Transcriber's Note: Brief Greek phrases appear in the original text in three places. They have been transliterated and placed between marks.
ADVENTURES IN CRITICISM
A. T. QUILLER-COUCH
New York Charles Scribner's Sons Copyright, 1896 Trow Directory Printing and Bookbinding Company New York
MY DEAR A.B.W.
The short papers which follow have been reprinted, with a few alterations, from The Speaker. Possibly you knew this without my telling you. Possibly, too, you have sat in a theatre before now and seen the curtain rise on two characters exchanging information which must have been their common property for years. So this dedication is partly designed to save me the trouble of writing a formal preface.
As I remember then, Adam, it was upon this fashion bequeathed us by destiny to write side by side in The Speaker every week, you about Plays and I about Books. Three years ago you found time to arrange a few of your writings in a notable volume of Playhouse Impressions. Some months ago I searched the files of the paper with a similar design, and read my way through an astonishing amount of my own composition. Noble edifice of toil! It stretched away in imposing proportions and vanishing perspective—week upon week—two columns to the week! The mischief was, it did not appear to lead to anything: and for the first mile or two even the casual graces of the colonnade were hopelessly marred through that besetting fault of the young journalist, who finds no satisfaction in his business of making bricks without straw unless he can go straightway and heave them at somebody.
Still (to drop metaphor), I have chosen some papers which I hope may be worth a second reading. They are fragmentary, by force of the conditions under which they were produced: but perhaps the fragments may here and there suggest the outline of a first principle. And I dedicate the book to you because it would be strange if the time during which we have appeared in print side by side had brought no sense of comradeship. Though, in fact, we live far apart and seldom get speech together, more than one of these papers—ostensibly addressed to anybody whom they might concern—has been privately, if but sub-consciously, intended for you.
CHAUCER 1 "THE PASSIONATE PILGRIM" 29 SHAKESPEARE'S LYRICS 39 SAMUEL DANIEL 48 WILLIAM BROWNE 59 THOMAS CAREW 67 "ROBINSON CRUSOE" 75 LAWRENCE STERNE 90 SCOTT AND BURNS 103 CHARLES READE 124 HENRY KINGSLEY 131 ALEXANDER WILLIAM KINGLAKE 141 C.S.C. AND J.K.S 147 ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON 156 M. ZOLA 192 SELECTION 198 EXTERNALS 204 CLUB TALK 222 EXCURSIONISTS IN POETRY 229 THE POPULAR CONCEPTION OF A POET 235 POETS ON THEIR OWN ART 245 THE ATTITUDE OF THE PUBLIC TOWARDS LETTERS 254 A CASE OF BOOKSTALL CENSORSHIP 267 THE POOR LITTLE PENNY DREADFUL 276 IBSEN'S "PEER GYNT" 283 MR. SWINBURNE'S LATER MANNER 297 A MORNING WITH A BOOK 306 MR. JOHN DAVIDSON 314 BJOERNSTERNE BJOERNSON 332 MR. GEORGE MOORE 341 MRS. MARGARET L. WOODS 349 MR. HALL CAINE 368 MR. ANTHONY HOPE 377 "TRILBY" 384 MR. STOCKTON 391 BOW-WOW 399 OF SEASONABLE NUMBERS 404
ADVENTURES IN CRITICISM
March 17, 1894. Professor Skeat's Chaucer.
After twenty-five years of close toil, Professor Skeat has completed his great edition of Chaucer.[A] It is obviously easier to be dithyrambic than critical in chronicling this event; to which indeed dithyrambs are more appropriate than criticism. For when a man writes Opus vitae meae at the conclusion of such a task as this, and so lays down his pen, he must be a churl (even if he be also a competent critic) who will allow no pause for admiration. And where, churl or no churl, is the competent critic to be found? The Professor has here compiled an entirely new text of Chaucer, founded solely on the manuscripts and the earliest printed editions that are accessible. Where Chaucer has translated, the originals have been carefully studied: "the requirements of metre and grammar have been carefully considered throughout": and "the phonology and spelling of every word have received particular attention." We may add that all the materials for a Life of Chaucer have been sought out, examined, and pieced together with exemplary care.
All this has taken Professor Skeat twenty-five years, and in order to pass competent judgment on his conclusions the critic must follow him step by step through his researches—which will take the critic (even if we are charitable enough to suppose his mental equipment equal to Professor Skeat's) another ten years at least. For our time, then, and probably for many generations after, this edition of Chaucer will be accepted as final.
* * * * *
And the Clarendon Press.
And I seem to see in this edition of Chaucer the beginning of the realization of a dream which I have cherished since first I stood within the quadrangle of the Clarendon Press—that fine combination of the factory and the palace. The aspect of the Press itself repeats, as it were, the characteristics of its government, which is conducted by an elected body as an honorable trust. Its delegates are not intent only on money-getting. And yet the Clarendon Press makes money, and the University can depend upon it for handsome subsidies. It may well depend upon it for much more. As the Bank of England—to which in its system of government it may be likened—is the focus of all the other banks, private or joint-stock, in the kingdom, and the treasure-house, not only of the nation's gold, but of its commercial honor, so the Clarendon Press—traditionally careful in its selections and munificent in its rewards—might become the academy or central temple of English literature. If it would but follow up Professor Skeat's Chaucer with a resolution to publish, at a pace suitable to so large an undertaking, all the great English classics, edited with all the scholarship its wealth can command, I believe that before long the Clarendon Press would be found to be exercising an influence on English letters which is at present lacking, and the lack of which drives many to call, from time to time, for the institution in this country of something corresponding to the French Academy. I need only cite the examples of the Royal Society and the Marylebone Cricket Club to show that to create an authority in this manner is consonant with our national practice. We should have that centre of correct information, correct judgment, correct taste—that intellectual metropolis, in short—which is the surest check upon provinciality in literature; we should have a standard of English scholarship and an authoritative dictionary of the English language; and at the same time we should escape all that business of the green coat and palm branches which has at times exposed the French Academy to much vulgar intrigue.
Also, I may add, we should have the books. Where now is the great edition of Bunyan, of Defoe, of Gibbon? The Oxford Press did once publish an edition of Gibbon, worthy enough as far as type and paper could make it worthy. But this is only to be found in second-hand book-shops. Why are two rival London houses now publishing editions of Scott, the better illustrated with silly pictures "out of the artists' heads"? Where is the final edition of Ben Jonson?
These and the rest are to come, perhaps. Of late we have had from Oxford a great Boswell and a great Chaucer, and the magnificent Dictionary is under weigh. So that it may be the dream is in process of being realized, though none of us shall live to see its full realization. Meanwhile such a work as Professor Skeat's Chaucer is not only an answer to much chatter that goes up from time to time about nine-tenths of the work on English literature being done out of England. This and similar works are the best of all possible answers to those gentlemen who so often interrupt their own chrematistic pursuits to point out in the monthly magazines the short-comings of our two great Universities as nurseries of chrematistic youth. In this case it is Oxford that publishes, while Cambridge supplies the learning: and from a natural affection I had rather it were always Oxford that published, attracting to her service the learning, scholarship, intelligence of all parts of the kingdom, or, for that matter, of the world. So might she securely found new Schools of English Literature—were she so minded, a dozen every year. They would do no particular harm; and meanwhile, in Walton Street, out of earshot of the New Schools, the Clarendon Press would go on serenely performing its great work.
* * * * *
March 23, 1895. Essentials and Accidents of Poetry.
A work such as Professor Skeat's Chaucer puts the critic into a frame of mind that lies about midway between modesty and cowardice. One asks—"What right have I, who have given but a very few hours of my life to the enjoying of Chaucer; who have never collated his MSS.; who have taken the events of his life on trust from his biographers; who am no authority on his spelling, his rhythms, his inflections, or the spelling, rhythms, inflections of his age; who have read him only as I have read other great poets, for the pleasure of reading—what right have I to express any opinion on a work of this character, with its imposing commentary, its patient research, its enormous accumulation of special information?"
Nevertheless, this diffidence, I am sure, may be carried too far. After all is said and done, we, with our average life of three-score years and ten, are the heirs of all the poetry of all the ages. We must do our best in our allotted time, and Chaucer is but one of the poets. He did not write for specialists in his own age, and his main value for succeeding ages resides, not in his vocabulary, nor in his inflections, nor in his indebtedness to foreign originals, nor in the metrical uniformities or anomalies that may be discovered in his poems; but in his poetry. Other things are accidental; his poetry is essential. Other interests—historical, philological, antiquarian—must be recognized; but the poetical, or (let us say) the spiritual, interest stands first and far ahead of all others. By virtue of it Chaucer, now as always, makes his chief and his convincing appeal to that which is spiritual in men. He appeals by the poetical quality of such lines as these, from Emilia's prayer to Diana:
"Chaste goddesse, wel wostow that I Desire to been a mayden al my lyf, Ne never wol I be no love ne wyf.
I am, thou woost, yet of thy companye, A mayde, and love hunting and venerye, And for to walken in the wodes wilde, And noght to been a wyf, and be with childe..."
Or of these two from the Prioresses' Prologue:
"O moder mayde! O mayde moder free! O bush unbrent, brenninge in Moyses sighte..."
Or of these from the general Prologue—also thoroughly poetical, though the quality differs:
"Ther was also a Nonne, a Prioresse, That of hir smyling was ful simple and coy; Hir gretteste ooth was but by seynt Loy; And she was cleped madame Eglentyne. Ful wel she song the service divyne, Entuned in hir nose ful semely; And Frensh she spak ful faire and fetisly, After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe, For Frensh of Paris was to hir unknowe..."
Now the essential quality of this and of all very great poetry is also what we may call a universal quality; it appeals to those sympathies which, unequally distributed and often distorted or suppressed, are yet the common possessions of our species. This quality is the real antiseptic of poetry: this it is that keeps a line of Homer perennially fresh and in bloom:—
"Hos phato tous d' ede katechen physizoos aia en Lakedaimoni authi, phile en patridi gaie."
