FROM A CORNISH WINDOW.
ARTHUR THOMAS QUILLER-COUCH.
MY DEAR WILLIAM ARCHER,
Severe and ruthlessly honest man that you are, you will find that the levities and the gravities of this book do not accord, and will say so.
I plead only that they were written at intervals, and in part for recreation, during years in which their author has striven to maintain a cheerful mind while a popular philosophy which he believed to be cheap took possession of men and translated itself into politics which he knew to be nasty. I may summarise it, in its own jargon, as the philosophy of the Superman, and succinctly describe it as an attempt to stretch a part of the Darwinian hypothesis and make it cover the whole of man's life and conduct. I need not remind you how fatally its doctrine has flattered, in our time and in our country, the worst instincts of the half-educated: but let us remove it from all spheres in which we are interested and contemplate it as expounded by an American Insurance 'Lobbyist,' a few days ago, before the Armstrong Committee:—
"The Insurance world to-day is the greatest financial proposition in the United States; and, as great affairs always do, it commands a higher law."
I have read precisely the same doctrine in a University Sermon preached by an Archbishop; but there its point was confused by pietistic rhetoric: the point being that in life, which is a struggle, success has in itself something divine, by virtue of which it can be to itself a law of right and wrong; and (inferentially) that a man is relieved of the noble obligation to command himself so soon and in so far as he is rich enough or strong enough to command other people.
But why (you will ask) do I drag this doctrine into a dedication? Because, my dear Archer, I have fought against it for close upon seventeen years; because seventeen years is no small slice of a man's life—rather, so long a time that it has taught me to prize my bruises and prefer that, if anybody hereafter care to know me, he shall know me as one whose spirit took its cheer in intervals of a fight against detestable things; that— let him rank me in talent never so low beside my contemporaries who preached this doctrine—he shall at least have no excuse but to acquit me of being one with them in mind or purpose; and lastly, because in these times few things have brought me such comfort (stern comfort!) as I have derived from your criticism, so hospitable to ideas, so inflexible in judging right from wrong. As I have lived lonelier it has been better for me, and a solace beyond your guessing, to have been reminded that criticism still lives amongst us and has a Roman spirit.
A. T. QUILLER-COUCH
The Haven, FOWEY, April 3rd, 1906.
My old friend and publisher, Mr. Arrowsmith, maintains that the time has come for a cheap edition of this book. Should the public endorse that opinion, he will probably go about pretending that his head is as good as his heart.
From a Cornish Window first appeared between cloth covers some six or seven years ago. I see that its Dedication bears the date, April 3rd, 1906. But parts of it were written years before in the old Pall Mall Magazine, under the editorship of Lord Frederic Hamilton (who invented its title for me), and a few fragments date back almost to undergraduate days. The book, in short, is desultory to the last degree, and discourses in varying moods on a variety of topics. Yet, turning the pages again, I find them curiously and somewhat alarmingly consistent—consistent not only in themselves, but with their surviving author as he sits here to-day, using the same pen-holder which he bought for twopence in 1886, and gazing out of the same window, soon to be exchanged for another with a view more academic: and 'alarmingly consistent' because (as Emerson has very justly observed) a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. To persevere in one fixed outlook upon life may be evidence of arrested capacity to grow, while on the other hand mere flightiness is a sure sign that the mind has not even arrived at man's estate. The best plan seems to be to care not a farthing for consistency or inconsistency, but to keep the eye turned outwards, and to keep it fresh by taking on new interests (however trivial), and reading new books, but still comparing them with the old. I think we ought to be especially careful to read new poetry as we get on in life, if only as a discipline— as men with increasing waists practise calisthenics—because poetry is always trying to reach beyond the phenomena of life, and because these are all the while, if imperceptibly, narrowing us within the round of daily habit. As the author of Ionica put it (I quote from memory)—
Our feelings lose poetic flow Soon after thirty years or so: Professionising modern men Thenceforth admire what pleased them then.
But on the whole I do not regret this consistency, believing that the years 1896-1906 laid an almost holy constraint on the few who believed neither in Sham-Imperialism nor in the Superman, to stand together, to be stubborn, to refuse as doggedly as possible to bow the knee to these idols, to miss no opportunity of drawing attention to their feet of clay.
I seem to perceive that the day of the Superman is drawing to its close. He is a recurring nuisance, like the influenza, and no doubt will afflict mankind again in due season. But our generation has enjoyed a peculiarly poisonous variety of him. In his Renaissance guise, whether projected upon actual history, as in the person of Richard III, or strutting sublimated through Marlowe's blank verse, he spared at any rate to sentimentalise his brutality. Our forefathers summed him up in the byword that an Italianate Englishman was a devil incarnate; but he had the grace of being Italianate. It is from the Germanised avatar—the Bismarck of the 'Ems telegram,' with his sentimentalising historians and philosophers—that Europe would seem to be recovering to-day. Well, I believe that the Christian virtues, the lovable and honourable code of ancient gentlemen, may always be trusted to win in the long run, and extrude the impostor. But while his vogue lasts, it may be of service to keep reminding men that to falsify another man's dispatch is essentially a stupider action than to tilt at windmills: and that is the main moral of my book.
December 2nd, 1912.
Should any reader be puzzled by the title of this discursive volume, the following verses may provide him with an explanation. They were written some time ago for a lady who had requested, required, requisitioned (I forget the precise shade of the imperative) something for her album. "We are in the last ages of the world," wrote Charles Lamb to Barry Cornwall, "when St. Paul prophesied that women should be 'headstrong, lovers of their own will, having albums.—'"
I can't afford a mile of sward, Parterres and peacocks gay; For velvet lawns and marble fauns Mere authors cannot pay.
And so I went and pitched my tent Above a harbour fair, Where vessels picturesquely rigg'd Obligingly repair.
The harbour is not mine at all: I make it so—what odds? And gulls unwitting on my wall Serve me for garden-gods.
By ships that ride below kaleid- oscopically changed, Unto my mind each day I find My garden rearranged.
These, madam, are my daffodils, My pinks, my hollyhocks, My herds upon a hundred hills, My phloxes and my flocks.
And when some day you deign to pay The call that's overdue, I'll wave a landlord's easy hand And say, "Admire my view!"
Now I do not deny that a part of the content expressed in these lines may come of resignation. In some moods, were I to indulge them, it were pleasant to fancy myself owner of a vast estate, champaign and woodland; able to ride from sea to sea without stepping off my own acres, with villeins and bondmen, privileges of sak and soke, infangthef, outfangthef, rents, tolls, dues, royalties, and a private gallows for autograph-hunters. These things, however, did not come to me by inheritance, and for a number of sufficient reasons I have not amassed them. As for those other ambitions which fill the dreams of every healthy boy, a number of them had become of faint importance even before a breakdown of health seemed definitely to forbid their attainment. Here at home, far from London, with restored strength, I find myself less concerned with them than are my friends and neighbours, yet more keenly interested than ever in life and letters, art and politics—all that men and women are saying and doing. Only the centre of gravity has shifted, so to speak.
I dare say, then, that resignation may have some share in this content; but if so 'tis an unconscious and happy one. A man who has been writing novels for a good part of his life should at least be able to sympathise with various kinds of men; and, for an example or two, I can understand—
1. Why Alexander cried (if he ever did) because he had no second world to conquer.
2. Why Shakespeare, as an Englishman, wanted a coat of arms and a respectable estate in his own native country town.
3. What and how deep are the feelings beneath that cri du coeur of Mr. Wilfrid Blunt's 'Old Squire:'—
"I like the hunting of the hare Better than that of the fox; I like the joyous morning air, And the crowing of the cocks.
"I covet not a wider range Than these dear manors give; I take my pleasures without change, And as I lived I live.
"Nor has the world a better thing, Though one should search it round, Than thus to live one's own sole king Upon one's own sole ground.
"I like the hunting of the hare; It brings me day by day The memory of old days as fair, With dead men past away.
"To these as homeward still I ply, And pass the churchyard gate, Where all are laid as I must lie, I stop and raise my hat.
"I like the hunting of the hare: New sports I hold in scorn. I like to be as my fathers were In the days ere I was born."
4. What—to start another hare—were Goldsmith's feelings when he wrote—
"And as a hare whom hounds and horns pursue Pants to the place from whence at first she flew, I still had hopes, my long vexations past, Here to return—and die at home at last."
5. With what heart Don Quixote rode forth to tilt at sheep and windmills, and again with what heart in that saddest of all last chapters he bade his friends look not for this year's birds in last year's nests.
