The review was by no means unjust: it said what any disinterested opinion must have confirmed, that the youth's ambitions were excellent, but that neither he, nor indeed any two-footed singer, is likely to be an immortal poet by seventeen. But Henry's sensitive soul had been so inflated by the honest pride of his friends that he could only see gross and callous malignity and conspiracy in the criticism. His theology, his health, his peace of mind, were all overthrown. As a matter of fact, however (as Southey remarks), it was the very brusqueness of this review that laid the foundation of his reputation. The circumstance aroused Southey's interest in the young man's efforts to raise himself above his level in the world and it was the laureate who after Henry's death edited his letters and literary remains, and gave him to us as we have him. Southey tells us that after the young man's death he and Coleridge looked over his papers with great emotion, and were amazed at the fervour of his industry and ambition.
Alas, we must hurry the narrative, on which one would gladly linger. The life of this sad and high-minded anchorite has a strong fascination for me. Melancholy had marked him for her own: he himself always felt that he had not a long span before him. Hindered by deafness, threatened with consumption, and a deadlier enemy yet—epilepsy—his frail and uneasy spirit had full right to distrust its tenement. The summer of 1804 he spent partly at Wilford, a little village near Nottingham where he took lodgings. His employers very kindly gave him a generous holiday to recruit; but his old habits of excessive study seized him again. He had, for the time, given up hope of being able to attend the university, and accordingly thought it all the more necessary to do well at the law. Night after night he would read till two or three in the morning, lie down fully dressed on his bed, and rise again to work at five or six. His mother, who was living with him in his retreat, used to go upstairs to put out his candle and see that he went to bed; but Henry, so docile in other matters, in this was unconquerable. When he heard his mother's step on the stair he would extinguish the taper and feign sleep; but after she had retired he would light it again and resume his reading. Perhaps the best things he wrote were composed in this period of extreme depression. The "Ode on Disappointment," and some of his sonnets, breathe a quiet dignity of resignation to sorrow that is very touching and even worthy of respect as poetry. He never escaped the cliche and the bathetic, but this is a fair example of his midnight musings at their highest pitch:—
Gently, most gently, on thy victim's head, Consumption, lay thine hand. Let me decay, Like the expiring lamp, unseen, away, And softly go to slumber with the dead. And if 'tis true what holy men have said, That strains angelic oft foretell the day Of death, to those good men who fall thy prey, O let the aerial music round my bed, Dissolving sad in dying symphony, Whisper the solemn warning in mine ear; That I may bid my weeping friends good-bye, Ere I depart upon my journey drear: And smiling faintly on the painful past, Compose my decent head, and breathe my last.
But in spite of depression and ill health, he was really happy at Wilford, a village in the elbow of a deep gully on the Trent, and near his well-beloved Clifton Woods. On the banks of the stream he would sit for hours in a maze of dreams, or wander among the trees on summer nights, awed by the sublime beauty of the lightning, and heedless of drenched and muddy clothes.
Later in the summer it was determined that he should go to college after all; and by the generosity of a number of friends (including Neville who promised twenty pounds annually) he was able to enter himself for St. John's College, Cambridge. In the autumn he left his legal employers, who were very sorry to lose him, and took up quarters with a clergyman in Lincolnshire (Winteringham) under whom he pursued his studies for a year, to prepare himself thoroughly for college. His letters during this period are mostly of a religious tinge, enlivened only by a mishap while boating on the Humber when he was stranded for six hours on a sand-bank. He had become quite convinced that his calling was the ministry. The proper observance of the Sabbath by his younger brothers and sisters weighed on his mind, and he frequently wrote home on this topic.
In October, 1805, we find him settled at last in his rooms at St. John's, the college that is always dear to us as the academic home of two very different undergraduates—William Wordsworth and Samuel Butler. His rooms were in the rearmost court, near the cloisters, and overlooking the famous Bridge of Sighs. His letters give us a pleasant picture of his quiet rambles through the town, his solitary cups of tea as he sat by the fire, and his disappointment in not being able to hear his lecturers on account of his deafness. Most entertaining to any one at all familiar with the life of the Oxford and Cambridge colleges is his account of the thievery of his "gyp" (the manservant who makes the bed, cares for the rooms, and attends to the wants of the students). Poor Henry's tea, sugar, and handkerchiefs began to vanish in the traditional way; but he was practical enough to buy a large padlock for his coal bin.
But Henry's innocent satisfaction in having at last attained the haven of his desires was not long of duration. In spite of ill health, his tutors constrained him to enter for a scholarship examination in December, and when the unfortunate fellow pleaded physical inability, they dosed him with "strong medicines" to enable him to face the examiners. After the ordeal he was so unstrung that he hurried off to London to spend Christmas with his aunt.
The account of his year at college is very pitiful. His tutors were, according to their lights, very kind; they relieved him as far as possible from financial worries, but they did not have sense enough to restrain him from incessant study. Even on his rambles he was always at work memorizing Greek plays, mathematical theorems, or what not. In a memorandum found in his desk his life was thus planned: "Rise at half-past five. Devotions and walk till seven. Chapel and breakfast till eight. Study and lectures till one. Four and a half clear reading. Walk and dinner, and chapel to six. Six to nine reading. Nine to ten, devotions. Bed at ten."
In the summer of 1806 his examiners ranked him the best man of his year, and in mistaken kindness the college decided to grant him the unusual compliment of keeping him in college through the vacation with a special mathematical tutor, gratis, to work with him, mathematics being considered his weakness. As his only chance of health lay in complete rest during the holiday, this plan of spending the summer in study was simply a death sentence. In July, while at work on logarithm tables, he was overtaken by a sudden fainting fit, evidently of an epileptic nature. The malady gained strength, aided by the weakness of his heart and lungs, and he died on October 19, 1806.
Poor Henry! Surely no gentler, more innocent soul ever lived. His letters are a golden treasury of earnest and solemn speculation. Perhaps once a twelve-month he displays a sad little vein of pleasantry, but not for long. Probably the light-hearted undergraduates about him found him a very prosy, shabby, and mournful young man, but if one may judge by the outburst of tributary verses published after his death he was universally admired and respected. Let us close the story by a quotation from a tribute paid him by a lady versifier:
If worth, if genius, to the world are dear, To Henry's shade devote no common tear. His worth on no precarious tenure hung, From genuine piety his virtues sprung: If pure benevolence, if steady sense, Can to the feeling heart delight dispense; If all the highest efforts of the mind, Exalted, noble, elegant, refined, Call for fond sympathy's heartfelt regret, Ye sons of genius, pay the mournful debt!
The secret thoughts of a man run over all things, holy, profane, clean, obscene, grave, and light, without shame or blame.
—HOBBES, Leviathan, Chap. VIII.
The bachelor is almost extinct in America. Our hopelessly utilitarian civilization demands that a man of forty should be rearing a family, should go to an office five times a week, and pretend an interest in the World's Series. It is unthinkable to us that there should be men of mature years who do not know the relative batting averages of the Red Sox and the Pirates. The intellectual and strolling male of from thirty-five to fifty-five years (which is what one means by bachelor) must either marry and settle down in the Oranges, or he must flee to Europe or the MacDowell Colony. There is no alternative. Vachel Lindsay please notice.
The fate of Henry James is a case in point. Undoubtedly he fled the shores of his native land to escape the barrage of the bonbonniverous sub-deb, who would else have mown him down without ruth.
But in England they still linger, these quaint, phosphorescent middle-aged creatures, lurking behind a screenage of muffins and crumpets and hip baths. And thither fled one of the most delightful born bachelors this hemisphere has ever unearthed, Mr. Logan Pearsall Smith.
Mr. Smith was a Philadelphian, born about fifty years ago. But that most amiable of cities does not encourage detached and meditative bachelorhood, and after sampling what is quaintly known as "a guarded education in morals and manners" at Haverford College, our hero passed to Harvard, and thence by a swifter decline to Oxford. Literature and liberalism became his pursuits; on the one hand, he found himself engrossed in the task of proving to the British electorate that England need not always remain the same; on the other, he wrote a Life of Sir Henry Wotton, a volume of very graceful and beautiful short stories about Oxford ("The Youth of Parnassus") and a valuable little book on the history and habits of the English language.
But in spite of his best endeavours to quench and subdue his mental humours, Mr. Smith found his serious moments invaded by incomprehensible twinges of esprit. Travelling about England, leading the life of the typical English bachelor, equipped with gladstone bag, shaving kit, evening clothes and tweeds; passing from country house to London club, from Oxford common room to Sussex gardens, the solemn pageantry of the cultivated classes now and then burst upon him in its truly comic aspect. The tinder and steel of his wit, too uncontrollably frictioned, ignited a shower of roman candles, and we conceive him prostrated with irreverent laughter in some lonely railway carriage.
Mr. Smith did his best to take life seriously, and I believe he succeeded passably well until after forty years of age. But then the spectacle of the English vicar toppled him over, and once the gravity of the Church of England is invaded, all lesser Alps and sanctuaries lie open to the scourge. Menaced by serious intellectual disorders unless he were to give vent to these disturbing levities, Mr. Smith began to set them down under the title of "Trivia," and now at length we are enriched by the spectacle of this iridescent and puckish little book, which presents as it were a series of lantern slides of an ironical, whimsical, and merciless sense of humour. It is a motion picture of a middle-aged, phosphorescent mind that has long tried to preserve a decent melancholy but at last capitulates in the most delicately intellectual brainslide of our generation.
This is no Ring Lardner, no Irvin Cobb, no Casey at the bat. Mr. Smith is an infinitely close and acute observer of sophisticated social life, tinged with a faint and agreeable refined sadness, by an aura of shyness which amounts to a spiritual virginity. He comes to us trailing clouds of glory from the heaven of pure and unfettered speculation which is our home. He is an elf of utter simplicity and infinite candour. He is a flicker of absolute Mind. His little book is as precious and as disturbing as devilled crabs.
Blessed, blessed little book, how you will run like quicksilver from mind to mind, leaping—a shy and shining spark—from brain to brain! I know of nothing since Lord Bacon quite like these ineffably dainty little paragraphs of gilded whim, these rainbow nuggets of wistful inquiry, these butterfly wings of fancy, these pointed sparklers of wit. A purge, by Zeus, a purge for the wicked! Irony so demure, so quaint, so far away; pathos so void of regret, merriment so delicate that one dare not laugh for fear of dispelling the charm—all this is "Trivia." Where are Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus or all the other Harold Bell Wrights of old time? Baron Verulam himself treads a heavy gait beside this airy elfin scamper. It is Atalanta's heels. It is a heaven-given scenario of that shyest, dearest, remotest of essences—the mind of a strolling bachelor.