These lines live because they contain something which is also permanent in man: they depend confidently on us, and will as confidently depend on our great-grandchildren. I was glad to see this point very courageously put the other day by Professor Hiram Corson, of Cornell University, in an address on "The Aims of Literary Study"—an address which Messrs. Macmillan have printed and published here and in America. "All works of genius," says Mr. Corson, "render the best service, in literary education, when they are first assimilated in their absolute character. It is, of course, important to know their relations to the several times and places in which they were produced; but such knowledge is not for the tyro in literary study. He must first know literature, if he is constituted so to know it, in its absolute character. He can go into the philosophy of its relationships later, if he like, when he has a true literary education, and when the 'years that bring the philosophic mind' have been reached. Every great production of genius is, in fact, in its essential character, no more related to one age than to another. It is only in its phenomenal character (its outward manifestations) that it has a special relationship." And Mr. Corson very appositely quotes Mr. Ruskin on Shakespeare's historical plays—
"If it be said that Shakespeare wrote perfect historical plays on subjects belonging to the preceding centuries, I answer that they are perfect plays just because there is no care about centuries in them, but a life which all men recognize for the human life of all time; and this it is, not because Shakespeare sought to give universal truth, but because, painting honestly and completely from the men about him, he painted that human nature which is, indeed, constant enough—a rogue in the fifteenth century being at heart what a rogue is in the nineteenth century and was in the twelfth; and an honest or knightly man being, in like manner, very similar to other such at any other time. And the work of these great idealists is, therefore, always universal: not because it is not portrait, but because it is complete portrait down to the heart, which is the same in all ages; and the work of the mean idealists is not universal, not because it is portrait, but because it is half portrait—of the outside, the manners and the dress, not of the heart. Thus Tintoret and Shakespeare paint, both of them, simply Venetian and English nature as they saw it in their time, down to the root; and it does for all time; but as for any care to cast themselves into the particular ways of thought, or custom, of past time in their historical work, you will find it in neither of them, nor in any other perfectly great man that I know of."—Modern Painters.
It will be observed that Mr. Corson, whose address deals primarily with literary training, speaks of these absolute qualities of the great masterpieces as the first object of study. But his words, and Ruskin's words, fairly support my further contention that they remain the most important object of study, no matter how far one's literary training may have proceeded. To the most erudite student of Chaucer in the wide world Chaucer's poetry should be the dominant object of interest in connection with Chaucer.
But when the elaborate specialist confronts us, we are apt to forget that poetry is meant for mankind, and that its appeal is, or should be, universal. We pay tribute to the unusual: and so far as this implies respect for protracted industry and indefatigable learning, we do right. But in so far as it implies even a momentary confusion of the essentials with the accidentals of poetry, we do wrong. And the specialist himself continues admirable only so long as he keeps them distinct.
I hasten to add that Professor Skeat does keep them distinct very successfully. In a single sentence of admirable brevity he tells us that of Chaucer's poetical excellence "it is superfluous to speak; Lowell's essay on Chaucer in 'My Study Windows' gives a just estimate of his powers." And with this, taking the poetical excellence for granted, he proceeds upon his really invaluable work of preparing a standard text of Chaucer and illustrating it out of the stores of his apparently inexhaustible learning. The result is a monument to Chaucer's memory such as never yet was reared to English poet. Douglas Jerrold assured Mrs. Cowden Clarke that, when her time came to enter Heaven, Shakespeare would advance and greet her with the first kiss of welcome, "even should her husband happen to be present." One can hardly with decorum imagine Professor Skeat being kissed; but Chaucer assuredly will greet him with a transcendent smile.
The Professor's genuine admiration, however, for the poetical excellence of his poet needs to be insisted upon, not only because the nature of his task keeps him reticent, but because his extraordinary learning seems now and then to stand between him and the natural appreciation of a passage. It was not quite at haphazard that I chose just now the famous description of the Prioresse as an illustration of Chaucer's poetical quality. The Professor has a long note upon the French of Stratford atte Bowe. Most of us have hitherto believed the passage to be an example, and a very pretty one, of Chaucer's playfulness. The Professor almost loses his temper over this: he speaks of it as a view "commonly adopted by newspaper-writers who know only this one line of Chaucer, and cannot forbear to use it in jest." "Even Tyrwhitt and Wright," he adds more in sorrow than in anger, "have thoughtlessly given currency to this idea." "Chaucer," the Professor explains, "merely states a fact" (the italics are his own), "viz., that the Prioress spoke the usual Anglo-French of the English Court, of the English law-courts, and of the English ecclesiastics of higher ranks. The poet, however, had been himself in France, and knew precisely the difference between the two dialects; but he had no special reason for thinking more highly" (the Professor's italics again) "of the Parisian than of the Anglo-French.... Warton's note on the line is quite sane. He shows that Queen Philippa wrote business letters in French (doubtless Anglo-French) with 'great propriety'" ... and so on. You see, there was a Benedictine nunnery at Stratford-le-Bow; and as "Mr. Cutts says, very justly, 'She spoke French correctly, though with an accent which savored of the Benedictine Convent at Stratford-le-Bow, where she had been educated, rather than of Paris.'" So there you have a fact.
And, now you have it, doesn't it look rather like Bitzer's horse?
"Bitzer," said Thomas Gradgrind. "Your definition of a horse?"
"Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries sheds hoofs too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth." Thus (and much more) Bitzer.
* * * * *
March 30, 1895. The Texts of the "Canterbury Tales."
It follows, I hope, from what I said last week, that by far the most important service an editor can render to Chaucer and to us is to give us a pure text, through which the native beauty of the poetry may best shine. Such a text Professor Skeat has been able to prepare, in part by his own great industry, in part because he has entered into the fruit of other men's labors. The epoch-making event in the history of the Canterbury Tales (with which alone we are concerned here) was Dr. Furnivall's publication for the Chaucer Society of the famous "Six-Text Edition." Dr. Furnivall set to work upon this in 1868.
The Six Texts were these:—
1. The great "Ellesmere" MS. (so called after its owner, the Earl of Ellesmere). "The finest and best of all the MSS. now extant."
2. The "Hengwrt" MS., belonging to Mr. William W.E. Wynne, of Peniarth; very closely agreeing with the "Ellesmere."
3. The "Cambridge" MS. Gg 4.27, in the University Library. The best copy in any public library. This also follows the "Ellesmere" closely.
4. The "Corpus" MS., in the library of Corpus Christi College, Oxford.
5. The "Petworth" MS., belonging to Lord Leconfield.
6. The "Lansdowne" MS. in the British Museum. "Not a good MS., being certainly the worst of the six; but worth reprinting owing to the frequent use that has been made of it by editors."
In his Introduction, Professor Skeat enumerates no fewer than fifty-nine MSS. of the Tales: but of these the above six (and a seventh to be mentioned presently) are the most important. The most important of all is the "Ellesmere"—the great "find" of the Six-Text Edition. "The best in nearly every respect," says Professor Skeat. "It not only gives good lines and good sense, but is also (usually) grammatically accurate and thoroughly well spelt. The publication of it has been a great boon to all Chaucer students, for which Dr. Furnivall will be ever gratefully remembered.... This splendid MS. has also the great merit of being complete, requiring no supplement from any other source, except in a few cases when a line or two has been missed."
Professor Skeat has therefore chiefly employed the Six-Text Edition, supplemented by a seventh famous MS., the "Harleian 7334"—printed in full for the Chaucer Society in 1885—a MS. of great importance, differing considerably from the "Ellesmere." But the Professor judges it "a most dangerous MS. to trust to, unless constantly corrected by others, and not at all fitted to be taken as the basis of a text." For the basis of his text, then, he takes the Ellesmere MS., correcting it freely by the other seven MSS. mentioned.
Now, as fate would have it, in the year 1888 Dr. Furnivall invited Mr. Alfred W. Pollard to collaborate with him in an edition of Chaucer which he had for many years promised to bring out for Messrs. Macmillan. The basis of their text of the Tales was almost precisely that chosen by Professor Skeat, i.e. a careful collation of the Six Texts and the Harleian 7334, due preponderance being given to the Ellesmere MS., and all variations from it stated in the notes. "A beginning was made," says Mr. Pollard, "but the giant in the partnership had been used for a quarter of a century to doing, for nothing, all the hard work for other people, and could not spare from his pioneering the time necessary to enter into the fruit of his own Chaucer labors. Thus the partner who was not a giant was left to go on pretty much by himself. When I had made some progress, Professor Skeat informed us that the notes which he had been for years accumulating encouraged him to undertake an edition on a large scale, and I gladly abandoned, in favor of an editor of so much greater width of reading, the Library Edition which had been arranged for in the original agreement of Dr. Furnivall and myself with Messrs. Macmillan. I thought, however, that the work which I had done might fairly be used for an edition on a less extensive plan and intended for a less stalwart class of readers, and of this the present issue of the Canterbury Tales is an instalment."[B]
So it comes about that we have two texts before us, each based on a collation of the Six-Text edition and the Harleian MS. 7334—the chief difference being that Mr. Pollard adheres closely to the Ellesmere MS., while Professor Skeat allows himself more freedom. This is how they start—
"Whan that Aprill? with hise shour?s soote The droghte of March hath perc?d to the roote, And bathed every veyne in swich licour Of which vertu engendred is the flour; Whan Zephirus eck with his swet? breeth 5 Inspir?d hath in every holt and heeth The tendr? cropp?s, and the yong? sonne Hath in the Ram his half? cours y-ronne, And smal? fowel?s maken melodye That slepen al the nvght with open eye,— 10 So priketh hem Nature in hir corages,— Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages ..."
"Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote, And bathed every veyne in swich licour Of which vertu engendred is the flour; Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth 5 Inspired hath in every holt and heeth The tendre croppes, and the yong sonne Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y ronne, And smale fowles maken melodye, That slepen al the night with open ye, 10 (So priketh hem nature in hir corages:) Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages..."
