LITTLE JOURNEYS TO THE HOMES OF THE GREAT
Printed and made into a Book by The Roycrofters, who are in East Aurora, Erie County, New York
Wm. H. Wise & Co.
Elbert Hubbard is dead, or should we say, has gone on his last Little Journey to the Great Beyond. But the children of his fertile brain still live and will continue to live and keep fresh the memory of their illustrious forebear.
Fourteen years were consumed in the preparation of the work that ranks today as Elbert Hubbard's masterpiece. In Eighteen Hundred Ninety-four, the series of Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great was begun, and once a month for fourteen years, without a break, one of these little pilgrimages was given to the world. These little gems have been accepted as classics and will live. In all there are one hundred eighty Little Journeys that take us to the homes of the men and women who transformed the thought of their time, changed the course of empire, and marked the destiny of civilization. Through him, the ideas, the deeds, the achievements of these immortals have been given to the living present and will be sent echoing down the centuries.
Hubbard's Little Journeys to the homes of these men and women have not been equaled since Plutarch wrote his forty-six parallel lives of the Greeks and Romans. And these were given to the world before the first rosy dawn of modern civilization had risen to the horizon. Without dwelling upon their achievements, Plutarch, with a trifling incident, a simple word or an innocent jest, showed the virtues and failings of his subject. As a result, no other books from classical literature have come down through the ages to us with so great an influence upon the lives of the leading men of the world. Who can recount the innumerable biographies that begin thus: "In his youth, our subject had for his constant reading, Plutarch's Lives, etc."? Emerson must have had in mind this silent, irresistible force that shaped the lives of the great men of these twenty centuries when he declared, "All history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons."
Plutarch lived in the time of Saint Paul, and wrote of the early Greeks and Romans. After two thousand years Hubbard appeared, to bridge the centuries from Athens, in the golden age of Pericles, to America, in the wondrous age of Edison. With the magic wand of genius he touched the buried mummies of all time, and from each tomb gushed forth a geyser of inspiration.
Hugh Chalmers once remarked that, if he were getting out a Blue Book of America, he would publish Elbert Hubbard's subscription-lists. Whether we accept this authoritative statement or not, there is no doubt that the pen of this immortal did more to stimulate the best minds of the country than any other American writer, living or dead. Eminent writers study Hubbard for style, while at the same time thousands of the tired men and women who do the world's work read him for inspiration. Truly, this man wielded his pen like an archangel.
Not only as a writer does this many-sided genius command our admiration, but in many chosen fields, in all of which he excelled. As an institution, the Roycroft Shops would reflect credit upon the business acumen of the ablest men that America has produced in the field of achievement. The industry, it would seem, was launched to demonstrate the practicality of the high principles and philosophy preached by its founder, not only by the printed page, but from the platform. Right here let it be noted that, as a public speaker, Hubbard appeared before more audiences than any other lecturer of his time who gave the platform his undivided attention. Where, one asks in amazement, did this remarkable man find the inspiration for carrying forward his great work? It is no secret. It was drawn from his own little pilgrimages to the haunts of the great. Again like Plutarch, these miniature biographies were composed for the personal benefit of the writer. It was his own satisfaction and moral improvement that inspired the work.
Following Hubbard's tragic death, the announcement was made from East Aurora that "The Philistine" Magazine would be discontinued—Hubbard had gone on a long journey and might need his "Philistine." Besides, who was there to take up his pen? It was also a beautiful tribute to the father from the son.
The same spirit of devotion has prompted The Roycrofters to issue their Memorial Edition of the "Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great." In no other way could they so fittingly perpetuate the memory of the founder of their institution as to liberate the influence that was such an important factor in molding the career of his genius. If he should cast a backward glance, he would nod his approval. If there is to be a memorial, certainly let it be a service to mankind. He would have us all tap the same source from which he drew his inspiration.
The mintage of wisdom is to know that rest is rust, and that real life is in love, laughter and work. —Elbert Hubbard
I have been asked to write an article about myself and the work in which I am engaged. I think I am honest enough to sink self, to stand outside my own personality, and answer the proposition.
Let me begin by telling what I am not, and thus reach the vital issue by elimination.
First, I am not popular in "Society," and those who champion my cause in my own town are plain, unpretentious people.
Second, I am not a popular writer, since my name has never been mentioned in the "Atlantic," "Scribner's," "Harper's," "The Century" or the "Ladies' Home Journal." But as a matter of truth, it may not be amiss for me to say that I have waited long hours in the entryway of each of the magazines just named, in days agone, and then been handed the frappe.
Third, I am not rich, as the world counts wealth.
Fourth, as an orator I am without the graces, and do scant justice to the double-breasted Prince Albert.
Fifth, the Roycroft Shop, to the welfare of which my life is dedicated, is not so large as to be conspicuous on account of size.
Sixth, personally, I am no ten-thousand-dollar beauty: the glass of fashion and the mold of form are far from mine.
Then what have I done concerning which the public wishes to know? Simply this:
In one obscure country village I have had something to do with stopping the mad desire on the part of the young people to get out of the country and flock to the cities. In this town and vicinity the tide has been turned from city to country. We have made one country village an attractive place for growing youth by supplying congenial employment, opportunity for education and healthful recreation, and an outlook into the world of art and beauty.
All boys and girls want to make things with their hands, and they want to make beautiful things, they want to "get along," and I've simply given them a chance to get along here, instead of seeking their fortunes in Buffalo, New York or Chicago. They have helped me and I have helped them; and through this mutual help we have made head, gained ground upon the whole.
By myself I could have done nothing, and if I have succeeded, it is simply because I have had the aid and co-operation of cheerful, willing, loyal and loving helpers. Even now as I am writing this in my cabin in the woods, four miles from the village, they are down there at the Shop, quietly, patiently, cheerfully doing my work—which work is also theirs.
No man liveth unto himself alone: our interests are all bound up together, and there is no such thing as a man going off by himself and corraling the good.
When I came to this town there was not a house in the place that had a lavatory with hot and cold water attachments. Those who bathed, swam in the creek in the Summer or used the family wash tub in the kitchen in Winter. My good old partner, Ali Baba, has always prided himself on his personal cleanliness He is arrayed in rags, but underneath, his hide is clean, and better still, his heart is right. Yet when he first became a member of my household, he was obliged to take his Saturday-night tub out in the orchard, from Spring until Autumn came with withered leaves.
He used to make quite an ado in the kitchen, heating the water in the wash-boiler. Six pails of cistern-water, a gourd of soft soap, and a gunny-sack for friction were required in the operation. Of course, the Baba waited until after dark before performing his ablutions. But finally his plans were more or less disturbed by certain rising youth, who timed his habits and awaited his disrobing with o'erripe tomatoes. The bombardment, and the inability to pursue the enemy, turned the genial current of the Baba's life awry until I put a bathroom in my house, with a lock on the door.
This bit of history I have mentioned for the dual purpose of shedding light on former bathing facilities in East Aurora, and more especially to show that once we had the hoodlum with us.
Hoodlumism is born of idleness; it is useful energy gone to seed. In small towns hoodlumism is rife, and the hoodlums are usually the children of the best citizens. Hoodlumism is the first step in the direction of crime. The hoodlum is very often a good boy who does not know what to do; and so he does the wrong thing. He bombards with tomatoes a good man taking a bath, puts ticktacks on windows, ties a tin can to the dog's tail, takes the burs off your carriage-wheels, steals your chickens, annexes your horse-blankets, and scares old ladies into fits by appearing at windows wrapped in a white sheet. To wear a mask, walk in and demand the money in the family ginger-jar is the next and natural evolution.
To a great degree the Roycroft Shop has done away with hoodlumism in this village, and a stranger wearing a silk hat, or an artist with a white umbrella, is now quite safe upon our streets. Very naturally, the Oldest Inhabitant will deny what I have said about East Aurora—he will tell you that the order, cleanliness and beauty of the place have always existed. The change has come about so naturally, and so entirely without his assistance, that he knows nothing about it.
Truth when first presented is always denied, but later there comes a stage when the man says, "I always believed it." And so the good old citizens are induced to say that these things have always been, or else they gently pooh-pooh them. However, the truth remains that I introduced the first heating-furnace into the town; bought the first lawn-mower; was among the first to use electricity for lights and natural gas for fuel; and so far, am the only one in town to use natural gas for power.
Until the starting of the Roycroft Shop, there were no industries here, aside from the regulation country store, grocery, tavern, blacksmith-shop and sawmill—none of which enterprises attempted to supply more than local wants.
There was Hamlin's stock-farm, devoted to raising trotting-horses, that gave employment to some of the boys; but for the girls there was nothing. They got married at the first chance; some became "hired girls," or, if they had ambitions, fixed their hearts on the Buffalo Normal School, raised turkeys, picked berries, and turned every honest penny towards the desire to get an education so as to become teachers. Comparatively, this class was small in number. Most of the others simply followed that undefined desire to get away out of the dull, monotonous, gossiping village; and so, craving excitement, they went away to the cities, and the cities swallowed them. A wise man has said that God made the country, man the city, and the devil the small towns.
