The Bibliotaph had many literary heroes. Conspicuous among them were Professor Richard Porson and Benjamin Jowett, the late master of Balliol. The Bibliotaph collected everything that related to these two men, all the books with which they had had anything to do, every newspaper clipping and magazine article which threw light upon their manners, habits, modes of thought. He especially loved to tell anecdotes of Porson. He knew many. He had an interleaved copy of J. Selby Watson's Life of Porson into which were copied a multitude of facts not to be found in that amusing biography. The Bibliotaph used to say that he would rather have known Porson than any other man of his time. He used to quote this as one of the best illustrations of Porson's wit, and one of the finest examples of the retort satiric to be found in any language. One of Porson's works was assailed by Wakefield and by Hermann, scholars to be sure, but scholars whose scholarship Porson held in contempt. Being told of their attack Porson only said that 'whatever he wrote in the future should be written in such a way that those fellows wouldn't be able to reach it with their fore-paws if they stood on their hind-legs to get at it!'
The Bibliotaph gave such an air of contemporaneity to his stories of the great Greek professor that it seemed at times as if they were the relations of one who had actually known Porson. So vividly did he portray the marvels of that compound of thirst and scholarship that no one had the heart to laugh when, after one of his narrations, a gentleman asked the Bibliotaph if he himself had studied under Porson.
'Not under him but with him,' said the Bibliotaph. 'He was my coeval. Porson, Richard Bentley, Joseph Scaliger, and I were all students together.'
Speaking of Jowett the Bibliotaph once said that it was wonderful to note how culture failed to counteract in an Englishman that disposition to heave stones at an American. Jowett, with his remarkable breadth of mind and temper, was quite capable of observing, with respect to a certain book, that it was American, 'yet in perfect taste.' 'This,' said the Bibliotaph, 'is as if one were to say, "The guests were Americans, but no one expectorated on the carpet."' The Bibliotaph thought that there was not so much reason for this attitude. The sins of Englishmen and Americans were identical, he believed, but the forms of their expression were different. 'Our sin is a voluble boastfulness; theirs is an irritating, unrestrainable, all-but-constantly manifested, satisfied self-consciousness. The same results are reached by different avenues. We praise ourselves; they belittle others.' Then he added with a smile: 'Thus even in these latter days are the Scriptures exemplified; the same spirit with varying manifestations.'
He was once commenting upon Jowett's classification of humorists. Jowett divided humorists 'into three categories or classes; those who are not worth reading at all; those who are worth reading once, but once only; and those who are worth reading again and again and for ever.' This remark was made to Swinburne, who quotes it in his all too brief Recollections of Professor Jowett. Swinburne says that the starting-point of their discussion was the Biglow Papers, which 'famous and admirable work of American humour' Jowett placed in the second class. Swinburne himself thought that the Biglow Papers was too good for the second class and not quite good enough for the third. 'I would suggest that a fourth might be provided, to include such examples as are worth, let us say, two or three readings in a life-time.'
The Bibliotaph made a variety of comments on this, but I remember only the following; it is a reason for not including the Biglow Papers in Jowett's third and crowning class. 'Humor to be popular permanently must be general rather than local, and have to do with a phase of character rather than a fact of history; that is, it must deal in a great way with what is always interesting to all men. Humor that does not meet this requirement is not likely, when its novelty has worn off, to be read even occasionally save by those who enjoy it as an intellectual performance or who are making a critical study of its author.' The observation, if not profound, is at least sensible, and it illustrates very well the Bibliotaph's love of alliteration and antithesis. But it is easier to remember and to report his caustic and humorous remarks.
The Country Squire had a card-catalogue of the books in his library, and he delighted to make therein entries of his past and his new purchases. But it was not always possible to find upon the shelves books that were mentioned in the catalogue. The Bibliotaph took advantage of a few instances of this sort to prod his moneyed friend. He would ask the Squire if he had such-and-such a book. The Squire would say that he had, and appeal to his catalogue in proof of it. Then would follow a search for the volume. If, as sometimes happened, no book corresponding to the entry could be found, the Bibliotaph would be satirical and remark:—
'I'll tell you what you ought to name your catalogue.'
Another time he said, 'This is not a list of your books, this is a list of the things that you intend to buy;' or he would suggest that the Squire would do well to christen his catalogue Vaulting Ambition. Perhaps the variation might take this form. After a fruitless search for some book, which upon the testimony of the catalogue was certainly in the collection, the Bibliotaph would observe, 'This catalogue might not inappropriately be spoken of as the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.' Another time the Bibliotaph said to the Squire, calling to mind the well-known dictum as to the indispensableness of certain books, 'Between what one sees on your shelves and what one reads in your card-catalogue one would have reason to believe that you were a gentleman.'
Once the Bibliotaph said to me in the presence of the Squire: 'I think that our individual relation to books might be expressed in this way. You read books but you don't buy them. I buy books but I don't read them. The Squire neither reads them nor buys them,—only card-catalogues them!'
To all this the Squire had a reply which was worldly, emphatic, and adequate, but the object of this study is not to exhibit the virtues of the Squire's speech, witty though it was.
One of the Bibliotaph's friends began without sufficient provocation to write verse. The Bibliotaph thought that if the matter were taken promptly in hand the man could be saved. Accordingly, when next he gave this friend a book he wrote upon a fly-leaf: 'To a Poet who is nothing if not original—and who is not original!' And the injured rhymester exclaimed when he read the inscription: 'You deface every book you give me.'
He could pay a compliment, as when he was dining with a married pair who were thought to be not yet disenchanted albeit in the tenth year of their married life. The lady was speaking to the Bibliotaph, but in the eagerness of conversation addressed him by her husband's first name. Whereupon he turned to the husband and said: 'Your wife implies that I am a repository of grace and a bundle of virtues, and calls me by your name.'
He once sent this same lady, apropos of the return of the shirt-waist season, a dozen neckties. In the box was his card with these words penciled upon it: 'A contribution to the man-made dress of a God-made woman.'
The Squire had great skill in imitating the cries of various domestic fowl, as well as dogs, cats, and children. Once, in a moment of social relaxation, he was giving an exhibition of his power to the vast amusement of his guests. When he had finished, the Bibliotaph said: 'The theory of Henry Ward Beecher that every man has something of the animal in him is superabundantly exemplified in your case. You, sir, have got the whole Ark.'
There was a quaint humor in his most commonplace remarks. Of all the fruits of the earth he loved most a watermelon. And when a fellow-traveler remarked, 'That watermelon which we had at dinner was bad,' the Bibliotaph instantly replied: 'There is no such thing as a bad watermelon. There are watermelons, and better watermelons.'
I expressed astonishment on learning that he stood six feet in his shoes. He replied: 'People are so preoccupied in the consideration of my thickness that they don't have time to observe my height.'
Again, when he was walking through a private park which contained numerous monstrosities in the shape of painted metal deer on pedestals, pursued (also on pedestals) by hunters and dogs, the Bibliotaph pointed to one of the dogs and said, 'Cave cast-iron canem!'
He once accompanied a party of friends and acquaintances to the summit of Mt. Tom. The ascent is made in these days by a very remarkable inclined plane. After looking at the extensive and exquisite view, the Bibliotaph fell to examining his return coupon, which read, 'Good for one Trip Down.' Then he said: 'Let us hope that in a post-terrestrial experience our tickets will not read in this way.'
He was once ascending in the unusually commodious and luxurious elevator of a new ten-story hotel and remarked to his companion: 'If we can't be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, we can at least start in that direction under not dissimilar conditions.' He also said that the advantage of stopping at this particular hotel was that you were able to get as far as possible from the city in which it was located.
He studied the dictionary with great diligence and was unusually accurate in his pronunciation. He took an amused satisfaction in pronouncing exactly certain words which in common talk had shifted phonetically from their moorings. This led a gentleman who was intimate with the Bibliotaph to say to him, 'Why, if I were to pronounce that word among my kinsfolk as you do they'd think I was crazy.' 'What you mean,' said the Bibliotaph, 'is, that they would look upon it in the light of supererogatory supplementary evidence.'
He himself indulged overmuch in alliteration, but it was with humorous intent; and critics forgave it in him when they would have reprehended it in another. He had no notion that it was fine. Taken, however, in connection with his emphatic manner and sonorous voice he produced a decided and original effect. Meeting the Squire's wife after a considerable interval, I asked whether her husband had been behaving well. She replied 'As usual.' Whereupon the Bibliotaph said, 'You mean that his conduct in these days is characterized by a plethora of intention and a paucity of performance.'
He objected to enlarging the boundaries of words until they stood for too many things. Let a word be kept so far as was reasonable to its earlier and authorized meaning. Speaking of the word 'symposium,' which has been stretched to mean a collection of short articles on a given subject, the Bibliotaph said that he could fancy a honey-bee which had been feasting on pumice until it was unable to make the line characteristic of its kind, explaining to its queen that it had been to a symposium; but that he doubted if we ought to allow any other meaning.
The Bibliotaph got much amusement from what he insisted were the ill-concealed anxieties of his friend the actor on the subject of a future state. 'He has acquired,' said the Bibliotaph, 'both a pathetic and a prophetic interest in that place which begins as heaven does, but stops off monosyllabically.'
The two men were one day discussing the question of the permanency of fame, how ephemeral for example was that reputation which depended upon the living presence of the artist to make good its claim; how an actor, an orator, a singer, was bound to enjoy his glory while it lasted, since at the instant of his death all tangible evidence of greatness disappeared; he could not be proven great to one who had never seen and heard him. Having reached this point in his philosophizing the Bibliotaph's player-friend became sentimental and quoted a great comedian to the effect that 'a dead actor was a mighty useless thing.' 'Certainly,' said the Bibliotaph, 'having exhausted the life that now is, and having no hope of the life that is to come.'