On these two extracts it must be observed (1) that the accents and the dotted e's in the first are Mr. Pollard's own contrivances for helping the scansion; (2) in the second, l. 10, "ye" is a special contrivance of Professor Skeat. "The scribes," he says (Introd. Vol. IV. p. xix.), "usually write eye in the middle of a line, but when they come to it at the end of one, they are fairly puzzled. In l. 10, the scribe of Hn ('Hengwrt') writes lye, and that of Ln ('Lansdowne') writes yhe; and the variations on this theme are curious. The spelling ye (= ye) is, however, common.... I print it 'ye' to distinguish it from ye, the pl. pronoun." The other differences are accounted for by the varying degrees in which the two editors depend on the Ellesmere MS. Mr. Pollard sticks to the Ellesmere. Professor Skeat corrects it by the others. Obviously the editor who allows himself the wider range lays himself open to more criticism, point by point. He has to justify himself in each particular case, while the other's excuse is set down once for all in his preface. But after comparing the two texts in over a dozen passages, I have had to vote in almost every case for Professor Skeat.
The Alleged Difficulty of Reading Chaucer.
The differences, however, are always trifling. The reader will allow that in each case we have a clear, intelligible text: a text that allows Chaucer to be read and enjoyed without toil or vexation. For my part, I hope there is no presumption in saying that I could very well do without Mr. Pollard's accents and dotted e's. Remove them, and I contend that any Englishman with an ear for poetry can read either of the two texts without difficulty. A great deal too much fuss is made over the pronunciation and scansion of Chaucer. After all, we are Englishmen, with an instinct for understanding the language we inherit; in the evolution of our language we move on the same lines as our fathers; and Chaucer's English is at least no further removed from us than the Lowland dialect of Scott's novels. Moreover, we have in reading Chaucer what we lack in reading Scott—the assistance of rhythm; and the rhythm of Chaucer is as clearly marked as that of Tennyson. Professor Skeat might very well have allowed his admirable text to stand alone. For his rules of pronunciation, with their elaborate system of signs and symbols, seem to me (to put it coarsely) phonetics gone mad. This, for instance, is how he would have us read the Tales:—
"Whan-dhat Aprill?/widh iz-shuurez soot? dh?-druuht' ov-March?/hath persed too dh? root?, ?nd-baadhed ev'ri vein?/in-swich likuur, ov-which vertyy/enjendred iz dh? fluur...."
—and so on? I think it may safely be said that if a man need this sort of assistance in reading or pronouncing Chaucer, he had better let Chaucer alone altogether, or read him in a German prose translation.
* * * * *
April 6, 1895.
Why is Chaucer so easy to read? At a first glance a page of the "Canterbury Tales" appears more formidable than a page of the "Faerie Queene." As a matter of fact, it is less formidable; or, if this be denied, everyone will admit that twenty pages of the "Canterbury Tales" are less formidable than twenty pages of the "Faerie Queene." I might bring several recent editors and critics to testify that, after the first shock of the archaic spelling and the final "e," an intelligent public will soon come to terms with Chaucer; but the unconscious testimony of the intelligent public itself is more convincing. Chaucer is read year after year by a large number of men and women. Spenser, in many respects a greater poet, is also read; but by far fewer. Nobody, I imagine, will deny this. But what is the reason of it?
The first and chief reason is this—Forms of language change, but the great art of narrative appeals eternally to men, and its rules rest on principles older than Homer. And whatever else may be said of Chaucer, he is a superb narrator. To borrow a phrase from another venerable art, he is always "on the ball." He pursues the story—the story, and again the story. Mr. Ward once put this admirably—
"The vivacity of joyousness of Chaucer's poetic temperament ... make him amusingly impatient of epical lengths, abrupt in his transitions, and anxious, with an anxiety usually manifested by readers rather than by writers, to come to the point, 'to the great effect,' as he is wont to call it. 'Men,' he says, 'may overlade a ship or barge, and therefore I will skip at once to the effect, and let all the rest slip.' And he unconsciously suggests a striking difference between himself and the great Elizabethan epic poet who owes so much to him, when he declines to make as long a tale of the chaff or of the straw as of the corn, and to describe all the details of a marriage-feast seriatim:
'The fruit of every tale is for to say: They eat and drink, and dance and sing and play.'
This may be the fruit; but epic poets, from Homer downward, have been generally in the habit of not neglecting the foliage. Spenser in particular has that impartial copiousness which we think it our duty to admire in the Ionic epos, but which, if truth were told, has prevented generations of Englishmen from acquiring an intimate personal acquaintance with the 'Fairy Queen.' With Chaucer the danger certainly rather lay in the opposite direction."
Now, if we are once interested in a story, small difficulties of speech or spelling will not readily daunt us in the time-honored pursuit of "what happens next"—certainly not if we know enough of our author to feel sure he will come to the point and tell us what happens next with the least possible palaver. We have a definite want and a certainty of being satisfied promptly. But with Spenser this satisfaction may, and almost certainly will, be delayed over many pages: and though in the meanwhile a thousand casual beauties may appeal to us, the main thread of our attention is sensibly relaxed. Chaucer is the minister and Spenser the master: and the difference between pursuing what we want and pursuing we-know-not-what must affect the ardor of the chase. Even if we take the future on trust, and follow Spenser to the end, we cannot look back on a book of the "Faerie Queene" as on part of a good story: for it is admittedly an unsatisfying and ill-constructed story. But my point is that an ordinary reader resents being asked to take the future on trust while the author luxuriates in casual beauties of speech upon every mortal subject but the one in hand. The first principle of good narrative is to stick to the subject; the second, to carry the audience along in a series of small surprises—satisfying expectation and going just a little beyond. If it were necessary to read fifty pages before enjoying Chaucer, though the sum of eventual enjoyment were as great as it now is, Chaucer would never be read. We master small difficulties line by line because our recompense comes line by line.
Moreover, it is as certain as can be that we read Chaucer to-day more easily than our fathers read him one hundred, two hundred, three hundred years ago. And I make haste to add that the credit of this does not belong to the philologists.
The Elizabethans, from Spenser onward, found Chaucer distressingly archaic. When Sir Francis Kynaston, temp. Charles I., translated "Troilus and Criseyde," Cartwright congratulated him that he had at length made it possible to read Chaucer without a dictionary. And from Dryden's time to Wordsworth's he was an "uncouthe unkiste" barbarian, full of wit, but only tolerable in polite paraphrase. Chaucer himself seems to have foreboded this, towards the close of his "Troilus and Criseyde," when he addresses his "litel book"—
"And for there is so great diversitee In English, and in wryting of our tonge, So preye I God that noon miswryte thee, Ne thee mismetre for defaute of tonge. And red wher-so thou be, or elles songe, That thou be understoude I God beseche!..."
And therewith, as though on purpose to defeat his fears, he proceeded to turn three stanzas of Boccaccio into English that tastes almost as freshly after five hundred years as on the day it was written. He is speaking of Hector's death:—
"And whan that he was slayn in this manere, His lighte goost ful blisfully it went Up to the holownesse of the seventh spere In convers leting every element; And ther he saugh, with ful avysement, The erratik starres, herkening armonye With sownes ful of hevenish melodye.
"And down from thennes faste he gan avyse This litel spot of erthe, that with the see Embraced is, and fully gan despyse This wrecched world, and held al vanitee To respect of the pleyn felicitee That is in hevene above; and at the laste, Ther he was slayn, his loking down he caste;
"And in himself he lough right at the wo Of hem that wepten for his death so faste; And dampned al our werk that folweth so The blinde lust, the which that may not laste, And sholden al our harte on hevene caste. And forth he wente, shortly for to telle, Ther as Mercurie sorted him to dwelle...."
Who have prepared our ears to admit this passage, and many as fine? Not the editors, who point out very properly that it is a close translation from Boccaccio's "Teseide," xi. 1-3. The information is valuable, as far as it goes; but what it fails to explain is just the marvel of the passage—viz., the abiding "Englishness" of it, the native ring of it in our ears after five centuries of linguistic and metrical development. To whom, besides Chaucer himself, do we owe this? For while Chaucer has remained substantially the same, apparently we have an aptitude that our grandfathers and great-grandfathers had not. The answer surely is: We owe it to our nineteenth century poets, and particularly to Tennyson, Swinburne, and William Morris. Years ago Mr. R.H. Horne said most acutely that the principle of Chaucer's rhythm is "inseparable from a full and fair exercise of the genius of our language in versification." This "full and fair exercise" became a despised, almost a lost, tradition after Chaucer's death. The rhythms of Skelton, of Surrey, and Wyatt, were produced on alien and narrower lines. Revived by Shakespeare and the later Elizabethans, it fell into contempt again until Cowper once more began to claim freedom for English rhythm, and after him Coleridge, and the despised Leigh Hunt. But never has its full liberty been so triumphantly asserted as by the three poets I have named above. If we are at home as we read Chaucer, it is because they have instructed us in the liberty which Chaucer divined as the only true way.
[A] The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Edited, from numerous manuscripts, by the Rev. Walter W. Skeat, Litt. D., LL.D., M.A. In six volumes. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press. 1894.
[B] Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Edited, with Notes and Introduction, by Alfred W. Pollard. London: Macmillan & Co.
"THE PASSIONATE PILGRIM."
January 5, 1805. "The Passionate Pilgrim."
The Passionate Pilgrim (1599). Reprinted with a Note about the Book, by Arthur L. Humphreys. London: Privately Printed by Arthur L. Humphreys, of 187, Piccadilly. MDCCCXCIV.
I was about to congratulate Mr. Humphreys on his printing when, upon turning to the end of this dainty little volume, I discovered the well-known colophon of the Chiswick Press—"Charles Whittingham & Co., Took's Court, Chancery Lane, London." So I congratulate Messrs. Charles Whittingham & Co. instead, and suggest that the imprint should have run "Privately Printed for Arthur L. Humphreys."
This famous (or, if you like it, infamous) little anthology of thirty leaves has been singularly unfortunate in its title-pages. It was first published in 1599 as The Passionate Pilgrims. By W. Shakespeare. At London. Printed for W. Jaggard, and are to be sold by W. Leake, at the Greyhound in Paules Churchyard. This, of course, was disingenuous. Some of the numbers were by Shakespeare: but the authorship of some remains doubtful to this day, and others the enterprising Jaggard had boldly conveyed from Marlowe, Richard Barnefield, and Bartholomew Griffin. In short, to adapt a famous line upon a famous lexicon, "the best part was Shakespeare, the rest was not." For this, Jaggard has been execrated from time to time with sufficient heartiness. Mr. Swinburne, in his latest volume of Essays, calls him an "infamous pirate, liar, and thief." Mr. Humphreys remarks, less vivaciously, that "He was not careful and prudent, or he would not have attached the name of Shakespeare to a volume which was only partly by the bard—that was his crime. Had Jaggard foreseen the tantrums and contradictions he caused some commentators—Mr. Payne Collier, for instance—he would doubtless have substituted 'By William Shakespeare and others' for 'By William Shakespeare.' Thus he might have saved his reputation, and this hornets' nest which now and then rouses itself afresh around his aged ghost of three centuries ago."