The country supplies the city its best and its worst. We hear of the few who succeed, but of the many who are lost in the maelstrom we know nothing. Sometimes in country homes it is even forbidden to mention certain names. "She went to the city," you are told—and there the history abruptly stops.
And so, to swing back to the place of beginning, I think the chief reason many good folks are interested in the Roycroft Shop is because here country boys and girls are given work at which they not only earn their living, but can get an education while doing it. Next to this is the natural curiosity to know how a large and successful business can be built up in a plain, humdrum village by simply using the talent and materials that are at hand, and so I am going to tell now how the Roycroft Shop came to start; a little about what it has done; what it is trying to do; and what it hopes to become. And since modesty is only egotism turned wrong side out, I will make no special endeavor to conceal the fact that I have had something to do with the venture.
In London, from about Sixteen Hundred Fifty to Sixteen Hundred Ninety, Samuel and Thomas Roycroft printed and made very beautiful books. In choosing the name "Roycroft" for our Shop we had these men in mind, but beyond this the word has a special significance, meaning King's Craft—King's craftsmen being a term used in the Guilds of the olden times for men who had achieved a high degree of skill—men who made things for the King. So a Roycrofter is a person who makes beautiful things, and makes them as well as he can. "The Roycrofters" is the legal name of our institution. It is a corporation, and the shares are distributed among the workers. No shares are held by any one but Roycrofters, and it is agreed that any worker who quits the Shop shall sell his shares back to the concern. This co-operative plan, it has been found, begets a high degree of personal diligence, a loyalty to the institution, a sentiment of fraternity and a feeling of permanency among the workers that is very beneficial to all concerned. Each worker, even the most humble, calls it "Our Shop," and feels that he is an integral and necessary part of the Whole. Possibly there are a few who consider themselves more than necessary. Ali Baba, for instance, it is said, has referred to himself, at times, as the Whole Thing. And this is all right, too—I would never chide an excess of zeal: the pride of a worker in his worth and work is a thing to foster.
It's the man who "doesn't give a damn" who is really troublesome. The artistic big-head is not half so bad as apathy.
* * * * *
In the month of December, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-four, I printed the first "Little Journeys" in booklet form, at the local printing-office, having become discouraged in trying to find a publisher. But before offering the publication to the public, I decided to lay the matter again before G.P. Putnam's Sons, although they had declined the matter in manuscript form. Mr. George H. Putnam rather liked the matter, and was induced to issue the periodical as a venture for one year. The scheme seemed to meet with success, the novel form of the publication being in its favor. The subscription reached nearly a thousand in six months; the newspapers were kind, and the success of the plan suggested printing a pamphlet modeled on similar lines, telling what we thought about things in general, and publishers and magazine-editors in particular.
There was no intention at first of issuing more than one number of this pamphlet, but to get it through the mails at magazine rates we made up a little subscription list and asked that it be entered at the post office at East Aurora as second-class matter. The postmaster adjusted his brass-rimmed spectacles, read the pamphlet, and decided that it surely was second class matter.
We called it "The Philistine" because we were going after the "Chosen People" in literature. It was Leslie Stephen who said, "The term Philistine is a word used by prigs to designate people they do not like." When you call a man a bad name, you are that thing—not he. The Smug and Snugly Ensconced Denizens of Union Square called me a Philistine, and I said, "Yes, I am one, if a Philistine is something different from you."
My helpers, the printers, were about to go away to pastures new; they were in debt, the town was small, they could not make a living. So they offered me their outfit for a thousand dollars. I accepted the proposition.
I decided to run "The Philistine" Magazine for a year—to keep faith with the misguided and hopeful parties who had subscribed—and then quit. To fill in the time, we printed a book: we printed it like a William Morris book—printed it just as well as we could. It was cold in the old barn where we first set up "The Philistine," so I built a little building like an old English chapel right alongside of my house. There was one basement and a room upstairs. I wanted it to be comfortable and pretty, and so we furnished our little shop cozily. We had four girls and three boys working for us then. The Shop was never locked, and the boys and girls used to come around evenings. It was really more pleasant than at home.
I brought over a shelf of books from the library. Then I brought the piano, because the youngsters wanted to dance.
The girls brought flowers and birds, and the boys put up curtains at the windows. We were having a lot o' fun, with new subscriptions coming in almost every day, and once in a while an order for a book.
The place got too small when we began to bind books, so we built a wing on one side; then a wing on the other side. To keep the three carpenters busy who had been building the wings, I set them to making furniture for the place. They made the furniture as good as they could—folks came along and bought it.
The boys picked up field-stones and built a great, splendid fireplace and chimney at one end of the Shop. The work came out so well that I said, "Boys, here is a great scheme—these hardheads are splendid building material." So I advertised we would pay a dollar a load for niggerheads. The farmers began to haul stones; they hauled more stones, and at last they had hauled four thousand loads. We bought all the stone in the dollar limit, bulling the market on boulders.
Three stone buildings have been built, another is in progress, and our plans are made to build an art-gallery of the same material—the stones that the builders rejected.
An artist blew in on the way to Nowhere, his baggage a tomato-can. He thought he would stop over for a day or two—he is with us yet, and three years have gone by since he came, and now we could not do without him. Then we have a few Remittance-Men, sent to us from a distance, without return-tickets. Some of these men were willing to do anything but work—they offered to run things, to preach, to advise, to make love to the girls.
We bought them tickets to Chicago, and without violence conducted them to the Four-o'Clock train.
We have boys who have been expelled from school, blind people, deaf people, old people, jailbirds and mental defectives, and have managed to set them all at useful work; but the Remittance-Man of Good Family who smokes cigarettes in bed has proved too much for us—so we have given him the Four-o'Clock without ruth.
We do not encourage people from a distance who want work to come on—they are apt to expect too much. They look for Utopia, when work is work, here as elsewhere. There is just as much need for patience, gentleness, loyalty and love here as anywhere. Application, desire to do the right thing, a willingness to help, and a well-curbed tongue are as necessary in East Aurora as in Tuskegee.
We do our work as well as we can, live one day at a time, and try to be kind.
* * * * *
The village of East Aurora, Erie County, New York, the home of The Roycrofters, is eighteen miles southeast of the city of Buffalo. The place has a population of about three thousand people.
There is no wealth in the town and no poverty. In East Aurora there are six churches, with pastors' salaries varying from three hundred to one thousand dollars a year; and we have a most excellent school. The place is not especially picturesque or attractive, being simply a representative New York State village. Lake Erie is ten miles distant, and Cazenovia Creek winds its lazy way along by the village.
The land around East Aurora is poor, and so reduced in purse are the farmers that no insurance-company will insure farm property in Erie County under any conditions unless the farmer has some business outside of agriculture—the experience of the underwriters being that when a man is poor enough, he is also dishonest; insure a farmer's barn in New York State, and there is a strong probability that he will soon invest in kerosene.
However, there is no real destitution, for a farmer can always raise enough produce to feed his family, and in a wooded country he can get fuel, even if he has to lift it between the dawn and the day.
Most of the workers in the Roycroft Shop are children of farming folk, and it is needless to add that they are not college-bred, nor have they had the advantages of foreign travel. One of our best helpers, Uncle Billy Bushnell, has never been to Niagara Falls, and does not care to go. Uncle Billy says if you stay at home and do your work well enough, the world will come to you; which aphorism the old man backs up with another, probably derived from experience, to the effect that a man is a fool to chase after women, because, if he doesn't, the women will chase after him.
The wisdom of this hard-headed old son of the soil—who abandoned agriculture for art at seventy—is exemplified in the fact that during the year just past, over twenty-eight thousand pilgrims have visited the Roycroft Shop—representing every State and Territory of the Union and every civilized country on the globe, even far-off Iceland, New Zealand and the Isle of Guam.
Three hundred ten people are on the payroll at the present writing. The principal work is printing, illuminating and binding books. We also have a furniture shop, where Mission furniture of the highest grade is made; a modeled-leather shop, where the most wonderful creations in calfskin are to be seen; and a smithy, where copper utensils of great beauty are hammered out by hand.
Quite as important as the printing and binding is the illuminating of initials and title-pages. This is a revival of a lost art, gone with so much of the artistic work done by the monks of the olden time. Yet there is a demand for such work; and so far as I know, we are the first concern in America to take up the hand-illumination of books as a business. Of course we have had to train our helpers, and from very crude attempts at decoration we have attained to a point where the British Museum and the "Bibliotheke" at The Hague have deigned to order and pay good golden guineas for specimens of our handicraft. Very naturally we want to do the best work possible, and so self-interest prompts us to be on the lookout for budding genius. The Roycroft is a quest for talent.
There is a market for the best, and the surest way, we think, to get away from competition is to do your work a little better than the other fellow. The old tendency to make things cheaper, instead of better, in the book line is a fallacy, as shown in the fact that within ten years there have been a dozen failures of big publishing-houses in the United States. The liabilities of these bankrupt concerns footed the fine total of fourteen million dollars. The man who made more books and cheaper books than any one concern ever made, had the felicity to fail very shortly, with liabilities of something over a million dollars. He overdid the thing in matter of cheapness—mistook his market. Our motto is, "Not How Cheap, But How Good."