Sometimes it pleased the Bibliotaph to maintain that his friend of the footlights would be in the future state a mere homeless wanderer, having neither positive satisfaction nor positive discomfort. For the actor was wont to insist that even if there were an orthodox heaven its moral opposite were the desirable locality; all the clever and interesting fellows would be down below. 'Except yourself,' said the Bibliotaph. 'You, sir, will be eliminated by your own reasoning. You will be denied heaven because you are not good, and hell because you are not great.'
On the whole it pleased the Bibliotaph to maintain that his friend's course was downward, and that the sooner he reconciled himself to his undoubted fate the better. 'Why speculate upon it?' he said paternally to the actor, 'your prospective comparisons will one day yield to reminiscent contrasts.'
The actor was convinced that the Bibliotaph's own past life needed looking into, and he declared that when he got a chance he was going to examine the great records. To which the Bibliotaph promptly responded: 'The books of the recording angel will undoubtedly be open to your inspection if you can get an hour off to come up. The probability is that you will be overworked.'
The Bibliotaph never lost an opportunity for teasing. He arrived late one evening at the house of a friend where he was always heartily welcome, and before answering the chorus of greetings, proceeded to kiss the lady of the mansion, a queenly and handsome woman. Being asked why he—who was a large man and very shy with respect to women, as large men always are—should have done this thing, he answered that the kiss had been sent by a common friend and that he had delivered it at once, 'for if there was anything he prided himself upon it was a courageous discharge of an unpleasant duty.'
Once when he had been narrating this incident he was asked what reply the lady had made to so uncourteous a speech. 'I don't remember,' said the Bibliotaph, 'it was long ago; but my opinion is that she would have been justified in denominating me by a monosyllable beginning with the initial letter of the alphabet and followed by successive sibilants.'
One of the Bibliotaph's fellow book-hunters owned a chair said to have been given by Sir Edwin Landseer to Sir Walter Scott. The chair was interesting to behold, but the Bibliotaph after attempting to sit in it immediately got up and declared that it was not a genuine relic: 'Sir Edwin had reason to be grateful to rather than indignant at Sir Walter Scott.'
He said of a highly critical person that if that man were to become a minister he would probably announce as the subject of his first sermon: 'The conditions that God must meet in order to be acceptable to me.' He said of a poor orator who had copyrighted one of his most indifferent speeches, that the man 'positively suffered from an excess of caution.' He remarked once that the great trouble with a certain lady was 'she labored under the delusion that she enjoyed occasional seasons of sanity.'
The nil admirari attitude was one which he never affected, and he had a contempt for men who denied to the great in literature and art that praise which was their due. This led him to say apropos of an obscure critic who had assailed one of the poetical masters: 'When the Lord makes a man a fool he injures him; but when He so constitutes him that the man is never happy unless he is making that fact public, He insults him.'
He enjoyed speculating on the subject of marriage, especially in the presence of those friends who unlike himself knew something about it empirically. He delighted to tell his lady acquaintances that their husbands would undoubtedly marry a second time if they had the chance. It was inevitable. A man whose experience has been fortunate is bound to marry again, because he is like the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo. A man who has been unhappily married marries again because like an unfortunate gamester he has reached the time when his luck has got to change. The Bibliotaph then added with a smile: 'I have the idea that many men who marry a second time do in effect what is often done by unsuccessful gamblers at Monte Carlo; they go out and commit suicide.'
The Bibliotaph played but few games. There was one, however, in which he was skillful. I blush to speak of it in these days of much muscular activity. What have golfers, and tennis-players, and makers of century runs to do with croquet? Yet there was a time when croquet was spoken of as 'the coming game;' and had not Clintock's friend Jennings written an epic poem upon it in twelve books, which poem he offered to lend to a certain brilliant young lady? But Gwendolen despised boys and cared even less for their poetry than for themselves.
At the house of the Country Squire the Bibliotaph was able to gratify his passion for croquet, and verily he was a master. He made a grotesque figure upon the court, with his big frame which must stoop mightily to take account of balls and short-handled mallets, with his agile manner, his uncovered head shaggy with its barbaric profusion of hair (whereby some one was led to nickname him Bibliotaph Indetonsus), with the scanty black alpaca coat in which he invariably played—a coat so short in the sleeves and so brief in the skirt that the figure cut by the wearer might almost have passed for that of Mynheer Ten Broek of many-trowsered memory. But it was vastly more amusing to watch him than to play with him. He had a devil 'most undoubted.' Only with the help of black art and by mortgaging one's soul would it have been possible to accomplish some of the things which he accomplished. For the materials of croquet are so imperfect at best that chance is an influential element. I've seen tennis-players in the intervals of their game watch the Bibliotaph with that superior smile suggestive of contempt for the puerility of his favorite sport. They might even condescend to take a mallet for a while to amuse him; but presently discomfited they would retire to a game less capricious than croquet and one in which there was reasonable hope that a given cause would produce its wonted effect.
The Bibliotaph played strictly for the purpose of winning, and took savage joy in his conquests. In playing with him one had to do two men's work; one must play, and then one must summon such philosophy as one might to suffer continuous defeat, and such wit as one possessed to beat back a steady onslaught of daring and witty criticisms. 'I play like a fool,' said a despairing opponent after fruitless effort to win a just share of the games. 'We all have our moments of unconsciousness,' purred the Bibliotaph blandly in response. This same despairing opponent, who was an expert in everything he played, said that there was but one solace after croquet with the Bibliotaph; he would go home and read Hazlitt's essay on the Indian Jugglers.
* * * * *
Here ends the account of the Bibliotaph. From these inadequate notes it is possible to get some little idea of his habits and conversation. The library is said to be still growing. Packages of books come mysteriously from the corners of the earth and make their way to that remote and almost inaccessible village where the great collector hides his treasures. No one has ever penetrated that region, and no one, so far as I am aware, has ever seen the treasures. The books lie entombed, as it were, awaiting such day of resurrection as their owner shall appoint them. The day is likely to be long delayed. Of the collector's whereabouts now no one of his friends dares to speak positively; for at the time when knowledge of him was most exact THE BIBLIOTAPH was like a newly-discovered comet,—his course was problematical.
'The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people that can write know anything.' So said a man who, during a busy career, found time to add several fine volumes to the scanty number of good books. And in a vivacious paragraph which follows this initial sentence he humorously anathematizes the literary life. He shows convincingly that 'secluded habits do not tend to eloquence.' He says that the 'indifferent apathy' so common among studious persons is by no means favorable to liveliness of narration. He proves that men who will not live cannot write; that people who shut themselves up in libraries have dry brains. He avows his confidence in the 'original way of writing books,' the way of the first author, who must have looked at things for himself, 'since there were no books for him to copy from;' and he challenges the reader to prove that this original way is not the best way. 'Where,' he asks, 'are the amusing books from voracious students and habitual writers?'
This startling arraignment of authors has been made by other men than Walter Bagehot. Hazlitt in his essay on the 'Ignorance of the Learned' teaches much the same doctrine. Its general truth is indisputable, though Bagehot himself makes exception in favor of Sir Walter Scott. But the two famous critics are united in their conviction that learned people are generally dull, and that books which are the work of habitual writers are not amusing.
There are as a matter of course more exceptions than one. Thomas Hardy is a distinguished exception. Thomas Hardy is an 'habitual writer,' but he is always amusing. The following paragraphs are intended to emphasize certain causes of this quality in his work, the quality by virtue of which he chains the attention and proves himself the most readable novelist now living. That he does attract and hold is clear to any one who has tried no more than a half-dozen pages from one of his best stories. He has the fatal habit of being interesting,—fatal because it robs you who read him of time which you might else have devoted to 'improving' literature, such as history, political economy, or light science. He destroys your peace of mind by compelling your sympathies in behalf of people who never existed. He undermines your will power and makes you his slave. You declare that you will read but one more chapter and you weakly consent to make it two chapters. As a special indulgence you spoil a working day in order to learn about the Return of the Native, perhaps agreeing with a supposititious 'better self' that you will waste no more time on novels for the next six months. But you are of ascetic fibre indeed if you do not follow up the book with a reading of The Woodlanders and The Mayor of Casterbridge.
There is a reason for this. If the practiced writer often fails to make a good book because he knows nothing, Mr. Hardy must succeed in large part because he knows so much. The more one reads him the more is one impressed with the extent of his knowledge. He has an intimate acquaintance with an immense number of interesting things.
He knows men and women—if not all sorts and all conditions, at least a great many varieties of the human animal. Moreover, his men are men and his women are women. He does not use them as figures to accentuate a landscape, or as ventriloquist's puppets to draw away attention from the fact that he himself is doing all the talking. His people have individuality, power of speech, power of motion. He does not tell you that such a one is clever or witty; the character which he has created does that for himself by doing clever things and making witty remarks. In an excellent story by a celebrated modern master there is a young lady who is declared to be clever and brilliant. Out of forty or fifty observations which she makes, the most extraordinary concerns her father; she says, 'Isn't dear papa delightful?' At another time she inquires whether another gentleman is not also delightful. Hardy's resources are not so meagre as this. When his people talk we listen,—we do not endure.
