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Full text of "The works of Robert Louis Stevenson"

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National Library of Scotland 
*B000297142* 



This Edinburgh Edition consists of 

one thousand and thirty-five copies 

all numbered 






Vol. V. of issue : March 1895 



THE WORKS OF 

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON 

EDINBURGH EDITION 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2010 with funding from 

National Library of Scotland 



http://www.archive.org/details/familiarstudiesOOstev 



THE WORKS OF 

ROBERT LOUIS 
STEVENSON 

MISCELLANIES 

VOLUME II 




EDINBURGH 

PRINTED BY T. AND A. CONSTABLE FOR 

LONGMANS GREEN AND CO : CASSELL AND CO. 

SEELEY AND CO : CHAS. SCRIBNER'S SONS 

AND SOLD BY CHATTO AND WINDUS 

PICCADILLY : LONDON 

1895 






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FAMILIAR 

STUDIES OF 

MEN AND 

BOOKS 



TO 

THOMAS STEVENSON 

CIVIL ENGINEER 

BY WHOSE DEVICES THE GREAT SEA LIGHTS 

IN EVERY QUARTER OF THE WORLD NOW SHINE MORE BRIGHTLY 

THIS VOLUME IS IN LOVE AND GRATITUDE 

DEDICATED BY HIS SON 

THE AUTHOR 



First Collected Edition : Chatto and Windus, 

London, 1882. 
Originally published : 



I. 



Gornhill Magazine, August 1874. 
11. Gornhill Magazine, October 1879. 

III. New Quarterly Magazine, October 1 878. 

IV. Gornhill Magazine, June 1 880. 
V. Gornhill Magazine, March 1 880. 

VI. Gornhill Magazine, August 1877. 

VII. Gornhill Magazine, December 1876. 
VIII. Gornhill Magazine, July 1881. 

IX. Macmillans Magazine, September and 
October 1875. 



CONTENTS 



PAGE 



Preface by way of Criticism . . 1 

I. Victor Hugo's Romances . . .17 

II. Some Aspects of Robert Burns . . 49 

III. Walt Whitman . . . .95 

IV. Henry David Thoreau : His Character 

and Opinions . . . .128 

V. Yoshida-Torajiro . . . .165 

VI. Fran(;;ois Villon, Student, Poet, and 

Housebreaker . . .182 

VII. Charles of Orleans . . . 221 

VIII. Samuel Pepys .... 268 

IX. John Knox and his relations to Women . 300 



PREFACE BY WAY OF CRITICISM 

These studies are collected from the monthly press. One 
appeared in the New Quarterly, one in Macmillati's, and the 
rest in the Cornhill Magazine. To the Cornhill I owe a double 
debt of thanks ; first, that I was received there in the very best 
society, and under the eye of the very best of editors ; and 
second, that the proprietors have allowed me to republish so 
considerable an amount of copy. 

These nine worthies have been brought together from many 
different ages and countries. Not the most erudite of men 
could be perfectly prepared to deal with so many and such 
various sides of human life and manners. To pass a true 
judgment upon Knox and Burns implies a grasp upon the 
very deepest strain of thought in Scotland, — a country far 
more essentially different from England than many parts of 
America ; for, in a sense, the first of these men re-created 
Scotland, and the second is its most essentially national pro- 
duction. To treat fitly of Hugo and Villon would involve yet 
wider knowledge, not only of a country foreign to the author 
by race, history, and religion, but of the growth and liberties of 
art. Of the two Americans, Whitman and Thoreau, each is 
the type of something not so much realised as widely sought 
after among the late generations of their countrymen ; and 
5— A I 



MEN AND BOOKS 

to see them clearly in a nice relation to the society that 
brought them forth, an author would require a large habit 
of life among modern Americans, As for Yoshida, I have 
already disclaimed responsibility ; it was but my hand that 
held the pen. 

In truth, these are but the readings of a literary vagrant. 
One book led to another, one study to another. The first was 
published with trepidation. Since no bones were broken, the 
second was launched with greater confidence. So, by insensible 
degrees, a young man of our generation acquires, in his own 
eyes, a kind of roving judicial commission through the ages ; 
and, having once escaped the perils of the Freemans and the 
Furnivalls, sets himself up to right the wrongs of tmiversal 
history and criticism. Now it is one thing to write with 
enjoyment on a subject while the story is hot in your mind 
from recent reading, coloured with recent prejudice ; and it is 
quite another business to put these writings coldly forth again 
in a bound volume. We are most of us attached to our 
opinions ; that is one of the ' natural affections ' of which we 
hear so much in youth ; but few of us are altogether free from 
paralysing doubts and scruples. For my part, I have a small 
idea of the degree of accuracy possible to man, and I feel sure 
these studies teem with error. One and all were written with 
genuine interest in the subject ; many, however, have been 
conceived and finished with imperfect knowledge ; and all 
have lain, from beginning to end, under the disadvantages 
inherent in this style of writing. 

Of these disadvantages a word must here be said. The 

writer of short studies, having to condense in a few pages 

the events of a whole lifetime, and the effect on his own mind 

of many various volumes, is bound, above all things, to make 

2 



PREFACE 

that condensation logical and striking. For the only justifi- 
cation of his writing at all is that he shall present a brief, 
reasoned, and memorable view. By the necessity of the case, 
all the more neutral circumstances are omitted from his narra- 
tive ; and that of itself, by the negative exaggeration of which 
I have spoken in the text, lends to the matter in hand a certain 
false and specious glitter. By the necessity of the case, again, 
he is forced to view his subject throughout in a particular 
illumination, like a studio artifice. Like Hales with Pepys, he 
must nearly break his sitter''s neck to get the proper shadows 
on the portrait. It is from one side only that he has time to 
represent his subject. The side selected will either be the one 
most striking to himself, or the one most obscured by contro- 
versy ; and in both cases that will be the one most liable to 
strained and sophisticated reading. In a biography, this and 
that is displayed ; the hero is seen at home, playing the flute ; 
the different tendencies of his work come one after another 
into notice ; and thus something like a true general impression 
of the subject may at last be struck. But in the short study, 
the writer, having seized his ' point of view," must keep his eye 
steadily to that. He seeks, perhaps, rather to differentiate 
than truly to characterise. The proportions of the sitter must 
be sacrificed to the proportions of the portrait ; the lights are 
heightened, the shadows overcharged ; the chosen expression, 
continually forced, may degenerate at length into a grimace ; 
and we have at best something of fa caricature, at worst a 
calumny. Hence, if they be readable at all, and hang together 
by their own ends, the peculiar convincing force of these brief 
representations. They take so little a while to read, and yet 
in that little while the subject is so repeatedly introduced in 
the same light and with the same expression, that, by sheer force 

3 



MEN AND BOOKS 

of repetition, that view is imposed upon the reader. The two 
English masters of the style, Macaulay and Carlyle, largely 
exemplify its dangers. Carlyle, indeed, had so much more 
depth and knowledge of the heart, his portraits of mankind are 
felt and rendered with so much more poetic comprehension, 
and he, like his favourite Ram Dass, had a fire in his belly so 
much more hotly burning than the patent reading-lamp by 
which Macaulay studied, that it seems at first sight hardly fair 
to bracket them together. But the ' point of view ' was im- 
posed by Carlyle on the men he judged of in his writings with 
an austerity not only cruel but almost stupid. They are too 
often broken outright on the Procrustean bed ; they are pro- 
bably always disfigured. The rhetorical artifice of Macaulay is 
easily spied ; it will take longer to appreciate the moral bias of 
Carlyle. So with all writers who insist o^ forcing some signi- 
ficance from all that comes before them ; and the writer of 
short studies is bound, by the necessity of the case, to write 
entirely in that spirit. What he cannot vivify he should 
omit. 

Had it been possible to rewrite some of these papers, I hope 
I should have had the courage to attempt it. But it is not 
possible. Short studies are, or should be, things woven like a 
carpet, from which it is impossible to detach a strand. What 
is perverted has its place there for ever, as a part of the tech- 
nical means by which what is right has been presented. It is 
only possible to write another study, and then, with a new 
' point of view,' would follow new perversions and perhaps a 
fresh caricature. Hence it will be at least honest to offer a 
few grains of salt to be taken with the text; and as some 
words of apology, addition, correction, or amplification fall to 
be said on almost every study in the volume, it will be most 

4 



PREFACE 

simple to run them over in their order. But this must not be 
taken as a propitiatory offering to the gods of shipwreck ; I 
trust my cargo unreservedly to the chances of the sea ; and do 
not, by criticising myself, seek to disarm the wrath of other 
and less partial critics. 

HUGO'S ROMANCES. This is an instance of the 'point 
of view.' The five romances studied with a different purpose 
might have given different results, even with a critic so warmly 
interested in their favour. The great contemporary master of 
workmanship, and indeed of all literary arts and technicalities, 
had not unnaturally dazzled a beginner. But it is best to 
dwell on merits, for it is these that are most often over- 
looked. 

BURNS. I have left the introductory sentences on Prin- 
cipal Shairp, partly to explain my own paper, which was 
merely supplemental to his amiable but imperfect book, partly 
because that book appears to me truly misleading both as to 
the character and the genius of Burns. This seems ungracious, 
but Mr. Shairp has himself to blame ; so good a Words- 
worthian was out of character upon that stage. 

This half-apology apart, nothing more falls to be said except 
upon a remark called forth by my study in the columns of a 
literary Review. The exact terms in which that sheet disposed 
of Burns I cannot now recall ; but they were to this effect — 
that Burns was a bad man, the impure vehicle of fine verses ; 
and that this was the view to which all criticism tended. Now 
I knew, for my own part, that it was with the profoundest 
pity, but with a growing esteem, that I studied the man's 
desperate efforts to do right ; and the more I reflected, the 
stranger it appeared to me that any thinking being should feel 
otherwise. The complete letters shed, indeed, a light on the 

5 



MEN AND BOOKS 

depths to which Burns had sunk in his character of Don Juan, 
but they enhance in the same proportion the hopeless nobility 
of his marrying Jean. That I ought to have stated this more 
noisily I now see ; but that any one should fail to see it for 
himself is to me a thing both incomprehensible and worthy of 
open scorn. If Burns, on the facts dealt with in this study, is 
to be called a bad man, I question very much whether either I 
or the writer in the Review have ever encountered what it 
would be fair to call a good one. All have some fault. The 
fault of each grinds down the hearts of those about him, and 
— let us not blink the truth — hurries both him and them into 
the grave. And when we find a man persevering indeed, in his 
fault, as all of us do, and openly overtaken, as not all of us are, 
by its consequences, to gloss the matter over, with too polite 
biographers, is to do the work of the wrecker disfiguring 
beacons on a perilous seaboard ; but to call him bad, with a 
self-righteous chuckle, is to be talking in oner's sleep with 
Heedless and Too-bold in the arbour. 

Yet it is undeniable that much anger and distress is raised 
in many quarters by the least attempt to state plainly what 
every one well knows of Burns's profligacy, and of the fatal 
consequences of his marriage. And for this there are perhaps 
two subsidiary reasons. For, first, there is, in our drunken 
land, a certain privilege extended to drunkenness. In Scot- 
land, in particular, it is almost respectable, above all when 
compared with any ' irregularity between the sexes.' The self- 
ishness of the one, so much more gross in essence, is so much 
less immediately conspicuous in its results, that our demiurgeous 
Mrs. Grundy smiles apologetically on its victims. It is often 
said — I have heard it with these ears — that drunkenness ' may 
lead to vice.' Now I did not think it at all proved that Burns 
6 



PREFACE 

was what is called a drunkard ; and I was obliged to dwell very 
plainly on the irregularity and the too frequent vanity and 
meanness of his relations to women. Hence, in the eyes of 
many, my study was a step towards the demonstration of 
Burns's radical badness. 

But, second, there is a certain class, professors of that low 
morality so greatly more distressing than the better sort of 
vice, to whom you must never represent an act that was 
virtuous in itself as attended by any other consequences than 
a large family and fortune. To hint that Burns's marriage 
had an evil influence is, with this class, to deny the moral law. 
Yet such is the fact. It was bravely done ; but he had pre- 
sumed too far on his strength. One after another the lights of 
his life went out, and he fell from circle to circle to the dis- 
honoured sickbed of the end. And surely, for any one that has 
a thing to call a soul, he shines out tenfold more nobly in the 
failure of that frantic effort to do right, than if he had turned 
on his heel with Worldly Wiseman, married a congenial spouse, 
and lived orderly and died reputably an old man. It is his 
chief title that he refrained from ' the wrong that amendeth 
wrong.' But the common, trashy mind of our generation 
is still aghast, like the Jews of old, at any word of an 
unsuccessful virtue. Job has been written and read ; the 
tower of Siloam fell nineteen hundred years ago ; yet we 
have still to desire a little Christianity, or, failing that, a 
little even of that rude, old Norse nobility of soul, which 
saw virtue and vice alike go unrewarded, and was yet not 
shaken in its faith. 

WALT WHITMAN. This is a case of a second difficulty 
which lies continually before the writer of critical studies : that 
he has to mediate between the author whom he loves and the 

7 



MEN AND BOOKS 

public who are certainly indifferent and frequently averse. 
Many articles had been written on this notable man. One 
after another had leaned, in my eyes, either to praise or blame 
unduly. In the last case, they helped to blindfold our fasti- 
dious public to an inspiring writer ; in the other, by an excess 
of unadulterated praise, they moved the more candid to revolt. 
I was here on the horns of a dilemma; and between these 
horns I squeezed myself, with perhaps some loss to the sub- 
stance of the paper. Seeing so much in Whitman that was 
merely ridictilous, as well as so much more that was unsurpassed 
in force and fitness, — seeing the true prophet doubled, as I 
thought, in places with the Bull in a China Shop, — it appeared 
best to steer a middle course, and to laugh with the scorners 
when I thought they had any excuse, while I made haste to 
rejoice with the rejoicers over what is imperishably good, lovely, 
human, or divine, in his extraordinary poems. That was 
perhaps the right road ; yet I cannot help feeling that in this 
attempt to trim my sails between an author whom I love and 
honour and a public too averse to recognise his merit, I have 
been led into a tone unbecoming from one of my stature to one 
of Whitman's. But the good and the great man will go on 
his way not vexed with my little shafts of merriment. He, first 
of any one, will understand how, in the attempt to explain him 
credibly to Mrs. Grundy, I have been led into certain airs of 
the man of the world, which are merely ridiculous in me, and 
were not intentionally discourteous to himself But there is a 
worse side to the question ; for in my eagerness to be all things 
to all men, I am afraid I may have sinned against proportion. 
It will be enough to say here that Whitman's faults are few and 
unimportant when they are set beside his surprising merits. I 
had written another paper full of gratitude for the help that 



PREFACE 

had been given me in my life, full of enthusiasm for the 
intrinsic merit of the poems, and conceived in the noisiest 
extreme of youthful eloquence. The present study was a 
rifacimento. From it, with the design already mentioned, and 
in a fit of horror at my old excess, the big words and emphatic 
passages were ruthlessly excised. But this sort of prudence is 
frequently its own punishment ; along with the exaggeration, 
some of the truth is sacrificed ; and the result is cold, con- 
strained, and grudging. In short, I might almost everywhere 
have spoken more strongly than I did. 

THOREAU. Here is an admirable instance of the ' point 
of view' forced throughout, and of too earnest reflection on 
imperfect facts. Upon me this pure, narrow, sunnily-ascetic 
Thoreau had exercised a great charm. I have scarce written 
ten sentences since I was introduced to him, but his influence 
might be somewhere detected by a close observer. Still it was 
as a writer that I had made his acquaintance ; I took him on 
his own explicit terms ; and when I learned details of his life, 
they were, by the nature of the case and my own parti pris, 
read even with a certain violence in terms of his writings. 
There could scarce be a perversion more justifiable than that ; 
yet it was still a perversion. The study, indeed, raised so 
much ire in the breast of Dr. Japp (H. A. Page), Thoreau's 
sincere and learned disciple, that had either of us been men, 
I please myself with thinking, of less temper and justice, the 
difference might have made us enemies instead of making us 
friends. To him, who knew the man from the inside, many of 
my statements sounded like inversions made on purpose ; and 
yet when we came to talk of them together, and he had under- 
stood how I was looking at the man through the books, while 
he had long since learned to read the books through the man, 

9 



MEN AND BOOKS 

I believe he understood the spirit in which I had been led 
astray. 

On two most important points, Dr. Japp added to my 
knowledge, and with the same blow fairly demolished that 
part of my criticism. First, if Thoreau were content to dwell 
by Walden Pond, it was not merely with designs of self- 
improvement, but to serve mankind in the highest sense. 
Hither came the fleeing slave ; thence was he despatched along 
the road to freedom. That shanty in the woods was a station 
in the great Underground Railroad ; that adroit and philo- 
sophic solitary was an ardent worker, soul and body, in that so 
much more than honourable movement, which, if atonement 
were possible for nations, should have gone far to wipe away 
the guilt of slavery. But in history sin always meets with 
condign punishment ; the generation passes, the offence re- 
mains, and the innocent must suffer. No underground rail- 
road could atone for slavery, even as no bills in Parliament 
can redeem the ancient wrongs of Ireland. But here at least 
is a new light shed on the Walden episode. 

Second, it appears, and the point is capital, that Thoreau 
was once fairly and manfully in love, and, with perhaps too 
much aping of the angel, relinquished the woman to his 
brother. Even though the brother were like to die of it, we 
have not yet heard the last opinion of the woman. But be 
that as it may, we have here the explanation of the ' rarefied 
and freezing air ' in which I complained that he had taught 
himself to breathe. Reading the man through the books, I 
took his professions in good faith. He made a dupe of me, 
even as he was seeking to make a dupe of himself, wresting 
philosophy to the needs of his own sorrow. But in the light 
of this new fact, those pages, seemingly so cold, are seen to 
lO 



PREFACE 

be alive with feeling. What appeared to be a lack of interest 
in the philosopher turns out to have been a touching in- 
siflcerity of the man to his own heart ; and that fine-spun airy 
theory of friendship, so devoid, as I complained, of any quality 
of flesh and blood, a mere anodyne to lull his pains. The 
most temperate of living critics once marked a passage of my 
own with a cross and the words ' This seems nonsense."* It not 
only seemed ; it was so. It was a private bravado of my own, 
which I had so often repeated to keep up my spirits that I 
had grown at last wholly to believe it, and had ended by 
setting it down as a contribution to the theory of life. So 
with the more icy parts of this philosophy of Thoreau's. He 
was affecting the Spartanism he had not ; and the old senti- 
mental wound still bled afresh, while he deceived himself with 
reasons. 

Thoreau's theory, in short, was one thing and himself 
another : of the first, the reader will find what I believe to be 
a pretty faithful statement and a fairly just criticism in the 
study ; of the second he will find but a contorted shadow. So 
much of the man as fitted nicely with his doctrines, in the 
photographer's phrase, came out. But that large part which 
lay outside and beyond, for which he had found or sought no 
formula, on which perhaps his philosophy even looked askance, 
is wanting in my study, as it was wanting in the guide I 
followed. In some ways a less serious writer, in all ways a 
nobler man, the true Thoreau still remains to be depicted. 

VILLON. I am tempted to regret that I ever wrote on this 
subject, not merely because the paper strikes me as too pictur- 
esque by half, but because I regarded Villon as a bad fellow. 
Others still think well of him, and can find beautiful and 
human traits where I saw nothing but artistic evil ; and by 

II 



MEN AND BOOKS 

the principle of the art, those should have written of the man, 
and not I, Where you see no good, silence is the best. 
Though this penitence comes too late, it may be well, at least, 
to give it expression. 

The spirit of Villon is still living in the literature of France. 
Fat Peg is oddly of a piece with the work of Zola, the Gon- 
courts, and the infinitely greater Flaubert ; and, while similar 
in ugliness, still surpasses them in native power. The old 
author, breaking with an eclat de voice out of his tongue-tied 
century, has not yet been touched on his own ground, and 
still gives us the most vivid and shocking impression of reality. 
Even if that were not worth doing at all, it would be worth 
doing as well as he has done it ; for the pleasure we take in 
the author*'s skill repays us, or at least reconciles us to the 
baseness of his attitude. Fat Peg (La Grosse Margot) is 
typical of much ; it is a piece of experience that has nowhere 
else been rendered into literature ; and a kind of gratitude for 
the author*'s plainness mingles, as we read, with the nausea 
proper to the business. I shall quote here a verse of an old 
students*' song worth laying side by side with Villon's startling 
ballade. This singer, also, had an unworthy mistress, but he 
did not choose to share the wages of dishonour ; and it is thus, 
with both wit and pathos, that he laments her fall : — 

Nunc plango florem 

iEtatis tenerae 
Nitidiorem 

Veneris sidere : 
Tunc columbinam 

Mentis dulcedinem. 
Nunc serpentinam 

Amaritudinem. 

12 



PREFACE 

Verbo rogantes 

Removes ostio, 
Munera dantes 
Foves cubic ulo, 

lUos abire praecipis 
A quibus nihil accipis, 
Caecos claudosque recipis, 
Viros illustres decipis 
Cum melle venenosa.^ 

But our illustrious writer of ballades it was unnecessary to 
deceive ; it was the flight of beauty alone, not that of honesty 
or honour, that he lamented in his song ; and the nameless 
mediaeval vagabond has the best of the comparison. 

There is now a Villon Society in England ; and Mr. John 
Payne has translated him entirely into English, a task of 
unusual difficulty. I regret to find that Mr. Payne and I 
are not always at one as to the author's meaning ; in such 
cases I am bound to suppose that he is in the right, although 
the weakness of the flesh withholds me from anything beyond 
a formal submission. He is now upon a larger venture, pro- 
mising us at last that complete Arabian Nights to which we 
have all so long looked forward. 

CHARLES OF ORLEANS. Perhaps I have done scanty 
justice to the charm of the old Duke's verses, and certainly he 
is too much treated as a fool. The period is not sufficiently 
remembered. What that period was, to what a blank of 
imbecility the human mind had fallen, can only be known to 
those who have waded in the chronicles. Excepting Comines 
and La Salle and Villon, I have read no author who did not 
appal me by his torpor ; and even the trial of Joan of Arc, 

^ Gaudeamus : Carmina vagorum selecta. Leipsic : Triibnerj 1879. 

13 



MEN AND BOOKS 

conducted as it was by chosen clerks, bears witness to a dreary, 
sterile folly, — a twilight of the mind peopled with childish 
phantoms. In relation to his contemporaries, Charles seems 
quite a lively character. 

It remains for me to acknowledge the kindness of Mr. Henry 
Pyne, who, immediately on the appearance of the study, sent 
me his edition of the Debate between the Heralds : a cou^-tesy 
from the expert to the amateur only too uncommon in these 
days. 

KNOX. Knox, the second in order of interest among the 
reformers, lies dead and buried in the works of the learned 
and unreadable M'Crie. It remains for some one to break 
the tomb and bring him forth, alive again and breathing, in 
a human book. With the best intentions in the world, I 
have only added two more flagstones, ponderous like their 
predecessors, to the mass of obstruction that buries the re- 
former from the world ; I have touched him in my turn with 
that ' mace of death,"* which Carlyle has attributed to Dryas- 
dust ; and my two dull papers are, in the matter of dulness, 
worthy additions to the labours of M'Crie. Yet I believe 
they are worth reprinting in the interest of the next bio- 
grapher of Knox. I trust his book may be a masterpiece; 
and I indulge the hope that my two studies may lend him a 
hint or perhaps spare him a delay in its composition. 

Of the PEPYS I can say nothing ; for it has been too re- 
cently through my hands ; and I still retain some of the heat 
of composition. Yet it may serve as a text for the last remark 
I have to offer. To Pepys I think I have been amply just; 
to the others, to Burns, Thoreau, Whitman, Charles of Orleans, 
even Villon, I have found myself in the retrospect ever too 
grudging of praise, ever too disrespectful in manner. It is 

14 



PREFACE 

not easy to see why I should have been most liberal to the 
man of least pretensions. Perhaps some cowardice withheld 
me from the proper warmth of tone ; perhaps it is easier to 
be just to those nearer us in rank and mind. Such at least is 
the fact, which other critics may explain. For these were all 
men whom, for one reason or another, I loved ; or when I 
did not love the men, my love was the greater to their books. 
I had read them and lived with them ; for months they were 
continually in my thoughts; I seemed to rejoice in their joys 
and to sorrow with them in their griefs ; and behold, when I 
came to write of them, my tongue was sometimes hardly 
courteous and seldom wholly j ust. 

R. L. S. 



15 



VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES 

Apres le roman pittoresque mais prosaique de Walter Scott il restera 
un auti'e roman a creer^ plus beau et plus complet encore selon nous. 
C'est le roman^ a la fois drame et epopee, pittoresque mais poetique, reel 
mais ideal, vrai mais grand, qui enchassera Walter Scott dans Homere. 
— Victor Hugo on Quentin Durward, 

Victor Hugo's romances occupy an important 
position in the history of literature ; many innova- 
tions, timidly made elsewhere, have in them been 
carried boldly out to their last consequences ; much 
that was indefinite in literar)- tendencies has attained 
to definite maturity ; many things have come to a 
point and been distinguished one from the other; 
and it is only in the last romance of all, Quatre- 
vingt-treize, that this culmination is most perfect. 
This is in the nature of things. Men who are in any 
way typical of a stage of progress may be compared 
more justly to the hand upon the dial of the clock, 
which continues to advance as it indicates, than to 
the stationary milestone, which is only the measure 
of what is past. The movement is not arrested. 
That significant something by which the work of 
such a man differs from that of his predecessors 
5— B 17 



MEN AND BOOKS 

goes on disengaging itself and becoming more and 
more articulate and cognisable. The same principle 
of growth that carried his first book beyond the 
books of previous writers carries his last book be- 
yond his first. And just as the most imbecile pro- 
duction of any literary age gives us sometimes the 
very clue to comprehension we have sought long and 
vainly in contemporary masterpieces, so it may be 
the very weakest of an author's books that, coming 
in the sequel of many others, enables us at last to 
get hold of what underlies the whole of them — of 
that spinal marrow of significance that unites the 
work of his life into something organic and rational. 
This is what has been done by Quatrevingt-treize 
for the earlier romances of Victor Hugo, and, through 
them, for a whole division of modern literature. We 
have here the legitimate continuation of a long and 
living literary tradition ; and hence, so far, its ex- 
planation. When many hues diverge from each 
other in direction so slightly as to confuse the eye, 
we know that we have only to produce them to 
make the chaos plain : this is continually so in 
literary history; and we shall best understand the 
importance of Victor Hugo's romances if we think 
of them as some such prolongation of one of the 
main lines of literary tendency. 

When we compare the novels of Walter Scott 

with those of the man of genius who preceded him, 

and whom he dehghted to honour as a master in the 

art — I mean Henry Fielding — we shall be somewhat 

i8 



VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES 

puzzled, at the first moment, to state the difference 
that there is between these two. Fielding has as 
much human science ; has a far firmer hold upon the 
tiller of his story ; has a keen sense of character, 
which he draws (and Scott often does so too) in a 
rather abstract and academical manner ; and finally, 
is quite as humorous and quite as good-humoured as 
the great Scotsman. With all these points of resem- 
blance between the men, it is astonishing that their 
work should be so different. The fact is, that the 
Enghsh novel was looking one way and seeking one 
set of effects in the hands of Fielding ; and in the 
hands of Scott it was looking eagerly in all ways and 
searching for all the effects that by any possibility 
it could utilise. The difference between these two 
men marks a great enfranchisement. With Scott 
the Romantic movement, the movement of an ex- 
tended curiosity and an enfranchised imagination, has 
begun. This is a trite thing to say ; but trite things 
are often very indefinitely comprehended : and this 
enfranchisement, in as far as it regards the technical 
change that came over modern prose romance, has 
never perhaps been explained with any clearness. 

To do so, it will be necessary roughly to compare 
the two sets of conventions upon which plays and 
romances are respectively based. The purposes of 
these two arts are so much alike, and they deal so 
much with the same passions and interests, that we 
are apt to forget the fundamental opposition of 
their methods. And yet such a fundamental opposi- 
tion exists. In the drama the action is developed in 

19 



MEN AND BOOKS 

great measure by means of things that remain out- 
side of the art ; by means of real things, that is, and 
not artistic conventions for things. This is a sort of 
realism that is not to be confounded with that realism 
in painting of which we hear so much. The realism 
in painting is a thing of purposes ; this, that we have 
to indicate in the drama, is an affair of method. 

We have heard a story, indeed, of a painter in 
France who, when he wanted to paint a sea-beach, 
carried realism from his ends to his means, and 
plastered real sand upon his canvas ; and that is 
precisely what is done in the drama. The dramatic 
author has to paint his beaches with real sand : real 
live men and women move about the stage ; we hear 
real voices ; what is feigned merely puts a sense upon 
what is ; we do actually see a woman go behind a 
screen as Lady Teazle, and, after a certain interval, 
we do actually see her very shamefully produced 
again. Now all these things, that remain as they 
were in life, and are not transmuted into any artistic 
convention, are terribly stubborn and difficult to deal 
with ; and hence there are for the dramatist many 
resultant limitations in time and space. These Mmi- 
tations in some sort approximate towards those of 
painting : the dramatic author is tied down, not 
indeed to a moment, but to the duration of each 
scene or act ; he is confined to the stage almost as 
the painter is confined within his frame. But the 
great restriction is this, that a dramatic author must 
deal with his actors, and with his actors alone. 
Certain moments of suspense, certain significant dis- 

20 



VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES 

positions of personages, a certain logical growth of 
emotion, — these are the only means at the disposal of 
the playwright. It is true that, with the assistance 
of the scene-painter, the costumier and the conductor 
of the orchestra, he may add to this something of 
pageant, something of sound and fury ; but these 
are, for the dramatic writer, beside the mark, and do 
not come under the vivifying touch of his genius. 

When we turn to romance, we find this no longer. 
Here nothing is reproduced to our senses directly. 
Not only the main conception of the work, but the 
scenery, the appliances, the mechanism by which 
this conception is brought home to us, have been 
put through the crucible of another man's mind, and 
come out again, one and all, in the form of written 
words. With the loss of every degree of such 
realism as we have described, there is for art a clear 
gain of liberty and largeness of competence. Thus 
painting, in which the round outlines of things are 
thrown on to a flat board, is far more free than 
sculpture, in which their solidity is preserved. It is 
by giving up these identities that art gains true 
strength. And so in the case of novels as compared 
with the stage. Continuous narration is the flat 
board on to which the novelist throws everything. 
And from this there results for him a great loss of 
vividness, but a great compensating gain in his 
power over the subject ; so that he can now sub- 
ordinate one thing to another in importance, and 
introduce all manner of very subtle detail, to a 
degree that was before impossible. He can render 

21 



MEN AND BOOKS 

just as easily the flourish of trumpets before a vic- 
torious emperor and the gossip of country market 
women, the gradual decay of forty years of a man's 
life and the gesture of a passionate moment. He 
finds himself equally unable, if he looks at it from 
one point of view — equally able, if he looks at it 
from another point of view — to reproduce a colour, 
a sound, an outline, a logical argument, a physical 
action. He can show his readers, behind and around 
the personages that for the moment occupy the fore- 
ground of his story, the continual suggestion of the 
landscape ; the turn of the weather that will turn 
with it men's lives and fortunes, dimly foreshadowed 
on the horizon ; the fatality of distant events, the 
stream of national tendency, the salient framework 
of causation. And all this thrown upon the flat 
board — all this entering, naturally and smoothly, 
into the texture of continuous intelligent narration. 

This touches the difference between Fielding and 
Scott. In the work of the latter, true to his char- 
acter of a modern and a romantic, we become 
suddenly conscious of the background. Fielding, on 
the other hand, although he had recognised that the 
novel was nothing else than an epic in prose, wrote 
in the spirit, not of the epic, but of the drama. This 
is not, of course, to say that the drama was in any 
way incapable of a regeneration similar in kind to 
that of which I am now speaking with regard to the 
novel. The notorious contrary fact is sufficient to 
guard the reader against such a misconstruction. 
All that is meant is, that Fielding remained ignorant 

22 



VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES 

of certain capabilities which the novel possesses over 
the drama ; or, at least, neglected and did not de- 
velop them. To the end he continued to see things 
as a playwright sees them. The world with which 
he dealt, the world he had reahsed for himself and 
sought to realise and set before his readers, was a 
world of exclusively human interest. As for land- 
scape, he was content to underline stage-directions, 
as it might be done in a play-book : Tom and Molly 
retire into a practicable wood. As for nationality 
and pubUc sentiment, it is curious enough to think 
that Tovi Jones is laid in the year forty-five, and 
that the only use he makes of the rebellion is to 
throw a troop of soldiers into his hero's way. It is 
most really important, however, to remark the 
change which has been introduced into the concep- 
tion of character by the beginning of the romantic 
movement and the consequent introduction into 
fiction of a vast amount of new material. Fielding 
tells us as much as he thought necessary to account 
for the actions of his creatures ; he thought that each 
of these actions could be decomposed on the spot 
into a few simple personal elements, as we decompose 
a force in a question of abstract dynamics. The 
larger motives are all unknown to him ; he had not 
understood that the nature of the landscape or the 
spirit of the times could be for anything in a story ; 
and so, naturally and rightly, he said nothing about 
them. But Scott's instinct, the instinct of the man 
of an age profoundly different, taught him other- 
wise; and, in his work, the individual characters 

23 



MEN AND BOOKS 

begin to occupy a comparatively small proportion of 
that canvas on which armies manoeuvre, and great 
hills pile themselves upon each other's shoulders. 
Fielding's characters were always great to the full 
stature of a perfectly arbitrary will. Already in 
Scott we begin to have a sense of the subtle influ- 
ences that moderate and qualify a man's personality ; 
that personality is no longer thrown out in unnatural 
isolation, but is resumed into its place in the con- 
stitution of things. 

It is this change in the manner of regarding men 
and their actions first exhibited in romance, that 
has since renewed and vivified history. For art 
precedes philosophy, and even science. People must 
have noticed things and interested themselves in 
them before they begin to debate upon their causes 
or influence. And it is in this way that art is the 
pioneer of knowledge ; those predilections of the 
artist he knows not why, those irrational accepta- 
tions and recognitions, reclaim, out of the world that 
we have not yet realised, ever another and another 
corner ; and after the facts have been thus vividly 
brought before us and have had time to settle and 
arrange themselves in our minds, some day there will 
be found the man of science to stand up and give the 
explanation. Scott took an interest in many things 
in which Fielding took none ; and for this reason, 
and no other, he introduced them into his romances. 
If he had been told what would be the nature of the 
movement that he was so lightly initiating, he would 
have been very incredulous and not a Httle scandalised. 
24 



VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES 

At the time when he wrote, the real drift of this 
new manner of pleasing people in fiction was not yet 
apparent ; and, even now, it is only by looking at 
the romances of Victor Hugo that we are enabled to 
form any proper judgment in the matter. These 
books are not only descended by ordinary generation 
from the Waverley Novels, but it is in them chiefly 
that we shall find the revolutionary tradition of Scott 
carried further ; that we shall find Scott himself, in 
so far as regards his conception of prose fiction and 
its purposes, surpassed in his own spirit, instead of 
tamely followed. We have here, as I said before, a 
line of Hterary tendency produced, and by this pro- 
duction definitely separated from others. When we 
come to Hugo, we see that the deviation, which 
seemed slight enough and not very serious between 
Scott and Fielding, is indeed such a great gulf in 
thought and sentiment as only successive genera- 
tions can pass over : and it is but natural that one of 
the chief advances that Hugo has made upon Scott 
is an advance in self- consciousness. Both men follow 
the same road ; but where the one went blindly and 
carelessly, the other advances with all deliberation 
and forethought. There never was artist much more 
unconscious than Scott ; and there have been not 
many more conscious than Hugo. The passage at 
the head of these pages shows how organically he 
had understood the nature of his own changes. He 
has, underlying each of the five great romances 
(which alone I purpose here to examine), two de- 
liberate designs : one artistic, the other consciously 

25 



MEN AND BOOKS 

ethical and intellectual. This is a man living in a 
different world from Scott, who professes sturdily 
(in one of his introductions) that he does not believe 
in novels having any moral influence at all ; but still 
Huffo is too much of an artist to let himself be 

o 

hampered by his dogmas ; and the truth is that the 
artistic result seems, in at least one great instance, to 
have very little connection with the other, or directly 
ethical result. 

The artistic result of a romance, what is left upon 
the memory by any really powerful and artistic novel, 
is something so complicated and refined that it is 
difficult to put a name upon it ; and yet something 
as simple as nature. These two propositions may 
seem mutually destructive, but they are so only in 
appearance. The fact is, that art is working far 
ahead of language as well as of science, reahsing for 
us, by all manner of suggestions and exaggerations, 
effects for which as yet we have no direct name ; 
nay, for which we may never perhaps have a direct 
name, for the reason that these effects do not enter 
very largely into the necessities of life. Hence alone 
is that suspicion of vagueness that often hangs about 
the purpose of a romance : it is clear enough to us in 
thought ; but we are not used to consider anything 
clear until we are able to formulate it in words, and 
analytical language has not been sufficiently shaped 
to that end. We all know this difficulty in the case 
of a picture, simple and strong as may be the impres- 
sion that it has left with us ; and it is only because 
language is the medium of romance that we are 
26 



VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES 

prevented from seeing that the two cases are the 
same. It is not that there is anything bkirred or 
indefinite in the impression left with us, it is just 
because the impression is so very definite after its 
own kind, that we find it hard to fit it exactly with 
the expressions of our philosophical speech. 

It is this idea which underlies and issues from a 
romance, this something which it is the function of 
that form of art to create, this epical value, that I 
propose chiefly to seek and, as far as may be, to 
throw into relief, in the present study. It is thus, 
I beheve, that we shall see most clearly the great 
stride that Hugo has taken beyond his predecessors, 
and how, no longer content with expressing more or 
less abstract relations of man to man, he has set 
before himself the task of reahsing, in the language 
of romance, much of the involution of our compli- 
cated lives. 

if 

This epical value is not to be found, let it be 
understood, in every so-called novel. The great 
majority are not works of art in anything but a very 
secondary signification. One might almost number 
on one's fingers the works in which such a supreme 
artistic intention has been in any way superior to the 
other and lesser aims, themselves more or less artistic, 
that generally go hand in hand with it in the concep- 
tion of prose romance. The purely critical spirit is, 
in most novels, paramount. At the present moment 
we can recall one man only, for whose works it 
would have been equally possible to accomplish 6ur 
present design : and that man is Hawthorne. There 

27 



MEN AND BOOKS 

is a unity, an unwavering creative purpose, about 
some at least of Hawthorne's romances, that impresses 
itself on the most indifferent reader ; and the very 
restrictions and weaknesses of the man served 
perhaps to strengthen the vivid and single impres- 
sion of his works. There is nothing of this kind in 
Hugo : unity, if he attains to it, is indeed unity out 
of multitude ; and it is the wonderful power of sub- 
ordination and synthesis thus displayed that gives 
us the measure of his talent. No amount of mere 
discussion and statement, such as this, could give a 
just conception of the greatness of this power. It 
must be felt in the books themselves, and all that 
can be done in the present essay is to recall to the 
reader the more general features of each of the five 
great romances, hurriedly and imperfectly, as space 
will permit, and rather as a suggestion than any- 
thing more complete. 

The moral end that the author had before him in 
the conception of Notre Dame de Paris was (he tells 
us) to ' denounce ' the external fatality that hangs 
over men in the form of foolish and inflexible super- 
stition. To speak plainly, this moral purpose seems 
to have mighty little to do with the artistic concep- 
tion ; moreover, it is very questionably handled, 
while the artistic conception is developed with the 
most consummate success. Old Paris lives for us 
with newness of life : we have ever before our eyes 
the city cut into three by the two arms of the river, 
the boat-shaped island * moored ' by five bridges to 
28 



VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES 

the different shores, and the two unequal towns on 
either hand. We forget all that enumeration of 
palaces and churches and convents which occupies 
so many pages of admirable description, and the 
thoughtless reader might be inclined to conclude 
from this that they were pages thrown away; but 
this is not so ; we forget, indeed, the details, as we 
forget or do not see the different layers of paint on a 
completed picture ; but the thing desired has been 
accomphshed, and we carry away with us a sense of 
the ' Gothic profile ' of the city, of the ' surprising 
forest of pinnacles and towers and belfries,' and we 
know not what of rich and intricate and quaint. 
And throughout, Notre Dame has been held up over 
Paris by a height far greater than that of its twin 
towers : the Cathedral is present to us from the first 
page to the last ; the title has given us the clue, and 
already in the Palace of Justice the story begins to 
attach itself to that central building by character 
after character. It is purely an effect of mirage ; 
Notre Dame does not, in reality, thus dominate and 
stand out above the city ; and any one who should 
visit it, in the spirit of the Scott-tourists to Edin- 
burgh or the Trossachs, would be almost offended at 
finding nothing more than this old church thrust 
away into a corner. It is purely an effect of mirage, 
as we say ; but it is an effect that permeates and 
possesses the whole book with astonishing consist- 
ency and strength. And then, Hugo has peopled 
this Gothic city, and, above all, this Gothic church, 
with a race of men even more distinctly Gothic 

29 



MEN AND BOOKS 

than their surroundings. We know this generation 
already : we have seen them clustered about the 
worn capitals of pillars, or craning forth over the 
church-leads with the open mouths of gargoyles. 
About them all there is that sort of stiff quaint 
unreality, that conjunction of the grotesque, and 
even of a certain bourgeois smugness, with passionate 
contortion and horror, that is so characteristic of 
Gothic art. Esmeralda is somewhat an exception ; 
she and the goat traverse the story like two children 
who have wandered in a dream. The finest moment 
of the book is when these two share with the two 
other leading characters, Dom Claude and Quasi- 
modo, the chill shelter of the old cathedral. It is 
here that we touch most intimately the generative 
artistic idea of the romance : are they not all four 
taken out of some quaint moulding illustrative of 
the Beatitudes, or the Ten Commandments, or the 
seven deadly sins? What is Quasimodo but an 
animated gargoyle? What is the whole book but 
the re-animation of Gothic art ? 

It is curious that in this, the earliest of the five 
gre^t romances, there should be so httle of that 
extravagance that latterly we have come almost to 
identify with the author's manner. Yet even here 
we are distressed by words, thoughts, and incidents 
that defy belief and alienate the sympathies. The 
scene of the in pace, for example, in spite of its 
strength, verges dangerously on the province of the 
penny novelist. I do not beUeve that Quasimodo 
rode upon the bell ; I should as soon imagine that 
30 



VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES 

he swung by the clapper. And again the following 
two sentences, out of an otherwise admirable chapter, 
surely surpass what it has ever entered into the 
heart of any other man to imagine (vol. ii. p. 180) : 
* II soufFrait tant que par instants il s'arrachait des 
poignees de cheveux, pour voir s'lls ne hlancliissaient 
pas.' And, p. 181: ' Ses pens^es etaient si insup- 
portables qu'il prenait sa tete a deux mains et tachait 
de I'arracher de ses epaules pour la briser sur le 
pave.' 

One other fault, before we pass on. In spite of 
the horror and misery that pervade all of his later 
work, there is in it much less of actual melodrama 
than here, and rarely, I should say never, that sort 
of brutality, that useless insufferable violence to the 
feelings, which is the last distinction between melo- 
drama and true tragedy. Now, in Notre Davie, the 
whole story of Esmeralda's passion for the worthless 
archer is unpleasant enough ; but when she betrays 
herself in her last hiding-place, herself and her 
wretched mother, by caUing out to this sordid hero 
who has long since forgotten her — well, that is just 
one of those things that readers will not forgive ; 
they do not like it, and they are quite right ; life 
is hard enough for poor mortals without having it 
indefinitely embittered for them by bad art. 

We look in vain for any similar blemish in Les 
Miserables. Here, on the other hand, there is per- 
haps the nearest approach to literary restraint that 
Hugo has ever made : there is here certainly the 

31 



MEN AND BOOKS 

ripest and most easy development of his powers. It 
is the moral intention of this great novel to awaken 
us a little, if it may be — for such awakenings are 
unpleasant — to the great cost of the society that 
we enjoy and profit by, to the labour and sweat of 
those who support the litter, civilisation, in which 
we ourselves are so smoothly carried forward. People 
are all glad to shut their eyes ; and it gives them a 
very simple pleasure when they can forget that our 
laws commit a million individual injustices, to be 
once roughly just in the general ; that the bread 
that we eat, and the quiet of the family, and all 
that embellishes life and makes it worth having, 
have to be purchased by death — by the deaths of 
animals, and the deaths of men wearied out with 
labour, and the deaths of those criminals called 
tyrants and revolutionaries, and the deaths of those 
revolutionaries called criminals. It is to something 
of all this that Victor Hugo wishes to open men's 
eyes in Les Miserables; and this moral lesson is 
worked out in masterly coincidence with the artistic 
effect. The deadly weight of civilisation to those 
who are below presses sensibly on our shoulders as 
we read. A sort of mocking indignation grows upon 
us as we find Society rejecting, again and again, 
the services of the most serviceable; setting Jean 
Valjean to pick oakum, casting GaHleo into prison, 
even crucifying Christ. There is a haunting and 
horrible sense of insecurity about the book. The 
terror we thus feel is a terror for the machinery of 
law, that we can hear tearing, in the dark, good and 
32 



VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES 

bad between its formidable wheels with the iron 
stolidity of all machinery, human or divine. This 
terror incarnates itself sometimes and leaps horribly 
out upon us; as when the crouching mendicant looks 
up, and Jean Valjean, in the light of the street-lamp, 
recognises the face of the detective ; as when the 
lantern of the patrol flashes suddenly through the 
darkness of the sewer ; or as when the fugitive comes 
forth at last at evening, by the quiet river-side, and 
finds the police there also, waiting stolidly for vice 
and stolidly satisfied to take virtue instead. The 
whole book is full of oppression, and full of preju- 
dice, which is the great cause of oppression. We 
have the prejudices of M. Gillenormand, the pre- 
judices of Marius, the prejudices in revolt that 
defend the barricade, and the throned prejudices 
that carry it by storm. And then we have the 
admirable but ill-written character of Javert, the 
man who had made a religion of the police, and 
would not survive the moment when he learned 
that there was another truth outside the truth of 
laws ; a just creation, over which the reader will do 
well to ponder. 

With so gloomy a design this great work is still 
full of life and light and love. The portrait of the 
good Bishop is one of the most agreeable things in 
modern literature. The whole scene at Montfermeil 
is full of the charm that Hugo knows so well how to 
throw about children. Who can forget the passage 
where Cosette, sent out at night to draw water, 
stands in admiration before the illuminated booth, 
5-c 33 



MEN AND BOOKS 

and the huckster behind ' lui faisait un peu Veffet 
d'etre le Fere eternel ' ? The pathos of the forlorn 
sabot laid trustingly by the chimney in expectation 
of the Santa Claus that was not, takes us fairly by 
the throat; there is nothing in Shakespeare that 
touches the heart more nearly. The loves of Cosette 
and Marius are very pure and pleasant, and vv^e 
cannot refuse our affection to Gavroche, although 
we may make a mental reservation of our profound 
disbelief in his existence. Take it for all in all, 
there are few books in the world that can be com- 
pared with it. There is as much calm and serenity 
as Hugo has ever attained to ; the melodramatic 
coarsenesses that disfigured Notre Dame are no 
longer present. There is certainly much that is 
painfully improbable ; and again, the story itself is a 
little too well constructed; it produces on us the 
effect of a puzzle, and we grow incredulous as we 
find that every character fits again and again into 
the plot, and is, like the child's cube, serviceable on 
six faces ; things are not so well arranged in life as 
all that comes to. Some of the digressions, also, 
seem out of place, and do nothing but interrupt and 
irritate. But when all is said, the book remains of 
masterly conception and of masterly development, 
full of pathos, full of truth, full of a high eloquence. 

Superstition and social exigency having been thus 
dealt with in the first two members of the series, it 
remained for Les Travailleurs de la Mer to show 
man hand to hand with the elements, the last form 

34 



VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES 

of external force that is brought against him. And 
here once more the artistic effect and the moral 
lesson are worked out together, and are, indeed, one. 
Gilliat, alone upon the reef at his herculean task, 
offers a type of human industry in the midst of the 
vague 'diffusion of forces into the inimitable,' and 
the visionary development of ' wasted labour ' in the 
sea, and the winds, and the clouds. No character 
was ever thrown into such strange relief as Gilliat. 
The great circle of sea-birds that come wonderingly 
around him on the night of his arrival, strikes at 
once the note of his pre-eminence and isolation. 
He fills the whole reef with his indefatigable toil ; 
this solitary spot in the ocean rings with the clamour 
of his anvil ; we see him as he comes and goes, 
thrown out sharply against the clear background of 
the sea. And yet his isolation is not to be compared 
with the isolation of Robinson Crusoe, for example ; 
indeed, no two books could be more instructive to 
set side by side than Les Travailleurs and this other 
of the old days before art had learnt to occupy 
itself with what lies outside of human will. Crusoe 
was one sole centre of interest in the midst of a 
nature utterly dead and utterly unrealised by the 
artist ; but this is not how we feel with Gilliat ; we 
feel that he is opposed by a 'dark coalition of forces,' 
that an ' immense animosity ' surrounds him ; we are 
the witnesses of the terrible warfare that he wages 
with 'the silent inclemency of phenomena going 
their own way^ and the great general law, implacable 
and passive : ' ' a conspiracy of the indifferency of 

35 



MEN AND BOOKS 

things ' is against him. There is not one interest on 
the reef, but two. Just as we recognise Gilhat for 
the hero, we recognise, as impUed by this indif- 
ferency of things, this direction of forces to some 
purpose outside our purposes, yet another character 
who may almost take rank as the villain of the 
novel, and the two face up to one another blow for 
blow, feint for feint, until, in the storm, they fight 
it epically out, and Gilliat remains the victor ; — a 
victor, however, who has still to encounter the octo- 
pus. I need say nothing of the gruesome, repulsive 
excellence of that famous scene ; it will be enough 
to remind the reader that Gilliat is in pursuit of a 
crab when he is himself assaulted by the devil-fish, 
and that this, in its way, is the last touch to the 
inner significance of the book ; here, indeed, is the 
true position of man in the universe. 

But in Les Travailleurs, with all its strength, with 
all its eloquence, with all the beauty and fitness of 
its main situations, we cannot conceal from ourselves 
that there is a thread of something that will not 
bear calm scrutiny. There is much that is dis- 
quieting about the storm, admirably as it begins. I 
am very doubtful whether it would be possible to 
keep the boat from foundering in such circumstances 
by any amount of breakwater and broken rock. I 
do not understand the way in which the waves are 
spoken of, and prefer just to take it as a loose way 
of speaking, and pass on. And lastly, how does it 
happen that the sea was quite calm next day ? Is 
this great hurricane a piece of scene-painting after 
36 



VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES 

all ? And when we have forgiven Gilliat's prodigies 
of strength (although, in soberness, he reminds us 
more of Porthos in the Vicomte de Bragelonne than 
is quite desirable), what is to be said to his suicide, 
and how are we to condemn in adequate terms that 
unprincipled avidity after effect, which tells us that 
the sloop disappeared over the horizon, and the head 
under the water, at one and the same moment? 
Monsieur Hugo may say what he will, but we know 
better ; we know very well that they did not ; a 
thing like that raises up a despairing spirit of oppo- 
sition in a man's readers ; they give him the lie 
fiercely, as they read. Lastly, we have here already 
some beginning of that curious series of English 
blunders, that makes us wonder if there are neither 
proof-sheets nor judicious friends in the whole of 
France, and affects us sometimes with a sickening 
uneasiness as to what may be our own exploits when 
we touch upon foreign countries and foreign tongues. 
It is here that we shall find the famous 'first of 
the fourth,' and many English words that may be 
comprehensible perhaps in Paris. It is here that 
we learn that ' laird ' in Scotland is the same title as 
' lord ' in England. Here also is an account of a 
Highland soldier's equipment, which we recommend 
to the lovers of genuine fun. 

In UHomme qui Rit, it was Hugo's object to 
' denounce ' (as he would say himself) the aristocratic 
principle as it was exhibited in England; and this 
purpose, somewhat more unmitigatedly satiric than 

Z7 



MEN AND BOOKS 

that of the two last, must answer for much that is 
unpleasant in the book. The repulsiveness of the 
scheme of the story, and the manner in which it is 
bound up with impossibilities and absurdities, dis- 
courage the reader at the outset, and it needs an 
effort to take it as seriously as it deserves. And 
yet when we judge it deliberately, it will be seen 
that, here again, the story is admirably adapted to 
the moral. The constructive ingenuity exhibited 
throughout is almost morbid. Nothing could be 
more happily imagined, as a reductio ad absurdum 
of the aristocratic principle, than the adventures of 
Gwynplaine, the itinerant mountebank, snatched 
suddenly out of his little way of hfe, and installed 
vnthout preparation as one of the hereditary legis- 
lators of a great country. It is with a very bitter 
irony that the paper, on which all this depends, is 
left to float for years at the will of wind and tide. 
What, again, can be finer in conception than that 
voice from the people heard suddenly in the House 
of Lords, in solemn arraignment of the pleasures 
and privileges of its splendid occupants? The 
horrible laughter, stamped for ever ' by order of the 
king' upon the face of this strange spokesman of 
democracy, adds yet another feature of justice to the 
scene ; in all time, travesty has been the argument 
of oppression ; and, in all time, the oppressed might 
have made this answer : ' If I am vile, is it not your 
system that has made me so ? ' This ghastly laughter 
gives occasion, moreover, for the one strain of ten- 
derness running through the web of this unpleasant 



VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES 

story : the love of the blind girl Dea for the mon- 
ster. It is a most benignant providence that thus 
harmoniously brings together these two misfortunes ; 
it is one of those compensations, one of those after- 
thoughts of a relenting destiny, that reconcile us 
from time to time to the evil that is in the world ; 
the atmosphere of the book is purified by the pre- 
sence of this pathetic love ; it seems to be above the 
story somehow, and not of it, as the full moon over 
the night of some foul and feverish city. 

There is here a quality in the narration more 
intimate and particular than is general with Hugo ; 
but it must be owned, on the other hand, that the 
book is wordy, and even, now and then, a little 
wearisome. Ursus and his wolf are pleasant enough 
companions ; but the former is nearly as much an 
abstract type as the latter. There is a beginning, 
also, of an abuse of conventional conversation, such 
as may be quite pardonable in the drama where 
needs must, but is without excuse in the romance. 
Lastly, I suppose one must say a word or two about 
the weak points of this not immaculate novel ; and 
if so, it will be best to distinguish at once. The 
large family of English blunders, to which we have 
alluded already in speaking of Les Travailleurs, are 
of a sort that is really indifferent in art. If Shake- 
speare makes his ships cast anchor by some sea-port 
of Bohemia, if Hugo imagines Tom-Jim-Jack to be 
a likely nickname for an English sailor, or if either 
Shakespeare or Hugo, or Scott, for that matter, be 
guilty of ' figments enough to confuse the march of 

39 



MEN AND BOOKS 

a whole history — anachronisms enough to overset all 
chronology,'^ the life of their creations, the artistic 
truth and accuracy of their work, is not so much as 
compromised. But when we come upon a passage 
like the sinking of the Our que in this romance, we 
can do nothing but cover our face with our hands : 
the conscientious reader feels a sort of disgrace in 
the very reading. For such artistic falsehoods, 
springing from what I have called already an un- 
principled avidity after effect, no amount of blame 
can be exaggerated ; and above all, when the 
criminal is such a man as Victor Hugo. We cannot 
forgive in him what we might have passed over in a 
third-rate sensation novehst. Little as he seems to 
know of the sea and nautical affairs, he must have 
known very well that vessels do not go down as he 
makes the Ourque go down ; he must have known 
that such a liberty with fact was against the laws 
of the game, and incompatible with all appearance of 
sincerity in conception or workmanship. 

In each of these books, one after another, there 
has been some departure from the traditional canons 
of romance ; but taking each separately," one would 
have feared to make too much of these departures, 
or to found any theory upon what was perhaps 
purely accidental. The appearance of Quatrevingt- 
treize has put us out of the region of such doubt. 
Like a doctor who has long been hesitating how to 
classify an epidemic malady, we have come at last 

^ Prefatory letter to Peveril of the Peak. 
40 



VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES 

upon a case so well marked that our uncertainty is 
at an end. It is a novel built upon 'a sort of 
enigma,' which was at that date laid before revolu- 
tionary France, and which is presented by Hugo to 
Tellmarch, to Lantenac, to Gauvain, and very terribly 
to Cimourdain, each of whom gives his own solution 
of the question, clement or stern, according to the 
temper of his spirit. That enigma was this : ' Can 
a good action be a bad action ? Does not he who 
spares the wolf kill the sheep ? ' This question, as I 
say, meets with one answer after another during the 
course of the book, and yet seems to remain unde- 
cided to the end. And something in the same way, 
although one character, or one set of characters, 
after another comes to the front and occupies our 
attention for the moment, we never identify our 
interest with any of these temporary heroes, nor 
regret them after they are withdrawn. We soon 
come to regard them somewhat as special cases of a 
general law ; what we really care for is something 
that they only imply and body forth to us. We 
know how history continues through century after 
century ; how this king or that patriot disappears 
from its pages with his whole generation, and yet 
we do not cease to read, nor do we even feel as if we 
had reached any legitimate conclusion, because our 
interest is not in the men, but in the country that 
they loved or hated, benefited or injured. And so 
it is here : Gauvain and Cimourdain pass away, and 
we regard them no more than the lost armies of 
which we find the cold statistics in military annals ; 

41 



MEN AND BOOKS 

what we regard is what remains behind ; it is the 
principle that put these men where they were, that 
filled them for a while with heroic inspiration, and 
has the power, now that they are fallen, to inspire 
others with the same courage. The interest of the 
novel centres about revolutionary France: just as 
the plot is an abstract judicial difficulty, the hero is 
an abstract historical force. And this has been done, 
not as it would have been before, by the cold and 
cumbersome machinery of allegory, but with bold, 
straightforward realism, dealing only with the objec- 
tive materials of art, and dealing with them so master- 
fully that the palest abstractions of thought come be- 
fore us, and move our hopes and fears, as if they were 
the young men and maidens of customary romance. 

The episode of the mother and children in Qitatre- 
vingt-treize is equal to anything that Hugo has 
ever written. There is one chapter in the second 
volume, for instance, called 'Seingueri, coeur saignant,'' 
that is full of the very stuff of true tragedy, and 
nothing could be more delightful than the humours 
of the three children on the day before the assault. 
The passage on La Vendee is really great, and the 
scenes in Paris have much of the same broad merit. 
The book is full, as usual, of pregnant and splendid 
sayings. But when thus much is conceded by way of 
praise, we come to the other scale of the balance, and 
find this, also, somewhat heavy. There is here a yet 
greater over-employment of conventional dialogue 
than in L' Homme qui Rit ; and much that should 
have been said by the author himself, if it were to be 
42 



VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES 

said at all, he has most unwarrantably put into the 
mouths of one or other of his characters. We should 
like to know what becomes of the main body of the 
troop in the wood of La Saudraie during the thirty 
pages or so in which the fore-guard lays aside all 
discipline, and stops to gossip over a woman and 
some children. We have an unpleasant idea forced 
upon us at one place, in spite of all the good-natured 
incredulity that we can summon up to resist it. Is 
it possible that Monsieur Hugo thinks they ceased 
to steer the corvette while the gun was loose ? Of 
the chapter in which Lantenac and Halmalho are 
alone together in the boat, the less said the better ; 
of course, if there were nothing else, they would 
have been swamped thirty times over during the 
course of Lantenac's harangue. Again, after Lan- 
tenac has landed, we have scenes of almost inimitable 
workmanship that suggest the epithet ' statuesque ' 
by their clear and trenchant outhne ; but the tocsin 
scene will not do, and the tocsin unfortunately per- 
vades the whole passage, ringing continually in our 
ears with a taunting accusation of falsehood. And 
then, when we come to the place v/here Lantenac 
meets the royalists, under the idea that he is going 
to meet the repubhcans, it seems as if there were a 
hitch in the stage mechanism. I have tried it over 
in every way, and I cannot conceive any disposition 
that would make the scene possible as narrated. 

Such then, with their faults and their signal 
excellences, are the five great novels. 

43 



MEN AND BOOKS 

Romance is a language in which many persons 
learn to speak with a certain appearance of fluency ; 
but there are few who can ever bend it to any 
practical need, few who can ever be said to express 
themselves in it. It has become abundantly plain in 
the foregoing examination that Victor Hugo occupies 
a high place among those few. He has always a 
perfect command over his stories ; and we see that 
they are constructed with a high regard to some 
ulterior purpose, and that every situation is informed 
with moral significance and grandeur. Of no other 
man can the same thing be said in the same degree. 
His romances are not to be confused with ' the novel 
with a purpose ' as familiar to the English reader : 
this is generally the model of incompetence ; and we 
see the moral clumsily forced into every hole and 
corner of the story, or thrown externally over it like 
a carpet over a railing. Now the moral significance, 
with Hugo, is of the essence of the romance ; it is 
the organising principle. If you could somehow 
despoil Les Miserables or Les Travailleurs of their 
distinctive lesson, you would find that the story had 
lost its interest and the book was dead. 