That a ghost can suffer no inconvenience from hornets I take to be indisputable: but as a defence of Jaggard the above hardly seems convincing. One might as plausibly justify a forger on the ground that, had he foreseen the indignation of the prosecuting counsel, he would doubtless have saved his reputation by forbearing to forge. But before constructing a better defence, let us hear the whole tale of the alleged misdeeds. Of the second edition of The Passionate Pilgrim no copy exists. Nothing whatever is known of it, and the whole edition may have been but an ideal construction of Jaggard's sportive fancy. But in 1612 appeared The Passionate Pilgrime, or certaine amorous Sonnets between Venus and Adonis, newly corrected and augmented. By W. Shakespeare. The third edition. Whereunto is newly added two Love Epistles, the first from Paris to Hellen, and Hellen's answere back again to Paris. Printed by W. Jaggard. (These "two Love Epistles" were really by Thomas Heywood.) This title-page was very quickly cancelled, and Shakespeare's name omitted.
Mr. Humphrey's Hypothesis.
These are the bare facts. Now observe how they appear when set forth by Mr. Humphreys:—
"Shakespeare, who, when the first edition was issued, was aged thirty-five, acted his part as a great man very well, for he with dignity took no notice of the error on the title-page of the first edition, attributing to him poems which he had never written. But when Jaggard went on sinning, and the third edition appeared under Shakespeare's name solely, though it had poems by Thomas Heywood, and others as well, Jaggard was promptly pulled up by both Shakespeare and Heywood. Upon this the publisher appears very properly to have printed a new title-page, omitting the name of Shakespeare."
Upon this I beg leave to observe—(1) That although it may very likely have been at Shakespeare's own request that his name was removed from the title-page of the third edition, Mr. Humphreys has no right to state this as an ascertained fact. (2) That I fail to understand, if Shakespeare acted properly in case of the third edition, why we should talk nonsense about his "acting the part of a great man very well" and "with dignity taking no notice of the error" in the first edition. In the first edition he was wrongly credited with pieces that belonged to Marlowe, Barnefield, Griffin, and some authors unknown. In the third he was credited with these and some pieces by Heywood as well. In the name of common logic I ask why, if it were "dignified" to say nothing in the case of Marlowe and Barnefield, it suddenly became right and proper to protest in the case of Heywood? But (3) what right have we to assume that Shakespeare "took no notice of the error on the title-page of the first edition"? We know this only—that if he protested, he did not prevail as far as the first edition was concerned. That edition may have been already exhausted. It is even possible that he did prevail in the matter of the second edition, and that Jaggard reverted to his old courses in the third. I don't for a moment suppose this was the case. I merely suggest that where so many hypotheses will fit the scanty data known, it is best to lay down no particular hypothesis as fact.
For I imagine that anyone can, in five minutes, fit up an hypothesis quite as valuable as Mr. Humphreys'. Here is one which at least has the merit of not making Shakespeare look a fool:—W. Jaggard, publisher, comes to William Shakespeare, poet, with the information that he intends to bring out a small miscellany of verse. If the poet has an unconsidered trifle or so to spare, Jaggard will not mind giving a few shillings for them. "You may have, if you like," says Shakespeare, "the rough copies of some songs in my Love's Labour's Lost, published last year"; and, being further encouraged, searches among his rough MSS., and tosses Jaggard a lyric or two and a couple of sonnets. Jaggard pays his money, and departs with the verses. When the miscellany appears, Shakespeare finds his name alone upon the title-page, and remonstrates. But, of the defrauded ones, Marlowe is dead; Barnefield has retired to live the life of a country gentleman in Shropshire; Griffin dwells in Coventry (where he died, three years later). These are the men injured; and if they cannot, or will not, move in the business, Shakespeare (whose case at law would be more difficult) can hardly be expected to. So he contents himself with strong expressions at The Mermaid. But in 1612 Jaggard repeats his offence, and is indiscreet enough to add Heywood to the list of the spoiled. Heywood lives in London, on the spot; and Shakespeare, now retired to Stratford, is of more importance than he was in 1599. Armed with Shakespeare's authority Heywood goes to Jaggard and threatens; and the publisher gives way.
Whatever our hypothesis, we cannot maintain that Jaggard behaved well. On the other hand, it were foolish to judge his offence as if the man had committed it the day before yesterday. Conscience in matters of literary copyright has been a plant of slow growth. But a year or two ago respectable citizens of the United States were publishing our books "free of authorial expenses," and even corrected our imperfect works without consulting us. We must admit that Jaggard acted up to Luther's maxim, "Pecca fortiter." He went so far as to include a piece so well known as Marlowe's Live with me and be my love—which proves at any rate his indifference to the chances of detection. But to speak of him as one would speak of a similar offender in this New Year of Grace is simply to forfeit one's claim to an historical sense.
What further palliation can we find? Mr. Swinburne calls the book "a worthless little volume of stolen and mutilated poetry, patched up and padded out with dirty and dreary doggrel, under the senseless and preposterous title of The Passionate Pilgrim." On the other hand, Mr. Humphreys maintains that "Jaggard, at any rate, had very good taste. This is partly seen in the choice of a title. Few books have so charming a name as The Passionate Pilgrim. It is a perfect title. Jaggard also set up a good precedent, for this collection was published a year before England's Helicon, and, of course, very many years before any authorized collection of Shakespeare's 'Poems' was issued. We see in The Passionate Pilgrim a forerunner of The Golden Treasury and other anthologies."
Now, as for the title, if the value of a title lie in its application, Mr. Swinburne is right. It has little relevance to the verses in the volume. On the other hand, as a portly and attractive mouthful of syllables The Passionate Pilgrim can hardly be surpassed. If not "a perfect title," it is surely "a charming name." But Mr. Humphreys' contention that Jaggard "set up a good precedent" and produced a "forerunner" of English anthologies becomes absurd when we remember that Tottel's Miscellany was published in June, 1557 (just forty-two years before The Passionate Pilgrim), and had reached an eighth edition by 1587; that The Paradise of Dainty Devices appeared in 1576; A Gorgeous Gallery of Gallant Inventions in 1578; A Handfull of Pleasant Delights in 1584; and The Phoenix' Nest in 1593.
Almost as wide of the mark is Mr. Swinburne's description of the volume as "worthless." It contains twenty-one numbers, besides that lofty dirge, so unapproachably solemn, The Phoenix and the Turtle. Of these, five are undoubtedly by Shakespeare. A sixth (Crabbed age and youth), if not by Shakespeare, is one of the loveliest lyrics in the language, and I for my part could give it to no other man. Note also that but for Jaggard's enterprise this jewel had been irrevocably lost to us, since it is known only through The Passionate Pilgrim. Marlowe's Live with me and be my love, and Barnefield's As it fell upon a day, make numbers seven and eight. And I imagine that even Mr. Swinburne cannot afford to scorn Sweet rose, fair flower, untimely pluck'd, soon vaded—which again only occurs in The Passionate Pilgrim. These nine numbers, with The Phoenix and the Turtle, make up more than half the book. Among the rest we have the pretty and respectable lyrics, If music and sweet poetry agree; Good night, good rest; Lord, how mine eyes throw gazes to the east. When as thine eye hath chose the dame, and the gay little song, It was a Lording's daughter. There remain the Venus and Adonis sonnets and My flocks feed not. Mr. Swinburne may call these "dirty and dreary doggrel," an he list, with no more risk than of being held a somewhat over-anxious moralist. But to call the whole book worthless is mere abuse of words.
It is true, nevertheless, that one of the only two copies existing of the first edition was bought for three halfpence.
August 25, 1894. Shakespeare's Lyrics.
In their re-issue of The Aldine Poets, Messrs. George Bell & Sons have made a number of concessions to public taste. The new binding is far more pleasing than the old; and in some cases, where the notes and introductory memoirs had fallen out of date, new editors have been set to work, with satisfactory results. It is therefore no small disappointment to find that the latest volume, "The Poems of Shakespeare," is but a reprint from stereotyped plates of the Rev. Alexander Dyce's text, notes and memoir.
The Rev. A. Dyce.
Now, of the Rev. Alexander Dyce it may be fearlessly asserted that his criticism is not for all time. Even had he been less prone to accept the word of John Payne Collier for gospel; even had Shakespearian criticism made no perceptible advance during the last quarter of a century, yet there is that in the Rev. Alexander Dyce's treatment of his poet which would warn us to pause before accepting his word as final. As a test of his aesthetic judgment we may turn to the "Songs from the Plays of Shakespeare" with which this volume concludes. It had been as well, in a work of this sort, to include all the songs; but he gives us a selection only, and an uncommonly bad selection. I have tried in vain to discover a single principle of taste underlying it. On what principle, for instance, can a man include the song "Come away, come away, death" from Twelfth Night, and omit "O mistress mine, where are you roaming?"; or include Amiens' two songs from As you Like It, and omit the incomparable "It was a lover and his lass"? Or what but stark insensibility can explain the omission of "Take, O take those lips away," and the bridal song "Roses, their sharp spines being gone," that opens The Two Noble Kinsmen? But stay: the Rev. Alexander Dyce may attribute this last pair to Fletcher. "Take, O take those lips away" certainly occurs (with a second and inferior stanza) in Fletcher's The Bloody Brother, first published in 1639; but Dyce gives no hint of his belief that Fletcher wrote it. We are, therefore, left to conclude that Dyce thought it unworthy of a place in his collection. On The Two Noble Kinsmen (first published in 1634) Dyce is more explicit. In a footnote to the Memoir he says: "The title-page of the first edition of Fletcher's Two Noble Kinsmen attributes the play partly to Shakespeare; I do not think our poet had any share in its composition; but I must add that Mr. C. Lamb (a great authority in such matters) inclines to a different opinion." When "Mr. C. Lamb" and the Rev. Alexander Dyce hold opposite opinions, it need not be difficult to choose. And surely, if internal evidence count for anything at all, the lines
"Maiden pinks, of odour faint, Daisies smell-less, yet most quaint, And sweet thyme true."