He knows other things besides men and women. He knows the soil, the trees, the sky, the sunsets, the infinite variations of the landscape under cloud and sunshine. He knows horses, sheep, cows, dogs, cats. He understands the interpretation of sounds,—a detail which few novelists comprehend or treat with accuracy; the pages of his books ring with the noises of house, street, and country. Moreover there is nothing conventional in his transcript of facts. There is no evidence that he has been in the least degree influenced by other men's minds. He takes the raw stuff of which novels are made and moulds it as he will. He has an absolutely fresh eye, as painters sometimes say. He looks on life as if he were the first literary man, 'and none had ever lived before him.' Paraphrasing Ruskin, one may say of Hardy that in place of studying the old masters he has studied what the old masters studied. But his point of view is his own. His pages are not reminiscent of other pages. He never makes you think of something you have read, but invariably of something you have seen or would like to see. He is an original writer, which means that he takes his material at first hand and eschews documents. There is considerable evidence that he has read books, but there is no reason for supposing that books have damaged him.
Dr. Farmer proved that Shakespeare had no 'learning.' One might perhaps demonstrate that Thomas Hardy is equally fortunate. In that case he and Shakespeare may felicitate one another. Though when we remember that in our day it is hardly possible to avoid a tincture of scholarship, we may be doing the fairer thing by these two men if we say that the one had small Greek and the other has adroitly concealed the measure of Greek, whether great or small, which is in his possession. To put the matter in another form, though Hardy may have drunk in large quantity 'the spirit breathed from dead men to their kind,' he has not allowed his potations to intoxicate him.
This paragraph is not likely to be misinterpreted unless by some honest soul who has yet to learn that 'literature is not sworn testimony.' Therefore it may be well to add that Mr. Hardy undoubtedly owns a collection of books, and has upon his shelves dictionaries and encyclopedias, together with a decent representation of those works which people call 'standard.' But it is of importance to remember this: That while he may be a well-read man, as the phrase goes, he is not and never has been of that class which Emerson describes with pale sarcasm as 'meek young men in libraries.' It is clear that Hardy has not 'weakened his eyesight over books,' and it is equally clear that he has 'sharpened his eyesight on men and women.' Let us consider a few of his virtues.
In the first place he tells a good story. No extravagant praise is due him for this; it is his business, his trade. He ought to do it, and therefore he does it. The 'first morality' of a novelist is to be able to tell a story, as the first morality of a painter is to be able to handle his brush skillfully and make it do his brain's intending. After all, telling stories in an admirable fashion is rather a familiar accomplishment nowadays. Many men, many women are able to make stories of considerable ingenuity as to plot, and of thrilling interest in the unrolling of a scheme of events. Numberless writers are shrewd and clever in constructing their 'fable,' but they are unable to do much beyond this. Walter Besant writes good stories; Robert Buchanan writes good stories; Grant Allen and David Christie Murray are acceptable to many readers. But unless I mistake greatly and do these men an injustice I should be sorry to do them, their ability ceases just at this point. They tell good stories and do nothing else. They write books and do not make literature. They are authors by their own will and not by grace of God. It may be said of them as Augustine Birrell said of Professor Freeman and the Bishop of Chester, that they are horny-handed sons of toil and worthy of their wage. But one would like to say a little more. Granting that this is praise, it is so faint as to be almost inaudible. If Hardy only wrote good stories he would be merely doing his duty, and therefore accounted an unprofitable servant. But he does much besides.
He fulfills one great function of the literary artist, which is to mediate between nature and the reading public. Such a man is an eye specialist. Through his amiable offices people who have hitherto been blind are put into condition to see. Near-sighted persons have spectacles fitted to them—which they generally refuse to wear, not caring for literature which clears the mental vision.
Hardy opens the eyes of the reader to the charm, the beauty, the mystery to be found in common life and in every-day objects. So alert and forceful an intelligence rarely applies its energy to fiction. The result is that he makes an almost hopelessly high standard. The exceptional man who comes after him may be a rival, but the majority of writing gentlemen can do little more than enviously admire. He seems to have established for himself such a rule as this, that he will write no page which shall not be interesting. He pours out the treasures of his observation in every chapter. He sees everything, feels everything, sympathizes with everything. To be sure he has an unusually rich field for work. In The Mayor of Casterbridge is an account of the discovery of the remains of an old Roman soldier. One would expect Hardy to make something graphic of the episode. And so he does. You can almost see the warrior as he lies there 'in an oval scoop in the chalk, like a chicken in its shell; his knees drawn up to his chest; his spear against his arm; an urn at his knees, a jar at his throat, a bottle at his mouth; and mystified conjecture pouring down upon him from the eyes of Casterbridge street-boys and men.'
The real virtue in this bit of description lies in the few words expressive of the mental attitude of the onlookers. And it is a nice distinction which Hardy makes when he says that 'imaginative inhabitants who would have felt an unpleasantness at the discovery of a comparatively modern skeleton in their gardens were quite unmoved by these hoary shapes. They had lived so long ago, their hopes and motives were so widely removed from ours, that between them and the living there seemed to stretch a gulf too wide for even a spirit to pass.'
He takes note of that language which, though not articulate, is in common use among yeomen, dairymen, farmers, and the townsfolk of his little world. It is a language superimposed upon the ordinary language. 'To express satisfaction the Casterbridge market-man added to his utterance a broadening of the cheeks, a crevicing of the eyes, a throwing back of the shoulders.' 'If he wondered ... you knew it from perceiving the inside of his crimson mouth and the target-like circling of his eyes.' The language of deliberation expressed itself in the form of 'sundry attacks on the moss of adjoining walls with the end of his stick' or a 'change of his hat from the horizontal to the less so.'
The novel called The Woodlanders is filled with notable illustrations of an interest in minute things. The facts are introduced unobtrusively and no great emphasis is laid upon them. But they cling to the memory. Giles Winterbourne, a chief character in this story, 'had a marvelous power in making trees grow. Although he would seem to shovel in the earth quite carelessly there was a sort of sympathy between himself and the fir, oak, or beech that he was operating on; so that the roots took hold of the soil in a few days.' When any of the journeymen planted, one quarter of the trees died away. There is a graphic little scene where Winterbourne plants and Marty South holds the trees for him. 'Winterbourne's fingers were endowed with a gentle conjurer's touch in spreading the roots of each little tree, resulting in a sort of caress under which the delicate fibres all laid themselves out in their proper direction for growth.' Marty declared that the trees began to 'sigh' as soon as they were put upright, 'though when they are lying down they don't sigh at all.' Winterbourne had never noticed it. 'She erected one of the young pines into its hole, and held up her finger; the soft musical breathing instantly set in, which was not to cease night or day till the grown tree should be felled—probably long after the two planters had been felled themselves.'
Later on in the story there is a description of this same Giles Winterbourne returning with his horses and his cider apparatus from a neighboring village. 'He looked and smelt like autumn's very brother, his face being sunburnt to wheat color, his eyes blue as corn flowers, his sleeves and leggings dyed with fruit stains, his hands clammy with the sweet juice of apples, his hat sprinkled with pips, and everywhere about him that atmosphere of cider which at its first return each season has such an indescribable fascination for those who have been born and bred among the orchards.'
Hardy throws off little sketches of this sort with an air of unconsciousness which is fascinating.... It may be a sunset, or it may be only a flake of snow falling upon a young girl's hair, or the light from lanterns penetrating the shutters and flickering over the ceiling of a room in the early winter morning,—no matter what the circumstance or happening is, it is caught in the act, photographed in permanent colors, made indelible and beautiful.
Hardy's art is tyrannical. It compels one to be interested in that which delights him. It imposes its own standards. There is a rude strength about the man which readers endure because they are not unwilling to be slaves to genius. You may dislike sheep, and care but little for the poetical aspect of cows, if indeed you are not inclined to question the existence of poetry in cows; but if you read Far from the Madding Crowd you can never again pass a flock of sheep without being conscious of a multitude of new thoughts, new images, new matters for comparison. All that dormant section of your soul which for years was in a comatose condition on the subject of sheep is suddenly and broadly awake. Read Tess and at once cows and a dairy have a new meaning to you. They are a conspicuous part of the setting of that stage upon which poor Tess Durbeyfield's life drama was played.
But Hardy does not flaunt his knowledge in his reader's face. These things are distinctly means to an end, not ends in themselves. He has no theory to advance about keeping bees or making cider. He has taken no little journeys in the world. On the contrary, where he has traveled at all, he has traveled extensively. He is like a tourist who has been so many times abroad that his allusions are naturally and unaffectedly made. But the man just back from a first trip on the continent has astonishment stamped upon his face, and he speaks of Paris and of the Alps as if he had discovered both. Zola is one of those practitioners who, big with recently acquired knowledge, appear to labor under the idea that the chief end of a novel is to convey miscellaneous information. This is probably a mistake. Novels are not handbooks on floriculture, banking, railways, or the management of department stores. One may make a parade of minute details and endlessly wearisome learning and gain a certain credit thereby; but what if the details and the learning are chiefly of value in a dictionary of sciences and commerce? Wisdom of this sort is to be sparingly used in a work of art.
In these matters I cannot but feel that Hardy has a reticence so commendable that praise of it is superfluous and impertinent. After all, men and women are better than sheep and cows, and had he been more explicit, he would have tempted one to inquire whether he proposed making a story or a volume which might bear the title The Wessex Farmer's Own Hand-Book, and containing wise advice as to pigs, poultry, and the useful art of making two heads of cabbage grow where only one had grown before.
Among the most engaging qualities of this writer is humor. Hardy is a humorous man himself and entirely appreciative of the humor that is in others. According to a distinguished philosopher, wit and humor produce love. Hardy must then be in daily receipt of large measures of this 'improving passion' from his innumerable readers on both sides of the Atlantic.
His humor manifests itself in a variety of ways; by the use of witty epithet; by ingenious description of a thing which is not strikingly laughable in itself, but which becomes so from the closeness of his rendering; by a leisurely and ample account of a character with humorous traits,—traits which are brought artistically into prominence as an actor heightens the complexion in stage make-up; and finally by his lively reproductions of the talk of village and country people,—a class of society whose everyday speech has only to be heard to be enjoyed. I do not pretend that the sources of Hardy's humor are exhausted in this analysis, but the majority of illustrations can be assigned to some one of these divisions.
