"I concluded at once that I was in the presence of some remains, probably Druidic in origin, which, owing to the extraordinary desolation of the spot and the superstition attaching to the island, had been so long unvisited as to have been forgotten. I could see that the mound was quite surrounded by the wall, and that it was evidently a sacred enclosure of some kind.
"And gazing and wondering, the stories attributed to the place seemed not wholly without cause. There are certain atmospheres, I have always held, which, as it were, infect one; the very air has caught some contagion of evil which can not be got rid of. There is a baneful influence about some places which makes itself felt upon all sensitive beings who approach. I have felt it on actual battle-fields, as well as at other places that I have held to be the scenes of unrecorded, immemorial slaughters; and as I gazed round it seemed to gather and fall on me here. The very stillness was appalling, for there was now a good deal of wind blowing from the sea, as I could tell from the rustling and cracking of the fir boughs all about, and the sound of the sea on the sand; but here there was an oppressive heaviness, as if the place was still brooding over the ancient horror it had seen. And this was succeeded in my mind by a strange, overpowering, fascinating wonder and speculation as to what dismal deeds of darkness could have been done in the place; with whose blood, indeed, whether of innocent sheep and goats, or pleading men and frightened children, that grim uncouth altar had run and smoked; whether, in truth, as the ancient tales say, every one of those gray pillars all about had been set up, and still was based upon, the mouldering crushed remains of men. The sickening contagion of the sin of the place grew upon me every moment.
"To rid myself of it I applied myself to climb one of the trees to get a bird's-eye view of the island. This I effected without much difficulty, and found that it was of the shape, as I have said, of an irregular five-pointed star. From extremity to extremity, it must be, I believe, about five miles.
"But now follows the part of my story that I do not profess to explain. I marked in my mind the nearest path to the sea, which was to the north-east—the path I actually pursued—and descended; and then I became aware that the feeling I had experienced before was not purely physical—that there was a taint of a real kind in the air, which strangely affected the emotional atmosphere. I felt helpless, bewildered, sickened. I descended, however, from the platform, and walked straight, in what I had determined to be the right direction, when, just as I was about to scale the wall, heartily glad to be out of the place, I was—not exactly called, for there was no sound—but most unmistakably ordered to look round. Am I clear? The sensation produced mentally and emotionally was precisely like the receiving an imperative order that one has neither power nor inclination to resist—so strong and sudden that I kept thinking that my name had been called. In reflecting, however, I am certain that it was not.
"I turned at once, and saw, standing together, close by the platform, two boys, about twelve years of age I should have said, in a loose antique dress, of a bluish-white colour, reaching down to the knees, and girt about the waist, with leather buskins fastened by straps reaching up the leg; their heads were bare, and their hair, which was a dark brown, was loose and flowing. I could not clearly distinguish their faces, but they looked handsome, though desperately frightened. Accompanying this was an indescribable sense, which I have sometimes had in dreams, of an overwhelming intense vastness—space-immensity rushing over one with a terrible power; and at the same time the feeling of numbers, as if I was in the presence of a multitude of people. All this quite momentary; in an instant I was conscious of the tall avenues of red stems, with their dark background, and the heavy silence of the underwood, and nothing more.
"I went as if dazed through the wood, yet unconsciously obeying the tacit order of my determination, down a steep fully clad with pine trees, the needles very soft under my feet, till I suddenly came out of the stifling wood on to golden sands and blue water, and a great restful wash of air and sunlight.
"I fired my gun as a signal, and wandering on, as if only half awake, I came out upon another point, and saw the boat lying close below me, whereupon I fired again, and was taken on board.
"My sensation was one of strange languor and fatigue; certainly no fright, and very little wonder; rather as if I had been stunned or charmed by opiates into a kind of waking slumber. I have never felt anything like it before or since.
"But by morning I was shivering in an ague caught in that pestilential fever-swamp, and then the fever fiend himself came and took up his abode with me, and I am now only just convalescent, and can sun myself on the deck, and read and write a little; but the illness and the unconsciousness have done as such things often do—interposed a sort of blank between me and my past life—have deadened it, as one deadens sound by wool, so that memories no longer strike on my mind sharp and clear, but swim along hazy and undefined; and especially is it the case with later memories.
"What was the sight, my dear Carr, that I saw on that hill-top? Was it nothing but the uneasiness of mind and memory disturbed and disorganized by the seething of the foul poison-wine, throwing up pictures and ideas out of their due course, and without subordination to the master-will? Was it merely the story of those fisher-folk, half apprehended, and yet evoked and subtly clad with form and shape by the strange workshop of imagination?
"To all of these I am quite content to say 'Yes.' The sight does not trouble me, or, indeed, anything but interest me. I am not superstitious; I am not nervous in the least. Only I can not help feeling as if, catching, in my weakened state, the hideous leprosy of the place, I had received into my mind, then less able than usual to resist, the stamp and impress of some other mind forced to linger near that spot, and unable to avoid brooding over some haunting remorseful thought or image of a deed, ever dismally recalling how he stood in grim silence watching the tears and prayers of the two soft-faced smooth-limbed Roman boys, kidnapped from some sunny Italian villa, and carried to that gloomy place—held them pitilessly on the altar among the other fork-bearded Druids, with their white robes and glaring eyes—and smote the cruel blow, in spite of the trembling touch of the young fingers and the piteous entreaties, as they looked tearfully from side to side in the damp sunless Golgotha, among the glens of that sinister isle.
"That is the picture that somehow or other, even in my most material mood, is evoked by the thought of the place. The rationalist explanation of the coming fever is far more satisfactory and scientific; but the other keeps recurring—a curious experience anyhow.
"If you have nothing to do you might write me a line to Stockholm, Poste Restante. I am going north to have a look at the ice. Altogether, what with the East still open before me, I do not expect to come home for two or three years.
"You are one of the few friends I can rely upon, so I carry about with me a letter addressed to you; in case of my death you will be the first to be notified of the fact.
"Ever yours, "Arthur Hamilton."
I have given this letter in full, because it affords a good example of Arthur's descriptive style, which always struck me as being vivid and graphic, and also because this little incident, not by the proof it itself afforded, but by the turn it gave his thoughts—then rather rapidly drifting into materialism—was the first step in a kind of conversion from the purely physical views of life he had been apt to take. The episode itself, too, is a curious one, and may deserve to be recorded.
Nothing is more hopelessly wearisome than descriptions of travel; even George Eliot could not make in her diaries Florence anything but dull. I shall confine myself to sketching his route, to telling one incident among the few he told me, and describing his return.
I had no more letters from him; but he has told me that he got to Spitzbergen, and in a whaler to the edge of the great arctic ice-field. He sailed to America and crossed it. From San Francisco he visited Peru and the Amazon, on which river he spent a month. Then he went to Africa, to what part I do not know, except that he came down the Nile; and then he wandered through Asia Minor, Persia, and India; he penetrated a little way into Thibet, and saw China and Japan; he went up to the mouth of the Siberian rivers, travelling for three months with a party of gipsies, who taught him many curious things, such as their own language and freemasonry, the use of simples, the properties of water, and the strange things that can be done with even such things as docks and nettles, and other plants which we toss away as weeds. He told me that in that branch of secret knowledge, as in all others, there was a vast deal of nonsense but a solid residuum of truth; and he said, half jestingly, that they had sworn him a member of their brotherhood, and what was more, he had since discovered many members of the brotherhood in civilized nations, even in "kings' houses."
But I must suspend my account for a short time to relate the incident to which I have just referred. It took place during his stay in Teheran, while on his way home (1878), a period of about six weeks. This city is situated in a lovely climate—hot, but not unbearable for Europeans; houses, horses, and servants are extraordinarily cheap. The house that Arthur took was situated in large gardens or pleasure-grounds of the natural wilderness type that one finds in the East, shrubberies relegated to certain limits, but within those limits left absolutely to their own device and will, with the exception of arched and shaded paths cut under the thick intertwined leafage.
