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Full text of "George Douglas Brown, author of "The house with the green shutters" : a biographical memoir"

GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 



GEORGE DOUGLAS 
BROWN 



AUTHOR OF 
"THE HOUSE WITH THE GREEN SHUTTERS 



A BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIR BY 
CUTHBERT LENNOX 

AND 

REMINISCENCES BY ANDREW MELROSE 



WITH INTRODUCTION BY 

ANDREW LANG 



LONDON 

HODDER AND STOUGHTON 

27, PATERNOSTER ROW 

1903 



[Copyright in the United States of America.] 



Printed by Haaell, Watson <S> Viney, Lcf., London and Aylesbury. 



PREFACE 

/^^VNE of the most notable phenomena of 
recent literary chronicle has been 
the interest manifested by the reading 
public in regard to the personality of the 
late George Douglas Brown, ever since 
his untimely death in August last. Little 
was generally known of the antecedents 
of the young Scottish novelist who, but a 
few months before, had taken the literary 
world by surprise with the publication of 
his distinctly epoch-making novel ; and 
there was no reason to expect that his 
death would arouse any wide desire for 
more information. The interest in the 



vl PREFACE 

personality of George Douglas Brown, how- 
ever, has been widespread and persistent ; 
and, as a consequence, the little that was 
known of the earlier years of the author 
of " The House with the Green Shutters " 
has been bandied about in newspaper para- 
graphs and in slenderly informed magazine 
articles, until there has been mingled with 
a modicum of truth a great deal that is 
misleading and not true. In these cir- 
cumstances, the novelist's sisters, Mrs. 
Robert Green and Miss Helen Douglas 
Brown, have recognised an unexpected call 
for an authoritative memoir of their brother ; 
and they have responded, notwithstanding 
the facts that George Douglas Brown "died 
planning his life-work," and that his fame 
must depend upon his one novel. They 
have responded the more willingly from a 
sense that the savage note in his book has 



PREFACE vii 

given to many people the erroneous idea 
that the novelist was a misanthrope. Thus 
much for the raison d'etre of the following 
pages. 

The memoir partakes of a tripartite 
character, and consists of an introduction, 
a narrative, and an epilogue. Mr. Andrew 
Lang, who was one of the earliest to re- 
cognise the undoubted literary significance 
of "The House with the Green Shutters," 
has contributed an introductory apprecia- 
tion of the novelist and his work. Mr. 
Andrew Melrose has kindly permitted the 
compilers to include in this volume his 
convincing and intimate pen-portrait of his 
friend (originally contributed to the columns 
of The Bookman), thereby enabling them to 
furnish the reader with a lifelike present- 
ment of the genial personality of George 
Douglas Brown. To the present writer 



Vlll 



PREFACE 



has been committed the task of setting 
forth, in simple narrative, the outstanding 
facts of the novelist's all-too-short life. In 
view of the contributions made by Mr. 
Lang and Mr. Melrose, he has confined 
himself within certain well-defined limits, 
but he believes that from his quota the 
reader will gain an accurate idea of the 
elements of heredity, environment, and 
training which combined to make George 
Douglas Brown the man that he was. 

It only remains to thank, on behalf of the 
compilers, the numerous relatives and others 
who have given friendly aid in the prepara- 
tion of this volume. Particularly, thanks 
are due and tendered to Mr. Andrew 
Lang for his graceful and characteristic 
introduction ; to Mr. Andrew Melrose for 
permission to reproduce his delightfully 
reminiscent sketch, which he has revised 



PREFACE ix 

and supplemented for the purpose of the 
present volume ; and to Mr. John Dixon, 
J.P., late of Cumnock, to whose unwearied 
efforts in the interest of the compilers in 
collecting facts, in sifting traditional in- 
formation, and in many other ways this 
memoir largely owes its existence. Record 
is also made of the grateful appreciation of 
help rendered by George Douglas Brown's 
teachers at Glasgow University, Professors 
Murray, Ramsay, and Jack ; by Professor 
Raleigh, the present occupant of the chair of 
English Literature at that University ; by the 
Master and Senior Dean of Balliol College, 
Oxford ; by Mr. W. H. C. Davis, Fellow of 
All Souls' College, Oxford ; by Mr. Quentin 
Aird, Mr. R. Leggat, Mr. M'Curdie, Mr. 
Wilson (Auchencloich), Mr. H. B. M'Lellan, 
and several others, all of whom have fur- 
nished reminiscences of the novelist's 



x PREFACE 

parents, and of his boyhood and early 
youth ; and by Mr. Howard Spicer, an 
intimate friend of his London years. The 
compilers' grateful acknowledgments are 
also made to the Editor of The Bookman 
for permission to reprint Mr. Andrew 
Melrose's reminiscences. 

CUTHBERT LENNOX. 

January, 1903. 



CONTENTS 



PAGE 

INTRODUCTION 3 



CHAPTER I 
KINDRED AND PARENTS 

An Interesting Stock A Circumstantial Tradition 
Robert and Margaret Nicholson The Bent- 
head Family of Browns John Nicholson 
Brown Francis Nicholson Brown George 
Douglas Brown, Senior The Author's 
Mother 25 

CHAPTER II 
BIRTH AND EARLY YEARS 

Birth Childhood Schooling Narrow Circum- 
stances Ayr Academy Influence of Parents 
Boyish Pastimes and Employment Physi- 
cal Environment Historic Associations of 
District The Land of Burns .... 45 



xii CONTENTS 

CHAPTER III 
STUDENT DAYS: GLASGOW, 1887-91 



PAGE 



Brown Matriculates at Glasgow University 
Bursary Diversions " Lodgings " Employ- 
ment in Vacations Drumsmudden's Way 
of Expressing Himself Amateur Vagrant 
Teaching at Ayr Attracts the Attention of 
Professor Murray At Castle Howard The 
Eglinton Fellowship Class Assistant The 
Snell Exhibition 59 



CHAPTER IV 
SCHOLAR AT OXFORD : 1891-5 

Course of Study and Examination at Oxford 
Brown's Tutors Recreations at Oxford He 
Misses the Inspiration of Oxford His Views 
of the Oxford Man Story of Froude, Jowett, 
and Brown Reminiscences by Mr. Davis 
Eviction of Drumsmudden Vacations 
Mother's Death The Influence of Oxford on 
Brown , 83 



CONTENTS xiii 



CHAPTER V 

JOURNALISM AND LETTERS IN LONDON 

PAGE 

Brown Settles in London Called to be a Novelist 
Keeps the Pot Boiling by Means of Jour- 
nalistic Work Father's Death "The Trium- 
virate," and Brown's Share in its Work 
"Study of Kruger" Financial Struggle 
Cheerful Notwithstanding No Misanthrope 
Love of London Pursuit of Purpose in 
Literature Mr. Whibley's Testimony The 
Essentials of Literature Brown's Literary 
Methods " Love and a Sword " . . .113 



CHAPTER VI 

"THE HOUSE WITH THE GREEN 
SHUTTERS." 

First a Short Story Its Development Publica- 
cation The Plot Origins of Material for the 
Story Public Criticism of the Book Its 
Relation to the Kailyard School The Suc- 
cess of the Book and Brown's Interest in it 
Fame ........ 141 



xiv CONTENTS 

CHAPTER VII 
GEORGE DOUGLAS, NOVELIST 

PAGE 

Ochiltree Congratulations Visit to Scotland 
Ochiltree Reunion Settles at Haslemere 
Desire for Seclusion Love of the Country 
His Second Novel Plot for a Third 
11 Hamlet " Essay Interest in the Drama and 
Poetry " The Unspeakable Scot '. . .157 



CHAPTER VIII 
DEAD ERE HIS PRIME 

Brown's Splendid Physique His Weak Spot 
Suffers from Lethargy Illness Death 
Funeral Public Shock and Distress Sense 
of Loss Obituary Appreciation . . . 175 



REMINISCENCES OF A FRIENDSHIP AND 

A NOTABLE NOVEL . . 193 



INDEX 245 



Introduction 



INTRODUCTION 

T N compliance with a request made by a 
friend of the late Mr. George Douglas 
Brown, I write a few comments on his life 
and work. His life I know only through 
the narrative of Mr. Cuthbert Lennox and 
an admirable study by Mr. Melrose in The 
Bookman. My own acquaintance with the 
author of " The House with the Green 
Shutters" was, unluckily for me, of the 
slightest. Already, in a magazine, the little 
that I have to say on this matter has been 
said, but it may be repeated, as it leads 
up to the only conclusion I had arrived at 
about Mr. Brown namely, that he and his 
genius were an interesting enigma. Thanks 

3 



4 INTRODUCTION 

to the records of Mr. Melrose and Mr. 
Lennox, one can now understand him better, 
or, at least, feel less puzzled. 

It occasionally, but rarely, falls to my lot 
to review a group of novels. One does not 
find many surprises in the course of such 
adventures. The romances, in their bright 
coloured boards, are found to fall into certain 
definite and familiar categories. There is 
the large and artless category written for 
ladies, by ladies. These probably give to 
the fair pillars or caryatides of the circulating 
libraries exactly what they desire, but the 
male reader they do not over-stimulate. 
Then there are the didactic novels. Most 
are of various colours of socialism, in some 
cases complicated with the problems attending 
the ritual of the Anglican communion. The 
" love interest " in these romances is rather 
perfunctory ; and the hero is usually knocked 



INTRODUCTION 5 

on the head in a British or foreign strike, 
much to my private satisfaction. Other 
didactic novels deal with the problems 
of Belief, and the inferences to be drawn 
from the Higher Criticism, as apprehended 
through liberal manuals of devotion and 
the monthly magazines. Personally I prefer 
to take my Higher Criticism "neat," and 
from the fountain heads, rather than from 
didactic novels. Then there is the improper 
didactic, on the merits of simple and com- 
pound adultery, and of any more esoteric 
vices which the author may have picked 
up in the course of her study or practice. 
These fictions, to my private taste, are un- 
alluring. Not much more attractive are 
most of the historical novels, by persons of 
genius, perhaps, but certainly not by experts 
in historical research. There are also slum 
novels, which are a sub-class of the didactic, 



6 INTRODUCTION 

and there are novels that "stand in a false 
following of" Mr. George Meredith, things 
of portentously affected dulness. There are 
novels about the vices of Society, which, 
as we have the newspapers always with 
us, appear rather luxuries than necessaries. 
There are detective novels, which, unlike the 
other kinds, "are not literature," but com- 
pared with the others may occasionally be 
readable. There are other kinds. And, 
there are, happily, a few novels every year, 
by real novelists, of whom I could gratefully 
mention at least two dozen, but to name 
them might be invidious. 

When a man has made his way through 
a wilderness of the novels which fall into 
the categories already enumerated, when he 
has totally rejected some, and conscientiously 
said his say about others, and finds one 
remaining, signed by a name unknown in 



INTRODUCTION 7 

literature, though thoroughly familiar in 
history George Douglas he regards that 
work askance, and almost with aversion. In 
such a spirit I took up " The House with the 
Green Shutters." I knew, as any reviewer 
of experience must have known, that behind 
the green shutters foul unnatural murder 
would be done. However, in the modern 
fiction of every day, murder is almost a 
virtue ; besides, there might perhaps be 
a ghost in the tale ; certainly, I thought, 
a detective. So I opened the book. 

In five minutes I found myself where 
the Jacobite exile of the song desired to 
be "in my ain countrie," benorth Tweed. 
This, in itself, is not unusual in novels. I 
have not hitherto mentioned "the Kailyard 
school." That school, I venture to assert, 
has, by dint of a clever nickname, come to 
be unduly despised, en masse, by persons of 



8 INTRODUCTION 

culture ; I mean of the kind of culture that 
is the child, not of education, not of ex- 
perience, but of casual veerings of opinion. 
You may call Burns and Hogg Kailyard 
poets. You may call Scott's best passages 
of rural life and character and most of Gait 
" Kailyard." Nicknames, like blank verse, 
are " not argument." Many excellent, some 
really admirable, works have been executed 
by Kailyarders. Not all of them " wallow 
naked in the pathetic," or serve up death- 
bed scenes. Were it not for Dickens, one 
might say that no great novelist wallows 
in the pathetic, or revels in death-beds. If 
one must be plain, I think that the Kail- 
yarders give us more of actual humanity 
than Mr. Brown chose to do in his one 
novel ; but to this matter I return. 

At all events, though the scene was in 
Scotland, the novel had nothing of the Kail- 



INTRODUCTION 9 

yard. It was urban ; in what an urbs \ A 
little Scottish town, with the most fresh and 
pleasing nature visible from all the streets, 
with blue hills, and those waters which are 
the dearest of things to the Scot, with woods 
of summer such was Barbie. It reminded 
one of half a dozen such little towns, the 
inhabitants whereof, on a Sunday, you may 
see congregated at street corners, " wasting 
their mercies." " The Devil made the country 
town," some one says, and he certainly made 
the town of the novel. But the atmosphere, 
so to speak, was true Scottish, and one had 
seen the shops, the carts, the straggling 
irregular houses, the ups and downs of grass- 
fringed streets, and the bodies daidling about 
them, observant of infinitely minute trifles, 
avid of local gossip. 

Barbie was just about to be dragged, or 
to project herself, into the great cosmic 



io INTRODUCTION 

movement The railway was coming ; coal- 
mines were at hand ; the bodies did not 
speak Scots so much as a hideously deformed 
English. Then the detestable people took 
hold of one, with their naked selfishness 
" Where do I come in ? " is their slogan ; 
with their grudgingness, their eTriycupeKaicia 
(the Germans have a word for it, the joy in 
other people's troubles : Schadenfreude] ; with 
their invincible ignorance of good motives ; 
their niggling ingenuity in finding bad 
motives ; their sleepless envy. I scarcely 
know why I should think that these are the 
vices of a little Scottish country town : 
certainly it is not from personal experience. 
But they seemed to be accurately portrayed, 
these features of character ; and in contrast 
with the peddling devilry of the deacons and 
traders, the bold, big bully and king of 
Barbie seemed relatively amiable. He rather 



INTRODUCTION n 

trampled on his neighbours like an elephant, 
than tormented them with poisoned pin- 
pricks. He was odious in a more lordly 
way, and more hated for his success, his green 
shutters, his bright poker (here, clearly, was 
the tool for the murder), than for his brutality. 

So one read on, and found none righteous ; 
no, not one. The Burns-loving baker seemed 
least alien from humanity ; but one conceived 
that the author, whoever he might be, had 
suffered a good deal from "Burns's blethering 
bitches," the wrong set of his admirers. 

Every one who glances at this page will 
remember the other characters the helpless, 
hapless wife ; the dying daughter, stunted 
and plain ; the useless son, with his spark of 
genius a wonderful invention ; the minister, 
peerless in his stupidity and conceit ; the 
fuddled, whiskyfied laird (in whom, given 
the period, I never could believe) ; the 



12 INTRODUCTION 

mischievous, wanton schoolboys, as envious 
as their parents ; the cleverer and meaner 
rogue who ruins the town bully the whole 
pack of them without a righteous Lot (Lot's 
righteousness is inconspicuous) in the whole 
odious hive. There is not a gentleman or 
a lady in whatever rank, though among the 
poor of Scotland there are many with the 
hearts and manners of true gentlemen and 
ladies. The vulgar students, "ragging" 
their professor, have all the exuberant and 
brazen blatancy of the unlicked Scottish 
young cub at his worst, without any of 
his qualities. There is not a pretty face in 
the book : nothing at all of beauty except 
the landscape, which affords a momentary 
relief. As for the harrowing conclusion, 
when nakedly set down in an abstract it 
is much less terrible than grotesque. In 
brief, the pessimism, the blackness, was all 



INTRODUCTION 13 

that my soul detests ; yet I read on and on ; 
after the clock struck the hour of retiring. 
Now, if a book seizes hold of you like 
this, there is something not common in 
the book. It offended, but conquered, mon 
naturel. 

The effect was that, knowing " every fellow 
likes a hand," as Mr. Henry Foker says, 
especially every beginner, I took my courage 
in both hands, and wrote a note to Mr. Brown. 
It was merely to say that his book had 
much interested me, though I had a childish 
preference for novels about wigs on the green 
and swords in the sun. He replied that he 
had it in his mind to do something more 
cheerful, and that, whenever he wanted to 
relieve the gloom of his first story, the memory 
of another writer came across him, and he 
determined to portray Scots who were not 
like that other author's Caledonian peasantry. 



14 INTRODUCTION 

We met later, at a club, but then I went 
north, and, except for a letter in which 
Mr. Brown gave me some news of the pro- 
gress of his tale in public favour, I heard 
no more of him till the telegram which 
was carried by a barefoot little messenger 
across Lismore brought the news of his 
death. 

Thus I cannot speak of him from personal 
knowledge. We were both Balliol men ; 
both had profited by the endowment of 
John Snell, Esq., like better scholars than 
either of us Adam Smith, Lockhart, and 
many others. A story is told in Mr. 
Lennox's narrative which implies Mr. 
Brown's lack of beauty. He was no more 
an Adonis than most of the sex ; his brow 
appeared to be heavy, as it were, and to 
give a somewhat pensive and melancholy 
cast to his features. One could not have 



INTRODUCTION 15 

guessed that his youth had been so much 
unlike that of most undergraduates as 
Mr. Lennox's narrative tells, but clearly 
his life had not been altogether sunny. He 
did not show more reserve than is natural 
and usual on meeting several strangers, 
most of them much his seniors. Two of 
the party had been engaged in the Boer 
War ; one was returning as chief of Lord 
Kitchener's staff, one was a learned historian ; 
and, with these and other guests, I could 
not have much conversation with Mr. Brown. 
The enigma, of course, was, how so young 
a man, except in an old Scots phrase, " for 
the fashion," could take such a gloomy 
view of life anywhere as he took in his 
novel. The answer which occurs to one, 
after reading Mr. Lennox's account of his 
roseate view of Bayswater, is that the 
blackness of Barbie was a mere artistic 



16 INTRODUCTION 

convention. All Scots are not humorous, 
brave, beautiful, pious, and self-denying, as 
they are absurdly said to be represented 
by the Kailyarders. Yet, perhaps, these 
pleasing characteristics of the race are 
rather exaggerated by some Kailyarders, 
while the other side the seamy side is 
comparatively neglected. Now it is true, 
and Mr. Brown would not have denied it, 
that our Scottish reserve is often tempered 
by unexpected and rather unwelcome effu- 
siveness. Many of our writers have a sort 
of sentiment that utters itself with the 
unction of the pulpit There is a kind of 
Dr. Chalmers-ish element in the minor 
national literature. It corresponds to a 
mood, just as Burns's pious Saturday night 
of the cottager corresponds to a mood of 
Burns's mind. This kind of emotion, so 
prevalent in Scotland, is kept out of Barbie, 



INTRODUCTION 17 

yet it must have been there. It is omitted, 
everything not evil is omitted, and this 
could only be of set purpose. There is 
also a kind of " blethering " humour, by 
which the speaker or author lets his mind 
meander freely in a tedious, half-jocose, 
half-melancholy manner in metaphysics and 
human fortunes, apparently hoping to hit 
on something good, somewhere. Nobody at 
Barbie does that. In short, these minor, 
but not wholly unamiable Caledonian foibles 
are as much absent as generous deeds or 
emotions. 

A young man who had the humour, 
and good humour, to take pleasure in con- 
templating the housewives of Bayswater 
must inevitably have found and recognised 
still more agreeable things in the neighbour- 
hood of Ochiltree. The very name is 
agreeable, so charged with memories of the 

2 



i8 INTRODUCTION 

old Stewarts of Ochiltree, the pious old con- 
spirator and friend of Knox ; his daughter, 
Knox's child-bride ; his son, the great 
soldier of fortune, who dragged down Morton, 
who was the hammer of the preachers 
of these people, and of the Lollards of 
Kyle, the name of Ochiltree reminds a 
man. I doubt not that honest men and 
bonnie lasses abound ; they do at Ballantrae, 
the only place in the shire with which I 
am familiar. Mr. Brown, wandering as a 
tramp where Louis Stevenson had tramped 
before, must have met plenty of good 
kind folk, and his black descriptions were 
a freak or sport of fancy. " It's ugly, but 
is it art?" I think it is art, but freakish, 
and, to use a Scots word for our national 
characteristic, it is " thrawn." We are not 
a gracious people, south of the Highland 
line. Mr. Brown's was a " thrawn " picture 



INTRODUCTION 19 

of his countryside, not like the pictures of 
Gait and Scott, which remain the best. 

But the pleasant thing to remember is 
that his countryside did not resent Barbie. 
Mr. Brown returned thither in a halo of 
heroism, and enjoyed himself. Compare 
the fortunes of Mr. Henry James ! He 
drew in " Daisy Miller " a picture of a pretty, 
kind, rather trivial, and quite untrained 
girl, au fond, a bewitching girl, and was 
accused of libelling American maidenhood ! 
At Barbie they were not so absurdly touchy. 
The town band there did not turn out to 
welcome young men who got college prizes ; 
that we learn from the novel. I dare say 
Barbie thought very little of these dis- 
tinctions. But the local heart was clearly 
in the right place ; and Mr. Brown had 
reason to know it. 