He is usually thought to be at his best in descriptions of farmers, village mechanics, laborers, dairymen, men who kill pigs, tend sheep, furze-cutters, masons, hostlers, loafers who do nothing in particular, and while thus occupied rail on Lady Fortune in good set terms. Certainly he paints these people with affectionate fidelity. Their virile, racy talk delights him. His reproductions of that talk are often intensely realistic. Nearly every book has its chorus of human grotesques whose mere names are a source of mirth. William Worm, Grandfer Cantle, 'Corp'el' Tullidge, Christopher Coney, John Upjohn, Robert Creedle, Martin Cannister, Haymoss Fry, Robert Lickpan, and Sammy Blore,—men so denominated should stand for comic things, and these men do. William Worm, for example, was deaf. His deafness took an unusual form; he heard fish frying in his head, and he was not reticent upon the subject of his infirmity. He usually described himself by the epithet 'wambling,' and protested that he would never pay the Lord for his making,—a degree of self-knowledge which many have arrived at but few have the courage to confess. He was once observed in the act of making himself 'passing civil and friendly by overspreading his face with a large smile that seemed to have no connection with the humor he was in.' Sympathy because of his deafness elicited this response: 'Ay, I assure you that frying o' fish is going on for nights and days. And, you know, sometimes 'tisn't only fish, but rashers o' bacon and inions. Ay, I can hear the fat pop and fizz as nateral as life.'
He was questioned as to what means of cure he had tried.
'Oh, ay bless ye, I've tried everything. Ay, Providence is a merciful man, and I have hoped he'd have found it out by this time, living so many years in a parson's family, too, as I have; but 'a don't seem to relieve me. Ay, I be a poor wambling man, and life's a mint o' trouble.'
One knows not which to admire the more, the appetizing realism in William Worm's account of his infirmity, or the primitive state of his theological views which allowed him to look for special divine favor by virtue of the ecclesiastical conspicuousness of his late residence.
Hardy must have heard, with comfort in the thought of its literary possibilities, the following dialogue on the cleverness of women. It occurs in the last chapter of The Woodlanders. A man who is always spoken of as the 'hollow-turner,' a phrase obviously descriptive of his line of business, which related to wooden bowls, spigots, cheese-vats, and funnels, talks with John Upjohn.
'What women do know nowadays!' he says. 'You can't deceive 'em as you could in my time.'
'What they knowed then was not small,' said John Upjohn. 'Always a good deal more than the men! Why, when I went courting my wife that is now, the skillfulness that she would show in keeping me on her pretty side as she walked was beyond all belief. Perhaps you've noticed that she's got a pretty side to her face as well as a plain one?'
'I can't say I've noticed it particular much,' said the hollow-turner blandly.
'Well,' continued Upjohn, not disconcerted, 'she has. All women under the sun be prettier one side than t'other. And, as I was saying, the pains she would take to make me walk on the pretty side were unending. I warrent that whether we were going with the sun or against the sun, uphill or downhill, in wind or in lewth, that wart of hers was always toward the hedge, and that dimple toward me. There was I too simple to see her wheelings and turnings; and she so artful though two years younger, that she could lead me with a cotton thread like a blind ham; ... no, I don't think the women have got cleverer, for they was never otherwise.'
These men have sap and juice in their talk. When they think they think clearly. When they speak they express themselves with an energy and directness which mortify the thin speech of conventional persons. Here is Farfrae, the young Scotchman, in the tap-room of the Three Mariners Inn of Casterbridge, singing of his ain contree with a pathos quite unknown in that part of the world. The worthies who frequent the place are deeply moved. 'Danged if our country down here is worth singing about like that,' says Billy Wills, the glazier,—while the literal Christopher Coney inquires, 'What did ye come away from yer own country for, young maister, if ye be so wownded about it?' Then it occurs to him that it wasn't worth Farfrae's while to leave the fair face and the home of which he had been singing to come among such as they. 'We be bruckle folk here—the best o' us hardly honest sometimes, what with hard winters, and so many mouths to fill, and God-a'mighty sending his little taties so terrible small to fill 'em with. We don't think about flowers and fair faces, not we—except in the shape of cauliflowers and pigs' chaps.'
I should like to see the man who sat to Artist Hardy for the portrait of Corporal Tullidge in The Trumpet-Major. This worthy, who was deaf and talked in an uncompromisingly loud voice, had been struck in the head by a piece of shell at Valenciennes in '93. His left arm had been smashed. Time and Nature had done what they could, and under their beneficent influences the arm had become a sort of anatomical rattle-box. People interested in Corp'el Tullidge were allowed to see his head and hear his arm. The corp'el gave these private views at any time, and was quite willing to show off, though the exhibition was apt to bore him a little. His fellows displayed him much as one would a 'freak' in a dime museum.
'You have got a silver plate let into yer head, haven't ye, corp'el?' said Anthony Cripplestraw. 'I have heard that the way they mortised yer skull was a beautiful piece of workmanship. Perhaps the young woman would like to see the place.'
The young woman was Anne Garland, the sweet heroine of the story; and Anne didn't want to see the silver plate, the thought of which made her almost faint. Nor could she be tempted by being told that one couldn't see such a 'wownd' every day. Then Cripplestraw, earnest to please her, suggested that Tullidge rattle his arm, which Tullidge did, to Anne's great distress.
'Oh, it don't hurt him, bless ye. Do it, corp'el?' said Cripplestraw.
'Not a bit,' said the corporal, still working his arm with great energy. There was, however, a perfunctoriness in his manner 'as if the glory of exhibition had lost somewhat of its novelty, though he was still willing to oblige.' Anne resisted all entreaties to convince herself by feeling of the corporal's arm that the bones were 'as loose as a bag of ninepins,' and displayed an anxiety to escape. Whereupon the corporal, 'with a sense that his time was getting wasted,' inquired: 'Do she want to see or hear any more, or don't she?'
This is but a single detail in the account of a party which Miller Loveday gave to soldier guests in honor of his son John,—a description the sustained vivacity of which can only be appreciated through a reading of those brilliant early chapters of the story.
Half the mirth that is in these men comes from the frankness with which they confess their actual thoughts. Ask a man of average morals and average attainments why he doesn't go to church. You won't know any better after he has given you his answer. Ask Nat Chapman, of the novel entitled Two on a Tower, and you will not be troubled with ambiguities. He doesn't like to go because Mr. Torkingham's sermons make him think of soul-saving and other bewildering and uncomfortable topics. So when the son of Torkingham's predecessor asks Nat how it goes with him, that tiller of the soil answers promptly: 'Pa'son Tarkenham do tease a feller's conscience that much, that church is no holler-day at all to the limbs, as it was in yer reverent father's time!'
The unswerving honesty with which they assign utilitarian motives for a particular line of conduct is delightful. Three men discuss a wedding, which took place not at the home of the bride but in a neighboring parish, and was therefore very private. The first doesn't blame the new married pair, because 'a wedding at home means five and six handed reels by the hour, and they do a man's legs no good when he's over forty.' A second corroborates the remark and says: 'True. Once at the woman's house you can hardly say nay to being one in a jig, knowing all the time that you be expected to make yourself worth your victuals.'
The third puts the whole matter beyond the need of further discussion by adding: 'For my part, I like a good hearty funeral as well as anything. You've as splendid victuals and drink as at other parties, and even better. And it don't wear your legs to stumps in talking over a poor fellow's ways as it do to stand up in hornpipes.'
Beings who talk like this know their minds,—a rather unwonted circumstance among the sons of men,—and knowing them, they do the next most natural thing in the world, which is to speak the minds they have.
There is yet another phase of Hardy's humor to be noted: that humor, sometimes defiant, sometimes philosophic, which concerns death and its accompaniments. It cannot be thought morbid. Hardy is too fond of Nature ever to degenerate into mere morbidity. He has lived much in the open air, which always corrects a tendency to 'vapors.' He takes little pleasure in the gruesome, a statement in support of which one may cite all his works up to 1892, the date of the appearance of Tess. This paper includes no comment in detail upon the later books; but so far as Tess is concerned it would be critical folly to speak of it as morbid. It is sad, it is terrible, as Lear is terrible, or as any one of the great tragedies, written by men we call 'masters,' is terrible. Jude is psychologically gruesome, no doubt; but not absolutely indefensible. Even if it were as black a book as some critics have painted it, the general truth of the statement as to the healthfulness of Hardy's work would not be impaired. This work judged as a whole is sound and invigorating. He cannot be accused of over-fondness for charnel-houses or ghosts. He does not discourse of graves and vaults in order to arouse that terror which the thought of death inspires. It is not for the purpose of making the reader uncomfortable. If the grave interests him, it is because of the reflections awakened. 'Man, proud man,' needs that jog to his memory which the pomp of interments and aspect of tombstones give. Hardy has keen perception of that humor which glows in the presence of death and on the edge of the grave. The living have such a tremendous advantage over the dead, that they can neither help feeling it nor avoid a display of the feeling. When the lion is buried the dogs crack jokes at the funeral. They do it in a subdued manner, no doubt, and with a sense of proprieties, but nevertheless they do it. Their immense superiority is never so apparent as at just this moment.
This humor, which one notes in Hardy, is akin to the humor of the grave-diggers in Hamlet, but not so grim. I have heard a country undertaker describe the details of the least attractive branch of his uncomfortable business with a pride and self-satisfaction that would have been farcical had not the subject been so depressing. This would have been matter for Hardy's pen. There are few scenes in his books more telling than that which shows the operations in the family vault of the Luxellians, when John Smith, Martin Cannister, and old Simeon prepare the place for Lady Luxellian's coffin. It seems hardly wise to pronounce this episode as good as the grave-diggers' scene in Hamlet; that would shock some one and gain for the writer the reputation of being enthusiastic rather than critical. But I profess that I enjoy the talk of old Simeon and Martin Cannister quite as much as the talk of the first and second grave-diggers.