This is the richest country the world has ever known, far richer per capita than England—lending money to Europe. Once Americans were all shoddy—pioneers have to be, I'm told—but now only a part of us are shoddy. As men and women increase in culture and refinement, they want fewer things, and they want better things. The cheap article, I will admit, ministers to a certain grade of intellect; but if the man grows, there will come a time when, instead of a great many cheap and shoddy things, he will want a few good things. He will want things that symbol solidity, truth, genuineness and beauty.
The Roycrofters have many opportunities for improvement not the least of which is the seeing, hearing and meeting distinguished people. We have a public dining-room, and not a day passes but men and women of note sit at meat with us. At the evening meal, if our visitors are so inclined, and are of the right fiber, I ask them to talk. And if there is no one else to speak, I sometimes read a little from William Morris, Shakespeare, Walt Whitman or Ruskin. David Bispham has sung for us. Maude Adams and Minnie Maddern Fiske have also favored us with a taste of their quality. Judge Lindsey, Alfred Henry Lewis, Richard Le Gallienne, Robert Barr, have visited us; but to give a list of all the eminent men and women who have spoken, sung or played for us would lay me liable for infringement in printing "Who's Who." However, let me name one typical incident. The Boston Ideal Opera Company was playing in Buffalo, and Henry Clay Barnabee and half a dozen of his players took a run out to East Aurora. They were shown through the Shop by one of the girls whose work it is to receive visitors. A young woman of the company sat down at one of the pianos and played. I chanced to be near and asked Mr. Barnabee if he would not sing, and graciously he answered, "Fra Elbertus, I'll do anything that you say." I gave the signal that all the workers should quit their tasks and meet at the Chapel. In five minutes we had an audience of three hundred—men in blouses and overalls, girls in big aprons—a very jolly, kindly, receptive company.
Mr. Barnabee was at his best—I never saw him so funny. He sang, danced, recited, and told stories for forty minutes. The Roycrofters were, of course, delighted.
One girl whispered to me as she went out, "I wonder what great sorrow is gnawing at Barnabee's heart, that he is so wondrous gay!" Need I say that the girl who made the remark just quoted had drunk of life's cup to the very lees? We have a few such with us—and several of them are among our most loyal helpers.
* * * * *
One fortuitous event that has worked to our decided advantage was "A Message to Garcia."
This article, not much more than a paragraph, covering only fifteen hundred words, was written one evening after supper in a single hour. It was the Twenty-second of February, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-Nine, Washington's Birthday, and we were just going to press with the March "Philistine." The thing leaped hot from my heart, written after a rather trying day, when I had been endeavoring to train some rather delinquent helpers in the way they should go.
The immediate suggestion, though, came from a little argument over the teacups when my son Bert suggested that Rowan was the real hero of the Cuban war. Rowan had gone alone and done the thing—carried the message to Garcia.
It came to me like a flash! Yes, the boy is right, the hero is the man who does the thing—does his work—carries the message.
I got up from the table and wrote "A Message to Garcia."
I thought so little of it that we ran it in without a heading. The edition went out, and soon orders began to come for extra March "Philistines," a dozen, fifty, a hundred; and when the American News Company ordered a thousand I asked one of my helpers which article it was that had stirred things up.
"It's that stuff about Garcia," he said.
The next day a telegram came from George H. Daniels, of the New York Central Railroad, thus: "Give price on one hundred thousand Rowan article in pamphlet form—Empire State Express advertisement on back—also state how soon can ship."
I replied giving price and stated we could supply the pamphlets in two years. Our facilities were small, and a hundred thousand pamphlets looked like an awful undertaking.
The result was that I gave Mr. Daniels permission to reprint the article in his own way. He issued it in booklet form in editions of one hundred thousand each. Five editions were sent out, and then he got out an edition of half a million. Two or three of these half-million lots were sent out by Mr. Daniels, and in addition the article was reprinted in over two hundred magazines and newspapers. It has been translated into eleven languages, and been given a total circulation of over twenty-two million copies. It has attained, I believe, a larger circulation in the same length of time than any written article has ever before reached.
Of course, we can not tell just how much good "A Message to Garcia" has done the Shop, but it probably doubled the circulation of "The Philistine." I do not consider it by any means my best piece of writing; but it was opportune—the time was ripe. Truth demands a certain expression, and too much had been said on the other side about the downtrodden, honest man, looking for work and not being able to find it. The article in question states the other side. Men are needed—loyal, honest men who will do their work. "The world cries out for him—the man who can carry a message to Garcia."
The man who sent the message and the man who received it are dead. The man who carried it is still carrying other messages. The combination of theme, condition of the country, and method of circulation was so favorable that their conjunction will probably never occur again. Other men will write better articles, but they may go a-begging for lack of a Daniels to bring them to judgment.
* * * * *
Concerning my own personal history, I'll not tarry long to tell. It has been too much like the career of many another born in the semi-pioneer times of the Middle West, to attract much attention, unless one should go into the psychology of the thing with intent to show the evolution of a soul. But that will require a book—and some day I'll write it, after the manner of Saint Augustine or Jean Jacques.
But just now I 'll only say that I was born in Illinois, June Nineteenth, Eighteen Hundred Fifty-six. My father was a country doctor, whose income never exceeded five hundred dollars a year. I left school at fifteen, with a fair hold on the three R's, and beyond this my education in "manual training" had been good. I knew all the forest-trees, all wild animals thereabout, every kind of fish, frog, fowl or bird that swam, ran or flew. I knew every kind of grain or vegetable, and its comparative value. I knew the different breeds of cattle, horses, sheep and swine.
I could teach wild cows to stand while being milked; break horses to saddle or harness; could sow, plow and reap; knew the mysteries of apple-butter, pumpkin pie pickled beef, smoked side-meat, and could make lye at a leach and formulate soft soap.
That is to say, I was a bright, strong, active country boy who had been brought up to help his father and mother get a living for a large family.
I was not so densely ignorant—don't feel sorry for country boys: God is often on their side.
At fifteen I worked on a farm and did a man's work for a boy's pay. I did not like it and told the man so. He replied, "You know what you can do."
And I replied, "Yes." I went westward like the course of empire and became a cowboy; tired of this and went to Chicago; worked in a printing-office; peddled soap from house to house; shoved lumber on the docks; read all the books I could find; wrote letters back to country newspapers and became a reporter; next got a job as traveling salesman; taught in a district school; read Emerson, Carlyle and Macaulay; worked in a soap factory; read Shakespeare and committed most of "Hamlet" to memory with an eye on the stage; became manager of the soap-factory, then partner; evolved an Idea for the concern and put it on the track of making millions—knew it was going to make millions—did not want them; sold out my interest for seventy-five thousand dollars and went to Harvard College; tramped through Europe; wrote for sundry newspapers; penned two books (couldn't find a publisher); taught night school in Buffalo; tramped through Europe some more and met William Morris (caught it); came back to East Aurora and started "Chautauqua Circles"; studied Greek and Latin with a local clergyman; raised trotting-horses; wrote "Little Journeys to the Homes of Good Men and Great."
So that is how I got my education, such as it is. I am a graduate of the University of Hard Knocks, and I've taken several postgraduate courses. I have worked at five different trades enough to be familiar with the tools. In Eighteen Hundred Ninety-nine, Tufts College bestowed on me the degree of Master of Arts; but since I did not earn the degree, it really does not count.
I have never been sick a day, never lost a meal through disinclination to eat, never consulted a doctor, never used tobacco or intoxicants. My work has never been regulated by the eight-hour clause.
Horses have been my only extravagance, and I ride horseback daily now: a horse that I broke myself, that has never been saddled by another, and that has never been harnessed.
My best friends have been workingmen, homely women and children. My father and mother are members of my household, and they work in the Shop when they are so inclined. My mother's business now is mostly to care for the flowers, and my father we call "Physician to The Roycrofters," as he gives free advice and attendance to all who desire his services. Needless to say, his medicine is mostly a matter of the mind. Unfortunately for him, we do not enjoy poor health, so there is very seldom any one sick to be cured. Fresh air is free, and outdoor exercise is not discouraged.
* * * * *
The Roycroft Shop and belongings represent an investment of about three hundred thousand dollars. We have no liabilities, making it a strict business policy to sign no notes or other instruments of debt that may in the future prove inopportune and tend to disturb digestion. Fortune has favored us.
First, the country has grown tired of soft platitude, silly truism and undisputed things said in such a solemn way. So when "The Philistine" stepped into the ring and voiced in no uncertain tones what its editor thought, thinking men and women stopped and listened. Editors of magazines refused my manuscript because they said it was too plain, too blunt, sometimes indelicate—it would give offense, subscribers would cancel, et cetera. To get my thoughts published I had to publish them myself; and people bought for the very reason for which the editors said they would cancel. The readers wanted brevity and plain statement—the editors said they didn't.
The editors were wrong. They failed to properly diagnose a demand. I saw the demand and supplied it—for a consideration.
Next I believed the American public. A portion of it, at least, wanted a few good and beautiful books instead of a great many cheap books. The truth came to me in the early Nineties, when John B. Alden and half a dozen other publishers of cheap books went to the wall. I read the R.G. Dun & Company bulletin and I said, "The publishers have mistaken their public—we want better books, not cheaper." In Eighteen Hundred Ninety-two, I met William Morris, and after that I was sure I was right.
