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Immortal Memories
by Clement Shorter
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Transcribed from the 1907 Hodder and Stoughton edition by David Price, email ccx074@pglaf.org



IMMORTAL MEMORIES

By CLEMENT SHORTER

HODDER AND STOUGHTON LONDON MCMVII

Butler and Tanner, The Selwood Printing Works, Frome, and London.



PREFATORY

The following addresses were delivered at the request of various literary societies and commemorative committees. They amused me to write, and they apparently interested the audiences for which they were primarily intended. Perhaps they do not bear an appearance in print. But they are not for my brother-journalists to read nor for the judicious men of letters. I prefer to think that they are intended solely for those whom Hazlitt styled "sensible people." Hazlitt said that "the most sensible people to be met with in society are men of business and of the world." I am hoping that these will buy my book and that some of them will like it.

It is recorded by Sir Henry Taylor of Samuel Rogers that when he wrote that very indifferent poem, Italy, he said, "I will make people buy. Turner shall illustrate my verse." It is of no importance that the biographer of Rogers tells us that the poet first made the artist known to the world by these illustrations. Taylor's story is a good one, and the moral worth taking to heart. The late Lord Acton, most learned and most accomplished of men, wrote out a list of the hundred best books as he considered them to be. They were printed in a popular magazine. They naturally excited much interest. I have rescued them from the pages of the Pall Mall Magazine. Those who will not buy my book for its seven other essays may do so on account of Lord Acton's list of books being here first preserved "between boards." I shall be equally well pleased.

CLEMENT SHORTER.

GREAT MISSENDEN, BUCKS.



I. TO THE IMMORTAL MEMORY OF DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON

A toast proposed at the Johnson Birthday Celebration held at the Three Crowns Inn, Lichfield, in September, 1906.

In rising to propose this toast I cannot ignore what must be in many of your minds, the recollection that last year it was submitted by a very dear friend of my own, who, alas! has now gone to his rest, I mean Dr. Richard Garnett. {3} Many of you who heard him in this place will recall, with kindly memories, that venerable scholar. I am one of those who, in the interval have stood beside his open grave; and I know you will permit me to testify here to the fact that rarely has such brilliant scholarship been combined with so kindly a nature, and with so much generosity to other workers in the literary field. One may sigh that it is not possible to perpetuate for all time for the benefit of others the vast mass of learning which such men as Dr. Garnett are able to accumulate. One may lament even more that one is not able to present in some concrete form, as an example to those who follow, his fine qualities of heart and mind—his generous faculty for 'helping lame dogs over stiles.'

Dr. Garnett had not only a splendid erudition that specially qualified him for proposing this toast, he had also what many of you may think an equally exceptional qualification—he was a native of Lichfield; he was born in this fine city. As a Londoner—like Boswell when charged with the crime of being a Scotsman I may say that I cannot help it—I suppose I should come to you with hesitating footsteps. Perhaps it was rash of me to come at all, in spite of an invitation so kindly worded. Yet how gladly does any lover, not only of Dr. Johnson, but of all good literature, come to Lichfield. Four cathedral cities of our land stand forth in my mind with a certain magnetic power to draw even the most humble lover of books towards them—Oxford, Bath, Norwich, Lichfield, these four and no others. Oxford we all love and revere as the nourishing mother of so many famous men. Here we naturally recall Dr. Johnson's love of it—his defence of it against all comers. The glamour of Oxford and the memory of the great men who from age to age have walked its streets and quadrangles, is with us upon every visit. Bath again has noble memories. Upon house after house in that fine city is inscribed the fact that it was at one time the home of a famous man or woman of the past. Through its streets many of our great imaginative writers have strolled, and those streets have been immortalized in the pages of several great novelists, notably of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

For the City of Norwich I have a particular affection, as for long the home in quite separate epochs of Sir Thomas Browne and of George Borrow. I recall that in the reign of one of its Bishops—the father of Dean Stanley—there was a literary circle of striking character, that men and women of intellect met in the episcopal palace to discuss all 'obstinate questionings.'

But if he were asked to choose between the golden age of Bath, of Norwich, or of Lichfield, I am sure that any man who knew his books would give the palm to Lichfield, and would recall that period in the life of Lichfield when Dr. Seward resided in the Bishop's Palace, with his two daughters, and when they were there entertaining so many famous friends. I saw the other day the statement that Anna Seward's name was unknown to the present generation. Now I have her works in nine volumes {6}; I have read them, and I doubt not but that there are many more who have done the same. Sir Walter Scott's friendship would alone preserve her memory if every line she wrote deserved to be forgotten as is too readily assumed. Scott, indeed, professed admiration for her verse, and a yet greater poet, Wordsworth, wrote in praise of two fine lines at the close of one of her sonnets, that entitled 'Invitation to a Friend,' lines which I believe present the first appearance in English poetry of the form of blank verse immortalized by Tennyson.

Come, that I may not hear the winds of night, Nor count the heavy eave-drops as they fall.

"You have well criticized the poetic powers of this lady," says Wordsworth, "but, after all, her verses please me, with all their faults, better than those of Mrs. Barbauld, who, with much higher powers of mind, was spoiled as a poetess by being a dissenter."

Less, however, can be said for her poetry to-day than for her capacity as a letter writer. A letter writing faculty has immortalized more than one English author, Horace Walpole for example, who had this in common with Anna Seward, that he had the bad taste not to like Dr. Johnson.

Sooner or later there will be a reprint of a selection of Anna Seward's correspondence; you will find in it a picture of country life in the middle of the eighteenth century—and by that I mean Lichfield life—that is quite unsurpassed. Anna Seward, her friends and her enemies, stand before us in very marked outline. As with Walpole also, she must have written with an eye to publication. Veracity was not her strong point, but her literary faculty was very marked indeed. Those who have read the letters that treat of her sister's betrothal and death, for example, will not easily forget them. The accepted lover, you remember, was a Mr. Porter, a son of the widow whom Johnson married; and Sarah Seward, aged only eighteen, died soon after her betrothal to him. That is but one of a thousand episodes in the world into which we are introduced in these pages. {8}

The Bishop's Palace was the scene of brilliant symposiums. There one might have met Erasmus Darwin of the Botanic Garden, whose fame has been somewhat dulled by the extraordinary genius of his grandson. There also came Richard Edgeworth, the father of Maria, whose Castle Rackrent and The Absentee are still among the most delightful books that we read; and there were the two young girls, Honora and Elizabeth Sneyd, who were destined in succession to become Richard Edgeworth's wives. There, above all, was Thomas Day, the author of Sanford and Merton, a book which delighted many of us when we were young, and which I imagine with all its priggishness will always survive as a classic for children. There, for a short time, came Major Andre, betrothed to Honora Sneyd, but destined to die so tragically in the American War of Independence. It is to Miss Seward's malicious talent as a letter writer that we owe the exceedingly picturesque account of Day's efforts to obtain a wife upon a particular pattern, his selection of Sabrina Sidney, whom he prepared for that high destiny by sending her to a boarding school until she was of the right age—his lessons in stoicism—his disappointment because she screamed when he fired pistols at her petticoats, and yelled when he dropped melted sealing-wax on her bare arms; it is a tragi-comic picture, and one is glad that Sabrina married some other man than her exacting guardian. But we would not miss Miss Seward's racy stories for anything, nor ignore her many letters with their revelation of the glories of old- time Lichfield, and of those 'lunar meetings' at which the wise ones foregathered. Now and again these worthies burst into sarcasm at one another's expense, as when Darwin satirizes the publication of Mr. Seward's edition of Beaumont and Fletcher, and Dr. Johnson's edition of Shakspere

From Lichfield famed two giant critics come, Tremble, ye Poets! hear them! Fe, Fo, Fum! By Seward's arm the mangled Beaumont bled, And Johnson grinds poor Shakspere's bones for bread.

But perhaps after all, if we eliminate Dr. Johnson, the lover of letters gives the second place, not to Miss Seward and her circle, but to David Garrick. Lichfield contains more than one memento of that great man. The actor's art is a poor sort of thing as a rule. Johnson, in his tarter moments, expresses this attitude, as when he talked of Garrick as a man who exhibited himself for a shilling, when he called him 'a futile fellow,' and implied that it was very unworthy of Lord Campden to have made much of the actor and to have ignored so distinguished a writer as Goldsmith, when thrown into the company of both. Still undoubtedly Johnson's last word upon Garrick is the best—'his death has eclipsed the gaiety of nations and diminished the public stock of harmless pleasure.' We who live more than a hundred years later are able to recognize that Garrick has been the one great actor from that age to this. As a rule the mummers are mimics and little more, and generations go on, giving them their brief but glorious hour of fame, and then leaving them as mere names in the history of the stage. Garrick was preserved from this fate, not only by the circumstance that he had an army of distinguished literary friends, but by his interesting personality and by his own writings. Many lines of his plays and prologues have become part of current speech. Moreover his must have been a great personality, as those of us who have met Sir Henry Irving in these latter days have realized that his was also a great personality. It is fitting, therefore, that these two great actors, the most famous of an interesting, if not always an heroic profession, should lie side by side in Westminster Abbey.

