A MERE ACCIDENT.
AUTHOR OF "A MUMMER'S WIFE," "A MODERN LOVER," "A DRAMA IN MUSLIN," "SPRING DAYS," ETC.
My Friends at Buckingham.
Nearly twenty years have gone since first we met, dear friends; time has but strengthened our early affections, so for love token, for sign of the years, I bring you this book—these views of your beautiful house and hills where I have spent so many happy days, these last perhaps the happiest of all.
Three hundred yards of smooth, broad, white road leading from Henfield, a small town in Sussex. The grasses are lush, and the hedges are tall and luxuriant. Restless boys scramble to and fro, quiet nursemaids loiter, and a vagrant has sat down to rest though the bank is dripping with autumn rain. How fair a prospect of southern England! Land of exquisite homeliness and order; land of town that is country, of country that is town; land of a hundred classes all deftly interwoven and all waxing to one class—England. Land encrowned with the gifts of peaceful days—days that live in thy face and the faces of thy children.
See it. The outlying villas with their porches and laurels, the red tiled farm houses, and the brown barns, clustering beneath the wings of beautiful trees—elm trees; see the flat plots of ground of the market gardens, with figures bending over baskets of roots; see the factory chimney; there are trees and gables everywhere; see the end of the terrace, the gleam of glass, the flower vase, the flitting white of the tennis players; see the long fields with the long team ploughing, see the parish church, see the embowering woods, see the squire's house, see everything and love it, for everything here is England.
* * * * *
Three hundred yards of smooth, broad, white road, leading from Henfield, a small town in Sussex. It disappears in the woods which lean across the fields towards the downs. The great bluff heights can be seen, and at the point where the roads cross, where the tall trunks are listed with golden light, stands a large wooden gate and a small box-like lodge. A lonely place in a densely-populated county. The gatekeeper is blind, and his flute sounds doleful and strange, and the leaves are falling.
The private road is short and stony. Apparently space was found for it with difficulty, and it got wedged between an enormous holly hedge and a stiff wooden paling. But overhead the great branches fight upwards through a tortuous growth to the sky, and, as you advance, Thornby Place continues to puzzle you with its medley of curious and contradictory aspects. For as the second gate, which is in iron, is approached, your thoughts of rural things are rudely scattered by sight of what seems a London mews. Reason with yourself. This very urban feature is occasioned by the high brick wall which runs parallel with the stables, and this, as you pass round to the front of the house, is hidden in the clothing foliage of a line of evergreen oaks; continuing along the lawn, the trees bend about the house—a wash of Naples-yellow, a few sharp Italian lines and angles. To complete the sketch, indicate the wings of the blown rooks on the sullen sky.
But our purpose lies deeper than that which inspires a water-colour sketch. We must learn when and why that house was built; we must see how the facts reconcile its somewhat tawdry, its somewhat suburban aspect, with the richer and more romantic aspects of the park. The park is even now, though it be the middle of autumn, full of blowing green, and the brown circling woods, full of England and English home life. That single tree in the foreground is a lime; what a splendour of leafage it will be in the summer! Those four on the right are chestnuts, and those far away, lying between us and the imperial downs, are elms; through that vista you can see the grand line, the abrupt hollows, and the bit of chalk road cut zig-zag out of the steep side. Then why the anomaly of Italian urns and pilasters; why not red Elizabethan gables and diamond casements?
Why not? Because at the beginning of the century, when Brighton was being built, fragments of architectural gossip were flying about Sussex, and one of these had found its way to, and had rested in, the heart of the grandfather of the present owner: in a simple and bucolic way he had been seized by a desire for taste and style, and the present building was the result. Therefore it will be well to examine in detail the house which young John Norton of '86 was so fond of declaring he could never see without becoming instantly conscious of a sense of dislike, a hatred that he was fond of describing as a sort of constitutional complaint which he was never quite free from, and which any view of the Rockery, or the pilasters of the French bow-window, or indeed of anything pertaining to Thornby Place, called at once into an active existence.
Thornby Place is but two stories high, and its spruce walls of Portland stone and ashlar work rise sheer out of the green sward; in front, Doric columns support a heavy entablature, and there are urns at the corners of the building. The six windows on the ground floor are topped with round arches, and coming up the drive the house seems a perfect square. But this regularity of structure has on the east side been somewhat interfered with by a projection of some thirty or forty feet—a billiard room, in fine, which during John's minority Mrs Norton had thought proper to add. But she had lived to rue her experiment, for to this young man, with his fretful craving for beauty and exactness of proportion, it is an ever present source of complaint; and he had once in a half humorous, half serious way, gone so far as to avail himself of the "eyesore," as he called it, to excuse his constant absence from home, and as a pretence for shutting himself up in his dear college, with his cherished Latin authors. It was partly for the sake of avenging himself on his mother, whose decisive practicality jarred the delicate music of a nature extravagantly ideal, that he so severely criticised all that she held sacred; and his strictures fell heaviest on the bow window, looking somewhat like a temple with its small pilasters supporting the rich cornice from which the dwarf vaulting springs. The loggia, he admitted, although painfully out of keeping with the surrounding country, was not wholly wanting in design, and he admired its columns of a Doric order, and likewise the cornice that like a crown encompasses the house. The entrance is under the loggia; there are round arched windows on either side, a square window under the roof, and the hall door is in solid oak studded with ornamental nails.
On entering you find yourself in a common white-painted passage, and on either side of the drawing-room and dining-room are four allegorical female heads: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Further on is the hall, with its short polished oak stairway sloping gently to a balcony; and there are white painted pillars that support the low roof, and these pillars make a kind of entrance to the passage which traverses the house from end to end. England—England clear and spotless! Nowhere do you find a trace of dust or disorder. The arrangement of things is somewhat mechanical. The curtains and wall-paper in the bedrooms are suggestive of trades people and housemaids; no hastily laid aside book or shawl breaks the excessive orderliness. Every piece of furniture is in its appointed place, and nothing testifies to the voluntariness of the occupant, or the impulse prompted by the need of the moment. On the presses at the ends of the passages, where is stored the house linen, cards are hung bearing this inscription: "When washing the woodwork the servants are requested to use no soda without first obtaining permission from Mrs Norton." This detail was especially distasteful to John; he often thought of it when away, and it was one of the many irritating impressions which went to make up the sum of his dislike of Thornby Place.
Mrs Norton is now crying her last orders to the servants; and although dressed elaborately as if to receive visitors, she has not yet laid aside her basket of keys. She is in her forty-fifth year. Her figure is square and strong, and not devoid of matronly charm. It approves a healthy mode of life, and her quick movements are indicative of her sharp determined mind. Her face is somewhat small for her shoulders, the temples are narrow and high, the nose is long and thin, the cheek bones are prominent, the chin is small, but unsuggestive of weakness, the lips are pinched, the complexion is flushed, and the eyes set close above the long thin nose are an icy grey. Mrs Norton is a handsome woman. Her fashionably-cut silk fits her perfectly; the skirt is draped with grace and precision, and the glossy shawl with the long soft fringe is elegant and delightfully mundane. She raises her double gold eyeglasses, and, contracting her forehead, stares pryingly about her; and so fashionable is she, and her modernity is so picturesque, that for a moment you think of the entrance of a duchess in the first act of a piece by Augier played on the stage of the Francais.
Still holding her gold-rimmed glasses to her eyes, she descended the broad stairs to the hall, and from thence she went into the library. There are two small bookcases filled with sombre volumes, and the busts of Moliere and Shakespeare attempt to justify the appellation. But there is in the character, I was almost going to say in the atmosphere of the room, that same undefinable, easily recognizable something which proclaims the presence of non-readers. The traces of three or four days, at the most a week, which John occasionally spent at Thornby Place, were necessarily ephemeral, and the weakness of Mrs Norton's sight rendered continuous reading impossible. Sometimes Kitty Hare brought a novel from the circulating library to read aloud, and sometimes John forgot one of his books, and a volume of Browning still lay on the table. The room was filled with shadow and mournfulness, and in a dusty grate the fire smouldered.
Between this room and the drawing-room, in a recess formed by the bow window, Mrs Norton kept her birds, and still peering through her gold-rimmed glasses, she examined their seed-troughs and water-glasses, and, having satisfied herself as to their state, she entered the drawing-room. There is little in this room; no pictures relieve the widths of grey colourless wall paper, and the sombre oak floor is spaced with a few pieces of furniture—heavy furniture enshrouded in grey linen cloths. Three French cabinets, gaudy with vile veneer and bright brass, are nailed against the walls, and the empty room is reflected dismally in the great gold mirror which faces the vivid green of the sward and the duller green of the encircling elms of the park.
