Little Journeys To the Homes of the Great
Printed and made into a Book by The Roycrofters, who are in East Aurora, Erie County, New York
Wm. H. Wise & Co.
Little Journeys To the Homes of Famous Women
ELBERT HUBBARD II vii ELIZABETH B. BROWNING 15 MADAME GUYON 41 HARRIET MARTINEAU 67 CHARLOTTE BRONTE 93 CHRISTINA ROSSETTI 113 ROSA BONHEUR 133 MADAME DE STAEL 161 ELIZABETH FRY 187 MARY LAMB 213 JANE AUSTEN 235 EMPRESS JOSEPHINE 257 MARY W. SHELLEY 283
ELBERT HUBBARD II
We are not sent into this world to do anything into which we can not put our hearts. We have certain work to do for our bread and that is to be done strenuously, other work to do for our delight and that is to be done heartily; neither is to be done by halves or shifts, but with a will; and what is not worth this effort is not to be done at all. —John Ruskin
I am Elbert Hubbard's son, and I am entirely familiar with the proposition that "Genius never reproduces."
Heretofore, it has always been necessary to sign my name, "Elbert Hubbard II"—but now there is an embarrassment in that signature, an assumption that I do not feel.
There is no Second Elbert Hubbard. To five hundred Roycrofters, to the Village of East Aurora, and to a few dozen personal friends scattered over the face of the earth, I am Bert Hubbard, plain Bert Hubbard—and as Bert Hubbard I want to be known to you.
I lay no claim to having inherited Elbert Hubbard's Genius, his Personality, his Insight into the Human Heart. I am another and totally different sort of man.
I know my limitations.
Also, I am acquainted with such ability as I possess, and I believe that it can be directed to serve you.
I got my schooling in East Aurora.
I have never been to College. But I have traveled across this Country several times with my Father.
I have traveled abroad with him. One time we walked from Edinburgh to London to prove that we could do it.
My Father has been my teacher—and I do not at all envy the College Man.
For the last twenty years I have been working in the Roycroft Shops.
I believe I am well grounded in Business—also, in Work.
When I was twelve years old my father transferred Ali Baba to the garden—and I did the chores around the house and barn for a dollar a week. From that day forward I earned every dollar that ever came to me.
I fed the printing-press at four dollars a week. Then, when we purchased a gas-engine, I was promoted to be engineer, and given a pair of long overalls.
Two or three years later I was moved into the General Office, where I opened mail and filled in orders.
Again, I was promoted into the Private Office and permitted to sign my name under my Father's, on checks.
Then the responsibility of purchasing materials was given me.
One time or another I have worked in every Department of the Roycroft Shops.
My association with Elbert Hubbard has been friendly, brotherly. I have enjoyed his complete confidence—and I have tried to deserve it.
He believed in me, loved me, hoped for me. Whether I disappointed him at times is not important. I know my average must have pleased him, because the night he said Farewell to the Roycrofters he spoke well of me, very well of me, and he left the Roycroft Institution in my charge.
He sailed away on the "Lusitania" intending to be gone several weeks. His Little Journey has been prolonged into Eternity.
But the work of Elbert and Alice Hubbard is not done. With them one task was scarcely under way when another was launched. Whether complete or incomplete, there had to be an end to their effort sometime, and this is the end.
Often Elbert Hubbard would tell the story of Tolstoy, who stopped at the fence to question the worker in the field, "My Man, if you knew you were to die tomorrow, what would you do today?" And the worker begrimed with sweat would answer, "I would plow!"
That's the way Elbert Hubbard lived and died, and yet he did more—he planned for the future. He planned the future of the Roycroft Shop. Death did not meet him as a stranger. He came as a sometime-expected friend. Father was not unprepared.
The plan that would have sustained us the seven weeks he was in Europe will sustain us seven years—and another seven years.
Elbert Hubbard's work will go on.
I know of no Memorial that would please Elbert Hubbard half so well as to broaden out the Roycroft Idea.
So we will continue to make handmade Furniture, hand-hammered Copper, Modeled Leather. We shall still triumph in the arts of Printing and Bookmaking.
The Roycroft Inn will continue to swing wide its welcoming door, and the kind greeting is always here for you.
"The Fra" will not miss an issue, and you who have enjoyed it in the past will continue to enjoy it!
"The Philistine" belonged to Elbert Hubbard. He wrote it himself for just twenty years and one month. No one else could have done it as he did. No one else can now do it as he did.
So, for very sentimental reasons—which overbalance the strong temptation to continue "The Philistine"—I consider it a duty to pay him the tribute of discontinuing the little Magazine of Protest.
The Roycrofters, Incorporated, is a band of skilled men and women. For years they have accomplished the work that has invited your admiration. You may expect much of them now. The support they have given me, the confidence they have in me, is as a great mass of power and courage pushing me on to success.
This thought I would impress upon you: It will not be the policy of The Roycrofters to imitate or copy. This place from now on is what we make it. The past is past, the future spreads a golden red against the eastern sky.
I have the determination to make a Roycroft Shop—that Elbert Hubbard, leaning out over the balcony, will look down and say, "Good boy, Bert—good boy!"
I have Youth and Strength.
I have Courage.
My Head is up.
Forward—all of us—March!
ELIZABETH B. BROWNING
I have been in the meadows all the day, And gathered there the nosegay that you see; Singing within myself as bird or bee When such do fieldwork on a morn of May. Irreparableness
Writers of biography usually begin their preachments with the rather startling statement, "The subject of this memoir was born"——Here follows a date, the name of the place and a cheerful little Mrs. Gamp anecdote: this as preliminary to "launching forth."
It was the merry Andrew Lang, I believe, who filed a general protest against these machine-made biographies, pleading that it was perfectly safe to assume the man was born; and as for the time and place it mattered little. But the merry man was wrong, for Time and Place are often masters of Fate.
For myself, I rather like the good old-fashioned way of beginning at the beginning. But I will not tell where and when Elizabeth was born, for I do not know. And I am quite sure that her husband did not know. The encyclopedias waver between London and Herefordshire, just according as the writers felt in their hearts that genius should be produced in town or country. One man, with opinions pretty well ossified on this subject, having been challenged for his statement that Mrs. Browning was born at Hope End, rushed into print in a letter to the "Gazette" with the countercheck quarrelsome to the effect, "You might as well expect throstles to build nests on Fleet Street 'buses, as for folks of genius to be born in a big city." As apology for the man's ardor I will explain that he was a believer in the Religion of the East and held that spirits choose their own time and place for materialization.
Mrs. Ritchie, authorized by Mr. Browning, declared Burn Hill, Durham, the place, and March Sixth, Eighteen Hundred Nine, the time. In reply, John H. Ingram brings forth a copy of the Tyne "Mercury," for March Fourteenth, Eighteen Hundred Nine, and points to this:
"In London, the wife of Edward M. Barrett, of a daughter."
Mr. Browning then comes forward with a fact that derricks can not budge, that is, "Newspapers have ever had small regard for truth." Then he adds, "My wife was born March Sixth, Eighteen Hundred Six, at Carlton Hall, Durham, the residence of her father's brother." One might ha' thought that this would be the end on't, but it wasn't, for Mr. Ingram came out with this sharp rejoinder: "Carlton Hall was not in Durham, but in Yorkshire. And I am authoritatively informed that it did not become the residence of S. Moulton Barrett until some time after Eighteen Hundred Ten. Mr. Browning's latest suggestions in this matter can not be accepted. In Eighteen Hundred Six, Edward Barrett, not yet twenty years of age, is scarcely likely to have already been the father of the two children assigned to him." And there the matter rests. Having told this much I shall proceed to launch forth.
The earlier years of Elizabeth Barrett's life were spent at Hope End, near Ledbury, Herefordshire. I visited the place and thereby added not only one day, but several to my life, for Ali counts not the days spent in the chase. There is a description of Hope End written by an eminent clergyman, to whom I was at once attracted by his literary style. This gentleman's diction contains so much clearness, force and elegance that I can not resist quoting him verbatim: "The residentiary buildings lie on the ascent of the contiguous eminences, whose projecting parts and bending declivities, modeled by Nature, display astonishing harmoniousness. It contains an elegant profusion of wood, disposed in the most careless yet pleasing order; much of the park and its scenery is in view of the residence, from which vantage-point it presents a most agreeable appearance to the enraptured beholder." So there you have it!
Here Elizabeth Barrett lived until she was twenty. She never had a childhood—'t was dropped out of her life in some way, and a Greek grammar inlaid instead. Of her mother we know little. She is never quoted; never referred to; her wishes were so whisperingly expressed that they have not reached us. She glides, a pale shadow, across the diary pages. Her husband's will was to her supreme; his whim her conscience. We know that she was sad, often ill, that she bore eight children. She passed out seemingly unwept, unhonored and unsung, after a married existence of sixteen years.
Elizabeth Barrett had the same number of brothers and sisters that Shakespeare had; and we know no more of the seven Barretts who were swallowed by oblivion than we do of the seven Shakespeares that went not astray.
Edward Moulton Barrett had a sort of fierce, passionate, jealous affection for his daughter Elizabeth. He set himself the task of educating her from her very babyhood. He was her constant companion, her tutor, adviser, friend. When six years old she studied Greek, and when nine made translations in verse. Mr. Barrett looked on this sort of thing with much favor, and tightened his discipline, reducing the little girl's hours for study to a system as severe as the laws of Draco. Of course, the child's health broke. From her thirteenth year she appears to us like a beautiful spirit with an astral form; or she would, did we not perceive that this beautiful form is being racked with pain. No wonder some one has asked, "Where then was the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children?"
But this brave spirit did not much complain. She had a will as strong as her father's, and felt a Spartan pride in doing all that he asked and a little more. She studied, wrote, translated, read and thought.
And to spur her on and to stimulate her, Mr. Barrett published several volumes of her poems. It was immature, pedantic work, but still it had a certain glow and gave promise of the things yet to come.
One marked event in the life of Elizabeth Barrett occurred when Hugh Stuart Boyd arrived at Hope End. He was a fine, sensitive, soul—a poet by nature and a Greek scholar of repute. He came on Mr. Barrett's invitation to take Mr. Barrett's place as tutor. The young girl was confined to her bed through the advice of physicians; Boyd was blind.
Here at once was a bond of sympathy. No doubt this break in the monotony of her life gave fresh courage to the fair young woman. The gentle, sightless poet relaxed the severe hours of study. Instead of grim digging in musty tomes they talked: he sat by her bedside holding the thin hands (for the blind see by the sense of touch), and they talked for hours—or were silent, which served as well. Then she would read to the blind man and he would recite to her, for he had the blind Homer's memory. She grew better, and the doctors said that if she had taken her medicine regularly, and not insisted on getting up and walking about as guide for the blind man, she might have gotten entirely well.
In that fine poem, "Wine of Cyprus," addressed to Boyd, we see how she acknowledges his goodness. There is no wine equal to the wine of friendship; and love is only friendship—plus something else. There is nothing so hygienic as friendship.
Hell is a separation, and Heaven is only a going home to our friends.
Mr. Barrett's fortune was invested in sugar-plantations in Jamaica. Through the emancipation of the blacks his fortune took to itself wings. He had to give up his splendid country home—to break the old ties. It was decided that the family should move to London. Elizabeth had again taken to her bed. The mattress on which she lay was borne down the steps by four men; one man might have carried her alone, for she weighed only eighty-five pounds, so they say.
* * * * *
Crabb Robinson, who knew everything and everybody, being very much such a man as John Kenyon, has left on record the fact that Mr. Kenyon had a face like a Benedictine monk, a wit that never lagged, a generous heart, and a tongue that ran like an Alpine cascade.
A razor with which you can not shave may have better metal in it than one with a perfect edge. One has been sharpened and the other not. And I am very sure that the men who write best do not necessarily know the most; Fate has put an edge on them—that's all. A good kick may start a stone rolling, when otherwise it rests on the mountain-side for a generation.
Kenyon was one type of the men who rest on the mountain-side. He dabbled in poetry, wrote book-reviews, collected rare editions, attended first nights, spoke mysteriously of "stuff" he was working on; and sometimes confidentially told his lady friends of his intention to bring it out when he had gotten it into shape, asking their advice as to bindings, etc. Men of this type rarely bring out their stuff, for the reason that they never get it into shape. When they refer to the novel they have on the stocks, they refer to a novel they intend to write. It is yet in the ink-bottle. And there it remains—all for the want of one good kick—but perhaps it's just as well.
Yet these friendly beings are very useful members of society. They are brighter companions and better talkers than the men who exhaust themselves in creative work and at odd times favor their friends with choice samples of literary irritability. John Kenyon wrote a few bright little things, but his best work was in the encouragement he gave others. He sought out all literary lions and tamed them with his steady glance. They liked his prattle and good-cheer, and he liked them for many reasons—one of which was because he could go away and tell how he advised them about this, that and the other. Then he fed them, too.
And so unrivaled was Kenyon in this line that he won for himself the title of "The Feeder of Lions." Now, John Kenyon—rich, idle, bookish and generous—saw in the magazines certain fine little poems by one Elizabeth Barrett. He also ascertained that she had published several books. Mr. Kenyon bought one of these volumes and sent it by a messenger with a little note to Miss Barrett telling how much he had enjoyed it, and craved that she would inscribe her name and his on the fly-leaf and return by bearer. Of course she complied with such a modest request so gracefully expressed; these things are balm to poets' souls. Next, Mr. Kenyon called to thank Miss Barrett for the autograph. Soon after, he wrote to inform her of a startling fact that he had just discovered: they were kinsmen, cousins or something—a little removed, but cousins still. In a few weeks they wrote letters back and forth beginning thus: Dear Cousin.
And I am glad of this cousinly arrangement between lonely young people. They grasp at it; and it gives an excuse for a bit of closer relationship than could otherwise exist with propriety. Goodness me! is he not my cousin? Of course he may call as often as he chooses. It is his right.
But let me explain here that at this time Mr. Kenyon was not so very young—that is, he was not absurdly young: he was fifty. But men who really love books always have young hearts. Kenyon's father left him a fortune, no troubles had ever come his way, and his was not the temperament that searches them out. He dressed young, looked young, acted young, felt young.
No doubt John Kenyon sincerely admired Elizabeth Barrett, and prized her work. And while she read his mind a deal more understandingly than he did her poems, she was grateful for his kindly attention and well-meant praise. He set about to get her poems into better magazines and to find better publishers for her work. He was not a gifted poet himself, but to dance attendance on one afforded a gratification to his artistic impulse. He could not write sublime verse himself, but he could tell others how. So Miss Barrett showed her poems to Mr. Kenyon, and Mr. Kenyon advised that the P's be made bolder and the tails to the Q's be lengthened. He also bought her a new kind of manuscript paper, over which a quill pen would glide with glee: it was the kind Byron used. But best of all, Mr. Kenyon brought his friends to call on Miss Barrett; and many of these friends were men with good literary instincts. The meeting with these strong minds was no doubt a great help to the little lady, shut up in a big house and living largely in dreams.
Mary Russell Mitford was in London about this time on a little visit, and of course was sought out by John Kenyon, who took her sightseeing. She was fifty years old, too; she spoke of herself as an old maid, but didn't allow others to do so. Friends always spoke of her as "Little Miss Mitford," not because she was little, but because she acted so. Among other beautiful sights that Mr. Kenyon wished to show gushing little Mary Mitford was a Miss Barrett who wrote things. So together they called on Miss Barrett.
Little Miss Mitford looked at the pale face in its frame of dark curls, lying back among the pillows. Little Miss Mitford bowed and said it was a fine day; then she went right over and kissed Miss Barrett, and these two women held each other's hands and talked until Mr. Kenyon twisted nervously and hinted that it was time to go.
Miss Barrett had not been out for two months, but now these two insisted that she should go with them. The carriage was at the door, they would support her very tenderly, Mr. Kenyon himself would drive—so there could be no accidents and they would bring her back the moment she was tired. So they went, did these three, and as Mr. Kenyon himself drove there were no accidents.
I can imagine that James the coachman gave up the reins that day with only an inward protest, and after looking down and smiling reassurance Mr. Kenyon drove slowly towards the Park; little Miss Mitford forgot her promise not to talk incessantly; and the "dainty, white-porcelain lady" brushed back the raven curls from time to time and nodded indulgently.
Not long ago I called at Number Seventy-four Gloucester Place, where the Barretts lived. It is a plain, solid brick house, built just like the ten thousand other brick houses in London where well-to-do tradesmen live. The people who now occupy the house never heard of the Barretts, and surely do not belong to a Browning Club. I was told that if I wanted to know anything about the place I should apply to the "Agent," whose name is 'Opkins and whose office is in Clifford Court, off Fleet Street. The house probably has not changed in any degree in these fifty years, since little Miss Mitford on one side and Mr. Kenyon on the other, tenderly helped Miss Barrett down the steps and into the carriage.
I lingered about Gloucester Place for an hour, but finding that I was being furtively shadowed by various servants, and discovering further that a policeman had been summoned to look after my case, I moved on.
That night after the ride, Miss Mitford wrote a letter home and among other things she said: "I called today at a Mr. Barrett's. The eldest daughter is about twenty-five. She has some spinal affection, but she is a charming, sweet young woman who reads Greek as I do French. She has published some translations from AEschylus and some striking poems. She is a delightful creature, shy, timid and modest."
The next day Mr. Kenyon gave a little dinner in honor of Miss Mitford, who was the author of a great book called, "Our Village." That night when Miss Mitford wrote her usual letter to the folks down in the country, telling how she was getting along, she described this dinner-party. She says: "Wordsworth was there—an adorable old man. Then there was Walter Savage Landor, too, as splendid a person as Mr. Kenyon himself, but not so full of sweetness and sympathy. But best of all, the charming Miss Barrett, who translated the most difficult of the Greek plays, 'Prometheus Bound.' She has written most exquisite poems, too, in almost every modern style. She is so sweet and gentle, and so pretty that one looks at her as if she were some bright flower." Then in another letter Miss Mitford adds: "She is of a slight, delicate figure, with a shower of dark curls falling on either side of a most expressive face; large tender eyes, richly fringed by dark lashes; a smile like a sunbeam, and such a look of youthfulness that I had some difficulty in persuading a friend that she was really the translator of AEschylus and the author of the 'Essay on Mind.'"
When Miss Mitford went back home, she wrote Miss Barrett a letter 'most every day. She addresses her as "My Sweet Love," "My Dearest Sweet," and "My Sweetest Dear." She declares her to be the gentlest, strongest, sanest, noblest and most spiritual of all living persons. And moreover she wrote these things to others and published them in reviews. She gave Elizabeth Barrett much good advice and some not so good. Among other things she says: "Your one fault, my dear, is obscurity. You must be simple and plain. Think of the stupidest person of your acquaintance, and when you have made your words so clear that you are sure he will understand, you may venture to hope it will be understood by others."
I hardly think that this advice caused Miss Barrett to bring her lines down to the level of the stupidest person she knew. She continued to write just as she chose. Yet she was grateful for Miss Mitford's glowing friendship, and all the pretty gush was accepted, although perhaps with good large pinches of the Syracuse product.
Of course there are foolish people who assume that gushing women are shallow, but this is jumping at conclusions. A recent novel gives us a picture of "a tall soldier," who, in camp, was very full of brag and bluster. We are quite sure that when the fight comes on this man with the lubricated tongue will prove an arrant coward; we assume that he will run at the first smell of smoke. But we are wrong—he stuck; and when the flag was carried down in the rush, he rescued it and bore it bravely so far to the front that when he came back he brought another—the tawdry, red flag of the enemy!
I slip this in here just to warn hasty folk against the assumption that talkative people are necessarily vacant-minded. Man has a many-sided nature, and like the moon reveals only certain phases at certain times. And as there is one side of the moon that is never revealed at all to dwellers on the planet Earth, so mortals may unconsciously conceal certain phases of soul-stuff from each other.
Miss Barrett seems to have written more letters and longer ones to Miss Mitford than to any of her other correspondents, save one. Yet she was aware of this rather indiscreet woman's limitations and wrote down to her understanding.
To Richard H. Horne she wrote freely and at her intellectual best. With this all-round, gifted man she kept up a correspondence for many years; and her letters now published in two stout volumes afford a literary history of the time. At the risk of being accused of lack of taste, I wish to say that these letters of Miss Barrett's are a deal more interesting to me than any of her longer poems. They reveal the many-sided qualities of the writer, and show the workings of her mind in various moods. Poetry is such an exacting form that it never allows the author to appear in dressing-gown and slippers; neither can he call over the back fence to his neighbor without loss of dignity.
Horne was author, editor and publisher. His middle name was Henry, but following that peculiar penchant of the ink-stained fraternity to play flimflam with their names, he changed the Henry to Hengist; so we now see it writ thus: R. Hengist Horne.
He found a market for Miss Barrett's wares. More properly, he insisted that she should write certain things to fit certain publications in which he was interested. They collaborated in writing several books. They met very seldom, and their correspondence has a fine friendly flavor about it, tempered with a disinterestedness that is unique. They encourage each other, criticize each other. They rail at each other in witty quips and quirks, and at times the air is so full of gibes that it looks as if a quarrel were appearing on the horizon—no bigger than a man's hand—but the storm always passes in a gentle shower of refreshing compliments.
Meantime, dodging in and out, we see the handsome, gracious and kindly John Kenyon.
Much of the time Miss Barrett lived in a darkened room, seeing no one but her nurse, the physician and her father. Fortune had smiled again on Edward Barrett—a legacy had come his way, and although he no longer owned the black men in Jamaica, yet they were again working for him. Sugar-cane mills ground slow, but small.
The brilliant daughter had blossomed in intellect until she was beyond her teacher. She was so far ahead that he called to her to wait for him. He could read Greek; she could compose in it. But she preferred her native tongue, as every scholar should. Now, Mr. Barrett was jealous of the fame of his daughter. The passion of father for daughter, of mother for son—there is often something very loverlike in it—a deal of whimsy! Miss Barrett's darkened room had been illumined by a light that the gruff and goodly merchant wist not of. Loneliness and solitude and physical pain and heart-hunger had taught her things that no book recorded nor tutor knew. Her father could not follow her; her allusions were obscure, he said, wilfully obscure; she was growing perverse.
Love is a pain at times. To ease the hurt the lover would hurt the beloved. He badgers her, pinches her, provokes her. One step more and he may kill her.
Edward Barrett's daughter, she of the raven curls and gentle ways, was reaching a point where her father's love was not her life. A good way to drive love away is to be jealous. He had seen it coming years before; he brooded over it; the calamity was upon him. Her fame was growing: some one called her the Shakespeare of women. First, her books had been published at her father's expense; next, editors were willing to run their own risks, and now messengers with bank-notes waited at the door and begged to exchange the bank-notes for manuscript. John Kenyon said, "I told you so," but Edward Barrett scowled. He accused her foolishly; he attempted to dictate to her—she must use this ink or that. Why? Because he said so. He quarreled with her to ease the love-hurt that was smarting in his heart.
Poor, little, pale-faced poet! Earthly success has nothing left for thee! Thy thoughts, too great for speech, fall on dull ears. Even thy father, for whom thou first took up pen, doth not understand thee! and a mother's love thou hast never known. And fame without love—how barren! Heaven is thy home. Let slip thy thin, white hands on the thread of life and glide gently out at ebb of tide—out into the unknown. It can not but be better than this—God understands! Compose thy troubled spirit, give up thy vain hopes. See! thy youth is past, little woman; look closely! there are gray hairs in thy locks, thy face is marked with lines of care, and have I not seen signs of winter in thy veins? Earth holds naught for thee. Come, take thy pen and write, just a last good-by, a tender farewell, such as thou alone canst say. Then fold thy thin hands, and make peace with all by passing out and away, out and away—God understands!
* * * * *
Elizabeth Barrett was thirty-seven, and Miss Mitford, up to London from the country for a couple of days, wrote home that she had lost her winsome beauty.
John Kenyon had turned well into sixty, but he carried his years in a jaunty way. He wore a moss-rose bud in the lapel of his well-fitting coat. His linen was immaculate, and the only change people saw in him was that he wore spectacles in place of a monocle.
The physicians allowed Mr. Kenyon to visit the darkened room whenever he chose, for he never stayed so very long, neither was he ever the bearer of bad news.
Did the greatest poetess of the age (temporarily slightly indisposed) know one Browning—Robert Browning, a writer of verse? Why, no; she had never met him, but of course she knew of him, and had read everything he had written. He had sent her one of his books once. He was surely a man of brilliant parts—so strong and farseeing! He lives in Italy, with the monks, they say. What a pity the English people do not better appreciate him!
"But he may succeed yet," said Mr. Kenyon. "He is not old."
"Oh, of course, such genius must some day be recognized. But he may be gone then—how old did you say he was?"
Mr. Kenyon had not said; but he now explained that Mr. Browning was thirty-four, that is to say, just the age of himself, ahem! Furthermore, Mr. Browning did not live in Italy—that is, not now, for at that present moment he was in London. In fact, Mr. Kenyon had lunched with him an hour before. They had talked of Miss Barrett (for who else was there among women worth talking of!) and Mr. Browning had expressed a wish to see her. Mr. Kenyon had expressed a wish that Mr. Browning should see her, and now if Miss Barrett would express a wish that Mr. Browning should call and see her, why, Mr. Kenyon would fetch him—doctors or no doctors.
And he fetched him.
And I'm glad, aren't you?
Now Robert Browning was not at all of the typical poet type. In stature, he was rather short; his frame was compact and muscular. In his youth, he had been a wrestler—carrying away laurels of a different sort from those which he was to wear later. His features were inclined to be heavy; in repose his face was dull, and there was no fire in his glance. He wore loose-fitting, plain, gray clothes, a slouch-hat and thick-soled shoes. At first look you would have said he was a well-fed, well-to-do country squire. On closer acquaintance you would have been impressed with his dignity, his perfect poise and his fine reserve. And did you come to know him well enough you would have seen that beneath that seemingly phlegmatic outside there was a spiritual nature so sensitive and tender that it responded to all the finer thrills that play across the souls of men. Yet if there ever was a man who did not wear his heart upon his sleeve for daws to peck at, it was Robert Browning. He was clean, wholesome, manly, healthy, inside and out. He was master of self.
Of course, the gentle reader is sure that the next act will show a tender love-scene. And were I dealing with the lives of Peter Smith and Martha the milkmaid, the gentle reader might be right.
But the love of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett is an instance of the Divine Passion. Take off thy shoes, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground! This man and woman had gotten well beyond the first flush of youth; there was a joining of intellect and soul which approaches the ideal. I can not imagine anything so preposterous as a "proposal" passing between them; I can not conceive a condition of hesitancy and timidity leading up to a dam-bursting "avowal." They met, looked into each other's eyes, and each there read his fate: no coyness, no affectation, no fencing—they loved. Each at once felt a heart-rest in the other. Each had at last found the other self.
That exquisite series of poems, "Sonnets From the Portuguese," written by Elizabeth Barrett before her marriage and presented to her husband afterward, was all told to him over and over by the look from her eyes, the pressure of her hands, and in gentle words (or silence) that knew neither shame nor embarrassment.
And now it seems to me that somewhere in these pages I said that friendship was essentially hygienic. I wish to make that remark again, and to put it in italics. The Divine Passion implies the most exalted form of friendship that man can imagine.
Elizabeth Barrett ran up the shades and flung open the shutters. The sunlight came dancing through the apartment, flooding each dark corner and driving out all the shadows that lurked therein. It was no longer a darkened room.
The doctor was indignant; the nurse resigned.
Miss Mitford wrote back to the country that Miss Barrett was "really looking better than she had for years."
As for poor Edward Moulton Barrett—he raved. He tried to quarrel with Robert Browning, and had there been only a callow youth with whom to deal, Browning would simply have been kicked down the steps, and that would have been an end of it. But Browning had an even pulse, a calm eye and a temper that was imperturbable. His will was quite as strong as Mr. Barrett's.
And so it was just a plain runaway match—the ideal thing after all. One day when the father was out of the way they took a cab to Marylebone Parish Church and were married. The bride went home alone, and it was a week before her husband saw her; because he would not be a hypocrite and go ask for her by her maiden name. And had he gone, rung the bell and asked to see Elizabeth Barrett Browning, no one would have known whom he wanted. At the end of the week, the bride stole down the steps alone, leading her dog Flush by a string, and met her lover-husband on the corner. Next day, they wrote back from Calais, asking forgiveness and craving blessings, after the good old custom of Gretna Green. But Edward Moulton Barrett did not forgive—still, who cares!
Yet we do care, too, for we regret that this man, so strong and manly in many ways, could not be reconciled to this exalted love. Old men who nurse wrath are pitiable sights. Why could not Mr. Barrett have followed the example of John Kenyon?
Kenyon commands both our sympathy and admiration. When the news came to him that Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett were gone, it is said that he sobbed like a youth to whom has come a great, strange sorrow. For months he was not known to smile, yet after a year he visited the happy home in Florence. When John Kenyon died he left by his will fifty thousand dollars "to my beloved and loving friends, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, his wife."
The old-time novelists always left their couples at the church-door. It was not safe to follow further—they wished to make a pleasant story. It seems meet to take our leave of the bride and groom at the church: life often ends there. However, it sometimes is the place where life really begins. It was so with Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning—they had merely existed before; now, they began to live.
Much, very much has been written concerning this ideal mating, and of the life of Mr. and Mrs. Browning in Italy. But why should I write of the things of which George William Curtis, Kate Field, Anthony Trollope and James T. Fields have written? No, we will leave the happy pair at the altar, in Marylebone Parish Church, and while the organ peals the wedding-march we will tiptoe softly out.
To me remains nor place nor time; My country is in every clime; I can be calm and free from care, On any shore, since God is there.
While place we seek or place we shun, The soul finds happiness in none; But with a God to guide our way, 'Tis equal joy to go or stay.
Could I be cast where Thou art not, That were indeed a dreadful lot; But regions none remote I call, Secure of finding God in all. God Is Everywhere
Jeanne Marie Bouvier sat one day writing at her little oaken desk, when her father approached and, kissing her very gently on the forehead, told her that he had arranged for her marriage, and that her future husband was soon to arrive. Jeanne's fingers lost their cunning, the pen dropped; she arose to her feet, but her tongue was dumb.
Jeanne Marie was only sixteen, but you would have thought her twenty, for she was tall and dignified—she was as tall as her father: she was five feet nine. She had a splendid length of limb, hips that gave only a suggestion of curve line, a slender waist, a shapely, well-poised neck, and a head that might have made a Juno envious. The face and brow were not those of Venus—rather they belonged to Minerva; for the nose was large, the chin full, and the mouth no pea's blossom. The hair was light brown, but when the sun shone on it people said it was red. It was as generous in quantity and unruly in habits as the westerly wind. Her eyes were all colors, changing according to her mood. Withal, she had freckles, and no one was ever so rash as to call her pretty.
Now, Jeanne's father had not kissed her for two years, for he was a very busy man: he had not time for soft demonstration. He was rich, he was religious, and he was looked upon as a model citizen in every way.
The daughter had grown like a sunflower, and her intellect had unfolded as a moss-rose turns from bud to blossom. This splendid girl had thought and studied and dreamed dreams. She had imagined she heard a voice speaking to her: "Arise, maiden, and prepare thee, for I have a work for thee to do!"
Her wish and prayer was to enter a convent, and after consecrating herself to God in a way that would allow of no turning back, to go forth and give to men and women the messages that had come to her. And these things filled the heart of the worthy bourgeois with alarm; so he said to his wife one day: "That girl will be a foot taller than I am in a year, and even now when I give her advice, she opens her big eyes and looks at me in a way that thins my words to whey. She will get us into trouble yet! She may disgrace us! I think—I think I'll find her a husband."
Yet that would not have been a difficult task. She was loved by a score of youths, but had never spoken to any of them. They stood at corners and sighed as she walked by; and others, with religious bent, timed her hours for mass and took positions in church from whence they could see her kneel. Still others patroled the narrow street that led to her home, with hopes that she might pass that way, so that they might touch the hem of her garment.
These things were as naught to Jeanne Marie. She had never yet seen a man for whose intellect she did not have both a pity and a contempt.
But Claude Bouvier did not pick a husband for his daughter from among the simple youths of the town. He wrote to a bachelor friend, Jacques Guyon by name, and told him he could have the girl if he wanted her—that is, after certain little preliminaries had been arranged.
Now, Jacques Guyon had been at the Bouvier residence on a visit three months before, and had looked the lass over stealthily with peculiar interest, and had intimated that if Monsieur Bouvier wished to get rid of her it could be brought about. So, after some weeks had passed, Monsieur bethought him of the offer of Jacques Guyon, and he concluded that inasmuch as Guyon was rich and respectable it would be a good match.
So he wrote to Guyon, and Guyon replied that he would come, probably within a fortnight—just as soon as his rheumatism got better.
Monsieur Claude Bouvier read the letter, and walking into the next room, surprised Jeanne Marie by kissing her tenderly on her forehead—all as herein truthfully recorded.
* * * * *
So Jacques Guyon came, came in his carriage, with two servants riding on horseback in front and another riding on horseback behind. Jeanne Marie sat on the floor, tailor fashion, up in her little room of the old stone house, and peeked out of the diamond-paned gable-window very cautiously; and she was sorely disappointed.
In some of her dreams (and these dreams she thought were very bad), she had pictured a lover coming alone on a foam-flecked charger; and as the steed paused, the rider leaped lightly from saddle to ground, kissing his hand to her as she peeked through the curtains. For he discovered her when she hoped he would not, but she did not care much if he did.
But Monsieur Guyon's eyes did not search the windows. He got out of the carriage with difficulty, and his breath came wheezy and short as he mounted the steps. His complexion was dusty blue, his nose tinged with carmine, his eyes watery, and his girth aldermanic. He was growing old, and, saddest of all, he was growing old rebelliously and therefore ungracefully—dyeing his whiskers purple.
That evening when Jeanne Marie was introduced to Monsieur Guyon at dinner she found him very polite and very gracious. His breeches were real black velvet and his stockings were silk, and the buckles on his shoes were polished silver and the frill of his shirt was finest lace. His conversation was directed mostly to Jeanne's father, so Jeanne did not feel nearly so uncomfortable as she had expected.
The next day a notary came, and long papers were written out, and red and green seals placed on them, and then everybody held up his right hand as the notary mumbled something, and then all signed their names. The room seemed to be teetering up and down, and it looked quite like rain. Monsieur Bouvier stood on his tiptoes and again kissed his daughter on the forehead, and Monsieur Guyon, taking her hand, lifted the long, slender fingers to his lips, and told her that she would soon be a great lady and the mistress of a splendid mansion, and have everything that one needed to make one happy.
And so they were married by a bishop, with two priests and three curates to assist. The ceremony was held at the great stone church; and as the procession came out, the verger had a hard time to keep the crowd back, so that the little girls in white could go before and strew flowers in their pathway. The organ pealed, and the chimes clanged and rang as if the tune and the times were out of joint; then other bells from other parts of the old town answered, and across the valley rang mellow and soft the chapel-bell of Montargis Castle.
Jeanne was seated in a carriage—how she got there she never knew; by her side sat Jacques Guyon. The post-boys were lashing their horses into a savage run, like devils running away with the souls of innocents, and behind clattered the mounted, liveried servant. People on the sidewalks waved good-bys and called God-bless-yous. Soon the sleepy old town was left behind and the horses slowed down to a lazy trot. Jeanne looked back, like Lot's wife: only a church-spire could be seen. She hoped that she might be turned into a pillar of salt—but she wasn't. She crouched into the corner of the seat and cried a good honest cry.
And Monsieur Jacques Guyon smiled and muttered to himself, "Her father said she was a bit stubborn, but I'll see that she gets over it!"
And this was over three hundred years ago. It doesn't seem like it, but it was.
* * * * *
Read the lives of great men and you will come to the conclusion that it is harder to find a gentleman than a genius. While the clock ticks off the seconds, count on your fingers—within five minutes, if you can—five such gentlemen as Sir Philip Sidney! Of course, I know before you speak that Fenelon will be the first on your tongue. Fenelon, the low-voiced, the mild, the sympathetic, the courtly, the gracious! Fenelon, favored by the gods with beauty and far-reaching intellect! Fenelon, who knew the gold of silence. Fenelon, on whose lips dwelt grace, and who by the magic of his words had but to speak to be believed and to be beloved.
When Louis the Little made that most audacious blunder which cost France millions in treasure and untold loss in men and women, Fenelon wrote to the Prime Minister: "These Huguenots have many virtues that must be acknowledged and conserved. We must hold them by mildness. We can not produce conformity by force. Converts made in this manner are hypocrites. No power is great enough to bind the mind—thought forever escapes. Give civil liberty to all, not by approving all religions, but by permitting in patience what God allows."
"You shall go as missionary to these renegades!" was the answer—half-ironical, half-earnest.
"I will go only on one condition."
"And that is?"
"That from my province you withdraw all armed men—all sign of compulsion of every sort!"
Fenelon was of noble blood, but his sympathies were ever with the people. The lowly, the weak, the oppressed, the persecuted—these were ever the objects of his solicitude—these were first in his mind.
It was in prison that Fenelon first met Madame Guyon. Fenelon was thirty-seven, she was forty. He occasionally preached at Montargis, and while there had heard of her goodness, her piety, her fervor, her resignation. He had small sympathy for many of her peculiar views, but now she was sick and in prison and he went to her and admonished her to hold fast and to be of good-cheer.
Twelve years before this Madame Guyon had been left a widow. She was the mother of five children—two were dead. The others were placed under the care of kind kinsmen; and Madame Guyon went forth to give her days to study and to teaching. This action of placing her children partly in the care of others has been harshly criticized. But there is one phase of the subject that I have never seen commented upon—and that is that a mother's love for her offspring bears a certain ratio to the love she bore their father. Had Madame Guyon ever carried in her arms a love-child, I can not conceive of her allowing this child to be cared for by others—no matter how competent.
The favor that had greeted Madame Guyon wherever she went was very great. Her animation and devout enthusiasm won her entrance into the homes of the great and noble everywhere. She organized societies of women that met for prayer and conversation on exalted themes. The burden of her philosophy was "Quietism"—the absolute submission of the human soul to the will of God. Give up all, lay aside all striving, all reaching out, all unrest, cease penance and lie low in the Lord's hand. He doeth all things well. Make life one continual prayer for holiness—wholeness—harmony; and thus all good will come to us—we attract the good; we attract God—He is our friend—His spirit dwells with us. She taught of power through repose, and told that you can never gain peace by striving for it like fury.
This philosophy, stretching out in limitless ramifications, bearing on every phase and condition of life, touched everywhere with mysticism, afforded endless opportunity for thought.
It is the same philosophy that is being expressed by thousands of prominent men and women today. It embraced all that is vital and best in our so-called "advanced thought"; for in good sooth none of our new "liberal sects" has anything that has not been taught before in olden time.
But Madame Guyon's success was too great. The guardians of a dogmatic religion are ever on the scent for heresy. They are jealous, and fearful, and full of alarm lest their "institution" shall topple. Quietism was making head, and throughout France the name of Madame Guyon was becoming known. She went from town to town, and from city to city, and gave courses of lectures. Women flocked to hear her, they organized clubs. Preachers sometimes appeared and argued with her, but by the high fervor of her speech she quickly silenced them. Then they took revenge by thundering sermons against her after she had gone. As she traveled she left in her wake a pyrotechnic display of elocutionary denunciation. They dared her to come back and fight it out. The air was full of challenges. One prelate was good enough to say, "This woman may teach primitive Christianity—but if people find God everywhere, what's to become of us!"
And although the theme is as great as Fate and as serious as Death, one can not suppress a smile to think how the fear of losing their jobs has ever caused men to run violently to and fro and up and down in the earth, crying peace, peace, when there is no peace.
Now, it was the denunciation and wild demonstration of her fearing foes that advertised the labors of Madame Guyon. For strong people are not so much advertised by their loving friends as by their rabid enemies.
This happened quite a while ago; but as mankind moves in a circle (and not always a spiral, either) it might have happened yesterday. Make the scene Ohio: slip Bossuet out and Doctor Buckley in; condense the virtues of Miss Frances E. Willard and Miss Susan B. Anthony into one, and let this one stand for Madame Guyon; call it New Transcendentalism, dub the Madame a New Woman, and there you have it!
But with this difference: petitions to the President of the United States to arrest this female offender and shut her up in the Chicago jail, indefinitely, after a mock trial, would avail not. Yet persecution has its compensation, and the treatment that Madame Guyon received emphasized the truths she taught and sent them ringing through the schools and salons and wherever thinking people gathered themselves together. Yes, persecution has its compensation. In its state of persecution a religion is pure, if ever; its decline begins when its prosperity commences. Prosperous men are never wise and seldom good. Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you!
Surely, persecution has its compensation! When Madame Guyon was sick and in prison, was she not visited by Fenelon? Ah, 'twas worth the cost. Sympathy is the first attribute of love as well as its last. And I am not sure but that sympathy is love's own self, vitalized mayhap by some divine actinic ray. Only a thorn-crowned, bleeding Christ could win the adoration of the world. Only the souls who have suffered are well loved. Thus does Golgotha find its recompense. Hark ye and take courage, ye who are in bonds! Gracious spirits, seen or unseen, will minister to you now, where otherwise they would have passed without a sign! But from the day Fenelon met Madame Guyon his fortune began to decline. People looked at him askance. By a grim chance he was made one of a committee of three to investigate the charges brought against the woman. The court took a year for its task. Fenelon read everything that Madame Guyon had published, conversed much with her, inquired into her history and when asked for his verdict said, "I find no fault in her."
He talked with Madame de Maintenon, and Madame de Maintenon talked with the King, and the offender was released.
Soon Fenelon began to utter in his sermons the truths he had learned from Madame Guyon. And he gave her due credit. He explained that she was a good Catholic—that she loved the Church—that she lived up to all the Church taught, and besides knowing all that Churchmen knew she knew many things beside.
Have a care, Archbishop of Cambrai! Enemies are upon thy track. Defend not defenseless womanhood: knowest thou not what they have said of her? Speak what thou art taught and keep thy inmost thoughts for thyself alone. Have a care, Fenelon! thy bishopric hangs by a spider's thread.
The years kept slipping past as the years will. Twelve summers had come, and twelve times had autumn leaves known their time to fall. Madame Guyon was again in prison. A stranger was Archbishop of Cambrai: Fenelon no longer a counselor of kings—a tutor of royalty. His voice was silenced, his pen chained. He was allowed to retire to a rural parish. There he lived with the peasants—revered, beloved. The country where he dwelt was battle-scarred and bleeding; the smoke of devastation still hung over it. Not a family but had been robbed of its best. Death had stalked rampant. Fenelon shared the poverty of the people, their lowliness, their sorrows. All the tragedy of their life was his; he said to them, "I know, I know!"
Twelve years of Madame Guyon's life were spent in prison. Toward the last she was allowed to live in nominal freedom. But despotism, with savage leer and stealthy step, saw that Fenelon was kept far away. In those declining days, when the shadows were lengthening toward the east, her time and talents were given to teaching the simple rudiments of knowledge to the peasantry, to alleviating their material wants and to ministering to the sick. It was a forced retirement, and yet it was a retirement that was in every way in accord with her desires. But in spite of the persecution that followed her, and the obloquy heaped upon her name, and the bribe of pardon if she would but recant, she never retracted nor wavered in her inward or outward faith, even in the estimation of a hair. The firm reticence as to the supreme secrets of her life, and her steadfast loyalty to that which she honestly believed was truth, must ever command the affectionate admiration of all those who prize integrity of mind and purity of purpose, who hold fast to the divinity of love, and who believe in the things unseen which are eternal.
* * * * *
The town of Montargis is one day's bicycle journey from Paris. As for the road, though one be a wayfaring man and from the States he could not err therein. You simply follow the Seine as if you were intent on discovering its source, keeping to the beautiful highway that follows the winding stream. And what a beautiful, clear, clean bit of water it is! In Paris, your washerwoman takes your linen to the river, just as they did in the days of Pharaoh, and the bundle comes back sweet as the breath of June. Imagine the result of such recklessness in Chicago!
But as I rode out of Paris that bright May day it seemed Monday all along the way; for dames with baskets balanced on their heads were making their way to the waterside, followed by troops of barefoot or sabot-shod children. There was one fine young woman with a baby in her arms, and the innocent firstborn was busily taking its breakfast as the mother walked calmly along, bearing on her well-poised head the family wash. And a mile farther on, as if she had seen her rival and gone her one better, was another woman with a two-year-old cherub perched secure on top of the gently swaying basket, proud as a cardinal about to be consecrated. It was a study in balancing that I have never seen before nor since; and I only ask those to believe it who know things so true that they dare not tell them. As the day wore on, I saw that the wash was being completed, for the garments were spread out on the greenest of green grass, or on the bushes that lined the way. By ten o'clock I was nearing Fontainebleau, and the clothes were nearly ready to take in—but not quite. For while waiting for the warm sun and the gentle breeze to dry them, the thrifty dames, who were French and make soup out of everything, put in the time by laundering the children. It seemed like that economic stroke of good housewives who use the soapy wash-water for scrubbing the kitchen-floor. There they were, dozens of hopefuls on whom the fate of the nation rested—creepers to ten-year-olds—being scrubbed and dipped, or playing parlez-vous tag in lieu of towel, as innocent of clothes as Carlyle's imaginary House of Lords.
And so I passed off from the road that traced the Seine to a road that kept company with the canal. I followed the towpath, even in spite of warnings that 't was 'gainst the law. It was a one-horse canal, for many of the gaily painted boats were drawn only by a single, shaggy-limbed Percheron. The boats were sharp-prowed and narrow; and on some were bareheaded women knitting, and men carving curious things out of blocks of wood, as they journeyed. And I said to myself, if "it is the pace that kills," these people are making a strong bid for immortality. I hailed the lazily moving craft, waving my hat, and the slow-going tourists called back cheerily.
By and by I came to a great, wide plain that stretched away like a tideless summer sea. The wheat and lentils and pulse were planted in long strips. In one place I thought I could trace the good old American flag (that you never really love unless you are on a foreign shore) made with alternate strips of millet and peas, with a goodly patch of cabbages in the corner for stars. But possibly this was imagination, for I had been thinking that in a week it would be the Fourth of July and I was far from home—in a land where firecrackers are unknown.
Coming to a little rise of ground, I could see, lying calm and quiet amid the world of rich, growing grain, the town of Montargis. Across on the blue hillside was Montargis Castle, framed in a mass of foliage. I stopped to view the scene, and the echo of vesper-bells came pealing gently over the miles, as the nodding poppies at my feet bowed reverently in the breeze.
Villages in France viewed from a distance seem so restful and idyllic. There is no sound of strife, no trace of rivalry, no vain pride; only white houses—the homes of good men and gentle women, and cherub children; and all the church-steeples truly point to God. Yet on closer view—but what of that!
When I reached the town, the church whose spire I had seen from the distance beckoned me first. I turned off from the wide thoroughfare, intending just to get a glance at the outside of the building as I passed. But the great iron gates thrown invitingly open, and a rusty, dusty dog of Flanders lying in the entry waiting for his master, told me that there was service within. So I entered, passing through the noiseless, swinging door, and into the dim twilight of the house of prayer. A score of people were there, and standing in the aisle was a white-robed priest. He was speaking, and his voice came so gently, so sure withal, so exquisitely modulated, that I paused and, leaning against a pillar, listened. I think it was the first time I ever heard a preacher speaking in a large church who did not speak so loud that an echo chased his sentences round and round the vaulted dome and strangled the sense. The tone was conversational and the manner so free from canting conventionality that I moved up closer to get a view of the face.
It was too dark to see well, but I came under the spell of the man's earnest eloquence. The sacred stillness, the falling night, the odor from incense and banks of flowers piled about the feet of an image of the Holy Virgin—evidently brought by the peasantry, having nothing else to give—made a combination of melting conditions that would have subdued a heart of stone.
The preacher ceased to speak, and as he raised his hands in benediction, I, involuntarily, with the other worshipers, knelt on the stone floor and bowed my head in silent reverie.
Suddenly, I was aroused by a crashing noise at my elbow, and glancing round saw that an old man near me had merely dropped his cane. A heavy cudgel it was that falling on the stone flagging sent a thundering reverberation through the vaulted chambers.
The worshipers were slipping out, one by one, and soon no one was left but the old man of the cudgel and myself. He wore wooden shoes, and was holding the cordwood fast between his knees, rolling his hat nervously in his big hands. "He's a stranger, too," I said to myself; "he is the man who owns the rusty dog of Flanders, and he is waiting to give the priest some message!"
I leaned over towards my neighbor and asked, "The priest—what is his name?"
"Father Francis, Monsieur!" and the old man swayed back and forward in his seat as if moved by some inward emotion, still fingering his hat.
Just then the priest came out from behind the altar, wearing a black robe instead of the white one. He moved down with a sort of quiet majesty straight towards us. We arose as one man; it was as though some one had pressed a button.
Father Francis walked by me, bowing slightly, and shook hands with my old neighbor. They stood talking in an undertone.
A last struggling ray of light from the dying sun came in over the chancel and flooded the great room for an instant. It allowed me to get a good look at the face of the priest. As I stood there staring at him I heard him say to the old man as he bade him good-by, "Yes, tell her I'll be there in the morning."
Then he turned to me, and I was still staring. And as I stared I was repeating to myself the words the people said when Dante used to pass, "There is the man who has been to Hell!"
"You are an Englishman?" said Father Francis to me pleasantly as he held out his hand. "Yes," I said; "I am an Englishman—that is, no—an American!"
I was wondering if he had really heard me make that Dante remark; and anyway, I had been rudely staring at him and listening with both ears to his conversation with the old man. I tried to roll my hat, and had I a cudgel I would surely have dropped it; and with it all I wondered if the dog of Flanders waiting outside was not getting impatient for me!
"Oh, an American! I'm glad—I have very dear friends in America!"
Then I saw that Father Francis did not look so much like the exiled Florentine as I had thought, for his smile was winning as that of a woman, the corners of his mouth did not turn down, and the nose had not the Roman curve. Dante was an exile: this man was at home—and would have been, anywhere.
He was tall, slender and straight; he must have been sixty years old, but the face in spite of its furrows was singularly handsome. Grave, yet not depressed, it showed such feminine delicacy of feeling, such grace, such high intellect, that I stood and gazed as I might at a statue in bronze. But plain to see, he was a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief. The face spake of one to whom might have come a great tribulation, and who by accepting it had purchased redemption for all time from all the petty troubles of earth.
"You must stay here as long as you wish, and you will come to our old church again, I hope!" said the Father. He smiled, nodded his head and started to leave me alone.
"Yes, yes, I'll come again—I'll come in the morning, for I want to talk with you about Madame Guyon—she was married in this church they told me—is that true?" I clutched a little. Here was a man I could not afford to lose—one of the elect!
"Oh, yes; that was a long time ago, though. Are you interested in Madame Guyon? I am glad—not to know Fenelon seems a misfortune. He used to preach from that very pulpit, and Madame was baptized at that font and confirmed here. I have pictures of them both; and I have their books—one of the books is a first edition. Do you care for such things?"
When I was broke in London, in the Fall of Eighty-nine! Do I care for such things? I can not recall what I said, but I remembered that this brown-skinned priest with his liquid, black eyes, and the look of sorrow on his handsome face, stood out before me like the picture of a saint.
I made an engagement to meet him the next morning, when he bethought him of his promise to the old man of the cudgel and wooden shoes.
"Come now, then—come with me now. My house is just next door!"
And so we walked up the main aisle of the old church, around the altar where Madame Guyon used to kneel, and by a crooked, little passageway entered a house fully as old as the church. A woman who might have been as old as the house was setting the table in a little dining-room. She looked up at me through brass-rimmed spectacles, and without orders or any one saying a word she whisked off the tablecloth, replaced it with a snowy, clean one, and put on two plates instead of one. Then she brought in toasted brown bread and tea, and a steaming dish of lentils, and fresh-picked berries in a basket all lined with green leaves.
It was not a very sumptuous repast, but 't was enough. Afterward I learned that Father Francis was a vegetarian. He did not tell me so, neither did he apologize for absence of fermented drink, nor for his failure to supply tobacco and pipes.
Now, I have heard that there be priests who hold in their cowled heads choice recipes for spiced wines, and who carry hidden away in their hearts all the mysteries of the chafing-dish; but Father Francis was not one of these. His form was thin, but the bronze of his face was the bronze that comes from red corpuscles, and the strongly corded neck and calloused, bony hands told of manly abstinence and exercise in the open air, and sleep that follows peaceful thoughts, knowing no chloral.
After the meal, Father Francis led the way to his little study upstairs. He showed me his books and read to me from his one solitary "First Edition." Then he unlocked a little drawer in an old chiffonier and brought out a package all wrapped in chamois. This parcel held two miniature portraits, one of Fenelon and one of Madame Guyon.
"That picture of Fenelon belonged to Madame Guyon. He had it painted for her and sent it to her while she was in prison at Vincennes. The other I bought in Paris—I do not know its history."
The good priest had work to do, and let me know it very gently, thus: "You have come a long way, brother, the road was rough—I know you must be weary. Come, I'll show you to your room."
He lighted a candle and took me to a bedroom at the end of the hall. It was a little room, very clean, but devoid of all ornament, save a picture of the Madonna and her Babe, that hung over the head of the little iron bedstead. It was a painting—not very good. I think Father Francis painted it himself; the face of the Holy Mother was very human—divinely human—as motherhood should be.
Father Francis was right: the way had been rough and I was tired.
The treetops sang a cooing lullaby and the nightwinds sighed solemnly as they wandered through the hallway and open doors. It did not take me long to go to sleep. Later, the wind blew up fresh and cool. I was too sleepy to get up and hunt for more covering, and yet I was cold as I curled up in a knot and dreamed I was first mate with Peary on an expedition in search of the North Pole. And the last I remember was a vision of a gray-robed priest tiptoeing across the stone floor; of his throwing over me a heavy blanket and then hastily tiptoeing out again.
The matin-bells, or the birds, or both, awoke me early, but when I got downstairs I found my host had preceded me. His fine face looked fresh and strong, and yet I wondered when he had slept.
After breakfast, the old housekeeper hovered near.
"What is it, Margaret?" said the Father, gently.
"You haven't forgotten your engagement?" asked the woman, with just a quaver of anxiety.
"Oh no, Margaret"; then turning to me, "Come, you shall go with me—we will talk of Fenelon and Madame Guyon as we walk. It is eight miles and back, but you will not mind the distance. Oh, didn't I tell you where I'm going? You saw the old man at the church last night—it is his daughter—she is dying—dying of consumption. She has not been a good girl. She went away to Paris, three years ago, and her parents never heard from her. We tried to find her, but could not; and now she has come home of her own accord—come home to die. I baptized her twenty years ago—how fast the time has flown!"
The priest took a stout staff from the corner, and handing me its mate we started away. Down the white, dusty highway we went; out on the stony road where yesterday, as the darkness gathered, trudged an old man in wooden shoes and with a cordwood cudgel—at his heels a dog of Flanders.
You better live your best and act your best and think your best today; for today is the sure preparation for tomorrow and all the other tomorrows that follow. —Life's Uses
I believe it was Thackeray who once expressed a regret that Harriet Martineau had not shown better judgment in choosing her parents.
She was born into one of those big families where there is not love enough to go 'round. The mother was a robustious woman with a termagant temper; she was what you call "practical." She arose each morning, like Solomon's ideal wife, while it was yet dark, and proceeded to set her house in order. She made the children go to bed when they were not sleepy and get up when they were. There was no beauty-sleep in that household, not even forty winks; and did any member prove recreant and require a douse of cold water, not only did he get the douse but he also heard quoted for a year and a day that remark concerning the sluggard, "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that traveleth, and thy want as an armed man."
This big, bustling Amazon was never known to weep but once, and that was when Lord Nelson died. To show any emotion would have been to reveal a weakness, and a caress would have been proof positive of folly. Life was a stern business and this earth-journey a warfare. She cooked, she swept, she scrubbed, she sewed.
And although she withheld every loving word and kept back all demonstration of affection, yet her children were always well cared for: they were well clothed, they had plenty to eat, and a warm place to sleep. And in times of sickness this mother would send all others to rest, and herself would watch by the bedside until the shadows stole away and the sunrise came again. I wonder where you have lived all your life if you have never known a woman like that?
In the morning, as soon as the breakfast things were done and the men folks had gone to the cloth-factory, Mrs. Martineau would marshal her daughters in the sitting-room to sew. And there they sewed for four hours every forenoon for more than four years; and as they sewed some one would often read aloud to them, for Mrs. Martineau believed in education—education gotten on the wing.
Sewing-machines and knitting-machines have done more to emancipate women than all the preachers. Think of the days when every garment worn by men, women and children was made by the never-resting hands of women!
And as the girls in that thrifty Norwich household sewed and listened to the reader, they occasionally spoke in monotone of what was read—-all save Harriet: Harriet sewed. And the other girls thought Harriet very dull, and her mother was sure of it, and called her stupid, and sometimes shook her and railed at her, endeavoring to arouse her out of her lethargy.
Harriet has herself left on record somewhat of her feelings in those days. In her child-heart there was a great aching void. Her life was wrong—the lives about her were wrong—she did not know how, and could not then trace the subject far enough to tell why. She was a-hungered, she longed for tenderness, for affection and the close confidence that knows no repulse. She wanted them all to throw down their sewing for just five minutes, and sit in the silence with folded hands. She longed for her mother to hold her on her lap so, that she could pillow her head on her shoulder with her arms about her neck, and have a real good cry. Then all her troubles and pains would be gone.
But the slim little girl never voiced any of these foolish thoughts; she knew better. She choked back her tears and leaning over her sewing tried hard to be "good."
"She is so stupid that she never listens to what one reads to her," said her mother one day.
One of that family still lives. I saw him not long ago and talked with him face to face concerning some of the things here written—Doctor James Martineau, ninety-two years old.
The others are all dead now—all are gone. In the cemetery at Norwich is a plain, slate slab, "To the Memory of Elizabeth Martineau, Mother of Harriet Martineau." * * * And so she sleeps, remembered for what? As the mother of a stupid little girl who tried hard to be good, but didn't succeed very well, and who did not listen when they read aloud.
* * * * *
It seems sometimes that there is no such thing as a New Year—it is only the old year come back. These folks about us—have they not lived before? Surely they are the same creatures that have peopled earth in the days agone; they are busy about the same things, they chase after the same trifles, they commit the same mistakes, and blunder as men have always blundered.
Only last week, a teacher in one of the primary schools of Chicago reported to her principal that a certain little boy in her room was so hopelessly dull and perverse that she despaired of teaching him anything. The child would sit with open mouth and look at her as she would talk to the class, and five minutes afterward he could not or would not repeat three words of what had been said. She had scolded him, made him stand on the floor, kept him in after school, and even whipped him—but all in vain. The principal looked into the case, scratched his head, stroked his whiskers, coughed, and decided that the public-school funds should not be wasted in trying to "teach imbeciles," and so reported to the parents. He advised them to send the boy to a Home for the Feeble-Minded, sending the message by an older brother. So the parents took the child to the Home and asked that he be admitted. The Matron took the little boy on her lap, talked to him, read to him, showed him pictures and said to the astonished parents, "This child has fully as much intelligence as any of your other children, perhaps more—but he is deaf!"
Harriet Martineau from her twelfth year was very deaf, and she was also devoid of the senses of taste and smell.
"Oh, these are terrible tribulations to befall a mortal!" we exclaim with uplifted hands. But on sober second thought I am not sure that I know what is a tribulation and what a blessing. I'm not positive that I would know a blessing should I see it coming up the street. For as I write it comes to me that the Great Big Black Things that have loomed against the horizon of my life, threatening to devour me, simply loomed and nothing more. They harmed me not. The things that have really made me miss my train have always been sweet, soft, pretty, pleasant things of which I was not in the, least afraid.
Mother Nature is kind, and if she deprives us of one thing she gives us another, and happiness seems to be meted out to each and all in equal portions. Harriet's afflictions caused her to turn her mind to other things than those which filled the hearts of girls of her own age. Society chatter held nothing for her, she could not hear it if she would; and she ate the food that agreed with her, not that which was merely pleasant to the taste. She began to live in a world of thought and ideas. The silence meant much.
"The first requisite is that man should be a good animal." I used to think that Herbert Spencer in voicing this aphorism struck twelve. But I am no longer enthusiastic about the remark. The senses of most dumb animals are far better developed than those of man. Hounds can trace footsteps over flat rocks, even though a shower has fallen in the interval; cats can see in the dark; rabbits hear sounds that men never hear; horses detect an impurity in water that a chemical analysis does not reveal, and homing pigeons would gain nothing by carrying a compass. And so I feel safe in saying that if any man were so good and perfect an animal that he had the hound's sense of smell, the cat's eyesight, the rabbit's sense of hearing, the horse's sense of taste, and the homing pigeon's "locality," he would not be one whit better prepared to appreciate Kipling's "Dipsy Chanty," and not a hair's breadth nearer a point where he could write a poem equal to it.
No college professor can see so far as a Sioux Indian, neither can he hear so well as a native African. There are rays of light that no unaided human eye can trace, and there are sounds subtler than human ear can detect. These five bodily faculties that we are pleased to call the senses were developed by savage man. He holds them in common with the brute. And now that man is becoming partly civilized he is in danger of losing them. Faculties not used are taken away. Dame Nature seems to consider that anything you do not utilize is not needed; and as she is averse to carrying dead freight she drops it out.
But man can think, and the more he thinks and the further he projects his thought, the less need he has for his physical senses. Homer's matchless vision was the rich possession of a blind man; Milton never saw Paradise until he was sightless, and Helen Keller knows a world of things that were neither told to her in lectures nor read from books. The far-reaching intellect often goes with a singularly imperfect body, and these things seem to point to the truth that the body is one thing and the soul another.
I make no argument for impoverished vitality, nor do I plead the cause of those who enjoy poor health. Yet how often do we find that the confessional of a family or a neighborhood is the bedside of one who sees the green fields only as did the Lady of Shalott, by holding a looking-glass so that it reflects the out-of-doors. Let me carry that simile one step further, and say that the mirror of the soul when kept free from fleck and stain, reveals the beauties of the universe. And I am not sure but that the soul, freed from the distractions of sense and the trammels of flesh, glides away to a height where things are observed for the first time in their true proportions.
"The soul knows all things," says Emerson, "and knowledge is only a remembering."
* * * * *
The Martineaus were Huguenots, a stern, sturdy stock that suffered exile rather than forego the right of free-thought and free speech. These are the people who are the salt of the earth. And yet as I read history I see that they are the people who have been hunted by dogs, and followed by armed men carrying fagots. The driving of the Huguenots from France came near bankrupting the land, and the flight of Jews and Huguenots into England helped largely to make that country the counting-house of the world. Take the Quakers, Puritans, Huguenots and other refugees from America and it is no longer the land of the free or the home of the brave.
Of the seven Presidents who presided over the deliberations of that first Continental Congress in Philadelphia, three were Huguenots: Henry Laurens, John Jay and Elias Boudinot, and in the seats there were Puritans not a few.
"By God, Sir, we can not afford to persecute the Quakers," said a certain American a long while ago. "Their religion may be wrong, but the people who cling to an idea are the only people we need. If we must persecute, let us persecute the complacent."
Harriet Martineau had all the restless independence of will that marked her ancestry. She set herself to acquire knowledge, and she did. When she was twenty she spoke three languages and could read in four. She knew history, astronomy, physical science, and it crowded her teacher in mathematics very hard to keep one lesson in advance of her. Besides, she could sew and cook and "keep house." Yet it was all gathered by labor and toil and lift. By taking thought she had added cubits to her stature.
But at twenty, a great light suddenly shone around her. Love came and revealed the wonders of Earth and Heaven. She had ever been of a religious nature, but now her religion was vitalized and spiritualized. Deity was no longer a Being who dwelt at a great distance among the stars, but the Divine Life was hers. It flowed through her, nourished her and gave her strength.
Renan suggests that one reason why religion remains on such a material plane for many is because they have never known a great and vitalizing love—a love where intellect, spirit and sex find their perfect mate. Love is the great enlightener. And in my own mind I am fully persuaded that comparatively few mortals ever experience this rebirth that a great love gives. We grope our way through life. Nature's first thought is for reproduction of the species; she has so overloaded physical passion that men and women marry when the blood is warm and intellect callow. Girls marry for life the first man that offers, and forever put behind them the possibilities of a love that would enable them to lift up their eyes to the hills from whence cometh their help. Very, very seldom do the years that bring a calmer pulse reveal a mating of mind and spirit.
When love came to Harriet, she began to write, her first book being a little volume called "Devotional Exercises." These daily musings on Divine things and these sweetly limpid prayers were all written out first for herself and her lover. But it came to her that what was a help to them might be a help to others. A publisher was found, and the little work had a large sale and found appreciative readers for many years.
Today, out under the trees, I read this first book written by Miss Martineau. How gently sweet and perfect are these prayers asking for a clean heart and a right spirit! And yet at this time Harriet Martineau had gotten well beyond the idea that God was a great, big man who could be beseeched and moved to alter His plans because some creature on the planet Earth asked it. Her religion was pure Theism, with no confounding dogmas about who was to be saved and who damned. The state of infants who died unbaptized and of the heathen who passed away without ever having heard of Jesus did not trouble her at all. She already accepted the truth of necessity, believing that every act of life was the result of a cause. We do what we do, and are what we are, on account of impulses given us by previous training, previous acts or conditions under which we live and have lived.
If then, everything in this world happens because something else happened a thousand years ago or yesterday, and the result could not possibly be different from what it is, why besiege Heaven with prayers?
The answer is simple. Prayer is an emotional exercise; an endeavor to bring the will into a state of harmony with the Divine Will; a rest and a composure that gives strength by putting us in position to partake of the strength of the Universal. The man who prays today is as a result stronger tomorrow, and thus is prayer answered. By right thinking does the race grow. An act is only a crystallized thought; and this young girl's little book was designed as a help to right thinking. The things it taught are so simple that no man need go to a theological seminary to learn them: the Silence will tell him all if he will but listen and incline his heart. Love had indeed made Harriet's spirit free. And to no woman can love mean so much as to one who is aware that she is physically deficient. Homely women are apt to make the better wives, and in all my earth-pilgrimage I never saw a more devoted love—a diviner tenderness—than that which exists between a man of my acquaintance, sound in every sense and splendid in physique, and his wife, who has been blind from her birth. For weeks after I first met this couple there rang in my ears that expression of Victor Hugo's, "To be blind and to be loved—what happier fate!"
But Harriet's lover was poor in purse and his family was likewise poor, and the thrifty Martineaus vigorously opposed the mating. In fact, Harriet's mother hooted at it and spoke of it with scorn; and Harriet answered not back, but hid her love away in her heart—biding the time when her lover should make for himself a name and a place, and have money withal to command the respect of even mill-owners.
So the days passed, and the months went by, and three years counted themselves with the eternity that lies behind. Harriet's lover had indeed proved himself worthy. He had worked his way through college, had been graduated at the Divinity School, and his high reputation for character and his ability as a speaker won for him at once a position to which many older than he aspired. He became the pastor of the Unitarian Church at Manchester—and this was no small matter!
Now Norwich, where the Martineaus lived, is a long way from Manchester, where Harriet's lover preached, or it was then, in stagecoach times. It cost money, too, to send letters.
And there was quite an interval once when Harriet sent several letters, and anxiously looked for one; but none arrived.
Then word came that the brilliant young preacher was ill; he wished to see his betrothed. She started to go to him, but her parents opposed such an unprecedented thing. She hesitated, deferred her visit—intending soon to go at all hazards—hoping all the while to hear better news.
Word came that Harriet's lover was dead. Soon after this the Martineau mills, through various foolish speculations, got into a bad way. Harriet's father found himself with more debts than he could pay; his endeavors to buffet the storm broke his health—he gave up hope, languished and died.
Mrs. Martineau and the family were thus suddenly deprived of all means of support. The boys were sent to work in the mills, and the two older girls, having five sound senses each, found places where they could do housework and put money in their purses. Harriet Martineau stayed at home and kept house. She also studied, read and wrote a little—there was no other way!