Simeon, the shriveled mason, was 'a marvelously old man, whose skin seemed so much too large for his body that it would not stay in position.' He talked of the various great dead whose coffins filled the family vault. Here was the stately and irascible Lord George:—
'Ah, poor Lord George,' said the mason, looking contemplatively at the huge coffin; 'he and I were as bitter enemies once as any could be when one is a lord and t'other only a mortal man. Poor fellow! He'd clap his hand upon my shoulder and cuss me as familiar and neighborly as if he'd been a common chap. Ay, 'a cussed me up hill and 'a cussed me down; and then 'a would rave out again and the goold clamps of his fine new teeth would glisten in the sun like fetters of brass, while I, being a small man and poor, was fain to say nothing at all. Such a strappen fine gentleman as he was too! Yes, I rather liken en sometimes. But once now and then, when I looked at his towering height, I'd think in my inside, "What a weight you'll be, my lord, for our arms to lower under the inside of Endelstow church some day!"'
'And was he?' inquired a young laborer.
'He was. He was five hundred weight if 'a were a pound. What with his lead, and his oak, and his handles, and his one thing and t'other'—here the ancient man slapped his hand upon the cover with a force that caused a rattle among the bones inside—'he half broke my back when I took his feet to lower en down the steps there. "Ah," saith I to John there—didn't I, John?—"that ever one man's glory should be such a weight upon another man!" But there, I liked my Lord George sometimes.'
It may be observed that as Hardy grows older his humor becomes more subtle or quite dies away, as if serious matters pressed upon his mind, and there was no time for being jocular. Some day, perhaps, if he should rise to the dignity of an English classic, this will be spoken of as his third period, and critics will be wise in the elucidation thereof. But just at present this third period is characterized by the terms 'pessimistic' and 'unhealthy.'
That he is a pessimist in the colloquial sense admits of little question. Nor is it surprising; it is rather difficult not to be. Not a few persons are pessimists and won't tell. They preserve a fair exterior, but secretly hold that all flesh is grass. Some people escape the disease by virtue of much philosophy or much religion or much work. Many who have not taken up permanent residence beneath the roof of Schopenhauer or Von Hartmann are occasional guests. Then there is that great mass of pessimism which is the result, not of thought, but of mere discomfort, physical and super-physical. One may have attacks of pessimism from a variety of small causes. A bad stomach will produce it. Financial difficulties will produce it. The light-minded get it from changes in the weather.
That note of melancholy which we detect in many of Hardy's novels is as it should be. For no man can apprehend life aright and still look upon it as a carnival. He may attain serenity in respect to it, but he can never be jaunty and flippant. He can never slap life upon the back and call it by familiar names. He may hold that the world is indisputably growing better, but he will need to admit that the world is having a hard time in so doing.
Hardy would be sure of a reputation for pessimism in some quarters if only because of his attitude, or what people think is his attitude, toward marriage. He has devoted many pages and not a little thought to the problems of the relations between men and women. He is considerably interested in questions of 'matrimonial divergence.' He recognizes that most obvious of all obvious truths, that marriage is not always a success; nay, more than this, that it is often a makeshift, an apology, a pretense. But he professes to undertake nothing beyond a statement of the facts. It rests with the public to lay his statement beside their experience and observation, and thus take measure of the fidelity of his art.
He notes the variety of motives by which people are actuated in the choice of husbands and wives. In the novel called The Woodlanders, Grace Melbury, the daughter of a rich though humbly-born yeoman, has unusual opportunities for a girl of her class, and is educated to a point of physical and intellectual daintiness which make her seem superior to her home environment. Her father has hoped that she will marry her rustic lover, Giles Winterbourne, who, by the way, is a man in every fibre of his being. Grace is quite unspoiled by her life at a fashionable boarding school, but after her return her father feels (and Hardy makes the reader feel) that in marrying Giles she will sacrifice herself. She marries Dr. Fitzspiers, a brilliant young physician, recently come into the neighborhood, and in so doing she chooses for the worse. The character of Dr. Fitzspiers is summarized in a statement he once made (presumably to a male friend) that 'on one occasion he had noticed himself to be possessed by five distinct infatuations at the same time.'
His flagrant infidelities bring about a temporary separation; Grace is not able to comprehend 'such double and treble-barreled hearts.' When finally they are reunited the life-problem of each still awaits an adequate solution. For the motive which brings the girl back to her husband is only a more complex phase of the same motive which chiefly prompted her to marry him. Hardy says that Fitzspiers as a lover acted upon Grace 'like a dram.' His presence 'threw her into an atmosphere which biased her doings until the influence was over.' Afterward she felt 'something of the nature of regret for the mood she had experienced.'
But this same story contains two other characters who are unmatched in fiction as the incarnation of pure love and self-forgetfulness. Giles Winterbourne, whose devotion to Grace is without wish for happiness which shall not imply a greater happiness for her, dies that no breath of suspicion may fall upon her. He in turn is loved by Marty South with a completeness which destroys all thought of self. She enjoys no measure of reward while Winterbourne lives. He never knows of Marty's love. But in that last fine paragraph of this remarkable book, when the poor girl places the flowers upon his grave she utters a little lament which for beauty, pathos, and realistic simplicity is without parallel in modern fiction. Hardy was never more of an artist than when writing the last chapter of The Woodlanders.
After all, a book in which unselfish love is described in terms at once just and noble cannot be dangerously pessimistic, even if it also takes cognizance of such hopeless cases as a man with a chronic tendency to fluctuations of the heart.
The matter may be put briefly thus: In Hardy's novels one sees the artistic result of an effort to paint life as it is, with much of its joy and a deal of its sorrow, with its good people and its selfish people, its positive characters and its Laodiceans, its men and women who dominate circumstances, and its unhappy ones who are submerged. These books are the record of what a clear-eyed, sane, vigorous, sympathetic, humorous man knows about life; a man too conscious of things as they are to wish grossly to exaggerate or to disguise them; and at the same time so entirely aware how much poetry as well as irony God has mingled in the order of the world as to be incapable of concealing that fact either. He is of such ample intellectual frame that he makes the petty contentions of literary schools appear foolish. I find a measure of Hardy's mind in passages which set forth his conception of the preciousness of life, no matter what the form in which life expresses itself. He is peculiarly tender toward brute creation. In that paragraph which describes Tess discovering the wounded pheasants in the wood, Hardy suggests the thought, quite new to many people, that chivalry is not confined to the relations of man to man or of man to woman. There are still weaker fellow-creatures in Nature's teeming family. What if we are unmannerly or unchivalrous toward them?
He abounds in all manner of pithy sayings, many of them wise, a few of them profound, and not one which is unworthy a second reading. It is to be hoped that he will escape the doubtful honor of being dispersedly set forth in a 'Wit and Wisdom of Thomas Hardy.' Such books are a depressing species of literature and seem chiefly designed to be given away at holiday time to acquaintances who are too important to be put off with Christmas cards, and not important enough to be supplied with gifts of a calculable value.
One must praise the immense spirit and vivacity of scenes where something in the nature of a struggle, a moral duel, goes on. In such passages every power at the writer's command is needed; unerring directness of thought, and words which clothe this thought as an athlete's garments fit the body. Everything must count, and the movement of the narrative must be sustained to the utmost. The chess-playing scene between Elfride and Knight in A Pair of Blue Eyes is an illustration. Sergeant Troy displaying his skill in handling the sword—weaving his spell about Bathsheba in true snake fashion, is another example. Still more brilliant is the gambling scene in The Return of the Native, where Wildeve and Diggory Venn, out on the heath in the night, throw dice by the light of a lantern for Thomasin's money. Venn, the reddleman, in the Mephistophelian garb of his profession, is the incarnation of a good spirit, and wins the guineas from the clutch of the spendthrift husband. The scene is immensely dramatic, with its accompaniments of blackness and silence, Wildeve's haggard face, the circle of ponies, known as heath-croppers, which are attracted by the light, the death's-head moth which extinguishes the candle, and the finish of the game by the light of glow-worms. It is a glorious bit of writing in true bravura style.
His books have a quality which I shall venture to call 'spaciousness,' in the hope that the word conveys the meaning I try to express. It is obvious that there is a difference between books which are large and books which are merely long. The one epithet refers to atmosphere, the other to number of pages. Hardy writes large books. There is room in them for the reader to expand his mind. They are distinctly out-of-door books, 'not smacking of the cloister or the library.' In reading them one has a feeling that the vault of heaven is very high, and that the earth stretches away to interminable distances upon all sides. This quality of largeness is not dependent upon number of pages; nor is length absolute as applied to books. A book may contain one hundred pages and still be ninety-nine pages too long, for the reason that its truth, its lesson, its literary virtue, are not greater than might be expressed in a single page.
Spaciousness is in even less degree dependent upon miles. The narrowness, geographically speaking, of Hardy's range of expression is notable. There is much contrast between him and Stevenson in this respect. The Scotchman has embodied in his fine books the experiences of life in a dozen different quarters of the globe. Hardy, with more robust health, has traveled from Portland to Bath, and from 'Wintoncester' to 'Exonbury,'—journeys hardly more serious than from the blue bed to the brown. And it is better thus. No reader of The Return of the Native would have been content that Eustacia Vye should persuade her husband back to Paris. Rather than the boulevards one prefers Egdon heath, as Hardy paints it, 'the great inviolate place,' the 'untamable Ishmaelitish thing' which its arch-enemy, Civilization, could not subdue.