Mrs Norton let her eyes wander, and sighing she went into the dining-room. The dining-room is always the most human of rooms, and the dining-room in Thornby Place, although allied to the other rooms in an absence of fancy in its arrangement, shows prettily in contrast to them with its white cloth cheerful with flowers and ferns. The floor is covered with a tightly stretched red cloth, the chairs are set in symmetrical rows; with the exception of a black clock there is no ornament on the chimney-piece, and a red cloth screen conceals the door used by the servants.
Mrs Norton walked with her quiet decisive step to the window, and holding the gold-rimmed glasses to her eyes, she looked into the landscape as if she were expecting someone to appear. The day was grimy with clouds; mist had risen, and it hung out of the branches of the elms like a veil of white gauze. Withdrawing her eye from the vague prospect before her, Mrs Norton played listlessly with the tassel of one of the blinds. "Surely," she thought, "he cannot have been foolish enough to have walked over the downs such a day as this;" then, raising her glasses again she looked out at the smallest angle with the wall of the house, so that she should get sight of a vista through which any one coming from Shoreham would have to pass. Presently a silhouette appeared on the sullen sky. Mrs Norton moved precipitately from the window, and she rang the bell sharply.
"John," she said, "Mr Hare has been going in for one of his long walks. I see him now coming across the park. I am sure he has walked over the downs; if so he must be wet through. Have a fire lighted in Mr Norton's room, put up a pair of slippers for him: here is the key of Mr Norton's wardrobe; let Mr Hare have what he wants."
And having detached one from the many bunches which filled her basket, she went herself to open the door to her visitor. He was however still some distance away, and standing in the shelter of the loggia she waited for him, watched the vague silhouette resolving itself into colour and line. But it was not until he climbed the iron fence which separated the park from the garden grounds that the figure grew into its individuality. Then you saw a man of about forty, about the medium height and inclined to stoutness. His face was round and florid, and it was set with sandy whiskers. His white necktie proclaimed him a parson, and the grey mud with which his boots were bespattered told of his long walk. As is generally the case with those of his profession, he spoke fluently, his voice was melodious, and his rapid answers and his bright eyes saved him from appearing commonplace. In addressing Mrs Norton he used her Christian name.
"You are quite right, Lizzie, you are quite right; I shouldn't have done it: had I known what a state the roads were in, I wouldn't have attempted it."
"What is the use of talking like that, as if you didn't know what these roads were like! For twenty years you have been making use of them, and if you don't know what they are like in winter by this time, all I can say is that you never will."
"I never saw them in the state they are now; such a slush of chalk and clay was never seen."
"What can you expect after a month of heavy rain? You are wringing wet."
"Yes, I was caught in a heavy shower as I was crossing over by Fresh-Combe-bottom. I am certainly not in a fit state to come into your dining-room."
"I should think not indeed! I really believe if I were to allow it, you would sit the whole afternoon in your wet clothes. You'll find everything ready for you in John's room. I'll give you ten minutes. I'll tell them to bring up lunch in ten minutes. Stay, will you have a glass of wine before going upstairs?"
"I am afraid of spoiling your carpet."
"Yes, indeed! not one step further! I'll fetch it for you."
When the parson had drunk the wine, and was following the butler upstairs, Mrs Norton returned to the dining-room with the empty glass in her hand. She placed it on the chimney piece; she stirred the fire, and her thoughts flowed pleasantly as she dwelt on the kindness of her old friend. "He only got my note this morning," she mused. "I wonder if he will be able to persuade John to return home." Mrs Norton, in her own hard, cold way, loved her son, but in truth she thought more of the power of which he was the representative than of the man himself: the power to take to himself a wife—a wife who would give an heir to Thornby Place. This was to be the achievement of Mrs Norton's life, and the difficulties that intervened were too absorbing for her to think much whether her son would find happiness in marriage; nor was it natural to her to set much store on the refining charm and the uniting influences of mental sympathies. Had she not passed the age when the sentimental emotions are liveliest? And the fibre was wanting in her to take into much account the whispering or the silence of passion.
Mrs Norton saw in marriage nothing but the child, and in the child nothing but an heir—that is to say, a male who would continue the name and traditions of Thornby Place. This would seem to indicate a material nature, but such a misapprehension arises from the common habit of confusing pure thought—thought which proceeds direct from the brain and lives uncoloured by the material wants of life—with instincts whose complexity often causes them to appear as mental potentialities, whereas they are but instincts, inherited promptings, and aversions more or less modified by physical constitution and the material forces of the life in which the constitution has grown up; and yet, though pure thought, that is to say the power of detaching oneself from the webs of life and viewing men and things from a height, is the rarest of gifts, many are possessed of sufficient intellectuality to enjoy with the brain apart from the senses. Mrs Norton was such an one. After five o'clock tea she would ask Kitty to read to her, and drawing her shawl about her shoulders, would readily abandon the intellectual side of her nature to the seductive charm of the romantic story of James of Scotland; and while to the girl the heroism and chivalry were a little clouded by the quaint turns of Rossetti's verse, to the woman these were added delights, which her quiet penetrating understanding followed and took instant note of.
"Were mother and son ever so different?" was the common remark. The artistic was the side of Mrs Norton's character that was unaffectedly kept out of sight, just as young John Norton was careful to hide from public knowledge his strict business habits, and to expose, perhaps a little ostentatiously, the spiritual impulses in which he was so deeply concerned: the subtle refinement of sacred places, from the mystery of the great window with its mitres and croziers to the sunlit path between the tombs where the children play, the curious and yet natural charm that attendance in the sacristy had for him, the arrangement of the large oak presses, wherein are stored the fine altar linen and the chalices, the distributing of the wine and water that were not for bodily need, and the wearing of the flowing surplices, the murmuring of the Latin responses that helped so wonderfully to enforce the impression of beautiful and refined life which was his, and which he lived beyond the gross influences of the wholly temporal life which he knew was raging almost but not quite out of hearing. But, however marked may be the accidental variations of character, hereditary instincts are irresistible, and in obedience to them John neglected nothing that concerned his pecuniary instincts. He was in daily communication with his agent, and the financial position of every farmer, and the state of every farm on his property, were not only known to him but were constantly borne in mind, and influenced him in that progressive ordering of things which marked the administration of his property. He was furnished quarterly with an account of all monies paid, to which were joined descriptive notes of each farm, showing what alterations the past three months had brought, and setting forth the agricultural intentions and abilities of the occupier.
John Norton waited the arrival of these accounts with a keen interest: they were a relish to his life; and without experiencing any revulsion of feeling, he would lay down a portfolio filled with photographs of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci—studies of drapery, studies of hands and feet, realistic studies of thin-lipped women and ecstatic angels with the light upon their high foreheads—and cheerfully, and even with a sense of satisfaction, he would untie the bald, prosaic roll of paper, and seating himself at his window overlooking the long terrace, he would add up the figures submitted to him, detecting the smallest arithmetical error, making note of the least delay in payment of any money due, and questioning the slightest overpayment for work done. The morning hours fled as he pursued his congenial task; and from time to time he would let his thoughts wander from the teasing computation of the money that would be required to make the repairs that a certain farmer had demanded, to the unworldly quiet of the sacristy; he would think, and his thoughts contained an evanescent sense of the paradox, of the altar linen he would have to fold and put away, and of the altar breads he would presently have to write to London for; and meanwhile his eyes would follow in delight the black figures of the Jesuits, who, with cassocks blowing and berrettas set firmly on their heads, walked up and down the long gravel walks reading their breviaries.
And living thus, half in the persuasive charm of ceremonial, half in the hard procession of account books, the last three years of John's life had passed. On coming of age he had spent a few weeks at Thornby Place, but the place, and especially the country, had appeared to him so grossly protestant—so entirely occupied with the material well-to-doness of life—that he declared he longed to breathe again the breath of his beloved sacristy, that he must away from that close and oppressive atmosphere of the flesh. Since then, with the exception of a few visits of a few days he had lived at Stanton College, writing to his mother not of the business which concerned his property, but of mental problems and artistic impulses. On business matters he never consulted her; but he thought it fortunate that she should choose to spend her jointure on Thornby Place, and so save him a great deal of expense in keeping up the house, which, although he disliked it with a dislike that had grown inveterate, he was still unwilling to allow to fall to ruins.
