Wherefore, such works as novels must be discouraged in the bedside library. There is nothing to be gained by perusing a romance, by bits, in such fragments of time as the intending sleeper is inclined or able to accord to it. Keep a novel beside you, if you like, to turn to if the night should prove an obstinately sleepless one, and to that end let the tale be by 'Miss Braddon or Gaboriau'—one which shall really fix your imagination fast, and finish, perhaps, by sending you to rest. But for ordinary uses let the book which you take up be one of 'Jewels, five words long,' or thereabouts! Let it be a volume of short essays—let it be, for instance, Bacon's, or the 'Roundabout Papers,' now accessible in a handy form. Let it be a volume of brief verse, such as Mr. Gilbert's 'Bab Ballads,' or Mr. Lang's 'Ballades in Blue China,' or Calverley's immortal 'Fly Leaves;' or let it be a collection of more serious lyrics—say, Mr. Palgrave's 'Golden Treasury,' or the selections from Lord Tennyson and Mr. Matthew Arnold. Or, if you like, let it be a treasury of maxims, such as those by Vauvenargues or Chamfort; or a series of select passages, such as those from the works of Lord Beaconsfield or Heine: or let it be a casquet of choice anecdotes, of which happily the supply is large—that incomparable volume of Dean Ramsay's, for example, or even the triter production by Mark Lemon. There is a whole world from which to choose.
Only, take care that, whatever the literature is, it is not disturbing. The mission of the bedside book is to soothe the mind, not irritate it. When one lies down after a hard day's work, one's desire is not that the brain should be stimulated, but that it should be refreshed. It needs, not exercise, but diversion. It wants to be prepared for sleep. And if a book will effect that object, while at the same time adding to the stock of one's ideas—humorous or sentimental, it does not matter which—that volume is to be thanked and cherished. The difficulty of putting down one's book and extinguishing the light before the exposition of sleep comes upon one, must be left to be dealt with by the individual man. I have heard of a popular vocalist who was wont, when he had read sufficiently, to extinguish the candle by plumping down upon it whatever book he happened to have in his hand. But this is a rough and ready mode which cannot be generally recommended—at any rate, not in those cases where the book is one's own! Some other means must be discovered. And let them be efficacious, for when any element of danger or unhealthiness is allowed to attend the use of bedside books, the sooner that use is discontinued the better.
THEIR MUCH SPEAKING.
The 'dreary drip of dilatory declamation' to which Lord Salisbury, in one of his happiest phrases, once drew attention, shows no sign of exhaustion, or even of diminution; and the Conservative chief has followed up his admirable epigram by picturing the time when, all rational discussion and all beneficial legislation being out of the question, the House of Commons may become a mere mechanical puppet-show, and may present the spectacle of 'a steam Irish Party, an electric Ministry, and a clockwork Speaker.' It is certain that there never was so much talk in the Lower House as at the present moment; but it is also certain that the complaint of 'much speaking' has before now been frequently preferred against both Chambers. Politicians have always been a wordy race, and many a sharp shaft has been aimed at their besetting weakness. A last-century satirist once wrote:
'"Do this," cries one side of St. Stephen's great hall; "Do just the reverse," the minority bawl.... And what is the end of this mighty tongue-war? —Nothing's done for the State till the State is done for!'
And, unfortunately, the quality of the talk has often been as poor as the quantity was considerable. It was, we believe, a pre-Victorian pen which perpetrated this couplet on the House of Commons:
'To wonder now at Balaam's ass were weak: Is there a night that asses do not speak?'
Fun has constantly been made of the typical drawbacks of political oratory—of the dull men, of the heavy, of the shallow, of the unintelligible, and what not. We have been told how 'a lord of senatorial fame' was known at once by his portrait, because the painter had so 'play'd his game' that it 'made one even yawn at sight.' It has been said of an M.P., that his speeches 'possessed such remarkable weight' that it was 'really a trouble to bear them.' Of a third it was written that his discourses had some resemblance to an hour-glass, because, the longer time they ran, the shallower they grew. Of yet another orator we read that his reasoning was really deep, his argument profound, 'for deuce a bit could anybody see the ground.' Nor have certain historical personages been able to escape the lash. When Admiral Vernon was appointed to take charge of the herring fishery, Horace Walpole wrote:
'Long in the Senate had brave Vernon rail'd, And all mankind with bitter tongue assail'd; Sick of his noise, we wearied Heav'n with pray'r In his own element to place the tar. The gods at length have yielded to our wish, And bade him rule o'er Billingsgate and fish.'
From which it will be gathered anew that a somewhat bitter style of debate is no novelty in this country—that strong language has been heard in the House of Commons ante Agamemnona.
Within living memory a member has dared to suggest that certain of his opponents had come into the House not wholly sober. Who does not remember the epigrams which were based on Pitt's addiction, real or supposed, to intoxicating liquors? Porson is said to have composed one hundred such 'paper pellets' in one night, as, for example:
'"Who's up?" inquired Burke of a friend at the door; "Oh, no one," said Paddy, "tho' Pitt's on the floor."'
After this, most other insinuations become almost harmless; and the accusation of mere twaddling, such as that which was brought against Mr. Urquhart in the following lines, seems, by comparison, trivial:
'When Palmerston begins to speak, He moves the House—as facts can prove. Let Urquhart rise, with accents weak, The House itself begins to move.'
By the side of twaddling, again, mere rambling grows venial. One of H. J. Byron's burlesque heroes says of Cerberus:
'My dog, who picks up everything one teaches, Has got "three heads," like Mr. Gladstone's speeches. But, as might naturally be expected, His are considerably more connected.'
But it is against Parliamentary long-windedness, in particular, that most sarcasm, whether in verse or in prose, has been directed. Everybody remembers Moore's comparison of the Lord Castlereagh of his time to a pump, which up and down its awkward arm doth sway,
'And coolly spout, and spout, and spout away, In one weak, washy, everlasting flood.'
This has always been a stock quotation to use against oratory of the 'dreary' and 'dilatory' order. Then, Brougham had the good sense to recognise his own sins in respect to 'much speaking.' Punch made someone ask himself 'if Brougham thinks as much as he talks;' but the Lord Chancellor removed the pungency from gibes of that sort by writing his own epitaph, in which he declares that
'My fate a moral teaches, The ark in which my body lies Would not contain one-half my speeches.'
It was asserted of Lord George Bentinck that true sportsmen 'loved his prate,' because his speech recalled the 'four-mile course,' his arguments the 'feather-weight.' One is reminded, in this connection, of the preacher of whom it was observed that he 'so lengthily his subject did pursue,' that it was feared 'he had, indeed, eternity in view.' And, perhaps, a long discourse is none the more acceptable when it is palpable to the hearers that the discourser has committed it to memory, and is bound to go on to the bitter end. Possibly this adds to the feeling of exasperation. Nevertheless, there are those who must learn their speeches by heart, or else not speak at all. As Luttrell contended that Lord Dudley had said of himself:
'In vain my affections the ladies are seeking; If I give up my heart, there's an end to my speaking.'
However, it is, perhaps, scarcely fair of laymen to dwell too sternly on the joy which so many legislators seem to feel in hearing their own voices. Man is a talking animal, and can 'hold forth' outside the Houses of Parliament as well as in. And though in the term 'man' we may include woman, let us give no countenance to the old calumny, that the fairer and weaker is also the more talkative sex. There are some old lines to the effect that Nature wisely forbade a beard to grow on woman's chin,
'For how could she be shaved, whate'er the skill, Whose tongue would never let her chin be still?'
There is also a certain epitaph on an old maid,
'Who from her cradle talk'd till death, And ne'er before was out of breath,'
and of whom it was opined that in heaven she'd be unblest, because she loathed a place of rest. But these flouts and sneers are as cheap as they are venerable. Let the ladies take heart. Men have been censured for their 'much speaking' at least as frequently as women. Prior declared of one Lysander that he ought to possess the art of talk, if he did not, for he practised 'full fourteen hours in four-and-twenty.' And we owe to a more recent writer this paraphrase of an epigram by Macentinus:
'Black locks hath Gabriel, beard that's white— The reason, sir, is plain: Gabriel works hard from morn till night, More with his jaw than brain.'
It is well that satire should go that way for a change. All the talking is not done by women or by Parliament. There is, at times, as much chatter in the smoking-room as in the boudoir and the Senate. Tongues, as well as beards, 'wag all,' when we are 'merry in hall.'
PEERS AND POETRY.
The succession of the Hon. J. Leicester Warren to the barony of De Tabley was something more than a change in the personnel of the House of Lords; it amounted to a conspicuous addition to the Chamber's intellectual power, and especially to the number of its poetic votaries. The author of 'Philoctetes' and 'Orestes,' of 'Rehearsals' and 'Searching the Net,' is no mere versifier. He has felt the influence of the old Greek dramatists, and apparently also that of Mr. Swinburne; but, for all that, his work has undoubted individuality, as well as solid interest.
It must be admitted that the House of Lords does not at this moment contain many hereditary peers who are also poets. Lord Tennyson, of course, is an ennobled commoner, and the Bishop of Derry (Dr. Alexander), who has written so much excellent verse, both in the thoughtful and in the imaginative vein, is no longer one of the spiritual lords. But there is Lord Lytton, there is Lord Southesk, and there is Lord Rosslyn; and by all of these Lord de Tabley will be welcomed as a brother in the literary art. What Lord Lytton has done in poetry, need scarcely be recapitulated. He would be remembered as 'Owen Meredith' if, since his accession to the peerage, he had not made a new reputation as the author of 'Fables in Song,' 'Glenaveril,' and other performances. As 'Owen Meredith' he was, no doubt, more fresh and spontaneous than he has ever been as Lord Lytton; but his poetic work, as a whole, is of good quality, and some of it will find its way down the stream of time. Equally certain may we be that the 'Jonas Fisher' of Lord Southesk, with its unquestionable vigour, both of satire and of sentiment, will remain alive, whatever may be the fate of the author's 'Greenwood's Farewell' and 'Meda Maiden.' Lord Rosslyn, it will be remembered, was one of the most successful of the Jubilee Laureates; but, even before that, he had made himself esteemed by many trustworthy judges as the producer of numerous good sonnets.
''Tis ridiculous,' says Selden, 'for a lord to print verses; 'tis well enough to make them to please himself, but to make them public is foolish.' He goes on to add that
'If a man in his private chamber twists his band-strings, or plays with a rush to please himself, 'tis well enough; but if he should go into Fleet Street, and sit upon a stall, and twist a band-string, or play with a rush, then all the boys in the street would laugh at him.'