6. Why the young man went away sadly, because he had great possessions and could not see his way to bestowing them all on the poor; why, on the contrary, St. Paulinus of Nola and St. Francis of Assisi joyfully renounced their wealth; what Prudhon meant by saying that 'property is theft'; and what a poor Welsh clergyman of the seventeenth century by proclaiming in verse and prose that he was heir of all the world, and properties, hedges, boundaries, landmarks meant nothing to him, since all was his that his soul enjoyed; yes, and even what inspired him to pen this golden sentence—
"You will never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars."
My window, then, looks out from a small library upon a small harbour frequented by ships of all nations—British, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Russian, French, German, Italian, with now and then an American or a Greek—and upon a shore which I love because it is my native country. Of all views I reckon that of a harbour the most fascinating and the most easeful, for it combines perpetual change with perpetual repose. It amuses like a panorama and soothes like an opiate, and when you have realised this you will understand why so many thousands of men around this island appear to spend all their time in watching tidal water. Lest you should suspect me of taking a merely dilettante interest in the view, I must add that I am a Harbour Commissioner.
As for the house, it is a plain one; indeed, very like the house a child draws on a slate, and therefore pleasing even externally to me, who prefer the classical to any Gothic style of architecture. Why so many strangers mistake it with its modest dimensions for a hotel, I cannot tell you. I found one in the pantry the other day searching for a brandy-and-soda; another rang the dining-room bell and dumbfoundered the maid by asking what we had for lunch; and a third (a lady) cried when I broke to her that I had no sitting-room to let. We make it a rule to send out a chair whenever some unknown invader walks into the garden and prepares to make a water-colour sketch of the view.
There are some, too, whose behaviour cannot be reconciled with the hallucination of a hotel, and they must take the house for a public institution of some kind, though of what kind I cannot guess. There was an extremely bashful youth, for instance, who roamed the garden for a while on the day after the late Duke of Cambridge's funeral, and, suddenly dashing in by the back door, wanted to know why our flag was not at half-mast. There was also a lady who called on the excuse that she had made a life-study of the Brontes, and after opining (in a guarded manner) that they came, originally, from somewhere in Yorkshire, desired to be informed how many servants we kept. I have sometimes thought of rechristening our house The Hotel of the Four Seasons, and thereby releasing its true name (The Haven) to a friend who covets it for his own.
On the whole, however, these visitors disturb the house and the view from my window very little. The upper halves of them, as they pass up and down the road, appear above my garden wall much as the shadows that passed in Plato's cave. They come, enjoy their holiday, and go, leaving the window intent upon the harbour, its own folk and its own business.
And now for the book, which is really not a book at all, but a chapter of one.
Last autumn I returned from a holiday to find that the publishing season had begun. This was announced by a stack of new books, review copies and presentation copies, awaiting me on my window-seat. I regarded it sourly. A holiday is the most unsettling thing in the world. At the end of it I regain the well-worn chair with a sigh of pleasure and reach for the familiar tobacco-jar, wondering how I could have been fool enough to leave them; yet somehow this lively sense of repurchased habit does not go far enough and compel me to work. Being at home is a game, and so good a game that I play at it merely, rearranging my shelves and, under pretence of dealing with arrears of correspondence, skimming the literary papers and book-catalogues found amid the pile of letters.
It happened that the first postal-wrapper to be broken enclosed a copy of The Academy, and The Academy opened with this sentence: "Since our last issue we have received one hundred and nineteen new books and reprints." I looked across to the pile on my window-seat and felt it to be insignificant, though it interfered with my view of the English Channel. One hundred and nineteen books in a single week! Yet who was I to exclaim at their number?—I, who (it appeared) had contributed one of them? With that I remembered something which had happened just before my holiday, and began to reflect on it, for the first time seriously.
A publisher had asked me for a complete list of my published works, to print it on the fly-leaf of another of them. I sat down with the best intention and compiled it for him, and, in honest oblivion, omitted a couple—of books, mind you—not of pamphlets, reviews, stray articles, short stories, or any such trifles, but of books solemnly written for this and future ages, solemnly printed, bound, and put into circulation at the shops and libraries. (Here, for the due impressiveness of the tale, it becomes necessary to tell you that their author is an indolent and painful writer, slow at the best of times.)
Well, the discovery that I had forgotten two of my own books at first amused and then set me thinking. "Here you are," said I to myself, "a writer of sorts; and it's no use to pretend that you don't wish to be remembered for a while after you are dead and done with."
"Quite right," the other part of me assented cheerfully.
"Well, then," urged the inquisitor, "this is a bad look-out. If you had been born a Dumas—I am speaking of fecundity, if you please, and of nothing else—if you had been born a Dumas, and could rattle off a romance in a fortnight, you might be excused for not keeping tally of your productions. Pitiful, dilatory worker that you are, if you cannot remember them, how can you expect the world (good Heavens!) to take the trouble?"
"I suppose it won't," responded the other part of me, somewhat dashed; then, picking up its spirits again, "But, anyhow, I shall know where to lay the blame."
"Most assuredly not."
"Why, on the publishers."
"Ah, of course!" (This with fine irony.)
"Yes, on the publishers. Most authors do this during life, and now I begin to see that all authors do it sooner or later. For my part, I shall defer it to the future state."
"Obviously because there will be no publishers thereabouts to contradict me."
"And of what will you accuse them?"
"That they never issued my work in the form it deserved."
"I see. Poor fellow! You have the 'Edinburgh' Stevenson or something of that sort on your mind, and are filled with nasty envy."
Upon this the other part of me fairly lost its temper.
"The 'Edinburgh' Stevenson! The 'Edinburgh' Ste—, and you have known me all these years! The 'Edinburgh' Stevenson is a mighty handsome edition of a mighty fine writer, but I have no more desire to promenade the ages in that costume than to jump the moon. No, I am not going to break any more of the furniture. I am handing you this chair that you may seat yourself and listen . . . Now! The book which I shall accuse my publishers of not having produced will be in one volume—"
"Come, come. Modesty is all very well, but don't overdo it."
"—Of three thousand odd pages, printed (blunt type) in double columns, and here and there in triple."
"—with marginalia by other hands, and footnotes running sometimes to twenty thousand words, and, including above six thousand quotations from the best poets—every one, in short, which has given me pleasure of a certain quality, whether gentle or acute, at one time or another in my life."
"—The whole profusely, not to say extravagantly, adorned with woodcuts in the text, not to mention fifty or sixty full-page illustrations in copper."
"By eminent artists?"
"Some of them by eminent artists, for the reason only that I number such among my friends; the rest by amateurs and members of my household who would help, out of mere affection, in raising this monument."
"They would do it execrably."
"I dare say; but that would not matter in the least. The book should be bound in leather and provided with serviceable clasps, as well as with a couple of inner pockets for maps and charts. The maps should contain plenty of sea, with monsters rising from it—leviathans and sea-serpents— as they do in Speed's map of Cornwall which hangs in the hall."
"Your book will need a window-seat to hold it."
"Ah, now you talk intelligently! It was designed for a window-seat, and its fortunate possessor will take care to provide one. Have you any further objections?"
"Only this: that a book of such a size written by one man (I make the objection as little personal as I can) must perforce contain many dull pages."
"Hundreds of them; whole reams of dull pages."
"They will be skipped."
"They will be inserted with that object."
"It is one of the conditions of becoming a classic."
"Who will read you?"
"Look here. Do you remember the story of that old fellow—a Dutchman, I think—who took a fancy to be buried in the church porch of his native town, that he might hear the feet of the townsfolk, generation after generation, passing over his head to divine service?"
"Well. I shall stand on my shelf, bound in good leather, between (say) Bayle's Dictionary and Sibrandus Schnafnaburgensis, his Delectable Treatise; and if some day, when the master of the house has been coaxed by his womenfolk to take a holiday, and they descend upon the books, which he (the humbug) never reads, belabour and bang the dust out of them and flap them with dusters, and all with that vindictiveness which is the good housewife's right attitude towards literature—"
"Had you not better draw breath?"
"Thank you. I will: for the end of the protasis lies yet some way off. If, I say, some child of the family, having chosen me out of the heap as a capital fellow for a booby-trap, shall open me by hazard and, attracted by the pictures, lug me off to the window-seat, why then God bless the child! I shall come to my own. He will not understand much at the time, but he will remember me with affection, and in due course he will give me to his daughter among her wedding presents (much to her annoyance, but the bridegroom will soothe her). This will happen through several generations until I find myself an heirloom. . . ."
"You begin to assume that by this time you will be valuable. Also permit me to remark that you have slipped into the present indicative."