Bless his heart, in a momentary panic of modesty at the thought of all hi sacred plots laid bare, the heavenly man tries to scare us away. "These pieces of moral prose have been written, dear Reader, by a Carnivorous Mammal, belonging to that suborder of the Animal Kingdom which includes also the Baboon, with his bright blue and scarlet bottom, and the gentle Chimpanzee."
But this whimsical brother to the chimpanzee, despite this last despairing attempt at modest evasion, denudes himself before us. And his heart, we find is strangely like our own. His reveries, his sadnesses, his exhilarations, are all ours, too. Like us he cries, "I wish I were unflinching and emphatic, and had big bushy eyebrows and a Message for the Age. I wish I were a deep Thinker, or a great Ventriloquist." Like us he has only a ghost, a thin, unreal phantom in a world of bank cashiers and duchesses and prosperous merchants and other Real Persons. Like us he fights a losing battle against the platitudes and moral generalizations that hem us round. "I can hardly post a letter," he laments, "without marvelling at the excellence and accuracy of the Postal System." And he consoles himself, good man, with the thought of the meaningless creation crashing blindly through frozen space. His other great consolation is his dear vice of reading—"This joy not dulled by Age, this polite and unpunished vice, this selfish, serene, life-long intoxication."
It is impossible by a few random snippets to give any just figment of the delicious mental intoxication of this piercing, cathartic little volume. It is a bright tissue of thought robing a radiant, dancing spirit. Through the shimmering veil of words we catch, now and then, a flashing glimpse of the Immortal Whimsy within, shy, sudden, and defiant. Across blue bird-haunted English lawns we follow that gracious figure, down dusky London streets where he is peering in at windows and laughing incommunicable jests.
But alas, Mr. Pearsall Smith is lost to America. The warming pans and the twopenny tube have lured him away from us. Never again will he tread on peanut shells in the smoking car or read the runes about Phoebe Snow. Chiclets and Spearmint and Walt Mason and the Toonerville Trolley and the Prince Albert ads—these mean nothing to him. He will never compile an anthology of New York theatrical notices: "The play that makes the dimples to catch the tears." Careful and adroit propaganda, begun twenty years ago by the Department of State, might have won him back, but now it is impossible to repatriate him. The exquisite humours of our American life are faded from his mind. He has gone across the great divide that separates a subway from an underground and an elevator from a lift. I wonder does he ever mourn the scrapple and buckwheat cakes that were his birthright?
Major George Haven Putnam in his "Memories of a Publisher" describes a famous tennis match played at Oxford years ago, when he and Pearsall Smith defeated A.L. Smith and Herbert Fisher, the two gentlemen who are now Master of Balliol and British Minister of Education. The Balliol don attributed the British defeat in this international tourney to the fact that his tennis shoes (shall we say his "sneakers?") came to grief and he had to play the crucial games in stocking feet. But though Major Putnam and his young ally won the set of patters (let us use the Wykehamist word), the Major allowed the other side to gain a far more serious victory. They carried off the young Philadelphian and kept him in England until he was spoiled for all good American uses. That was badly done, Major! Because we needed Pearsall Smith over here, and now we shall never recapture him. He will go on calling an elevator a lift, and he will never write an American "Trivia."
It has long been my conviction that the most graceful function of authorship is the writing of prefaces. What is more pleasant than dashing off those few pages of genial introduction after all the dreary months of spading at the text? A paragraph or two as to the intentions of the book; allusions to the unexpected difficulties encountered during composition; neatly phrased gratitude to eminent friends who have given gracious assistance; and a touching allusion to the Critic on the Hearth who has done the indexing—one of the trials of the wives of literary men not mentioned by Mrs. Andrew Lang in her pleasant essay on that topic. A pious wish to receive criticisms "in case a second edition should be called for"; your address, and the date, add a homely touch at the end.
How delightful this bit of pleasant intimacy after the real toil is over! It is like paterfamilias coming out of his house at dusk, after the hard day's work, to read his newspaper on the doorstep. Or it may be a bit of superb gesturing. No book is complete without a preface. Better a preface without a book....
Many men have written books without prefaces. But not many have written prefaces without books. And yet I am convinced it is one of the subtlest pleasures. I have planned several books, not yet written; but the prefaces are all ready this many a day. Let me show you the sort of thing I mean.
PREFACE TO "THE LETTERS OF ANDREW MCGILL"
How well I remember the last time I saw Andrew McGill! It was in the dear old days at Rutgers, my last term. I was sitting over a book one brilliant May afternoon, rather despondent—there came a rush up the stairs and a thunder at the door. I knew his voice, and hurried to open. Poor, dear fellow, he was just back from tennis; I never saw him look so glorious. Tall and thin—he was always very thin, see p. 219 and passim—with his long, brown face and sparkling black eyes—I can see him still rambling about the room in his flannels, his curly hair damp on his forehead. "Buzzard," he said—he always called me Buzzard—"guess what's happened?"
"In love again?" I asked.
He laughed. A bright, golden laugh—I can hear it still. His laughter was always infectious.
"No," he said. "Dear silly old Buzzard, what do you think? I've won the Sylvanus Stall fellowship."
I shall never forget that moment. It was very still, and in the college garden, just under my window, I could hear a party of Canadian girls deliciously admiring things. It was a cruel instant for me. I, too, in my plodding way, had sent in an essay for the prize, but without telling him. Must I confess it? I had never dared mention the subject for fear he, too, would compete. I knew that if he did he was sure to win. O petty jealousies, that seem so bitter now!
"Rude old Buzzard," he said in his bantering way, "you haven't congratulated!"
I pulled myself together.
"Brindle," I said—I always called him Brindle; how sad the nickname sounds now—"you took my breath away. Dear lad, I'm overjoyed."
It is four and twenty years since that May afternoon. I never saw him again. Never even heard him read the brilliant poem "Sunset from the Mons Veneris" that was the beginning of his career, for the week before commencement I was taken ill and sent abroad for my health. I never came back to New York; and he remained there. But I followed his career with the closest attention. Every newspaper cutting, every magazine article in which his name was mentioned, went into my scrapbook. And almost every week for twenty years he wrote to me—those long, radiant letters, so full of verve and elan and ringing, ruthless wit. There was always something very Gallic about his saltiness. "Oh, to be born a Frenchman!" he writes. "Why wasn't I born a Frenchman instead of a dour, dingy Scotsman? Oh, for the birthright of Montmartre! Stead of which I have the mess of pottage—stodgy, porridgy Scots pottage" (see p. 189).
He had his sombre moods, too. It was characteristic of him, when in a pet, to wish he had been born other-where than by the pebbles of Arbroath. "Oh, to have been born a Norseman!" he wrote once. "Oh, for the deep Scandinavian scourge of pain, the inbrooding, marrowy soul-ache of Ibsen! That is the fertilizing soil of tragedy. Tragedy springs from it, tall and white and stately like the lily from the dung. I will never be a tragedian. Oh, pebbles of Arbroath!"
All the world knows how he died....
PREFACE TO AN HISTORICAL WORK
(In six volumes)
The work upon which I have spent the best years of my life is at length finished. After two decades of uninterrupted toil, enlivened only by those small bickerings over minutiae so dear to all scrupulous writers, I may perhaps be pardoned if I philosophize for a few moments on the functions of the historian.
There are, of course, two technical modes of approach, quite apart from the preparatory contemplation of the field. (This last, I might add, has been singularly neglected by modern historians. My old friend, Professor Spondee, of Halle, though deservedly eminent in his chosen lot, is particularly open to criticism on this ground. I cannot emphasize too gravely the importance of preliminary calm—what Hobbes calls "the unprejudicated mind." But this by way of parenthesis.) One may attack the problem with the mortar trowel, or with the axe. Sismondi, I think, has observed this.
Some such observations as these I was privileged to address to my very good friend, Professor Fish, of Yale, that justly renowned seat of learning, when lecturing in New Haven recently. His reply was witty—too witty to be apt, "Piscem natare doces," he said.
I will admit that Professor Fish may be free from taint in this regard; but many historians of to-day are, I fear, imbued with that most dangerous tincture of historical cant which lays it down as a maxim that contemporary history cannot be judicially written.
Those who have been kind enough to display some interest in the controversy between myself and M. Rougegorge—of the Sorbonne—in the matter of Lamartine's account of the elections to the Constituent Assembly of 1848, will remark several hitherto unobserved errors in Lamartine which I have been privileged to point out. For instance, Lamartine (who is supported in toto by M. Rougegorge) asserts that the elections took place on Easter Sunday, April 27, 1848. Whereas, I am able to demonstrate, by reference to the astronomical tables at Kew Observatory, that in 1848 Easter Day fell upon April 23. M. Rougegorge's assertion that Lamartine was a slave to opium rests upon a humorous misinterpretation of Mme. Lamartine's diary. (The matter may be looked up by the curious in Annette User's "Annees avec les Lamartines." Oser was for many years the cook in Lamartine's household, and says some illuminating things regarding L.'s dislike of onions.)
It is, of course, impossible for me to acknowledge individually the generous and stimulating assistance I have received from so many scholars in all parts of the world. The mere list of names would be like Southey's "Cataract of Lodore," and would be but an ungracious mode of returning thanks. I cannot, however, forbear to mention Professor Mandrake, of the Oxford Chair, optimus maximus among modern historians. Of him I may say, in the fine words of Virgil, "Sedet aeternumque sedebit."
My dear wife, fortunately a Serb by birth, has regularized my Slavic orthography, and has grown gray in the service of the index. To her, and to my little ones, whose merry laughter has so often penetrated to my study and cheered me at my travail, I dedicate the whole. 89, Decameron Gardens.
PREFACE TO A BOOK OF POEMS
This little selection of verses, to which I have given the title "Rari Nantes," was made at the instance of several friends. I have chosen from my published works those poems which seemed to me most faithfully to express my artistic message; and the title obviously implies that I think them the ones most likely to weather the maelstroms of Time. Be that as it may.