Again I had gauged the public correctly—the publishers were wrong, as wrong as the editors. There was a market for the best, and the problem was to supply it. At first I bound my books in paper covers and simple boards. Men wrote to me wanting fine bindings. I said, "There is a market in America for the best—cheap boards, covered with cloth, stamped by machinery in gaudy tinsel and gilt, are not enough." I discovered that nearly all the bookbinders were dead. I found five hundred people in a book-factory in Chicago binding books, but not a bookbinder among them. They simply fed the books into hoppers and shot them out of chutes, and said they were bound.
Next the public wanted to know about this thing—"What are you folks doing out there in that buckwheat town?" Since my twentieth year I have had one eye on the histrionic stage. I could talk in public a bit, had made political speeches, given entertainments in crossroads schoolhouses, made temperance harangues, was always called upon to introduce the speaker of the evening, and several times had given readings from my own amusing works for the modest stipend of ten dollars and keep. I would have taken the lecture platform had it not been nailed down.
In Eighteen Hundred Ninety-eight, my friend Major Pond wanted to book me on a partnership deal at the Waldorf-Astoria. I didn't want to speak there—I had been saying unkind things in "The Philistine" about the Waldorf-Astoria folks. But the Major went ahead and made arrangements. I expected to be mobbed.
But Mr. Boldt, the manager of the hotel, had placed a suite of rooms at my disposal without money and without price. He treated me most cordially; never referred to the outrageous things I had said about his tavern; assured me that he enjoyed my writings, and told me of the pleasure he had in welcoming me.
Thus did he heap hot cinders upon my occiput. The Astor gallery seats eight hundred people. Major Pond had packed in nine hundred at one dollar each—three hundred were turned away. After the lecture the Major awaited me in the anteroom, fell on my neck and rained Pond's Extract down my back, crying: "Oh! Oh! Oh! Why didn't we charge them two dollars apiece!"
The next move was to make a tour of the principal cities under Major Pond's management. Neither of us lost money—the Major surely did not.
Last season I gave eighty-one lectures, with a net profit to myself of a little over ten thousand dollars. I spoke at Tremont Temple in Boston, to twenty-two hundred people; at Carnegie Hall, New York; at Central Music Hall, Chicago. I spoke to all the house would hold; at Chautauqua, my audience was five thousand people. It will be noted by the Discerning that my lectures have been of double importance, in that they have given an income and at the same time advertised the Roycroft Wares.
The success of the Roycroft Shop has not been brought about by any one scheme or plan. The business is really a combination of several ideas, any one of which would make a paying enterprise in itself. So it stands about thus:
First, the printing and publication of three magazines.
Second, the printing of books (it being well known that some of the largest publishers in America—Scribner and Appleton, for instance—have no printing-plants, but have the work done for them).
Third, the publication of books.
Fourth, the artistic binding of books.
Fifth, authorship. Since I began printing my own manuscript, there is quite an eager demand for my writing, so I do a little of Class B for various publishers and editors.
Sixth, the Lecture Lyceum.
Seventh, blacksmithing, carpenter-work and basket-weaving. These industries have sprung up under the Roycroft care as a necessity. Men and women in the village came to us and wanted work, and we simply gave them opportunity to do the things they could do best. We have found a market for all our wares, so no line of work has ever been a bill of expense.
I want no better clothing, no better food, no more comforts and conveniences than my helpers and fellow-workers have. I would be ashamed to monopolize a luxury—to take a beautiful work of art, say a painting or a marble statue, and keep it for my own pleasure and for the select few I might invite to see my beautiful things. Art is for all—beauty is for all. Harmony in all of its manifold forms should be like a sunset—free to all who can drink it in. The Roycroft Shop is for The Roycrofters, and each is limited only by his capacity to absorb.
* * * * *
Art is the expression of man's joy in his work, and all the joy and love that you can weave into a fabric comes out again and belongs to the individual who has the soul to appreciate it. Art is beauty; and beauty is a gratification, a peace and a solace to every normal man and woman. Beautiful sounds, beautiful colors, beautiful proportions, beautiful thoughts—how our souls hunger for them! Matter is only mind in an opaque condition; and all beauty is but a symbol of spirit. You can not get joy from feeding things all day into a machine. You must let the man work with hand and brain, and then out of the joy of this marriage of hand and brain, beauty will be born. It tells of a desire for harmony, peace, beauty, wholeness—holiness.
Art is the expression of man's joy in his work.
When you read a beautiful poem that makes your heart throb with gladness and gratitude, you are simply partaking of the emotion that the author felt when he wrote it. To possess a piece of work that the workman made in joyous animation is a source of joy to the possessor.
And this love of the work done by the marriage of hand and brain can never quite go out of fashion—for we are men and women, and our hopes and aims and final destiny are at last one. Where one enjoys, all enjoy; where one suffers, all suffer.
Say what you will of the coldness and selfishness of men, at the last we long for companionship and the fellowship of our kind. We are lost children, and when alone and the darkness gathers, we long for the close relationship of the brothers and sisters we knew in our childhood, and cry for the gentle arms that once rocked us to sleep. Men are homesick amid this sad, mad rush for wealth and place and power. The calm of the country invites, and we would fain do with less things, and go back to simplicity, and rest our tired heads in the lap of Mother Nature.
Life is expression. Life is a movement outward, an unfolding, a development. To be tied down, pinned to a task that is repugnant, and to have the shrill voice of Necessity whistling eternally in your ears, "Do this or starve," is to starve; for it starves the heart, the soul, and all the higher aspirations of your being pine away and die.
At the Roycroft Shop the workers are getting an education by doing things. Work should be the spontaneous expression of a man's best impulses. We grow only through exercise, and every faculty that is exercised becomes strong, and those not used atrophy and die. Thus how necessary it is that we should exercise our highest and best! To develop the brain we have to exercise the body. Every muscle, every organ, has its corresponding convolution in the brain. To develop the mind, we must use the body. Manual training is essentially moral training; and physical work is, at its best, mental, moral and spiritual—and these are truths so great and yet so simple that until yesterday many wise men did not recognize them.
At the Roycroft Shop we are reaching out for an all-round development through work and right living.
And we have found it a good expedient—a wise business policy. Sweat-shop methods can never succeed in producing beautiful things. And so the management of the Roycroft Shop surrounds the workers with beauty, allows many liberties, encourages cheerfulness and tries to promote kind thoughts, simply because it has been found that these things are transmuted into good, and come out again at the finger-tips of the workers in beautiful results. So we have pictures, statuary, flowers, ferns, palms, birds, and a piano in every room. We have the best sanitary appliances that money can buy; we have bathrooms, shower-baths, library, rest-rooms. Every week we have concerts, dances, lectures.
Besides being a workshop, the Roycroft is a School. We are following out a dozen distinct lines of study, and every worker in the place is enrolled as a member of one or more classes. There are no fees to pupils, but each pupil purchases his own books—the care of his books and belongings being considered a part of one's education. All the teachers are workers in the Shop, and are volunteers, teaching without pay, beyond what each receives for his regular labor.
The idea of teaching we have found is a great benefit—to the teacher. The teacher gets most out of the lessons. Once a week there is a faculty meeting, when each teacher gives in a verbal report of his stewardship. It is responsibility that develops one, and to know that your pupils expect you to know is a great incentive to study. Then teaching demands that you shall give—give yourself—and he who gives most receives most. We deepen our impressions by recounting them, and he who teaches others teaches himself. I am never quite so proud as when some one addresses me as "teacher." We try to find out what each person can do best, what he wants to do, and then we encourage him to put his best into it—also to do something else besides his specialty, finding rest in change.
The thing that pays should be the expedient thing, and the expedient thing should be the proper and right thing. That which began with us as a matter of expediency is often referred to as a "philanthropy." I do not like the word, and wish to state here that the Roycroft is in no sense a charity—I do not believe in giving any man something for nothing. You give a man a dollar and the man will think less of you because he thinks less of himself; but if you give him a chance to earn a dollar, he will think more of himself and more of you. The only way to help people is to give them a chance to help themselves. So the Roycroft Idea is one of reciprocity—you help me and I'll help you. We will not be here forever, anyway; soon Death, the kind old Nurse, will come and rock us all to sleep, and we had better help one another while we may: we are going the same way—let's go hand in hand!
PUBLISHER'S PREFACE v AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL xi GEORGE ELIOT 47 THOMAS CARLYLE 65 JOHN RUSKIN 85 WILLIAM E. GLADSTONE 101 J.M.W. TURNER 121 JONATHAN SWIFT 141 WALT WHITMAN 161 VICTOR HUGO 183 WILLIAM WORDSWORTH 209 WILLIAM M. THACKERAY 227 CHARLES DICKENS 245 OLIVER GOLDSMITH 271 WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 299 THOMAS A. EDISON 319
"May I reach That purest heaven, be to other souls The cup of strength in some great agony, Enkindle generous ardor, feed pure love, Beget the smiles that have no cruelty— Be the good presence of a good diffused, And in diffusion ever more intense. So shall I join the choir invisible Whose music is the gladness of the world."
