A WRITER'S RECOLLECTIONS (IN TWO VOLUMES), VOLUME II
BY MRS. HUMPHRY WARD
Published November, 1918
I. LONDON IN THE 'EIGHTIES
II. LONDON FRIENDS
III. THE PUBLICATION OF "ROBERT ELSMERE"
IV. FIRST VISITS TO ITALY
V. AMALFI AND ROME. HAMPDEN AND "MARCELLA"
VI. "HELBECK OF BANNISDALE"
VII. THE VILLA BARBERINI. HENRY JAMES
VIII. ROMAN FRIENDS. "ELEANOR"
LONDON IN THE 'EIGHTIES
The few recollections of William Forster that I have put together in the preceding volume lead naturally, perhaps, to some account of my friendship and working relations at this time with Forster's most formidable critic in the political press—Mr. John Morley, now Lord Morley. It was in the late 'seventies, I think, that I first saw Mr. Morley. I sat next him at the Master's dinner-table, and the impression he made upon me was immediate and lasting. I trust that a great man, to whom I owed much, will forgive me for dwelling on some of the incidents of literary comradeship which followed!
My husband and I, on the way home, compared notes. We felt that we had just been in contact with a singular personal power combined with a moral atmosphere which had in it both the bracing and the charm that, physically, are the gift of the heights. The "austere" Radical, indeed, was there. With regard to certain vices and corruptions of our life and politics, my uncle might as well have used Mr. Morley's name as that of Mr. Frederick Harrison, when he presented us, in "Friendship's Garland," with Mr. Harrison setting up a guillotine in his back garden. There was something—there always has been something—of the somber intensity of the prophet in Mr. Morley. Burke drew, as we all remember, an ineffaceable picture of Marie Antoinette's young beauty as he saw it in 1774, contrasting it with the "abominable scenes" amid which she perished. Mr. Morley's comment is:
But did not the protracted agonies of a nation deserve the tribute of a tear? As Paine asked, were men to weep over the plumage and forget the dying bird? ... It was no idle abstraction, no metaphysical right of man for which the French cried, but only the practical right of being permitted, by their own toil, to save themselves and the little ones about their knees from hunger and cruel death.
The cry of the poor, indeed, against the rich and tyrannous, the cry of the persecuted Liberal, whether in politics or religion, against his oppressors—it used to seem to me, in the 'eighties, when, to my pleasure and profit, I was often associated with Mr. Morley, that in his passionate response to this double appeal lay the driving impulse of his life and the secret of his power over others. While we were still at Oxford he had brought out most of his books: On Compromise—the fierce and famous manifesto of 1874—and the well-known volumes on the Encyclopedists, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot. It was not for nothing that he had been a member of Pattison's college; and a follower of John Stuart Mill. The will to look the grimmest facts of life and destiny in the face, without flinching, and the resolve to accept no "anodyne" from religion or philosophy, combined with a ceaseless interest in the human fate and the human story, and a natural, inbred sympathy for the many against the few, for the unfortunate against the prosperous; it was these ardors and the burning sincerity with which he felt them, that made him so great a power among us, his juniors by half a generation. I shall never lose the impression that Compromise, with its almost savage appeal for sincerity in word and deed, made upon me—an impression which had its share in Robert Elsmere.
But together with this tragic strenuousness there was always the personal magic which winged it and gave it power. Mr. Morley has known all through his life what it was to be courted, by men and women alike, for the mere pleasure of his company; in which he resembled another man whom both he and I knew well—Sir Alfred Lyall. It is well known that Mr. Gladstone was fascinated by the combination in his future biographer of the Puritan, the man of iron conviction, and the delightful man of letters. And in my own small sphere I realized both aspects of Mr. Morley during the 'eighties. Just before we left Oxford I had begun to write reviews and occasional notes for the Pall Mall, which he was then editing; after we settled in London, and he had become also editor of Macmillan, he asked me, to my no little conceit, to write a monthly causerie on a book or books for that magazine. I never succeeded in writing nearly so many; but in two years I contributed perhaps eight or ten papers—until I became absorbed in Robert Elsmere and Mr. Morley gave up journalism for politics. During that time my pleasant task brought me into frequent contact with my editor. Nothing could have been kinder than his letters; at the same time there was scarcely one of them that did not convey some hint, some touch of the critical goad, invaluable to the recipient. I wrote him a letter of wailing when he gave up the editorship and literature and became Member for Newcastle. Such a fall it seemed to me then! But Mr. Morley took it patiently. "Do not lament over your friend, but pray for him!" As, indeed, one might well do, in the case of one who for a few brief months—in 1886—was to be Chief Secretary for Ireland, and again in 1892-95.
It was, indeed, in connection with Ireland that I became keenly and personally aware of that other side of Mr. Morley's character—the side which showed him the intransigent supporter of liberty at all costs and all hazards. It was, I suppose, the brilliant and pitiless attacks in the Pall Mall on Mr. Forster's Chief-Secretaryship, which, as much as anything else, and together with what they reflected in the Cabinet, weakened my uncle's position and ultimately led to his resignation in the spring of 1882. Many of Mr. Forster's friends and kinsfolk resented them bitterly; and among the kinsfolk, one of them, I have reason to know, made a strong private protest. Mr. Morley's attitude in reply could only have been that which is well expressed by a sentence of Darmesteter's about Renan: "So pliant in appearance, so courteous in manner, he became a bar of iron as soon as one sought to wrest from him an act or word contrary to the intimate sense of his conscience."
But no man has a monopoly of conscience. The tragedy was that here were two men, both democrats, both humanitarians, but that an executive office, in a time of hideous difficulty, had been imposed upon the one, from which the other—his critic—was free. Ten years later, when Mr. Morley was Chief Secretary, it was pointed out that the same statesman who had so sincerely and vehemently protested in the case of William Forster and Mr. Balfour against the revival of "obsolete" statutes, and the suppression of public meetings, had himself been obliged to put obsolete statutes in operation sixteen times, and to prohibit twenty-six public meetings. These, however, are the whirligigs of politics, and no politician escapes them.
In my eyes Lord Morley's crowning achievement in literature is his biography of Mr. Gladstone. How easy it would have been to smother Mr. Gladstone in stale politics!—and how stale politics may become in that intermediate stage before they pass finally into history! English political literature is full of biography of this kind. The three notable exceptions of recent years which occur to me are Mr. Churchill's Life of his father, the Disraeli biography still in progress, and the Gladstone. But it would be difficult indeed to "stale" the story of either Lord Randolph or Dizzy. A biographer would have to set about it of malice prepense. In the case, however, of Mr. Gladstone, the danger was more real. Anglican orthodoxy, eminent virtue, unfailing decorum; a comparatively weak sense of humor, and a literary gift much inferior to his oratorical gift, so that the most famous of his speeches are but cold reading now; interminable sentences, and an unfailing relish for detail all important in its day, but long since dead and buried; the kind of biography that, with this material, half a dozen of Mr. Gladstone's colleagues might have written of him, for all his greatness, rises formidably on the inward eye. The younger generation waiting for the historian to come—except in the case of those whose professional duty as politicians it would have been to read it—might quite well have yawned and passed by.
But Mr. Morley's literary instinct, which is the artistic instinct, solved the problem. The most interesting half of the book will always, I think, be the later half. In the great matters of his hero's earlier career—Free Trade, the Crimean War, the early budgets, the slow development of the Liberal leader from the Church and State Conservative of 1832, down to the franchise battle of the 'sixties and the "great Ministry," as Mr. Morley calls it, of 1868, the story is told, indeed, perhaps here and there at too great length, yet with unfailing ease and lucidity. The teller, however, is one who, till the late 'seventies, was only a spectator, and, on the whole, from a distance, of what he is describing, who was indeed most of the time pursuing his own special aims—i.e., the hewing down of orthodoxy and tradition, together with the preaching of a frank and uncompromising agnosticism, in the Fortnightly Review; aims which were, of all others, most opposed to Mr. Gladstone's. But with the 'eighties everything changes. Mr. Morley becomes a great part of what he tells. During the intermediate stage—marked by his editorship of the Pall Mall Gazette—the tone of the biography grows sensibly warmer and more vivid, as the writer draws nearer and nearer to the central scene; and with Mr. Morley's election to Newcastle and his acceptance of the Chief-Secretaryship in 1885, the book becomes the fascinating record of not one man, but two, and that without any intrusion whatever on the rights of the main figure. The dreariness of the Irish struggle is lightened by touch after touch that only Mr. Morley could have given. Take that picture of the somber, discontented Parnell, coming, late in the evening, to Mr. Morley's room in the House of Commons, to complain of the finance of the Home Rule Bill—Mr. Gladstone's entrance at 10.30 P.M., after an exhausting day—and he, the man of seventy-seven, sitting down to work between the Chief Secretary and the Irish leader, till at last, with a sigh of weariness at nearly 1 A.M., the tired Prime Minister pleads to go to bed. Or that most dramatic story, later on, of Committee Room No. 15, where Mr. Morley becomes the reporter to Mr. Gladstone of that moral and political tragedy, the fall of Parnell; or a hundred other sharp lights upon the inner and human truth of things, as it lay behind the political spectacle. All through the later chapters, too, the happy use of conversations between the two men on literary and philosophical matters relieves what might have been the tedium of the end. For these vivid notes of free talk not only bring the living Gladstone before you in the most varied relation to his time; they keep up a perpetually interesting comparison in the reader's mind between the hero and his biographer. One is as eager to know what Mr. Morley is going to say as one is to listen to Mr. Gladstone. The two men, with their radical differences and their passionate sympathies, throw light on each other, and the agreeable pages achieve a double end, without ever affecting the real unity of the book. Thus handled, biography, so often the drudge of literature, rises into its high places and becomes a delight instead of an edifying or informing necessity.