This whole place, with horses at his command, and seven servants, with the whole expense of boarding, cost him, he has told me, L40 for the entire six weeks that he was there; for he was very weary of his rough tramping life, and resolutely determined to recruit his energies by some deliberate luxury, a recipe far more useful than the normal Englishman is at all inclined to admit, thinking, as he does so erroneously, that "overtasking the body is the best restorative for the overworked mind, and vice versa," as Arthur said once, "whereas the two instruments, so to speak, have but one blade though two handles."
The heat of the day was rather overpowering; that period he usually spent dozing or reading in the court of the house, which was occupied by a cool flashing fountain in the centre of an oasis of marble pavement, streaked and veined. About seven it became cooler, and then in the light native costume he used to ride leisurely about the picturesque city or among the delightful houses scattered about in the outskirts like his own.
One evening he was riding in this fashion down a lane running between high brick walls, fringed with feathery trailing shrubs or gorgeous red and white flowers, whose fragrance literally streamed into the evening air, in that delicate dusk when the senses are lulled into acquiescence, and the mind and emotions become so vivid and lustrous in their play.
Riding along with his eyes half closed and lost in a delicious reverie, his horse turned of its own accord to the left, and went for some distance up an embowered road; Arthur suddenly roused himself to find that he was passing close to a large sombre house, that had evidently once been fortified, looming very impressively in the languorous air; the gate had been opened for some purpose and not closed again, and he was, in fact, trespassing in some private grounds.
He checked his horse, looking curiously about him, and was just about to return when he heard a voice apparently proceeding from the centre of one of the shrubberies, asking him his business in Persian. Looking in that direction he managed to distinguish two or three indistinct figures seated on a low seat on a kind of terrace on his left.
He rode up, and mustering up the little Persian he possessed, apologized for his unintentional intrusion, mingling a good deal of English, as he said, with his rather incoherent explanation.
He was aware that one of the figures disengaged itself from the group, and coming up close to him, regarded him with some curiosity. It was a tall man, paler in complexion than the natives are wont to be, with large dreamy eyes, and an air of indifferent lassitude that was rather fascinating.
He was amazed to hear, at the conclusion of his lame peroration, a voice of strange delicacy of intonation proceeding from the figure: "An Englishman, I presume." The accent was a little affected, but the speaker was evidently more English than Persian by training: "Not only English," said Arthur to himself, "but London English of the best kind."
He confessed his nationality, and, again apologizing, was about to withdraw, when the stranger courteously invited him to join the party. "It is very refreshing," he said, "to hear my native tongue by chance; I can not resist the temptation of begging you to join us for a little, that I may hear it once more; you will do me a great kindness if you will accede to my request."
Seeing that the offer was sincere, Arthur dismounted, and walked to the terrace with the other. The figures rose at their approach, and Arthur could see that they were two boys of fifteen or sixteen, of extraordinary beauty and delicacy, and a woman of about thirty-five, as far as he could judge, evidently their mother.
His host spoke a few words in Persian, the purport of which he could not catch, and, rapidly presenting him, requested him to be seated, and produced some cigarettes of a very choice and fragrant kind.
They talked for a long time on general subjects—England, politics, art, and literature. The stranger seemed well acquainted with literature and events of a certain date, but not of later departures in any branch; and finally, Arthur gave a short account of himself and his wanderings, in which the others appeared most interested.
Before he went back to his house the stranger asked him, with some earnestness, to return on the following day, which Arthur gladly accepted. One of the boys conducted him to the gate, speaking a few English sentences with that delicate and hesitating utterance that combines with other personal attractions to give an almost unique charm.
On the following day, and on several others, the invitation was repeated and accepted. The stranger became more communicative, having at first consistently maintained a courteous reserve.
The last day of Arthur's stay in his villa he went to see his new friends. The boys had taken a great fancy to him, and used to wait for his coming at the gate; but they would never come to his house, though he asked them more than once. They were not permitted, they said, to leave their own domain.
On this last evening his host was alone, and after some indifferent conversation he told Arthur the following story, and made a proposal which had a strange influence on the rest of his life:
"You may have wondered," he said, "at the cause which brought me here, and keeps me here. I have often admired your courtesy, which has made no attempts to discover my antecedents; it is not the usual characteristic of our nation. If you are disposed to hear, I am willing to give you a little autobiographical outline, which is a necessary preface to a request which I am going to make of you."
He then mentioned his name and parentage—facts which I am not at liberty to repeat. They surprised even Arthur when he heard them; they surprised me, when he communicated them to me, even more.
He was the son of an English nobleman of high rank and wealth and aristocratic traditions, and was reported to be long since dead. Many people will no doubt remember the shock which the news of the premature death of this individual, when announced in Europe, made. It took place at Palermo in 1853. More than that I am not at liberty to state.
"My reasons for this were as follows," said his host. "I meditated a retirement from the world of a kind which should be absolute, which should excite no inquiries, no interest, except a retrospective one. To have merely disappeared would not have suited my purpose; search would have been instituted. The connections and influence of my family would have made such a plan liable to constant disaster. From Palermo, after superintending the making of my tombstone, I came straight back here, to a house which I had already prepared for myself under an anonymous name. I travelled with the utmost secrecy; I married, as you have seen, a native wife; and from that day to this I have never beheld a European face but yours. Your arrival was so unexpected as to shiver resolve and habit; but I have no reason to regret, as far as I can see, my confidence. I feel that I can unreservedly trust you.
"You will no doubt wonder as to my aim in executing this hazardous and Quixotic project. I do not mind telling you now, at this lapse of time, though I have never before opened my reasons to any one, because I think that I observe in you traces of that temper which led me to take the step.
"It seemed to me that Western life had got into a confusion and complication from which nothing could deliver it. The principles now incorporated with the very existence of the most influential men in it seemed to me to be radically erroneous, and the disposition of the Western mind is of a kind which augments with indefinite rapidity the strength of any prevalent idea.
"What I mean is this. May I explain by a quotation? A sentence from a certain review of the poet Coleridge's life and work is as follows: 'Devoted as he was to mystic and ideal contemplation, to abstractions of mind and spirit, he naturally became untrustworthy in every relation of life.'
"That represents, in an exaggerated form, the ideal of the Western mind. They are, though they would not so name themselves, gross materialists; and the tendency is increasing on them daily and yearly. Those who protest occasionally against current thought, who appear like prophets with bitter invective and words of warning on their lips, are swept away by the tide, and write of trade and treaties, of wars of principle and convenience. The very divines are tainted. 'Live your life to the uttermost,' they cry.
"And in the Western mind the tendency once rooted gathers force from every quarter. As a necessary concomitant of the restless habit, the enshrining of the 'effective man' in their proudest temples, comes an extreme deference to other people, a heated straining of the ears to catch the murmurs of that vague uncertain heart—Public Opinion. And why? It follows: if it is in this life alone that triumphs must be won—if on this stage alone the drama is to be played out, and the time is short—it is that imperious will that you must conciliate; therefore employ every power to gain the art of so doing.
"So intent are the Westerns on this drama, so wrapped up in the actors, so anxious to declaim and strut, that they forget to what end the play exists: they have left the spectators out for whom alone the scenes are enacted, and who, though apparently so silent and motionless, are the raison d'etre of the whole performance. The play must and will continue through the ages; but the wise, the enlightened, beat down, and in one sharp encounter overcome, the lower desire of being seen and applauded, and are content to sit and watch—the nobler task.
"For we must remember that it is not the drama itself, tragedy or comedy, fascinating as it be, that we are here to watch—but the mind of the Being that animates the whole, can be here descried and here alone, as in a mirror faintly: it is not only the man who fumes and paces up and down for a few moments and then is called away; but the vast Existence behind, that knows what the play means and will not tell us, and that pushes the players on and off as He will.
"And here we find ourselves, with our tiny and uncertain space of time bounded by the Infinities at either end, with the huge puzzle set before us. A method has been invented, is now traditional, of closing the eyes easily and thoughtlessly to the whole; and we are content to catch that contagion from our predecessors: we eat and drink, we work and play, and stifle the restless questioning that springs up so resolutely in our spaces of solitude here; and what will it do in the immeasurable hereafter?