Warwickshire gave to the world William Shakespeare. It also gave Mary Ann Evans. No one will question that Shakespeare's is the greatest name in English literature; and among writers living or dead, in England or out of it, no woman has ever shown us power equal to that of George Eliot, in the subtle clairvoyance which divines the inmost play of passions, the experience that shows human capacity for contradiction, and the indulgence that is merciful because it understands.
Shakespeare lived three hundred years ago. According to the records, his father, in Fifteen Hundred Sixty-three, owned a certain house in Henley Street, Stratford-on-Avon. Hence we infer that William Shakespeare was born there. And in all our knowledge of Shakespeare's early life (or later) we prefix the words, "Hence we infer."
That the man knew all the sciences of his day, and had such a knowledge of each of the learned professions that all have claimed him as their own, we realize.
He evidently was acquainted with five different languages, and the range of his intellect was worldwide; but where did he get this vast erudition? We do not know, and we excuse ourselves by saying that he lived three hundred years ago.
George Eliot lived—yesterday, and we know no more about her youthful days than we do of that other child of Warwickshire.
One biographer tells us that she was born in Eighteen Hundred Nineteen, another in Eighteen Hundred Twenty, and neither state the day; whereas a recent writer in the "Pall Mall Budget" graciously bestows on us the useful information that "William Shakespeare was born on the Twenty-first day of April, Fifteen Hundred Sixty-three, at fifteen minutes of two on a stormy morning."
Concise statements of facts are always valuable, but we have none such concerning the early life of George Eliot. There is even a shadow over her parentage, for no less an authority than the "American Cyclopedia Annual," for Eighteen Hundred Eighty, boldly proclaims that she was not a foundling and, moreover, that she was not adopted by a rich retired clergyman who gave her a splendid schooling. Then the writer dives into obscurity, but presently reappears and adds that he does not know where she got her education. For all of which we are very grateful.
Shakespeare left five signatures, each written in a different way, and now there is a goodly crew who spell it "Bacon."
And likewise we do not know whether it is Mary Ann Evans, Mary Anne Evans or Marian Evans, for she herself is said to have used each form at various times. William Winter—gentle critic, poet, scholar—tells us that the Sonnets show a dark spot in Shakespeare's moral record. And if I remember rightly, similar things have been hinted at in sewing-circles concerning George Eliot. Then they each found the dew and sunshine in London that caused the flowers of genius to blossom. The early productions of both were published anonymously, and lastly they both knew how to transmute thought into gold, for they died rich.
Lady Godiva rode through the streets of Coventry, but I walked—walked all the way from Stratford, by way of Warwick (call it Warrick, please) and Kenilworth Castle.
I stopped overnight at that quaint and curious little inn just across from the castle entrance. The good landlady gave me the same apartment that was occupied by Sir Walter Scott when he came here and wrote the first chapter of "Kenilworth."
The little room had pretty, white chintz curtains tied with blue ribbon, and similar stuff draped the mirror. The bed was a big canopy affair—I had to stand on a chair in order to dive off into its feathery depths—everything was very neat and clean, and the dainty linen had a sweet smell of lavender. I took one parting look out through the open window at the ivy-mantled towers of the old castle, which were all sprinkled with silver by the rising moon, and then I fell into gentlest sleep.
I dreamed of playing "I-spy" through Kenilworth Castle with Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Mary Ann Evans and a youth I used to know in boyhood by the name of Bill Hursey. We chased each other across the drawbridge, through the portcullis, down the slippery stones into the donjon-keep, around the moat, and up the stone steps to the topmost turret of the towers. Finally Shakespeare was "it," but he got mad and refused to play. Walter Scott said it was "no fair," and Bill Hursey thrust out the knuckle of one middle finger in a very threatening way and offered to "do" the boy from Stratford. Then Mary Ann rushed in to still the tempest. There's no telling what would have happened had not the landlady just then rapped at my door and asked if I had called. I awoke with a start and with the guilty feeling that I had been shouting in my sleep. I saw it was morning. "No—that is, yes; my shaving-water, please."
After breakfast the landlady's boy offered for five shillings to take me in his donkey-cart to the birthplace of George Eliot. He explained that the house was just seven miles north; but Baalam's express is always slow, so I concluded to walk. At Coventry a cab-owner proposed to show me the house, which he declared was near Kenilworth, for twelve shillings. The advantages of seeing Kenilworth at the same time were dwelt upon at great length by cabby, but I harkened not to the voice of the siren. I got a good lunch at the hotel, and asked the innkeeper if he could tell me where George Eliot was born. He did not know, but said he could show me a house around the corner where a family of Eliots lived.
Then I walked on to Nuneaton. A charming walk it was; past quaint old houses, some with straw-thatched roofs, others tile—roses clambering over the doors and flowering hedgerows white with hawthorn-flowers.
Occasionally, I met a farmer's cart drawn by one of those great, fat, gentle Shire horses that George Eliot has described so well. All spoke of peace and plenty, quiet and rest. The green fields and the flowers, the lark-song and the sunshine, the dipping willows by the stream, and the arch of the old stone bridge as I approached the village—all these I had seen and known and felt before from "Mill on the Floss."
I found the house where they say the novelist was born. A plain, whitewashed, stone structure, built two hundred years ago; two stories, the upper chambers low, with gable-windows; a little garden at the side bright with flowers, where sweet marjoram vied with onions and beets; all spoke of humble thrift and homely cares. In front was a great chestnut-tree, and in the roadway near were two ancient elms where saucy crows were building a nest.
Here, after her mother died, Mary Ann Evans was housekeeper. Little more than a child—tall, timid, and far from strong—she cooked and scrubbed and washed, and was herself the mother to brothers and sisters. Her father was a carpenter by trade and agent for a rich landowner. He was a stern man—orderly, earnest, industrious, studious. On rides about the country he would take the tall, hollow-eyed girl with him, and at such times he would talk to her of the great outside world where wondrous things were done. The child toiled hard, but found time to read and question—and there is always time to think. Soon she had outgrown some of her good father's beliefs, and this grieved him greatly; so much, indeed, that her extra-loving attention to his needs, in a hope to neutralize his displeasure, only irritated him the more. And if there is soft, subdued sadness in much of George Eliot's writing we can guess the reason. The onward and upward march ever means sad separation.
When Mary Ann was blossoming into womanhood her father moved over near Coventry, and here the ambitious girl first found companionship in her intellectual desires. Here she met men and women, older than herself, who were animated, earnest thinkers. They read and then they discussed, and then they spoke the things that they felt were true. Those eight years at Coventry transformed the awkward country girl into a woman of intellect and purpose. She knew somewhat of all sciences, all philosophies, and she had become a proficient scholar in German and French. How did she acquire this knowledge? How is any education acquired if not through effort prompted by desire?
She had already translated Strauss's "Life of Jesus" in a manner that was acceptable to the author. When Ralph Waldo Emerson came to Coventry to lecture, he was entertained at the same house where Miss Evans was stopping. Her brilliant conversation pleased him, and when she questioned the wisdom of a certain passage in one of his essays the gentle philosopher turned, smiled, and said that he had not seen it in that light before; perhaps she was right.
"What is your favorite book?" asked Emerson.
"Rousseau's 'Confessions,'" answered Mary instantly.
It was Emerson's favorite, too; but such honesty from a young woman! It was queer.
Mr. Emerson never forgot Miss Evans of Coventry, and ten years after, when a zealous reviewer proclaimed her the greatest novelist in England, the sage of Concord said something that sounded like "I told you so."
Miss Evans had made visits to London from time to time with her Coventry friends. When twenty-eight years old, after one such visit to London, she came back to the country tired and weary, and wrote this most womanly wish: "My only ardent desire is to find some feminine task to discharge; some possibility of devoting myself to some one and making that one purely and calmly happy."
But now her father was dead and her income was very scanty. She did translating, and tried the magazines with articles that generally came back respectfully declined.
Then an offer came as sub-editor of the "Westminster Review." It was steady work and plenty of it, and this was what she desired. She went to London and lived in the household of her employer, Mr. Chapman. Here she had the opportunity of meeting many brilliant people: Carlyle and his "Jeannie Welsh," the Martineaus, Grote, Mr. and Mrs. Mill, Huxley, Mazzini, Louis Blanc. Besides these were two young men who must not be left out when we sum up the influences that evolved this woman's genius.
She was attracted to Herbert Spencer at once. He was about her age, and their admiration for each other was mutual. Miss Evans, writing to a friend in Eighteen Hundred Fifty-two, says, "Spencer is kind, he is delightful, and I always feel better after being with him, and we have agreed together that there is no reason why we should not see each other as often as we wish." And then later she again writes: "The bright side of my life, after the affection for my old friends, is the new and delightful friendship which I have found in Herbert Spencer. We see each other every day, and in everything we enjoy a delightful comradeship. If it were not for him my life would be singularly arid."
But about this time another man appeared on the scene, and were it not for this other man, who was introduced to Miss Evans by Spencer, the author of "Synthetic Philosophy" might not now be spoken of in the biographical dictionaries as having been "wedded to science."