Having thus learned to subordinate his story to 
an idea, to make his art speak, he went on to teach 
it to say things heretofore unaccustomed. If you 
look back at the five books of which we have now so 
hastily spoken, you will be astonished at the freedom 
with which the original purposes of story-telling 
have been laid aside and passed by. Where are 
now the two lovers who descended the main water- 

44 



VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES 

shed of all the Waverley Novels, and all the novels 
that have tried to follow in their wake ? Sometimes 
they are almost lost sight of before the solemn 
isolation of a man against the sea and sky, as in 
Les Travailleurs ; sometimes, as in Les Miser ahles, 
they merely figure for a while, as a beautiful episode 
in the epic of oppression ; sometimes they are entirely 
absent, as in Quatrevingt-treize. There is no hero 
in Notre Dame : in Les MisSrables it is an old man : 
in L' Homme qui Bit it is a monster : in Quatrevingt- 
treize it is the Revolution. Those elements that 
only began to show themselves timidly, as adjuncts, 
in the novels of Walter Scott, have usurped ever 
more and more of the canvas ; until we find the 
whole interest of one of Hugo's romances centring 
around matter that Fielding would have banished 
from his altogether, as being out of the field of fic- 
tion. So we have elemental forces occupying nearly 
as large a place, playing (so to speak) nearly as im- 
portant a role, as the man, Gilliat, who opposes and 
overcomes them. So we find the fortunes of a 
nation put upon the stage with as much vividness 
as ever before the fortunes of a village maiden or a 
lost heir ; and the forces that oppose and corrupt 
a principle holding the attention quite as strongly as 
the wicked barons or dishonest attorneys of the past. 
Hence those individual interests that were supreme 
in Fielding, and even in Scott stood out over every- 
thing else, and formed as it were the spine of the 
story, figure here only as one set of interests among 
many sets, one force among many forces, one thing 

45 



MEN AND BOOKS 

to be treated out of a whole world of things 
equally vivid and important. So that, for Hugo, 
man is no longer an isolated spirit without antece- 
dent or relation here below, but a being involved in 
the action and reaction of natural forces, himself a 
centre of such action and reaction ; or an unit 
in a great multitude, chased hither and thither by 
epidemic terrors and aspirations, and, in all serious- 
ness, blown about by every wind of doctrine. This 
is a long way that we have travelled ; between such 
work and the work of Fielding is there not, indeed, 
a great gulf of thought and sentiment ? 

Art, thus conceived, realises for men a larger 
portion of life, and that portion one that it is more 
difficult for them to realise unaided ; and, besides 
helping them to feel more intensely those restricted 
personal interests which are patent to all, it awakes 
in them some consciousness of those more general 
relations that are so strangely invisible to the average 
man in ordinary moods. It helps to keep man in 
his place in nature, and, above all, it helps him to 
understand more intelligently the responsibilities of 
his place in society. And in all this generalisation 
of interest we never miss those small humanities 
that are at the opposite pole of excellence in art ; 
and while we admire the intellect that could see 
life thus largely, we are touched with another senti- 
ment for the tender heart that shpped the piece of 
gold into Cosette's sabot, that was virginally troubled 
at the fluttering of her dress in the spring wind, or 
put the blind girl beside the deformity of the laugh- 
46 



VICTOR HUGO'S ROMANCES 

ing man. This, then, is the last praise that we can 
award to these romances. The author has shown 
a power of just subordination hitherto unequalled ; 
and as, in reaching forward to one class of effects, 
he has not been forgetful or careless of the other, 
his work is more nearly complete work, and his art, 
with all its imperfections, deals more comprehensively 
with the materials of Hfe, than that of any of his 
otherwise more sure and masterly predecessors. 

These five books would have made a very great 
fame for any writer, and yet they are but one fa9ade 
of the monument that Victor Hugo has erected to 
his genius. Everywhere we find somewhat the same 
greatness, somewhat the same infirmities. In his 
poems and plays there are the same unaccountable 
protervities that have already astonished us in the 
romances. There, too, is the same feverish strength, 
welding the fiery iron of his idea under forge-hammer 
repetitions — an emphasis that is somehow akin to 
weakness — a strength that is a little epileptic. He 
stands so far above all his contemporaries, and so 
incomparably excels them in richness, breadth, 
variety, and moral earnestness, that we almost feel 
as if he had a sort of right to fall oftener and more 
heavily than others ; but this does not reconcile us 
to seeing him profit by the privilege so freely. We 
like to have, in our great men, something that is 
above question ; we like to place an implicit faith in 
them, and see them always on the platform of their 
greatness ; and this, unhappily, cannot be with 
Hugo. As Heine said long ago, his is a genius 

47 



MEN AND BOOKS 

somewhat deformed ; but, deformed as it is, we 
accept it gladly ; we shall have the wisdom to see 
where his foot slips, but we shall have the justice 
also to recognise in him one of the greatest artists 
of our generation, and, in many ways, one of the 
greatest artists of time. If we look back, yet once, 
upon these five romances, we see blemishes such 
as we can lay to the charge of no other man in the 
number of the famous ; but to what other man can 
we attribute such sweeping innovations, such a new 
and significant presentment of the life of man, such 
an amount, if we merely think of the amount, of 
equally consummate performance ? 



48 



II 

SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

To write with authority about another man we 
must have fellow-feehng and some common ground 
of experience with our subject. We may praise or 
blame according as we find him related to us by 
the best or worst in ourselves ; but it is only in 
virtue of some relationship that we can be his 
judges, even to condemn Feelings which we share 
and understand enter for us into the tissue of the 
man's character ; those to which we are strangers 
in our own experience we are inclined to regard as 
blots, exceptions, inconsistencies, and excursions of 
the diabolic ; we conceive them with repugnance, 
explain them with difficulty, and raise our hands 
to heaven in wonder when we find them in con- 
junction with talents that we respect or virtues that 
we admire. David, king of Israel, would pass a 
sounder judgment on a man than either Nathanael 
or David Hume. Now, Principal Shairp's recent 
volume, although I beheve no one will read it with- 
out respect and interest, has this one capital defect — 
that there is imperfect sympathy between the author 
5—1^ 49 



MEN AND BOOKS 

and the subject, between the critic and the person- 
ality under criticism. Hence an inorganic, if not 
an incoherent, presentation of both the poems and 
the man. Of Holy Willies Prayer, Principal 
Shairp remarks that ' those who have loved most 
what was best in Burns's poetry must have regretted 
that it was ever written.' To the Jolly Beggars, so 
far as my memory serves me, he refers but once ; 
and then only to remark on the ' strange, not to 
say painful,' circumstance that the same hand which 
wrote the Cotters Saturday Night should have 
stooped to write the Jolly Beggars. The Saturday 
Night may or may not be an admirable poem ; but 
its significance is trebled, and the power and range 
of the poet first appears, when it is set beside the 
Jolly Beggars. To take a man's work piecemeal, 
except with the design of elegant extracts, is the 
way to avoid, and not to perform, the critic's duty. 
The same defect is displayed in the treatment of 
Burns as a man, which is broken, apologetical, and 
confused. The man here presented to us is not 
that Burns, teres atque rotundus — a burly figure in 
literature, as, from our present vantage of time, we 
have begun to see him. This, on the other hand, 
is Burns as he may have appeared to a contemporary 
clergyman, whom we shall conceive to have been a 
kind and indulgent but orderly and orthodox person, 
anxious to be pleased, but too often hurt and dis- 
appointed by the behaviour of his red-hot protege, 
and solacing himself with the explanation that the 
poet was ' the most inconsistent of men.' If you 
50 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

are so sensibly pained by the misconduct of your 
subject, and so paternally delighted with his virtues, 
you will always be an excellent gentleman, but a 
somewhat questionable biographer. Indeed, we can 
only be sorry and surprised that Principal Shairp 
should have chosen a theme so uncongenial. When 
we find a man writing on Burns, who Hkes neither 
Holy Willie, nor the Beggars, nor the Ordination, 
nothing is adequate to the situation but the old cry of 
Geronte : ' Que diable allait-il faire dans cette galere ? ' 
And every merit we find in the book, which is sober 
and candid in a degree unusual with biographies of 
Burns, only leads us to regret more heartily that good 
work should be so greatly thrown away. 

It is far from my intention to tell over again a 
story that has been so often told ; but there are 
certainly some points in the character of Burns that 
will bear to be brought out, and some chapters in 
his life that demand a brief rehearsal. The unity 
of the man's nature, for all its richness, has fallen 
somewhat out of sight in the pressure of new in- 
formation and the apologetical ceremony of bio- 
graphers. Mr. Carlyle made an inimitable bust of 
the poet's head of gold ; may I not be forgiven if 
my business should have more to do with the feet, 
which were of clay ? 

YOUTH 

Any view of Burns would be misleading which 
passed over in silence the influences of his home and 

51 



MEN AND BOOKS 

his father. That father, Wilham Burnes, after having 
been for many years a gardener, took a farm, married, 
and, like an emigrant in a new country, built him- 
self a house with his own hands. Poverty of the 
most distressing sort, with sometimes the near 
prospect of a gaol, embittered the remainder of his 
life. Chill, backward, and austere with strangers, 
grave and imperious in his family, he was yet a man 
of very unusual parts and of an affectionate nature. 
On his way through life he had remarked much 
upon other men, with more result in theory than 
practice ; and he had reflected upon many subjects 
as he delved the garden. His great delight was in 
solid conversation ; he would leave his work to talk 
with the schoolmaster Murdoch ; and Robert, when 
he came home late at night, not only turned aside 
rebuke but kept his father two hours beside the 
fire by the charm of his merry and vigorous talk. 

Nothing is more characteristic of the class in 
general, and William Burnes in particular, than the 
pains he took to get proper schooling for his boys, 
and, when that was no longer possible, the sense and 
resolution with which he set himself to supply the 
deficiency by his own influence. For many years he 
was their chief companion ; he spoke with them 
seriously on all subjects as if they had been grown 
men ; at night, when work was over, he taught them 
arithmetic ; he borrowed books for them on history, 
science, and theology ; and he felt it his duty to 
supplement this last — the trait is laughably Scottish 
— by a dialogue of his own composition, where his 
52 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

own private shade of orthodoxy was exactly re- 
presented. He would go to his daughter as she 
stayed afield herding cattle, to teach her the names 
of grasses and wild-flowers, or to sit by her side 
when it thundered. Distance to strangers, deep 
family tenderness, love of knowledge, a narrow, 
precise, and formal reading of theology — everything 
we learn of him hangs well together, and builds up 
a popular Scottish type. If I mention the name of 
Andrew Fairservice, it is only as I might couple 
for an instant Dugald Dalgetty with old Marshal 
Loudon, to help out the reader's comprehension by 
a popular but unworthy instance of a class. 

Such was the influence of this good and wise man 
that his household became a school to itself, and 
neighbours who came into the farm at meal-time 
would find the whole family, father, brothers, and 
sisters, helping themselves with one hand and holding 
a book in the other. We are surprised at the prose 
style of Robert ; that of Gilbert need surprise us no 
less ; even William writes a remarkable letter for a 
young man of such slender opportunities. One 
anecdote marks the taste of the family. Murdoch 
brought Titus Androriicus, and, with such dominie 
elocution as we may suppose, began to read it aloud 
before this rustic audience ; but when he had reached 
the passage where Tamora insults Lavinia, with one 
voice and ' in an agony of distress ' they refused to 
hear it to an end. In such a father, and with such a 
home, Robert had already the making of an excellent 
education ; and what Murdoch added, although it 

53 



MEN AND BOOKS 

may not have been much in amount, was in 
character the very essence of a hterary training. 
Schools and colleges, for one great man whom they 
complete, perhaps unmake a dozen ; the strong spirit 
can do well upon more scanty fare. 

Robert steps before us, almost from the first, in 
his complete character — a proud, headstrong, im- 
petuous lad, greedy of pleasure, greedy of notice ; in 
his own phrase ' panting after distinction,' and in 
his brother's 'cherishing a particular jealousy of 
people who were richer or of more consequence than 
himself ; ' with all this, he was emphatically of the 
artist nature. Already he made a conspicuous figure 
in Tarbolton church, with the only tied hair in the 
parish, ' and his plaid, which was of a particular 
colour, wrapped in a particular manner round his 
shoulders.' Ten years later, when a married man, 
the father of a family, a farmer, and an officer of 
Excise, we shall find him out fishing in masquerade, 
with fox-skin cap, belted greatcoat, and great High- 
land broadsword. He liked dressing up, in fact, for 
its own sake. This is the spirit which leads to the 
extravagant array of Latin Quarter students, and 
the proverbial velveteen of the English landscape- 
painter ; and, though the pleasure derived is in 
itself merely personal, it shows a man who is, to 
say the least of it, not pained by general attention 
and remark. His father wrote the family name 
Burnes', Robert early adopted the orthography 
Burness from his cousin in the Mearns ; and in 
his twenty- eighth year changed it once more to 
54 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

Burns. It is plain that the last transformation was 
not made without some qualm ; for in addressing his 
cousin he adheres, in at least one more letter, to 
spelling number two. And this, again, shows a man 
pre-occupied about the manner of his appearance 
even down to the name, and little willing to follow 
custom. Again, he was proud, and justly proud, of 
his powers in conversation. To no other man's have 
we the same conclusive testimony from different 
sources and from every rank of life. It is almost a 
commonplace that the best of his works was what 
he said in talk. Robertson the historian * scarcely 
ever met any man whose conversation displayed 
greater vigour;' the Duchess of Gordon declared 
that he ' carried her off her feet ; ' and, when he 
came late to an inn, the servants would get out of 
bed to hear him talk. But, in these early days at 
least, he was determined to shine by any means. 
He made himself feared in the village for his tongue. 
He would crush weaker men to their faces, or even 
perhaps — for the statement of Sillar is not absolute 
— say cutting things of his acquaintances behind 
their back. At the church door, between sermons, 
he would parade his religious views amid hisses. 
These details stamp the man. He had no genteel 
timidities in the conduct of his life. He loved to 
force his personality upon the world. He would 
please himself, and shine. Had he lived in the 
Paris of 1830, and joined his lot with the Roman- 
tics, we can conceive him writing Jehan for Jean, 
swaggering in Gautier's red waistcoat, and horrify- 

55 



MEN AND BOOKS 

ing Bourgeois in a public cafe with paradox and 
gasconade. 

A leading trait throughout his whole career was 
his desire to be in love. Ne fait pas ce tour qui 
veut. His affections were often enough touched, 
but perhaps never engaged. He was all his hfe on 
a voyage of discovery, but it does not appear con- 
clusively that he ever touched the happy isle. A 
man brings to love a deal of ready-made sentiment, 
and even from childhood obscurely prognosticates 
the symptoms of this vital malady. Burns was 
formed for love ; he had passion, tenderness, and a 
singular bent in the direction ; he could foresee, with 
the intuition of an artist, what love ought to be ; 
and he could not conceive a worthy life without it. 
But he had ill-fortune, and was besides so greedy 
after every shadow of the true divinity, and so much 
the slave of a strong temperament, that perhaps his 
nerve was relaxed and his heart had lost the power 
of self-devotion before an opportunity occurred. 
The circumstances of his youth doubtless counted 
for something in the result. For the lads of Ayr- 
shire, as soon as the day's work was over and the 
beasts were stabled, would take the road, it might 
be in a winter tempest, and travel perhaps miles by 
moss and moorland to spend an hour or two in 
courtship. Rule 10 of the Bachelors' Club at 
Tarbolton provides that ' every man proper for a 
member of this Society must be a professed lover of 
one or more of the female sex.' The rich, as Burns 
himself points out, may have a choice of pleasurable 
56 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

occupations, but these lads had nothing but their 
' cannie hour at e'en.' It was upon love and flirta- 
tion that this rustic society was built ; gallantry was 
the essence of life among the Ayrshire hills as well 
as in the Court of Versailles ; and the days were 
distinguished from each other by love-letters, meet- 
ings, tiffs, reconciliations, and expansions to the 
chosen confidant, as in a comedy of Marivaux. 

Here was a field for a man of Burns's indiscriminate 
personal ambition, where he might pursue his voyage 
of discovery in quest of true love, and enjoy tem- 
porary triumphs by the way. He was ' constantly 
the victim of somelfair enslaver' — at least, when it 
was not the other way about ; and there were often 
underplots and secondary fair enslavers in the back- 
ground. Many — or may we not say most ? — of these 
affairs were entirely artificial. One, he tells us, he 
began out of ' a vanity of showing his parts in court- 
ship,' for he piqued himself on his ability at a love- 
letter. But, however they began, these flames of 
his were fanned into a passion ere the end ; and he 
stands unsurpassed in his power of self-deception, 
and positively without a competitor in the art, to 
use his own words, of ' battering himself into a 
warm affection,' — a debilitating and futile exercise. 
Once he had worked himself into the vein, ' the 
agitations of his mind and body ' were an astonish- 
ment to all who knew him. Such a course as this, 
however pleasant to a thirsty vanity, was lowering 
to his nature. He sank more and more towards the 
professional Don Juan. With a leer of what the 

57 



MEN AND BOOKS 

French call fatuity, he bids the belles of Mauchline 
beware of his seductions ; and the same cheap self- 
satisfaction finds a yet uglier vent when he plumes 
himself on the scandal at the birth of his first 
bastard. We can well believe what we hear of his 
facility in striking up an acquaintance with women : 
he woidd have conqviering manners ; he would bear 
down upon his rustic game with the grace that comes 
of absolute assurance — the Richelieu of Lochlea or 
Mossgiel. In yet another manner did these quaint 
ways of courtship help him into fame. If he were 
great as principal, he was unrivalled as confidant. 
He could enter into a passion ; he could counsel 
wary moves, being, in his own phrase, so old a 
hawk ; nay, he could turn a letter for some unlucky 
swain, or even string a few lines of verse that should 
clinch the business and fetch the hesitating fair 
one to the ground. Nor, perhaps, was it only 
his ' curiosity, zeal, and intrepid dexterity ' that 
recommended him for a second in such affairs ; it 
must have been a distinction to have the assistance 
and advice of Rah the Ranter ; and one who was 
in no way formidable by himself might grow danger- 
ous and attractive through the fame of his associate. 
I think we can conceive him, in these early years, 
in that rough moorland country, poor among the 
poor with his seven pounds a year, looked upon 
with doubt by respectable elders, but for all that 
the best talker, the best letter- writer, the most 
famous lover and confidant, the laureate poet, and 
the only man who wore his hair tied in the parish. 
58 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

He says he had then as high a notion of himself 
as ever after ; and I can well believe it. Among 
the youth he walked facile princeps, an apparent 
god ; and even if, from time to time, the Reverend 
Mr. Auld should swoop upon him with the thunders 
of the Church, and, in company with seven others, 
Rab the Ranter must figure some fine Sunday on 
the stool of repentance, would there not be a sort 
of glory, an infernal apotheosis, in so conspicuous 
a shame ? Was not Richelieu in disgrace more 
idolised than ever by the dames of Paris ? and 
when was the highwayman most acclaimed but 
on his way to Tyburn ? Or, to take a simile from 
nearer home, and still more exactly to the point, 
what could even corporal punishment avail, adminis- 
tered by a cold, abstract, unearthly schoolmaster, 
against the influence and fame of the school's hero ? 

And now we come to the culminating point of 
Burns's early period. He began to be received into 
the unknown upper world. His fame soon spread 
from among his fellow-rebels on the benches, and 
began to reach the ushers and monitors of this great 
Ayrshire academy. This arose in part from his lax 
views about religion ; for at this time that old war of 
the creeds and confessors, which is always grumbling 
from end to end of our poor Scotland, brisked up in 
these parts into a hot and virulent skirmish ; and 
Burns found himself identified with the opposition 
party, — a clique of roaring lawyers and half-heretical 
divines, with wit enough to appreciate the value of 
the poet's help, and not sufficient taste to moderate 

59 



MEN AND BOOKS 

his grossness and personality. We may judge of 
their surprise when Holy Willie was put into their 
hand ; Hke the amorous lads of Tarbolton, they 
recognised in him the best of seconds. His satires 
began to go the round in manuscript ; Mr. Aiken, 
one of the lawyers, ' read him into fame ; ' he himself 
was soon welcome in many houses of a better sort, 
where his admirable talk, and his manners, which 
he had direct from his Maker, except for a brush he 
gave them at a country dancing-school, completed 
what his poems had begun. We have a sight of 
him at his first visit to Adamhill, in his ploughman's 
shoes, coasting around the carpet as though that 
were sacred ground. But he soon grew used to 
carpets and their owners ; and he was still the 
superior of all whom he encountered, and ruled the 
roost in conversation. Such was the impression 
made, that a young clergyman, himself a man of 
ability, trembled and became confused when he saw 
. Robert enter the church in which he was to preach. 
It is not surprising that the poet determined to 
publish : he had now stood the test of some pub- 
licity, and under this hopeful impulse he composed 
in six winter months the bulk of his more important 
poems. Here was a young man who, from a very 
humble place, was mounting rapidly ; from the cyno- 
sure of a parish he had become the talk of a county ; 
once the bard of rural courtships, he was now about 
to appear as a bound and printed poet in the world s 
bookshops. 

A few more intimate strokes are necessary to 
60 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

complete the sketch. This strong young plough- 
man, who feared no competitor with the flail, 
suffered like a fine lady from sleeplessness and 
vapours ; he would fall into the blackest melan- 
choHes, and be filled with remorse for the past 
and terror for the future. He was still not per- 
haps devoted to rehgion, but haunted by it; and 
at a touch of sickness prostrated himself before 
God in what I can only call unmanly penitence. 
As he had aspirations beyond his place in the world, 
so he had tastes, thoughts, and weaknesses to match. 
He loved to walk under a wood to the sound of a 
winter tempest ; he had a singular tenderness for 
animals ; he carried a book with him in his pocket 
when he went abroad, and wore out in this service 
two copies of the Man of Feeling. With young 
people in the field at work he was very long-suffer- 
ing ; and when his brother Gilbert spoke sharply to 
them — ' O man, ye are no' for young folk,' he would 
say, and give the defaulter a helping hand and a 
smile. In the hearts of the men whom he met he 
read as in a book ; and, what is yet more rare, his 
knowledge of himself equalled his knowledge of 
others. There are no truer things said of Burns than 
what is to be found in his own letters. Country 
Don Juan as he was, he had none of that bhnd 
vanity which values itself on what it is not ; he 
knew his own strength and weakness to a hair : he 
took himself boldly for what he was, and, except 
in moments of hypochondria, declared himself con- 
tent. 

6i 



MEN AND BOOKS 



THE LOVE-STORIES 



On the night of Mauchhne races, 1735, the young 
men and women of the place joined in a penny ball, 
according to their custom. In the same set danced 
Jean Armour, the master-mason's daughter, and our 
dark-eyed Don Juan. His dog (not the immortal 
Luath, but a successor unknown to fame, caret quia 
vote sacro), apparently sensible of some neglect, fol- 
lowed his master to and fro, to the confusion of the 
dancers. Some mirthful comments followed; and 
Jean heard the poet say to his partner — or, as I 
should imagine, laughingly launch the remark to 
the company at large— that 'he wished he could 
get any of the lassies to like him as well as his 
dog.' Some time after, as the girl was bleaching 
clothes on Mauchline green, Robert chanced to go 
by, still accompanied by his dog; and the dog, 
'scouring in long excursion,' scampered with four 
black paws across the linen. This brought the two 
into conversation; when Jean, with a somewhat 
hoydenish advance, inquired if ' he had yet got any 
of the lassies to like him as well as his dog.' 

It is one of the misfortunes of the professional Don 
Juan that his honour forbids him to refuse battle ; 
he is in life like the Roman soldier upon duty, or 
like the sworn physician who must attend on all 
diseases. Burns accepted the provocation ; hungry 

hope reawakened in his heart; here was a girl 

pretty, simple at least, if not honestly stupid, and 
62 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

plainly not averse to his attentions : it seemed to 
him once more as if love might here be waiting 
him. Had he but known the truth ! for this facile 
and empty-headed girl had nothing more in view 
than a flirtation ; and her heart, from the first and 
on to the end of her story, was engaged by another 
man. Burns once more commenced the celebrated 
process of ' battering himself into a warm affection ; ' 
and the proofs of his success are to be found in many 
verses of the period. Nor did he succeed with him- 
self only ; Jean, with her heart still elsewhere, suc- 
cumbed to his fascination, and early in the next year 
the natural consequence became manifest. It was a 
heavy stroke for this unfortunate couple. They had 
trifled with Hfe, and were now rudely reminded of 
life's serious issues. Jean awoke to the ruin of her 
hopes ; the best she had now to expect was mar- 
riage with a man who was a stranger to her dearest 
thoughts ; she might now be glad if she could get 
what she would never have chosen. As for Burns, 
at the stroke of the calamity he recognised that his 
voyage of discovery had led him into a wrong hemi- 
sphere — that he was not, and never had been, really 
in love with Jean. Hear him in the pressure of the 
hour. 'Against two things,' he writes, *I am as 
fixed as fate — staying at home, and owning her 
conjugally. The first, by heaven, I will not do ! — 
the last, by hell, I will never do ! ' And then he 
adds, perhaps already in a more relenting temper : 
* If you see Jean, tell her I will meet her, so God 
help me in my hour of need.' They met accord- 

63 



MEN AND BOOKS 

ingly; and Burns, touched with her misery, came 
down from these heights of independence, and gave 
her a written acknowledgment of marriage. 

It is the punishment of Don Juanism to create con- 
tinually false positions — relations in hfe which are 
wrong in themselves, and which it is equally wrong 
to break or to perpetuate. This was such a case. 
Worldly Wiseman would have laughed and gone his 
way; let us be glad that Burns was better counselled 
by his heart. When we discover that we can be no 
longer true, the next best is to be kind. I daresay he 
came away from that interview not very content, but 
with a glorious conscience; and as he went homeward, 
he would sing his favourite, ' How are Thy servants 
blest, O Lord ! ' Jean, on the other hand, armed 
with her ' lines,' confided her position to the master- 
mason, her father, and his wife. Burns and his 
brother were then in a fair way to ruin themselves 
in their farm; the poet was an execrable match 
for any well-to-do country lass ; and perhaps old 
Armour had an inkling of a previous attachment 
on his daughter's part. At least, he was not so 
much incensed by her slip from virtue as by the 
marriage which had been designed to cover it. 
Of this he would not hear a word. Jean, who 
had besought the acknowledgment only to appease 
her parents, and not at all from any violent incHna- 
tion to the poet, readily gave up the paper for 
destruction ; and all parties imagined, although 
wrongly, that the marriage was thus dissolved. To 
a proud man Hke Burns here was a crushing blow. 
64 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

The concession which had been wrung from his 
pity was now publicly thrown back in his teeth. 
The Armour family preferred disgrace to his con- 
nection. Since the promise, besides, he had doubt- 
less been busy 'battering himself back again into 
his affection for the girl ; and the blow would not 
only take him in his vanity, but wound him at the 
heart. 

He relieved himself in verse; but for such a 
smarting affront manuscript poetry was insufficient 
to console him. He must find a more powerful 
remedy in good flesh and blood, and after this dis- 
comfiture set forth again at once upon his voyage 
of discovery in quest of love. It is perhaps one 
of the most touching things in human nature, as 
it is a commonplace of psychology, that when a 
man has just lost hope or confidence in one love, 
he is then most eager to find and lean upon another. 
The universe could not be yet exhausted ; there 
must be hope and love waiting for him somewhere ; 
and so, with his head down, this poor, insulted poet 
ran once more upon his fate. There was an innocent 
and gentle Highland nursery-maid at service in a 
neighbouring family ; and he had soon battered him- 
self and her into a warm affection and a secret 
engagement. Jean's marriage-lines had not been 
destroyed till March 13, 1786 ; yet all was settled 
between Burns and Mary Campbell by Sunday, 
May 14, when they met for the last time, and 
said farewell with rvistic solemnities upon the banks 
of Ayr. They each wet their hands in a stream, 
5-E 65 



MEN AND BOOKS 

and, standing one on either bank, held a Bible 
between them as they vowed eternal faith. Then 
they exchanged Bibles, on one of which Burns, 
for greater security, had inscribed texts as to the 
binding nature of an oath ; and surely, if ceremony 
can do aught to fix the wandering affections, here 
were two people united for life. Mary came of a 
superstitious family, so that she perhaps insisted on 
these rites ; but they must have been eminently to 
the taste of Burns at this period ; for nothing would 
seem supei'fluous, and no oath great enough, to stay 
his tottering constancy. 

Events of consequence now happened thickly in 
the poet's life. His book was announced ; the 
Armours sought to summon him at law for the 
ahment of the child; he lay here and there in 
hiding to correct the sheets ; he was under an 
engagement for Jamaica, where Mary was to join 
him as his wife ; now he had ' orders within three 
weeks at latest to repair aboard the Nancy, Captain 
Smith ; ' now his chest was already on the road to 
Greenock ; and now, in the wild autumn weather on 
the moorland, he measures verses of farewell : — 

' The bursting tears my heart declare ; 
Farewell the bonny banks of Ayr ! ' 

But the great Master Dramatist had secretly another 
intention for the piece ; by the most violent and 
complicated solution, in which death and birth and 
sudden fame all play a part as interposing deities, the 
act-drop fell upon a scene of transformation. Jean 
was brought to bed of twins, and, by an amicable 
66 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

arrangement, the Burnses took the boy to bring up 
by hand, while the girl remained with her mother. 
The success of the book was immediate and emphatic; 
it put £20 at once into the author's purse ; and he 
was encouraged upon all hands to go to Edinburgh 
and push his success in a second and larger edition. 
Third and last in these series of interpositions, a 
letter came one day to Mossgiel farm for Robert. 
He went to the window to read it ; a sudden change 
came over his face, and he left the room without a 
word. Years afterwards, when the story began to 
leak out, his family understood that he had then 
learned the death of Highland Mary. Except in 
a few poems and a few dry indications purposely 
misleading as to date. Burns himself made no refer- 
ence to this passage of his life ; it was an adventure 
of which, for I think sufficient reasons, he desired to 
bury the details. Of one thing we may be glad : in 
after years he visited the poor girl's mother, and left 
her with the impression that he was * a real warm- 
hearted chield.' 

Perhaps a month after he received this intelli- 
gence, he set out for Edinburgh on a pony he had 
borrowed from a friend. The town that winter 
was 'agog with the ploughman poet.' Robertson, 
Dugald Stewart, Blair, ' Duchess Gordon and all 
the gay world,' were of his acquaintance. Such a 
revolution is not to be found in literary history. 
He was now, it must be remembered, twenty-seven 
years of age ; he had fought since his early boyhood 
an obstinate battle against poor soil, bad seed, and 

67 



MEN AND BOOKS 

inclement seasons, wading deep in Ayrshire mosses, 
guiding the plough in the furrow, wielding 'the 
thresher's weary flingin'-tree ; ' and his education, 
his diet, and his pleasures, had been those of a 
Scots countryman. Now he stepped forth sud- 
denly among the polite and learned. We can see 
him as he then was, in his boots and buckskins, 
his blue coat and waistcoat striped with buff and 
blue, like a farmer in his Sunday best ; the heavy 
ploughman's figure firmly planted on its burly legs ; 
his face full of sense and shrewdness, and with a 
somewhat melancholy air of thought, and his large 
dark eye ' literally glowing ' as he spoke. ' I never 
saw such another eye in a human head,' says Walter 
Scott, 'though I have seen the most distinguished 
men of my time.' With men, whether they were 
lords or omnipotent critics, his manner was plain, 
dignified, and free from bashfulness or affectation. 
If he made a slip, he had the social courage to pass 
on and refrain from explanation. He was not em- 
barrassed in this society, because he read and judged 
the men ; he could spy snobbery in a titled lord ; 
and, as for the critics, he dismissed their system 
in an epigram. ' These gentlemen,' said he, ' remind 
me of some spinsters in my country who spin their 
thread so fine that it is neither fit for weft nor woof.' 
Ladies, on the other hand, surprised him ; he was 
scarce commander of himself in their society; he 
was disqualified by his acquired nature as a Don 
Juan ; and he, who had been so much at his ease 
with country lasses, treated the town dames to an 
6S 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

extreme of deference. One lady, who met him 
at a ball, gave Chambers a speaking sketch of his 
demeanour. *His manner was not prepossessing 
— scarcely, she thinks, manly or natural. It seemed 
as if he affected a rusticity or la?idertness, so that 
when he said the music was "bonnie, bonnie," it 
was like the expression of a child.' These would 
be company manners ; and doubtless on a slight 
degree of intimacy the affectation would grow less. 
And his talk to women had always ' a turn either to 
the pathetic or humorous, which engaged the atten- 
tion particularly.' 

The Edinburgh magnates (to conclude this episode 
at once) behaved well to Burns from first to last. 
Were heaven-born genius to revisit us in similar 
guise, I am not venturing too far when I say that 
he need expect neither so warm a welcome nor such 
solid help. Although Burns was only a peasant, 
and one of no very elegant reputation as to morals, 
he was made welcome to their homes. They gave 
him a great deal of good advice, helped him to some 
five hundred pounds of ready money, and got him, 
as soon as he asked it, a place in the Excise. Burns, 
on his part, bore the elevation with perfect dignity ; 
and with perfect dignity returned, when the time 
had come, into a country privacy of life. His 
powerful sense never deserted him, and from the 
first he recognised that his Edinburgh popularity 
was but an ovation and the affair of a day. He 
wrote a few letters in a high-flown, bombastic vein 
of gratitude ; but in practice he suffered no man to 

69 



MEN AND BOOKS 

intrude upon his self-respect. On the other hand, he 
never turned his back, even for a moment, on his 
old associates ; and he was always ready to sacrifice 
an acquaintance to a friend, although the acquaint- 
ance were a duke. He would be a bold man who 
should promise similar conduct in equally exacting 
circumstances. It was, in short, an admirable appear- 
ance on the stage of hfe — socially successful, inti- 
mately self-respecting, and like a gentleman from 
first to last. 

In the present study this must only be taken 
by the way, while we return to Burns's love-affairs. 
Even on the road to Edinburgh he had seized upon 
the opportunity of a flirtation, and had carried the 
'battering' so far that when next he moved from 
town, it was to steal two days with this anonymous 
fair one. The exact importance to Burns of this 
affair may be gathered from the song in which he 
commemorated its occurrence. ' I love the dear 
lassie,' he sings, 'because she loves me;' or, in the 
tongue of prose : ' Finding an opportunity, I did not 
hesitate to profit by it ; and even now, if it returned, 
I should not hesitate to profit by it again.' A love 
thus founded has no interest for mortal man. Mean- 
time, early in the winter, and only once, we find him 
regretting Jean in his correspondence. ' Because ' — 
such is his reason — ' because he does not think he 
will ever meet so delicious an armful again ; ' and 
then, after a brief excursion into verse, he goes 
straight on to describe a new episode in the voyage 
of discovery with the daughter of a Lothian farmer 
70 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

for a heroine. I must ask the reader to follow all 
these references to his future wife ; they are essential 
to the comprehension of Burns's character and fate. 
In June we find him back at Mauchline, a famous 
man. There, the Armour family greeted him with 
a *mean, sei-vile compliance,' which increased his 
former disgust. Jean was not less compliant ; a 
second time the poor girl submitted to the fascina- 
tion of the man whom she did not love, and whom 
she had so cruelly insulted little more than a year 
ago ; and, though Burns took advantage of her 
weakness, it was in the ugUest and most cynical 
spirit, and with a heart absolutely indifferent. 
Judge of this by a letter written some twenty days 
after his return — a letter to my mind among the 
most degrading in the whole collection — a letter 
which seems to have been inspired by a boastful, 
libertine bagman. * I am afraid,' it goes, ' I have 
almost ruined one source, the principal one, indeed, 
of my former happiness — the eternal propensity I 
always had to fall in love. My heart no more 
glows with feverish rapture ; I have no paradisiacal 
evening interviews.' Even the process of ' batter- 
ing' has failed him, you perceive. Still he had some 
one in his eye — a lady, if you please, with a fine 
figure and elegant manners, and who had ' seen the 
pohtest quarters in Europe.' 'I frequently visited 
her,' he writes, 'and after passing regularly the 
intermediate degrees between the distant formal 
bow and the familiar grasp round the waist, I 
ventured, in my careless way, to talk of friend- 

71 



MEN AND BOOKS 

ship in rather ambiguous terms ; and after her re- 
turn to I wrote her in the same terms. Miss, 

construing my remarks further than even I intended, 
flew off* in a tangent of female dignity and reserve, 
hke a mountain lark in an April morning; and 
wrote me an answer which measured out very com- 
pletely what an immense way I had to travel before 
I could reach the climate of her favours. But I am 
an old hawk at the sport, and wrote her such a cool, 
dehberate, prudent reply, as brought my bird from 
her aerial towerings, pop, down to my foot, like 
Corporal Trim's hat' I avow a carnal longing, 
after this transcription, to buffet the Old Hawk 
about the ears. There is little question that to 
this lady he must have repeated his addresses, and 
that he was by her (Miss Chalmers) eventually, 
though not at all unkindly, rejected. One more 
detail to characterise the period. Six months after 
the date of this letter, Burns, back in Edinburgh, is 
served with a writ in meditatione fugce, on behalf of 
some Edinburgh fair one, probably of humble rank, 
who declared an intention of adding to his family. 

About the beginning of December (1787) a 
new period opens in the story of the poet's random 
affections. He met at a tea-party one Mrs. Agnes 
M'Lehose, a married woman of about his own age, 
who, with her two children, had been deserted by 
an unworthy husband. She had wit, could use her 
pen, and had read Werther with attention. Sociable, 
and even somewhat frisky, there was a good, sound, 
human kernel in the woman; a warmth of love, 
72 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

strong dogmatic religious feeling, and a considerable, 
but not authoritative, sense of the proprieties. Of 
what biogi-aphers refer to daintily as 'her some- 
what voluptuous style of beauty,' judging from the 
silhouette in Mr. Scott Douglas's invaluable edition, 
the reader will be fastidious if he does not approve. 
Take her for all in all, I believe she was the best 
woman Burns encountered. The pair took a fancy 
for each other on the spot ; Mrs. M'Lehose, in her 
turn, invited him to tea ; but the poet, in his 
character of the Old Hawk, preferred a tete-a-tete, 
excused himself at the last moment, and offered a 
visit instead. An accident confined him to his 
room for nearly a month, and this led to the famous 
Clarinda and Sylvan der correspondence. It was 
begun in simple sport; they are already at their 
fifth or sixth exchange, when Clarinda writes : ' It 
is really curious so much fun passing between two 
persons who saw each other only once',' but it is 
hardly safe for a man and woman in the flower of 
their years to wi'ite almost daily, and sometimes in 
terms too ambiguous, sometimes in terms too plain, 
and generally in terms too warm for mere acquaint- 
ance. The exercise partakes a little of the nature of 
battering, and danger may be apprehended when 
next they meet. It is difficult to give any account 
of this remarkable correspondence ; it is too far 
away from us, and perhaps not yet far enough, in 
point of time and manner ; the imagination is baffled 
by these stilted literary utterances, warming, in 
bravura passages, into downright truculent nonsense. 

7o 



MEN AND BOOKS 

Clarinda has one famous sentence in which she bids 
Sylvander connect the thought of his mistress with 
the changing phases of the year ; it was enthusiasti- 
cally admired by the swain, but on the modern 
mind produces mild amazement and alarm. ' Oh, 
Clarinda,' writes Burns, ' shall we not meet in a 
state — some yet unknown state — of being, where 
the lavish hand of Plenty shall minister to the 
highest wish of Benevolence, and where the chill 
north wind of Prudence shall never blow over the 
flowery field of Enjoyment ? ' The design may be 
that of an Old Hawk, but the style is more 
suggestive of a Bird of Paradise. It is sometimes 
hard to fancy they are not gravely making fun of 
each other as they write. Religion, poetry, love, 
and charming sensibility, are the current topics. ' I 
am delighted, charming Clarinda, with your honest 
enthusiasm for religion,' writes Burns ; and the pair 
entertained a fiction that this was their ' favourite 
subject.' ' This is Sunday,' writes the lady, ' and 
not a word on our favourite subject. O f y ! " divine 
Clarinda ! " ' I suspect, although quite unconsciously 
on the part of the lady, who was bent on his 
redemption, they but used the favourite subject as 
a stalking-horse. In the meantime, the sportive 
acquaintance was ripening steadily into a genuine 
passion. Visits took place, and then became frequent. 
Clarinda's friends were hurt and suspicious ; her 
clergyman interfered ; she herself had smart attacks 
of conscience ; but her heart had gone from her 
control ; it was altogether his, and she ' counted all 
74 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

things but loss — heaven excepted — that she might 
win and keep him/ Burns himself was transported 
while in her neighbourhood, but his transports some- 
what rapidly dechned during an absence. I am 
tempted to imagine that, womanlike, he took on 
the colour of his mistress's feeling; that he could 
not but heat himself at the fire of her unaffected 
passion; but that, like one who should leave the 
hearth upon a winter's night, his temperature soon 
fell when he was out of sight, and in a word, though 
he could share the symptoms, that he had never 
shared the disease. At the same time, amid the 
fustian of the letters there are forcible and true 
expressions, and the love- verses that he wrote 
upon Clarinda are among the most moving in the 
language. 

We are approaching the solution. In mid-winter, 
Jean, once more in the family-way, was turned out 
of doors by her family ; and Burns had her received 
and cared for in the house of a friend. For he 
remained to the last imperfect in his character of 
Don Juan, and lacked the sinister courage to desert 
his victim. About the middle of February (1788) 
he had to tear himself fi'om his Clarinda and make 
a journey into the south-west on business. Clarinda 
gave him two shirts for his little son. They were 
daily to meet in prayer at an appointed hour. 
Burns, too late for the post at Glasgow, sent her 
a letter by parcel that she might not have to wait. 
Clarinda on her part writes, this time with a beauti- 
ful simplicity : * I think the streets look deserted- 

75 



MEN AND BOOKS 

like since Monday ; and there 's a certain insipidity 
in good kind folks I once enjoyed not a little. 
Miss Wardrobe supped here on Monday. She once 
named you, which kept me from falling asleep. I 
drank your health in a glass of ale — as the lasses do 
at Hallowe'en — " in to mysel'." ' Arrived at Mauch- 
line, Burns installed Jean Armour in a lodging, and 
prevailed on Mrs. Armour to promise her help and 
countenance in the approaching confinement. This 
was kind at least ; but hear his expressions : * I have 
taken her a room ; I have taken her to my arms ; I 
have given her a mahogany bed ; I have given her 
a guinea. ... 1 swore her privately and solemnly 
never to attempt any claim on me as a husband, 
even though anybody should persuade her she had 
such a claim — which she has not, neither during my 
life nor after my death. She did all this like a good 
girl.' And then he took advantage of the situation. 
To Clarinda he wrote : ' I this morning called for 
a certain woman. I am disgusted with her ; I can- 
not endure her;' and he accused her of 'tasteless 
insipidity, vulgarity of . soul, and mercenary fawn- 
ing.' This was already in March; by the 13th of 
that month he was back in Edinburgh. On the 
17th he wrote to Clarinda : ' Your hopes, your 
fears, your cares, my love, are mine, so don't mind 
them. I will take you in my hand through the 
dreary wilds of this world, and scare away the raven- 
ing bird or beast that would annoy you.' Again, 
on the 21st: *Will you open, with satisfaction and 
delight, a letter from a man who loves you, who has 
76 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

loved you, and who will love you, to death, through 
death, and for ever ? . . . How rich am I to have 
such a treasure as you ! . . . " The Lord God 
knoweth," and, perhaps, *' Israel he shall know," my 
love and your merit. Adieu, Clarinda ! I am going 
to remember you in my prayers.' By the 7th of 
April, seventeen days later, he had already decided 
to make Jean Armour publicly his wife, 

A more astonishing stage-trick is not to be found. 
And yet his conduct is seen, upon a nearer examina- 
tion, to be grounded both in reason and in kindness. 
He was now about to embark on a sohd worldly 
career ; he had taken a farm ; the affair with 
Clarinda, however gratifying to his heart, was too 
contingent to offer any great consolation to a man 
like Burns, to whom marriage must have seemed 
the very dawn of hope and self-respect. This is to 
regard the question from its lowest aspect ; but 
there is no doubt that he entered on this new period 
of his life with a sincere determination to do right. 
He had just helped his brother with a loan of a 
hundred and eighty pounds ; should he do nothing 
for the poor girl whom he had ruined ? It was true 
he could not do as he did without brutally wounding 
Clarinda; that was the punishment of his bygone 
fault ; he was, as he truly says, ' damned with a 
choice only of different species of error and miscon- 
duct.' To be professional Don Juan, to accept the 
provocation of any lively lass upon the village green, 
may thus lead a man through a series of detestable 
words and actions, and land him at last in an 



MEN AND BOOKS 

undesired and most unsuitable union for life. If he 
had been strong enough to refrain or bad enough to 
persevere in evil ; if he had only not been Don Juan 
at all, or been Don Juan altogether, there had been 
some possible road for him throughout this trouble- 
some world ; but a man, alas ! who is equally at the 
call of his worse and better instincts, stands among 
changing events without foundation or resource/ 



DOWNWARD COURSE 

It may be questionable whether any marriage 
could have tamed Burns; but it is at least certain 
that there was no hope for him in the marriage he 
contracted. He did right, but then he had done 
wrong before; it was, as I, said, one of those rela- 
tions in life which it seems equally wrong to break 
or to perpetuate. He neither loved nor respected 
his wife. 'God knows,' he writes, 'my choice was 
as random as bUnd man's buff.' He consoles him- 
self by the thought that he has acted kindly to her ; 
that she ' has the most sacred enthusiasm of attach- 
ment to him ; ' that she has a good figure ; that 
she has a ' wood-note wild,' ' her voice rising with 
ease to B natural,' no less. The effect on the 
reader is one of unmingled pity for both parties 
concerned. This was not the wife who (in his own 
words) could 'enter into his favourite studies or 

^ For the love-affairs see, in particular, Mr. Scott Douglas's edition 
under the different dates. 

7S 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

relish his favourite authors ; ' this was not even a 
wife, after the affair of the marriage-lines, in whom 
a husband could joy to place his trust. Let her 
manage a farm with sense, let her voice rise to B 
natural all day long, she would still be a peasant to 
her lettered lord, and an object of pity rather than 
of equal affection. She could now be faithful, she 
could now be forgiving, she could now be generous 
even to a pathetic and touching degree ; but coming 
from one who was unloved, and who had scarce 
shown herself worthy of the sentiment, these were 
all virtues thrown away, which could neither change 
her husband's heart nor affect the inherent destiny 
of their relation. From the outset, it was a marriage 
that had no root in nature; and we find him, ere 
long, lyrically regretting Highland Mary, renewing 
correspondence with Clarinda in the warmest lan- 
guage, on doubtful terms with Mrs. Riddel, and on 
terms unfortunately beyond any question with Anne 
Park. 

Alas ! this was not the only ill circumstance in 
his future. He had been idle for some eighteen 
months, superintending his new edition, hanging 
on to settle with the publisher, travelling in the 
Highlands with Willie Nicol, or philandering with 
Mrs. M'Lehose ; and in this period the radical part 
of the man had suffered irremediable hurt. He 
had lost his habits of industry, and formed the 
habit of pleasure. Apologetical biographers assure 
us of the contrary ; but from the first he saw and 
recognised the danger for himself; his mind, he 

79 



MEN AND BOOKS 

writes, is ' enervated to an alarming degree ' by 
idleness and dissipation ; and again, ' my mind has 
been vitiated with idleness.' It never fairly re- 
covered. To business he could bring the required 
diligence and attention without difficulty ; but he 
was thenceforward incapable, except in rare in- 
stances, of that superior effort of concentration 
which is required for serious literary work. He 
may be said, indeed, to have worked no more, and 
only amused himself with letters. The man who 
had written a volume of masterpieces in six months, 
during the remainder of his life rarely found courage 
for any more sustained effort than a song. And 
the nature of the songs is itself characteristic of 
these idle later years ; for they are often as polished 
and elaborate as his earlier works were frank, and 
headlong, and colloquial ; and this sort of verbal 
elaboration in short flights is, for a man of literary 
turn, simply the most agreeable of pastimes. The 
change in manner coincides exactly with the Edin- 
burgh visit. In 1786 he had written the Address 
to a Louse, which may be taken as an extreme 
instance of the first manner ; and already, in 1787, 
we come upon the rosebud pieces to Miss Cruik- 
shank, which are extreme examples of the second. 
The change was, therefore, the direct and very 
natural consequence of his great change in life ; 
but it is not the less typical of his loss of moral 
courage that he should have given up all larger 
ventures, nor the less melancholy that a man who 
first attacked literature with a hand that seemed 
80 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

capable of moving mountains, should have spent 
his later years in whittling cherry-stones. 

Meanwhile the farm did not prosper; he had 
to join to it the salary of an exciseman ; at last he 
had to give it up, and rely altogether on the latter 
resource. He was an active officer ; and, though 
he sometimes tempered severity with mercy, we 
have local testimony, oddly representing the pubhc 
feeling of the period, that, while ' in everything else 
he was a perfect gentleman, when he met with 
anything seizable he was no better than any other 
gauger.' 

There is but one manifestation of the man in 
these last years which need delay us : and that 
was the sudden interest in politics which arose from 
his sympathy with the great French Revolution. 
His only political feeling had been hitherto a 
sentimental Jacobitism, not more or less respect- 
able than that of Scott, Aytoun, and the rest of 
what George Borrow has nicknamed the ' Charlie 
over the water' Scotsmen. It was a sentiment 
almost entirely literary and picturesque in its origin, 
built on ballads and the adventures of the Young 
Chevalier; and in Burns it is the more excusable, 
because he lay out of the way of active politics in 
his youth. With the great French Revolution, 
something living, practical, and feasible appeared to 
him for the first time in this realm of human action. 
The young ploughman who had desired so earnestly 
to rise, now reached out his sympathies to a whole 
nation animated with the same desire. Already in 
5-F 8 1 



MEN AND BOOKS 

1788 we find the old Jacobitism hand in hand with 
the new popular doctrine, when, in a letter of in- 
dignation against the zeal of a Whig clergyman, he 
writes : ' I daresay the American Congress in 1776 
will be allowed to be as able and as enlightened as 
the English Convention was in 1688 ; and that their 
posterity will celebrate the centenary of their de- 
liverance from us, as duly and sincerely as we do 
ours from the oppressive measures of the wrong- 
headed house of Stuart' As time wore on, his 
sentiments grew more pronounced, and even violent ; 
but there was a basis of sense and generous feeling 
to his hottest excess. What he asked was a fair 
chance for the individual in life; an open road to 
success and distinction for all classes of men. It 
was in the same spirit that he had helped to found 
a public library in the parish where his farm was 
situated, and that he sang his fervent snatches 
against tyranny and tyrants. Witness, were it 
alone, this verse : — 

' Here 's freedom to him that wad i-ead, 
Here 's freedom to him that wad write ; 
There 's iiane ever feared that the truth should be heard 
But them wham the truth wad indite.' 

Yet his enthusiasm for the cause was scarce guided 
by wisdom. Many stories are preserved of the 
bitter and unwise words he used in country coteries ; 
how he proposed Washington's health as an amend- 
ment to Pitt's, gave as a toast ' the last verse of the 
last chapter of Kings,' and celebrated Dumouriez 
in a doggerel impromptu full of ridicule and hate. 
82 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

Now his sympathies would inspire him with Scots 
wlia hae ; now involve him in a drunken broil with 
a loyal officer, and consequent apologies and ex- 
planations, hard to offer for a man of Burns's 
stomach. Nor was this the front of his offending. 
On February 27, 1792, he took part in the capture 
of an armed smuggler, bought at the subsequent sale 
four carronades, and despatched them with a letter 
to the French Assembly. Letter and guns were 
stopped at Dover by the English officials ; there 
was trouble for Burns with his superiors; he was 
reminded firmly, however delicately, that, as a paid 
official, it was his duty to obey and to be silent ; 
and all the blood of this poor, proud, and falUng 
man must have rushed to his head at the humilia- 
tion. His letter to Mr. Erskine, subsequently Earl 
of Mar, testifies, in its turgid, turbulent phrases, to 
a perfect passion of alarmed self-respect and vanity. 
He had been muzzled, and muzzled, when all was 
said, by his paltry salary as an exciseman ; alas ! 
had he not a family to keep ? Already, he wrote, 
he looked forward to some such judgment from a 
hackney scribbler as this : ' Burns, notwithstanding 
t\ieJa7ifa?'onnade of independence to be found in his 
works, and after having been held forth to public view 
and to public estimation as a man of some genius, 
yet, quite destitute of resources within himself to 
support his borrowed dignity, he dwindled into a 
paltry exciseman, and slunk out the rest of his 
insignificant existence in the meanest of pursuits, 
and among the vilest of mankind.' And then 



MEN AND BOOKS 

on he goes, in a style of rodomontade, but filled 
with living indignation, to declare his right to a 
political opinion, and his willingness to shed his 
blood for the political birthright of his sons. Poor, 
perturbed spirit ! he was indeed exercised in vain ; 
those who share and those who differ from his 
sentiments about the Revolution, alike understand 
and sympathise with him in this painful strait ; for 
poetry and human manhood are lasting like the race, 
and politics, which are but a wrongful striving after 
right, pass and change from year to year and age to 
age. The Twa Dogs has already outlasted the 
constitution of Sieyes and the policy of the Whigs ; 
and Burns is better known among English-speaking 
races than either Pitt or Fox. 

Meanwhile, Avhether as a man, a husband, or a 
poet, his steps led downward. He knew, knew 
bitterly, that the best was out of him : he refused to 
make another volume, for he felt it would be a dis- 
appointment ; he grew petulantly alive to criticism, 
unless he was sure it reached him from a friend. 
For his songs, he would take nothing ; they were all 
that he could do ; the proposed Scots play, the 
proposed series of Scots tales in verse, all had 
gone to water ; and in a fling of pain and dis- 
appointment, which is surely noble with the nobility 
of a viking, he would rather stoop to borrow than 
to accept money for these last and inadequate 
efforts of his muse. And this desperate abnegation 
rises at times near to the height of madness ; as 
when he pretended that he had not written, but 
84 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

only found and published, his immortal Auld Lang 
Syne. In the same spirit he became more scrupu- 
lous as an artist ; he was doing so little he would 
fain do that little well; and about two months 
before his death he asked Thomson to send back all 
his manuscripts for revisal, saying that he would 
rather write five songs to his taste than twice that 
number otherwise. The battle of his life was lost ; 
in forlorn efforts to do well, in desperate submissions 
to evil, the last years flew by. His temper is dark 
and explosive, launching epigrams, quarrelling with 
his friends, jealous of young puppy officers. He 
tries to be a good father ; he boasts himself a liber- 
tine. Sick, s^d, and jaded, he can refuse no occasion 
of temporary pleasure, no opportunity to shine ; and 
he who had once refused the invitations of lords and 
ladies is now whistled to the inn by any curious 
stranger. His death (July 21, 1796), in his thirty- 
seventh year, was indeed a kindly dispensation. It 
is the fashion to say he died of drink ; many a man 
has drunk more and yet lived with reputation, and 
reached a good age. That drink and debauchery 
helped to destroy his constitution, and were the 
means of his unconscious suicide, is doubtless true ; 
but he had failed in life, had lost his power of work, 
and was already married to the poor, unworthy, 
patient Jean, before he had shown his inchnation 
to convivial nights, or at least before that inclina- 
tion had become dangerous either to his health or 
his self-respect. He had trifled with life, and must 
pay the penalty. He had chosen to be Don Juan, 

85 



MEN AND BOOKS 

he had grasped at temporary pleasures, and sub- 
stantial happiness and solid industry had passed him 
by. He died of being Robert Burns, and there is 
no levity in such a statement of the case ; for shall 
we not, one and all, deserve a similar epitaph ? 



WORKS 

The somewhat cruel necessity which has lain upon 
me throughout this paper only to touch upon those 
points in the life of Burns where correction or 
amplification seemed desirable, leaves me little 
opportunity to speak of the works which have made 
his name so famous. Yet, even here, a few observa- 
tions seem necessary. 

At the time when the poet made his appearance 
and great first success, his work was remarkable in 
two ways. For, first, in an age when poetry had 
become abstract and conventional, instead of con- 
tinuing to deal with shepherds, thunderstorms, and 
personifications, he dealt with the actual circum- 
stances of his life, however matter-of-fact and sordid 
these might be. And, second, in a time when 
English versification was particularly stiff", lame, and 
feeble, and words were used with ultra-academical 
timidity, he wrote verses that were easy, racy, 
graphic, and forcible, and used language with 
absolute tact and courage as it seemed most fit 
to give a clear impression. If you take even those 
Enghsh authors whom we know Burns to have most 
86 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

admired and studied, you will see at once that he 
owed them nothing but a warning. Take Shenstone, 
for instance, and watch that elegant author as he 
tries to grapple with the facts of life. He has a 
description, I remember, of a gentleman engaged 
in sliding or walking on thin ice, which is a little 
miracle of incompetence. You see my memory 
fails me, and I positively cannot recollect whether 
his hero was sliding or walking ; as though a writer 
should describe a skirmish, and the reader, at the 
end, be still uncertain whether it were a charge of 
cavalry or a slow and stubborn advance of foot. 
There could be no such ambiguity in Burns ; his 
work is at the opposite pole from such indefinite 
and stammering performances ; and a whole lifetime 
passed in the study of Shenstone would only lead a 
man further and further from writing the Address 
to a Louse. Yet Burns, like most great artists, pro- 
ceeded from a school and continued a tradition ; 
only the school and tradition were Scottish, and not 
English. While the English language was becoming 
daily more pedantic and inflexible, and English 
letters more colourless and slack, there was another 
dialect in the sister country, and a different school of 
poetry, tracing its descent, through King James i., 
from Chaucer. The dialect alone accounts for 
much ; for it was then written colloquially, which 
kept it fresh and supple ; and, although not shaped 
for heroic flights, it was a direct and vivid medium 
for all that had to do with social life. Hence, when- 
ever Scottish poets left their laborious imitations of 

87 



MEN AND BOOKS 

bad English verses, and fell back on their own 
dialect, their style would kindle, and they would 
write of their convivial and somewhat gross exist- 
ences with pith and point. In Ramsay, and far 
more in the poor lad Fergusson, there was mettle, 
humour, literary courage, and a power of saying 
what they wished to say definitely and brightly, 
which in the latter case should have justified great 
anticipations. Had Burns died at the same age as 
Fergusson, he would have left us literally nothing 
worth remark. To Ramsay and to Fergusson, then, 
he was indebted in a very uncommon degree, not 
only following their tradition and using their 
measures, but directly and avowedly imitating their 
pieces. The same tendency to borrow a hint, to 
work on some one else's foundation, is notable in 
Burns from first to last, in the period of song- writing 
as well as in that of the early poems ; and strikes 
one oddly in a man of such deep originality, who 
left so strong a print on all he touched, and whose 
work is so greatly distinguished by that character of 
' inevitability ' which Wordsworth denied to Goethe. 
When we remember Burns's obligations to his 
predecessors, we must never forget his immense 
advances on them. They had already ' discovered ' 
nature ; but Burns discovered poetry — a higher and 
more intense way of thinking of the things that go 
to make up nature, a higher and more ideal key of 
words in which to speak of them. Ramsay and 
Fergusson excelled at making a popular — or shall 
we say vulgar ? — sort of society verses, comical and 
88 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

prosaic, written, you would say, in taverns while a 
supper-party waited for its laureate's word ; but on 
the appearance of Burns this coarse and laughing 
literature was touched to finer issues, and learned 
gravity of thought and natural pathos. 