"When I lived in England I was for a short time the member of a professional circle of men engaged on high educational aims. They held, so far as any teachers can be said to hold, many futures in their hands. We know that lives teach more than words; and how did these men set themselves to live?
"First, to perform their work with rigid accuracy: I will do them justice—to do it perfectly; but granted that, as speedily as possible: and, their work over, to amuse themselves—literally: to play games that they enjoyed with childish keenness, and fill up all the day with them; to read the papers; to play whist; to smoke in the sun; to get through a certain amount of general reading for conversational purposes, and to gossip about one another and their doings, and talk about their work, in which, it must be confessed, they were enthusiastically interested, only in a gossipy detailed way, amassing incident rather than arriving at principles. There was only one who was engaged in serious work of a kind involving scientific research, and he forfeited much of his doctrinal and all his social influence thereby; 'A man should stick to his work,' they said, 'not pretend to do one thing while he is thinking about another.'
"A low ideal, faithfully carried out, is the most effective; not because the high ideal is high, but because so few are capable of carrying it out; and in that Western world success in aims proposed is the highest that a man can aspire to.
"And suppose we do make ourselves famous, what then? how do we use our fame? To make life happier? It might be so, but is it? No, for ordinary minds the strain is too strong. 'I will gain fame,' the pure young soul said once, 'as an engine of power, that I may have a platform where men will listen to me;' but the effort of struggling thither has been too much, and once arrived there, what is his object now? merely to remain there, and among the crowd of pushing selfish figures, that have lost in the fight the very signs of their humanity, monstrari digito, to have the gaze of men, to feel somebody.
"All this I throw aside, and go straight to God. All around us in natural things—in the curve of that rose-stem and the passionate flush of its petals—in those white bells there, looking as if blown out of veined foam—in the luscious scents that wind and linger round the garden, He has set, as in a language, the secrets of His being and ours, of our why and wherefore, if we could but read them. Like the characters and monuments of a bygone age staring from a waste of sand or the front of a precipice, these words and phrases seem to say, not 'There was a king who was mighty, but whose throne is cut down,' but 'There lives a God who would be all tenderness if He could, and is more beautiful in His nature than anything you have ever seen or dreamed of. Win your way to Him, if you can; do not let Him go till you have His secret. That is a talisman indeed, that shall shut you in palaces of delight where no torment shall touch you.'
"And not a selfish paradise. We are but as others, we mystics; it is only that we take—or rather are led, for it is no will of ours, but an imperious voice that calls us—the straight and flowery road to God, pressing through but one hedge of thorns, while you and others struggle to Him along the dusty road that winds and wanders. But our paradise would be no paradise if we did not know that our brothers were coming, coming; the beauty that we behold, sheer ugliness if we did not believe that you will some day share it too.
"Yes, I am a mystic—have joined the one brotherhood that is eternal and all-embracing, as young as love and as old as time—the society that no man suspects till he is close upon it, or hopes to enter till he finds himself in a moment within the sacred pale. I would that I could tell you with what different eyes we look on life and death, God and nature, from this divine vantage-ground on which we stand, and you would imperil all, run through fire and water, to win it too; but you must find the way yourself—no man can show it you. If you enter—and you are destined to enter this side the grave—it will come when you are least expecting it. In the middle of those that cry 'Lo, here is Christ and there,' He himself will touch you on the shoulder, and show you better things than these.
"Oh, if I could only help you there at once—open the door! But my words would bear other and commoner meanings in your ear; if I opened the door, you would not see the light. Ay, and I do not wish it; for every step outside you take is apportioned you; you need them, that you may appreciate, when you have it, the rest within.
"And now for my request. You need not answer now; you may have a year to think of it.
"You have seen my two boys. Outwardly they are alike, inwardly very different—that you could not see.
"The younger will join me soon; he is far advanced upon the way already, though he little suspects it. I have no fears for him. God is drawing him.
"But the elder—like as he is in face, form, disposition—will need another discipline. He must tread the winding road, the road of other men. His trial will be a sharp one; through many paths he will have to be taught the truth. I could hardly bear it, when I look at the tender face, the dreamy eyes, and feel his caressing hand, thinking of the horrors he must look upon, if I did not know that all will be well.
"Will you undertake a charge for me? I could not play a part in the world again, even if I would. I have lost my hold on men. I do not realize what are their hopes and fears, their ideals, and most of all, their whims and caprices; and, what is more, I could never appreciate them now. Ten years' isolation is enough to spoil one for that; in ten years many social traditions and commonplaces of life have changed. I should have to ask the reasons for many things. I should never feel them instinctively, as those do who have grown old along with them.
"And so I can not undertake the task of guiding him in this harsh world that he must enter. I have known, however, for some time that it would be undertaken and accomplished for me. You have been sent to me, later than I thought, but still sent. I have been waiting; I have been true to my creed, and have not been impatient.
"I intrust him to you as I intrust the fairest possession I have, knowing that you will feel the responsibility. You will find him passionately affectionate, and in danger there; quick to anger, and in danger there; personally fascinating and beautiful, and in danger there; and in these three things his trial will be. But he does not resent nor brood; he is docile, apt to listen, eager to comprehend; and he is truthful and sincere."
I have given this in a continuous speech, much as Arthur told it me a few months ago, though it was the essence of a conversation. The quiet man, with his dreamy eyes fixed on his face, he told me, and the fragrant Eastern garden seemed from moment to moment of the strange adventure to swim and become vague and phantasmal; but again the quiet air of certainty with which questions were asked and statements made gave him a curious sense of security, and an impulse to accept the indicated path, together with a sense of shrinking from such a responsibility.
"I do not, as I told you," said the other, "want your answer now, but this day one year hence, August 19, 1879, I shall claim it. And I have no doubt," he added with a smile, "of what that answer will be. But I beg of you do not give the question a hasty consideration and then reverse your decision. Do not attempt to decide. Let your choice be guided by circumstances; they are the safest guide, for they are not of our own making.
"I do not suppose," he continued, "that I shall ever see you again on earth, as you proceed with your journey to-morrow; and indeed I think it will perhaps be as well that this should be our last conversation, so that nothing else should interfere to blur the impression.
"One last word then." He paused for a moment, and the stillness was broken only by the faintest stir of odorous wind among the spice-trees and a waft of distant evening noises.
"You are treading a path, though you do not realize it, which it is not given to many men to tread. You have had your first intimation of the goal to-day, and the future will not be wanting in indications of the same; but, as I have said, you will suddenly, when you least expect it, step inside the circle, and everything will be changed.
"To you I wish to intrust a future that I can not mould myself, to be moulded, not for me, but for the great Master of all. You are the chosen instrument for this. My work lies in another region, which you will realize on that day when all things are made plain.
"Only remember that your destiny is high and arduous, and that a single false step may throw you from a precipice that has taken years to scale once, and that must be scaled again. For you walk among the clouds, or very near them; you are not defiled by any gross habitual sin; your heart is pure, and you have known suffering. You are a true novice.
"In a year, as I have said, I shall claim your answer. And now farewell for a season. When we next meet we shall have a larger common ground; we shall be master and pupil no longer.
"You shall see the boy once again, by his wish and my own. He shall go with you to your house to-night, and travel with you the first stage to-morrow. I have arranged for his return."
He then conducted Arthur into the house, where he bade adieu to the mistress and to the younger son; the elder, his charge that was to be, meeting him as he came out, and accompanying him home. The boy had formed a great attachment to him, and the idea of their future relations sent a strange and unwonted glow into Arthur's mind, so that he parted from him on the next day, "with wonder in his heart," and something very like an ache too.
This last episode will appear to my readers to be so fantastic as to give the work at once a fictional character; they will say that on some real lines I have constructed a romance of the wildest type, and that Arthur is no longer an interesting personality, because as a rule he is too ordinary to be ideal, in the last two chapters too illusory to be real.
All I can urge is this: the chapters shall be their own defence. If I had wished to present my readers with nothing but a dry chronicle of facts I should have toned this down to something more prosaic. But every one who has had any experience of life will know that her surprises are sometimes very bewildering; that fiction is nothing but uncommon experience made ordinary, or heaped inartistically upon a single character.