It was not love at first sight, for George Henry Lewes made a decidedly unfavorable impression on Miss Evans at their first meeting. He was small, his features were insignificant, he had whiskers like an anarchist and a mouthful of crooked teeth; his personal habits were far from pleasant. It was this sort of thing, Dickens said, that caused his first wife to desert him and finally drove her into insanity.
But Lewes had a brilliant mind. He was a linguist, a scientist, a novelist, a poet and a wit. He had written biography, philosophy and a play. He had been a journalist, a lecturer and even an actor. Thackeray declared that if he should see Lewes perched on a white elephant in Piccadilly he should not be in the least surprised.
After having met Miss Evans several times, Mr. Lewes saw the calm depths of her mind and he asked her to correct proofs for him. She did so and discovered that there was merit in his work. She corrected more proofs, and when a woman begins to assist a man the danger-line is being approached. Close observers noted that a change was coming over the bohemian Lewes. He had his whiskers trimmed, his hair was combed, and the bright yellow necktie had been discarded for a clean one of modest brown, and, sometimes, his boots were blacked. In July, Eighteen Hundred Fifty-four, Mr. Chapman received a letter from his sub-editor resigning her position, and Miss Evans notified some of her closest friends that hereafter she wished to be considered the wife of Mr. Lewes. She was then in her thirty-sixth year.
The couple disappeared, having gone to Germany.
Many people were shocked. Some said, "We knew it all the time," and when Herbert Spencer was informed of the fact he exclaimed, "Goodness me!" and said—nothing.
After six months spent at Weimar and other literary centers, Mr. and Mrs. Lewes returned to England and began housekeeping at Richmond. Any one who views their old quarters there will see how very plainly and economically they were forced to live. But they worked hard, and at this time the future novelist's desire seemed only to assist her husband. That she developed the manly side of his nature none can deny. They were very happy, these two, as they wrote, and copied, and studied, and toiled.
Three years passed, and Mrs. Lewes wrote to a friend:
"I am very happy; happy with the greatest happiness that life can give—the complete sympathy and affection of a man whose mind stimulates mine and keeps up in me a wholesome activity."
Mr. Lewes knew the greatness of his helpmeet. She herself did not. He urged her to write a story; she hesitated, and at last attempted it. They read the first chapter together and cried over it. Then she wrote more and always read her husband the chapters as they were turned off. He corrected, encouraged, and found a publisher. But why should I tell about it here? It's all in the "Britannica"—how the gentle beauty and sympathetic insight of her work touched the hearts of great and lowly alike, and of how riches began flowing in upon her. For one book she received forty thousand dollars, and her income after fortune smiled upon her was never less than ten thousand dollars a year.
Lewes was her secretary, her protector, her slave and her inspiration. He kept at bay the public that would steal her time, and put out of her reach, at her request, all reviews, good or bad, and shielded her from the interviewer, the curiosity-seeker, and the greedy financier.
The reason why she at first wrote under a nom de plume is plain. To the great, wallowing world she was neither Miss Evans nor Mrs. Lewes, so she dropped both names as far as title-pages were concerned and used a man's name instead—hoping better to elude the pack.
When "Adam Bede" came out, a resident of Nuneaton purchased a copy and at once discovered local earmarks. The scenes described, the flowers, the stone walls, the bridges, the barns, the people—all was Nuneaton. Who wrote it? No one knew, but it was surely some one in Nuneaton. So they picked out a Mr. Liggins, a solemn-faced preacher, who was always about to do something great, and they said "Liggins." Soon all London said "Liggins." As for Liggins, he looked wise and smiled knowingly. Then articles began to appear in the periodicals purporting to have been written by the author of "Adam Bede." A book came out called "Adam Bede, Jr.," and to protect her publisher, the public and herself, George Eliot had to reveal her identity.
Many men have written good books and never tasted fame; but few, like Liggins of Nuneaton, have become famous by doing nothing. It only proves that some things can be done as well as others. This breed of men has long dwelt in Warwickshire; Shakespeare had them in mind when he wrote, "There be men who do a wilful stillness entertain with purpose to be dressed in an opinion of wisdom, gravity and profound conceit."
Lord Acton in an able article in the "Nineteenth Century" makes this statement:
"George Eliot paid high for happiness with Lewes. She forfeited freedom of speech, the first place among English women, and a tomb in Westminster Abbey."
The original dedication in "Adam Bede" reads thus:
"To my dear husband, George Henry Lewes, I give the manuscript of a work which would never have been written but for the happiness which his love has conferred on my life."
Lord Acton of course assumes that this book would have been written, dedication and all, just the same had Miss Evans never met Mr. Lewes.
Once there was a child called Romola. She said to her father one day, as she sat on his knee: "Papa, who would take care of me—give me my bath and put me to bed nights—if you had never happened to meet Mamma?"
* * * * *
The days I spent in Warwickshire were very pleasant.
The serene beauty of the country and the kindly courtesy of the people impressed me greatly. Having beheld the scenes of George Eliot's childhood, I desired to view the place where her last days were spent. It was a fine May day when I took the little steamer from London Bridge for Chelsea.
A bird-call from the dingy brick building where Turner died, and two blocks from the old home of Carlyle, is Cheyne Walk—a broad avenue facing the river. The houses are old, but they have a look of gracious gentility that speaks of ease and plenty. High iron fences are in front, but they do not shut off from view the climbing clematis and clusters of roses that gather over the windows and doors.
I stood at the gate of Number 4 Cheyne Walk and admired the pretty flowers, planted in such artistic carelessness as to beds and rows; then I rang the bell—an old pull-out affair with polished knob.
Presently a butler opened the door—a pompous, tall and awful butler in serious black and with side-whiskers. He approached; came down the walk swinging a bunch of keys, looking me over as he came, to see what sort of wares I had to sell.
"Did George Eliot live here?" I asked through the bars.
"Mrs. Cross lived 'ere and died 'ere, sir," came the solemn and rebuking answer.
"I mean Mrs. Cross," I added meekly; "I only wished to see the little garden where she worked."
Jeemes was softened. As he unlocked the gate he said:
"We 'ave many wisiters, sir; a great bother, sir; still, I always knows a gentleman when I sees one. P'r'aps you would like to see the 'ouse, too, sir. The missus does not like it much, but I will take 'er your card, sir."
I gave him the card and slipped a shilling into his hand as he gave me a seat in the hallway.
He disappeared upstairs and soon returned with the pleasing information that I was to be shown the whole house and garden. So I pardoned him the myth about the missus, happening to know that at that particular moment she was at Brighton, sixty miles away.
A goodly, comfortable house, four stories, well kept, and much fine old carved oak in the dining-room and hallways; fantastic ancient balusters, and a peculiar bay window in the second-story rear that looked out over the little garden. Off to the north could be seen the green of Kensington Gardens and wavy suggestions of Hyde Park. This was George Eliot's workshop. There was a table in the center of the room and three low bookcases with pretty ornaments above. In the bay window was the most conspicuous object in the room—a fine marble bust of Goethe. This, I was assured, had been the property of Mrs. Cross, as well as all the books and furniture in the room. In one corner was a revolving case containing a set of the "Century Dictionary" which Jeemes assured me had been purchased by Mr. Cross as a present for his wife a short time before she died. This caused my faith to waver a trifle and put to flight a fine bit of literary frenzy that might have found form soon in a sonnet.
In the front parlor, I saw a portrait of the former occupant that showed "the face that looked like a horse." But that is better than to have the face of any other animal of which I know. Surely one would not want to look like a dog! Shakespeare hated dogs, but spoke forty-eight times in his plays in terms of respect and affection for a horse. Who would not resent the imputation that one's face was like that of a sheep or a goat or an ox, and much gore has been shed because men have referred to other men as asses—but a horse! God bless you, yes!
No one has ever accused George Eliot of being handsome, but this portrait tells of a woman of fifty: calm, gentle, and the strong features speak of a soul in which to confide.
At Highgate, by the side of the grave of Lewes, rests the dust of this great and loving woman. As the pilgrim enters that famous old cemetery, the first imposing monument seen is a pyramid of rare, costly porphyry. As you draw near, you read this inscription:
To the memory of ANN JEWSON CRISP Who departed this life Deeply lamented, Jan. 20, 1889. Also, Her dog, Emperor.
Beneath these tender lines is a bas-relief of as vicious-looking a cur as ever evaded the dog-tax.
Continuing up the avenue, past this monument just noted, the kind old gardener will show you another that stands amid others much more pretentious—a small gray-granite column, and on it, carved in small letters, you read:
"Of those immortal dead who live again In minds made better by their presence."
Here rests the body of "GEORGE ELIOT" (MARY ANN CROSS) Born 22 November, 1819. Died 22 December, 1880.
One comfort is that great men taken up in any way are profitable company. We can not look, however imperfectly, upon a great man without gaining something by it. He is the living fountain of life, which it is pleasant to be near. On any terms whatsoever you will not grudge to wander in his neighborhood for a while.
—Heroes and Hero-Worship
While on my way to Dumfries I stopped overnight at Gretna Green, which, as all fair maidens know, is in Scotland just over the border from England.