For the rest, he, like many Scots, went 



20 INTRODUCTION 

to Oxford too late, and there had to do 
the work which he was already weary of, 
and he was poor, and he had the rooms 
in which another Scot, a friend of mine, was 
buried, as a freshman. These rooms ought 
to be condemned. Thus I fear that Mr. 
Brown's time at Oxford was wasted. He 
might have got a first and a fellowship, but 
he did not choose to take the trouble. He, 
like other young Scots of my acquaintance, 
was totally indifferent to money and money- 
making. Unlike Mr. Stevenson (who cer- 
tainly was no money-grubber), he could 
have made himself very comfortable by the 
pen of the journalist. As an old pressman, 
I confess that I could not write a " leader- 
note" without enjoying the doing of it, 
whether the public enjoyed the reading of 
it or not. But Mr. Brown had not this 



INTRODUCTION 21 

unusual privilege of nature. Clearly he 
liked his own untrammelled way, and the 
society of his own thoughts. He even liked 
London. Doubtless he was happy enough 
in his own fashion. One is not to think 
of him as a gloomy misanthrope. Literature 
in itself was his constant joy, though he 
appears to have been rather exclusive in 
his choice of books : a deep, not a wide 
reader. He had friends to his heart's desire. 
Then he won a triumph, and the Fates, 
with shears kind or abhorrent who can 
tell ? cut his thin-spun thread. 

In thinking of him and reading about 
him, I am reminded of two others who 
never reached success, and of one who did 
Thomas Davidson (the Scottish Probationer) ; 
R. F. Murray, the student poet of the 
scarlet gown, and Robert Louis Stevenson. 



22 INTRODUCTION 

It is natural to regret that Mr. Stevenson 
never met Mr. Brown : often, on a hundred 
occasions, one misses him, and his power 
of appreciating interesting things and men. 
" They all are gone into the world of 

light." 

A. LANG. 



Kindred and Parents 



CHAPTER I 

KINDRED AND PARENTS 

^EORGE DOUGLAS BROWN sprang 
from an interesting stock ; and some 
account of his kindred and parents may 
fittingly precede the narrative of his life. 

The remotest known progenitor of the 
subject of this memoir was a certain Susie 
Douglas, who, according to a most circum- 
stantial tradition, was the child of a member 
of a noble Scottish family of ancient renown, 
and of a daughter of an old Ayrshire family 
of landed proprietors. Begotten outwith the 
bounds of the ceremonial law, Susie Douglas 
enjoyed the affectionate care and upbringing 
25 



26 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

bestowed upon her by foster parents, who 
belonged to the rank of Scottish yeomen ; 
and in due course she was married to one 
who occupied the same station in life 
Nicholson by name. Of the descendants of 
this union (children or grandchildren, it is 
understood) we next hear of Robert Nichol- 
son and Margaret Nicholson, brother and 
sister. Robert Nicholson was factor to the 
Ayrshire laird of Ballochmyle, and tenant 
in the farm of Kingencleuch, at Mauchline. 
He was evidently a man of considerable 
ability, and found scope for literary expres- 
sion in writing frequently for the newspapers. 
Margaret (or Peggy) Nicholson married 
George Brown, tenant of the farm of Bent- 
head, in the parish of Sorn, and became 
the mother of a family of six sons and one 
daughter. 

Two sons, Alexander and John, born in 



KINDRED AND PARENTS 27 

1802 and 1805 respectively, died in infancy. 
The other children, in the order of their 
birth, were John Nicholson, Mungo, Francis 
Nicholson, George Douglas, and Helen Hood. 
All have left a reputation for distinctive 
ability and character according to the fire- 
side traditions of Kyle, not to speak of 
more exact records available. " The Browns 
were all clever," and as they belong to the 
generation immediately preceding that of 
the subject of this memoir, the story 
of their achievements may not be out of 
place here. 

John Nicholson Brown was born in 1806. 
His parents' circumstances would appear to 
have been somewhat narrow, for he had little 
schooling of the ordinary sort, spending only 
eighteen short months at Sorn parish school, 
acquiring the art of writing in company 
with his brother Frank by using a charred 



28 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

stick for a pencil, and carrying his books 
with him when herding his parent's sheep 
on Blaksey Den Hill, part of the farm of 
Benthead. According to a memorial tablet 
in Sorn Kirkyard, he was " a self-taught man." 
"He supported himself from the age of 
eight," and "devoted his leisure hours from 
daily toil to pursuit of self-acquired know- 
ledge." 

Visiting occasionally at his uncle's house 
at Ballochmyle, the eager lad made the 
acquaintance of a cook or housekeeper who 
had travelled abroad with the Ballochmyle 
family. He learned from her a number of 
French words, and conceived an ambition 
to learn the French language. In this pursuit 
he must have been conspicuously successful, 
for, in or about 1828, at the early age of 
twenty-one, he made his way to Paris, and 
found there congenial occupation as a teacher 



KINDRED AND PARENTS 29 

of the English language. The Sorn tablet 
records the fact that he taught in some of 
the first families of France, and was eventu- 
ally appointed a professor in the College of 
St. Barbe, in Paris. 

Reputed to have been one of the most 
handsome men in Ayrshire, John Nicholson 
Brown married his cousin, Susie Nicholson, 
to whom tradition accords the possession 
of distinctive beauty. Two children were 
born of the marriage, but they were left 
fatherless at a tender age. Knowledge and 
advancement in life had been acquired at 
too great an expenditure of vital energy, 
and John Nicholson Brown died in 1841, 
at the early age of thirty-four. 

This eldest son of Benthead combined 
literary ambition with his other gifts and 
qualities. Years after, his nephew, George 
Douglas Brown, rummaging in a box of 



30 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

books that had belonged to his uncle, dis- 
covered the manuscripts of two works in 
an advanced state of preparation for the 
press. One was a novel, the plot of which 
was based upon the circumstantial tradition 
concerning the begetting of Susie Douglas, 
already referred to. The other manuscript 
work dealt with political and educational 
matters, and was found to have advocated 
reforms which have only in recent years 
approved themselves generally and received 
legislative sanction. " This man has seen 
a bit before him," said George Douglas 
Brown. " Things are coming to pass now 
as he had foreseen." 

Of Mungo Brown, the second of the 
Benthead family to reach manhood, there 
is less to tell. Born in 1809, ne na d the 
same hardships to face as had his brothers, 
but his tastes lay in the direction of his 



KINDRED AND PARENTS 31 

greatest opportunities, and he qualified 
himself for the occupation of a farmer ; 
becoming eventually the tenant of Bogwood, 
near Mauchline, and acting also as factor 
for the laird of Nether-Place. 

Francis Nicholson Brown, born in 1811, 
was more of a mind with his brother John, 
and his schooling was of the same rude 
sort. With him the thirst for books and 
intellectual faring was quite as strong, and 
he was able at an early age to undertake 
the work of teaching in his native parish. 
But he had scarcely attained the age of 
twenty-three before he, too, in 1834, made 
his way to Paris, in search of occupation 
similar to that which his brother had found. 
He used to tell a curious story of his first 
introduction. Returning at night to the 
inn in Paris at which he had taken up his 
temporary quarters, when he sought his 



32 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

room he found his bed occupied by a 
stranger. Rather than disturb the intruder, 
he made shift elsewhere for the night, and 
in the morning received the grateful thanks 
of the abb6, who had mistaken his room. 
Learning the object of the young Scot's 
journey to Paris, the abbe furnished him 
with an introduction to the family of General 
the Marquis de Lafayette. " I send you," 
he wrote, " a young Scotsman who carries 
his passport upon his forehead." From 
that time forth, he found constant and 
congenial occupation in teaching English 
in seminaries and families in Paris, and in 
reading English with literary men. It is 
said that he had considerable success in 
this work, and "had his pupils speaking 
English in a few days." There is also an 
unconfirmed tradition that he taught in the 
family of Louis Philippe itself. He conceived 



KINDRED AND PARENTS 33 

a strong sympathy with the educated 
Frenchman ; and, notwithstanding the death 
of his brother in 1841, and the social and 
political unrest which found expression in 
the deposition of Charles X. in 1830, and 
the subsequent abdication of Louis Philippe 
and restoration of the Republic in 1848, 
he continued his professional work in Paris 
until 1851, when the Coup cTEtat seemed 
to forebode further social upheavals altogether 
hurtful to his interests. He abandoned 
Paris, and returned to Scotland, where he 
sought and found in Edinburgh a sphere of 
professional activity as a teacher of French. 
Within a short time he secured a number of 
important engagements, and acted as French 
master at George Watson's College, Stewart's 
Hospital, the Trades Maidens' Hospital, the 
Church of Scotland Training College for 
Teachers, and a number of private schools. 

3 



34 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

During fourteen busy years, Francis Brown 
pursued his calling in Edinburgh, finding 
domestic happiness in marriage with Miss 
Armour, and enjoying intimate social and 
intellectual intercourse with many of the 
professional men in the city among others, 
the well-known Dr. Lee of Greyfriars and 
Dr. Currie, rector of the Church of Scotland 
Training College. In 1865, he developed 
serious heart disease, and, after a lingering 
illness, died on December nth in that 
year. 

There is a contemporary portrait of Francis 
Nicholson Brown in the obituary notice 
which Dr. Currie contributed to the columns 
of the Scotsman at the time. The following 
extracts may be quoted from Dr. Currie's 
tribute to his friend : 

" A residence of seventeen years in Paris 
and in such circumstances could not fail 



KINDRED AND PARENTS 35 

to leave a deep impression on the mind of 
one endowed with so quick an observation 
and so discriminating a judgment in matters 
of life, and with so lively an appreciation 
of the higher qualities of manhood. But 
while it gave him the vivacity, the liberality, 
the enlarged sympathies and information, 
and the power of clear and pointed conversa- 
tion, which belong to a French gentleman, 
it did not weaken by one iota the intellectual 
muscle and fibre, the perfervidum ingenium, 
the mass and momentum of character, which 
his native Ayrshire gave him ; so that on 
his return to this country, his friends, old 
and new, were delighted to find in him so 
striking and pleasant a harmony of the best 
points in the national character of both 
countries. . . . For literature particularly 
poetry and for history, he had very keen 
susceptibilities. To say that he was familiar 



36 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

with the masterpieces of both countries is 
to say but little ; could we imagine that 
by some fatality our own Shakespeare, 
Scott, Byron, and Burns, and their counter- 
parts in France, from Moliere to Bdranger, 
had been lost, few men alive could have 
done more to replace them from memory. 
A catholic sympathy for letters, a sound 
and penetrating critical instinct, a singular 
strength and clearness of conception, a never- 
failing freshness of feeling, and a power and 
propriety in speech such as we commonly 
look for in written composition alone, 
enabled him to discourse to sympathetic 
listeners of literary characteristics with the 
insight and, at times, the fervour of a seer ; 
and in the sphere of history of French 
history particularly, which he had studied 
by the strong light of sympathy and 
acquaintance with the current life of the 



KINDRED AND PARENTS 37 

people the sweep and essential soundness 
of his judgments were not more a source 
of instruction to his friends, than the truly 
dramatic power of his descriptions was their 
delight. But there was a higher charm 
for them than even these qualities, in the 
nobleness and simplicity of his whole nature. 
Ever generous, ever unselfish, alike in the 
bloom of his strength and under a severe 
malady, which wore out the body but could 
not cloud the soul, his first thoughts were 
of others, his last of himself. He was of 
those rare spirits before whom anything that 
was mean, petty, or ambiguous soon came 
to feel itself uneasy and abashed. It was 
this that made his presence elevating while 
he lived, and that will make his memory a 
precious possession to many now that he 
is gone." 

Helen Hood Brown, the only girl in the 



38 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

family at Benthead, was born in 1815. For 
her, too, mental culture had its fascina- 
tion ; as, in her earlier womanhood, she 
kept a school, and acquired the reputation 
of being an exceptionally clever woman. 
Eventually she became the wife of Ivy 
Campbell Sloan, a Scotsman who had 
amassed a considerable fortune in some 
line of business in Australia. Mrs. Sloan 
died at Catrine at the age of fifty-four. 

GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN, senior, the 
father of the subject of this sketch, was 
born on July 2nd, 1813, and was thus the 
youngest of the sons at Benthead. His 
father died while George was still very 
young, and the boy was shut in to the 
necessity of helping his mother to complete 
the tack or lease in Benthead, and there- 
after to make a livelihood at the cottage 
in the village of Sorn to which she removed 



KINDRED AND PARENTS 39 

at the expiry of the lease. For a good 
many years after he reached manhood, and 
after Benthead had been given up, George 
kept a horse and cart, and did jobbing 
work as a carting contractor. Then Ivy 
Campbell Sloan came home with a stout 
purse, and did much to alter the situation. 
Having built a cottage at Catrine, and 
removed thither not only his wife, but his 
mother-in-law, he set George free to make 
shift for himself, and even advanced him 
money towards the stocking of a farm. 
In or about 1861 the farm of Drumsmudden, 
in the parish of Ochiltree, was taken by 
George, and the district of Sorn knew him 
no more. 

The farm was one of about two hundred 
acres. It was worked by a single pair 
of horses, as it consisted chiefly of rough 
grazing land. With a byre of about thirty 



40 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

cows, it was, like many of its neighbours, 
principally a dairy farm, producing milk, 
butter, and cheese. 

As a farmer, " Drumsmudden," or <c 'Smud- 
den " for short as he was colloquially styled 
stood well in the eyes of his neighbours, 
and his credit was good. But, over and 
above this, he shared in the " cleverness " 
with which the Brown family was endowed. 
He was reckoned one of the best educated 
men in the Ochiltree and Cumnock district 
" He gave ample evidence of being well 
informed and deeply read," says one who 
had intimate business relations with him 
over a long period of years. " He was a 
clever man," says another, and "clever" is 
the word almost uniformly used by those 
who knew him well, when they seek to 
convey an impression of his alertness of 
intellect, breadth of outlook, and wealth of 



KINDRED AND PARENTS 41 

information on all conceivable topics. His 
tastes were not literary, like those of his 
brothers John and Frank ; but, if other 
proof were lacking, there is circumstantial 
evidence that he was no mere clodhopper, 
in the fact that in his early years he 
visited his brothers in Paris. There his 
pranks and pliskies sorely perplexed his 
hosts, and they greatly feared that, from 
sheer desire to tease them, he would get 
himself into some mischief with the civil 
authorities. Drumsmudden was of slight 
build, and in stature he was below rather 
than above the average height ; his features 
were small and sharp, his hair was dark, 
and his eyes were black and keen, and 
full of meaning. 

It only remains to speak of the mother 
of the subject of this memoir. She was the 
daughter of an Irishman of the name of 



42 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

Gemmel, who had lived in Ochiltree for a 
generation. Quiet in manner, she was above 
the average height, had ruddy fair hair, 
and bluish eyes. A capable woman, very 
managing and very saving, she was an 
expert in all the arts of housewifery and 
in the craft of the dairy. Possessing mental 
qualities of no ordinary kind, brave and 
courageous, she was withal kind of heart 
and ready of sympathy. 



Birth and Early Years 



43 



CHAPTER II 

BIRTH AND EARLY YEARS 

DOUGLAS BROWN, sec- 

undus, " Drumsmudden's " eldest son, 
was born at Ochiltree on January 26th, 
1869. By general account, he bore a close 
resemblance to his father in features, in 
build, and in temperament. But in the 
natural course of things, it was to his mother 
that he was indebted for the earliest forma- 
tive influences of his life, and between 
mother and son there was founded a strong 
and enduring mutual affection and regard. 

There is little to record of Geordie's 
earliest days, but those who knew him as 

45 



46 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

a " wee laddie " speak of him as having 
been a conspicuously bright-tempered child. 
Handy and ready-witted, he was always 
the best of company, even for those who 
were a good many years his senior. 

Geordie laid the foundations of his ele- 
mentary education at the village school. 
He was willing and eager, and when he 
passed on to school in the adjacent parish 
of Coylton, his teacher, Mr. Smith, found 
no difficulty in stimulating his desire for 
learning, and carrying him forward without 
hindrance to a pass in the sixth standard, 
then the exit qualification in schools under 
the Scottish Education Department. His 
former schoolmates remember, with a sus- 
picion of unconscious envy, that it cost 
Geordie no effort to learn his lessons. He 
stood well in all his classes, and, in conse- 
quence, was never in his teacher's bad books. 



BIRTH AND EARLY YEARS 47 

One suggestive reminiscence of those days 
is that he seemed to prefer the company 
of a " penny dreadful " to that of his play- 
mates. 

Mr. Smith has put it upon record that 
Geordie, even in these early days, distin- 
guished himself by the ready facility with 
which he overtook the weekly task of written 
composition required from his class. His 
essays were easily the best in the class. 
His schoolmates were the first to acknow- 
ledge this, and used to listen with delight 
when Geordie's latest effusion was read 
aloud. These essays were frequently con- 
cluded or supplemented by a short effort 
in verse composition, in one or other of the 
stanzas in which Burns had proved the 
tunefulness of the Scots vernacular. 

Most boys arrive at an early decision as 
to the vocation in life that they would follow 



48 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

by preference, and Geordie seems to have 
expressed, at one time or another, a vague 
desire to become a school inspector ; but, 
when he had passed the sixth standard 
with Mr. Smith at Coylton in 1881, and 
had later received supplementary tuition 
for short periods from Mr. Hyslop at Cron- 
berry, and Mr. Andrew at Ochiltree, it 
appeared for a time that he had reached 
the limit of his proper schooling. His 
parents had no margin of income that would 
provide for more than bare necessities, and 
for a couple of years Geordie earned his 
livelihood by the use of his hands, being 
employed for some time at the pit-head 
at Trabbock, in the uninteresting work of 
picking stones and other objectionable 
material from among the coal as it came 
from the pit. 

But one day Geordie heard that a school- 



BIRTH AND EARLY YEARS 49 

mate, whose parents were in no better 
circumstances than his own, had gone to 
the famous secondary school, Ayr Academy, 
and his ambition prompted him to suggest 
that he should be sent to Ayr also. An 
interview with Mr. Maybin, then, and still, 
rector of the academy, resulted in an 
arrangement that the boy should have his 
opportunity. For six months or so after 
he had gone to the academy he did little 
to justify the parental self-denial and the 
generosity of Mr. Maybin that had made 
his schooling at Ayr at all possible. At 
this time he happened to overhear a con- 
versation between the rector and one of 
the masters, and learned that they considered 
it hopeless to keep him longer at school 
unless he showed signs of better work. 
When the conversation between the teachers 
resulted in his being asked to write an 

4 



50 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

essay, it was found that the boy's pride 
and ambition had received the necessary 
stimulus, and he displayed in the execution 
of his task so promising a grasp of literature 
that all thought of sending him down was 
abandoned. 

From that date, George " worked like a 
trooper," with the result that, among many 
talented schoolfellows, he took a conspicu- 
ously successful place, and eventually carried 
everything before him, only missing the blue 
ribbon of the school the Cowan Gold Medal 
on account of his deficiency in mathematical 
scholarship. To-day Mr. Maybin looks back 
upon George Douglas Brown as one of his 
most brilliant pupils. Mr. Gemmell, now rector 
of Greenock Academy, recalls the remarkable 
individuality and excellence of his English 
essays. These were distinguished by the 
sequence and originality of their propositions, 



BIRTH AND EARLY YEARS 51 

by their effective and truthful descriptions 
of places and people, and by their evidence 
of an unusually well-developed faculty for 
minute observation. In one of these essays 
he displayed a remarkably matured and 
original perception of the quality and scope 
of the poetry of Burns; and in another, 
still remembered by his teacher, he gave 
a vivid picture of the High Street of Ayr on 
a Saturday night, and particularly of a local 
character an Irish street singer. George 
was not slow to acknowledge the value of 
the benefits he received in Ayr Academy. 
" To it," he afterwards said, " I owe every- 
thing that I am." 

No boy is exactly what his schoolmasters 
make him. There are other formative in- 
fluences which exercise at least an equal 
power in the development of temperament 
and character. In George Douglas Brown's 



52 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

case, these influences were peculiarly rich 
and potent. There was the intercourse with 
his parents, both people of marked character, 
and with the sons of the soil in his neighbour- 
hood ; there was the pleasantly picturesque 
environment of the district of Kyle ; there 
were the personal and historical associations 
which coloured the past of almost every 
object upon which the eye could alight for 
miles around. 

It has been seen how closely knit were 
the ties of natural affection between mother 
and son. Of his father, George was very 
proud, and once remarked with boyish 
finality : "He is the cleverest man I ever met 
with." At another time, he said of his parents, 
that they were the only two people in the 
world for him. 

At Drumsmudden, when school vacations 
permitted, George occupied a garret as a 



BIRTH AND EARLY YEARS 53 

study; but he was more frequently to be 
found in the field, lending a hand to Geordie 
Miller or " Henry " as they went about their 
work. He was companionable with every- 
body, and had a fair share of boyish mis- 
chievousness. On one occasion, " when he 
was a lump of a boy at school," he stood 
up on the corn chest in the stable and 
delivered a prayer that, in Geordie Miller's 
opinion, was equal to anything he had ever 
heard from a pulpit. Then he assumed the 
role of advocate and judge, and tried Henry 
for an imagined murder, found him guilty, 
and condemned him to death. And yet, 
even in these days, with all his lightness 
and cleverness, he was very reticent upon 
first acquaintance, until the preliminaries of 
conversation had thawed the ice. 