"As for the present indicative, I think you began it."
"Yes. But it doesn't matter. I begin precisely at the right moment to assume a value which will be attached to me, not for my own sake, but on account of dear grandpapa's book-plate and autograph on the fly-leaf. (He was the humbug who never read me—a literary person; he acquired me as a 'review copy,' and only forbore to dispose of me because at the current railway rates I should not have fetched the cost of carriage.)"
"Why talk of hindrances to publishing such a book, when you know full well it will never be written?"
"I thought you would be driven to some such stupid knock-down argument. Whether or not the book will ever be finished is a question that lies on the knees of the gods. I am writing at it every day. And just such a book was written once and even published; as I discovered the other day in an essay by Mr. Austin Dobson. The author, I grant you, was a Dutchman (Mr. Dobson calls him 'Vader Cats,') and the book contains everything from a long didactic poem on Marriage (I also have written a long didactic poem on Marriage) to a page on Children's Games. (My book shall have a chapter on Children's Games, with their proper tunes.) As for poetry—poetry, says Mr. Dobson, with our Dutch poet is not by any means a trickling rill from Helicon: 'it is an inundation a la mode du pays, a flood in a flat land, covering everything far and near with its sluggish waters.' As for the illustrations, listen to this for the kind of thing I demand:—
"Perhaps the most interesting of these is to be found in the large head-piece to the above-mentioned Children's Games, the background of which exhibits the great square of Middleburgh, with its old Gothic houses and central clump of trees. This is, moreover, as delightful a picture as any in the gallery. Down the middle of the foreground, which is filled by a crowd of figures, advances a regiment of little Dutchmen, marching to drum and fife, and led by a fire-eating captain of fifteen. Around this central group are dispersed knots of children playing leap-frog, flying kites, blowing bubbles, whipping tops, walking on stilts, skipping, and the like. In one corner the children are busy with blind man's buff; in the other the girls, with their stiff head-dresses and vandyked aprons, are occupied with their dolls. Under the pump some seventeenth-century equivalent for chuck-farthing seems to be going on vigorously; and, not to be behind-hand in the fun, two little fellows in the distance are standing upon their heads. The whole composition is full of life and movement, and—so conservative is childhood—might, but for the costume and scene, represent a playground of to-day."
"Such are the pictures which shall emerge, like islands, among my dull pages. And there shall be other pages, to be found for the looking. . . . I must make another call upon your memory, my friend, and refer it to a story of Hans Andersen's which fascinated the pair of us in childhood, when we were not really a pair but inseparables, and before you had grown wise; the story of the Student and the Goblin who lodged at the Butterman's. The Student, at the expense of his dinner, had rescued a book from the butter-tub and taken it off to his garret, and that night the Goblin, overcome by curiosity, peeped through the keyhole, and lo! the garret was full of light. Forth and up from the book shot a beam of light, which grew into the trunk of a mighty tree, and threw out branches over the bowed head of the student; and every leaf was fresh, and every flower a face, and every fruit a star, and music sang in the branches. Well, there shall be even such pages in my book."
"Excuse me," said I, "but, knowing your indolence, I begin to tire of the future indicative, which (allow me to repeat) you first employed in this discussion."
"I did not," said the other part of me stoutly. "And if I did, 'tis a trick of the trade. You of all people ought to know that I write romances."
I do not at all demur to having the value of my books enhanced by the contributions of others—by dear grandpapa's autograph on the fly-leaf, for example. But it annoys me to be blamed for other folks' opinions.
The other day a visitor called and discoursed with me during the greater part of a wet afternoon. He had come for an interview—'dreadful trade,' as Edgar said of samphire-gathering—and I wondered, as he took his departure, what on earth he would find to write about: for I love to smoke and listen to other men's opinions, and can boast with Montaigne that during these invasive times my door has stood open to all comers. He was a good fellow, too; having brains and using them: and I made him an admirable listener.
It amused me, some while after, to read the interview and learn that I had done the talking and uttered a number of trenchant sayings upon female novelists. But the amusement changed to dismay when the ladies began to retort. For No. 1 started with an airy restatement of what I had never said, and No. 2 (who had missed to read the interview) misinterpreted No. 1.'s paraphrase; and by these and other processes within a week my digestive silence had passed through a dozen removes, and was incurring the just execration of a whole sex. I began to see that my old college motto—Quod taciturn velis nemini dixeris—which had always seemed to me to err, if at all, on the side of excess, fell short of adequacy to these strenuous times.
I have not kept the letters; but a friend of mine, Mr. Algernon Dexter, has summarised a very similar experience and cast it into chapters, which he allows me to print here. He heads them—
HUNTING THE DRAG.
Scene: The chastely-furnished writing-room of Mr. Algernon Dexter, a well-known male novelist. Bust of Pallas over practicable door L.U.E. Books adorn the walls, interspersed with portraits of female relatives. Mr. Dexter discovered with Interviewer. Mr. D., poker in hand, is bending over the fire, above which runs the legend, carved in Roman letters across the mantelpiece, 'Ne fodias ignem gladio.'
INTERVIEWER (pulling out his watch): "Dear me! Only five minutes to catch my train! And I had several other questions to ask. I suppose, now, it's too late to discuss the Higher Education of Women?"
Mr. D. (smiling): "Well, I think there's hardly time. It will take you a good four minutes to get to the station."
INTERVIEWER: "And I must get my typewriter out of the cloakroom. Good-day, then, Mr. Dexter!" (They shake hands and part with mutual esteem.)
Extract from 'The Daily Post.'
"MONDAY TALKS WITH OUR NOVELISTS.—No. MCVI. Mr. ALGERNON DEXTER.
"'And now, Mr. Dexter,' said I, 'what is your opinion of the Higher Education of Women?'
"The novelist stroked his bronze beard. 'That's a large order, eh? Isn't it rather late in the day to discuss Women's Education?' And with a humorous gesture of despair he dropped the poker."
Sir,—In your issue of to-day I read with interest an account of an interview with Mr. Dexter, the popular novelist, and I observe that gentleman thinks it 'rather late in the day' to discuss the Higher Education of Women. One can only be amused at this flippant dismissal of a subject dear to the hearts of many of us; a movement consecrated by the life-energies—I had almost said the life-blood—of a Gladstone, a Sidgwick, a Fitch, and a Platt-Culpepper. Does Mr. Dexter really imagine that he can look down on such names as these? Or are we to conclude that the recent successes of 'educated' women in fiction have got on his nerves? To suggest professional jealousy would be going too far, no doubt.
Yours faithfully. 'HIGH SCHOOL'
(1) Sir,—I, too, was disgusted with Mr. Algernon Dexter's cheap sneer at women's education. He has, it seems, 'no opinion' on it. Allow me to point out that, whatever his opinion may be, Women's Education has come to stay. The time is past when Women could be relegated to the kitchen or the nursery, and told, in the words of the poet Byron, that these constituted her 'whole existence.' Not so; and if Mr. Dexter is inclined to doubt it let him read the works of George Elliot (Mrs. J. W. Cross) or Marion Crawford. They will open his eyes to the task he has undertaken.
I am, Sir, yours, etc, "AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM."
(2) SIR,—Mr. Algernon Dexter thinks women's education 'a large order'— not a very elegant expression, let me say, en passant, for one who aspires to be known as a 'stylist.' Still a large order it is, and one that as an imperial race we shall be forced to envisage. If our children are to be started in life as fit citizens of this empire, with a grasp on its manifold and far reaching complexities of interest, and unless the Germans are to beat us, we must provide them with educated mothers. 'The child is father of the man,' but the mother has, me judice, no less influence on his subsequent career. And this is not to be done by putting back the hands of the clock, or setting them to make pies and samplers, but by raising them to mutually co-operate and further what has been aptly termed 'The White Man's Burden.' Such, at any rate, though I may not live to see it, is the conviction of:
"A MUS. DOC. OF FORTY YEARS' STANDING."
(3) SIR,—'High School' has done a public service. A popular novelist may be licensed to draw on his imagination; but hitting below the belt is another thing, whoever wears it. Mr Dexter's disdainful treatment of that eminent educationalist Mr. Platt-Culpepper—who is in his grave and therefore unable to reply (so like a man!)—can be called nothing less. I hope it will receive the silent contempt it deserves.
Yours indignantly, "MERE WOMAN."
(1) SIR,—Your correspondents, with whose indignation I am in sympathy, have to me most unaccountably overlooked the real gravamen of Mr. Dexter's offence. Unlike them, I have read several of that gentleman's brochures, and can assure you that he once posed as the unbounded license for women in Higher Education, if not in other directions. This volte face (I happen to know) will come as a severe disappointment to many; for we had quite counted him one of us.
"We that had loved him so, followed him, honoured him, Lived in his mild and magnificent eye,"
Shall have, it seems, to 'record one lost soul more, one more devil's triumph,' etc. I subscribe myself, sir, more in sorrow than in anger.
PERCY FLADD, President, H.W.E.L. (Hoxton Women's Emancipation League).
(2) Sir,—Why all this beating about the bush? The matter in dispute between Mr. Dexter and his critics was summed up long ago by Scotia's premier poet (I refer to Robert Burns) in the lines—
"To make a happy fireside clime To weans and wife, That's the true pathos and sublime Of human life,"
And vice versa. Your correspondents are too hasty in condemning Mr. Dexter. He may have expressed himself awkwardly; but, as I understood him, he never asserted that education necessarily unsexed a woman, if kept within limits. 'A man's a man for a' that'; then why not a woman? At least, so says:
(3) Sir,—Let Mr. Dexter stick to his guns. He is not the first who has found the New Woman an unmitigated nuisance, and I respect him for saying so in no measured terms. Let women, if they want husbands, cease to write oratorios and other things in which man is, by his very constitution, facile princeps, and let her cultivate that desideratum in which she excels—a cosy home and a bright smile to greet him on the doorstep when he returns from a tiring day in the City. Until that is done I, for one, shall remain:
P.S.—Could a woman have composed Shakespeare?
(4) Sir,—I had no intention of mixing in this correspondence, and publicity is naturally distasteful to me. Nor do I hold any brief for the Higher Education of Women; but when I see writer after writer—apparently of my own sex—taking refuge in what has been called the 'base shelter of anonymity,' I feel constrained to sign myself:
Yours faithfully, (Mrs.) RACHEL RAMSBOTHAM.
(1) Sir,—After reading 'Unmarried's' letter, one can hardly wonder that he is so. He asks if any woman could have written Shakespeare, and insinuates that she would be better occupied in meeting him ('Unmarried') on the doorstep 'with a bright smile.' As to that, there may be two opinions. Everyone to his taste, but for my part, if his insufferable male conceit will allow him to believe it—I would rather have written Shakespeare a hundred times over, and I am not alone in this view. Such men as Mr. Dexter and 'Unmarried' are the cause why half of us women prefer to remain single; the former may deny it, poker in hand, but murder will out. In conclusion, let me add that I have never written an oratorio in my life, though I sometimes attend them.
Yours, etc., "MERE WOMAN."
(2) Sir,—Allow me to impale Mr. Dexter on the horns of a dilemma. Either it is too late in the day to discuss woman's education, or it is not. If the latter, why did he say it is? And if the former, why did he begin discussing it? That is how it strikes.
(3) Sir,—Re this woman's education discussion: I write to inquire if there is any law of the land which can hinder a woman from composing Shakespeare if she wants to?
Yours truly, "INTERESTED."
(4) Sir,—Allusion has been made in this correspondence (I think by Mr. Dexter) to the grave of that eminent educationist, the late Platt-Culpepper, which is situate in the Highgate Cemetery. My interest being awakened, I made a pilgrimage to it the other day, and was shocked by its neglected condition. The coping has been badly cemented, and a crack extends from the upper right-hand corner to the base of the plinth, right across the inscription. Doubtless a few shillings would repair the damage; but may I suggest, Sir, that some worthier memorial is due to this pioneer of woman's higher activities? I have thought of a plain obelisk on Shakespeare's Cliff, a locality of which he was ever fond; or a small and inconspicuous lighthouse might, without complicating the navigation of this part of the Channel, serve to remind Englishmen of one who diffused so much light during his all too brief career. Choice, however, would depend on the funds available, and might be left to an influential committee. Meanwhile, could you not open a subscription list for the purpose? I enclose stamps for 2 shillings, with my card, and prefer to remain, for the present.
(1) Sir,—H. Immemor's suggestion clears the air, and should persuade Mr. Dexter and his reactionary friends to think twice before again inaugurating a crusade which can only recoil upon their own heads. I enclose 5 shillings, if only as a protest against this un-English 'hitting below the belt,' and am:
Yours, etc., "PRACTICAL."
(2) Sir,—It is only occasionally that I get a glimpse of your invaluable paper, and (perhaps, fortunately) missed the issues containing Mr. Dexter's diatribes anent woman. But what astounds me is their cynical audacity. Your correspondents, though not in accord as to the name of the victim (can it be more than one?) agree that, after encouraging her to unbridled license, Mr. Dexter turned round and attacked her with a poker— whether above or below the belt is surely immaterial. 'Tis true, 'tis pity, and pity 'tis 'tis true; but not once or twice, I fear me, in 'our fair island-story' has a similar thing occurred. The unique (I hope) feature in this case is the man Dexter's open boast that the incident is closed, and it is now 'too late in the day' to reopen it. 'Too late,' indeed! There is an American poem describing how a young woman was raking hay, and an elderly judge came by, and wasn't in a position to marry her, though he wanted to; and the whole winds up by saying that 'too late' are the saddest words in the language—especially, I would add, in this connection. But, alas! that men's memories should be so short! Is the reflection of:
"A MOTHER OF SEVEN."
[This correspondence is now closed, unless Mr. Dexter should wish to reply to his numerous critics. We do not propose to open a subscription list, at any rate for the present.—Ed. Daily Post.]
"O That I were lying under the olives!"—if I may echo the burthen of a beautiful little poem by Mrs. Margaret L. Woods. I have not yet consulted Zadkiel: but if I may argue from past experience of February—'fill-dyke'—in a week or so my window here will be alternately crusted with Channel spray and washed clean by lashing south-westerly showers; and a wave will arch itself over my garden wall and spoil a promising bed of violets; and I shall grow weary of oilskins, and weary of hauling the long-line with icily-cold hands and finding no fish. February—Pisces? The fish, before February comes, have left the coast for the warmer deeps, and the zodiac is all wrong. Down here in the Duchy many believe in Mr. Zadkiel and Old Moore. I suppose the dreamy Celt pays a natural homage to a fellow-mortal who knows how to make up his mind for twelve months ahead. All the woman in his nature surrenders to this businesslike decisiveness. "O man!"—the exhortation is Mr. George Meredith's, or would be if I could remember it precisely—"O man, amorously inclining, before all things be positive!" I have sometimes, while turning the pages of Mrs. Beeton's admirable cookery book, caught myself envying Mr. Beeton. I wonder if her sisters envy Mrs. Zadkiel. She, dear lady, no doubt feels that, if it be not in mortals to command the weather her husband prophesies for August, yet he does better—he deserves it. And, after all, a prophecy in some measure depends for its success on the mind which receives it. Back in the forties—I quote from a small privately-printed volume by Sir Richard Tangye—when the potato blight first appeared in England, an old farmer in the Duchy found this warning in his favourite almanack, at the head of the page for August:—
"And potentates shall tremble and quail."
Now, 'to quail' in Cornwall still carries its old meaning, 'to shrink,' 'to wither.' The farmer dug his potatoes with all speed, and next year the almanack was richer by a score of subscribers.
Zadkiel or no Zadkiel, I will suspire, and risk it, "O that I were lying under the olives!" "O to be out of England now that February's here!"—for indeed this is the time to take the South express and be quit of fogs, and loaf and invite your soul upon the Mediterranean shore before the carnivals and regattas sweep it like a mistral. Nor need you be an invalid to taste those joys on which Stevenson dilates in that famous little essay in "Virginibus Puerisque" (or, as the young American lady preferred to call it, "Virginis Pueribusque."):—
"Or perhaps he may see a group of washer-women relieved, on a spit of shingle, against the blue sea, or a meeting of flower-gatherers in the tempered daylight of an olive-garden; and something significant or monumental in the grouping, something in the harmony of faint colour that is always characteristic of the dress of these Southern women, will come home to him unexpectedly, and awake in him that satisfaction with which we tell ourselves that we are richer by one more beautiful experience. . . . And then, there is no end to the infinite variety of the olive-yards themselves. Even the colour is indeterminate, and continually shifting: now you would say it was green, now grey, now blue; now tree stands above tree, like 'cloud on cloud,' massed in filmy indistinctness; and now, at the wind's will, the whole sea of foliage is shaken and broken up with little momentary silverings and shadows."
English poets, too, have been at their best on the Riviera: from Cette, where Matthew Arnold painted one of the most brilliant little landscapes in our literature, along to Genoa, where Tennyson visited and:
"Loved that hall, tho' white and cold, Those niched shapes of noble mould, A princely people's awful princes, The grave, severe Genovese of old."
[I suppose, by the way, that every one who has taken the trouble to compare the stanza of 'The Daisy' with that of the invitation 'To the Rev. F. D. Maurice,' which immediately follows, will have noted the pretty rhythmical difference made by the introduction of the double dactyl in the closing line of the latter; the difference between:
"Of olive, aloe, and maize, and vine,"
"Making the little one leap for joy."]
But let Mrs. Woods resume the strain:—
"O that I were listening under the olives! So should I hear behind in the woodland The peasants talking. Either a woman, A wrinkled granddame, stands in the sunshine, Stirs the brown soil in an acre of violets— Large odorous violets—and answers slowly A child's swift babble; or else at noon The labourers come. They rest in the shadow, Eating their dinner of herbs, and are merry. Soft speech Provencal under the olives! Like a queen's raiment from days long perished, Breathing aromas of old unremembered Perfumes, and shining in dust-covered palaces With sudden hints of forgotten splendour— So on the lips of the peasant his language, His only now, the tongue of the peasant."
Say what you will, there is a dignity about these Latin races, even in their trivial everyday movements. They suggest to me, as those lines of Homer suggested to Mr. Pater's Marius, thoughts which almost seem to be memories of a time when all the world was poetic:—
"Oi d'ote de limenos polubentheos entos ikonto Istia men steilanto, thesand d'en nei melaine . . . Ek de kai antoi Bainon epi regmini thalasses."
"And how poetic," says Pater, "the simple incident seemed, told just thus! Homer was always telling things after this manner. And one might think there had been no effort in it: that here was but the almost mechanical transcript of a time naturally, intrinsically poetic, a time in which one could hardly have spoken at all without ideal effect, or the sailors pulled down their boat without making a picture in 'the great style' against a sky charged with marvels."
One evening in last February a company of Provencal singers, pipers, and tambour players came to an hotel in Cannes, and entertained us. They were followed next evening by a troupe of German-Swiss jodelers; and oh, the difference to me—and, for that matter, to all of us! It was just the difference between passion and silly sentiment—silly and rather vulgar sentiment. The merry Swiss boys whooped, and smacked their legs, and twirled their merry Swiss girls about, until vengeance overtook them—a vengeance so complete, so surprising, that I can hardly now believe what my own eyes saw and my own ears heard. One of the merry Swiss girls sang a love-ditty with a jodeling refrain, which was supposed to be echoed back by her lover afar in the mountains. To produce this pleasing illusion, one of the merry Swiss boys ascended the staircase, and hid himself deep in the corridors of the hotel. All went well up to the last verse. Promptly and truly the swain echoed his sweetheart's call; softly it floated down to us—down from the imaginary pasture and across the imaginary valley. But as the maiden challenged for the last time, as her voice lingered on the last note of the last verse . . . There hung a Swiss cuckoo-clock in the porter's office, and at that very instant the mechanical bird lifted its voice, and nine times answered 'Cuckoo' on the exact note! "Cuckoo, Cuckoo, O word of fear!" I have known coincidences, but never one so triumphantly complete. The jaw of the Swiss maiden dropped an inch; and, as well as I remember, silence held the company for five seconds before we recovered ourselves and burst into inextinguishable laughter.
The one complaint I have to make of the Mediterranean is that it does not in the least resemble a real sea; and I daresay that nobody who has lived by a real sea will ever be thoroughly content with it. Beautiful—oh, beautiful, of course, whether one looks across from Costebelle to the lighthouse on Porquerolles and the warships in Hyeres Bay; or climbs by the Calvary to the lighthouse of la Garoupe, and sees on the one side Antibes, on the other the Isles de Lerins; or scans the entrance of Toulon Harbour; or counts the tiers of shipping alongside the quays at Genoa! But somehow the Mediterranean has neither flavour nor sparkle, nor even any proper smell. The sea by Biarritz is champagne to it. But hear how Hugo draws the contrast in time of storm:—
"Ce n'etaient pas les larges lames de l'Ocean qui vont devant elles et qui se deroulent royalement dans l'immensite; c'etaient des houles courtes, brusques, furieuses. L'Ocean est a son aise, il tourne autour du monde; la Mediterranee est dans un vase et le vent la secoue, c'est ce qui lui donne cette vague haletante, breve et trapue. Le flot se ramasse et lutte. Il a autant de colere que la flot de l'Ocean et moins d'espace."
Also, barring the sardine and anchovy, I must confess that the fish of the Mediterranean are what, in the Duchy, we should call 'poor trade.' I don't wish to disparage the Bouillabaisse, which is a dish for heroes, and deserves all the heroic praises sung of it:—
"This Bouillabaisse a noble dish is— A sort of soup, or broth, or brew, Or hotchpotch of all sorts of fishes, That Greenwich never could outdo; Green herbs, red peppers, mussels, saffron, Soles, onions, garlic, roach and dace: All these you eat at Terre's tavern, In that one dish of Bouillabaisse."
To be precise, you take a langouste, three rascas (an edible but second-rate fish), a slice of conger, a fine 'chapon,' or red rascas, and one or two 'poissons blancs' (our grey mullet, I take it, would be an equivalent). You take a cooking-pot and put your langouste in it, together with four spoonfuls of olive-oil, an onion and a couple of tomatoes, and boil away until he turns red. You then take off the pot and add your fish, green herbs, four cloves of garlic, and a pinch of saffron, with salt and red pepper. Pour in water to cover the surface of the fish, and cook for twenty minutes over a fast fire. Then take a soup-plate, lay some slices of bread in it, and pour the bouillon over the bread. Serve the fish separately. Possibly you incline to add, in the immortal words of the late Mr. Lear, "Serve up in a clean dish, and throw the whole out of window as fast as possible." You would make a great mistake. The marvel to me is that no missionary has acclimatised this wonderful dish upon our coasts, where we have far better fish for compounding it—red mullet, for instance, in place of the rascas; and whiting, or even pollack or grey mullet, in place of the 'poissons blancs.' For the langouste, a baby lobster might serve; and the saffron flavour would be no severe trial to us in the Duchy, who are brought up (so to say) upon saffron cake. As for Thackeray's 'dace,' I disbelieve in it. No one would add a dace (which for table purposes has been likened to an old stocking full of mud and pins: or was that a tench?) except to make a rhyme. Even Walton, who gives instructions for cooking a chavender or chub, is discreetly silent on the cooking of a dace, though he tells us how to catch him. "Serve up in a clean dish," he might have added, "and throw him out of window as fast as possible."
"O that I were lying under the olives!" And O that to olive orchards (not contiguous) I could convey the newspaper men who are almost invariably responsible when a shadow of distrust or suspicion falls between us Englishmen and the race which owns and tills these orchards. "The printing-press," says Mr. Barrie, "is either the greatest blessing or the greatest curse of modern times, one sometimes forgets which." I verily believe that if English newspaper editors would nobly resolve to hold their peace on French politics, say for two years, France and England would 'make friends' as easily as Frenchmen and Englishmen 'make friends' to-day. One hears talk of the behaviour of the English abroad. But I am convinced that at least one-half of their bad manners may be referred to their education upon this newspaper nonsense, or to the certainty that no complaint they may make upon foreign shortcomings is too silly or too ill-bred to be printed in an English newspaper. Here is an example. I suppress the name of the writer—a lady—in the devout hope that she has repented before this. The letter is headed—
"THE AMENITIES OF RAILWAY TRAVELLING IN FRANCE.
"Sir,—As your newspaper is read in France, may I in your columns call attention to what I witnessed yesterday? I left Dinard by the 3.33 p.m. train en route for Guingamp, having to change carriages at Lamballe. An instant before the train moved off from the station, a dying man belonging to the poorest class was thrust into our second class carriage and the door slammed to. The poor creature, apparently dying of some wasting disease, was absolutely on the point of death, and his ghastly appearance naturally alarmed a little girl in the carriage. At the next station I got down with my companion and changed into a first-class compartment, paying the difference. On remonstrating with the guard (sic), he admitted that a railway carriage ought not to be turned into an hospital, but added, 'We have no rules to prevent it.'
"I ask, sir, is it decent or human, especially at such a time, to thrust dying persons in the last stage of poverty into a second-class carriage full of ladies and children?"
There's a pretty charity for you! 'A dying man belonging to the poorest class.'—'Our second-class carriage'—here's richness! as Mr. Squeers observed. Here's sweetness and light! But England has no monopoly of such manners. There was a poor little Cingalese girl in the train by which I travelled homeward last February from Genoa and through the Mont Cenis. And there were also three Englishmen and a Frenchman—the last apparently (as Browning put it) a person of importance in his day, for he had a bit of red ribbon in his buttonhole and a valet at his heels. At one of the small stations near the tunnel our train halted for several minutes; and while the little Cingalese leaned out and gazed at the unfamiliar snows—a pathetic figure, if ever there was one—the three Englishmen and the Frenchman gathered under the carriage door and stared up at her just as if she were a show. There was no nonsense about the performance—no false delicacy: it was good, steady, eye-to-eye staring. After three minutes of it, the Frenchman asked deliberately, "Where do you come from?" in a careless, level tone, which did not even convey that he was interested in knowing. And because the child didn't understand, the three Englishmen laughed. Altogether it was an unpleasing but instructive little episode.
No: nastiness has no particular nationality: and you will find a great deal of it, of all nationalities, on the frontier between France and Italy. I do not see that Monte Carlo provides much cause for indignation, beyond the tir aux pigeons, which is quite abominable. I have timed it for twenty-five minutes, and it averaged two birds a minute—fifty birds. Of these one escaped, one fluttered on to the roof of the railway station and died there slowly, under my eyes. The rest were killed within the enclosure, some by the first barrel, some by the second, or if they still lingered, were retrieved and mouthed by a well-trained butcher dog, of no recognisable breed. Sometimes, after receiving its wound, a bird would walk about for a second or two, apparently unhurt; then suddenly stagger and topple over. Sometimes, as the trap opened, a bird would stand dazed. Then a ball was trundled at it to compel it to rise. Grey breast feathers strewed the whole inclosure, in places quite thickly, like a carpet. As for the crowd at the tables inside the Casino, it was largely Semitic. On the road between Monte Carlo and Monaco, as Browning says—
"It was noses, noses all the way."
Also it smelt distressingly: but that perhaps was its misfortune rather than its fault. It did not seem very happy; nor was it composed of people who looked as if they might have attained to distinction, or even to ordinary usefulness, by following any other pursuit. On the whole, one felt that it might as well be gathered here as anywhere else.
"O that I were lying under the olives!" But since my own garden must content me this year, let me conclude with a decent letter of thanks to the friend who sent me, from Devonshire, a box of violet roots that await the spring in a corner which even the waves of the equinox cannot reach:—
TO A FRIEND WHO SENT ME A BOX OF VIOLETS.
Nay, more than violets These thoughts of thine, friend! Rather thy reedy brook —Taw's tributary— At midnight murmuring, Descried them, the delicate, The dark-eyed goddesses. There by his cressy beds Dissolved and dreaming Dreams that distilled in a dewdrop All the purple of night, All the shine of a planet.
Whereat he whispered; And they arising —Of day's forget-me-nots The duskier sisters— Descended, relinquished The orchard, the trout-pool, The Druid circles, Sheepfolds of Dartmoor, Granite and sandstone, Torridge and Tamar; By Roughtor, by Dozmare, Down the vale of the Fowey Moving in silence. Brushing the nightshade By bridges Cyclopean, By Glynn, Lanhydrock,
Restormel, Lostwithiel, Dark woodland, dim water, dreaming town— Down the vale of the Fowey, Each in her exile Musing the message— Message illumined by love As a starlit sorrow— Passed, as the shadow of Ruth From the land of the Moabite. So they came— Valley-born, valley-nurtured— Came to the tideway, The jetties, the anchorage, The salt wind piping, Snoring in equinox, By ships at anchor, By quays tormented, Storm-bitten streets; Came to the Haven Crying, "Ah, shelter us, The strayed ambassadors! Lost legation of love On a comfortless coast!"
Nay, but a little sleep, A little folding Of petals to the lull Of quiet rainfalls,— Here in my garden, In angle sheltered From north and east wind— Softly shall recreate The courage of charity, Henceforth not to me only Breathing the message.
Clean-breath'd Sirens! Henceforth the mariner, Here on the tideway Dragging, foul of keel, Long-strayed but fortunate, Out of the fogs, the vast Atlantic solitudes, Shall, by the hawser-pin Waiting the signal— "Leave-go-anchor!" Scent the familiar Fragrance of home; So in a long breath Bless us unknowingly: Bless them, the violets, Bless me, the gardener, Bless thee, the giver.
My business (I remind myself) behind the window is not to scribble verses: my business, or a part of it, is to criticise poetry, which involves reading poetry. But why should anyone read poetry in these days?
Well, one answer is that nobody does.
I look around my shelves and, brushing this answer aside as flippant, change the form of my question. Why do we read poetry? What do we find that it does for us? We take to it (I presume) some natural need, and it answers that need. But what is the need? And how does poetry answer it?
Clearly it is not a need of knowledge, or of what we usually understand by knowledge. We do not go to a poem as we go to a work on Chemistry or Physics, to add to our knowledge of the world about us. For example, Keats' glorious lines to the Nightingale—
"Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird . . ."
Are unchallengeable poetry; but they add nothing to our stock of information. Indeed, as Mr. Bridges pointed out the other day, the information they contain is mostly inaccurate or fanciful. Man is, as a matter of fact, quite as immortal as a nightingale in every sense but that of sameness. And as for:
"Magic casements opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn,"
Science tells us that no such things exist in this or any other ascertained world. So, when Tennyson tells us that birds in the high Hall garden were crying, "Maud, Maud, Maud," or that:
"There has fallen a splendid tear From the passion-flower at the gate: She is coming, my dove, my dear; She is coming, my life, my fate; The red rose cries, 'She is near, she is near'; And the white rose weeps, 'She is late' . . ."
The poetry is unchallengeable, but the information by scientific standards of truth is demonstrably false, and even absurd. On the other hand (see Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, c. xiv.), the famous lines—
"Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November, . . ."
Though packed with trustworthy information, are quite as demonstrably unpoetical. The famous senior wrangler who returned a borrowed volume of Paradise Lost with the remark that he did not see what it proved, was right—so far as he went. And conversely (as he would have said) no sensible man would think to improve Newton's Principia and Darwin's Origin of Species by casting them into blank verse; or Euclid's Elements by writing them out in ballad metre—
The king sits in Dunfermline town, Drinking the blude-red wine; 'O wha will rear me an equilateral triangle Upon a given straight line?'
We may be sure that Poetry does not aim to do what Science, with other methods, can do much better. What craving, then, does it answer? And if the craving be for knowledge of a kind, then of what kind?
The question is serious. We agree—at least I assume this—that men have souls as well as intellects; that above and beyond the life we know and can describe and reduce to laws and formulas there exists a spiritual life of which our intellect is unable to render account. We have (it is believed) affinity with this spiritual world, and we hold it by virtue of something spiritual within us, which we call the soul. You may disbelieve in this spiritual region and remain, I dare say, an estimable citizen; but I cannot see what business you have with Poetry, or what satisfaction you draw from it. Nay, Poetry demands that you believe something further; which is, that in this spiritual region resides and is laid up that eternal scheme of things, that universal order, of which the phenomena of this world are but fragments, if indeed they are not mere shadows.
A hard matter to believe, no doubt! We see this world so clearly; the spiritual world so dimly, so rarely, if at all! We may fortify ourselves with the reminder (to be found in Blanco White's famous sonnet) that the first man who lived on earth had to wait for the darkness before he saw the stars and guessed that the Universe extended beyond this earth—
"Who could have thought such darkness lay conceal'd Within thy beams, O Sun! or who could find, Whilst fly and leaf and insect stood reveal'd, That to such countless orbs thou mad'st us blind?"
He may, or may not, believe that the same duty governs his infinitesimal activity and the motions of the heavenly bodies—
"Awake, my soul, and with the sun Thy daily stage of duty run . . ."
—That his duty is one with that of which Wordsworth sang—
"Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong; And the most ancient heavens, through thee, are fresh and strong."
But in a higher order of some sort, and his duty of conforming with it, he does not seem able to avoid believing.
This, then, is the need which Poetry answers. It offers to bring men knowledge of this universal order, and to help them in rectifying and adjusting their lives to it. It is for gleams of this spiritual country that the poets watch—
"The gleam, The light that never was on sea or land. . . ."
"I am Merlin," sang Tennyson, its life-long watcher, in his old age—
"I am Merlin, And I am dying; I am Merlin, Who follow the gleam."
They do not claim to see it always. It appears to them at rare and happy intervals, as the Vision of the Grail to the Knights of the Round Table. "Poetry," said Shelley, "is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds."
If this be the need, how have our poets been answering it of late years? How, for instance, did they answer it during the South African War, when (according to our newspapers) there was plenty of patriotic emotion available to inspire the great organ of national song? Well, let us kick up what dust we will over 'Imperial ideals,' we must admit, at least, that these ideals are not yet 'accepted of song': they have not inspired poetry in any way adequate to the nobility claimed for them. Mr. Swinburne and Mr. Henley saluted the Boer War in verse of much truculence, but no quality; and when Mr. Swinburne and Mr. Henley lacked quality one began to inquire into causes. Mr. Kipling's Absent-minded Beggars, Muddied Oafs, Goths and Huns, invited one to consider why he should so often be first-rate when neglecting or giving the lie to his pet political doctrines, and invariably below form when enforcing them. For the rest, the Warden of Glenalmond bubbled and squeaked, and Mr. Alfred Austin, like the man at the piano, kept on doing his best. It all came to nothing: as poetry it never began to be more than null. Mr. Hardy wrote a few mournfully memorable lines on the seamy side of war. Mr. Owen Seaman (who may pass for our contemporary Aristophanes) was smart and witty at the expense of those whose philosophy goes a little deeper than surface-polish. One man alone—Mr. Henry Newbolt—struck a note which even his opponents had to respect. The rest exhibited plenty of the turbulence of passion, but none of the gravity of thoughtful emotion. I don't doubt they were, one and all, honest in their way. But as poetry their utterances were negligible. As writers of real poetry the Anti-Jingoes, and especially the Celts, held and still hold the field.
I will not adduce poets of admitted eminence—Mr. Watson, for instance, or Mr. Yeats—to prove my case. I am content to go to a young poet who has his spurs to win, and will ask you to consider this little poem, and especially its final stanza. He calls it—
If thou hast squander'd years to grave a gem Commissioned by thy absent Lord, and while 'Tis incomplete, Others would bribe thy needy skill to them— Dismiss them to the street!
Should'st thou at last discover Beauty's grove, At last be panting on the fragrant verge, But in the track, Drunk with divine possession, thou meet Love— Turn, at her bidding, back.
When round thy ship in tempest Hell appears, And every spectre mutters up more dire To snatch control And loose to madness thy deep-kennell'd Fears,— Then to the helm, O Soul!
Last, if upon the cold, green-mantling sea Thou cling, alone with Truth, to the last spar, Both castaway, And one must perish—let it not be he Whom thou art sworn to obey.
The author of these lines is a Mr. Herbert Trench, who (as I say) has his spurs to win. Yet I defy you to read them without recognising a note of high seriousness which is common to our great poets and utterly foreign to our modern bards of empire. The man, you will perceive, dares to talk quite boldly about the human soul. Now you will search long in our Jingo bards for any recognition of the human soul: the very word is unpopular. And as men of eminence write, so lesser wits imitate. A while ago I picked up a popular magazine, and happened on these verses—fluently written and, beyond a doubt, honestly meant. They are in praise of King Henry VIII.:—
King Harry played at tennis, and he threw the dice a-main, And did all things that seemed to him for his own and England's gain; He would not be talked to lightly, he would not be checked or chid; And he got what things he dreamed to get, and did— what things he did.
When Harry played at tennis it was well for this our Isle— He cocked his nose at Interdicts; he 'stablished us the while— He was lustful; he was vengeful; he was hot and hard and proud; But he set his England fairly in the sight of all the crowd.
So Harry played at tennis, and we perfected the game Which astonished swaggering Spaniards when the fat Armada came. And possession did he give us of our souls in sturdiness; And he gave us peace from priesthood: and he gave us English Bess!
When Harry played at tennis we began to know this thing— That a mighty people prospers in a mighty-minded king. We boasted not our righteousness—we took on us our sin, For Bluff Hal was just an Englishman who played the game to win.
You will perceive that in the third stanza the word 'soul' occurs: and I invite you to compare this author's idea of a soul with Mr. Trench's. This author will have nothing to do with the old advice about doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly before God. The old notion that to conquer self is a higher feat than to take a city he dismisses out of hand. "Be lustful be vengeful," says he, "but play the game to win, and you have my applause. Get what you want, set England fairly in sight of the crowd, and you are a mighty-minded man." Now the first and last comment upon such a doctrine must be that, if a God exist, it is false. It sets up a part to override the whole: it flaunts a local success against the austere majesty of Divine law. In brief, it foolishly derides the universal, saying that it chooses to consider the particular as more important. But it is not. Poetry's concern is with the universal: and what makes the Celts (however much you may dislike them) the most considerable force in English poetry at this moment is that they occupy themselves with that universal truth, which, before any technical accomplishment, is the guarantee of good poetry.
Now, when you tell yourself that the days of 'English Bess' were jolly fine empire-making days, and produced great poets (Shakespeare, for example) worthy of them; and when you go on to reflect that these also are jolly fine empire-making days, but that somehow Mr. Austin is your laureate, and that the only poetry which counts is being written by men out of harmony with your present empire-making mood, the easiest plan (if you happen to think the difference worth considering) will be to call the Muse a traitress, and declare that every poem better than Mr. Austin's is a vote given to—whatever nation your Yellow Press happens to be insulting at this moment. But, if you care to look a little deeper, you may find that some difference in your methods of empire-making is partly accountable for the change. A true poet must cling to universal truth; and by insulting it (as, for example, by importing into present-day politics the spirit which would excuse the iniquities of Henry VIII. on the ground that 'he gave us English Bess'!) you are driving the true poet out of your midst. Read over the verses above quoted, and then repeat to yourself, slowly, these lines:—
"Last, if upon the cold, green-mantling sea Thou cling, alone with Truth, to the last spar, Both castaway, And one must perish—let it not be he Whom thou art sworn to obey."
I ask no more. If a man cannot see the difference at once, I almost despair of making him perceive why poetry refuses just now even more obstinately than trade (if that be possible) to 'follow the flag.' It will not follow, because you are waving the flag over self-deception. You may be as blithe as Plato in casting out the poets from your commonwealth—though for other reasons than his. You may be as blithe as Dogberry in determining, of reading and writing, that they may appear when there is no need of such vanity. But you are certainly driving them forth to say, in place of "O beloved city of Cecrops!" "O beloved city of God!" There was a time, not many years ago, when an honest poet could have used both cries together and deemed that he meant the same thing by the two. But the two cries to-day have an utterly different meaning—and by your compulsion or by the compulsion of such politics as you have come to tolerate.
And therefore the young poet whom I have quoted has joined the band of those poets whom we are forcing out of the city, to leave our ideals to the fate which, since the world began, has overtaken all ideals which could not get themselves 'accepted by song.' Even as we drum these poets out we know that they are the only ones worth reckoning with, and that man cannot support himself upon assurances that he is the strongest fellow in the world, and the richest, and owns the biggest house, and pays the biggest rates, and wins whatever game he plays at, and stands so high in his clothes that while the Southern Cross rises over his hat-brim it is already broad day on the seat of his breeches. For that is what it all comes to: and the sentence upon the man who neglects the warning of these poets, while he heaps up great possessions, is still, "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee." And where is the national soul you would choose, at that hasty summons, to present for inspection, having to stand your trial upon it? Try Park Lane, or run and knock up the Laureate, and then come and report your success!
Weeks ago I was greatly reproached by a correspondent for misusing the word 'Celtic,' and informed that to call Mr. Yeats or Mr. Trench a Celt is a grave abuse of ethnical terms; that a notable percentage of the names connected with the 'Celtic Revival'—Hyde, Sigerson, Atkinson, Stokes—are not Celtic at all but Teutonic; that, in short, I have been following the multitude to speak loosely. Well, I confess it, and I will confess further that the lax use of the word 'Celt' ill beseems one who has been irritated often enough by the attempts of well-meaning but muddle-headed people who get hold of this or that poet and straightly assign this or that quality of his verse to a certain set of corpuscles in his mixed blood. Although I believe that my correspondent is too hasty in labelling men's descent from their names—for the mother has usually some share in producing a child; although I believe that Mr. Yeats, for instance, inherits Cornish blood on one side, even if Irish be denied him on the other; yet the rebuke contains some justice.
Still, I must maintain that these well-meaning theorists err only in applying a broad distinction with overmuch nicety. There is, after all, a certain quality in a poem of Blake's, or a prose passage of Charlotte Bronte's, which a critic is not only unable to ignore, but which—if he has any 'comparative' sense—he finds himself accounting for by saying, "This man, or this woman, must be a Celt or have some admixture of Celtic blood." I say quite confidently that quality cannot be ignored. You open (let us say) a volume of Blake, and your eye falls on these two lines—
"When the stars threw down their spears And watered heaven with their tears,"
And at once you are aware of an imagination different in kind from the imagination you would recognise as English. Let us, if you please, rule out all debate of superiority; let us take Shakespeare for comparison, and Shakespeare at his best:—
"These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits, and Are melted into air, into thin air; And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made of, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep."
Finer poetry than this I can hardly find in English to quote for you. But fine as it is, will you not observe the matter-of-factness (call it healthy, if you will, and I shall not gainsay you) beneath Shakespeare's noble language? It says divinely what it has to say; and what it has to say is full of solemn thought. But, for better or worse (or, rather, without question of better or worse), Blake's imagination is moving on a different plane. We may think it an uncomfortably superhuman plane; but let us note the difference, and note further that this plane was habitual with Blake. Now because of his immense powers we are accustomed to think of Shakespeare as almost superhuman: we pay that tribute to his genius, his strength, and the enormous impression they produce on us. But a single couplet of Blake's will carry more of this uncanny superhuman imagination than the whole five acts of Hamlet. So great is Shakespeare, that he tempts us to think him capable of any flight of wing; but set down a line or two of Blake's—
"A robin redbreast in a cage Puts all heaven in a rage . . . A skylark wounded on the wing Doth make a cherub cease to sing."
—And, simple as the thought is, at once you feel it to lie outside the range of Shakespeare's philosophy. Shakespeare's men are fine, brave, companionable fellows, full of passionate love, jealousy, ambition; of humour, gravity, strength of mind; of laughter and rage, of the joy and stress of living. But self-sacrifice scarcely enters into their notion of the scheme of things, and they are by no means men to go to death for an idea. We remember what figure Shakespeare made of Sir John Oldcastle, and I wish we could forget what figure he made of Joan of Arc. Within the bounds of his philosophy—the philosophy, gloriously stated, of ordinary brave, full-blooded men— he is a great encourager of virtue; and so such lines as—
"The expense of spirit in a waste of shame Is lust in action . . ."
Are thoroughly Shakespearean, while such lines as—
"A robin redbreast in a cage Puts all heaven in a rage . . ."
Are as little Shakespearean in thought as in phrasing. He can tell us that:
"We are such stuff As dreams are made of, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep."
He can muse on that sleep to come:—
"To die, to sleep; To sleep; perchance to dream; aye, there's the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause."
But that even in this life we may be more truly ourselves when dreaming than when waking—that what we dream may perchance turn out to be more real and more important than what we do—such a thought overpasses his imaginative range; or, since to dogmatise on his imaginative range is highly dangerous, let us be content with saying that it lies outside his temperament, and that he would have hit on such a thought only to dismiss it with contempt. So when we open a book of poems and come upon a monarch crying out that:
"A wild and foolish labourer is a king, To do and do and do and never dream,"
We know that we are hearkening to a note which is not Shakespearean at all, not practical, not English. And we want a name for that note.
I have followed the multitude to call it Celtic because in practice when we come upon this note we are pretty safe to discover that the poet who utters it has Celtic blood in him (Blake's poetry, for instance, told me that he must be an Irishman before ever I reflected that his name was Irish, or thought of looking up his descent). Since, however the blood of most men in these islands is by this time mixed with many strains: since also, though the note be not native with him, nothing forbids even a pure-blooded Anglo-Saxon from learning it and assimilating it: lastly, since there is obvious inconvenience in using the same word for an ethnical delimitation and a psychological, when their boundaries do not exactly correspond—and if some Anglo-Saxons have the 'Celtic' note it is certain that many thousands of Celts have not; why then I shall be glad enough to use a better and a handier and a more exact, if only some clever person will provide it.
Meanwhile, let it be understood that in speaking of a 'Celtic' note I accuse no fellow-creature of being an Irishman, Scotsman, Welshman, Manxman, Cornishman, or Breton. The poet will as a rule turn out to be one or other of these, or at least to have a traceable strain of Celtic blood in him. But to the note only is the term applied, Now this note may be recognised by many tokens; but the first and chiefest is its insistence upon man's brotherhood with bird and beast, star and flower, everything, in short, which we loosely call 'nature,' his brotherhood even with spirits and angels, as one of an infinite number of microcosms reflecting a common image of God. And poetry which holds by this creed will hardly be subservient to societies and governments and legalised doctrines and conventions; it will hold to them by a long and loose chain, if at all. It flies high enough, at any rate, to take a bird's-eye view of all manner of things which in the temple, the palace, or the market-place, have come to be taken as axiomatic. It eyes them with an extraordinary 'dissoluteness'—if you will give that word its literal meaning. It sees that some accepted virtues carry no reflection of heaven; it sees that heaven, on the other hand—so infinite is its care—may shake with anger from bound to bound at the sight of a caged bird. It sees that the souls of living things, even of the least conspicuous, reach up by chains and are anchored in heaven, while 'great' events slide by on the surface of this skimming planet with empires and their ordinances.
"And so the Emperor went in the procession under the splendid canopy. And all the people in the streets and at the windows said, 'Bless us! what matchless new clothes our Emperor has!' But he hasn't anything on!' cried a little child. 'Dear me, just listen to what the little innocent says,' observed his father, and the people whispered to each other what the child had said. 'He hasn't anything on!' they began to shout at last. This made the Emperor's flesh creep, because he thought that they were right; but he said to himself, 'I must keep it up through the procession, anyhow.' And he walked on still more majestically, and the Chamberlains walked behind and carried the train, though there was none to carry."
This parable of the Emperor without clothes can be matched, for simplicity and searching directness, against any parable outside of the Gospels, and it agrees with the Divine parables in exalting the wisdom of a child. I will not dare to discuss that wisdom here. I observe that when the poets preach it we tender them our applause. We applaud Vaughan's lines:—
"Happy those early days, when I Shin'd in my angel-infancy . . . When yet I had not walk'd above A mile or two from my first love, And looking back—at that short space— Could see a glimpse of His bright face; When on some gilded cloud or flow'r My gazing soul would dwell an hour, And in those weaker glories spy Some shadows of eternity. . . ."
We applaud Wordsworth's glorious ode—
"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy! . . ."
We applaud even old John Earle's prose when he tells us of a Child that—
"The elder he grows, he is a stair lower from God; and, like his first father, much worse in his breeches. He is the Christian's example, and the old man's relapse; the one imitates his pureness, the other falls into his simplicity. . . . His father hath writ him as his own little story, wherein he reads those days of his life that he cannot remember, and sighs to see what innocence he hath outlived. . . . Could he put off his body with his little coat, he had got eternity without a burden, and exchanged but one heaven for another."
But while we applaud this pretty confident attribution of divine wisdom to children, we are much too cautious to translate it into practice. "It is far too shadowy a notion," says Wordsworth prudently, "to be recommended to faith as more than an element in our instincts of immortality;" and he might have added that, while the Child may be Father of the Man, the Man reserves the privilege of spanking. Even so I observe that, while able to agree cordially with Christ on the necessity of becoming as little children as a condition of entering the Kingdom of Heaven, we are not so injudicious as to act upon any such belief; nay, we find ourselves obliged to revise and re-interpret the wisdom of the Gospels when we find it too impracticably childish. When Christ, for instance, forbids oaths of all kinds, we feel sure He cannot be serious, or we should have to upset a settled practice of the courts. And as for resisting no evil and forgiving our enemies, why, good Heavens! what would become of our splendid armaments! The suggestion, put so down rightly, is quite too wild. In short, as a distinguished Bishop put it, society could not exist for forty-eight hours on the lines laid down in the Sermon on the Mount. (I forget the Bishop's exact words, but they amounted to a complete and thoroughly common-sense repudiation of Gospel Christianity.)
No; it is obvious that, in so far as the Divine teaching touches on conduct, we must as practical men correct it, and with a special look-out for its indulgent misunderstanding of children. Children, as a matter of experience, have no sense of the rights of property. They steal apples.
And yet—there must be something in this downright wisdom of childishness since Christ went (as we must believe) out of His way to lay such stress on it; and since our own hearts respond so readily when Vaughan or Wordsworth claim divinity for it. We cannot of course go the length of believing that the great, wise, and eminent men of our day are engaged one and all in the pursuit of shadows. 'Shadows we are and shadows we pursue' sounded an exquisitely solemn note in an election speech; but after all, we must take the world as we find it, and the world as we find it has its own recognised rewards. No success attended the poet who wrote that—