I now come to my toast "The memory of Dr. Johnson." After all, Johnson was the greatest of all Lichfieldians, and one of the great men of his own and of all ages. We may talk about him and praise him because we shall be the better for so doing, but we shall certainly say nothing new. One or two points, however, seem to me worthy of emphasis in this company of Johnsonians. I think we should resent two popular fallacies which you will not hear from literary students, but only from one whom it is convenient to call "the man in the street." The first is, that we should know nothing about Johnson if it were not for Boswell's famous life, and the second that Johnson the author is dead, and that our great hero only lives as a brilliant conversationalist in the pages of Boswell and others. Boswell's Life of Johnson is the greatest biography in the English language; we all admit that. It is crowded with incident and anecdote. Neither Walter Scott nor Rousseau, each of whom has had an equal number of pages devoted to his personality, lives so distinctly for future ages as does Johnson in the pages of Boswell. Understanding all this, we are entitled to ask ourselves what we should have thought of Dr. Johnson had there been no Boswell; and to this question I do not hesitate to answer that we should have loved him as much as ever, and that there would still have been a mass of material with the true Boswellian flavour. He would not have made an appeal to so large a public, but some ingenious person would have drawn together all the anecdotes, all the epigrams, all the touches of that fine humanity, and given us from these various sources an amalgam of Johnson, that every bookman at least would have desired to read and study. In Fanny Burney's Letters and Diaries the presentation of Johnson is delightful. I wonder very much that all the Johnson fragments that Miss Burney provides have not been published separately. Then Mrs. Thrale has chatted about Johnson copiously in her "Anecdotes," and these pleasant stories have been reprinted again and again for the curious. I recall many other sources of information about the great man and his wonderful talk—by Miss Hawkins, Miss Reynolds, Miss Hannah More for example—and many of you who have Dr. Birkbeck Hill's Johnson Miscellanies have these in a pleasantly acceptable form.

My second point is concerned with Dr. Johnson's position apart from all this fund of anecdote, and this brilliant collection of unforgettable epigram in Boswell and elsewhere. As a writer, many will tell you, Dr. Johnson is dead. The thing is absurd on the face of it. There is room for some disagreement as to his position as a poet. On that question of poetry unanimity is ever hard to seek; so many mistake rhetoric for poetry. Only twice at the most, it seems to me, does Dr. Johnson reach anything in the shape of real inspiration in his many poems, {15} although it must be admitted that earlier generations admired them greatly. To have been praised ardently by Sir Walter Scott, by Byron, and by Tennyson should seem sufficient to demonstrate that he was a poet, were it not that, as I could prove if time allowed, poets are almost invariably bad critics of poetry. Sir Walter Scott read The Vanity of Human Wishes with "a choking sensation in the throat," and declared that he had more pleasure in reading that and Johnson's other long poem, London, than any other poetic compositions he could mention. But then I think it was always the sentiment in verse, and not its quality, that attracted Scott. Byron also declared that The Vanity of Human Wishes was "a great poem." Certainly these poems are quotable poems. Who does not recall the line about "surveying mankind from China to Peru," or think, as Johnson taught us, to:—

Mark what ills the scholar's life assail, Toil, envy, want, the patron, and the jail.

Or remember his epitaph on one who:—

Left a name at which the world grew pale, To point a moral or adorn a tale.

One line—"Superfluous lags the veteran on the stage" has done duty again and again. I might quote a hundred such examples to show Johnson, whatever his qualities as a poet, is very much alive indeed in his verse. It is, however, as a great prose writer, that I prefer to consider him. Here he is certainly one of the most permanent forces in our literature. Rasselas, for example, while never ranking with us moderns quite so high as it did with the excellent Miss Jenkins in Cranford, is a never failing delight. So far from being a dead book, is there a young man or a young woman setting out in the world of to-day, aspiring to an all-round literary cultivation, who is not required to know it? It has been republished continually. What novelist of our time would not give much to have so splendid a public recognition as was provided when Lord Beaconsfield, then Mr. Disraeli, after the Abyssinian Expedition, pictured in the House of Commons "the elephants of Asia dragging the artillery of Europe over the mountains of Rasselas."

Equally in evidence are those wonderful Lives of The Poets which Johnson did not complete until he was seventy-two years of age, literary efforts which have always seemed to me to be an encouraging demonstration that we should never allow ourselves to grow old. Many of these 'Lives' are very beautiful. They are all suggestive. Only the other day I read them again in the fine new edition that was prepared by that staunch Johnsonian, Dr. Birkbeck Hill. The greatest English critic of these latter days, Mr. Matthew Arnold, showed his appreciation by making a selection from them for popular use. From age to age every man with the smallest profession of interest in literature will study them. Of how many books can this be said?

Greatest of all was Johnson as a writer in his least premeditated work, his Prayers and Meditations. They take rank in my mind with the very best things of their kind, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, The Confessions of Rousseau, and similar books. They are healthier than any of their rivals. William Cowper, that always fascinating poet and beautiful letter writer, more than once disparaged Johnson in this connexion. Cowper said that he would like to have "dusted Johnson's jacket until his pension rattled in his pocket," for what he had said about Milton. He read some extracts, after Johnson's death, from the Meditations, and wrote contemptuously of them. {18} But if Cowper had always possessed, in addition to his fascinating other-worldliness the healthy worldliness of Dr. Johnson, perhaps we should all have been the happier. To me that collection of Prayers and Meditations seems one of the most helpful books that I have ever read, and I am surprised that it is not constantly reprinted in a handy form. {19} It is a valuable inspiration to men to keep up their spirits under adverse conditions, to conquer the weaknesses of their natures; not in the stifling manner of Thomas a Kempis, but in a breezy, robust way. Yes, I think that these three works, Rasselas, The Lives of the Poets, and the Prayers and Meditations, make it quite clear that Johnson still holds his place as one of our greatest writers, even if we were not familiar with his many delightful letters, and had not read his Rambler—which his old enemy, Miss Anna Seward, insisted was far better than Addison's Spectator.

All this is only to say that we cannot have too much of Dr. Johnson. The advantage of such a gathering as this is that it helps us to keep that fact alive. Moreover, I feel that it is a good thing if we can hearten those who have devoted themselves to laborious research connected with such matters. Take, for example, the work of Dr. Birkbeck Hill: his many volumes are a delight to the Johnson student. I knew Dr. Hill very well, and I have often felt that his work did not receive half the encouragement that it deserved. We hear sometimes, at least in London, of authors who advertise themselves. I rather fancy that all such advertisement is monopolized by the novelist, and that the newspapers do not trouble themselves very much about literary men who work in other fields than that of fiction. Fiction has much to be said for it, but as a rule it reaps its reward very promptly, both in finance and in fame. No such rewards come to the writer of biography, to the writer of history, to the literary editor. Dr. Hill's beautiful edition of Boswell's Life, with all its fascinating annotation, did not reach a second edition in his lifetime. I am afraid that the sum that he made out of it, or that his publishers made out of it, would seem a very poor reward indeed when gauged by the results in other fields of labour.

Within the past few weeks I have had the privilege of reading a book that continues these researches. Mr. Aleyn Lyell Reade has published a handsome tome, which he has privately printed, entitled Dr. Johnson's Ancestry: His Kinsfolk and Family Connexions. I am glad to hear that the Johnson Museum has purchased a copy, for such a work deserves every encouragement. The author must have spent hundreds of pounds, without the faintest possibility of obtaining either fame or money from the transaction. He seems to have employed copyists in every town in Staffordshire, to copy wills, registers of births and deaths, and kindred records from the past. Now Dr. Birkbeck Hill could not have afforded to do this; he was by no means a rich man. Mr. Reade has clearly been able to spare no expense, with the result that here are many interesting facts corrective of earlier students. The whole is a valuable record of the ancestry of Dr. Johnson. It shows clearly that whereas Dr. Johnson thought very little of his ancestry, and scarcely knew anything of his grandfather on the paternal or the maternal side, he really sprang from a very remarkable stock, notably on the maternal side; and that his mother's family, the Fords, had among their connexions all kinds of fairly prosperous people, clergymen, officials, professional men as well as sturdy yeomen. These ancestors of Dr. Johnson did not help him much to push his way in the world. Of some of them he had scarcely heard. All the same it is of great interest to us to know this; it in a manner explains him. That before Samuel Johnson was born, one of his family had been Lord Mayor of London, another a Sheriff, that they had been associated in various ways, not only with the city of his birth, but also with the great city which Johnson came to love so much, is to let in a flood of fresh light upon our hero. My time does not permit me to do more than make a passing reference to this book, but I should like to offer here a word of thanks to its author for his marvellous industry, and a word of congratulation to him for the extraordinary success that has accrued to his researches.

I mention Mr. Reade's book because it is full of Lichfield names and Lichfield associations, and it is with Dr. Johnson's life-long connexion with Lichfield that all of us are thinking to-night. Now here I may say, without any danger of being challenged by some visitor who has the misfortune not to be a citizen of Lichfield—you who are will not wish to challenge me—that this city has distinguished itself in quite an unique way. I do not believe that it can be found that any other town or city of England—I will not say of Scotland or of Ireland—has done honour to a literary son in the same substantial measure that Lichfield has done honour to Samuel Johnson. The peculiar glory of the deed is that it was done to the living Johnson, not coming, as so many honours do, too late for a man to find pleasure in the recognition. We know that—

Seven wealthy towns contend for Homer dead, Through which the living Homer begged his bread.

But I doubt whether in the whole history of literature in England it can be found that any other purely literary man has received in his lifetime so substantial a mark of esteem from the city which gave him birth, as Johnson did when your Corporation, in 1767, "at a common-hall of the bailiffs and citizens, without any solicitation," presented him with the ninety-nine years' lease of the house in which he was born. Your citizens not only did that for Johnson, but they gave him other marks of their esteem. He writes from Lichfield to Sir Joshua Reynolds to express his pleasure that his portrait has been "much visited and much admired." "Every man," he adds, "has a lurking desire to appear considerable in his native place." Then we all remember Boswell's naive confession that his pleasure at finding his hero so much beloved led him, when the pair arrived at this very hostelry, to imbibe too much of the famous Lichfield ale. If Boswell wished, as he says, to offer incense to the spirit of the place, how much more may we desire to do so to-night, when exactly 125 years have passed, and his hero is now more than ever recognized as a king of men.

I do not suggest that we should honour Johnson in quite the same way that Boswell did. This is a more abstemious age. But we must drink to his memory all the same. Think of it. A century and a quarter have passed since that memorable evening at the Three Crowns, when Johnson and Boswell thus foregathered in this very room. You recall the journey from Birmingham of the two companions. "We are getting out of a state of death," the Doctor said with relief, as he approached his native city, feeling all the magic and invigoration that is said to come to those who in later years return to "calf-land." Then how good he was to an old schoolfellow who called upon him here. The fact that this man had failed in the battle of life while Johnson had succeeded, only made the Doctor the kinder. I know of no more human picture than that—"A Mr. Jackson," as he is called by Boswell, "in his coarse grey coat," obviously very poor, and as Boswell suggests, "dull and untaught." The "great Cham of Literature" listens patiently as the worthy Jackson tells his troubles, so much more patiently than he would have listened to one of the famous men of his Club in London, and the hero-worshipping Boswell drinks his deep potations, but never neglects to take notes the while. Of Boswell one remembers further that Johnson had told Wilkes that he had brought him to Lichfield, "my native city," "that he might see for once real Civility—for you know he lives among savages in Scotland, and among rakes in London." All good stories are worth hearing again and again, and so I offer an apology for recalling the picture to your mind at this time and in this place.

Alas! I have not the gift of the worldfamed Lord Verulam, who, as Francis Bacon, sat in the House of Commons. The members, we are told, so delighted in his oratory that when he rose to speak they "were fearful lest he should make an end." I am making an end. Johnson then was not only a great writer, a conversationalist so unique that his sayings have passed more into current speech than those of any other Englishman, but he was also a great moralist—a superb inspiration to a better life. We should not love Johnson so much were he not presented to us as a man of many weaknesses and faults akin to our own, not a saint by any means, and therefore not so far removed from us as some more ethereal characters of whom we may read. Johnson striving to methodize his life, to fight against sloth and all the minor vices to which he was prone, is the Johnson whom some of us prefer to keep ever in mind. "Here was," I quote Carlyle, "a strong and noble man, one of our great English souls." I love him best in his book called Prayers and Meditations, where we know him as we know scarcely any other Englishman, for the good, upright fighter in this by no means easy battle of life. It is as such a fighter that we think of him to-night. Reading the account of his battles may help us to fight ours.

Gentlemen, I give you the toast of the evening. Let us drink in solemn silence, upstanding, "The Immortal Memory of Dr. Samuel Johnson."



II. TO THE IMMORTAL MEMORY OF WILLIAM COWPER

An address entitled 'The Sanity of Cowper,' delivered at the Centenary Celebration at Olney, Bucks, on the occasion of the Hundredth Anniversary of the Death of the poet William Cowper, April 25, 1900.

I owe some apology for coming down to Olney to take part in what I believe is a purely local celebration, in which no other Londoner, as far as I know, has been asked to take part. I am here not because I profess any special qualification to speak about Cowper, in the town with which his name is so pleasantly associated, but because Mr. Mackay, {31} the son-in-law of your Vicar, has written a book about the Brontes, and I have done likewise, and he asked me to come. This common interest has little, you will say, to do with the Poet of Olney. Between Cowper and Charlotte Bronte there were, however, not a few points of likeness or at least of contrast. Both were the children of country clergymen; both lived lives of singular and, indeed, unusual strenuousness; both were the very epitome of a strong Protestantism; and yet both—such is the inevitable toleration of genius—were drawn in an unusual manner to attachment to friends of the Roman Catholic Church—Cowper to Lady Throckmorton, who copied out some of his translations from Homer for him, assisted by her father-confessor, Dr. Gregson, and Miss Bronte to her Professor, M. Heger, the man in the whole world whom she most revered. Under circumstances of peculiar depression both these great Protestant writers went further on occasion than their Protestant friends would have approved, Cowper to contemplate—so he assures us in one of his letters—the entering a French monastery, and Miss Bronte actually to kneel in the Confessional in a Brussels church. Further, let me remind you that there were moments in the lives of Charlotte Bronte and her sisters, when Cowper's poem, The Castaway, was their most soul-stirring reading. Then, again, Mary Unwin's only daughter became the wife of a Vicar of Dewsbury, and it was at Dewsbury and to the very next vicar, that Mr. Bronte, the father of Charlotte, was curate when he first went into Yorkshire. Finally, let it be recalled that Cowper and Charlotte Bronte have attracted as much attention by the pathos of their lives as by anything that they wrote. Thus far, and no further, can a strained analogy carry us. The most enthusiastic admirers of the Brontes can only claim for them that they permanently added certain artistic treasures to our literature. Cowper did incomparably more than this. His work marked an epoch.

But first let me say how interested we who are strangers naturally feel in being in Olney. To every lover of literature Olney is made classic ground by the fact that Cowper spent some twenty years of his life in it—not always with too genial a contemplation of the place and its inhabitants. "The genius of Cowper throws a halo of glory over all the surroundings of Olney and Weston," says Dean Burgon. But Olney has claims apart from Cowper. John Newton {34} presents himself to me as an impressive personality. There was a time, indeed, of youthful impetuosity when I positively hated him, for Southey, whose biography I read very early in life, certainly endeavours to assist the view that Newton was largely responsible for the poet's periodical attacks of insanity.

But a careful survey of the facts modifies any such impression. Newton was narrow at times, he was over-concerned as to the letter, often ignoring the spirit of true piety, but the student of the two volumes of his Life and Correspondence that we owe to Josiah Bull, will be compelled to look at "the old African blasphemer" as he called himself, with much of sympathy. That he had a note of tolerance, with which he is not usually credited, we learn from one of his letters, where he says:

I am willing to be a debtor to the wise and to the unwise, to doctors and shoemakers, if I can get a hint from any one without respect of parties. When a house is on fire Churchmen and Dissenters, Methodists and Papists, Moravians and Mystics are all welcome to bring water. At such times nobody asks, "Pray, friend, whom do you hear?" or "What do you think of the five points?"

Even my good friend Canon Benham, who has done so much to sustain the honourable fame of Cowper, and who would have been here to-day but for a long-standing engagement, is scarcely fair to Newton. {35} It is not true, as has been suggested, that Cowper always changed his manner into one of painful sobriety when he wrote to Newton. One of his most humorous letters—a rhyming epistle—was addressed to that divine.

I have writ (he says) in a rhyming fit, what will make you dance, and as you advance, will keep you still, though against your will, dancing away, alert and gay, till you come to an end of what I have penned; which you may do ere Madam and you are quite worn out with jigging about, I take my leave, and here you receive a bow profound, down to the ground, from your humble me, W. C.

Now, I quote this very familiar passage from the correspondence to remind you that Cowper could only have written it to a man possessed of considerable healthy geniality.

At any rate, alike as a divine and as the author of the Olney Hymns, Newton holds an important place in the history of theology, and Olney has a right to be proud of him. An even more important place is held by Thomas Scott, {36} and it seems to me quite a wonderful thing that Olney should sometimes have held at one and the same moment three such remarkable men as Cowper, Newton, and Scott.

In my boyhood Scott's name was a household word, and many a time have I thumbed the volumes of his Commentaries, those Commentaries which Sir James Stephen declared to be "the greatest theological performance of our age and country." Of Scott Cardinal Newman in his Apologia said, it will be remembered, that "to him, humanly speaking, I almost owe my soul." Even here our literary associations with Olney and its neighbourhood are not ended, for, it was within five miles of this town—at Easton Maudit—that Bishop Percy {37} lived and prepared those Reliques which have inspired a century of ballad literature. Here the future Bishop of Dromore was visited by Dr. Johnson and others. What a pity that with only five miles separating them Cowper and Johnson should never have met! Would Cowper have reconsidered the wish made when he read Johnson's biography of Milton in the Lives of the Poets: "Oh! I could thresh his old jacket till I made his pension jingle in his pocket!"?

But it is with Cowper only that we have here to do, and when we are talking of Cowper the difficulty is solely one of compression. So much has been written about him and his work. The Lives of him form of themselves a most substantial library. He has been made the subject of what is surely the very worst biography in the language and of one that is among the very best. The well-meaning Hayley {38a} wrote the one, in which the word "tenderness" appears at least twice on every page, and Southey {38b} the other. Not less fortunate has the poet been in his critics. Walter Bagehot, James Russell Lowell, Mrs. Oliphant, George Eliot {38c}—these are but a few of the names that occur to me as having said something wise and to the point concerning the Poet of Olney.

I somehow feel that it is safer for me to refer to the Poet of Olney than to speak of William Cowper, because I am not quite sure how you would wish me to pronounce his name. Cooper, he himself pronounced it, as his family are in the habit of doing. The present Lord Cowper is known to all the world as Lord Cooper. The derivation of the name and the family coat-of-arms justify that pronunciation, and it might be said that a man was, and is, entitled to settle the question of the pronunciation of his own name. And yet I plead for what I am quite willing to allow is the incorrect pronunciation. All pronunciation, even of the simplest words, is settled finally by a consensus of custom. Throughout the English-speaking world the name is now constantly pronounced Cowper, as if that most useful and ornamental animal the cow had given it its origin. Well-read Scotland is peculiarly unanimous in the custom, and well-read America follows suit. William Shakspere, I doubt not, called himself Shaxspere, and we decline to imitate him, and so probably many of us will with a light heart go on speaking of William Cowper to the end of the chapter. At any rate Shakspere and Cowper, divergent as were their lives and their work—and one readily recognizes the incomparably greater position of the former—had alike a keen sense of humour, rare among poets it would seem, and hugely would they both have enjoyed such a controversy as this.

This suggestion of the humour of Cowper brings me to my main point. Humour is so essentially a note of sanity, and it is the sanity of Cowper that I desire to emphasize here. We have heard too much of the insanity of Cowper, of the "maniac's tongue" to which Mrs. Browning referred, of the "maniacal Calvinist" of whom Byron wrote somewhat scornfully. Only a day or two ago I read in a high-class journal that "one fears that Cowper's despondency and madness are better known to-day than his poetry." That is not to know the secret of Cowper. It is true that there were periods of maniacal depression, and these were not always religious ones. Now, it was from sheer nervousness at the prospect of meeting his fellows, now it was from a too logical acceptance of the doctrine of eternal punishment. Had it not been these, it would have been something else. It might have been politics, or a hundred things that now and again give a twist to the mind of the wisest. With Cowper it was generally religion. I am not here to promote a paradox. I accept the only too well-known story of Cowper's many visitations, but, looking back a century, for the purpose of asking what was Cowper's contribution to the world's happiness and why we meet to speak of our love for him to- day, I insist that these visitations are not essential to our memory of him as a great figure in our literature—the maker of an epoch.

Cowper lived for some seventy years—sixty-nine, to be exact. Of these years there was a period longer than the full term of Byron's life, of Shelley's or of Keats's, of perfect sanity, and it was in this period that he gave us what is one of the sanest achievements in our literature, view it as we may.

Let us look backwards over the century—a century which has seen many changes of which Cowper had scarcely any vision—the wonders of machinery and of electricity, of commercial enterprise, of the newspaper press, of book production. The galloping postboy is the most persistent figure in Cowper's landscape. He has been replaced by the motor car. Nations have arisen and fallen; a thousand writers have become popular and have ceased to be remembered. Other writers have sprung up who have made themselves immortal. Burns and Byron, Coleridge and Wordsworth, Scott and Shelley among the poets.

We ask ourselves, then, what distinctly differentiates Cowper's life from that of his brothers in poetry, and I reply—his sanity. He did not indulge in vulgar amours, as did Burns and Byron; he did not ruin his moral fibre by opium, as did Coleridge; he did not shock his best friends by an over-weening egotism, as did Wordsworth; he did not spoil his life by reckless financial complications, as did Scott; or by too great an enthusiasm to beat down the world's conventions, as did Shelley. I do not here condemn any one or other of these later poets. Their lives cannot be summed up in the mistakes they made. I only urge that, as it is not good to be at warfare with your fellows, to be burdened with debts that you have to kill yourself to pay, to alienate your friends by distressing mannerisms, to cease to be on speaking terms with your family—therefore Cowper, who avoided these things, and, out of threescore years and more allotted to him, lived for some forty or fifty years at least a quiet, idyllic life, surrounded by loyal and loving friends, had chosen the saner and safer path. That, it may be granted, was very much a matter of temperament, and for it one does not need to praise him. The appeal to us of Robert Burns to gently scan our brother man will necessarily find a ready acceptance to-day, and a plea on behalf of kindly toleration for any great writer who has inspired his fellows is natural and honourable. But Cowper does not require any such kindly toleration. His temperament led him to a placid life, where there were few temptations, and that life with its quiet walks, its occasional drives, its simple recreations, has stood for a whole century as our English ideal. It is what, amid the strain of the severest commercialism in our great cities, we look forward to for our declining years as a haven on this side of the grave.

But I have undertaken to plead for Cowper's sanity. I desire, therefore, to beg you to look not at this or that episode in his life, when, as we know, Cowper was in the clutches of evil spirits, but at his life as a whole—a life of serene contentment in the company of his friends, his hares Puss, Tiny and Bess, his "eight pair of tame pigeons," his correspondents; and then I ask you to turn to his work, and to note the essential sanity of that work also.

First there is his poetry. When after the Bastille had fallen Charles James Fox quoted in one of his speeches Cowper's lines—written long years before—praying that that event might occur, he paid an unconscious tribute to the sanity of Cowper's genius. {44} Few poets who have let their convictions and aspirations find expression in verse have come so near the mark.

Wordsworth's verse—that which was written at the same age—is studded with prophecy of evils that never occurred. It was not because of any supermundane intelligence, such as latter-day poets have been pleased to affect and latter-day critics to assume for them, that Cowper wrote in anticipation of the fall of the Bastille in those thrilling lines, but because his exceedingly sane outlook upon the world showed him that France was riding fast towards revolution.

We have been told that Cowper's poetry lacked the true note of passion, that there was an absence of the "lyric cry." I protest that I find the note of passion in the "Lines on the Receipt of my Mother's Picture," in his two sets of verses to Mrs. Unwin, in his sonnet to Wilberforce not less marked than I find it in other great poets. I find in The Task and elsewhere in Cowper's works a note of enthusiasm for human brotherhood, for man's responsibility for man, for universal kinship, that had scarcely any place in literature before he wrote quietly here at Olney thoughts wiser and saner than he knew. To-day we call ourselves by many names, Conservatives or Liberals, Radicals, or Socialists; we differ widely as to ways and means; but we are all practically agreed about one thing—that the art of politics is the art of making the world happier. Each politician who has any aspirations beyond mere ambition desires to leave the world a little better than he found it. This is a commonplace of to-day. It was not a commonplace of Cowper's day. Even the great- hearted, lovable Dr. Johnson was only concerned with the passing act of kindliness to his fellows; patriotism he declared to be the last refuge of a scoundrel; collective aspiration was mere charlatanry in his eyes, and when some one said that he had lost his appetite because of a British defeat, Johnson thought him an impostor, in which Johnson was probably right. There have been plenty of so-called patriots who were scoundrels, there has been plenty of affectation of sentiment which is little better than charlatanry, but we do not consider when we weigh the influence of men whether Rousseau was morally far inferior to Johnson. We know that he was. But Rousseau, poor an instrument as he may have been, helped to break many a chain, to relieve many a weary heart, to bring to whole peoples a new era in which the horrors of the past became as a nightmare, and in which ideals were destined to reign for ever. Cowper, an incomparably better man than Rousseau, helped to permeate England with that collective sentiment, which, while it does not excuse us for neglecting our neighbour, is a good thing for preserving for nations a healthy natural life, a more and more difficult task with the growing complications of commercialism. Cowper here, as I say, unconsciously performed his greatest service to humanity; and it was performed, be it remembered, at Olney. It has been truly said that in Cowper:—

The poetry of human wrong begins, that long, long cry against oppression and evil done by man to man, against the political, moral, or priestly tyrant, which rings louder and louder through Burns, Coleridge, Shelley, and Byron, ever impassioned, ever longing, ever prophetic—never, in the darkest time, quite despairing. {47}

And Cowper achieved this without losing sight for one moment of the essential necessity for personal worth:

Spend all thy powers Of rant and rhapsody in Virtue's praise, Be most sublimely good, verbosely grand,

and it profiteth nothing, he said in effect.

That was not his only service as a citizen. He struck the note of honest patriotism as it had not been struck before since Milton, by the familiar lines commencing:

England, with all thy faults, I love thee still, My country!

As also in that stirring ballad "On the Loss of the Royal George:"

Her timbers yet are sound, And she may float again, Full charged with England's thunder, And plough the distant main.

There are two other great claims that might here be made for Cowper did time allow, that he anticipated Wordsworth alike as a lover of nature, as one who had more than a superficial affection for it—the superficial affection of Thomson and Gray—and that he anticipated Wordsworth also as a lover of animal life. Cowper's love of nature was the less effective than Wordsworth's only, surely, in that he had not had Wordsworth's advantage of living amid impressive scenery. His love of animal life was far less platonic than Wordsworth's. To his hares and his pigeons and all dumb creatures he was genuinely devoted. Perhaps it was because he had in him the blood of kings—for, curiously enough, it is no more difficult to trace the genealogical tree of both Cowper and Byron down to William the Conqueror than it is to trace the genealogical tree of Queen Victoria—it was perhaps, I say, this descent from kings which led him to be more tolerant of "sport" than was Wordsworth. At any rate, Cowper's vigorous description of being in at the death of a fox may be contrasted with Wordsworth's "Heart Leap Well," and you will prefer Cowper or Wordsworth, as your tastes are for or against our old-fashioned English sports. But even then, as often, Cowper in his poetry was less tolerant than in his prose, for he writes in The Task of:

detested sport That owes its pleasures to another's pain,

We may note in all this the almost entire lack of indebtedness in Cowper to his predecessors. One of his most famous phrases, indeed, that on "the cup that cheers, but not inebriates," he borrowed from Berkeley; but his borrowings were few, far fewer than those of any other great poet, whereas mine would be a long essay were I to produce by the medium of parallel columns all that other poets have borrowed from him.

Lastly, among Cowper's many excellencies as a poet let me note his humour. His pathos, his humanity—many fine qualities he has in common with others; but what shall we say of his humour? If the ubiquitous Scot were present, so far from his native heath—and I daresay we have one or two with us—he might claim that humour was also the prerogative of Robert Burns. He might claim, also, that certain other great characteristics of Cowper were to be found almost simultaneously in Burns. There is virtue in the almost. Cowper was born in 1731, Burns in 1759. At any rate humour has been a rare product among the greater English poets. It was entirely absent in Wordsworth, in Shelley, in Keats. Byron possessed a gift of satire and wit, but no humour, Tennyson only a suspicion of it in "The Northern Farmer." From Cowper to Browning, who also had it at times, there has been little humour in the greatest English poetry, although plenty of it in the lesser poets—Hood and the rest. But there was in Cowper a great sense of humour, as there was also plenty of what Hazlitt, almost censoriously, calls "elegant trifling." Not only in the imperishable "John Gilpin," but in the "Case Between Nose and Eyes," "The Nightingale and Glow-worm," and other pieces you have examples of humorous verse which will live as long as our language endures.

Cowper's claims as a poet, then, may be emphasized under four heads:—

I. His enthusiasm for humanity.

II. His love of nature.

III. His love of animal life.

IV. His humour.

And in three of these, let it be said emphatically, he stands out as the creator of a new era.

There is another claim I make for him, and with this I close—his position as a master of prose, as well as of poetry. Cowper was the greatest letter-writer in a language which has produced many great letter- writers—Walpole, Gray, Byron, Scott, FitzGerald, and a long list. But nearly all these men were men of affairs, of action. Given a good literary style they could hardly have been other than interesting, they had so much to say that they gained from external sources. Even FitzGerald—the one recluse—had all the treasures of literature constantly passing into his study. Cowper had but eighteen books altogether during many of his years in Olney, and some of us who have lent our volumes in the past and are still sighing over gaps in our shelves find consolation in the fact that six of Cowper's books had been returned to him after a friend had borrowed for twenty years or so. Now, it is comparatively easy to write good letters with a library around you; it is marvellous that Cowper could have done this with so little material, and his letters are, from this point of view, the best of all—"divine chit-chat" Coleridge called them. His simple style captivates us. And here let me say—keeping to my text—that it is the sanest of styles, a style with no redundancies, no rhetoric, no straining after effect. The outlook on life is sane—what could be finer than the chase for the lost hare, or the call of the Parliamentary candidate, or the flogging of the thief?—and the outlook on literature is particularly sane.

Cowper was well-nigh the only true poet in the first rank in English literature who was at the same time a true critic. Literary history affords a singular revelation of the wild and incoherent judgments of their fellows on the part of the poets. For praise or blame, there are few literary judgments of Byron, of Shelley, of Wordsworth that will stand. Coleridge was a critic first, and his poetry, though good, is small in quantity, and the same may be said of Matthew Arnold. Tennyson discreetly kept away from prose, and his letters, be it remembered, lack distinction as do most letters of the nineteenth century. If, however, as we are really to believe, he it was who really made the first edition of Palgrave's Golden Treasury of Lyric Poetry, he came near to Cowper in his sanity of judgment, and one delights to think that in that precious volume Cowper ranks third—that is, after Shakspere and Wordsworth—in the number of selections that are there given, and rightly given, as imperishable masterpieces of English poetry. Tennyson, also, was at one with Cowper in declaring that an appreciation of Lycidas was a touchstone of taste for poetry. To Tennyson, as to Cowper, Milton was the one great English poet after Shakspere; and here, also, we revere the saneness of view. More sane too, was Cowper than any of the modern critics, in that he did not believe that mere technique was the standpoint from which all poetry must ultimately be judged.

"Give me," he says, "a manly rough line with a deal of meaning in it, rather than a whole poem full of musical periods, that have nothing in them, only smoothness to recommend them!"

And thus he justified Robert Browning and many another singer.

Let us then dismiss from our minds the one-sided picture of Cowper as a gloomy fanatic, who was always asking himself in Carlylian phrase, "Am I saved? Am I damned?" Let us remember him as staunch to the friends of his youth, sympathetic to his old schoolfellow, Warren Hastings, when the world would make him out too black. Opposed in theory to tobacco, how he delighted to welcome his good friend Mr. Bull. "My greenhouse," he says, "wants only the flavour of your pipe to make it perfectly delightful!" Naturally tolerant of total abstinence, he asks one friend to drink to the success of his Homer, and thanks another for a present of bottle-stands. From beginning to end, save in those periods of aberration, there is no more resemblance to Cowper in the picture that certain narrow-minded people have desired to portray than there is in these same people's conception of Martin Luther. The real Luther, who loved dancing and mirth and the joy of living as much as did any of the men he so courageously opposed, was not more remote from a conception of him once current in this country than was the real Cowper—the frank, genial humorist, who wrote "John Gilpin," who in his youth "giggled and made giggle" with his girl-cousins, and in his maturer years "laughed and made laugh" with Lady Austen and Lady Hesketh.

To all men there are periods of weariness and depression, side by side with periods of happiness and hopefulness. Cowper, alas! had more than his share of the tragedy of life, but let us not forget that he had some of its joy, and that joy is reflected for us in a substantial literary achievement, which has lived, and influenced the world, while his more tragic experiences may well be buried in oblivion. This, you may have noted, is not a criticism of Cowper, but an eulogy. I would wish to say, however, that the criticism of Cowper by living writers has been of surpassing excellence. For the first fifty or sixty years of the century that we are recalling Cowper was the most popular poet of our country, with Burns and Byron for rivals. He has been largely dethroned by Wordsworth and Shelley, and Tennyson, not one of whom has been praised too much. But if Cowper has sunk somewhat out of sight of late years, owing to inevitable circumstances, it is during these late years that he has secured the goodwill of the best living critics. Would that Mr. Leslie Stephen {56}—who wrote his life in the Dictionary of National Biography—would that Mr. Edmund Gosse—who has so recently published a great biography of Cowper's memorable ancestor, Dr. Donne—were, one or other of them, here to-day; or Mr. Austin Dobson, who has visited Olney, and described his impressions; or Dr. Jessopp, who lives near Cowper's tomb in East Dereham Church. These writers are, alas! not with us, and some presentment of a poet they love has fallen to less capable hands.

But not the most brilliant of speeches, not all the enthusiasm of all the critics, can ever restore Cowper to his former immense popularity. We do well, however, to celebrate his centenary, because it is good at certain periods to remember our indebtedness to the great men who have helped us in literature or in life. But that is not to say that we work for the dethronement of later favourites. "Each age must write its own books," says Emerson, and this is particularly the case with the great body of poetry. Cowper, however, will live to all time among students of literature by his longer poems; he will live to all time among the multitude by his ballads and certain of his lyrics. He will, assuredly, live by his letters, to study which will be a thousand times more helpful to the young writer than many volumes of Addison, to whom we were once advised to devote our days and our nights. Cowper will live, above all, as a profoundly interesting and beautiful personality, as a great and good Englishman—the greatest of all the sons of this his adopted town.



III. TO THE IMMORTAL MEMORY OF GEORGE BORROW

An Address delivered in Norwich on the Occasion of the Borrow Centenary, 1903.

One hundred years ago there was born some two miles from the pleasant little town of East Dereham, in this county, a child who was christened George Henry Borrow. That is why we are assembled here this evening. I count it one of the most interesting coincidences in literary history that only three years earlier there should have left the world in the same little town—a town only known perhaps to those of us who are Norfolk men—a poet who has always seemed to me to be one of the greatest glories of our literature: I mean William Cowper. Cowper died in April, 1800, and Borrow was born in July, 1803, in this same town of East Dereham: and there very much it might be thought, any point of likeness or of contrast must surely end.

Cowper and Borrow do, indeed, come into some trivial kind of kinship at one or two points. In reading Cowper's beautiful letters I have come across two addressed by him to one Richard Phillips, a bookseller of that day, who had been in prison for publishing some of Thomas Paine's works. Cowper had been asked by Phillips to write a sympathetic poem denunciatory of the political and religious tyranny that had sent Phillips to jail. Cowper had at first agreed, but was afterwards advised not to have anything more to do with Phillips. Judging by the after career of Phillips, Cowper did wisely; for Phillips was not a good man, although twenty years later he had become a sheriff of London and was knighted. As Sir Richard Phillips he was visited by George Borrow, then a youth at the beginning of his career. Borrow came to Phillips armed with an introduction from William Taylor of Norwich, and his reception is most dramatically recorded in the pages of Lavengro. This is, however, to anticipate. Then there is a poem by Cowper to Sir John Fenn {62} the antiquary, the first editor of the famous Paston Letters. In it there is a reference to Fenn's spouse, who, under the pseudonym of "Mrs. Teachwell," wrote many books for children in her day. Now Borrow could remember this lady—Dame Eleanor Fenn—when he was a boy. He recalled the "Lady Bountiful leaning on her gold-headed cane, while the sleek old footman followed at a respectful distance behind." Lady Fenn was forty- six years old when Cowper referred to her. She was sixty-six when the boy Borrow saw her in Dereham streets. At no other points do these great East Dereham writers come upon common ground: Cowper during the greater part of his life was a recluse. He practically fled from the world. In reading the many letters he wrote—and they are among the best letters in the English language—one is struck by the small number of his correspondents. He had few acquaintances and still fewer friends. He had never seen a hill until he was sixty, and then it was only the modest hills of Sussex that seemed to him so supremely glorious. He was never on the Continent. For half a lifetime he did not move out of one county, the least picturesque part of Buckinghamshire, the neighbourhood of Olney and of Weston. There he wrote the poems that have been a delight to several generations, poems which although they may have gone out of fashion with many are still very dear to some among us; and there, as I have said, he wrote the incomparable letters that have an equally permanent place in literature.

You could not conceive a more extraordinary contrast than the life of this other writer associated with East Dereham, whom we have met to celebrate this evening. George Borrow was the son of a soldier, who had risen from the ranks, and of a mother who had been an actress. Soldier and actress both imply to all of us a restless, wandering life. The soldier was a Cornishman by birth, the actress was of French origin, and so you have blended in this little Norfolk boy—who is a Norfolk boy in spite of it all—every kind of nomadic habit, every kind of fiery, imaginative enthusiasm, a temperament not usually characteristic of those of us who claim East Anglia as the land of our birth or of our progenitors. I wish it were possible for me to reconstruct that Norwich world into which young George Borrow entered at thirteen years of age. That it was a Norwich of great intellectual activity is indisputable. In the year of Borrow's birth John Gurney, who died six years later, first became a partner in the Norwich bank. His more famous son, Joseph John Gurney—aged fifteen—left the Earlham home in order to study at Oxford. His sister, the still more famous Elizabeth Fry, was now twenty-three. So that when Borrow, the thirteen year old son of the veteran soldier—who had already been in Ireland picking up scraps of Irish, and in Scotland adding to his knowledge of Gaelic—settled down for some of his most impressionable years in Norwich, Joseph John Gurney was a young man of twenty-eight and Elizabeth Fry was thirty-six. Dr. James Martineau was eleven years of age and his sister Harriet was fourteen. Another equally clever woman, not then married to Austin, the famous jurist, was Sarah Taylor, aged twenty-three. This is but to name a few of the crowd of Norwich worthies of that day. Would that some one could produce a picture of the literary life of Norwich of this time and of a quarter of a century onward—a period that includes the famous Bishop Stanley's {66} occupancy of the See of Norwich and the visits to this city from all parts of England of a great number of famous literary men. It is my pleasant occupation to-night to endeavour to show that Borrow, the very least of these men and women in public estimation for a good portion of his life, and perhaps the least in popular judgment even since his death, was really the greatest, was really the man of all others to whom this beautiful city should do honour if it asks for a name out of its nineteenth century history to crown with local recognition.

For whatever homage may have fallen to Borrow during the half-century or more since his name first came upon many tongues Norwich, it must be admitted, has given very little of it. No one associated with your city, I repeat, but has heard of the Gurneys and the Martineaus, of the Stanleys and the Austins, whose life stories have made so large a part of your literary and intellectual history during this very period. But I turn in vain to a number of books that I have in my library for any information concerning one who is indisputably the greatest among the intellectual children of Norwich. I turn to Mr. Prothero's Life of Dean Stanley—not one word about Borrow; to that pleasant Memoir of Sarah Austin and her mother, Mrs. Taylor, called Three Generations of a Norfolk Family—again not one word. I turn to Mr. Braithwaite's biography of Joseph John Gurney, and to Mr. Augustus Hare's book The Gurneys of Earlham—upon these worthy biographers Borrow made no impression whatever, although Joseph John Gurney was personally helpful to him and we read in Lavengro of that pleasant meeting between the pair on the river bank when Mr. Gurney chided the boy Borrow or Lavengro for angling. "From that day," he says, "I became less and less a practitioner of that cruel fishing." In Harriet Martineau's Autobiography, which enjoyed its hour of fame when it was published twenty-six years ago, there is a contemptuous reference to the disciple of William Taylor, "this polyglot gentleman, who went through Spain disseminating Bibles." If Miss Martineau were alive now she would hear the works of "this polyglot gentleman" praised on every hand, and would find that a cult had arisen which to her would certainly be quite incomprehensible. In that large, dismal book—the Life of James Martineau, again, there is but one mention of Dr. Martineau's famous schoolfellow whose name has been linked with him only by a silly story. Do not let it be thought that I am complaining of this neglect; the world will always treat its greatest writers in precisely this fashion. Borrow did not lack for fame of a kind, but he was, as I desire to show, praised in his lifetime for the wrong thing, where he was praised at all. Everyone in the fifties and sixties read The Bible in Spain, as they read a hundred other books of that period, now forgotten. Many read it who were deceived by its title. They expected a tract. Many read it as we to-day read the latest novel or biography of the hour. Then a new book arises and the momentary favourite is forgotten. We think for a whole week that we are in contact with a well-nigh immortal work. A little later we concern ourselves not at all whether the book is immortal or not. We go on to something else. The critic is as much to blame as the reader. Not one man in a hundred whose profession it is to come between the author and the public, and to guide the reader to the best in literature, has the least perception of what is good literature. It is easy when a writer has captured the suffrages of the crowd for the critic to tell the world that he is great. That happened to Carlyle, to Tennyson, to many a popular author whose earliest books commanded little attention: but, happily, these writers did not lose heart. They kept on writing. Borrow was otherwise made. He wrote The Bible in Spain—a book of travel of surprising merit. It sold largely on its title. Mr. Augustine Birrell has told us that he knew a boy in a very strict household who devoured the narrative on Sunday afternoons, the title being thought to cover a conventional missionary journey. Well, when I was a boy The Bible in Spain had gone out of fashion and the public had not taken up with the author's greater work, Lavengro. Borrow was naturally disappointed. He abused the critics and the public. Perhaps he grew somewhat soured. He did not hesitate in The Romany Rye to talk candidly about those "ill-favoured dogs . . . the newspaper editors," and he made the gentleman's gentleman of Lavengro describe how he was excluded from the Servants' Club in Park Lane because his master followed a profession "so mean as literature." In fact as a reaction from the unfriendly reception accorded to the Romany Rye—now one of the most costly of his books in a first edition—he lost heart, and he grew to despise the whole literary and writing class. Hence the various stories presenting him in not very sympathetic guise, the story of Thackeray being snubbed on asking Borrow if he had read the Snob Papers, of Miss Agnes Strickland receiving an even more forcible rebuff when she offered to send him her Queens of England. "For God's sake don't Madame; I should not know where to put them or what to do with them." These stories are in Gordon Hake's Memoirs of Eighty Years, but Mr. Francis Hindes Groome has shown us the other side of the picture, and others also to whom I shall refer a little later have done the same. Perhaps the literary class is never the worse for a little plain speaking. The real secret of Borrow is this—that he was a man of action turned into a writer by force of circumstances.

The life of Borrow, unlike that of most famous men of letters, has not been overwritten. His death in 1881 caused little emotion and attracted but small attention in the newspapers. The Times, then as now so excellent in its biographies as a rule, devoted but twenty lines to him. Here I may be pardoned for being autobiographical. I was last in Norwich in the early eighties. I had a wild enthusiasm for literature so far as my taste had been directed—that is to say I read every book I came across and had been doing so from my earliest boyhood. But I had never heard of George Borrow or of his works. In my then not infrequent visits to Norwich I cannot recall that his name was ever mentioned, and in my life in London, among men who were, many of them, great readers, I never heard of Borrow or of his achievement. He died in 1881, and as I do not recall hearing his name at the time of his death or until long afterwards, I must have missed certain articles in the Athenaeum—two of them admirable "appreciations" by Mr. Watts-Dunton—and so my state of benightedness was as I have described. It may be that those who are a year or two older than I am and those who are younger may find this extraordinary. You have always heard of Borrow and of his works, but I think I am entitled to insist that when Borrow sank into his grave, an old, and to many an eccentric and bitter man, he had fallen into the most curious oblivion with the public that has ever come to a man, I will not say of equal distinction, but of any distinction whatever. Mr. Egmont Hake told the readers of the Athenaeum in a biography that appeared at the time of Borrow's death that Borrow's works were "forgotten in England" and I find in turning to the biography of Borrow in The Norvicensian, for 1882—the organ of the Norwich Grammar School—that the writer of this obituary notice confessed that there were none of Borrow's works in the library of the school of which Borrow had been the most distinguished pupil.

From that time—in 1881—until 1899, a period of eighteen years, Borrow had but little biographical recognition. A few introductions to his books, sundry encyclopaedia articles, and one or two magazine essays made up the sum total of information concerning the author of Lavengro until Dr. Knapp's Life appeared in 1899. That Life has been severely handled by some lovers of Borrow, and lovers of Borrow are now plentiful enough. Dr. Knapp had not the cunning of the really successful biographer. His book still remains in the huge two-volumed form in which it was first issued four years ago, and I do not anticipate that it will ever be a popular book. There is no literary art in it. There is a capacity for amassing facts, but no power of co-ordinating these facts. Moreover Dr. Knapp did a great deal of mischief by very over-zeal. He made too great a research into all the current gossip in Norfolk and Suffolk concerning Borrow. If you were to make special research into the life of any friend or acquaintance of the past you would hear much foolish gossip and a great many wrong motives imputed, and possibly you would not have an opportunity of checking the various statements. The whole of Dr. Knapp's book seems to be written upon the principle of "I would if I could" say a good many things, and, indeed, every few months there appears in the Eastern Daily Press, a journal of your city that I have read every day regularly since boyhood, a letter from some one explaining that the less inquiry about this or that point in Borrow's career the better for Borrow. Take, for example, last Saturday's issue of the journal I have named, where I find the following from a correspondent:—

Dr. Knapp, from dictates of courtesy, left it unrevealed, and as he could say nothing to Borrow's credit, passed the affair over in silence, and on this point all well-wishers of Borrow's reputation would be wise to take their cue from this biographer's example.

Now there is nothing more damnatory than a sentence of this kind. What does it amount to? What is the 'it' that is unrevealed by the courteous Dr. Knapp? It seems to amount to the charge that Borrow is accused of gibbeting in his books the people he dislikes; this is what every great imaginative writer has been charged with to the perplexing of dull people. There are many characters in Dickens's novels which are supposed to be a presentation of near relatives or friends. These he ought to have treated with more kindliness. That heroic little woman, Miss Bronte, gave a picture of Madame Heger, who kept a school at Brussels, that conveyed, I doubt not, a very mistaken presentation of the subject of her satire. Imaginative writers have always taken these liberties. When the worst is said it simply amounts to this, that Borrow was a good hater. Dr. Johnson said that he loved a good hater, and he might very well have loved Borrow. Dante, whom we all now agree to idolize, treated people even more roughly; he placed some of his acquaintances who had ill- used him in the very lowest circles of hell. May I express a hope, therefore, that this type of letter to the Norwich newspapers about Dr. Knapp's "kindness" to Borrow's reputation may cease. If Dr. Knapp had printed the whole of the facts we should know how to deal with them; but this is one of his limitations as a biographer. He has not in the least helped to a determination of Borrow's real character.

Had Borrow possessed a biographer so skilful with her pen as Mrs. Gaskell in her Life of Charlotte Bronte, so keen-eyed for the dramatic note as Sir George Trevelyan in his Life of Macaulay, he would have multiplied readers for Lavengro. There are many people who have read the Bronte novels from sheer sympathy with the writers that their biographer, Mrs. Gaskell, had kindled. Let us not, however, be ungrateful to Dr. Knapp. He has furnished those of us who are sufficiently interested in the subject with a fine collection of documents. Here is all the material of biography in its crude state, but presenting vividly enough the live Borrow to those who have the perception to read it with care and judgment. Still more grateful may we be to Dr. Knapp for his edition of Borrow's works, particularly for those wonderful episodes in Lavengro which he has reproduced from the original manuscript, episodes as dramatic as any other portion of the text, and making Dr. Knapp's edition of Lavengro the only possible one to possess.

But to return to the main facts of Borrow's career, which every one here at least is familiar with. You know of his birth at East Dereham, of his life in Ireland and in Scotland, of his school days at Norwich, of his departure from Norwich to London on his father's death, of his dire struggles in the literary whirlpool, and of his wanderings in gipsy land. You know, thanks to Dr. Knapp, more than you could otherwise have learned of his life at St. Petersburg, whither he had been sent by the Bible Society, on the recommendation of Mr. Joseph John Gurney and another patron. Then he has himself told us in picturesque fashion of his life in Portugal and Spain. After this we hear of his marriage to Mary Clarke, his residence from 1840 to 1853 at Oulton, in Suffolk, from 1853 to 1860 at Yarmouth, from 1860 to 1874 in Hereford Square, London, and finally from 1874 to 1881 at Oulton, where he died. That is the bare skeleton of Borrow's life, and for half his life, I think, we should be content with a skeleton. For the other half of it we have the best autobiography in the English language. An autobiography that ranks with Goethe's Truth and Poetry from my Life and Rousseau's Confessions. In four books—in Lavengro, Romany Rye, The Bible in Spain, and Wild Wales we have some delightful glimpses of an interesting personality, and here we may leave the personal side of Borrow. Beyond this we know that he was unquestionably a devoted son, a good husband, a kind father. The literary life has its perils, so far as domesticity is concerned. Sir Walter Scott in his life of Dryden speaks of:—

Her who had to endure the apparently causeless fluctuation of spirits incidental to one compelled to dwell for long periods of time in the fitful realms of the imagination,

and it is certain that those who dwell in the realms of the imagination are usually very irritable, very difficult to live with. Literary history in its personal side is largely a dismal narrative of the uncomfortable relations of men of genius with their wives and with their families. Your man of genius thinks himself bound to hang up his fiddle in his own house, however merry a fellow he may prove himself to a hundred boon companions outside. George Borrow was perhaps the opposite of all this. As a companion and a neighbour he did not always shine, if the impression of many a witness is to be trusted. They tell anecdotes of his lack of cordiality, of his unsociability, and so on. They have told those anecdotes more industriously in Norwich than anywhere else. He himself in an incomparable account of going to church with the gypsies in The Romany Rye has the following:

It appeared as if I had fallen asleep in the pew of the old church of pretty Dereham. I had occasionally done so when a child, and had suddenly woke up. Yes, surely, I had been asleep and had woke up; but no! if I had been asleep I had been waking in my sleep, struggling, striving, learning and unlearning in my sleep. Years had rolled away whilst I had been asleep—ripe fruit had fallen, green fruit had come on whilst I had been asleep—how circumstances had altered, and above all myself whilst I had been asleep. No, I had not been asleep in the old church! I was in a pew, it is true, but not the pew of black leather, in which I sometimes fell asleep in days of yore, but in a strange pew; and then my companions, they were no longer those of days of yore. I was no longer with my respectable father and mother, and my dear brother, but with the gypsy cral and his wife, and the gigantic Tawno, the Antinous of the dusky people. And what was I myself? No longer an innocent child but a moody man, bearing in my face, as I knew well, the marks of my strivings and strugglings; of what I had learnt and unlearnt.

But this "moody man," let it be always remembered, was a good husband and father. His wife was devoted to him, his step-daughter carries now to an old age a profound reverence and affection for his memory. Grieved beyond all words was she—the Henrietta or "Hen" of all his books—at what is maintained to be the utterly fictitious narrative of Borrow's described deathbed that Professor Knapp presented from the ill-considered gossip that he picked up while staying in the neighbourhood. {80} Borrow has himself something to say concerning his family in Wild Wales:—

Of my wife I will merely say that she is a perfect paragon of wives—can make puddings and sweets and treacle posset, and is the best woman of business in East Anglia: of my step-daughter, for such she is though I generally call her daughter, and with good reason seeing that she has always shown herself a daughter to me, that she has all kinds of good qualities and several accomplishments, knowing something of conchology, more of botany, drawing capitally in the Dutch style, and playing remarkably well on the guitar.

Yes, I am not quite sure but that Borrow was really a good fellow all round, as well as being a good husband and father. He hated the literary class, it is true. He considered that the "contemptible trade of author," as he called it, was less creditable than that of a jockey. He avoided as much as possible the writers of books, and particularly the blue-stocking, and when they came in his way he was not always very polite, sometimes much the reverse. Only the other day a letter was published from the late Professor Cowell describing a visit to Borrow and his not very friendly reception. Well, Borrow was here as elsewhere a man of insight. The literary class is usually a very narrow class. It can talk about no trade but its own. Things have grown worse since Borrow's day, I am sure, but they were bad enough then. Borrow was a man of very varied tastes. He took interest in gypsies and horses and prize fighters and a hundred other entertaining matters, and so he despised the literary class, which cared for none of these things. But unhappily for his fame the literary class has had the final word; it has revealed all the gossip of a gossiping peasantry, and it has done its best to present the recluse of Oulton in a disagreeable light. Fortunately for Borrow, who kept the bores at bay and contented himself with but few friends, there were at least two who survived him to bear testimony to the effect that he was "a singularly steadfast and loyal friend." One of these was Mr. Watts-Dunton, who tells us in one of his essays that:

George Borrow was a good man, a most winsome and a most charming companion, an English gentleman, straightforward, honest, and brave as the very best examplars of that fine old type.

I have dwelt longer on this aspect of my subject than I should have done had I been addressing any other audience than a Norwich one. But the fact is that all the gossip and backbiting and censoriousness that has gathered round Borrow for a hundred years has come out of this very city, commencing with the "bursts of laughter" that, according to Miss Martineau, greeted Borrow's travels in Spain for the Bible Society. Borrow was twenty-one years of age when he left Norwich to make his way in the world. During the next twenty years he may have undergone many changes of intellectual view, as most of us do, as Miss Martineau notably did, and Miss Martineau and her laughing friends were diabolically uncharitable. That lack of charity followed Borrow throughout his life. He was libelled by many, by Miss Frances Power Cobbe most of all. However, the great city of Norwich will make up for it in the future, and she will love Borrow as Borrow indisputably loved her. How he praised her fine cathedral, her lordly castle, her Mousehold Heath, her meadows in which he once saw a prize fight, her pleasant scenery—no city, not even glorious Oxford, has been so well and adequately praised, and I desire to show that that praise is not for an age but for all time.

If George Borrow has not been happy in his biographer, and if, as is true, he has received but inadequate treatment on this account—such series of little books as The English Men of Letters and the Great Writers quite ignoring him—he has been equally unfortunate in his critics. There are hardly any good and distinctive appreciations in print of Borrow's works. While other great names in the great literature of the Victorian Period have been praised by a hundred pens, there has scarcely been any notable and worthy praise of Borrow, and if I were in an audience that was at all sceptical as to Borrow's supreme merits, which happily I am not; if I were among those who declared that they could see but small merit in Borrow themselves, but were prepared to accept him if only I could bring good authority that he was a very great writer, I should be hardly put to to comply with the demand. I can only name Mr. Theodore Watts-Dunton and Mr. Augustine Birrell as critics of considerable status who have praised Borrow well. "The delightful, the bewitching, the never sufficiently-to-be-praised George Borrow," says Mr. Birrell in one of the essays he has written on the subject; {84} while Mr. Theodore Watts-Dunton, has written no less than four papers on one whom he knew and admires personally, and of whom he insists that "his idealizing powers, his romantic cast of mind, his force, his originality, give him a title to a permanent place high in the ranks of English prose writers."

All this is very interesting, but in literature as in life we have got to work out our own destinies. We have not got to accept Borrow because this or that critic tells us he is good. I have therefore no quarrel with any one present who does not share my view that Borrow was one of the greater glories of English literature. I only desire to state my case for him.

To be a lover of Borrow, a Borrovian, in fact, it is not necessary to know all his books. You may never have seen copies of the Romantic Ballads or of Faustus, of Targum or of The Turkish Jester, of Borrow's translation of The Talisman of Pushkin. Your state may be none the less gracious. To possess these books is largely a collector's hobby. They are interesting, but they would not have made for the author an undying reputation. Further, you may not care for The Bible in Spain, you may be untouched by the Gypsies in Spain and Wild Wales, and even then I will not deny to you the title of a good Borrovian, if only you pronounce Lavengro and The Romany Rye to be among the greatest books you know. I can admire the Gypsies in Spain and Wild Wales. I can read The Bible in Spain with something of the enthusiasm with which our fathers read it. It is a stirring narrative of travel and much more. Robert Louis Stevenson did, indeed, rank it among his "dear acquaintances" in bookland, "the Pilgrim's Progress in the first rank, The Bible in Spain not far behind," he says. All the same, it has not, none of these three books has, the distinctive mark of first class genius that belongs to the other two in the five-volumed edition of Borrow's Collected Works that many of us have read through more than once. Not all clever people have thought Lavengro and The Romany Rye to be thus great. A critic in the Athenaeum declared Lavengro when it was published in 1851 to be "balderdash," while a critic writing just fifty years afterwards and writing from Norfolk, alas! insisted that the author of this book "was absolutely wanting in the power of invention" that he (Borrow) could "only have drawn upon his memory," that he had "no sense of humour." If all this were true, if half of it were true, Borrow was not the great man, the great writer that I take him to be. But it is not true. Lavengro with its continuation The Romany Rye, is a great work of imagination, of invention; it is in no sense a photograph, a memory picture, and it abounds in humour as it abounds in many other great characteristics. What makes an author supremely great? Surely a certain quality which we call genius, as distinct from the mere intellectual power of some less brilliant writer:—

True genius is the ray that flings A novel light o'er common things

and here it is that Borrow shines supreme. He has invested with quite novel light a hundred commonplace aspects of life. Not an inventor! not imaginative! Why, one of the indictments against him is that philologists decry his philology and gyptologists his gypsy learning. If, then, his philology and his gypsy lore were imperfect, as I believe they were, how much the greater an imaginative writer he was. To say that Lavengro merely indicates keen observation is absurd. Not the keenest observation will crowd so many adventures, adventures as fresh and as novel as those of Gil Blas or Robinson Crusoe, into a few months' experience. "I felt some desire," says Lavengro, "to meet with one of those adventures which upon the roads of England are generally as plentiful as blackberries in autumn." I think that most of us will wander along the roads of England for a very long time before we meet an Isopel Berners, before we have such an adventure as that of the blacksmith and his horse, or of the apple woman whose favourite reading was Moll Flanders. These and a hundred other adventures, the fight with the Flaming Tinman, the poisoning of Lavengro by the gypsy woman, the discourse with Ursula under the hedge, when once read are fixed upon the memory for ever. And yet you may turn to them again and again, and with ever increasing zest. The story of Isopel Berners is a piece of imaginative writing that certainly has no superior in the literature of the last century. It was assuredly no photographic experience. Isopel Berners is herself a creation ranking among the fine creations of womanhood of the finest writers. I doubt not but that it was inspired by some actual memory of Borrow—the memory of some early love affair in which the distractions of his mania for word-learning—the Armenian and other languages—led him to pass by some opportunity of his life, losing the substance for the shadow. But whether there were ever a real Isopel we shall never know. We do know that Borrow has presented his fictitious one with infinite poetry and fine imaginative power. We do know, moreover, that it is not right to describe Isopel Berners as a marvellous episode in a narrative of other texture. Lavengro is full of marvellous episodes. Some one has ventured to comment upon Borrow's style—to imply that it is not always on a high plane. What does that matter? Style is not the quality that makes a book live, but the novelty of the ideas. Stevenson was a splendid stylist, and his admirers have deluded themselves into believing that he was, therefore, among the immortals. But Stevenson had nothing new to tell the world, and he was not, he is not, therefore of the immortals. Borrow is of the immortals, not by virtue of a style, but by virtue of having something new to say. He is with Dickens and with Carlyle as one of the three great British prose writers of the age we call Victorian, who in quite different ways have presented a new note for their own time and for long after. It is the distinction of Borrow that he has invested the common life of the road, of the highway, the path through the meadow, the gypsy encampment, the country fair, the very apple stall and wayside inn with an air of romance that can never leave those of us who have once come under the magnificent spell of Lavengro and the Romany Rye. Perhaps Borrow is pre-eminently the writer for those who sit in armchairs and dream of adventures they will never undertake. Perhaps he will never be the favourite author of the really adventurous spirit, who wants the real thing, the latest book of actual travel. But to be the favourite author of those who sit in arm-chairs is no small thing, and, as I have said already, Borrow stands with Carlyle and Dickens in our century, by which I mean the nineteenth century; with Defoe and Goldsmith in the eighteenth century, as one of the really great and imperishable masters of our tongue.

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