Vachel Lindsay and I have often discussed over a glass of port (one glass only: alas, that Vachel should abstain!) the state of the Muse to-day. He deems that she now has fled from cities to dwell on the robuster champaigns of Illinois and Kansas. Would that I could agree; but I see her in the cities and everywhere, set down to menial taskwork. She were better in exile, on Ibsen's sand dunes or Maeterlinck's bee farm. But in America the times are very evil. Prodigious convulsion of production, the grinding of mighty forces, the noise and rushings of winds—and what avails? Parturiunt montes ...you know the rest. The ridiculous mice squeak and scamper on the granary floor. They may play undisturbed, for the real poets, those great gray felines, are sifting loam under Westminster. Gramercy Park and the Poetry Society see them not.
It matters not. With this little book my task is done. Vachel and I sail to-morrow for Nova Zembla.
The Grotto, Yonkers.
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
A second edition of "Rari Nantes" having been called for, I have added three more poems, Esquimodes written since arriving here. Also the "Prayer for Warm Weather," by Vachel Lindsay, is included, at his express request. The success of the first edition has been very gratifying to me. My publishers will please send reviews to Bleak House, Nova Zembla.
PREFACE TO THE THIRD EDITION
The rigorous climate of Nova Zembla I find most stimulating to production, and therefore in this new edition I am able to include several new poems. "The Ode to a Seamew," the "Fracas on an Ice Floe," and the sequence of triolimericks are all new. If I have been able to convey anything of the bracing vigour of the Nova Zembla locale the praise is due to my friendly and suggestive critic, the editor of Gooseflesh, the leading Nova Zemblan review.
Vachel Lindsay's new book, "The Tango," has not yet appeared, therefore I may perhaps say here that he is hard at work on an "Ode to the Gulf Stream," which has great promise.
The success of this little book has been such that I am encouraged to hope that the publisher's exemption of royalties will soon be worked off.
I have been reading again that most delightful of all autobiographies, "A Personal Record," by Joseph Conrad. Mr. Conrad's mind is so rich, it has been so well mulched by years of vigorous life and sober thinking, that it pushes tendrils of radiant speculation into every crevice of the structure upon which it busies itself. This figure of speech leaves much to be desired and calls for apology, but in perversity and profusion the trellis growth of Mr. Conrad's memories, here blossoming before the delighted reader's eyes, runs like some ardent trumpet vine or Virginia creeper, spreading hither and thither, redoubling on itself, branching unexpectedly upon spandrel and espalier, and repeatedly enchanting us with some delicate criss-cross of mental fibres. One hesitates even to suggest that there may be admirers of Mr. Conrad who are not familiar with this picture of his mind—may we call it one of the most remarkable minds that has ever concerned itself with the setting of English words horizontally in parallel lines?
The fraternity of gentlemen claiming to have been the first on this continent to appreciate the vaulting genius of Mr. Conrad grows numerous indeed; almost as many as the discoverers of O. Henry and the pallbearers of Ambrose Bierce. It would be amusing to enumerate the list of those who have assured me (over the sworn secrecy of a table d'hote white wine) that they read the proof-sheets of "Almayer's Folly" in 1895, etc., etc. For my own part, let me be frank. I do not think I ever heard of Mr. Conrad before December 2, 1911. On that date, which was one day short of the seventeenth anniversary of Stevenson's death, a small club of earnest young men was giving a dinner to Sir Sidney Colvin at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford. Sir Sidney told us many anecdotes of R.L.S., and when the evening was far spent I remember that someone asked him whether there was any writer of to-day in whom he felt the same passionate interest as in Stevenson, any man now living whose work he thought would prove a permanent enrichment of English literature. Sir Sidney Colvin is a scrupulous and sensitive critic, and a sworn enemy of loose statement; let me not then pretend to quote him exactly; but I know that the name he mentioned was that of Joseph Conrad, and it was a new name to me.
Even so, I think it was not until over a year later that first I read one of Mr. Conrad's books; and I am happy to remember that it was "Typhoon," which I read at one sitting in the second-class dining saloon of the Celtic, crossing from New York in January, 1913. There was a very violent westerly gale at the time—a famous shove, Captain Conrad would call it—and I remember that the barometer went lower than had ever been recorded before on the western ocean. The piano in the saloon carried away, and frolicked down the aisle between the tables: it was an ideal stage set for "Typhoon." The saloon was far aft, and a hatchway just astern of where I sat was stove in by the seas. By sticking my head through a window I could see excellent combers of green sloshing down into the 'tweendecks.
But the inspired discursiveness of Mr. Conrad is not to be imitated here. The great pen which has paid to human life "the undemonstrative tribute of a sigh which is not a sob, and of a smile which is not a grin," needs no limping praise of mine. But sometimes, when one sits at midnight by the fainting embers and thinks that of all novelists now living one would most ardently yearn to hear the voice and see the face of Mr. Conrad, then it is happy to recall that in "A Personal Record" one comes as close as typography permits to a fireside chat with the Skipper himself. He tells us that he has never been very well acquainted with the art of conversation, but remembering Marlowe, we set this down as polite modesty only. Here in the "Personal Record" is Marlowe ipse, pipe in mouth, and in retrospective mood. This book and the famous preface to the "Nigger" give us the essence, the bouillon, of his genius. Greatly we esteem what Mr. Walpole, Mr. Powys, Mr. James, and (optimus maximus) Mr. Follett, have said about him; but who would omit the chance to hear him from his proper mouth? And in these informal confessions there are pieces that are destined to be classics of autobiography as it is rarely written.
One cannot resist the conviction that Mr. Conrad, traditionally labelled complex and tortuous by the librarians, is in reality as simple as lightning or dawn. Fidelity, service, sincerity—those are the words that stand again and again across his pages. "I have a positive horror of losing even for one moving moment that full possession of myself which is the first condition of good service." He has carried over to the world of desk and pen the rigorous tradition of the sea. He says that he has been attributed an unemotional, grim acceptance of facts, a hardness of heart. To which he answers that he must tell as he sees, and that the attempt to move others to the extremities of emotion means the surrendering one's self to exaggeration, allowing one's self to be carried away beyond the bounds of normal sensibility. Self-restraint is the duty, the dignity, the decency of the artist. This, indeed, is the creed of the simple man in every calling; and from this angle it appears that it is the Pollyananiases and the Harold Bell Wrights who are complicated and subtle; it is Mr. Conrad, indeed, who is simple with the great simplicity of life and death.
Truly in utter candour and simplicity no book of memoirs since the synoptic gospels exceeds "A Personal Record." Such minor facts as where the writer was born, and when, and the customary demonology of boyhood and courtship and the first pay envelope, are gloriously ignored. A statistician, an efficiency pundit, a literary accountant, would rise from the volume nervously shattered from an attempt to grasp what it was all about. The only person in the book who is accorded any comprehensive biographical resume is a certain great-uncle of Mr. Conrad, Mr. Nicholas B., who accompanied Bonaparte on his midwinter junket to Moscow, and was bitterly constrained to eat a dog in the forests of Lithuania. To the delineation of this warrior, who was a legend of his youth, Mr. Conrad devotes his most affectionate and tender power of whimsical reminiscence; and in truth his sketches of family history make the tragedies of Poland clearer to me than several volumes of historical comment. In his prose of that superbly rich simplicity of texture—it is a commonplace that it seems always like some notable translation from the French—he looks back across the plains of Ukraine, and takes us with him so unquestionably that even the servant who drives him to his uncle's house becomes a figure in our own daily lives. And to our delicious surprise we find that the whole of two long chapters constitutes merely his musings in half an hour while he is waiting for dinner at his uncle's house. With what adorable tenderness he reviews the formative contours of boyish memories, telling us the whole mythology of his youth! Upon my soul, sometimes I think that this is the only true autobiography ever written: true to the inner secrets of the human soul. It is the passkey to the Master's attitude toward all the dear creations of his brain; it is the spiritual scenario of every novel he has written. What self-revealing words are these: "An imaginative and exact rendering of authentic memories may serve worthily that spirit of piety toward all things human which sanctions the conceptions of a writer of tales." And when one stops to consider, how essentially impious and irreverent to humanity are the novels of the Slop and Glucose school!
This marvellous life, austere, glowing, faithful to everything that deserves fidelity, contradictory to all the logarithms of probability, this tissue of unlikelihoods by which a Polish lad from the heart of Europe was integrated into the greatest living master of those who in our tongue strive to portray the riddles of the human heart—such is the kind of calculus that makes "A Personal Record" unique among textbooks of the soul. It is as impossible to describe as any dear friend. Setting out only with the intention to "present faithfully the feelings and sensations connected with the writing of my first book and with my first contact with the sea," Mr. Conrad set down what is really nothing less than a Testament of all that is most precious in human life. And the sentiment with which one lays it by is that the scribbler would gladly burn every shred of foolscap he had blackened and start all over again with truer ideals for his craft, could he by so doing have chance to meet the Skipper face to face.
Indeed, if Mr. Conrad had never existed it would have been necessary to invent him, the indescribable improbability of his career speaks so closely to the heart of every lover of literary truth. Who of his heroes is so fascinating to us as he himself? How imperiously, by his own noble example, he recalls us to the service of honourable sincerity. And how poignantly these memories of his evoke the sigh which is not a sob, the smile which is not a grin.
A FRIEND OF FITZGERALD
Loder is a Rock of Ages to rely on.
I heard the other day of the death of dear old John Loder, the Woodbridge bookseller, at the age of ninety-two. Though ill equipped to do justice to his memory, it seems to me a duty, and a duty that I take up gladly. It is not often that a young man has the good fortune to know as a friend one who has been a crony of his own grandfather and great-grandfather. Such was my privilege in the case of John Loder, a man whose life was all sturdy simplicity and generous friendship. He shines in no merely reflected light, but in his own native nobility. I think there are a few lovers of England and of books who will be glad not to forget his unobtrusive services to literature. If only John Loder had kept a journal it would be one of the minor treasures of the Victorian Age. He had a racy, original turn of speech, full of the Suffolk lingo that so delighted his friend FitzGerald; full, too, of the delicacies of rich thought and feeling. He used to lament in his later years that he had not kept a diary as a young man. Alas that his Boswell came too late to do more than snatch at a few of his memories.