Mrs Norton, as has been said, was capable of understanding much in the abstract; so long as things, and ideas of things, did not come within the circle of her practical life, they were judged from a liberal standpoint, but so soon as they touched any personal consideration, they were judged by a moral code that in no way corresponded to her intellectual comprehension of the matter she so unhesitatingly condemned. But by this it must by no means be understood that Mrs Norton wore her conscience easily—that it was a garment that could be shortened or lengthened to suit all weathers. Our diagnosis of Mrs Norton's character involves no accusation of laxity of principle. Mrs Norton was a woman with an intelligence, who had inherited in all its primary force a code of morals that had grown up in the narrower minds of less gifted generations. In talking to her you were conscious of two active and opposing principles: reason and hereditary morality. I use "opposing" as being descriptive of the state of soul that would generally follow from such mental contradiction, but in Mrs Norton no shocking conflict of thought was possible, her mind being always strictly subservient to her instinctive standard of right and wrong.
And John had inherited the moral temperament of his mother's family, and with it his mother's intelligence, nor had the equipoise been disturbed in the transmitting; his father's delicate constitution in inflicting germs of disease had merely determined the variation represented by the marked artistic impulses which John presented to the normal type of either his father's or his mother's family. It would therefore seem that any too sudden corrective of defect will result in anomaly, and, in the case under notice, direct mingling of perfect health with spinal weakness had germinated into a marked yearning for the heroic ages, for the supernatural as contrasted with the meanness of the routine of existence. And now before closing this psychical investigation, and picking up the thread of the story, which will of course be no more than an experimental demonstration of the working of the brain into which we are looking, we must take note of two curious mental traits both living side by side, and both apparently negative of the other's existence: an intense and ever pulsatory horror of death, a sullen contempt and often a ferocious hatred of life. The stress of mind engendered by the alternating of these themes of suffering would have rendered life an unbearable burden to John, had he not found anchorage in an invincible belief in God, a belief which set in stormily for the pomp and opulence of Catholic ceremonial, for the solemn Gothic arch and the jewelled joy of painted panes, for the grace and the elegance and the order of hieratic life.
In a being whose soul is but the shadow of yours, a second soul looking towards the same end as your soul, or in a being whose soul differs radically, and is concerned with other satisfactions and other ideals, you will most probably find some part of the happiness of your dreams, but in intercourse with one who is grossly like you, but who is absolutely different when the upper ways of character are taken into account, there will be—no matter how inexorable are the ties that bind—much fret and irritation and noisy clashing. It was so with John Norton and his mother; even in the exercise of faculties that had been directly transmitted from one to the other there had been angry collision. For example:—their talents for business were identical; but while she thought the admirable conduct of her affairs was a thing to be proud of, he would affect an air of negligence, and would willingly have it believed that he lived independent of such gross necessities. Then his malady—for intense depression of the spirits was a malady with him—offered an ever-recurring cause of misunderstanding. How irritating it was when he lay shut up in his room, his soul looking down with murderous eyes on the poor worm that writhed out its life in view of the pitiless stars, and longing with a fierce wild longing to shake off the burning garment of consciousness, and plunge into the black happiness of the grave, to hear Mrs Norton on the threshold uttering from time to time admonitory remarks.
"You should not give way to such feelings, sir; you should not allow yourself to be unhappy. Look at me, am I unhappy? and I have more to bear with than you, but I am not always thinking of myself.... I am in fairly good health, and I am always cheerful! Why are you not the same? You bring it all upon yourself; I have no pity for you.... You should cease to think of yourself, and try to do your duty."
John groaned when he heard this last word. He knew very well what his mother meant. He should buy three hunters, he should marry. These were the anodynes that were offered to him in and out of season. "Bad enough that I should exist! Why precipitate another into the gulf of being?" "Consort with men whose ideal hovers between a stable boy and a veterinary surgeon;" and then, amused by the paradox, John, to whom the chase was evocative of forests, pageantry, spears, would quote some stirring verses of an old ballad, and allude to certain pictures by Rubens, Wouvermans, and Snyders. "Why do you talk in that way?" "Why do you seek to make yourself ridiculous?" Mrs Norton would retort.
Smiling just a little sorrowfully, John would withdraw, and on the following day he would leave for Stanton College. And it was thus that Mrs Norton's temper scarred with deep wounds a nature so pale and delicate, so exposed that it seemed as if wanting an outer skin; and as Thornby Place appeared to him little more than a comprehensive symbol of what he held mean, even obscene in life, his visits had grown shorter and fewer, until now his absence extended to the verge of the second year, and besieged by the belief that he was contemplating priesthood, Mrs Norton had written to her old friend, saying that she wanted to speak to him on matters of great importance. Now maturing her plans for getting her boy back, she stood by the bare black mantel-piece, her head leaning on her hand. She uttered an exclamation when Mr Hare entered.
"What," she said, "you haven't changed your things, and I told you you would find a suit of John's clothes. I must insist—"
"My dear Lizzie, no amount of insistance would get me into a pair of John's trousers. I am thirteen stone and a half, and he is not much over ten."
"Ah! I had forgotten, but what are you to do? Something must be done, you will catch your death of cold if you remain in your wet clothes.... You are wringing wet."
"No, I assure you I am not. My feet were a little wet, but I have changed my stockings and shoes. And now, tell me, Lizzie, what there is for lunch," he said, speaking rapidly to silence Mrs Norton, whom he saw was going to protest again.
"Well, you know it is difficult to get much at this season of the year. There are some chickens and some curried rabbit, but I am afraid you will suffer for it if you remain the whole of the afternoon in those wet clothes; I really cannot, I will not allow it."
"My dear Lizzie, my dear Lizzie," cried the parson, laughing all over his rosy skinned and sandy whiskered face, "I must beg of you not to excite yourself. I have no intention of committing any of the imprudences you anticipate. I will trouble you for a wing of that chicken. James, I'll take a glass of sherry,... and while I am eating it you shall explain as succinctly as possible the matter you are minded to consult me on, and when I have mastered the subject in all its various details, I will advise you to the best of my power, and having done so I will start on my walk across the hills."
"What! you mean to say you are going to walk home?... We shall have another downpour presently."
"Even so. I cannot come to much harm so long as I am walking, whereas if I drove home in your carriage I might catch a chill.... It is at least ten miles to Shoreham by the road, while across the hills it is not more than six."
"Six! it is eight if it is a yard!"
"Well, perhaps it is; but tell me, I am curious to hear what you want to talk to me about.... Something about John, is it not?"
"Of course it is, what else have I to think about; what else concerns middle-aged people like you and me but our children? Of course I want to talk to you about John. Something must be done, things cannot go on as they are. Why, it is nearly two years since he has been home. Oh, that boy is breaking my heart, and none suspects it. If you knew how it annoys me when the Gardiners and the Prestons congratulate me on having a son so well behaved. They know he looks after his property sharp enough, no drinking, no bad company, no debts. Ah! they little know.... I would much sooner he were wild and foolish: young men get over those kind of faults, but he will never get over his."
Mr Hare felt these views to be of a doubtful orthodoxy, but he did not press his opinion, and contented himself with murmuring gently that for the moment he did not see that John's faults were of a particularly aggravated character.
"You do not see that his faults should cause me any uneasiness! Perhaps it is very lucky he is not here, or you might encourage him in them. I suppose you think he is doing quite right in spending his life at Stanton College, aping a priest and talking about Gothic arches. Is it a proper thing to transact all his business through a solicitor, and never to see his tenants? Why does he not come and live at his own beautiful place? Why does he not take up his position in the county? He is not a magistrate. Why does he not get married?... he is the last; there is no one to follow him. But he never thinks of that—he is afraid that a woman might prove a disturbing influence in his life ... he feels that he must live in an atmosphere of higher emotions. That's the way he talks, and he is meditating, I assure you, a book on the literature of the Middle Ages, on the works of bishops and monks who wrote Latin in the early centuries. His mind, he says, is full of the cadences of that language. That's the way he writes. He never asks me about his property, never consults me in anything. Here is a letter I received yesterday. Listen:
"'The poverty of spiritual life amid the western pagans could not fail to encourage the growth of new religious tendencies. An epoch of great spiritual activity had been succeeded by one of complete stagnation. A glance at the literary progress of Rome since Tiberius will show this emancipation from national and political considerations, the influence of cosmopolitanism gave to the best specimens of Latin prose of the silver age such riches and variety of substance and such individuality of expression, that Seneca and Tacitus and the letters of Pliny are marked with many modern characteristics. Form and language appear in these writers only as the instrument and the matter wherewith men of genius would express their intimate personality. Here antique culture rises above itself, but, mark you, at the expense of all that is proper to the Roman nation. Cosmopolitan Hellenism forces and breaks down the bars of classical traditions, and, weary of restrictions these writers first sought personal satisfaction, and then addressed themselves to scholars rather than the people.