No doubt they would have done so in Selden's time; and much more readily would they do so now. But that is scarcely to the point. Pace Master Selden, there is nothing ridiculous in a lord printing his verses—if they be but good enough for the process. A peer is not necessarily a poet, but a poet is none the worse for being a peer. Nay, there are even certain kinds of verse in which a peer may, other things being equal, be actually expected to excel. There is nothing to prevent his being—as Byron was—a poet of passion; there is every reason why, if he have the requisite literary capacity, he should shine in the poetry of the library, the salon, and the boudoir. He has usually the education for the first, and the leisure for the other two. He generally has culture, he always has breeding, he often has gallantry; and, with these endowments, the poetry par excellence of the peerage is well within his reach.
Considerable, indeed, would be the loss to English literature if by any chance the productions of our noble poets should disappear. Apart from Byron, who, of course, stands a head and shoulders above all his brethren, there is that Henry, Earl of Surrey, who ranks highest of all poets between Chaucer and Spenser, and who did so much to popularize in England both blank verse and the sonnet. But for Surrey both those accomplishments, since so popular among us, might have been long in establishing themselves in English poetry. The other poet-peers of the sixteenth century were admittedly not of the first class. Yet Buckhurst's share in 'The Mirror for Magistrates' and in the tragedy of 'Gorboduc' was of undoubted value, both intrinsic and relative; and the world of letters would not willingly let die the work, slight as it was, of Lord Vaux, the Earls of Essex and Oxford, the Earls of Ancrum and Stirling, Lord Brooke, and Francis Bacon, although the great Chancellor wrote but one lyric of any moment—the well-known lines upon 'The World.' Lord Vaux's 'Of a Contented Mind,' Lord Essex's 'There is None, O None but You,' Lord Oxford's 'If Woman could be Fair and yet not Fond,' are among the treasures of our verse; while the tragedies of Lord Stirling and Lord Brooke, and the sonnets of Lord Ancrum, are at least curious and interesting, if they are not substantively great.
And when we come to the noble poets of the Stuart and the early Georgian period, we find that the national indebtedness is not less marked. Who would be prepared to surrender the spirited effusions of Montrose? And is there not much to be said for the outcome, flimsy and over-free as it often was, of that mob of noblemen who wrote with ease—including the Earls of Roscommon, Dorset, and Rochester, and the Duke of Buckinghamshire? Had these writers not at least the virtues of lightness and of brightness? Did not Dorset pen the lines, 'To all you ladies now on land?' Did not Buckinghamshire produce 'The Election of the Laureat'—the prototype of Leigh Hunt's 'Feast of the Poets,' and of a still more recent jeu d'esprit by Mr. Robert Buchanan? The great Lord Peterborough is even now less remembered for his military triumphs than for his 'Song by a Person of Quality;' while Chesterfield, if thought of most frequently in connection with his letters and his essays, still lives in poetry as the author of some admirable society verses. Horace Walpole claims mention in the list as Earl of Orford, and room must fairly be made, too, for Lords Lansdowne, Halifax, Nugent, Lyttelton, Egremont, and De la Warre, most of whom left behind them a few fugitive pieces which deserve to be embalmed in poetical collections.
The annals of nineteenth-century song will commemorate, besides Byron, those agreeable versifiers—Lord Holland, Lord Melbourne, and Lord Winchilsea, and those cultured translators—Lord Strangford, Lord Ellesmere, and Lord Derby. It would scarcely be fair to include among noble poets Lord Macaulay, Lord Houghton, or the first Lord Lytton, for they, like Lord Tennyson, were created peers, and won their laurel-wreaths in the character of commoners. In the same way, I have taken no account of the poetical peeresses, or I should have had to dwell upon the achievements of such ladies as Sidney's sister, Lady Pembroke; the Duchess of Newcastle, the Countess of Winchilsea, the Baroness Nairne, and so on. Enough, indeed, has been said to show how prominent a part the peerage has played in the history of English poetry—not, indeed, in the front rank, in which (omitting Lord Tennyson) it is represented only by Byron, but in the second, where Montrose (for example) is eminent, and wherever, in short, the rhetorical, the amatory, and the witty elements are in the ascendant.
THE PRAISE OF THAMES.
Afluent versifier of to-day has complained that, though many a poet has 'dearer made the names' of Tweed and Nith and Doon, and what not, no one has 'sung our Thames;' and he goes on especially to rate 'green Kent and Oxfordshire and Middlesex,' because those counties have offered, he says, no rhythmical tribute to our premier stream. Now, the Thames has not, perhaps, found many laureates of late. The glories of Henley may be celebrated annually in the comic or 'society' press, but in these times we hear more, no doubt, of sewage and steam-launches than of any other phenomena of the Thames. We are a practical generation, with a keen eye to business, and disposed to take not only as read, but as written, the praises which might well be bestowed upon the river even as it is.
If, however, the Thames does not often or greatly inspire the rhymers of to-day, it cannot, certainly, be described as songless. On the contrary, it has received from the poets more magnificent and more frequent eulogium than any of its compeers. If one goes back even so far as Spenser, one finds that writer picturing it in one poem as 'noble Thamis'—a 'lovely bridegroom,' 'full, fresh and jolly,' 'all decked in a robe of watchet hew,' and adorned by a coronet 'in which were many towres and castels set;' while, in another work from the same hand, it figures as a 'gentle river,' is characterized as 'christall Thamis,' and is lauded for its 'pure streames' and 'sweete waters.' Chapman, in his 'Ovid's Banquet of Sense,' discourses eloquently of the 'wanton Thamysis that hastes to greet The brackish coast of old Oceanus':
'And as by London's bosom she doth fleet, Casts herself proudly through the bridge's twists, Where, as she takes again her crystal feet, She curls her silver hair like amourists, Smooths her bright cheeks, adorns her brow with ships, And, empress-like, along the coast she trips'—
a description almost as impressive as the thing described. Among the lovers of the Thames must be ranked, too, Herrick, who, in one of his pieces, sends to his 'silver-footed Thamasis' his 'supremest kiss.' 'No more,' he regrets, will he 'reiterate' its strand, whereon so many stately structures stand; no more, in the summer's sweeter evenings, will he go to bathe in it, as thousand others do:
'No more shall I along thy christall glide, The barge with boughes and rushes beautifi'd.... To Richmond, Kingstone, and to Hampton Court. Never againe shall I with finnie ore Cut from or draw unto the faithfull shore, And landing here, or safely landing there, Make way to my beloved Westminster.'
Milton, in his 'Vacation Exercise,' bestows upon the Thames the epithet of 'Royal-towered.' How Denham celebrated it is well known to most. In his view it was 'the most loved of all the Ocean's sons,' and he commended it especially for its freedom from sudden and impetuous wave, from the unexpected inundations which spoil the mower's hopes and mock the ploughman's toil.
'Though deep, yet clear, though gentle, yet not dull, Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full'—
such was the famous panegyric he passed upon it. From Denham, too, came an early poetical recognition of the growth of London's commerce. The Thames, he says, brings home to us, and makes the Indies ours; his fair bosom is the world's exchange. To Pope, in his 'Windsor Forest,' the Thames appears as the 'great father of the British floods,' on whose shores figure future navies.
'No seas so rich, so gay no banks appear, No lakes so gentle, and no spring so clear.'
And the poet ends by prophesying the time when 'unbounded Thames shall flow for all mankind,' whole nations entering with each swelling tide. Elsewhere he assures us that 'blest Thames's shores the brightest beauties yield.' Thomson, again, dwells on the extent of the trade fostered by the river. Commerce, he says, has chosen for his grand resort 'Thy stream, O Thames, large, gentle, deep, majestic, King of floods!' And he describes how, on either hand,
'Like a long wintry forest, groves of masts Shot up their spires.'
Then, as now, 'the sooty hulk steered sluggish on,' while
'The splendid barge Row'd, regular, to harmony; around, The boat, light-skimming, stretched its oary wings.'
Up to this time, the river had been called 'clear' and 'crystal,' in spite of 'sooty hulks;' but, with the advent of Cowper, another note is struck. With him the Thames is
'The finest stream That wavers to the noon-day beam,'
but it is not, alas! absolutely pure:
'Nor yet, my Delia, to the main Runs the sweet tide without a stain, Unsullied as it seems; The nymphs of many a sable flood Deform with streaks of oozy mud The bosom of the Thames.'
Happily, this is about the only word of depreciation which the poets have permitted themselves. Wordsworth, standing on Westminster Bridge in 1803, notes that 'the river glideth at its own sweet will,' and if his olfactory nerves were at all distressed he has not said so in verse. Of later singers, none has been more enthusiastic about the Thames than Eliza Cook, who has told us that, though it bears no azure wave and rejoices in no leaping cascades, yet she ever loved to dwell where she heard its gushing swell—in which expression, we may be sure, there is no allusion to the British 'dude.' Another lady—Mrs. Isa Craig Knox—has supplied a very pretty description of the Thames in its more idyllic phases, pointing out how
'It glimmers Through the stems of the beeches; Through the screen of the willows it shimmers In long-winding reaches; Flowing so softly that scarcely It seems to be flowing; But the reeds of the low little island Are bent to its going; And soft as the breath of a sleeper Its heaving and sighing, In the coves where the fleets of the lilies At anchor are lying.'
Finally, there is that austere teacher, Mr. Aubrey de Vere, who, addressing the Thames, exhorts it to go on soothing,
'With murmur low and ceaseless cheer, The Imperial City's agitated ear,'
but beseeches it also to add a warning voice, telling her, to whom the pomp of gold is dear, of 'Tyre that fell, of Fortune's perfidy.'
Other poetic celebrations—such as those of Mr. Ernest Myers, Mr. Ashby-Sterry, and 'C. C. R.'—might be recorded; but the above will suffice to show how prominent a place the Thames has always held in the heart and mind of those poets who have come within the sphere of its influence. Even if it were never made the subject of a future song, it would still figure largely and conspicuously in the British corpus poetarum.
The student of English poetry must often have been struck by its richness in that form of verse which may best be called the Epigraph—the brief sententious effort, answering somewhat to the epigram as understood and practised by the Greeks, but unlike the Latin, French, and English epigram in being sentimental instead of witty, and aiming rather at all-round neatness than at pungency or point. Our language abounds, of course, in examples of short lyrical compositions, such (to name familiar instances) as Beaumont and Fletcher's 'Lay a garland on my hearse,' Congreve's 'False though she be to me and love,' Goldsmith's 'When lovely woman stoops to folly,' Shelley's 'Music, when soft voices die,' and MacDonald's 'Alas, how easily things go wrong!'—all of these being only eight lines long. There are, indeed, plenty of lyrical performances even more brief than this; such as Mr. Marzials' 'tragedy' in quatrain:
'She reach'd a rosebud from the tree, And bit the tip and threw it by; My little rose, for you and me The worst is over when we die!'