In Ayrshire, and, in particular, in the 
more immediate neighbourhood of Ochiltree, 



54 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

the landscape is charmingly picturesque, both 
in its wider prospects and in detail. Moor- 
land and pasture, arable land and richly 
wooded country, pleasantly diversify the 
scenery. The countryside is watered and 
drained by streams and rivers whose banks 
abound in leafy shades and secluded nooks ; 
where the wanderer may enjoy " the dim, 
delicious greenness that comes down through 
the spring foliage " ; while the undulations 
of its surface deliver its roads from the least 
impression of monotony. The wayfarer is 
enabled at one point to observe the clouds 
billowing over a wide expanse of sky, and 
note the conspicuous landmarks for many 
miles around : farther on, perhaps only half 
a mile away, he is shut in to the contempla- 
tion of a substantial farm-steading, with 
well-filled stackyard, and whitewashed walls, 
dazzlingly clean. Fecund nature responds 



BIRTH AND EARLY YEARS 55 

to the cheerful rays of the sun, and every- 
where the colour note is rich and unstrained. 
For a boy with the gift of observation, an 
environment like this was bound to afford 
artistic education of a generous sort. 

This part of the country, too, abounds 
in historical and literary associations well 
calculated to stir the patriot soul, and fire 
the ambition of youth. Ayrshire, doubtless 
on account of its fertile land and convenient 
seaboard, was one of the earliest anchorages 
for civilised and settled habitation in Scotland, 
and no square mile is without some ruins 
to tell of its long history tumulus, or castle, 
or religious house, or baronial fortalice. 
Memories of the earliest Scottish kings, of 
Wallace, and of Bruce haunt the district ; 
and later centuries have contributed their 
share. John Knox and Bloody Grahame of 
Claverhouse got their respective wives from 



56 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

Ochiltree House ; James Boswell entertained 
Dr. Johnson at Auchinleck House ; William 
Murdock, the inventor of coal gas as an 
illuminant, made his first experiments in 
a cave near Auchinleck ; John Gait, the 
novelist, was a native of Irvine, and won 
fame from his pictures of the circumscribed 
life of just such towns and villages as 
abound in Ayrshire. But the chiefest interest 
of all is doubtless found in the fact that 
this is par excellence the land of Burns. 
Mossgiel lies above Mauchline, within sight 
of "the cornfields of Ochiltree," and the 
countryside abounds in associations with 
incidents in the everyday life of this most 
human of great bards. 

In this environment, George Douglas 
Brown spent the whole of the first eighteen 
years of his life. 



Student Days : Glasgow, 

1887-91 



57 



CHAPTER III 
STUDENT DAYS: GLASGOW, 1887-91 

"\yl 7 HEN George Brown matriculated 
at Glasgow University in October, 
1887, the thoroughness of his previous 
education was at once put to the test. 
He sat for and passed the Preliminary 
Examination, which secured exemption from 
the necessity of taking the Junior Greek and 
Junior Latin classes in the Arts curriculum ; 
and, in the Bursary competition, open to 
the whole University, he took sixteenth 
place, and was awarded the Cowan bursary 
of 35 specially reserved for Ayr Academy 
boys, and tenable for two years. 

59 



60 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

In his first session, 1887-8, Brown took 
the Senior Latin and Senior Greek classes. 
In the Latin class, under the tuition of 
Professor Ramsay, he proved a careful 
student, always being well prepared. He 
took a fairly good place in his general papers, 
but did not do particularly well in Latin 
Prose Composition, always the test of scholar- 
ship in this subject. His work throughout 
was sound, however, and he took the second 
prize in the second section of the class, 
standing thus among the first twenty-five 
or thirty students in his year. 

In the Senior Greek class, under Professor 
Sir Richard Jebb, Brown proved himself a 
better Grecian, taking the fourth place at 
the close of the session's work. 

The subsidies that he could draw from 
home were but slender, and, bursaries not- 
withstanding, Brown's circumstances must 



STUDENT DAYS : GLASGOW, 1887-91 61 

have borne a painful resemblance to those 
of the proverbial Scots student who subsisted 
throughout the long winter session of six 
months upon two bags of oatmeal and two 
sacks of potatoes. There is little ground 
for surprise, therefore, in the fact that he 
took little or no part in the social phases 
of aggregate student life. The Dialectic, 
the Philosophical, and the Alexandrian 
Societies knew him not ; and he rather found 
rest and recreation in the feast of reason 
and flow of soul provided in a " crack " with 
a few college cronies, or in seeking the 
homely firesides of kindly Ayrshire folk 
exiled in Glasgow In one such home he 
spent many " week-ends," and there he was 
always ready and anxious to lend a helping 
hand in any domestic work that might be 
going on putting in coals, cleaning up the 
kitchen, and the like. 



62 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

Brown's slender purse must have made 
it necessary to be content with very humble 
" lodgings," and frequent experiments alone 
would secure him in the best accommodation 
to be had at his price. It is said that he 
changed his lodgings every fortnight ; and 
his declaration that he moved so often for 
the purpose of " getting information " does 
not dissipate the suspicion that he had diffi- 
culty in finding quarters where he could be 
sure of the necessary minimum of cleanli- 
ness and quiet. Of course, he desired to 
indicate a purpose to study vagaries of 
human society, and herein we have the first 
indication of an artistic interest in his en- 
vironment. 

Throughout his student career, Brown 
kept in close touch with his home and his 
people. At Drumsmudden a quey (two-year- 
old heifer) was fattened and sold for him every 



STUDENT DAYS : GLASGOW, 1887-91 63 

year, and he got the proceeds ; while frequent 
boxes renewed his store of the simple victuals 
that were procured on a farm more easily 
than money could be. When the vacations 
came round, he left the grimy city with great 
readiness, and threw himself into the daily 
life and work at Drumsmudden. " He could 
turn hay with any man," as one has said, 
and that he knew the exhaustion of continu- 
ous physical labour is made evident in the 
following sentences. " Only those who know 
the hairst-rig can remember how glad they 
have been of any 'haivers' to make them 
forget the agony in the shoulders and the 
pain of the aching ringers, of any ' claivers ' 
that would help to ' wear awa' } the long 
monotonous hours, on days when the sun 
was merciless, and ' raw ' was added to ' raw ' 
with a slowness and sureness that was 
maddening. 



64 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

1 Still shearin' and clearin' 
The tither stooket raw, 
Wi' claivers and haivers 
Wearin' the day awaV 

When you croon the words over after many 
years, you feel once more in memory the 
relief that the gossip on the head-rig used 
to bring." 

If the days were long, the nights were 
short. Drumsmudden used to send George 
off to bed at ten o'clock ; but, in step 
with the sister who used to take him his 
candle and bid him an ostensible good- 
night, he would return to the kitchen, where 
the young people would entertain each 
other in games of cards, and long leisurely 
" cracks." 

The chronicles of Brown's life at this 
period point to something like a per- 
sistent study of the habits, characteristics, 
and eccentricities of the men and women 



STUDENT DAYS: GLASGOW, 1887-91 65 

with whom he came in contact. In 
particular, he manifested a keen interest 
in the Doric words and expressions used 
in the direct and forcible speech of the 
countryside. He would purposely irritate 
passing vagabonds, so that he might hear 
their resentful phrases. He would even 
tease his father with the same object, and, 
by all accounts, he had there a fertile 
field for research and observation. 

Drumsmudden had " an uncommon way 
of expressing himself." Our informant 
illustrates his comment by telling us that 
he once heard Drumsmudden say to a man 
who was sitting at table with him and 
making a manifestly poor meal : " Man, 
stick in like a soo in a pratie pit, and 
no sit there mumpin' like a rabbit." There 
are numerous anecdotes of Drumsmudden's 
forcible language, but we limit ourselves 

5 



66 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

to quoting one that has been given to 
the public by Mr. Robert Barr in an 
article in M'Clure's Magazine : 

" Brown said that his father was the most 
profane man in the district, and yet a man of 
sterling good heart. As a little boy he re- 
membered listening appalled to a conversation 
which took place between his father and an 
elder of the Church, who had just risen from 
what had been supposed his death-bed, and 
now was crawling tremulously out into the 
sun, his gaunt hand shaking on the end 
of the stick that supported him. 

"'Ye auld deevle,' cried the elder Brown, 
* hell hasna swallowed ye yet, when we 
a' thocht it yawned for ye.' 

"' Through the mercy of God,' quavered 
the tremulous voice of the convalescent, ' I 
have been spared a few days longer on 
this earth.' 



STUDENT DAYS : GLASGOW, 1887-91 67 

" ' Ye dodderin' thief,' roared Brown, 
'there's nae mercy aboot it. Grim Satan 
simply sees ye're nae ripe yet for perdition, 
so he leaves ye in ye'r sins for a while 
langer.' 

" ' We're a' sinfu' men, Brown/ returned 
the elder solemnly, in no way offended 
by the harsh greeting, 'and our hope rests 
in the benevolence of Heaven.' 

" ' Weel, weel, ye auld sinner, I'm 

glad to see ye ; glad to see ye on ye'r 

feet again. Mony's the time I've looked 
at ye'r hoose and feared to see the blinds 
doon, curse ye ! ' 

" ' Thank'ee kindly, thank'ee kindly, 
Brown,' said the aged elder, with tears 
in his eyes. ' I knew I had ye'r guid 
wishes.' " 

The literary instinct dictated an ex- 
pedition of amateur vagrancy which took 



68 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

place in the summer of 1888. Dressing 
himself in a flannel shirt and the oldest suit 
of clothes he could get hold of, putting on 
a pair of worn-out boots, and donning an 
old straw hat, destitute of band or other 
suspicion of respectability, Brown set out 
from his father's farm about twelve o'clock 
one night, and succeeded in reaching New 
Cumnock, twelve miles off, before daylight. 
In this way he escaped the observation 
of any who might recognise him : beyond 
New Cumnock and throughout Dumfries- 
shire to which he confined his tour he 
was among absolute strangers. Assuming 
the role of a professional gangrel, he 
associated with other tramps on the road, 
and learned from them of places where he 
might hope for a good supper and a bed 
in the barn. In the towns he found shelter 
in " model " lodging-houses. 



STUDENT DAYS : GLASGOW, 1887-91 69 

The tour extended over three weeks, and 
in its course he must have met many strange 
specimens of the flotsam and jetsam of 
society, as well as fully tested the pleasures 
and hardships of tramp life. It furnished 
him, besides, with a store of amusing anec- 
dotes. One day he had " an awful set-down 
from a pair of lassies." Tired and footsore, 
he had taken off his boots and lain down 
at the roadside, smoking his short clay 
pipe. Two girls approaching, he heard the 
ejaculation : " There's a tramp ! " They 
passed unmolested, and after they imagined 
themselves out of earshot one of them said : 
" Eh ! He was an awfully ugly one." 
Nearing the end of his tour, and feeling 
rather done up, he asked for a " lift " from 
the driver of an aerated-water manufacturer's 
van. This was kindly granted, and he fell 
into conversation with his new acquaintance. 



70 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

He maintained his "tramp" disguise, but 
occasionally he forgot himself, and at last his 
friend in need looked at him with suspicion 
and said : " I doot, me lad, you have seen 
better days." Brown would no doubt rise 
to the occasion, but when he told the story 
afterwards he confessed that the situation 
was the most embarrassing one in his whole 
excursion. 

In a poem of his later days, Brown re- 
called the experiences of this tramp the 
call of the shrilling laverock ; the contempla- 
tion of the clouds melting in the summer 
sky, and of the lonely sheep feeding on the 
hill ; the " happy * sadness," which came 
over him as he watched the " waving 
shadows " borne over the yellow fields of 
corn on a Sabbath morning ; the observa- 
tion of " nosin' mousie," " the bits o' wormies," 
the rootlets peeping through " the mools," 



STUDENT DAYS: GLASGOW, 1887-91 71 

the thud of the ripened acorn as it fell ; 
"possessin' nocht," he possessed it all 

"A king may own't, but I've the draw 
And better part o't." 

In the autumn of 1888 and of one or two 
succeeding years, Brown returned to Ayr 
Academy and rendered some assistance to 
the rector, during the period of six weeks 
between the beginning of the school session 
and that of the University classes. His 
initiation of the boys into the real spirit of 
Homer was masterly and complete. In 
point of exact scholarship his teaching may 
have lacked in didactic quality, but he trans- 
lated with such sympathy and verve that 
none could escape the infection of his 
enthusiasm. 

During the session 1888-9, Brown took 
out the Logic and English classes in the 
Arts course, and also attended the Honours 



72 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

class in Greek. Logic and Philosophy 
never had much attraction for him, and his 
work in the Logic class, under Professor 
Veitch, calls for no comment. In the 
Senior English class, under Professor Nichol, 
he stood well in class exercises and examina- 
tions, and he ran a Mr. A. D. Blacklock 
very hard for the first place. At the end of 
the session he carried off the second prize. 
In everything, except verse compositions, 
he secured the highest marks possible. 

In this session, the Greek chair was 
occupied by Professor Murray, in succession 
to Professor Sir Richard Jebb, and when 
Brown took up his work in the Honours 
class, he at once attracted the attention of 
his new teacher. "George Douglas Brown," 
writes Professor Murray, " was not essentially, 
I think, a scholar ; his mind was of another 
type. Yet such was the general force and 



STUDENT DAYS: GLASGOW, 1887-91 73 

artistic power of his intellect, he was certainly 
the best or second best of the classical 
undergraduates in Glasgow at the time of 
my first arrival there as professor. If I 
may characterise his work more particularly, 
I should say it was marked by very re- 
markable vigour of mind, together with a 
sort of impatience and irregularity the 
qualities that often accompany an artistic 
temperament. He was the reverse of plod- 
ding or punctilious. He worked furiously 
hard for long spells ; sat up late, read fast 
and voraciously, and remembered what he had 
read. I recollect once thinking it impossible 
that he could have read through a certain 
book Harrison's 'Mythology and Monu- 
ments of Ancient Athens ' in the time that 
he had had it, amounting to a few hours. I 
asked him some questions, and found he 
remembered it as accurately as I did. I 



74 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

had spent several days over it. At other 
times, when the mood changed, he was 
startlingly lazy." 

Part of the long vacation in 1889 was spent 
with Professor Murray at Castle Howard, 
in Yorkshire. " On the occasion when Brown 
stayed with us in Yorkshire, during the 
summer vacation, to work up his classical 
composition," continues Professor Murray, 
" I was at first greatly disappointed in his 
work. I had expected him to work extra 
hard, and he seemed hardly to work at all. 
He was a charming companion, with his 
straight look and sunny smile, and vigorous 
and original views on all manner of things, 
'here was something manly and truth-lov- 
ig about his intellect. Every one liked 
him in the house. But just at the moment 
l l e seemed unable to work ! He was in- 
toxicated with the summer, and used to lie 



STUDENT DAYS: GLASGOW, 1887-91 75 

for hours in a boat, sometimes with books, 
and sometimes without. I have no doubt 
whatever that his mind was really hard at 
work, thinking and recuperating all the 
while." 

At Castle Howard, the social atmosphere 
was an entirely new one for Brown, and 
his " intoxication " may have been the 
partial result of finding himself in the lap 
of luxury for a spell. There was humour 
and ingenuousness in his writing home at 
the time, in description of his novel sur- 
roundings, that he had to take " shameless 
hussies " in to dinner : there was the dogged 
self-satisfaction of the Scot in his declara- 
tion that he would " as soon have his kail 
through the reek at Drumsmudden." 

At the opening of the session 1889-90, 
Brown obtained the Stewart Bursary of 1 5, 
tenable during the gown course, and in 



;6 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

that year he completed the Arts curri- 
culum by taking out the classes in Moral 
Philosophy, under Professor Edward Caird 
(now Master of Balliol) and in Natural 
Philosophy, under Professor Sir William 
Thomson now Lord Kelvin. As has been 
noted already, philosophy had no great 
attraction for Brown, but throughout the 
session there was a steady improvement in 
the quality of his work in Moral Philosophy, 
both in examinations and class exercises, 
with the result that he attained a position 
near the top of the second division of 
the class. Of his work for Lord Kelvin's 
class, no record has been traced, but it 
is not likely that pure science would fare 
any better than did metaphysical science, 
in the interest of one whose instincts 
were wholly biassed towards the artistic in 
literature. 



STUDENT DAYS: GLASGOW, 1887-91 77 

Having reached the conclusion of his 
gown course in 1890, Brown presented 
himself for examination in Arts, and 
graduated Master of Arts, with first-class 
honours in Classics. 

In the same year Brown carried off the 
Eglinton Fellowship of 100 per annum, 
tenable for three years, after examination 
open to deserving students who had taken 
the degree of Master of Arts at the im- 
mediately preceding term. This fellowship 
made it obligatory upon him to follow a 
course of study in the University, or give 
assistance in the teaching work there. He 
also carried off the Cowan Gold Medal for 
excellence in Greek, as the result of success 
in the quaint ceremonial ordeal of the 
Blackstone Examination. 

In conformity with the conditions of his 
Fellowship, Brown returned to Glasgow 



78 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

University for the session 18901, and took 
up an Honours course in Greek as well as 
a special course in Latin Prose Composition, 
which had always been the weakest point 
in his classical scholarship. 

For part of the session, too, Brown acted 
as assistant to Professor Murray, in conse- 
quence of the death of the regular class 
assistant. " He of course did his teaching 
work well," writes Professor Murray, "but 
one felt that he was not cut out for any- 
thing in the shape of a schoolmaster. The 
clock-like regularity that comes naturally 
to some men, and is so necessary in the 
teaching of a Scottish University, was 
evidently a matter of considerable effort 
to him." 

In 1891 the Luke Historical Prize of 10 
fell to Brown in a biennial competitive 
examination upon general subjects connected 



STUDENT DAYS: GLASGOW, 1887-91 79 

with ancient Greek and Roman history and 
literature. In that year, also, he won the 
blue ribbon of Glasgow University, the 
Snell Exhibition. 

" The Snell," as it is called, is a foundation 
dating from the seventeenth century, and 
carries with its 130 a year for three years 
an obligation upon the holder to reside 
and study at Balliol College, Oxford. The 
original intention of the founder was that 
intelligent young Scotsmen should be drafted 
from Glasgow University to Oxford for 
the purpose of being indoctrinated in the 
teachings and practice of the Episcopal 
form of the Christian religion. Snell scholars 
were bound over to enter Holy Orders, and 
thereafter to return to Scotland, where they 
should remain as Episcopalian priests during 
the rest of their natural life " to propagate 
Episcopacy," as an old account has it. The 



8o GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

pious, if proselytising, intentions of the 
founder have been abrogated in our more 
catholic times, but the exhibition remains, 
and the exhibitioner must still go to Oxford 
to enjoy its benefits. Brown surrendered 
his Eglinton Fellowship, set out for Oxford, 
and Glasgow University knew him no more. 



Scholar at Oxford, 1891-5 



CHAPTER IV 
SCHOLAR AT OXFORD, 1891-5 

^EORGE BROWN matriculated at 
^~* Balliol College, Oxford, on October 
2Oth, 1891, and for the next four years 
that is, until 1895 Oxford was the official 
centre of his scholastic life. 

As is pretty generally known, students 
at Oxford qualify for the degree of Bachelor 
of Arts by reading, with tutors and in- 
dependently, in preparation for two principal 
examinations " Moderations," usually taken 
in the second year, and " Greats " or " Final 
Schools," at the close of the curriculum. 

Mr. J. L. Strachan Davidson, Senior Dean 
83 



84 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

of Balliol College, and the late Mr. Evelyn 
Abbott were the tutors who supervised the 
greater part of Brown's studies. In the 
eyes of his teachers, the general quality of 
Brown's work displayed "good sense and 
intelligence." One of his tutors reported 
at first that he was rather " dull," but after- 
wards came to entertain a more favourable 
opinion. Another tutor's report characterised 
him as "ambitious, but lacking knowledge 
of his books." In Classical Moderations in 
1893 Brown took a high place in the first 
class. When the Final Schools, Literce 
Humaniores, came on in May, 1895, he was 
unwell on the day of examination, and did 
not present himself in the morning. The 
Master, however, sent for him, and pressed 
him to sit for examination in the after- 
noon. This he did, and his work qualified 
him for a third class; had he sat for the 



SCHOLAR AT OXFORD, 1891-5 85 

whole examination, he might, in the Master's 
opinion, have taken a good second class. 

Brown did not take much interest in 
athletics in general, and his near-sightedness 
prevented his enjoying many games. He 
played hockey sometimes at Oxford, but 
he considered walking to be the best exercise 
in the world. Many a day when he felt 
depressed or had an attack of indigestion, 
he would set his face towards the country, 
and tramp hour after hour, until he felt 
that he had regained tone. 

A favourite recreation of Brown's at Ox- 
ford was the reading of trashy books. " For 
days he would lie on his sofa, when the 
weather was bad, reading all the yellow- 
backs he could lay hands on. Suddenly 
he would rouse himself, and go in for a 
tremendous bout of work, or take part in 
University life by joining fiercely in some 



86 GEOkGE DOtJGLAS BROWti 

debate at one of the societies to which he 
belonged." 

