CONFESSIONS OF A BOOK-LOVER
MAURICE FRANCIS EGAN
GARDEN CITY NEW YORK
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF TRANSLATION INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES, INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES
THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N. Y.
IN MEMORY OF
A MAN OF ACTION IN LOVE WITH BOOKS
I. MY BOYHOOD READING 1 Early Recollections. The Bible. Essays and Essayists.
II. POETS AND POETRY 76 France—Of Maurice de Guérin. Dante. English and American Verse.
III. CERTAIN NOVELISTS 134
IV. LETTERS, BIOGRAPHIES, AND MEMOIRS 156
V. BOOKS AT RANDOM 205
CONFESSIONS OF A BOOK-LOVER
MY BOYHOOD READING
To get the best out of books, I am convinced that you must begin to love these perennial friends very early in life. It is the only way to know all their "curves," all those little shadows of expression and small lights. There is a glamour which you never see if you begin to read with a serious intention late in life, when questions of technique and grammar and mere words begin to seem too important.
Then you have become too critical to feel through all Fenimore Cooper's verbiage the real lakes and woods, or the wild fervour of romance beneath dear Sir Walter's mat of words. You lose the unreclaimable flavour of books. A friend you may irretrievably lose when you lose a friend—if you are so deadly unfortunate as to lose a friend—for even the memories of him are embittered; but no great author can ever have done anything that will make the book you love less precious to you.
The new school of pedagogical thought disapproves, I know, of miscellaneous reading, and no modern moralist will agree with Madame de Sévigné that "bad books are better than no books at all"; but Madame de Sévigné may have meant books written in a bad style, or feeble books, and not books bad in the moral sense. However, I must confess that when I was young, I read several books which I was told afterward were very bad indeed. But I did not find this out until somebody told me! The youthful mind must possess something of the quality attributed to a duck's back! I recall that once "The Confessions of Rousseau" was snatched suddenly away from me by a careful mother just as I had begun to think that Jean Jacques was a very interesting man and almost as queer as some of the people I knew. I believe that if I had been allowed to finish the book, it would have become by some mental chemical process a very edifying criticism of life.
"Tom Jones" I found in an attic and I was allowed to read it by a pious aunt, whom I was visiting, because she mixed it up with "Tom Brown of Rugby"; but I found it even more tiresome than "Eric, or Little by Little," for which I dropped it. I remember, too, that I was rather shocked by some things written in the Old Testament; and I retorted to my aunt's pronouncement that she considered "the 'Arabian Nights' a dangerous book," by saying that the Old Testament was the worst book I had ever read; but I supposed "people had put something into it when God wasn't looking." She sent me home.
At home, I was permitted to read only the New Testament. On winter Sunday afternoons, when there was nothing else to do, I became sincerely attached to the Acts of the Apostles. And I came to the conclusion that nobody could tell a short story as well as Our Lord Himself. The Centurion was one of my favourite characters. He seemed to be such a good soldier; and his plea, "Lord, I am not worthy," flashes across my mental vision every day of my life.
In the Catholic churches, a part of the Gospel is read every Sunday, and carefully interpreted. This always interested me because I knew in advance what the priest was going to read. Most of the children of my acquaintance were taught their Scriptures through the International Sunday-school lessons, and seemed to me to be submerged in the geography of Palestine and other tiresome details. For me, reading as I did, the whole of the New Testament was radiant with interest, a frankly human interest. There were many passages that I did not pretend to understand, sometimes because the English was obscure or archaic, and sometimes because my mind was not equal to it or my knowledge too small. Whatever may be the opinion of other people, mine is that the reading of the New Testament in the simplicity of childhood, with the flower of intuition not yet blighted, is one of the most beautiful of mental experiences. In my own case, it gave a glow to life; it caused me to distinguish between truth and fairy tales, between fact and fiction—and this is often very difficult for an imaginative child.
This kind of reading implies leisure and the absence of distraction. Unhappily, much leisure does not seem to be left for the modern child. The unhappy creature is even told that there will be "something in Heaven for children to do!" As to distractions, the modern child is surrounded by them; and it appears to be one of the main intentions of the present system of instruction not to leave to a child any moments of leisure for the indulgence of the imagination. But I am not offering the example of my childhood for imitation by the modern parents.
Nevertheless, it had great consolations. There were no "movies" in those days, and the theatre was only occasionally permitted; but on long afternoons, after you had learned to read, you might lose yourself in "The Scottish Chiefs" to your heart's content. It seems to me that the beauty of this fashion of leisurely reading was that you had time to visualize everything, and you felt the dramatic moments so keenly, that a sense of unreality never obtruded itself at the wrong time. It was not necessary for you to be told that Helen Mar was beautiful. It was only necessary for her to say, in tones so entrancing that you heard them, "My Wallace!" to know that she was the loveliest person in all Scotland. But "The Scottish Chiefs" required the leisure of long holiday afternoons, especially as the copy I read had been so misused that I had to spend precious half hours in putting the pages together. It was worth the trouble, however.
Before I could read, I was compelled on rainy days to sit at my mother's knee and listen to what she read. I am happy to say that she never read children's books. Nothing was ever adapted to my youthful misunderstanding. She read aloud what she liked to read, and she never considered whether I liked it or not. It was a method of discipline. At first, I looked drearily out at the soggy city street, in which rivulets of melted snow made any exercise, suitable to my age, impossible. There is nothing so hopeless for a child as an afternoon in a city when the heavy snows begin to melt. My mother, however, was altogether regardless of what happened outside of the house. At two o'clock precisely—after the manner of the King in William Morris's "Earthly Paradise"—she waved her wand. After that, all that I was expected to do was to make no noise.
In this way I became acquainted with "The Virginians," then running in Harper's Magazine, with "Adam Bede" and "As You Like It" and "Richard III." and "Oliver Twist" and "Nicholas Nickleby" and "Valentine Vox"—why "Valentine Vox?"—and other volumes when I should have been listening to "Alice in Wonderland." But when I came, in turn, to "Alice in Wonderland," I found Alice's rather dull in comparison with the adventures of the Warrington brothers. And Thackeray's picture of Gumbo carrying in the soup tureen! To have listened to Rebecca's description of the great fight in "Ivanhoe," to have lived through the tournament of Ashby de la Zouche, was a poor preparation for the vagaries of the queer creatures that surrounded the inimitable Alice.
There appeared to be no children's books in the library to which we had access. It never seemed to me that "Robinson Crusoe" or "Gulliver's Travels" or "Swiss Family Robinson" were children's books; they were not so treated by my mother, and I remember, as a small boy, going up to Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, with divine eagerness, to buy the latest number of a Dickens serial. I think the name of the shop—the shop of Paradise—which sold these books was called Ashburnham's. It may be asked how the episode in "Adam Bede" of Hetty and that of "little Em'ly" in Dickens struck the child mind. As I remember, the child mind was awed and impressed, by a sense of horror, probably occasioned as much by the force of the style, by the suggestions of an unknown terror, as by any facts which a child could grasp.
It was a curious thing that my mother, who had remarkably good taste in literature, admired Mrs. Henry Wood extravagantly. She also admired Queen Victoria. She never read "East Lynne" aloud, because, I gathered, she considered it "improper"; and Miss Braddon's "Lady Audley's Secret" came under the same ban, though I heard it talked of frequently. It was difficult to discover where my mother drew the line between what was "proper" and what was "not proper." Shakespeare she seemed to regard as eminently proper, and, I noticed, hesitated and mumbled only when she came to certain parts of Ophelia's song. It seems strange now that I never rated Mrs. Henry Wood's novels with those of George Eliot or Thackeray or Dickens. There seemed to be some imperceptible difference which my mother never explained, but which I, instinctively, understood; and when Anthony Trollope's "Orley Farm" was read, I placed him above Mrs. Henry Wood, but not on an equality with Dickens or Thackeray.
Harper's Magazine, in those days, contained great treasure! There, for instance, were the delightful articles by Porte Crayon—General Strothers, I think. These one listened to with pleasure; but the bane of my existence was Mr. Abbott's "Life of Napoleon Bonaparte." It seemed to me as if it would never end, and it stretched as dolorously before me as that other fearful process which appalled my waking days—the knowledge that all my life I should be obliged to clean my teeth three times a day with powdered charcoal!
After a time, I began to read for myself; but the delights of desultory reading were gloomed by the necessity of studying long lessons that no emancipated child of to-day would endure. Misguided people sometimes came to the school and told childish stories, at which we all laughed, but which even the most illiterate despised. To have known George Warrington, to have mingled familiarly in the society of George Washington, to remember the picture of Beatrix Esmond coming down the stairs—I am not speaking of Du Maurier's travesties of that delightful book—to have seen the old ladies in "Cranford," sucking their oranges in the privacies of their rooms, made one despise foolish little tales about over-industrious bees and robins which seemed not even to have the ordinary common sense of geese!
Suddenly, my mother became a devout Catholic. The scene changed. On one unhappy Sunday afternoon "Monte Cristo" was rudely snatched from my entranced hands. Dumas was on the list of the "improper," and to this day I have never finished the episodes in which I was so deeply interested. Now the wagon of the circulating library ceased to come as in the old days. The children of the neighbours offered me Sunday-school books, taken from the precious store of the Methodist Sunday School opposite our house. They seemed to me to be stupid beyond all words. There was not one really good fight in them all, and after an honest villain like Brian de Bois Guilbert, the bad people in these volumes were very lacking in stamina. The "Rollo" books were gay compared to them. I concluded that if anything on earth could make a child hate religion, it was the perusal of these unreal books. My mother saw that I had Alban Butler's "Lives of the Saints" for Sunday reading. They were equally dull; and other "Lives," highly recommended, were quite as uninspiring as the little volumes from the Protestant library. They were generally translated from the French, without vitality and without any regard for the English idiom. I recall, through the mists, sitting down one Sunday afternoon, to read "The Life of Saint Rose of Lima." As it concerned itself with South America, it seemed to me that there might be in it a good fighter or two; or, at least, somebody might cut off the ear of a High Priest's servant as was done in the New Testament. But no, I was shocked to read in the very beginning, that
so pure was the little Saint, even in her infancy, that when her uncle, who was her godfather, kissed her after her baptism, a rosy glow, a real blush of shame, overspread her countenance.