What he had gained from his predecessors was a 
direct, speaking style, and to walk on his own feet 
instead of on academical stilts. There was never 
a man of letters with more absolute command of 
his means ; and we may say of him, without excess, 
that his style was his slave. Hence that energy 
of epithet, so concise and telling, that a foreigner 
is tempted to explain it by some special richness 
or aptitude in the dialect he wrote. Hence that 
Homeric justice and completeness of description 
which gives us the very physiognomy of nature, 
in body and detail, as nature is. Hence, too, the 
unbroken literary quality of his best pieces, which 
keeps him from any slip into the wearyful trade of 
word-painting, and presents everything, as every- 
thing should be presented by the art of words, in 
a clear, continuous medium of thought. Principal 
Shairp, for instance, gives us a paraphrase of one 
tough verse of the original ; and for those who 
know the Greek poets only by paraphrase, this has 
the very quality they are accustomed to look for and 
admire in Greek. The contemporaries of Burns 
were surprised that he should visit so many cele- 
brated mountains and waterfalls, and not seize the 
opportunity to make a poem. Indeed, it is not for 
those who have a true command of the art of words, 

89 



MEN AND BOOKS 

but for peddling, professional amateurs, that these 
pointed occasions are most useful and inspiring. As 
those who speak French imperfectly are glad to 
dwell on any topic they may have talked upon or 
heard others talk upon before, because they know 
appropriate words for it in French, so the dabbler 
in verse rejoices to behold a waterfall, because he 
has learned the septiment and knows appropriate 
words for it in poetry. But the dialect of Burns 
was fitted to deal with any subject ; and whether 
it was a stormy night, a shepherd's collie, a sheep 
struggling in the snow, the conduct of cowardly 
soldiers in the field, the gait and cogitations of a 
drunken man, or only a village cockcrow in the 
morning, he could find language to give it freshness, 
body, and relief He was always ready to borrow 
the hint of a design, as though he had a difficulty 
in commencing — a difficulty, let us say, in choosing 
a subject out of a world which seemed all equally 
hving and significant to him ; but once he had the 
subject chosen, he could cope with nature single- 
handed, and make every stroke a triumph. Again, 
his absolute mastery in his art enabled him to 
express each and all of his diffisrent humours, and 
to pass smoothly and congruously from one to 
another. Many men invent a dialect for only one 
side of their nature — perhaps their pathos or their 
humour, or the delicacy of their senses — and, for 
lack of a medium, leave all the others unex- 
pressed. You meet such an one, and find him in 
conversation full of thought, feeling, and experience, 
90 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

which he has lacked the art to employ in his writ- 
ings. But Burns was not thus hampered in the 
practice of the literary art ; he could throw the whole 
weight of his nature into his work, and impregnate 
it from end to end. If Doctor Johnson, that stilted 
and accomplished stylist, had lacked the sacred 
Boswell, what should we have known of him ? and 
how should we have delighted in his acquaintance 
as we do ? Those who spoke with Burns tell us 
how much we have lost who did not. But I think 
they exaggerate their privilege : I think we have 
the whole Burns in our possession set forth in his 
consummate verses. 

It was by his style, and not by his matter, that 
he affected Wordsworth and the world. There is, 
indeed, only one merit worth considering in a man 
of letters — that he should write well ; and only one 
damning fault — that he should write ill. We are 
little the better for the reflections of the sailor's parrot 
in the story. And so, if Burns helped to change the 
course of literary history, it was by his frank, direct, 
and masterly utterance, and not by his homely 
choice of subjects. That was imposed upon him, 
not chosen upon a principle. He wrote from his 
own experience, because it was his nature so to 
do, and the tradition of the school from which he 
proceeded was fortunately not opposed to homely 
subjects. But to these homely subjects he com- 
municated the rich commentary of his nature ; they 
were all steeped in Burns ; and they interest us not 
in themselves, but because they have been passed 

91 



MEN AND BOOKS 

through the spirit of so genuine and vigorous a man. 
Such is the stamp of living hterature ; and there was 
never any more alive than that of Burns. 

What a gust of sympathy there is in him some- 
times flowing out in byways hitherto unused, upon 
mice, and flowers, and the devil himself ; sometimes 
speaking plainly between human hearts ; sometimes 
ringing out in exultation like a peal of bells ! When 
we compare the Farmers Salutation to his Auld 
Mare Maggie, with the clever and inhumane pro- 
duction of half a century earlier, The Auld Mans 
Mares Dead, we see in a nutshell the spirit of the 
change introduced by Burns. And as to its manner, 
who that has read it can forget how the collie, Luath, 
in the Twa Dogs, describes and enters into the 
merry-making in the cottage ? 

' The luntin' pipe an' sneeshin* mill 
Are handed round wi' richt guid will ; 
The canty auld folks crackin' erouse. 
The young anes ran tin' through the house — 
My heart has been sae fain to see them, 
That I for joy hae barkit wi' them.' 

It was this ardent power of sympathy that was fatal 
to so many women, and, through Jean Armour, to 
himself at last. His humour comes from him in a 
stream so deep and easy that I will venture to call 
him the best of humorous poets. He turns about in 
the midst to utter a noble sentiment or a trenchant 
remark on human life, and the style changes and 
rises to the occasion. I think it is Principal Shairp 
92 



SOME ASPECTS OF ROBERT BURNS 

who says, happily, that Burns would have been no 
Scotsman if he had not loved to moralise ; neither, 
may we add, would he have been his father's son ; 
but (what is worthy of note) his morahsings are to a 
large extent the moral of his own career. He was 
among the least impersonal of artists. Except in 
the Jolly Beggars, he shows no gleam of dramatic 
instinct. Mr. Carlyle has complained that Tam o' 
Shanter is, from the absence of this quality, only a 
picturesque and external piece of work ; and I may 
add that in the Twa Dogs it is precisely in the in- 
fringement of dramatic propriety that a great deal 
of the humour of the speeches depends for its exist- 
ence and effect. Indeed, Burns was so full of his 
identity that it breaks forth on every page ; and 
there is scarce an appropriate remark either in praise 
or blame of his own conduct but he has put it 
himself into verse. Alas for the tenor of these 
remarks ! They are, indeed, his own pitiful apology 
for such a marred existence and talents so misused 
and stunted ; and they seem to prove for ever how 
small a part is played by reason in the conduct of 
man's affairs. Here was one, at least, who with 
unfaihng judgment predicted his own fate ; yet his 
knowledge could not avail him, and with open eyes 
he must fulfil his tragic destiny. Ten years before 
the end he had written his epitaph ; and neither 
subsequent events, nor the critical eyes of posterity, 
have shown us a word in it to alter. And, lastly, 
has he not put in for himself the last unanswerable 
plea ? — 

93 



MEN AND BOOKS 

Then gently scan your brother man. 

Still gentler sister woman ; 
Though they may gang a kennin' wrang. 

To step aside is human : 
One point must still be greatly dark ' 

One ? Alas ! I fear every man and woman of us 
is ' greatly dark ' to all their neighbours, from the 
day of birth until death removes them, in their 
greatest virtues as well as in their saddest faults ; 
and we, who have been trying to read the character 
of Bm-ns, may take home the lesson and be gentle 
in our thoughts. 



94 



Ill 

WALT WHITMAN 

Of late years the name of Walt Whitman has been 
a good deal bandied about in books and magazines. 
It has become familiar both in good and ill repute. 
His works have been largely bespattered with praise 
by his admirers, and cruelly mauled and mangled by 
irreverent enemies. Now, whether his poetry is 
good or bad as poetry, is a matter that may admit 
of a difference of opinion without alienating those 
who differ. We could not keep the peace with a 
man who should put forward claims to taste and yet 
depreciate the choruses in Samson Agonistes; but, 
I think, we may shake hands with one who sees no 
more in Walt AVhitman's volume, from a hterary 
point of view, than a farrago of incompetent essays 
in a wrong dii'ection. That may not be at all our 
own opinion. We may think that, when a work 
contains many unforgettable phrases, it cannot be 
altogether devoid of literary merit. We may even 
see passages of a high poetry here and there among 
its eccentric contents. But when all is said, Walt 

' 95 



MEN AND BOOKS 

Whitman is neither a Milton nor a Shakespeare ; to 
appreciate his works is not a condition necessary to 
salvation ; and I would not disinherit a son upon 
the question, nor even think much the worse of a 
critic, for I should always have an idea what he 
meant. 

What Whitman has to say is another affair from 
how he says it. It is not possible to acquit any one 
of defective intelligence, or else stiff prejudice, who 
is not interested by Whitman's matter and the spirit 
it represents. Not as a poet, but as what we must 
call (for lack of a more exact expression) a prophet, 
he occupies a curious and prominent position. 
Whether he may greatly influence the future or 
not, he is a notable symptom of the present. As 
a sign of the times, it would be hard to find his 
parallel. I should hazard a large wager, for instance, 
that he was not unacquainted with the works of 
Herbert Spencer ; and yet where, in all the history- 
books, shall we lay our hands on two more incon- 
gruous contemporaries ? Mr. Spencer so decorous 
— I had almost said, so dandy — in dissent ; and 
Whitman, like a large shaggy dog, just unchained, 
scouring the beaches of the world and baying at 
the moon. And when was an echo more curiously 
like a satire, than when Mr. Spencer found his 
Synthetic Philosophy reverberated from the other 
shores of the Atlantic in the ' barbaric yawp ' of 
Whitman ? 



96 



WALT WHITMAN 



Whitman, it cannot be too soon explained, writes 
up to a system. He was a theoriser about society 
before he was a poet. He first perceived something 
wanting, and then sat down squarely to supply the 
want. The reader, running over his works, will find 
that he takes nearly as much pleasure in critically 
expounding his theory of poetry as in making poems. 
This is as far as it can be from the case of the 
spontaneous village minstrel dear to elegy, who has 
no theory whatever, although sometimes he may have 
fully as much poetry as WTiitman. The whole of 
Whitman's work is deliberate and preconceived. A 
man born into a society comparatively new, full of 
conflicting elements and interests, could not fail, 
if he had any thoughts at all, to reflect upon the 
tendencies around him. He saw much good and 
evil on all sides, not yet settled down into some 
more or less unjust compromise as in older nations, 
but still in the act of settlement. And he could 
not but wonder what it would turn out ; whether 
the compromise would be very just or very much 
the reverse, and give great or little scope for healthy 
human energies. From idle wonder to active 
speculation is but a step ; and he seems to have 
been early struck with the inefficacy of literature 
and its extreme unsuitabihty to the conditions. 
What he calls ' Feudal Literature ' could have little 
living action on the tumult of American democracy ; 
5-G " 97 



MEN AND BOOKS 

what he calls the ' Literature of AVoe,' meaning the 
whole tribe of Werther and Byron, could have no 
action for good in any time or place. Both proposi- 
tions, if art had none but a direct moral influence, 
would be true enough ; and as this seems to be 
Whitman's view, they were true enough for him. 
He conceived the idea of a Literature which was to 
inhere in the life of the present ; which was to be 
first human, and next American ; which was to be 
brave and cheerful as per contract ; to give culture 
in a popular and poetical presentment ; and, in so 
doing, catch and stereotype some democratic ideal 
of humanity which should be equally natural to all 
grades of wealth and education, and suited, in one 
of his favourite phrases, to ' the average man.' To 
the formation of some such literature as this his 
poems are to be regarded as so many contributions, 
one sometimes explaining, sometimes superseding, 
the other : and the whole together not so much a 
finished work as a body of suggestive hints. He 
does not profess to have built the castle, but he 
pretends he has traced the lines of the foundation. 
He has not made the poetry, but he flatters himself 
he has done something towards making the poets. 

His notion of the poetic function is ambitious, 
and coincides roughly with what Schopenhauer has 
laid down as the province of the metaphysician. 
The poet is to gather together for men, and set in 
order, the materials of their existence. He is ' The 
Answerer ; ' he is to find some way of speaking 
about life that shall satisfy, if only for the moment, 
q8 



WALT WHITMAN 

man's enduring astonishment at his own position. 
And besides having an answer ready, it is he who 
shall provoke the question. He must shake people 
out of their indifference, and force them to make 
some election in this world, instead of sliding dully 
forward in a dream. Life is a business we are all 
apt to mismanage ; either living recklessly from day 
to day, or suffering ourselves to be gulled out of our 
moments by the inanities of custom. We should 
despise a man who gave as little activity and fore- 
thought to the conduct of any other business. But 
in this, which is the one thing of all others, since 
it contains them all, we cannot see the forest for 
the trees. One brief impression obliterates another. 
There is something stupefying in the recurrence of 
unimportant things. And it is only on rare pro- 
vocations that we can rise to take an outlook beyond 
daily concerns, and comprehend the narrow limits 
and great possibilities of our existence. It is the 
duty of the poet to induce such moments of clear 
sight. He is the declared enemy of all living by 
reflex action, of all that is done betwixt sleep 
and waking, of all the pleasureless pleasurings and 
imaginary duties in which we coin away our hearts 
and fritter invaluable years. He has to electrify his 
readers into an instant unflagging activity, founded 
on a wide and eager observation of the world, and 
make them direct their ways by a superior prudence, 
which has little or nothing in common with the 
maxims of the copy-book. That many of us lead 
such lives as they would heartily disown after two 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

hours' serious reflection on the subject is, I am 
afraid, a true, and, I am sure, a very gaUing thought. 
The Enchanted Ground of dead-ahve respectabihty 
is next, upon the map, to the Beulah of considerate 
virtue. But there they all slumber and take their 
rest in the middle of God's beautiful and wonderful 
universe ; the drowsy heads have nodded together in 
the same position since first their fathers fell asleep ; 
and not even the sound of the last trumpet can wake 
them to a single active thought. The poet has a 
hard task before him to stir up such fellows to a 
sense of their own and other people's principles in 
life. 

And it happens that literature is, in some ways, 
but an indifferent means to such an end. Language 
is but a poor bull's-eye lantern wherewith to show 
off the vast cathedral of the world ; and yet a par- 
ticular thing once said in words is so definite and 
memorable, that it makes us forget the absence of 
the many which remain unexpressed ; like a bright 
window in a distant view, which dazzles and confuses 
our sight of its surroundings. There are not words 
enough in all Shakespeare to express the merest 
fraction of a man's experience in an hour. The 
speed of the eyesight and the hearing, and the con- 
tinual industry of the mind, produce, in ten minutes, 
what it would require a laborious volume to shadow 
forth by comparisons and roundabout approaches. 
If verbal logic were sufficient, life would be as plain 
sailing as a piece of Euclid. But, as a matter of 
fact, we make a travesty of the simplest process of 

lOO 



WALT WHITMAN 

thought when we put it into words ; for the words 
are all coloured and forsworn, apply inaccurately, 
and bring with them, from former uses, ideas of 
praise and blame that have nothing to do with the 
question in hand. So we must always see to it 
nearly, that we judge by the realities of life and not 
by the partial terms that represent them in man's 
speech ; and at times of choice, we must leave words 
upon one side, and act upon those brute convictions, 
unexpressed and perhaps inexpressible, which cannot 
be flourished in an argument, but which are truly 
the sum and fruit of our experience. Words are for 
communication, not for judgment. This is what 
every thoughtful man knows for himself, for only 
fools and silly schoolmasters push definitions over 
far into the domain of conduct ; and the majority of 
women, not learned in these scholastic refinements, 
five all-of-a-piece and unconsciously, as a tree grows, 
without caring to put a name upon their acts or 
motives. Hence, a new difficulty for Whitman's 
scrupulous and argumentative poet : he must do 
more than waken up the sleepers to his words ; he 
must persuade them to look over the book and at 
hfe with their own eyes. 

This side of truth is very present to Whitman ; 
it is this that he means when he tells us that ' to 
glance with an eye confounds the learning of all 
times.' But he is not unready. He is never weary 
of descanting on the undebatable conviction that is 
forced upon our minds by the presence of other men, 
of animals, or of inanimate things. To glance with 

lOI 






.y^ 



MEN AND BOOKS 

an eye, were it only at a chair or a park railing, is by 
far a more persuasive process, and brings us to a far 
more exact conclusion than to read the works of all 
the logicians extant. If both, by a large allowance, 
may be said to end in certainty, the certainty in the 
one case transcends the other to an incalculable 
degree. If people see a Hon, they run away ; if they 
only apprehend a deduction, they keep wandering 
around in an experimental humour. Now, how is 
the poet to convince hke nature, and not like books ? 
Is there no actual piece of nature that he can show 
the man to his face, as he might show him a tree 
if they were walking together ? Yes, there is one : 
the man's own thoughts. In fact, if the poet is to 
speak efficaciously, he must say what is already in 
his hearer's mind. That, alone, the hearer will 
believe ; that, alone, he will be able to apply intel- 
ligently to the facts of life. Any conviction, even if 
it be a whole system or a whole religion, must pass 
into the condition of commonplace, or postulate, 
before it becomes fully operative. Strange excur- 
sions and high-flying theories may interest, but they 
cannot rule behaviour. Our faith is not the highest 
truth that we perceive, but the highest that we have 
been able to assimilate into the very texture and 
method of our thinking. It is not, therefore, by 
flashing before a man's eyes the weapons of dialectic ; 
it is not by induction, deduction, or construction ; it 
is not by forcing him on from one stage of reasoning 
to another, that the man will be effectually renewed. 
He cannot be made to believe anything ; but he can 

I02 



WALT WHITMAN 

be made to see that he has always beheved it. 
And this is the practical canon. It is when the 
reader cries, ' Oh, I know ! ' and is, perhaps, half 
irritated to see how nearly the author has forestalled 
his own thoughts, that he is on the way to what is 
called in theology a Saving Faith. 

Here we have the key to Whitman's attitude. 
To give a certain unity of ideal to the average popu- 
lation of America — to gather their activities about 
some conception of humanity that shall be central 
and normal, if only for the moment — the poet must 
portray that population as it is. Like human law, 
human poetry is simply declaratory. If any ideal is 
possible, it must be akeady in the thoughts of the 
people ; and, by the same reason, in the thoughts of 
the poet, who is one of them. And hence Whit- 
man's own formula : ' The poet is individual — he is 
complete in himself : the others are as good as he ; 
only he sees it, and they do not' To show them 
how good they are, the poet must study his fellow- 
countrymen and himself somewhat like a traveller 
on the hunt for his book of travels. There is a 
sense, of course, in which all true books are books of 
travel ; and all genuine poets must run their risk of 
being charged with the traveller's exaggeration ; for 
to whom are such books more surprising than to 
those whose own life is faithfully and smartly pic- 
tured ? But this danger is all upon one side ; and 
you may judiciously flatter the portrait without any 
likelihood of the sitter's disowning it for a faithful 
likeness. And so Whitman has reasoned : that by 



MEN AND BOOKS 

drawing at first-hand from himself and his neigh- 
bours, accepting without shame the inconsistencies 
and brutahties that go to make up man, and yet 
treating the whole in a high, magnanimous spirit, he 
would make sure of belief, and at the same time 
encourage people forward by the means of praise. 



II 

We are accustomed nowadays to a great deal of 
puling over the circumstances in which we are 
placed. The great refinement of many poetical 
gentlemen has rendered them practically unfit for 
the jostling and ugliness of life, and they record their 
unfitness at considerable length. The bold and 
awful poetry of Job's complaint produces too many 
flimsy imitators ; for there is always something con- 
solatory in grandeur, but the symphony transposed 
for the piano becomes hysterically sad. This litera- 
ture of woe, as Whitman calls it, this Maladie de 
Rene, as we like to call it in Europe, is in many 
ways a most humiliating and sickly phenomenon. 
Young gentlemen with three or four hundred a year 
of private means look down from a pinnacle of dole- 
ful experience on all the grown and hearty men who 
have dared to say a good word for life since the 
beginning of the world. There is no prophet but 
the melancholy Jaques, and the blue devils dance 
on all our literary wires. 

It would be a poor service to spread culture, if 
this be its result, among the comparatively innocent 
104 



WALT WHITMAN 

and cheerful ranks of men. When our Httle poets 
have to be sent to look at the ploughman and learn 
wisdom, we must be careful how we tamper with 
our ploughmen. Where a man in not the best of 
circumstances preserves composure of mind, and 
rehshes ale and tobacco, and his wife and children, 
in the intervals of dull and unremunerative labour ; 
where a man in this predicament can afford a lesson 
by the way to what are called his intellectual 
superiors, there is plainly something to be lost, as 
well as something to be gained, by teaching him to 
think differently. It is better to leave him as he is 
than to teach him whining. It is better that he 
should go without the cheerful lights of culture, if 
cheerless doubt and paralysing sentimentalism are to 
be the consequence. Let us, by all means, fight 
against that hide-bound stoHdity of sensation and 
sluggishness of mind which blurs and decolorises 
for poor natures the wonderful pageant of conscious- 
ness ; let us teach people, as much as we can, to 
enjoy, and they will learn for themselves to sym- 
pathise ; but let us see to it, above all, that we give 
these lessons in a brave, vivacious note, and build 
the man up in courage while we demolish its sub- 
stitute, indifference. 

Whitman is alive to all this. He sees that, if the 
poet is to be of any help, he must testify to the 
hveableness of hfe. His poems, he tells us, are to be 
'hymns of the praise of things.' They are to make 
for a certain high joy in living, or what he calls him- 
self ' a brave delight fit for freedom's athletes.' And 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

he has had no difficulty in introducing his optimism : 
it fitted readily enough with his system ; for the 
average man is truly a courageous person and truly 
fond of living. One of Whitman's remarks upon 
this head is worth quotation, as he is there perfectly 
successful, and does precisely what he designs to do 
throughout : Takes ordinary and even commonplace 
circumstances ; throws them out, by a happy turn 
of thinking, into significance and something like 
beauty ; and tacks a hopeful moral lesson to the 
end. 

* The passionate tenacity of hunters, woodmen, early risers, 
cultivators of gardens and orchards and fields,' he says, ' the 
love of healthy women for the manly form, seafaring persons, 
drivers of horses, the passion for light and the open air, — all is 
an old unvaried sign of the unfailing perception of beauty, and 
of a residence of the poetic in outdoor people.' 

There seems to me something truly original in 
this choice of trite examples. You will remark how 
adroitly Whitman begins, hunters and woodmen 
being confessedly romantic. And one thing more. 
If he had said 'the love of healthy men for the 
female form,' he would have said almost a silliness ; 
for the thing has never been dissembled out of deli- 
cacy, and is so obvious as to be a public nuisance. 
But by reversing it, he tells us something not unlike 
news ; something that sounds quite freshly in words ; 
and, if the reader be a man, gives him a moment of 
great self-satisfaction and spiritual aggrandisement. 
In many different authors you may find passages 
1 06 



WALT WHITMAN 

more remarkable for grammar, but few of a more 
ingenious turn, and none that could be more to the 
point in our connection. The tenacity of many 
ordinary people in ordinary pursuits is a sort of 
standing challenge to everybody else. If one man 
can grow absorbed in delving his garden, others 
may grow absorbed and happy over something else. 
Not to be upsides in this with any groom or gar- 
dener is to be very meanly organised. A man 
should be ashamed to take his food if he has not 
alchemy enough in his stomach to turn some of it 
into intense and enjoyable occupation. 

Whitman tries to reinforce this cheerfulness by 
keeping up a sort of outdoor atmosphere of senti- 
ment. His book, he tells us, should be read ' among 
the cooling influences of external nature ; ' and this 
recommendation, like that other famous one which 
Hawthorne prefixed to his collected tales, is in itself 
a character of the work. Every one who has been 
upon a walking or a boating tour, living in the open 
air, with the body in constant exercise and the mind 
in fallow, knows true ease and quiet. The irritating 
action of the brain is set at rest ; we think in a plain, 
unfeverish temper ; little things seem big enough, 
and great things no longer portentous ; and the 
world is smilingly accepted as it is. This is the 
spirit that Whitman inculcates and parades. He 
tliinks very ill of the atmosphere of parlours or 
hbraries. Wisdom keeps school outdoors. And he 
has the art to recommend this attitude of mind by 
simply pluming himself upon it as a virtue ; so that 

107 



MEN AND BOOKS 

the reader, to keep the advantage over his author 
which most readers enjoy, is tricked into professing 
the same view. And this spirit, as it is his chief 
lesson, is the greatest charm of his work. Thence, 
in spite of an uneven and emphatic key of expres- 
sion, something trenchant and straightforward, 
something simple and surprising, distinguishes his 
poems. He has sayings that come home to one like 
the Bible. We fall upon Whitman, after the works 
of so many men who write better, with a sense of 
relief from strain, with a sense of touching nature, as 
when one passes out of the flaring, noisy thorough- 
fares of a great city into what he himself has called, 
with unexcelled imaginative justice of language, 
' the huge and thoughtful night.' And his book in 
consequence, whatever may be the final judgment of 
its merit, whatever may be its influence on the 
future, should be in the hands of all parents and 
guardians as a specific for the distressing malady of 
being seventeen years old. Green-sickness yields 
to his treatment as to a charm of magic ; and the 
youth, after a short course of reading, ceases to carry 
the universe upon his shoulders. 



Ill 

Whitman is not one of those who can be deceived 
by famiharity. He considers it just as wonderful 
that there are myriads of stars as that one man 
should rise from the dead. He declares ' a hair on 
the back of his hand just as curious as any special 
io8 



WALT WHITMAN 

revelation.' His whole life is to him what it was to 
Sir Thomas Browne, — one perpetual miracle. Every- 
thing is strange, everything unaccountable, every- 
thing beautiful ; from a bug to the moon, from the 
sight of the eyes to the appetite for food. He makes 
it his business to see things as if he saw them for the 
first time, and professes astonishment on principle. 
But he has no leaning towards mythology ; avows his 
contempt for what he calls ' unregenerate poetry ; ' 
and does not mean by nature 

' the smooth walks, trimmed hedges, butterflies, posies, and 
nightingales of the English poets, but the whole orb, with its 
geologic history, the Kosmos, carrying fire and snow, that 
rolls through the illimitable areas, light as a feather though 
weighing billions of tons.' 

Nor is this exhaustive ; for in his character of 
idealist all impressions, all thoughts, trees and 
people, love and faith, astronomy, history, and 
religion, enter upon equal terms into his notion of 
the universe. He is not against religion ; not, 
indeed, against any religion. He wishes to drag 
with a larger net, to make a more comprehensive 
synthesis, than any or than all of them put together. 
In feeling after the central type of man, he must 
embrace all eccentricities ; his cosmology must sub- 
sume all cosmologies, and the feelings that gave 
birth to them ; his statement of facts must include 
all religion and all irreligion, Christ and Boodha, God 
and the devil. The world as it is, and the whole 
world as it is, physical, and spiritual, and historical, 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

with its good and bad, with its manifold inconsis- 
tencies, is what he wishes to set forth, in strong, 
picturesque, and popular lineaments, for the under- 
standing of the average man. One of his favourite 
endeavours is to get the whole matter into a nut- 
shell; to knock the four corners of the universe, 
one after another, about his readers' ears ; to hurry 
him, in breathless phrases, hither and thither, back 
and forward, in time and space ; to focus all this 
about his own momentary personality ; and then, 
drawing the ground from under his feet, as if by 
some cataclysm of nature, to plunge him into the 
unfathomable abyss sown with enormous suns and 
systems, and among the inconceivable numbers and 
magnitudes and velocities of the heavenly bodies. 
So that he concludes by striking into us some sense 
of that disproportion of things which Shelley has 
illuminated by the ironical flash of these eight 
words : The desire of the moth for the star. 

The same truth, but to what a different purpose ! 
Whitman's moth is mightily at his ease about all 
the planets in heaven, and cannot think too highly 
of our sublunary tapers. The universe is so large 
that imagination flags in the effort to conceive it; 
but here, in the meantime, is the world under our 
feet, a very warm and habitable corner. ' The earth, 
that is sufficient ; I do not want the constellations 
any nearer,' he remarks. And again: 'Let your 
soul stand cool and composed,' says he, 'before a 
million universes.' It is the language of a transcen- 
dental common sense, such as Thoreau held and 

JIO 



WALT WHITMAN 

sometimes uttered. But Whitman, who has a some- 
what vulgar inclination for technical talk and the 
jargon of philosophy, is not content with a few 
pregnant hints ; he must put the dots upon his i's ; 
he must corroborate the songs of Apollo by some of 
the darkest talk of human metaphysic. He tells his 
disciples that they must be ready 'to confront the 
growing arrogance of Realism.' Each person is, for 
himself, the keystone and the occasion of this uni- 
versal edifice. 'Nothing, not God,' he says, 'is 
greater to one than oneself is ; ' a statement with an 
irreligious smack at the first sight ; but like most 
startling sayings, a manifest truism on a second. 
He will give effect to his own character without 
apology; he sees 'that the elementary laws never 
apologise.' ' I reckon,' he adds, with quaint col- 
loquial arrogance, ' I reckon I behave no prouder 
than the level I plant my house by, after all.' The 
level follows the law of its being ; so, unrelentingly, 
will he; everything, every person, is good in his 
own place and way ; God is the maker of all, and all 
are in one design. For he believes in God, and that 
with a sort of blasphemous security. ' No array of 
terms,' quoth he, 'no array of terms can say how 
much at peace I am about God and about death.' 
There certainly never was a prophet who carried 
things with a higher hand ; he gives us less a body 
of dogmas than a series of proclamations by the 
grace of God ; and language, you will observe, posi- 
tively fails him to express how far he stands above 
the highest human doubts and trepidations. 

Ill 



MEN AND BOOKS 

But next in order of truths to a person's sublime 
conviction of himself, comes the attraction of one 
person for another, and all that we mean by the 
word love : — 

' The dear love of man for his comrade — the attraction of 
friend for friend, 
Of the well-married husband and wife, of children and parents. 
Of city for city and land for land/ 

The solitude of the most sublime idealist is broken 
in upon by other people's faces ; he sees a look in 
their eyes that corresponds to something in his own 
heart; there comes a tone in their voices which 
convicts him of a startling weakness for his fellow- 
creatures. While he is hymning the ego and com- 
mercing with God and the universe, a woman goes 
below his window ; and at the turn of her skirt, or 
the colour of her eyes, Icarus is recalled from heaven 
by the run. Love is so startlingly real that it takes 
rank upon an equal footing of reality with the con- 
sciousness of personal existence. We are as heartily 
persuaded of the identity of those we love as of our 
own identity. And so sympathy pairs with self- 
assertion, the two gerents of human life on earth ; 
and Whitman's ideal man must not only be strong, 
free, and self-reliant in himself, but his freedom must 
be bounded and his strength perfected by the most 
intimate, eager, and long-suffering love for others. 
To some extent this is taking away with the left 
hand what has been so generously given with the 
right. Morality has been ceremoniously extruded 

112 



WALT WHITMAN 

from the door only to be brought in again by the 
window. We are told, on one page, to do as we 
please; and on the next we are sharply upbraided 
for not having done as the author pleases. We are 
first assured that we are the finest fellows in the 
world in our own right ; and then it appears that we 
are only fine fellows in so far as we practise a most 
quixotic code of morals. The disciple who saw him- 
self in clear ether a moment before is plunged down 
again among the fogs and complications of duty. 
And this is all the more overwhelming because 
Whitman insists not only on love between sex and 
sex, and between friends of the same sex, but in the 
field of the less intense political sympathies ; and his 
ideal man must not only be a generous friend but a 
conscientious voter into the bargain. 

His method somewhat lessens the difficulty. He 
is not, the reader will remember, to tell us how good 
we ought to be, but to remind us how good we are. 
He is to encourage us to be free and kind by proving 
that we are free and kind already. He passes our 
corporate life under review, to show that it is upheld 
by the very virtues of which he makes himself the 
advocate. ' There is no object so soft,' he says 
somewhere in his big, plain way, ' there is no object 
so soft but it makes a hub for the wheel'd universe.' 
Rightly understood, it is on the softest of all objects, 
the sympathetic heart, that the wheel of society 
turns easily and securely as on a perfect axle. There 
is no room, of course, for doubt or discussion, about 
conduct, where every one is to follow the law of 
5-H 113 



MEN AND BOOKS 

his being with exact compliance. Whitman hates 
doubt, deprecates discussion, and discourages to his 
utmost the craving, carping sensibihties of the con- 
science. We are to imitate, to use one of his absurd 
and happy phrases, ' the satisfaction and aplomb of 
animals.' If he preaches a sort of ranting Chris- 
tianity in morals, a fit consequent to the ranting 
optimism of his cosmology, it is because he declares 
it to be the original deliverance of the human heart ; 
or at least, for he would be honestly historical in 
method, of the human heart as at present Christian- 
ised. His is a morality without a prohibition ; his 
policy is one of encouragement all round. A man 
must be a born hero to come up to Whitman's 
standard in the practice of any of the positive 
virtues ; but of a negative virtue, such as temperance 
or chastity, he has so httle to say, that the reader 
need not be surprised if he drops a word or two 
upon the other side. He would lay down nothing 
that would be a clog; he would prescribe nothing 
that cannot be done ruddily, in a heat. The great 
point is to get people under way. To the faithful 
Whitmanite this would be justified by the behef that 
God made all, and that all was good ; the prophet, 
in this doctrine, has only to cry 'Tally-ho,' and 
mankind will break into a gallop on the road to El 
Dorado. Perhaps, to another class of minds, it may 
look hke the result of the somewhat cynical reflec- 
tion that you will not make a kind man out of one 
who is unkind by any precepts under heaven ; tem- 
pered by the beUef that, in natural circumstances, 
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WALT WHITMAN 

the large majority is well disposed. Thence it would 
follow, that if you can only get every one to feel 
more warmly and act more courageously, the balance 
of results will be for good. 

So far, you see, the doctrine is pretty coherent as 
a doctrine ; as a picture of man's life it is incomplete 
and misleading, although eminently cheerful. This 
he is himself the first to acknowledge ; for if he is 
prophetic in anything, it is in his noble disregard of 
consistency. 'Do I contradict myself?' he asks 
somewhere ; and then pat comes the answer, the 
best answer ever given in print, worthy of a sage, or 
rather of a woman : ' Very well, then, I contradict 
myself!' mth this addition, not so feminine and 
perhaps not altogether so satisfactory : ' I am large 
— I contain multitudes.' Life, as a matter of fact, 
partakes largely of the nature of tragedy. The 
gospel according to Whitman, even if it be not so 
logical, has this advantage over the gospel according 
to Pangloss, that it does not utterly disregard the 
existence of temporal evil. Whitman accepts the 
fact of disease and wretchedness like an honest man ; 
and instead of trying to qualify it in the interest of 
his optimism, sets himself to spur people up to be 
helpful. He expresses a conviction, indeed, that all 
will be made up to the victims in the end; that 
' what is untried and afterward ' will fail no one, not 
even 'the old man who has lived without purpose 
and feels it with bitterness worse than gall.' But 
this is not to palliate our sense of what is hard or 
melancholy in the present. Pangloss, smarting under 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

one of the worst things that ever was supposed to 
come from America, consoled himself with the re- 
flection that it was the price we have to pay for 
cochineal. And with that murderous parody, logical 
optimism and the praises of the best of possible 
worlds went irrevocably out of season, and have been 
no more heard of in the mouths of reasonable men. 
Whitman spares us all allusions to the cochineal ; he 
treats evil and sorrow in a spirit almost as of wel- 
come ; as an old sea-dog might have welcomed the 
sight of the enemy's topsails off the Spanish Main. 
There, at least, he seems to say, is something obvious 
to be done. I do not know many better things in 
literature than the brief pictures — brief and vivid 
like things seen by lightning, — with which he tries 
to stir up the world's heart upon the side of mercy. 
He braces us, on the one hand, with examples of 
heroic duty and helpfulness ; on the other, he touches 
us with pitiful instances of people needing help. 
He knows how to make the heart beat at a brave 
story ; to inflame us with just resentment over the 
hunted slave ; to stop our mouths for shame when 
he tells of the drunken prostitute. For all the 
afflicted, all the weak, all the wicked, a good word is 
said in a spirit which I can only call one of ultra- 
Christianity ; and however wild, however contradic- 
tory it may be in parts, this at least may be said for 
his book, as it may be said of the Christian Gospels, 
that no one will read it, however respectable, but he 
gets a knock upon his conscience ; no one however 
fallen, but he finds a kindly and supporting welcome. 
ii6 



WALT WHITMAN 



IV 

Nor has he been content with merely blowing the 
trumpet for the battle of well-doing ; he has given 
to his precepts the authority of his own brave 
example. Naturally a grave, believing man, with 
Uttle or no sense of humour, he has succeeded as 
well in life as in his printed performances. The 
spirit that was in him has come forth most eloquently 
in his actions. Many who have only read his poetry 
have been tempted to set him down as an ass, or 
even as a charlatan ; but I never met any one who 
had known him personally who did not profess a 
solid affection and respect for the man's character. 
He practises as he professes ; he feels deeply that 
Christian love for all men, that toleration, that 
cheerful delight in serving others, which he often 
celebrates in literature with a doubtful measure of 
success. And perhaps, out of all his writings, the 
best and the most human and convincing passages 
are to be found in 'these soil'd and creas'd little 
livraisons, each composed of a sheet or two of paper, 
folded small to carry in the pocket, and fastened 
with a pin,' which he scribbled during the war by 
the bedsides of the wounded or in the excitement 
of great events. They are hardly literature in the 
formal meaning of the word ; he has left his jottings 
for the most part as he made them ; a homely detail, 
a word from the lips of a dying soldier, a business 
memorandum, the copy of a letter — short, straight- 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

forward to the point, with none of the trappings of 
composition ; but they breathe a profound sentiment, 
they give us a vivid look at one of the sides of hfe, 
and they make us acquainted with a man whom it is 
an honour to love. 

Whitman's intense Americanism, his unhmited 
belief in the future of These States (as, with rever- 
ential capitals, he loves to call them), made the war 
a period of great trial to his soul. The new virtue. 
Unionism, of which he is the sole inventor, seemed 
to have fallen into premature unpopularity. All 
that he loved, hoped, or hated, hung in the balance. 
And the game of war was not only momentous to 
him in its issues; it sublimated his spirit by its 
heroic displays, and tortured him intimately by the 
spectacle of its horrors. It was a theatre, it was a 
place of education, it was like a season of religious 
revival. He watched Lincoln going daily to his 
work ; he studied and fraternised with young soldiery 
passing to the front ; above all, he Avalked the hos- 
pitals reading the Bible, distributing clean clothes, 
or apples, or tobacco ; a patient, helpful, reverend 
man, full of kind speeches. 

His memoranda of this period are almost be- 
wildering to read. From one point of view they 
seem those of a district visitor ; from another, they 
look like the formless jottings of an artist in the 
picturesque. More than one woman, on whom I 
tried the experiment, immediately claimed the writer 
for a fellow-woman. More than one literary purist 
might identify him as a shoddy newspaper corre- 
ii8 



WALT WHITMAN 

spondent without the necessary faculty of style. And 
yet the story touches home ; and if you are of the 
weeping order of mankind, you will certainly find 
your eyes fill with tears, of which you have no reason 
to be ashamed. There is only one way to charac- 
terise a work of this order, and that is to quote. 
Here is a passage from a letter to a mother, un- 
known to Whitman, whose son died in hospital : — 

' Frank, as far as I saw, had everything requisite in surgical 
treatment, nursing, etc. He had watches much of the time. 
He was so good and well-behaved, and aiFectionate, I myself 
liked him very much. I was in the habit of coming in after- 
noons and sitting by him, and he liked to have me — liked to 
put out his arm and lay his hand on my knee — would keep it 
so a long while. Toward the last he was more restless and 
flighty at night — often fancied himself with his regiment — by 
his talk sometimes seeni'd as if his feelings were hurt by being 
blamed by his officers for something he was entirely innocent 
of — said "I never in my life was thought capable of such a 
thing, and never was." At other times he would fancy himself 
talking as it seem'd to children or such like, his relatives, I 
suppose, and giving them good advice ; would talk to them a 
long while. All the time he was out of his head not one single 
bad word, or thought, or idea escaped him. It was remarked 
that many a man''s conversation in his senses was not half so 
good as Frank's delirium. 

' He was perfectly willing to die — he had become very weak, 
and had suffered a good deal, and was perfectly resigned, poor 
boy. I do not know his past life, but I feel as if it must have 
been good. At any rate what I saw of him here, under the 
most trying circumstances, with a painful wound, and among 
strangers, I can say that he behaved so brave, so composed, and 
so sweet and affectionate, it could not be surpassed. And 
now, like many other noble and good men, after serving his 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

country as a soldier, he has yielded up his young life at the 
very outset in her service. Such things are gloomy — yet there 
is a text, " God doeth all things well," the meaning of which, 
after due time, appears to the soul. 

'I thought perhaps a few words, though from a stranger, 
about your son, from one who was with him at the last, might 
be worth while, for I loved the young man, though I but saw 
him immediately to lose him.'' 

It is easy enough to pick holes in the grammar of 
this letter, but what are we to say of its profound 
goodness and tenderness? It is written as though 
he had the mother's face before his eyes, and saw her 
wincing in the flesh at every word. And what, 
again, are we to say of its sober truthfulness, not 
exaggerating, not running to phrases, not seeking to 
make a hero out of what was only an ordinary but 
good and brave young man ? Literary reticence is 
not Whitman's stronghold ; and this reticence is not 
literary, but humane ; it is not that of a good artist 
but that of a good man. He knew that what the 
mother wished to hear about was Frank; and he 
told her about her Frank as he was. 



V 

Something should be said of Whitman's style, for 
style is of the essence of thinking. And where a 
man is so critically deliberate as our author, and 
goes solemnly about his poetry for an ulterior end, 
every indication is worth notice. He has chosen a 
rough, unrhymed, lyrical verse; sometimes instinct 
with a fine processional movement ; often so rugged 
1 20 



WALT WHITMAN 

and careless that it can only be described by saying 
that he has not taken the trouble to write prose. I 
believe myself that it was selected principally because 
it was easy to write, although not without recollec- 
tions of the marching measures of some of the prose 
in our EngHsh Old Testament. According to Whit- 
man, on the other hand, 'the time has arrived to 
essentially break down the barriers of form between 
Prose and Poetry . . . for the most cogent pur- 
poses of those great inland states, and for Texas, 
and California, and Oregon ' ; — a statement which 
is among the happiest achievements of American 
humour. He calls his verses 'recitatives,' in easily 
followed allusion to a musical form. 'Easily- written, 
loose-fingered chords,' he cries, ' I feel the thrum of 
your climax and close.' Too often, I fear, he is the 
only one who can perceive the rhythm ; and in spite 
of Mr. Swinburne, a great part of his work con- 
sidered as verses is poor bald stuff. Considered, not 
as verse, but as speech, a great part of it is full of 
strange and admirable merits. The right detail is 
seized ; the right word, bold and trenchant, is thrust 
into its place. Whitman has small regard to literary 
decencies, and is totally free from literary timidities. 
He is neither afraid of being slangy nor of being 
dull ; nor, let me add, of being ridiculous. The result 
is a most surprising compound of plain grandeur, 
sentimental affectation, and downright nonsense. It 
would be useless to follow his detractors and give 
instances of how bad he can be at his worst; and 
perhaps it would be not much wiser to give extracted 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

specimens of how happily he can write when he is at 
his best. These come in to most advantage in their 
own place ; owing something, it may be, to the offset 
of their curious surroundings. And one thing is 
certain, that no one can appreciate Whitman's ex- 
cellences until he has grown accustomed to his 
faults. Until you are content to pick poetry out of 
his pages almost as you must pick it out of a Greek 
play in Bohn's translation, your gravity will be con- 
tinually upset, your ears perpetually disappointed, 
and the whole book will be no more to you than a 
particularly flagrant production by the Poet Close. 

A writer of this uncertain quality was, perhaps, 
unfortunate in taking for thesis the beauty of the 
world as it now is, not only on the hill-tops but in 
the factory ; not only by the harbour full of stately 
ships, but in the magazine of the hopelessly prosaic 
hatter. To show beauty in common things is the 
work of the rarest tact. It is not to be done by 
the wishing. It is easy to posit as a theory, but to 
bring it home to men's minds is the problem of 
literature, and is only accomplished by rare talent, 
and in comparatively rare instances. To bid the 
whole world stand and deliver, with a dogma in one's 
right hand by way of pistol ; to cover reams of paper 
in a galloping, headstrong vein ; to cry louder and 
louder over everything as it comes up, and make no 
distinction in one's enthusiasm over the most in- 
comparable matters ; to prove one's entire want of 
sympathy for the jaded, literary palate, by calling, 
not a spade a spade, but a hatter a hatter, in a lyrical 

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WALT WHITMAN 

apostrophe ; — this, in spite of all the airs ox inspira- 
tion, is not the way to do it. It may be very wrong, 
and very wounding to a respectable branch of indus- 
try, but the word ' hatter ' cannot be used seriously 
in emotional verse ; not to understand this is to 
have no literary tact ; and I would, for his own sake, 
that this were the only inadmissible expression with 
which Whitman had bedecked his pages. The book 
teems with similar comicalities ; and, to a reader 
who is determined to take it from that side only, 
presents a perfect carnival of fun. 

A good deal of this is the result of theory playing 
its usual vile trick upon the artist. It is because he 
is a Democrat that Whitman must have in the 
hatter. If you may say Admiral, he reasons, why 
may you not say Hatter ? One man is as good as 
another, and it is the business of the ' great poet ' to 
show poetry in the life of the one as well as the 
other. A most incontrovertible sentiment, surely, 
and one which nobody would think of controverting, 
where — and here is the point — where any beauty has 
been shown. But how, where that is not the case? 
where the hatter is simply introduced, as God made 
him and as his fellow-men have miscalled him, at the 
crisis of a high-flown rhapsody ? And what are we 
to say, where a man of Whitman's notable capacity 
for putting things in a bright, picturesque, and novel 
way, simply gives up the attempt, and indulges, 
with apparent exultation, in an inventory of trades 
or implements, with no more colour or coherence 
than so many index- words out of a dictionary ? I 

12.^ 



MEN AND BOOKS 

do not know that we can say anything, but that it 
is a prodigiously amusing exhibition for a line or so. 
The worst of it is, that Whitman must have known 
better. The man is a great critic, and, so far as I 
can make out, a good one ; and how much criticism 
does it require to know that capitulation is not 
description, or that fingering on a dumb keyboard, 
with whatever show of sentiment and execution, is 
not at all the same thing as discoursing music. I 
wish I could believe he was quite honest with us ; 
but, indeed, who was ever quite honest who wrote a 
book for a purpose ? It is a flight beyond the reach 
of human magnanimity. 

One other point, where his means failed him, must 
be touched upon, however shortly. In his desire to 
accept all facts loyally and simply, it fell within his 
programme to speak at some length and with some 
plainness on what is, for I really do not know what 
reason, the most delicate of subjects. Seeing in 
that one of the most serious and interesting parts 
of life, he was aggrieved that it should be looked 
upon as ridiculous or shameful. No one speaks of 
maternity with his tongue in his cheek ; and Whit- 
man made a bold push to set the sanctity of father- 
hood beside the sanctity of motherhood, and introduce 
this also among the things that can be spoken of 
without either a blush or a wink. But the Philistines 
have been too strong ; and, to say truth, Whitman 
has rather played the fool. We may be thoroughly 
conscious that his end is improving ; that it would 
be a good thing if a window were opened on these 
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WALT WHITMAN 

close privacies of life ; that on this subject, as on all 
others, he now and then lets fall a pregnant saying. 
But we are not satisfied. We feel that he was not 
the man for so difficult an enterprise. He loses our 
sympathy in the character of a poet by attracting 
too much of our attention in that of a Bull in a 
China Shop. And where, by a little more art, we 
might have been solemnised ourselves, it is too often 
Whitman alone who is solemn in the face of an 
audience somewhat indecorously amused. 



VI 

Lastly, as most important, after all, to human 
beings in our disputable state, what is that higher 
prudence which was to be the aim and issue of these 
deliberate productions ? 

Whitman is too clever to slip into a succinct 
formula. If he could have adequately said his say 
in a single proverb, it is to be presumed he would 
not have put himself to the trouble of writing several 
volumes. It was his programme to state as much 
as he could of the world with all its contradictions, 
and leave the upshot with God who planned it. 
What he has made of the world and the world's 
meanings is to be found at large in his poems. These 
altogether give his answers to the problems of beUef 
and conduct; in many ways righteous and high- 
spirited, in some ways loose and contradictory. And 
yet there are two passages from the preface to the 
Leaves of Grass which do pretty well condense his 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

teaching on all essential points, and yet preserve a 
measure of his spirit : 

' This is what you shall do,' he says in the one, ' love the 
earth, and sun, and animals, despise riches, give alms to every 
one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your 
income and labour to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning 
God, have patience and indulgence towards the people, take off 
your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or 
number of men ; go freely with powerful uneducated persons, 
and with the young, and mothers of families, read these leaves 
[his own works] in the open air every season of every year of 
your life; re-examine all you have been told at school or 
church, or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own 
soul."" 

' The prudence of the greatest poet,' he adds in the other— 
and the greatest poet is, of course, himself—' knows that the 
yomig man who composedly perilled his life and lost it, has 
done exceeding well for himself; while the man who has not 
perilled his life, and retains it to old age in riches and ease, 
has perhaps achieved nothing for himself worth mentioning ; 
and that only that person has no great prudence to learn, who 
has learnt to prefer real long-lived things, and favours body and 
soul the same, and perceives the indirect surely following the 
direct, and what evil or good he does leaping onward and 
waiting to meet him again, and who in his spirit, in any 
emergency whatever, neither hurries nor avoids death.' 

There is much that is Christian in these extracts, 
starthngly Christian. Any reader who bears in mind 
Whitman's own advice and 'dismisses whatever 
insults his own soul ' will find plenty that is bracing, 
brightening, and chastening to reward him for a 
little patience at first It seems hardly possible 
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WALT WHITMAN 

that any being should get evil from so healthy a 
book as the Leaves of Grass, wliich is simply comical 
wherever it falls short of nobility ; but if there be 
any such, who cannot both take and leave, who can- 
not let a single opportunity pass by without some 
unworthy and unmanly thought, I should have as 
great difficulty, and neither more nor less, in recom- 
mending the works of Whitman as in lending them 
Shakespeare, or letting them go abroad outside of 
the grounds of a private asylum. 



127 



IV 

HENRY DAVID THOREAU 

HIS CHARACTER AND OPINIONS 



Thoreau's thin, penetrating, big-nosed face, even in 
a bad woodcut, conveys some hint of the limitations 
of his mind and character. With his almost acid 
sharpness of insight, with his almost animal dex- 
terity in act, there went none of that large, uncon- 
scious geniality of the world's heroes. He was not 
easy, not ample, not urbane, not even kind ; his 
enjoyment was hardly smiling, or the smile was 
not broad enough to be convincing; he had no 
waste lands nor kitchen-midden in his nature, but 
was all improved and sharpened to a point. * He 
was bred to no profession,' says Emerson ; ' he never 
married ; he lived alone ; he never went to church ; 
he never voted ; he refused to pay a tax to the 
State ; he ate no flesh, he drank no wine, he never 
knew the use of tobacco ; and, though a naturalist, 
he used neither trap nor gun. When asked at 
dinner what dish he preferred, he answered, "the 
nearest."' So many negative superiorities begin to 
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HENRY DAVID THOREAU 

smack a little of the prig. From his later works he 
was in the habit of cutting out the humorous pas- 
sages, under the impression that they were beneath 
the dignity of his moral muse ; and there we see the 
prig stand public and confessed. It was 'much 
easier,' says Emerson acutely, much easier for 
Thoreau to say no than yes ; and that is a charac- 
teristic which depicts the man. It is a useful accom- 
plishment to be able to say no, but surely it is the 
essence of amiabihty to prefer to say yes where it is 
possible. There is something wanting in the man 
who does not hate himself whenever he is con- 
strained to say no. And there was a great deal 
wanting in this born dissenter. He was almost 
shockingly devoid of weaknesses ; he had not enough 
of them to be truly polar with humanity ; whether 
you call him demi-god or demi-man, he was at least 
not altogether one of us, for he was not touched 
with a feehng of our infirmities. The world's heroes 
have room for all positive qualities, even those which 
are disreputable, in the capacious theatre of their 
dispositions. Such can live many lives ; while a 
Thoreau can live but one, and that only with per- 
petual foresight. 

He was no ascetic, rather an Epicurean of the 
nobler sort ; and he had this one great merit, that 
he succeeded so far as to be happy. ' I love my fate 
to the core and rind,' he wrote once ; and even while 
he lay dying, here is what he dictated (for it seems 
he was already too feeble to control the pen) : ' You 
ask particularly after my health. I suppose that I 
5—1 129 



MEN AND BOOKS 

have not many months to live, but of course know 
nothing about it. I may say that I am enjoying 
existence as much as ever, and regret nothing.' It 
is not given to all to bear so clear a testimony to the 
sweetness of their fate, nor to any without courage 
and wisdom ; for this world in itself is but a painful 
and uneasy place of residence, and lasting happiness, 
at least to the self-conscious, comes only from within. 
Now Thoreau's content and ecstasy in living was, 
we may say, Uke a plant that he had watered and 
tended with womanish solicitude ; for there is apt to 
be something unmanly, something almost dastardly, 
in a life that does not move with dash and freedom, 
and that fears the bracing contact of the world. In 
one word, Thoreau was a skulker. He did not wish 
virtue to go out of him among his fellow-men, but 
slunk into a corner to hoard it for himself He left 
all for the sake of certain virtuous self-indulgences. 
It is true that his tastes were noble ; that his ruling 
passion was to keep himself unspotted from the 
world ; and that his luxuries were all of the same 
healthy order as cold tubs and early rising. But a 
man may be both coldly cruel in the pursuit of good- 
ness, and morbid even in the pursuit of health. I 
cannot lay my hands on the passage in which he 
explains his abstinence from tea and coffee, but I am 
sure I have the meaning correctly. It is this : He 
thought it bad economy and worthy of no true 
virtuoso to spoil the natural rapture of the morning 
with such muddy stimulants; let him but see the 
sun rise, and he was already sufficiently inspirited for 
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HENRY DAVID THOREAU 

the labours of the day. That may be reason good 
enough to abstain from tea ; but when we go on to 
find the same man, on the same or similar grounds, 
abstain from nearly everything that his neighbours 
innocently and pleasurably use, and from the rubs 
and trials of human society itself into the bargain, 
we recognise that valetudinarian healthfulness which 
is more dehcate than sickness itself. We need have 
no respect for a state of artificial training. True 
health is to be able to do without it. Shakespeare, 
we can imagine, might begin the day upon a quart 
of ale, and yet enjoy the sunrise to the full as much 
as Thoreau, and commemorate his enjoyment in 
vastly better verses. A man who must separate 
himself from his neighbours' habits in order to be 
happy is in much the same case with one who 
requires to take opium for the same purpose. What 
we want to see is one who can breast into the world, 
do a man's work, and still preserve his first and pure 
enjoyment of existence. 

Thoreau's faculties were of a piece with his moral 
shyness ; for they were all dehcacies. He could 
guide himself about the woods on the darkest night 
by the touch of his feet. He could pick up at once 
an exact dozen of pencils by the feehng, pace dis- 
tances with accuracy, and gauge cubic contents by 
the eye. His smeU was so dainty that he could 
perceive the foetor of dwelling-houses as he passed 
them by at night ; his palate so unsophisticated that, 
hke a child, he disliked the taste of wine — or per- 
haps, living in America, had never tasted any that 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

was good ; and his knowledge of nature was so 
complete and curious that he could have told the 
time of year, within a day or so, by the aspect 
of the plants. In his dealings with animals he was 
the original of Hawthorne's Donatello. He pulled 
the woodchuck out of its hole by the tail ; the 
hunted fox came to him for protection ; wild squir- 
rels have been seen to nestle in his waistcoat; he 
would thrust his arm into a pool and bring forth 
a bright, panting fish, lying undismayed in the palm 
of his hand. There were few things that he could 
not do. He could make a house, a boat, a pencil, 
or a book. He was a surveyor, a scholar, a natural 
historian. He could run, walk, climb, skate, swim, 
and manage a boat. The smallest occasion served to 
display his physical accomplishment ; and a manu- 
facturer, from merely observing his dexterity with 
the window of a railway carriage, offered him a 
situation on the spot. ' The only fruit of much 
living,' he observes, ' is the ability to do some slight 
thing better.' But such was the exactitude of his 
senses, so alive was he in every fibre, that it seems 
as if the maxim should be changed in his case, for he 
could do most things with unusual perfection. And 
perhaps he had an approving eye to himself when he 
wrote : ' Though the youth at last grows indifferent, 
the laws of the universe are not indifferent, but are 
for ever on the side of the most sensitive.'' 



132 



HENRY DAVID THOREAU 



II 

Thoreau had decided, it would seem, from the 
very first to lead a life of self-improvement : the 
needle did not tremble as with richer natures, but 
pointed steadily north ; and as he saw duty and 
inclination in one, he turned all his strength in 
that direction. He was met upon the threshold 
by a common difficulty. In this world, in spite of 
its many agreeable features, even the most sensi- 
tive must undergo some drudgery to hve. It is 
not possible to devote your time to study and medi- 
tation without what are quaintly but happily de- 
nominated private means ; these absent, a man must 
contrive to earn his bread by some service to the 
public such as the public cares to pay him for ; 
or, as Thoreau loved to put it, Apollo must serve 
Admetus. This was to Thoreau even a sourer 
necessity than it is to most ; there was a love of 
freedom, a strain of the wild man, in his nature, 
that rebelled with violence against the yoke of 
custom ; and he was so eager to cultivate himself 
and to be happy in his own society, that he could 
consent with difficulty even to the interruptions of 
friendship. 'Such are my engagements to myself 
that I dare not promise,' he once wrote in answer to 
an invitation ; and the italics are his own. Marcus 
Aurelius found time to study virtue, and between 
whiles to conduct the imperial affairs of Rome ; but 
Thoreau is so busy improving himself that he must 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

think twice about a morning call. And now imagine 
him condemned for eight hours a day to some uncon- 
genial and unmeaning business ! He shrank from 
the very look of the mechanical in life ; all should, 
if possible, be sweetly spontaneous and swimmingly 
progressive. Thus he learned to make lead-pencils, 
and, when he had gained the best certificate, and his 
friends began to congratulate him on his establish- 
ment in life, calmly announced that he should never 
make another. ' Why should I ? ' said he ; 'I would 
not do again what I have done once.' For when a 
thing has once been done as well as it wants to be, it 
is of no further interest to the self-improver. Yet in 
after years, and when it became needful to support 
his family, he returned patiently to this mechanical 
art — a step more than worthy of himself 

The pencils seem to have been Apollo's first 
experiment in the service of Admetus ; but others 
followed. ' I have thoroughly tried school-keeping,' 
he writes, ' and found that my expenses were in pro- 
portion, or rather out of proportion, to my income ; 
for I was obliged to dress and train, not to say, 
think, and believe, accordingly, and I lost my time 
into the bargain. As I did not teach for the benefit 
of my fellow-men, but simply for a Hvelihood, this 
was a failure. I have tried trade, but I found that 
it would take ten years to get under way in that, 
and that then I should probably be on my way to 
the devil.' Nothing, indeed, can surpass his scorn 
for all so-called business. Upon that subject gall 
squirts from him at a touch. ' The whole enterprise 
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HENRY DAVID THOREAU 

of this nation is not illustrated by a thought,' he 
writes ; ' it is not warmed by a sentiment ; there is 
nothing in it for which a man should lay down his 
life, nor even his gloves.' And again : ' If our mer- 
chants did not most of them fail, and the banks 
too, my faith in the old laws of this world would 
be staggered. The statement that ninety-six in 
a hundred doing such business surely break down 
is perhaps the sweetest fact that statistics have 
revealed.' The wish was probably father to the 
figures ; but there is something enlivening in a 
hatred of so genuine a brand, hot as Corsican re- 
venge, and sneering like Voltaire. 

Pencils, school-keeping, and trade being thus dis- 
carded one after another, Thoreau, with a stroke of 
strategy, turned the position. He saw his way to 
get his board and lodging for practically nothing ; 
and Admetus never got less work out of any servant 
since the world began. It was his ambition to be 
an Oriental philosopher ; but he was always a very 
Yankee sort of Oriental. Even in the pecuhar atti- 
tude in which he stood to money, his system of 
personal economics, as we may call it, he displayed 
a vast amount of truly down-East calculation, and 
he adopted poverty like a piece of business. Yet 
his system is based on one or two ideas which, I 
believe, come naturally to all thoughtful youths, 
and are only pounded out of them by city uncles. 
Indeed, something essentially youthful distinguishes 
all Thoreau's knock-down blows at current opinion. 
Like the posers of a child, they leave the orthodox 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

in a kind of speechless agony. These know the 
thing is nonsense. They are sure there must be 
an answer, yet somehow cannot find it. So it is 
with his system of economy. He cuts through the 
subject on so new a plane that the accepted argu- 
ments apply no longer; he attacks it in a new 
dialect where there are no catchwords ready made 
for the defender; after you have been boxing for 
years on a pohte, gladiatorial convention, here is 
an assailant who does not scruple to hit below the 
belt. 

'The cost of a thing,' says he, 'is the amount of 
what I will call life which is required to be exchanged 
for it, immediately or in the long-run.' I have been 
accustomed to put it to myself, perhaps more clearly, 
that the price we have to pay for money is paid in 
liberty. Between these two ways of it, at least, the 
reader will probably not fail to find a third definition 
of his own ; and it follows, on one or other, that a 
man may pay too dearly for his hvelihood, by giving, 
in Thoreau's terms, his whole life for it, or, in mine, 
bartering for it the whole of his available hberty, and 
becoming a slave till death. There are two ques- 
tions to be considered— the quahty of what we buy, 
and the price we have to pay for it. Do you want a 
thousand a year, a two thousand a year, or a ten 
thousand a year hvehhood ? and can you afford the 
one you want ? It is a matter of taste ; it is not in 
the least degree a question of duty, though com- 
monly supposed so. But there is no authority for 
that view anywhere. It is nowhere in the Bible. It 
136 



HENRY DAVID THOREAU 

is true that we might do a vast amount of good if 
we were wealthy, but it is also highly improbable ; 
not many do ; and the art of growing rich is not 
only quite distinct from that of doing good, but the 
practice of the one does not at all train a man for 
practising the other. 'Money might be of great 
service to me,' writes Thoreau ; ' but the difficulty 
now is that I do not improve my opportunities, and 
therefore I am not prepared to have my oppor- 
tunities increased.' It is a mere illusion that, above 
a certain income, the personal desires will be satisfied 
and leave a wider margin for the generous impulse. 
It is as difficult to be generous, or anything else 
except perhaps a member of Parhament, on thirty 
thousand as on two hundred a year. 