To my delight I found that the coming of runaway couples to Gretna Green was not entirely a matter of the past, for the very evening I arrived a blushing pair came to the inn and inquired for a "meenister." The ladye faire was a little stout and the worthy swain several years older than my fancy might have wished, but still I did not complain.
The landlord's boy was dispatched to the rectory around the corner and soon returned with the reverend gentleman.
I was an uninvited guest in the little parlor, but no one observed that my wedding-garment was only a cycling costume, and I was not challenged.
After the ceremony, the several other witnesses filed past the happy couple, congratulating them and kissing the bride.
I did likewise, and was greeted with a resounding smack which surprised me a bit, but I managed to ask, "Did you run away?"
"Noo," said the groom; "noo, her was a widdie—we just coom over fram Ecclefechan"; then, lowering his voice to a confidential whisper, "We're goin' baack on the morrow. It's cheaper thaan to ha' a big, spread weddin'."
This answer banished all tender sentiment from me and made useless my plans for a dainty love-story, but I seized upon the name of the place whence they came.
"Ecclefechan! Ecclefechan! Why that's where Carlyle was born!"
"Aye, sir, and he's buried there; a great mon he was—but an infideel."
Ten miles beyond Gretna Green is Ecclefechan—a little village of stucco houses all stretched out on one street. Plain, homely, rocky and unromantic is the country round about, and plain, homely and unromantic is the little house where Carlyle was born. The place is shown the visitor by a good old dame who takes one from room to room, giving a little lecture meanwhile in a mixture of Gaelic and English which was quite beyond my ken. Several relics of interest are shown, and although the house is almost precisely like all others in the vicinity, imagination throws round it all a roseate wreath of fancies.
It has been left on record that up to the year when Carlyle was married, his "most pleasurable times were those when he enjoyed a quiet pipe with his mother."
To few men indeed is this felicity vouchsafed. But for those who have eaten oatmeal porridge in the wayside cottages of bonny Scotland, or who love to linger over "The Cotter's Saturday Night," there is a touch of tender pathos in the picture. The stone floor, the bare, whitewashed walls, the peat smoldering on the hearth, sending out long, fitful streaks that dance among the rafters overhead, and the mother and son sitting there watching the coal—silent. The woman takes a small twig from a bundle of sticks, reaches over, lights it, applies it to her pipe, takes a few whiffs and passes the light to her son. Then they talk in low, earnest tones of man's duty to man and man's duty to God.
And it was this mother who first applied the spark that fired Carlyle's ambition; it was from her that he got the germ of those talents which have made his name illustrious.
Yet this woman could barely read and did not learn to write until her firstborn had gone away from the home nest. Then it was that she sharpened a gray goose-quill and labored long and patiently, practising with this instrument (said to be mightier than the sword) and with ink she herself had mixed—all that she might write a letter to her boy; and how sweetly, tenderly homely, and loving are these letters as we read them today!
James Carlyle with his own hands built, in Seventeen Hundred Ninety, this house at Ecclefechan. The same year he married an excellent woman, a second cousin, by name Janet Carlyle. She lived but a year. The poor husband was heartbroken, and declared, as many men under like conditions had done before and have done since, that his sorrow was inconsolable. And he vowed that he would walk through life and down to his death alone.
But it is a matter for congratulation that he broke his vow.
In two years he married Margaret Aitken—a serving-woman. She bore nine children. Thomas was the eldest and the only one who proved recreant to the religious faith of his fathers.
One of the brothers moved to Shiawassee County, Michigan, where I had the pleasure of calling on him, some years ago. A hard-headed man, he was: sensible, earnest, honest, with a stubby beard and a rich brogue. He held the office of school trustee, also that of pound-master, and I was told that he served his township loyally and well.
This worthy man looked with small favor on the literary pretensions of his brother Tammas, and twice wrote him long letters expostulating with him on his religious vagaries. "I knew no good could come of it," sorrowfully said he, and so I left him.
But I inquired of several of the neighbors what they thought of Thomas Carlyle, and I found that they did not think of him at all. And I mounted my beast and rode away.
Thomas Carlyle was educated for the Kirk, and it was a cause of much sorrow to his parents that he could not accept its beliefs. He has been spoken of as England's chief philosopher, yet he subscribed to no creed, nor did he formulate one. However, in "Latter-Day Pamphlets" he partially prepares a catechism for a part of the brute creation. He supposes that all swine of superior logical powers have a "belief," and as they are unable to express it he essays the task for them.
The following are a few of the postulates in this creed of The Brotherhood of Latter-Day Swine:
"Question. Who made the Pig?
"Answer. The Pork-Butcher.
"Question. What is the Whole Duty of Pigs?
"Answer. It is the mission of Universal Pighood; and the duty of all Pigs, at all times, is to diminish the quantity of attainable swill and increase the unattainable. This is the Whole Duty of Pigs.
"Question. What is Pig Poetry?
"Answer. It is the universal recognition of Pig's wash and ground barley, and the felicity of Pigs whose trough has been set in order and who have enough.
"Question, What is justice in Pigdom?
"Answer. It is the sentiment in Pig nature sometimes called revenge, indignation, etc., which if one Pig provoke, another comes out in more or less destructive manner; hence laws are necessary—amazing quantities of laws—defining what Pigs shall not do.
"Question. What do you mean by equity?
"Answer. Equity consists in getting your share from the Universal Swine-Trough, and part of another's.
"Question. What is meant by 'your share'?"
"Answer. My share is getting whatever I can contrive to seize without being made up into Side-Meat."
I have slightly abridged this little extract and inserted it here to show the sympathy which Mr. Carlyle had for the dumb brute.
One of America's great men, in a speech delivered not long ago, said, "From Scotch manners, Scotch religion and Scotch whisky, good Lord deliver us!"
My experience with these three articles has been somewhat limited; but Scotch manners remind me of chestnut-burs—not handsome without, but good within. For when you have gotten beyond the rough exterior of Sandy you generally find a heart warm, tender and generous.
Scotch religion is only another chestnut-bur, but then you need not eat the shuck if you fear it will not agree with your inward state. Nevertheless, if the example of royalty is of value, the fact can be stated that Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Empress of India, is a Presbyterian. That is, she is a Presbyterian about one-half the time—when she is in Scotland, for she is the head of the Scottish Kirk. When in England, of course she is an Episcopalian. We have often been told that religion is largely a matter of geography, and here is a bit of something that looks like proof.
Of Scotch whisky I am not competent to speak, so that subject must be left to the experts. But a Kentucky colonel at my elbow declares that it can not be compared with the Blue-Grass article; though I trust that no one will be prejudiced against it on that account.
Scotch intellect, however, is worthy of our serious consideration. It is a bold, rocky headland, standing out into the tossing sea of the Unknown. Assertive? Yes. Stubborn? Most surely. Proud? By all means. Twice as many pilgrims visit the grave of Burns as that of Shakespeare. Buckle declares Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" has had a greater influence on civilization than any other book ever writ—save none; and the average Scotchman knows his Carlyle a deal better than the average American knows his Emerson: in fact, four times as many of Carlyle's books have been printed.
When Carlyle took time to bring the ponderous machinery of his intellect to bear on a theme, he saw it through and through. The vividness of his imagination gives us a true insight into times long since gone by; it shows virtue her own feature, vice her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure. In history he goes beyond the political and conventional—showing us the thought, the hope, the fear, the passion of the soul.
His was the masculine mind. The divination and subtle intuitions which are to be found scattered through his pages, like violets growing among the rank swale of the prairies—all these sweet, odorous things came from his wife. She gave him of her best thought, and he greedily absorbed it and unconsciously wrote it down as his own.
There are those who blame and berate; volumes have been written to show the inconsiderateness of this man toward the gentle lady who was his intellectual comrade. But they know not life who do this thing.
It is a fact that Carlyle never rushed to pick up Jeannie's handkerchief. I admit that he could not bow gracefully; that he could not sing tenor, nor waltz, nor tell funny stories, nor play the mandolin; and if I had been his neighbor I would not have attempted to teach him any of these accomplishments.
Once he took his wife to the theater; and after the performance he accidentally became separated from her in the crowd and trudged off home alone and went to bed forgetting all about her—-but even for this I do not indict him. Mrs. Carlyle never upbraided him for this forgetfulness, neither did she relate the incident to any one, and for these things I to her now reverently lift my hat.
Jeannie Welsh Carlyle had capacity for pain, as it seems all great souls have. She suffered—but then suffering is not all suffering and pain is not all pain.
Life is often dark, but then there are rifts in the clouds when we behold the glorious deep blue of the sky. Not a day passes but that the birds sing in the branches, and the tree-tops poise backward and forward in restful, rhythmic harmony, and never an hour goes by but that hope bears us up on her wings as the eagle does her young. And ever just before the year dies and the frost comes, the leaves take on a gorgeous hue and the color of the flowers then puts to shame for brilliancy all the plainer petals of Springtime.
And I know Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle were happy, so happy, at times, that they laughed and cried for joy. Jeannie gave all, and she saw her best thought used—carried further, written out and given to the world as that of another—but she uttered no protest.