In that book I read no more that day!
But I discovered a volume I have never forgotten, which probably after "The Young Marooners," had the greatest influence on me for a short period. This was "Fabiola," by Cardinal Wiseman. There was good stuff in it; it made me feel proud to be a Christian; it was full of thrills; and it taught a lot about the archaeology of Rome, for it was part of that excellent story. I have always looked on "Fabiola" as a very great book. Then at Christmas, when my father gave me "The Last Days of Pompeii," I was in a new world, not alien to the world of "Fabiola," but in some way supplementary to it. This gift was accompanied by Washington Irving's "Tales of the Alhambra." Conspuez les livres des poupées! What nice little story books, arranged for the growing mind, could awaken such visions of the past, such splendid arabesques and trailing clouds of glory as this book! Read at the right time, it makes the pomegranate and the glittering crescents live forever, and creates a love for Spain and a romance of old Spain which can never die.
After this, I had a cold mental douche. I was given "Les Enfants des Bois," by Elie Berthet in French, to translate word for word. It was a horrible task, and the difficulties of the verbs and the laborious research in the dictionary prevented me from enjoying the adventures of these infants. I cannot remember anything that happened to them; but I know that the book gave me an ever-enduring distrust of the subjunctive mood in the Gallic language. Somebody had left about a copy of a French romance called "Les Aventures de Polydore Marasquin." It was of things that happened to a man in a kingdom of monkeys. It went very well, with an occasional use of the dictionary, until I discovered that the gentleman was about to engage himself to a very attractive monkeyess. I gave up the book in disgust, but I have since discovered that there have been lately several imitators of these adventures, which I think were written by an author named Léon Gozlan.
About this time, the book auction became a fashion in Philadelphia. If your people had respect for art, they invariably subscribed to a publication called the Cosmopolitan Art Magazine, and you received a steel engraving of Shakespeare and his Friends, with Sir Walter Raleigh very much in the foreground, wearing a beautifully puffed doublet and very well-fitting hose, and another steel engraving of Washington at Lexington. If your people were interested in literature, they frequented the book auctions. My father had a great respect for what he called "classical literature." He considered Cowper's "The Task" immensely classical; it was beautifully bound, and he never read it. One day he secured a lovely edition of the "Complete Works of Thomas Moore." It had been a subject of much competition at the auction, and was cherished accordingly. The binding was tooled. It was put on the centre table and adored as a work of art. Here was richness!
Tom Moore's long poems are no doubt classed at present as belonging to those old and faded gardens in which "The Daisy" and "The Keepsake," by Lady Blessington, once flourished; but if I could only recall the pleasure I had in the reading of "Lalla Rookh" and "The Veiled Prophet of Korhasson," I think I should be very happy. And the notes to "Lalla Rookh" and to Moore's prose novel of "The Epicurean"! "The Epicurean" was not much of a novel, but the notes were full of amazing Egyptian mysteries, which seemed quite as splendid as the machinery in the "Arabian Nights." The notes to "Lalla Rookh" smelled of roses, and I remember as a labour of love copying out all the allusions to roses in these notes with the intention of writing about them when I grew up. My mother objected to the translations from Anacreon; she said they were "improper"; but my father said that he had been assured on competent authority that they were "classic," and of course that settled it. There was no story in them, and they seemed to me to be stupid.
Just about this time, one of the book auctions yielded up a copy of the "Complete Works of Miss Mitford." You perhaps can imagine how a city boy, who was allowed to spend two weeks each year at the most on the arid New Jersey seacoast, fell upon "Our Village." It became an incentive for long walks, in the hope of finding some country lanes and something resembling the English primroses. I read and reread "Our Village" until I could close my eyes at any time and see the little world in which Miss Mitford lived. I tried to read her tragedy, "The Two Foscari." A tragedy had a faint interest; but, being exiled to the attic for some offense against the conventionalities demanded of a Philadelphia child, with no book but Miss Mitford's, I spent my time looking up all the references to roses in her tragedies. These I combined with the knowledge acquired from Tom Moore, and made notes for a paper to be printed in some great periodical in the future. Why roses? Why Miss Mitford and roses? Why Tom Moore and roses? I do not know, but, when I was sixteen years of age, I printed the paper in Appleton's Journal, where it may still be found. My parents, who did not look on my literary attempts, at the expense of mathematics, with favour, suggested that I was a plagiarist, but as I had no time to look up the meaning of the word in the dictionary, I let it go. It simply struck me as one of those evidences of misunderstanding which every honest artist must be content to accept.
My mother, evidently fearing the influence of "classical" literature, gave me one day "The Parent's Assistant," by Miss Edgeworth. I think that it was in this book that I discovered "Rosamond; or The Purple Jar" and the story of the good boy or girl who never cut the bit of string that tied a package; I sedulously devoted myself to the imitation of this economic child, and was very highly praised for getting the best out of a good book until I broke a tooth in trying to undo a very tough knot.
It was a far cry from the respectable Miss Edgeworth to a series of Beadle's "Dime Novels." I looked on them as delectable but inferior. There was a prejudice against them in well-brought-up households; but if you thoughtfully provided yourself with a brown paper cover, which concealed the flaring yellow of Beadle's front page, you were very likely to escape criticism. I never finished "Osceola, the Seminole," because my aunt looked over my shoulder and read a rapturous account of a real fight, in which somebody kicked somebody else violently in the abdomen. My aunt reported to my mother that the book was very "indelicate" and after that Beadle's "Dime Novels" were absolutely forbidden. At school, we were told that any boy who read Beadle's was a moral leper; but as most of us concluded that leper had something to do with leaper, the effect was not very convincing.
Perhaps I might have been decoyed back to Beadle's, for all the youngsters knew that there was nothing really wrong in them, but I happened to remember the scene in Sir Walter Scott's "Abbot," where Edward Glendenning wades into the sea to prevent Mary Stuart from leaving Scotland. I hied me to "The Monastery" and devoured everything of Sir Walter's except "Saint Ronan's Well." That never seemed worthy of the great Sir Walter. "The Black Dwarf" and "Anne of Geierstein" were rather tough reading, and "Count Robert of Paris" might have been written by Lord Bacon, if Lord Bacon had been a contemporary of Sir Walter's. "Peveril of the Peak" and "Ivanhoe" and "Bride of Lammermoor" again and again dazzled and consoled me until I discovered "Nicholas Nickleby."
"Nicholas Nickleby" took entire possession of me. In the rainy winter afternoons, when nothing could occur out of doors which a respectable city boy was permitted to indulge in, I found that I was expected to work. Boys worked hard at their lessons in those days. There was a kitchen downstairs with a Dutch oven not used in the winter. There it was easy to build a small fire and to toast bread and to read "Nicholas Nickleby" after one had rushed through the required tasks, which generally included ten pages of the "Historia Sacra" in Latin. If you never read "Nicholas Nickleby" when you were young, you cannot possibly know the flavour of Dickens. You can't laugh now as you laughed then. Oh, the delight of Mr. Crummles's description of his wife's dignified manner of standing with her head on a spear!
The tragedy in "Nicholas Nickleby" never appealed to me. It was necessary to skip that. When the people were gentlemanly and ladylike, they became great bores. But what young reader of Dickens can forget the hostile attitude of Mr. Lillyvick, great-uncle of the little Miss Kenwigses, when Nicholas attempted to teach them French? As one grows older, even Mr. Squeers and 'Tilda give one less real delight; but think of the first discovery of them, and it is like Balboa's—or was it Cortez's?—discovery of the Pacific in Keats's sonnet. "Nicholas Nickleby" was read over and over again, with unfailing pleasure. I found "Little Dorrit" rather tiresome; "Barnaby Rudge" and "A Tale of Two Cities" seemed to be rather serious reading, not quite Dickensish enough for my taste, yet better than anything else that anybody had written. My later impressions of Dickens modified these instinctive intuitions.
One day, a set of Thackeray arrived, little green volumes, as I remember, and I began to read "Vanity Fair." My mother seized it and read it aloud again. Her confessor had told her that a dislike for good novels was "Puritan" and she, shocked by the implied reproach, took again to novel reading. I am afraid that I disliked Colonel Dobbin and Amelia very much. Becky Sharp pleased me beyond words; I don't think that the morality of the case affected my point of view at all. I was delighted whenever Becky "downed" an enemy. They were such a lot of stupid people—the enemies—and I reflected during the course of the story that, after all, Thackeray had said that poor Becky had no mother to guide her footsteps. When the Marquis of Steyne was hit on the forehead with the diamonds, I thought it served him right; but I was unhappy because poor Becky had lost the jewels. In finishing the book with those lovely Thackerayan cadences, my mother said severely, "That is what always happens to bad people!" But in my heart I did not believe that Becky Sharp was a bad person at all.
For a time I returned to Dickens, to "Nicholas Nickleby," to "David Copperfield." I respected Thackeray. He had gripped me in some way that I could not explain. But Dickens I loved. Later—it was on one June afternoon I think—when the news of Dickens's death arrived, it seemed to me that for a while all delight in life had ended.