I will add one other recollection of this early time—i.e., that in 1881 the reviewing of Mr. Morley's Cobden in the Times fell to my husband, and as those were the days of many-column reviews, and as the time given for the review was exceedingly short, it could only be done at all by a division of labor. We divided the sheets of the book, and we just finished in time to let my husband rush off to Printing House Square and correct the proofs as they went through the press for the morning's issue. In those days, as is well known, the Times went to press much later than now, and a leader-writer rarely got home before 4, and sometimes 5, A.M.
* * * * *
I find it extremely difficult, as I look back, to put any order into the crowding memories of those early years in London. They were extraordinarily stimulating to us both, and years of great happiness. At home our children were growing up; our own lives were branching out into new activities and bringing us always new friends, and a more interesting share in that "great mundane movement" which Mr. Bottles believed would perish without him. Our connection with the Times and with the Forsters, and the many new acquaintances and friends we made at this time in that happy meeting-ground of men and causes—Mrs. Jeune's drawing-room—opened to us the world of politicians; while my husband's four volumes on The English Poets, published just as we left Oxford, volumes to which all the most prominent writers of the day had contributed, together with the ever-delightful fact that Matthew Arnold was my uncle, brought us the welcome of those of our own metier and way of life; and when in 1884 my husband became art critic of the paper, a function which he filled for more than five and twenty years, fresh doors opened on the already crowded scene, and fresh figures stepped in.
The setting of it all was twofold—in the first place, our dear old house in Russell Square, and, in the next, the farm on Rodborough Common, four miles from Godalming, where, amid a beauty of gorse and heather that filled every sense on a summer day with the mere joy of breathing and looking, our children and we spent the holiday hours of seven goodly years. The Russell Square house has been, so to speak, twice demolished and twice buried, since we lived in it. Some of its stones must still lie deep under the big hotel which now towers on its site. That it does not still exist somewhere, I can hardly believe. The westerly sun seems to me still to be pouring into the beautiful little hall, built and decorated about 1750, with its panels of free scrollwork in blue and white, and to be still glancing through the drawing-rooms to the little powder-closet at the end, my tiny workroom, where I first sketched the plan of Robert Elsmere for my sister Julia Huxley, and where, after three years, I wrote the last words. If I open the door of the back drawing-room, there, to the right, is the children's school-room. I see them at their lessons, and the fine plane-trees that look in at the window. And up-stairs there are the pleasant bedrooms and the nurseries. It was born, the old house, in the year of the Young Pretender, and, after serving six generations, perhaps as faithfully as it served us, it "fell on sleep." There should be a special Elysium, surely, for the houses where the fates have been kind and where people have been happy; and a special Tartarus for those—of Oedipus or Atreus—in which "old, unhappy, far-off things" seem to be always poisoning the present.
As to Borough Farm—now the head-quarters of the vast camp which stretches to Hindhead—it stood then in an unspoiled wilderness of common and wood, approached only by what we called "the sandy track" from the main Portsmouth Road, with no neighbors for miles but a few scattered cottages. Its fate had been harder than that of 61 Russell Square. The old London house has gone clean out of sight, translated, whole and fair, into a world of memory. But Borough and the common are still here—as war has made them. Only—may I never see them again!
It was in 1882, the year of Tel-el-Kebir, when we took Peperharrow Rectory (the Murewell Vicarage of Robert Elsmere) for the summer, that we first came across Borough Farm. We left it in 1889. I did a great deal of work, there and in London, in those seven years. The Macmillan papers I have already spoken of. They were on many subjects—Tennyson's "Becket," Mr. Pater's "Marius," "The Literature of Introspection," Jane Austen, Keats, Gustavo Becquer, and various others. I still kept up my Spanish to some extent, and I twice examined—in 1882 and 1888—for the Taylorian scholarship in Spanish at Oxford, our old friend, Doctor Kitchin, afterward Dean of Durham, writing to me with glee that I should be "making history" as "the first woman examiner of men at either University." My colleague on the first occasion was the old Spanish scholar, Don Pascual de Gayangos, to whom the calendaring of the Spanish MSS. in the British Museum had been largely intrusted; and the second time, Mr. York Powell of Christ Church—I suppose one of the most admirable Romance scholars of the time—was associated with me. But if I remember right, I set the papers almost entirely, and wrote the report on both occasions. It gave me a feeling of safety in 1888, when my knowledge, such as it was, had grown very rusty, that Mr. York Powell overlooked the papers, seeing that to set Scholarship questions for postgraduate candidates is not easy for one who has never been through any proper "mill"! But they passed his scrutiny satisfactorily, and in 1888 we appointed as Taylorian Scholar a man to whom for years I confidently looked for the history of Spain—combining both the Spanish and Arabic sources—so admirable had his work been in the examination. But, alack! that great book has still to be written. For Mr. Butler Clarke died prematurely in 1904, and the hope died with him.
For the Times I wrote a good many long, separate articles before 1884, on "Spanish Novels," "American Novels," and so forth; the "leader" on the death of Anthony Trollope; and various elaborate reviews of books on Christian origins, a subject on which I was perpetually reading, always with the same vision before me, growing in clearness as the years passed.
But my first steps toward its realization were to begin with the short story of Miss Bretherton, published in 1884, and then the translation of Amiel's Journal Intime, which appeared in 1885. Miss Bretherton was suggested to me by the brilliant success in 1883 of Mary Anderson, and by the controversy with regard to her acting—as distinct from her delightful beauty and her attractive personality—which arose between the fastidious few and the enchanted many. I maintained then, and am quite sure now, that Isabel Bretherton was in no sense a portrait of Miss Anderson. She was to me a being so distinct from the living actress that I offered her to the world with an entire good faith, which seems to myself now, perhaps thirty years later, hardly less surprising than it did to the readers of the time. For undoubtedly the situation in the novel was developed out of the current dramatic debate. But it became to me just a situation—a problem. It was really not far removed from Diderot's problem in the Paradoxe sur le Comedien. What is the relation of the actor to the part represented? One actress is plain—Rachel; another actress is beautiful, and more than beautiful, delightful—Miss Anderson. But all the time, is there or is there not a region in which all these considerations count for nothing in comparison with certain others? Is there a dramatic art—exacting, difficult, supreme—or is there not? The choice of the subject, at that time, was, it may be confessed, a piece of naivete, and the book itself was young and naive throughout. But something in it has kept it in circulation all this while; and for me it marks with a white stone the year in which it appeared. For it brought me my first critical letter from Henry James; it was the first landmark in our long friendship.
Beloved Henry James! It seems to me that my original meeting with him was at the Andrew Langs' in 1882. He was then forty-two, in the prime of his working life, and young enough to be still "Henry James, Junior," to many. I cannot remember anything else of the Langs' dinner-party except that we were also invited to meet the author of Vice Versa, "which Mr. Lang thinks"—as I wrote to my mother—"the best thing of its kind since Dickens." But shortly after that, Mr. James came to see us in Russell Square and a little incident happened which stamped itself for good on a still plastic memory. It was a very hot day; the western sun was beating on the drawing-room windows, though the room within was comparatively dark and cool. The children were languid with the heat, and the youngest, Janet, then five, stole into the drawing-room and stood looking at Mr. James. He put out a half-conscious hand to her; she came nearer, while we talked on. Presently she climbed on his knee. I suppose I made a maternal protest. He took no notice, and folded his arm round her. We talked on; and presently the abnormal stillness of Janet recalled her to me and made me look closely through the dark of the room. She was fast asleep, her pale little face on the young man's shoulder, her long hair streaming over his arm. Now Janet was a most independent and critical mortal, no indiscriminate "climber up of knees"; far from it. Nor was Mr. James an indiscriminate lover of children; he was not normally much at home with them, though always good to them. But the childish instinct had in fact divined the profound tenderness and chivalry which were the very root of his nature; and he was touched and pleased, as one is pleased when a robin perches on one's hand.
From that time, as the precious bundle of his letters shows, he became the friend of all of us—myself, my husband, and the children; though with an increased intimacy from the 'nineties onward. In a subsequent chapter I will try and summarize the general mark left on me by his fruitful and stainless life. His letter to me about Miss Bretherton is dated December 9, 1884. He had already come to see me about it, and there was never any critical discussion like his, for its suggestion of a hundred points of view, its flashing of unexpected lights, its witness to the depth and richness of his own artistic knowledge.
The whole thing is delicate and distinguished [he wrote me] and the reader has the pleasure and security of feeling that he is with a woman (distinctly a woman!) who knows how (rare bird!) to write. I think your idea, your situation, interesting in a high degree—But [and then come a series of most convincing "buts"! He objects strongly to the happy ending]. I wish that your actress had been carried away from Kendal [her critical lover, who worships herself, but despises her art] altogether, carried away by the current of her artistic life, the sudden growth of her power, and the excitement, the ferocity and egotism (those of the artist realizing success, I mean; I allude merely to the normal dose of those elements) which the effort to create, to "arrive" (once she had had a glimpse of her possible successes) would have brought with it. (Excuse that abominable sentence.) Isabel, the Isabel you describe, has too much to spare for Kendal—Kendal being what he is; and one doesn't feel her, see her, enough, as the pushing actress, the cabotine! She lapses toward him as if she were a failure, whereas you make her out a great success. No!—she wouldn't have thought so much of him at such a time as that—though very possibly she would have come back to him later.