There is a little Suffolk town on the salt tidewater of the Deben, some ten miles from the sea. Its roofs of warm red tile are clustered on the hill-slopes that run down toward the river; a massive, gray church tower and a great windmill are conspicuous landmarks. Broad barges and shabby schooners, with ruddy and amber sails, lie at anchor or drop down the river with the tide, bearing the simple sailormen of Mr. W.W. Jacobs's stories. In the old days before the railway it was a considerable port and a town of thriving commerce. But now—well, it is little heard of in the annals of the world.
Yet Woodbridge, unknown to the tourist, has had her pilgrims, too, and her nook in literature. It was there that George Crabbe of Aldeburgh was apprenticed to a local surgeon and wrote his first poem, unhappily entitled "Inebriety." There lived Bernard Barton, "the Quaker poet," a versifier of a very mild sort, but immortal by reason of his friendships with greater men. Addressed to Bernard Barton, in a plain, neat hand, came scores of letters to Woodbridge in the eighteen-twenties, letters now famous, which found their way up Church Street to Alexander's Bank. They were from no less a man than Charles Lamb. Also I have always thought it very much to Woodbridge's credit that a certain Woodbridgian named Pulham was a fellow-clerk of Lamb's at the East India House. Perhaps Mr. Pulham introduced Lamb and Barton to each other. And as birthplace and home of Edward FitzGerald, Woodbridge drew such visitors as Carlyle and Tennyson, who came to seek out the immortal recluse. In the years following FitzGerald's death many a student of books, some all the way from America, found his way into John Loder's shop to gossip about "Old Fitz." In 1893 a few devoted members of the Omar Khayyam Club of London pilgrimaged to Woodbridge to plant by the grave at Boulge (please pronounce "Bowidge") a rosetree that had been raised from seed brought from the bush that sheds its petals over the dust of the tent-maker at Naishapur. In 1909 Woodbridge and Ipswich celebrated the FitzGerald centennial. And Rupert Brooke's father was (I believe) a schoolboy at Woodbridge; alas that another of England's jewels just missed being a Woodbridgian!
Some day, if you are wise, you, too, will take a train at Liverpool Street, and drawn by one of those delightful blue locomotives of the Great Eastern Railway speed through Colchester and Ipswich and finally set foot on the yellow-pebbled platform at Woodbridge. As you step from the stuffy compartment the keen salt Deben air will tingle in your nostrils; and you may discover in it a faint under-whiff of strong tobacco—the undying scent of pipes smoked on the river wall by old Fitz, and in recent years by John Loder himself. If you have your bicycle with you, or are content to hire one, you will find that rolling Suffolk country the most delightful in the world for quiet spinning. (But carry a repair kit, for there are many flints!) Ipswich itself is full of memories—of Chaucer, and Wolsey, and Dickens (it is the "Eatanswill" of Pickwick), and it is much pleasure to one of Suffolk blood to recall that James Harper, the grandfather of the four brothers who founded the great publishing house of Harper and Brothers a century ago, was an Ipswich man, born there in 1740. You will bike to Bury St. Edmunds (where Fitz went to school and our beloved William McFee also!) and Aldeburgh, and Dunwich, to hear the chimes of the sea-drowned abbey ringing under the waves. If you are a Stevensonian, you will hunt out Cockfield Rectory, near Sudbury, where R.L.S. first met Sidney Colvin in 1872. (Colvin himself came from Bealings, only two miles from Woodbridge.) You may ride to Dunmow in Essex, to see the country of Mr. Britling; and to Wigborough, near Colchester, the haunt of Mr. McFee's painter-cousin in "Aliens." You will hire a sailboat at Lime Kiln Quay or the Jetty and bide a moving air and a going tide to drop down to Bawdsey ferry to hunt shark's teeth and amber among the shingle. You will pace the river walk to Kyson—perhaps the tide will be out and sunset tints shimmer over those glossy stretches of mud. Brown seaweed, vivid green samphire, purple flats of slime where the river ran a few hours before, a steel-gray trickle of water in the scour of the channel and a group of stately swans ruffling there; and the huddled red roofs of the town with the stately church tower and the waving arms of the windmill looking down from the hill. It is a scene to ravish an artist. You may walk back by way of Martlesham Heath, stopping at the Red Lion for a quencher (the Red Lion figurehead is supposed to have come from one of the ships of the Armada). It is a different kind of Armada that Woodbridge has to reckon with nowadays. Zeppelins. One dropped a bomb—"dud" it was—in John Loder's garden; the old man had to be restrained from running out to seize it with his own hands.
John Loder was born in Woodbridge, August 3, 1825. His grandfather, Robert Loder, founded the family bookselling and printing business, which continues to-day at the old shop on the Thoroughfare under John Loder's son, Morton Loder. In the days before the railway came through, Woodbridge was the commercial centre for a large section of East Suffolk; it was a busy port, and the quays were crowded with shipping. But when transportation by rail became swift and cheap and the provinces began to deal with London merchants, the little town's prosperity suffered a sad decline. Many of the old Woodbridge shops, of several generations' standing, have had to yield to local branches of the great London "stores." In John Loder's boyhood the book business was at its best. Woodbridgians were great readers, and such prodigal customers as FitzGerald did much to keep the ledgers healthy. John left school at thirteen or so, to learn the trade, and became the traditional printer's devil. He remembered Bernard Barton, the quiet, genial, brown-eyed poet, coming down the street from Alexander's Bank (where he was employed for forty years) with a large pile of banknotes to be renumbered. The poet sat perched on a high stool watching young Loder and his superior do the work. And at noon Mr. Barton sent out to the Royal Oak Tavern near by for a basket of buns and a jug of stout to refresh printer and devil at their work.
Bernard Barton died in 1849, and was kid to rest in the little Friends' burying ground in Turn Lane. That quiet acre will repay the visitor's half-hour tribute to old mortality. My grandmother was buried there, one snowy day in January, 1912, and I remember how old John Loder came forward to the grave, bareheaded and leaning on his stick, to drop a bunch of fresh violets on the coffin.
Many a time I have sat in the quiet, walled-in garden of Burkitt House—that sweet plot of colour and fragrance so pleasantly commemorated by Mr. Mosher in his preface to "In Praise of Old Gardens"—and heard dear old John Loder tell stories of his youth. I remember the verse of Herrick he used to repeat, pointing round his little retreat with a well-stained pipestem:
But walk'st about thine own dear bounds, Not envying others' larger grounds: For well thou know'st, 'tis not th' extent Of land makes life, but sweet content.
Loder's memory used to go back to times that seem almost fabulous now. He had known quite well an English soldier who was on guard over Boney at St. Helena—in fact, he once published in some newspaper this man's observations upon the fallen emperor, but I have not been able to trace the piece. He had been in Paris before the troubles of '48. I believe he served some sort of bookselling apprenticeship on Paternoster Row; at any rate, he used to be in touch with the London book trade as a young man, and made the acquaintance of Bernard Quaritch, one of the world's most famous booksellers. I remember his lamenting that FitzGerald had not dumped the two hundred unsold booklets of Omar upon his counter instead of Quaritch's in 1859. The story goes that they were offered by Quaritch for a penny apiece.
I always used to steer him onto the subject of FitzGerald sooner or later, and it was interesting to hear him tell how many princes of the literary world had come to his shop or had corresponded with him owing to his knowledge of E.F.G. Arme Thackeray gave him a beautiful portrait of herself in return for some courtesy he showed her. Robert H. Groome, the archdeacon of Suffolk, and his brilliant son, Francis Hindes Groome, the "Tarno Rye" (who wrote "Two Suffolk Friends" and was said by Watts Dunton to have known far more about the gipsies than Borrow) were among his correspondents.[D] John Hay, Elihu Vedder, Aldis Wright, Canon Ainger, Thomas B. Mosher, Clement Shorter, Dewitt Miller, Edward Clodd, Leon Vincent—such men as these wrote or came to John Loder when they wanted special news about FitzGerald. FitzGerald had given him a great many curios and personal treasures: Mr. Loder never offered these for sale at any price (anything connected with FitzGerald was sacred to him) but if any one happened along who seemed able to appreciate them he would give them away with delight. He gave to me FitzGerald's old musical scrapbook, which he had treasured for over thirty years. This scrapbook, in perfect condition, contains very beautiful engravings, prints, and drawings of the famous composers, musicians, and operatic stars of whom Fitz was enivre as a young man. Among them are a great many drawings of Handel; FitzGerald, like Samuel Butler, was an enthusiastic Handelian. The pictures are annotated by E.F.G. and there are also two drawings of Beethoven traced by Thackeray. This scrapbook was compiled by FitzGerald when he and Thackeray were living together in London, visiting the Cave of Harmony and revelling in the dear delights of young intellectual companionship. Under a drawing of the famous Braham, dated 1831, Fitz has written: "As I saw and heard him many nights in the Pit of Covent Garden, in company with W.M. Thackeray, whom I was staying with at the Bedford Coffee House."
[Footnote D: No lover of FitzGerald can afford not to own that exquisite tributary volume "Edward FitzGerald: An Aftermath," by Francis Hindes Groome, which Mr. Mosher published in 1902. It tells a great deal about Woodbridge, and is annotated by John Loder. Mr. Mosher was eager to include Loder's portrait in it, but the old man's modesty was always as great as his generosity: he would not consent.]
When I tried, haltingly, to express my thanks for such a gift, the old man said "That's nothing! That's nothing! It'll help to keep you out of mischief. Much better to give 'em away before it's too late!" And he followed it with Canon Ainger's two volumes of Lamb's letters, which Ainger had given him.
Through his long life John Loder lived quietly in Woodbridge, eager and merry in his shop, a great reader, always delighted when any one came in who was qualified to discuss the literature which interested him. He and FitzGerald had long cracks together and perhaps Loder may have accompanied the Woodbridge Omar on some of those trips down the Deben on the Scandal or the Meum and Tuum (the Mum and Tum as Posh, Fitz's sailing master, called her). He played a prominent part in the life of the town, became a Justice of the Peace, and sat regularly on the bench until he was nearly ninety. As he entered upon the years of old age, came a delightful surprise. An old friend of his in the publishing business, whom he had known long before in London, died and left him a handsome legacy by will. Thus his last years were spared from anxiety and he was able to continue his unobtrusive and quiet generosities which had always been his secret delight.