Now Thoreau's tastes were well defined. He 
loved to be free, to be master of his times and 
seasons, to indulge the mind rather than the body ; 
he preferred long rambles to rich dinners, his own 
reflections to the consideration of society, and an 
easy, calm, unfettered, active life among green trees 
to dull toiling at the counter of a bank. And such 
being his inclination he determined to gratify it. A 
poor man must save off something ; he determined 
to save off his livelihood. ' When a man has 
attained those things which are necessary to life,' 
he writes, 'there is another alternative than to 
obtain the superfluities ; he may adventure on life 
now, his vacation from humbler toil having com- 
menced.' Thoreau would get shelter, some kind 
of covering for his body, and necessary daily bread ; 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

even these he should get as cheaply as possible ; and 
then, his vacation from humbler toil having com- 
menced, devote himself to Oriental philosophers, 
the study of nature, and the work of self-improve- 
ment. 

Prudence, which bids us all go to the ant for 
wisdom and hoard against the day of sickness, was 
not a favourite with Thoreau. He preferred that 
other, whose name is so much misappropriated : 
Faith. When he had secured the necessaries of 
the moment, he would not reckon up possible acci- 
dents or torment himself with trouble for the future. 
He had no toleration for the man ' who ventures to 
live only by the aid of the mutual insurance com- 
pany, which has promised to bury him decently.' 
He would trust himself a little to the world. ' We 
may safely trust a good deal more than we do,' says 
he. ' How much is not done by us ! or what if 
we had been taken sick ? ' And then, with a stab 
of satire, he describes contemporary mankind in a 
phrase : ' All the day long on the alert, at night 
we unwillingly say our prayers and commit our- 
selves to uncertainties.' It is not hkely that the 
public will be much affected by Thoreau, when 
they blink the direct injunctions of the religion 
they profess ; and yet, whether we will or no, we 
make the same hazardous ventures ; we back our 
own health and the honesty of our neighbours for 
all that we are worth ; and it is chilhng to think 
how many must lose their wager. 

In 1845, twenty-eight years old, an age by which 
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HENRY DAVID THOREAU 

the liveliest have usually dechned into some con- 
formity with the world, Thoreau, with a capital of 
something less than five pounds and a borrowed axe, 
walked forth into the woods by Walden Pond, and 
began his new experiment in hfe. He built himself 
a dwelling, and returned the axe, he says with char- 
acteristic and workman-hke pride, sharper than when 
he borrowed it ; he reclaimed a patch, where he 
cultivated beans, peas, potatoes, and sweet corn ; 
he had his bread to bake, his farm to dig, and for 
the matter of six weeks in the summer he worked at 
surveying, carpentry, or some other of his numerous 
dexterities, for hire. For more than five years this 
was all that he required to do for his support, and he 
had the winter and most of the summer at his entire 
disposal. For six weeks of occupation, a httle cook- 
ing and a little gentle hygienic gardening, the man, 
you may say, had as good as stolen his livelihood. 
Or we must rather allow that he had done far 
better ; for the thief himself is continually and 
busily occupied; and even one born to inherit a 
million will have more calls upon his time than 
Thoreau. Well might he say, 'What old people 
tell you you cannot do, you try and find you can.' 
And how surprising is his conclusion : ' I am con- 
vinced that to maintain oneself' on this earth is not a 
hardship, but a pastime, if we will live simply and 
wisely ; as the pursuits of simpler nations are still the 
sports of the more artificiaV 

When he had enough of that kind of hfe, he 
showed the same simplicity in giving it up as in 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

beginning it. There are some who could have done 
the one, but, vanity forbidding, not the other ; and 
that is perhaps the story of the hermits ; but 
Thoreau made no fetich of his own example, and 
did what he wanted squarely. And five years is 
long enough for an experiment, and to prove the 
success of transcendental Yankeeism. It is not his 
frugality which is worthy of note ; for, to begin 
with, that was inborn, and therefore inimitable by 
others who are differently constituted ; and again, 
it was no new thing, but has often been equalled by 
poor Scots students at the Universities. The point 
is the sanity of his view of life, and the insight with 
which he recognised the position of money, and 
thought out for himself the problem of riches and 
a Hvelihood. Apart from his eccentricities, he had 
perceived, and was acting on, a truth of universal 
application. For money enters in two different char- 
acters into the scheme of life. A certain amount, 
varying with the number and empire of our desires, 
is a true necessary to each one of us in the present 
order of society ; but beyond that amount, money 
is a commodity to be bought or not to be bought, 
a luxury in which we may either indulge or stint 
ourselves, Hke any other. And there are many 
luxuries that we may legitimately prefer to it, 
such as a grateful conscience, a country Hfe, or the 
woman of our incHnation. Trite, flat, and obvious 
as this conclusion may appear, we have only to look 
round us in society to see how scantily it has been 
recognised ; and perhaps even ourselves, after a 
140 



HENRY DAVID THOREAU 

little reflection, may decide to spend a trifle less 
for money, and indulge ourselves a trifle more in 
the article of freedom. 



Ill 

*To have done anything by which you earned 
money merely,' says Thoreau, * is to be ' (have been, 
he means) 'idle and worse.' There are two passages 
in his letters, both, oddly enough, relating to fire- 
wood, which must be brought together to be rightly 
understood. So taken, they contain between them 
the marrow of all good sense on the subject of work 
in its relation to something broader than mere liveli- 
hood. Here is the first : ' I suppose I have burned 
up a good-sized tree to-night — and for what? I 
settled with Mr. Tarbell for it the other day ; but 
that wasn't the final settlement. I got off" cheaply 
from him. At last one will say : " Let us see, how 
much wood did you burn, sir?" And I shall shudder 
to think that the next question will be, ' What did 
you do while you were warm ? " ' Even after we 
have settled with Admetus in the person of Mr. 
Tarbell, there comes, you see, a further question. 
It is not enough to have earned our hvelihood. 
Either the earning itself should have been service- 
able to mankind, or something else must follow. 
To Uve is sometimes very difficult, but it is never 
meritorious in itself ; and we must have a reason to 
allege to our own conscience why we should con- 
tinue to exist upon this crowded earth. If Thoreau 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

nad simply dwelt in his house at Walden, a lover of 
trees, birds, and fishes, and the open air and virtue, a 
reader of wise books, an idle, selfish self-improver, 
he would have managed to cheat Admetus, but, to 
cling to metaphor, the devil would have had him in 
the end. Those who can avoid toil altogether and 
dwell in the Arcadia of private means, and even 
those who can, by abstinence, reduce the necessary 
amount of it to some six weeks a year, having the 
more liberty, have only the higher moral obligation 
to be up and doing in the interest of man. 

The second passage is this : ' There is a far 
more important and warming heat, commonly lost, 
which precedes the burning of the wood. It is the 
smoke of industry, which is incense. I had been so 
thoroughly warmed in body and spirit, that when at 
length my fuel was housed, I came near selhng it to 
the ashman, as if I had extracted all its heat.' 
Industry is, in itself and when properly chosen, 
delightful and profitable to the worker ; and when 
your toil has been a pleasure, you have not, as 
Thoreau says, ' earned money merely,' but money, 
health, delight, and moral profit, all in one. 'We 
must heap up a great pile of doing for a small 
diameter of being,' he says in another place ; and 
then exclaims, ' How admirably the artist is made 
to accomplish his self-culture by devotion to his 
art ! ' We may escape uncongenial toil, only to 
devote ourselves to that which is congenial. It is 
only to transact some higher business that even 
Apollo dare play the truant from Admetus. We 
142 



HENRY DAVID THOREAU 

must all work for the sake of work ; we must all 
work, as Thoreau says again, in any ' absorbing pur- 
suit—it does not much matter what, so it be honest ;' 
but the most profitable work is that which combines 
into one continued effort the largest proportion of 
the powers and desires of a man's nature ; that into 
which he will plunge with ardour, and from which 
he will desist with reluctance ; in which he will 
know the weariness of fatigue, but not that of 
satiety ; and which will be ever fresh, pleasing, and 
stimulating to his taste. Such work holds a man 
together, braced at all points ; it does not suffer him 
to doze or wander ; it keeps him actively conscious 
of himself, yet raised among superior interests ; it 
gives him the profit of industry with the pleasures of 
a pastime. This is what his art should be to the 
true artist, and that to a degree unknown in other 
and less intimate pursuits. For other professions 
stand apart from the human business of life ; but an 
art has its seat at the centre of the artist's doings 
and sufferings, deals directly with his experiences, 
teaches him the lessons of his own fortunes and 
mishaps, and becomes a part of his biography. So 
says Goethe : 

' Spat erklingt was friih erklang ; 
Gliick und Ungliick wird Gesang.' 

Now Thoreau's art was literature ; and it was one 
of which he had conceived most ambitiously. He 
loved and believed in good books. He said well, 
* Life is not habitually seen from any common plat- 

143 



MEN AND BOOKS 

form so truly and unexaggerated as in the light of 
literature.' But the literature he loved was of the 
heroic order. ' Books, not which afford us a cower- 
ing enjoyment, but in which each thought is of 
unusual daring; such as an idle man cannot read, 
and a timid one would not be entertained by, which 
even make us dangerous to existing institutions — 
such I call good books.' He did not think them 
easy to be read. ' The heroic books,' he says, ' even 
if printed in the character of our mother-tongue, 
will always be in a language dead to degenerate 
times ; and we must laboriously seek the meaning of 
each word and hne, conjecturing a larger sense than 
common use permits out of what wisdom and valour 
and generosity we have.' Nor does he suppose that 
such books are easily written. ' Great prose, of 
equal elevation, commands our respect more than 
great verse,' says he, * since it impUes a more per- 
manent and level height, a hfe more pervaded with 
the grandeur of the thought. The poet often only 
makes an irruption, like the Parthian, and is off 
again, shooting while he retreats ; but the prose 
writer has conquered like a Roman and settled 
colonies.' We may ask ourselves, almost with 
dismay, whether such works exist at all but in the 
imagination of the student. For the bulk of the 
best of books is apt to be made up with ballast; 
and those in which energy of thought is com- 
bined with any statehness of utterance may be 
almost counted on the fingers. Looking round in 
Enghsh for a book that should answer Thoreau's 
144 



HENRY DAVID THOREAU 

two demands of a style like poetry and sense that 
shall be both original and inspiriting, I come to 
Milton's Areopagitica, and can name no other 
instance for the moment. Two things at least are 
plain : that if a man will condescend to nothing 
more commonplace in the way of reading, he must 
not look to have a large library ; and that if he 
proposes himself to write in a similar vein, he will 
find his work cut out for him. 

Thoreau composed seemingly while he walked, or 
at least exercise and composition were with him 
intimately connected ; for we are told that ' the 
length of his walk uniformly made the length of 
his writing.' He speaks in one place of 'plainness 
and vigour, the ornaments of style,' which is rather 
too paradoxical to be comprehensively true. In 
another he remarks : ' As for style of writing, if 
one has anything to say it drops from him simply 
as a stone falls to the ground.' We must con- 
jecture a very large sense indeed for the phrase 
'if one has anything to say.' When truth flows 
from a man, fittingly clothed in style and without 
conscious effort, it is because the effort has been 
made and the work practically completed before 
he sat down to write. It is only out of fulness of 
thinking that expression drops perfect like a ripe 
fruit; and when Thoreau wrote so nonchalantly at 
his desk, it was because he had been vigorously 
active during his walk. For neither clearness, com- 
pression, nor beauty of language, come to any living 
creature till after a busy and prolonged acquaintance 
5— K 145 



MEN AND BOOKS 

with the subject on hand. Easy writers are those 
who, hke Walter Scott, choose to remain contented 
with a less degree of perfection than is legitimately 
within the compass of their powers. We hear of 
Shakespeare and his clean manuscript; but in face 
of the evidence of the style itself and of the various 
editions of Hamlet, this merely proves that Messrs. 
Hemming and Condell were unacquainted with the 
common enough phenomenon called a fair copy. He 
who would recast a tragedy already given to the 
world must frequently and earnestly have revised 
details in the study, Thoreau himself, and in spite 
of his protestations, is an instance of even extreme 
research in one direction ; and his effort after heroic 
utterance is proved not only by the occasional 
finish, but by the determined exaggeration of his 
style. ' I trust you realise what an exaggerator 
I am — that I lay myself out to exaggerate,' he 
writes. And again, hinting at the explanation : 
' Who that has heard a strain of music feared lest 
he should speak extravagantly any more for ever ? ' 
And yet once more, in his essay on Carlyle, and this 
time with his meaning well in hand : * No truth, we 
think, was ever expressed but with this sort of 
emphasis, that for the time there seemed to be no 
other.' Thus Thoreau was an exaggerative and a 
parabolical writer, not because he loved the litera- 
ture of the East, but from a desire that people 
should understand and realise what he was writing. 
He was near the truth upon the general question ; 
but in his own particular method, it appears to me, 
146 



HENRY DAVID THOREAU 

he wandered. Literature is not less a conventional 
art than painting or sculpture ; and it is the least 
striking, as it is the most comprehensive of the three. 
To hear a strain of music, to see a beautiful woman, 
a river, a great city, or a starry night, is to make 
a man despair of his Lilliputian arts in language. 
Now, to gain that emphasis which seems denied 
to us by the very natul-e of the medium, the 
proper method of literature is by selection, which is 
a kind of negative exaggeration. It is the right of 
the literary artist, as Thoreau was on the point of 
seeing, to leave out whatever does not suit his 
purpose. Thus we extract the pure gold ; and thus 
the well-written story of a noble life becomes, by its 
very omissions, more thrilhng to the reader. But to 
go beyond this, like Thoreau, and to exaggerate 
directly, is to leave the saner classical tradition, and 
to put the reader on his guard. And when you 
write the whole for the half, you do not express your 
thought more forcibly, but only express a different 
thought which is not yours. 

Thoreau's true subject was the pursuit of self- 
improvement combined with an unfriendly criticism 
of life as it goes on in our societies ; it is there 
that he best displays the freshness and surprising 
tren chancy of his intellect ; it is there that his style 
becomes plain and vigorous, and therefore, accord- 
ing to his own formula, ornamental. Yet he did 
not care to follow this vein singly, but must drop 
into it by the way in books of a different purport. 
Walden, or Life in the Woodsy A Week on the 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

Concord and Merrimack Rivers ; The Maine Woods, 
— such are the titles he affects. He was probably 
reminded by his delicate critical perception that the 
true business of literature is with narrative ; in 
reasoned narrative, and there alone, that art enjoys 
all its advantages, and suffers least from its defects. 
Dry precept and disembodied disquisition, as they 
can only be read with an effort of abstraction, can 
never convey a perfectly complete or a perfectly 
natural impression. Truth, even in literature, must 
be clothed with flesh and blood, or it cannot tell 
its whole story to the reader. Hence the effect 
of anecdote on simple minds ; and hence good 
biographies and works of high, imaginative art, 
are not only far more entertaining, but far more 
edifying, than books of theory or precept. Now 
Thoreau could not clothe his opinions in the gar- 
ment of art, for that was not his talent ; but he 
sought to gain the same elbow-room for himself, and 
to afford a similar rehef to his readers, by minghng 
his thoughts with a record of experience. 

Again, he was a lover of nature. The quality 
which we should call mystery in a painting, and 
which belongs so particularly to the aspect of the 
external world and to its influence upon our feelings, 
was one which he was never weary of attempting to 
reproduce in his books. The seeming significance 
of nature's appearances, their unchanging strange- 
ness to the senses, and the thrilhng response which 
they waken in the mind of man, continued to sur- 
prise and stimulate his spirits. It appeared to him, 
148 



HENRY DAVID THOREAU 

I think, that if we could only write near enough 
to the facts, and yet with no pedestrian calm, but 
ardently, we might transfer the glamour of reality 
direct upon our pages ; and that, if it were once 
thus captured and expressed, a new and instructive 
relation might appear between men's thoughts and 
the phenomena of nature. This was the eagle that 
he pursued all his life long, like a schoolboy with a 
butterfly net. Hear him to a friend : ' Let me 
suggest a theme for you — to state to yourself pre- 
cisely and completely what that walk over the 
mountains amounted to for you, returning to this 
essay again and again until you are satisfied that all 
that was important in your experience is in it. 
Don't suppose that you can tell it precisely the first 
dozen times you try, but at 'em again ; especially 
when, after a sufficient pause, you suspect that you 
are touching the heart or summit of the matter, 
reiterate your blows there, and account for the 
mountain to yourself Not that the story need be 
long, but it will take a long while to make it short.' 
Such was the method, not consistent for a man 
whose meanings were to ' drop from him as a stone 
falls to the ground.' Perhaps the most successful 
work that Thoreau ever accomplished in this direc- 
tion is to be found in the passages relating to fish in 
the Week. These are remarkable for a vivid truth 
of impression and a happy suitability of language, 
not frequently surpassed. 

Whatever Thoreau tried to do was tried in fair, 
square prose, with sentences solidly built, and no 

149 



MEN AND BOOKS 

help from bastard rhythms. Moreover, there is a 
progression — I cannot call it a progress — in his work 
towards a more and more strictly prosaic level, until 
at last he sinks into the bathos of the prosy. Emer- 
son mentions having once remarked to Thoreau : 
' Who would not like to write something which all 
can read, like Robinson Crusoe ? and who does not 
see with regret that his page is not solid with a right 
materiahstic treatment which delights everybody ? ' 
I must say in passing, that it is not the right 
materialistic treatment which delights the world in 
Robinson, but the romantic and philosophic interest 
of the fable. The same treatment does quite the 
reverse of delighting us when it is appUed, in Colonel 
Jack, to the management of a plantation. But I 
cannot help suspecting Thoreau to have been in- 
fluenced either by this identical remark or by some 
other closely similar in meaning. He began to fall 
more and more into a detailed materiahstic treat- 
ment ; he went into the business doggedly, as one 
who should make a guide-book ; he not only 
chronicled what had been important in his own 
experience, but whatever might have been important 
in the experience of anybody else ; not only what 
had affected him, but all that he saw or heard. His 
ardour had grown less, or perhaps it was incon- 
sistent with a right materialistic treatment to display 
such emotions as he felt ; and, to complete the 
eventful change, he chose, from a sense of moral 
dignity, to gut these later works of the saving quality 
of humour. He was not one of those authors who 
150 



HENRY DAVID THOREAU 

have learned, in his own words, 'to leave out their 
dulness.' He inflicts his full quantity upon the 
reader in such books as Cape Cod or The Yankee in 
Canada. Of the latter he confessed that he had not 
managed to get much of himself into it. Heaven 
knows he had not, nor yet much of Canada, we may 
hope. ' Nothing,' he says somewhere, ' can shock a 
brave man but dulness.' Well, there are few spots 
more shocking to the brave than the pages of The 
Yankee in Canada. 

There are but three books of his that will be read 
with much pleasure : the Week, Walden, and the 
collected letters. As to his poetry, Emerson's word 
shall suffice for us, it is so accurate and so prettily 
said : ' The thyme and marjoram are not yet honey.' 
In this, as in his prose, he relied greatly on the 
goodwill of the reader, and wrote throughout in 
faith. It was an exercise of faith to suppose that 
many would understand the sense of his best work, 
or that any could be exhilarated by the dreary 
chronicling of his worst. ' But,' as he says, ' the 
gods do not hear any rude or discordant sound, as 
we learn from the echo ; and I know that the nature 
towards which I launch these sounds is so rich that 
it will modulate anew and wonderfully improve my 
rudest strain.' 

IV 

' What means the fact,' he cries, ' that a soul 
which has lost all hope for itself can inspire in 

151 



MEN AND BOOKS 

another listening soul such an infinite confidence in 
it, even while it is expressing its despair ? ' The 
question is an echo and an illustration of the words 
last quoted; and it forms the key-note of his 
thoughts on friendship. No one else, to my know- 
ledge, has spoken in so high and just a spirit of the 
kindly relations ; and I doubt whether it be a draw- 
back that these lessons should come from one in 
many ways so unfitted to be a teacher in this branch. 
The very coldness and egoism of his own intercourse 
gave him a clearer insight into the intellectual basis 
of our warm, mutual tolerations ; and testimony to 
their worth comes with added force from one who 
was solitary and disobliging, and of whom a friend 
remarked, with equal wit and wisdom, ' I love 
Henry, but I cannot like him.' 

He can hardly be persuaded to make any dis- 
tinction between love and friendship ; in such rarefied 
and freezing air, upon the mountain-tops of medita- 
tion, had he taught himself to breathe. He was, in- 
deed, too accurate an observer not to have remarked 
that ' there exists already a natural disinterestedness 
and liberality ' between men and women ; yet, he 
thought, ' friendship is no respecter of sex. ' Perhaps 
there is a sense iu which the words are true ; but 
they were spoken in ignorance ; and perhaps we shall 
have put the matter most correctly, if we call love a 
foundation for a nearer and freer degree of friendship 
than can be possible without it. For there are deli- 
cacies, eternal between persons of the same sex, which 
are melted and disappear in the warmth of love. 
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HENRY DAVID THOUEAU 

To both, if they are to be right, he attributes the 
same nature and condition. ' We are not what we 
are,' says he, ' nor do we treat or esteem each other 
for such, but for what we are capable of being.' ' A 
friend is one who incessantly pays us the comph- 
ment of expecting all the virtues from us, and who 
can appreciate them in us.' 'The friend asks no 
return but that his friend will rehgiously accept and 
wear and not disgrace his apotheosis of him.' ' It is 
the merit and preservation of friendship that it takes 
place on a level higher than the actual characters of 
the parties would seem to warrant' This is to put 
friendship on a pedestal indeed ; and yet the root of 
the matter is there; and the last sentence, in par- 
ticular, is hke a light in a dark place, and makes 
many mysteries plain. We are different with 
different friends ; yet if we look closely we shaU find 
that every such relation reposes on some particular 
apotheosis of oneself ; with each friend, although we 
could not distinguish it in words from any other, we 
have at least one special reputation to preserve : and 
it is thus that we run, when mortified, to our friend 
or the woman that we love, not to hear ourselves 
called better, but to be better men in point of fact. 
We seek this society to flatter ourselves with our 
own good conduct. And hence any falsehood in the 
relation, any incomplete or perverted understanding, 
wiU spoil even the pleasure of these visits. Thus 
says Thoreau again : ' Only lovers know the value 
of truth.' And yet again : ' They ask for words and 
deeds, when a true relation is word and deed.' 

153 



MEN AND BOOKS 

But it follows that since they are neither of them 
so good as the other hopes, and each is, in a very 
honest manner, playing a part above his powers, 
such an intercourse must often be disappointing to 
both. * We may bid farewell sooner than com- 
plain,' says Thoreau, 'for our complaint is too well 
grounded to be uttered.' 'We have not so good a 
right to hate any as our friend.' 

' It were treason to our love 
And a sin to God above. 
One iota to abate 
Of a pure, impartial hate.' 

Love is not blind, nor yet forgiving. 'O yes, 
believe me,' as the song says, 'Love has eyes!' 
The nearer the intimacy, the more cuttingly do we 
feel the unworthiness of those we love ; and because 
you love one, and would die for that love to-morrow, 
you have not forgiven, and you never will forgive, 
that friend's misconduct. If you want a person's 
faults, go to those who love him. They will not 
tell you, but they know. And herein lies the 
magnanimous courage of love, that it endures this 
knowledge without change. 

It required a cold, distant personahty like that of 
Thoreau, perhaps, to recognise and certainly to utter 
this truth ; for a more human love makes it a point 
of honour not to acknowledge those faults of which 
it is most conscious. But his point of view is both 
high and dry. He has no illusions; he does not 
give way to love any more than to hatred, but pre- 
154 



HENKY DAVID THOREAU 

serves them both with care like valuable curiosities. 
A more bald-headed picture of life, if I may so 
express myself, has seldom been presented. He is 
an egoist ; he does not remember, or does not 
think it worth while to remark, that, in these near 
intimacies, we are ninety-nine times disappointed 
in our beggarly selves for once that we are dis- 
appointed in our friend; that it is we who seem 
most frequently undeserving of the love that unites 
us ; and that it is by our friend's conduct that we 
are continually rebuked and yet strengthened for 
a fresh endeavour. Thoreau is dry, priggish, and 
selfish. It is profit he is after in these intimacies ; 
moral profit, certainly, but still profit to himself. If 
you will be the sort of friend I want, he remarks 
naively, ' my education cannot dispense with your 
society.' His education ! as though a friend were 
a dictionary. And with all this, not one word about 
pleasure, or laughter, or kisses, or any quality of 
flesh and blood. It was not inappropriate, surely, 
that he had such close relations with the fish. We 
can understand the friend already quoted, when he 
cried: 'As for taking his arm, I would as soon 
think of taking the arm of an elm-tree ! ' 

As a matter of fact he experienced but a broken 
enjoyment in his intimacies. He says he has been 
perpetually on the brink of the sort of intercourse 
he wanted, and yet never completely attained it. 
And what else had he to expect when he would 
not, in a happy phrase of Carlyle's, ' nestle down 
into it ' ? Truly, so it will be always if you only 

155 



MEN AND BOOKS 

stroll in upon your friends as you might stroll in 
to see a cricket-match ; and even then not simply 
for the pleasure of the thing, but with some after- 
thought of self-improvement, as though you had 
come to the cricket-match to bet. It was his theory 
that people saw each other too frequently, so that 
their curiosity was not properly whetted, nor had 
they anything fresh to communicate ; but friendship 
must be something else than a society for mutual 
improvement— indeed, it must only be that by the 
way, and to some extent unconsciously ; and if 
Thoreau had been a man instead of a manner of 
elm-tree, he would have felt that he saw his friends 
too seldom, and have reaped benefits unknown to his 
philosophy from a more sustained and easy inter- 
course. We might remind him of his own words 
about love : ' We should have no reserve ; we should 
give the whole of ourselves to that business. But 
commonly men have not imagination enough to be 
thus employed about a human being, but must 
be coopering a barrel, forsooth.' Ay, or reading 
Oriental philosophers. It is not the nature of the 
rival occupation, it is the fact that you suffer it to 
be a rival, that renders loving intimacy impossible. 
Nothing is given for nothing in this world ; there 
can be no true love, even on your own side, without 
devotion ; devotion is the exercise of love, by which 
it grows ; but if you will give enough of that, if you 
will pay the price in a sufficient ' amount of what 
you call life,' why then, indeed, whether with wife 
or comrade, you may have months and even years 
156 



HENRY DAVID THOREAU 

of such easy, natural, pleasurable, and yet improving 
intercourse as shall make time a moment and kind- 
ness a dehght. 

The secret of his retirement lies not in misan- 
thropy, of which he had no tincture, but part in 
his engrossing design of self-improvement and part 
in the real deficiencies of social intercourse. He 
was not so much difficult about his fellow human 
beings as he could not tolerate the terms of their 
association. He could take to a man for any 
genuine qualities, as we see by his admirable sketch 
of the Canadian woodcutter in Walden ; but he 
would not consent, in his own words, to 'feebly 
fabulate and paddle in the social slush.' It seemed 
to him, I think, that society is precisely the reverse 
of friendship, in that it takes place on a lower level 
than the characters of any of the parties would 
warrant us to expect. The society talk of even 
the most brilUant man is of greatly less account 
than what you will get from him in (as the French 
say) a little committee. And Thoreau wanted 
geniality ; he had not enough of the superficial, 
even at command ; he could not swoop into a parlour 
and, in the naval phrase, ' cut out ' a human being 
from that dreary port ; nor had he inclination 
for the task. I suspect he loved books and nature 
as well and near as warmly as he loved his fellow- 
creatures, — a melancholy, lean degeneration of the 
human character. 

' As for the dispute about solitude and society,' 
he thus sums up : ' Any comparison is impertinent. 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

It is an idling down on the plain at the base of the 
mountain instead of climbing steadily to its top. 
Of course you will be glad of all the society you 
can get to go up with. Will you go to glory with 
me ? is the burden of the song. It is not that 
we love to be alone, but that we love to soar, and 
when we do soar the company grows thinner and 
thinner till there is none at all. It is either the 
tribune on the plain, a sermon on the mount, or a 
very private ecstasy still higher up. Use all the 
society that will abet you.' But surely it is no very 
extravagant opinion that it is better to give than 
to receive, to serve than to use our companions ; 
and above all, where there is no question of service 
upon either side, that it is good to enjoy their com- 
pany like a natural man. It is curious and in some 
ways dispiriting that a writer may be always best 
corrected but of his own mouth ; and so, to con- 
clude, here is another passage from Thoreau which 
seems aimed directly at himself : ' Do not be too 
moral ; you may cheat yourself out of much hfe 
so. . . . All fables, indeed, have theii^ morals; but 
the innocent enjoy the story. ' 



' The only obligation,' says he, ' which I have a 
right to assume is to do at any time what I think 
right' 'Why should we ever go abroad, even across 
the way, to ask a neighbour's advice ? ' ' There 
is a nearer neighbour within, who is incessantly 
158 



HENRY DAVID THOREAU 

telling us how we should behave. But we wait 
for the neighbour without to tell us of some false, 
easier way.' ' The greater part of what my neigh- 
bours call good I believe in my soul to be bad.' To 
be what we are, and to become what we are capable 
of becoming, is the only end of life. It is ' when 
we fall behind ourselves ' that ' we are cursed with 
duties and the neglect of duties.' ' I love the wild,' 
he says, * not less than the good.' And again : ' The 
life of a good man wdll hardly improve us more than 
the life of a freebooter, for the inevitable laws appear 
as plainly in the infringement as in the observance, 
and ' (mark this) ' our lives are sustained by a nearly 
equal expense of virtue of some kind.' Even al- 
though he were a prig, it will be owned he could 
announce a startling doctrine. ' As for doing good,' 
he writes elsewhere, ' that is one of the professions 
that are full. Moreover, I have tried it fairly, and, 
strange as it may seem, am satisfied that it does 
not agree with my constitution. Probably I should 
not conscientiously and deliberately forsake my 
particular calling to do the good which society 
demands of me, to save the universe from annihila- 
tion ; and I believe that a like but infinitely greater 
steadfastness elsewhere is all that now preserves it. 
If you should ever be betrayed into any of these 
philanthropies, do not let your left hand know 
what your right hand does, for it is not worth know- 
ing.' Elsewhere he returns upon the subject, and 
explains his meaning thus : * If I ever did a man 
any good in their sense, of course it was something 

159 



MEN AND BOOKS 

exceptional and insignificant compared with the 
good or evil I am constantly doing by being what 
I am.' 

There is a rude nobility, hke that of a barbarian 
king, in this unshaken confidence in himself and 
indifference to the wants, thoughts, or sufferings of 
others. In his whole works I find no trace of pity. 
This was partly the result of theory, for he held the 
world too mysterious to be criticised, and asks con- 
clusively : ' What right have T to grieve who have 
not ceased to wonder ? ' But it sprang still more 
from constitutional indifference and superiority ; and 
he grew up healthy, composed and unconscious from 
among life's horrors, like a green bay-tree from a 
field of battle. It was from this lack in himself that 
he failed to do justice to the spirit of Christ ; for 
while he could glean more meaning from individual 
precepts than any score of Christians, yet he con- 
ceived life in such a different hope, and viewed it 
with such contrary emotions, that the sense and 
purport of the doctrine as a whole seems to have 
passed him by or left him unimpressed. He could 
understand the idealism of the Christian view, but 
he was himself so unaffectedly unhuman that he 
did not recognise the human intention and essence 
of that teaching. Hence he complained that Christ 
did not leave us a rule that was proper and sufficient 
for this world, not having conceived the nature of 
the rule that was laid down ; for things of that 
character that are sufficiently unacceptable become 
positively non-existent to the mind. But perhaps 
1 60 



HENRY DAVID THOREAU 

we shall best appreciate the defect in Thoreau by 
seeing it supplied in the case of Whitman. For the 
one, I feel confident, is the disciple of the other ; it 
is what Thoreau clearly whispered that Whitman so 
uproariously bawls ; it is the same doctrine, but with 
how immense a difference ! the same argument, but 
used to what a new conclusion ! Thoreau had 
plenty of humour until he tutored himself out of 
it, and so forfeited that best birthright of a sensible 
man ; Whitman, in that respect, seems to have been 
sent into the world naked and unashamed ; and yet 
by a strange consummation, it is the theory of the 
former that is arid, abstract, and claustral. Of these 
two philosophies, so nearly identical at bottom, the 
one pursues Self-improvement — a churhsh, mangy 
dog ; the other is up with the morning, in the best of 
health, and following the nymph Happiness, buxom, 
blithe, and debonair. Happiness, at least, is not 
solitary ; it joys to communicate ; it loves others, 
for it depends on them for its existence ; it sanctions 
and encourages to all delights that are not unkind 
in themselves ; if it lived to a thousand, it would 
not make excision of a single humorous passage ; 
and while the self-improver dwindles towards the 
prig, and, if he be not of an excellent constitution, 
may even grow deformed into an Obermann, the very 
name and appearance of a happy man breathe of 
good-nature, and help the rest of us to live. 

In the case of Thoreau, so great a show of 
doctrine demands some outcome in the field of 
action. If nothing were to be done but build a 
5_L i6i 



MEN AND BOOKS 

shanty beside Walden Pond, we have heard al- 
together too much of these declarations of inde- 
pendence. That the man wrote some books is 
nothing to the purpose, for the same has been done 
in a suburban villa. That he kept himself happy 
is perhaps a sufficient excuse, but it is disappointing 
to the reader. We may be unjust, but when a man 
despises commerce and philanthropy ahke, and has 
views of good so soaring that he must take himself 
apart from mankind for their cultivation, we will 
not be content without some striking act. It was 
not Thoreau's fault if he were not martyred ; had 
the occasion come, he would have made a noble 
ending. As it is, he did once seek to interfere in 
the world's course ; he made one practical appear- 
ance on the stage of affairs ; and a strange one it 
was, and strangely characteristic of the nobihty and 
the eccentricity of the man. It was forced on him 
by his calm but radical opposition to negro slavery. 
' Voting for the right is doing nothing for it,' he 
saw ; ' it is only expressing to men feebly your desire 
that it should prevail.' For his part, he would not 
' for an instant recognise that political organisation 
for his government which is the slaves government 
also.' ' I do not hesitate to say,' he adds, ' that 
those who call themselves Abolitionists should at 
once effectually withdraw their support, both in 
person and property, from the government of Mas- 
sachusetts.' That is what he did : in 1843 he ceased 
to pay the poll-tax. The highway-tax he paid, for 
he said he was as desirous to be a good neighbour 
162 



HENRY DAVID THOREAU 

as to be a bad subject ; but no more poll-tax to the 
State of Massachusetts. Thoreau had now seceded, 
and was a polity unto himself; or, as he explains 
it with admirable sense, 'In fact, I quietly declare 
war with the State after my fashion, though I will 
still make what use and get what advantage of her 
I can, as is usual in such cases.' He was put in 
prison ; but that was a part of his design. ' Under 
a government which imprisons any unjustly, the 
true place for a just man is also a prison. I know 
this well, that if one thousand, if one hundred, if 
ten men whom I could name — ay, if one honest 
man, in this State of Massachusetts, ceasing to hold 
slaves, were actually to withdraw from this copartner- 
ship, and be locked up in the county gaol therefor, 
it would be the abolition of slavery in America. For 
it matters not how small the beginning may seem 
to be ; what is once well done is done for ever.' 
Such was his theory of civil disobedience. 

And the upshot ? A friend paid the tax for him ; 
continued year by year to pay it in the sequel ; and 
Thoreau was free to walk the woods unmolested. 
It was a fiasco, but to me it does not seem laugh- 
able ; even those who joined in the laughter at the 
moment would be insensibly affected by this quaint 
instance of a good man's horror for injustice. We 
may compute the worth of that one night's imprison- 
ment as outweighing half a hundred voters at some 
subsequent election ; and if Thoreau had possessed 
as great a power of persuasion as (let us say) Fal- 
staff, if he had counted a party however small, if 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

his example had been followed by a hundred or by 
thirty of his fellows, I cannot but beheve it would 
have greatly precipitated the era of freedom and 
justice. We feel the misdeeds of our country with so 
little fervour, for we are not witnesses to the suffering 
they cause ; but when we see them wake an active 
horror in our fellow-man, when we see a neighbour 
prefer to He in prison rather than be so much as pas- 
sively implicated in their perpetration, even the dullest 
of us will begin to reahse them with a quicker pulse. 

Not far from twenty years later, when Captain 
John Brown was taken at Harper's Ferry, Thoreau 
was the first to come forward in his defence. The 
committees wrote to him unanimously that his 
action was premature. ' I did not send to you for 
advice,' said he, ' but to announce that I was to 
speak.' I have used the word 'defence'; in truth 
he did not seek to defend him, even declared it 
would be better for the good cause that he should 
die ; but he praised his action as I think Brown 
would have liked to hear it praised. 

Thus this singularly eccentric and independent 
mind, wedded to a character of so much strength, 
singleness, and purity, pursued its own path of self- 
improvement for more than half a century, part 
gymnosophist, part backwoodsman ; and thus did 
it come twice, though in a subaltern attitude, into 
the field of political history. 

Note. — For many facts in the above essay^ among which I may mention 
the incident of the squirrel, I am indebted to Thoreau: His Life and 
Aims, by ' H. A. Page/ i.e., as is well known. Dr. Japp. 
164 



YOSHIDA-TORAJIRO 

The name at the head of this page is probably 
unknown to the English reader, and yet I think it 
should become a household word like that of Gari- 
baldi or John Brown. Some day soon, we may 
expect to hear more fully the details of Yoshida's 
history, and the degree of his influence in the trans- 
formation of Japan ; even now there must be 
Englishmen acquainted with the subject, and per- 
haps the appearance of this sketch may elicit some- 
thing more complete and exact. I wish to say that 
I am not, rightly speaking, the author of the present 
paper : I tell the story on the authority of an in- 
telligent Japanese gentleman, Mr. Taiso Masaki, 
who told it me with an emotion that does honour 
to his heart ; and though I have taken some pains, 
and sent my notes to him to be corrected, this can 
be no more than an imperfect outline. 

Yoshida-Torajiro was son to the hereditary military 
instructor of the house of Choshu. The name you 
are to pronounce with an equality of accent on the 

165 



MEN AND BOOKS 

different syllables, almost as in French, the vowels 
as in Italian, but the consonants in the English 
manner — except the j, which has the French sound, 
or, as it has been cleverly proposed to write it, the 
sound of zh. Yoshida was very learned in Chinese 
letters, or, as we might say, in the classics, and in 
his father's subject ; fortification was among his 
favourite studies, and he was a poet from his boy- 
hood. He was born to a lively and intelligent 
patriotism ; the condition of Japan was his great 
concern ; and while he projected a better future, he 
lost no opportunity of improving his knowledge of 
her present state. With this end he was continually 
travelling in his youth, going on foot and sometimes 
with three days' provisions on his back, in the brave, 
self-helpful manner of all heroes. He kept a full 
diary while he was thus upon his journeys, but it is 
feared that these notes have been destroyed. If 
their value were in any respect such as we have 
reason to expect from the man's character, this 
would be a loss not easy to exaggerate. It is still 
wonderful to the Japanese how far he contrived to 
push these explorations ; a cultured gentleman of 
that land and period would leave a complimentary 
poem wherever he had been hospitably entertained ; 
and a friend of Mr. Masaki, who was likewise a great 
wanderer, has found such traces of Yoshida's passage 
in very remote regions of Japan. 

Politics is perhaps the only profession for which 
no preparation is thought necessary ; but Yoshida 
considered otherwise, and he studied the miseries of 
i66 



YOSHIDA-TORAJIRO 

his fellow-countrymen with as much attention and 
research as though he had been going to write a 
book, instead of merely to propose a remedy. To 
a man of his intensity and singleness, there is no 
question but that this survey was melancholy in the 
extreme. His dissatisfaction is proved by the eager- 
ness with which he threw himself into the cause of 
reform ; and what would have discouraged another 
braced Yoshida for his task. As he professed the 
theory of arms, it was firstly the defences of Japan 
that occupied his mind. The external feebleness of 
that country was then illustrated by the manners of 
overriding barbarians, and the visits of big barbarian 
war-ships : she was a country beleaguered. Thus 
the patriotism of Yoshida took a form which may be 
said to have defeated itself : he had it upon him to 
keep out these all-powerful foreigners, whom it is 
now one of his chief merits to have helped to in- 
troduce ; but a man who follows his own virtuous 
heart will be always found in the end to have been 
fighting for the best. One thing leads naturally to 
another in an awakened mind, and that with an up- 
ward progress from effect to cause. The power and 
knowledge of these foreigners were things insepar- 
able ; by envying them their military strength, 
Yoshida came to envy them their culture ; from 
the desire to equal them in the first sprang his 
desire to share with them in the second ; and thus 
he is found treating in the same book of a new 
scheme to strengthen the defences of Kioto and of 
the establishment, in the same city, of a university 

167 



MEN AND BOOKS 

of foreign teachers. He hoped, perhaps, to get the 
good of other lands without their evil ; to enable 
Japan to profit by the knowledge of the barbarians, 
and still keep her inviolate with her own arts and 
virtues. But whatever was the precise nature of his 
hope, the means by which it was to be accomplished 
were both difficult and obvious. Some one with 
eyes and understanding must break through the 
official cordon, escape into the new world, and 
study this other civilisation on the spot. And who 
could be better suited for the business ? It was not 
without danger, but he was without fear. It needed 
preparation and insight ; and what had he done since 
he was a child but prepare himself with the best 
culture of Japan, and acquire in his excursions the 
power and habit of observing ? 

He was but twenty-two, and already all this was 
clear in his mind, when news reached Choshu that 
Commodore Perry was lying near to Yeddo. Here, 
then, was the patriot's opportunity. Among the 
Samurai of Choshu, and in particular among the 
councillors of the Daimio, his general culture, his 
views, which the enlightened were eager to accept, 
and, above all, the prophetic charm, the radiant 
persuasion of the man, had gained him many and 
sincere disciples. He had thus a strong influence 
at th^, provincial Court ; and so he obtained leave 
to q,uit the district, and, by way of a pretext, a 
privilege to follow his profession in Yeddo. Thither 
he hurried, and arrived in time to be too late : Perry 
had weighed anchor, and his sails had vanished from 
i68 



YOSHIDA-TORAJmO 

the waters of Japan. But Yoshida, having put his 
hand to the plough, was not the man to go back ; 
he had entered upon this business, and, please God, 
he would carry it through ; and so he gave up his 
professional career and remained in Yeddo to be at 
hand against the next opportunity. By this be- 
haviour he put himself into an attitude towards his 
superior, the Daimio of Choshu, which I cannot 
thoroughly explain. Certainly, he became a Ronyin, 
a broken man, a feudal outlaw ; certainly he was 
liable to be arrested if he set foot upon his native 
province ; yet I am cautioned that ' he did not really 
break his allegiance,' but only so far separated him- 
self as that the prince could no longer be held 
accountable for his late vassal's conduct. There is 
some nicety of feudal custom here that escapes my 
comprehension. 

In Yeddo, with this nondescript political status, 
and cut off from any means of livehhood, he was 
joyfully supported by those who sympathised with 
his design. One was Sakuma-Shozan, hereditary 
retainer of one of the Shogun's councillors, and from 
him he got more than money or than money's worth. 
A steady, respectable man, with an eye to the 
world's opinion, Sakuma was one of those who, if 
they cannot do great deeds in their own person, 
have yet an ardour of admu'ation for those who can, 
that recommends them to the gratitude of history. 
They aid and abet greatness more, perhaps, than we 
imagine. One thinks of them in connection with 
Nicodemus, who visited our Lord by night. And 

169 



MEN AND BOOKS 

Sakuma was in a position to help Yoshida more 
practically than by simple countenance ; for he could 
read Dutch, and was eager to communicate what he 
knew. 

While the young Ronyin thus lay studying in 
Yeddo, news came of a Russian ship at Nangasaki. 
No time was to be lost. Sakuma contributed ' a long 
copy of encouraging verses ' ; and off set Yoshida 
on foot for Nangasaki. His way lay through his 
own province of Choshu ; but, as the high-road to 
the south lay apart from the capital, he was able to 
avoid arrest. He supported himself, like a trouvere, 
by his proficiency in verse. He carried his works 
along with him to serve as an introduction. When 
he reached a town he would inquire for the house of 
any one celebrated for swordsmanship, or poetry, or 
some of the other acknowledged forms of culture ; 
and there, on giving a taste of his skill, he would be 
received and entertained, and leave behind him, 
when he went away, a compliment in verse. Thus 
he travelled through the Middle Ages on his voyage 
of discovery into the nineteenth century. When he 
reached Nangasaki he was once more too late. The 
Russians were gone. But he made a profit on his 
journey in spite of fate, and stayed a while to pick 
up scraps of knowledge from the Dutch interpreters 
— a low class of men, but one that had opportunities ; 
and then, still full of purpose, returned to Yeddo on 
foot, as he had come. 

It was not only his youth and courage that sup- 
ported him under these successive disappointments, 
170 



YOSHIDA-TORAJIRO 

but the continual affluence of new disciples. The 
man had the tenacity of a Bruce or a Columbus, 
with a pliability that was all his own. He did not 
fight for what the world would call success ; but for 
'the wages of going on.' Check him off in a dozen 
directions, he would find another outlet and break 
forth. He missed one vessel after another, and the 
main work still halted; but so long as he had a 
single Japanese to enlighten and prepare for the 
better future, he could still feel that he was working 
for Japan. Now, he had scarce returned from Nan- 
gasaki, when he was sought out by a new inquirer, 
the most promising of all. This was a common 
soldier, of the Hemming class, a dyer by birth, who 
had heard vaguely^ of Yoshida's movements, and 
had become filled with wonder as to their design. 
This was a far different inquirer from Sakuma- 
Shozan, or the councillors of the Daimio of Choshu. 
This was no two-sworded gentleman, but the com- 
mon stuff of the country, born in low traditions and 
unimproved by books ; and yet that influence, that 
radiant persuasion that never failed Yoshida in any 
circumstance of his short Ufe, enchanted, enthralled, 
and converted the common soldier, as it had done 



1 Yoshida, when on his way to Nangasaki, met the soldier and talked 
with him by the roadside ; they then parted, but the soldier was so much 
struck by the words he heard, that on Yoshida's return he sought him 
out and declared his intention of devoting his life to the good cause. I 
venture, in the absence of the writer, to insert this correction, having 
been present when the story was told by Mr. Masaki.— F. J. [Fleeming 
Jenkin]. And I, there being none to settle the difference, must reproduce 
both versions.— R. L. S. 

171 



MEN AND BOOKS 

already with the elegant and learned. The man 
instantly burned up into a true enthusiasm ; his mind 
had been only waiting for a teacher ; he grasped in 
a moment the profit of these new ideas ; he, too, 
would go to foreign, outlandish parts, and bring back 
the knowledge that was to strengthen and renew 
Japan ; and in the meantime, that he might be the 
better prepared, Yoshida set himself to teach, and 
he to learn, the Chinese literature. It is an episode 
most honourable to Yoshida, and yet more honour- 
able still to the soldier, and to the capacity and 
virtue of the common people of Japan. 

And now, at length. Commodore Perry returned 
to Simoda. Friends crowded round Yoshida with 
help, counsels, and encouragement. One presented 
him with a great sword, three feet long and very 
heavy, which, in the exultation of the hour, he swore 
to carry throughout all his wanderings, and to bring 
back — a far-travelled weapon — to Japan. A long 
letter was prepared in Chinese for the American 
officers ; it was revised and corrected by Sakuma, 
and signed by Yoshida, under the name of Urinaki- 
Manji, and by the soldier under that of Ichigi-Koda. 
Yoshida had supplied himself with a profusion of 
materials for writing ; his dress was literally stuffed 
with paper which was to come back again enriched 
with his observations, and make a great and happy 
kingdom of Japan. Thus equipped, this pair of 
emigrants set forward on foot from Yeddo, and 
reached Simoda about nightfall. At no period within 
history can travel have presented to any European 
172 



YOSHTDA-TORAJIRO 

creature the same face of awe and terror as to these 
courageous Japanese. The descent of Ulysses into 
hell is a parallel more near the case than the boldest 
expedition in the Polar circles. For their act was 
unprecedented ; it was criminal ; and it was to take 
them beyond the pale of humanity into a land of 
devils. It is not to be wondered at if they were 
thrilled by the thought of their unusual situation ; 
and perhaps the soldier gave utterance to the senti- 
ment of both when he sang, ' in Chinese singing ' (so 
that we see he had already profited by his lessons), 
these two appropriate verses : 

' We do not know where we are to sleep to-night. 
In a thousand miles of desert where we can see no 
human smoke.' 

In a little temple, hard by the sea-shore, they lay 
down to repose ; sleep overtook them as they lay ; 
and when they awoke, * the east was already white ' 
for their last morning in Japan. They seized a 
fisherman's boat and rowed out — Perry lying far to 
sea because of the two tides. Their very manner of 
boarding was significant of determination ; for they 
had no sooner caught hold upon the ship than they 
kicked away their boat to make return impossible. 
And now you would have thought that all was over. 
But the Commodore was already in treaty with the 
Shogun's Government ; it was one of the stipulations 
that no Japanese was to be aided in escaping from 
Japan ; and Yoshida and his followers were handed 
over as prisoners to the authorities at Simoda. That 

173 



MEN AND BOOKS 

night he who had been to explore the secrets of the 
barbarian, slept, if he might sleep at all, in a cell too 
short for lying down at full length, and too low for 
standing upright. There are some disappointments 
too great for commentary. 

Sakuma, implicated by his handwriting, was sent 
into his own province in confinement, from which he 
was soon released. Yoshida and the soldier suffered 
a long and miserable period of captivity, and the 
latter, indeed, died, while yet in prison, of a skin 
disease. But such a spirit as that of Yoshida-Torajiro 
is not easily made or kept a captive ; and that which 
cannot be broken by misfortune you shall seek in 
vain to confine in a bastille. He was indefatigably 
active, writing reports to Government and treatises 
for dissemination. These latter were contraband ; 
and yet he found no difficulty in their distribution, 
for he always had the jailer on his side. It was in 
vain that they kept changing him from one prison to 
another; Government by that plan only hastened 
the spread of new ideas ; for Yoshida had only to 
arrive to make a convert. Thus, though he himself 
was laid by the heels, he confirmed and extended his 
party in the State. 

At last, after many lesser transferences, he was 
given over from the prisons of the Shogun to those 
of his own superior, the Daimio of Choshu. I 
conceive it possible that he may then have served 
out his time for the attempt to leave Japan, and was 
now resigned to the provincial Government on a 
lesser count, as a Bonyin or feudal rebel. But 
174 



YOSHIDA-TORAJIRO 

however that may be, the change was of great im- 
portance to Yoshida ; for by the influence of his 
admirers in the Daimio's council, he was allowed 
the privilege, underhand, of dwelling in his own 
house. And there, as well to keep up communica- 
tion with his fellow-reformers as to pursue his work 
of education, he received bol^s to teach. It must 
not be supposed that he was free ; he was too marked 
a man for that ; he was probably assigned to some 
small circle, and lived, as we should say, under 
police surveillance ; but to him, who had done so 
much from under lock and key, this would seem a 
large and profitable liberty. 

It was at this period that Mr. Masaki was brought 
into personal contact with Yoshida ; and hence, 
through the eyes of a boy of thirteen, we get one 
good look at the character and habits of the hero. 
He was ugly and laughably disfigured with the 
small-pox ; and while nature had been so niggardly 
with him from the first, his personal habits were 
even sluttish. His clothes were wretched ; when he 
ate or washed he wiped his hands upon his sleeves ; 
and as his hair was not tied more than once in the 
two months, it was often disgusting to behold. 
With such a picture, it is easy to believe that he 
never married. A good teacher, gentle in act, 
although violent and abusive in speech, his lessons 
were apt to go over the heads of his scholars, and to 
leave them gaping, or more often laughing. Such 
was his passion for study that he even grudged 
himself natural repose ; and when he grew drowsy 

175 



MEN AND BOOKS 

over his books he would, if it was summer, put 
mosquitoes up his sleeve ; and, if it was winter, 
take off his shoes and run barefoot on the snow. 
His handwriting was exceptionally villainous ; poet 
though he was, he had no taste for what was elegant; 
and in a country where to write beautifully was not 
the mark of a scrivener but an admired accomplish- 
ment for gentlemen, he suffered his letters to be 
jolted out of him by the press of matter and the 
heat of his convictions. He would not tolerate even 
the appearance of a bribe ; for bribery lay at the 
root of much that was evil in Japan, as well as in 
countries nearer home ; and once when a merchant 
brought him his son to educate, and added, as was 
customary,^ a little private sweetener, Yoshida dashed 
the money in the giver's face, and launched into 
such an outbreak of indignation as made the matter 
pubhc in the school. He was still, when Masaki 
knew him, much weakened by his hardships in 
prison ; and the presentation-sword, three feet long, 
was too heavy for him to wear without distress ; yet 
he would always gird it on when he went to dig in 
his garden. That is a touch which quahfies the man. 
A weaker nature would have shrunk from the sight 
of what only commemorated a failure. But he was of 
Thoreau's mind, that if you can ' make your failure 
tragical by courage, it will not differ from success.' 
He could look back without confusion to his enthu- 
siastic promise. If events had been contrary, and 

^ I understood that the merchant was endeavouring surreptitiously to 
obtain for his son instruction to which he was not entitled. — F. J. 
176 



YOSHIDA-TORAJIRO 

he found himself unable to carry out that purpose — 
well, there was but the more reason to be brave and 
constant in another ; if he could not carry the sword 
into barbarian lands, it should at least be witness to 
a life spent entirely for Japan. 

This is the sight we have of him as he appeared 
to schoolboys, but not related in the schoolboy spirit. 
A man so careless of the graces must be out of court 
with boys and women. And indeed, as we have all 
been more or less to school, it will astonish no one 
that Yoshida was regarded by his scholars as a 
laughing-stock. The schoolboy has a keen sense of 
humour. Heroes he learns to understand and to 
admire in books ; but he is not forward to recognise 
the heroic under the traits of any contemporary 
man, and least of all in a brawUng, dirty, and 
eccentric teacher. But as the years went by, and 
the scholars of Yoshida continued in vain to look 
around them for the abstractly perfect, and began 
more and more to understand the drift of his instruc- 
tions, they learned to look back upon their comic 
schoolmaster as upon the noblest of mankind. 

The last act of this brief and full existence was 
already near at hand. Some of his work was done ; 
for already there had been Dutch teachers admitted 
into Nangasaki, and the country at large was keen 
for the new learning. But though the renaissance 
had begun, it was impeded and dangerously threat- 
ened by the power of the Shogun. His minister — 
the same who was afterwards assassinated in the 
snow in the very midst of his body-guard — not only 
5— M 177 



MEN AND BOOKS 

held back pupils from going to the Dutchmen, but 
by spies and detectives, by imprisonment and death, 
kept thinning out of Japan the most inteUigent and 
active spirits. It is the old story of a power upon 
its last legs — Learning to the bastille, and courage to 
the block ; when there are none left but sheep and 
donkeys, the State will have been saved. But a 
man must not think to cope with a revolution ; nor 
a minister, however fortified with guards, to hold in 
check a country that had given birth to such men 
as Yoshida and his soldier-follower. The violence of 
the ministerial Tarquin only served to direct atten- 
tion to the illegality of his master's rule ; and people 
began to turn their allegiance from Yeddo and the 
Shogun to the long-forgotten Mikado in his seclusion 
at Kioto. At this juncture, whether in consequence 
or not, the relations between these two rulers be- 
came strained ; and the Shogun's minister set forth 
for Kioto to put another affront upon the rightful 
sovereign. The circumstance was well fitted to 
precipitate events. It was a piece of religion to 
defend the Mikado ; it was a plain piece of political 
righteousness to oppose a tyrannical and bloody 
usurpation. To Yoshida the moment for action 
seemed to have arrived. He was himself still con- 
fined in Choshu. Nothing was free but his intelli- 
gence ; but with that he sharpened a sword for the 
Shogun's minister. A party of his followers were 
to waylay the tyrant at a village on the Yeddo and 
Kioto road, present him with a petition, and put him 
to the sword. But Yoshida and his friends were 
178 



YOSHIDA-TORAJmo 

closely observed; and the too great expedition of 
two of the conspirators, a boy of eighteen and his 
brother, wakened the suspicion of the authorities, 
and led to a full discovery of the plot and the arrest 
of all who were concerned. 

In Yeddo, to which he was taken, Yoshida was 
thrown again into a strict confinement. But he was 
not left destitute of sympathy in this last hour of 
trial. In the next cell lay one Kusakabe, a reformer 
from the southern highlands of Satsuma. They 
were in prison for different plots, indeed, but for the 
same intention ; they shared the same behefs and 
the same aspirations for Japan ; many and long were 
the conversations they held through the prison wall, 
and dear was the sympathy that soon united them. 
It fell first to the lot of Kusakabe to pass before the 
judges ; and when sentence had been pronounced he 
was led towards the place of death below Yoshida's 
window. To turn the head would have been to 
implicate his fellow-prisoner ; but he threw him a 
look from his eye, and bade him farewell in a loud 
voice, with these two Chinese verses : — 

' It is better to be a crystal and be broken, 
Than to remain perfect like a tile upon the housetop.' 

So Kusakabe, from the highlands of Satsuma, passed 
out of the theatre of this world. His death was like 
an antique worthy's. 

A little after, and Yoshida too must appear before 
the Court. His last scene was of a piece with his 
career, and fitly crowned it. He seized on the op- 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

portumty of a public audience, confessed and gloried 
in his design, and, reading his auditors a lesson in 
the history of their country, told at length the 
illegality of the Shogun's power and the crimes by 
which its exercise was sullied. So, having said his 
say for once, he was led forth and executed, thirty- 
one years old. 

A military engineer, a bold traveller (at least in 
wish), a poet, a patriot, a schoolmaster, a friend to 
learning, a martyr to reform, — there are not many 
men, dying at seventy, who have served their country 
in such various characters. He was not only wise 
and provident in thought, but surely one of the 
fieriest of heroes in execution. It is hard to say 
which is the most remarkable — his capacity for com- 
mand, which subdued his very jailers ; his hot, 
unflagging zeal; or his stubborn superiority to defeat. 
He failed in each particular enterprise that he at- 
tempted ; and yet we have only to look at his 
country to see how complete has been his general 
success. His friends and pupils made the majority 
of leaders in that final Revolution, now some twelve 
years old ; and many of them are, or were until the 
other day, high placed among the rulers of Japan. 
And when we see all round us these brisk intelligent 
students, with their strange foreign air, we should 
never forget how Yoshida marched afoot from 
Choshu to Yeddo, and from Yeddo to Nangasaki, 
and from Nangasaki back again to Yeddo ; how he 
boarded the American ship, his dress stuffed with 
writing material ; nor how he languished in prison, 
1 80 



YOSHIDA-TORAJIRO 

and finally gave his death, as he had formerly given 
all his life and strength and leisure, to gain for his 
native land that very benefit which she now enjoys 
so largely. It is better to be Yoshida and perish, 
than to be only Sakuma and yet save the hide. 
Kusakabe, of Satsuma, has said the word : it is 
better to be a crystal and be broken. 

I must add a word ; for I hope the reader will not 
fail to perceive that this is as much the story of a 
heroic people as that of a heroic man. It is not 
enough to remember Yoshida ; we must not forget 
the common soldier, nor Kusakabe, nor the boy of 
eighteen, Nomura, of Choshu, whose eagerness be- 
trayed the plot. It is exhilarating to have lived in 
the same days with these great-hearted gentlemen. 
Only a few miles from us, to speak by the propor- 
tion of the universe, while I was droning over my 
lessons, Yoshida was goading himself to be wakeful 
with the stings of the mosquito ; and while you 
were grudging a penny income-tax, Kusakabe was 
stepping to death with a noble sentence on his lips. 



i8i 



VI 

FRANQOIS VILLON, STUDENT, POET 
AND HOUSEBREAKER 

Perhaps one of the most curious revolutions in 
literary history is the sudden bull's-eye light cast by 
M. Longnon on the obscure existence of Fran9ois 
Villon.^ His book is not remarkable merely as a 
chapter of biography exhumed after four centuries. 
To readers of the poet it will recall, with a flavour 
of satire, that characteristic passage in which he 
bequeaths his spectacles — with a humorous reserva- 
tion of the case — to the hospital for blind paupers 
known as the Fifteen- Score. Thus equipped, let the 
blind paupers go and separate the good from the 
bad in the cemetery of the Innocents ! For his own 
part, the poet can see no distinction. Much have 
the dead people made of their advantages. What 
does it matter now that they have lain in state beds 
and nourished portly bodies upon cakes and cream ! 
Here they all lie, to be trodden in the mud; the 
large estate and the small, sounding virtue and 

^ Etude Biographique sur Francois Villon. Paris : H. Menu. 
182 



FRAN(;:OIS VILLON 

adroit or powerful vice, in very much the same con- 
dition ; and a bishop not to be distinguished from 
a lamphghter with even the strongest spectacles. 