He is without question one of the best writers of our time, whether for comedy or for tragedy; and for extravaganza, too, as witness his lively farce called The Hand of Ethelberta. He can write dialogue or description. He is so excellent in either that either, as you read it, appears to make for your highest pleasure. If his characters talk, you would gladly have them talk to the end of the book. If he, the author, speaks, you would not wish to interrupt. More than most skillful writers, he preserves that just balance between narrative and colloquy.
His best novels prior to the appearance of Tess, are The Woodlanders, Far from the Madding Crowd, The Return of the Native, and The Mayor of Casterbridge. These four are the bulwarks of his reputation, while a separate and great fame might be based alone on that powerful tragedy called by its author Tess of the D'Urbervilles.
Criticism which glorifies any one book of a given author at the expense of all his other books is profitless, if not dangerous. Moreover, it is dangerous to have a favorite author as well as a favorite book of that favorite author. A man's choice of books, like his choice of friends, is usually inexplicable to everybody but himself. However, the chief object in recommending books is to make converts to the gospel of literature according to the writer of these books. For which legitimate purpose I would recommend to the reader who has hitherto denied himself the pleasure of an acquaintance with Thomas Hardy, the two volumes known as The Woodlanders and The Return of the Native. The first of these is the more genial because it presents a more genial side of Nature. But the other is a noble piece of literary workmanship, a powerful book, ingeniously framed, with every detail strongly realized; a book which is dramatic, humorous, sincere in its pathos, rich in its word-coloring, eloquent in its descriptive passages; a book which embodies so much of life and poetry that one has a feeling of mental exaltation as he reads.
Surely it is not wise in the critical Jeremiahs so despairingly to lift up their voices, and so strenuously to bewail the condition of the literature of the time. The literature of the time is very well, as they would see could they but turn their fascinated gaze from the meretricious and spectacular elements of that literature to the work of Thomas Hardy and George Meredith. With such men among the most influential in modern letters, and with Barrie and Stevenson among the idols of the reading world, it would seem that the office of public Jeremiah should be continued rather from courtesy than from an overwhelming sense of the needs of the hour.
A READING IN THE LETTERS OF JOHN KEATS
One would like to know whether a first reading in the letters of Keats does not generally produce something akin to a severe mental shock. It is a sensation which presently becomes agreeable, being in that respect like a plunge into cold water, but it is undeniably a shock. Most readers of Keats, knowing him, as he should be known, by his poetry, have not the remotest conception of him as he shows himself in his letters. Hence they are unprepared for this splendid exhibition of virile intellectual health. Not that they think of him as morbid,—his poetry surely could not make this impression,—but rather that the popular conception of him is, after all these years, a legendary Keats, the poet who was killed by reviewers, the Keats of Shelley's preface to the Adonais, the Keats whose story is written large in the world's book of Pity and of Death. When the readers are confronted with a fair portrait of the real man, it makes them rub their eyes. Nay, more, it embarrasses them. To find themselves guilty of having pitied one who stood in small need of pity is mortifying. In plain terms, they have systematically bestowed (or have attempted to bestow) alms on a man whose income at its least was bigger than any his patrons could boast. Small wonder that now and then you find a reader, with large capacity for the sentimental, who looks back with terror to his first dip into the letters.
The legendary Keats dies hard; or perhaps we would better say that when he seems to be dying he is simply, in the good old fashion of legends, taking out a new lease of life. For it is as true now as when the sentence was first penned, that 'a mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure.' Among the many readers of good books, there will always be some whose notions of the poetical proprieties suffer greatly by the facts of Keats's history. It is so much pleasanter to them to think that the poet's sensitive spirit was wounded to death by bitter words than to know that he was carried off by pulmonary disease. But when they are tired of reading Endymion, Isabella, and The Eve of St. Agnes in the light of this incorrect conception, let them try a new reading in the light of the letters, and the masculinity of this very robust young maker of poetry will prove refreshing.
The letters are in every respect good reading. Rather than deplore their frankness, as one critic has done, we ought to rejoice in their utter want of affectation, in their boyish honesty. At every turn there is something to amuse or to startle one into thinking. We are carried back in a vivid way to the period of their composition. Not a little of the pulsing life of that time throbs anew, and we catch glimpses of notable figures. Often, the feeling is that we have been called in haste to a window to look at some celebrity passing by, and have arrived just in time to see him turn the corner. What a touch of reality, for example, does one get in reading that 'Wordsworth went rather huff'd out of town'! One is not in the habit of thinking of Wordsworth as capable of being 'huffed,' but the writer of the letters feared that he was. All of Keats's petty anxieties and small doings, as well as his aspirations and his greatest dreams, are set down here in black on white. It is a complete and charming revelation of the man. One learns how he 'went to Hazlitt's lecture on Poetry, and got there just as they were coming out;' how he was insulted at the theatre, and wouldn't tell his brothers; how it vexed him because the Irish servant said that his picture of Shakespeare looked exactly like her father, only 'her father had more color than the engraving;' how he filled in the time while waiting for the stage to start by counting the buns and tarts in a pastry-cook's window, 'and had just begun on the jellies;' how indignant he was at being spoken of as 'quite the little poet;' how he sat in a hatter's shop in the Poultry while Mr. Abbey read him some extracts from Lord Byron's 'last flash poem,' Don Juan; how some beef was carved exactly to suit his appetite, as if he 'had been measured for it;' how he dined with Horace Smith and his brothers and some other young gentlemen of fashion, and thought them all hopelessly affected; in a word, almost anything you want to know about John Keats can be found in these letters. They are of more value than all the 'recollections' of all his friends put together. In their breezy good-nature and cheerfulness they are a fine antidote to the impression one gets of him in Haydon's account, 'lying in a white bed with a book, hectic and on his back, irritable at his weakness and wounded at the way he had been used. He seemed to be going out of life with a contempt for this world, and no hopes of the other. I told him to be calm, but he muttered that if he did not soon get better he would destroy himself.' This is taking Keats at his worst. It is well enough to know that he seemed to Haydon as Haydon has described him, but few men appear to advantage when they are desperately ill. Turn to the letters written during his tour in Scotland, when he walked twenty miles a day, climbed Ben Nevis, so fatigued himself that, as he told Fanny Keats, 'when I am asleep you might sew my nose to my great toe and trundle me around the town, like a Hoop, without waking me. Then I get so hungry a Ham goes but a very little way, and fowls are like Larks to me.... I take a whole string of Pork Sausages down as easily as a Pen'orth of Lady's fingers.' And then he bewails the fact that when he arrives in the Highlands he will have to be contented 'with an acre or two of oaten cake, a hogshead of Milk, and a Cloaths basket of Eggs morning, noon, and night.' Here is the active Keats, of honest mundane tastes and an athletic disposition, who threatens' to cut all sick people if they do not make up their minds to cut Sickness.'
Indeed, the letters are so pleasant and amusing in the way they exhibit minor traits, habits, prejudices, and the like, that it is a temptation to dwell upon these things. How we love a man's weaknesses—if we share them! I do not know that Keats would have given occasion for an anecdote like that told of a certain book-loving actor, whose best friend, when urged to join the chorus of praise that was quite universally sung to this actor's virtues, acquiesced by saying amiably, 'Mr. Blank undoubtedly has genius, but he can't spell;' yet there are comforting evidences that Keats was no servile follower of the 'monster Conventionality' even in his spelling, while in respect to the use of capitals he was a law unto himself. He sprinkled them through his correspondence with a lavish hand, though at times he grew so economical that, as one of his editors remarks, he would spell Romeo with a small r, Irishman with a small i, and God with a small g.
It is also a pleasure to find that, with his other failings, he had a touch of book-madness. There was in him the making of a first-class bibliophile. He speaks with rapture of his black-letter Chaucer, which he proposes to have bound 'in Gothique,' so as to unmodernize as much as possible its outward appearance. But to Keats books were literature or they were not literature, and one cannot think that his affections would twine about ever so bookish a volume which was merely 'curious.'
One reads with sympathetic amusement of Keats's genuine and natural horror of paying the same bill twice, 'there not being a more unpleasant thing in the world (saving a thousand and one others).' The necessity of preserving adequate evidence that a bill had been paid was uppermost in his thought quite frequently; and once when, at Leigh Hunt's instance, sundry packages of papers belonging to that eminently methodical and businesslike man of letters were to be sorted out and in part destroyed, Keats refused to burn any, 'for fear of demolishing receipts.'
But the reader will chance upon few more humorous passages than that in which the poet tells his brother George how he cures himself of the blues, and at the same time spurs his flagging powers of invention: 'Whenever I find myself growing vaporish I rouse myself, wash and put on a clean shirt, brush my hair and clothes, tie my shoe-strings neatly, and, in fact, adonize, as if I were going out—then all clean and comfortable, I sit down to write. This I find the greatest relief.' The virtues of a clean shirt have often been sung, but it remained for Keats to show what a change of linen and a general adonizing could do in the way of furnishing poetic stimulus. This is better than coffee, brandy, absinthe, or falling in love; and it prompts one to think anew that the English poets, taking them as a whole, were a marvelously healthy and sensible breed of men.
It is, however, in respect to the light they throw upon the poet's literary life that the letters are of highest significance. They gratify to a reasonable extent that natural desire we all have to see authorship in the act. The processes by which genius brings things to pass are so mysterious that our curiosity is continually piqued; and our failure to get at the real thing prompts us to be more or less content with mere externals. If we may not hope to see the actual process of making poetry, we may at least study the poet's manuscript. By knowing of his habits of work we flatter ourselves that we are a little nearer the secret of his power.