"'But Hellenism found its medium in the Greek language, rich to satiety, and possessing a syntax of such extraordinary flexibility, that it could follow all evolutions without being shaken in its organism. It was in vain that the Latin literature sought to maintain its position by harking back to the writers anterior to Cicero, those that Hellenism had not touched, and presenting them as models of style; and thus a new school very fain of antiquity had sprung up, with Fronto for its acknowledged chief—a school pre-occupied above all things by the form; obsolete words set in a new setting, modern words introduced into old cadences to freshen them with a bright and delightful varnish, in a word, a language under visible sign of decay ... yet how full of dim idea and evanescent music—a sort of Indian summer, a season of dependency that looked back on the splendours of Augustan yesterdays—an autumn forest.'
"Did you ever hear such rubbish, or affectation, whichever you like to call it? I should like to know what all that's to do with mediaeval Latin. And then he goes on to complain of the architecture of Stanton College.... It is, he says, base Tudor of the vilest kind. 'Practical cookery' he calls it, 'antique sauce, sold by all chemists and grocers.' Do you know what he means? I don't. And worst news of all, he is, would you believe it? putting a magnificent thirteen century window into the chapel, and he wants me to go up to London to make enquiries about organs. He is prepared to go as far as a thousand pounds. Did you ever hear of such a thing? Those Jesuits are encouraging him. Of course it would just suit them if he became a priest; nothing would suit them better; the whole property would fall into their hands. Now, what I want you to do, my dear friend, is to go to Stanton College to-morrow, or next day, as soon as you possibly can, and to talk to John. You must tell him how unwise it is to spend fifteen hundred pounds in one year, building organs and putting up windows. His intentions are excellent, but his estate won't bear such extravagances: and everybody here thinks he is such a miser. I want you to tell him that he should marry. Just fancy what a terrible thing it would be if the estate passed away to distant relatives—to those terrible cousins of ours."
"Very well, Lizzie, I will do what I can. I will go to-morrow. I have not seen him for five years. The last time he was here I was away. I don't think it would be a bad notion to suggest that the Jesuits are after his money, that they are endeavouring to inveigle him into the priesthood in order that they may get hold of his property."
"No, no; you must not say such a thing. I will not have you say anything against his religion. I was very wrong to suggest such a thing. I am sure no such idea ever entered the Jesuits' heads. Perhaps I am wrong to send you to them.... Now I depend on you not to speak to him on religious subjects."
Mrs Norton had known William Hare all her life. She was the youngest daughter, he the youngest son of equal Yorkshire families. Separated by about a mile of pasture and woodland, these families had for generations lived unanimous lives. In England the hunting field, the grouse moor, the croquet and tennis lawn, with its charming adjunct the five-o'clock tea-table, have made life in certain classes almost communal; and Mrs Norton and William Hare had stood in white frocks under Christmas trees and shared sweetmeats. He often thought of the first time he saw her, wearing a skirt that fell below her ankles, with her hair done up. And she remembered his first appearance in evening clothes, and how surprised and delighted she was to hear him ask her if he might have the pleasure of a waltz.
He went to Oxford to take his degree; she was taken to London for the season, and towards the end of the third year she married Mr Norton, and went to live at Thornby Place. Through the excitement of the marriage arrangements, and the rapid impressions of her honeymoon, the thought of having for neighbour the playmate of her youth had flitted across, but had not rested in, her mind, and she did not realize the charm that it was for her until one afternoon, now more than twenty years ago, a young curate, bespattered with the grey mud of the downs, had startled her and her husband by addressing her as Lizzie. Lizzie she had remained to him, he was William to her, and henceforth their lives had been indissolubly linked. Not a week had passed without their seeing each other. There were visits to pay, there was hunting, and then habit intervened; and for many years, in suffering, in joy, in hope, their thoughts had instinctively looked to each other for reflective sympathy, and every remembrable event was full of mutual associations. He had sat by her when, after the birth of her first and only child, she lay pale, beautiful, and weak on a sofa by a window blown by the tide of summer scent; and the autumn of that same year he had walked with her in the garden, where the leaves fell like the last illusion of youth under the tears of an incurable grief; and staying in their walk they looked on the house which was to be for evermore one of widowhood.
Had she ever loved him? Had he ever loved her? In moments of passionate loneliness she had yearned for his protection; in moments of deep dejection he had dreamed of the happiness he might have found with her; but in the broad day of their lives they had ever thought of each other as friends. He had advised her on the management of her estate, on the education of her son; and in his afflictions—in his widowerhood—when his children quickly followed their mother to the grave, Mrs Norton's form, face, and words had steadied him, and had helped him to bear with a life of crumbling ruin. Kitty was now the only one that remained to him.
Mrs Norton had had projects of wealth and title for her son, but his continued disdain of women and the love of women had long since forced her to abandon her hopes, and now any one he might select she would gladly welcome; but she whom Mrs Norton would have preferred to all others was the daughter of her old friend. Her son had deserted her, and now all her affections were centred in Kitty. Kitty was as much at Thornby Place as at the Rectory, and in the gaiety of her bright eyes, and in the shine of her gold-brown hair—for ever slipping from the gold hair-pins in frizzed masses—Mrs Norton continued her dreams of her son's marriage.
Mr Hare thought it harsh that his daughter should be so constantly taken from him, but the parsonage was so lonely for Kitty, and there were luncheon and tennis parties at Thornby Place, and Mrs Norton took the girl out for drives, and together they visited all the county families. A suspicion of matchmaking sometimes crossed Mr Hare's mind, but it faded in the knowledge that John was always at Stanton College; and to send this fair flower to his great—to his only—friend, was a joy, and the bitterness of temporary loss was forgotten in the sweetness of the sharing. He had suffered much; but these last years had been quiet, free from despair at least, and he wished to drift a little longer with the tide of this time. Why strive to hasten events? If this thing was to be, it would be. So he had thought of his daughter's marriage. Fancies had long hung about the confines of his mind, but nothing had struck him with the full force of a thought until suddenly he understood the exact purport of his mission to Stanton College. He leaned forward as if he were going to tell the driver to return, but before he could do so the lodge-keeper opened the great gate, and the hansom cab rattled under the archway.
Then he viewed the scheme in general outline and in remote detail. It was very simple. Lizzie had been to Shoreham, and had taken Kitty away with her; he had been sent to Stanton College to beg John Norton to return to Thornby Place, and to say what he could in favour of marriage generally. This was very compromising. He had been deceived; Lizzie had deceived him. She had no right to do such a thing; and, striving to determine on a line of conduct, Mr Hare examined abstractedly the place he was passing through.
In large and serpentine curves the road wound through a wood of small beech trees—so small that in the November dishevelment the plantations were like so much brushwood; and, lying behind the wind-swept opening, gravel walks appeared in grey fragments, and the green spaces of the cricket field with a solitary divine reading his breviary. The drive turned and turned again in great sloping curves; more divines were passed, and then there came a long terrace with a balustrade and a view of the open country, now full of mist. And to see the sharp spire of the distant church you had to look closely, and slanting slowly upwards the great plain drew a long and melancholy line across the sky. The lower terrace was approached by an imposing flight of steps, there were myriads of leaves in the air, and the college bell rang in its high red tower.
The high red walls of the college faced the dismal terraces, and the triple line of diamond-paned and iron-barred windows stared upon the ugly Staffordshire landscape. A square tower squatted in the middle of the building, and out of it rose the octagon of the bell tower, and in the tower wall was the great oak door studded with great nails.
"How Birmingham the whole place does look," thought Mr Hare, as he laid his hand on an imitation mediaeval bell-pull.
"Is Mr John Norton at home?" he asked when the servant came. "Will you give him my card, and say that I should like to see him."
On entering, Mr Hare found himself in a tiled hall, around which was built a staircase in varnished oak. There was a quadrangle, and from three sides the interminable latticed windows looked down on the green sward; on the fourth there was an open corridor, with arches to imitate a cloister. All was strong and barren, and only about the varnished staircase was there any sign of comfort. There a virgin in bright blue stood on a crescent moon; above her the ceiling was panelled in oak, and the banisters, the cocoa nut matting, the bit of stained glass, and the religious prints, suggested a mock air of hieratic dignity. And the room Mr Hare was shown into continued this impression. Cabinets in carved oak harmonised with high-backed chairs glowing with red Utrecht velvet, and a massive table, on which lay a folio edition of St Augustine's "City of God" and the "Epistolae Consolitoriae" of St Jerome.
The bell continued to clang, and through the latticed windows Mr Hare watched the divines hurrying along the windy terrace, and the tramp of the boys going to their class-rooms could be heard in passages below.
Then a young man entered. He was thin, and he was dressed in black. His face was very Roman, the profile especially was what you might expect to find on a Roman coin—a high nose, a high cheek-bone, a strong chin, and a large ear. The eyes were prominent and luminous, and the lower part of the face was expressive of resolution and intelligence, but above the eyes there were many indications of cerebral distortions. The forehead was broad, but the temples retreated rapidly to the brown hair which grew luxuriantly on the top of the head, leaving what the phrenologists call the bumps of ideality curiously exposed, and this, taken in conjunction with the yearning of the large prominent eyes, suggested at once a clear, delightful intelligence,—a mind timid, fearing, and doubting, such a one as would seek support in mysticism and dogma, that would rise instantly to a certain point, but to drop as suddenly as if sickened by the too intense light of the cold, pure heaven of reason to the gloom of the sanctuary and the consolations of Faith. Let us turn to the mouth for a further indication of character. It was large, the lips were thick, but without a trace of sensuality. They were dim in colour, they were undefined in shape, they were a little meaningless—no, not meaningless, for they confirmed the psychological revelations of the receding temples. The hands were large, powerful, and grasping; they were earthly hands; they were hands that could take and could hold, and their materialism was curiously opposed to the ideality of the eyes—an ideality that touched the confines of frenzy. The shoulders were square and carried well back, the head was round, with close-cut hair, the straight-falling coat was buttoned high, and the fashionable collar, with a black satin cravat, beautifully tied and relieved with a rich pearl pin, set another unexpected but singularly charmful detail to an aggregate of apparently irreconcilable characteristics.
"And how do you do, my dear Mr Hare? and who would have expected to see you here? I am so glad to see you."
These words were spoken frankly and cordially, and there was a note of mundane cheerfulness in the voice which did not quite correspond with the sacerdotal elegance of this young man. Then he added quickly, as if to save himself from asking the reason of this very unexpected visit—
"But you have never been here before; this is the first time you have seen our college. And seeing it as it now is, you would not believe all the delightful detail that a ray of sunlight awakens in that hideous brown monotony, soaked with rain and bedimmed with mist."
"Yes, I can quite understand that the college is not looking its best on a day like this. We have had very wet weather lately."
"No doubt, and I am afraid these late rains have interfered with the harvest. The accounts from the North are very alarming, but in Sussex, I suppose, everything was over at least two months ago. Still even there the farmers have been losing money for some time back. I have had to make some very heavy reductions. Pearson declared he could not possibly continue at the present rent with corn as low as eight pounds a load. This is very serious, but it is very difficult to arrive at the truth. I want to talk to you; but we shall have plenty of time presently; you'll stay and dine? And I'll show you over the college: you have never been here before, and now I come to reckon it up, I find I have not seen you for nearly five years."
"It must be very nearly that; I missed you the last time you were at Thornby Place, and that was three years ago."
"Three years! It sounds very shocking, doesn't it? to have a beautiful place in Sussex and not to live there: to prefer an ugly red-brick college—Birmingham Tudor; my mother invented the expression. When she is in a passion she hits on the very happiest concurrence of words; and I must say she is right,—the architecture here is appallingly ugly; and I don't think anything could be done to improve it, do you?"
"I can't say that I can suggest anything for the moment, but I thought it was for the sake of the architecture, which I frankly confess I don't in the least admire, that you lived here."
"You thought it was for the sake of the architecture...."
"Then why do you not come home and spend Christmas with your mother!"
"Christmas! Well, I suppose I ought to. But it will be hard to bear with the plain Protestantism, the smug materialism of Sussex at such a season; and when one thinks what the day is commemorative of—"
"You surely do not mean that you would prefer to see the people starving? If your dislike of Protestantism rests only on roast beef and plum pudding...."
"No, you don't understand. But I beg your pardon—I had really forgotten...."
"Never mind," said Mr Hare smiling; "continue: we were talking of roast beef and plum pudding—"
"Well, roast beef and plum pudding, say what you like, is a very complete figuration of the Protestant ideal. Now let us think of Sussex.... The villas with their gables, and railings, and laurels, the snug farm-houses, the market-gardening, but especially the villas, so representative of a sleepy smug materialism.... Oh, it is horrible; I cannot think of Sussex without a revulsion of feeling. Sussex is utterly opposed to the monastic spirit. Why, even the downs are easy, yes, easy as one of the upholsterer's armchairs of the villa residences. And the aspect of the county tallies exactly with the state of soul of its people. In that southern county all is soft and lascivious; there is no wildness, none of that scenical grandeur which we find in Scotland and Ireland, and which is emblematic of the yearning of man's soul for something higher than this mean and temporal life."
There was rapture in John's eyes. With a quick movement of his hands he seemed to spurn the entire materialism of Sussex. After a pause, he continued:
"There is no asceticism in Sussex, there is no yearning for anything higher or better. You—yes, you and the whole place are, in every sense of the word, Conservative—that is to say, brutally satisfied with the present ordering of things."
"Now, now, my dear John, by your own account Pearson is not by any means so satisfied with the present condition of things as you yourself would wish him to be."
John laughed loudly, and it was clear that the paradox in no way displeased him.
"But we were speaking," he continued, "not of temporal, but of spiritual pains and penalties. Now, anyone who did not know me—and none will ever know me—would think that I had not a care in the world. Well, I have suffered as horribly, I have been tortured as cruelly, as ever poor mortal was.... I have lain on the floor of my room, my heart dead within me, and moaned and shrieked with horror."
"Horror of what?"
"Horror of death and a worse horror of life. Few amongst men ever realise the truth of things, but there are rare occasions, moments of supernatural understanding or suffering (which are two words for one and the same thing), when we see life in all its worm-like meanness, and death in its plain, stupid loathsomeness. Two days out of this year live like fire in my mind. I went to my uncle Richard's funeral. There was cold meat and sherry on the table; a dreadful servant asked me if I would go up to the corpse-room. (Mark the expression.) I went. It lay swollen and featureless, and two busy hags lifted it up and packed it tight with wisps of hay, and mechanically uttered shrieks and moans.
"But, though the funeral was painfully obscene, it was not so obscene as the view of life I was treated to last week....
"Last week I was in London; I went to a place they call the 'Colonies.' Till then I had never realised the foulness of the human animal, but there even his foulness was overshadowed by his stupidity. The masses, yes, I saw the masses, and I fed with them in their huge intellectual stye. The air was filled with lines of the most inconceivable flags, lines upon lines of pale yellow, and there were glass cases filled with pickle bottles, and there were piles of ropes and a machine in motion, and in nooks there were some dreadful lay figures, and written underneath them, 'Indian corn-seller,' 'Indian fish-seller.' And there was the Prince of Wales on horseback, three times larger than life; and there were stuffed deer upon a rock, and a Polar bear, and the Marquis of Lome underneath. In another room there were Indian houses, things in carved wood, and over each large placards announcing the popular dinner, the buffet, the table d'hote, at half-a-crown; and there were oceans of tea, and thousands of rolls of butter, and in the gardens the band played 'Thine alone' and 'Mine again.'
"It seemed as if all the back-kitchens and staircases in England had that day been emptied out—life-tattered housewives, girls grown stout on porter, pretty-faced babies, heavy-handed fathers, whistling boys in their sloppy clothes, and attitudes curiously evidencing an odious domesticity....
"In the Greek and Roman life there was an ideal, and there was a great ideal in the monastic life of the Middle Ages; but an ideal is wholly wanting in nineteenth century life. I am not of these later days. I am striving to come to terms with life."
"And you think you can do that best by folding vestments and reviling humanity. I do not see how you reconcile these opinions with the teaching of Christ—with the life of Christ."
"Oh, of course, if you are going to use those arguments against me, I have done; I can say no more."
Mr Hare did not answer, and at the end of a long silence John said:
"But, what do you say, supposing I show you over the college now, and when that's done you will come up to my room and we'll have a smoke before dinner?"
Mr Hare raised no objection, and the two men descended the staircase into the long stony corridor. The quadrangle filled the diamond panes of the latticed windows with green, and the divine walking to and fro was a spot of black. There were pictures along the walls of the corridor—pictures of upturned faces and clasped hands—and these drew words of commiseration for the artistic ignorance of the College authorities from John's lips.
"And they actually believe that that dreadful monk with the skull is a real Ribera.... The chapel is on the right, the refectory on the left. Come, let us see the chapel; I am anxious to hear what you think of my window."
"It ought to be very handsome; it cost five hundred, did it not?"
"No, not quite so much as that," John answered abruptly; and then, passing through the communion rails, they stood under the multi-coloured glory of three bishops. Mr Hare felt that a good deal of rapture was expected of him; but in his efforts to praise, he felt he was exposing his ignorance. John called attention to the transparency of the green-watered skies; and turning their backs on the bishops, the blue ceiling with the gold stars was declared, all things considered, to be in excellent taste. The benches in the body of the church were for boys; the carved chairs set along both walls between the communion rails and the first steps of the altar were for the divines. The president and vice-president knelt facing each other. The priests, deacons, and sub-deacons followed according to their rank. There were slenderer benches, and these were for the choir; and from a music-book placed on wings of the great golden eagle, the leader conducted the singing.
The side altar, with the rich Turkey carpet spread over the steps, was St George's, and further on, in an addition made lately, there were two more altars, dedicated respectively to the Virgin and St Joseph.
"The maid-servants kneel in that corner. I have often suggested that they should be moved out of sight. You do not understand me. Protestantism has always been more reconciled to the presence of women in sacred places than we. We would wish them beyond the precincts. And it is easy to imagine how the unspeakable feminality of those maid-servants jars a beautiful impression—the altar towering white with wax candles, the benedictive odour of incense, the richness of the vestments, treble voices of boys floating, and the sweetness of a long day spent about the sanctuary with flowers and chalices in my hands, fade in a sense of sullen disgust, in a revulsion of feeling which I will not attempt to justify."
Then his thoughts, straying back to sudden recollections of monastic usages and habits, he said:
"I should like to scourge them out of this place." And then, half playfully, half seriously, and wholly conscious of the grotesqueness, he added:
"Yes, I am not at all sure that a good whipping would not do them good. They should be well whipped. I believe that there is much to be said in favour of whipping."
Mr Hare did not answer. He listened like one in a dark and unknown place. But, as if unconscious of the embarrassment he was creating, John told of the number of masses that were said daily, and of the eagerness shown by the boys to obtain an altar. Altar service was rewarded by a large piece of toast for breakfast. Handsome lads of sixteen were chosen for acolytes, the torch-bearers were selected from the smallest boys, the office of censer was filled by John Norton, and he was also the chief sacristan, and had charge of the altar plate and linen and the vestments. He spoke of the organ, and he depreciated the present instrument, and enlarged upon some technical details anent the latest modern improvements in keys and stops.
They went up to the organ loft. John would play his setting of St Ambrose's hymn, "Veni redemptor gentium," if Mr Hare would go to the bellows, and feeling as if he were being turned into ridicule, Mr Hare took his place at the handle; and he found it even more embarrassing to give an opinion on the religiosity of the music, than on the archaeological colouration of the bishops in the window. But John did not court any very detailed criticism on his hymn, and alluding to the fact that even in the fourth century accent was beginning to replace quantity, he led the way to the sacristy.
And it was impossible to avoid noticing that the opening of the carved oaken presses, smelling sweet and benignly of orris root and lavender, acted on John almost as a physical pleasure, and also that his hands seemed nervous with delight as he unfolded the jewelled embroideries, and smoothed out the fine linen of the under vestments; and his voice, too, seemed to gain a sharp tenderness and emotive force, as he told how these were the gold vestments worn by the bishop, and only on certain great feast-days, and that these were the white vestments worn on days especially commemorative of the Virgin. The consideration of the censers, candlesticks, chalices, and albs took some time, and John was a little aggressive in his explanation of Catholic ceremonial, and its grace and comeliness compared with the stiffness and materialism of the Protestant service.
From the sacristy they went to the boys' library. John pointed out the excellent supply of light literature that the bookcases contained.
"We take travels, history, fairy-tales—romances of all kinds, so long as sensual passion is not touched upon at any length. Of course we don't object to a book in which just towards the end the young man falls in love and proposes; but there must not be much of that sort of thing. Here are Robert Louis Stevenson's works, 'Treasure Island,' 'Kidnapped,' &c., charming writer—a neat pretty style, with a pleasant souvenir of Edgar Poe running through it all. You have no idea how the boys enjoy his books."
"And don't you?"
"Oh no; I have just glanced at him: for my own reading, I can admit none who does not write in the first instance for scholars, and then to the scholarly instincts in readers generally. Here is Walter Pater. We have his Renaissance; studies in art and poetry—I gave it myself to the library. We were so sorry we could not include that most beautiful book, 'Marius the Epicurean.' We have some young men here of twenty and three and twenty, and it would be delightful to see them reading it, so exquisite is its hopeful idealism; but we were obliged to bar it on account of the story of Psyche, sweetly though it be told, and sweetly though it be removed from any taint of realistic suggestion. Do you know the book?"
"I can't say I do."
"Then read it at once. It is a breath of delicious fragrance blown back to us from the antique world; nothing is lost or faded, the bloom of that glad bright world is upon every page; the wide temples, the lustral water—the youths apportioned out for divine service, and already happy with a sense of dedication, the altars gay with garlands of wool and the more sumptuous sort of flowers, the colour of the open air, with the scent of the beanfields, mingling with the cloud of incense."
"But I thought you denied any value to the external world, that the spirit alone was worth considering."
"The antique world knew how to idealise, and if they delighted in the outward form, they did not leave it gross and vile as we do when we touch it; they raised it, they invested it with a sense of aloofness that we know not of. Flesh or spirit, idealise one or both, and I will accept them. But you do not know the book. You must read it. Never did I read with such rapture of being, of growing to spiritual birth. It seemed to me that for the first time I was made known to myself; for the first time the false veil of my grosser nature was withdrawn, and I looked into the true ethereal eyes, pale as wan water and sunset skies, of my higher self. Marius was to me an awakening; the rapture of knowledge came upon me that even our temporal life might be beautiful; that, in a word, it was possible to somehow come to terms with life.... You must read it. For instance, can anyone conceive anything more perfectly beautiful than the death of Flavian, and all that youthful companionship, and Marius' admiration for his friend's poetry?... that delightful language of the third century—a new Latin, a season of dependency, an Indian summer full of strange and varied cadences, so different from the monotonous sing-song of the Augustan age; the school of which Fronto was the head. Indeed, it was Pater's book that first suggested to me the idea of the book I am writing. But perhaps you do not know I am writing a book.... Did my mother tell you anything about it?"
"Yes; she told me you were writing the history of Christian Latin."
"Yes; that is to say, of the language that was the literary, the scientific, and the theological language of Europe for more than a thousand years."
And talking of his book rapidly, and with much boyish enthusiasm, John opened the doors of the refectory. The long, oaken tables, the great fireplace, and the stained glass seemed to delight him, and he alluded to the art classes of monastic life. The class-rooms were peeped into, the playground was viewed through the lattice windows, and they went to John's room, up a staircase curiously carpeted with lead.
John's rooms! a wide, bright space of green painted wood and straw matting. The walls were panelled from floor to ceiling. In the centre of the floor there was an oak table—a table made of sharp slabs of oak laid upon a frame that was evidently of ancient design, probably early German, a great, gold screen sheltered a high canonical chair with elaborate carvings, and on a reading-stand close by lay the manuscript of a Latin poem.
"And what is this?" said Mr Hare.
"Oh! that is a poem by Milo, his 'De Sobricate.' I heard that the manuscript was still preserved in the convent of Saint Amand, near Tournai, and I sent and had a copy made for me. That was the simplest way. You have no idea how difficult it is to buy the works of any Latin authors except those of the Augustan age. Milo was a monk, and he lived in the eighth century. He was a man of very considerable attainments, if he were not a very great poet. He was a contemporary of Floras, who, by the way, was a real poet. Some of his verses are delightful, full of delicate cadence and colour. The MS. under your hand is a poem by him—
"'Montes et colles, silvaeque et flumina, fontes, Praeruptaeque rupes, pariter vallesque profondae Francorum lugete genus: quod munere christi, Imperio celsum jacet ecce in pulvere mersum.'
"That was written in the eighth century when the language was becoming terribly corrupt; when it was hideous with popular idiom barbarously and recklessly employed. But even in that time of autumnal decay and pallid bloom, a real poet such as Walahfrid Strabat could weave a garland of grace and beauty; one, indeed, that lived through the chance of centuries in the minds of men. It found numberless imitators and favour even with the Humanists, and it was reprinted eight times in the seventeenth century. This poem is of especial interest to me on account of the illustration it affords of a theory of my own concerning the unconsciousness of the true artist. For breaking away from the literary habitudes of his time, which were to do the gospels or the life of a favourite saint into hexameters, he wrote a poem, 'Hortulus,' descriptive of the garden of the monastery. The garden was all the world to the monks; it furnished them at once with the pleasures and the necessaries of their lives. Walahfrid felt this; he described his feelings, and he produced a chef d'oeuvre." Going over to the bookcase, John took down a volume. He read:—
"'Hoc nemus umbriferum pingit viridissima Rutae Silvula coeruleae, foliis quae praedita parvis, Umbellas jaculata brevis, spiramina venti Et radios Phoebi caules transmittit ad imos, Attactuque graves leni dispergit odores, Haec cum multiplici vigeat virtute medelae, Dicitur occultis apprime obstare venenis, Toxicaque invasis incommoda pellere fibris.'
"Now, can anything be more charming? True it is that pingit in the first line does not seem to construe satisfactorily, and I am not certain that the poet may not have written fingit. Fingit would not be pure Latin, but that is beside the question."
"Indeed it is. I must say I prefer the Georgics. I have known many strange tastes, but your fancy for bad Latin is the strangest of all."
"Classical Latin, with the exception of Tacitus, is cold-blooded and self-satisfied. There is no agitation, no fever; to me it is utterly without interest."
To the books and manuscripts the pictures on the walls afforded an abrupt contrast. No. 1. "A Japanese Girl," by Monet. A poppy in the pale green walls; a wonderful macaw! Why does it not speak in strange dialect? It trails lengths of red silk. Such red! The pigment is twirled and heaped with quaint device, until it seems to be beautiful embroidery rather than painting; and the straw-coloured hair, and the blond light on the face, and the unimaginable coquetting of that fan....
No. 2. "The Drop Curtain," by Degas. The drop curtain is fast descending; only a yard of space remains. What a yardful of curious comment, what satirical note on the preposterousness of human existence! what life there is in every line; and the painter has made meaning with every blot of colour! Look at the two principal dancers! They are down on their knees, arms raised, bosoms advanced, skirts extended, a hundred coryphees are clustered about them. Leaning hands, uplifted necks, painted eyes, scarlet mouths, a piece of thigh, arched insteps, and all is blurred; vanity, animalism, indecency, absurdity, and all to be whelmed into oblivion in a moment. Wonderful life; wonderful Degas!
No. 3. "A Suburb," by Monet. Snow! the world is white. The furry fluff has ceased to fall, and the sky is darkling and the night advances, dragging the horizon up with it like a heavy, deadly curtain. But the roof of the villa is white, and the green of the laurels shaken free of the snow shines through the railings, and the shadows that lie across the road leading to town are blue—yes, as blue as the slates under the immaculate snow.
No. 4. "The Cliff's Edge," by Monet. Blue? purple the sea is; no, it is violet; 'tis striped with violet and flooded with purple; there are living greens, it is full of fading blues. The dazzling sky deepens as it rises to breathless azure, and the soul pines for and is fain of God. White sails show aloft; a line of dissolving horizon; a fragment of overhanging cliff wild with coarse grass and bright with poppies, and musical with the lapsing of the summer waves.
There were in all six pictures—a tall glass filled with pale roses, by Renoir; a girl tying up her garter, by Monet.
Through the bedroom door Mr Hare saw a narrow iron bed, an iron washhand-stand, and a prie-dieu. A curious three-cornered wardrobe stood in one corner, and facing it, in front of the prie-dieu, a life-size Christ hung with outstretched arms. The parson looked round for a seat, but the chairs were like cottage stools on high legs, and the angular backs looked terribly knife-like.
"Sit in the arm-chair. Shall I get you a pillow from the next room? Personally I cannot bear upholstery; I cannot conceive anything more hideous than a padded arm-chair. All design is lost in that infamous stuffing. Stuffing is a vicious excuse for the absence of design. If upholstery was forbidden by law to-morrow, in ten years we should have a school of design. Then the necessity of composition would be imperative."
"I daresay there is a good deal in what you say; but tell me, don't you find these chairs very uncomfortable. Don't you think that you would find a good comfortable arm-chair very useful for reading purposes?"
"No, I should feel far more uncomfortable on a cushion than I do on this bit of hard oak. Our ancestors had an innate sense of form that we have not. Look at these chairs, nothing can be plainer; a cottage stool is hardly more simple, and yet they are not offensive to the eye. I had them made from a picture by Albert Durer. But tell me, what will you take to drink? Will you have a glass of champagne, or a brandy and soda, or what do you say to an absinthe?"
"'Pon my word, you seem to look after yourself. You don't forget the inner man."
"I always keep a good supply of liquor; have a cigar?" And John passed to him a box of fragrant and richly coloured Havanas.... Mr Hare took a cigar, and glanced at the table on which John was mixing the drinks. It was a slip of marble, rested, cafe fashion, on iron supports.
"But that table is modern, surely?—quite modern!"
"Quite; it is a cafe table, but it does not offend my eye. You surely would not have me collect a lot of old-fashioned furniture and pile it up in my rooms, Turkey carpets and Japaneseries of all sorts; a room such as Sir Fred. Leighton would declare was intended to be merely beautiful."
Striving vainly to understand, Mr Hare drank his brandy and soda in silence. Presently he walked over to the bookcases. There were two: one was filled with learned-looking volumes bearing the names of Latin authors; and the parson, who prided himself on his Latinity, was surprised, and a little nettled, to find so much ignorance proved upon him. With Tertullian, St Jerome, and St Augustine he was of course acquainted, but of Lactantius, Prudentius, Sedulius, St Fortunatus, Duns Scotus, Hibernicus exul, Angilbert, Milo, &c., he was obliged to admit he knew nothing—even the names were unknown to him.
In the bookcase on the opposite side of the room there were complete editions of Landor and Swift, then came two large volumes on Leonardo da Vinci. Raising his eyes, the parson read through the titles of Mr Browning's work. Tennyson was in a cheap seven-and-six edition; then came Swinburne, Pater, Rossetti, Morris, two novels by Rhoda Broughton, Dickens, Thackeray, Fielding, and Smollett; the complete works of Balzac, Gautier's Emaux et Camees, Salammbo, L'Assommoir; add to this Carlyle, Byron, Shelley, Keats, &c.
At the end of a long silence, Mr Hare said, glancing once again at the Latin authors, and walking towards the fire:
"Tell me, John, are those the books you are writing about? Supposing you explain to me in a few words the line you are taking. Your mother tells me that you intend to call your book the History of Christian Latin."
"Yes, I had thought of using that title, but I am afraid it is a little too ambitious. To write the history of a literature extending over at least eight centuries would entail an appalling amount of reading; and besides only a few, say a couple of dozen writers out of some hundreds, are of the slightest literary interest, and very few indeed of any real aesthetic value. I have been hard at work lately, and I think I know enough of the literature of the Middle Ages to enable me to make a selection that will comprise everything of interest to ordinary scholarship, and enough to form a sound basis to rest my own literary theories upon. I begin by stating that there existed in the Middle Ages a universal language such as Goethe predicted the future would again bring to us....
"Before the formation of the limbs, that is to say before the German and Roman languages were developed up to the point of literary usage, the Latin language was the language of all nations of the western world. But the day came, in some countries a little earlier, in some a little later, when it was replaced by the national idioms. The different literatures of the West had therefore been preceded by a Latin literature that had for a long time held out a supporting hand to each. The language of this literature was not a dead language, It was the language of government, of science, of religion; and a little dislocated, a little barbarised, it had penetrated to the minds of the people, and found expression in drinking songs and street ditties.
"Such is the theme of my book; and it seems to me that a language that has played so important a part in the world's history is well worthy of serious study.