Such was Villon's cynical philosophy. Four hun- 
dred years after his death, when surely all danger 
might be considered at an end, a pair of critical 
spectacles have been apphed to his own remains; 
and though he left behind him a sufficiently ragged 
reputation from the first, it is only after these four 
hundred years that his dehnquencies have been 
finally tracked home, and we can assign him to his 
proper place among the good or wicked. It is a 
staggering thought, and one that affords a fine figure 
of the imperishability of men's acts, that the stealth 
of the private inquiry office can be carried so far 
back into the dead and dusty past. We are not so 
soon quit of our concerns as Villon fancied. In the 
extreme of dissolution, when not so much as a man's 
name is remembered, when his dust is scattered to 
the four winds, and perhaps the very grave and the 
very graveyard where he was laid to rest have been 
forgotten, desecrated, and buried under populous 
towns, — even in this extreme let an antiquary fall 
across a sheet of manuscript, and the name will be 
recalled, the old infamy will pop out into dayhght 
like a toad out of a fissure in the rock, and the 
shadow of the shade of what was once a man will be 
heartily pilloried by his descendants. A httle while 
ago and Villon was almost totally forgotten; then 
he was revived for the sake of his verses ; and now 
he is being revived with a vengeance in the detection 

183 



MEN AND BOOKS 

of his misdemeanours. How unsubstantial is this 
projection of a man's existence, which can he in 
abeyance for centuries and then be brushed up again 
and set forth for the consideration of posterity by 
a few dips in an antiquary's inkpot ! This pre- 
carious tenure of fame goes a long way to justify 
those (and they are not few) who prefer cakes and 
cream in the immediate present. 

A WILD YOUTH 

Fran9ois de Montcorbier, alias Fran9ois des Loges, 
alias Fran9ois Villon, alias Michel Mouton, Master 
of Arts in the University of Paris, was born in that 
city in the summer of 1431. It was a memorable 
year for France on other and higher considerations. 
A great-hearted girl and a poor-hearted boy made, 
the one her last, the other his first appearance on the 
pubhc stage of that unhappy country. On the 30th 
of May the ashes of Joan of Arc were thrown into 
the Seine, and on the 2nd of December our Henry 
Sixth made his Joyous Entry dismally enough into 
disaffected and depopulating Paris. Sword and fire 
still ravaged the open country. On a single April 
Saturday twelve hundred persons, besides children, 
made their escape out of the starving capital. The 
hangman, as is not uninteresting to note in connec- 
tion with Master Francis, was kept hard at work in 
1431 ; on the last of April and on the 4th of May 
alone, sixty-two bandits swung from Paris gibbets.^ 

^ Bourgeois de Paris, ed. Pantheon, pp. 688, 689. 
184 



FRANCOIS VILLON 

A more confused or troublous time it would have 
been difficult to select for a start in life. Not even 
a man's nationality was certain ; for the people of 
Paris there was no such thing as a Frenchman. The 
English were the English indeed, but the French 
were only the Armagnacs, whom, with Joan of Arc 
at their head, they had beaten back from under their 
ramparts not two years before. Such public senti- 
ment as they had centred about their dear Duke of 
Burgundy, and the dear Duke had no more urgent 
business than to keep out of their neighbourhood. 
. . . At least, and whether he liked it or not, our 
disreputable troubadour was tubbed and swaddled 
as a subject of the English crown. 

We hear nothing of Villon's father, except that 
he was poor and of mean extraction. His mother 
was given piously, which does not imply very much 
in an old Frenchwoman, and quite uneducated. He 
had an uncle, a monk in an abbey at Angers, who 
must have prospered beyond the family average, and 
was reported to be worth live or six hundred crowns. 
Of this uncle and his money-box the reader will hear 
once more. In 1448 Francis became a student of 
the University of Paris ; in 1450 he took the degree 
of Bachelor, and in 1452 that of Master of Arts. 
His bourse, or the sum paid weekly for his board, 
was of the amount of two sous. Now two sous was 
about the price of a pound of salt butter in the bad 
times of 1417 ; it was the price of half a pound in 
the worse times of 1419 ; and in 1444, just four years 
before Villon joined the University, it seems to have 

185 



MEN AND BOOKS 

been taken as the average wage for a day's manual 
labour/ In short, it cannot have been a very pro- 
fuse allow^ance to keep a sharp-set lad in breakfast 
and supper for seven mortal days ; and Villon's share 
of the cakes and pastry and general good cheer, to 
which he is never weary of referring, must have been 
slender from the first. 

The educational arrangements of the University 
of Paris were, to our way of thinking, somewhat 
incomplete. Worldly and monkish elements were 
presented in a curious confusion, which the youth 
might disentangle for himself. If he had an oppor- 
tunity, on the one hand, of acquiring much hair- 
drawn divinity and a taste for formal disputation, he 
was put in the way of much gross and flaunting vice 
upon the other. The lecture-room of a scholastic 
doctor was sometimes under the same roof with 
establishments of a very different and peculiarly un- 
edifying order. The students had extraordinary 
privileges, which by all accounts they abused extra- 
ordinarily. And while some condemned themselves 
to an almost sepulchral regularity and seclusion, 
others fled the schools, swaggered in the street ' with 
their thumbs in their girdle,' passed the night in riot, 
and behaved themselves as the worthy forerunners 
of Jehan Frollo in the romance of Notre Dame de 
Paris. Villon tells us himself that he was among 
the truants, but we hardly needed his avowal. The 
burlesque erudition in which he sometimes indulged 
implies no more than the merest smattering of know- 

1 Bourgeois, pp. 627, 636^ and 725. 

i86 



FRANQOIS VILLON 

ledge; whereas his acquaintance with blackguard 
haunts and industries could only have been acquired 
by early and consistent impiety and idleness. He 
passed his degrees, it is true ; but some of us who 
have been to modern Universities will make their 
own reflections on the value of the test. As for his 
three pupils, Colin Laurent, Girard Gossouyn, and 
Jehan Marceau — if they were really his pupils in any 
serious sense — what can we say but God help them ! 
And sure enough, by his own description, they 
turned out as ragged, rowdy, and ignorant as was to 
be looked for from the views and manners of their 
rare preceptor. 

At some time or other, before or during his Uni- 
versity career, the poet was adopted by Master 
Guillaume de Villon, chaplain of Saint Benoit-le- 
Betourne, near the Sorbonne. From him he bor- 
rowed the surname by which he is known to posterity. 
It was most likely from his house, called the Porte 
Rouge, and situated in a garden in the cloister of 
St. Benoit, that Master Francis heard the bell of the 
Sorbonne ring out the Angelus while he was finishing 
his Small Testament at Christmastide in 1456. To- 
wards this benefactor he usually gets credit for a 
respectable display of gratitude. But with his trap 
and pitfall style of writing, it is easy to make too 
sure. His sentiments are about as much to be relied 
on as those of a professional beggar ; and in this, as 
in so many other matters, he comes towards us 
whining and piping the eye, and goes off again with 
a whoop and his finger to his nose. Thus, he calls 

187 



MEN AND BOOKS 

Guillaume de Villon his 'more than father,' thanks 
him with a great show of sincerity for having helped 
him out of many scrapes, and bequeaths him his 
portion of renown. But the portion of renown 
which belonged to a young thief, distinguished (if, 
at the period when he wrote this legacy, he was 
distinguished at all) for having written some more or 
less obscene and scurrilous ballads, must have been 
little fitted to gratify the self-respect or increase the 
reputation of a benevolent ecclesiastic. The same 
remark applies to a subsequent legacy of the poet's 
library, with specification of one work which was 
plainly neither decent nor devout. We are thus left 
on the horns of a dilemma. If the chaplain was a 
godly, philanthropic personage, who had tried to 
graft good principles and good behaviour on this 
wild slip of an adopted son, these jesting legacies 
would obviously cut him to the heart. The position 
of an adopted son towards his adoptive father is one 
full of delicacy ; where a man lends his name he 
looks for great consideration. And this legacy of 
Villon's portion of renown may be taken as the mere 
fling of an unregenerate scapegrace who has wit 
enough to recognise in his own shame the readiest 
weapon of offence against a prosy benefactor's feel- 
ings. The gratitude of Master Francis figures, on 
this reading, as a frightful minus quantity. If, on 
the other hand, those jests were given and taken in 
good humour, the whole relation between the pair 
degenerates into the unedifying complicity of a 
debauched old chaplain and a witty and dissolute 



FRANQOIS VILLON 

young scholar. At this rate the house with the red 
door may have rung with the most mundane min- 
strelsy ; and it may have been below its roof that 
Villon, through a hole in the plaster, studied, as he 
tells us, the leisures of a rich ecclesiastic. 

It was, perhaps, of some moment in the poet's life 
that he should have inhabited the cloister of Saint 
Benoit. Three of the most remarkable among his 
early acquaintances are Catherine de Vausselles, for 
whom he entertained a short-lived affection and an 
enduring and most unmanly resentment ; Regnier de 
Montigny, a young blackguard of good birth ; and 
Colin de Cayeux, a fellow with a marked aptitude 
for picking locks. Now we are on a foundation of 
mere conjecture, but it is at least curious to find 
that two of the canons of Saint Benoit answered 
respectively to the names of Pierre de Vaucel and 
Etienne de Montigny, and that there was a house- 
holder called Nicolas de Cayeux in a street — the 
Rue des Poirees — in the immediate neighbourhood 
of the cloister. M. Longnon is almost ready to 
identify Catherine as the niece of Pierre ; Regnier 
as the nephew of Etienne, and Colin as the son of 
Nicolas. Without going so far, it must be owned 
that the approximation of names is significant. As 
we go on to see the part played by each of these 
persons in the sordid melodrama of the poet's life, 
we shall come to regard it as even more notable. Is 
it not Clough who has remarked that, after all, 
everything lies in juxtaposition ? Many a man's 
destiny has been settled by nothing apparently more 

189 



MEN AND BOOKS 

grave than a pretty face on the opposite side of the 
street and a couple of bad companions round the 
corner. 

Catherine de Vausselles (or de Vaucel — the change 
is within the Umits of Villon's licence) had plainly 
delighted in the poet's conversation ; near neigh- 
bours or not, they were much together ; and Villon 
made no secret of his court, and suffered himself to 
believe that his feeling was repaid in kind. This 
may have been an error from the first, or he may 
have estranged her by subsequent misconduct or 
temerity. One can easily imagine Villon an im- 
patient wooer. One thing, at least, is sure : that 
the affair terminated in a manner bitterly humiliating 
to Master Francis. In presence of his lady-love, 
perhaps under her window, and certainly with her 
connivance, he was unmercifully thrashed by one 
Noe le Joly — beaten, as he says himself, like dirty 
linen on the washing-board. It is characteristic that 
his malice had notably increased between the time 
when he wrote the Small Testament immediately on 
the back of the occurrence, and the time when he 
wrote the Large Testament five years after. On the 
latter occasion nothing is too bad for his ' damsel 
with the twisted nose,' as he calls her. She is 
spared neither hint nor accusation, and he tells his 
messenger to accost her with the vilest insults. 
Villon, it is thought, was out of Paris when these 
amenities escaped his pen ; or perhaps the strong 
arm of Noe le Joly would have been again in requi- 
sition. So ends the love-story, if love-story it may 
190 



FRAN(;:OIS VILLON 

properly be called. Poets are not necessarily for- 
tunate in love ; but they usually fall among more 
romantic circumstances, and bear their disappoint- 
ment with a better grace. 

The neighbourhood of Regnier de Montigny and 
Colin de Cayeux was probably more influential on 
his after life than the contempt of Catherine. For 
a man who is greedy of all pleasures, and provided 
with little money and less dignity of character, we 
may prophesy a safe and speedy voyage downward. 
Humble or even truckling virtue may walk unspotted 
in this life. But only those who despise the plea- 
sures can afford to despise the opinion of the world. 
A man of a strong, heady temperament, like Villon, 
is very differently tempted. His eyes lay hold on 
all provocations greedily, and his heart flames up 
at a look into imperious desire ; he is snared and 
broached-to by anything and everything, from a 
pretty face to a piece of pastry in a cookshop 
window ; he will drink the rinsing of the wine-cup, 
stay the latest at the tavern party ; tap at the ht 
windows, follow the sound of singing, and beat the 
whole neighbourhood for another reveller, as he goes 
reluctantly homeward ; and grudge himself every 
hour of sleep as a black empty period in which he 
cannot follow after pleasure. Such a person is lost 
if he have not dignity, or, failing that, at least pride, 
which is its shadow and in many ways its substitute. 
Master Francis, I fancy, would follow his own eager 
instincts without much spiritual struggle. And we 
soon find him fallen among thieves in sober, Hteral 

191 



MEN AND BOOKS 

earnest, and counting as acquaintances the most 
disreputable people he could lay his hands on ; 
fellows who stole ducks in Paris Moat ; sergeants of 
the criminal court, and archers of the watch ; black- 
guards who slept at night under the butchers' stalls, 
and for whom the aforesaid archers peered about 
carefully with lanterns ; Regnier de Montigny, Colin 
de Cayeux, and their crew, all bound on a favouring 
breeze towards the gallows ; the disorderly abbess 
of Port-Royal, who went about at fair-liime with 
soldiers and thieves, and conducted her abbey on the 
queerest principles ; and most likely Perette Mauger, 
the great Paris receiver of stolen goods, not yet 
dreaming, poor woman ! of the last scene of her 
career, when Henry Cousin, executor of the high 
justice, shall bury her, alive and most reluctant, in 
front of the new Montigny gibbet.^ Nay, our friend 
soon began to take a foremost rank in this society. 
He could string off verses, which is always an agree- 
able talent ; and he could make himself useful in 
many other ways. The whole ragged army of Bo- 
hemia, and whosoever loved good cheer without at 
all loving to work and pay for it, are addressed in 
contemporary verses as the ' Subjects of Francois 
Villon.' He was a good genius to all hungry and 
unscrupulous persons ; and became the hero of a 
whole legendary cycle of tavern tricks and cheateries. 
At best, these were doubtful levities, rather too 
thievish for a schoolboy, rather too gamesome for a 
thief But he would not linger long in this equi- 

^ Chronique Scandaleuse, ed. Pantheon, p. 237. 
192 



FRANCpOIS VILLON 

vocal border-land. He must soon have complied 
w^ith his surroundings. He was one who would go 
where the cannikin clinked, not caring who should 
pay ; and from supping in the wolves' den, there is 
but a step to hunting with the pack. And here, as 
I am on the chapter of his degradation, I shall say 
all I mean to say about its darkest expression, and 
be done with it for good. Some charitable critics 
see no more than Sijeu d' esprit, a graceful and trifling 
exercise of the imagination, in the grimy ballad of 
Fat Peg {Grosse Mar got). I am not able to follow 
these gentlemen to this polite extreme. Out of all 
Villon's works that ballad stands forth in flaring 
reality, gross and ghastly, as a thing written in a 
contraction of disgust. M. Longnon shows us more 
and more clearly at every page that we are to read 
our poet literally, that his names are the names of 
real persons, and the events he chronicles were actual 
events. But even if the tendency of criticism had 
run the other way, this ballad would have gone far 
to prove itself I can well understand the reluctance 
of worthy persons in this matter ; for of course it is 
unpleasant to think of a man of genius as one who 
held, in the words of Marina to Boult — 

' A place, for which the pained' st fiend 
Of hell would not in reputation change.' 

But beyond this natural unwillingness, the whole 
difficulty of the case springs from a highly virtuous 
ignorance of life. Paris now is not so different from 
the Paris of then ; and the whole of the doings of 

5— N 193 



MEN AND BOOKS 

Bohemia are not written in the sugar-candy pastorals 
of Miirger. It is really not at all surprising that a 
young man of the fifteenth century, with a knack of 
making verses, should accept his bread upon dis- 
graceful terms. The race of those who do so is not 
extinct ; and some of them to this day write the 
prettiest verses imaginable. . . . After this, it were 
impossible for Master Francis to fall lower : to go 
and steal for himself would be an admirable advance 
from every point of view, divine or human. 

And yet it is not as a thief, but as a homicide, 
that he makes his first appearance before angry 
justice. On June 5, 1455, when he was about 
twenty-four, and had been Master of Arts for a 
matter of three years, we behold him for the first 
time quite definitely. Angry justice had, as it were, 
photographed him in the act of his homicide ; and 
M. Longnon, rummaging among old deeds, has 
turned up the negative and printed it off for our 
instruction. Villon had been supping — copiously 
we may believe — and sat on a stone bench in front 
of the Church of St. Benoit, in company with a priest 
called Gilles and a woman of the name of Isabeau. 
It was nine o'clock, a mighty late hour for the period, 
and evidently a fine summer's night. Master Francis 
carried a mantle, like a prudent man, to keep him 
from the dews (serain), and had a sword below it 
dangling from his girdle. So these three dallied in 
front of St. Benoit, taking their pleasure {pou?^ soy 
eshatre). Suddenly there arrived upon the scene a 
priest, Philippe Chermoye or Sermaise, also with 
194 



FRAN(;:OIS VILLON 

sword and cloak, and accompanied by one Master 
Jehan le Mardi. Sermaise, according to Villon's 
account, which is all we have to go upon, came up 
blustering and denying God ; as Villon rose to make 
room for him upon the bench, thrust him rudely 
back into his place ; and finally drew his sword and 
cut open his lower lip, by what 1 should imagine 
was a very clumsy stroke. Up to this point Villon 
professes to have been a model of courtesy, even of 
feebleness : and the brawl, in his version, reads like 
the fable of the wolf and the lamb. But now the 
lamb was roused ; he drew his sword, stabbed Ser- 
maise in the groin, knocked him on the head with a 
big stone, and then, leaving him to his fate, went 
away to have his own lip doctored by a barber of the 
name of Fouquet. In one version he says that 
Gilles, Isabeau, and Le Mardi ran away at the first 
high words, and that he and Sermaise had it out 
alone ; in another, Le Mardi is represented as return- 
ing and wresting Villon's sword from him : the 
reader may please himself Sermaise was picked up, 
lay all that night in the prison of Saint Benoit, 
where he was examined by an official of the Chatelet 
and expressly pardoned Villon, and died on the fol- 
lowing Saturday in the Hotel Dieu. 

This, as I have said, was in June. Not before 
January of the next year could Villon extract a 
pardon from the King ; but while his hand was in, 
he got two. One is for ' Fran9ois des Loges, alias 
{autrement dit) de Villon ' ; and the other runs in 
the name of Fran9ois de Montcorbier. Nay, it 

195 



MEN AND BOOKS 

appears there was a further complication ; for in the 
narrative of the first of these documents it is men- 
tioned that he passed himself off upon Fouquet, 
the barber-surgeon, as one Michel Mouton. M. 
Longnon has a theory that this unhappy accident 
with Sermaise was the cause of Villon's subsequent 
irregularities ; and that up to that moment he had 
been the pink of good behaviour. But the matter 
has to my eyes a more dubious air. A pardon 
necessary for Des Loges and another for Mont- 
corbier ? and these two the same person ? and one 
or both of them known by the alias of Villon, how- 
ever honestly come by? and lastly, in the heat of 
the moment, a fourth name thrown out with an 
assured countenance ? A ship is not to be trusted 
that sails under so many colours. This is not the 
simple bearing of innocence. No — the young master 
was already treading crooked paths ; already, he 
would start and blench at a hand upon his shoulder, 
with the look we know so well in the face of Hogarth's 
Idle Apprentice ; already, in the blue devils, he 
would see Henry Cousin, the executor of high 
justice, going in dolorous procession towards Mont- 
faucon, and hear the wind and the birds crying 
around Paris gibbet. 

A GANG OF THIEVES 

In spite of the prodigious number of people who 
managed to get hanged, the fifteenth century was by 
no means a bad time for criminals. A great con- 
196 



FRANCOIS VILLON 

fusion of parties and great dust of fighting favoured 
the escape of private housebreakers and quiet fellows 
who stole ducks in Paris Moat. Prisons were leaky ; 
and as we shall see, a man with a few crowns in his 
pocket, and perhaps some acquaintance among the 
officials, could easily slip out and become once more 
a free marauder. There was no want of a sanctuary 
where he might harbour until troubles blew by ; and 
accomplices helped each other with more or less good 
faith. Clerks, above all, had remarkable facilities 
for a criminal way of life ; for they were privileged, 
except in cases of notorious incorrigibility, to be 
plucked from the hands of rude secular justice and 
tried by a tribunal of their own. In 1402, a couple 
of thieves, both clerks of the University, were con- 
demned to death by the Provost of Paris. As they 
were taken to Montfaucon, they kept crying 'high 
and clearly' for their benefit of clergy, but were 
none the less pitilessly hanged and gibbeted. In- 
dignant Alma Mater interfered before the King ; and 
the Provost was deprived of all royal offices, and 
condemned to return the bodies and erect a great 
stone cross, on the road from Paris to the gibbet, 
graven with the effigies of these two holy martyrs.^ 
We shall hear more of the benefit of clergy ; for 
after this the reader will not be surprised to meet 
with thieves in the shape of tonsured clerks, or even 
priests and monks. 

To a knot of such learned pilferers our poet 
certainly belonged ; and by turning over a few more 

^ Monstreletj Pantheon Litteraire, p. 26. 



MEN AND BOOKS 

of M. Longnon's negatives, we shall get a clear idea 
of their character and doings. Montigny and De 
Cayeux are names already known ; Guy Tabary, 
Petit-Jehan, Dom Nicolas, little Thibault, who was 
both clerk and goldsmith, and who made picklocks 
and melted plate for himself and his companions — 
with these the reader has still to become acquainted. 
Petit-Jehan and De Cayeux were handy fellows and 
enjoyed a useful pre-eminence in honour of their 
doings with the picklock. '^ JDictus des Cahyeus est 
fortis operator crochetorum,' says Tabary 's interroga- 
tion, " sed dictus Petit-Jehan, ejus socius, est forcius 
operator.^ But the flower of the flock was little 
Thibault ; it was reported that no lock could stand 
before him ; he had a persuasive hand ; let us salute 
capacity wherever we may find it. Perhaps the 
term gang is not quite properly applied to the 
persons whose fortunes we are now about to fol- 
low ; rather they were independent malefactors, 
socially intimate, and occasionally joining together 
for some serious operation, just as modern stock- 
jobbers form a syndicate for an important loan. 
Nor were they at all particular to any branch of 
misdoing. They did not scrupulously confine them- 
selves to a single sort of theft, as I hear is com- 
mon among modern thieves. They were ready 
for anything, from pitch-and-toss to manslaughter. 
Montigny, for instance, had neglected neither of 
these extremes, and we find him accused of cheat- 
ing at games of hazard on the one hand, and on the 
other of the murder of one Thevenin Pensete in a 
198 



FIlAN(;:OIS VILLON 

house by the Cemetery of St. John. If time had 
only spared us some particulars, might not this last 
have furnished us with the matter of a grisly winter's 
tale? 

At Christmas-time in 1456, readers of Villon will 
remember that he was engaged on the Small Testa- 
ment. About the same period, circa festum nativi- 
tatis Domini, he took part in a memorable supper at 
the Mule Tavern, in front of the Church of St. 
Mathurin. Tabary, who seems to have been very 
much Villon's creature, had ordered the supper in 
the course of the afternoon. He was a man who 
had had troubles in his time, and languished in the 
Bishop of Paris's prisons on a suspicion of picking 
locks ; confiding, convivial, not very astute — who 
had copied out a whole improper romance with his 
own right hand. This supper-party was to be his 
first introduction to De Cayeux and Petit-Jehan, 
which was probably a matter of some concern to 
the poor man's muddy wits ; in the sequel, at least, 
he speaks of both with an undisguised respect, based 
on professional inferiority in the matter of picklocks. 
Dom Nicolas, a Picardy monk, was the fifth and last 
at table. When supper had been despatched and 
fairly washed down, we may suppose, with white 
Baigneux or red Beaune, which were favourite wines 
among the fellowship, Tabary was solemnly sw9rn 
over to secrecy on the night's performances ; and 
the party left the Mule and proceeded to an un- 
occupied house belonging to Robert de Saint- Simon. 
This, over a low wall, they entered without difficulty. 

199 



MEN AND BOOKS 

All but Tabary took off their upper garments ; a 
ladder was found and applied to the high wall which 
separated Saint-Simon's house from the court of the 
College of Navarre ; the four fellows in their shirt- 
sleeves (as we might say) clambered over in a twink- 
ling ; and Master Guy Tabary remained alone beside 
the overcoats. From the court the burglars made 
their way into the vestry of the chapel, where they 
found a large chest, strengthened with iron bands 
and closed with four locks. One of these locks they 
picked, and then, by levering up the corner, forced 
the other three. Inside was a small coffer, of walnut 
wood, also barred with iron, but fastened with only 
three locks, which were all comfortably picked by 
way of the keyhole. In the walnut coffer — a joyous 
sight by our thieves' lantern — were five hundred 
crowns of gold. There was some talk of opening 
the aumries, where, if they had only known, a booty 
eight or nine times greater lay ready to their hand ; 
but one of the party (I have a humorous suspicion it 
was Dom Nicolas, the Picardy monk) hurried them 
away. It was ten o'clock when they mounted the 
ladder ; it was about midnight before Tabary beheld 
them coming back. To him they gave ten crowns, 
and promised a share of a two-crown dinner on 
the morrow ; whereat we may suppose his mouth 
watered. In course of time he got wind of the 
real amount of their booty and understood how 
scurvily he had been used ; but he seems to have 
borne no malice. How could he, against such 
superb operators as Petit-Jehan and De Cayeux ; 
200 



FIlAN(;^OIS VILLON 

or a person like Villon, who could have made a new 
improper romance out of his own head, instead of 
merely copying an old one with mechanical right 
hand? 

The rest of the winter was not uneventful for the 
gang. First they made a demonstration against the 
Church of St. Mathurin after chalices, and were 
ignominiously chased away by barking dogs. Then 
Tabary fell out with Casin ChoUet, one of the fellows 
who stole ducks in Paris Moat, who subsequently 
became a sergeant of the Chatelet and distinguished 
himself by misconduct, followed by imprisonment 
and public castigation, during the wars of Louis 
Eleventh. The quarrel was not conducted with a 
proper regard to the King's peace, and the pair 
publicly belaboured each other until the pohce 
stepped in, and Master Tabary was cast once more 
into the prisons of the Bishop. While he still lay 
in durance, another job was cleverly executed by 
the band in broad daylight, at the Augustine Monas- 
tery. Brother Guillaume Coiffier was beguiled by 
an accomplice to St. Mathurin to say mass ; and 
during his absence his chamber was entered and 
five or six hundred crowns in money and some 
silver plate successfully abstracted. A melancholy 
man was Coiffier on his return ! Eight crowns 
from this adventure were forwarded by little Thi- 
bault to the incarcerated Tabary ; and with these 
he bribed the jailer and reappeared in Paris taverns. 
Some time before or shortly after this, Villon set 
out for Angers, as he had promised in the Small 

201 



MEN AND BOOKS 

Testament. The object of this excursion was not 
merely to avoid the presence of his cruel mistress 
or the strong arm of Noe le Joly, but to plan a 
dehberate robbery on his uncle the monk. As soon 
as he had properly studied the ground, the others 
were to go over in force from Paris — picklocks and 
all — and away with my uncle's strongbox ! This 
throws a comical side-hght on his own accusation 
against his relatives, that they had 'forgotten 
natural duty ' and disowned him because he was 
poor. A poor relation is a distasteful circumstance 
at the best, but a poor relation who plans deliberate 
robberies against those of his blood, and trudges 
hundreds of weary leagues to put them into execu- 
tion, is surely a little on the wrong side of toleration. 
The uncle at Angers may have been monstrously 
undutiful ; but the nephew from Paris was upsides 
with him. 

On the 23rd April, that venerable and discreet 
person, Master Pierre Marchand, Curate and Prior of 
Paray-le-Monial, in the diocese of Chartres, arrived 
in Paris and put up at the sign of the Three Chande- 
liers, in the Rue de la Huchette. Next day, or the 
day after, as he was breakfasting at the sign of the 
Armchair, he fell into talk with two customers, one 
of whom was a priest and the other our friend 
Tabary. The idiotic Tabary became mighty con- 
fidential as to his past life. Pierre Marchand, who 
was an acquaintance of Guillaume Coiffier's, and had 
sympathised with him over his loss, pricked up his 
ears at the mention of picklocks, and led on the 
202 



FRAN(;^OIS VILLON 

transcriber of improper romances from one thing to 
another, until they were fast friends. For picklocks 
the Prior of Paray professed a keen curiosity ; but 
Tabary, upon some late alarm, had thrown all his 
into the Seine. Let that be no difficulty, however, 
for was there not little Thibault, who could make 
them of all shapes and sizes, and to whom Tabary, 
smelling an accomplice, would be only too glad to 
introduce his new acquaintance ? On the morrow, 
accordingly, they met ; and Tabary, after having 
first wet his whistle at the Prior's expense, led him 
to Notre Dame and presented him to four or five 
' young companions,' who were keeping sanctuary in 
the church. They were all clerks, recently escaped, 
like Tabary himself, from the episcopal prisons. 
Among these we may notice Thibault, the operator, 
a little fellow of twenty-six, wearing long hair be- 
hind. The Prior expressed, through Tabary, his 
anxiety to become their accomplice and altogether 
such as they were {de leur sorte et de leurs com- 
plices). Mighty polite they showed themselves, and 
made him many fine speeches in return. But for all 
that, perhaps because they had longer heads than 
Tabary, perhaps because it is less easy to wheedle 
men in a body, they kept obstinately to generalities 
and gave him no information as to their exploits, 
past, present, or to come. I suppose Tabary groaned 
under this reserve ; for no sooner were he and the 
Prior out of the church than he fairly emptied his 
heart to him, gave him full details of many hanging 
matters in the past, and explained the future inten- 

203 



MEN AND BOOKS 

tions of the band. The scheme of the hour was to 
rob another Augustine monk, Robert de la Porte, 
and in this the Prior agreed to take a hand with 
simulated greed. Thus, in the course of two days, 
he had turned this wineskin of a Tabary inside out. 
For a while longer the farce was carried on ; the 
Prior was introduced to Petit-Jehan, whom he de- 
scribes as a little, very smart man of thirty, with a 
black beard and a short jacket ; an appointment was 
made and broken in the de la Porte affair ; Tabary 
had some breakfast at the Prior's charge and leaked 
out more secrets under the influence of wine and 
friendship ; and then all of a sudden, on the 17th of 
May, an alarm sprang up, the Prior picked up his 
skirts and walked quietly over to the Chatelet to 
make a deposition, and the whole band took to their 
heels and vanished out of Paris and the sight of the 
police. 

Vanish as they like, they all go with a clog about 
their feet. Sooner or later, here or there, they will 
be caught in the fact, and ignominiously sent home. 
From our vantage of four centuries afterwards, it is 
odd and pitiful to watch the order in which the 
fugitives are captured and dragged in. 

Montigny was the first. In August of that same 
year he was laid by the heels on many grievous 
counts, — sacrilegious robberies, frauds, incorrigibility, 
and that bad business about Thevenin Pensete in 
the house by the Cemetery of St. John. He was 
reclaimed by the ecclesiastical authorities as a clerk ; 
but the claim was rebutted on the score of incorriiji- 
204 



rRAN(;:;ois villon 

bility, and ultimately fell to the ground ; and he was 
condemned to death by the Provost of Paris. It 
was a very rude hour for Montigny, but hope was 
not yet over. He was a fellow of some birth ; his 
father had been king's pantler; his sister, probably 
married to some one about the Court, was in the 
family way, and her health would be endangered if 
the execution was proceeded with. So down comes 
Charles the Seventh with letters of mercy, commut- 
ing the penalty to a year in a dungeon on bread and 
water, and a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James 
in Galicia. Alas ! the document was incomplete ; it 
did not contain the full tale of Montigny 's enormi- 
ties ; it did not recite that he had been denied 
benefit of clergy, and it said nothing about Thevenin 
Pensete. Montigny's hour was at hand. Benefit 
of clergy, honourable descent from king's pantler, 
sister in the family way, royal letters of commuta- 
tion — all were of no avail. He had been in prison 
in Rouen, in Tours, in Bordeaux, and four times 
already in Paris ; and out of all these he had come 
scatheless ; but now he must make a little excursion 
as far as Montfaucon with Henry Cousin, executor 
of high justice. There let him swing among the 
carrion crows. 

About a year later, in July 1458, the police laid 
hands on Tabary. Before the ecclesiastical commis- 
sary he was twice examined, and, on the latter occa- 
sion, put to the question ordinary and extraordinary. 
What a dismal change from pleasant suppers at the 
Mule, where he sat in triumph with expert operators 

205 



MEN AND BOOKS 

and great wits ! He is at the lees of life, poor rogue ; 
and those fingers which once transcribed improper 
romances are now agonisingly stretched upon the 
rack. We have no sure knowledge, but we may- 
have a shrewd guess of the conclusion. Tabary, 
the admirer, would go the same way as those whom 
he admired. 

The last we hear of is CoUn de Cayeux. He was 
caught in autumn 1460, in the great Church of St. 
Leu d'Esserens, which makes so fine a figure in the 
pleasant Oise valley between Creil and Beaumont. 
He was reclaimed by no less than two bishops ; but 
the Procureur for the Provost held fast by incor- 
rigible Colin. 1460 was an ill-starred year : for 
justice was making a clean sweep of ' poor and in- 
digent persons, thieves, cheats, and lockpickers,' in 
the neighbourhood of Paris ; ^ and Colin de Cayeux, 
with many others, was condemned to death and 
hanged.^ 

VILLON AND THE GALLOWS 

Villon was still absent on the Angers expedition 
when the Prior of Paray sent such a bombshell 
among his accomplices ; and the dates of his return 

1 Chron. Scand., ut supra. 

2 Here and there^ principally in the order of events^ this article differs 
from M. Longnon's own reading of his material. The ground on which 
he defers the execution of Montigny and De Cayeux beyond the date of 
their trials seems insufficient. There is a law of parsimony for the con- 
struction of historical documents ; simplicity is the first duty of narra- 
tion ; and hanged they were. 

206 



FRANQOIS VILLON 

and arrest remain un discoverable. M. Campaux 
plausibly enough opined for the autumn of 1457, 
which would make him closely follow on Montigny, 
and the first of those denounced by the Prior to 
fall into the toils. We may suppose, at least, that 
it was not long thereafter ; we may suppose him 
competed for between lay and clerical Courts ; and 
we may suppose him alternately pert and impudent, 
humble and fawning, in his defence. But at the 
end of all supposing, we come upon some nuggets of 
fact. For first, he was put to the question by water. 
He who had tossed off so many cups of white Bai- 
gneux or red Beaune, now drank water through linen 
folds, until his bowels were flooded and his heart 
stood still. After so much raising of the elbow, 
so much outcry of fictitious thirst, here at last 
was enough drinking for a lifetime. Truly, of our 
pleasant vices the gods make whips to scourge us. 
And secondly he was condemned to be hanged. 
A man may have been expecting a catastrophe for 
years, and yet find himself unprepared when it 
arrives. Certainly, Villon found, in this legitimate 
issue of his career, a very staggering and grave con- 
sideration. Every beast, as he says, clings bitterly 
to a whole skin. If everything is lost, and even 
honour, life still remains ; nay, and it becomes, like 
the ewe lamb in Nathan's parable, as dear as all the 
rest. ' Do you fancy,' he asks, in a lively ballad, 
'that I had not enough philosophy under my hood 
to cry out: "I appeal"? If I had made any bones 
about the matter I should have been planted vip- 

207 



MEN AND BOOKS 

right in the fields, by the St. Denis Road ' — Mont- 
faucon being on the way to St. Denis. An appeal 
to Parliament, as we saw in the case of Colin de 
Cayeux, did not necessarily lead to an acquittal or 
a commutation ; and while the matter was pending, 
our poet had ample opportunity to reflect on his 
position. Hanging is a sharp argument, and to 
swing with many others on the gibbet adds a 
horrible corollary for the imagination. With the 
aspect of Montfaucon he was well acquainted; in- 
deed, as the neighbourhood appears to have been 
sacred to junketing and nocturnal picnics of wild 
young men and women, he had probably studied it 
under all varieties of hour and weather. And now, 
as he lay in prison waiting the mortal push, these 
different aspects crowded back on his imagination 
with a new and startling significance ; and he wrote 
a ballad, by way of epitaph for himself and his com- 
panions, which remains unique in the annals of man- 
kind. It is, in the highest sense, a piece of his 
biography : — 

' La pluye nous a debuez et lavez, 
Et le soleil dessechez et noirciz ; 
Pies, corbeaulx, nous ont les yeux cavez, 
Et arrachez la barbe et les sourcilz. 
Jamais, nul temps, nous ne sommes rassis ; 
Puis 9a, puis la, coraime le vent varie, 
A son plaisir sans cesser nous charie, 
Plus becquetez d'oiseaulx que dez a couldre. 
Ne soyez done de nostre confraii-ie, 
Mais priez Dieu que tous nous vueille absouldre.' 

Here is some genuine thieves' literature after so 
208 



FRAN(;:;OIS VILLON 

much that was spurious ; sharp as an etching, written 
with a shuddering soul. There is an intensity of 
consideration in the piece that' shows it to be the 
transcript of famihar thoughts. It is the quint- 
essence of many a doleful nightmare on the straw, 
when he felt himself swing helpless in the wind, 
and saw the birds turn about him, screaming and 
menacing his eyes. 

And, after all, the Parliament changed his sen- 
tence into one of banishment ; and to Roussillon, in 
Dauphiny, our poet must carry his woes without 
delay. Travellers between Lyons and Marseilles 
may remember a station on the Hne, some way 
below Vienne, where the Rhone fleets seaward be- 
tween vine-clad hills. This was Villon's Siberia. 
It would be a little warm in summer perhaps, and 
a little cold in winter in that draughty valley be- 
tween two great mountain fields ; but what with 
the hills, and the racing river, and the fiery Rhone 
wines, he was little to be pitied on the conditions 
of his exile. Villon, in a remarkably bad ballad, 
written in a breath, heartily thanked and fulsomely 
belauded the Parliament ; the envoi, like the pro- 
verbial postscript of a lady's letter, containing the 
pith of his performance in a request for three days' 
delay to settle his affairs and bid his friends farewell. 
He was probably not followed out of Paris, like 
Antoine Fradin, the popular preacher, another exile 
of a few years later, by weeping multitudes ;^ but I 
daresay one or two rogues of his acquaintance would 

^ Chron. Scand., p. 338. 

5— o 209 



MEN AND BOOKS 

keep him company for a mile or so on the south 
road, and drink a bottle with him before they 
turned. For banished people, in those days, seem 
to have set out on their own responsibility, in their 
own guard, and at their own expense. It was no 
joke to make one's way from Paris to Roussillon 
alone and penniless in the fifteenth century. Villon 
says he left a rag of his tails on every bush. Indeed, 
he must have had many a weary tramp, many a 
slender meal, and many a to-do with blustering 
captains of the Ordonnance. But with one of his 
light fingers, we may fancy that he took as good as 
he gave ; for every rag of his tail he would manage 
to indemnify himself upon the population in the 
shape of food, or wine, or ringing money ; and his 
route would be traceable across France and Bur- 
gundy by housewives and innkeepers lamenting 
over petty thefts, like the track of a single human 
locust. A strange figure he must have cut in the 
eyes of the good country people : this ragged, black- 
guard city poet, with a smack of the Paris student, 
and a smack of the Paris street arab, posting along 
the highways, in rain or sun, among the green fields 
and vineyards. For himself, he had no taste for 
rural loveHness ; green fields and vineyards would 
be mighty indifferent to Master Francis ; but he 
would often have his tongue in his cheek at the 
simplicity of rustic dupes, and often, at city gates, 
he might stop to contemplate the gibbet with its 
swinging bodies, and hug himself on his escape. 
How long he stayed at Roussillon, how far he 

2IO 



FRANCOIS VILLON 

became the protege of the Bourbons, to whom that 
town belonged, or when it was that he took part, 
under the auspices of Charles of Orleans, in a rhym- 
ing tournament to be referred to once again in the 
pages of the present volume, are matters that still 
remain in darkness, in spite of M. Longnon's dihgent 
rummaging among archives. When we next find 
him, in summer 1461, alas ! he is once more in 
durance : this time at Meun-sur-Loire, in the prisons 
of Thibault d'Aussigny, Bishop of Orleans. He 
had been lowered in a basket into a noisome pit, 
where he lay all summer, gnawing hard crusts and 
railing upon fate. His teeth, he says, were like the 
teeth of a rake ; a touch of haggard portraiture all 
the more real for being excessive and burlesque, and 
all the more proper to the man for being a caricature 
of his own misery. His eyes were * bandaged with 
thick walls.' It might blow hurricanes overhead; 
the lightning might leap in high heaven ; but no 
word of all this reached him in his noisome pit. '11 
nentre, ou gist, nescler ni tourbillon.' Above all, 
he was fevered with envy and anger at the freedom 
of others ; and his heart flowed over into curses as 
he thought of Thibault d'Aussigny walking the 
streets in God's sunlight, and blessing people with 
extended fingers. So much we find sharply lined in 
his own poems. Why he was cast again into prison 
— how he had again managed to shave the gallows — 
this we know not, nor, from the destruction of 
authorities, are we ever likely to learn. But on 
^October 2nd, 1461, or some day immediately preced- 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

ing, the new king, Louis Eleventh, made his joyous 
entry into Meun. Now it was a part of the formahty 
on such occasions for the new king to liberate 
certain prisoners ; and so the basket was let down 
into Villon's pit, and hastily did Master Francis 
scramble in, and was most joyfully hauled up, and 
shot out, blinking and tottering, but once more a 
free man, into the blessed sun and wind. Now or 
never is the time for verses ! Such a happy revolu- 
tion would turn the head of a stocking-weaver, and 
set him jingling rhymes. And so— after a voyage 
to Paris, where he finds Montigny and De Cayeux 
clattering their bones upon the gibbet, and his three 
pupils roystering in Paris streets, ' with their thumbs 
under their girdles,' — down sits Master Francis to 
write his Large Testament, and perpetuate his name 
in a sort of glorious ignominy. 

THE 'LAUGE TESTAMENT' 

Of this capital achievement and, with it, of Villon's 
style in general, it is here the place to speak. The 
Large Testame^it is a hurly-burly of cynical and 
sentimental reflections about life, jesting legacies to 
friends and enemies, and, interspersed among these, 
many admirable ballades both serious and absurd. 
With so free a design, no thought that occurred to 
him would need to be dismissed without expression; 
and he could draw at full length the portrait of his 
own bedevilled soul, and of the bleak and black- 
guardly world which was the theatre of his exploits 

212 



FRANQOIS VILLON 

and sufferings. If the reader can conceive some- 
thing between the slap-dash inconsequence of Byron's 
Don Juan and the racy humorous gravity and brief 
noble touches that distinguish the vernacular poems 
of Burns, he will have formed some idea of Villon's 
style. To the latter writer — except in the ballades, 
which are quite his own, and can be paralleled from 
no other language known to me — he bears a par- 
ticular resemblance. In common with Burns he has 
a certain rugged compression, a brutal vivacity of 
epithet, a homely vigour, a delight in local per- 
sonalities, and an interest in many sides of life, that 
are often despised and passed over by more effete 
and cultured poets. Both also, in their strong, easy 
colloquial way, tend to become difficult and obscure ; 
the obscurity in the case of Villon passing at times 
into the absolute darkness of cant language. They 
are perhaps the only two great masters of expression 
who keep sending their readers to a glossary. 

' Shall we not dare to say of a thief,' asks Mon- 
taigne, 'that he has a handsome leg?' It is a far 
more serious claim that we have to put forward in 
behalf of Villon. Beside that of his contemporaries, 
his writing, so full of colour, so eloquent, so pic- 
turesque, stands out in an almost miraculous isolation. 
If only one or two of the chroniclers could have 
taken a leaf out of his book, history would have 
been a pastime, and the fifteenth century as present 
to our minds as the age of Charles Second. This 
gallows-bird was the one great writer of his age and 
country, and initiated modern literature for France. 

213 



MEN AND BOOKS 

Boileau, long ago, in the period of pernkes and 
snuff-boxes, recognised him as the first articulate 
poet in the language ; and if we measure him, not by 
priority of merit, but living duration of influence, 
not on a comparison with obscure forerunners, but 
with great and famous successors, we shall instal this 
ragged and disreputable figure in a far higher niche 
in glory's temple than was ever dreamed of by the 
critic. It is in itself a memorable fact that before 
1542, in the very dawn of printing, and while modern 
France was in the making, the works of Villon ran 
through seven different editions. Out of him flows 
much of Rabelais; and through Rabelais, directly 
and indirectly, a deep, permanent, and growing 
inspiration. Not only his style, but his callous per- 
tinent way of looking upon the sordid and ugly sides 
of Hfe, becomes every day a more specific feature in 
the literature of France. And only the other year, a 
work of some power appeared in Paris, and appeared 
with infinite scandal, which owed its whole inner 
significance and much of its outward form to the 
study of our rhyming thief 

The world to which he introduces us is, as before 
said, blackguardly and bleak. Paris swarms before 
us, full of famine, shame, and death ; monks and the 
servants of great lords hold high wassail upon cakes 
and pastry; the poor man licks his lips before the 
baker's window; people with patched eyes sprawl 
all night under the stalls ; chuckhng Tabary tran- 
scribes an improper romance; bare-bosomed lasses 
and ruffling students swagger in the streets ; the 
214 



FRANC^OIS VILLON 

drunkard goes stumbling homewards ; the graveyard 
is full of bones ; and away on Montfaucon, Colin de 
Cayeux and Montigny hang draggled in the rain. 
Is there nothing better to be seen than sordid misery 
and worthless joys ? Only where the poor old 
mother of the poet kneels in church below painted 
windows, and makes tremulous supplication to the 
Mother of God. 

In our mixed world, full of green fields and happy 
lovers, where not long before Joan of Arc had led 
one of the highest and noblest lives in the whole 
story of mankind, this was all worth chronicling that 
our poet could perceive. His eyes were indeed 
sealed with his own filth. He dwelt all his life in a 
pit more noisome than the dungeon at Meun. In 
the moral world, also, there are large phenomena 
not cognisable out of holes and corners. Loud winds 
blow, speeding home deep-laden ships and sweeping 
rubbish from the earth ; the lightning leaps and 
cleans the face of heaven ; high purposes and brave 
passions shake and sublimate men's spirits ; and 
meanwhile, in the narrow dungeon of his soul, Villon 
is mumbhng crusts and picking vermin. 

Along with this deadly gloom of outlook, we must 
take another characteristic of his work, its unrivalled 
insincerity. I can give no better similitude of this 
quality than I have given already : that he comes 
up with a whine and runs away with a whoop and 
his finger to his nose. His pathos is that of a pro- 
fessional mendicant who should happen to be a man 
of genius ; his levity that of a bitter street arab, full 

215 



MEN AND BOOKS 

of bread. On a first reading, the pathetic passages 
pre-occupy the reader, and he is cheated out of an 
alms in the shape of sympathy. But when the thing 
is studied the illusion fades away : in the transitions, 
above all, we can detect the evil, ironical temper of 
the man ; and instead of a flighty work, where many 
crude but genuine feelings tumble together for the 
mastery as in the Hsts of tournament, we are tempted 
to think of the Large Testament as of one long- 
drawn epical grimace, pulled by a merry-andrew, 
who has found a certain despicable eminence over 
human respect and human affections by perching 
himself astride upon the gallows. Between these 
two views, at best, all temperate judgments will be 
found to fall ; and rather, as I imagine, towards the 
last. 

There were two things on which he felt with 
perfect and, in one case, even threatening sincerity. 

The first of these was an undisguised envy of those 
richer than himself He was for ever drawing a 
parallel, already exemplified from his own words, 
between the happy life of the well-to-do and the 
miseries of the poor. Burns, too proud and honest 
not to work, continued through all reverses to sing 
of poverty with a light, defiant note. Beranger 
waited till he was himself beyond the reach of want 
before writing the Old Vagabond or Jacques. Samuel 
Johnson, although he was very sorry to be poor, 
' was a great arguer for the advantages of poverty ' 
in his ill days. Thus it is that brave men carry their 
crosses, and smile with the fox burrowing in their 
216 



FRANQOIS VILLON 

vitals. But Villon, who had not the courage to be 
poor with honesty, now whiningly implores our 
sympathy, now shows his teeth upon the dung-heap 
with an ugly snarl. He envies bitterly, envies pas- 
sionately. Poverty, he protests, drives men to steal, 
as hunger makes the wolf sally from the forest. The 
poor, he goes on, will always have a carping word to 
say, or, if that outlet be denied, nourish rebellious 
thoughts. It is a calumny on the noble army of the 
poor. Thousands in a small way of life, ay, and 
even in the smallest, go through life with tenfold as 
much honour and dignity and peace of mind as the 
rich gluttons whose dainties and state-beds awakened 
Villon's covetous temper. And every morning's sun 
sees thousands who pass whistling to their toil. But 
Villon was the ' mauvais pauvre ' defined by Victor 
Hugo, and, in its English expression, so admirably 
stereotyped by Dickens. He was the first wicked 
sans-culotte. He is the man of genius with the 
moleskin cap. He is mighty pathetic and beseech- 
ing here in the street, but I would not go down a 
dark road with him for a large consideration. 

The second of the points on which he was genuine 
and emphatic was common to the middle ages ; a 
deep and somewhat snivelhng conviction of the 
transitory nature of this life and the pity and horror 
of death. Old age and the grave, with some dark 
and yet half- sceptical terror of an after- world — these 
were ideas that clung about his bones like a disease. 
An old ape, as he says, may play all the tricks in its 
repertory, and none of them will tickle an audience 

217 



MEN AND BOOKS 

into good humour. ' Tousjours vieil synge est des- 
plaisant' It is not the old jester who receives most 
recognition at a tavern party, but the young fellow, 
fresh and handsome, who knows the new slang, and 
carries off his vice with a certain air. Of this, as a 
tavern jester himself, he would be pointedly con- 
scious. As for the women with whom he was best 
acquainted, his reflections on their old age, in all 
their harrowing pathos, shall remain in the original 
for me. Horace has disgraced himself to something 
the same tune ; but what Horace throws out with an 
ill-favoured laugh, Villon dwells on with an almost 
maudlin whimper. 

It is in death that he finds his truest inspiration ; 
in the swift and sorrowful change that overtakes 
beauty ; in the strange revolution by which great 
fortunes and renowns are diminished to a handful of 
churchyard dust ; and in the utter passing away of 
what was once loveable and mighty. It is in this 
that the mixed texture of his thought enables him 
to reach such poignant and terrible effects, and to 
enhance pity with ridicule, like a man cutting capers 
to a funeral march. It is in this also that he rises 
out of himself into the higher spheres of art. So, in 
the ballade by which he is best known, he rings the 
changes on names that once stood for beautiful and 
queenly women, and are now no more than letters 
and a legend. 'Where are the snows of yester year ?' 
runs the burden. And so, in another not so famous, 
he passes in review the different degrees of bygone 
men, from the holy Apostles and the golden Emperor 

2l8 



FRANCOIS VILLON 

of the East, down to the heralds, pursuivants, and 
trumpeters, who also bore their part in the world's 
pageantries and ate greedily at great folks' tables : 
all this to the refrain of ' So much carry the winds 
away ! ' Probably, there was some melancholy in his 
mind for a yet lower grade, and Montigny and Colin 
de Cayeux clattering their bones on Paris gibbet. 
Alas, and with so pitiful an experience of life, Villon 
can offer us nothing but terror and lamentation 
about death ! No one has ever more skilfully com- 
naunicated his own disenchantment ; no one ever 
blown a more ear-piercing note of sadness. This 
unrepentant thief can attain neither to Christian 
confidence nor to the spirit of the bright Greek 
saying, that whom the gods love die early. It is a 
poor heart, and a poorer age, that cannot accept the 
conditions of life with some heroic readiness. 



The date of the Large Testament is the last date 
in the poet's biography. After having achieved that 
admirable and despicable performance, he disappears 
into the night from whence he came. How or when 
he died, whether decently in bed or trussed up to a 
gallows, remains a riddle for foolhardy commentators. 
It appears his health had suffered in the pit at 
Meun ; he was thirty years of age and quite bald ; 
with the notch in his under lip where Sermaise had 
struck him with the sword, and what wrinkles the 
reader may imagine. In default of portraits, this is 
all I have been able to piece together, and perhaps 

219 



MEN AND BOOKS 

even the baldness should be taken as a figure of his 
destitution. A sinister dog, in all likelihood, but 
with a look in his eye, and the loose flexile mouth 
that goes with wit and an overweening sensual tem- 
perament. Certainly the sorriest figure on the rolls 
of fame. 



220 



VII 

CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

For one who was no great politician, nor (as men 
go) especially wise, capable, or virtuous, Charles of 
Orleans is more than usually enviable to all who love 
that better sort of fame which consists in being 
known not widely, but intimately. ' To be content 
that time to come should know there was such a 
man, not caring? whether they knew more of him, 
or to subsist under naked denominations, without 
deserts or noble acts,' is, says Sir Thomas Browne, a 
frigid ambition. It is to some more specific memory 
that youth looks forward in its vigils. Old kings 
are sometimes disinterred in all the emphasis of life, 
the hands untainted by decay, the beard that had so 
often wagged in camp or senate still spread upon 
the royal bosom ; and in busts and pictures, some 
similitude of the great and beautiful of former days 
is handed down. In this way, public curiosity may 
be gratified, but hardly any private aspiration after 
fame. It is not likely that posterity will fall in love 
with us, but not impossible that it may respect oi- 
sympathise ; and so a man would rather leave behind 

221 



MEN AND BOOKS 

him the portrait of his spirit than a portrait of his 
face, figuram animi viagis quam corporis. Of those 
who have thus survived themselves most completely, 
left a sort of personal seduction behind them in the 
world, and retained, after death, the art of making 
friends, Montaigne and Samuel Johnson certainly 
stand first. But we have portraits of all sorts of 
men, from august Csesar to the king's dwarf ; and all 
sorts of portraits, from a Titian treasured in the 
Louvre to a profile over the grocer's chimney shelf. 
And so in a less degree, but no less truly, than the 
spirit of Montaigne lives on in the delightful Essays, 
that of Charles of Orleans survives in a few old songs 
and old account-books ; and it is still in the choice 
of the reader to make this duke's acquaintance, and, 
if their humours suit, become his friend. 



His birth — if we are to argue from a man's parents 
—was above his merit. It is not merely that he 
was the grandson of one king, the father of another, 
and the uncle of a third; but something more specious 
was to be looked for from the son of his father, 
Louis de Valois, Duke of Orleans, brother to the 
mad king Charles vj., lover of Queen Isabel, and 
the leading patron of art and one of the leading 
politicians in France. And the poet might have 
inherited yet higher virtues from his mother, Valen- 
tina of Milan, a very pathetic figure of the age, the 
faithful wife of an unfaithful husband, and the friend 

222 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

of a most unhappy king. The father, beautiful, 
eloquent, and accomplished, exercised a strange fas- 
cination over his contemporaries ; and among those 
who dip nowadays into the annals of the time there 
are not many — and these few are little to be envied 
— who can resist the fascination of the mother. All 
mankind owe her a debt of gratitude because she 
brought some comfort into the life of the poor mad- 
man who wore the crown of France. 

Born (May 1391) of such a noble stock, Charles 
was to know from the first all favours of nature and 
art. His father's gardens were the admiration of 
his contemporaries ; his castles were situated in the 
most agreeable parts of France, and sumptuously 
adorned. We have preserved, in an inventory of 
1403, the description of tapestried rooms where 
Charles may have played in childhood.^ ' A green- 
room, with the ceiling full of angels, and the dossier 
of shepherds and shepherdesses seeming {faisant 
contenance) to eat nuts and cherries. A room of 
gold, silk, and worsted, with a device of little children 
in a river, and the sky full of birds. A room of 
green tapestry, showing a knight and lady at chess 
in a pavilion. Another green-room, with shep- 
herdesses in a treUised garden worked in gold and 
silk. A carpet representing cherry-trees, where there 
is a fountain, and a lady gathering cherries in a 
basin.' These were some of the pictures over which 
his fancy might busy itself of an afternoon, or at 
morning as he lay awake in bed. With our deeper 

^ Champolliou-Figeac's Louis et Charles d'Orleans, p. 348. 

2 2,^ 



MEN AND BOOKS 

and more logical sense of life, we can have no idea 
how large a space in the attention of medigeval men 
might be occupied by such figured hangings on the 
wall. There was something timid and purblind in 
the view they had of the world. Morally, they saw 
nothing outside of traditional axioms ; and Httle of 
the physical aspect of things entered vividly into 
their mind, beyond what was to be seen on church 
windows and the walls and floors of palaces. The 
reader will remember how Villon's mother conceived 
of heaven and hell and took all her scanty stock of 
theology from the stained glass that threw its light 
upon her as she prayed. And there is scarcely a 
detail of external effect in the chronicles and romances 
of the time, but might have been borrowed at second 
hand from a piece of tapestry. It was a stage in 
the history of mankind which we may see paralleled 
to some extent in the first infant school, where the 
representations of lions and elephants alternate round 
the wall with moral verses and trite presentments of 
the lesser virtues. So that to live in a house of 
many pictures was tantamount, for a time, to a 
liberal education in itself. 

At Charles's birth an order of knighthood was 
inaugurated in his honour. At nine years old he 
was a squire ; at eleven, he had the escort of a 
chaplain and a schoolmaster ; at twelve, his uncle the 
king made him a pension of twelve thousand livres 
d'or.^ He saw the most brilliant and the most 

1 D'Hericault's admirable Memoir, prefixed to his edition of Charles's 
works, vol, i. p. xi. 
224 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

learned persons of France in his father's court; 
and would not fail to notice that these brilliant 
and learned persons were one and all engaged in 
rhyming. Indeed, if it is difficult to realise the 
part played by pictures, it is perhaps even more 
difficult to realise that played by verses in the polite 
and active history of the age. At the siege of Pon- 
toise, English and French exchanged defiant ballades 
over the walls. ^ If a scandal happened, as in the 
loathsome thirty-third story of the Cent Nouvelles 
Nouvelles, all the wits must make rondels and 
chansonnettes, which they would hand from one to 
another with an unmanly sneer. Ladies carried 
their favourite's ballades in their girdles.^ Margaret 
of Scotland, all the world knows already, kissed 
Alain Chartier's lips in honour of the many virtuous 
thoughts and golden sayings they had uttered ; but 
it is not so well known that this princess was her- 
self the most industrious of poetasters, that she is 
supposed to have hastened her death by her literary 
vigils, and sometimes wrote as many as twelve 
rondels in the day.^ It was in rhyme, even, that the 
young Charles should learn his lessons. He might 
get all manner of instruction in the truly noble art 
of the chase, not without a smack of ethics by the 
way, from the compendious didactic poem of Gace de 
la Eigne. Nay, and it was in rhyme that he should 
learn rhyming : in the verses of his father's Maitre 

^ Vallet de Viriville, Charles VII. et son J^poque, ii. 428, note 2. 

2 See Lecoy de la Marche, Le Roi Rend, i. 167. 

3 Vallet, Charles VII., ii. 85, 86, note 2. 

5— p ' 225 



MEN AND BOOKS 

d'Hotel, Eustache Deschamps, which treated of 
Vart de dictier et de faire chansons, ballades, virelais 
et rondeaux, along with many other matters worth 
attention, from the courts of Heaven to the mis- 
government of France.^ At this rate, all know- 
ledge is to be had in a goody, and the end of it 
is an old song. We need not wonder when we 
hear from Monstrelet that Charles was a very well 
educated person. He could string Latin texts to- 
gether by the hour, and make ballades and rondels 
better than Eustache Deschamps himself He had 
seen a mad king who would not change his clothes, 
and a drunken emperor who could not keep his hand 
from, the wine-cup. He had spoken a great deal 
with jesters and fiddlers, and with the profligate 
lords who helped his father to waste the revenues 
of France. He had seen ladies dance on into broad 
daylight, and much burning of torches and waste of 
dainties and good wine.^ And when all is said, it 
was no very helpful preparation for the battle of life. 
'I beheve Louis xi.,' writes Comines, 'would not 
have saved himself, if he had not been very diiferently 
brought up from such other lords as I have seen 
educated in this country; for these were taught 
nothing but to play the jackanapes with finery and 
fine words.' ^ I am afraid Charles took such lessons 

1 Chanipolliou-Figeac, pp. 193-198. 2 j^^-^ p_ £09. 

3 The student will see that there are facts cited, and expressions bor- 
rowed, in this paragraph, from a period extending over almost the whole 
of Charles's life, instead of being confined entirely to his boyhood. As 
I do not believe there was any change, so I do not believe there is any 
anachronism involved. 