It may be said that the man was mentally affected, in the latter scene; in the former, that Arthur himself was the victim of a mental disorder; but he left such vivid and detailed descriptions of both events that I have been enabled to give one (the letter) exactly as it stands, and the interview in Teheran is taken directly from diaries—a little amplified and reconstructed, it is true, but only when interpreted by the light of later events.
And this must be always the task of the true biographer; for the biographer has to take a life en masse, and disentangling the predominant and central threads, cast the rest away; in this process rejecting facts and incidents whose isolated interest is often greater than the interest of what he retains, because it is on the latter that the pearls of life are, so to speak, strung.
In this case the two incidents I have kept are both so pregnant of influence upon his later life, so necessary to the logical development of his principles, that, in spite of their romantic, not to say wild, character, I have retained them.
About the middle of February, 1879, I was sitting at work in my lodgings in Newman Street, when I was interrupted by the advent of my landlady, to inform me that there was a gentleman below who wished to see me. I told her to show him up, and she returned in a moment, ushering in, to my extreme surprise, Arthur Hamilton. I confess I hardly knew him at first. He had grown a beard, and looked thinner and graver than he used to do. He had the same slow, almost stately movement, with a slight and not ungraceful suggestion of languor; his manner was somewhat changed, and very much improved; and he had contracted, from living so long with strangers, a delightfully frank and free way of speaking. He never gave me, as he used to, the least feeling of constraint; he always seemed perfectly at his ease. And he had acquired, too, the art of asking unobtrusive questions of a tentative kind, so as to feel out the interests of his companion, and draw him out; not in that professional way which so-called influential people often acquire—the melancholy confidential smile, the intimate manner, and the air of bland inattention with which they receive your remarks, only to be detected in the fixed or wandering eye. He had learnt the art of being interested in other people, and in what they had to say, and of indicating by a subtle tact in speech that he was following them, and intelligently sympathizing with them.
He did not then tell me much about himself. He confessed that the most rapturous feeling he had known since he set off on his travels, was the hour or two as he whirled through the flat pasture-lands and the pleasant green of Kent.
He gave me no detailed descriptions of adventures, but hinted in a suggestive way that he had seen much, and thought more. "I think I have learnt myself very fairly," was the only remark he made about his own personal experience.
"To finish my tour," he said, "I want to see something of my native land. I have been away so long, that I don't know where to begin, and I want you to help me. I want to be introduced to a few Christian households, that I may see the kind of people that our Western friends are."
I had an uncle, a Mr. Raymond, who had made a fortune in business, lived in a fine house in Lancaster Gate, and saw a good deal of fairly interesting and cultivated people. I took him to dine there once or twice, and he needed nothing else. He had a real genius for tete-a-tete conversation; that is, he could listen without appearing only to listen. He made people feel at their best with him. My aunt's criticism of him was highly characteristic of the British matron and her choice of friends.
"I thoroughly approve, Harry," she said to me, "of your friend, Mr. Hamilton. He is very well-informed and clever, and he doesn't allow it to make him in the least disagreeable." And starting from this, he was asked to dinner by, and invited to visit, a fair selection of pleasant people.
Of the events which immediately succeeded his return to England I can not, for two reasons, give a very detailed account. In the first place, dealing as they do with living people, I have thought it better, after consultation with the friends of both, to leave the outlines of the story rather vague; and secondly, there are great gaps and deficiencies in diaries and letters, which, though I believe I can supply, knowing what I do of the circumstances, I hardly like to fill in in a narrative of fact.
He took a dose, as I have already said, of the London season. "Those six weeks," he said, "absolutely knocked me up; my friends told me, among other things, that my physiognomy, being of a grave and gloomy cast, was of a kind that was not suitable to a festive occasion; and so I used to come home at night with my jaws positively aching with the effort of a perpetually fatuous grin."
The following extract, which I have selected from one of his letters of this period, will give a good picture of his mind:
"I think that two of the things that move me most, not to sadness nor indignation, but to those vague tumultuous feelings for which we have, I think, no name, but which were formerly called melancholy, are these:
"To come up-stairs after a hot London banquet, where you have been sitting, talking the poorest trash, between two empty, worldly women; and then, perhaps, listening to stories that are dull, or worse, and see dullness personified in every one of the twelve faces that stare at you with such sodden respectability through the cigarette smoke; and then, I say, to come up-stairs, and see moving about among the knowing selfish people a child with hair like gold thread, and something of the regretful innocence of heaven in her eyes and motions. If you can get her to talk to you, so much the better for you; but if you or she are shy, as generally happens, to watch her is something. God knows the insidious process by which she will be transformed, step by step, into one of those godless fine ladies; for it makes me inclined to pray that anything may happen to her first that may hinder that development.
"The other thing is, under the same circumstances, to sit down and hear some rippling melody of Bach's, a tender gavotte or a delicate rapid fugue, just as it stole on to the paper in that quaint German garden with the clipped yew-hedges and the tall summer-house in the corner, in the master's pointed handwriting, calling down by his magic wand the spirits of the air to aid him in the perfecting of the exquisite phrase that some Ariel had whispered to him as he walked or sat.
"To hear that little rill of Paradise breaking out in the glaring room, not echoed or reflected in the rows of listless faces, gives me a strange turn. It sweeps away for a minute or two, as it goes and comes and returns upon itself until its sweet course is run, all the hard and stifling web of convention and opinion that closes us in; it takes me back for a moment to old-world fancies, till I seem to feel, as I am always longing to feel, that we are separated only by a very little flimsy hedge from the secrets of the beautiful, from the shadow-land which is so real; and that every now and then a breeze breaks and stirs across, with something of the fragrance of the place in its wandering air."
He used to come to me in my rooms in Newman Street, on his way back from an evening party or a ball, to smoke a cigar, and it was very interesting to watch his growing disgust for the life, and the grotesque and humorous ways in which he expressed it.
"Do I feel flat?" he used to say—"it isn't the word—bored to death. Why, my dear Chris, if you'd heard the conversation of the lady next me to-night, you'd have thought that the premier said, every morning when his shaving-water was brought him, 'Another day! Whose happiness can I mar? Whose ruin can I effect? What villainy can I execute to-day?'"
One night, at dinner, he happened to sit next a young lady in whom the fashionable world were a good deal interested.
It is impossible to give a fair sketch of her character; she was what would now be called unconventional, and was then called fast.
She openly avowed her preference for men's society as compared to female—women, as a rule, did not like her—she used to receive calls from her own men friends in her own room whenever she liked, and it was considered rather "compromising" to know her.
She was perfectly reckless about what she said and did. I questioned Arthur about her conversation, for she was accused of telling improper stories. "I have often," he said, "heard her allude to things and tell stories that would be considered unusual, even indelicate. But I never heard her say a thing in which there could be any conceivable 'taint,' in which the point consisted in the violation of the decent sense. The 'doubtful' element was rare and always incidental."
Arthur told me a delightful story about her. Her father was a testy old country gentleman, very irritable and obstinate.
It happened that an Eton boy was staying in the house, of the blundering lumpish type; he had had more than his share of luck in breaking windows and articles of furniture. One morning Mr. B——, finding his study window broken, declared in a paroxysm of rage that the next thing he broke the boy should go.
That same afternoon, it happened he was playing at small cricket with Maud, and made a sharp cut into the great greenhouse. There was a crash of glass, followed by Maud's ringing laugh.
They stopped their game, and went to discuss the position of events. As they stood there, Mr. B——'s garden door, just round the corner, was heard to open and slam, and craunch, craunch, came his stately pace upon the gravel.
They stared with a humorous horror at one another. In an instant, Maud caught up a lawn-tennis racquet that was near, and smashed the next pane to atoms. Mr. B—— quickened his pace, hearing the crash, and came round the corner with his most judicial and infuriated air, rather hoping to pack the culprit out of the place, only to be met by his favourite daughter. "Papa, I'm so sorry, I've broken the greenhouse with my racquet. May I send for Smith? I'll pay him out of my own money."
The Eton boy adored her from that day forth; and so did other people for similar reasons.
