LITTLE JOURNEYS TO THE HOMES OF THE GREAT, VOLUME 13
Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Lovers
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON AND FANNY OSBOURNE JOSIAH AND SARAH WEDGWOOD WILLIAM GODWIN AND MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT DANTE AND BEATRICE JOHN STUART MILL AND HARRIET TAYLOR PARNELL AND KITTY O'SHEA PETRARCH AND LAURA DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI AND ELIZABETH ELEANOR SIDDAL BALZAC AND MADAME HANSKA FENELON AND MADAME GUYON FERDINAND LASSALLE AND HELENE VON DONNIGES LORD NELSON AND LADY HAMILTON
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON AND FANNY OSBOURNE
We thank Thee for this place in which we dwell; for the love that unites us; for the peace accorded us this day; for the hope with which we expect the morrow; for the health, the work, the food, and the bright skies that make our lives delightful; for our friends in all parts of the earth, and our friendly helpers in this foreign isle. Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind. Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies. Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors. If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune, and down to the gates of death, loyal and loving one to another.
There is a libel leveled at the Scotch and encouraged, I am very sorry to say, by Chauncey Depew, when he told of approaching the docks in Glasgow and seeing the people on shore convulsed with laughter, and was told that their mirth was the result of one of his jokes told the year before, the point just being perceived.
Bearing on the same line we have the legend that the adage, "He laughs best who laughs last," was the invention of a Scotchman who was endeavoring to explain away a popular failing of his countrymen.
An adage seems to be a statement the reverse of which is true—or not. In all the realm of letters, where can be found anything more delightfully whimsical and deliciously humorous than James Barrie's "Peter Pan"? And as a writer of exquisite humor, as opposed to English wit, that other Scotchman, Robert Louis Stevenson, stands supreme.
To Robert Louis life was altogether too important a matter to be taken seriously. The quality of fine fooling shown in the creation of a mythical character called "John Libbel" remained with Stevenson to the end of his days.
Stevenson never knew the value of money, because he was not brought up to earn money. Very early he was placed on a small allowance, which he found could be augmented by maternal embezzlements and the kindly co-operation of pawnbrokers.
Once on a trip from home with his cousin he found they lacked just five shillings of the required amount to pay their fare. They boarded the train and paid as far as they could. The train stopped at Crewe fifteen minutes for lunch. Lunch is a superfluity if you haven't the money to pay for it—but stealing a ride in Scotland is out of the question. Robert Louis hastily took a pair of new trousers from his valise and ran up the main street of the town anxiously looking for a pawnshop. There at the end of the thoroughfare he saw the three glittering, welcome balls. He entered, out of breath, threw down the trousers and asked for five shillings. "What name?" asked the pawnbroker. "John Libbel," was the reply, given without thought. "How do you spell it?" "Two b's!"
He got the five shillings and hastened back to the station, where his cousin Bob was anxiously awaiting him. Robert Louis did not have to explain that his little run up the street was a financial success—that much was understood. But what pleased him most was that he had discovered a new man, a very important man, John Libbel, the man who made pawnbrokers possible, the universal client of the craft. "You mean patient, not client," interposed Bob.
Then they invented the word libbelian, meaning one with pawnbroker inclinations. Libbelattos meant the children of John Libbel, and so it went.
The boys had an old font of type, and they busied themselves printing cards for John Libbel, giving his name and supposed business and address. These they gave out on the street, slipped under doors, or placed mysteriously in the hands of fussy old gentlemen.
Finally the boys got to ringing doorbells and asking if John Libbel lived within. They sought Libbel at hotels, stopped men on the street and asked them if their name wasn't John Libbel, and when told no, apologized profusely and declared the resemblance most remarkable.
They tied up packages of ashes or sawdust, very neatly labeled, "Compliments of John Libbel," and dropped them on the street. This was later improved on by sealing the package and marking it, "Gold Dust, for Assayer's Office, from John Libbel." These packages would be placed along the street, and the youthful jokers would watch from doorways and see the packages slyly slipped into pockets, or if the finder were honest he would hurry away to the Assayer's Office with his precious find to claim a reward.
The end of this particular kind of fun came when the two boys walked into a shop and asked for John Libbel. The clerk burst out laughing and said, "You are the Stevenson boys who have fooled the town!" Jokes explained cease to be jokes, and the young men sorrowfully admitted that Libbel was dead and should be buried.
* * * * *
Robert Louis was an only son, and alternately was disciplined and then humored, as only sons usually are.
His father was a civil engineer in the employ of the Northern Lights Company, and it was his business to build and inspect lighthouses. At his office used to congregate a motley collection of lighthouse-keepers, retired sea-captains, mates out of a job—and with these sad dogs of the sea little Robert used to make close and confidential friendships.
While he was yet a child he made the trip to Italy with his mother, and brought back from Rome and from Venice sundry crucifixes, tear-bottles and "Saint Josephs," all duly blessed, and these he sold to his companions at so many whacks apiece. That is to say, the purchaser had to pay for the gift by accepting on his bare hand a certain number of whacks with a leather strap. If the recipient winced, he forfeited the present.
The boy was flat-chested and spindle-shanked and used to bank on his physical weakness when lessons were to be evaded. He was two years at the Edinburgh Academy, where he reduced the cutting of lectures and recitations to a system, and substituted Dumas and Scott for more learned men who prepared books for the sole purpose of confounding boys.
As for making an engineer of the young man, the stern, practical father grew utterly discouraged when he saw mathematics shelved for Smollett. Robert was then put to studying law with a worthy barrister.
Law is business, and to suppose that a young man who religiously spent his month's allowance the day it was received, could make a success at the bar shows the vain delusion that often fills the parental head.
Stevenson's essay, "A Defense of Idlers," shows how no time is actually lost, not even that which is idled away. But this is a point that is very hard to explain to ambitious parents.
The traditional throwing overboard of the son the day he is twenty-one, allowing him to sink or swim, survive or perish, did not prevail with the Stevensons. At twenty-two Robert Louis still had his one guinea a month, besides what he could cajole, beg or borrow from his father and mother. He grew to watch the mood of his mother, and has recorded that he never asked favors of his father before dinner.
At twenty-three he sold an essay for two pounds, and referred gaily to himself as "one of the most popular and successful essayists in Great Britain." He was still a child in spirit, dependent upon others for support. He looked like a girl with his big wide-open eyes and long hair. As for society, in the society sense, he abhorred it and would have despised it if he had despised anything. The soft platitudes of people who win distinction by being nothing, doing nothing, and saying nothing except what has been said before, moved him to mocking mirth. From childhood he was a society rebel. He wore his hair long, because society men had theirs cut close.
His short velvet coat, negligee shirt and wide-awake hat were worn for no better reason. His long cloak gave him a look of haunting mystery, and made one think of a stage hero or a robber you read of in books. Motives are mixed, and foolish folks who ask questions about why certain men do certain things, do not know that certain men do certain things because they wish to, and leave to others the explanation of the whyness of the wherefore.
People who always dress, talk and act alike do so for certain reasons well understood, but the man who does differently from the mass is not so easy to analyze and formulate.
The feminine quality in Robert Louis' nature shows itself in that he fled the company of women, and with them held no converse if he could help it. He never wrote a love-story, and once told Crockett that if he ever dared write one it would be just like "The Lilac Sunbonnet."
Yet it will not do to call Stevenson effeminate, even if he was feminine. He had a courage that outmatched his physique. Once in a cafe in France, a Frenchman made the remark that the English were a nation of cowards.
The words had scarcely passed his lips before Robert Louis flung the back of his hand in the Frenchman's face. Friends interposed and cards were passed, but the fire-eating Frenchman did not call for his revenge or apology—much to the relief of Robert Louis.
Plays were begun, stories blocked out, and great plans made by Robert Louis and his cousin for passing a hawser to literature and taking it in tow.
When Robert Louis was in his twenty-fourth year he found a copy of "Leaves of Grass," and he and his cousin Bob reveled in what they called "a genuine book." They heard that Michael Rossetti was to give a lecture on Whitman in a certain drawing-room.
The young men attended, without invitation, and walked in coatless, just as they had heard that Walt Whitman appeared at the Astor House in New York, when he went by appointment to meet Emerson. After hearing Rossetti discuss Whitman they got the virus fixed in their systems.
They walked up and down Princess Street in their shirt-sleeves, and saw fair ladies blush and look the other way. Next they tried sleeveless jerseys for street wear, and speculated as to just how much clothing they would have to abjure before women would entirely cease to look at them.
* * * * *
The hectic flush was upon the cheek of Robert Louis, and people said he was distinguished. "Death admires me, even if the publishers do not," he declared. The doctors gave orders that he should go South and he seized upon the suggestion and wrote "Ordered South"—and started. Bob went with him, and after a trip through Italy, they arrived at Barbizon to see the scene of "The Angelus," and look upon the land of Millet—Millet, whom Michael Rossetti called "The Whitman of Art."
Bob was an artist: he could paint, write, and play the flageolet. Robert Louis declared that his own particular velvet jacket and big coat would save him at Barbizon, even if he could not draw any to speak of. "In art the main thing is to look the part—or else paint superbly well," said Robert Louis.
The young men got accommodations at "Siron's." This was an inn for artists, artists of slender means—and the patrons at Siron's held that all genuine artists had slender means. The rate was five francs a day for everything, with a modest pro-rata charge for breakage. The rules were not strict, which prompted Robert Louis to write the great line, "When formal manners are laid aside, true courtesy is the more rigidly exacted." Siron's was an inn, but it was really much more like an exclusive club, for if the boarders objected to any particular arrival, two days was the outside limit of his stay. Buttinsky the bounder was interviewed and the early coach took the objectionable one away forever.
And yet no artist was ever sent away from Siron's—no matter how bad his work or how threadbare his clothes—if he was a worker; if he really tried to express beauty, all of his eccentricities were pardoned and his pot-boiling granted absolution. But the would-be Bohemian, or the man in search of a thrill, or if in any manner the party on probation suggested that Madame Siron was not a perfect cook and Monsieur Siron was not a genuine grand duke in disguise, he was interviewed by Bailley Bodmer, the local headsman of the clan, and plainly told that escape lay in flight.
At Siron's there were several Americans, among them being Whistler; nevertheless Americans as a class were voted objectionable, unless they were artists, or perchance would-bes who supplied unconscious entertainment by an excess of boasting. Women, unless accompanied by a certified male escort, were not desired under any circumstances. And so matters stood when the "two Stensons" (the average Frenchman could not say Stevenson) were respectively Exalted Ruler and Chief Councilor of Siron's.
At that time one must remember that the chambermaid and the landlady might be allowed to mince across the stage, but men took the leading parts in life. The cousins had been away on a three-days' tramping tour through the forest. When they returned they were informed that something terrible had occurred—a woman had arrived: an American woman with a daughter aged, say, fourteen, and a son twelve. They had paid a month in advance and were duly installed by Siron. Siron was summoned and threatened with deposition. The poor man shrugged his shoulders in hopeless despair. Mon Dieu! how could he help it—the "Stensons" were not at hand to look after their duties—the woman had paid for accommodations, and money in an art colony was none too common! But Bailley Bodmer—had he, too, been derelict? Bailley appeared, his boasted courage limp, his prowess pricked.
He asked to have a man pointed out—any two or three men—and he would see that the early stage should not go away empty. But a woman, a woman in half-mourning, was different, and besides, this was a different woman. She was an American, of course, but probably against her will. Her name was Osbourne and she was from San Francisco. She spoke good French and was an artist. One of the Stevensons sneezed; the other took a lofty and supercilious attitude of indifference. It was tacitly admitted that the woman should be allowed to remain, her presence being a reminder to Siron of remissness, and to Bailley of cowardice.
So the matter rested, the Siron Club being in temporary disgrace, the unpleasant feature too distasteful even to discuss. As the days passed, however, it was discovered that Mrs. Osbourne did not make any demands upon the Club. She kept her own counsel, rose early and worked late, and her son and daughter were very well behaved and inclined to be industrious in their studies and sketching.
It was discovered one day that Robert Louis had gotten lunch from the Siron kitchen and was leading the Osbourne family on a little excursion to the wood back of Rosa Bonheur's. Self-appointed scouts who happened to be sketching over that way came back and reported that Mrs. Osbourne was seen painting, while Robert Louis sat on a rock near by and told pirate tales to Lloyd, the twelve-year-old boy. A week later Robert Louis had one of his "bad spells," and he told Bob to send for Mrs. Osbourne. Nobody laughed after this. It was silently and unanimously voted that Mrs. Osbourne was a good fellow, and soon she was enjoying all the benefits of the Siron Club. When a frivolous member suggested that it be called the Siren Club he was met with an oppressive stillness and black looks.
Mrs. Osbourne was educated, amiable, witty and wise. She evidently knew humanity, and was on good terms with sorrow, although sorrow never subdued her; what her history was nobody sought to inquire.
When she sketched, Robert Louis told pirate tales to Lloyd.
The Siron Club took on a degree of sanity that it had not known before. Little entertainments were given now and then, where Mrs. Osbourne read to the company from an unknown American poet, Joaquin Miller by name, and Bob expounded Walt Whitman.
The Americans as a people evidently were not wholly bad—at least there was hope for them. Bob began to tire of Barbizon, and finally went back to Edinburgh alone. Arriving there he had to explain why Robert Louis did not come too.
Robert Louis had met an American woman, and they seemed to like each other. The parents of Robert Louis did not laugh: they were grieved. Their son, who had always kept himself clear from feminine entanglements, was madly, insanely, in love with a woman, the mother of two grown-up children, and a married woman and an American at that—it was too much!
Just how they expostulated and how much will never be known. They declined to go over to France to see her, and they declined to have her come to see them: a thing Mrs. Osbourne probably would not have done—at that time, anyway.
But there was a comfort in this: their son was in much better health, and several of his articles had been accepted by the great London magazines.
So three months went by, when suddenly and without notice Robert Louis appeared at home, and in good spirits. As for Mrs. Osbourne, she had sailed for America with her two children. And the elder Stevensons breathed more freely.
* * * * *
On August Tenth, Eighteen Hundred Seventy-nine, Robert Louis sailed from Glasgow for New York on the steamship "Devonia." It was a sudden move, taken without the consent of his parents or kinsmen. The young man wrote a letter to his father, mailing it at the dock.
When the missive reached the father's hands, that worthy gentleman was unspeakably shocked and terribly grieved. He made frantic attempts to reach the ship before it had passed out of the Clyde and rounded into the North Sea, but it was too late. He then sent two telegrams to the Port of Londonderry, one to Louis begging him to return at once as his mother was very sick, and the other message to the captain of the ship ordering him to put the wilful son ashore bag and baggage.
The things we do when fear and haste are at the helm are usually wrong, and certainly do not mirror our better selves.
Thomas Stevenson was a Scotchman, and the Scotch, a certain man has told us, are the owners of a trinity of bad things—Scotch whisky, Scotch obstinacy and Scotch religion. What the first-mentioned article has to do with the second and the third, I do not know, but certain it is that the second and the third are hopelessly intertwined—this according to Ian MacLaren, who ought to know.
This obstinacy in right proportion constitutes will, and without will life languishes and projects die a-borning. But mixed up with this religious obstinacy is a goodly jigger of secretiveness, and in order to gain his own point the religion of the owner does not prevent him from prevarication. In "Margaret Ogilvie," that exquisite tribute to his mother by Barrie, the author shows us a most religious woman who was well up to the head of the Sapphira class. The old lady had been reading a certain book, and there was no reason why she should conceal the fact. The son suddenly enters and finds the mother sitting quietly looking out of the window. She was suspiciously quiet. The son questions her somewhat as follows:
"What are you doing, mother?"
"Nothing," was the answer.
"Have you been reading?"
"Do I look like it?"
"Why, yes—the book on your lap!"
"The book under your apron."
And so does this sweetly charming and deeply religious old lady prove her fitness in many ways to membership in the liar's league. She secretes, prevaricates, quibbles, lays petty traps and mouses all day long. The Eleventh Commandment, "Thou Shalt Not Snoop," evidently had never been called to her attention, and even her gifted son is seemingly totally unaware of it. So Thomas Stevenson, excellent man that he was, turned to subterfuge, and telegraphed his runaway son that his mother was sick, appealing to his love for his mother to lure him back.
However, children do not live with their forebears for nothing—they know their parents just as well as their parents know them. Robert Louis reasoned that it was quite as probable that his father lied as that his mother was sick. He yielded to the stronger attraction—and stuck to the ship.
He was sailing to America because he had received word that Fanny Osbourne was very ill. Half a world divided them, but attraction to lovers is in inverse ratio to the square of the distance. He must go to her!
She was sick and in distress. He must go to her. The appeals of his parents—even their dire displeasure—the ridicule of relatives, all were as naught. He had some Scotch obstinacy of his own. Every fiber of his being yearned for her. She needed him. He was going to her!
Of course his action in thus sailing away to a strange land alone was a shock to his parents. He was a man in years, but they regarded him as but a child, as indeed he was. He had never earned his own living. He was frail in body, idle, erratic, peculiar. His flashing wit and subtle insight into the heart of things were quite beyond his parents—in this he was a stranger to them. Their religion to him was gently amusing, and he congratulated himself on not having inherited it. He had a pride, too, but Graham Balfour said it was French pride, not the Scotch brand. He viewed himself as a part of the passing procession. His own velvet jacket and marvelous manifestations in neckties added interest to the show. And that he admired his own languorous ways there is no doubt.
His "Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde" he declared in sober earnest, in which was concealed a half-smile, was autobiography. And this is true, for all good things that every writer writes are a self-confession.
Stevenson was a hundred men in one and "his years were anything from sixteen to eighty," says Lloyd Osbourne in his "Memoirs." But when a letter came from San Francisco saying Fanny Osbourne was sick, all of that dilatory, procrastinating, gently trifling quality went out of his soul and he was possessed by one idea—he must go to her!
The captain of the ship had no authority to follow the order of an unknown person and put him ashore, so the telegram was given to the man to whom it referred.
He read the message, smiled dreamily, tore it into bits and dropped it on the tide. And the ship turned her prow toward America and sailed away. So this was the man who had no firmness, no decision, no will! Aye, heretofore he had only lacked a motive. Now love supplied it.
* * * * *
It is life supplies the writer his theme. People who have not lived, no matter how grammatically they may write, have no real message. Robert Louis had now severed the umbilical cord. He was going to live his own life, to earn his own living. He could do but one thing, and that was to write. He may have been a procrastinator in everything else, but as a writer he was a skilled mechanic. And so straightway on that ship he began to work his experiences up into copy. Just what he wrote the world will never know, for although the manuscript was sold to a publisher, yet Barabbas did not give it to the people. There are several ways by which a publisher can thrive.
To get paid for not publishing is easy money—it involves no risk. In this instance an Edinburgh publisher bought the manuscript for thirty pounds, intending to print it in book form, showing the experience of a Scotchman in search of a fortune in New York.
In order to verify certain dates and data, the publisher submitted the manuscript to Thomas Stevenson. Great was that gentleman's interest in the literary venture of his son. He read with a personal interest, for he was the author of the author's being. But as he read he felt that he himself was placed in a most unenviable light, for although he was not directly mentioned, yet the suffering of the son on the emigrant ship seemed to point out the father as one who disregarded his parental duties. And above all things Thomas Stevenson prided himself on being a good provider. Thomas Stevenson straightway bought the manuscript from the publisher for one hundred pounds.
On hearing of the fate of his book, Robert Louis intimated to his father that thereafter it would be as well for them to deal direct with each other and thus save the middleman's profits.
However, the father and son got together on the manuscript question some years later, and the over-sensitive parent was placated by striking out certain passages that might be construed as aspersions, and a few direct complimentary references inserted, and the printer got the book on payment of two hundred pounds. The transaction turned out so well that Thomas Stevenson said, "I told you so," and Robert Louis saw the patent fact that hindsight, accident and fear sometimes serve us quite as well as insight and perspicacity, not to mention perspicuity. We aim for one target and hit the bull's-eye on another. We sail for a certain port, where, unknown to us, pirates lie in wait, and God sends His storms and drives us upon Treasure Island. There we load up with ingots; the high tide floats us, and we sail away for home with our unearned increment to tell the untraveled natives how we most surely are the people and that wisdom will die with us.
* * * * *
Robert Louis was a sick man. The ship was crowded and the fare and quarters were far from being what he always had been used to. The people he met in the second cabin were neither literary nor artistic, but some of them had right generous hearts. On being interrogated by one of his messmates as to his business, Robert Louis replied that he was a stone-mason. The man looked at his long, slim, artistic fingers and knew better, but he did not laugh.
He respected this young man with the hectic flush, reverenced his secret whatever it might be, and smuggled delicacies from the cook's galley for the alleged stone-mason. "Thus did he shovel coals of fire on my head until to ease my heart I called him aft one moonlight night and told him I was no stone-mason, and begged him to forgive me for having sought to deceive one of God's own gentlemen." Meantime, every day our emigrant turned out a little good copy, and this made life endurable, for was it not Robert Louis himself who gave us this immortal line, "I know what pleasure is, for I have done good work"?
He was going to her. Arriving in New York he straightway invested two good dollars in a telegram to San Francisco, and five cents in postage on a letter to Edinburgh. These two things done he would take time to rest up for a few days in New York. One of the passengers had given him the address of a plain and respectable tavern, where an honest laborer of scanty purse could find food and lodging. This was Number Ten West Street.
Robert Louis dare not trust himself to the regular transfer-company, so he listened to the siren song of the owner of a one-horse express-wagon who explained that the distance to Number Ten West Street was something to be dreaded, and that five dollars for the passenger and his two tin boxes was like doing it for nothing. The money was paid; the boxes were loaded into the wagon, and Robert Louis seated upon one of them, with a horse-blanket around him, in the midst of a pouring rain, the driver cracked his whip and started away. He drove three blocks to the starboard and one to port, and backed up in front of Number Ten West Street, which proved to be almost directly across the street from the place where the "Devonia" was docked. But strangers in a strange country can not argue—they can only submit.
The landlord looked over the new arrival from behind the bar, and then through a little window called for his wife to come in from the kitchen. The appearance of the dripping emigrant who insisted in answer to their questions that he was not sick, and that he needed nothing, made an appeal to the mother-heart of this wife of an Irish saloonkeeper.
Straightway she got dry clothes from her husband's wardrobe for the poor man, and insisted that he should at once go to his room and change the wet garments for the dry ones. She then prepared him supper which he ate in the kitchen, and choked for gratitude when this middle-aged, stout and illiterate woman poured his tea and called him "dear heart."
She asked him where he was going and what he was going to do. He dare not repeat the story that he was a stone-mason—the woman knew he was some sort of a superior being, and his answer that he was going out West to make his fortune was met by the Irish-like response, "And may the Holy Mother grant that ye find it."
It is very curious how gentle and beautiful souls find other gentle and beautiful souls even in barrooms, and among the lowly—I really do not understand it! In his book Robert Louis paid the landlord of Number Ten West Street such a heartfelt compliment that the traditions still invest the place, and the present landlord is not forgetful that his predecessor once entertained an angel unawares.
When the literary pilgrim enters the door, scrapes his feet on the sanded floor, and says "Robert Louis Stevenson," the barkeeper and loafers straighten up and endeavor to put on the pose and manner of gentlemen and all the courtesy, kindness and consideration they can muster are yours. The man who could redeem a West Street barkeeper and glorify a dock saloon must indeed have been a most remarkable personality.
* * * * *
To get properly keelhauled for his overland emigrant trip across the continent, Robert Louis remained in New York three days. The kind landlady packed a big basket of food—not exactly the kind to tempt the appetite of an invalid, but all flavored with good-will, and she also at the last moment presented him a pillow in a new calico pillowcase that has been accurately described, and the journey began.
There was no sleeping-car for the author of "A Lodging for the Night." He sat bolt upright and held tired babies on his knees, or tumbled into a seat and wooed the drowsy god. The third night out he tried sleeping flat in the aisle of the car on the floor until the brakeman ordered him up, and then two men proposed to fight the officious brakeman if he did not leave the man alone. To save a riot Robert Louis agreed to obey the rules. It was a ten-day trip across the continent, filled with discomforts that would have tried the constitution of a strong man.
Robert Louis arrived "bilgy," as he expressed it, but alive. Mrs. Osbourne was better. The day she received the telegram was the turning-point in her case.
The doctor perceived that his treatment was along the right line, and ordered the medicine continued.
She was too ill to see Robert Louis—it was not necessary, anyway. He was near and this was enough. She began to gain. Just here seems a good place to say that the foolish story to the effect that Mr. Osbourne was present at the wedding and gave his wife away has no foundation in fact. Robert Louis never saw Mr. Osbourne and never once mentioned his name to any one so far as we know. He was a mine-prospector and speculator, fairly successful in his work. That he and his wife were totally different in their tastes and ambitions is well understood. They whom God has put asunder no man can join together.
The husband and wife had separated, and Mrs. Osbourne went to France to educate her children—educate them as far from their father as possible. Also, she wished to study art on her own account. So, blessed be stupidity—and heart-hunger and haunting misery that drive one out and away.
She returned to California to obtain legal freedom and make secure her business affairs. There are usually three parties to a divorce, and this case was no exception. It is a terrible ordeal for a woman to face a divorce-court and ask the State to grant her a legal separation from the father of her children. Divorce is not a sudden, spontaneous affair—it is the culmination of a long train of unutterable woe. Under the storm and stress of her troubles Mrs. Osbourne had been stricken with fever. Sickness is a result, and so is health.
When Robert Louis arrived in San Francisco Mrs. Osbourne grew better. In a few months she pushed her divorce case to a successful conclusion.
Mr. Osbourne must have been a man with some gentlemanly instincts, for he made no defense, provided a liberal little fortune for his former family, and kindly disappeared from view.
Robert Louis did desultory work on newspapers in San Francisco and later at Monterey, with health up and down as hope fluctuated. In the interval a cablegram had come from his father saying, "Your allowance is two hundred and fifty pounds a year." This meant that he had been forgiven, although not very graciously, and was not to starve.
Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Osbourne were married May Tenth, Eighteen Hundred Eighty. "The Silverado Squatters" shows how to spend a honeymoon in a miner's deserted cabin, a thousand miles from nowhere. The Osbourne children were almost grown, and were at that censorious age when the average youngster feels himself capable of taking mental and moral charge of his parents.
But these children were different; then, they had a different mother, and as for Robert Louis, he certainly was a different proposition from that ever evolved from creation's matrix. He belongs to no class, evades the label, and fits into no pigeonhole.
The children never called him "father": he was always "Louis"—simply one of them. He married the family and they married him. He had captured their hearts in France by his story-telling, his flute-playing and his skilful talent with the jackknife. Now he was with them for all time, and he was theirs. It was the most natural thing in the world.
Mrs. Stevenson was the exact opposite of her husband in most things. She was quick, practical, accurate, and had a manual dexterity in a housekeeping way beyond the lot of most women. With all his half-invalid, languid, dilettante ways, Robert Louis adored the man or woman who could do things. Perhaps this was why his heart went out to those who go down to the sea in ships, the folk whose work is founded not on theories, but on absolute mathematical laws.
In their fourteen years of married life, Robert Louis never tired of watching Fanny at her housekeeping. "To see her turn the flapjacks by a simple twist of the wrist is a delight not soon to be forgotten, and my joy is to see her hanging clothes on the line in a high wind."
The folks at home labored under the hallucination that Robert Louis had married "a native Californian," and to them a "native" meant a half-breed Indian. The fact was that Fanny was born in Indiana, but this explanation only deepened the suspicion, for surely people who lived in Indiana are Indians—any one would know that! Cousin Robert made apologies and explanations, although none was needed, and placed himself under the ban of suspicion of being in league to protect Robert Louis, for the fact that the boys had always been quite willing to lie for each other had been very well known.
Mrs. Stevenson made good all that Robert Louis lacked. In physique she was small, but sturdy and strong.
Mentally she was very practical, very sensible, very patient. Then she had wit, insight, sympathy and that fluidity of spirit which belongs only to the Elect Few who know that nothing really matters much either way. Such a person does not contradict, set folks straight as to dates, and shake the red rag of wordy warfare, even in the interests of truth.
Then keeping house on Silverado Hill was only playing at "keep-house," and the way all hands entered into the game made it the genuine thing. People who keep house in earnest or do anything else in dead earnest are serious, but not sincere. Sincere people are those who can laugh—even laugh at themselves—and thus are they saved from ossification of the heart and fatty degeneration of the cerebrum. The Puritans forgot how to play, otherwise they would never have hanged the witches or gone after the Quakers with fetters and handcuffs. Uric acid and crystals in the blood are bad things, but they are worse when they get into the soul.
That most delightful story of "Treasure Island" was begun as a tale for Lloyd Osbourne, around the evening campfire. Then the hearers begged that it be written out, and so it was begun, one chapter a day. As fast as a chapter was written it was read in the evening to an audience that hung on every word and speculated as to what the characters would do next. All applauded, all criticized—all made suggestions as to what was "true," that is to say, as to what the parties actually did and said. "Treasure Island" is the best story of adventure ever written, and if anybody knows a better recipe for story-writing than the plan of writing just for fun, for some one else, it has not yet been discovered.
The miracle is that Robert Louis the Scotchman should have been so perfectly understood and appreciated by this little family from the other side of the world.
The Englishman coming to America speaks a different language from ours—his allusions, symbols, aphorisms belong to another sphere. He does not understand us, nor we him. But Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Osbourne must have been "universals," for they never really had to get acquainted: they loved the same things, spoke a common language, and best of all recognized that what we call "life" isn't life at the last, and that an anxious stirring, clutching for place, pelf and power is not nearly so good in results as to play the flute, tell stories and keep house just for fun.
The Stevenson spirit of gentle raillery was well illustrated by Mrs. Strong in an incident that ran somewhat thus: A certain boastful young person was telling of a funeral where among other gorgeous things were eight "pallberries."
Said Mrs. Stevenson in admiration, "Just now, a-think, pallberries at a funeral; how delightful!" "My dear," said Robert Louis, reprovingly, "you know perfectly well that we always have pallberries at our funerals in Samoa."
"Quite true, my dear, provided it is pallberry season."
"And suppose it is not pallberry season, do we not have them tinted?"
"Yes, but there is a tendency to pick them green—that is awful!"
"But not so awful as to leave them on the bushes until they get rotten."
Finck in his fine book, "Romantic Love and Personal Beauty," says that not once in a hundred thousand times do you find man and wife who have reached a state of actual understanding.
Incompatibility comes from misunderstanding and misconstruing motives, and more often, probably, attributing motives where none exists. And until a man and a woman comprehend the working of each other's mind and "respect the mood," there is no mental mating, and without a mental mating we can talk of rights and ownership, but not of marriage.
The delight of creative work lies in self-discovery: you are mining nuggets of power out of your own cosmos, and the find comes as a great and glad surprise. The kindergarten baby who discovers he can cut out a pretty shape from colored paper, and straightway wants to run home to show mamma his find, is not far separated from the literary worker who turns a telling phrase, and straightway looks for Her, to read it to double his joy by sharing it. Robert Louis was ever discovering new beauties in his wife and she in him. Eliminate the element of surprise and anticipate everything a person can do or say, and love is a mummy. Thus do we get the antithesis—understanding and surprise.
Marriage worked a miracle in Robert Louis; suddenly he became industrious. He ordered that a bell should be tinkled at six o'clock every morning or a whistle blown as a sign that he should "get away," and at once he began the work of the day. More probably he had begun it hours before, for he had the bad habit of the midnight brain. Kipling calls Robert Louis our only perfect artist in letters—the man who filed down to a hair.
Robert Louis knew no synonyms; for him there was the right word and none other. He balanced the sentence over and over on his tongue, tried and tried again until he found the cadence that cast the prophetic purple shadow—that not only expressed a meaning, but which tokened what would follow.
He was always assiduously graceful, always desiring to present his idea in as persuasive a light as possible, and with as much harmony as possible. That self-revelatory expression of Stevenson's is eminently characteristic of the man: "I know what pleasure is, for I have done good work."
"Treasure Island" opened the market for Stevenson, and thereafter there was a steadily increasing demand for his wares.
Health came back; and the folks at home seeing that Robert Louis was getting his name in the papers, and noting the steady, triumphant tone of sanity in all he wrote, came to the conclusion that his marriage was not a failure.
* * * * *
Above all men in the realm of letters Robert Louis had that peculiar and divine thing called "charm." To know him was to love him, and those who did not love him did not know him.
This welling grace of spirit was also the possession of his wife.
In his married life Stevenson was always a lover, never the loved. The habit of his mind is admirably shown in these lines:
TO MY WIFE
Trusty, dusky, vivid, true, With eyes of gold and bramble dew, Steel true and blade straight, The Great Artisan made my mate.
Honor, courage, valor, fire, A love that life could never tire, Death quench nor evil stir, The Mighty Master gave to her.
Teacher, pupil, comrade, wife, A fellow-farer true through life, Heart-whole and soul free, The august Father gave to me.
Edmund Gosse gives a pen-picture of Stevenson thus:
I came home dazzled with my new friend, saying as Constance does of Arthur, "Was ever such a gracious creature born?" That impression of ineffable mental charm was formed the first moment of acquaintance, about Eighteen Hundred Seventy-seven, and it never lessened or became modified. Stevenson's rapidity in the sympathetic interchange of ideas was, doubtless, the source of it. He has been described as an "egotist," but I challenge the description. If ever there was an altruist it was Louis Stevenson; he seemed to feign an interest in himself merely to stimulate you to be liberal in your confidences. Those who have written about him from later impressions than those of which I speak seem to me to give insufficient prominence to the gaiety of Stevenson. It was his cardinal quality in those early days. A childlike mirth leaped and danced in him; he seemed to skip the hills of life. He was simply bubbling with quips and jest; his inherent earnestness or passion about abstract things was incessantly relieved by jocosity; and when he had built one of his intellectual castles in the sand, a wave of humor was certain to sweep in and destroy it. I can not, for the life of me, recall any of his jokes; and written down in cold blood, they might not seem funny if I did. They were not wit so much as humanity, the many-sided outlook upon life. I am anxious that his laughter-loving mood should not be forgotten, because later on it was partly quenched by ill health, responsibility and the advance of years. He was often, in the old days, excessively, delightfully silly—silly with the silliness of an inspired schoolboy; I am afraid our laughter sometimes sounded ill in the ears of age.
* * * * *
A visit to Scotland and the elders capitulated, apologized, and asked for quarter. So delighted was Thomas Stevenson with Lloyd Osbourne that he made the boy his chief heir, and declared in the presence of Robert Louis that he only regretted that his own son was never half so likely a lad. To which Robert Louis made reply, "Genius always skips one generation."
Health had come to Robert Louis in a degree he had never before known. He also had dignity and a precision such as his parents and kinsmen had despaired of seeing in one so physically and mentally vacillating.
Stevenson was once asked by a mousing astrologer to state the date of his birth. Robert Louis looked at his wife soberly and slowly answered, "May Tenth, Eighteen Hundred Eighty." And not even a smile crossed the countenance of either. Each understood.
That the nature of Stevenson was buoyed up, spiritualized, encouraged and given strength by his marriage, no quibbler has ever breathed the ghost of a doubt. His wife supplied him the mothering care that gave his spirit wing. He loved her children as his own, and they reciprocated the affection in a way that embalms their names in amber forevermore.
When Robert Louis, after a hemorrhage, sat propped up in bed, forbidden to speak, he wrote on a pad with pencil: "Mr. Dumbleigh presents his compliments and praises God that he is sick so he has to be cared for by two tender, loving fairies. Was ever a man so blest?"
Again he begins the day by inditing a poem, "To the bare, brown feet of my wife and daughter dear." And this, be it remembered, was after the bare, brown feet had been running errands for him for thirteen years. And think you that women so loved, and by such a man, would not fetch and carry and run and find their highest joy in ministering to him? If he were thrice blest in having them, as he continually avowed, how about them? It only takes a small dole of love when fused with loyalty to win the abject, doglike devotion of a good woman. On the day of his death Stevenson said to his wife, "You have already given me fourteen years of life." And this is the world's verdict—fourteen years of life and love, and without these fourteen years the name and fame of Robert Louis Stevenson were writ in water; with them "R. L. S." has been cut deep in the granite of time, but better still, the gentle spirit of Stevenson lives again in the common heart of the world in lives made better.
JOSIAH AND SARAH WEDGWOOD
Admitting my inexperience, I must say that I think the instinct for beauty and all the desire to produce beautiful things, which you and Goethe refer to as the "Art Impulse," is a kind of sex quality, not unlike the song of birds or their beautiful plumage.
—Josiah Wedgwood to Doctor Erasmus Darwin
Once upon a day a financial panic was on in Boston. Real estate was rapidly changing hands, most all owners making desperate efforts to realize. Banks which were thought to be solvent and solid went soaring skyward, and even collapsed occasionally, with a loud, ominous, R. G. Dun report. And so it happened that about this time Henry Thoreau strolled out of his cabin and looking up at the placid moon, murmured, "Moonshine, after all, is the only really permanent thing we possess."
This is the first in the series of twelve love-stories—or "tales of moonshine," to use the phrase of Thomas Carlyle.
In passing, let us note the fact that the doughty Thomas was not a lover, and he more than once growled out his gratitude in that he had never lost either his head or his heart, for men congratulate themselves on everything they have, even their limitations. Thomas Carlyle was not a lover.
A great passion is a trinitarian affair. And I sometimes have thought it a matter of regret, as well as of wonder, that a strong man did not appear on the scene and fall in love with the winsome Jeannie Welsh. Conditions were ripe there for a great drama. I know it would have blown the roof off that little house in Cheyne Row, but it might have crushed the heart of Thomas Carlyle and made him a lover, indeed. After death had claimed Jeannie as a bride, the fastnesses of the old Sartor Resartus soul were broken up, and Carlyle paced the darkness, crying aloud, "Oh, why was I cruel to her?" He manifested a tenderness toward the memory of the woman dead which the woman alive had never been able to bring forth.
Love demands opposition and obstacle. It is the intermittent or obstructed current that gives power.
The finest flowers are those transplanted; for transplanting means difficulty, a readjusting to new conditions, and through the effort put forth to find adjustment does the plant progress. Transplanted men are the ones who do the things worth while, and transplanted girls are the only ones who inspire a mighty passion. Audrey transplanted might have evolved into a Nell Gwynn or a Lady Hamilton.
In such immortal love-stories as Romeo and Juliet, Tristram and Isolde, and Paolo and Francesca, a love so mad in its wild impetus is pictured that it dashes itself against danger; and death for the lovers, we feel from the beginning, is the sure climax when the curtain shall fall on the fifth act.
The sustained popular interest in these tragedies proves that the entranced auditors have dabbled in the eddies, so they feel a fervent interest in those hopelessly caught in the current, and from the snug safety of the parquette live vicariously their lives and the loves that might have been.
But let us begin with a life-story, where love resolved its "moonshine" into life, and justified itself even to stopping the mouths of certain self-appointed censors, who caviled much and quibbled overtime. Here is a love so great that in its beneficent results we are all yet partakers.
* * * * *
About all the civilization England has she got from the Dutch; her barbarisms are all her own. It was the Dutch who taught the English how to print and bind books and how to paint pictures.
It was the Dutch who taught the English how to use the potter's wheel and glaze and burn earthenware. Until less than two hundred years ago, the best pottery in use in England came from Holland. It was mostly made at Delft, and they called it Delftware.
Finally they got to making Delftware in Staffordshire. This was about the middle of the Eighteenth Century. And it seems that, a little before this time, John Wesley, a traveling preacher, came up this way on horseback, carrying tracts in his saddlebags, and much love in his heart. He believed that we should use our religion in our life—seven days in the week, and not save it up for Sunday. In ridicule, some one had called him a "Methodist," and the name stuck.
John Wesley was a few hundred years in advance of his time. He is the man who said, "Slavery is the sum of all villainies." John Wesley had a brother named Charles, who wrote hymns, but John did things. He had definite ideas about the rights of women and children, also on temperance, education, taxation and exercise, and whether his followers have ever caught up with him, much less gone ahead of him, is not for me, a modest farmer, to say.
In the published "Journal of John Wesley," is this: "March 8, 1760. Preached at Burslem, a town made up of potters. The people are poor, ignorant, and often brutal, but in due time the heart must be moved toward God, and He will enlighten the understanding."
And again: "Several in the congregation talked out loud and laughed continuously. And then one threw at me a lump of potter's clay that struck me in the face, but it did not disturb my discourse."
This whole section was just emerging out of the Stone Age, and the people were mostly making stoneware. They worked about four days in a week. The skilful men made a shilling a day—the women one shilling a week. And all the money they got above a meager living went for folly. Bear-baiting, bullfighting and drunkenness were the rule. There were breweries at Staffordshire before there were potteries, but now the potters made jugs and pots for the brewers.
These potters lived in hovels, and, what is worse, were quite content with their lot. In the potteries women often worked mixing the mud, and while at work wore the garb of men.
Wesley referred to the fact of the men and women dressing alike, and relates that once a dozen women wearing men's clothes, well plastered with mud, entered the chapel where he was preaching, and were urged on by the men to affront him and break up the meeting.
Then comes this interesting item: "I met a young man by the name of J. Wedgwood, who had planted a flower-garden adjacent to his pottery. He also had his men wash their hands and faces and change their clothes after working in the clay. He is small and lame, but his soul is near to God."
I think that John Wesley was a very great man. I also think he was great enough to know that only a man who is in love plants a flower-garden.
Yes, such was the case—Josiah Wedgwood was in love, madly, insanely, tragically in love! And he was liberating that love in his work. Hence, among other forms that his "insanity" took, he planted a flower-garden.
And of course, the garden was for the lady he loved.
Love must do something—it is a form of vital energy and the best thing it does, it does for the beloved. Flowers are love's own properties. And so flowers, natural or artificial, are a secondary sex manifestation.
I said Josiah Wedgwood was tragically in love—the word was used advisedly. One can play comedy; two are required for melodrama; but a tragedy demands three.
A tragedy means opposition, obstacle, objection. Josiah Wedgwood was putting forth a flower-garden, not knowing why, possibly, but as a form of attraction. And John Wesley riding by, reined in, stopped and after talking with the owner of the flower-garden wrote, "He is small and lame, but his soul is near to God."
* * * * *
Josiah Wedgwood, like Richard Arkwright, his great contemporary, was the thirteenth child of his parents.
Let family folk fear no more about thirteen being an unlucky number. The common law of England, which usually has some good reason based on commonsense for its existence, makes the eldest son the heir: this on the assumption that the firstborn inherits brain and brawn plus. If the firstborn happened to be a girl, it didn't count.
The rest of the family grade down until we get "the last run of shad." But Nature is continually doing things just as if to smash our theories. The Arkwrights and the Wedgwoods are immortal through Omega and not Alpha.
Thomas Wedgwood, the father of Josiah, was a potter who made butter-pots and owned a little pottery that stood in the yard behind the house. He owned it, save for a mortgage, and when he died, he left the mortgage and the property to his eldest son Thomas, to look after.
Josiah was then nine years old, but already he was throwing clay on the potter's wheel. It would not do to say that he was clay in the hand of the potter, for while the boys of his age were frolicking through the streets of the little village of Burslem where he lived, he was learning the three R's at his mother's knee.
I hardly suppose we can speak of a woman who was the mother of thirteen children before she was forty, and taking care of them all without a servant, as highly cultivated. Several of Josiah's brothers and sisters never learned to read and write, for like Judith Shakespeare, the daughter of William, they made their mark: which shows us that there are several ways of turning that pretty trick. Children born of the same parents are not necessarily related to each other, nor to their parents.
Mary Wedgwood, Josiah's mother, wrote for him his name in clay, and some years after he related how he copied it a hundred times every day for a week, writing with a stick in the mud.
Lame children or weakly ones seem to get their quota of love all right, so let us not feel sorry for them—everything is equalized.
When Josiah was fourteen he could write better than either his mother or his brother Thomas; for we have the signatures of all three appended to an indenture of apprenticeship, wherein Josiah was bound to his brother Thomas for five years. The youngster was to be taught the "mystery, trade, occupation and secrets of throwing and handling clay, and also burning it." But the fact was that as he was born in the pottery and had lived and worked in it, and was a most alert and impressionable child, he knew quite as much about the work as his brother Thomas, who was twenty years older. Years are no proof of ability.
At nineteen, Josiah's apprenticeship to his brother expired. "I have my trade, a lame leg and the marks of smallpox—and I never was good-looking, anyway," he wrote in his commonplace-book.
The terrific attack of smallpox that he had undergone had not only branded his face, but had left an inflammation in his right knee that made walking most difficult. This difficulty was no doubt aggravated by his hard work turning the potter's wheel with one foot. During the apprenticeship the brother had paid him no wages, simply "booarde, meate, drink and cloatheing."
Now he was sick, lame and penniless. His mother had died the year before. He was living with his brothers and sisters, who were poor, and felt that he was more or less of a burden to them and to the world: the tide was at ebb. And about this time it was that Richard Wedgwood, Esquire, from Cheshire, came over to Burslem on horseback. Richard has been mentioned as a brother of Thomas, the father of Josiah, but the fact seems to be that they were cousins.
Richard was a gentleman in truth, if not in title. He had made a fortune as a cheesemonger and retired. He went to London once a year, and had been to Paris. He was decently fat, was senior warden of his village church, and people who knew their business addressed him as Squire. The whole village of Burslem boasted only one horse and a mule, but Squire Wedgwood of Cheshire owned three horses, all his own. He rode only one horse though, when he came to Burslem, and behind him, seated on a pillion, was his only and motherless daughter Sarah, aged fourteen, going on fifteen, with dresses to her shoe-tops.
He brought her because she teased to come, and in truth he loved the girl very much and was extremely proud of her, even if he did reprove her more than was meet. But she usually got even by doing as she pleased.
Now they were on their way to Liverpool and just came around this way a-cousining.
And among others on whom they called were the Wedgwood potters. In the kitchen, propped up on a bench, with his lame leg stretched out before him, sat Josiah, worn, yellow and wan, all pitted with smallpox-marks. The girl looked at the young man and asked him how he got hurt—she was only a child. Then she asked him if he could read. And she was awful glad he could, because to be sick and not to be able to read was awful!
Her father had a copy of Thomson's "Seasons" in his saddlebags. She went and got the book and gave it to Josiah, and told her father about it afterward. And when the father and daughter went away, the girl stroked the sick boy's head, and said she hoped he would get well soon. She would not have stroked the head of one of those big, burly potters; but this potter was different—he was wofully disfigured, and he was sick and lame. Woman's tenderness goes out to homely and unfortunate men—read your Victor Hugo!
And Josiah—he was speechless, dumb—his tongue paralyzed! The room swam and then teetered up and down, and everything seemed touched with a strange, wondrous light. And in both hands Josiah Wedgwood tenderly held that precious copy of James Thomson's "Seasons."
* * * * *
In Eighteen Hundred Sixty, just one hundred years after John Wesley visited Burslem, Gladstone came here and gave an address on the founding of the Wedgwood Memorial Institute.
Among other things said in the course of his speech was this: "Then comes the well-known smallpox, the settling of the dregs of the disease in the lower part of the leg, and the eventual amputation of the limb, rendering him lame for life. It is not often that we have such palpable occasion to record our obligations to calamity. But in the wonderful ways of Providence, that disease which came to him as a twofold scourge was probably the occasion of his subsequent excellence. It prevented him from growing up to be the active, vigorous workman, possessed of all his limbs, and knowing right well the use of them; but it put him upon considering whether, as he could not be that, he might not be something else, and something greater. It sent his mind inward; it drove him to meditate upon the laws and secrets of his art. The result was that he arrived at a perception and grasp of them which might, perhaps, have been envied, certainly have been owned, by an Athenian potter. Relentless criticism has long since torn to pieces the old legend of King Numa receiving in a cavern, from the nymph of Egeria, the laws which were to govern Rome. But no criticism can shake the record of that illness and that mutilation of the boy Josiah Wedgwood, which made a cavern of his bedroom, and an oracle of his own inquiring, searching, meditative mind."
You remember how that great and good man, Richard Maurice Bucke, once said, "After I had lost my feet in the Rocky Mountain avalanche, I lay for six weeks in a cabin, and having plenty of time to think it over, I concluded that, now my feet were gone, I surely could no longer depend upon them, so I must use my head." And he did.
The loss of an arm in a sawmill was the pivotal point that gave us one of the best and strongest lawyers in Western New York. And heaven knows we need good lawyers: the other kind are so plentiful!
Gladstone thought it was smallpox that drove Josiah Wedgwood to books and art. But other men have had the smallpox—bless me!—and they never acquired much else.
Josiah kept Thomson's "Seasons" three months, and then returned it to Sarah Wedgwood, with a letter addressing her as "Dear Cousin." You will find it set down in most of the encyclopedias that she was his cousin, but this seems to be because writers of encyclopedias are literalists, and lovers are poets.
Josiah said he returned the book for two reasons: first, inasmuch as he had committed it to memory, he no longer needed it; second, if he sent it back, possibly another book might be sent him instead. Squire Wedgwood answered this letter himself, and sent two books, with a good, long letter of advice about improving one's time, and "not wasting life in gambling and strong drink, as most potters do."
Six months had passed since the Squire and his daughter had been to Burslem. Josiah was much better. He was again at work in the pottery. And now, instead of making brown butter-crocks and stone jugs all of the time, he was experimenting in glazes. In fact, he had made a little wooden workbox and covered it over with tiny pieces of ornamental "porcelain" in a semi-transparent green color, that he had made himself. And this pretty box he sent to Sarah. Unfortunately, the package was carried on horseback in a bag by the mail-carrier, and on the way the horse lay down, or fell down and rolled on the mail-bag, reducing the pretty present to fragments. When the wreck was delivered to Sarah, she consulted with her father about what should be done.
We ask advice, not because we want it, but because we wish to be backed up in the thing we desire to do.
Sarah wrote to Josiah, acknowledging receipt of the box, praising its beauty in lavish terms, but not a word about the condition in which it arrived. A few weeks afterward the Squire wrote on his own account and sent ten shillings for two more boxes—"just like the first, only different." Ten shillings was about what Josiah was getting for a month's work.
Josiah was now spending all of his spare time and money in experimenting with new clays and colors, and so the ten shillings came in very handy.
He had made ladles, then spoons, and knife-handles to take the place of horn, and samples of all his best work he sent on to his "Uncle Richard."
His brother Thomas was very much put out over this trifling. He knew no way to succeed, save to stick to the same old ways and processes that had always been employed. Josiah chafed under the sharp chidings of his brother, and must have written something about it to Sarah, for the Squire sent some of the small wares made by Josiah over to Sheffield to one of the big cutlers, and the cutler wrote back saying he would like to engage the services of so talented a person as the young man who could make a snuffbox with beautiful leaves modeled on it. Thomas Wedgwood, however, refused to allow his brother to leave, claiming the legal guardianship over him until he was twenty-one. From this we assume that Josiah's services were valuable.
Josiah had safely turned his twenty-first year before he decided to go down to Cheshire and see his Uncle Richard. He had anticipated the visit for weeks, but now as he was on the verge of starting he was ready to back out. A formal letter of excuse and apology was written, but never dispatched. On the appointed day, Josiah was duly let down from the postman's cart at the gate of Squire Wedgwood, Spen Green, Cheshire. The young woman who came down the steps to meet him at the gate might indeed be Sarah Wedgwood, but she wasn't the same little girl who had ridden over to Burslem on a pillion behind her father! She was tall, slender, and light of step. She was a dream of grace and beauty, and her presence seemed to fill the landscape. Over Josiah's being ran a bitter regret that he had come at all. He looked about for a good place to hide, then he tried to say something about "how glad I am to be here," but there was a bur on his tongue and so he stammered, "The roads are very muddy." In his pocket he had the letter of regret, and he came near handing it to her and climbing into the postman's cart that still stood there.
He started to go through the gate, and the postman coughed, and asked him for his fare. When the fare was paid, Josiah felt sure that Sarah thought he had tried to cheat the poor postman.
He protested to her that he hadn't, in a strange falsetto voice that was not his own.
As they walked toward the house, Josiah was conscious he was limping, and as he passed his hand over his forehead he felt the pockmarks stand out like moles.
And she was so gracious and sprightly and so beautiful! He knew she was beautiful, although he really had not looked at her; but he realized the faint perfume of her presence, and he knew her dress was a light blue—the color of his favorite glaze.
He decided he would ask her for a sample of the cloth that he might make her a plate just like it.
When they were seated on the veranda, over which were climbing-roses, the young lady addressed him as "Mr. Wedgwood," whereas in her letters she had called him "Dear Cousin" or "Josiah."
It was now Sarah's turn to be uncomfortable, and this was a great relief to him. He felt he must put her at ease, so he said, "These roses would look well on a platter—I will model one for you when I go home." This helped things a little, and the girl offered to show him the garden. There were no flowers in Burslem. People had no time to take care of them.
And just then the Squire appeared, bluff, bold and hearty, and soon everything was all right. That evening the young lady played for them on the harpsichord; the father told stories and laughed heartily at them because nobody else did; and Josiah seated in a dim corner recited pages from Thomson's "Seasons," and the next day was frightened at his temerity.
* * * * *
When Josiah returned to Burslem, it was with the firm determination that he must get away from his brother and branch out for himself. That he loved Sarah or had any idea of wedding her, he was not conscious. Yet her life to him was a great living presence, and all of his plans for the future were made with her in mind. Brown butter-crocks were absolutely out of the question! It was blue plates, covered with vines and roses, or nothing; and he even had visions of a tea-set covered with cupids and flying angels.
In a few weeks we find Josiah over near Sheffield making knife-handles for a Mr. Harrison, an ambitious cutler. Harrison lacked the art spirit and was found too mercenary for our young man, who soon after formed a partnership with a man named Whieldon, "to make tortoise-shell and ivory from ground flint and other stones by processes secret to said Wedgwood." Whieldon furnished the money and Wedgwood the skill. Up to this time the pottery business in England had consisted in using the local clays. Wedgwood invented a mill for grinding stone, and experimented with every kind of rock he could lay his hands on.
He also became a skilled modeler, and his success at ornamenting the utensils and pretty things they made caused the business to prosper. In a year he had saved up a hundred pounds of his own. This certainly was quite a fortune, and Sarah had written him, "I am so proud of your success—we all predict for you a great future."
Such assurances had a sort of undue weight with Josiah, for we find him not long after making bold to call on Squire Wedgwood on "a matter of most important business."
The inspired reader need not be told what that business was. Just let it go that the Squire told Josiah he was a fool to expect that the only daughter of Richard Wedgwood, Esquire, retired monger in Cheshire cheese, should think of contracting marriage with a lame potter from Burslem. Gadzooks! The girl would some day be heiress to ten thousand pounds or so, and the man she would marry must match her dowry, guinea for guinea. And another thing: a nephew of Lord Bedford, a rising young barrister of London, had already asked for her hand.
To be a friend to a likely potter wasn't the same as asking him into the family!
Josiah's total sum of assurance had been exhausted when he blurted out his proposal to the proud father; there was now nothing he could do but to grow first red and then white. He was suppressed, undone, and he could not think of a thing to say, or an argument to put forth. The air seemed stifling. He stumbled down the steps and started down the road as abruptly as he had appeared.
What he would do or where he would go were very hazy propositions in his mind. He limped along and had gone perhaps a mile. Things were getting clearer in his mind. His first decision as sanity returned was that he would ask the first passer-by which way it was to the river.
Now he was getting mad. "A Burslem potter!" that is what the Squire called him, and a lame one at that! It was a taunt, an epithet, an insult! To call a person a Burslem potter was to accuse him of being almost everything that was bad.
The stage did not go until the next day—Josiah had slackened his pace and was looking about for an inn. He would get supper first anyway, and then the river—it would only be one Burslem potter less.
And just then there was a faint cry of "Oh, Josiah!" and a vision of blue. Sarah was right there behind him, all out of breath from running across the meadows. "Oh, Josiah—I—I just wanted to say that I hate that barrister! And then you heard papa say that you must match my dowry, guinea for guinea—I am sorry it is so much, but you can do it, Josiah, you can do it!"
She held out her hand and Josiah clutched and twisted it, and then smacked at it, but smacked into space.
And the girl was gone! She was running away from him. He could not hope to catch her—he was lame, and she was agile as a fawn. She stepped upon a stile that led over through the meadow, and as she stood there she waved her hand, and Josiah afterward thought she said, "Match my dowry, guinea for guinea, Josiah: you can do it, you can do it." Just an instant she stood there, and then she ran across the meadow and disappeared amid the oaks.
An old woman came by and saw him staring at the trees, but he did not ask her the way to the river.
* * * * *
From a shy youth, Josiah Wedgwood had evolved into a man of affairs, and was surely doing a man's work. He had spent about five years making curious earthenware ornaments for the Sheffield cutlers; and then with full one thousand pounds he had come back to Burslem and started business on his own account. He had read and studied and worked, and he had evolved. He was an educated man; that is to say, he was a competent and useful man. He determined to free Burslem from the taint that had fallen upon it. "Burslem?" he once wrote to Sarah, "Burslem? the name shall yet be a symbol of all that is beautiful, honest and true; we shall see! I am a potter—yes, but I'll be the best one that England has ever seen."
And the flower-garden was one of the moves in the direction of evolution.
Occasionally, Josiah made visits to Cheshire, riding forty miles on horseback, for he now had horses of his own. The roads in Spring and Winter were desperately bad, but Josiah by persistent agitation had gotten Parliament to widen and repair, at the expense of several hundred pounds, the road between Lawton in Cheshire to Cliffe Bank at Staffordshire.
And it so happened that this was the road which led from where Wedgwood lived to where lived his lady-love. Josiah and Sarah had many a smile over the fact that Cupid had taken a hand in road-building. Evidently Dan Cupid is a very busy and versatile individual.
Sarah was her father's housekeeper. She had one brother, a young man of meager qualities. These two were joint heirs to their father's estate of something over twenty thousand pounds. Josiah and Sarah thought what a terrible blow it would be if this brother should die and Sarah thus have her dowry doubled!
The Squire depended upon Sarah in many ways. She wrote his letters and kept his accounts; and his fear for her future was founded on a selfish wish not to lose her society and services, quite as much as a solicitude for her happiness.
For a year after Josiah had exploded his bombshell by asking Squire Richard for his daughter's hand, the lover was forbidden the house.
Then the Squire relaxed so far that he allowed Josiah and Sarah to meet in his presence. And finally there was a frank three-cornered understanding. And that was that, when Josiah could show that he had ten thousand pounds in his own name, the marriage would take place. This propensity on the part of parents to live their children's lives is very common. Few be the parents and very great are they who can give liberty and realize that their children are only loaned to them. I fear we parents are prone to be perverse and selfish.
Josiah and Sarah reviewed their status from all sides. They could have thrown the old gentleman overboard entirely and cut for Gretna Green, but that would have cost them an even ten thousand pounds. It would also have secured the Squire's enmity, and might have caused him a fit of apoplexy. And surely, as it was, the lovers were not lost to each other. To wed is often fatal to romance; but it is expecting too much to suppose that lovers will reason that too much propinquity is often worse than obstacle. The road between them was a good one—the letter-carrier made three trips a week, and an irascible parent could not stop dreams, nor veto telepathy, even if he did pass a law that one short visit a month was the limit.
Lovers not only laugh at locksmiths, but at most everything else. Josiah and Sarah kept the line warm with a stream of books, papers, manuscripts and letters. By meeting the mail-carrier a mile out of the village, the vigilant Squire's censorship was curtailed by Sarah to reasonable proportions.
And so the worthy Richard had added the joys of smuggling to the natural sweets of a grand passion. In thus giving zest to the chase, no thanks, however, should be sent his way. Even stout and stubborn old gentlemen with side-whiskers have their uses.
And it was about this time that John Wesley came to Burslem and was surprised to find a flower-garden in a community of potters. He looked at the flowers, had a casual interview with the owner and wrote, "His soul is near to God."
* * * * *
Wedgwood knew every part of his business. He modeled, made designs, mixed clay, built kilns, and at times sat up all night and fed fuel into a refractory furnace. Nothing was quite good enough—it must be better. And to make better pottery, he said, we must produce better people. He even came very close to plagiarizing Walt Whitman by saying, "Produce great people—the rest follows!"
Wedgwood instituted a class in designing and brought a young man from London to teach his people the rudiments of art.
Orders were coming in from nobility for dinner-sets, and the English middle class, instead of dipping into one big pot set in the center of the table, were adopting individual plates.
Knives and forks came into use in England about the time of Good Queen Bess, who was only fairly good. Sir Walter Raleigh, who never posted signs reading, "No Smoking," records, "Tiny forks are being used to spear things at table, instead of the thumb-and-finger method sanctified by long use." But until the time of Wedgwood a plate and a cup for each person at the table was a privilege only of the nobility, and napkins and finger-bowls were on the distant horizon.
Wedgwood had not only to educate his workmen, but he had also to educate the public. But he made head. He had gotten a good road to Cheshire, and an equally good one to Liverpool, and was shipping crockery in large quantities to America. Occasionally, Wedgwood taught the designing classes, himself. As a writer he had developed a good deal of facility, for three love-letters a week for five years will educate any man. To know the right woman is a liberal education. Wedgwood also had given local addresses on the necessity of good roads, and the influence of a tidy back-yard on character.
He was a little past thirty years old, sole owner of a prosperous business and was worth pretty near the magic sum of ten thousand pounds.
Squire Wedgwood had been formally notified to come over to Burslem and take an inventory. He came, coughed and said that pottery was only a foolish fashion, and people would soon get enough of it. Richard felt sure that common folks would never have much use for dishes.
On being brought back to concrete reasons, he declared that his daughter's dowry had increased, very much increased, through wise investments of his own. The girl had a good home—better than she would have at Burslem. The man who married her must better her condition, etc., etc.
It seems that Josiah and Sarah had a little of the good Semitic instinct in their make-up. The old gentleman must be managed; the dowry was too valuable to let slip. They needed the money in their business, and had even planned just what they would do with it. They were going to found a sort of Art Colony, where all would work for the love of it, and where would take place a revival of the work of the Etruscans. As classic literature had been duplicated, and the learning of the past had come down to us in books, so would they duplicate in miniature the statues, vases, bronzes and other marvelous beauty of antiquity.
And the name of the new center of art was chosen—it should be "Etruria." It was a great dream; but then lovers are given to dreams: in fact, they have almost a monopoly on the habit!
* * * * *
Great people have great friends. Wedgwood had a friend in Liverpool named Bentley. Bentley was a big man—a gracious, kindly, generous, receptive, broad, sympathetic man. Your friend is the lengthened shadow of yourself.
Bentley was both an artist and a businessman. Bentley had no quibble or quarrel with himself, and therefore was at peace with the world; he had eliminated all grouch from his cosmos. Bentley began as Wedgwood's agent, and finally became his partner, and had a deal to do with the evolution of Etruria.
When Bentley opened a showroom in London and showed the exquisite, classic creations of Flaxman and the other Wedgwood artists, carriages blocked the streets, and cards of admission had to be issued to keep back the crowds. Bentley dispatched a messenger to Wedgwood with the order, "Turn every available man on vases—London is vase mad!"
A vase, by the way, is a piece of pottery that sells for from one to ten shillings; if it sells for more than ten shillings, you should pronounce it vawse.
On the ninth of January, Seventeen Hundred Sixty-four, Wedgwood wrote Bentley this letter: "If you know my temper and sentiments on these affairs, you will be sensible how I am mortified when I tell you I have gone through a long series of bargain-making, of settlements, reversions, provisions and so on. 'Gone through it,' did I say? Would to Hymen that I had! No! I am still in the attorney's hands, from which I hope it is no harm to pray, 'Good Lord, Deliver me!' Sarah and I are perfectly agreed, and would settle the whole affair in three minutes; but our dear papa, over-careful of his daughter's interest, would by some demands which I can not comply with, go near to separate us if we were not better determined.
"On Friday next, Squire Wedgwood and I are to meet in great form, with each of us our attorney, which I hope will prove conclusive. You shall then hear further from your obliged and very affectionate friend, Josiah Wedgwood."
On January Twenty-ninth, Sarah and Josiah walked over to the little village of Astbury, Cheshire, and were quietly married, the witnesses being the rector's own family, and the mail-carrier. Just why the latter individual was called in to sign the register has never been explained, but I imagine most lovers can. He surely had been "particeps criminis" to the event.
And so they were married, and lived happily afterward. Josiah was thirty-four, and Sarah twenty-nine when they were married. The ten years of Laban service was not without its compensation. The lovers had lived in an ideal world long enough to crystallize their dreams.
In just a year after the marriage a daughter was born to Mr. and Mrs. Josiah Wedgwood, and they called her name Susannah.
And Susannah grew up and became the mother of Charles Darwin, the greatest scientist the world has ever produced.
Writers of romances have a way of leaving their lovers at the church-door, a cautious and wise expedient, since too often love is one thing and life another. But here we find a case where love was worked into life. From the date of his marriage Wedgwood's business moved forward with never a reverse nor a single setback.
When Wedgwood and Bentley were designated "Potters to the Queen," and began making "queensware," coining the word, they laid the sure foundation for one of the greatest business fortunes ever accumulated in England.
Two miles from Burslem, they built the little village of Etruria—a palpable infringement on the East Aurora caveat. And so the dream all came true, and in fact was a hundred times beyond what the lovers had ever imagined.
Sarah's brother accommodatingly died a few years after her marriage, and so she became sole heiress to a fortune of twenty thousand pounds, and this went to the building up of Etruria.
Wedgwood, toward the close of his life, was regarded as the richest man in England who had made his own fortune. And better still, he was rich in intellect and all those finer faculties that go into the making of a great and generous man.
Twenty-two years after his marriage, Wedgwood wrote to his friend Lord Gower: "I never had a great plan that I did not submit to my wife. She knew all the details of the business, and it was her love for the beautiful that first prompted and inspired me to take up Grecian and Roman Art, and in degree, reproduce the Classic for the world. I worked for her approval, and without her high faith in me I realize that my physical misfortunes would have overcome my will, and failure would have been written large where now England has carved the word Success."
WILLIAM GODWIN AND MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT
If children are to be educated to understand the true principle of patriotism, their mother should be a patriot; and the love of mankind, from which an orderly train of virtues springs, can only be produced by considering the moral and civil interest of the race. Woman should be prepared by education to become the companion of man, or she will stop the progress of knowledge, for truth must be common to all, or it will be inefficacious with respect to its influence on general practise.
Others may trace the love-tales of milkmaids and farmhands; I deal with the people who have made their mark upon the times; people who have tinted the world's thought-fabric and to whose genius we are all heirs. And the reason the story of their love is vital to us is because their love was vital to them. Thought is born of parents, and literature is the child of married minds. So this, then, is the love-story of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft.
History and literature are very closely related. If one sets down the chief events in political history, and over against these writes the names of the radical authors and orators of the time, he can not but be convinced that literature leads, and soldiers and politicians are puppets tossed on the tide of time. A thought, well expressed, is a bomb that explodes indefinitely.
Two men, Rousseau and Voltaire, lighted the fuse that created the explosion known as the French Revolution. Luther's books and sermons brought about the Reformation.
Thomas Paine's little book, "The Crisis," of which half a million copies were printed and distributed from Virginia to Maine, stirred the Colonists to the sticking-point; and George Washington, who was neither a writer nor an orator, paid "Letters and Truth" the tribute of saying, "Without the pamphlets of Thomas Paine the hearts and minds of the people would never have been prepared to respond to our call for troops." No one disputes now that it was a book written by a woman, of which a million copies were sold in the North, that prepared the way for Lincoln's call for volunteers.
Literature and oratory are arsenals that supply the people their armament of reasons. And through the use and exercise of these borrowed reasons, we learn to create new ones for ourselves. Thinkers prepare the way for thinkers, and every John the Baptist uttering his cry in the wilderness is heard.
And the fate of John the Baptist, and the fate of the Man whom he preceded, are typical of the fate of all who are bold enough to carry the standard of revolt into the camp of the entrenched enemy. The Cross is a mighty privilege; and only the sublimely great are able to pay the price at which hemlock is held.
Buddha said that the finest word in any language is "Equanimity." This is a paradox, and like every paradox implies that the reverse is equally true. Equanimity in the face of opposition, steadfastness in time of stress, and wise and useful purpose, are truly godlike.
And there is only one thing worth fighting for, talking for, or writing for; and all literature and all oratory have this for their central theme—Freedom. It was only Freedom that could lure Cincinnatus from his plow or Lincoln from his law-office.
And so Mary Wollstonecraft's book, "The Rights of Woman," was the first strong, earnest, ringing word on the subject. She summed up the theme once and for all, just as an essay by Herbert Spencer anticipates and answers every objection, exhausting the theme. And that the author had a whimsical touch of humor in her composition is shown in that she dedicates the book to that Prince of Woman-Haters, "Talleyrand, Late Bishop of Autun."
"Political Justice," by William Godwin, was published in Seventeen Hundred Ninety-three. The work, on its first appearance, created a profound impression among English thinking people, although orthodoxy has almost succeeded in smothering it in silence since John Stuart Mill declared that this book created an epoch and deserved to rank with Milton's "Speech for Unlicensed Printing," Locke's "Essay on Human Understanding" or Jean Jacques' "Emile." That it was a positive force in Mill's own life he always admitted.
However, it is only within our own time—only, in fact, since Eighteen Hundred Seventy-six—that the views of Godwin as expressed in "Political Justice" have been adopted by the spirit of Christendom. Godwin believed in the perfectibility of the race, and proved that man's career has been a constant movement forward. That is, there never was a "Fall of Man." Man has always fallen upward, and when he has kicked the ball it has always been toward the goal. Godwin believed that it was well to scan the faults of our fellows closely, in order to see, forsooth, whether they are not their virtues. The belief that mankind should by nature tend to evil, he considered absurd and unscientific, for the strongest instinct in all creation is self-preservation; and that certain men should love darkness rather than light was mainly because governments and religions have warped man's nature through oppression and coercion until it no longer acts normally. "Normal man seeks the light, just as the flowers do. Man, if not too much interfered with, will make for himself the best possible environment and create for his children right conditions because the instinct for peace and liberty is deeply rooted in his nature. Control by another has led to revolt, and revolt has led to oppression, and oppression occasions grief and deadness: hence bruises and distortion follow. When we view humanity, we behold not the true and natural man, but a deformed and pitiable product, undone by the vices of those who have sought to improve on Nature by shaping his life to feed the vanity of a few and minister to their wantonness. In our plans for social betterment, let us hold in mind the healthy and unfettered man, and not the cripple that interference and restraint have made."
Godwin, like Robert Ingersoll, was the son of a clergyman, which reminds me that liberal thought is under great obligations to the clergy, since their sons, taught by antithesis, are often shining lights of radicalism. Godwin was a non-resistant, philosophic anarchist. He was the true predecessor of George Eliot, Walt Whitman, Henry Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy, and the best that is now being expressed from advanced Christian pulpits harks back to him. All that the foremost of our contemporary thinkers have written and said was suggested and touched upon by William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, with like conclusions.
* * * * *
Carnegie is credited with this: "There is only one generation between shirt-sleeves and shirt-sleeves." Now, the grandfather of Mary Wollstonecraft was an employing-weaver who did his work so well that his wares commanded a price.
He grew rich, and when he died he left a fortune of some thirty thousand pounds, not being able to take it with him. This fortune descended to his eldest son.
Samuel Johnson thought the law of primogeniture a most excellent thing, since it insured there being only one fool in the family. The Wollstonecraft boys who had no money went to work, and in taking care of themselves became strong, sturdy and prosperous men. The one who succeeded to the patrimony was at first a gentleman, then a shabby-genteel, and at forty his time was taken up with schemes to dodge the debtors' prison, and with plans to pay off the National Debt; for it seems that men who can not manage their own affairs are not deterred thereby from volunteering to look after those of the nation.
It appears, also, that Mr. Wollstonecraft wrote a book entitled, "How to Command Success," and by its sale hoped to retrieve the fortune now lost—but alas! he ran in debt to the printer and finally sold the copyright to that worthy for five shillings, and on the proceeds got plain drunk.
The family moved as often as landlords demanded, which was about every three months. There were three girls in the family—Mary, Everina and Eliza—all above the average in intelligence. Whether there is any such thing in Nature as justice for the individual is a question, but cosmic justice is beyond cavil. The stupidity of a parent is often a very precious factor in the evolution of his children. He teaches them by antithesis. So if a man can not be useful and strong, all is not lost: he can still serve humanity as a horrible example—like the honest hobo who volunteered to pay the farmer for his dinner by acting as a scarecrow. Children of drunkards make temperance fanatics; and those who have a shiftless father stand a better chance of developing into financiers than if they had a parent who would set them up in business, stand between them and danger, and meet the deficit.
Women married to punk husbands need not be discouraged, nor should husbands with nagging wives be cast down, for was it not Emerson who said, "It is better to be a nettle in the side of your friend than his echo?"
Thus do all things work together for good, whether you love the Lord or not.
The Wollstonecraft family traversed London with their handcart, from Chelsea to East End; they also roamed through Essex, Yorkshire and Kent. When matters became strained they fell back on London, paid one month's rent in advance and then stayed three, when their goods and chattels were gently landed on the curb, and the handcart came in handy.
As the girls grew up they worked at weaving, served as house-girls and nurses, and finally Mary became a governess in the family of Lord Kingsborough, an Irish nobleman. This gave her access to her employer's library, and she went at it as a hungry colt enters a clover-field. Not knowing how long her good fortune would last, she eagerly improved her time. She wrote frequent letters to her sisters, telling what she was doing and what she was reading. She was eminently superior to any of the females in the family, and acknowledged it. A tutor in the house taught her French; and whether the nobleman's children learned much or not, we do not know, but Mary soon equaled her teacher.
Knowledge is a matter of desire.
The next year the Wollstonecraft girls opened a private school, a kind of "Young Ladies' Establishment," quite on the Mrs. Nickleby order. And indeed, if a Micawber had been wanting, Mary knew where to look for him.
About this time Mary met Ursa Major, who may have treated men very rudely, but not your petite, animated and clever women.
Doctor Johnson quite liked little Mary Wollstonecraft. She matched her wit against his and put him on his mettle, and when Mary once expressed a desire to become an authoress he encouraged her by saying, "Yes, my dear, you should write, for that is the way to learn; and no matter how badly you write, you can always be encouraged by finding men who write worse." And another time he said, "Women have quite as much interest in life as men, and see things just as clearly, and why they should not write the last word as well as speak it, I do not know."
That settled it with Mary: She gave up her part in the school; and very soon after, the sisters gave up theirs; one of them wedding a ne'er-do-well scion of nobility, and the other marrying an orthodox curate with a harelip. Through the help of Doctor Johnson, Mary got a position as proofreader with a publisher. Here her knowledge of French was valuable, and she assisted in translations. Then she became literary adviser and reader for different publishers. She was making money, and had accumulated a little fortune of near a hundred pounds by the sweat of her brain. Her close acquaintanceship with printers and publishers thus placed her where she became acquainted with several statesmen who had speeches to make, and for these she constructed arguments and also helped them out of dire difficulties by rounding out their periods, and by introducing flights of fancy for men whose fancies were wingless.
On her own account she had written various stories and essays. She had met the wits and thinkers of London and had learned to take care of herself. She was an honest, industrious, and highly intelligent woman, and commanded the respect of those who knew her best. "To know her," says Godwin in his Memoirs, "was to love her, and those who did not love her, did not know her."