226 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

to heart, and conceived of life as a season principally 
for junketing and war. His view of the whole duty 
of man, so empty, vain, and wearisome to us, was 
yet sincerely and consistently held. When he came 
in his ripe years to compare the glory of two king- 
doms, England and France, it was on three points 
only — pleasures, valour, and riches, — that he cared 
to measure them ; and in the very outset of that 
tract he speaks of the life of the great as passed, 
' whether in arms, as in assaults, battles, and sieges, 
or in jousts and tournaments, in high and stately 
festivities and in funeral solemnities.'^ 

When he was no more than thirteen, his father 
had him affianced to Isabella, virgin-widow of our 
Richard ii. and daughter of his uncle Charles vi. ; 
and, two years after (June 29, 1406), the cousins 
were married at Compiegne, he fifteen, she seventeen 
years of age. It was in every way a most desirable 
match. The bride brought five hundred thousand 
francs of dowry. The ceremony was of the utmost 
magnificence, Louis of Orleans figuring in crimson 
velvet, adorned with no less than seven hundred 
and ninety-five pearls, gathered together expressly 
for this occasion. And no doubt it must have been 
very gratifying for a young gentleman of fifteen to 
play the chief part in a pageant so gaily put upon 
the stage. Only, the bridegroom might have been a 
little older ; and, as ill-luck would have it, the bride 

1 The Debate between the Heralds of France and England, translated and 
admirably edited by Mr. Henry Pyne. For the attribution of this tract 
to Charles, the reader is referred to Mr. Pyne's conclusive argument. 

227 



MEN AND BOOKS 

herself was of this way of thinking, and would not 
be consoled for the loss of her title as queen, or the 
contemptible age of her new husband. Pleuroit fort 
ladite Isabeau ; the said Isabella wept copiously.^ It 
is fairly debatable whether Charles was much to be 
pitied when, three years later (September 1409), this 
odd marriage was dissolved by death. Short as it 
was, however, this connection left a lasting stamp 
upon his mind ; and we find that, in the last decade 
of his life, and after he had remarried for perhaps the 
second time, he had not yet forgotten or forgiven 
the violent death of Richard ii. Ce mauvais cas — 
that ugly business, he writes, has yet to be avenged. 
The marriage festivity was on the threshold of 
evil days. The great rivalry between Louis of 
Orleans and John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, 
had been forsworn with the most reverend solem- 
nities. But the feud was only in abeyance, and 
John of Burgundy still conspired in secret. On 
November 23, 1407 — in that black winter when the 
frost lasted six-and-sixty days on end — a summons 
from the King reached Louis of Orleans at the Hotel 
Barbette, where he had been supping with Queen 
Isabel. It was seven or eight in the evening, and 
the inhabitants of the quarter were abed. He set 
forth in haste, accompanied by two squires riding on 
one horse, a page and a few varlets running with 
torches. As he rode, he hummed to himself and 
trifled with his glove. And so riding, he was beset 
by the bravoes of his enemy and slain. My lord of 

^ Des Ursins. 
228 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

Burgundy set an ill precedent in this deed, as he 
found some years after on the bridge of Montereau ; 
and even in the meantime he did not profit quietly 
by his rival's death. The horror of the other princes 
seems to have perturbed himself; he avowed his 
guilt in the council, tried to brazen it out, finally 
lost heart and fled at full gallop, cutting bridges 
behind him, towards Bapaume and Lille. And so 
there we have the head of one faction, who had just 
made himself the most formidable man in France, 
engaged in a remarkably hurried journey, with black 
care on the pillion. And meantime, on the other 
side, the widowed duchess came to Paris, in appro- 
priate mourning, to demand justice for her husband's 
death. Charles vi., who was then in a lucid interval, 
did probably all that he could, when he raised up 
the kneeling suppliant with kisses and smooth words. 
Things were at a dead-lock. The criminal might be 
in the sorriest fright, but he was still the greatest of 
vassals. Justice was easy to ask and not difficult 
to promise ; how it was to be executed was another 
question. No one in France was strong enough to 
punish John of Burgundy; and perhaps no one, except 
the widow, very sincere in wishing to punish him. 

She, indeed, was eaten up of zeal ; but the in- 
tensity of her eagerness wore her out ; and she died 
about a year after the murder, of grief and indigna- 
tion, unrequited love and unsatisfied resentment. 
It was during the last months of her life that this 
fiery and generous woman, seeing the soft hearts of 
her own children, looked with envy on a certain 

229 



MEN AND BOOKS 

natural son of her husband's, destined to become 
famous in the sequel as the Bastard of Orleans, or 
the brave Dunois. ' Vou were stolen from me," she 
said ; ' it is you who are fit to avenge your father.' 
These are not the words of ordinary mourning, or 
of an ordinary woman. It is a saying over which 
Balzac would have rubbed his episcopal hands. 
That the child who was to avenge her husband had 
not been born out of her body was a thing intoler- 
able to Valentina of Milan ; and the expression of 
this singular and tragic jealousy is preserved to us 
by a rare chance, in such straightforward and vivid 
words as we are accustomed to hear only on the 
stress of actual hfe, or in the theatre. In history — 
where we see things as in a glass darkly, and the 
fashion of former times is brought before us, deplor- 
ably adulterated and defaced, fitted to very vague 
and pompous words, and strained through many 
men's minds of everything personal or precise — this 
speech of the widowed duchess startles a reader, 
somewhat as the footprint startled Robinson Crusoe. 
A human voice breaks in upon the silence of the 
study, and the student is aware of a fellow-creature 
in his world of documents. With such a clue in 
hand, one may imagine how this wounded lioness 
would spur and exasperate the resentment of her 
children, and what would be the last words of 
counsel and command she left behind her. 

With these instancies of his dying mother — almost 
a voice from the tomb — still tingUng in his ears, the 
position of young Charles of Orleans, when he was 
230 



CHAHLES OF ORLEANS 

left at the head of that great house, was curiously 
similar to that of Shakespeare's Hamlet. The times 
were out of joint ; here was a murdered father to 
avenge on a powerful murderer ; and here, in both 
cases, a lad of inactive disposition born to set these 
matters right. Valentina's commendation of Dunois 
involved a judgment on Charles, and that judgment 
was exactly correct. Whoever might be, Charles 
was not the man to avenge his father. Like Hamlet, 
this son of a dear father murdered was sincerely 
grieved at heart. Like Hamlet, too, he could 
unpack his heart with words, and wrote a most 
eloquent letter to the king, complaining that what 
was denied to him would not be denied 'to 
the lowest born and poorest man on earth.' Even 
in his private hours he strove to preserve a 
lively recollection of his injury, and keep up the 
native hue of resolution. He had gems engraved 
with appropriate legends, hortatory or threatening: 
* Dieu le scetj God knows it ; or * Souvenez-vous 
de — ' Remember ! ^ It is only towards the end that 
the two stories begin to differ ; and in some points 
the historical version is the more tragic. Hamlet 
only stabbed a silly old councillor behind the arras ; 
Charles of Orleans trampled France for five years 
under the hoofs of his banditti. The miscarriage of 
Hamlet's vengeance was confined, at widest, to the 
palace ; the ruin wrought by Charles of Orleans was 
as broad as France. 

Yet the first act of the young duke is worthy of 

1 Michelet, iv. App. 179, p. 337. 

231 



MEN AND BOOKS 

honourable mention. Prodigal Louis had made enor- 
mous debts ; and there is a story extant, to illustrate 
how lightly he himself regarded these commercial 
obligations. It appears that Louis, after a narrow 
escape he made in a thunderstorm, had a smart 
access of penitence, and announced he would pay his 
debts on the following Sunday. More than eight 
hundred creditors presented themselves, but by that 
time the devil was well again, and they were shown 
the door with more gaiety than politeness. A time 
when such cynical dishonesty was possible for a man 
of culture is not, it will be granted, a fortunate epoch 
for creditors. When the original debtor was so lax, 
we may imagine how an heir would deal with the 
incumbrances of his inheritance. On the death of 
Philip the Forward, father of that John the Fearless 
whom we have seen at work, the widow went through 
the ceremony of a public renunciation of goods ; 
taking off her purse and girdle, she left them on the 
grave, and thus, by one notable act, cancelled her 
husband's debts and defamed his honour. The con- 
duct of young Charles of Orleans was very different. 
To meet the joint liabilities of his father and mother 
(for Valentina also was lavish), he had to sell or 
pledge a quantity of jewels ; and yet he would not 
take advantage of a pretext, even legally valid, to 
diminish the amount. Thus, one Godefroi Lefevre, 
having disbursed many odd sums for the late duke, 
and received or kept no vouchers, Charles ordered 
that he should be beheved upon his oath.^ To a 

^ Champollion-Figeac, pp. 279-82. 
232 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

modern mind this seems as honourable to his father's 
memory as if John the Fearless had been hanged as 
high as Haman. And as things fell out, except a 
recantation from the University of Paris, which had 
justified the murder out of party feehng, and various 
other purely paper reparations, this was about the 
outside of what Charles was to effect in that direc- 
tion. He lived five years, and grew up from sixteen 
to twenty-one, in the midst of the most horrible 
civil war, or series of civil wars, that ever devastated 
France ; and from first to last his wars were ill- 
starred, or else his victories useless. Two years after 
the murder (March 1409), John the Fearless having 
the upper hand for the moment, a shameful and 
useless reconcihation took place, by the King's 
command, in the Church of Our Lady at Chartres. 
The advocate of the Duke of Burgundy stated that 
Louis of Orleans had been killed 'for the good of 
the King's person and realm.' Charles and his 
brothers, with tears of shame, under protest, pour 
ne pas desobeir au roi, forgave their father's mur- 
derer and swore peace upon the missal. It was, as 
I say, a shameful and useless ceremony ; the very 
grefiier, entering it in his register, wrote in the 
margin, ^ Pax, paoc, inquit Propheta, et non est 
pax.'^ 

Charles was soon after allied with the abominable 
Bernard d'Armagnac, even betrothed or married to 
a daughter of his, called by a name that sounds like 
a contradiction in terms. Bonne d'Armagnac. From 

1 Michelet, iv. pp. 123-24. 

233 



MEN AND BOOKS 

that time forth, throughout all this monstrous period 
— a very nightmare in the history of France — he is 
no more than a stalking-horse for the ambitious 
Gascon. Sometimes the smoke lifts, and you can 
see him for the twinkling of an eye, a very pale 
figure ; at one moment there is a rumour he will be 
crowned king ; at another, w^hen the uproar has 
subsided, he will be heard still crying out for justice; 
and the next (1412), he is showing himself to the 
applauding populace on the same horse with John of 
Burgundy, But these are exceptional seasons, and 
for the most part he merely rides at the Gascon's 
bridle over devastated France. His very party go, 
not by the name of Orleans, but by the name of 
Armagnac. Paris is in the hands of the butchers : 
the peasants have taken to the woods. Alliances 
are made and broken as if in a country dance ; the 
English called in, now by this one, now by the other. 
Poor people sing in church, with white faces and 
lamentable music : ^Domine Jesu, parce populo tuo, 
dirige in viam pads principes.' And the end and 
upshot of the whole affair for Charles of Orleans 
is another peace with John the Fearless. France is 
once more tranquil, with the tranquillity of ruin ; he 
may ride home again to Blois, and look, with what 
countenance he may, on those gems he had got 
engraved in the early days of his resentment, 
' Souvenez-vous de — ' Remember ! He has killed 
Polonius, to be sure ; but the King is never a penny 
the worse. 



234 



CHAKLES OF ORLEANS 



II 

From the battle of Agincourt (Oct. 1415) dates 
the second period of Charles's life. The English 
reader will remember the name of Orleans in the 
play of Henry V. ; and it is at least odd that we 
can trace a resemblance between the puppet and the 
original. The interjection, ' I have heard a sonnet 
begin so to one's mistress ' (Act iii. scene 7), may 
very well indicate one who was already an expert in 
that sort of trifle ; and the game of proverbs he plays 
with the Constable in the same scene would be 
quite in character for a man who spent many years 
of his life capping verses with his courtiers. Cer- 
tainly, Charles was in the great battle with five 
hundred lances (say, three thousand men), and there 
he was made prisoner as he led the van. According 
to one story, some ragged English archer shot him 
down ; and some diligent English Pistol, hunting 
ransoms on the field of battle, extracted him from 
under a heap of bodies and retailed him to our King 
Henry. He was the most important capture of the 
day, and used with all consideration. On the way to 
Calais, Henry sent him a present of bread and wine 
(and bread, you will remember, was an article of 
luxury in the English camp), but Charles would 
neither eat nor drink. Thereupon Henry came to 
visit him in his quarters. ' Noble cousin,' said he, 
' how are you ? ' Charles replied that he was well. 
' Why then do you neither eat nor drink ? ' And 

235 



MEN AND BOOKS 

then with some asperity, as I imagine, the young 
duke told him that ' truly he had no inclination for 
food.' And our Henry improved the occasion with 
something of a snuffle, assuring his prisoner that 
God had fought against the French on account of 
their manifold sins and transgressions. Upon this 
there supervened the agonies of a rough sea-passage ; 
and many French lords, Charles certainly among 
the number, declared they would rather endure such 
another defeat than such another sore trial on ship- 
board. Charles, indeed, never forgot his sufferings. 
Long afterwards, he declared his hatred to a seafaring 
life, and willingly yielded to England the empire of 
the seas, ' because there is danger and loss of life, 
and God knows what pity when it storms ; and sea- 
sickness is for many people hard to bear ; and the 
rough life that must be led is little suitable for the 
nobility : ' ^ which, of all babyish utterances that ever 
fell from any public man, may surely bear the bell. 
Scarcely disembarked, he followed his victor, with 
such wry face as we may fancy, through the streets 
of holiday London. And then the doors closed 
upon his last day of garish life for more than a quar- 
ter of a century. After a boyhood passed in the 
dissipations of a luxurious court or in the camp of 
war, his ears still stunned and his cheeks still burning 
from his enemies' jubilations ; out of all this ringing 
of English bells and singing of English anthems, 
from among all these shouting citizens in scarlet 
cloaks, and beautiful virgins attired in white, he 

^ Debate between the Heralds. 
236 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

passed into the silence and solitude of a political 
prison.^ 

His captivity was not without alleviations. He 
was allowed to go hawking, and he found Eng- 
land an admirable country for the sport ; he was 
a favourite with English ladies, and admired their 
beauty ; and he did not lack for money, wine, or 
books ; he was honourably imprisoned in the strong- 
holds of great nobles, in Windsor Castle and the 
Tower of London. But when all is said, he was 
a prisoner for five-and-twenty years. For five-and- 
twenty years he could not go where he would, 
or do what he liked, or speak with any but 
his jailers. We may talk very wisely .of allevia- 
tions ; there is only one alleviation for which the 
man would thank you : he would thank you to 
open the door. With what regret Scottish James i. 
bethought him (in the next room perhaps to Charles) 
of the time when he rose 'as early as the day.' 
What would he not have given to wet his boots 
once more with morning dew, and follow his vagrant 
fancy among the meadows ? The only alleviation to 
the misery of constraint lies in the disposition of the 
prisoner. To each one this place of discipline brings 
his own lesson. It stirs Latude or Baron Trenck 
into heroic action ; it is a hermitage for pious and 
conformable spirits. Beranger tells us he found 
prison life, with its regular hours and long evenings, 
both pleasant and profitable. The Pilgrhns Progress 
and Don Quiocote were begun in prison. It was 

^ Sir H. Nicholas, Agincourt. 

2Z7 



MEN AND BOOKS 

after they were become (to use the words of one of 
them), ' Oh, worst imprisonment — the dungeon of 
themselves ! ' that Homer and Milton worked so 
hard and so well for the profit of mankind. In the 
year 1415 Henry v. had two distinguished prisoners, 
French Charles of Orleans and Scottish James i., 
who whiled away the hours of their captivity with 
rhyming. Indeed, there can be no better pastime 
for a lonely man than the mechanical exercise of 
verse. Such intricate forms as Charles had been 
used to from childhood, the ballade with its scanty 
rhymes ; the rondel, with the recurrence first of the 
whole, then of half the burthen, in thirteen verses, 
seem to have been invented for the prison and the 
sick-bed. The common Scots saying, on the sight 
of anything operose and finical, 'he must have 
had little to do that made that ! ' might be put 
as epigraph on all the song-books of old France. 
Making such sorts of verse belongs to the same 
class of pleasures as guessing acrostics or 'burying 
proverbs.' It is almost purely formal, almost purely 
verbal. It must be done gently and gingerly. It 
keeps the mind occupied a long time, and never so 
intently as to be distressing ; for anything hke strain 
is against the very nature of the craft. Sometimes 
things go easily, the refrains fall into their place as 
if of their own accord, and it becomes something of 
the nature of an intellectual tennis ; you must make 
your poem as the rhymes will go, just as you must 
strike your ball as your adversary played it. So that 
these forms are suitable rather for those who wish 
238 



CHAKLES OF ORLEANS 

to make verses than for those who wish to express 
opinions. Sometimes, on the other hand, difficulties 
arise : rival verses come into a man's head, and fugi- 
tive words elude his memory. Then it is that he 
enjoys at the same time the deliberate pleasures of 
a connoisseur comparing wines, and the ardour of 
the chase. He may have been sitting all day long 
in prison with folded hands ; but when he goes to 
bed the retrospect will seem animated and eventful. 

Besides confirming himself as an habitual maker 
of verses, Charles acquired some new opinions 
during his captivity. He was perpetually reminded 
of the change that had befallen him. He found 
the climate of England cold and 'prejudicial to the 
human frame ' ; he had a great contempt for English 
fruit and English beer ; even the coal fires were 
unpleasing in his eyes.^ He was rooted up from 
among his friends and customs and the places that 
had known him. And so in this strange land he 
began to learn the love of his own. Sad people all 
the world over are like to be moved when the wind 
is in some particular quarter. So Burns preferred 
when it was in the west, and blew to him from his 
mistress ; so the girl in the ballade, looking south 
to Yarrow, thought it might carry a kiss betwixt 
her and her gallant ; and so we find Charles singing 
of the ' pleasant wind that comes from France.' ^ 
One day, at ' Dover-on-the-Sea,' he looked across 
the straits, and saw the sandhills about Calais. 
And it happened to him, he tells us in a ballade, 

^ Debate between the Heralds. ^ Works (ed. d'Hericault), i. 43. 

239 



MEN AND BOOKS 

to remember his happiness over there in the past ; 
and he was both sad and merry at the recollection, 
and could not have his fill of gazing on the shoi-es 
of France.^ Although guilty of unpatriotic acts, 
he had never been exactly unpatriotic in feeling. 
But his sojourn in England gave, for the time at 
least, some consistency to what had been a very 
weak and ineffectual prejudice. He must have been 
under the influence of more than usually solemn 
considerations, when he proceeded to turn Henry's 
puritanical homily after Agin court into a ballade, 
and reproach France, and himself by implication, 
with pride, gluttony, idleness, unbridled covetous- 
ness, and sensuality.^ For the moment, he must 
really have been thinking more of France than of 
Charles of Orleans. 

And another lesson he learned. He who was 
only to be released in case of peace begins to think 
upon the disadvantages of war. ' Pray for peace,' 
is his refrain : a strange enough subject for the ally 
of Bernard d'Armagnac.^ But this lesson was plain 
and practical ; it had one side in particular that 
was specially attractive for Charles, and he did not 
hesitate to explain it in so many words. ' Every- 
body,' he writes — I translate roughly-—' everybody 
should be much inclined to peace, for everybody has 
a deal to gain by it.' ^ 

Charles made laudable endeavours to acquire 
English, and even learned to write a rondel in that 

1 Works (ed. d'Hericault;, i. 143. ^ /j,-^ 190. 

3 Ibid. 144. * Ibid. 158. 

240 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

tongue of quite average mediocrity. ^ He was for 
some time billeted on the unhappy Suffolk, who 
received fourteen shillings and fourpence a day for 
his expenses ; and from the fact that Suffolk after- 
wards visited Charles in France while he was nego- 
tiating the marriage of Henry vi., as well as the 
terms of that nobleman's impeachment, we may 
believe there was some not unkindly intercourse 
between the prisoner and his jailer : a fact of con- 
siderable interest when we remember that Suffolk's 
wife was the granddaughter of the poet Geoffrey 
Chaucer.^ Apart from this, and a mere catalogue 
of dates and places, only one thing seems evident 
in the story of Charles's captivity. It seems evident 
that, as these five-and-twenty years drew on, he 
became less and less resigned. Circumstances were 
against the growth of such a feeling. One after 
another of his fellow-prisoners was ransomed and 
went home. More than once he was himself per- 
mitted to visit France ; where he worked on abortive 
treaties and showed himself more eager for his own 
deliverance than for the profit of his native land. 
Resignation may follow after a reasonable time upon 
despair ; but if a man is persecuted by a series of 
brief and irritating hopes, his mind no more attains 
to a settled frame of resolution than his eye would 
grow familiar with a night of thunder and lightning. 

1 M. Champollion-Figeac gives many in his editions of Charles's works^ 
most (as I should think) of very doubtful authenticity, or worse. 

2 Rymer, x. 564 ; D'Hericault's Memoir, p. xli. ; Gairdner's Paston 
Letters, i. 27, 99. 

5— Q 241 



MEN AND BOOKS 

Years after, when he was speaking at the trial of 
that Duke of Alen9on who began Hfe so hopefully 
as the boyish favourite of Joan of Arc, he sought 
to prove that captivity was a harder punishment 
than death. 'For I have had experience myself,' 
he said ; ' and in my prison of England, for the 
weariness, danger, and displeasure in which I then 
lay, I have many a time wished I had been slain at 
the battle where they took me.' ^ This is a flourish, 
if you will, but it is something more. His spirit 
would sometimes rise up in a fine anger against the 
petty desires and contrarieties of life. He would 
compare his own condition with the quiet and dig- 
nified estate of the dead ; and aspire to lie among 
his comrades on the field of Agincourt, as the 
Psalmist prayed to have the wings of a dove and 
dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea. But such 
high thoughts came to Charles only in a flash. 

John the Fearless had been murdered in his turn 
on the bridge of Montereau so far back as 1419. 
His son, Philip the Good — partly to extinguish the 
feud, partly that he might do a popular action, and 
partly, in view of his ambitious schemes, to detach 
another great vassal from the throne of France — had 
taken up the cause of Charles of Orleans, and nego- 
tiated dihgently for his release. In 1433 a Burgun- 
dian embassy was admitted to an interview with the 
captive duke, in the presence of Suffolk. Charles 
shook hands most affectionately with the ambas- 
sadors. They asked after his health. 'I am well 

^ Cliampollion-Figeac^ p. 377. 
242 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

enough in body,' he replied, ' but far from well in 
mind. I am dying of grief at having to pass the best 
days of my life in prison, with none to sympathise.' 
The talk falling on the chances of peace, Charles 
referred to Suffolk if he were not sincere and con- 
stant in his endeavours to bring it about. ' If peace 
depended on me,' he said, ' I should procure it 
gladly, were it to cost me my life seven days after.' 
We may take this as showing what a large price he 
set, not so much on peace, as on seven days of free- 
dom. Seven days ! — he would make them seven 
years in the employment. Finally, he assured the 
ambassadors of his good-will to Philip of Burgundy ; 
squeezed one of them by the hand and nipped him 
twice in the arm to signify things unspeakable before 
Suffolk ; and two days after sent them Suffolk's 
barber, one Jean Carnet, a native of Lille, to testify 
more freely of his sentiments. ' As I speak French,' 
said this emissary, ' the Duke of Orleans is more 
familiar with me than with any other of the house- 
hold ; and I can bear witness he never said anything 
against Duke Philip.'^ It will be remembered that 
this person, with whom he was so anxious to stand 
well, was no other than his hereditary enemy, the 
son of his father's murderer. But the honest fellow 
bore no malice, indeed — not he. He began exchang- 
ing ballades with Philip, whom he apostrophises as 
his companion, his cousin, and his brother. He 
assures him that, soul and body, he is altogether 
Burgundian ; and protests that he has given his 

1 Dom Plancher, iv, 178-9. 

243 



MEN AND BOOKS 

heart in pledge to him. Regarded as the history 
of a vendetta, it must be owned that Charles's life 
has points of some originaUty. And yet there is an 
engaging frankness about these ballades which dis- 
arms criticism.^ You see Charles throwing himself 
head-foremost into the trap ; you hear Burgundy, in 
his answers, begin to inspire him with his own pre- 
judices, and draw melancholy pictures of the mis- 
government of France. But Charles's own spirits 
are so high and so amiable, and he is so thoroughly 
convinced his cousin is a fine fellow, that one's 
scruples are carried away in the torrent of his happi- 
ness and gratitude. And his would be a sordid 
spirit who would not clap hands at the consumma- 
tion (Nov. 1440) ; when Charles, after having sworn 
on the Sacrament that he would never again bear 
arms against England, and pledged himself body and 
soul to the unpatriotic faction in his own country, set 
out from London with a light heart and a damaged 
integrity. 

In the magnificent copy of Charles's poems, given 
by our Henry vii. to Elizabeth of York on the 
occasion of their marriage, a large illumination 
figures at the head of one of the pages, which, in 
chronological perspective, is almost a history of his 
imprisonment. It gives a view of London with all 
its spires, the river passing through the old bridge 
and busy with boats. One side of the White Tower 
has been taken out, and we can see, as under a sort 
of shrine, the paved room where the duke sits writing. 

1 Works, i. 157-63. 
244 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

He occupies a high-backed bench in front of a great 
chimney ; red and black ink are before him ; and 
the upper end of the apartment is guarded by many 
halberdiers, with the red cross of England on their 
breast. On the next side of the tower he appears 
again, leaning out of window and gazing on the river; 
doubtless there blows just then ' a pleasant wind 
from out the land of France,' and some ship comes 
up the river : 'the ship of good news.' At the door 
we find him yet again ; this time embracing a 
messenger, while a groom stands by holding two 
saddled horses. And yet farther to the left a 
cavalcade defiles out of the tower ; the duke is on 
his way at last towards 'the sunshine of France.' 



Ill 

During the five-and-twenty years of his captivity 
Charles had not lost in the esteem of his fellow- 
countrymen. For so young a man, the head of 
so great a house and so numerous a party, to be 
taken prisoner as he rode in the vanguard of France, 
and stereotyped for all men in this heroic attitude, 
was to taste untimeously the honours of the grave. 
Of him, as of the dead, it would be ungenerous 
to speak evil ; what little energy he had displayed 
would be remembered with piety when all that 
he had done amiss was courteously forgotten. As 
English folk looked for Arthur ; as Danes awaited 
the coming of Ogier ; as Somersetshire peasants or 

245 



MEN AND BOOKS 

sergeants of the Old Guard expected the return of 
Monmouth or Napoleon ; the countrymen of Charles 
of Orleans looked over the straits towards his English 
prison with desire and confidence. Events had so 
fallen out while he was rhyming ballades, that he 
had become the type of all that was most truly 
patriotic. The remnants of his old party had been 
the chief defenders of the unity of France. His 
enemies of Burgundy had been notoriously favourers 
and furtherers of English domination. People for- 
got that his brother still lay by the heels for an 
unpatriotic treaty with England, because Charles 
himself had been taken prisoner patriotically fight- 
ing against it. That Henry v. had left special 
orders against his liberation served to increase the 
wistful pity with which he was regarded. And 
when, in defiance of all contemporary virtue, and 
against express pledges, the English carried war 
into their prisoner's fief, not only France, but all 
thinking men in Christendom, were roused to in- 
dignation against the oppressors, and sympathy with 
the victim. It was little wonder if he came to 
bulk somewhat largely in the imagination of the 
best of those at home. Charles le Boutteillier, when 
(as the story goes) he slew Clarence at Beauge, was 
only seeking an exchange for Charles of Orleans.^ 
It was one of Joan of Arc's declared intentions to 
deliver the captive duke. If there was no other 
way, she meant to cross the seas and bring him 
home by force. And she professed before her 

1 Vallet's Cliarles VII., i. 251. 
' 246 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

judges a sure knowledge that Charles of Orleans 
was beloved of God.^ 

Alas ! it was not at all as a deliverer that Charles 
returned to France. He was nearly fifty years 
old. Many changes had been accomplished since, 
at twenty-three, he was taken on the field of Agin- 
court. But of all these he was profoundly ignorant, 
or had only heard of them in the discoloured reports 
of Philip of Burgundy. He had the ideas of a 
former generation, and sought to correct them by 
the scandal of a factious party. With such quahfi- 
cations he came back eager for the domination, the 
pleasures, and the display that befitted his princely 
birth. A long disuse of all political activity com- 
bined with the flatteries of his new friends to fill 
him with an overweening conceit of his own capacity 
and influence. If aught had gone wrong in his 
absence, it seemed quite natural men should look 
to him for its redress. Was not King Arthur come 
again ? 

The Duke of Burgundy received him with politic 
honours. He took his guest by his foible for 
pageantry, all the easier as it was a foible of his 
own ; and Charles walked right out of prison into 
much the same atmosphere of trumpeting and beU- 
rinsfinff as he had left behind when he went in. 
Fifteen days after his deliverance he was married 
to Mary of Cleves, at St. Omer. The marriage 
was celebrated with the usual pomp of the Bur- 
gundian court ; there were joustings and illumina- 

^ Froces de Jeanne d' Arc, i. 133-55. 

247 



MEN AND BOOKS 

tions, and animals that spouted wine ; and many 
nobles dined together, comme en brigade, and were 
served abundantly with many rich and curious 
dishes. 1 It must have reminded Charles not a little 
of his first marriage at Compiegne ; only then he 
was two years the junior of his bride, and this time 
he was five-and- thirty years her senior. It will be 
a fine question which marriage promises more : for 
a boy of fifteen to lead off with a lass of seventeen, 
or a man of fifty to make a match of it with a child 
of fifteen. But there was something bitter in both. 
The lamentations of Isabella will not have been 
forgotten. As for Mary, she took up with one 
Jaquet de la Lain, a sort of muscular Methody of 
the period, with a huge appetite for tournaments, 
and a habit of confessing himself the last thing 
before he went to bed.^ With such a hero the 
young duchess's amours were most likely innocent ; 
and in all other ways she was a suitable partner 
for the duke, and well fitted to enter into his 
pleasures. 

When the festivities at Saint Omer had come to 
an end, Charles and his wife set forth by Ghent and 
Tournay. The towns gave him offerings of money 
as he passed through, to help in the payment of 
his ransom. From all sides, ladies and gentlemen 
thronged to offer him their services ; some gave him 
their sons for pages, some archers for a bodyguard ; 

1 Moustrelet. 

2 Vallet's Charles VIL, iii. chap. i. But see the chronicle that bears 
Jaquet's name : a lean and dreary book. 

248 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

and by the time he reached Tournay he had a 
followmg of 300 horse. Everywhere he was received 
as though he had been the king of France.^ If he 
did not come to imagine himself something of the 
sort, he certainly forgot the existence of any one with 
a better claim to the title. He conducted himself 
on the hypothesis that Charles vii. was another 
Charles vi. He signed with enthusiasm that treaty 
of Arras, which left France almost at the discretion 
of Burgundy. On December 18 he was still no 
farther than Bruges, where he entered into a private 
treaty with Philip ; and it was not until January 14, 
ten weeks after he disembarked in France, and 
attended by a ruck of Burgundian gentlemen, that 
he arrived in Paris and offered to present himself 
before Charles vii. The King sent word that he 
might come, if he would, with a small retinue, but 
not with his present following ; and the duke, who 
was mightily on his high horse after all the ovations 
he had received, took the King's attitude amiss, and 
turned aside into Touraine, to receive more welcome 
and more presents, and be convoyed by torchlight 
into faithful cities. 

And so you see here was King Arthur home 
again, and matters nowise mended in consequence. 
The best we can say is, that this last stage of 
Charles's public life was of no long duration. His 
confidence was soon knocked out of him in the 
contact with others. He began to find he was an 
earthen vessel among many vessels of brass ; he 

1 Monstrelet. 

249 



MEN AND BOOKS 

began to be shrewdly aware that he was no King 
Arthur. In 1442, at Limoges, he made himself the 
spokesman of the malcontent nobility. The King 
showed himself humiliatingly indifferent to his 
counsels, and humiliatingly generous towards his 
necessities. And there, with some blushes, he may 
be said to have taken farewell of the political stage. 
A feeble attempt on the county of Asti is scarce 
worth the name of exception. Thenceforward let 
Ambition wile whom she may into the turmoil of 
events, our duke will walk cannily in his well- 
ordered garden, or sit by the fire to touch the 
slender reed.^ 



IV 

If it were given each of us to transplant his life 
wherever he pleased in time or space, with all the 
ages and all the countries of the world to choose 
from, there would be quite an instructive diversity 
of taste. A certain sedentary majority would prefer 
to remain where they were. Many would choose 
the Renaissance ; many some stately and simple 
period of Grecian hfe ; and still more elect to pass 
a few years wandering among the villages of 
Palestine with an inspired conductor. For some 
of our quaintly vicious contemporaries, we have the 
decline of the Roman Empire and the reign of 
Henry iii. of France. But there are others, not 
quite so vicious, who yet cannot look upon the 

^ D'He'ricault's Memoir, xl. xli.; Vallet^ Charles VII., ii. 485. 
250 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

world with perfect gravity, who have never taken 
the categorical imperative to wife, and have more 
taste for what is comfortable than for what is 
magnanimous and high ; and I can imagine some 
of these casting their lot in the court of Blois 
during the last twenty years of the life of Charles 
of Orleans. 

The duke and duchess, their staff of officers and 
* ladies, and the high-born and learned persons who 
were attracted to Blois on a visit, formed a society 
for killing time and perfecting each other in various 
elegant accomplishments, such as we might imagine 
for an ideal watering-place in the Delectable Moun- 
tains. The company hunted and went on pleasure- 
parties ; they played chess, tables, and many other 
games. What we now call the history of the period 
passed, I imagine, over the heads of these good 
people much as it passes over our own. News 
reached them, indeed, of great and joyful import. 
William Peel received eight livres and five sous 
from the duchess when he brought the first tidings 
that Rouen was recaptured from the English. ^ A 
little later and the duke sang, in a truly patriotic 
vein, the deliverance of Guyenne and Normandy.^ 
They were liberal of rhymes and largesse, and wel- 
comed the prosperity of their country much as they 
welcomed the coming of spring, and with no more 
thought of collaborating towards the event. Religion 
was not forgotten in the court of Blois. Pilgrim- 
ages were agreeable and picturesque excursions. In 

1 Champollion-Figeac, p. 368. 2 Works, i. 115. 



MEN AND BOOKS 

those days a well-served chapel was something 
like a good vinery in our own, — an opportunity for 
display and the source of mild enjoyments. There 
was probably something of his rooted dehght in 
pageantry, as well as a good deal of gentle piety, 
in the feelings with which Charles gave dinner 
every Friday to thirteen poor people, served them 
himself, and washed their feet with his own hands. ^ 
Solemn affairs would interest Charles and his courtiers 
from their trivial side. The duke perhaps cared 
less for the deliverance of Guyenne and Normandy 
than for his own verses on the occasion ; just as 
Dr. Russell's correspondence in The Times was 
among the most material parts of the Crimean 
War for that talented correspondent. And I think 
it scarcely cynical to suppose that religion as well 
as patriotism was principally cultivated as a means 
of filling up the day. 

It was not only messengers fiery red with haste 
and charged with the destiny of nations who were 
made welcome at the gates of Blois. If any man 
of accompKshment came that way, he was sure of 
an audience, and something for his pocket. The 
courtiers would have received Ben Jonson like 
Drummond of Hawthornden, and a good pugilist 
like Captain Barclay. They were catholic, as none 
but the entirely idle can be catholic. It might be 
Pierre, called Dieu d'amours, the juggler, or it 
might be three high English minstrels ; or the two 
men, players of ghitterns, from the kingdom of 

^ D'Hericault's Memoir, xlv. 
252 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

Scotland, who sang the destruction of the Turks ; 
or again Jehan Rognelet, player of instruments of 
music, who played and danced with his wife and 
two children ; they would each be called into the 
castle to give a taste of his proficiency before my 
lord the duke.^ Sometimes the performance was of 
a more personal interest, and produced much the 
same sensations as are felt on an EngHsh green 
on the arrival of a professional cricketer, or round 
an Enghsh bilUard-table during a match between 
Roberts and Cooke. This was when Jehan Negre, 
the Lombard, came to Blois and played chess against 
all these chess-players, and won much money from 
my lord and his intimates ; or when Baudet Harenc 
of Chalons made ballades before all these ballade- 
makers.- 

It will not surprise the reader to learn they were 
all makers of ballades and rondels. To write verses 
for May-day seems to have been as much a matter 
of course as to ride out with the cavalcade that 
went to gather hawthorn. The choice of Valentines 
was a standing challenge, and the courtiers pelted 
each other with humorous and sentimental verses as 
in a hterary carnival. If an indecorous adventure 
befell our friend Maistre Estienne le Gout, my lord 
the duke would turn it into the funniest of rondels, 
all the rhymes being the names of the cases of nouns 
or the moods of verbs ; and Maistre Estienne would 
make reply in similar fashion, seeking to prune the 
story of its more humiliating episodes. If Fredet 

1 Champomon-Figeac, pp. 361, 381. 2 /^j^, pp. 359^ 36I. 



MEN AND BOOKS 

was too long away from Court, a rondel went to 
upbraid him; and it was in a rondel that Fredet 
would excuse himself. Sometimes two or three, or 
as many as a dozen, would set to work on the same 
refrain, the same idea, or in the same macaronic 
jargon. Some of the poetasters were heavy enough ; 
others were not wanting in address ; and the duchess 
herself was among those who most excelled. On 
one occasion eleven competitors made a ballade on 
the idea, 

' I die of thirst beside the fountain's edge.' 
(Je meurs de soif empres de la fontaine.) 

These eleven ballades still exist; and one of them 
arrests the attention rather from the name of the 
author than from any special merit in itself. It 
purports to be the work of Fran9ois Villon ; and so 
far as a foreigner can judge (which is indeed a small 
way) it may very well be his. Nay, and if any one 
thing is more probable than another, in the great 
tabula rasa, or unknown land, which we are fain to 
call the biography of Villon, it seems probable 
enough that he may have gone upon a visit to 
Charles of Orleans. Where Master Baudet Harenc, 
of Chalons, found a sympathetic, or perhaps a 
derisive, audience (for who can tell now-a-days the 
degree of Baudet 's excellence in his art?), favour 
would not be wanting for the greatest ballade-maker 
of all time. Great as would seem the incongruity, 
it may have pleased Charles to own a sort of kinship 
with ragged singers, and whimsically regard himself 
254 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

as one of the confraternity of poets. And he would 
have other grounds of intimacy with Villon. A 
room looking upon Windsor gardens is a different 
matter from Villon's dungeon at Meun ; yet each in 
his own degree had been tried in prison. Each in 
his own way also loved the good things of this life 
and the service of the Muses. But the same gulf 
that separated Burns from his Edinburgh patrons 
would separate the singer of Bohemia from the 
rhyming duke. And it is hard to imagine that 
Villon's training amongst thieves, loose women, and 
vagabond students had fitted him to move in a 
society of any dignity and courtliness. Ballades 
are very admirable things ; and a poet is doubtless 
a most interesting visitor. But among the courtiers 
of Charles there would be considerable regard for 
the proprieties of etiquette ; and even a duke will 
sometimes have an eye to his teaspoons. Moreover, 
as a poet, I can conceive he may have disappointed 
expectation. It need surprise nobody if ^^illon's 
ballade on the theme, 

' I die of thirst beside the fountain's edge,' 

was but a poor performance. He would make 
better verses on the lee-side of a flagon at the sign 
of the Pomme du Pin than in a cushioned settle in 
the halls of Blois. 

Charles liked change of place. He was often not 
so much travelling as making a progress ; now to 
join the King for some great tournament ; now to 
visit King Rene, at Tarascon, where he had a study 

255 



MEN AND BOOKS 

of his own and saw all manner of interesting things 
— Oriental curios, King Rene painting birds, and, 
what particularly pleased him, Triboulet, the dwarf 
jester, whose skull-cap was no bigger than an 
orange.^ Sometimes the journeys were set about on 
horseback in a large party, with the founders sent 
forward to prepare a lodging at the next stage. We 
find almost Gargantuan details of the provision 
made by these officers against the duke's arrival, 
of eggs and butter and bread, cheese and peas and 
chickens, pike and bream and barbel, and wine both 
white and red.^ Sometimes he went by water in a 
barge, playing chess or tables with a friend in the 
pavilion, or watching other vessels as they went 
before the wind.^ Children ran along the bank, as 
they do to this day on the Crinan Canal ; and when 
Charles threw in money they would dive and bring 
it up.^ As he looked on at their exploits, I wonder 
whether that room of gold and silk and worsted 
came back into his memory, with the device of little 
children in a river, and a sky full of birds ? 

He was a bit of a book-fancier, and had vied with 
his brother Angouleme in bringing back the library 
of their grandfather Charles v., when Bedford put it 
up for sale in London.^ The duchess had a library 

^ Lecoy de la Marche, Roi Rene, ii. 155, 177. 

2 Champollion-Figeac, chaps, v. and vi. 

3 Ibid. p. 364 ; Works, i. 172. 

■* ChampoUion-Figeac, p. 364 : ' Jeter de I'argent aux pe^s eufans qui 
estoient au long de Bourbon, pour les faire nouuer en I'eau et aller 
querre I'argent au fond. ' 

^ Champollion-Figeac, p. 387. 
256 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

of her own ; and we hear of her borrowing romances 
from ladies in attendance on the blue-stocking Mar- 
garet of Scotland.^ Not only were books collected, 
but new books were written at the court of Blois. 
The widow of one Jean Fougere, a bookbinder, 
seems to have done a number of odd commissions 
for the bibliophilous count. She it was who re- 
ceived three vellum skins to bind the duchess's Book 
of Hours, and who was employed to prepare parch- 
ment for the use of the duke's scribes. And she it 
was who bound in vermilion leather the great 
manuscript of Charles's own poems, which was 
presented to him by his secretary, Anthony Astesan, 
with the text in one column, and Astesan's Latin 
version in the other.^ 

Such tastes, with the coming of years, would 
doubtless take the place of many others. We find 
in Charles's verse much semi-ironical regret for other 
days, and resignation to growing infirmities. He 
who had been ' nourished in the schools of love ' 
now sees nothing either to please or displease him. 
Old age has imprisoned him within doors, where he 
means to take his ease, and let younger fellows 
bestir themselves in life. He had written (in earlier 
days, we may presume) a bright and defiant httle 
poem in praise of solitude. If they would but leave 
him alone with his own thoughts and happy re- 
collections, he declared it was beyond the power of 

^ Nouvelle Biographie Didof, art. ' Marie de Cleves ; ' Vallet, Charles VII. , 
iii. 85, note 1. 

2 ChampoUion-Figeac, pp. 383-386. 

5— R 257 



MEN AND BOOKS 

melancholy to affect him. But now, when his 
animal strength has so much declined that he sings 
the discomforts of winter instead of the inspirations 
of spring, and he has no longer any appetite for life, 
he confesses he is wretched when alone, and, to keep 
his mind from grievous thoughts, he must have 
many people around him, laughing, talking, and 
singing.^ 

While Charles was thus falling into years, the 
order of things, of which he was the outcome and 
ornament, was growing old along with him. The 
semi-royalty of the princes of the blood was already 
a thing of the past; and when Charles vii. was 
gathered to his fathers, a new king reigned in 
France, who seemed every way the opposite of 
royal. Louis xi. had aims that were incompre- 
hensible, and virtues that were inconceivable, to his 
contemporaries. But his contemporaries were able 
enough to appreciate his sordid exterior, and his 
cruel and treacherous spirit. To the whole nobility 
of France he was a fatal and unreasonable pheno- 
menon. All such courts as that of Charles at Blois, 
or his friend Rene's in Provence, would soon be 
made impossible : interference was the order of the 
day ; hunting was already abolished ; and who 
should say what was to go next? Louis, in fact, 
must have appeared to Charles primarily in the light 
of a kill-joy. I take it, when missionaries land in 
South Sea Islands and lay strange embargo on the 
simplest things in life, the islanders will not be 

1 Works, ii. 57, 258. 
258 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

much more puzzled and irritated than Charles of 
Orleans at the policy of the Eleventh Louis. There 
was one thing, I seem to apprehend, that had 
always particularly moved him ; and that was, any 
proposal to punish a person of his acquaintance. 
No matter what treason he may have made or 
meddled with, an Alen9on or an Armagnac was 
sure to find Charles reappear from private life and 
do his best to get him pardoned. He knew them 
quite well. He had made rondels with them. They 
were charming people in every way. There must 
certainly be some mistake. Had not he himself 
made anti-national treaties almost before he was out 
of his nonage? And for the matter of that, had 
not every one else done the like ? Such are some 
of the thoughts by which he might explain to him- 
self his aversion to such extremities ; but it was on 
a deeper basis that the feeling probably reposed. 
A man of his temper could not fail to be impressed 
at the thought of disastrous revolutions in the for- 
tunes of those he knew. He would feel painfully 
the tragic contrast, when those who had everything 
to make life valuable were deprived of life itself. 
And it was shocking to the clemency of his spirit, 
that sinners should be hurried before their Jud^e 
without a fitting interval for penitence and satisfac- 
tion. It was this feeling which brought him at last, 
a poor, purblind blue-bottle of the later autumn, 
into collision with ' the universal spider,' Louis xi. 
He took up the defence of the Duke of Brittany at 
Tours. But Louis was then in no humour to hear 

259 



MEN AND BOOKS 

Charles's texts and Latin sentiments ; he had his 
back to the wall, the future of France was at stake ; 
and if all the old men in the world had crossed his 
path, they would have had the rough side of his 
tongue hke Charles of Orleans. I have found 
nowhere what he said, but it seems it was mon- 
strously to the point, and so rudely conceived that 
the old duke never recovered the indignity. He 
got home as far as Amboise, sickened, and died two 
days after (Jan. 4, 1465), in the seventy-fourth year 
of his age. And so a whifF of pungent prose stopped 
the issue of melodious rondels to the end of time. 



V 

The futility of Charles's public life was of a piece 
throughout. He never succeeded in any single 
purpose he set before him ; for his deliverance from 
England, after twenty-five years of failure, and at 
the cost of dignity and consistency, it would be 
ridiculously hyperbolical to treat as a success. 
During the first part of his life he was the stalking- 
horse of Bernard d'Armagnac ; during the second, 
he was the passive instrument of English diplomat- 
ists ; and before he was well entered on the third, 
he hastened to become the dupe and cat's-paw of 
Burgundian treason. On each of these occasions 
a strong and not dishonourable personal motive 
determined his behaviour. In 1407 and the follow- 
ing years he had his father's murder uppermost 
in his mind. During his English captivity, that 
260 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

thought was displaced by a more immediate desire 
for his own hberation. In 1440 a sentiment of 
gratitude to Phihp of Burgundy bhnded him to all 
else, and led him to break with the tradition of his 
party and his own former hfe. He was born a great 
vassal, and he conducted himself Hke a private 
gentleman. He began life in a showy and brilliant 
enough fashion, by the light of a petty personal 
chivalry. He was not without some tincture of 
patriotism ; but it was resolvable into two parts : 
a preference for life among his fellow-countrymen, 
and a barren point of honour. In England, he 
could comfort himself by the reflection that 'he 
had been taken while loyally doing his devoir,' 
without any misgiving as to his conduct in the 
previous years, when he had prepared the disaster 
of Agincourt by wasteful feud. This unconscious- 
ness of the larger interests is perhaps most happily 
exampled out of his own mouth. When Alen9on 
stood accused of betraying Normandy into the 
hands of the English, Charles made a speech in his 
defence, from which I have already quoted more 
than once. Alen9on, he said, had professed a great 
love and trust towards him ; ' yet did he give no 
great proof thereof, when he sought to betray Nor- 
mandy ; whereby he would have made me lose an 
estate of 10,000 livres a year, and might have 
occasioned the destruction of the kingdom and of 
all us Frenchmen.' These are the words of one, 
mark you, against whom Gloucester warned the 
English Council because of his ' great subtility and 

261 



MEN AND BOOKS 

cautelous disposition.' It is not hard to excuse the 
impatience of Louis xi. if such stuff was foisted on 
him by way of pohtical dehberation. 

This incapacity to see things with any greatness, 
this obscure and narrow view, was fundamentally 
characteristic of the man as well as of the epoch. 
It is not even so striking in his public life, where 
he failed, as in his poems, where he notably suc- 
ceeded. For wherever we might expect a poet to 
be unintelligent, it certainly would not be in his 
poetry. And Charles is unintelligent even there. 
Of all authors whom a modern may still read, and 
read over again with pleasure, he has perhaps the 
least to say. His poems seem to bear testimony 
rather to the fashion of rhyming, which distinguished 
the age, than to any special vocation in the man 
himself Some of them are drawing-room exercises, 
and the rest seem made by habit. Great writers 
are struck with something in nature or society, with 
which they become pregnant and longing ; they are 
possessed with an idea, and cannot be at peace until 
they have put it outside of them in some distinct 
embodiment. But with Charles literature was an 
object rather than a means ; he was one who loved 
bandying words for its own sake; the rigidity of 
intricate metrical forms stood him in lieu of precise 
thought ; instead of communicating truth, he ob- 
served the laws of a game ; and when he had no 
* one to challenge at chess or rackets, he made verses 
in a wager against himself From the very idleness 
of the man's mind, and not from intensity of feeling, 
262 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

it happens that all his poems are more or less auto- 
biographical. But they form an autobiography 
singularly bald and uneventful. Little is therein 
recorded beside sentiments. Thoughts, in any true 
sense, he had none to record. And if we can gather 
that he had been a prisoner in England, that he had 
lived in the Orleannese, and that he hunted and 
went in parties of pleasure, I believe it is about as 
much definite experience as is to be found in all 
these five hundred pages of autobiographical verse. 
Doubtless, we find here and there a complaint on 
the progress of the infirmities of age. Doubtless, he 
feels the great change of the year, and distinguishes 
winter from spring ; winter as the time of snow and 
the fireside ; spring as the return of grass and 
flowers, the time of St. Valentine's Day and a beat- 
ing heart. And he feels love after a fashion. Again 
and again we learn that Charles of Orleans is in 
love, and hear him ring the changes through the 
whole gamut of dainty and tender sentiment. But 
there is never a spark of passion ; and heaven alone 
knows whether there was any real woman in the 
matter, or the whole thing was an exercise in fancy. 
If these poems were indeed inspired by some living 
mistress, one would think he had never seen, never 
heard, and never touched her. There is nothing in 
any one of these so numerous love-songs to indicate 
who or what the lady was. Was she dark or fair, 
passionate or gentle like himself, witty or simple? 
Was it always one woman ? or are there a dozen 
here immortalised in cold indistinction ? The old 

263 



MEN AND BOOKS 

English translator mentions grey eyes in his version 
of one of the amorous rondels ; so far as I remem- 
ber, he was driven by some emergency of the verse ; 
but in the absence of all sharp lines of character and 
anything specific, we feel for the moment a sort of 
surprise, as though the epithet were singularly happy 
and unusual, or as though we had made our escape 
from cloudland into something tangible and sure. 
The measure of Charles's indifference to all that 
now pre-occupies and excites a poet is best given 
by a positive example. If, besides the coming of 
spring, any one external circumstance may be said 
to have struck his imagination, it was the despatch 
of fourriers, while on a journey, to prepare the 
night's lodging. This seems to be his favourite 
image ; it reappears like the upas-tree in the early 
work of Coleridge : we may judge with what childish 
eyes he looked upon the world, if one of the sights 
which most impressed him was that of a man going 
to order dinner. 

Although they are not inspired by any deeper 
motive than the common run of contemporaneous 
drawing-room verses, those of Charles of Orleans 
are executed with inimitable lightness and dehcacy 
of touch. They deal with floating and colourless 
sentiments, and the writer is never greatly moved, 
but he seems always genuine. He makes no attempt 
to set off thin conceptions with a multiplicity of 
phrases. His ballades are generally thin and scanty 
of import ; for the ballade presented too large a 
canvas, and he was pre-occupied by technical require- 
264 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

ments. But in the rondel he has put himself before 
all competitors by a happy knack and a prevailing 
distinction of manner. He is very much more of a 
duke in his verses than in his absurd and incon- 
sequential career as a statesman ; and how he shows 
himself a duke is precisely by the absence of all 
pretension, turgidity, or emphasis. He turns verses, 
as he would have come into the king's presence, with 
a quiet accomplishment of grace. 

Theodore de Banville, the youngest poet of a 
famous generation now nearly extinct, and himself a 
sure and finished artist, knocked off, in his happiest 
vein, a few experiments in imitation of Charles of 
Orleans. I would recommend these modern rondels 
to all who care about the old duke, not only because 
they are delightful in themselves, but because they 
serve as a contrast to throw into relief the peculiari- 
ties of their model. When de Banville revives a 
forgotten form of verse — and he has already had the 
honour of reviving the ballade — he does it in the 
spirit of a workman choosing a good tool wherever 
he can find one, and not at all in that of the 
dilettante, who seeks to renew bygone forms of 
thought and make historic forgeries. With the 
ballade this seemed natural enough ; for in connec- 
tion with ballades the mind recurs to Villon, and 
Villon was almost more of a modern than de Ban- 
ville himself But in the case of the rondel, a 
comparison is challenged with Charles of Orleans, 
and the difference between two ages and two 
literatures is illustrated in a few poems of thirteen 

265 



MEN AND BOOKS 

lines. Something, certainly, has been retained of 
the old movement; the refrain falls in time like a 
well-played bass ; and the very brevity of the thing, 
by hampering and restraining the greater fecundity 
of the modern mind, assists the imitation. But 
de Banville's poems are full of form and colour ; 
they smack racily of modern life, and own small 
kindred with the verse of other days, when it seems 
as if men walked by twilight, seeing little, and that 
with distracted eyes, and instead of blood, some thin 
and spectral fluid circulated in their veins. They 
might gird themselves for battle, make love, eat and 
drink, and acquit themselves manfully in all the 
external parts of life ; but of the life that is within, 
and those processes by which we render ourselves 
an intelligent account of what we feel and do, and 
so represent experience that we for the first time 
make it ours, they had only a loose and troubled 
possession. They beheld or took part in great 
events, but there was no answerable commotion 
in their reflective being ; and they passed through- 
out turbulent epochs in a sort of ghostly quiet and 
abstraction. Feeling seems to have been strangely 
disproportioned to the occasion, and words were 
laughably trivial and scanty to set forth the feeling 
even such as it was. Juvenal des Ursins chronicles 
calamity after calamity, with but one comment for 
them all: that 'it was great pity.' Perhaps, after 
too much of our florid literature, we find an adventi- 
tious charm in what is so different; and while the 
big drums are beaten every day by perspiring editors 
266 



CHARLES OF ORLEANS 

over the loss of a cock-boat or the rejection of a 
clause, and nothing is heard that is not proclaimed 
with sound of trumpet, it is not wonderful if we 
retire with pleasure into old books, and listen to 
authors who speak small and clear, as if in a private 
conversation. Truly this is so with Charles of 
Orleans. We are pleased to find a small man 
without the buskin, and obvious sentiments stated 
without affectation. If the sentiments are obvious, 
there is all the more chance we may have ex- 
perienced the Hke. As we turn over the leaves, 
we may find ourselves in sympathy with some one 
or other of these staid joys and smiling sorrows. If 
we do we shall be strangely pleased, for there is a 
genuine pathos in these simple words, and the hues 
go with a hit, and sing themselves to music of 
their own. 



267 



VIII 

SAMUEL PEPYS 

In two books a fresh light has recently been thrown 
on the character and position of Samuel Pepys. 
Mr. Mynors Bright has given us a new transcription 
of the Diary, increasing it in bulk by near a third, 
correcting many errors, and completing our know- 
ledge of the man in some curious and important 
points. We can only regret that he has taken 
hberties with the author and the pubHc. It is no 
part of the duties of the editor of an established 
classic to decide what may or may not be ' tedious 
to the reader.' The book is either an historical 
document or not, and in condemning Lord Bray- 
brooke Mr. Bright condemns himself. As for the 
time-honoured phrase, ' unfit for publication,' with- 
out being cynical, we may regard it as the sign of a 
precaution more or less commercial ; and we may 
think, without being sordid, that when we purchase 
six huge and distressingly expensive volumes, we 
are entitled to be treated rather more like scholars 
and rather less like children. But Mr. Bright may 
268 



SAMUEL PEPYS 

rest assured : while we complain, we are still grate- 
ful. Mr. Wheatley, to divide our obligation, brings 
together, clearly and with no lost words, a body of 
illustrative material.^ Sometimes we might ask a 
little more ; never, I think, less. And as a matter 
of fact, a great part of Mr. Wheatley 's volume might 
be transferred, by a good editor of Pepys, to the 
margin of the text, for it is precisely what the reader 
wants. 

In the light of these two books, at least, we have 
now to read our author. Between them they con- 
tain all we can expect to learn for, it may be, many 
years. Now, if ever, we should be able to form some 
notion of that unparalleled figure in the annals of 
mankind — unparalleled for three good reasons : first, 
because he was a man known to his contemporaries 
in a halo of almost historical pomp, and to his remote 
descendants with an indecent familiarity, hke a tap- 
room comrade ; second, because he has outstripped 
all competitors in the art or virtue of a conscious 
honesty about oneself; and, third, because, being in 
many ways a very ordinary person, he has yet placed 
himself before the public eye with such a fulness and 
such an intimacy of detail as might be envied by a 
genius like Montaigne. Not then for his own sake 
only, but as a character in a unique position, en- 
dowed with a unique talent, and shedding a unique 
light upon the lives of the mass of mankind, he is 
surely worthy of prolonged and patient study. 

1 H. R. Wheatley, Samuel Pepys and the World he Lived in. 1880. 

269 



MEN AND BOOKS 



THE DIARY 



That there should be such a book as Pepys's 
Diary is incomparably strange. Pepys, in a corrupt 
and idle period, played the man in public employ- 
ments, toiling hard and keeping his honour bright. 
Much of the little good that is set down to James 
the Second comes by right to Pepys ; and if it were 
little for a king, it is much for a subordinate. To 
his clear, capable head was owing somewhat of the 
greatness of England on the seas. In the exploits 
of Hawke, Rodney, or Nelson, this dead Mr. Pepys 
of the Navy Office had some considerable share. 
He stood well by his business in the appalling plague 
of 1666. He was loved and respected by some of 
the best and wisest men in England. He was 
President of the Royal Society ; and when he came 
to die, people said of his conduct in that solemn 
hour— thinking it needless to say more — that it was 
answerable to the greatness of his life. Thus he 
walked in dignity, guards of soldiers sometimes at- 
tending him in his walks, subalterns bowing before his 
periwig ; and when he uttered his thoughts they were 
suitable to his state and services. On February 8, 
1668, we find him writing to Evelyn, his mind 
bitterly occupied with the late Dutch war, and some 
thoughts of the different story of the repulse of the 
Great Armada : ' Sir, you will not wonder at the 
backwardness of my thanks for the present you 
270 



SAMUEL PEPYS 

made me, so many days since, of the Prospect of 
the Medway, while the Hollander rode master in it, 
when I have told you that the sight of it hath led 
me to such reflections on my particular interest, by 
my employment, in the reproach due to that mis- 
carriage, as have given me little less disquiet than he 
is fancied to have who found his face in Michael 
Angelo's hell. The same should serve me also in 
excuse for my silence in celebrating your mastery 
shown in the design and draught, did not indigna- 
tion rather than courtship urge me so far to com- 
mend them, as to wish the furniture of our House of 
Lords changed from the story of '88 to that of '67 
(of Evelyn's designing), till the pravity of this were 
reformed to the temper of that age, wherein God 
Almighty found his blessings more operative than, 
I fear, he doth in ours his judgments.' 

This is a letter honourable to the writer, where 
the meaning rather than the words is eloquent. 
Such was the account he gave of himself to his con- 
temporaries ; such thoughts he chose to utter, and 
in such language : giving himself out for a grave and 
patriotic public servant. We turn to the same date 
in the Diary by which he is known, after two cen- 
turies, to his descendants. The entry begins in the 
same key with the letter, blaming the * madness of 
the House of Commons ' and ' the base proceedings, 
just the epitome of all our public proceedings in this 
age, of the House of Lords ; ' and then, without the 
least transition, this is how our diarist proceeds : 
* To the Strand, to my bookseller's, and there bought 

271 



MEN AND BOOKS 

an idle, rogueish French book, Uescholle des Filles, 
which I have bought in plain binding, avoiding the 
buying of it better bound, because I resolve, as soon 
as I have read it, to burn it, that it may not stand in 
the list of books, nor among them, to disgrace them, 
if it should be found.' Even in our day, when 
responsibility is so much more clearly apprehended, 
the man who wrote the letter would be notable ; 
but what about the man, I do not say who bought a 
roguish book, but who was ashamed of doing so, yet 
did it, and recorded both the doing and the shame in 
the pages of his daily journal ? 

