Letters on Literature
by Andrew Lang
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In vain does Lucretius paint pictures of life and Nature so large, so glowing, so majestic that they remind us of nothing but the "Fete Champetre" of Giorgione, in the Louvre. All that life is a thing we must leave soon, and forever, and must be hopelessly lapped in an eternity of blind silence. "I shall let men see the certain end of all," he cries; "then will they resist religion, and the threats of priests and prophets." But this "certain end" is exactly what mortals do not desire to see. To this sleep they prefer even tenebras Orci, vastasque lacunas.

They will not be deprived of gods, "the friends of man, merciful gods, compassionate." They will not turn from even a faint hope in those to the Lucretian deities in their endless and indifferent repose and divine "delight in immortal and peaceful life, far, far away from us and ours—life painless and fearless, needing nothing we can give, replete with its own wealth, unmoved by prayer and promise, untouched by anger."

Do you remember that hymn, as one may call it, of Lucretius to Death, to Death which does not harm us. "For as we knew no hurt of old, in ages when the Carthaginian thronged against us in war, and the world was shaken with the shock of fight, and dubious hung the empire over all things mortal by sea and land, even so careless, so unmoved, shall we remain, in days when we shall no more exist, when the bond of body and soul that makes our life is broken. Then naught shall move us, nor wake a single sense, not though earth with sea be mingled, and sea with sky." There is no hell, he cries, or, like Omar, he says, "Hell is the vision of a soul on fire."

Your true Tityus, gnawed by the vulture, is only the slave of passion and of love; your true Sisyphus (like Lord Salisbury in Punch) is only the politician, striving always, never attaining; the stone rolls down again from the hill-crest, and thunders far along the plain.

Thus his philosophy, which gives him such a delightful sense of freedom, is rejected after all these years of trial by men. They feel that since those remotest days

"Quum Venus in silvis jungebat corpora amantum,"

they have travelled the long, the weary way Lucretius describes to little avail, if they may not keep their hopes and fears. Robbed of these we are robbed of all; it serves us nothing to have conquered the soil and fought the winds and waves, to have built cities, and tamed fire, if the world is to be "dispeopled of its dreams." Better were the old life we started from, and dreams therewith, better the free days—

"Novitas tum florida mundi Pabula dia tulit, miseris mortablibus ampla;"

than wealth or power, and neither hope nor fear, but one certain end of all before the eyes of all.

Thus the heart of man has answered, and will answer Lucretius, the noblest Roman poet, and the least beloved, who sought, at last, by his own hand, they say, the doom that Virgil waited for in the season appointed.


To Philip Dodsworth, Esq., New York.

Dear Dodsworth,—Let me congratulate you on having joined the army of book-hunters. "Everywhere have I sought peace and found it nowhere," says the blessed Thomas a Kempis, "save in a corner with a book." Whether that good monk wrote the "De Imitatione Christi" or not, one always likes him for his love of books. Perhaps he was the only book-hunter that ever wrought a miracle. "Other signs and miracles which he was wont to tell as having happened at the prayer of an unnamed person, are believed to have been granted to his own, such as the sudden reappearance of a lost book in his cell." Ah, if Faith, that moveth mountains, could only bring back the books we have lost, the books that have been borrowed from us! But we are a faithless generation.

From a collector so much older and better experienced in misfortune than yourself, you ask for some advice on the sport of book-hunting. Well, I will give it; but you will not take it. No; you will hunt wild, like young pointers before they are properly broken.

Let me suppose that you are "to middle fortune born," and that you cannot stroll into the great book-marts and give your orders freely for all that is rich and rare. You are obliged to wait and watch an opportunity, to practise that maxim of the Stoic's, "Endure and abstain." Then abstain from rushing at every volume, however out of the line of your literary interests, which seems to be a bargain. Probably it is not even a bargain; it can seldom be cheap to you, if you do not need it, and do not mean to read it.

Not that any collector reads all his books. I may have, and indeed do possess, an Aldine Homer and Caliergus his Theocritus; but I prefer to study the authors in a cheap German edition. The old editions we buy mainly for their beauty, and the sentiment of their antiquity and their associations.

But I don't take my own advice. The shelves are crowded with books quite out of my line—a whole small library of tomes on the pastime of curling, and I don't curl; and "God's Revenge against Murther," though (so far) I am not an assassin. Probably it was for love of Sir Walter Scott, and his mention of this truculent treatise, that I purchased it. The full title of it is "The Triumphs of God's Revenge against the Crying and Execrable Sinne of (willful and premeditated) Murther." Or rather there is nearly a column more of title, which I spare you. But the pictures are so bad as to be nearly worth the price. Do not waste your money, like your foolish adviser, on books like that, or on "Les Sept Visions de Don Francisco de Quevedo," published at Cologne, in 1682.

Why in the world did I purchase this, with the title-page showing Quevedo asleep, and all his seven visions floating round him in little circles like soap-bubbles? Probably because the book was published by Clement Malassis, and perhaps he was a forefather of that whimsical Frenchman, Poulet Malassis, who published for Banville, and Baudelaire, and Charles Asselineau. It was a bad reason. More likely the mere cheapness attracted me.

Curiosity, not cheapness, assuredly, betrayed me into another purchase. If I want to read "The Pilgrim's Progress," of course I read it in John Bunyan's good English. Then why must I ruin myself to acquire "Voyage d'un Chrestien vers l'Eternite. Ecrit en Anglois, par Monsieur Bunjan, F.M., en Bedtfort, et nouvellement traduit en Francois. Avec Figures. A Amsterdam, chez Jean Boekholt Libraire pres de la Bourse, 1685"? I suppose this is the oldest French version of the famed allegory. Do you know an older? Bunyan was still living and, indeed, had just published the second part of the book, about Christian's wife and children, and the deplorable young woman whose name was Dull.

As the little volume, the Elzevir size, is bound in blue morocco, by Cuzin, I hope it is not wholly a foolish bargain; but what do I want, after all, with a French "Pilgrim's Progress"? These are the errors a man is always making who does not collect books with system, with a conscience and an aim.

Do have a specially. Make a collection of works on few subjects, well chosen. And what subjects shall they be? That depends on taste. Probably it is well to avoid the latest fashion. For example, the illustrated French books of the eighteenth century are, at this moment, en hausse. There is a "boom" in them. Fifty years ago Brunet, the author of the great "Manuel," sneered at them. But, in his, "Library Companion," Dr. Dibdin, admitted their merit. The illustrations by Gravelot, Moreau, Marillier, and the rest, are certainly delicate, graceful, full of character, stamped with style. But only the proofs before letters are very much valued, and for these wild prices are given by competitive millionaires. You cannot compete with them.

It is better wholly to turn the back on these books and on any others at the height of the fashion, unless you meet them for fourpence on a stall. Even then should a gentleman take advantage of a poor bookseller's ignorance? I don't know. I never fell into the temptation, because I never was tempted. Bargains, real bargains, are so rare that you may hunt for a lifetime and never meet one.

The best plan for a man who has to see that his collection is worth what it cost him, is probably to confine one's self to a single line, say, in your case, first editions of new English, French, and American books that are likely to rise in value. I would try, were I you, to collect first editions of Longfellow, Bryant, Whittier, Poe, and Hawthorne.

As to Poe, you probably will never have a chance. Outside of the British Museum, where they have the "Tamerlane" of 1827, I have only seen one early example of Poe's poems. It is "Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, by Edgar A. Poe. Baltimore: Hatch and Dunning, 1829, 8vo, pp. 71." The book "came to Mr. Locker (Mr. Frederick Locker-Lampson), through Mr. R. H. Stoddard, the American poet." So says Mr. Locker-Lampson's Catalogue. He also has the New York edition of 1831.

These books are extraordinarily rare; you are more likely to find them in some collection of twopenny rubbish than to buy them in the regular market. Bryant's "Poems" (Cambridge, 1821) must also be very rare, and Emerson's of 1847, and Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes's of 1836, and Longfellow's "Voices of the Night," 1839, and Mr. Lowell's "A Year's Life;" none of these can be common, and all are desirable, as are Mr. Whittier's "Legends of New England" (1831), and "Poems" (1838).

Perhaps you may never be lucky enough to come across them cheap; no doubt they are greatly sought for by amateurs. Indeed, all American books of a certain age or of a special interest are exorbitantly dear. Men like Mr. James Lenox used to keep the market up. One cannot get the Jesuit "Relations"—shabby little missionary reports from Canada, in dirty vellum.

Cartier, Perrot, Champlain, and the other early explorers' books are beyond the means of a working student who needs them. May you come across them in a garret of a farmhouse, or in some dusty lane of the city. Why are they not reprinted, as Mr. Arber has reprinted "Captain John Smith's Voyages, and Reports on Virginia"? The very reprints, when they have been made, are rare and hard to come by.

There are certain modern books, new books, that "go up" rapidly in value and interest. Mr. Swinburne's "Atalanta" of 1865, the quarto in white cloth, is valued at twenty dollars. Twenty years ago one dollar would have purchased it. Mr. Austin Dobson's "Proverbs in Porcelain" is also in demand among the curious. Nay, even I may say about the first edition of "Ballades in Blue China" (1880), as Gibbon said of his "Essay on the Study of Literature:" "The primitive value of half a crown has risen to the fanciful price of a guinea or thirty shillings," or even more. I wish I had a copy myself, for old sake's sake.

Certain modern books, "on large paper," are safe investments. The "Badminton Library," an English series of books on sport, is at a huge premium already, when on "large paper." But one should never buy the book unless, as in the case of Dr. John Hill Burton's "Book-Hunter" (first edition), it is not only on large paper, and not only rare (twenty- five copies), but also readable and interesting. {7} A collector should have the taste to see when a new book is in itself valuable and charming, and when its author is likely to succeed, so that his early attempts (as in the case of Mr. Matthew Arnold, Lord Tennyson, and a few others of the moderns) are certain to become things of curious interest.

You can hardly ever get a novel of Jane Austen's in the first edition. She is rarer than Fielding or Smollett. Some day it may be the same in Miss Broughton's case. Cling to the fair and witty Jane, if you get a chance. Beware of illustrated modern books in which "processes" are employed. Amateurs will never really value mechanical reproductions, which can be copied to any extent. The old French copper-plate engravings and the best English mezzo-tints are so valuable because good impressions are necessarily so rare.

One more piece of advice. Never (or "hardly ever") buy an imperfect book. It is a constant source of regret, an eyesore. Here have I Lovelace's "Lucasta," 1649, without the engraving. It is deplorable, but I never had a chance of another "Lucasta." This is not a case of invenies aliam. However you fare, you will have the pleasure of Hope and the consolation of books quietem inveniendam in abditis recessibus et libellulis.


To the Lady Violet Lebas.

Dear Lady Violet,—I am not sure that I agree with you in your admiration of Rochefoucauld—of the Reflexions, ou Sentences et Maximes Morales, I mean. At least, I hardly agree when I have read many of them at a stretch. It is not fair to read them in that way, of course, for there are more than five hundred pensees, and so much esprit becomes fatiguing. I doubt if people study them much. Five or six of them have become known even to writers in the newspapers, and we all copy them from each other.

Rochefoucauld says that a man may be too dull to be duped by a very clever person. He himself was so clever that he was often duped, first by the general honest dulness of mankind, and then by his own acuteness. He thought he saw more than he did see, and he said even more than he thought he saw. If the true motive of all our actions is self-love, or vanity, no man is a better proof of the truth than the great maxim-maker. His self-love took the shape of a brilliancy that is sometimes false. He is tricked out in paste for diamonds, now and then, like a vain, provincial beauty at a ball. "A clever man would frequently be much at a loss," he says, "in stupid company." One has seen this embarrassment of a wit in a company of dullards. It is Rochefoucauld's own position in this world of men and women. We are all, in the mass, dullards compared with his cleverness, and so he fails to understand us, is much at a loss among us. "People only praise others in hopes of being praised in turn," he says. Mankind is not such a company of "log-rollers" as he avers.

There is more truth in a line of Tennyson's about

"The praise of those we love, Dearer to true young hearts than their own praise."

I venture to think we need not be young to prefer to hear the praise of others rather than our own. It is not embarrassing in the first place, as all praise of ourselves must be. I doubt if any man or woman can flatter so discreetly as not to make us uncomfortable. Besides, if our own performances be lauded, we are uneasy as to whether the honour is deserved. An artist has usually his own doubts about his own doings, or rather he has his own certainties. About our friends' work we need have no such misgivings. And our self-love is more delicately caressed by the success of our friends than by our own. It is still self-love, but it is filtered, so to speak, through our affection for another.

What are human motives, according to Rochefoucauld? Temperament, vanity, fear, indolence, self-love, and a grain of natural perversity, which somehow delights in evil for itself. He neglects that other element, a grain of natural worth, which somehow delights in good for itself. This taste, I think, is quite as innate, and as active in us, as that other taste for evil which causes there to be something not wholly displeasing in the misfortunes of our friends.

There is a story which always appears to me a touching proof of this grain of goodness, as involuntary, as fatal as its opposite. I do not remember in what book of travels I found this trait of native excellence. The black fellows of Australia are very fond of sugar, and no wonder, if it be true that it has on them an intoxicating effect. Well, a certain black fellow had a small parcel of brown sugar which was pilfered from his lair in the camp. He detected the thief, who was condemned to be punished according to tribal law; that is to say, the injured man was allowed to have a whack at his enemy's head with a waddy, a short club of heavy hard wood. The whack was duly given, and then the black who had suffered the loss threw down his club, burst into tears, embraced the thief and displayed every sign of a lively regret for his revenge.

That seems to me an example of the human touch that Rochefoucauld never allows for, the natural goodness, pity, kindness, which can assert itself in contempt of the love of self, and the love of revenge. This is that true clemency which is a real virtue, and not "the child of Vanity, Fear, Indolence, or of all three together." Nor is it so true that "we have all fortitude enough to endure the misfortunes of others." Everybody has witnessed another's grief that came as near him as his own.

How much more true, and how greatly poetical is that famous maxim: "Death and the Sun are two things not to be looked on with a steady eye." This version is from the earliest English translation of 1698. The Maximes were first published in Paris in 1665. {8} "Our tardy apish nation" took thirty-three years in finding them out and appropriating them. This, too, is good: "If we were faultless, we would observe with less pleasure the faults of others." Indeed, to observe these with pleasure is not the least of our faults. Again, "We are never so happy, nor so wretched, as we suppose." It is our vanity, perhaps, that makes us think ourselves miserrimi.

Do you remember—no, you don't—that meeting in "Candide" of the unfortunate Cunegonde and the still more unfortunate old lady who was the daughter of a Pope? "You lament your fate," said the old lady; "alas, you have known no such sorrows as mine!" "What! my good woman!" says Cunegonde. "Unless you have been maltreated by two Bulgarians, received two stabs from a knife, had two of your castles burned over your head, seen two fathers and two mothers murdered before your eyes, and two of your lovers flogged at two autos-da-fe, I don't fancy that you can have the advantage of me. Besides, I was born a baroness of seventy-two quarterings, and I have been a cook." But the daughter of a Pope had, indeed, been still more unlucky, as she proved, than Cunegonde; and the old lady was not a little proud of it.

But can you call this true: "There is nobody but is ashamed of having loved when once he loves no longer"? If it be true at all, I don't think the love was much worth having or giving. If one really loves once, one can never be ashamed of it; for we never cease to love. However, this is the very high water of sentiment, you will say; but I blush no more for it than M. le Duc de Rochefoucauld for his own opinion. Perhaps I am thinking of that kind of love about which he says: "True love is like ghosts; which everybody talks about and few have seen." "Many be the thyrsus-bearers, few the Mystics," as the Greek proverb runs. "Many are called, few are chosen."

As to friendship being "a reciprocity of interests," the saying is but one of those which Rochefoucauld's vanity imposed on his wit. Very witty it is not, and it is emphatically untrue. "Old men console themselves by giving good advice for being no longer able to set bad examples." Capital; but the poor old men are often good examples of the results of not taking their own good advice. "Many an ingrate is less to blame than his benefactor." One might add, at least I will, "Every man who looks for gratitude deserves to get none of it." "To say that one never flirts—is flirting." I rather like the old translator's version of "Il y a de bons mariages; mais il n'y en a point de delicieux"—"Marriage is sometimes convenient, but never delightful."

How true is this of authors with a brief popularity: "Il y a des gens qui ressemblent aux vaudevilles, qu'on ne chante qu'un certain temps." Again, "to be in haste to repay a kindness is a sort of ingratitude," and a rather insulting sort too. "Almost everybody likes to repay small favours; many people can be grateful for favours not too weighty, but for favours truly great there is scarce anything but ingratitude." They must have been small favours that Wordsworth had conferred when "the gratitude of men had oftener left him mourning." Indeed, the very pettiness of the aid we can generally render each other, makes gratitude the touching thing it is. So much is repaid for so little, and few can ever have the chance of incurring the thanklessness that Rochefoucauld found all but universal.

"Lovers and ladies never bore each other, because they never speak of anything but themselves." Do husbands and wives often bore each other for the same reason? Who said: "To know all is to forgive all"? It is rather like "On pardonne tant que l'on aime"—"As long as we love we can forgive," a comfortable saying, and these are rare in Rochefoucauld. "Women do not quite know what flirts they are" is also, let us hope, not incorrect. The maxim that "There is a love so excessive that it kills jealousy" is only a corollary from "as long as we love, we forgive." You remember the classical example, Manon Lescaut and the Chevalier des Grieux; not an honourable precedent.

"The accent of our own country dwells in our hearts as well as on our tongues." Ah! never may I lose the Border accent! "Love's Miracle! To cure a coquette." "Most honest women are tired of their task," says this unbeliever. And the others? Are they never aweary? The Duke is his own best critic after all, when he says: "The greatest fault of a penetrating wit is going beyond the mark." Beyond the mark he frequently goes, but not when he says that we come as fresh hands to each new epoch of life, and often want experience for all our years. How hard it was to begin to be middle-aged! Shall we find old age easier if ever we come to its threshold? Perhaps, and Death perhaps the easiest of all. Nor let me forget, it will be long before you have occasion to remember, that "vivacity which grows with age is not far from folly."


To Mr. Gifted Hopkins.

My Dear Hopkins,—The verses which you have sent me, with a request "to get published in some magazine," I now return to you. If you are anxious that they should be published, send them to an editor yourself. If he likes them he will accept them from you. If he does not like them, why should he like them because they are forwarded by me? His only motive would be an aversion to disobliging a confrere, and why should I put him in such an unpleasant position?

But this is a very boorish way of thanking you for the premiere representation of your little poem. "To Delia in Girton" you call it, "recommending her to avoid the Muses, and seek the society of the Graces and Loves." An old-fashioned preamble, and of the lengthiest, and how do you go on?—

Golden hair is fairy gold, Fairy gold that cannot stay, Turns to leaflets green and cold, At the ending of the day! Laurel-leaves the Muses may Twine about your golden head. Will the crown reward you, say, When the fairy gold is fled?

Daphne was a maid unwise— Shun the laurel, seek the rose; Azure, lovely in the skies, Shines less gracious in the hose!

Don't you think, dear Hopkins, that this allusion to bas-bleus, if not indelicate, is a little rococo, and out of date? Editors will think so, I fear. Besides, I don't like "Fairy gold that cannot stay." If Fairy Gold were a horse, it would be all very well to write that it "cannot stay." 'Tis the style of the stable, unsuited to songs of the salon.

This is a very difficult kind of verse that you are essaying, you whom the laurels of Mr. Locker do not suffer to sleep for envy. You kindly ask my opinion on vers de societe in general. Well, I think them a very difficult sort of thing to write well, as one may infer from this, that the ancients, our masters, could hardly write them at all. In Greek poetry of the great ages I only remember one piece which can be called a model—the AEolic verses that Theocritus wrote to accompany the gift of the ivory distaff. It was a present, you remember, to the wife of his friend Nicias, the physician of Miletus. The Greeks of that age kept their women in almost Oriental reserve. One may doubt whether Nicias would have liked it if Theocritus had sent, instead of a distaff, a fan or a jewel. But there is safety in a spinning instrument, and all the compliments to the lady, "the dainty-ankled Theugenis," turn on her skill, and industry, and housewifery. So Louis XIV., no mean authority, called this piece of vers de societe "a model of honourable gallantry."

I have just looked all through Pomtow's pretty little pocket volumes of the minor Greek poets, and found nothing more of the nature of the lighter verse than this of Alcman's—[Greek text]. Do you remember the pretty paraphrase of it in "Love in Idleness"?

"Maidens with voices like honey for sweetness that breathe desire, Would that I were a sea bird with wings that could never tire, Over the foam-flowers flying, with halcyons ever on wing, Keeping a careless heart, a sea-blue bird of the spring."

It does not quite give the sense Alcman intended, the lament for his limbs weary with old age—with old age sadder for the sight of the honey- voiced girls.

The Greeks had not the kind of society that is the home of "Society Verses," where, as Mr. Locker says, "a boudoir decorum is, or ought always to be, preserved, where sentiment never surges into passion, and where humour never overflows into boisterous merriment." Honest women were estranged from their mirth and their melancholy.

The Romans were little more fortunate. You cannot expect the genius of Catullus not to "surge into passion," even in his hours of gayer song, composed when

Multum lusimus in meis tabellis, Ut convenerat esse delicatos, Scribens versiculos uterque nostrum.

Thus the lighter pieces of Catullus, like the dedication of his book, are addressed to men, his friends, and thus they scarcely come into the category of what we call "Society Verses." Given the character of Roman society, perhaps we might say that plenty of this kind of verse was written by Horace and by Martial. The famous ode to Pyrrha does not exceed the decorum of a Roman boudoir, and, as far as love was concerned, it does not seem to have been in the nature of Horace to "surge into passion." So his best songs in this kind are addressed to men, with whom he drinks a little, and talks of politics and literature a great deal, and muses over the shortness of life, and the zest that snow- clad Soracte gives to the wintry fire.

Perhaps the ode to Leuconoe, which Mr. Austin Dobson has rendered so prettily in a villanelle, may come within the scope of this Muse, for it has a playfulness mingled with its melancholy, a sadness in its play. Perhaps, too, if Horace is to be done into verse, these old French forms seem as fit vehicles as any for Latin poetry that was written in the exotic measures of Greece. There is a foreign grace and a little technical difficulty overcome in the English ballade and villanelle, as in the Horatian sapphics and alcaics. I would not say so much, on my own responsibility, nor trespass so far on the domain of scholarship, but this opinion was communicated to me by a learned professor of Latin. I think, too, that some of the lyric measures of the old French Pleiad, of Ronsard and Du Bellay, would be well wedded with the verse of Horace. But perhaps no translator will ever please any one but himself, and of Horace every man must be his own translator.

It may be that Ovid now and then comes near to writing vers de societe, only he never troubles himself for a moment about the "decorum of the boudoir." Do you remember the lines on the ring which he gave his lady? They are the origin and pattern of all the verses written by lovers on that pretty metempsychosis which shall make them slippers, or fans, or girdles, like Waller's, and like that which bound "the dainty, dainty waist" of the Miller's Daughter.

"Ring that shalt bind the finger fair Of my sweet maid, thou art not rare; Thou hast not any price above The token of her poet's love; Her finger may'st thou mate as she Is mated every wise with me!"

And the poet goes on, as poets will, to wish he were this favoured, this fortunate jewel:

"In vain I wish! So, ring, depart, And say 'with me thou hast his heart'!"

Once more Ovid's verses on his catholic affection for all ladies, the brown and the blonde, the short and the tall, may have suggested Cowley's humorous confession, "The Chronicle":

"Margarita first possessed, If I remember well, my breast, Margarita, first of all;"

and then follows a list as long as Leporello's.

What disqualifies Ovid as a writer of vers de societe is not so much his lack of "decorum" as the monotonous singsong of his eternal elegiacs. The lightest of light things, the poet of society, should possess more varied strains; like Horace, Martial, Thackeray, not like Ovid and (here is a heresy) Praed. Inimitably well as Praed does his trick of antithesis, I still feel that it is a trick, and that most rhymers could follow him in a mere mechanic art. But here the judgment of Mr. Locker would be opposed to this modest opinion, and there would be opposition again where Mr. Locker calls Dr. O. W. Holmes "perhaps the best living writer of this species of verse." But here we are straying among the moderns before exhausting the ancients, of whom I fancy that Martial, at his best, approaches most near the ideal.

Of course it is true that many of Martial's lyrics would be thought disgusting in any well-regulated convict establishment. His gallantry is rarely "honourable." Scaliger used to burn a copy of Martial, once a year, on the altar of Catullus, who himself was far from prudish. But Martial, somehow, kept his heart undepraved, and his taste in books was excellent. How often he writes verses for the bibliophile, delighting in the details of purple and gold, the illustrations and ornaments for his new volume! These pieces are for the few—for amateurs, but we may all be touched by his grief for the little lass, Erotion. He commends her in Hades to his own father and mother gone before him, that the child may not be frightened in the dark, friendless among the shades

"Parvula ne nigras horrescat Erotion umbras Oraque Tartarei prodigiosa canis."

There is a kind of playfulness in the sorrow, and the pity of a man for a child; pity that shows itself in a smile. I try to render that other inscription for the tomb of little Erotion:

Here lies the body of the little maid Erotion; From her sixth winter's snows her eager shade Hath fleeted on! Whoe'er thou be that after me shalt sway My scanty farm, To her slight shade the yearly offering pay, So—safe from harm— Shall thou and thine revere the kindly Lar, And this alone Be, through thy brief dominion, near or far, A mournful stone!

Certainly he had a heart, this foul-mouthed Martial, who claimed for the study of his book no serious hours, but moments of mirth, when men are glad with wine, "in the reign of the Rose:" {9}

"Haec hora est tua, cum furit Lyaeus, Cum regnat rosa, cum madent capilli; Tunc mevel rigidi legant Catones."

But enough of the poets of old; another day we may turn to Carew and Suckling, Praed and Locker, poets of our own speech, lighter lyrists of our own time. {10}


To Mr. Gifted Hopkins.

Dear Gifted,—If you will permit me to use your Christian, and prophetic, name—we improved the occasion lately with the writers of light verse in ancient times. We decided that the ancients were not great in verses of society, because they had, properly speaking, no society to write verses for. Women did not live in the Christian freedom and social equality with men, either in Greece or Rome—at least not "modest women," as Mr. Harry Foker calls them in "Pendennis." About the others there is plenty of pretty verse in the Anthology. What you need for verses of society is a period in which the social equality is recognized, and in which people are peaceable enough and comfortable enough to "play with light loves in the portal" of the Temple of Hymen, without any very definite intentions, on either part, of going inside and getting married.

Perhaps we should not expect vers de societe from the Crusaders, who were not peaceable, and who were very earnest indeed, in love or war. But as soon as you get a Court, and Court life, in France, even though the times were warlike, then ladies are lauded in artful strains, and the lyre is struck leviore plectro. Charles d'Orleans, that captive and captivating prince, wrote thousands of rondeaux; even before his time a gallant company of gentlemen composed the Livre des Cent Ballades, one hundred ballades, practically unreadable by modern men. Then came Clement Marot, with his gay and rather empty fluency, and Ronsard, with his mythological compliments, his sonnets, decked with roses, and led like lambs to the altar of Helen or Cassandra. A few, here and there, of his pieces are lighter, more pleasant, and, in a quiet way, immortal, such as the verses to his "fair flower of Anjou," a beauty of fifteen. So they ran on, in France, till Voiture's time, and Sarrazin's with his merry ballade of an elopement, and Corneille's proud and graceful stanzas to Marquise de Gorla.

But verses in the English tongue are more worthy of our attention. Mr. Locker begins his collection of them, Lyra Elegantiarum (no longer a very rare book in England), as far back as Skelton's age, and as Thomas Wyat's, and Sidney's; but those things, the lighter lyrics of that day, are rather songs than poems, and probably were all meant to be sung to the virginals by our musical ancestors.

"Drink to me only with thine eyes," says the great Ben Jonson, or sings it rather. The words, that he versified out of the Greek prose of Philostratus, cannot be thought of without the tune. It is the same with Carew's "He that loves a rosy cheek," or with "Roses, their sharp spines being gone." The lighter poetry of Carew's day is all powdered with gold dust, like the court ladies' hair, and is crowned and diapered with roses, and heavy with fabulous scents from the Arabian phoenix's nest. Little Cupids flutter and twitter here and there among the boughs, as in that feast of Adonis which Ptolemy's sister gave in Alexandria, or as in Eisen's vignettes for Dorat's Baisers:

"Ask me no more whither do stray The golden atoms of the day; For in pure love did Heaven prepare These powders to enrich your hair."

It would be affectation, Gifted, if you rhymed in that fashion for the lady of your love, and presented her, as it were, with cosmical cosmetics, and compliments drawn from the starry spaces and deserts, from skies, phoenixes, and angels. But it was a natural and pretty way of writing when Thomas Carew was young. I prefer Herrick the inexhaustible in dainties; Herrick, that parson-pagan, with the soul of a Greek of the Anthology, and a cure of souls (Heaven help them!) in Devonshire. His Julia is the least mortal of these "daughters of dreams and of stories," whom poets celebrate; she has a certain opulence of flesh and blood, a cheek like a damask rose, and "rich eyes," like Keats's lady; no vaporous Beatrice, she; but a handsome English wench, with

"A cuff neglectful and thereby Ribbons to flow confusedly; A winning wave, deserving note In the tempestuous petticoat."

Then Suckling strikes up a reckless military air; a warrior he is who has seen many a siege of hearts—hearts that capitulated, or held out like Troy-town, and the impatient assailant whistles:

"Quit, quit, for shame: this will not move, This cannot take her. If of herself she will not love, Nothing can make her— The devil take her."

So he rides away, curling his moustache, hiding his defeat in a big inimitable swagger. It is a pleasanter piece in which Suckling, after a long leaguer of a lady's heart, finds that Captain honour is governor of the place, and surrender hopeless. So he departs with a salute:

"March, march (quoth I), the word straight give, Let's lose no time but leave her: That giant upon air will live, And hold it out for ever."

Lovelace is even a better type in his rare good things of the military amorist and poet. What apology of Lauzun's, or Bussy Rabutin's for faithlessness could equal this?—

"Why dost thou say I am forsworn, Since thine I vowed to be? Lady, it is already morn; It was last night I swore to thee That fond impossibility."

Has "In Memoriam" nobler numbers than the poem, from exile, to Lucasta?—

"Our Faith and troth All time and space controls, Above the highest sphere we meet, Unseen, unknown, and greet as angels greet."

How comes it that in the fierce fighting days the soldiers were so tuneful, and such scholars? In the first edition of Lovelace's "Lucasta" there is a flock of recommendatory verses, English, Latin, even Greek, by the gallant Colonel's mess-mates and comrades. What guardsman now writes like Lovelace, and how many of his friends could applaud him in Greek? You, my Gifted, are happily of a pacific disposition, and tune a gentle lyre. Is it not lucky for swains like you that the soldiers have quite forsworn sonneting? When a man was a rake, a poet, a warrior, all in one, what chance had a peaceful minor poet like you or me, Gifted, against his charms? Sedley, when sober, must have been an invincible rival—invincible, above all, when he pretended constancy:

"Why then should I seek further store, And still make love anew? When change itself can give no more 'Tis easy to be true."

How infinitely more delightful, musical, and captivating are those Cavalier singers—their numbers flowing fair, like their scented lovelocks—than the prudish society poets of Pope's day. "The Rape of the Lock" is very witty, but through it all don't you mark the sneer of the contemptuous, unmanly little wit, the crooked dandy? He jibes among his compliments; and I do not wonder that Mistress Arabella Fermor was not conciliated by his long-drawn cleverness and polished lines. I prefer Sackville's verses "written at sea the night before an engagement":

"To all you ladies now on land We men at sea indite."

They are all alike, the wits of Queen Anne; and even Matt Prior, when he writes of ladies occasionally, writes down to them, or at least glances up very saucily from his position on his knees. But Prior is the best of them, and the most candid:

"I court others in verse—but I love thee in prose; And they have my whimsies, but thou hast my heart."

Yes, Prior is probably the greatest of all who dally with the light lyre which thrills to the wings of fleeting Loves—the greatest English writer of vers de societe; the most gay, frank, good-humoured, tuneful and engaging.

Landor is great, too, but in another kind; the bees that hummed over Plato's cradle have left their honey on his lips; none but Landor, or a Greek, could have written this on Catullus:

"Tell me not what too well I know About the Bard of Sirmio— Yes, in Thalia's son Such stains there are as when a Grace Sprinkles another's laughing face With nectar, and runs on!"

That is poetry deserving of a place among the rarest things in the Anthology. It is a sorrow to me that I cannot quite place Praed with Prior in my affections. With all his gaiety and wit, he wearies one at last with that clever, punning antithesis. I don't want to know how

"Captain Hazard wins a bet, Or Beaulieu spoils a curry"—

and I prefer his sombre "Red Fisherman," the idea of which is borrowed, wittingly or unwittingly, from Lucian.

Thackeray, too careless in his measures, yet comes nearer Prior in breadth of humour and in unaffected tenderness. Who can equal that song, "Once you come to Forty Year," or the lines on the Venice Love-lamp, or the "Cane-bottomed Chair"? Of living English writers of verse in the "familiar style," as Cowper has it, I prefer Mr. Locker when he is tender and not untouched with melancholy, as in "The Portrait of a Lady," and Mr. Austin Dobson, when he is not flirting, but in earnest, as in the "Song of Four Seasons" and "The Dead Letter." He has ingenuity, pathos, mastery of his art, and, though the least pedantic of poets, is "conveniently learned."

Of contemporary Americans, if I may be frank, I prefer the verse of Mr. Bret Harte, verse with so many tunes and turns, as comic as the "Heathen Chinee," as tender as the lay of the ship with its crew of children that slipped its moorings in the fog. To me it seems that Mr. Bret Harte's poems have never (at least in this country) been sufficiently esteemed. Mr. Lowell has written ("The Biglow Papers" apart) but little in this vein. Mr. Wendell Holmes, your delightful godfather, Gifted, has written much with perhaps some loss from the very quantity. A little of vers de societe, my dear Gifted, goes a long way, as you will think, if ever you sit down steadily to read right through any collection of poems in this manner. So do not add too rapidly to your own store; let them be "few, but roses" all of them.


By Mrs. Andrew Lang.

Dear Miss Somerville,—I was much interested in your fruitless struggle to read "Sir Charles Grandison,"—the book whose separate numbers were awaited with such impatience by Richardson's endless lady friends and correspondents, and even by the rakish world—even by Colley Cibber himself. I sympathize entirely with your estimate of its dulness; yet, dull as it is, it is worth wading through to understand the kind of literature which could flutter the dove-cotes of the last century in a generation earlier than the one that was moved to tears by the wearisome dramas of Hannah More.

There is only one character in the whole of "Sir Charles Grandison" where Richardson is in the least like himself—in the least like the Richardson of "Pamela" and "Clarissa." This character is Miss Charlotte Grandison, the sister of Sir Charles, and later (after many vicissitudes) the wife of Lord G. Miss Grandison's conduct falls infinitely beneath the high standard attained to by the rest of Sir Charles's chosen friends. She is petulant and loves to tease; is uncertain of what she wants; she is lively and sarcastic, and, worse than all, abandons the rounded periods of her brother and Miss Byron for free, not to say slang, expressions. "Hang ceremony!" she often exclaims, with much reason, while "What a deuce!" is her favourite expletive.

The conscientious reader heaves a sigh of relief when this young lady and her many indiscretions appear on the scene; when Miss Grandison, like Nature, "takes the pen from Richardson and writes for him." But I gather that you, my dear Miss Somerville, never got far enough to make her acquaintance, and therefore are still ignorant of the singular qualities of her brother, Sir Charles—Richardson's idea of a perfect man, for both brother and sister are introduced at almost the same moment.

Now it is nearly as difficult to realize that Sir Charles is a young man of twenty-six, as it is to feel that his antithesis, the adorable Pepys of the "Diary," was of that precise age. Sir Charles might be borne with good-naturedly for a short time as an old gentleman who had become garrulous from want of contradiction, but in any other aspect he would be shunned conscientiously. Yet Richardson is not content with putting into his mouth lengthy discourses tending chiefly, though expressed with mock humility, to his own glorification; but he keeps all the other characters perpetually dancing round the Baronet in a chorus of praise. "Was there ever such a man, my Harriet, so good, so just, so noble in his sentiments?" "Ah, my Lucy, dare I hope for the affection of the best of men?" Some people would have begged their friends to cease making them ridiculous, but not so Sir Charles.

But, my dear, trying as Sir Charles is at all moments, he is infinitely at his worst when he attempts to be jocose, when he rallies the step-mother of his friend Beauchamp in a sprightly manner, or exchanges quips with Harriet's cousins at the house of "that excellent ancient," her grandmother. It is a mammoth posing as a kitten, though whatever he says or does, his audience throw up their hands and eyes and ask: "Was there ever such a man?" "Thank Heaven, never!" the nineteenth century replies unanimously.

Secure as he is of the contemporary public verdict, Sir Charles does not attempt to repress his love of "pawing" all his female acquaintances. He is eternally taking their hands, putting his arm round their waists, leading them up and down, and permitting himself liberties that in a less perfect character would be considered intolerable. It is also interesting to note that he never addresses any of his female friends without the prefix "my." "My Harriet," "my Emily," "my Charlotte," are his usual forms, and he is likewise very much addicted to the use of the third person, which may, however, have been the result of his long residence in Italy.

Little as you read of the book, no doubt you were struck—you must have been—by the singular practice in this very matter of Christian names, and also by the enormous satisfaction with which every one promptly adopts every one else as his brother or sister. As regards names, no sooner has Sir Charles rescued Harriet from the clutches of Sir Hargrave Pollexfen, than he calls her "his Harriet," though, when he is once engaged to her, then this is changed into "infinitely obliging Miss Byron." His eldest sister, one year his senior, is always "Lady L." to him, and on her marriage "his Charlotte," aged twenty-four, becomes "Lady G.;" but no one ever ventures to address him with anything more familiar than "Sir Charles." Harriet, indeed, once gets as far as "my Cha-" but this was in a moment of extreme emotion—one of the excesses of youth.

Of course the method of telling his story in letters necessitates the acceptance of various improbabilities; reticence has sometimes to be violated, and confidences to be unduly made. Still, with all these allowances, the gossip of every one with regard to the likelihood of Sir Charles returning Harriet's very thinly veiled attachment is highly undignified, and often indecent. The Object himself, for whom no less than seven ladies were at that time openly sighing, alone ignores Harriet's love, or, at any rate, appears to do so. But his sisters freely and frequently charge her with having fallen in love with him. She writes pages to her whole family as to his behaviour on particular occasions, while his ward, Emily Jervois, begs permission to take up her abode with Harriet when she and Sir Charles are married.

Miss Jervois, who is Richardson's idea of a jeune personne bien elevee, is a compound of tears, of servility, and of undisguised love for her guardian. She is much more like the heroine of a French drama than an English girl of fourteen, and I dread to think what effect she would have on a free-born American! Harriet, as you know, is not quite hopeless at first, but the descent is easy, and, in the end, we quite agree with all the admiring circle, that they were made for each other. They were equally pompous, and used stilts of equal height.

"Sir Charles Grandison" was the last, the most socially ambitious, and much the worst of Richardson's novel's. Smollett came to his best in his last, "Humphrey Clinker." Fielding sobered down into the kind excellence of his last, "Amelia." Neither had been flattered and coddled by literary ladies, like Richardson. What of "Pamela" and "Clarissa"? May a maiden read the book that the young lady studied over Charles Lamb's shoulder? Well, I think, as you have now passed your quarter of a century, it would do you no harm to read the other two, which are infinitely better than "Sir Charles." The worthy Miss Byron, aged only twenty, indeed, writes to her Lucy to remind her that "their grandmother had told them twenty and twenty frightful stories of the vile enterprises of men against innocent creatures," and that they can both "call to mind stories which had ended much worse than hers (the affair with Sir Hargrave Pollexfen) had done."

Grandmothers now choose other topics of conversation for their descendants, but in those old days when sedan-chairs made enlevements so very easy, it was considered necessary to caution girls against all the possible wiles of man. Even little boys, strange as it may sound, were given "Pamela" to read after the Bible. More than this, one small creature, Harry Campbell by name, so young that he always spoke of himself as "little Harry," obtained the book by stealth in his guardian's house, and never stopped till he finished it. When Richardson, on being told of this, sent him a copy for his own, he nearly went out of his senses with delight.

Of course you know the outline of Pamela's story. How at eleven she was taken and educated by a lady, who on her death, when Pamela was sixteen, left her not only more beautiful, but more accomplished than any girl of her years. How Pamela's young master fell in love with her, persecuted her, and after moving adventures of all kinds, being convinced that she was not to be overcome, married her, and they lived happy, with one brief exception, ever after. The proper frame of mind in which to read "Pamela" is to consider it in the light of an historical joke.

The absolute want of dignity that is almost as marked a characteristic in Richardson as his lack of humour, shows itself again and again. After all, Mr. B. would never have married Pamela if he could have persuaded her to live with him in any other way; so the cringing gratitude expressed by Pamela and her parents to the "good gentleman" and the "dear obliger" is only revolting. No woman with any delicacy of feeling could have sat complacently at her own table, while her husband entertained his company with prolonged and minute accounts of his attempts on her virtue. Can you fancy Fielding composing such a scene, Fielding whom Richardson scouts as a profligate? It is impossible not to laugh at the bare idea; and no less funny are Pamela's poetical flights, especially when, like Hamilton of Bangour in exile, she paraphrases the paraphrase of the 137th Psalm, about her captivity in Lincolnshire. All through one has to remind one's self perpetually that Pamela must not be expected to behave like a lady, and that if her father had done as he ought and removed her from her place when she first told him of her uneasiness, there would have been no story at all, and some other book would have had to rank in the opinion of Richardson's adorers "next to the Bible."

Still, whatever may have to be said as to Richardson's subjects, he is never coarse in his treatment of them. The pursuit of Pamela by Mr. B., or of Clarissa by Lovelace, through eight volumes, may weary; it does not corrupt. No man or maid on earth could lay it to his charge that he or she had been corrupted by these books, while no man on earth could read "Clarissa" without being touched by the noble ending. If "Clarissa" had never been written we should have said that the good-natured, fussy, essentially middle-class bookseller, Samuel Richardson, was unable to draw a lady; and it is curious to see how Clarissa stands out, not only among Richardson's female characters, but among the female characters of all time; eminent she is for purity of soul, and nobility of feeling. There is no cant about her anywhere, no effort to pose or to strain after a state of mind which she cannot naturally experience. The business-like manner in which she makes her preparations for death have nothing sentimental about them, nothing that even faintly suggests the pretty death-beds with which Mr. Dickens and others have made us familiar; but I doubt if the most practical money-maker in Wall Street could read it without feeling uncomfortable.

How, after describing such a character as Clarissa, Richardson could turn to the whale-bone figures in "Sir Charles Grandison" is quite incomprehensible. Had he been ruined by his numerous female admirers and correspondents, or by his desire to become fashionable, or, as is most likely, by the wish to create in Sir Charles a virtuous foil to him whom he thought the wicked, witty, delightful, and detestable Lovelace? Whatever the reason, it is a thousand pities that he gave way to his impulse.

It would interest you as well as me to note little points of manners that are to be gathered from the three books. I have not time to write much more, but will tell you two or three that have struck me. If you read them, as I still hope you may, you will see what early risers they all are, even the wicked Mr. B.; while Clarissa, when in Dover Street, usually gives Lovelace his interviews at six in the morning. One hears of two-o'clock-in-the-morning courage. How much more wonderful is love that rises at six!

Richardson was a woman's novelist, as Fielding was a man's. I sometimes think of Dr. Johnson's mot: "Claret for boys, port for men, and," smiling, "brandy for heroes." So one might fancy him saying: "Richardson for women, Fielding for men, Smollett for ruffians," though some of his rough customers were heroes, too. But we now confine ourselves so closely to "the later writers" of Russia, France, England, America, that the woman who reads Richardson may be called heroic. "To the unknown heroine" I dedicate my respect, as the Athenians dedicated an altar to "the unknown hero." Will you be the heroine? I am afraid you won't!


To Miss Girton, Cambridge.

Dear Miss Girton,—Yes, I fancy Gerard de Nerval is one of that rather select party of French writers whom Mrs. Girton will allow you to read. But even if you read him, I do not think you will care very much for him. He is a man's author, not a woman's; and yet one can hardly say why. It is not that he offends "the delicacy of your sex," as Tom Jones calls it; I think it is that his sentiment, whereof he is full, is not of the kind you like. Let it be admitted that, when his characters make love, they might do it "in a more human sort of way."

In this respect, and in some others, Gerard de Nerval resembles Edgar Poe. Not that his heroes are always attached to a belle morte in some distant Aiden; not that they have been for long in the family sepulchre; not that their attire is a vastly becoming shroud—no, Aurelie and Sylvie, in Les Filles de Feu, are nice and natural girls; but their lover is not in love with them "in a human sort of way." He is in love with some vaporous ideal, of which they faintly remind him. He is, as it were, the eternal passer-by; he is a wanderer from his birth; he sees the old chateau, or the farmer's cottage, or even the bright theatre, or the desert tent; he sees the daughters of men that they are fair and dear, in moonlight, in sunlight, in the glare of the footlights, and he looks, and longs, and sighs, and wanders on his fatal path. Nothing can make him pause, and at last his urgent spirit leads him over the limit of this earth, and far from the human shores; his delirious fancy haunts graveyards, or the fabled harbours of happy stars, and he who rested never, rests in the grave, forgetting his dreams or finding them true.

All this is too vague for you, I do not doubt, but for me the man and his work have an attraction I cannot very well explain, like the personal influence of one who is your friend, though other people cannot see what you see in him.

Gerard de Nerval (that was only his pen-name) was a young man of the young romantic school of 1830; one of the set of Hugo and Gautier. Their gallant, school-boyish absurdities are too familiar to be dwelt upon. They were much of Scott's mind when he was young, and translated Burger, and "wished to heaven he had a skull and cross-bones." Two or three of them died early, two or three subsided into ordinary literary gentlemen (like M. Maquet, lately deceased), two, nay three, became poets—Victor Hugo, Theophile Gautier, and Gerard de Nerval. It is not necessary to have heard of Gerard; even that queer sham, the lady of culture, admits without a blush that she knows not Gerard. Yet he is worth knowing.

What he will live by is his story of "Sylvie;" it is one of the little masterpieces of the world. It has a Greek perfection. One reads it, and however old one is, youth comes back, and April, and a thousand pleasant sounds of birds in hedges, of wind in the boughs, of brooks trotting merrily under the rustic bridges. And this fresh nature is peopled by girls eternally young, natural, gay, or pensive, standing with eager feet on the threshold of their life, innocent, expectant, with the old ballads of old France on their lips. For the story is full of those artless, lisping numbers of the popular French Muse, the ancient ballads that Gerard collected and put in the mouth of Sylvie, the pretty peasant girl.

Do you know what it is to walk alone all day on the Border, and what good company to you the burn is that runs beside the highway? Just so companionable is the music of the ballads in that enchanted country of Gerard's fancy, in the land of the Valois. All the while you read, you have a sense of the briefness of the pleasure, you know that the hero cannot rest here, that the girls and their loves, the cottage and its shelter, are not for him. He is only passing by, happy yet wistful, far untravelled horizons are alluring him, the great city is drawing him to herself and will slay him one day in her den, as Scylla slew her victims.

Conceive Gerard living a wild life with wilder young men and women in a great barrack of an old hotel that the painters amused themselves by decorating. Conceive him coming home from the play, or rather from watching the particular actress for whom he had a distant, fantastic passion. He leaves the theatre and takes up a newspaper, where he reads that tomorrow the Archers of Senlis are to meet the Archers of Loisy. These were places in his native district, where he had been a boy. They recalled many memories; he could not sleep that night; the old scenes flashed before his half-dreaming eyes. This was one of the visions.

"In front of a chateau of the time of Henri IV., a chateau with peaked lichen-covered roofs, with a facing of red brick varied by stonework of a paler hue, lay a wide, green lawn set round with limes and elms, and through the leaves fell the golden rays of the setting sun. Young girls were dancing in a circle on the mossy grass, to the sound of airs that their mothers had sung, airs with words so pure and natural that one felt one's self indeed in that old Valois land, where for a thousand years has beat the heart of France.

"I was the only boy in the circle whither I had led my little friend, Sylvie, a child of a neighbouring hamlet; Sylvie, so full of life, so fresh, with her dark eyes, her regular profile, her sunburnt face. I had loved nobody, I had seen nobody but her, till the daughter of the chateau, fair and tall, entered the circle of peasant girls. To obtain the right to join the ring she had to chant a scrap of a ballad. We sat round her, and in a fresh, clear voice she sang one of the old ballads of romance, full of love and sadness . . . As she sang, the shadow of the great trees grew deeper, and the broad light of the risen moon fell on her alone, she standing without the listening circle. Her song was over, and no one dared to break the silence. A light mist arose from the mossy ground, trailing over the grass. We seemed to be in Paradise."

So the boy twisted a wreath for this new enchantress, the daughter of a line of nobles with king's blood in her veins. And little brown, deserted Sylvie cried.

All this Gerard remembered, and remembering, hurried down to the old country place, and met Sylvie, now a woman grown, beautiful, unspoiled, still remembering the primitive songs and fairy tales. They walked together through the woods to the cottage of the aunt of Sylvie, an old peasant woman of the richer class. She prepared dinner for them, and sent De Nerval for the girl, who had gone to ransack the peasant treasures in the garret.

Two portraits were hanging there—one that of a young man of the good old times, smiling with red lips and brown eyes, a pastel in an oval frame. Another medallion held the portrait of his wife, gay, piquante, in a bodice with ribbons fluttering, and with a bird perched on her finger. It was the old aunt in her youth, and further search discovered her ancient festal-gown, of stiff brocade. Sylvie arrayed herself in this splendour; patches were found in a box of tarnished gold, a fan, a necklace of amber.

The holiday attire of the dead uncle, who had been a keeper in the royal woods, was not far to seek, and Gerard and Sylvie appeared before the aunt, as her old self, and her old lover. "My children!" she cried and wept, and smiled through her tears at the cruel and charming apparition of youth. Presently she dried her tears, and only remembered the pomp and pride of her wedding. "We joined hands, and sang the naive epithalamium of old France, amorous, and full of flowery turns, as the Song of Songs; we were the bride and the bridegroom all one sweet morning of summer."

I translated these fragments long ago in one of the first things I ever tried to write. The passages are as touching and fresh, the originals I mean, as when first I read them, and one hears the voice of Sylvie singing:

"A Dammartin, l'y a trois belles filles, L'y en a z'une plus belle que le jour!"

So Sylvie married a confectioner, and, like Marion in the "Ballad of Forty Years," "Adrienne's dead" in a convent. That is all the story, all the idyll. Gerard also wrote the idyll of his own delirium, and the proofs of it (Le Reve et la Vie) were in his pocket when they found him dead in La Rue de la Vieille Lanterne.

Some of his poems have a sweetness and careless grace, like the grace of his favourite old ballads. One cannot translate things like this:

"Ou sont nos amoureuses? Elles sont au tombeau! Elles sont plus heureuses Dans un sejour plus beau."

But I shall try the couplets on a Greek air:

"Neither good morn nor good night."

The sunset is not yet, the morn is gone; Yet in our eyes the light hath paled and passed; But twilight shall be lovely as the dawn, And night shall bring forgetfulness at last!

Gerard's poems are few; the best are his vision of a lady with gold hair and brown eyes, whom he had loved in an earlier existence, and his humorous little piece on a boy's love for a fair cousin, and on their winter walk together, and the welcome smell of roast turkey which greets them on the stairs, when they come home. There are also poems of his madness, called Chimeres, and very beautiful in form. You read and admire, and don't understand a line, yet it seems that if we were a little more or a little less mad we would understand:

"Et j'ai deux fois vainqueur traverse l'Acheron: Modulant tour a tour sur la lyre d'Orphee Les soupirs de la sainte et les cris de la fee."

Here is an attempt to translate the untranslatable, the sonnet called—

"El Desdichado."

I am that dark, that disinherited, That all dishonoured Prince of Aquitaine, The Star upon my scutcheon long hath fled; A black sun on my lute doth yet remain! Oh, thou that didst console me not in vain, Within the tomb, among the midnight dead, Show me Italian seas, and blossoms wed, The rose, the vine-leaf, and the golden grain.

Say, am I Love or Phoebus? have I been Or Lusignan or Biron? By a Queen Caressed within the Mermaid's haunt I lay, And twice I crossed the unpermitted stream, And touched on Orpheus' lyre as in a dream, Sighs of a Saint, and laughter of a Fay!


To Richard Wilby, Esq., Eton College, Windsor.

My Dear Dick,—It is very good of you, among your severe studies at Eton, to write to your Uncle. I am extremely pleased to hear that your football is appreciated in the highest circles, and shall be happy to have as good an account of your skill in making Latin verses.

I am glad you like "She," Mr. Rider Haggard's book which I sent you. It is "something like," as you say, and I quite agree with you, both in being in love with the heroine, and in thinking that she preaches rather too much. But, then, as she was over two thousand years old, and had lived for most of that time among cannibals, who did not understand her, one may excuse her for "jawing," as you say, a good deal, when she met white men. You want to know if "She" is a true story. Of course it is!

But you have read "She," and you have read all Cooper's, and Marryat's, and Mr. Stevenson's books, and "Tom Sawyer," and "Huckleberry Finn," several times. So have I, and am quite ready to begin again. But, to my mind, books about "Red Indians" have always seemed much the most interesting. At your age, I remember, I bought a tomahawk, and, as we had also lots of spears and boomerangs from Australia, the poultry used to have rather a rough time of it.

I never could do very much with a boomerang; but I could throw a spear to a hair's breadth, as many a chicken had occasion to discover. When you go home for Christmas I hope you will remember that all this was very wrong, and that you will consider we are civilized people, not Mohicans, nor Pawnees. I also made a stone pipe, like Hiawatha's, but I never could drill a hole in the stem, so it did not "draw" like a civilized pipe.

By way of an awful warning to you on this score, and also, as you say you want a true book about Red Indians, let me recommend to you the best book about them I ever came across. It is called "A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner, during Thirty Years' Residence among the Indians," and it was published at New York by Messrs. Carvill, in 1830.

If I were an American publisher, instead of a British author (how I wish I was!) I'd publish "John Tanner" again, or perhaps cut a good deal out, and make a boy's book of it. You are not likely to get it to buy, but Mr. Steevens, the American bookseller, has found me a copy. If I lend you it, will you be kind enough to illustrate it on separate sheets of paper, and not make drawings on the pages of the book? This will, in the long run, be more satisfactory to yourself, as you will be able to keep your pictures; for I want "John Tanner" back again: and don't lend him to your fag-master.

Tanner was born about 1780; he lived in Kentucky. Don't you wish you had lived in Kentucky in Colonel Boone's time? The Shawnees were roaming about the neighbourhood when Tanner was a little boy. His uncle scalped one of them. This made bad feeling between the Tanners and the Shawnees; but John, like any boy of spirit, wished never to learn lessons, and wanted to be an Indian brave. He soon had more of being a brave than he liked; but he never learned any more lessons, and could not even read or write.

One day John's father told him not to leave the house, because from the movements of the horses, he knew that Indians were in the woods. So John seized the first chance and nipped out, and ran to a walnut tree in one of the fields, where he began filling his straw hat with walnuts. At that very moment he was caught by two Indians, who spilled the nuts, put his hat on his head, and bolted with him. One of the old women of the tribe had lost her son, and wanted to adopt a boy, and so they adopted Johnny Tanner. They ran with him till he was out of breath, till they reached the Ohio, where they threw him into a canoe, paddled across, and set off running again.

In ten days' hard marching they reached the camp, and it was worse than going to a new school, for all the Indians kicked John Tanner about, and "their dance," he says, "was brisk and cheerful, after the manner of the scalp dance!" Cheerful for John! He had to lie between the fire and the door of the lodge, and every one who passed gave him a kick. One old man was particularly cruel. When Tanner was grown up, he came back to that neighbourhood, and the first thing he asked was, "Where is Manito-o- geezhik?"

"Dead, two months since."

"It is well that he is dead," said John Tanner. But an old female chief, Net-ko-kua, adopted him, and now it began to be fun. For he was sent to shoot game for the family. Could anything be more delightful? His first shot was at pigeons, with a pistol. The pistol knocked down Tanner; but it also knocked down the pigeon. He then caught martins—and measles, which was less entertaining. Even Indians have measles! But even hunting is not altogether fun, when you start with no breakfast and have no chance of supper unless you kill game.

The other Red Indian books, especially the cheap ones, don't tell you that very often the Indians are more than half-starved. Then some one builds a magic lodge, and prays to the Great Spirit. Tanner often did this, and he would then dream how the Great Spirit appeared to him as a beautiful young man, and told him where he would find game, and prophesied other events in his life. It is curious to see a white man taking to the Indian religion, and having exactly the same sort of visions as their red converts described to the Jesuit fathers nearly two hundred years before.

Tanner saw some Indian ghosts, too, when he grew up. On the bank of the Little Saskawjewun there was a capital camping-place where the Indians never camped. It was called Jebingneezh-o-shin-naut—"the place of two Dead Men." Two Indians of the same totem had killed each other there. Now, their totem was that which Tanner bore, the totem of his adopted Indian mother. The story was that if any man camped there, the ghosts would come out of their graves; and that was just what happened. Tanner made the experiment; he camped and fell asleep. "Very soon I saw the two dead men come and sit down by my fire opposite me. I got up and sat opposite them by the fire, and in this position I awoke." Perhaps he fell asleep again, for he now saw the two dead men, who sat opposite to him, and laughed and poked fun and sticks at him. He could neither speak nor run away. One of them showed him a horse on a hill, and said, "There, my brother, is a horse I give you to ride on your journey home, and on your way you can call and leave the horse, and spend another night with us." So, next morning, he found the horse and rode it, but he did not spend another night with the ghosts of his own totem. He had seen enough of them.

Though Tanner believed in his own dreams of the Great Spirit, he did not believe in those of his Indian mother. He thought she used to prowl about in the daytime, find tracks of a bear or deer, watch where they went to, and then say the beast's lair had been revealed to her in a dream. But Tanner's own visions were "honest Injun." Once, in a hard winter, Tanner played a trick on the old woman. All the food they had was a quart of frozen bears' grease, kept in a kettle with a skin fastened over it. But Tanner caught a rabbit alive and popped him under the skin. So when the old woman went for the bears' grease in the morning, and found it alive, she was not a little alarmed.

But does not the notion of living on frozen pomatum rather take the gilt off the delight of being an Indian? The old woman was as brave and resolute as a man, but in one day she sold a hundred and twenty beaver skins and many buffalo robes for rum. She always entertained all the neighbouring Indians as long as the rum lasted, and Tanner had a narrow escape of growing up a drunkard. He became such a savage that when an Indian girl carelessly allowed his wigwam to be burned, he stripped her of her blanket and turned her out for the night in the snow.

So Tanner grew up in spite of hunger and drink. Once, when starving, and without bullets, he met a buck moose. If he killed the moose he would be saved, if he did not he would die. So he took the screws out of the lock of his rifle, loaded with them in place of bullets, tied the lock on with string, fired, and killed the moose.

Tanner was worried into marrying a young squaw (at least he says he did it because the girl wanted it), and this led to all his sorrows—this and a quarrel with a medicine-man. The medicine-man accused him of being a wizard, and his wife got another Indian to shoot him. Tanner was far from surgeons, and he actually hacked out the bullet himself with an old razor. Another wounded Indian once amputated his own arm. The ancient Spartans could not have been pluckier. The Indians had other virtues as well as pluck. They were honest and so hospitable, before they knew white men's ways, that they would give poor strangers new mocassins and new buffalo cloaks.

Will it bore you, my dear Dick, if I tell you of an old Indian's death? It seems a pretty and touching story. Old Pe-shau-ba was a friend of Tanner. One day he fell violently ill. He sent for Tanner and said to him: "I remember before I came to live in this world, I was with the Great Spirit above. I saw many good and desirable things, and among others a beautiful woman. And the Great Spirit said: 'Pe-shau-ba, do you love the woman?' I told him I did. Then he said, 'Go down and spend a few winters on earth. You cannot stay long, and you must remember to be always kind and good to my children whom you see below.' So I came down, but I have never forgotten what was said to me.

"I have always stood in the smoke between the two bands when my people fought with their enemies . . . I now hear the same voice that talked to me before I came into the world. It tells me I can remain here no longer." He then walked out, looked at the sun, the sky, the lake, and the distant hills; then came in, lay down composedly in his place, and in a few minutes ceased to breathe.

If we would hardly care to live like Indians, after all (and Tanner tired of it and came back, an old man, to the States), we might desire to die like Pe-shau-ba, if, like him, we had been "good and kind to God's children whom we meet below." So here is a Christmas moral for you, out of a Red Indian book, and I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.


Reynolds's Peter Bell.

When the article on John Hamilton Reynolds ("A Friend of Keats") was written, I had not seen his "Peter Bell" (Taylor and Hessey, London, 1888). This "Lyrical Ballad" is described in a letter of Keats's published by Mr. Sidney Colvin in Macmillan's Magazine, August, 1888. The point of Reynolds's joke was to produce a parody before the original. Reynolds was annoyed by what Hood called "The Betty Foybles" of Wordsworth, and by the demeanour of a poet who was serious, not only in season, but out of season. Moreover, Wordsworth had damned "a pretty piece of heathenism" by Keats, with praise which was faint even from Wordsworth to a contemporary. In the circumstances, as Wordsworth was not yet a kind of solemn shade, whom we see haunting the hills, and hear chanting the swan song of the dying England, perhaps Reynolds's parody scarce needs excuse. Mr. Ainger calls it "insolent," meaning that it has an unkind tone of personal attack. That is, unluckily, true, but to myself the parody appears remarkably funny, and quite worthy of "the sneering brothers, the vile Smiths," as Lamb calls the authors of "Rejected Addresses." Lamb wrote to tell Wordsworth that he did not see the fun of the parody—perhaps it is as well that we should fail to see the fun of jests broken on our friends. But will any Wordsworthian deny to-day the humour of this?—

"He is rurally related; Peter Bell hath country cousins, (He had once a worthy mother), Bells and Peters by the dozens, But Peter Bell he hath no brothers, Not a brother owneth he, Peter Bell he hath no brother; His mother had no other son, No other son e'er called her 'mother,' Peter Bell hath brother none."

As Keats says in a review he wrote for The Examiner, "there is a pestilent humour in the rhymes, and an inveterate cadence in some of the stanzas that must be lamented." In his review Keats tried to hurt neither side, but his heart was with Reynolds; "it would be just as well to trounce Lord Byron in the same manner."

People still make an outcry over the trouncing of Keats. It was bludgeonly done, but only part of a game, a kind of horseplay at which most men of letters of the age were playing. Who but regrets that, in his "Life of Keats," Mr. Colvin should speak as if Sir Walter Scott had, perhaps, a guilty knowledge of the review of Keats in Blackwood! There is but a tittle of published evidence to the truth of a theory in itself utterly detestable, and, to every one who understands the character of Scott, wholly beyond possibility of belief. Even if Lockhart was the reviewer, and if Scott came to know it, was Scott responsible for what Lockhart did in 1819 or 1820, the very time when Mrs. Shelley thought he was defending Shelley in Blackwood (where he had praised her Frankenstein), and when she spoke of Sir Walter as "the only liberal man in the faction"? Unluckily Keats died, and his death was absurdly attributed to a pair of reviews which may have irritated him, and which were coarse, and cruel even for that period of robust reviewing. But Keats knew very well the value of these critiques, and probably resented them not much more than a football player resents being "hacked" in the course of the game. He was very willing to see Byron and Wordsworth "trounced," and as ready as Peter Corcoran in his friend's poem to "take punishment" himself. The character of Keats was plucky, and his estimate of his own genius was perfectly sane. He knew that he was in the thick of a literary "scrimmage," and he was not the man to flinch or to repine at the consequences.


Portraits of Virgil and Lucretius.

In the Letter on Virgil some remarks are made on a bust of the poet. It is wholly fanciful. Our only vestiges of a portrait of Virgil are in two MSS.; the better of the two is in the Vatican. The design represents a youth, with dark hair and a pleasant face, seated reading. A desk is beside him, and a case for manuscript, in shape like a band-box. (See Visconti, "Icon. Rom." i. 179, plate 13.) Martial tells us that portraits of Virgil were illuminated on copies of his "AEneid." The Vatican MS. is of the twelfth century. But every one who has followed the fortunes of books knows that a kind of tradition often preserves the illustrations, which are copied and recopied without material change. (See Mr. Jacobs's "Fables of Bidpai," Nutt, 1888.) Thus the Vatican MS. may preserve at least a shadow of Virgil.

If there be any portrait of Lucretius, it is a profile on a sard, published by Mr. Munro in his famous edition of the poet. The letters LVCR are inscribed on the stone, and appear to be contemporary with the gem. This, at least, is the opinion of Mr. A. S. Murray, of the late Mr. C. W. King, Braun, and Muller. On the other hand, Bernouilli ("Rom. Icon." i. 247) regards this, and apparently most other Roman gems with inscriptions, as "apocryphal." The ring, which was in the Nott collection, is now in my possession. If Lucretius were the rather pedantic and sharp-nosed Roman of the gem, his wife had little reason for the jealousy which took so deplorable a form. Cold this Lucretius may have been, volatile—never! {11}


{1} This was written during the lifetime of Mr. Arnold and Mr. Browning.

{2} Since this was written, Mr. Bridges has made his lyrics accessible in "Shorter Poems." (G. Bell and Sons: 1890)

{3} Macmillans.

{4} Reynolds was, perhaps, a little irreverent. He anticipated Wordsworth's "Peter Bell" by a premature parody, "Peter Bell the First."

{5} Appendix on Reynolds's "Peter Bell."

{6} "Aucassin and Nicolette" has now been edited, annotated, and equipped with a translation by Mr. F. W. Bourdillon (Kegan Paul & Trench, 1887).

{7} Edinburgh, 1862.

{8} The Elzevir piracy was rather earlier.

{9} Pindar, perhaps, in one of his fragments, suggested that pretty Cum regnat Rosa.

{10} See next letter.

{11} Mr. Munro calls the stone "a black agate," and does not mention its provenance. The engraving in his book does no justice to the portrait. There is another gem representing Lucretius in the Vatican: of old it belonged to Leo X. The two gems are in all respects similar. A seal with this head, or one very like it, belonged to Evelyn, the friend of Mr. Pepys.

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