For many men Oxford life and collegiate 
study is a source of indefinable stimulus 
and inspiration. The classic traditions of 
the place, with its twenty-five colleges, 
many of them hoary with the weathering of 
centuries, and persisting witnesses to the 
intellectual strivings of countless generations 
of students and scholars, provide an ideal 
environment for work. The intimate aca- 
demic relations of dons and undergraduates 
foster the continuity of the traditional Oxford 
point of view and Oxford manner, worth 
little in themselves, perhaps, but correspond- 
ing in the intellectual world to the "good 
breeding " that we like to meet with in the 
social sphere. Not least potent of Oxford 
privileges, the collegiate life of the under- 
graduates with its unique facilities for the 



SCHOLAR At OXFORD, 1891-5 ty 

formation of congenial friendships, for the 
development of well-balanced ideas of life 
" and things," as well as for its physical 
value on the athletic side does much to 
make men of the raw boys who come up 
in their hundreds as "freshmen" in succes- 
sive years. 

Much of this inspiration seems to have 
been missed by Brown ; partly because he 
was four years ahead of most of his fellow- 
students, both in age and in scholarship ; 
principally, we fear, because his Snell Ex- 
hibition of 130 did not cover the somewhat 
expensive "battels" and other dues, and he 
had little else to rely upon financially. A 
note from Professor Murray is pertinent to 
these two points. " I was not surprised 
when he once complained to me bitterly 
of the weariness he felt in the classical work 
at Oxford. He had been so many years 



88 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWM 

at what seemed to him just the same old 
subjects, always taking in, always learning 
old lessons. He wanted to be at real work, 
to give out or create. . . . One little thing 
I remember, which was rather characteristic. 
When he went to Oxford, I offered to 
supplement his scholarship by a small sum: 
he had told me something of his circum- 
stances at the time. He looked me straight 
in the eyes, rather sternly, and said, ' I'll 
pay ye back ! ' No word of thanks, and 
no hesitation ; just a straight, manly look, 
and a friendly acceptance." 

When Brown first went up to Oxford, 
he lived in residence at college for three 
or four terms. His rooms were in the 
Garden Quadrangle, on a staircase which 
at the time was almost monopolised by 
scholars and exhibitioners. Brown's set 
was on the ground floor. " They were 



SCHOLAR AT OXFORD, 1891-5 89 

perhaps the most inconvenient rooms in 
Balliol, but they had the advantage of being 
cheap. From sheer poverty, he moved out 
of college into lodgings in his second 
year," and there is a further evidence of 
his narrow circumstances in the fact that he 
left Oxford without graduating, although he 
had passed all the examinations qualifying 
for the Bachelor of Arts degree. 

In any aggregation of thoughtless youths 
there are always those who do not under- 
stand, and affect to disdain a " rough and 
ready sort of chap" like Brown, especially 
when he has the impertinence to be poor 
and live in their neighbourhood. A gang 
of these youngsters proceeded to Brown's 
rooms one day, purposing to " rag " them. 
They thought better of their intention, 
however, when they found Brown within, 
and he threw off his coat and threatened 



f 96 GEORGE DOUGLAS BBOWtt 

to treat the foremost aggressor to a round 
of fisticuffs, Ayrshire fashion. 

Of Brown's relations with his fellow- 
students at Oxford, an intimate friend of 
later days writes as follows : 

" While he hardly ever spoke of them by 
name, several figures stand out vividly in my 
mind as he would describe their narrowness, 
their mincing way of approaching their sub- 
ject, or the blatant yet healthy 'cockiness' 
of the freshman. It must always be 
remembered that Brown was older than 
the average of these men. He had already 
come into his manhood. He knew human 
nature pretty well as far as men were 
concerned and no doubt his quick, biting 
retorts and speeches would make him un- 
popular with young, intellectual men. Had 
they been able to get within the outer 
barrier of his nature, they would have 



SCHOLAR AT OXFORD, 1891-5 9^ 

found in him sympathetic and congenial 
comradeship." 

Brown used to tell against himself a 
good story of his Oxford days. Dr. Jowett 
was still Master of Balliol when the young 
exhibitioner first went up to Oxford, and 
one day he asked him to a breakfast to 
which James Anthony Froude, among others, 
had been invited. Brown had not taken 
much part in the conversation, when Froude 
turned to Jowett and said : " Our young 
friend over there is strangely like our old 

friend ." Then, after eating several 

mouthfuls, he again glanced at Brown 

with a reflective air, and added : " You 

know, Jowett, we always used to say that 

was the ugliest man we knew." 

As a sequel to the foregoing record of 

the outstanding facts of Brown's curriculum, 

the reader will welcome an intimate sketch 



92 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

of his personal student life at Oxford. Mr. 
H. W. C. Davis writes : 

" Brown bore his poverty with a light 
heart, and during his first year he had a 
good deal of such society as attracted him. 
He did not by any means confine himself 
to the company of the scholars. The reading 
man, as such, bored him ; and although he 
was never tired of discussing literature with 
any one who had a real interest in it, he 
was almost equally fond of finding his way 
into a card-party or some such gathering. 
He would not play cards if he could help 
it, but established himself in a corner of 
the room, from which he hurled jokes and 
anecdotes broadcast among his company. 
His means prevented him from entertaining 
much, but at tea-time one would often find 
his room full to overflowing, and Brown 
engaged in a wordy duel with a bosom 



SCHOLAR AT OXFORD, 1891-5 93 

friend, while the others listened. When he 
was launched on a discussion, he sooner or 
later fell into one of his two characteristic 
attitudes. Either he would stand on the 
hearthrug, with his legs far apart, gesticulat- 
ing strenuously, and perhaps wielding a teapot 
or a poker ; or he would ensconce himself 
in the inmost recesses of his armchair, place 
his feet on the mantelpiece, and argue 
over his shoulder to any one who challenged 
him. 

" His conversation was discursive. He 
had no taste for close discussion at that 
time, whatever may have been the case in 
his later life. I imagine that he had never 
been bitten with the taste for dialectic. At 
all events, he had shaken it off before he 
appeared in Balliol. If his verdict on an 
author was questioned, he would reply by 
quoting a sentence or a phrase which had 



94 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

struck him as particularly good, or irre- 
trievably inept. Of philosophical subjects 
he was rather impatient. They did not 
appeal to him, and, being considerably older 
than most of us, he realised the emptiness 
of the discussions in which we indulged, 
and on which, I believe, we rather prided 
ourselves at that time. He thought that 
Oxford philosophy was a matter of technical 
terms, and altogether divorced from reality. 
He often intimated to me that his real 
ambition was to apprehend and to describe 
things as they seem, not to speculate about 
their ultimate nature. 

"So far as I know, he wrote very little 
while he was in Oxford ; but he showed 
me one or two prose sketches of which he 
was rather proud, and with good reason. 
They were descriptive, for the most part ; 
and, oddly enough, showed no trace of the 



SCHOLAR AT OXFORD, 1891-5 95 

dramatic faculty. That he had a keen eye 
for character, and could produce brilliant 
dialogue if he liked, was well known to his 
friends. But he showed this faculty chiefly 
in anecdotes which he improvised with 
extraordinary ease. I remember that the 
speakers in these anecdotes always talked 
broad Ayrshire. 

" There were two societies to which Brown 
and I belonged for a good while. The 
one was a College literary debating club 
called the Arnold. It contained from thirty 
to forty members, and met once a week 
after the College Hall. Brown attended 
it with some regularity for his first two 
years. Afterwards, he was rarely to be 
seen, unless there was an opportunity of 
making fun out of private business. He 
was President for one term, and his speeches 
were brilliant, when he chose that they 



96 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

should be. But he was troubled by a throat 
affection which made speaking difficult to 
him, and he detested the trouble of prepara- 
tion. He was more at home in the Milton, 
a University literary society composed of 
senior men, which was at that time largely 
recruited from Balliol. In both societies 
his views on literature brought him into 
violent conflict with other members. Im- 
pressionism was not in fashion, and I 
remember that a paper which he read on 
Keats gave rise to a stormy debate in the 
Arnold. I had the misfortune to collide 
with him in both societies ; but it was not 
the least of his good qualities that he never 
bore malice for an attack upon his opinions, 
however much he may have been irritated 
at the time. I have known him get up 
and go out in the course of a debate, 
slamming the door after him with unnecessary 



SCHOLAR AT OXFORD, 1891-5 97 

emphasis. But these ebullitions occurred 
at a time when his nerves were unsettled, 
and they never lasted long. He suffered 
greatly from sleeplessness, and it was no 
uncommon thing for us, coming back late 
at night from some convivial reunion, to 
find him tramping up and down the quad- 
rangle in the hope of inducing drowsiness. 
To this cause were chiefly due the fits of 
apathy and depression from which he suffered 
with increasing frequency as his college 
course went on. 

"But there were other causes. He had 
little sympathy with the curriculum to which 
he found himself tied down. The man who 
reads for Literce Humaniores in Oxford is 
expected to spend the first eighteen months 
of his time over pure scholarship. To 
Brown, classical composition was an in- 
tolerable nuisance ; and he resented the 

7 



98 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

necessity of treating the classics as an 
exercise in grammar. He had read widely 
before he came up, and had a genuine 
enthusiasm for one or two classical poets : 
Homer, Catullus, and Juvenal are three 
whom he used to quote. On the rare 
occasions when he showed himself inside a 
lecture-room, he considered that his time 
had been well spent if he picked up a happy 
rendering for a line or phrase which he 
admired. But he could not bring himself 
to read unlimited quantities of Cicero and 
Demosthenes. He made up his mind as 
to the minimum amount of reading which 
would get him a First in Moderations, and 
ploughed through it in seven or eight weeks. 
It was a great feat. He worked almost 
continuously the whole day and every day, 
only submitting occasionally to be dragged 
out for a hurried walk. 



SCHOLAR AT OXFORD, 1891-5 99 

" After he had obtained his First, his 
friends expected that he would settle down 
to the study of Plato and Aristotle for his 
Final Examination. But he never did so. 
Plato appealed to him as literature, and I 
fancy that in a discursive way he read rather 
more modern philosophy than he allowed 
his friends to know. But he was a sworn 
enemy to systems, and what reading he did 
in his third and fourth years was chiefly 
in English poetry and novels. 

" He used to maintain at this time, with 
great vigour of language, that he was wasting 
his time, and ought never to have come to 
Oxford. As to the course which he ought to 
have taken he was less definite. He some- 
times expressed a wish to write ; but if he 
formed any definite literary plans, or made 
up his mind what form of literature would 
best suit his powers, I never heard of it. 



ioo GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

The sketches which I have mentioned above 
were avowedly experiments. It may, how- 
ever, be worth noticing that he expressed 
an intense admiration for Tourguenieff as a 
literary artist. There is a certain resem- 
blance between Brown's best-known novel 
and those in which Tourguenieff analyses 
the Russian national character in the course 
of telling a simple and realistic story. 

"Even allowing that Brown's last two years 
in Oxford were a period of incubation, I 
think it is true that they would have been 
better spent elsewhere. The climate did 
not suit him. He was prevented from 
working on the lines to which he was 
naturally drawn, by the feeling that his first 
duty was to take a good degree, and so 
justify his position as an exhibitioner. At 
the same time, he could not bring himself to 
take any interest in the ' Greats ' curriculum. 



SCHOLAR AT OXFORD, 1891-5 101 

Possibly he might have roused himself in 
the last three months before his examination, 
as he had done for Moderations. But his 
mother's death, occurring in his last vacation, 
was a severe blow to him. He was terribly 
depressed during his last few weeks in 
Oxford, suffered from insomnia, and could 
only with difficulty be induced to finish his 
examination. He omitted at least one 
paper, and only obtained a third class. 

;< When one looks back on this part of 
Brown's life, there is little to remember with 
pleasure. He was in the depths, and I for 
one could quite believe him when he said, 
as he sometimes did, that it was on the 
whole the most miserable part of his life. 
A successful Oxford career would not have 
done much to develop his genius ; but the 
sense of failure and inability to accommodate 
himself to the conditions of Oxford work 



102 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

was a continual clog upon his mind. At 
this time, just as much as in his first two 
years, he gave the impression of being a 
man who had it in him to do great things. 
And, however depressed he might be, there 
was in him a native geniality and kindliness 
which made him the best of friends and 
companions. A stranger might think him 
rough and brusque ; and he was decidedly 
the opposite of expansive, to those whom 
he was meeting for the first or second time. 
But in essentials he was the most courteous 
of men, and I have often been struck by 
the respect which he showed for scruples, 
prejudices, and beliefs for which he had 
little sympathy. He never hurt a man's 
feelings in cold blood, though in fits of 
irritation he sometimes said things for which 
he was afterwards sorry. His humour was 
delightful, because it was never ill-natured. 



SCHOLAR AT OXFORD, 1891-5 103 

Some people might have found his con- 
versation too Rabelaisian for their taste. 
But there was nothing morbid, unhealthy, 
or prurient, in his talk at any time. And 
one felt that he was at bottom high-minded 
and chivalrous, with a good deal of the old 
Puritanic leaven in his composition. He 
judged his own conduct and that of others 
by a singularly high standard." 

Before closing the present chapter, we 
may deal shortly with events which occurred 
in Brown's family circle during his Oxford 
years. First of these, in point of time, was 
the eviction of his father from Drumsmudden 
in 1892. 

The sub-factor put old Brown out of 
his farm, on the plea that he was too old 
to keep it in order, but, Drumsmudden 
and others believed that his action was not 
entirely disinterested. It is conceded on 



104 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

all hands that it was a libel to say that 
Drumsmudden was not a good farmer. 
When he got his farm in 1861, it was "like 
a field of rashes," and during the thirty-two 
years of his tenancy he gradually brought 
the whole of it under cultivation ; yet at 
the age of eighty-two he had to go out. 
The action of the factor Mr. Reid was most 
unpopular, and on March i8th, 1892, a large 
gathering of people assembled at the farm by 
torchlight, " carrying ;the effigy of a gentle- 
man whom they named a ' Scots Landlord's 
Evicting Machine.' " A bonfire was built, 
and the effigy was ignominiously burned in it. 
Drumsmudden had a mind of his own 
one that would sway for no one ; and the 
origin of his difference with the factor had 
been his refusal to vote Tory. Reid was 
a Tory, and arrived one day at the time 
of a General Election to secure Drum- 



SCHOLAR AT OXFORD, 1891-5 105 

smudden's vote for the candidate whom he 
himself favoured. The two men met in the 
farmyard, and Reid stated his errand. 
Drumsmudden looked at him keenly for 
a moment, his wrath kindling the while. 
Then he said : " Come this way, Geordie, 
man," taking him to a point whence he 
could get a full view of the country 
from Drumsmudden to Ochiltree, where the 
polling was to take place. There he con- 
tinued : " You see the road the craw flees 
to Ochiltree ; I will go by that way, and 
vote according to my opinion : for no landlord 
nor his bit of clay would I sell my opinion." 
The factor retired discomfited ; but Drum- 
smudden's eviction must have given him 
some satisfaction. 

George Brown took up the cudgels for his 
father, and inspired several letters to the 
Ayrshire Post on the subject ; but there 



106 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

was no redress, and the old man had to 
realise his stock and quij the farm when 
the term day came. He took the farm of 
West Newton, in the parish of Loudoun. 
But the untimely death of his son James 
made it inconvenient for him to continue 
his farming operations, and he retired, after 
two years, first to Cumnock, and latterly 
to Ochiltree. 

At some period of each of the long 
vacations, George Brown found his way 
from Oxford to his native place. There, 
at many a farmer's fireside, "he made 
heartsome company, with his stories and 
experiences." Ever the same kindly, homely 
fellow, he would put on his shabbiest suit 
of clothes, and turn his hand to any 
odd job in which his help would be 
acceptable. One of his oldest friends in 
Ochiltree tells of his once dropping in 



SCHOLAR AT OXFORD, 1891-5 107 

at her house in a most untidy condition 
of dress, having just quitted some work 
on his mother's potato patch. She told 
him never to come to her house again 
in that garb. Next day he called at 
the same house dressed point-device, with 
straw hat, gloves, and cane. Ringing the 
bell, and asking for the lady of the house 
in Oxford English, he made a formal 
call, and at first completely mystified 
mistress and maid as to his identity. 

With his former school companions and 
cronies, Brown was ever on the same good 
terms, affecting no superior airs by reason 
of his University experiences. One who 
knew him well in these days writes : 

" Many happy days we spent together at 
his father's farm in our native parish. Had 
'Geordie/ as he was familiarly called, not 
been fortunate enough to have had a 



io8 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

University education, he would still have 
been a genius. He was born one. He was 
certainly the best conversationalist it has 
been my lot to meet, and in manner and 
action he was nothing if not original ; he 
was originality personified. He was void 
of pride, and detested it in another ; fops 
kept clear of him, for he was down on 
them straight ; his sarcasm was truly 
withering. One never tired of his com- 
pany, and, if you could talk of books and 
authors, he never tired of yours. He could 
quote Burns and Shakespeare for any 
length of time ; and I have heard him 
giving a sermon out of nothing that 
would have done credit to the ablest 
divine. 

" Geordie was never exactly sure what 
profession he would turn to after his college 
career was over, but I think he had always 



SCHOLAR AT OXFORD, 1891-5 109 

a great desire to be what he ultimately 
became a great writer." 

Brown kept up a correspondence with 
home, too, throughout his University career. 
On one occasion he sent a small present 
from Oxford to his sister Maggie, and, the 
better to secure its safe delivery, he wrote 
upon the outside cover the following injunc- 
tion to the Ochiltree letter-carrier, who had 
more than once betrayed a suspiciously inti- 
mate knowledge of village correspondence : 

" Noo, Jamie lad, keep mind and tak' it, 
And dinnie ye a blister mak' o't, 
Or, by the Lord, I'll raise a racket 

That may surprise ye ; 
So tentily guide and guard this packet, 

As I advise ye." 

Brown closed his Oxford days under the 
shadow of a great bereavement. His be- 
loved mother's health gave way in the 
spring of 1895, and he spent the Easter 
vacation in faithfully and tenderly assisting 



no GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

in nursing her during the mortal course of 
her illness, returning to Oxford for his 
" Greats " a few days after her death and 
funeral. Little wonder that he was sick 
in body and mind when the final ordeal 
of his Oxford days came upon him. 

In his later days, Brown was wont to 
maintain that his years at Oxford had been 
thrown away. " I played the fool," he said 
more than once. None the less, Oxford 
had left its impress upon him. It was not 
inconsistent with his dissatisfaction with the 
educational drudgery of Oxford that he yet 
entertained a warm side to his Southron 
Alma Mater : she had left her mark on 
his heart. She had left her mark on his 
manner as well, although its tokens ease, 
elegance, and moderation in statement were 
not, on the surface, outstanding character- 
istics of the man. 



Journalism and Letters in 
London 



CHAPTER V 

JOURNALISM AND LETTERS IN LONDON 

QUITTING Oxford in the summer 
of 1895, Brown settled almost im- 
mediately in London, with the determination 
to make a livelihood by his pen. Various 
paragraphists will have it that he took steps 
towards qualifying for the English Bar, 
but there is not the slightest justification for 
the statement. Circumstances over which 
he had no control had put from him all 
idea of adopting the teaching profession 
an idea that he had certainly entertained 
nebulously for a time and in view of 
Professor Murray's skilled opinion, quoted 
us 8 



ii4 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

in a previous chapter, there is no reason 
for regret that he abandoned the project. 
As a matter of fact, offers of work as a 
teacher were declined by him at the time 
that he first came to London. No, he had 
made up his mind to devote his life to the 
pursuits of a man of letters, and by the 
love he bore for literature he was called 
to be a novelist. 

There was imagination and a vaulting 
ambition in Brown's purpose, for his ex- 
ternal advantages and opportunities were 
nil. When a man comes to London from 
Oxford, he has usually a well-defined path 
along which he has only to pursue his 
ideal and reach his goal. If he is going 
to the Bar, he enters one of the inns of 
court, eats his dinners, devils for a qualified 
barrister, and in due course he arrives or 
fails. If he seeks a livelihood in journalism, 



JOURNALISM AND LETTERS 115 

he has usually a place secured for him by 
influence on one of the numerous important 
journals of the metropolis, and makes a 
beginning that is many removes nearer to 
the editorial chair than is that of the 
practical journalist who has started at the 
reporter's desk. He, too, arrives or fails. 
If he covets the more elusive fortunes and 
more subtle delights of " literature," he has 
at his back a decent income derived from 
independent sources ; he may take his time, 
and feel his way to the particular metier that 
will most suit his tastes and his intellectual 
inclinations and gifts ; and in due course, 
if he has it in him, he finds his publisher 
and his public and " arrives." But for 
George Brown there was no assured path- 
way to qualifications and success, Oxford 
man though he was. 

Deprived of the advantages enjoyed by 



n6 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

his more fortunate Oxford friends, Brown 
set himself to keep the pot boiling by 
means of journalism. He would not tie 
himself down to the routine of a salaried 
appointment upon any particular journal, 
but chose to adopt the more untrammelled 
if precarious occupation of free-lance jour- 
nalism here an article, there a poem, here 
a short story, there a book review. It is 
not proposed to trace here with any exact- 
ness the story of Brown's journalistic life, 
but a few facts are cited to enable the 
reader to comprehend more vividly the 
nature of the struggle to which he addressed 
himself. 

At the outset, Brown's college acquaint- 
ance with Mr. J. D. Symon provided an 
entree into actual journalism. As sub-editor 
of The Illustrated London News, Mr. Symon 
was able to put him in the way of book- 



JOURNALISM AND LETTERS 117 

reviewing and similar work. Later, when 
Mr. Symon became editor of this journal, 
it began to be a sort of stand-by. Not 
only did Brown review pretty constantly 
for it, but for a number of years he went 
to the News office on one day in the 
week, and wrote any paragraphs that might 
be required as " fill-ups." 

In 1898 Brown had the fortune to have 
an article on Burns accepted by Black- 
wood's Magazine. Mr. Black wood was so 
favourably impressed by the quality of the 
paper that he wrote to Brown asking him 
to go and see him in Edinburgh. But he 
had no journalistic ambition, and he never 
availed himself of this opportunity to obtain 
a footing among the contributors to a 
periodical of the premier quality of Maga. 
The acceptance of his first story by The 
Success was more fruitful, for through the 



ii8 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

introduction of the editor of this short-lived 
venture he ultimately obtained the post of 
reader to the publishing house by which 
his novel was afterwards brought out. 

In 1899 a powerful short story, written 
over the pen-name of " Kennedy King," 
and entitled " How Janet Goudie came 
Home," was accepted by Sir Wemyss Reid 
for The Speaker. One of the finest things 
Brown ever wrote, it attracted the attention 
of the British representative of one of the 
great American monthlies, who invited him 
to submit contributions of the same kind. 
There is an example of Brown's unpractical- 
ness in the fact that, in response, he sent a 
poem instead of a story. The poem was 
not accepted, and he made no further effort 
to take advantage of the opportunity offered 
to him. In 1899, also, Brown undertook 
regular employment as sub-editor as well 



JOURNALISM AND LETTERS 119 

as contributor to Sandow's Magazine. He 
was responsible for several articles that 
appeared in its columns on such subjects 
as "Walt Whitman," "The Strong Man in 
Dumas's Fiction," " The Strength of Porthos," 
and the like. 

The incidents that we have just quoted 
go to show that Brown could have found 
a wide market for the fruit of his journalistic 
efforts ; but, as Mr. Charles Whibley has said, 
" though from the first he depended upon 
his pen for support, he never confused 
literature and journalism. Journalism was 
to him a trade to be quietly followed 
for the profit it might bring. He took 
no more pride than that of the honest 
craftsman in what he wrote for the papers, 
and he did not desire, like the most of 
his colleagues, to win fame for his journey 
work." 



120 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

On September 28th, 1897, Brown's father 
died. It is interesting to know that in 
discussing the terms of his will with an 
intimate friend shortly before his death, 
and before, as yet, George Brown had 
achieved any marked success in his calling, 
the old man said : " I'm not going to leave 
anything to George. I gave him a good 
education, and spent more on him than I 
shall be able to leave to each of the girls. 
I saw there was something in him ; he 
carries the fortune I have given him. He'll 
make a mark some day." 

In the course of an article in The Bookman, 
reprinted in the present volume, by his kind 
permission, Mr. Andrew Melrose has given 
the story of a literary partnership into 
which Brown entered with two friends, some 
time after he came to London. Of the 
more intimate side of the relations of 



JOURNALISM AND LETTERS 121 

" The Triumvirate " Mr. Melrose has told 
all that it is expedient to tell. But some 
account of the more public manifestations 
of this brotherhood of three may be of 
biographical value. 

An interest in literature as literature was 
the original bond of sympathy and union, 
and this found expression in other ways 
than mere discussion. A firm of publishers 
and literary agents was started, and its 
concerns cost Brown many an anxious 
thought, and stimulated him to formulate 
half a dozen projects for the production of 
"essential stuff." Some of these came off, 
and some did not. He wrote, for instance, 
a shilling volume entitled " Famous Fighting 
Regiments," under the pen-name of " George 
Hood," and this was duly published. He 
projected, but never carried into execution, 
a scheme for the publication of inexpensive 



122 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

but tasteful reprints of such classics as 
Lamb's " Tales from Shakespeare," desider- 
ating for each of these volumes the addition 
of distinctive and illuminative introductions 
" one packed and pregnant paragraph would 
do the trick." He projected a translation of 
the " Lettres d'un Innocent " by Dreyfus, but 
that, too, never appeared. He projected 
and would that he had gone on with the 
project ! " A Guide to the Burns Country," 
written " with a literary flavour," and rilled 
with much local anecdote and reminiscences 
of interesting literary figures who have been 
in the Burns country. He suggested the 
commissioning of a book upon a subject 
relating to the " intensification " of the 
British Empire. He desiderated that this 
should be written with the informing idea 
of a lofty conception of the British {Empire 
as a great intellectual and material force; 



JOURNALISM AND LETTERS 123 

and that the writing must be touched with 
a noble emotion for the Empire, and be 
vivid and stirring, so as to " get home." The 
work should be illuminated by a large and 
generous philosophy. Its topics should not 
be discussed meanly, as subjects entirely 
by themselves, but should be related to first 
principles and pregnant generalisations on 
life and history, above them and subtending 
them. By this treatment he designed to 
secure depth, and richness, and philosophy, 
and, consequently, a permanent value for 
the book. 

From our point of view, perhaps the most 
important manifestation of " The Trium- 
virate " was the biographical study of 
Mr. Kruger. The receipt of certain ex- 
clusive matter, as journalists would call it, 
suggested the idea of a " Life " of Mr. Kruger. 
It was agreed that " George Douglas " and 



124 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

another of " The Triumvirate " should write 
and work in collaboration, and a commission 
was secured from a morning newspaper, who 
purchased the book and serial rights for a 
round sum down. The crux was that the 
work was wanted at once, for serial issue 
in the feuilleton of the paper. Of the col- 
laborators, Brown alone could command the 
time and detachment necessary, and in the 
end he wrote the whole book, only discussing 
the subject-matter in sections with his col- 
laborator, as the work progressed. 

Although the author found his "saliences" 
ham-strung by the squeamish press correc- 
tions of an editor over careful for the sus- 
ceptibilities of his readers, the " Kruger " 
still possesses vital interest as a biographical 
study of a man whose psychal phenomena 
have puzzled many people. Brown was so 
thorough-going an Imperialist that he had 



JOURNALISM AND LETTERS 125 

no fear of being branded as a pro-Boer, 
and spoke quite recently of having the 
work brought out in book form. 

We fear that these earlier years in London 
brought for Brown little less financial struggle 
than he had already experienced during his 
student days. Putting everything together, 
journalism and minor literary work afforded 
him a sufficient average income to tide 
him over the immediate necessities of life. 
This quite satisfied him ; but owing to the 
irregularity of payment for his work, he 
was often without a penny or a postage 
stamp in his pocket. When he had money, 
it was ever at the service of those whose 
need was, for the moment, more urgent than 
his own. An old friend, who had known 
him from his earliest years, " often told him 
that he would never make money, as he 
always gave away what he had." During 



126 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

the period dealt with in the present chapter, 
most of Brown's acquaintances, realising 
that he had been away from Oxford for 
a number of years, and was still " loafing " 
without any settled position, and without 
ever having done anything to justify him- 
self, had a feeling that he was not going 
to " come off." For many such people he 
was always " poor Brown." 

Pressure of circumstances notwithstand- 
ing, Brown's bright nature rose above all 
obstacles. " He literally bubbled over with 
cheerfulness. He was the life and soul of 
a company." He could subscribe his letters 
with such facetious pen-names as " Goggles," 
"Giglamps," or "The Budding Author." 
And yet there was a certain impatience 
and even irritability in his temperament ; 
he inherited his father's volcanic temper. 
He could not bear restraint of any kind, 



JOURNALISM AND LETTERS 127 

and, for instance, he hated to be questioned 
as to where he had been or what he had 
been doing. 

A hard life, with an element of retarded 
success in it, sometimes makes a man 
misanthropic. But Brown's heart throbbed 
with a full sympathy, and he entered into 
the joys and sorrows of others in a most 
unaffected manner. " Dreyfus," he once 
said, " is a man of very strong family 
affection did you see the telegram of 
yesterday, addressed to his wife ? ' I await 
with joy the moment of kissing you.' What 
a moment it will be to the two ! He used 
to write to his little boy to be sure to teach 
his baby sister how to build ' those card 
houses which you and I built together, and 
which used to come tumbling down so 
gloriously.' " That touch in itself, he con- 
tinued, was enough to show that Dreyfus 



128 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

had a kind and simple heart. Brown himself 
was greatly interested in children. He did 
not play with them, but their little ways 
did not bore him, and they were always 
fond of him. 

Even when he contemplated his fellow- 
creatures in the mass, Brown's outlook was 
optimistic and gentle. While he stayed 
at Bayswater, for instance, he took pleasure 
in observing women of the middle class, 
as they moved about, doing their daily 
shopping. They suggested to him the idea 
of cheerful family circles of affectionate 
daughters and strapping sons. He was 
always on the watch for the vision of true 
homes, and maintained that the world was 
much better than people thought it. One 
of his intimates puts it : 

" One could almost imagine two Browns 
the country Brown and the town Brown. 



JOURNALISM AND LETTERS 129 

The town Brown knew nothing of women. 
They were an unexplored land to him, 
but the country Brown knew something of 
womanhood, as represented by the healthy 
country lass the incarnation of mother- 
hood to come placid, pure, strong to suffer, 
and content to grant man his superiority." 

Before passing from the subject of Brown's 
attitude to his fellows, we may note that 
there was a certain intense quality in the 
intimacy he sought and gave when he had 
taken a friend to his heart. One writes 
of " the long talk by the firelight, the dogs 
curled up around us. Every now and then 
his hand would be stretched out and grasp 
mine, and his somewhat harsh voice would 
become tender, as he said : ' It's great ; 
it's great,' or, ' It's worth everything else.' " 

Bachelor life in London depends very 
much upon the landlady for its comfort. 

9 



130 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

" During Brown's London life, he had a 
varied experience of landladies, an ex- 
perience that would take a lot of beating, 
but they all seem to have treated him 
well, according to their lights. His peasant 
life in Scotland had made him familiar with 
all sides of household work, and he was 
able to talk to them interestedly and sym- 
pathetically of their troubles. While some 
stood in awe of him, they were all genuinely 
sorry when he left." A contributor to a 
Scottish periodical tells of a call at Brown's 
lodgings in London. Brown was absent, 
but the visitor "got into conversation with 
his landlady, and she was literally brimming 
over with his praises. She said that the 
like of him never sat at a landlady's table 
so cheery, so considerate, and so much of 
a gentleman." 

London, as London, made a distinct appeal 



JOURNALISM AND LETTERS 131 

to Brown. He "felt the call of London 
tingling through his veins." (< Many a time," 
writes Mr. Howard Spicer, " after a glorious 
day of perfect contentment in the woods 
and the meadows, on gaining once again 
the top of a 'bus, his eyes have lighted up, 
the dull roar of the traffic coming as music 
to him as he would exclaim : * Ah, there is 
only one place in the world to live in ! " 
He took a special delight in the public 
parks. He knew of spots of absolute se- 
clusion, green glades with no fear of 
disturbance and all around the roar of 
London. He would wander there at all 
hours of the day and night, and he once 
mentioned incidentally that one night he 
had jumped into the Regent's Park Canal, 
at twelve o'clock, in the effort to rescue a 
young girl who had thrown herself into the 
water with suicidal purpose. 



132 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

In these years, Brown's journalistic and 
other occupations were all kept subordinate 
to one principal purpose in life "he kept 
steadily in view his fixed determination to 
do well in literature." " He was always a 
sedulous reader," Mr. Whibley has told us. 
" ' I can read anything I ever came across,' 
he said, * except algebra, the " Elements of 
Logic," and the speeches of the late Mr. 
Gladstone.' Thus, in Lord Bacon's phrase, 
he became 'a full man.' But, above all, he 
husbanded his talent. He did not fritter 
away his abilities in temporary and uncon- 
genial toil. Though he possessed great 
energy of mind, he was at the same time a 
man of stern restraint. There was scarcely 
a subject upon which he did not hold a 
headstrong opinion, and, while in talk he 
would adorn the opinion with many em- 
broideries, he never wished to dissipate his 







JOURNALISM AND LETTERS 133 

energies by giving it expression in print. 
In other words, he was an artist, not a 
prophet. He preferred fitting himself for 
the real calling of letters to improving 
the taste or shaping the morals of his 
contemporaries." 

Brown was ever ready to discuss the 
essentials of literature with those who were 
of like tastes. Of every vital book he de- 
manded that it should abound in saliences, 
things that "leap at you from out the 
page." He laid great stress, too, upon an 
author's need to possess the power of 
automatic visualisation. He maintained that 
it was impossible to write essential stuff 
without the writer's having seen what he 
sought to describe. His main theory was 
that in novels (and it should be remembered 
that his expressed ambition, from the be- 
ginning, was to be a novelist) the characters 



134 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

should be true to life. Notwithstanding this, 
he could enjoy pure romance, and spoke, 
for instance, of Maurice Hewlett's " Forest 
Lovers " with enthusiasm. He laid it down 
as a fundamental principle that, both in 
the drama represented on the stage and in 
that depicted in novels, characters should 
explain themselves in their actions, and 
not by explanatory "jawing." 

Another article of Brown's literary creed 
was that before one can write the big 
book one must have the big thought ; and 
he conceived that the big thought was 
inseparable from the spiritual conception 
of life and a belief in eternity. It is only 
when you get into the region of eternity 
that the " bands of circumstance " and the 
limitations of life are lost, and everything 
falls into proper and relative place, he might 
have put it. His definition of style had 



JOURNALISM AND LETTERS 135 

the same idea. Great style he defined as 
" supernal thought, supernally expressed." 
There could be no great style without the 
great thought first. 

In dealing with Brown's high ideal, it is 
perhaps pertinent to speak of his religion. 
That was decidedly of a pantheistic order. 
The idea of the personality of God may 
not have been objectionable to him, but the 
idea of God's immanence, in nature especially, 
had a fascination for him. As a matter of 
fact, he spoke commonly of certain emotions 
which nature's manifestations arouse as 
" physical pantheism." 

Of Brown's literary method it may be 
said that he was an inveterate phrasemaker. 
He always carried a notebook, and kept 
constant record of phrases and ideas that 
occurred to him. His methods of work 
were irregular in the extreme. He would 



136 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

not tie himself down to certain hours of 
work. He spent days and even weeks, in 
the summer, loafing in the London parks, 
doing absolutely nothing, so far as direct 
work was concerned. But although a loafer, 
he .was not a mooner. He could not lie 
for a day on the hillside with a perfectly 
vacuous mind. He was constantly thinking 
on definite subjects. Often, after a day of 
loafing of this kind, he would come in at 
night to see a friend, and, almost without 
fail, his conversation would have some re- 
lation to a train of thought that had been 
started, or that he had been following that 
day, or on some other day. Every idea that 
came to Brown was surveyed by him with 
intellectual curiosity. He developed it into 
a theory. When he had got the theory 
complete, he put it down in his notebook. 
In 1901 Brown took it into his head to 



JOURNALISM AND LETTERS 137 

learn Italian, and within a month he was 
able to read an Italian novel. It is not 
known what his immediate incentive was. 
It could hardly have been foreign travel, for 
he only crossed the Channel twice, and his 
absences on the Continent did not extend 
beyond a grand total of five weeks. He 
did, however, occasionally express a hazy 
ambition to reside in Italy. 

In 1899, under the pseudonym of 
"Kennedy King," Brown published his first 
work of fiction, a boys' book entitled " Love 
and a Sword." Written as a pot-boiler and 
to order, it attracted no notice, and its 
author evidently desired that it should be 
reckoned among his immature essays when 
he adopted his later pen-name of "George 
Douglas," in giving "The House with the 
Green Shutters" to the world. The ex- 
istence of the earlier book has been made 



138 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

public, however, and it is only right to record 
the fact here, in passing. 

Having described Brown's journalistic 
and minor literary work, as well as his 
outlook upon life and literature in general, 
we proceed to some account of the novel 
by which he attained fame and distinction 
with meteoric suddenness. 



"The House with the Green 
Shutters " 



CHAPTER VI 

"THE HOUSE WITH THE GREEN 
SHUTTERS " 

TV /T ANY months before it appeared in 
public, Brown read over the original 
" House with the Green Shutters " to two 
friends. At that time the story would run 
to about twenty thousand words. Both his 
friends were strongly of opinion that there 
were in the story the potential plot and 
material for a proper novel. Upon their 
advice he withheld it from publication in its 
original form, and set to work to develop 
it. Gourlay and the Deacon were among 
the characters from the outset, and the plot 
141 



142 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

was never much changed. He worked at 
his book very leisurely, and from time to 
time reported progress to his friends, 
although he declined to accept any criticism 
even of its title, which was thought un- 
suited to anything but a short story. 

With a dedication to his old schoolmaster 
and lifelong friend, Mr. William Maybin, 
rector of the Ayr Academy, the book was 
published in Great Britain in October, 1901, 
and in America by Messrs. M'Clure, for whom 
it had been read by Mr. Charles Whibley. 

By this time, most people are familiar 
with the plot of the novel. It depicts a 
small rural community in Scotland, in which 
John Gourlay, " a resolute dullard," the 
dominant character in the book, has suc- 
ceeded in aggrandising himself by riding 
rough-shod over his neighbours, overreaching 
them in unscrupulous fashion, and " downing " 



"THE HOUSE WITH GREEN SHUTTERS" 143 

every one who stands between him and any 
enterprise from which he can hope to add 
even a few pounds to his pile of ill-gotten 
gain. He is the best-hated man in a place 
where all are good haters. Nemesis ulti- 
mately overtakes him. A newcomer es- 
tablishes a rival business, and, by methods 
as reprehensible as those of Gourlay, and 
pursued with a cunning which Gourlay does 
not possess, gradually ruins him. Disap- 
pointed in his ambitions, and grim in his 
determination to play the game, he is driven 
in on his family, and finds no comfort in 
the last ditch. His wife is a " feckless " 
creature, and the two children whom she 
has borne him are weaklings. The daughter 
is " thowless," and far gone in consumption ; 
the son is destitute of moral self-control, and 
has become a nervous wreck and a crapulous 
drunkard. From beginning to end, Gourlay 



144 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

has a manner of speech that bites like 
vitriol. In the last phase, he baits his 
drunken son who has run through a mint 
of money at college and then been igno- 
miniously expelled for drunken insubordina- 
tion until his boy turns on him and murders 
him. The criminal cause of John Gourlay's 
death is concealed by his wife and daughter. 
But, before many days have expired, the 
murderer commits suicide, with the tacit 
consent of his mother ; and finally, by the 
double suicide of mother and daughter, the 
name of Gourlay is cut off. The most 
gruesome feature of the whole tragic record 
is that there is not a soul in Barbie to 
lament its sequent disasters. The malignant 
village gossips and " bodies " only giggle and 
tee-hee as they note each stage in the 
collapse of John Gourlay's house of cards : 
it is a black terrible story. 



"THE HOUSE WITH GREEN SHUTTERS" 145 

The present writer does not find it 
necessary to make any attempt at criticism 
of the book, but he offers a few notes 
upon the origins of the author's materials. 
With some success, people have endeavoured 
to localise the scenes in the story, and to 
identify the characters ; but part of the 
skill of the novelist has lain in the con- 
summate manner in which he has constructed 
places and characters from material derived 
from very various sources. 

There is no such community of lost souls 
and incarnate fiends as was Barbie, but 
Brown once acknowledged that the external 
features of the place were made up of a 
combination of New Cumnock, Sanquhar, 
and Ochiltree ; while, for the name itself, 
it may be suggested that he adopted a 
modification of the name of his uncle's 
college in Paris. 

10 



146 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

In the same way, Brown drew upon an 
extensive and intimate knowledge of Scots 
south-country people, without reproducing 
any of them with photographic accuracy. 
In some features, the character of Gourlay 
corresponds with that of a man who was 
at one time called the "village king" of 
Ochiltree ; but in many respects it does 
not correspond with the story concerning 
this person, and there have been other 
individuals who possessed one or more of 
Gourlay's unenviable idiosyncrasies. So it 
is with all the characters. The power of 
the book lies partly in the fact that, up 
and down Scotland, people recognise the 
savage qualities of Barbie as existent in 
this or the other country town of whose 
inner life they happen to have some familiar 
knowledge. 

For the emphatic vocabularies of his 



"THE HOUSE WITH GREEN SHUTTERS" 147 

characters, Brown drew largely upon that of 
his own father. Such words as "splurge," 
"browdened," "bluff," "spume and surge," 
such phrases as "a fuff in the pan," and 
" a child on the brisket," are recognised 
as having been distinctively Drumsmudden's, 
while the ejaculation " I'll gar your brains 
jaup red to the heavens" was a verbatim 
quotation from one of his outbursts of verbal 
wrath. In the same way an individual who 
used the irritating phrase, " Maybe, I 
dare say," with wearisome iteration, was an 
inhabitant of Ochiltree. 

The weak spots which have most pro- 
voked unfavourable criticism of the book 
on the part of the reviewers and others 
are the impossibility of Barbie in all its 
blackness, the shaky tectonics incident to 
the introduction of awkward and arid 
patches of moralising commentary the very 



148 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

"jawing" that Brown himself condemned 
when he discussed the theory of novel- 
writing and the anachronism of a good 
deal of the slang used by the characters. 
In all other respects, " The House with the 
Green Shutters" has won unstinted praise 
for its author. The vivid word-painting of 
scenes and scenery, the convincing and 
distinctive delineation of character, and the 
dramatic intensity and impetus of the 
narrative have marked the book as one 
that stands apart from the common crowd 
of novels, and takes a foremost place among 
the fiction of artistic quality. 

The author was quite well aware of the 
ferocity of his book. More than once, while 
he was still writing it, he expressed a fear 
that the story was taking too strong a hold 
upon him. a It's becoming terribly brutal," 
he would say. " People will get a false 



"THE HOUSE WITH GREEN SHUTTERS" 149 

impression of my point of view. I wonder 
if it's not a shame to write such a savage 
book ? " Many hailed Brown's novel as 
a shrewd blow at the " Kailyard School." 
" I love the book for just this, it sticks 
the Kailyarders like pigs," says Professor 
Raleigh, for instance. The " Kailyard 
School " made the Scots appear as a race 
of sentimentalists, and men of deep and 
general piety, and indirectly Brown's book 
did give the lie to this one-sided present- 
ment ; but the real aim of its savage and 
grim picture of Scottish life and character 
was somewhat different. This aim has 
been put very tersely by a correspondent 
of the Ayr Advertiser, who writes on the 
matter from the intimate point of view. 
He says : 

"It was not written because he hated the 
Kailyard School, though all cheap pathos 



150 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

was most distasteful to him ; not because 
he had a ' distorted view of humanity,' as 
I have seen it said somewhere ; not because 
his outlook on life was gloomy. He viewed 
life with absolutely hopeful eyes, seeing 
good in everything and every one, though 
never blind to flaws. And ' The House 
with the Green Shutters ' was written as 
it was, partly because he considered the 
ordinary cut-and-dried style of fiction wrong 
that a book should be a living thing, not 
a mechanism, stiffly moving and hampered 
by the garments of convention ; he wrote 
the end first, and became enamoured of 
his figures and, alas! he knew that in 
some lives there is an inevitableness of 
disaster. These are some reasons, and in 
his own words : ' I wrote it so cruelly, 
because I hate the cruel scandal that mis- 
interprets poor human beings. I'd rather 



"THE HOUSE WITH GREEN SHUTTERS i$t 

have the sinner at all times than the 
man who mocks at his infirmity.' And 
surely he did show, in telling fashion, 
the ghastliness of lives without saving 
charity. The book hurts but is alive 
vibrant, gruesome, cruel but clever, the 
characters written from inside ; therefore it 
is more than mere talent." 

At first the book took the market slowly, 
and we were content that it should achieve 
at least a succes destime. Even the Southron 
reviewers, to whom the Doric Scots was 
an almost impassable barrier, were not 
content to class it as one more Kailyard 
book and throw it aside ; but The Glasgow 
Herald was the first to detect the true 
keynote, and appraised the book at some- 
thing like its value. The people most 
qualified to judge of the worth of an artistic 
bit of work are not numerous items in the 



i2 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

crowd who anxiously await the newest 
novel ; but by-and-by an appreciative re- 
view by Mr. Andrew Lang brought this 
book within the purview of the inner circle, 
and then it began to go off more briskly. 
Not to make too long a story of that 
which is within the knowledge of every- 
body, " The House with the Green Shutters " 
became the most talked of book in literary 
circles, both in this country and in America ; 
later, the provincial papers heard of it, and 
many who had ignored their first review copies 
had to write ignominiously for second copies 
to enable them to swell the chorus of praise. 
Last of all, the great public that waits for 
the newest and the most sensational matter 
of interest got wind of the book, and began 
to demand it at the libraries. The total 
result was that, of the combined British and 
American editions, some twenty thousand 



MOUSE WITH GREEN SHUTTERS" 153 

copies were sold within the year a good 
record for a first book. 

Brown watched all these developments 
with anxious interest, and reported progress 
to his friends almost daily at first, while 
they carefully preserved reviews and news- 
paper paragraphs that might serve to in- 
dicate to him that the book would go. 

After a time, fame came knocking at 
Brown's door. He suffered for a while from 
the attentions of society lion-hunters ; and 
he rather seemed to enjoy the novelty, 
although he smiled at it. A leading authors' 
agent, who gives out that he never takes 
up any author until he has secured a success, 
made two or three applications for Brown's 
patronage, and is said to have actually hawked 
his next MS. as a speculation. Several 
of the leading publishers also intimated to 
him that they would be only too pleased 



154 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

to entertain proposals for the publication 
of his next novel. But the chief pleasure 
that Brown's success brought to him was 
derived from the skilled appreciation of the 
merit of his work, vouchsafed by more 
than one distinguished man of letters to 
whom previously he had been an utter 
stranger. 



George Douglas, Novelist 



CHAPTER VII 
GEORGE DOUGLAS, NOVELIST 



nr^HE success of his novel justified 
Brown in his having devoted to the 
drudgery of literature, on the humbler side 
of journalism, the six years that had elapsed 
since he had left college, and rehabilitated 
him in the respect and consideration of 
his friends in Ayrshire. These hastened 
to offer him their congratulations, and 
asked him to accept the office of chairman 
at the annual reunion of " Ochiltronians " 
on Hogmanay night New Year's Eve. He 
accepted the honour, and made opportunity 
of his visit to Scotland for the occasion 
157 



158 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

to put himself in touch with a number of 
his former friends, and to make the acquaint- 
ance of a number of Scottish journalists 
and men of letters to whom his book had 
revealed him. 

Mr. Neil Munro has given the public 
the benefit of his impressions of Brown 
as he saw him at this time : - 

"He was, to all appearances, strong, 
athletic even buoyant, active, in love with 
life and his work, although he took his 
pleasures and his labours alike temperately. 
I had expected something of the swell 
with the ' Oxford manner ' (which the 
peasant catches by Isis as readily as does 
the peer's son), and found instead a typical 
Ayrshire man who might, but for his 
spectacles and an occasional flight of fancy 
or scholarship in his speech, have been a 
young farmer. I had looked for a man 



GEORGE DOUGLAS, NOVELIST 159 

somewhat bitter, too, a cynic, a pessimist, 
somewhat contemptuous of the country he 
came from, as one might well be who wrote 
' The House with the Green Shutters ' ; 
and ten minutes' conversation revealed him 
for a boyish, cheerful, laughing, whimsical 
person, well enough pleased with the world 
as he found it, tolerant to a fault, and as 
Scots in sympathies and spirit, as well as 
in speech (when he let himself go), as if 
he had never left Ochiltree." 

The people of Ochiltree, among whom 
he had been brought up, were proud of 
"Geordie Broon," for he reflected glory 
upon the little community and the district 
of Kyle ; and yet they were " just a trifle 
afraid of him, as one who might conceivably 
enshrine them in one of these shady pictures 
of Scottish life that they fully expected him 
to portray in the days that were to come." 



160 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

The Ochiltree reunion is a somewhat 
unique annual gathering of those who have, 
at one time or another, been schoolfellows 
in the village school, and, on the occasion 
upon which Brown presided, this function 
was celebrating its fortieth anniversary. 
From a contemporary account we get some 
idea of the event of the evening the 
chairman's address : " As he addressed 
them, he certainly gave the audience pause. 
He did not draw forth the customary roll 
of MS. and read therefrom ; but, like 
Professor Blackie, he stood up, stuck his 
hands deep into his pockets, and launched 
forth into the broadest of Lowland Doric 
Doric was the term he himself used * Steek 
the door, I canna talk wi' an open door.' 
Soon he dropped into verse celebrating the 
parish and the occasion, then he followed 
up with an imaginary 'crack' with the 



GEORGE DOUGLAS, NOVELIST 161 

Burnock Water. It was not a laboured or 
sustained speech, but its homeliness was 
studded with unexpected gems that blazed 
through it like lightning athwart a wintry 
sky. Occasionally he would turn round to 
his right-hand supporter a sheep farmer, 
great in repartee and say, * Will I stop, 
'Cloigh ? ' But, with all his raciness of the 
soil on which he stood, he bore the marks 
of the distinction which as a young man 
of thirty-two he has already attained in 
scholarship and authorship." 

In a rhymed effusion prepared for the 
occasion, and recited as part of his speech 
Brown sang the praise of " Auld Ochiltree," 
her two rivers, and her men. Several of his 
local friends and acquaintances" 'Cloigh," 
The Reidston Lindsays," " Wullie Wylie," 
"Geordie Miller," and " Whustlin' Davie" 
were touched off with humour and 

ii 



162 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

kindliness ; and, altogether, the latest 
" Ochiltronian " to " arrive " showed no dis- 
position to forget the companions and friends 
of his boyhood's days, but seemed anxious 
rather to share his glory with his birthplace 
and the inhabitants thereof. 

To-day, the passage in Brown's speech 
that appears to have remained most vividly 
in the memories of those who were present 
is that in which be held converse with the 
stream that flows through the lower part 
of the village. The dialogue was mainly 
concerned with the personalities of people 
who had at one time or other been resident 
in the village ; and it was brought to a 
close by an imaginary remark on the part 
of the stream, to the effect that it must 
hurry on to join the River Lugar, and 
would give it " a devil of a dunt " when 
it reached it. 



GEORGE DOUGLAS, NOVELIST 163 

While at Ochiltree, Brown was the guest 
of Mr. David Wilson, tenant in Auchencloigh, 
who, like his neighbours, was better known 
by the name of his farm, " 'Cloigh." 

In the course of a humorous epistle, 
addressed to Mr, Wilson some time after 
he had returned to England, Brown told 
of the well-being of "the other 'Cloigh," 
a collie dog which he had received as a 
present. " He is very browdened on his 
new maister," he wrote. " He comes scartin' 
at my door every morning before I'm up, 
and bowghs, * Hey, are ye waukin', Geordie ? ' 
My old housekeeper says : ' W'y, sir, 'e be 
wise enough to be a Christian.' " Thus, in 
genial and unspoiled fashion, Brown easily 
resumed his intercourse with the friends of 
his boyhood, and, as easily, the rich Doric 
which they best understood as the medium 
of familiar talk. Glasgow, and Oxford, and 



164 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

"The House with the Green Shutters" 
notwithstanding, he was still " Geordie 
Broon " to the humblest of his early friends 
and associates. 

The young novelist returned to his work 
after this triumphal tour, settling down in 
a furnished cottage at Haslemere in Surrey, 
the well-known country resort of London 
men of letters. He occupied the "hut" 
alone, but his landlady came in daily at 
appointed hours, for the purpose of cooking 
and serving his food, and of supplying other 
domestic requirements. He rather relished 
the seclusion which the style of life afforded 
him. 

Subscribing himself " The Eremite," he 
wrote one letter to his friend Mr. Melrose, 

in the course of which he said : " and 

came down to see me on Sunday, and though 
I like them well, it took me a day to get 



GEORGE DOUGLAS, NOVELIST 165 

back to my solitary rut again. The recluse 
doesn't like his seclusion broken in on, 
unless it be by Melrose, or somebody of 
the sort and then, you see, Melrose won't 
come to see him." 

Country scenery and country life Brown 
absolutely loved. For one thing, they 
supplied him with a homelike environment. 
" He loved to talk to the old gaffers, as if 
he were one of them ; telling them how 
he had worked on a farm, and knew the 
routine of their daily toil, and how he loved 
the clean brown earth, and, sans shoes, sans 
hat, had wooed it in an old shirt and a pair 
of trousers ! " 

Natural scenery, too, supplied him with 
inspiration. One of his friends retains a 
vivid recollection of the description which 
he gave of a moonlit night that had followed 
upon a wild, stormy day at Haslemere : 



i66 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

" After being confined to the house all day 
he had gone out at eleven o'clock at night. 
* A great suave, soft-blowing wind was 
shepherding vast flocks of white clouds ' 
across the sky. The wind was fierce in its 
vehemence, but ' soft as a baby's cheek ' to 
the touch. The scudding clouds were un- 
usually noticeable. At one moment they 
' swept forward in great battalions, heaped 
and piled and yet hurrying ' ; a moment 
later they * streamed across the heavens like 
a scattered army.' As they crossed the 
broad moon, great black shadows scurried 
along the white roads, reminding the gazer 
of the fleeting shadows of an April day. 
The glory of the night was intensified by 
the sense of absolute loneliness ; all the 
rest of the world was abed, the wide moor 
was his in sole possession. The experience 
filled Brown's heart with satisfaction, not, he 



GEORGE DOUGLAS, NOVELIST 167 

said, a ' shouting happiness,' but a ' riotous 
gladness.' He felt 'half drunk with the 
mere delight of living.' At midnight he 
moved homewards, and yet was slow to go 
indoors. The wind still behaved like a 
* jovial ruffian,' still retained its velvet 
quality. But by that time the big white 
moon had reached the zenith, and had the 
sky to herself. ' The white battalions of 
heaven had swept on,' the vast dome seemed 
pure with a clean-washed purity." 

Brown surely possessed what Walter 
Bagehot defines as one of the essentials of 
genius, " an experiencing nature." The 
facts of nature, the drama of human life 
interested him ; he was sensible of their 
charms ; what other men saw but to for- 
get, he appropriated for himself. He met 
Bagehot's condition, " The materials for 
the creative faculty must be provided by 



i68 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

the receptive faculty. Before a man can 
imagine what will seem to be realities, he 
must be familiar with what are realities." 

The invention of his second novel was 
now Brown's chief task. This was to be 
a love story, a romance of the days of 
Cromwell, and into it he was resolved to 
put the tender side of his nature. He 
had also conceived the idea of a plot for 
a third novel. This was to be called " The 
Incompatibles," and there is suggestion in 
the mere title that he contemplated a 
further study of naked truth, from the 
artistic point of view, somewhat on the 
lines of " The House with the Green 
Shutters." 

By fits and starts, too, Brown was pulling 
into final shape a study of " Hamlet " upon 
which he had worked with loving care for 
a number of years. Drama in general had 



GEORGE DOUGLAS, NOVELIST 169 

a great attraction for him, and he had a 
definite intention to try his hand at play- 
writing. He studied plays by various 
playwrights very carefully. He side-marked 
and annotated copies in his hand, and even 
made alterations on them, with a view to 
improvement of plot or handling. 

Brown had little patience in witnessing 
the performance of plays. The artifice of the 
stage was too transparent for him. But 
the works of dramatists and poets were 
among his staple literature. Shakespeare's 
words he made his own. Stephen Phillips 
he hailed as a true and strong poet. He 
was especially enthusiastic over " Paolo and 
Francesca," frequently quoting such lines 
as 

She sits alone among great roses. 
He thought that lines like this were 



170 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

worthy of Milton, and of Milton he was a 
great lover. "Lycidas" he never tired of 
repeating, when his friends would listen ; 
and in his talk he revealed an intimacy 
with all Milton's minor poems. Browning, 
too, was among his favourites. Familiar 
with his finest poems, Brown quoted from 
them largely in the course of ordinary 
conversation. A paper upon the inner 
meaning of Browning's poetry was one of 
the most distinctive of his contributions to 
the symposiums of the Arnold. 

Amid his other studies and pursuits 
Brown did not miss modern books on topics 
that interested him. It is perhaps worth 
mentioning that he read Mr. T. W. H. 
Crosland's " Unspeakable Scot," in which 
a chapter is devoted to "Barbie." He 
thought that the savagery of this book was 
partly assumed for purposes of humour, but 



GEORGE DOUGLAS, NOVELIST 171 

that there was "a great deal of bitter truth 
in it, bitterly expressed." While he con- 
fessed that he enjoyed it, he expressed the 
belief that it would not sell. " I devoutly 
hope," he said, " that no Scottish fool will 
write to the papers protesting against it, 
for that is the very thing that Crosland 
wants." 

From the immediately preceding pages, 
it will be observed that life at Haslemere 
was far from monotonous. There was a 
considerable and varied programme of work 
to be overtaken ; and there was variety of 
profitable recreation besides. Brown's visits 
to town were infrequent, and most irregular 
in their occurrence, and he always seemed 
to be glad to return to his " hut," and to 
solitude. 



Dead ere his Prime 



173 



CHAPTER VIII 

DEAD ERE HIS PRIME 

T N the course of the previous pages of 
the present sketch, we have more than 
once referred to Brown's splendid physique. 
Sprung from an ancestry closely associated 
with the hardy but healthy labour of those 
who till the soil, he possessed a well-knit 
frame ; and this had been developed during 
his boyhood, in circumstances which gave 
him sufficient scope for healthy exercise, 
without recourse to the artificial aid of 
athletics. "If ever a man was built for a 
long life, it was Brown," Mr. Robert Barr 
has said. 

175 



176 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

There was one weak spot in Brown's 
constitution, and that, as with Carlyle, was 
his liver. Throughout his University career, 
and especially in the unsuitable climate of 
Oxford, he had much ado to stimulate his 
jecoric functions, and in London and at 
Haslemere he did not entirely escape. For 
many of us it requires no stretch of 
imagination to picture the limitations from 
which his work must have suffered in con- 
sequence. His letters supply ample con- 
firmation. For example, in November, 1901, 
he told of "liver and stomach bothers," of 
which he had only got rid by walking and 
diet. 

Some months later, he wrote again that 
he was suffering from appalling lethargy of 
mind and body, "liver, not laziness." He 
could idle away existence in a gross and 
heavy dream, and had to pinch himself 



DEAD ERE HIS PRIME 177 

angrily, in order to keep his mind fixed 
on his work. 

Even his morbid physical sensations were 
of interest to the young novelist. He talked 
of making a study of the lethargic character ; 
an incidental sketch, rather. He thought 
that there was a distinct place for incidental 
psychological sketches in a novel. The 
novelist was sometimes very familiar with 
significant traits which, nevertheless, were 
hardly big enough to make the framework 
of a whole novel ; but if he would work them 
in as features of his minor characters, these 
would impress by their truth and (if well 
handled) add to a full conviction of the 
whole. Balzac, Brown noted, had done this 
with the character of La Fosseuse in " The 
Country Doctor." 

Brown made one or two excursions to 
Scotland after his triumphal visit, but his 

12 



178 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

appearances in London were infrequent and 
brief. His habits being those of a solitary 
man, no concern was felt by his friends when 
weeks and even months passed without any 
letter from him. Certainly the idea of 
illness was the last thing that would have 
occurred to any of them, although Brown 
had had one or two illnesses which had 
necessitated his lying in bed for a few days. 

On Monday, August 25th, Brown came 
to London, not this time with eager COIT- 
fidence and anticipation of enjoying himself 
with his friends, but as a sick man. A 
few days before, one of his hepatic attacks 
had driven him to athletic exercises of a 
violent kind. There was consciousness of 
a lesion as a result of his violence. A slight 
spitting of blood and an irritating cough 
ensued ; but, true to his method, he resolved 
to fight it down, and walked, smoked, and 



DEAD ERE HIS PRIME 179 

worked as usual. The symptoms, instead 
of lessening, grew worse. On the Sunday 
night he had no sleep, and on the Monday, 
by the advice of a neighbour, he made the 
visit to town to consult a medical man. 

When he came to the house of his friend, 
Mr. Melrose, at Highgate, Brown tried to 
comport himself bravely. With the greatest 
difficulty able to speak, his first words on 
entering the house were : " Don't be alarmed ; 
I look bad, but there is nothing seriously 
wrong with me." Alarming as his appear- 
ance was, his friends were only too glad to 
believe his reassuring protest. Two hours 
before, he had been examined by a West 
End physician, who had prescribed simple 
remedies, and declared that his patient 
would be all right in a day or two. 

That night a little relief was obtained, 
and Brown sat talking of books and literary 



i8o GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

topics until one o'clock in the morning. 
On the Tuesday morning, his friend, going 
cheerfully into his room, was distressed to 
find that he had never been in bed. The 
relief of the previous night had been but 
temporary, and his symptoms were as bad 
as ever. A medical man who visited him 
the same day declared him to be suffering 
from severe congestion of the throat, but 
not dangerously ill. 

That night was spent as the preceding 
night had been ; and, while his words 
were brave, there was manifested a growing 
uneasiness on Brown's part. Usually a very 
self-reliant man, he now showed a disinclina- 
tion to be left alone, and seemed grateful 
for the constant attention of his friends. 
Yet he steadily refused to allow other 
friends to be summoned, his excuse being : 
" I'm not seriously ill, you know ; painful. 



DEAD ERE HIS PRIME 181 

but not dangerous." By this time, however, 
Mr. Melrose was thoroughly alarmed, and 
another physician was called one who had 
attended Brown in the same household a 
year before, and to whom he was warmly 
attached. The medical diagnosis was 
rendered extremely difficult by Brown's 
distress, and the physician confessed him- 
self puzzled. He, in common with his con- 
freres, however, declared that there was no 
immediate danger ; and so Brown's friends 
took heart again, and hoped for the best. 