We all, whether we write or speak, must some- 
what drape ourselves when we address our fellows ; 
at a given moment we apprehend our character and 
acts by some particular side ; we are merry with one, 
grave with another, as befits the nature and demands 
of the relation. Pepys's letter to Evelyn would 
have little in common with that other one to Mrs. 
Knipp which he signed by the pseudonym of Dapper 
Dicky ; yet each would be suitable to the character 
of his correspondent. There is no untruth in this, 
for man, being a Protean animal, swiftly shares and 
changes with his company and surroundings ; and 
these changes are the better part of his education in 
the world. To strike a posture once for all, and to 
march through life like a drum-major, is to be highly 
disagreeable to others and a fool for oneself into the 
bargain. To Evelyn and to Knipp we understand 
the double facing; but to whom was he posing in 
the Diary, and what, in the name of astonishment, 
272 



SAMUEL PEPYS 

was the nature of the pose ? Had he suppressed all 
mention of the book, or had he bought it, gloried in 
the act, and cheerfully recorded his glorification, in 
either case we should have made him out. But no ; 
he is full of precautions to conceal the ' disgrace ' of 
the purchase, and yet speeds to chronicle the whole 
affair in pen and ink. It is a sort of anomaly in 
human action, which we can exactly parallel from 
another part of the Diary. 

Mrs. Pepys had written a paper of her too just 
complaints against her husband, and written it in 
plain and very pungent English. Pepys, in an 
agony lest the world should come to see it, brutally 
seizes and destroys the tell-tale document ; and then 
— you disbelieve your eyes — down goes the whole 
story with unsparing truth and in the cruellest detail. 
It seems he has no design but to appear respectable, 
and here he keeps a private book to prove he was 
not. You are at first faintly reminded of some of 
the vagaries of the morbid religious diarist ; but at 
a moment's thought the resemblance disappears. 
The design of Pepys is not at all to edify ; it is not 
from repentance that he chronicles his peccadilloes, 
for he tells us when he does repent, and, to be just 
to him, there often follows some improvement. 
Again, the sins of the religious diarist are of a very 
formal pattern, and are told with an elaborate whine. 
But in Pepys you come upon good, substantive mis- 
demeanours ; beams in his eye of which he alone 
remains unconscious ; healthy outbreaks of the 
animal nature, and laughable subterfuges to himself 
5-s 273 



MEN AND BOOKS 

that always command belief and often engage the 
sympathies. 

Pepys was a young man for his age, came slowly 
to himself in the world, sowed his wild oats late, 
took late to industry, and preserved till nearly forty 
the headlong gusto of a boy. So, to come rightly 
at the spirit in which the Diary was written, we 
must recall a class of sentiments which with most of 
us are over and done before the age of twelve. In 
our tender years we still preserve a freshness of sur- 
prise at our prolonged existence; events make an 
impression out of all proportion to their consequence ; 
we are unspeakably touched by our own past adven- 
tures, and look forward to our future personality 
with sentimental interest. It was something of this, 
I think, that clung to Pepys. Although not senti- 
mental in the abstract, he was sweetly sentimental 
about himself. His own past clung about his heart, 
an evergreen. He was the slave of an association. 
He could not pass by Islington, where his father 
used to carry him to cakes and ale, but he must 
light at the ' King's Head ' and eat and drink ' for 
remembrance of the old house sake.' He counted it 
good fortune to he a night at Epsom to renew his 
old walks, ' where Mrs. Hely and I did use to walk 
and talk, with whom I had the first sentiments of 
love and pleasure in a woman's company, discourse 
and taking her by the hand, she being a pretty 
woman.' He goes about weighing up the Assurance, 
which lay near Woolwich under water, and cries in 
a parenthesis, ' Poor ship, that I have been twice 
274 



SAMUEL PEPYS 

merry in, in Captain Holland's time ; ' and after 
revisiting the Nasehy, now changed into the Charles, 
he confesses ' it was a great pleasure to myself to see 
the ship that I began my good fortune in.' The 
stone that he was cut for he preserved in a case ; 
and to the Turners he kept aUve such gratitude for 
their assistance, that for years, and after he had begun 
to mount himself into higher zones, he continued to 
have that family to dinner on the anniversary of the 
operation. Not HazHtt nor Rousseau had a more 
romantic passion for their past, although at times 
they might express it more romantically ; and if 
Pepys shared with them this childish fondness, did 
not Rousseau, who left behind him the Confessions, 
or Hazlitt, who wrote the Liber Amoris, and loaded 
his essays with loving personal detail, share with 
Pepys in his unwearied egotism ? For the two 
things go hand in hand ; or, to be more exact, it is 
the first that makes the second either possible oi 
pleasing. 

But, to be quite in sympathy with Pepys, we 
must return once more to the experience of children. 
I can remember to have written, in the fly-leaf of 
more than one book, the date and the place where I 
then was — if, for instance, I was ill in bed or sitting 
in a certain garden ; these were jottings for my 
future self; if I should chance on such a note in 
after years, I thought it would cause me a particular 
thrill to recognise myself across the intervening 
distance. Indeed, I might come upon them now, 
and not be moved one tittle — which shows that I 

275 



MEN AND BOOKS 

have comparatively failed in life, and grown older 
than Samuel Pepys. For in the Diary we can find 
more than one such note of perfect childish egotism ; 
as when he explains that his candle is going out, 
' which makes me write thus slobberingly ; ' or as in 
this incredible particularity, * To my study, where I 
only wrote thus much of this day's passages to this *, 
and so out again ; ' or lastly, as here, with more of 
circumstance : ' I staid up till the bellman came by 
with his bell under my window, as I was winting of 
this very line, and cried, " Past one of the clock, and 
a cold, frosty, windy morning." ' Such passages are 
not to be misunderstood. The appeal to Samuel 
Pepys years hence is unmistakable. He desires 
that dear, though unknown, gentleman keenly to 
realise his predecessor ; to remember why a passage 
was uncleanly written ; to recall (let us fancy, with 
a sigh) the tones of the bellman, the chill of the 
early, windy morning, and the very line his own 
romantic self was scribing at the moment. The 
man, you will perceive, was making reminiscences — 
a sort of pleasure by ricochet, which comforts many 
in distress, and turns some others into sentimental 
libertines : and the whole book, if you will but look 
at it in that way, is seen to be a work of art to 
Pepys's own address. 

Here, then, we have the key to that remarkable 
attitude preserved by him throughout his Diary, to 
that unflinching — I had almost said, that unintelli- 
gent — sincerity which makes it a miracle among 
human books. He was not unconscious of his errors 
276 



SAMUEL PEPYS 

— far from it; he was often startled into shame, 
often reformed, often made and broke his vows of 
change. But whether he did ill or well, he was still 
his own unequalled self; still that entrancing ego of 
whom alone he cared to write ; and still sure of his 
own affectionate indulgence, when the parts should 
be changed, and the writer come to read what he 
had written. Whatever he did, or said, or thought, 
or suffered, it was still a trait of Pepys, a character 
of his career ; and as, to himself, he was more inter- 
esting than Moses or than Alexander, so all should 
be faithfully set down. I have called his Diary a 
work of art. Now when the artist has found some- 
thing, word or deed, exactly proper to a favourite 
character in play or novel, he will neither suppress 
nor diminish it, though the remark be silly or the 
act mean. The hesitation of Hamlet, the credulity 
of Othello, the baseness of Emma Bovary, or the 
irregularities of Mr. Swiveller, caused neither dis- 
appointment nor disgust to their creators. And so 
with Pepys and his adored protagonist : adored not 
blindly, but with trenchant insight and enduring, 
human toleration. I have gone over and over the 
greater part of the Diary ; and the points where, to 
the most suspicious scrutiny, he has seemed not 
perfectly sincere, are so few, so doubtful, and so 
petty, that I am ashamed to name them. It may 
be said that we all of us write such a diary in airy 
characters upon our brain ; but I fear there is a dis- 
tinction to be made ; I fear that as we render to our 
consciousness an account of our daily fortunes and 

277 



MEN AND BOOKS 

behaviour, we too often weave a tissue of romantic 
compliments and dull excuses ; and even if Pepys 
were the ass and coward that men call him, we must 
take rank as sillier and more cowardly than he. The 
bald truth about oneself, what we are all too timid 
to admit when we are not too dull to see it, that was 
what he saw clearly and set down unsparingly. 

It is improbable that the Diary can have been 
carried on in the same single spirit in which it was 
begun. Pepys was not such an ass, but he must 
have perceived, as he went on, the extraordinary 
nature of the work he was producing. He was a 
great reader, and he knew what other books were 
like. It must, at least, have crossed his mind that 
some one might ultimately decipher the manuscript, 
and he himself, with all his pains and pleasures, be 
resuscitated in some later day ; and the thought, 
although discouraged, must have warmed his heart. 
He was not such an ass, besides, but he must have 
been conscious of the deadly explosives, the gun- 
cotton and the giant powder, he was hoarding in his 
drawer. Let some contemporary light upon the 
Journal, and Pepys was plunged for ever in social 
and political disgrace. We can trace the growth of 
his terrors by two facts. In 1660, while the Diary 
was still in its youth, he tells about it, as a matter 
of course, to a lieutenant in the navy ; but in 1669, 
when it was already near an end, he could have 
bitten his tongue out, as the saying is, because he 
had let slip his secret to one so grave and friendly 
as Sir William Coventry. And from two other facts 
278 



SAMUEL PEPYS 

I think we may infer that he had entertained, even 
if he had not acquiesced in, the thought of a far- 
distant pubUcity. The first is of capital importance : 
the Diary was not destroyed. The second— that he 
took unusual precautions to confound the cipher in 
'rogueish' passages — proves, beyond question, that 
he was thinking of some other reader besides himself 
Perhaps while his friends were admiring the ' great- 
ness of his behaviour ' at the approach of death, he 
may have had a twinkhng hope of immortaUty. 
Mens cujusque is est quisque, said his chosen motto ; 
and, as he had stamped his mind with every crook 
and foible in the pages of the Diary, he might 
feel that what he left behind him was indeed 
himself There is perhaps no other instance so 
remarkable of the desire of man for publicity and an 
enduring name. The greatness of his life was open, 
yet he longed to communicate its smallness also; 
and, while contemporaries bowed before him, he 
must buttonhole posterity with the news that his 
periwig was once aUve with nits. But this thought, 
although I cannot doubt he had it, was neither his 
first nor his deepest ; it did not colour one word that 
he wrote ; and the Diary, for as long as he kept it, 
remained what it was when he began, a private 
pleasure for himself It was his bosom secret; it 
added a zest to all his pleasures ; he lived in and for 
it, and might well write these solemn words, when 
he closed that confidant for ever : ' And so I betake 
myself to that course which is almost as much as to 
see myself go into the grave ; for which, and all the 

279 



MEN AND BOOKS 

discomforts that will accompany my being blind, the 
good God prepare me.' 



A LIBERAL GENIUS 

Pepys spent part of a certain winter Sunday, when 
he had taken physic, composing ' a song in praise of 
a liberal genius (such as I take my own to be) to all 
studies and pleasures.' The song was unsuccessful, 
but the Diary is, in a sense, the very song that he 
was seeking ; and his portrait by Hales, so admirably 
reproduced in Mynors Bright's edition, is a confirma- 
tion of the Diary. Hales, it would appear, had 
known his business ; and though he put his sitter to 
a deal of trouble, almost breaking his neck ' to have 
the portrait full of shadows,' and draping him in an 
Indian gown hired expressly for the purpose, he was 
pre-occupied about no merely picturesque effects, 
but to portray the essence of the man. Whether we 
read the picture by the Diary or the Diary by the 
picture, we shall at least agree that Hales was among 
the number of those who can * surprise the manners 
in the face.' Here we have a mouth pouting, moist 
with desires ; eyes greedy, protuberant, and yet apt 
for weeping too ; a nose great alike in character and 
dimensions ; and altogether a most fleshly, melting 
countenance. The face is attractive by its promise 
of reciprocity. I have used the word greedy, but 
the reader must not suppose that he can change it 
for that closely kindred one of hungry, for there is 
here no aspiration, no waiting for better things, but 
280 



SAMUEL PEPYS 

an animal joy in all that comes. It could never be 
the face of an artist ; it is the face of a viveur — 
kindly, pleased and pleasing, protected from excess 
and upheld in contentment by the shifting versatility 
of his desires. For a single desire is more rightly to 
be called a lust; but there is health in a variety, 
where one may balance and control another. 

The whole world, town or country, was to Pepys 
a garden of Armida. Wherever he went, his steps 
were winged with the most eager expectation ; what- 
ever he did, it was done with the most lively pleasure. 
An insatiable curiosity in all the shows of the world 
and all the secrets of knowledge filled him brimful 
of the longing to travel, and supported him in the 
toils of study. Rome was the dream of his life ; he 
was never happier than when he read or talked of 
the Eternal City. When he was in Holland he was 
'with child' to see any strange thing. Meeting 
some friends and singing with them in a palace near 
the Hague, his pen fails him to express his passion 
of delight, ' the more so because in a heaven of 
pleasure and in a strange country.' He must go to 
see all famous executions. He must needs visit the 
body of a murdered man, defaced 'with a broad 
wound,' he says, ' that makes my hand now shake to 
write of it.' He learned to dance, and was ' like to 
make a dancer.' He learned to sing, and walked 
about Gray's Inn Fields ' humming to myself (which 
is now my constant practice) the trillo.' He learned 
to play the lute, the flute, the flageolet, and the 
theorbo, and it was not the fault of his intention if 

281 



MEN AND BOOKS 

he did not learn the harpsichord or the spinet He 
learned to compose songs, and burned to give forth 
'a scheme and theory of music not yet ever made 
in the world.' When he heard ' a fellow whistle 
like a bird exceeding well,' he promised to return 
another day and give an angel for a lesson in the art. 
Once, he writes, ' I took the Bezan back with me, 
and with a brave gale and tide reached up that night 
to the Hope, taking great pleasure in learning the 
seamen's manner of singing when they sound the 
depths.' If he found himself rusty in his Latin 
grammar, he must fall to it like a schoolboy. He 
was a member of Harrington's Club till its dissolu- 
tion, and of the Royal Society before it had received 
the name. Boyle's Hydrostatics was ' of infinite 
delight ' to him, walking in Barnes Elms. We find 
him comparing Bible concordances, a captious judge 
of sermons, deep in Descartes and Aristotle. We 
find him, in a single year, studying timber and the 
measurement of timber ; tar and oil, hemp, and the 
process of preparing cordage ; mathematics and ac- 
counting ; the hull and the rigging of ships from a 
model; and 'looking and informing himself of the 
[naval] stores with ' — hark to the fellow ! — ' great 
delight.' His familiar spirit of delight was not the 
same with Shelley's ; but how true it was to him 
through life ! He is only copying something, and 
behold, he ' takes great pleasure to rule the hues, 
and have the capital words wrote with red ink ; ' he 
has only had his coal-cellar emptied and cleaned, and 
behold, 'it do please him exceedingly.' A hog's 
282 



SAMUEL PEPYS 

harslett is ' a piece of meat he loves.' He cannot 
ride home in my Lord Sandwich's coach, but he 
must exclaim, with breathless gusto, ' his noble, rich 
coach.' When he is bound for a supper-party he 
anticipates a * glut of pleasure.' When he has a new 
watch, ' to see my childishness,' says he, ' I could not 
forbear carrying it in my hand and seeing what 
o'clock it was an hundred times.' To go to Vauxhall, 
he says, and 'to hear the nightingales and other 
birds, hear fiddles, and there a harp and here a Jew's 
trump, and here laughing, and there fine people 
walking, is mighty divertising.' And the nightin- 
gales, I take it, were particularly dear to him ; and 
it was again ' with great pleasure ' that he paused to 
hear them as he walked to Woolwich, while the fog 
was rising and the April sun broke through. 

He must always be doing something agreeable, 
and, by preference, two agreeable things at once. In 
his house he had a box of carpenter's tools, two dogs, 
an eagle, a canary, and a blackbird that whistled 
tunes, lest, even in that full life, he should chance 
upon an empty moment. If he had to wait for a 
dish of poached eggs, he^ must put in the time by 
playing on the fiageolet ; if a sermon were dull, he 
must read in the book of Tobit or divert his mind 
with sly advances on the nearest women. When he 
walked, it must be with a book in his pocket to 
beguile the way in case the nightingales were silent ; 
and even along the streets of London, with so many 
pretty faces to be spied for and dignitaries to be 
saluted, his trail was marked by little debts ' for wine, 



MEN AND BOOKS 

pictures, etc.,' the true headmark of a life intolerant 
of any joyless passage. He had a kind of idealism 
in pleasure ; like the princess in the fairy story, he 
was conscious of a rose-leaf out of place. Dearly as 
he loved to talk, he could not enjoy nor shine in a 
conversation when he thought himself unsuitably 
dressed. Dearly as he loved eating, he 'knew not 
how to eat alone ; ' pleasure for him must heighten 
pleasure ; and the eye and ear must be flattered like 
the palate ere he avow himself content. He had 
no zest in a good dinner when it fell to be eaten 
' in a bad street and in a periwig-maker's house ; ' and 
a collation was spoiled for him by indifferent music. 
His body was indefatigable, doing him yeoman's 
service in this breathless chase of pleasures. On 
April 11, 1662, he mentions that he went to bed 
' weary, which I seldom am ; ' and already over thirty, 
he would sit up all night cheerfully to see a comet. 
But it is never pleasure that exhausts the pleasure- 
seeker ; for in that career, as in all others, it is 
failure that kills. The man who enjoys so wholly, 
and bears so impatiently the slightest widowhood 
from joy, is just the man to lose a night's rest over 
some paltry question of his right to fiddle on the 
leads, or to be ' vexed to the blood ' by a solecism in 
his wife's attire ; and we find in consequence that he 
was always peevish when he was hungry, and that 
his head 'aked mightily' after a dispute. But 
nothing could divert him from his aim in life; his 
remedy in care was the same as his delight in pro- 
sperity : it was with pleasure, and with pleasure only, 
284 



SAMUEL PEPYS 

that he sought to drive out sorrow ; and, whether 
he was jealous of his wife or skulking from a bailiff, 
he would equally take refuge in the theatre. There, 
if the house be full and the company noble, if the 
songs be tunable, the actors perfect, and the play 
diverting, this odd hero of the secret Diary, this 
private self-adorer, will speedily be healed of his 
distresses. 

Equally pleased with a watch, a coach, a piece of 
meat, a tune upon the fiddle, or a fact in hydrostatics, 
Pepys was pleased yet more by the beauty, the 
worth, the mirth, or the mere scenic attitude in life 
of his fellow-creatures. He shows himself through- 
out a sterling humanist. Indeed, he who loves 
himself, not in idle vanity, but with a plenitude of 
knowledge, is the best equipped of all to love his 
neighbours. And perhaps it is in this sense that 
charity may be most properly said to begin at home. 
It does not matter what quality a person has : Pepys 
can appreciate and love him for it. He 'fills his 
eyes ' with the beauty of Lady Castlemaine ; indeed, 
he may be said to dote upon the thought of her for 
years ; if a woman be good-looking and not painted, 
he will walk miles to have another sight of her ; and 
even when a lady by a mischance spat upon his 
clothes, he was immediately consoled when he had 
observed that she was pretty. But, on the other 
hand, he is delighted to see Mrs. Pett upon her 
knees, and speaks thus of his Aunt James : ' a poor, 
religious, well-meaning, good soul, talking of nothing 
but God Almighty, and that with so much innocence 

285 



MEN AND BOOKS 

that mightily pleased me.' He is taken with Pen's 
merriment and loose songs, but not less taken with 
the sterling worth of Coventry. He is jolly with a 
drunken sailor, but listens with interest and patience, 
as he rides the Essex roads, to the story of a 
Quaker's spiritual trials and convictions. He lends 
a critical ear to the discourse of kings and royal 
dukes. He spends an evening at Vauxhall with 
' Killigrew and young Newport — loose company,' 
says he, 'but worth a man's being in for once, to 
know the nature of it, and their manner of talk and 
lives.' And when a rag-boy lights him home, he 
examines him about his business and other ways of 
livelihood for destitute children. This is almost 
half-way to the beginning of philanthropy ; had it 
only been the fashion, as it is at present, Pepys had 
perhaps been a man famous for good deeds. And 
it is through this quality that he rises, at times, 
superior to his surprising egotism ; his interest in 
the love-affairs of others is, indeed, impersonal ; he 
is filled with concern for my Lady Castlemaine, 
whom he only knows by sight, shares in her very 
jealousies, joys with her in her successes ; and it is 
not untrue, however strange it seems in his abrupt 
presentment, that he loved his maid Jane because 
she was in love with his man Tom. 

Let us hear him, for once, at length : ' So the 
women and W. Hewer and I walked upon the 
Downes, where a flock of sheep was ; and the most 
pleasant and innocent sight that ever I saw in my 
life. We found a shepherd and his little boy read- 
286 



SAMUEL PEPYS 

ing, far from any houses or sight of people, the Bible 
to him ; so I made the boy read to me, which he did 
with the forced tone that children do usually read, 
that was mighty pretty ; and then I did give him 
something, and went to the father, and talked with 
him. He did content himself mightily in my liking 
his boy's reading, and did bless God for him, the 
most like one of the old patriarchs that ever I saw 
in my life, and it brought those thoughts of the old 
age of the world in my mind for two or three days 
after. We took notice of his woolen knit stockings 
of two colours mixed, and of his shoes shod with 
iron, both at the toe and heels, and with great nails 
in the soles of his feet, which was mighty pretty ; 
and taking notice of them, "Why," says the poor 
man, " the downes, you see, are full of stones, and 
we are faine to shoe ourselves thus ; and these," says 
he, "will make the stones fly till they ring before 
me," I did give the poor man something, for which 
he was mighty thankful, and I tried to cast stones 
with his home crooke. He values his dog mightily, 
that would turn a sheep any way which he would 
have him, when he goes to fold them ; told me there 
was about eighteen score sheep in his flock, and that 
he hath four shillings a week the year round for 
keeping of them ; and Mrs. Turner, in the common 
fields here, did gather one of the prettiest nosegays 
that ever I saw in my life.' 

And so the story rambles on to the end of that 
day's pleasuring ; with cups of milk, and glowworms, 
and people walking at sundown with their wives and 

287 



MEN AND BOOKS 

children, and all the way home Pepys still dreaming 
' of the old age of the world ' and the early innocence 
of man. This was how he walked through life, his 
eyes and ears wide open, and his hand, you will 
observe, not shut ; and thus he observed the hves, 
the speech, and the manners of his fellow-men, with 
prose fidelity of detail and yet a lingering glamour 
of romance. 

It was ' two or three days after ' that he extended 
this passage in the pages of his Journal, and the style 
has thus the benefit of some reflection. It is generally 
supposed that, as a writer, Pepys must rank at the 
bottom of the scale of merit. But a style which is 
indefatigably lively, telling, and picturesque through 
six large volumes of everyday experience, which 
deals with the whole matter of a life, and yet is 
rarely wearisome, which condescends to the most 
fastidious particulars, and yet sweeps all away in the 
forthright current of the narrative,— such a style may 
be ungrammatical, it may be inelegant, it may be 
one tissue of mistakes, but it can never be devoid of 
merit. The first and the true function of the writer 
has been thoroughly performed throughout ; and 
though the manner of his utterance may be childishly 
awkward, the matter has been transformed and as- 
similated by his unfeigned interest and delight. The 
gusto of the man speaks out fierily after all these 
years. For the difference between Pepys and Shelley, 
to return to that half-whimsical approximation, is 
one of quality, but not one of degree ; in his sphere, 
Pepys felt as keenly, and his is the true prose of 



SAMUEL PEPYS 

poetry — prose because the spirit of the man was 
narrow and earthly, hut poetry because he was de- 
lightedly alive. Hence, in such a passage as this 
about the Epsom shepherd, the result upon the 
reader's mind is entire conviction and unmingled 
pleasure. So, you feel, the thing fell out, not other- 
wise ; and you would no more change it than you 
would change a sublimity of Shakespeare's, a homely 
touch of Bunyan's, or a favoured reminiscence of 
your own. 

There never was a man nearer being an artist, 
who yet was not one. The tang was in the family ; 
while he was writing the journal for our enjoyment 
in his comely house in Navy Gardens, no fewer than 
two of his cousins were tramping the fens, kit under 
arm, to make music to the country girls. But he 
himself, though he could play so many instruments, 
and pass judgment in so many fields of art, remained 
an amateur. It is not given to any one so keenly 
to enjoy, without some greater power to understand. 
That he did not like Shakespeare as an artist for 
the stage may be a fault, but it is not without either 
parallel or excuse. He certainly admired him as a 
poet ; he was the first beyond mere actors on the 
rolls of that innumerable army who have got ' To be 
or not to be ' by heart. Nor was he content with 
that ; it haunted his mind ; he quoted it to himself 
in the pages of the Diary, and, rushing in where 
angels fear to tread, he set it to music. Nothing, 
indeed, is more notable than the heroic quality of 
the verses that our little sensualist in a periwig 
5 — T 289 



MEN AND BOOKS 

chose out to marry with his own mortal strains. 
Some gust from brave Ehzabethan times must have 
warmed his spirit, as he sat tuning his subUrae theorbo. 
' To be or not to be. Whether 'tis nobler ' — ' Beauty- 
retire, thou dost my pity move ' — ' It is decreed, nor 
shall thy fate, O Rome ; ' — open and dignified in the 
sound, various and majestic in the sentiment, it was 
no inapt, as it was certainly no timid, spirit that 
selected such a range of themes. Of ' Gaze not on 
Swans,' I know no more than these four words ; yet 
that also seems to promise well. It was, however, 
on a probable suspicion, the work of his master, Mr. 
Berkenshaw — as the drawings that figure at the 
breaking up of a young ladies' seminary are the work 
of the professor attached to the establishment. Mr. 
Berkenshaw was not altogether happy in his pupil. 
The amateur cannot usually rise into the artist, some 
leaven of the world still clogging him ; and we find 
Pepys behaving like a pickthank to the man who 
taught him composition. In relation to the stage, 
which he so warmly loved and understood, he was 
not only more hearty but more generous to others. 
Thus he encounters Colonel Reames, 'a man,' says 
he, * who understands and loves a play as well as I, 
and I love him for it.' And again, when he and his 
wife had seen a most ridiculous insipid piece, ' Glad 
we were,' he writes, *that Betterton had no part in 
it.' It is by such a zeal and loyalty to those who 
labour for his delight that the amateur grows worthy 
of the artist. And it should be kept in mind that, 
not only in art, but in morals, Pepys rejoiced to 
290 



SAMUEL PEPYS 

recognise his betters. There was not one speck of 
envy in the whole human-hearted egotist. 



RESPECTABILITY 

When writers inveigh against respectabiUty, in 
the present degraded meaning of the word, they are 
usually suspected of a taste for clay pipes and beer- 
cellars ; and their performances are thought to hail 
from the Owl's Nest of the comedy. They have 
something more, however, in their eye than the 
dulness of a round million dinner-parties that sit 
down yearly in old England. For to do anything 
because others do it, and not because the thing is 
good, or kind, or honest in its own right, is to resign 
all moral control and captaincy upon yourself, and 
go post-haste to the devil with the greater number. 
We smile over the ascendency of priests ; but I had 
rather follow a priest than what they call the leaders 
of society. No life can better than that of Pepys 
illustrate the dangers of this respectable theory of 
hving. For what can be more untoward than the 
occurrence, at a critical period, and while the habits 
are still pliable, of such a sweeping transformation as 
the return of Charles the Second ? Round went the 
whole fleet of England on the other tack ; and while 
a few tall pintas, Milton or Pen, still sailed a lonely 
course by the stars and their own private compass, the 
cock-boat, Pepys, must go about with the majority 
among 'the stupid starers and the loud huzzas.' 

The respectable are not led so much by any desire 

291 



MEN AND BOOKS 

of applause as by a positive need for countenance. 
The weaker and the tamer the man, the more will 
he require this support; and any positive quality 
relieves him, by just so much, of this dependence. 
In a dozen ways, Pepys was quite strong enough to 
please himself without regard for others ; but his 
positive quahties were not co-extensive with the 
field of conduct ; and in many parts of fife he fol- 
lowed, with gleeful precision, in the footprints of the 
contemporary Mrs. Grundy. In morals, particularly, 
he lived by the countenance of others ; felt a slight 
from another more keenly than a meanness in him- 
self; and then first repented when he was found out. 
You could talk of religion or morality to such a 
man ; and by the artist side of him, by his lively 
sympathy and apprehension, he could rise, as it were 
dramatically, to the significance of what you said. 
All that matter in religion which has been nicknamed 
other-worldliness was strictly in his gamut ; but a rule 
of life that should make a man rudely virtuous, fol- 
lowing right in good report and ill report, was foolish- 
ness and a stumbling-block to Pepys. He was much 
thrown across the Friends ; and nothing can be more 
instructive than his attitude towards these most in- 
teresting people of that age. I have mentioned how 
he conversed with one as he rode ; when he saw 
some brought from a meeting under arrest, ' I would 
to God,' said he, ' they would either conform, or be 
more wise and not be catched ; ' and to a Quaker in 
his own office he extended a timid though effectual 
protection. Meanwhile there was growing up next 
292 



SAMUEL PEPYS 

door to him that beautiful nature, William Pen. It 
is odd that Pepys condemned him for a fop ; odd, 
though natural enough when you see Pen's portrait, 
that Pepys was jealous of him with his wife. But 
the cream of the story is when Pen publishes his 
Sandy Foundation Shaken, and Pepys has it read 
aloud by his wife. ' I find it,' he says, ' so well writ 
as, I think, it is too good for him ever to have writ 
it ; and it is a serious sort of book, and not Jit for 
everybody to read.' Nothing is more galling to the 
merely respectable than to be brought in contact 
with religious ardour. Pepys had his own founda- 
tion, sandy enough, but dear to him from practical 
considerations, and he would read the book with 
true uneasiness of spirit ; for conceive the blow if, 
by some plaguy accident, this Pen were to convert 
him ! It was a different kind of doctrine that he 
judged profitable for himself and others. ' A good 
sermon of Mr, Gilford's at our church, upon " Seek 
ye first the kingdom of heaven." A very excellent 
and persuasive, good and moral sermon. He showed, 
like a wise man, that righteousness is a surer moral 
way of being rich than sin and villainy.' It is thus 
that respectable people deske to have their Great- 
hearts address them, telhng, in mild accents, how you 
may make the best of both worlds, and be a moral 
hero without courage, kindness, or troublesome re- 
flection ; and thus the Gospel, cleared of Eastern 
metaphor, becomes a manual of worldly prudence, and 
a handybook for Pepys and the successful merchant. 
The respectability of Pepys was deeply grained. 

293 



MEN AND BOOKS 

He has no idea of truth except for the Diary. He 
has no care that a thing shall be, if it but appear ; 
gives out that he has inherited a good estate, when 
he has seemingly got nothing but a lawsuit ; and is 
pleased to be thought liberal when he knows he has 
been mean. He is conscientiously ostentatious. I 
say conscientiously, with reason. He could never 
have been taken for a fop, hke Pen, but arrayed 
himself in a manner nicely suitable to his position. 
For long he hesitated to assume the famous periwig; 
for a public man should travel gravely with the 
fashions, not foppishly before, nor dowdily behind, 
the central movement of his age. For long he durst 
not keep a carriage ; that, in his circumstances, would 
have been improper ; but a time comes, with the 
growth of his fortune, when the impropriety has 
shifted to the other side, and he is ' ashamed to be 
seen in a hackney.' Pepys talked about being *a 
Quaker or some very melancholy thing;' for my part, I 
can imagine nothing so melancholy, because nothing 
half so silly, as to be concerned about such problems. 
But so respectability and the duties of society haunt 
and burden their poor devotees ; and what seems at 
first the very primrose path of life, proves difficult 
and thorny like the rest. And the time comes to 
Pepys, as to all the merely respectable, when he 
must not only order his pleasures, but even clip his 
virtuous movements, to the pubhc pattern of the age. 
There was some juggling among officials to avoid 
direct taxation ; and Pepys, with a noble impulse, 
growing ashamed of this dishonesty, designed to 
294 



SAMUEL PEPYS 

charge himself with £1000"; but finding none to set 
him an example, 'nobody of our ablest merchants' 
with this moderate liking for clean hands, he judged 
it ' not decent ; ' he feared it would ' be thought vain 
glory ; ' and, rather than appear singular, cheerfully 
remained a thief One able merchant's countenance, 
and Pepys had dared to do an honest act! Had 
he found one brave spirit, properly recognised by 
society, he might have gone far as a disciple. Mrs. 
Turner, it is true, can fill him full of sordid scandal, 
and make him believe, against the testimony of his 
senses, that Pen's venison pasty stank like the devil ; 
but, on the other hand. Sir William Coventry can 
raise him by a word into another being. Pepys, 
when he is with Coventry, talks in the vein of an old 
Roman. What does he care for office or emolument ? 
' Thank God, I have enough of my own,' says he, ' to 
buy me a good book and a good fiddle, and I have a 
good wife.' And again, we find this pair projecting 
an old age when an ungrateful country shall have 
dismissed them from the field of public service ; 
Coventry living retired in a fine house, and Pepys 
dropping in, 'it may be, to read a chapter of Seneca.' 
Under this influence, the only good one in his life, 
Pepys continued zealous and, for the period, pure in 
his employment. He would not be ' bribed to be 
unjust,' he says, though he was ' not so squeamish as 
to refuse a present after,' suppose the King to have 
received no wrong. His new arrangement for the 
victualling of Tangier, he tells us with honest com- 
placency, will save the King a thousand and gain 

295 



MEN AND BOOKS 

Pepys three hundred pounds a year, — a statement 
which exactly fixes the degree of the age's enUghten- 
ment. But for his industry and capacity no praise 
can be too high. It was an unending struggle for 
the man to stick to his business in such a garden of 
Armida as he found this life ; and the story of his 
oaths, so often broken, so courageously renewed, is 
worthy rather of admiration than the contempt it 
has received. 

Elsewhere, and beyond the sphere of Coventry's 
influence, we find him losing scruples and daily 
complying further with the age. When he began 
the Journal, he was a trifle prim and puritanic ; 
merry enough, to be sure, over his private cups, 
and stiU remembering Magdalene ale and his 
acquaintance with Mrs. Ainsworth of Cambridge. 
But youth is a hot season with all ; when a man 
smells April and May he is apt at times to stumble ; 
and in spite of a disordered practice, Pepys's theory, 
the better things that he approved and followed 
after, we may even say were strict. Where there 
was ' tag, rag, and bobtail, dancing, singing, and 
drinking,' he felt ' ashamed, and went away ; ' and 
when he slept in church he prayed God forgive him. 
In but a little while we find him with some ladies 
keeping each other awake 'from spite,' as though 
not to sleep in church were an obvious hardship ; 
and yet later he calmly passes the time of service, 
looking about him, with a perspective-glass, on all the 
pretty women. His favourite ejaculation, ' Lord ! ' 
occurs but once that I have observed in 1660, never 
296 



SAMUEL PEPYS 

in '61, twice in '62, and at least five times in '63 ; 
after which the ' Lords ' may be said to pullulate like 
herrings, with here and there a solitary ' damned,' as 
it were a whale among the shoal. He and his wife, 
once filled with dudgeon by some innocent freedoms 
at a marriage, are soon content to go pleasuring with 
my Lord Brouncker's mistress, who was not even, 
by his own account, the most discreet of mistresses. 
Tag, rag, and bobtail, dancing, singing, and drinking, 
become his natural element; actors and actresses and 
drunken, roaring courtiers are to be found in his 
society ; until the man grew so involved with Satur- 
nalian manners and companions that he was shot 
almost unconsciously into the grand domestic crash 
of 1668. 

That was the legitimate issue and punishment of 
years of staggering walk and conversation. The 
man who has smoked his pipe for half a century in 
a powder-magazine finds himself at last the author 
and the victim of a hideous disaster. So with our 
pleasant-minded Pepys and his peccadilloes. All of 
a sudden, as he still trips dexterously enough among 
the dangers of a double-faced career, thinking no 
great evil, humming to himself the trillo. Fate takes 
the further conduct of that matter from his hands, 
and brings him face to face with the consequences of 
his acts. For a man still, after so many years, the 
lover, although not the constant lover, of his wife, — 
for a man, besides, who was so greatly careful of 
appearances, — the revelation of his infidelities was 
a crushing blow. The tears that he shed, the in- 

297 



MEN AND BOOKS 

dignities that he endured, are not to be measured. 
A vulgar woman, and now justly incensed, Mrs. 
Pepys spared him no detail of suffering. She was 
violent, threatening him with the tongs ; she was 
careless of his honour, driving him to insult the 
mistress whom she had driven him to betray and to 
discard ; worst of all, she was hopelessly inconse- 
quent in word and thought and deed, now lulling 
him with reconciliations, and anon flaming forth 
again with the original anger. Pepys had not used 
his wife well ; he had wearied her with jealousies, 
even while himself unfaithful ; he had grudged her 
clothes and pleasures, while lavishing both upon 
himself; he had abused her in words ; he had bent 
his fist at her in anger ; he had once blacked her 
eye ; and it is one of the oddest particulars in that 
odd Diary of his, that, while the injury is referred to 
once in passing, there is no hint as to the occasion 
or the manner of the blow. But now, when he is in 
the wrong, nothing can exceed the long-suffering 
affection of this impatient husband. While he was 
still sinning and still undiscovered, he seems not to 
have known a touch of penitence stronger than what 
might lead him to take his wife to the theatre, or for 
an airing, or to give her a new dress by way of com- 
pensation. Once found out, however, and he seems 
to himself to have lost all claim to decent usage. It 
is perhaps the strongest instance of his externality. 
His wife may do what she pleases, and though he 
may groan, it will never occur to him to blame her ; 
he has no weapon left but tears and the most abject 
298 



SAMUEL PEPYS 

submission. We should perhaps have respected him 
more had he not given way so utterly — above all, 
had he refused to write, under his wife's dictation, 
an insulting letter to his unhappy fellow-culprit, 
Miss Willet ; but somehow I believe we like him 
better as he was. 

The death of his wife, following so shortly after, 
must have stamped the impression of this episode 
upon his mind. For the remaining years of his long 
life we have no Diary to help us, and we have seen 
already how little stress is to be laid upon the tenor 
of his correspondence ; but what with the recollec- 
tion of the catastrophe of his married life, what with 
the natural influence of his advancing years and 
reputation, it seems not unlikely that the period of 
gallantry was at an end for Pepys ; and it is beyond 
a doubt that he sat down at last to an honoured and 
agreeable old age among his books and music, the 
correspondent of Sir Isaac Newton, and, in one 
instance at least, the poetical counsellor of Dryden. 
Through all this period, that Diary which contained 
the secret memoirs of his Ufe, with all its inconsis- 
tencies and escapades, had been religiously preserved; 
nor, when he came to die, does he appear to have 
provided for its destruction. So we may conceive 
him faithful to the end to all his dear and early 
memories ; still mindful of Mrs. Hely in the woods 
at Epsom ; still lighting at Islington for a cup of 
kindness to the dead ; still, if he heard again that air 
that once so much disturbed him, thrilling at the 
recollection of the love that bound him to his wife. 

299 



IX 

JOHN KNOX AND HIS RELATIONS 
TO WOMEN 

THE CONTROVERSY ABOUT FEMALE RULE 

When first the idea became widely spread among 
men that the Word of God, instead of being truly 
the foundation of all existing institutions, was rather 
a stone which the builders had rejected, it was but 
natural that the consequent havoc among received 
opinions should be accompanied by the generation of 
many new and lively hopes for the future. Some- 
what as in the early days of the French Revolution, 
men must have looked for an immediate and univer- 
sal improvement in their condition. Christianity, 
up to that time, had been somewhat of a failure 
politically. The reason was now obvious, the 
capital flaw was detected, the sickness of the body 
politic traced at last to its efficient cause. It was 
only necessary to put the Bible thoroughly into 
practice, to set themselves strenuously to realise in 
hfe the Holy Commonwealth, and all abuses and 
300 



JOHN KNOX 

iniquities would surely pass away. Thus, in a 
pageant played at Geneva in the year 1523, the 
world was represented as a sick man at the end of 
his wits for help, to whom his doctor recommends 
Lutheran specifics.^ 

The Reformers themselves had set their affections 
in a different world, and professed to look for the 
finished result of their endeavours on the other side 
of death. They took no interest in politics as such ; 
they even condemned political action as Antichris- 
tian : notably, Luther in the case of the Peasants' 
War. And yet, as the purely religious question was 
inseparably complicated with pohtical difficulties, 
and they had to make opposition, from day to day, 
against principalities and powers, they were led, one 
after another, and again and again, to leave the 
sphere which was more strictly their own, and 
meddle, for good and evil, with the affairs of State. 
Not much was to be expected from interference in 
such a spirit. Whenever a minister found himself 
galled or hindered, he would be inclined to suppose 
some contravention of the Bible. Whenever Chris- 
tian liberty was restrained (and Christian hberty for 
each individual would be about co-extensive with 
what he wished to do), it was obvious that the 
State was Antichristian. The great thing, and the 
one thing, was to push the Gospel and the Re- 
formers' own interpretation of it. Whatever helped 
was good ; whatever hindered was evil ; and if this 
simple classification proved inapplicable over the 

1 Gaberel's Eglise de Geneve, i. 88. 

301 



MEN AND BOOKS 

whole field, it was no business of his to stop and 
reconcile incongruities. He had more pressing con- 
cerns on hand ; he had to save souls ; he had to be 
about his Father's business. This short-sighted view 
resulted in a doctrine that was actually Jesuitical in 
application. They had no -serious ideas upon poli- 
tics, and they were ready, nay, they seemed almost 
bound, to adopt and support whichever ensured for 
the moment the greatest benefit to the souls of their 
fellow-men. They were dishonest in all sincerity. 
Thus Labitte, in the introduction to a book^ in 
which he exposes the hypocritical democracy of the 
Catholics under the League, steps aside for a 
moment to stigmatise the hypocritical democracy 
of the Protestants. And nowhere was this ex- 
pediency in political questions more apparent than 
about the question of female sovereignty. So much 
was this the case that one James Thomasius, of 
Leipsic, wrote a little paper^ about the rehgious 
partialities of those who took part in the contro- 
versy, in which some of these learned disputants 
cut a very sorry figure. 

Now Knox has been from the first a man well 
hated ; and it is somewhat characteristic of his luck 
that he figures here in the very forefront of the list 
of partial scribes who trimmed their doctrine with 
the wind in all good conscience, and were political 
weathercocks out of conviction. Not only has 

^ La Democratie ches les Predicateurs de la Ligue. 

2 Historia affeetuum se immiscentium controversice de gyncecocratia. It 
is in his collected prefaces ; Leipsic^ 1683. 

302 



JOHN KNOX 

Thomasius mentioned him, but Bayle has taken 
the hint from Thomasius, and dedicated a long 
note to the matter at the end of his article on the 
Scottish Reformer. This is a little less than fair. If 
any one among the evangelists of that period showed 
more serious political sense than another, it was 
assuredly Knox ; and even in this very matter of 
female rule, although I do not suppose any one 
nowadays will feel inclined to indorse his senti- 
ments, I confess I can make great allowance for 
his conduct. The controversy, besides, has an in- 
terest of its own, in view of later controversies. 

John Knox, from 1556 to 1559, was resident in 
Geneva, as minister, jointly with Goodman, of a 
little church of English refugees. He and his 
congregation were banished from England by one 
woman, Mary Tudor, and proscribed in Scotland by 
another, the Regent Mary of Guise. The coinci- 
dence was tempting : here were many abuses cen- 
tring about one abuse ; here was Christ's Gospel 
persecuted in the two kingdoms by one anomalous 
power. He had not far to go to find the idea that 
female government was anomalous. It was an age, 
indeed, in which women, capable and incapable, 
played a conspicuous part upon the stage of Euro- 
pean history ; and yet their rule, whatever may 
have been the opinion of here and there a wise 
man or enthusiast, was regarded as an anomaly by 
the great bulk of their contemporaries. It was 
defended as an anomaly. It, and all that accom- 
panied and sanctioned it, was set aside as a single 

303 



MEN AND BOOKS 

exception ; and no one thought of reasoning down 
from queens and extending their privileges to ordi- 
nary women. Great ladies, as we know, had the 
privilege of entering into monasteries and cloisters, 
otherwise forbidden to their sex. As with one thing, 
so with another. Thus, Margaret of Navarre wrote 
books with great acclamation, and no one, seem- 
ingly, saw fit to call her conduct in question ; but 
Mademoiselle de Gournay, Montaigne's adopted 
daughter, was in a controversy with the world 
as to whether a woman might be an author with- 
out ilicongruity. Thus, too, we have Theodore 
Agrippa d'Aubigne writing to his daughters about 
the learned women of his century, and cautioning 
them, in conclusion, that the study of letters was 
unsuited to ladies of a middling station, and should 
be reserved for princesses.^ And once more, if we 
desire to see the same principle carried to ludicrous 
extreme, we shall find that Reverend Father in God, 
the Abbot of Brantome, claiming, on the authority 
of some lord of his acquaintance, a privilege, or 
rather a duty, of free love for great princesses, and 
carefully excluding other ladies from the same gal- 
lant dispensation.^ One sees the spirit in which 
these immunities were granted ; and how they were 
but the natural consequence of that awe for courts 
and kings that made the last writer tell us, with 
simple wonder, how Catherine de Medici would 
' laugh her fill just like another ' over the humours 

^ CEuvres de d'Aubigne, i. 449. 
2 Dames lUustres, pp. 358-360. 



JOHN KNOX 

of pantaloons and zanies. And such servility was, 
of all things, what would touch most nearly the 
republican spirit of Knox. It was not difficult for 
him to set aside this weak scruple of loyalty. The 
lantern of his analysis did not always shine with a 
very serviceable Hght; but he had the virtue, at 
least, to carry it into many places of fictitious hoh- 
ness, and was not abashed by the tinsel divinity that 
hedged kings and queens from his contemporaries. 
And so he could put the proposition in the form 
already mentioned ; there was Christ's Gospel per- 
secuted in the two kingdoms by one anomalous 
power ; plainly, then, the ' regiment of women ' was 
Antichristian. Early in 1558 he communicated this 
discovery to the world, by publishing at Geneva his 
notorious book — The First Blast of the Trumpet 
against the Mojistrous Regiment of Womeii} 

As a whole, it is a dull performance ; but the pre- 
face, as is usual with Knox, is both interesting and 
morally fine. Knox was not one of those who are 
humble in the hour of triumph ; he was aggressive 
even when things were at their worst. He had a 
grim reliance in himself, or rather in his mission ; if 
he were not sure that he was a great man, he was at 
least sure that he was one set apart to do great 
things. And he judged simply that whatever passed 
in his mind, whatever moved him to flee from per- 
secution instead of constantly facing it out, or, as 
here, to pubUsh and withhold his name from the 
title-page of a critical work, would not fail to be 

^ Works of John Knox, iv. 349. 

5— u 305 



MEN AND BOOKS 

of interest, perhaps of benefit, to the world. There 
may be something more finely sensitive in the 
modern humour, that tends more and more to 
withdraw a man's personality from the lessons he 
inculcates or the cause that he has espoused ; but 
there is a loss herewith of wholesome responsibility ; 
and when we find in the works of Knox, as in the 
Epistles of Paul, the man himself standing nakedly 
forward, courting and anticipating criticism, putting 
his character, as it were, in pledge for the sincerity 
of his doctrine, we had best waive the question of 
delicacy, and make our acknowledgments for a 
lesson of courage, not unnecessary in these days 
of anonymous criticism, and much light, otherwise 
unattainable, on the spirit in which great move- 
ments were initiated and carried forward. Knox's 
personal revelations are always interesting; and, in 
the case of the ' First Blast,' as I have said, there 
is no exception to the rule. He begins by stating 
the solemn responsibility of all who are watchmen 
over God's flock ; and all are watchmen (he goes on 
to explain, with that fine breadth of spirit that char- 
acterises him even when, as here, he shows himself 
most narrow), all are watchmen 'whose eyes God 
doth open, and whose conscience he pricketh to 
admonish the ungodly.' And with the full con- 
sciousness of this great duty before him, he sets 
himself to answer the scruples of timorous or 
worldly-minded people. How can a man repent, 
he asks, unless the nature of his transgression is 
made plain to him ? ' And therefore I say,' he 
.^06 



JOHN KNOX 

continues, * that of necessity it is that this monstri- 
ferous empire of women (which among all enormities 
that this day do abound upon the face of the whole 
earth, is most detestable and damnable) be openly 
and plainly declared to the world, to the end that 
some may repent and be saved.' To those who 
think the doctrine useless, because it cannot be 
expected to amend those princes whom it would 
dispossess if once accepted, he makes answer in a 
strain that shows him at his greatest. After having 
instanced how the rumour of Christ's censures found 
its way to Herod in his own court, 'even so,' he 
continues, ' may the sound of our weak trumpet, by 
the support of some wind (blow it from the south, 
or blow it from the north, it is of no matter), come 
to the ears of the chief offenders. But whether it do 
or not, yet dare we not cease to blow as God will 
give strength. For we are debtors to more than to 
princes, to wit, to the great multitude of our brethren, 
of whom, no doubt, a great number have heretofore 
offended by error and ignorance.' 

It is for the multitude, then, he writes ; he does 
not greatly hope that his trumpet will be audible in 
palaces, or that crowned women will submissively 
discrown themselves at his appeal ; what he does 
hope, in plain English, is to encourage and justify 
rebellion ; and we shall see, before we have done, 
that he can put his purpose into words as roundly as 
I can put it for him. This he sees to be a matter of 
much hazard ; he is not ' altogether so brutish and 
insensible, but that he has laid his account what the 

307 



MEN AND BOOKS 

finishing of the work may cost.' He knows that he 
will find many adversaries, since 'to the most part 
of men, lawful and godly appeareth whatsoever 
antiquity hath received.' He looks for opposition, 
' not only of the ignorant multitude, but of the wise, 
politic, and quiet spirits of the earth.' He will be 
called foolish, curious, despiteful, and a sower of 
sedition ; and one day, perhaps, for all he is now 
nameless, he may be attainted of treason. Yet he 
has ' determined to obey God, notwithstanding that 
the world shall rage thereat.' Finally, he makes 
some excuse for the anonymous appearance of this 
first instalment : it is his purpose thrice to blow the 
trumpet in this matter, if God so permit ; twice he 
intends to do it without name ; but at the last blast 
to take the odium upon himself, that all others may 
be purged. 

Thus he ends the preface, and enters upon his 
argument with a secondary title : ' The First Blast 
to awake Women degenerate.' We are in the land 
of assertion without delay. That a woman should 
bear rule, superiority, dominion, or empire over any 
realm, nation, or city, he tells us, is repugnant to 
nature, contumely to God, and a subversion of good 
order. Women are weak, frail, impatient, feeble, 
and foolish. God has denied to woman wisdom to 
consider, or providence to foresee, what is profitable 
to a commonwealth. Women have been ever lightly 
esteemed ; they have been denied the tutory of their 
own sons, and subjected to the unquestionable sway 
of their husbands ; and surely it is irrational to give 
308 



JOHN KNOX 

the greater where the less has been withheld, and 
suffer a woman to reign supreme over a great king- 
dom who would be allowed no authority by her own 
fireside. He appeals to the Bible ; but though he 
makes much of the first transgression and certain 
strong texts in Genesis and Paul's Epistles, he does 
not appeal with entire success. The cases of De- 
borah and Huldah can be brought into no sort of 
harmony with his thesis. Indeed, I may say that, 
logically, he left his bones there ; and that it is but 
the phantom of an argument that he parades thence- 
forward to the end. Well was it for Knox that he 
succeeded no better ; it is under this very ambiguity 
about Deborah that we shall find him fain to creep 
for shelter before he is done with the regiment of 
women. After having thus exhausted Scripture, and 
formulated its teaching in the somewhat blasphemous 
maxim that the man is placed above the woman, 
even as God above the angels, he goes on triumph- 
antly to adduce the testimonies of TertuUian, 
Augustine, Ambrose, Basil, Chrysostom, and the 
Pandects ; and having gathered this little cloud of 
witnesses about him, like pursuivants about a herald, 
he solemnly proclaims all reigning women to be 
traitresses and rebels against God; discharges all 
men thenceforward from holding any office under 
such monstrous regiment, and calls upon all the 
lieges with one consent to 'study to repress the 
inordinate pride and tyranny' of queens. If this 
is not treasonable teaching, one would be glad to 
know what is ; and yet, as if he feared he had not 

309 



MEN AND BOOKS 

made the ease plain enough against himself, he goes 
on to deduce the startling corollary that all oaths of 
allegiance must be incontinently broken. If it was 
sin thus to have sworn even in ignorance, it were 
obstinate sin to continue to respect them after fuller 
knowledge. Then comes the peroration, in which 
he cries aloud against the cruelties of that cursed 
Jezebel of England — that horrible monster Jezebel 
of England ; and after having predicted sudden 
destruction to her rule and to the rule of all crowned 
women, and warned all men that if they presume to 
defend the same when any ' noble heart ' shall be 
raised up to vindicate the liberty of his country, 
they shall not fail to perish themselves in the ruin, 
he concludes with a last rhetorical flourish : ' And 
therefore let all men be advertised, for the Trumpet 

HATH ONCE BLOWN.' 

The capitals are his own. In writing, he probably 
felt the want of some such reverberation of the 
pulpit under strong hands as he was wont to em- 
phasise his spoken utterances withal ; there would 
seem to him a want of passion in the orderly lines of 
type ; and I suppose we may take the capitals as 
a mere substitute for the great voice with which he 
would have given it forth, had we heard it from his 
own lips. Indeed, as it is, in this little strain of 
rhetoric about the trumpet, this current allusion 
to the fall of Jericho, that alone distinguishes his 
bitter and hasty production, he was probably right, 
according to all artistic canon, thus to support and 
accentuate in conclusion the sustained metaphor of 
310 



JOHN KNOX 

a hostile proclamation. It is curious, by the way, to 
note how favourite an image the trumpet was with 
the Reformer. He returns to it again and again ; 
it is the Alpha and Omega of his rhetoric ; it is to 
him what a ship is to the stage sailor ; and one 
would almost fancy he had begun the world as a 
trumpeter's apprentice. The partiality is surely 
characteristic. All his life long he was blowing 
summonses before various Jerichos, some of which 
fell duly, but not all. Wherever he appears in 
history his speech is loud, angry, and hostile ; there 
is no peace in his life, and little tenderness ; he is 
always sounding hopefully to the front for some 
rough enterprise. And as his voice had something 
of the trumpet's hardness, it had something also of 
the trumpet's warlike inspiration. So Randolph, 
possibly fresh from the sound of the Reformer's 
preaching, writes of him to Cecil : ' Where your 
honour exhorteth us to stoutness, I assure you the 
voice of one man is able, in an hour, to put more 
life in us than six hundred trumpets continually 
blustering in our ears.'^ 

Thus was the proclamation made. Nor was it 
long in wakening all the echoes of Europe. What 
success might have attended it, had the question 
decided been a purely abstract question, it is difficult 
to say. As it was, it was to stand or fall not by 
logic, but by political needs and sympathies. Thus, 
in France, his doctrine was to have some future, 
because Protestants suffered there under the feeble 

1 M'^Crie's lAfe of Knox, ii. 41. 



MEN AND BOOKS 

and treacherous regency of Catherine de Medici ; 
and thus it was to have no future anywhere else, 
because the Protestant interest was bound up with 
the prosperity of Queen Ehzabeth. This stumbHng- 
block lay at the very threshold of the matter ; and 
Knox, in the text of the ' First Blast,' had set every- 
body the wrong example and gone to the ground 
himself He finds occasion to regret ' the blood of 
innocent Lady Jane Dudley.' But Lady Jane 
Dudley, or Lady Jane Grey, as we call her, was a 
would-be traitress and rebel against God, to use his 
own expressions. If, therefore, political and re- 
ligious sympathy led Knox himself into so grave a 
partiality, what was he to expect from his disciples ? 
If the trumpet gave so ambiguous a sound, who 
could heartily prepare himself for the battle ? The 
question whether Lady Jane Dudley was an innocent 
martyr, or a traitress against God, whose inordinate 
pride and tyranny had been effectually repressed, 
was thus left altogether in the wind ; and it was not, 
perhaps, wonderful if many of Knox's readers con- 
cluded that all right and wrong in the matter turned 
upon the degree of the sovereign's orthodoxy and 
possible helpfulness to the Reformation. He should 
have been the more careful of such an ambiguity of 
meaning, as he must have known well the lukewarm 
indifference and dishonesty of his fellow-reformers in 
political matters. He had already, in 1556 or 1557, 
talked the matter over with his great master, Calvin, 
in ' a private conversation ' ; and the interview ^ 

^ Described by Calvin in a letter to Cecily Knox's Works, vol. iv. 
312 



JOHN KNOX 

must have been truly distasteful to both parties. 
Calvin, indeed, went a far way with him in theory, 
and owned that the ' government of women was 
a deviation from the original and proper order of 
nature, to be ranked, no less than slavery, among 
the punishments consequent upon the fall of man.' 
But, in practice, their two roads separated. For the 
Man of Geneva saw difficulties in the way of the 
Scripture proof in the cases of Deborah and Huldah, 
and in the prophecy of Isaiah that queens should 
be the nursing-mothers of the Church. And as the 
Bible was not decisive, he thought the subject 
should be let alone, because, 'by custom and 
public consent and long practice, it has been estab- 
lished that realms and principalities may descend 
to females by hereditary right, and it would not be 
lawful to unsettle governments which are ordained 
by the peculiar providence of God.' I imagine 
Knox's ears must have burned during this interview. 
Think of him listening dutifully to all this — how it 
would not do to meddle with anointed kings — how 
there was a peculiar providence in these great affairs ; 
and then think of his own peroration, and the 'noble 
heart ' whom he looks for ' to vindicate the liberty 
of his country ; ' or his answer to Queen Mary, when 
she asked him who he was, to interfere in the 
affairs of Scotland : ' Madam, a subject born within 
the same ' ! Indeed, the two doctors who differed 
at this private conversation represented, at the 
moment, two principles of enormous import in the 
subsequent history of Europe. In Calvin we have 

313 



MEN AND BOOKS 

represented that passive obedience, that toleration 
of injustice and absurdity, that holding back of the 
hand from political aiFairs as from something unclean, 
which lost France, if we are to believe M. Michelet, 
for the Reformation ; a spirit necessarily fatal in the 
long-run to the existence of any sect that may pro- 
fess it ; a suicidal doctrine that survives among us 
to this day in narrow views of personal duty, and 
the low political morality of many virtuous men. 
In Knox, on the other hand, we see foreshadowed 
the whole Puritan Revolution and the scaffold of 
Charles i. 

There is little doubt in my mind that this inter- 
view was what caused Knox to print his book 
without a name.^ It was a dangerous thing to con- 
tradict the Man of Geneva, and doubly so, surely, 
when one had had the advantage of correction from 
him in a private conversation ; and Knox had his 
little flock of English refugees to consider. If they 
had fallen into bad odour at Geneva, where else was 
there left to flee to ? It was printed, as I said, in 
1558 ; and, by a singular mal-a-p?^opos, in that same 
year Mary died, and Elizabeth succeeded to the 
throne of England. And just as the accession of 
Catholic Queen Mary had condemned female rule 
in the eyes of Knox, the accession of Protestant 
Queen Elizabeth justified it in the eyes of his 
colleagues. Female rule ceases to be an anomaly, 

1 It was anonymously published, but no one seems to have been in 
doubt about its authorship ; he might as well have set his name to it, 
for all the good he got by holding it back. 



JOHN KNOX 

not because Elizabeth can ' reply to eight ambassa- 
dors in one day in their different languages,' but 
because she represents for the moment the political 
future of the Reformation. The exiles troop back 
to England with songs of praise in their mouths. 
The bright occidental star, of which we have all read 
in the Preface to the Bible, has risen over the dark- 
ness of Europe. There is a thrill of hope through 
the persecuted Churches of the Continent. Calvin 
writes to Cecil, washing his hands of Knox and his 
political heresies. The sale of the * First Blast' is 
prohibited in Geneva ; and along with it the bold 
book of Knox's colleague, Goodman — a book dear to 
Milton — where female rule was briefly characterised 
as a 'monster in nature and disorder among men.'^ 
Any who may ever have doubted, or been for a 
moment led away by Knox or Goodman, or their 
own wicked imaginations, are now more than 
convinced. They have seen the occidental star. 
Aylmer, with his eye set greedily on a possible 
bishopric, and ' the better to obtain the favour of the 
new Queen,' ^ sharpens his pen to confound Knox 
by logic. What need ? He has been confounded 
by facts. ' Thus what had been to the refugees of 
Geneva as the very word of God, no sooner were 
they back in England than, behold ! it was the word 
of the devil.' ^ 

Now, what of the real sentiments of these loyal 

^ Knooc's Works, iv. 858. 2 Strype's Aylmer, p. 16. 