One of those experts in psychology who are always seeking questions sometime ago wrote to me demanding if "Plutarch's Lives" had influenced me, and whether I thought they were good reading for the young. Our "Plutarch" was rather appalling to look at. It was bound in mottled cardboard, and the pages had red edges; but I attacked it one day, when I was about ten years of age, and became enthralled. It was "actual." My mother was a veteran politician, and read a daily paper, with Southern tendencies called the Age; my father belonged to the opposite party, and admired Senator Hoar as greatly as my mother admired the famous Vallandigham. Between the two, I had formed a very poor opinion of American statesmen in general; but the statesmen in "Plutarch" were of a very different type.
Julius Caesar interested me; but Brutus filled me with exaltation. I had not then read Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." It seemed to me that Brutus was a model for all time. Now, understand I was a good Christian child, and I said my prayers every night and morning, but this did not prevent me from hating the big bully of the school, who made the lives of the ten or fifteen small boys a perpetual torment. How we suffered, no adult human tongue can tell—and our tongues never told because it was a convention that tales should not be told out of school. One of the pleasant tricks of the bully and his friends was to chase the little boys after school in the winter and bury them until they were almost suffocated in the snow which was piled up in the narrow streets. It was not only suffocating snow, but it was dirty snow. It happened that I had been presented with a penknife consisting of two rather leaden blades covered with a brilliant iridescent mother-of-pearl handle. The bully wanted this knife, and I knew it. Generally, I left it at home; but it occurred to me on one inspired morning, after I had read "Plutarch" the night before, that I would display the knife open in my pocket, and when he threw the full weight of his body upon me, I would kill him at once, by an upward thrust of the knife.
This struck me as a good deed entirely worthy of Brutus. Of course, I knew that I should be hanged, but then I expected the glory of making a last dying speech, and, besides, the school would have a holiday. On the morning preceding the great sacrifice, I gave out dark hints to the small boys, distributed my various belongings to friends who were about to be bereaved, and predicted a coming holiday. I was looked on as rather "crazy," but I reflected that I would soon be considered heroic, and my friends gladly accepted the gifts.
The fatal afternoon came. I displayed the penknife. The chase began. The bully and his chosen friends threw themselves upon me. The moment had come; I thrust the knife upward; the big boy uttered a howl, and ran, still howling. I looked for blood, but there was none visible; I came to the conclusion, with satisfaction, that he was bleeding internally. I spent a gloomy evening at home uttering dire predictions which were incomprehensible to the members of my family, and reread Brutus, in the "Lives."
The next morning I went to school with lessons unstudied and awaited events. The mother of the bully appeared, and entered into an excited colloquy with the very placid and dignified teacher. I announced to the boy next to me, "My time has come." I was called up to the awful desk. "Is he dead?" I asked. "Did he bleed internally?" "You little wretch," the mother of the tyrant said, "you cut such fearful holes in my son's coat, that he is afraid to come to school to-day!" Then I said, regretfully, "Oh, I hoped that I had killed him." There was a sensation; my character was blackened. I was set down as a victim of total depravity; I endured it all, but I knew in my heart that it was "Plutarch." This is the effect that "Plutarch" had on the mind of a good Christian child.
The effects of "Plutarch" on my character were never discovered at home, and as I grew older and learned one or two wrestling tricks, the bully let me alone. Besides, my murderous intention, which had leaked out, gave me such a reputation that I became a dictator myself, and made terms for the small boys, in the name of freedom, which were sometimes rather despotic.
It was also during these days that I remember carrying confusion into the family when a patronizing, intellectual lady called and said, "I hope that this dear little boy is reading the Rollo books?" "No," I answered quickly and indiscreetly, "I am reading 'The New Magdalen,' by Wilkie Collins." I did not think much of Wilkie Collins until I read "The Moonstone." It seemed that "The New Magdalen" had been purchased inadvertently by my father, in a packet of "classics."
My father generally arrived at home late in the afternoon, when he read the evening paper. After a very high tea, he stretched himself on a long horsehair-covered sofa, and bade me read to him, generally from the novels of George Eliot, or from certain romances running through the New York Ledger by Sylvanus Cobb, Jr. These were generally stories of the times of the Irish Kings, in which gallowglasses and lovely and aristocratic Celtic maidens disported themselves. My mother, after her conversion, disapproved of the New York Ledger. In fact, there were families in Philadelphia whose heads regarded it with real horror! In our house, there was a large stack of this interesting periodical, which, with many volumes of Godey's Lady's Book, were packed in the attic.
It happened that a young man, in whom my father had a great interest, was threatened with tuberculosis. An awful rumour was set abroad that he was about to die. He sent over a messenger asking my father for the back numbers of the New York Ledger containing a long serial story by Mrs. Anna Cora Mowatt. As I remember, it was a story of the French Revolution, and the last number that I was allowed to read ended with a description of a dance in an old château, when the Marquise, who was floating through the minuet, suddenly discovered blood on the white-kid glove of her right hand! I was never permitted to discover where the blood came from; I should like to find out now if I could find the novel. I remember that my mother was terribly shocked when my father sent the numbers of the New York Ledger to the apparently dying man. "It's a horrible thing," my mother said, "to think of any Christian person reading the New York Ledger at the point of death." The young man, however, did not die; and I rather think my father attributed his recovery to the exhilarating effect of one of his favourite stories.
There were certain other serial stories I was ordered to read; they were stories of the Irish Brigade in France. My mother, I remember, disapproved of them because Madame de Pompadour was frequently mentioned, and she thought that my father regarded the lady in question too tolerantly. These romances were, I think, written by a certain Myles O'Reilly who was in some way connected with the army. This procedure of reading aloud was not always agreeable, as my father frequently went to sleep in the middle of a passage and forgot what I had already read. The consequence was that I was obliged to begin the same old story over again on the following evening.
It happened that my father was one of the directors of a local library, and in it I found Bates's volume on the Amazon—I forget the exact title of the book. I found myself in a new world; I lived in Para; I tried to manufacture an imitation of the Urari poison with a view to exterminating rats in the warehouse by the use of arrows; I lived and had my being in the forests of Brazil; and I produced, at intervals, a thrilling novel, with the glowing atmosphere of the Amazon as a background. I preferred Mr. Bates to any novelist I had ever read. He held possession of my imagination, until he was forced out by a Mr. Jerningham who wrote a most entrancing book on Brittany. Saint Malo became the only town for me; I adored Henri de la Rochejaquelein; and the Stuarts, whom I had learned to love at the knees of Sir Walter Scott, were displaced by the Vendéans.
Noticing that I was devoted to books of travel, my father asked me to parse Kane's "Arctic Voyages." I found the volumes cold and repellent. They gave me a rooted prejudice against the North Pole which even the adventure of Doctor Cook has never enabled me to overcome.
About this time, my mother began to feel that I needed to read something more gentle, which would root me more effectively in my religion. She began, I think, with Cardinal Newman's "Callista" in which there was a thrilling chapter called "The Possession of Juba." It seemed to me one of the most stirring things I had ever read. Then I was presented with Mrs. Sadlier's "The Blakes and the Flanagans," which struck me as a very delightful satire, and with a really interesting novel of New York called "Rosemary," by Dr. J. V. Huntington; and then a terribly blood-curdling story of the Carbonari in Italy, called "Lionello." After this I was wafted into a series of novels by Julia Kavanagh; "Natalie," and "Bessie," and "Seven Years," I think were the principals. My father declined to read them; he thought they were too sentimental, but as the author had an Irish name he was inclined to regard them with tolerance. He thought I would be better employed in absorbing "Tom and Jerry; or The Adventures of Corinthian Bob," by Pierce Egan. My mother objected to this, and substituted "Lady Violet; or the Wonder of Kingswood Chace," by the younger Pierce Egan, which she considered more moral.
My father was very generous at Christmas, and I bought a large volume of Froissart for two dollars and a half at an old book stand on Fifth Street, near Spruce. After this, I was lost to the world during the Christmas holidays. After breakfast, I saturated myself with the delightful battles in that precious book.
My principal duty was to look after the front pavement. In the spring and summer, it was carefully washed twice a week and reddened with some kind of paint, which always accompanied a box of fine white sand for the scouring of the marble steps; but in the winter, this respectable sidewalk had to be kept free from snow and ice.
Hitherto my battle with the elements had been rather a diversion. Besides, I was in competition with the other small boys in the block—or in the "square," as we Philadelphians called it. Now it became irksome; I neglected to dig the ice from between the bricks; I skimped my cleaning of the gutter; I forgot to put on my "gums." The boy next door became a mirror of virtue; he was quoted to me as one whose pavement was a model to all the neighbours; indeed, it was rumoured that the Mayor passing down our street, had stopped and admired the working of his civic spirit, while the result of my efforts was passed by with evident contempt. I did not care. I hugged Froissart to my heart. Who would condescend to wield a broom and a wooden shovel, even for the reward of ten cents in cash, when he could throw javelins and break lances with the knights of the divine Froissart? The end of my freedom came after this. The terrible incident of the Mayor's contempt, invented, I believe, by the boy next door, induced my mother to believe that I was not only losing my morals, but becoming too much of a book-worm. For many long weeks I was deprived of any amusing book except "Robinson Crusoe." After this interval, vacation came; I seemed to have grown older, and books were never quite the same again.
In the vacation, however, when the days were very long and there was a great deal of leisure, I found myself reduced to Grimms' "Fairy Tales" and a delightful volume by Madame Perrault, and I was even then very much struck by the difference. Of course I read Grimm from cover to cover, and went back again over the pages, hoping that I had neglected something. The homeliness of the stories touched me; it seemed to me that you found yourself in the atmosphere of old Germany. Madame Perrault was more delicate; her fairy tales were pictures of no life that ever existed, and there was a great dissimilarity between her "Cendrillon" and the Grimms' story of "Aschenputtel." As I remember, the haughty sisters in the story of the beautiful girl who lived among the ashes each cut off one of her toes, in order to make her feet seem smaller and left bloody marks on the glass slipper. Madame Perrault's slipper was, I think, of white fur, and there was no such brutality in her fairyland. But, except Hans Christian Andersen's, there are no such gripping fairy tales as those of the Brethren Grimm. During this vacation, too, I discovered the "Leprachaun," the little Irish fairy with the hammer. He was not at all like the English fairies in Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream," and, leaving out Ariel, I think I liked him best of all.
