For some unexplained reason Keats broke his apprenticeship to the surgeon at Edmonton after four years. He did not however give up the idea of becoming a doctor, and he went on with his studies at the London hospitals. Keats was by this time about nineteen. He was small—only about five feet—so that his fellow-students called him "little Keats." But his face was fine, and out of it looked eyes "like those of a wild gipsy-maid set in the face of a young god." He was a steady student, although he did "scribble doggerel rhymes" among his notes, and he passed his examinations well. Yet the work was all against the grain. More and more he began to feel that real nothing but poetry mattered, that for him it was the real business of life. It was hard to study when even a sunbeam had power to set his thoughts astray. "There came a sunbeam into the room," once he said to a friend, "and with it a whole troop of creatures floating in the ray, and I was off with them to Oberon and Fairyland."
Keats gradually made several friends among the young writers of the day. One of these printed a few of the young poet's sonnets in his paper the Examiner, and in 1817 Keats published a volume of poems. This was his good-by to medicine, for although very little notice was taken of the book and very few copies were sold, Keats henceforth took poetry for his life work.
The life of Keats was short, and it had no great adventures in it. He lived much now with his two brothers until the elder, George, married and emigrated to America, and the younger, Tom, who had always been an invalid, died. He went on excursions too, with his friends or by himself to country or seaside places, or sometimes he would spend days and nights in the hospitable homes of his friends. And all the time he wrote letters which reveal to us his steadfast, true self, and poems which show how he climbed the steps of fame.
Undismayed at the ill success of his first book, the next year he published his long poem Endymion.
Endymion was a fabled Grecian youth whose beauty was so great that Selene, the cold moon, loved him. He fell asleep upon the hill of Latmus, and while he slept Selene came to him and kissed him. Out of this simple story Keats made a long poem of four books or parts. Into it he wove many other stories, his imagination leading him through strange and wondrous scenery. The poem is not perfect—it is rambling and disconnected—the story of Endymion being but the finest thread to hold a string of beads and priceless pearls together.
The first book is merely a long introduction, but it opens with unforgettable lines—
"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever; Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing."
Then the poet tells us what are the things of beauty of which he thinks.
"Such the sun, the moon, Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon For simple sheep; and such are daffodils With the green world they live in; and clear rills That for themselves a cooling covert make 'Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake, Rich with a sprinkling of fair must-rose blooms; And such too is the grandeur of the dooms We have imagined for the mighty dead; All lovely tales that we have heard or read; An endless fountain of immortal drink Pouring unto us from the heaven's brink."
But although throughout the long poem there are lovely passages, and one or two most beautiful lyrics, the critics of the day saw only the faults of which Endymion is full, and the poem was received with a storm of abuse.
Soon after Keats published this poem, he, with a friend, set out on a walking tour to the Lake Country and to Scotland. This was Keats's first sight of real mountains, and he gloried in the grand scenery, but said "human nature is finer." When Keats set out there was not a sign of the invalid about him. He walked twenty or thirty miles a day and cheerfully bore the discomforts of travel. But the tour proved too much for his strength. He caught a bad cold and sore throat, and was ordered home by the doctor. He went by boat, arriving brown, shabby, and almost shoeless, among his London friends.
Keats never quite recovered his good health, and other griefs and troubles crowded in upon him. It was after his return from this tour that his dearly loved brother, Tom, died. Cruel criticisms of his poetry hurt him at the same time, and he was in trouble about money, for the family guardian had not proved a good manager. And now to this already overcharged heart something else was added. Keats fell in love. The lady he loved was young and beautiful, but commonplace. Keats himself describes her when he first met her as "beautiful and elegant, graceful, silly, fashionable, and strange." Her beauty and strangeness won for her a way to the poet's heart. Love, however, brought to him no joyful rest, but rather passionate, jealous restlessness. Yet in spite of all his troubles, Keats continued to write poems which will ever be remembered as among the most beautiful in our language.
Like Scott and Byron, Keats wrote metrical romances. One of these, Isabella, or the Pot of Basil, is founded upon a tale of Boccaccio, that old master to whom so many poets have gone for inspiration. In Keats's romances there is no war-cry, no clash of swords as in Scott's, and the luxury is altogether different from Byron's. There is in them that trembling sense of beauty which opens to us wide windows into fairyland. They are simple stories veiled in the glamour of lovely words, and full of the rich color and the magic of the middle ages. But here as elsewhere in Keats's poetry what we lack is the touch of human sorrow. Keats wrote of nature with all Wordsworth's insight and truth, and with greater magic of words. He understood the mystery of nature, but of the mystery of the heart of man it was not his to sing. He lived in a world apart. The terror and beauty of real life hardly touched him. Alone of all the poets of his day he was unmoved by the French Revolution, and all that it stood for.
Some day you will read Keats's metrical romances, and now I will give you a few verses from some of his odes, for in his odes we have Keats's poetry at its very best. Here are some verses from his ode On a Grecian Urn. You have seen such a vase, perhaps, with beautiful sculptured figures on it, dancing maidens and piping shepherds.
"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd, Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone: Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare; Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve; She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
"Ah, happy, happy bought! that cannot shed Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu; And, happy melodist, unwearied, For ever piping songs for ever new; More happy love! more happy, happy love! For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd, For ever panting, and for ever young; All breathing human passion far above, That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd, A burning forehead, and a parching tongue. . . . . . . "O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede* Of marble men and maidens over-wrought, With forest branches and the trodden weed; Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral! When old age shall this generation waste, Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st, 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,'—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
In these last lines we have the dominant note in Keats's song, beauty and the love of beauty. What is true must be beautiful, and just in so far as we move away from truth we lose what is beautiful. Nothing is so ugly as a lie.
And now remembering how Shelley sang of the skylark you will like to read how his brother poet sang of the nightingale.
"My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk, Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk: 'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot, But being too happy in thine happiness,— That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees, In some melodious plot Of beechen green, and shadows numberless, Singest of summer in full-throated ease. . . . . . . "Darkling I listen; and for many a time I have been half in love with easeful Death, Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme, To take into the air my quiet breath; Now more than ever seems it rich to die, To cease upon the midnight with no pain, While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad In such an ecstasy! Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain— To thy high requiem become a sod.
"Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! No hungry generations tread thee down; The voice I hear this passing night was heard In ancient days by emperor and clown: Perhaps the selfsame song that found a path Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, She stood in tears amid the alien corn; The same that oft times hath Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
"Forlorn! the very word is like a bell To toll me back from thee to my sole self! Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well As she is famed to do, deceiving elf. Adieu! Adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades Past the near meadows, over the still stream, Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep In the next valley glades; Was it a vision, or a waking dream? Fled is the music:—Do I wake or sleep?"
As another poet* has said, speaking of Keats's odes, "Greater lyrical poetry the world may have seen than any that is in these; lovelier it surely has never seen, nor ever can it possibly see."
Hyperion, which also ranks among Keats's great poems, is an unfinished epic. In a far-off way the subject of the poem reminds us of Paradise Lost. For here Keats sings of the overthrow of the Titans, or earlier Greek gods, by the Olympians, or later Greek gods, and in the majestic flow of the blank verse we sometimes seem to hear an echo of Milton.
Hyperion, who gives his name to the poem, was the Sun-god who was dethroned by Apollo. When the poem opens we see the old god Saturn already fallen—
"Old Saturn lifted up His faded eyes, and saw his kingdom gone, And all the gloom and sorrow of the place, And that fair kneeling goddess; and then spake, As with a palsied tongue, and while his beard Shook horrid with such aspen-malady: 'O tender spouse of gold Hyperion, Thea, I feel thee ere I see thy face; Look up, and let me see our doom in it; Look up, and tell me if this feeble shape Is Saturn's; if thou hear'st the voice Of Saturn; tell me, if this wrinkled brow, Naked and bare of its great diadem, Peers like the front of Saturn. Who had power To make me desolate? whence came the strength? How was it nurtur'd to such bursting forth, While Fate seem'd strangled in my nervous grasp? But it is so.'"
Saturn is king no more. Fate willed it so. But suddenly he rises and in helpless passion cries out against Fate—
"Saturn must be King. Yes, there must be a golden victory; There must be gods thrown down and trumpets blown
Of triumph calm, and hymns of festival Upon the gold clouds metropolitan, Voices of soft proclaim, and silver stir Of strings in hollow shells; and there shall be Beautiful things made new, for the surprise Of the sky-children; I will give command: Thea! Thea! Thea! where is Saturn?"
The volume containing these and other poems was published in 1820, little more than three years after Keats's first volume, and never, perhaps, has poet made such strides in so short a time. And this last book was kindly received. Success had come to Keats, but young though he still was, the success was too late. For soon it was seen that his health had gone and that his life's work was done. As a last hope his friends advised him to spend the winter in Italy. So with a friend he set out. He never returned, but died in Rome in the arms of his friend on the 23rd February 1821. He was only twenty-six. Before he died he asked that on his grave should be placed the words, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." He had his wish: but we, to whom he left his poetry, know that his name is written in the stars.
