(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "Modern essays"

presented to 

Gbe Xibrarp 

of tbe 

Iflntpereit? of Toronto 



Mr.W.R.Castell 



A 
r GOOD5oo|^ 

IS THE 

PRECIOUS 

LIFE-BLOOD 

Of A 

MASTER. 

SPIRIT 



77* KINGS TREASURIES 

OF LITERATURE 




GENERAL EDITOR 
Sir AT QUILLER COUCH 



^*^/^\r,r^rv^r^r^r^r>^/-xrxr^r^nr* ^ 




W&f'&AiMW***?*'™ ™. /'V^yr-sr^ 



i*rr -\**t i i -mm 




o o o o a 



MODERN 
E S SAYS 



U€.C 
38454m 




SELECTED 
NORM AN Gf* 
BRETT-JAMES 

M.A..B.LITT 



vy?. 










A 11 rights reserved 



Sole Agent for Scotland 

THE GRANT EDUCATIONAL CO. LTD. 

GLASGOW 



rRINTKI> IN GKEAT BRITAIN 



Acknowledgments for the use of copyright essays are 
due and are hereby cordially tendered to: 

Messrs. Chatto and Windus and Messrs. G. H. Doran 
Co. for "On Journal -jWriters" from Enjoying Life by 
W. N. P. Barbellion; to Mr. Hilaire Belloc and Messrs. 
J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd. for Carlyle's French Revolution; 
to the Rt. Hon. Augustine Birrell and Messrs. J. M. 
Dent and Sons Ltd. for " A Rogue's Memoirs " and " Book- 
Buying" from Collected Essays and Addresses; to Messrs. 
J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd. for Abraham Lincoln by Vis- 
count Bryce; to Mr. G. K. Chesterton and Messrs. J. M. 
Dent and Sons Ltd. for Matthew Arnold) to Mr. James 
Douglas and Messrs. Cassell and Co. Ltd. for "In the 
Reading Room" from Adventures in London; to Mr. A. G. 
Gardiner and Messrs. J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd. for 
"On Boswell and His Miracle" from Pebbles on the Shore; 
to Mr. Edmund Gosse, Messrs. W. Heinemann Ltd. and 
Messrs. Chas. Scribner's Sons for "A Volume of Old 
Plays" and "Gerard's Herbal" from Gossip in a Library; 
to Mr. Louis Golding for "Aries," reprinted from To-Day; 
to Mrs. G. M. P. Welby Everard, executrix of Mr. Maurice 
Hewlett and the • Oxford University Press for " The 
Early Quakers" and "Wind in the Downs" from Extem- 
porary Essays; to Mr. Robert Lynd, Messrs. Grant 
Richards Ltd. and Messrs. Chas. Scribner's Sons for 
"The Pleasures of Ignorance" from the volume bearing 
this title; to Mr. H. J. Massingham for "The Golden Age" 

5 



6 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 

from The Challenge', to Messrs. Burns, Oates and Wash- 
bourne Ltd. for "The Cloud" from The Colour of Life by 
the late Mrs. Meynell; to Messrs. T. Fisher Unwin Ltd. 
for "The Folly of Education" and "Street Organs" from 
The Day Before Yesterday by Richard Middleton; to Mr. 
J. Middleton Murry, Messrs. W. Collins Sons and Co. 
Ltd. and Messrs. E. P. Dutton and Co. for "A Neglected 
Heroine of Shakespeare" from Countries of the Mind) to 
Mr. John Masefield and Messrs. J. M. Dent and Sons 
Ltd. for Pilgrim Fathers', to Mr. H. C Minchin and Messrs. 
J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd. for "A Lodge in the Forest" 
and "Over the Fells to Caldbeck" from Talks and Traits; 
to Messrs. Hodder and Stoughton Ltd. for "The Art of 
Packing" from The Day -Book of Claudius Clear by the late 
Sir W. Robertson Nicoll ; to Mr. Edwin Pugh for " Old and 
New London" from The City of the World; to Mr. Cecil 
Roberts for " II Pulcinella " from To-Day ; to the Executors 
of the Rev. Canon Dixon Scott for "Winter, that Rough 
Nurse," from A Number of Things; to Messrs. Duckworth 
and Co. for "An Autumn House" from Roseacre Papers 
by Edward Thomas; to Mr. Ernest Rhys and Messrs. 
J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd. for A Rare Traveller; to Mr. 
J. Lewis May for "The Old School" from To-Day; and 
to Mr. Holbrook Jackson for "The Art of Holiday" and 
" Peterpantheism " from Southward Ho ! 



CONTENTS 



On Journal-Writers . 

Carlyle's "French Revolution" 

A Rogue's Memoirs 

Book-Buying . 

Abraham Lincoln 

Matthew Arnold's Essays . 

In the Reading Room 

On Boswell and his Miracle 

A Volume of Old Plays 

Gerard's Herbal 

Arles . 

The Art of Holiday . 

Peterpantheism 

The Early Quakers . 

Wind in the Downs . 

The Pleasures of Ignorance 

Cloud . 

The Folly of Education 

Street- Organs . 

A Golden Age . 

The Pilgrim Fathers . 

The Old School 

A Lodge in the Forest 

Over the Fells to Caldbeck 

Old and New . . 

7 





PAGE 


W. N. P. Barbellion 


9 


Hilaire Belloc 


20 


Augustine Birr ell 


37 


Augustine Birr ell 


48 


Viscount Bryce 


53 


G. K. Chesterton 


65 


James Douglas 


72 


A. G. Gardiner 


77 


Edmund Gosse 


82 


Edmund Gosse 


89 


Louis Golding 


96 


Holbrook Jackson 


101 


Holbrook Jackson 


112 


Maurice Hewlett 


117 


Maurice Hewlett 


122 


Robert Lynd 


126 


Alice Meynell 


132 


Richard Middleton 


138 


Richard Middleton 


143 


H. J. Massingham 


148 


John Mase field 


155 


J. Lewis May 


166 


H. C. Minchin 


171 


H. C. Minchin 


176 


Edwin Pugh 


183 



8 CONTENTS 

PAGE 

II Pulcinella .... Cecil Roberts 200 
Winter, that Rough Nurse . Canon Dixon Scott 207 
An Autumn House . . . Edward Thomas 215 
A Rare Traveller: W.H.Hudson Ernest Rhys 224 
A Neglected Heroine of Shake- 
speare . . , . /. Middleton Murry 235 
The Art of Packing . . . W . Robertson Nicoll 251 





ON JOURNAL-WRITERS 

W. N. P. Barbellion: 
Enjoying Life, and other Literary Remains l 

A journal is an incondite miscellany, written from 
day to day, recording the writer's life and addressed 
either to some particular person, as in Swift's Journal 
to Stella or as in Eugenie de Guerin's Journal inscribed 
if not directly addressed to her beloved brother Maurice, 
or else implicitly or explicitly dedicated to some ab- 
straction or ideal confidant — in Fanny Burney's diary 
explicitly to " Nobody," in Maurice de Guerin's Journal 
to " Mon Cahier," in others to the " Reader," to " Pos- 
terity," " Kind Friend," and so forth. 

The devotee in this petite chapelle of literature should 
beware of shams: drunken Barnabee's Journal — that 
curious and scandalous book published in 1638 — is 
rhymed in Latin verse (accompanied by an English 
verse translation) describing the author's " pub crawl- 
ings " up and down the country; Defoe's Journal of 
the Plague Year is certainly an incondite miscellany, 
but not written from day to day, and not even broken 
up into chapters; Turgenev's Diary of a Superfluous 
Man is a short story in diary form. 

In all their infinite variety, real journals possess this 

1 Published in America by George H. Doran Co. 
*A 9 



io MODERN ESSAYS 

much in common: they are one and all an irresistible 
overflow of the writer's life, whether it be a life of 
adventure, or a life of thought, or a life of the soul. 
To be sure, if a man be sailing the Amazon, climbing 
Chimborazo, or travelling to the South Pole, it is most 
obvious and natural for him to keep a diary. Hence we 
have Darwin's Journal of the Voyage of the " Beagle " 
and Captain Scott's diary of his immortal expedition. 
He would indeed be dull of soul who, on encountering 
strange or unprecedented experiences, felt no desire 
to write them down. Meeting with great events or 
great personages startles even the inarticulate into 
eloquent speech, and the innumerable journals written 
by soldiers and others, and sometimes published, 
especially in France 1 during the Great War, show how 
the fingers of the most unlikely persons do tingle for a 
pen to describe each day all they see and do and suffer. 
It is interesting to observe in passing that a similar 
crop of journals appeared one hundred years ago round 
about the time of the French Revolution: those of 
Madame de Stael's circle — Benjamin Constant's and 
Sismondi's, for example, in France, and in England 
the journals of Lady Holland, Crabb Robinson, Madame 
d'Arblay. Many of these, however, were habitual journal- 
writers, who had been already posting up their diaries 
before the storm broke, producing in no sense journaux 
par occasion, as all war diaries are and almost all itiner- 
aries. Gray's Journal of his Lakeland Tour and Bos- 
well's Journal of a Trip to the Hebrides are two famous 
literary journals of travel that readily occur to the mind. 
The instinct of the true journal-writer is more 
1 See, for example, the Diary of a Dead Officer, by Arthur 
Gneme West; the Diary of a French Private : War Imprison- 
ment, by Gaston Riou — the author, however, being a journalist 
with marked literary gifts. — Ed. 



W. N. P. BARBELLION n 

profound. To every man his own life is of great interest. 
But to all inveterate self-chroniclers of whatever rank, 
in whatever situation or condition of life, their own 
existence seems so insistently marvellous that at the 
close of each day, being incontinent, they must needs 
pour out their sense of wonder into a manuscript book. 
Let him be only a clerk with spectacles and eternally 
pushing the pen, yet his journal shall reveal with what 
rare gusto he pursues his clerical existence. Though 
he rarely quits his office, life for him is full of delightful 
hazards and surprises. He will ride his high stool as 
if astride a caracoling Arab, and at night, having arrived 
steaming at the inn — even though it be but a bed- 
sitting room over a tallow-chandler's shop — writes out 
with an unwearying pen the history of each day's 
adventures, thus: "Lunched with Brown. Later 
played a game of ' pills ' with old Bumpus, and to-night 
went to see A Little Bit of Fluff." 

But Mr. Secretary Pepys is, of course, our great 
exemplar. " Old Peepy," as Edward FitzGerald called 
him, was eager to see every new thing, and every- 
thing was " pretty to see." The most commonplace 
affairs had a significance, while a real event became 
portentous. He rolled each day upon his tongue with 
the relish of an epicure, and scarce a day passed but his 
magpie's covetous eye caught some bright and novel 
object for conveyance to that wonderful larder — the 
Diary. It is amusing to construct an imaginary picture 
of him — with all seriousness and heads bent together 
over the book — participating in the perplexity of that 
other wonderful child, Marjorie Fleming, who affirmed 
in her diary of confessions that " the most devilish 
thing is eight times eight, and seven times seven is 
what nature itself can't endure." 



12 MODERN ESSAYS 

With Marie Bashkirtseff it was something more than 
a gusto for life. Life was a passion and a fever that 
presently overwhelmed her. " When I think of what 
I shall be when I am twenty," she wrote as a child after 
looking long in the mirror, " I smack my lips ! " And 
later, when Fate, like a ring of steel, was slowly 
closing in on her: " I don't curse life; on the contrary, 
I find it all good — would you believe it, I find it all good, 
even my tears and sufferings? I like to cry, I like to 
be in despair, I like to be sad and miserable, and I love 
life in spite of all." Even the languorous Amiel in 
the course of his amazing pages here and there bubbles 
up into ecstasy — and Amiel was a Professor of Moral 
Philosophy, and a dull one at that. 

In the course of every diary will be found entries 
testifying to the author's pleasure in re-reading his 
past. This is a curiously constant feature — see, e.g., 
Tolstoi's Diary, March 20th, 1852. The diarist is a 
sentimentalist in love with his past, however painful 
or unprofitable it may have been. Better than any 
man he knows how that silent artist, the memory, 
working in the depths, ceaselessly fashions our perhaps 
dreary or commonplace existence, until the sea one 
day casts up its beautiful shells, and we are delighted 
and surprised to find our lives have been so beautiful. 
Of Pepys, Stevenson remarked that neither Hazlitt nor 
Rousseau had a more romantic passion for their past 
— " it clung about his heart like an evergreen." So, 
in dressing-gown and slippers, before the night fire, 
your sentimentalist, with finger in the book, like a genie 
conjures up the days gone by. He and his past keep 
house together; it is an almost tangible presence, with 
every feature of which he is familiar — indeed, is it not 
a row of precious volumes on a shelf, and an article 



W. N. P. BARBELLION 13 

of furniture in his room? Of an evening poignant 
memories pull at the strings of his heart and ring the 
bells, and the whole room is vibrant. Let us not intrude 
further for very decency's sake. 



" I have left this book locked up for the past fort- 
night/' writes Eugenie de Guerin. " How many things 
in this gap that will be recorded nowhere, not even here !" 
And Fanny Burney: "There seems to me something 
very unsatisfactory in passing year after year without 
even a memorandum of what you did, etc." To the 
ego-loving diarist, to take no note of the flight of the 
present and to forget the past seems like a personal 
disloyalty to himself: it is an infamous defection to 
forget or neglect that ever-increasing collection of past 
selves — those dear dead gentlemen who one after another 
have tenanted the temple of this flesh and handed on 
the torch. His journal of self-chronicling he regards as 
a mausoleum, where with reverent hands he year by 
year embalms the long dynasty of his person as it 
descends. To which end he is for ever harvesting his 
consciousness, anxious to conserve every moment of 
his existence, every relic of his passage through the 
world. He counts every kiss and every heart-beat, he 
collects all the hours of his life and hoards them up with 
a miserly hand and a connoisseur's taste. You will 
find his walls hung with mementos, and his escritoire 
packed with old letters — and probably each annual 
volume of his journal bound in leather and stored in a 
fireproof safe. The diarist is a great conservator. As 
Samuel Butler (of Erewhon) said: " One's thoughts " 
(and he might have added one's days) " fly so fast it's 
no use trying to put salt on their tails." Hence came 



14 MODERN ESSAYS 

Butler's Notebook, and the journals of such reflective 
writers as Emerson and Thoreau, and of such methodi- 
cally-minded men as Evelyn and John Wesley. 



Mr. Julius West has given a lively picture of the De 
Goncourts moving in literary France of the last century, 
" always with notebook in hand, at any rate metaphori- 
cally, anxious not to allow a single trait to escape them 
— ever on the alert, if not anxious to botanise on their 
mother's grave, at any rate perfectly willing to fasten 
upon the confidences of the living as well as of the 
dead, to capture the flying word, to take the evidences 
of the unforgiving minute," — with what results all 
readers of their colossal journal know. 

It is indeed astonishing what a hold the diary habit 
gains on man. Even as an event or conversation is 
taking place he will have it mentally trimmed and 
prepared for its exact position in the daily record, or 
his observations arranged in a mnemonic list lest they 
escape his recollection against the evening. Life becomes 
an accessory to the journal instead of vice versa — just so 
much raw material to be caught, polished, and preserved. 
The consciousness of the habitual diarist develops a 
chronic irritability and instantly flicks off into his MS. 
book every tiniest impression, just as a horse shivers off 
the flies by means of that extensive muscle underneath 
the skin which anatomists have named the pannicalus 
camosus. " Congreve's nasty wine has given me the 
heartburn," Swift records in that extraordinary fan- 
tasia of tenderness and politics — the Journal to Stella. 
Then there was Patrick's bird intended for Madam 
Dinglibus, Mrs. Walls of immortal memory, Goody 
Stoyte and all the gossip. The merest bagatelle was 



W. N. P. BARBELLION 15 

worth its record. Eugenie de Guerin owned with what 
delight she described the smallest trifles, such as the 
little book-lice she observed crawling in the leaves of 
a volume or on her writing-table. "I do not know 
their names," she tells us, " but we are acquaintances." 
One would say that it was a real pain to her to see any 
of her precious experiences slip out of the net for ever 
like beautiful scaly fish. "... to describe the inci- 
dents of one hour " (she is voicing the despair 
expressed by so many journal-writers) "would require 
an eternity." 



Journal-writing, where it is chiefly the impulse for 
self-expression or self-revelation, is not infrequently 
fostered by uncongenial or unsympathetic surroundings 
or by incurable misfortune. So beset, the diarist, 
timid and eager as a child, flees into the tower of his 
soul and raises the drawbridge, as Francis Thompson 
said of the young Shelley. 

For a journal can be used as a " grief-cheating device, 
a mode of escape and withdrawal." It is like the brown 
eyes of some faithful hound who bears and suffers all 
and j^et regards his master as supreme. It is a perpetual 
flattery, an inexhaustible cruse of oil for the sore and 
sometimes swollen ego. To keep a diary is to make a 
secret liaison of the firmest and most sentimental kind; 
the writer can fling off all restraint and all the trappings 
which are necessarily worn to front the antagonism 
of the world. It is a monstrous self-indulgence wherein 
he remembers his friends and he remembers his enemies 
— with candour; he remembers his own griefs and 
grievances; screened from the public view in the 
security of his own room he can — and it must be 



16 MODERN ESSAYS 

confessed he occasionally does — gaze at himself as 
before a mirror, remembering, Malvolio-like, who praised 
his yellow garters. 

The famous Journal Intime, which ran to 17,000 folio 
pages of MS. and consumed countless hours of its 
author's life, was written by a man who realised that 
he had been " systematically and deliberately iso- 
lated " — " premature despair and deepest discourage- 
ment have been my constant portion." Marie Bash- 
kirtseff also was driven into the subterranean existence 
of journal-writer by the hard facts of her short life, 
towards the end of it living more and more within its 
pages, and thus in the end wringing out of a stubborn 
destiny her indefeasible claims to recognition. " I do 
not know why writing has become a necessity to me," 
muses the tragic sister of Maurice de Guerin — himself a 
tragedy and a journal-writer. " Who understands this 
overflowing of my soul, this need to reveal itself before 
God, before someone? " 



In reading subjectively-written diaries one constantly 
comes across the expression of this same desire for 
self-revelation and self-surrender. Incredible as it 
appears to the ordinary secretive human being, this very 
common kind of diarist longs to give himself away, 
to communicate himself to some other person in toto; 
with pathetic gesture the passionate creature offers 
himself up for scrutiny, sick of his own secret self, 
anxious to be swallowed up in somebody else's total 
comprehension. 

" On dit," wrote Maurice de Guerin under date March 
23rd, 1834, " qu'au jugement dernier le secret des 
consciences sera revele a tout l'univers: je voudrais 



W. N. P. BARBELLION 17 

qu'il en fut ainsi de moi des aujourd'hui et que la vue 
de mon ame fut ouverte a tous venants." 

Such journals are in nowise comparable with the 
confessions of religious journals — among saintly women 
always a favourite mode of unburdening themselves — 
pale crepuscular souls fluttering through pages of self- 
disparagement by the aid of the lamp and a copious 
inkhorn, never intended for public view. " Whenever 
the last trumpet shall sound, I will present myself before 
the sovereign Judge with this book in my hand and 
loudly proclaim, ' Thus have I acted, these were my 
thoughts, such was 1/ " This memorable opening to 
Rousseau's Confessions, which shocked John Morley for 
its " dreadful exaltation," is the typical brag in most 
journals of confession. With defiant pride of personality 
Marie Bashkirtseff, in her marvellous volume of self- 
portraiture, constantly emphasises for her readers that 
she conceals nothing; " I not only say all the time what 
I think, but I never contemplate hiding for an instant 
what might make me appear ridiculous or prove to my 
disadvantage. For the rest I think myself too admirable 
for censure." 

Passionate egotism knows no shame. Everything — 
however scandalous — goes down in a self-revelation 
beside which the little disclosures of essayists like Mon- 
taigne, Lamb, De Quincey sink to the level of dull 
propriety. Voltaire said of Rousseau that he wouldn't 
mind being hanged if they stuck his name on the gibbet. 
I suppose to the average man Raskolnikoff in Crime 
and Punishment, moving to his confession with the 
inevitableness almost of an animal tropism, is easier 
to understand than, say, Strindberg, the author of that 
terrible book, The Confessions of a Fool, or even Pepys, 
whose diary of peccadilloes and little vanities was 



18 MODERN ESSAYS 

certainly written down in cypher, but only to conceal 
them from his wife. 



The introspective diarist is almost a type by himself, 
distinguished by his psychological insight and cold 
scientific analysis of himself. Of these Amiel stands 
easily at the head. " For a psychologist," he writes 
in the Journal Intime, "it is extremely interesting to 
be readily and directly conscious of the complications 
of one's own organism and the play of its several parts. 
... A feeling like this makes personal existence a 
perpetual astonishment and curiosity. Instead of only 
seeing the world around me, I analyse myself. In- 
stead of being single, all of a piece, I become legion, 
multitude, a whirlwind — a very cosmos." Amiel's self- 
consciousness was an enormous lens and, like other 
microscopists, he found worlds within worlds, and as 
much complexity and finish in small as in great. 

The passion of the introspecter is for truth of self. 
He should be full of curiosity about himself and quiet 
self-raillery, delighting to trip himself up in some little 
vanity, to track down some carefully secreted motive, 
to quizz and watch himself live with horrible vigilance 
and complete self-detachment. He must be his own 
detective and footpad, his own eavesdropper, and his 
own stupid Boswell. His books should be La Roche- 
foucauld and La Bruyere, and one of his favourite 
occupations to measure himself alongside other men. 
Marie Bashkirtseff thought she was like Jules Valles, 
of whom she had read in Zola. " But," she adds the 
next instant, " we look so stupid when we appraise 
ourselves like that." It was the same agile self-con- 
sciousness which discovered to her while weeping before 



W. N. P. BARBELLION 19 

a mirror the right expression for her Magdalen, who 
should look " not at the sepulchre but at nothing at all." 
Amiel, too, gathered hints for self-elucidation, especially 
in the eternal self-chroniclings of Maine de Biran, in whose 
diary he thought to see himself reflected, though he 
also found differences which cheered and consoled him. 



Yet this way madness lies. For too complete a 
divorce from self provokes self-antipathy, too great a 
preoccupation with self leads to self-sickness, and, by 
the strangest paradox, egotism to self-annihilation. 




20 MODERN ESSAYS 



CARLYLE'S "FRENCH REVOLUTION" 

Hilaire Belloc : Introductory Essay to " Everyman " 
Edition. 

The position of Carlyle in English Literature will neces- 
sarily be twofold, for he chose to add to his general survey 
of thought the particular task of the historian. 

The number of men who have chosen the field of 
letters in general, and who have added to it in any 
important degree the department of History, is very 
small. Dickens cannot be said to have done it seriously 
in his little history, nor Thackeray in his Essay on the 
Georges, and if we consider the literature of other 
nations the same holds good. 

Conversely, though the historian properly so called 
who has dipped into general letters is common enough, 
yet there have been very few historians, whether in 
England, France or Germany, who did not profess 
to stand upon their history rather than upon their 
other work. 

Two men, however, have particularly chosen to com- 
bine the functions of philosopher and of historian, and 
to express their philosophy in many works as serious and 
as profound as their historical writings ; these two men 
are Taine and Carlyle. 

It must be clearly recognised in any approach to an 
appreciation of their position, that a man who so attempts 
the double function stands under a sharper light than 
can any other sort of writer. And that for this reason: 
that the work of the historian is justly recognised by 



HILAIRE BELLOC 21 

men to be one of supreme importance, and to be one 
that, while it requires literary power for its fulfilment, 
requires also twenty other qualities as rarely possessed 
or as difficult of attainment. It is of supreme impor- 
tance, because upon a just presentation of the past 
depends all our concrete judgment of the present. 
History is the object-lesson of politics, and unless history 
is presented to us truly, it had better not be presented 
to us at all; upon history is based our judgment of men 
so far as long experience can inform it, and if the picture 
is false, rather than receive it we had better be left 
to our instinct and to the little circle of exact knowledge 
conveyed to us by our own experience. 

It is, therefore, principally as an historian that Car- 
lyle in England (as Taine in France) will be judged. 
His position as a writer is secure ; his wisdom in entering 
the field of history is one upon which debate can still 
be fruitful, and criticism of value. 

What motive was it which moved such men, and 
Carlyle especially, to enter that field? It was the great 
expansion of historical knowledge which coincided with 
the moment when his own powers were at the fullest, 
coupled with the fact that all the reaction which Carlyle 
himself represented could find its best arguments in 
the domain of human actions. 

If a thesis has to be maintained which purports to 
be " practical," and to chastise the tendency to abstrac- 
tion, that thesis is best maintained by a continual 
appeal to fact. The vague and generous ideals of the 
young are combated in this way by the old, and it is 
generally true that anyone who quarrels with a deduc- 
tive and ideal system bases his quarrel upon direct, 
concrete, and personal experience. History is but such 
experience enlarged. 



22 MODERN ESSAYS 

It is remarkable that with so incisive and so rebellious 
a mind Carlyle should have fallen so easily, where 
history was concerned, into the general current of his 
generation. Indeed, the further we are separated in 
time from the men of that generation, the more shall 
we wonder that such doubtful and ill-supported theories 
should have obtained not only an universal recognition, 
but a sort of " passive obedience " from the men who 
filled what is called the " Victorian Era " in literature. 
For example — the whole of that group was rilled with 
" Teutonians." To study the " Teutonic Race," as it 
was called — that is, to study North Germany, and to 
confirm the cousinship between the English and the 
North German peoples — was nearly all the task of 
history. There went with this a strong appetite for 
the romantic in history as in every other department of 
letters. Violent action, characters in high light and in 
deep shadow were compelled to appear in chronicles as 
much as in novels ; in rhetoric as in poetry, and indeed 
throughout the whole literary effort of the time. To 
both these tendencies Carlyle easily succumbed. 

It might be advanced that he was not a disciple but 
an originator, and that but for him neither would the 
English of the middle nineteenth century have developed 
that passion of theirs for things German, nor would the 
picturesque, vivid and romantic history which Green, 
Freeman, and even Kinglake wrote have come into 
existence. It is certain that but for Carlyle the double 
current would not have become so strong as it did 
become. It is equally certain that but for him the 
two influences of admiration for the German and the 
romantic would hardly have coalesced. Yet it is true 
that he did not originate either the one tendency or the 
other; the one proceeded from the natural religious 



HILAIRE BELLOC 23 

sympathy between all Protestant peoples; the other, 
upon the contrary, from the maturing of French in- 
fluence upon England, and that enormously increasing 
power which the Revolution bequeathed to the Latins, 
and which is only now beginning to bear fruit. 

The romantic movement began not with Byron or 
with Wordsworth, but with Rousseau; the natural 
alliance of the Protestant peoples began not with 
Waterloo, but with that treaty between Austria and 
France in the middle of the eighteenth century, which 
is perhaps the greatest turning-point in the story of 
European relations. 

It must also be remembered that in England there 
were separate causes all making both for the Teutonic 
sentiment and for the romantic. England had never 
possessed a continuous classical tradition. What Milton 
had begun and Dryden continued withered long before 
the first of them had been dead a hundred years. In 
England, again, the romantic spirit had received no 
chastisement from the facts of war. England alone of 
European nations had not suffered invasion, dynastic 
change or serious internal disorder, and it is in peace 
and in leisure that the romantic illusion flourishes 
best. England was passing also through a period of 
abnormal expansion; all her energies were strained to 
the utmost; there was a vast growth everywhere. As 
for the German influence, a German dynasty, German 
allies, the momentary eclipse of the Italian spirit 
throughout Europe, and the crude beginnings of philology 
all helped to foster it and to maintain it. % 

All this is passing to-day; much of it has already 
passed. The theories of race based on Max Miiller's 
researches are doubted; they have certainly failed 
at the test. The rudimentary anthropology of our 



24 MODERN ESSAYS 

grandfathers has been corrected by innumerable experi- 
ments and by a vastly extended research. Catholicism 
has organised a full defensive system, and has proceeded 
from that to carry the war into Africa, and though we 
have not had in England itself an experience of disaster, 
yet the pleasing and somewhat virile illusions of 
romanticism have been so bled out of Europe in general 
that we ourselves can hardly maintain them. 

In a word, we are in a position to look steadily back 
at the whole historical work of Carlyle and to judge it, 
as yet, without undue lack of sympathy, but already 
with sufficient detachment. We are able to present to 
ourselves and to answer without passion (and with a 
considerable certainty) the great question which must 
be asked of all historians, Did he make dead men live 
again? There are many who call up phantoms, and 
many who can present the corpse of the past; there 
are few who can cause it to rise and act before you with 
its own body and its own soul. To what extent was he 
of these few? 

In order to answer that question the very first thing 
to be done is to consider the defects which have been 
noted in his writings. 

It has been said (we will see in a moment with how 
much or how little justice) that Carlyle could not 
sympathise with things separate from the conditions 
of his own birth. He was a peasant and a Calvinist, 
and it is maintained that to things of which the peasant 
or the Calvinist are incapable he had no avenue of 
approach, and therefore that he had no understanding 
of them. 

If that be so, his book upon the French Revolution 
must be the very best test which we could apply to his 
powers, for the French Revolution was essentially the 



HILAIRE BELLOC 25 

work of leisured men, of highly trained intelligences, 
and of men whom the process of academic education 
had removed as far as possible from the peasant-life 
of Europe. Again, it was distinctly the product of a 
Catholic nation — of a nation, that is, with a contempt 
of fatalism, an adherence to abstract dogmas, and a 
military hatred of mere force and of the religions 
of fear. 

It is secondly objected to Carlyle that he could not 
justly deal with history on account of a constant pre- 
occupation of his: the desire to excite the emotions of 
his readers. 

It has been thirdly objected to him that in the particu- 
lar case of the French Revolution he could not properly 
delineate the French character, because he had a most 
imperfect acquaintance with the language of France, and 
no acquaintance whatever with its people. 

Added to these criticisms, another of some weight 
has often been heard. It is the criticism which all can 
make against the few historians of modern times: the 
accusation of inaccuracy. 

Now if Carlyle's work be examined upon such lines, 
it is not difficult to conclude that the main part of the 
charge against him is false. 

Every man is something; if he is not a Calvinist he 
is a Catholic, an Agnostic or a Mohammedan; if he is 
not a peasant, he is a shopkeeper or a noble or a soldier. 
Every man that writes history must therefore have 
an initial difficulty in comprehending some, and prob- 
ably most of the characters he sets out to portray. 
The measure of his power is not to be found in the 
extent of this difficulty, but in his success in overcoming 
it. For instance, the best monograph on Robert Burns 
has been written by a quiet, wealthy man, a foreigner, 



26 MODERN ESSAYS 

and a Picard at that, writing in Paris and in the French 
tongue; and success of that sort, precisely because it 
has overcome so much initial difficulty, is the prime 
success of the historian. So with Carlyle. It is not 
astonishing that he should have written the Frederick, 
it is astonishing that he should have written the Revo- 
lution] and our admiration for the effort and for its 
result increases with every new thing we learn about 
Carlyle, and with eveiy new difficulty which we discover 
to have lain in his way. 

A particular instance of this will emphasise my 
contention. It had been truly remarked of Carlyle as 
of Dickens, that there was never a single gentleman in 
his books. The French Revolution was crammed with 
gentlemen; very few indeed of the actors in it were 
of another social rank than that which is called in 
England by the name of " the gentry." Consider, 
then, .Carlyle's portrait of Mirabeau ; he certainly makes 
him something too much of an actor, and something 
too little of an artist. The inherited dignity of bearing, 
the firmness of gesture, and the regard for proportion 
which mark his rank are not present in these pages. 
But read this passage, and ask yourself whether it 
has ever been excelled by any writer but Michelet. 

" Towards such work, in such manner, marches he, 
this singular Riquetti Mirabeau. In fiery rough figure, 
with black Samson locks under the slouch-hat, he steps 
along there. A fiery fuliginous mass, which could not 
be choked and smothered, but would fill all France with 
smoke. And now it has got air; it will burn its whole 
substance, its whole smoke-atmosphere too, and fill 
all France with flame. Strange lot! Forty years of 
that smouldering, with foul fire-damp and vapour 
enough; — and like a burning mountain he blazes 



HILAIRE BELLOC 27 

heaven-high; and for twenty- three resplendent months 
pours out, in flame and molten fire-torrents, all that 
is in him, the Pharos and Wonder-sign of an amazed 
Europe; — and then lies hollow, cold forever! Pass 
on, thou questionable Gabriel Honore, the greatest of 
them all: in the whole National Deputies, in the whole 
Nation, there is none like and none second to thee." 

The words are theatrical. " Whole national depu- 
ties " is simply bad English. The " thou " and the 
" thee " are grotesque — but the touch is true. 

What I mean is this, that if you had known Mirabeau 
yourself and had read this passage long after his death, 
you would have said, " Good lord! how vivid! " long 
before you had begun to criticise this or that slip in 
the appreciation. You would in that portrait of 
Mirabeau have had called up before you Mirabeau as 
you had known him. So powerful is the modelling that 
its failure to give the refinement of the original would 
have lain lightly upon your mind, as you were filled 
with a recollection of his force. Carlyle would seem to 
you to have put a living spirit again into the body of 
the man, and that living spirit would have been the 
spirit that you had known. 

So it is almost universally where he has to draw the 
portrait of a man. 

Whether the second of the Lameths knew English 
(I believe he did), or whether in his old age he ever 
read this book (he had ample time to do it, for he sur- 
vived its publication by seventeen years), whether he 
was even acquainted with the name of Carlyle — I do 
not know; but I am certain that he, who had known 
Mirabeau, did, if ever he read this passage, stand 
startled at a resurrection from the dead. 

There are exceptions. It is no just appreciation of 



28 MODERN ESSAYS 

Carlyle's work to ignore them; on the contrary, these 
exceptions help us even better than his successes to 
appreciate the quality of his genius. These exceptions 
are even numerous. They are to be discovered wherever 
a character of some complexity and, if I may so express 
myself, of " varying grain," is presented to Carlyle's 
deep and rapid carving, where the man he is dealing 
with is not of one stuff throughout. 

Two very excellent examples of such failures are his 
pictures of the King and of Robespierre. In both the 
delineation is a task of very considerable difficulty; 
both had characters highly complex and to some extent 
self-contradictory; both escape from the power of a 
pen which was creative, but incapable of analysis. 

Louis XVI. was not a weak lump of a man. He never 
upon any single occasion — and he lived through greater 
dangers than any modern ruler has lived — showed a sign 
of fear. He fought for his principles to the very end; 
he conscientiously deliberated every act of importance 
which he undertook, and that is a rare and convincing 
sort of strength. Louis XVI. came of a stock nervous 
to the point of disease. He would have grown up 
(under most circumstances) shy, thin, perhaps con- 
sumptive, and even more terrified than was his grand- 
father of intercourse with statesmen and soldiers. He 
would probably have died young. The extreme care 
spent upon him by doctors, a careful and continually 
ordered diet, perpetual exercise in the open air, all these 
artifices bestowed upon him before he was twenty a 
sort of fictitious health. He grew up robust, somnolent, 
of a large appetite, and with all his nervous weakness 
run to lethargy. Here was a man who could not be 
jotted down in a few deep strokes of the graver, nor to be 
seen clearly in high lights and shadows. Here was a 



HILAIRE BELLOC 29 

man who could not by any manipulation be made into 
a dramatic figure; therefore, to put it bluntly, Carlyle 
dismisses him. 

Robespierre was descended from a long line of squires, 
probably Irish. He was eloquent, pedantic, enthusiastic, 
cold, of excellent breeding, of a convinced faith, readily 
angered against persons, passionately loved, of a value- 
less judgment in dealing with masses of men, and often 
at fault with individuals. Here, again, is a character 
which cannot by any possibility serve the purposes of 
melodrama ; he was not a monster or a coward, nor even 
a great ideal figure, as Hamel would regard him. You 
cannot deal with Robespierre unless you deal with the 
complexity of his position and of his mind. You must 
analyse the phenomenon closely, and you must put him 
in a separate place right aside from the furious and 
simple passions by which he was surrounded but from 
which he lived apart. Carlyle was either unable to 
do this or did not know that he had to do it ; the result 
is that his Robespierre has no resemblance either to the 
original or to any possible man. He is of wax. 1 

But these, I repeat, are exceptions, and the very 
causes which make Louis and Robespierre escape him 
are proofs of the driving energy which lay behind his 
mind. The very fact that he cannot work in some 
material enhances the extraordinary power with which 
he moulded all other material that fell to his hand. 

When it is objected that Carlyle could not deal justly 
with history on account of his preoccupation of exciting 

1 For instance, the famous epithet " Sea-green " is based on 
one phrase of Madame de StaeTs misread. What Madame de 
Stael said was that the prominent veins in Robespierre's fore- 
head showed greenish-blue against his fair and somewhat pale 
skin. But his complexion was healthy, and his expression, if 
anything, winning. 



30 MODERN ESSAYS 

the emotions, we are on firmer ground. We are dealing 
here with his art rather than with his history, and we 
are dealing with the great vice to which art such as 
his is tempted. 

In very early youth a man capable by his style of 
violently arousing the emotions of his readers, of striking 
time and again the spring which moves us like a phrase 
of music, may forget himself, and may merely over- 
indulge his power. He will fall into such an excess as 
it were unconsciouly. But as his life proceeds, as his 
style is criticised and acquires public recognition, he 
cannot but become conscious of his art ; he will tend to 
repeat certain tricks of it, and he cannot but depend 
too much upon those tricks to secure him a perpetuity 
of success and save him the fatigue of creation. He suffers 
the temptation which falls in another sphere to the 
orator (for both are rhetoricians), and he intends to 
yield to that temptation; to force the note. From 
this fault Carlyle's style after his thirtieth year un- 
doubtedly suffers. As he grew older his straining for 
the vivid got worse and worse like Swinburne's allitera- 
tions, Browning's obscurity, Wordsworth's " common 
phrases," or Gladstone's trick of a verbose confusion. 
Such temptations come only to the great, and it behoves 
us to be very careful how we charge them with their 
faults, for we must remember how hardly any great 
man has escaped them, and how, to lesser men, the 
temptation itself is impossible. Nevertheless, it is true 
that the temptation, as it was presented to Carlyle, was 
only too successful. His art is spoilt by a perpetual 
tautening of the bow. 

I will here quote two passages which should sup- 
port my contention: the first, as I think, spontaneous; 
the second false. 



HILAIRE BELLOC 31 

The first is near the opening of the seventh chapter 
of Book IV. in Part III., and begins the trial of the 
Queen; it is as follows: 

" There are few Printed things one meets with of 
such tragic, almost ghastly, significance as those bald 
pages of the Bulletin du Tribunal Revolutionnaire, 
which bear Title Trial of the Widow Capet. Dim, dim, 
as if in disastrous eclipse; like the pale kingdoms of 
Dis! Plutonic Judges, Plutonic Tinville; encircled, 
nine times, with Styx and Lethe, with Fire-Phlegethon 
and Cocytus named of Lamentation! The very wit- 
nesses summoned are like Ghosts ... they themselves 
are all hovering over death and doom. ..." 

Consider the qualities of these lines. They open with 
a simple phrase. The phrase, the consideration of his 
subject, excite him at once to dithyramb. The rhythm 
is natural and open. The very vowels of the syllables 
are consonant to horror, the cadence rises to the 
wail of the word " Lamentation." Its consonants 
possess the regular though not excessive alliteration 
of poetical English. It falls and ends like a gong 
sounding the word " Doom." 

Turn now to the second, and see whether these 
same qualities are not here purposely and forcibly 
struck upon the metal of his writing rather than ap- 
pearing as something inherent to the quality of that 
writing itself. 

" One other thing, or rather other things, we will 
mention; and no more: The Blonde Perukes; the 
Tannery at Meudon. Great talk is of these Perruques 
Blondes : O Reader, they are made from the heads 
of guillotined Women! The locks of a Duchess, etc., 
etc." . . ., and so forth to the end of the chapter, 



32 MODERN ESSAYS 

twenty lines more: "Alas! then, is man's civilisation 
only a wrapping through which the savage of him ..." 
and so on. 

This is bad. It is all forced. The perpetual " we " 
of his emphatic manner is introduced to no great purpose. 
He is writing rapidly. He intended to " mention " 
one thing — he thinks of a second (both are false) and 
is too hasty to remould the sentence. He adds " no 
more," to hide his error and make it pompous. Each 
phrase is affected. Why "Great talk is"? Why 
"O reader"? Why the excessive commonplace and 
well-worn tags of the last sentence picked out in an 
unusual order? It was because he felt his own in- 
terest flagging and his pen at fault that he had deliberate 
recourse to tinsel of this kind. 

So much then for the chief fault which can justly be 
discovered in this great and enduring work. It is 
easier to take up again the task of defence. I will allude 
in particular to the charge of inaccuracy, and say at 
once that Carlyle is without question one of the most 
accurate historians that ever put pen to paper. 

He writes in that method which of all others most 
compels a man to errors in matters of detail. Fugue: 
a very vivid presentment: the making of one's subject 
move before one; the giving of its characters a life of 
their own such as we give to the characters of fiction 
— all these high efforts in an historian are direct causes 
of minute inaccuracy. The extent to which Carlyle 
escaped that inaccuracy is positively astounding. It 
has latterly been my business to comment upon one 
of the latest editions of his work which has been pro- 
duced with voluminous footnotes at Oxford. Here 
there was no excuse at all for inaccuracy. The book 
was dull, pedantic, and badly put together. It was a 



HILAIRE BELLOC 33 

purely mechanical piece of work, and all the editor 
had to do was to verify every reference he made and to 
see that the spelling and the dates were correct. 

Yet I have found in this edition at least five errors 
to one of Carlyle's. 

Here is a curious and instructive instance. In speak- 
ing of Napoleon's rank before Toulon, Carlyle calls him 
a major at a moment when he may have held that rank 
or may have been colonel: it is a point not yet decided, 
and perhaps never to be decided. The records are 
imperfect: the time was a hurried and muddled one. 
Napoleon was certainly in a higher than a battery 
command, but not yet a general officer. The Oxford 
edition elaborately corrects Carlyle and makes Napoleon 
a captain! 

It cannot be too often repeated by those who have 
the honour of English historical science at heart that 
we have in Carlyle not only in his Frederick — where 
everyone conceded it — but here in the Revolution an 
admirable instance of care and of correction. Michelet 
is perhaps a greater man, and certainly a greater his- 
torian, but in accuracy Carlyle is his superior. Mignet's 
little book alone perhaps of the early authorities falls 
into less errors, while in the midst of modern research 
Aulard is perhaps the only worker who would have a 
right to contrast his painstaking with that of the English 
writer. Taine is nowhere; but then Taine was not 
even trying to tell the truth, and that makes a vast 
difference where accuracy is concerned. 

It is again true of Carlyle that he had but an imperfect 
acquaintance with the French language, and hardly any 
acquaintance with the French character. It remains 
true that by some sort of miracle he accomplished 
successfully the task he had set himself. It is some- 

B 



34 MODERN ESSAYS 

what as though Victor Hugo had managed to write 
not a great play (which he did write), but a thorough 
history of Oliver Cromwell. 

Thus Carlyle comprehended one chief factor of the 
Revolution: the mob. Alone of all European peoples, 
the French are able to organise themselves from below 
in large masses, and Paris, which wrought the Revolution, 
can do it better than the rest of France. A French 
mob can march in column without a leader, and a 
Parisian mob can not only march in column, but in 
a rough fashion deploy when the column debouches 
upon some open space. It is almost incredible, but 
it is true. 

Now of all the writers of his time Carlyle was, one 
would have thought, the least able to understand this. 
He could see nothing in acephalous mankind. It was 
the whole of his philosophy that men cannot so organise 
themselves, that they need leaders and strong men, 
and all the rest of it. Yet so thoroughly has he got 
inside his subject, so vitally has he raised it up and made 
it move of its own life, that in his book you see the French 
mob doing precisely what he would have told you, had 
you asked him, no mob could do. When he describes 
them you see them doing what as a fact they did, and 
moving in a fashion which, as a fact, was their own. 
When he stops to comment upon them, as he does from 
time to time, he is often wrong, but when the descrip- 
tion begins he becomes right again by a pure instinct for 
visualising, and for making men act in harmony and in 
concert in his book. 

His inacquaintance with the French character does 
certainly make him misunderstand the battles. Where 
he is at his best in his other works, there he is at his 
worst in the Revolution. His fighting is all wrong. 



HILAIRE BELLOC 35 

Everybody knows for instance that Bonaparte lost one 
of his guns in Vendemiaire, there was no " whiff of grape 
shot," and what is worse, he does not present the great 
battles of '93 and '94 in their true perspective. He 
does not show the victories " Pursuing the Terror like 
furies," and throughout the work the armies which 
are the meaning and the guidance of the Revolution 
come in as it were by accident and give no clue. 

But there is another point where his ignorance of the 
French people and his peculiar ignorance of their 
religion might have led him far more astray, and where 
he is triumphantly successful; and that is in his por- 
traiture of French violence, and of French ferocity. He 
had not in his life seen anything violent or ferocious. 
It was sheer creative power which enabled him to pro- 
ject upon his screen the actualities of which he had read, 
and there is perhaps no other English writer who has 
done it; so alien is violence to our national character 
and so utterly removed is it from our national experience. 

The energy of the Revolution, one might conclude, 
found in the depths of this man who had never been 
near the sound of arms or the vision of an insurgent 
populace, something congenial: some ancient strength 
in the Scotch inherited from mediaeval freedom arose 
in him and answered the French appeal. It did for 
him what the story of Napoleon did for Victor Hugo: 
it " blew the creative gale " — " le souffle createur." 