That summer, too, I found an old copy of "Midsummer Night's Dream" in the attic. The print was exceedingly fine, but everything was there. No doubt there is much to be said by the pedagogues in favour of scrupulously studying Shakespeare's plays; but if you have never discovered "As You Like It" or "Midsummer Night's Dream" when you were very young, you will never know the meaning of that light which never was on land or sea, and with which Keats surrounds us in the "Ode to the Nightingale." The love interest did not count much. In my youthful experience everybody either married or died, in books. That was to be expected. It was the atmosphere that counted. One could see the troopers coming into the open space in the Forest of Arden and hear their songs, making the leaves of the trees quiver before they appeared. And Puck! and Caliban! When I was young I was always very sorry for Caliban, and, being very religious, I felt that the potent Prospero might have done something for his soul.
There was a boy who lived near us called Lawrence Stockdale—peace be to his ashes where-ever he rests! His father and mother, who were persons of cultivation, encouraged him to read, but we were not of one opinion on any subject. He was devoted to Dumas, the Elder. After the episode of "Monte Cristo" I was led to believe that Dumas was "wrong." I preferred Sir Walter Scott, and loved all the Stuarts, having a positive devotion for Mary, Queen of Scots. One day, however, I discovered somewhere, under a pile of old geometries and books about navigation, a fat, red-bound copy of "Boccaccio." Stockdale said that "Boccaccio" was "wronger" than Dumas, and that his people had warned him against the stories of this Italian. As we lived near an Italian colony, and he disliked Italians, while I loved them, I attributed this to mere prejudice.
The "Boccaccio" was, as I have said, fat and large. For a boy who likes to read, a fat book is very tempting, and just as I had seated myself one afternoon on the front doorstep, to read the story of the Falcon, and having finished it with great pleasure, dipped into another tale not so edifying, my mother appeared. She turned pale with horror, and seized the book at once. My father was informed of what had occurred. He was little alarmed, I think. My mother said: "We shall have to change the whole course of this boy's reading." "We shall have to change the boy first," my father said, with a sigh. But this was not the end. At the proper time I was led to the Pastor, who was my mother's confessor. The book was presented to him for destruction.
"It's a bad book," the Monsignore said. "I hope you didn't talk about any of these stories to the other boys in school?"
"Oh, no," I said; "if I did, they would say much worse things, and I would probably have to tell them in confession. Besides," I added, "all the people in the Boccaccio book were good Catholics, I suppose, as they were Italians, and I think, after all, when they caught the plague, they died good deaths."
The Pastor looked puzzled, took the book, and gave me his blessing and dismissed me. And my mother seemed to think that I was sufficiently exorcised.
After this the books I read were more carefully considered. I was given the "Tales of Canon Schmidt"—dear little stories of German children in the Black Forest, with strange little wood-cuts, which went very well with another volume I found at this time called "Jack Halifax," not "John Halifax, Gentleman," which my mother had already read to me—but a curious little tome long out of print. And then there sailed upon my vision a long procession of the works of the Flemish novelist, Hendrik Conscience, whose "Lion of Flanders" opened a new world of romance, and there were "Wooden Clara," and other pieces which made one feel as if one lived in Flanders.
Just about this time I read in Littell's Living Age a novel called "The Amber Witch," and some of Fritz Reuter's Low German stories; but these were all effaced by "The Quaker Soldier." This may not have been much of a novel. I did not put it to the touch of comparison with "The Virginians" or "Esmond." They were what my father called "classics"—things superior and apart; but "The Quaker Soldier" was quite good enough for me. It opened a new view of American Revolutionary history, and then it was redolent of the country of Pennsylvania. I recall now the incident of the Pennsylvania Dutch housewife's using her thumb to spread the butter on the bread for the hungry soldier. This is all that I can recall of those delectable pages. But, later, neither Henry Peterson's "Pemberton" nor Dr. Weir Mitchell's "Hugh Wynne" seemed to have the glory and the fascination of the long-lost "Quaker Soldier."
After this, I fell under the spell of the French Revolution through a book, given to me by my mother, about la Vendée. It was a dull book, but nothing, not even a bad translation, could dim the heroism of Henri de la Rochejaquelein for me, and I became a Royalist of the Royalists, and held hotly the thesis that if George Washington had returned the compliment of going over to France in '89, he would have done Lafayette a great service by restoring the good Louis XVI. and the beautiful Marie Antoinette!
When I had reached the age of seventeen I had developed, as the result of my reading, a great belief in all lost causes. I had become exceedingly devoted to the cause of Ireland as the kindly Pastor had sent me a copy of "Willy Reilly and His Colleen Bawn," perhaps as an antidote to the lingering effects of "Boccaccio." I was rather troubled to find so many "swear words" in it, but I made all the allowances that a real lover of literature is often compelled to make!
The glimpses I had of the Bible, some of which rather prejudiced me, as a moral child, against the Sacred Book, were, however, of inestimable value. Of course the New Testament was always open to me, and I read it constantly as a pleasure. The language, both in the Douai version and the King James version, was often very obscure. Although I soon learned to recognize the beauty of the 23rd Psalm in the King James version—which I always read when I went to one of my cousins—I found the sonorous Latinisms of the Douai version interesting. For a time I was limited to a book of Bible stories given us to read at school, as it was considered unwise to permit children to read the Old Testament unexpurgated. After a while, however, the embargo seemed to be raised for some reason or other, and again I was allowed to revel with a great deal of profit in the wonderful poems, prophecies, and histories of the Old Testament. I soon discovered that it was impossible to understand the allusions in English literature without a knowledge of the Bible. What would "Ruth among the alien corn" mean to a reader who had never known the beauty of the story of Ruth? And the lilies of the field, permeating all poetical literature, would have lost all their perfume if one knew nothing about the Song of Solomon.
Putting aside the question as to whether young readers should be let loose in the Old Testament or not, or whether modern ideas of purity are justified in including ignorance as the supremest virtue, he who does not make himself familiar with Biblical ideas and phraseology finds himself in after-life with an incomplete medium of expression. It used to be said of the typical English gentleman that all he needed to know was to ride after the hounds and to construe Horace. This is not so absurd, after all, as it appears to be to most moderns. To construe Horace, of course, meant that he should have at least a speaking acquaintance with one of the masterpieces of Roman literature, and this knowledge gave him a grip on the universal speech of all cultivated people. However useless his allusions to Chloë and to Maecenas were in the business of practical life, he was at least able to understand what they meant, and even a slight acquaintance with the Latins stamped him as speaking the speech of a gentleman.
Similarly, a man who knows the Scriptures is fitted with allusions that clarify and illuminate the ordinary speech. He may not have any technical knowledge, or his technical knowledge may be so great as to debar him from meeting other men in conversation on equal grounds; but his reading of the Bible gives his speech or writing a background, a colour, a metaphorical strength, which illuminate even the commonplace. Strike the Bible from the sphere of any man's experience and he is in a measure left out of much of that conversation which helps to make life endurable.
Pagan mythology is rather out of fashion. Even the poets often now assume that Clytie is a name that requires an explanation and that Daphne and her flight through the laurel do not bring up immediate memories of Syrinx and the reeds. The Dictionary of Lamprière is covered with dust; and one may quote an episode from Ovid without an answering glance of comprehension from the hearer. This does not imply ignorance; it is only that, in the modern system, the old mythology is not taken very seriously.
Since Latin and Greek have almost ceased to be a necessary part of a gentleman's education, there is no class of allusions from which we can draw to lighten or strengthen ordinary speech unless we turn to the Bible. This deprives conversation of much of its colour and renders it rather commonplace and meagre. Unfortunately, among many of our young people, the Bible seems to be a book to be avoided or to be treated in a rather "jocose" manner. To raise a laugh on the vaudeville stage, a Biblical quotation has only to be produced, and the weary comedian, when he is at a loss to get a witty speech across the footlights, is almost sure to speak of Jonah and the whale!
It is disappointing to notice this gradual change that has taken place in the attitude of the younger generation toward the Sacred Book. The Sunday Schools, in their attempt to make the genealogies of importance and to overload the memories of their little disciples with a multitude of texts, or to over-explain every allusion in the terms of physical geography, etc., may in a measure be responsible for this, but they cannot be entirely responsible. One must admit that diversities of interpretations of the Sacred Scriptures from a religious point of view will always be an obstacle to their use in schools where the children of Jews, of Mohammedans, and of the various Christian denominations assemble. But there is always the home, where the first impetus to a satisfactory knowledge of the Sacred Book ought to be given. The decay of the practice of reading aloud in our homes is very evident in the lack of real culture—or, rather, rudiments of real culture—in our children. But there is no use in declaiming against this. Other times, other manners; accusatory declamation is simply a luxury of Old Age!
Personally, my desultory reading of the Old and the New Testaments gave me a background against which I could see the trend of the books I devoured more clearly; it added immensely to my enjoyment of them; besides, it was a moral and ethical safeguard. It was easy even for a boy to discover that the morality of the New Testament was the standard by which not only life, but literature, which is the finest expression of life, should be judged. If there are great declamations, declamations full of dramatic fire, which nearly every boy at school learns to love, in the Old Testament, there are the most moving, tender, and simple stories in the New. To the uncorrupted mind, to the unjaded mind, which has not been forced to look on books as mere recitals of exciting adventures, the Acts of the Apostles are full of entrancing episodes. It is very easy for a receptive youth to acquire a taste for St. Paul, and I soon learned that St. Paul was not only one of the greatest of letter writers, but as a figure of history more interesting than Julius Caesar, and certainly more modern. Young people delight in human documents. They may not know why they delight in these documents, but it is because of their humanity. Now who can be more human than St. Paul? And the more you read his epistles, and the more you know of his life, the more human he becomes. He knew how to be angry and sin not, and the way he "takes it out" of those unreasonable people who would not accept his mission has always been a great delight to me!
Under the spell of his writing, it was a pleasure to pick out the phases of his history—a history that even then seemed to be so very modern, and to a boy, with an unspoiled imagination, so very real. It seemed only natural that he should be converted by a blast of illumination from God. It is not hard for young people to accept miracles. All life is a miracle, and the rising and setting of the sun was to me no more of a miracle than the conversion of this fierce Jew, who was a Roman citizen. He seemed so very noble and yet so very humble. He could command and plead and weep and denounce; and he made you feel that he was generally right. And then he was a tentmaker who understood Greek and who could speak to the Greeks in their own language.
Late in the seventies when nearly every student I knew was a disciple of Huxley and Tyndal and devoted to that higher criticism of the Bible which was Germanizing us all, I fortified myself with St. Paul, and with the belief that, if he could break the close exclusiveness of the Jews, and take in the Gentiles, if he could throw off, not contemptuously, many of the rigid ceremonies of his people, Christianity, in the modern time, could very well afford to accept the new geological interpretation of the story of Genesis without destroying in any way the faith which St. Paul preached.
Somewhat later, too, when I read constantly and with increasing delight the letters of Madame de Sévigné, I put her second as a writer of letters to the great St. Paul. The letters of Lord Chesterfield to his sons came next, I think; long after, Andrew Lang's "Letters to Dead Authors," and a very great letter I found in an English translation of Balzac's "Le Lys dans la Vallée."
It must not be understood that I put St. Paul in the same category with these mundane persons. Nevertheless, I found St. Paul very often reasonably mundane. He preferred to work as a tentmaker rather than take money from his clients, and one could imagine him as preaching while he worked. He frankly made collections for needy churches, and he was very grateful to Phoebe for remembering that he was a hungry man and in need of homely hospitality. He was interested in his fellow passengers Aquilla and Priscilla whom he met on board the ship that was taking them from Corinth to Ephesus. It was evident that they had not been able to make their salt in Corinth, where, however, their poverty had not interfered with their zeal in the cause of Christ. Any tent marked "Ephesus" was sure to have a good sale anywhere. The tents from Ephesus were as fashionable as the purple from Tyre, and St. Paul was pleased that his two disciples should have a chance of being more prosperous. I always felt, too, that, in his practical way, he knew that Ephesus would give him a better chance of supporting himself.
That Saul of Tarsus had not lacked for luxuries in his youth, one easily guessed. It was plain, too, that he had had the best possible instructors, and I liked to believe, when I was young, that his muscles had been well trained in the sports of gentlemen of his class. Altogether, so graphic were his descriptions and so potent his personality that, while Julius Caesar and Brutus receded, he filled the foreground, and all the more because at this time I picked up an English translation of Suetonius, just by chance one dark winter day, and as I had not yet discovered that Suetonius was a "yellow" gossip, my idols, some of the Roman heroes, received a great shock.
The constant reading of St. Paul led me to the Acts of the Apostles, and I found St. Luke very good reading, though I often wished that, as I understood he had some reputation as an artist, he had adorned his writings with illustrations.
It was a great shock to discover that none of the Apostles wrote in English, for it seemed to me that their styles were as different from one another as any styles could be, and as I, having lived a great part of my time in classes where Nepos and Caesar were translated by my dear young friends, had very little confidence in the work of any translator, I came to the conclusion that God had taken special care of the translators of the Bible, for I could not help believing that He had no interest whatever in the translations which we made daily for the impatient ears of our instructors!
One could not help loving St. Paul, too, because he was such a good fighter. When he said he fought with beasts, I was quite sure that these beasts were the unreasonable and unrighteous persons who persecuted and contradicted him. No obstacle deterred him, and he was gentle, too, although he called things by their right names and his denunciations were so vivid and mouthfilling that you knew his enemies must have been afraid to open their lips while he was near them, whatever they might have said behind his back.
My devotion to St. Paul brought me into disrepute one Friday at school when discipline was relaxed, and the teacher condescended to conversation. We were asked who was our favourite hero, and when it came to my turn I answered "St. Paul." As George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, General Grant, General Lee, Napoleon, and Alexander the Great, had walked in procession before I produced my hero, I was looked on as rather weakminded. The teacher, too, seemed astonished, and he asked me on what grounds I founded my worship. This question, coming suddenly, petrified me for a moment, and I answered, "He fought with beasts." This was taken as a personal allusion by some of my dear comrades with whom I had had altercations, and I was made to suffer for it as much as these dear comrades deemed prudent. However, they discovered that I had "language" on my side, for on the next composition day, when we read aloud the work of our brains, I accused them of "being filled with all iniquity," and other evil things which brought down a horrified remonstrance from the teacher, who was unaccustomed to such plain English, but he was knocked high and dry by the proof that I was only quoting St. Paul to the Romans.
Perhaps I became too familiar with St. Paul. Be that as it may, I regarded him as a very good friend indeed, for some of his "language," quoted in times of crisis, produced a much better effect on one's enemies than any swear word that could be invented. I am not excusing my attitude toward the Bible, but merely explaining how it affected my youthful mind. There was something extremely romantic in the very phrase, "the tumult of the silversmiths" at Ephesus. It seemed to mean a whole chapter of a novel in itself.
And there was the good centurion—Christ always seemed to have a sympathy for soldiers—who was willing to save Paul when the ship, on its way to Rome, was run aground. So he reached Melita where the amiable barbarians showed him no small courtesy. And one could not help liking the Romans; that is, the official Romans, even Felix, whose wife was a Jew like St. Paul, and who, disgusted when the Apostle spoke to him of chastity and of justice to come, yet hoped that money would be given him by Paul, and frequently sent for, and often spoke with him. And how fine seemed the Apostle's belief in his nobility as a Roman citizen! He rendered unto Caesar the things that were Caesar's. And one could easily imagine the pomp and circumstance when Agrippa and Bernice entered into the hall of audience with the tribunes and principal men of the city! And one could hear St. Paul saying, protecting himself nobly, through the nobility of a Roman law:
For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to signify the things laid to his charge,
and Agrippa's answer, after Paul's apologia:
In a little thou persuadest me to become a Christian!
But the story did not end then. I rehearsed over and over again what the King Agrippa might have said to his sister, the noble and beautiful Bernice—I knew nothing of the lady's reputation then—and how finally they did become Christians. In my imagination, princely dignity and exquisite grace were added to the external beauty of religion; and Paul went to Rome protected by the law of the Romans. And yet the very fineness of his attitude was the cause of his further imprisonment. "This man," I often repeated with Agrippa, "might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed to Caesar."
It was St. Paul who sent me back to the Prophet Micheas, who had previously struck me as of no importance at all, and I read:
And Thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Juda; out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel; and his going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity.
And back again to St. Matthew—
But they said to him: In Bethlehem of Juda; For so it is written by the prophet; And thou, Bethlehem, the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda; for out of thee shall come forth the captain, who shall rule my people Israel.
These exercises in completing the prophecies of the Old Testament with the fulfilments of the New were interesting, and I found great pleasure in them. And this led me to a greater appreciation of the Old Testament, against which I had been once rather prejudiced. One day, I was led, by some reference or other in another book, to read the twenty-third psalm of David, in the King James version. It struck me as much more simple and appealing than the version in the Douai Bible, which begins in Latin "Dominus regit me." It runs:
The Lord ruleth me: and I shall want nothing.
2 He hath set me in a place of pasture.
He hath brought me up, on the water of refreshment:
3 He hath converted my soul. He hath led me on the paths of justice, for his own name's sake.
4 For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I fear no evils, for thou art with me.
Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me.
5 Thou hast prepared a table before me, against them that afflict me.
Thou hast anointed my head with oil: and my chalice which inebriateth me how goodly is it.
And thy mercy will follow me all the days of my life.
And that I may dwell in the house of the Lord, unto length of days.
In the Douai version this psalm was called the twenty-second.
Without any special guidance—I think most of my teachers would have looked on as dangerous any attempt to ally English literature with the Bible—I soon discovered that nearly everything I read owed something to the Bible. At first, the comparison of the twenty-third psalm in the King James version enraptured me so much that I began to find fault with the Latinized phrases of the Vulgate in English. It was the fashion in the early seventies to be very Saxon in speech, especially in the little group at school interested in English literature. Street cars at this time were comparatively new in Philadelphia, and I think we reached the last extremity of Saxonism in speech when we spoke of them as "folk wains." The tide then turned toward the Latins; and I preferred the Book of Job and the story of Ruth in the Latinized version, because the words were more mouth filling, and because it was very difficult to translate everything into a bald "early English medium", which for a time I had been trying to do. It was Keats's lovely phrase "amid the alien corn" which sent me back to "Ruth"; and a quotation in Quackenbos's "Rhetoric"—"Can'st thou hook the Leviathan" which made me revel in "Job."
Something Meg Merrilies said bore me on toward the roaring storm of Isaiah. The Latinized medium seemed to suit his denunciations best; and then, besides, I found more illuminating footnotes in the Douai version than in the King James. In both versions, some passages were so obscure that I often wondered how anybody could get any meaning out of them. I was often astonished to find in English novels that the old people in the cottages were soothed by texts, quoted at a great length, out of which I could make nothing, so I limited myself to the Douai version, which I found more illuminating.
Whether my system of reading is to be commended or not to young persons, I am not prepared to say, but for me it made the Bible a really live book. To be frank, and perhaps shocking at the same time—if anybody had asked me whether, being marooned on an island, I should have most preferred the Bible in my loneliness, I should promptly have answered "No." At this age "Nicholas Nickleby" or "Midsummer Night's Dream," or "The Tempest," or "As You Like it," or Macaulay's "Lays of Ancient Rome," would have suited me better, provided, of course, that I could have chosen only one book.
It was borne in on me many times that no author could improve on the phrasing of the Bible. Both in the Vulgate and the King James versions there are passages which, leaving aside all question of doctrine, it is sacrilege to try to improve. The French translation of the Bible is, as everybody knows, very paraphrastic, and that may account for the fact that, while regarded as a precious depository of doctrine, it is not a household book, and the dreadfully dull interpretations of Clement Marot—called hymns—naturally bored a people who, in their hearts, believe that God listens more amiably to petitions uttered in the language of the Academy! In their novels, dealing with the beginnings of Christianity—and there are many such novels in French unknown in other countries—it is hard for a French author not to be rhetorical, in the manner of the writer of "Ben Hur" when the death of Christ is described. No human author could improve on the words of the Vulgate, or the words of the King James version. What young heart can ponder over these words, without a thrill, St. John XIX (Douai version: 1609; Rheims; 1582):
When Jesus therefore had seen his Mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his Mother: Woman, behold thy son.
After that, he saith to the disciple, Behold thy mother. And from that day the disciple took her to his own.
Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said: I thirst.
Now there was a vessel set there full of vinegar, and they, putting a sponge full of vinegar about hyssop, put it to his mouth.
And Jesus therefore when he had taken the vinegar, said, it is consummated, and bowing his head, gave up the ghost.
When Marie Corelli became a popular author, there were persons existing—happily, they have all gone to the great beyond—who thought that the "talented" author could have done better!
Essays and Essayists
I am aware that many persons look on Emerson as somewhat dangerous reading for a boy of sixteen. The mothers and fathers of my Baptist friends and the uncle of my Methodist cousins forbade the reading of Emerson because of his Unitarianism; but, as the rector of our parish never denounced Unitarians from the altar, though he frequently offered his compliments to Martin Luther, I paid no attention whatever to these objections. I trust that I am not defending the miscellaneous reading of my boyhood; I do not recommend this course to the approval of parents and guardians; I am simply expressing the impression that certain books made on my youthful mind and heart; for, though I never said so in words, the books I liked were always nearer to my heart than to my mind. I owe a great debt to Emerson.
It was on a hot afternoon during the summer vacation that, near sundown, sitting on the warm marble steps of our house, I dipped into an early edition of Emerson. I felt inspired at once to think great thoughts and to do good things, to lift myself above the petty things of the earth, and to feel that to be an American was to be at once proud and humble. Emerson's abrupt sentences, like a number of brilliants set close together, reminded me of "Proverbs"; but the Book of Proverbs did not get so near to my actual life as the essays of Emerson. I liked the lessons that he drew from the lives of great men. I was shocked when he mentioned Confucius and Plato in the same breath as Christ; but I was amiably tolerant, for I felt that he had never had the privilege of studying the Little Catechism, and I thought of writing to him on the subject. But somebody told me that he was an "American Classic" and, from that, I concluded he was dead, and had doubtless already found out his mistake.
Perhaps I might have been better engaged in reading the more practical books offered to boys in our own time, if we had had them. There were some books then on scientific subjects, reduced to the comprehension of the young; but not so many as there are now. One of my uncles recommended the works of Samuel Smiles—"Self-Help" I think was his favourite; but Samuel Smiles never appealed to me. My small allowance, paid weekly, could not have been affected by "Thrift", and when my uncle quoted passages from this tiresome book I astounded him by replying, in a phrase I wrongly attributed to the adorable Emerson, that if I had a quarter to spend instead of twelve cents, I would give half of it for a hyacinth! My miserly uncle said it sounded just like Mohammed, and that Emerson had doubtless found it in that dangerous book, the Koran.
I cannot imagine any other author doing for me just what the essays of Emerson did. In the first place, they seemed to me to be really American; in the second, and largely because of their quality, they offered an antidote to the materialism in the very air, which had succeeded the Civil War. At this time there was much talk of money and luxury everywhere about us. Even in our quiet neighbourhood, where simple living was the rule, many had burst into ostentation, and moved away into newer and more pretentious quarters, and there was a rumour that some of these sought unlimited opportunities for extravagant expenditure. We saw them driving in new carriages, and condescendingly stopping before the white doors and the green window-shutters of our old-fashioned colonial houses. They had made money through the war. For the first time in our lives we boys heard of money making as the principal aim of life. The fact that these successful persons were classed as "shoddy" did not lessen the value of the auriferous atmosphere about us. Emerson was a corrective to this materialism. As to his philosophy or theology, that did not concern me any more than the religious opinions of Julius Caesar, whose "Commentaries" I was obliged to read. Emerson gave me a taste for the reading of essay.
By chance I fell upon some essays of Carlyle. The inflation of his style did not deter me from thoroughly enjoying the paper on "Novalis." That on "Cagliostro," however, was my favourite. It introduced me intimately to the French Revolution. I disliked this great charlatan for his motto, "Tread the lilies under foot." I was for the Bourbons! The French Revolution, as a fact, was very near to me. My mother had been born (in Philadelphia) in 1819, and my great-uncle and my grandfather had lived through the French Revolution. There was a legend, moreover—probably the same legend exists in every family of Irish descent whose connections had lived in France—that one of them had been a clerk to Fabre d'Eglantine, and had spent his time in crossing off the list of the condemned the names of the Irish-French aristocrats and substituting in their place others that did not happen to belong to Celts!
In spite of the Little Catechism and the uplifting influence of Emerson, I looked on this probably mythical gentleman as one of the glories of our family. And then there was an old man—very old—who walked up and down Sixth Street with his head wrapped in a bandanna handkerchief, bearing a parrot on his shoulder. The boys of the neighbourhood believed that he was Sanson, the executioner of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette. We shivered when we saw him; but we boasted of his existence in our neighbourhood, all the same. After I had read "Cagliostro" I devoured every line on the subject of the French Revolution I could find. It seemed to me that I would have been willing to give five years out of my life to have lived in Paris during those horrors, and to have rescued Marie Antoinette and the Princess Elizabeth! Such brutalities seemed impossible in our time; and yet I have since lived very near to friends who went through even greater horrors in Russia—the Baroness Sophie de Buxhoevenden, second lady-in-waiting to the Czarina, for instance, whose letters lie before me as I write.
In spite of my taste for Carlyle, which induced me to dip into Jean Paul Richter, of whose writings I remember only one line,
I love God and little children,
I did not get very far into his "French Revolution." It seemed then an unreal and lurid book.
Emerson led to Montaigne, whose essays, in an old edition which I had from the Mechanics' Institute, of which my father was a committeeman, delighted me beyond words. I liked Emerson's essay on "Friendship" better than his, but for wit, quick repartee, general cheerfulness, he reminded me of my favourite heroine in literature, Sir Walter Scott's Catherine Seton! Later, I read with astonishment that Montaigne was an unbeliever, a skeptic, almost a cynic. I was extremely indignant; he seemed to me to be a very pious gentleman, with that wit and humour which I seldom found in professedly pious books; and to this day I cannot hear Montaigne talked of as a precursor of Voltaire without believing that there is something crooked in the mind of the talker. So much for the impressions made in youth, so much for the long, long thoughts of which Longfellow sings.
Who is more amusingly cheerful than Montaigne, who more amusingly wise, who so well bred and attractive, who knew the world better and took it only as the world? Give me the old volume of Montaigne and a loaf of bread—no Victrola singing to me in the wilderness!—a thermos bottle, and one or two other things, and I can still spend the day in any wild place! I did not, of course, know, in those early days, what in his flavour attracted me. Afterward, I found that it was the very flavour and essence of Old France. Carlyle's impressions of historical persons interested me, but Montaigne was the most actual of living persons who spoke to me in a voice I recognized as wholly his. To be sure, I read him in Florio's translation.
I think it was about this time, too, that I discovered a very modern writer, who charmed me very greatly. It was Justin McCarthy who contributed a series of sketches of great men of the day to a magazine called the Galaxy. He "did" Victor Emmanuel and Pope Pius IX. and Bismarck, and many other of the worthies of the times. Nothing that he wrote before or after this pleased me at all; but these sketches were so interesting and apparently so true that they really became part of my life. If I had been asked at this time who was my favourite of all modern authors, and what the name of the composer I admired most, I should have said Justin McCarthy and Offenbach! I regarded "Voici le Sabre" in "La Grande Duchesse" as a masterpiece only to be compared to an "Ave Verum," by Pergolesi, which was often sung in St. Philip's Church at the Offertory! A strange mixture, but the truth is the truth. Although I have not been able to find Justin McCarthy's series of sketches, they still hold a sweet place in my memory. Perhaps, like other masterpieces that one loves in youth, one would now find them like those beautiful creatures of the sea that seem to be vermilion and purple and gold under the waves, but are drab and ugly things when taken out of the water. This applies to some books that one reads with pleasure in early days, and wonders, later, how they were endured!
There were not so many outdoor books in the late '60's as there are now. We were all sent to Thoreau's "Walden" and Dana's "Two Years Before the Mast." "Walden" I learned to like, but I much preferred Fenimore Cooper's description of nature. "Walden" struck me as the book of a man playing at out-of-doors, imagining his wildness, and never really liking to be too far from the town. Singularly enough, it was not until I discovered Hamerton's "A Painter's Camp" that I began to see that nature had beauties in all weathers. In truth, I hate to confess that nature alone never appealed to me. A landscape without human beings seemed deadly dull; and I did not understand until I grew much older that I had really believed that good art was an improvement on nature.
I have not the slightest idea in what light the modern critics see the works of Philip Gilbert Hamerton. I tried to read one of his novels recently, and failed; but let me say that, allowing for receptivity and what one may call temperament, I know of no book more revealing as to the relations of nature and art than "A Painter's Camp." I recall vividly the words of the beginning of the preface to the first edition:
It is known to all who are acquainted with the present condition of the fine arts in England that landscape-painters rely less on memory and invention than formerly, and that their work from nature is much more laborious than it used to be.
I had seen so many pictures that seemed to be "made up" in the artist's studio and I knew so well from my experience in the drawing classes at school, how nature was neglected for artificial models, that I hailed these words with great joy.
Everything in life was rather conventional, rather fixed, for the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, to which our country owes the beginning of the aesthetic awakening, had not yet taken place. It may seem strange to this generation that we were limited to the wood-cuts in Godey's Lady's Book, the illustrations in Harper's Magazine, and an occasional picture in some short-lived periodical. The reign of the chromo had just begun. Rogers's groups were a fixture in nearly every self-respecting house, though I am glad to say, in my own family, very good casts of the Clytie and the Discus-thrower filled their place. My father greatly admired Power's Greek Slave, whose praises had been celebrated in the Cosmopolitan Magazine; but my mother regarded it as almost "improper."
Nearly every youth of my generation, in Philadelphia, wanted not exactly something better, but something more vivid. There were few sports; long walks and a little cricket supplied the place of the coming baseball and tennis.
In his "Steeplejack," James Huneker speaks of his weekly walks with Mr. Edward Roth, the head of a military school and the author of "Christus Judex." I, too, looked on these walks with an occasional row on the Schuylkill with him as the best part of my education. But this was later. All we could do, then, in our moments of leisure, was to walk and talk and read.
The cult of the out-of-doors had not yet begun to be developed. The beginning of "A Painter's Camp" was most attractive to my thirsty soul. Mr. Hamerton says:
I had a wild walk yesterday. I have a notion of encamping on the Boulsworth moors to study heather; and heartily tired of being caged up here in my library, with nothing to see but wet garden-walks and dripping yew trees, and a sundial whereon no shadow had fallen the livelong day, I determined, in spite of the rain to be off to the moors to choose a site for my encampment. Not very far from this house still dwells an old servant of my uncle's with whom I am on the friendliest terms. So I called upon this neighbour on my way and asked him if he would take a walk with me to the hills. Jamie stared a little and remarked that "it ur feefi weet" but accompanied me nevertheless, and a very pleasant walk we had of it.
Hamerton opened his book in Jane Eyre's country; our family had lately read "Jane Eyre." This added interest to the volume, and there came the details of the invention of the new hut, intended to be a shelter against all weathers, so that the artist might study nature on intimate terms. He made it in order to paint the heather at close range. Now, this was a revelation! It had never hitherto occurred to me that the heather changes its aspect day by day, or indeed that our pet place of beauty, the Wissahickon Creek, or river if you like, was not the same every day in the year except when the ice bound it! This may seem a rather stupid state of mind; but it is the stupidity that is very common. I could understand how interesting it would be to be in snow-fall while yet safely out of it. Mr. Hamerton thus described his hut:
It consists entirely of panels, of which the largest are two feet six inches square: these panels can be carried separately on packhorses, or even on men's backs, and then united together by iron bolts into a strong little building. Four of the largest panels serve as windows, being each of them filled with a large pane of excellent plate-glass. When erected, the walls present a perfectly smooth surface outside, and a panelled interior; the floor being formed in exactly the same manner, with the panelled or coffered side turned towards the earth, and the smooth surface uppermost. By this arrangement all the wall-bolts are inside, and those of the floor underneath it, which protects them not only from the weather but from theft, an iron bolt being a great temptation to country people on account of its convenience and utility. The walls are bolted to the floor, which gives great strength to the whole structure, and the panels are carefully ordered, like the stones in a well-built wall, so that the joints of the lower course of panels do not fall below those of the upper. The roof is arched and provides a current of fresh air, by placing ventilators at each end of the arch, which insures a current without inconvenience to the occupant.
The chapters on "Concerning Moonlight in Old Castles," "The Coming of the Clouds," and the little sketches, like "Loch Awe after Sunset, Sept. 23, 1860," enchanted me. It had not before struck me that Loch Awe was different on September 23, 1860, from what it was at other times, or—to carry the idea further—that the imperial Delaware had changed since that momentous time when George Washington crossed it, or the Schuylkill since Tom Moore looked upon it.
To quote further:
The mountain is green-grey, colder and greener towards the summit. All details of field and wood are dimly visible. Two islands nearer me are distinct against the hill, but their foliage seems black, and no details are visible in them. The sky is all clouded over. From the horizon to the zenith it is one veil of formless vapour.
There is one streak of dead calm, which reflects the green mountain perfectly from edge to edge of it. There is another calm shaped like a great river, which is all green, touched with crimson. Besides these there are delicate half calms, just dulled over with faint breathings of the evening air; these, for the most part being violet (from the sky), except at a distance, where they take a deep crimson; and there is one piece of crimson calm near me set between a faint violet breeze and a calm of a different violet. There are one or two breezes sufficiently strong to cause ripple, and these rippled spaces take the dull grey slate of the upper sky.
Realise this picture as well as you may be able, and then put in the final touch. Between the dull calms and the glassy calms there are drawn thin threads of division burning with scarlet fire.
This fire is of course got from the lower sky. I know whence it comes, but how or why it lies in those thin scarlet threads there where it is most wanted, and not elsewhere, I cannot satisfactorily explain.
Then there was a delightful and illuminating chapter called "A Stream at Rest." Hamerton, who is probably now very much out of fashion, taught me the necessity of beauty in life; and, as an accessory to Emerson, the philosophy of enjoying the little, every-day things. It was Emerson who, I think, said first to me, "Take short outlooks"; and I still think that there can be no better introduction to a consideration of the relation of art to nature than "A Painter's Camp." It was "A Painter's Camp" which led me to "The Intellectual Life." There is a particular passage in Hamerton's chapter on "A Little French City" that emphasized the need of beauty.
The cathedral is all poetry; I mean that every part of it affects our emotional nature either by its own grandeur or beauty, or by its allusion to histories of bright virtue or brave fortitude. And this emotional result is independent of belief in the historical truth of these great legends: it would be stronger, no doubt, if we believed them, but we are still capable of feeling their solemn poetry and large significance as we feel the poetry and significance of "Sir Galahad" or "The Idylls of the King."
Some persons are so constituted that it is necessary to their happiness to live near some noble work of art or nature. A mountain is satisfactory to them because it is great and ever new, presenting itself every hour under aspects so unforeseen that one can gaze at it for years with unflagging interest. To some minds, to mine amongst others, human life is scarcely supportable far from some stately and magnificent object, worthy of endless study and admiration. But what of life in the plains? Truly, most plains are dreary enough, but still they may have fine trees, or a cathedral. And in the cathedral, here, I find no despicable compensation for the loss of dear old Ben Cruacha.
There are some humorous and perhaps even comic passages in "The Intellectual Life"; these passages are unconsciously humorous or comic, as Mr. Philip Gilbert Hamerton seems to have no sense of humour. For instance, it was a great surprise to me to discover that poverty was unfavourable to the intellectual life! It was enlightening to know the reason why a man should wear evening dress after six o'clock, and why the sporting of gray clothes in the evening was unworthy of the Intellectual! Besides, it affects the character!
And letter XI "To a Master of Arts who said that a Certain Distinguished Painter was Half-educated," was a useful antidote to youthful self-conceit. I had not reached the stage, treated in the chapters on "Women and Marriage," "To a Young Gentleman Who Contemplated Marriage," but I thought the author very wise indeed, and found many other pages which were intensely stimulating. Let others decry Hamerton if they like; I owe a great deal to him; and, though I might be induced to throw "The Intellectual Life" to the Young Wolves of the Beginning of this Century, I shall always insist that "A Painter's Camp" ought to be included in every list of books.
It was George Eliot who sent me to "The Following of Christ," and she interested me in Saint Teresa, that illustrious woman so well compounded of mysticism and common sense, of whom, however, I could find no good "Life." But Thomas à Kempis was a revelation! He fitted into nearly every crisis of the soul, but all his words are not for every-day life. He seems to demand too much of us poor folk of the world. Later, I came to understand that the counsel of perfection which Christ gave to the rich young man was not intended for the whole world, and many fine passages in À Kempis were meant for finer temperaments than my own.
Somebody at this time presented me with a copy of Marcus Aurelius. I found him dull, stale, and unprofitable in comparison with À Kempis. His philosophy of life seemed to lead to nothing except the cultivation of a very high opinion of oneself. I gave this conclusion to one of my English friends, who objected to my uncharted course of reading, and he said, "A person like you who finds nothing humorous or even philosophical in 'Alice in Wonderland' cannot be expected to like the works of Marcus Aurelius!"
It takes a prig to divide his reading into nicely staked off little plots, each with its own date. The art of injudicious reading, the art of miscellaneous reading which every normal man ought to cultivate, is a very fine and satisfactory art; for the best guide to books is a book itself. It clasps hands with a thousand other books. It has always seemed to me that "Sesame and Lilies" would not have been conceived by Ruskin if he had not heard well an echo of "The Following of Christ." There was a time when the lovers of Ruskin who wanted to read "The Stones of Venice" and the rest at leisure, felt themselves obliged to form clubs, and to divide the expense, if they were of moderate means, in order to get what was good out of him. But somehow or other, probably because it appealed more to everybody, it was always possible to find a copy of "Sesame and Lilies" at an old book stand. I think I found one most unexpectedly at Leary's in Philadelphia, where I also discovered the copy of Froissart. The Froissart, as I have said, cost me just half of my father's Christmas present that year, which was five dollars. I must have managed to get the Ruskin volume out of some other fund, for I had many things to buy with the other two and one half dollars!
Ruskin is left alone to-day; he does not seem to fill that "long-felt want" which we, the young of the sixties and seventies, admitted. No doubt he is very mannered in his style, mitred and coped when he might have been very simple in his raiment. He was a priest in literature and art; and he clothed himself as a priest. He marched with a stately tread, and yet he stooped to the single violets by the wayside.
By the way, I often wished when I was reading Ruskin, who once made apple blossoms fashionable, that he had led a crusade against the double and the triple violet, which have destroyed the reputation of the real violet. What can be more repellent to the lovers of simplicity than a bunch of these artificialities, without perfume, tied by dark green ribbon, and with all their leaves removed? "Sesame and Lilies" had the effect of sending me back to the single violet whenever I was inclined to admire the camellia japonica or any other thing that was artificial, or distorted from beauty or simplicity.
Circumstances have a great deal to do with our affection for books. Propinquity, they say, leads very frequently to marriage, and if a book happens to be near and if it is any kind of book at all, there is a great temptation to develop an affection for it. All I can say is that I think that "Sesame and Lilies" is a good book, for after all a book must be judged by its effect. It led me further into Ruskin, and helped me to acquire a reverence for art and to estimate the relations of art and life. One would steel oneself against the fallacy that art, true art, might exist only for art's sake, when one had read "Sesame and Lilies" and "The Stones of Venice." Those wise men who make literary "selections" for the young have done well to include in their volumes that graphic description, so carefully modulated in tone, of the Cathedral of St. Mark. Its only fault is that it comes too near to being prose poetry; and discriminating readers who ponder over it will find some epithets possible only to a writer who was an artist in lines and pigments before he began to paint with the pen.
Ruskin opened our eyes rather violently to some aspects of life which we, the young, did not know; for the young after all learn very little by intuition. They must be taught things. This is perhaps an excuse for those vagaries in youth, those seemingly inexplicable adventures which shock the old who have forgotten what it is to be young.
POETS AND POETRY
France—Of Maurice de Guérin
In 1872, the attention of readers was forced on a few great names. These were generally the names of Frenchmen. The sympathy of Americans during the Franco-Prussian War had been with France, and during the latter days of the French Empire, before the war, Americans had been much more interested in France than in any other part of the world. There were letters from Paris in the newspapers. The Empress Eugénie and her coterie at the Tuileries, the Operas of Offenbach, and the gossip about literary magnets of the time, which included a great deal of Victor Hugo, had been a constant subject of conversations.
One could buy French books easily in Philadelphia; and the Mercantile Library—now dreadfully shorn of its former pretensions, reduced in size, no longer so comfortable, so delightfully easy of access as to its shelves—had an excellent collection of volumes in French.
How often in later life I blessed the discriminating collectors of that library! Nothing worth while at that time, even "L'Homme" of Ernest Hello, seemed to have been left out; I fear that I was not always guided by the critics of the period. I found Amédée Achard as interesting as Octave Feuillet; George Sand bored me; I could never get through even "La Petite Fadette," although the critics were constantly recommending her for her "vitality." I found Madame de Gérardin's "La Femme qui Déteste Son Mari" one of the cleverest plays I had yet read. I have not seen it since; but, outside of some of the pieces of Augier, it seemed to me to be the best bit of construction I knew, and the human interest and the suspense were so admirably kept up. There were some plays by Octave Feuillet—"Redemption" was one and "Le Roman d'un Jeune Homme Pauvre," which divided my admiration with the management of "Adrienne Lecouvreur," by Scribe, and "Mademoiselle de la Seiglière," by Jules Sandeau. The French playwrights of to-day have not even the technique of their predecessors.
At this time I was very royalist, an infuriated partisan of the Comte de Chambord—Henry V., as a few of us preferred to call him. And this reminds me of my partisanship in things English—if I may turn for the moment from things French—and of a little incident not without humour. I was ardently devoted to the cause of the Stuarts, and was for a time attached to the White Rose Society, whose correspondents in England invariably sent their letters, with the stamp turned upside down, to indicate their contempt for the Guelf dynasty. But when, at a small and frugal reunion at Mr. Green's restaurant in Philadelphia, our host—he was an American Walsh of the family of de Serrant—insisted on waving his glass of beer over the finger bowls, to insinuate that we were drinking to the last of the Stuarts across the water—whoever he might be—and another member suggested that, if it were not for the brutal Hanoverians on the throne of England, we, in the British Colonies, might be still enjoying the blessedness of being ruled by a descendant of Mary Stuart, I resigned! I was still devoutly faithful to the divine Mary of Scotland; but I would not have her mixed up in American politics!
Octave Feuillet satisfied my taste for elegance. Some of his people were not above reproach—notice the lady in "Redemption," who becomes suddenly converted to a belief in God because her twenty-fifth lover is suddenly restored to her. I thought that, though he was somewhat corrupted by the influence of the Tuileries, he was socially so admirably correct.
Everybody at this time talked of Renan. This went by me as an idle dream, for I could never understand why anybody should take a man seriously who was palpably wrong. To-day, when Renan's "Life of Jesus" seems almost forgotten, it is strange to recall the fury of interest it excited in the seventies. Louis Veuillot interested me much more than Renan, whom I avoided deliberately because I understood that he had attacked the Christian religion. Now, Louis Veuillot, in "Les Odeurs de Paris" and "Les Parfums de Rome" delighted me almost beyond bounds. I did often wonder how such a good man as Louis Veuillot could have acquired such un-Christian use of language. When he announced that if his wife wrote such novels as George Sand, he would hesitate to recognize her children, it seemed to me that he had gone too far—still it was a pleasant thing to shock the chaste Philadelphians by quoting these trenchant words when the novels of the lady in question were mentioned with rapt admiration.
But to come to the poets!
It was, I think, through the reading of the "Lundis" of Sainte-Beuve that I discovered Maurice de Guérin. He almost drove my beloved Keats from my mind. Somebody warned me against Maurice de Guérin on the ground of his pantheism. I had been warned against the poems of Emerson on account of their paganism; but as I had been brought up on Virgil, I looked on pantheism and paganism as rather orthodox compared to Renan's negation and the horrors of Calvinism. And, after all, the Catholic Church had retained so much that was Jewish and pagan that I was sure to find myself almost as much at home among the pagans as I was in the Old Testament at times.
Keats and Maurice de Guérin will be always associated in my mind. I discovered them about the same time. I had been solemnly told by an eminent Philadelphian that Wordsworth was the only poet worth considering, after Shakespeare, and that Keats had no intellectual value whatever. But I was not looking for intellectual value. I mixed up the intellect with a kind of scientific jargon about protoplasm and natural selection and the survival of the fittest, and bathybius, which was then all the fashion; so I promptly devoted myself to De Guérin.
I had already found great pleasure in the "Journal" of his sister Eugénie. The "Journal" ought never to be allowed to go out of fashion, and probably it is only out of fashion in those circles which Mr. Mencken so scorns, that devote themselves to imitations of Marie Bashkirtseff or Sarah McLean. I had begun to enjoy the flavour of the calm life of Eugénie at La Cayla when I found it necessary, in order to understand the allusions, to plunge again into the journals, letters, and poems of Maurice de Guérin. Thus it happened that I had fallen upon "Le Centaure" first. It is very short, as everybody knows. It was to me the most appealing poem I had ever read.
Keats's Greece seems somehow to be a Greece too full of modern colour, too unclassical. This was a mistake, of course, due to the fact that all my Greek reading had been filtered through professors and textbooks; and all my Greek seeing had been centred on pale white statues. It did not occur to me then—at least I did not know it—that the great Greek statues were not colourless, and that at Delphi there were statues that glowed with the hues of life. Strange to say, though "Le Centaure" seemed to me to be Greek in the classical sense, yet it palpitated with human emotion. Who that has read it can forget the simplicity of the opening? Says the Centaur:
I received my birth in the fastnesses of these mountains. As the stream of this valley of which the primitive drops run from the rocks which weep in a deep grotto, the first moment of my life fell among the darkness of a secluded place in which the silence was not troubled. When our mothers come near the time of their deliverance, they flee towards the caverns, and in the depth of the most remote, in the darkest of shadows, their children are born without a moan and the fruits of their womb are as silent as themselves. Their strong milk enables us to overcome without weakness or a doubtful struggle the first difficulties of life; however, we go out from our caves later than you from your cradles. It is understood among us that we must hide and envelope the first moments of existence as days filled by the gods. My growth followed its course almost among the shadows where I was born. The depth of my living place was so lost in the shadow of the mountain that I would not have known where the opening was if rushing sometimes into this opening the winds had not passed about me certain movements suddenly and refreshing breezes. Sometimes, too, my mother came back carrying the perfume of the valleys, or dripping with the waves of the water she frequented. Now these returns of hers gave me no knowledge of the valleys or the stream, but their suggestions disquieted my spirit, and I paced agitatedly in my shades.
After all, it requires leisure to enjoy fully the writings of Eugénie de Guérin and her brother—I inevitably think of this brother and sister together. There always lingers about the genius of these two delicate and sensitive beings a certain perfume of the white lilac which Maurice loved. It happened that through the amiability of my father, when I read the Journals of the De Guérins, I had leisure. A period of ill health stopped my work—I had begun to study law—and there were long days that could easily be filled by strolls in Fairmount Park in the early spring days, when it seems most appropriate to associate one's self with these two who ought to be read in the mood of the early spring, and they ought to be read slowly and even prayerfully. I hope I may be pardoned for quoting a sonnet which had a great vogue in the late 'seventies showing the impression that Maurice de Guérin made. It was a great surprise to find part of the sestette copied in the "Prose Writings" of Walt Whitman, who very rarely quoted any verse.