Looking over the preceding paragraphs I am ashamed to see how pale and mumbling a tribute they are to this fine spirit. Could I but put him before you as he was in those last days! I used to go up to Burkitt House to see him: in summer we would sit in the little arbour in the garden, or in winter by the fire in his dining room. He would talk and I would ask him questions; now and then he would get up to pull down a book, or to lead me into his bedroom to see some special treasure. He used to sit in his shirtsleeves, very close to the fire, with his shoe laces untied. In summer he would toddle about in his shaggy blue suit, with a tweed cap over one ear, his grizzled beard and moustache well stained by much smoking, his eyes as bright and his tongue as brisk as ever. Every warm morning would see him down on the river wall; stumping over Market Hill and down Church Street with his stout oak stick, hailing every child he met on the pavement. His pocket was generally full of peppermints, and the youngsters knew well which pocket it was. His long life was a series of original and graceful kindnesses, always to those who needed them most and had no reason to expect them. No recluse he, no fine scholar, no polished litterateur, but a hard-headed, soft-hearted human man of the sturdy old Suffolk breed. Sometimes I think he was, in his own way, just as great a man as the "Old Fitz," whom he loved and reverenced.
He died on November 7, 1917, aged ninety-two years three months and four days. He was extraordinarily sturdy until nearly ninety—he went in bathing in the surf at Felixstowe on his eighty-sixth birthday. Perhaps the sincerest tribute I can pay him is these lines which I copy from my journal, dated July 16, 1913:
"Went up to have tea with old John Loder, and said a cunningly veiled Good-bye to him. I doubt if I shall see him again, the dear old man. I think he felt so, too, for when he came to the door with me, instead of his usual remark about 'Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest,' he said, 'Farewell to thee' in a more sober manner than his wont—and I left with an armful of books which he had given me 'to keep me out of mischief.' We had a good talk after tea—he told me about the adventures of his brothers, one of whom went out to New Zealand. He uses the most delightful brisk phrases in his talk, smiling away to himself and wrinkling up his forehead, which can only be distinguished from his smooth bald pate by its charming corrugation of parallel furrows. He took me into his den while he rummaged through his books to find some which would be acceptable to me—'May as well give 'em away before it's too late, ye know'—and then he settled back in his easy chair to puff at a pipe. I must note down one of his phrases which tickled me—he has such a knack for the proverbial and the epigrammatic. 'He's cut his cloth, he can wear his breeches,' he said of a certain scapegrace. He chuckled over the Suffolk phrase 'a chance child,' for a bastard (alluding to one such of his acquaintance in old days). He constantly speaks of things he wants to do 'before I tarn my toes up to the daisies.' He told me old tales of Woodbridge in the time of the Napoleonic wars when there was a garrison of 5,000 soldiers quartered here—this was one of the regions in which an attack by Boney was greatly feared. He says that the Suffolk phrase 'rafty weather' (meaning mist or fog) originates from that time, as being weather suitable for the French to make a surprise attack by rafts or flat-boats.
"He chuckled over the reminiscence that he was once a great hand at writing obituary notices for the local paper. 'Weep, weep for him who cried for us,' was the first line of his epitaph upon a former Woodbridge town crier! I was thinking that it would be hard to do him justice when the time comes to write his. May he have a swift and painless end such as his genial spirit deserves, and not linger on into a twilight life with failing senses. When his memory and his pipe and his books begin to fail him, when those keen old eyes grow dim and he can no longer go to sniff the salt air on the river-wall—then may the quick and quiet ferryman take dear old John Loder to the shadow land."
A VENTURE IN MYSTICISM
I had heard so much about this Rabbi Tagore and his message of calm for our hustling, feverish life, that I thought I would try to put some of that stuff into practice.
"Shut out the clamour of small things. Withdraw into the deep quiet of your soul, commune with infinite beauty and infinite peace. You must be full of gladness and love for every person and every tiniest thing. Great activity and worry is needless—it is poison to the soul. Learn to reflect, and to brood upon eternal beauty. It is the mystic who finds all that is most precious in life. The flowers of meditation blossom in his heart." I cut out these words and pasted them in my hat. I have always felt that my real genius lies in the direction of philosophic calm. I determined to override the brutal clamour of petty things.
The alarm clock rang as usual at 6.30. Calmly, with nothing but lovely thoughts in my mind, I threw it out of the window. I lay until eight o'clock, communing with infinite peace. I began to see that Professor Tagore was right. My wife asked me if I was going to the office. "I am brooding upon eternal beauty," I told her.
She thought I was ill, and made me take breakfast in bed.
I usually shave every morning, but a moment's thought will convince you that mystics do not do so. I determined to grow a beard. I lit a cigar, and replied "I am a mystic" to all my wife's inquiries.
At nine o'clock came a telephone call from the office. My employer is not a devotee of eternal calm, I fear. When I explained that I was at home reading "Gitanjali," his language was far from mystical. "Get here by ten o'clock or you lose your job," he said.
I was dismayed to see the same old throng in the subway, all the senseless scuffle and the unphilosophic crowd. But I felt full of gladness in my new way of life, full of brotherhood for all the world. "I love you," I said to the guard on the platform. He seized me by the shoulders and rammed me into the crowded car, shouting "Another nut!"
When I reached the office my desk was littered with a hundred papers. The stenographer was at the telephone, trying to pacify someone. "Here he is now," I heard her say.
It was Dennis & Company on the wire.
"How about that carload of Bavarian herrings we were to have yesterday without fail?" said Dennis.
I took the 'phone.
"In God's good time," I said, "the shipment will arrive. The matter is purely ephemeral, after all. If you will attune yourself—"
He rang off.
I turned over the papers on my desk. Looked at with the unclouded eye of a mystic, how mundane and unnecessary all these pettifogging transactions seemed. Two kegs of salt halibut for the Cameron Stores, proofs of the weekly ad. for the Fishmongers' Journal, a telegram from the Uptown Fish Morgue, new tires needed for one of the delivery trucks—how could I jeopardize my faculty of meditation by worrying over these trifles? I leaned back in my chair and devoted myself to meditation. After all, the harassing domination of material things can easily be thrown off by a resolute soul. I was full of infinite peace. I seemed to see the future as an ever-widening vista of sublime visions. My soul was thrilled with a universal love of humanity.
The buzzer on my desk sounded. That meant that the boss wanted to see me.
Now, it has always seemed to me that to put one's self at the beck and call of another man is essentially degrading. In the long perspective of eternity, was his soul any more majestic than mine? In this luminous new vision of my importance as a fragment of immortal mind, could I, should I, bow to the force of impertinent trivialities?
I sat back in my chair, full of love of humanity.
By and by the boss appeared at my desk. One look at his face convinced me of the truth of Tagore's saying that great activity is poison to the soul. Certainly his face was poisonous.
"Say," he shouted, "what the devil's the matter with you to-day? Dennis just called me up about that herring order—"
"Master," I said mildly, "be not overwrought. Great activity is a strychnine to the soul. I am a mystic...."
A little later I found myself on the street with two weeks' pay in my pocket. It is true that my departure had been hasty and unpleasant, for the stairway from the office to the street is long and dusty; but I recalled what Professor Tagore had said about vicissitudes being the true revealers of the spirit. My hat was not with me, but I remembered the creed pasted in it. After pacing a block or so, my soul was once more tranquil.
I entered a restaurant. It was the noon hour, and the room was crowded with hurrying waiters and impatient people. I found a vacant seat in a corner and sat down. I concentrated my mind upon the majestic vision of the brotherhood of man.
Gradually I began to feel hungry, but no waiter came near me. Never mind, I thought: to shout and hammer the table as the others do is beneath the dignity of a philosopher. I began to dream of endless vistas of mystical ham and eggs. I brooded upon these for some time, but still no corporeal and physical units of food reached me.
The man next me gradually materialized into my consciousness. Full of love for humanity I spoke to him.
"Brother," I said, "until one of these priestly waiters draws nigh, will you not permit me to sustain myself with one of your rolls and one of your butter-balls? In the great brotherhood of humanity, all that is mine is yours; and per contra, all that is yours is mine." Beaming luminously upon him, I laid a friendly hand on his arm.
He leaped up and called the head waiter. "Here's an attic for rent!" he cried coarsely. "He wants to pick my pocket."
By the time I got away from the police station it was dusk, and I felt ready for home. I must say my broodings upon eternal beauty were beginning to be a little forced. As I passed along the crowded street, walking slowly and withdrawn into the quiet of my soul, three people trod upon my heels and a taxi nearly gave me a passport to eternity. I reflected that men were perhaps not yet ready for these doctrines of infinite peace. How much more wise were the animals—and I raised my hand to stroke a huge dray-horse by the pavement. He seized my fingers in his teeth and nipped them vigorously.
I gave a yell and ran full tilt to the nearest subway entrance. I burst into the mass of struggling, unphilosophic humanity and fought, shoved, cursed, and buffeted with them. I pushed three old ladies to one side to snatch my ticket before they could get theirs. I leaped into the car at the head of a flying wedge of sinful, unmystical men, who knew nothing of infinite beauty and peace. As the door closed I pushed a decrepit clergyman outside, and I hope he fell on the third rail. As I felt the lurching, trampling, throttling jam of humanity sway to and fro with the motion of the car, I drew a long breath. Dare I confess it?—I was perfectly happy!
AN OXFORD LANDLADY
It was a crisp October afternoon, and along Iffley Road the wind was chivvying the yellow leaves. We stood at the window watching the flappers opposite play hockey. One of them had a scarlet tam-o'-shanter and glorious dark hair underneath it.... A quiet tap at the door, gentle but definite, and in came Mrs. Beesley.
If you have been at our digs, you know her by sight, and have not forgotten. Hewn of the real imperial marble is she, not unlike Queen Victoria in shape and stature. She tells us she used to dance featly and with abandon in days gone by, when her girlish slimness was the admiration of every greengrocer's assistant in Oxford—and even in later days when she and Dr. Warren always opened the Magdalen servants' ball together. She and the courtly President were always the star couple. I can see her doing the Sir Roger de Coverley. But the virgin zone was loosed long ago, and she has expanded with the British Empire. Not rotund, but rather imposingly cubic. Our hallway is a very narrow one, and when you come to visit us of an evening, after red-cheeked Emily has gone off to better tilting grounds, it is a prime delight to see Mrs. Beesley backing down the passage (like a stately canal boat) before the advancing guest. Very large of head and very pink of cheek, very fond of a brisk conversation, some skill at cooking, slow and full of dignity on the stairs, much reminiscent of former lodgers, bold as a lion when she thinks she is imposed upon, but otherwhiles humorous and placable—such is our Mrs. Beesley.