Here is the peculiar merit of this book, and here is 
what may preserve it even when taste has so changed 
that its rhetoric shall have become tedious and that a 
classical reaction shall have rendered repulsive the 
anarchic outbursts of its prose. He was inspired. The 
enormity of the action moved him as the Marseillaise can 
still move the young conscripts upon the march when 



36 



MODERN ESSAYS 



they hear it from a distant place and go forward to the 
call of it. The Revolution filled him as he proceeded, 
and was, in a sense, co-author with him of the shock, 
the flames, and the roar, the innumerable feet, and the 
songs which together build up what we read achieved 
in these volumes. 




O*"*'** 



AUGUSTINE BIRRELL 37 



A ROGUE'S MEMOIRS 
Augustine Birrell: Essays and A ddresses (1884) 

One is often tempted by the devil to forswear the study 
of history altogether as the pursuit of the Unknowable. 
" How is it possible," he whispers in our ear, as we 
stand gloomily regarding the portly calf -bound volumes 
without which no gentleman's library is complete, 
" how is it possible to suppose that you have there, 
on your shelves, the actual facts of history — a true 
record of what men, dead long ago, felt and thought? " 
Yet, if we have not, I for one, though of a literary turn, 
would sooner spend my leisure playing skittles with 
boors than in reading sonorous lies in stout volumes. 

It is not so much [wilily insinuates the Tempter] that 
these renowned authors lack knowledge. Their habit of 
giving an occasional reference (though the verification of 
these is usually left to the malignancy of a rival and less 
popular historian) argues at least some reading. No; 
what is wanting is ignorance, carefully acquired and 
studiously maintained. This is no paradox. To carry the 
truisms, theories, laws, language of to-day, along with 
you in your historical pursuits, is to turn the muse of 
history upside down — a most disrespectful proceeding — and 
yet to ignore them — to forget all about them — to hang them 
up with your hat and coat in the hall, to remain there 
whilst you sit in the library composing your immortal 
work, which is so happily to combine all that is best in 
Gibbon and Macaulay — a sneerless Gibbon and an impartial 
Macaulay — is a task which, if it be not impossible is, at 
all events, of huge difficulty. 

Another blemish in English historical work has been 



38 MODERN ESSAYS 

noticed by the Rev. Charles Kingsley, and may therefore 
be referred to by me without offence. Your standard 
historians, having no unnatural regard for their most 
indefatigable readers, the wives and daughters of England, 
feel it incumbent upon them to pass over, as unfit for 
dainty ears and dulcet tones, facts, and rumours of facts, 
which none the less often determined events by stirring 
the strong feelings of your ancestors, whose conduct, 
unless explained by this light, must remain enigmatical. 

When to these anachronisms of thought and omissions 
of fact you have added the dishonesty of the partisan 
historian and the false glamour of the picturesque one, 
you will be so good as to proceed to find the present value 
of history! 

Thus far the Enemy of Mankind: 

An admirable lady orator is reported lately to have 
" brought down " Exeter Hall by observing, "in a 
low but penetrating voice," that the Devil was a very 
stupid person. It is true that Ben Jonson is on the side 
of the lady, but I am far too orthodox to entertain any 
such opinion; and though I have, in this instance of 
history, so far resisted him as to have refrained from 
sending my standard historians to the auction mart — 
where, indeed, with the almost single exception of Mr. 
Grote's History of Greece (the octavo edition in twelve 
volumes), prices rule so low as to make cartage a con- 
sideration — I have still of late found myself turning off 
the turnpike of history to loiter down the primrose 
paths of men's memoirs of themselves and their times. 

Here at least, so we argue, we are comparatively 
safe. Anachronisms of thought are impossible; omis- 
sions out of regard for female posterity unlikely, and as 
for party spirit, if found, it forms part of what lawyers 
call the res gestce, and has therefore a value of its own. 
Against the perils of the picturesque who will insure us ? 



AUGUSTINE BIRRELL 39 

But when we have said all this, and, sick of prosing, 
would begin reading, the number of really readable 
memoirs is soon found to be but few. This is, indeed, 
unfortunate; for it launches us off on another prose- 
journey by provoking the question, What makes 
memoirs interesting? 

Is it necessary that they should be the record of a 
noble character ? Certainly not. We remember Pepys, 
who — well, never mind what he does. We call to 
mind Cellini; he runs behind a fellow-creature, and 
with " admirable address " sticks a dagger in the nape 
of his neck, and long afterwards records the fact, almost 
with reverence, in his life's story. Can anything be 
more revolting than some portions of the revelation 
Benjamin Franklin was pleased to make of himself in 
writing? And what about Rousseau? Yet, when we 
have pleaded guilty for these men, a modern Savon- 
arola, who had persuaded us to make a bonfire of their 
works, would do well to keep a sharp look-out, lest at 
the last moment we should be found substituting Pear- 
son on the Creed for Pepys, Coleridge's Friend for Cellini, 
John Foster's Essays for Franklin, and Roget's Bridge- 
water Treatise for Rousseau. 

Neither will it do to suppose that the interest of a 
memoir depends on its writer having been concerned in 
great affairs, or lived in stirring times. The dullest 
memoirs written even in English, and not excepting 
those maimed records of life known as " religious 
biography," are the work of men of the " attache " 
order, who, having been mixed up in events which the 
newspapers of the day chronicled as " Important 
Intelligence," were not unnaturally led to cherish the 
belief that people would like to have from their pens 
full, true and particular accounts of all that then 



40 MODERN ESSAYS 

happened, or, as they, if moderns, would probably 
prefer to say, transpired. But the World, whatever 
an over-bold Exeter Hall may say of her old associate 
the Devil, is not a stupid person, and declines to be 
taken in twice; and turning a deaf ear to the most 
painstaking and trustworthy accounts of deceased 
Cabinets and silenced Conferences, goes journeying 
along her broad way, chuckling over some old joke in 
Boswell, and reading with fresh delight the all-about- 
nothing letters of Cowper and Lamb. 

How then does a man — be he good or bad — big or 
little — a philosopher or a fribble — St. Paul or Horace 
Walpole — make his memoirs interesting? 

To say that the one thing needful is individuality 
is not quite enough. To be an individual is the in- 
evitable, and in most cases the unenviable, lot of every 
child of Adam. Each one of us has, like a tin soldier, 
a stand of his own. To have an individuality is no 
sort of distinction, but to be able to make it felt in 
writing is not only distinction but under favouring 
circumstances immortality. 

Have we not all some correspondents, though probably 
but few, from whom we never receive a letter without 
feeling sure that we shall find inside the envelope 
something written that will make us either glow with 
the warmth or shiver with the cold of our correspon- 
dent's life? But how many other people are to be 
found, good, honest people too, who no sooner take 
pen in hand than they stamp unreality on every word 
they write. It is a hard fate, but they cannot escape 
it. They may be as literal as the late Earl Stanhope, 
as painstaking as Bishop Stubbs, as much in earnest 
as the Prime Minister — their lives may be noble, their 
aims high, but no sooner do they seek to narrate to us 



AUGUSTINE BIRRELL 41 

their story, than we find it is not to be. To hearken 
to them is past praying for. We turn from them as 
from a guest who has outstayed his welcome. Their 
writing wearies, irritates, disgusts. 

Here then, at last, we have the two classes of memoir 
writers — those who manage to make themselves felt, 
and those who do not. Of the latter, a very little 
is a great deal too much — of the former we can never 
have enough. 

What a liar was Benvenuto Cellini ! — who can believe 
a word he says? To hang a dog on his oath would 
be a judicial murder. Yet when we lay down his 
Memoirs and let our thoughts travel back to those far- 
off days he tells us of, there we see him standing, in 
bold relief, against the black sky of the past, the very 
man he was. Not more surely did he, with that rare 
skill of his, stamp the image of Clement VII. on the 
papal currency than he did the impress of his own 
singular personality upon every word he spoke and 
every sentence he wrote. 

We ought, of course, to hate him, but do we? A 
murderer he has written himself down. A liar he stands 
self-convicted of being. Were anyone in the nether 
world bold enough to call him thief, it may be doubted 
whether Rhadamanthus would award him the damages 
for which we may be certain he would loudly clamour. 
Why do we not hate him? Listen to him: 

Upon my uttering these words, there was a general outcry, 
the noblemen affirming that I promised too much. But one 
of them, who was a great philosopher, said in my favour, 
" From the admirable symmetry of shape and happy physi- 
ognomy of this young man, I venture to engage that he 
will perform all he promises, and more." The Pope replied, 
""I am of the same opinion "; then calling Trajano, his 



42 MODERN ESSAYS 

gentleman of the bed-chamber, he ordered him to fetch 
me five hundred ducats. 

And so it always ended; suspicions, aroused most 
reasonably, allayed most unreasonably, and then — 
ducats. He deserved hanging, but he died in his bed. 
He wrote his own memoirs after a fashion that ought 
to have brought posthumous justice upon him, and 
made them a literary gibbet, on which he should swing, 
a creaking horror, for all time ; but nothing of the sort 
has happened. The rascal is so symmetrical, and his 
physiognomy, as it gleams upon us through the centuries, 
so happy, that we cannot withhold our ducats, though 
we may accompany the gift with a shower of abuse. 

This only proves the profundity of an observation 
made by Mr. Bagehot — a man who carried away into 
the next world more originality of thought than is 
now to be found in the Three Estates of the Realm. 
Whilst remarking upon the extraordinary reputation of 
the late Francis Horner and the trifling cost he was 
put to in supporting it, Mr. Bagehot said that it proved 
the advantage of " keeping an atmosphere." 

The common air of heaven sharpens men's judgments. 
Poor Horner, but for that kept atmosphere of his, 
always surrounding him, would have been bluntly 
asked, " What he had done since he was breeched," 
and in reply he could only have uttered something about 
the currency. As for our especial rogue Cellini, the 
question would probably have assumed this shape: 
Rascal, name the crime you have not committed, 
and account for the omission." 

But these awkward questions are not put to the 
lucky people who keep their own atmospheres. The 
critics, before they can get at them, have to step out 
of the everyday air, where only achievements count 



AUGUSTINE BIRRELL 43 

and the Decalogue still goes for something, into the kept 
atmosphere, which they have no sooner breathed than 
they begin to see things differently, and to measure the 
object thus surrounded with a tape of its own manu- 
facture. Horner — poor, ugly, a man neither of words 
nor deeds — becomes one of our great men; a nation 
mourns his loss and erects his statue in the Abbey. 
Mr. Bagehot gives several instances of the same kind, 
but he does not mention Cellini, who is, however, in his 
own way, an admirable example. 

You open his book — a Pharisee of the Pharisees. 
Lying indeed! Why, you hate prevarication. As for 
murder, your friends know you too well to mention 
the subject in your hearing, except in immediate con- 
nection with capital punishment. You are, of course, 
willing to make some allowance for Cellini's time and 
place — the first half of the sixteenth century and Italy. 
" Yes," you remark, " Cellini shall have strict justice 
at my hands." So you say as you settle yourself in 
your chair and begin to read. We seem to hear the 
rascal laughing in his grave. His spirit breathes upon you 
from his book — peeps at you roguishly as you turn the 
pages. His atmosphere surrounds you ; you smile when 
you ought to frown, chuckle when you should groan, 
and — final triumph! — laugh aloud when, if you 
had a rag of principle left, you would fling the book 
into the fire. Your poor moral sense turns away 
with a sigh, and patiently awaits the conclusion of 
the second volume. 

How cautiously does he begin, how gently does he 
win your ear by his seductive piety ! I quote from Mr. 
Roscoe's translation: 

It is a duty incumbent on upright and credible men of 
all ranks, who have performed anything noble or praise- 



44 MODERN ESSAYS 

worthy, to record, in their own writing, the events of then- 
lives, yet they should not commence this honourable 
task before they have passed their fortieth year. Such, 
at least, is my opinion, now that I have completed my 
fifty-eighth year, and am settled in Florence, where, 
considering the numerous ills that constantly attend 
human life, I perceive that I have never before been so free 
from vexations and calamities, or possessed of so great a 
share of content and health as at this period. Looking 
back on some delightful and happy events of my life, and 
on many misfortunes so truly overwhelming that the 
appalling retrospect makes me wonder how I have reached 
this age in vigour and prosperity, through God's goodness, 
I have resolved to publish an account of my life; and . . . 
I must, in commencing my narrative, satisfy the public 
on some few points to which its curiosity is usually directed ; 
the first of which is to ascertain whether a man is descended 
from a virtuous and ancient family. ... I shall therefore 
now proceed to inform the reader how it pleased God 
that I should come into the world. 

So you read on page i ; what you read on page 191 
is this: 

Just after sunset, about eight o'clock, as this musqueteer 
stood at his door with his sword in his hand, when he had 
done supper, I with great address came close up to him 
with a long dagger, and gave him a violent back-handed 
stroke, which I aimed at his neck. He instantly turned 
round, and the blow, falling directly upon his left shoulder, 
broke the whole bone of it; upon which he dropped his 
sword, quite overcome by the pain, and took to his heels. 
I pursued, and in four steps came up with him, when, 
raising the dagger over his head, which he lowered down, 
I hit him exactly upon the nape of the neck. The weapon 
penetrated so deep that, though I made a great effort to 
recover it again, I found it impossible. 

So much for murder. Now for manslaughter, or 
rather Cellini's notion of manslaughter. 



AUGUSTINE BIRRELL 45 

Pompeo entered an apothecary's shop at the corner of 
the Chiavica, about some business, and stayed there for 
some time. I was told he had boasted of having bullied 
me, but it turned out a fatal adventure to him. Just as I 
arrived at that quarter he was coming out of the shop, 
and his bravoes, having made an opening, formed a circle 
round him. I thereupon clapped my hand to a sharp 
dagger, and having forced my way through the file of 
ruffians, laid hold of him by the throat, so quickly and with 
such presence of mind, that there was not one of his friends 
could defend him. I pulled him towards me to give him 
a blow in front, but he turned his face about through 
excess of terror, so that I wounded him exactly under the 
ear; and upon repeating my blow he fell down dead. It 
had never been my intention to kill him, but blows are not 
always under command. 

We must all feel that it would never have done to 
have begun with these passages, but long before the 
191st page has been reached Cellini has retreated into 
his own atmosphere, and the scales of Justice have been 
hopelessly tampered with. 

That such a man as this encountered suffering in 
the course of his life should be matter for satisfaction 
to every well-regulated mind; but, somehow or another, 
you find yourself pitying the fellow as he narrates the 
hardships he endured in the Castle of S. Angelo. He 
is so symmetrical a rascal! Just hear him! listen to 
what he says well on in the second volume, after the 
little incidents already quoted: 

Having at length recovered my strength and vigour, 
after I had composed myself and resumed my cheerfulness 
of mind, I continued to read my Bible, and so accustomed 
my eyes to that darkness, that though I was at first able 
to read only an hour and a half, I could at length read 
three hours. I then reflected on the wonderful power 
of the Almighty upon the hearts of simple men, who had 



46 MODERN ESSAYS 

carried their enthusiasm so far as to believe firmly that 
God would indulge them in all they wished for; and I 
promised myself the assistance of the Most High, as well 
through His mercy as on account of my innocence. Thus 
turning constantly to the Supreme Being, sometimes in 
prayer, sometimes in silent meditation on the divine good- 
ness, I was totally engrossed by these heavenly reflections, 
and came to take such delight in pious meditations that I 
no longer thought of past misfortunes. On the contrary, 
I was all day long singing psalms and many other composi- 
tions of mine, in which I celebrated and praised the Deity. 

Thus torn from their context, these passages may 
seem to supply the best possible falsification of the 
previous statement that Cellini told the truth about 
himself. Judged by these passages alone, he may 
appear a hypocrite of an unusually odious description. 
But it is only necessary to read his book to dispel that 
notion. He tells lies about other people; he repeats 
long conversations, sounding his own praises, during 
which, as his own narrative shows, he was not present; 
he exaggerates his own exploits, his sufferings — even, 
it may be, his crimes; but when we lay down his 
book, we feel we are saying good-bye to a man 
whom we know. 

He has introduced himself to us, and though doubtless 
we prefer saints to sinners, we may be forgiven for 
liking the company of a live rogue better than that of 
the lay-figures and empty clock-cases labelled with 
distinguished names, who arc to be found doing duty 
for men in the works of our standard historians. What 
would we not give to know Julius Caesar one half as well 
as we know this outrageous rascal? The saints of 
the earth, too, how shadowy they are ! Which of them 
do we really know? Excepting one or two ancient and 
modern Quietists, there is hardly one amongst the 



AUGUSTINE BIRRELL 47 

whole number who being dead yet speaketh. Their 
memoirs far too often only reveal to us a hazy something, 
certainly not recognisable as a man. This is generally 
the fault of their editors, who, though men themselves, 
confine their editorial duties to going up and down the 
diaries and papers of the departed saint, and obliterat- 
ing all human touches. This they do for the " better 
prevention of scandals"; and one cannot deny that 
they attain their end, though they pay dearly for it. 

I shall never forget the start I gave when, on reading 
some old book about India, I came across an after- 
dinner jest of Henry Martyn's. The thought of Henry 
Martyn laughing over the walnuts and the wine was 
almost, as Robert Browning's unknown painter says, 
"too wildly dear"; and to this day I cannot help 
thinking that there must be a mistake somewhere. 

To return to Cellini, and to conclude. On laying 
down his Memoirs, let us be careful to recall our banished 
moral sense, "and make peace with her, by passing a 
final judgment on this desperate sinner, which perhaps, 
after all, we cannot do better than by employing language 
of his own concerning a monk, a fellow-prisoner of his, 
who never, so far as appears, murdered anybody, but 
of whom Cellini none the less felt himself entitled 
to say: 

I admired his shining qualities, but his odious vices I 
freely censured and held in abhorrence. 



48 MODERN ESSAYS 



BOOK-BUYING 
Augustine Birrell: Essays and Addresses , 

The most distinguished of living Englishmen, who, great 
as he is in many directions, is perhaps inherently more 
a man of letters than anything else, has been overheard 
mournfully to declare that there were more booksellers' 
shops in his native town sixty years ago when he was a 
boy in it, than are to-day to be found within its bound- 
aries. And yet the place, " all unabashed," now boasts 
its bookless self a city! 

Mr. Gladstone was, of course, referring to second- 
hand bookshops. Neither he nor any other sensible 
man puts himself out about new books. When a new 
book is published, read an old one, was the advice of 
a sound though surly critic. It is one of the boasts 
of letters to have glorified the term " second-hand," 
which other crafts have " soiled to all ignoble use." 
But why it has been able to do this is obvious. All the 
best books are necessarily second-hand. The writers 
of to-day need not grumble. Let them " bide a wee." 
If their books are worth anything they too one day 
will be second-hand. If their books are not worth any- 
thing there are ancient trades still in full operation 
amongst us — the pastrycooks and the trunkmakers — 
who must have paper. 

But is there any substance in the plaint that nobody 
now buys books, meaning thereby second-hand books ? 
The late Mark Pattison, who had 16,000 volumes, and 
whose lightest word has therefore weight, once stated 



AUGUSTINE BIRRELL 49 

that he had been informed, and verily believed, that 
there were men of his own University of Oxford who, 
being in uncontrolled possession of annual incomes of 
not less than £500, thought they were doing the thing 
handsomely if they expended £50 a year upon their 
libraries. But we are not bound to believe this unless 
we like. There was a touch of morosity about the late 
Rector of Lincoln which led him to take gloomy views 
of men, particularly Oxford men. 

No doubt arguments a priori may readily be found 
to support the contention that the habit of book- 
buying is on the decline. I confess to knowing one or 
two men, not Oxford men either, but Cambridge men 
(and the passion of Cambridge for literature is a byword) , 
who, on the plea of being pressed with business, or 
because they were going to a funeral, have passed a 
bookshop in a strange town without so much as stepping 
inside " just to see whether the fellow had anything." 
But painful as facts of this sort necessarily are, any 
damaging inference we might feel disposed to draw 
from them is dispelled by a comparison of price-lists. 
Compare a bookseller's catalogue of 1862 with one of 
the present year, and your pessimism is washed away 
by the tears which unrestrainedly flow as you see what 
bonnes fortunes you have lost. A young book-buyer 
might well turn out upon Primrose Hill and bemoan 
his youth after comparing old catalogues with new. 

Nothing but American competition, grumble some 
old stagers. 

Well! why not? This new battle for the books 
is a free fight, not a private one, and Columbia has 
" joined in." Lower prices are not to be looked for. 
The book-buyer of 1900 will be glad to buy at to-day's 
prices. I take pleasure in thinking he wili not be able 



50 MODERN ESSAYS 

to do so. Good finds grow scarcer and scarcer. True 
it is that but a few short weeks ago I picked up (such 
is the happy phrase, most apt to describe what was 
indeed a " street casualty ") a copy of the original 
edition of Endymion (Keats' poem— O subscriber to 
Mudie's! — not Lord Beaconsfield's novel) for the easy 
equivalent of half-a-crown — but then that was one of 
my lucky days. The enormous increase of booksellers' 
catalogues and their wide circulation amongst the trade 
has already produced a hateful uniformity of prices. 
Go where you will it is all the same to the odd sixpence. 
Time was when you could map out the country for 
yourself with some hopefulness of plunder. There 
were districts where the Elizabethan dramatists were 
but slenderly protected. A raid into the " bonnie 
North Countrie " sent you home again cheered with 
chap-books and weighted with old pamphlets of curious 
interest; whilst the West of England seldom failed to 
yield a crop of novels. I remember getting a complete 
set of the Bronte books in the original issues at Torquay, 
I may say, for nothing. Those days are over. Your 
country bookseller is, in fact, more likely, such tales 
does he hear of London auctions, and such catalogues 
does he receive by every post, to exaggerate the value 
of his wares than to part with them pleasantly, and as 
a country bookseller should, " just to clear my shelves, 
you know, and give me a bit of room." The only 
compensation for this is the catalogues themselves. 
You get them, at least, for nothing, and it cannot be 
denied that they make mighty pretty reading. 

These high prices tell their own tale, and force 
upon us the conviction that there never were so 
many private libraries in course of growth as there 
are to-day. 



AUGUSTINE BIRRELL 51 

Libraries are not made; they grow. Your first two 
thousand volumes present no difficulty, and cost aston- 
ishingly little money. Given £400 and five years, and 
an ordinary man can in the ordinary course, without 
undue haste or putting any pressure upon his taste, 
surround himself with this number of books, all in his 
own language, and thenceforward have at least one 
place in the world in which it is possible to be happy. 
But pride is still out of the question. To be proud of 
having two thousand books would be absurd. You 
might as well be proud of having two top-coats. After 
your first two thousand difficulty begins, but until you 
have ten thousand volumes the less you say about your 
library the better. Then you may begin to speak. 

It is no doubt a pleasant thing to have a library left 
you. The present writer will disclaim no such legacy, 
but hereby undertakes to accept it, however dusty. 
But, good as it is to inherit a library, it is better to 
collect one. Each volume then, however lightly a 
stranger's eye may roam from shelf to shelf, has its 
own individuality, a history of its own. You remember 
where you got it, and how much you gave for it; and 
your word may safely be taken for the first of these 
facts, but not for the second. 

The man who has a library of his own collection is 
able to contemplate himself objectively, and is justified 
in believing in his own existence. No other man but he 
would have made precisely such a combination as his. 
Had he been in any single respect different from what 
he is, his library, as it exists, never would have existed. 
Therefore, surely he may exclaim, as in the gloaming 
he contemplates the backs of his loved ones, "They 
are mine, and I am theirs." 

But the eternal note of sadness will find its way even 



52 MODERN ESSAYS 

through the keyhole of a library. You turn some 
familiar page, of Shakespeare it may be, and his "in- 
finite variety," his "multitudinous mind," suggests 
some new thought, and as you are wondering over it, 
you think of Lycidas, your friend, and promise yourself 
the pleasure of having his opinion of your discovery 
the very next time when by the fire you two "help 
waste a sullen day." Or it is, perhaps, some quainter, 
tenderer fancy that engages your solitary attention, 
something in Sir Philip Sidney or Henry Vaughan, and 
then you turn to look for Phyllis, ever the best inter- 
preter of love, human or divine. Alas ! the printed page 
grows hazy beneath a filmy eye as you suddenly re- 
member that Lycidas is dead — "dead ere his prime," 
— and that the pale cheek of Phyllis will never again be 
relumined by the white light of her pure enthusiasm. 
And then you fall to thinking of the inevitable, and 
perhaps, in your present mood, not unwelcome hour, 
when the "ancient peace" of your old friends will .be 
disturbed, when rude hands will dislodge them from their 
accustomed nooks and break up their goodly company. 

Death bursts amongst them like a shell, 
And strews them over half the town. 

They will form new combinations, lighten other men's 
toil, and soothe another's sorrow. Fool that I was to 
call anything minel 



VISCOUNT BRYCE 53 



ABRAHAM LINCOLN 

James Bryce: Introduction to Speeches and 
Letters of Abraham Lincoln, 1832-1865 

No man since Washington has become to Americans 
so familiar or so beloved a figure as Abraham Lincoln. 
He is to them the representative and typical American, 
the man who best embodies the political ideals of the 
nation. He is typical in the fact that he sprang from 
the masses of the people, that he remained through his 
whole career a man of the people, that his chief desire 
was to be in accord with the beliefs and wishes of the 
people, that he never failed to trust in the people and 
to rely on their support. Every native American knows 
his life and his speeches. His anecdotes and witticisms 
have passed into the thought and the conversation 
of the whole nation as those of no other statesman 
have done. 

He belongs, however, not only to the United States, 
but to the whole of civilised mankind. It is no exag- 
geration to say that he has, within the last thirty years, 
grown to be a conspicuous figure in the history of the 
modern world. Without him, the course of events, not 
only in the western hemisphere but in Europe also, 
would have been different, for he was called to guide 
at the greatest crisis of its fate a State already mighty, 
and now far more mighty than in his days, and the 
guidance he gave has affected the march of events ever 
since. A life and a character such as his ought to be 
known to and comprehended by Europeans as well as 



54 MODERN ESSAYS 

by Americans. Among Europeans, it is especially 
Englishmen who ought to appreciate him and under- 
stand the significance of his life, for he came of an 
English stock, he spoke the English tongue, his action 
told upon the progress of events and the' shaping of 
opinion in all British communities everywhere more than 
it has done upon any other nation outside America itself. 
This collection of Lincoln's speeches seeks to make 
him known by his words as readers of history know 
him by his deeds. In popularly-governed countries the 
great statesman is almost of necessity an orator, though 
his eminence as a speaker may be no true measure 
either of his momentary power or of his permanent 
fame, for wisdom, courage and tact bear little direct 
relation to the gift for speech. But whether that gift 
be present in greater or in lesser degree, the character 
and ideas of a statesman are best studied through his 
own words. This is particularly true of Lincoln, because 
he was not what may be called a professional orator. 
There have been famous orators whose speeches we may 
read for the beauty of their language or for the wealth 
of ideas they contain, with comparatively little regard 
to the circumstances of time and place that led to 
their being delivered. Lincoln is not one of these. 
His speeches need to be studied in close relation to the 
occasions which called them forth. They are not philo- 
sophical lucubrations or brilliant displays of rhetoric. 
They are a part of his life. They are the expression of 
his convictions, and derive no small part of their weight 
and dignity from the fact that they deal with grave 
and urgent questions, and express the spirit in which 
he approached those questions. Few great characters 
stand out so clearly revealed by their words, whether 
spoken or written, as he does. 



VISCOUNT BRYCE 55 

Accordingly Lincoln's discourses are not like those of 
nearly all the men whose eloquence has won them fame. 
When we think of such men as Pericles, Demosthenes, 
iEschines, Cicero, Hortensius, Burke, Sheridan, Erskine, 
Canning, Webster, Gladstone, Bright, Massillon, Ver- 
gniaud, Castelar, we think of exuberance of ideas or of 
phrases, of a command of appropriate similes or meta- 
phors, of the gifts of invention and of exposition, of 
imaginative flights, or outbursts of passion fit to stir 
and rouse an audience to like passion. We think of the 
orator as gifted with a powerful or finely-modulated 
voice, an imposing presence, a graceful delivery. Or 
if — remembering that Lincoln was by profession a 
lawyer and practised until he became President of the 
United States — we think of the special gifts which 
mark the forensic orator, we should expect to find a 
man full of ingenuity and subtlety, one dexterous in 
handling his case in such wise as to please and capture 
the judge or the jury whom he addresses, one skilled in 
those rhetorical devices and strokes of art which can be 
used, when need be, to engage the listener's feelings and 
distract his mind from the real merits of the issue. 

Of all this kind of talent there was in Lincoln but 
little. He was not an artful pleader; indeed, it was said 
of him that he could argue well only those cases in the 
justice of which he personally believed, and was unable 
to make the worse appear the better reason. For most 
of the qualities which the world admires in Cicero or 
in Burke we should look in vain in Lincoln's speeches. 
They are not fine pieces of exquisite diction, fit to be 
declaimed as school exercises or set before students as 
models of composition. 

What, then, are their merits ? and why do they deserve 
to be valued and remembered? How comes it that a 



56 MODERN ESSAYS 

man of first-rate powers was deficient in qualities apper- 
taining to his own profession which men less remarkable 
have possessed? 

To answer this question, let us first ask what were 
the preparation and training Abraham Lincoln had for 
oratory, whether political or forensic. 

Born in rude and abject poverty, he had never any 
education, except what he gave himself, till he was 
approaching manhood. Not even books wherewith to 
inform and train his mind were within his reach. No 
school, no university, no legal faculty had any part 
in training his powers. When he became a lawyer and 
a politician, the years most favourable to continuous 
study had already passed, and the opportunities he 
found for reading were very scanty. He knew but few 
authors in general literature, though he knew those few 
thoroughly. He taught himself a little mathematics, 
but he could read no language save his own, and can 
have had only the faintest acquaintance with European 
history or with any branch of philosophy. 

The want of regular education was not made up for 
by the persons among whom his lot was cast. Till he 
was a grown man, he never moved in any society from 
which he could learn those things with which the mind 
of an orator or a statesman ought to be stored. Even 
after he had gained some legal practice, there was for 
many years no one for him to mix with except the 
petty practitioners of a petty town, men nearly all of 
whom knew little more than he did himself. 

Schools gave him nothing, and society gave him 
nothing. But he had a powerful intellect and a resolute 
will. Isolation fostered not only self-reliance but the 
habit of reflection, and, indeed, of prolonged and intense 
reflection. He made all that he knew a part of himself. 



VISCOUNT BRYCE 57 

He thought everything out for himself. His convictions 
were his own — clear and coherent. He was not positive 
or opinionated, and he did not deny that at certain 
moments he pondered and hesitated long before he 
decided on his course. But though he could keep a 
policy in suspense, waiting for events to guide him, he 
did not waver. He paused and reconsidered, but it 
was never his way either to go back upon a decision 
once made, or to waste time in vain regrets that all he 
expected had not been attained. He took advice readily, 
and left many things to his ministers; but he did not 
lean upon his advisers. Without vanity or ostentation, 
he was always independent, self-contained, prepared to 
take full responsibility for his acts. 

That he was keenly observant of all that passed under 
his eyes, that his mind played freely round everything it 
touched, we know from the accounts of his talk, which 
first made him famous in the town and neighbourhood 
where he lived. His humour, and his memory for 
anecdotes which he could bring out to good purpose 
at the right moment, are qualities which Europe deems 
distinctively American, but no great man of action 
in the nineteenth century, even in America, possessed 
them in the same measure. Seldom has so acute a 
power of observation been found united to so abundant 
a power of sympathy. 

These remarks may seem to belong to a study of his 
character rather than of his speeches, yet they are not 
irrelevant, because the interest of his speeches lies in 
their revelation of his character. Let us, however, 
return to the speeches and to the letters, some of 
which, given in this volume, are scarcely less note- 
worthy than are the speeches. 

What are the distinctive merits of these speeches and 



58 MODERN ESSAYS 

letters? There is less humour in them than his reputa- 
tion as a humorist would have led us to expect. They 
are serious, grave, practical. We feei that the man 
does not care to play over the surface of the subject, 
or to use it as a way of displaying his cleverness. He 
is trying to get right down to the very foundation of 
the matter and tell us what his real thoughts about it 
are. In this respect he sometimes reminds us of Bis- 
marck's speeches, which, in their rude, broken, forth- 
darting way, always go straight to their destined aim; 
always hit the nail on the head. So too, in their effort 
to grapple with fundamental facts, Lincoln's bear a 
sort of likeness to Cromwell's speeches, though Crom- 
well has far less power of utterance, and always seems 
to be wrestling with the difficulty of finding language 
to convey to others what is plain, true and weighty to 
himself. This difficulty makes the great Protector, 
though we can usually see what he is driving at, fre- 
quently confused and obscure. Lincoln, however, is 
always clear. Simplicit}', directness and breadth are 
the notes of his thought. Aptness, clearness, and again 
simplicity, are the notes of his diction. The American 
speakers of his generation, like most of those of the pre- 
ceding generation, but unlike those of that earlier genera- 
tion to which Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Marshall 
and Maddison belonged, were generally infected by a 
floridity which made them a byword in Europe. Even 
men of brilliant talent, such as Edward Everett, were 
by no means free from this straining after effect by 
highly-coloured phrases and theatrical effects. Such 
faults have to-day virtually vanished from the United 
States, largely from a change in public taste, to which 
perhaps the example set by Lincoln himself may have 
contributed. In the forties and fifties florid rhetoric 



VISCOUNT BRYCE 59 

was rampant, especially in the West and South, where 
taste was less polished than in the older States. That 
Lincoln escaped it is a striking mark of his independence 
as well as of his greatness. There is no superfluous 
ornament in his orations, nothing tawdry, nothing 
otiose. For the most part, he addresses the reason of 
his hearers, and credits them with desiring to have 
none but solid arguments laid before them. When he 
does appeal to emotion, he does it quietly, perhaps 
even solemnly. The note struck is always a high note. 
The impressiveness of the appeal comes not from fervid 
vehemence of language, but from the sincerity of his 
own convictions. Sometimes one can see that through 
its whole course the argument is suffused by the speaker's 
feeling, and when the time comes for the feeling to be 
directly expressed, it glows not with fitful flashes, but 
with the steady heat of an intense and strenuous soul. 
The impression which most of the speeches leave on 
the reader is that their matter has been carefully thought 
over even when the words have not been learnt by 
heart. But there is an anecdote that on one occasion, 
early in his career, Lincoln went to a public meeting not 
in the least intending to speak, but presently being 
called for by the audience, rose in obedience to the 
call, and delivered a long address so ardent and thrilling 
that the reporters dropped their pencils and, absorbed 
in watching him, forgot to take down what he said. It 
has also been stated, on good authority, that on his 
way in the railroad cars to the dedication of the monu- 
ment on the field of Gettysburg, he turned to a Penn- 
sylvanian gentleman who was sitting beside him and 
remarked, "I suppose I shall be expected to say some- 
thing this afternoon; lend me a pencil and a bit of 
paper," and that he thereupon jotted down the notes 



6o MODERN ESSAYS 

of a speech which has become the best known and 
best remembered of all his utterances, so that some of 
its words and sentences have passed into the minds of 
all educated men everywhere. 

That famous Gettysburg speech is the best example 
one could desire of the characteristic quality of Lincoln's 
eloquence. It is a short speech. It is wonderfully terse 
in expression. It is quiet, so quiet that at the moment 
it did not make upon the audience, an audience wrought 
up by a long and highly-decorated harangue from one 
of the prominent orators of the day, an impression at 
all commensurate to that which it began to make as 
soon as it was read over America and Europe. There 
is in it not a touch of what we call rhetoric, or of any 
striving after effect. Alike in thought and in language 
it is simple, plain, direct. But it states certain truths 
and principles in phrases so aptly chosen and so forcible, 
that one feels as if those truths could have been con- 
veyed in no other words, and as if this deliverance of 
them were made for all time. Words so simple and so 
strong could have come only from one who had medi- 
tated so long upon the primal facts of American history 
and popular government that the truths those facts 
taught him had become like the truths of mathematics 
in their clearness, their breadth, and their precision. 

The speeches on Slavery read strange to us now, when 
slavery as a living system has been dead for forty years, 
dead and buried hell deep under the detestation of 
mankind. It is hard for those whose memory does not 
go back to 1865 to realise that down till then it was 
not only a terrible fact, but was defended — defended 
by many otherwise good men, defended not only by 
pseudo-scientific anthropologists as being in the order 
of nature, but by ministers of the Gospel, out of the 



VISCOUNT BRYCE 61 

sacred Scriptures, as part of the ordinances of God. 
Lincoln's position, the position of one who had to 
induce slave-owning fellow-citizens to listen to him and 
admit persuasion into their heated and prejudiced 
minds, did not allow him to denounce it with horror, 
as we can all so easily do to-day. But though his lan- 
guage is calm and restrained, he never condescends to 
palter with slavery. He shows its innate evils and 
dangers with unanswerable force. The speech on the 
Dred Scott decision is a lucid, close and cogent piece 
of reasoning which, in its wide view of Constitutional 
issues, sometimes reminds one of Webster — sometimes 
even of Burke, though it does not equal the former in 
weight nor the latter in splendour of diction. 

Among the letters, perhaps the most impressive is 
that written to Mrs. Bixley, the mother of five sons 
who had died fighting for the Union in the armies of 
the North. It is short, and it deals with a theme on 
which hundreds of letters are written daily. But I do 
not know where the nobility of self-sacrifice for a great 
cause, and of the consolation which the thought of a 
sacrifice so made should bring, is set forth with such 
simple and pathetic beauty. Deep must be the fountains 
from which there issues so pure a stream. 

The career of Lincoln is often held up to ambitious 
young Americans as an example to show what a man 
may achieve by his native strength, with no advantages 
of birth or environment or education. In this there 
is nothing improper, nothing fanciful. The moral is 
one which may well be drawn, and in which those on 
whose early life Fortune has not smiled may find 
encouragement. But the example is, after all, no great 
encouragement to ordinary men, for Lincoln was an 
extraordinary man. 



62 MODERN ESSAYS 

He triumphed over the adverse conditions of his 
early years because Nature had bestowed on him high 
and rare powers. Superficial observers who saw his 
homely aspect and plain manners, and noted that his 
fellow-townsmen, when asked why they so trusted him, 
answered that it was for his common-sense, failed to 
see that his common-sense was a part of his genius. 
What is common-sense but the power of seeing the 
fundamentals of any practical question, and of dis- 
engaging them from the accidental and transient features 
that may overlie these fundamentals — the power, to use 
a familiar expression, of getting down to bed-rock ? One 
part of this power is the faculty for perceiving what the 
average man will think and can be induced to do. This 
is what keeps the superior mind in touch with the 
ordinary mind, and this is perhaps why the name of 
"common-sense" is used, because the superior mind 
seems in its power of comprehending others to be itself 
a part of the general sense of the community. All men 
of high practical capacity have this power. It is the 
first condition of success. But in men who have received 
a philosophical or literary education there is a tendency 
to embellish, for purposes of persuasion, or perhaps for 
their own gratification, the language in which they 
recommend their conclusions, or to state those con- 
clusions in the light of large general principles, a ten- 
dency which may, unless carefully watched, carry them 
too high above the heads of the crowd. Lincoln, never 
having had such an education, spoke to the people as 
one of themselves. He seemed to be saying not only 
what each felt, but expressing the feeling just as each 
would have expressed it. In reality, he was quite as 
much above his neighbours in insight as was the polished 
orator or writer, but the plain directness of his language 



VISCOUNT BRYCE 63 

seemed to keep him on their level. His strength lay less 
in the form and vesture of the thought than in the 
thought itself, in the large, simple, practical view which 
he took of the position. And thus, to repeat what has 
been said already, the sterling merit of these speeches 
of his, that which made them effective when they were 
delivered and makes them worth reading to-day, is to 
be found in the justness of his conclusions and their 
fitness to the circumstances of the time. When he rose 
into higher air, when his words were clothed with state- 
liness and solemnity, it was the force of his conviction 
and the emotion that thrilled through his utterance, 
that printed the words deep upon the minds and drove 
them home to the hearts of the people. 

What is a great man? Common speech, which after 
all must be our guide to the sense of the terms which 
the world uses, gives this name to many sorts of men. 
How far greatness lies in the power and range of the 
intellect, how far in the strength of the will, how far in 
elevation of view and aim and purpose, — this is a 
question too large to be debated here. But of Abraham 
Lincoln it may be truly said that in his greatness all 
three elements were present. He had not the brilliance, 
either in thought or word or act, that dazzles, nor the 
restless activity that occasionally pushes to the front 
even persons with gifts not of the first order. He was 
a patient, thoughtful, melancholy man, whose intelli- 
gence, working sometimes slowly but always steadily 
and surely, was capacious enough to embrace, and 
vigorous enough to master, the incomparably difficult 
facts and problems he was called to deal with. His 
executive talent showed itself not in sudden and start- 
ling strokes, but in the calm serenity with which 
he formed his judgments and laid his plans, in the 



64 MODERN ESSAYS 

undismayed firmness with which he adhered to them in 
the face of popular clamour, of conflicting counsels 
from his advisers, sometimes, even, of what others 
deemed all but hopeless failure. These were the qualities 
needed in one who had to pilot the Republic through 
the heaviest storm that had ever broken upon it. But 
the mainspring of his power, and the truest evidence 
of his greatness, lay in the nobility of his aims, in the 
fervour of his conviction, in the stainless rectitude 
which guided his action and won for him the confidence 
of the people. Without these things neither the vigour 
of his intellect nor the firmness of his will could 
have availed. 

There is a vulgar saying that all great men are un- 
scrupulous. Of him it may rather be said that the 
note of greatness we feel in his thinking and his speech 
and his conduct had its source in the loftiness and 
purity of his character. Lincoln's is one of the careers 
that refute this imputation on human nature. 




G. K. CHESTERTON 65 



MATTHEW ARNOLD'S ESSAYS 

G. K. Chesterton : Introduction to Matthew 
Arnold's Essays 

Our actual obligations to Matthew Arnold are almost 
beyond expression. His very faults reformed us. The 
chief of his services may perhaps be stated thus, that 
he discovered (for the modern English) the purely 
intellectual importance of humility. He had none of 
that hot humility which is the fascination of saints and 
good men. But he had a cold humility which he had 
discovered to be a mere essential of the intelligence. 
To see things clearly, he said, you must "get yourself 
out of the way." The weakness of pride lies after all 
in this: that oneself is a window. It can be a coloured 
window, if you will; but the more thickly you lay on 
the colours the less of a window it will be. The two 
things to be done with a window are to wash it and 
then forget it. So the truly pious have always said 
the two things to do personally are to cleanse and 
to forget oneself. 

Matthew Arnold found the window of the English 
soul opaque with its own purple. The Englishman had 
painted his own image on the pane so gorgeously that 
it was practically a dead panel; it had no opening on 
the world without. He could not see the most obvious 
and enormous objects outside his own door. The 
Englishman could not see (for instance) that the French 
Revolution was a far-reaching, fundamental and most 



66 MODERN ESSAYS 

practical and successful change in the whole structure 
of Europe. He really thought that it was a bloody 
and futile episode, in weak imitation of an English 
General Election. The Englishman could not see that 
the Catholic Church was (at the very least) an immense 
and enduring Latin civilisation, linking us to the lost 
civilisations of the Mediterranean. He really thought 
it was a sort of sect. The Englishman could not see that 
the Franco-Prussian war was the entrance of a new and 
menacing military age, a terror to England and to all. 
He really thought it was a little lesson to Louis Napoleon 
for not reading the Times. The most enormous catas- 
trophe was only some kind of symbolic compliment to 
England. If the sun fell from Heaven it only showed 
how wise England was in not having much sunshine. 
If the waters were turned to blood it was only an adver- 
tisement for Bass's Ale or Fry's Cocoa. Such was the 
weak pride of the English then. One cannot say that 
is wholly undiscoverable now. 

But Arnold made war on it. One excellent point 
which he made in many places was to this effect: that 
those very foreign tributes to England which English- 
men quoted as showing their own merit were examples 
of the particular foreign merit which we did not share. 
Frenchmen bragged about France and Germans about 
Germany, doubtless; but they retained just enough of 
an impartial interest in the mere truth itself to remark 
upon the more outstanding and obvious of the superiori- 
ties of England. Arnold justly complained that when 
a Frenchman wrote about English political liberty we 
always thought it a tribute simply to English political 
liberty. We never thought of it as a tribute to French 
philosophical liberty. Examples of this are still rele- 
vant. A Frenchman wrote some time ago a book 



G. K. CHESTERTON 67 

called A quoi tient la super write des Anglo-Saxons? 
What Englishman dare write a book called " What 
causes the Superiority of Frenchmen " ? But this lucid 
abnegation is a power. When a Frenchman calls a 
book " What is the Superiority of Englishmen? " we 
ought to point to that book and say: "This is the 
superiority of Frenchmen." 

This humility, as I say, was with Arnold a mental 
need. He was not naturally a humble man; he might 
even be called a supercilious one. But he was driven 
to preaching humility merely as a thing to clear the head. 
He found the virtue which was just then being flung in 
the mire as fit only for nuns and slaves: and he saw 
that it was essential to philosophers. The most unpracti- 
cal merit of ancient piety became the most practical 
merit of modern investigation. I repeat, he did not 
understand that headlong and happy humility which 
belongs to the more beautiful souls of the simpler ages. 
He did not appreciate the force (nor perhaps the humour) 
of St. Francis of Assisi when he called his own body 
" my brother the donkey." That is to say, he did not 
realise a certain feeling deep in all mystics in the face 
of the dual destiny. He did not realise their feeling 
(full both of fear and laughter) that the body is an 
animal and a very comic animal. Matthew Arnold 
could never have felt any part of himself to be purely 
comic — not even his singular whiskers. He would 
never, like Father Juniper, have " played see-saw to 
abase himself." In a word, he had little sympathy 
with the old ecstasies of self-effacement. But for this 
very reason it is all the more important that his main 
work was an attempt to preach some kind of self- 
effacement even to his own self-assertive age. He realised 
that the saints had even understated the case for humility. 