I, personally, always rather wondered that Arthur was ever attracted by Miss B——, for he was very fastidious, and the least suggestion of aiming at effect or vulgarity, or hankering after notoriety, would infallibly have disgusted him. But this was the reason.
She was never vulgar, never self-conscious. She acted on each occasion on impulse, never calculating effects, never with reference to other people's opinions.
A gentleman once said, remonstrating with her for driving alone with a Cambridge undergraduate in his dog-cart down to Richmond after a ball, "People are beginning to talk about you."
"What fools they must be!" said Miss B——, and showed not the slightest inclination to hear more of the matter.
There is no question, I think, that Arthur's grave and humorous ways attracted her. He, when at his best, was a racy and paradoxical talker—with that natural tinge of veiled melancholy or cynicism half-suspected which is so fascinating, as seeming to imply a "past," a history. He ventured to speak to her more than once about her tendency to "drift." He told me of one conversation in particular.
"I think you have too many friends," he said to her once, at the conclusion of an evening party at her own house. They were sitting in a balcony looking out on to the square, where the trees were stirring in the light morning wind.
"That's curious," she said. "I never feel as if I had enough; I have room enough in my heart for the whole world." And she spread out her hands to the great city with all her lights glaring before them. "God knows I love you all, though I don't know you," she said with a sudden impulse.
They were silent for a moment.
Then she resumed: "Tell me why you said that," she said. "I like to be told the truth."
"You may feel large enough," he said, "but they don't appreciate your capacity; they feel hurt and slighted. Why, only to-night, during the ten minutes I was talking to you, you spoke and dismissed eight people, every one of whom was jealous of me, and thinking 'Who's the new man?' And I began to wonder how I should feel if I came here and found a new man installed by you, and got a handshake and a smile."
"Shall I tell you?" she said, looking at him. "I should give you a look which would mean, 'I would give anything to have a quiet talk to you, Mr. Hamilton, but the exigencies of society oblige me to be civil to this person.'"
"Yes," he said, "and that's just what I complain of; it gives me, the new man to-night, a feeling of insecurity—that perhaps you are just 'carrying on' with me because it is your whim, and that the instant I bore you, you will throw me away like a broken toy, and with even less regret."
"How dare you speak like that to me?" she said, turning upon him almost fiercely. "I never forget people." And she rose and went quickly into the room, and didn't speak to him for the rest of the evening.
But just as he was going out he passed her, and hardly looked at her, thinking he had offended her; but she came and put out her hand quickly, and said, almost pathetically—
"You must forgive me for my behaviour to-night, Mr. Hamilton. What you said was not true, but you meant it to be true; you believed it. And please don't stop talking to me openly. I value it very much. I have so few people to tell me the truth."
I find this conversation narrated in his diary, almost word for word as I have given it. But there is omitted from it, necessarily perhaps, the most pregnant comment of all.
"And yet," he said to me once, as he turned to leave the room after commenting upon their freedom of speech with one another, "I am not in love with her, though I can't think why I am not."
The sequel must be soon told. Miss B—— suddenly accepted a gentleman who was in every way a suitable parti: heir to a peerage, of fairly high character.
But to return to Arthur. I can not do better than quote a few sentences of a letter he wrote to me on the event. It conceals—as he was wont to do—strong feeling under the bantering tone.
"As you are in possession of most of my moral and mental diagnoses, I had better communicate to you a new and disturbing element. You remember what I said to you about Miss B——, that I did not care for her. A fancied immunity is often a premonitory symptom of disease: the system is excited into an instantaneous glow by the first contact of the poisonous seed.
"I don't know, at present, quite how things are with me. I labour under a great oppression of spirit. I have a strange thirsty longing to see her face and hear her speech. If I could only hear from herself that she had done what her best self—of which we have often spoken—ratifies, I should feel more content. But she trusts her impulses too much; and the habit of loving all she loves with passion, blinds her a little. A woman who loves her sister, her pets, the very sunshine and air with passion, hardly knows what a lover is. I can not help feeling that I might have shown her a little better than J——. Still one must accept facts and interpret them, especially in cases where one has not even been allowed to try and fail; for I never spoke to her a word of love. Ah, well! perhaps I shall be stronger soon."
Arthur Hamilton as an author
I must give a chapter to this subject, because it entered very largely into Arthur's life, although he was singularly unsuccessful as an author, considering the high level of his mental powers.
He lacked somehow, not exactly the gift of expression—his letters testify to that—but the gift of proportion and combination.
His essays are disjointed—discursive and eloquent in parts, and bare and meagre in others. Connections are omitted, passages of real and rare beauty jostling with long passages of the most common-place rhetoric. His platitudes, however, to myself who knew him, have a genuine ring about them; he never admitted a truism into his writing till it had become his own by vivid realization. As he himself says:
"I always find a peculiar interest in the solemn enunciation of a platitude by a dull person who does not naturally aim at effect. You feel sure it is the condensation of life and experience. Such an utterance often brings a platitude home to me as no amount of rhetorical writing can."
Still, the reading public will not stand this, and Arthur never found a market.
He wrote voluminously.
I have in my bureau several pigeon-holes crammed with manuscripts in his curious sprawling hand. He wrote, when he was in the mood, very quickly, with hardly an erasure. Among them is:
1. A collection of poems (128 in all).
2. A complete novel, called "The Unencumbered Man."
3. Three incomplete novels, called "Physiognomy," "Helena," "From Hall to Hall."
4. Essays on historical and literary subjects, such as "Coleridge," "Bunyan," "The Earl of Surrey," "Lucian," etc. These, as far as I can make out, are very poor.
5. A collection of semi-mystical writings and short stories. There is a great fertility of imagination about these, and they are composed in a very finished style. It is not improbable that I shall re-edit these, as they seem to me to be distinctly first-rate work. I give a short specimen of his mystical writing—a style of which he was very fond. It is called:
"The Great Assize.
"Now, it came to pass that on a certain day the Gods were weary. Odin sat upon his throne, and rested his chin upon his hand. And Thor came in, and threw his hammer upon the earth, and said, 'I am weary of walking up and down in the earth, of smiting and slaying; and I know not how to bind or heal up, and I am too old to learn.' And Freya said, 'I am weary of Valhalla and the birds and trees, the perpetual sunshine and the feasts and laughter.' So also said all the Gods.
"And Odin, when the clamour was stilled, rose from his throne, and spoke. He told them of an ancient law of the Gods, so ancient that it seemed dim even to himself, that when the Gods should be heavy and be sad at heart, they should appoint a judgment for men, should open the everlasting records, and call the world to the assize; and Loki should be the accuser, and Night and Day the witnesses, and Odin should deliver sentence, with the Gods for assessors.
"So Thor stepped out upon the bar of heaven, and blew the steel trumpet that is chained to the door-post of the hall.
"Shrill and angry came the sound of the great horn over earth, her woods and valleys; and terrible was the sound of wailing and lamentation. They prayed to the mountains to fall upon them, and the sea to swallow them up; for they said, 'The secrets of the heart must now be spoken. The Lord and our brethren will hear them. And who can bear the shame? Oh, that we had not turned away!'
"But the winds of the earth, and the voices of the morning, and the waves of the moaning sea drove them shrieking into the judgment hall, and Loki began his accusation.
"And so foul a tale it was, that the men and women folk prayed and cried no longer, but sank down in dull silence for fear. And the stars that listened overhead shrank out of the sky, and the sea stilled his waves to hear, and the very Gods turned pale and red where they sat, to think that vileness and oppression had thriven so upon the earth, and that deeds of shame had fallen so thick, and that they had in no wise hindered it, but rather increased the sum of sin.
"At last the words of Loki were over, and left a burning silence in the hall; and the sun and moon bowed their heads in witness, and Night and Day said 'Yea,' and 'Truth, he has told truth.'
"Then there was a silence, and all looked at Odin as he sat, sunk down and silent, in his chair, staring at the shrinking crowd with eyes of shame, and majesty, and anger.
"And at the last he rose, and he was clad in grey mists from head to foot, with a cloud of gleaming gold upon his head, like the sunlight on white cliffs seen over the sea through the haze of a summer morning.
"But ere he opened his lips to speak, one who sat among the folk arose and came up the hall, walking strongly and briskly like a king, and looking about him with a resolute and cheerful face to left and right.
"And all held their breath to see him pass, wondering what this thing might be.
"But the man, when he had reached the middle of the hall, cried with a loud voice, 'Hold.'
"And Odin's face gleamed white with rage through the fringes of the mist, and he said between his teeth, 'Who art thou?'
"And at his voice Freya started and blanched, and wrapped herself in her robe.
"And the man said, in a clear loud voice, not defiant, but with a certain royalty about it—
"'Lord Odin, I am he of whom thou spokest but now; he of whom the ancient oracles have spoken, whom thou knowest, and yet knowest not.'
"And Odin said, 'I know thee not; stand aside therefore, that I may judge thee and thy fellows.'
"And there was a hideous silence for a moment while you might count a score, and the twain stared upon each other.
"Then the man said, in the same voice that shook not nor quivered, 'When the Gods shall sit in order to judge the earth, then shall one come out of the midst of created things, through the earth, and walking upon it; and at his coming the pillars of Valhalla shall be snapped, and the everlasting halls shall fall.' And he added other words, which the Gods knew, but not the men or women folk. And when he ceased speaking there blew as it were a whirlwind out of Valhalla, and the high Gods passed away, as it were in skeins and fringes of hanging mist. Then there were lightnings and thunders, and the earth shook; and terrible voices were heard in heaven, passing to and fro. And one said, 'Hence, ye that corrupt justice;' and another said, 'The brood of the eagle is come home to roost;' and another, 'The roof is down.' And then there were yells and groans; and among mankind there was weeping and laughter, many smiles and tears, and they cried to the stranger, 'Judge us, thou king of Gods and men.' But he, turning, said, 'Nay, but ye are judged already.' Then was there peace on earth."
There are, besides these, several unfinished studies, and two or three note-books full of jotted conversations and thoughts of all kinds—a curious mixture.
He carefully left all the publishers' letters which he received in answer to his application. They are twenty-two in number, and are all refusals. They are tied carefully up, and are labeled, "My Literary Career."
All these compositions are the work of about seven years, except some of the poems which were written at Cambridge. The novel was begun and finished in about six weeks, in 1878. It is a poor plot, and mawkish in character, though not without merits of style.
During all this time his interest in writing never flagged. He felt that he had one or two ideas, on which he had a firm grasp, to communicate to the world, and he worked at them incessantly in new and ever-varying forms.
The issue would seem to show that he was not destined to communicate them directly to others—at least, in his own lifetime; and, indeed, no one was quicker at interpreting events than himself. He gave the enterprise a long and severe trial, but the resolute front with which he was met, showed him clearly that it was not to be. It may be that the record of his life, little as he ever imagined it would come before the world, may effect a part of what he himself prepared to do.
Occasionally, for he was of quick sensibilities, throughout this period he felt the bitterness of constant rebuff. The following letter he wrote me shows it:
"I am beginning to feel as if publishers had a code of signals or private marks like freemasonry, which they scribble sometimes, like the concealed marks on bank-notes, on the first page of a manuscript, so as to spare their brother publishers the trouble of looking through a manuscript which is below market value. I have never had a manuscript accepted which has been once refused; and I now eagerly scan the first page, to see if I can discover a wriggling mark in the margin or among the lines which is to tell Smith and Co. that Brown and Son has a very poor opinion of the book now under his consideration."
And again, quite as forcible is a little anecdote with which he begins an unfinished paper on "Genius." The story is, I now believe, his own; though, at the time, I fancied it was adopted:
"There was once a king who sat to listen to the sermon of a great preacher. From minute to minute the great words flowed on, consoling, wounding, helping, condemning, dividing the marrow from the bones; and the king wept and smiled.
"And at the end he sent for the preacher, and said, 'Sir, Christ is the only king; yet let me look at the book from which you made your discourse. The written words, though half despoiled of their grace, may perhaps strike an echo in my soul, which rings yet.'
"And for some time the preacher was unwilling, and parleyed with the king; but at the last he drew out a little pale book with faded characters traced in ink; and he opened it at a well-worn page, and held it out before the king.
"And the king looked, and saw nothing except the crabbed printed lines.
"So he said, 'Not your text-book, sir, but the book from which your arguments are rehearsed.'
"'Sire,' said the preacher, 'look but once more upon the book.' And he showed him that four of the words upon the page had a thin line drawn in ink below them. 'That was the writing of my discourse,' he said."
Neither, it must be remembered, was Arthur a first-rate conversationalist. He did not steer a conversation; he could keep the ball going creditably when it was once started; but he never communicated to the circle in which he was that indefinable interest which is so intangible and yet so unmistakable.
The two points that I spoke of that he is always trying to work out in his books are:
(1) the strength of temperament, and the difficulty, almost impossibility, of altering it. "The most we can do is to register change," are the first words of his novel. In this book, the situation of which is not a very unusual one, the hero falls in love with one of two sisters, of rare personal beauty and attractiveness, but no particular intellect. He soon wearies of her, being of that fantastic, weak, discontented spirit which Arthur invariably portrayed in his heroes—drawing it I can not conceive whence—and then falls in love with the other, as he ought to have done all along, being, as she is, fully his match in intellect, and far above him in heart and strength of character. The wife at the crisis of this other love, is killed in a street accident, and remorse ensues. But the book is a weary one; it bears upon its face the burden of sorrow. "How could this have been otherwise?" is the keynote of the story.
Along with this, and indeed as a development of this central principle, is the tendency to treat and write of "sin" so called, wrong-doing, failure of ideal, as variations of spiritual health, as diseases, the ravages of which it is possible for the skilful hand to palliate, but not to cure; to think of and treat sin as a hideous contagion, which has power for a season, perhaps inherently, to drag souls within its grasp, involve and overwhelm them; and consequently to regard the sinner with the deepest sympathy and pity, but with hardly any anger: in fact, I have known him very seriously offend the company he has been in, I have even heard him stigmatized as of loose principles, from his readiness, even anxiety, to condone a sensual offence in a man of high intellect and brilliant gifts.
"He went wrong," he said very sternly, "through having too much passion; and that we can judge him, proves that we have not enough. Well, we shall both of us have to become different: he to be brought down to the harmonious mean, we to be screwed up to it. It is easy to see which will be the most painful process: as soon as he gets an idea of whither he is being led, how thankful he will be for every pang that teaches him restraint, and purifies; while we—we shall suffer blind wrench after wrench, stung into feeling at any cost, and not till we painfully overtop the barrier shall we guess whither we are going."
I do not mean from this that he thought lightly of sin—far from it. I have seen him give all the physical signs of shrinking and repulsion, at the mention or sight of it. He loathed it with all the agonized disgust of a high, pure, fastidious nature. Its phenomena were without the lurid interest for him which it often possesses even for the sternest moralist.
This loathing had its physical antitype in his horror of the sight or description of bodily disease. I have seen him several times go off into a dead faint at even the bare description of bodily suffering. I went with him once, at his own request, to a seaman's hospital, where there was a poor fellow who had fallen from a mast and been terribly smashed. His legs had both been amputated, and he lay looking terribly white and emaciated with a cradle over the stumps.
He gave us, with great eagerness, an account of the accident, as people in the lower classes always will. In the middle, Arthur stepped suddenly to the door and went out. I was not aware at the time of this failing of his, and the move was executed with such deliberate directness that I thought he must have forgotten something. When I went out to the open air I found Arthur, deadly pale, sitting on the grassy paving-stones of the little yard. He insisted, as soon as he was restored, in going in to wish good-bye to the man, which he accomplished with great difficulty.
But I have already digressed too far, and must return to the main issue.
I am not aware that he ever attempted any theoretical explanation of the intrusion of sin and disorder into the world. He certainly regarded them as emanating practically, in some way that he did not comprehend, from God.