^ It may interest the reader to know that these (so says Thomasius) 
are the ' ipsissima verba Schlusselburgii.' 



MEN AND BOOKS 

subjects of Elizabeth ? They professed a holy horror 
for Knox's position : let us see if their own would 
please a modern audience any better, or was, in 
substance, greatly different 

John Aylmer, afterwards Bishop of London, pub- 
lished an answer to Knox, under the title of A71 
Harbour for Faithful and true Subjects against the 
late Blown Blast, concerning the government of 
Women} And certainly he was a thougHt more 
acute, a thought less precipitate and simple, than 
his adversary. He is not to be led away by such 
captious terms as natural and unnatural. It is 
obvious to him that a woman's disability to rule is 
not natural in the same sense in which it is natural 
for a stone to fall or fire to burn. He is doubtful, 
on the whole, whether this disability be natural at 
all ; nay, when he is laying it down that a woman 
should not be a priest, he shows some elementary 
conception of what many of us now hold to be the 
truth of the matter. ' The bringing up of women,' 
he says, ' is commonly such ' that they cannot have 
the necessary qualifications, * for they are not brought 
up in learning in schools, nor trained in disputation.' 
And even so, he can ask, ' Are there not in England 
women, think you, that for learning and wisdom 
could tell their household and neighbours as good 
a tale as any Sir John there ? ' For all that, his 
advocacy is weak. If women's rule is not unnatural 
in a sense preclusive of its very existence, it is neither 

^ I am indebted for a sight of this book to the kindness of Mr. David 
Laing, the editor of Knox's Works. 



JOHN KNOX 

so convenient nor so profitable as the government 
of men. He holds England to be specially suitable 
for the government of women, because there the 
governor is more limited and restrained by the 
other members of the constitution than in other 
places ; and this argument has kept his book from 
being altogether forgotten. It is only in hereditary 
monarchies that he will offer any defence of the 
anomaly. ' If rulers were to be chosen by lot or 
suffrage, he would not that any women should stand 
in the election, but men only. ' The law of succession 
of crowns was a law to him, in the same sense as the 
law of evolution is a law to Mr. Herbert Spencer ; 
and the one and the other counsels his readers, in 
a spirit suggestively alike, not to kick against the 
pricks or seek to be more wise than He who made 
them.^ If God has put a female child into the 
direct line of inheritance, it is God's affair. His 
strength will be perfected in her weakness. He 
makes the Creator address the objectors in this not 
very flattering vein : ' I, that could make Daniel, a 
sucking babe, to judge better than the wisest 
lawyers ; a brute beast to reprehend the folly of a 
prophet ; and poor fishers to confound the great 
clerks of the world — cannot I make a woman to be 
a good ruler over you ? ' This is the last word of 
his reasoning. Although he was not altogether 
without Puritanic leaven, shown particularly in 
what he says of the incomes of Bishops, yet it was 
rather loyalty to the old order of things than any 

1 Social Statics, p. 64, etc. 



MEN AND BOOKS 

generous belief in the capacity of women, that 
raised up for them this clerical champion. His 
courtly spirit contrasts singularly with the rude, 
bracing republicanism of Knox. *Thy knee shall 
bow,' he says, ' thy cap shall off, thy tongue shall 
speak reverently of thy sovereign.' For himself, his 
tongue is even more than reverent. Nothing can 
stay the issue of his eloquent adulation. Again and 
again, ' the remembrance of Elizabeth's virtues ' 
carries him away ; and he has to hark back again 
to find the scent of his argument. He is repressing 
his vehement adoration throughout, until when the 
end comes, and he feels his business at an end, he 
can indulge himself to his heart's content in indis- 
criminate laudation of his royal mistress. It is 
humorous to think that this illustrious lady, whom he 
here praises, among many other excellencies, for the 
simplicity of her attire and the ' marvellous meek- 
ness of her stomach,' threatened him, years after, 
in no very meek terms, for a sermon against female 
vanity in dress, which she held as a reflection on 
herself^ 

Whatever was wanting here in respect for women 
generally, there was no want of respect for the 
Queen ; and one cannot very greatly wonder if 
these devoted servants looked askance, not upon 
Knox only, but on his little flock, as they came 
back to England tainted with disloyal doctrine. 
For them, as for him, the occidental star rose some- 
what red and angry. As for poor Knox, his position 

^ Hallam's Const. Hist, of England, i. 225^ note "'. 
318 



JOHN KNOX 

was the saddest of all. For the juncture seemed to 
him of the highest importance ; it was the nick of 
time, the flood-water of opportunity. Not only was 
there an opening for him in Scotland, a smouldering 
brand of civil liberty and religious enthusiasm which 
it should be for him to kindle into flame with his 
powerful breath ; but he had his eye seemingly on 
an object of even higher worth. For now, when 
religious sympathy ran so high that it could be set 
against national aversion, he wished to begin the 
fusion together of England and Scotland, and to 
begin it at the sore place. If once the open wound 
were closed at the Border, the work would be half 
done. Ministers placed at Berwick and such places 
might seek their converts equally on either side of 
the march ; old enemies would sit together to hear 
the gospel of peace, and forget the inherited 
jealousies of many generations in the enthusiasm 
of a common faith ; or — let us say better — a common 
heresy. For people are not most conscious of 
brotherhood when they continue languidly together 
in one creed, but when, with some doubt, with some 
danger perhaps, and certainly not without some 
reluctance, they violently break wdth the tradition 
of the past, and go forth from the sanctuary of their 
fathers to worship under the bare heaven. A new 
creed, like a new country, is an unhomely place of 
sojourn ; but it makes men lean on one another and 
join hands. It was on this that Knox relied to begin 
the union of the English and the Scottish. And he 
had, perhaps, better means of judging than any even 

319 



MEN AND BOOKS 

of his contemporaries. He knew the temper of both 
nations ; and already during his two years' chap- 
laincy at Berwick, he had seen his scheme put to 
the proof. But whether practicable or not, the 
proposal does him much honour. That he should 
thus have sought to make a love-match of it between 
the two peoples, and tried to win their inclination 
towards a union instead of simply transferring them, 
like so many sheep, by a marriage, or testament, or 
private treaty, is thoroughly characteristic of what 
is best in the man. Nor was this all. He had, 
besides, to assure himself of English support, secret 
or avowed, for the Reformation party in Scotland ; 
a delicate affair, trenching upon treason. And so he 
had plenty to say to Cecil, plenty that he did not care 
to ' commit to paper neither yet to the knowledge of 
many.' But his miserable publication had shut the 
doors of England in his face. Summoned to Edin- 
burgh by the confederate lords, he waited at Dieppe, 
anxiously praying for leave to journey through 
England. The most dispiriting tidings reach him. 
His messengers, coming from so obnoxious a quar- 
ter, narrowly escape imprisonment. His old con- 
gregation are coldly received, and even begin to 
look back again to their place of exile with regret. 
'My First Blast,' he writes ruefully, 'has blown 
from me all my friends of England.' And then he 
adds, with a snarl, ' The Second Blast, I fear, shall 
sound somewhat more sharp, except men be more 
moderate than I hear they are.' ^ But the threat is 

1 Knox to Mrs. Locke^ 6th April 1559.— Works, vi. 14. 
320 



JOHN KNOX 

empty ; there will never be a second blast — he has 
had enough of that trumpet. Nay, he begins to 
feel uneasily that, unless he is to be rendered useless 
for the rest of his life, unless he is to lose his right 
arm and go about his great work maimed and im- 
potent, he must find some way of making his peace 
with England and the indignant Queen. The letter 
just quoted was written on the 6th of April 1559 ; 
and on the 10th, after he had cooled his heels for 
four days more about the streets of Dieppe, he gave 
in altogether, and writes a letter of capitulation to 
Cecil. In this letter,^ which he kept back until 
the 22nd, still hoping that things would come right 
of themselves, he censures the great secretary for 
having^ ' followed the world in the way of perdition,' 
characterises him as ' worthy of hell,' and threatens 
him, if he be not found simple, sincere, and fervent 
in the cause of Christ's gospel, that he shall ' taste 
of the same cup that politic heads have drunken in 
before him.' This is all, I take it, out of respect for 
the Reformer's own position ; if he is going to be 
humiliated, let others be humiliated first ; like a 
child who will not take his medicine until he has 
made his nurse and his mother drink of it before 
him. 'But I have, say you, written a treasonable 
book against the regiment and empire of women. 
. . . The writing of that book I will not deny ; but 
prove it treasonable I think it shall be hard. ... It 
is hinted that my book shall be written against. If 
so be, sir, I greatly doubt they shall rather hurt nor 

^ Knox to Sir William Cecily 10th April 1559.— Works, ii. 16, or vi. 15. 

5— X 321 



MEN AND BOOKS 

(than) mend the matter.' And here come the terms 
of capitulation ; for he does not surrender uncondi- 
tionally, even in this sore strait: 'And yet if any,' 
he goes on, ' think me enemy to the person, or yet 
to the regiment, of her whom God hath now pro- 
moted, they are utterly deceived in me, for the 
miraculous work of God, comforting His afflicted hy 
means of an infirm vessel, I do acknowledge, and the 
power of His most potent hand I will obey. More 
plainly to speak, if Queen Elizabeth shall confess, 
that the extraordinary dispensation of God's great 
mercy maketh that lawful unto her which both nature 
and God's law do deny to all women, then shall none 
in England be more willing to maintain her lawful 
authority than I shall be. But if (God's wondrous 
work set aside) she ground (as God forbid) the just- 
ness of her title upon consuetude, laws, or ordinances 
of men, then ' — Then Knox will denounce her ? Not 
so ; he is more politic nowadays — then, he ' greatly 
fears ' that her ingratitude to God will not go long 
without punishment. 

His letter to Elizabeth, written some few months 
later, was a mere amplification of the sentences 
quoted above. She must base her title entirely upon 
the extraordinary providence of God ; but if she 
does this, 'if thus, in God's presence, she humbles 
herself, so will he with tongue and pen justify her 
authority, as the Holy Ghost hath justified the same 
in Deborah, that blessed mother in Israel.'^ And 
so, you see, his consistency is preserved ; he is merely 

^ Knox to Queen Elizabeth, July 20th, 1559.— Works, vi. 47, or ii. 26. 
322 



JOHN KNOX 

applying the doctrine of the 'First Blast.' The 
argument goes thus : The regiment of women is, 
as before noted in our work, repugnant to nature, 
contumely to God, and a subversion of good order. 
It has nevertheless pleased God to raise up, as 
exceptions to this law, first Deborah, and afterward 
Elizabeth Tudor — whose regiment we shall proceed 
to celebrate. 

There is no evidence as to how the Reformer's 
explanations were received, and indeed it is most 
probable that the letter was never shown to Eliza- 
beth at all. For it was sent under cover of another 
to Cecil, and as it was not of a very courtly con- 
ception throughout, and was, of all things, what 
would most excite the Queen's uneasy jealousy 
about her title, it is like enough that the secretary 
exercised his discretion (he had Knox's leave in this 
case, and did not always wait for that, it is reputed) 
to put the letter harmlessly away beside other value- 
less or unpresentable State Papers. I wonder very 
much if he did the same with another,'' written two 
years later, after Mary had come into Scotland, in 
which Knox almost seeks to make Elizabeth an 
accomplice with him in the matter of the 'First Blast.' 
The Queen of Scotland is going to have that work 
refuted, he tells her; and 'though it were but 
foolishness in him to prescribe unto her Majesty 
what is to be done,' he would yet remind her that 
Mary is neither so much alarmed about her own 
security, nor so generously interested in Elizabeth's, 

1 Knox to Queen Elizabeth, August 6th, 1561.— Works, vi, 126. 



MEN AND BOOKS 

*that she would take such pains, unless her crafty 
counsel in so doing shot at a further mark.' There is 
something really ingenious in this letter ; it showed 
Knox in the double capacity of the author of the 
' First Blast ' and the faithful friend of Elizabeth ; 
and he combines them there so naturally that one 
would scarcely imagine the two to be incongru- 
ous. 

Twenty days later he was defending his intem- 
perate publication to another queen — his own queen, 
Mary Stuart. This was on the first of those three 
interviews which he has preserved for us with so 
much dramatic vigour in the picturesque pages of 
his History. After he had avowed the authorship in 
his usual haughty style, Mary asked : ' You think, 
then, that I have no just authority ? ' The question 
was evaded. 'Please your Majesty,' he answered, 
'that learned men in aU ages have had their judg- 
ments free, and most commonly disagreeing from 
the common judgment of the world ; such also have 
they published by pen and tongue ; and yet notwith- 
standing they themselves have lived in the common 
society with others, and have borne patiently with 
the errors and imperfections which they could not 
amend.' Thus did 'Plato the philosopher': thus 
will do John Knox. 'I have communicated my 
judgment to the world : if the realm finds no incon- 
venience from the regiment of a woman, that which 
they approve shall I not further disallow than within 
my own breast ; but shall be as well content to live 
under your Grace as Paul was to live under Nero. 

324 



JOHN KNOX 

And my hope is, that so long as ye defile not your 
hands with the blood of the saints of God, neither I 
nor my book shall hurt either you or your authority.' 
All this is admirable in wisdom and moderation, 
and, except that he might have hit upon a com- 
parison less offensive than that with Paul and Nero, 
hardly to be bettered. Having said thus much, he 
feels he needs say no more ; and so, when he is 
further pressed, he closes that part of the discussion 
with an astonishing sally. If he has been content 
to let this matter sleep, he would recommend her 
Grace to follow his example with thankfulness of 
heart ; it is grimly to be understood which of them 
has most to fear if the question should be reawakened. 
So the talk wandered to other subjects. Only, when 
the Queen was summoned at last to dinner ('for it 
was afternoon ') Knox made his salutation in this 
form of words : ' I pray God, Madam, that you 
may be as much blessed within the Commonwealth 
of Scotland, if it be the pleasure of God, as ever 
Deborah was in the Commonwealth of Israel.'^ 
Deborah again. 

But he was not yet done with the echoes of his 
own 'First Blast' In 1571, when he was already 
near his end, the old controversy was taken up in 
one of a series of anonymous libels against the 
Reformer, affixed, Sunday after Sunday, to the 
church door. The dilemma was fairly enough stated. 
Either his doctrine is false, in which case he is a 
' false doctor ' and seditious ; or, if it be true, why 

1 Knox's Works, ii. 278-280. 



MEN AND BOOKS 

does he *avow and approve the contrare, I mean 
that regiment in the Queen of England's person; 
which he avoweth and approveth, not only praying 
for the maintenance of her estate, but also procuring 
her aid and support against his own native country ' ? 
Knox answered the libel, as his wont was, next 
Sunday, from the pulpit He justified the 'First 
Blast ' with all the old arrogance ; there is no drawing 
back there. The regiment of women is repugnant 
to nature, contumely to God, and a subversion of 
good order, as before. When he prays for the main- 
tenance of Elizabeth's estate, he is only following 
the example of those prophets of God who warned 
and comforted the wicked kings of Israel; or of 
Jeremiah, who bade the Jews pray for the prosperity 
of Nebuchadnezzar. As for the Queen's aid, there 
is no harm in that : quia (these are his own words) 
quia omnia munda mundis : because to the pure all 
things are pure. One thing, in conclusion, he ' may 
not pretermit ' ; to give the lie in the throat to his 
accuser, where he charges him with seeking support 
against his native country. ' What I have been to 
my country,' said the old Reformer, ' What I have 
been to my country, albeit this unthankful age will 
not know, yet the ages to come will be compelled to 
bear witness to the truth. And thus I cease, re- 
quiring of all men that have anything to oppone 
against me, that he may (they may) do it so plainly, 
as that I may make myself and all my doings 
manifest to the world. For to me it seemeth a 
thing unreasonable, that, in this my decrepit age, T 
326 



JOHN KNOX 

shall be compelled to fight against shadows, and 
howlets that dare not abide the light. '^ 

Now, in this, which may be called his Last Blast 
there is as sharp speaking as any in the ' First Blast ' 
itself. He is of the same opinion to the end, you 
see, although he has been obliged to cloak and garble 
that opinion for political ends. He has been tacking 
indeed, and he has indeed been seeking the favour 
of a queen ; but what man ever sought a queen's 
favour with a more virtuous purpose, or with as 
little courtly policy? The question of consistency 
is delicate, and must be made plain. Knox never 
changed his opinion about female rule, but lived to 
regret that he had published that opinion. Doubt- 
less he had many thoughts so far out of the range 
of public sympathy that he could only keep them 
to himself, and, in his own words, bear patiently 
with the errors and imperfections that he could not 
amend. For example, I make no doubt myself that, 
in his own heart, he did hold the shocking dogma 
attributed to him by more than one calumniator ; 
and that, had the time been right, had there been 
aught to gain by it, instead of all to lose, he would 
have been the first to assert that Scotland was 
elective instead of hereditary — ' elective as in the 
days of paganism,' as one Thevet says in holy horror.^ 
And yet, because the time was not ripe, I find no 
hint of such an idea in his collected works. Now, 

^ Calderwood's History of the Kirk of Scotland, edition of the Wodrow 
Society, iii. 51-54. 
2 Bayle's Historical Dictionary, Art. Knox, remark G. 

2>^7 



MEN AND BOOKS 

the regiment of women was another matter that he 
should have kept to himself; right or wrong, his 
opinion did not fit the moment ; right or wrong, as 
Aylmer puts it, ' the Blast was blown out of season.' 
And this it was that he began to perceive after the 
accession of Elizabeth ; not that he had been wrong, 
and that female rule was a good thing, for he had 
said from the first that ' the felicity of some women 
in their empires ' could not change the law of God 
and the nature of created things ; not this, but that 
the regiment of women was one of those imperfec- 
tions of society which must be borne with because 
yet they cannot be remedied. The thing had seemed 
so obvious to him, in his sense of unspeakable mas- 
cuHne superiority, and in his fine contempt for what 
is only sanctioned by antiquity and common consent, 
he had imagined that, at the first hint, men would 
arise and shake off the debasing tyranny. He found 
himself wrong, and he showed that he could be 
moderate in his own fashion, and understood the 
spirit of true compromise. He came round to Cal- 
vin's position, in fact, but by a different way. And 
it derogates nothing from the merit of this wise 
attitude that it was the consequence of a change of 
interest. We are all taught by interest ; and if the 
interest be not merely selfish, there is no wiser 
preceptor under heaven, and perhaps no sterner. 

Such is the history of John Knox's connection 

with the controversy about female rule. In itself, 

this is obviously an incomplete study ; not fully to 

be understood without a knowledge of his private 

328 



JOHN KNOX 

relations with the other sex, and what he thought of 
their position in domestic hfe. This shall be dealt 
with in another paper. 



PRIVATE LIFE 

To those who know Knox by hearsay only, I believe 
the matter of this paper will be somewhat astonish- 
ing. For the hard energy of the man in all public 
matters has possessed the imagination of the world ; 
he remains for posterity in certain traditional phrases, 
browbeating Queen Mary, or breaking beautiful 
carved work in abbeys and cathedrals, that had long 
smoked themselves out and were no more than 
sorry ruins, while he was still quietly teaching 
children in a country gentleman's family. It does 
not consist with the common acceptation of his char- 
acter to fancy him much moved, except with anger. 
And yet the language of passion came to his pen as 
readily, whether it was a passion of denunciation 
against some of the abuses that vexed his righteous 
spirit, or of yearning for the society of an absent 
friend. He was vehement in affection, as in doctrine. 
I will not deny that there may have been, along 
with his vehemence, something shifty, and for the 
moment only ; that, like many men, and many 
Scotsmen, he saw the world and his own heart, not 
so much under any very steady equable light, as by 
extreme flashes of passion, true for the moment, but 
not true in the long-run. There does seem to me 

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MEN AND BOOKS 

to be something of this traceable in the Reformer's 
utterances : precipitation and repentance, hardy 
speech and action somewhat circumspect, a strong 
tendency to see himself in a heroic light and to 
place a ready belief in the disposition of the moment. 
Withal he had considerable confidence in himself, and 
in the uprightness of his own disciplined emotions, 
underlying much sincere aspiration after spiritual 
humility. And it is this confidence that makes his 
intercourse with women so interesting to a modern. 
It would be easy, of course, to make fun of the 
whole affair, to picture him strutting vaingloriously 
among these inferior creatures, or compare a religious 
friendship in the sixteenth century with what was 
called, I think, a literary friendship in the eighteenth. 
But it is more just and profitable to recognise what 
there is sterling and human underneath all his theo- 
retical affectations of superiority. Women, he has 
said in his ' First Blast,' are ' weak, frail, impatient, 
feeble, and foolish ; ' and yet it does not appear that 
he was himself any less dependent than other men 
upon the sympathy and affection of these weak, 
frail, impatient, feeble, and foolish creatures ; it 
seems even as if he had been rather more dependent 
than most. 

Of those who are to act influentially on their 
fellows, we should expect always something large 
and public in their way of life, something more or 
less urbane and comprehensive in their sentiment for 
others. We should not expect to see them spend 
their sympathy in idyls, however beautiful. We 
330 



JOHN KNOX 

should not seek them among those who, if they have 
but a wife to their bosom, ask no more of woman- 
kind, just as they ask no more of their own sex, if 
they can find a friend or two for their immediate 
need. They will be quick to feel all the pleasures 
of our association — not the great ones alone, but all. 
They will know not love only, but all those other 
ways in which man and woman mutually make each 
other happy — by sympathy, by admiration, by the 
atmosphere they bear about them — down to the 
mere impersonal pleasure of passing happy faces in 
the street. For, through all this gradation, the dif- 
ference of sex makes itself pleasurably felt. Down 
to the most lukewarm courtesies of life, there is a 
special chivalry due and a special pleasure received, 
when the two sexes are brought ever so hghtly into 
contact. We love our mothers otherwise than we 
love our fathers ; a sister is not as a brother to us ; 
and friendship between man and woman, be it never 
so unalloyed and innocent, is not the same as friend- 
ship between man and man. Such friendship is not 
even possible for all. To conjoin tenderness for a 
woman that is not far short of passionate with such 
disinterestedness and beautiful gratuity of affection 
as there is between friends of the same sex, requires 
no ordinary disposition in the man. For either it 
would presuppose quite womanly delicacy of per- 
ception, and, as it were, a curiosity in shades of 
differing sentiment ; or it would mean that he had 
accepted the large, simple divisions of society: a 
strong and positive spirit robustly virtuous, who has 

331 



MEN AND BOOKS 

chosen a better part coarsely, and holds to it stead- 
fastly with all its consequences of pain to himself 
and others ; as one who should go straight before 
him on a journey, neither tempted by wayside flowers 
nor very scrupulous of small lives under foot. It 
was in virtue of this latter disposition that Knox 
was capable of those intimacies with women that 
embellished his life ; and we find him preserved for 
us in old letters as a man of many women friends ; a 
man of some expansion toward the other sex ; a man 
ever ready to comfort weeping women, and to weep 
along with them. 

Of such scraps and fragments of evidence as to 
his private life and more intimate thoughts as have 
survived to us from all the perils that environ written 
paper, an astonishingly large proportion is in the shape 
of letters to women of his familiarity. He was twice 
married, but that is not greatly to the purpose ; for 
the Turk, who thinks even more meanly of women 
than John Knox, is none the less given to marry- 
ing. What is really significant is quite apart from 
marriage. For the man Knox was a true man, and 
woman, the ewig-weihliche, was as necessary to him, 
in spite of all low theories, as ever she was to 
Goethe. He came to her in a certain halo of his 
own, as the minister of truth, just as Goethe came 
to her in a glory of art ; he made himself necessary 
to troubled hearts and minds exercised in the painful 
compHcations that naturally result from all changes 
in the world's way of thinking ; and those whom he 
had thus helped became dear to him, and were made 
332 



JOHN KNOX 

the chosen companions of his leisure if they were at 
hand, or encouraged and comforted by letter if they 
were afar. 

It must not be forgotten that Knox had been a 
presbyter of the old Church, and that the many 
women whom we shall see gathering around him, as 
he goes through life, had probably been accustomed, 
while still in the communion of Rome, to rely much 
upon some chosen spiritual director, so that the 
intimacies of which I propose to offer some account, 
while testifying to a good heart in the Reformer, 
testify also to a certain survival of the spirit of the 
confessional in the Reformed Church, and are not 
properly to be judged without this idea. There is 
no friendship so noble, but it is the product of the 
time ; and a world of little finical observances, and 
little frail proprieties and fashions of the hour, go to 
make or to mar, to stint or to perfect, the union of 
spirits the most loving and the most intolerant of 
such interference. The trick of the country and the 
age steps in even between the mother and her child, 
counts out their caresses upon niggardly fingers, and 
says, in the voice of authority, that this one thing 
shall be a matter of confidence between them, and 
this other thing shall not. And thus it is that we 
must take into reckoning whatever tended to modify 
the social atmosphere in which Knox and his women 
friends met, and loved and trusted each other. To 
the man who had been their priest, and was now 
their minister, women would be able to speak with 
a confidence quite impossible in these latter days; 

333 



MEN AND BOOKS 

the women would be able to speak, and the man to 
hear. It was a beaten road just then ; and I daresay 
we should be no less scandalised at their plain 
speech than they, if they could come back to earth, 
would be offended at our waltzes and worldly 
fashions. This, then, was the footing on which Knox 
stood with his many women friends. The reader will 
see, as he goes on, how much of warmth, of interest, 
and of that happy mutual dependence which is the 
very gist of friendship, he contrived to engraft upon 
this somewhat dry relationship of penitent and 
confessor. 

It must be understood that we know nothing of 
his intercourse with women (as indeed we know 
httle at all about his life) until he came to Berwick 
in 1549, when he was already in the forty-fifth year 
of his age. At the same time it is just possible that 
some of a httle group at Edinburgh, with whom he 
corresponded during his last absence, may have been 
friends of an older standing. Certainly they were, 
of all his female correspondents, the least personally 
favoured. He treats them throughout in a com- 
prehensive sort of spirit that must at times have 
been a little wounding. Thus, he remits one of 
them to his former letters, ' which I trust be com- 
mon betwixt you and the rest of our sisters, for 
to me ye are all equal in Christ.'^ Another letter 
is a gem in this way. 'Albeit,' it begins, 'albeit I 
have no particular matter to write unto you, beloved 
sister, yet I could not refrain to write these few lines 

^ Works, iv. 244. 

334 



JOHN KNOX 

to you in declaration of my remembrance of you. 
True it is that I have many whom I bear in equal 
remembrance before God with you, to whom at 
present I write nothing, either for that I esteem 
them stronger than you, and therefore they need the 
less my rude labours, or else because they have not 
provoked me by their writing to recompense their 
remembrance. '1 His 'sisters in Edinburgh' had 
evidently to 'provoke' his attention pretty con- 
stantly ; nearly all his letters are, on the face of 
them, answers to questions, and the answers are 
given with a certain crudity that I do not find 
repeated when he writes to those he really cares 
for. So when they consult him about women's 
apparel (a subject on which his opinion may be 
pretty correctly imagined by the ingenious reader 
for himself), he takes occasion to anticipate some of 
the most offensive matter of the ' First Blast ' in a 
style of real brutality.^ It is not merely that he 
tells them ' the garments of women do declare their 
weakness and inability to execute the office of man,' 
though that in itself is neither very wise nor very 
opportune in such a correspondence, one would 
think; but if the reader will take the trouble to 
wade through the long, tedious sermon for himself, 
he will see proof enough that Knox neither loved, 
nor very deeply respected, the women he was then 
addressing. In very truth, I believe these Edin- 
burgh sisters simply bored him. He had a certain 
interest in them as his children in the Lord ; they 

1 Works, iv. 246. 2 jjj^ jy^ 225. 

335 



MEN AND BOOKS 

were continually ' provoking him by their writing ; ' 
and, if they handed his letters about, writing to 
them was as good a form of publication as was then 
open to him in Scotland. There is one letter, how- 
ever, in this budget, addressed to the wife of Clerk 
Register Mackgil, which is worthy of some further 
mention. The Clerk Register had not opened his 
heart, it would appear, to the preaching of the 
Gospel, and Mrs. Mackgil has written, seeking the 
Reformer's prayers in his behalf. 'Your husband,' 
he answers, *is dear to me for that he is a man 
indued with some good gifts, but more dear for that 
he is your husband. Charity moveth me to thirst 
his illumination, both for his comfort and for the 
trouble which you sustain by his coldness, which 
justly may be called infidelity.' He wishes her, 
however, not to hope too much ; he can promise 
that his prayers will be earnest, but not that they 
will be effectual ; it is possible that this is to be her 
' cross ' in life ; that ' her head, appointed by God 
for her comfort, should be her enemy.' And if this 
be so — well, there is nothing for it ; ' with patience 
she must abide God's merciful deliverance,' taking 
heed only that she does not ' obey manifest iniquity 
for the pleasure of any mortal man.'^ I conceive 
this epistle would have given a very modified sort 
of pleasure to the Clerk Register, had it chanced 
to fall into his hands. Compare its tenor — the dry 
resignation not without a hope of merciful deliver- 
ance therein recommended — with these words from 

1 Works, iv. 245. 



JOHN KNOX 

another letter, written but the year before to two 
married women of London : ' Call first for grace by 
Jesus, and thereafter communicate with your faith- 
ful husbands, and then shall God, I doubt not, 
conduct your footsteps, and direct your counsels to 
His glory.' 1 Here the husbands are put in a very 
high place ; we can recognise here the same hand 
that has written for our instruction how the man is 
set above the woman, even as God above the angels. 
But the point of the distinction is plain. For Clerk 
Register Mackgil was not a faithful husband ; dis- 
played, indeed, towards religion, a ' coldness which 
justly might be called infidelity.' We shall see in 
more notable instances how much Knox's concep- 
tion of the duty of wives varies according to the 
zeal and orthodoxy of the husband. 

As I have said, he may possibly have made the 
acquaintance of Mrs. Mackgil, Mis. Guthrie, or some 
other, or all, of these Edinburgh friends while he was 
still Douglas of Longniddry's private tutor. But our 
certain knowledge begins in 1549. He was then but 
newly escaped from his captivity in France, after pull- 
ing an oar for nineteen months on the benches of 
the galley Nostre Dame ; now up the rivers, holding 
stealthy intercourse with other Scottish prisoners 
in the castle of Bouen ; now out in the North Sea, 
raising his sick head to catch a glimpse of the far-off 
steeples of St. Andrews. And now he was sent 
down by the English Privy Council as a preacher to 
Berwick-upon-Tweed ; somewhat shaken in health 

1 Works, iv, 221, 

5— Y ZZ7 



MEN AND BOOKS 

by all his hardships, full of pains and agues, and 
tormented by gravel, that sorrow of great men ; 
altogether, what with his romantic story, his weak 
health, and his great faculty of eloquence, a very 
natural object for the sympathy of devout women. 
At this happy juncture he fell into the company of 
a Mrs. Elizabeth Bowes, wife of Richard Bowes, of 
Aske, in Yorkshire, to whom she had borne twelve 
children. She was a religious hypochondriac, a very 
weariful woman, full of doubts and scruples, and 
giving no rest on earth either to herself or to those 
whom she honoured with her confidence. From the 
first time she heard Knox preach she formed a high 
opinion of him, and was solicitous ever after of his 
society.^ Nor was Knox unresponsive. *I have 
always delighted in your company,' he writes, ' and 
when labours would permit, you know I have not 
spared hours to talk and commune with you.' Often 
when they had met in depression he reminds her, 
'God hath sent great comfort unto both.'^ We 
can gather from such letters as are yet extant how 
close and continuous was their intercourse. ' I think 
it best you remain till the morrow,' he writes once, 
' and so shall we commune at large at afternoon. 
This day you know to be the day of my study and 
prayer unto God ; yet if your trouble be intolerable, 
or if you think my presence may release your pain, 
do as the Spirit shall move you. . . . Your messenger 
found me in bed, after a sore trouble and most 
dolorous night, and so dolour may complain to 

1 Works, vi. 514. 2 jn^^ m 334. 



JOHN KNOX 

dolour when we two meet. . . . And this is more 
plain than ever I spoke, to let you know you have a 
companion in trouble.'^ Once we have the curtain 
raised for a moment, and can look at the two 
together for the length of a phrase. 'After the 
writing of this preceding,' writes Knox, ' yom- 
brother and mine, Harrie WyclifFe, did advertise 
me by writing, that your adversary (the devil) took 
occasion to trouble you because that / did start back 
from you rehearsing your infirmities. I remember 
myself so to have done, and that is my common coji- 
suetude when anything pierceth or toucheth my heart. 
Call to your mind what I did standing at the cupboard 
at Alnwick. In very deed I thought that no 
creature had been tempted as I was ; and when I 
heard proceed from your mouth the very same 
words that he troubles me with, I did wonder and 
from my heart lament your sore trouble, knowing in 
myself the dolour thereof'^ Now intercourse of 
so very close a description, whether it be religious 
intercourse or not, is apt to displease and disquiet 
a husband ; and we know incidentally from Knox 
himself that there was some little scandal about his 
intimacy with Mrs. Bowes. 'The slander and fear 
of men,' he writes, ' has impeded me to exercise my 
pen so oft as I would ; yea, very shame hath holden 
me from your company, when I was most surely 
persuaded that God had appoiiited me at that time to 
comfort and feed your hungry and afflicted soul. God 
in His infinite mercy,' he goes on, ' remove not only 

1 Works, iii. 352, 353. 2 n^i^, {{{, 350. 

339 



MEN AND BOOKS 

^rom me all fear that tendeth not to godliness, hut 
from others suspicion to judge of me otherwise than it 
becometh one member to judge of another.''^ And the 
scandal, such as it was, would not be allayed by the 
dissension in which Mrs. Bowes seems to have 
lived with her family upon the matter of religion, 
and the countenance shown by Knox to her resist- 
ance. Talking of these conflicts, and her courage 
against ' her own flesh and most inward affections, 
yea, against some of her most natural friends,' he 
writes it, ' to the praise of God, he has wondered at 
the bold constancy which he has found in her when 
his own heart was faint. ' ^ 

Now, perhaps in order to stop scandalous mouths, 
perhaps out of a desire to bind the much-loved 
evangelist nearer to her in the only manner possible, 
Mrs. Bowes conceived the scheme of marrying him 
to her fifth daughter, Marjorie ; and the Reformer 
seems to have fallen in with it readily enough. It 
seems to have been believed in the family that the 
whole matter had been originally made up between 
these two, with no very spontaneous inclination on 
the part of the bride. ^ Knox's idea of marriage, as I 
have said, was not the same for all men ; but on the 
whole, it was not lofty. We have a curious letter of 
his, written at the request of Queen Mary, to the 
Earl of Argyle, on very delicate household matters ; 
which, as he tells us, * was not well accepted of the 
said Earl.'^ We may suppose, however, that his 

1 Works, iii, 890, 391. 2 jj^^^ jij, 142. 

3 Ibid. iii. 378. * Ibid. ii. 379. 



JOHN KNOX 

own home was regulated in a similar spirit. I can 
fancy that for such a man, emotional, and with a 
need, now and again, to exercise parsimony in 
emotions not strictly needful, something a little 
mechanical, something hard and fast and clearly 
understood, would enter into his ideal of a home. 
There were storms enough without, and equability 
was to be desired at the fireside even at a sacrifice 
of deeper pleasures. So, from a wife, of all women, 
he would not ask much. One letter to her which 
has come down to us is, I had almost said, con- 
spicuous for coldness.^ He calls her, as he called 
other female correspondents, ' dearly beloved sister ; ' 
the epistle is doctrinal, and nearly the half of it 
bears, not upon her own case, but upon that of her 
mother. However, we know what Heine wrote in 
his wife's album ; and there is, after all, one passage 
that may be held to intimate some tenderness, 
although even that admits of an amusingly opposite 
construction. ' I think,' he says, ' I timik this be 
the first letter I ever wrote to you.' This, if we are 
to take it literally, may pair off with the 'two or 
three children' whom Montaigne mentions having 
lost at nurse ; the one is as eccentric in a lover as 
the other in a parent. Nevertheless, he displayed 
more energy in the course of his troubled wooing 
than might have been expected. The whole Bowes 
family, angry enough already at the infiuence he had 
obtained over the mother, set their faces obdurately 
against the match. And 1 daresay the opposition 

1 Works, iii. 394. 



MEN AND BOOKS 

quickened his inclination. I find him writing to 
Mrs. Bowes that she need no further trouble herself 
about the marriage; it should now be his business 
altogether; it behoved him now to jeopard his life 
'for the comfort of his own flesh, both fear and 
friendship of all earthly creature laid aside.' ^ This 
is a wonderfully chivalrous utterance for a Reformer 
forty-eight years old ; and it compares well with the 
leaden coquetries of Calvin, not much over thirty, 
taking this and that into consideration, weighing 
together dowries and religious qualifications and the 
instancy of friends, and exhibiting what M. Bun- 
gener calls ' an honourable and Christian difficulty ' 
of choice, in frigid indecisions and insincere pro- 
posals. But Knox's next letter is in a humbler 
tone; he has not found the negotiation so easy as 
he fancied ; he despairs of the marriage altogether, 
and talks of leaving England, — regards not 'what 
country consumes his wicked carcass.' 'You shall 
understand,' he says, ' that this sixth of November, 
I spoke with Sir Robert Bowes ' (the head of the 
family, his bride's uncle) ' in the matter you know, 
according to your request; whose disdainful, yea, 
despiteful, words hath so pierced my heart that my 
life is bitter to me. I bear a good countenance with 
a sore-troubled heart, because he that ought to 
consider matters with a deep judgment is become 
not only a despiser, but also a taunter of God's 
messengers — God be merciful unto him ! Amongst 
others his most unpleasing words, while that I was 

1 Works, iii. 376. 



JOHN KNOX 

about to have declared my heart in the whole 
matter, he said, " Away with your rhetorical reasons ! 
for I will not be persuaded with them." God knows 
I did use no rhetoric nor coloured speech ; but 
would have spoken the truth, and that in most 
simple manner. I am not a good orator in my own 
cause ; but what he would not be content to hear 
of me, God shall declare to him one day to his 
displeasure, unless he repent.'^ Poor Knox, you 
see, is quite commoved. It has been a very un- 
pleasant interview. And as it is the only sample 
that we have of how things went with him during 
his courtship, we may infer that the period was not 
as agreeable for Knox as it has been for some others. 
However, when once they were married, I imagine 
he and Marjorie Bowes hit it off together com- 
fortably enough. The little we know of it may be 
brought together in a very short space. She bore 
him two sons. He seems to have kept her pretty 
busy, and depended on her to some degree in his 
work; so that when she fell ill, his papers got at 
once into disorder. ^ Certainly she sometimes wrote 
to his dictation ; and, in this capacity, he calls her 
*his left hand.' 3 In June 1559, at the headiest 
moment of the Reformation in Scotland, he writes 
regretting the absence of his helpful colleague, 
Goodman, 'whose presence' (this is the not very 
grammatical form of his lament) ' whose presence 
I more thirst, than she that is my own flesh.' ^ 

1 Works, iii. 378. ^ jud. vi. 104. 

3 Ibid. V. 6. * Ibid. vi. 27. 

343 



MEN AND BOOKS 

And this, considering the source and the circum- 
stances, may be held as evidence of a very tender 
sentiment. He tells us himself in his History, on 
the occasion of a certain meeting at the Kirk of 
Field, that he was in no small heaviness by reason 
of the late death of his ' dear bedfellow, Marjorie 
Bowes.' 1 Calvin, condoling with him, speaks of her 
as 'a wife whose like is not to be found every- 
where' (that is very like Calvin), and again, as 'the 
most delightful of wives.' We know what Calvin 
thought desirable in a wife, ' good humour, chastity, 
thrift, patience, and sohcitude for her husband's 
health,' and so we may suppose that the first Mrs. 
Knox fell not far short of this ideal. 

The actual date of the marriage is uncertain ; but 
by the summer of 1554, at the latest, the Reformer 
was settled in Geneva with his wife. There is no 
fear either that he will be dull ; even if the chaste, 
thrifty, patient Marjorie should not altogether occupy 
his mind, he need not go out of the house to seek 
more female sympathy ; for behold ! Mrs. Bowes is 
duly domesticated with the young couple. Dr. 
M'Crie imagined that Richard Bowes was now dead, 
and his widow, consequently, free to Hve where she 
would ; and where could she go more naturally than 
to the house of a married daughter ? This, however, 
is not the case. Richard Bowes did not die till 
at least two years later. It is impossible to believe 
that he approved of his wife's desertion, after so 
many years of marriage, after twelve children had 

1 Works, ii. 138. 
344 



JOHN KNOX 

been born to them ; and accordingly we find in his 
will, dated 1558, no mention either of her or of 
Knox's wife.^ This is plain sailing. It is easy 
enough to understand the anger of Bowes against 
this interloper, who had come into a quiet family, 
married the daughter in spite of the father's opposi- 
tion, ahenated the wife from the husband and the 
husband's religion, supported her in a long course of 
resistance and rebellion, and, after years of intimacy, 
already too close and tender for any jealous spirit 
to behold without resentment, carried her away with 
him at last into a foreign land. But it is not quite 
easy to understand how, except out of sheer weari- 
ness and disgust, he was ever brought to agree to 
the arrangement. Nor is it easy to square the 
Reformer's conduct with his public teaching. We 
have, for instance, a letter addressed by him, Craig, 
and Spottiswood, to the Archbishops of Canterbury 
and York, anent ' a wicked and rebellious woman,' 
one Anne Good, spouse to ' John Barron, a minister 
of Christ Jesus his evangel,' who, ' after great re- 
bellion shown unto him, and divers admonitions 
given, as well by himself as by others in his name, 
that she should in no wise depart from this realm, 
nor from his house without his licence, hath not the 
less stubbornly and rebelhously departed, separated 
herself from his society, left his house, and with- 
drawn herself from this realm.' ^ Perhaps some sort 
of licence was extorted, as I have said, from Richard 

1 Mr. Laing's preface to the sixth volume of Knox's Wo^•ks, p. Ixii. 

2 Works, vi. 534. 

345 



MEN AND BOOKS 

Bowes, weary with years of domestic dissension ; 
but setting that aside, the words employed with so 
much righteous indignation by Knox, Craig, and 
Spottiswood, to describe the conduct of that wicked 
and rebelUous woman, Mrs. Barron, would describe 
nearly as exactly the conduct of the religious Mrs. 
Bowes. It is a little bewildering, until we recollect 
the distinction between faithful and unfaithful hus- 
bands ; for Barron was ' a minister of Christ Jesus 
his evangel,' while Richard Bowes, besides being 
own brother to a despiser and taunter of God's 
messengers, is shrewdly suspected to have been 'a 
bigoted adherent of the Roman Catholic faith,' or, 
as Knox himself would have expressed it, ' a rotten 
Papist.' 

You would have thought that Knox was now 
pretty well supplied with female society. But we 
are not yet at the end of the roll. The last year of 
his sojourn in England had been spent principally 
in London, where he was resident as one of the 
chaplains of Edward the Sixth ; and here he boasts, 
although a stranger, he had, by God's grace, found 
favour before many.^ The godly women of the 
metropolis made much of him ; once he writes to 
Mrs. Bowes that her last letter had found him 
closeted with three, and he and the three women 
were all in tears. ^ Out of all, however, he had 
chosen two. ' God/ he writes to them, * brought us 
in such familiar acquaintance, that your hearts were 
incensed and kindled with a special care over me, as 

1 Works, iv. 220. 2 jj^i^^ \^i gsO. 

346 



JOHN KNOX 

a mother useth to be over her natural child ; and my 
heart was opened and compelled in your presence to 
be more plain than ever I was to any.' ^ And out 
of the two even he had chosen one, Mrs. Anne 
Locke, wife to Mr. Harry Locke, merchant, nigh to 
Bow Kirk, Cheapside, in London, as the address 
runs. If one may venture to judge upon such im- 
perfect evidence, this was the woman he loved best. 
I have a difficulty in quite forming to myself an 
idea of her character. She may have been one of 
the three tearful visitors before alluded to ; she may 
even have been that one of them who was so pro- 
foundly moved by some passages of Mrs. Bowes's 
letter, which the Reformer opened, and read aloud 
to them before they went. ' O would to God,' cried 
this impressionable matron, 'would to God that I 
might speak with that person, for I perceive there 
are more tempted than I.'^ This may have been 
Mrs. Locke, as I say ; but even if it were, we must 
not conclude from this one fact that she was such 
another as Mrs. Bowes. All the evidence tends the 
other way. She was a woman of understanding, 
plainly, who followed political events with interest, 
and to whom Knox thought it worth while to write, 
in detail, the history of his trials and successes. 
She was religious, but without that morbid per- 
versity of spirit that made rehgion so heavy a 
burden for the poor-hearted Mrs. Bowes. More of 
her I do not find, save testimony to the profound 
affection that united her to the Reformer. So we 

1 Works, iv. 220. 2 jud. iii. 380. 

347 



MEN AND BOOKS 

find him writing to her from Geneva, in such terms 
as these : — * You write that your desire is earnest 
to see me. Dear sister, if I should express the thirst 
and languor which I have had for your presence, I 
should appear to pass measure. . . . Yea, I weep 
and rejoice in remembrance of you ; but that would 
evanish by the comfort of your presence, which I 
assure you is so dear to me, that if the charge of 
this httle flock here, gathered together in Christ's 
name, did not impede me, my coming should pre- 
vent my letter.' ^ I say that this was written from 
Geneva; and yet you will observe that it is no 
consideration for his wife or mother-in-law, only the 
charge of his little flock, that keeps him from setting 
out forthwith for London, to comfort himself with 
the dear presence of Mrs. Locke. Remember that 
was a certain plausible enough pretext for Mrs. 
Locke to come to Geneva — ' the most perfect school 
of Christ that ever was on earth since the days of 
the Apostles ' — for we are now under the reign of 
that ' horrible monster Jezebel of England,' when a 
lady of good orthodox sentiments was better out of 
London, It was doubtful, however, whether this 
was to be. She was detained in England, partly by 
circumstances unknown, 'partly by empire of her 
head,' Mr. Harry Locke, the Cheapside merchant. 

It is somewhat humorous to see Knox struggling 
for resignation, now that he has to do with a faithful 
husband (for Mr. Harry Locke was faithful). Had it 
been otherwise, ' in my heart,' he says, ' I could have 

1 Works, iv. 238. 



JOHN KNOX 

wished — yea,' here he breaks out, ' yea, and cannot 
cease to wish — that God would guide you to this 
place.' ^ And after all, he had not long to wait, for, 
whether Mr. Harry Locke died in the interval, or 
was wearied, he too, into giving permission, five 
months after the date of the letter last quoted, 
'Mrs. Anne Locke, Harry her son, and Anne her 
daughter, and Katharine her maid,' arrived in that 
perfect school of Christ, the Presbyterian paradise, 
Geneva. So now, and for the next two years, the 
cup of Knox's happiness was surely full. Of an 
afternoon, when the bells rang out for the sermon, 
the shops closed, and the good folk gathered to the 
churches, psalm-book in hand, we can imagine him 
drawing near to the English chapel in quite patri- 
archal fashion, with Mrs. Knox and Mrs. Bowes 
and Mrs. Locke, James his servant, Patrick his 
pupil, and a due following of children and maids. 
He might be alone at work all morning in his study, 
for he wrote much during these two years ; but at 
night, you may be sure there was a circle of admir- 
ing women, eager to hear the new paragraph, and 
not sparing of applause. And what work, among 
others, was he elaborating at this time, but the 
notorious ' First Blast ' ? So that he may have rolled 
out in his big pulpit voice, how women were weak, 
frail, impatient, feeble, foolish, inconstant, variable, 
cruel, and lacking the spirit of counsel, and how 
men were above them, even as God is above the 
angels, in the ears of his own wife, and the two 

1 Works, iv. 240. 

349 



MEN AND BOOKS 

dearest friends he had on earth. But he had lost 
the sense of incongruity, and continued to despise in 
theory the sex he honoured so much in practice, of 
whom he chose his most intimate associates, and 
whose courage he was compelled to wonder at, when 
his own heart was faint. 

We may say that such a man was not worthy of 
his fortune ; and so, as he would not learn, he was 
taken away from that agreeable school, and his 
fellowship of women was broken up, not to be re- 
united. Called into Scotland to take at last that 
strange position in history which is his best claim to 
commemoration, he was followed thither by his wife 
and his mother-in-law. The wife soon died. The 
death of her daughter did not altogether separate 
Mrs. Bowes from Knox, but she seems to have come 
and gone between his house and England. In 1562, 
however, we find him characterised as 'a sole man 
by reason of the absence of his mother-in-law, Mrs. 
Bowes,' and a passport is got for her, her man, a 
maid, and ' three horses, whereof two shall return,' 
as well as liberty to take all her own money with 
her into Scotland. This looks like a definite arrange- 
ment ; but whether she died at Edinburgh, or went 
back to England yet again, I cannot find. With 
that great family of hers, unless in leaving her hus- 
band she had quarrelled with them all, there must 
have been frequent occasion for her presence, one 
would think. Knox at least survived her ; and we 
possess his epigraph to their long intimacy, given to 
the world by him in an appendix to his latest pubh- 
350 



JOHN KNOX 

cation. I have said in a former paper that Knox 
was not shy of personal revelations in his published 
'works. And the trick seems to have grown on him. 
To this last tract, a controversial onslaught on a Scot- 
tish Jesuit, he prefixed a prayer, not very pertinent 
to the matter in hand, and containing references to 
his family which were the occasion of some wit in 
his adversary's answer ; and appended what seems 
equally irrelevant, one of his devout letters to Mrs. 
Bowes, with an explanatory preface. To say truth, 
I believe he had always felt uneasily that the circum- 
stances of this intimacy were very capable of mis- 
construction ; and now, when he was an old man, 
taking ' his good-night of all the faithful in both 
realms,' and only desirous ' that without any notable 
sclander to the evangel of Jesus Christ, he might 
end his battle ; for as the world was weary of him, 
so was he of it ; ' — in such a spirit it was not, per- 
haps, unnatural that he should return to this old 
story, and seek to put it right in the eyes of all men, 
ere he died. 'Because that God,' he says, 'because 
that God now in His mercy hath put an end to the 
battle of my dear mother. Mistress Elizabeth Bowes, 
before that He put an end to my wretched life, I 
could not cease but declare to the world what was 
the cause of our great familiarity and long acquaint- 
ance ; which was neither flesh nor blood, but a 
troubled conscience upon her part, which never suf- 
fered her to rest but when she was in the company 
of the faithful, of whom (from the first hearing of 
the word at my mouth) she judged me to be one. 

351 



MEN AND BOOKS 

. . . Her company to me was comfortable (yea, 
honourable and profitable, for she was to me and 
mine a mother), but yet it was not without some' 
cross ; for besides trouble and fashery of body sus- 
tained for her, my mind was seldom quiet, for doing 
somewhat for the comfort of her troubled con- 
science.' ^ He had written to her years before, from 
his first exile in Dieppe, that ' only God's hand ' 
could withhold him from once more speaking with 
her face to face ; and now, when God's hand has 
indeed interposed, when there lies between them, 
instead of the voyageable straits, that great gulf 
over which no man can pass, this is the spirit in 
which he can look back upon their long acquaint- 
ance. She was a religious hypochondriac, it appears, 
whom, not without some cross and fashery of mind 
and body, he was good enough to tend. He might 
have given a truer character of their friendship had 
he thought less of his own standing in public estima- 
tion, and more of the dead woman. But he was in 
all things, as Burke said of his son in that ever 
memorable passage, a public creature. He wished 
that even into this private place of his affections 
posterity should follow him with a complete ap- 
proval ; and he was willing, in order that this might 
be so, to exhibit the defects of his lost friend, and 
tell the world what weariness he had sustained 
through her unhappy disposition. There is some- 
thing here that reminds one of Rousseau. 

I do not think he ever saw Mrs. Locke after he 

1 Works, vi. 513, 514. 



JOHN KNOX 

left Geneva ; but his correspondence with her con- 
tinued for three years. It may have continued 
longer, of course, but I think the last letters we 
possess read like the last that would be written. 
Perhaps Mrs. Locke was then remarried, for there is 
much obscurity over her subsequent history. For 
as long as their intimacy was kept up, at least, the 
human element remains in the Reformer's life. 
Here is one passage, for example, the most likable 
utterance of Knox's that I can quote : — Mrs. Locke 
has been upbraiding him as a bad correspondent. 
* My remembrance of you,' he answers, ' is not so 
dead, but I trust it shall be fresh enough, albeit it be 
renewed by no outward token for one year. Of 
nature, I am churlish ; yet one thing I ashame not to 
affirm, that familiarity once thoi^oughly contracted 
was never yet broken on my default. The cause may 
be that I have rather need of all, than that any have 
need of me. However it {that) be, it cannot be, as I 
say, the corporal absence of one year or two that can 
quench in my heart that familiar acquaintance in 
Christ Jesus, which half a year did engender, and 
almost two years did nourish and confirm. And 
therefore, whether I write or no, be assuredly per- 
suaded that I have you in such memory as becometh 
the faithful to have of the faithful.'' This is the 
truest touch of personal humility that I can remem- 
ber to have seen in all the five volumes of the 
Reformer's collected works : it is no small honour to 
Mrs. Locke that his affection for her should have 

^ Works, vi. 11. 

5— z ^So 



MEN AND BOOKS 

brought home to hhn this unwonted feelmg of 
dependence upon others. Everything else in the 
course of the correspondence testifies to a good, 
sound, downright sort of friendship between the 
two, less ecstatic than it was at first, perhaps, but 
serviceable and very equal. He gives her ample 
details as to the progress of the work of reformation ; 
sends her the sheets of the Confession of Faith, * in 
quairs,' as he calls it ; asks her to assist him with her 
prayers, to collect money for the good cause in Scot- 
land, and to send him books for himself — books by 
Calvin especially, one on Isaiah, and a new revised 
edition of the Institutes. ' I must be bold on your 
liberality,' he writes, ' not only in that, but in greater 
things as I shall need.'^ On her part she applies to 
him for spiritual advice, not after the manner of the 
drooping Mrs. Bowes, but in a more positive spirit, 
— advice as to practical points, advice as to the 
Church of England, for instance, whose ritual he 
condemns as a 'mingle-mangle.'- Just at the end 
she ceases to write, sends him 'a token, without 
writing.' ' I understand your impediment,' he 
answers, * and therefore I cannot complain. Yet if 
you understood the variety of my temptations, I 
doubt not but you would have written somewhat.'^ 
One letter more, and then silence. 

And I think the best of the Reformer died out 
with that correspondence. It is after this, of course, 
that he wrote that ungenerous description of his 
intercourse with Mrs. Bowes. It is after this, also, 

^ Works, VI. 21, 101, 108, 130. 2 /jj-^. yi. 83. ^ jj;^. vi_ 120. 

354 



JOHN KNOX 

that we come to the unlovely episode of his second 
marriage. He had been left a widower at the age 
of fifty-five. Three years after, it occurred appar- 
ently to yet another pious parent to sacrifice a child 
upon the altar of his respect for the Reformer. In 
January 1563 Randolph writes to Cecil : ' Your 
Honour will take it for a great wonder when I shall 
write unto you that Mr. Knox shall marry a very 
near kinswoman of the Duke's, a Lord's daughter, a 
young lass not above sixteen years of age.'^ He 
adds that he fears he will be laughed at for reporting 
so mad a story. And yet it was true; and on 
Palm Sunday, 1564, Margaret Stewart, daughter of 
Andrew Lord Stewart of Ochiltree, aged seventeen, 
was duly united to John Knox, Minister of St. 
Giles's Kirk, Edinburgh, aged fifty-nine, — to the 
great disgust of Queen Mary from family pride, and 
I would fain hope of many others for more humane 
considerations. ' In this,' as Randolph says, ' I wish 
he had done otherwise.' The Consistory of Geneva, 
' that most perfect school of Christ that ever was on 
earth since the days of the Apostles,' were wont to 
forbid marriages on the ground of too great a dis- 
proportion in age. I cannot help wondering whether 
the old Reformer's conscience did not uneasily re- 
mind him, now and again, of this good custom of his 
religious metropolis, as he thought of the two-and- 
forty years that separated him from his poor bride. 
Fitly enough, we hear nothing of the second Mrs. 
Knox until she appears at her husband's deathbed, 

1 Works, vi. 532. 

355 



MEN AND BOOKS 

eight years after. She bore him three daughters in 
the interval ; and I suppose the poor child's martyr- 
dom was made as easy for her as might be. She was 
* extremely attentive to him ' at the end, we read ; 
and he seems to have spoken to her with some con- 
fidence. Moreover, and this is very characteristic, 
he had copied out for her use a little volume of his 
own devotional letters to other women. 

This is the end of the roll, unless we add to it 
Mrs. Adamson, who had dehghted much in his 
company *by reason that she had a troubled con- 
science,' and whose deathbed is commemorated at 
some length in the pages of his History.^ 

And now, looking back, it cannot be said that 
Knox's intercourse with women was quite of the 
highest sort. It is characteristic that we find him 
more alarmed for his own reputation than for the 
reputation of the women with whom he was familiar. 
There was a fatal preponderance of self in all his 
intimacies : many women came to learn from him, 
but he never condescended to become a learner in 
his turn. And so there is not anything idyllic in 
these intimacies of his; and they were never so 
renovating to his spirit as they might have been. 
But I believe they were good enough for the women. 
I fancy the women knew what they were about 
when so many of them followed after Knox. It is 
not simply because a man is always fully persuaded 
that he knows the right from the wrong and sees 
his way plainly through the maze of life, great 

1 Works, i. 246. 



JOHN KNOX 

qualities as these are, that people will love and 
follow him, and write him letters full of their 
' earnest desire for him ' when he is absent. It is 
not over a man, whose one characteristic is grim 
fixity of purpose, that the hearts of women are 
' incensed and kindled with a special care,' as it were 
over their natural children. In the strong quiet 
patience of all his letters to the weariful Mrs. Bowes, 
we may perhaps see one cause of the fascination he 
possessed for these religious women. Here was one 
whom you could besiege all the year round with 
inconsistent scruples and complaints ; you might 
write to him on Thursday that you were so elated it 
was plain the devil was deceiving you, and again on 
Friday that you were so depressed it was plain God 
had cast you off for ever ; and he would read all this 
patiently and sympathetically, and give you an 
answer in the most reassuring polysyllables, and all 
divided into heads — who knows ? — like a treatise on 
divinity. And then, those easy tears of his. There 
are some women who like to see men crying ; and 
here was this great-voiced, bearded man of God, 
who might be seen beating the solid pulpit every 
Sunday, and casting abroad his clamorous denuncia- 
tions to the terror of all, and who on the Monday 
would sit in their parlours by the hour, and weep 
with them over their manifold trials and tempta- 
tions. Nowadays, he would have to drink a dish of 
tea with all these penitents. ... It sounds a little 
vulgar, as the past will do, if we look into it too 
closely. We could not let these great folk of old 

357 



MEN AND BOOKS 

into our drawing-rooms. Queen Elizabeth would 
positively not be eligible for a housemaid. The old 
manners and the old customs go sinking from grade 
to grade, until, if some mighty emperor revisited the 
glimpses of the moon, he would not find any one of 
his way of thinking, any one he could strike hands 
with and talk to freely and without offence, save 
perhaps the porter at the end of the street, or the 
fellow with his elbows out who loafs all day before 
the public-house. So that this little note of vul- 
garity is not a thing to be dwelt upon ; it is to be 
put away from us, as we recall the fashion of these 
old intimacies ; so that we may only remember 
Knox as one who was very long-suffering with 
women, kind to them in his own way, loving them 
in his own way — and that not the worst way, if it 
was not the best — and once at least, if not twice, 
moved to his heart of hearts by a woman, and 
giving expression to the yearning he had for her 
society in words that none of us need be ashamed to 
borrow. 

And let us bear in mind always that the period I 
have gone over in this essay begins when the Re- 
former was already beyond the middle age, and 
already broken in bodily health : it has been the 
story of an old man's friendships. This it is that 
makes Knox enviable. Unknown until past forty, 
he had then before him five-and-twenty years of 
splendid and influential life, passed through un- 
common hardships to an uncommon degree of power, 
lived in his own country as a sort of king, and did 

358 



JOHN KNOX 

what he would with the sound of his voice out of 
the pulpit. And besides all this, such a following of 
faithful women ! One would take the first forty-two 
years gladly, if one could be sure of the last twenty- 
five. Most of us, even if, by reason of great strength 
and the dignity of grey hairs, we retain some degree 
of public respect in the latter days of our existence, 
will find a falling away of friends, and a soHtude 
making itself round about us day by day, until we 
are left alone with the hired sick-nurse. For the 
attraction of a man's character is apt to be outlived, 
like the attraction of his body ; and the power to 
love grows feeble in its turn, as well as the power to 
inspire love in others. It is only with a few rare 
natures that friendship is added to friendship, love 
to love, and the man keeps growing richer in affec- 
tion — richer, I mean, as a bank may be said to grow 
richer, both giving and receiving more — after his 
head is white and his back weary, and he prepares to 
go down into the dust of death. 



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