The whole letter, indeed, is full of admirable criticism, sprung from a knowledge of life, which seemed to me, his junior by twelve years, unapproachably rich and full. But how grateful I was to him for the criticism!—how gracious and chivalrous was his whole attitude toward the writer and the book! Indeed, as I look over the bundle of letters which concern this first novel of mine, I am struck by the good fortune which brought me such mingled chastening and praise, in such long letters, from judges so generous and competent. Henry James, Walter Pater, John Morley, "Mr. Creighton" (then Emmanuel Professor at Cambridge), Cotter Morrison, Sir Henry Taylor, Edmond Scherer—they are all there. Besides the renewal of the old throb of pleasure as one reads them, one feels a sort of belated remorse that so much trouble was taken for so slight a cause! Are there similar friends nowadays to help the first steps of a writer? Or is there no leisure left in this choked life of ours?
The decisive criticism, perhaps, of all, is that of Mr. Creighton: "I find myself carried away by the delicate feeling with which the development of character is traced." But—"You wrote this book as a critic not as a creator. It is a sketch of the possible worth of criticism in an unregenerate world. This was worth doing once; but if you are going on with novels you must throw criticism overboard and let yourself go, as a partner of common joys, common sorrows, and common perplexities. There—I have told you what I think, just as I think it."
* * * * *
Miss Bretherton was a trial trip, and it taught me a good deal. When it came out I had nearly finished the translation of Amiel, which appeared in 1885, and in March of that year some old friends drove me up the remote Westmorland valley of Long Sleddale, at a moment when the blackthorn made lines of white along the lanes; and from that day onward the early chapters of Robert Elsmere began to shape themselves in my mind. All the main ideas of the novel were already there. Elsmere was to be the exponent of a freer faith; Catharine had been suggested by an old friend of my youth; while Langham was the fruit of my long communing with the philosophic charm and the tragic impotence of Amiel. I began the book in the early summer of 1885, and thenceforward it absorbed me until its appearance in 1888.
The year 1885, indeed, was one of expanding horizons, of many new friends, of quickened pulses generally. The vastness of London and its myriad interests seemed to be invading our life more and more. I can recall one summer afternoon, in particular, when, as I was in a hansom driving idly westward toward Hyde Park Gate, thinking of a hundred things at once, this consciousness of intensification, of a heightened meaning in everything—the broad street, the crowd of moving figures and carriages, the houses looking down upon it—seized upon me with a rush. "Yes, it is good—the mere living!" Joy in the infinite variety of the great city as compared with the "cloistered virtue" of Oxford; the sheer pleasure of novelty, of the kind new faces, and the social discoveries one felt opening on many sides; the delight of new perceptions, new powers in oneself—all this seemed to flower for me in those few minutes of reverie—if one can apply such a word to an experience so vivid. And meanwhile the same intensity of pleasure from nature that I had always been capable of flowed in upon me from new scenes; above all, from solitary moments at Borough Farm, in the heart of the Surrey commons, when the September heather blazed about me; or the first signs of spring were on the gorse and the budding trees; or beside some lonely pool; and always heightened now by the company of my children. It was a stage—a normal stage, in normal life. But I might have missed it so easily! The Fates were kind to us in those days.
As to the social scene, let me gather from it first a recollection of pure romance. One night at a London dinner-party I found myself sent down with a very stout gentleman, an American Colonel, who proclaimed himself an "esoteric Buddhist," and provoked in me a rapid and vehement dislike. I turned my back upon him and examined the table. Suddenly I became aware of a figure opposite to me, the figure of a young girl who seemed to me one of the most ravishing creatures I had ever seen. She was very small, and exquisitely made. Her beautiful head, with its mass of light-brown hair; the small features and delicate neck; the clear, pale skin, the lovely eyes with rather heavy lids, which gave a slight look of melancholy to the face; the grace and fire of every movement when she talked; the dreamy silence into which she sometimes fell, without a trace of awkwardness or shyness. But how vain is any mere catalogue to convey the charm of Laura Tennant—the first Mrs. Alfred Lyttelton—to those who never saw her!
I asked to be introduced to her as soon as we left the dining-room, and we spent the evening in a corner together.
I fell in love with her there and then. The rare glimpses of her that her busy life and mine allowed made one of my chief joys thenceforward, and her early death was to me—as to so many, many others!—a grief never forgotten.
The recent biography of Alfred Lyttelton—War Minister in Mr. Balfour's latest Cabinet—skilfully and beautifully done by his second wife, has conveyed to the public of thirty years later some idea of Laura's imperishable charm. And I greatly hope that it may be followed some day by a collection of her letters, for there are many in existence, and, young as she was, they would, I believe, throw much light upon a crowded moment in our national life. Laura was the fourth daughter of Sir Charles Tennant, a rich Glasgow manufacturer, and the elder sister of Mrs. Asquith. She and her sisters came upon the scene in the early 'eighties; and without any other extrinsic advantage but that of wealth, which in this particular case would not have taken them very far, they made a conquest—the younger two, Laura and Margot, in particular—of a group of men and women who formed a kind of intellectual and social elite; who were all of them accomplished; possessed, almost all of them, of conspicuous good looks, or of the charm that counts as much; and among whom there happened to be a remarkable proportion of men who have since made their mark on English history. My generation knew them as "The Souls." "The Souls" were envied, mocked at, caricatured, by those who were not of them. They had their follies—why not? They were young, and it was their golden day. Their dislike of convention and routine had the effect on many—and those not fools—of making convention and routine seem particularly desirable. But there was not, I think, a young man or woman admitted to their inner ranks who did not possess in some measure a certain quality very difficult to isolate and define. Perhaps, to call it "disinterestedness" comes nearest. For they were certainly no seekers after wealth, or courters of the great. It might be said, of course, that they had no occasion; they had as much birth and wealth as any one need want, among themselves. But that does not explain it. For push and greed are among the commonest faults of an aristocracy. The immortal pages of Saint Simon are there to show it. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," says the Gospel. Now the "treasure" among The Souls was, ultimately—or at least tended to be—something spiritual. The typical expression of it, at its best, is to be found in those exquisite last words left by Laura Lyttelton for her husband, which the second Mrs. Alfred Lyttelton has, as I think, so rightly published. That unique "will," which for thirty years before it appeared in print was known to a wide circle of persons, many of whom had never seen the living Laura, was the supreme expression of a quality which, in greater or lesser degree, The Souls seemed to demand of one another, and of those who wished to join their band. Yet, combined with this passion, this poetry, this religious feeling, was first the maddest delight in simple things—in open air and physical exercise; then, a headlong joy in literature, art, music, acting; a perpetual spring of fun; and a hatred of all the solemn pretenses that too often make English society a weariness.
No doubt there is something—perhaps much—to be said on the other side. But I do not intend to say it. I was never a Soul, nor could have been. I came from too different a world. But there were a certain number of persons—of whom I was one—who were their "harborers" and spectators. I found delight in watching them. They were quite a new experience to me; and I saw them dramatically, like a scene in a play, full of fresh implications and suggestions. I find in an old letter to my mother an account of an evening at 40 Grosvenor Square, where the Tennants lived.
It was not an evening party—we joined a dinner party there, after dining somewhere else. So that the rooms were empty enough to let one see the pretty creatures gathered in it, to perfection. In the large drawing-room, which is really a ball-room with a polished floor, people were dancing, or thought-reading, or making music, as it pleased them.
Mr. Balfour was there, with whom we had made friends, as fellow-guests, on a week-end visit to Oxford, not long before; Alfred Lyttelton, then in the zenith of his magnificent youth; Lord Curzon, then plain Mr. Curzon, and in the Foreign Office; Mr. Harry Gust; Mr. Rennell Rodd, now the British Ambassador in Rome, and many others—a goodly company of young men in their prime. And among the women there was a very high proportion of beauty, but especially of grace. "The half-lit room, the dresses and the beauty," says my letter, "reminded one of some festa painted by Watteau or Lancret." But with what a difference! For, after all, it was English, through and through.
A little after this evening, Laura Tennant came down to spend a day at Borough Farm with the children and me. Another setting! Our principal drawing-room there in summer was a sand-pit, shaded by an old ash-tree and haunted by innumerable sand-martins. It was Ascension Day, and the commons were a dream of beauty. Our guest, I find, was to have come down "with Mr. Balfour and Mr. Burne-Jones." But in the end she came down alone; and we talked all day, sitting under hawthorns white with bloom, wandering through rushy fields ablaze with marsh marigold and orchis. She wrote to me the same evening after her return to London:
I sit with my eyes resting on the medieval purple of the sweet-breathing orchis you gave me, and my thoughts feasting on the wonderful beauty of the snowy blossom against the blue.... This has been a real Ascension Day.
Later in the year—in November—she wrote to me from Scotland—she was then twenty-one:
I am still in Scotland, but don't pity me, for I love it more than anything else in the wide world. If you could only hear the wind throwing his arm against my window, and sobbing down the glen. I think I shall never have a Lover I am so fond of as the wind. None ever serenaded me so divinely. And when I open my window wide and ask him what he wants, and tell him I am quite ready to elope with him now—this moment—he only moans and sighs thro' my outblown hair—and gives me neuralgia.... I read all day, except when I am out with my Lover, or playing with my little nephew and niece, both of whom I adore—for they are little poets. We have had a houseful ever since August, so I am delighted to get a little calm. It is so dreadful never, never to be alone—and really the housemaid would do just as well! and yet, whenever I go to my sanctum I am routed out as if I was of as much use as plums to plum pudding, and either made to play lawn-tennis or hide-and-seek, or to talk to a young man whose only idea of the Infinite is the Looking-glass. All these are the trials that attend the "young lady" of the house. Poor devil! Forgive strong language—but really my sympathy is deep.