How Shelley mourned for him you have read. How the friends who knew and loved him mourned we learn from what they say of him. "I cannot afford to lose him," wrote one. "If I know what it is to love, I truly love John Keats." Another says,* "He was the most unselfish of human creatures," and still another,** "a sweeter tempered man I never knew."
In a letter which reached Rome too late was this message for Keats, "Tell that great poet and noble-hearted man that we shall all bear his memory in the most precious parts of our hearts, and that the world shall bow their heads to it, as our loves do."
We bow our heads to his memory and say farewell to him in these words of his own fairy song—
"Shed no tea! oh shed no tear! The flower will bloom another year. Weep no more! oh weep no more! Young buds sleep in the roots' white core. Dry your eyes! oh dry your eyes! For I was taught in Paradise To ease my heart of melodies— Shed no tear.
"Overhear! look overhead! 'Mong the blossoms white and red— Look up, look up. I flutter now On this flush pomegranate bough. See me! 'tis this silvery bill Ever cures the good man's ill. Shed not tear! oh shed not tear! The flower will bloom another year. Adieu! Adieu!—I fly, adieu! I vanish in the heaven's blue— Adieu! Adieu!"
Chapter LXXXII CARLYLE—THE SAGE OF CHELSEA
JOHN KEATS was little more than a month old, when far away across the Border another little baby boy was born. His parent, too were simple folk, and he, too, was born to be great.
This boy's name was Thomas Carlyle. His father was a stone-mason and had built with his own hands the house in which his son Thomas was born. The little village of Ecclefechan was about six miles from the Solway Firth, among the pasture lands of the bale of Annan. Here Thomas grew to be a boy running about barefooted and sturdy with his many brothers and sisters, and one step- brother older than himself.
But he did not run about quite wild, for by the time he was five his mother had taught him to read and his father had taught him to do sums, and then he was sent to the village school.
James Carlyle was a good and steady workman. Long afterwards his famous son said of him, "Nothing that he undertook to do but he did it faithfully and like a true man. I shall look on the houses he built with a certain proud interest. They stand firm and sound to the heart all over his little district. No one that comes after him will ever say, 'Here was the finger of a hollow eye-servant.' They are little texts to me of the gospel of man's free will." But there were meanwhile many little folks to clothe, many hungry little mouths to fill, so their clothes were of the plainest, and porridge and milk, and potatoes forming their only fare. "It was not a joyful life," says Thomas—"what life is?—yet a safe, quiet one; above most others, or any others I have witnessed, a wholesome one."
Between the earnest and frugal father and mother and their children there was a great and reverent though quiet love, and poor though they were, the parents determined that their children should be well taught, so when Thomas was ten he was sent to a school at Annan some five miles away, where he could learn more than in the little village school.
On a bright May morning Thomas set out trotting gayly by his father's side. This was his first venture into the world, and his heart was full of hopes just dashed with sadness at leaving his mother. But the wonderful new world of school proved a bitter disappointment to the little fellow. He had a violent temper, and his mother, fearing into what he might be led when far from her, made him promise never to return a blow. Thomas kept his promise, with the result that his fellows, finding they might torment him with safety, tormented him without mercy.
In a book called Sartor Resartus which Carlyle wrote later, and which here and there was called forth by a memory of his own life, he says:
"My schoolfellows were boys, most rude boys, and obeyed the impulse of rude nature which bids the deer herd fall upon any stricken hart, the duck flock put to death any broken-winged brother or sister, and on all hands the strong tyrannise over the weak."
So Thomas at school was unhappy and lonely and tormented. But one day, unable to bear the torment longer, he flew at one of the biggest bullies in the school.
The result was a fight in which Thomas got the worst, but, he had shown his fellows what he could do, he was tormented no longer. Yet ever afterwards he bore an unhappy remembrance of those days at school.
After three years his school-days came to an end. He was not yet fourteen, but he had proved himself so eager a scholar that his father decided to send him to college and let him become a minister.
So early one November morning he set out in the cold and dark upon his long tramp of more than eighty miles to Edinburgh. It was dark when he left the house, and his father and mother went with him a little way, and then they turned back and left Tom to trudge along in the growing light, with another boy a year or two older who was returning to college.
Little is known of Carlyle's college days. After five years' study, at nineteen he became a schoolmaster, still with the intention of later becoming a minister as his father wished. But for teaching Carlyle had no love, and after some years of it, first in schools and then as a private tutor, he gave it up. He gave up, too, the idea of becoming a minister, for he found he had lost the simple faith of his fathers and could not with good conscience teach to others what he did not thoroughly believe himself. He gave up, too, the thought of becoming a barrister, for after a little study he found he had no bent for law.
Already he had begun to write. Besides other things he had translated and published Wilhelm Meister, a story by the great German poet, Goethe. It was well received. The great Goethe himself wrote a kind letter to his translator. It came to him, said Carlyle, "like a message from fairyland." And thus encouraged, after drifting here and there, trying first one thing and then another, Carlyle gave himself up to literature.
Meanwhile he had met and loved a beautiful and clever lady named Jane Walsh. She was above him in station, witty, and sought after. Admiring the genius of Carlyle she yet had no mind she said to marry a poor genius. But she did, and so began a long mistake of forty years.
The newly married couple took a cottage on the outskirts of Edinburgh, and there Carlyle settled down to his writing. But money coming in slowly, Carlyle found he could no longer afford to live in Edinburgh. So after a year and a half of cheerful, social life, surrounded by many cultured friends, he and his wife moved to Craigenputtock, a lonely house fourteen miles from Dumfries, which belonged to Mrs. Carlyle. Here was solitude indeed. The air was so quiet that the very sheep could be heard nibbling. For miles around there was no house, the post came only once a week, and months at a time would go past without a visitor crossing the doorstep.
To Carlyle, who hated noises, who all his life long waged war against howling dogs and "demon" fowls, the silence and loneliness were delightful. His work took all his thoughts, filled all his life. He did not remember that what to him was simply peaceful quiet was for his witty, social wife a dreary desert of loneliness. Carlyle was not only, as his mother said, "gey ill to deal wi'," but also "gey ill to live wi'." For he was a genius and a sick genius. He was nervous and bilious and suffered tortures from indigestion which made him often gloomy and miserable.
It was not a happy fortune which cast Jane and Thomas Carlyle together into this loneliness. Still the days passed not all in gloom, Thomas writing a wonderful book, Sartor Resartus, and Jane using all her cleverness to make the home beautiful and comfortable. For they were very poor, and Jane, who before her marriage had no knowledge of housekeeping, found herself obliged to cook and do much of the housework herself.
Nearly all Carlyle's first books had to do with German literature. He translated stories from great German writers and wrote about the authors. And just as Byron had taught people on the Continent to read English literature, so Carlyle taught English people to read German literature. He steeped himself so thoroughly in German that he himself came to write English, if I may so express it, with a German accent. Carlyle's style is harsh and rugged. It has a vividness and picturesqueness all his own, but when Carlyle began to write people cared neither for his style nor for his subjects. He found publishers hard to persuade, and life was by no means easy.
When Sartor was finished Carlyle took it to London, but could find no one willing to publish it. So it was cut up into articles and published in a magazine "and was then mostly laughed at," says Carlyle, and many declared they would stop taking the magazine unless these ridiculous papers ceased. Not until years had passed was it published in book form.
I do not think I can make you understand the charm of Sartor. It is a prose poem and a book you must leave for the years to come. Sartor Resartus means "The tailor patched again." And under the guise of a philosophy of clothes Carlyle teaches that man and everything belonging to him is only the expression of the one great real thing—God. "Thus in this one pregnant subject of Clothes, rightly understood, is included all that men have thought, dreamed, done, and been."
The book is full of humor and wisdom, of stray lightenings, and deep growlings. There are glimpses of "a story" to be caught to. It is perhaps the most Carlylean book Carlyle ever wrote. But let it lie yet awhile on your bookshelf unread.
At the end of six years or so Carlyle decided that Craigenputtock was of no use to him. He wanted to get the ear of the world, to make the world listen to him. It would not listen to him when he spoke from a far-off wilderness. So he made the great plunge, and saying good-by to the quiet of barren rock and moorland he came to live in London. He took a house in Cheyne Row in Chelsea, and this for the rest of his life was his home. But at first London was hardly less lonely than Craigenputtock. It seemed impossible to make people want either Carlyle or his books. "He had created no 'public' of his own," says a friend who wrote his life,* "the public which existed could not understand his writings and would not buy them, nor could he be induced so much as to attempt to please it; and thus it was that in Cheyne Row he was more neglected than he had been in Scotland."
Still in spite of neglect Carlyle worked on, now writing his great French Revolution. He labored for months at this book, and at length having finished the first volume of it he lent it to a friend to read. This friend left it lying about, and a servant thinking it waste paper destroyed it. In great distress he came to tell Carlyle what had happened. It was a terrible blow, for Carlyle had earned nothing for months, and money was growing scarce. But he bravely hid his consternation and comforted his friend. "We must try to hide from him how very serious this business is to us," were the first words he said to his wife when they were alone together. Long afterwards when asked how he felt when he heard the news, "Well, I just felt like a man swimming without water," he replied.*
*Life of Tennyson.
