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Adventures among Books
by Andrew Lang
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The kind of life which Dr. Brown's father and his people lived at Biggar, the austere life of work, and of thought intensely bent on the real aim of existence, on God, on the destiny of the soul, is perhaps rare now, even in rural Scotland. We are less obedient than of old to the motto of that ring found on Magus Moor, where Archbishop Shairp was murdered, Remember upon Dethe. If any reader has not yet made the acquaintance of Dr. Brown's works, one might counsel him to begin with the "Letter to John Cairns, D.D.," the fragment of biography and autobiography, the description of the fountainheads from which the genius of the author flowed. In his early boyhood, John Brown was educated by his father, a man who, from his son's affectionate description, seems to have confined a fiery and romantic genius within the channels of Seceder and Burgher theology. When the father received a call to the "Rose Street Secession Church," in Edinburgh, the son became a pupil of that ancient Scottish seminary, the High School—the school where Scott was taught not much Latin and no Greek worth mentioning. Scott was still alive and strong in those days, and Dr. Brown describes how he and his school companions would take off their hats to the Shirra as he passed in the streets.

"Though lame, he was nimble, and all rough and alive with power; had you met him anywhere else, you would say he was a Liddesdale store farmer, come of gentle blood—'a stout, blunt carle,' as he says of himself, with the swing and stride and the eye of a man of the hills—a large, sunny, out-of-door air all about him. On his broad and stooping shoulders was set that head which, with Shakespeare's and Bonaparte's, is the best known in all the world." Scott was then living in 39 Castle Street. I do not know whether the many pilgrims, whom one meets moving constantly in the direction of Melrose and Abbotsford, have thought of making pilgrimage to Castle Street, and to the grave, there, of Scott's "dear old friend,"—his dog Camp. Of Dr. Brown's schoolboy days, one knows little—days when "Bob Ainslie and I were coming up Infirmary Street from the High School, our heads together, and our arms intertwisted, as only lovers and boys know how or why." Concerning the doctor's character, he has left it on record that he liked a dog-fight. "'A dog-fight,' shouted Bob, and was off, and so was I, both of us all hot, praying that it might not be over before we were up . . . Dogs like fighting; old Isaac (Watts, not Walton) says they 'delight' in it, and for the best of all reasons; and boys are not cruel because they like to see the fight. This is a very different thing from a love of making dogs fight." And this was the most famous of all dog-fights—since the old Irish Brehons settled the laws of that sport, and gravely decided what was to be done if a child interfered, or an idiot, or a woman, or a one-eyed man—for this was the dog-fight in which Rab first was introduced to his historian.

Six years passed after this battle, and Dr. Brown was a medical student and a clerk at Minto Hospital. How he renewed his acquaintance there, and in what sad circumstances, with Rab and his friends, it is superfluous to tell, for every one who reads at all has read that story, and most readers not without tears. As a medical student in Edinburgh, Dr. Brown made the friendship of Mr. Syme, the famous surgeon—a friendship only closed by death. I only saw them once together, a very long time ago, and then from the point of view of a patient. These occasions are not agreeable, and patients, like the old cock which did not crow when plucked, are apt to be "very much absorbed"; but Dr. Brown's attitude toward the man whom he regarded with the reverence of a disciple, as well as with the affection of a friend, was very remarkable.

When his studies were over, Dr. Brown practised for a year as assistant to a surgeon in Chatham. It must have been when he was at Chatham that a curious event occurred. Many years later, Charles Dickens was in Edinburgh, reading his stories in public, and was dining with some Edinburgh people. Dickens began to speak about the panic which the cholera had caused in England: how ill some people had behaved. As a contrast, he mentioned that, at Chatham, one poor woman had died, deserted by every one except a young physician. Some one, however, ventured to open the door, and found the woman dead, and the young doctor asleep, overcome with the fatigue that mastered him on his patient's death, but quite untouched by the general panic. "Why, that was Dr. John Brown," one of the guests observed; and it seems that, thus early in his career, the doctor had been setting an example of the courage and charity of his profession. After a year spent in Chatham, he returned to Edinburgh, where he spent the rest of his life, busy partly with his art of healing, partly with literature. He lived in Rutland Street, near the railway station, by which Edinburgh is approached from the west, and close to Princes Street, the chief street of the town, separated by a green valley, once a loch, from the high Castle Rock. It was the room in which his friends were accustomed to see Dr. Brown, and a room full of interest it was. In his long life, the doctor had gathered round him many curious relics of artists and men of letters; a drawing of a dog by Turner I remember particularly, and a copy of "Don Juan," in the first edition, with Byron's manuscript notes. Dr. Brown had a great love and knowledge of art and of artists, from Turner to Leech; and he had very many friends among men of letters, such as Mr. Ruskin and Mr. Thackeray. Dr. Brown himself was a clever designer of rapid little grotesques, rough sketches of dogs and men. One or two of them are engraved in the little paper-covered booklets in which some of his essays were separately published—booklets which he was used to present to people who came to see him and who were interested in all that he did. I remember some vivacious grotesques which he drew for one of my brothers when we were schoolboys. These little things were carefully treasured by boys who knew Dr. Brown, and found him friendly, and capable of sustaining a conversation on the points of a Dandy Dinmont terrier and other mysteries important to youth. He was a bibliophile—a taste which he inherited from his father, who "began collecting books when he was twelve, and was collecting to his last hours."

The last time I ever saw Dr. Brown, a year before his death, he was kind enough to lend me one of the rarest of his treasures, "Poems," by Mr. Ruskin. Probably Mr. Ruskin had presented the book to his old friend; in no other way were it easy to procure writings which the author withdrew from publication, if, indeed, they ever were, properly speaking, published. Thus Dr. Brown was all things to all men, and to all boys. He "had a word for every one," as poor people say, and a word to the point, for he was as much at home with the shepherd on the hills, or with the angler between Hollylea and Clovenfords, as with the dusty book-hunter, or the doggy young Border yeoman, or the child who asked him to "draw her a picture," or the friend of genius famous through all the world, Thackeray, when he "spoke, as he seldom did, of divine things."

Three volumes of essays are all that Dr. Brown has left in the way of compositions: a light, but imperishable literary baggage. His studies are usually derived from personal experience, which he reproduced with singular geniality and simplicity, or they are drawn from the tradition of the elders, the reminiscences of long-lived Scotch people, who, themselves, had listened attentively to those who went before them. Since Scott, these ancient ladies with wonderful memories have had no such attentive listener or appreciative reporter as Dr. Brown. His paper called "Mystifications," a narrative of the pranks of Miss Stirling Graham, is a brief, vivid record of the clever and quaint society of Scotland sixty years ago. Scotland, or at least Scottish society, is now only English society—a little narrower, a little prouder, sometimes even a little duller. But old people of position spoke the old Scotch tongue sixty years ago, and were full of wonderful genealogies, full of reminiscences of the "'45," and the adventures of the Jacobites. The very last echoes of that ancient world are dying now from memory, like the wide reverberations of that gun which Miss Nelly MacWilliam heard on the day when Prince Charles landed, and which resounded strangely all through Scotland.

The children of this generation, one fears, will hardly hear of these old raids and duels, risings and rebellions, by oral tradition handed down, unbroken, through aunts and grandmothers. Scott reaped a full, late harvest of the memories of clannish and feudal Scotland; Dr. Brown came as a later gleaner, and gathered these stirring tales of "A Jacobite Family" which are published in the last volume of his essays. When he was an observer, not a hearer only, Dr. Brown chiefly studied and best wrote of the following topics: passages and characters of humour and pathos which he encountered in his life and profession; children, dogs, Border scenery, and fellow-workers in life and science. Under one or other of these categories all his best compositions might be arranged. The most famous and most exquisite of all his works in the first class is the unrivalled "Rab and his Friends"—a study of the stoicism and tenderness of the Lowland character worthy of Scott. In a minor way the little paper on "Jeems," the door-keeper in a Dissenting house of the Lord, is interesting to Scotch people, though it must seem a rather curious revelation to all others. "Her last Half-crown" is another study of the honesty that survived in a starving and outcast Scotch girl, when all other virtues, as we commonly reckon virtue, had gone before her character to some place where, let us hope, they may rejoin her; for if we are to suffer for the vices which have abandoned us, may we not get some credit for the virtues that we have abandoned, but that once were ours, in some heaven paved with bad resolutions unfulfilled? "The Black Dwarf's Bones" is a sketch of the misshapen creature from whom Scott borrowed the character that gives a name to one of his minor Border stories. The real Black Dwarf (David Ritchie he was called among men) was fond of poetry, but hated Burns. He was polite to the fair, but classed mankind at large with his favourite aversions: ghosts, fairies, and robbers. There was this of human about the Black Dwarf, that "he hated folk that are aye gaun to dee, and never do't." The village beauties were wont to come to him for a Judgment of Paris on their charms, and he presented each with a flower, which was of a fixed value in his standard of things beautiful. One kind of rose, the prize of the most fair, he only gave thrice. Paris could not have done his dooms more courteously, and, if he had but made judicious use of rose, lily, and lotus, as prizes, he might have pleased all the three Goddesses; Troy still might be standing, and the lofty house of King Priam.

