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Adventures among Books
by Andrew Lang
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Such is Smollett's sermon, but, after all, Ferdinand is hardly worse than Roderick or Peregrine. The son of a terrible old sutler and camp-follower, a robber and slayer of wounded men, Ferdinand had to live by his wits, and he was hardly less scrupulous, after all, than Peregrine and Roderick. The daubs of casual generosity were not laid on, and that is all the difference. As Sophia Western was mistaken for Miss Jenny Cameron, so Ferdinand was arrested as Prince Charles, who, in fact, caused much inconvenience to harmless travellers. People were often arrested as "The Pretender's son" abroad as well as in England.

The life and death of Ferdinand's mother, shot by a wounded hussar in her moment of victory, make perhaps the most original and interesting part of this hero's adventures. The rest is much akin to his earlier novels, but the history of Rinaldo and Monimia has a passage not quite alien to the vein of Mrs. Radcliffe. Some remarks in the first chapter show that Smollett felt the censures on his brutality and "lowness," and he promises to seek "that goal of perfection where nature is castigated almost even to still life . . . where decency, divested of all substance, hovers about like a fantastic shadow."

Smollett never reached that goal, and even the shadow of decency never haunted him so as to make him afraid with any amazement. Smollett avers that he "has had the courage to call in question the talents of a pseudo- patron," and so is charged with "insolence, rancour, and scurrility." Of all these things, and of worse, he had been guilty; his offence had never been limited to "calling in question the talents" of persons who had been unsuccessful in getting his play represented. Remonstrance merely irritated Tobias. His new novel was but a fainter echo of his old novels, a panorama of scoundrelism, with the melodramatic fortunes of the virtuous Monimia for a foil. If read to-day, it is read as a sketch of manners, or want of manners. The scene in which the bumpkin squire rooks the accomplished Fathom at hazard, in Paris, is prettily conceived, and Smollett's indignation at the British system of pews in church is edifying. But when Monimia appears to her lover as he weeps at her tomb, and proves to be no phantom, but a "warm and substantial" Monimia, capable of being "dished up," like any other Smollettian heroine, the reader is sensibly annoyed. Tobias as un romantique is absolutely too absurd; "not here, oh Tobias, are haunts meet for thee."

Smollett's next novel, "Sir Launcelot Greaves," was not published till 1761, after it had appeared in numbers, in The British Magazine. This was a sixpenny serial, published by Newbery. The years between 1753 and 1760 had been occupied by Smollett in quarrelling, getting imprisoned for libel, editing the Critical Review, writing his "History of England," translating (or adapting old translations of) "Don Quixote," and driving a team of literary hacks, whose labours he superintended, and to whom he gave a weekly dinner. These exploits are described by Dr. Carlyle, and by Smollett himself, in "Humphrey Clinker." He did not treat his vassals with much courtesy or consideration; but then they expected no such treatment. We have no right to talk of his doings as "a blood-sucking method, literary sweating," like a recent biographer of Smollett. Not to speak of the oddly mixed metaphor, we do not know what Smollett's relations to his retainers really were. As an editor he had to see his contributors. The work of others he may have recommended, as "reader" to publishers. Others may have made transcripts for him, or translations. That Smollett "sweated" men, or sucked their blood, or both, seems a crude way of saying that he found them employment. Nobody says that Johnson "sweated" the persons who helped him in compiling his Dictionary; or that Mr. Jowett "sweated" the friends and pupils who aided him in his translation of Plato. Authors have a perfect right to procure literary assistance, especially in learned books, if they pay for it, and acknowledge their debt to their allies. On the second point, Smollett was probably not in advance of his age.

"Sir Launcelot Greaves" is, according to Chambers, "a sorry specimen of the genius of the author," and Mr. Oliphant Smeaton calls it "decidedly the least popular" of his novels, while Scott astonishes us by preferring it to "Jonathan Wild." Certainly it is inferior to "Roderick Random" and to "Peregrine Pickle," but it cannot be so utterly unreal as "The Adventures of an Atom." I, for one, venture to prefer "Sir Launcelot" to "Ferdinand, Count Fathom." Smollett was really trying an experiment in the fantastic. Just as Mr. Anstey Guthrie transfers the mediaeval myth of Venus and the Ring, or the Arabian tale of the bottled-up geni (or djinn) into modern life, so Smollett transferred Don Quixote. His hero, a young baronet of wealth, and of a benevolent and generous temper, is crossed in love. Though not mad, he is eccentric, and commences knight- errant. Scott, and others, object to his armour, and say that, in his ordinary clothes, and with his well-filled purse, he would have been more successful in righting wrongs. Certainly, but then the comic fantasy of the armed knight arriving at the ale-house, and jangling about the rose- hung lanes among the astonished folk of town and country, would have been lost. Smollett is certainly less unsuccessful in wild fantasy, than in the ridiculous romantic scenes where the substantial phantom of Monimia disports itself. The imitation of the knight by the nautical Captain Crowe (an excellent Smollettian mariner) is entertaining, and Sir Launcelot's crusty Sancho is a pleasant variety in squires. The various forms of oppression which the knight resists are of historical interest, as also is the contested election between a rustic Tory and a smooth Ministerialist: "sincerely attached to the Protestant succession, in detestation of a popish, an abjured, and an outlawed Pretender." The heroine, Aurelia Darrel, is more of a lady, and less of a luxury, than perhaps any other of Smollett's women. But how Smollett makes love! "Tea was called. The lovers were seated; he looked and languished; she flushed and faltered; all was doubt and delirium, fondness and flutter."

"All was gas and gaiters," said the insane lover of Mrs. Nickleby, with equal delicacy and point.

Scott says that Smollett, when on a visit to Scotland, used to write his chapter of "copy" in the half-hour before the post went out. Scott was very capable of having the same thing happen to himself. "Sir Launcelot" is hurriedly, but vigorously written: the fantasy was not understood as Smollett intended it to be, and the book is blotted, as usual, with loathsome medical details. But people in Madame du Deffand's circle used openly to discuss the same topics, to the confusion of Horace Walpole. As the hero of this book is a generous gentleman, as the most of it is kind and manly, and the humour provocative of an honest laugh, it is by no means to be despised, while the manners, if caricatured, are based on fact.

It is curious to note that in "Sir Launcelot Greaves," we find a character, Ferret, who frankly poses as a strugforlifeur. M. Daudet's strugforlifeur had heard of Darwin. Mr. Ferret had read Hobbes, learned that man was in a state of nature, and inferred that we ought to prey upon each other, as a pike eats trout. Miss Burney, too, at Bath, about 1780, met a perfectly emancipated young "New Woman." She had read Bolingbroke and Hume, believed in nothing, and was ready to be a "Woman who Did." Our ancestors could be just as advanced as we are.

Smollett went on compiling, and supporting himself by his compilations, and those of his vassals. In 1762 he unluckily edited a paper called The Briton in the interests of Lord Bute. The Briton was silenced by Wilkes's North Briton. Smollett lost his last patron; he fell ill; his daughter died; he travelled angrily in France and Italy. His "Travels" show the choleric nature of the man, and he was especially blamed for not admiring the Venus de Medici. Modern taste, enlightened by the works of a better period of Greek art, has come round to Smollett's opinions. But, in his own day, he was regarded as a Vandal and a heretic.

In 1764, he visited Scotland, and was warmly welcomed by his kinsman, the laird of Bonhill. In 1769, he published "The Adventures of an Atom," a stupid, foul, and scurrilous political satire, in which Lord Bute, having been his patron, was "lashed" in Smollett's usual style. In 1768, Smollett left England for ever. He desired a consulship, but no consulship was found for him, which is not surprising. He died at Monte Nova, near Leghorn, in September (others say October) 1771. He had finished "Humphrey Clinker," which appeared a day or two before his death.

Thackeray thought "Humphrey Clinker" the most laughable book that ever was written. Certainly nobody is to be envied who does not laugh over the epistles of Winifred Jenkins. The book is too well known for analysis. The family of Matthew Bramble, Esq., are on their travels, with his nephew and niece, young Melford and Lydia Melford, with Miss Jenkins, and the squire's tart, greedy, and amorous old maid of a sister, Tabitha Bramble. This lady's persistent amours and mean avarice scarcely strike modern readers as amusing. Smollett gave aspects of his own character in the choleric, kind, benevolent Matthew Bramble, and in the patriotic and paradoxical Lieutenant Lismahago. Bramble, a gouty invalid, is as full of medical abominations as Smollett himself, as ready to fight, and as generous and open-handed. Probably the author shared Lismahago's contempt of trade, his dislike of the Union (1707), his fiery independence (yet he does marry Tabitha!), and those opinions in which Lismahago heralds some of the social notions of Mr. Ruskin.

Melford is an honourable kind of "walking gentleman"; Lydia, though enamoured, is modest and dignified; Clinker is a worthy son of Bramble, with abundant good humour, and a pleasing vein of Wesleyan Methodism. But the grotesque spelling, rural vanity, and naivete of Winifred Jenkins, with her affection for her kitten, make her the most delightful of this wandering company. After beholding the humours and partaking of the waters of Bath, they follow Smollett's own Scottish tour, and each character gives his picture of the country which Smollett had left at its lowest ebb of industry and comfort, and found so much more prosperous. The book is a mine for the historian of manners and customs: the novel- reader finds Count Fathom metamorphosed into Mr. Grieve, an exemplary apothecary, "a sincere convert to virtue," and "unaffectedly pious."

Apparently a wave of good-nature came over Smollett: he forgave everybody, his own relations even, and he reclaimed his villain. A patron might have played with him. He mellowed in Scotland: Matthew there became less tart, and more tolerant; an actual English Matthew would have behaved quite otherwise. "Humphrey Clinker" is an astonishing book, as the work of an exiled, poor, and dying man. None of his works leaves so admirable an impression of Smollett's virtues: none has so few of his less amiable qualities.