So once more he set to work rewriting all that had been lost. In 1837 the book was published, and from that time Carlyle took his place in the world as a man of genius. But money was still scarce, so as a means of making some, he gave several courses of lectures. But he hated it. "O heaven!" he cries, "I cannot speak. I can only gasp and write and stutter, a spectacle to gods and fashionables,—being forced to it by want of money." One course of these lectures—the last—was on Heroes and Her Worship. This may be one of the first of Carlyle's book that you will care to read, and you may now like to hear what he has to say of Samuel Johnson in The Hero as a Man of Letters.
"As for Johnson, I have always considered him to be, by nature, one of our great English souls. A strong and noble man; so much left undeveloped in him to the last; in a kindlier element what might he not have been,—Poet, Priest, Sovereign Ruler! On the whole, a man must not complain of his 'element," or his 'time' or the like; it is thriftless work doing so. His time is bad; well then, he is there to make it better!—
"Johnson's youth was poor, isolated, hopeless, very miserable. Indeed, it does not seem possible that, in any of the favourablest outward circumstances, Johnson's life could have been other than a painful one. The world might have had more profitable work out of him, or less; but his effort against the world's work could never have been a light one. Nature, in return for his nobleness, had said to him, 'Live in an element of diseased sorrow.' Nay, perhaps the sorrow and the nobleness were intimately and even inseparably connected with each other. . . .
"The largest soul that was in all England; and provision made for it of 'fourpence halfpenny a day.' Yet a giant, invincible soul; a true man's. One remembers always that story of the shoes at Oxford; the rough, seamy-faced, raw-boned College Servitor stalking about, in winter season, with his shoes worn out; how the charitable Gentleman Commoner secretly places a new pair at his door, and the raw-boned Servitor, lifting them, looking at them near, with his dim eyes, with what thought,—pitches them out of window! Wet feet, mud, frost, hunger, or what you will; but not beggary: we cannot stand beggary! Rude stubborn self- help here; a whole world of squalor, rudeness, confused misery and want, yet of nobleness and manfulness withal.
"It is a type of the man's life, this pitching away of the shoes, an original man;—not a second hand, borrowing or begging man. Let us stand on our own basis, at any rate! On such shoes as we ourselves can get. On frost and mud, if you will, but honestly on that;—On the reality and substance which nature gives us, not on the semblance, on the thing she has give another than us!-
"And yet with all this rugged pride of manhood and self-help, was there ever soul more tenderly affectionate, loyally submissive to what was really higher than he? Great souls are always loyally submissive, reverent to what is over them; only small souls are otherwise. . . .
"It was in virtue of his sincerity, of his speaking still in some sort from the heart of Nature, though in the current artificial dialect, that Johnson was a Prophet. . . . Mark, too, how little Johnson boasts of his 'sincerity.' He has no suspicion of his being particularly sincere,—of his being particularly anything! A hard-struggling, weary-hearted man, or 'scholar' as he calls himself, trying hard to get some honest livelihood in the world, not to starve, but to live,—without stealing! A noble unconsciousness is in him. He does not 'engrave Truth on his watch-seal'; no, but he stands by truth, speaks by it, works and lives by it. Thus it ever is. . . .
"Johnson was a Prophet to his people: preached a Gospel to them,—as all like him always do. The highest Gospel he preached we may describe as a kind of moral Prudence: 'in a world where much is to be done, and little is to be known,' see how you will do it! A thing well worth preaching. 'A world where much is to be done, and little is to be known,' do not sink yourselves in boundless, bottomless abysses of Doubt. . . .
"Such Gospel Johnson preached and taught;—coupled with this other great Gospel. 'Clear your mind of Cant!' Have no trade with Cant: stand on the cold mud in the frosty weather, but let it be in your own real torn shoes: 'that will be better for you,' as Mahomet says! I call this, I call these two things joined together, a great Gospel, the greatest perhaps that was possible at that time."
I give this quotation from Heroes because there is, in some ways a great likeness between Johnson and Carlyle. Both were sincere, and both after a time of poverty and struggle ruled the thought of their day. For Carlyle became known by degrees, and became, like Johnson before him, a great literary man. He was sought after by the other writers of his day, who came to listen to the growlings of the "Sage of Chelsea."
Carlyle, like Johnson, was a Prophet with a message. "Carlyle," says a French writer, "has taken up a mission; he is a prophet, the prophet of sincerity. This sincerity or earnestness he would have applied everywhere: he makes it the law, the healthy and holy law, of art, of morals, of politics."* And through all Carlyle's exaggeration and waywardness of diction we find that note ring clear again and again. Be sincere, find the highest, and worship it with all thy mind and heart and will.
And although for us of to-day the light of Carlyle as a prophet may be somewhat dimmed, we may still find, as a great man of his own day found, that the good his writings do us, is "not as philosophy to instruct, but as poetry to animate."*
*J. S. Mill.
Carlyle went steadily on with his writing. In the summer he would have his table and tray of books brought out into the garden so that he could write in the open air, but much of his work, too, was done in a "sound proof" room which he built at the top of the house in order to escape from the horror of noise. The sound-proof room was not, however, a great success, for though it kept out some noises it let in others even worse.
When visitors came they were received either indoors or in the little garden which Carlyle found "of admirable comfort in the smoking way." In the garden they smoked and talked sitting on kitchen chairs, or on the quaint china barrels which Mrs. Carlyle named "noblemen's seats."
Among the many friends Carlyle made was the young poet Alfred Tennyson. Returning from a walk one day he found a splendidly handsome young man sitting in the garden talking to his wife. It was the poet.
Here is how Carlyle describes his new friend: "A fine, large- featured, dime-eyed, bronze-coloured, shaggy-headed man is Alfred; dusty, smoky, free and easy; who swims outwardly and inwardly with great composure in an articulate element as of tranquil chaos and tobacco smoke; great, now and then when he does emerge; a most restful, brotherly, whole-hearted man." Or again: "Smokes infinite tobacco. His voice is musical, metallic, fit for loud laughter and piercing wail, and all that may lie between. I do not meet in these late decades such company over a pipe. We shall see what he will grow to."*
*Hallam, Lord Tennyson, Life of Tennyson.
Although Carlyle was older than Tennyson by fourteen years, this was the beginning of a friendship which strengthened with years and lasted when they were both gray-haired men. They talked and smoked and walked about together often at night through the lamp- lit streets, sometimes in the wind, and rain, Carlyle crying out as they walked along against the dirt and squalor and noise of London, "that healthless, profitless, mad and heavy-laden place," "that Devil's Oven."
The years passed and Carlyle added book to book. Perhaps of them all that which we should be most grateful for is his Life and Letters of Cromwell. For in this book he set Cromwell in a new light, a better light than he had ever been set before. Carlyle is a hero worshiper, and in Cromwell as a hero he can find no fault. He had of course his faults like other men, and he had no need of such blind championship. For in his letters and speeches, gathered together and given to the world by Carlyle, he speaks for himself. In them we find one to whom we may look up as a true hero, a man of strength to trust. We find, too, a man of such broad kindliness, a man of such a tender human heart that we may love him.
Another great book was Carlyle's History of Frederick the Great. It is a marvelous piece of historical work, and as volume after volume appeared Carlyle's fame steadily rose.
"No critic," says his first biographer, Froude, "no critic after the completion of Frederick, challenged Carlyle's right to a place beside the greatest of English authors, past and present." He was a great historian, but in the history he gives us not dead facts, but living, breathing men and women. His pages are as full of color and of life as the pages of Shakespeare.
The old days of struggle and want were long over, but the Carlyles still lived the simple life in the little Chelsea house. As another writer* has quaintly put it, "Tom Carlyle lives in perfect dignity in a little 40 pound house in Chelsea, with a snuffy Scotch maid to open the door; and the best company in England ringing at it."
Then in 1865 Carlyle was chosen Lord Rector of Edinburgh University, and although this could add little to his fame, he was glad that his own country had recognized his greatness.
Fifty years before, he had left the University a poor and unknown lad. Now at seventy-one, a famous man, he returned to make his speech upon entering his office as Rector.
This speech was a splendid success, his reception magnificent, "a perfect triumph," as a friend telegraphed to Mrs. Carlyle waiting anxiously for news in London. For a few days Carlyle lingered in Scotland. Then he was suddenly recalled home by the terrible news that his wife had died suddenly while out driving. It was a crushing blow. Only when it was too late did Carlyle realize all that his wife had been to him. She was, as he wrote on her tombstone, "Suddenly snatched away from him, and the light of his life as if gone out."
The light indeed had gone out. The rest of his life was a sad twilight, filled with cruel remorse. He still wrote a little, and friends were kind, but his real work in life was done, and he felt bitterly alone.
Honors were offered him, a title if he would, a pension. But he declined them all. For fifteen years life dragged along. Then at the age of eighty-five he died.
He might have lain in Westminster among the illustrious dead. But such had not been his wish, so he was buried beside his father and mother in the old churchyard at Ecclefechan.
BOOKS TO READ
Stories from Carlyle, by D. M. Ford. Readings from Carlyle, by W. Keith Leask.
Chapter LXXXIII THACKERAY—THE CYNIC?