"I show how Christianity, coming as it did with a new philosophy, and a new motive for life, invigorated and saved the Latin language in a time of decline and decrepitude. For centuries it had given expression, even to satiety, to a naive joy in the present; on this theme, all that could be said had been said, all that could be sung had been sung, and the Rhetoricians were at work with alliteration and refrain when Christianity came, and impetuously forced the language to speak the desire of the soul. In a word, I want to trace the effect that such a radical alteration in the music, if I may so speak, had upon the instrument—the Latin language."
"And with whom do you begin?"
"With Tertullian, of course."
"And what do you think of him?"
"Tertullian, one of the most fascinating characters of ancient or modern times. In my study of his writings I have worked out a psychological study of the man himself as revealed through them. His realism, I might say materialism, is entirely foreign to my own nature, but I cannot help being attracted by that wild African spirit, so full of savage contradictions, so full of energy that it never knew repose: in him you find all the imperialism of ancient times. When you consider that he lived in a time when the church was struggling for utterance amid the horrors of persecution, his mad Christianity becomes singularly attractive; a passionate fear of beauty for reason of its temptations, a fear that turned to hatred, and forced him at last into the belief that Christ was an ugly man."
"I know nothing of the monks of the eighth century and their poetry, but I do know something of Tertullian, and you mean to tell me that you admire his style—those harsh chopped-up phrases and strained antitheses."
"I should think I did. Phrases set boldly one against the other; quaint, curious, and full of colour, the reader supplies with delight the connecting link, though the passion and the force of the description lives and reels along. Listen:
"'Quae tunc spectaculi latitudo! quid admirer? quid rideam? ubi gaudeam? ubi exultem, spectans tot ac tantos reges, qui in coelum recepti nuntiabantur, cum ipso Jove et ipsis suis testibus in imis tenebris congemiscentes!—Tunc magis tragoedi audiendi, magis scilicet vocales in sua propria calamitate; tunc histriones cognoscendi, solutiores multo per ignem; tunc spectandus auriga, in flammea rota totus rubens, &c.'
"Show me a passage in Livy equal to that for sheer force and glittering colour. The phrases are not all dove-tailed one into the other and smoothed away; they stand out."
"Indeed they do. And whom do you speak of next?"
"I pass on to St Cyprian and Lactantius; to the latter I attribute the beautiful poem of the Phoenix."
"What! Claudian's poem?"
"No, but one infinitely superior. After Lactantius comes St Ambrose, St Jerome, and St Augustine. The second does not interest me, and my notice of him is brief; but I make special studies of the first and last. It was St Ambrose who introduced singing into the Catholic service. He took the idea from the Arians. He saw the effect it had upon the vulgar mind, and he resolved to combat the heresy with its own weapons. He composed a vast number of hymns. Only four have come down to us, and they are as perfect in form as in matter. You will scarcely find anywhere a false quantity or a hiatus. The Ambrosian hymns remained the type of all the hymnic poetry of succeeding centuries. Even Prudentius, great poet as he was, was manifestly influenced in the choice of metre and the composition of the strophe by the Deus Creator omnium....
"St Ambrose did more than any other writer of his time to establish certain latent tendencies as characteristics of the Catholic spirit. His pleading in favour of ascetic life and of virginity, that entirely Christian virtue, was very influential. He lauds the virgin above the wife, and, indeed, he goes so far as to tell parents that they can obtain pardon of their sins by offering their daughters to God. His teaching in this respect was productive of very serious rebellion against what some are pleased to term the laws of Nature. But St Ambrose did not hesitate to uphold the repugnance of girls to marriage as not only lawful but praiseworthy."
"I am afraid you let your thoughts dwell very much on such subjects."
"Really, do you think I do?" John's eyes brightened for a moment, and he lapsed into what seemed an examination of conscience. Then he said, somewhat abruptly, "St Jerome I speak of, or rather I allude to him, and pass on at once to the study of St Augustine—the great prose writer, as Prudentius was the great poet, of the Middle Ages.
"Now, talking of style, I will admit that the eternal apostrophising of God and the incessant quoting from the New Testament is tiresome to the last degree, and seriously prejudices the value of the 'Confessions' as considered from the artistic standpoint. But when he bemoans the loss of the friend of his youth, when he tells of his resolution to embrace an ascetic life, he is nervously animated, and is as psychologically dramatic as Balzac."
"I have taken great pains with my study of St Augustine, because in him the special genius of Christianity for the first time found a voice. All that had gone before was a scanty flowerage—he was the perfect fruit. I am speaking from a purely artistic standpoint: all that could be done for the life of the senses had been done, but heretofore the life of the soul had been lived in silence—none had come to speak of its suffering, its uses, its tribulation. In the time of Horace it was enough to sit in Lalage's bower and weave roses; of the communion of souls none had ever thought. Let us speak of the soul! This is the great dividing line between the pagan and Christian world, and St Augustine is the great landmark. In literature he discovered that man had a soul, and that man had grown interested in its story, had grown tired of the exquisite externality of the nymph-haunted forest and the waves where the Triton blows his plaintive blast.
"The whole theory and practice of modern literature is found in the 'Confessions of St Augustine;' and from hence flows the great current of psychological analysis which, with the development of the modern novel, grows daily greater in volume and more penetrating in essence.... Is not the fretful desire of the Balzac novel to tell of the soul's anguish an obvious development of the 'Confessions'?"
"In like manner I trace the origin of the ballad, most particularly the English ballad, to Prudentius, a contemporary of Claudian."
"You don't mean to say that you trace back our north-country ballads to, what do you call him?"
"Prudentius. I show that there is much in his hymns that recalls the English ballads."
"In his hymns?"
"Yes; in the poems that come under such denomination. I confess it is not a little puzzling to find a narrative poem of some five hundred lines or more included under the heading of hymns; it would seem that nearly all lyric poetry of an essentially Christian character was so designated, to separate it from secular or pagan poetry. In Prudentius' first published work, 'Liber Cathemerinon,' we find hymns composed absolutely after the manner of St Ambrose, in the same or in similar metres, but with this difference, the hymns of Prudentius are three, four, and sometimes seven times longer than those of St Ambrose. The Spanish poet did not consider, or he lost sight of, the practical usages of poetry. He sang more from an artistic than a religious impulse. That he delighted in the song for the song's own sake is manifest; and this is shown in the variety of his treatment, and the delicate sense of music which determined his choice of metre. His descriptive writing is full of picturesque expression. The fifth hymn, 'Ad Incensum Lucernae,' is glorious with passionate colour and felicitous cadence, be he describing with precious solicitude for Christian archaeology the different means of artistic lighting, flambeaux, candles, lamps, or dreaming with all the rapture of a southern dream of the balmy garden of Paradise.
"But his best book to my thinking is by far, 'Peristephanon,' that is to say, the hymns celebrating the glory of the martyrs.
"I was saying just now that the hymns of Prudentius, by the dramatic rapidity of the narrative, by the composition of the strophe, and by their wit, remind me very forcibly of our English ballads. Let us take the story of St Laurence, written in iambics, in verses of four lines each. In the time of the persecutions of Valerian, the Roman prefect, devoured by greed, summoned St Laurence, the treasurer of the church, before him, and on the plea that parents were making away with their fortunes to the detriment of their children, demanded that the sacred vessels should be given up to him. 'Upon all coins is found the head of the Emperor and not that of Christ, therefore obey the order of the latter, and give to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor.'
"To this speech, peppered with irony and sarcasm, St Laurence replies that the church is very rich, even richer than the Emperor, and that he will have much pleasure in offering its wealth to the prefect, and he asks for three days to classify the treasures. Transported with joy, the prefect grants the required delay. Laurence collects the infirm who have been receiving charity from the church; and in picturesque grouping the poet shows us the blind, the paralytic, the lame, the lepers, advancing with trembling and hesitating steps. Those are the treasures, the golden vases and so forth, that the saint has catalogued and is going to exhibit to the prefect, who is waiting in the sanctuary. The prefect is dumb with rage; the saint observes that gold is found in dross; that the disease of the body is to be less feared than that of the soul; and he developes this idea with a good deal of wit. The boasters suffer from dropsy, the miser from cramp in the wrist, the ambitious from febrile heat, the gossipers, who delight in tale-bearing, from the itch; but you, he says, addressing the prefect, you who govern Rome, suffer from the morbus regius (you see the pun). In revenge for thus slighting his dignity, the prefect condemns St Laurence to be roasted on a slow fire, adding, 'and deny there, if you will, the existence of my Vulcan.' Even on the gridiron Laurence does not lose his good humour, and he gets himself turned as a cook would a chop.