With the cadet of Bonhill, outworn with living, and with labour, died the burly, brawling, picturesque old English novel of humour and of the road. We have nothing notable in this manner, before the arrival of Mr. Pickwick. An exception will scarcely be made in the interest of Richard Cumberland, who, as Scott says, "has occasionally . . . become disgusting, when he meant to be humorous." Already Walpole had begun the new "Gothic romance," and the "Castle of Otranto," with Miss Burney's novels, was to lead up to Mrs. Radcliffe and Scott, to Miss Edgeworth and Miss Austen.



CHAPTER X: NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE

Sainte-Beuve says somewhere that it is impossible to speak of "The German Classics." Perhaps he would not have allowed us to talk of the American classics. American literature is too nearly contemporary. Time has not tried it. But, if America possesses a classic author (and I am not denying that she may have several), that author is decidedly Hawthorne. His renown is unimpeached: his greatness is probably permanent, because he is at once such an original and personal genius, and such a judicious and determined artist.

Hawthorne did not set himself to "compete with life." He did not make the effort—the proverbially tedious effort—to say everything. To his mind, fiction was not a mirror of commonplace persons, and he was not the analyst of the minutest among their ordinary emotions. Nor did he make a moral, or social, or political purpose the end and aim of his art. Moral as many of his pieces naturally are, we cannot call them didactic. He did not expect, nor intend, to better people by them. He drew the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale without hoping that his Awful Example would persuade readers to "make a clean breast" of their iniquities and their secrets. It was the moral situation that interested him, not the edifying effect of his picture of that situation upon the minds of novel-readers.

He set himself to write Romance, with a definite idea of what Romance- writing should be; "to dream strange things, and make them look like truth." Nothing can be more remote from the modern system of reporting commonplace things, in the hope that they will read like truth. As all painters must do, according to good traditions, he selected a subject, and then placed it in a deliberately arranged light—not in the full glare of the noonday sun, and in the disturbances of wind, and weather, and cloud. Moonshine filling a familiar chamber, and making it unfamiliar, moonshine mixed with the "faint ruddiness on walls and ceiling" of fire, was the light, or a clear brown twilight was the light by which he chose to work. So he tells us in the preface to "The Scarlet Letter." The room could be filled with the ghosts of old dwellers in it; faint, yet distinct, all the life that had passed through it came back, and spoke with him, and inspired him. He kept his eyes on these figures, tangled in some rare knot of Fate, and of Desire: these he painted, not attending much to the bustle of existence that surrounded them, not permitting superfluous elements to mingle with them, and to distract him.

The method of Hawthorne can be more easily traced than that of most artists as great as himself. Pope's brilliant passages and disconnected trains of thought are explained when we remember that "paper-sparing," as he says, he wrote two, or four, or six couplets on odd, stray bits of casual writing material. These he had to join together, somehow, and between his "Orient Pearls at Random Strung" there is occasionally "too much string," as Dickens once said on another opportunity. Hawthorne's method is revealed in his published note-books. In these he jotted the germ of an idea, the first notion of a singular, perhaps supernatural moral situation. Many of these he never used at all, on others he would dream, and dream, till the persons in the situations became characters, and the thing was evolved into a story. Thus he may have invented such a problem as this: "The effect of a great, sudden sin on a simple and joyous nature," and thence came all the substance of "The Marble Faun" ("Transformation"). The original and germinal idea would naturally divide itself into another, as the protozoa reproduce themselves. Another idea was the effect of nearness to the great crime on a pure and spotless nature: hence the character of Hilda. In the preface to "The Scarlet Letter," Hawthorne shows us how he tried, by reflection and dream, to warm the vague persons of the first mere notion or hint into such life as characters in romance inherit. While he was in the Civil Service of his country, in the Custom House at Salem, he could not do this; he needed freedom. He was dismissed by political opponents from office, and instantly he was himself again, and wrote his most popular and, perhaps, his best book. The evolution of his work was from the prime notion (which he confessed that he loved best when "strange") to the short story, and thence to the full and rounded novel. All his work was leisurely. All his language was picked, though not with affectation. He did not strive to make a style out of the use of odd words, or of familiar words in odd places. Almost always he looked for "a kind of spiritual medium, seen through which" his romances, like the Old Manse in which he dwelt, "had not quite the aspect of belonging to the material world."

The spiritual medium which he liked, he was partly born into, and partly he created it. The child of a race which came from England, robust and Puritanic, he had in his veins the blood of judges—of those judges who burned witches and persecuted Quakers. His fancy is as much influenced by the old fanciful traditions of Providence, of Witchcraft, of haunting Indian magic, as Scott's is influenced by legends of foray and feud, by ballad, and song, and old wives' tales, and records of conspiracies, fire- raisings, tragic love-adventures, and border wars. Like Scott, Hawthorne lived in phantasy—in phantasy which returned to the romantic past, wherein his ancestors had been notable men. It is a commonplace, but an inevitable commonplace, to add that he was filled with the idea of Heredity, with the belief that we are all only new combinations of our fathers that were before us. This has been made into a kind of pseudo- scientific doctrine by M. Zola, in the long series of his Rougon-Macquart novels. Hawthorne treated it with a more delicate and a serener art in "The House of the Seven Gables."

It is curious to mark Hawthorne's attempts to break away from himself—from the man that heredity, and circumstance, and the divine gift of genius had made him. He naturally "haunts the mouldering lodges of the past"; but when he came to England (where such lodges are abundant), he was ill-pleased and cross-grained. He knew that a long past, with mysteries, dark places, malisons, curses, historic wrongs, was the proper atmosphere of his art. But a kind of conscientious desire to be something other than himself—something more ordinary and popular—make him thank Heaven that his chosen atmosphere was rare in his native land. He grumbled at it, when he was in the midst of it; he grumbled in England; and how he grumbled in Rome! He permitted the American Eagle to make her nest in his bosom, "with the customary infirmity of temper that characterises this unhappy fowl," as he says in his essay "The Custom House." "The general truculency of her attitude" seems to "threaten mischief to the inoffensive community" of Europe, and especially of England and Italy.

Perhaps Hawthorne travelled too late, when his habits were too much fixed. It does not become Englishmen to be angry because a voyager is annoyed at not finding everything familiar and customary in lands which he only visits because they are strange. This is an inconsistency to which English travellers are particularly prone. But it is, in Hawthorne's case, perhaps, another instance of his conscientious attempts to be, what he was not, very much like other people. His unexpected explosions of Puritanism, perhaps, are caused by the sense of being too much himself. He speaks of "the Squeamish love of the Beautiful" as if the love of the Beautiful were something unworthy of an able-bodied citizen. In some arts, as in painting and sculpture, his taste was very far from being at home, as his Italian journals especially prove. In short, he was an artist in a community for long most inartistic. He could not do what many of us find very difficult—he could not take Beauty with gladness as it comes, neither shrinking from it as immoral, nor getting girlishly drunk upon it, in the aesthetic fashion, and screaming over it in an intoxication of surprise. His tendency was to be rather shy and afraid of Beauty, as a pleasant but not immaculately respectable acquaintance. Or, perhaps, he was merely deferring to Anglo- Saxon public opinion.

Possibly he was trying to wean himself from himself, and from his own genius, when he consorted with odd amateur socialists in farm-work, and when he mixed, at Concord, with the "queer, strangely-dressed, oddly-behaved mortals, most of whom took upon themselves to be important agents of the world's destiny, yet were simple bores of a very intense water." They haunted Mr. Emerson as they haunted Shelley, and Hawthorne had to see much of them. But they neither made a convert of him, nor irritated him into resentment. His long-enduring kindness to the unfortunate Miss Delia Bacon, an early believer in the nonsense about Bacon and Shakespeare, was a model of manly and generous conduct. He was, indeed, an admirable character, and his goodness had the bloom on it of a courteous and kindly nature that loved the Muses. But, as one has ventured to hint, the development of his genius and taste was hampered now and then, apparently, by a desire to put himself on the level of the general public, and of their ideas. This, at least, is how one explains to oneself various remarks in his prefaces, journals, and note-books. This may account for the moral allegories which too weirdly haunt some of his short, early pieces. Edgar Poe, in a passage full of very honest and well-chosen praise, found fault with the allegorical business.

Mr. Hutton, from whose "Literary Essays" I borrow Poe's opinion, says: "Poe boldly asserted that the conspicuously ideal scaffoldings of Hawthorne's stories were but the monstrous fruits of the bad transcendental atmosphere which he breathed so long." But I hope this way of putting it is not Poe's. "Ideal scaffoldings," are odd enough, but when scaffoldings turn out to be "fruits" of an "atmosphere," and monstrous fruits of a "bad transcendental atmosphere," the brain reels in the fumes of mixed metaphors. "Let him mend his pen," cried Poe, "get a bottle of visible ink, come out from the Old Manse, cut Mr. Alcott," and, in fact, write about things less impalpable, as Mr. Mallock's heroine preferred to be loved, "in a more human sort of way."

Hawthorne's way was never too ruddily and robustly human. Perhaps, even in "The Scarlet Letter," we feel too distinctly that certain characters are moral conceptions, not warmed and wakened out of the allegorical into the real. The persons in an allegory may be real enough, as Bunyan has proved by examples. But that culpable clergyman, Mr. Arthur Dimmesdale, with his large, white brow, his melancholy eyes, his hand on his heart, and his general resemblance to the High Church Curate in Thackeray's "Our Street," is he real? To me he seems very unworthy to be Hester's lover, for she is a beautiful woman of flesh and blood. Mr. Dimmesdale was not only immoral; he was unsportsmanlike. He had no more pluck than a church- mouse. His miserable passion was degraded by its brevity; how could he see this woman's disgrace for seven long years, and never pluck up heart either to share her shame or peccare forliter? He is a lay figure, very cleverly, but somewhat conventionally made and painted. The vengeful husband of Hester, Roger Chillingworth, is a Mr. Casaubon stung into jealous anger. But his attitude, watching ever by Dimmesdale, tormenting him, and yet in his confidence, and ever unsuspected, reminds one of a conception dear to Dickens. He uses it in "David Copperfield," where Mr. Micawber (of all people!) plays this trick on Uriah Heep; he uses it in "Hunted Down"; he was about using it in "Edwin Drood"; he used it (old Martin and Pecksniff) in "Martin Chuzzlewit." The person of Roger Chillingworth and his conduct are a little too melodramatic for Hawthorne's genius.