A LITTLE time after Carlyle's French Revolution was published he wrote to his brother, "I understand there have been many reviews of a very mixed character. I got one in the Times last week. The writer is one, Thackeray, a half-monstrous Cornish giant, kind of painter, Cambridge man, and Paris newspaper correspondent, who is now writing for his life in London. . . . His article is rather like him, and I suppose calculated to do the book good."
In these few sentences we have a sketch of William Makepeace Thackeray's life, from the time he finished his education up to the age of twenty-six, when Carlyle met him. He was the son of Richmond Thackeray, a collector in the service of the East India Company, and was born in Calcutta in 1811.
Little Billy-man, as his mother called him, in after years could remember very little of India. He remembered seeing crocodiles and a very tall, lean father. When Billy was quite a tiny chap, his father died. Soon after, the little boy was sent home, as Indian children always are, but his mother remained out in India, and a year or two later married Major Henry Carmichael Smyth. Major Smyth was a simple, kindly gentleman, and proved a good stepfather to his wife's little boy, who, when he grew up and became famous drew his stepfather's portrait in the character of Colonel Newcome.
Meanwhile Billy-man was separated from both father and mother, and sailed home under the care of a black servant. His ship called at St. Helena, and there the black servant took the little boy on a long walk over rocks and hills until they came to a garden. In the garden a man was walking. "That is he," said the black man, "that is Bonaparte. He eats three sheep every day, and all the little children he can lay hands on." Ugh! We think that the little boy did not want to stay there long.
William reached home safely and was very happy with kind aunts and grandmother until he went to school. And school he did not like at all. Long afterwards in one of his books he wrote, "It was governed by a horrible little tyrant, who made our young lives so miserable, that I remember kneeling by my little bed of a night and saying, 'Pray God, I may dream of my mother.'"*
But he left this school and when he was about eleven went to Charterhouse. Here Thackeray was not much happier. He was a pretty, gentle boy, and not particularly clever, either at games or at lessons. The boys were rough and even brutal to each other, and Thackeray had to take his share of the blows, and got a broken nose which disfigured his good-looking face ever after. And when he left school he took away with him a painful remembrance of all he had had to suffer. But by degrees the suffering faded out of his memory and he looked upon his old school with kindly eyes, and called it no longer Slaughterhouse, but Grey Friars, in his books.
Before Thackeray went to Charterhouse his mother and stepfather had come home to England and made a home for the little boy where he spent happy holidays. Thackeray was not very diligent, but in his last term at school he writes to his mother, "I really think I am becoming terribly industrious, though I can't get Dr. Russell (the headmaster) to think so. . . . There are but three hundred and seventy in the school. I wish there were only three hundred and sixty-nine."
Soon he had his wish, and leaving Charterhouse he went to Trinity College, Cambridge. He liked Cambridge better than Charterhouse, but did not learn much more. In little more than a year he left because he felt that he was wasting his time, and went abroad to finish his education. After spending a happy year in Germany he came home to study at the bar, but soon finding he had no taste for law, he gave that up.
Thackeray was now of age and had come into a little fortuned of about 500 pounds a year, left to him by his father. So he decided to try his hand at literature, and bought a paper called the National Standard, and became editor of it. He could not, however, make his paper pay, and in that and other ways he had soon lost all his money.
It was now necessary that he should do something to earn a living, and he determined to be an artist, and went to Paris to study. But although he was fond of drawing, and was able afterwards to illustrate some of his own books, he never became a real artist.
Meanwhile in Paris he met a young Irish lady with whom he fell in love, and being offered the post of Paris correspondent on another paper, he married. But very soon after he married the paper failed and Thackeray and his young wife returned to London, very poor indeed, and there he remained, as Carlyle said, "writing for his life."
It was a struggle, doubtless, but not a bitter one, and Thackeray was happy in his home with his wife and two little daughters. Long afterwards one of these daughters wrote, "Almost the first time I can remember my parents was at home in Great Coram Street on one occasion, when my mother took me upon her back, as she had a way of doing, and after hesitating for a moment at the door, carried me into a little ground floor room where some one sat bending over a desk. This some one lifted up his head and looked round at the people leaning over his chair. He seemed pleased, smiled at us, but remonstrated. Nowadays I know by experience that authors don't get on best, as a rule, when they are interrupted in their work—not even by their own particular families—but at that time it was all wondering, as I looked over my mother's shoulder."
But these happy days did not last long. The young mother became ill; gradually she became worse, until at last the light of reason died out of her brain, and although she lived on for many years, it was a living death, for she knew no one and took no notice of anything that went on around her.
The happy home was broken up. The children went to live with their great-grandmother, who found them "inconveniently young," while Thackeray remained alone in London. But though he was heart-broken and lonely, he kept a loving memory of the happy days gone by. Long after he wrote to a friend who was going to be married, "Although my own marriage was a wreck, as you know, I would do it over again, for behold, Love is the crown and completion of all earthly good. The man who is afraid of his future never deserved one."
Thackeray was already making a way with his pen, and now he found a new opening. Most of you know Punch. He and his dog Toby are old friends. And Mr. Punch with his humped back and big nose "comes out" every week to make us laugh. He makes us laugh, too, with kindly laughter, for, as Thackeray himself said, "there never were before published in this world so many volumes that contained so much cause for laughing, so little for blushing. It is easy to be witty and wicked, so hard to be witty and wise!" But once upon a time there was no Punch, strange though it may seem. It was just at this time, indeed, that Punch was published and Thackeray became one of the earliest contributors, and continued for ten years both to draw pictures and write papers for it. It was in Punch that his famous "Snob Papers" appeared. What is a Snob? Thackeray says, "He who meanly admires mean things."
It has been said that by reason of writing so much about snobs that Thackeray came to see snobbishness where there was none. But certain it is he laid a smart but kindly finger on many a small-minded prejudice. Several times in this book you have heard of sizars and commoners, stupid distinctions which are happily now done away with. Perhaps you would like to know what Thackeray thought of them. For although it is not a very good illustration of real snobbishness, it is interesting to read in connection with the lives of many great writer.
"If you consider, dear reader, what profound snobbishness the University System produced, you will allow that it is time to attack some of those feudal Middle-age superstitions. If you go down for five shillings to look at the 'College Youths,' you may see one sneaking down the court without a tassel to his cap; another with a gold or silver fringe to his velvet trencher; a third lad with a master's gown and hat, walking at ease over the sacred College grass-plats, which common men must not tread on.
"He may do it because he is a nobleman. Because a lad is a lord, the University gives him a degree at the end of two years which another is seven in acquiring. Because he is a lord, he has no call to go through an examination. . . .
"The lads with gold and silver lace are sons of rich gentlemen, and called Fellow Commoners; they are privileged to feed better than the pensioners, and to have wine with their victuals, which the latter can only get in their rooms.
"The unlucky boys who have no tassels to their caps, are called sizars—servitors at Oxford—(a very pretty and gentlemanlike title). A distinction is made in their clothes because they are poor; for which reason they wear a badge of poverty, and are not allowed to take their meals with their fellow students."
But the same pen that wrote sharply and satirically about snobs, wrote loving letters in big round hand to his dear daughters, who were living far away in Paris. For either child he used a different hand, so that each might know at once to whom the letter was addressed. Here is part of one to his "dearest Nanny." "How glad I am that it is a black puss and not a black nuss you have got! I thought you did not know how to spell nurse, and had spelt it en-you-double-ess; but I see the spelling gets better as the letters grow longer: they cannot be too long for me. Laura must be a very good-natured girl. I hope my dear Nanny is so too, not merely to her school mistress and friends, but to everybody—to her servants and her nurses. I would sooner have you gentle and humble-minded than ever so clever. Who was born on Christmas Day? Somebody Who was so great, that all the world worships Him; and so good that all the world loves Him; and so gentle and humble that He never spoke an unkind word. And there is a little sermon and a great deal of love and affection from papa."*
*Mrs. Ritchie's introduction to Contributions to Punch.
The Book of Snobs brought Thackeray into notice, and now that he was becoming well known and making more money, he once more made a home for his daughters, and they came to London to live with their father. Everything was new and strange to the little girls. There was a feeling of London they thought, in the new house, and "London smelt of tobacco." Thus once more, says his daughter, "after his first happy married years, my father had a home and a family—if a house, two young children, three servants, and a little black cat can be called a family."
Thackeray was a very big man, being six feet three or four. He must have seemed a very big papa to the little girls of six and eight, who were, no doubt, very glad to be again beside their great big kind father, and he, on his side, was very glad to have his little girls to love, and he took them about a great deal to the theater and concerts. They helped him in many little ways and thought it joy to leave lessons in the schoolroom upstairs and come downstairs to help father, and be posed as models for his drawings.
It was now that Thackeray wrote his first great novel, his greatest some people think, Vanity Fair. I cannot tell you about it now, but when you are a very little older you will like to read of clever and disagreeable Becky Sharp, of dear Dobbin, and foolish Amelia, and all the rest of the interesting people Thackeray creates for us. Thackeray has been called a cynic, that is one who does not believe in the goodness of human nature, and who sneers at and finds fault with everything. And reading Vanity Fair when we are very young we are apt to think that is so, but later we come to see the heart of goodness there is in him, and when we have read his books we say to ourselves, "What a truly good man Thackeray must have been." "He could not have painted Vanity Fair as he has," says another writer,* "unless Eden had been shining brightly in his inner eyes."