All this time Brown had been sitting up. 
He found himself easier so, and disliked 
the idea of going to bed ; but a nurse had 
been summoned that night, and she insisted, 
as a preliminary of her ministrations, that 
he should take the position of a patient ; 
in short, that he should be in bed. Some 
premonition that he would never rise from 



182 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

the couch may have been upon him, for he 
strenuously opposed the idea, and only the 
united persuasion of his friends made him 
yield. From this time he grew worse. 

In the middle of the night, Brown's 
friends, Mr. Melrose and Mr. Howard Spicer, 
who had gone to snatch a brief sleep, were 
awakened hastily to receive the gravest 
of news. The sick man's condition was 
changing ; and, for the first time, the fear 
that he was dying flashed over the minds 
of the watchers. Medical assistance was at 
once procured ; but, beyond the administer- 
ing of oxygen to relieve the breathing, 
and hypodermic injections to stimulate the 
heart, nothing could be done. Gradually 
Brown grew weaker, although he retained 
consciousness. About nine in the morning 
he said : " I ken you fine," in reply to 
a question, and these were his last words. 



DEAD ERE HIS PRIME 183 

Shortly afterwards he sank into a coma- 
tose state, only broken by spasms. This 
condition continued for about an hour ; 
then, at ten o'clock on the morning of 
Thursday, August 28th, the last struggle 
came, and George Douglas Brown was no 
more. 

The obscurity of the disease that had 
carried Brown off suggested the desirability 
of a postmortem examination ; but, in de- 
ference to the feelings of his fiance'e, the 
idea was abandoned. The medical theory 
is, however, that, although there was bad 
congestion of the throat, and might have 
been rupture of the trachea, a clot of blood 
had travelled towards the heart and been 
the actual cause of death. 

The mortal remains of George Douglas 
Brown were removed to Scotland, and on 
Monday, September 1st, they were laid to 



1 84 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

rest in the cemetery at Ayr, beside those 
of his beloved mother. 

At a time of sickness, or in a moment 
of weldtschniertz. Brown wrote a poem, of 
which the following two verses may fitly 
close the story of his short and strenuous 
life :- 

Bury me deep on the Bennan Hill, 

Where I may face the sea, 
And sleep a lang and blessed sleep 

Till Christ shall waken me. 

Hid, the whaup may skirl in the lanely sky, 

And the sun shine miles aroon, 
And quately the stately ships gae by, 

But I'll be sleeping soun. 

The news of Brown's death came upon 
his many friends and on the public with 
inevitable suddenness, and the shock was 
one of pained surprise. It was difficult 
to believe that the strong and healthy and 
joyous man, who had been moving about 



DEAD ERE HIS PRIME 185 

among his fellows until ten days before, 
was dead. It was difficult to realise that 
speculations as to the possible development 
of the undoubted genius of George Douglas 
Brown had been put beyond the reach of 
probation. It was difficult to accept with 
resignation the removal of a young writer 
who had given distinct promise of acquiring 
fresh laurels for his Almae Matres, for 
Scotland, and for English literature. 

The chorus of regretful appreciation was 
loud and sustained. Throughout the domains 
of respectable journalism, critics and friends 
hastened to lay their wreaths upon the 
young Scotsman's tomb, to give voice to 
their sense of loss, to mark the grave oi 
their buried expectations. By way of 
illustration, two representative quotations 
may suffice. 

Mr. Charles Whibley has recorded the 



i86 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

opinion that the two qualities of freshness 
and maturity are peculiarly characteristic of 
" George Douglas," " who was at once a 
sound scholar and an uncompromising realist." 
" In the first place," continues Mr. Whibley, 
" none but a scholar could have written 
George Douglas's masterpiece, which is 
composed severely upon the lines of a 
Sophoclean tragedy. There is a real Nemesis 
in the grandeur of the house ; there is a 
true irony in the poker just the same size 
as the rim of the fender, which is at once 
Gourlay's pride and death. And the critics 
who compared George Douglas to Balzac 
would have been wiser had they remembered 
the Greeks. The * bodies,' too, who com- 
ment upon the action of the drama, and 
constantly feed the fire of Gourlay's irritation, 
are nothing more nor less than a Greek 
chorus, and though the book is far more 



DEAD ERE HIS PRIME 187 

complex in construction than the simple 
model upon which it is built, its origin is 
clearly demonstrated. In the second place, 
the book is, like its author, perfectly sincere. 
Its very savagery is imposed by a trans- 
parently honest purpose. It is quite possible 
that had not the school of the Kailyard 
flourished, ' The House with the Green 
Shutters/ would have taken on a different 
shape. But once George Douglas was 
resolved to tell the truth of his native 
Scotland, he spared none of the facts. It is 
true that there is a certain griminess in the 
book, but it is not griminess for its own 
sake. Mr. Douglas did not heap up 
statistics, as M. Zola is wont to heap them 
up, merely to astonish the Philistines. He 
drew what he believed to be an accurate 
picture, and he added no details which did 
not illustrate the whole, or enhance the effect. 



i88 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

Above all, he was an accomplished writer, 
whose style was always sound and always 
appropriate." 

Of George Douglas Brown the man, one 
who knew him with some degree of intimacy 
has contributed the following appreciation 
to the columns of the Ayr Advertiser: 

" He had a sane view of life. In spite of 
many trials, he ever went on with a com- 
pelling determination to grow in character 
and 'arrive.' He was modest, listened to 
the opinions of others, had a winning way 
of making commonplace things alive and in- 
teresting, and held that in all men was the 
Divine spark, however flickering and obscure. 
He loved colour, space, flowers all nature. 
To George Douglas, child life was sacred, 
and death but the gateway to full life. He 
never failed a friend or harmed an enemy. 
Fair, sane perception of humanity's ultimate 



DEAD ERE HIS PRIME 189 

happy perfection, contagious mirth, a pas- 
sionate enthusiasm for the true in everything, 
and boundless charity, allied to brilliant 
brain power, made him a fascinating 
personality. To those who really knew 
him, he will never be dead. His friends, 
who have lost the stimulus (except in 
memory) of a bracing comradeship, some- 
times wish he had never written a book, 
that was held so mistakenly to mirror the 
man, and was only a forerunner of greater 
things that would have proved his genius 
in vastly different fashion had he lived. 
Intellect big, character bigger, George 
Douglas Brown died as he lived, a fighter 
plucky to the end." 



In ordinary circumstances, it would have 
fallen to the present writer to complete this 
chapter with a summing up in appreciation 



IQO GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

of the qualities and attributes of George 
Douglas Brown's character and personality 
and an estimate of the ultimate value and 
place of his short life-work. But the 
compilers of this volume have had the 
good fortune to secure permission to reprint 
the most intimate appreciation of George 
Douglas Brown that has been given to the 
public that contributed by his friend, Mr. 
Andrew Melrose, to the columns of The 
Bookman and the writer's task is completed 
when he refers the reader to this reminiscent 
sketch of a friendship and a notable 
novel. 



Reminiscences of a Friendship 
and a Notable Novel 

BY ANDREW MELROSE 



191 



GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

REMINISCENCES OF A FRIENDSHIP AND A 
NOTABLE NOVEL 

BY ANDREW MELROSE 

I 

T HAVE no means of fixing definitely 

the date of my first meeting with George 

Douglas Brown. Probably it was in the 

late summer of 1898. Although I do not 

remember the date of our first meeting, I 

have a very vivid recollection of the meeting 

itself, brought about by my friend Howard 

Spicer. Mr. Spicer, who was at the time 

editing Sandow's Magazine^ said that he 

193 13 



I 9 4 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

wanted me to meet a new man he had got 
hold of, who was, he thought, worth knowing. 
And it was at the office vtSandow's Magazine, 
in Arundel Street, that I first met Brown. 
What impressed me most about him was 
his intense seriousness, and a certain depre- 
catory manner in giving his opinions on 
literary matters. I never knew Brown as 
anything else but a serious man, although 
we had many happy days and royal nights 
together ; but I speedily got to know that he 
did not hold his opinions in a deprecatory 
fashion. The manner I have indicated sprang 
from a kind of shyness, a reluctance to make 
himself fully known until he was sure of 
perfect sympathy. Once assured of this, 
no man could lay down the law with more 
royal arrogance. It was one of the delights 
of our subsequent relations that we both 
exercised the right of stating our opinions 



REMINISCENCES 195 

as if they were ultimate ; and it was all 
the better fun when it happened, as it often 
did, that we took, or pretended to take, 
diametrically opposite views. 

I had a feeling in those days that Brown 
was a lonely man. In the course of conver- 
sation the names of various men, journalists 
and others, cropped up, as indicating that 
he had a fair number of friends. Of 
only one man, however, did he speak with 
the kind of familiarity which indicates in- 
timacy. With Mr. Montagu Emanuel, an 
old Balliol friend, he had constant and 
close relations, and at his home he was 
on a footing of familiar friendship. I 
always thought of Brown as a man who 
had many friends, but no real intimates ; 
and he was the kind of man for whose 
true development an intimate was essential. 
This impression was confirmed by his 



196 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

remarking, not once, but many times in the 
course of our friendship, that he had revealed 
himself to me more than to any other man 
he had ever known. 



II 

It was not his modesty, however, although 
that was delightful, nor his seriousness, which 
was unusual, that drew me to him. It was 
his intense interest in literature. One meets 
with many men engaged in journalism, and 
respectable enough as authors, who are 
conventionally interested in literature as 
" shop " ; but, so far as my own experience 
goes, it is a rare thing to meet a man 
who translates all life into literature, and 
who can therefore talk of the subject at 
all times with freshness and without repeat- 
ing himself, and with the enthusiasm which 



REMINISCENCES 197 

indicates a man possessed by his subject. 
Such a man was G. D. Brown, and therefore 
the days and nights which we spent together 
are among the most vivid of my recollections 
as they were among the most enjoyable 
experiences of my life. The biggest bout 
of talking we ever had was three years ago, 
when we spent a fortnight's holiday together, 
and talked literature practically all the time, 
every day, and half of every night. I hardly 
need to explain that our conversation was not 
mainly, nor in any great part, of published 
books, new or old, but was chiefly concerned 
with potential literature, the kind of books 
that should be written, the fundamental 
principles which must underlie all worthy 
books, the pure aim and unworldly purpose 
which should inform them. 

As a matter of fact, although Brown, as a 
reviewer of books and a publisher's reader, 



198 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

read as much, and probably more, modern 
literature than I, he had very little to say at 
any time about new writers ; and his reading 
of the older authors had by no means been 
extensive. It was amazing, for instance, to 
find that Carlyle was practically unknown 
to him. Emerson he had never read, until 
we read a volume of the essays together 
on a holiday ; he declared that he had 
never realised the beauty of Tennyson 
until I read " Maud " to him ; and only the 
day before he died he was looking for the 
first time at " Mosses from an Old Manse," 
and saying he must read Hawthorne. He 
said, and I have no doubt it was true, that 
the majority of books had so little to give 
him that he did not find it worth his while 
to read them. If a man can write essential 
stuff himself, why should he put off his 
time reading the platitudes of the average 



REMINISCENCES 199 

book ? was a favourite question with him. 
And no man ever felt surer that he had 
something essential to say in books than 
George Douglas Brown. 

" The damning fault in most of the books 
I read," he once wrote to me, " is that nothing 
in them seems to leap at you from out the 
pages. They are talky-talky, vapid. There 

is an article in in which a man has 

talked round about his subject for nine aim- 
less pages. Now, easy and sleepy writing 
may have a charm in a very few places ; but 
most books, and certainly all books of the 
kind we want, should be pregnant and 
packed." This gives the key to his own 
position as a novelist. He was a realist, 
not because he loved sordid details and 
the limning of ugly subjects, but because 
he would have his characters so true to life 
that they would "leap at you from out the 



200 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

page." And he sacrificed the pleasure of 
indulging in descriptive writing, for which 
he had unusual qualification, because he 
wanted to have every phrase essential to 
the story, to make every word bite in its 
meaning. Although he did not seek for 
the significant among modern books, he 
was greatly pleased when he came across 
them ; and occasionally when he came to 
my home he made discoveries which rejoiced 
him. Of many books to which I directed 
his attention, two especially he thought un- 
commonly good Miss Guiney's " Patrins," 
and Professor Raleigh's "Style." He made 
the acquaintance of these books on two 
separate occasions. On each occasion he 
took a volume to read after we had parted 
in the small hours of the morning, and 
when we met at breakfast he was full of 
the subject. When he left my home he 



REMINISCENCES 201 

carried off the books, and absolutely re- 
fused to give them back ! 



Ill 

How well Brown lived up to his ideals, 
and with what tremendous force he could 
actualise them, I realised for the first time 
when I heard him read the original MS. 
of the first and last novel associated with 
his name. " The House with the Green 
Shutters" was at that time a finished 
story of twenty thousand words, so packed 
that it gave the feeling of excessive strain. 
The memory of that reading comes vividly 
back to my mind. In a half- furnished 
cottage down in Surrey, belonging to 
Howard Spicer, three of us were squatting 
on the floor on rugs, for lack of chairs. 
For a whole afternoon two of us smoked 



202 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

in silence while Brown read his famous 
story. He knew us fairly well by this 
time, but not familiarly enough to enable 
him to read his own work without diffidence ; 
and I remember what a great nervous 
strain it was upon him. The interest of the 
story was so painfully absorbing that, even 
in the intervals when the reader paused 
to rest, we had no mind to criticise, but in 
the grip of its impending tragedy smoked 
vigorously in silence. When it was finished, 
the cumulative effect was tremendous. The 
story had many and obvious defects, and 
these were noted by us with frank criticism ; 
but from that time I never doubted that, if 
Brown got his chance, he would make a 
distinctive place for himself in literature. 

As a result of our criticism, Brown agreed 
not to place his MS. as a short story, but to 
extend it to a full-length novel. He was 



REMINISCENCES 203 

pleased by our appreciation, which was, he 
said, the first he had received ; and he made 
me promise to read it when extended, and 
to make suggestions. Later on, he was not 
so humble about his book ; and a year 
after, as it approached completion, when I 
made some criticism upon it, I saw that 
he had got the bit between his teeth, as it 
were, and was not disposed to take criticism 
readily. He professed to see its faults ; 
he admitted that it went in some particulars 
right in the face of artistic principles which 
he was constantly laying down. " I believe 

you are right, ; but I have a feeling 

now that this book has got to go as it 
is" Humorously threatening to have my 
revenge in a review, I accepted his mood, 
and at subsequent readings rarely offered 
any comment, saving this : " If the book 
goes and it cannot quite fail it will be in 



204 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

spite of its defects." That it would have 
a literary success we never for a moment 
doubted, but I must frankly own that we 
were not prepared for the popular success 
which it achieved here and in America. 



IV 

Brown's position for a while gave me 
much anxious thought. All the men of his 
acquaintance, myself included, were in more 
or less settled positions ; they had found 
work and settled down to it seriously. For 
them each day brought duties, each week 
or month brought the pecuniary reward of 
work. Brown alone had no regular employ- 
ment ; he acknowledged no duties, and in 
fact shunned anything like an attempt to 
get him into settled work. On one occasion 
two of his friends talked the matter over, and 



REMINISCENCES 205 

decided that they would try to get him fixed. 
Within a few weeks a position of a literary 
kind, carrying 600 a year as salary, was 
bespoken for him. He had all the qualifica- 
tions desiderated University degree, literary 
ability, and the like and his nomination was 
favourably entertained. We made haste to 
tell him the good news, but he took it with 
a marked lack of enthusiasm. I remember 
the quizzically amused look on his face when 
we told him that an appointment had been 
made for him to meet one of the principals 
concerned next day; and I had an idea 
that he had no intention of putting in an 
appearance. I was not deceived. Brown 
did not turn up ; the post was given to 
another man, and we made no second 
attempt to put our friend in harness. It 
must not be supposed, however, that he was 
averse to work. When he had a fit of 



206 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

industry on, nothing would induce him to 
interrupt it ; and when his exchequer ran 
low, he would "swot" for days, as hard as 
any journalist, reviewing, writing sketches, 
articles, and odd paragraphs. But he valued 
his freedom so much that he would not take 
up any work which demanded regularity of 
hours and some method. 



Brown was a great stroller in London 
parks not at fashionable hours, however, 
but in the early hours of the forenoon, when, 
except for children playing, and guardian 
nursemaids, they are practically deserted. I 
have wandered with him in these early hours, 
and he has shown to me his favourite re- 
treats. In the glades of Kensington Gardens 
he found quiet spots, in which, but for the 



REMINISCENCES 207 

dull roar of the traffic that surges round, 
one might imagine oneself in the heart of a 
deep wood. Here he spent many a summer 
morning, lying on his back in the fresh grass, 
looking up into the trees that threw over him 
their welcome shelter. To a casual observer 
he was simply loafing, as any man might 
loaf who found himself in a London park 
on a bright summer morning, with no definite 
duties to perform. Brown was, indeed, loaf- 
ing physically on these occasions, but he 
was by no means loafing mentally. This 
was a marked characteristic of the man 
that while he shunned settled work, he 
probably wasted less time in mooning than 
any man of his acquaintance. He could 
not always write, but he could always 
think ; and he was practically innocent of 
the intellectual laziness which spells ruin 
for so many fine minds. 



2o8 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

Some of us carry notebooks and never 
use them. Brown always carried a note- 
book, and that notebook was a necessity of 
his intellectual habits. He designedly sought 
for ideas ; when they came, he knew them 
for his own, and, with the careful providence 
of a man determinedly preparing for a career, 
he noted them down. He had a great 
admiration for style too ; and while his 
utterance was free, spontaneous, and in- 
stinctively selective, in writing he deliber- 
ately restrained himself and struggled for 
the most fitting and expressive word. 
" What do you think of this definition of 
style ? " he asked one night. " I wrote the 
other day a definition that rather pleased 
me : ' Style is supernal thought supernally 
expressed.' " Whatever may be thought 
of the definition, Brown certainly believed 
that the best style was only got by " working 



REMINISCENCES 209 

at," and he declared many a time to me 
that his chief hindrance in working, was, 
not the lack of ideas, but the difficulty 
of getting the right word. It was there- 
fore only consistent, that he should note 
down fresh words and phrases that occurred 
to him when thinking on any subject 
In this connection I remember vividly a 
Saturday-afternoon conversation in which I 
could not get a cut in, because of the eager 
interest with which he compared notes as 
to the birth of ideas and the clothing of 
them in fitting words with a professor of 
theology ! Dr. D. W. Simon, of Bradford 
United College. The two men, so widely 
different in every other respect, found on the 
purely intellectual side that they had much 
in common. A whole pile of notebooks 
filled with ideas and phrases were Brown's 
stock-in-trade. They were all his own ; he 

14 



2io GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

was almost foolishly jealous of the influence 
of other minds on his own, and he did not 
believe in using quotations. 



VI 

I never troubled about Brown's position 
after a certain Saturday afternoon nearly 
two and a half years ago. We had lunched 
together, and then the whim took us to go to 
Carlyle's house. The day was one of swelter- 
ing heat, and I remember the pleasant relief 
it was to get into that "house of proud 
Silences," which is still instinct with a 
human interest not surpassed by any other 
literary shrine. Brown was no Carlylean 
student, but he knew sufficient of his life 
and work to understand Carlyle's essential 
worth ; and I, who had visited the house 
before, was not blas Somehow or other, 



REMINISCENCES 211 

after looking at several of the relics and 
talking of the irascible old man of the 
" Reminiscences," something tickled our 
sense of humour, and our gurgling laughter 
was taken as indicating a lack of proper 
reverence, I fear, by a party of keen-looking 
Americans who were solemnly examining 
everything. We did not complete the 
inspection of the house, but came out, 
and then on a 'bus homewards we talked 
of many things with gathering seriousness 
and intimacy. Finally, I spoke of my feeling 
about him, a man of thirty, who had not 
"done" anything, nor begun to make a place 
for himself in the world. I asked him what 
his definite aim was, and the answer came 
unhesitatingly, "To be a novelist." My 
second question was, " Do you feel certain 
that the ' Green Shutters ' will make you 
arrive ? " And the reply was swift and 



212 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

confident : " Absolutely certain, ." From 

another man, this would have meant nothing 
save the confidence that is not generally 
lacking in young writers. Coming from 
G. D. Brown, somehow it carried a kind 
of conviction, and I promised that I would 
never again trouble myself about his future, 
and I never did. 

On this occasion I remember he told me 
he was quite conscious that his position 
was misunderstood by many men of his 
acquaintance. " I never speak about my 

novel," he said, " except to you and 

and . The men I knew at Oxford 

think I am not going to come off. But it 

does not matter. is always anxious 

that I should justify myself to the Oxford 
men, and I think I'll do it, but there's 
no hurry" 



REMINISCENCES 213 



VII 

It has been stated in a Scottish weekly 
by a journalist and novelist, who met Brown 
once, that he did not greatly value his 
book, and was a little surprised at its success. 
I have shown that the former statement is 
very far wide of the facts that he valued 
it so highly that he would practically admit 
no criticism of it. A still more striking 
proof of his opinion of his work was his 
remark, " I know it sounds arrogant, but 
I have a feeling that it does not greatly 
matter who publishes my book ; it is bound 
to go." 

When "The House with the Green 
Shutters" was accepted by an American 
house on the recommendation of the well- 
known critic, Mr. Charles Whibley, he was, 



214 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

however, frankly pleased ; and there was a 
sly dig at me in the letter which announced 
the news " M'Clure told me Whibley's 
report was commendatory throughout " ; but 
he adds naively, " I tell you this, because 
you will be even more pleased than I am." 
On its publication, he sent me a copy with 
this message : " Herewith a copy of the 
immortal Work. Disembowel it, or laud it 
to the skies, as seemeth good to thy 
soul. . . ." 

As to its success, Brown's expectations were 
large. He believed it might run to twenty 
thousand copies, and before he died there 
was a feeling with him that, given certain 
conditions, it ought to have done so. Sur- 
prised at the success which it had he certainly 
was not. It is a fact, though, that he spoke 
gratefully of the kind reception it got from 
the Press. There were exceptions, however 



REMINISCENCES 215 

" Rather idiotic review in The Scotsman, but 
they put it first in their list of fiction, and 
vote it disagreeably powerful. Goodish re- 
view in Glasgow Herald : ' True to the verge 
of being merciless ... If we smile, it is at 
the cruel point of some stinging jest. . . . 
Shows with a vengeance, too, the reverse 
of the Drumtochty shield. . . . Overdrawn, but 
grimly true, and full of promise.'" These 
and other excerpts from reviews which he 
sent me from time to time showed how 
keenly he followed the progress of his book. 
" So far," he writes again, " nobody but The 
Glasgow Herald man has seen that I'm 
showing up the Scot malignant which you 
and I thought, in a way, the raison d'etre 
of the book. Scotsman fellow says 'it's 
brutally coarse.' Coarse ! " 

During the first few weeks after the publi- 
cation of his book, Brown was indeed very 



2i6 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWM 

anxious about its fate. Various circum- 
stances had conspired to delay its appearance 
in England ; and the fact that for a while 
it excited no particular attention made him 
fear it was going to be swamped in the 
flood of Christmas publications. During 
these weeks there were few days in which 
Brown did not come to see us. We knew 
what he came for, and gave him every 
comfort in the way of "signs" of success 
which we could gather. But we began to 
fear that we were going to be disappointed 
in our hopes. Several extended and good 
notices had appeared in England notably 
one, I think, in The Pall Mall Gazette, 
which greatly pleased Brown ; but it was 
not until it was noticed by Mr. Andrew 
Lang in Longmaris Magazine that the tide 
began to flow unmistakably in its favour 
Equally favourable notices in The Times, 



in The Morning Post, and in The Monthly 
Review one of them at least, perhaps all, 
from the same hand set the fashion ; after 
this, reviews were numerous, and each more 
favourable than the other. In a few weeks, 
" The House with the Green Shutters " was in 
everybody's mouth, and its author was the 
most-talked-of man in literary circles in 
London. 

Of the book itself it is not necessary for 
me to speak critically. I had my chance 
of a review, and I did not " disembowel it "; 
for it was in the early days, when its fate 
seemed uncertain, and this was not the func- 
tion of a friend. I did not ignore its defects, 
but found it on a final reading as I had 
found it at the beginning the most signifi- 
cant and powerful novel I had read for a 
decade at least. 



2i8 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 



VIII 

Brown was keenly conscious that his book 
was apt to give the impression of a savage, 
cynical nature, and he shrank from being so 
misunderstood. It was probably this con- 
sciousness that influenced him in the choice 
of a subject for his next work. He chose 
a love story, a romance of Cromwell's time, in 
which he was resolved to express the tender 
side of his nature. The romance is un- 
finished, and probably will never appear, 
even as a fragment ; and so those who took 
their impression of the author's nature from 
the types of characters that he drew with 
such merciless fidelity in his one book, must 
be content to readjust their opinion of him 
from the picture of the man as he appeared 
to his intimate friends. Whether Brown 



REMINISCENCES 219 

would have been as successful with the story 
which he had projected, as he was in " The 
House with the Green Shutters " remains 
an interesting speculation. Probably he 
would have been more at home with a 
third novel which he had planned " The 
Incompatibles " ; and my instinctive feeling 
is that in a subject like this he would more 
readily and fully have exercised his extra- 
ordinary powers. This also is a mere 
conjecture, however. Certainly he got his 
fame not so much by his performance as 
by what that performance promised. The 
possibilities were great, but they have been 
swept into the eternities to ripen ; and the 
question as to whether he might have become 
a master of English literature, or whether 
he was, as some thought, a man of one book, 
can never be answered. He lived his short 
life simply and seriously ; the work that he 



220 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

felt impelled to do he did with sincerity 
and fine conscientiousness. In a few brief 
months he had leapt from obscurity into 
amazing literary fame, and he died planning 
his life-work. 

All is over and done; 
Render thanks to the Giver, England, for thy son. 

IX 

I have thought it necessary to say so 
much about the origin and progress of 
Brown's book because of the place which 
the novel has achieved in contemporary 
literature. But during the early years of 
our acquaintance I had no thought of his 
becoming a famous author ; and our friend- 
ship was that of two men who had a great 
deal in common, whose intimate friendships 
were few, and whose view of life was 



REMINISCENCES 221 

practically identical. Circumstances ripened 
our intimacy quickly ; and a closer friend- 
ship, on certain sides, than ours became 
is to me inconceivable. 

As an outcome of many conversations 
upon the essential in literature, there was 
formed a partnership of three for literary 
purposes, the third partner being Howard 
Spicer. The literary purpose took shape 
in a kind of authors' advisory agency, for 
encouraging the writers of what we termed 
" essential stuff." There was, of course, a 
room in Fleet Street, where all three met 
after six o'clock at night for conversation 
and the airing of projects. It was a small 
room on the roof, furnished modestly, but 
sufficient for comfort ; and it had a glorious 
view across to the Surrey Hills. Brown, 
as being the only one of us whose time 
was his own, was appointed " Manager " and 



222 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

Correspondent for the " Triumvirate," as we 
gravely designated the partnership. To me 
the scheme was more or less a joke albeit 
one in which I saw possibilities serious 
enough for Brown but we went about it as 
if we were hoping to make fame and fortune 
out of it. We had advertisements in literary 
papers, inviting MSS., which were to be con- 
sidered and criticised for a ridiculously small 
fee. For some months, Brown played the role 
of manager and correspondent sedulously 
enough ; but the poor quality of the MSS. 
which came in was disappointing, and the 
task of reading and criticising stuff that 
had no place but the W.P.B. soon irritated 
him, and as a literary agency the venture 
was an inglorious failure. 

The room was kept on for two years, 
however, as a meeting-place, and many a 
good time we had in it Occasionally, but 



REMINISCENCES 223 

not often, we introduced a friend,; and on 
such occasions, I feel confident, the visitor 
left us utterly mystified as to the purpose 
of the partnership, and with vague doubts 
of our sanity. We had an idea of publish- 
ing too, and our immortal work was to be 
" The House with the Green Shutters " a 
book which was at once to bring grist to 
the "Triumvirate," and to be an indication 
of the kind of stuff that we were prepared 
to run. When the book was finished Brown 
would have kept to his bargain, but I 
persuaded him against it, as I knew that 
the immediate success of his novel would be 
hindered by the imprint of a new publishing 
house. 

If the commercial side of the partnership 
was a joke, the " Triumvirate " as a friendship 
was not. Brown himself took it as seriously 
as any of us. We had a little tiff one day 



224 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

before an outsider, and this drew a letter 
from me. In the course of a long reply 
he said, " I agree with all you say about 
the Triumvirate speaking with one voice and 
as one man against all outsiders, even if 
these outsiders be personal friends of one 
or other member of the Triumvirate." This 
was the basis of our partnership. United 
in sympathies and in fundamental ideas of 
literature, we three were to be as one man. 
The partnership had never a break until 
death came. 

X 

Early in our friendship Brown was intro- 
duced to my home, and, fortunately for 
our personal relations, he was liked so well 
there that it was a red-letter night when he 
came. He often came; he never announced 
his coming he came when the mood struck 



REMINISCENCES 225 

him : as he was a Bohemian, he never made 
any preparations for stopping. Yet he 
always remained overnight, and sometimes 
his visit ran into three weeks. He liked 
being able to visit in this informal fashion, 
and he was never an unwelcome guest. 

On one occasion his unexpected arrival 
landed Brown in a ludicrous position. My 
family were from home, and I had not seen 
Brown for some days. One Saturday night 
he had taken it into his head to stop with 
me, and at about ten o'clock at night he 
turned up at the house, only to find me out. 
He had put on a frock-coat and top-hat, 
intending to go to church with me the next 
day ; but this amiable desire to make him- 
self respectable proved his undoing, for the 
caretaker, who had seen him a week before 
in a lounge suit and straw hat, did not 
recognise him in his finery, and refused to 

IS 



226 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

allow him to enter. Expostulation was in 
vain : the man was firm in refusing an 
entrance. Finally, he agreed to let him in 
to wait my home-coming, on condition that 
he the man sat in the same room with 
him. And in my den Brown remained 
practically in custody for two hours. He 
told me afterwards that he was seriously 
discomposed at the position, for he had come 
without money, and would have needed to 
walk back to town if I had not turned up. 
I need not say that Brown bore no grudge 
against the man who had done his duty 
not wisely but too well. 



XI 

As a talker, Brown was more vital than 
any other man I have ever met. He had 
great silences, but during these periods he 



REMINISCENCES 227 

remained by himself. He came to us when 
he wanted to talk, and he found us always 
ready. His conversation was like his writ- 
ing keen, incisive, and significant. I never 
knew a man talk better, in the sense that 
his sentences were perfectly formed, although 
there was not the slightest preparation. Like 
many another man, his best talk was after 
twelve o'clock at night Probably we never 
went to bed before half-past one, and often 
it was two and three o'clock when we turned 
in. When all other subjects had been ex- 
hausted, there still remained Shakespeare. 
And on Shakespeare my friend could talk 
at all times. He had a magnificent verbal 
memory, and was never at a loss to illus- 
trate his conversations by long quotations 
from the author of whom he was speaking. 
In " talking Shakespeare," this faculty stood 
him in good stead. 



228 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

His exposition of " Hamlet," which I hope 
will be given to the world soon, was in sub- 
stance recited to me three years ago during 
a fortnight's holiday which we spent at the 
seaside together. Yet he had not a sheet of 
MS. before him. I believe this will be found 
to be one of the most strikingly original 
and profound expositions of " Hamlet " that 
have ever been written. It will make secure 
the position as a thinker which Brown 
by his single work might have held pre- 
cariously. Another proof of how completely 
Shakespeare swept him away, when he got 
on the subject, was supplied by the fact 
that on one occasion, during a three weeks' 
visit to Howard Spicer's home, the one 
literary subject talked of all the time 
was " Hamlet." To Spicer, as to me, he 
practically recited the whole of what is now 
the complete exposition. He was a student 



REMINISCENCES 229 

of Meredith, and, more critically perhaps, 
of Balzac. Burns he had like the Ayrshire 
man he was at his finger-tips ; and while 
he would, in the rushes of impetuous talk, 
suddenly dive into a book-shelf for the 
purpose of reading from an author a passage 
to point his meaning, he could repeat by 
heart all of Burns that he desired to familiar- 
ise his hearer with. 

Like all men with original and active 
intellectual power, Brown had a great 
capacity for being bored ; and although he 
had a robustious side to him which made 
him appear " a right good chap " to men 
of a totally different cast, many instances 
come back to me of his arranging to meet 
one or other of the " Triumvirate " for the 
pure purpose of escaping from company in 
which he found himself but with which he 
had no real sympathy. On one occasion, 



230 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

I remember, he was living up the river ; 
and, after being bored to madness for a 
week, he wired to one of us, begging us 
to send a telegram saying that urgent 
business called him to London. On the 
other hand, he would enter with sympathy 
and the keenest interest into affairs of simple, 
unpretentious people ; and because of this he 
was a hero to many a humble old person 
who never suspected his literary powers. 



XII 

Because there is a great deal of " damn- 
ing" in his book, and an abundance of 
expletive that is not choice, it has been 
supposed, in many quarters, that Brown 
was without reverence and without religion. 
Nothing could be further from the truth. His 
reverence was instinctive and profound, 



REMINISCENCES 231 

and his nature was intensely religious. I 
had not known Brown long, when he talked 
religion to me voluntarily : at first, diffi- 
dently, then with a surge and without 
restraint he told me of his experience. 
I would like to tell it, but some things are 
too intimate to repeat, even after a man 
is gone ; and my instinct is to let the 
details of that memorable confidence re- 
main untold. Suffice it to say that Brown 
had had a marked religious turning-point ; 
a new view of life had made existence a 
good thing and work a joyful duty, at a 
juncture when, as he put it, "hell had filled 
his heart." When I heard this confidence, 
I knew why Brown struck me at first 
chiefly by his seriousness. One of the ideas 
the " Trumvirate " held in common was that 
religion is at the back of all abiding litera- 
ture, and that there can be no real literature 



232 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

that is wholly without essential religion. 
And he held, if possible more firmly than 
I, that only those who see the world on 
a background of eternity can write great 
literature. 

I hope it is not necessary to explain that 
it is not intended here to claim Brown for 
an orthodox Christian. That he never had 
been, probably never could have become. 
Yet there is no saying. With all his royal 
arrogance of intellect, he had, on the side 
of the Unseen, a very simple heart, and at 
no time could he have sat in the seat of 
the scorner. It is a curious fact that, about 
a year ago, he volunteered the information 
that he had begun to read the Bible a great 
deal ; and I know from observation that, 
for months before he left town for Hasle- 
mere, he read a great deal in the New 
Testament. I do not see why I should not 



REMINISCENCES 233 

say here, finishing this part of my paper, 
that, not once but many times, in the course 
of our conversation, when certain crudities 
of evangelical belief came up, he prefaced 
his criticism by saying, " You're a believer, 

. So am I, as you know ; but " 

and then would follow his objection to some- 
thing he had heard or read of a religious 
but unintelligent kind. 

XIII 

I have spoken of his humility on the side 
of the great mysteries, as contrasted with his 
arrogance on the strictly intellectual side. 
He was humble on another side the side 
of his friendship. Listen to an extract from 
a letter written three years ago. It is almost 
too sacred for reprinting, but for various 
reasons I give it. We had had a misunder- 
standing, our first and only one : " . . . But 



234 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

my dear (and this is the point), even 

if the irritation had been real on your side, 
even if you had railed at and scolded and 
hurt me, it would have made no difference 
to the love and affection I have for you. . . . 
There can never be any essential difference 
between you and me. Even if we parted 
in anger (which God forbid), and never spoke 
to each other again, our souls would still 
be friends." Friendship, however, on Brown's 
side did not blind him to defects, real or 
imaginary, which he detected in his friends. 
Still less was he blind to his own generous 
faults. " I have features in my character," 
he says further on, " which I know you can't 
altogether approve of and yet you love me 
in spite of them. And so I love you in 
spite of all your faults, were they a thousand 
times worse than my too hot temper ever 
made them out to be." 



REMINISCENCES 235 

After this it will not be surprising to hear 
that his outlook on life was neither savage 
nor pessimistic. On the contrary, it was 
kindly and optimistic. No one thought of 
his fellows with more sympathetic feelings ; 
no one was more keen to observe the finer 
graces which occasionally flower in lives 
that seem wholly materialistic, and his 
relations with children were of a kind only 
possible to a sunny nature and a pure heart. 
He liked children, he had more than a 
superficial interest in their ways, and as 
a consequence some of his most devoted 
friends were among the children of the 
homes which he visited. 



XIV 

When his day of fame came, he neither 
rioted in it nor shunned it. He was not 



236 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

humble about his book and its success, but he 
remained practically unaffected by it. The 
signs of his new place among men were the 
same to him as they always are to one who 
has made a literary success. Not a day 
passed without a reference to him or his book 
in some newspaper. The people whom he 
had not courted began to court him, and 
several eminent publishers wrote hoping that 
he would submit his next book to them. 
From authors' agents he had repeated com- 
munications, and some people of fashion, who 
make a practice of bringing literary lions to- 
gether, opened their doors to welcome him. 
In those days Brown did not lose his head. 
His dress was as careless as ever, his habits 
Bohemian as they had always been, his 
visits to his friends as unexpected, and 
his conversation of the same range and 
quality as during the time of his obscurity. 



REMINISCENCES 237 

Whatever Brown thought of his book, it 
was never a subject of conversation with him 
after it had attracted notice, and, in all the 
evenings that we spent together during 
the last months of his life, " The House with 
the Green Shutters " was practically never 
mentioned. Probably, the one thing in his 
success that gave him unqualified pleasure, 
was the consciousness that men whose 
opinion he valued had acknowledged the 
ability of his book. In this connection the 
first gratifying proof that he had attracted 
attention was a letter which Mr. Andrew 
Lang wrote to him. Newspaper critics had 
said some kind things about the power of 
the book, but these reviews had carried no 
signatures. When frank appreciation, without 
the slightest hint of patronage, came from 
one in the front rank of literature a scholar 
of his own college, and a total stranger to 



238 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

him he tasted, perhaps, the first sweets 
of success, and his expression of pleasure 
when he told me the news was ingenuous 
and delightful. 

From the literary men and journalists with 
whom he had always had more or less asso- 
ciation he got appreciation of a different kind, 
even more marked. He began to be sought 
out at his lodgings, to be questioned on 
literary matters, to be asked for advice, and 
to receive other such indications that he was 
looked upon as a writer who had " arrived," 
as the phrase goes. He gave himself no airs, 
however ; he did not take himself with new 
seriousness, although he was conscious that 
he might have done so without offence. He 
noted the new deference that was paid to 
him by men who had never before con- 
sidered him, save as one to whom they 
might do a kindness by giving a job. He 



REMINISCENCES 239 

affected to be amused by and superior to 
this new manifestation, but in reality he 
succumbed to the flattery of it. It was no 
wonder. To be one day a hack journalist, 
living from hand to mouth, kicking his 
heels in editors' outer offices, waiting for a 
commission to write half-crown paragraphs, to 
be their " useful man " ; and the next day to 
find these editors and others taking a railway 
journey of sixty miles for the pure pleasure 
of smoking a pipe with him as the most- 
talked- of author of the day, was something 
which only a less generous and ingenuous 
man than Brown could have experienced 
unmoved. 

Besides, although he was one of the 
most-talked-of men in London, Brown was 
still one of the poorest. Indeed, until 
two months before he died, he was still 
living a precarious existence. To those 



240 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

who think of a successful novel as an in- 
stant source of wealth to its author, this 
fact will appear amazing and disappointing. 
But a fact it is ; and although he sometimes 
commented upon his poverty humorously, 
he had at times a sense of annoyance which 
made him fling out in surges of anger. A 
generous heart made his anger short-lived ; 
his gratitude was enormous and abiding ; 
and I doubt if, when he died, Brown 
had a grievance against any one in the 
world. 



XV 

I loved Brown the Bohemian without 
a thought of fame better than "George 
Douglas " the successful author ; and my 
affection for his memory is not enhanced 
by the fact that he had justified himself 



REMINISCENCES 241 

in a brilliant book. I have a melancholy 
pleasure in recalling numberless evenings we 
spent in London together : evenings wholly 
without excitement, and yet with a kind of 
uplifting pleasure in them that one rarely 
feels after first youth is left behind. This 
was the order and programme of these even- 
ings : a quiet dinner in a favourite restaurant, 
where the landlord smiled a welcome, and 
the waiter was attentive but not fussy ; where 
the food was good and of modest price. 
We sat in this place as other men sit in 
a club, and the talk was as free and 
varied as it could have been under the most 
favourable conditions. Two hours here, 
then a walk along the Embankment, up 
by deserted Queen Victoria Street, and 
round by St. Paul's ; or west, away down 
by the quaint streets that still remain of 
old Chelsea ; or a 'bus ride to a distant 

16 



242 GEORGE DOUGLAS BROWN 

terminus, all the while surrendering our- 
selves to the mystery and magic which 
make a summer night in London an 
enchantment. Sometimes we talked con- 
tinuously, and that was good ; sometimes 
there were stretches of silence, and these 
were good too ; but always we were united 
by a bond so close that we could not be 
estranged, yet so free that there was no 
constraint. 

Had it been possible for Brown to have 
read this reminiscence, he would have read 
another name into it right through. I have 
not mentioned this name, save casually ; 
but that is because he is one of the original 
three who had everything in common, even 
their individual pleasures with each other. 
To his home Brown went as to mine ; from 
him he got help of a kind which I could 
not render, and to him he gave as sincere 



REMINISCENCES 243 

an affection as he could give to any man. 
When the third member of our partnership 
came on the fatal last night to hurry Brown 
into being well by his own splendid vitality, 
neither of us thought that within a few 
hours we should be holding our friend's 
hands in his death agony. It was surely 
something more than a coincidence that we 
three should spend the supreme hour for 
one of us together. 

Yet I confess I have a wholly personal 
and selfish satisfaction in turning up my 
copy of " The House with the Green Shutters," 
and reading the inscription there, writ large 
in Brown's own hand Amico Amicissimo 
Andrea Melrose hunc libellum, Auctor the 
justification for this reminiscence of one of 
the bravest, cleanest, most brotherly souls 
I have ever met.