Xantippe lives in history only because she sought to worry a great philosopher; we remember the daughter of Herodias because she demanded the head (not the heart) of a good man; Goneril and Regan because they trod upon the withered soul of their sire; Lady Macbeth because she lured her liege to murder; Charlotte Corday for her dagger-thrust; Lucrezia Borgia for her poison; Sapphira for her untruth; Jael because she pierced the brain of Sisera with a rusty nail (instead of an idea); Delilah for the reason that she deprived Samson of his source of strength; and in the "Westminster Review" for May, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-four, Ouida makes the flat statement that for every man of genius who has been helped by a woman, ten have been dragged down.
But Jeannie Welsh Carlyle lives in the hearts of all who reverence the sweet, the gentle, the patient, the earnest, the loving spirit of the womanly woman: lives because she ministered to the needs of a great man.
She was ever a frail body. Several long illnesses kept her to her bed for weeks, but she recovered from these, even in spite of the doctors, who thoroughly impressed both herself and her husband with the thought of her frailty.
On April the Twenty-first, Eighteen Hundred Sixty-six, she called her carriage, as was her custom, and directed the driver to go through the park. She carried a book in her hands, and smiled a greeting to a friend as the brougham moved away from the little street where they lived. The driver drove slowly—drove for an hour—two. He got down from his box to receive the orders of his mistress, touched his hat as he opened the carriage-door, but no kindly eyes looked into his. She sat back in the corner as if resting; the shapely head a little thrown forward, the book held gently in the delicate hands, but the fingers were cold and stiff—Jeannie Welsh was dead—and Thomas Carlyle was alone.
* * * * *
Along the Thames, at Chelsea, opposite the rows of quiet and well-kept houses of Cheyne Walk, is the "Embankment." A parkway it is of narrow green, with graveled walks, bushes and trees, that here and there grow lush and lusty as if to hide the unsightly river from the good people who live across the street.
Following this pleasant bit of breathing space, with its walks that wind in and out among the bushes, one comes unexpectedly upon a bronze statue. You need not read the inscription: a glance at that shaggy head, the grave, sober, earnest look, and you exclaim under your breath, "Carlyle!"
In this statue the artist has caught with rare skill the look of reverie and repose. One can imagine that on a certain night, as the mists and shadows of evening were gathering along the dark river, the gaunt form, wrapped in its accustomed cloak, came stalking down the little street to the park, just as he did thousands of times, and taking his seat in the big chair fell asleep. In the morning the children that came to play along the river found the form in cold, enduring bronze.
At the play we have seen the marble transformed by love into beauteous life. How much easier the reverse—here where souls stay only a day!
Cheyne Row is a little, alley-like street, running only a block, with fifteen houses on one side, and twelve on the other.
These houses are all brick and built right up to the sidewalk. On the north side they are all in one block, and one at first sees no touch of individuality in any of them.
They are old, and solid, and plain—built for revenue only. On closer view I thought one or two had been painted, and on one there was a cornice that set it off from the rest. As I stood on the opposite side and looked at this row of houses, I observed that Number Five was the dingiest and plainest of them all. For there were dark shutters instead of blinds, and these shutters were closed, all save one rebel that swung and creaked in the breeze. Over the doorway, sparrows had made their nests and were fighting and scolding. Swallows hovered above the chimney; dust, cobwebs, neglect were all about.
And as I looked there came to me the words of Ursa Thomas:
"Brief, brawling day, with its noisy phantoms, its paper crowns, tinsel-gilt, is gone; and divine, everlasting night, with her star diadems, with her silences and her verities, is come."
Here walked Thomas and Jeannie one fair May morning in Eighteen Hundred Thirty-four. Thomas was thirty-nine, tall and swarthy, strong; with set mouth and three wrinkles on his forehead that told of care and dyspepsia. Jeannie was younger; her face winsome, just a trifle anxious, with luminous, gentle eyes, suggestive of patience, truth and loyalty. They looked like country folks, did these two. They examined the surroundings, consulted together—sixty pounds rent a year seemed very high! But they took the house, and T. Carlyle, son of James Carlyle, stone-mason, paid rent for it every month for half a century, lacking three years.
I walked across the street and read the inscription on the marble tablet inserted in the front of the house above the lower windows. It informs the stranger that Thomas Carlyle lived here from Eighteen Hundred Thirty-four to Eighteen Hundred Eighty-one, and that the tablet was erected by the Carlyle Society of London.
I ascended the stone steps and scraped my boots on the well-worn scraper, made long, long ago by a blacksmith who is now dust, and who must have been a very awkward mechanic, for I saw where he had made a misstroke with his hammer, probably as he discussed theology with a caller. Then I rang the bell and plied the knocker and waited there on the steps for Jeannie Welsh to come bid me welcome, just as she did Emerson when he, too, used the scraper and plied the knocker and stood where I did then.
And my knock was answered—answered by a very sour and peevish woman next door, who thrust her head out of the window, and exclaimed in a shrill voice:
"Look 'ere, sir, you might as well go rap on the curb-stone, don't you know; there's nobody livin' there, sir, don't you know!"
"Yes, madam, that is why I knocked!"
"Beggin' your pardon, sir, if you use your heyes you'll see there's nobody livin' there, don't you know!"
"I knocked lest offense be given. How can I get in?"
"You might go in through the keyhole, sir, or down the chimney. You seem to be a little daft, sir, don't you know! But if you must get in, perhaps it would be as well to go over to Mrs. Brown's and brang the key," and she slammed down the window.
Across the street Mrs. Brown's sign smiled at me.
Mrs. Brown keeps a little grocery and bakeshop and was very willing to show me the house. She fumbled in a black bag for the keys, all the time telling me of three Americans who came last week to see Carlyle's house, and "as how" they each gave her a shilling. I took the hint.
"Only Americans care now for Mr. Carlyle," plaintively added the old lady as she fished out the keys; "soon we will all be forgot."
We walked across the street and after several ineffectual attempts the rusty lock was made to turn. I entered. Cold, bare and bleak was the sight of those empty rooms. The old lady had a touch of rheumatism, so she waited for me on the doorstep as I climbed the stairs to the third floor. The noise-proof back room where "The French Revolution" was writ, twice over, was so dark that I had to grope my way across to the window. The sash stuck and seemed to have a will of its own, like him who so often had raised it. But at last it gave way and I flung wide the shutter and looked down at the little arbor where Teufelsdrockh sat so often and wooed wisdom with the weed brought from Virginia.
Then I stood before the fireplace, where he of the Eternities had so often sat and watched the flickering embers. Here he lived in his loneliness and cursed curses that were prayers, and here for near five decades he read and thought and dreamed and wrote. Here the spirits of Cromwell and Frederick hovered; here that pitiful and pitiable long line of ghostly partakers in the Revolution answered to his roll-call.
The wind whistled down the chimney gruesomely as my footfalls echoed through the silent chambers, and I thought I heard a sepulchral voice say:
"Thy future life! Thy fate is it, indeed! Whilst thou makest that thy chief question, thy life to me and to thyself and to thy God is worthless. What is incredible to thee thou shalt not, at thy soul's peril, pretend to believe. Elsewhither for a refuge! Away! Go to perdition if thou wilt, but not with a lie in thy mouth—by the Eternal Maker, No!!"
I was startled at first, but stood still listening; then I thought I saw a faint blue cloud of mist curling up in the fireplace. Watching this smoke and sitting before it in gloomy abstraction was the form of an old man. I swept my hand through the apparition, but still it stayed. My lips moved in spite of myself and I said:
"Hail! hard-headed man of granite outcrop and heather, of fen and crag, of moor and mountain, and of bleak East wind, hail! Eighty-six years didst thou live. One hundred years lacking fourteen didst thou suffer, enjoy, weep, dream, groan, pray and strike thy rugged breast! And yet methinks that in those years there was much quiet peace and sweet content; for constant pain benumbs, and worry destroys, and vain unrest summons the grim messenger of death. But thou didst live and work and love; howbeit, thy touch was not always gentle, nor thy voice low; but on thy lips was no lie, in thy thought no concealment, in thy heart no pollution. But mark! thou didst come out of poverty and obscurity: on thy battered shield there was no crest and thou didst leave all to follow truth. And verily she did lead thee a merry chase!
"Thou hadst no Past, but thou hast a Future. Thou didst say: 'Bury me in Westminster, never! where the mob surges, cursed with idle curiosity to see the graves of kings and nobodies? No! Take me back to rugged Scotland and lay my tired form to rest by the side of an honest man—my father.'
"Thou didst refuse the Knighthood offered thee by royalty, saying, 'I am not the founder of the house of Carlyle and I have no sons to be pauperized by a title,' True, thou didst leave no sons after the flesh to mourn thy loss, nor fair daughters to bedeck thy grave with garlands, but thou didst reproduce thyself in thought, and on the minds of men thou didst leave thy impress. And thy ten thousand sons will keep thy memory green so long as men shall work, and toil, and strive, and hope."
The wind still howled. I looked out and saw watery clouds scudding athwart the face of the murky sky. The shutters banged, and shut me in the dark. I made haste to find the door, reached the stairway—slid down the banisters to where Mrs. Brown was waiting for me at the threshold.