Though Thackeray is no cynic he is a satirist as much as Pope or Dryden, but the most kindly satirist who ever wrote. His thrusts are keen and yet there is always a humorous laugh behind, and never a spark of malice or uncharitableness. Thackeray bore no hatred in his heart towards any man. He could not bear to give pain, and as he grew older his satire became more gentle even than at first, and he regretted some of his earlier and too sharp sayings.
After Vanity Fair other novels followed, the best of all being Esmond. Esmond is perhaps the finest historical novel in our language. It is a story of the time of Queen Anne, and when we read it we feel as if the days of Addison and Steele lived again. But with Thackeray the historical novel is very different from the historical novel of Scott. With Thackeray his imaginary people hold the chief place, the real people only form a background, while in many of Scott's novels the real people claim our attention most.
Before Esmond was written Thackeray had added the profession of lecturer to that of author. He was a very loving father and was always anxious not only that his daughters should be happy when they were young, but that when he died he should leave them well off. Again and again in his letters we find him turning to this thought: "If I can't leave them a fortune, why, we must try to leave them the memory of having had a good time," he says. But he wanted to leave them a fortune, and so he took to lecturing. His lectures were a great success, and he delivered them in many places in England, Scotland, Ireland and America.
It was while he was lecturing in Scotland that he heard a little boy read one of his ballads. It was a satirical ballad, and somehow Thackeray did not like to hear it from the little boy's lips. Turning away he said to himself, "Pray God I may be able some day to write something good for children. That will be better than glory or Parliament."
But already he had written something good for children in the fairy tale of The Rose and the Ring. One year he spent the winter with his children in Rome, and wrote the fairy tale for them and their friends, and drew the pictures too.
I have no room in this book to tell you the story, but there is a great deal of fun in it, and I hope you will read it for yourselves. Here, for instance, is what happened to a porter for being rude to the fairy Blackstick. After saying many other rude things, he asked if she thought he was going to stay at the door all day.
"'You are going to stay at that door all day and all night, and for many a long year,' the fairy said, very majestically; and Gruffenuff, coming out of the door, straddling before it with his great calves, burst out laughing, and cried 'Ha, ha, ha! this is a good un! Ha—ah what's this? Let me down—O-o-H'm!' and then he was dumb.
"For as the fairy waved her wand over him, he felt himself rising off the ground, and fluttering up against the door, and then, as if a screw ran into his stomach, he felt a dreadful pain there, and was pinned to the door; and then his arms flew up over his head; and his legs, after writhing about wildly, twisted under his body; and he felt cold, cold, growing over him, as if he was turning into metal; and he said, 'O-o-H'm!' and could say no more, because he was dumb.
"He was turned into metal! He was from being brazen, brass! He was neither more nor less than a knocker! An there he was, nailed to the door in the blazing summer day, till he burned almost red-hot; and there he was, nailed to the door all the bitter winter nights, till his brass nose was dropping with icicles. And the postman came and rapped at him, and the vulgarist boy with a letter came and hit him up against the door. And the King and Queen coming home from a walk that evening, the King said, 'Hallo, my dear! you have had a new knocker put on the door. Why, it's rather like our porter in the face. What has become of that old vagabond?' And the housemaid came and scrubbed his nose with sand-paper; and once when the Princess Angelica's little sister was born, he was tied up in an old kid glove; and another night, some larking young men tried to wrench him off, and put him to the most excruciating agony with a turnscrew. And then the queen had a fancy to have the colour of the door altered, and the painters dabbed him over the mouth and eyes, and nearly choked him, as they painted him pea-green. I warrant he had leisure to repent of having been rude to the Fairy Blackstick."
As the years went on, Thackeray became ever more and more famous, his company more and more sought after. "The kind, tall, amusing, grey-haired man"* was welcome in many a drawing-room. Yet with all his success he never forgot his little girls. They were his fast friends and companions, and very often they wrote while he dictated his story to them. He worked with a lazy kind of diligence. He could not, like Scott, sit down and write a certain number of pages every morning. He was by nature indolent, yet he got through a great deal of work.
Death found him still working steadily. He had not been feeling well, and one evening he went to bed early. Next morning, Christmas Eve of 1863, he was found dead in bed.
Deep and widespread was the grief of Thackeray's death. The news "saddened England's Christmas." His friends mourned not only the loss of a great writer but "the cheerful companionship, the large heart, and open hand, the simple courteousness, and the endearing frankness of a brave, true, honest gentleman."*
Although he was buried in a private cemetery, a bust was almost at once placed in Westminster by his sorrowing friends.
The following verses were written by the editor of Punch* in his memory:—
"He was a cynic! By his life all wrought Of generous acts, mild words, and gentle ways; His heart wide open to all kindly thought, His hand so great to give, his tongue to praise.
"He was a cynic! You might read it writ In that broad brow, crowned with its silver hair, In those blue eyes, with childlike candour lit, In the sweet smile his lips were wont to wear.
"He was a cynic! By the love that clung About him from his children, friends, and kin; By the sharp pain, light pen and gossip tongue Wrought in him chafing the soft heart within. . . . . . . "He was a cynic? Yes—if 'tis the cynic's part To track the serpent's trail with saddened eye, To mark how good and ill divide the heart, How lives in chequered shade and sunshine lie:
"How e'en the best unto the worst is knit By brotherhood of weakness, sin and care; How even in the worst, sparks may be lit To show all is not utter darkness there."
BOOK TO READ
The Rose and the Ring. NOTE.—The Rose and the Ring can be found in any complete edition of Thackeray's works.
Chapter LXXXIV DICKENS—SMILES AND TEARS
CHARLES DICKENS was a novelist who lived and wrote at the same time as Thackeray. He was indeed only six months younger, but he began to make a name much earlier and was known to fame while Thackeray was still a struggling artist. When they both became famous these two great writers were to some extent rivals, and those who read their books were divided into two camps. For though both are men of genius, they are men of widely differing genius.
John Dickens, the father, was a clerk with a small salary in the Navy Pay Office, and his son Charles was born in 1812 at Portsea. When Charles was about four his father was moved to Chatham, and here the little boy Charles lived until he was nine. He was a very puny little boy, and not able to join in the games of the other boys of his own age. So he spent most of his time in a small room where there was some books and where no one else besides himself cared to go. He not only read the books, but lived them, and for weeks together he would make believe to himself that he was his favorite character in whatever book he might be reading. All his life he loved acting a part and being somebody else, and at one time thought of becoming an actor.
Then when Charles was seven he went to a school taught by a young Baptist minister. It was not an unhappy life for the "Very queer small boy" as he calls himself. There were fields in which he could play his pretending games, and there was a beautiful house called Gad's Hill near, at which he could go to look and dream that if he were very good and very clever he might some day be a fine gentleman and own that house.
When the very queer small boy was nine he and all his family moved to London. Here they lived in a mean little house in a mean little street. There were now six children, and the father had grown very poor, so instead of being sent to school Charles used to black the boots and make himself useful about the house. But he still had his books to read, and could still make believe to himself. Things grew worse and worse however, and John Dickens, who was kind and careless, got into debt deeper and deeper. Everything in the house that could be done without was sold, and one by one the precious books went. At length one day men came and took the father away to prison because he could not pay his debts.
Then began for Charles the most miserable time of his life. The poor, sickly little chap was set to work in a blacking factory. His work was to cover the pots of paste-blacking, tie them down neatly and paste on the labels. Along with two or three others boys he worked all day long for six or seven shillings a week. Oh, how the little boy hated it! He felt degraded and ashamed. He felt that he was forgotten and neglected by every one, and that never never more would he be able to read books and play pretending games, or do anything that he loved. All week he worked hard, ill clad and only half fed, and Sunday he spent with this father at the prison. It was a miserable, sordid, and pitiful beginning to life.
How long this unhappy time lasted we do not know. Dickens himself could not remember. He seldom spoke of this time, but he never forgot the misery of it. Long afterwards in one of his books called David Copperfield, when he tells of the unhappy childhood of his hero, it is of his own he speaks.
But presently John Dickens got out of prison, Charles left the blacking factory, and once more went to school. And although in after years he could never bear to think of these miserable days, at the time his spirits were not crushed, and at school he was known as a bright and jolly boy. He was always ready for any mischief, and took delight in getting up theatricals.
At fifteen Dickens left school and went into a lawyer's office, but he knew that he had learned very little at school, and now set himself to learn more. He went to the British Museum Reading-room, and studied there, and he also with a great deal of labor taught himself shorthand.
He worked hard, determined to get on, and at nineteen he found himself in the Gallery of the House of Commons as reporter for a daily paper. Since the days when Samuel Johnson reported speeches without having heard them things had changed. People were no longer content with such make-believe reporting, and Dickens proved himself one of the smartest reporters there had ever been. He not only reported the speeches, but told of everything that took place in the House. He had such a keen eye for seeing, and such a vivid way of describing what he saw, that he was able to make people realize the scenes inside the House as none had done before.