"Oxlips in their cradles growing"
"Not an angel of the air, Bird melodious, or bird fair, Be absent hence."
—were written by Shakespeare and not by Fletcher. Nor is it any detraction from Fletcher to take this view. Shakespeare himself has left songs hardly finer than Fletcher wrote at his best—hardly finer, for instance, than that magnificent pair from Valentinian. Only the note of Shakespeare happens to be different from the note of Fletcher: and it is Shakespeare's note—the note of
"The cowslips tall her pensioners be"
(also omitted by the inscrutable Dyce) and of
"When daisies pied, and violets blue, And lady-smocks all silver-white, And cuckoo buds of yellow hue Do paint the meadows with delight ..."
—that we hear repeated in this Bridal Song.[A] And if this be so, it is but another proof for us that Dyce was not a critic for all time.
Nor is the accent of finality conspicuous in such passages as this from the Memoir:—
"Wright had heard that Shakespeare 'was a much better poet than player'; and Rowe tells us that soon after his admission into the company, he became distinguished, 'if not as an extraordinary actor, yet as an excellent writer.' Perhaps his execution did not equal his conception of a character, but we may rest assured that he who wrote the incomparable instructions to the player in Hamlet would never offend his audience by an injudicious performance."
I have no more to urge against writing of this order than that it has passed out of fashion, and that something different might reasonably have been looked for in a volume that bears the date 1894 on its title-page. The public owes Messrs. Bell & Sons a heavy debt; but at the same time the public has a peculiar interest in such a series as that of The Aldine Poets. A purchaser who finds several of these books to his mind, and is thereby induced to embark upon the purchase of the entire series, must feel a natural resentment if succeeding volumes drop below the implied standard. He cannot go back: and to omit the offending volumes is to spoil his set. And I contend that the action taken by Messrs. Bell & Sons in improving several of their more or less obsolete editions will only be entirely praiseworthy if we may take it as an earnest of their desire to place the whole series on a level with contemporary knowledge and criticism.
Nor can anyone who knows how much the industry and enthusiasm of Dyce did, in his day, for the study of Shakespeare, do more than urge that while, viewed historically, Dyce's criticism is entirely respectable, it happens to be a trifle belated in the year 1894. The points of difference between him and Charles Lamb are perhaps too obvious to need indication; but we may sum them up by saying that whereas Lamb, being a genius, belongs to all time, Dyce, being but an industrious person, belongs to a period. It was a period of rapid development, no doubt—how rapid we may learn for ourselves by the easy process of taking down Volume V. of Chalmers's "English Poets," and turning to that immortal passage on Shakespeare's poems which Chalmers put forth in the year 1810:—
"The peremptory decision of Mr. Steevens on the merits of these poems must not be omitted. 'We have not reprinted the Sonnets, etc., of Shakespeare, because the strongest Act of Parliament that could be framed would fail to compel readers into their service. Had Shakespeare produced no other works than these, his name would have reached us with as little celebrity as time has conferred upon that of Thomas Watson, an older and much more elegant sonnetteer.' Severe as this may appear, it only amounts to the general conclusion which modern critics have formed. Still, it cannot be denied that there are many scattered beauties among his Sonnets, and in the Rape of Lucrece; enough, it is hoped, to justify their admission into the present collection, especially as the Songs, etc., from his plays have been added, and a few smaller pieces selected by Mr. Ellis...."
No comment can add to, or take from, the stupendousness of this. And yet it was the criticism proper to its time. "I have only to hope," writes Chalmers in his preface, "that my criticisms will not be found destitute of candour, or improperly interfering with the general and acknowledged principles of taste." Indeed they are not. They were the right opinions for Chalmers; as Dyce's were the right opinions for Dyce: and if, as we hope, ours is a larger appreciation of Shakespeare, we probably hold it by no merit of our own, but as the common possession of our generation, derived through the chastening experiences of our grandfathers. That, however, is no reason why we should not insist on having such editions of Shakespeare as fulfil our requirements, and refuse to study Dyce except as an historical figure.
It is an unwise generation that declines to take all its inheritance. I have heard once or twice of late that English poets in the future will set themselves to express emotions more complex and subtle than have ever yet been treated in poetry. I shall be extremely glad, of course, if this happen in my time. But at present I incline to rejoice rather in an assured inheritance, and, when I hear talk of this kind, to say over to myself one particular sonnet which for mere subtlety of thought seems to me unbeaten by anything that I can select from the poetry of this century:—
Thy bosom is endeared of all hearts Which I by lacking have supposed dead; And there reigns Love and all Love's loving parts, And all those friends which I thought buried. How many a holy and obsequious Tear Hath dear religious love stol'n from mine eye, As interest of the dead, which now appear But things remov'd that hidden in thee lie!
Thou art the grave where buried love doth live, Hung with the trophies of my lovers gone, Who all their parts of me to thee did give; That due of many now is thine alone! Their images I lov'd I view in thee, And thou, all they, hast all the all of me.
[A] The opening lines of the second stanza of this poem have generally been printed thus:
"Primrose, firstborn child of Ver, Merry springtime's harbinger, With her bells dim...."
And many have wondered how Shakespeare or Fletcher came to write of the "bells" of a primrose. Mr. W.J. Linton proposed "With harebell slim": although if we must read "harebell" or "harebells," "dim" would be a pretty and proper word for the color of that flower. The conjecture takes some little plausibility from Shakespeare's elsewhere linking primrose and harebell together:
"Thou shalt not lack The flower that's like thy face, pale primrose, nor The azured harebell, like thy veins...." Cymbeline, iv. 2.
I have always suspected, however, that there should be a semicolon after "Ver," and that "Merry springtime's harbinger, with her bells dim," refers to a totally different flower—the snowdrop, to wit. And I have lately learnt from Dr. Grosart, who has carefully examined the 1634 edition (the only early one), that the text actually gives a semicolon. The snowdrop may very well come after the primrose in this song, which altogether ignores the process of the seasons.
February 24, 1894. Samuel Daniel.
The writings of Samuel Daniel and the circumstances of his life are of course well enough known to all serious students of English poetry. And, though I cannot speak on this point with any certainty, I imagine that our younger singers hold to the tradition of all their fathers, and that Daniel still
renidet in angulo
of their affections, as one who in his day did very much, though quietly, to train the growth of English verse; and proved himself, in everything he wrote, an artist to the bottom of his conscience. As certainly as Spenser, he was a "poet's poet" while he lived. A couple of pages might be filled almost offhand with the genuine compliments of his contemporaries, and he will probably remain a "poet's poet" as long as poets write in English. But the average reader of culture—the person who is honestly moved by good poetry and goes from time to time to his bookshelves for an antidote to the common cares and trivialities of this life—seems to neglect Daniel almost utterly. I judge from the wretched insufficiency of his editions. It is very hard to obtain anything beyond the two small volumes published in 1718 (an imperfect collection), and a volume of selections edited by Mr. John Morris and published by a Bath bookseller in 1855; and even these are only to be picked up here and there. I find it significant, too, that in Mr. Palgrave's Golden Treasury Daniel is represented by one sonnet only, and that by no means his best. This neglect will appear the more singular to anyone who has observed how apt is the person whom I have called the "average reader of culture" to be drawn to the perusal of an author's works by some attractive idiosyncrasy in the author's private life or character. Lamb is a staring instance of this attraction. How we all love Lamb, to be sure! Though he rejected it and called out upon it, "gentle" remains Lamb's constant epithet. And, curiously enough, in the gentleness and dignified melancholy of his life, Daniel stands nearer to Lamb than any other English writer, with the possible exception of Scott. His circumstances were less gloomily picturesque. But I defy any feeling man to read the scanty narrative of Daniel's life and think of him thereafter without sympathy and respect.
He was born in 1562—Fuller says in Somersetshire, not far from Taunton; others say at Beckington, near Philip's Norton, or at Wilmington in Wiltshire. Anthony Wood tells us that he came "of a wealthy family;" Fuller that "his father was a master of music." Of his earlier years next to nothing is known; but in 1579 he was entered as a commoner at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, and left the university three years afterwards without taking a degree. His first book—a translation of Paola Giovio's treatise on Emblems—appeared in 1585, when he was about twenty-two. In 1590 or 1591 he was travelling in Italy, probably with a pupil, and no doubt busy with those studies that finally made him the first Italian scholar of his time. In 1592 he published his "Sonnets to Delia," which at once made his reputation; in 1594 his "Complaint of Rosamond" and "Tragedy of Cleopatra;" and in 1595 four books of his "Civil Wars." On Spenser's death, in 1599, Daniel is said to have succeeded to the office of poet-laureate.
"That wreath which, in Eliza's golden days, My master dear, divinist Spenser, wore; That which rewarded Drayton's learned lays, Which thoughtful Ben and gentle Daniel wore...."
But history traces the Laureateship, as an office, no further back than Jonson, and we need not follow Southey into the mists. It is certain, however, that Daniel was a favorite at Elizabeth's Court, and in some way partook of her bounty. In 1600 he was appointed tutor to the Lady Anne Clifford, a little girl of about eleven, daughter of Margaret, Countess of Cumberland; and his services were gratefully remembered by mother and daughter during his life and after. But Daniel seems to have tired of living in great houses as private tutor to the young. The next year, when presenting his works to Sir Thomas Egerton, he writes:—"Such hath been my misery that whilst I should have written the actions of men, I have been constrained to bide with children, and, contrary to mine own spirit, put out of that sense which nature had made my part."