Among Dr. Brown's papers on children, that called "Pet Marjorie" holds the highest place. Perhaps certain passages are "wrote too sentimentally," as Marjorie Fleming herself remarked about the practice of many authors. But it was difficult to be perfectly composed when speaking of this wonderful fairy-like little girl, whose affection was as warm as her humour and genius were precocious. "Infant phenomena" are seldom agreeable, but Marjorie was so humorous, so quick-tempered, so kind, that we cease to regard her as an intellectual "phenomenon." Her memory remains sweet and blossoming in its dust, like that of little Penelope Boothby, the child in the mob cap whom Sir Joshua painted, and who died very soon after she was thus made Immortal.

It is superfluous to quote from the essay on Marjorie Fleming; every one knows about her and her studies: "Isabella is teaching me to make simme colings, nots of interrigations, peorids, commoes, &c." Here is a Shakespearian criticism, of which few will deny the correctness: "'Macbeth' is a pretty composition, but awful one." Again, "I never read sermons of any kind, but I read novelettes and my Bible." "'Tom Jones' and Gray's 'Elegy in a Country Churchyard' are both excellent, and much spoke of by both sex, particularly by the men." Her Calvinistic belief in "unquestionable fire and brimston" is unhesitating, but the young theologian appears to have substituted "unquestionable" for "unquenchable." There is something humorous in the alteration, as if Marjorie refused to be put off with an "excellent family substitute" for fire and brimstone, and demanded the "unquestionable" article, no other being genuine, please observe trade mark.

Among Dr. Brown's contributions to the humorous study of dogs, "Rab," of course, holds the same place as Marjorie among his sketches of children. But if his "Queen Mary's Child Garden," the description of the little garden in which Mary Stuart did not play when a child, is second to "Marjorie," so "Our Dogs" is a good second to "Rab." Perhaps Dr. Brown never wrote anything more mirthful than his description of the sudden birth of the virtue of courage in Toby, a comic but cowardly mongrel, a cur of low degree.

"Toby was in the way of hiding his culinary bones in the small gardens before his own and the neighbouring doors. Mr. Scrymgeour, two doors off, a bulky, choleric, red-faced man—torvo vultu—was, by law of contrast, a great cultivator of flowers, and he had often scowled Toby into all but non-existence by a stamp of his foot and a glare of his eye. One day, his gate being open, in walks Toby with a huge bone, and making a hole where Scrymgeour had two minutes before been planting some precious slip, the name of which on paper and on a stick Toby made very light of, substituted his bone, and was engaged covering it, or thinking he was covering it up with his shovelling nose, when S. spied him through the inner glass door, and was out upon him, like the Assyrian, with a terrific gowl. I watched them. Instantly Toby made at him with a roar too, and an eye more torve than Scrymgeour's, who, retreating without reserve, fell prostrate, there is reason to believe, in his own lobby. Toby contented himself with proclaiming his victory at the door, and, returning, finished his bone- planting at his leisure; the enemy, who had scuttled behind the glass door, glared at him. From this moment Toby was an altered dog. Pluck at first sight was lord of all . . . That very evening he paid a visit to Leo, next door's dog, a big tyrannical bully and coward . . . To him Toby paid a visit that very evening, down into his den, and walked about, as much as to say, 'Come on, Macduff'; but Macduff did not come on."

This story is one of the most amazing examples of instant change of character on record, and disproves the sceptical remark that "no one was ever converted, except prize-fighters, and colonels in the army." I am sorry to say that Dr. Brown was too fond of dogs to be very much attached to cats. I never heard him say anything against cats, or, indeed, against anybody; but there are passages in his writings which tend to show that, when young and thoughtless, he was not far from regarding cats as "the higher vermin." He tells a story of a Ghazi puss, so to speak, a victorious cat, which, entrenched in a drain, defeated three dogs with severe loss, and finally escaped unharmed from her enemies. Dr. Brown's family gloried in the possession of a Dandy Dinmont named John Pym, whose cousin (Auld Pepper) belonged to one of my brothers. Dr. Brown was much interested in Pepper, a dog whose family pride was only matched by that of the mother of Candide, and, at one time, threatened to result in the extinction of this branch of the House of Pepper. Dr. Brown had remarked, and my own observations confirm it, that when a Dandy is not game, his apparent lack of courage arises "from kindness of heart."

Among Dr. Brown's landscapes, as one may call his descriptions of scenery, and of the ancient historical associations with Scotch scenery, "Minchmoor" is the most important. He had always been a great lover of the Tweed. The walk which he commemorates in "Minchmoor" was taken, if I am not mistaken, in company with Principal Shairp, Professor of Poetry in the University of Oxford, and author of one of the most beautiful of Tweedside songs, a modern "Bush aboon Traquair:"—

"And what saw ye there, At the bush aboon Traquair; Or what did ye hear that was worth your heed? I heard the cushie croon Thro' the gowden afternoon, And the Quair burn singing doon to the vale o' Tweed."

There is in the country of Scott no pleasanter walk than that which Dr. Brown took in the summer afternoon. Within a few miles, many places famous in history and ballad may be visited: the road by which Montrose's men fled from Philiphaugh fight; Traquair House, with the bears on its gates, as on the portals of the Baron of Bradwardine; Williamhope, where Scott and Mungo Park, the African explorer, parted and went their several ways. From the crest of the road you see all the Border hills, the Maiden Paps, the Eildons cloven in three, the Dunion, the Windburg, and so to the distant Cheviots, and Smailholm Tower, where Scott lay when a child, and clapped his hands at the flashes of the lightning, haud sine Dis animosus infans, like Horace.

From the crest of the hill you follow Dr. Brown into the valley of Yarrow, and the deep black pools, now called the "dowie dens," and so, "through the pomp of cultivated nature," as Wordsworth says, to the railway at Selkirk, passing the plain where Janet won back Tamlane from the queen of the fairies. All this country was familiar to Dr. Brown, and on one of the last occasions when I met him, he was living at Hollylea, on the Tweed, just above Ashestiel, Scott's home while he was happy and prosperous, before he had the unhappy thought of building Abbotsford. At the time I speak of, Dr. Brown had long ceased to write, and his health suffered from attacks of melancholy, in which the world seemed very dark to him. I have been allowed to read some letters which he wrote in one of these intervals of depression. With his habitual unselfishness, he kept his melancholy to himself, and, though he did not care for society at such times, he said nothing of his own condition that could distress his correspondent. In the last year of his life, everything around him seemed to brighten: he was unusually well, he even returned to his literary work, and saw his last volume of collected essays through the press. They were most favourably received, and the last letters which I had from him spoke of the pleasure which this success gave him. Three editions of his book ("John Leech, and Other Essays") were published in some six weeks. All seemed to go well, and one might even have hoped that, with renewed strength, he would take up his pen again. But his strength was less than we had hoped. A cold settled on his lungs, and, in spite of the most affectionate nursing, he grew rapidly weaker. He had little suffering at the end, and his mind remained unclouded. No man of letters could be more widely regretted, for he was the friend of all who read his books, as, even to people who only met him once or twice in life, he seemed to become dear and familiar.

In one of his very latest writings, "On Thackeray's Death," Dr. Brown told people (what some of them needed, and still need to be told) how good, kind, and thoughtful for others was our great writer—our greatest master of fiction, I venture to think, since Scott. Some of the lines Dr. Brown wrote of Thackerary might be applied to himself: "He looked always fresh, with that abounding silvery hair, and his young, almost infantile face"—a face very pale, and yet radiant, in his last years, and mildly lit up with eyes full of kindness, and softened by sorrow. In his last year, Mr. Swinburne wrote to Dr. Brown this sonnet, in which there seems something of the poet's prophetic gift, and a voice sounds as of a welcome home:—

"Beyond the north wind lay the land of old, Where men dwelt blithe and blameless, clothed and fed With joy's bright raiment, and with love's sweet bread,— The whitest flock of earth's maternal fold, None there might wear about his brows enrolled A light of lovelier fame than rings your head, Whose lovesome love of children and the dead All men give thanks for; I, far off, behold A dear dead hand that links us, and a light The blithest and benignest of the night,— The night of death's sweet sleep, wherein may be A star to show your spirit in present sight Some happier isle in the Elysian sea Where Rab may lick the hand of Marjorie."



CHAPTER IV: OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES

Never but once did I enjoy the privilege of meeting the author of "Elsie Venner"—Oliver Wendell Holmes. It was at a dinner given by Mr. Lowell, and of conversation with Dr. Holmes I had very little. He struck me as being wonderfully erect, active, and vivacious for his great age. He spoke (perhaps I should not chronicle this impression)—he spoke much, and freely, but rather as if he were wound up to speak, so to say—wound up, I mean, by a sense of duty to himself and kindness to strangers, who were naturally curious about so well-known a man. In his aspect there was a certain dryness, and, altogether, his vivacity, his ceaselessness, and a kind of equability of tone in his voice, reminded me of what Homer says concerning the old men around Priam, above the gate of Troy, how they "chirped like cicalas on a summer day." About the matter of his talk I remember nothing, only the manner remains with me, and mine may have been a false impression, or the manner may have been accidental, and of the moment: or, again, a manner appropriate for conversation with strangers, each coming up one after the other, to view respectfully so great a lion. Among his friends and intimates he was probably a different man, with a tone other and more reposeful.