Besides reporting in the Houses of Parliament Dickens dashed about the country in post-chaises gathering news for his paper, writing by flickering candle-light while his carriage rushed along, at what seemed then the tremendous speed of fifteen miles an hour. For those were not the days of railways and motors, and traveling was much slower than it is now.
But even while Dickens was leading this hurried, busy life he found time to write other things besides newspaper reports, and little tales and sketches began to appear signed by Boz. Boz was a pet name for Dickens's youngest brother. His real name was Augustus, but he had been nicknamed Moses after Moses in the Vicar of Wakefield. Pronounced through the nose it became Boses and then Boz. That is the history of the name under which Dickens at first wrote and won his earliest fame.
The sketches by Boz were well received, but real fame came to Dickens with the Pickwick Papers which he now began to write. This story came out in monthly parts. The first few numbers were not very successful, only about four hundred copies being sold, but by the fifteenth number London was ringing with the fame of it, and forty thousand copies were quickly sold. "Judges on the bench and boys in the street, gravity and folly, the young and the old"* all alike read it and laughed over it. Dickens above everything is a humorist, and one of the chief features in his humor is caricature, that is exaggerating and distorting one feature or habit or characteristic of a man out of all likeness to nature. This often makes very good fun, but it takes away from the truth and realness of his characters. And yet no story- teller perhaps is remembered so little for his stories and so much for his characters. In Pickwick there is hardly any story, the papers ramble on in unconnected incidents. No one could tell the story of Pickwick for there is really none to tell; it is a series of scenes which hang together anyhow. "Pickwick cannot be classed as a novel," it has been said; "it is merely a great book."**
So in spite of the fact that they are all caricatures it is the persons of the Pickwick club that we remember and not their doings. Like Jonson long before him, Dickens sees every man in his humor. By his genius he enables us to see these humors too, though at times one quality in a man is shown so strongly that we fail to see any other in him, and so a caricature is produced.
Dickens himself was full of fun and jollity. His was a florid personality. He loved light and color, and sunshine. He almost covered his walls with looking-glasses and crowded his garden with blazing geraniums. He loved movement and life, overflowed with it himself and poured it into his creations, making them live in spite of rather than because of their absurdities.
Winkle, one of the Pickwickians, is a mild and foolish boaster, who pretends that he can do things he cannot. He pretends to be able to shoot and succeeds only in hitting one of his friends. He pretends to skate, and this is how he succeeds:—
"'Now,' said Wardle, after a substantial lunch had been done ample just to, 'what say you to an hour on the ice? We shall have plenty of time.'
"'Capital!' said Mr. Benjamin Allen.
"'Prime!' ejaculated Mr. Bob Sawyer.
"'You skate of course, Winkle?' said Wardle.
"'Ye-yes; oh, yes,' replied Mr. Winkle. 'I—I am rather out of practice.'
"'Oh, do skate, Mr. Winkle,' said Arabella. 'I like to see it so much.'
"'Oh, it is so graceful,' said another young lady. A third young lady said it was elegant, and a fourth expressed her opinion that it was 'swanlike.'
"'I should be very happy, I'm sure,' said Mr. Winkle, reddening, 'but I have no skates.'
"This objection was at once overruled. Trundle had a couple of pair, and the fat boy announced that there were half-a-dozen more, downstairs: whereat Mr. Winkle expressed exquisite delight, and looked exquisitely uncomfortable.
"Old Wardle led the way to a pretty large sheet of ice, and the fat boy and Mr. Weller, having shovelled and swept away the snow which had fallen on it during the night, Mr. Bob Sawyer adjusted his skates with a dexterity which to Mr. Winkle was perfectly marvellous, and described circles with his left leg, and cut figures of eight, and inscribed upon the ice, without once stopping for breath, a great many other pleasant and astonishing devices, to the excessive satisfaction of Mr. Pickwick, Mr. Tupman, and the ladies: which reached a pitch of positive enthusiasm, when old Wardle and Benjamin Allen, assisted by the aforesaid Bob Sawyer, performed some mystic evolutions, which they called a reel.
"All this time Mr. Winkle, with his face and hands blue with the cold, had been forcing gimlet into the soles of his boots, and putting his skates on, with the points behind, and getting the straps into a very complicated and entangled state, with the assistance of Mr. Snodgrass, who knew rather less about skates than a Hindoo. At length, however, with the assistance of Mr. Weller, the unfortunate skates were firmly screwed and buckled on, and Mr. Winkle was raised to his feet.
"'Now, then, Sir,' said Sam, in an encouraging tone; 'off with you, and shoe 'em how to do it.'
"'Stop, Sam, stop!' said Mr. Winkle, trembling violently and clutching hold of Sam's arms with the grasp of a drowning man. 'How slippery it is, Sam!'
"'Not a uncommon thing upon ice, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller. 'Hold up, Sir!'
"This last observation of Mr. Weller's bore reference to a demonstration Mr. Winkle made at the instant, of a frantic desire to throw his feet in the air, and dash the back of his head on the ice.
"'These—these—are very awkward skates; ain't they, Sam?' inquired Mr. Winkle, staggering.
"'I'm afeerd there's an orkard gen'l'm'n in 'em, Sir,' replied Sam.
"'Now, Winkle,' cried Mr. Pickwick, quite unconscious that here was anything the matter. 'Come, the ladies are all anxiety.'
"'Yes, yes,' replied Mr. Winkle, with a ghastly smile. 'I'm coming.'
"'Just a-goin' to begin,' said Sam, endeavouring to disengage himself. 'Now, Sir, start off!'
"'Stop an instant, Sam,' gasped Mr. Winkle, clinging most affectionately to Mr. Weller. 'I find I've got a couple of coats at home, that I don't want, Sam. You may have them, Sam.'
"'Thank'ee, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller.
"'Never mind touching your hat, Sam,' said Mr. Winkle, hastily. 'You needn't take your hand away to do that. I meant to have given you five shillings this morning for a Christmas-box, Sam. I'll give it you this afternoon, Sam.'
"'You're wery good, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller.
"'Just hold me at first, Sam; will you?' said Mr. Winkle. 'There—that's right. I shall soon get in the way of it, Sam. Not too fast, Sam; not too fast.'
"Mr. Winkle, stooping forward with his body half doubled up, was being assisted over the ice by Mr. Weller, in a very singular and un-swanlike manner, when Mr. Pickwick most innocently shouted from the opposite bank,—
"'Sir?' said Mr. Weller.
"'Here, I want you.'
"'Let go, Sir,' said Sam. 'Don't you hear the governor a- callin'? Let go, Sir.'
"With a violent effort Mr. Weller disengaged himself from the grasp of the agonised Pickwickian; and, in so doing, administered a considerable impetus to the unhappy Mr. Winkle. With an accuracy which no degree of dexterity or practice could have insured, that unfortunate gentleman bore swiftly down into the centre of the reel, at the very moment when Mr. Bob Sawyer was performing a flourish of unparalleled beauty. Mr. Winkle struck wildly against him, and with a loud crash they both fell heavily down.
"Mr. Pickwick ran to the spot. Bob Sawyer had risen to his feet, but Mr. Winkle was far too wise to do anything of the kind, in skates. He was seated on the ice, making spasmodic efforts to smile, but anguish was depicted on every lineament of his countenance.
"'Are you hurt?' inquired Mr. Benjamin Allen, with great anxiety.
"'Not much,' said Mr. Winkle, rubbing his back very hard.
"'I wish you'd let me bleed you,' said Mr. Benjamin, with great eagerness.
"'No, thank you,' replied Mr. Winkle hurriedly.
"'What do you think, Mr. Pickwick?' enquired Bob Sawyer.
"Mr. Pickwick was excited and indignant. He beckoned to Mr. Weller, and said in a stern voice, 'Take his skates off.'
"'No; but really I had scarcely begun,' remonstrated Mr. Winkle.
"'Take his skates off,' repeated Mr. Pickwick firmly.
"The command was not to be resisted. Mr. Winkle allowed Sam to obey it, in silence.
"'Lift him up,' said Mr. Pickwick. Sam assisted him to rise.
"Mr. Pickwick retired a few paces apart from the bystanders; and beckoning his friend to approach, fixed a searching look upon him, and uttering in a low, but distinct and emphatic tone, these remarkable words,—
"'You're a humbug, Sir.'
"'A what!' said Mr. Winkle starting.
"'A humbug, Sir. I will speak plainer, if you wish it. An impostor, Sir.'
"With these words Mr. Pickwick turned slowly on his heel, and rejoined his friends."
There is much life and fun and jollity and some vulgarity in Pickwick. There is a good deal of eating and far too much drinking. But when the fun is rather rough, we must remember that Dickens wrote of the England of seventy years ago and more, when life was rougher than it is now, and when people did not see that drinking was the sordid sin we know it to be now.
To many people Pickwick remains Dickens's best book. "The glory of Charles Dickens," it has been said, "will always be in his Pickwick, his first, his best, his inimitable triumph."*
Just when Dickens began to write Pickwick he married, and soon we find him comfortably settled in a London house, while the other great writers of his day gathered round him as his friends.