68 MODERN ESSAYS 

They had always said that without humility we should 
never see the better world to come. He realised that 
without humility we could not even see this world. 

Nevertheless, as I have said, a certain tincture of pride 
was natural to him, and prevented him from appreciat- 
ing some things of great human value. It prevented 
him for instance from having an adequate degree of 
popular sympathy. He had (what is so rare in England) 
the sense of the state as one thing, consisting of all its 
citizens, the Senatus Populusque Romanus. But he had 
not the feeling of familiarity with the loves and hungers 
of the common man, which is the essence of the egali- 
tarian sentiment. He was a republican, but he was not 
a democrat. He contemptuously dismissed the wage- 
earning, beer-drinking, ordinary labourers of England 
as "merely populace." They are not populace; they 
are merely mankind. If you do not like them you do 
not like mankind. And when all the rdle of Arnold's 
real glories has been told, there always does remain 
a kind of hovering doubt as to whether he did like 
mankind. 

But of course the key of Arnold's in most matters is 
that he deliberately conceived himself to be a corrective. 
He prided himself not upon telling the truth but upon 
telling the unpopular half-truth. He blamed his contem- 
poraries, Carlyle for instance, not for telling falsehoods, 
but simply for telling popular truths. And certainly in the 
case of Carlyle and others he was more or less right. 
Carlyle professed to be a Jeremiah and even a misan- 
thrope. But he was really a demagogue and, in one 
sense, even a flatterer. He was entirely sincere as all 
good demagogues are ; he merely shared all the peculiar 
vanities and many of the peculiar illusions of the people 
to whom he spoke. He told Englishmen that they 



G. K. CHESTERTON 69 

were Teutons, that they were Vikings, that they were 
practical politicians — all the things they like to be told 
they are, all the things that they are not. He told 
them, indeed, with a dark reproachfulness, that their 
strengths were lying neglected or inert. Still he reminded 
them of their strengths; and they liked him. But they 
did not like Arnold, who placidly reminded them of 
their weaknesses. 

Arnold suffered, however, from thus consenting merely 
to correct; from thus consenting to tell the half-truth 
that was neglected. He reached at times a fanaticism 
that was all the more extraordinary because it was a 
fanaticism of moderation, an intemperance of temperance. 
This may be seen, I think, in the admirable argument 
for classical supremacy to which so much of this selection 
is devoted. He saw and very rightly asserted that the 
fault of the Mid- Victorian English was that they did 
not seem to have any sense of definite excellence. 
Nothing could be better than the way in which he 
points out in the very important essay on " The Func- 
tion of Criticism at the Present Time " that the French 
admit into intellectual problems the same principle of 
clearly stated and generally admitted dogmas which 
all of us in our daily lives admit into moral problems. 
The French, as he puts it in a good summarising phrase, 
have a conscience in literary matters. Upon the opposite 
English evil he poured perpetual satire. That any man 
who had money enough to start a paper could start a 
paper and say it was as good as the Athenceum', that 
anyone who had money enough to run a school could 
run a school and say it was as good as Winchester; 
these marks of the English anarchy he continually 
denounced. But he hardly sufficiently noticed that if 
this English extreme of a vulgar and indiscriminate 



70 MODERN ESSAYS 

acceptance be most certainly an extreme and something 
of a madness, it is equally true that his own celebration 
of excellence when carried past a certain point might 
become a very considerable madness also; indeed has 
become such a madness in some of the artistic epochs 
of the world. It is true that a man is in some danger 
of becoming a lunatic if he builds a stucco house and 
says it is as fine as the Parthenon. But surely a man 
is equally near to a lunatic if he refuses to live in any 
house except the Parthenon. A frantic hunger for 
all kinds of inappropriate food may be a mark of a 
lunatic; but it is also the mark of a lunatic to be 
fastidious about food. 

One of the immense benefits conferred on us bj r 
Matthew Arnold lay in the fact that he recalled to us 
the vital fact that we are Europeans. He had a con- 
sciousness of Europe much fuller and firmer than that 
of any of the great men of his epoch. For instance, 
he admired the Germans as Carlyle admired the Germans ; 
perhaps he admired the Germans too much as Carlyle 
admired the Germans too much. But he was not 
deluded by any separatist follies about the superiority 
of a Teutonic race. If he admired the Germans it was 
for being European, signally and splendidly European. 
He did not, like Carlyle, admire the Germans for being 
German. Like Carlyle he relied much on the sagacity 
of Goethe. But the sagacity of Goethe upon which 
he relied was not a rugged or cloudy sagacity, the 
German element in Goethe. It was the Greek element 
in Goethe ; a lucid and equalised sagacity, a moderation 
and a calm such as Carlyle could not have admired, 
nay, could not even have imagined. Arnold did indeed 
wish, as every sane European wishes, that the nations 
that make up Europe should continue to be individual; 



G. K. CHESTERTON 71 

that the contributions from the nations should be 
national. But he did wish that the contributions should 
be contributions, parts, that is, of a common cause 
and unity, the cause and unity of European civilisation. 
He desired that Germany should be great, so as to make 
Europe great. He would not have desired that Germany 
should grow great so as to make Europe small. Any- 
thing, however big and formidable, which tended to 
divide us from the common culture of our continent 
he would have regarded as a crotchet. Puritanism he 
regarded at bottom as only an enormous crotchet. 
The Anglo-Saxon race most certainly he would have 
regarded as an enormous crotchet. 

In this respect it is curious to notice how English 
public opinion has within our own time contrived to 
swing from one position to the contrary position with- 
out her touching that central position which Arnold 
loved. He found the English people in a mood which 
seemed to him unreal and un-European, but this mood 
was one of smug Radical mediocrity, contemptuous of 
arts and aims of high policy and of national honour. 
Ten years after his death the English people were 
waving Union Jacks and shouting for " La Revanche." 
Yet though they had passed thus rapidly from extreme 
anti-militarism to extreme militarism they had never 
touched on the truth that Arnold had to tell. Whether 
as anti-militarists or as militarists, they were alike 
ignorant of the actualities of our Aryan civilisation. 
They have passed from tameness to violence with- 
out touching strength. Whenever they really touch 
strength they will (with their wonderful English strength) 
do a number of things. One of the things may be to 
save the world. Another of the things will certainly 
be to thank Matthew Arnold. 



72 MODERN ESSAYS 



IN THE READING ROOM 
James Douglas: Adventures in London. 

Your cockney likes noise. I am sure he would go mad 
if there were silence in London for the space of half- 
an-hour. He would feel that the foundations of the 
earth had given way, and that the bottom of the 
universe had dropped out. 

Have you observed that a sudden silence produces the 
sensation of falling through space? Thus Satan must 
have felt during those nine days while he was executing 
the finest backfall ever seen on any stage. It is now, 
unhappily, impossible to arrange for a nine days' drop, 
but you can procure the equivalent silence. Therefore, 
I prescribe for all sound-wounded persons a sojourn in 
the Reading Room. 

In that noiseless mausoleum they may enjoy a perfect 
rest cure without money and without price. It is a 
securer retreat than any sanitarium. Its cloistral 
peace is more impermeable than any club. The 
Athenaeum compared to it is a gabble-den, and White's 
a choral hell. It is a more inviolate sanctuary than a 
Trappist Monastery. It is serener than the crypt of 
St. Paul's. 

Its inmates live in a vow of silence. It is a crime 
even to whisper and a sin to sigh. The orchestral 
cough that ravages the church and the theatre here 
is hushed, and your ears are not lacerated by the rustle 
of newspapers and the crackle of silken skirts. The 



J. DOUGLAS 73 

human voice is not heard under this crystal dome. 
Here the pen is wool-shod and the nose seldom becomes 
a trumpet on which fiends blow soul-desolating strains. 
A fig for your nursing-homes! Give me the Reading 
Room Cure! 

But noise is not the only plague from which the 
Reading Room provides a means of escape. It is a 
sure refuge against fresh air. London is a city of 
draughts. Its houses are caves of Boreas. Its theatres 
are conclaves of the four winds. Its churches are 
swept by icy gales. Its " Tubes " are fit only for men 
of stone. Through them rush a perpetual tornado, 
a continuous typhoon. To travel in them is like being 
a pea in a pea-shooter. You are blown to your des- 
tination. The pier at Brighton is stuffy compared to 
these subterranean resorts. The bitter blast congeals 
you at all angles. It hacks and hews your shivering 
body like the Maiden, that mediaeval instrument of 
torture which clasped the victim with enveloping knives, 
cutting him into little pieces before he could gasp. 
To such a pass has the insane passion for fresh air 
brought us. 

But, thank heaven! there is one place in London 
where there is no fresh air. Thank heaven for the nobly 
conservative Trustees of the British Museum. They 
have kept the Reading Room free from the pestilence 
that is making London unfit to live in. Thanks to 
their stern conservative principles, one can be as cosy 
as a mummy in an airtight sarcophagus, as comfortable 
as a corpse in a healthy old vault. Why should the 
dead monopolise all the privileges ? It puts a premium 
upon suicide, for the thought of the draughtless coffin 
makes one fall in love with snug and airless death. It 
is as well that the Reading Room helps us to endure 



74 MODERN ESSAYS 

the windy world. No fault can be found with the foul- 
ness of the air. It is richly laden with those germs of 
which science desires to rob us. I love bacteria, and 
microbes are my closest friends. I abhor the lonely 
solitude of a sanitary atmosphere. It would be as 
bleak as the ether. Filtered air and filtered water are 
both abominable. For me the full-bodied vintage of 
the Thames, the fruity nectar of the Lea, and the germ- 
congested air of the Reading Room. 

Of late I see with boding terror dim signs of revolu- 
tion in the Reading Room. The hoof of reform is 
vaguely seen in the sallow light I love. Leather tags 
have been attached to the back of the sedate volumes 
of the vastest catalogue in the world. A gross indig- 
nity! I blush when I pull out a volume as if I were 
pulling on a boot. And there is a villainous air of 
newness about the whole place. Some fierce charwoman 
has lately been let loose. The old pens and the ink 
bottles have been swept away from the catalogue 
desks, and no longer can they rest lovingly upon the 
splashes and splotches of ink. A horrible tidiness 
infests the Reading Room. The slips on which you 
write your application are no longer strewn on the 
desks. They are kept, like the lodgment forms in 
a bank, in bilious oak boxes. 

I know how this ferocious charwoman will end. She 
will let in the fresh air. She will evict my beloved 
microbes. Already I hear the pneumatic tubes that will 
hurl books at your heads like bricks the moment you 
ask for them. All the dear delays, the fond procras- 
tinations, the dignified circumlocutions will be rudely 
abolished. The large indolence of our beehive will be 
destroyed. We shall be compelled to hustle like the 
Chicago frog. You know the story. A Boston frog 



J. DOUGLAS 75 

and a Chicago frog fell into a basin of cream. The 
Boston frog resigned himself to a lingering death. 
The Chicago frog bade him hustle. He declined to 
hustle. The Chicago frog hustled, and in the morning 
they found the Chicago frog dead, and the Boston frog 
sitting on a pat of butter. Now, I will hustle outside 
the Reading Room, but not in it. Therefore, let the 
charwoman pause, for many valueless lives will be lost 
if she blights us with fresh air and pneumonia. 

I like to figure the Reading Room as the Labyrinth 
of Literature. In it weird men and weird women 
wander, each following a separate lure. Its geometrical 
aisles and alleys exhale an ironic symbolism. In the 
central circle sit the minions of the Minotaur who feed 
on human ambition. Round them in concentric eddies 
are the catalogue desks. The letters of the alphabet 
preside over the silent session of clues. It is a long 
walk from A to Z. I often make a mental obeisance to 
the Roman alphabet whose twenty-six potentates loom 
here like gods. Consider their empire. Out of their 
permutations and combinations are made the millions 
of books that line those walls and all the invisible 
galleries and catacombs behind them. Almighty 
alphabet! Yet, I, man, invented it casually in my 
leisure hours. Am I not wonderful? 

Behold me, in various guises, sitting at my numbered 
desk. Rows on rows of me, hunched in all sorts of 
attitudes, garbed in all kinds of clothes, absorbed in 
all varieties of industry, bees in the biggest beehive on 
earth. Here my bald head glows like ivory under the 
beams of the electric lamp. There I am a dreaming 
girl, my warm youth and fresh grace mocking the 
printed dead. Now I am a grizzled grandmother, 
spectacled, wrinkled, rheumy -eyed. Now I am a 



7 6 



MODERN ESSAYS 



serious boy with smooth cheek and careless curls. Are 
these shadows real? They glide languidly to and fro 
like the drowsy fish that moon behind the muddy glass 
of an aquarium. They are inhumanly unaware of each 
other. They are unconscious of each other's absurdity. 
The Reading Room is rich in eccentric characters, 
mostly parasites. I have seen Micawber there and Dick 
Swiveller, Mr. Dick and Sylvestre Bonnard. Many of 
these strange beings are slaves of habit. They sit on 
the same seat day after day, year after year. Samuel 
Butler once complained bitterly because he could not 
get Frost's Lives of the Early Christians. He had been 
wont to lay his papers on it, and its loss paralysed him. 
Many of those barnacles would die if they were dis- 
lodged. They are adhesive habits. Rarely do you see 
famous men in this sepulchre. It is the haunt of 
dry-as-dusts, hacks, compilers, and vampers. Yet it is 
a pathetic tomb. If we could catalogue the hopes and 
despairs that have come and gone through those 
ever-swinging doors we should have a microcosm of life, 
a dusty sunbeam peopled with those motes of irony, 
the ghosts of the living and the phantoms of the dead. 







A. G. GARDINER 77 



ON BOSWELL AND HIS MIRACLE 
A. G. Gardiner : Pebbles on the Shore 

As I passed along Great Queen Street the other evening 
I saw that Boswell's house, so long threatened, is at 
last falling a victim to the house-breaker. The fact is 
one of the by-products of the war. While the Huns 
are abroad in Belgium the Vandals are busy at home. 
You may see them at work on every hand. The few 
precious remains we have of the past are vanishing 
like snows before the south wind. 

In the Strand there is a great heap of rubbish where, 
when the war began, stood two fine old houses of 
Charles II. 's London. Their 'disappearance would, in 
normal times, have set all the Press in revolt. But 
they have gone without a murmur, so preoccupied are 
we with more urgent matters. And so with the Eliza- 
bethan houses in Cloth Fair. They have been demol- 
ished without a word of protest. And what devastation 
is afoot in Lincoln's Inn among those fine reposeful 
dwellings, hardly one of which is without some historic 
or literary interest! 

In the midst of all this vandalism it was too much 
perhaps to hope that Boswell's house would escape. 
Bozzy was not an Englishman ; his residence in London 
was casual, and, what is more to the point, he has only 
a reflected greatness. Macaulay's judgment of him is 
now felt to be too harsh, but even his warmest advocate 
must admit that his picture of himself is not engaging. 
He was gross in his habits, full of little malevolences 



78 MODERN ESSAYS 

(observe the spitefulness of his references to Gold- 
smith), and his worship of Johnson was abject to the 
point of nausea. 

He made himself a sort of doormat for his hero, and 
treasured the dirt that came from the great man's 
heavy boots. No insult levelled at him was too out- 
rageous to be recorded with pride. " You were drunk 
last night, you dog," says Johnson to him one morning 
during the tour in the Hebrides, and down goes the 
remark as if he had received the most gracious of good 
mornings. " Have you no better manners? " says 
Johnson on another occasion. " There is your want." 
And Boswell goes home and writes down the snub 
together with his apologies. And so when he has been 
expressing his emotions on hearing music. " Sir," said 
Johnson, " I should never hear it if it made me such 
a fool." 

Once indeed he rebelled. It was when they were 
dining with a company at Sir Joshua Reynolds's. John- 
son attacked him, he says, with such rudeness that he 
kept away from him for a week. His story of the 
reconciliation is one of the most delightful things in 
that astonishing book. 

" After dinner, when Mr. Langton was called out of 
the room and we were by ourselves, he drew his chair 
near to mine and said, in a tone of conciliatory courtesy : 
' Well, how have you done ? ' Boswell : ' Sir, you have 
made me very uneasy by your behaviour to me when we 
were last at Sir Joshua Reynolds's. You know, my 
dear sir, no man has a greater respect or affection for 
you, or would sooner go to the end of the world to 

serve you. Now to treat me so ' He insisted that 

I had interrupted him, which I assured him was not 
the case; and proceeded, ' But why treat me so before 



A. G. GARDINER 79 

people who neither love you nor me? ' Johnson: 
' Well, I am sorry for it: I'll make it up to you in twenty 
different ways, as you please.' Boswell: ' I said to-day 
to Sir Joshua, when he observed that you tossed me 
sometimes, I don't care how often or how high he tosses 
me when only friends are present, for then I fall upon 
soft ground; but I do not like falling upon stones, which 
is the case when enemies are present. I think this 
is a pretty good image, sir.' Johnson: ' Sir, it is one 
of the happiest I ever have heard.' " 

Is there anything more delicious outside Falstaff 
and Bardolph, or Don Quixote and Sancho Panza? 
Indeed, Bardolph's immortal " Would I were with him 
wheresoe'er he be, whether in heaven or in hell," is in 
the very spirit of Boswell's devotion to his hero. 

It was his failings as much as his talents that enabled 
him to work the miracle. His lack of self-respect and 
humour, his childish egotism, his love of gossip, his 
naive bathos, and his vulgarities contributed as much 
to the making of his immortal book as his industry, 
his wonderful verbal memory, and his doglike fidelity. 
I have said that his greatness is only reflected. But 
that is hardly just. It might even be more true to 
say that Johnson owes his immortality to Boswell. 
Wliat of him would remain to-day but for the man who 
took his scourgings so humbly and repaid them by licking 
the boot that kicked him? Who now reads London, 
or The Vanity of Human Wishes, or The Rambler} 
I once read Rasselas, and found it pompous and dull. 
And I have read The Lives of the Poets, and though they 
are not pompous and dull, they are often singularly 
poor criticism, and the essay on Milton is, in some 
respects, as mean a piece of work as ever came out 
of Grub Street. 



80 MODERN ESSAYS 

But The Li/el What in all the world of books is 
there like it ? I have been reading it off and on for more 
than thirty years, and still find it inexhaustible. It 
ripens with the years. It is so intimate that it seems 
to be a record of my own experiences. I have dined 
so often with Johnson at the Mitre and Sir Joshua's 
and Langton's and the rest that I know him far better 
than the shadows I meet in daily life. I seem to have 
been present when he was talking to the King, and when 
Goldsmith sulked because he had not shared the honour; 
when he met Wilkes, and when he insulted Sir Joshua 
and for once got silenced; when he " downed " Robert- 
son, and when, for want of a lodging, he and Savage 
walked all night round St. James's Square, full of high 
spirits and patriotism, inveighing against the Minister 
and resolving that " they would stand by their country." 

And at the end of it all I feel very much like Mr. 
Birrell, who, when asked what he would do when the 
Government went out of office, replied, " I shall retire 
to the country, and really read Boswell." Not " finish 
Boswell," you observe. No one could ever finish 
Boswell. No one would ever want to finish Boswell. 
Like a sensible man he will just go on reading him 
and reading him, and reading him until the light fails 
and there is no more reading to be done. 

What an achievement for this uncouth Scotch lawyer 
to have accomplished! He knew he had done a great 
thing; but even he did not know how great a thing. 
Had he known he might have answered as proudly as 
Dryden answered when some one said to him that his 
Ode to St. Cecilia was the finest that had ever been 
written. " Or ever will be," said the poet. Dryden's 
ode has been eclipsed more than once since it was 
written ; but Boswell 's book has never been approached. 



A. G. GARDINER 



81 



It is not only the best thing of its sort in literature: 
there is nothing with which one can compare it. 

Boswell's house is falling to dust. No matter! His 
memorial will last as long as the English speech is 
spoken and as long as men love the immortal things of 
which it is the vehicle. 




82 MODERN ESSAYS 



A VOLUME OF OLD PLAYS 

Edmund Gosse : Gossip in a Library 

In his Ballad of the Book-Hunter, Andrew Lang des- 
cribes how, in breeches baggy at the knees, the biblio- 
phile hunts in all weathers: 

No dismal stall escapes his eye; 

He turns o'er tomes of low degrees; 
There soiled romanticists may lie. 

Or Restoration comedies. 

That speaks straight to my heart ; for of all my weaknesses 
the weakest is that weakness of mine for Restoration 
plays. From 1660 down to 1710 nothing in dramatic 
form comes amiss, and I have great schemes, like the 
boards on which people play the game of solitaire, in 
which space is left for every drama needed to make 
this portion of my library complete. It is scarcely 
literature, I confess; it is a sport, a long game which 
I shall probably be still playing at, with three mouldy 
old tragedies and one opera yet needed to complete 
my set, when the Reaper comes to carry me where there 
is no amassing nor collecting. It would hardly be 
credited how much pleasure I have drained out of these 
dramas since I began to collect them judiciously in my 
still callow youth. I admit only first editions ; but that 
is not so rigorous as it sounds, since at least half of the 
poor old things never went into a second. 

As long as it is Congreve and Dryden and Otway, of 
course it is literature, and of a very high order; even 



EDMUND GOSSE 83 

Shadwell and Mrs. Behn and Southerne are literature; 
Settle and Ravenscroft may pass as legitimate literary 
curiosity. But there are depths below this where there 
is no excuse but sheer collectaneomania. Plays by 
people who never got into any schedule of English 
letters that ever was planned, dramatic nonentities, 
stage innocents massacred in their cradles, if only they 
were published in quarto I find room for them. I am 
not quite so pleased to get these anonymities, I must 
confess, as I am to get a clean, tall editio princeps of 
The Orphan or of Love for Love. But I neither reject 
nor despise them ; each of them counts one ; each serves 
to fill a place on my solitaire board, each hurries on 
that dreadful possible time coming when my collection 
shall be complete, and I shall have nothing to do but 
break my collecting rod and bury it fathoms deep. 

A volume has just come in which happens to have 
nothing in it but those forgotten plays, whose very 
names are unknown to the historians of literature. 
First comes The Roman Empress by William Joyner, 
printed in 1671. Joyner was an Oxford man, a fellow 
of Magdalen College. The little that has been recorded 
about him makes one wish to know more. He became 
persuaded of the truth of the Catholic faith, and made 
a voluntary resignation of his Oxford fellowship. He 
had to do something, and so he wrote this tragedy, 
which he dedicated to Sir Charles Sedley, the poet, and 
got acted at the Theatre Royal. The cast contains 
two good actors' names, Mohun and Kynaston, and it 
seems that it enjoyed a considerable success. But 
doubtless the stage was too rough a field for the gentle 
Oxford scholar. He retired into a sequestered country 
village, where he lingered on till 1706, when he was 
nearly ninety. But joyner was none of the worst of 



84 MODERN ESSAYS 

poets. Here is a fragment of The Roman Empress, 
which is by no means despicably versed: 

O thou bright, glorious morning, 
Thou Oriental spring-time of the day, 
Who with thy mixed vermilion colours paintest 
The sky, these hills and plains ! thou dost return 
In thy accustom'd manner, but with thee 
Shall ne'er return my wonted happiness. 

Through his Roman tragedy there runs a pensive 
vein of sadness, as though the poet were thinking less 
of his Aurelia and his Valentius than of the lost common- 
room and the arcades of Magdalen to be no more 
revisited. 

Our next play is a worse one, but much more pre- 
tentious. It is the Usurper, of 1668, the first of four 
dramas published by the Hon. Edward Howard, one of 
Dry den's aristocratic brothers-in-law. Edward Howard 
is memorable for a couplet constantly quoted from his 
epic poem of The British Princes: 

A vest as admired Vortiger had on, 

Which from a naked Pict his grandsire won. 

Poor Howard has received the laughter of generations 
for representing Vortiger's grandsire as thus having 
stripped one who was bare already. But this is the 
wickedness of some ancient wag, perhaps of Dryden 
himself, who loved to laugh at his brother-in-law. At 
all events, the first (and, I suppose, only) edition of 
The British Princes is before me at this moment, and 
the second of these lines certainly runs: 

Which from this island's foes his grandsire won. 

Thus do the critics, leaping one after another, like so 
many sheep, follow the same wrong track, in this case 
for a couple of centuries. The Usurper is a tragedy, in 



EDMUND GOSSE 85 

which a Parasite, "a most perfidious villain," plays a 
mysterious part. He is led off to be hanged at last, 
much to the reader's satisfaction who murmurs, in the 
words of R. L. Stevenson: "There's an end of that." 

But though the Usurper is dull, we reach a lower 
depth and muddier lees of wit in the Carnival, a comedy 
by Major Thomas Porter, of 1664. It is odd, however, 
that the very worst production, if it be more than two 
hundred years old, is sure to contain some little thing 
interesting to a modern student. The Carnival has one 
such peculiarity. Whenever any of the characters is 
left alone on the stage, he begins to soliloquise in the 
stanza of Gray's Churchyard Elegy. This is a very 
quaint innovation, and one which possibly occurred to 
brave Major Porter in one of the marches and counter- 
marches of the Civil War. 

But the man who perseveres is always rewarded, and 
the fourth play in our volume really repays us for 
pushing on so far. Here is a piece of wild and ghostly 
poetry that is well worth digging out of the Duke of 
Newcastle's Humorous Lovers: 

At curfew-time, and at the dead of night, 

I will appear, thy conscious soul to fright, 

Make signs, and beckon thee my ghost to follow 

To sadder groves, and churchyards, where we'll hollo 

To darker caves and solitary woods, 

To fatal whirlpools and consuming floods; 

I'll tempt thee to pass by the unlucky ewe, 

Blasted with cursed droppings of mildew; 

Under an oak, that ne'er bore leaf, my moans 

Shall there be told thee by the mandrake's groans ; 

The winds shall sighing tell thy cruelty, 

And how thy want of love did murder me ; 

And when the cock shall crow, and day grow near, 

Then in a flash of fire I'll disappear. 

But I cannot persuade myself that his Grace of 



86 MODERN ESSAYS 

Newcastle wrote those lines himself. Published in 1677, 
they were as much of a portent as a man in trunk hose 
and a slashed doublet. The Duke had died a month 
or two before the play was published; he had grown 
to be, in extreme old age, the most venerable figure of 
the Restoration, and it is possible that the Humorous 
Lovers may have been a relic of his Jacobean youth. 
He might very well have written it, so old was he, in 
Shakespeare's lifetime. But the Duke of Newcastle 
was never a very skilful poet, and it is known that he 
paid James Shirley to help him with his plays. I feel 
convinced that if all men had their own, the invocation 
I have just quoted would fly back into the works of 
Shirley, and so, no doubt, would the following quaintest 
bit of conceited fancy. It is part of a fantastical feast 
which Boldman promises to the Widow of his heart: 

The twinkling stars shall to our wish 
Make a grand salad in a dish ; 
Snow for our sugar shall not fail, 
Fine candied ice, comfits of hail; 
For oranges, gilt clouds we'll squeeze ; 
The Milky Way we'll turn to cheese; 
Sunbeams we'll catch, shall stand in place 
Of hotter ginger, nutmegs, mace; 
Sun-setting clouds for roses sweet. 
And violet skies strewed for our feet ; 
The spheres shall for our music play, 
While spirits dance the time away. 

This is extravagant enough, but surely very picturesque. 
I seem to see the supper-room of some Elizabethan 
castle after an elaborate royal masque. The Duchess, 
who has been dancing, richly attired in sky-coloured 
silk, with gilt wings on her shoulders, is attended to 
the refreshments by the florid Duke, personating the 
river Thamesis, with a robe of cloth of silver around 



EDMUND GOSSE 87 

him. It seems the sort of thing a poet so habited might 
be expected to say between a galliard and a coranto. 

At first sight we seem to have reached a really good 
rhetorical play when we arrive at Bancroft's tragedy of 
Sertorius, published in 1679, and so it would be if 
Dryden and Lee had never written. But its seeming 
excellence is greatly lessened when we recollect that 
All for Love and Mithridates, two great poems which 
are almost good plays, appeared in 1678, and inspired 
our poor imitative Bancroft. Sertorius is written in 
smooth and well-sustained blank verse, which is, how- 
ever, nowhere quite good enough to be quoted. I suspect 
that John Bancroft was a very interesting man. He Was 
a surgeon, and his practice lay particularly in the 
theatrical and literary world. He acquired, it is said, 
from his patients "a passion for the Muses," and an 
inclination to follow in the steps of those whom he 
cured or killed. The dramatist Ravenscroft wrote an 
epilogue to Sertorius, in which he says that 

Our poet to learned critics does submit, 
But scorns those little vermin of the pit, 
Who noise and nonsense vent instead of wit, 

and no doubt Bancroft had aims more professional than 
those of the professional playwrights themselves. He 
wrote three plays, and lived until 1696. One fancies 
the discreet and fervent poet-surgeon, laden with his 
secrets and his confidences. Why did he not write 
memoirs, and tell us what it was that drove Nat Lee 
mad, and how Otway really died, and what Dryden' s 
habits were? Why did he not purvey magnificent 
indiscretions whispered under the great periwig of 
Wycherley, or repeat that splendid story about Ether- 
edge and my Lord Mulgrave? Alas! we would have 



88 MODERN ESSAYS 

given a wilderness of Sertoriuses for such a series 
of memoirs. 

The volume of plays is not exhausted. Here is 
Weston's Amazon Queen, of 1667, written in pompous 
rhymed heroics; here is The Fortune Hunters, a comedy 
of 1689, the only play of that brave fellow, James 
Carlile, who, being brought up an actor, preferred "to 
be rather than to personate a hero," and died in gallant 
tight for William of Orange, at the battle of Aughrim. 
Here is Mr. Anthony, a comedy written by the Right 
Honourable the Earl of Orrery, and printed in 1690, a 
piece never republished among the Earl's works, and 
therefore of some special interest. But I am sure my 
reader is exhausted, even if the volume is not, and I 
spare him any further examination of these obscure 
dramas, lest he should say, as Peter Pindar did of 
Dr. Johnson, that I 

Set wheels on wheels in motion — such a clatter I 
To force up one poor nipperkin of water; 
Bid ocean labour with tremendous roar 
To heave a cockle-shell upon the shore. 

I will close, therefore, with one suggestion to the special 
student of comparative literature — namely, that it is 
sometimes in the minor writings of an age, where 
the bias of personal genius is not strongly felt, that 
the general phenomena of the time are most clearly 
observed. The Amazon Queen is in rhymed verse, be- 
cause in 1667 tn i s was the fashionable form for dramatic 
poetry ; Sertorius is in regular and somewhat restrained 
blank verse, because in 1679 the fashion had once more 
chopped round. What in Dryden or Otway might be 
the force of originality may be safely taken as the drift 
of the age in these imitative and floating nonentities. 



EDMUND GOSSE 89 



GERARD'S HERBAL 

Edmund Gosse : Gossip in a Library 

The Herbail or General Historie of Plantes. Gathered by 
John Gerarde, of London, Master in Chirvrgerie. Very much 
enlarged and amended by Thomas Johnson, citizen and apothe- 
cary e of London. London, printed by Adam I slip, Joice Norton, 
and Richard Whitakers. Anno 1633. 

The proverb says that a door must be either open or 
shut. The bibliophile is apt to think that a book should 
be either little or big. For my own part, I become 
more and more attached to "dumpy twelves"; but 
that does not preclude a certain discreet fondness for 
folios. If a man collects books, his library ought to 
contain a Herbal; and if he has but room for one, 
that should be the best. The luxurious and sufficient 
thing, I think, is to possess what booksellers call " the 
right edition of Gerard"; that is to say, the volume 
described at the head of this paper. There is no hand- 
somer book to be found, none more stately or imposing, 
than this magnificent folio of sixteen hundred pages, 
with its close, elaborate letterpress, its innumerable 
plates, and John Payne's fine frontispiece in compart- 
ments, with Theophrastus and Dioscorides facing one 
another, and the author below them, holding in his 
right hand the new-found treasure of the potato plant. 
This edition of 1633 is the nna * development of what 
had been a slow growth. The sixteenth century wit- 
nessed a great revival, almost a creation of the science 



90 MODERN ESSAYS 

of botany. People began to translate the great Materia 
Medica of the Greek physician, Dioscorides of Anazarba, 
and to comment upon it. The Germans were the first 
to append woodcuts to their botanical descriptions, and 
it is Otto Brunfelsius, in 1530, who has the credit of 
being the originator of such figures. In 1554 there was 
published the first great Herbal, that of Rembertus 
Dodonseus, body-physician to the Emperor Maximilian 
II., who wrote in Dutch. An English translation of this, 
brought out in 1578 by Henry Lyte, was the earliest 
important Herbal in our language. Five years later, 
in 1583, a certain Dr. Priest translated all the botanical 
works of Dodonseus, with much greater fulness than 
Lyte had done, and this volume was the germ of 
Gerard's far more famous production. John Gerard 
was a Cheshire man, born in 1545, who came up to 
London, and practised there as a surgeon. 

According to his editor and continuator, Thomas 
Johnson, who speaks of Gerard with startling freedom, 
this excellent man was by no means well equipped for 
the task of compiling a great Herbal. He knew so 
little Latin, according to this too candid friend, that 
he imagined Leonard Fuchsius, who was a German 
contemporary of his own, to be one of the ancients. 
But Johnson is a little too zealous in magnifying his 
own office. He brings a worse accusation against 
Gerard, if I understand him rightly to charge him with 
using Dr. Priest's manuscript collections after his death, 
without giving that physician the credit of his labours. 
When Johnson made this accusation, Gerard had been 
dead twenty-six years. In any case it seems certain 
that Gerard's original Herbal, which, beyond question, 
surpassed all its predecessors when it was printed in 
folio in 1597, was built upon the ground-work of 



EDMUND GOSSE 91 

Priest's translation of Dodonaeus. Nearly forty years 
later, Thomas Johnson, himself a celebrated botanist, 
took up the book, and spared no pains to re-issue it in 
perfect form. The result is the great volume before us, 
an elephant among books, the noblest of all the English 
Herbals. Johnson was seventy- two years of age when he 
got this gigantic work off his hands, and he lived eleven 
years longer to enjoy his legitimate success. 

The great charm of this book at the present time 
consists in the copious woodcuts. Of these there are 
more than two thousand, each a. careful and original 
study from the plant itself. In the course of two cen- 
turies and a half, with all the advance in appliances, 
we have not improved a whit on the original artist of 
Gerard's and Johnson's time. The drawings are all in 
strong outline, with very little attempt at shading, but 
the characteristics of each plant are given with a truth 
and a simplicity which are almost Japanese. In no case 
is this more extraordinary than in that of orchids, or 
"satyrions," as they were called in the days of the old 
herbalist. Here, in a succession of little figures, each 
not more than six inches high, the peculiarity of every 
portion of a full-grown flowering specimen of each 
species is given with absolute perfection, without being 
slurred over on the one hand, or exaggerated on the 
other. For instance, the little variety called "ladies' 
tresses " (Spiranthes) , which throws a spiral head of pale 
green blossom out of dry pastures, appears here with 
small bells hanging on a twisted stem, as accurately as 
the best photograph could give it, although the process 
of woodcutting, as then practised in England, was very 
rude, and although almost all other English illustrations 
of the period are rough and inartistic. It is plain that 
in every instance the botanist himself drew the form, 



92 MODERN ESSAYS 

with which he was already intelligently familiar, on the 
block, with the living plant lying at his side. 

The plan on which the herbalist lays out his letter- 
press is methodical in the extreme. He begins by 
describing his plant, then gives its habitat, then dis- 
cusses its nomenclature, and ends with a medical 
account of its nature and virtues. It is, of course, to 
be expected that we should find the fine old names of 
plants enshrined in Gerard's pages. For instance, he 
gives to the deadly nightshade the name, which now 
only lingers in a corner of Devonshire, the "dwale." 
As an instance of his style, I may quote a passage from 
what he has to say about the virtues, or rather vices, 
of this plant: 

Banish it from your gardens and the use of it also, 
being a plant so furious and deadly; for it bringeth such 
as have eaten thereof into a dead sleep wherein many 
have died, as hath been often seen and proved by experience 
both in England and elsewhere. But to give you an ex- 
ample hereof it shall not be amiss. It came to pass that 
three boys of Wisbeach, in the Isle of Ely, did eat of the 
pleasant and beautiful fruit hereof, two whereof died in 
less than eight hours after they had eaten of them. The 
third child had a quantity of honey and water mixed to- 
gether given him to drink, causing him to vomit often. 
God blessed this means, and the child recovered. Banish, 
therefore, these pernicious plants out of your gardens, 
and all places near to your houses where children do resort. 

Gerard has continually to stop his description that 
he may repeat to his readers some anecdote which he 
remembers. Now it is how "Master Cartwright, a 
gentleman of Gray's Inn, who was grievously wounded 
into the lungs," was cured with the herb called "Sara- 
cen's Compound," "and that, by God's permission, in 
short space." Now it is to tell us that he has found 



EDMUND GOSSE 93 

yellow archangel growing under a sequestered hedge: 
"on the left hand as you go from the village of Hamp- 
stead, near London, to the church," or that "this 
amiable and pleasant kind of primrose" (a sort of 
oxlip) was first brought to light by Mr. Hesketh, "a 
diligent searcher after simples," in a Yorkshire wood. 
While the groundlings were crowding to see new plays 
by Shirley and Massinger, the editor of this volume was 
examining fresh varieties of auricula in "the gardens of 
Mr. Tradescant and Mr. Tuggie." It is wonderful how 
modern the latter statement sounds, and how ancient 
the former. But the garden seems the one spot on earth 
where history does not assert itself, and, no doubt, 
when Nero was fiddling over the blaze of Rome, there 
were florists counting the petals of rival roses at 
Paestum as peacefully and conscientiously as any 
gardeners of to-day. 

The herbalist and his editor write from personal 
experience, and this gives them a great advantage in 
dealing with superstitions. If there was anything which 
people were certain about in the early part of the 
seventeenth century, it was that the mandrake only 
grew under a gallows, where the dead body of a man 
had fallen to pieces, and that when it was dug up it 
gave a great shriek, which was fatal to the nearest 
living thing. Gerard contemptuously rejects all these 
and other tales as "old wives' dreams." He and his 
servants have often digged up mandrakes, and are not 
only still alive, but listened in vain for the dreadful 
scream. It might be supposed that such a statement, 
from so eminent an authority, would settle the point, 
but we find Sir Thomas Browne, in the next generation, 
battling these identical popular errors in the pages of 
his Pseifdodoxia Epidemica. In the like manner, Gerard's 



94 MODERN ESSAYS 

botanical evidence seems to have been of no use in 
persuading the public that mistletoe was not generated 
out of birdlime dropped by thrushes into the boughs of 
trees, or that its berries were not desperately poisonous. 
To observe and state the truth is not enough. The 
ears of those to whom it is proclaimed must be ready 
to accept it. 

Our good herbalist, however, cannot get through his 
sixteen hundred accurate and solemn pages without one 
slip. After accompanying him dutifully so far, we 
double up with uncontrollable laughter on p. 1587, 
for here begins the chapter which treats "of the Goose 
Tree, Barnacle Tree, or the Tree bearing Geese." But 
even here the habit of genuine observation clings to 
him. The picture represents a group of stalked bar- 
nacles — those shrimps fixed by their antennae, which 
modern science, I believe, calls Lepas anafifera; by the 
side of these stands a little goose, and the suggestion 
of course is that the latter has slipped out of the 
former, although the draughtsman has been far too 
conscientious to represent the occurrence. Yet the 
letterpress is confident that in the north parts of Scot- 
land there are trees on which grow white shells, which 
ripen, and then, opening, drop little living geese into 
the waves below. Gerard himself avers that from 
Guernsey and Jersey he brought home with him to 
London shells, like limpets, containing little featheiy 
objects, "which, no doubt, were the fowls called Bar- 
nacles." It is almost needless to say that these objects 
really were the plumose and flexible cirri which the 
barnacles throw out to catch their food with, and which 
lie, like a tiny feather-brush, just within the valves of 
the shell when the creature is dead. Gerard was plainly 
unable to refuse credence to the mass of evidence which 



EDMUND GOSSE 95 

presented itself to him on this subject, yet he closes 
with a hint that this seems rather a "fabulous breed" 
of geese. 

With the Barnacle Goose Tree the Herbal proper 
closes in these quaint words: 

And thus having, through God's assistance, discoursed 
somewhat at large of grasses, herbs, shrubs, trees and 
mosses, and certain excrescences of the earth, with other 
things moe, incident to the history thereof, we conclude 
and end our present volume with this wonder of England. 
For the which God's name be ever honoured and praised. 

And so, at last, the Goose Tree receives the highest 
sanction. 




96 MODERN ESSAYS 



ARLES 
Louis Golding: To-Day 

Arles is a place only of echoes. There are no sub- 
stantial sounds in that old city by the Rhone. For the 
women buy loaves of bread in their shadowy hidden 
shops like witches bartering dreams, and the wise little 
children play with marbles like old men in the woods 
of Faery playing with men's souls. There is never 
silence in Aries, and never loud sound — only echoes. 
Even the broad Rhdne that sweeps through the meadows 
■of Aries has not the voice of a living man's river, but 
has only recollections — ladies of the French chivalry 
who walked among the willows with passionate knights ; 
helmeted Romans clanking down the quay-side to barges 
terrorful with slaves; and even — when the evening is 
as still as ever the evening shall be in Aries — recollec- 
tions of those broad-browed Greeks with their wonderful 
adorable gods, who had pushed up from Massilia by 
the sea. 

Arthur Symons has said of Aries that it is an autumn 
city. It is a city of neither spring nor autumn, but of 
the season that never was on sea or land. The first 
buds on the hedgerows before they burst into flower 
are already heavy with memories. And the snow that 
falls elsewhere in the Midi is snow, but it is not snow 
in Aries. It is the virgin garment of St. Trophime, or 
a funeral toga over a dead Roman city. 

I stood one day in the market-place outside the Roman 
Theatre. Above a brasserie smothered in the foliage of 



LOUIS GOLDING 97 

a fig-tree rose the two surviving columns of the theatre. 
A man in a pair of threadbare trousers and a faded red 
shirt, and with naked feet, stood aimlessly in front of 
a little table. A crowd drifted aimlessly round him, 
and I aimlessly joined the rest. "Une harpe des dieux," 
he was saying, and his voice was like the wind in a 
rifted chimney, "que j'ai trouvee moi-meme dans les 
arenes. Deux sous, l'harpe avec le secret! " A penny 
for the harp of the gods, and with it the secret! The 
great things in life are of little price, and the greatest are 
of no price at all. So I bought the harp " avec le secret." 
It was of hollowed clay with the stops cut at mysterious 
intervals. Then the vendor of secrets taught us the 
high music, and the sound was the echo of Aries — the 
echo of Roman splendour triumphant, Roman splendour 
waning in the barbarian twilight; the echo of proces- 
sional choristers in cathedrals deserted centuries ago. 
I went down to the river that afternoon and played 
amongst the flowerless irises. I caught something of 
the magic that the blue-trousered wizard had evoked, 
fluting in the square. Weeks later in Normandy I took 
out the harp, but my song was tuneless and cracked. 
Weeks passed again, and I took out the harp in a stuffy 
room in an English town. The harp had not a single 
note. It wheezed like an old man in a draught. The 
secret that Aries had taught me was down in Aries 
among the irises and the echoes. 

Near the broken baths of an emperor, by the river- 
side, there is a nameless and desecrated ruin. It is a 
church of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, so beau- 
tiful even in its unconsidered decay that it is hardly 
conceivable how men could have builded it. So ex- 
quisite is its workmanship, and so superhuman its design, 
that, they tell me, men dared not worship here, burdened 



98 MODERN ESSAYS 

with all the big and little sins they carried about and 
would not abandon. There was a sense of the Presence 
here so immediate and absorbing that men dared not 
assist at the Mass, so overwhelmingly did they feel that 
the actual Incarnation had taken place. Even the 
priests felt their protestations hypocritical at the third 
fateful ringing of the bell, and their faith like a weak 
marsh-light in the blaze that surrounded the altar. So 
men buMed another church with richer endowments, 
and the priests followed. And men went by the old 
church with averted head, and priests hurried away, 
fearful of sounds and gleams. Nowadays there are 
horses' stables in the south aisle of the church, and 
behind the mullions of the windows there are cheap 
boards to keep out the sky, and there is a refuse-heap 
inside the west porch. Here, as the darkness gathered, 
I spent the last evening the gods gave me in Aries. On 
the tumbled fragments of the arches lay the dust of 
hundreds of years. Outside, the gulls were flying in 
great curves down the sunset river to the sea. A late 
bird was singing sleepily in the elms by the water. 
But within no bird was singing, only the rustle of 
invisible, immaterial wings. When a shaft of sunset 
came through the crevices, it staggered in as if already 
weary with antiquity. Dusk deepened. 

The bird in the elms sang no longer. The Mystery 
gathered round me almost as closely as the mantle of 
Death. My head was falling between my hands, when 
suddenly the night became vibrant around, a firm tread 
clanging over the stones. I cried loudly, "Who are 
you?" And a French soldier, tall and straight and 
like a tree, strode to me through the dusk. "I am the 
Heir of Battles," he said, "and I am the Builder." 
Even in the darkness I could see the flashing of his 



LOUIS GOLDING 99 

eyes. "You are English," he said, "and what do you 
here?" "Poilu, you are speaking strangely," I replied, 
"but we are friends, you and I, and I will answer. I am 
here because the dead empires are more to me than the 
living empires; because the sorrows suffered in wars a 
thousand years ago grieve me more than my friends' 
sorrows and my own in the wars of to-day. I am here, 
in this city, because of the strong beauty of Rome and 
the fervid beauty of the Middle Age, which are dead 
and entombed here. And I am here in this splendid 
and insulted shrine because Beauty was on the earth 
once and has passed hence for ever!" 

The poilu laughed loud into the high shadowy vault. 

"Little Englishman," he said, "listen to the Dream 
of the Builder which is a thousandfold stronger than 
the iron guns, and swifter than the blazing shells, and 
kindred to the immortal stars. You grieve because of 
the passing of the arenas and the marble theatres and 
the Gothic cathedrals. Exult now with me in a new 
Architecture, stupendous and resplendent, proud con- 
sort to the morning sun. For the Builders shall sweep 
away utterly the miserable fragments of Verdun and 
Arras and Ypres into the marshes of the sea. In that 
country devastated and seamed with war, the corn 
shall wave again in the wind, and the fruit-trees be 
heavy with fruit. 

"Among the orchards and the singing rivers shall I, 
the Heir of Battles, and with me the other Builders 
and Dreamers, build such cities as the great world has 
not known — and the world shall say, 'Lo! greater far 
than Babylon, even more marvellous than Athens ! ' As 
the new cities rise in Flanders and Picardy they shall 
forget Rome and the Middle Age like the birds who 
forget their last year's lovers. 



ioo MODERN ESSAYS 

"Listen! When the shells were loudest over No- 
man's-land, we have heard the call to the new Build- 
ing strongest and sweetest. When we burrowed deepest 
into the mine-galleries, and our eyes were thick with 
grime, the Star blazed most fiercely. 

"The colonnades of the new Architecture shall be 
spacious beyond man's surmising. Innumerable towers 
shall dazzle the dawn. Out of our agony shall we build 
the greatest city, and out of the love wherewith we 
have loved each other in the cesspools at midnight. 

"The bodies of our lovers shall be blended with the 
bricks, and our blood shall suffuse the mortar. 

"Out of our bodies and blood an incomparable Beauty 
shall prevail." 

There was silence a moment. Then, "Come," he said, 
suddenly gripping my arm, "in here it is only Death." 

As we stumbled out into the night, an owl hooted 
somewhere from the heart of the ruins. 




HOLBROOK JACKSON 101 



THE ART OF HOLIDAY 

Holbrook Jackson : Southward Ho ! 
and Other Essays 

It matters very little where you go, or when you go; 
it matters little what you do. The thing itself matters; 
and that thing is holiday — the break from the mono- 
tony of routine and the discipline of earning a living. 
To get away, to be free for a brief spell, to feel that you 
have not to get up at the appointed hour, to know that 
you can linger over your breakfast, to realise that the 
usual business train will depart without you, to look 
upon new scenes and strange faces, to breathe fresh 
air, to hear different sounds, to do different things, or 
better still, to do nothing at all — that is holiday. Fix 
upon a place, no matter what place, anywhere; put a 
few things into a bag, the fewer the better, and go. 
The change, I repeat, is the thing; scenery or amuse- 
ments hardly count in this great business, for unless a 
man carry all the beauty of the world in his own mind, 
and all the joy of life in his own heart, he will not find 
them elsewhere. I have small sympathy with those 
wide-eyed enthusiasts who babble about spirit of place. 
Unless we carry the spirit of place within us as a part 
of our personal kit, we shall not find it elsewhere. We 
are joy and sorrow, and the world about us but material 
for their expression. 

I doubt whether there are any sound rules for holiday- 
making, save that one which I have called change ; and 



102 MODERN ESSAYS 

that after all is not arbitrary — it is fundamental. A 
holiday is no holiday unless you have change. The 
health of the human mind is stimulated by change of 
scene just as change of air is a tonic for the body. 
Change is good physic for all social pursuits; without 
it we get stale, and to get stale is to lose caste, to 
become inferior. More than half the pleasure we have in 
contemplating a holiday is, I believe, born of the instinct 
of change. But change is not merely the transference 
of oneself and one's family from one place to another. 
Far too many people court disappointment by that 
interpretation every year. To go away with your family 
is, in a great many instances, nothing but an elaborate 
contrivance for staying at home. I know nothing more 
depressing, with the possible exception of a debate in 
the House of Commons, than the sight of so many 
family groups at the seaside during the holiday season 
who are obviously bored past murmuring. These well- 
intentioned people are suffering from social starvation. 
They have change of air, change of scene, and change 
of some habits, but possessing all these and lacking 
change of society, they lack everything that makes for 
a successful holiday. Family life is an invaluable and 
delightful thing, and deservedly one of our most treasured 
institutions; for that very reason I am always being 
startled into surprise because we do not take much 
more care of it. One of the easiest ways of taking care 
of it is to break it up occasionally, and the best time 
for that operation would seem to be the annual holiday. 
But far from recognising this, the majority of people 
prefer to translate their family, personalities, habits, 
and associations to a holiday resort. Such proceed- 
ing can only be successful by accident, for the simple 
reason that the family does not leave home, it takes 



HOLBROOK JACKSON 103 

home away with it. Which is a direct violation of the 
fundamental law of change. 

But change, though important, is not inclusive. 
There are other and more subtle ingredients for a real 
holiday. These, however, vary with the individual, 
and provided that you have the necessary facilities it 
matters little what you do so long, of course, as you do 
what you like. Generally speaking, and if you are 
wise, you will leave things to chance. To map out a 
holiday, with times and places all catalogued and 
certified, with a list of things to see and how to see them, 
does, I know, please many people, but all such elaborate 
methods are dangerously akin to routine, and routine 
is useful only to those who cannot do without it. I 
once knew a man who was taking a holiday on the 
Yorkshire moors. He would walk about all day in an 
old suit of clothes, occasionally resting on the grey old 
stone walls of the wolds, or lolling in the heather, 
smoking an old pipe, talking to any chance acquaint- 
ance, and when hungry he would call at a wayside inn 
and refresh himself before once again taking up the 
great business of loafing. But one day he had an 
experience which ever afterwards he looked back at with 
a thrill of delight. Loafing down a moorside one morn- 
ing, he came across a gang of navvies digging a big 
hole in the earth. He watched them for awhile, then, 
fascinated by the swing and rhythm of their labour, 
he jumped into the hole, and, after a few words of 
explanation, borrowed a shovel and a pick and spent 
the rest of the day in manual labour, resting at midday 
with the navvies, and eating their rough-and-ready 
food. Then he sauntered to his inn, dog-tired, but as 
happy as a god. That man got more out of his holidays 
than any man I have known. But he never made any 



104 MODERN ESSAYS 

fuss about it; indeed, he never called his holidays by 
that name. He used just to throw a few things into 
an old battered rucksack and disappear. He never 
used a map or itinerary of any sort; he simply dis- 
appeared, reappearing again in due course feeling and 
looking aggressively happy and insolently healthy. 

The success of a holiday is, perhaps, largely a matter 
of temperament. Some people can be happy anywhere, 
others nowhere. And after you have philosophised to 
your heart's content, and read all the advertisements 
for the guidance of the holiday-maker, you feel that 
your work is in vain. There is really no sound pocket 
wisdom for the art of holiday, for every would-be 
holiday-maker is a separate problem, and in the final 
resort he must be his own guide, philosopher, and friend. 
One might suggest, as I have done, that for holiday he 
should do what he wants to do, but even that is only a 
piece of half wisdom, for which of us knows precisely 
what he wants to do ! Most of us have devoted so much 
of our time to doing what others expect us to do that 
we have lost the faculty of pleasing ourselves. It was 
Mark Twain, I think, who said, with that hidden wis- 
dom which was always a part of his humour, that there 
was only one better way of spending a holiday than 
lying under a tree with a book, namely, to lie under a 
tree without a book. I think the hint a very good one; 
but I generally find that most people follow it instinc- 
tively. How many times has one promised oneself 
much holiday reading, and how many times has that 
promise been unfulfilled ? I have often dreamt of a really 
bookish holiday, a holiday, as it were, in a library, 
but I know I shall never have the courage to take such a 
holiday. Few people read books on a holiday, unless it 
rains, for if you are interested in the life about you 



HOLBROOK JACKSON 105 

books are superfluous, and if you are bored you 
cannot abide them. 

Perhaps modern life is becoming too rapid for over- 
much dalliance with books, and it becomes increasingly 
more difficult for bookish persons to catch up with the 
lost reading of yesterday. Still, it is good to have 
dreams, and the dream of a holiday in a library is a 
very pleasant one. We realise something of it, I fancy, 
when we drop into our kit-bags a few friendly books, 
books that have stood the test of time and the sterner 
tests of familiarity — the Religio Medici, The Golden 
Treasury, the Essays of Elia, the Greek Anthology, the 
Compleat Angler — holiday books all, because they 
promote reflection in a gentle and intimate way. And 
even if we never look at the insides of them, it is as 
consoling to know they are there as it is to know 
that you have propitiated iEsculapius by providing 
yourself with simple prophylactics against indigestion 
and chill. 

There is a certain piety in this time-worn promise 
of a bit of reading next holiday, and one does actually 
select one's portable library with becoming reverence, 
even if that part of the outfit sees the least service 
during the vacation. At the same time I do not under- 
estimate the value of the good resolution which lies 
behind this empty and innocent little piety; on the 
contrary, empty pieties and good resolutions are part 
of the natural equipment of every proper man. They 
were never meant to be performed or fulfilled, but in 
the scheme of things they serve their purpose. It 
is good to walk on a sea beach during the month of 
August if only to observe the triumphant defeat of 
good resolutions under the shade of the cliffs or the 
awnings of the camp chairs. There you will see dozens 

*D 



106 MODERN ESSAYS 

of fathers and mothers of families with printed matter 
before them, sometimes actually resting on their faces, 
and all bathed in what the poet Young has called " calm 
Nature's sweet restorer — gentle sleep." When I see 
these happy people thus employed I know their holiday 
is doing them good, and I know that literature, neglected, 
though not despised, has aided and abetted the kindly 
gods of health. 

Thus does experience support my suggestion that 
holiday is artless rather than artful, using both words 
literally as all honest writers should. But as I write 
I feel the prospective opposition of possible readers 
whose faith is firmly based in some cunningly arranged 
plan of campaign. Now I like to believe that I am 
neither cynical nor pessimistic, yet I can see quite 
plainly, as in a kind of mental cinematograph, the coast- 
wise towns of the British Islands in gala dress and 
thronged with strangers upon whom the natives smile 
a smile of welcome not entirely free of self-interest. 
The strangers, or rather " visitors," to give them their 
proper title, are the familiar British folk of the inland 
towns and cities on vacation; they are clad less severely 
than when they are at home : men assume light flannels, 
bright lounge coats and crushed or flapping hats, and 
there seems to be a conspiracy against the waistcoat; 
women are dressed less carefully and more comfortably 
than you might think possible. But mere apparel does 
not give you a full insight into the character of this 
holiday crowd; to get that you must observe its habits. 
From such an observation you will learn that all these 
people are practising a kind of traditional optimism: 
they are enjoying themselves according to certain 
settled principles — laboriously doing nothing, or fran- 
tically doing something — though which is which it is 



HOLBROOK JACKSON 107 

not easy to discover: lounging on the sands ; swimming, 
or just bobbing about in the water; riding on donkeys 
or in char-a-bancs; getting backache in a rowing boat, 
or seasick in a yawl; promenading along the front or 
discussing nautical matters with expectorating and 
portly longshoremen (who have " never been upon the 
sea") on the jetty; listening to minstrels or pierrots 
and perhaps joining in the choruses (and, if you are of 
the fair sex, falling a little in love with the baritone 
or tenor, according to taste); being jolted on switch- 
back railways, or by the German band on the front 
— or on (or is it off ?) the joy-wheel. Such are the aids 
to optimism in my vision of the seaside at holiday 
time, and I must confess to a certain amusement at 
it all. To the unsympathetic looker-on this annual 
business of joy-hunting seems preposterous; he finds 
some little difficulty in convincing himself that the 
holiday folk at the seaside during August are having a 
good time. 

Not many things are certain in our haphazard world, 
but there is at least one thing about which there is 
little doubt, that is that those who seek happiness miss 
it, and those who discuss it, lack it. Therefore, I am 
always inclined to be suspicious of the ways of pleasure- 
seekers and happiness - mongers. Not that I would 
have people other than happy — if that is their desire. 
My suspicion is born of the conviction that both pleasure- 
seeking and happiness-mongering are futile attempts 
to discover and supply the undiscoverable. Happi- 
ness, like art, happens ; it has neither formulae, nor rules, 
nor systems ; it droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven 
upon just and unjust alike, and no man can say he has 
it because of his virtues, for verily, he may be flouted 
to his face by the sinner over the way who is happier 



108 MODERN ESSAYS 

than he. It has, furthermore, been rumoured that man 
was made to mourn, and although Rumour was ever a 
jade, there is much evidence that she has truth on her 
side for once. But if it be true, as seemingly it is, 
knowledge of the fact would only intimidate the coward ; 
the brave man is he who is happy in spite of fate. At 
the same time it must be conceded that there is a 
subtle joy even in sorrow; melancholy is not necessarily 
the opposite of happiness, it may be a part of it. One 
may even enjoy it, without taking one's pleasure sadly, 
as we say. Indeed, if there is any truth in Keats's 
thought that " in the very temple of delight veiled 
Melancholy hath her sovran shrine," the converse also 
may be true. 

Sad folk must certainly gloat upon some secret 
treasure of joy, which is a sealed document to the 
merely happy, or they would not be so contented. I 
believe Mrs. Gummidge knew a deeper joy in life — lone, 
lorn, and sad though she was — than ever Mark Tapley 
imagined in his most preposterously and irritatingly 
happy moments. But of the two, I prefer Mrs. Gum- 
midge ; she at least was under no illusions about making 
other people happy or even of attempting the pursuit 
of happiness for herself. She was content to feel 
lonesome, and in the attainment of that state attaining 
also to bliss as a sort of by-product. As to that un- 
deserving immortal Mark Tapley — I think we may look 
upon him as an amiable fraud, an illusion of the big 
heart of Charles Dickens. Your pertinacious optimist 
is a very sorry dog, and I am inclined to shun him as 
one shuns those sick souls who are forever cracking 
jokes (" comic fellows, funny men, and clowns in private 
life," as Sir W. S. Gilbert put it). But I do not deny 
the value of optimism nor the necessity of pleasure. 



HOLBROOK JACKSON 109 

Optimism is one of the most powerful of human weapons 
against fate; it is almost as invincible as indifference. 
And, incidentally, it is the fundamental principle of 
society, for unless we believed that the majority of 
people, perhaps all people, were somehow and some- 
where good and capable of joy, the thing we call society 
could not last for a week. Optimism is faith — faith 
in oneself, faith in one's fellows and faith in the world: 
and faith is the motive force of life. But you can never 
say that you have happiness any more than you can 
say you are going to have it ; 3^ou either have it or have 
it not. It is only when it has fled that you discuss 
it. It is just as absurd for a man to say he is. going to 
be happy, as it is for a man to say that he is going to 
be himself. Both promises are abstractions, nothing 
more, and to strive to become an abstraction is to court 
destruction. 

So it is that I am just a little doubtful about the 
motley array of paraphernalia at the annual seaside 
wedding of work of play. It is obvious that some people 
get some fun out of these things. But the test of the 
sort of fun obtainable at a popular pleasure resort, 
one that really goes into the business on a grand scale, 
sajr Blackpool or Coney Island, may be realised in the 
development of the pleasure machine. Simple games 
and healthy exercises have long since ceased to satisfy 
the holiday crowd, with the result that the pursuit of 
pleasure has become a pursuit of novel sensation. 
Enterprising merchants of delight have risen to the 
occasion first by inventing swings and roundabouts, 
then artificial toboggan slides and switchback railways ; 
from these the progress to water-chutes, big wheels, and 
high towers has been easy. But the demand for ex- 
hilaration is by no means appeased, so fresh ingenuity 



no MODERN ESSAYS 

has to be put forth in the interest of pleasure-seekers 
whose one desire seems to be giddiness and delirium. 
Avernus wheels are brought into being, and the pleasure- 
mongers, setting their monstrous brains to work, con- 
ceive wiggle-woggles and flip-flaps and topsy-turvies, 
and, save the mark, joy- wheels! This last might well 
be the climax and symbol of pleasure follies. You sit 
on a slightly convex revolving platform, flush with the 
floor, and you hold on to its smooth surface, like a 
beetle or a gecko, until the increasing rapidity of the 
revolutions hurls you off; "you" is, of course, plural, 
for the joy-wheel is a social machine, and you traffic 
with it in groups, scrimmaging somewhat to get the 
centre place, which by the laws of physics is most 
secure. You are thrown off singly and in knots, 
shrieking and laughing hysterically and fearfully, as 
many times as you like for threepence or sixpence, 
according to whether it is at Margate or Earl's Court. 
To such a pass as this has the search for the elixir of 
pleasure brought us. 

Therefore — but is there a therefore? Is it not in 
point of fact an absurd pass for any species to have 
got itself into — and outside sane argument? Let us 
agree, then, reader, you and I, that when all is said 
and done, the best of all holidays is the holiday that 
comes upon you unawares. The time of the year 
matters little, the place not at all; persons may have 
something to do with it, but it is just as likely they 
may have nothing to do with it. You do not know 
precisely how it comes about, and you do not care; 
perhaps even you may not know it has come about at 
all until you look backwards after it is over, and you 
know it cannot be repeated: holidays don't repeat 
themselves. It may be that you have gone somewhere 



HOLBROOK JACKSON in 

on business, missed the train back, and found yourself 
wandering idly amid green fields or in a sleepy village 
with inviting inns and a grey old church. It may be 
that you have suddenly, for no obvious reason, thrown 
down your tools and fled, for some still less ottvious 
reason, to a near or remote place. You may have 
spent half the time in a railway train, or you may 
have gone no farther afield than your own favourite 
subterranean cafe. But the experience has been dis- 
tinguishable from your average daily experience; it 
has had about it a quiet cheerfulness, a holy calm, and 
if you feel that it has been worth the trouble, you have 
achieved holiday. Perhaps, then, there is no art of 
holiday — holidays just occur. Shall we agree on that, 
we two? 




H2 MODERN ESSAYS 



PETERPANTHEISM 

Holbrook Jackson: Southward Ho! 
and Other Essays 

What ill turn in the trend of evolution gave man 
the aspiration to grow up? It must have been an 
evil chance, for the secret desire of all is for eternal 
youth. No one surely who had his will of life would 
dream of growing up, and yet we all not only do it, 
but succeed in persuading ourselves that we like doing it. 

We have even gone so far as to wean the imagi- 
nations of children from their rightful heritage and 
make them wish to become big, like father, or good, like 
mother. These ambitions are now commonplaces of 
childish imagination. But in spite of it all, the evidence 
is still against growing up. The purpose of the child 
is to live, to feel the mysterious presence of life in 
every limb, and in so far as he does this he is happy. 
But the purpose of the adult has become a febrile 
pursuit of the symbols of life. Real life fills him with 
dread, and success in his endeavour is his undoing. 

Age is a tragedy; and the elderly person strives 
heroically to make the best of it by covering his retreat 
with pathetic attempts at superiority and wisdom, 
little arrogances and vanities which at bottom deceive 
nobody, not even himself. For well he knows, as he 
casts wistful glances at the pranks of childhood, that 
in spite of his imposing cry of " Eureka! " he has 
found nothing. What profit has a man if he gain the 






HOLBROOK JACKSON 113 

whole world but lose his own youth? Perhaps, indeed, 
it would be more becoming in those who have grown 
up to admit the fact with fitting lamentation and 
humility, and, instead of flaunting their age with pomp 
and circumstance, cover their bodies with sackcloth 
and put ashes in their hair. 

The great difficulty, however, is that men persist, 
in spite of bitter experience, in looking upon growing 
up as a worthy thing. Women are their superiors in 
this respect. Intuitively they know that age is a 
cul-de-sac, that it leads not even to heaven, for to get 
there one has to become as a little child. This, probably, 
is why most women disown the passing years. 

Still even they grow up; indeed, are not women 
always a little older than men? Both nature and 
society seem to have conspired to make them so. But 
that is no excuse. Human beings ought not to be 
content to remain the slaves of either. Surely it is 
by the constant flouting of such authorities that new 
variations of life are attained. Neither gods nor 
millenniums are the outcome of passivity. Therefore, 
gentlewomen, put by your subterfuges about age, for 
you have been found out; we know you to be older 
than we men are, and our immemorial desire is that you 
should be younger. 

Few serious attempts to restore the Golden Age have 
been made in modern times, but one of the greatest 
of these is that of Sir James M. Barrie. Peter Pan is 
more than a Christmas pantomime ; it is a contribution 
to religious drama. It is a mystery play, giving sig- 
nificance to the childlike spirit of the universe. Peter 
Pan is a symbol of eternity, of that complete, un- 
changeable spirit of the world which is superior to the 
illusion of growing up: that dim vision which has set 



H4 MODERN ESSAYS 

bounds to the imagination of humanity ever since the 
elderly person usurped the throne of the child. Peter 
Pan reminds us again that the world has no final use 
for grown-up things, that cities and civilisations pa 
away, that monuments and institutions crumble into 
dust, that weeds are conquering the Coliseum, and that 
the life of the immemorial Sphinx is but a matter of 
time. Peter Pan is the emblem of the mystery of 
vitality, the thing that is always growing, but never 
grown. 

He came among us some years ago, when our faith 
in the child had nearly gone. But even to-day we shall 
see that there is no place for little children in the average 
home, and that when a place is provided for them it is 
provided because they are a nuisance and a burden to 
the grown-ups. It might as well be admitted that 
children irritate us; and this means that we are no longer 
capable of entering into their kingdom. We revenge 
ourselves by teaching them all sorts of worthless know- 
ledge. But we teach them nothing so worthless as 
this facile art of growing up. That is the final and 
unforgivable act of our hopelessly bewildered lives. 
We make our peace with the children by moulding them 
to our own image: perhaps, one of these days, for all 
things are possible, we shall become wise enough to 
permit the children to return the compliment. 

The desire to make them as we are is the fatal desire 
of a lost cause. It means that communications with 
the child-world have been cut off, which is only another 
way of saying that we have abandoned our alliance 
with the main tendency of life. We have ceased to 
grow. We have, in fact, grown up, and are fit only for 
life's scrap-heap. 

We talk of evolution ; but half of the idea of evolution 



HOLBROOK JACKSON 115 

is illusion, and the other half the assertion of the child- 
spirit. It is the child-spirit building castles in the air. 
And our talk of that little sister of evolution, progress, 
is not any more helpful; for progress is generally 
nothing more than a vain endeavour to put the clock 
forward. The only really vital thing in life is the 
unconscious abandonment of young things — the spirit 
of play. And if we think for a moment we shall see 
that it is play, or the contemplation of play, that gives 
us most joy. We never tire of watching the play of 
children or of young animals. That is sane and healthy; 
there are no better things to watch. Our approval 
links us with the living world again, just as our love of 
children does. That is why our delight in young life 
is always tinged with melancholy. Whilst we approve 
and love the ways of the young we unconsciously con- 
demn our elderliness. We realise that the most superb 
adult is a dismal failure beside a child making mud 
pies or a kitten chasing its tail. But we rarely admit 
it; when there is a chance of our going so far we 
become frightened, and, shaking ourselves, we murmur 
something about sentimentality, and speedily commence 
growing old again, thereby displaying our impotence 
and our ignorance. 

The sign that we have accomplished our ignoble aim, 
and grown up, is that we no longer have the impulse 
to play. We go about our business in colourless gar- 
ments and surroundings, buying and selling and ruling 
with revolting solemnity. The last glimmering of the 
spark of play is seen in our shamelessly hiring people 
to play for us. We hire footballers and cricketers to 
play games for us, jockeys to ride for us, singers to sing 
for us, dancers to dance for us, and even pugilists and 
soldiers to fight for us. 



n6 MODERN ESSAYS 

Those who have become as little children will want 
to do all these things for themselves. They will no 
more desire to play by proxy than they will desire to 
live by proxy. Art has been described as the expression 
of man's joy in his work, and joyful work is the kind 
of work practised by those who have the courage to be 
young. It is fundamentally play, and no other kind 
of work really matters. We have some remote idea of 
this when we utter the commonplace that success 
depends largely upon one's doing the work one likes 
to do. It is also pretty generally recognised that there 
is no joy in what is merely laborious. Beyond all men 
the artist knows this: not because his work is easy, 
but because he is happy in his work. It is a wonderful 
game. " I pray God every day," said Corot, " that He 
will keep me a child; that is to say, that He will enable 
me to see and draw with the eye of a child." And 
France heard him sing as he painted. The childhood 
of the world was in that song and in its results. 

Children are unconscious artists in living. How to 
reach this happy state is another matter; precise 
rules cannot be given, because there are none. Perhaps 
there is no direct way to the Golden Age, and even if 
there were, few of us would recognise it. However, 
there is at least one useful rule — that is, never to look 
upon the Golden Age as past. For the rest, we might 
follow Peter Pan, and refuse to grow up. 




MAURICE HEWLETT 117 



THE EARLY QUAKERS 
Maurice Hewlett : Extemporary Essays 

Quality, which in such an art as painting is a thing 
infallibly recognised yet hard to be denned, is resident 
in all expressions of the spirit of man. In letters we may 
call it style, and in religion, rather disagreeably, unction. 
One would certainly seek, and might easily find, a less 
greasy term for that unmistakable, inexpressible some- 
thing which seems to thrill in the words, which causes 
the sentences to dilate, open and shut (as it were) like 
the embers of a wood-fire when they are used by a man 
" in the Spirit," as it is written, " on the Lord's day." 
One reads what appears to be the too familiar account 
of conviction of sin, conversion, certitude of truth and 
what not. The well-known symptoms are there, the 
well-worn locutions lap them round. Yet a difference 
is discernible; there is a bloom, a dewiness, a — what? 
Infinite as are the variations in the characters and 
persons of men, so are those of sincere writing. Such 
things are worth finding out. 

The Society of Friends has lately put forward what 
it calls the First Part of its Book of Discipline — Christian 
Life, Faith and Thought (Friends' Bookshop, Bishops- 
gate), which is nothing less than a stream of testimony 
to the root of Quakerism, an anthology of its religious 
conversation from the seventeenth century onwards. 
It is closed only by the cover, for the stream is still 
flowing, and apparently with a strong tide. In this 
little book it is possible, I think, to detect with some 



n8 MODERN ESSAYS 

precision the quality of a faith which is as distinct from 
others as the practice of its adherents has always held 
them separate among Christians. Conversation, and 
the certainty of it, proceed, as I have said, upon familiar 
lines; but in the result — and that is the first thing to 
note about it — in the result it turns to serenity rather 
than disturbance, to joy and not to savagery, to a still 
ecstasy, if such a state can be. Zeal does not eat up 
the Quakers, but glows within them, steadily and 
mildly radiant. 

George Fox himself strikes that note: 

As I had forsaken all the priests, so I left the separate 
preachers also, and those called the most experienced 
people. For I saw there was none among them all that 
could speak to my condition. And when all my hope in 
them and in all men was gone, so that I had nothing 
outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, 
oh then, I heard a voice which said, " There is one, even 
Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition," and, when 
I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. . . . Thus, when 
God doth work, who shall let it? And this I knew 
experimentally. 

That joy never left him, in whatever tribulations he 
was afterwards involved. Presently, as he says, " I 
saw all the world could do me no good; if I had had 
a king's diet, palace and attendance, all would have 
been as nothing: for nothing gave me comfort but the 
Lord by His Power." The serenity which fills his 
diary as with fragrance impelled him to charitable 
judgment, but at the same time as it fired his words 
taught how to be frugal of them. The fewness and 
fullness of his words, William Penn said, struck all his 
hearers; and yet — "The most awful, living, reverent 
frame I .ever beheld, I must say, was his in prayer.'* 



MAURICE HEWLETT 119 

He died as he had lived: 

Divers Friends came to visit him in illness, unto some of 
whom he said: " All is well; the seed of God reigns over 
all, and over Death itself." 

That is how to die — if you can. 

What they had, Seed of God, or whatever — if I may 
put it so — was like a comfortable balance at the bank 
which tempted neither to profusion nor parsimony, but 
put the owner at peace with all the world. There would 
be no inclination to foppery in such a man: there was 
none in them. " The bent and stress of their ministry," 
Penn says, " was ... a leaving off in religion the 
superfluous and reducing the ceremonious and formal 
part, and pressing earnestly the substantial, the neces- 
sary and profitable." One of the superfluities of life, 
as they found out early in the day, was blood-shed- 
ding. William Dewsbury, a Yorkshiremen, bore witness 
to that: 

I joined that little remnant which said they fought for 
the Gospel, but I found no rest to my soul among them. 
And the word of the Lord came unto me and said, " Put 
up thy sword into thy scabbard; if my kingdom were of 
this world, then would my children fight " — which word 
enlightened my heart and discovered the mystery of 
iniquity, and that the Kingdom of Christ was within, and 
was spiritual, and my weapons against them must be 
spiritual, the power of God. 

Yet, as he said, he " never since played the coward," 
spending the greater part of his life cheerfully in prison. 
In New England they hanged for Quakerism, and many 
women suffered that death. 

" Except ye become as little children." That they 
could do. There again is part of the Quaker quality — 
simplicity of reception of truth, simplicity of reaction 



120 MODERN ESSAYS 

to it. Margaret Fell of Swarthmore was the wife of 
a Judge of Assize, visited in her husband's absence on 
circuit by George Fox. That was in 1652. In " Ulver- 
ston Steeplehouse," in her presence, Fox stood up and 
asked leave to speak. It was given him. He opened 
the Scriptures and said: 

" What had any to do with the Scriptures, but as they 
came to the Spirit that gave them forth ? You will say, 
Christ saith this, and the Apostles say this; but what 
canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light, and what 
thou speakest, is it inwardly from God ? " This opened 
me (says Margaret), so that it cut me to the heart; and 
then I saw clearly that we were all wrong. So I sat me 
down in my pew again and cried bitterly. And I cried 
in my spirit to the Lord, We are all thieves, we are all thieves. 
We have taken the Scriptures in words and know nothing 
of them ourselves. 

A hundred years later that same divine childishness 
shows forth in another form, that of beautiful naive 
speech. Thomas Story (obiit 1742) goes to the Friends' 
meeting at Broughton in Cumberland. Someone 
spoke, " yet I took not much notice of it . . . my 
concern was much rather to know whether they were a 
people gathered under a sense of the enjoyment of 
the presence of God in their meetings. . . . And the 
Lord answered my desire according to the integrity 
of my heart. 

"For not long after I had sat down among them, 
that heavenly and watery cloud overshadowing my mind 
brake into a sweet abounding shower of celestial rain, and 
the greatest part of the meeting was broken together, 
dissolved and comforted in the same divine and holy 
presence and influence of the true, holy, and heavenly 
Lord, which was divers times repeated before the 



MAURICE HEWLETT 121 

meeting ended." That is very beautiful ; but Story was 
a poet. Observe the rhythm of this: 

I was silent before the Lord, as a child not yet weaned ; 

He put words in my mouth ; 

And I sang forth his praise with an audible voice. 

I called unto my God out of the great deep ; 

He put on bowels of mercy, and had compassion on me ; 

Because his love was infinite, 

And his power without measure. 

He called for my life, and I offered it at his footstool; 
But he gave it to me as a prey, 
With unspeakable additions. 

There is more of that grave and measured descant, 
but its quality is in what I quote. It was in all those 
men and women. William Dent, another Yorkshire- 
man, must not be left out. He was a countryman. 
" His Quaker garb was spotlessly neat. His face 
spoke of indwelling light and peace with all mankind. 
When words came they were few and weighty." They 
certainly were. 

It is told how he would drive fourteen miles to a Friends' 
meeting to worship. On one occasion he rose, and said, 
" God is love," and then sat down again. It is believed 
no listener forgot that sermon. 

He should not. It was the whole thing in essence. 
It was all they knew, and all that they needed to know. 



122 MODERN ESSAYS 



WIND IN THE DOWNS 
Maurice Hewlett: Extemporary Essays 

The Avon Valley is handsomely a fortnight ahead of 
mine, as I have proved over and over again, but from 
what I saw to-day I should suppose that the Wylye 
ran through a warmer soil than any other of the Five 
Rivers. I saw a tree just outside Wilton covered with 
golden knops on the point of breaking — and that in a 
wind which made my heart feel like doing the same 
thing. I dare swear that in Lord Pembroke's park there 
will be several in full leaf. Avon will not provide such 
a sight yet awhile; and Ebble not for three weeks. 
You get in this country of ridge and hollow something 
approaching the sharp contrasts the South of France 
will give you — something approaching them, and yet, 
of course, if I can be understood, nothing like them. 
I remember driving from Le Puy to Pont Saint-Esprit 
— May the season. Le Puy had been hot enough for 
anyone; May weather intensified by the crater in 
which the town cowers and the tufa on which it roasts. 
From there, and from May, we climbed into March and 
fields of daffodil; from March into as bleak a February 
as you could dread in the Jura, and snow over all the 
waste; from that, down a mountain slide, into the 
valley of the Ardeche, where the hedgerows were full 
of dusty roses, and the peasants making hay. You 
won't do that in South Wilts, but you may have the 
Chalke Valley with its trees naked and sere, and the 
slopes of its hills white with winter bents, and over 



MAURICE HEWLETT 123 

the plain come down into Wilton to find magnolias in 
flower and house fronts smothered in Forsythia. Ours 
is the snuggest valley but poorest soil of any of the 
five, and our river, being the smallest, has not thrown 
up a broad bed of silt on either bank in which trees can 
grow tall and feel running water about their roots. 

When our Mistral began to blow, which was ten days 
ago, I went up the drove immediately behind my house, 
and could hardly find a sign of a cowslip. I did find 
the leaves of one, but there were no more on a ledge 
which will be thick with them by and by. No wheat- 
ears to be seen, and no March hares in their amorous 
transports. The grass was as harsh as wire, the moss, 
disintegrated by the rain and dried by the wind, stood 
away from the earth like the ribs of a rotten ship. To 
come presently upon a little cloud of dog-violets was to 
be moved, as the Ancient Mariner was, by "a spring of 
love." Having blessed them unaware, I did it again, 
very conscious of the act of worship. Beyond that, 
further up the hill, one might have been in mid-winter. 
I struggled to the Race Plain, where the wind, straight 
from Nova Zembla, cut through my clothes like a knife. 
As usual, I encountered a little scattered fleet of gypsies, 
tacking into the jaws of it; a sorry nag straining at a 
cart full of poles and miscellaneous junk; women and 
young girls encumbered with babies in their shawls, 
barefoot children padding about on their white heels, 
and one smooth secret-faced man, lord of the tattered 
seraglio, himself well clothed and unhampered. The 
women were too distressed even to look their usual 
petitions. I think they felt the wind rattling their bones 
together. But the sultan hailed me, and we conversed 
for a few moments behind a furze bush. They were 
from Sherborne, going to the Forest, into what he called 



124 MODERN ESSAYS 

"summer quarters." "They will be glad of them, some 
of your ladies," I said, and he gave me a sharp look. 
"They are all right," he said. "They'll have to wait, 
like the best of us." He accepted a fill of his pipe, lit 
it, turned it downwards, nodded, plunged his hands, 
and went leisurely after his belongings. Myself, I went 
huddling home to a wood fire, feeling that he had the 
better of me in many ways. For one thing, he kept 
half a dozen women in order — which I could not do 
even if I would; for another, he did not allow the 
mere wind to interfere with his good pleasure, his lordly 
ease of mind. I admire, while I cannot esteem, gypsies. 
Their ways are not our ways. 

The Race Plain is their highway from the West to 
their headquarters in the New Forest, as once it was 
ours to London. Nearly every furze clump all its length 
has the lewside blackened by the ruins of a fire. Night 
or day you will meet them coming or going, or pass a 
group of them snuggling or sleeping by a driftwood 
fire. Very rarely they come to beg or hawk clothes- 
pegs in the village, but mostly they keep to their green 
road. Great poachers, of course; but beyond a few 
stray fowls we don't hear of much thieving. It is strange 
how little they mix, even now, with our people; not 
strange, therefore, that we know so little of them. 
That mystery is occasionally the begetter of romance. 
I said somewhere, confirming Borrow, that their girls 
scorn our young men, and am sure it is true of the 
main of them. Yet there are half-breeds among them, 
plainly; and such generalisations cannot be quite true. 
I heard of a case only the other day, where some green- 
eyed waif of theirs cast her spells upon a farm-lad, 
bewitched and bemused him until, for love of her, he 
was led into bad courses. He used to meet her at night, 



MAURICE HEWLETT 125 

and their shelter in bad weather was a deserted barn 
in the hillside, a place locally known as Rats' Castle. 
From such association he was led on and on, left his 
home, threw up his work, and hid with her in the 
hollows of the hills. His people thought he had gone 
for a soldier, and made no more than perfunctory 
search. Then by and by things began to be missed — 
hens and their eggs, bread out of bakers' carts, milk 
out of dairies, even clothing from the washing-lines. 
And then, one fine night, Rats' Castle was discovered 
to be ablaze. The lad was taken and confessed to 
everything, but the girl was not found. I hope he got 
over his heartbreak during his term at Devizes, which 
he served alone. He exonerated her from all blame, 
took everything on his shoulders; and as he was found 
near the burning barn, and she not seen there, there 
was no evidence against her, though plenty of suspicion. 
He would not, perhaps could not, name her, but she 
was well known to the police, and has since been seen 
at fairs or in the market. She was pointed out to me 
in Sarum one Tuesday — quite young, with hair lighter 
than her tan, with narrowed, sidelong eyes, in a faded 
red blouse and black skirt. She stood motionless, biting 
a corner of her apron between her very white teeth — 
half vicious, half wild-cat. Then I was told the story, 
and was much moved to think of what never did, 
and in the nature of things, or of boy, never could have 
come out at the inquiry: any hint, namely, of the 
wild stress of passion, the lure of the romantic, or of 
what answers to it, which drew the devoted simpleton 
to forsake father and mother, industry and honesty, 
and to cleave to this belle dame sans merci, to thieve 
for her, and to take all the penalty. That is what 
he did: and he was not the first. 



126 MODERN ESSAYS 



THE PLEASURES OF IGNORANCE 
Robert Lynd : The Pleasures of Ignorance x 

It is impossible to take a walk in the country with an 
average townsman — especially, perhaps, in April or 
May — without being amazed at the vast continent of 
his ignorance. It is impossible to take a walk in the 
country oneself without being amazed at the vast 
continent of one's own ignorance. Thousands of men 
and women live and die without knowing the difference 
between a beech and an elm, between the song of a 
thrush and the song of a blackbird. Probably in a 
modern city the man who can distinguish between a 
thrush's and a blackbird's song is the exception. It is 
not that we have not seen the birds. It is simply that 
we have not noticed them. We have been surrounded 
by birds all our lives, yet so feeble is our observation 
that many of us could not tell whether or not the chaffinch 
sings, or the colour of the cuckoo. We argue like small 
boys as to whether the cuckoo always sings as he flies 
or sometimes in the branches of a tree — whether Chap- 
man drew on his fancy or his knowledge of nature in 
the lines: 

When in the oak's green arms the cuckoo sings, 
And first delights men in the lovely springs. 

This ignorance, however, is not altogether miserable. 
Out of it we get the constant pleasure of discovery. 
Every fact of nature comes to us each spring, if only 
we are sufficiently ignorant, with the dew still on it. If 

1 Published in America by Messrs. Charles Scribner's Sons. 



ROBERT LYND 127 

we have lived half a lifetime without having ever even 
seen a cuckoo, and know it only as a wandering voice, 
we are all the more delighted at the spectacle of its run- 
away flight as it hurries from wood to wood, conscious 
of its crimes, and at the way in which it halts hawk- 
like in the wind, its long tail quivering, before it dares 
descend on a hillside of fir-trees where avenging pre- 
sences may lurk. It would be absurd to pretend that 
the naturalist does not also find pleasure in observing 
the life of the birds, but his is a steady pleasure, almost 
a sober and plodding occupation, compared to the 
morning enthusiasm of the man who sees a cuckoo for 
the first time, and, behold, the world is made new. 

And as to that, the happiness even of the naturalist 
depends in some measure upon his ignorance, which 
still leaves him new worlds of this kind to conquer. He 
may have reached the very Z of knowledge in the books, 
but he still feels half ignorant until he has confirmed 
each bright particular Atith his eyes. He wishes with 
his own eyes to see the female cuckoo — rare spectacle! 
— as she lays her egg on the ground and takes it in her 
bill to the nest in which it is destined to breed infanti- 
cide. He would sit day after day with a field-glass 
against his eyes in order personally to endorse or refute 
the evidence suggesting that the cuckoo does lay on 
the ground and not in a nest. And if he is so far 
fortunate as to discover this most secretive of birds in 
the very act of laying, there still remain for him other 
fields to conquer in a multitude of such disputed ques- 
tions as whether the cuckoo's egg is always of the same 
colour as the other eggs in the nest in which she abandons 
it. Assuredly ( the men of science have no reason as 
yet to weep over their lost ignorance. If they seem to 
know everything, it is only because you and I know 



128 MODERN ESSAYS 

almost nothing. There will always be a fortune of 
ignorance waiting for them under every fact they turn 
up. They will never know what song the Sirens sang 
to Ulysses any more than Sir Thomas Browne did. 

If I have called in the cuckoo to illustrate the 
ordinary man's ignorance, it is not because I can speak 
with authority on that bird. It is simply because, 
passing the spring in a parish that seemed to have been 
invaded by all the cuckoos of Africa, I realised how 
exceedingly little I, or anybody else I met, knew about 
them. But your and my ignorance is not confined to 
cuckoos. It dabbles in all created things, from the 
sun and moon down to the names of the flowers. I once 
heard a clever lady asking whether the new moon al- 
ways appears on the same day of the week. She added 
that perhaps it is better not to know, because, if one 
does not know when or in what part of the sky to 
expect it, its appearance is always a pleasant surprise. 
I fancy, however, the new moon always comes as a 
surprise even to those who are familiar with her time- 
tables. And it is the same with the coming in of 
spring and the waves of the flowers. We are not the 
less delighted to find an early primrose because we are 
sufficiently learned in the services of the year to look 
for it in March or April rather than in October. We 
know, again, that the blossom precedes and not succeeds 
the fruit of the apple-tree, but this does not lessen our 
amazement at the beautiful holiday of a May orchard. 

At the same time there is perhaps a special pleasure 
in re-learning the names of many of the flowers every 
spring. It is like re-reading a book that one has almost 
forgotten. Montaigne tells us that he had so bad a 
memory that he could always read an old book as though 
he had never read it before. I have myself a capri- 



ROBERT LYND 129 

cious and leaking memory. I can read Hamlet itself 
and The Pickwick Papers as though they were the work 
of new authors and had come wet from the press, so 
much of them fades between one reading and another. 
There are occasions on which a memory of this kind is 
an affliction, especially if one has a passion for accuracy. 
But this is only when life has an object beyond enter- 
tainment. In respect of mere luxury, it may be 
doubted whether there is not as much to be said for 
a bad memory as for a good one. With a bad memory 
one can go on reading Plutarch and The Arabian Nights 
all one's life. Little shreds and tags, it is probable, 
will stick even in the worst memory, just as a succession 
of sheep cannot leap through a gap in a hedge without 
leaving a few wisps of wool on the thorns. But the 
sheep themselves escape, and the great authors leap 
in the same way out of an idle memory and leave little 
enough behind. 

And if we can forget books, it is as easy to forget 
the months and what they showed us when once they 
are gone. Just for the moment I tell myself that I 
know May like the multiplication table and could pass 
an examination on its flowers, their appearance and their 
order. To-day I can affirm confidently that the butter- 
cup has five petals. (Or is it six? I knew for certain 
last week.) But next year I shall probably have 
forgotten my arithmetic, and may have to learn once 
more not to confuse the buttercup with the celandine. 
Once more I shall see the world as a garden through the 
eyes of a stranger, my breath taken away with surprise 
by the painted fields. I shall find myself wondering 
whether it is science or ignorance which affirms that 
the swift (that black exaggeration of the swallow and 
yet a kinsman of the humming-bird) never settles even 

E 



130 MODERN ESSAYS 

on a nest, but disappears at night into the heights of 
the air. I shall learn with fresh astonishment that it 
is the male, and not the female, cuckoo that sings. I 
may have to learn again not to call the campion a wild 
geranium, and to re-discover whether the ash comes 
early or late in the etiquette of the trees. A contem- 
porary English novelist was once asked by a foreigner 
what was the most important crop in England. He 
answered without a moment's hesitation: " Rye." 
Ignorance so complete as this seems to me to be touched 
with magnificence; but the ignorance even of illiterate 
persons is enormous. The average man who uses a 
telephone could not explain how a telephone works. 
He takes for granted the telephone, the railway train, 
the linotype, the aeroplane, as our grandfathers took 
for granted the miracles of the Gospels. He neither 
questions nor understands them. It is as though each 
of us investigated and made his own only a tiny circle 
of facts. Knowledge outside the day's work is regarded 
by most men as a gewgaw. Still we are constantly in 
reaction against our ignorance. We rouse ourselves at 
intervals and speculate. We revel in speculations about 
anything at all — about life after death or about such 
questions as that which is said to have puzzled Aristotle, 
" why sneezing from noon to midnight was good, but 
from night to noon unlucky." One of the greatest 
joys known to man is to take such a flight into ignorance 
in search of knowledge. The great pleasure of ignorance 
is, after all, the pleasure of asking questions. The man 
who has lost this pleasure or exchanged it for the 
pleasure of dogma, which is the pleasure of answering, 
is already beginning to stiffen. One envies so inquisi- 
tive a man as Jowett, who sat down to the study of 
physiology in his sixties. Most of us have lost the sense 



ROBERT LYND 131 

of our ignorance long before that age. We even become 
vain of our squirrel's hoard of knowledge and regard 
increasing age itself as a school of omniscience. We 
forget that Socrates was famed for wisdom not because 
he was omniscient but because he realised at the age 
of seventy that he still knew nothing. 




132 MODERN ESSAYS 



CLOUD 

Alice Me ynell : The Colour of Life, and Other Essays 
on Things Seen and Heard 

During a part of the year London does not see the 
clouds. Not to see the clear sky might seem her chief 
loss, but that is shared by the rest of England, and is, 
besides, but a slight privation. Not to see the clear 
sky is, elsewhere, to see the cloud. But not so in London. 
You may go for a week or two at a time, even though 
you hold your head up as you walk, and even though 
you have windows that really open, and yet you shall 
see no cloud, or but a single edge, the fragment of 
a form. 

Guillotine windows never wholly open, but are filled 
with a doubled glass towards the sky when you open 
them towards the street. They are, therefore, a sure 
sign that for all the years when no other windows were 
used in London, nobody there cared much for the sky, 
or even knew so much as whether there were a sky. 

But the privation of cloud is indeed a graver loss 
than the world knows. Terrestrial scenery is much, 
but it is not all. Men go in search of it ; but the celestial 
scenery journeys to them. It goes its way round the 
world. It has no nation, it costs no weariness, it knows 
no bonds. The terrestrial scenery — the tourist's — is a 
prisoner compared with this. The tourist's scenery 
moves indeed, but only like Wordsworth's maiden, 
with earth's diurnal course; it is made as fast as its 
own graves. And for its changes it depends upon the 



ALICE MEYNELL 133 

mobility of the skies. The mere green flushing of its 
sap makes only the least of its varieties ; for the greater 
it must wait upon the visits of the light. Spring and 
autumn are inconsiderable events in a landscape 
compared with the shadows of a cloud. 

The cloud controls the light, and the mountains on 
earth appear or fade according to its passage; they 
wear so simply, from head to foot, the luminous grey 
or the emphatic purple, as the cloud permits, that their 
own local colour and their own local season are lost 
and cease, effaced before the all-important mood of 
the cloud. 

The sea has no mood except that of the sky and of 
its winds. It is the cloud that, holding the sun's rays 
in a sheaf as a giant holds a handful of spears, strikes 
the horizon, touches the extreme edge with a delicate 
revelation of light, or suddenly puts it out and makes 
the foreground shine. 

Everyone knows the manifest work of the cloud 
when it descends and partakes in the landscape ob- 
viously, lies half-way across the mountain slope, stoops 
to rain heavily upon the lake, and blots out part of 
the view by the rough method of standing in front of it. 
But its greatest things are done from its own place, 
aloft. Thence does it distribute the sun. 

Thence does it lock away between the hills and 
valleys more mysteries than a poet conceals, but, like 
him, not by interception. Thence it writes out and 
cancels all the tracery of Monte Rosa, or lets the pencils 
of the sun renew them. Thence, hiding nothing, and 
yet making dark, it sheds deep colour upon the 
forest land of Sussex, so that, seen from the hills, 
all the country is divided between grave blue and 
graver sunlight. 



134 MODERN ESSAYS 

And all this is but its influence, its secondary work 
upon the world. Its own beauty is unaltered when it 
has no earthly beauty to improve. It is always great: 
above the street, above the suburbs, above the gas- 
works and the stucco, above the faces of painted white 
houses — the painted surfaces that have been devised as 
the only things able to vulgarise light, as they catch 
it and reflect it grotesquely from their importunate 
gloss. This is to be well seen on a sunny evening in 
Regent Street. 

Even here the cloud is not so victorious as when it 
towers above some little landscape of rather paltry 
interest — a conventional river heavy with water, gardens 
with their little evergreens, walks, and shrubberies; and 
thick trees, impervious to the light, touched, as the 
novelists always have it, with "autumn tints." High 
over these rises, in the enormous scale of the scenery of 
clouds, what no man expected — an heroic sky. Few of 
the things that were ever done upon earth are great 
enough to be done under such a heaven. It was surely 
designed for other days. It is for an epic world. Your 
eyes sweep a thousand miles of cloud. What are the 
distances of earth to these, and what are the distances 
of the clear and cloudless sky? The very horizons of 
the landscape are near, for the round world dips so 
soon; and the distances of the mere clear sky are 
unmeasured — you rest upon nothing until you come 
to a star, and the star itself is immeasurable. 

But in the sky of "sunny Alps" of clouds the sight 
goes farther, with conscious flight, than it could ever 
have journeyed otherwise. Man would not have known 
distance veritably without the clouds. There are 
mountains indeed, precipices and deeps, to which those 
of the earth are pigmy. Yet the sky-heights, being so 



ALICE MEYNELL 135 

far off, are not overpowering by disproportion, like 
some futile building fatuously made too big for the 
human measure. The cloud in its majestic place com- 
poses with a little Perugino tree. For you stand or 
stray in the futile building, while the cloud is no mansion 
for man, and out of reach of his limitations. 

The cloud, moreover, controls the sun, not merely 
by keeping the custody of his rays, but by becoming 
the counsellor of his temper. The cloud veils an angry 
sun, or, more terribly, lets fly an angry ray, suddenly 
bright upon tree and tower, with iron-grey storm for 
a background. Or when anger had but threatened, the 
cloud reveals him, gentle beyond hope. It makes peace, 
constantly, just before sunset. 

It is in the confidence of the winds, and wears their 
colours. There is a heavenly game, on south-west wind 
days, when the clouds are bowled by a breeze from 
behind the evening. They are round and brilliant, and 
come leaping up from the horizon for hours. This is a 
frolic and haphazard sky. 

All unlike this is the sky that has a centre, and 
stands composed about it. As the clouds marshalled 
the earthly mountains, so the clouds in turn are now 
ranged. The tops of all the celestial Andes aloft are 
swept at once by a single ray, warmed with a single 
colour. Promontory after league-long promontory of a 
stiller Mediterranean in the sky is called out of mist 
and grey by the same finger. The cloudland is very 
great, but a sunbeam makes all its nations and continents 
sudden with light. 

All this is for the untravelled. All the winds bring 
him this scenery. It is only in London, for part of the 
autumn and part of the winter, that the unnatural 
smoke-fog comes between. And for many and many 



136 MODERN ESSAYS 

a day no London eye can see the horizon, or the first 
threat of the cloud like a man's hand. There never 
was a great painter who had not exquisite horizons, and 
if Corot and Crome were right, the Londoner loses a 
great thing. 

He loses the coming of the cloud, and when it is high 
in air he loses its shape. A cloud-lover is not content 
to see a snowy and rosy head piling into the top of the 
heavens; he wants to see the base and the altitude. 
The perspective of a cloud is a great part of its design — 
whether it lies so that you can look along the immense 
horizontal distances of its floor, or whether it rears so 
upright a pillar that you look up its mountain steeps in 
the sky as you look at the rising heights of a mountain 
that stands, with you, on the earth. 

The cloud has a name suggesting darkness ; neverthe- 
less, it is not merely the guardian of the sun's rays and 
their director. It is the sun's treasurer; it holds the 
light that the world has lost. We talk of sunshine and 
moonshine, but not of cloud-shine, whicl^ is yet one 
of the illuminations of our skies. A shining cloud is 
one of the most majestic of all secondary lights. If 
the reflecting moon is the bride, this is the friend of 
the bridegroom. 

Needless to say, the cloud of a thunderous summer is 
the most beautiful of all. It has spaces of a grey for 
which there is no name, and no other cloud looks over 
at a vanishing sun from such heights of blue air. The 
shower-cloud, too, with its thin edges, comes across 
the sky with so influential a flight that no ship going 
out to sea can be better worth watching. The dullest 
thing, perhaps, in the London streets is that people 
take their rain there without knowing anything of the 
cloud that drops it. It is merely rain, and means wet- 



ALICE MEYNELL 



137 



ness. The shower-cloud there has limits of time, but 
no limits of form, and no history whatever. It has 
not come from the clear edge of the plain to the south, 
and will not shoulder anon the hill to the north. The 
rain, for this city, hardly comes or goes; it does but 
begin and stop. No one looks after it on the path of 
its retreat. 




*&***» 



138 MODERN ESSAYS 



THE FOLLY OF EDUCATION 
Richard Middleton : The Day Before Yesterday 

Of all the intellectual exercises with which we solace 
the idle hours that we devote to thought, none is more 
engaging and at the same time perplexing than that 
of endeavouring to form a clear conception of the age 
in which we live. Naturally the difficulty lies, not in 
lack of materials on which to base an impression — 
indeed, we are embarrassed by the quantity of evidence 
that accumulates to our hand — but in the fact that it 
is hard to see things in true perspective when they are 
very near to the observer. The yet unborn historians 
of the present era will doubtless lack much of our 
knowledge; but they will be able to unravel in the 
quietude of their studies the tangled threads and 
stubborn knots that writhe beneath our fingers with the 
perpetual changeableness and uneasy animation of 
life itself. But if it is impossible to write dispassionately 
of a revolution while men are dying at the barricades, 
and musket-balls are marring the bland uniformity of 
the wallpaper of the room in which we write, it is always 
open to the student of life to fall back on impressionism. 
The form of art that seeks to bludgeon life with a loaded 
phrase, rather than to woo her to captivity with chosen 
and honeyed words. And the brutal method is apt to 
prove the more efficacious, as with that frail sex that 
kisses, so I am told, the masculine hand that grants the 
accolade of femininity in that blessed state of bruiser 
and bruised that is Nature's highest conception of the 



RICHARD MIDDLETON 139 

relationship of the two sexes. While science greets the 
corpse with incomprehensible formulae and the con- 
scientious artist gropes for his note-book of epithets 
to suit occasions, impressionism stops her dainty nose 
with her diminutive square of perfumed silk, and the 
dog is dead indeed. 

We are all born impressionists, and it takes the 
education of years to eradicate the gift from our natures. 
Many people never lose the habit of regarding life in 
this queer straightforward fashion, and go to their 
graves obstinately convinced that grass is green and 
the sky is blue in dogged opposition to the scientists, 
didactic dramatists, eminent divines, philosophers, 
aesthetic poets, and human beings born blind. Some of 
these subtle weavers of argument would have us believe 
that impressionism means just the converse of the 
sense in which I am using the word ; that, for instance, 
the fact that grass is green comes to us from indirect 
sources, as that of our own natures we would perceive 
it to be red or blue. But while we believe our impression 
to be our own, we know that this theory has reached 
us indirectly, so we can well afford to ignore it. Others, 
again, will have it that impressions are not to be trusted ; 
and the majority of people, while rejecting or failing 
to comprehend the philosophic basis on which this 
doubt is founded, are only too willing to accept a theory 
that relieves them in some way of responsibility for 
their own individual actions. As a matter of fact, 
telling a man to mistrust his impressions is like bidding 
a mariner despise his compass. If our senses lie to us, 
we must live, perforce, in a world of lies. 

But as I hinted above, the young are wont to rely 
on their impressions from the moment when a baby 
first parts its lips in howling criticism of life. Children 



140 MODERN ESSAYS 

have implicit faith in the evidence of their senses until 
the grown-up people come along and tell grimy stories 
of perjured eyes and lying ears, and the unhappy fate 
of the unwise babes who trusted them. What is a 
child to do? Usually it accepts the new theory of its 
own inherent blindness and deafness grudgingly, but 
it accepts it nevertheless. It begins to rely on the 
experience of older human beings, as if the miracle of 
its own life were no more than the toneless repetition of 
other lives that have been before it. Wonder passes 
from its life, as joy passes from pencil and paper when 
the little fingers are made to follow certain predestined 
lines, instead of tracing the fancies of the moon. The 
child becomes sensible, obedient, quick at its lessons. 
It learns the beauty of the world from pictures and the 
love of its mother from books. In course of time its 
senses become atrophied through disuse, and it can, 
in truth, no longer see or hear. When this stage is 
reached the education of the individual is completed, 
and all civilisation's requirements are satisfied. 

I have described an extreme case, and the judicious 
reader will realise that the process is rarely completed 
in so short a time as the last paragraph suggests. But 
sooner or later most men and women come to believe 
in experience, and to this belief is due our tyrannous 
treatment of the young. I can conceive that an age 
will come that will shrink with horror from the excesses 
we commit in the name of education; will regard 
us who force children to do their lessons against their 
will, very much in the way in which we regard the slave- 
owners of the past, only with added indignation that 
our tyranny is imposed on the children's minds, and not 
on the bodies of adults. Let those conservative readers 
who find this comparison a little strained reflect for a 



RICHARD MIDDLETON 141 

moment on what it is that we have to teach the next 
generation, with what manner of wisdom we chain the 
children's imaginations and brand their minds. We teach 
them in the first place to express themselves in sounds 
that shall be intelligible to us, and this, I suppose, is 
necessary, though I should like to doubt it. Further, 
we invariably instruct them in the sciences of reading 
and writing, which seems to me frankly unfortunate. 

In Utopia, as I conceive it, the child who thought 
there was anything worth reading would teach itself 
to read, as many children have done before it, and in 
the same way the rarer child who desired to express 
itself on paper would teach itself to write. That any 
useful purpose is served by the general possession of 
this knowledge I cannot see. Even civilisation cannot 
rejoice that her children are able to read the Sunday 
newspapers and scrawl gutter sentiments on the walls 
of churches. 

Beyond this we teach children geography, which robs 
the earth of its charm of unexpectedness and calls 
beautiful places by ugly names ; history, which chronicles 
inaccurate accounts of unimportant events in the ears 
of those who would be better employed in discovering 
the possibilities of their own age; arithmetic, which 
encourages the human mind to set limits to the infinite ; 
botany, which denotes the purposeless vivisection of 
flowers; chemistry, which is no more than an indelicate 
unveiling of matter; and a hundred other so-called 
arts and sciences, which, when examined without preju- 
dice, will be found to have for their purpose the standard- 
isation and ultimate belittlement of life. 

In Utopia, the average human being would not know 
how to read or write, would have no knowledge of the 
past, and would know no more about life and the world 



142 MODERN ESSAYS 

in general than he had derived from his own impres- 
sions. The sum of those impressions would be the 
measure of his wisdom, and I think that the chances 
are that he would be a good deal less ignorant than he 
is now, when his head is full of confused ideas borrowed 
from other men and only half-comprehended. I think 
that our system of education is bad, because it challenges 
the right of the individual to think constructively for 
himself. In rustic families, where the father and 
mother never learn to read, and the children have had 
the advantages of " scholarship," the illiterate genera- 
tion will always be found to have more intelligence 
than their educated descendants. The children were 
learning French and arithmetic when they should have 
been learning life. 

And, after all, this is the only kind of education 
that counts. We all know that a man's knowledge of 
Latin or the use of the globes does not affect his good- 
fellowship, or his happiness, or even the welfare of the 
State as a whole. What is important is, that he should 
have passed through certain experiences, felt certain 
emotions, and dreamed certain dreams, that give his 
personality the stamp of a definite individual existence. 
Tomlinson, the book-made man, with his secondhand 
virtues and secondhand sins, is of no use to any one. 
Yet while we all realise this, we still continue to have a 
gentle, unreasoning faith in academic education; we 
still hold that a man should temper his own impressions 
with the experience of others. 



RICHARD MIDDLETON 143 



STREET-ORGANS 
Richard Middleton : The Day Before Yesterday 

It is very true, as Mr. Chesterton must have remarked 
somewhere, that the cult of simplicity is one of the most 
complex inventions of civilisation. To eat nuts in a 
meadow when you can eat a beefsteak in a restaurant 
is neither simple nor primitive; it is merely perverse, 
in the same way that the art of Gaugin is perverse. A 
shepherd-boy piping to his flock in Arcady and a poet 
playing the penny whistle in a Soho garret may make 
the same kind of noise; but whereas the shepherd-boy 
knows no better, the poet has to pretend that he knows 
no better. So I reject scornfully the support of those 
amateurs who profess to like street-organs because they 
are the direct descendants of the itinerant ballad- 
singers of the romantic past; or because they represent 
the simple musical tastes of the majority to-day. I 
refuse to believe that in appreciating the sound of the 
complex modern instruments dragged across London by 
Cockneys disguised as Italians the soul of the primitive 
man who lurks in some dim oubliette of everybody's 
consciousness is in any way comforted. I should 
imagine that that poor prisoner, if civilisation's cruelty 
has not deprived him of the faculty of hearing, is best 
pleased by such barbaric music as the howling of the 
wind or the sound of railway-engines suffering in the 
night; and indeed everyone must have noticed that 
sometimes certain sounds unmusical in themselves can 
arouse the same emotions as the greatest music. 



144 MODERN ESSAYS 

But it is not on this score that street-organs escape 
our condemnation ; their music has certain defects that 
even distance cannot diminish, and they invariably give 
us the impression of a man speaking through his nose 
in a high-pitched voice, without ever pausing to take 
breath. If, in spite of this, we have a kindness for them, 
it is because of their association with the gladdest 
moments of childhood. To the adult ear they bring 
only desolation and distraction, but to the children 
the organ-man, with his curly black hair and his glitter- 
ing earrings, seems to be trailing clouds of glory. For 
them the barrel-organ combines the merits of Wagner, 
Beethoven, Strauss, and Debussy, and Orpheus would 
have to imitate its eloquent strains on his lute if he 
wished to captivate the hearts of London children. 

When I was a child the piano-organ and that terrible 
variant that reproduces the characteristic stutter of 
the mandoline with deadly fidelity were hardly dreamed 
•of, but the ordinary barrel-organ and the prehistoric 
liurdy-gurdy, whose quavering notes suggested senile 
decay, satisfied our natural craving for melody. It is 
true that they did not make so much noise as the modern 
instruments, but in revenge they were almost invariably 
accompanied by a monkey in a little red coat or a 
performing bear. I always had a secret desire to turn 
the handle of the organ myself; and when — too late 
in life to enjoy the full savour of the feat — I persuaded 
a wandering musician to let me make the experiment, 
I was surprised to find that it is not so easy as it looks 
to turn the handle without jerking it, and that the arm 
of the amateur is weary long before the repertoire of 
the organ is exhausted. It is told of Mascagni that he 
once taught an organ-man how to play his notorious 
Intermezzo to the fullest effect; but I fancv that in 



RICHARD MIDDLETON 145 

professional circles the story would be discredited, for 
the arm of the practised musician acquires by force of 
habit a uniform rate of revolution, and in endeavouring 
to modify that rate he would lose all control over his 
instrument. 

Personally, I do not like hearing excerpts from Italian 
opera on the street-organs, because that is not the kind 
of music that children can dance to, and it is, after all, 
in supplying an orchestra for the ballroom of the street 
that they best justify their existence. The spectacle 
of little ragged children dancing to the music of the organ 
is the prettiest and merriest and saddest thing in the 
world. In France and Belgium they waltz ; in England 
they have invented a curious compound of the reel, 
the gavotte, and the Cakewalk. The best dancers in 
London are always little Jewesses, and it is worth any- 
body's while to go to Whitechapel at midday to see 
Miriam dancing on the cobbles of Stoney Lane. There 
is not, as I once thought, a thwarted enchanter shut 
up inside the street-organs who cries out when the 
handle turns in the small of his back. But why is it 
that I feel instinctively that magicians have drooping 
moustaches and insinuating smiles, if it is not that my 
mind as a child founded its conceptions of magicians 
on itinerant musicians? And they weave powerful 
spells, strong enough to make these poor little atomies 
forget their birthright of want and foot it like princesses. 
Children approach their amusements with a gravity 
beside which the work of a man's life seems deplorably 
flippant. A baby toddling round a bandstand is a far 
more impressive* sight than a grown man circum- 
navigating the world, and children do not smile when 
they dance — all the laughter is in their feet. 

When from time to time " brain- workers " write to 



146 MODERN ESSAYS 

the newspapers to suggest that street musicians should 
be suppressed I feel that the hour has almost come to 
start a movement in favour of Votes for Children. It 
is disgraceful, ladies and gentlemen, that this important 
section of the community, on whom the whole future 
of the nation depends, should have no voice in the 
forming of the nation's laws! This question of street- 
organs cannot be solved by banishing them to the 
slums without depriving many children of a legitimate 
pleasure. For, sub rosa, the children of Park Lane — 
if there are any children in Park Lane — and even the 
children of " brain- workers," appreciate the music of 
street-organs quite as much as their humble contem- 
poraries. While father buries his head under the sofa 
cushions and composes furious letters to the Times in 
that stuffy hermitage, little noses are pressed against 
the window-pane, little hands applaud, and little feet 
beat time on the nursery floor upstairs. This is one 
of those situations where it is permissible to sym- 
pathise with all parties, and unless father can achieve 
an almost inhuman spirit of tolerance I see no satis- 
factory solution. 

For children must have music ; they must have tunes 
to think to and laugh to, and live to. Funeral marches 
to the grave are all very well for the elderly and dis- 
illusioned, but youth must tread a more lively measure. 
And this music should come like the sunshine in winter, 
surprisingly, at no fixed hour, as though it were a natural 
consequence of life. One of the gladdest things about 
the organ-man in our childhood was the unexpected- 
ness of his coming. Life would be dragging a little 
in schoolroom circles, when suddenly we would hear 
the organ clearing its throat as it were; we would all 
run to the window to wave our hands to the smiling 



RICHARD MIDDLETON 147 

musician, and shout affectionate messages to his intelli- 
gent monkey, who caught our pennies in his little pointed 
cap. In those days we had all made up our minds that 
when we grew up we would have an organ and a monkey 
of our own. I think it is rather a pity that with age we 
forget these lofty resolutions of our childhood. I have 
formed a conception of the ideal street-organist that 
would only be fulfilled by some one who had realised 
the romance of that calling in their youth. 

How often, when the children have been happiest and 
the dance has been at its gayest, I have seen the organ- 
man fold music's wings and move on to another pitch 
in search of pennies! I should like to think that it is 
a revolt against this degraded commercialism that 
inspires the protests of the critics of street music. The 
itinerant musician who believed in art for art's sake 
would never move on so long as he had an appreciative 
audience ; and sometimes, though I am afraid this would 
be the last straw to the " brain-workers," he would 
arrive at two o'clock in the morning, and the children, 
roused from their sleep, would hear Pan piping to his 
moonlit flocks, and would believe that they were still 
in the pleasant country of dreams. 




148 MODERN ESSAYS 



A GOLDEN AGE 
H. J. Massingham 

On the slopes and wide plateau of Mendip hedgerows are 
largely replaced by walls of limestone, which run down 
from the wildest uplands where, with the barrows and 
the ancient trackways, they are the only clues to the 
existence of man, down into the villages and towns of the 
valleys. The same stone wall on which the blackbird 
swings up his tail among the red valerian in the cathedral 
close serves as a parapet for the wheatear to look five miles 
away into the cluster of warm roofs and towers below 
him. How odd, when I had wandered by these walls, to 
think that our wall-tradition is of Pyramus shut off 
from Thisbe, of seclusion and exclusion, and when the 
last too violently resents the first, of arms. For here 
are miles and miles of wilding gardens, where all 
the garrisons are flowers and under their colours stand 
displayed. Down from hill to vale the sweet militia 
pours, and the very beaus and misses of Arcadian 
gardens proper in the villages and towns plot a truancy 
with birds and winds, cast off gentility and join the rout. 

But the regiments of MarvelTs day carry other 
associations than do ours, and the flowers of Mendip walls 
remind me of military marches no more than those 
of garden society, once run away, betray their former 
state. They revert; they shake off their discipline for 
good and all, and once on the wall among bedfellows, 
liverworts, mosses and lichens, of an eccentric new-old 



H. J. MASSINGHAM 149 

world, the plant-griffins and unicorns of the dimmed 
cryptogamous order, they go travelling along the ancient 
track of their own childhood, of what they were before 
man civilised them and made them the accomplished 
young persons they were. Then a queer thing happened, 
for on their way back they came plumb upon the Golden 
Age. There with the cryptogams that met them from 
the other end of time and with the wild flowers journey- 
ing a different route into the same country, there they 
stayed and made a new and constant Society of the 
Plants, a federation based on a common home, and 
conditions different from those prevailing in garden, 
copse, hedgerow and pasture. 

"Plough thou the rock until it bear," and Ploughman 
Weather with its team of frost and rain had been the 
first to take its share over the calcareous limestone. 
Then man took a hand again and where the wall was 
crumbling, mortared it from above with clods of turf. 
Dust collected into the fissures and crannies, the mosses 
and lichens decayed and laid down a thin vegetable 
humus, and then the flowers called in winds and birds 
and field-mice to sow their seeds on stony ground. Such 
was the literature of the new Society of Plants, its Book 
of Genesis in duodecimo. So was the new continent 
formed, discovered and inhabited, an Atlantis of the 
plants to which they sailed and flew in myriads, until 
the rock in the fairer regions was blotted out with their 
numbers, as our towns have blotted out the green earth. 
This was Exodus and Numbers. And in the jumping 
off from earth to their narrow eminences and in the 
settlement, something was left behind; a grossness, 
part of the compounding of the clay, fell away from 
them and shrank them to a little measure. It was 
a magical lightening and release and they swung 



150 MODERN ESSAYS 

on tiptoe from their rootlets as though every moment 
they would be off and grapple their fibres to the 
winds, as though in every flower of earth resides 
its own spirit, in its own shape and form, and this 
volatile essence it was which had materialised upon the 
tops and in the crevices of the limestone walls. Except 
where the walls ran through a town, there was little 
change of species between the higher and the lower 
ground. The change was down the scale of diminutive- 
ness, and as the wall left the shades and mounted 
towards the open winds and sunlight, so did a plant 
upon it contract its leaves and blossoms, attenuate 
its stem and become so mignon that an elf could 
barely hide behind it. Here then was the Book of 
Judges. Those that survived in the struggle for a foot- 
hold were not they who shouted the loudest as in tropical 
forests and the modern cities of men, but who spoke 
best in a still small voice. The Stock Exchange clamour 
of the jungle, the rank upthrusting and the strangle- 
hold, the deadly exhalations as from the bloody sweat 
of plants that fought and panted and trampled one 
another to reach the light, there was no such mad 
battlefield of forces upon the walls of Mendip, the 
fairyland perched up on its walls of stone, where 
the first were the last and the last first. 

With what diplomacy, what nicety of artifice had 
they all insinuated themselves into their places and 
for their tiny gleams of beauty drawn their so modest 
wages! The crosswort, a kinsman of the madders 
and the bedstraws, draped shy coronets of greenish- 
yellow flowers upon the crosses of its four-leaved 
whorls, barely half their length. The stonecrops kept 
their own leafy cellars for the water-supply and their 
white, pink and yellow flowers close at home beside 



H. J. MASSINGHAM 151 

them, while the rue-leaved saxifrage clothed itself in 
down to check evaporation, threw out into the air 
long slender pedicels to cup the dew and sunlight and 
topped them for the flies with single heads of minute 
white flowers, like the upright bells of the meadow 
saxifrage in miniature. The ivy-leaved toadflax usually 
chooses the side of the wall, pushes its sly laughing 
flowers of lilac and yellow and sometimes pure white 
out of the folds of its full, tapestried leafage all the 
I year round and makes a hanging for the wall in sheltered 
places that hides it over. It is no aggressive plant 
like the dandelion; its mastership is by the harmony 
of all its parts and by a yielding adaptation to the 
contours of the wall. It is not even a wiry plant, 
for the undersides of the lobed, plumpy leaves are 
purplish and the same "slow stain" just runs into the 
stems, so that it has an appearance not of frailty 
but of softness with the delicate texture of a woman's 
arm unused to toil and showing the veining through 
the velvety flesh. Linaria repens has used a craftsmanly 
power in its sense of proportion and the adjustment 
of the leaves to seize and transform the light, none 
obscuring their neighbours, and so make a home 
of the wall's harsh surface. So each plant set itself 
not so much to elbow its fellow out of their equal 
heritage of the heavens, but to share a common bless- 
ing on a breath of moisture and a crumb of soil. Each 
of these floral animulae, flown out of the plant kingdom 
and settled on the walls, turned over the small 
change of its economics and devised its livelihood in 
ways as diffident and as fastidious as was the dwarf 
habit of its foliage and flowers. 

On the walls of the lower slopes, in deep lanes where 
the canopy of leaves overhead let down a trickle of 



152 MODERN ESSAYS 

manna which the sun cannot eat all away, the crypto- 
gamous family, once giants and now gnomes, had climbed 
out of a manless past. They too had squeezed through 
the needle's eye to qualify for their new microcosm, 
and fronds that once merely rustled when a dinosaur 
brushed through them sank upon the coping under the 
weight of the humble-bee. The bulbous buttercup and 
Jack-run- the-hedge beside them were now more rude than 
they, and heartsease and herb-robert, dwarfs of them- 
selves, were tough and candid little beings beside their 
phantasmal grace. Their past was a dream so far 
away that all its hot reality was chilled. A haunted 
vegetation indeed, an Arcadia of the elves, who may 
well sing cool pastorals under the fronds of the spleen- 
wort in a voice as thin as the rays of the moon. 
By what magic art does the tiny spleenwort, the com- 
monest of all the ferns on Mendip walls and the most 
delicate, support its segments with a cargo of spores 
like minute furred caterpillars behind them — when 
there is no stalk ? You seek and find that there is one 
after all, a black hair as out of a fairy horse's mane 
and invisible at a longer view. Less aerial but more 
pixylike are the fronds of the ceterach with scaly 
undersides of golden-brown to protect the spores, 
as though a tiger moth, the transport of elf-land, 
had rubbed off its scales upon them. The unassuming 
wall-rue, another Asplenium, pokes out two inches of 
densely tufted and clipped rosettes from the cracks; 
the tapering polypody unclenches its childish fingers 
into the world on the tops, and the varnished leaves of 
the young hart's-tongue, that outgrace the Solutrean 
lance-points of which they perhaps rather than the 
laurel-leaf were the model, droop their streamers from 
the stony sills. And mosses with vermilion flowers and 



H. J. MASSINGHAM 153 

seeds like fairy honesty small one down into a world 
yet daintier than this. 

If one kneels down and sees the etching of this unique 
flora upon the blue sky, gripping the stones with bird- 
kin claws and insect tentacles and waving a design so 
finely cut upon it, one is drawn by very choiceness and 
particularity of the plants into distinctions. Myosotis, by 
its slender stems and downy leaves, takes well to hardy 
Lilliput and splits into changing, field and early forget- 
me-not, each a subtly individual variation on the 
myosotis theme. The field diminishes its stems but 
still tosses its blue lights in freedom; the changing 
clasps the wall with a tuft of radical leaves and lifts a 
stiff little turret of stem and erect leaflets a finger's 
length in height, with the little princesses first in yellow 
then in blue, as they grow old, upon it ; while the early 
forget-me-not arranges its foliage about a nest of the 
minutest sapphires. So microscopic are they that the 
yellow rocket, no colossus among the crucifers, but 
sizeable, arches a single blossom like a sun above them. 
Each group of plants stresses its diversities upon the 
wall, and what the species sacrifice to size in common 
they pick up again in a more individual differentiation. 
Each species must brace itself to this a brighter world, 
and in so doing, in casting off some of its fleshier habili- 
ments, becomes itself more truly. Thus the crane's-bills 
and the veronicas went each its own sharp way, and the 
smaller it grew the further it had gone along it. What 
could be said of such a universe of flowers when even 
the groundsel grew as Diirer might have drawn it? 

" Mention but the v/ord divinity," wrote Samuel 
Butler, " and our sense of the divine is clouded." What 
a crowd of deserters had climbed upon Mendip walls 
and sunned themselves in the golden weather! They 



154 MODERN ESSAYS 

had got to a common bedrock, an exiguous pilgrim's 
ration of bread and water was much the same for all, 
and together they had to solve how to draw the bounty 
and bide the pelting of the elements. And except in 
the warmth of the villages, they had all solved the 
matter in the same way, by going small and living small. 
But as you walked along the wall and the lines of this 
federation of the plants upon it, more or less at peace 
with one another and accepting all the limitations of 
their pilgrimage, you could not but marvel at the in- 
finite multiformity and variety of habit. These still 
small voices, yes, they all contributed to the same 
anthology, but in rhythms and collocations of words 
how different! And as I walked, the curse of generali- 
ties, those monsters and chimeras by which we are all 
cursed, seemed to drop from me, and, gladdened and 
refreshed by the darling modesty, the fairylike strange- 
ness and particularity of this little world, it was as 
though I too had climbed upon the wall and sunned 
myself in a Golden Age. 




JOHN MASEFIELD 155 



THE PILGRIM FATHERS 

John Masefield : 

Introduction to Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers 

The Brownist emigration, known to Americans as the 
" Sailing of the Pilgrim Fathers," was a little part of 
a great movement towards independence of judgment in 
spiritual affairs. The great movement began in the 
latter half of the sixteenth century in many parts of 
England. The little part of it which concerns us began 
in the early years of the seventeenth century in the 
country about the borders of the three counties of 
Nottingham, Lincoln and York. The Separatists were 
members of the lower and middle classes, who accepted 
the ruling of the Church of England in articles of faith, 
but refused her judgment in points of discipline. They 
held (in opposition to the Church) that the priesthood 
is not a distinct order, but an office temporarily conferred 
by the vote of the congregation. 

Their attitude and action have been thus described by 
one of their number: " They entered into covenant to 
walk with God and one with another, in the enjoyment 
of the Ordinances of God, according to the Primitive Pattern 
in the Word of God. But finding by experience they could 
not peaceably enjoy their own liberty in their Native 
Country, without offence to others that were differently 
minded, they took up thoughts of removing." 

One party of them, under Pastor John Smyth, 
 ' removed " from Gainsborough, in Lincolnshire, to 



156 MODERN ESSAYS 

Amsterdam in the year 1606. Another party organised 
in that year in the district of Scrooby, in Nottingham- 
shire, about ten miles west from Gainsborough, began 
to make itself obnoxious to the country authorities. 
This second party contained two prominent men, William 
Brewster, the chief layman, and John Robinson, one 
of the two ministers. 

The members of the party were accustomed to meet 
together " to worship God in their own manner." 
Church discipline, which forbade their meetings, im- 
posed a persecution upon them. Religious persecution 
that endeavours to drive a flock along a path is success- 
ful, as a rule, only with the sheep. It makes the goats 
unruly. The persecution failed to bend the brethren, 
but it gave them enough annoyance to make them wish 
to leave the country. The leaders among them planned 
an exodus to Holland. In the autumn of 1607 a large 
party tried to escape to Holland from the port of Boston, 
in Lincolnshire. At that time it was not lawful for a 
person to leave the country without licence. A large 
party could not hope to get away without the conniv- 
ance of a ship's captain. The snip's captain to whom 
this escaping party appealed accepted the bribe, then, 
fearing the consequences of his action, or hoping to 
obtain a reward, betrayed his passengers to the authori- 
ties. The members of the party were sentenced to a 
month in gaol; their goods were confiscated. Later in 
the year, another party was stopped while trying to 
escape from Great Grimsby. Many women and children 
were taken and imprisoned. 

The prisoners in country gaols were then supported 
out of the rates. The keeping of large numbers of 
people in prison, in idleness, proved to be a great burden 
upon the rates of the towns where they were gaoled. 



JOHN MASEFIELD 157 

The authorities who felt the burden soon became 
anxious to get rid of their prisoners. They released 
them and connived at their leaving the country. By 
August 1608, the whole party was safely in Amsterdam. 

During the next few months, after some contention 
with the party from Gainsborough, a hundred of the 
Scrooby party obtained leave to go to Leyden, where 
they settled down to the manufacture of woollen goods. 
They were joined from time to time by other Separatists 
from England. In a few years their communion num- 
bered some three hundred souls, among whom were 
Edward Winslow, John Carver, and Miles Standish. 

In the year 1617, these exiles began to realise that 
Holland, though a seasonable refuge, could not be their 
abiding-place. The children were growing up. The 
parents did not wish to send them to Dutch schools, 
because the Dutch children were of bad behaviour. 
The parents feared that the children, if sent to school 
in Holland, would receive evil communications and lose 
something of their nationality. No one is so proud of 
his nationality as the exile. The fear that the colony 
might become a part of the Dutch population caused 
the leaders to think of travelling elsewhere. Guiana, 
the first place suggested, was rejected as unsuitable, 
because it was supposed to contain gold. Gold, or the 
prospect of finding gold, would be a temptation, if not 
a curse, to weak membe*rs of the community. There 
was also the prospect of danger from the Spaniards. 
Virginia, the next place suggested, was considered un- 
safe. The English were there. It was doubtful whether 
the English would allow in their midst a large com- 
munity the members of which held unauthorised reli- 
gious opinions. No other place offered such advantages 
as Virginia. The settlers there were Englishmen and 



158 MODERN ESSAYS 

Protestants. It was decided that members of the com- 
munity should go to London to ask leave of the Virginia 
Company. In September 1617, two of the Separatists 
(John Carver and Robert Cushman) laid before the 
Virginia Company in London a declaration in seven 
articles. This declaration was designed to show that 
the Separatists would not be rebellious nor dangerous 
colonists. It stated that they assented to the doctrines 
of the Church of England and acknowledged the King's 
authority. The Virginia Company, accepting the declara- 
tion, was inclined to welcome the party as colonists; 
but a fear, suggested by the bishops, that they in- 
tended for Virginia, "to make a free popular state 
there," caused delay. The patent was not granted till 
the 9th/io,th of June, 1619. 

When the patent had been obtained more delay was 
caused by the difficulty of obtaining money for the 
equipment of the expedition. The London merchants 
saw little prospect of rich returns. They were slow to 
invest in an undertaking so hazardous. It was one 
thing to subscribe money "for the glory of Christ and 
the advancement of the beaver trade," another to equip 
a large party of religious enthusiasts for an experimental 
settling in a savage country. John Robinson, wearying 
of the delays, tried to persuade the Dutch to encourage 
the party to settle in the New Netherlands. His request 
led to nothing. Early in i620, Thomas Weston, a 
London merchant, suggested that the settlement should 
be made in Northern Virginia. About seventy other 
merchants offered to subscribe. The business began to 
go forward. A Common Stock was formed. Ten pound 
shares in this Stock could be taken up either by money 
or byjgoods. John Carver went to Southampton to 
engage a ship. Robert Cushman, acting for the brethren, 



JOHN MASEFIELD 159 

drew up an agreement with the merchant adventurers, 
or, as we should call them, the speculators. He agreed 
that all the labour of the colonists should be for the 
common benefit, and that, after seven years, the 
results of the labours (houses, tilled land and goods) 
should be divided equally between the planters and 
the adventurers. 

Although some seventy merchants subscribed money, 
the Common Stock was not big enough to send all the 
brethren to America. The majority had to stay in 
Holland. Those who chose, or were chosen, to go, left 
Leyden for Delft Haven, where they went aboard the 
ship Speedwell, of 60 tons, which had been bought and 
equipped in Holland. On or about the ioth/20th of 
July, 1620, the Speedwell sailed for Southampton. 

At Southampton, the emigrants found waiting for 
them the ship Mayflower, of 180 tons. She was a 
London ship, chartered for the occasion. In her were 
other emigrants, some of them labourers, some of them 
Separatists eager to leave England. With them was 
the chief adventurer, Mr. Thomas Weston, who had 
come to ask the leaders of the party to sign the contract 
approved by Cushman. As the leaders did not like the 
terms of the contract they refused to sign it. There 
was an angry dispute. In the end Mr. Weston went back 
to London, with the contract not signed. 

It had been agreed that he was to advance them 
another sum of money before the ships set sail. As the 
contract was not signed, the pilgrims had to manage 
without this money. Without it, they found it difficult 
to pay the charges of the ships and crews. They were 
forced to sell sixty pounds' worth of provisions to 
obtain money for the discharge of these claims. In 
those days, and, indeed, until within the memory of 



i6o MODERN ESSAYS 

men now living, passengers across the Atlantic lived 
upon supplies of food laid in and prepared by them- 
selves. The Western passage was seldom made in less 
than two months. The pilgrims could not hope for 
any fresh supply of food before the next year's harvest 
in the New World. A considerable lessening of their 
stock of provisions might well lead to the ruin of 
the settlement. 

About the 5th/i5th of August the two ships put to 
sea in company, carrying in all about 120 emigrants. 
After eight days, the captain of the Speedwell com- 
plained that his ship had sprung a leak. The expedition 
put back into Dartmouth to refit. On setting sail again, 
the ships beat a hundred leagues to the west of the 
Land's End, when they were forced, by stress of weather, 
to put back into Plymouth. The captain of the Speed- 
well declared that his ship was too much battered to 
keep the seas. Though the man was lying in order to 
escape from the fulfilment of his charter, his word was 
taken. The Speedwell was abandoned, the pilgrims in 
her were bidden to come aboard the Mayflower to take 
the places of some who could endure no more. About 
twenty of the pilgrims left the expedition at Plymouth. 
They were discouraged by the hardship and sea-sick- 
ness, two doctors which never fail to teach the unfit 
that though many are called to the life of pioneers, very 
few are chosen. Among those who left the expedition at 
Plymouth was Robert Cushman. 

On Wednesday, the 6th/i6th September, the expedi- 
tion left Plymouth for a third attempt. In the existing 
records little is said about the voyage; but it must 
have been a strange and terrible adventure to most of 
the party. The ship was very small, and crowded with 
people. Counting the crew, she must have held nearly 



JOHN MASEFIELD 161 

a hundred and fifty people, in a space too narrow for 
the comfort of half that number. The passengers were 
stowed in the between decks, a sort of low, narrow 
room under the spar deck, lit in fine weather by the 
openings of hatchways and gun-ports, and in bad 
weather, when these were closed, by lanterns. They 
lived, ate, slept, and were seasick in that narrow space. 
A woman bore a child, a man died there. They were 
packed so tightly, among all their belongings and 
stores, that they could have had no privacy. The 
ventilation was bad, even in fine weather. In bad 
weather, when the hatches were battened down, there 
was none. In bad weather the pilgrims lived in a fog 
through which they could see the water on the deck 
washing from side to side, as the ship rolled, carrying 
their pans and clothes with it. They could only lie, and 
groan, and pray, in stink and misery, while the water 
from ill-caulked seams dripped on them from above. In 
one of the storms during the passage the Mayflower 
broke her mainbeam. Luckily one of her passengers 
had a jackscrew, by means of which the damage was 
made good. But the accident added the very present 
fear of death to the other miseries of the passage. 

The Mayflower made the land on the gth/icjth Novem- 
ber, after a passage in which the chief events were the 
storm, birth and death above mentioned. On coming 
towards shore the landfall was seen to be the strange 
curving crook of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The pilgrims' 
patent was for a settlement in Virginia, far to wind- 
ward in the south. There was no settlement of white 
people at Cape Cod. As they had made the land so 
far to the north, the pilgrims thought that their best 
plan would be to beat down to the Hudson River and 
look for a place near the Dutch settlement in what is 

F 



162 MODERN ESSAYS 

now New York. The crew of the ship refused to do 
this. Winter was coming on. They were not disposed 
to beat down a dangerous coast, to a doubtful welcome, 
in the teeth of the November gales. They told the 
pilgrims that they must go ashore where they could. 
Men were sent ashore to examine the land. On the 
nth November, the pilgrims met together "to covenant 
and combine themselves together into a civil body 
politic." The whole party numbered 102, of which 
73 were male and 29 female. More than half of the 
number had come from Ley den. The covenant was 
signed by forty -one men, seven of whom were 
labourers. John Carver was selected the first governor 
of the community. 

During the next few weeks, parties of the pilgrims 
searched for a good site for the settlement. On the 
22nd of December the site was found in the grounds 
adjoining what is now Plymouth Harbour. The May- 
flower was brought into the harbour, and on Monday, 
25th December, the first house was begun. By the 
middle of January most of the pilgrims were ashore. 

It is said that their first winter in the New World 
was mild. It was certainly very terrible to them. Want 
of fresh food, the harshness of the change of climate, 
the exposure and labour in the building of the town, 
and the intense cold of even a mild New England winter, 
were more than they could endure. Nearly half of them 
were dead within six months. Among the dead was the 
governor, John Carver, who died shortly after his re- 
election to office. His place was taken by William 
Bradford. In the early spring of 1621, an Indian called 
Samoset came to the pilgrims. He told them that the 
place where they had settled was called Patuxet, and 
that the Indians had deserted those parts owing to an 



JOHN MASEFIELD 163 

outbreak of the plague. The Mayflower, sailing back 
to England in April, carried with her a tale of great 
mortality and the prospect of possible pestilence when 
the hot weather came. 

The summer proved fine, and the harvest good. In 
November, by which time less than fifty of the original 
settlers remained alive, Robert Cushman arrived among 
them, in the ship Fortune, with thirty-five recruits (ten 
of them women). He also brought a patent (granted 
by the President and Council of New England), allow- 
ing to each settler a hundred acres of land and the 
power to make laws and govern. In December 1621, in 
a letter sent home in the ship Fortune, the settlement 
was first called New Plymouth. 

The after history of the settlement may be indicated 
briefly. It is a story of the slow but noble triumph of 
all that is finest in the English temper. By honest 
industry and by that justice which, until the last two 
generations, usually marked and ennobled our dealings 
with native tribes, the settlement prospered. The pil- 
grims honestly paid the Indians for the lands acquired 
from them. In 1623, they were able to stop an Indian 
war, which had been provoked by some intemperate 
colonists sent out by Thomas Weston to a place twenty 
miles to the north of New Plymouth. 

In 1624, the London merchants sent out one John 
Lyford, to be clergyman to the community. He was 
sent home for trying to set up the ritual of the Church 
of England. Another clergyman, who was sent to them 
four years later, went mad. 

In 1626, many of the London adventurers were 
bought out. They surrendered their shares for the 
sum of eighteen hundred pounds, payable in nine yearly 
instalments. Eight leading planters and four principal 



164 MODERN ESSAYS 

merchants in London undertook to make the first six 
payments in return for the monopoly of the foreign 
trade. In the reorganisation of the company the most 
prosperous men of the community were made stock- 
holders. They were allotted one share for each member 
of their families. Each head of a family was granted 
an extra acre of land, and a title to his house. The 
cattle, being still few in number, were allotted among 
groups of families. Few laws were made, though 
the men sometimes met in General Court to discuss 
public business. 

In 1630, when the second charter arrived, the colony 
numbered three hundred souls. After that time, its 
growth was slow, steady, and not very eventful, till 
the disastrous Indian war of 1676. In 1691 it was 
merged in the bigger "civil body politic" of Boston. 

Emigration nowadays is seldom an act of religious 
protest, still more seldom an endeavour to found a more 
perfect human state. Man emigrates now to obtain 
greater personal opportunity, or in tacit confession of 
incompetence. When he emigrates in protest, it is 
in aesthetic protest. The migration is to some place 
of natural beauty, in which the creation of works 
of art may proceed under conditions pleasing to 
their creators. 

A generation fond of pleasure, disinclined towards 
serious thought, and shrinking from hardship, even if 
it may be swiftly reached, will find it difficult to imagine 
the temper, courage and manliness of the emigrants who 
made the first Christian settlement of New England. 
For a man to give up all things and fare forth into 
savagery, in order to escape from the responsibilities 
of life, in order, that is, to serve the devil, "whose 
feet are bound by civilisation," is common. Giving up 



JOHN MASEFIELD 165 

all things in order to serve God is a sternness for which 
prosperity has unfitted us. 

Some regard the settling of New Plymouth as the 
sowing of the seed from which the crop of Modern 
America has grown. The vulgarity of others has changed 
the wood of the Mayflower into a forest of famity trees. 
For all the Mayflower's sailing there is, perhaps, little 
existing in modern England or America "according to 
the Primitive Pattern in the Word of God." It would 
be healthful could either country see herself through 
the eyes of those pioneers, or see the pioneers as they 
were. The pilgrims leave no impression of personality 
on the mind. They were not "remarkable." Not one of 
them had compelling personal genius, or marked talent 
for the work in hand. They were plain men of moderate 
abilities, who, giving up all things, went to live in the 
wilds, at unknown cost to themselves, in order to 
preserve to their children a life in the soul. 




166 MODERN ESSAYS 



THE OLD SCHOOL 
J. Lewis May: To-Day 

Nos, ubi decidimus, 

Quo pater jEneas, Tullus dives et Ancus 

Pulvis et umbra sumus. 

I was happy at school; but I did not know that I was 
happy. I did not know how happy I had been until 
the night of the leaving-supper. Then something knocked 
at my heart — something like the knocking at the gate 
in Macbeth. It was as the coming-in of the real, tangible 
world, after a dream. Only in this case, as I now realised, 
it had been a very pleasant dream. The men who had 
tried so hard, albeit so unsuccessfully, to instil some 
rudiments of knowledge into my wool-gathering brain 
seemed, even then, like figures in some diverting phan- 
tasmagoria; and now, as I look back upon them, they 
appear to me more shadowy, but more winning than 
before. But no, let me correct that. There are one or 
two who are not winning, one or two who inspired me 
with fear in those days, but who now merely strike me 
as quaint, irascible, comic beings who acquired curious 
antics by reason, I suppose, of their being shut off 
from intercourse with men and women of the world. 

But S was not one of those exceptions. He was 

entirely amiable. I see him now in his suit of dark blue 
broadcloth, which fitted his corpulent person like a 
sheath, forming a pleasant contrast with the red-gold 
fringe of silky hair that adorned the base of his dome- 
like cranium. There was never a crease, never a speck 



J. LEWIS MAY 167 

of dust on that immaculate coat. S was remark- 
able, above all, for the striking conformation of his 
stomach part. As I have said, he was corpulent. But 
his abdomen was not curvilinear; it was rectilinear and 
precipitous, and over the precipice, swaying in the air, 

hung a prodigious bunch of gold seals. S 's ostensible 

duties were to initiate us into the mysteries of mathe- 
matics, but this he had long since abandoned as a 
hopeless task. The morning he used to spend circumam- 
bulating the schoolroom, crooning to himself, under his 
breath, an antique lullaby — peradventure the song with 
which his mother had been wont to sing him to sleep. 
This, of course, is only conjecture. Certain, however, it 
is that, in the afternoons, he did sleep, and his nose 
was not seldom vocal. He did not, it is true, succeed 
in instilling into our unwilling minds the secrets of the 
binomial theorem or of those other strange mysteries 
the very names of which I never rightly knew, much 
less could repeat at this time of day. But I learned 
from him things more valuable than were ever contained 
within the covers of a Todhunter or a Hamblin Smith. 
From him I learned the virtue of resignation, from him 
I learned the seductive charm of idleness and the value 
of that most priceless gift of the gods, the gift of sleep. 

S has long since crossed his last lullaby and sleeps 

now, without rocking, in the bosom of the Great Mother. 
Peace be to his manes and peace to thine, little pom- 
pous, pedantic and amazingly erudite D . I hated 

thee once, but all that is long ago. And yet you might 
have done me, and nearly did, an irreparable injury. I 
might have gone through life with as deep and dull and 
uncomprehending a hatred of Horace and Virgil and the 
rest of them as that which I conceived for those sacred 
writers under thy learned — but oh, how unimaginative ! 



168 MODERN ESSAYS 

— ferule. And yet, for all thy learning, what a simpleton 
thou wast! Tis because in some ways thou resemblest 
a little child that I comfort myself with the hope that 
thy harshness has been forgiven thee and that all is 
well with thee now. If only thou hadst not said, in 
accordance with that precious rule of thine, "down a 
place," when a boy dropped a pencil or whispered to 
his neighbour when his time came to stand up and 
construe, if only thou hadst perceived that the real 
reason of his delinquency was to avoid his turn, what 
abysmal depths of ignorance thou wouldst have sounded, 
what criminal lack of preparation thou wouldst have 
laid bare. 

Would that I could portray the attenuated C 

who taught chemistry, or tried to teach it, but who 
was for ever telling his class, in a voice that sounded 
weary and faint from the altitude at which it was 
uttered: "Boys, you don't work, you don't work!" It 
was a declaration of sinister accuracy. Would that I 
could bring before you, in his habit as he lived, old 

G S , the Alsatian, of the vast and pendulous 

paunch, like a feather bed, into which, as he shambled 
along the dim corridors, mischievous urchins would 
hurl themselves with the velocity of a bolt from a 
catapult. Withdrawing themselves from the soft en- 
veloping folds, they would apologise with mock pro- 
fuseness to the breathless and infuriated old fellow 
who, at last, so often did these "accidents" occur, 
adopted a lateral or crab-like mode of progression. And 

then again there was Dr. D n, whose ability to 

maintain order amongst the gentle little lambs who 
formed his flock was in inverse ratio to his learning, 
which was accounted stupendous. You suffered grievous 
trials and have earned that silence and repose for which 



J. LEWIS MAY 169 

you yearned so deeply but which, here on earth, were 
never yours. In whatever regions you now dwell, I 
hope no unseemly little ruffians murmur in an under- 
tone: "confusedly dispersed," like the magic music in 

The Tempest: "D n, D n, D n, you're a 

damned funny man." 

And can I forget P , whose mien was so majestic, 

who always moved as to the measure of some celestial 
music inaudible to coarser ears ? With what grim delight 
he enjoyed the awe with which he inspired us. Imposing 
was his long grey beard, redoubtable the cavernous 
rumblings of his voice, but most terrible of all was his 
eye, that eye with its superabundance of white, that 
baleful eye that never seemed to shut, nor ever looked 
in the same direction as its fellow; so that, sometimes, 
when deeming yourself well out of his sight of vision, 
you hastily thrust into your mouth a surreptitious 
brandy ball, you would start with dismay to find that 
distorted orb fixed on you with a venomous stare. 

How can I do justice, O beloved phantom, to thee, 
H.E.W. ? How can I find words, not indeed to praise 
— that were impertinent, but simply to record your 
courtesy, your urbanity, your almost feminine gracious- 
ness! To you it is I owe such fondness for letters as 
I now possess. You it was who revealed to me the 
beauties that lie hidden in those signs imprinted on 
the sample page of knowledge and which, but for you, 
"would have remained, for me at least, ever meaningless 
and dull. When we were reading with you, the past and 
the present seemed to answer and interpret one another 
after the manner of majestic antiphons. Was it Milton 
or Wordsworth we were studying — the great voices 
of classical antiquity would awaken again and resound 
anew in the verse of the modern poet. With you I 



170 MODERN ESSAYS 

descended into the underworld with iEneas and Sibyl. 
With you I sailed over the wine-dark sea, and beheld 
the graceful shores and shining promontories of Hellas. 
You never made a scholar of me. That had been beyond 
even your powers; but you implanted in me a love of 
letters which has been for me an unfailing source of 
solace and delight. Like the old gardener of Tarentum, 
you tilled with patience and with ardour and with love 
the most unpromising soil and made it bring forth some 
modest fruit where before had been but weeds and 
tares. With love and reverence I salute thee, sweet and 
gracious soul. . . . But enough — I hear the old beadle 
clanging his bell in the playground. The twilight is 
falling, the lamps are lit in the street, the fallen leaves 
rustle drearily on the gravel, it is time to be gone. 

Ite domum saturae, venit Hesperus, ite capellae. 

Farewell, my masters, the night is coming, little 
kids, cut away home! 




H. C. MINCHIN 171 



A LODGE IN THE FOREST 
Harry Christopher Minchin: Talks & Traits 

" If you can tear yourself away from town," wrote the 
satirist, nearly two thousand years ago, " you may get 
a little house and garden in the country for what a 
garret's rent is here. You may hoe the ground and grow 
a feast for a hundred vegetarians. 'Tis something, where- 
soever one dwells, to be master of the run of even a 
single lizard." The sentiment is still applicable and is 
shared by many. So, too, allowing for the changes of 
date and clime, the remark about expense holds good. 
That is to say, in the country your money buys you more. 

But in our days it is not usually a question of being 
able " to tear oneself away." Hosts of people who 
would prefer a country life are kept from it by economic 
reasons. You may know them by the careful tending 
of their tiny garden, if they are lucky enough to possess 
one, by their gay window-box, or even by a struggling 
plant upon their table. Our big towns are, of course, 
too big. To Cobbett London was a " huge wen." 
What would he term it now? Old Babylon, London's 
prototype, was more methodical in its provision of 
open spaces than ourselves. Our civilisation has been 
at fault, as we are well aware. 

Garden cities and suburbs are both excellent things 
in themselves, and will satisfy the aims and wants of 
thousands. But the real lover of country life, whose 
cradle, in Matthew Arnold's phrase, 

Was breathed on by the rural Pan, 
will avoid them, because to him the loneliness of the 



172 MODERN ESSAYS 

country is one of its most compelling appeals. A common 
love of solitude links ancient hermits and modern 
recluses; but whereas the hermit cared nothing for the 
scenery amid which he dwelt — from which indeed, as 
from human intercourse, he desired to be a thing apart 
— the recluse, in general, cares for it a great deal. O 
strange diversity of man's thought! That the beauty 
of inanimate nature should be in the eyes of one a snare 
of evil, in another's the raiment of Almighty Power! 

Such a recluse, then, lately had his dwelling in a 
certain forest in the Midlands. And yet I wrong him 
by the term, if it be taken to include anything cowardly 
or selfish — and must there not be a dash of both quali- 
ties in one who rigorously severs himself from his kind ? 
— for he was neither. He was a worker, and his work 
lay among men; it brought him, moreover, into frequent 
though shrinking contact with the sordid side of life, 
with mean motives and low aims. Circumstance and, 
it must be admitted, an imperfect resistance to it, had 
set an intellect which would have adorned the Bench 
to work upon the disputes of mediocre people in a 
manufacturing town. These he never really learnt to 
regard with professional indifference, or, at least, to 
turn the key upon them when his work was over. In- 
stead, they fostered the tendencies to analysis and 
melancholy which with mental gifts of a high order 
were his inheritance at birth. He found no real relief 
from them in general society, as many do. It was a 
happy thing for him when he was able to combine 
with private practice a post which made him free of 
old muniment rooms, and brought him into contact with 
the members of a Cathedral Chapter. But in such 
company, though he could enjoy it, he could not rest; 
probably, he thought, because it took so much for 



H. C. MINCHIN 173 

granted. His craving for solitude, when work was over, 
grew more imperative. His mind, constrained by long 
training to grapple with legal problems, reacted from 
them most readily to the speculative regions where it 
loved to dwell. He determined to build himself a 
retreat, where the hours stolen from business could be 
at least his own. 

That was how the Lodge in the Forest came to be. 
Six miles separate the town from the Forest's border. 
How eagerly and how often did rapid wheels bear him 
over those miles when his house was building — how 
constantly and with what unfailing satisfaction when 
it was built! As you ride the meadows assume more 
and more a woodland character. Presently, at a sharp 
turn, you take a rough road between stone walls, and 
in another hundred yards perceive that on either hand 
is genuine forest. Half a mile further the foliage gives 
place to pasture. In the background are the ruins of 
a Priory, with an old farmhouse in keeping; these left 
behind, you reach, in a little, the philosopher's retreat. 

It is remote, save for the farm's touch of pastoral, 
from signs of human life. It is built of the dark vol- 
canic stone native to the district, which indeed, rising 
starkly in masses from the live turf, masses that the 
beechen branches only half conceal, gives the Forest an 
air of severity, even, when the sky is dark, of gloom. 
You surmise that this feature, reflected somewhat in 
his dwelling, was not wholly out of keeping with our 
solitary's humour. But if the house was a little severe 
of aspect, not so the garden. For therein, besides in 
his folios and his meditations, lay its owner's chiefest 
pleasure. In a few years he had made a rock garden 
which won local fame, though more people knew it 
by repute than by inspection. How memorable and 



174  MODERN ESSAYS 

]onged-for was the day when, with the advancing 
season, he could reach it before darkness fell. 

In this refuge from his careful world he passed many 
an hour of quiet and renewing solitude. There among 
his flowers he seemed to overhear the harmonies of 
nature, too often blurred or drowned, for him at least, 
amid human activities. His wistfulness was here 
forgotten in enjoyment, his agitation stilled. A spell of 
such seclusion fitted him for human intercourse once more. 

His hermitage possessed what those of old lacked, a 
chamber for a friend ; and happy he who was bidden to 
occupy it. For this reserved and sequestered being had 
yet a genius for friendship. The winning of his regard 
was not quick or easy ; but he who won it never lost it. 
Friendship, a word often, in our hurried age, too lightly 
used, was to him of sacred import. It carried with it 
responsibilities as well as pleasures. But, admitted to 
the Lodge in the Forest, it was of the pleasures only 
that one thought. For the host in him, responding to 
his friend's presence, bade all darker thoughts avaunt, 
and for that time serenity possessed his soul. While 
daylight lasted the garden held one; new varieties had 
to be explained, new blossoms praised. Then came the 
meal, in the Lodge's one living-room — a long, low room, 
with deep-set hearth, the home of his most cherished 
volumes and engravings — a simple meal, but fastidi- 
ously served. Then talk of old days and of new theories, 
of ancient ideals and present needs, accompanied by 
much tobacco; for as the smoke ascended the clearer 
and the rarer grew the atmosphere of his mind. Or 
he would take down a book and read aloud ; something 
speculative, but, for choice, with a sting in it, provo- 
cative; such, for instance, as Bagehot's wonderful 
essay on the several kinds of poetry. How that essay, 



H. C. MINCHIN 175 

with ensuing talk upon it, kept us from our beds! 
Even as we, with others, came forth of old from a college 
sitting-room to rising sun and piping birds, in davs so 
distant yet so vivid. That is the flower of friendship, 
surely, to know one's heart uplifted and one's mind 
clarified by such converse — and to know that one's 
friends, also, are in like happy case. These are the hours 
of which one says, in after life, would there had been 
more like them, or would that I had prized them even 
more! At such moments the recluse's perplexities and 
questionings fell from him, while confidence, and even 
joyousness, usurped their place. Gone, for the time 
being, was that mental poise remarked in him by one 
who was his intimate, the poise as of a man stretching 
out his arms in the void for something that lay beyond 
— tendentemque manus ripce ulterioris amove. 

One may sharpen one's wits equally well, it is possible, 
with a new acquaintance, and yet only chill or fatigue 
oneself in the process. One may prove in hearty 
agreement with him, may find interests, even enthu- 
siasms, in common. Is not this, we ask ourselves at 
such a moment, the old, the remembered fire, that 
warmed us through and through? Ah no, it is but the 
sudden blaze of thorns, which dies down as suddenly, 
towards which we stretch cold hands in vain. The 
companionship which such a friend as ours could give 
is and must be the growth of years, the outcome of 
common tastes, of shared griefs and pleasures. It is 
come by in no facile manner. Alas, that as years go 
on so much of the best that we have known becomes a 
memory! Yet in the minds of two or three who may 
read this retrospect, the old, true warmth may haply be 
revived — even though the Lodge in the Forest has passed 
to alien ownership, and will never see its master more. 



176 , MODERN ESSAYS 



OVER THE FELLS TO CALDBECK 

(in the vein of rhapsody) 

Harry Christopher Minchin: Talks and Traits 

It is a fair cool morning of early autumn, as I come to 
a first halt upon my pilgrimage to Caldbeck. Surely no 
traveller could do otherwise, unless he were as pressed 
for time as those three gallopers from Ghent; for I 
stand upon the Terrace Road, between Applethwaite 
and Millbeck, for which Southey — how often did his 
patient footsteps tread it! — affirmed that there is 
obtained the finest prospect of Derwentwater and its 
mountain warders. Below is stretched the fertile vale 
of Keswick, from the singing Greta to the verge of 
Bassenthwaite ; beyond it that exceeding lovely lake 
of Derwentwater — comparison with her sister meres 
shall be avoided — backed by Borrowdale, dreaming 
sombrely among its clouds. Eastward, across the steep 
fells which edge the water, the mighty shoulders of 
Helvellyn seem to challenge Skiddaw to a wrestle for 
pre-eminence; to the west is that amazing series of 
heights which Coleridge likened to a giant's encampment. 
May we not vary his metaphor and identify them not 
with the tents but with their owners, and exclaim with 
Browning : 

The hills like giants at a hunting lay ? 

The comparison is at any rate appropriate to-day, since 



H. C. MINCHIN 177 

it is the memory of the mighty hunter, John Peel — 
what else? — that is drawing me to Caldbeck. 

It is not true, of course, that " he lived at Troutbeck 
once on a day." That line was added by a later hand. 
Had Troutbeck (the Cumbrian one) been his home, a 
pilgrimage to John Peel's country had been easy, and 
the pilgrims more numerous, for Troutbeck is on the 
railway. But the village of Caldbeck, near which he 
was born, lived and died, is seven and a half miles from 
a station, and that station Wigton, which is not likely 
to be reached by any wanderer in the Lake District. 
That is why my bicycle must carry me over the seventeen 
miles which separate the famous huntsman's last resting- 
place from Keswick. I tear myself away from the 
Terrace, and speed onwards. As far as Bassenthwaite 
it is easy going. Resisting the temptation of a signpost 
which invites me to follow a rather doubtful and very 
narrow roadway to " Uldale — The Dash — Caldbeck " 
(The Dash turns out to be a brook, or beck), I leave the 
Carlisle road a mile further, at the Castle Inn, where 
hounds often meet, and begin over a roughish surface 
to climb a slope of uncompromising steepness. There 
is no help for it, for a shoulder of Skiddaw has to be 
traversed. The summit at last — and a disappointing 
view! Before me stretch rolling hills, mapped out for 
tillage, crying aloud, as such a region always does, for 
hedgerow timber to vary the monotony. On the right, 
however, is open moorland, and thither my direction 
lies. Down a long descent I go, for several miles, until 
I reach Uldale. Oh the sequestered village on the moor ! 
Its loneliness makes one realise, in a flash, what to the 
Bronte sisters life at Haworth may have been ! Another 
steep climb, no sign of cultivation now, only the moor- 
land and the sheep, its denizens. At Uldale they have 



178 MODERN ESSAYS 

told me to push on "reet ower t' top"; but ere that is 
reached I am glad to meet a dalesman, leading a horse 
to be shod. I am near the summit, he says, and shall 
have " a fine roon down to Cal'beck, two an a half 
miles, aboot." It proves to be four! No matter, one 
could hardly have a more exhilarating run. The long 
road stretches before me like a white ribbon straying 
over a green dress. Very occasionally an isolated farm 
is passed; one, sheltered by a few oaks and beeches, 
particularly takes my fancy; but between the dales- 
man and Whelpo, an outlying hamlet of Caldbeck, I 
do not see a living soul. Whelpo, by the way; it is 
a likely name in a hunting country! Yonder is a sleepy 
little cottage ; there, surely, 

'Twas the sound of his horn woke me from my bed ! 

On I go, and the rush of the air in my ears, the murmur 
of the beck, and my own thoughts all set themselves to 
the same tune. Exultantly, and as if mastered by 
some external impulse, I break out into the famous song: 

D'ye ken John Peel, with his coat so gay, 
D'ye ken John Peel at the break o' the day, 
D'ye ken John Peel when he's far, far away, 
With his hounds and his horn in the morning ? 

But here is Whelpo, and I must be silent. The first 
thing that catches my eye is a poster making known the 
Jubilee of the local " tent " of the Independent Order 
of Rechabites. I cannot pause to inquire of the 
antiquity of the Order, but in any case I surmise that 
John Peel was not a member of it. In a few moments 
I am in Caldbeck churchyard, and in a different mood. 

I find his grave readily. The grass that leads to it is 
slightly trodden, in token of the visits of other pilgrims. 



H. C. MINCHIN 179 

The headstone is a large oblong, carved at the upper 
corners. No inscription could be simpler. "In memory 
of John Peel, of Ruthwaite, who died in 1854, aged 78: 
of his wife — who survived him a few years and almost 
equalled his age; and of three sons, of whom one died 
in infancy, one at twenty-seven, one, in 1887, at the 
age of ninety." No other words; but symbolical re- 
minders of what John Peel was — sculptured there a 
brace of horns confront us, encircled with a brace of 
hunting-crops, together with the recumbent figure of a 
hound. That last is, perhaps, the happiest touch. For 
it seems to show us what tradition asserts and what I 
must believe, that John Peel had that understanding of 
his hounds which the true huntsman ought to have; 
that he was no mere Tony Lumpkin of the nineteenth 
century, but a complete sportsman, and therefore 
merciful to beast as well as to man ; one, moreover, to 
whom the poetry of sport appealed, as well as its excite- 
ment, who loved the wild fellside for its wild beauty, 
as well as for its foxes. Look at his portrait (it hangs in 
the museum at Keswick) and the notion may not seem 
too fanciful. Note the wistful grey eyes, the drooping 
lips that yet are haunted by a lurking smile; a "man 
of humorous-melancholy mark": indeed, something 
more than a mere fox-chaser. How one regrets that, 
as it seems, he never encountered any of the poetic 
giants, his contemporaries, who lived the other side of 
Skiddaw! What would not Wordsworth have made of 
him, had he caught him in some happy mood and 
circumstance, the Wordsworth who loved to penetrate 
below the surface of his rugged dalesmen ! What, have 
I forgotten then that Wordsworth bade us never mix 
our pleasures "with sorrow to the meanest thing that 
feels"? No: but I remember also that poets can be 



i8o MODERN ESSAYS 

as inconsistent as the rest of mankind, and that he has 
celebrated, in a manner as vivid as pathetic, the "run- 
ning huntsman merry " of " the sweet shire of Cardigan," 
old Simon Lee. 

Perhaps I need to be fortified by my idealised con- 
ception of John Peel. As I leave the churchyard, I see 
an old inhabitant seated at his doorway. Let not the 
reader think I have invented this person for convenience; 
if he goes to Caldbeck on a fine afternoon, he will 
probably find him sunning himself, as I did. And 
inquiry as to the way to Troutbeck gets us into con- 
versation, and I find the old fellow something of 
an iconoclast. 

" Ye've been looking at John Peel's monument ? Aye, 
there's many doos. Might I remember him? Well, I 
were two years old when he died, so if I saw him I 
dinna mind it But I mind his son, that lived to 
a great age; a steady man he was, and attended to 
his farming." — 

"The father was a farmer, too?" — 

"Oh aye, but wonderful fond of hunting. The 
farmers hereaboots were vera well-off in them days, 
and never groodged time nor money to sport. But let 
me tell ye this, that but for the song that Graves made 
on him, he wouldn't be remembered now! He'd be 
forgotten, as folks be when they get there " — this with 
a jerk of his hand towards the churchyard. 

Yes, thought I, and Achilles might be forgotten but 
for Homer, but I contented myself with remarking 
that at any rate he must have been an out-of-the-way 
good huntsman. 

"A good huntsman? Oh aye, na doot, but a better 
drinker! A heavy drinker, just as Robbie Burns was, 
as I said to a Scotchman the other day, who cam' to 



H. C. MINCHIN 181 

see John's grave. Oh, but he was fair angry wi' me, 
the Scotchman!" 

"At any rate," I urged, not liking this insistence on 
the frailties of the great departed, "he lived to a good 
old age, and perpetual soaking isn't conducive to that. 
I dare say he was too fond of a glass at times, but most 
people were in those days." 

"True enough," said the old fellow, "and there was 
no harm in him, ye know. He never injured ony man. 
Aye, I mind the story of a trick they put upon him once. 
There was a tame fox at the ' Sun,' the inn he was most 
fond of, an' one day some of his freens took t' fox to a 
spinney they knew he meant to draw; and, sure enough, 
the hounds put 'en up — Ruby, Ranter, and the rest — 
and he ran to earth, as ye might say, in the public, an' 
there were two or three o' John Peel's cronies laughing 
at him, an' aw. . . . Where was Ruthwaite, ye ask? 
Aboot five miles from this, towards the Dash; ye must 
ha' seen the hoose as ye passed." — Ah, I shall always 
think it was that farm I noticed — " And the hoose where 
he was born, too, 'tis near it. I should know, for I have 
lived here all my life. Well, 'tis a bonny place, Cal'beck " 
— and so, indeed, it is, nestling cosily amid its trees in 
a hollow of the moors — "and quiet : ah, a bit too quiet ! " 

" You need ' the sound of his horn,' " I said, and so 
departed. But all along the fellside to Mungrisdale, 
where the air is full of the pleasant smell of peat, where 
tiny church and stark school-house look at one another 
across the narrow street ; all along the broader road that 
leads to Threlkeld, and so along the slopes of Blencathra 
to Keswick, the same song was in my ears; the song 
that is sung all the world over, wherever the men of our 
race do congregate; the song that fascinates hundreds 
who have hardly seen a fox, much less hunted one; 



182 MODERN ESSAYS 

the song which I persist in believing could never have 
been written had not its subject in some way towered 
above his fellows; the song that, with its haunting 
refrain of "far, far away," takes us back both to bygone 
times and our own earlier memories; at one moment 
gladdening the heart, at the next awakening the sigh, 
the tear it may be, for so much that in actual fact and 
in each man's own experience is gone beyond recall. 




EDWIN PUGH 183 



OLD AND NEW 

Edwin Pugh: City of the World 



It might almost be said that there are as many different 
Londons as there are people in it, since every one views 
it with different eyes and from a different standpoint 
. . . except, of course, the Cockney, who (tradition says) 
never sees it at all. And the Cockney . . . ? You 
see, he is as used to it as he is to the firmamental hosts. 
To him its mutations are as much a matter of course 
as the varying tints and changing cloud-shapes of the 
sky. According to his critics the average Cockney . . . 
but then we have settled, long ago, that there is no such 
monster in existence as the average Cockney! But if 
there were one average Cockney left he might retort 
this, I think: The things with which we are most 
familiar are always the hardest to talk about. The 
things we know best — the things we cherish and believe 
in — our most intimate hopes and fears and doubts — 
the emotions we hold most sacred — the strongest 
passions that actuate us — none of these things can we 
translate quite adequately into words. There is an 
undiscovered language. How, then, is the average 
Cockney to tell the inquiring tourist what London is 
like? He could as easily describe his boots or his 
mother. But if it be indeed true that the Cockney 
does not know London, in the guide-book sense, he can 
feel it in his bones, and he has perhaps a finer and keener 



184 MODERN ESSAYS 

appreciation of its manifold phases than is ever to be 
compassed, even after the most diligent research and 
close study, by any other than a Cockney. Saint Paul's, 
Westminster Abbey, the Monument, the Tower of Lon- 
don, and a score other similar historic landmarks, he 
knows only from the outside, and yet knows as inti- 
mately as the farmer knows the surface of the soil he 
tills. When the Cockney is rushed through the streets 
of his native city by some country cousin and has 
London expounded to him, it is as if he were shown some 
foreign translation of the Lord's Prayer, or some other 
stereotyped form of words equally familiar in its original 
form. To learn that for the first time the coolest place 
in London on a hot summers day is technically known 
as the Crypt, or that the Bloody Gate has bloody 
associations in history, is for him to suffer the same kind 
of shock that assails you or me when we are shown the 
counterpart of our own skeleton in some scientific 
museum. In effect this vast conglomeration of temples 
and castles, monuments and memorials, which is summed 
up in the guide-books as London, and which is the only 
London that outsiders care to know, is no more like 
London, as the Cockney knows London, than the holy 
mystery of his body and soul is like that grinning horror 
in the glass case. Thus it is that there are huge districts 
of London, mighty hinterlands, wholly unexplored by 
the Cockney who happens not to dwell in or near them, 
and that he repudiates altogether. These foreign ele- 
ments offend him as foreign elements in his food or 
drink offend him. He feels very strongly that they have 
no right to be there, and since he cannot do away with 
them, refuses to assimilate them, ignores them. He is 
content to know that London is big enough and strong 
and healthy enough to absorb all these alien adulterants 



EDWIN PUGH 185 

without being materially affected by their presence 
in his body politic. At any rate he is not conscious of 
any change either in London or in himself, even when 
he is shown that London is very different from his 
conception of it, and that his complacent acceptance 
of himself as a typical Londoner is based on the illu- 
sions of ignorance. In his own words, the London 
that he knows is good enough for him, and he reckons 
that he is good enough for the London that he knows. 

So, if we would snatch one more fleeting glimpse of 
esoteric London before saying good-bye to this roaring 
city of the World, the time has obviously come for us 
to part from the Cockney, at least for awhile. 



II 

Come then with me, eastward. The poor Cockney 
would assuredly not consent to follow us hither. For 
this is the haunt of the Heathen Chinee — not the suave, 
polished Chinese gentleman and diplomat of Portland 
Place, but the raw unannealed Oriental. 

For ways that are dark and tricks that are vain 
the Heathen Chinee is still as peculiar to-day — though 
he may wear a slop suit of cheap reach-me-downs and 
tie up his pigtail in a tight coil and hide it under a 
sixpenny-halfpenny cloth cap — as he was in those roaring 
times when he euchred Bill Nye and his partner. The 
ways he trod then lay upon the sunny slopes of Cali- 
fornia, and his trail was blazed with the aces that he 
strewed like leaves on the strand. His tricks were 
vain in the sense that they could be rendered abortive 
by prompt resort to crude, violent methods of exposure. 
But since that time he has added the smug Pharisaism of 



186 MODERN ESSAYS 

the West to his native stock-in-trade of old-age cun- 
ning; he has learned in suffering to eschew the tactics 
which Bret Harte sang in song and so held up to 
immortal ridicule. 

For rogues, all the world over, dread nothing so much 
as ridicule; and Chinese rogues most of all. They 
cherish their dignity as old maids cherish mementoes 
of their girlhood. To us they do not seem dignified, 
but abjectly servile and cringing. When the London 
police — to whom they are pretty well all "known" in 
the invidious sense — insist on going over their premises, 
they salaam and drop their eyelids meekly, and are most 
becomingly humble and complaisant. They indulge in 
elaborate ceremonial and long-winded, flowery compli- 
ments, and use every other subtle means in their power 
to hamper and delay their unwelcome visitors on the 
threshold or in the public shop, whilst their confeder- 
ates, working swiftly and noiselessly behind the scenes, 
are busily putting a better complexion on the traffic of 
the house than it usually wears. 

Their dignity at such times — or at any other time — 
does not assume the guise of a haughty bearing or 
express itself in an assumption of immutable self-respect. 
No. It is enshrined in their hearts and is gilded 
and warmed and kept alive by their measureless con- 
tempt for Occidental stupidity. They would as soon 
think of insisting on it in the presence of those rude, 
brusque officers as of flaunting a priceless jewel in a 
den of thieves. 

In England the Yellow Peril does not seem to touch 
us very nearly as yet. From time to time we read 
that the Chinese invasion of our ports is growing daily 
more and more threatening ; and we are mildly anxious 
that Something — that indefinite Something in which 



EDWIN PUGH 187 

we repose so much confidence, and in the thought of 
which there is such ready surcease from worry — should 
be done to hold this vague evil in check in the moment 
that it appears to gain ground. But what we do not 
faintly realise is that the Chinese invasion began many 
years ago ; that there is a Chinatown in London as well 
as in New York and San Francisco; that the vices of 
opium-smoking and bhang and hashish chewing — with 
their horrific consequences of madness and murder — 
together with other nameless vices that we never 
mention, but which are not so unfamiliar to our private 
understanding, are even now practised daily in the 
dockside neighbourhoods of our unwieldy metropolis. 

The Chinese crimp thrives and flourishes, despite 
the strenuous competition of Strangers' Homes and Mis- 
sion Houses, which, however, do very much to stultify 
his horrible proclivities. The crimp himself is often a 
man of some education. In his own country he would 
belong to that limited social circle which may be said to 
correspond to our own predominant Middle Class. He 
preys not only on his own fellow-countrymen, but on 
whomsoever else he can beguile into his clutches. You 
will find under his roof men of many races and shades of 
colour, from dusky Zanzibars to lemon-tinted Lascars. 
Occasionally you will find a white man — or rather, 
a man who was once white, but who has rapidly sunk 
to the level of the lowest type of Asiatic, alike as to his 
morals and the hue of bis filthy hide. 

The majority of those lodging-houses, be they kept 
by crimps or by acceptably honest men, have shops on 
the ground floor. Some of these shops are open and 
display strange wares, the nature and use of which no 
Europeans may discover. The name of the proprietor 
is painted above the shop-front — and usually on a big 



188 MODERN ESSAYS 

lamp pendant over the pavement besides — in English 
characters and repeated in Chinese. But most of the 
shops are closed and shuttered, as if the houses to which 
they belong were empty. If, however, you linger in 
their vicinity for awhile you will see soft-footed, stealthily 
stepping Orientals glide in and out of the doors, which 
are not locked, or even latched, but open at a push. 
Within these walls, in the dismantled shop, you will 
find a number of silent men sitting in the semi-darkness, 
enjoying their kaif, which is Eastern for dolce far niente. 

They loll and sprawl on low couches and divans, or 
sit cross-legged on the floor, some chewing betel or 
bhang or hashish, others supine and blissfully uncon- 
scious in the throes of an opium-dream. The air is 
thick and heavy and faintly sweet with the odour of 
pungent essences, which nevertheless cannot quite 
subdue the sour smell of perspiring flesh. But all is 
seemly and quiet enough, however unpleasant the general 
effect may be to the various senses. And, indeed, it 
must not be hastily supposed that any save a very 
small minority of these establishments are otherwise 
than well-conducted — well-conducted, that is, to the 
extent that no open turbulence or disorder seems to 
take place in them. 

All the same, most terrible happenings do take place 
in them sometimes. For one of the effects of the 
drug which these Orientals are perpetually absorbing 
into their systems is sudden insanity — not shrieking, 
raving, struggling insanity, but a cold, malignant, 
homicidal fury. The victim literally sees red. Every- 
thing and everybody appears to his distorted vision 
to be smeared with scarlet; and his frenzy takes the 
diabolical form of a lust after human blood. He burns 
to add more of that vivid colour to his surroundings, 



EDWIN PUGH 189 

with the result that he will, if not restrained, whip out 
a knife and run amok among his fellow-lodgers. By 
certain signs, however, his companions are as a rule 
able to tell when his paroxysm is coming upon him, 
and he is reduced to a helpless state by force. But 
whatever the outcome of his maniacal transport, it 
almost always leaves the stricken wretch for ever 
afterward bereft of his reason. 

And there are several other forms of insanity which 
fructify in these dens. Many of them are such every- 
day occurrences that they excite but little attention 
among those used to them; but though they are not 
so terrible in their manifestations as the madness of the 
bhang or hashish eater, they are hardly less dangerous. 
It would be impossible to mention all of them, but in 
one of the most common the victim imagines that he 
is surrounded by jinns or evil spirits, which are fighting 
for his soul, and he is impelled to try and destroy them, 
preferably by fire, and to this end starts a conflagration. 

But these immediate violent tragedies are perhaps 
the least of the evils which follow inevitably in the wake 
of the Chinese and their mongrel allies wherever they go. 
Even in the lodging-houses which are open to inspec- 
tion the sleeping accommodation and the sanitary 
safeguards fall far below any decent civilised standard. 
And what the official eye is permitted to see does not 
by any means represent the normal condition of things. 
The average coolie, for instance, has not the least 
objection to sleeping two or three, or even four, in a 
bed; but it is open to doubt if the fact that this sort 
of thing goes on habitually in many of these loathly 
caravanserai is known to the proper authorities. 

And even now nothing has been said of the card- 
playing, gaming, hocussing and terrorising, the thievery 



190 MODERN ESSAYS 

and swindling, and — worst of all ! the orgies of flagrant, 
unbridled immorality, which are the commonplaces of 
these viscous centres of depravity and plague. All 
these matters are hard to discover and abolish, even 
though the Yellow Peril be comparatively insignifi- 
cant at present, and is moreover being fought by several 
excellent societies for the protection, salvation, and 
reclamation of the Oriental within our gates. But 
what that peril might become if, when more and more 
Chinese invade our ports, they are permitted to make 
their peculiar and incredibly nasty arrangements for 
squatting at the commercial portals of our country, is a 
possibility that hardly bears dispassionate consideration. 



Ill 

All this foul neighbourhood is known as Limehouse. 
And Limehouse, in the East End of London, is the place 
where East meets West, as we have seen, but never to 
intermingle. It is a region of narrow streets, the plan 
of which rather suggests a school-boy's attempt to 
draw parallel lines without the aid of a ruler. Brackish 
odours of the river at low tide offend the nostrils. Tall 
mastheads, rocking above the housetops, smack of 
vast ocean spaces in a way that no rolling liner off the 
wind- bitten Irish coast can ever hope to rival. Thus 
contrast will work in the poorest material and still 
prove herself an artist. 

Here the wayfarer may rub shoulders with the people 
— men for the most part, but women and children 
too — of every race and clime and shade of colour: 
olive, yellow, brown, and black : Siamese, Malays, Japs, 



EDWIN PUGH 191 

Chinks, Persians, Armenians, Turks, Arabs, Cingalese, 
Hindoos. A mere bald catalogue of the types to be 
encountered in this immediate neighbourhood would 
be tedious. 

Observe that this street is also full of shops — not 
an extraordinary circumstance in itself, of course; 
but the majority of these shops are closed night and 
day, as the Chinese shops are. The shutters are never 
taken down, but always barred against the light; and 
all along the upper edge of the lintels hang black, dusty 
festoons of cobwebs, testifying to the length of time 
that has elapsed since they were put up. 

Through the misty pale blue twilight of late after- 
noon a man of a jaundiced complexion comes gliding 
swiftly, a peculiar, furtive, slinking litheness character- 
ising his movements as he half runs, half shambles over 
the uneven stones. His garments form a queer com- 
promise between the European and Asiatic fashion of 
dress. He wears baggy seamen's breeches, a shapeless 
sort of jumper open in front to display a sweater that 
was originally red and white, and a richly beaded tar- 
boosh. His feet are bare save for a pair of straw- 
woven slippers, lacking heels or any trace of uppers 
beyond one small toe-piece, into which his big toe is 
stuck, the other toes being naked to the view. How 
he contrives to keep his footwear on is only one more 
minor mystery added to the many in which the Oriental 
is steeped from the prehensile sole of his foot to the 
crown of his shaven polished skull. 

Suddenly this outlandish figure crosses the road at 
an oblique angle, thrusts his shoulder against one of the 
shuttered, secret-looking shops, and disappears within. 

The door that has opened so readily to the Oriental 
opens just as readily to the push of my own hand; and 



192 MODERN ESSAYS 

we are at once plunged into a murkier twilight than 
that which prevails outside. 

The semi-darkness is slightly tempered by a few 
slanting lances of light that stream in through diamond- 
shaped holes high up in the shutters. At first they 
serve only to accentuate the ulterior gloom of our 
surroundings by pricking out here and there a spot of 
brightness. But presently, as our eyes grow more used 
to the sharp transition from pale blue to umber twilight, 
we find that we are confronted by a living reproduction 
of one of the wicked magicians of fable. 

He is a tall man, wearing a faded white turban blotched 
and smeared with brown stains as if the stuff had been 
scorched, but otherwise arrayed in conventional English 
garb; frock-coat, grey trousers, boots, and a linen 
shirt. The mystery of this man's true nationality is 
impenetrable. He has a thick, black beard, and long, 
narrow eyes of the hue of a drowsy lion, set in a bloodless, 
livid face. His lips are a vivid red, and greasily moist 
with the juice of the betel or areca. Lust and cruelty 
and greed are in his face, and a hint of latent ferocity 
that all his cringing suavity cannot quite mask. He 
speaks, in answer to our polite inquiries, in a rapid 
jargon in which some English words, curiously mis- 
pronounced, recur frequently; and then he withdraws 
his evil presence and vanishes into the all-enveloping 
half -darkness which enshrouds us. 

The atmosphere is stale and fetid. By comparison, 
the brackish savour of the air in the waterside byways 
is fragrant as the first breath of spring. 

By this time we are able to make out, more or less 
clearly, some details of the apartment in which we 
stand. The shop and the parlour behind the shop 
have been converted into one large room. It is such 



EDWIN PUGH 193 

a room as you will not find in any other quarter of 
London. Ranged about the walls are beds and gaudy 
divans, on which men lie supine, or crouch huddled up, 
or sprawl limply, in every conceivable attitude of slack 
abandonment. There must be between thirty and forty 
men within these four walls, and not one of them shows 
us a kindly face. Their faces are of the type that 
haunt one in a dyspeptic nightmare; for, one and all, 
they seem to be as mere settings to the eyes. Some of 
them are not uncomely, or would not be uncomely if 
the eyes were not so unflinching in their regard. And 
all the eyes are dark; they seem black in this half- 
light, though we know, of course, that there is no such 
thing in nature as an absolutely black iris. Returning 
their intent, steadfast gaze, we seem to peer into 
deep wells — assuredly not wells of Jxuth, however — at 
the bottom of which gleams a bead of moisture. 

There are Chinamen in flowing robes among the 
crowd; and Lascars in dull brick-red turbans; and 
Japs, in coarse serge suits, jaunty and dapper; and 
scowling Malays, each with his hidden, murderous creese 
ready to his hand. It is a Malay who has just preceded 
us into this noisome lair. He sits on his heels before 
us now, upon the bare boards. 

And surveying the scene, with its effect of pur- 
blindness, it comes home to us — as with a clutch of 
fingers at the throat — how all this heterogeneous collec- 
tion of mortals has drifted together to this sordid 
London lodging, coming out of a world of romance and 
adventure and magic to plunge into a world of matter- 
of-fact. Or, more probably, our matter-of-fact civilisa- 
tion may seem to these aliens as a heaven — or a hell — 
of weird enchantments, and their own far distant homes 
as the very prose of existence. 



194 MODERN ESSAYS 

Still, in either case, it is inexplicable how these men 
can endure this self-taught squalor and gloom who 
were born to all the dazzling colour and gay idle life 
of the tropics. They have come from fairy realms of 
feathery foliage and naming flowers, where bright-hued 
birds flit among the starry blossoms in the purple shadows 
of lime and palm, and brilliant flying things flash like 
jewels on the broad green leaves of the low-growing 
tree-ferns, or stud the gloom under the olives and myrtles 
as with glittering points of fire. They have come from 
a land where the languorous scent of frangipani and wild 
stephanotis, blended with a thousand lesser perfumes not 
less sweet, seem wondrously attuned to the endless, 
melancholy splash of sea-waves on a silver strand. 

But perhaps this is only an untravelled Cockney's 
vulgarly conceived impression of the resplendent East; 
and their natural and inbred taste in environments 
may merely take the form of another kind of squalor 
and filth and vice, after all. At least they seem to take 
kindly enough to these frowsy delights, and are appa- 
rently content and even happy in their still, silent way. 

Sickened and dazed, and a little afraid, too, the 
immobility of these Orientals and the unfaltering 
scrutiny of their unfathomable eyes having rather got 
on our nerves, we go out again into the darkening 
street where the gas-jets flicker, pale and ghastly, in 
the freshening breeze; and London, at its worst and 
most sordid, seems a genial, homely place after our 
brief experience of this Arabian night. 



EDWIN PUGH 195 



IV 

The river lies before us. Let us take a boat and pull 
back to the London that we know. 

This River Thames is the real main highway of 
London. Of the Thames it might quite truly be said, 
moreover, that though perhaps it has undergone more 
changes during the last thirty or forty years than any 
other outstanding feature of London, it has at the same 
time preserved most of its old characteristics. The 
two great Embankments — from Blackfriars to West- 
minster on the left bank, and from Westminster to 
Vauxhall on the right bank — which were begun in 
1864 and 1866 respectively, as well as sundry other 
stretches of stone breakwater that have since been 
constructed at various points in place of the former 
low banks, have radically altered the aspect of the river 
along certain of its reaches. Yet what remains of the 
old Thames, especially between Southwark and Wool- 
wich on the south side and Blackfriars Bridge and 
Blackwall on the north side, is essentially the same as 
it was fifty years ago. 

Now as then, despite the Thames police, there are 
all manner of water-thieves and freebooters. There 
are still, for example, tier-rangers — gentlemen who 
silently drop along the tiers of shipping in The Pool by 
night and, having ascertained that the watch is asleep, 
climb on deck and help themselves to anything portable 
and valuable, even descending into the cabins sometimes 
and purloining money and jewellery whilst their owners 
are snoring. There are still lumpers — labourers who 
assist in the unloading of vessels to an utterly unsus- 
pected extent, carrying off their spoils in fathomless 



196 MODERN ESSAYS 

pockets artfully contrived in the linings of their clothes ; 
these also smuggle goods ashore for the crew. 

There are still truckers — smugglers on a more ambitious 
scale, whose business is to land more considerable parcels 
of goods than the lumpers can manage ; and dredgermen, 
who under pretence of dredging up coals and suchlike 
from the bed of the river hang about barges and other 
undecked craft and when they see an opportunity 
throw overboard any article they can lay their hands 
on in order to slyly dredge it up again when the vessel 
is gone. 

And there are numberless other special-pleading 
practitioners who, among other malpractices, especially 
affect that of cutting boats loose from their moorings 
and then salving them. 

But certainly these brigands are being rapidly 
exterminated; and that strange, amphibious, slow- 
moving tribe of men who, even a few short years ago, 
seemed to be able to make a living by staring at the 
water and occasionally spitting into it, has almost 
entirely disappeared. 

Yet still that queer, romantic atmosphere survives, 
dissipating but slowly. There are still the gleaming 
mud-flats at low tide and the ruinous, rat-infested old 
wharves and waste spaces, clustered with a miscellaneous 
Utter of decaying lumber, whereon stand crazy sheds 
that a boy would give the rest of his life to play pirates 
in for one delirious afternoon. Until quite recently, 
before the London County Council got properly to grips 
with its stupendous task of reconstructing the capital, 
there were many waterside districts that were as so 
many Alsatian cities of refuge for the criminal in 
danger of his liberty or life. 

On the brighter side there are still some penny steam- 



EDWIN PUGH 197 

boats; whilst the sea-going pleasure - steamers have 
increased in size and in gaudy magnificence beyond all 
possible foreknowledge of our fathers. And yet these 
latter vessels are essentially the same as they were in 
the days when Dickens described the voyage of the 
Tuggses to Ramsgate. . . . 

It is still the same beloved, abhorred, horrible and 
fascinating Thames. 



And the Temple is the same. We haul in our boat 
at the Temple Pier, and with reverent tread enter that 
most quaint and charming of all ancient fastnesses 
in London. 

For among all the many quiet and secluded back- 
waters of human traffic in this City of the World, those 
best known and best loved, and most favoured of the 
poets, who have drawn their inspiration from the inex- 
haustible fount of London, have been invariably the 
Inns of Courts. And especially has their fancy delighted 
to play about the Temple. . . . The cloistral, gracious 
Temple, which still remains in all its outstanding features 
the same as it has always been. 

Possibly the vista from the lower end of Middle 
Temple Lane has gained something in seemliness and 
beauty over what it has lost, in a sort of picturesque 
squalor down by the riverside. For where the high 
shining piles and gnarled balks of timber lifted their 
craggy contours above the turbid surface of the stream, 
or stood starkly on the iridescent mud-flats, gnawed into 
holes by the ravening teeth of the greedy tide, bent 
and warped by its ceaseless ebb and flow, coated 



198 MODERN ESSAYS 

with the lichenous, rank rime of a myriad delicate neutral 
tints by monotonous years of storm, shine, heat, 
frost and damp, trailing sodden ropes frayed into 
a semblance of tulse and tangle, and festooned with 
chains and rings and bolts of a brilliant rusty red 
seemed to distil drops of blood into the sunrays . . . 
where these things fretted the prospect into ever- 
shifting patterns as they rocked and swayed before the 
wind, mingling their fantastic tracery with the leisurely 
heavy-sailed barges and gliding small craft, and at 
night or through an autumn haze got themselves in- 
extricably mixed up with the shadowy human figures 
on the quays, or in the grinding boats at the precipitous 
stairs and slipways, where all this confusion reigned, 
there is now a decent ordered boundary of stone 
buttress and symmetrical railing beyond a placid ex- 
panse of shaven lawn, sharply dividing the stately old 
traditions of the stately old inns from the busy modern- 
ised Embankment with its humming trams and its 
intermittent buzz and whirr and hoot and jangle of 
motors, blended with the still persistent clop-clop-clop 
of horses' hoofs. 

But upon these signs of inevitable change you can 
quite easily turn your back, and so behold the Temple 
even now as Dickens himself beheld it. 

Wherein, then, lies the difference between the Temple 
of that day and this? 

Then it was hand in glove, or rather cheek by jowl, 
with all the romance of adventure as well as with all 
the sin and misery of the waterside existence. Between 
the grim grey walls of the outer courts and the slimy 
higgledy-piggledy of the Thames foreshore lay close- 
packed congeries of dark alleys and black arches, 
sloping abruptly and by way of many unexpected kinks 



EDWIN PUGH 199 

and twists to the slippery causeways where lurked 
nocturnal birds of prey — a loathly, body-snatching 
crew. The Temple was cut off then from first-hand 
contact with the facts of life and death, as it is now; 
but with this difference — that it then enjoyed a volun- 
tary seclusion, and had only to step across its borders 
to taste and see the raw crudities of poverty and crime. 
Now its seclusion has been made inviolate, and its 
denizens must boldly cross the Rubicon of the Strand 
to escape from its rare atmosphere of academic calm 
and studious peace. 

And yet, for all its parchment aspect, it still remains 
an oasis in the desert of streets, as it was then, and 
testifies to the truth of countless poets' conceptions in 
regard to its delightful possibilities, by virtue of the 
lovers who continue to follow in the footsteps of those 
fair figments of a dream and to make their happiness 
upon its ancient mossy flags. 




200 MODERN ESSAYS 



IL PULCINELLA 
Cecil Roberts: To-Day 

We were tired when we reached Stresa in the crimson 
flush of the August evening. The blue of Lago di 
Maggiore had taken on a darker tone, and there was 
night on the slopes of snow-covered Monte Leone, 
which looked down from ice-bound fields to the summer 
luxuriance of the Borromean Islands. We had just 
returned from the ascent of Monte Mattarone, one of 
those comfortable mountains which reward one not only 
with a grand expanse of famous ranges, but also with 
a feeling of achievement. Dinner by the lake shore of 
Stresa, in the Italian twilight, with the soft lapping of the 
lake water and the distant guitar of an itinerant musi- 
cian, seemed a fitting close to such a day of wonders. 
With gratitude, therefore, we found a small hotel 
garden, the music sufficiently distant, the menu attrac- 
tive — perfect that night, I remember, and the wine — 
but whenever did Asti fail to grace the board? And 
on this evening the waiter also suited the mise-en-scene. 
He had the black curly hair of a faun, with horns hidden 
somewhere, and there was almost what might be called 
the sylvan grace to his lithe young body. He seemed 
the familiar of things that lived in woods and mountain 
recesses. Anything might have happened with him 
there. He filled the little lanterned garden with an 
air of incredible romance. Once when he stood peering 
over into the darkness down where the half-dozen 
boats fretted on the margin, we hardly drew breath; 



CECIL ROBERTS 201 

now might old Triton blow his wreathed horn, and the 
whole of us suffer a like-change in something. 

There ! What was it ? My companion looked up. He 
had heard it and turned in the direction of the sound 
along the plane - tree - sheltered promenade where a 
dozen semi-naked children, belonging to the boatmen, 
scampered in the dusk. It was a familiar though un- 
familiar sound, remotely connected with childhood. It 
permeated the purple atmosphere and that strange 
pantomime scenery of blue waters, crimson mountains 
and rose-flushed islands with a plaintive invitation. A 
moment later we saw the cause. Preceded by a rabble 
of lovely Italian children — being sunbrown they never 
look dirty — under the arch of the plantains, marched a 
tiny boy of some six years. He was dressed in faded 
red tights, that hung loosely on his thin little legs. 
His face was painted white, which made his smile 
ghastly in the twilight, and as he walked he tapped on 
a small drum slung across his thigh. Behind him, thus 
heralded, walked his lord and master, as great a con- 
trast as human nature can present. He was a power- 
fully built Italian dressed as Pantaloon. His massive 
face peered over an enormous ruffle, and the strength 
of his physique could not be hidden by the voluminous 
colour-patched trousers that ballooned from his ankles 
to his thighs. To heighten the contrast, he played 
gravely on a long trombone. After them came a follow- 
ing of urchins shouting and crying shrilly with excite- 
ment. Suddenly, just as we became aware of it, and 
had turned in our seats, the procession stopped. A 
stillness fell over the crowd while the Italian played a 
long trombone solo in the gathering darkness. They 
were strolling musicians, perhaps acrobats, but no! 
for, the solo finished, Pantaloon began a long speech. 



202 MODERN ESSAYS 

Distance and dialect defeated us. Perhaps it was an 
appeal for money? Repeatedly we heard the word 
" Trattoria." Experience, a continuous thirst and a 
taste of Chiante, had taught us the meaning of " Trat- 
toria." These were the players, or some of them, and 
there was to be a performance at an inn. The speech 
ended, there was a profound bow, born, we felt, of 
centuries of tradition. The little boy beat the drum, 
the trombone again sounded, the procession moved off 
into the darkness. 

"My friend," I said, "we have heard the veritable 
Prologue to / Pagliacci — Good ladies and gentlemen, 
a moment I pray you, I am the Prologue." But my 
friend was too excited to answer. The dinner was spoiled, 
the ice-cooled Asti could not hold him. We must see 
the players. 

Hastily departing we tried to catch the procession, 
but darkness and a strange village of villainous-looking 
streets defeated us. Our only clue would be the noise 
of the drum sounded in a "Trattoria. " Twice we traversed 
the town, peered in at every trattoria doorway upon 
strange scenes where dark men ate garlic and curly- 
headed children rolled on the floor amid hens, dogs and 
cats. Then luck rewarded us. A small gathering at 
the entrance to a long passage attracted our attention. 
From the far end came a babel of voices, children's 
mostly, amid a blaze of coloured lanterns. We entered, 
traversed the long corridor, and emerged on a scene 
that was not of this century. It was an inn yard, 
roofed in from the velvet night with a great vine that 
clambered along the trellis-work overhead. The thick- 
ness of the vine was such that no starshine penetrated, 
while amid it hung a few shaded electric lights (from 
a water-power source), which shone upon bunches of 



CECIL ROBERTS 203 

lovely green grapes. The inn windows opened on to 
one side of this yard, their green shutters thrown back; 
in the open spaces were silhouettes of men, bare- 
throated and black-hatted, drinking red wine. The inn 
yard itself was crowded with small cross benches, just, 
perhaps, as in the pit of an Elizabethan theatre. On 
these benches sat about a hundred small Italian children, 
all chattering excitedly. I found myself wishing that 
I had the artist's gift of hasty portraiture. The children 
of Italy are the stuff of which great masterpieces are 
made; here were the infants of a hundred famous 
Madonnas. They sat there, half-naked, lovely-limbed, 
bronzed, with heads of black, flowing curls, dark 
lustrous eyes, red lips, and even white teeth. Their 
intense excitement heralded something wonderful and 
unusual, and the excitement passed to the fathers and 
mothers seated behind, drinking wine at small tables. 

No, these were not the players, but something as 
venerable, the origin of many players, perhaps. This 
was II Pulcinella, the real traditional II Pulcinella 
from which was descended our own poor English travesty 
of Punch and Judy, the emasculated version which had 
found its way to England in the reign of Queen Anne 
to remain here for the delight of generations of children 
and elders. But just as we in England may not know 
the flavour of the peach plucked ripe from overhead, so 
may we not know the real Punch and Judy. We had 
stepped suddenly out of the night into the fifteenth 
century. The front of the Punch and Judy show was 
hand-painted, its drop scene being of a futuristic design, 
for all its age. On the tiny platform where the drama 
was to be enacted, burned two ancient brass oil lamps. 
They must have lighted these festivities for many 
generations. Quietly we made our way to an obscure 



204 MODERN ESSAYS 



comer, conscious of being a very modern note in the 
whole scale of colour and romance. Humbly we sat 
in the shadow and asked for a flask of wine. At that 
moment a bell tinkled behind the curtain and the 
voice we had heard under the plantains began a long 
chant while the audience listened intently. It was 
probably the Prologue, in rhyme, maybe, the same 
Prologue recited by long-dead generations of showmen, 
inheritors of a great tradition. The chant ended, the 
curtain rose, revealing a hand-painted background of a 
street down which Dante might have walked. Then 
up came Punch, to be hailed with shrieks of joy by those 
children. Through one hour we sat entranced. Not 
a word of that carefully enunciated dialogue could we 
follow; the whir, the drollery, all passed by us, but we 
watched it reflected in the faces of those enthralled 
children, their faces puckered with laughter or wrinkled 
with commiseration. 

When the curtain fell, ten chimed from the campanile, 
but somehow we felt this could not be the end. From 
his obscurity the showman came out, still in motley, and 
taking a guitar, his face illumined by the oil flares, he 
sang to us a ballad. It was very tender, and there were 
tears in the dark long-lashed eyes of the maidens. This 
ended, with ceremonious bows he toured the audience, 
hat in hand, reaping a generous harvest, with many 
" gracias." Then he disappeared, the bell tinkled, the 
chatter was suddenly stilled and the drama proceeded. 
It was the full, unexpurgated story of Punch and Judy. 
Maybe it had many current and local allusions; we 
knew not, but there were many characters unknown to 
our English version. The stage was crowded with a 
succession of puppets cleverly manipulated. There was 
the peasant and the king, the priest and the ugly 



CECIL ROBERTS 205 

daughter, the stammerer and the soldier, the lawyer 
and the judge. There were tremendous duels with 
staffs, such fast furious duels and beatings that the 
audience rose to its feet and cried: "Brava! Brava! " 
and the children on the edge clambered up the vine 
trellis to get a better view of the agitated spectators. 
Eleven struck, again the curtain fell. This time we 
had no ballad, but the pale-faced little boy in red tights 
came forth. A short speech announced his tricks. 
He was a jongleur, and, held aloft in the hands of a 
brawny Italian, the thin little fellow, fearfully, we 
thought, performed his contortions, and smiled feebly 
at the applause. We were not unhappy when this 
was over and the curtain rose on the final act, more 
breathless, with Punch extricating himself from cease- 
less complications. It was a quarter past twelve when 
the curtain fell finally, and not a tired face showed in 
that appreciative audience. 

Leaving the inn, the chattering crowd, we passed 
down the narrow street, under the high shuttered 
windows and flowery balconies, and emerged on the 
lake front. The promenade was silent and deserted 
and we looked upon a scene of incredible beauty. The 
moonlight fell on the dark water, the dim outlines of 
the mountains, the distant Borromean Islands terraced 
with lights, and the lake shore fringed with white 
villas. On our way back to Baverno, the grass was 
jewelled with glow-worms, the trees faintly stirred in 
the hot air, and the wind sang in the tall cypress, stand- 
ing like a Noah's Ark tree, the black sentinel of a garden 
or harbour walk. Across the lake Pallanza glittered, 
but not so brightly as the clear stars overhead. As we 
walked in the night silence, broken only by the incessant 
chirp of the grasshopper, we reflected that the drama 



206 MODERN ESSAYS 

we had seen was a part of this land of beauty and 
romance, a cherished heirloom, faithfully handed down 
from generation to generation of these childlike people. 
It was the drama immortal. Three hundred years 
hence children bright and beautiful as these would 
laugh and cry at Punch and Judy; long after we had 
gone to the Silence. For Punch and Judy were not 
human products, as we, so mortal. We were really 
the show; the puppets had achieved immortality. 




DIXON SCOTT 207 



WINTER, THAT ROUGH NURSE 
Dixon Scott : A Number of Things 

Built out of the golden debris of his August holidays, 
your townsman's conception of the country is a queer, 
collapsible structure, run up hastily at the approach of 
May, fully furnished and equipped by mid- July, but 
coming down again, in rust and ruin, among the equi- 
noctial rains. It begins with the buds; it ends with 
the last melancholy leaf; for the rest — greyness and 
rheum. A fall of snow, indeed, because it masks the 
true features of the earth, tricking it out like a monster 
pierrot, may renew his interest for a moment. But 
when February's dykes are filled with rain, he toasts 
his toes complacently in Tooting and thinks with a 
shudder of the land lying lean and wretched — a naked 
corpse if not an actual skeleton. Beneath his study- 
window the little square of garden which makes a kind 
of mirror for the seasons, and into which they do try 
to peer as they pass, shows nothing but apathy and 
gloom. And he takes that woebegone picture for a 
true portrait of the outside world. 

Dismal hallucination! The year never hibernates, 
March is never a dead March, and I sometimes think 
that the land seems never more living and alert than 
when it lies most leafless. There is a sense, and a very 
simple and true one, in which the end of autumn is 
like the opening of a great bronze door, and the scatter- 
ing of the last leaves the withdrawal of a baffling curtain. 
For now, as at no other time, the strong drama of the 



208 MODERN ESSAYS 

actual earth, the supple play of the muscles of the soil, 
is revealed to the human spectator. He sees the 
organic relation of hill to valley, the way the water- 
sheds are welded together, and can watch the cunning 
dovetailing of uplifts and divides, the collaborations 
between woodlands and streams. The earth is certainly 
stripped — but as an athlete is stripped for a race, as a 
strong man for a struggle. It is not in the least like 
the denudation of poverty. Fold after fold the clog- 
ging coverlets of damask and maroon have been 
heaved aside; and now the living creature, all rippling 
muscle and mighty limb, bends purposefully before you 
at its task. 

It is a great sight, I always think — restorative as 
well as stirring. The eye re-discovers, for example, the 
true meaning and movement of the roads. In the 
green smother of July they lay half-buried, shining 
but capriciously, incomprehensibly, disconnected hiero- 
glyphics. But now the scattered curves link up, quick 
and consequent, from horizon to horizon ; and to stand 
on the tiniest eminence is to see them forging through 
the land waves as logically and intently as an army on 
the march. They tack delicately to and fro among the 
billows ; and you see, as plainly as the men who planned 
them saw, the problems they have to face, the distant 
mark they fight for, the exhaustless series of canny or 
audacious strokes by which they win their end. Simi- 
larly with the elder ducts: the watercourses, brooks, 
and rivers. If the high-roads, linking Temple Bar with 
Torquay, are the tingling nerves of the great body, 
the streams may stand for its veins. And winter, like 
a subtle demonstrator, displays them by a double 
process, exposing them with one stroke, neatly paring 
away the tissues that obscured them, and then, by a 



DIXON SCOTT 209 

second, dilating them, swelling them with rains. Treated 
thus, the gleaming mesh springs into sight as surprisingly 
as though the landscape had been suddenly slipped 
beneath a powerful lens. The refreshing fibres gleam 
in unsuspected places. The mysterious richness of a 
certain meadow, that used to shine out erratically on 
the general shield, a cryptic blazon, is at length logically 
explained. 

It is this general rationalisation of the view, no doubt, 
that makes the wintry landscape seem so friendly. 
Certainly, at any rate, there is nothing in the least 
steely or repellent in this display of the stark machinery 
of the land, its undressed ligaments and thews. The 
earth is seen to be a reasonable earth, neither blind, 
nor brutish, nor incomprehensible. In the very kind- 
ness of summer there is something a little casual and 
contemptuous. We wander for ever among ambus- 
cades and curtains. We are treated like royal children 
— kept in a noble nursery, fobbed off with pretty colours 
and rich toys, but never admitted to the council chamber. 
But now, in winter, Nature treats you like an equal. 
You are taken into her confidence ; find with a reassuring 
thrill that you can follow her plans ; discover, in a word, 
the kinship between your body and the original clay. 
The unmistakable stamina of the structure, too, is a 
kind of solace. Far more than the sleepy snugness of 
July, this unpartitioned prospect speaks of power and 
purpose. With all the unessential barriers deleted, and 
even the artificial subdivisions of the hedgerows half- 
erased, there is a general merging and co-ordination. 
" Views " melt into one massive surface, the deep 
rhythm of the land shakes itself clear of localities, its 
noble continuity is declared. We see the country as 
a pouring tide of plateaus, declivities, plains, flecked 



210 MODERN ESSAYS 

with towns and cities — a tide that sweeps on unin- 
terruptedly until it breaks at length upon the borders 
of the actual sea. England lives. 

These are the larger, more panoramic issues. But 
the}/ invade and vivifjr all the details. The little sounds 
of the season, as well as its wide views, display the same 
sweet reasonableness. Our poets, pacing their hearth- 
rugs, bewail the lack of bird-song. But those who 
really know the winter are aware that the very fewness 
of the voices gives those that remain not only a height- 
ened value, but also an augmented meaning. They 
gain intention as well as intensity; so that the voice 
of a single thrush, ringing out through a February 
evening, will seem not only to fill a whole valley almost 
intolerably full of sweetness, but to shine out, on the 
grey background of the surrounding stillness, with an 
almost legible significance. Instead of the dear, in- 
distinguishable babel of the summer-time we are granted 
the unentangled lyric of one visible, traceable bird. The 
music is no longer a ravelled rain of notes from secret 
sources. There, undisguised, clear, on the clean, bare 
boughs is the soft courageous throat, visibly throbbing. 
And the branches themselves display a lovely logic 
which their midsummer splendour wholly hides. Deli- 
cately discriminated on a dove-grey sky, every detail 
in a double sense distinguished, they are found to follow 
a perfect pattern, reticent as an Eastern print, yet as 
intricate as Western lace. They spire upward like 
fountains, shredding into finer spray as they ascend, 
but maintaining one consonant curve from base to 
outermost twig. Like fountains, too, they seem (as 
at no other time) to be spontaneous expressions of earth's 
energy jutting up through the crust of soil. On the 
costly landscapes which the townsman knows, the trees 



DIXON SCOTT 211 

are strewn like surface decorations, great green and 
golden flowers, detachable as flowers worn by a woman. 
But now, reduced to their elements, they are seen to 
sustain and complete the long lilt of the land. Thus, 
dark among the dark tillage, a single oak tree will bring 
the whole scene to a point, as with a conclusive gesture. 
And in the mass, clamping the hill-tops or mustered 
in the plains, the banded timber, as resolute as jutting 
rock, seem as much a part of the fundamental frame- 
work as rock itself. Yet it is not the earth's nakedness 
alone that leads to this effect of eagerness and intimacy. 
That would be a very incomplete notation of the season's 
charms which failed to take account of the special aerial 
drama of the time — the constant stir and release of 
soft colour, ceaselessly flowing and fading, filling the 
February skies with a delicate fever. Here, once more, 
our urbane misconceptions are remarkable, for we always 
speak of the shortening of the days as though it were 
a dismal decapitation. Whereas, in reality, of course, 
their brevity is the result of an almost passionate 
concentration, a quickening of the revolution of the 
hours, every episode in the play being speeded up in 
order to make it fit the shrunken stage. From the first 
faint silvery overture of the dawn to the deep finale 
of the sunset, the tempo of the day is heightened; and 
each phase stumbles on the heels of its precursor with an 
effect of blushing confusion. It is noon before the sun 
has cast aside the special colours of the early morning, 
and already, so hotfoot is the pace, he must begin to 
assume the livery of evening. No hibernation here! 
To begin the day's walk beneath the first twilight and 
maintain it until the stars begin to bud again is to feel 
that one has rather finely fulfilled the true round and 
tenor of the day. One need be no distressing athlete 



212 MODERN ESSAYS 

to achieve it now. The petals of the dawn have barely 
withered before the clouds are clustering together 
again to construct the last crimson rose. 

Familiar enough, to such a happy walker, the effect 
of all this celestial excitement on the empty fields below. 
In the shelter of the copses and on the grey grass of 
the pastures, the pure, pale colours, light as plum- 
bloom, melt and shift like the colours in an opal. The 
interfusion of early and late light suggests an inter- 
fusion of the seasons — the softly streaming sunlight 
of the autumn thrilled with the fresh passion of 
spring. Very beautiful are the days (we have had 
many of them lately) — the days of violet and misty 
gold, when September, secretly returning, meets May 
in the midst of the woodlands, the broken bands of sun- 
light streaming about her as she runs. Very beautiful, 
too, and equally a monopoly of winter, the days when 
the earth, mist-suffused, appears as frail as porcelain, 
no more substantial than the silken air, and one seems 
to move in the midst of exquisite crisis. Just a word, 
or a touch, you feel, would complete the spell or spoil 
it — dissolve the thin veil completely or set it tossing 
together in self-protective folds. And there are other 
days, not dissimilar, known even in the suburbs, when 
the horizons draw softly together, and the contrast 
between the elusive mist and the sharp outlines of the 
trees and houses create a queer impression of unreality 
and invest the simplest object with a strange significance. 
It is, perhaps, an old lane, or some reeds beside a pool, 
or a twisted scrap of thorn — but it stands out with a 
sudden poignancy, heavy with a wordless beauty. We 
may have passed it a thousand times before; but we 
see it now as though it had been but that instant created. 

And as with the country so too with the country- 



DIXON SCOTT 213 

folk — the same new candour and cordiality. Wander- 
ing through the winter with a knapsack, I came last 
week to a certain little mid-England market-town 
(why conceal its name? — it was Stratford-on-Avon), 
known to me hitherto, as to most others, in its pro- 
fessional midsummer character of " Literary Mecca " 
and so forth. And now, for the first time, I find it 
living its own life, playing an organic part in the life 
of the county and the country, serving the surrounding 
villages, the villages of the Vale of the Red Horse, 
exactly as it did in Shakespeare's time. Revealing 
its own character, concealed amid the self-conscious 
flurry of the tourist months, in all manner of intimate 
artless ways. . . . And this deep change in Stratford's 
attitude is typical of the change that passes over all 
England. All the summer through, nowadays, the best 
of our countryside, from Kent to Cumberland, from 
Devon to Durham, is converted into a kind of brightly 
coloured channel through which the stream of holiday- 
makers continuously pours. But at the end of autumn, as 
at the shutting of a dam, the artificial flow is checked and 
the true tide of the country life resumes its immemorial 
course. There is no fantasy in this ; the human change 
is really extraordinarily profound. Instead of landladies 
and apartments you find farmers' wives and home- 
steads; instead of being regarded as a tourist you are 
welcomed as a friend. As at the end of a ball, there is 
a general unmasking; and even the spectator finds 
himself discarding some well-worn sentiments. The 
footlights are lowered, you catch the players in mufti, 
and you discover that the people you had looked on as 
at players in an idyll are familiar men and women. 
The countryman is found to be a finer thing — a fellow- 
countryman. Perhaps, too, hard weather makes soft 



214 



MODERN ESSAYS 



hearts, and the cold a warmer welcome. Certainly, at 
any rate, et ego in Arcadia is just a sickly-sweet mid- 
summer sigh. Now, wherever you go, you will find 
something more enduring than an idyU; for every 
road you follow will lead you, before nightfall, to the 
door of a human home. 




EDWARD THOMAS 215 



AN AUTUMN HOUSE 
Edward Thomas: Rose Acre Papers 

On that October day, nothing was visible at first save 
yellow flowers, and sometimes a bee's quiet shadow 
crossing the petals: a sombre river, noiselessly saunter- 
ing seaward, dropped with a murmur, far away among 
leaves, into a pool. That sound alone made tremble 
the glassy dome of silence that extended miles and 
miles. All things were lightly powdered with gold, by 
a lustre that seemed to have been sifted through gauze. 
The hazy sky, striving to be blue, was reflected as 
purple in the waters. There, too, sunken and motion- 
less, lay amber willow leaves; some floated down. 
Between the sailing leaves, against the false sky, hung 
the willow shadows, — shadows of willows overhead, 
with waving foliage, like the train of a bird of paradise. 
One standing on a bridge was seized by a Hylean shock, 
and wondered as he saw his face, death-pale, among 
the ghostly leaves below. Everywhere, the languid 
perfumes of corruption. Brown leaves laid their fingers 
on the cheek as they fell ; and here and there the hoary 
reverse of a willow leaf gleamed at the crannied foot 
of the trees. 

One lonely poplar, in a space of refulgent lawn, was 
shedding its leaves as if it scattered largess among a 
crowd. Nothing that it gave it lost ; for each leaf lay 
sparkling upon the turf, casting a splendour upwards. 
Amaidenunwreathing her bridal garlands would cast them 
off with a grace as pensive as when the poplar shed its leaf. 



216 MODERN ESS . ¥S 

We could not walk as slowly as the river floed; 
yet that seemed the true pace to move in life, ai so 
reach the great grey sea. Hand in hand with the 
river wound the path, and that way lay our jou ey. 

In one place slender coils of honeysuckle trit to 
veil the naked cottage stone, or in another the s )tle 
handiwork of centuries had covered the walls ith 
lichen. And it was in the years when Nature id; 

Incipient magni procedere menses, 

when a day meant twenty miles of sunlit forest, 1 ds, 
and water, 

Oh! moments as big as years, 

years of sane pleasure, glorified in later reverit of 
remembrance. . . . Near a reedy, cooty backwat of 
that river ended our walk. 

The day had been an august and pompous fes .*al. 
On that day, burning like an angry flame until on, 
and afterwards sinking peacefully into the sour ess 
deeps of vesperal tranquillity as the light grew )ld, 
life seemed in retrospect like the well-told story f a 
rounded, melodious existence, such as one could ish 
for one's self. How mild, dimly golden, the coirort- 
able dawn! Then the canvas of a boat creeping ike 
a spider down the glassy river pouted feebly. The 
slumberous afternoon sent the willow shadows to 3ep 
and the aspens to feverish repose, in a landscape th- 
out horizon. Evening chilled the fiery cloud, ad a 
grey and level barrier, like the jetsam of a vast up- 
heaval, but still and silent, lay alone across the st. 
Thereafter a light wind knitted the willow brai hes 
against a silver sky with a crescent moon. Ag.nst 
that sky, also, we could not but scan the fixed gr ses 



EDVARD THOMAS 217 

bowig on the wall top. For a little while, troubled 
tenerly by autumnal maladies of soul, it was sweet 
ancsuitable to follow the path towards our place of 

;s— a grey, immemorial house with innumerable 
winows. 

le house, in that wizard light "sent from beyond 
thrsky," — for the moon cast no beams through her 

irbn of oak forest, — seemed to be one not made with 
hails. Was it empty? The shutters of the plain, 
sqtre windows remained un whitened, flapped ajar. 
Urto the door ran a yellow path, levelled by moss, 
wl e a blackbird left a worm half swallowed, as he 
warned our coming. A large red rose, divided and 
sp: by birds, petal by petal, lay as beautiful as blood 
upi the ground. This path and another carved the 
lau into three triangles; and in each an elm rose 
uj laying forth auburn foliage against the house in 
Ncember even. 

he leaves that had dropped earlier lay, crisp and 
cued, in little ripples upon the grass. There is a 
paect moment for coming upon autumn leaves, as 
fc gathering fruit. The full, flawless colour, the false, 
h(tic, well-being of decay, and the elasticity, are 
auined at the same time in certain favoured leaves; 
ai dying is but a refinement of life. 

n one corner of the garden stood a yew tree and 
it shadow; and the shadow was more real than the 
tie, — the shadow inlaid in the sparkling verdure like 
e:>ny. In the branches the wind made a low note of 
iiantation, especially if a weird moon of blood hung 
gidily over it in tossing cloud. To noonday the ebony 
sidow was as lightning to night. Towards this tree 
t* many front windows guided the sight ; and beyond, 
aieep valley was brimmed with haze that just exposed 



218 MODERN ESSAYS 

the tree-tops to the play of the sunset's last random 
fires. To the left, the stubborn leaves of an oak wood 
soberly burned like rust, among accumulated shadow. 
To the right, the woods on a higher slope here and there 
crept out of the haze, like cloud, and received a glory, 
so that the hill was by this touch of the heavens exagger- 
ated. And still the sound of waters falling among trees. 
Quite another scene was discovered by an ivy-hidden 
oriel, lit by ancient light, immortal light travelling 
freely from the sunset, and from the unearthly splendour 
that succeeds. There the leaves were golden for half 
a year upon the untempestuous oaks in that sunken 
land. The tranquillity, the fairness, the unseasonable 
hues, were melancholy: that is to say, joy was here 
under strange skies; sadness was fading into joy, joy 
into sadness, especially when we looked upon this gold, 
and heard the dark sayings of the wind in far-off woods, 
while these were still. Many a time and oft was the 
forest to be seen, when the dullest rain descended, 
fine and hissing, — seen standing like enchanted towers, 
amidst it all, untouched and aloof, as in a picture. 
But when the sun had just disappeared red-hot in the 
warm, grey, still eventide, and left in the west a fiery 
tissue of wasting cloud, when the gold of the leaves had 
an April freshness, in a walk through the sedate old 
elms there was "a fallacy of high content." 

Several roses nodded against the grey brick, as if 
all that olden austerity was expounded by the white 
blossoms that emerged from it, like water magically 
struck from the rock of the wilderness. In the twi- 
light silence the rose petals descended. So tender was 
the air, they lay perfect on the grass, and caught 
the moonlight. 

In ways such as these the mansion spoke. For the 



EDWARD THOMAS 219 

house had a characteristic personality. Strangely out 
of keeping with the trees, it grew incorporate with them 
by night. Behold it, as oft we did, early in the morning, 
when a fiery day was being born in frost, and neither 
wing nor foot was abroad, and it was clothed still in 
something of midnight; then its shadows were homes 
of awful thoughts; you surmised who dwelt therein. 
Long after the sun was gay, the house was sombre, 
unresponsive to the sky, with a Satanic gloom. 

The forest and meadow flowers were rooted airily 
in the old walls. The wildest and delicatest birds had 
alighted on the trees. 

Things inside the house were contrasted with the 
lugubrious wall as with things without. The hangings 
indeed were sad, with a design of pomegranates; but 
the elaborate silver candelabra dealt wonderfully with 
every thread of light entering contraband. One braided 
silver candlestick threw white flame into the polished 
oaken furniture, and thence by rapid transit to the 
mirror. An opening door would light the apartment 
as lightning. Under the lights at night the shadowy 
concaves of the candelabra caught streaked reflections 
from the whorls of silver below. The Holy Grail might 
have been floating into the room when a white linen 
cloth was unfolded, dazzling the eyes. 

In the upper rooms, the beds (and especially that one 
which owned the falcon's eye of an oriel) — the beds, 
with their rounded balmy pillows, and unfathomable 
eider-down that cost much curious architecture to 
shape into a trap for weary limbs, were famous. All 
the opiate influence of the forest was there. Perhaps 
the pillow was daily filled with blossoms that whisper 
softliest of sleep. There were perfumes in the room 
quite inexplicable. Perhaps they had outlived the flowers 



220 MODERN ESSAYS 

that bore them ages back, flowers now passed away 
from the woods. The walls were faded blue; the bed 
canopy a combination of three gold and scarlet flags 
crossed by a device in scarlet and gold: "Blessed is 
he that sleepeth well, but he that sleeps here is 
twice blessed." 

The whole room was like an apse, with altar, and pure, 
hieratic ornament. To sleep there was a sacramental 
thing. Such dreams we had. 

Against that window were flowers whose odour the 
breeze carried to our nostrils when it puffed at dawn. 
If excuses could be found, it was pleasant to be early 
abed in summer, for the sake of that melancholy western 
prospect, when the songs of the lark and the nightingale 
arose together. We fell suddenly asleep with a faint 
rush of the scent of juniper in the room, and the light 
still fingering the eyelashes. Or, if we closed the window 
in that chamber — 

That chamber deaf of noise and blind of sight — 

we could hear our own thoughts. Moreover, there was 
a graceful usage of making music while the owl hooted 
vespers; for a bed without music is a sty, the host 
used to say, — as the philosopher called a table without 
a manger. 

Alongside the bed, and within reach of the laziest 
hand, ran two shelves of books. One shelf held an old 
Montaigne; the Lyrical Ballads] the Morte d' Arthur; 
The Compleat Angler; Lord Edward Herbert's Autobio- 
graphy; George Herbert's Temple; Browne's Urn 
Burial; Cowper's Letters. The other shelf was filled 
by copies, in a fine feminine hand and charmingly mis- 
spelt, of the long-dead hostess's favourites, all bound 
according to her fancy by herself : Keats' Odes; Twelfth 



EDWARD THOMAS 221 

Night; L' Allegro and II Penseroso; the Twenty-first 
Chapter of St. John and the Twenty-third Psalm ; Virgil's 
Eclogues; Shelley's Adonais; part ii. section ii. member 
4, of the Anatomy of Melancholy, called " Exercise 
Rectified of Body and Mind"; Lord Clarendon's Eulogy 
of Falkland, in the History of the Great Rebellion; a 
great part of The Opium Eater, and Walter Pater's 
Child in the House and Leonardo da Vinci, added by a 
younger but almost equally beautiful hand. 

What healing slumbers had there been slept, what 
ravelled sleaves of care knit up! Ancient room that 
had learned peacefulness in centuries, to them whose 
hunger bread made of wheat doth not assuage, to those 
that are weary beyond the help of crutches, you, ancient 
room in that grey immemorial house, held sweet food 
and refuge. To the bereaved one, sleeping here, you 
redeemed the step that is soundless for ever, the eyes 
that are among the moles, the accents that no subtlest 
hearing shall ever hear again; — You, ancient bed, full 
of the magic mightier than " powerfullest lithomancy," 
had blessings greater than St. Hilary's bed, on which 
distracted men were laid, with prayer and ceremonial, 
and in the morning rose restored. With you, perhaps, 
was Sleep herself; Sleep that sits, more august than 
Solomon or Minos, in a court of ultimate appeal, whither 
move the footsteps of those who have mourned for 
justice at human courts, and mourned in vain: Sleep, 
by whose equity divine the bruised and dungeoned 
innocent roams again emparadised in the fields of home, 
under the smiles of familiar skies: Sleep, whose mercy 
is not bounded, but 

droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven, 

even upon the beasts. Sleep soothes the hand of 



222 MODERN ESSAYS 

poverty with gold, and pleases with the ache of long- 
stolen coronets the brows of fallen kings. Had Tantalus 
dropped his eyelids, sleep had ministered to his lips. 
The firman of sleep goes forth: the peasant is enthroned 
and accomplished in the superb appurtenances of empire ; 
the monarch finds himself among the placid fireside 
blisses of light at eventide; and those in cities pent 
sleep beguiles with the low summons : 

Ad claras Asise volemus urbes. 

Because sleep clothes the feet of sorrow with leaden 
sandals and fastens eagles' wings upon the heels of 
joy, I wonder that some ask at nightfall what the morrow 
shall see concluded: I would rather ask what sleep 
shall bring forth, and whither I shall travel in my dreams. 
It seems indeed to me that to sleep is owed a portion 
of the deliberation given to death. If life is an appren- 
ticeship to death, waking may be an education for 
sleep. We are not thoughtful enough about sleep; 
yet is it more than half of that great portion of 
life spent really in solitude. "Nous sommes tous dans 
le desert! Personne ne comprend personne." In the 
desert what then shall we do? We truly ought to 
enter upon sleep as into a strange, fair chapel. Fragrant 
and melodious ante-chamber of the unseen, sleep is a 
novitiate for the beyond. Nevertheless, it is likely that 
those who compose themselves carefully for sleep are 
few as those who die holily; and most are ignorant of 
an art of sleeping (as of dying). The surmises, the 
ticking of the heart, of an anxious child, — the awful 
expectation of Columbus spying the fringes of a world, 
— such are my emotions, as I go to rest. I know not 
whether before the morrow I shall not pass by the stars 
of heaven and behold the "pale chambers of the west," 



EDWARD THOMAS 223 

returning before dawn. To many something like 
Jacob's dream often happens. The angels rising are 
the souls of the dreamers dignified by the insignia of 
sleep. Without vanity, I think in my boyhood, in my 
sleep, I was often in heaven. Since then, I have gone 
dreaming by another path, and heard the sighs and 
chatterings of the underworld; have gone from my 
pleasant bed to a fearful neighbourhood, like the fifth 
Emperor Henry, who, for penance, when lights were 
out, the watch fast asleep, walked abroad barefoot, 
leaving his imperial habiliments, leaving Matilda the 
Empress. And when the world is too much with me, 
when the past is a reproach harrying me with dreadful 
faces, the present a fierce mockery, the future an open 
grave, it is sweet to sleep. I have closed a well-loved 
book, ere the candle began to fail, that I might sleep, 
and let the soul take her pleasure in the deeps of 
eternity. It may be that the light of morning is ever 
cold, when it breaks in upon my sleep and disarrays 
the palaces of my dreams. 

Each matin bell . . . 
Knells us back to a world of death. 

The earth then seems but the fragments of my dream, 
that was so high. 



/ 



224 MODERN ESSAYS 



A RARE TRAVELLER: W. H. HUDSON 
Ernest Rhys 

Picturesque topographers and guides to famous places 
are many. The real discoverers and born naturalists, 
able to make a country new and wonderful even to the 
people who have lived in it all their lives, are few at 
the best of times. 

It was the author of The Paradox Club who first an- 
nounced, some years ago, a traveller from South America 
who had rediscovered Britain. The traveller's name 
recalled Hudson's Bay and Henry Hudson the Naviga- 
tor; but his own initials were W. H. and his country 
was Guayana. To that side of the world, after writing 
several books about the wilds of London, Sussex, 
Wilts, Hampshire and Cornwall, Hudson later returned 
in his unfinished autobiography — Far Away and Long 
Ago. A strange book, as biographies and autobio- 
graphies go, treating of nature, human nature, and 
aspects of life that to-day are often left out of the 
reckoning, its pages recall some of the earlier books that 
made its writer known — Idle Days in Paraguay, The 
Naturalist in La Plata, South American Sketches, The 
Purple Land that England Lost, and the perfect little 
Indian romance, Green Mansions, which is in its wild 
disguise personal too. 

The spell of these early South American adventures 
was so strong and the vision of the world they unfolded 
so remarkable, that originally they left one wishing 



ERNEST RHYS 225 

almost that the writer would write only on Guayana 
and the neighbouring lands. But another and older 
instinct was in his blood, which led him over to this 
country, and in his English adventures he fully kept 
his sense of discovery. He described them like a 
man coming fresh to the scene, while yet feeling the 
place association that usually comes only with old 
acquaintance. 

This dual interest much increases the effect of his 
writing. In "A Shepherd of the Downs " he looked 
on that Sussex country with the eyes of an heir to an 
old estate, back from exile. But the land of his birth 
is still in his mind, and every wilder aspect of the one 
calls up the spirit and the colour of the other. So 
Wiltshire and Guayana were both in a way mother- 
earth to him; the South Downs remind him of La 
Plata, Paraguay and the Banda Oriental, and behind 
the scenes described in his English pages loom up the 
deserts and splendours of the new world seen from the 
top of Ytaioa. In Sussex a day on Kingston Hill (near 
Lewes) does the trick: 

The wide extent of unenclosed and untilled earth, its 
sunburnt colour and its solitariness, when no person was 
in sight; the vast blue sky, with no mist or cloud on it; 
the burning sun and wind, and the sight of thousands upon 
thousands of balls or stars of down, reminded me of old 
days on horseback on the open pampas — an illimitable 
waste of rust-red thistles, and the sky above covered with 
its million floating flecks of white. 

By this reversion and his power of bringing an appre- 
ciable strangeness into a familiar bit of landscape, he 
expresses in a fashion peculiar to himself what we may 
call the primitive colours of the English uplands. 
His feeling for them was that of a countryman who 



226 MODERN ESSAYS 

was yet a far traveller, a great naturalist, an artist in 
wild life. To him any scene where there was room, 
open sky and plenty of wing-space, was haven enough, 
though to others it seemed treeless and uninviting. He 
took a place like Winterbourne Bishop — the village 
without any ivied relic or new hotel to attract the 
tourist — and made it into the mirror of that place- 
memory which haunts us like a repeated dream. He 
could take a tree, as in El Ombu, and make it reveal 
life upon life, generation after generation, in the story 
it tells. The result is one only attained by an uncommon 
conjunction of the right subject and the fit man to deal 
with it. 

The actual narrator in El Ombu is a Spanish- American 
exile; and something of a Spanish gravity in the style 
much enhances the narrative illusion: 

Do you hear the manganga, the carpenter bee, in the 
foliage over our heads? Look at him. Like a ball of 
shining gold among the green leaves, suspended in one 
place, humming loudly. Ah, sefior, the years that are 
gone, the people that have lived and died, speak to me 
thus audibly when I am sitting here by myself. These 
are memories; but there are other things that come back 
to us from the past; I mean ghosts. Sometimes at 
midnight, the whole tree, from its great roots to its top- 
most leaves, is seen from a distance shining like white 
fire. What is that fire, seen of so many, which does not 
scorch the leaves? And sometimes, when a traveller lies 
down here to sleep the siesta, he hears sounds of footsteps 
coming and going, and noises of dogs and fowls, and of 
children shouting and laughing, and voices of people talking. 
But when he starts up and listens, the sounds grow faint, 
and seem at last to pass away into the tree with a low 
murmur as of wind among the leaves. 

The story of this haunted tree is one to be read out of 



ERNEST RHYS 227 

doors — under English trees, let us say, that reflect by 
their likeness in unlikeness the great trunk of the tropical 
Ombu. No story that I know, written in our time, so 
conveys the desire of life, and the extremest cruelty of 
death, without once breaking the tale-teller's profound 
pleasure in the things he has to relate. In Green 
Mansions too, it may be remembered, the daughter of 
the Di-di meets her fate in a tree; and that story can 
be read along with El Ombu and the later English tale 
An Old Thorn, which form a trilogy without a parallel 
in English fiction. 

More about the Ombu tree is to be learnt from Far 
Away and Long Ago: 

The house where I was born was named Los Veinte- 
cinco Ombues, that is " The Twenty-five Ombu Trees." 
For there were in fact just so many of them in a long row. 
It is a tree of huge girth, and yet the wood is soft and 
spongy, unfit for firewood and otherwise useless, and the 
leaves are poisonous. Being of so little service to man 
it is likely to die out: but it formed a gigantic landmark 
on those South American plains and gave welcome shade 
to man and horse from the sun. 

On the Pampas or on the Downs, we find how impor- 
tant a role is that of the single figure in the foreground. 
A tree, a shepherd, a beggar on horseback, a hermit 
like "Con-Stair Lovair," a patriarch like Don Evaristo 
Penalva serves to focus to a fine degree the particular 
spot of earth that is described. On the South Downs 
it may be a picture of a farm-boy: "The Boy with 
the Thistle": 

He wore a round grey peakless cap, and for ornament 
he had fastened in the middle of it, where there had perhaps 
once been a top-knot or ball, a big woolly thistle-flower. 



228 MODERN ESSAYS 

No doubt there are dangers in this kind of figurative 
particularity. Some people who attempt it become too 
diffuse in their wish to be exact, and end by growing 
garrulous over a bit of straw or a stray pig. Again, a 
wrong word or a touch of self-consciousness is fatal as 
the cough of the hunter who hopes to pass for a stone or 
a tree-trunk when stalking a deer. The naturalist in 
Hudson saves him at the point where you may think 
him getting too notionable for his woodcraft. Indeed 
it is the reaction between nature and human nature in 
his work which makes it interesting. The insect race 
and the bird race and the human race — are they not 
alike alive, alike confounded by the mortal decay of 
things? In the September pages of his Sussex book, 
he described "the wind sweeping through the yellow 
bennets with a long scythe-like sound." Then the 
thought of the past summer's insect life, and the noise 
of all those fine small voices blending into one voice, 
and the glistening of their minute swift-moving bodies 
like thin dark lines on the air, overtakes him: 

And now in so short a time, in a single day and night 
as it seems, it is all over, the feast and fairy dance of life; 
the myriads of shining gem-like bodies turned to dead 
dust, the countless multitudes of brilliant little individual 
souls dissipated into thin air, and blown whithersoever the 
wind blows. 

It may seem that the impression this leaves is too 
mournful, but though a tinge of melancholy — even, 
it may be, of ingrained melancholy — does show in these 
pages, the whole sense of the spectacle of life which they 
bear is a large and invigorative one. 

Take the sketch of Shepherd Caleb Bawcombe's 
mother and the black sheep-dog, Jack. The dog was 
of the old Welsh type once common in Wiltshire, and 



ERNEST RHYS 229 

a great adder-killer: "I can see her now," said Caleb, 
"sitting on that furze bush, in her smock and leggings, 
with a big hat like a man's on her head — for that's how 
she dressed." But presently she jumped up, crying 
out that she felt a snake under her, and snatched off 
the shawl on which she had been sitting. There, sure 
enough, appeared the head of an adder: and Jack 
dashed at the bush, seized the snake and killed it. 

Take again the "History of Tommy Ierat," in the 
same book. The long life and curiously easy death of 
this man, as there told, are affecting as the end of Sir 
Launcelot in the Morte d' Arthur. One can hardly say 
more than that. 

In the last chapter of his autobiography, by turning 
the glass upon himself he shows where his boyish hopes 
and fears were leading him, when his own story was but 
a quarter told, with the years of his full experience 
still to come: 

. . . Barring accidents, I could count on thirty, forty, 
even fifty years, with their summers and autumns and 
winters. And that was the life I desired . . . the life 
the heart can conceive — the earth life. 

Of that life so conceived he was the natural historian, 
and it is worth note that, when other tests failed, he got 
his effect by looking into the most curious of all natural 
phenomena — himself. For Nature, the arch-revealer, 
when she finds a man to her mind, can make him a 
part of her own expression. Idle Days in Patagonia — a 
book in which the professional naturalist seems at times 
struggling with the natural man — serves to show how 
it came about. There, as he describes the bird-sounds, 
and the resonant quality of their notes, which tells 
you of the mysterious bell: "somewhere in the air, 



230 MODERN ESSAYS 

suspended on nothing," or, as he recalls the Plains, and 
the grey waste, he has already let you far into his secret. 
He speaks of the state of mind, induced by the change 
of consciousness, that comes to a man who has been long 
in a state of solitude. It leads, he says, to "a revelation 
of an unfamiliar and unsuspected nature" hidden under 
the nature we commonly recognise ; and it is accounted 
for by a sudden awakening in us of the old primitive 
animal instinct which is often accompanied (as it is 
in the very young) by an intense delight. To that 
delight, instinctive yet spiritual in its higher develop- 
ment, he returns in the portrait he draws of his mother: 

Everything beautiful in sight or sound, that affected 
me, came associated with her, and this was especially so 
with flowers. Her feeling for them was little short of 
adoration. To her they were little voiceless messengers 
from heaven, symbols of a place and a beauty beyond 
our power to imagine. Her favourites were mostly among 
wild flowers that are never seen in England. But [he 
says] if ever I should return to the Pampas I should go 
out in search of them, and seeing them again, feel that I 
was communing with her spirit. 

This is a confession which explains something of the 
faculty that must be possessed by one who is more than 
a mere chronicler of wild life — the curious power which 
can see earth transformed by sympathetic understand- 
ing. The delight he found in that life did not fail as 
time went; it grew instead, and gained a deeper pur- 
chase upon his mind. And even when he was shut 
out from Nature in London for long periods, sick and 
poor and friendless, it was his sure consolation. 

One wayfaring book of his remains to be described 
— Afoot in England. It appeared more than ten years 
ago, but I only chanced upon it after reading the later 



ERNEST RHYS 231 

English books. Some chapters and pages of it are in 
his most characteristic vein; and they help one to find 
the measure of his traveller's philosophy. It has an 
introduction on Guide Books well worth pondering. 
He goes to a Guide Book town, much boomed, made 
notorious by railway placards ; and even there he comes 
upon a peal of bells which recalls the Monk of Eynsham's 
Easter Bells — "a ringing of marvellous sweetness as if 
all the bells of the world, or whatsoever is sounding, 
had been rung together at once." He travels in Cob- 
bett's footsteps to Coombe and "Uphusband" or 
Hurstbourne Tarrant ; he goes to Salisbury, Stonehenge, 
Bath, and Wells. He considers cathedrals anew as 
bird resorts. At Salisbury he finds a wondrous popula- 
tion of birds: swallows, martins, swifts; to say nothing 
of daws, starlings and sparrows: even kestrels, and 
stock-doves, instead of the common town pigeons, are 
of that church-keeping company: 

Nor could birds in all this land find a more beautiful 
building to rest on — unless I except Wells Cathedral, 
solely on account of its west front, beloved of daws, where 
their numerous black company have so fine an appearance. 
Salisbury, so vast in size, is yet a marvel of beauty in its 
entirety. Still to me the sight of the birds' airy gambols 
and the sound of their voices, from the deep human-like 
dove tones to the perpetual subdued rippling running- 
water sound of the aerial martins, must always be a prin- 
cipal element in the beautiful effect. Nor do I know a 
building where Nature has done more in enhancing the 
loveliness of man's work with her added colouring. . . . 
This colouring is most beautiful [he adds] on a day of 
flying clouds and a blue sky with a brilliant sunshine on 
the vast building after a shower. 

A cathedral to him, as to Ibafiez, is a cathedral and 
something more. It is a part of the indigenous growth 



232 MODERN ESSAYS 

of the country, and, in exploring it, he is like St. Bran- 
dan in The Golden Legend discovering an Isle of Birds. 

A discoverer of strange things in familiar places, 
Hudson saw birds as another race, not so far from our 
own, a little more aerial, a little less earthy. At another 
remove, the insect race is again behind, or a little 
below the bird race. The lowest of all, I am afraid, is 
of the homunculus type — one which invariably moves 
his spleen. For we must admit that he is splenetic at 
times. He is angry with the Toby Philpots of Chi- 
chester; he is annoyed with Cornish folk — I imagine 
because they are not like the Devon folk he loves 
so well. He is angry with fashionable women who 
go to Holy Communion with aigrettes in their hats. 
He is annoyed by dirty little boys who follow their 
instincts, and stone or catch little birds. But this is 
only because he is a kind-hearted vagabond who is 
ready to love all creatures that on earth do dwell, so 
long as they are not too degenerate to preserve their 
natural instincts. He is one among the rare itinerants 
who have revealed the beauty of this country by their 
affectionate art — including White of Selborne, Old 
Crome, Constable, Turner, Richard Jefferies, Words- 
worth, and certain unnamed and undistinguished 
provincial poets. There are pages of his that enshrine 
scenes and memories of places to be ranked with Old 
Crome's "Mousehold Heath," the picture of Appin 
sketched by Dorothy Wordsworth in her Tour in 
Scotland, Dyer's Grongar Hill, Bewick's thumb-nail 
vignettes of Prudhoe-on-Tyne, and Constable's "Old 
Sarum." 

In days to come when nearly all the wildness of Britain 
is tamed, men will look back with envy to Hudson's 
account of the birds in Savernake, and of the London 



ERNEST RHYS 233 

daws, now growing scarcer every year, that rose to 
fly with the homing crows as they passed over 
Kensington Gardens. 

Of two more books which are part of his English 
cycle, the first is Birds in Town and Village, which has 
a greenfinch interlude for the consolation of true bird- 
lovers, a charming tale of a duet between a girl and a 
nightingale, and many other characteristic vagabond 
passages. What will surprise some readers, less tolerant 
than the naturalist himself, is a critical appreciation 
of a concert of London sparrows. The fit sequel to that 
is the chapter on "Chanticleer"; and there are other 
London contributions and notably one on the moor- 
hens in Hyde Park. The book is illustrated by some 
wonderfully brilliant bird-portraits by E. J. Detmold 
— brilliantly coloured and sunlit. Indeed the blue-tit 
and goldfinch, in one picture, are almost dazzling — 
every wing-feather detailed like a fan. 

The other is The Book of a Naturalist, which adds 
some delightful pages, natural and human-natural, to 
the writer's account of Britain re-discovered. It opens 
with a pine wood, and it ends with earthworms and an 
experiment with acacia-leaves to test the value of the 
worm as a lawn-maker. Two chapters on the mole, 
two on the heron considered as an ancient British 
notable and aristocrat, and four on serpents, native 
and foreign, serve to carry on the record. The story 
of the she-rat that communed with her natural enemy, 
a cat, and who in the end tried to steal the fluff from the 
rat's abundant side-whiskers, and so provoked a misunder- 
standing, is an unexpected diversion, since Hudson was 
not fond of rats, and has even been known to call them 
those "cursed cattle." But the book is above all to 



234 MODERN ESSAYS 

be gratefully remembered for its scenes and episodes 
of the wild chronicle of the English shires: — an en- 
chanting June evening in the valley of the Wiltshire 
Avon, when the ghost-moths were out upon their love- 
dance over the dusky meadows; an adder episode in 
the New Forest, when the creature proved to have an 
under surface of the most exquisite turquoise blue; 
or a brown-purple field of fritillaries, or ginny-flowers, 
which are of the wild lily kind, pendulous as a 
harebell, and of a delicate pink chequered with dark 
maroon-purple. 

These voyages and discoveries seemed to occur to 
Hudson so easily, that they leave one newly penetrated 
with the sense of the wild splendour, the beauty inex- 
haustible, of the new-old country that he travelled. 
No need for him to go back to Guayana, since he found 
his tropics in a Wiltshire meadow, and his wood beyond 
the world in Hants or Dorset. There are many wild 
places — downs, woods and lowlands — that will miss 
hereafter that tall, grey, falcon-faced traveller. 




J. MIDDLETON MURRY 235 



A NEGLECTED HEROINE OF SHAKESPEARE 
John Middleton Murry: Countries of the Mind 1 

Coriolanus is, if not one of the greatest, one of the 
most masterly of Shakespeare's plays. If it does not 
hold all the spiritual significance of any of the three 
great tragedies, if it has not the profound emotional 
appeal of Antony and Cleopatra or Julius Ccesar, it 
indubitably belongs to the same period of serene mastery 
of theme and expression. French critics continually, 
and English critics occasionally — these last improperly 
obeisant before the prestige of French criticism — have 
said that Coriolanus is Shakespeare's most perfect work 
of art. While we deplore their language, we under- 
stand their meaning. Coriolanus is a magnificent 
example of creative control. Its design is, as Mr. Walter 
Sickert has well said of Poussin's painting, "marshalled." 
Its economy, its swiftness, its solidity, its astonishing 
clarity and pregnancy of language are not only satis- 
fying and exhilarating in themselves, but may have a 
peculiar and profound appropriateness to the warlike 
argument. Just as the looser texture of Antony and 
Cleopatra seems to be the inevitable garment of the 
decaying soldiership of Antony, so the exact and 
unrelenting pattern of Coriolanus seems essential 
to the unfaltering decision and the unswerving suc- 
cess of the earlier Roman general. The play marches 
onward like a legion in the days when Roman 
soldiers were Romans still. 

1 Published in America by Messrs. E. P. Dutton and Co. 



236 MODERN ESSAYS 

Perhaps it is this quality of Roman relentlessness 
and inevitability which has made it unsympathetic to 
the general English taste, for among us it is surely the 
least popular of Shakespeare's great plays. In France, 
on the contrary, it is said to be the most popular ; prob- 
ably not for the same reason. Beyond the fact that 
Coriolanus is a familiar and traditional hero of the 
French theatre, the concentrated and controlled drama- 
tic action which distinguishes Shakespeare's Coriolanus 
from his other great dramas appeals directly to the 
French palate. Since, however, this only means that 
Coriolanus is an unusually well-constructed play, it 
cannot account for the general reluctance of English 
people to admit it to their affections. The reason, 
one imagines, is that it is too Roman. An English 
audience, and English readers, for that matter, like to 
surrender themselves to their heroes. They can idolise 
Brutus as an eloquent Hampden, and sympathise with 
an Antony lost in the embraces of his serpent of old 
Nile. A martyr for political liberty, a martyr for love, 
these are intimate and comprehensible to us; but a 
martyr to the aristocratic idea is not. He is an alien; 
there is too much of the British constitution in our 
blood for him to warm it. 

In other and more familiar terms, Coriolanus is an 
unsympathetic hero, and all the characters of the play, 
save one, to whom we shall return, strike chill upon the 
general heart. Volumnia is altogether too much like 
that forbidding Spartan mother who haunted our 
schooldays with her grim farewell: "Return with your 
shield or upon it"; Menenius is too cynical, too worldly- 
wise to move us humanly in his discomfiture; Brutus 
and Sicinius arouse neither sympathy nor disdain, and 
the emotion we feel at the knightly generosity of Aufidius 






J. MIDDLETON MURRY 237 

is dashed too soon by his confession that, if he cannot 
overthrow Coriolanus by fair means, he will by foul. 
Coriolanus himself we cannot like, any more than a 
schoolboy can like Themistocles. One may despise 
one's country, one may hate one's country, but one may 
not lead an enemy against her. These are primitive 
ethics, no doubt, but they are profound, and though 
they may be alien to aesthetic criticism, they have their 
roots deep in the human heart. The writer who ignores 
them deliberately imperils the universality of his appeal. 

We can see clearly enough why Coriolanus should be 
that among Shakespeare's greater plays which is most 
neglected by the public, and therefore the least familiar 
to the stage. It is not so easy to understand why it 
should have been so neglected by the critics, unless, 
perhaps, they are not quite so immune from the effects 
of instinctive sympathy as in theory they ought to be. 
By the critics I mean the true literary critics, not the 
textual "philologers." These have been busy enough, 
sometimes to good effect, as with the whole line which 
they have neatly restored from North's Plutarch, but 
at least as often in a spirit perhaps best described as 
one of slight impatience with poetry. This is, however, 
not the occasion to catalogue the things they have done 
which they ought not to have done; but only to try to 
show that they have also left undone a few things that 
they ought to have done. Far from me at this moment 
the desire to shiver a lance in open battle with the 
editors; I only crave their leave to ride to the rescue 
of an all vanished lady to whom they have had no time 
to stretch out a helping hand. 

All that needs to be premised is the simple fact that 
Coriolanus was first printed in the Folio of 1623, and 
that we have no other authority for the text. On the 



238 MODERN ESSAYS 

whole we may say that the Folio text is careless enough, 
although I believe that — obvious misprints apart — it 
is at least as near to Shakespeare's original as most 
modern recensions, which take us as much farther away 
by some of their readings as they bring us nearer to it 
by others. The most persistent weakness of the Folio 
Coriolanus is the haphazard distribution of lines among 
the speakers. One of the most palpable of these blunders 
has been rectified by common assent. In Act III. 
(scene i., I. 237), when Menenius is trying hard to per- 
suade Coriolanus to moderate his contemptuous lan- 
guage towards the plebs, the Folio gives him these 
impossible words: 

I would they were barbarians, as they are 

Though in Rome litter'd: not Romans, as they are not 

Though calved i' th' porch o* th' Capitol. 

It is as certain that Menenius did not speak them as 
it is certain that Coriolanus did. They have been pro- 
perly restored to the hero. The Folio Coriolanus 
then, although the true and authentic original, is 
far from impeccable. 

So much by way of preamble to the attempt at rescue. 

Of all the characters in Coriolanus one alone can be 
said to be truly congenial; and she is the least sub- 
stantial of them all. Virgilia, Coriolanus's wife, though 
she is present throughout the whole of four scenes, 
speaks barely a hundred words. But a sudden, direct 
light is cast upon her by a phrase which takes our breaths 
with beauty, when Coriolanus welcomes her on his 
triumphant return as: "My gracious silence!" Magical 
words! They give a miraculous substance to our 
fleeting, fading glimpses of a lovely vision which seems 
to tremble away from the clash of arms and pride that 



J. MIDDLETON MURRY 239 

reverberates through the play. Behind the disdainful 
warrior and his Amazonian mother, behind the vehement 
speech of this double Lucifer, the exquisite, timid spirit 
of Virgilia shrinks out of sight into the haven of her 
quiet home. One can almost hear the faint click of 
the door behind as it shuts her from the noise of 
brawling tongues. Yet in her presence, and in the 
memory of her presence, Coriolanus becomes another 
and a different being. It is true we may listen in vain 
for other words so tender as "My gracious silence!" 
from his lips. A man who has one love alone finds 
only one such phrase in a lifetime. But in the heat 
of victorious battle, when Coriolanus would clasp 
Cominius in his arms for joy, he discovers in himself 
another splendid phrase to remember his happiness 
with Virgilia: 

Oh! let me clip ye 

In arms as sound as when I woo'd, in heart 
As merry, as when our nuptial day was done 
And tapers burned to bed ward. 

And even in the anguish of the final struggle between 
his honour and his heart, when his wife comes with his 
mother to intercede for Rome, it is in the very accents 
of passionate devotion that he cries to Virgilia: 

Best of my flesh, 
Forgive my tyranny; but do not say 
For that, " Forgive our Romans." Oh! a kiss 
Long as my exile, sweet as my revenge ! 
Now, by the jealous queen of heaven, that kiss 
I carried from thee, dear, and my true lip 
Hath virgin'd it e'er since. 

In the proud, unrelenting man of arms these sudden 
softenings are wonderful. They conjure up the picture 



240 MODERN ESSAYS 

of a more reticent and self-suppressed Othello, and we 
feel that, to strike to the heart through Coriolanus's 
coat of mail, it needed an unfamiliar beauty of soul, a 
woman whose delicate nature stood apart, untouched 
by the broils and furies of her lord's incessant battling 
with the Roman people and the enemies of Rome. 

In the play Virgilia speaks barely a hundred words. 
But they are truly the speech of a "gracious silence," 
as precious and revealing as they are rare. She appears 
first (Act I., scene iii.) in her own house, sitting silent 
at her sewing. Coriolanus has gone to the wars. 
Volumnia tries to kindle her with something of her own 
Amazonian ecstasy at the thought of men in battle. 
"I tell thee, daughter, I sprang not more in joy at 
first hearing he was a man-child than now in first seeing 
he had proved himself a man." Virgilia's reply, the 
first words she speaks in the play, touch to the quick 
of the reality of war and her own unquiet mind: 

But had he died in the business, madam, how then? 

The thoughts of her silence thus revealed, she says no 
more until chattering Valeria, for all the world like one 
of the fashionable ladies in Colonel Repington's diary, 
is announced. She has come to drag her out to pay calk. 
Virgilia tries to withdraw. Volumnia will not let her, 
and even while the maid is in the room waiting to know 
whether she may show Valeria in, she bursts into another 
ecstatic vision of her son in the midst of battle: "his 
bloody brow with his mailed hand then wiping." Again 
Virgilia reveals herself: 

His bloody brow! O Jupiter, no blood I 

Valeria enters on a wave of small talk. She has seen 
Virgilia's little boy playing. The very image of his 



J. MIDDLETON MURRY 241 

father; "such a confirmed countenance." She had 
watched him chase a butterfly, catching it and letting 
it go, again and again. "He did so set his teeth and 
tear it ; oh, I warrant how he mammocked it ! " 

Volum. One on 's father's moods. 
Val. Indeed, la, it is a noble child. 
Virg. A crack, madam. 

"An imp, madam!" The meaning leaps out of the 
half-contemptuous word. Don't call him a noble child 
for his childish brutality. It pains, not rejoices Vir- 
gilia. Nor, for all the persuasions of Volumnia and 
Valeria, will she stir out of the house. She does not 
want society; she cannot visit "the good lady that 
lies in." She is as firm as she is gentle. 

'Tis not to save labour, nor that I want love. 

Simply that she is anxious and preoccupied. She will 
not "turn her solemness out of doors"; she cannot. 
Coriolanus is at the wars. 

So, in two dozen words and a world of unspoken 
contrast Virgilia is given to us: her horror of brutality 
and bloodshed, her anxiety for her husband, her reti- 
cence, her firmness. She is not a bundle of nerves, 
but she is full of the aching fears of love. Truly, "a 
gracious silence." 

She next appears when the news is come that Corio- 
lanus has triumphed (Act II., scene i.). Volumnia and 
Valeria are talking with Menenius. She stands aside 
listening. He is sure to be wounded, says Menenius, 
he always is. She breaks out: "Oh, no, no, no!" 
She retires into her silence again while Volumnia proudly 
tells the story of her son's twenty-five wounds. "In 
troth, there's wondrous things spoke of him," says 



242 MODERN ESSAYS 

chattering Valeria. Virgilia murmurs : " The gods grant 
them true!" "True! Pow-wow!" says Volumnia, in 
hateful scorn: one can see her sudden turn, hear her 
rasping voice. Virgilia is not one of the true breed of 
Roman wives and mothers. And indeed she is not. 
She is thinking of wounds, not as glorious marks of 
bravery, but as the mutilated body of the man she 
adores. Wounds, wounds! They talk of nothing but 
wounds. Virgilia suffers in silence. Coriolanus is 
wounded. That is a world wounded to her. 

Coriolanus enters, swathed in bandages, unrecog- 
nisable. He kneels before his mother. Then he sees 
Virgilia standing apart, weeping silently. These are 
the words of the Folio text. The spelling has been 
modernised; the punctuation has been left untouched. 

Corio. My gracious silence, hail: 

Would'st thou have laughed, had I come coffin'd home 

That weep'st to see me triumph ? Ah my dear, 

Such eyes the widows in Corioli wear 

And mothers that lack sons. 
Mene. Now the Gods crown thee. 
Corio. Oh my sweet lady, pardon . . . 
Virg. And live you yet? 
Val. I know not where to turn. 

Oh welcome home : and welcome General, 

And y'are welcome all. 

The first two of these speeches and their speakers 
contain no difficulty. But, obviously, "And live you 
yet? Oh, my sweet lady, pardon," does not belong 
to Cominius. On his lips it is nonsense. The editors 
have resolved the problem by giving the line to Corio- 
lanus, and the following speech of Volumnia to Valeria. 
Coriolanus is supposed to say to Menenius: "And five 
you yet?" then, suddenly catching sight of Valeria, 
to beg her pardon for not having seen her before. 



J. MIDDLETON MURRY 243 

We have a free hand in disposing of the line. There 
is no objection to Volumnia's speech being given to 
Valeria, whose effusive manner it suits better. But to 
make Coriolanus surprised that Menenius is still alive 
is pointless ; he had no reason to suppose that the arm- 
chair hero was dead. Moreover, to make him turn to 
Valeria and say: "Oh, my sweet lady, pardon," is to 
give the great warrior the manners of a carpet knight. 

Now think of the relation between Virgilia and Corio- 
lanus ; remember how her imagination has been pre- 
occupied by his wounds ; see her in imagination weeping 
at the pitiful sight of her wounded husband — and 
read the lines through without regard to the speakers. 
It will, I believe, occur to any one with an instinct for 
psychology that: "And live you yet? " takes up Corio- 
lanus's previous words. "Ah, my dear," he has said, 
"it is the women who have no husbands who weep as 
you do." Then, and not till then, Virgilia breaks silence *. 
" And live you yet ? " And are you really my husband ? 
Is this thing of bandages the lord of my heart ? At her 
sudden, passionate words Coriolanus understands her 
tears. He has a glimpse of the anguish of her love. 
He has been an unimaginative fool. "Oh, my sweet 
lady, pardon ! " This, I suggest, is the way the passage 
should be read: 

Corio. Ah, my dear, 

Such eyes the widows in Corioli wear 
And mothers that lack sons. 

Mene. Now the gods crown thee ! 

Virg. And live you yet? 

Corio. Oh, my sweet lady, pardon . . . 

Val. I know not where to turn. 

And to my own mind it is an essential part of the 
beauty of the passage that these few lightning words 



244 MODERN ESSAYS 

of love should flash through the hubbub of Menenius's 
welcome and Valeria's effusive congratulations. 

Virgilia appears again in the scene following Corio- 
lanus's banishment (Act IV., scene ii.). Here the altera- 
tions necessary are self-evident, and it is difficult to 
understand why they have not been made before. Again 
the test of reading through the short scene with an 
imaginative realisation of Virgilia must be applied. 
Again her exquisite timidity of speech must be con- 
trasted, as Shakespeare deliberately contrasted it, with 
Volumnia's headstrong and contemptuous anger. It 
will then, I believe, be plain that of Volumnia's 
final words: 

Anger's my meat; I sup upon myself 

And so shall starve with feeding. Come, let's g». 

Leave this faint puling and lament as I do 

In anger, Juno-like. Come, come, come, 

the last two lines are addressed to Virgilia alone. Be- 
sides Volumnia herself only the two tribunes, Brutus 
and Sicinius, are there. The lines cannot be spoken to 
them. Only Virgilia remains. She is not angry, but 
sad, at Coriolanus's banishment, just as in his triumph 
she was sad, not joyful: and just as then, Volumnia 
scorns her for her weakness. 

Now read again the Folio text, which is that of the 
modern editions of lines 11-28. Volumnia meets the 
two tribunes who have been the prime movers in her 
son's banishment: 

Volurn. Oh y'are well met: 

Th' hoarded plague a' th' gods requite your love. 
Mene. Peace, peace, be not so loud. 
Volutn. If that I could for weeping, you should hear, 

Nay, and you shall hear some. Will you be gone? 
Virg. You shall stay too: I would I had the power 

To say so to my husband. 



J. MIDDLETON MURRY 245 

Sicin. Are you mankind ? 

Volum. Aye, fool, is that a shame. Note but this, fool, 

Was not a man my father? Had'st thou foxship 

To banish him that struck more blows for Rome 

That thou hast spoken words. 
Sicin. Oh blessed Heavens ! 
Volum. More noble blows than ever your wise words. 

And for Rome's good, I'll tell thee what: yet go: 

Nay, but thou shalt stay too : I would my son 

Were in Arabia, and thy tribe before him. 

His good sword in his hand. 
Sicin. What then? 

Virg. What then? He'd make an end of thy posterity 
Volum. Bastards, and all. 
Virg. Good man, the wounds that he does bear for Rome ! 

It is obvious that the peremptory "You shall stay too" 
(1. 14) is not spoken by Virgilia. It is as completely 
discordant with her character, and with Volumnia's 
description of her behaviour during the scene ("this 
faint puling"), and it is accordant with the character 
of Volumnia. Volumnia forces first one, then the 
other tribune to stay; we can see her clutch them by 
the sleeve, one in either of her nervous hands. At her 
words Virgilia interposes a sighing aside : "I would I 
had the power to say so to my husband." 

It is equally clear that Virgilia cannot possibly have 
indulged in the brutal imagination of line 27, "What 
then? He'd make an end of thy posterity." There is 
no stop at the end of the line in the Folio: it runs on 
to the next half line; and the whole line and a half 
undoubtedly belong to Volumnia. A simple trans- 
position of the rubrics is all that is needed. 

Volum. What then ? 

He'd make an end of thy posterity 

Bastards and all. 
Virg. Good man, the wounds that he does bear for Rome! 



246 MODERN ESSAYS 

It is another sighing aside and another indication that 
Virgilia is haunted by the memoiy of those wounds 
she could not bear to see. Unless these asides are 
restored to her, and the brutal words taken away, 
quite apart from the violation of her character, there 
is no point in Volumnia's sneer at her "faint puling." 
Virgilia appears for the last time as the silent par- 
ticipant in Volumnia's embassy of intercession. For 
the first and only time a bodily vision of her beauty is 
given to us, when Coriolanus cries; 

What is thy curtsy worth or those dove's eyes 
Which can make gods forsworn ? I melt and am not 
Of stronger earth than others. 

She has no need of words to make her appeal ; her eyes 
speak for her. She says simply; 

My lord and husband ! 
Corio. These eyes are not the same I wore in Rome. 
Virg. The sorrow that delivers us thus changed makes you 

think so. 
Corio. Like a dull actor now, 

I have forgot my part, and I am out 

Even to a full disgrace. Best of my flesh 

Forgive my tyranny; but do not say 

For that, " Forgive our Romans." Oh! a kiss 

Long as my exile, sweet as my revenge ! 

Now, by the jealous queen of heaven, that kiss 

I carried from thee, dear, and my true lip 

Hath virgin'd it e'er since. 

After this Virgilia speaks but a single sentence more. 
Volumnia ends her pleading with an impassioned 
adjuration to her son: 

For myself, son, 
I purpose not to wait on Fortune till 
These wars determine : if I cannot persuade thee 
Rather to show a noble grace to both parts 



J. MIDDLETON MURRY 247 

Than seek the end of one, thou shalt no sooner 
March to assault thy country than to tread — 
Trust to't, thou shalt not — on thy mother's womb 
That brought thee to this world. 
Virg. Ay, and mine 

That brought you forth this boy, to keep your name 
Living to time. 

Virgilia's words contain much in little space. They, 
her last words in the play, are the first in which she 
shows herself at one with her husband's mother. Always 
before Volumnia has been angry, contemptuous, 
spiteful, malevolent towards Virgilia ; and Virgilia has 
held her peace without yielding an inch of ground to 
Volumnia's vehemence. We have felt throughout that 
they are the embodiments of two opposed spirits — of 
pride and love. Not that Volumnia's pride has changed 
to love; it is the same pride of race that moves her,, 
the fear of disgrace to a noble name: 

The end of war's uncertain; but this is certain, 
That, if thou conquer Rome, the benefit 
Which thou shalt thereby reap is such a name 
Whose repetition shall be dogged with curses, 
Whose chronicle thus writ: " The man was noble 
But with his last attempt he wip'd it out, 
Destroy' d his country, and his name remains 
To the ensuing age abhorr'd." 

But now these spirits of love and pride are reconciled; 
for once they make the same demand. Volumnia 
pleads that her son shall remember honour. Virgilia 
that her husband shall remember mercy. The double 
appeal is too strong. Coriolanus yields to it, and pays 
the penalty. 

Not one of the readjustments suggested in this essay 
calls for the alteration of a single word in the text of the 
Folio. They consist solely in a redistribution of words 



248 MODERN ESSAYS 

among the speakers, and in the most complicated in- 
stance a redistribution of some kind has long since been 
seen to be necessary and long since been made. I 
venture to think that together they will help to dis- 
engage the true outline of one of Shakespeare's most 
delicate minor heroines. There was no place for a 
Desdemona in the story of Coriolanus; but in a few 
firm touches Shakespeare has given us a woman whose 
silence we can feel to be the unspoken judgment on the 
pride of arms and the pride of race which are the theme 
of the play. 

For it is surely not against the democratic idea that 
Coriolanus is tried and found wanting. In spite of 
Signor Croce's assurance to the contrary, it is impossible 
to believe that the contempt for the city mob with which 
the play is penetrated was not shared by Shakespeare 
himself. The greatest writers strive to be impersonal, 
and on the whole they achieve impersonality; but, 
though they carve out an image that is unlike them- 
selves, they cannot work wholly against the grain of 
their own convictions. Prejudice will out. And the 
loathing of the city mob which is continually expressed 
in Shakespeare's work and comes to a head in Coriolanus 
was indubitably his own. It is indeed less plausible 
to deny this, than it would be to argue that at a time 
when his genius was seizing on themes of a greater 
tragic scope, it was his sympathy with the anti-plebeian 
colour of the Coriolanus story that led Shakespeare to 
choose it for his play. 

This is not a question of Shakespeare's political 
views. We do not know what they were, and we have 
•no means of finding out. Signor Croce is thus far 
right. But when he goes on to assure us that it is a 
wild-goose chase to look to discover where Shakespeare's 



J. MIDDLETON MURRY 249 

sympathies lay in the world in which he lived, we can 
point to the knowledge we actually have of every great 
writer. We do know their sympathies. It may be an 
illegitimate knowledge, but the laws it violates are laws 
of Signor Croce's own devising. It is his own logical 
fiat that holds the kingdoms of the aesthetic and the 
practical asunder. In fact, there is no dividing line 
between them. A writer's predispositions in practical 
life do constantly colour his aesthetic creation, and 
every great writer who has been conscious of his activity 
has either confessed the fact or glorified in it. 

We know that Shakespeare detested the city mob. 
If we care to know why, we have only to exercise a little 
imagination and picture to ourselves the finest creative 
spirit in the world acting in his own plays before a 
pitful of uncomprehending, base mechanicals. The 
man who used that terrible phrase, who "gored his own 
thoughts" 1 to wring shillings from the pockets of the 
greasy, grinning crowd in front of him, has no cause to 
love them; and Shakespeare did not. He was an 
aristocrat, not in the political sense, but as every man 
of fine nerves who shrinks from contact with the coarse- 
nerved is an aristocrat, as Anton Tchehov was an 
aristocrat when he wrote: "Alas, I shall never be a 
Tolstoyan. In women I love beauty above all things, 
and in the history of mankind, culture expressed in 
carpets, spring carriages, and keenness of wit." 

Shakespeare could not therefore measure Coriolanus 
against the democratic idea in which he did not be- 
lieve; nor could he pit the patriotic idea against him, for 
Coriolanus was immune from a weakness for his country. 

1 Alas, 'tis true, I have gone here and there 
And made myself a motley to the view, 
Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear. 



250 



MODERN ESSAYS 



It is domestic love that pierces his armour and inflicts 
the mortal wound. And perhaps in Shakespeare's 
mind the power of that love was manifested less in the 
silver speech of the vehement and eloquent Volumnia 
than in the golden silence of the more delicate woman 
to whom we have attempted to restore a few of her 
precious words. 




SIR W. R. NICOLL 251 



THE ART OF PACKING 

Sir W. Robertson Nicoll: The Day Book of 
Claudius Clear 

The art of packing is confessedly rare and difficult, and 
I never mastered it. In the old days when I had to do 
my best, there was nothing for it but brute force. A 
bag or a trunk was a thing to be subdued and over- 
come. When a student, I purchased as large a box as 
I could afford, and when the end of the session arrived 
I put everything into my box, and then sat down on it till 
it was brought to reason. The results were not entirely 
satisfactory, but they were the best I could achieve. 

Later on my difficulties increased. Like most men I 
have an ineradicable prejudice against luggage. When 
I put a bag or a box into the luggage van it is with 
small hope of ever seeing it again. For ten minutes 
after in the railway carriage I think of how I shall be 
able to get on if my luggage vanishes into space. For 
those who cannot learn to pack, the one resource is to 
get some one who will pack for them. Wonderful is the 
competency of some packers. They put in everything 
you want, and nothing else. They put it in small com- 
pass. They pack it in such a way that it emerges 
uninjured. I praise and admire, and thank them. If 
there is trouble it comes in at the other end. When you 
have to return you may find, if left alone, that you 
cannot get the things back into their place. In that case 
you will be followed for days after your return by 
mysterious parcels sent from the hotel. This is humiliat- 
ing enough, but perhaps you cannot help it. A delightful 



252 MODERN ESSAYS 

writer whose hand, alas ! is cold to-day has described 
the adventures of a husband and wife who agreed on 
their honeymoon to have their luggage put together. 
The lady had her preferences, and so had the gentleman. 
She wished to have with her five paint-boxes, six sketch- 
books, two cameras, three kodaks, a butterfly net and 
box, a camp stool, a formidable array of hats, three 
sunshades of different colours, and a collection of rugs 
and wraps fit for the Arctic regions. They were going 
to the Italian Lakes at the hottest time of the year. 
The gentleman despised all these things, but he could 
not get on without a large assortment of boots and 
shoes, and a series of volumes on the geological strata 
of the Alps and the Renaissance in Lombardy. " Trouble 
followed," as the theological student said in summarising 
the experience of Jonah. At the end of the journey, the 
lady found her best comb smashed, a precious silver 
mirror shivered to atoms, her dresses crushed, and her 
hats reduced to jellies. 

I thought about my many adventures in packing the 
other day when I was dictating some articles for a half- 
penny paper. In these journals a thousand words is 
the limit, and if you can get your matter into five 
hundred words, so much the better. Every well-edited 
journal seeks to have a justification for everything it 
prints. Many people fancy that editors have difficulty 
in filling their columns. If they have, it is a proof that 
they are incompetent. Every journal in a healthy state 
is compelled to reject constantly articles with a good 
claim to publication. But in a halfpenny daily, where 
many subjects must be touched, the problem is acute. 
It is a question of packing. In the first place, no article 
should be packed in it that is not needed. Every para- 
graph should be its own justification. Then the articles 



SIR W. R. NICOLL 253 

should be skilfully packed, and not rumpled and crushed. 
It is no credit to get many things into a small bag if 
they all emerge damaged. Many writers would find it 
useful to take a thousand words of their writing and 
reduce the thousand to five hundred without impair- 
ing the effect. It is not easy with writing that is 
worth anything. A theological professor, criticising a 
student's sermon, said that the half of it had better 
be omitted, and it did not matter which half. You 
cannot condense your article simply by cutting it in 
two. You must rewrite it upon another scale. It is 
not enough to be brief. You must be interesting, and 
it is possible and very easy to be both brief and tedious. 
The editing of the ideal halfpenny newspaper, simple 
as it seems to the outsider, is in reality as difficult as 
the editing of The Times, for every headed paragraph, 
however short, is a study in the art of condensation. 
I quite understand that certain subjects cannot be 
satisfactorily dealt with in very brief articles or para- 
graphs. Nevertheless, the man who runs to length 
should suspect himself. There are preachers who think 
that the religion of the country is dying out because 
people object to sermons an hour long. But the old 
story comes up irresistibly. If a man cannot strike oil 
in twenty minutes, he had better cease boring. 

This leads me to say that the art of packing is the 
art of life. What shall we do with the day? Here are 
the twelve hours before us. What work can we put into 
them? A very favourite theme of Addison's Spectator 
was the waste of the day, especially by fine ladies. This 
is a specimen : 

Saturday. — Rose at eight o'clock in the morning. Sat 
down to my toilette. 

From eight to nine. Shifted a patch for half an hour 



254 MODERN ESSAYS 

before I could determine it. Fixed it above my left 
eyebrow. 

From nine to twelve. Drank my tea and dressed. 

From twelve to two. At chapel. A great deal of good 
company. Mem. — The third air in the new opera. Lady 
Blithe dressed frightfully. 

From three to four. Dined. Miss Kitty called upon me 
to go to the opera before I was risen from table. 

From dinner to six. Drank tea. Turned off a footman 
for being rude to Veny. 

Six o'clock. Went to the opera. I did not see Mr. Froth 
till the beginning of the second act. Mr. Froth talked to a 
gentleman in a black wig; bowed to a lady in the front 
box. Mr. Froth and his friend clapped Nicolini in the 
third act. Mr. Froth cried out: "Ancora." Mr. Froth led 
me to my chair. I think he squeezed my hand. 

Eleven at night. Went to bed. Melancholy dreams. 
Methought Nicolini said he was Mr. Froth. 

Sunday. — Indisposed . 

There are people who never waste a moment, who get 
up very early, and have done much work by breakfast, 
who are always pulling out pen, pencil, or needle, while 
others seem unemployed. I remember Robertson Smith 
telling me that he learned Italian when he was dressing. 
This perhaps may be overdone. There may be seasons 
and spaces which it is not worth while to fill with an 
occupation. Is it worth while to read at meals or out 
of doors ? I think not, unless one is very lonely indeed. 
Haydon, the painter, tells us a pleasant story of Sir 
Walter Scott. Sir Walter went to see a picture of Hay- 
don's which was on view. He arrived before the door 
was open, and was told that the man would not be long 
in coming. He quietly sat down and waited. Haydon 
found him thus, and delightedly records it as a beauti- 
ful trait of this great genius. It was a beautiful trait. 



SIR W. R. NICOLL 255 

but many of us would have tried to fill up the short 
interval somehow. 

The truth is that in order to give out you must take 
in, and that the time spent in absorbing is just as neces- 
sary and just as well spent as the time spent in testi- 
fying. The other day I was in a country town, and took 
out of the circulating library two books I had not seen 
for years — the Life of Bishop Wilberforce and the Life 
of Dean Hook. Both were indefatigable men. Of Wil- 
berforce it was said that he could write two letters at 
once, one with his left hand and the other with his right. 
Also it is said that he could dictate seven letters at one 
and the same time. I do not believe these stories, but 
many people do believe them. Wilberforce was an early 
riser, he was always writing, always preaching, always 
travelling, and being a man of fine gifts, he won a 
great position. Yet his life on the whole was impaired 
and disappointed. He never succeeded in achieving the 
place of his ambition. He saw over and over again men 
preferred to him who were conspicuously his inferiors. 
He came under a general suspicion of insincerity. The 
queen suspected him, and so did many of her subjects. 
Yet I think unprejudiced readers of his letters and 
journals will see that in intention he was always honest. 
What injured him was that he knew nothing. He read 
practically nothing, he was not in any sense a scholar; 
he thought the time spent in study was wasted time. 
In spite of his ignorance he rushed headlong into con- 
troversies where no man can do any good who is not 
equipped with the results of patient and scholarly 
investigation. Thus he assaulted the authors of Essays 
and Reviews in the Quarterly, and declared them enemies 
of the Christian faith. In the same periodical he made 
a furious onslaught on Darwin. It is safe to say that 



256 MODERN ESSAYS 

Wilberforce had given moments to science where Darwin 
had given days, and his article is simply presumptuous 
nonsense. He rushed into a fray about Bishop Hampden, 
and it turned out in the end that he had not read 
Hampden's books. Having got into false positions, he 
had to get out of them as best he could, and he did not 
get out of them well. How much more Wilberforce 
would have accomplished if he had been content to be 
quiet at times! Dean Hook was another example of 
immense and prolonged industry. He, too, was an early 
riser. He sometimes wrote three sermons in one day. 
Hook was a reader as well as a writer, and he has left 
many books behind him, but I doubt whether any of 
them will live. There was no touch of intellectual 
distinction about him, nothing at all of the saving 
grace of style. Honest, laborious, bold, ambitious, he 
•did good and even great work in his day, perhaps the 
best work that he could accomplish, and yet one 
imagines that under conditions of more leisure and less 
absorption he might have done something of another 
kind. For myself, I particularly dislike people who 
profess to be busy, and seem to be hurried, people who 
look at the clock when you visit them, or when they 
visit you. We must not try to pack life too close. 



THE END 



PRINTED BY THE TEMPLE PRESS AT LETCHWORTH IN GREAT BRITAIN 



14 

00 

sfr< 



CD 





o 

i 



g& 

O cd 

52! CQ 

CQ 

* <D 

CQ 

is 

8 CD 

43 

-P 
CD 

I 






University of Toronto 
Library 



DO NOT 

REMOVE 

THE 

CARD 

FROM 

THIS 

POCKET 





Acme Library Card Pocket 
LOWE-MARTIN CO. limited