I have, however, some really nice friends here, and am not entirely discontented. Mr. Gerald Balfour left the other day. He is very clever—and quite beautiful—like a young god. I wonder if you know him. I know you know Arthur.... Lionel Tennyson, who was also here with Gerald Balfour, has a splendid humor—witty and "fin," which is rare in England. Lord Houghton, Alfred Lyttelton, Godfrey Webb, George Curzon, the Chesterfields, the Hayters, Mary Gladstone, and a lot more have been here. I went north, too, to the land of Thule and was savagely happy. I wore no hat—no gloves—I bathed, fished, boated, climbed, and kissed the earth, and danced round a cairn. It was opposite Skye at a Heaven called Loch Ailsa.... Such beauty—such weather—such a fortnight will not come again. Perhaps it would be unjust to the crying world for one human being to have more of the Spirit of Delight; but one is glad to have tasted of the cup, and while it was in my hands I drank deeply.
I have read very little. I am hungering for a month or two's silence.
But there was another lover than the west wind waiting for this most lovable of mortals. A few days afterward she wrote to me from a house in Hampshire, where many of her particular friends were gathered, among them Alfred Lyttelton.
The conversation is pyrotechnic—and it is all quite delightful. A beautiful place—paradoxical arguments—ideals raised and shattered—temples torn and battered—temptations given way to—newspapers unread—acting—rhyming—laughing—ad infinitum. I wish you were here!
Six weeks afterward she was engaged to Mr. Lyttelton. She was to be married in May, and in Easter week of that year we met her in Paris, where she was buying her trousseau, enjoying it like a child, making friends with all her dressmakers, and bubbling over with fun about it. "It isn't 'dressing,'" she said, "unless you apply main force to them. What they want is always—presque pas de corsage, et pas du tout de manches!"
One day she and Mr. Lyttelton and Mr. Balfour and one or two others came to tea with us at the Hotel Chatham to meet Victor Cherbuliez. The veteran French novelist fell in love with her, of course, and their talk—Laura's French was as spontaneous and apparently as facile as her English—kept the rest of us happy. Then she married in May, with half London to see, and Mr. Gladstone—then Prime Minister—mounted on the chair to make the wedding-speech. For by her marriage Laura became the great man's niece, since Alfred Lyttelton's mother was a sister of Mrs. Gladstone.
Then in the autumn came the hope of a child—to her who loved children so passionately. But all through the waiting time she was overshadowed by a strangely strong presentiment of death. I went to see her sometimes toward the end of it, when she was resting on her sofa in the late evening, and used to leave her listening for her husband's step, on his return from his work, her little weary face already lit up with expectation. The weeks passed, and those who loved her began to be anxious. I went down to Borough Farm in May, and there, just two years after she had sat with us under the hawthorn, I heard the news of her little son's birth, and then ten days later the news of her death.
With that death a ray of pure joy was quenched on earth. But Laura Lyttelton was not only youth and delight—she was also embodied love. I have watched her in a crowded room where everybody wanted her, quietly seek out the neglected person there, the stranger, the shy secretary or governess, and make her happy—bring her in—with an art that few noticed, because in her it was nature. When she died she left an enduring mark in the minds of many who have since governed or guided England; but she was mourned also by scores of humble folk, and by disagreeable folk whom only she befriended. Mrs. Lyttelton quotes a letter written by the young wife to her husband:
Tell me you love me and always will. Tell me, so that when I dream I may dream of Love, and when I sleep dreamless Love may be holding me in his wings, and when I wake Love may be the spirit in my feet, and when I die Love may be the Angel that takes me home.
And in the room of death, when the last silence fell on those gathered there, her sister Margot—by Laura's wish, expressed some time before—read aloud the "will," in which she spoke her inmost heart. Since its publication it belongs to those records of life and feeling which are part of our common inheritance.
"She was a flame, beautiful, dancing, ardent," writes the second Mrs. Lyttelton. "The wind of life was too fierce for such a spirit; she could not live in it."
I make no apology for dwelling on the life and earthly death of this young creature who was only known to a band—though a large band—of friends during her short years. Throughout social and literary history there have been a few apparitions like hers, which touch with peculiar force, in the hearts of men and women, the old, deep, human notes which "make us men." Youth, beauty, charm, death—they are the great themes with which all art, plastic or literary, tries to conjure. It is given to very few to handle them simply, yet sufficiently; with power, yet without sentimentality. Breathed into Laura's short life, they affected whose who knew her like the finest things in poetry.
It was in 1874, as I have already mentioned, that on an introduction from Matthew Arnold we first made friends with M. Edmond Scherer, the French writer and Senator, who more than any other person—unless, perhaps, one divides the claim between him and M. Faguet—stepped into the critical chair of Sainte Beuve, after that great man's death. For M. Scherer's weekly reviews in the Temps (1863-78) were looked for by many people over about fifteen years, as persons of similar tastes had looked for the famous "Lundis," in the Constitutionnel of an earlier generation.
We went out to call upon the Scherers at Versailles, coupling with it, if I remember right, a visit to the French National Assembly then sitting in the Chateau. The road from the station to the palace was deep in snow, and we walked up behind two men in ardent conversation, one of them gesticulating freely. My husband asked a man beside us, bound also, it seemed, for the Assembly, who they were. "M. Gambetta and M. Jules Favre," was the answer. So there we had in front of us the intrepid organizer of the Government of National Defense, whose services to France France will never forget, and the unfortunate statesman to whom it fell, under the tyrannic and triumphant force of Germany (which was to prove, as we now know, in the womb and process of time, more fatal to herself than to France!), to sign away Alsace-Lorraine. And we had only just settled ourselves in our seats when Gambetta was in the tribune, making a short but impassioned speech. I but vaguely remember what the speech was about, but the attitude of the lion head thrown back, and the tones of the famous voice, remain with me—as it rang out in the recurrent phrase: "Je proteste!—Messieurs, je proteste!" It was the attitude of the statue in the Place du Carrousel, and of the meridional, Numa Roumestan, in Daudet's well-known novel. Every word said by the speaker seemed to enrage the benches of the Right, and the tumult was so great at times that we were still a little dazed by it when we reached the quiet of the Scherers' drawing-room.
M. Scherer rose to greet us, and to introduce us to his wife and daughters. A tall, thin man, already white-haired, with something in his aspect which suggested his Genevese origin—something at once ascetic and delicately sensitive. He was then in his sixtieth year, deputy for the Seine-et-Oise, and an important member of the Left Center. The year after we saw him he became a Senator, and remained so through his life, becoming more Conservative as the years went on. But his real importance was as a man of letters—one of the recognized chiefs of French literature and thought, equally at war with the forces of Catholic reaction, then just beginning to find a leader in M. Bourget, and with the scientific materialism of M. Taine. He was—when we first knew him—a Protestant who had ceased to believe in any historical religion; a Liberal who, like another friend of ours, Mr. Goschen, about the same time was drifting into Conservatism; and also a man of strong and subtle character to whom questions of ethics were at all times as important as questions of pure literature. Above all, he was a scholar, specially conversant with England and English letters. He was, for instance, the "French critic on Milton," on whom Matthew Arnold wrote one of his most attractive essays; and he was fond of maintaining—and proving—that when French people did make a serious study of England, and English books, which he admitted was rare, they were apt to make fewer mistakes about us than English writers make about France.
Dear M. Scherer!—I see him first in the little suite of carpetless rooms, empty save for books and the most necessary tables and chairs, where he lived and worked at Versailles; amid a library "read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested," like that of Lord Acton, his English junior. And then, in a winter walk along the Champs-Elysees, a year or two later, discussing the prospects of Catholicism in France: "They haven't a man—a speaker—a book! It is a real drawback to us Liberals that they are so weak, so negligible. We have nothing to hold us together!" At the moment Scherer was perfectly right. But the following years were to see the flowing back of Catholicism into literature, the Universities, the Ecole Normale. Twenty years later I quoted this remark of Scherer's to a young French philosopher. "True, for its date," he said. "There was then scarcely a single Catholic in the Ecole Normale [i.e., at the headwaters of French education]. There are now a great many. But they are all Modernists!" Since then, again, we have seen the growing strength of Catholicism in the French literature of imagination, in French poetry and fiction. Whether in the end it will emerge the stronger for the vast stirring of the waters caused by the present war is one of the most interesting questions of the present day.
But I was soon to know Edmond Scherer more intimately. I imagine that it was he who in 1884 sent me a copy of the Journal Intime of Henri Frederic Amiel, edited by himself. The book laid its spell upon me at once; and I felt a strong wish to translate it. M. Scherer consented and I plunged into it. It was a delightful but exacting task. At the end of it I knew a good deal more French than I did at the beginning! For the book abounded in passages that put one on one's mettle and seemed to challenge every faculty one possessed. M. Scherer came over with his daughter Jeanne—a schoene Seele, if ever there was one—and we spent hours in the Russell Square drawing-room, turning and twisting the most crucial sentences this way and that.
But at last the translation and my Introduction were finished and the English book appeared. It certainly obtained a warm welcome both here and in America. There is something in Amiel's mystical and melancholy charm which is really more attractive to the Anglo-Saxon than the French temper. At any rate, in the English-speaking countries the book spread widely, and has maintained its place till now.
The Journal is very interesting to me [wrote the Master of Balliol]. It catches and detains many thoughts that have passed over the minds of others, which they rarely express, because they must take a sentimental form, from which most thinkers recoil. It is all about "self," yet it never leaves an egotistical or affected impression. It is a curious combination of skepticism and religious feeling, like Pascal, but its elements are compounded in different proportions and the range of thought is far wider and more comprehensive. On the other hand, Pascal is more forcible, and looks down upon human things from a higher point of view.
Why was he unhappy? ... But, after all, commentaries on the lives of distinguished men are of very doubtful value. There is the life—take it and read it who can.
Amiel was a great genius, as is shown by his power of style.... His Journal is a book in which the thoughts of many hearts are revealed.... There are strange forms of mysticism, which the poetical intellect takes. I suppose we must not try to explain them. Amiel was a Neo-Platonist and a skeptic in one.
For myself [wrote Walter Pater], I shall probably think, on finishing the book, that there was still something Amiel might have added to those elements of natural religion which he was able to accept at times with full belief and always with the sort of hope which is a great factor in life. To my mind, the beliefs and the function in the world of the historic Church form just one of those obscure but all-important possibilities which the human mind is powerless effectively to dismiss from itself, and might wisely accept, in the first place, as a workable hypothesis. The supposed facts on which Christianity rests, utterly incapable as they have become of any ordinary test, seem to me matters of very much the same sort of assent we give to any assumptions, in the strict and ultimate sense, moral. The question whether those facts are real will, I think, always continue to be what I should call one of the natural questions of the human mind.
A passage, it seems to me, of considerable interest as throwing light upon the inner mind of one of the most perfect writers, and most important influences of the nineteenth century. Certainly there is no sign in it, on Mr. Pater's part, of "dropping Christianity"; very much the contrary.
* * * * *
But all this time, while literary and meditative folk went on writing and thinking, how fast the political world was rushing!
Those were the years, after the defeat of the first Home Rule Bill, and the dismissal of Mr. Gladstone, of Lord Salisbury's Government and Mr. Balfour's Chief-Secretaryship. As I look back upon them—those five dramatic years culminating first in the Parnell Commission, and then in Parnell's tragic downfall and death, I see everything grouped round Mr. Balfour. From the moment when, in succession to Sir Michael Hicks Beach, Mr. Balfour took over the Chief-Secretaryship, his sudden and swift development seemed to me the most interesting thing in politics. We had first met him, as I have said, on a week-end visit to the Talbots at Oxford. It was then a question whether his health would stand the rough and tumble of politics. I recollect he came down late and looked far from robust. We traveled up to London with him, and he was reading Mr. Green's Prolegomena to Ethics, which, if I remember right, he was to review for Mind.
He was then a member of the Fourth Party, and engaged—though in a rather detached fashion—in those endless raids and excursions against the "Goats"—i.e., the bearded veterans of his own party, Sir Stafford Northcote in particular, of which Lord Randolph was the leader. But compared to Lord Randolph he had made no Parliamentary mark. One thought of him as the metaphysician, the lover of music, the delightful companion, always, I feel now, in looking back, with a prevailing consciousness of something reserved and potential in him, which gave a peculiar importance and value to his judgments of men and things. He was a leading figure among "The Souls," and I remember some delightful evenings in his company before 1886, when the conversation was entirely literary or musical.
Then, with the Chief-Secretaryship there appeared a new Arthur Balfour. The courage, the resource, the never-failing wit and mastery with which he fought the Irish members in Parliament, put down outrage in Ireland, and at the same time laid the foundation in a hundred directions of that social and agrarian redemption of Ireland on which a new political structure will some day be reared—is perhaps even now about to rise—these things make one of the most brilliant, one of the most dramatic, chapters in our modern history.
It was in 1888, two years after Mr. Forster's death, that we found ourselves for a Sunday at Whittinghame. It was, I think, not long before the opening of the Special Commission which was to inquire into the charges brought by the Times against the Parnellites and the Land League. Nothing struck me more in Mr. Balfour than the absence in him of any sort of excitement or agitation, in dealing with the current charges against the Irishmen. It seemed to me that he had quietly accepted the fact that he was fighting a revolution, and, while perfectly clear as to his own course of action, wasted no nervous force on moral reprobation of the persons concerned. His business was to protect the helpless, to punish crime, and to expose the authors of it, whether high or low. But he took it as a job to be done—difficult—unpleasant—but all in the way of business. The tragic or pathetic emotion that so many people were ready to spend upon it he steadily kept at a distance. His nerve struck me as astonishing, and the absence of any disabling worry about things past. "One can only do one's best at the moment," he said to me once, a propos of some action of the Irish government which had turned out badly—"if it doesn't succeed, better luck next time! Nothing to be gained by going back upon things." After this visit to Whittinghame, I wrote to my father:
I came away more impressed and attracted by Arthur Balfour than ever. If intelligence and heart and pure intentions can do anything for Ireland, he at least has got them all. Physically he seems to have broadened and heightened since he took office, and his manner, which was always full of charm, is even brighter and kindlier than it was—or I fancied it. He spoke most warmly of Uncle Forster.
And the interesting and remarkable thing was the contrast between an attitude so composed and stoical, and his delicate physique, his sensitive, sympathetic character. All the time, of course, he was in constant personal danger. Detectives, much to his annoyance, lay in wait for us as we walked through his own park, and went with him in London wherever he dined. Like my uncle, he was impatient of being followed and guarded, and only submitted to it for the sake of other people. Once, at a dinner-party at our house, he met an old friend of ours, one of the most original thinkers of our day, Mr. Philip Wicksteed, economists Dante scholar, and Unitarian minister. Ha and Mr. Balfour were evidently attracted to each other, and when the time for departure came, the two, deep in conversation, instead of taking cabs, walked off together in the direction of Mr. Balfour's house in Carlton Gardens. The detectives below-stairs remained for some time blissfully unconscious of what had happened. Then word reached them; and my husband, standing at the door to see a guest off, was the amused spectator of the rush in pursuit of two splendid long-legged fellows, who had, however, no chance whatever of catching up the Chief Secretary.
Thirty years ago, almost! And during that time the name and fame of Arthur Balfour have become an abiding part of English history. Nor is there any British statesman of our day who has been so much loved by his friends, so little hated by his opponents, so widely trusted by the nation.
* * * * *
As to the Special Commission and the excitement produced by the Times attack on the Irish Members, including the publication of the forged Parnell letter in 1887, our connection with the Times brought us, of course, into the full blast of it. Night after night I would sit up, half asleep, to listen to the different phases of the story when in the early hours of the morning my husband came back from the Times, brimful of news, which he was as eager to tell as I to hear. My husband, however, was only occasionally asked to write upon Ireland, and was not in the inner counsels of the paper on that subject. We were both very anxious about the facsimiled letter, and when, after long preliminaries, the Commission came to the Times witnesses, I well remember the dismay with which I heard the first day of Mr. Macdonald's examination. Was that all? I came out of the Court behind Mr. Labouchere and Sir George Lewis, and in Mr. Labouchere's exultation one read the coming catastrophe. I was on the Riviera when Pigott's confession, flight, and suicide held the stage; yet even at that distance the shock was great. The Times attack was fatally discredited, and the influence of the great paper temporarily crippled. Yet how much of that attack was sound, how much of it was abundantly justified! After all, the report of the Commission—apart altogether from the forged letter or letters— certainly gave Mr. Balfour in Ireland later on the reasoned support of English opinion in his hand-to-hand struggle with the Land League methods, as the Commission had both revealed and judged them. After thirty years one may well admit that the Irish land system had to go, and that the Land League was "a sordid revolution," with both the crimes and the excuses of a revolution. But at the time, British statesmen had to organize reform with one hand, and stop boycotting and murder with the other; and the light thrown by the Commission on the methods of Irish disaffection was invaluable to those who were actually grappling day by day with the problems of Irish government.
It was probably at Mrs. Jeune's that I first saw Mr. Goschen, and we rapidly made friends. His was a great position at that time. Independent of both parties, yet trusted by both; at once disinterested and sympathetic; a strong Liberal in some respects, an equally strong Conservative in others—he never spoke without being listened to, and his support was eagerly courted both by Mr. Gladstone, from whom he had refused office in 1880, without, however, breaking with the Liberal party, and by the Conservatives, who instinctively felt him their property, but were not yet quite clear as to how they were to finally capture him. That was decided in 1886, when Mr. Goschen voted in the majority that killed the Home Rule Bill, and more definitely in the following year when Randolph Churchill resigned the Exchequer in a fit of pique, thinking himself indispensable, and not at all expecting Lord Salisbury to accept his resignation. But, in his own historic phrase, he "forgot Goschen," and Mr. Goschen stepped easily into his shoes and remained there.
I find from an old diary that the Goschens dined with us in Russell Square two nights before the historic division on the Home Rule Bill, and I remember how the talk raged and ranged. Mr. Goschen was an extremely agreeable talker, and I seem still to hear his husky voice, with the curious deep notes in it, and to be looking into the large but short-sighted and spectacled eyes—he refused the Speakership mainly on the grounds of his sight—of which the veiled look often made what he said the more racy and unexpected. A letter he wrote me in 1886, after his defeat at Liverpool, I kept for many years as the best short analysis I had ever read of the Liberal Unionist position, and the probable future of the Liberal party.