Although not born in London, Dickens was a true Londoner, and when his work was done he loved nothing better than to roam the streets. He was a great walker, and thought nothing of going twenty or thirty miles a day, for though he was small and slight he had quite recovered from his childish sickliness and was full of wiry energy. The crowded streets of London were his books. As he wandered through them his clear blue eyes took note of everything, and when he was far away, among the lovely sights of Italy or Switzerland, he was homesick for the grimy streets and hurrying crowds of London.
After Pickwick many other stories followed; in them Dickens showed his power not only of making people laugh, but of making them cry. For the source of laughter and the source of tears are not very far apart. There is scarcely another writer whose pathetic scenes are so famous as those of Dickens.
In life there is a great deal that is sad, and one of the things which touched Dickens most deeply was the misery of children. The children of to-day are happy in knowing nothing of the miseries of childhood as it was in the days when Dickens wrote. In those days tiny children had to work ten or twelve hours a day in factories, many schools were places of terror and misery, and few people cared. But Dickens saw and cared and wrote about these things. And now they are of a bygone day. So children may remember Dickens with thankful hearts. He is one of their great champions.
Dickens loved children and they loved him, for he had a most winning way with them and he understood their little joys and sorrows. "There are so many people," says his daughter writing about her father, "There are so many people good, kind, and affectionate, but who can not remember that they once were children themselves, and looked out upon the world with a child's eyes only." This Dickens did always remember, and it made him a tender and delightful father to whom his children looked up with something of adoration. "Ever since I can remember anything," says his daughter, "I remember him as the good genius of the house, or as its happy, bright and funny genius." As Thackeray had a special handwriting for each daughter, Dickens had a special voice for each child, so that without being named each knew when he or she was spoken to. He sang funny songs to them and told funny stories, did conjuring tricks and got up theatricals, shared their fun and comforted their sorrows. And this same power of understanding which made him enter into the joys and sorrows of his children, made him enter into the joys and sorrows of the big world around him. So that the people of that big world loved him as a friend, and adored him as a hero.
As the years went on Dickens wrote more and more books. He started a magazine too, first called Household Words and later All the Year Round. In this, some of his own works came out as well as the works of other writers. It added greatly to his popularity and not a little to his wealth. And as he became rich and famous, his boyish dream came true. He bought the house of Gad's Hill which had seemed so splendid and so far off in his childish eyes, and went to live there with his big family of growing boys and girls.
It was about this time, too, that Dickens found a new way of entertaining the world. He not only wrote books but he himself read them to great audiences. All his life Dickens had loved acting. Indeed he very nearly became an actor before he found out his great powers of writing. He many times took part in private theatricals, one of his favorite parts, you will like to know, being Captain Bobadil, in Jonson's Every Man in his Humor. And now all the actor in him delighted in the reading of his own works, so although many of his friends were very much against these readings, he went on with them. And wherever he read in England, Scotland, Ireland, and America, crowds flocked to hear him. Dickens swayed his audiences at will. He made them laugh, and cry, and whether they cried they cheered and applauded him. It was a triumph and an evidence of his power in which Dickens delighted and which he could not forego, although his friends thought it was beneath his dignity as an author.
But the strain and excitement were too much. These readings broke down Dickens's health and wore him out. He was at last forced to give them up, but it was already too late. A few months later he died suddenly one evening in June 1870 in his house at Gad's Hill. He was buried in Westminster, and although the funeral was very quiet and simple as he himself had wished, for two days after a constant stream of mourners came to place flowers upon his grave.
I have not given you a list of Dicken's books because they are to be found in nearly every household. You will soon be able to read them and learn to know the characters whose names have become household words.
Dickens was the novelist of the poor, the shabby genteel, and the lower middle class. It has been said many times that in all his novels he never drew for us a single gentleman, and that is very nearly true. But we need little regret that, for he has left us a rich array of characters we might never otherwise have known, such as perhaps no other man could have pictured for us.
BOOKS TO READ
Stories from Dickens, by J. W. M'Spadden. The Children's Dickens.
Chapter LXXXV TENNYSON—THE POET OF FRIENDSHIP
KEATS had lain beneath the Roman violets six years, and Shelley somewhat less than five, when a little volume of poems was published in England. It was called Poems by two Brothers. No one took any notice of it, and yet in it was the first little twitter of one of our sweetest singing birds. For the two brothers were Alfred and Charles Tennyson, boys then of sixteen and seventeen. It is of Alfred that I mean to tell you in this last chapter. You have heard of him already in one of the chapters on the Arthur story, and also you have heard of him as a friend of Carlyle. And now I will tell you a little more about him.
Alfred Tennyson was born in 1809 in the Lincolnshire village of Somersby. His father was the rector there, and had, besides Alfred, eleven other children. And here about the Rectory garden, orchard and fields, the Tennyson children played at knights and warriors. Beyond the field flowed a brook—
"That loves To purl o'er matted cress and ribbed sand, Or dimple in the dark of rushy coves, Drawing into his narrow earthen urn, In every elbow and turn, The filter'd tribute of the rough woodland."*
*Ode to Memory.
Of the garden and the fields and of the brook especially, Alfred kept a memory all through his long life. But at seven he was sent to live with his grandmother and go to school at Louth, about ten miles away. "How I did hate that school!" he said, long afterwards, so we may suppose the years he spent there were not altogether happy. But when he was eleven he went home again to be taught by his father, until he went to Cambridge.
At home, Alfred read a great deal, especially poetry. He wrote, too, romances like Sir Walter Scott's, full of battles, epics in the manner of Pope, plays, and blank verse. He wrote so much that his father said, "If Alfred die, one of our greatest poets will have gone." And besides writing poems, Alfred, who was one of the big children, used to tell stories to the little ones,— stories these of knights and ladies, giants and dragons and all manner of wonderful things. So the years passed, and one day the two boys, Charles and Alfred, resolved to print their poems, and took them to a bookseller in Louth. He gave them 20 pounds for the manuscript, but more than half was paid in books out of the shop. So the grand beginning was made. But the little book caused no stir in the great world. No one knew that a poet had broken silence.
The next year Charles and Alfred went to Cambridge. Alfred soon made many friends among the clever young men of his day, chief among them being Arthur Hallam, whose father was a famous historian.
At college Tennyson won the chancellor's prize for a poem on Timbuctoo, and the following year he published a second little volume of poems. This, though kindly received by some great writers, made hardly more stir than the little volume by "Two Brothers."
Tennyson did not take a degree at Cambridge, for, owing to his father's failing health, he was called home. He left college, perhaps with no very keen regret, for his heart was not in sympathy with the teaching. In his undergraduate days he wrote some scathing lines about it. You "teach us nothing," he said, "feeding not the heart." But he did remember with tenderness that Cambridge had been the spot where his first and warmest friendship had been formed.
Soon after Alfred left college, his father died very suddenly. Although the father was now gone the Tennysons did not need to leave their home, for the new rector did not want the house. So life in the Rectory went quietly on; friends came and went, the dearest friend of all, Arthur Hallam, came often, for he loved the poet's young sister, and one day they were to be married. It was a peaceful happy time—
"And all we met was fair and good, And all was good that Time could bring, And all the secret of the Spring, Moved in the chambers of the blood."
Long days were spent reading poetry and talking of many things—
"Or in the all-golden afternoon A guest, or happy sister, sung, Or here she brought the harp and flung A ballad to the brightening moon.
"Nor less it pleased the livelier moods, Beyond the bounding hill to stray, And break the live long summer day With banquet in the distant woods."
And amid this pleasant country life the poet worked on, and presently another little book of poems appeared. Still fame did not come, and one severe and blundering review kept Tennyson, it is said, from publishing anything more for ten years.
But now there fell upon him what was perhaps the darkest sorrow of his life. Arthur Hallam, who was traveling on the Continent, died suddenly at Vienna. When the news came to Tennyson that his friend was gone—
"That in Vienna's fatal walls God's finger touch'd him, and he slept,"
for a time joy seemed blotted out of life, and only that he might help to comfort his sister did he wish to live, for—
"That remorseless iron hour Made cypress of her orange flower, Despair of Hope."
As an outcome of this grief we have one of Tennyson's finest poems, In Memoriam. It is an elegy which we place beside Lycidas and Adonais. But In Memoriam strikes yet a sadder note. For in Lycidas and Adonais Milton and Shelley mourned kindred souls rather than dear loved friends. To Tennyson, Arthur Hallam was "The brother of my love"—
"Dear as the mother to the son More than my brothers are to me."
In Memoriam is a group of poems rather than one long poem—
"Short swallow-flights of song, that dip Their wings in tears, and skim away."
It is written in a meter which Tennyson believed he had invented, but which Ben Jonson and others had used before him. Two hundred years before Jonson had written a little elegy beginning—
"Though Beautie be the Marke of praise, And yours of whom I sing be such As not the world can praise too much, Yet is't your vertue now I raise."
Here again we see that our literature of to-day is no new born thing, but rooted in the past. Jonson's poem, however, is a mere trifle, Tennyson's one of the great things of our literature. The first notes of In Memoriam were written when sorrow was fresh, but it was not till seventeen years later that it was given to the world. It is perhaps the most perfect monument ever raised to friendship. For in mourning his own loss Tennyson mourned the loss of all the world. "'I' is not always the author speaking of himself, but the voice of the human race speaking thro' him," he says.
