There is one thing that I must not forget to mention—his dreams. He never slept, he told me, without innumerable dreams, and he not unfrequently told me of them. They always struck me as curiously vivid. I subjoin the following from one of his diaries. They are often given at full length. This is one of the most interesting I can find.
"January 8.—Slept badly; toward morning dreamed that I was walking with two or three friends, and accompanied by a tall man whom I did not know, wrapped in a cloak, through a very dark wood. I seemed to be in a very heavy mood. We came upon a building brightly lighted, and, entering, found a hall with many people dining. There was much wine and talk, and a great deal of laughing and merriment. We appeared to be invisible.
"I began to moralize aloud. I said, 'Yes, and this is the way in which lives pass: a little laughter and a few jests and a song or two; forgetful, all the time, that the lights must be extinguished and the wine spilled, and that night laps them round,'—catching, as I said this, a glimpse of the dark trees swaying outside.
"But the man in the cloak took me up. 'This shows,' he said, 'how superficial your view is—how little you look below the surface of things. This laughter and light talk are but the signs and symbols of qualities of which your bitter character knows nothing—goodfellowship, kindliness, brave hopefulness, and many things beside.'
"Then he turned to me impressively, and said, 'What you want is deepening.'
"I woke with the word ringing in my ears."
Besides this, there was a curious little peculiarity in him that I have never heard of in anyone else: a capacity for seeing little waking visions with strange distinctness.
His description of this is as follows:
"I have the power, or rather something in me is able (for I can not resist it), of suddenly producing a picture on the retina, of such vividness as to blot out everything around me. I have it generally when I am a little tired with exercise or brain-work or people: it is prefaced by seeing a bright blue spot, which moves, or rather rushes, across my field of vision, and is immediately succeeded by the picture.
"A crumbling sandstone temple, among fields of blue flowers—an obelisk carved with figures, in a wood—a gray indistinct marsh, with mist rising from it, and by the edge a white bird, egret or something similar, of dazzling whiteness—a green lane, with cows in it. I could go on for ever enumerating them. They pass in a fraction of a second, three or four succeeding one another. My eyes are not shut, nor do I look different. I have always seen them. I was alarmed about them once, and went to a doctor; but he said he could not explain it—it was probably a nervous idiosyncrasy: and I felt all the better for my habit having a name."
One more thing I must mention about him, which I have discovered since his death. I must add that I never had the least suspicion of it in his life.
He was the victim during this time of a depression of mind; not constant, but from which he never felt secure. I subjoin a few entries from his diaries.
"Very troubled and gloomy: a strange heart-sinking—a blank misgiving without any adequate cause upon me all day. One can not help feeling during such times—and, alas! they are becoming very familiar to me—that some mysterious warfare may be being fought out somewhere over one's only half-conscious soul: that some strange decision may be pending." And again: "For the last week, my mind—though I have reiterated again and again to myself that it is purely physical—has steadily refused to take any view of life, to have any outlook, except the most dismal. I am a little better to-day—well enough to see the humour of it, though God knows it is black enough while it lasts."
In one letter he wrote to me, I find the following words: it never occurred to me at the time that they were the gradual fruits of his own experience on the subject:
"Physical and mental depression is a most fearful enemy. Other things give you trouble at intervals—toothache, headache, etc., are all spasmodic afflictions, and, moreover, can be much mitigated by circumstances. But with depression it is not so: it poisons any cup—it turns all the cheerful little daily duties of life into miseries, unutterable burdens; death is the only future event which you can contemplate with satisfaction. It admits of no comfort: the whispered suggestion of the mind, 'You will be better soon,' falls on deaf ears. No physical suffering that I have ever felt, and I have not been without my share, is in the least comparable to it; the agony of foreboding remorse and gloom with which it involves past, present, and future—there is nothing like it. It is the valley of the Shadow of Death.
"But when one first realizes how purely physical it is, it is an era. I endured it for two years first: now I am prepared. I may even say that though all sense of enjoyment dies under it, my friends, the company I am in, generally suspect nothing."
This was literally the case. I knew his spirits were never very high; but he seemed to me to maintain, what is far more valuable, a genial equable flow of cheerfulness, such as one would give much to possess.
Among his occasional diversions at this time, I must place visiting some of the worst houses in one of the worst quarters in London.
It was not then a fashionable habit, and he never spoke of it or made capital out of his experience; but he went to have an acquaintance that should be teres et rotundus with all phases of life. He never attempted to relieve misery by indiscriminate charity; his principles were strongly against it.
"I don't profess to understand the economical condemnation of indiscriminate charity. I don't see why one set of people should not spend in necessaries what another set would only spend in luxuries.
"But I do understand this: that it does infinite harm, by accustoming the poor to think that all the help they will get from the upper classes till they rise up themselves and lay hands upon it, will be indiscriminate half-sovereigns. The clergy are beginning to disabuse them of this idea. It is a fact which does appeal to them when they see a man that they recognize belongs by right to the 'high life' and could drive in his carriage, or at any rate in somebody else's, and have meat four times a day—when they see such a man coming and staying among them, certainly not for pleasure or money, or even, for a long time, at least, love, it impresses them far more than the Non-conformists or Revivalists who attempt the same kind of thing.
"And that's the sort of help I want them to look for—intelligent sympathy and interest in them. To most of them no amount of relief or education could do any good now; it would only produce a rank foliage of vice, which is slightly restrained by hard labour and hard food. Sensualism is a taint in their blood now.
"They want elevating and refining in some way, and you can only do it with brutes through their affections."
His manner with poor people was very good—direct, asking straightforward questions and not making his opinions palatable, and yet behaving to them with perfect courtesy, as to equals.
We were staying in a house together in the country once, and heard that a certain farmer was in trouble of some kind—we were not exactly told what.
Arthur had struck up a friendship with this man on a previous visit, and so he determined to go over and see him. He asked me to ride with him, and I agreed. I will describe the episode precisely as I can remember it:
We rode along, talking of various things, over the fresh Sussex downs, and at last turned into a lane, overhung on both sides with twisted tree-roots of fantastic shape, writhing and sprawling out of the crumbling bank of yellow sand. Presently we came to a gap in the bank, and found we were close to the farm. It lay down to the right, in a little hollow, and was approached by a short drive inclosed by stone walls overgrown by stonecrop and pennywort, and fringed with daffodils and snap-dragons: to the left, the wall was overtopped by the elders of a copse; to the right, it formed one side of a fruit garden.
The drive ended in a flagged yard, upon which our horse's hoofs made a sudden clatter, scaring a dozen ducks into pools and other coigns of vantage, and rousing the house-dog, who, with ringing chain and surly grumbles, came out blinking, to indulge in several painful barks, waiting, as dogs will, with eyes shut and nose strained in the air, for the effect of each bark, and consciously enjoying the tuneful echo. A stern-featured, middle-aged woman came out quickly, almost as if annoyed at the interruption, but on seeing who it was she dropped a quick courtsey, and spoke sharply to the dog.
Arthur went forward, holding out his hand.
"We were so sorry to hear at the house," he said, "that there was trouble here. I did not learn quite clearly what it was, but I thought I would ride over to see if there was anything I could do."
Arthur knew quite enough of the poor to be sure that it was always best to plunge straight into the subject in hand, be it never so grim or painful. Life has no veneering for them; they look hard realities in the face and meet them as they can. They are the true philosophers, and their straightforwardness about grief and disease is not callousness; it is directness, and generally means as much, if not more, feeling than the hysterical wailings of more cultivated emotion, more organized nerves.
"Yes, sir," she said to me, with that strange dignity of language that trouble gives to the poor, just raising her apron to her eyes, "it's my master, sir—Mr. Keighley, sir. The doctor has given him up, and he's only waiting to die. It don't give him much pain, his complaint; and it leaves his head terrible clear. But he's fearful afraid to die, sir; and that's where it is.
"Not that he's not lived a good life; been to church and paid his rent and tithe reg'lar, been sober and industrious and good to his people; but I think, sir," she said, "that there's one kind of trembling and fearfulness that we can't get over: he keeps saying that he's afraid to meet his God. He won't say as he's got anything on his mind; and, truthfully, I don't think he has. But he can't go easy, sir; and I think a sight of your face, if I may make so bold, would do him, maybe, a deal of good."