We must bear in mind that Keats was a boy, always a boy, and that he died before he quite got out of boyhood. To be sure, most boys of twenty-six would resent being described by so juvenile a term. But one must have successfully passed twenty-six without doing anything in particular to understand how exceedingly young twenty-six is. And to have wrought so well in so short a time, Keats must have had from the first a clear and noble conception of the nature of his work, as he must also have displayed extraordinary diligence in the doing of it. Perhaps these points are too obvious, and of a sort which would naturally occur to any one; but it will be none the less interesting to see how the letters bear witness to their truth.
In the first place, Keats was anything but a loafer at literature. He seems never to have dawdled. A fine healthiness is apparent in all allusions to his processes of work. 'I read and write about eight hours a day,' he remarks in a letter to Haydon. Bailey, Keats's Oxford friend, says that the fellow would go to his writing-desk soon after breakfast, and stay there until two or three o'clock in the afternoon. He was then writing Endymion. His stint was about 'fifty lines a day, ... and he wrote with as much regularity, and apparently with as much ease, as he wrote his letters.... Sometimes he fell short of his allotted task, but not often, and he would make it up another day. But he never forced himself.' Bailey quotes, in connection with this, Keats's own remark to the effect that poetry would better not come at all than not to come 'as naturally as the leaves of a tree.' Whether this spontaneity of production was as great as that of some other poets of his time may be questioned; but he would never have deserved Tom Nash's sneer at those writers who can only produce by 'sleeping betwixt every sentence.' Keats had in no small degree the 'fine extemporal vein' with 'invention quicker than his eye.'
We uncritically feel that it could hardly have been otherwise in the case of one with whom poetry was a passion. Keats had an infinite hunger and thirst for good poetry. His poetical life, both in the receptive and productive phases of it, was intense. Poetry was meat and drink to him. He could even urge his friend Reynolds to talk about it to him, much as one might beg a trusted friend to talk about one's lady-love, and with the confidence that only the fitting thing would be spoken. 'Whenever you write, say a word or two on some passage in Shakespeare which may have come rather new to you,'—a sentence which shows his faith in the many-sidedness of the great poetry. Shakespeare was forever 'coming new' to him, and he was 'haunted' by particular passages. He loved to fill the cup of his imagination with the splendors of the best poets until the cup overflowed. 'I find I cannot exist without Poetry,—without eternal Poetry; half the day will not do,—the whole of it; I began with a little, but habit has made me a leviathan.' He tells Leigh Hunt, in a letter written from Margate, that he thought so much about poetry, and 'so long together,' that he could not get to sleep at night. Whether this meant in working out ideas of his own, or living over the thoughts of other poets, is of little importance; the remark shows how deeply the roots of his life were imbedded in poetical soil. He loved a debauch in the verse of masters of his art. He could intoxicate himself with Shakespeare's sonnets. He rioted in 'all their fine things said unconsciously.' We are tempted to say, by just so much as he had large reverence for these men, by just so much he was of them.
Undoubtedly, this ability to be moved by strong imaginative work may be abused until it becomes a maudlin and quite disordered sentiment. Keats was too well balanced to be carried into appreciative excesses. He knew that mere yearning could not make a poet of one any more than mere ambition could. He understood the limits of ambition as a force in literature. Keats's ambition trembled in the presence of Keats's conception of the magnitude of the poetic office. 'I have asked myself so often why I should be a poet more than other men, seeing how great a thing it is.' Yet he had honest confidence. One cannot help liking him for the fine audacity with which he pronounces his own work good,—better even than that of a certain other great name in English literature; one cannot help loving him for the sweet humility with which he accepts the view that, after all, success or failure lies entirely without the range of self-choosing. There is a point of view from which it is folly to hold a poet responsible even for his own poetry, and when Endymion was spoken of as 'slipshod' Keats could reply, 'That it is so is no fault of mine.... The Genius of Poetry must work out its own salvation in a man.... That which is creative must create itself. In Endymion I leaped headlong into the sea, and thereby have become better acquainted with the soundings, the quicksands, and the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shore, and piped a silly pipe, and took tea and comfortable advice. I was never afraid of failure; for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest.'
Well might a man who could write that last sentence look upon poetry not only as a responsible, but as a dangerous pursuit. Men who aspire to be poets are gamblers. In all the lotteries of the literary life none is so uncertain as this. A million chances that you don't win the prize to one chance that you do. It is a curious thing that ever so thoughtful and conscientious an author may not know whether he is making literature or merely writing verse. He conforms to all the canons of taste in his own day; he is devout and reverent; he shuns excesses of diction, and he courts originality; his verse seems to himself and to his unflattering friends instinct with the spirit of his time, but twenty years later it is old-fashioned. Keats, with all his feeling of certainty, stood with head uncovered before that power which gives poetical gifts to one, and withholds them from another. Above all would he avoid self-delusion in these things. 'There is no greater Sin after the seven deadly than to flatter one's self into an idea of being a great Poet.'
Keats, if one may judge from a letter written to John Taylor in February, 1818, had little expectation that his Endymion was going to be met with universal plaudits. He doubtless looked for fair treatment. He probably had no thought of being sneeringly addressed as 'Johnny,' or of getting recommendations to return to his 'plasters, pills, and ointment boxes.' In fact, he looked upon the issue as entirely problematical. He seemed willing to take it for granted that in Endymion he had but moved into the go-cart from the leading-strings. 'If Endymion serves me for a pioneer, perhaps I ought to be content, for thank God I can read and perhaps understand Shakespeare to his depths; and I have, I am sure, many friends who if I fail will attribute any change in my life to humbleness rather than pride,—to a cowering under the wings of great poets rather than to bitterness that I am not appreciated.' And for evidence of any especial bitterness because of the lashing he received one will search the letters in vain. Keats was manly and good-humored, most of his morbidity being referred directly to his ill health. The trouncing he had at the hands of the reviewers was no more violent than the one administered to Tennyson by Professor Wilson. Critics, good and bad, can do much harm. They may terrorize a timid spirit. But a greater terror than the fear of the reviewers hung over the head of John Keats. He stood in awe of his own artistic and poetic sense. He could say with truth that his own domestic criticism had given him pain without comparison beyond what Blackwood or the Quarterly could possibly inflict. If he had had any terrible heart-burning over their malignancy, if he had felt that his life was poisoned, he could hardly have forborne some allusion to it in his letters to his brother, George Keats. But he is almost imperturbable. He talks of the episode freely, says that he has been urged to publish his Pot of Basil as a reply to the reviewers, has no idea that he can be made ridiculous by abuse, notes the futility of attacks of this kind, and then, with a serene conviction that is irresistible, adds, 'I think I shall be among the English Poets after my death!'
Such egoism of genius is magnificent; the more so as it appears in Keats because it runs parallel with deep humility in the presence of the masters of his art. Naturally, the masters who were in their graves were the ones he reverenced the most and read without stint. But it was by no means essential that a poet be a dead poet before Keats did him homage. It is impossible to think that Keats's attitude towards Wordsworth was other than finely appreciative, in spite of the fact that he applauded Reynolds's Peter Bell, and inquired almost petulantly why one should be teased with Wordsworth's 'Matthew with a bough of wilding in his hand.' But it is also impossible that his sense of humor should not have been aroused by much that he found in Wordsworth. It was Wordsworth he meant when he said, 'Every man has his speculations, but every man does not brood and peacock over them till he makes a false coinage and deceives himself,'—a sentence, by the way, quite as unconsciously funny as some of the things he laughed at in the works of his great contemporary.
It will be pertinent to quote here two or three of the good critical words which Keats scattered through his letters. Emphasizing the use of simple means in his art, he says, 'I think that poetry should surprise by a fine excess, and not by singularity; it should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.'
'We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us.... Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one's soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself, but with its subject.' Or as Ruskin has put the thing with respect to painting, 'Entirely first-rate work is so quiet and natural that there can be no dispute over it.'
Keats appears to have been in no sense a hermit. With the exception of Byron, he was perhaps less of a recluse than any of his poetical contemporaries. With respect to society he frequently practiced total abstinence; but the world was amusing, and he liked it. He was fond of the theatre, fond of whist, fond of visiting the studios, fond of going to the houses of his friends. But he would run no risks; he was shy and he was proud. He dreaded contact with the ultra-fashionables. Naturally, his opportunities for such intercourse were limited, but he cheerfully neglected his opportunities. I doubt if he ever bewailed his humble origin; nevertheless, the constitution of English society would hardly admit of his forgetting it. He had that pardonable pride which will not allow a man to place himself among those who, though outwardly fair-spoken, offer the insult of a hostile and patronizing mental attitude.
Most of his friendships were with men, and this is to his credit. The man is spiritually warped who is incapable of a deep and abiding friendship with one of his own sex; and to go a step farther, that man is utterly to be distrusted whose only friends are among women. We may not be prepared to accept the radical position of a certain young thinker, who proclaims, in season, but defiantly, that 'men are the idealists, after all;' yet it is easy to comprehend how one may take this point of view. The friendships of men are a vastly more interesting and poetic study than the friendships of men and women. This is in the nature of the case. It is the usual victory of the normal over the abnormal. As a rule, it is impossible for a friendship to exist between a man and woman, unless the man and woman in question be husband and wife. Then it is as rare as it is beautiful. And with men, the most admirable spectacle is not always that where attendant circumstances prompt to heroic display of friendship, for it is often so much easier to die than to live. But you may see young men pledging their mutual love and support in this difficult and adventurous quest of what is noblest in the art of living. Such love will not urge to a theatrical posing, and it can hardly find expression in words. Words seem to profane it. I do not say that Keats stood in such an ideal relation to any one of his many friends whose names appear in the letters. He gave of himself to them all, and he received much from each. No man of taste and genius could have been other than flattered by the way in which Keats approached him. He was charming in his attitude toward Haydon; and when Haydon proposed sending Keats's sonnet to Wordsworth, the young poet wrote, 'The Idea of your sending it to Wordsworth put me out of breath—you know with what Reverence I would send my well wishes to him.'