After the prologue, the poem tells of the first bitter hopeless grief, of how friends try to comfort the mourners.
"One writes, that 'Other friends remain,' That 'Loss is common to the race'— And common is the common-place, And vacant chaff well meant for grain.
"That loss if common would not make My own less bitter, rather more: Too common! Never morning wore To evening, but some heart did break."
And yet even now he can say—
"I hold it true, whate'er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; 'Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all."
And so the months glide by, and the first Christmas comes, "The time draws near the birth of Christ," the bells ring—
"Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace, Peace and goodwill, to all mankind.
"This year I slept and woke with pain, I almost wish'd no more to wake, And that my hold on life would break Before I heard those bells again."
But when Christmas comes again the year has brought calm if not forgetfulness—
"Again at Christmas did we weave The holly round the Christmas hearth; The silent snow possess'd the earth, And calmly fell our Christmas-eve:
"The yule-log sparkled keen with frost, No wing of wind the region swept, But over all things brooding slept The quiet sense of something lost.
"As in the winters left behind, Again our ancient games had place, The mimic picture's breathing grace, And dance and song and hoodman-blind."
The years pass on, the brothers and sisters grow up and scatter, and at last the old home has to be left. Sadly the poet takes leave of all the loved spots in house and garden. Strangers will soon come there, people who will neither care for nor love the dear familiar scene—
"We leave the well-beloved place Where first we gazed upon the sky; The roofs, that heard our earliest cry, Will shelter one of stranger race.
"We go, but ere we go from home, As down the garden-walks I move, Two spirits of a diverse love Contend for loving masterdom.
"One whispers, 'Here thy boyhood sung Long since its matin song, and heard The low love-language of the bird In native hazels tassel-hung.'
"The other answers, 'Yea, but here Thy feet have stray'd in after hours With thy lost friend among the bowers, And this hath made them trebly dear.'"
The poem moves on, and once again in the new home Christmas comes round. Here everything is strange, the very bells seem like strangers' voices. But with this new life new strength has come, and sorrow has henceforth lost its sting. And with the ringing of the New Year bells a new tone comes into the poem, a tone no more of despair, but of hope.
"Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky, The flying cloud, the frosty light: The year is dying in the night; Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
"Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true.
"Ring out the grief that saps the mind, For those that here we see no more; Ring out the feud of rich and poor, Ring in redress to all mankind. . . . . . . "Ring in the valiant man and free, The larger heart, the kindlier hand; Ring out the darkness of the land, Ring in the Christ that is to be."
After this the tone of the poem changes and the poet says—
"I will not shut me from my kind, And, lest I stiffen into stone, I will not eat my heart alone, Nor feed with sighs a passing wind: . . . . . "Regret is dead, but love is more Than in the summers that are flown, For I myself with these have grown To something greater than before."
One more event is recorded, the wedding of the poet's younger sister, nine years after the death of his friend. And with this note of gladness and hope in the future the poem ends.
Time heals all things, and time healed Tennyson's grief. But there was another reason, of which we hardly catch a glimpse in the poem, for his return to peace and hope. Another love had come into his life, the love of the lady who one day was to be his wife. At first, however, it seemed a hopeless love, for in spite of his growing reputation as a poet, Tennyson was still poor, too poor to marry. And so for fourteen years he worked and waited, at times wellnigh losing hope. But at length the waiting was over and the wedding took place. Tennyson amused the guests by saying that it was the nicest wedding he had ever been at. And long afterwards with solemn thankfulness he said, speaking of his wife, "The peace of God came into my life before the altar when I wedded her."
A few months before the wedding Wordsworth had died. One night a few months after it Tennyson dreamt that the Prince Consort came and kissed him on the cheek. "Very kind but very German," he said in his dream. Next morning a letter arrived offering him the Laureateship.
One of the first poems Tennyson wrote as laureate was his Ode on the Death of Wellington. Few people liked it at the time, but now it has taken its place among our fine poems, and many of its lines are familiar household words.
Of Tennyson's many beautiful short poems there is no room here to tell. He wrote several plays too, but they are among the least read and the least remembered of his works. For Tennyson was a lyrical rather than a dramatic poet. His long poems besides In Memoriam are The Princess, Maud, and the Idylls of the King. The Princess is perhaps the first of Tennyson's long poems that you will like to read. It is full of gayety, young life, and color. It is a mock heroic tale of a princess who does not wish to marry and who founds a college for women, within the walls of which no man may enter. But the Prince to whom the Princess has been betrothed since childhood and who loves her from having seen her portrait only, enters with his friends disguised as women students. The result is confusion, war, and finally peace. The story must not be taken too seriously; it is a poem, not a treatise, but it is interesting, especially at this time. For even you who read this book must know that the question has not yet been settled as to how far a woman ought to be educated and take her share in the world's work. But forget that and read it only for its light-hearted poetry. The Princess is in blank verse, but throughout there are scattered beautiful songs which add to the charm. Here is one of the most musical—
"Sweet and low, sweet and low, Wind of the western sea, Low, low, breathe and blow, Wind of the western sea! Over the rolling waters go, Come from the dying moon, and blow, Blow him again to me; While my little one, while my pretty one, sleeps.
"Sleep and rest, sleep and rest, Father will come to thee soon; Rest, rest, on mother's breast, Father will come to thee soon; Father will come to his babe in the nest, Silver sails all out of the west Under the silver moon: Sleep, my little one, sleep, my pretty one, sleep."
In the Idylls of the King, Tennyson, as you have already heard in Chapter IX, used the old story of Arthur. He used the old story, but he wove into it something new, for we are meant to see in his twelve tales of the round table an allegory. We are meant to see the struggle between what is base and what is noble in human nature. But this inner meaning is not always easy to follow, and we may cast the allegory aside, and still have left to us beautiful dream-like tales which carry us away into a strange wonderland. Like The Faery Queen, the Idylls of the King is full of pictures. Here we find a fairy city, towered and turreted, dark woods, wild wastes and swamps, slow gliding rivers all in a misty dreamland. And this dreamland is peopled by knights and ladies who move through it clad in radiant robes and glittering armor. Jewels and rich coloring gleam and glow to the eye, songs fall upon the ear. And over all rules the blameless King.
"And Arthur and his knighthood for a space Were all one will, and thro' that strength the King Drew in the petty princedoms under him, Fought, and in twelve great battles overcame The heathen hordes, and made a realm and reign'd."
One story of the Idylls I have already told you. Some day you will read the others, and learn for yourselves—
"This old imperfect tale, New-old, and shadowing Sense at war with Soul Rather than that gray King, whose name, a ghost, Streams like a cloud, man-shaped, from mountain peak, And cleaves to cairn and cromlech still; or him Of Geoffrey's book, or him of Malleor's."
Tennyson led a peaceful, simple life. He made his home for the most part in the Isle of Wight. Here he lived quietly, surrounded by his family, but sought after by all the great people of his day. He refused a baronetcy, but at length in 1883 accepted a peerage and became Lord Tennyson, the first baron of his name. He was the first peer to receive the title purely because of his literary work. And so with gathering honors and gathering years the poet lived and worked, a splendid old man. Then at the goodly age of eighty-four he died in the autumn of 1892.
He was buried in Westminster, not far from Chaucer, and as he was laid among the mighty dead the choir sang Crossing the Bar, one of his latest and most beautiful poems.
"Sunset and evening star, And one clear call for me! And may there be no moaning of the bar, When I put out to sea,
"But such a tide as moving seems asleep, Too full for sound and foam, When that which drew from out the boundless deep Turns again home.
"Twilight and evening bell, And after that the dark! And may there be no sadness of farewell, When I embark;
"For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place The flood may bear me far, I hope to see my Pilot face to face When I have crost the bar."
With Tennyson I end my book, because my design was not to give you a history of our literature as it is now, so much as to show you how it grew to be what it is. In the beginning of this book I took the Arthur story as a pattern or type of how a story grew, showing how it passed through many stages, in each stage gaining something of beauty and of breadth. In the same way I have tried to show how from a rough foundation of minstrel tales and monkish legends the great palace of our literature has slowly risen to be a glorious house of song. It is only an outline that I have given you. There are some great names that demand our reverence, many that call for our love, for whom no room has been found in this book. For our literature is so great a thing that no one book can compass it, no young brain comprehend it. But if I have awakened in you a desire to know more of our literature, a desire to fill in and color for yourselves this outline picture, I shall be well repaid, and have succeeded in what I aimed at doing. If I have helped you to see that Literature need be no dreary lesson I shall be more than repaid.
"They use me as a lesson-book at schools," said Tennyson, "and they will call me 'that horrible Tennyson.'" I should like to think that the time is coming when schoolgirls and schoolboys will say, "We have Tennyson for a school-book. How nice." I should like to think that they will say this not only of Tennyson, but of many other of our great writers whose very names come as rest and refreshment to those of us who have learned to love them.
BOOK TO READ
Tennyson for the Young, Alfred Ainger.