Mrs. Goschen was as devoted a wife as Mrs. Gladstone or Mrs. Disraeli, and the story of the marriage was a romance enormously to Mr. Goschen's credit. Mr. Goschen must have been a most faithful lover, and he certainly was a delightful friend. We stayed with them at Seacox, their home in Kent, and I remember one rainy afternoon there, the greater part of which I spent listening to his talk with John Morley, and—I think—Sir Alfred Lyall. It would have been difficult to find a trio of men better worth an audience.
Mrs. Goschen, though full of kindness and goodness, was not literary, and the house was somewhat devoid of books, except in Mr. Goschen's study. I remember J.R.G.'s laughing fling when Mrs. Goschen complained that she could not get Pride and Prejudice, which he had recommended to her, "from the library." "But you could have bought it for sixpence at the railway bookstall," said J.R.G. Mr. Goschen himself, however, was a man of wide cultivation, as befitted the grandson of the intelligent German bourgeois who had been the publisher of both Schiller and Goethe. His biography of his grandfather in those happy days before the present life-and-death struggle between England and Germany has now a kind of symbolic value. It is a study by a man of German descent who had become one of the most trusted of English statesmen, of that earlier German life—with its measure, its kindness, its idealism—on which Germany has turned its back. The writing of this book was the pleasure of his later years, amid the heavy work which was imposed upon him as a Free-Trader, in spite of his personal friendship for Mr. Chamberlain, by the Tariff Reform campaign of 1903 onward; and the copy which he gave me reminds me of many happy talks with him, and of my own true affection for him. I am thankful that he did not live to see 1914.
Lord Goschen reminds me of Lord Acton, another new friend of the 'eighties. Yet Lord Acton had been my father's friend and editor, in the Home and Foreign Review, long before he and I knew each other. Was there ever a more interesting or a more enigmatic personality than Lord Acton's? His letters to Mrs. Drew, addressed, evidently, in many cases, to Mr. Gladstone, through his daughter, have always seemed to me one of the most interesting documents of our time. Yet I felt sharply, in reading them, that the real man was only partially there; and in the new series of letters just published (October, 1917) much and welcome light is shed upon the problem of Lord Acton's mind and character. The perpetual attraction for me, as for many others, lay in the contrast between Lord Acton's Catholicism and the universalism of his learning; and, again, between what his death revealed of the fervor and simplicity of his Catholic faith, and the passion of his Liberal creed. Oppression—tyranny—persecution—those were the things that stirred his blood. He was a Catholic, yet he fought Ultramontanism and the Papal, Curia to the end; he never lost his full communion with the Church of Rome, yet he could never forgive the Papacy for the things it had done, and suffered to be done; and he would have nothing to do with the excuse that the moral standards of one age are different from those of another, and therefore the crimes of a Borgia weigh more lightly and claim more indulgence than similar acts done in the nineteenth century.
There is one moral standard for all Christians—there has never been more than one [he would say, inexorably]. The Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount have been always there. It was the wickedness of men that ignored them in the fifteenth century—it is the wickedness of men that ignores them now. Tolerate them in the past, and you will come to tolerate them in the present and future.
It was in 1885 that Mr.—then recently made Professor—Creighton, showed me at Cambridge an extraordinarily interesting summary, in Lord Acton's handwriting, of what should be the principles—the ethical principles—of the modern historian in dealing with the past. They were, I think, afterward embodied in an introduction to a new edition of Machiavelli. The gist of them, however, is given in a letter written to Bishop Creighton in 1887, and printed in the biography of the Bishop. Here we find a devout Catholic attacking an Anglican writer for applying the epithets "tolerant and enlightened" to the later medieval Papacy.
These men [i.e., the Popes of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries] [he says] instituted a system of persecution.... The person who authorizes the act shares the guilt of the person who commits it.... Now the Liberals think persecution a crime of a worse order than adultery, and the acts done by Ximenes [through the agency of the Spanish Inquisition] considerably worse than the entertainment of Roman courtesans by Alexander VIth.
These lines, of course, point to the Acton who was the lifelong friend of Dollinger and fought, side by side with the Bavarian scholar, the promulgation of the dogma of Papal Infallibility, at the Vatican Council of 1870. But while Dollinger broke with the Church, Lord Acton never did. That was what made the extraordinary interest of conversation with him. Here was a man whose denunciation of the crimes and corruption of Papal Rome—of the historic Church, indeed, and the clergy in general—was far more unsparing than that of the average educated Anglican. Yet he died a devout member of the Roman Church in which he was born; after his death it was revealed that he had never felt a serious doubt either of Catholic doctrine or of the supernatural mission of the Catholic Church; and it was to a dearly loved daughter on her death-bed that he said, with calm and tender faith, "My child, you will soon be with Jesus Christ." All his friends, except the very few who knew him most intimately, must, I think, have been perpetually puzzled by this apparent paradox in his life and thought. Take the subject of Biblical criticism. I had many talks with him while I was writing Robert Elsmere, and was always amazed at his knowledge of what Liddon would have called "German infidel" books. He had read them all, he possessed them all, he knew a great deal about the lives of the men who had written them, and he never spoke of them, both the books and the writers, without complete and, as it seemed to me, sympathetic tolerance. I remember, after the publication of the dialogue on "The New Reformation," in which I tried to answer Mr. Gladstone's review of Robert Elsmere by giving an outline of the history of religious inquiry and Biblical criticism from Lessing to Harnack, that I met Lord Acton one evening on the platform of Bletchley station, while we were both waiting for a train. He came up to me with a word of congratulation on the article. "I only wish," I said, "I had been able to consult you more about it." "No, no," he said. "Votre siege est faite! But I think you should have given more weight to so-and-so, and you have omitted so-and-so." Whereupon we walked up and down in the dusk, and he poured out that learning of his, in that way he had—so courteous, modest, thought-provoking—which made one both wonder at and love him.
As to his generosity and kindness toward younger students, it was endless. I asked him once, when I was writing for Macmillan, to give me some suggestions for an article on Chateaubriand. The letter I received from him the following morning is a marvel of knowledge, bibliography, and kindness. And not only did he give me such a "scheme" of reading as would have taken any ordinary person months to get through, but he arrived the following day in a hansom, with a number of the books he had named, and for a long time they lived on my shelves. Alack! I never wrote the article, but when I came to the writing of Eleanor, for which certain material was drawn from the life of Chateaubriand, his advice helped me. And I don't think he would have thought it thrown away. He never despised novels!
Once on a visit to us at Stocks, there were nine books of different sorts in his room which I had chosen and placed there. By Monday morning he had read them all. His library, when he died, contained about 60,000 volumes—all read; and it will be remembered that Lord Morley, to whom Mr. Carnegie gave it, has handed it on to the University of Cambridge.
In 1884, when I first knew him, however, Lord Acton was every bit as keen a politician as he was a scholar. As is well known, he was a poor speaker, and never made any success in Parliament; and this was always, it seemed to me, the drop of gall in his otherwise happy and distinguished lot. But if he was never in an English Cabinet, his influence over Mr. Gladstone through the whole of the Home Rule struggle gave him very real political power. He and Mr. Morley were the constant friends and associates to whom Mr. Gladstone turned through all that critical time. But the great split was rushing on, and it was also in 1884 that, at Admiral Maxse's one night at dinner, I first saw Mr. Chamberlain, who was to play so great a part in the following years. It was a memorable evening to me, for the other guest in a small party was M. Clemenceau.
M. Clemenceau was then at the height of his power as the maker and unmaker of French Ministries. It was he more than any other single man who had checkmated the Royalist reaction of 1877 and driven MacMahon from power; and in the year after we first met him he was to bring Jules Ferry to grief over L'affaire de Tongkin. He was then in the prime of life, and he is still (1917), thirty-three years later, one of the most vigorous of French political influences. Mr. Chamberlain, in 1884, was forty-eight, five years older than the French politician, and was at that time, of course, the leader of the Radicals, as distinguished from the old Liberals, both in the House of Commons and Mr. Gladstone's Cabinet.
How many great events, in which those two men were to be concerned, were still in the "abysm of time," as we sat listening to them at Admiral Maxse's dinner-table!—Clemenceau, the younger, and the more fiery and fluent; Chamberlain, with no graces of conversation, and much less ready than the man he was talking with, but producing already the impression of a power, certain to leave its mark, if the man lived, on English history. In a letter to my father after the dinner-party, I described the interest we had both felt in M. Clemenceau. "Yet he seems to me a light weight to ride such a horse as the French democracy!"
[Footnote 1: These lines were written shortly before, on the overthrow of M. Panleve. M. Clemenceau, at the age of seventy-seven, became Prime Minister of France, at what may well be the deciding moment of French destiny (January, 1918).]
In the following year, 1885, I remember a long conversation on the Gordon catastrophe with Mr. Chamberlain at Lady Jeune's. It was evident, I thought, that his mind was greatly exercised by the whole story of that disastrous event. He went through it from step to step, ending up deliberately, but with a sigh, "I have never been able to see, from day to day, and I do not see now, how the Ministry could have taken any other course than that they did take."
Yet the recently published biography of Sir Charles Dilke shows clearly how very critical Mr. Chamberlain had already become of his great leader, Mr. Gladstone, and how many causes were already preparing the rupture of 1886.