He had a long, weary task before him, then, to talk his way, ever courteous, alert, attentive, through part of a London season. Yet, when it was all over, he seems to have enjoyed it, being a man who took pleasure in most sorts of experience. He did not affect me, for that one time, with such a sense of pleasure as Mr. Lowell did—Mr. Lowell, whom I knew so much better, and who was so big, strong, humorous, kind, learned, friendly, and delightfully natural.

Dr. Holmes, too, was a delightful companion, and I have merely tried to make a sort of photographic "snap-shot" at him, in a single casual moment, one of myriads of such moments. Turning to Dr. Holmes's popular, as distinct from his professional writings, one is reminded, as one often is, of the change which seems to come over some books as the reader grows older. Many books are to one now what they always were; some, like the Waverley novels and Shakespeare, grow better on every fresh reading. There are books which filled me, in boyhood or in youth, with a sort of admiring rapture, and a delighted wonder at their novelty, their strangeness, freshness, greatness. Thus Homer, and the best novels of Thackeray, and of Fielding, the plays of Moliere and Shakespeare, the poems of—well, of all the real poets, moved this astonishment of admiration, and being read again, they move it still. On a different level, one may say as much about books so unlike each other, as those of Poe and of Sir Thomas Browne, of Swift and of Charles Lamb.

There are, again, other books which caused this happy emotion of wonder, when first perused, long since, but which do so no longer. I am not much surprised to find Charles Kingsley's novels among them.

In the case of Dr. Holmes's books, I am very sensible of this disenchanting effect of time and experience. "The Professor at the Breakfast Table" and the novels came into my hands when I was very young, in "green, unknowing youth." They seemed extraordinary, new, fantasies of wisdom and wit; the reflections were such as surprised me by their depth, the illustrations dazzled by their novelty and brilliance. Probably they will still be as fortunate with young readers, and I am to be pitied, I hope, rather than blamed, if I cannot, like the wise thrush—

"Recapture The first fine careless rapture."

By this time, of course, one understands many of the constituents of Dr. Holmes's genius, the social, historical, ancestral, and professional elements thereof. Now, it is the business of criticism to search out and illustrate these antecedents, and it seems a very odd and unlucky thing, that the results of this knowledge when acquired, should sometimes be a partial disenchantment. But we are not disenchanted at all by this kind of science, when the author whom we are examining is a great natural genius, like Shakespeare or Shelley, Keats or Scott. Such natures bring to the world far more than they receive, as far as our means of knowing what they receive are concerned. The wind of the spirit that is not of this earth, nor limited by time and space, breathes through their words, and thoughts, and deeds. They are not mere combinations, however deft and subtle, of known atoms. They must continually delight, and continually surprise; custom cannot stale them; like the heaven-born Laws in Sophocles, age can never lull them to sleep. Their works, when they are authors, never lose hold on our fancy and our interest.

As far as my own feelings and admiration can inform me, Dr. Holmes, though a most interesting and amiable and kindly man and writer, was not of this class. As an essayist, a delineator of men and morals, an unassuming philosopher, with a light, friendly wit, he certainly does not hold one as, for example, Addison does. The old Spectator makes me smile, pleases, tickles, diverts me now, even more than when I lay on the grass and read it by Tweedside, as a boy, when the trout were sluggish, in the early afternoon. It is only a personal fact that Dr. Holmes, read in the same old seasons, with so much pleasure and admiration and surprise, no longer affects me in the old way. Carlyle, on the other hand, in his "Frederick," which used to seem rather long, now entertains me far more than ever. But I am well aware that this is a mere subjective estimate; that Dr. Holmes may really be as great a genius as I was wont to think him, for criticism is only a part of our impressions. The opinion of mature experience, as a rule, ought to be sounder than that of youth; in this case I cannot but think that it is sounder.

Dr. Holmes was a New Englander, and born in what he calls "the Brahmin caste," the class which, in England, before the sailing of the May Flower, and ever since, had always been literary and highly educated. "I like books; I was born and bred among them," he says, "and have the easy feeling, when I get into their presence, that a stable-boy has among horses." He is fond of books, and, above all, of old books—strange, old medical works, for example—full of portents and prodigies, such as those of Wierus.

New England, owing to its famous college, Harvard, and its steady maintenance of the literary and learned tradition among the clergy, was, naturally, the home of the earliest great American school of writers. These men—Longfellow, Lowell, Ticknor, Prescott, Hawthorne, and so many others—had all received the same sort of education as Europeans of letters used to receive. They had not started as printers' devils, or newspaper reporters, or playwrights for the stage, but were academic. It does not matter much how a genius begins—as a rural butcher, or an apothecary, or a clerk of a Writer to the Signet. Still, the New Englanders were academic and classical. New England has, by this time, established a tradition of its literary origin and character. Her children are sons of the Puritans, with their independence, their narrowness, their appreciation of comfort, their hardiness in doing without it, their singular scruples of conscience, their sense of the awfulness of sin, their accessibility to superstition. We can read of the later New Englanders in the making, among the works of Cotton Mather, his father Increase Mather, and the witch-burning, periwig-hating, doctrinal Judge Sewall, who so manfully confessed and atoned for his mistake about the Salem witches. These men, or many of them, were deeply- learned Calvinists, according to the standard of their day, a day lasting from, say, the Restoration to 1730. Cotton Mather, in particular, is erudite, literary—nay, full of literary vanity—mystical, visionary, credulous to an amusing degree.

But he is really as British as Baxter, or his Scottish correspondent and counterpart, Wodrow. The sons or grandsons of these men gained the War of Independence. Of this they are naturally proud, and the circumstance is not infrequently mentioned in Dr. Holmes's works. Their democracy is not roaring modern democracy, but that of the cultivated middle classes. Their stern Calvinism slackened into many "isms," but left a kind of religiosity behind it. One of Dr. Holmes's mouthpieces sums up his whole creed in the two words Pater Noster. All these hereditary influences are consciously made conspicuous in Dr. Holmes's writings, as in Hawthorne's. In Hawthorne you see the old horror of sin, the old terror of conscience, the old dread of witchcraft, the old concern about conduct, converted into aesthetic sources of literary pleasure, of literary effects.

As a physician and a man of science, Dr. Holmes added abundant knowledge of the new sort; and apt, unexpected bits of science made popular, analogies and illustrations afforded by science are frequent in his works. Thus, in "Elsie Venner," and in "The Guardian Angel," "heredity" is his theme. He is always brooding over the thought that each of us is so much made up of earlier people, our ancestors, who bequeath to us so many disagreeable things—vice, madness, disease, emotions, tricks of gesture. No doubt these things are bequeathed, but all in such new proportions and relations, that each of us is himself and nobody else, and therefore had better make up his mind to be himself, and for himself responsible.

All this doctrine of heredity, still so dimly understood, Dr. Holmes derives from science. But, in passing through his mind, that of a New Englander conscious of New England's past, science takes a stain of romance and superstition. Elsie Venner, through an experience of her mother's, inherits the nature of the serpent, so the novel is as far from common life as the tale of "Melusine," or any other echidna. The fantasy has its setting in a commonplace New England environment, and thus recalls a Hawthorne less subtle and concentrated, but much more humorous. The heroine of the "Guardian Angel," again, exposes a character in layers, as it were, each stratum of consciousness being inherited from a different ancestor—among others, a red Indian. She has many personalities, like the queer women we read about in French treatises on hysterics and nervous diseases. These stories are "fairy tales of science," by a man of science, who is also a humourist, and has a touch of the poet, and of the old fathers who were afraid of witches. The "blend" is singular enough, and not without its originality of fascination.

Though a man of science Dr. Holmes apparently took an imaginative pleasure in all shapes of superstition that he could muster. I must quote a passage from "The Professor at the Breakfast Table," as peculiarly illustrative of his method, and his ways of half accepting the abnormally romantic—accepting just enough for pleasure, like Sir Walter Scott. Connected with the extract is a curious anecdote.

"I think I am a little superstitious. There were two things, when I was a boy, that diabolised my imagination,—I mean, that gave me a distinct apprehension of a formidable bodily shape which prowled round the neighbourhood where I was born and bred. The first was a series of marks called the 'Devil's footsteps.' These were patches of sand in the pastures, where no grass grew, where even the low-bush blackberry, the 'dewberry,' as our Southern neighbours call it, in prettier and more Shakespearian language, did not spread its clinging creepers, where even the pale, dry, sadly-sweet 'everlasting' could not grow, but all was bare and blasted. The second was a mark in one of the public buildings near my home,—the college dormitory named after a Colonial Governor. I do not think many persons are aware of the existence of this mark,—little having been said about the story in print, as it was considered very desirable, for the sake of the Institution, to hush it up. In the north- west corner, and on the level of the third or fourth storey, there are signs of a breach in the walls, mended pretty well, but not to be mistaken. A considerable portion of that corner must have been carried away, from within outward. It was an unpleasant affair, and I do not care to repeat the particulars; but some young men had been using sacred things in a profane and unlawful way, when the occurrence, which was variously explained, took place. The story of the Appearance in the chamber was, I suppose, invented afterwards; but of the injury to the building there could be no question; and the zigzag line, where the mortar is a little thicker than before, is still distinctly visible.

"The queer burnt spots, called the 'Devil's footsteps,' had never attracted attention before this time, though there is no evidence that they had not existed previously, except that of the late Miss M., a 'Goody,' so called, who was positive on the subject, but had a strange horror of referring to an affair of which she was thought to know something . . . I tell you it was not so pleasant for a little boy of impressible nature to go up to bed in an old gambrel-roofed house, with untenanted locked upper chambers, and a most ghostly garret,—with 'Devil's footsteps' in the fields behind the house, and in front of it the patched dormitory, where the unexplained occurrence had taken place which startled those godless youths at their mock devotions, so that one of them was epileptic from that day forward, and another, after a dreadful season of mental conflict, took to religion, and became renowned for his ascetic sanctity."

It is a pity that Dr. Holmes does not give the whole story, instead of hinting at it, for a similar tale is told at Brazenose College, and elsewhere. Now take, along with Dr. Holmes's confession to a grain of superstition, this remark on, and explanation of, the curious coincidences which thrust themselves on the notice of most people.

"Excuse me,—I return to my story of the Commonstable. Young fellows being always hungry, and tea and dry toast being the meagre fare of the evening meal, it was a trick of some of the boys to impale a slice of meat upon a fork, at dinner-time, and stick the fork, holding it, beneath the table, so that they could get it at tea-time. The dragons that guarded this table of the Hesperides found out the trick at last, and kept a sharp look-out for missing forks;—they knew where to find one, if it was not in its place. Now the odd thing was, that, after waiting so many years to hear of this College trick, I should hear it mentioned a second time within the same twenty-four hours by a College youth of the present generation. Strange, but true. And so it has happened to me and to every person, often and often, to be hit in rapid succession by these twinned facts or thoughts, as if they were linked like chain-shot.

"I was going to leave the simple reader to wonder over this, taking it as an unexplained marvel. I think, however, I will turn over a furrow of subsoil in it. The explanation is, of course, that in a great many thoughts there must be a few coincidences, and these instantly arrest our attention. Now we shall probably never have the least idea of the enormous number of impressions which pass through our consciousness, until in some future life we see the photographic record of our thoughts and the stereoscopic picture of our actions.

"Now, my dear friends, who are putting your hands to your foreheads, and saying to yourselves that you feel a little confused, as if you had been waltzing until things began to whirl slightly round you, is it possible that you do not clearly apprehend the exact connection of all I have been saying, and its bearing on what is now to come? Listen, then. The number of these living elements in our bodies illustrates the incalculable multitude of our thoughts; the number of our thoughts accounts for those frequent coincidences spoken of; these coincidences in the world of thought illustrate those which we constantly observe in the world of outward events."

Now for the anecdote—one of Mark Twain's.

Some years ago, Mark Twain published in Harper's Magazine an article on "Mental Telegraphy." He illustrated his meaning by a story of how he once wrote a long letter on a complicated subject, which had popped into his head between asleep and awake, to a friend on the other side of America. He did not send the letter, but, by return of post, received one from his friend. "Now, I'll tell you what he is going to say," said Mark Twain, read his own unsent epistle aloud, and then, opening his friend's despatch, proved that they were essentially identical. This is what he calls "Mental Telegraphy"; others call it "Telepathy," and the term is merely descriptive.

Now, on his own showing, in our second extract, Dr. Holmes should have explained coincidences like this as purely the work of chance, and I rather incline to think that he would have been right. But Mark Twain, in his article on "Mental Telegraphy," cites Dr. Holmes for a story of how he once, after dinner, as his letters came in, felt constrained to tell, a propos des bottes, the story of the last challenge to judicial combat in England (1817). He then opened a newspaper directed to him from England, the Sporting Times, and therein his eyes lighted on an account of this very affair—Abraham Thornton's challenge to battle when he was accused of murder, in 1817. According to Mark Twain, Dr. Holmes was disposed to accept "Mental Telegraphy" rather than mere chance as the cause of this coincidence. Yet the anecdote of the challenge seems to have been a favourite of his. It occurs in, "The Professor," in the fifth section. Perhaps he told it pretty frequently; probably that is why the printed version was sent to him; still, he was a little staggered by the coincidence. There was enough of Cotton Mather in the man of science to give him pause.

The form of Dr. Holmes's best known books, the set concerned with the breakfast-table and "Over the Teacups," is not very fortunate. Much conversation at breakfast is a weariness of the flesh. We want to eat what is necessary, and then to go about our work or play. If American citizens in a boarding-house could endure these long palavers, they must have been very unlike the hasty feeders caricatured in "Martin Chuzzlewit." Macaulay may have monologuised thus at his breakfast parties in the Albany; but breakfast parties are obsolete—an unregrettable parcel of things lost. The monologues, or dialogues, were published serially in the Atlantic Monthly, but they have had a vitality and a vogue far beyond those of the magazine causerie. Some of their popularity they may owe to the description of the other boarders, and to the kind of novel which connects the fortunes of these personages. But it is impossible for an Englishman to know whether these American types are exactly drawn or not. Their fortunes do not strongly interest one, though the "Sculpin"—the patriotic, deformed Bostonian, with his great-great-grandmother's ring (she was hanged for a witch)—is a very original and singular creation. The real interest lies in the wit, wisdom, and learning. The wit, now and then, seems to-day rather in the nature of a "goak." One might give examples, but to do so seems ill- natured and ungrateful.

There are some very perishable puns. The learning is not so recherche as it appeared when we knew nothing of Cotton Mather and Robert Calef, the author of a book against the persecution of witches. Calef, of course, was in the right, but I cannot forgive him for refusing to see a lady, known to Mr. Mather, who floated about in the air. That she did so was no good reason for hanging or burning a number of parishioners; but, did she float, and, if so, how? Mr. Calef said it would be a miracle, so he declined to view the performance. His logic was thin, though of a familiar description. Of all old things, at all events, Dr. Holmes was fond. He found America scarcely aired, new and raw, devoid of history and of associations. "The Tiber has a voice for me, as it whispers to the piers of the Pons AElius, even more full of meaning than my well-beloved Charles, eddying round the piles of West Boston Bridge." No doubt this is a common sentiment among Americans.

Occasionally, like Hawthorne, they sigh for an historical atmosphere, and then, when they come to Europe and get it, they do not like it, and think Schenectady, New York, "a better place." It is not easy to understand what ailed Hawthorne with Europe; he was extremely caustic in his writings about that continent, and discontented. Our matrons were so stout and placid that they irritated him. Indeed, they are a little heavy in hand, still there are examples of agreeable slimness, even in this poor old country. Fond as he was of the historical past, Mr. Holmes remained loyal to the historical present. He was not one of those Americans who are always censuring England, and always hankering after her. He had none of that irritable feeling, which made a great contemporary of his angrily declare that he could endure to hear "Ye Mariners of England" sung, because of his own country's successes, some time ago. They were gallant and conspicuous victories of the American frigates; we do not grudge them. A fair fight should leave no rancour, above all in the victors, and Dr. Holmes's withers would have been unwrung by Campbell's ditty.

He visited England in youth, and fifty years later. On the anniversary of the American defeat at Bunker's Hill (June 17), Dr. Holmes got his degree in the old Cambridge. He received degrees at Edinburgh and at Oxford, in his "Hundred Days in Europe" he says very little about these historic cities. The men at Oxford asked, "Did he come in the 'One Hoss Shay'?" the name of his most familiar poem in the lighter vein. The whole visit to England pleased and wearied him. He likened it to the shass caffy of Mr. Henry Foker—the fillip at the end of the long banquet of life. He went to see the Derby, for he was fond of horses, of racing, and, in a sportsmanlike way, of boxing. He had the great boldness once, audax juventa, to write a song in praise of that comfortable creature—wine. The prudery of many Americans about the juice of the grape is a thing very astonishing to a temperate Briton. An admirable author, who wrote an account of the old convivial days of an American city, found that reputable magazines could not accept such a degrading historical record. There was no nonsense about Dr. Holmes. His poems were mainly "occasional" verses for friendly meetings; or humorous, like the celebrated "One Horse Shay." Of his serious verses, the "Nautilus" is probably too familiar to need quotation; a noble fancy is nobly and tunefully "moralised." Pleasing, cultivated, and so forth, are adjectives not dear to poets. To say "sublime," or "magical," or "strenuous," of Dr. Holmes's muse, would be to exaggerate. How far he maintained his scholarship, I am not certain; but it is odd that, in his preface to "The Guardian Angel," he should quote from "Jonathan Edwards the younger," a story for which he might have cited Aristotle.

Were I to choose one character out of Dr. Holmes's creations as my favourite, it would be "a frequent correspondent of his," and of mine—the immortal Gifted Hopkins. Never was minor poet more kindly and genially portrayed. And if one had to pick out three of his books, as the best worth reading, they would be "The Professor," "Elsie Venner," and "The Guardian Angel." They have not the impeccable art and distinction of "The House of the Seven Gables" and "The Scarlet Letter," but they combine fantasy with living human interest, and with humour. With Sir Thomas Browne, and Dr. John Brown, and—may we not add Dr. Weir Mitchell?—Dr. Holmes excellently represents the physician in humane letters. He has left a blameless and most amiable memory, unspotted by the world. His works are full of the savour of his native soil, naturally, without straining after "Americanism;" and they are national, not local or provincial. He crossed the great gulf of years, between the central age of American literary production—the time of Hawthorne and Poe—to our own time, and, like Nestor, he reigned among the third generation. As far as the world knows, the shadow of a literary quarrel never fell on him; he was without envy or jealousy, incurious of his own place, never vain, petulant, or severe. He was even too good-humoured, and the worst thing I have heard of him is that he could never say "no" to an autograph hunter.



CHAPTER V: MR. MORRIS'S POEMS

"Enough," said the pupil of the wise Imlac, "you have convinced me that no man can be a poet." The study of Mr. William Morris's poems, in the new collected edition, {5} has convinced me that no man, or, at least, no middle-aged man, can be a critic. I read Mr. Morris's poems (thanks to the knightly honours conferred on the Bard of Penrhyn, there is now no ambiguity as to 'Mr. Morris'), but it is not the book only that I read. The scroll of my youth is unfolded. I see the dear place where first I perused "The Blue Closet"; the old faces of old friends flock around me; old chaff, old laughter, old happiness re-echo and revive. St. Andrews, Oxford, come before the mind's eye, with

"Many a place That's in sad case Where joy was wont afore, oh!"

as Minstrel Burne sings. These voices, faces, landscapes mingle with the music and blur the pictures of the poet who enchanted for us certain hours passed in the paradise of youth. A reviewer who finds himself in this case may as well frankly confess that he can no more criticise Mr. Morris dispassionately than he could criticise his old self and the friends whom he shall never see again, till he meets them

"Beyond the sphere of time, And sin, and grief's control, Serene in changeless prime Of body and of soul."

To write of one's own "adventures among books" may be to provide anecdotage more or less trivial, more or less futile, but, at least, it is to write historically. We know how books have affected, and do affect ourselves, our bundle of prejudices and tastes, of old impressions and revived sensations. To judge books dispassionately and impersonally, is much more difficult—indeed, it is practically impossible, for our own tastes and experiences must, more or less, modify our verdicts, do what we will. However, the effort must be made, for to say that, at a certain age, in certain circumstances, an individual took much pleasure in "The Life and Death of Jason," the present of a college friend, is certainly not to criticise "The Life and Death of Jason."

There have been three blossoming times in the English poetry of the nineteenth century. The first dates from Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, and, later, from Shelley, Byron, Keats. By 1822 the blossoming time was over, and the second blossoming time began in 1830-1833, with young Mr. Tennyson and Mr. Browning. It broke forth again, in 1842 and did not practically cease till England's greatest laureate sang of the "Crossing of the Bar." But while Tennyson put out his full strength in 1842, and Mr. Browning rather later, in "Bells and Pomegranates" ("Men and Women"), the third spring came in 1858, with Mr. Morris's "Defence of Guenevere," and flowered till Mr. Swinburne's "Atalanta in Calydon" appeared in 1865, followed by his poems of 1866. Mr. Rossetti's book of 1870 belonged, in date of composition, mainly to this period.

In 1858, when "The Defence of Guenevere" came out, Mr. Morris must have been but a year or two from his undergraduateship. Every one has heard enough about his companions, Mr. Burne Jones, Mr. Rossetti, Canon Dixon, and the others of the old Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, where Mr. Morris's wonderful prose fantasies are buried. Why should they not be revived, these strangely coloured and magical dreams? As literature, I prefer them vastly above Mr. Morris's later romances in prose—"The Hollow Land" above "News from Nowhere!" Mr. Morris and his friends were active in the fresh dawn of a new romanticism, a mediaeval and Catholic revival, with very little Catholicism in it for the most part. This revival is more "innerly," as the Scotch say, more intimate, more "earnest" than the larger and more genial, if more superficial, restoration by Scott. The painful doubt, the scepticism of the Ages of Faith, the dark hours of that epoch, its fantasy, cruelty, luxury, no less than its colour and passion, inform Mr. Morris's first poems. The fourteenth and the early fifteenth century is his "period." In "The Defence of Guenevere" he is not under the influence of Chaucer, whose narrative manner, without one grain of his humour, inspires "The Life and Death of Jason" and "The Earthly Paradise." In the early book the rugged style of Mr. Browning has left a mark. There are cockney rhymes, too, such as "short" rhyming to "thought." But, on the whole, Mr. Morris's early manner was all his own, nor has he ever returned to it. In the first poem, "The Queen's Apology," is this passage:—

"Listen: suppose your time were come to die, And you were quite alone and very weak; Yea, laid a-dying, while very mightily

"The wind was ruffling up the narrow streak Of river through your broad lands running well: Suppose a hush should come, then some one speak:

"'One of these cloths is heaven, and one is hell, Now choose one cloth for ever, which they be, I will not tell you, you must somehow tell

"'Of your own strength and mightiness; here, see!' Yea, yea, my lord, and you to ope your eyes, At foot of your familiar bed to see

"A great God's angel standing, with such dyes, Not known on earth, on his great wings, and hands, Held out two ways, light from the inner skies

"Showing him well, and making his commands Seem to be God's commands, moreover, too, Holding within his hands the cloths on wands;

"And one of these strange choosing-cloths was blue, Wavy and long, and one cut short and red; No man could tell the better of the two.

"After a shivering half-hour you said, 'God help! heaven's colour, the blue;' and he said, 'Hell.' Perhaps you then would roll upon your bed,

"And cry to all good men that loved you well, 'Ah, Christ! if only I had known, known, known.'"

There was nothing like that before in English poetry; it has the bizarrerie of a new thing in beauty. How far it is really beautiful how can I tell? How can I discount the "personal bias"? Only I know that it is unforgettable. Again (Galahad speaks):—

"I saw One sitting on the altar as a throne, Whose face no man could say he did not know, And, though the bell still rang, he sat alone, With raiment half blood-red, half white as snow."

Such things made their own special ineffaceable impact.

Leaving the Arthurian cycle, Mr. Morris entered on his especially sympathetic period—the gloom and sad sunset glory of the late fourteenth century, the age of Froissart and wicked, wasteful wars. To Froissart it all seemed one magnificent pageant of knightly and kingly fortunes; he only murmurs a "great pity" for the death of a knight or the massacre of a town. It is rather the pity of it that Mr. Morris sees: the hearts broken in a corner, as in "Sir Peter Harpedon's End," or beside "The Haystack in the Floods." Here is a picture like life of what befell a hundred times. Lady Alice de la Barde hears of the death of her knight:—

"ALICE

"Can you talk faster, sir? Get over all this quicker? fix your eyes On mine, I pray you, and whate'er you see Still go on talking fast, unless I fall, Or bid you stop.

"SQUIRE

"I pray your pardon then, And looking in your eyes, fair lady, say I am unhappy that your knight is dead. Take heart, and listen! let me tell you all. We were five thousand goodly men-at-arms, And scant five hundred had he in that hold; His rotten sandstone walls were wet with rain, And fell in lumps wherever a stone hit; Yet for three days about the barriers there The deadly glaives were gather'd, laid across, And push'd and pull'd; the fourth our engines came; But still amid the crash of falling walls, And roar of bombards, rattle of hard bolts, The steady bow-strings flash'd, and still stream'd out St. George's banner, and the seven swords, And still they cried, 'St. George Guienne,' until Their walls were flat as Jericho's of old, And our rush came, and cut them from the keep."

The astonishing vividness, again, of the tragedy told in "Geffray Teste Noire" is like that of a vision in a magic mirror or a crystal ball, rather than like a picture suggested by printed words. "Shameful Death" has the same enchanted kind of presentment. We look through a "magic casement opening on the foam" of the old waves of war. Poems of a pure fantasy, unequalled out of Coleridge and Poe, are "The Wind" and "The Blue Closet." Each only lives in fantasy. Motives, and facts, and "story" are unimportant and out of view. The pictures arise distinct, unsummoned, spontaneous, like the faces and places which are flashed on our eyes between sleeping and waking. Fantastic, too, but with more of a recognisable human setting, is "Golden Wings," which to a slight degree reminds one of Theophile Gautier's Chateau de Souvenir.

"The apples now grow green and sour Upon the mouldering castle wall, Before they ripen there they fall: There are no banners on the tower,

The draggled swans most eagerly eat The green weeds trailing in the moat; Inside the rotting leaky boat You see a slain man's stiffen'd feet."

These, with "The Sailing of the Sword," are my own old favourites. There was nothing like them before, nor will be again, for Mr. Morris, after several years of silence, abandoned his early manner. No doubt it was not a manner to persevere in, but happily, in a mood and a moment never to be re-born or return, Mr. Morris did fill a fresh page in English poetry with these imperishable fantasies. They were absolutely neglected by "the reading public," but they found a few staunch friends. Indeed, I think of "Guenevere" as FitzGerald did of Tennyson's poems before 1842. But this, of course, is a purely personal, probably a purely capricious, estimate. Criticism may aver that the influence of Mr. Rossetti was strong on Mr. Morris before 1858. Perhaps so, but we read Mr. Morris first (as the world read the "Lay" before "Christabel"), and my own preference is for Mr. Morris.

It was after eight or nine years of silence that Mr. Morris produced, in 1866 or 1867, "The Life and Death of Jason." Young men who had read "Guenevere" hastened to purchase it, and, of course, found themselves in contact with something very unlike their old favourite. Mr. Morris had told a classical tale in decasyllabic couplets of the Chaucerian sort, and he regarded the heroic age from a mediaeval point of view; at all events, not from an historical and archaeological point of view. It was natural in Mr. Morris to "envisage" the Greek heroic age in this way, but it would not be natural in most other writers. The poem is not much shorter than the "Odyssey," and long narrative poems had been out of fashion since "The Lord of the Isles" (1814).

All this was a little disconcerting. We read "Jason," and read it with pleasure, but without much of the more essential pleasure which comes from magic and distinction of style. The peculiar qualities of Keats, and Tennyson, and Virgil are not among the gifts of Mr. Morris. As people say of Scott in his long poems, so it may be said of Mr. Morris—that he does not furnish many quotations, does not glitter in "jewels five words long."

In "Jason" he entered on his long career as a narrator; a poet retelling the immortal primeval stories of the human race. In one guise or another the legend of Jason is the most widely distributed of romances; the North American Indians have it, and the Samoans and the Samoyeds, as well as all Indo-European peoples. This tale, told briefly by Pindar, and at greater length by Apollonius Rhodius, and in the "Orphica," Mr. Morris took up and handled in a single and objective way. His art was always pictorial, but, in "Jason" and later, he described more, and was less apt, as it were, to flash a picture on the reader, in some incommunicable way.

In the covers of the first edition were announcements of the "Earthly Paradise": that vast collection of the world's old tales retold. One might almost conjecture that "Jason" had originally been intended for a part of the "Earthly Paradise," and had outgrown its limits. The tone is much the same, though the "criticism of life" is less formally and explicitly stated.

For Mr. Morris came at last to a "criticism of life." It would not have satisfied Mr. Matthew Arnold, and it did not satisfy Mr. Morris! The burden of these long narrative poems is vanitas vanitatum: the fleeting, perishable, unsatisfying nature of human existence, the dream "rounded by a sleep." The lesson drawn is to make life as full and as beautiful as may be, by love, and adventure, and art. The hideousness of modern industrialism was oppressing to Mr. Morris; that hideousness he was doing his best to relieve and redeem, by poetry, and by all the many arts and crafts in which he was a master. His narrative poems are, indeed, part of his industry in this field. He was not born to slay monsters, he says, "the idle singer of an empty day." Later, he set about slaying monsters, like Jason, or unlike Jason, scattering dragon's teeth to raise forces which he could not lay, and could not direct.

I shall go no further into politics or agitation, and I say this much only to prove that Mr. Morris's "criticism of life," and prolonged, wistful dwelling on the thought of death, ceased to satisfy himself. His own later part, as a poet and an ally of Socialism, proved this to be true. It seems to follow that the peculiarly level, lifeless, decorative effect of his narratives, which remind us rather of glorious tapestries than of pictures, was no longer wholly satisfactory to himself. There is plenty of charmed and delightful reading—"Jason" and the "Earthly Paradise" are literature for The Castle of Indolence, but we do miss a strenuous rendering of action and passion. These Mr. Morris had rendered in "The Defence of Guinevere": now he gave us something different, something beautiful, but something deficient in dramatic vigour. Apollonius Rhodius is, no doubt, much of a pedant, a literary writer of epic, in an age of Criticism. He dealt with the tale of "Jason," and conceivably he may have borrowed from older minstrels. But the Medea of Apollonius Rhodius, in her love, her tenderness, her regret for home, in all her maiden words and ways, is undeniably a character more living, more human, more passionate, and more sympathetic, than the Medea of Mr. Morris. I could almost wish that he had closely followed that classical original, the first true love story in literature. In the same way I prefer Apollonius's spell for soothing the dragon, as much terser and more somniferous than the spell put by Mr. Morris into the lips of Medea. Scholars will find it pleasant to compare these passages of the Alexandrine and of the London poets. As a brick out of the vast palace of "Jason" we may select the song of the Nereid to Hylas—Mr. Morris is always happy with his Nymphs and Nereids:—

"I know a little garden-close Set thick with lily and with rose, Where I would wander if I might From dewy dawn to dewy night, And have one with me wandering. And though within it no birds sing, And though no pillared house is there, And though the apple boughs are bare Of fruit and blossom, would to God, Her feet upon the green grass trod, And I beheld them as before. There comes a murmur from the shore, And in the place two fair streams are, Drawn from the purple hills afar, Drawn down unto the restless sea; The hills whose flowers ne'er fed the bee, The shore no ship has ever seen, Still beaten by the billows green, Whose murmur comes unceasingly Unto the place for which I cry. For which I cry both day and night, For which I let slip all delight, That maketh me both deaf and blind, Careless to win, unskilled to find, And quick to lose what all men seek. Yet tottering as I am, and weak, Still have I left a little breath To seek within the jaws of death An entrance to that happy place, To seek the unforgotten face Once seen, once kissed, once rest from me Anigh the murmuring of the sea."

"Jason" is, practically, a very long tale from the "Earthly Paradise," as the "Earthly Paradise" is an immense treasure of shorter tales in the manner of "Jason." Mr. Morris reverted for an hour to his fourteenth century, a period when London was "clean." This is a poetic license; many a plague found mediaeval London abominably dirty! A Celt himself, no doubt, with the Celt's proverbial way of being impossibilium cupitor, Mr. Morris was in full sympathy with his Breton Squire, who, in the reign of Edward III., sets forth to seek the Earthly Paradise, and the land where Death never comes. Much more dramatic, I venture to think, than any passage of "Jason," is that where the dreamy seekers of dreamland, Breton and Northman, encounter the stout King Edward III., whose kingdom is of this world. Action and fantasy are met, and the wanderers explain the nature of their quest. One of them speaks of death in many a form, and of the flight from death:—

"His words nigh made me weep, but while he spoke I noted how a mocking smile just broke The thin line of the Prince's lips, and he Who carried the afore-named armoury Puffed out his wind-beat cheeks and whistled low: But the King smiled, and said, 'Can it be so? I know not, and ye twain are such as find The things whereto old kings must needs be blind. For you the world is wide—but not for me, Who once had dreams of one great victory Wherein that world lay vanquished by my throne, And now, the victor in so many an one, Find that in Asia Alexander died And will not live again; the world is wide For you I say,—for me a narrow space Betwixt the four walls of a fighting place. Poor man, why should I stay thee? live thy fill Of that fair life, wherein thou seest no ill But fear of that fair rest I hope to win One day, when I have purged me of my sin. Farewell, it yet may hap that I a king Shall be remembered but by this one thing, That on the morn before ye crossed the sea Ye gave and took in common talk with me; But with this ring keep memory with the morn, O Breton, and thou Northman, by this horn Remember me, who am of Odin's blood.'"

All this encounter is a passage of high invention. The adventures in Anahuac are such as Bishop Erie may have achieved when he set out to find Vinland the Good, and came back no more, whether he was or was not remembered by the Aztecs as Quetzalcoatl. The tale of the wanderers was Mr. Morris's own; all the rest are of the dateless heritage of our race, fairy tales coming to us, now "softly breathed through the flutes of the Grecians," now told by Sagamen of Iceland. The whole performance is astonishingly equable; we move on a high tableland, where no tall peaks of Parnassus are to be climbed. Once more literature has a narrator, on the whole much more akin to Spenser than to Chaucer, Homer, or Sir Walter. Humour and action are not so prominent as contemplation of a pageant reflected in a fairy mirror. But Mr. Morris has said himself, about his poem, what I am trying to say:—

"Death have we hated, knowing not what it meant; Life have we loved, through green leaf and through sere, Though still the less we knew of its intent; The Earth and Heaven through countless year on year, Slow changing, were to us but curtains fair, Hung round about a little room, where play Weeping and laughter of man's empty day."

Mr. Morris had shown, in various ways, the strength of his sympathy with the heroic sagas of Iceland. He had rendered one into verse, in "The Earthly Paradise," above all, "Grettir the Strong" and "The Volsunga" he had done into English prose. His next great poem was "The Story of Sigurd," a poetic rendering of the theme which is, to the North, what the Tale of Troy is to Greece, and to all the world. Mr. Morris took the form of the story which is most archaic, and bears most birthmarks of its savage origin—the version of the "Volsunga," not the German shape of the "Nibelungenlied." He showed extraordinary skill, especially in making human and intelligible the story of Regin, Otter, Fafnir, and the Dwarf Andvari's Hoard.

"It was Reidmar the Ancient begat me; and now was he waxen old, And a covetous man and a king; and he bade, and I built him a hall, And a golden glorious house; and thereto his sons did he call, And he bade them be evil and wise, that his will through them might be wrought. Then he gave unto Fafnir my brother the soul that feareth nought, And the brow of the hardened iron, and the hand that may never fail, And the greedy heart of a king, and the ear that hears no wail.

"But next unto Otter my brother he gave the snare and the net, And the longing to wend through the wild-wood, and wade the highways wet; And the foot that never resteth, while aught be left alive That hath cunning to match man's cunning or might with his might to strive.

"And to me, the least and the youngest, what gift for the slaying of ease? Save the grief that remembers the past, and the fear that the future sees; And the hammer and fashioning-iron, and the living coal of fire; And the craft that createth a semblance, and fails of the heart's desire; And the toil that each dawning quickens, and the task that is never done; And the heart that longeth ever, nor will look to the deed that is won.

"Thus gave my father the gifts that might never be taken again; Far worse were we now than the Gods, and but little better than men. But yet of our ancient might one thing had we left us still: We had craft to change our semblance, and could shift us at our will Into bodies of the beast-kind, or fowl, or fishes cold; For belike no fixed semblance we had in the days of old, Till the Gods were waxen busy, and all things their form must take That knew of good and evil, and longed to gather and make."

But when we turn to the passage of the eclaircissement between Sigurd and Brynhild, that most dramatic and most modern moment in the ancient tragedy, the moment where the clouds of savage fancy scatter in the light of a hopeless human love, then, I must confess, I prefer the simple, brief prose of Mr. Morris's translation of the "Volsunga" to his rather periphrastic paraphrase. Every student of poetry may make the comparison for himself, and decide for himself whether the old or the new is better. Again, in the final fight and massacre in the hall of Atli, I cannot but prefer the Slaying of the Wooers, at the close of the "Odyssey," or the last fight of Roland at Roncesvaux, or the prose version of the "Volsunga." All these are the work of men who were war-smiths as well as song-smiths. Here is a passage from the "murder grim and great":—

"So he saith in the midst of the foemen with his war-flame reared on high, But all about and around him goes up a bitter cry From the iron men of Atli, and the bickering of the steel Sends a roar up to the roof-ridge, and the Niblung war-ranks reel Behind the steadfast Gunnar: but lo, have ye seen the corn, While yet men grind the sickle, by the wind streak overborne When the sudden rain sweeps downward, and summer groweth black, And the smitten wood-side roareth 'neath the driving thunder-wrack? So before the wise-heart Hogni shrank the champions of the East As his great voice shook the timbers in the hall of Atli's feast, There he smote and beheld not the smitten, and by nought were his edges stopped; He smote and the dead were thrust from him; a hand with its shield he lopped; There met him Atli's marshal, and his arm at the shoulder he shred; Three swords were upreared against him of the best of the kin of the dead; And he struck off a head to the rightward, and his sword through a throat he thrust, But the third stroke fell on his helm-crest, and he stooped to the ruddy dust, And uprose as the ancient Giant, and both his hands were wet: Red then was the world to his eyen, as his hand to the labour he set; Swords shook and fell in his pathway, huge bodies leapt and fell; Harsh grided shield and war-helm like the tempest-smitten bell, And the war-cries ran together, and no man his brother knew, And the dead men loaded the living, as he went the war-wood through; And man 'gainst man was huddled, till no sword rose to smite, And clear stood the glorious Hogni in an island of the fight, And there ran a river of death 'twixt the Niblung and his foes, And therefrom the terror of men and the wrath of the Gods arose."

I admit that this does not affect me as does the figure of Odysseus raining his darts of doom, or the courtesy of Roland when the blinded Oliver smites him by mischance, and, indeed, the Keeping of the Stair by Umslopogaas appeals to me more vigorously as a strenuous picture of war. To be just to Mr. Morris, let us give his rendering of part of the Slaying of the Wooers, from his translation of the "Odyssey":—

"And e'en as the word he uttered, he drew his keen sword out Brazen, on each side shearing, and with a fearful shout Rushed on him; but Odysseus that very while let fly And smote him with the arrow in the breast, the pap hard by, And drove the swift shaft to the liver, and adown to the ground fell the sword From out of his hand, and doubled he hung above the board, And staggered; and whirling he fell, and the meat was scattered around, And the double cup moreover, and his forehead smote the ground; And his heart was wrung with torment, and with both feet spurning he smote The high-seat; and over his eyen did the cloud of darkness float.

"And then it was Amphinomus, who drew his whetted sword And fell on, making his onrush 'gainst Odysseus the glorious lord, If perchance he might get him out-doors: but Telemachus him forewent, And a cast of the brazen war-spear from behind him therewith sent Amidmost of his shoulders, that drave through his breast and out, And clattering he fell, and the earth all the breadth of his forehead smote."

There is no need to say more of Mr. Morris's "Odysseus." Close to the letter of the Greek he usually keeps, but where are the surge and thunder of Homer? Apparently we must accent the penultimate in "Amphinomus" if the line is to scan. I select a passage of peaceful beauty from Book V.:—

"But all about that cavern there grew a blossoming wood, Of alder and of poplar and of cypress savouring good; And fowl therein wing-spreading were wont to roost and be, For owls were there and falcons, and long-tongued crows of the sea, And deeds of the sea they deal with and thereof they have a care But round the hollow cavern there spread and flourished fair A vine of garden breeding, and in its grapes was glad; And four wells of the white water their heads together had, And flowing on in order four ways they thence did get; And soft were the meadows blooming with parsley and violet. Yea, if thither indeed had come e'en one of the Deathless, e'en he Had wondered and gladdened his heart with all that was there to see. And there in sooth stood wondering the Flitter, the Argus-bane. But when o'er all these matters in his soul he had marvelled amain, Then into the wide cave went he, and Calypso, Godhead's Grace, Failed nowise there to know him as she looked upon his face; For never unknown to each other are the Deathless Gods, though they Apart from one another may be dwelling far away. But Odysseus the mighty-hearted within he met not there, Who on the beach sat weeping, as oft he was wont to wear His soul with grief and groaning, and weeping; yea, and he As the tears he was pouring downward yet gazed o'er the untilled sea."

This is close enough to the Greek, but

"And flowing on in order four ways they thence did get"

is not precisely musical. Why is Hermes "The Flitter"? But I have often ventured to remonstrate against these archaistic peculiarities, which to some extent mar our pleasure in Mr. Morris's translations. In his version of the rich Virgilian measure they are especially out of place. The "AEneid" is rendered with a roughness which might better befit a translation of Ennius. Thus the reader of Mr. Morris's poetical translations has in his hands versions of almost literal closeness, and (what is extremely rare) versions of poetry by a poet. But his acquaintance with Early English and Icelandic has added to the poet a strain of the philologist, and his English in the "Odyssey," still more in the "AEneid," is occasionally more archaic than the Greek of 900 B.C. So at least it seems to a reader not unversed in attempts to fit the classical poets with an English rendering. But the true test is in the appreciation of the lovers of poetry in general.

To them, as to all who desire the restoration of beauty in modern life, Mr. Morris has been a benefactor almost without example. Indeed, were adequate knowledge mine, Mr. Morris's poetry should have been criticised as only a part of the vast industry of his life in many crafts and many arts. His place in English life and literature is unique as it is honourable. He did what he desired to do—he made vast additions to simple and stainless pleasures.



CHAPTER VI: MRS. RADCLIFFE'S NOVELS

Does any one now read Mrs. Radcliffe, or am I the only wanderer in her windy corridors, listening timidly to groans and hollow voices, and shielding the flame of a lamp, which, I fear, will presently flicker out, and leave me in darkness? People know the name of "The Mysteries of Udolpho;" they know that boys would say to Thackeray, at school, "Old fellow, draw us Vivaldi in the Inquisition." But have they penetrated into the chill galleries of the Castle of Udolpho? Have they shuddered for Vivaldi in face of the sable-clad and masked Inquisition? Certainly Mrs. Radcliffe, within the memory of man, has been extremely popular. The thick double-columned volume in which I peruse the works of the Enchantress belongs to a public library. It is quite the dirtiest, greasiest, most dog's-eared, and most bescribbled tome in the collection. Many of the books have remained, during the last hundred years, uncut, even to this day, and I have had to apply the paper knife to many an author, from Alciphron (1790) to Mr. Max Muller, and Dr. Birkbeck Hill's edition of Bozzy's "Life of Dr. Johnson." But Mrs. Radcliffe has been read diligently, and copiously annotated.

This lady was, in a literary sense, and though, like the sire of Evelina, he cast her off, the daughter of Horace Walpole. Just when King Romance seemed as dead as Queen Anne, Walpole produced that Gothic tale, "The Castle of Otranto," in 1764. In that very year was born Anne Ward, who, in 1787, married William Radcliffe, Esq., M.A., Oxon. In 1789 she published "The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne." The scene, she tells us, is laid in "the most romantic part of the Highlands, the north-east coast of Scotland." On castles, anywhere, she doted. Walpole, not Smollett or Miss Burney, inspired her with a passion for these homes of old romance. But the north-east coast of Scotland is hardly part of the Highlands at all, and is far from being very romantic. The period is "the dark ages" in general. Yet the captive Earl, when "the sweet tranquillity of evening threw an air of tender melancholy over his mind . . . composed the following sonnet, which (having committed it to paper) he the next evening dropped upon the terrace. He had the pleasure to observe that the paper was taken up by the ladies, who immediately retired into the castle." These were not the manners of the local Mackays, of the Sinclairs, and of "the small but fierce clan of Gunn," in the dark ages.

But this was Mrs. Radcliffe's way. She delighted in descriptions of scenery, the more romantic the better, and usually drawn entirely from her inner consciousness. Her heroines write sonnets (which never but once are sonnets) and other lyrics, on every occasion. With his usual generosity Scott praised her landscape and her lyrics, but, indeed, they are, as Sir Walter said of Mrs. Hemans, "too poetical," and probably they were skipped, even by her contemporary devotees. "The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne" frankly do not permit themselves to be read, and it was not till 1790, with "A Sicilian Romance," that Mrs. Radcliffe "found herself," and her public. After reading, with breathless haste, through, "A Sicilian Romance," and "The Romance of the Forest," in a single day, it would ill become me to speak lightly of Mrs. Radcliffe. Like Catherine Morland, I love this lady's tender yet terrific fancy.

Mrs. Radcliffe does not always keep on her highest level, but we must remember that her last romance, "The Italian," is by far her best. She had been feeling her way to this pitch of excellence, and, when she had attained to it, she published no more. The reason is uncertain. She became a Woman's Rights woman, and wrote "The Female Advocate," not a novel! Scott thinks that she may have been annoyed by her imitators, or by her critics, against whom he defends her in an admirable passage, to be cited later. Meanwhile let us follow Mrs. Radcliffe in her upward course.

The "Sicilian Romance" appeared in 1790, when the author's age was twenty- six. The book has a treble attraction, for it contains the germ of "Northanger Abbey," and the germ of "Jane Eyre," and—the germ of Byron! Like "Joseph Andrews," "Northanger Abbey" began as a parody (of Mrs. Radcliffe) and developed into a real novel of character. So too Byron's gloomy scowling adventurers, with their darkling past, are mere repetitions in rhyme of Mrs. Radcliffe's Schedoni. This is so obvious that, when discussing Mrs. Radcliffe's Schedoni, Scott adds, in a note, parallel passages from Byron's "Giaour." Sir Walter did not mean to mock, he merely compared two kindred spirits. "The noble poet" "kept on the business still," and broke into octosyllabics, borrowed from Scott, his descriptions of miscreants borrowed from Mrs. Radcliffe.

"A Sicilian Romance" has its scene in the palace of Ferdinand, fifth Marquis of Mazzini, on the northern coast of Sicily. The time is about 1580, but there is nothing in the manners or costume to indicate that, or any other period. Such "local colour" was unknown to Mrs. Radcliffe, as to Clara Reeve. In Horace Walpole, however, a character goes so far in the mediaeval way as to say "by my halidome."

The Marquis Mazzini had one son and two daughters by his first amiable consort, supposed to be long dead when the story opens. The son is the original of Henry Tilney in "Northanger Abbey," and in General Tilney does Catherine Morland recognise a modern Marquis of Mazzini. But the Marquis's wife, to be sure, is not dead; like the first Mrs. Rochester she is concealed about the back premises, and, as in "Jane Eyre," it is her movements, and those of her gaolers, that produce mystery, and make the reader suppose that "the place is haunted." It is, of course, only the mystery and the "machinery" of Mrs. Radcliffe that Miss Bronte adapted. These passages in "Jane Eyre" have been censured, but it is not easy to see how the novel could do without them. Mrs. Radcliffe's tale entirely depends on its machinery. Her wicked Marquis, having secretly immured Number One, has now a new and beautiful Number Two, whose character does not bear inspection. This domestic position, as Number Two, we know, was declined by the austere virtue of Jane Eyre.

"Phenomena" begin in the first chapter of "A Sicilian Romance," mysterious lights wander about uninhabited parts of the castle, and are vainly investigated by young Ferdinand, son of the Marquis. This Hippolytus the Chaste, loved all in vain by the reigning Marchioness, is adored by, and adores, her stepdaughter, Julia. Jealousy and revenge are clearly indicated. But, in chasing mysterious lights and figures through mouldering towers, Ferdinand gets into the very undesirable position of David Balfour, when he climbs, in the dark, the broken turret stair in his uncle's house of Shaws (in "Kidnapped"). Here is a fourth author indebted to Mrs. Radcliffe: her disciples are Miss Austen, Byron, Miss Bronte, and Mr. Louis Stevenson! Ferdinand "began the ascent. He had not proceeded very far, when the stones of a step which his foot had just quitted gave way, and, dragging with them those adjoining, formed a chasm in the staircase that terrified even Ferdinand, who was left tottering on the suspended half of the steps, in momentary expectation of falling to the bottom with the stone on which he rested. In the terror which this occasioned, he attempted to save himself by catching at a kind of beam which suspended over the stairs, when the lamp dropped from his hand, and he was left in total darkness."

Can anything be more "amazing horrid," above all as there are mysterious figures in and about the tower? Mrs. Radcliffe's lamps always fall, or are blown out, in the nick of time, an expedient already used by Clara Reeve in that very mild but once popular ghost story, "The Old English Baron" (1777). All authors have such favourite devices, and I wonder how many fights Mr. Stanley Weyman's heroes have fought, from the cellar to their favourite tilting ground, the roof of a strange house!

Ferdinand hung on to the beam for an hour, when the ladies came with a light, and he scrambled back to solid earth. In his next nocturnal research, "a sullen groan arose from beneath where he stood," and when he tried to force a door (there are scores of such weird doors in Mrs. Radcliffe) "a groan was repeated, more hollow and dreadful than the first. His courage forsook him"—and no wonder! Of course he could not know that the author of the groans was, in fact, his long-lost mother, immured by his father, the wicked Marquis. We need not follow the narrative through the darkling crimes and crumbling galleries of this terrible castle on the north coast of Sicily. Everybody is always "gazing in silent terror," and all the locks are rusty. "A savage and dexterous banditti" play a prominent part, and the imprisoned Ferdinand "did not hesitate to believe that the moans he heard came from the restless spirit of the murdered della Campo." No working hypothesis could seem more plausible, but it was erroneous. Mrs. Radcliffe does not deal in a single avowed ghost. She finally explains away, by normal causes, everything that she does not forget to explain. At the most, she indulges herself in a premonitory dream. On this point she is true to common sense, without quite adopting the philosophy of David Hume. "I do not say that spirits have appeared," she remarks, "but if several discreet unprejudiced persons were to assure me that they had seen one—I should not be bold or proud enough to reply, it is impossible!" But Hume was bold and proud enough: he went further than Mrs. Radcliffe.

Scott censures Mrs. Radcliffe's employment of explanations. He is in favour of "boldly avowing the use of supernatural machinery," or of leaving the matter in the vague, as in the appearance of the wraith of the dying Alice to Ravenswood. But, in Mrs. Radcliffe's day, common sense was so tyrannical, that the poor lady's romances would have been excluded from families, if she had not provided normal explanations of her groans, moans, voices, lights, and wandering figures. The ghost-hunt in the castle finally brings Julia to a door, whose bolts, "strengthened by desperation, she forced back." There was a middle-aged lady in the room, who, after steadily gazing on Julia, "suddenly exclaimed, 'My daughter!' and fainted away." Julia being about seventeen, and Madame Mazzini, her mamma, having been immured for fifteen years, we observe, in this recognition, the force of the maternal instinct.

The wicked Marquis was poisoned by the partner of his iniquities, who anon stabbed herself with a poniard. The virtuous Julia marries the chaste Hippolytus, and, says the author, "in reviewing this story, we perceive a singular and striking instance of moral retribution."

We also remark the futility of locking up an inconvenient wife, fabled to be defunct, in one's own country house. Had Mr. Rochester, in "Jane Eyre," studied the "Sicilian Romance," he would have shunned an obsolete system, inconvenient at best, and apt, in the long run, to be disastrous.

In the "Romance of the Forest" (1791), Mrs. Radcliffe remained true to Mr. Stanley Weyman's favourite period, the end of the sixteenth century. But there are no historical characters or costumes in the story, and all the persons, as far as language and dress go, might have been alive in 1791.

The story runs thus: one de la Motte, who appears to have fallen from dissipation to swindling, is, on the first page, discovered flying from Paris and the law, with his wife, in a carriage. Lost in the dark on a moor, he follows a light, and enters an old lonely house. He is seized by ruffians, locked in, and expects to be murdered, which he knows that he cannot stand, for he is timid by nature. In fact, a ruffian puts a pistol to La Motte's breast with one hand, while with the other he drags along a beautiful girl of eighteen. "Swear that you will convey this girl where I may never see her more," exclaims the bully, and La Motte, with the young lady, is taken back to his carriage. "If you return within an hour you will be welcomed with a brace of bullets," is the ruffian's parting threat.

So La Motte, Madame La Motte, and the beautiful girl drive away, La Motte's one desire being to find a retreat safe from the police of an offended justice.

Is this not a very original, striking, and affecting situation; provocative, too, of the utmost curiosity? A fugitive from justice, in a strange, small, dark, ancient house, is seized, threatened, and presented with a young and lovely female stranger. In this opening we recognise the hand of a master genius. There must be an explanation of proceedings so highly unconventional, and what can the reason be? The reader is empoigne in the first page, and eagerly follows the flight of La Motte, also of Peter, his coachman, an attached, comic, and familiar domestic. After a few days, the party observe, in the recesses of a gloomy forest, the remains of a Gothic abbey. They enter; by the light of a flickering lamp they penetrate "horrible recesses," discover a room handsomely provided with a trapdoor, and determine to reside in a dwelling so congenial, though, as La Motte judiciously remarks, "not in all respects strictly Gothic." After a few days, La Motte finds that somebody is inquiring for him in the nearest town. He seeks for a hiding- place, and explores the chambers under the trapdoor. Here he finds, in a large chest—what do you suppose he finds? It was a human skeleton! Yet in this awful vicinity he and his wife, with Adeline (the fair stranger) conceal themselves. The brave Adeline, when footsteps are heard, and a figure is beheld in the upper rooms, accosts the stranger. His keen eye presently detects the practicable trapdoor, he raises it, and the cowering La Motte recognises in the dreaded visitor—his own son, who had sought him out of filial affection.

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