She saw us standing by the window, and thought we were watching the leaves twisting up the roadway in golden spirals.
"Watching the wind?" she said pleasantly. "I loves to see the leaves 'avin' a frolic. They enjoys it, same as young gentlemen do."
"Or young ladies?" I suggested. "We were watching the flappers play hockey, Mrs. Beesley. One of them is a most fascinating creature. I think her name must be Kathleen...."
Mrs. Beesley chuckled merrily and threw up her head in that delightful way of hers. "Oh, dear, Oh, dear, you're just like all the other gentlemen," she said. "Always awatchin' and awaitin' for the young ladies. Mr. Bye that used to be 'ere was just the same, an' he was engaged to be marrit. 'Ad some of 'em in to tea once, he did. I thought it was scandalous, and 'im almost a marrit gentleman."
"Don't you remember what the poet says, Mrs. Beesley?" I suggested:
"Beauty must be scorned in none Though but truly served in one."
"Not much danger of you gentlemen bein' too scornful," said Mrs. Beesley. Her eyes began to sparkle now that she saw herself fairly embarked upon a promising conversation. She sidled a little farther into the room. Lloyd winked at me and quietly escaped behind her.
"Seeing as we're alone," said Mrs. Beesley, "I come to you to see about dinner to-night. I knows as you're the father of 'em all." (That is her quaint way of saying that she thinks me the leading spirit of the three who dig with her.) "How about a little jugged 'are? Nice little 'ares there are in Cowley Road now. I thinks 'are is very tender an' tasty. That, an' a nice 'ot cup o' tea?"
The last 'are had been, in Tennyson's phrase, "the heir of all the ages," so I deprecated the suggestion. "I don't think hare agrees with Mr. Williams," I said.
"'Ow about a pheasant?" said Mrs. Beesley, stroking the corner of the table with her hand as she always does when in deep thought. "A pheasant and a Welsh rabbit, not too peppery. That goes well with the cider. Dr. Warren came 'ere to dinner once, an' he had a Welsh rabbit and never forgot it. 'E allus used to say when 'e saw me, ''Ow about that Welsh rabbit, Mrs. Beesley?' Oh, dear, Oh, dear, 'e is a kind gentleman! 'E gave us a book once—''Istory of Magdalen College,' I think he wrote it 'imself."
"I think a pheasant would be very nice," I said, and began looking for a book.
"Do you think Mr. Loomis will be back from town in time for dinner?" asked Mrs. Beesley. "I know 'e's fond o' pheasant. He'd come if he knew."
"We might send him a telegram," I said.
"Oh, dear, Oh, dear!" sighed Mrs. Beesley, overcome by such a fantastic thought. "You know, Mr. Morley, a funny thing 'appened this morning," she said. "Em'ly and I were making Mr. Loomis's bed. But we didn't find 'is clothes all lyin' about the floor same as 'e usually does. 'I wonder what's 'appened to Mr. Loomis's clothes?' said Em'ly.
"'P'raps 'e's took 'em up to town to pawn 'em.' I said. (You know we 'ad a gent'man 'ere once that pawned nearly all 'is things—a Jesus gentleman 'e was.)
"Em'ly says to me, 'I wonder what the three balls on a pawnbroker's sign mean?'
"'Why don't you know, Em'ly?' I says. It means it's two to one you never gets 'em back."
Just then there was a ring at the bell and Mrs. Beesley rolled away chuckling. And I returned to the window to watch Kathleen play hockey.
Once a year or so one is permitted to find some book which brings a real tingle to that ribbon of the spinal marrow which responds to the vibrations of literature. Not a bad way to calendar the years is by the really good books they bring one. Each twelve month the gnomon on the literary sundial is likely to cast some shadow one will not willingly forget. Thus I mark 1916 as the year that introduced me to William McFee's "Casuals of the Sea" and Butler's "Way of All Flesh"; 1915 most of us remember as Rupert Brooke's year, or the year of the Spoon River Anthology, if you prefer that kind of thing; 1914 I notch as the season when I first got the hang of Bourget and Conrad. But perhaps best of all, in 1913 I read "Peacock Pie" and "Songs of Childhood," by Walter de la Mare.
"Peacock Pie" having now been published in this country it is seasonable to kindle an altar fire for this most fanciful and delightful of present-day poets. It is curious that his work is so little known over here, for his first book, "Songs of Childhood," was published in England in 1902. Besides, poetry he has written novels and essays, all shot through with a phosphorescent sparkle of imagination and charm. He has the knack of "words set in delightful proportion"; and "Peacock Pie" is the most authentic knapsack of fairy gold since the "Child's Garden of Verses."
I am tempted to think that Mr. de la Mare is the kind of poet more likely to grow in England than America. The gracious and fine-spun fabric of his verse, so delicate in music, so quaint and haunting in imaginative simplicity, is the gift of a land and life where rewards and fames are not wholly passed away. Emily Dickinson and Vachel Lindsay are among our contributors to the songs of gramarye: but one has only to open "The Congo" side by side with "Peacock Pie" to see how the seductions of ragtime and the clashing crockery of the Poetry Society's dinners are coarsening the fibres of Mr. Lindsay's marvellous talent as compared with the dainty horns of elfin that echo in Mr. de la Mare. And it is a long Pullman ride from Spoon River to the bee-droned gardens where De la Mare's old women sit and sew. Over here we have to wait for Barrie or Yeats or Padraic Colum to tell us about the fairies, and Cecil Sharp to drill us in their dances and songs. The gentry are not native in our hearts, and we might as well admit it.
To say that Mr. de la Mare's verse is distilled in fairyland suggests perhaps a delicate and absent-minded figure, at a loss in the hurly burly of this world; the kind of poet who loses his rubbers in the subway, drops his glasses in the trolley car, and is found wandering blithely in Central Park while the Women's Athenaeum of the Tenderloin is waiting four hundred strong for him to lecture. But Mr. de la Mare is the more modern figure who might readily (I hope I speak without offense) be mistaken for a New York stock broker, or a member of the Boston Chamber of Commerce. Perhaps he even belongs to the newer order of poets who do not wear rubbers.
One's first thought (if one begins at the beginning, but who reads a book of poetry that way?) is that "Peacock Pie" is a collection of poems for children. But it is not that, any more than "The Masses" is a paper for the proletariat. Before you have gone very far you will find that the imaginary child you set out with has been magicked into a changeling. The wee folk have been at work and bewitched the pudding—the pie rather. The fire dies on the hearth, the candle channels in its socket, but still you read on. Some of the poems bring you the cauld grue of Thrawn Janet. When at last you go up to bed, it will be with the shuddering sigh of one thrilled through and through with the sad little beauties of the world. You will want to put out a bowl of fresh milk on the doorstep to appease the banshee—did you not know that the janitor of your Belshazzar Court would get it in the morning.
One of the secrets of Mr. de la Mare's singular charm is his utter simplicity, linked with a delicately tripping music that intrigues the memory unawares and plays high jinks with you forever after. Who can read "Off the Ground" and not strum the dainty jig over and over in his head whenever he takes a bath, whenever he shaves, whenever the moon is young? I challenge you to resist the jolly madness of its infection:
Three jolly Farmers Once bet a pound Each dance the others would Off the ground. Out of their coats They slipped right soon, And neat and nicesome, Put each his shoon. One—Two—Three— And away they go, Not too fast, And not too slow; Out from the elm-tree's Noonday shadow, Into the sun And across the meadow. Past the schoolroom, With knees well bent Fingers a-flicking, They dancing went....
Are you not already out of breath in the hilarious escapade?
The sensible map's quarrel with the proponents of free verse is not that they write such good prose; not that they espouse the natural rhythms of the rain, the brook, the wind-grieved tree; this is all to the best, even if as old as Solomon. It is that they affect to disdain the superlative harmonies of artificed and ordered rhythms; that knowing not a spondee from a tribrach they vapour about prosody, of which they know nothing, and imagine to be new what antedates the Upanishads. The haunting beauty of Mr. de la Mare's delicate art springs from an ear of superlative tenderness and sophistication. The daintiest alternation of iambus and trochee is joined to the serpent's cunning in swiftly tripping dactyls. Probably this artifice is greatly unconscious, the meed of the trained musician; but let no singer think to upraise his voice before the Lord ere he master the axioms of prosody. Imagist journals please copy.
One may well despair of conveying in a few rough paragraphs the gist of this quaint, fanciful, brooding charm. There is something fey about much of the book: it peers behind the curtains of twilight and sees strange things. In its love of children, its inspired simplicity, its sparkle of whim and AEsopian brevity, I know nothing finer. Let me just cut for you one more slice of this rarely seasoned pastry.
THE LITTLE BIRD
My dear Daddie bought a mansion For to bring my Mammie to, In a hat with a long feather, And a trailing gown of blue; And a company of fiddlers And a rout of maids and men Danced the clock round to the morning, In a gay house-warming then. And when all the guests were gone, and All was still as still can be, In from the dark ivy hopped a Wee small bird: and that was Me.
"Peacock Pie" is immortal diet indeed, as Sir Walter said of his scrip of joy. Annealed as we are, I think it will discompose the most callous. It is a sweet feverfew for the heats of the spirit, It is full of outlets of sky.
As for Mr. de la Mare himself, he is a modest man and keeps behind his songs. Recently he paid his first visit to America, and we may hope that even on Fifth Avenue he saw some fairies. He lectured at some of our universities and endured the grotesque plaudits of dowagers and professors who doubtless pretended to have read his work. Although he is forty-four, and has been publishing for nearly sixteen years, he has evaded "Who's Who." He lives in London, is married, and has four children. For a number of years he worked for the Anglo-American Oil Company. Truly the Muse sometimes lends to her favourites a merciful hardiness.
THE LITERARY PAWNSHOP
Excellent Parson Adams, in "Joseph Andrews," is not the only literary man who has lamented the difficulty of ransoming a manuscript for immediate cash. It will be remembered that Mr. Adams had in his saddlebag nine volumes of sermons in manuscript, "as well worth a hundred pounds as a shilling was worth twelve pence." Offering one of these as a pledge, Parson Adams besought Mr. Tow-Wouse, the innkeeper, to lend him three guineas but the latter had so little stomach for a transaction of this sort that "he cried out, 'Coming, sir,' though nobody called; and ran downstairs without any fear of breaking his neck."