"I shall be very glad to see him, if he cares to see me," said Arthur. "Has Mr. Spencer" (the clergyman) "been here?"
"Yes, sir," said the woman; "but he don't seem to do George no good. He's prayed with him—the Church prayers out of his blue prayer-book; but, after that, all he could say was, 'you must prepare to meet your God; are you at peace with Him? Remember the judgment;' when I can't help thinking that God would be much more pleased if George could forget it. He can't like to see us crawling to meet Him, and cryin' for fear, like as Watch does if his master has beat him for stealin'. But I dare not say so to him, sir—we never know, and I have no right to set myself up over the parson's head."
I confess that I felt frightfully helpless as we followed her into the house. There was a bright fire burning; a table spread in a troubled untidy manner, with some unfinished food, hardly tasted, upon it.
She said apologetically, "You see, sir, it's hard work to keep things in order, with George lying ill like this. I have to be always with him."
"Of course," said Arthur, gently. "I know how hard it is to keep up heart at all; still it is worth trying: we often do better than we expect."
His sweet voice and sympathetic face made the poor woman almost break down; she pushed hastily on, and, saying something incoherently about leading the way, ushered us through a kitchen and up a short flight of stairs. I would have given a great deal to have been allowed to stay behind. But Arthur walked simply on behind the woman.
"I won't tell him you're here," she said; "he'd say he wasn't fit to see you. But it won't harm him; maybe it'll even cheer him up a bit." She pushed the door open just above; I could distinguish the sound of hard breathing, with every now and then a kind of catch in the breath, and a moan; then we found ourselves inside the room.
The sick man was lying propped up on pillows, with a curious wistful and troubled look on his face, which altered very quickly as we came in. Much of his suffering was nervous, so-called; and a distraction, any new impression which diverted his mind, was very helpful to him.
"George," said the woman, "here is Mr. Hamilton and his friend come over from the Squire's to see you."
He gave a grateful murmur, and pointed to a chair.
"I am so sorry," said Arthur, simply, "to see you in such suffering, Mr. Keighley. We heard you were in trouble, so we thought we would ride over and see if we could do anything for you."
"Thank you, sir, kindly," said the sick man, feebly. "But I'm past doin' anything for now. Doctor's giv'n me up; he gives me a week. But thank you all the same."
He closed his eyes for a moment; and then, looking round quickly, fingering the counterpane, he said, "Ah, sir, this isn't a place for you to be in; but I take it very kindly of you. Ah! Ah! It seems as if it might have been made a bit easier, might dyin'. It's hard work—it's terrible hard. It's bad enough by itself, having to go out into the dark—and all alone; but it's full of worse terrors than even that. The air's full of them. When I am lyin' here still, with my eyes shut, prayin' for it all to be over, I seem to hear them buzzin' and whisperin' in the air. Then it comes, all on a sudden, on me—here"—putting his hand to his heart. "It makes me sick and trembling—with fear and horror—I can't bear it. It's comin' now. Ah! Ah! Ah!"
I remember feeling inexpressibly shocked and horrified. I was not used to such scenes. The room seemed to swim; I could hardly stand or see. To settle myself, I spoke to the woman about wines and medicines; but I seemed to hear my own voice hollow and from a distance, and started at the sound of it.
But Arthur knelt simply down by the bedside and said, "I think it will make it easier if you can only fix your thoughts on one thing. I know the effort is hard; but think that there's a loving hand waiting to take yours; there's One that loves you, better than you have ever loved anyone yourself, waiting the other side of the darkness. Oh, only think of that, and it will not be hard! Dear friend," he said—"for I may call you that—we have all of us the same passage before us, but we have all the same hope: and He hears the words you speak to Him. He has been here, He is here now, to listen to your very thoughts. He has seen your trouble, and wished He could help you—why He can not I am not able to tell you; but it will all be well.
"Let me say one prayer with you." And he began in his low quiet voice. The woman knelt down beside him, shaken with sobbing. Till, at the words "Suffer us not, for any pains of death, to fall from thee," poor George put out his old withered hand and took Arthur's, and smiled through his pain—"the first time he ever smiled since his illness began," his wife told us after his death, "and he smiled many times after that."
He did not speak to us again; the effort had been too great. The woman accompanied us down-stairs, showing, in her troubled officious hurry to anticipate Arthur's wishes, and the way in which she hung about the gate as we rode out, what it had been to her.
We rode home almost in silence. Arthur, as we got near to the lodge, turned to me, and said, half apologetically, "We must speak to simple people in the language that they can understand. Fortunately, there is one language we can all understand."
It was a hot summer, and Arthur a little overtasked his strength. London, and a London season, is far more tiring than far greater physical exertions in pure air and with rational hours. He complained of feeling liable to faintness after standing about in hot rooms. It did not cause him, however, any serious alarm, till one evening he fainted after a dinner-party at which I was present, and we had some difficulty in bringing him round.
After this, for several days he spoke of an invincible languor which held him throughout the day, which he could not get rid of; and he was altogether so unlike his usual self, and so prostrate, that at last, with the greatest difficulty, I prevailed on him to see a doctor—a thing he particularly disliked.
He made an appointment with a celebrated physician in Wimpole Street. As he was far from well on the morning he was to go there, I insisted on accompanying him.
He was in very cheerful spirits, and was eagerly discussing a book which had just been published; he could not make up his mind whether it had been written by a man or a woman. He said that there was always one character in a book, not always the hero or heroine, through whose eyes the writer seemed to look, whose mental analysis seemed to have the ring not of description, but confession, and this would be found to be, he maintained, of the sex of the writer. In the particular case under discussion, where the hero was a man, he professed to discover the "spy," as he called this character, in a woman.
In the middle of the discussion we drew up at Dr. Hall's door, and were immediately shown into one of those rooms with a professional and suspicious calm about it. "'Five minutes before the drop falls,' it seems to say; 'make your mind quite easy; feel chatty,'" said Arthur.
He looked curiously about him, and commented humorously on the selection of literature, till a patient was ushered out, and we were called in.
Dr. Hall was not the least what one is inclined to think a celebrated doctor should be. Arthur had been describing his ideal to me—"tall and pale; stoops slightly, but very distinguished-looking, with piercing grey eyes, a kindly reassuring manner, and grey whiskers cut straight."
Dr. Hall was a small sallow man, with rather an agitated fussy manner, and eyes that never seemed to be looking at you. He was neat, almost dapper, in his dress, and was rather like the butler in a small establishment.
He put one or two questions to Arthur; stethoscoped him, hovering all about restlessly; suddenly caught up his left hand and pushed aside the first finger; "Ah, cigarette-smoker—we must put a stop to that at once, if you please. What is your usual allowance?"
"It varies," said Arthur, "but I fear it is never less than twenty."
"Four, after this date," said Dr. Hall.
"Just come into my other room a moment," he said presently, and led the way.
Arthur followed, giving me a cheerful wink. They remained about ten minutes, during which time I speculated, and read a little book about Epping Forest, which was on the table; looked out of the window, and felt rather ill myself.
At last, the tall door creaked, and Arthur came out, followed by the doctor.
"I hope you will see, sir," he said to me, "that Mr. Hamilton is particular in following my directions, if you have any influence with him."
"I am afraid I haven't got the temperament of a patient," said Arthur, smiling. "But I am very much obliged to you. Good morning."
"What did he say to you?" I said, as soon as we were in our cab again.
"Oh, he spoke to me like a father," said Arthur: "gave me a lot of wretched directions which I know I shan't attend to. But we have wasted much too much time medically already this morning." And he changed the subject to the discussion which we had been carrying on before.
A few days after this I went to see him, and found him much better.
"What do you think?" he said: "I am going to undertake the charge of a human being. Do you remember our conversation about adopting children, and the educational experiments we meant to try? I shall have the chance now."
On my inquiring what had happened, he told me his experience at Teheran, related in a former chapter; and said that, on reflection, he had thought well to accept the commission, adding that he had been surprised to find waiting for him, when he had returned home at a late hour a few nights before his visit to Dr. Hall, a tall foreign gentleman, who had introduced himself as a friend of Mr. Bruce's (so the recluse chose to call himself), and as the bearer of a message from him, the purport of which was to ask whether he would accept Mr. Bruce's commission.
"I am authorized to state," the stranger added, "in the event of your acquiescing, that the method of procedure will be left entirely to yourself; that no question will be asked or conditions made; the boy will be sent to London or to any other address you may appoint; that L400 a year, quarterly, will be placed to your credit at the Westminster Bank for all necessary expenses; and that a draft in your name, for any further sum that you may think requisite, will be honoured.
"If you would forward your answer to Morley's Hotel, to the address on my card, any time within the next week, I shall be grateful. My instructions are not to press for an immediate answer." And the gentleman bowed himself out.
He showed me a short letter which he had written accepting the charge; and, shortly after, I rose to go. But he detained me rather pointedly; and after a short time, in which he appeared to be considering something, he begged me to sit down again, and consider whether I would listen to a short statement of facts on which he wanted my advice. "They are," he said, "I fear, a little painful, and therefore I do not press it; but I should be sincerely obliged to you."
He then said, "I did not at the time tell you, my dear Chris, what Doctor Hall said to me the other day, because I thought it better to tell no one; but the events of the last week have caused me to change my mind. I feel that I must be perfectly open.
"The fact was, that he warned me that I showed unequivocal symptoms of a dangerous heart disease. He could not answer for anything, he said. I had seen that something was wrong from his expression, so I insisted on knowing everything."
I can hardly describe my sensations at this announcement—I felt the room swim and shake; and yet it was made in such a deliberate matter-of-fact tone, that it flashed across me for an instant that Arthur was joking, and together with it came a curiously dismal sense of unreality, that is well known to all those who have passed through any great strain or emotional crisis, as if, suddenly, the soul had fallen out of everything, and they were nothing but lifeless empty husks, hollow and phantasmal.
"But," I gasped, "you never said anything of this at the time: you—you behaved just as usual."
"I certainly tried to," he said. "And curiously enough, I did not either realize or fear the news at the time; it left my feelings almost blank. I won't deny that it has caused me some painful thought since.... He gave me a few simple directions: I was to avoid bracing climates, hard physical work, or, indeed, mental effort—anything exhausting; to keep regular hours, avoid hot rooms and society and smoking; but that I might do, in moderation, anything that interested me, write or read; and, above all things, I was to avoid agitation.
"I think I intend to put his ideas into practice; not much with the idea of saving my life, for I don't feel particularly anxious about that, but because I think that, on the whole, it is the most sensible kind of life to lead. And the fact that I had already accepted the charge of this boy has finally decided me; it was too late to draw back. I shall settle in some quiet place, and try and educate him for the University. I don't at all expect to be dull; and it evidently wouldn't do to thrust him straight into English life yet—he wants Anglicizing gradually. I hope he will be an average Englishman by the time he gets to Cambridge."
Arthur heard the next day, from Mr. Bruce's agent, that the boy would arrive in the course of a month, so he determined to try and have things ready by then for their retirement.
We went energetically to house agents, and the result was that we were at last blessed by success.
Cornwall was the county that we selected; its warm indolent climate seemed to answer our requirements best, and Arthur would not leave England.
Close to Truro there is a little village called St. Uny Trevise. You have to leave the high-road to get to it. Its grey church tower is a conspicuous landmark for several miles round, standing out above a small wood of wind-swept oaks, on the top of a long broad-backed down, lately converted into farm-land, and ploughed up. About half a mile from this, going by strangely winding deep lanes, you reach the bottom of a wooded dell, very lonely and quiet, with a stream running at the bottom, that spreads out into marshes and rush-beds, with here and there a broad brown pool. Crossing the little ford, for there is only a rude bridge for foot-passengers, and ascending the opposite hill, you find yourself at last, after going up the steep overhung road, at the gate of a somewhat larger house than usual in those desolations.
The gate-posts are stone, with granite balls at the top, and there is a short drive, which brings you to a square mottled front of brown stone, with two large projections, or small wings, on each side.
This is a small manor, known as Tredennis, anciently belonging to the Templeton family, whose pictures ornament the hall. It had been used latterly merely as a farmhouse; but a local solicitor, desiring that a somewhat more profitable arrangement might be made respecting it, had the manor put up at the extremely moderate rent of L60, and banished the farmer to an adjoining tenement.
There was a terraced garden, very rich in flowers in the summer. It faced south and west, commanding a view of a winding valley, very peaceful and still, a great part of which was overgrown with stunted oak copses, or divided into large sloping fields. At the end, the water of a tidal creek—Tressillian water—caught the eye. The only sounds that ever penetrated to the car were the cries of birds, or the sound of sheep-bells, or the lowing of cows, with an occasional halloo from the farm, children calling among the copses, or the shrill whistle from over the hills, telling of the train, that, burrowing among the downs, tied one to the noisier world.
Truro has been much opened up since then. It has a bishop, and the rudiments of a cathedral. It has burst into a local and spasmodic life. But when I knew it through Arthur, it was the sleepiest and laziest town alive, with the water rippling through the streets. Old-world farmers, with their strange nasal dialect, used to haunt the streets on market day, like the day on which we first drove through it on our way to Tredennis. Arthur was well and serene. He took the keenest delight in the fragrance of retirement that hung about the place: people to whose minds and ears modern ideas, modern weariness, had never penetrated; who lived a serious indolent life, their one diversion the sermon and the prayer-meeting, their one dislike "London ways."
We reached the house in the evening, losing our way more than once in our endeavour to discover it. Two sitting-rooms were furnished, both large airy rooms looking upon the garden, and a bedroom and dressing-room up-stairs, which Arthur and his charge were to occupy. The housekeeper and her handmaiden, who were to be his servants, were already installed, and had arranged in a certain fashion the new furniture that Arthur had sent down, jostling with the old, and his books. As we sat, the first evening, with our cigarettes, in the dusk, watching the green sky over the quiet hills, a wonderful sensation of repose seemed to pass into one from the place. "I feel as if I might be very happy here," said Arthur, "if I were allowed; and perhaps work out my old idea a little more about the meaning of external things."
I was to return to London in a day or two, to see about any commission that might have been neglected, and to bring down the boy, who was now daily expected.
In my absence I received the following letter from Arthur. The serene mood had had its reaction.
"I have told you, I think, of the depressing effect that a new place has on me till I get habituated to it. There is a constant sense of unrest, just as there is about a new person, that racks the nerves.
"I have been very anxious and 'heavy' to-day, as the Psalms have it: dispirited about the future and the present, and remorseful about the past. You don't mind my speaking freely, do you? I feel so weak and womanish, I must tell some one. I have no one to lean on here.
"I can't see what to make of my life, or, rather, what can possibly be made of it. I have taken hitherto all the rebuffs I have had—and they have not been few—as painful steps in an education which was to fit me for something. I was having, I hoped, experience which was to enable me to sympathize with human beings fully, when I came to speak to them, to teach them, to lead them, as I have all my life believed I some day should.
"You won't think it conceited if I say this to you, my dear Chris? I don't feel to myself as if I was like other people. I have met several people better and on a higher level than myself, but no one on quite the same level—no one, to put it shortly, quite so sure as I am.
"Does that explain itself? I mean that I have for many years been conscious of a kind of inward law that I dare not disobey, and which has constrained me into obedience—once unwilling, now willing, and even enthusiastic. In others, it has always seemed to me that there is strife and [Greek: dipsyxia]—one great factor pulling one way and one another; but it has never been so with me—there has never been a serious strain. I have always known what I meant, and have generally done it; and little by little, as I have lived, comparing this inner presence with what I can see of moral laws, of Divine government, I have come to observe that the two are almost identical, though there are certain variations which I have not yet accounted for.
"Mind, this has been in my case a negative influence; it has never urged a course upon me; it has always withheld me. Even in a dilemma of any kind, it never has said, 'Do this;' it is always, 'Avoid that.' So that I have had to take my line, as I have done in practical things, though never in opposition to its warnings.
"I had always thought that I was being educated to the point of describing this subjective law to others, and helping them to some such position. I have always felt that I had a message to deliver, though the manner and method of delivering it I felt I had to discover.
"And so I was led from point to point. I was educated without any special domestic attachments. I was shown that I was not to believe in my friends. And then, at Cambridge, it came upon me that this was what was meant—that I was not to devote myself to mean, selfish objects; that I was not even to be solaced by individual love: but that I was to speak to the world the way of inward happiness by the simplification of the complex issues, the human intricacies, which have gathered round and obscured the whole problem.
"Then I gradually gave up, or thought I was giving up, human ambitions. I took a course which I saw was not to end in human fame, or wealth, or happiness of the ordinary kinds; and that I might test my capacities a little more and learn myself, and also familiarize myself with more aspects of the great question which I was going to face, I travelled among the cities of men and the solitudes of the earth.
"And at last I thought I had found the way; but I will not tell you what it was, for I now see that I was mistaken. I thought I saw that my duty was to come back and speak the first words to the society in which most naturally I moved; and I came to London, as you know. And then I began to write; but I failed there. I was not disheartened, for I felt that I was being led, and that that was not the way. And once I thought that I was to be pointed out the path by the love of a daring woman; but that went from me too, as you know, and so I waited to be shown how to speak.
"But it is not to be; for while I waited, this has fallen upon me; and this is more than I can bear. It is terrible enough, as a human being, to look Death in the face, and question of the blind eye what are the secrets he knows; but I have passed through that before, and I can truly say I do not dread that now. It is rather with an intense and reverent curiosity that I look forward to death, as the messenger that will tell me that my work here is over, and I am to learn God's ways elsewhere. No, it is not that; but it is the utter aimlessness and failure of my life. I have not attracted men's praise—I did not hope to do that. I have not even attracted their attention. I have not communicated the least grain of what I feel I know.
"Far from looking upon me as a man who at least sees clearer than others, as having a truth of price which they might be glad to learn, they look upon me as a man who has failed even to live life upon their basis, classing me with those utter failures who fail in life because they have no sense of proportion, because they can not comprehend the complex issues among which they have to fight.
"And now I am laid aside, a useless weapon; I am not even physically capable of writing, even if the world would hear me; and I am forced back upon myself, upon a feeble life, necessarily self-centered, to nurse and coddle myself as though I was a poor failing dotard, with one avenue alone—and how precarious!—through which I may perhaps speak my little message to the world—the education of a child to carry on my torch.
"I have written to you my whole mind, not because I want you to reassure me—no, that is impossible; but because I am weak and miserable. I must unburden myself to some one—must confess that I have indeed broken down.
"And, further, what is the Death, into whose antechamber I have already passed? Is it indeed true that, as I have so passionately denied, I have fallen into the grasp of a power which is waging an equal war with truth and light and goodness? Shall I be sacrificed to the struggle, without having made the world a whit better, or richer, or stronger, with the only memory of me a quiet life with few follies and fewer deeds of power, to be laid away in the dark?
"And yet I have a lingering hope that this is a leading too; that I shall somehow emerge. My dear Chris, come and see me again as soon as you can. You will be even more welcome if you bring my boy, Edward Bruce, as I understand we are to call him—attamen ipse veni.
"I am your affectionate friend, "Arthur Hamilton.
"Flora"—his collie, of whom he was very fond—"is sitting watching me with such liquid eyes that I must go and take her out. We have not walked as far as the creek yet; the first effect of valetudinarian habits is, I find, to make one feel really ill."
On the 4th of August, Tuesday, at 11.15, a card was brought to me, and immediately afterward a tall gentleman appeared, with a boy of about fourteen, whom I knew at once to be Edward Bruce.
The gentleman, after a few polite words of inquiry after Arthur, retired, the boy saying good-bye to him affectionately. He left me his address for a few days, in case I should wish to see him.
Edward Bruce was a boy of extraordinary beauty—there was no denying that. Personal descriptions are always disappointing; but, not to be prolix, he had such eyes, with so much passion and fire in them, that they could only be the inheritance of many generations of love and hate and quick emotions; his eyelids drooped languidly, but when he opened his eyes and looked full at you!—I felt relieved to think I should not have to conduct his education; I could not have denied him anything. His hair was brown and curly, cut short, but of that fineness and glossy aspect that showed that till lately it had been allowed its own way.
The boy had beautiful lips and white regular teeth, with that exquisite complexion that is the result of perfect health and physical condition. He did not speak English very well, but acquired it fast. He always spoke slowly, and with a very pure articulation. His voice was clear, high-pitched, and thrilling—I have no other word for it.
On the following day I took him down to Tredennis. The boy was interested and excited, and asked many questions of a very unsophisticated kind.
"Why do people stare at me so?" he said, turning round from the window of the carriage, in Bristol, where he stood devouring the crowd with hungry eyes. I could not explain to him. He thought it was because of his foreign look, and was much disgusted. "I made them dress me like an Englishman," he said, surveying himself. To be English, that was his aim.
I found that his father had inculcated this idea in him thoroughly, and had impressed upon him the dignity of the position. It was, I was told afterward, the one argument that never failed to make him attentive in his lessons.
It was not till he was driving away from Truro into the country that he found leisure to think of his father and brother, and wonder what they would be doing. I had the greatest difficulty in explaining that the hours of the day were different, and that it was early morning there.
"No," he said, "it is impossible; I feel like the evening—Martin can not be feeling like the morning."
He was rather disappointed as we got further and further into the lovely country. "I have lived among trees all my life," he said. "I want to live among people now, in cities, and hear what they say and do what they do. I love them." And he waved his hand to the lights of the town in the valley below us, as a sign of farewell.
At last we drove into the dark gates of Tredennis, and drew up before the house.
Arthur came out to meet us. "Where is Edward?" he said.
The boy sprang out to meet him, and would have kissed him; but Arthur just grasped his hand, retaining it for a moment, and then let him go. The boy kept close to him, examining him attentively, when we got inside the house, with restless, affectionate glances.
"What makes you so pale?" he said.
"Ah!" said Arthur, with a smile, "no one else can tell except ourselves what makes our face so white; but you will be white like this soon," he said: "it is our dark English days, not like your Persian sun."
"Then I shall be glad to be like that," said the boy, "if that is how the English look."
He went off on a tour of exploration about the house, soon discovering his room, with which he was enraptured.
In the garden, later on in the evening, he came to Arthur with a letter in his hand. "This is for you," he said. "I had almost forgotten it. But it is too dark to read it here; I shall fetch you a light." And he brought the lamp out of the house, and stood holding it, as it burnt unwavering in the still night air.
Arthur read it and handed it to me, while the great moths and transparent delicate flies came and blundered against it.
"Edward will give you this letter himself. His hand will touch your hand. It has come about as I anticipated, neither sooner nor later; and I am glad.
"Dear friend, all is not well with you; I heard it in the night. But the passages of the house are often dark, though the hills are full of light; yet the Master's messengers pass to and fro between the high halls bearing lamps; such a messenger I send you.
"You must not be dismayed, either now or later, for all is well. In our mysteries, when the youth first tastes the chalice, he can hardly keep his mind upon the Red Wine of Life, the Blood of the Earth, as he would fain do, for thinking of the cup, and how tremblingly he holds it, and for fear that the crimson juice be spilt; but all the while, though he sees it not, the priest's hand encircles the gold stem.
"Martin, my son (for Edward is now yours—mine no longer), is even nearer the end than when I spoke with you; and you too are nearer, far nearer, though you know it not. And even in this little letter, I have spoken words to you which, if you had but light to read them, would make all plain.
"The hour is at hand; the clock has jarred and is silent again, but the gear murmurs on in the darkness, waiting for the silver chiming of the bell.
"I am your friend always, "B. "TEHERAN, "Midsummer."
"A curious document," I said.
"Yes," said Arthur, musingly; "curious too, as literally true." And he pointed to the boy holding the lamp.
"Edward," he said to the boy, "put back that lamp, and come here and speak to me."
The boy went quickly and promptly, delighting in little acts of obedience, as the young do.
When he returned, Arthur said, "Your father says in this letter that you are to be my son for the future. Will you? are you content to change?"
"Yes," said the boy, shyly; but he came and leant against his new father's shoulder where he sat, and, in the pretty demonstrative manner so natural to unsophisticated children, encircled his arm with his hands.
Arthur put his arm round the boy's neck, and stroked his hair caressingly.
"Very well," he said, "then you must always obey me as well as you did just now; and we will make an Englishman of you, and, what is more, a good man."
And we sat in silence, looking down the valley. Every now and then an owl called in his flute-like notes across the thickets, and we heard the cry of the seabirds from the creek; and the soft wind came gently up, rustling the fir over our heads, stirring among the leaves of the tall syringa, and wandering off into the warm dusk.
The next day I had to return to London on business, taking leave of the strange household with some regret. Arthur insisted on driving me to the station. He talked very brightly of his experiment, and argued at some length as to how far association could be depended upon as an element in education; and how to distinguish those natures early that were loyal to association and those to whom it would be of no authority.
"I have always divided," he said, "the great influences by which ordinary people are determined to action into two classes; and I have connected them with the two staves that the prophet cut, and named 'Beauty and Bands.'
"Some people are worked upon by Beauty—direct influences of good; they choose a thing because it is fair; they refrain from action because it is unlovely; they take nothing for granted, but have an innate fastidious standard which the ugly and painful offend.
"Others are more amenable to Bands—home traditions, domestic affections: they do not act and refrain from action on a thing's own merits because it is good or bad; but because some one that they have loved would have so acted or so refrained from acting—'My mother would not have done so;' 'Henry would have disliked it.' The idea is fancifully put, but it holds good, I think."
Shortly after my return to London, I got two letters from him of considerable importance. I give them both. The first is apropos of the education of Edward Bruce.
"Tredennis, August 30.
"My Dear Friend,
"I want you to get me the inclosed list of books, which I find are culpably absent from my library. It is a very engrossing prospect, this child's mind: it is a blank parchment, ready for any writing, and apparently anxious for it too.
"'Insight into all seemly and generous acts and affairs,' wrote Milton, as the end of his self-education—something like that I intend, if I am allowed, to give this child. I have the greatest contempt for knowledge and erudition qua knowledge and erudition. A man who has laboriously edited the Fathers seems to me only to deserve the respect due to a man who has carried through an arduous task, and one that must have been, to anyone of human feelings and real enthusiasm for ideas, uncongenial at first. Erudition touches the human race very little, but on the 'omne ignotum' principle, men are always ready to admire it, and often to pay it highly, and so there is a constant hum of these busy idlers all about the human hive. The man who works a single practical idea into ordinary people's minds, who adds his voice to the cry, 'It is better to give up than to take: it is nobler to suffer silently than to win praise: better to love than to organize,' whether it be by novel, poem, sermon, or article, has done more, far more, to leaven humanity. I long to open people's eyes to that; I learnt it late myself. Before God, if I can I will make this boy enlightened, should I live to do it; or at least not at the mercy of every vagrant prophet and bawler of conventional ideas.
"Ever your friend, "Arthur Hamilton"
The next explains itself.
"Tredennis, September 15.
"My Dear Friend,
"As you write to inquire so affectionately about my health, I think it would be very wrong of me not to answer you fully; so I will take 'health' to mean well-being, and not confine myself to its paltry physiological usage.
"In the last month I have really turned a corner, and gained serenity and patience in my outlook. I do not mean that I am either patient or serene yet, but I have long and considerable spaces of both, when I feel content to let God make or mar me as He will, and realise that perhaps in His mind those two words may bear a precisely contrary sense.
"One thing I wish to tell you, which I am afraid you will be rather shocked to hear. I have not told you before, from a culpable reticence; for I believe that there must be either complete confidence between friends or none at all—
"Do you remember a very gloomy and depressed letter that I wrote to you the other day? When I wrote it I was deliberately contemplating an action which I have now given up: I mean a voluntary exit from this world's disappointments—suicide, in fact.
"For many years I have carried about a quietus with me. I began the habit at Cambridge. Men have often asked me what is the curious little flask with a secret fastening, that stands on my dressing-table. It is prussic acid. The morning before I wrote that letter, the impulse was so strong upon me that I determined, if matters should not shift a little, to take it on the following evening. I made, in fact, most methodical arrangements. I seemed so completely to have missed my mark. The superstitions against the practice I did not regard, as they are merely the produce of a more imaginative and anxious system of morality. I did not see why God, for His own purposes—and, what is more, I believe He does—should not remove a man by suicide, if He allows him to die by a horrible disease or relegates him to insanity. Suicide is only a symptom of a certain pitch of mental distress: its incidental result is death, but so it is of many practices not immoral.
"It required considerable nerve, I confess, to make the resolution; but once made, I did not flinch. I considered the impulse to be a true leading, quite as true as the other intuitions which I have before now successfully followed, so I made my arrangements all day. It gave me a wonderful sense of calm and certainty—there was a feeling of repose about the completion of a restless existence, as if I was at last about to slide into quiet waters, and be taught directly, and not by obscure and painful monitions.
"At nine o'clock I went to my room. There was a full moon, which shone in at the open window; the garden was wonderfully still and fragrant.
"I found myself wondering whether, when the thing was over, I should awake to consciousness at once; whether the freed soul would have, so to speak, a local origin, a terminus a quo: in plain words, whether my spirit would pass through the house and through the quiet garden to some mysterious home, taking in the earthly impression as it soared past with a single complete undimmed sense—or whether I should step, as it were, straight into a surrounding sea of sensation and be merged at once, feeling through all space and time and matter by the spiritual fibres of which I should make a part. Do you understand me? I have often wondered at that.
"At last I drew out the flask, and touched the spring. It opens by pressing a penknife into one of a number of rivets; you can then unscrew it.
"When it was open I discovered that the little vial inside had been broken, and that somehow or other the life-giving fluid had evaporated unperceived. I had not opened it for a year or more.
"I saw at once that God intended it not to be at my time—that was very clear; and after considerable reflection and a wakeful night, I came to the conclusion that my divine Impulse did not lead me to adopt a course of action, but only to avoid a course—the fact which I developed in my letter to you. And then came the resolve, tardy and weak at first, but gaining ground, warning me that perhaps it was an inglorious flight; though I knew it was pardonable, I felt as if God might meet me with 'Not wrong, but if you are really bent on the highest, you must do better than this.' It might, I felt, be losing a great opportunity—the opportunity of facing a hopeless situation, a thing I had never done.
"And so I came to the conclusion to fight on, and my reward is coming slowly; contentment seems to return, and Edward is an ever-increasing joy; he fills my life and thoughts. Oh, if I can only make him good; put him in the way of inward happiness! I break out into prayer and aspirations for him in his presence when I think of the utterly heedless way in which he regards the future, and the awful, the momentous issues it contains. He, dear lad, thinks nothing of it, except as a sign of my love for him. We have no misunderstandings, and I seem somehow to love the world better, more passionately, since he came to me.
"I send you a few flowers from our garden, and Edward sends his love, if that is respectful enough.
"I am your affectionate friend, "Arthur Hamilton."
Down at Tredennis the year begun to fly with the speed of which uneventful enjoyable monotony alone possesses the secret.
"Our days are very similar here, and I find them very agreeable. Edward thinks the same, he assures me, though I feel it may arise in his case from a want of breadth of view and lack of experience to argue from.
"In the summer months we get up early, and generally bathe in the stream, where I have contrived to get one of the pools sufficiently enlarged; as the weather gets colder I am compelled by my doctor to relinquish this. Then we read and write till breakfast, which we have at eight o'clock. In winter this is the first event of the day; in the morning we work for an hour or two and then go out, returning to lunch; after which we sun ourselves till five o'clock, or drive; and then, after tea, work again for three hours: the day thus concludes.
"I certainly don't coddle my boy, and I don't think I pet him, for I have the deepest horror of that practice: nothing is so weakening for both parties; it develops sentimentalism, and all mawkishness I abhor!—though I am what you would call ridiculously fond of him. However, you must come and see us, and give me your most candid opinion, criticism, and censure on my educational methods.
"We drive into Truro once a week to market, and Edward goes in on messages, and for some mathematical training to the clergyman there. I should like to find some aequalis to make a companion for him. He is English enough for anything, but I am afraid of his not keeping his appropriate boyishness if he is always hanging about with an old and serious valetudinarian like myself. But I don't like any of the families hereabouts, and can't get to know the ones I do like well enough to find some one to my mind. I am very fastidious about my selection."
"Our Sundays are very peaceful days in this lazy land of the West. We go to church—a very necessary part of an Englishman's education—lunch immediately, and then loaf on the downs over the creek, and I read to him till he yawns or goes to sleep; then we both play with Flora among the heather—or botanize—and go to church again."
This letter led me, knowing as I did how pronounced Arthur's views were, to ask him why he took Edward to church, and the line that he intended to take with him generally with regard to religious matters.
"I have given the question," he writes, "a great deal of thought, and feel my way fairly clear now. Ideally, as an experiment, I should like to tell a boy nothing about religion—teach him merely his moral duty—till he is of age; then put the Bible into his hands. There would be, of course, a great deal—the 'purely mythological or Herodotean element,' as Strauss calls it—and the miraculous element generally, that he would probably at first reject; but if he was of an appreciative nature—and I am presupposing that, because I don't think the theory of education is for the apathetic and unsensitive—he would see, I believe, not only the extraordinary sublimity of language and expression, but the unparalleled audacity and magnificence of thought and aspiration. That he would realize the points in which these conceptions were wild, deficient, or childish, would not blind him, I think, to the grandeur of the other side.
"As a matter of fact, we mix up moral duty with intellectual and spiritual so clumsily, and force it so inopportunely and immaturely upon our children, that if in later years questionings begin to arise, or complications in any part of life, the smash that follows is terrific: the whole thing goes by the board.
"For instance: many a man who undergoes a moral conversion will reject his whole intellectual growth angrily and contemptuously as savoring of the times of vanity. In my scheme such a waste would be impossible; the two would be on different planes and not inextricably intertwined.
"Besides, I think that young men suffer terribly from the shock inflicted on their affection and traditional sentiment.
"They grow up with certain stereotyped conceptions on religious subjects, certain dogmas imperfectly understood but crudely imagined and gradually crystallized into some uncouth shape.
"The prejudices of children, and ideas that have grown with them, are, I think, ineradicable in many cases.
"Let us take three instances of such ordinary conceptions—'Grace,' 'the Resurrection of the Body,' 'The Holy Spirit.'
"Here are three vast conceptions. The anxious parent endeavours to explain them to the child: who, in his turn, receives three grotesque and whimsical ideas which represent themselves to him something in the following shape:
"Grace. The quality which he detests in his schoolfellows; in which the 'model boys' are pre-eminent; which he knows he dislikes and loathes, and yet is rather ashamed to say so. The boy who 'rebukes' his schoolfellows for irreverent or loose conversation, the boy who is always ready in his odious way to do a kindness, the boy who is never late for school—these seem to him to be the kind of figures that the clergyman is holding up in his sermon as ideal types of character, to be imitated and reverenced, and for whom he has in his young soul the most undisguised and wholesome loathing.
"Of course it is a misconception—but whose fault? Do you blame a tender wayward mind for not having a philosophical grasp of the ideal? Whereas, if you weren't ashamed to let him understand that the young rascal who is always in mischief and behindhand with his work, but who is yet affectionate, generous, and pure, though he is quarrelsome and not particular in his talk, is a far finer fellow, both in point of view of this world and the next than the smooth-faced prig who thanks his Lord that he is not as this publican.
"The Resurrection of the Body. Intelligent people who are also reverent and good, in their anxiety to be faithful to the letter of dogma as well as to its spirit, prefer to cling to these words rather than confess, what is quite certain, that an absolutely literal sense was attached to these words by the framers of them; they were scientifically ignorant of the fact that matter is disintegrated and disseminated so rigorously that there may be component particles of a hundred of his predecessors in one human body now existent. No symbolical interpretation of the words nowadays will account for their being the expression of what was erroneously believed to be a possibility; and to say, as I have heard a Church dignitary of poetical and metaphysical mind say, that the phrase means that the power resident in every individuality to assimilate to itself certain particles will not desert the individuality even after death, but will continue to assert itself in some way—possibly in a spiritual or unmaterial manner—to say this, is to state a strong scientific probability; but, after all, it is only a probability at best, and is certainly not what the words as they stand in the Creed were meant to mean by the persons who framed them and the first worshippers who repeated them. In the case of children the effect is at once laughable and lamentable. They are made to retain the phrase; no explanation is offered, and, if sought for, shirked. And so it resolves itself into a wonder, dimly conscious of profanity, as to whether Tim Jones the carpenter with the wooden leg, will have a new one; and whether papa will have the wart on his cheek or not, and how he will look without it. Of course these are elementary speculations; but they are true ones, for they were literally my own at an early age. Such speculations are certainly better avoided; and, indeed, all early speculation on dogmatic questions at all is better not suggested.
"The Holy Spirit. When I was a child, the dogma of the Trinity caused me the most terrible perplexity, which was all the more distressing because it was shrouded in a kind of awful remoteness, by the reticence, the bewildered and serious reticence, with which my elders approached the subject; but besides the identification with and the appearance as a dove, the term Comforter—and Paraclete, as some of the hymn-books had it—the expression, 'proceeding from the Father and the Son,' mystified me completely. The three aspects of the central Unity—God as Creator, as the Ideal of Humanity, as the Inspirer of it—is a very subtle and advanced idea; yet it is maintained that symbols should be taught first, before they are understood, so that gradually the growing mind should come to realize and appropriate what it already knows.
"This is a very sophistical and ingenious defence. But it seems to break down in practice. How many people reject the idea when realized, simply, as I hold, on account of the grotesque and fantastic conceptions that the immature and overstrained mind collected about it—conceptions which no amount of reason is later able to overcome! And how many never grow to realize it at all! Besides, even of those who do, it is admitted that almost all need a reconstruction some time, a breaking-up of what would otherwise be crystallized formulae, a conversion, in fact. Have you ever seen a high nature grow up from boyhood to manhood in undisturbed possession of a vital faith? I confess that I never have!
"I can not help feeling a dismal possibility, that future students of religion, looking over a nineteenth century 'child's catechism,' will laugh, or rather drop their hands in blind amazement—for in truth it is no laughing matter—at the metaphysical conglomerate of dogma, driven like a nail into the heads of careless and innocent children (such, at least, as have had, like myself, the advantage of a religious bringing-up), just as we turn over with regretful amusement and pathetic wonder the doctrinal farrago of a Buddhist or a Hindu.
"And all this because people can't wait. He must have a 'dogmatic basis,' they say, the sinew and bone of religion, when the poor child's head can not even take in their ideas, let alone his emotion appreciate them.
"The consequence is, that I can't bring myself to use these words except in societies where I know I shall not be misunderstood.
"Influence, the indestructibility of matter, aspiration—those are what Grace, the Resurrection of the Body, the Holy Spirit mean to me now; great and living and integral parts of my creed, which I not only glow to reflect about, but which surround and penetrate my life daily and hourly with ever-increasing thankfulness.
"Yet, on the other hand, some people depend so much on tradition: they never have a reconstruction of ideas; memories and associations are all in all to them. They are the 'Bands' people of my former classification.
"And so I want to give Edward both. I take him to church. When he asks me questions I will answer them, but I am glad to say he does not at present. I send him out before the sermon: that is responsible for a good deal of harm. 'Ye shall call upon him to avoid sermons' should be in the rubric of my baptismal service.
"Then we read some of the Old Testament history as 'history of the Jews,' and Job and Isaiah and the Psalms as poetry—and I am glad to say he is very fond of them; and parts of the Gospels in Greek, as the life and character of a hero. It is the greatest mistake to impose them upon children as authoritative and divine all at once. It at once diminishes their interest: we ought to work slowly up through the human side.
"The Pauline Epistles I have given him to read in extracts. I believe they are best in extracts—one can omit the controversial element. And he has taken, as children do, to the Revelation enormously, and gets much mysterious delight from it.
"A long and wearisome letter this, and not, I feel, satisfactory. I haven't done justice to the side of tradition, the jussum et traditum, but that is the fault of my mind. I have only been professing to represent the other side.
"I would like to thrash the matter out further. I wish you would come down and see us. Tredennis has a sombre beauty, even in winter—a 'season of mists' with us. The magnolia on the south wall is blooming, though we are only two days off Christmas. Our love to you.
I subjoin another extract, on the education of the moral faculty.
"I have always held that the concentration of thought upon morality is a very dangerous system of life. Morality should be an incidental basis to life, not to be brooded over unless some grave disorder should arise. We breathe, and eat, and sleep, and pay no heed to those processes; and indeed both physiologists and moralists exclaim, in the case of those natural processes, that the healthier we are the more unconscious will those processes be.
"So it should be with moral things. If a grave obstruction or contradiction befall any one; if he behaves in a way that violates his usefulness, or his own or others' self-respect; then, if he will not reform himself, we must warn him, or treat him as a physician would: but to abuse a healthy nature for not considering the reasons of things, not having a moral system, not 'preparing for death,' when, by the very constitution of his nature, he does not require one, is a very grave blunder. Moral anxiety is a sign of moral malaise, or, far more commonly, a sign of physical disorder.
"It is an ascertained fact that those periods when morals have been imposed on man as his sole and proper business and subject for contemplation have been unprogressive, introspective, feeble times.
"No, leave morals out of the question directly, unless you see there is grave cause for interference. Give one or two plain warnings, or rather commands.
"Try to raise the tone generally; try to make the young soul generous, ardent, aspiring. If you can do that, the fouler things will fall off like husks. Above all things, make him devoted to you—that is generally possible with a little trouble; and let him never see or hear you think or say a low thought, or do a sordid thing. If he loves you he will imitate you; and while the virtuous habit is forming, he will have the constant thought, 'Would my father have done this? What would he say, how would he look, if he could see me?' Imagination is sometimes a saving power."
I venture to insert a letter in which he touches delicately on the subject of sexual sin. He would never speak of it, but this was written in answer to a definite question of mine apropos of a common friend of ours.
"I must confess that I do not realize the strength of this particular temptation, but I am willing to allow for its being almost infinitely strong. I don't know what has preserved me. It is the one thing about which I never venture to judge a man in the least, because, from all I hear and see, it must hurry people away in a manner of which those who have not experienced it can not form any conception.
"You ask me what I think the probable effect that yielding to such temptation has on a man's character. Of course, some drift into hopeless sensualists. About those I have my own gospel, though I do not preach it; it is a scarcely formulated hope. But of those that recover, or are recovered, all depends upon the kind of repentance. The morbid repentance that sometimes ensues is very disabling. All dwelling on such falls is very fatal: all thoughts of what might have been, all reflections about the profaned temple and the desecrated shrine, though they can not be escaped, yet must not be indulged. I always advise people resolutely to try and forget them in any possible way—banish them, drown them, beat them down.
"But a manly repentance may temper and brace the character in a way that no other repented fall can. It is the brooding natures which make me tremble; in healthier natures it is the refiner's fire which stings and consecrates: 'Sanat dum ferit.'
"But the subject is very repugnant to me. I don't like thinking or talking about it, because it has its other side; the thought of a woman in connection with such things is so unutterably ghastly; it is one of the problems about which I say most earnestly 'God knows.'"
One other letter of this period, is worth, I think, inserting here.
"Tredennis, August 29.
"I had an instructive parable thrown in my way to-day, containing an obvious lesson for Eddy, and a further meaning for myself. Eddy came running to me about eleven, to tell me there was a man in the garden. I hurried to the spot he indicated; and there, in a kind of nook formed by a fernery, his head resting in a great glowing circle of St. John's wort, and his feet tucked up under him, lay a drunken tramp, asleep. He was in the last stage of disease; his face was white and fallen away, except his nose and eyes, which were red and bloodshot; he had a horrible sore on his neck; he was unshaven and fearfully dirty; he had on torn trousers; a flannel shirt, open at the neck; and a swallow-tail coat, green with age, buttoned round him. His hat, such as it was, lay on the ground at his side. Edward regarded him with unfeigned curiosity and dismay. While we stood watching him, he began to stir and shift uneasily in his sleep, as a watched person will, and presently woke and rolled to his feet with a torrent of the foulest language. He was three-parts drunk. He watched us for a moment suspiciously, and then gave a bolt. How he accomplished it I don't know, for he was very unsteady on his feet; but he got to the wall, and dropped over it into the road, and was out of sight before we could get there. He evidently had some dim idea that he had been trespassing.
"Edward inquired what sort of a man he was.
"'An English gentleman, in all probability,' I said, 'who has got into that state by always doing as he liked.' And I went on to point out, as simply as I could, that everybody has two sets of desires, and that you must make up your mind which to gratify early in life, determining to face this kind of ending if you fix upon one set. 'Early in life,' I said, 'when this gentleman was a well-dressed clean boy like you, one of the voices used to whisper to him at his ear, "Eat as much as you can; that is what you really like best;" while the other said, "If you eat rather less, you will be able to play football, or read your book better; besides, you will be your own master and less of a beast."
"'But he wouldn't listen; and this is the result.'
"Edward seemed to ponder it deeply. He tried to starve himself to-day at lunch; and I refrained from pointing out to him that abstinence from meat at lunch was not the unum necessarium, for fear of confusing the ingenuous mind. I like to see people grasp the concrete issue in one of its bearings. The principle will gradually develop itself; from denying themselves in one point, they will or may grow to be generally temperate; when confronted with overmastering and baser impulses, it may be they will say, 'Let me be [Greek: egkrates emautou] even here.'
"So much for Edward's lesson; now for my own. My first impulse was to loathe and reject the poor object, body and soul. He was merely the embodiment of long-continued vice. His body was a diseased framework, breaking quickly up, conscious of no pleasure but appetite, and now merely existing and held together by the desire of gratifying it; the little vitality it possessed, just gathering enough volume in the quiet intervals to satiate one of its three jaded cravings—lust, hunger, and thirst, and feebly groping after alcoholic and other stimulants to repair its exhaustion; the soul in her dreamy intervals drowsily recounting or contemplating lust past and to come—a ghastly spectacle!
"And yet I am bound to think, and do record it as my deliberate belief, that that poor, wretched, withered, gross soul is destined to as sure a hope of glory as any of us: ay, and may be nearer it, too, than many of us, as it is expiating its willfulness in more terrible and direct punishment. There is not a single spasm in that decayed and nerveless frame, not a single horror of all the gloomy forebodings and irrational shudderings of the sickening delirium, not a single mile of the grim dusty roads he wearily traverses, which is not needed to bring him to the truth. The soul may be so clouded that it may not even be taking note of its punishment, may not be even conscious of it, may hardly calculate how low it has fallen and how wretched and hopeless the remainder of its earthly days are bound to be; but I assert that it is none of it blind suffering; that not a pang is unintentionally given, or thrown away; that I shall hand-in-hand with that soul go some day up the golden stairs that lead to the Father, and we shall say one to another, 'My brother, you despised me on earth; you took for a mark of the neglect and disfavour of God what was only a sign of His constant care; you took for an indwelling of foul spirits what was only a testimony of my distance from the truth.'
"And we shall speak together of new things, so marvellous that they will banish memory for ever.
"Who would have thought that the sight of a drunken tramp in a hedgerow would have brought one so close to a sight of God's purposes?
"Yet so it is, my friend. God keeps showing me by the strangest of surprises that He is all about us. This very incident, so seemingly trivial, is yet a part of my life already, it has set its mark upon me. All his life he has been led, from bad to worse, into drink, and haunted by all the other devils of sin, and piloted across the country thus, so that the lines of our lives cut at this instant never to cut again. There are no such things as chance meetings. There is no smaller or greater in the sight of God. It is as much a purpose of his life that he should preach this sermon to Edward and myself to-day, as that he should be shown by God's own strokes what happiness really is, by the strong contrast of the bitterness of sin."
The idea of the purpose of God underlying every incident, however apparently trivial, was much in his thoughts just then.
"We often are taught how momentous every thing and every moment is, by the charging of some trivial incident with tremendous issues. A man fires off his gun. He has done so thousands of times already, and yet, like Mr. Jamieson, my neighbour, on this one January morning he kills his own son, converting in a single instant, by a trivial incident, the whole of the rest of his life from sweet into bitter, by the terrible punishment which falls upon 'carelessness.' God seems to be asking us to weigh the fact, that in a chain of events the tiniest link is every bit as important and necessary in its place as the largest.
"And so I begin to take more and more account of little things. The very people we pass in the street once, it may be never to pass again, the stream of faces that flows past us in London—has all that no real connection with our life, except to stir a faint and vague emotion about the size of life and our own infinitesimal share in it? I think it must be something more. Of course, one lets drop grain after grain of golden truth that God slips into our hands. I keep feeling that if we could only truly yield ourselves up for a single instant, put ourselves utterly and wholly in God's hands for a second, the meaning of the whole would flash upon us, and our lesson would be learnt. I think perhaps that comes in death. I remember the only time I took an anaesthetic (when the body really momentarily dies—that is, the functions are temporarily suspended), the great sensation was, after a brief passage of storm and agony, the sense of serenity and repose upon a lesson learnt, a truth grasped, so remote and so connected with infinite ideas, that the coming back into life was like the waking after years of experience; a phantom emotion, I expect; but, like many phantoms, a very good copy of the real one. That is what I expect dying to be like.
"I was going to say that I try not to let even little things—things that are thrust in my way curiously and without apparent reason that is—go uninterpreted. Why should I, for instance, have been introduced by my clergyman to the friend who was staying with him this morning, when I met them in the lane? and why should he have come in to lunch, and talked dull and trivial talk till three o'clock, and interrupted all our plans? There seems some design in it all; and yet one is so impotent to grasp what it can be.
"Yet I suppose no one has failed to notice several small coincidences in their lives, of what might almost be called a providential kind.
"I read in a book about Laennec's method, without the vaguest idea of who Laennec was, or what his method was. The next day, I see, in a chart in the village school-room, 'Laennec, inventor of the stethoscope;' and, the day following, I find and read his biography in a volume that I happen to take up to pass five minutes. And yet we say 'by chance.'
"Or I come across an expression of which I haven't grasped the precise meaning, 'gene,' let us say, or 'eclectic,' and the next day I hear the rector and curate discussing them. These are real cases.
"Or I am interrupted in my writing by Edward, who takes the letters to the post, and forces this from under my hand, as I write: not, surely, only to spare you the receipt of a dull and immature letter.
I have only one other letter of any especial interest about this date.
"If only a book could be written about a hermit, a man that deliberately left the world, retiring, not to an impracticable distance—let us say to a small farm, in a country village, with half an acre of garden—and there let no sound from the world without reach him, except incidentally, and lived a pure and uncontaminated life, watching his garden, and turning over, very slowly, such experience as he had gained in life, with the intention, if anything came of it, of telling the world any solution that occurred to him of the great question—'Is one bound to meet life in the ordinary manner, by plunging into it and swimming up the stream, or does one meet it best by abjuring it?' There is much to be said for both views. I am not at all sure that these or similar lives are not lived, and that the only practical bearing of them is that a man is not bound to tell his discoveries of our enigmas. I mean, I can conceive a man, under such circumstances, reaching a very high standpoint, arriving at very lofty knowledge of the problems of fate and life, and at the same time finding a ban laid upon him, a tacit [Greek: anagke], not to reveal it to others, it being hinted to him that those who would attain to it at all must attain to it as he has himself attained, by finding out the way themselves."
About this time he made the acquaintance of some neighbours whom he approved, and found companions for Edward Bruce in the boys of the family, who were home for the holidays. The boy brightened up so much under the new surroundings, that Arthur determined to get a boy of the same age to educate with Edward, and he accordingly inserted an advertisement in the Times. I have it before me now, in the fast-yellowing paper.
"A gentleman is anxious to find a companion to be educated with his adopted son; he offers him board and teaching free, but must see, personally, both the parent or guardian and the boy whom it is proposed to send."
But the advertisement was withdrawn, as a friend of mine, a certain General Ellis, not very well off, and with a large family, offered to send a boy of his to Tredennis—an offer which Arthur accepted provisionally. He had the boy to stay with him for a fortnight, and at the end of the time agreed to take him.
As the boys were not to go to a public school, and as neither of them looked forward to teaching as a career, the object of their teaching was to make them as quick in grasp of a subject as possible, as enthusiastic as possible, and as cultivated. Arthur favoured me with a letter, or rather a treatise, upon their education, fragments of which I submit to my readers.
"My aim will be to make them, generally speaking, as adequate as possible to playing a worthy part in the world. I want them to be as open-minded on all subjects as possible, to have no fixed prejudices on any subject, and yet to have an adequate basis of knowledge on important matters, enough not to leave them at the mercy of any new book or theory on any subject which handles its facts in at all a one-sided way—so that on reading a brilliant but narrow book on any point, they may be able to say, 'This and that argument have weight, they are valid; but he has suppressed this, and distorted that, which, if seen fairly and in a good light, would go far to contradict the other.' Then they must be without prejudice; they must not close their eyes or turn their backs on any view, because it is 'dangerous' or 'damaging' or 'subversive' or 'unpractical.' They must not be afraid to face an idea because of its probable consequences if its truth is proved. They must not call anything common or unclean.
"For this they must have a basis of knowledge on these points; history, political economy, philosophy, science. The first three I am fairly competent to give them; that is to say, I am studying these hard myself now, and I can, at any rate, keep well ahead of them; and I have managed to win their educational confidence, which is a great thing. They take for granted that a thing which is dull is necessary, and follow me with faith; while, I am thankful to say, they are keen enough not to want driving when a thing is interesting.
"Then they must know French and German, and a modicum of Greek and Latin. These last I teach them by a free use of translations; rudiments of grammar first, and then we attack the books, and let grammar be incidental. We don't compose in any of these languages; it's a mere waste of time.
"I teach them logic and Euclid, and get them taught some mathematics. Then as to science, by reading myself with them we get on very well together. And I have bought a few chemicals, and we try experiments freely, which is very satisfactory.
"Music I teach them both, and harmony. They don't much like it, but they will be glad some day. I make them practise regularly. I don't believe any but very exceptionally gifted boys like that; but they are so awfully thankful when they get to my age if they have been kept at it.
"Then as to the external [Greek: paideia], there is my difficulty. I am not allowed to take any active exertion myself, and, indeed, it tells on me if I do, so that I have become a kind of thermometer, hopeless and headachy and listless the next day, if I overdo myself the very least; so that I have merely to encourage them by precept, not by example. They have ponies and bicycles, and scamper about all over the country. Edward has been brought home once in a cart, but not seriously damaged; and I like to leave them to themselves in these things—they won't damage themselves a bit the less for fussing and fretting over them, and they will lose ever so much independence and go. Then I teach them to shoot, and they are very fair shots with a pea-gun. And we also do a little carpentering, so we are well employed. They aren't showy performers at any game, but, as they won't be at school, that makes very little difference to them; it is handiness in general sports that is valuable afterward.
"You would think that this was a tremendous programme, but it is not; it is mostly reading and talking, with a certain amount of writing. They have to analyse a chapter of a book of some kind every day; sometimes history, sometimes philosophy. We do both history and philosophy as much as possible by means of biographies. Lewes's book is an excellent text-book, and not a bit too advanced if you will talk it over with them carefully; clever boys are never really puzzled by meanings of words. In history we get the greatest man we can find in a period, and work out his view of all current events; and they have to write dialogues in character, and enjoy it immensely too. I don't press them to read for themselves very much, and I don't make ordinary English literature their task-books, because one always may be boring a boy, and I don't want to run the risk of boring them with things that I want them to enjoy as much as I did.
"I read to them for an hour or so every evening—novels, plays, anything that they seem to like. They are at liberty to choose.
"I don't know that they would 'go down' at present—certainly not among their compeers. They talk quite naturally and straightforwardly about all kinds of topics of general interest, and they are tremendously keen about their games, but I think some people might call them prigs. However, I keep them in a constant and wholesome contempt of their own abilities, and never let them despise or criticize anyone unfavourably; not by 'rebuking' it, but by indicating a point of view—and one can always find one—in which the person under fire is infinitely their superior.