Now there is but one answer to this—that a man of really strong spirit does not suffer himself to be "put out of that sense which nature had made my part." Daniel's words indicate the weakness that in the end made futile all his powers: they indicate a certain "donnish" timidity (if I may use the epithet), a certain distrust of his own genius. Such a timidity and such a distrust often accompany very exquisite faculties: indeed, they may be said to imply a certain exquisiteness of feeling. But they explain why, of the two contemporaries, the robust Ben Jonson is to-day a living figure in most men's conception of those times, while Samuel Daniel is rather a fleeting ghost. And his self-distrust was even then recognized as well as his exquisiteness. He is indeed "well-languaged Daniel," "sweet honey-dropping Daniel," "Rosamund's trumpeter, sweet as the nightingale," revered and admired by all his compeers. But the note of apprehension was also sounded, not only by an unknown contributor to that rare collection of epigrams, Skialetheia, or the Shadow of Truth.
"Daniel (as some hold) might mount, if he list; But others say he is a Lucanist"
—but by no meaner a judge than Spenser himself, who wrote in his "Colin Clout's Come Home Again":
"And there is a new shepherd late upsprung The which doth all afore him far surpass: Appearing well in that well-tuned song Which late he sung unto a scornful lass. Yet doth his trembling Muse but lowly fly, As daring not too rashly mount on height; And doth her tender plumes as yet but try In love's soft lays, and looser thoughts delight. Then rouse thy feathers quickly, DANIEL, And to what course thou please thyself advance; But most, meseems, thy accent will excel In tragic plaints and passionate mischance."
Moreover, there is a significant passage in the famous "Return from Parnassus," first acted at Cambridge during the Christmas of 1601:
"Sweet honey-dropping Daniel doth wage War with the proudest big Italian That melts his heart in sugar'd sonneting, Only let him more sparingly make use Of others' wit and use his own the more."
The 'mauvais pas' of Parnassus.
Now it has been often pointed out that considerable writers fall into two classes—(1) those who begin, having something to say, and are from the first rather occupied with their matter than with the manner of expressing it; and (2) those who begin with the love of expression and intent to be artists in words, and come through expression to profound thought. It is fashionable just now, for some reason or another, to account Class 1 as the more respectable; a judgment to which, considering that Shakespeare and Milton belonged undeniably to Class 2, I refuse to assent. The question, however, is not to be argued here. I have only to point out in this place that the early work of all poets in Class 2 is largely imitative. Virgil was imitative, Keats was imitative—to name but a couple of sufficiently striking examples. And Daniel, who belongs to this class, was also imitative. But for a poet of this class to reach the heights of song, there must come a time when out of imitation he forms a genuine style of his own, and loses no mental fertility in the transformation. This, if I may use the metaphor, is the mauvais pas in the ascent of Parnassus: and here Daniel broke down. He did indeed acquire a style of his own; but the effort exhausted him. He was no longer prolific; his ardor had gone: and his innate self-distrustfulness made him quick to recognize his sterility.
Soon after the accession of James I., Daniel, at the recommendation of his brother-in-law, John Florio, possibly furthered by the interest of the Earl of Pembroke, was given a post as gentleman extraordinary and groom of the privy chamber to Anne of Denmark; and a few months after was appointed to take the oversight of the plays and shows that were performed by the children of the Queen's revels, or children of the Chapel, as they were called under Elizabeth. He had thus a snug position at Court, and might have been happy, had it been another Court. But in nothing was the accession of James more apparent than in the almost instantaneous blasting of the taste, manners, and serious grace that had marked the Court of Elizabeth. The Court of James was a Court of bad taste, bad manners, and no grace whatever: and Daniel—"the remnant of another time," as he calls himself—looked wistfully back upon the days of Elizabeth.
"But whereas he came planted in the spring, And had the sun before him of respect; We, set in th' autumn, in the withering And sullen season of a cold defect, Must taste those sour distastes the times do bring Upon the fulness of a cloy'd neglect. Although the stronger constitutions shall Wear out th' infection of distemper'd days ..."
And so he stood dejected, while the young men of "stronger constitutions" passed him by.
In this way it happened that Daniel, whom at the outset his contemporaries had praised with wide consent, and who never wrote a loose or unscholarly line, came to pen, in the dedicatory epistle prefixed to his tragedy of "Philotas," these words—perhaps the most pathetic ever uttered by an artist upon his work:
"And therefore since I have outlived the date Of former grace, acceptance and delight. I would my lines, late born beyond the fate Of her[A] spent line, had never come to light; So had I not been tax'd for wishing well, Nor now mistaken by the censuring Stage, Nor in my fame and reputation fell, Which I esteem more than what all the age Or the earth can give. But years hath done this wrong, To make me write too much, and live too long."
Ease of his verse.
I said just now that Daniel had done much, though quietly, to train the growth of English verse. He not only stood up successfully for its natural development at a time when the clever but less largely informed Campion and others threatened it with fantastic changes. He probably did as much as Waller to introduce polish of line into our poetry. Turn to the famous "Ulysses and the Siren," and read. Can anyone tell me of English verses that run more smoothly off the tongue, or with a more temperate grace?
"Well, well, Ulysses, then I see I shall not have thee here: And, therefore, I will come to thee, And take my fortune there. I must be won that cannot win, Yet lost were I not won; For beauty hath created been T'undo or be undone."
To speak familiarly, this is as easy as an old shoe. To speak yet more familiarly, it looks as if any fool could turn off lines like these. Let the fool try.
And yet to how many anthologies do we not turn in vain for "Ulysses and the Siren"; or for the exquisite spring song, beginning—
"Now each creature joys the other, Passing happy days and hours; One bird reports unto another In the fall of silver showers ..."
—or for that lofty thing, the "Epistle to the Countess of Cumberland"?—which Wordsworth, who quoted it in his "Excursion," declares to be "an admirable picture of the state of a wise man's mind in a time of public commotion." Certainly if ever a critic shall arise to deny poetry the virtue we so commonly claim for her, of fortifying men's souls against calamity, this noble Epistle will be all but the last post from which he will extrude her defenders.
[A] Sc. Elizabeth's.
April 21, 1894. William Browne of Tavistock.
It has been objected to the author of Britannia's Pastorals that their perusal sends you to sleep. It had been subtler criticism, as well as more amiable, to observe that you can wake up again and, starting anew at the precise point where you dropped off, continue the perusal with as much pleasure as ever, neither ashamed of your somnolence nor imputing it as a fault to the poet. For William Browne is perhaps the easiest figure in our literature. He lived easily, he wrote easily, and no doubt he died easily. He no more expected to be read through at a sitting than he tried to write all the story of Marina at a sitting. He took up his pen and composed: when he felt tired he went off to bed, like a sensible man: and when you are tired of reading he expects you to be sensible and do the same.
A placid life.
He was born at Tavistock, in Devon, about the year 1590; and after the manner of mild and sensible men cherished a particular love for his birth-place to the end of his days. From Tavistock Grammar School he passed to Exeter College, Oxford—the old west-country college—and thence to Clifford's Inn and the Inner Temple. His first wife died when he was twenty-three or twenty-four. He took his second courtship quietly and leisurely, marrying the lady at length in 1628, after a wooing of thirteen years. "He seems," says Mr. A.H. Bullen, his latest biographer, "to have acquired in some way a modest competence, which secured him immunity from the troubles that weighed so heavily on men of letters." His second wife also brought him a portion. More than four years before this marriage he had returned to Exeter College, as tutor to the young Robert Dormer, who in due time became Earl of Carnarvon and was killed in Newbury fight. By his fellow-collegians—as by everybody with whom he came into contact—he was highly beloved and esteemed, and in the public Register of the University is styled, "vir omni humana literarum et bonarum artium cognitione instructus." He gained the especial favor of William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, whom Aubrey calls "the greatest Maecenas to learned men of any peer of his time or since," and of whom Clarendon says, "He was a great lover of his country, and of the religion and justice, which he believed could only support it; and his friendships were only with men of those principles,"—another tribute to the poet's character. He was familiarly received at Wilton, the home of the Herberts. After his second marriage he moved to Dorking and there settled. He died in or before the year 1645. In the letters of administration granted to his widow (November, 1645) he is described as "late of Dorking, in the county of Surrey, Esquire." But there is no entry of his death in the registers at Dorking or Horsham: so perhaps he went back to lay his bones in his beloved Devon. A William Browne was buried at Tavistock on March 27th, 1643. This may or may not have been our author. "Tavistock,—Wilton,—Dorking," says Mr. Bullen,—"Surely few poets have had a more tranquil journey to the Elysian Fields."
An amiable poet.
As with his life, so with his poetry—he went about it quietly, contentedly. He learned his art, as he confesses, from Spenser and Sidney; and he took it over ready-made, with all the conventions and pastoral stock-in-trade—swains languishing for hard-hearted nymphs, nymphs languishing for hard-hearted swains; sheep-cotes, rustic dances, junketings, anadems, and true-love knots; monsters invented for the perpetual menace of chastity; chastity undergoing the most surprising perils, but always saved in the nick of time, if not by an opportune shepherd, then by an equally opportune river-god or earthquake; episodes innumerable, branching off from the main stem of the narrative at the most critical point, and luxuriating in endless ramifications. Beauty, eluding unwelcome embraces, is never too hotly pressed to dally with an engaging simile or choose the most agreeable words for depicting her tribulation. Why indeed should she hurry? It is all a polite and pleasant make-believe; and when Marina and Doridon are tired, they stand aside and watch the side couples, Fida and Remond, and get their breath again for the next figure. As for the finish of the tale, there is no finish. The narrator will stop when he is tired; just then and no sooner. What became of Marina after Triton rolled away the stone and released her from the Cave of Famine? I am sure I don't know. I have followed her adventures up to that point (though I should be very sorry to attempt a precis of them without the book) through some 370 pages of verse. Does this mean that I am greatly interested in her? Not in the least. I am quite content to hear no more about her. Let us have the lamentations of Celadyne for a change—though "for a change" is much too strong an expression. The author is quite able to invent more adventures for Marina, if he chooses to, by the hour together. If he does not choose to, well and good.
Was the composition of Britannia's Pastorals then, a useless or inconsiderable feat? Not at all: since to read them is to taste a mild but continuous pleasure. In the first place, it is always pleasant to see a good man thoroughly enjoying himself: and that Browne thoroughly "relisht versing"—to use George Herbert's pretty phrase—would be patent enough, even had he not left us an express assurance:—
"What now I sing is but to pass away A tedious hour, as some musicians play; Or make another my own griefs bemoan—"
—rather affected, that, one suspects:
"Or to be least alone when most alone, In this can I, as oft as I will choose, Hug sweet content by my retired Muse, And in a study find as much to please As others in the greatest palaces. Each man that lives, according to his power, On what he loves bestows an idle hour. Instead of hounds that make the wooded hills Talk in a hundred voices to the rills, I like the pleasing cadence of a line Struck by the consort of the sacred Nine. In lieu of hawks ..."
—and so on. Indeed, unless it be Wither, there is no poet of the time who practised his art with such entire cheerfulness: though Wither's satisfaction had a deeper note, as when he says of his Muse—
"Her true beauty leaves behind Apprehensions in the mind, Of more sweetness than all art Or inventions can impart; Thoughts too deep to be express'd, And too strong to be suppressed."
Yet Charles Lamb's nice observation—
"Fame, and that too after death, was all which hitherto the poets had promised themselves from their art. It seems to have been left to Wither to discover that poetry was a present possession as well as a rich reversion, and that the muse had promise of both lives—of this, and of that which was to come."
—must be extended by us, after reading his lines quoted above, to include William Browne. He, at least, had no doubt of the Muse as an earthly companion.
As for posthumous fame, Browne confides to us his aspirations in that matter also:—
"And Time may be so kind to these weak lines To keep my name enroll'd past his that shines In gilded marble, or in brazen leaves: Since verse preserves, when stone and brass deceives. Or if (as worthless) Time not lets it live To those full days which others' Muses give, Yet I am sure I shall be heard and sung Of most severest eld and kinder young Beyond my days; and maugre Envy's strife, Add to my name some hours beyond my life."
This is the amiable hope of one who lived an entirely amiable life in
"homely towns, Sweetly environ'd with the daisied downs:"
and who is not the less to be beloved because at times his amiability prevents him from attacking even our somnolence too fiercely. If the casual reader but remember Browne as a poet who had the honor to supply Keats with inspiration,[A] there will always be others, and enough of them, to prize his ambling Muse for her own qualities.
[A] Cf. his lament for William Ferrar (brother of Nicholas Ferrar, of Little Gidding), drowned at sea—
"Glide soft, ye silver floods, And every spring: Within the shady woods Let no bird sing...."
July 28, 1894. A Note on his Name.
Even as there is an M alike in Macedon and Monmouth, so Thomas Carew and I have a common grievance—that our names are constantly mispronounced. It is their own fault, of course; on the face of it they ought to rhyme with "few" and "vouch." And if it be urged (impolitely but with a fair amount of plausibility) that what my name may or may not rhyme with is of no concern to anybody, I have only to reply that, until a month or so back, I cheerfully shared this opinion and acquiesced in the general error. Had I dreamed then of becoming a subject for poetry, I had pointed out—as I do now—for the benefit of all intending bards, that I do not legitimately rhyme with "vouch" (so liable is human judgment to err, even in trifles), unless they pronounce it "vooch," which is awkward. I believe, indeed (speaking as one who has never had occasion to own a Rhyming Dictionary), that the number of English words consonant with my name is exceedingly small; but leave the difficulty to the ingenious Dr. Alexander H. Japp, LL.D., F.R.S.E., who has lately been at the pains to compose and put into private circulation a sprightly lampoon upon me. As it is not my intention to reply with a set of verses upon Dr. Japp, it seems superfluous to inquire if his name should be pronounced as it is spelt.
But Carew's case is rather important; and it is really odd that his latest and most learned editor, the Rev. J.F. Ebsworth, should fall into the old error. In a "dedicatory prelude" to his edition of "The Poems and Masque of Thomas Carew" (London: Reeves & Turner), Mr. Ebsworth writes as follows:—
"Hearken strains from one who knew How to praise and how to sue: Celia's lover, TOM CAREW."
Thomas Carew (born April 3d, 1590, at Wickham, in Kent) was the son of Sir Matthew Carew, Master in Chancery, and the grandson of Sir Wymond Carew, of East Antony, or Antony St. Jacob, between the Lynher and Tamar rivers in Cornwall, where the family of Pole-Carew lives to this day. Now, the Cornish Carews have always pronounced their name as "Carey," though, as soon as you cross the Tamar and find yourself (let us say) as far east as Haccombe in South Devon, the name becomes "Carew"—pronounced as it is written. The two forms are both of great age, as the old rhyme bears witness—
"Carew, Carey and Courtenay, When the Conqueror came, were here at play"—
and the name was often written "Carey" or "Cary," as in the case of the famous Lucius Carey, Lord Falkland, and his descendants. In Cornwall, however, where spelling is often an untrustworthy guide to pronunciation (I have known people to write their name "Hix" and pronounce it as "Hic"—when sober, too), it was written "Carew" and pronounced as "Carey"; and there is not the slightest doubt that this was the case with our poet's name. If anyone deny it, let him consider the verse in which Carew is mentioned by his contemporaries: and attempt, for instance, to scan the lines in Robert Baron's "Pocula Castalia," 1650—
"Sweet Suckling then, the glory of the Bower Wherein I've wanton'd many a genial hour, Fair Plant! whom I have seen Minerva wear An ornament to her well-plaited hair, On highest days; remove a little from Thy excellent Carew! and thou, dearest Tom, Love's Oracle! lay thee a little off Thy flourishing Suckling, that between you both I may find room...."
Or this by Suckling—
"Tom Carew was next, but he had a fault, That would not well stand with a Laureat; His Muse was hard-bound, and th' issue of 's brain Was seldom brought forth but with trouble and pain."
Or this, by Lord Falkland himself (who surely may be supposed to have known how the name was pronounced), in his "Eclogue on the Death of Ben Jonson"—
"Let Digby, Carew, Killigrew and Maine, Godolphin, Waller, that inspired train— Or whose rare pen beside deserves the grace Or of an equal, or a neighbouring place— Answer thy wish, for none so fit appears To raise his Tomb, as who are left his heirs."
In each case "Carey" scans admirably, while "Carew" gives the line an intolerable limp.
Mr. Ebsworth's championship.
This mistake of Mr. Ebsworth's is the less easy to understand inasmuch as he has been very careful to clear up the popular confusion of our poet Thomas Carew, "gentleman of the Privy Chamber to King Charles I., and cup-bearer to His Majesty," with another Thomas Gary (also a poet), son of the Earl of Monmouth and groom of His Majesty's bed-chamber. But it is one thing to prove that this second Thomas Gary is the original of the "medallion portrait" commonly supposed to be Carew's: it is quite another thing to saddle him, merely upon guess-work, with Carew's reputed indiscretions. Indeed, Mr. Ebsworth lets his enthusiasm for his author run clean away with his sense of fairness. He heads his Introductory Memoir with the words of Pallas in Tennyson's "OEnone"—
"Again she said—'I woo thee not with gifts: Sequel of guerdon could not alter me To fairer. Judge thou me by what I am, So shalt thou find me fairest.'"—
from which I take it that Mr. Ebsworth claims his attitude towards Carew to be much the same as Thackeray's towards Pendennis. But in fact he proves himself a thorough-going partisan, and anyone less enthusiastic may think himself lucky if dismissed by Mr. Ebsworth with nothing worse than a smile of pity mingled with contempt. Now, so long as an editor confines this belligerent enthusiasm to the defence of his author's writings, it is at worst but an amiable weakness; and every word he says in their praise tends indirectly to justify his own labor in editing these meritorious compositions. But when he extends this championship over the author's private life, he not unfrequently becomes something of a nuisance. We may easily forgive such talk as "There must assuredly have been a singular frankness and affectionate simplicity in the disposition of Carew:" talk which is harmless, though hardly more valuable than the reflection beloved of local historians—"If these grey old walls could speak, what a tale might they not unfold!" It is less easy to forgive such a note as this:—
"Sir John Suckling was incapable of understanding Carew in his final days of sickness and depression, as he had been (and this is conceding much) in their earlier days of reckless gallantry. His vile address 'to T—— C——,' etc., 'Troth, Tom, I must confess I much admire ...' is nothing more than coarse badinage without foundation; in any case not necessarily addressed to Carew, although they were of close acquaintance; but many other Toms were open to a similar expression, since 'T.C.' might apply to Thomas Carey, to Thomas Crosse, and other T.C. poets."
It is not pleasant to rake up any man's faults; but when an editor begins to suggest some new man against whom nothing is known (except that he wrote indifferent verse)—who is not even known to have been on speaking terms with Suckling—as the proper target of Suckling's coarse raillery, we have a right not only to protest, but to point out that even Clarendon, who liked Carew, wrote of him that, "after fifty years of his life spent with less severity and exactness than it ought to have been, he died with great remorse for that license, and with the greatest manifestation of Christianity that his best friends could desire." If Carew thought fit to feel remorse for that license, it scarcely becomes Mr. Ebsworth to deny its existence, much less to hint that the sinfulness was another's.
As a minor criticism, I may point out that the song, "Come, my Celia, let us prove ..." (included by Mr. Ebsworth, with the remark that "there is no external evidence to confirm the attribution of this song to Carew") was written by Ben Jonson, and is to be found in Volpone, Act III., sc. 7, 1607.
But, with some imperfections, this is a sound edition—sadly needed—of one of the most brilliant lyrical writers of his time. It contains a charming portrait; and the editor's enthusiasm, when it does not lead him too far, is also charming.
April 13, 1895. Robinson Crusoe.
Many a book has produced a wide and beneficent effect and won a great reputation, and yet this effect and this reputation have been altogether wide of its author's aim. Swift's Gulliver is one example. As Mr. Birrell put it the other day, "Swift's gospel of hatred, his testament of woe—his Gulliver, upon which he expended the treasures of his wit, and into which he instilled the concentrated essence of his rage—has become a child's book, and has been read with wonder and delight by generations of innocents."
How far is the tale a parable?
Generations of innocents in like manner have accepted Robinson Crusoe as a delightful tale about a castaway mariner, a story of adventure pure and simple, without sub-intention of any kind. But we know very well that Defoe in writing it intended a parable—a parable of his own life. In the first place, he distinctly affirms this in his preface to the Serious Reflections which form Part iii. of his great story:—
"As the design of everything is said to be first in the intention, and last in the execution, so I come now to acknowledge to my reader that the present work is not merely a product of the two first volumes, but the two first volumes may rather be called the product of this. The fable is always made for the moral, not the moral for the fable...."