In Dickens's manner, too, is Hawthorne's long sarcastic address to Judge Pyncheon (in "The House of the Seven Gables"), as the judge sits dead in his chair, with his watch ticking in his hand. Occasionally a chance remark reminds one of Dickens; this for example: He is talking of large, black old books of divinity, and of their successors, tiny books, Elzevirs perhaps. "These little old volumes impressed me as if they had been intended for very large ones, but had been unfortunately blighted at an early stage of their growth." This might almost deceive the elect as a piece of the true Boz. Their widely different talents did really intersect each other where the perverse, the grotesque, and the terrible dwell.

To myself "The House of the Seven Gables" has always appeared the most beautiful and attractive of Hawthorne's novels. He actually gives us a love story, and condescends to a pretty heroine. The curse of "Maule's Blood" is a good old romantic idea, terribly handled. There is more of lightness, and of a cobwebby dusty humour in Hepzibah Pyncheon, the decayed lady shopkeeper, than Hawthorne commonly cares to display. Do you care for the "first lover," the Photographer's Young Man? It may be conventional prejudice, but I seem to see him going about on a tricycle, and I don't think him the right person for Phoebe. Perhaps it is really the beautiful, gentle, oppressed Clifford who haunts one's memory most, a kind of tragic and thwarted Harold Skimpole. "How pleasant, how delightful," he murmured, but not as if addressing any one. "Will it last? How balmy the atmosphere through that open window! An open window! How beautiful that play of sunshine. Those flowers, how very fragrant! That young girl's face, how cheerful, how blooming. A flower with the dew on it, and sunbeams in the dewdrops . . . " This comparison with Skimpole may sound like an unkind criticism of Clifford's character and place in the story—it is only a chance note of a chance resemblance.

Indeed, it may be that Hawthorne himself was aware of the resemblance. "An individual of Clifford's character," he remarks, "can always be pricked more acutely through his sense of the beautiful and harmonious than through his heart." And he suggests that, if Clifford had not been so long in prison, his aesthetic zeal "might have eaten out or filed away his affections." This was what befell Harold Skimpole—himself "in prisons often"—at Coavinses! The Judge Pyncheon of the tale is also a masterly study of swaggering black-hearted respectability, and then, in addition to all the poetry of his style, and the charm of his haunted air, Hawthorne favours us with a brave conclusion of the good sort, the old sort. They come into money, they marry, they are happy ever after. This is doing things handsomely, though some of our modern novelists think it coarse and degrading. Hawthorne did not think so, and they are not exactly better artists than Hawthorne.

Yet he, too, had his economies, which we resent. I do not mean his not telling us what it was that Roger Chillingworth saw on Arthur Dimmesdale's bare breast. To leave that vague is quite legitimate. But what had Miriam and the spectre of the Catacombs done? Who was the spectre? What did he want? To have told all this would have been better than to fill the novel with padding about Rome, sculpture, and the Ethics of Art. As the silly saying runs: "the people has a right to know" about Miriam and her ghostly acquaintance. {10} But the "Marble Faun" is not of Hawthorne's best period, beautiful as are a hundred passages in the tale.

Beautiful passages are as common in his prose as gold in the richest quartz. How excellent are his words on the first faint but certain breath of Autumn in the air, felt, perhaps, early in July. "And then came Autumn, with his immense burthen of apples, dropping them continually from his overladen shoulders as he trudged along." Keats might have written so of Autumn in the orchards—if Keats had been writing prose.

There are geniuses more sunny, large, and glad than Hawthorne's, none more original, more surefooted, in his own realm of moonlight and twilight.



CHAPTER XI: THE PARADISE OF POETS

We were talking of Love, Constancy, the Ideal. "Who ever loved like the poets?" cried Lady Violet Lebas, her pure, pale cheek flushing. "Ah, if ever I am to love, he shall be a singer!"

"Tenors are popular, very," said Lord Walter.

"I mean a poet," she answered witheringly.

Near them stood Mr. Witham, the author of "Heart's Chords Tangled."

"Ah," said he, "that reminds me. I have been trying to catch it all the morning. That reminds me of my dream."

"Tell us your dream," murmured Lady Violet Lebas, and he told it.

"It was through an unfortunate but pardonable blunder," said Mr. Witham, "that I died, and reached the Paradise of Poets. I had, indeed, published volumes of verse, but with the most blameless motives. Other poets were continually sending me theirs, and, as I could not admire them, and did not like to reply by critical remarks, I simply printed some rhymes for the purpose of sending them to the gentlemen who favoured me with theirs. I always wrote on the fly-leaf a quotation from the 'Iliad,' about giving copper in exchange for gold; and the few poets who could read Greek were gratified, while the others, probably, thought a compliment was intended. Nothing could be less culpable or pretentious, but, through some mistake on the part of Charon, I was drafted off to the Paradise of Poets.

"Outside the Golden Gate a number of Shadows were waiting, in different attitudes of depression and languor. Bavius and Maevius were there, still complaining of 'cliques,' railing at Horace for a mere rhymer of society, and at Virgil as a plagiarist, 'Take away his cribs from Homer and Apollonius Rhodius,' quoth honest Maevius, 'and what is there left of him?' I also met a society of gentlemen, in Greek costume, of various ages, from a half-naked minstrel with a tortoiseshell lyre in his hand to an elegant of the age of Pericles. They all consorted together, talking various dialects of Aeolic, Ionian, Attic Greek, and so forth, which were plainly not intelligible to each other. I ventured to ask one of the company who he was, but he, with a sweep of his hand, said, 'We are Homer!' When I expressed my regret and surprise that the Golden Gate had not yet opened for so distinguished, though collective, an artist, my friend answered that, according to Fick, Peppmuller, and many other learned men, they were Homer. 'But an impostor from Chios has got in somehow,' he said; 'they don't pay the least attention to the Germans in the Paradise of Poets.'

"At this moment the Golden Gates were thrown apart, and a fair lady, in an early Italian costume, carrying a laurel in her hand, appeared at the entrance. All the Shadows looked up with an air of weary expectation, like people waiting for their turn in a doctor's consulting-room. She beckoned to me, however, and I made haste to follow her. The words 'Charlatan!' 'You a poet!' in a variety of languages, greeted me by way of farewell from the Shadows.

"'The renowned Laura, if I am not mistaken,' I ventured to remark, recognising her, indeed, from the miniature in the Laurentian library at Florence.

"She bowed, and I began to ask for her adorer, Petrarch.

"'Excuse me,' said Laura, as we glided down a mossy path, under the shade of trees particularly dear to poets, 'excuse me, but the sonneteer of whom you speak is one whose name I cannot bear to mention. His conduct with Burns's Clarinda, his heartless infatuation for Stella—'

"'You astonish me,' I said. 'In the Paradise of Poets—'

"'They are poets still—incorrigible!' answered the lady; then slightly raising her voice of silver, as a beautiful appearance in a toga drew near, she cried 'Catullo mio!'

"The greeting between these accomplished ghosts was too kindly to leave room for doubt as to the ardour of their affections.

"'Will you, my Catullus,' murmured Laura, 'explain to this poet from the land of fogs, any matters which, to him, may seem puzzling and unfamiliar in our Paradise?'

"The Veronese, with a charming smile, took my hand, and led me to a shadowy arbour, whence we enjoyed a prospect of many rivers and mountains in the poets' heaven. Among these I recognised the triple crest of the Eildons, Grongar Hill, Cithaeron and Etna; while the reed-fringed waters of the Mincius flowed musically between the banks and braes o' bonny Doon to join the Tweed. Blithe ghosts were wandering by, in all varieties of apparel, and I distinctly observed Dante's Beatrice, leaning loving on the arm of Sir Philip Sidney, while Dante was closely engaged in conversation with the lost Lenore, celebrated by Mr. Edgar Allan Poe.

"'In what can my knowledge of the Paradise of Poets be serviceable to you, sir?' said Catullus, as he flung himself at the feet of Laura, on the velvet grass.

"'I am disinclined to seem impertinently curious,' I answered, 'but the ladies in this fair, smiling country—have the gods made them poetical?'

"'Not generally,' replied Catullus. 'Indeed, if you would be well with them, I may warn you never to mention poetry in their hearing. They never cared for it while on earth, and in this place it is a topic which the prudent carefully avoid among ladies. To tell the truth, they have had to listen to far too much poetry, and too many discussions on the caesura. There are, indeed, a few lady poets—very few. Sappho, for example; indeed I cannot recall any other at this moment. The result is that Phaon, of all the shadows here, is the most distinguished by the fair. He was not a poet, you know; he got in on account of Sappho, who adored him. They are estranged now, of course.'

"'You interest me deeply,' I answered. 'And now, will you kindly tell me why these ladies are here, if they were not poets?'

"'The women that were our ideals while we dwelt on earth, the women we loved but never won, or, at all events, never wedded, they for whom we sighed while in the arms of a recognised and legitimate affection, have been chosen by the Olympians to keep us company in Paradise!'

"'Then wherefore,' I interrupted, 'do I see Robert Burns loitering with that lady in a ruff,—Cassandra, I make no doubt—Ronsard's Cassandra? And why is the incomparable Clarinda inseparable from Petrarch; and Miss Patty Blount, Pope's flame, from the Syrian Meleager, while his Heliodore is manifestly devoted to Mr. Emerson, whom, by the way, I am delighted, if rather surprised, to see here?'

"'Ah,' said Catullus, 'you are a new-comer among us. Poets will be poets, and no sooner have they attained their desire, and dwelt in the company of their earthly Ideals, than they feel strangely, yet irresistibly drawn to Another. So it was in life, so it will ever be. No Ideal can survive a daily companionship, and fortunate is the poet who did not marry his first love!'

"'As far as that goes,' I answered, 'most of you were highly favoured; indeed, I do not remember any poet whose Ideal was his wife, or whose first love led him to the altar.'

"'I was not a marrying man myself,' answered the Veronese; 'few of us were. Myself, Horace, Virgil—we were all bachelors.'

"'And Lesbia!'

"I said this in a low voice, for Laura was weaving bay into a chaplet, and inattentive to our conversation.

"'Poor Lesbia!' said Catullus, with a suppressed sigh. 'How I misjudged that girl! How cruel, how causeless were my reproaches,' and wildly rending his curled locks and laurel crown, he fled into a thicket, whence there soon arose the melancholy notes of the Ausonian lyre.'

"'He is incorrigible,' said Laura, very coldly; and she deliberately began to tear and toss away the fragments of the chaplet she had been weaving. 'I shall never break him of that habit of versifying. But they are all alike.'

"'Is there nobody here,' said I, 'who is happy with his Ideal—nobody but has exchanged Ideals with some other poet?'

"'There is one,' she said. 'He comes of a northern tribe; and in his life-time he never rhymed upon his unattainable lady, or if rhyme he did, the accents never carried her name to the ears of the vulgar. Look there.'

"She pointed to the river at our feet, and I knew the mounted figure that was riding the ford, with a green-mantled lady beside him like the Fairy Queen.

"Surely I had read of her, and knew her—

"'She whose blue eyes their secret told, Though shaded by her locks of gold.'

"'They are different; I know not why. They are constant,' said Laura, and rising with an air of chagrin, she disappeared among the boughs of the trees that bear her name.

"'Unhappy hearts of poets,' I mused. 'Light things and sacred they are, but even in their Paradise, and among their chosen, with every wish fulfilled, and united to their beloved, they cannot be at rest!'

"Thus moralising, I wended my way to a crag, whence there was a wide prospect. Certain poets were standing there, looking down into an abyss, and to them I joined myself.

"'Ah, I cannot bear it!' said a voice, and, as he turned away, his brow already clearing, his pain already forgotten, I beheld the august form of Shakespeare.

"Marking my curiosity before it was expressed, he answered the unuttered question.

"'That is a sight for Pagans,' he said, 'and may give them pleasure. But my Paradise were embittered if I had to watch the sorrows of others, and their torments, however well deserved. The others are gazing on the purgatory of critics and commentators.'

"He passed from me, and I joined the 'Ionian father of the rest'—Homer, who, with a countenance of unspeakable majesty, was seated on a throne of rock, between the Mantuan Virgil of the laurel crown, Hugo, Sophocles, Milton, Lovelace, Tennyson, and Shelley.

"At their feet I beheld, in a vast and gloomy hall, many an honest critic, many an erudite commentator, an army of reviewers. Some were condemned to roll logs up insuperable heights, whence they descended thundering to the plain. Others were set to impositions, and I particularly observed that the Homeric commentators were obliged to write out the 'Iliad' and 'Odyssey' in their complete shape, and were always driven by fiends to the task when they prayed for the bare charity of being permitted to leave out the 'interpolations.' Others, fearful to narrate, were torn into as many fragments as they had made of these immortal epics. Others, such as Aristarchus, were spitted on their own critical signs of disapproval. Many reviewers were compelled to read the books which they had criticised without perusal, and it was terrible to watch the agonies of the worthy pressmen who were set to this unwonted task. 'May we not be let off with the preface?' they cried in piteous accents. 'May we not glance at the table of contents and be done with it?' But the presiding demons (who had been Examiners in the bodily life) drove them remorseless to their toils.

"Among the condemned I could not but witness, with sympathy, the punishment reserved for translators. The translators of Virgil, in particular, were a vast and motley assemblage of most respectable men. Bishops were there, from Gawain Douglas downwards; Judges, in their ermine; professors, clergymen, civil servants, writhing in all the tortures that the blank verse, the anapaestic measure, the metre of the 'Lay of the Last Minstrel,' the heroic couplet and similar devices can inflict. For all these men had loved Virgil, though not wisely: and now their penance was to hear each other read their own translations."

"That must have been more than they could bear," said Lady Violet

"Yes," said Mr. Witham; "I should know, for down I fell into Tartarus with a crash, and writhed among the Translators."

"Why?" asked Lady Violet.

"Because I have translated Theocritus!"

"Mr. Witham," said Lady Violet, "did you meet your ideal woman when you were in the Paradise of Poets?"

"She yet walks this earth," said the bard, with a too significant bow.

Lady Violet turned coldly away.

* * *

Mr. Witham was never invited to the Blues again—the name of Lord Azure's place in Kent.

The Poet is shut out of Paradise.



CHAPTER XII: PARIS AND HELEN

The first name in romance, the most ancient and the most enduring, is that of Argive Helen. During three thousand years fair women have been born, have lived, and been loved, "that there might be a song in the ears of men of later time," but, compared to the renown of Helen, their glory is dim. Cleopatra, who held the world's fate in her hands, and lay in the arms of Caesar; Mary Stuart (Maria Verticordia), for whose sake, as a northern novelist tells, peasants have lain awake, sorrowing that she is dead; Agnes Sorel, Fair Rosamond, la belle Stuart, "the Pompadour and the Parabere," can still enchant us from the page of history and chronicle. "Zeus gave them beauty, which naturally rules even strength itself," to quote the Greek orator on the mistress of them all, on her who, having never lived, can never die, the Daughter of the Swan.

While Helen enjoys this immortality, and is the ideal of beauty upon earth, it is curious to reflect on the modernite of her story, the oldest of the love stories of the world. In Homer we first meet her, the fairest of women in the song of the greatest of poets. It might almost seem as if Homer meant to justify, by his dealing with Helen, some of the most recent theories of literary art. In the "Iliad" and "Odyssey" the tale of Helen is without a beginning and without an end, like a frieze on a Greek temple. She crosses the stage as a figure familiar to all, the poet's audience clearly did not need to be told who Helen was, nor anything about her youth.

The famous judgment of Paris, the beginning of evil to Achaeans and Ilian men, is only mentioned once by Homer, late, and in a passage of doubtful authenticity. Of her reconciliation to her wedded lord, Menelaus, not a word is said; of her end we are told no more than that for her and him a mansion in Elysium is prepared—

"Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow."

We leave her happy in Argos, a smile on her lips, a gift in her hands, as we met her in Troy, beautiful, adored despite her guilt, as sweet in her repentance as in her unvexed Argive home. Women seldom mention her, in the epic, but with horror and anger; men never address her but in gentle courtesy. What is her secret? How did she leave her home with Paris—beguiled by love, by magic, or driven by the implacable Aphrodite? Homer is silent on all of these things; these things, doubtless, were known by his audience. In his poem Helen moves as a thing of simple grace, courtesy, and kindness, save when she rebels against her doom, after seeing her lover fly from her husband's spear. Had we only Homer, by far our earliest literary source, we should know little of the romance of Helen; should only know that a lawless love brought ruin on Troy and sorrow on the Achaeans; and this is thrown out, with no moral comment, without praise or blame. The end, we learn, was peace, and beauty was reconciled to life. There is no explanation, no denouement; and we know how much denouement and explanations hampered Scott and Shakespeare. From these trammels Homer is free, as a god is free from mortal limitations.

All this manner of telling a tale—a manner so ancient, so original—is akin, in practice, to recent theories of what art should be, and what art seldom is, perhaps never is, in modern hands.

Modern enough, again, is the choice of a married woman for the heroine of the earliest love tale. Apollonius Rhodius sings (and no man has ever sung so well) of a maiden's love; Virgil, of a widow's; Homer, of love that has defied law, blindly obedient to destiny, which dominates even Zeus. Once again, Helen is not a very young girl; ungallant chronologists have attributed to her I know not what age. We think of her as about the age of the Venus of Milo; in truth, she was "ageless and immortal." Homer never describes her beauty; we only see it reflected in the eyes of the old men, white and weak, thin-voiced as cicalas: but hers is a loveliness "to turn an old man young." "It is no marvel," they say, "that for her sake Trojans and Achaeans slay each other."

She was embroidering at a vast web, working in gold and scarlet the sorrows that for her sake befell mankind, when they called her to the walls to see Paris fight Menelaus, in the last year of the war. There she stands, in raiment of silvery white, her heart yearning for her old love and her own city. Already her thought is far from Paris. Was her heart ever with Paris? That is her secret. A very old legend, mentioned by the Bishop of Thessalonica, Eustathius, tells us that Paris magically beguiled her, disguised in the form of Menelaus, her lord, as Uther beguiled Ygerne. She sees the son of Priam play the dastard in the fight; she turns in wrath on Aphrodite, who would lure her back to his arms; but to his arms she must go, "for the daughter of Zeus was afraid." Violence is put upon beauty; it is soiled, or seems soiled, in its way through the world. Helen urges Paris again into the war. He has a heart invincibly light and gay; shame does not weigh on him. "Not every man is valiant every day," he says; yet once engaged in battle, he bears him bravely, and his arrows rain death among the mail-clad Achaeans.

What Homer thinks of Paris we can only guess. His beauty is the bane of Ilios; but Homer forgives so much to beauty. In the end of the "Iliad," Helen sings the immortal dirge over Hector, the stainless knight, "with thy loving kindness and thy gentle speech."

In the "Odyssey," she is at home again, playing the gracious part of hostess to Odysseus's wandering son, pouring into the bowl the magic herb of Egypt, "which brings forgetfulness of sorrow." The wandering son of Odysseus departs with a gift for his bride, "to wear upon the day of her desire, a memorial of the hands of Helen," the beautiful hands, that in Troy or Argos were never idle.

Of Helen, from Homer, we know no more. Grace, penitence in exile, peace at home, these are the portion of her who set East and West at war and ruined the city of Priam of the ashen spear. As in the strange legend preserved by Servius, the commentator on Virgil, who tells us that Helen wore a red "star-stone," whence fell gouts of blood that vanished ere they touched her swan's neck; so all the blood shed for her sake leaves Helen stainless. Of Homer's Helen we know no more.

The later Greek fancy, playing about this form of beauty, wove a myriad of new fancies, or disinterred from legend old beliefs untouched by Homer. Helen was the daughter of the Swan—that is, as was later explained, of Zeus in the shape of a swan. Her loveliness, even in childhood, plunged her in many adventures. Theseus carried her off; her brothers rescued her. All the princes of Achaea competed for her hand, having first taken an oath to avenge whomsoever she might choose for her husband. The choice fell on the correct and honourable, but rather inconspicuous, Menelaus, and they dwelt in Sparta, beside the Eurotas, "in a hollow of the rifted hills." Then, from across the sea, came the beautiful and fatal Paris, son of Priam, King of Troy. As a child, Paris had been exposed on the mountains, because his mother dreamed that she brought forth a firebrand. He was rescued and fostered by a shepherd; he tended the flocks; he loved the daughter of a river god, OEnone. Then came the naked Goddesses, to seek at the hand of the most beautiful of mortals the prize of beauty. Aphrodite won the golden apple from the queen of heaven, Hera, and from the Goddess of war and wisdom, Athena, bribing the judge by the promise of the fairest wife in the world. No incident is more frequently celebrated in poetry and art, to which it lends such gracious opportunities. Paris was later recognised as of the royal blood of Troy. He came to Lacedaemon on an embassy, he saw Helen, and destiny had its way.

Concerning the details in this most ancient love-story, we learn nothing from Homer, who merely makes Paris remind Helen of their bridal night in the isle of Cranae. But from Homer we learn that Paris carried off not only the wife of Menelaus, but many of his treasures. To the poet of the "Iliad," the psychology of the wooing would have seemed a simple matter. Like the later vase-painters, he would have shown us Paris beside Helen, Aphrodite standing near, accompanied by the figure of Peitho—Persuasion.

Homer always escapes our psychological problems by throwing the weight of our deeds and misdeeds on a God or a Goddess, or on destiny. To have fled from her lord and her one child, Hermione, was not in keeping with the character of Helen as Homer draws it. Her repentance is almost Christian in its expression, and repentance indicates a consciousness of sin and of shame, which Helen frequently professes. Thus she, at least, does not, like Homer, in his chivalrous way, throw all the blame on the Immortals and on destiny. The cheerful acquiescence of Helen in destiny makes part of the comic element in La Belle Helene, but the mirth only arises out of the incongruity between Parisian ideas and those of ancient Greece.

Helen is freely and bitterly blamed in the "Odyssey" by Penelope, chiefly because of the ruinous consequences which followed her flight. Still, there is one passage, when Penelope prudently hesitates about recognising her returned lord, which makes it just possible that a legend chronicled by Eustathius was known to Homer,—namely, the tale already mentioned, that Paris beguiled her in the shape of Menelaus. The incident is very old, as in the story of Zeus and Amphitryon, and might be used whenever a lady's character needed to be saved. But this anecdote, on the whole, is inconsistent with the repentance of Helen, and is not in Homer's manner.

The early lyric poet, Stesichorus, is said to have written harshly against Helen. She punished him by blindness, and he indited a palinode, explaining that it was not she who went to Troy, but a woman fashioned in her likeness, by Zeus, out of mist and light. The real Helen remained safely and with honour in Egypt. Euripides has made this idea, which was calculated to please him, the groundwork of his "Helena," but it never had a strong hold on the Greek imagination. Modern fancy is pleased by the picture of the cloud-bride in Troy, Greeks and Trojans dying for a phantasm. "Shadows we are, and shadows we pursue."

Concerning the later feats, and the death of Paris, Homer says very little. He slew Achilles by an arrow-shot in the Scaean gate, and prophecy was fulfilled. He himself fell by another shaft, perhaps the poisoned shaft of Philoctetes. In the fourth or fifth century of our era a late poet, Quintus Smyrnaeus, described Paris's journey, in quest of a healing spell, to the forsaken OEnone, and her refusal to aid him; her death on his funeral pyre. Quintus is a poet of extraordinary merit for his age, and scarcely deserves the reproach of laziness affixed on him by Lord Tennyson.

On the whole, Homer seems to have a kind of half-contemptuous liking for the beautiful Paris. Later art represents him as a bowman of girlish charms, wearing a Phrygian cap. There is a late legend that he had a son, Corythus, by OEnone, and that he killed the lad in a moment of jealousy, finding him with Helen and failing to recognise him. On the death of Paris, perhaps by virtue of the custom of the Levirate, Helen became the wife of his brother, Deiphobus.

How her reconciliation with Menelaus was brought about we do not learn from Homer, who, in the "Odyssey," accepts it as a fact. The earliest traditional hint on the subject is given by the famous "Coffer of Cypselus," a work of the seventh century, B.C., which Pausanias saw at Olympia, in A.D. 174. Here, on a band of ivory, was represented, among other scenes from the tale of Troy, Menelaus rushing, sword in hand, to slay Helen. According to Stesichorus, the army was about to stone her after the fall of Ilios, but relented, amazed by her beauty.

Of her later life in Lacedaemon, nothing is known on really ancient authority, and later traditions vary. The Spartans showed her sepulchre and her shrine at Therapnae, where she was worshipped. Herodotus tells us how Helen, as a Goddess, appeared in her temple and healed a deformed child, making her the fairest woman in Sparta, in the reign of Ariston. It may, perhaps, be conjectured that in Sparta, Helen occupied the place of a local Aphrodite. In another late story she dwells in the isle of Leuke, a shadowy bride of the shadowy Achilles. The mocking Lucian, in his Vera Historia, meets Helen in the Fortunate Islands, whence she elopes with one of his companions. Again, the sons of Menelaus, by a concubine, were said to have driven Helen from Sparta on the death of her lord, and she was murdered in Rhodes, by the vengeance of Polyxo, whose husband fell at Troy. But, among all these inventions, that of Homer stands out pre-eminent. Helen and Menelaus do not die, they are too near akin to Zeus; they dwell immortal, not among the shadows of heroes and of famous ladies dead and gone, but in Elysium, the paradise at the world's end, unvisited by storms.

"Beyond these voices there is peace."

It is plain that, as a love-story, the tale of Paris and Helen must to modern readers seem meagre. To Greece, in every age, the main interest lay not in the passion of the beautiful pair, but in its world-wide consequences: the clash of Europe and Asia, the deaths of kings, the ruin wrought in their homes, the consequent fall of the great and ancient Achaean civilisation. To the Greeks, the Trojan war was what the Crusades are in later history. As in the Crusades, the West assailed the East for an ideal, not to recover the Holy Sepulchre of our religion, but to win back the living type of beauty and of charm. Perhaps, ere the sun grows cold, men will no more believe in the Crusades, as an historical fact, than we do in the siege of Troy. In a sense, a very obvious sense, the myth of Helen is a parable of Hellenic history. They sought beauty, and they found it; they bore it home, and, with beauty, their bane. Wherever Helen went "she brought calamity," in this a type of all the famous and peerless ladies of old days, of Cleopatra and of Mary Stuart. Romance and poetry have nothing less plausible than the part which Cleopatra actually played in the history of the world, a world well lost by Mark Antony for her sake. The flight from Actium might seem as much a mere poet's dream as the gathering of the Achaeans at Aulis, if we were not certain that it is truly chronicled.

From the earliest times, even from times before Homer (whose audience is supposed to know all about Helen), the imagination of Greece, and later, the imagination of the civilised world, has played around Helen, devising about her all that possibly could be devised. She was the daughter of Zeus by Nemesis, or by Leda; or the daughter of the swan, or a child of the changeful moon, brooding on "the formless and multi-form waters." She could speak in the voices of all women, hence she was named "Echo," and we might fancy that, like the witch of the Brocken, she could appear to every man in the likeness of his own first love. The ancient Egyptians either knew her, or invented legends of her to amuse the inquiring Greeks. She had touched at Sidon, and perhaps Astaroth is only her Sidonian name. Whatever could be told of beauty, in its charm, its perils, the dangers with which it surrounds its lovers, the purity which it retains, unsmirched by all the sins that are done for beauty's sake, could be told of Helen.

Like a golden cup, as M. Paul de St. Victor says, she was carried from lips to lips of heroes, but the gold remains unsullied and unalloyed. To heaven she returns again, to heaven which is her own, and looks down serenely on men slain, and women widowed, and sinking ships, and burning towns. Yet with death she gives immortality by her kiss, and Paris and Menelaus live, because they have touched the lips of Helen. Through the grace of Helen, for whom he fell, Sarpedon's memory endures, and Achilles and Memnon, the son of the Morning, and Troy is more imperishable than Carthage, or Rome, or Corinth, though Helen

"Burnt the topless towers of Ilium."

In one brief passage, Marlowe did more than all poets since Stesichorus, or, at least since the epithalamium of Theocritus, for the glory of Helen. Roman poets knew her best as an enemy of their fabulous ancestors, and in the "AEneid," Virgil's hero draws his sword to slay her. Through the Middle Ages, in the romances of Troy, she wanders as a shining shadow of the ideally fair, like Guinevere, who so often recalls her in the Arthurian romances. The chivalrous mediaeval poets and the Celts could understand better than the Romans the philosophy of "the world well lost" for love. Modern poetry, even in Goethe's "Second part of Faust," has not been very fortunately inspired by Helen, except in the few lines which she speaks in "The Dream of Fair Women."

"I had great beauty; ask thou not my name."

Mr. William Morris's Helen, in the "Earthly Paradise," charms at the time of reading, but, perhaps, leaves little abiding memory. The Helen of "Troilus and Cressida" is not one of Shakespeare's immortal women, and Mr. Rossetti's ballad is fantastic and somewhat false in tone—a romantic pastiche. Where Euripides twice failed, in the "Troades" and the "Helena," it can be given to few to succeed. Helen is best left to her earliest known minstrel, for who can recapture the grace, the tenderness, the melancholy, and the charm of the daughter of Zeus in the "Odyssey" and "Iliad"? The sightless eyes of Homer saw her clearest, and Helen was best understood by the wisdom of his unquestioning simplicity.

As if to prove how entirely, though so many hands paltered with her legend, Helen is Homer's alone, there remains no great or typical work of Greek art which represents her beauty, and the breasts from which were modelled cups of gold for the service of the gods. We have only paintings on vases, or work on gems, which, though graceful, is conventional and might represent any other heroine, Polyxena, or Eriphyle. No Helen from the hands of Phidias or Scopas has survived to our time, and the grass may be growing in Therapnae over the shattered remains of her only statue.

As Stesichorus fabled that only an eidolon of Helen went to Troy, so, except in the "Iliad" and "Odyssey," we meet but shadows of her loveliness, phantasms woven out of clouds, and the light of setting suns.



CHAPTER XIII: ENCHANTED CIGARETTES

To dream over literary projects, Balzac says, is like "smoking enchanted cigarettes," but when we try to tackle our projects, to make them real, the enchantment disappears. We have to till the soil, to sow the seed, to gather the leaves, and then the cigarettes must be manufactured, while there may be no market for them after all. Probably most people have enjoyed the fragrance of these enchanted cigarettes, and have brooded over much which they will never put on paper. Here are some of "the ashes of the weeds of my delight"—memories of romances whereof no single line is written, or is likely to be written.

Of my earliest novel I remember but little. I know there had been a wreck, and that the villain, who was believed to be drowned, came home and made himself disagreeable. I know that the heroine's mouth was not "too large for regular beauty." In that respect she was original. All heroines are "muckle-mou'd," I know not why. It is expected of them. I know she was melancholy and merry; it would not surprise me to learn that she drowned herself from a canoe. But the villain never descended to crime, the first lover would not fall in love, the heroine's own affections were provokingly disengaged, and the whole affair came to a dead stop for want of a plot. Perhaps, considering modern canons of fiction, this might have been a very successful novel. It was entirely devoid of incident or interest, and, consequently, was a good deal like real life, as real life appears to many cultivated authors. On the other hand, all the characters were flippant. This would never have done, and I do not regret novel No. I., which had not even a name.

The second story had a plot, quantities of plot, nothing but plot. It was to have been written in collaboration with a very great novelist, who, as far as we went, confined himself to making objections. This novel was stopped (not that my friend would ever have gone on) by "Called Back," which anticipated part of the idea. The story was entitled "Where is Rose?" and the motto was—

"Rosa quo locorum Sera moratur."

The characters were—(1) Rose, a young lady of quality. (2) The Russian Princess, her friend (need I add that, to meet a public demand, her name was Vera?). (3) Young man engaged to Rose. (4) Charles, his friend. (5) An enterprising person named "The Whiteley of Crime," the universal Provider of Iniquity. In fact, he anticipated Sir Arthur Doyle's Professor Moriarty. The rest were detectives, old ladies, mob, and a wealthy young Colonial larrikin. Neither my friend nor I was fond of describing love scenes, so we made the heroine disappear in the second chapter, and she never turned up again till chapter the last. After playing in a comedy at the house of an earl, Rosa and Vera entered her brougham. Soon afterwards the brougham drew up, empty, at Rose's own door. Where was Rose? Traces of her were found, of all places, in the Haunted House in Berkeley Square, which is not haunted any longer. After that Rose was long sought in vain.

This, briefly, is what had occurred. A Russian detective "wanted" Vera, who, to be sure, was a Nihilist. To catch Vera he made an alliance with "The Whiteley of Crime." He was a man who would destroy a parish register, or forge a will, or crack a crib, or break up a Pro-Boer meeting, or burn a house, or kidnap a rightful heir, or manage a personation, or issue amateur bank-notes, or what you please. Thinking to kill two birds with one stone, he carried off Rose for her diamonds and Vera for his friend, the Muscovite police official, lodging them both in the Haunted House. But there he and the Russian came to blows, and, in the confusion, Vera made her escape, while Rose was conveyed, as Vera, to Siberia. Not knowing how to dispose of her, the Russian police consigned her to a nunnery at the mouth of the Obi. Her lover, in a yacht, found her hiding-place, and got a friendly nun to give her some narcotic known to the Samoyeds. It was the old truc of the Friar in "Romeo and Juliet." At the mouth of the Obi they do not bury the dead, but lay them down on platforms in the open air. Rose was picked up there by her lover (accompanied by a chaperon, of course), was got on board the steam yacht, and all went well. I forget what happened to "The Whiteley of Crime." After him I still rather hanker—he was a humorous ruffian. Something could be made of "The Whiteley of Crime." Something has been made, by the author of "Sherlock Holmes."

In yet another romance, a gentleman takes his friend, in a country place, to see his betrothed. The friend, who had only come into the neighbourhood that day, is found dead, next morning, hanging to a tree. Gipsies and others are suspected. But the lover was the murderer. He had been a priest, in South America, and the lady was a Catholic (who knew not of his Orders). Now the friend fell in love with the lady at first sight, on being introduced to her by the lover. As the two men walked home, the friend threatened to reveal the lover's secret—his tonsure—which would be fatal to his hopes. They quarrelled, parted, and the ex-priest lassoed his friend. The motive, I think, is an original one, and not likely to occur to the first comer. The inventor is open to offers.

The next novel, based on a dream, was called "In Search of Qrart."

What is Qrart? I decline to divulge this secret beyond saying that Qrart was a product of the civilisation which now sleeps under the snows of the pole. It was an article of the utmost value to humanity. Farther I do not intend to commit myself. The Bride of a God was one of the characters.

The next novel is, at present, my favourite cigarette. The scene is partly in Greece, partly at the Parthian Court, about 80-60 B.C. Crassus is the villain. The heroine was an actress in one of the wandering Greek companies, splendid strollers, who played at the Indian and Asiatic Courts. The story ends with the representation of the "Bacchae," in Parthia. The head of Pentheus is carried by one of the Bacchae in that drama. Behold, it is not a mask, but the head of Crassus, and thus conveys the first news of the Roman defeat. Obviously, this is a novel that needs a great deal of preliminary study, as much, indeed, as "Salammbo."

Another story will deal with the Icelandic discoverers of America. Mr. Kipling, however, has taken the wind out of its sails with his sketch, "The Finest Story in the World." There are all the marvels and portents of the Eyrbyggja Saga to draw upon, there are Skraelings to fight, and why should not Karlsefni's son kill the last mastodon, and, as Quetzalcoatl, be the white-bearded god of the Aztecs? After that a romance on the intrigues to make Charles Edward King of Poland sounds commonplace. But much might be made of that, too, if the right man took it in hand. Believe me, there are plenty of stories left, waiting for the man who can tell them. I have said it before, but I say it again, if I were king I would keep court officials, Mr. Stanley Weyman, Mr. Mason, Mr. Kipling, and others, to tell me my own stories. I know the kind of thing which I like, from the discovery of Qrart to that of the French gold in the burn at Loch Arkaig, or in "the wood by the lochside" that Murray of Broughton mentions.

Another cigarette I have, the adventures of a Poet, a Poet born in a Puritan village of Massachusetts about 1670. Hawthorne could have told me my story, and how my friend was driven into the wilderness and lived among the Red Men. I think he was killed in an attempt to warn his countrymen of an Indian raid; I think his MS. poems have a bullet-hole through them, and blood on the leaves. They were in Carew's best manner, these poems.

Another tale Hawthorne might have told me, the tale of an excellent man, whose very virtues, by some baneful moral chemistry, corrupt and ruin the people with whom he comes in contact. I do not mean by goading them into the opposite extremes, but rather something like a moral jettatura. This needs a great deal of subtlety, and what is to become of the hero? Is he to plunge into vice till everybody is virtuous again? It wants working out. I have omitted, after all, a schoolboy historical romance, explaining why Queen Elizabeth was never married. A Scottish paper offered a prize for a story of Queen Mary Stuart's reign. I did not get the prize—perhaps did not deserve it, but my story ran thus: You must know that Queen Elizabeth was singularly like Darnley in personal appearance. What so natural as that, disguised as a page, her Majesty should come spying about the Court of Holyrood? Darnley sees her walking out of Queen Mary's room, he thinks her an hallucination, discovers that she is real, challenges her, and they fight at Faldonside, by the Tweed, Shakespeare holding Elizabeth's horse. Elizabeth is wounded, and is carried to the Kirk of Field, and laid in Darnley's chamber, while Darnley goes out and makes love to my rural heroine, the lady of Fernilee, a Kerr. That night Bothwell blows up the Kirk of Field, Elizabeth and all. Darnley has only one resource. Borrowing the riding habit of the rural heroine, the lady of Fernilee, he flees across the Border, and, for the rest of his life, personates Queen Elizabeth. That is why Elizabeth, who was Darnley, hated Mary so bitterly (on account of the Kirk of Field affair), and that is why Queen Elizabeth was never married. Side-lights on Shakespeare's Sonnets were obviously cast. The young man whom Shakespeare admired so, and urged to marry, was—Darnley. This romance did not get the prize (the anachronism about Shakespeare is worthy of Scott), but I am conceited enough to think it deserved an honourable mention.

Enough of my own cigarettes. But there are others of a more fragrant weed. Who will end for me the novel of which Byron only wrote a chapter; who, as Bulwer Lytton is dead? A finer opening, one more mysteriously stirring, you can nowhere read. And the novel in letters, which Scott began in 1819, who shall finish it, or tell us what he did with his fair Venetian courtezan, a character so much out of Sir Walter's way? He tossed it aside—it was but an enchanted cigarette—and gave us "The Fortunes of Nigel" in its place. I want both. We cannot call up those who "left half told" these stories. In a happier world we shall listen to their endings, and all our dreams shall be coherent and concluded. Meanwhile, without trouble, and expense, and disappointment, and reviews, we can all smoke our cigarettes of fairyland. Would that many people were content to smoke them peacefully, and did not rush on pen, paper, and ink!



CHAPTER XIV: STORIES AND STORY-TELLING (From STRATH NAVER)

We have had a drought for three weeks. During a whole week this northern strath has been as sunny as the Riviera is expected to be. The streams can be crossed dry-shod, kelts are plunging in the pools, but even kelts will not look at a fly. Now, by way of a pleasant change, an icy north wind is blowing, with gusts of snow, not snow enough to swell the loch that feeds the river, but just enough snow (as the tourist said of the water in the River Styx) "to swear by," or at! The Field announces that a duke, who rents three rods on a neighbouring river, has not yet caught one salmon. The acrimoniously democratic mind may take comfort in that intelligence, but, if the weather will not improve for a duke, it is not likely to change for a mere person of letters. Thus the devotee of the Muses is driven back, by stress of climate, upon literature, and as there is nothing in the lodge to read he is compelled to write.

Now certainly one would not lack material, if only one were capable of the art of fiction. The genesis of novels and stories is a topic little studied, but I am inclined to believe that, like the pearls in the mussels of the river, fiction is a beautiful disease of the brain. Something, an incident or an experience, or a reflection, gets imbedded, incrusted, in the properly constituted mind, and becomes the nucleus of a pearl of romance. Mr. Marion Crawford, in a recent work, describes his hero, who is a novelist, at work. This young gentleman, by a series of faults or misfortunes, has himself become a centre of harrowing emotion. Two young ladies, to each of whom he has been betrothed, are weeping out their eyes for him, or are kneeling to heaven with despairing cries, or are hardening their hearts to marry men for whom they "do not care a bawbee." The hero's aunt has committed a crime; everybody, in fact, is in despair, when an idea occurs to the hero. Indifferent to the sorrows of his nearest and dearest, he sits down with his notion and writes a novel—writes like a person possessed.

He has the proper kind of brain, the nucleus has been dropped into it, the pearl begins to grow, and to assume prismatic hues. So he is happy, and even the frozen-out angler might be happy if he could write a novel in the absence of salmon. Unluckily, my brain is not capable of this aesthetic malady, and to save my life, or to "milk a fine warm cow rain," as the Zulus say, I could not write a novel, or even a short story. About The Short Story, as they call it, with capital letters, our critical American cousins have much to say. Its germ, one fancies, is usually an incident, or a mere anecdote, according to the nature of the author's brain; this germ becomes either the pearl of a brief conte, or the seed of a stately tree, in three volumes. An author of experience soon finds out how he should treat his material. One writer informs me that, given the idea, the germinal idea, it is as easy for him to make a novel out of it as a tale—as easy, and much more satisfactory and remunerative. Others, like M. Guy de Maupassant, for example, seem to find their strength in brevity, in cutting down, not in amplifying; in selecting and reducing, not in allowing other ideas to group themselves round the first, other characters to assemble about those who are essential. That seems to be really the whole philosophy of this matter, concerning which so many words are expended. The growth of the germinal idea depends on the nature of an author's talent—he may excel in expansion, or in reduction; he may be economical, and out of an anecdote may spin the whole cocoon of a romance; or he may be extravagant, and give a capable idea away in the briefest form possible.

These ideas may come to a man in many ways, as we said, from a dream, from a fragmentary experience (as most experiences in life are fragmentary), from a hint in a newspaper, from a tale told in conversation. Not long ago, for example, I heard an anecdote out of which M. Guy de Maupassant could have made the most ghastly, the most squalid, and the most supernaturally moving of all his contes. Indeed, that is not saying much, as he did not excel in the supernatural. Were it written in French, it might lie in my lady's chamber, and, as times go, nobody would be shocked. But, by our curious British conventions, this tale cannot be told in an English book or magazine. It was not, in its tendency, immoral; those terrible tales never are. The events were rather calculated to frighten the hearer into the paths of virtue. When Mr. Richard Cameron, the founder of the Cameronians, and the godfather of the Cameronian Regiment, was sent to his parish, he was bidden by Mr. Peden to "put hell-fire to the tails" of his congregation. This vigorous expression was well fitted to describe the conte which I have in my mind (I rather wish I had it not), and which is not to be narrated here, nor in English.

For a combination of pity and terror, it seemed to me unmatched in the works of the modern fancy, or in the horrors of modern experience; whether in experience or in imagination it had its original source. But even the English authors, who plume themselves on their audacity, or their realism, or their contempt for "the young person," would not venture this little romance, much less, then, is a timidly uncorrect pen- man likely to tempt Mr. Mudie with the conte. It is one of two tales, both told as true, which one would like to be able to narrate in the language of Moliere. The other is also very good, and has a wonderful scene with a corpse and a chapelle ardente, and a young lady; it is historical, and of the last generation but one.

Even our frozen strath here has its modern legend, which may be told in English, and out of which, I am sure, a novelist could make a good short story, or a pleasant opening chapter of a romance. What is the mysterious art by which these things are done? What makes the well-told story seem real, rich with life, actual, engrossing? It is the secret of genius, of the novelist's art, and the writer who cannot practise the art might as well try to discover the Philosopher's Stone, or to "harp fish out of the water." However, let me tell the legend as simply as may be, and as it was told to me.

The strath runs due north, the river flowing from a great loch to the Northern sea. All around are low, undulating hills, brown with heather, and as lonely almost as the Sahara. On the horizon to the south rise the mountains, Ben this and Ben that, real mountains of beautiful outline, though no higher than some three thousand feet. Before the country was divided into moors and forests, tenanted by makers of patent corkscrews, and boilers of patent soap, before the rivers were distributed into beats, marked off by white and red posts, there lived over to the south, under the mountains, a sportsman of athletic frame and adventurous disposition. His name I have forgotten, but we may call him Dick Lindsay. It is told of him that he once found a poacher in the forest, and, being unable to catch the intruder, fired his rifle, not at him, but in his neighbourhood, whereon the poacher, deliberately kneeling down, took a long shot at Dick. How the duel ended, and whether either party flew a flag of truce, history does not record.

At all events, one stormy day in late September, Dick had stalked and wounded a stag on the hills to the south-east of the strath. Here, if only one were a novelist, one could weave several pages of valuable copy out of the stalk. The stag made for the strath here, and Dick, who had no gillie, but was an independent sportsman of the old school, pursued on foot. Plunging down the low, birch-clad hills, the stag found the flooded river before him, black and swollen with rain. He took the water, crossing by the big pool, which looked almost like a little loch, tempestuous under a north wind blowing up stream, and covered with small white, vicious crests. The stag crossed and staggered up the bank, where he stood panting. It is not a humane thing to leave a deer to die slowly of a rifle bullet, and Dick, reaching the pool, hesitated not, but threw off his clothes, took his skene between his teeth, plunged in, and swam the river.

All naked as he was he cut the stag's throat in the usual manner, and gralloched him with all the skill of Bucklaw. This was very well, and very well it would be to add a description of the stag at bay; but as I never happened to see a stag at bay, I omit all that. Dick had achieved success, but his clothes were on one side of a roaring river in spate, and he and the dead stag were on the other. There was no chance of fording the stream, and there was then no bridge. He did not care to swim back, for the excitement was out of him. He was trembling with cold, and afraid of cramp. "A mother-naked man," in a wilderness, with a flood between him and his raiment, was in a pitiable position. It did not occur to him to flay the stag, and dress in the hide, and, indeed, he would have been frozen before he could have accomplished that task. So he reconnoitred.

There was nobody within sight but one girl, who was herding cows. Now for a naked man, with a knife, and bedabbled with blood, to address a young woman on a lonely moor is a delicate business. The chances were that the girl would flee like a startled fawn, and leave Dick to walk, just as he was, to the nearest farmhouse, about a mile away. However, Dick had to risk it; he lay down so that only his face appeared above the bank, and he shouted to the maiden. When he had caught her attention he briefly explained the unusual situation. Then the young woman behaved like a trump, or like a Highland Nausicaa, for students of the "Odyssey" will remember how Odysseus, simply clad in a leafy bough of a tree, made supplication to the sea-king's daughter, and how she befriended him. Even if Dick had been a reader of Homer, which is not probable, there were no trees within convenient reach, and he could not adopt the leafy covering of Odysseus.

"You sit still; if you move an inch before I give you the word, I'll leave you where you are!" said Miss Mary. She then cast her plaid over her face, marched up to the bank where Dick was crouching and shivering, dropped her ample plaid over him, and sped away towards the farmhouse. When she had reached its shelter, and was giving an account of the adventure, Dick set forth, like a primeval Highlander, the covering doing duty both for plaid and kilt. Clothes of some kind were provided for him at the cottage, a rickety old boat was fetched, and he and his stag were rowed across the river to the place where his clothes lay.

That is all, but if one were a dealer in romance, much play might be made with the future fortunes of the sportsman and the maiden, happy fortunes or unhappy. In real life, the lassie "drew up with" a shepherd lad, as Miss Jenny Denison has it, married him, and helped to populate the strath. As for Dick, history tells no more of his adventures, nor is it alleged that he ever again visited the distant valley, or beheld the face of his Highland Nausicaa.

Now, if one were a romancer, this mere anecdote probably would "rest, lovely pearl, in the brain, and slowly mature in the oyster," till it became a novel. Properly handled, the incident would make a very agreeable first chapter, with the aid of scenery, botany, climate, and remarks on the manners and customs of the red deer stolen from St. John, or the Stuarts d'Albanie. Then, probably, one would reflect on the characters of Mary and of Richard; Mary must have parents, of course, and one would make them talk in Scottish. Probably she already had a lover; how should she behave to that lover? There is plenty of room for speculation in that problem. As to Dick, is he to be a Lothario, or a lover pour le bon motif? What are his distinguished family to think of the love affair, which would certainly ensue in fiction, though in real life nobody thought of it at all? Are we to end happily, with a marriage or marriages, or are we to wind all up in the pleasant, pessimistic, realistic, fashionable modern way? Is Mary to drown the baby in the Muckle Pool? Is she to suffer the penalty of her crime at Inverness? Or, happy thought, shall we not make her discarded rival lover meet Dick in the hills on a sunny day and then—are they not (taking a hint from facts) to fight a duel with rifles? I see Dick lying, with a bullet in his brow, on the side of a corrie; his blood crimsons the snow, an eagle stoops from the sky. That makes a pretty picturesque conclusion to the unwritten romance of the strath.

Another anecdote occurs to me; good, I think, for a short story, but capable, also, of being dumped down in the middle of a long novel. It was in the old coaching days. A Border squire was going north, in the coach, alone. At a village he was joined by a man and a young lady: their purpose was manifest, they were a runaway couple, bound for Gretna Green. They had not travelled long together before the young lady, turning to the squire, said, "Vous parlez francais, Monsieur?" He did speak French—it was plain that the bridegroom did not—and, to the end of the journey, that remarkable lady conducted a lively and affectionate conversation with the squire in French! Manifestly, he had only to ask and receive, but, alas! he was an unadventurous, plain gentleman; he alighted at his own village; he drove home in his own dogcart; the fugitive pair went forward, and the Gretna blacksmith united them in holy matrimony. The rest is silence.

I would give much to know what that young person's previous history and adventures had been, to learn what befell her after her wedding, to understand, in brief, her conduct and her motives. Were I a novelist, a Maupassant, or a Meredith, the Muse, "from whatsoever quarter she chose," would enlighten me about all, and I would enlighten you. But I can only marvel, only throw out the hint, only deposit the grain of sand, the nucleus of romance, in some more fertile brain. Indeed the topic is much more puzzling than the right conclusion for my Highland romance. In that case fancy could find certain obvious channels, into one or other of which it must flow. But I see no channels for the lives of these three queerly met people in the coach.

As a rule, fancies are capable of being arranged in but a few familiar patterns, so that it seems hardly worth while to make the arrangement. But he who looks at things thus will never be a writer of stories. Nay, even of the slowly unfolding tale of his own existence he may weary, for the combinations therein have all occurred before; it is in a hackneyed old story that he is living, and you, and I. Yet to act on this knowledge is to make a bad affair of our little life: we must try our best to take it seriously. And so of story-writing. As Mr. Stevenson says, a man must view "his very trifling enterprise with a gravity that would befit the cares of empire, and think the smallest improvement worth accomplishing at any expense of time and industry. The book, the statue, the sonata, must be gone upon with the unreasoning good faith and the unflagging spirit of children at their play."

That is true, that is the worst of it. The man, the writer, over whom the irresistible desire to mock at himself, his work, his puppets and their fortunes has power, will never be a novelist. The novelist must "make believe very much"; he must be in earnest with his characters. But how to be in earnest, how to keep the note of disbelief and derision "out of the memorial"? Ah, there is the difficulty, but it is a difficulty of which many authors appear to be insensible. Perhaps they suffer from no such temptations.



CHAPTER XV: THE SUPERNATURAL IN FICTION

It is a truism that the supernatural in fiction should, as a general rule, be left in the vague. In the creepiest tale I ever read, the horror lay in this—there was no ghost! You may describe a ghost with all the most hideous features that fancy can suggest—saucer eyes, red staring hair, a forked tail, and what you please—but the reader only laughs. It is wiser to make as if you were going to describe the spectre, and then break off, exclaiming, "But no! No pen can describe, no memory, thank Heaven, can recall, the horror of that hour!" So writers, as a rule, prefer to leave their terror (usually styled "The Thing") entirely in the dark, and to the frightened fancy of the student. Thus, on the whole, the treatment of the supernaturally terrible in fiction is achieved in two ways, either by actual description, or by adroit suggestion, the author saying, like cabmen, "I leave it to yourself, sir." There are dangers in both methods; the description, if attempted, is usually overdone and incredible: the suggestion is apt to prepare us too anxiously for something that never becomes real, and to leave us disappointed.

Examples of both methods may be selected from poetry and prose. The examples in verse are rare enough; the first and best that occurs in the way of suggestion is, of course, the mysterious lady in "Christabel."

"She was most beautiful to see, Like a lady of a far countree."

Who was she? What did she want? Whence did she come? What was the horror she revealed to the night in the bower of Christabel?

"Then drawing in her breath aloud Like one that shuddered, she unbound The cincture from beneath her breast. Her silken robe and inner vest Dropt to her feet, and full in view Behold her bosom and half her side— A sight to dream of, not to tell! O shield her! shield sweet Christabel!"

And then what do her words mean?

"Thou knowest to-night, and wilt know to-morrow, This mark of my shame, this seal of my sorrow."

What was it—the "sight to dream of, not to tell?"

Coleridge never did tell, and, though he and Mr. Gilman said he knew, Wordsworth thought he did not know. He raised a spirit that he had not the spell to lay. In the Paradise of Poets has he discovered the secret? We only know that the mischief, whatever it may have been, was wrought.

"O sorrow and shame! Can this be she— The lady who knelt at the old oak tree?" . . . "A star hath set, a star hath risen, O Geraldine, since arms of thine Have been the lovely lady's prison. O Geraldine, one hour was thine." {11}

If Coleridge knew, why did he never tell? And yet he maintains that "in the very first conception of the tale, I had the whole present to my mind, with the wholeness no less than with the liveliness of a vision," and he expected to finish the three remaining parts within the year. The year was 1816, the poem was begun in 1797, and finished, as far as it goes, in 1800. If Coleridge ever knew what he meant, he had time to forget. The chances are that his indolence, or his forgetfulness, was the making of "Christabel," which remains a masterpiece of supernatural suggestion.

For description it suffices to read the "Ancient Mariner." These marvels, truly, are speciosa miracula, and, unlike Southey, we believe as we read. "You have selected a passage fertile in unmeaning miracles," Lamb wrote to Southey (1798), "but have passed by fifty passages as miraculous as the miracles they celebrate." Lamb appears to have been almost alone in appreciating this masterpiece of supernatural description. Coleridge himself shrank from his own wonders, and wanted to call the piece "A Poet's Reverie." "It is as bad as Bottom the weaver's declaration that he is not a lion, but only the scenical representation of a lion. What new idea is gained by this title but one subversive of all credit—which the tale should force upon us—of its truth?" Lamb himself was forced, by the temper of the time, to declare that he "disliked all the miraculous part of it," as if it were not all miraculous! Wordsworth wanted the Mariner "to have a character and a profession," perhaps would have liked him to be a gardener, or a butler, with "an excellent character!" In fact, the love of the supernatural was then at so low an ebb that a certain Mr. Marshall "went to sleep while the 'Ancient Mariner' was reading," and the book was mainly bought by seafaring men, deceived by the title, and supposing that the "Ancient Mariner" was a nautical treatise.

In verse, then, Coleridge succeeds with the supernatural, both by way of description in detail, and of suggestion. If you wish to see a failure, try the ghost, the moral but not affable ghost, in Wordsworth's "Laodamia." It is blasphemy to ask the question, but is the ghost in "Hamlet" quite a success? Do we not see and hear a little too much of him? Macbeth's airy and viewless dagger is really much more successful by way of suggestion. The stage makes a ghost visible and familiar, and this is one great danger of the supernatural in art. It is apt to insist on being too conspicuous. Did the ghost of Darius, in "AEschylus," frighten the Athenians? Probably they smiled at the imperial spectre. There is more discretion in Caesar's ghost—

"I think it is the weakness of mine eyes That shapes this monstrous apparition,"

says Brutus, and he lays no very great stress on the brief visit of the appearance. For want of this discretion, Alexandre Dumas's ghosts, as in "The Corsican Brothers," are failures. They make themselves too common and too cheap, like the spectre in Mrs. Oliphant's novel, "The Wizard's Son." This, indeed, is the crux of the whole adventure. If you paint your ghost with too heavy a hand, you raise laughter, not fear. If you touch him too lightly, you raise unsatisfied curiosity, not fear. It may be easy to shudder, but it is difficult to teach shuddering.

In prose, a good example of the over vague is Miriam's mysterious visitor—the shadow of the catacombs—in "Transformation; or, The Marble Faun." Hawthorne should have told us more or less; to be sure his contemporaries knew what he meant, knew who Miriam and the Spectre were. The dweller in the catacombs now powerfully excites curiosity, and when that curiosity is unsatisfied, we feel aggrieved, vexed, and suspect that Hawthorne himself was puzzled, and knew no more than his readers. He has not—as in other tales he has—managed to throw the right atmosphere about this being. He is vague in the wrong way, whereas George Sand, in Les Dames Vertes, is vague in the right way. We are left in Les Dames Vertes with that kind of curiosity which persons really engaged in the adventure might have felt, not with the irritation of having a secret kept from us, as in "Transformation."

In "Wandering Willie's Tale" (in "Redgauntlet"), the right atmosphere is found, the right note is struck. All is vividly real, and yet, if you close the book, all melts into a dream again. Scott was almost equally successful with a described horror in "The Tapestried Chamber." The idea is the commonplace of haunted houses, the apparition is described as minutely as a burglar might have been; and yet we do not mock, but shudder as we read. Then, on the other side—the side of anticipation—take the scene outside the closed door of the vanished Dr. Jekyll, in Mr. Stevenson's well-known apologue:

They are waiting on the threshold of the chamber whence the doctor has disappeared—the chamber tenanted by what? A voice comes from the room. "Sir," said Poole, looking Mr. Utterson in the eyes, "was that my master's voice?"

A friend, a man of affairs, and a person never accused of being fanciful, told me that he read through the book to that point in a lonely Highland chateau, at night, and that he did not think it well to finish the story till next morning, but rushed to bed. So the passage seems "well-found" and successful by dint of suggestion. On the other side, perhaps, only Scotsmen brought up in country places, familiar from childhood with the terrors of Cameronian myth, and from childhood apt to haunt the lonely churchyards, never stirred since the year of the great Plague choked the soil with the dead, perhaps they only know how much shudder may be found in Mr. Stevenson's "Thrawn Janet." The black smouldering heat in the hills and glens that are commonly so fresh, the aspect of the Man, the Tempter of the Brethren, we know them, and we have enough of the old blood in us to be thrilled by that masterpiece of the described supernatural. It may be only a local success, it may not much affect the English reader, but it is of sure appeal to the lowland Scot. The ancestral Covenanter within us awakens, and is terrified by his ancient fears.

Perhaps it may die out in a positive age—this power of learning to shudder. To us it descends from very long ago, from the far-off forefathers who dreaded the dark, and who, half starved and all untaught, saw spirits everywhere, and scarce discerned waking experience from dreams. When we are all perfect positivist philosophers, when a thousand generations of nurses that never heard of ghosts have educated the thousand and first generation of children, then the supernatural may fade out of fiction. But has it not grown and increased since Wordsworth wanted the "Ancient Mariner" to have "a profession and a character," since Southey called that poem a Dutch piece of work, since Lamb had to pretend to dislike its "miracles"? Why, as science becomes more cock- sure, have men and women become more and more fond of old follies, and more pleased with the stirring of ancient dread within their veins?

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