As a whimsical essayist (with whom I have talked over these matters) puts it, the business of literature is imperfectly coordinated with life.
Almost any other kind of property is hockable for ready cash. A watch, a ring, an outworn suit of clothes, a chair, a set of books, all these will find willing purchasers. But a manuscript which happens not to meet the fancy of the editors must perforce lie idle in your drawer though it sparkle with the brilliants of wit, and five or ten years hence collectors may list it in their catalogues. No mount of piety along Sixth Avenue will accept it in pawn, no Hartford Lunch will exchange it for corned beef hash and dropped egg. This is a dismal thing.
This means that there is an amusing and a competent living to be gained by a literary agent of a new kind. Think how many of the most famous writers have trod the streets ragged and hungry in their early days. There were times when they would have sold their epics, their novels, their essays, for the price of a square meal. Think of the booty that would accumulate in the shop of a literary pawnbroker. The early work of famous men would fill his safe to bursting. Later on he might sell it for a thousand times what he gave. There is nothing that grows to such fictitious value as manuscript.
Think of Francis Thompson, when he was a bootmaker's assistant in Leicester Square. He was even too poor to buy writing materials. His early poems were scribbled on scraps of old account books and wrapping paper. How readily he would have sold them for a few shillings. Or Edgar Poe in the despairing days of his wife's illness. Or R.L.S. in the fits of depression caused by his helpless dependence upon his father for funds. What a splendid opportunity these crises in writers' lives would offer to the enterprising buyer of manuscripts!
Be it understood, of course, that the pawnbroker must be himself an appreciator of good things. No reason why he should buy poor stuff, even though the author of it be starving. Richard Le Gallienne has spoken somewhere of the bookstores which sell "books that should never have been written to the customers who should never have been born." Our pawnbroker must guard himself against buying this kind of stuff. He will be besieged with it. Very likely Mr. Le Gallienne himself will be the first to offer him some. But his task will be to discover new and true talent beneath its rags, and stake it to a ham sandwich when that homely bite will mean more than a dinner at the Ritz ten years later.
The idea of the literary pawnbroker comes to me from the (unpublished) letters of John Mistletoe, author of the "Dictionary of Deplorable Facts," that wayward and perverse genius who wandered the Third Avenue saloons when he might have been feted by the Authors' League had he lived a few years longer. Some day, I hope, the full story of that tragic life may be told, and the manuscripts still cherished by his executor made public. In the meantime, this letter, which he wrote in 1908, gives a sad and vivid little picture of the straits of unadmitted genius:
"I write from Connor's saloon. Paunchy Connor has been my best—indeed my only—friend in this city, when every editor, publisher, and critic has given me the frozen mitt. Of course I know why ... the author of 'Vermin' deserves not, nor wants, their hypocritical help. The book was too true to life to please the bourgeois and yet not ribald enough to tickle the prurient. I had a vile pornographic publisher after me the other day; he said if I would rub up some of the earlier chapters and inject a little more spice he thought he could do something with it—as a paper-covered erotic for shop-girls, I suppose he meant. I kicked him downstairs. The stinking bounder!
"Until to-day I had been without grub for sixty hours. That is literally true. I was ashamed of sponging on Paunchy, and could not bring myself to come back to the saloon where he would willingly have fed me. I did get a job for two days as a deckhand on an Erie ferryboat, but they found out I did not belong to the union. I had two dollars in my pocket—a fortune—but while I was dozing on a doorstep on Hudson Street, waiting for the cafes to open (I was too done to walk half a dozen blocks to an all-night restaurant), some snapper picked my pocket. That night I slept in a big drain pipe where they were putting up a building.
"Why isn't there a pawnshop where one could hang up MSS. for cash? In my hallroom over Connor's saloon I have got stuff that will be bid for at auctions some day (that isn't conceit, I know it), but at this moment, July 17, 1908, I couldn't raise 50 cents on it. If there were a literary mount of piety—a sort of Parnassus of piety as it were—the uncle in charge might bless the day he met me. Well, it won't be for long. This cancer is getting me surely.
"This morning I'm cheerful. I've scrubbed and swept Paunchy's bar for him, and the dirty, patchouli-smelling hop-joint he keeps upstairs, bless his pimping old heart. And I've had a real breakfast: boiled red cabbage, stewed beef (condemned by the inspector), rye bread, raw onions, a glass of Tom and Jerry, and two big schooners of the amber. I'm working on my Third Avenue novel called 'The L.'
"I shan't give you my right address, or you'd send someone down here to give me money, you damned philanthropist.... Connor ain't the real name, so there. When I die (soon) they'll find Third Avenue written on my heart, if I still have one...."
It is interesting to recall that the MS. of his poems "Pavements, and Other Verses" was bought by a private collector for $250 last winter.
Will not some literary agent think over this idea?
A MORNING IN MARATHON
One violet throbbing star was climbing in the southeast at half-past four, and the whole flat plain was rich with golden moonlight. Early rising in order to quicken the furnace and start the matinsong in the steampipes becomes its own reward when such an orange moon is dropping down the sky. Even Peg (our most volatile Irish terrier) was plainly awed by the blaze of pale light, and hopped gingerly down the rimy back steps. But the cat was unabashed. Cats are born by moonlight and are leagued with the powers of darkness and mystery. And so Nicholas Vachel Lindsay (he is named for the daring poet of Illinois) stepped into the moonshine without a qualm.
There are certain little routine joys known only to the servantless suburbanite. Every morning the baker leaves a bag of crisp French rolls on the front porch. Every morning the milkman deposits his little bottles of milk and cream on the back steps. Every morning the furnace needs a little grooming, that the cheery thump of rising pressure may warm the radiators upstairs. Then the big agate kettle must be set over the blue gas flame, for hot water is needed both for shaving and cocoa. Our light breakfast takes only a moment to prepare. By the time the Nut Brown Maid comes singing downstairs, cocoa, rolls, and boiled eggs are ready in the sunny little dining room, and the Tamperer is bathed and shaved and telephoning to Central for "the exact time." The 8:13 train waits for no man, and it is nearly a mile to the station.
But the morning I think of was not a routine morning. On routine mornings the Tamperer rises at ten minutes to seven, the alarm clock being set for 6:45: which allows five minutes for drowsy head. The day in question was early February when snow lay white and powdery on the ground, and the 6 o'clock train from Marathon had to be caught. There is an express for Philadelphia that leaves the Pennsylvania Station at 7:30 and this the Tamperer had to take, to make a 10 o'clock appointment in the Quaker City. That was why the alarm clock rang at half-past four.
I cannot recall a more virginal morning than that snowy twilight before the dawn. No description that I have ever read—not even the daybreak in "Prince Otto," or Pippa's dawn boiling in pure gold over the rim of night—would be just to that exquisite growth of colour in the eastern sky. The violet star faded to forget-me-not and then to silver and at last closed his weary eye; the flat Long Island prairie gradually lost its fairy-tale air of mystery and dream; the close ceiling of the night receded into infinite space as the sun waved his radiant arms over the horizon.
But this was after I had left the house. The sun did not raise his head from the pillow until I was in the train. The Nut Brown Maid was still nested in her warm white bed as I took her up some tea and toast just before departing.
The walk to the station, over the crisply frozen snow, was delicious. Marathon is famous for its avenue of great elms, which were casting deep blue shadows in the strange light—waning moon and waxing day. The air was very chill—only just above zero—and the smoking car seemed very cold and dismal. I huddled my overcoat about me and tried to smoke and read the paper. But in that stale, fetid odour of last night's tobacco and this morning's wet arctics the smoker was but a dismal place. The exaltation of the dawn dropped suddenly into a kind of shivering nausea.
I changed to another car and threw away the war news. Just then the sun came gloriously over the edge of the fields and set the snow afire. As we rounded the long curve beyond Woodside I could see the morning light shining upon the Metropolitan Tower, and when we glided into the basement of the Pennsylvania Station my heart was already attuned to the thrill of that glorious place. Perhaps it can never have the fascination for me that the old dingy London terminals have—King's Cross, Paddington, or Saint Pancras, with their delicious English bookstalls and those porters in corduroy—but the Pennsylvania is a wonderful place after all, a marble palace of romance and a gallant place to roam about. It seems like a stable without horses, though, for where are the trains? No chance to ramble about the platforms (as in London) to watch the Duke of Abercorn or the Lord Claude Hamilton, or other of those green or blue English locomotives with lordly names, being groomed for the run.
In the early morning the Pennsylvania Station catches in its high-vaulted roof the first flush of sunlight; and before the flood of commuters begins to pour in, the famous station cat is generally sitting by the baggage room shining his morning face. Up at the marble lunch counters the coloured gentlemen are serving hot cakes and coffee to stray travellers, and the shops along the Arcade are being swept and garnished. As I passed through on my way to the Philadelphia train I was amused by a wicker basket full of Scotch terrier puppies—five or six of them tumbling over one another in their play and yelping so that the station rang. "Every little bit yelps" as someone has said. I was reminded of the last words I ever read in Virgil (the end of the sixth book of the Aeneid)—stant litore puppes, which I always yearned to translate "a litter of puppies."
My train purred smoothly under the Hudson and under Jersey City as I lit my cigar and settled comfortably into the green plush. When we emerged from the tunnel on the other side of the long ridge (which is a degenerate spur from the Palisades farther north) a crescent of sun was just fringing the crest with fire. Another moment and we flashed onto the Hackensack marshes and into the fully minted gold of superb morning. The day was begun.
THE AMERICAN HOUSE OF LORDS
I am not a travelling salesman (except in so far as all men are) so I do not often travel in the Club Car. But when I do, irresistibly the thought comes that I have strayed into the American House of Lords. Unworthily I sit among our sovereign legislators, a trifle ill at ease mayhap. In the day coach I am at home with my peers—those who smoke cheap tobacco; who nurse fretful babies; who strew the hot plush with sandwich crumbs and lean throbbing foreheads against the window pane.
But the Club Car which swings so smoothly at the end of a limited train is a different place, pardee. It is not a hereditary chamber, but it is none the less the camera stellata of our prosperous carnivora. Patently these men are Lords. In two facing rows, averted from the landscape, condemned to an uneasy scrutiny of their mutual prosperity, they sit in leather chairs. They curve roundly from neck to groin. They are shaven to the raw, soberly clad, derby hatted, glossily booted. Always they smoke cigars, those strange, blunt cigars that are fatter at one end than at the other. Some (these I think are the very prosperous) wear shoes with fawn-coloured tops.