"I can not for a moment believe that these apparent disorders, physical suffering, and the deeper diseases of the will are the manifestation of some inimical power, and not under God's direct control. I have had so much experience of even the immediate blessing of suffering, that I am content to take the rest on trust. If I thought there was some ghastly enemy at work all the time, I should go mad. The power displayed is so calm, so far-reaching, and so divine, that I should feel that even if some of us were finally emancipated from it by the working of some superior power, the contest would be so long and terrible and the issues so dire, that the limited human mind could not possibly contemplate it, that hope would be practically eliminated by despair."
In the same connection, he wrote a letter to a friend whose wild and wayward life had injured his health, and wrote in the greatest agony of mind:
"Words are such wretched things, my dear friend, in crises like this. I can only beg of you, with all my heart, to resolutely set your face against thinking what might have been. Try to feel, I will not say happy, but stronger in the thought that your punishment is atoning for your past every hour. Throw remorse and fear down, if you can; they are only keeping you from God. Many, too many souls are in a far worse case. Some have more to reproach themselves with. On some it has come with what appears to be fearful injustice. Accept your present condition; brace yourself to bear it. I know how much can be borne. Give your sufferings to God nobly. Your patience is none the less noble because you have brought this on yourself; nay, it makes it even nobler....
"Don't say that many worse sinners go unpunished. How can you tell? How do you know they are not suffering? There are only, I suppose, two men in the world, besides yourself, who know that you are suffering now, and why. God visited me with suffering once; He has brought me through, and I have never ceased to thank Him for it; and He will bring you through, too, dear friend, I know. 'Pro jucundis aptissima quaeque dabunt di; carior est illis homo quam sibi.' That thought has left me patient, if not glad, in many a bitter hour.... You are never out of my thoughts."
And this letter leads me naturally to the second great principle that pervaded all his writings—"the education of individuals."
"One is inclined to believe that there is a great deal of hopeless irremediable suffering in the world—suffering of a kind that seems wantonly inflicted, purposeless anguish.... That 'regret must hurt and may not heal' is a terrible thought, which, when we get our first glimpse of human anguish, seems almost sickeningly true. But I have seen a great deal lately of such suffering, and it amazes me to discover how extraordinarily rare it is to find the victim taking this view of his case. Either it seems to be a due reward for past action—that 'invita religio' which wells up in the blackest heart, or the sufferer gains a kind of onlook into sweet plains beyond, into which the troubled passage is taking him, and which can only thus be reached....
"Of animal suffering, unconscious tortures, it is harder to speak—of the innocent, for so they are, victims of lust and brutality in Babylon here, whose sense of suffering is almost gone, and is succeeded by nothing but the desire for rest; all this seems so meaningless, so futile....
"It is one of the problems I take up and let drop—take up and let drop a thousand times; but all sacrifice seems essentially good, and I do not throw the enigma aside in anger; I will wait for it to be explained to me.
"Ah, death, death, if we are enlightened enough by that time, what a storehouse of secrets, dear secrets you will have to tell us! I thrill all through, in moments like these, to think of it."
"Of course," he said to me once, "there are times when we can only wait and hope; changing our posture, like a sick man, from time to time, to win a little ease; but when we reach a fresh standpoint, a fresh basis—which, thank God, one does from month to month—we are inclined to say with Albert Durer, 'It could not be better done.'"
He was very fond of the doctrine of Special Providences.
"Every now and then I have—I suppose it is common—what may be called a run of luck in ordinary things; I get out of scrapes in a way I don't deserve; I find letters I have mislaid; annoyances are mysteriously shunted aside; money flows in; days of extraordinary happiness succeed one another; little events save vast complications of trouble, so that I long to turn round and grasp by the hand or kiss the cheek of the sweet friend who stands at my elbow, suggesting, ordering, providing day and night, smiling on me as I sleep, hovering around me as I work, without a word of praise. Guardian angels! no fable. God gives you a sudden and particular thought, and while you are independent of circumstances you master them as well."
But such portraiture as the above is apt to get very vague and insipid unless one is able to convey a vivid picture of the man as he walked, and spoke, and lived. The sic sedebat in Trinity College (Cambridge) chapel has given more people a thrill at the thought of Bacon than ever gained one from his books. Personality, personal characteristics, how one craves for them! To take a late instance, how far more impressive General Gordon's little cane is, which he twirled in his hand as he stormed redoubts and directed an action, than a thousand pages of rhetoric about his philosophy or his views of life.
He was now, as ever, for strangers meeting him for the first time, an impressive but rather disappointing man. He had shaved his beard, keeping only his usual moustache; his face was very spare, with a pallor that was not unhealthy. His hair, which was dark and lay in masses, he wore generally rather long. He had got into the way, when without his glasses, of half closing his eyes, because, as he said, it did him so little good to keep them open, as it only served to remind him of people's presence without giving him any more definite idea of them. He could not, for instance, unassisted, see the play of features on a face, and, for this reason, in all important interviews he wore his glasses, giving three reasons.
1. Utilitarian—that he could see by his opponent's face what he was driving at, and what effect his own remarks had on him.
2. Impressional—it gave a man an "adventitious consequence."
3. Precautional—"I show emotion quickest by the eye, and so, generally speaking, do most people; some change colour very quick; some reveal it in the mouth; but the sudden dilatation and contraction of the eye, the expression it is capable of, make it on the whole the safest guide.
"I trust the eye on the whole," he said; "guilelessness and an unstained conscience are not really manifested either in feature or deportment, but the eye will almost always tell you true."
His conversation, when he was in form, was, without exactly being very brilliant, very inspiring. He had great freshness of expression, and told very few stories, and those only in illustration, never on their own merits. He was very [Greek: mnemonikos], or retentive—the first requisite, says Plato, of a philosopher—and was consequently well supplied with quotations and allusions, not slavishly repeated, but worked naturally in. I do not mean that he passed for a good talker by skilful plagiarizing, but I found that the wider my range of reading became the more I appreciated his talk—drawn, as it was, from all kinds of sources, and bringing with it that aroma of a far-reaching mind, the fascination that culture can bestow, the feeling that, after all, everything is interesting, and that no knowledge is unworthy of the attention of the philosopher.
He hardly ever discussed current politics, though he would argue on political principles with the greatest keenness: neither had he accurate historical knowledge, or antiquarian; but he enjoyed listening to such talk. For the principles, the poetic aspect, of science he had a devoted interest. In literary matters I seldom heard his equal. Many and many is the book which I have been induced to read solely by hearing him sketch the purport in little sentences of extraordinary felicity. "The birth and fatal effects of Impulse in a prosaic soul," was a sketch he gave of a celebrated novel. On one subject he was always dumb—Economics. "It is the one subject on which I have never hazarded a remark successfully," he said to me once. "I can never appreciate the value of an economic statement; I hardly know whether it is interesting."
As he never talked for talking's sake, he was always ready to give his whole attention to the person he was talking to, or none at all; and consequently he never had a middle reputation—some praising his courtesy, as an old lady with whose querulous complaints about ingratitude and rheumatism he had borne and sympathized; others, his abrupt atrocious manner—"Turned his back on me with a scowl, and didn't say another word," as a sporting fast married lady said to me, who had attempted to tell him an improper story. "I didn't mean to offend him; young men generally like it. I hate a young man to be a prude and a Puritan. Why, he isn't even going into the church, I understand!"
One of his colleagues in the school where he was a master, told me that Arthur had once given him a most delicate and pointed rebuke on the practice into which he had fallen, of appealing to a boy's home feelings before the class.
"Some things ought to be said to people when they are alone; besides, we must not seethe the kid in his mother's milk."
The same man told me that he heard him give a little address to the boys in his class, on the two main virtues of a schoolboy—purity and honesty—on the words, "And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords; and he said unto them, It is enough."
Those are the only two anecdotes I have heard of his professional life, both illustrating that extraordinary gift of apt quotation and seeing unexpected connections, which, to my mind, is as adequate an external symbol of genius as can be found, though sometimes illusory.
He took the greatest delight in the society of children. He writes—
"What wonderful lines those are of Tennyson's"—they had just come out,—"'Who pleased her with a babbling heedlessness Which often lured her from herself!' There is nothing more absolutely refreshing when one is overdone or anxious, or oppressed by the vague anxieties of the world, than the conversation and the society of children, the unconscious ignoring of all grave possibilities, yet often accompanied by that curious tact which divines that all is not well with their older friend, and prompts them to employ all their resources to beguile it. I have been thanked by worldly mothers, in country houses, with something like a touch of nature, for being so good to their boys—'I am so afraid they must have been troublesome to you,'—when they have not only saved me from vapid hard gabble and slanderous gossip, but let in a little breath of paradise as well. I often accept an invitation with reference to the children I shall see. 'To meet Lord and Lady D——, and Mrs. G——, such an amusing woman—tells such stories, they make you scream!' the invitation runs; and I accept it, to see Johnny and Charlie, to play at Red Indians in the wilderness, and to dig up the tin box of date-stones and cartridge-cases that we buried in the bed of the stream."
If I seem to have given rather a priggish picture of Arthur, it is a totally erroneous one. He was far too casual and too retiring to be that; he had no appearance of self-importance, though an invincible reserve of self-respect. The prig wears chain armor outside, and runs at you with his lance when he catches a glimpse of you. Arthur wore his chain armor under his shirt, and it was not till you closed with him that you felt how sharp his dagger was.
I give a perfectly disinterested sketch of him, which a lady, who met him several times, wrote out at my request. It is hard for me to help speaking from inside knowledge.
"Dear Mr. Carr,
"You ask me to give you my impression of Mr. Hamilton, in writing. What your motive is I can't conceive, as he was not a person I took much interest in, though I know that some people do. Unless, perhaps, you mean to put him into a book.
"I met him at a country house in Shropshire. He came down rather late for breakfast, and when he was asked how he was, he quoted something about 'being apt to be rather fatigued with his night's rest.' I remember it very clearly, because it struck me as being so pointless at the time. He went out shooting most of the day, and I think, as far as I can remember, he was a good shot. He smoked a fearful amount, 'all the time,' in fact; they were always attacking him for that. When he came in he used to have some tea in the nursery. We found that out the last day—the children were sent for, and Mr. Hamilton came down with them, looking rather sheepish, and saying that he had tried sitting on at one side of the table, with the nursery maid at the other, after the children had gone, but that it didn't do. I remember we were very much amused at the idea; the picture was such a ridiculous one.
"The children certainly seemed to like him extraordinarily—they would talk to no one else: and I can't think why, because children are so impressionable, and he had quite the gravest face I ever saw—almost forbidding. However, so it was.
"He used to disappear to his room, to read and write, before dinner. At dinner he was often very good fun. I have heard him tell some very funny stories, not very racy perhaps, but amusing; and these, coming from that grave face, were very ridiculous. He always made friends with the younger ladies. He never seemed to flirt, and yet he used to say things to them in public that even I felt inclined to pull him up for. And then he used to ask them to go out walks with him, and, what's more, he went out with certainly two, alone; and you know that is rather a marked thing.
"He looked about forty, but he always gravitated toward the young people; made great friends with boys, and in a curious way, too. Generally, if men make friends with schoolboys in a country house it is at the loss of their dignity—they run the risk of having to swallow all sorts of practical jokes, such as getting water thrown on their head and salt put into their tea; but he never compromised himself, and they always behaved to him with respect, but were quite impatient if he wouldn't come with them everywhere. I overheard him talking to a boy once, and I didn't so much wonder; he spoke in such an affectionate way, and boys like to feel that grown-up people take the trouble to like them.
"He was very friendly with the governess, and would try to include her in the conversation. I can't say he succeeded, for we were down on that. I don't myself consider it good form to encourage your governess to have opinions.
"Everybody was always very deferential to him. He always made a sensation if he came into the room. No one could help looking at him. He wasn't one of those tame sneaking creatures that are to be met in country houses, of whom no one takes the least notice; he was much more inclined to take no notice of any one else; but it was impossible to forget he was in the room. And the servants were invariably respectful to him, quite as if he was a real swell; and yet he didn't dress well and hadn't a servant of his own. He was just the sort of man you would have thought flunkeys would have despised.
"But I have let my pen run on to an unconscionable length. It reminds me of the remark with which he dismissed the subject of poor old Sir Charles W—— who was staying there. We had been discussing him, and asked Mr. Hamilton what he thought of him. 'A talking jackass,' was his only reply, in his most chilling tones.
"I fear I am open to the same imputation.
"Very truly yours, "Laura F——.
"I should like to know what you want this for; however, happily, I have put it in a form you can't make much use of."
I was much amused at the way in which he treated gossip about himself.
I told him some stories about him that I had picked up. They related to a certain absent-mindedness which he was supposed to possess.
"I am afraid they are not true," he said first. "I should welcome any hint of absence of mind in myself as a sign that the abstract could exclude the concrete, which is unfortunately not the case with me." Then, in a moment, he said, "People have no business to tell such stories. I should not mind their not being true, if they were only characteristic."
"By which you mean," said a gentleman who was sitting next him, "that you don't care about veracity, only you can't stand dullness."
"Not at all," said Arthur, quickly. "Veracity is not the question in gossip at all. It is all hearsay. You have not to judge of the actual truth of a scandalous story, but you have to judge of the probable truth of it, and if it is obviously uncharacteristic it is wrong to repeat it. It becomes scandal then, and not till then."
When he was living in London, which was, for the time being, his home, he lived a regular life, combining more reading with a sociable life than many people would have thought possible. He had two rooms in a house in Russell Square. He breakfasted at half-past nine and read till four, when he went down to his club and talked, or strolled in the park. He made hardly any engagements, except for the evening; and admitted hardly anyone, except two or three friends, to see him at his rooms, and then only after one o'clock, before which hour he was absolutely invisible. He was so dreadfully angry with his landlady for showing a gentleman in once in the middle of the morning, that she literally refused ever to do it again. "He's a good regular lodger, sir, and doesn't think of money, but he said to me, 'Mrs. Laing, I don't choose to be disturbed before one. If I find my orders disregarded again, I shall leave the house that day.' I daren't do it, sir. You wouldn't like to deprive me of my lodger, I know, sir." The last pathetic plea could not be gainsaid, so Arthur had his way.
Four evenings he devoted to going out, and the other three dining quietly at home and reading. By the time he left London his reading, always wide, had become prodigious. His own library was good, and he had a ticket for the British Museum Reading-room and belonged to two circulating libraries. He made a point of reading new books (1) if he was strongly recommended them by specialists; (2) if they reached a second edition within a month; (3) if they were republished after a period of neglect—this he held to be the best test of a book.
It was characteristic of his natural indolence that he chose the very easiest method of reading—that is to say, he always read, if he could, in a translation, or if the style of the original was the object, with one. This, like his posture, nearly recumbent, was deliberately adopted. "I find," he said, "that the reflective part of my brain works best when I have as little either bodily or purely intellectual to distract me as possible. And it is the reflective part," he says, "that I always preferred to cultivate, and that latterly I have devoted my whole attention to. It is through the reflective part that one gets the highest influence over people. Training the reflective function is the training of character, while the training of the purely physical side often, and the training of the intellectual side not uncommonly, have a distinctly deteriorative effect.
"By the reflective part, I mean all that deals with the connection of things, the discovery of principles, the laws that regulate emotion and influence, the motives of human nature, the basis of existence, the solution of the problem of life and being—that vast class of subjects which lie just below, and animate concrete facts, and which are the only things worthy of the devotion of a philosopher, though no knowledge is unworthy of his attention.
"I am not quite clear what position I intend to take up in the world at large. This only is certain, that if I am going to teach, and I have a vague sense that I am destined for that, it is necessary first to know something, to be sure of something."
All his days were alike, except that on Sunday he used to frequent city churches in the afternoon, or go to Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's. His father was a friend of a canon at the former place, and Arthur was generally certain of a stall; and I used often to see his tall form there, with his eyes "indwelling wistfully," "reputans secum," as Virgil says, lost in speculations and wonders, and a whole host of melancholy broodings over life and death to which he rarely gave voice, but which formed a perpetual background to his thoughts. He varied this by visits to his father in Hampshire, and occasional trips to the country, not unfrequently alone, the object and occupation of which he never told me, except to say once that he had explored, he thought, every considerable "solitude" in England.