did that of emperor or prince-bishop.
Being born with quick intelligences into an age burdened by social
difficulties, these latter occasionally interest them very acutely, and
they write about them, not, I think, pressed into that service by the
democratic spirit, but yielding to the attraction of what is moving
and picturesque. A wit has lately said of the most popular, the most
democratic of living French poets, M. François Coppée, that his blazon
is "des rimes riches sur la blouse prolétaire." But the central fact to
a critic about M. Coppée's verse is, not the accident that he writes
about poor people, but the essential point that his rhymes are richer
and his verse more faultless than those of any of his contemporaries.
We may depend upon it that democracy has had no effect on his prosody,
and the rest is a mere matter of selection.

The fact seems to be that the more closely we examine the highest
examples of the noblest class of literature the more we become
persuaded that democracy has scarcely had any effect upon them at all.
It has not interfered with the poets, least of all has it dictated to
them. It has listened to them with respect; it has even contemplated
their eccentricities with admiration; it had tried, with its millions
of untrained feet, to walk in step with them. And when we turn from
poetry to the best science, the best history, the best fiction, we find
the same phenomenon. Democracy has been stirred to its depths by the
writings of Darwin; but who can trace in those writings the smallest
concession to the judgment or desire of the masses? Darwin became
convinced of certain theories. To the vast mass of the public these
theories were incredible, unpalatable, impious. With immense patience,
without emphasis of any kind, he proceeded to substantiate his views,
to enlarge his exposition; and gradually the cold body of democratic
opposition melted around that fervent atom of heat, and, in response
to its unbroken radiation, became warm itself. All that can be said
is that the new democratic condition is a better conductor than the
old oligarchical one was. Darwin produces his effect more steadily and
rapidly than Galileo or Spinoza, but not more surely, with exactly as
little aid from without.

As far, then, as the summits of literature are concerned--the great
masters of style, the great discoverers, the great intellectual
illuminators--it may be said that the influence of democracy upon
them is almost _nil_. It affords them a wider hearing, and therefore
a prompter recognition. It gives them more readers, and therefore
a more direct arrival at that degree of material comfort necessary
for the proper conduct of their investigations, or the full polish
of their periods. It may spoil them with its flatteries, or diminish
their merit by seducing them to over-production; but this is a question
between themselves and their own souls. A syndicate of newspapers,
or the editor of a magazine may tempt a writer of to-day, as Villon
was tempted with the wine-shop, or Coleridge with laudanum; but that
is not the fault of the democracy. Nor, if a writer of real power is
neglected, are people more or less to blame in 1892 than they were for
letting Otway starve two hundred years ago. Some people, beloved of
the gods, cannot be explained to mankind by king or caucus.

So far, therefore, as our present experience goes, we may relinquish
the common fear that the summits of literature will be submerged
by democracy. When the new spirit first began to be studied, many
whose judgment on other points was sound enough were confident that
the instinctive programme of the democratic spirit was to prevent
intellectual capacity of every kind from developing, for fear of the
ascendency which it would exercise. This is communism, and means
democracy pushed to an impossible extremity, to a point from which it
must rebound. No doubt, there is always a chance that a disturbance of
the masses may for a moment wash over and destroy some phase of real
intellectual distinction, just as it may sweep away, also for a moment,
other personal conditions. But it looks as though the individuality
would always reassert itself. The crowd that smashed the porcelain
in the White House to celebrate the election of President Andrew
Jackson had to buy more to take its place. The White House did not
continue, even under Jackson, to subsist without porcelain. In the same
way, edicts may be passed by communal councils forbidding citizens
to worship the idols which the booksellers set up, and even that
consummation may be reached, to which a prophet of our own day looks
forward, when we shall all be forced by the police to walk hand in hand
with "the craziest sot in the village" as our friend and equal; none
the less will human nature, at the earliest opportunity, throw off the
bondage, and openly prefer Darwin and Tennyson to that engaging rustic.
Indeed, all the signs of the times go to suggest that the completer the
democracy becomes, the vaster the gap will be in popular honour between
the great men of letters and "the craziest sot in the village." It is
quite possible that the tyranny of extreme intellectual popularity may
prove as tiresome as other and older tyrannies were. But that's another
story, as the new catchword tells us.

Literature, however, as a profession or a calling, is not confined to
the writings of the five or six men who, in each generation, represent
what is most brilliant and most independent. From the leaders, in
their indisputable greatness, the intellectual hierarchy descends to
the lowest and broadest class of workers who in any measure hang on
to the skirts of literature, and eke out a living by writing. It is
in the middle ranks of this vast pyramid that we should look to see
most distinctly the signs of the influence of democracy. We shall not
find them in the broad and featureless residuum any more than in the
strongly individualised summits. But we ought to discover them in the
writers who have talent enough to keep them aloft, yet not enough to
make them indifferent to outer support. Here, where all is lost or
gained by a successful appeal to the crowd as it hastens by, we might
expect to see very distinctly the effects of democracy, and here,
perhaps, if we look closely, we may see them.

It appears to me that even here it is not so easy as one would
imagine that it would be to pin distinct charges to the sleeve of
the much-abused democracy. Let us take the bad points first. The
enlargement of the possible circle of an author's readers may awaken
in the breast of a man who has gained a little success, the desire
to arrive at a greater one in another field, for which he is really
not so well equipped. An author may have a positive talent for church
history, and turning from it, through cupidity, to fiction, may, by
addressing a vastly extended public, make a little more money by his
bad stories than he was able to make by his good hagiology, and so act
to the detriment of literature. Again, an author who has made a hit
with a certain theme, or a certain treatment of that theme, may be held
nailed down to it by the public long after he has exhausted it and
it has exhausted him. Again, the complaisance of the public, and the
loyal eagerness with which it cries "Give, give," to a writer that has
pleased it, may induce that writer to go on talking long after he has
anything to say, and so conduce to the watering of the milk of wit.
Or--and this is more subtle and by no means so easy to observe--the
pressure of commonplace opinion, constantly checking a writer when he
shelves away towards either edge of the trodden path of mediocrity, may
keep him from ever adding to the splendid originalities of literature.
This shows itself in the disease which we may call Mudieitis, the
inflammation produced by the fear that what you are inspired to say,
and know you ought to say, will be unpalatable to the circulating
libraries, that "the wife of a country incumbent," that terror before
which Messrs. Smith fall prone upon their faces, may write up to
headquarters and expostulate. In all these cases, without doubt, we
have instances of the direct influence of democracy upon literature,
and that of a deleterious kind. Not one of them, however, can produce
a bad effect upon any but persons of weak or faulty character, and
these would probably err in some other direction, even at the court of
a grand duke.

On the other hand, the benefits of democratic surroundings are felt in
these middle walks of literature. The appeal to a very wide audience
has the effect of giving a writer whose work is sound but not of
universal interest, an opportunity of collecting, piecemeal, individual
readers enough to support him. The average sanity of a democracy, and
the habit it encourages of immediate, full, and candid discussion,
preserves the writer whose snare is eccentricity from going too far in
his folly. The celebrated eccentrics of past literature, the Lycophrons
and the Gongoras, the Donnes and the Gombrevilles, were the spokesmen
of small and pedantic circles, disdainful of the human herd, "sets"
whose members rejoiced in the conceits and extravagance of their
respective favourites, and encouraged these talented personages to make
mountebanks of themselves. These leaders were in most cases excessively
clever, and we find their work, or a little of it, very entertaining
as we cross the history of _belles-lettres_. But it is impossible
not to see that, for instance, each of the mysterious writers I
have mentioned would, in a democratic age, and healthily confronted
with public criticism, have been able to make a much wholesomer and
broader use of his cleverness. The democratic spirit, moreover, may be
supposed to encourage directness of utterance, simplicity, vividness,
and lucidity. I say it may be supposed to do so, because I cannot
perceive that with all our liberty the nineteenth century has proceeded
any farther in this direction than the hide-bound eighteenth century
was able to do. On the whole, indeed, I find it very difficult to
discover that democracy, as such, is affecting the quality of such good
literature as we possess in any very general or obvious way. It may be
that we are still under the oligarchic tradition, and that a social
revolution, introducing a sudden breach in our habits, and perhaps
paralysing the profession of letters for a few years, would be followed
by a new literature of a decidedly democratic class. We are speaking of
what we actually see, and not of vague visions which may seem to flit
across the spectral mirror of the future.

But when we pass from the quality of the best literature to the
quantity of it, then it is impossible to preserve so indifferent or
so optimistic an attitude. The democratic habit does not, if I am
correct, make much difference in the way in which good authors write,
but it very much affects the amount of circulation which their writings
obtain. The literature of which I have hitherto spoken is that of which
analysis can take cognisance, the writing which possesses a measure,
at least, of distinction, of accomplishment, that which, in every
class, belongs to the tradition of good work. It is very easy to draw
a rough line, not too high, above which all may fairly be treated as
literature in _posse_ if not in _esse_. In former ages, almost all
that was published, certainly all that attracted public attention and
secured readers, was of this sort. The baldest and most grotesque
Elizabethan drama, the sickliest romance that lay with Bibles and with
_billets-doux_ on Belinda's toilet-table, the most effete didactic
poem of the Hayley and Seward age, had this quality of belonging to
the literary camp. It was a miserable object, no doubt, and wholly
without value, but it wore the king's uniform. If it could have been
better written, it would have been well written. But, as a result
of democracy, what is still looked upon as the field of literature
has been invaded by camp-followers of every kind, so active and so
numerous, that they threaten to oust the soldiery themselves; persons
in every variety of costume, from court-clothes to rags, but agreeing
only in this, that they are not dressed as soldiers of literature.

These amateurs and specialists, these writers of books that are not
books, and essays that are not essays, are peculiarly the product of a
democratic age. A love for the distinguished parts of literature, and
even a conception that such parts exist, is not common among men, and
it is not obvious that democracy has led to its encouragement. Hitherto
the tradition of style has commonly been respected; no very open voice
having been as yet raised against it. But with the vast majority of
persons it remains nothing but a mystery, and one which they secretly
regard with suspicion. The enlargement of the circle of readers merely
means an increase of persons who, without an ear, are admitted to
the concert of literature. At present they listen to the traditional
sonatas and mazurkas with bored respect, but they are really longing
for music-hall ditties on the concertina. To this ever-increasing
congregation of the unmusical comes the technical amateur, with his dry
facts and exact knowledge; the flippant amateur, with his comic "bits"
and laughable miscellanies; the didactic and religious amateur, anxious
to mend our manners and save our souls. These people, whose power
must not be slighted, and whose value, perhaps, can only relatively be
denied, have something definite, something serviceable to give in the
form of a paper or a magazine or a book. What wonder that they should
form dangerous rivals to the writer who is assiduous about the way in
which a thing is said, and careful to produce a solid and harmonious
effect by characteristic language?

It was mainly during the close of the seventeenth and the beginning of
the eighteenth century that this body of technical, professional, and
non-literary writing began to develop. We owe it, without doubt, to the
spread of exact knowledge and the emancipation of speculative thought.
It was from the law first, then from divinity, then from science, and
last from philosophy that the studied graces were excluded--a sacrifice
on the altar of positive expression. If a writer on precise themes
were to adopt to-day the balanced elegance of Evelyn or Shaftesbury's
stately and harmonious periods, he would either be read for his style
and his sentiment or not at all. People would go for their information
elsewhere. No doubt, in a certain sense, this change is due to the
democracy; it is due to the quickening and rarefying of public life,
to the creation of rapid needs, to a breaking down of barriers. But so
long as the books and papers which deal with professional matters do
not utterly absorb the field, so long as they leave time and space for
pure literature, there is no reason why they should positively injure
the latter, though they must form a constant danger to it. At times of
public ferment, when great constitutional or social problems occupy
universal attention, there can be no doubt that the danger ripens into
real injury. When newspapers are full of current events in political
and social life, the graver kind of books are slackly bought, and a
"the higher criticism" disappears from the Reviews.

We can imagine a state of things in which such a crowding out should
become chronic, when the nervous system of the public should crave such
incessant shocks of actuality, that no time should be left for thought
or sentiment. We might arrive at the condition in which Wordsworth
pictured the France of ninety years ago:


     _Perpetual emptiness! unceasing change!_
     _No single volume paramount, no code,_
     _No master spirit, no determined road;_
     _But equally a want of books and men!_


When we feel inclined to forebode such a shocking lapse into
barbarism, it may help us if we reflect how soon France, in spite of,
or by the aid of, democracy, threw off the burden of emptiness. A
recollection of the intellectual destitution of that country at the
beginning of the century and of the passionate avidity with which, on
the return of political tranquillity, France threw herself back on
literary and artistic avocations, should strengthen the nerves of those
pessimists who, at the slightest approach to a similar condition in
modern England, declare that our intellectual prestige is sunken, never
to revive. There is a great elasticity in the tastes of the average
man, and when they have been pushed violently in one direction they
do not remain fixed there, but swing with equal force to the opposite
side. The æsthetic part of mankind may be obscured, it cannot be
obliterated.

The present moment appears to me to be a particularly unhappy one for
indulging in gloomy diatribes against the democracy. Books, although
they constitute the most durable part of literature, are not, in
this day, by any means its sole channel. Periodical literature has
certainly been becoming more and more democratic; and if the editors
of our newspapers gauge in any degree the taste of their readers,
that taste must be becoming more and more inclined to the formal and
distinctive parts of writing. A few years ago, the London newspapers
were singularly indifferent to the claims of books and of the men who
wrote them. An occasional stately column of the _Times_ represented
almost all the notice which a daily paper would take of a volume. The
provincial press was still worse provided; it afforded no light at all
for such of its clients as were groping their way in the darkness of
the book-market.

All this is now changed. One or two of the evening newspapers of
London deserve great commendation for having dared to treat literary
subjects, in distinction from mere reviews of books, as of immediate
public interest. Their example has at length quickened some of the
morning papers, and has spread into the provinces to such a signal
degree that several of the great newspapers of the North of England
are now served with literary matter of a quality and a fulness not
to be matched in a single London daily twenty years ago. When an
eminent man of letters dies, the comments which the London and country
press make upon his career and the nature of his work are often quite
astonishing in their fulness; space being dedicated to these notices
such as, but a few years ago, would have been grudged to a politician
or to a prize-fighter. The newspapers are the most democratic of all
vehicles of thought, and the prominence of literary discussion in their
columns does not look as though the democracy was anxious to be thought
indifferent or hostile to literature.

In all this bustle and reverberation, however, it may be said that
there is not much place for those who desire, like Jean Chapelain,
to live in innocence, with Apollo and with their books. There can be
no question, that the tendency of modern life is not favourable to
sequestered literary scholarship. At the same time, it is a singular
fact that, even in the present day, when a Thomas Love Peacock or an
Edward FitzGerald hides himself in a careful seclusion, like some rare
aquatic bird in a backwater, his work slowly becomes manifest, and
receives due recognition and honour. Such authors do not enjoy great
sales, even when they become famous, but, in spite of their opposition
to the temper of their time, in spite of all obstacles imposed by their
own peculiarities of temperament, they receive, in the long run, a fair
measure of success. They have their hour, sooner or later. More than
that no author of their type could have under any form of political
government, or at any period of history. They should not, and, in
fairness it must be said they rarely do, complain. They know that "Dieu
paie," as Alphonse Karr said, "mais il ne paie pas tous les samedis."

It is the writers who want to be paid every Saturday upon whom
democracy produces the worst effect. It is not the neglect of the
public, it is the facility with which the money can be wheedled out
of the pockets of the public on trifling occasions that constitutes
a danger to literature. There is an enormous quantity of almost
unmitigated shoddy now produced and sold, and the peril is that
authors who are capable of doing better things will be seduced into
adding to this wretched product for the sake of the money. We are
highly solicitous nowadays, and it is most proper that we should be,
about adequate payment for the literary worker. But as long as that
payment is in no sort of degree proportioned to the merit of the
article he produces, the question of its scale of payment must remain
one rather for his solicitor than for the critics. The importance of
our own Society of Authors, for instance, lies, it appears to me,
in its constituting a sort of firm of solicitors acting solely for
literary clients. But the moment we go further than this, we get into
difficulties. The money standard tends to become the standard of merit.
At a recent public meeting, while one of the most distinguished of
living technical writers was speaking for the literary profession,
one of those purveyors of tenth-rate fiction, who supply stories, as
they might supply vegetables, to a regular market, was heard to say
with scorn, "Call _him_ an author?" "Why, yes!" her neighbour replied,
"don't you know he has written so and so, and so and so?" "Well," said
the other, "I should like to know what his sales are before I allowed
he was an author."

It would be highly inopportune to call for a return of the _bonâ fide_
sales of those of our leading authors who are not novelists. It is to
be hoped that no such indulgence to the idlest curiosity will ever be
conceded. But if such a thing were done, it would probably reveal some
startling statistics. It would be found that many of those whose names
are only next to the highest in public esteem do not receive more than
the barest pittance from their writings, even from those which are
most commonly in the mouths of their contemporaries. To mention only
two writers, but these of singular eminence and prominence, it was
not until the later years of their lives that either Robert Browning
or Matthew Arnold began to be sure of even a very moderate pecuniary
return on their books. The curious point was that both of them achieved
fame of a wide and brilliant nature long before their books began to
"move," as publishers call it. It is not easy to think of an example
of this curious fact more surprising than this, that _Friendship's
Garland_ during many years did not pass out of one moderate edition.
This book, published when Arnold was filling the mouths of men with his
paradoxical utterances, lighted up all through with such wit and charm
of style as can hardly, of its kind, be paralleled in recent prose; a
masterpiece, not dealing with remote or abstruse questions, but with
burning matters of the day--this entertaining and admirably modern
volume enjoyed a sale which would mean deplorable failure in the case
of a female novelist of a perfectly subterranean order. This case could
be paralleled, no doubt, by a dozen others, equally striking. I have
just taken up a volume of humour, the production of a "funny man" of
the moment, and I see on its title-page the statement that it is in
its one hundred and nineteenth edition. Of this book, 119,000 copies
have been bought during a space of time equal to that in which Matthew
Arnold sold probably about 119 copies of _Friendship's Garland_. In the
face of these facts it is not possible to say that, though it may buy
well, the democracy buys wisely.

It is this which makes me fear that, as I have said, the democratic
spirit is influencing disadvantageously the quantity rather than the
quality of good literature. It seems to be starving its best men, and
helping its coarsest Jeshuruns to wax fat. The good authors write as
they would have written under any circumstances, valuing their work for
its own sake, and enjoying that state of happiness of which Mr. William
Morris has been speaking, "the happiness only possible to artists and
thieves." But while they produce in this happy mood, the democracy,
which honours their names and displays an inexplicable curiosity about
their persons, is gradually exterminating them by borrowing their books
instead of buying them, and so reducing them to a level just below the
possibility of living by pure literature. The result is, as any list of
the most illustrious living authors (not novelists) will suggest, that
scarcely a single man or woman of them has lived by the production of
books. An amiable poet of the older school, whose name is everywhere
mentioned with honour, used to say that he published books instead
of keeping a carriage, as his fortune would not permit him to afford
both of those luxuries. When we think of the prizes which literature
occasionally offered to serious work in the eighteenth century, it
seems as though there had been a very distinct retrogression in this
respect.

The novel, in short, tends more and more to become the only
professional branch of literature; and this is unfortunate, because the
novel is the branch which shelters the worst work. In other sections
of pure letters, if work is not in any way good, it is cast forth and
no more heard of. But a novel may be utterly silly, be condemned by
every canon of taste, be ignored by the press, and yet may enjoy a
mysterious success, pass through tens of editions, and start its author
on a career which may lead to opulence. It would be interesting to know
what it is that attracts the masses to books of this kind. How do they
hear of them in the first instance? Why does one vapid and lady-like
novel speed on its way, while eleven others, apparently just like unto
it, sink and disappear? How is the public appetite for this insipidity
to be reconciled with the partiality of the same readers for stories
by writers of real excellence? Why do those who have once pleased the
public continue to please it, whatever lapses into carelessness and
levity they permit themselves? I have put these questions over and
over again to those whose business it is to observe and take advantage
of the fluctuations of the book-market, but they give no intelligible
reply. If the Sphinx had asked Oedipus to explain the position of "Edna
Lyall," he would have had to throw himself from the rock.

If the novelists, bad or good, showed in their work the influence of
democracy, they would reward study. But it is difficult to perceive
that they do. The good ones, from Mr. George Meredith downwards, write
to please themselves, in their own manner, just as do the poets, the
critics, and the historians, leaving it to the crowd to take their
books or let them lie. The commonplace ones write blindly, following
the dictates of their ignorance and their inexperience, waiting for the
chance that the capricious public may select a favourite from their
ranks. Almost the only direct influence which the democracy, as at
present constituted in England, seems to bring to bear on novels, is
the narrowing of the sphere of incident and emotion within which they
may disport themselves. It would be too complicated and dangerous a
question to ask here, at the end of an essay, whether that restriction
is a good thing or a bad. The undeniable fact is that whenever an
English novelist has risen to protest against it, the weight of the
democracy has been exercised to crush him. He has been voted "not
quite nice," a phrase of hideous import, as fatal to a modern writer
as the inverted thumb of a Roman matron was to a gladiator. But all
we want now is a very young man strong enough, sincere enough, and
popular enough to insist on being listened to when he speaks of real
things--and perhaps we have found him.

One great novelist our race has however produced, who seems not only to
write under the influence of democracy, but to be absolutely inspired
by the democratic spirit. This is Mr. W. D. Howells, and it is only
by admitting this isolation of his, I think, that we can arrive at
any just comprehension of his place in contemporary literature. It is
the secret of his extreme popularity in America, except in a certain
Europeanised clique; it is the secret of the instinctive dislike of
him, amounting to a blind hereditary prejudice, which is so widely
felt in this country. Mr. Howells is the most exotic, perhaps the only
truly exotic writer of great distinction whom America has produced.
Emerson, and the school of Emerson in its widest sense, being too
self-consciously in revolt against the English oligarchy, out of which
they sprang, to be truly distinguished from it. But England, with
its aristocratic traditions and codes, does not seem to weigh with
Mr. Howells. His books suggest no rebellion against, nor subjection
to, what simply does not exist for him or for his readers. He is
superficially irritated at European pretensions, but essentially, and
when he becomes absorbed in his work as a creative artist, he ignores
everything but that vast level of middle-class of American society out
of which he sprang, which he faithfully represents, and which adores
him. To English readers, the novels of Mr. Howells must always be
something of a puzzle, even if they partly like them, and as a rule
they hate them. But to the average educated American who has not been
to Europe, these novels appear the most deeply experienced and ripely
sympathetic product of modern literature.

When we review the whole field of which some slight outline has here
been attempted, we see much that may cheer and encourage us, and
something, too, that may cause grave apprehension. The alertness and
receptivity of the enormous crowd which a writer may now hope to
address is a pleasant feature. The hammering away at an idea without
inducing it to enter anybody's ears is now a thing of the past. What
was whispered in London yesterday afternoon was known in New York
this morning, and we have the comments of America upon it with our
five o'clock tea to-day. But this is not an unmixed benefit, for if
an impression is now quickly made, it is as quickly lost, and there
is little profit in seeing people receive an idea which they will
immediately forget. Moreover, for those who write what the millions
read, there is something disturbing and unwholesome in this public
roar that is ever rising in their ears. They ensconce themselves in
their study, they draw the curtains, light the lamp, and plunge into
their books, but from the darkness outside comes that distracting and
agitating cry of the public that demands their presence. This is a new
temptation, and indicates a serious danger. But the popular writers
will get used to it, and when they realise how little it really means
it may cease to disturb them. In the meantime, let no man needlessly
dishearten his brethren in this world of disillusions, by losing faith
in the ultimate survival and continuance of literature.

_1891._



HAS AMERICA PRODUCED A POET?



Has America Produced a Poet?


For the audacious query which stands at the head of this essay, it is
not I, but an American editor, who must bear the blame, if blame there
be. It would never have occurred to me to tie such a firebrand to the
tail of any of my little foxes. He gave it to me, just as Mr. Pepys
gave _Gaze not on Swans_ to ingenious Mr. Birkenshaw, to make the best
I could of a bad argument. On the face of it the question is absurd.
There lies on my table a manual of American poetry by Mr. Stedman,
in which the meed of immortality is awarded to about one hundred of
Columbia's sons and daughters. No one who has a right to express an
opinion is likely to deny that the learning, fidelity, and catholic
taste which are displayed in this book are probably at this time of
day shared, in the same degree, with its author, by no other living
Anglo-Saxon writer. Why, then, should not Mr. Stedman's admirable
volume be taken as a complete and satisfactory answer to our editor's
query? Simply because everything is relative, and because it may be
amusing to apply to the subject of Mr. Stedman's criticism a standard
more cosmopolitan and much less indulgent than his. Mr. Stedman has
mapped out the heavens with a telescope; what can an observer detect
with the naked eye?

There is an obvious, and yet a very stringent, sense in which no good
critic could for a moment question that America has produced poets.
A poet is a maker, a man or woman who expresses some mood of vital
passion in a new manner and with adequate art. Turning to the accepted
ranks of English literature, Tickell is a poet on the score of his one
great elegy on Addison, and Wolfe, a century later, by his _Burial
of Sir John Moore_. Those poems were wholly new and impassioned, and
time has no effect upon the fame of their writers. So long as English
poetry continues to be studied a little closely, Tickell and Wolfe
will be visible as diminutive fixed stars in our poetical firmament.
But in a rapid and superficial glance, Wolfe and Tickell disappear.
Let the glance be more and more rapid, and only a few planets of the
first magnitude are seen. In the age before Elizabeth, Chaucer alone
remains; of the Elizabethan galaxy, so glittering and rich, we see at
length only Spenser and Shakespeare; then come successive splendours of
Milton, Dryden, Pope, Gray, Burns; then a cluster again of Wordsworth,
Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats. Last of all, still too low on the
horizon to be definitely measured, Tennyson and Browning. Fifteen names
in all, a sum which might be reduced to ten, perhaps, but never to
fewer than ten, nor expanded, on the same scale, beyond eighteen or
twenty at the outside. These fifteen are the great English poets, the
selected glory and pride of five centuries, the consummation of the
noblest dynasty of verse which the world has ever seen. What I take to
be the problem is, Has America hitherto produced a poet equal to the
least of these, raised as high above any possible vacillation of the
tide of fashion? What an invidious question!

In the first place, I will have nothing to do with the living. They
do not enter into our discussion. There was never a time, in my
opinion, when America possessed among her citizens so various and so
accomplished singers, gifted in so many provinces of song, as in 1888.
But the time has not arrived, and long may it delay, when we shall be
called upon to discuss the ultimate _status_ of the now living poets of
America. From the most aged of them we have not yet, we hope, received
"sad autumn's last chrysanthemum." Those who have departed will alone
be glanced at in these few words. Death is the great solution of
critical continuity, and the bard whom we knew so well, and who died
last night, is nearer already to Chaucer than to us. I shall endeavour
to state quite candidly what my own poor opinion is with regard to the
claim of any dead American to be classed with those fourteen or fifteen
English inheritors of unassailed renown.

One word more in starting. If we admit into our criticism any
patriotic or political prejudice, we may as well cease to wrangle on
the threshold of our discussion. I cannot think that American current
criticism is quite free from this taint of prejudice. In this, if I
am right, Americans sin no more nor less than the rest of us English,
and French; but in America, I confess, the error seems to me to be
occasionally more serious than in Europe. In England we are not
guiltless of permitting the most puerile disputes to embitter our
literary arena, and because a certain historian is a home-ruler or a
certain novelist a Tory, each is anathema to the literary tribunal on
the other side. Such judgments are as pitiable as they are ludicrous;
but when I have watched a polite American smile to encounter such
vagaries of taste in our clubs or drawing-rooms, I have sometimes
wondered how the error which prefers the non-political books of a
Gladstonian to those of a Unionist, on political grounds alone, differs
from that which thinks an American writer must have the advantage, or
some advantage, over an English writer. Each prejudice is natural and
amiable, but neither the one nor the other is exempt from the charge of
puerility. Patriotism is a meaningless term in literary criticism. To
prefer what has been written in our own city, or state, or country, for
that reason alone, is simply to drop the balance and to relinquish all
claims to form a judgment. The true and reasonable lover of literature
refuses to be constrained by any meaner or homelier bond than that of
good writing. His brain and his taste persist in being independent of
his heart, like those of the German soldier who fought through the
campaign before Paris, and who was shot at last with an Alfred de
Musset, thumbed and scored, in his pocket.

One instance of the patriotic fallacy has so often annoyed me that I
will take this opportunity of denouncing it. A commonplace of American
criticism is to compare Keats with a certain Joseph Rodman Drake.
They both died at twenty-five and they both wrote verse. The parallel
ends there. Keats was one of the great writers of the world. Drake
was a gentle imitative bard of the fourth or fifth order, whose gifts
culminated in a piece of pretty fancy called _The Culprit Fay_. Every
principle of proportion is outraged in a conjunction of the names of
Drake and Keats. To compare them is like comparing a graceful shrub
in your garden with the tallest pine that fronts the tempest on the
forehead of Rhodopé.

When the element of prejudice is entirely withdrawn, we have next
to bear in mind the fluctuations of taste in respect to popular
favourites, and the uncertainty that what has pleased us may ever
contrive to please the world again. I have been reminded of the
insecurity of contemporary judgments, and of the process of natural
selection which goes on imperceptibly in criticism, by referring to a
compendium of literature published thirty years ago, and remarkable in
its own time for knowledge, acumen, and candour. In these volumes the
late Robert Carruthers, an excellent scholar in his day and generation,
gives a certain space to the department of American poetry. It is
amusing to think how differently a man of Carruthers's stamp would
cover the same ground to-day. He gives great prominence to Halleck
and Bryant, he treats Longfellow and Poe not inadequately, he spares
brief commendation to Willis and Holmes, and a bare mention to Dana
and Emerson (as a poet). He alludes to no one else; and apart from his
omissions, which are significant enough, nothing can be more curious
than his giving equal _status_ respectively to Halleck and Bryant,
to Willis and Holmes, to Dana and Emerson. Thirty years have passed,
and each of these pairs contains one who has been taken and one who
has been left. Bryant, Holmes, and Emerson exist, and were never more
prominent than to-day; but where are Halleck, Willis, and Dana? Under
the microscope of Mr. Stedman, these latter three together occupy but
half of one page out of four hundred, nor is there the slightest chance
that these writers will ever recover the prominence which they held,
and seemed to hold so securely, little more than a generation ago. The
moral is too obvious to need appending to this suggestive little story.

It is not in America only that a figure which is not really a great
one gets accidentally raised on a pedestal from which it presently has
to be ignominiously withdrawn. But in America, where the interest in
intellectual problems is so keen, and where the dull wholesome bondage
of tradition is unknown, these sudden exaltations are particularly
frequent. When I was in Baltimore (and I have no happier memories of
travel than my recollections of Baltimore) the only crumple in my
rose-leaf was the difficulty of preserving a correct attitude toward
the local deity. When you enter the gates of Johns Hopkins, the
question that is asked is, "What think you of Lanier"? The writer of
the _Marshes of Glynn_ had passed away before I visited Baltimore,
but I heard so much about him that I feel as though I had seen him.
The delicately-moulded ivory features, the profuse and silken beard,
the wonderful eyes waxing and waning during the feverish action
of lecturing, surely I have witnessed the fascination which these
exercised? Baltimore would not have been Baltimore, would have been
untrue to its graceful, generous, and hospitable instincts, if it
had not welcomed with enthusiasm this beautiful, pathetic Southern
stranger. But I am amazed to find that this pardonable idolatry is
still on the increase, although I think it must surely have found its
climax in a little book which my friend, President Gilman, has been
kind enough to send me this year. In this volume I read that Shelley
and Keats, "before disconsolate," now possess a mate; that "God's
touch set the starry splendour of genius upon Lanier's soul"; and that
all sorts of persons, in all sorts of language, exalt him as one of
the greatest poets that ever lived. I notice, however, with a certain
sly pleasure, that on the occasion of this burst of Lanierolatry a
letter was received from Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, "of too private a
character to read." No wonder, for Dr. Holmes is the dupe of no local
enthusiasm, and very well indeed distinguishes between good verse and
bad.

From Baltimore drunk with loyalty and pity I appeal to Baltimore sober.
What are really the characteristics of this amazing and unparalleled
poetry of Lanier? Reading it again, and with every possible inclination
to be pleased, I find a painful effort, a strain and rage, the most
prominent qualities in everything he wrote. Never simple, never easy,
never in one single lyric natural and spontaneous for more than one
stanza, always forcing the note, always concealing his barrenness and
tameness by grotesque violence of image and preposterous storm of
sound, Lanier appears to me to be as conclusively not a poet of genius
as any ambitious man who ever lived, laboured, and failed. I will judge
him by nothing less than those poems which his warmest admirers point
to as his masterpieces; I take _Corn_, _Sunrise_, and _The Marshes of
Glynn_. I persist in thinking that these are elaborate and learned
experiments by an exceedingly clever man, and one who had read so
much and felt so much that he could simulate poetical expression with
extraordinary skill. But of the real thing, of the genuine traditional
article, not a trace.


     _I hear faint bridal-sighs of brown and green_
     _Dying to silent hints of kisses keen_
     _As far lights fringe into a pleasant sheen._


This exemplifies the sort of English, the sort of imagination, the sort
of style which are to make Keats and Shelley--who have found Bryant and
Landor, Rossetti and Emerson, unworthy of their company--comfortable
with a mate at last. If these vapid and eccentric lines were
exceptional, if they were even supported by a minority of sane and
original verse, if Lanier were ever simple or genuine, I would seize
on those exceptions and gladly forget the rest; but I find him on
all occasions substituting vague, cloudy rhetoric for passion, and
tortured fancy for imagination, always striving, against the grain, to
say something prophetic and unparalleled, always grinding away with
infinite labour and the sweat of his brow to get that expressed which a
real poet murmurs, almost unconsciously, between a sigh and a whisper.


     _Wheresoe'er I turn my view,_
     _All is strange, yet nothing new;_
     _Endless labour all along,_
     _Endless labour to be wrong._


Lanier must have been a charming man, and one who exercised a great
fascination over those who knew him. But no reasonable critic can turn
from what has been written about Lanier to what Lanier actually wrote,
and still assert that he was the Great American Poet.

It is not likely to be seriously contended that there were in 1888
more than four of the deceased poets of America who need to have their
claims discussed in connection with the highest honours in the art.
These are Longfellow, Bryant, Emerson, Poe. There is one other name
which, it may seem to some of my readers, ought to be added to this
list. But originality was so entirely lacking in the composition of
that versatile and mellifluous talent to which I allude, that I will
not even mention here the fifth name. I ask permission rapidly to
inquire whether Longfellow, Bryant, Emerson and Poe are worthy of a
rank beside the greatest English twelve.

In the first place, what are we to say of Longfellow? I am very far
from being one of those who reject the accomplished and delicate work
of this highly-trained artist. If I may say so, no chapter of Mr.
Stedman's book seems to me to surpass in skill that in which he deals
with the works of Longfellow, and steers with infinite tact through
the difficulties of the subject. In the face of those impatient
youngsters who dare to speak of Longfellow and of Tupper in a breath,
I assert that the former was, within his limitations, as true a poet
as ever breathed. His skill in narrative was second only to that of
Prior and of Lafontaine. His sonnets, the best of them, are among the
most pleasing objective sonnets in the language. Although his early,
and comparatively poor, work was exaggeratedly praised, his head was
not turned, but, like a conscientious artist, he rose to better and
better things, even at the risk of sacrificing his popularity. It
is a pleasure to say this at the present day, when Longfellow's fame
has unduly declined; but it is needless, of course, to dwell on the
reverse of the medal, and disprove what nobody now advances, that he
was a great or original poet. Originality and greatness were just the
qualities he lacked. I have pointed out elsewhere that Longfellow
was singularly under Swedish influences, and that his real place is
in Swedish literature, chronologically between Tegnér and Runeberg.
Doubtless he seemed at first to his own people more original than he
was, through his habit of reproducing an exotic tone very exactly.

Bryant appears to me to be a poet of a less attractive but somewhat
higher class than Longfellow. His versification is mannered, and
his expressions are directly formed on European models, but his
sense of style was so consistent that his careful work came to be
recognisable. His poetry is a hybrid of two English stocks, closely
related; he belongs partly to the Wordsworth of _Tintern Abbey_,
partly to the Coleridge of _Mont Blanc_. The imaginative formula is
Wordsworth's, the verse is the verse of Coleridge, and having in very
early youth produced this dignified and novel flower, Bryant did
not try to blossom into anything different, but went on cultivating
the Coleridge-Wordsworth hybrid down to the days of Rossetti and of
Villanelles. But Wordsworth and Coleridge had not stayed at the _Mont
Blanc_ and _Tintern Abbey_ point. They went on advancing, developing,
altering, and declining to the end of their days. The consequence is
that the specimens of the Bryant variety do not strike us as remarkably
like the general work of Wordsworth or of Coleridge. As I have said,
although he borrowed definitely and almost boldly, in the first
instance, the very persistence of Bryant's style, the fact that he
was influenced once by a very exquisite and noble kind of poetry, and
then never any more, through a long life, by any other verse, combined
with his splendid command of those restricted harmonies the secret of
which he had conquered, made Bryant a very interesting and valuable
poet. But in discussing his comparative position, it appears to me to
be impossible to avoid seeing that his want of positive novelty--the
derived character of his sentiment, his verse, and his description--is
absolutely fatal to his claim to a place in the foremost rank. He
is exquisitely polished, full of noble suavity and music, but his
irreparable fault is to be secondary, to remind us always of his
masters first, and only on reflection of himself. In this he contrasts
to a disadvantage with one who is somewhat akin to him in temperament,
Walter Savage Landor. We may admit that Byrant is more refined, more
uniformly exquisite than Landor, but the latter has a flavour of his
own, something quite original and Landorian, which makes him continue
to live, while Byrant's reputation slowly fades away, like the stately
crystal gables of an iceberg in summer. The "Water-Fowl" pursues its
steady flight through the anthologies, but Bryant is not with the great
masters of poetry.

We ascend, I think, into a sphere where neither Bryant nor Longfellow,
with all their art, have power to wing their way, when we read such
verses as


     _Musketaquit, a goblin strong,_
       _Of shard and flint makes jewels gay;_
     _They lose their grief who hear his song,_
       _And where he winds is the day of day._

     _So forth and brighter fares my stream;_
       _Who drinks it shall not thirst again;_
     _No darkness stains its equal gleam,_
       _And ages drop in it like rain._


If Emerson had been frequently sustained at the heights he was
capable of reaching, he would unquestionably have been one of the
sovereign poets of the world. At its very best his phrase is so new
and so magical, includes in its easy felicity such a wealth of fresh
suggestion and flashes with such a multitude of side-lights, that we
cannot suppose that it will ever be superseded or will lose its charm.
He seems to me like a very daring but purblind diver, who flings
himself headlong into the ocean, and comes up bearing, as a rule,
nothing but sand and common shells, yet who every now and then rises
grasping some wonderful and unique treasure. In his prose, of course,
Emerson was far more a master of the medium than in poetry. He never
became an easy versifier; there seems to have been always a difficulty
to him, although an irresistible attraction, in the conduct of a piece
of work confined within rhyme and rhythm. He starts with a burst of
inspiration; the wind drops and his sails flap the mast before he is
out of port; a fresh puff of breeze carries him round the corner; for
another page, the lyrical _afflatus_ wholly gone, he labours with the
oar of logic; when suddenly the wind springs up again, and he dances
into a harbour. We are so pleased to find the voyage successfully
accomplished that we do not trouble to inquire whether or no this
particular port was the goal he had before him at starting. I think
there is hardly one of Emerson's octosyllabic poems of which this will
not be found to be more or less an accurate allegorical description.
This is not quite the manner of Milton or Shelley, although it may
possess its incidental advantages.

It cannot be in candour denied that we obtain a very strange impression
by turning from what has been written about Emerson to his own poetry.
All his biographers and critics unite, and it is very sagacious of
them to do so, in giving us little anthologies of his best lines and
stanzas, just as writers on _Hudibras_ extract miscellanies of the
fragmentary wit of Butler. Judged by a chain of these selected jewels,
Emerson gives us the impression of high imagination and great poetical
splendour. But the volume of his verse, left to produce its own effect,
does not fail to weaken this effect. I have before me at this moment
his first collected _Poems_, published, as he said, at "the solstice
of the stars of his intellectual firmament." It holds the brilliant
fragments that we know so well, but it holds them as a mass of dull
quartz may sparkle with gold dust. It has odes about Contocook and
Agischook and the Over-God, long nebulous addresses to no one knows
whom, about no one knows what; for pages upon pages it wanders away
into mere cacophonous eccentricity. It is Emerson's misfortune as a
poet that his technical shortcomings are for ever being more severely
reproved by his own taste and censorship than we should dare to
reprove them. To the author of _The World-Soul_, in shocking verses,
we silently commend his own postulate in exquisite prose, that "Poetry
requires that splendour of expression which carries with it the proof
of great thoughts." Emerson, as a verse-writer, is so fragmentary and
uncertain that we cannot place him among the great poets; and yet his
best lines and stanzas seem as good as theirs. Perhaps we ought to
consider him, in relation to Wordsworth and Shelley, as an asteroid
among the planets.

It is understood that Edgar Allen Poe is still unforgiven in New
England. "Those singularly valueless verses of Poe," was the now
celebrated _dictum_ of a Boston prophet. It is true that, if "that most
beguiling of all little divinities, Miss Walters of the _Transcript_,"
is to be implicitly believed, Edgar Poe was very rude and naughty at
the Boston Lyceum in the spring of 1845. But surely bygones should be
bygones, and Massachusetts might now pardon the _Al Aaraaf_ incident.
It is not difficult to understand that there were many sides on which
Poe was likely to be long distasteful to Boston, Cambridge, and
Concord. The intellectual weight of the man, though unduly minimised
in New England, was inconsiderable by the side of that of Emerson. But
in poetry, as one has to be always insisting, the battle is not to the
strong; and apart from all faults, weaknesses, and shortcomings of Poe,
we feel more and more clearly, or we ought to feel, the perennial charm
of his verses. The posy of his still fresh and fragrant poems is larger
than that of any other deceased American writer, although Emerson may
have one or two single blossoms to show which are more brilliant than
any of his. If the range of the Baltimore poet had been wider, if Poe
had not harped so persistently on his one theme of remorseful passion
for the irrecoverable dead, if he had employed his extraordinary,
his unparalleled gifts of melodious invention, with equal skill, in
illustrating a variety of human themes, he must have been with the
greatest poets. For in Poe, in pieces like _The Haunted Palace_, _The
Conqueror Worm_, _The City in the Sea_, and _For Annie_, we find two
qualities which are as rare as they are invaluable, a new and haunting
music, which constrains the hearer to follow and imitate, and a command
of evolution in lyrical work so absolute that the poet is able to do
what hardly any other lyrist has dared to attempt, namely, as in _To
One in Paradise_, to take a normal stanzaic form, and play with it as a
great pianist plays with an air.

So far as the first of these attributes is concerned, Poe has proved
himself to be the Piper of Hamelin to all later English poets. From
Tennyson to Austin Dobson there is hardly one whose verse-music does
not show traces of Poe's influence. To impress the stamp of one's
personality on a succeeding generation of artists, to be an almost
(although not wholly) flawless technical artist one's self, to charm
within a narrow circle to a degree that shows no sign, after forty
years, of lessening, is this to prove a claim to rank with the Great
Poets? No, perhaps not quite; but at all events it is surely to have
deserved great honour from the country of one's birthright.

_1889._



WHAT IS A GREAT POET?



What is a Great Poet?


The answer to the question, "Has America produced a Poet?" which
was published in the _Forum_, called forth a surprising amount of
attention from the press in England as well as in America. It was quite
impossible, and I did not expect, that such an expression of personal
opinion would pass without being challenged. In America, particularly,
it could not but disturb some traditions and wound some prejudices. But
in the present instance, as always before, it has been my particular
fortune to find that where criticism--by which I mean, not censure, but
analysis--is candid and sincere, it meets in America with sincere and
candid readers. In parenthesis, I may add, that when literary criticism
of this kind is ill received in America, the fault usually lies with
that unhappy system of newspaper reverberation by which "scraps" or
"items," removed from their context and slightly altered at each fresh
removal, go the round of the press, and are presently commented upon
by journalists who have never seen what the critic originally wrote.
In reading some of the principal articles which my essay called forth,
I find one point dwelt upon, in various ways, in almost all of them. I
find a fresh query started as to the standard which we are to take as a
measurement for imaginative writers; and it seems to me that it may be
interesting to carry our original inquiry a step further back, and to
ask, What is a great poet?

If we are to limit the number of the most illustrious and commanding
names, as I attempted to do, it is plain that we must also confine
the historical range of our inquiry. Some of my reviewers objected to
my selection being made among English poets only, and several of them
attempted lists which included the poets of Europe or of the world.
Yet, without exception, those critics displayed their national bias by
the large proportion of Anglo-Saxon worthies whom they could not bring
themselves to exclude from their dozen. Shakespeare must be there,
and Milton, Chaucer, Wordsworth, and Shelley; already a third of the
majestic company is English. One reviewer, who had been lately studying
the Anthology, could not persuade himself to omit several of those
dying dolphins of Byzantine song that drew the shallop of Agathias up
into the Golden Horn; and this when the whole tale of bards was not to
exceed fifteen at most. One reviewer went to Iceland for a name, and
another to Persia--charming excursions both of them, but calculated to
exhaust our resources prematurely. The least reflection will remind
us that the complexity and excessive fulness of modern interests have
invaded literature also, and the history of literature; to select from
all time a dozen greatest names is a task of doubtful propriety, and
certainly not to be lightly undertaken. It was all very well, in the
morning of time, for the ancient critics to regulate their body-guards
of Apollo by the numbers of the Muses or the Graces. Nothing could be
pleasanter than that tale of the great lyrical poets of the world which
we find so often repeated in slightly varying form:

"The mighty voice of Pindar has thundered out of Thebes. The lyre of
Simonides modulates a song of delicate melody. What brilliancy in
Ibycus and Stesichorus! What sweetness in Alcman! From the mouth of
Bacchylides there breathe delicious accents. Persuasion exhales from
the lips of Anacreon. In the Æolian voice of Alcæus we hear once more
the Lesbian swan; and as for Sappho, that ninth great lyric poet, is
not her place, rather, tenth among the Muses?"

If we are contributing lists of a dozen great poets, here are
three-fourths of the company already summoned; yet splendid as are
these names, and doubtless of irreproachable genius, the roll is, for
modern purposes, awkwardly overweighted. Even if for those whose works
Time has overwhelmed, we substitute the Æschylus, Sophocles, Euripides,
Theocritus, whom he has spared, the list is still impracticable and
one-sided. Yet who shall say that these were not great poets in every
possible sense of the word? From each of several modern European
nations, from Italy and from France at least, a magnificent list of
twelve could be selected, not one of whom their compatriots could
afford to lose. Nay, even Sweden or Holland would present us with a
list of twelve which should seem indisputably great to a Dutchman or
a Swede. It is not possible to spread the net so wide as to catch
whales from all the ancient and all the modern languages at once. Let
us restrain our ambition and see what criterion we have for measuring
those of our own tongue and race.

Passing in review, then, the whole five centuries which divide us from
the youth of Chaucer, we would seek to discover what qualities have
raised a limited number of the poetical writers of those successive
ages of English thought to a station permanently and splendidly
exalted. Among the almost innumerable genuine poets of those five
hundred years, are there ten or twelve who are manifestly greater than
the rest, and if so, in what does their greatness consist?

We are not here occupied with the old threadbare question, "What is
a poet"? but we may reply to it so far as to insist that when we are
speaking and thinking in English the term excludes all writers, however
pathetic and fanciful, who do not employ the metrical form. In many
modern languages the word poet, _dichter_, includes novelists and
all other authors of prose fiction. I once learned this to my cost,
for having published a short summary of the writings of the living
"poets" of a certain continental country, one of the leading (if not
the leading) novelist of that country, exclusively a writer in prose,
indignantly upbraided me for the obviously personal slight I had shown
him in leaving him entirely unmentioned. In English we possess and
should carefully maintain the advantage which accrues from having a
word so distinct in its meaning; and we may recollect that there is no
trick in literary criticism more lax and silly than that of talking
about "prose poetry" (a contradiction in terms), or about such men as
Carlyle, Mr. Ruskin, or Jefferies as "poets." The greatness we are
discussing to-day is a quality wholly confined to those who have made
it their chief duty to speak to us in verse.

On these lines, perhaps, the main elements of poetical greatness will
be found to be originality in the treatment of themes, perennial
charm, exquisite finish in execution, and distinction of individual
manner. The great poet, in other words, will be seen, through the
perspectives of history, to have been fresher, stronger, more skilful,
and more personal than his unsuccessful or less successful rival.
When the latter begins to recede into obscurity it will be because
prejudices that blinded criticism are being removed, and because the
candidate for immortality is being found to be lacking in one or all of
these peculiar qualities. And here, of course, comes in the disputed
question of the existence of genius. I confess that that controversy
seems to me to rest on a mere metaphysical quibble. Robert McTavish
is a plough-boy, and ends at the plough's tail. Robert Burns is a
plough-boy, and ends by being set up, like Berenice's hair, as a glory
and a portent in the intellectual zenith of all time. Are they the same
to start with? Is it merely a question of taking pains, of a happy
accident--of luck, in short? A fiddlestick's end for such a theory!
Just as well might we say that a young vine that is to produce, in its
season, a bottle of corton, is the same as a similar stick that will
issue in a wretched draught of _vin bleu_. That which, from its very
cotyledons, has distinguished the corton plant from its base brother,
that is genius.

But even thus the discussion is vain and empty. What we have to deal
with is the work and not the man. So long as we all feel that there
is some quality of charm, vigour, and brightness which exists in Pope
and is absent in Eusden, is discoverable in a tragedy of Shakespeare
and is wanting in a transpontine melodrama, so long, whether we call
this quality by the good old name of genius, or explain it away in the
jargon of some new-fangled sociography, we shall have basis enough for
the conduct of our particular inquiry.

Perhaps I may now be permitted to recapitulate the list of a dozen
English poets whom I ventured to quote as the manifest immortals of
our British Parnassus. They are Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton,
Dryden, Pope, Gray, Burns, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley,
Keats. It will be noticed that there are thirteen names here, and my
reviewers have not failed to remind me that it is notoriously difficult
to count the stars. The fact is that Gray, the real thirteenth, was an
after-thought; and I will admit that, although Gray is the author of
what is perhaps the most imposing single short poem in the language,
and although he has charm, skill, and distinction to a marvellous
degree, his originality, his force of production, were so rigidly
limited that he may scarcely be admitted to the first rank. When he
published his collected poems Gray confessed himself "but a shrimp of
an author," and conjectured that the book would be mistaken for "the
works of a flea or a pismire." No doubt the explosive force which eggs
a very great writer on to constant expression was lacking in the
case of Gray, and I yield him--a tender babe, and the only one of my
interesting family which I will consent to throw to the wolves. The
rest are inviolable, and I will defend them to the last; but I can only
put a lance in rest here for two of them.

The absence of a truly catholic taste, and the survival of an exclusive
devotion to the romantic ideals of the early part of the present
century, must, I suppose, be the cause of a tendency, on the part of
some of those who have replied to me, to question the right of Dryden
and Pope to appear on my list of great poets. It appears that Dryden is
very poorly thought of at Crawfordsville, Indiana, and even at busier
centres of American taste he is reported as being not much of a power.
"Dryden is not read in America," says one of my critics, with jaunty
confidence. They say that we in England are sometimes harsh in our
estimates of America; but I confess I do not know the Englishman bold
enough to have charged America with the shocking want of taste which
these children of her own have so lightly volunteered to attribute to
her. Dryden not read in America! It makes one wonder what is read.
Probably Miss Amélie Rives?

But to be serious, I can conceive nothing more sinister for the future
of English literature than that to any great extent, or among any
influential circle of reading and writing men, the majesty and sinewy
force of the most masculine of all the English poets should be despised
and rejected. Something of a temper less hurried than that of the man
who runs and reads is no doubt required for the appreciation of that
somewhat heavy-footed and sombre giant of tragic and of narrative song,
John Dryden, warring with dunces, marching with sunken head--"a down
look," as Pope described it--through the unappreciative flat places of
our second Charles and James. Prosaic at times he is, slow, fatigued,
unstimulating; but, at his best, how full of the true sublime, how
uplifted by the wind of tragic passion, how stirred to the depths by
the noblest intellectual and moral enthusiasm! For my own part, there
are moments and moods in which nothing satisfies my ear and my brain
as do the great accents of Dryden, while he marches down the page,
with his elephants and his standards and his kettledrums, "in the full
vintage of his flowing honours."

There must be something effeminate and feeble in the nervous system of
a generation which cannot bear this grandiose music, this virile tramp
of Dryden's soldiers and camp-followers; something singularly dull and
timid in a spirit that rejects this robust intellectual companion. And,
with all his russet suit of homespun, Dryden is imbued to the core with
the truest and richest blood of poetry. His vehemence is positively
Homeric; we would not give _Mac Flecknoe_ in exchange even for the lost
_Margites_. He possesses in a high degree all the qualities which we
have marked as needed for the attribution of greatness. He is original
to that extent that mainly by his efforts the entire stream of English
poetry was diverted for a century and a half into an unfamiliar
channel; he has an executive skill eminently his own, and is able to
amaze us to-day after so many subsequent triumphs of verse-power; he
has distinction such as an emperor might envy; and after all the poets
of the eighteenth century have, as Mr. Lowell says, had their hands in
his pockets, his best lines are as fresh and as magical as ever.

Pope I will not defend so warmly, and yet Pope also was a great poet.
Two of my American critics, bent on refuting me, have severally availed
themselves of a somewhat unexpected weapon. Each of them reminds me
that Mr. Lang, in some recent number of a magazine, has said that
Pope is not a poet at all. Research might prove that this heresy is
not entirely unparalleled, yet I am unconvinced. I yield to no one in
respect and affection for Mr. Lang, but in criticising that with which
he feels no personal sympathy, he is merely a "young light-hearted
master of the oar" of temperament. When Mr. Lang blesses, the object is
blest; when he curses, he may bless to-morrow. Some day he will find
himself alone in a country-house with a Horace; old chords will be
touched, the mystery of Pope will reveal itself to him, and we shall
have a panegyric that will make Lady Mary writhe in her grave. Let no
transatlantic, or cisatlantic, infidel of letters be profane at the
expense of a classic by way of pleasing Mr. Lang; his next emotion is
likely to be "_un sentiment obscur d'avoir embrassé la Chimère_."

To justify one's confidence in the great poetic importance of Pope is
somewhat difficult. It needs a fuller commentary and a longer series
of references than can be given here. But let us recollect that the
nature-worship and nature-study of to-day may grow to seem a complete
fallacy, a sheer persistence in affectation, and that then, to readers
of new tastes and passions, Wordsworth and Shelley will be as Pope is
now, that is to say, supported entirely by their individual merits.
At this moment, to the crowd, he is doubtless less attractive than
they are; he is on the shady side, they on the sunny side of fashion.
But the author of the end of the second book of _The Rape of the
Lock_, of the close of _The New Dunciad_, of the Sporus portrait, and
of the _Third Moral Essay_, has qualities of imagination, applied
to human character, and of distinction, applied to a formal and
delicately-elaborated style, which are unsurpassed, even perhaps by
Horace himself. Satirist after satirist has chirped like a wren from
the head of Pope; where are they now? Where is the great, the terrific,
the cloud-compelling Churchill? Meanwhile, in the midst of a generation
persistently turned away from all his ideas and all his models, the
clear voice of Pope still rings from the arena of Queen Anne.

After all, this is mere assertion, and what am I that I should pretend
to lay down the law? If we seek, on the authority of whomsoever, to
raise an infallible standard of taste, and to arrange the poets in
classes, like schoolboys, then our inquiry is futile indeed, and worse
than futile. But the interest which this controversy has undoubtedly
called forth seems to prove that there is a side on which such
questions as have been started are not unwelcome nor unworthy of
careful study. It is not useless, I fancy, to remind ourselves now and
then of the very high standard which literature has a right to demand
from its more earnest votaries. In the hurry of life, in the glare of
passing interests, we are apt to lose breadth of sympathy, and to make
our own personal and temporary enjoyment of a book the criterion of its
value. I may take up Selden's _Titles of Honour_, turn over a page or
two, and lay it down in favour of the new number of _Punch_. I must not
for this reason pledge myself to placing the comic paper of to-day in a
niche above the best work of a great Elizabethan prose writer. But when
a modern American says that he finds better poetry in Longfellow than
in Chaucer, he is doing, to a less exaggerated degree, precisely this
very thing. He feels his contemporary sympathies and limited experience
soothed and entertained by the facile numbers of _Evangeline_, and he
does not extract an equal amount of amusement and pleasure from _The
Knight's Tale_.

From one point of view it is very natural that this should be so, and
a critic would be priggish indeed who should gravely reprove such a
preference. The result would be, not to force the reader to Chaucer,
but to drive him away from poetry altogether. The ordinary man reads
what he finds gives him the pure and wholesome stimulus he needs. But
if such a reader, in the pride of his heart, should take upon himself
to dogmatise, and to tell us that Longfellow's poetry is better than
Chaucer's, we should be obliged to remind him that there are several
factors to be taken into account before he can carry us away with him
on the neck of such a theory. He has to consider how long the charm of
Chaucer has endured, and how short a time the world has had to make
up its mind about Longfellow; he has to appreciate the relation of
Chaucer to his own contemporaries, the boldness of his invasion into
realms until his day unconquered, the inevitable influence of time in
fretting, wasting, and blanching the surface of the masterpieces of the
past. To be just, he has to consider the whirligig of literature, and
to ask himself whether, in the year 2289, after successive revolutions
of taste and repetitions of performance, the works of Longfellow are
reasonably likely to possess the positive value which scholars, at all
events, still find in those of Chaucer. Not until all these, and still
more, irregularities of relative position are taken into account, can
the value of the elder and the later poet be lightly laid in opposite
balances.

There has been no great disposition to produce English candidates for
the places of any of my original dozen. The _Saturday Review_ thinks
that I ought to have included Walter Scott, and the _St. James's
Gazette_ suggests Marlowe. There is much to be said for the claims of
each of these poets, and I am surprised that no one has put in a plea
for Herrick or Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Of Marlowe, indeed, we can
to this day write nothing better than Michael Drayton wrote:


           _Marlowe, bathed in the Thespian springs,_
     _Had in him those brave translunary things_
     _That our first poets had; his raptures were_
     _All air and fire, which made his verses clear;_
     _For that fine madness still he did retain,_
     _Which rightly should possess a poet's brain._


He had the freshness and splendour of Heosphoros, the bearer of light,
the kindler of morning; as the dawn-star of our drama, he ascended the
heavens, in the auroral flush of youth, to announce the approaching
majesty of Shakespeare. But his early death, and the unexampled
character of the genius who superseded him, have for centuries
obscured the name of Marlowe, which scintillated half-extinguished
in the blaze of _Hamlet_ and _Othello_. His reputation has, however,
increased during the last generation with greater rapidity than that
of any other of our elder poets, and a time may yet come when we shall
have popularly isolated him from Shakespeare to such a degree as to
enforce a recognition of his individual greatness. At the present
moment to give him a place among the twelve might savour of affectation.

In the case of Scott, I must still be firm in positively excluding
him, although his name is one of the most beloved in literature. The
_Waverley Novels_ form Scott's great claim to our reverence, and, save
for the songs scattered through them, have nothing to say to us here.
Scott's long narrative poems are really Waverley Novels told in easy,
ambling verse, and to a great measure, I must confess, spoiled, I
think, by such telling. For old memory's sake we enjoy them still,


     _Full sore amaz'd at the wondrous change,_
       _And frighten'd as a child might be_
     _At the wild yell and visage strange,_
       _And the dark words of gramarye_;


but the stuff is rather threadbare, surely. The best passages are
those in which, with skill not less than that of Milton, Scott marshals
heroic lists of Highland proper names. Scott was a very genuine poet
"within his own limitations," as has been said of another favourite,
whose name I will not here repeat. His lyrics, of very unequal merit,
are occasionally of wondrous beauty. I think it will be found, upon
very careful study of his writings, that he published eight absolutely
perfect lyrical pieces, and about as many more that were very good
indeed. This is much, and to how few can so high a tribute be paid! Yet
this is not quite sufficient claim to a place on the summits of English
song. Scott was essentially a great prose-writer, with a singular
facility in verse.

If this amiable controversy, started in the first instance at the
request of the Editor of the _Forum_, has led us to examine a little
more closely the basis of our literary convictions, and, above all, if
it has led any of us to turn again to the fountain-heads of English
literature, it has not been without its importance. One danger which
I have long foreseen from the spread of the democratic sentiment, is
that of the traditions of literary taste, the canons of literature,
being reversed with success by a popular vote. Up to the present time,
in all parts of the world, the masses of uneducated or semi-educated
persons, who form the vast majority of readers, though they cannot
and do not appreciate the classics of their race, have been content
to acknowledge their traditional supremacy. Of late there have seemed
to me to be certain signs, especially in America, of a revolt of the
mob against our literary masters. In the less distinguished American
newspapers which reach me, I am sometimes startled by the boldness with
which a great name, like Wordsworth's or Dryden's, will be treated
with indignity. If literature is to be judged by a _plébiscite_ and if
the _plebs_ recognises its power, it will certainly by degrees cease
to support reputations which give it no pleasure and which it cannot
comprehend. The revolution against taste, once begun, will land us in
irreparable chaos. It is, therefore, high time that those who recognise
that there is no help for us in literature outside the ancient laws and
precepts of our profession, should vigorously support the fame of those
fountains of inspiration, the impeccable masters of English.

_1889._



MAKING A NAME IN LITERATURE



Making a Name in Literature


An American editor has asked me to say how a literary reputation is
formed. It is like asking one how wood is turned into gold, or how
real diamonds can be manufactured. If I knew the answer, it is not in
the pages of a review that I should print it. I should bury myself in
a cottage in the woods, exercise my secret arts, and wait for Fame
to turn her trumpet into a hunting-horn, and wake the forest-echoes
with my praises. In one of Mr. Stockton's stories a princess sets all
the wise men of her dominions searching for the lost secret of what
root-beer should be made of. The philosophers fail to discover it, and
the magicians exhaust their arts in vain. Not the slightest light is
thrown on the abstruse problem, until at last an old woman is persuaded
to reveal that it ought to be made of roots. In the same way, the only
quite obvious answer to the query, How should a literary reputation
be formed? is to reply, By thinking nothing at all about reputation,
but by writing earnestly and carefully on the subjects and in the
style most congenial to your habits of mind. But this is too obvious,
and leads to no further result. Besides, I see that the question is
not, how should be, but how is, a literary reputation formed. I will
endeavour, then, to give expression to such observations as I may have
formed on this latter subject.

A literary reputation, as here intended, is obviously not the eternal
fame of a Shakespeare, which appears likely to last for ever, nor
even that of a Dickens, which must endure till there comes a complete
revolution of taste, but the inferior form of repute which is enjoyed
by some dozens of literary people in each generation, and makes a
centre for the admiration or envy of the more enthusiastic or idler
portion of their contemporaries. There is as much cant in denying the
attractiveness of such temporary glory as there is in exaggerating its
weight and importance. To stimulate the minds of those who surround
him, to captivate their attention and excite their curiosity, is
pleasing to the natural man. We look with suspicion on the author
who protests too loudly that he does not care whether he is admired
or not. We shrewdly surmise that inwardly he cares very much indeed.
This instinctive wish for reputation is one of the great incentives to
literary exertion.

Fame and money--these are the two chief spurs which drive the author
on. The statement may sound ignoble, and the writers of every
generation persist in avowing that they write only to amuse themselves
and to do good in their generation. The noble lady in _Lothair_
wished that she might never eat, or if at all, only a little fruit by
moonlight on a bank. She, nevertheless, was always punctual at her
dinner; and the author who protests his utter indifference to money and
reputation is commonly excessively sensitive when an attack is made on
his claims in either direction. Literary reputation is relative, of
course. There may be a village fame which does not burn very brightly
in the country town, and provincial stars that look very pale in a
great city. The circumstances, however, under which all the various
degrees of fame are reached, are, I think, closely analogous, and what
is true of the local celebrity is true, relatively, of a Victor Hugo
or of a Tennyson. The importance of the reputation is shown by the
expanse of the area it covers, not by the curve of its advance. The
circle of a great man's fame is extremely wide, but it only repeats on
a vast scale the phenomena attending on the fame of a small man.

The three principal ways in which a literary reputation is formed
appear to be these: reviews, private conversation among the leaders
of opinion, and the instinctive attraction which leads the general
public to discover for itself what is calculated to give it pleasure.
I will briefly indicate the manner in which these three seem to act
at the present moment on the formation of notoriety and its attendant
success, in the case of English authors. First of all, it is not
unworthy of note that reputation, or fame, and monetary success, are
not identical, although the latter is frequently the satellite of the
former. One extraordinary example of their occasional remoteness, which
may be mentioned without impertinence on the authority of the author
himself, is the position of Mr. Herbert Spencer. In any list of living
Englishmen eminently distinguished for the originality and importance
of their books, Mr. Spencer cannot fail to be ranked high. Yet, as
every student of his later work knows, he stated in the preface of
one of those bald and inexpensive volumes in which he enshrines his
thought, that up to a comparatively recent date the sale of his books
did not cover the cost of their publication. This was the case of a man
famous, it is not too much to say, in every civilised country in the
globe.

In pure literature there is probably no second existing instance so
flagrant as this. But, to take only a few of the most illustrious
Englishmen of letters, it is matter of common notoriety that the sale
of the books of, say, Mr. Swinburne and Mr. Leslie Stephen, the Bishop
of Oxford (Dr. Stubbs) and Mr. Lecky, considerable as it may now have
become, for a long time by no means responded to the lofty rank which
each of these authors has taken in the esteem of educated people
throughout the Anglo-Saxon world. The reverse is still more curious and
unaccountable. Why is it that there are writers of no merit at all,
who sell their books in thousands where people of genius sell theirs
in scores, yet without ever making a reputation? At the time when
Tupper was far more popular than Tennyson, and Eliza Cook enjoyed ten
times the commercial success of Browning, even the votaries of these
poetasters did not claim a higher place for them, or even a high place
at all. They bought their books because they liked them, but the buyers
evidently did not imagine that purchase gave their temporary favourites
any rank in the hierarchy of fame. These things are a mystery, but the
distinction between commercial success and fame is one which must be
drawn. We are speaking here of reputation, whether attended by vast
sales or only by barren honour.

Reviews have no longer the power which they enjoyed seventy years ago,
of making or even of marring the fortunes of a book. When there existed
hundreds of private book clubs throughout the country, each one of
which proceeded to buy a copy of whatever the _Edinburgh_ recommended,
then the reviewer was a great personage in the land. We may see in
Lockhart's _Life of Scott_ that Sir Walter, even at the height of his
success, and when, as Ellis said, he was "the greatest elephant in the
world" except himself, was seriously agitated by Jeffrey's cold review
of _Marmion_, not through irritable peevishness, which was wholly
foreign to Scott's magnanimous nature, but because a slighting review
was enough to cripple a book, and a slashing review to destroy it.
There is nothing of this kind now. No newspaper exists in Great Britain
which is able to sell an edition of a book by praising it. I doubt if
any review, under the most favourable circumstances and coming from the
most influential quarter, causes two hundred copies of a book to be
bought. A signed article by Mr. Gladstone is, of course, an exception;
yet some have doubted of late whether a book may not be found so inept
and so heavy as not to stir even at the summons of that voice.

The reviews in the professional literary papers are still understood
to be useful in the case of unknown writers. A young author without a
friend, if he has merit, and above all if he has striking originality,
is almost sure to attract the notice of some beneficent reviewer, and
be praised in the columns of one or other of the leading weeklies.
These are the circumstances under which the native kindliness of the
irritable race is displayed most freely. The envy which sees merit in
a new man and determines to crush it with silence or malignant attack,
is inhuman, and practically, I fancy, scarcely exists. The entirely
unheard-of writer wounds no susceptibilities, awakens no suspicions,
and even excites a pleasurable warmth of patronage. It is a little
later on, when the new man is quite new no longer, but is becoming a
formidable rival, that evil passions are aroused, or sometimes seem to
have been aroused, in pure literary bosoms. The most sincere reviews
are often those which treat the works of unknown writers, and this is
perhaps the reason why the shrewd public still permits itself to be
moved by these when they are strongly favourable. At any rate, every
new-comer must be introduced to our crowded public to be observed at
all, and to new-comers the review is still the indispensable master of
the ceremonies.

But the power of reviews to create this form of literary reputation
has of late been greatly circumscribed. The public grows less and less
the dupe of an anonymous judgment, expressed in the columns of one of
the too-numerous organs of public opinion. A more _naïve_ generation
than ours was overawed by the nameless authority which moved behind
a review. Ours, on the contrary, is apt to go too far, and pay no
notice, because it does not know the name of a writer. The author who
writhed under the humiliation of attack in a famous paper, little
suspected that his critic was one Snooks, an inglorious creature whose
acquaintance with the matter under discussion was mainly taken from
the book he was reviewing. But, on the other hand, there is that story
of the writer of some compendium of Greek history severely handled
anonymously by the _Athenæum_, whose scorn of the nameless critic gave
way to horror and shame when he discovered him to have been no other
than Mr. Grote. On the whole, when we consider the careful, learned,
and judicial reviews which are still to be found, like grains of salt,
in the vast body of insipid criticism in the newspapers, it may be held
that the public pays less attention to the reviews than it should.
The fact seems to remain that, except in the case of entirely unknown
writers, periodical criticism possesses an ever-dwindling power of
recommendation.

It is in conversation that the fame of the best books is made. There
are certain men and women in London who are on the outlook for new
merit, who are supposed to be hard to please, and whose praise is like
rubies. It is those people who, in the smoking-room of the club, or
across the dinner-table, create the fame of writers and the success
of new books. "Seen _Polyanthus_?" says one of these peripatetic
oracles. "No," you answer; "I am afraid I don't know what _Polyanthus_
is." "Well, it's not half bad; it's this new realistic romance."
"Indeed! By whom is it written?" "Oh! a fellow called--called Binks,
I think--Binks or Bunks; quite a new man. You ought to see it, don't
you know." Some one far down the table ventures to say, "Oh! I think
it was the _Palladium_ said on Saturday that it wasn't a good book
at all, awfully abnormal, or something of that kind." "Well, you
look at it; I think you'll agree with me that it's not half bad."
Such a conversation as this, if held in a fructifying spot among the
best people, does _Polyanthus_ more good than a favourable review.
It excites curiosity, and echoes of the praise ("not half bad" is at
the present moment the most fulsome of existing expressions of London
enthusiasm) reverberate and reverberate until the fortune of the book
is made. At the same time, be it for ever remembered, there must be in
_Polyanthus_ the genuine force and merit which appeal to an impartial
judge and convert reader after reader, or else vainly does the friendly
oracle try to raise the wind. He betrays himself, most likely, by using
the expression, "a very fine book," or "beautifully written." These
phrases have a falsetto air, and lack the persuasive sincerity of the
true modern eulogium, "not half bad."

But there are reputations formed in other places than in London
dining-rooms and the libraries of clubs. There are certain books which
are not welcomed by the reviews, and which fail to please or even to
meet the eye of experts in literature, which nevertheless, by some
strange and unaccountable attraction, become known to the outer public,
and are eagerly accepted by a very wide circle of readers. I am not
aware that the late Mr. Roe was ever a favourite with the writing or
speaking critics of America. He achieved his extraordinary success not
by the aid, but in spite of the neglect and disapproval of the lettered
classes. I have no close acquaintance with Mr. Roe's novels, but I know
them well enough to despair of discovering why they were found to be so
eminently welcome to thousands of readers. So far as I have examined
them, they have appeared to me to be--if I may speak frankly--neither
good enough nor bad enough to account for their popularity. It is not
that I am such a prig as to disdain Mr. Roe's honourable industry;
far from it. But his books are lukewarm; they have neither the heat
of a rich insight into character, nor the deathly coldness of false
or insincere fiction. They are not ill-constructed, although they
certainly are not well-constructed. It is their lack of salient
character that makes me wonder what enabled them to float where scores
and scores of works not appreciably worse or better than they have sunk.

Most countries possess at any given moment an author of this class.
In England we have the lady who signs her eminently reputable novels
by the pseudonym of "Edna Lyall." I do not propose to say what the
lettered person thinks of the author of _Donovan_; I would only point
out that the organs of literary opinion do not recognise her existence.
I cannot recollect ever noticing a prominent review of one of her books
in any leading paper. I never heard them so much as mentioned by any
critical reader. To find out something about "Edna Lyall" I have just
consulted the latest edition of _Men of the Time_, but she is unknown
to that not excessively austere compendium. And now for the reverse
of the medal. I lately requested the mistress of a girls' school, a
friend of mine, to ask her elder classes to write down the name of the
greatest English author. The universal answer was "Shakespeare." What
could be more respectable? But the second question was, "Who is your
favourite English author?" And this time, by a large majority, Edna
Lyall bore off the bell.

I think this amiable lady may be consoled for the slight which _Men
of the Time_ puts upon her. It seems plain that she is a very great
personage indeed to all the girls of the time. But if you ask me how
such a subterranean reputation as this is formed, what starts it,
how it is supported, I can only say I have failed, after some not
unindustrious search, to discover. I may but conjecture that, as I
have suggested, the public instinctively feels the attraction of the
article that satisfies its passing requirement. These illiterate
successes--if I may use the word "illiterate" in its plain meaning and
without offence--are exceedingly ephemeral, and sink into the ground as
silently and rapidly as they rose from it. What has become of Mrs. Gore
and Mrs. March? Who wrote _Emilia Wyndham_, and to what elegant pen did
the girls who are now grandmothers owe _Ellen Middleton_? Alas! it has
taken only forty years to strew the poppy of oblivion over these once
thrilling titles.

For we have to face the fact that reputations are lost as well as
won. What destroys the fame of an accepted author? This, surely, is a
question not less interesting than that with which we started, and
a necessary corollary to it. Not unfavourable reviews, certainly. An
unjust review may annoy and depress the author, it may cheer a certain
number of his enemies and cool the ardour of a few of his friends,
but in the long run it is sure to be innocuous in proportion to its
injustice. I have in my mind the mode in which Mr. Browning's poems
were treated in certain quarters twenty years ago. I remember more
than one instance in which critics were permitted, in newspapers which
ought to have known better, to exemplify that charge of needless
obscurity which it was then the fashion to bring against the poet, by
the quotation of mutilated fragments, and even by the introduction
of absurd mistakes into the transcription of the text. Now, in this
case, a few persons were possibly deterred from the further perusal
of a writer who appeared, by these excerpts, to be a lunatic; but I
think far more were roused into vehement sympathy for Mr. Browning by
comparing the quotations with the originals, and so finding out that
the reviewers had lied.

It rests with the author, not the critic, to destroy his own
reputation. No one, as Bentley said, was ever written down except by
himself, and the public is quite shrewd enough to do a rough sort
of justice to the critic who accuses as well as to the author who is
arraigned. As Dangle observes, "it certainly does hurt an author of
delicate feelings to see the liberties the reviews take" with his
writings; but if he is worth his salt at all, he will comfort himself
by thinking, with Sir Fretful, that "their abuse is, after all, the
best panegyric." To an author who is smarting under a more than common
infliction of this kind of peppering, one consolatory consideration may
be hinted--namely, that not to be spoken about at all is even worse
than being maligned.

One of the most insidious perils that waylay the modern literary life
is an exaggerated success at the outset of a career. A very remarkable
instance of this has been seen in our time. Thirteen years ago a
satire was published, which, although essentially destructive, and
therefore not truly promising, was set forth with so much novelty
of execution, brightness of wit, and variety of knowledge that the
world was taken by storm. The author of that work was received with
plaudits of the most exaggerated kind, and his second book was looked
forward to with unbounded anticipation. It came, and though fresh and
witty, it had less distinction, less vitality than the first. Book
after book has marked ever a further step in steady decline, and now
that once flattered and belaureled writer's name is one no more to
conjure with. This, surely, is a pathetic fate. I can imagine no form
of failure so desperately depressing as that which comes disguised in
excessive juvenile success. In literature, at least as much as in other
professions, the race is not to the swift, although the battle must
eventually be to the strong. There is a blossoming, like that of forced
annuals, which pays for its fulness and richness by a plague of early
sterility.

What the young writer of wholesome ambition should pray for is, not
to flash like a meteor on the astonished world of fashion, but by
solid and admirable writing slowly to win a place which has a firm and
wide basis. There is such a fate as to suffer through life from the
top-heaviness of an initial success. Such a struggle as Thackeray's may
be painful at the time, and may call for the exercise of a great deal
of patience and good temper. It is, nevertheless, a better thing in the
long run to serve a novitiate in Grub Street, than, like Samuel Warren,
to be famous at thirty, and die almost forgotten at seventy. There
is a deadly tendency in the mind which too easily has found others
captivated by his effusions, to fancy that anything is good enough
for the public. A precocious favourite conceives that he has only to
whistle and the world will at any moment come back to him. The soldier
who meets with no resistance throws aside his armour and relaxes his
ambition. He forgets that, as Andrew Marvell says:


     _The same art that did gain_
     _A power, must it maintain._


Some danger to a partially established reputation is to be met with
from the fickleness of public taste and the easy satiety of readers.
If an imaginative writer has won the attention of the public by a
vigorous and original picture of some unhackneyed scene of life which
is thoroughly familiar to himself, he is apt to find himself on the
horns of a dilemma. If he turns to a new class of subjects, the public
which has already "placed" him as an authority on a particular subject,
will be disappointed; on the other hand, if he sticks to his last, he
runs the chance of fatiguing his readers and of exhausting his own
impressions. For such an author, ultimate success probably lies on the
side of courage. He must reject the temptation to indulge the public
with what he knows it wants, and must boldly force it to like another
and still unrecognised phase of his talent. He ought, however, to make
very sure that he is right, and not his readers, before he insists
upon a change. It is not every one who possesses the versatility of
the first Lord Lytton, and can conquer new worlds under a pseudonym
at the age of fifty. There are plenty of instances of men of letters
who, weary of being praised for what they did well, have tried to
force down the throats of the public what everybody but themselves
could see was ill-done. I remember Hans Christian Andersen, in the
last year of his life, telling me that the books he should really be
remembered by were his dramas and his novels, not the fairy-stories
that everybody persisted in making so much fuss about. He had gone
through life without gaining the least skill in gauging his own
strength or weakness. Andersen, however, was exceptionally uncritical;
and the author who is not blinded by vanity can generally tell, before
he reaches middle life, in what his real power consists.

Yet, when we sum up the whole question, we have to confess that we
know very little about the causes which lead to the distribution of
public praise. The wind of fame bloweth where it listeth, and we
hear the sound of it without knowing whence it cometh. This, however,
appears to be certain, that, except in the case of those rare authors
of exceptionally sublime genius who conquer attention by their force
of originality, a great deal more than mere cleverness in writing is
needful to make a reputation. Sagacity in selection, tact in dealing
with other people, suppleness of character, rapidity in appreciation,
and adroitness in action--all these are qualities which go to the
formation of a broad literary reputation. In these days an author must
be wide awake, and he must take a vast deal of trouble. The age is gone
by when he could sit against the wall and let the gooseberries fall
into his mouth. The increased pressure of competition tells upon the
literary career as much as upon any other branch of professional life,
and the author who wishes to continue to succeed must keep his loins
girded.

_1889._



THE LIMITS OF REALISM IN FICTION



The Limits of Realism in Fiction


In the last new Parisian farce, by M. Sarcey's clever young son-in-law,
there is a conscientious painter of the realistic school who is
preparing for the Salon a very serious and abstruse production. The
young lady of his heart says, at length: "It's rather a melancholy
subject; I wonder you don't paint a sportsman, crossing a rustic
bridge, and meeting a pretty girl." This is the climax, and the artist
breaks off his relations with Young Lady No. 1. Toward the end of the
play, while he is still at work on his picture, Young Lady No. 2 says:
"If I were you, I should take another subject. Now, for instance, why
don't you paint a pretty girl, crossing a rustic bridge, and met by a
sportsman?"

This is really an allegory, whether M. Gandillot intends it or not.
Thus have those charming, fresh, ingenuous, ignorant, and rather
stupid young ladies, the English and American publics, received the
attempts which novelists have made to introduce among them what is
called, outside the Anglo-Saxon world, the experimental novel. The
present writer is no defender of that class of fiction; least of all
is he an exclusive defender of it; but he is tired to death of the
criticism on both sides of the Atlantic, which refuses to see what the
realists are, whither they are tending, and what position they are
beginning to hold in the general evolution of imaginative literature.
He is no great lover of what they produce, and most certainly does not
delight in their excesses; but when they are advised to give up their
studies and paint pretty girls on rustic bridges, he is almost stung
into partisanship. The present essay will have no interest whatever for
persons who approve of no more stringent investigation into conduct
than Miss Yonge's, and enjoy no action nearer home than Zambeziland;
but to those who have perceived that in almost every country in the
world the novel of manners has been passing through a curious phase, it
may possibly not be uninteresting to be called upon to inquire what the
nature of that phase has been, and still more what is to be the outcome
of it.

So far as the Anglo-Saxon world is concerned, the experimental or
realistic novel is mainly to be studied in America, Russia, and France.
It exists now in all the countries of the European Continent, but
we know less about its manifestations there. It has had no direct
development in England, except in the clever but imperfect stories of
Mr. George Moore. Ten years ago the realistic novel, or at all events
the naturalist school, out of which it proceeded, was just beginning
to be talked about, and there was still a good deal of perplexity,
outside Paris, as to its scope and as to the meaning of its name.
Russia, still unexplored by the Vicomte de Vogüé and his disciples, was
represented to western readers solely by Turgéneff, who was a great
deal too romantic to be a pure naturalist. In America, where now almost
every new writer of merit seems to be a realist, there was but one, Mr.
Henry James, who, in 1877, had inaugurated the experimental novel in
the English language, with his _American_. Mr. Howells, tending more
and more in that direction, was to write on for several years before he
should produce a thoroughly realistic novel.

Ten years ago, then, the very few people who take an interest in
literary questions were looking with hope or apprehension, as the case
might be, to Paris, and chiefly to the study of M. Zola. It was from
the little villa at Médan that revelation on the subject of the coming
novel was to be awaited; and in the autumn of 1880 the long-expected
message came, in the shape of the grotesque, violent, and narrow,
but extremely able volume of destructive and constructive criticism
called _Le Roman Expérimental_. People had complained that they did
not know what M. Zola was driving at; that they could not recognise
a "naturalistic" or "realistic" book when they saw it; that the
"scientific method" in fiction, the "return to nature," "experimental
observation" as the basis of a story, were mere phrases to them, vague
and incomprehensible. The Sage of Médan determined to remove the
objection and explain everything. He put his speaking-trumpet to his
lips, and, disdaining to address the crassness of his countrymen, he
shouted his system of rules and formulas to the Russian public, that
all the world might hear.

In 1880 he had himself proceeded far. He had published the
Rougon-Macquart series of his novels, as far as _Une Page d'Amour_.
He has added since then six or seven novels to the bulk of his works,
and he has published many forcible and fascinating and many repulsive
pages. But since 1880 he has not altered his method or pushed on to any
further development. He had already displayed his main qualities--his
extraordinary mixture of versatility and monotony, his enduring force,
his plentiful lack of taste, his cynical disdain for the weaknesses
of men, his admirable constructive power, his inability to select the
salient points in a vast mass of observations. He had already shown
himself what I must take the liberty of saying that he appears to me
to be--one of the leading men of genius in the second half of the
nineteenth century, one of the strongest novelists of the world; and
that in spite of faults so serious and so eradicable that they would
have hopelessly wrecked a writer a little less overwhelming in strength
and resource.

Zola seems to me to be the Vulcan among our later gods, afflicted
with moral lameness from his birth, and coming to us sooty and brutal
from the forge, yet as indisputably divine as any Mercury-Hawthorne
or Apollo-Thackeray of the best of them. It is to Zola, and to Zola
only, that the concentration of the scattered tendencies of naturalism
is due. It is owing to him that the threads of Flaubert and Daudet,
Dostoiefsky and Tolstoi, Howells and Henry James can be drawn into
anything like a single system. It is Zola who discovered a common
measure for all these talents, and a formula wide enough and yet close
enough to distinguish them from the outside world and bind them to one
another. It is his doing that for ten years the experimental novel has
flowed in a definite channel, and has not spread itself abroad in a
thousand whimsical directions.

To a serious critic, then, who is not a partisan, but who sees how
large a body of carefully composed fiction the naturalistic school
has produced, it is of great importance to know what is the formula
of M. Zola. He has defined it, one would think, clearly enough, but
to see it intelligently repeated is rare indeed. It starts from the
negation of fancy--not of imagination, as that word is used by the
best Anglo-Saxon critics, but of fancy--the romantic and rhetorical
elements that novelists have so largely used to embroider the home-spun
fabric of experience with. It starts with the exclusion of all that
is called "ideal," all that is not firmly based on the actual life of
human beings, all, in short, that is grotesque, unreal, nebulous, or
didactic. I do not understand Zola to condemn the romantic writers of
the past; I do not think he has spoken of Dumas _pêre_ or of George
Sand as Mr. Howells has allowed himself to speak of Dickens. He has a
phrase of contempt--richly deserved, it appears to me--for the childish
evolution of Victor Hugo's plots, and in particular of that of _Notre
Dame de Paris_; but, on the whole, his aim is rather to determine the
outlines of a new school than to attack the recognised masters of the
past. If it be not so, it should be so; there is room in the Temple of
Fame for all good writers, and it does not blast the laurels of Walter
Scott that we are deeply moved by Dostoiefsky.

With Zola's theory of what the naturalistic novel should be, it seems
impossible at first sight to quarrel. It is to be contemporary; it is
to be founded on and limited by actual experience; it is to reject
all empirical modes of awakening sympathy and interest; its aim is to
place before its readers living beings, acting the comedy of life as
naturally as possible. It is to trust to principles of action and to
reject formulas of character; to cultivate the personal expression;
to be analytical rather than lyrical; to paint men as they are, not
as you think they should be. There is no harm in all this. There is
not a word here that does not apply to the chiefs of one of the two
great parallel schools of English fiction. It is hard to conceive of
a novelist whose work is more experimental than Richardson. Fielding
is personal and analytical above all things. If France counts George
Sand among its romanticists, we can point to a realist who is greater
than she, in Jane Austen. There is not a word to be found in M. Zola's
definitions of the experimental novel that is not fulfilled in the
pages of _Emma_; which is equivalent to saying that the most advanced
realism may be practised by the most innocent as well as the most
captivating of novelists. Miss Austen did not observe over a wide
area, but within the circle of her experience she disguised nothing,
neglected nothing, glossed over nothing. She is the perfection of the
realistic ideal, and there ought to be a statue of her in the vestibule
of the forthcoming Académie des Goncourts. Unfortunately, the lives of
her later brethren have not been so sequestered as hers, and they, too,
have thought it their duty to neglect nothing and to disguise nothing.

It is not necessary to repeat here the rougher charges which have been
brought against the naturalist school in France--charges which in
mitigated form have assailed their brethren in Russia and America. On
a carefully reasoned page in the copy of M. Zola's essay _Du Roman_
which lies before me, one of those idiots who write in public books has
scribbled the remark, "They see nothing in life but filth and crime."
This ignoble wielder of the pencil but repeats what more ambitious
critics have been saying in solemn terms for the last fifteen years.
Even as regards Zola himself, as the author of the delicate comedy
of _La Conquête de Plassans_, and the moving tragedy of _Une Page
d'Amour_, this charge is utterly false, and in respect of the other
leaders it is simply preposterous. None the less, there are sides
upon which the naturalistic novelists are open to serious criticism
in practice. It is with no intention of underrating their eminent
qualities that I suggest certain points at which, as it appears to me,
their armour is conspicuously weak. There are limits to realism, and
they seem to have been readily discovered by the realists themselves.
These weak points are to be seen in the jointed harness of the
strongest book that the school has yet produced in any country, _Le
Crime et le Châtiment_.

When the ideas of Zola were first warmly taken up, about ten years ago,
by the most earnest and sympathetic writers who then were young, the
theory of the experimental novel seemed unassailable, and the range
within which it could be worked to advantage practically boundless. But
the fallacies of practice remained to be experienced, and looking back
upon what has been written by the leaders themselves, the places where
the theory has broken down are patent. It may not be uninteresting to
take up the leading dogmas of the naturalistic school, and to see what
elements of failure, or, rather, what limitations to success, they
contained. The outlook is very different in 1890 from what it was in
1880; and a vast number of exceedingly clever writers have laboured
to no avail, if we are not able at the latter date to gain a wider
perspective than could be obtained at the earlier one.

Ten years ago, most ardent and generous young authors, outside the
frontiers of indifferent Albion, were fired with enthusiasm at the
results to be achieved by naturalism in fiction. It was to be the
Revealer and the Avenger. It was to display society as it is, and to
wipe out all the hypocrisies of convention. It was to proceed from
strength to strength. It was to place all imagination upon a scientific
basis, and to open boundless vistas to sincere and courageous young
novelists. We have seen with what ardent hope and confidence its
principles were accepted by Mr. Howells. We have seen all the Latin
races, in their coarser way, embrace and magnify the system. We
have seen Zola, like a heavy father in high comedy, bless a budding
generation of novel-writers, and prophesy that they will all proceed
further than he along the road of truth and experiment. Yet the
naturalistic school is really less advanced, less thorough, than it was
ten years ago. Why is this?

It is doubtless because the strain and stress of production have
brought to light those weak places in the formula which were
not dreamed of. The first principle of the school was the exact
reproduction of life. But life is wide, and it is elusive. All that
the finest observer can do is to make a portrait of one corner of it.
By the confession of the master-spirit himself, this portrait is not
to be a photograph. It must be inspired by imagination, but sustained
and confined by the experience of reality. It does not appear at first
sight as though it should be difficult to attain this, but in point
of fact it is found almost impossible to approach this species of
perfection. The result of building up a long work on this principle
is, I hardly know why, to produce the effect of a reflection in a
convex mirror. The more accurately experimental some parts of the
picture are, the more will the want of balance and proportion in other
parts be felt. I will take at random two examples. No better work in
the naturalistic direction has been done than is to be found in the
beginning of M. Zola's _La Joie de Vivre_, or in the early part of
the middle of Mr. James's _Bostonians_. The life in the melancholy
Norman house upon the cliff, the life among the uncouth fanatic
philanthropists in the American city, these are given with a reality,
a brightness, a personal note which have an electrical effect upon the
reader. But the remainder of each of these remarkable books, built
up as they are with infinite toil by two of the most accomplished
architects of fiction now living, leaves on the mind a sense of a
strained reflection, of images blurred or malformed by a convexity of
the mirror. As I have said, it is difficult to account for this, which
is a feature of blight on almost every specimen of the experimental
novel; but perhaps it can in a measure be accounted for by the inherent
disproportion which exists between the small flat surface of a book
and the vast arch of life which it undertakes to mirror, those studies
being least liable to distortion which reflect the smallest section of
life, and those in which ambitious masters endeavour to make us feel
the mighty movements of populous cities and vast bodies of men being
the most inevitably misshapen.

Another leading principle of the naturalists is the disinterested
attitude of the narrator. He who tells the story must not act the part
of Chorus, must not praise or blame, must have no favourites; in short,
must not be a moralist but an anatomist. This excellent and theoretical
law has been a snare in practice. The nations of continental Europe are
not bound down by conventional laws to the same extent as we English
are. The Anglo-Saxon race is now the only one that has not been touched
by that pessimism of which the writings of Schopenhauer are the most
prominent and popular exponent. This fact is too often overlooked when
we scornfully ask why the foreign nations allow themselves so great a
latitude in the discussion of moral subjects. It is partly, no doubt,
because of our beautiful Protestant institutions; because we go to
Sunday-schools and take a lively interest in the souls of other people;
because, in short, we are all so virtuous and godly, that our novels
are so prim and decent. But it is also partly because our hereditary
dulness in perceiving delicate ethical distinctions has given the
Anglo-Saxon race a tendency to slur over the dissonances between man
and nature. This tendency does not exist among the Latin races, who run
to the opposite extreme and exaggerate these discords. The consequence
has been that they have, almost without exception, being betrayed by
the disinterested attitude into a contemplation of crime and frailty
(notoriously more interesting than innocence and virtue) which has
given bystanders excuse for saying that these novelists are lovers
of that which is evil. In the same way they have been tempted by the
Rembrandtesque shadows of pain, dirt, and obloquy to overdash their
canvases with the subfusc hues of sentiment. In a word, in trying to
draw life evenly and draw it whole, they have introduced such a brutal
want of tone as to render the portrait a caricature. The American
realists, who were guarded by fashion from the Scylla of brutality,
have not wholly escaped, on their side and for the same reason, the
Charybdis of insipidity.

It would take us too far, and would require a constant reference to
individual books, to trace the weaknesses of the realistic school of
our own day. Human sentiment has revenged itself upon them for their
rigid regulations and scientific formulas, by betraying them into
faults the possibility of which they had not anticipated. But above
all other causes of their limited and temporary influence, the most
powerful has been the material character which their rules forced upon
them, and their excess of positivism and precision. In eliminating the
grotesque and the rhetorical they drove out more than they wished to
lose; they pushed away with their scientific pitchfork the fantastic
and intellectual elements. How utterly fatal this was may be seen, not
in the leaders, who have preserved something of the reflected colour
of the old romance, but in those earnest disciples who have pushed the
theory to its extremity. In their sombre, grimy, and dreary studies in
pathology, clinical bulletins of a soul dying of atrophy, we may see
what the limits of realism are, and how impossible it is that human
readers should much longer go on enjoying this sort of literary aliment.

If I have dwelt upon these limitations, however, it has not been to
cast a stone at the naturalistic school. It has been rather with the
object of clearing away some critical misconceptions about the future
development of it. Anglo-Saxon criticism of the perambulating species
might, perhaps, be persuaded to consider the realists with calmer
judgment, if it looked upon them, not as a monstrous canker that was
slowly spreading its mortal influence over the whole of literature,
which it would presently overwhelm and destroy, but as a natural and
timely growth, taking its due place in the succession of products, and
bound, like other growths, to bud and blossom and decline. I venture
to put forth the view that the novel of experiment has had its day;
that it has been made the vehicle of some of the loftiest minds of our
age; that it has produced a huge body of fiction, none of it perfect,
perhaps, much of it bad, but much of it, also, exceedingly intelligent,
vivid, sincere, and durable; and that it is now declining, to leave
behind it a great memory, the prestige of persecution, and a library of
books which every highly educated man in the future will be obliged to
be familiar with.

It would be difficult, I think, for any one but a realistic novelist
to overrate the good that realism in fiction has done. It has cleared
the air of a thousand follies, has pricked a whole fleet of oratorical
bubbles. Whatever comes next, we cannot return, in serious novels, to
the inanities and impossibilities of the old "well-made" plot, to the
children changed at nurse, to the madonna heroine and the god-like
hero, to the impossible virtues and melodramatic vices. In future,
even those who sneer at realism and misrepresent it most wilfully,
will be obliged to put in their effects in ways more in accord with
veritable experience. The public has eaten of the apple of knowledge,
and will not be satisfied with mere marionettes. There will still be
novel-writers who address the gallery, and who will keep up the gaudy
old convention and the clumsy _Family Herald_ evolution, but they will
no longer be distinguished people of genius. They will no longer sign
themselves George Sand and Charles Dickens.

In the meantime, wherever I look I see the novel ripe for another
reaction. The old leaders will not change. It is not to be expected
that they will write otherwise than in the mode which has grown mature
with them. But in France, among the younger men, every one is escaping
from the realistic formula. The two young athletes for whom M. Zola
predicted ten years ago an "experimental" career more profoundly
scientific than his own, are realists no longer. M. Guy de Maupassant
has become a psychologist, and M. Huysmans a mystic. M. Bourget, who
set all the ladies dancing after his ingenious, musky books, never
has been a realist; nor has Pierre Loti, in whom, with a fascinating
freshness, the old exiled romanticism comes back with a laugh and a
song. All points to a reaction in France; and in Russia, too, if what
we hear is true, the next step will be one toward the mystical and
the introspective. In America it would be rash for a foreigner to say
what signs of change are evident. The time has hardly come when we
look to America for the symptoms of literary initiative. But it is my
conviction that the limits of realism have been reached; that no great
writer who has not already adapted the experimental system will do so;
and that we ought now to be on the outlook to welcome (and, of course,
to persecute) a school of novelists with a totally new aim, part of
whose formula must unquestionably be a concession to the human instinct
for mystery and beauty.

_1890._



IS VERSE IN DANGER?



Is Verse in Danger?


We are passing through a period obviously unfavourable to the
development of the art of poetry. A little while ago there was an
outburst of popular appreciation of living verse, but this is now
replaced, for the moment, by an almost ostentatious indifference. These
alternations of curiosity and disdain deceive no one who looks at the
history of literature with an eye which is at all philosophical. It is
easy to say, as is commonly said, that they depend on the merit of the
poetry which is being produced. But this is not always, or even often,
the case. About twenty years ago a ferment of interest and enthusiasm
was called forth, all over the English-speaking world, by the early
writings of Mr. Swinburne and by those of the late Mr. Rossetti. This
was deserved by the merit of those productions; but the disdain which,
twenty years earlier, the verse of Mr. Robert Browning and Mr. Matthew
Arnold had met with, cannot be so accounted for. It is wiser to admit
that sons never look at life with their fathers' eyes, and that taste
is subject to incessant and almost regular fluctuations. At the present
moment, though men should sing with the voice of angels, the barbarian
public would not listen, and a new Milton would probably be less warmly
welcomed in 1890 than a Pomfret was two centuries ago or a Bowles was
in 1790. Literary history shows that a demand for poetry does not
always lead to a supply, and that a supply does not always command a
market. He who doubts this fact may compare the success of Herrick with
that of Erasmus Darwin.

The only reason for preluding a speculation on the future of the art
of poetry with these remarks, is to clear the ground of any arguments
based on the merely momentary condition of things. The eagerness or
coldness of the public, the fertility or exhaustion of the poets,
at this particular juncture, are elements of no real importance. If
poetry is to continue to be one of the living arts of humanity, it
does not matter an iota whether poetry is looked upon with contempt by
the members of a single generation. If poetry is declining, and, as a
matter of fact, is now moribund, the immense vogue of Tennyson at a
slightly earlier period will take its place among the insignificant
phenomena of a momentary reaction. The problem is a more serious
one. It is this: Is poetry, in its very essence, an archaic and
rudimentary form of expression, still galvanised into motion, indeed,
by antiquarianism, but really obsolete and therefore to be cultivated
only at the risk of affectation and insincerity; or is it an art
capable of incessant renovation--a living organism which grows, on the
whole, with the expansion of modern life? In other words, is the art of
verse one which, like music or painting, delights and consoles us with
a species of expression which can never be superseded, because it is
in danger of no direct rivalry from a similar species; or was poetry
merely the undeveloped, though in itself the extremely beautiful,
infancy of a type which is now adult, and which has relinquished its
charming puerilities for a mode of expression infinitely wider and of
more practical utility? Sculptors, singers, painters must always exist;
but need we have poets any longer, since the world has discovered how
to say all it wants to say in prose? Will any one who has anything
of importance to communicate be likely in the future to express it
through the medium of metrical language?

These questions are not to be dismissed with a smile. A large number of
thoughtful persons at the present time are, undoubtedly, disposed to
answer them in the affirmative, although a certain decency forbids them
openly to say so. Plenty of clever people secretly regard the Muse as
a distinguished old lady, of good family, who has been a beauty and a
wit in her day, but who really rules only by sufferance in these years
of her decline. They whisper that she is sinking into second childhood,
that she repeats herself when she converses, and that she has exchanged
her early liberal tastes for a love of what is puerile, ingenious, and
"finikin." A great Parisian critic has just told us that each poet is
read only by the other poets, and he gives as the reason that the art
of verse has become so refined and so elaborate that it passes over
the heads of the multitude. But may it not be that this refinement is
only a decrepitude--the amusement of an old age that has sunk to the
playing of more and more helplessly ingenious games of patience? That
is what those hint who, more insidious by far than the open enemies of
literature, suggest that poetry has had its reign, its fascinating and
imperial tyranny, and that it must now make way for the democracy of
prose.

Probably there would have been no need to face this question, either
in this generation or for many generations to come, if it had not
been for a single circumstance. The great enemies of the poets of
the present are the poets of the past, and the antiquarian spirit of
the nineteenth century has made the cessation of the publication of
fresh verse a possibility. The intellectual condition of our times
differs from that of all preceding ages in no other point so much as
in its attitude toward the writings of the dead. In those periods of
renovation which have refreshed the literatures of the world, the
tendency has always been to study some one class of deceased writers
with affection. In English history, we have seen the romantic poets of
Italy, the dramatists of Spain, the Latin satirists, and the German
ballad-mongers, exercise, at successive moments, a vivid influence on
English writers. But this study was mainly limited to those writers
themselves, and did not extend to the circle of their readers; while
even with the writers it never absorbed at a single moment the whole
range of poetry. We may take one instance. Pope was the disciple of
Horace and of the French Jesuits, of Dryden and of the conceit-creating
school of Donne. But he was able to use Boileau and Crashaw so freely
because he addressed a public that had never met with the first and had
forgotten the second; and when he passed outside this narrow circle
he was practically without a rival. To the class whom he addressed,
Shakespeare and Milton were phantoms, Chaucer and Spenser not so much
as names. The only doubt was whether Alexander Pope was man enough to
arrest attention by the intrinsic merits of his poetry. If his verse
was admitted to be good, his public were not distracted by a preference
for other verse which they had known for a longer time.

This remained true until about a generation ago. The great romantic
poets of the beginning of this century found the didactic and
rhetorical verse-writers of the eighteenth century in possession of the
field, but they found no one else there. Their action was of the nature
of a revolt--a revolution so successful that it became constitutional.
All that Wordsworth and Keats had to do was to prove their immediate
predecessors to be unworthy of public attention, and when once they
had persuaded the reading world that what they had to offer was more
pleasing than what Young and Churchill and Darwin had offered, the
revolution was complete. But, in order to draw attention to the merits
of the proposed change, the romantic poets of the Georgian age pointed
to the work of the writers of the Elizabethan age, whom they claimed as
their natural predecessors--the old stock cast out at the Restoration
and now reinstated. The public had entirely forgotten the works of
these writers, except to some extent those of the dramatists, and it
became necessary to reprint them. A whole galaxy of poetic stars was
revealed when the cloud of prejudice was blown away, and a class of
dangerous rivals to the modern poet was introduced.

The activity of the dead is now paramount, and threatens to paralyse
original writing altogether. The revival of the old poets who were in
direct sympathy with Keats and Wordsworth has extended far beyond the
limits which those who inaugurated it desired to lay down. Every poetic
writer of any age precedent to our own has now a chance of popularity,
often a very much better chance than he possessed during his own
lifetime. Scarcely a poet, from Chaucer downward, remains inedited.
The imitative lyrist who, in a paroxysm of inspiration, wrote one good
sonnet under the sway of James I., but was never recognised as a poet
even by his friends, rejoices now in a portly quarto, and lives for the
first time. The order of nature is reversed, and those who were only
ghosts in the seventeenth century come back to us clothed in literary
vitality.

In this great throng of resuscitated souls, all of whom have forfeited
their copyright, how is the modern poet to exist? He has no longer to
compete--as "his great forefathers did, from Homer down to Ben"--with
the leading spirits of his own generation, but with the picked genius
of the world. He writes an epic; Mr. Besant and the Society of Authors
oblige him to "retain his rights," to "publish at a royalty," and to
keep the rules of the game. But Milton has no rights and demands no
royalty. The new poet composes lyrics and publishes them in a volume.
They are sincere and ingenious; but why should the reader buy that
volume, when he can get the best of Shelley and Coleridge, of Gray and
Marvell, in a cheaper form in _The Golden Treasury_? At every turn the
thronging company of the ghosts impedes and disheartens the modern
writer, and it is no wonder if the new Orpheus throws down his lyre
in despair when the road to his desire is held by such an invincible
army of spectres. In the golden age of the Renaissance an enthusiast
is said to have offered up a manuscript by Martial every year, as a
burnt sacrifice to Catullus, an author whom he distinctly preferred.
The modern poet, if he were not afraid of popular censure, might make
a yearly holocaust of editions of the British classics, in honour of
the Genius of Poetry. There are many enemies of the art abroad, but
among them all the most powerful and insidious are those of its own
household. The poets of to-day might contrive to fish the murex up, and
to eat turtle, if it were not for the intolerable rivalry of "souls of
poets dead and gone."

On the whole, however, it is highly unlikely that the antiquarian
passion of our age will last. Already it gives signs of wearing
out, and it will probably be succeeded by a spirit of unreasonable
intolerance of the past. Intellectual invention will not allow itself
to be pinioned for ever by these soft and universal cords of tradition,
each as slight as gossamer in itself, but overwhelming in the immense
mass. As for the old poets, young verse-writers may note with glee
that these rivals of theirs are being caught in the butterfly net of
education, where they will soon find the attractive feathers rubbed
off their wings. One by one they pass into text-books and are lost.
Chaucer is done for, and so is Milton; Goldsmith is annotated, Scott
is prepared for "local examinations," and even Byron, the loose, the
ungrammatical, is edited as a school book. The noble army of extension
lecturers will scarcely pause in their onward march. We shall see
Wordsworth captured, Shelley boiled down for the use of babes, and
Keats elaborately annotated, with his blunders in classical mythology
exposed. The schoolmaster is the only friend the poet of the future
dares to look to, for he alone has the power to destroy the loveliness
and mystery which are the charm of the old poets. Even a second-rate
verse-writer may hope to live by the side of an Elizabethan poet edited
for the Clarendon Press.

This remedy may, however, be considered fantastic, and it would
scarcely be wise to trust to it. There is, nevertheless, nothing
ironical in the statement that an exaggerated attention paid to
historical work leaves no time and no appetite for what contemporaries
produce. The neglect of poetry is so widespread that if the very small
residuum of love of verse is expended lavishly on the dead, the living
are likely to come off badly indeed. The other arts, which can better
defend themselves, are experiencing the same sense of being starved
by the old masters. The bulk of the public neither buys books nor
invests in pictures, nor orders statuary according to its own taste,
but according to the fashion; and if the craze is antiquarian, we may
produce Raphaels in dozens and Shelleys in shoals; they will have to
subsist as the bears and the pelicans do.

Let us abandon ourselves, however, to the vain pleasure of prophesying.
Let us suppose, for the humour of it, that what very young gentlemen
call "the might of poesy" is sure to reassert itself, that the votaries
of modern verse will always form a respectable minimum, and that some
alteration in fashion will reduce the tyranny of antiquarianism to
decent proportions. Admit that poetry, in whatever lamentable condition
it may be at the present time, is eternal in its essence, and must
offer the means of expression to certain admirable talents in each
generation. What, then, is the form which we may reasonably expect it
to take next? This is, surely, a harmless kind of speculation, and the
moral certainty of being fooled by the event need not restrain us
from indulging in it. We will prophesy, although fully conscious of
the wild predictions on the same subject current in England in 1580,
1650, and 1780, and in France in 1775 and 1825. We may be quite sure of
one thing, that when the Marlowe or the André Chénier is coming, not
a single critic will be expecting him. But in the meantime why show a
front less courageous than that of the history-defying Zadkiel?

It is usually said, in hasty generalisation, that the poetry of the
present age is unique in the extreme refinement of its exterior
mechanism. Those who say this are not aware that the great poets whose
virile simplicity and robust carelessness of detail they applaud--thus
building tombs to prophets whom they have never worshipped--have,
almost without exception, been scrupulously attentive to form. No
modern writer has been so learned in rhythm as Milton, so faultless
in rhyme-arrangement as Spenser. But what is true is that a care for
form, and a considerable skill in the technical art of verse, have
been acquired by writers of a lower order, and that this sort of
perfection is no longer the hall-mark of a great master. We may expect
it, therefore, to attract less attention in the future; and although,
assuredly, the bastard jargon of Walt Whitman, and kindred returns to
sheer barbarism, will not be accepted, technical perfection will more
and more be taken as a matter of course, as a portion of the poet's
training which shall be as indispensable, and as little worthy of
notice, as that a musician should read his notes correctly.

Less effort, therefore, is likely to be made, in the immediate
future, to give pleasure by the manner of poetry, and more skill
will be expended on the subject-matter. By this I do not understand
that greater concession will be made than in the past to what may be
called the didactic fallacy, the obstinate belief of some critics in
the function of poetry as a teacher. The fact is certain that nothing
is more obsolete than educational verse, the literary product which
deliberately supplies information. We may see another Sappho; it is
even conceivable that we might see another Homer; but a new Hesiod,
never. Knowledge has grown to be far too complex, exact, and minute to
be impressed upon the memory by the artifice of rhyme; and poetry had
scarcely passed its infancy before it discovered that to stimulate, to
impassion, to amuse, were the proper duties of an art which appeals to
the emotions, and to the emotions only. The curious attempts, then,
which have been made by poets of no mean talent to dedicate their verse
to botany, to the Darwinian hypothesis, to the loves of the fossils,
and to astronomical science, are not likely to be repeated, and if they
should be repeated, they would scarcely attract much popular attention.
Nor is the epic, on a large scale--that noble and cumbersome edifice
with all its blank windows and corridors that lead to nothing--a
species of poetic architecture which the immediate future can be
expected to indulge in.

Leaving the negative for the positive, then, we may fancy that one
or two probabilities loom before us. Poetry, if it exist at all,
will deal, and probably to a greater degree than ever before, with
those more frail and ephemeral shades of emotion which prose scarcely
ventures to describe. The existence of a delicately organised human
being is diversified by divisions and revulsions of sensation,
ill-defined desires, gleams of intuition, and the whole gamut of
spiritual notes descending from exultation to despair, none of which
have ever been adequately treated except in the hieratic language of
poetry. The most realistic novel, the closest psychological analysis in
prose, does no more than skim the surface of the soul; verse has the
privilege of descending into its depths. In the future, lyrical poetry
will probably grow less trivial and less conventional, at the risk of
being less popular. It will interpret what prose dares not suggest.
It will penetrate further into the complexity of human sensation,
and, untroubled by the necessity of formulating a creed, a theory, or
a story, will describe with delicate accuracy, and under a veil of
artistic beauty, the amazing, the unfamiliar, and even the portentous
phenomena which it encounters.

The social revolution or evolution which most sensible people are
now convinced is imminent, will surely require a species of poetry
to accompany its course and to celebrate its triumphs. If we could
foresee what form this species will take, we should know all things.
But we must believe that it will be democratic, and that to a
degree at present unimaginable. The aristocratic tradition is still
paramount in all art. Kings, princesses, and the symbols of chivalry
are as essential to poetry, as we now conceive it, as roses, stars,
or nightingales. The poet may be a pronounced socialist; he may be
Mr. William Morris; but the oligarchic imagery pervades his work as
completely as if he were a troubadour of the thirteenth century. It is
difficult to understand what will be left if this romantic phraseology
is destroyed, but it is still more difficult to believe that it can
survive a complete social revolution.

A kind of poetry now scarcely cultivated at all may be expected to
occupy the attention of the poets, whether socialism hastens or delays.
What the Germans understand by epic verse--that is to say, short and
highly finished studies in narrative--is a class of literature which
offers unlimited opportunities. What may be done in this direction is
indicated in France by the work of M. Coppée. In England and America
we have at present nothing at all like it, the idyllic stories of Mr.
Coventry Patmore presenting the closest parallel. The great danger
which attends the writing of these narratives in English is the
tendency to lose distinction of style, to become humorous in dealing
with the grotesque and tame in describing the simple. Blank verse will
be wholly eschewed by those who in the future sing the annals of the
humble; they will feel that the strictest art and the most exquisite
ornament of rhyme and metre will be required for the treatment of
such narratives. M. Coppée himself, who records the adventures of
seamstresses and engine-drivers, of shipwrecked sailors and retail
grocers, with such simplicity and moving pathos, has not his rival
in all France for purity of phrase and for exquisite propriety of
versification.

The modern interest in the drama, and the ever-growing desire to
see literature once more wedded to the stage, will, it can hardly
be doubted, lead to a revival of dramatic poetry. This will not,
of course, have any relation to the feeble lycean plays of the
hour--spectacular romances enshrined in ambling blank verse--but will,
in its form and substance alike, offer entertainment to other organs
than the eye. Probably the puritanic limitations which have so long
cramped the English theatre will be removed, and British plays, while
remaining civilised and decent, will once more deal with the realities
of life and not with its conventions. Neither the funeral baked meats
of the romantic English novel, nor the spiced and potted dainties of
the French stage, will satisfy our playgoers when once we have strong
and sincere playwrights of our own.

In religious verse something, and in philosophical verse much, remains
to be done. The wider hope has scarcely found a singer yet, and the
deeper speculation has been very imperfectly and empirically celebrated
by our poets. Whether love, the very central fountain of poetic
inspiration in the past, can yield many fresh variations, remains to be
seen. That passion will, however, in all probability be treated in the
future less objectively and with a less obtrusive landscape background.
The school which is now expiring has carried description, the
consciousness of exterior forms and colours, the drapery and upholstery
of nature, to its extreme limit. The next development of poetry is
likely to be very bare and direct, unembroidered, perhaps even arid,
in character. It will be experimental rather than descriptive, human
rather than animal. So at least we vaguely conjecture. But whatever
the issue may be, we may be confident that the art will retain that
poignant charm over undeveloped minds, and that exquisite fascination,
which for so many successive generations have made poetry the wisest
and the fairest friend of youth.

_1891._



TENNYSON--AND AFTER



Tennyson--and After


As we filed slowly out of the Abbey on the afternoon of Wednesday, the
12th of October, 1892, there must have occurred to others, I think,
as to myself, a whimsical and half-terrifying sense of the symbolic
contrast between what we had left and what we emerged upon. Inside,
the grey and vitreous atmosphere, the reverberations of music moaning
somewhere out of sight, the bones and monuments of the noble dead,
reverence, antiquity, beauty, rest. Outside, in the raw air, a tribe
of hawkers urging upon the edges of a dense and inquisitive crowd a
large sheet of pictures of the pursuit of a flea by a "lady," and more
insidious salesmen doing a brisk trade in what they falsely pretended
to be "Tennyson's last poem."

Next day we read in our newspapers affecting accounts of the emotion
displayed by the vast crowds outside the Abbey--horny hands dashing
away the tear, seamstresses holding the "the little green volumes" to
their faces to hide their agitation. Happy for those who could see
these things with their fairy telescopes out of the garrets of Fleet
Street. I, alas!--though I sought assiduously--could mark nothing
of the kind. Entering the Abbey, conducted by courteous policemen
through unparalleled masses of the curious, we distinguished patience,
good behaviour, cheerful and untiring inquisitiveness, a certain
obvious gratitude for an incomprehensible spectacle provided by the
authorities, but nothing else. And leaving the Abbey, as I say, the
impression was one almost sinister in its abrupt transition. Poetry,
authority, the grace and dignity of life, seemed to have been left
behind us for ever in that twilight where Tennyson was sleeping with
Chaucer and with Dryden.

In recording this impression I desire nothing so little as to appear
censorious. Even the external part of the funeral at Westminster
seemed, as was said of the similar scene which was enacted there nearly
two hundred years ago, "a well-conducted and uncommon public ceremony,
where the philosopher can find nothing to condemn, nor the satirist
to ridicule." But the contrast between the outside and the inside of
the Abbey, a contrast which may possibly have been merely whimsical
in itself, served for a parable of the condition of poetry in England
as the burial of Tennyson has left it. If it be only the outworn body
of this glorious man which we have relinquished to the safeguard of
the Minster, gathered to his peers in the fulness of time, we have no
serious ground for apprehension, nor, after the first painful moment,
even for sorrow. His harvest is ripe, and we hold it in our granaries.
The noble physical presence which has been the revered companion of
three generations has, indeed, sunk at length:


     _Yet would we not disturb him from his tomb,_
       _Thus sleeping in his Abbey's friendly shade,_
       _And the rough waves of life for ever laid._


But what if this vast and sounding funeral should prove to have
really been the entombment of English poetry? What if it should be
the prestige of verse that we left behind us in the Abbey? That is a
question which has issues far more serious than the death of any one
man, no matter how majestic that man may be.

Poetry is not a democratic art. We are constantly being told by the
flexible scribes who live to flatter the multitude that the truest
poetry is that which speaks to the million, that moves the great
heart of the masses. In his private consciousness no one knows better
than the lettered man who writes such sentences that they are not
true. Since the pastoral days in which poets made great verses for a
little clan, it has never been true that poetry of the noblest kind
was really appreciated by the masses. If we take the bulk of what are
called educated people, but a very small proportion are genuinely fond
of reading. Sift this minority, and but a minute residue of it will
be found to be sincerely devoted to beautiful poetry. The genuine
lovers of verse are so few that if they could be made the subject of a
statistical report, we should probably be astounded at the smallness of
their number. From the purely democratic point of view it is certain
that they form a negligible quantity. They would produce no general
effect at all if they were not surrounded by a very much larger
number of persons who, without taste for poetry themselves, are yet
traditionally impressed with its value, and treat it with conventional
respect, buying it a little, frequently conversing about it, pressing
to gaze at its famous professors, and competing for places beside the
tombs of its prophets. The respect for poetry felt by these persons,
although in itself unmeaning, is extremely valuable in its results. It
supports the enthusiasm of the few who know and feel for themselves,
and it radiates far and wide into the outer masses, whose darkness
would otherwise be unreached by the very glimmer of these things.

There is no question, however, that the existence in prominent public
honour of an art in its essence so aristocratic as poetry--that is to
say, so dependent on the suffrages of a few thousand persons who happen
to possess, in greater or lesser degree, certain peculiar qualities
of mind and ear--is, at the present day, anomalous, and therefore
perilous. All this beautiful pinnacled structure of the glory of verse,
this splendid position of poetry at the summit of the civil ornaments
of the Empire, is built of carven ice, and needs nothing but that the
hot popular breath should be turned upon it to sink into so much water.
It is kept standing there, flashing and sparkling before our eyes, by a
succession of happy accidents. To speak rudely, it is kept there by an
effort of bluff on the part of a small influential class.

In reflecting on these facts, I have found myself depressed and
terrified at an ebullition of popularity which seems to have struck
almost everybody else with extreme satisfaction. It has been very
natural that the stupendous honour apparently done to Tennyson, not
merely by the few who always valued him, but by the many who might be
supposed to stand outside his influence, has been welcomed with delight
and enthusiasm. But what is so sinister a circumstance is the excessive
character of this exhibition. I think of the funeral of Wordsworth at
Grasmere, only forty-two years ago, with a score of persons gathering
quietly under the low wall that fenced them from the brawling Rotha;
and I turn to the spectacle of the 12th, the vast black crowd in the
street, the ten thousand persons refused admission to the Abbey,
the whole enormous popular manifestation.[1] What does it mean? Is
Tennyson, great as he is, a thousand times greater than Wordsworth? Has
poetry, in forty years, risen at this ratio in the public estimation?
The democracy, I fear, doth protest too much, and there is danger in
this hollow reverence.

The danger takes this form. It may at any moment come to be held
that the poet, were he the greatest that ever lived, was greater
than poetry; the artist more interesting than his art. This was a
peril unknown in ancient times. The plays of Shakespeare and his
contemporaries were scarcely more closely identified with the men
who wrote them than Gothic cathedrals were with their architects.
Cowley was the first English poet about whom much personal interest
was felt outside the poetic class. Dryden is far more evident to us
than the Elizabethans were, yet phantasmal by the side of Pope. Since
the age of Anne an interest in the poet, as distinguished from his
poetry, has steadily increased; the fashion for Byron, the posthumous
curiosity in Shelley and Keats, are examples of the rapid growth of
this individualisation in the present century. But since the death
of Wordsworth it has taken colossal proportions, without, so far as
can be observed, any parallel quickening of the taste for poetry
itself. The result is that a very interesting or picturesque figure,
if identified with poetry, may attract an amount of attention and
admiration which is spurious as regards the poetry, and of no real
significance. Tennyson had grown to be by far the most mysterious,
august, and singular figure in English society. He represented poetry,
and the world now expects its poets to be as picturesque, as aged, and
as individual as he was, or else it will pay poetry no attention. I
fear, to be brief, that the personal, as distinguished from the purely
literary, distinction of Tennyson may strike, for the time being, a
serious blow at the vitality of poetry in this country.

Circumstances have combined, in a very curious way, to produce this
result. If a supernatural power could be conceived as planning a scenic
effect, it could hardly have arranged it in a manner more telling, or
more calculated to excite the popular imagination, than has been the
case in the quick succession of the death of Matthew Arnold, of Robert
Browning, and of Tennyson.


     _Insatiate archer! could not one suffice?_
     _Thy shaft few thrice; and thrice our peace was slain._


A great poet was followed by a greater, and he by the greatest of the
century, and all within five years. So died, but not with this crescent
effect, Shakespeare, Beaumont, and Raleigh; so Vanbrugh, Congreve,
Gay, Steele, and Defoe; so Byron, Shelley, and Keats; so Scott,
Coleridge, and Lamb. But in none of these cases was the field left
so exposed as it now is in popular estimation. The deaths of Keats,
Shelley, and Byron were really momentous to an infinitely greater
degree than those of Arnold, Browning, and Tennyson, because the former
were still in the prime of life, while the latter had done their work;
but the general public was not aware of this, and, as is well known,
Shelley and Keats passed away without exciting a ripple of popular
curiosity.

The tone of criticism since the death of Tennyson has been very much
what might, under the circumstances, have been expected. Their efforts
to overwhelm his coffin with lilies and roses have seemed paltry to
the critics, unless they could succeed, at the same time, in laying
waste all the smaller gardens of his neighbours. There is no doubt
that the instinct for suttee lies firmly embedded in human nature, and
that the glory of a dead rajah is dimly felt by us all to be imperfect
unless some one or other is immolated on his funeral pile. But when
we come to think calmly on this matter, it will be seen that this
offering up of the live poets as a burnt sacrifice to the memory of
their dead master is absurd and grotesque. We have boasted all these
years that we possessed the greatest of the world's poets since Victor
Hugo. We did well to boast. But he is taken from us at a great age,
and we complain at once, with bitter cries--because we have no poet
left so venerable or so perfect in ripeness of the long-drawn years of
craftsmanship--that poetry is dead amongst us, and that all the other
excellent artists in verse are worthless scribblers. This is natural,
perhaps, but it is scarcely generous and not a little ridiculous. It
is, moreover, exactly what the critics said in 1850, when Arnold,
Browning, and Tennyson had already published a great deal of their most
admirable work.

The ingratitude of the hour towards the surviving poets of England pays
but a poor compliment to the memory of that great man whose fame it
professes to honour. I suppose that there has scarcely been a writer
of interesting verse who has come into anything like prominence within
the lifetime of Tennyson who has not received from him some letter of
praise--some message of benevolent indulgence. More than fifty years
ago he wrote, in glowing terms, to congratulate Mr. Bailey on his
_Festus_; it is only yesterday that we were hearing of his letters to
Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Mr. William Watson. Tennyson did not affect to
be a critic--no man, indeed, can ever have lived who less _affected_
to be anything--but he loved good verses, and he knew them when he
saw them, and welcomed them indulgently. No one can find it more
distasteful to him to have it asserted that Tennyson was, and will be,
"the last of the English poets" than would Tennyson himself.

It was not my good fortune to see him many times, and only twice, at an
interval of about twelve years, did I have the privilege of hearing him
talk at length and ease. On each of those occasions, however, it was
noticeable with what warmth and confidence he spoke of the future of
English poetry, with what interest he evidently followed its progress,
and how cordially he appreciated what various younger men were doing.
In particular, I hope it is not indiscreet to refer to the tone in
which he spoke to me on each of these occasions of Mr. Swinburne,
whose critical conscience had, it must not be forgotten, led him to
refer with no slight severity to several of the elder poet's writings.
In 1877 Mr. Swinburne's strictures were still recent, and might not
unreasonably have been painfully recollected. Yet Tennyson spoke of
him almost as Dryden did two hundred years ago to Congreve:


     _And this I prophesy--thou shalt be seen_
     _(Though with some short parenthesis between)_
     _High on the throne of wit, and, seated there,_
     _Not mine (that's little), but thy laurel wear._


It would never have occurred to this great and wise man that his own
death could be supposed to mark the final burning up and turning to
ashes of the prophetic bays.

These are considerations, however--to return to my original
parable--for the few within the Abbey. They are of no force in guiding
opinion among the non-poetical masses outside. These, dangerously moved
for the nonce to observe the existence of poetry, may make a great
many painful and undesirable reflections before the subject quits
their memory. There is always a peril in a popular movement that is
not founded on genuine feeling, and the excitement about Tennyson's
death has been far too universal to be sincere. It is even now not too
early for us to perceive, if we will face it calmly, that elements of
a much commoner and emptier nature than reverence for a man of genius
have entered into the stir about the Laureate's burial. The multitude
so stirred into an excited curiosity about a great poet will presently
crave, of course, a little more excitement still over another poet,
and this stimulant will not be forthcoming. We have not, and shall not
have for a generation at least, such another sacrifice to offer to the
monster. It will be in the retreat of the wave, in the sense of popular
disappointment at the non-recurrence of such intellectual shocks as the
deaths of Browning and Tennyson have supplied, that the right of poetry
to take precedence among the arts of writing will for the first time
come to be seriously questioned. Our critics will then, too late, begin
to regret their suttee of the Muses; but if they try to redeem their
position by praising this living poet or that, the public will only too
glibly remind them of their own dictum that "poetry died with Tennyson."

In old days the reading public swept the literature of its fathers
into the dust-bin, and read Horace while its immediate contemporaries
were preparing works in prose and verse to suit the taste of the
moment. But nowadays each great writer who passes out of physical life
preserves his intellectual existence intact and becomes a lasting
rival to his surviving successor. The young novelist has no living
competitor so dangerous to him as Dickens and Thackeray are, who are
nevertheless divided from him by time almost as far as Milton was from
Pope. It is nearly seventy years since the earliest of Macaulay's
_Essays_ appeared, and the least reference to one of them would now
be recognised by "every schoolboy." Less than seventy years after
the death of Bacon his _Essays_ were so completely forgotten that
when extracts from them were discovered in the common-place book of
a deceased lady of quality, they were supposed to be her own, were
published and praised by people as clever as Congreve, went through
several editions, and were not detected until within the present
century. When an age made a palimpsest of its memory in this way it was
far easier to content it with contemporary literary excellence than it
is now, when every aspirant is confronted with the quintessence of the
centuries.

It is not, however, from the captious taste of the public that most is
to be feared, but from its indifference. Let it not be believed that,
because a mob of the votaries of Mr. Jerome and Mr. Sims have been
drawn to the precincts of the Abbey to gaze upon a pompous ceremonial,
these admirable citizens have suddenly taken to reading _Lucretius_
or _The Two Voices_. What their praise is worth no one among us would
venture to say in words so unmeasured as those of the dead Master
himself, who, with a prescience of their mortuary attentions, spoke of
these irreverent admirers as those


     _Who make it seem more sweet to be_
       _The little life of bank and brier,_
       _The bird who pipes his lone desire_
     _And dies unheard within his tree,_

     _Than he that warbles long and loud,_
       _And drops at Glory's temple-gates,_
       _For whom the carrion-vulture waits_
     _To tear his heart before the crowd._


If this is more harsh reproof than a mere idle desire to be excited by
a spectacle or by an event demands, it may nevertheless serve us as
an antidote to the vain illusion that these multitudes are suddenly
converted to a love of fine literature. They are not so converted, and
fine literature--however scandalous it may sound in the ears of this
generation to say it--is for the few.

How long, then, will the many permit themselves to be brow-beaten by
the few? At the present time the oligarchy of taste governs our vast
republic of readers. We tell them to praise the Bishop of Oxford for
his history, and Mr. Walter Pater for his essays, and Mr. Herbert
Spencer for his philosophy, and Mr. George Meredith for his novels.
They obey us, and these are great and illustrious personages about
whom newspaper gossip is continually occupied, whom crowds, when they
have the chance, hurry to gaze at, but whose books (or I am cruelly
misinformed) brave a relatively small circulation. These reputations
are like beautiful churches, into which people turn to cross themselves
with holy water, bow to the altar, and then hurry out again to spend
the rest of the morning in some snug tavern.

Among these churches of living fame, the noblest, the most exquisite
was that sublime cathedral of song which we called Tennyson; and
there, it is true, drawn by fashion and by a choral service of extreme
beauty, the public had formed the habit of congregating. But at length,
after a final ceremony of incomparable dignity, this minster has been
closed. Where will the people who attended there go now? The other
churches stand around, honoured and empty. Will they now be better
filled? Or will some secularist mayor, of strong purpose and an enemy
to sentiment, order them to be deserted altogether? We may, at any
rate, be quite sure that this remarkable phenomenon of the popularity
of Tennyson, however we regard it, is but transitory and accidental,
or at most personal to himself. That it shows any change in the public
attitude of reserved or grumbling respect to the best literature, and
radical dislike to style, will not be seriously advanced.

What I dread, what I long have dreaded, is the eruption of a sort
of Commune in literature. At no period could the danger of such an
outbreak of rebellion against tradition be so great as during the
reaction which must follow the death of our most illustrious writer.
Then, if ever, I should expect to see a determined resistance made to
the pretensions of whatever is rare, or delicate, or abstruse. At no
time, I think, ought those who guide taste amongst us to be more on
their guard to preserve a lofty and yet generous standard, to insist on
the merits of what is beautiful and yet unpopular, and to be unaffected
by commercial tests of distinction. We have lived for ten years in a
fool's paradise. Without suspecting the truth, we have been passing
through a period of poetic glory hardly to be paralleled elsewhere
in our history. One by one great luminaries were removed--Rossetti,
Newman, Arnold, Browning sank, each star burning larger as it neared
the horizon. Still we felt no apprehension, saying, as we turned
towards Farringford:


     "_Mais le père est là-bas, dans l'île._"


Now he is gone also, and the shock of his extinction strikes us for the
moment with a sense of positive and universal darkness.

But this very natural impression is a mistaken one. As our eyes grow
accustomed to the absence of this bright particular planet, we shall
be more and more conscious of the illuminating power of the heavenly
bodies that are left. We shall, at least, if criticism directs us
carefully and wholesomely. With all the losses that our literature
has sustained, we are, still, more richly provided with living poets
of distinction than all but the blossoming periods of our history
have been. In this respect we are easily deceived by a glance at some
chart of the course of English literature, where the lines of life of
aged writers overlap those of writers still in their early youth. The
worst pessimist amongst us will not declare that our poetry seems to
be in the utterly and deplorably indigent condition in which the death
of Burns appeared to leave it in 1796. Then the beholder, glancing
round, would see nothing but Crabbe, grown silent for eleven years,
Cowper insane, Blake undeveloped and unrecognised; the pompous, florid
Erasmus Darwin left solitary master of the field. But we, who look at
the chart, see Wordsworth and Coleridge on the point of evolution,
Campbell and Moore at school, Byron and Shelley in the nursery, and
Keats an infant. Who can tell what inheritors of unfulfilled renown may
not now be staining their divine lips with the latest of this season's
blackberries?

But we are not left to these conjectural consolations. I believe that
I take very safe ground when I say that our living poets present a
variety and amplitude of talent, a fulness of tone, an accomplishment
in art, such as few other generations in England, and still fewer
elsewhere, have been in a position to exult in. It would be invidious,
and it might indeed be very difficult and tedious, to go through the
list of those who do signal honour to our living literature in this
respect. Without repeating the list so patiently drawn up and so
humorously commented upon by Mr. Traill, it would be easy to select
from it fifteen names, not one of which would be below the fair
meridian of original merit, and many of which would rise far above it.
Could so much have been said in 1592, or in 1692, or in 1792? Surely,
no. I must not be led to multiply names, the mere mention of which in
so casual a manner can hardly fail to seem impertinent; yet I venture
to assert that a generation which can boast of Mr. Swinburne and Miss
Christina Rossetti, of Mr. William Morris and Mr. Coventry Patmore, of
Mr. Austin Dobson and Mr. Robert Bridges, has no reason to complain of
lack of fire or elevation, grace or versatility.

It was only in Paradise, so we learn from St. Basil, that roses ever
grew without thorns. We cannot have the rose of such an exceptional
life as Tennyson's without suffering for it. We suffer by the void its
cessation produces, the disturbance in our literary hierarchy that
it brings, the sense of uncertainty and insufficiency that follows
upon it. The death of Victor Hugo led to precisely such a rocking and
swaying of the ship of literature in France, and to this day it cannot
be said that the balance there is completely restored. I cannot think
that we gain much by ignoring this disturbance, which is inevitable,
and still less by folding our hands and calling out that it means that
the vessel is sinking. It means nothing of the kind. What it does mean
is that when a man of the very highest rank in the profession lives to
an exceptionally great age, and retains his intellectual gifts to the
end, combining with these unusual advantages the still more fortuitous
ones of being singular and picturesque in his personality and the
object of much ungratified curiosity, he becomes the victim, in the
eyes of his contemporaries, of a sort of vertical mirage. He is seen
up in the sky where no man could be. I trust I shall not be accused of
anything like disrespect to the genius of Tennyson--which I loved and
admired as nearly to the pitch of idolatry as possible--when I say that
his reputation at this moment is largely mirage. His gifts were of the
very highest order; but in the popular esteem, at this moment, he holds
a position which is, to carry on the image, topographically impossible.
No poet, no man, ever reached that altitude above his fellows.

The result of seeing one mountain in vertical mirage, and various
surrounding acclivities (if that were possible) at their proper
heights, would be to falsify the whole system of optical proportion.
Yet this is what is now happening, and for some little time will
continue to happen _in crescendo_, with regard to Tennyson and his
surviving contemporaries. There is no need, however, to cherish "those
gloomy thoughts led on by spleen" which the melancholy events of the
past month have awakened. The recuperative force of the arts has never
yet failed the human race, and will not fail us now. All the _Tit-Bits_
and _Pearson's Weeklies_ in the world will not be able to destroy a
fragment of pure and original literature, although the tastes they
foster may delay its recognition and curtail its rewards.

The duty of all who have any influence on the public is now clear. So
far from resigning the responsibility of praise and blame, so far from
opening the flood-gates to what is bad--on the ground that the best
is gone, and that it does not matter--it behoves those who are our
recognised judges of literary merit to resist more strenuously than
ever the inroads of mere commercial success into the Temple of Fame.
The Scotch ministry preserve that interesting practice of "fencing the
tables" of the Lord by a solemn searching of would-be communicants. Let
the tables of Apollo be fenced, not to the exclusion or the discomfort
of those who have a right to his sacraments, but to the chastening of
those who have no other mark of his service but their passbook. And
poetry, which survived the death of Chaucer, will recover even from the
death of Tennyson.

_1892._

FOOTNOTE:

[1] See Mr. Hall Caine's interesting article in the _Times_ for October
17th, 1892.



SHELLEY in 1892



Shelley in 1892

_Centenary Address delivered at Horsham, August 11, 1892_


We meet to-day to celebrate the fact that, exactly one hundred
years ago, there was born, in an old house in this parish, one of
the greatest of the English poets, one of the most individual and
remarkable of the poets of the world. This beautiful county of Sussex,
with its blowing woodlands and its shining downs, was even then not
unaccustomed to poetic honours. One hundred and thirty years before,
it had given birth to Otway; seventy years before, to Collins. But
charming as these pathetic figures were and are, not Collins and
not Otway can compare for a moment with that writer who is the
main intellectual glory of Sussex, the ever-beloved and ethereally
illustrious Percy Bysshe Shelley. It has appeared to me that you might,
as a Sussex audience, gathered in a Sussex town, like to be reminded,
before we go any further, of the exact connection of our poet with
the county--of the stake, as it is called, which his family held in
Sussex, and of the period of his own residence in it. You will see
that, although his native province lost him early, she had a strong
claim upon his interests and associations.

When Shelley was born, on the 4th of August, 1792, his grandfather,
afterwards a baronet, Sir Bysshe Shelley, was ensconced at Goring
Castle, while his father, the heir to the title, Mr. Timothy Shelley,
inhabited that famous house, Field Place, which lies here at your
doors. Mr. Timothy Shelley had married a lady from your nearest eastern
neighbour, the town of Cuckfield; he was M.P. for another Sussex
borough, Shoreham; in the next Parliament he was to represent, if I am
not mistaken, Horsham itself. The names which meet us in the earliest
pages of the poet's biographies are all Sussex names. It was at Warnham
that he was taught his earliest lessons, and it was in Warnham Pond
that the great tortoise lurked which was the earliest of his visions.
St. Irvine's, in whose woods he loved to wander by moonlight, has
disappeared, but Strode is close to you still, and if St. Leonard's
Forest has shrunken somewhat to the eastward since Shelley walked and
raved in its allies, you still possess it in your neighbourhood.

Until Shelley was expelled from Oxford, Field Place was his constant
residence out of school and college hours. Nor, although his father at
first forbade him to return, was his connection with Sussex broken even
then. The house of his uncle, Captain Pilfold, was always open to him
at Cuckfield, and when the Duke of Norfolk made his kind suggestion
that the young man should enter Parliament, as a species of moral
sedative, it was to a Sussex borough that he proposed to nominate
him. Shelley's first abortive volume of poems was set up by a Horsham
printer, and it was from Hurstpierpoint that Miss Hitchener, afterwards
known as the "Brown Demon," started on her disastrous expedition into
the lives of the Shelleys. It was not until 1814, on the eve of his
departure for the Continent, that Shelley came to Sussex for the last
time, paying that furtive visit to his mother and sisters, on which,
in order to conceal himself from his father, he buttoned the scarlet
jacket of a guardsman round his attenuated form.

If I have endeavoured, by thus grouping together all the Sussex names
which are connected with Shelley, to attract your personal and local
sympathy around the career of the poet, it is with no intention to
claim for him a provincial significance. Shelley does not belong to
any one county, however rich and illustrious that county may be; he
belongs to Europe--to the world. The tendency of his poetry and its
peculiar accent were not so much English as European. He might have
been a Frenchman, or an Italian, a Pole, or a Greek, in a way in which
Wordsworth, for instance, or even Byron, could never have been anything
but an Englishman. He passes, as we watch the brief and sparkling
record of his life, from Sussex to the world. One day he is a child,
sailing paper boats among the reeds in Warnham Pond; next day we look,
and see, scarcely the son of worthy Mr. Timothy Shelley of Field Place,
but a spirit without a country, "a planet-crested shape sweeping by
on lightning-braided pinions" to scatter the liquid joy of life over
humanity.

Into the particulars of this strange life I need not pass. You
know them well. No life so brief as Shelley's has occupied so much
curiosity, and for my part I think that even too minute inquiry has
been made concerning some of its details. The "Harriet problem" leaves
its trail across one petal of this rose; minuter insects, not quite
so slimy, lurk where there should be nothing but colour and odour.
We may well, I think, be content to-day to take the large romance
of Shelley's life, and leave any sordid details to oblivion. He
died before he was quite thirty years of age, and the busy piety of
biographers has peeped into the record of almost every day of the last
ten of those years. What seems to me most wonderful is that a creature
so nervous, so passionate, so ill-disciplined as Shelley was, should
be able to come out of such an unprecedented ordeal with his shining
garments so little specked with mire. Let us, at all events, to-day,
think of the man only as "the peregrine falcon" that his best and
oldest friends describe him.

We may, at all events, while a grateful England is cherishing Shelley's
memory, and congratulating herself on his majestic legacy of song to
her, reflect almost with amusement on the very different attitude of
public opinion seventy and even fifty years ago. That he should have
been pursued by calumny and prejudice through his brief, misrepresented
life, and even beyond the tomb, can surprise no thinking spirit. It was
not the poet who was attacked; it was the revolutionist, the enemy of
kings and priests, the extravagant and paradoxical humanitarian. It is
not needful, in order to defend Shelley's genius aright, to inveigh
against those who, taught in the prim school of eighteenth-century
poetics, and repelled by political and social peculiarities which they
but dimly understood, poured out their reprobation of his verses.
Even his reviewers, perhaps, were not all of them "beaten hounds"
and "carrion kites"; some, perhaps, were very respectable and rather
narrow-minded English gentlemen, devoted to the poetry of Shenstone.
The newer a thing is, in the true sense, the slower people are to
accept it, and the abuse of the _Quarterly Review_, rightly taken, was
but a token of Shelley's opulent originality.

To this unintelligent aversion there succeeded in the course of years
an equally blind, although more amiable, admiration. Among a certain
class of minds the reaction set in with absolute violence, and once
more the centre of attention was not the poet and his poetry, but
the faddist and his fads. Shelley was idealised, etherealised, and
canonised. Expressions were used about his conduct and his opinions
which would have been extravagant if employed to describe those of a
virgin-martyr or of the founder of a religion. Vegetarians clustered
around the eater of buns and raisins, revolutionists around the
enemy of kings, social anarchists around the husband of Godwin's
daughter. Worse than all, those to whom the restraints of religion
were hateful, marshalled themselves under the banner of the youth who
had rashly styled himself an atheist, forgetful of the fact that all
his best writings attest that, whatever name he might give himself,
he, more than any other poet of the age, saw God in everything. This
also was a phase, and passed away. The career of Shelley is no longer
a battlefield for fanatics of one sort or the other; if they still
skirmish a little in its obscurer corners, the main tract of it is
not darkened with the smoke from their artillery. It lies, a fair
open country of pure poetry, a province which comes as near to being
fairyland as any that literature provides for us.

We cannot, however, think of this poet as of a writer of verses in the
void. He is anything but the "idle singer of an empty day." Shelley was
born amid extraordinary circumstances into an extraordinary age. On the
very day, one hundred years ago, when the champagne was being drunk
in the hall of Field Place in honour of the birth of a son and heir
to Mr. Timothy Shelley, the thunder-cloud of revolution was breaking
over Europe. Never before had there been felt within so short a space
of time so general a crash of the political order of things. Here, in
England, we were spectators of the wild and sundering stress, in which
the other kingdoms of Europe were distracted actors. The faces of Burke
and of his friends wore "the expression of men who are going to defend
themselves from murderers," and those murderers are called, during the
infancy of Shelley, by many names, Mamelukes and Suliots, Poles and
Swedes, besides the all-dreaded one of _sansculottes_. In the midst of
this turmoil Shelley was born, and the air of revolution filled his
veins with life.

In Shelley we see a certain type of revolutionist, born out of due
time, and directed to the bloodless field of literature. The same
week that saw the downfall of La Fayette saw the birth of Shelley,
and we might believe the one to be an incarnation of the hopes of the
other. Each was an aristocrat, born with a passionate ambition to play
a great part in the service of humanity; in neither was there found
that admixture of the earthly which is needful for sustained success
in practical life. Had Shelley taken part in active affairs, his will
and his enthusiasm must have broken, like waves, against the coarser
type of revolutionist, against the Dantons and the Robespierres. Like
La Fayette, Shelley was intoxicated with virtue and glory; he was
chivalrous, inflammable, and sentimental. Happily for us, and for
the world, he was not thrown into a position where these beautiful
qualities could be displayed only to be shattered like a dome of
many-coloured glass. He was the not unfamiliar figure of revolutionary
times, the _grand seigneur_ enamoured of democracy. But he was much
more than this; as Mr. Swinburne said long ago, Shelley "was born a
son and soldier of light, an archangel winged and weaponed for angel's
work." Let us attempt to discover what sort of prophecy it was that he
blew through his golden trumpet.

It is in the period of youth that Shelley appeals to us most directly,
and exercises his most unquestioned authority over the imagination. In
early life, at the moment more especially when the individuality begins
to assert itself, a young man or a young woman of feeling discovers in
this poet certain qualities which appear to be not merely good, but
the best, not only genuine, but exclusively interesting. At that age
we ask for light, and do not care how it is distributed; for melody,
and do not ask the purpose of the song; for colour, and find no hues
too brilliant to delight the unwearied eye. Shelley satisfies these
cravings of youth. His whole conception of life is bounded only by
its illusions. The brilliancy of the morning dream, the extremities
of radiance and gloom, the most pellucid truth, the most triumphant
virtue, the most sinister guilt and melodramatic infamy, alone contrive
to rivet the attention. All half-lights, all arrangements in grey or
russet, are cast aside with impatience, as unworthy of the emancipated
spirit. Winged youth, in the bright act of sowing its intellectual wild
oats, demands a poet, and Horsham, just one hundred years ago, produced
Shelley to satisfy that natural craving.

It is not for grey philosophers, or hermits wearing out the evening
of life, to pass a definitive verdict on the poetry of Shelley. It
is easy for critics of this temper to point out weak places in the
radiant panoply, to say that this is incoherent, and that hysterical,
and the other an ethereal fallacy. Sympathy is needful, a recognition
of the point of view, before we can begin to judge Shelley aright. We
must throw ourselves back to what we were at twenty, and recollect
how dazzling, how fresh, how full of colour, and melody, and odour,
this poetry seemed to us--how like a May-day morning in a rich Italian
garden, with a fountain, and with nightingales in the blossoming boughs
of the orange-trees, with the vision of a frosty Apennine beyond the
belt of laurels, and clear auroral sky everywhere above our heads. We
took him for what he seemed, "a pard-like spirit, beautiful and swift,"
and we thought to criticise him as little as we thought to judge the
murmur of the forest or the reflections of the moonlight on the lake.
He was exquisite, emancipated, young like ourselves, and yet as wise
as a divinity. We followed him unquestioning, walking in step with his
panthers, as the Bacchantes followed Dionysus out of India, intoxicated
with enthusiasm.

If our sentiment is no longer so rhapsodical, shall we blame the poet?
Hardly, I think. He has not grown older, it is we who are passing
further and further from that happy eastern morning where the light is
fresh, and the shadows plain and clearly defined. Over all our lives,
over the lives of those of us who may be seeking to be least trammelled
by the commonplace, there creeps ever onward the stealthy tinge of
conventionality, the admixture of the earthly. We cannot honestly
wish it to be otherwise. It is the natural development, which turns
kittens into cats, and blithe-hearted lads into earnest members of
Parliament. If we try to resist this inevitable tendency, we merely
become eccentric, a mockery to others, and a trouble to ourselves.
Let us accept our respectability with becoming airs of gravity; it
is another thing to deny that youth was sweet. When I see an elderly
professor proving that the genius of Shelley has been overrated, I
cannot restrain a melancholy smile. What would he, what would I, give
for that exquisite ardour, by the light of which all other poetry than
Shelley's seemed dim? You recollect our poet's curious phrase, that to
go to him for common sense was like going to a gin-palace for mutton
chops. The speech was a rash one, and has done him harm. But it is
true enough that those who are conscious of the grossness of life, and
are over-materialised, must go to him for the elixir and ether which
emancipate the senses.

If I am right in thinking that you will all be with me in considering
this beautiful passion of youth, this recapturing of the illusions,
as the most notable of the gifts of Shelley's poetry to us, you will
also, I think, agree with me in placing only second to it the witchery
which enables this writer, more than any other, to seize the most
tumultuous and agitating of the emotions, and present them to us
coloured by the analogy of natural beauty. Whether it be the petulance
of a solitary human being, to whom the little downy owl is a friend,
or the sorrows and desires of Prometheus, on whom the primal elements
attend as slaves, Shelley is able to mould his verse to the expression
of feeling, and to harmonise natural phenomena to the magnitude or the
delicacy of his theme. No other poet has so wide a grasp as he in this
respect, no one sweeps so broadly the full diapason of man in nature.
Laying hold of the general life of the universe with a boldness that is
unparalleled, he is equal to the most sensitive of the naturalists in
his exact observation of tender and humble forms.

And to the ardour of fiery youth and the imaginative sympathy of
pantheism, he adds what we might hardly expect from so rapt and
tempestuous a singer, the artist's self-restraint. Shelley is none
of those of whom we are sometimes told in these days, whose mission
is too serious to be transmitted with the arts of language, who are
too much occupied with the substance to care about the form. All that
is best in his exquisite collection of verse cries out against this
wretched heresy. With all his modernity, his revolutionary instinct,
his disdain of the unessential, his poetry is of the highest and most
classic technical perfection. No one, among the moderns, has gone
further than he in the just attention to poetic form, and there is so
severe a precision in his most vibrating choruses that we are taken
by them into the company, not of the Ossians and the Walt Whitmans,
not of those who feel, yet cannot control their feelings, but of those
impeccable masters of style,


         _who dwelt by the azure sea_
     _Of serene and golden Italy,_
     _Or Greece the mother of the free._


And now, most inadequately and tamely, yet, I trust, with some sense of
the greatness of my theme, I have endeavoured to recall to your minds
certain of the cardinal qualities which animated the divine poet whom
we celebrate to-day. I have no taste for those arrangements of our
great writers which assign to them rank like schoolboys in a class, and
I cannot venture to suggest that Shelley stands above or below this
or that brother immortal. But of this I am quite sure, that when the
slender roll is called of those singers, who make the poetry of England
second only to that of Greece (if even of Greece), however few are
named, Shelley must be among them. To-day, under the auspices of the
greatest poet our language has produced since Shelley died, encouraged
by universal public opinion and by dignitaries of all the professions,
yes, even by prelates of our national church, we are gathered here as a
sign that the period of prejudice is over, that England is in sympathy
at last with her beautiful wayward child, understands his great
language, and is reconciled to his harmonious ministry. A century has
gone by, and once more we acknowledge the truth of his own words:


     _The splendours of the firmament of time_
       _May be eclipsed, but are extinguished not;_
     _Like stars to their appointed height they climb._



SYMBOLISM AND M. STÉPHANE MALLARMÉ



Symbolism and M. Stéphane Mallarmé


The name which stands at the head of this essay is that of a writer
who is at the present time more talked about, more ferociously
attacked, more passionately beloved and defended, and at the same
time less understood, than perhaps any other man of his intellectual
rank in Europe. Even in the ferocious world of Parisian letters his
purity of motive and dignity of attitude are respected. Benevolent to
those younger than himself, exquisitely courteous and considerate in
controversy, a master of that suavity and reserve the value of which
literary persons so rarely appreciate, M. Mallarmé, to one who from a
distance gazes with curiosity into the Parisian hurly-burly, appeals
first by the beautiful amenity of his manners--a dreamy Sir Launcelot
riding through a forest of dragons to help the dolorous lady of Poesy
from pain. In the incessant pamphlet-wars of his party, others seem to
strike for themselves, M. Mallarmé always for the cause; and when the
battle is over, and the rest meet to carouse round a camp-fire, he is
always found stealing back to the ivory tower of contemplation. Before
we know the rights of the case, or have read a line of his verses, we
are predisposed towards a figure so pure and so distinguished.

But though the personality of M. Mallarmé is so attractive, and though
he marches at the head of a very noisy rabble, exceedingly little
seems to be clearly known about him in this country. Until now, he has
published in such a rare and cryptic manner, that not half a dozen of
any one of his books can have reached England. Two or three abstruse
essays in prose, published in the _National Observer_, have lately
amazed the Philistines. Not thus did Mr. Lillyvick understand that
the French language was to be imparted to Morleena Kenwigs. Charming
stories float about concerning Scotch mammas who subscribed to the
_National Observer_ for the use of their girls, and discovered that
the articles were written in Moldo-Wallachian. M. Mallarmé's theories
have been ridiculed and travestied, his style parodied, his practice
gravely rebuked; but what that practice and style and theories are,
has scarcely been understood. M. Mallarmé has been wrapped up in
the general fog which enfolds our British notions of symbolists and
impressionists. If the school has had a single friend in England, it
has been Mr. Arthur Symons, one of the most brilliant of our younger
poets; and even he has been interested, I think, more in M. Verlaine
than in the Symbolists and Décadents proper.

It was in 1886 that the Décadents first began to be talked about. Then
it was that Arthur Rimbaud's famous sonnet about the colours of the
vowels flashed into celebrity, and everybody was telling everybody else
that


     _A's black; E, white; I, blue; O, red; V, yellow;_
     _But purple seeks in vain a vowel-fellow._


Those were the days, already ancient now! of Noël Loumo and Marius
Tapera, when the inexpressible Adoré Floupette published _Les
Déliquescences_. Where are the deliquescents of yesteryear? Where
is the once celebrated scene in the "boudoir oblong aux cycloïdes
bigarrures" which enlivened _Le Thé chez Miranda_ of M. Jean Moréas?
These added to the gaiety of nations, and have been forgotten; brief
life was here their portion. Fresh oddities come forward, poets
in shoals and schools, Evolutivo-instrumentists, Cataclysmists,
Trombonists--even while we speak, have they not faded away? But amidst
all this world of phantasmagoria, among these fugitive apparitions
and futile individualities, dancing once across the stereopticon and
seen no more--one figure of a genuine man of letters remains, that of
M. Stéphane Mallarmé, the solitary name among those of the so-called
Décadents which has hitherto proved its right to serious consideration.

If the dictionaries are to be trusted, M. Mallarmé was born in 1842.
His career seems to have been the most uneventful on record. He has
always been, and I think still is, professor of English at the Lycée
Fontanes in Paris. About twenty years ago he paid a short visit to
London, carrying with him, as I well remember, the vast portfolio of
his translation of Poe's _Raven_, with Manet's singular illustrations.
His life has been spent in a Buddhistic calm, in meditation. He
has scarcely published anything, disliking, so it is said, the
"exhibitionnisme" involved in bringing out a book, the banality of
types and proofs and revises.

His revolutionary ideas with regard to style were formulated about
1875, when the _Parnasse Contemporain_, edited by the friends
and co-evals of M. Mallarmé, rejected his first important poem,
_L'Après-Midi d'un Faune_, which appeared at length in 1876, as a
quarto pamphlet, illustrated by Manet. In the same year he gave his
earliest example of the new prose in the shape of an essay prefixed to
a beautiful reprint of Beckford's _Vathek_, a volume bound in vellum,
tied with black and crimson silk, and produced in a very small edition.
Ridicule was the only welcome vouchsafed to these two couriers of the
Décadance. Perhaps M. Mallarmé was somewhat discouraged, although
absolutely unsubdued.

He remained long submerged, but with the growth of his school he was
persuaded to reappear. In 1887 one fascicule only of his complete poems
was brought out in an extraordinary form, photolithographed from the
original manuscript. In 1888 followed a translation of the poems of
Edgar Poe. But until 1893 the general reader has had no opportunity,
even in France, of forming an opinion on the prose or verse of M.
Mallarmé. Meanwhile, his name has become one of the most notorious in
contemporary literature. A thousand eccentricities, a thousand acts of
revolt against tradition, have been perpetrated under the banner of
his tacit encouragement. It is high time to try and understand what M.
Mallarmé's teaching really is, and what his practice.

To ridicule the Décadents, or to insist upon their extravagance, is
so easy as to be unworthy of a serious critic. It would be quite
simple for some crusty Christopher to show that the poems of master
and scholars alike are monstrous, unintelligible, ludicrously inept,
and preposterous. M. Mallarmé has had hard words, not merely from the
old classical critics such as M. Brunetière, but from men from whom
the extremity of sympathy might have been looked. Life-long friends
like M. Leconte de Lisle confess that they understood him once, but,
alas! understand him no longer; or, like M. François Coppée, avoid all
discussion of his verses, and obstinately confine themselves to "son
esprit élevé, sa vie si pure, si belle." When such men as these profess
themselves unable to comprehend a writer of their own age and language,
it seems presumptuous for a foreigner to attempt to do so, nor do I
pretend that in the formal and minute sense I am able to comprehend
the poems of M. Mallarmé. He remains, under the most loving scrutiny,
a most difficult writer. But, at all events, I think that sympathy
and study may avail to enable the critic to detect the spirit which
inspires this strange and cryptic figure. Study and sympathy I have
given, and I offer some results of them, not without diffidence.

Translated into common language, then, the main design of M. Mallarmé
and his friends seems to be to refresh the languid current of French
style. They hold--and in this view no English critic can dare to join
issue with them--that art is not a stable nor a definite thing, and
that success for the future must lie along paths not exactly traversed
in the immediate past. They are tired of the official versification
of France, and they dream of new effects which all the handbooks tell
them are impossible to French prosody. They make infinite experiments,
they feel their way; and I have nothing to reproach them with except
their undue haste (but M. Mallarmé has not been hasty) in publishing
their "tentatives." Their aims are those of our own Areopagites of
1580, met "for the general surceasing and silence of bold Rymers, and
also of the very best of them too"--"our new famous enterprise for the
exchange of barbarous rymes for artificial verses." We must wish for
the odd productions of these modern Parisian euphuists a better fate
than befell the trimeter iambics of Master Drant and Master Preston.
But the cause of their existence is plain enough. It is the exhaustion,
the enervation of the language, following upon the activities of
Victor Hugo and his contemporaries. It is, morever, a reaction
towards freedom, directly consequent upon the strict and impersonal
versification of the Parnassians. When the official verse has been
burnished and chased to the metallic perfection of M. de Hérédia's
sonnets, nothing but to withdraw to the wilderness in sheepskins is
left to would-be poets of the next generation.

To pass from Symbolism generally to M. Mallarmé and his particular
series of theories, he presents himself to us above all as an
individualist. The poets of the last generation were a flock of
singing-birds, trained in a general aviary. They met, as on the marble
pavement of some new Serapeum, to contend in public for the rewards
of polished verse. In contrast with these rivalries and congregations
M. Mallarmé has always shown himself solitary and disengaged. As he
has said: "The poet is a man who isolates himself that he may carve
the sculptures of his own tomb." He refuses to obey that hierarchical
tradition of which Victor Hugo was the most formidable pontiff. He
finds the alexandrine, as employed in the intractable prosody of
modern France, a rigid and puerile instrument, from which melodies can
nowadays no more be extracted. So far as I comprehend the position, M.
Mallarmé does not propose, as do some of his disciples, to reject this
noble verse-form altogether, and to slide into a sort of rhymed Walt
Whitmanism. I cannot trace in his published poems a single instance
of such a determination. But it is plain that he takes the twelve
syllables of the line as forming, not six notes, but twelve, and he
demands permission to form with these twelve as many combinations as
he pleases. Melody, to be gained at any sacrifice of the old Jesuit
laws, is what he desiderates: harmony of versification, obtained in new
ways, by extracting the latent capabilities of the organ until now too
conventionally employed.

So much, very briefly, for the prosodical innovation. For the language
he demands an equal refreshment, by the rejection of the old worn
phrases in favour of odd, exotic, and archaic terms. He takes up
and adopts literally the idea of Théophile Gautier that words are
precious stones, and should be so set as to flash and radiate from
the page. More individually characteristic of M. Mallarmé I find a
certain preference for enigma. Language, to him, is given to conceal
definite thought, to draw the eye away from the object. The Parnassians
defined, described, analysed the object until it stood before us as in
a coloured photograph. M. Mallarmé avoids this as much as possible.
He aims at allusion only; he wraps a mystery around his simplest
utterance; the abstruse and the symbolic are his peculiar territory.
His aim, or I greatly misunderstand him, is to use words in such
harmonious combinations as will suggest to the reader a mood or a
condition which is not mentioned in the text, but is nevertheless
paramount in the poet's mind at the moment of composition. To the
conscious aiming at this particular effect are, it appears to me, due
the more curious characteristics of his style, and much of the utter
bewilderment which it produces on the brain of an indolent reader
debauched by the facilities of realism.

The longest and the most celebrated of the poems of M. Mallarmé is
_L'Après-Midi d'un Faune_. It appears in the "florilège" which he has
just published, and I have now read it again, as I have often read it
before. To say that I understand it bit by bit, phrase by phrase,
would be excessive. But if I am asked whether this famous miracle of
unintelligibility gives me pleasure, I answer, cordially, Yes. I even
fancy that I obtain from it as definite and as solid an impression as
M. Mallarmé desires to produce. This is what I read in it: A faun--a
simple, sensuous, passionate being--wakens in the forest at daybreak
and tries to recall his experience of the previous afternoon. Was he
the fortunate recipient of an actual visit from nymphs, white and
golden goddesses, divinely tender and indulgent? Or is the memory he
seems to retain nothing but the shadow of a vision, no more substantial
than the "arid rain" of notes from his own flute? He cannot tell. Yet
surely there was, surely there is, an animal whiteness among the brown
reeds of the lake that shines out yonder? Were they, are they, swans?
No! But Naiads plunging? Perhaps!

Vaguer and vaguer grows the impression of this delicious experience.
He would resign his woodland godship to retain it. A garden of lilies,
golden-headed, white-stalked, behind the trellis of red roses? Ah! the
effort is too great for his poor brain. Perhaps if he selects one lily
from the garth of lilies, one benign and beneficent yielder of her cup
to thirsty lips, the memory, the ever-receding memory, may be forced
back. So, when he has glutted upon a bunch of grapes, he is wont to
toss the empty skins into the air and blow them out in a visionary
greediness. But no, the delicious hour grows vaguer; experience or
dream, he will now never know which it was. The sun is warm, the
grasses yielding; and he curls himself up again, after worshipping the
efficacious star of wine, that he may pursue the dubious ecstasy into
the more hopeful boskages of sleep.

This, then, is what I read in the so excessively obscure and
unintelligible _L'Après-Midi d'un Faune_; and, accompanied as it is
with a perfect suavity of language and melody of rhythm, I know not
what more a poem of eight pages could be expected to give. It supplies
a simple and direct impression of physical beauty, of harmony, of
colour; it is exceedingly mellifluous, when once the ear understands
that the poet, instead of being the slave of the alexandrine, weaves
his variations round it like a musical composer. Unfortunately,
_L'Après-Midi_ was written fifteen years ago, and his theories have
grown upon M. Mallarmé as his have on Mr. George Meredith. In the
new collection of _Vers et Prose_ I miss some pieces which I used
to admire--in particular, surely, _Placet_, and the delightful poem
called _Le Guignon_. Perhaps these were too lucid for the worshippers.
In return, we have certain allegories which are terribly abstruse,
and some subfusc sonnets. I have read the following, called _Le
Tombeau d'Edgard Poe_, over and over and over. I am very stupid, but
I cannot tell what it _says_. In a certain vague and vitreous way I
think I perceive what it _means_; and we are aided now by its being
punctuated, which was not the case in the original form in which I met
with it. But, "O my Brothers, ye the Workers," is it not still a little
difficult?


     _Tel qu'en Lui-même enfin l'éternité le change,_
       _Le Poëte suscite avec un glaive nu_
       _Son siècle épouvanté de n'avoir pas connu_
     _Que la mort triomphait dans cette voix étrange!_
     _Eux, comme un vil sursaut d'hydre oyant jadis l'ange_
       _Donner un sens plus pur aux mots de la tribu_
       _Proclamèrent très haut le sortilège bu_
     _Dans le flot sans honneur de quelque noir mélange._
     _Du sol et de la nue hostiles, ô grief!_
     _Si notre idée avec ne sculpte un bas-relief_
       _Dont la tombe de Poe éblouissante s'orne_
     _Calme bloc ici-bas chu d'un désastre obscur_
       _Que ce granit du moins montre à jamais sa borne_
     _Aux noirs vols du Blasphème épars dans le futur._


Of the prose of M. Mallarmé, I can here speak but briefly. He has
not published very much of it; and it is all polished and cadenced
like his verse, with strange transposed adjectives and exotic nouns
fantastically employed. It is even more distinctly to be seen in his
prose than in his verse that he descends directly from Baudelaire, and
in the former that streak of Lamartine that marks his poems is lacking.

The book called _Pages_ can naturally be compared with the _Poèmes
en Prose_ of Baudelaire. Several of the sketches so named are
now reprinted in _Vers et Prose_, and they strike me as the most
distinguished and satisfactory of the published writings of M.
Mallarmé. They are difficult, but far more intelligible than the
enigmas which he calls his sonnets. _La Pipe_, in which the sight
of an old meerschaum brings up dreams of London and the solitary
lodgings there; _Le Nénuphar Blanc_, recording the vision of a lovely
lady, visible for one tantalising moment to a rower in his boat;
_Frisson d'Hiver_, the wholly fantastic and nebulous reverie of
archaic elegances evoked by the ticking of a clock of Dresden china;
each of these, and several more of these exquisite _Pages_, give
just that impression of mystery and allusion which the author deems
that style should give. They are exquisite--so far as they go--pure,
distinguished, ingenious; and the fantastic oddity of their vocabulary
seems in perfect accord with their general character.

Here is a fragment of _La Pénultième_, on which the reader may try his
skill in comprehending the New French:

"Mais où s'installe l'irrécusable intervention du surnaturel, et le
commencement de l'angoisse sous laquelle agonise mon esprit naguère
seigneur, c'est quand je vis, levant les yeux, dans la rue des
antiquaires instinctivement suivie, que j'étais devant la boutique d'un
luthier vendeur de vieux instruments pendus au mur, et, à terre, des
palmes jaunes et les ailes enfouies en l'ombre, d'oiseaux anciens. Je
m'enfuis, bizarre, personne condamnée à porter probablement le deuil de
l'inexplicable Pénultième."

As a translator, all the world must commend M. Mallarmé. He has put
the poems of Poe into French in a way which is subtle almost without
parallel. Each version is in simple prose, but so full, so reserved,
so suavely mellifluous, that the metre and the rhymes continue to sing
in an English ear. None could enter more tenderly than he into the
strange charm of _Ulalume_, of _The Sleeper_, or of _The Raven_. It is
rarely indeed that a word suggests that the melody of one, who was a
symbolist and a weaver of enigmas like himself, has momentarily evaded
the translator.

M. Mallarmé, who understands English so perfectly, has perhaps seen the
poems of Sydney Dobell. He knows, it is possible, that thirty or forty
years ago there was an English poet who cultivated the symbol, who
deliquesced the language, as he himself does in French. Sydney Dobell
wrote lovely, unintelligible things, that broke, every now and then,
into rhapsodies of veritable beauty. But his whole system was violent.
He became an eccentric cometary nebula, whirling away from our poetic
system at a tangent. He whirled away, for all his sincere passion, into
oblivion. This is what one fears for the Symbolists: that being read
with so great an effort by their own generation, they may, by the next,
not be read at all, and what is pure and genuine in their artistic
impulses be lost. Something of M. Mallarmé will, however, always be
turned back to with respect and perhaps with enthusiasm, for he is a
true man of letters.

_1893._



TWO PASTELS



I

Mr. R. L. Stevenson as a Poet


A pretty little anthology might be made of poems by distinguished
writers who never for a moment professed to be poets, and who only
"swept, with hurried hand, the strings" when they thought nobody was
listening. The elegant technical people of the eighteenth century,
who never liked to be too abstruse to seem polite, would contribute
a great many of these flowers that were born to bloom unseen. It is
not everybody who is aware that the majestic Sir William Blackstone
was "guilty," as people put it, of a set of one hundred octosyllabic
verses which would do credit to any laurelled master on Parnassus. We
might, indeed, open our little volume with _The Lawyers Farewell to
his Muse_. Then, of course, there would be Bishop Berkeley's unique
poem, _Westward the Course of Empire takes its Way_; and Oldys,
the antiquary, would spare us his _Busy, curious, thirsty Fly_. We
should appeal to Burton for the prefatory verses in the _Anatomy of
Melancholy_, and to Bacon for _The World's Bubble_. If I had any finger
in that anthology, Smollett's _Ode to Leven Water_ should by no means
be omitted. It would be a false pride that would reject Holcroft's
_Gaffer Gray_, or Sydney Smith's _Receipt for a Salad_, which latter
Herrick might have been glad to sign. Hume's solitary poem should be
printed by itself, or with some of Carlyle's lyrics, and George Eliot's
sonnets, in an appendix, as an awful warning.

As we come down to recent times the task of editing our anthology would
grow difficult. In our day, the prose writers have either been coy
or copious with their verses. If Professor Tyndall has never essayed
the Lydian measure it is very surprising, but we have not yet been
admitted to hear his shell; nor has Mr. Walter Besant, to the best of
my belief, published an ode to anything. Let the shades of Berkeley and
Smollett administer reproof. Until quite lately, however, we should
have been contented to close our selection with "The bed was made, the
room was fit," from _Travels with a Donkey_. But Mr. Stevenson is now
ineligible--he has published books of poems.

That this departure is not quite a new one might be surmised by any one
who has followed closely the publications of the essayist and novelist
whom a better man than I am has called "the most exquisite and original
of our day." Though Mr. Stevenson's prose volumes are more than twelve
in number, and though he had been thought of essentially as a prose
writer, the ivory shoulder of the lyre has peeped out now and then. I
do not refer to his early collections of verse, to _Not I, and other
Poems_, to _Moral Emblems_, and to _The Graver and the Pen_. (I mention
these scarce publications of the Davos press in the hope of rousing
wicked passions in the breasts of other collectors, since my own set
of them is complete.) These volumes were decidedly occult. A man might
build upon them a reputation as a sage, but hardly as a poet. Their
stern morality came well from one whose mother's milk has been the
_Shorter Catechism;_ they are books which no one can read and not be
the better for; but as mere verse, they leave something to be desired.
_Non ragionam di lor, ma guarda_, if you happen to be lucky enough
to possess them, _e passa_. Where the careful reader has perceived
that Mr. Stevenson was likely to become openly a poet has been in
snatches of verse published here and there in periodicals, and of a
quality too good to be neglected. Nevertheless, the publication of _A
Child's Garden of Verses_ (Longmans, 1885) was something of a surprise,
and perhaps the new book of grown-up poems, _Underwoods_ (Chatto and
Windus, 1887) is more surprising still. There is no doubt about it any
longer. Mr. Stevenson is a candidate for the bays.

The _Child's Garden of Verses_ has now been published long enough to
enable us to make a calm consideration of its merits. When it was
fresh, opinion was divided, as it always is about a new strong thing,
between those who, in Mr. Longfellow's phrase about the little girl,
think it very, very good, and those who think it is horrid. After
reading the new book, the _Underwoods_, we come back to _A Child's
Garden_ with a clearer sense of the writer's intention, and a wider
experience of his poetical outlook upon life. The later book helps us
to comprehend the former; there is the same sincerity, the same buoyant
simplicity, the same curiously candid and confidential attitude
of mind. If any one doubted that Mr. Stevenson was putting his own
childish memories into verse in the first book, all doubt must cease in
reading the second book, where the experiences, although those of an
adult, have exactly the same convincing air of candour. The first thing
which struck the reader of _A Child's Garden_ was the extraordinary
clearness and precision with which the immature fancies of eager
childhood were reproduced in it. People whose own childish memories had
become very vague, and whose recollections of their games and dreams
were hazy in the extreme, asked themselves how far this poet's visions
were inspired by real memory and how far by invention. The new book
sets that question at rest; the same hand that gave us--


     _My bed is like a little boat;_
       _Nurse helps me in when I embark;_
     _She girds me in my sailor's coat,_
       _And starts me in the dark;_


and the even more delicious--


     _Now, with my little gun, I crawl_
     _All in the dark along the wall,_
     _And follow round the forest-track_
     _Away behind the sofa-back,--_


now gives us pictures like the following:


     My house, _I say. But hark to the sunny doves,_
     _That make my roof the arena of their loves_,
     _That gyre about the gable all day long_
     _And fill the chimneys with their murmurous song:_
     Our house, _they say; and_ mine, _the cat declares,_
     _And spreads his golden fleece upon the chairs;_
     _And_ mine _the dog, and rises stiff with wrath_
     _If any alien foot profane the path._
     _So, too, the buck that trimmed my terraces,_
     _Our whilome gardener, called the garden his;_
     _Who now, deposed, surveys my plain abode_
     _And his late kingdom, only from the road._


We now perceive that it is not invention, but memory of an
extraordinarily vivid kind, patiently directed to little things, and
charged with imagination; and we turn back with increased interest
to _A Child's Garden_, assured that it gives us a unique thing, a
transcript of that child-mind which we have all possessed and enjoyed,
but of which no one, except Mr. Stevenson, seems to have carried away a
photograph. Long ago, in one of the very earliest, if I remember right,
of those essays by R. L. S. for which we used so eagerly to watch the
_Cornhill Magazine_ in Mr. Leslie Stephen's time, in the paper called
"Child Play," this retention of what is wiped off from the memories of
the rest of us was clearly displayed. Out of this rarely suggestive
essay I will quote a few lines, which might have been printed as an
introduction to _A Child's Garden_:

"In the child's world of dim sensation, play is all in all. 'Making
believe' is the gist of his whole life, and he cannot so much as take
a walk except in character. I could not learn my alphabet without some
suitable _mise-en-scène_, and had to act a business-man in an office
before I could sit down to my book.... I remember, as though it were
yesterday, the expansion of spirit, the dignity and self-reliance, that
came with a pair of mustachios in burnt cork, even when there was none
to see. Children are even content to forego what we call the realities,
and prefer the shadow to the substance. When they might be speaking
intelligently together, they chatter gibberish by the hour, and are
quite happy because they are making believe to speak French."

Probably all will admit the truth of this statement of infant fancy,
when it is presented to them in this way. But how many of us, in
perfect sincerity, not relying upon legends of the nursery, not
refreshed by the study of our own children's "make-believe," can
say that we clearly recollect the method of it? We shall find that
our memories are like a breath upon the glass, like the shape of a
broken wave. Nothing is so hopelessly lost, so utterly volatile, as
the fancies of our childhood. But Mr. Stevenson, alone amongst us all,
appears to have kept daguerreotypes of the whole series of his childish
sensations. Except the late Mrs. Ewing, he seems to be without a rival
in this branch of memory as applied to literature.

The various attitudes of literary persons to the child are very
interesting. There are, for instance, poets like Victor Hugo and Mr.
Swinburne who come to admire, who stay to adore, and who do not disdain
to throw their purple over any humble article of nursery use. They are
so magnificent in their address to infancy, they say so many brilliant
and unexpected things, that the mother is almost as much dazzled as she
is gratified. We stand round, with our hats off, and admire the poet
as much as he admires the child; but we experience no regret when he
presently turns away to a discussion of grown-up things. We have an
ill-defined notion that he reconnoitres infancy from the outside, and
has not taken the pains to reach the secret mind of childhood. It is to
be noted, and this is a suspicious circumstance, that Mr. Swinburne
and Victor Hugo like the child better the younger it is.


     _What likeness may define, and stray not_
       _From truth's exactest way,_
     _A baby's beauty? Love can say not,_
       _What likeness may._


This is charming; but the address is to the mother, is to the grown-up
reflective person. To the real student of child-life the baby contains
possibilities, but is at present an uninteresting chrysalis. It cannot
carry a gun through the forest, behind the sofa-back; it is hardly so
useful as a cushion to represent a passenger in a railway-train of
inverted chairs.

Still more remote than the dithyrambic poets are those writers about
children--and they are legion--who have ever the eye fixed upon
morality, and carry the didactic tongue thrust in the cheek of fable.
The late Charles Kingsley, who might have made so perfect a book of
his _Water-Babies_, sins notoriously in this respect. The moment a
wise child perceives the presence of allegory, or moral instruction,
all the charm of a book is gone. Parable is the very antipodes of
childish "make-believe," into which the element of ulterior motive or
secondary moral meaning never enters for an instant. The secret of the
charm of Mrs. Gatty's _Parables from Nature_, which were the fairest
food given to very young minds in my day, was that the fortunate child
never discovered that they were parables at all. I, for one, used to
read and re-read them as realistic statements of fact, the necessity of
pointing a moral merely having driven the amiable author to the making
of her story a little more fantastic, and therefore more welcome, than
it would otherwise be. It was explained to me one hapless day that the
parables were of a nature to instil nice principles into the mind; and
from that moment Mrs. Gatty became a broken idol. Lewis Carroll owed
his great and deserved success to his suppleness in bending his fancy
to the conditions of a mind that is dreaming. It has never seemed to
me that the _Adventures in Wonderland_ were specially childish; dreams
are much the same, whether a child or a man is passive under them, and
it is a fact that Lewis Carroll appeals just as keenly to adults as to
children. In Edward Lear's rhymes and ballads the love of grotesque
nonsense in the grown-up child is mainly appealed to; and these are
certainly appreciated more by parents than by children.

It would be easy, by multiplying examples, to drive home my contention
that only two out of the very numerous authors who have written
successfully on or for children have shown a clear recollection of
the mind of healthy childhood itself. Many authors have achieved
brilliant success in describing children, in verbally caressing them,
in amusing, in instructing them; but only two, Mrs. Ewing in prose,
and Mr. Stevenson in verse, have sat down with them without disturbing
their fancies, and have looked into the world of "make-believe" with
the children's own eyes. If Victor Hugo should visit the nursery,
every head of hair ought to be brushed, every pinafore be clean, and
nurse must certainly be present, as well as mamma. But Mrs. Ewing or
Mr. Stevenson might lead a long romp in the attic when nurse was out
shopping, and not a child in the house should know that a grown-up
person had been there. There are at least a dozen pieces in the
_Child's Garden_ which might be quoted to show what is meant. "The
Lamplighter" will serve our purpose as well as any other:


     _My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky;_
     _It's time to take the window to see Learie going by;_
     _For every night at tea-time, and before you take your seat,_
     _With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street,_

     _Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea,_
     _And my papa's a banker and as rich as he can be;_
     _But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I'm to do,_
     _O Learie, I'll go round at night and light the lamps with you!_

     _For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,_
     _And Learie stops to light it as he lights so many more;_
     _And O! before you hurry by with ladder and with light,_
     _O Learie, see a little child, and nod to him to-night._


In publishing this autumn a second volume, this time of grown-up
verses, Mr. Stevenson has ventured on a bolder experiment. His
_Underwoods_, with its title openly borrowed from Ben Jonson, is an
easy book to appreciate and enjoy, but not to review. In many respects
it is plainly the work of the same fancy that described the Country
of Counterpane and the Land of Story-books, but it has grown a little
sadder, and a great deal older. There is the same delicate sincerity,
the same candour and simplicity, the same artless dependence on
the good faith of the public. The ordinary themes of the poets are
untouched; there is not one piece from cover to cover which deals
with the passion of love. The book is occupied with friendship, with
nature, with the honourable instincts of man's moral machinery. Above
all, it enters with great minuteness, and in a very confidential
spirit, into the theories and moods of the writer himself. It will be
to many readers a revelation of the every-day life of an author whose
impersonal writings have given them so much and so varied pleasure.
Not a dozen ordinary interviewers could have extracted so much of the
character of the man himself as he gives us in these one hundred and
twenty pages.

The question of admitting the personal element into literature is
one which is not very clearly understood. People try to make rules
about it, and say that an author may describe his study, but not his
dining-room, and his wife, but not her cousin. The fact is that no
rules can possibly be laid down in a matter which is one of individual
sympathy. The discussion whether a writer may speak of himself or no
is utterly vain until we are informed in what voice he has the habit
of speaking. It is all a question which depends on the _timbre_ of
the literary voice. As in life there are persons whose sweetness of
utterance is such that we love to have them warbling at our side, no
matter on what subject they speak, and others to whom we have scarcely
patience to listen if they want to tell us that we have inherited a
fortune, so it is in literature. Except that little class of stoic
critics who like to take their books _in vacuo_, most of us prefer to
know something about the authors we read. But whether we like them to
tell it us themselves, or no, depends entirely on the voice. Thackeray
and Fielding are never confidential enough to satisfy us; Dickens and
Smollett set our teeth on edge directly they start upon a career of
confidential expansion; and this has nothing to do with any preference
for _Tom Jones_ over _Peregrine Pickle_. There is no doubt that Mr.
Stevenson is one of those writers the sound of whose personal voices
is pleasing to the public, and there must be hundreds of his admirers
who will not miss one word of "To a Gardener" or "The Mirror Speaks,"
and who will puzzle out each of the intimate addresses to his private
friends with complete satisfaction.

The present writer is one of those who are most under the spell. For
me Mr. Stevenson may speak for ever, and chronicle at full length all
his uncles and his cousins and his nurses. But I think if it were my
privilege to serve him in the capacity of Molière's old woman, or to be
what a friend of mine would call his "foolometer," I should pluck up
courage to represent to him that this thing can be overdone. I openly
avow myself an enthusiast, yet even I shrink before the confidential
character of the prose inscription to _Underwoods_. This volume is
dedicated, if you please, to eleven physicians, and it is strange that
one so all compact of humour as Mr. Stevenson should not have noticed
how funny it is to think of an author seated affably in an armchair,
simultaneously summoning by name eleven physicians to take a few words
of praise each, and a copy of his little book.

The objective side of Mr. Stevenson's mind is very rich and full, and
he has no need to retire too obstinately upon the subjective. Yet
I know not that anything he has written in verse is more worthily
dignified than the following little personal fragment, in which he
refers, of course, to the grandfather who died a few weeks before his
birth, and to the father whom he had just conducted to the grave, both
heroic builders of lighthouses:


     _Say not of me that weakly I declined_
     _The labours of my sires, and fled the sea,_
     _The towers we founded and the lamps we lit,_
     _To play at home with paper like a child._
     _But rather say: In the afternoon of time_
     _A strenuous family dusted from its hands_
     _The sand of granite, and beholding far_
     _Along the sounding coast its pyramids_
     _And tall memorials catch the dying sun,_
     _Smiled well content, and to this childish task_
     _Around the fire addressed its evening hours._


This is a particularly happy specimen of Mr. Stevenson's blank verse,
in which metre, as a rule, he does not show to advantage. It is not
that his verses are ever lame or faulty, for in the technical portion
of the art he seldom fails, but that his rhymeless iambics remind the
ear too much now of Tennyson, now of Keats. He is, on the contrary,
exceedingly happy and very much himself in that metre of eight or seven
syllables, with couplet-rhymes, which served so well the first poets
who broke away from heroic verse, such as Swift and Lady Winchilsea,
Green and Dyer. If he must be affiliated to any school of poets it is
to these, who hold the first outworks between the old classical camp
and the invading army of romance, to whom I should ally him. Martial
is with those octo-syllabists of Queen Anne, and to Martial might well
have been assigned, had they been in old Latin, the delicately homely
lines, "To a Gardener." How felicitous is this quatrain about the
onion--


     _Let first the onion flourish there,_
     _Rose among roots, the maiden fair,_
     _Wine-scented and poetic soul_
     _Of the capacious salad-bowl._


Or this, in more irregular measure, and enfolding a loftier fancy--


     _Sing clearlier, Muse, or evermore be still,_
     _Sing truer, or no longer sing!_
     _No more the voice of melancholy Jacques_
     _To make a weeping echo in the hill;_
     _But as the boy, the pirate of the spring,_
     _From the green elm a living linnet takes,_
     _One natural verse recapture--then be still._


It would be arrogant in the extreme to decide whether or no Mr. R. L.
Stevenson's poems will be read in the future. They are, however, so
full of character, so redolent of his own fascinating temperament,
that it is not too bold to suppose that so long as his prose is
appreciated those who love that will turn to this. There have been
prose writers whose verse has not lacked accomplishment or merit, but
has been so far from interpreting their prose that it rather disturbed
its effect and weakened its influence. Cowley is an example of this,
whose ingenious and dryly intellectual poetry positively terrifies the
reader away from his eminently suave and human essays. Neither of Mr.
Stevenson's volumes of poetry will thus disturb his prose. Opinions may
be divided as to their positive value, but no one will doubt that the
same characteristics are displayed in the poems, the same suspicion
of "the abhorred pedantic sanhedrim," the same fulness of life and
tenderness of hope, the same bright felicity of epithet as in the
essays and romances. The belief, however, may be expressed without
fear of contradiction that Mr. Stevenson's fame will rest mainly upon
his verse and not upon his prose, only in that dim future when Mr.
Matthew Arnold's prophecy shall be fulfilled and Shelley's letters
shall be preferred to his lyrical poems. It is saying a great deal to
acknowledge that the author of _Kidnapped_ is scarcely less readable in
verse than he is in prose.

_1887._



II

Mr. Rudyard Kipling's Short Stories


Two years ago there was suddenly revealed to us, no one seems to
remember how, a new star out of the East. Not fewer distinguished men
of letters profess to have "discovered" Mr. Kipling than there were
cities of old in which Homer was born. Yet, in fact, the discovery was
not much more creditable to them than it would be, on a summer night,
to contrive to notice a comet flaring across the sky. Not only was this
new talent robust, brilliant, and self-asserting, but its reception
was prepared for by a unique series of circumstances. The fiction of
the Anglo-Saxon world, in its more intellectual provinces, had become
curiously feminised. Those novel-writers who cared to produce subtle
impressions upon their readers, in England and America, had become
extremely refined in taste and discreet in judgment. People who were
not content to pursue the soul of their next-door neighbour through
all the burrows of self-consciousness had no choice but to take ship
with Mr. Rider Haggard for the Mountains of the Moon. Between excess
of psychological analysis and excess of superhuman romance there was
a great void in the world of Anglo-Saxon fiction. It is this void
which Mr. Kipling, with something less than one hundred short stories,
one novel, and a few poems, has filled by his exotic realism and his
vigorous rendering of unhackneyed experience. His temperament is
eminently masculine, and yet his imagination is strictly bound by
existing laws. The Evarras of the novel had said:


                     _Thus gods are made,_
     _And whoso makes them otherwise shall die,_


when, behold, a young man comes up out of India, and makes them quite
otherwise, and lives.

The vulgar trick, however, of depreciating other writers in order to
exalt the favourite of a moment was never less worthy of practice than
it is in the case of the author of _Soldiers Three_. His relation to
his contemporaries is curiously slight. One living writer there is,
indeed, with whom it is not unnatural to compare him--Pierre Loti.
Each of these men has attracted the attention, and then the almost
exaggerated admiration, of a crowd of readers drawn from every class.
Each has become popular without ceasing to be delightful to the
fastidious. Each is independent of traditional literature, and affects
a disdain for books. Each is a wanderer, a lover of prolonged exile,
more at home among the ancient races of the East than among his own
people. Each describes what he has seen in short sentences, with highly
coloured phrases and local words, little troubled to obey the laws of
style if he can but render an exact impression of what the movement
of physical life has been to himself. Each produces on the reader a
peculiar thrill, a voluptuous and agitating sentiment of intellectual
uneasiness, with the spontaneous art of which he has the secret.
Totally unlike in detail, Rudyard Kipling and Pierre Loti have these
general qualities in common, and if we want a literary parallel to the
former, the latter is certainly the only one that we can find. Nor is
the attitude of the French novelist to his sailor friends at all unlike
that of the Anglo-Indian civilian to his soldier chums. To distinguish
we must note very carefully the difference between Mulvaney and _mon
frère Yves_; it is not altogether to the advantage of the latter.

The old rhetorical manner of criticism was not meant for the discussion
of such writers as these. The only way in which, as it seems to me, we
can possibly approach them, is by a frank confession of their personal
relation to the feelings of the critic. I will therefore admit that
I cannot pretend to be indifferent to the charm of what Mr. Kipling
writes. From the first moment of my acquaintance with it it has held
me fast. It excites, disturbs, and attracts me; I cannot throw off its
disquieting influence. I admit all that is to be said in its disfavour.
I force myself to see that its occasional cynicism is irritating and
strikes a false note. I acknowledge the broken and jagged style, the
noisy newspaper bustle of the little peremptory sentences, the cheap
irony of the satires on society. Often--but this is chiefly in the
earlier stories--I am aware that there is a good deal too much of the
rattle of the piano at some café concert. But when all this is said,
what does it amount to? What but an acknowledgment of the crudity of a
strong and rapidly developing young nature? You cannot expect a creamy
smoothness while the act of vinous fermentation is proceeding.


                               _Wit will shine_
     _Through the harsh cadence of a rugged line;_
     _A noble error, and but seldom made,_
     _When poets are by too much force betray'd;_
     _Thy generous fruits, though gather'd ere their prime,_
     _Still show a quickness, and maturing time_
     _But mellows what we write to the dull sweets of rime._


In the following pages I shall try to explain why the sense of these
shortcomings is altogether buried for me in delighted sympathy
and breathless curiosity. Mr. Kipling does not provoke a critical
suspension of judgment. He is vehement, and sweeps us away with him;
he plays upon a strange and seductive pipe, and we follow him like
children. As I write these sentences, I feel how futile is this attempt
to analyse his gifts, and how greatly I should prefer to throw this
paper to the winds and listen to the magician himself. I want more
and more, like Oliver Twist. I want all those "other stories"; I wish
to wander down all those bypaths that we have seen disappear in the
brushwood. If one lay very still and low by the watch-fire, in the
hollow of Ortheris's greatcoat, one might learn more and more of the
inextinguishable sorrows of Mulvaney. One might be told more of what
happened, out of the moonlight, in the blackness of Amir Nath's Gully.
I want to know how the palanquin came into Dearsley's possession, and
what became of Kheni Singh, and whether the seal-cutter did really
die in the House of Suddhoo. I want to know who it is who dances the
_Hálli Hukk_, and how, and why, and where. I want to know what happened
at Jagadhri, when the Death Bull was painted. I want to know all the
things that Mr. Kipling does not like to tell--to see the devils of the
East "rioting as the stallions riot in spring." It is the strength of
this new story-teller that he reawakens in us the primitive emotions
of curiosity, mystery, and romance in action. He is the master of a
new kind of terrible and enchanting peepshow, and we crowd around him
begging for "just one more look." When a writer excites and tantalises
us in this way, it seems a little idle to discuss his style. Let
pedants, then, if they will, say that Mr. Kipling has no style; yet, if
so, how shall we designate such passages as this, frequent enough among
his more exotic stories?

"Come back with me to the north and be among men once more. Come back
when this matter is accomplished and I call for thee. The bloom of the
peach-orchards is upon all the valley, and _here_ is only dust and a
great stink. There is a pleasant wind among the mulberry-trees, and
the streams are bright with snow-water, and the caravans go up and the
caravans go down, and a hundred fires sparkle in the gut of the pass,
and tent-peg answers hammer-nose, and pony squeals to pony across the
drift-smoke of the evening. It is good in the north now. Come back with
me. Let us return to our own people. Come!"


I

The private life of Mr. Rudyard Kipling is not a matter of public
interest, and I should be very unwilling to exploit it, even if I had
the means of doing so. The youngest of living writers should really be
protected for a few years longer against those who chirp and gabble
about the unessential. All that needs to be known, in order to give him
his due chronological place, is that he was born in Bombay in Christmas
week, 1865. The careful student of what he has published will collect
from it the impression that Mr. Kipling was resident in India at an age
when few European children remain there; that he returned to England
for a brief period; that he began a career on his own account in India
at an unusually early age; that he has led a life of extraordinary
vicissitude, as a journalist, as a war correspondent, as a civilian
in the wake of the army; that an insatiable curiosity has led him to
shrink from no experience that might help to solve the strange riddles
of Oriental existence; and that he is distinguished from other active,
adventurous, and inquisitive persons in that his capacious memory
retains every impression that it captures.

Beyond this, all that must here be said about the man is that his
stories began to be published--I think about eight years ago--in local
newspapers of India, that his first book of verse, _Departmental
Ditties_, appeared in 1886, while his prose stories were not collected
from a Lahore journal, of which he was the sub-editor, until 1888, when
a volume of _Plain Tales from the Hills_ appeared in Calcutta. In the
same year six successive pamphlets or thin books appeared in an _Indian
Railway Library_, published at Allahabad, under the titles of _Soldiers
Three_, _The Gadsbys_, _In Black and White_, _Under the Deodars_, _The
Phantom 'Rickshaw_, and _Wee Willie Winkle_. These formed the literary
baggage of Mr. Rudyard Kipling, when, in 1889, he came home to find
himself suddenly famous at the age of twenty-three.

Since his arrival in England Mr. Kipling has not been idle. In 1890
he brought out a Christmas annual called _The Record of Badalia
Herodsfoot_, and a short novel, _The Light that Failed_. Already in
1891 he has published a fresh collection of tales called (in America)
_Mine Own People_, and a second miscellany of verses. This is by no
means a complete record of his activity, but it includes the names
of all his important writings. At an age when few future novelists
have yet produced anything at all, Mr. Kipling is already voluminous.
It would be absurd not to acknowledge that a danger lies in this
precocious fecundity. It would probably be an excellent thing for every
one concerned if this brilliant youth could be deprived of pens and
ink for a few years and be buried again somewhere in the far East.
There should be a "close time" for authors no less than for seals, and
the extraordinary fulness and richness of Mr. Kipling's work does not
completely reassure us.

The publications which I have named above have not, as a rule, any
structural cohesion. With the exception of _Badalia Herodsfoot_ and
_The Light that Failed_, which deal with phases of London life, their
contents might be thrown together without much loss of relation. The
general mass so formed could then be redivided into several coherent
sections. It may be remarked that Mr. Kipling's short stories, of
which, as I have said, we hold nearly a hundred, mainly deal with three
or four distinct classes of Indian life. We may roughly distinguish
these as the British soldier in India, the Anglo-Indian, the Native,
and the British child in India. In the following pages, I shall
endeavour to characterise his treatment of these four classes. I retain
the personal impression that it is pre-eminently as a poet that we
shall eventually come to regard him. For the present his short stories
fill the popular mind in connection with his name.


II

There can be no question that the side upon which Mr. Kipling's talent
has most delicately tickled British curiosity, and British patriotism
too, is his revelation of the soldier in India. A great body of our
countrymen are constantly being drafted out to the East on Indian
service. They serve their time, are recalled, and merge in the mass
of our population; their strange temporary isolation between the
civilian and the native, and their practical inability to find public
expression for their feelings, make these men--to whom, though we so
often forget it, we owe the maintenance of our Empire in the East--an
absolutely silent section of the community. Of their officers we may
know something, although _A Conference of the Powers_ may perhaps have
awakened us to the fact that we know very little. Still, people like
Tick Boileau and Captain Mafflin of the Duke of Derry's Pink Hussars
are of ourselves; we meet them before they go out and when they come
back; they marry our sisters and our daughters; and they lay down the
law about India after dinner. Of the private soldier, on the other
hand, of his loves and hates, sorrows and pleasures, of the way in
which the vast, hot, wearisome country and its mysterious inhabitants
strike him, of his attitude towards India, and of the way in which
India treats him, we know, or knew until Mr. Kipling enlightened us,
absolutely nothing. It is not surprising, then, if the novelty of this
portion of his writings has struck ordinary English readers more than
that of any other.

This section of Mr. Kipling's work occupies the seven tales called
_Soldiers Three_, and a variety of stories scattered through his other
books. In order to make his point of view that of the men themselves,
not spoiled by the presence of superior officers, or by social
restraint of any sort, the author takes upon himself the character of
an almost silent young civilian who has gained the warm friendship of
three soldiers, whose intimate companion and chum he becomes. Most of
the military stories, though not all, are told by one of these three,
or else recount their adventures or caprices.

Before opening the book called _Soldiers Three_, however, the reader
will do well to make himself familiar with the opening pages of a
comparatively late story, _The Incarnation of Krishna Mulvaney_, in
which the characteristics of the famous three are more clearly defined
than elsewhere. Mulvaney, the Irish giant, who has been the "grizzled,
tender, and very wise Ulysses" to successive generations of young and
foolish recruits, is a great creation. He is the father of the craft
of arms to his associates; he has served with various regiments from
Bermuda to Halifax; he is "old in war, scarred, reckless, resourceful,
and in his pious hours an unequalled soldier." Learoyd, the second of
these friends, is "six and a half feet of slow-moving, heavy-footed
Yorkshireman, born on the wolds, bred in the dales, and educated
chiefly among the carriers' carts at the back of York railway-station."
The third is Ortheris, a little man as sharp as a needle, "a
fox-terrier of a cockney," an inveterate poacher and dog-stealer.

Of these three strongly contrasted types the first and the third live
in Mr. Kipling's pages with absolute reality. I must confess that
Learoyd is to me a little shadowy, and even in a late story, _On
Greenhow Hill_, which has apparently been written in order to emphasise
the outline of the Yorkshireman, I find myself chiefly interested in
the incidental part, the sharp-shooting of Ortheris. It seems as though
Mr. Kipling required, for the artistic balance of his cycle of stories,
a third figure, and had evolved Learoyd while he observed and created
Mulvaney and Ortheris, nor am I sure that places could not be pointed
out where Learoyd, save for the dialect, melts undistinguishably into
an incarnation of Mulvaney. The others are studied from the life,
and by an observer who goes deep below the surface of conduct. How
penetrating the study is, and how clear the diagnosis, may be seen
in one or two stories which lie somewhat outside the popular group.
It is no superficial idler among men who has taken down the strange
notes on military hysteria which inspire _The Madness of Ortheris_ and
_In the Matter of a Private_, while the skill with which the battered
giant Mulvaney, who has been a corporal and then has been reduced for
misconduct, who to the ordinary view and in the eyes of all but the
wisest of his officers is a dissipated blackguard, is made to display
the rapidity, wit, resource, and high moral feeling which he really
possesses, is extraordinary.

We have hitherto had in English literature no portraits of private
soldiers like these, and yet the soldier is an object of interest
and of very real, if vague and inefficient, admiration to his
fellow-citizens. Mr. Thomas Hardy has painted a few excellent soldiers,
but in a more romantic light and a far more pastoral setting.
Other studies of this kind in fiction have either been slight and
unsubstantial, or else they have been, as in the baby-writings of a
certain novelist who has enjoyed popularity for a moment, odious in
their sentimental unreality. There seems to be something essentially
volatile about the soldier's memory. His life is so monotonous, so
hedged in by routine, that he forgets the details of it as soon as the
restraint is removed, or else he looks back upon it to see it bathed
in a fictitious haze of sentiment. The absence of sentimentality in
Mr. Kipling's version of the soldier's life in India is one of its
great merits. What romance it assumes under his treatment is due to the
curious contrasts it encourages. We see the ignorant and raw English
youth transplanted, at the very moment when his instincts begin to
develop, into a country where he is divided from everything which can
remind him of his home, where by noon and night, in the bazar, in
barracks, in the glowing scrub jungle, in the ferny defiles of the
hills, everything he sees and hears and smells and feels produces on
him an unfamiliar and an unwelcome impression. How he behaves himself
under these new circumstances, what code of laws still binds his
conscience, what are his relaxations and what his observations, these
are the questions which we ask and which Mr. Kipling essays for the
first time to answer.

Among the short stories which Mr. Kipling has dedicated to the British
soldier in India there are a few which excel all the rest as works of
art. I do not think that any one will deny that of this inner selection
none exceeds in skill or originality _The Taking of Lungtungpen_. Those
who have not read this little masterpiece have yet before them the
pleasure of becoming acquainted with one of the best short stories,
not merely in English, but in any language. I do not know how to
praise adequately the technical merit of this little narrative. It
possesses to the full that masculine buoyancy, that power of sustaining
an extremely spirited narrative in a tone appropriate to the action,
which is one of Mr. Kipling's rare gifts. Its concentration, which
never descends into obscurity, its absolute novelty, its direct and
irresistible appeal to what is young and daring and absurdly splendid,
are unsurpassed. To read it, at all events to admire and enjoy it, is
to recover for a moment a little of that dare-devil quality that lurks
somewhere in the softest and the baldest of us. Only a very young man
could have written it, perhaps, but still more certainly only a young
man of genius.

A little less interesting, in a totally different way, is _The Daughter
of the Regiment_, with its extraordinarily vivid account of the
breaking-out of cholera in a troop-train. Of _The Madness of Ortheris_
I have already spoken; as a work of art this again seems to me somewhat
less remarkable, because carried out with less completeness. But it
would be hard to find a parallel, of its own class, to _The Rout of
the White Hussars_, with its study of the effects of what is believed
to be supernatural on a gathering of young fellows who are absolutely
without fear of any phenomenon of which they comprehend the nature.
In a very late story, _The Courting of Dinah Shadd_, Mr. Kipling has
shown that he is able to deal with the humours and matrimonial amours
of Indian barrack-life just as rapidly, fully, and spiritedly as with
the more serious episodes of a soldier's career. The scene between Judy
Sheehy and Dinah, as told by Mulvaney in that story, is pure comedy,
without a touch of farce.

On the whole, however, the impression left by Mr. Kipling's military
stories is one of melancholy. Tommy Atkins, whom the author knows so
well and sympathises with so truly, is a solitary being in India. In
all these tales I am conscious of the barracks as of an island in a
desolate ocean of sand. All around is the infinite waste of India,
obscure, monotonous, immense, inhabited by black men and pariah dogs,
Pathans and green parrots, kites and crocodiles, and long solitudes
of high grass. The island in this sea is a little collection of young
men, sent out from the remoteness of England to serve "the Widder,"
and to help to preserve for her the rich and barbarous empire of the
East. This microcosm of the barracks has its own laws, its own morals,
its own range of emotional sentiment. What these are the new writer
has not told us (for that would be a long story), but shown us that he
himself has divined. He has held the door open for a moment, and has
revealed to us a set of very human creations. One thing, at least, the
biographer of Mulvaney and Ortheris has no difficulty in persuading
us--namely, that "God in his wisdom has made the heart of the British
soldier, who is very often an unlicked ruffian, as soft as the heart of
a little child, in order that he may believe in and follow his officers
into tight and nasty places."


III

The Anglo-Indians with whom Mr. Kipling deals are of two kinds. I
must confess that there is no section of his work which appears to
me so insignificant as that which deals with Indian "society." The
eight tales which are bound together as _The Story of the Gadsbys_
are doubtless very early productions. I have been told, but I know
not whether on good authority, that they were published in serial
form before the author was twenty-one. Judged as the observation of
Anglo-Indian life by so young a boy, they are, it is needless to say,
astonishingly clever. Some pages in them can never, I suppose, come
to seem unworthy of his later fame. The conversation in _The Tents of
Kedar_, where Captain Gadsby breaks to Mrs. Herriott that he is engaged
to be married, and absolutely darkens her world to her during "a Naini
Tal dinner for thirty-five," is of consummate adroitness. What a "Naini
Tal dinner" is I have not the slightest conception, but it is evidently
something very sumptuous and public, and if any practised hand of the
old social school could have contrived the thrust and parry under the
fire of seventy critical eyes better than young Mr. Kipling has done,
I know not who that writer is. In quite another way the pathos of the
little bride's delirium in _The Valley of the Shadow_ is of a very
high, almost of the highest, order.

But, as a rule, Mr. Kipling's "society" Anglo-Indians are not drawn
better than those which other Indian novelists have created for our
diversion. There is a sameness in the type of devouring female, and
though Mr. Kipling devises several names for it, and would fain
persuade us that Mrs. Herriott, and Mrs. Reiver, and Mrs. Hauksbee
possess subtle differences which distinguish them, yet I confess I am
not persuaded. They all--and the Venus Annodomini as well--appear to
me to be the same high-coloured, rather ill-bred, not wholly spoiled
professional coquette. Mr. Kipling seems to be too impatient of what
he calls "the shiny toy-scum stuff people call civilisation" to paint
these ladies very carefully. _The Phantom 'Rickshaw_, in which a
hideously selfish man is made to tell the story of his own cruelty
and of his mechanical remorse, is indeed highly original, but here it
is the man, not the woman, in whom we are interested. The proposal of
marriage in the dust-storm in _False Dawn_, a theatrical, lurid scene,
though scarcely natural, is highly effective. The archery contest in
_Cupid's Arrows_ needs only to be compared with a similar scene in
_Daniel Deronda_ to show how much more closely Mr. Kipling keeps his
eye on detail than George Eliot did. But these things are rare in this
class of his stories, and too often the Anglo-Indian social episodes
are choppy, unconvincing, and not very refined.

All is changed when the central figure is a man. Mr. Kipling's
officials and civilians are admirably vivid and of an amazing variety.
If any one wishes to know why this new author has been received
with joy and thankfulness by the Anglo-Saxon world, it is really not
necessary for him to go further for a reason than to the moral tale of
_The Conversion of Aurelian McGoggin_. Let the author of that tract
speak for himself:

"Every man is entitled to his own religious opinions; but no man--least
of all a junior--has a right to thrust these down other men's throats.
The Government sends out weird civilians now and again; but McGoggin
was the queerest exported for a long time. He was clever--brilliantly
clever--but his cleverness worked the wrong way. Instead of keeping
to the study of the vernaculars, he had read some books written by a
man called Comte, I think, and a man called Spencer, and a Professor
Clifford. [You will find these books in the Library.] They deal with
people's insides from the point of view of men who have no stomachs.
There was no order against his reading them, but his mamma should have
smacked him.... I do not say a word against this creed. It was made
up in town, where there is nothing but machinery and asphalte and
building--all shut in by the fog.... But in this country [India], where
you really see humanity--raw, brown, naked humanity--with nothing
between it and the blazing sky, and only the used-up, over-handled
earth underfoot, the notion somehow dies away, and most folk come back
to simpler theories."

Those who will not come back to simpler theories are prigs, for whom
the machine-made notion is higher than experience. Now Mr. Kipling, in
his warm way, hates many things, but he hates the prig for preference.
Aurelian McGoggin, better known as the Blastoderm, is a prig of the
over-educated type, and upon him falls the awful calamity of sudden
and complete nerve-collapse. Lieutenant Golightly, in the story which
bears his name, is a prig who values himself for spotless attire and
clockwork precision of manner; he therefore is mauled and muddied up
to his eyes, and then arrested under painfully derogatory conditions.
In _Lispeth_ we get the missionary prig, who thinks that the Indian
instincts can be effaced by a veneer of Christianity. Mr. Kipling hates
"the sheltered life." The men he likes are those who have been thrown
out of their depth at an early age, and taught to swim off a boat. The
very remarkable story of _Thrown Away_ shows the effect of preparing
for India by a life "unspotted from the world" in England; it is as
hopelessly tragic as any in Mr. Kipling's somewhat grim repertory.

Against the _régime_ of the prig Mr. Kipling sets the _régime_ of
Strickland. Over and over again he introduces this mysterious figure,
always with a phrase of extreme approval. Strickland is in the police,
and his power consists in his determination to know the East as the
natives know it. He can pass through the whole of Upper India, dressed
as a fakir, without attracting the least attention. Sometimes, as in
_Beyond the Pale_, he may know too much. But this is an exception,
and personal to himself. Mr. Kipling's conviction is that this is
the sort of man to pervade India for us, and that one Strickland is
worth a thousand self-conceited civilians. But even below the Indian
prig, because he has at least known India, is the final object of Mr.
Kipling's loathing, "Pagett, M.P.," the radical English politician who
comes out for four months to set everybody right. His chastisement
is always severe and often comic. But in one very valuable paper,
which Mr. Kipling must not be permitted to leave unreprinted, _The
Enlightenment of Pagett, M.P._, he has dealt elaborately and quite
seriously with this noxious creature. Whether Mr. Kipling is right or
wrong, far be it from me in my ignorance to pretend to know. But his
way of putting these things is persuasive.

Since Mr. Kipling has come back from India he has written about society
"of sorts" in England. Is there not perhaps in him something of Pagett,
M.P., turned inside out? As a delineator of English life, at all
events, he is not yet thoroughly master of his craft. Everything he
writes has vigour and picturesqueness. But _The Lamentable Comedy of
Willow Wood_ is the sort of thing that any extremely brilliant Burman,
whose English, if slightly odd, was nevertheless unimpeachable, might
write of English ladies and gentlemen, having never been in England.
_The Record of Badalia Herodsfoot_ was in every way better, more truly
observed, more credible, more artistic, but yet a little too cynical
and brutal to come straight from life. And last of all there is the
novel of _The Light that Failed_, with its much-discussed two endings,
its oases of admirable detail in a desert of the undesirable, with its
extremely disagreeable woman, and its far more brutal and detestable
man, presented to us, the precious pair of them, as typical specimens
of English society. I confess that it is _The Light that Failed_ that
has wakened me to the fact that there are limits to this dazzling new
talent, the _éclat_ of which had almost lifted us off our critical feet.


IV

The conception of Strickland would be very tantalising and incomplete
if we were not permitted to profit from his wisdom and experience. But,
happily, Mr. Kipling is perfectly willing to take us below the surface,
and to show us glimpses of the secret life of India. In so doing he
puts forth his powers to their fullest extent, and I think it cannot be
doubted that the tales which deal with native manners are not merely
the most curious and interesting which Mr. Kipling has written, but
are also the most fortunately constructed. Every one who has thought
over this writer's mode of execution will have been struck with the
skill with which his best work is restrained within certain limits.
When inspiration flags with him, indeed, his stories may grow too long,
or fail, as if from languor, before they reach their culmination. But
his best short stories--and among his best we include the majority of
his native Indian tales--are cast at once, as if in a mould; nothing
can be detached from them without injury. In this consists his great
technical advantage over almost all his English rivals; we must look to
France or to America for stories fashioned in this way. In several of
his tales of Indian manners this skill reaches its highest because most
complicated expression. It may be comparatively easy to hold within
artistic bonds a gentle episode of European amorosity. To deal, in
the same form, but with infinitely greater audacity, with the muffled
passions and mysterious instincts of India, to slur over nothing, to
emphasise nothing, to give in some twenty pages the very spicy odour of
the East, this is marvellous.

Not less than this Mr. Kipling has done in a little group of stories
which I cannot but hold to be the culminating point of his genius so
far. If the remainder of his writings were swept away, posterity would
be able to reconstruct its Rudyard Kipling from _Without Benefit of
Clergy_, _The Man who Would be King_, _The Strange Ride of Morrowbie
Jukes_, and _Beyond the Pale_. More than that, if all other record of
Indian habits had been destroyed, much might be conjectured from these
of the pathos, the splendour, the cruelty, and the mystery of India.
From _The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows_ more is to be gleaned of the
real action of opium-smoking, and the causes of that indulgence, than
from many sapient debates in the British House of Commons. We come very
close to the confines of the moonlight-coloured world of magic in _The
Bisara of Pooree_. For pure horror and for the hopeless impenetrability
of the native conscience there is _The Recrudescence of Imray_. In a
revel of colour and shadow, at the close of the audacious and Lucianic
story of _The Incarnation of Krishna Mulvaney_, we peep for a moment
into the mystery of "a big queen's praying at Benares."

Admirable, too, are the stories which deal with the results of attempts
made to melt the Asiatic and the European into one. The red-headed
Irish-Thibetan who makes the king's life a burden to him in the
fantastic story of _Namgay Doola_ represents one extremity of this
chain of grotesque Eurasians; Michele D'Cruze, the wretched little
black police inspector, with a drop of white blood in his body, who
wakes up to energetic action at one supreme moment of his life, is at
the other. The relapse of the converted Indian is a favourite theme
with this cynical observer of human nature. It is depicted in _The
Judgment of Dungara_, with a rattling humour worthy of Lever, where the
whole mission, clad in white garments woven of the scorpion nettle, go
mad with fire and plunge into the river, while the trumpet of the god
bellows triumphantly from the hills. In _Lispeth_ we have a study--much
less skilfully worked out, however--of the Indian woman carefully
Christianised from childhood reverting at once to heathenism when her
passions reach maturity.

The lover of good literature, however, is likely to come back to
the four stories which we named first in this section. They are the
very flower of Mr. Kipling's work up to the present moment, and on
these we base our highest expectations for his future. _Without
Benefit of Clergy_ is a study of the Indian woman as wife and mother,
uncovenanted wife of the English civilian and mother of his son. The
tremulous passion of Ameera, her hopes, her fears, and her agonies of
disappointment, combine to form by far the most tender page which Mr.
Kipling has written. For pure beauty the scene where Holden, Ameera,
and the baby count the stars on the housetop for Tota's horoscope is
so characteristic that, although it is too long to quote in full, its
opening paragraph must here be given as a specimen of Mr. Kipling's
style in this class of work:

"Ameera climbed the narrow staircase that led to the flat roof. The
child, placid and unwinking, lay in the hollow of her right arm,
gorgeous in silver-fringed muslin, with a small skull-cap on his head.
Ameera wore all that she valued most. The diamond nose-stud that takes
the place of the Western patch in drawing attention to the curve of
the nostril, the gold ornament in the centre of the forehead studded
with tallow-drop emeralds and flawed rubies, the heavy circlet of
beaten gold that was fastened round her neck by the softness of the
pure metal, and the clinking curb-patterned silver anklets hanging low
over the rosy ankle-bone. She was dressed in jade-green muslin, as
befitted a daughter of the Faith, and from shoulder to elbow and elbow
to wrist ran bracelets of silver tied with floss silk; frail glass
bangles slipped over the wrist in proof of the slenderness of the hand,
and certain heavy gold bracelets that had no part in her country's
ornaments, but, since they were Holden's gift, and fastened with a
cunning European snap, delighted her immensely.

"They sat down by the low white parapet of the roof, overlooking the
city and its lights."

What tragedy was in store for the gentle astrologer, or in what
darkness of waters the story ends, it is needless to repeat here.

In _The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes_ a civil engineer stumbles by
chance on a ghastly city of the dead who do not die, trapped into it,
down walls of shifting sand, on the same principle as the ant-lion
secures its prey, the parallel being so close that one half suspects
Mr. Kipling of having invented a human analogy to the myrmeleon. The
abominable settlement of living dead men is so vividly described,
and the wonders of it are so calmly, and, as it were, so temperately
discussed, that no one who possesses the happy gift of believing can
fail to be persuaded of the truth of the tale. The character of Gunga
Dass, a Deccanee Brahmin whom Jukes finds in this reeking village,
and who, reduced to the bare elements of life, preserves a little,
though exceedingly little, of his old traditional obsequiousness, is an
admirable study. But all such considerations are lost, as we read the
story first, in the overwhelming and Poe-like horror of the situation
and the extreme novelty of the conception.

A still higher place, however, I am inclined to claim for the daring
invention of _The Man who would be King_. This is a longer story than
is usual with Mr. Kipling, and it depends for its effect, not upon
any epigrammatic surprise or extravagant dénouement of the intrigue,
but on an imaginative effort brilliantly sustained through a detailed
succession of events. Two ignorant and disreputable Englishmen, exiles
from social life, determine to have done with the sordid struggle, and
to close with a try for nothing less than empire. They are seen by
the journalist who narrates the story to disappear northward from the
Kumharsan Serai disguised as a mad priest and his servant starting to
sell whirligigs to the Ameer of Kabul. Two years later there stumbles
into the newspaper office a human creature bent into a circle, and
moving his feet one over the other like a bear. This is the surviving
adventurer, who, half dead and half dazed, is roused by doses of raw
whisky into a condition which permits him to unravel the squalid and
splendid chronicle of adventures beyond the utmost rim of mountains,
adventures on the veritable throne of Kafiristan. The tale is recounted
with great skill as from the lips of a dying king. At first, to give
the needful impression of his faint, bewildered state, he mixes up
his narrative, whimpers, forgets, and repeats his phrases; but by
the time the curiosity of the reader is fully arrested, the tale has
become limpid and straightforward enough. When it has to be drawn to
a close, the symptoms of aphasia and brain-lesion are repeated. This
story is conceived and conducted in the finest spirit of an artist.
It is strange to the verge of being incredible, but it never outrages
possibility, and the severe moderation of the author preserves our
credence throughout.

It is in these Indian stories that Mr. Kipling displays more than
anywhere else the accuracy of his eye and the retentiveness of his
memory. No detail escapes him, and, without seeming to emphasise the
fact, he is always giving an exact feature where those who are in
possession of fewer facts or who see less vividly are satisfied with a
shrewd generality.


V

In Mr. Kipling's first volume there was one story which struck
quite a different note from all the others, and gave promise of a
new delineator of children. _Tods' Amendment_, which is a curiously
constructed piece of work, is in itself a political allegory. It is to
be noticed that when he warms to his theme the author puts aside the
trifling fact that Tods is an infant of six summers, and makes him give
a clear statement of collated native opinion worthy of a barrister in
ample practice. What led to the story, one sees without difficulty,
was the wish to emphasise the fact that unless the Indian Government
humbles itself, and becomes like Tods, it can never legislate with
efficiency, because it never can tell what all the _jhampanis_ and
_saises_ in the bazar really wish for. If this were all, Mr. Kipling in
creating Tods would have shown no more real acquaintance with children
than other political allegorists have shown with sylphs or Chinese
philosophers. But Mr. Kipling is always an artist, and in order to
make a setting for his child-professor of jurisprudence, he invented
a really convincing and delightful world of conquering infancy. Tods,
who lives up at Simla with Tods' mamma, and knows everybody, is "an
utterly fearless young pagan," who pursues his favourite kid even into
the sacred presence of the Supreme Legislative Council, and is on terms
of equally well-bred familiarity with the Viceroy and with Futteh Khan,
the villainous loafer _khit_ from Mussoorie.

To prove that _Tods' Amendment_ was not an accident, and also,
perhaps, to show that he could write about children purely and simply,
without any after-thought of allegory, he brought out, as the sixth
instalment of the _Indian Railway Library_, a little volume entirely
devoted to child-life. Of the four stories contained in this book one
is among the finest productions of its author, while two others are
very good indeed. There are also, of course, the children in _The Light
that Failed_, although they are too closely copied from the author's
previous creations in _Baa, Baa, Black Sheep_; and in other writings of
his, children take a position sufficiently prominent to justify us in
considering this as one of the main divisions of his work.

In his preface to _Wee Willie Winkie_, Mr. Kipling has sketched for us
the attitude which he adopts towards babies. "Only women," he says, but
we may doubt if he means it, "understand children thoroughly; but if a
mere man keeps very quiet, and humbles himself properly, and refrains
from talking down to his superiors, the children will sometimes be
good to him, and let him see what they think about the world." This is
a curious form of expression, and suggests the naturalist more than
the lover of children. So might we conceive a successful zoologist
affirming that the way to note the habits of wild animals and birds
is by keeping very quiet, and lying low in the grass, and refraining
from making sudden noises. This is, indeed, the note by which we may
distinguish Mr. Kipling from such true lovers of childhood as Mrs.
Ewing. He has no very strong emotion in the matter, but he patiently
and carefully collects data, partly out of his own faithful and
capacious personal memory, partly out of what he still observes.

The Tods type he would probably insist that he has observed. A finer
and more highly developed specimen of it is given in _Wee Willie
Winkie_, the hero of which is a noble infant of overpowering vitality,
who has to be put under military discipline to keep him in any sort of
domestic order, and who, while suffering under two days' confinement to
barracks (the house and verandah), saves the life of a headstrong girl.
The way in which Wee Willie Winkie--who is of Mr. Kipling's favourite
age, six--does this is at once wholly delightful and a terrible strain
to credence. The baby sees Miss Allardyce cross the river, which he has
always been forbidden to do, because the river is the frontier, and
beyond it are bad men, goblins, Afghans, and the like. He feels that
she is in danger, he breaks mutinously out of barracks on his pony and
follows her, and when she has an accident, and is surrounded by twenty
hill-men, he saves her by his spirit and by his complicated display of
resource. To criticise this story, which is told with infinite zest
and picturesqueness, seems merely priggish. Yet it is contrary to Mr.
Kipling's whole intellectual attitude to suppose him capable of writing
what he knows to be supernatural romance. We have therefore to suppose
that in India infants "of the dominant race" are so highly developed at
six, physically and intellectually, as to be able to ride hard, alone,
across a difficult river, and up pathless hilly country, to contrive
a plan for succouring a hapless lady, and to hold a little regiment
of savages at bay by mere force of eye. If Wee Willie Winkie had been
twelve instead of six, the feat would have been just possible. But
then the romantic contrast between the baby and his virile deeds would
not have been nearly so piquant. In all this Mr. Kipling, led away by
sentiment and a false ideal, is not quite the honest craftsman that he
should be.

But when, instead of romancing and creating, he is content to observe
children, he is excellent in this as in other branches of careful
natural history. But the children he observes, are, or we much misjudge
him, himself. _Baa, Baa, Black Sheep_ is a strange compound of work at
first and at second hand. Aunty Rosa (delightfully known, without a
suspicion of supposed relationship, as "Antirosa"), the Mrs. Squeers
of the Rocklington lodgings, is a sub-Dickensian creature, tricked out
with a few touches of reality, but mainly a survival of early literary
hatreds. The boy Harry and the soft little sister of Punch are rather
shadowy. But Punch lives with an intense vitality, and here, without
any indiscretion, we may be sure that Mr. Kipling has looked inside
his own heart and drawn from memory. Nothing in the autobiographies
of their childhood by Tolstoi and Pierre Loti, nothing in Mr. R. L.
Stevenson's _Child's Garden of Verses_, is more valuable as a record of
the development of childhood than the account of how Punch learned to
read, moved by curiosity to know what the "falchion" was with which the
German man split the Griffin open. Very nice, also, is the reference to
the mysterious rune, called "Sonny, my Soul," with which mamma used to
sing Punch to sleep.

By far the most powerful and ingenious story, however, which Mr.
Kipling has yet dedicated to a study of childhood is _The Drums of the
Fore and Aft_. "The Fore and Aft" is a nickname given in derision to a
crack regiment, whose real title is "The Fore and Fit," in memory of a
sudden calamity which befell them on a certain day in an Afghan pass,
when, if it had not been for two little blackguard drummer-boys, they
would have been wofully and contemptibly cut to pieces, as they were
routed by a dashing troop of Ghazis. The two little heroes, who only
conquer to die, are called Jakin and Lew, stunted children of fourteen,
"gutter-birds" who drink and smoke and "do everything but lie," and are
the disgrace of the regiment. In their little souls, however, there
burns what Mr. Pater would call a "hard, gem-like flame" of patriotism,
and they are willing to undergo any privation, if only they may wipe
away the stigma of being "bloomin' non-combatants."

In the intervals of showing us how that stain was completely removed,
Mr. Kipling gives us not merely one of the most thrilling and effective
battles in fiction, but a singularly delicate portrait of two grubby
little souls turned white and splendid by an element of native
greatness. It would be difficult to point to a page of modern English
more poignant than that which describes how "the only acting-drummers
who were took along," and--left behind, moved forward across the pass
alone to the enemy's front, and sounded on drum and fife the return of
the regiment to duty. But perhaps the most remarkable feature of the
whole story is that a record of shocking British retreat and failure is
so treated as to flatter in its tenderest susceptibilities the pride of
British patriotism.

_1891._



AN ELECTION AT THE ENGLISH ACADEMY



An Election at the English Academy


ATHENÆUM CLUB, PALL MALL, S.W.

TO ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON, R.E.A., Samoa

DEAR MR. STEVENSON,--Last night I think that even you must
have regretted being a beachcomber. Even the society of your friend
Ori-a-Ori and the delights of kava and bread-fruit can hardly make up
to you for what you lost in Piccadilly. It was the first occasion, as
you are aware, upon which we have been called upon to fill up a vacancy
in the Forty. You know, long before this letter reaches you, that we
have already lost one of our original members. Poor Kinglake! I thought
at the time that it was a barren honour, but it was one which his fame
imperatively demanded. I can't say I knew him: a single introduction,
a few gracious words in a low voice, a grave and sad presence--that
is all I retain of him personally. I shall know more when our new
Academician has to deliver the eulogium on his predecessor. What an
intellectual treat it will be!

We had a splendid gathering. Do you recollect that when the papers
discussed us, before our foundation, one thing they said was that
there never would be a decent attendance? I must confess our
business meetings have been rather sparsely filled up. Besant is
invariably there, Lecky generally, a few others. There has always
been a quorum--not much more. But between you and me and those other
palms--the feathery palms of your cabin--there has not been much
business to transact; not much more than might have been left to
assiduous Mr. Robinson, our paid secretary. But last night the clan was
all but complete. There were thirty-seven of us, nobody missing but Mr.
Ruskin and yourself. Ruskin, by the way, wrote a letter to be read at
the meeting, and then sent on to the _Pall Mall Gazette_--so diverting!
I must cut it out and enclose it. But his style, if this is to be taken
as an example, is not quite what it was.[2]

Well, I am still so excited that I hardly know where to begin. To
me, a real country bumpkin, the whole thing was such an occasion!
Such a _social_ occasion! I must begin from the beginning. I came
all the way up from Luxilian, my green uniform, with the golden
palm-shoots embroidered on it, safely packed in my portmanteau under my
dress-clothes. To my great annoyance the children had been wearing it
in Christmas charades. My dear wife, ay me, has so little firmness of
character. By-the-by, I hope you wear yours on official occasions in
Samoa? The whole costume, I should fancy, must be quite in a Polynesian
taste. I was more "up" in the candidates and their characteristics
than you would expect. Ah! I know you think me rather a Philistine--but
can an Academician be a Philistine? That is a question that might be
started when next the big gooseberry season begins. I was "up" in the
candidates because, as good luck would have it, Sala had been spending
a week with me in the country. Delightful companion, but scarcely
fitted for rural pleasures. He mentioned such a great number of eminent
literary persons whom I had never heard of--mostly rather occasional
writers, I gathered. He has an extraordinarily wide circle, I find:
it makes me feel quite the Country Mouse. He did not seem to know
much about Gardiner, it is true, but then he could tell me all that
Hardy had written--or pretty nearly all; and, of course, as you know,
Gardiner is my own hobby.

The moment I got to Paddington I foolishly began looking hither and
thither for fellow-"immortals." Rather absurd, but not so absurd as
you might suppose, for there, daintily stepping out of a first-class
carriage, whom should I see but Max Müller. I scarcely know him, and
should not have ventured to address him, but he called out: "Ah! my
dear friend, we come, I suspect, on the same interesting, the same
patriotic errand!" I had felt a few qualms of conscience about my own
excitement in the election; we are so quiet at Luxilian that we can
scarcely measure the relative importance of events. But Max Müller
completely reassured me. It was delightful to me to see how seriously
he regarded the event. "Europe," he said, "is not inattentive to such
a voice as the unanimity of the English Academy may--may wield." I
could not help smiling at the last word, and reflecting how carelessly
the most careful of us professional writers expresses himself in
conversation. But his enthusiasm was very beautiful, and I found myself
more elevated than ever. "It is permitted to us," he went on, "to
whisper among ourselves what the world must not hear--the unthinking
world--that the social status of English Academician adds not a
little dignity to literature. One hopes that, whoever may be added
to our number to-night, the social----eh?" I had formulated just the
same feeling myself. "Only in so far," he went on, "as is strictly
consistent with the interests of literature and scholarship--of course?
Good-bye!" and he left me with an impression that he wanted to vote for
both candidates.

There was a little shopping I had to do in Regent Street, after I
had left my costume at the Academy, and I called in at Mudie's for a
moment on my way to the British Museum. To give you an idea of the
mental disturbance I was suffering from, I asked the very polite
young man at the counter for my own _Mayors of Woodshire_--you know,
my seventeenth-century book--instead of _The Mayor of Casterbridge_,
which my wife wanted to read. I did not realise my mistake till I saw
the imprint of the Clarendon Press. At last I got to the manuscript
room, made my references, and found that our early dinner hour was
approaching. I walked westward down Oxford Street, enjoying the
animation and colour of the lovely evening, and then, suddenly,
realising what the hour was, turned and took a hansom to the Athenæum.

Who should meet me in the vestibule but Seeley? Less and less often
do I find my way to Cambridge, and I hesitated about addressing him,
although I used to know him so well. He was buried in a reverie,
and slowly moving to the steps. I suppose I involuntarily slackened
my speed also, and he looked up. He was most cordial, and almost
immediately began to talk to me about those notes on the commercial
relations of the Woodshire ports with Poland which I printed in the
_English Historical_ two (or perhaps three) years ago. I daresay you
never heard of them. I promised to send him some transcripts I have
since made of the harbour laws of Luxilian itself--most important.
I longed to ask Seeley whether we might be sure of his support for
Gardiner, but I hardly liked to do so, he seemed so much more absorbed
in the past. I took for granted it was all right, and when we parted,
as he left the Club, he said, "We meet later on this evening, I
suppose?" and that was his only reference to the election.

I am hardly at home yet at the Athenæum, and I was therefore delighted
to put myself under Lecky's wing. I soon saw that quite a muster of
Academicians was preparing to dine, for when we entered the Coffee Room
we found Mr. Walter Besant already seated, and before we could join him
Mr. Black and Mr. Herbert Spencer came in together and approached us.
We had two small tables placed together, and just as we were sitting
down, Lord Lytton, who was so extremely kind to me in Paris last autumn
when I left my umbrella in the Eiffel Tower, made his appearance. We
all seemed studiously to make no reference, at first, to the great
event of the day, while Mr. Spencer diverted us with several anecdotes
which he had just brought from a family in the country--not at all, of
course, of a puerile description, but throwing a singular light upon
the development of infant mind. After this the conversation flagged a
little. I suppose we were all thinking of the same thing. I was quite
relieved when a remark of Lecky's introduced the general topic.

Our discussion began by Lord Lytton's giving us some very interesting
particulars of the election of Pierre Loti (M. Viaud) into the French
Academy last week, and of the social impression produced by these
contests. I had no idea of the pushing, the intriguing, the unworthy
anxiety which are shown by some people in Paris who wish to be of the
Forty. Lord Lytton says that there is a story by M. Daudet which,
although it is petulant and exaggerated, gives a very graphic picture
of the seamy side of the French Academy. I must read this novel, for I
feel that we, as a new body destined to wield a vast influence in this
country, ought to be forewarned. I ventured to say that I did not think
that English people, with our honest and wholesome traditions, and the
blessings of a Protestant religion, would be in any danger of falling
into these excesses. Nobody responded to this; I am afraid the London
writers are dreadfully cynical, and Black remarked that we six, at all
events, were poachers turned inside out. They laughed at this, and I
was quite glad when the subject was changed.

Lord Lytton asked Mr. Besant whether he was still as eager as ever
about his Club of Authors, or whether he considered that the English
Academy covered the ground. He replied that he had wholly relinquished
that project for the present. His only wish had been to advocate union
among authors, on a basis of mutual esteem and encouragement, and
he thought that the Academy would be quite enough to do that, if it
secured for itself the building which is now being talked about, as
a central point for consultation on all matters connected with the
literary life and profession. But this notion did not seem to command
itself to Mr. Spencer, who said that it seemed to him that the Forty
were precisely those whom success or the indulgence of the public had
raised above the need or the desire of consultation. "I am very glad
to have the pleasure of playing a game of billiards with you, Mr.
Besant, but why should I consult you about my writings? I conceive that
the duty of our Academy is solely to insist on a public recognition of
the dignity of literature, and that if we go a step beyond that aim, we
prepare nothing but snares for our feet."

"Whom, then, do you propose," continued Lecky to Besant, "to summon to
your consultations?"

"Surely," was the reply, "any respectable authors."

"Outsiders, then," said Mr. Spencer, "a few possible and a multitude of
impossible candidates?"

"Female writers as well as male?" asked Black; "are we to have the
literary Daphne at our conversaziones--


     _With legs toss'd high on her sophee she sits,_
       _Vouchsafing audience to contending wits?_


How do you like that prospect, Lecky?"

"But poorly, I must confess. We have tiresome institutions enough
in London without adding to them a sort of Ptolemaic Mouseion, for
us to strut about on the steps of, in our palm-costume, attended by
dialectical ladies and troops of intriguing pupils. Though that,
I am sure," he added courteously, "is the last thing our friend
Besant desires, yet I conceive it would tend to be the result of such
consultation."

"What then," said the novelist, "is to be the practical service of the
English Academy to life and literature?"

At this we all put on a grave and yet animated expression, for
certainly, to each of us, this was a very important consideration.

"Putting on one side," began Mr. Spencer, "the social advantage, the
unquestionable dignity and importance given to individual literary
accomplishment at a time when the purer parts of writing--I mean no
disrespect to you novelists--are greatly neglected in the general
hurly-burly; putting on one side this function of the English Academy,
there remains, of course----"

But, at this precise moment, when I was literally hanging on the lips
of our eminent philosopher, the door opened with a considerable noise
of gaiety, and Mr. Arthur Balfour entered, in company with a gentleman,
who was introduced to me presently as Mr. Andrew Lang.

"Two more Academicians, and this time neither novelists nor
philosophers," said Black.

They sat down close to us, so that the conversation was still general.

"We were discussing the Academy," said Lord Lytton. "And we," replied
Mr. Balfour, "were comparing notes about rackets. Lang tells me he has
found a complete description of the game in one of the Icelandic sagas."

"Played with a shuttlecock," said Mr. Lang, throwing himself back
with a gesture of intense fatigue. "By the way, when we get to B in
our Academy dictionary, I will write the article _battledore_. It is
Provençal, I believe; but one must look up Skeat."

"We shall be very old, I am afraid, before we reach letter B," I
remarked, "shall we not?"

"Oh! no," said Mr. Lang, "we shall fire away like fun. All we have to
do is to crib our definitions out of Murray."

"I hardly think that," said Mr. Besant; "we seem to have precious
little to occupy ourselves with, but our dictionary at least you must
leave us."

We talked this over a little, and the general opinion seemed to be that
it would turn out to be more an alphabetical series of monographs on
the history of our language than a dictionary in the ordinary sense.
And who was to have the courage to start it, no one seemed able to
guess.

A general conversation then began, which was of not a little interest
to me. The merits of our two candidates were warmly, but temperately
discussed. Everybody seemed to feel that we ought to have them both
among us; that our company would still be incomplete if one was
elected. Black suggested that some public-spirited Academician should
perform the Happy Despatch, so as to supply the convenience of two
vacancies. Lord Lytton reminded us that we were doing, on a small
scale, what the French Academy itself did for a few years,--from the
election of Guizot to that of Labiche--namely, meeting in private to
wrangle over the merits of the candidates. We laughed, and set to with
greater zeal, I painting Gardiner in rosier colours as Besant advanced
the genius of Hardy.

While this was going on Sir Frederick Leighton joined us, listening
and leaning in one of his Olympian attitudes. "I find," he said at
last, "that I am able to surprise you. You are not aware that there is
a third candidate." "A third candidate?" we all exclaimed. "Yes," he
said; "before the hour was too far advanced yesterday, our secretary
received the due notice from his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury."
"Ah! you mean for your own Academy," some one said; "as chaplain in the
room of the poor Archbishop of York?" "No," Sir Frederick answered,
smiling, "as a candidate for _our_ Academy, the English Academy." (And,
indeed, I recollected that Leighton was one of our original members. I
cannot quite recall upon what literary grounds, but he is a charming
person, and a great social acquisition.)

There was a pause at this unexpected announcement. "I am sorry," said
Mr. Balfour at last, "that the Archbishop, whom I greatly esteem and
admire, should have laid himself open to this rebuff. We cannot admit
him, and yet how extremely painful to reject him. He has scarcely more
claim to belong to this Academy than I have, and----" At this we all,
very sincerely, murmured our expostulation, and Lord Lytton, leaning
across, said: "My dear Arthur, you are our Haussonville!" "I am afraid
I am more likely," he replied, "to be your Audriffet-Pasquier. But
here I am, and it was none of my seeking. I am, at least, determined
not to use what fortieth-power I have for the election of any but the
best purely literary candidates." There was no direct reply to this,
and presently we all got up and separated to prepare for the election,
each of us manifestly disturbed by this unexpected news.

As I was going out of the Club, I met Jebb, whom I was very glad to
greet. I used to know him well, but I go so seldom to Cambridge in
these days that I can scarcely have seen him since he took his doctor's
degree in letters, which must be seven or eight years ago, when I
came up to see my own boy get his B.A. He was quite unchanged, and as
cordial as ever. The night was so clear that we decided to walk, and,
as we passed into Pall Mall, the moonlight suddenly flooded the street.

"How the nightingales must be singing at Luxilian," I cried.

"And that nest of singing-birds with whom I saw you dining," said Jebb,
"how did they entertain you?"

"The best company in the world," I replied; "and yet----! Perhaps
Academicians talk better in twos and ones than _en masse_. I thought
the dinner might have been more brilliant, and it certainly might have
been more instructive."

"They were afraid of one another, no doubt," said the Professor; "they
were afraid of you. But how could it have been more instructive?"

"I was in hopes that I should hear from all these accomplished men
something definite about the aims of the Academy, its functions in
practical life--what the use of it is to be, in fact."

"Had they no ideas to exchange on that subject? Did they not dwell on
the social advantages it gives to literature? Why, my dear friend,
between ourselves, the election of a new member to an Academy
constituted as ours is, so restricted in numbers, so carefully weeded
of all questionable elements, is in itself the highest distinction ever
yet placed within the reach of English literature. In fact, it is the
Garter."

"But," I pursued, "are we not in danger of thinking too much of the
social matter? Are we not framing a tradition which, if it had existed
for three hundred years, would have excluded Defoe, Bunyan, Keats, and
perhaps Shakespeare himself?"

"Doubtless," Jebb answered, "but we are protected against such folly
by the high standard of our candidates. Hardy, Gardiner--who could be
more unexceptionable? who could more eminently combine the qualities we
seek?"

"You are not aware, then," I said, "that a third candidate is before
us?"

"No! Who?"

"The Archbishop of Canterbury."

"Ah!" he exclaimed, and we walked on together in silence.

At the door of the Academy Jebb left me, "for a moment or two,"
he said, and proceeded up Piccadilly. I ascended the steps of our
new building, and passed into the robing-room. Whom should I meet
there, putting on his green palm-shoots, but Mr. Leslie Stephen. I
was particularly glad to have a moment's interview with him, for I
wanted to tell him of my great discovery, a fifth Nicodemus, Abbot
of Luxilian, in the twelfth century. Extraordinary thing! Of course,
I imagined that he would be delighted about it, although he has not
quite reached N yet, but I can't say that he seemed exhilarated. "Five
successive Nicodemuses," I said, "what do you think of that?" He
murmured something about "all standing naked in the open air." I fancy
he is losing his interest in the mediæval biographies. However, before
I could impress upon him what a "find" it is, Mr. Gladstone came in
with the Bishop of Oxford, and just then Sala called me out to repeat
a story to me which he had just heard at some club. I thought it good
at the time--something about "Manipur" and "many poor"--but I have
forgotten how it went.

Upstairs, in the great reception-room, the company was now rapidly
gathering. You may imagine how interesting I found it. Everywhere knots
of men were forming, less, I felt, to discuss the relative claims of
Hardy and Gardiner than to deplore the descent of the Archbishop into
the lists. The Duke of Argyll, who courteously recognised me, deigned
to refer to this topic of universal interest. "I would have done much,"
he said, "to protect him from the annoyance of this defeat. A prince of
the Anglican Church, whom we all respect and admire! I fear he will not
have more than--than--perhaps _one_ vote. Alas! alas!"

Various little incidents caught my eye. Poor Professor Freeman,
bursting very hastily into the room, bounced violently against Mr.
Froude, who happened to be standing near the door. I don't think Mr.
Freeman can have realised how roughly he struck him, for he did not
turn or stop, but rushed across the room to the Bishop of Oxford, with
whom he was soon in deep consultation about Gardiner, no doubt; I did
not disturb them. Lord Salisbury, with pendant arms, gently majestic,
stood on the hearth-rug talking to an elderly gentleman of pleasing
aspect, in spectacles. I heard some one say something about "the other
uncrowned king of Brentford," but I did not understand the allusion. I
suppose the gentleman was some supporter of the Ministry, but I did not
catch his name.

Lecky was so kind as to present me to Professors Huxley and Tyndall,
neither of whom, I believe, ought to have been out on so fresh a spring
night; neither, I hope to hear this evening, is the worse for such
imprudence. A curious incident now occurred, for as we were chatting,
Huxley suddenly said, in a low voice: "Gladstone has his eye upon you,
Tyndall." The professor flounced about at this in a great agitation,
and replied, so loudly that I feared it would be generally heard--"He
had better not attempt to address me. I should utter six withering
syllables, and then turn my back upon him. Gladstone, indeed, the old
----." But at this moment, to my horror, Mr. Gladstone glided across
the floor with his most courtly and dignified air, and held out his
hand. "Ah! Professor Tyndall, how long it seems since those beautiful
days on the Bel Alp." There was a little bridling and hesitating, and
then Tyndall took the proffered hand. "I was wandering," said the
Grand Old Man, "without a guide, and now I have found one, the best
possible. I am----" "Oh!" broke in the professor, "I thought it would
be so. I am more delighted than----" "Pardon me," interrupted Mr.
Gladstone with an exquisite deprecation, "I am mainly interested at the
moment in the Sirens. I am lost, as I said, without a guide, and I have
found one. Your experiments with the sirens on the North Foreland--


     [Greek: hieisai opa kallimon],--"


and then, arm in arm, the amicable and animated pair retired to a
corner of the room.

Impossible to describe to you all the incidents of this delightful
gathering. In one corner the veteran Dr. Martineau was seated,
conversing with Mr. Henry Irving. I was about to join them when I was
attracted by a sharp and elastic step on the stairs, and saw that
Lord Wolseley, entering the room, and glancing quickly round, walked
straight to a group at my left hand, which was formed around Mr. George
Meredith.

"For whom must I vote, Mr. Meredith?" he said. "I place myself in your
hands. Is it to be the Archbishop of Canterbury?"

"Nay," replied Mr. Meredith, smiling, "for the prelate I shake you out
a positive negative. The customary guests at our academic feast--well;
poet, historian, essayist, say novelist or journalist, all welcome
on grounds of merit royally acknowledged and distinguished. But this
portent of a crozier, nodding familiarly to us with its floriated tin
summit, a gilt commodity, definitely hostile to literature--never
in the world. How Europe will boom with cachinnation when it learns
that we have invented the Academy of English Letters for the more
excellent glorification of mere material episcopacy, a radiant excess
of iridescence thrown by poetry upon prelacy, heart's blood of books
shed merely to stain more rosily the _infulæ_ and _vittæ_ of a mitre. I
shall be tempted into some colloquial extravagance if I dwell on this
theme, however; I must chisel on Blackmore yonder for floral wit, and
so will, with permission, float out of your orbit by a bowshot."

Dr. Jowett now made his appearance, in company with Mr. Swinburne;
and they were followed by a gentleman in a rough coat and picturesque
blue shirt, who attracted my attention by this odd costume, and by his
very fine head, with flowing beard and hair. I was told it was the
poet Morris; not at all how I had pictured the author of _The Epic of
Hades_. And finally, to our infinite delight, Lord Tennyson himself
came in, leaning on Jebb's arm, and we felt that our company was
complete.

We clustered at last into our inner council-room, at the door of which
the usher makes us sign our names. What a page last night's will be
for the enjoyment of posterity! We gradually settled into our places;
Lord Tennyson in his presidential chair, Lecky in his post of permanent
secretary; our excellent paid secretary hurrying about with papers,
and explaining to us the routine. It seemed more like a club than ever
at that moment, our charming Academy, with the best of all possible
society. As I sat waiting for business to begin, my thoughts ran
more and more upon the unfortunate candidature of the Archbishop. I
reflected on what the Duke of Argyll had said, the wretchedness of the
_one_ vote. He should, at least, have two, I determined; and I asked
my neighbour, Mr. Frederic Harrison, if he knew what Dr. Benson had
published. "I have an idea," he replied, "that he is the author of a
work entitled _The Cathedral: its Necessary Place in the Life and Work
of an Academy_."

Our proceedings were interrupted for a moment by the entrance of
Cardinal Manning, who desired to be permitted, before the election
began, to add to the names of the candidates that of Mr. W. T. Stead.
At this there was a general murmur, and Mr. Lang muttered: "If it comes
to that, I propose Bridge" (or "Brydges"--I could not catch the name).
The Cardinal continued: "I know I have a seconder for him in my eminent
friend opposite." We all looked across at Archdeacon Farrar, who
objected, with considerable embarrassment: "No, no; when I said that,
I did not understand what the final list of candidates was to be. I
must really decline." The Cardinal then turned to Mr. John Morley, who
shook his head. "The Academy will have more need of Mr. Stead ten years
hence, perhaps, than it has now." And with that the incident terminated.

The moment had at last arrived, and we expected a prolonged session.
By a system of successive ballotings, we have to work on until one
candidate has a positive majority; this may take a long time, and may
even fail to be accomplished. The President rang his bell, and the
names were pronounced by the secretary:


     EDWARD WHITE BENSON, Archbishop of Canterbury,

     SAMUEL RAWSON GARDINER, and

     THOMAS HARDY.


As soon as he had recorded his vote, our venerable President left us;
the remainder of the company awaited the result with eager curiosity.
The general opinion seemed to be that the votes for Gardiner and Hardy
would prove pretty equal, and I began to feel a little qualm at having
thrown mine away. But when Mr. Gladstone, taking the President's chair,
rang his bell, and announced the result of the voting, it is not too
much to say that we were stupefied. The votes were thus divided:


     The Archbishop of Canterbury    19
     Gardiner                         8
     Hardy                            7
     Blank votes                      3


There was, accordingly, no need for a second ballot, since the
Archbishop had secured a positive majority of the votes. I felt a
little uncomfortable when I reflected that my vote, if loyally given
to Gardiner, would have necessitated a reopening of the matter. Never
mind. Better as it is. The election is a very good one, from a social
point of view particularly.

The company dispersed rather hurriedly. On the stairs, where Mr. Arthur
Balfour was offering his arm to Lord Selborne, I heard the latter say,
"We may congratulate ourselves on a most excellent evening's work, may
we not?" Mr. Balfour shook his head, but I did not catch his reply; he
seemed to have lost something of his previous good spirits.

This morning the daily papers are in raptures, the Gladstonians as much
as the Unionists. A great honour, they all say, done to the profession
of literature. "Quite a social triumph," the _Morning Post_ remarks;
"a bloodless victory in the campaign of letters"--rather happy, is it
not? But one of those young men of the _National Observer_, who was
waiting for me outside the Academy last night, and kindly volunteered
to see me home to the hotel--where he was even good enough to partake
of refreshment--was rather severe. "Not a single _writer_ in the d----d
gang of you," he said. A little coarse, I thought; and not positively
final, as criticism.

I am,

Yours very faithfully,

---------------------

_1891._

FOOTNOTE:

[2] MY DEAR SIR,--What in the Devil's name should I do at your
assemblage of notorieties? I neither care nor wish to care whom you
elect. The only _Gardiner_ I ever heard of was Henry's Bloody Bishop.
If "Kiss me _Hardy_" came before us, it would be worth while for the
only true Tory left in England to vote for him; but he has been with
God this good half century. My £100 a year as Academician--recoverable,
they tell me, in case of lapsed payment, from Her Majesty herself--I
spend in perfecting my collection of the palates of molluscs, who keep
their inward economy as clean as the deck of a ship of the line with
stratagems beautiful and manifold exceedingly. Few of your Academicians
show an apparatus half so handsome when they open their mouths. How
unlike am I, by the way, in my retirement, from Bismarck across
the waters, who squeaks like a puppy-dog on his road to the final
parliamentary sausage-making machine of these poor times. Would it not
be well for your English Academy, instead of these election follies,
to bestir itself with a copy of _The Crown of Wild Olive_ for his
heart's betterment? But keep your Lydian modes; I hold my Dorian.--Ever
faithfully yours, JOHN RUSKIN.



APPENDICES


I

TENNYSON--AND AFTER?

When this essay first appeared in _The New Review_, the scepticism it
expressed with regard to the universal appreciation of the poet was
severely censured in one or two newspapers. On the other hand, the
accomplished author of _Thyrza_ and _New Grub Street_ obliged me with
a letter of very great interest, which fully confirmed my doubts. Mr.
Gissing has kindly permitted me to print his letter here. His wide
experience among the poor makes his opinion on this matter one which
cannot lightly be passed by:


     "_Nov. 20, 1892._

     "SIR,--Will you pardon me if I venture to say with what
     satisfaction I have read your remarks about Tennyson in _The New
     Review_, which has only just come into my hands?

     "The popular mind is my study, and I know that Tennyson's song
     no more reached it than it reached the young-eyed cherubim. Nor
     does _any_ song reach the populace, rich and poor, unless, as you
     suggest, it be such as appears in _The Referee_.

     "After fifteen years' observation of the poorer classes of
     English folk, chiefly in London and the south, I am pretty well
     assured that, whatever civilising agencies may be at work among
     the democracy, poetry is not one of them. Reading, of one kind
     or another, is universal; study, serious and progressive, is no
     longer confined to the ranks that enjoy a liberal education; but
     the populace, the industrial and trading masses, not merely remain
     without interest in poetry, but do not so much as understand what
     the term poetry means. In other intellectual points, the grades of
     unlettered life are numerous; as regards appreciation of verse,
     the People are one. From the work-girl, with her penny novelette,
     to the artisan who has collected a little library, the natural
     inclination of all who represent their class is to neglect verse
     as something exotic, something without appeal to their instincts.
     They either do not read it at all--the common case--or (with
     an exception to be noticed) they take it as a quaint variety
     of prose, which custom has consecrated to religion, to the
     affections, and to certain phases of facetiousness.

     "In London, through all orders of society below the liberally
     educated, it is a most exceptional thing to meet with a person who
     seeks for verse as verse; who recognises the name of any greater
     poet not hackneyed in the newspapers, or who even distantly
     apprehends the nature of the poet's art. In the north of England,
     where more native melody is found, self-taught readers of poetry
     are, I believe, not so rare; but they must still be greatly the
     exception. As to the influence of board-schools, one cannot doubt
     that the younger generation are even less inclined to a taste for
     poetry than their fathers. Some elderly people, in Sunday languor,
     take up a book of verse with which they have been familiar since
     early days (Mrs. Hemans, Eliza Cook, Montgomery, Longfellow);
     whereas their children cannot endure printed matter cut into
     rhythmic lengths, unless the oddity solicit them in the columns of
     a paper specially addressed to their intelligence.

     "At the instigation of those zealous persons who impress upon
     shopkeepers, clerks and artisans, the duty of 'self-culture
     in leisure hours,' there undoubtedly goes on some systematic
     reading of verse--the exceptional case to which I alluded. It
     is undertaken in a resolute spirit by pallid men, who study the
     poet just as they study the historian, the economist, the master
     of physical science, and their pathetic endeavour is directed by
     that species of criticism which demands--exclusively--from poetry
     its 'message for our time.' Hence, no doubt, the conviction of
     many who go down to the great democratic deep that multitudes
     are hungering for the poet's word. Here, as in other kindred
     matters, the hope of such enthusiasts arises from imperfect
     understanding. Not in lecture-hall and classroom can the mind of
     the people be discovered. Optimism has made a fancy picture of
     the representative working-man, ludicrous beyond expression to
     those who know him in his habitat; and the supremely ludicrous
     touch is that which attributes to him a capacity for enjoying pure
     literature.

     "I have in mind a typical artisan family, occupying a house
     to themselves, the younger members grown up and, in their own
     opinion, very far above those who are called 'the poor.' They
     possess perhaps a dozen volumes: a novel or two, some bound
     magazines, a few musty works of popular instruction or amusement;
     all casually acquired and held in no value. Of these people I am
     able confidently to assert (as the result of specific inquiry)
     that they have in their abode no book of verse--that they never
     read verse when they can avoid it--that among their intimates
     is no person who reads or wishes to read verse--that they never
     knew of any one buying a book of verse--and that not one of them,
     from childhood upwards, ever heard a piece of verse read aloud
     at the fireside. In this respect, as in many others, the family
     beyond doubt is typical. They stand between the brutal and the
     intelligent of working-folk. There must be an overwhelming number
     of such households through the land, representing a vast populace
     absolutely irresponsive to the word of any poet.

     "The custodian of a Free Library in a southern city informs me
     that 'hardly once in a month' does a volume of verse pass over
     his counter; that the exceptional applicant (seeking Byron or
     Longfellow) is generally 'the wife of a tradesman'; and that an
     offer of verse to man or woman who comes simply for 'a book' is
     invariably rejected; 'they won't even look at it.'

     "What else could one have anticipated? To love poetry is a boon of
     nature, most sparingly bestowed; appreciation of the poet's art is
     an outcome of studious leisure. Even an honest liking for verse,
     without discernment, depends upon complex conditions of birth,
     breeding, education. No one seeks to disparage the laborious
     masses on the ground of their incapacity for delights necessarily
     the privilege of a few. It was needless folly to pretend that,
     because one or two of Tennyson's poems became largely known
     through popular recitation, therefore Tennyson was dear to the
     heart of the people, a subject of their pride whilst he lived, of
     their mourning when he departed. My point is that _no_ poet holds
     this place in the esteem of the English lower orders.

     "Tennyson? The mere price of his works is prohibitive to people
     who think a shilling a very large outlay for printed paper. Half
     a dozen of his poems at most would obtain a hearing from the
     average uneducated person. We know very well the kind of home in
     which Tennyson is really beloved for the sake of perhaps half his
     work--and that not the better half. Between such households and
     the best discoverable in the world of which I speak, lies a chasm
     of utter severance. In default of other tests, Tennyson might be
     used as a touch-stone to distinguish the last of gentle-folk from
     the first of the unprivileged.

     "On the day of his funeral, I spoke of the dead poet to a live
     schoolmaster, a teacher of poor children, and he avowed to me,
     quite simply, that he 'couldn't stand poetry--except a few hymns;'
     that he had thoroughly disliked it ever since the day, when as a
     schoolboy, he had to learn by heart portions of _The Lady of the
     Lake_. I doubt whether this person could have named three pieces
     of Tennyson's writing. He spoke with the consciousness of being
     supported by general opinion in his own world.

     "Some days before, I was sitting in a public room, where two men,
     retired shopkeepers, exchanged an occasional word as they read
     the morning's news. 'A great deal here about Lord Tennyson,' said
     one. The 'Lord' was significant; I listened anxiously for his
     companion's reply. 'Ah--yes.' The man moved uneasily, and added
     at once: 'What do you think about this long-distance ride?' In
     that room (I frequented it on successive days with this object)
     not a syllable did I hear regarding Tennyson save the sentence
     faithfully recorded. This was in the south of England; perhaps it
     could not have happened in the north.

     "As a boy, I at one time went daily to school by train. It
     happened once that I was alone in the carriage with a commercial
     traveller; my Horace was open before me, and it elicited a remark
     from the man of samples, who spoke with the accent of that
     northern county, and certainly did not belong to the educated
     class. After a word or two, he opened his bag, and took out an
     ancient copy, battered, thumbed, pencilled, of--Horatius Flaccus.
     Without this, he told me, he never travelled. From a bare
     smattering obtained at school, he had pursued the study of Latin;
     Horace was dear to him; he indicated favourite odes----

     "Everywhere there are the many and the few. What of the multitude
     in higher spheres? Their leisure is ample; literature lies thick
     about them. It would be amusing to know how many give one hour a
     month to the greater poets....

     "Believe me, Sir, yours faithfully,

     "GEORGE GISSING.

     "To Edmund Gosse, Esq."


II

M. MALLARMÉ AND SYMBOLISM

It was with not a little hesitation that I undertook to unravel a
corner of the mystic web, woven of sunbeams and electrical threads,
in which the poet of _L'Après-Midi d'un Faune_ conceals himself from
curious apprehension. There were a dozen chances of my interpretation
being wrong, and scarcely one of its being right. My delight therefore
may be conceived when I received a most gracious letter from the mage
himself; Apollonius was not more surprised when, by a fortunate chance,
one of his prophecies came true. I quote from this charming paper of
credentials, which proceeds to add some precious details:--

"Votre étude est un miracle de divination.... Les poëtes seuls ont le
droit de parler; parce qu'avant coup, ils savent. Il y a, entre toutes,
une phrase, où vous écartez tous voiles et désignez la chose avec une
clairvoyance de diamant, le voici: 'His aim ... is to use words in
such harmonious combination as will suggest to the reader a mood or a
condition _which is not mentioned in the text_, but is nevertheless
paramount in the poet's mind at the moment of composition.'

"Tout est là. Je fais de la Musique, et appelle ainsi non celle qu'on
peut tirer du rapprochement euphonique des mots, cette première
condition va de soi; mais l'au delà magiquement produit par certaines
dispositions de la parole, où celle-ci ne reste qu'à l'êtat de moyen de
communication matérielle avec le lecteur comme les touches du piano.
Vraiment entre les lignes et au-dessus du regard cela se passe, en
toute pureté, sans l'entremise de cordes à boyaux et de pistons comme
à l'orchestre, qui est déjà industriel; mais c'est la même chose que
l'orchestre, sauf que littérairement ou silencieusement. Les poëtes
de tous les temps n'ont jamais fait autrement et il est aujourd'hui,
voilà tout, amusant d'en avoir conscience. Employez Musique dans le
sens grec, au fond signifiant Idée au rythme entre les rapports; là,
plus divine que dans son expression publique ou Symphonique. Très mal
dit, en causant, mais vous saisissez ou plutôt aviez saisi toute au
long de cette belle étude qu'il faut garder telle quelle et intacte.
Je ne vous chicane que sur l'obscurité: non, cher poëte, excepté par
maladresse ou gaucherie je ne suis pas obscur, du moment qu'on me lit
pour y chercher ce que j'énonce plus haut, ou la manifestation d'un
art qui se sert--mettons incidemment, j'en sais la cause profonde--du
langage: et le deviens, bien sûr! si l'on se trompe et croit ouvrir le
journal....--Votre

STÉPHANE MALLARMÉ.


_Printed by_ BALLANTYNE, HANSON AND CO. _London and Edinburgh_



BY THE SAME AUTHOR.


_In one volume, crown 8vo, red buckram, gilt top, 7s. 6d._

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LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN.



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber's note:

One unpaired double quotation mark could not be corrected with
confidence.





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