But, then, the epigraph is never lyrical. It belongs to the order of reflective poetry, and consists of a single thought, expressed with as much brevity and grace as possible. A common form of it is the epitaph; another is the inscription; while at other times the poets have used it for the purpose of enshrining some occasional or isolated utterance.
The thoroughly successful epitaphs—at once short, and wholly poetical in expression—are among the most famous and popular things in literature. Who does not remember the admirable tribute to 'Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother'—usually ascribed to Ben Jonson, but sometimes attributed to Browne? Jonson penned an epitaph on 'Elizabeth L. H.,' which would have been exquisite had it consisted only of the following:
'Underneath this stone doth lie As much beauty as could die; Which, in life, did harbour give To more virtue than doth live.'
Even as they stand, the lines, as a whole, may fairly compare with those on Lady Pembroke. How happy Pope was in his epitaphs is familiarly known. The art was just that in which he might naturally be expected to excel. The time-honoured couplet on Newton need not be quoted: the 'octave' on Sir Godfrey Kneller is most notable for the final bit of hyperbole:
'Living, great Nature fear'd he might outvie Her works, and, dying, fears herself may die.'
And, talking of epitaphs, one is reminded of the quaint comment by Sir Henry Wotton 'On the Death of Sir A. Morton's Wife':
'He first deceased; she, for a little, tried To live without him, liked it not, and died'—
surely a piece of work as nearly as possible perfect in its way. In the matter of inscriptions, we have, of course, that by Ben Jonson on Shakespeare's portrait, and that by Dryden under Milton's picture—the last-named being by no means deserving of its reputation. We have also the well-known lines by Pope, 'written on glass with Lord Chesterfield's diamond pencil;' the equally well-known sentence on Rogers by Lord Holland; and the less-hackneyed and even more flattering couplet composed by Lord Lyttelton for Lady Suffolk's bust (erected in a wood at Stowe):
'Her wit and beauty for a Court were made, But truth and goodness fit her for a shade.'
The writers of verse have naturally shone in such concentrated testimonies to the merits of those whom they delighted to honour. Our literature is full of eloquent and graceful summaries of individual gifts and acquirements, apart altogether from the ordinary inscription or epitaph. Pope celebrated Lady Wortley Montagu's beauty in a couple of lines too frequently cited to need reproduction. Less often quoted is David Graham's concise but sufficient criticism on Richardson's 'Clarissa':
'This work is Nature's; every tittle in't She wrote, and gave it Richardson to print.'
James Montgomery, in a well-turned quatrain, said of Burns that he 'pass'd through life ... a brilliant trembling northern light,' but that 'thro' years to come' he would shine from far 'a fix'd unsetting polar star.' It will be remembered that, in another quatrain, Lord Erskine besought his contemporaries to 'mourn not for Anacreon dead,' for they rejoiced in the possession of 'an Anacreon Moore.' James Smith wrote of Miss Edgeworth that her work could never be anonymous—'Thy writings ... must bring forth the name of their author to light.' And so on, and so on: the poetry of compliment presents many such conceits.
A treatise, indeed, might be written on the epigraphs in which poets have praised their lady-loves or their friends—from Herrick's Julia to, say, Tennyson's General Gordon. Rather, however, let us turn to what the bards have been at pains to say about themselves, recalling, for example, Herrick's 'Jocund his Muse was, but his Life was chaste,' and Matthew Prior's triplet 'On Himself.' Colman the Younger wrote:
'My muse and I, ere youth and spirits fled, Sat up together many a night, no doubt; But now I've sent the poor old lass to bed, Simply because my fire is going out.'
But how inferior is this, both in feeling and in expression, to the dignified epigraph in which Landor celebrated the seventy-fifth anniversary of his birthday:
'I strove with none, for none was worth my strife; Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art; I warmed both hands before the fire of life; It sinks, and I am ready to depart.'
In the couplet and quatrain of pure sentiment and reflection, some of the most delightful of our poetry is embodied. Herrick was conspicuously fond of this species of verse, and his works abound in gems of style and fancy, the difficulty being, not to find them, but to select from them. The beauty of one is apt to be rivalled by that of its neighbour. Thus we find on one page:
'When words we want, Love teaches to indite; And what we blush to speak, she bids us write.'
And on another:
'Love's of itself too sweet; the best of all Is when love's honey has a dash of gall.'
Then there is Lord Lyttelton's distich about 'Love can hope when reason would despair;' there are Aaron Hill's famous lines on 'modest ease in beauty,' which, though it 'means no mischief, does it all.' There are Sir William Jones's 'To an Infant Newly Born;' Wolcot's 'To Sleep;' Luttrell's 'On Death;' and many, many others.
Of nineteenth-century writers, the most admirable composer of the epigraph has been Landor, who in this, as in some other respects, may be placed in the same category with Herrick. What, for instance, could be prettier than this?
'Your pleasures spring like daisies in the grass, Cut down, and up again as blithe as ever; From you, Ianthe, little troubles pass Like little ripples in a sunny river.'
How well-phrased, again, is this:
'Various the roads of life; in one All terminate, one lonely way. We go; and "Is he gone?" Is all our best friends say.'
Among living authors, Mr. Aubrey de Vere can lay claim to a quatrain which is entirely faultless:
'For me no roseate garlands twine, But wear them, dearest, in my stead; Time has a whiter hand than thine, And lays it on my head.'
To this, Sir Henry Taylor wrote a pendant scarcely less fortunate in idea and wording. Lord Tennyson has in his day written several epitaphs, inscriptions, and other trifles; but none of them have quite the perfection which might have been looked for from so great a master of poetic form. Mr. Matthew Arnold produced, with others, this excellent epigraph:
'Though the Muse be gone away, Though she move not earth to-day, Souls erewhile who caught her word, Ah! still harp on what they heard.'
Finally, the reader may be recommended to glance at Mr. William Allingham's little book of 'Blackberries,' in which they will find a large number of such 'snatches of song,' many of them fresh in conception and finished in execution.
THE 'SEASON' IN SONG.
'To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die,' and the Season, when 'dead,' yet speaks to many through the mouths of the men who have given it perennial life in verse. Its first laureate, one may say, was Mackworth Praed, whose 'Good-night' to it still remains the most brilliant epitome of its characteristics ever written. Nothing was omitted from that remarkable series of coruscating epigrams. From
'The breaches and battles and blunders Performed by the Commons and Peers,'
we are taken to 'the pleasures which fashion makes duties'—'the dances, the fillings of hot little rooms,' 'the female diplomatists, planners of matches for Laura and Jane,' 'the rages, led off by the chiefs of the throng,' the ballet, the bazaar, the horticultural fete, and what not. Of later years the Season, as a whole, has been celebrated only by Mr. Alfred Austin, who published, more than a quarter of a century ago, a satire which was indeed formidable in its tone. Mr. Austin was severe about everybody—about the
'Unmarketable maidens of the mart, Who, plumpness gone, fine delicacy feint, And hide their sins in piety and paint;'
about the Gardens, where
'The leafy glade Prompts the proposal dalliance delayed;'
about the ballrooms, where
'Panting damsels, dancing for their lives, Are only maidens waltzing into wives;'
about the theatre, where
'Toole or Compton, perfect in his part, Touches each sense, except the head and heart;'
and about a number of other things too censurable to be mentioned here.
And, in truth, when one thinks of the Season in song, one thinks less of the satire than of the sarcasm, less of the cynicism than of the sympathy, with which it has been treated by its poets. Take, for example, that most conspicuous feature of the Season—the walking, riding, driving in the Row. It was Tickell who made a woman of fashion of his day tell how she
'Mounted her palfrey as gay as a lark, And, followed by John, took the dust in Hyde Park,'
'On the way she was met by some smart Macaroni, Who rode by her side on a little bay pony.'
In our own time the glories and the humours of the Row have been described with geniality by Mr. Frederick Locker and Mr. Ashby-Sterry, with point by Mr. Austin Dobson, and with smartness by H. S. Leigh. Says Mr. Locker:
'Forsooth, and on a livelier spot The sunbeam never shines; Fair ladies here can talk and trot With statesmen and divines.
'What grooms! what gallant gentlemen! What well-appointed hacks! What glory in their pace, and then, What beauty on their backs!'
Mr. Dobson, in a different mood, assures his Roman prototype that the world to-day is very much what it was in the time of 'Q. H. F.':
'Walk in the Park—you'll seldom fail To find a Sybaris on the rail By Lydia's ponies; Or hap on Barrus, wigged and stayed, Ogling some unsuspecting maid.
'Fair Neobule, too! Is not One Hebrus here—from Aldershot? Aha, you colour! Be wise. There old Canidia sits; No doubt she's tearing you to bits.'
The Eton and Harrow match, like lawn-tennis, caret vate sacro; but the delights of Henley and Hurlingham have been sung in verse, and the Inter-University Boat-race was the subject of some admirable lines by Mortimer Collins and G. J. Cayley:
'Sweet amid lime-trees' blossom, astir with the whispers of springtide, Maiden speech to hear, eloquent murmur and sigh Ah! but the joy of the Thames when, Cam with Isis contending, Up the Imperial stream flash the impetuous Eights! Sweeping and strong is the stroke, as they race from Putney to Mortlake, Shying the Crab Tree bight, shooting through Hammersmith Bridge; Onward elastic they strain to the deep low moan of the rowlock; Louder the cheer from the bank, swifter the flash of the oar!'
Pretty again, in its way, is the better-known 'Boat-race Sketch,' by Mr. Ashby-Sterry, whose heroine
'Twines her fair hair with the colours of Isis, Whilst those of the Cam glitter bright in her eyes.'
The joys of Epsom and of Goodwood have not, I believe, been versified by any prominent rhymer, and, concerning those of Ascot, I know of but one elaborate celebration—that which describes, among other things,
'Tall bottles passing to and fro, And clear-cut crystal's creamy flow, Where vied with velvet Veuve Clicquot, Moet and Chandon;'
as well as
'The homeward drive that came too soon By parks and lodges bright with June, And how we mocked the afternoon With lazy laughter.'
Nothing, of course, is more peculiar to the Season than the devotion displayed by Society at the shrine of Art. The Academy and the Grosvenor are institutions without which the Season would not be itself. The latter has not figured very conspicuously in song, but at least it has managed to creep into one of the Gilbert-Sullivan operas, in the shape of a rhyme to 'greenery-yallery.' Mr. Andrew Lang, too, has told us of the critic who had
'Totter'd, since the dawn was red, Through miles of Grosvenor Gallery;'
and, in another of his 'verses vain,' has practically limned the Gallery itself under the guise of 'Camelot':
'In Camelot, how gray and green The damsels dwell, how sad their teen; In Camelot, how green and gray The melancholy poplars sway. I wis I wot not what they mean, Or wherefore, passionate and lean, The maidens mope their loves between.'
The character of Burne-Jonesian art is here very happily hit off. Happy, too, is Mr. Lang's sketch of the Philistian features of the Academy:
'Philistia! Maids in muslin white With flannelled oarsmen oft delight To drift upon thy streams, and float In Salter's most luxurious boat; In buff and boots the cheery knight Returns (quite safe) from Naseby fight.'
But did not Praed long ago address 'The Portrait of a Lady at the Exhibition of the Royal Academy'? Has not Mr. Ashby-Sterry addressed 'Number One' in the said exhibition—also 'the portrait of a lady'? And, moreover, has not Mr. Austin Dobson made the Academy the scene of one of his brightly-written dialogues?—that in which the lady says:
'From now until we go in June I shall hear nothing but this tune: Whether I like Long's "Vashti," or Like Leslie's "Naughty Kitty" more; With all that critics, right or wrong, Have said of Leslie or of Long.'
Among the events of every season are the fashionable marriages, one of which is described for us by Mr. Frederick Locker in his 'St. George's, Hanover Square.' On the subject of the belles of the season I need not dwell. Praed's 'Belle of the Ballroom' was a provincial beauty; but not so, assuredly, was Pope's and Lord Peterborough's Mrs. Howard, Congreve's Miss Temple, Lord Chesterfield's Duchess of Richmond, Fox's Mrs. Crewe, Lord Lytton's La Marquise, Mr. Aide's Beauty Clare, or Mr. Austin Dobson's Avice. Of London balls and routs the poets have been many, including Edward Fitzgerald, C. S. Calverley, and Mr. Dobson again. The opera, so far as I know, has had very few celebrants in rhyme. The 'Monday Pops' figure in 'Patience' with the Grosvenor Gallery, but have not otherwise, I fancy, been distinguished in song. On the whole, however, the Season has received poetic tributes at once numerous and interesting.
THE 'RECESS' IN RHYME.
If the Season has had its laureates, so has the Recess. Why not? Of the two, the latter has the more numerous elements of poetry. Town has its charms for the versifier; there is much to say about its streets, its parks, its belles, its balls, its many diversions. But there is even more, surely, to say about the country, with its ancestral halls, its watering-places, and its shootings, as well as about the seaside and the various attractions outre-mer. Surely, of the two, life out of town has even more delights, for the poet, at any rate, than life in town. Sylvester is reported to have said that people, after tiring in town, go to re-tire in the country. But the saying, if epigrammatic, is not strictly true. No doubt some of us feel bored, wherever we may go, or whatever we may do. But to most people, I imagine, the Recess, if spent out of London, is a time of genuine enjoyment, and certainly it is a time which deserves to be distinguished in song.
The Recess, as spent in London, has been drawn by the rhymers in depressing tints. The picture painted by Haynes Bayly remains—for the fashionable world, at least—almost as true as it ever was. As he said:
'In town, in the month of September, We find neither riches nor rank; In vain we look out for a member To give us a nod or a frank. Each knocker in silence reposes, In every mansion you find One dirty old woman who dozes, Or peeps through the dining-room blind.'
This may be compared with the soliloquy put by H. S. Leigh in the mouth of 'the last man' left in London:
'The Row is dull, as dull can be; Deserted is the Drive; The glass that stood at eighty-three, Now stands at sixty-five. The summer days are over, The town, ah me! has flown, Through Dover, or to clover— And I am all alone.'
It has long been held, among a certain class, that to be seen in town during the Recess is to forfeit all pretensions to haut ton. And so 'the last man' of the Season is naturally represented by Bayly as somewhat ashamed of himself. 'He'll blush,' we are told, 'if you ask him the reason Why he with the rest is not gone':
'He'll seek you with shame and with sorrow, He'll smile with affected delight; He'll swear he leaves London to-morrow, And only came to it last night!'
He will tell you that he is in general request—that the difficulty is to know where not to go:
'So odd you should happen to meet him; So strange, as he's just passing through.'
The Season may be said to go to its grave with parting volleys from the sportsmen on the moors. One is fired on 'the Twelfth,' the other on 'the First.' The one is associated with grouse, the other with partridges. And Haynes Bayly makes his fashionable matron only too conscious of these facts. 'Don't talk of September,' she says; 'a lady
'Must think it of all months the worst; The men are preparing already To take themselves off on the First.'
'Last month, their attention to quicken, A supper I knew was the thing; But now, from my turkey and chicken, They're tempted by birds on the wing! They shoulder their terrible rifles ('Tis really too much for my nerves!) And, slighting my sweets and my trifles, Prefer my Lord Harry's preserves!'
And she goes on to say:
'Oh, marriage is hard of digestion, The men are all sparing of words; And now 'stead of popping the question, They set off to pop at the birds.'
Life at English country houses has been depicted by more than one poet. Pope, for instance, tells us what happened when Miss Blount left town—how
'She went, to plain-work, and to purling brooks, Old-fashion'd halls, dull aunts, and croaking rooks... (To) divert her eyes with pictures in the fire, Hum half a tune, tell stories to the squire.'
Lord Lyttelton's 'beauty in the country' complains that
'Now with mamma at tedious whist I play, Now without scandal drink insipid tea;'
while Lady Mary Montagu's 'bride in the country' deplores the fact that she is
'Left in the lurch, Forgot and secluded from view, Unless when some bumpkin at church Stares wistfully over the pew.'
Agreeably descriptive of rural pleasures is Lord Chesterfield's 'Advice to a Lady in Autumn.' Of recent years the subject has been treated by a versifier who has at least a measure of the neatness of Praed, and who enumerates among the typical guests at a country house
'A sporting parson, good at whist, A preaching sportsman, good at gateways;'
'A lady who once wrote a book, And one of whom a book's been written... One blonde whose fortune is her face, And one whose face caught her a fortune.'
As for the daily round:
'We dance, we flirt, we shoot, we ride, Our host's a veritable Nimrod: We fish the river's silver tide,'
and so on. There are, of course, the county balls, and the fancy balls, and the private theatricals, and what not, all of them celebrated by the inevitable Praed. It was at the county ball that he saw 'the belle of the ballroom':
'There, when the sounds of flute and fiddle Gave signal sweet in that old hall Of hands across and down the middle.'
It was to the county ball, as well as to the theatricals at Fustian Hall, that Praed's 'Clarence' was so prettily invited. As for fancy balls:
'Oh, a fancy ball's a strange affair! Made up of silks and leathers, Light heads, light heels, false hearts, false hair, Pins, paint, and ostrich feathers.'
Of inland watering-places, Bath and Cheltenham have been perhaps most often poetized. Bath found its vates sacer in the author of the 'New Bath Guide'; it has rarely found one since; its glories have virtually departed. It was at Cheltenham—
'Where one drinks one's fill Of folly and cold water'—
that Praed met his 'Partner.' And C. S. Calverley has told us how
'Year by year do Beauty's daughters In the sweetest gloves and shawls Troop to taste the Chattenham waters, And adorn the Chattenham balls.
'Nulla non donanda lauru Is that city: you could not, Placing England's map before you, Light on a more favoured spot.'
Praed has a poem called 'Arrivals at a Watering-Place,' but it is not one of the most successful of his efforts. Nor have seaside places in general been made the subject of very excellent verse. Brighton is the one exception. Of that 'favoured spot,' James Smith, of 'Rejected Addresses' fame, was, perhaps, the first to write flatteringly. 'Long,' he declared—
'Long shalt thou laugh thy enemies to scorn, Proud as Phoenicia, queen of watering-places! Boys yet unbreech'd, and virgins yet unborn, On thy bleak downs shall tan their blooming faces.'
The prophecy, one need not say, has been amply fulfilled. And the poets still conspire to sing the praises of 'Old Ocean's bauble, glittering Brighton.' Everybody remembers the stirring exhortation of Mortimer Collins:
'If you approve of flirtations, good dinners, Seascapes divine, which the merry winds whiten; Nice little saints, and still nicer young sinners, Winter at Brighton!'
Nor has Mr. Ashby-Sterry proved himself at all less enthusiastic. Brighton in November, he says, 'is what one should remember':
'If spirits you would lighten, Consult good Doctor Brighton, And swallow his prescriptions and abide by his decree; If nerves be weak or shaken, Just try a week with Bacon; His physic soon is taken at our London-by-the-Sea.'
Something might be said of the delights of foreign sojourn in the Recess; but space fails me. Reference may, however, be made to Mr. Locker's graceful 'Invitation to Rome' and 'The Reply' to it, from which I take this typical tribute to the Italian capital:
'Some girls, who love to ride and race, And live for dancing, like the Bruens, Confess that Rome's a charming place— In spite of all the stupid ruins!'
JAQUES IN LOVE.
What Jaques is in Shakespeare's pages most people know. In the very first reference made to him he is described as 'melancholy,' and as 'weeping and commenting' upon a stricken deer. He has 'sullen fits,' we read. He himself tells us he 'can suck melancholy out of a song.' He protests that the banished Duke is 'too disputable' for him—that he (Jaques) thinks of as many matters, but makes no boast of them. The Duke, on his side, speaks of Jaques as 'compact of jars' (made up of discords), and when Jaques offers to 'cleanse the foul body of the infected world,' retorts on him that it would be a case of 'most mischievous foul sin chiding sin,' Jaques having been himself a notorious evil liver. To Orlando Jaques suggests that they should rail at the world and their misery, while to Rosalind he confesses that he loves melancholy better than laughing. ''Tis good to be sad and say nothing.' He has, he says, a melancholy of his own, the result of his experience and reflection, which wraps him in a most humorous sadness. Jaques, in fact, is a rake turned cynical philosopher. He regards man and nature as only so much material for observation and for moralizing.
Such is the Jaques of 'As You Like It'—a purely original creation, embodying a familiar type of humanity, but nevertheless not good enough for certain of Shakespeare's successors in the dramatic art. Jaques has more than once been revised and edited, in common with other characters in the sylvan comedy. He did not quite satisfy the fastidious taste of Mr. Charles Johnson, the ingenious author of 'The Country Lasses' and other pieces, who, as was said with more point than truth, was 'famous for writing a play every year and being at Button's coffee-house every day.' Still less did Shakespeare's Jaques commend himself to the 'J. C.' who was so kind as not merely to adapt 'As You Like It,' but to elaborate and paraphrase it. Nor did the 'melancholy' one prove acceptable even to the judgment of Georges Sand, when that intellectual lady set to work to 'arrange' the play for the French stage. Shakespeare, it appeared to all these writers, had perpetrated an unaccountable mistake. He had failed to make Jaques pair off with Celia. That charming maiden is handed over to the converted Oliver, while Jaques goes off to study the humours of the repentant Duke. Happy thought! Transform Jaques and Celia into a species of minor Benedick and Beatrice, and marry them in the end!
Mr. Charles Johnson adopted this idea almost literally. His 'Love in a Forest'—brought out at Drury Lane in 1723—is 'As You Like it' cut down and altered, with scraps from 'Much Ado About Nothing,' 'Love's Labour's Lost,' and other Shakespearean pieces, introduced at various points, the whole welded together by means of wondrous emanations from the compiler's fancy. To Jaques are assigned a number of lines spoken elsewhere by Benedick or by Biron. We have the well-known gibing scene between Jaques and Orlando up to a certain stage, when, commenting on Jaques' questions about Rosalind, Orlando says: 'But why are you so curious?—you who are an obstinate heretic in the despight of beauty and the whole female world?' Then Jaques replies to this speech, which belongs to Don Pedro in 'Much Ado,' in the familiar words of Benedick in that play, asserting that he will 'live a bachelor,' and that if ever he breaks that vow his friends may put round his neck the legend, 'Here you may see Jaques, the married man.' At this juncture Rosalind and Celia appear, and, while Rosalind as Ganymede has her first colloquy with Orlando, 'Jaques talks with Celia—they walk in another glade of the forest.' When they return it is at once evident that Jaques' celibate intentions have already been shaken. He calls the lady 'destructively handsome,' and says his heart 'gallops away in her praise most dangerously.' She avers he will be in love if he does not take heed, and he says, 'I doubt so—yet I hope not.' A moment or two after, encouraged and fired by her words, he asks her plump to marry him, and she promises so to do, 'two years hence, if my brother Ganymede consents.' Then he admits, in soliloquy, that he is 'in love, horribly in love,' his spirits 'caught at last by a pair of bugle eyeballs and a cheek of cream.' And then come more quotations from Benedick, as well as an annexation of Touchstone's remark about the honourableness of the forehead of a married man. Celia by-and-by confesses to Rosalind that 'her heart doth incline a little to the philosopher,' whose love, she allows, 'does not sit easy upon him,' but whose words are 'full of sincerity.' Still later Jaques comes to Rosalind for her approval of the match, speaking this time in language used by Biron. She, however, refuses, declaring that he cannot be polished into a modern husband; and he retires disconsolate. But with Orlando he is more successful. He is promised that Ganymede shall give way, and that his wedding shall take place to-morrow. And so all ends happily.
The 'J. C.' who, in 1739, published 'The Modern Receipt, or a Cure for Love,' as 'altered from Shakespeare,' went much farther than Johnson in the way of embellishing the unhappy poet. He used his lines occasionally, but in general either turned them into prose or expanded them beyond all recognition. Virtually he supplies a comedy based, only, on 'As You Like It.' Even the names of the characters are changed. Jaques now figures as Marcellus, 'a sullen, morose lord, a great woman-hater, but at length in love with Julia'—the Julia being, of course, Celia. He is described by a shepherd as 'a melancholy sort of fellow,' who 'reads much, thinks more, eats little, sleeps little, and speaks least of all. And if he sees a woman he runs away, shuts himself up in his cave, and prays for an hour or two after.' Julia, hearing this, cries: 'Oh, the brute! I'm resolved to take a revenge upon him in behalf of the whole sex.' Jaques, on his part, is struck by Julia's charms as soon as he beholds them—'What can this mean? I'm wondrous ill o' the sudden'—and is fain to sit down, lest he should fall. In the scene which follows there is a great war of words. The lady talks, purposely, at an agonizing speed, and the gentleman roundly tells her that he would rather have her room than her company. At last the wrangle is interrupted, and Julia, as a parting shot, calls Marcellus 'a bear in breeches.' He himself is inclined, after all, to think her 'something more than the rest of her detested sex—some being, perhaps, of a superior order.' He praises her gay innocence and noble simplicity. Julia, on her side, 'prays Heaven that she is not in love with the brute,' but is afraid she must be. Then there is a scene in which, by way of drawing him on, she pretends to love him, but afterwards says that she was mocking him, and so covers him with confusion. Nevertheless, he is not cured. He is still her slave, and, as he says, what is love 'but an epidemic disease, and what all the world has, at one time or other, been troubled with as well as myself? Why should I endeavour to curb a passion the greatest heroes have with pride indulged? No.... He alone is wise who nobly loves.' So he returns to the charge, makes the lady admit the soft impeachment, and obtains the Duke's consent to their union. He says, in the end, that he is afraid he makes but an odd sort of figure—that he has acted a little out of character, and a great deal below the dignity of a philosopher. But, having the aforesaid disease, he has sought the remedy, and has found it; for, in his view, 'Marriage is the surest cure of love.'
Georges Sand, in her 'Comme il Vous Plaira'—a comedy in three acts, 'tiree de Shakespeare, et arrangee'—diverges still further from the original text. Her work is, even more markedly than 'The Modern Receipt,' founded, only, on 'As You Like It.' 'In dealing with this uncurbed genius, which owned no restraint,' she thought herself justified in 'condensing, abstracting, and modifying' his work. But, as a matter of fact, her play is indebted to Shakespeare only in idea. Jaques is introduced early in the piece as sent by the banished Duke with a message to Rosalind. Of course, he meets Celia, and at first is brusquerie itself. But in the second act he comes to think there is something in her name 'qui resonne autrement que dans tout nature. Est-ce une douceur qui charme l'oreille?' Celia for a long time plays with him, but in the end they arrive at a mutual declaration of affection. 'I have always tenderly loved Jaques,' says Georges Sand in her preface, and 'I have taken the great liberty of bringing him back to love. Here is my own romance inserted in that of Shakespeare, and, although romantic, it is not more improbable than the sudden conversion of Oliver.' That may be; and yet one might have thought that Georges Sand, of all people, would not have set herself the interesting but somewhat futile task of improving upon 'As You Like It.'
MOCKING AT MATRIMONY.
The world has reason to be grateful to the writer who lately demonstrated the possibility of being happy 'though married.' Some exposition of the sort was sadly needed. Hitherto the estate of matrimony has met with a long succession of jibes and sneers. It has had its apologists, even its prophets and eulogists; but it has had many more detractors. There is, indeed, no subject on which the satirists of the world, both great and small, have so largely and so persistently made merry. It has been a stock subject with them. It is as if they had said to themselves, 'When at a loss, revile the connubial condition.' Married life has been the sport of every wit, and, sorrowful to relate, society has been well content to join in the pastime. There is nothing so common as sarcasm on matrimony, and nothing, apparently, so welcome, even to the married.
The banter in question has been of all sorts—sometimes vague, sometimes particular, in its import. A few censors have confined themselves to simple condemnation. 'A fellow that's married's a felo-de-se,' wrote the late Shirley Brooks; and he had been anticipated in the stricture. An anonymous satirist had written:
'"Wedlock's the end of life," one cried; "Too true, alas!" said Jack, and sigh'd— "'Twill be the end of mine."'
And if matrimony was not suicide, it was ruin. Old Sir Thomas More had said of a student who had married that 'in knitting of himself so fast, himself he had undone.' And a later rhymer, contrasting wedding with hanging, had come to the conclusion that
'Hanging is better of the twain— Sooner done and shorter pain.'
To the suggestion that a youth should not marry till he has more wisdom, the Italian epigrammatist replies that if he waits till he has sense he will not wed at all. Marriage, said the famous Marshal Saxe, in effect, is a state of penance; Rome declares there are seven sacraments, but there are really only six, because penance and matrimony are one.
Hymen, says Chamfort, comes after love, like smoke after flame. It is the high sea, observes Heine, for which no compass has yet been invented. Its melancholy uncertainty is illustrated by the remark of Samuel Rogers, that it does not matter whom you marry—she will be quite another woman the next day. It was Rogers, too, who, when he heard of a certain person's nuptials, declared that if his friends were pleased his enemies were delighted. Selden's complaint against marriage was that it is 'a desperate thing,' out of which it is impossible to extract one's self; but then he lived before the era of Sir Cresswell Cresswell. And the utmost that the conventional detractor will admit is, that the institution gives to man two happy hours. 'Cursed be the hour I first became your wife,' cries the lady in the well-known quotation; to which her spouse replies that—'That's too bad; you've cursed the only happy hour we've had.' But Palladas, the Greek, as translated by Mr. J. H. Merivale, goes a little farther than this, declaring that
'All wives are bad; yet two blest hours they give: When first they wed, and when they cease to live.'
A favourite notion with the satirists is that marriage is a state of mutual recrimination. John Heywood has the couplet:
'"Wife, I perceive thy tongue was made at Edgware." "Yes, sir, and your's made at Rayly, hard by there."'
And this is typical of many another utterance; for example, this:
'Know ye not all, the Scripture saith, That man and wife are one till death? But Peter and his scolding wife Wage such an endless war of strife, You'd swear, on passing Peter's door, That man and wife at least were four.'
Doctor Johnson, too, draws attention to the fact—if it be one—that all the reasons which a man and a woman have for remaining in the estate of matrimony, and the restraints which civilized society imposes to prevent separation, are hardly sufficient to keep them together. Or, as Mr. William Allingham has, of recent years, more pithily put it:
'If any two can live together well, 'Tis (and yet such things are) a miracle!'
If we are to believe the aforesaid satirists, this is all the fault of the wives. Now and again one comes across a jest in which the lady has the better of the gentleman, as in the following:
'"Wife, from all evil, when shalt thou delivered be?" "Sir, when I" (said she) "shall be delivered from thee."'
But such things are rare. Usually the laugh is on the other side. As the Frenchman wrote:
'While Adam slept, Eve from his side arose: Strange! his first sleep should be his last repose!'
Everybody knows the epitaph which Dryden intended for his wife; and side by side with it may be placed the lines by an anonymous author:
'God has to me sufficiently been kind, To take my wife, and leave me here behind.'
'Brutus unmoved heard how his Portia fell; Should Jack's wife die, he would behave as well.'
The story of the man who, at his spouse's funeral, deprecated hurry, on the ground that one should not make a toil of a pleasure, need only be alluded to.
The chief charge against the wives is that they will insist upon being the heads of the households. That is the refrain of many a flout hurled against them. To marry—such is the moral of some lines by Samuel Bishop—is to lose your liberty. The lady will have everything her way:
'For ne'er heard I of woman, good or ill, But always loved best her own sweet will.'
So says a seventeenth-century writer; and the complaint is general.
'Men, dying, make their wills—why cannot wives? Because wives have their wills during their lives.'
'Here,' wrote Burns—'here lies a man a woman ruled; the Devil ruled the woman.' And Landor makes someone say to a scholar about to marry:
'So wise thou art that I foresee A wife will make a fool of thee.'
That wives are talkative is a venerable commonplace. The historic husband thought that the fact of his spouse's likeness not being a 'speaking' one was its principal merit. And Lessing makes a man excuse himself for marrying a deaf woman on the ground that she was also dumb. We all remember Hood's particular trouble:
'A wife who preaches in her gown, And lectures in her night-dress.'
And so with those who are more than merely talkative—who are positively scolds; while sometimes the conventional helpmeet is as active with her fists as with her tongue—as in the case of the lady whose picture, her husband thought, would soon 'strike' him, it was so exceedingly like her.
It is, however, unnecessary to carry the tale further. This mocking at matrimony has always been a feature of life and literature, and probably will always remain so—partly because it is so easy of achievement; partly because it is not less easy of comprehension; and also, perhaps, because humanity has ever been inclined to chasten that which it loves. It rails against marriage, but it marries all the same. Or is it that it recognises the wedded life as a necessity, which cannot be put away, but which it is a pleasure to ridicule? Perhaps that is the best explanation one can offer. All this satire may be mankind's way of revenging itself upon one of the laws of nature.
The publication of a memoir of Archbishop Trench has sufficed to recall prominently to the public mind the virtues, endowments, and achievements of one of the most notable of latter-day divines. Richard Chenevix Trench was one of the most versatile of writers. He discoursed with equal knowledge and effect on Biblical and philological topics, and his prose work will always be respectfully regarded by the students alike of divinity and of language. But though, on these subjects, his pronouncements may in time grow stale or require correction, he will ever hold an honourable place in English literature as one of the most thoughtful and vigorous of those parson poets of whom this country has always had so large and valuable a supply.
There is, indeed, a natural connection between parsons and poetry. It is precisely in the ranks of the clerical body in all civilized countries that one would look for successful cultivators of the art of verse. For what is, above all things, necessary for such cultivation? In the first place, polite learning; in the second, sufficient leisure. It is in the atmosphere of culture that good verse, as apart from high poetry, takes its rise. There are probably few educated men who have not at one time or another essayed to pen a stanza. The busy city clergyman may nowadays have no time for such elegant diversions, but at all periods the lettered country parson has been inclined to occupy some of his spare moments in wooing the Muse of Song. There are other things than learning and leisure which impel him to the task. There is the nature of his profession, with the experience it brings him and the reflections it induces. The most unliterary pastor cannot but be a meditative man. The literary pastor cannot but be disposed to turn his meditations into verse, often finding in that 'mechanic exercise' the means of 'numbing pain.'
Other things being equal, the modern cleric would take serious subjects for his verse, and it is characteristic of the whole race of parson poets that the first poetic effort in English literature should be the Scriptural paraphrases supplied by Caedmon, monk of Whitby. But it was not in the sphere of Bible history that the immediate successors of Caedmon, monks (or friars) like himself, sought to disport themselves most largely. Our early clerical versifiers set themselves rather to give rhythmical renderings to the romances and chronicles of their time. They were the secular as well as sacred teachers of the day; and so we find the names of Wace, Layamon, Robert of Gloucester, Robert of Brunne, Archdeacon Barbour, Andrew of Wyntoun, and John Lydgate, all associated with the recital of the deeds of ancient or modern heroes. Not that the claims of religion or morality were forgotten: they were remembered by Richard Rolle in his 'Prick of Conscience,' and indirectly recognised by Barclay in his 'Ship of Fools.' The interests of the poor were served by Langland in his 'Piers the Plowman,' and poetry, pure and simple, had its devotees in the persons of the Bishop of Dunkeld and the Franciscan friar who produced respectively 'The Palace of Honour' and 'The Golden Terge.'
When we come down to more recent times, we find even greater variety than this in the writings of the parson poets. But the serious element prevails. There have been clerical wits and humorists, but they have been, of necessity, in the minority. A large proportion of the verse composed by clergymen has been, as one would naturally expect, of a distinctly didactic, not to say depressing, tendency. One thinks at once of the 'Temple' of George Herbert, the 'Epigrammata Sacra' of Richard Crashaw, the 'Night Thoughts' of Young, the 'Grave' of Blair, the 'Sabbath' of Grahame, the 'Course of Time' of Pollok, the 'Christian Year' of Keble; the hymns of Wesley, Alford, and Stanley; the 'Dream of Gerontius' of Newman, and a dozen others, differing very much indeed in all the qualities of poetry, but alike in the earnestness of their intention. Even Herrick, 'jocund' though his muse was, left behind him some 'Noble Numbers.' And though clerical satire, as furnished by men like John Bramston, Charles Churchill, Samuel Bishop, John Wolcot, and Francis Mahoney, has frequently been flippant both in form and phrase, it has at other times—and especially in the works of Bishop Hall, of Norwich—been very vivid and uncompromising. Hall, indeed, was the Juvenal of his century, filled with the spirit of righteous indignation.
From Donne, Dean of St. Paul's, downwards, the clerical singers who have not been markedly professional in their outcome have exhibited an agreeable freedom from monotony. In Donne himself we see the sad perfection of the metaphysic method, mitigated, however, by a few lapses into the lucid and the simple. Pomfret gave us in 'The Choice' the typical poem of the country parson, sounding the praises of rural scenes and lettered ease. In Parnell we have a sample of the pleasing versifier, touching nothing which he does not adorn, but making no very particular impression. Bishop Percy is less celebrated for the ballads which he wrote than for those which he collected. Logan is remembered only by his verses on 'The Cuckoo.' To the reverend brothers Warton we owe respectively 'The Pleasure of Melancholy' and some lines 'To Fancy'; while of Thomas Blacklock, alas! the most remarkable feature was his blindness. One would like to have forgotten Robert Montgomery, of Satanic fame, but Macaulay will not let us do so. Blanco White lives on the strength of one good sonnet, Lisle Bowles on that of many good ones; and there is no need nowadays to distinguish the work of Crabbe, of Moultrie, of John Sterling, and of Charles Kingsley, much as they differed from each other. One of the latest additions to this choir of voices is Mr. Stopford Brooke, and there are other living lyrists, belonging to one or other of the Churches, who might be named if there were no fear of making invidious selection.
There is a certain department of verse-writing in which a cultivated class like the clergy would of necessity make its mark—that of rhythmical translation. In a body whose members are all more or less scholarly, there will always be some, of special scholarship, who will endeavour to put works of classic or foreign literature into an English mould. Thus we have had Francis Fawkes, with his versions from the Greek; Christopher Pitt, with his translation of the 'AEneid'; H. F. Carey, with his Dante in blank verse; and more others than need be specified. These clergymen followed the excellent instincts of their cloth. But what are we to say of those otherwise estimable parsons who have from time to time attempted, and occasionally with success, to win fame as the authors of poetical drama? The connection between the cassock and the buskin has, to this extent, always been fairly intimate—from the time when Bishop Bale wrote mystery plays, to the recent years in which Sheridan Knowles, after having been a dramatist and an actor, closed his days as a preacher. Shirley, Mason, Home, Milman, Croly, Maturin, White—these are names well known in the history of the theatre, and they are all names of clerical association. Such has been the fascination of the 'boards' even for those whose home has been the pulpit and the cloister.
THE OUTSIDES OF BOOKS.
This may fairly be claimed as a popular subject. It is one in which nearly everybody—perhaps everybody—is interested. There can surely be few, if any, who do not care about the outside of a book. Even if a man never opens a volume, he likes its exterior to be pleasing. Nay, there are books which may be said to be produced and utilized only for their outward garb. How often does one find a volume described as a charming one 'for the table'! It is for the table that certain publications are destined. Enter a drawing-room, and you will find a few books scattered here and there 'with artful care.' I do not say they are intended never to be opened, but their primary function is to look nice—to 'set off' the table-cloth, and, generally, to give a bright appearance to the room. And their adaptability for this purpose is so widely recognised that you can scarcely go anywhere without coming across books of this complexion. You find them exposed to view in your doctor's or your dentist's ante-chamber; you find them placed before you, usually very much the worse for wear, in hotel waiting-rooms. And the instinct which prompts all this display is genuine enough. It is perfectly true—there is no furniture so agreeable to the eye as books. Nothing makes a room look at once so picturesque and home-like, if the volumes be but sufficiently varied in size and hue.
And that brings us in presence of a point of controversy. Ought there to be so much variety in the exteriors of books? Ought they to be 'got up' in so many different styles? Some people would answer these questions with a decided negative. These are the persons who like uniformity in their libraries, who would have one shelf look for all the world like the facsimile of the other. These are the persons who, almost as soon as they buy a book, are desirous to have it rebound after some fantastic notion of their own. There is a class of purchaser which revels in long lines of volumes in 'full calf gilt.' You see that sort of thing in most old-fashioned collections. And the effect is not bad in some respects. The rows look handsome enough. They have solidity and richness. Nor do I say that for a certain species of publication 'full calf gilt' is not a very judicious form of binding. One likes to see the quarterlies and higher-class monthlies done up in that style. It befits the seriousness of their contents. But do not let everything be put into 'full calf gilt,' solid and rich though it appears. Let us give full play to the element of variety. Let every book have an individuality, a character, of its own. Let us be able to identify it easily. Let it retain its original garb, so that we may always be able to distinguish it. Surely it is one of the greatest charms of a row of volumes that each has its special features, and can readily be found when wanted.
It may be laid down as a general rule that the binding of a book should have a distinct reference to the nature of its contents. It should be appropriate to the author and to the subject. One sympathizes with Posthumus in the play, when, apostrophizing the volume in his prison, he says:
'O rare one! Be not, as is our fangled world, a garment Nobler than that it covers: let thy effects So follow, to be most unlike our courtiers, As good as promise.'
Juliet, when she hears that Romeo has slain Tybalt, asks:
'Was ever book containing such vile matter So fairly bound?'
And in a like spirit Charles Lamb, in his well-known essay, complains of the 'things in books' clothing' which, by reason of their inappropriate exteriors, afford so much disappointment to the reader. 'To reach down a well-bound semblance of a volume, and hope it is some kind-hearted play-book, then, opening what "seem its leaves," to come bolt upon a withering population essay'—'to expect a Steele or a Farquhar, and find—Adam Smith'—those, indeed, are doleful and dispiriting experiences, to which the unsuspecting student ought not in enlightened times to be subjected. If Mr. Gilbert's Mikado be right in the view that the punishment ought to 'fit the crime,' so assuredly ought a book's binding to fit the matter that is contained within it. It should be the outward sign of the inward grace.
I am ready to admit that, as a rule, this is so. In general, it is quite easy to tell the nature of a volume from its cover. And for this the publishers are greatly to be thanked. An amateur, publishing for himself, may every now and then insist upon dressing up the product of his brains incongruously; but, for the most part, the booksellers of to-day have a very excellent sense of what is fitting. The result is that those who care about books can differentiate them at a glance. They know what is the approved style and line for biography and history, for poetry and fiction, for sermons, for gift-books, and so ad infinitum. The 'Life' of So-and-so, and the 'Annals' of Such-and-such, are unmistakeable; they have respectability written on every corner and angle of them. The dull brown or the dull green is sufficiently obvious to everyone. And so with poetry. You know minor verse directly you see it. It has a cachet concerning which there can be no possible error. Happily, a Tennyson, a Browning, or a Swinburne is equally recognisable. A novel, of course, bears its character on its face. The three-volume form is notorious. But it scarcely matters what shape fiction may take. It can be identified by instinct, whether it be in yellow boards or in some more quiet habit. Sermons cannot be misapprehended; there is no fear of their being taken on a railway journey instead of the latest book of memoirs. As for gift-books, whether for boy or girl, adult or juvenile, they have their destination marked upon them in all the colours of the rainbow. Some complain of this, and call it vulgar. No doubt it often is so. But a gift-book is produced for a definite purpose, and the public would be surprised, and probably annoyed, if it were not as gorgeous in gold and colours as it was expected to be. Gold and colours are what are wanted, and the publishers do well to supply them.
One thing, perhaps, is too little considered—that a book is, in most cases, intended to be read and to be preserved. Certain books are not issued for that purpose, but are deliberately manufactured to be thrown away when read. The shilling novel, one may presume, is not designed for a permanent existence. If it is, why is it so frequently brought out in a paper cover, which either comes off altogether, or else curls up at the edges in the most irritating fashion? It must be confessed that a paper cover is an infliction, demanding the eventual destruction of the book or its prompt rebinding in more durable style. But it is not sufficient only that a volume should be bound. It should be bound so that it can be opened and perused with comfort. It should not be in too stiff a cover, or it will be awkward to hold. And the cover should not be in white or in too delicate a colour, or one will not care to handle it. Nor should a book be bound too limply, for the cover will soon begin to look shapeless. A parchment binding is charming to gaze at for a time, but how quickly its glory fades! I should say to the ordinary bookbuyer, in metaphoric language, Avoid the kickshaws and stick to the solids! In other words, leave the delicacies to the connoisseur, and give your attention to the books so clothed that you can read and keep them as you will.
THE NOT IMPOSSIBLE SHE.
I make no allusion here to the heroine of Mr. Haggard's well-known romance. What I am thinking of at the moment is not the impossible 'She' of recent fiction, but the 'not impossible She' of Master Richard Crashaw—the 'perfect monster,' in female form, who was to 'command his heart and him,' and whom he was good enough to sketch for us in advance within the limits of some forty verses—the damsel whose beauty was to
'Owe not all its duty To gaudy tire or glistering shoe-tye;'
whose face was to be
'Made up Out of no other shop Than what Nature's white hand sets ope;'
who was to have 'a well-tamed heart,'
'Sidneian showers Of sweet discourse,'
and so on, and of whom the poet was so kind as to say that, if Time knew of anyone who answered the description,
'Her that dares be What these lines wish to see— I seek no further—it is She.'
Master Crashaw is not the only man by many who in the past has been seduced into putting into words and verse the aspirations, on this subject, which filled his soul. It would probably be found, if anyone had the requisite patience to go through with it, that there has been scarcely a poet who has not thus given expression to his conception of an ideal woman and to his desire for her companionship. Much more numerous, to be sure, are the rapturous tributes which have been paid to actual persons of the other sex: the poetry of praise, as written by men of women, has not yet been exhausted, and probably never will be. But the ideal description has generally come first, and very notable it has usually been. Sir Thomas Wyatt declared that
'A face that should content me wondrous well Should not be fair, but lovely to behold; Of lively look, all grief for to repel; With right good grace,'
et caetera. He further asserted that 'her tress also should be of crisped gold,' and intimated graciously that
'With wit, and these, perchance I might be tied, And knit again with knot that should not slide.'
His contemporary, Lord Surrey, included among 'the means to attain happy life,' 'the faithful wife, without debate'—that is, I suppose, a lady without forty-parson-power of talk—a not impossible, nay, fairly common, She.
In a lyric by Beaumont and Fletcher, we find the supposed speaker giving utterance to a series of such wishes. 'May I,' he says, 'find a woman fair, And her mind as clear as air!'
'May I find a woman rich, And of not too high a pitch!... May I find a woman wise, And her falsehood not disguise!... May I find a woman kind, And not wavering like the wind!...'
And, in truth, he talks throughout as if he did not expect to discover any such rarity. Everyone knows the little poem in which Ben Jonson details his preferences in women's dress, declaring that 'a sweet disorder' does more bewitch him 'than when art Is too precise in every part.' But elsewhere he paints for us, not a perfect feminine attire, but the faultless maid herself, as he would have her:
'I would have her fair and witty, Favouring more of Court than City, A little proud, but full of pity, Light and humorous in her toying, Oft building hopes and soon destroying... Neither too easy nor too hard, All extremes I would have barr'd.'
That, it would seem, was rare Ben's ideal.
Carew, it is notorious, professed to despise 'lovely cheeks or lips or eyes,' if they were not combined with 'A smooth and steadfast mind, Gentle thoughts, and calm desires.' A rosy cheek, a coral lip, and even star-like eyes, as he sagely said, would waste away. And in this somewhat priggish, and perhaps not wholly sincere, vein, he finds a rival in the anonymous bard who declared that he did not demand
'A crystal brow, the moon's despair, Nor the snow's daughter, a white hand, Nor mermaid's yellow pride of hair,'
and so on, but instead,
'A tender heart, a loyal mind, Which with temptation I would trust, Yet never link'd with error find—
'One in whose gentle bosom I Could pour my secret heart of woes, Like the care-burthen'd honey-fly That hides his murmurs in the rose.'
So Bedingfield, conceding to friend Damon 'the nymph that sparkles in her dress,' avows his own fondness for the maid 'whose cheeks the hand of Nature paints.' Of this young person he says:
'No art she knows or seeks to know; No charm to wealthy pride will owe; No gems, no gold she needs to wear; She shines intrinsically fair.'
Cowley, it will be remembered, in sketching his notion of true happiness, included in it the picture of
'A mistress moderately fair, And good as guardian angels are, Only beloved and loving me!'
With that 'one dear She'—and a few other things—he thought he could get on pretty comfortably. But probably at once the most obliging and most exigent of modern lovers was the sentimental gentleman to whose feelings Mrs. Bowen-Graves ('Stella') gave appropriate voice in the over-familiar 'My Queen.'
'I will not dream of her tall and stately— She that I love may be fairy light;'
'I will not say she should walk sedately— Whatever she does, it will sure be right.
'And she may be humble or proud, my lady, Or that sweet calm which is just between'
(as if anyone could be a 'sweet calm'!); moreover:
'Whether her birth be noble or lowly, I care no more than the spirit above;'
but there is at least one point upon which this gentleman insists:
'She must be courteous, she must be holy, Pure in her spirit, that maiden I love'—
and, being that, she may depend upon the stars falling, and the angels weeping, ere he ceases to love her, his Queen, his Queen!
Ah! the poets have much to answer for. Here is Mr. Longfellow assuring his readers that
'No one is so utterly desolate, But some heart, though unknown, Responds unto his own;'
and here is Sir Edwin Arnold declaring, with equal confidence, that
'Somewhere there waiteth in this world of ours For one lone soul another lonely soul'—
et caetera, et caetera. Is it any wonder that, in the face of such encouragement, young men go on dreaming, each of the dimidium suae animae whom he is to meet by-and-by, and framing to that end all sorts of beautiful ideals? It may be that the Shes thus dreamed of are 'not impossible'—they may 'arrive;' but it is as well not to be too sanguine. And, above all, it is as well not to draw too extravagant a picture, if only because you may not be worthy of the original when you see it. Corydon is too disposed to expect in Phyllis charms and virtues for which he might find it difficult to show counterparts in himself. If the lady is to be the pattern of beauty and of goodness, ought not the gentleman to bring an equal amount of capital into the matrimonial firm?
When Bunthorne has recited his 'wild, weird, fleshly thing,' called 'Oh, Hollow! Hollow! Hollow!' the Duke of Dunstable remarks that it seems to him to be nonsense. 'Nonsense, perhaps,' replies the Lady Saphir, 'but oh, what precious nonsense!' And there really is a sense in which nonsense—genuine, diverting nonsense—is precious indeed. There is so little of it. The late Edward Lear bubbled over with true whimsicality. His 'Book of Nonsense' is what it professes to be—the most delightful non-sense possible. But of how much of that sort of thing does English literature boast? There is plenty of unconscious nonsense, of course, but it is not of the right quality. Dryden said of Shadwell that he reigned, 'without dispute, throughout the realms of nonsense absolute'—he 'never deviated into sense'—and yet he was the dullest of dull dogs. The fact is, that nothing is more difficult than to write amusing nonsense, and it is worth noting how few people, comparatively speaking, have ever attempted to produce it.
One of the earliest efforts of the kind in the language is a certain passage in Udall's 'Ralph Roister Doister,' where Dame Christian receives from the hero a letter which seems, on the face of it, insulting:
'Sweete mistresse, where as I love you nothing at all, Regarding your substance and richesse chief of all, To your personage, beauty, demeanour, and wit, I commend me unto you never a whit,'
and so on—the joke lying, of course, in the incorrectness of the punctuation adopted. In general, the Elizabethans were too much in earnest to write absolute nonsense. Nonsense is to be found in Shakespeare, but usually in parody of the euphemists of his time. Some of the personae are made to talk sad stuff, but it has not the merit of being 'precious' in the Lady Saphir's sense. It is very tedious indeed, and one likes to think that Shakespeare, perhaps, did not write it, after all. Drummond, in his 'Polemo-Middinia,' gave an early example of a kind of jeu d'esprit which has since been frequently imitated—a species of dog-Latin in extremis:
'Hic aderunt Geordy Akinhedius and little Johnus, Et Jamy Richaeus, et stout Michel Hendersonus, Qui jolly tryppas ante alios dansare solebat, Et bobbare bene, et lassas kissare boneas.'
But though this is not wholly unamusing, it is hardly, as nonsense, up to the standard instituted for us by Mr. Lear.
The real thing is more nearly visible in Swift's macaronic lines about Molly—'Mollis abuti, Hasan acuti,' etc.—another vein of fun which has been exceedingly well worked out by successive writers. But such inspirations as these have too much method in them to be quite admissible. Much better was Swift's 'Love Song in the Modern Taste,' beginning:
'Fluttering spread thy purple pinions, Gentle Cupid, o'er my heart.'
Even this, however, has too much sense for it to pass muster. Nor can one receive Johnson's
'If a man who turnips cries, Cry not when his father dies,'
and so on, as sufficiently nonsensical. It is simply a jeu de mots, and no more, though funny enough as it stands. One is better satisfied when one comes to the 'Tom Thumb' of Henry Fielding and the 'Chrononhotonthologos' of Henry Carey, though even in those diverting squibs it is rarely that the versifier surrenders himself wholly to 'Divine Nonsensia.' That charming goddess was saluted to more purpose in 'The Anti-Jacobin,' where she was invoked to make charming fun of 'The Loves of the Plants.' In 'The Progress of Man' (in the same delectable collection) occurs the inspired passage:
'Ah, who has seen the mailed lobster rise, Clap her broad wings, and, soaring, claim the skies When did the owl, descending from her bower, Crop, 'mid the fleecy flocks, the tender flower? Or the young heifer plunge, with pliant limb, In the salt wave and, fish-like, strive to swim?'
But even this is too consistent in its grotesqueness to be perfect nonsense.
One becomes acquainted with better nonsense the nearer one gets to one's own times. How clever, for instance, was that well-known 'dream' of Planche's, in which he fancied that he
'Was walking with Homer, and talking The very best Greek I was able—was able— When Guy, Earl of Warwick, with Johnson and Garrick, Would dance a Scotch-reel on the table—the table; When Hannibal, rising, declared 'twas surprising That gentlemen made such a riot—a riot— And sent in a bustle to beg Lord John Russell Would hasten and make them all quiet—all quiet.'
It may be that Mr. W. S. Gilbert had this in his mind when, in 'Patience,' he pictured the processes by which to manufacture a heavy dragoon; but here, again, the design is too obvious, the incongruity a little too apparent. The late Shirley Brooks extracted much fun out of a mosaic of quotations from the poets, beginning:
'Full many a gem of purest ray serene, That to be hated needs but to be seen, Invites my lay; be present, sylvan maids, And graceful deer reposing in the shades.'
Very good nonsense is this, if not of the best; and it leads us up naturally to the more consummate performances of Mr. Calverley, whose exquisite mimicry of Mr. Browning and Miss Ingelow, in their most incomprehensible or most affected moods, is too well known to need description. Favourable mention may also be made of a certain ballad composed by the late Professor Palmer, in illustration of his inability to master nautical terms, which he furbishes up in mirth-provoking fashion.
But, putting aside Mr. Lear, the most successful, the most precious nonsense ever written has been supplied by writers still, happily, in our midst. And of these, of course, Mr. Lewis Carroll is obviously facile princeps—not only by reason of the immortal 'Jabberwocky,' but by reason, also, of 'The Hunting of the Snark,' in which there are some very felicitous passages.
'They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care, They pursued it with forks and hope; They threatened its life with a railway share; They charmed it with smiles and soap.'
It requires genius, of a kind, to conceive and execute such lines as these, easy as (no doubt) it seems to write them. Not that Mr. Carroll is unapproachable. There are probably many who think that his 'Jabberwocky' is at least equalled by Mr. Gilbert's 'Sing for the Garish Eye,' in which the invented words are truly 'Carrollian':
'Sing for the garish eye, When moonless brandlings cling; Let the froddering crooner cry, And the braddled sapster sing!'—
though, to be sure, Mr. Gilbert could hardly be expected to do anything better than that lovely quatrain of Bunthorne's about 'The dust of an earthy to-day' and 'The earth of a dusty to-morrow.'
The example set by Mr. Lear has been followed by many versifiers, who have sought to create their effects after a manner now sufficiently familiar. Thus, we have had multitudinous efforts like the following:
'There was an old priest in Peru Who dreamt he'd converted a Jew: He woke in the night In a deuce of a fright, And found it was perfectly true.'
Performances of that sort are, however, easy; and more merit attaches to such studies in unintelligibility as Bret Harte's 'Songs without Sense,' of which the 'Swiss Air' is a good example:
'I'm a gay tra, la, la, With my fal, lal, la, la, And my bright— And my light— Tra, la, le. [Repeat.] Then laugh, ha, ha, ha, And ring, ting, ling, ling, And sing fal, la, la, La, la, le.' [Repeat.]
Probably, however, the poetry of pure nonsense has never been better represented than in these contemporary verses on the suitable topic of 'Blue Moonshine':
'Ay! for ever and for ever Whilst the love-lorn censers sweep, Whilst the jasper winds dissever, Amber-like, the crystal deep; Shall the soul's delirious slumber, Sea-green vengeance of a kiss, Teach despairing crags to number Blue infinities of bliss.'
Most people have heard of that Mr. Gerard Hamilton who, suddenly and unexpectedly making in the House of Commons an oration which 'threw into the shade every other orator except Pitt,' was henceforth known by the nickname of 'Single-Speech'—not because he never addressed the House again, but because those who so nicknamed him chose to regard this performance as the distinguishing feature of his career. He continued to be known by that one discourse, and it is by virtue of it that he has a place in history. The fact is notable, and yet by no means uncommon. The world is, and always has been, full of Single-Speech Hamiltons—male and female—who have gained and maintained their notoriety by one special effort. Human nature is so constituted that the man or woman who is unable to produce a series of successes may yet have the capacity to compass one—may possess the energy and the ability to make at least one strong impression before retiring wholly into the background.
The truth of this is observable, for example, in the sphere of poetry. How many are the excellent versifiers whose reputation is based wholly upon a solitary effusion! They have been inspired once, and the outcome is literary immortality. They cannot always be regarded strictly as poets, and yet they have a vogue which any poet might envy. They reign and shine by virtue of what may be called a happy accident. Thus, Lady Ann Barnard is known, in the world of verse, only by her 'Auld Robin Gray,' just as Miss Elliott and Mrs. Cockburn are known only by their respective 'Flowers of the Forest.' We remember Oldys merely by his 'Busy, curious, thirsty fly,' Sir William Jones by his 'What constitutes a State?' Blanco White by his one Sonnet upon Night, Charles Wolfe by his 'Burial of Sir John Moore,' John Collins by his 'In the Downhill of Life,' and Herbert Knowles by his 'Lines in a Churchyard.' As Artemus Ward said of the oil-painting achieved by the Old Masters: 'They did this, and then they expired.' Some of them wrote other things, but the world received them not. It took count only of the single occasion on which they had been influenced by the divine afflatus—of the one thing which they had done 'supremely' well.
Authors themselves are, no doubt, surprised at the caprices of the public, and somewhat piqued by the preferences of their patrons. Some are Single-Speech Hamiltons only because their readers have taken a special fancy to particular performances—not always because the achievements were obviously the best, but simply because circumstances brought them to the fore. It is, one may assume, to the charm of Haydn's musical setting that Mrs. Hunter owes the fame and popularity of 'My mother bids me bind my hair': it is to the composer, in that case, that the acceptance of the words are owing. Obvious causes, again, have given precedence to Heber's 'From Greenland's icy mountains' over all his other work in verse; just as the fact of having got into the extract books has accorded to Blake's 'Tiger, tiger, burning bright' a pre-eminence in the public mind over all his other efforts. In these matters the world will have its own way. It still extends recognition to Young's 'Night Thoughts,' but is apparently indifferent to his 'Universal Passion.' It thinks of Bloomfield only in connection with 'The Farmer's Boy,' and ignores the rest; just as it faintly recollects 'The Sabbath' of James Grahame, but has forgotten even the titles of 'Biblical Pictures' and 'The British Georgics.'
This dependence of literary fame upon special public favourites is, perhaps, most strikingly represented in the field of fiction and the drama. Nothing is more common than that a novelist or a dramatist should remain in the popular memory by virtue of a single production. Beckford is for most people only the author of 'Vathek'; it is only the bibliophile who troubles himself about 'Azemia' or 'The Elegant Enthusiast.' Miss Porter is remembered by her 'Scottish Chiefs'—scarcely at all, perhaps, by her 'Thaddeus of Warsaw.' Everybody knows how strongly 'The Monk' took the fancy of the reading world—so strongly that the writer was 'Monk' Lewis, and 'Monk' Lewis only, ever after. Mackenzie's 'Man of Feeling' survives, but the 'Man of the World' and 'Julia Roubigne' are as if they had never existed. And look at the playwrights! 'She Stoops to Conquer' is a classic, but 'The Good-Natured Man' is not even good-naturedly tolerated. 'The Road to Ruin' has eclipsed 'Duplicity' and 'The Deserted Daughter.' We all know 'The Honeymoon,' but who has seen, how many have read, 'The Curfew' and 'The School for Authors'? We flock to 'Wild Oats,' but alas for 'The Agreeable Surprise'! 'The Man of the World' keeps Macklin's name before us, but we have said good-bye to 'Love a la Mode.'
In truth, it is not a bad thing thus to be associated with one definite, unmistakable success. Gerard Hamilton did more for himself by that single brilliant speech than if he had delivered a whole multitude of less striking orations. There is nothing more fatal to a man than middlingness—a sort of dead level of mediocre performance. The world loses count of merely respectable outcome. To obtain its regard you must take its imagination captive at least once. You may be a very excellent person, and do very useful work; but, if you desire to be kept in mind, you must achieve something to which your name can be popularly attached. It is thus that Beattie and 'The Minstrel,' Green and 'The Spleen,' Somerville and 'The Chase,' Blair and 'The Grave,' Falconer and 'The Shipwreck,' Pollok and 'The Course of Time'—to name no others—are inseparably associated the one with the other. The works in question, probably, are rarely opened, but their titles at any rate have stuck in the general memory. Even in our own time, for the great majority of people, Miss Braddon will always be the author of 'Lady Audley's Secret,' Mrs. Oliphant always the author of 'The Chronicles of Carlingford,' Mrs. Henry Wood always the author of 'East Lynne'—and so on. That is the way in which they are remembered.
Generally speaking, versatility is undesirable when reputation is the object aimed at. The world has not a very good memory, or, rather, it has so much to think about that it desires not to be more encumbered than it can help. Such men as the late Lord Lytton, for example, are, in one respect, a nuisance to it. Bulwer was about equally distinguished as a novelist, as a dramatist, and as an essayist; and, ever since, the average man has been puzzled whether to think of him as the author of 'Pelham,' the author of 'The Lady of Lyons,' or the author of 'Caxtoniana.' Bulwer tried hard to establish a position as a poet, but, happily, there is no need to trouble one's self greatly about 'King Arthur.' As it is, the fame of Bulwer's dramas appears likely, by-and-by, to eclipse altogether the fame of his novels. And this, if it ever happens, will prove once more that a man can be the worst enemy of himself. Single-Speech Hamilton was not satisfied with his big success, but spoke again. Nothing could have been more unwise. He should have rested on his laurels—unless indeed, he could have been quite sure that he would surpass his former triumph. Unless one can be perfectly certain of that, it is, best, in general, to let well alone.