He goes on to say that whereas "the envious and ill-disposed part of the world" have accused the story of being feigned, and "all a romance, formed and embellished by invention to impose upon the world," he declares this objection to be an invention scandalous in design, and false in fact, and affirms that the story, "though allegorical, is also historical"; that it is
"the beautiful representation of a life of unexampled misfortunes, and of a variety not to be met with in the world, sincerely adapted to and intended for the common good of mankind, and designed at first, as it is now further applied, to the most serious use possible. Farther, that there is a man alive, and well known too, the actions of whose life are the just subject of these volumes, and to whom all or most part of the story most directly alludes; this may be depended upon, for truth, and to this I set my name."
He proceeds to assert this in detail of several important passages in the book, and obviously intends us to infer that the adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner, were throughout and from the beginning designed as a story in parable of the life and adventures of Daniel Defoe, Gentleman. "But Defoe may have been lying?" This was never quite flatly asserted. Even his enemy Gildon admitted an analogy between the tale of Crusoe and the stormy life of Defoe with its frequent shipwrecks "more by land than by sea." Gildon admitted this implicitly in the title of his pamphlet, The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Mr. D—— De F——, of London, Hosier, who has lived above Fifty Years by himself in the Kingdoms of North and South Britain. But the question has always been, To what extent are we to accept Defoe's statement that the story is an allegory? Does it agree step by step and in detail with the circumstances of Defoe's life? Or has it but a general allegorical resemblance?
Hitherto, critics have been content with the general resemblance, and have agreed that it would be a mistake to accept Defoe's statement too literally, to hunt for minute allusions in Robinson Crusoe, and search for exact resemblances between incidents in the tale and events in the author's life. But this at any rate may be safely affirmed, that recent discoveries have proved the resemblance to be a great deal closer than anyone suspected a few years ago.
Mr. Wright's hypothesis.
Mr. Aitken supplied the key when he announced in the Athenaeum for August 23rd, 1890, his discovery that Daniel Defoe was born, not in 1661 (as had hitherto been supposed), but earlier, and probably in the latter part of the year 1659. The story dates Crusoe's birth September 30th, 1632, or just twenty-seven years earlier. Now Mr. Wright, Defoe's latest biographer,[A] maintains that if we add these twenty-seven years to the date of any event in Crusoe's life we shall have the date of the corresponding event in Defoe's life. By this simple calculation he finds that Crusoe's running away to sea corresponds in time with Defoe's departure from the academy at Newington Green; Crusoe's early period on the island (south side) with the years Defoe lived at Tooting; Crusoe's visit to the other side of the island with a journey of Defoe's into Scotland; the footprint and the arrival of the savages with the threatening letters received by Defoe, and the physical assaults made on him after the Sacheverell trial; while Friday stands for a collaborator who helped Defoe with his work.
Defoe expressly states in his Serious Reflections that the story of Friday is historical and true in fact—
"It is most real that I had ... such a servant, a savage, and afterwards a Christian, and that his name was called Friday, and that he was ravished from me by force, and died in the hands that took him, which I represent by being killed; this is all literally true, and should I enter into discoveries many alive can testify them. His other conduct and assistance to me also have just references in all their parts to the helps I had from that faithful savage in my real solitudes and disasters."
It may be added that there are strong grounds for believing Defoe to have had about this time assistance in his literary work.
All this is very neatly worked out; but of course the really important event in Crusoe's life is his great shipwreck and his long solitude on the island. Now of what events in Defoe's life are these symbolical?
Well, in the very forefront of his Serious Reflections, and in connection with his long confinement in the island, Defoe makes Crusoe tell the following story:—
"I have heard of a man that, upon some extraordinary disgust which he took at the unsuitable conversation of some of his nearest relations, whose society he could not avoid, suddenly resolved never to speak any more. He kept his resolution most rigorously many years; not all the tears or entreaties of his friends—no, not of his wife and children—could prevail with him to break his silence. It seems it was their ill-behaviour to him, at first, that was the occasion of it; for they treated him with provoking language, which frequently put him into undecent passions, and urged him to rash replies; and he took this severe way to punish himself for being provoked, and to punish them for provoking him. But the severity was unjustifiable; it ruined his family and broke up his house. His wife could not bear it, and after endeavouring, by all the ways possible, to alter his rigid silence, went first away from him, and afterwards from herself, turning melancholy and distracted. His children separated, some one way and some another way; and only one daughter, who loved her father above all the rest, kept with him, tended him, talked to him by signs, and lived almost dumb like her father near twenty-nine years with him; till being very sick, and in a high fever, delirious as we call it, or light-headed, he broke his silence, not knowing when he did it, and spoke, though wildly at first. He recovered of his illness afterwards, and frequently talked with his daughter, but not much, and very seldom to anybody else."
I italicise some very important words in the above story. Crusoe was wrecked on his island on September 30th, 1659, his twenty-seventh birthday. We are told that he remained on the island twenty-eight years, two months and nineteen days. (Compare with duration of the man's silence in the story.) This puts the date of his departure at December 19th, 1687.
Now add twenty-seven years. We find that Defoe left his solitude—whatever that may have been—on December 19th, 1714. Just at that date, as all his biographers record, Defoe was struck down by a fit of apoplexy and lay ill for six weeks. Compare this again with the story.
You divine what is coming. Astounding as it may be, Mr. Wright contends that Defoe himself was the original of the story: that Defoe, provoked by his wife's irritating tongue, made a kind of vow to live a life of silence—and kept it for more than twenty-eight years!
So far back as 1859 the egregious Chadwick nibbled at this theory in his Life and Times of Daniel Defoe, with Remarks Digressive and Discursive. The story, he says, "would be very applicable" to Defoe himself, and again, "is very likely to have been taken from his own life"; but at this point Chadwick maunders off with the remark that "perhaps the domestic fireside of the poet or book-writer is not the place we should go to in search of domestic happiness." Perhaps not; but Chadwick, tallyhoing after domestic happiness, misses the scent. Mr. Wright sticks to the scent and rides boldly; but is he after the real fox?
* * * * *
April 20, 1895.
Can we believe it? Can we believe that on the 30th of September, 1686, Defoe, provoked by his wife's nagging tongue, made a vow to live a life of complete silence; that for twenty-eight years and a month or two he never addressed a word to his wife or children; and that his resolution was only broken down by a severe illness in the winter of 1714?
Mr. Aitken on Mr. Wright's hypothesis.
Mr. Aitken,[B] who has handled this hypothesis of Mr. Wright's, brings several arguments against it, which, taken together, seem to me quite conclusive. To begin with, several children were born to Defoe during this period. He paid much attention to their education, and in 1713, the penultimate year of this supposed silence, we find his sons helping him in his work. Again, in 1703 Mrs. Defoe was interceding for her husband's release from Newgate. Let me add that it was an age in which personalities were freely used in public controversy; that Defoe was continuously occupied with public controversy during these twenty-eight years, and managed to make as many enemies as any man within the four seas; and I think the silence of his adversaries upon a matter which, if proved, would be discreditable in the extreme, is the best of all evidence that Mr. Wright's hypothesis cannot be sustained. Nor do I see how Mr. Wright makes it square with his own conception of Defoe's character. "Of a forgiving temper himself," says Mr. Wright on p. 86, "he (Defoe) was quite incapable of understanding how another person could nourish resentment." This of a man whom the writer asserts to have sulked in absolute silence with his wife and family for twenty-eight years, two months, and nineteen days!
An inherent improbability.
At all events it will not square with our conception of Defoe's character. Those of us who have an almost unlimited admiration for Defoe as a master of narrative, and next to no affection for him as a man, might pass the heartlessness of such conduct. "At first sight," Mr. Wright admits, "it may appear monstrous that a man should for so long a time abstain from speech with his own family." Monstrous, indeed—but I am afraid we could have passed that. Mr. Wright, who has what I may call a purfled style, tells us that—
"To narrate the career of Daniel Defoe is to tell a tale of wonder and daring, of high endeavour and marvellous success. To dwell upon it is to take courage and to praise God for the splendid possibilities of life.... Defoe is always the hero; his career is as thick with events as a cornfield with corn; his fortunes change as quickly and as completely as the shapes in a kaleidoscope—he is up, he is down, he is courted, he is spurned; it is shine, it is shower, it is couleur de rose, it is Stygian night. Thirteen times he was rich and poor. Achilles was not more audacious, Ulysses more subtle, AEneas more pious."
That is one way of putting it. Here is another way (as the cookery books say):—"To narrate the career of Daniel Defoe is to tell a tale of a hosier and pantile maker, who had a hooked nose and wrote tracts indefatigably—he was up, he was down, he was in the Pillory, he was at Tooting; it was poule de soie, it was leather and prunella; and it was always tracts. AEneas was not so pious a member of the Butchers' Company; and there are a few milestones on the Dover Road; but Defoe's life was as thick with tracts as a cornfield with corn." These two estimates may differ here and there; but on one point they agree—that Defoe was an extremely restless, pushing, voluble person, who could as soon have stood on his head for twenty-eight years, two months, and nineteen days as have kept silence for that period with any man or woman in whose company he found himself frequently alone. Unless we have entirely misjudged his character—and, I may add, unless Mr. Wright has completely misrepresented the rest of his life—it simply was not in the man to keep this foolish vow for twenty-four hours.
No, I am afraid Mr. Wright's hypothesis will not do. And yet his plan of adding twenty-seven years to each important date in Crusoe's history has revealed so many coincident events in the life of Defoe that we cannot help feeling he is "hot," as they say in the children's game; that the wreck upon the island and Crusoe's twenty-eight years odd of solitude do really correspond with some great event and important period of Defoe's life. The wreck is dated 30th September, 1659. Add the twenty-seven years, and we come to September 30th, 1686. Where was Defoe at that date, and what was he doing? Mr. Wright has to confess that of his movements in 1686 and the two following years "we know little that is definite." Certainly we know of nothing that can correspond with Crusoe's shipwreck.