* * * * *
I first met Mr. Browning in 1884 or 1885, if I remember right, at a Kensington dinner-party, where he took me down. A man who talked loud and much was discoursing on the other side of the table; and a spirit of opposition had clearly entered into Mr. Browning.
A propos of some recent acting in London we began to talk of Moliere, and presently, as though to shut out the stream of words opposite, which was damping conversation, the old poet—how the splendid brow and the white hair come back to me!—fell to quoting from the famous sonnet scene in "Le Misanthrope": first of all, Alceste's rage with Phillinte's flattery of the wretched verses declaimed by Oronte—"Morbleu! vil complaisant, vous louez des sottises"; then the admirable fencing between Oronte and Alceste, where Alceste at first tries to convey his contempt for Oronte's sonnet indirectly, and then bursts out:
"Ce n'est que jeu de mots, qu'affectation pure, Et ce n'est point ainsi que parle la nature!"
breaking immediately into the vieille chanson, one line of which is worth all the affected stuff that Celimene and her circle admire.
Browning repeated the French in an undertone, kindling as he went, I urging him on, our two heads close together. Every now and then he would look up to see if the plague outside was done, and, finding it still went on, would plunge again into the seclusion of our tete-a-tete; till the chanson itself—"Si le roi m'avoit donne—Paris, sa grand' ville"—had been said, to his delight and mine.
The recitation lasted through several courses, and our hostess once or twice threw uneasy glances toward us, for Browning was the "lion" of the evening. But, once launched, he was not to be stopped; and as for me, I shall always remember that I heard Browning—spontaneously, without a moment's pause to remember or prepare—recite the whole, or almost the whole, of one of the immortal things in literature.
He was then seventy-two or seventy-three. He came to see us once or twice in Russell Square, but, alack! we arrived too late in the London world to know him well. His health began to fail just about the time when we first met, and early in 1889 he died in the Palazzo Rezzonico.
He did not like Robert Elsmere, which appeared the year before his death; and I was told a striking story by a common friend of his and mine, who was present at a discussion of the book at a literary house. Browning, said my friend, was of the party. The discussion turned on the divinity of Christ. After listening awhile, Browning repeated, with some passion, the anecdote of Charles Lamb in conversation with Leigh Hunt, on the subject of "Persons one would wish to have seen"; when, after ranging through literature and philosophy, Lamb added:
"But without mentioning a name that once put on a semblance of mortality ... there is only one other Person. If Shakespeare was to come into the room, we should rise up to meet him; but if that Person was to come into it, we should fall down and try to kiss the hem of His garment."
Some fourteen years after his death I seemed to be brought very near in spirit to this great man, and—so far as a large portion of his work is concerned—great poet. We were in Venice. I was writing the Marriage of William Ashe, and, being in want of a Venetian setting for some of the scenes, I asked Mr. Pen Browning, who was, I think, at Asolo, if he would allow me access to the Palazzo Rezzonico, which was then uninhabited. He kindly gave me free leave to wander about it as I liked; and I went most days to sit and write in one of the rooms of the mezzanin. But when all chance of a tourist had gone, and the palace was shut, I used to walk all about it in the rich May light, finding it a little creepy! but endlessly attractive and interesting. There was a bust of Mr. Browning, with an inscription, in one of the rooms, and the place was haunted for me by his great ghost. It was there he had come to die, in the palace which he had given to his only son, whom he adored. The concierge pointed out to me what he believed to be the room in which he passed away. There was very little furniture in it. Everything was chill and deserted. I did not want to think of him there. I liked to imagine him strolling in the stately hall of the palace with its vast chandelier, its pillared sides and Tiepolo ceiling, breathing in the Italian spirit which through such long years had passed into his, and delighting, as a poet delights—not vulgarly, but with something of a child's adventurous pleasure—in the mellow magnificence of the beautiful old place.
* * * * *
Mr. Lowell is another memory of these early London days. My first sight of him was at Mr. and Mrs. Westlake's house—in a temper! For some one had imprudently talked of "Yankeeisms," perhaps with some "superior" intonation. And Mr. Lowell—the Lowell of A Certain Condescension in Foreigners—had flashed out: "It's you English who don't know your own language and your own literary history. Otherwise you would realize that most of what you call 'Yankeeisms' are merely good old English which you have thrown away."
Afterward, I find records of talks with him at Russell Square, then of Mrs. Lowell's death in 1885, and finally of dining with him in the spring of 1887, just before his return to America. At that dinner was also the German Ambassador, Count Hatzfeldt, a handsome man, with a powerful, rather somber face. I remember some talk with him after dinner on current books and politics. Just thirty years ago! Mr. Lowell had then only four years to live. He and all other diplomats had just passed through an anxious spring. The scare of another Franco-German war had been playing on the nerves of Europe, started by the military party in Germany, merely to insure the passing of the famous Army law of that year—the first landmark in that huge military expansion of which we see the natural fruit in the present Armageddon.
A week or two before this dinner the German elections had given the Conservatives an enormous victory. Germany, indeed, was in the full passion of economic and military development—all her people growing rich—intoxicated, besides, with vague dreams of coming power. Yet I have still before me the absent, indecipherable look of her Ambassador—a man clearly of high intelligence—at Mr. Lowell's table. Thirty years—and at the end of them America was to be at grips with Germany, sending armies across the Atlantic to fight in Europe. It would have been as impossible for any of us, on that May evening in Lowndes Square, even to imagine such a future, as it was for Macbeth to credit the absurdity that Birnam wood would ever come to Dunsinane!
A year later Mr. Lowell came back to London for a time in a private capacity, and I got to know him better and to like him much.... Here is a characteristic touch in a note I find among the old letters:
I am glad you found something to like in my book and much obliged to you for saying so. Nobody but Wordsworth ever got beyond need of sympathy, and he started there!
THE PUBLICATION OF ROBERT ELSMERE
It was in 1885, after the completion of the Amiel translation, that I began Robert Elsmere, drawing the opening scenes from that expedition to Long Sleddale in the spring of that year which I have already mentioned. The book took me three years, nearly, to write. Again and again I found myself dreaming that the end was near and publication only a month or two away, only to sink back on the dismal conviction that the second, or the first, or the third volume—or some portion of each—must be rewritten, if I was to satisfy myself at all. I actually wrote the last words of the last chapter in March, 1887, and came out afterward, from my tiny writing-room at the end of the drawing-room, shaken with tears, and wondering, as I sat alone on the floor, by the fire, in the front room, what life would be like, now that the book was done! But it was nearly a year after that before it came out, a year of incessant hard work, of endless rewriting, and much nervous exhaustion. For all the work was saddened and made difficult by the fact that my mother's long illness was nearing its end and that I was torn incessantly between the claim of the book and the desire to be with her whenever I could possibly be spared from my home and children. Whenever there was a temporary improvement in her state, I would go down to Borough alone to work feverishly at revision, only to be drawn back to her side before long by worse news. And all the time London life went on as usual, and the strain at times was great.
The difficulty of finishing the book arose first of all from its length. I well remember the depressed countenance of Mr. George Smith—who was to be to me through fourteen years afterward the kindest of publishers and friends—when I called one day in Waterloo Place, bearing a basketful of typewritten sheets. "I am afraid you have brought us a perfectly unmanageable book!" he said; and I could only mournfully agree that so it was. It was far too long, and my heart sank at the thought of all there was still to do. But how patient Mr. Smith was over it! and how generous in the matter of unlimited fresh proofs and endless corrections. I am certain that he had no belief in the book's success; and yet, on the ground of his interest in Miss Bretherton he had made liberal terms with me, and all through the long incubation he was always indulgent and sympathetic.
The root difficulty was of course the dealing with such a subject in a novel at all. Yet I was determined to deal with it so, in order to reach the public. There were great precedents—Froude's Nemesis of Faith, Newman's Loss and Gain, Kingsley's Alton Locke—for the novel of religious or social propaganda. And it seemed to me that the novel was capable of holding and shaping real experience of any kind, as it affects the lives of men and women. It is the most elastic, the most adaptable of forms. No one has a right to set limits to its range. There is only one final test. Does it interest?—does it appeal? Personally, I should add another. Does it make in the long run for beauty? Beauty taken in the largest and most generous sense, and especially as including discord, the harsh and jangled notes which enrich the rest—but still Beauty—as Tolstoy was a master of it?
But at any rate, no one will deny that interest is the crucial matter.
There are five and twenty ways Of constructing tribal lays— And every single one of them is right!
always supposing that the way chosen quickens the breath and stirs the heart of those who listen. But when the subject chosen has two aspects, the one intellectual and logical, the other poetic and emotional, the difficulty of holding the balance between them, so that neither overpowers the other, and interest is maintained, is admittedly great.
I wanted to show how a man of sensitive and noble character, born for religion, comes to throw off the orthodoxies of his day and moment, and to go out into the wilderness where all is experiment, and spiritual life begins again. And with him I wished to contrast a type no less fine of the traditional and guided mind, and to imagine the clash of two such tendencies of thought as it might affect all practical life, and especially the life of two people who loved each other.
Here then, to begin with, were Robert and Catharine. Yes, but Robert must be made intellectually intelligible. Closely looked at, all novel-writing is a sort of shorthand. Even the most simple and broadly human situation cannot really be told in full. Each reader in following it unconsciously supplies a vast amount himself. A great deal of the effect is owing to things quite out of the picture given—things in the reader's own mind, first and foremost. The writer is playing on common experience; and mere suggestion is often far more effective than analysis. Take the paragraph in Turguenieff's Lisa—it was pointed out to me by Henry James—where Lavretsky on the point of marriage, after much suffering, with the innocent and noble girl whom he adores, suddenly hears that his intolerable first wife, whom he had long believed dead, is alive. Turguenieff, instead of setting out the situation in detail, throws himself on the reader: "It was dark. Lavretsky went into the garden, and walked up and down there till dawn."
That is all. And it is enough. The reader who is not capable of sharing that night walk with Lavretsky, and entering into his thoughts, has read the novel to no purpose. He would not understand, though Lavretsky or his creator were to spend pages on explaining.
But in my case, what provoked the human and emotional crisis—what produced the story—was an intellectual process. Now the difficulty here in using suggestion—which is the master tool of the novelist—is much greater than in the case of ordinary experience. For the conscious use of the intellect on the accumulated data of life, through history and philosophy, is not ordinary experience. In its more advanced forms, it only applies to a small minority of the human race.
Still, in every generation, while a minority is making or taking part in the intellectual process itself, there is an atmosphere, a diffusion, produced around them, which affects many thousands who have but little share—but little conscious share, at any rate—in the actual process.
Here, then, is the opening for suggestion—in connection with the various forms of imagination which enter into Literature; with poetry, and fiction, which, as Goethe saw, is really a form of poetry. And a quite legitimate opening. For to use it is to quicken the intellectual process itself, and to induce a larger number of minds to take part in it.
The problem, then, in intellectual poetry or fiction, is so to suggest the argument, that both the expert and the popular consciousness may feel its force, and to do this without overstepping the bounds of poetry or fiction; without turning either into mere ratiocination, and so losing the "simple, sensuous, passionate" element which is their true life.
It was this problem which made Robert Elsmere take three years to write, instead of one. Mr. Gladstone complained, in his famous review of it, that a majestic system which had taken centuries to elaborate, and gathered into itself the wisest brains of the ages, had gone down in a few weeks or months before the onslaught of the Squire's arguments; and that if the Squire's arguments were few, the orthodox arguments were fewer! The answer to the first part of the charge is that the well-taught schoolboy of to-day is necessarily wiser in a hundred respects than Sophocles or Plato, since he represents not himself, but the brainwork of a hundred generations since those great men lived. And as to the second, if Mr. Gladstone had seen the first redactions of the book—only if he had, I fear he would never have read it!—he would hardly have complained of lack of argument on either side, whatever he might have thought of its quality. Again and again I went on writing for hours, satisfying the logical sense in oneself, trying to put the arguments on both sides as fairly as possible, only to feel despairingly at the end that it must all come out. It might be decent controversy; but life, feeling, charm, humanity, had gone out of it; it had ceased, therefore, to be "making," to be literature.
So that in the long run there was no other method possible than suggestion—and, of course, selection!—as with all the rest of one's material. That being understood, what one had to aim at was so to use suggestion as to touch the two zones of thought—that of the scholar and that of what one may call the educated populace; who, without being scholars, were yet aware, more or less clearly, of what the scholars were doing. It is from these last that "atmosphere" and "diffusion" come; the atmosphere and diffusion which alone make wide penetration for a book illustrating an intellectual motive possible. I had to learn that, having read a great deal, I must as far as possible wipe out the traces of reading. All that could be done was to leave a few sign-posts as firmly planted as one could, so as to recall the real journey to those who already knew it, and, for the rest, to trust to the floating interest and passion surrounding a great controversy—the second religious battle of the nineteenth century—with which it had seemed to me, both in Oxford and in London, that the intellectual air was charged.
I grew very weary in the course of the long effort, and often very despairing. But there were omens of hope now and then; first, a letter from my dear eldest brother, the late W.T. Arnold, who died in 1904, leaving a record as journalist and scholar which has been admirably told by his intimate friend and colleague, Mr. (now Captain) C.E. Montague. He and I had shared many intellectual interests connected with the history of the Empire. His monograph on Roman Provincial Administration, first written as an Arnold Essay, still holds the field; and in the realm of pure literature his one-volume edition of Keats is there to show his eagerness for beauty and his love of English verse. I sent him the first volume in proof, about a year before the book came out, and awaited his verdict with much anxiety. It came one May day in 1889. I happened to be very tired and depressed at the moment, and I remember sitting alone for a little while with the letter in my hand, without courage to open it. Then at last I opened it.
Warm congratulation—Admirable!—Full of character and color.... Miss Bretherton was an intellectual exercise. This is quite a different affair, and has interested and touched me deeply, as I feel sure it will all the world. The biggest thing that—with a few other things of the same kind—has been done for years.
Well!—that was enough to go on with, to carry me through the last wrestle with proofs and revision. But by the following November nervous fatigue made me put work aside for a few weeks, and we went abroad for rest, only to be abruptly summoned home by my mother's state. Thenceforward I lived a double life—the one overshadowed by my mother's approaching death, the other amid the agitation of the book's appearance and all the incidents of its rapid success.
I have already told the story in the Introduction to the Library Edition of Robert Elsmere, and I will only run through it here as rapidly as possible, with a few fresh incidents and quotations. There was never any doubt at all of the book's fate, and I may repeat again that, before Mr. Gladstone's review of it, the three volumes were already in a third edition, the rush at all the libraries was in full course, and Matthew Arnold—so gay and kind, in those March weeks before his own sudden death!—had clearly foreseen the rising boom. "I shall take it with me to Bristol next week and get through it there, I hope [but he didn't achieve it!]. It is one of my regrets not to have known the Green of your dedication." And a week or two later he wrote an amusing letter to his sister, describing a country-house party at beautiful Wilton, Lord Pembroke's home near Salisbury, and the various stages in the book reached by the members of the party, including Mr. Goschen, who were all reading it, and all talking of it. I never, however, had any criticism of it from him, except of the first volume, which he liked. I doubt very much whether the second and third volumes would have appealed to him. My uncle was a Modernist long before the time. In Literature and Dogma he threw out in detail much of the argument suggested in Robert Elsmere, but to the end of his life he was a contented member of the Anglican Church, so far as attendance at her services was concerned, and belief in her mission of "edification" to the English people. He had little sympathy with people who "went out." Like Mr. Jowett, he would have liked to see the Church slowly reformed and "modernized" from within. So that with the main theme of my book—that a priest who doubts must depart—he could never have had full sympathy. And in the course of years—as I showed in a later novel written twenty-four years after Robert Elsmere—I feel that I have very much come to agree with him! These great national structures that we call churches are too precious for iconoclast handling, if any other method is possible. The strong assertion of individual liberty within them, as opposed to the attempt to break them down from without; that seems to me now the hopeful course. A few more heresy trials like those which sprang out of Essays and Reviews, or the persecution of Bishop Colenso, would let in fresh life and healing nowadays, as did those old stirrings of the waters. The first Modernist bishop who stays in his place forms a Modernist chapter and diocese around him, and fights the fight where he stands, will do more for liberty and faith in the Church, I now sadly believe, than those scores of brave "forgotten dead" who have gone out of her for conscience' sake, all these years.
But to return to the book. All through March the tide of success was rapidly rising; and when I was able to think of it I was naturally carried away by the excitement and astonishment of it. But with the later days of March a veil dropped between me and the book. My mother's suffering and storm-beaten life was coming rapidly to its close, and I could think of nothing else. In an interval of slight improvement, indeed, when it seemed as though she might rally for a time, I heard Mr. Gladstone's name quoted for the first time in connection with the book. It will be remembered that he was then out of office, having been overthrown on the Home Rule Question in 1886, and he happened to be staying for an Easter visit with the Warden of Keble, and Mrs. Talbot, who was his niece by marriage. I was with my mother, about a mile away, and Mrs. Talbot, who came to ask for news of her, reported to me that Mr. Gladstone was deep in the book. He was reading it, pencil in hand, marking all the passages he disliked or quarreled with, with the Italian "Ma!"—and those he approved of with mysterious signs which she who followed him through the volumes could not always decipher. Mr. Knowles, she reported, the busy editor of the Nineteenth Century, was trying to persuade the great man to review it. But "Mr. G." had not made up his mind.
Then all was shut out again. Through many days my mother asked constantly for news of the book, and smiled with a flicker of her old brightness when anything pleased her in a letter or review. But finally there came long hours when to think or speak of it seemed sacrilege. And on April 7th she died.
* * * * *
The day after her death I saw Mr. Gladstone at Keble. We talked for a couple of hours, and then when I rose to go he asked if I would come again on the following morning before he went back to town. I had been deeply interested and touched, and I went again for another long visit. My account, written down at the time, of the first day's talk, has been printed as an appendix to the Library Edition of the book. Of the second conversation, which was the more interesting of the two since we came to much closer quarters in it, my only record is the following letter to my husband:
I have certainly had a wonderful experience last night and this morning! Last night two hours' talk with Gladstone, this morning, again an hour and a half's strenuous argument, during which the great man got quite white sometimes and tremulous with interest and excitement.... The talk this morning was a battle royal over the book and Christian evidences. He was very charming personally, though at times he looked stern and angry and white to a degree, so that I wondered sometimes how I had the courage to go on—the drawn brows were so formidable! There was one moment when he talked of "trumpery objections," in his most House of Commons manner. It was as I thought. The new lines of criticism are not familiar to him, and they really press him hard. He meets them out of Bishop Butler, and things analogous. But there is a sense, I think, that question and answer don't fit, and with it ever-increasing interest and—sometimes—irritation. His own autobiographical reminiscences were wonderfully interesting, and his repetition of the 42d psalm—"Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks"—grand!