But interesting as a chapter on Keats's friendships with men would be, we are bound to confess that in dramatic intensity it would grow pale when laid beside that fiery love passage of his life, his acquaintance with Fanny Brawne. The thirty-nine letters given in the fourth volume of Buxton Forman's edition of Keats's Works tell the story of this affair of a poet's heart. These are the letters which Mr. William Watson says he has never read, and at which no consideration shall ever induce him to look. But Mr. Watson reflects upon people who have been human enough to read them when he compares such a proceeding on his own part (were he able to be guilty of it) to the indelicacy of 'listening at a keyhole or spying over a wall.' This is not a just illustration. The man who takes upon himself the responsibility of being the first to open such intimate letters, and adds thereto the infinitely greater responsibility of publishing them in so attractive a form that he who runs will stop running in order to read,—such an editor will need to satisfy Mr. Watson that in so doing he was not listening at a keyhole or spying over a wall. For the general public, the wall is down, and the door containing the keyhole thrown open. Perhaps our duty is not to look. I, for one, wish that great men would not leave their love letters around. Nay, I wish you a better wish than that: it is that the perfect taste of the gentleman and scholar who gave us in its present form the correspondence of Carlyle and Emerson, the early and later letters of Carlyle, and the letters of Lowell might have control of the private papers of every man of genius whose teachings the world holds dear. He would need for this an indefinite lease upon life; but since I am wishing, let me wish largely. There is need of such wishing. Many editors have been called, and only two or three chosen.
But why one who reads the letters of Keats to Fanny Brawne should have any other feeling than that of pity for a poor fellow who was so desperately in love as to be wretched because of it I do not see. Even a cynic will grant that Keats was not disgraced, since it is very clear that he did not yield readily to what Dr. Holmes calls the great passion. He had a complacent boyish superiority of attitude with respect to all those who are weak enough to love women. 'Nothing,' he says, 'strikes me so forcibly with a sense of the ridiculous as love. A man in love I do think cuts the sorryest figure in the world. Even when I know a poor fool to be really in pain about it I could burst out laughing in his face. His pathetic visage becomes irresistible.' Then he speaks of that dinner party of stutterers and squinters described in the Spectator, and says that it would please him more 'to scrape together a party of lovers.' If this letter be genuine and the date of it correctly given, it was written three months after he had succumbed to the attractions of Fanny Brawne. Perhaps he was trying to brave it out, as one may laugh to conceal embarrassment.
In a much earlier letter than this he hopes he shall never marry, but nevertheless has a good deal to say about a young lady with fine eyes and fine manners and a 'rich Eastern look.' He discovers that he can talk to her without being uncomfortable or ill at ease. 'I am too much occupied in admiring to be awkward or in a tremble.... She kept me awake one night as a tune of Mozart's might do.... I don't cry to take the moon home with me in my pocket, nor do I fret to leave her behind me.' But he was not a little touched, and found it easy to fill two pages on the subject of this dark beauty. She was a friend of the Reynolds family. She crosses the stage of the Keats drama in a very impressive manner, and then disappears.
The most extraordinary passage to be met with in relation to the poet's attitude towards women is in a letter written to Benjamin Bailey in July, 1818. As a partial hint towards its full meaning I would take two phrases in Daniel Deronda. George Eliot says of Gwendolen Harleth that there was 'a certain fierceness of maidenhood in her,' which expression is quoted here only to emphasize the girl's feeling towards men as described a little later, when Rex Gascoigne attempted to tell her his love. Gwendolen repulsed him with a sort of fury that was surprising to herself. The author's interpretative comment is, 'The life of passion had begun negatively in her.'
So one might say of Keats that the life of passion began negatively in him. He was conscious of a hostility of temper towards women. 'I am certain I have not a right feeling toward women—at this moment I am striving to be just to them, but I cannot.' He certainly started with a preposterously high ideal, for he says that when a schoolboy he thought a fair woman a pure goddess. And now he is disappointed at finding women only the equals of men. This disappointment helps to give rise to that antagonism which is almost inexplicable save as George Eliot's phrase throws light upon it. He thinks that he insults women by these perverse feelings of unprovoked hostility. 'Is it not extraordinary,' he exclaims, 'when among men I have no evil thoughts, no malice, no spleen; I feel free to speak or to be silent; ... I am free from all suspicion, and comfortable. When I am among women, I have evil thoughts, malice, spleen; I cannot speak or be silent; I am full of suspicions, and therefore listen to nothing; I am in a hurry to be gone.' He wonders how this trouble is to be cured. He speaks of it as a prejudice produced from 'a gordian complication of feelings, which must take time to unravel.' And then, with a good-humored, characteristic touch, he drops the subject, saying, 'After all, I do think better of women than to suppose they care whether Mister John Keats, five feet high, likes them or not.'
Three or four months after writing these words he must have begun his friendly relations with the Brawne family. This would be in October or November, 1818. Keats's description of Fanny is hardly flattering, and not even vivid. What is one to make of the colorless expression 'a fine style of countenance of the lengthened sort'? But she was fair to him, and any beauty beyond that would have been superfluous. We look at the silhouette and sigh in vain for trace of the loveliness which ensnared Keats. But if our daguerreotypes of forty years ago can so entirely fail of giving one line of that which in its day passed for dazzling beauty, let us not be unreasonable in our demands upon the artistic capabilities of a silhouette. Not infrequently is it true that the style of dress seems to disfigure. But we have learned, in course of experience, that pretty women manage to be pretty, however much fashion, with their cordial help, disguises them.
It is easy to see from the letters that Keats was a difficult lover. Hard to please at the best, his two sicknesses, one of body and one of heart, made him whimsical. Nothing less than a woman of genius could possibly have managed him. He was jealous, perhaps quite unreasonably so. Fanny Brawne was young, a bit coquettish, buoyant, and he misinterpreted her vivacity. She liked what is commonly called 'the world,' and so did he when he was well; but looking through the discolored glass of ill health, all nature was out of harmony. For these reasons it happens that the letters at times come very near to being documents in love-madness. Many a line in them gives sharp pain, as a record of heart-suffering must always do. You may read Richard Steele's love letters for pleasure, and have it. The love letters of Keats scorch and sting; and the worst of it is that you cannot avoid reflecting upon the transitory character of such a passion. Withering young love like this does not last. It may burn itself out, or, what is quite as likely, it may become sober and rational. But in its earlier maddened state it cannot possibly last; a man would die under it. Men as a rule do not so die, for the race of the Azra is nearly extinct.
These Brawne letters, however, are not without their bright side; and it is wonderful to see how Keats's elastic nature would rebound the instant that the pressure of the disease relaxed. He is at times almost gay. The singing of a thrush prompts him to talk in his natural epistolary voice: 'There's the Thrush again—I can't afford it—he'll run me up a pretty Bill for Music—besides he ought to know I deal at Clementi's.' And in the letter which he wrote to Mrs. Brawne from Naples is a touch of the old bantering Keats when he says that 'it's misery to have an intellect in splints.' He was never strong enough to write again to Fanny, or even to read her letters.
I should like to close this reading with a few sentences from a letter written to Reynolds in February, 1818. Keats says: 'I had an idea that a man might pass a very pleasant life in this manner—let him on a certain day read a certain Page of full Poesy or distilled Prose, and let him wander with it, and muse upon it, ... and prophesy upon it, and dream upon it, until it becomes stale—but when will it do so? Never! When Man has arrived at a certain ripeness in intellect any one grand and spiritual passage serves him as a starting post towards all the "two-and-thirty Palaces." How happy is such a voyage of conception, what delicious diligent Indolence!... Nor will this sparing touch of noble Books be any irreverence to their Writers—for perhaps the honors paid by Man to Man are trifles in comparison to the Benefit done by great Works to the Spirit and pulse of good by their mere passive existence.'
May we not say that the final test of great literature is that it be able to be read in the manner here indicated? As Keats read, so did he write. His own work was
'accomplished in repose Too great for haste, too high for rivalry.'
AN ELIZABETHAN NOVELIST
The fathers in English literature were not a little given to writing books which they called 'anatomies.' Thomas Nash, for example, wrote an Anatomy of Absurdities, and Stubbes an Anatomy of Abuses. Greene, the novelist, entitled one of his romances Arbasto, the Anatomy of Fortune. The most famous book which bears a title of this kind is the Anatomy of Melancholy, by Robert Burton. It is notable, first, for its inordinate length; second, for its readableness, considering the length and the depth of it; third, for its prodigal and barbaric display of learning; and last, because it is said to have had the effect of making the most indolent man of letters of the eighteenth century get up betimes in the morning. Why Dr. Johnson needed to get up in order to read the Anatomy of Melancholy will always be an enigma to some. Perhaps he did not get up. Perhaps he merely sat up and reached for the book, which would have been placed conveniently near the bed. For the virtue of the act resided in the circumstance of his being awake and reading a good book two hours ahead of his wonted time for beginning his day. If he colored his remark so as to make us think he got up and dressed before reading, he may be forgiven. It was innocently spoken. Just as a man who lives in one room will somehow involuntarily fall into the habit of speaking of that one room in the plural, so the doctor added a touch which would render him heroic in the eyes of those who knew him. I should like a pictorial book-plate representing Dr. Johnson, in gown and nightcap, sitting up in bed reading the Anatomy of Melancholy, with Hodge, the cat, curled up contentedly at his feet.