Is it strange then that I, an ill-clad and pipe-smoking traveller, am faintly uneasy in this House of Lords? I forget myself while reading poetry and drop my tobacco cinders on the rug, missing the little silver gourd that rests by my left foot. Straight the white-jacketed mulatto sucks them up with a vacuum cleaner and a deprecating air. I pass to the brass veranda at the end of the car for a bracing change of atmosphere. And returning, the attendant has removed my little pile of books which I left under my chair, and hidden them in his serving grotto. It costs me at least a whiskey and soda to get them out.
It means, I suppose, that I am not marked for success. I am cigarless and derbyless; I do not wear those funny little white margins inside my vest. My scarf is still the dear old shabby one in which I was married (I bought it at Rogers Peet's, and I shall never forget it) and when I look up from Emily Dickinson's poems with a trembling thrill of painful ecstasy, I am frightened by the long row of hard faces and cynic eyes opposite me.
The House of Lords disquiets me. Even if I ring a bell and order a bottle I am not happy. Is it only the swing of the car that nauseates me? At any rate, I want to get home—home to that star-sown meadow and the two brown arms at the journey's end.
Spring comes late on these windy uplands, and indoors one still sits close to the fire. These are the days of booming gales over the sheepwolds, and the afternoon ride with Shotover becomes an adventure. I am not one of those who shirk bicycling in a wind. Give me a two-mile spin with the gust astern, just to loosen the muscles and sweep the morning's books and tobacco from the brain—and then turn and at it! It is like swimming against a great crystal river. Cap off, head up—no crouching over the handle-bars like the Saturday afternoon shopmen! Wind in your hair, the broad blue Cotswold slopes about you, every ounce of leg-drive straining on the pedals—three minutes of it intoxicates you. You crawl up-wind roaring the most glorious nonsense, ribaldry, and exultation into the face of the blast.
I am all for the Cotswolds in the last vacation before "Schools." In mid-March our dear gray Mother Oxford sends us away for six weeks while she decks herself against the spring. Far and wide we scatter. The Prince to Germany—the dons to Devon—the reading parties to quiet country inns here and there. Some blithe spirits of my acquaintance are in those glorious dingy garrets of the Latin Quarter with Murger's "Scenes de la Vie de Boheme" as a viaticum. Others are among the tulips in Holland. But this time I vote for the Cotswolds and solitude.
There is a straggling gray village which lies in the elbow of a green valley, with a clear trout-stream bubbling through it. There is a well-known inn by the bridge, the resort of many anglers. But I am not for inns nor for anglers this time. It is a serious business, these last two months before Schools, and I and my books are camped in a "pensive citadel" up on the hill, where the postman's wife cares for me and worries because I do not eat more than two normal men. There is a low-ceilinged sitting room with a blazing fire. From one corner a winding stair climbs to the bedroom above. There are pipes and tobacco, pens and a pot of ink. There are books—all historical volumes, the only evidence of relaxation being Arthur Gibbs' "A Cotswold Village" and one of Bartholomew's survey maps. Ten hours' work, seven hours' sleep, three hours' bicycling—that leaves four hours for eating and other emergencies. That is how we live on twenty-four hours a day, and turn a probable Fourth in the Schools into a possible Third.
And what could better those lonely afternoon rides on Shotover? The valley of the Colne is one of the most entrancing bits in England, I think. A lonely road, winding up the green trough of the stream, now and then crossing the shoulder of the hills, takes you far away from most of the things one likes to leave behind. There are lambs, little black fuzzy fellows, on the uplands; there are scores of rabbits disappearing with a flirt of white hindquarters into their wayside burrows; in Chedworth Woods there are pheasants, gold and blue and scarlet, almost as tame as barnyard fowls; everywhere there are skylarks throbbing in the upper blue—and these are all your company. Now and then a great yellow farm-wagon and a few farmers in corduroys—but no one else. That is the kind of country to bicycle into. Up and up the valley, past the Roman villa, until you come to the smoking-place. No pipeful ever tasted better than this, stretched on the warm grass watching the green water dimpling over the stones. That same water passes the Houses of Parliament by and by. I think it would stay by Chedworth Woods if it could—and so would I.
But it is four o'clock, and tea will be waiting. Protesting Shotover is pushed up a swampy hillside through the trees—and we come out onto a hilltop some 800 feet above the sea. And from there it is eight miles homeward, mostly downhill, with a broad blue horizon to meet the eye. Back to the tiny cottage looking out onto the village green and the old village well; back to four cups of tea and hot buttered toast; and then for Metternich and the Vienna Congress. Solvitur bicyclando!
And when we clatter down the High again, two weeks hence, Oxford will have made her great transformation. We left her in winter, mud and sleet and stormy sunsets. But a fortnight from now, however cold, it will be what we hopefully call the Summer Term. There will be white flannels, and Freshmen learning to punt on the Cher. But that is not for us now. There are the Schools....
Bibury, April, 1913.
Who has ever done justice to the majesty of the clouds? Alice Meynell, perhaps? George Meredith? Shelley, who was "gold-dusty with tumbling amongst the stars?" Henry Van Dyke has sung of "The heavenly hills of Holland," but in a somewhat treble pipe; R.L.S. said it better—"The travelling mountains of the sky." Ah, how much is still to be said of those piled-up mysteries of heaven!
We rode to-day down the Delaware Valley from Milford to Stroudsburg. That wonderful meadowland between the hills (it is just as lovely as the English Avon, but how much more likely we are to praise the latter!) converges in a huge V toward the Water Gap, drawing the foam of many a mountain creek down through that matchless passway. Over the hills which tumble steeply on either side soared the vast Andes of the clouds, hanging palpable in the sapphire of a summer sky. What height on height of craggy softness on those silver steeps! What rounded bosomy curves of golden vapour; what sharpened pinnacles of nothingness, spiring in ever-changing contour into the intangible blue! Man the finite, reveller in the explainable and the exact, how can his eye pierce or his speech describe the rolling robes of glory in which floating moisture clothes itself!
Mile on mile, those peaks of midsummer snow were marching the highways of the air. Fascinated, almost stupefied, we watched their miracles of form and unfathomable glory. It was as though the stockades of earth had fallen away. Palisaded, cliff on radiant cliff, the spires of the Unseeable lay bare. Ever since childhood one has dreamed of scaling the bulwarks of the clouds, of riding the ether on those strange galleons. Unconscious of their own beauty, they pass in dissolving shapes—now scudding on that waveless azure sea; now drifting with scant steerage way. If one could lie upon their opal summits what depths and what abysses would meet the eye! What glowing chasms to catch the ardour of the sun, what chill and empty hollows of creaming mist, dropping in pale and awful spirals. Floating flat like ice floes beneath the greenish moon, or beetling up in prodigious ledges of seeming solidness on a sunny morning—are they not the most superbly heart-easing miracles of our visible world? Watch them as they shimmer down toward the Water Gap in every shade of silver and rose and opal; or delicately tinged with amber when they have caught some jewelled chain of lightning and are suffused with its lurid sparkle. Man has worshipped sticks and stones and stars: has he never bent a knee to the high gods of the clouds?
There they wander, the unfettered spirits of bliss or doom. Holding within their billowed masses the healing punishments of the rain, chaliced beakers of golden flame, lightnings instant and unbearable as the face of God—dissolving into a crystal nothing, reborn from the viewless caverns of air—here let us erect one enraptured altar to the bright mountains of the sky!
At sunset we were climbing back among the wooded hills of Pike County, fifteen hundred feet above the salt. One great castle of clouds that had long drawn our eyes was crowning some invisible airy summit far above us. As the sun dipped it grew gray, soft, and pallid. And then one last banner of rosy light beaconed over its highest turret—a final flare of glory to signal curfew to all the other silver hills. Slowly it faded in the shadow of dusk.
We thought that was the end. But no—a little later, after we had reached the farm, we saw that the elfs of cloudland were still at play. Every few minutes the castle glowed with a sudden gush of pale blue lightning. And while we watched, with hearts almost painfully sated by beauty, through some leak the precious fire ran out; a great stalk of pure and unspeakable brightness fled passionately to earth. This happened again and again until the artery of fire was discharged. And then, slowly, slowly, the stars began to pipe up the evening breeze. Our cloud drifted gently away.
Where and in what strange new form did it greet the flush of dawn? Who knows?
On Saturday afternoons Titania and I always have an adventure. On Sundays we stay at home and dutifully read manuscripts (I am the obscure creature known as a "publisher's reader") but Saturday post meridiem is a golden tract of time wherein we wander as we list.
The 35th Street entrance to McQueery's has long been hallowed as our stell-dich-ein. We meet there at one o'clock. That is to say, I arrive at 12:59 and spend fifteen minutes in most animated reflection. There is plenty to think about. One may stand between the outer and inner lines of glass doors and watch the queer little creatures that come tumbling out of the cloak and suit factory across the street. Or one may stand inside the store, on a kind of terrace, beneath pineapple shaped arc lights, looking down upon the bustle of women on the main floor. Best of all, one may stroll along the ornate gallery to one side where all sorts and conditions of ladies wait for other ladies who have promised to meet them at one o'clock. They divide their time between examining the mahogany victrolae and deciding what kind of sundae they will have for lunch. A very genteel old gentleman with white hair and a long morning coat and an air of perpetual irritation is in charge of this social gallery. He wears the queer, soft, flat-soled boots that are suggestive of corns. There is an information bureau there, where one may learn everything except the time one may expect one's wife to arrive. But I have learned a valuable subterfuge. If I am waiting for Titania, and beginning to despair of her arrival, I have only to go to a telephone to call her up. As soon as I have put the nickel in, she is sure to appear. Nowadays I save the nickel by going into a booth and pretending to telephone. Sure enough, at 1:14, Ingersoll time, in she trots.
We have a jargon of our own.
"Eye-polishers?" say I.
"Yes," says Titania, "but there was a block at 42nd Street. I'm so sorry, Grump."
"Eye-polishers" is our term for the Fifth Avenue busses, because riding on them makes Titania's eyes so bright. More widely, the word connotes anything that produces that desirable result, such as bunches of violets, lavender peddlers, tea at Mary Elizabeth's, spring millinery, or finding sixpence in her shoe. This last is a rite suggested by the old song: