In a Green Shade.
A Country Commentary.
By Maurice Hewlett.
London G. Bell and Sons 1920
G. BELL AND SONS, LTD. YORK HOUSE, PORTUGAL STREET, LONDON, W.C. 2.
All of these Essays, with two exceptions, have been published periodically. All, without exception, have been revised and corrected. My thanks for hospitality afforded to them en route are due to the Westminster Gazette, Daily News, and Daily Chronicle; to the New Statesman; to the Cornhill Magazine, Fortnightly Review, Anglo-French Review, and London Mercury.
BROADCHALKE, 22 Jan. 1920.
PAGE NOTE v ROUND ABOUT A PREFACE ix CHANGE AND THE PEASANTRY 1 A HERMITAGE IN SIGHT 6 DORIAN MODES 11 CHURCH AND THE MAN 16 BESSY MOORE 20 THE MAIDS 31 POETRY AND THE MODE 35 POLYOLBION 45 THE WELTER 50 CATNACHERY 54 LANDNAMA 60 "WORKS AND DAYS" 64 THE ENGLISH HESIOD 72 FLOWER OF THE FIELD 83 UNDER THE HARVEST MOON 87 LA PETITE PERSONNE 91 A FOOL OF QUALITY 99 SHERIDAN AS MANIAC 105 A FOOTNOTE TO COLERIDGE 119 THE CRYSTAL VASE 132 NOCTES AMBROSIANAE 147 SKELETONS AT A FEAST 151 A COMMENTARY UPON BUTLER 156 THE COMMEMORATION 164 THE QUAKER EIRENICON 168
IN A GREEN SHADE
ROUND ABOUT A PREFACE
The title has become equivocal, since there are more green shades in employment now than were dreamed of by Andrew Marvell. Science is a great maker of homophones, without respect for the poets. There is, for instance, the demilune of lined buckram borne by the weak-eyed on their foreheads, the phylactery of the have-beens—I lay myself open to be believed a cripple, or to look an old fool. A vivacious reviewer in Punch's "Booking Office," will have a vision of me as a babbling elder peering at society from below a green pent. However—I must risk it. It says exactly what I mean; and what I have written I have written.
The point is that, having worked hard for a good many years, I can now consider my latter end under conditions favourable to leisurely and extended thought, sometimes in a garden made, if rightly made, in my own image, sometimes in a house which was built aforetime, in a day when men wrought for posterity as well as for themselves. In such seed-plots it is impossible that one's thoughts should not take colour as they rise. Whithersoever I look I see as much permanency as is good for any sojourner upon earth; I see embodied tradition, respect for Nature's laws, attention to beauty, subservience to use; all this within doors. Outside, the trees, the flowers are my calendar; the birds chime the hours; periodically the church-bell calls the travellers home. Between all these friendly monitors it is hard if one cannot keep the mean. If the passing-bell tempts me to moralise overmuch I may turn to the creatures, and learn to live for the moment. I should be slow to confess how much worldly wisdom I have won from what we choose to call the lower orders of creation, because nobody willingly betrays the whereabouts of his buried treasure, or the amount of it. Mr. Pepys, I remember, forgot both on a certain occasion, and had a devil of a time until he recovered his hoard. But my wealth was not made with hands, or not with my hands.
My house is fortunately placed, too, in the village street, so that I am in touch with my neighbours and their daily concerns, which I make mine so far as they are pleased to allow it. I am aware of them all day long by half a hundred signs; I know the trot of their horses, the horns of their motor-cars—that shows that there are not too many of them—the voices of their children, the death-shrieks of their pigs, the barking of their dogs. Not a day passes but one or other is in, to have some paper signed, to air a grievance, or to ask advice. The vicar and the minister are my good friends, and, I am glad to say, each other's. The farmers understand my ways (it is as much as I can expect of them), and the labourers like them. All this keeps the pores of the mind open; you cannot stagnate if you are useful to other people. Nor—unless you are a fool—can you be strict with your categories. The more you know of men and systems the more overlapping you see. I could not now, for my life, pigeonhole my acquaintance in this village of five hundred souls. "I have now been in Italy two days," Goethe wrote, "and I think I know my Italians pretty well!" When he had been there two years he knew better.
If ever there is a time for sententiousness it is when one is elderly, leisured and comfortable; that is the time to set down one's thoughts as they come, not inviting anybody to read them, but promising to those who do, that they will find a commentary upon life as it passes, either because it may be useful or because it may have been earned. I hope I have neither prejudice nor afterthought; I know that I have, as we say now, neither axe to grind nor log to roll. Politics! None. I want people to be happy; and whether Mr. George make them so, or the Trade Unions, whether Christ or Sir Conan Doyle, it's all one to me. I have my pet nostrums, of course. I believe in Poverty, Love, and England, and am convinced that only through the first will the other two thrive. I want men to be gentlemen and women to be modest. I want men to have work and women to have children. Any check on production, Trade-Union, war, or something else, will get no good words from me. As for war, after our late experience, I confess that I could be a Mr. Dick with it, but we are not apt in the country to dwell overmuch on war now it is over. We honour our beloved dead; those of us who have returned unbattered go now about our work with cooler, more critical eyes, but mostly with lips closed against our three or four years' experience. Khaki has disappeared; the war is over; let us forget it. If there is a people to be pitied, swarming and groping on this tormented earth, we say, it is the German people; but that seems an insufficient reason for hating them in saecula saeculorum. A German is a human being, and very likely Mr. Bottomley is one too, and not a big-head in a pantomime; such also may be Mrs. Partington's nephew and the editor of the Morning Post. There does not seem much difference between them, and we must be charitable.
The sojourner in the green shade will find himself, as I have found myself, more interested in people (but not those people) than in books. We have too many books, as I discovered when I left London for good. I sold six tons, and again another six, when, after two years in West Sussex, I came home. Now I have collected about me the things I can't do without, the things of which I read at least portions every year, as well as a few which it is good to have handy in case of accidents. Book-collecting is a foppery, a pastime of youth, when spending money is as necessary as taking exercise, and you are better for an object in each case. But I find that I now read with motives other than those of old. I am now more interested in the author than in his book. That must mean that I am more interested in life than in art. I am reading at this moment Professor Child's edition of the Ballads, and though I am occasionally moved to tears by the beauty and tragic insight of things like The Wife of Usher's Well; Clerk Saunders, or Lord Thomas and Fair Annie, I am sure that considerations altogether unliterary move me more—such, for instance, as curiosity to know who composed, and for whom they composed, these lovely tales. I don't suppose that we shall ever know the name, or anything of the personality of any one poet of them. Those poets were as anonymous as our church-builders, and if they were content to be so we should be content to have it so. But one would be happy to know of what kind they were, and perhaps even happier (certainly I should) to realise their auditors. Did they write for men or women? That is one of my consuming quests. The staves of the Iliad were for men: that seems certain. Those of the Odyssey not so certainly. But take this from May Collin, and consider it.
You know the story, how "She fell in love with a false priest, and rued it ever mair"? The priest followed her "butt and ben," and gave her no peace. They took horses and money and rode out together "Until they came to a rank river, Was raging like the sea." There the priest declared his purpose:
"Light off, light off now, May Collin, It's here that you must dee; Here I have drown'd seven kings' daughters, The eighth now you must be."
So her torture begins. He bids her cast off "her gown that's of the green," because it is too good to rot in the sea-stream; next her "coat that's of the black "; next her "stays that are well-laced"; lastly her "sark that's of the holland"—all for the same reason. Then the girl speaks:
"Turn you about now, false Mess John, To the green leaf of the tree; It does not fit a mansworn man A naked woman to see."
The point is that he obeys her. She catches him round the body and flings him into the tide. Women were listening to that tale.
If I am to deal with life it must be in my own way, for there's no escape from one's character. I may be a good poet or a bad one—that's not for me to say; but I am a poet of sorts. Now a poet does not observe like a novelist. He does not indeed necessarily observe at all until he feels the need of observation. Then he observes, and intensely. He does not analyse, he does not amass his facts; he concentrates. He wrings out quintessences; and when he has distilled his drops of pure spirit he brews his potion. Something of the kind happens to me now, whether verse or prose be the Muse of my devotion. A stray thought, a chance vision, moves me; presently the flame is hissing hot. Everything then at any time observed and stored in the memory which has relation to the fact is fused and in a swimming flux. Anon, as the Children of Israel said to Moses, "There came forth this calf." One cannot get any nearer, I believe; and while I do not pretend that I have said all there is to say about anything here, I shall maintain that I have said all that need be said about the things which I touch upon. In an essay, as in a poem, the half is greater than the whole, if it is the right half. If it is the wrong half, why, then the shorter it is the better.
As most of these commentaries were written during the year which is mercifully over, it would not have been possible, even if it had been sought, to avoid current topics. Why should a writer shrink from being called a journalist? He need not cease to be writer. But if he wishes to be true to his original calling, to make his hope and election sure, he must always be careful to seek the universal in the particular; and that is where your idealist has such a pull, for he can see nothing else. And if he does that he need not be afraid that the conventions of Time and Space will be a hindrance to his book's path. He will be readable a century hence; he will be readable in the Antipodes; and that is as near infinity as any of us, short of Chaucer and Shakespeare, need trouble about. In the country one reads, not skims, the daily paper; and if one's comments are leisurely, perhaps they are all the better. At any rate one is not tempted to see the end of the world in a strike, or a second Bonaparte in Signor d'Annunzio. To me that poet seems rather a comic-opera brigand. I suspect him of a green velvet jacket with a two-inch tail. But if you regard him sub specie eternitatis, then I fear we must see in him all Italy in epitome. That was how Italy went to war—but you must live in the country to understand things like that, out of range of the tumult and the shouting.
No more of Signor d'Annunzio here or elsewhere in these pages; but of ourselves and our needs somewhat. Nobody could have lived through last year without considering anxiously whither we are tending and with what pretence. As the occasion moved me I have said my say about those matters, and here the reader will have as much of it as I am ready just now to give him. This is perhaps some sort of an apology for what may be found hereafter of a hortatory kind. I may be charged with wanting to do people "good." Well, if trying to make them happy is trying to do them good, then I confess the charge. There is no doubt whatever that they are not happy now. They hate too many people, they pant and toil after the wrong things; they serve false gods and forget the true ones. That is what we think about it in the country; and I am of the country's opinion.
We need, it seems to me, many things—religion, love, work, seriousness and so on; but what we need most of all, as I believe, is to wash our hands. For five years they have been groping and wrenching in the vitals of other people. They are foul and we are still drunk with the reek. In God's name, let us wash and then we can begin to build up the world again. We see the need of that out in the country, but so far as I can judge by what I read or have seen of London, there's no notion of it there.
But there's not much about London in this book.
CHANGE AND THE PEASANTRY
A book which I shall never willingly be without, one of my minor classics, is Idlehurst. Published in 1898, its author John Halsham, it has a touch upon country things, the penetrating, pitiful and tant soit peu condescending touch upon them of one who is both scholar and recluse, fastidious but discerning. He reads our earth, cloudscape, landscape, season, foison, man and beast of the field, with the same wistfulness which women who have known sorrow exhibit for children who have not. Reading him again, however, last night, after the long interval of fever and unrest which the war has enforced, I found his pessimism troublesome. Sussex, so far as I know it, is not so degenerate as he seems to have found it; and surely since the war began he must have changed his mind. It is hard to remember 1898, or 1913 for that matter, but I happen to know that Sussex emptied itself of its young manhood, and voluntarily, because I went to live there for a while in 1915 and found the village of my choice bare of youth. But that was West Sussex, and John Halsham lives nearer London, in the forest region, as I judge, which is a part of the country overflowed and become suburban. I don't doubt but complete cockneyfication will be the ultimate fate of that country of deep loam and handsome women before many years are over. Going down to my village from London, I could not feel that I was in the country until I had passed Pulborough; and further east the same would hold good to Lewes.
But when Mr Halsham in his bitterness cries out that "the town has overflowed the country," meaning the whole country, and that "we are cockney from sea to sea," he is being tragic at the cost of truth. Would he drag Wiltshire and all the pastoral West into his turmoil? You may go about any of the villages here, watch the daily doings of the inhabitants, and feel confident that, practically, there has been no substantial change since the Norman Conquest. The "feeling" of the scene is the same as it always was, the outlook of the people, their habit of mind, is the same. The one apparent difference is in religion, and that is not a difference of substance but of accident. We have forgotten the Madonna and the Saints, who were taken away from us by violence. We still go to church, but they are not there any more. They were expelled with a fork: one Cromwell but completed what another began. And now it is late in the day: they can never be brought back. "Vestigia nulla" is true of religion as of every other human affair. But it was not them we worshipped. Rather it was what they stood for—which endures.
All this leads me away from John Halsham and Idlehurst. A good antidote to his extreme depression is to be found in another beautiful book which, if not a classic, will become one. I mean A Shepherd's Life, wherein Mr. Hudson reveals the very heart of pastoral Wilts. I went right through it only the other day, journeying from Sarum to Trowbridge on county business—Wishford, Wylye, Codford, Heytesbury, and so on to Melksham and Westbury—names which to us are symphonies. No change from the sempiternal round of country labour in those quiet hollows, though it is true that you saw soldiers in buff unloading railway trucks, and that the valley was lined with their wooden hutments. Soldiers, indeed, we have known ever since the Norman Conquest; but the country is bigger than they are, and they fall into its ways even as their huts fade into the shadows cast by its everlasting hills. Mr. Hudson, by the way, does not seem to have encountered a witch. We had one in this village a few years ago, and she may be here still, though I haven't come across her. She laid a malison on my chauffeur's potatoes—I had one once—and (as he told me) blighted the year's crop. He was digging in his garden when she, a dark-browed old woman with a beard, leaned over the gate and asked him for some kindling wood. He, a Swiss, who may not have understood her, waved her away, saying that he was busy. "You will get no good out of those taters," said she, and slippered away. That was five years ago.
John Halsham is fond of describing himself as a Tory, and perhaps really is one of those almost extinct mammalia. I had thought Professor Saintsbury the only one left. He, I understand, thinks that the Reform Act of 1832 was a great mistake, and dislikes Horace Walpole's Letters because their writer was a Whig. Then there is Mrs. Partington's nephew, who muses perhaps without method, but certainly not without malice, in Blackwood once a month. He is more Jingo than Tory. He has to bite somebody. I was amused the other day to consider his girding at Sir Alfred Mond, chiefly on the score that he had a German grandfather. It did not seem to have occurred to the man that the same terrific charge could be brought against a much more august Personage, and with much the same futility. Surely it is more to the purpose that he will have an English grandson, That is the worst of musing when you neglect method and surrender to malice.
Toryism, which is a parasitic growth of mind, needs a relic to which it can cling, not a person. In the country the Church will not provide it, nor any longer the brewing interest. The air has been let into the one, and the water which they call mineral into the other. There remain the throne and the squirearchy, and of these the throne is much the stouter. For the throne is remote enough to be an object of veneration, separable from its occupant; but when the great house and the old acres are held, and not filled, by a new man, the villager, who sees more than he is supposed to see, is by no means concerned to uphold them. Most of the villages have been Radical; now they are all going "Labour." The elections, if there are to be some soon, will be very interesting, and I think surprising to Mr. George and his assortment of friends.
However—another strike or two like that recent abortion on the railways will dish the Labour Party and Trade Unionism as well—at least in the country. Down here we are new to the movement, but have gone into it keenly, without losing our heads. Indeed, I think we are finding more in our heads than we suspected. We keep to our code; and when we find that other men don't, we begin to doubt of Unionism. One of the very best of our men said in my hearing at the time that if the railway strike were the kind of thing we were to expect, he, for one, would have no more to do with the Labourers' Union. As I have said once before, I think, responsibility (which the Union is giving us) deepens our men and quickens them too. The time is at hand when they will begin to feel their power. I have no fears. I have long known them to be the salt of the earth. If the quotation would not be from one of my own works, I would quote now.
It is an old discussion, but all my travels have convinced me that a bad peasantry is the exception. Such exceptions there are, though I don't mean to give them. If Zola had not made himself ridiculous in the act, so ridiculous as to show himself negligible, he would stand as the greatest traducer of his adopted country that France has ever harboured. But he was a specialist in his particular line of disgustfulness, and saw in rural France what he took there with him. They say that the Bulgarian peasant is a savage brute, "they" being the Greeks, of course. I would not mind betting a crown that he is nothing of the sort.
In manners, to be sure, peasantries differ remarkably. Here in the West, from Wilts to Cornwall, our rustics are sweet-mannered. They are instinctively gentlemen, if gentlehood consist, as I believe, in having regard for other people's feelings. But in the Danish parts of England, to be plain, manners are to seek. That means from Bedfordshire pretty well up to Carlisle. North-east of that again, in Northumberland, you have delightful manners.
The Northumbrian peasant, like the Scottish, greets you as an equal, the Wiltshire man as a superior, yet neither loses dignity thereby. The Lancashire man treats you as his inferior, and is not himself advantaged, whether it be so or not.
A HERMITAGE IN SIGHT
I hope that I have secured for myself a haven, a yet more impenetrable shade than this, against the time when, having seen four generations of men, two behind and two beyond, I may consider in silence what is likely to be the end of it all. It is true that I am getting old, but I am not yet prepared for a lodge in the wilderness. My present house has a wall on the village street. The post-office is a matter of crossing the road; the church is at the bottom of a meadow. I like all that, because I like all my neighbours and the sound of their voices. At eleven o'clock in the morning I can hear the children let out from school, "as shrill as swifts in upper air." That, too, I like. But the time will come when silence is best, and, as I say, I believe that I have found the very place. I have had my eye upon it for years, and seldom a month passes but I am there. A small black dog and I once saw Oreads there, or said we did, and in print at that. This very year the farm to which it belongs came into the market, and was sold; the purchaser will treat with me. I have described it once, nay twice, and won't do it again. Enough to say that it is the butt end of a deep green combe in the Downs, that it is sheltered from every wind, faces the south, and is below an ancient road, now a grass track, and the remains of what is called a British village on the ordnance maps, a great ramparted square with half a dozen gateways and two mist-pools within its ambit. All about it lie the neolithic dead, of whose race, as Glaucus told Diomede, "I boast myself to be."
We are all Iberians here, or so I love to believe, grounding myself upon the learned Dr. Beddoes—a swarthy people, dark-haired, grey-eyed, rather under than over the mean height. The aboriginal strain has proved itself stronger than the Frisian, and the Danish type does not appear at all. There are English names among us, of course, such as Gurd, which is Gurth as pronounced by a Norman; but it is understood that we are neolithic chiefly on the distaff side. The theory that each successive wave of invasion demolished the existing inhabitants is absurd. Not even the Germans do that; nor have the Turks succeeded in obliterating the Armenian nation. No—in turn our oncoming hordes, Celts, Romans, English, Danes, enslaved the men and married, or at least mated with, the women. And so we are descended, and (let me at this hour of victory be allowed to say) a marvellous people we are. For tenacity, patience, and obedience to the law—not of men, but of nature—I don't suppose there is another such people in the world. Those characteristics, for which neither Celt nor Roman, Teuton nor Dane, as we know them now, is remarkable, I set to the score of the neolithic race, whose physical features are equally enduring.
When you get what seems like a clear case in either sex, you have a very handsome person.
The most beautiful woman I ever saw in my days was scrubbing a kitchen floor on her knees, when I saw her first—not a hundred miles from here. Pure Iberian, so far as one can judge—olive skin, black hair, grey-green eyes. Otherwise—colouring apart—the Venus of Milo, no less. I don't say that she was very intelligent. I wonder if the Venus was. But she was obedient to the law of her being—that I do know; and it is a matter of faith with me that Aphrodite can have been no less so.
Neither a quick-witted nor an imaginative race are we; but we have the roots of poetry in us, and the roots of other arts, for we have reverence for what is above and beyond us. Custom, too, we worship, and decency and order. We fight unwillingly, and are very slow to anger; but we never let go. Witness the last four dreadful years; witness Europe from Mons to Gallipoli. The British private, soldier or sailor, has been the backbone of the fight for freedom. But I am a long way from my valley in the Downs.
I shall first of all sink a well, for one must have water, even if one is going to die. Then I shall make a mist-pool—that art is not lost yet—because as well as water to drink I like water to look upon. Lastly, I will build a hermitage of puddled chalk and straw, and thatch it with reeds, if I can get them. It will consist of a single room thirty feet long. It will have a gallery at each end, attained by a ladder. In each gallery shall be a bed, and the appurtenance thereof, one for use and one for a co-hermit or hermitess, if such there be. I leave that open. There must be a stoop, of course. Nothing enclosed. No flowers, by request. The sheep shall nibble to the very threshold. I don't forget that there is a fox-earth in the spinney attached. I saw a vixen and her cubs there one morning as clearly as I see this paper. She barked at me once or twice, sitting high on her haunches, but the children played on without a glance at me. They were playing at catch-as-catch-can—with a full-grown hare. Sheer fun. No after-thoughts. I watched them for twenty minutes.
If I grow anything there at all I shall confine my part of the business to planting, and let Nature do the rest. It may be absolutely necessary to keep the sheep off for a year or two, and the rabbits—but that is all. And what I do plant shall be deciduous, so that I may have the yearly miracle to expect. It is a mighty eater of time—and there won't be much of that left probably; yet a joy which no man who has ever begotten anything, baby or poem, can deny himself.
If anybody wants to see what Nature can do in the way of a season's growth, I can tell him how to go to work. Let him plant on the bank of a running water a root of Gunnera manicata. Let him then wait ten years, observing these directions faithfully. Every fall, after the first frost—that frost which blackens his dahlias—let him cover the crown of his Gunnera with one of its own leaves. Pile some stable-stuff over that, and then heap upon all the leaf-sweepings of that part of the garden. Growth starts in mid-April and proceeds by feet a week. Mine, which is about ten years old now, is thirty-five feet in circumference, nearly twelve feet high, has flowers two-feet-six in length, and in a hot summer has grown leaves seven feet across. You can go under one of them in a shower of rain and be as dry as in church. And all that done in five months. The plant is a rhubarb of sorts and comes from Chili. I should like to see it over there on the marge of some monstrous great river. In another order, the Ipomoea (Morning Glory), which comes from East Africa, runs it close. I had one seed in Sussex which completely overflowed a garden wall, smothering everything upon it. A kind of Jack's beanstalk, and every morning starred with turquoise blue trumpet mouths of ravishing beauty, which were dead at noon. The poor thing was constrained to be a hierodule, gave no seed. Nature is the prodigal's foster-mother.
I have a plant whose seed is much more beautiful than its flower. By the way, I have two, for the Spindle Tree is in seed, which has a quite insignificant blossom. But the plant I mean is a wild peony, which I dug up in a brake on the slopes of Helikon. It is a single white whose flower lasts, perhaps, three days. It makes a large seed-pod, which burst a short time ago, and revealed blue-black seeds sheathed in coralline forms of the most absolute vermilion. You could see them fifty yards away. It seems to have no purpose in life but to pack the seeds—or perhaps, they are beacons for the birds. I took pains to be beforehand with the birds, having no desire to see Greek peonies in my neighbours' gardens. The seeds are safely bestowed, though their fate has not been Jonah's. There's a spinney of elder-trees in the combe of my hermitage, which, I am told, was planted entirely by magpies. And I suppose it was wood-pigeons who planted two ilex trees on the top of the Guinigi tower in Lucca; and some bird or other, once more, which is answerable for a fine fig-tree growing in the parapet of the bridge at Cordova, in no soil whatsoever. It was loaded with fruit when I saw it. But fig-trees are like poets; if you want them to sing you must torture their roots. The parallel wobbles, but will be understood.
Being known in these parts for a friendly soul, and trusted, moreover, I have fallen into the position among the peasantry which the parson used to hold, and does still when he takes the trouble to qualify for it. If I can't always tell them what to do I may be able to put them in the way of the man who can. One learns how to make a dictionary of life as one gets on in it. Another use which they can have of me: I can tell them how to put their requests or demands. They have no sense whatever of a written language.
I must not betray confidences, or I could relate some curious matters on this head. I know, for instance, a farmer who is worth a couple of hundred thousand at the least, and who can neither write nor read. He has learned somehow a cross between a scratch and a blot which is accepted as a signature to cheques—but no more than that. And there is no harm in saying that I often need an interpreter. I had a case the other night when a man I know brought in a friend for consultation—a youth of the round-headed, flaxen, Teutonic type, rather rare here, who came from a village still more remote from the world than this one. Not one word of his fluent and frequent speeches could I understand. It was largely a question of intonation I believe—but there it was.
He had the wild, inspired look of a savage. He again could neither read nor write, though he must have been at school within the last ten or twelve years; but, as I think I have said elsewhere, it is not uncommon for boys to go through the school course and fail to pass the standards. There are here two families in particular, admirable workmen, who for two generations have left school without having acquired either writing or reading. One wonders deeply what kind of processes go on in the minds of these fine young men, steady workmen, as they are, good husbands, kind fathers, useful citizens oftener than not. What is their conception of God, of human destiny? How does Religion get at them? Or does it? Shall we ever know? Not if Mr. Hardy cannot tell us. No other poet of peasant origin has done so—neither Clare, nor Blomfield, nor even Burns. Mr. Hardy has told us something, and might have told us a good deal more if by the time he had learned his craft, he had not learned to be chiefly interested in himself. That is the way of poets.
Then there's The Shropshire Lad, a fake perhaps, since its author was not a peasant, but a divine little book. The Shropshire Lad is morbid, unless lads are so in Shropshire—in which case they, too, are morbid; but it is a golden book of whose beauty and felicity I never tire. Technically it is by far the most considerable thing since In Memoriam: "Loveliest of trees, the Cherry," makes me cry for sheer pleasure. But it is haunted by the fear of death and old age; it is afraid of love; it is sometimes cynical—none of which things are true of youth in Salop or Salonika. The young peasant is a fatalist to the core; but fatalists are not afraid of death. Youth is ephemeral and so is the young peasant. He is always happy when the sun is out.
As for love, it is truly the hot-and-cold disease with him. He is himself his "own fever and pain," like the rest of us; but I think love is a physical passion, until marriage. After marriage it may grow into something very beautiful indeed, and the more beautiful for being incapable of bodily utterance. I have a pair often under my eye down here who are, I know, all in all to each other; yet their conversation is that of two old gossips. But at fortunate moments I may induce one of them to tell of the other, and then you find out. My Village Wife was no imagination of mine. She lives and suffers not so many miles from where I write. Indeed, you may say of our peasantry very much what French people will tell you of their marriage custom, that love at its best follows that ceremony. It is not bred by romance, but by intimacy. The romantic attachment flames up, and satiety quenches it. The other kind glows red-hot but rarely breaks into a flame. You may have which you choose: you are lucky indeed if you get both.
To return, however, to dialect, intonation, as I say, has much to do with it. It is attractive, and in poetry can be very touching. I have had the advantage of hearing Barnes's poems read by a lady who has the accent perfectly. One does not know Barnes or Wessex who does not hear him read. That is true of all poetry, no doubt—but Barnes is uncommonly dull to read. As for words, we have enough of our own to support a small lexicon, which I used to possess, but have just been hunting, in vain. Perhaps after the pattern of the arrow, I shall find it again in the shelf of a friend. I remember that we call the roots of a tree the mores; that a dipper is a spudgell; that we say "dout the candle" when we mean extinguish it. We say "to-year" as you say "to-morrow," and call the month of March "Lide." February used to be "Soul-grove," but I have never heard it called so. The pole of a scythe is the snead; the two handles are the nibs. They are fastened by rings called quinnets. Isaac Taylor says that the few remaining Celtic words we have in use (other than hill or river names) are words for obscure parts of tools. We have some queer intensives—"terriblish" or "tarblish" is one, and "ghastly," meaning ugly, is another. "A terrible ghastly sight" we say, meaning that a thing looks rather ugly.
Our demonstrative pronoun is thic, or more properly dhic; "dhic meaed" means "that meadow." Suent means pleasant or proper—really both. It always has a sense of right consequence, of one thing following another as it ought. "Suently" would be "duly." But that now is common to the West, and will be heard from Land's End to Hengistbury Head, as well as in every one of Mr. Phillpotts' novels.
Doubtless it is too late to protest—since I am upon words—against a current barbarism which is at least ten years old, and against which I have publicly cried out at least twenty times. For the twenty-first time, then, let me object to "wage" for "wages." Is the wages of sin death, or are they? Do you give a man an alms, or an alm?
Shall we read—
Fear no more the heat o' the sun, Nor the furious winter's rage,
and so on? Go to. But I shall not so easily convert Trade Union orators, Members of Parliament, Mr. Sidney Webb, or the Times. To them a wages is a wage, and an alms an alm, a man's riches his rich, and his breeches his—at least I suppose so. I wish that we could call a man's speeches his speech, and find it was perfectly true. It is a terrible thought, "a terrible ghastly thought" indeed, that we have not so long ago chosen over seven hundred persons of both sexes, each of whom will conceive it his right to make a speech in Parliament every day. Think of it. It is fair to suppose that every one of them will make one speech every year, many of them, no doubt, one every week, some certainly every day. I am thankful that I wasn't a candidate, for I might have been successful. Then I should have been compelled to listen, and perhaps tempted to reply, to some or all of those speeches. "In the end thereof despondency and madness."
CHURCH AND THE MAN
At our Peace Celebration the other day that happened which in my recollection never happened before. The entire village was in the parish church, sang Te Deum, prayed prelatical prayers, and shared Hymns Ancient and Modern. The Congregational Minister, in a black gown, read the Lesson, the Vicar, in surplice and stole, preached. All that in a village where more than half the people are Nonconformists, and done upon the mere motion of that particular section of us.
No experience since the War has touched me more; and I believe it is strongly symptomatic. Akin to it was the streaming of the people in London to Buckingham Palace, just when war was declared, and again on the day of the Armistice: both matters of pure instinct. For what do these things show except that we are children who, when we are moved, run to our mother to tell her all about it? What are we, when we are stripped to the soul, but one great family? A man told me once that he was present at a trial for murder where there were half a dozen in the dock, men and women, principals and accessories. The verdict was "Guilty," and the wretches stood up to receive the death-sentence. As they did so, by one common instinct, they all joined hands, and so remained until they were led away to the cells. A strangely moving scene.
It is by no means a necessity of the simple alone to seek a common expression of their hope and calling. A similar stream is carrying the learned which at present runs parallel with our homelier brook, but will sooner or later mingle waters. Then there will be a flood wherein many tired swimmers will doubtless perish, but which may lead to the sea those who keep their heads. Signs of that are on all sides of us. "What is the Kingdom of Heaven?" asks Mr. Clutton-Brock, and succeeds at his best in telling us what it is not. As for anything more positive, he concludes very reasonably that it is a state of mind, and leaves us to infer that the ruck of humanity need the guidance of inspiration to induce it.
It is not at all difficult for him to show that the Church lacks inspiration, or that there is something inherent in the essence of a Church destructive of it. What should have been equally easy would have been to point out that the Church's Founder as certainly had it. Nobody ever guided men more unfalteringly than He, and we need not doubt but that it was His instigation which turned the hearts of the village people to find a common focus for their thanksgiving. Mr. Clutton-Brock has felt the sting and owned to the need; he is in the stream, but is not a bold swimmer. I hope he may reach the sea.
Why it is—assuming the inspiration of Christ—that men have nevertheless ceased to be guided by it, and have consequently lost touch with the Kingdom of Heaven, is explained by a more hardy plunger in the stream, the Hibbert Lecturer upon "Christ, Saint Francis, and To-day." With great learning, skill and courage he has used the documents of the Franciscan revival to illustrate what must have happened to the Christian well-spring. He shows that even in the lifetime of its founder the Franciscan fraternity crystallised under the insensible but enormous pressure of the world, the flesh and (doubtless) the devil. Saint Francis of Assisi, for instance, taught literal poverty—abstinence from money, goods and books. His Franciscans wouldn't have it. They asked for money and took it. Not always directly, but always somehow.
"By God we owen forty pound for rent!" said Chaucer's Franciscan when pressed by the good wife to declare what ailed him; and he got his forty pound. Saint Francis told them to build churches like barns; they built them like cathedrals. He would have had men uninstructed in all but love; and they became the greatest schoolmen in Europe. The world, in fact, was too much with them. So also did Christ teach; and as the Franciscans modified their master's precepts, so did Saint Paul his.
Twice, then, the world has been demonstrably wrong. Is it a possibility that Christ and St. Francis can be proved to have been right? To those who say, as Mr. Clutton-Brock does, that Christianity has failed, I should like to retort, "Let Christianity be tried." Poverty is of the essence of it, and luckily for us poverty is coming upon us, nation and individuals, whether we deserve it or not. When we are all really poor together—in heart as well as purse—we shall have the chance of a common religion, but not till then. Now, then, comes the question: Can the high in heart become poor in heart, or the high-minded humble themselves? If it is hard for the man rich in goods to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, is it not still harder for the man stored with knowledge? How are Mr. Clutton-Brock and the Hibbert Lecturer to become as little children? How will Mr. Wells manage it? He, too, is in the stream, splashing about and apparently enjoying himself. But you may call an invisible God an invisible king, if you please, and yet be no nearer the heart of the matter. A change of definitions will not do it. And what of Sir Oliver Lodge and Sir Conan Doyle? Are their outpourings symptomatic? I don't myself think so. They are concerned with a future life, whereas those who seek a common religion will take no account of life at all, past, present or to come, once they have found the Kingdom of Heaven. Those eloquent and (I trust) sincere gospellers are agog to dispel that sense of loss which besets us just now. It is not that we fear death so much, but that we miss the dead—and no wonder. Hence these prophets crying Lo here! and Lo there! That they have reassured many I know well, that they have baffled others I know also, for they have baffled me. My puzzle is that, with evidence of authenticity difficult to withstand, the things they can find to report are so trivial. The test of a revelation I take to be exactly the same as the test of a good poem. It doesn't much matter whether the thing revealed is new or not. Is it so revealed that we needs must believe it? Relevance is to the point, compatibility is to the point. But when Sir Oliver Lodge's medium puts whisky and cigars into the mouth of the dead, we don't laugh: it is too serious for that. We change the conversation.
Steadfastness in mutability, that is the common need, a Rock of Ages.
Then 'gin I thinke on that which Nature sayd, Of that same time when no more change shall be, But stedfast rest of all things, firmely stayd Upon the pillars of Eternity, That is contrayr to Mutabilitie; For all that moveth doth in change delight: But thenceforth all shall rest eternally With Him that is the God of Sabaoth hight: O! that great Sabaoth God, grant me that Sabaoth's sight.
"My best wishes and respects to Mrs. Moore; she is beautiful. I may say so even to you, for I was never more struck with a countenance." That is Byron, writing to Tom Moore in 1812, when he had been married little more than a year—and Byron's opinion of woman's beauty is worth having. In the eight volumes of Tom's memoirs, worthily collected by his friend Lord John Russell, and in all the crowded stage of it, I see no figure shining in so sweet and clear a morning light as that of his little home-keeping wife, with her "wild, poetic face," her fancy which rings always truer than Tom's own, and her mother-love, which sorrow has to sound so deeply before she can leave the scene. Her appearances are fitful; she keeps to the hearth when the grandees hold the floor. You see nothing of her at Holland House, which Tom may use as his inn, or at Bowood, if she can help herself, which in the country is his house of call. She is the Jenny Wren of this little cock-robin; she wears drab, too often mourning; but you find that she counts for very much with Tom. He loves to know her at his back, loves to remind himself of it. He is always happy to be home again in her faithful arms. Through all the sparkle and flash, under all the talk, through all the tinklings of pianos and guitars which declare Tom's whereabouts, if you listen you can hear the quiet burden of her heart-beats. I don't know what he would have done without her, nor what we should have to say to his literary remains if she were not in them to make them smell of lavender. Few men of letters, and no wits, can have left more behind, with less in them.
There is a great deal less of Bessy in the memoirs than, say, of Lady Donegal, or of Rogers, or of Lord Lansdowne, but somehow or another she makes herself felt; and though her appearances in them are of Tom's contrivance, a personality is more surely expressed than in most of his more elaborate portraits. One gets to know her as indeed the "excellent and beautiful person" of Lord John's measured approval, not so much by what she says or does as by her reactions on Tom himself. A study of her has to be made out of a number of pencil-scratches—one here, one there—put down by the diarist with unpremeditated art; for it is certain that, though Moore intended his diaries to speak for him after his death, what he had to say of his wife was the last thing in them he would have relied upon to do it. I am sure that is so; nevertheless, with the exception of Tom himself, who, of course, holds the centre of the stage, she is more surely and sensibly there than any of his thousand characters, from the Prince Regent to the poet Bowles; more surely and fragrantly there. We are the better for her presence; and so is her Tom's memory, infinitely the better.
It was a secret marriage and, except in the minds of a few good judges, an improvident.
"I breakfast with Lady Donegal on Monday," he writes to his mother in May, 1811, "and dine to meet her at Rogers' on Tuesday; and there is to be a person at both parties whom you little dream of."
This person was Bessy, to whom he had been married some two months on the day of writing, and of whom, when his family was notified, he found that it had nothing good to say. He complains of disappointment, of a "degree of coldness" in his father's comments; and neither is perhaps very wonderful. For Miss Bessy not only had nothing a year, but in the reckoning of the day, and in comparison with the young friend of Lord Moira and Lady Donegal, she herself was nothing. She was indeed a professional actress—Miss E. Dyke in the play-bills—whom Tom had first met in 1808 when the Kilkenny Theatre began a meteor-course. He had lent himself as an amateur to the enterprise, was David in The Rivals, Spado (with song) in A Castle of Andalusia. In 1809, for three weeks on end, he had been Peeping Tom of Coventry to the Lady Godiva of Miss E. Dyke. The rest is easy guessing, and so it is that Tom's parents were dismayed, and that there was a "degree of coldness." Lady Godiva, indeed!
But Bessy was not long in showing herself as good as gold, or approving herself to some of Tom's best friends. Lady Donegal and her sharp-tongued sister, Mary Godfrey, both took to her. "Give our love, honest, downright love to Bessy," they write. Rogers called her Psyche, had the pair to stay with him, stayed with them in his turn, and gave Bessy handsome sums for the charities in which she abounded all her life. Rogers knew simplicity when he saw it, and had no vitriol on hand when she was in the way. I don't think Tom ever took her to Ireland with him, or that, consequently, she ever met his parents in the flesh; but no doubt that they accepted her, and esteemed her.
Bit by bit she reveals herself in Tom's random diaries. As in the printing of a photograph the lights and darks come sparsely out, and unawares the delicate outline, so by a word here, a phrase elsewhere, we realise the presence of a sweet-natured, sound-minded girl, and more than that, of a girl with character. After a spell of Brompton lodgings Tom took her to Kegworth in Leicestershire, where he was to have the neighbourhood and countenance of his patron of the moment, Moira, the Regent's jackal, a solemn, empty-headed lord. Donington Hall and Bessy appear together in a letter to Mary Godfrey.
"... I took Bessy yesterday to Lord Moira's, and she was not half so much struck with its grandeur as I expected. She said, in coming out, 'I like Mr. Rogers's house ten times better.'"
Tom feels it necessary to explain such remarkable taste. "She loves everything by association, and she was very happy in Rogers's house." I don't know whether Tom's simplicity or Bessy's is the more remarkable in all this. Tom's, I think.
"Lady Loudoun and Lord Moira called upon us on their way to town and brought pine apples, etc." One sees them at it; and the very next letter he writes is dated "Donington Park." Tom fairly lets himself go over it.
"... I think it would have pleased you to see my wife in one of Lord Moira's carriages, with his servant riding after her, and Lady Loudoun's crimson travelling-cloak round her to keep her comfortable. It is a glorious triumph of good conduct on both sides, and makes my heart happier and prouder than all the best worldly connections could possibly have done. The dear girl and I sometimes look at each other with astonishment in our splendid room here, and she says she is quite sure it must be all a dream."
Marble halls, in fact; but let us see how it acted upon Bessy. Shortly after: "... I am just returned from a most delightful little tour with Rogers, poor Bessy being too ill and too fatigued with the ceremonies of the week to accompany us." That was to be the way of it for the rest of their lives together. She would never go to the great houses if she could by any means avoid it, but bore him no grudge for going without her, and was always open-armed for his return.
Mayfield Cottage, Ashbourne, was their next harbourage; and here is a Wheatley picture of them on their way to a dinner-party.
"We dined out to-day at the Ackroyds', neighbours of ours ... we found, in the middle of our walk, that we were near half an hour too early, so we set to practising country-dances in the middle of a retired green lane till the time was expired."
Then he takes her to the Ashbourne ball, and for once leaves himself out of the letter.
"... You cannot imagine what a sensation Bessy excited at the Ball the other night. She was prettily dressed, and certainly looked very beautiful.... She was very much frightened, but she got through it very well. She wore a turban that night to please me, and she looks better in it than anything else; for it strikes everybody almost that sees her, how like the form and expression of her face are to Catalani's, and a turban is the thing for that kind of character."
Catalani, in Caverford's portrait, has the rapt eye of the Cumaean sibyl. One of Moore's fine friends, an admirer of Bessy's, speaks to him of her "wild, poetic face," and the Duchess of Sussex thought her like "Lady Heathcote in the days of her beauty." That is putting her very high, for, according to Cosway, Lady Heathcote was a lovely young woman indeed; but the "wild, poetic face" gets us as near as need be.
In 1815 troubles began from which the poor girl was never to be free again. She lost one of her three little girls, Olivia Byron, for whom the poet had been sponsor. "... It was with difficulty I could get her away from her little dead baby," Moore tells his mother, "and then only under a promise that she should see it again last night...." In 1817, while Moore was in Paris, pursuing his pleasures, another child, Barbara, had a fall, and he came home in August to find her "very ill indeed." On September 10th she is still ill, but if she should get a little better, "I mean to go for a day or two to Lord Lansdowne's to look at a house.... He has been searching his neighbourhood for a habitation for me, in a way very flattering indeed from such a man." But he did not go. September 20th, "It's all over, my dearest Mother!"
"Poor Bessy," we read, "neither eats nor sleeps enough hardly to sustain life": nevertheless in the first week of October he is at Bowood. "I arrived here the day before yesterday, and found Rogers, Lord and Lady Kerry, etc." He saw Sloperton Cottage and stayed out his week. Bessy then had to see the cottage, and went—but not from Bowood. "Bessy, who went off the night before last to look at the cottage near Lord Lansdowne's, is returned this morning, after travelling both nights. Power went with her." In a month's time they were in possession, and Tom vastly set up by the near neighbourhood of his exalted friend. Not so, however, his Jenny Wren.
"... We are getting on here as quietly and comfortably as possible, and the only thing I regret is the want of some near and plain neighbours for Bessy to make an intimacy with, and enjoy a little tea-drinking now and then, as she used to do in Derbyshire. She contrives, however, to employ herself very well without them; and her favourite task of cutting out things for the poor people is here even in greater requisition than we bargained for, as there never was such wretchedness in any place where we have been; and the better class of people (with but one or two exceptions) seem to consider their contributions to the poor-rates as abundantly sufficient, without making any further exertion towards the relief of the poor wretches. It is a pity Bessy has not more means, for she takes the true method of charity—that of going herself into the cottages, and seeing what they are most in want of.
"Lady Lansdowne has been very kind indeed, and has a good deal won me over (as you know, kindness will do now and then). After many exertions to get Bessy to go and dine there, I have at last succeeded this week, in consequence of our being on a visit to Bowles's, and her having the shelter of the poet's old lady to protect her through the enterprise. She did not, however, at all like it, and I shall not often put her to the torture of it. In addition to her democratic pride—which I cannot blame her for—which makes her prefer the company of her equals to that of her superiors, she finds herself a perfect stranger in the midst of people who are all intimate; and this is a sort of dignified desolation which poor Bessy is not at all ambitious of. Vanity gets over all these difficulties; but pride is not so practicable."
Vanity indeed did, though Tom had a pride of his own too. But he was soothed and not offended by pomp, whereas she was bored as well as irritated. It is obvious that her wits were valid enough. She could be happy with Rogers or the Bowleses, who could allow for simplicity, and delight in it—a talent denied to the good Lansdownes. As for Bowles, Tom is shrewd enough to remark upon "the mixture of talent and simplicity in him."
"His parsonage-house at Brenthill is beautifully situated; but he has a good deal frittered away its beauty in grottos, hermitages and Shenstonian inscriptions. When company is coming he cries, 'Here, John, run with the crucifix and missal to the hermitage, and set the fountain going.' His sheep-bells are tuned in thirds and fifths."
Such was Bowles, Bessy's best friend in Wilts.
Bowood to Tom was centre of his scheme of things; he was always there on some pretext or other; or he would dine and sleep at Bowles's or at Lacock Abbey, or spend days in Bath, or a week in London. It is true that half his talent and more than half his fame were social: these things were the bread as well as the butter of life to him. But here is Bessy meantime:
"... Came home and found my dearest Bessy very tired after her walk from church. She has been receiving the Sacrament, and never did a purer heart.... In the note she wrote me to Bowles's the day before, she said, 'I am sorry I am not to see you before I go to church.'"
Tom had sensibility, not a doubt of it; but it seems to me that she had something better.
Here again, on the 16th October, "My dear Bessy planting some roots Miss Hughes has brought her, looking for a place to put a root of pink hepatica in, where (as she said) 'I might best see them in my walk.'" Yes, he had sensibility; but she had imagination. A little Tom was born a week after that. She took it badly, as she did most of her labours, and was in bed a month. On the 18th November she went out for the first time after the event—"the day delightful." She "went round to all her flower-beds to examine their state, for she has every little leaf in the garden by heart." Tom himself had been much moved by the birth of his first boy. He was called up at 11.30, sent for the midwife, was upset, walked about half the night, thanked God—"the maid, by the way, very near catching me on my knees." She might have caught Bessy on them every day, and no thought taken of so simple a thing. But Tom had sensibility.
But a man who, eight years after marriage, can make his wife an April fool, and record it, is no bad husband, and it would be a trespass on his good fame to suggest it. He loved her dearly and could never have been unkind to her. Far from that, happy domestic pictures abound in his diaries. Here is one of a time when she had joined him in London, on her way to stay with her sister in Edinburgh. They went together to Hornsey, to see Barbara's grave. "At eight o'clock she and I sauntered up and down the Burlington Arcade, then went and bought some prawns and supped most snugly together." He takes the state-rooms costing L7 apiece, for "his own pretty girl." Meantime he is preparing to shelter in France from civil process served upon him for the defalcations of his deputy in Bermuda.
I need not follow the scenes through as they come. The essence of Bessy Moore is expressed in what I have written of the first flush of her married life. There was much more to come. Moore outlived all his children, and she, poor soul, outlived her rattling, melodious Tom, having known more sorrow than falls, luckily, to the lot of most mothers. The death of her last girl, Anastasia, is beautifully told by Tom; but a worse stroke than even that was the wild career of little Tom, the son, his illness, disgrace, and death in the French Foreign Legion. That indeed went near to breaking Bessy's heart. "Why do people sigh for children? They know not what sorrow will come with them." That is her own, and only recorded, outcry.
In The Loves of the Angels, an erotic and perfervid poem, which fails, nevertheless, from want of concentration of the thought, Zeraph, the third angel, is Tom himself, and the daughter of man, Nama, with whom he consorts, is Bessy.
Humility, that low, sweet root, From which all heavenly virtues shoot, Was in the hearts of both—but most In Nama's heart, by whom alone Those charms for which a heaven was lost Seemed all unvalued and unknown...
Certainly she had humility; but he gives her other Christian virtues—
So true she felt it that to hope, To trust is happier than to know.
But we may doubt if Tom knew what Bessy knew and excused. Sensibility will not dig very deep.
They tell me that a respectable and ancient profession, and one always honoured by literature, is dying out; and if that is true, then two more clauses of the tenth Commandment will lose their meaning. For a long time to come we shall go on grudging our neighbour his house—there's no doubt about that; but even as his ox and ass have ceased to enter into practical ethics because our average neighbour doesn't possess either, so we hear it is to be with his servant and his maid.
They have had their day. There are no domestic servants at the registries; the cap and apron, than which no uniform ever more enhanced a fair maid or extenuated a plain one, will be found only in the war museum, as relics of ante-bellum practice; we shall sluice our own doorsteps in the early morning hours, receive our own letters from the postman, have our own conversations with the butcher's young man at the area gate; and in time, perhaps, learn how it may be possible to eat a dinner which we have ourselves cooked and served up. Better for us, all that, it may well be; but will it be better for our girls? I am sure it will not.
Domestic service, I have said, is an employment which literature has always approved. From Gay to Hazlitt, from Swift to Dickens, there have been few writers of light touch upon life who have not had a kind eye for the housemaid. There's a passage somewhere in Stevenson for which I have spent an hour's vain hunting, which exactly hits the centre. The confidential relationship, the trim appearance, not without its suggestion of comic opera and the soubrette of the Comedie Francaise, the combined air of cheerfulness and respect which is demanded, mind you, on either side the bargain—all this is acutely and vivaciously observed in half a page by a writer who never missed a romantic opening in his days. The profession, indeed, has never lacked romance in real life. Strangeness has persistently followed beauty in and out of the kitchen. The number of old gentlemen who have married their cooks is really considerable. Younger gentlemen, whose god has been otherwhere, have married their housemaids. A Lord Viscount Townshend, who died in 1763 or thereabouts, did so in the nick of time, and left her fifty thousand pounds. Tom Coutts the banker, founder of the great house in the Strand, married his brother's nursemaid, and loved her faithfully for fifty years. She gave him three daughters who all married titles; but she was their ladyships' "dear Mamma" throughout; and Coutts himself saw to it that where he dined she dined also. There's nothing in caste in our country, given the essential solvent.
A stranger story still is this one. Some fifteen years ago a barrister in fair practice died, and made by will a handsome provision for his "beloved wife." This wife, thereby first revealed to an interested acquaintance, had acted as his parlourmaid for many years, standing behind his chair at dinner, and bringing him his evening letters on a tray; and she had been so engaged on the day of his death. Nobody of his circle except, of course, her fellow-servants, knew that she stood in any other relationship to her so-called master. I consider her conduct admirable; nor do I think his necessarily blameworthy. Those two, depend upon it, understood each other, and had worked out a common line of least resistance. On the distaff side there is the tale of the two maiden ladies so admirably served by their butler that when, to their consternation, he gave warning, they held a heart-to-heart talk together, as the result of which one of them proposed in all the forms to the invaluable man, and was accepted. It is deplorable that a pursuit which opens vistas so rose-coloured as these should be allowed to lapse.
A lady whom I knew well, and whose recent death I deplore, was cured of a bad attack of neuritis by being cut off all domestic assistance, except her cook's, and set to do her own housework. Therefore it is probable that we should all be the better for the same treatment; but, as I asked just now, will the girls be the better for it? The disengaged philosopher can only answer that question in one way. That feverish community-work which they have been doing through a four years' orgy of patriotism will have taught them very much of life and manners. It will have taught them, among other more desirable things, how to spend money, and how to keep a good many young men greatly entertained; but it will not, I fear, have taught them how to save money, how to make one man happy and comfortable, or how to bring up children in the fear of God.
And if it has failed to teach those things it will have failed to fit them for this world, to say the least. It will not only have failed them, but it will have failed us with them. For the world needs at this moment a thousand things before it can be made tolerable again; and all of those can be summed up into one paramount need, which is for men and women who will observe faithfully the laws of their being. And what, pray, are the laws of their being? At the outside, three; in reality, two: to work, to love and to have children.
At this hour neither men nor women will work. The strain is taken off, the bow relaxed. At the same time they must have money, that they may spend it; for as always happens in moments of reaction, the simplest way of expressing high spirits and a sense of ease is wild expenditure. So wages must be high, and because wages are high everything is dear. There are no houses, and there will be none; there can be no marriages, and there will be none; there will be no milk for children, so there will be no children. How long are such things to go on? Just so long as we disregard the laws of our being. We began to neglect them long before the war, and they must be learned again. We must learn first what they are, and next, how to keep them.
Now the education of men is another text; but for women there can be little doubt but that the prime educationary in the laws of being is domestic service. You can be ribald about it. That is easy. But where else is a girl to learn how to keep house? And if she does not learn how to be a mother, as indeed she may, poor dear, she gets to know very much of what to do when she becomes one.
So I hope to see a soberer generation of girls return to a profession which they have always adorned, for the schooling of which their husbands and children shall rise up and call them blessed.
POETRY AND THE MODE
A good friend of mine, poet and scholar, was recently approached by the President, or other kind of head of a Working Men's Association, for a paper. A party of them was to visit Oxford, where, after an inspection, there should be a feast, and after the feast, it was hoped, a paper from my friend—upon Addison. The occasion was not to be denied: I don't doubt that he was equal to it. I wish that I had heard him; I wish also that I had seen him; for he had determined on a happy way of illustrating and pointing his discourse. He had the notion of providing himself with a full-bottomed wig, a Ramillies; at the right moment he was to clothe the head of the President with it; and—Bless thee, Bottom, how art thou translated! In that woolly panoply, if one could not allow for Cato and the balanced antitheses of the grand manner, or condone rhetoric infinitely remote from life past, present or to come—well, one would never understand Addison, or forgive him. This, for instance:—
CATO (loq.): Thus am I doubly arm'd; my death and life, My bane and antidote are both before me: This in a moment brings me to an end; But this informs me I shall never die. The soul, secured in her existence, smiles At the drawn dagger....
Ten pages more sententious and leisurely comment; then:
There is much to be said for it, in a Ramillies wig. It is stately, it is dignified, it is perhaps noble. If, as I say, it is not very much like life, neither are you who enact it. But be sure that out of sight or remembrance of the wig such a tragedy were not to be endured.
That is very well. The wig serves its turn, inspiring what without it would be intolerable. I am sure my friend had no trouble in accounting for Addison in full dress and his learned sock. Nor need he have had with Addison the urbane, Addison of the Spectator condescending to Sir Roger de Coverley and Will Honeycomb. There is in that, the very best gentlemanly humour our literature possesses, nothing inconsistent with the full-bottomed wig and an elbow-chair. But when the right honourable gentleman set himself to compose Rosamond: an Opera, and disported himself thus:
PAGE: Behold on yonder rising ground The bower, that wanders In meanders Ever bending, Never ending, Glades on glades, Shades in shades, Running an eternal round.
QUEEN: In such an endless maze I rove, Lost in the labyrinths of love, My breast with hoarded vengeance burns, While fear and rage With hope engage, And rule my wav'ring soul by turns—
then I do not see how the wig can have been useful. I feel that Addison must have left it on the bedpost and tied up his bald pate in a tricky bandana after the fashion of Mr. Prior or Mr. Gay, one of whom, if I remember rightly, did not disdain to sit for his picture in that frolic guise. The wig, which adds age and ensures dignity, would have been out of place there; nor is it possible that The Beggar's Opera owes anything to it. To explain the Addison of Rosamond or The Drummer, my friend would have had to shave the head of his victim and clap a nightcap upon it.
The device was ingenious and happy. You yoke one art to serve another. It can be extended in either direction, working backwards from the Ramillies, or forwards, as I propose to show. Skip for a moment the Restoration and the perruque, skip the cropped polls of the Roundheads; with this you are in full Charles I.
Go, lovely Rose! Tell her that wastes her time and me, That now she knows, When I resemble her to thee, How sweet and fair she seems to be.
What vision of what singer does that evoke? What other than that of a young gallant in a lace collar, with lovelocks over his shoulders, pointed Vandyke fingers, possibly a peaked chin-beard? There is accomplishment enough, beauty enough, God knows; but there is impertinence too; it is de haut en bas—
Tell her that wastes her time and me!
Lovelocks and pointed fingers all over it. It is witty, but does not bite. If you bite you are serious, if you bite you are in love; but that is elegant make-believe. He will take himself off next minute, and encountering a friend, hear himself rallied:
Quit, quit, for shame I This will not move, This cannot take her; If of herself she will not love, Nothing can her make: The D——l take her!
Laughter and a shrug are the end of it. With the Carolines it was not music that was the food of love, but love that was a staple food of music. A man who lets his hair down over his shoulders may be as sentimental as you please, or as impudent. He cannot nourish both a passion and a head of hair. He won't have time.
There, then, again, is a clear congruity established between your versifying and your clothes; they will both be in the mode, and the mode the same. One feels about the Cavalier fashion that it was not serious either one way or the other. It had not the Elizabethan swagger; it had not the Restoration cynicism; it had not the Augustan urbanity. Go back now to the Elizabethan, and avoiding Shakespeare as a law unto himself, which is the right of genius—for the sonnets have wit as well as passion (but a mordant wit), everything that real love-poetry must have, and much that no poetry but Shakespeare's could possibly survive—avoiding Shakespeare, I say, take two snatches in order. Take first—
Thou art not fair, for all thy red and white, For all those rosy ornaments in thee,— Thou art not sweet, though made of mere delight, Nor fair nor sweet—unless thou pity me!
That first; and then this:
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows And when we meet at any time again, Be it not seen in either of our brows That we one jot of former love retain—
and consider them for what they are: unapproachably beautiful, passionate, serious, on the edge of cynicism, but never over it. There you have the love of a young age of the world, when young men, hard hit, could be sharp-tongued, bitter, and often (though not in those two) too much in earnest not to be shameless. Agree with me, and see the men who sang and the women they sang of in preposterous stuffed and starched clothes which made them unapproachable except at the finger-tips, and yet burning so for each other that by words alone and the music in them they could rend all the buckram and whalebone and make such armour vain! You may see in Elizabethan dress a return to Art, as in Elizabethan poetry you see a return to Learning; but neither was designed to prevent a return to Nature; rather indeed to stimulate it. And so you come back to this:
Take thou of me smooth pillows, sweetest bed, A chamber deaf of noise and blind of light, A rosy garland and a weary head ...
which is the perfectly-clothed utterance of an Elizabethan longing to be rid of his clothes.
I don't propose to linger over the perruque. The Restoration was a time of carnival when, if the men were overdressed, the ladies were underdressed; and the perruque was a part of the masquerade. In such a figurehead you could be as licentious as you chose—and you were; you could only be serious in satire. The perruque accounts for Dryden and his learned pomp, for Rochester and Sedley, and for Congreve, who told Voltaire that he desired to be considered as a gentleman rather than poet, and was with a shrug accepted on that valuation: it accounts for Timotheus crying Revenge, and not meaning it, or anything else except display; it accounts for Pepys thinking King Lear ridiculous. Let me go on rather to the day of the tie-wig, of Pope's Achilles and Diomede in powder; of Gray awaking the purple year; of Kitty beautiful and young, of Sir Plume and his clouded cane; of Mason and Horace Walpole. When ladies were painted, and their lovers in powder, poetry would be painted too. It would be either for the boudoir or the alcove. I don't call to mind a single genuine love-song in all that century among those who dressed a la mode. There were, however, some who did not so dress.
Gray was not one. Whether in the country churchyard, or by the grave of Horace Walpole's favourite cat, he never lost hold of himself, never let heart take whip and reins, never drowned the scholar in the poet, never, in fact, showed himself in his shirtsleeves. But before he was dead the hearts of men began to cry again. Forty years before Gray died Cowper was born; fourteen years before he died, Blake was born; twelve years before he died, Burns. It is strange to contrast the Elegy with The Poplar Field:
My fugitive years are all wasting away, And I must ere long be as lowly as they, With a turf on my breast and a stone at my head, Ere another such grove shall arise in its stead.
Put beside that melodious jingle the ordered diction and ordered sentiment of one of the best-known and most elegant poems in our tongue. They were written within fifteen years of each other. Within the same space of time, or near about it, there came this spontaneous utterance of simplicity, tragedy and hopeless sorrow:
Young Jamie lo'ed me weel, and sought me for his bride; But saving a croun he had naething else beside: To make the croun a pund young Jamie gaed to sea; And the croun and the pund they were baith for me.
The authoress of that was born twenty-one years before Gray died. I speak, perhaps, only for myself when I say that reading that, or the like of that in Burns or in Blake, my heart becomes as water, and I feel that I would lose, if necessary, all of Milton, all of Shakespeare but a song or two, much of Dante and some of Homer, to be secured in them for ever. My friend (of the Ramillies) and I were disputing about a phrase I had applied to lyric poetry as the infallible test of its merit. I asked for "the lyric cry," and he scorned me. I could find a better phrase with time; but the quatrain just quoted makes it unmistakable, as I think. Anyhow, it will be conceded that there was some putting off of the tie-wig, the hoop and the red-heeled shoe about 1770.
In the time of Reform, say from 1795 to 1830, you could do much as you pleased, and dress according to your fancy. You could smother your neck in a stock, wear a high-waisted swallow-tail coat, kerseymere continuations and silk stockings. So sat Southey for his portrait, and so did Rogers continually. Or you could wear a curly toupe with Tom Moore and the Prince Regent, be as rough as a dalesman with Wordsworth or as sleek as a dissenting minister with Coleridge, an open-throated pirate with Byron, or a seraph with Shelley. If the rules lingered, they were relaxed. I think there were none. Individuality was in the air; schools were closing down. For the first time since the spacious days men sang as they pleased, and some sang as they felt and were, but with this difference added that you would no longer identify the age with the utterance. There were many survivals: most of Coleridge, all of Rogers, much of Byron, some of Wordsworth (Laodamia) is eighteenth century; and then, for the first time, you could archaicize or walk in Wardour Street—Macpherson had taught us that, and Bishop Percy. But all of Shelley and Keats, the best of Coleridge and Wordsworth belong to no age.
The pale stars are gone! For the sun, their swift shepherd, To their folds them compelling, In the depths of the dawn, Hastes in meteor-eclipsing array and they flee Beyond his blue dwelling, As fawns flee the leopard. But where are ye?
That is like nothing on earth: music and diction are stark new. And that was the way of it for a forty years of freedom.
Then came a reaction. With Queen Victoria we all went to church again in our Sunday clothes. You cannot date Keats, Shelley and Wordsworth by the fashions; but you can date Tennyson assuredly. He belongs to the top-hat and the crinoline; to Friends in Council and "nice feelings." True, there was nothing dressy about Tennyson himself. I doubt if he ever wore a top-hat. But is not The Gardener's Daughter in ringlets? Did not Aunt Elizabeth and Sister Lilia wear crinolines? And as for Maud—
Look, a horse at the door, And little King Charley snarling: Go back, my lord, across the moor, You are not her darling.
That settles it. "Little King Charley's" name would have been Gyp. I yield to no man in my admiration of In Memoriam; but when one compares it with Adonais it is impossible not to allocate the one and salute the other as for all time and place:
When in the down I sink my head Sleep, Death's twin-brother, times my breath; Sleep, Death's twin-brother, knows not Death, Nor can I dream of thee as dead.
He lives, he wakes—'tis Death is dead, not he; Mourn not for Adonais. Thou young Dawn, Turn all thy dew to splendour, for from thee The spirit thou lamentest is not gone.
No: In Memoriam is a beautiful poem, and technically a much better one than Adonais. But the spirit is different; narrower, more circumscribed; in a word, it dates, like the top-hat and the crinoline.
In our day, clothes have lost touch with mankind, they cover the body but do not express the soul. With the vogue of the short coat, short skirt, slouch hat, and brown boots, style has gone out and ease come in; and with ease, it would seem, easy, not to say free-and-easy, manners. I speak not of the "nineties" when a young degenerate could lightly say,
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my fashion,
and be praised for it, but rather of the Georgians, of whom a golden lad, who happily lived long enough to do better, wrote thus of a lady of his love:
And I shall find some girl, perhaps, And a better one than you, With eyes as wise, but kindlier, And lips as soft, but true. And I daresay she will do.
If that is not slouch-hat and brown boots, I don't know what to call it. For that golden lad I think The Shropshire Lad must answer, who perhaps brought corduroys into the drawing-room. And if that is to be the way of it, we should do well to go back to Lovelace or Waller, and make believe with a difference. I shall find myself watching the sunny side of Bond Street for a revival—because while one does not ask for passion, or even object to the tart flavours of satiety, I feel that there is a standard somewhere, and a line to be drawn. Taste draws it. I trouble myself very little with the morals of the matter, yet must think manners very nearly half of the conduct of life. And the manners which are expressed in clothes are those which are instilled in art. They are symptomatic alike and correlated. There is nothing surprising about it, or even curious. It would be so, and it is so. If Milton had not on a prim white collar and a doctor's gown I misread Paradise Lost and Lycidas too.
How precisely does the Englishman love England? I remember saying some years ago that he was not patriotic in the ordinary sense, because though he loved the land, he had very little feeling for the political entity called England—whereas both will be loved by the true patriot. On recent consideration of the matter I am beginning to ask whether he does, after all, love the land itself, as the Irishman loves his, the Scot his, the Switzer his, and the Greek his. I must say that I doubt it. There is this, I think, to be noted of fervent patriots, that the object of their devotion will have had a distressful story. That is the case with the four nations just remarked upon. It has been the case with France ever since France was the passion of the French.
Every man loves his home, for reasons not necessarily connected with the country which happens to hold it; every one of our soldiers of late longed to get back, by no means necessarily because he wanted to see England again. Did he really want to see it at all—I mean for its own sake apart from what it held of his? I know that he would have cut his tongue out sooner than have confessed it. That is his nature, and I can't help liking him for it—because it is a part of himself, and I like him better than any man in the world. But allowing for that queer shyness, how are we to test his love of our country? Is there a sure test? Well, I know of one, which to my mind is a certainty. Judged by that I must own that Atkins does not stand as a lover should, or would.
My test is this. The lover of his countryside knows its physical features by heart, and to him they have personality. You will have observed the tendency of Londoners to guide you by the names of public-houses; you will have noticed their blank ignorance of points of the compass. To a great extent these defects characterise the Home Counties, and one might try to excuse them in various ways. In the North of England, and in Scotland throughout, you will be told to "go east," or "keep west" (as the Wordsworths were asked, were they "stepping westward?"), with a conviction that the direction will be sufficient for you as it plainly is for your guide. Now nobody can be said to know his countryside who does not know the airts; and the plain truth is that the Southern Englishman does not know his countryside at all. How, then, can he love it? But there's a stronger point than that.
Nothing is more surprising than the indifference of Southerners to their rivers. Where, for instance, throughout its course do you ever hear the Thames spoken of as "Thames"—as if it was a person, which no doubt it is? In the North you talk of Lune and Leven, Esk and Eden:
Tweed said to Till, What gars ye run so still?
Scotland shows the same respect. Do you remember when Bailie Nicol Jarvie points out the Forth to Francis? "Yon's Forth," he said with great solemnity. That was well observed by Scott. In Italy—notably in Tuscany—a river is always spoken of without the definite article. It may be the case in Devonshire too; but it is never done here in South Wilts though we have five beautiful streams ministering to our county town. Indeed Wiltshire people are nearly as bad as the Cockneys, who always call their Thames "the river," which is as if a man might say "the railway."
Beautiful how Burns personified his rivers! More, he individualised them. The same verb won't do. You have:
Where Cart rins rowin' to the sea,
Where Doon rins wimplin' clear;
And Dante says, or makes Francesca say,
Siede la terra dove nata fui Sulla marina dove Po discende Per aver pace co' seguaci sui.
Per aver pace: a lovely phrase. And that brings me to Michael Drayton.
That was a poet—author also of one lovely lyric—who treated our rivers after the fashion of his day, which ran to length and tedious excess. Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis is by pages too long; but that is nothing to Drayton's masterpiece. With the best dispositions in the world I have never been able to get right through the Polyolbion. His anthropomorphism is surprising, and a little of it only, amusing.
Here is an example, wherein he desires to express the fact that an island called Portholme stands in the Ouse at Huntingdon.
Held on with this discourse, she—[that is, Ouse]—not so far hath run, But that she is arrived at goodly Huntingdon Where she no sooner views her darling and delight, Proud Portholme, but becomes so ravished with the sight, That she her limber arms lascivious doth throw About the islet's waist, who being embraced so, Her flowing bosom shows to the enamour'd Brook;
and so on.
That will be enough to show that one really might have too much of the kind of thing. In Drayton you very soon do; every page begins to crawl with demonstrative monsters, and there is soon a good deal more love-making than love. But you may read Drayton for all sorts of reasons and find some much better than others. He describes Britain league by league, and is said to have the accuracy of a roadbook. In thirty books, then, of perhaps 500 lines apiece, he conducts you from Land's End to Berwick-on-Tweed, naming every river and hill, dramatising, as it were, every convolution, contact and contour; and not forgetting history either. That means a mighty piece of work, of such a scope and purport that we may well grudge him the doing of it Charles Lamb, who loved a poet because he was bad, I believe, as a mother will love a crippled child, is more generous to Drayton than I can be. "That panegyrist of my native earth," he calls him, "who has gone over her soil, in his Polyolbion, with the fidelity of a herald, and the painful love of a son; who has not left a rivulet so narrow that it may be stept over, without honourable mention; and has animated hills and streams with life and passion beyond the dreams of old mythology." No more delightful task could be the lifework of a poet who loved his own land; but it could hardly be done again, nor, I dare say, ever be done again so well.
To describe, however, the windings and circumfluences of rivers, the embraces of mountain and rain-cloud in language on the other side of amorousness may easily be inconvenient or ridiculous, and not impossibly both; but I shouldn't at all mind upholding in public disputation, say, at the Poetry Bookshop, that there was no other way than Drayton's of doing the thing at all. It was the mythopoetic way. For purposes of poetry, Britain is an unwieldy subject, and if you are to allow to a river no other characters than those of mud and ooze, swiftness or slowness, why, you will relate of it little but its rise, length and fall. Drayton's weakness is that he can conceive of no other relation than a sex-relation, and in so describing the relations of every river in England, he very naturally becomes tedious. Satiety is the bane of the amorist, and of worse than he. Casanova had that in front of him when he set out to be immoral, on ne peut plus, in seven volumes octavo. There simply were not enough vices to go round. He ended, therefore, by being a dull as well as a dirty dog. "Take back your bonny Mrs. Behn," said Walter Scott's great-aunt to him after a short inspection, "and if you will take my advice, put her in the fire, for I found it impossible to get through the very first novel." The nemesis of the pornographer: he can't avoid boring you to tears.
Soused still to the ears in the lees of war, I win a rueful reminder from a stray volume of Hours in a Library. Was the world regenerated between 1848 and 1855? Were English labourers all properly fed, housed and taught? Had the sanctity of domestic life acquired a new charm in the interval, and was the old quarrel between rich and poor definitely settled? Charles Kingsley (of whom the moralist was writing) seems really to have believed it, and attributed the exulting affirmative to—the Crimean War! The Crimean War, after our five years of colossal nightmare, looks to us like a bicker of gnats in a beam; yet perhaps any war will do for a text, since any war will produce some moral upheaval in the generations concerned. Let us suppose, then, that the British were seriously turned to domestic politics in 1855; let us admit that they are so turned to-day, and ask ourselves fairly whether we are now in a better way of reasonable living than history shows those poor devils to have been.
If we are, it will not be the fault of the old agencies, in which Kingsley always believed. Church and State are adrift; organised Christianity has abdicated; the aristocracy no longer governs even itself; Parliament has died of a surfeit of its own rules. If fundamental reform is to come, it will be forced upon us by the working class, and (at the pinch) opposed tooth and nail by the privileged. But is it to come? Is the working class deploying for action? In all the miscellaneous scrapping which we watch to-day is there one strong man with a sense of direction? It doesn't look like it.
Men, having learned to get what they lust after by strife, do not easily forget the lesson. Sporadic war, like a heath fire, breaks out daily in some part of the world; and society is as easily kindled, and as irrationally as nations. A Jew is put out of Hungary and an Archduke takes his place. The working men of Britain, having chosen a Parliament which they don't believe in, and didn't want, set to work, not to get rid of it, but to make any future Parliament impossible. The police do their best for the shoplifters; the engine-drivers, to help the police, prevent them from going home to bed. Sir Edward Carson, a staunch Unionist, makes union out of the question. The bakers, to improve the prospects of their trade, teach people to make their own bread. The colliers—well, the colliers do not yet seem to have found out that unless they provide people with coal, people won't provide them with many things they are in need of.
This doesn't look much like solidarity, it must be owned; and yet I make bold to say that the one abiding good we have got out of the war is the discovery of the solidarity of man. Nationality (mother of war) has been killed since we have learned from the Germans how much alike we are at our worst, and best. Caste is mortally wounded. The land-girl and her ladyship admit their sisterhood; the staff officer and the batman understand each other in the light of common needs and their satisfaction. There's the seed; water it with the dew of common poverty and you may have one Britain instead of a round dozen, and a League of Men to succeed a stillborn League of Nations. Courage, then; Eppur si muove!
Poverty is certainly coming, for Europe is on the edge of bankruptcy. With poverty will come freedom, and it can come in no other way. Nobody is free while he is serf to his own necessities, and the necessities of such a man as I am (to take the first instance that comes to hand) have grown to such a pitch that I am as rogue and peasant slave to them as ever Hamlet was to his. Gentleman born, quotha! Caste and self-indulgence go hand in hand. I must be a great man in the village, therefore live in the great house. Men must touch their hat-brims to me, therefore my hat (not I) must be worth their respect. A village girl must wait upon me, therefore (for my life) I must not wait upon her. That is where I have been ever since I was born, but now I am going to be poor and free. The time is at hand when I must give up my roomy old house in its seven-acre garden and live in the five-roomed cottage now occupied by my gardener. My hat must be as it may, since I shan't buy a new one. If a maid comes to work in my house she can only come in one capacity, which will equally involve my working in hers. She in the kitchen, I in the coalhole or potato patch, 'twill be all one. If she works it will be in our common interest; and for that I too shall work.
If I, still harping on myself, go that way to freedom, shredding off what is tiresome, cumbrous and a hindrance, one is tempted to think we shall all—so life is in a concatenation—lose what is really vicious in our social coil; and if in our social then in our political coil. For if the essence of a sound private life is that a man should be himself, so a public life for its smooth working depends upon the same sincerity. Read my parable of the particular into society at large. If I am to live so, and gain, are not nations? Are we to hire a great navy, a great army, to secure us in things which we have seen to be tiresome, cumbrous and a hindrance? Are we to exact flag-dippings from nations to our flag? Are we to make washpots of the Maltese, Cypriotes, Hindoos, Egyptians, Hottentots, and who not? If we go bankrupt we shall not be able to do it, and if we are not able to do it we shall stand among people as Britons, not as a British Empire, over against French, Germans, Maltese, Cypriotes, standing as their needs involve, and for what worth their virtue can ensure. So men, being men, nations of men will become families of men:
Magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo.
Two things therefore are clear: men are a family, and the family is to be poor. Almost as clear to me is the coming of the day when we shall slough the ragged skin of empire and become again a small, hardy, fishing and pastoral people. The profiteers will leave us, like rats and their parasites. We shall be able to feed ourselves by our industry. We shall be contented, and as happy as men with inordinate desires and subordinate capacities can ever hope to be. There is no reason to suppose that we need cease to be a nursery of heroes, that our old men will not see visions or our young men dream dreams. Neither vision nor dream will be the worse for having its bottom in truth.
Catnach was a dealer in ballads. His stock line was the murderer's confession, and his standard price half a crown. I don't know that there is a Catnach now, or a market for Catnachery, but people collect the old ones. You find them in county anthologies, with one of which "The Kentish Garland, Vol. II., edited by Julia H.L. de Voynes, Hertford: Stephen Austin and Sons, 1882," I lately spent a pleasant morning in a friend's house. I should have liked Volume I., though it could not by any possibility have contained worse matter. That is my only consolation for missing it, because there are bad things and bad things, and if a thing of literature is bad enough, it may well be as entertaining as the best. I have long felt that there was a future for Half-hours with the Worst Authors. It might prove a goldmine to a resolute editor, and I hope I am not betraying a friend when I say that one of mine has laid the footings of such a collection as may some day add lustre to his name.[A] If I don't mistake, I can put him on to a thing or two now which he will be glad of.
[Footnote A: He is here following Edward FitzGerald.]
Every bad ballad has its archetype in a good one, and all ballads of whatsoever quality, can be pigeonholed under subjects, whether of content or of treatment. My first specimen from Kent could be classified as the Ballad Encomiastic, or, at will, as the Ballad of Plain Statement, in which latter case it would be considered as a ballad proper and derive itself passim from Professor Child's book. In the former case you would have to go back to Homer for its original. It calls itself "An Epitaphe"—which it could not be—"uppon the death of the noble and famous Sir Thomas Scott of Scottshall, who dyed the 30 Dec. 1594," and begins thus: