Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great, Volume 5 (of 14)
by Elbert Hubbard
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Little Journeys to the Homes of English Authors



New York






Of Heaven or Hell I have no power to sing, I can not ease the burden of your fears, Or make quick-coming death a little thing, Or bring again the pleasure of past years, Nor for my words shall ye forget your tears, Or hope again for aught that I can say, The idle singer of an empty day.

But rather, when aweary of your mirth, From full hearts still unsatisfied ye sigh, And feeling kindly unto all the earth, Grudge every minute as it passes by, Made the more mindful that the sweet days die,— Remember me a little then, I pray, The idle singer of an empty day.

* * * * *

Dreamer of dreams, born out of my due time, Why should I strive to set the crooked straight? Let it suffice me that my murmuring rhyme Beats with light wing against the ivory gate, Telling a tale not too importunate To those who in the sleepy region stay, Lulled by the singer of an empty day. —From "The Earthly Paradise"

The parents of William Morris were well-to-do people who lived in the village of Walthamstow, Essex. The father was a London bill-broker, cool-headed, calculating, practical. In the home of his parents William Morris received small impulse in the direction of art; he, however, was taught how to make both ends meet, and there were drilled into his character many good lessons of plain commonsense—a rather unusual equipment for a poet, but still one that should not be waived or considered lightly. At the village school William was neither precocious nor dull, neither black nor white: his cosmos being simply a sort of slaty-gray, a condition of being which attracted no special attention from either his schoolfellows or his tutors. From the village school he went to Marlborough Academy, where by patient grubbing he fitted himself for Exeter College, Oxford.

Morris, the elder, proved his good sense by taking no very special interest in the boy's education. Violence of direction in education falls flat: man is a lonely creature, and has to work out his career in his own way. To help the grub spin its cocoon is quite unnecessary, and to play the part of Mrs. Gamp with the butterfly in its chrysalis stage is to place a quietus upon its career.

The whole science of modern education is calculated to turn out a good, fairish, commonplace article; but the formula for a genius remains a secret with Deity. The great man becomes great in spite of teachers and parents: and his near kinsmen, being color-blind, usually pooh-pooh the idea that he is anything more than mediocre. At Oxford, William Morris fell in with a young man of about his own age, by the name of Edward Burne-Jones. Burne-Jones was studying theology. He was slender in stature, dreamy, spiritual, poetic. Morris was a giant in strength, blunt in speech, bold in manner, and had a shock of hair like a lion's mane. This was in the year Eighteen Hundred Fifty-three—these young men being nineteen years of age. The slender, yellow, dreamy student of theology and the ruddy athlete became fast friends.

"Send your sons to college and the boys will educate them," said Emerson. These boys read poetry together; and it seems the first author that specially attracted them was Mrs. Browning; and she attracted them simply because she had recently eloped with the man she loved. This fact proved to Morris that she was a worthy woman and a discerning. She had the courage of her convictions. To elope with a poor poet, leaving a rich father and a luxurious home—what nobler ambition?

Burne-Jones, student of theology, considered her action proof of depravity. Morris, in order to show his friend that Mrs. Browning was really a rare and gentle soul, read aloud to Burne-Jones from her books. Morris himself had never read much of Mrs. Browning's work, but in championing her cause and interesting his friend in her, he grew interested himself. Like lawyers, we undertake a cause first and look for proof later. In teaching another, Morris taught himself. By explaining a theme it becomes luminous to us.

In passing, it is well to note that this impulse in the heart of William Morris to come to the defense of an accused person was ever very strong. His defense of Mrs. Browning led straight to "The Defense of Guinevere," begun while at Oxford and printed in book form in his twenty-fourth year. Not that the offenses of Guinevere and Elizabeth Barrett were parallel, but Morris was by nature a defender of women. And it should further be noted that Tennyson had not yet written his "Idylls of the King,"-at the time Morris wrote his poetic brief.

Another author that these young men took up at this time was Ruskin. John Ruskin was fifteen years older than Morris—an Oxford man, too; also, the son of a merchant and rich by inheritance. Ruskin's natural independence, his ability for original thinking and his action in embracing the cause of Turner, the ridiculed, won the heart of Morris. In Ruskin he found a writer who expressed the thoughts that he believed. He read Ruskin, and insisted that Burne-Jones should. Together they read "The Nature of Gothic," and then they went out upon the streets of Oxford and studied examples at first hand. They compared the old with the new, and came to the conclusion that the buildings erected two centuries before had various points to recommend them which modern buildings have not. The modern buildings were built by contractors, while the old ones were constructed by men who had all the time there was, and so they worked out their conceptions of the eternal fitness of things.

Then these young men, with several others, drew up a remonstrance against "the desecration by officious restoration, and the tearing down of time-mellowed structures to make room for the unsightly brick piles of boarding-house keepers."

The remonstrance was sent in to the authorities, and by them duly pigeonholed, with a passing remark that young fellows sent to Oxford to be educated had better attend to their books and mind their own business. Having espoused the cause of the Middle Ages in architecture, these young men began to study the history of the people who lived in the olden time. They read Spenser and Chaucer, and chance threw in their way a dog-eared copy of Mallory's "Morte d' Arthur," and this was still more dog-eared when they were through with it. Probably no book ever made more of an impression on Morris than this one; and if he had written an article for the "Ladies' Home Journal" on "Books That Influenced Me Most," he would have placed Mallory's "Morte d' Arthur" first.

The influence of Burne-Jones on Morris was marked, and the influence of Morris on Burne-Jones was profound. Morris discovered himself in explaining things to Burne-Jones, and Burne-Jones, without knowing it, adopted the opinions of Morris; and it was owing to Morris that he gave up theology.

Having abandoned the object that led him to college, Burne-Jones lost faith in Oxford, and went down to London to study art.

Morris hung on, secured his B.A., and articled himself to a local architect with the firm intent of stopping the insane drift for modern mediocrity, and bringing about a just regard for the stately dignity of the Gothic.

A few months' experience, however, and he discovered that an apprentice to an architect was not expected to furnish plans or even criticize those already made: his business was to make detail drawings from completed designs for the contractors to work from.

A year at architecture, with odd hours filled in at poetry and art, and news came from Burne-Jones that he had painted a picture, and sold it for ten pounds.

Now Morris had all the money he needed. His father's prosperity was at flood, and he had but to hint for funds and they came; yet to make things with your own hands and sell them was the true test of success.

He had written "Gertha's Lovers," "The Tale of the Hollow Land," and various poems and essays for the college magazine; and his book, "The Defense of Guinevere," had been issued at his own expense, and the edition was on his hands—a weary weight.

Thoreau wrote to his friends, when the house burned and destroyed all copies of his first book, "The edition is exhausted," but no such happiness came to Morris. And so when glad tidings of an artistic success came from Burne-Jones, he resolved to follow the lead and abandon architecture for "pure art."

Arriving in London he placed himself under the tutorship of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, poet, dreamer and artist, six years his senior, whom he had known for some time, and who had also instructed Burne-Jones.

While taking lessons in painting at the rather shabby house of Rossetti in Portland Street, he was introduced to Rossetti's favorite model—a young woman of rare grace and beauty. Rossetti had painted her picture as "The Blessed Damozel," leaning over the bar of Heaven, while the stars in her hair were seven. Morris, the impressionable, fell in love with the canvas and then with the woman.

When they were married, tradition has it that Rossetti withheld his blessing and sought to drown his sorrow in fomentation's, with dark, dank hints in baritone to the effect that the Thames only could appreciate his grief.

But grief is transient; and for many years Dante Rossetti and Burne-Jones pictured the tall, willowy figure of Mrs. Morris as the dream-woman, on tapestry and canvas; and as the "Blessed Virgin," her beautiful face and form are shown in many sacred places.

Truth need not be distorted in a frantic attempt to make this an ideal marriage—only a woman with the intellect of Minerva could have filled the restless heart of William Morris. But the wife of Morris believed in her lord, and never sought to hamper him; and if she failed at times to comprehend his genius, it was only because she was human.

Whistler once remarked that without Mrs. Morris to supply stained-glass attitudes and the lissome beauty of an angel, the Preraphaelites would have long since gone down to dust and forgetfulness.

* * * * *

The year which William Morris spent at architecture, he considered as nearly a waste of time, but it was not so in fact. As a draftsman he had developed a marvelous skill, and the grace and sureness of his lines were a delight to Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Holman Hunt, Ford Madox Brown and others of the little artistic circle in which he found himself.

Youth lays great plans; youth is always in revolt against the present order; youth groups itself in bands and swears eternal fealty; and life, which is change, dissipates the plans, subdues the revolt into conformity, and the sworn friendships fade away into dull indifference. Always? Well, no, not exactly.

In this instance the plans and dreams found form; the revolt was a revolution that succeeded; and the brotherhood existed for near fifty years, and then was severed only by death.

Without going into a history of the Preraphaelite Brotherhood, it will be noted that the band of enthusiasts in art, literature and architecture had been swung by the arguments and personality of William Morris into the strong current of his own belief, and this was that Art and Life in the Middle Ages were much lovelier things than they are now.

That being so, we should go back to medieval times for our patterns.

A study of the best household decorations of the Fifteenth Century showed that all the furniture used then was made to fit a certain apartment, and with a definite purpose in view.

Of course it was made by hand, and the loving marks of the tool were upon it. It was made as good and strong and durable as it could be made. Floors and walls were of mosaic or polished wood, and these were partly covered by beautifully woven rugs, skins and tapestries. The ceilings were sometimes ornamented with pictures painted in harmony with the use for which the room was designed. Certainly there were no chromos and the pictures were few and these of the best, for the age was essentially a critical one.

A modest circular was issued in which the fact was made known that "a company of historical artists will use their talents in home decoration."

Dealers into whose hands this circular fell, smiled in derision, and the announcement made no splash in England's artistic waters. But the leaven was at work which was bound to cause a revolution in the tastes of fifty million people.

Most of our best moves are accidents, and every good thing begins as something else. In the beginning there was no expectation of building up a trade or making a financial success of the business. The idea was simply that the eight young men who composed the band were to use their influence in helping one another to secure commissions, and corroborate the views of doubting patrons as to what was art and what not. In other words, they were to stand by one another.

Ford Madox Brown, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Arthur Hughes were painters; Philip Webb an architect; Peter Paul Marshall a landscape-gardener and engineer; Charles Joseph Faulkner, an Oxford don, was a designer, and William Morris was an all-round artist—ready to turn his hand to anything.

These men undertook to furnish a home from garret to cellar in an artistic way.

Work came, and each set himself to help all the others. From simply supplying designs for furniture, rugs, carpets and wall-paper they began to manufacture these things, simply because they could not buy or get others to make the things they desired.

Morris undertook the entire executive charge of affairs, and mastered the details of half a dozen trades in order that he might intelligently conduct the business. The one motto of the firm was, "Not how cheap, but how good." They insisted that housekeeping must be simplified, and that we should have fewer things and have them better. To this end single pieces of furniture were made, and all sets of furniture discarded. I have seen several houses furnished entirely by William Morris, and the first thing that impressed me was the sparsity of things. Instead of a dozen pictures in a room, there were two or three—one on an easel and one or two on the walls. Gilt frames were abandoned almost entirely, and dark-stained woods were used instead. Wide fireplaces were introduced and mantels of solid oak. For upholstery, leather covering was commonly used instead of cloth. Carpets were laid in strips, not tacked down to stay, and rugs were laid so as to show a goodly glimpse of hardwood floor; and in the dining-room a large, round table was placed instead of a right-angled square one. This table was not covered with a tablecloth; instead, mats and doilies were used here and there. To cover a table entirely with a cloth or spread was pretty good proof that the piece of furniture was cheap and shabby; so in no William Morris library or dining-room would you find a table entirely covered. The round dining-table is in very general use now, but few people realize how its plainness was scouted when William Morris first introduced it.

One piece of William Morris furniture has become decidedly popular in America, and that is the "Morris Chair." The first chair of this pattern was made entirely by the hands of the master. It was built by a man who understood anatomy, unlike most chairs and all church pews. It was also strong, durable, ornamental, and by a simple device the back could be adjusted so as to fit a man's every mood.

There has been a sad degeneracy among William Morris chairs; still, good ones can be obtained, nearly as excellent as the one in which I rested at Kelmscott House—broad, deep, massive, upholstered with curled hair, and covered with leather that would delight a bookbinder. Such a chair can be used a generation and then passed on to the heirs.

Furnishing of churches and chapels led naturally to the making of stained-glass windows, and hardly a large city of Christendom but has an example of the Morris work.

Morris managed to hold that erratic genius, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, in line and direct his efforts, which of itself was a feat worthy of record. He made a fortune for Rossetti, who was a child in this world's affairs, and he also made a fortune for himself and every man connected with the concern.

Burne-Jones stood by the ship manfully, and proved his good sense by never interfering with the master's plans, or asking foolish, quibbling questions—showing faith on all occasions.

The Morris designs for wall-paper, tapestry, cretonnes and carpets are now the property of the world, but to say just which is a William Morris design and which a Burne-Jones is an impossibility, for these two strong men worked together as one being with two heads and four hands. At one time, I find the firm of Morris and Company had three thousand hands at work in its various manufactories, the work in most instances being done by hand after the manner of the olden time. William Morris was an avowed socialist long before so many men began to grow fond of calling themselves Christian Socialists. Morris was too practical not to know that the time is not ripe for life on a communal basis, but in his heart was a high and holy ideal that he has partially explained in his books, "A Dream of John Ball" and "News From Nowhere," and more fully in many lectures. His sympathy was ever with the workingman and those who grind fordone at the wheel of labor. To better the condition of the toiler was his sincere desire. But socialism to him was more of an emotion than a well-worked-out plan of life. He believed that men should replace competition by Co-operation. He used to say: "I'm going your way, so let us go hand in hand. You help me and I'll help you. We shall not be here very long, for soon, Death, the kind old nurse, will come and rock us all to sleep—let us help one another while we may." And that is about the extent of the socialism of William Morris.

There is one criticism that has been constantly brought against Morris, and although he answered this criticism a thousand times during his life, it still springs fresh—put forth by little men who congratulate themselves on having scored a point.

They ask in orotund, "How could William Morris expect to benefit society at large, when all of the products he manufactured were so high in price that only the rich could buy them?"

Socialism, according to William Morris, does not consider it desirable to supply cheap stuff to anybody. The socialist aims to make every manufactured article of the best quality possible. It is not how cheap can this be made, but how good. Make it as excellent as it can be made to serve its end. Then sell it at a price that affords something more than a bare subsistence to the workmen who put their lives into its making. In this way you raise the status of the worker—you pay him for his labor and give him an interest and pride in the product. Cheap products make cheap men. The first thought of socialism is for the worker who makes the thing, not the man who buys it.

Work is for the worker.

What becomes of the product of your work, and how the world receives it, matters little. But how you do it is everything. We are what we are on account of the thoughts we have thought and the things we have done. As a muscle grows strong only through use, so does every attribute of the mind, and every quality of the soul take on new strength through exercise. And on the other hand, as a muscle not used atrophies and dies, so will the faculties of the spirit die through disuse.

Thus we see why it is very necessary that we should exercise our highest and best. We are making character, building soul-fiber; and no rotten threads must be woven into this web of life. If you write a paper for a learned society, you are the man who gets the benefit of that paper—the society may. If you are a preacher and prepare your sermons with care, you are the man who receives the uplift—and as to the congregation, it is all very doubtful.

Work is for the worker.

We are all working out our own salvation. And thus do we see how it is very plain that John Ruskin was right when he said that the man who makes the thing is of far more importance than the man who buys it. Work is for the worker.

Can you afford to do slipshod, evasive, hypocritical work? Can you afford to shirk, or make-believe or practise pretense in any act of life? No, no; for all the time you are molding yourself into a deformity, and drifting away from the Divine. What the world does and says about you is really no matter, but what you think and what you do are questions vital as Fate. No one can harm you but yourself. Work is for the worker. And so I will answer the questions of the critics as to how society has been benefited by, say, a William Morris book:

1. The workmen who made it found a pride and satisfaction in their work.

2. They received a goodly reward in cash for their time and efforts.

3. The buyers were pleased with their purchase, and received a decided satisfaction in its possession.

4. Readers of the book were gratified to see their author clothed in such fitting and harmonious dress.

5. Reading the text has instructed some, and possibly inspired a few to nobler thinking.

After "The Defense of Guinevere" was published, it was thirteen years before Morris issued another volume. His days had been given to art and the work of management. But now the business had gotten on to such a firm basis that he turned the immediate supervision over to others, and took two days of the week, Saturday and Sunday, for literature.

Taking up the active work of literature when thirty-nine years of age, he followed it with the zest of youth for over twenty years—until death claimed him. William Morris thought literature should be the product of the ripened mind—the mind that knows the world of men and which has grappled with earth's problems. He also considered that letters should not be a profession in itself—to make a business of an art is to degrade it. Literature should be the spontaneous output of the mind that has known and felt. To work the mine of spirit as a business and sift its product for hire, is to overwork the vein and palm off slag for sterling metal. Shakespeare was a theater-manager, Milton a secretary, Bobby Burns a farmer, Lamb a bookkeeper, Wordsworth a government employee, Emerson a lecturer, Hawthorne a custom-house inspector, and Whitman a clerk. William Morris was a workingman and a manufacturer, and would have been Poet Laureate of England had he been willing to call himself a student of sociology instead of a socialist. Socialism itself (whatever it may be) is not offensive—the word is.

* * * * *

The great American Apostle of Negation expressed, once upon a day, a regret that he had not been consulted when the Universe was being planned, otherwise he would have arranged to make good things catching instead of bad.

The remark tokened a slight lesion in the logic of the Apostle, for good things are now, and ever have been, infectious.

Once upon a day, I met a young man who told me that he was exposed at Kelmscott House for a brief hour, and caught it, and ever after there were in his mind, thoughts, feelings, emotions and ideals that had not been there before. Possibly the psychologist would explain that the spores of all these things were simply sleeping, awaiting the warmth and sunshine of some peculiar presence to start them into being; but of that I can not speak—this only I know, that the young man said to me, "Whereas I was once blind, I now see."

William Morris was a giant in physical strength and a giant in intellect. His nature was intensely masculine, in that he could plan and act without thought of precedent. Never was a man more emancipated from the trammels of convention and custom than William Morris.

Kelmscott House at Hammersmith is in an ebb-tide district where once wealth and fashion held sway; but now the vicinity is given over to factories, tenement-houses and all that train of evil and vice that follows in the wake of faded gentility.

At Hammersmith you will see spacious old mansions used as warehouses; others as boarding-houses; still others converted into dance-halls with beer-gardens in the rear, where once bloomed and blossomed milady's flowerbeds.

The broad stone steps and wide hallways and iron fences, with glimpses now and then of ancient doorplates or more ancient knockers, tell of generations lost in the maze of oblivion.

Just why William Morris, the poet and lover of harmony, should have selected this locality for a home is quite beyond the average ken. Certainly it mystified the fashionable literary world of London, with whom he never kept goose-step, but that still kept track of him—for fashion has a way of patronizing genius—and some of his old friends wrote him asking where Hammersmith was, and others expressed doubts as to its existence. I had no difficulty in taking the right train for Hammersmith, but once there no one seemed to have ever heard of the Kelmscott Press. When I inquired, grave misgivings seemed to arise as to whether the press I referred to was a cider-press, a wine-press or a press for "cracklings."

Finally I discovered a man—a workingman—whose face beamed at the mention of William Morris. Later I found that if a man knew William Morris, his heart throbbed at the mention of his name, and he at once grew voluble and confidential and friendly. It was the "Open Sesame," And if a person did not know William Morris, he simply didn't, and that was all there was about it.

But the man I met knew "Th' Ole Man," which was the affectionate title used by all the hundreds and thousands who worked with William Morris. And to prove that he knew him, when I asked that he should direct me to the Upper Mall, he simply insisted on going with me. Moreover, he told a needless lie and declared he was on the way there, although when we met he was headed in the other direction. By a devious walk of half a mile we reached the high iron fence of Kelmscott House. We arrived amid a florid description of the Icelandic Sagas as told by my new-found friend and interpreted by Th' Ole Man. My friend had not read the Sagas, but still he did not hesitate to recommend them; and so we passed through the wide-open gates and up the stone walk to the entrance of Kelmscott House. On the threshold we met F.S. Ellis and Emery Walker, who addressed my companion as "Tom." I knew Mr. Ellis slightly, and also had met Mr. Walker, who works Rembrandt miracles with a camera.

Mr. Ellis was deep in seeing the famous "Chaucer" through the press, and Mr. Walker had a print to show, so we turned aside, passed a great pile of paper in crates that cluttered the hallway, and entered the library. There, leaning over the long, oaken table, in shirt-sleeves, was the master. Who could mistake that great, shaggy head, the tangled beard, and frank, open-eyed look of boyish animation?

The man was sixty and more, but there was no appearance of age in eye, complexion, form or gesture—only the whitened hair! He greeted me as if we had always known each other, and Ellis and piles of Chaucer proof led straight to old Professor Child of Harvard, whose work Ellis criticized and Morris upheld. They fell into a hot argument, which was even continued as we walked across the street to the Doves Bindery.

The Doves Bindery, as all good men know, is managed by Mr. Cobden-Sanderson, who married one of the two daughters of Richard Cobden of Corn-Law fame.

Just why Mr. Sanderson, the lawyer, should have borrowed his wife's maiden name and made it legally a part of his own, I do not know. Anyway, I quite like the idea of linking one's name with that of the woman one loves, especially when it has been so honored by the possessor as the name of Cobden.

Cobden-Sanderson caught the rage for beauty from William Morris, and began to bind books for his own pleasure. Morris contended that any man who could bind books as beautifully as Cobden-Sanderson should not waste his time with law. Cobden-Sanderson talked it over with his wife, and she being a most sensible woman, agreed with William Morris.

So Cobden-Sanderson, acting on Th' Ole Man's suggestion, rented the quaint and curious mansion next door to the old house occupied by the Kelmscott Press, and went to work binding books.

When we were once inside the Bindery, the Chaucerian argument between Mr. Ellis and Th' Ole Man shifted off into a wrangle with Cobden-Sanderson. I could not get the drift of it exactly—it seemed to be the continuation of some former quarrel about an oak leaf or something. Anyway, Th' Ole Man silenced his opponent by smothering his batteries—all of which will be better understood when I explain that Th' Ole Man was large in stature, bluff, bold and strong-voiced, whereas Cobden-Sanderson is small, red-headed, meek, and wears bicycle-trousers.

The argument, however, was not quite so serious an affair as I at first supposed, for it all ended in a laugh and easily ran off into a quiet debate as to the value of Imperial Japan versus Whatman.

We walked through the various old parlors that now do duty as workrooms for bright-eyed girls, then over through the Kelmscott Press, and from this to another old mansion that had on its door a brass plate so polished and repolished, like a machine-made sonnet too much gone over, that one can scarcely make out its intent. Finally I managed to trace the legend, "The Seasons." I was told it was here that Thomson, the poet, wrote his book. Once back in the library of Kelmscott House, Mr. Ellis and Th' Ole Man leaned over the great oaken table and renewed, in a gentler key, the question as to whether Professor Child was justified in his construction of the Third Canto of the "Canterbury Tales." Under cover of the smoke I quietly disappeared with Mr. Cockerill, the Secretary, for a better view of the Kelmscott Press.

This was my first interview with William Morris. By chance I met him again, some days after, at the shop of Emery Walker in Clifford Court, Strand. I had been told on divers occasions by various persons that William Morris had no sympathy for American art and small respect for our literature. I am sure this was not wholly true, for on this occasion he told me he had read "Huckleberry Finn," and doted on "Uncle Remus." He also spoke with affection and feeling of Walt Whitman, and told me that he had read every printed word that Emerson had written. And further he congratulated me on the success of my book, "Songs From Vagabondia."

* * * * *

The housekeeping world seems to have been in thrall to six haircloth chairs, a slippery sofa to match, and a very cold, marble-top center table, from the beginning of this century down to comparatively recent times. In all the best homes there was also a marble mantel to match the center table; on one end of this mantel was a blue glass vase containing a bouquet of paper roses, and on the other a plaster-of-Paris cat. Above the mantel hung a wreath of wax flowers in a glass case. In such houses were usually to be seen gaudy-colored carpets, imitation lace curtains, and a what-not in the corner that seemed ready to go into dissolution through the law of gravitation.

Early in the Seventies lithograph-presses began to make chromos that were warranted just as good as oil-paintings, and these were distributed in millions by enterprising newspapers as premiums for subscriptions. Looking over an old file of the "Christian Union" for the year Eighteen Hundred Seventy-one, I chanced upon an editorial wherein it was stated that the end of painting pictures by hand had come, and the writer piously thanked heaven for it—and added, "Art is now within the reach of all." Furniture, carpets, curtains, pictures and books were being manufactured by machinery, and to glue things together and give them a look of gentility and get them into a house before they fell apart, was the seeming desideratum of all manufacturers.

The editor of the "Christian Union" surely had a basis of truth for his statement; art had received a sudden chill: palettes and brushes could be bought for half-price, and many artists were making five-year contracts with lithographers; while those too old to learn to draw on lithograph-stones saw nothing left for them but to work designs with worsted in perforated cardboard.

To the influence of William Morris does the civilized world owe its salvation from the mad rage and rush for the tawdry and cheap in home decoration. It will not do to say that if William Morris had not called a halt some one else would, nor to cavil by declaring that the inanities of the Plush-Covered Age followed the Era of the Hair-Cloth Sofa. These things are frankly admitted, but the refreshing fact remains that fully one-half the homes of England and America have been influenced by the good taste and vivid personality of one strong, earnest man.

William Morris was the strongest all-round man the century has produced. He was an Artist and a Poet in the broadest and best sense of these much-bandied terms. William Morris could do more things, and do them well, than any other man of either ancient or modern times whom we can name. William Morris was master of six distinct trades. He was a weaver, a blacksmith, a wood-carver, a painter, a dyer and a printer; and he was a musical composer of no mean ability.

Better than all, he was an enthusiastic lover of his race: his heart throbbed for humanity, and believing that society could be reformed only from below, he cast his lot with the toilers, dressed as one of them, and in the companionship of workingmen found a response to his holy zeal which the society of an entailed aristocracy denied.

The man who could influence the entire housekeeping of half a world, and give the kingdom of fashion a list to starboard; who could paint beautiful pictures; compose music; speak four languages; write sublime verse; address a public assemblage effectively; produce plays; resurrect the lost art of making books, books such as were made only in the olden time as a loving, religious service; who lived a clean, wholesome, manly life—beloved by those who knew him best—shall we not call him Master?


So, take and use Thy work, Amend what flaws may lurk, What strain o' the stuff, what warpings past the aim: My times be in Thy hand! Perfect the cup as planned! Let age approve of youth, and death complete the same. —Rabbi Ben Ezra

If there ever lived a poet to whom the best minds pour out libations, it is Robert Browning. We think of him as dwelling on high Olympus; we read his lines by the light of dim candles; we quote him in sonorous monotone at twilight when soft-sounding organ-chants come to us mellow and sweet. Browning's poems form a lover's litany to that elect few who hold that the true mating of a man and a woman is the marriage of the mind. And thrice blest was Browning, in that Fate allowed him to live his philosophy—to work his poetry up into life, and then again to transmute life and love into art. Fate was kind: success came his way so slowly that he was never subjected to the fierce, dazzling searchlight of publicity; his recognition in youth was limited to a few obscure friends and neighbors. And when distance divided him from these, they forgot him; so there seems a hiatus in his history, when for a score of years literary England dimly remembered some one by the name of Browning, but could not just place him.

About the year Eighteen Hundred Sixty-eight the author of "Sordello" was induced to appear at an evening of "Uncut Leaves" at the house of a nobleman at the West End, London. James Russell Lowell was present and was congratulated by a lady, sitting next to him, on the fact that Browning was an American.

"But only by adoption!" answered the gracious Lowell.

"Yes," said the lady; "I believe his father was an Englishman, so you Americans can not have all the credit; but surely he shows the Negro or Indian blood of his mother. Very clever, isn't he?—so very clever!"

Browning's swarthy complexion, and the fine poise of the man—the entire absence of "nerves," as often shown in the savage—seemed to carry out the idea that his was a peculiar pedigree. In his youth, when his hair was as black as the raven's wing and coarse as a horse-tail, and his complexion mahogany, the report that he was a Creole found ready credence. And so did this gossip of mixed parentage follow him that Mrs. Sutherland Orr, in her biography, takes an entire chapter to prove that in Robert Browning's veins there flowed neither Indian nor Negro blood.

Doctor Furnivall, however, explains that Browning's grandmother on his father's side came from the West Indies, that nothing is known of her family history, and that she was a Creole.

And beyond this, the fact is stated that Robert Browning was quite pleased when he used to be taken for a Jew—a conclusion made plausible by his complexion, hair and features.

In its dead-serious, hero-worshiping attitude, the life of Robert Browning by Mrs. Orr deserves to rank with Weems' "Life of Washington." It is the brief of an attorney for the defense. "Little-Willie" anecdotes appear on every page.

And thus do we behold the tendency to make Browning something more than a man—and, therefore, something less.

Possibly women are given to this sort of thing more than men—I am not sure. But this I know, every young woman regards her lover as a distinct and peculiar personage, different from all others—as if this were a virtue—the only one of his kind. Later, if Fate is kind, she learns that her own experience is not unique. We all easily fit into a type, and each is but a representative of his class.

Robert Browning sprang from a line of clerks and small merchants; but as indemnity for the lack of a family 'scutcheon, we are told that his uncle, Reuben Browning, was a sure-enough poet. For once in an idle hour he threw off a little thing for an inscription to be placed on a presentation ink-bottle, and Disraeli seeing it, declared, "Nothing like this has ever before been written!"

Beyond doubt, Disraeli made the statement—it bears his earmark. It will be remembered that the Earl of Beaconsfield had a stock form for acknowledging receipt of the many books sent to him by aspiring authors. It ran something like this: "The Earl of Beaconsfield begs to thank the gifted author of——for a copy of his book, and gives the hearty assurance that he will waste no time in reading the volume."

And further, the fact is set forth with unction that Robert Browning was entrusted with a latchkey early in life, and that he always gave his mother a good-night kiss. He gave her the good-night kiss willy-nilly. If she had retired when he came home, he used the trusty latchkey and went to her room to imprint on her lips the good-night kiss. He did this, the biographer would have us believe, to convince the good mother that his breath was what it should be; and he awakened her so she would know the hour was seasonable.

In many manufactories there is an electric apparatus wherewith every employee registers when he arrives, by turning a key or pushing a button. Robert Browning always fearlessly registered as soon as he got home—this according to Mrs. Orr.

Unfortunately, or otherwise, there is a little scattered information which makes us believe that Robert Browning's mother was not so fearful of her son's conduct, nor suspicious as to his breath, as to lie awake nights and keep tab on his hours. The world has never denied that Robert Browning was entrusted with a latchkey, and it cares little if occasionally, early in life, he fumbled for the keyhole. And my conception of his character is such that, when in the few instances Aurora, rosy goddess of the morn, marked his homecoming with chrome-red in the eastern sky, he did not search the sleeping-rooms for his mother to apprise her of the hour.

In one place Mrs. Orr avers, in a voice hushed with emotion, that Browning carefully read all of Johnson's Dictionary "as a fit preparation for a literary career." Without any attempt to deny that the perusal of a dictionary is "fit preparation for a literary career," I yet fear me that the learned biographer, in a warm anxiety to prove the man exceeding studious and very virtuous, has tipped a bit to t' other side.

She has apotheosized her subject—and in an attempt to portray him as a peculiar person, set apart, has well-nigh given us a being without hands, feet, eyes, ears, organs, dimensions, passions.

But after a careful study of the data, various visits to the places where he lived in England, trips to Casa Guidi, views from Casa Guidi windows, a journey to Palazzo Rezzonico at Venice, where he died, and many a pious pilgrimage to Poets' Corner, in Westminster Abbey, where he sleeps, I am constrained to believe that Robert Browning was made from the same kind of clay as the rest of us. He was human—he was splendidly human.

* * * * *

Browning's father was a bank-clerk; and Robert Browning, the Third, author of "Paracelsus," could have secured his father's place in the Bank of England, if he had had ambitions. And the fact that he had not was a source of silent sorrow to the father, even to the day of his death, in Eighteen Hundred Sixty-six.

Robert Browning, the grandfather, entered the Bank as an errand-boy, and rose by slow stages to Principal of the Stock-Room. He served the Bank full half a century, and saved from his salary a goodly competence. This money, tightly and rightly invested, passed to his son. The son never secured the complete favor of his employers that the father had known, but he added to his weekly stipend by what a writer terms, "legitimate perquisites." This, being literally interpreted, means that he purchased paper, pens and sealing-wax for the use of the Bank, and charged the goods in at his own price, doubtless with the consent of his superior, with whom he divided profits. He could have parodied the remark of Fletcher of Saltoun and said, "Let me supply the perquisite-requisites and I care not who makes the laws." So he grew rich—moderately rich—and lived simply and comfortably up at Camberwell, with only one besetting dissipation: he was a book-collector and had learned more Greek than Robert the Third was to acquire. He searched bookstalls on the way to the City in the morning, and lay in wait for First Editions on the way home at night. When he had a holiday, he went in search of a book. He sneaked books into the house, and declared to his admonishing wife the next week that he had always owned 'em, or that they were presented to him. The funds his father had left him, his salary and "the perquisites," made a goodly income, but he always complained of poverty. He was secretly hoarding sums so as to secure certain books.

The shelves grew until they reached the ceiling, and then bookcases invaded the dining-room. The collector didn't trust his wife with the household purchasing; no bank-clerk ever does—and all the pennies were needed for books. The good wife, having nothing else to do, grew anemic, had neuralgia and lapsed into a Shut-in, wearing a pale-blue wrapper and reclining on a couch, around which were piled—mountain-high—books.

The pale invalid used to imagine that the great cases were swaying and dancing a minuet, and she fully expected the tomes would all come a-toppling down and smother her—and she didn't care much if they would; but they never did. She was the mother of two children—the boy Robert, born the year after her marriage; and in a little over another year a daughter came, and this closed the family record.

The invalid mother was a woman of fine feeling and much poetic insight. She didn't talk as much about books as her husband did, but I think she knew the good ones better. The mother and son moused in books together, and Mrs. Orr is surely right in her suggestion that this love of mother and son took upon itself the nature of a passion.

The love of Robert Browning for Elizabeth Barrett was a revival and a renewal, in many ways, of the condition of tenderness and sympathy that existed between Browning and his mother. There certainly was a strange and marked resemblance in the characters of Elizabeth Barrett and the mother of Robert Browning; and to many this fully accounts for the instant affection that Browning felt toward the occupant of the "darkened room," when first they met.

The book-collector took much pride in his boy, and used to take him on book-hunting excursions, and sometimes to the Bank, on which occasions he would tell the Beef-Eaters how this was Robert Browning, the Third, and that all three of the R.B.'s were loyal servants of the Bank. And the Beef-Eaters would rest their staves on the stone floor, and smile Fifteenth-Century grimaces at the boy from under their cocked hats.

Robert the Third was a healthy, rollicking lad, with power plus, and a deal of destructiveness in his nature. But destructiveness in a youngster is only energy not yet properly directed, just as dirt is useful matter in the wrong place.

To keep the boy out of mischief, he was sent to a sort of kindergarten, kept by a spinster around the corner. The spinster devoted rather more attention to the Browning boy than to her other pupils—she had to, to keep him out of mischief—and soon the boy was quite the head scholar.

And they tell us that he was so much more clever than any of the other scholars that, to appease the rising jealousy of the parents of the other pupils, the diplomatic spinster requested that the boy be removed from her school—all this according to the earnest biographer. The facts are that the boy had so much energy and restless ambition; was so full of brimming curiosity, mischief and imagination—introducing turtles, bats and mice on various occasions—that he led the whole school a merry chase and wore the nerves of the ancient maiden to a frazzle.

He had to go.

After this he studied at home with his mother. His father laid out a schedule, and it was lived up to, for about a week.

Then a private tutor was tried, but soon this plan was abandoned, and a system of reading, best described as "natural selection," was followed.

The boy was fourteen, and his sister was twelve, past. These are the ages when children often experience a change of heart, as all "revivalists" know. Robert Browning was swinging off towards atheism. He grew melancholy, irritable and wrote stanzas of sentimental verse. He showed this verse, high-sounding, stilted, bold and bilious, to his mother and then to his father, and finally to Lizzie Flower.

A word about Lizzie Flower: She was nine years older than Robert Browning; and she had a mind that was gracious and full of high aspiration. She loved books, art, music, and all harmony made its appeal to her—and not in vain. She wrote verses and, very sensibly, kept them locked in her workbox; and then she painted in water-colors and worked in worsted. A thoroughly good woman, she was far above the average in character, with a half-minor key in her voice and a tinge of the heartbroken in her composition, caused no one just knew how. Probably a certain young curate at Saint Margaret's could have thrown light on this point; but he married, took on a double chin, moved away to a fat living and never told.

No woman is ever wise or good until destiny has subdued her by grinding her fondest hopes into the dust.

Lizzie Flower was wise and good.

She gave singing lessons to the Browning children. She taught Master Robert Browning to draw.

She read to him some of her verses that were in the sewing-table drawer. And her sister, Sarah Flower, two years older, afterwards Sarah Flower Adams, read aloud to them a hymn she had just written, called, "Nearer, My God, to Thee."

Then soon Master Robert showed the Flower girls some of the verses he had written.

Robert liked Lizzie Flower first-rate, and told his mother so. A young woman never cares anything for an unlicked cub, nine years younger than herself, unless Fate has played pitch and toss with her heart's true love. And then, the tendrils of the affections being ruthlessly lacerated and uprooted, they cling to the first object that presents itself.

Lizzie Flower was a wallflower. That is to say, she had early in life rid herself of the admiration of the many, by refusing to supply an unlimited amount of small talk. In feature she was as plain as George Eliot. A boy is plastic, and even a modest wallflower can woo him; but a man, for her, inspires awe—with him she takes no liberties. And the wallflower woos the youth unwittingly, thinking the while she is only using her influence the better to instruct him.

It is fortunate for a boy escaping adolescence to be educated and loved (the words are synonymous) by a good woman. Indeed, the youngster who has not violently loved a woman old enough to be his mother has dropped something out of his life that he will have to go back and pick up in another incarnation.

I said Robert liked Lizzie Flower first-rate; and she declared that he was the brightest and most receptive pupil she had ever had.

He was seventeen—she was twenty-six. They read Shelley, Keats and Byron aloud, and together passed through the "Byronic Period." They became violently atheistic, and at the same time decidedly religious: things that seem paradoxical, but are not. They adopted a vegetable diet and for two years they eschewed meat. They worshiped in the woods, feeling that the groves were God's first temples; and sitting at the gnarled roots of some great oak, they would read aloud, by turn, from "Queen Mab."

On one such excursion out across Hampstead Heath they lost their copy of "Shelley" in the leaves, and a wit has told us that it sprouted, and as a result—the flower and fruit—we have Browning's poem of "Pauline." And this must be so, for Robert and Miss Flower (he always called her "Miss Flower," but she called him "Robert") made many an excursion, in search of the book, yet they never found it.

Robert now being eighteen, a man grown—not large, but very strong and wiry—his father made arrangements for him to take a minor clerkship in the Bank. But the boy rebelled—he was going to be an artist, or a poet, or something like that.

The father argued that a man could be a poet and still work in a bank—the salary was handy; and there was no money in poetry. In fact, he himself was a poet, as his father had been before him. To be a bank-clerk and at the same time a poet—what nobler ambition!

The young man was still stubborn. He was feeling discontented with his environment: he was cramped, cabined, cribbed, confined. He wanted to get out of the world of petty plodding and away from the silly round of conventions, out into the world of art—or else of barbarism—he didn't care which.

The latter way opened first, and a bit of wordy warfare with his father on the subject of idleness sent him off to a gipsy camp at Epsom Downs. How long he lived with the vagabonds we do not know, but his swarthy skin, and his skill as a boxer and wrestler, recommended him to the ragged gentry, and they received him as a brother.

It is probable that a week of pure vagabondia cured him of the idea that civilization is a disease, for he came back home, made a bonfire of his attire, and after a vigorous tubbing, was clothed in his right mind.

Groggy studies in French under a private tutor followed, and then came a term as special student in Greek at London University.

To be nearer the school, he took lodgings in Gower Street; but within a week a slight rough-house incident occurred that crippled most of the furniture in his room and deprived the stair-rail of its spindles. R. Browning, the Second, bank-clerk, paid the damages, and R. Browning, the Third, aged twenty, came back home, formally notifying all parties concerned that he had chosen a career—it was Poetry. He would woo the Divine Goddess, no matter who opposed. There, now!

His mother was delighted; his father gave reluctant consent, declaring that any course in life was better than vacillation; and Miss Flower, who probably had sown the dragon's teeth, assumed a look of surprise, but gave it as her opinion that Robert Browning would yet be Poet Laureate of England.

* * * * *

Robert Browning awoke one morning with a start—it was the morning of his thirtieth birthday. One's thirtieth birthday and one's seventieth are days that press their message home with iron hand. With his seventieth milestone past, a man feels that his work is done, and dim voices call to him from across the Unseen. His work is done, and so illy, compared with what he had wished and expected! But the impressions made upon his heart by the day are no deeper than those his thirtieth birthday inspires. At thirty, youth, with all it palliates and excuses, is gone forever. The time for mere fooling is past; the young avoid you, or else look up to you as a Nestor and tempt you to grow reminiscent. You are a man and must give an account of yourself.

Out of the stillness came a Voice to Robert Browning saying, "What hast thou done with the talent I gave thee?"

What had he done? It seemed to him at the moment as if he had done nothing. He arose and looked into the mirror. A few gray hairs were mixed in his beard; there were crow's feet on his forehead; and the first joyous flush of youth had gone from his face forever. He was a bachelor, inwardly at war with his environment, but making a bold front with his tuppence worth of philosophy to conceal the unrest within.

A bachelor of thirty, strong in limb, clear in brain and yet a dependent! No one but himself to support, and couldn't even do that! Gadzooks! Fie upon all poetry and a plague upon this dumb, dense, shopkeeping, beer-drinking nation upon which the sun never sets!

The father of Robert Browning had done everything a father could. He had supplied board and books, and given his son an allowance of a pound a week for ten years. He had sent him on a journey to Italy, and published several volumes of the young man's verse at his own expense. And these books were piled high in the garret, save a few that had been bought by charitable friends or given away.

Robert Browning was not discouraged—oh no, not that!—only the world seemed to stretch out in a dull, monotonous gray, where once it was green, the color of hope, and all decked with flowers.

The little literary world of London knew Browning and respected him. He was earnest and sincere and his personality carried weight. His face was not handsome, but his manner was one of poise and purpose; and to come within his aura and look into his calm eyes was to respect the man and make obeisance to the intellect that you felt lay behind.

A few editors had gone out of their way to "discover" him to the world, but their lavish reviews fell flat. Buyers would not buy—no one seemed to want the wares of Robert Browning. He was hard to read, difficult, obscure—or else there wasn't anything in it at all—they didn't know which.

Fox, editor of the "Repository," had met Browning at the Flowers' and liked him. He tried to make his verse go, but couldn't. Yet he did what he could and insisted that Browning should go with him to the "Sunday evenings" at Barry Cornwall's. There Browning met Leigh Hunt, Monckton Milnes and Dickens. Then there were dinner-parties at Sergeant Talfourd's, where he got acquainted with Wordsworth, Walter Savage Landor and Macready.

Macready impressed him greatly and he impressed Macready. He gave the actor a copy of "Paracelsus" (one of the pile in the garret) and Macready suggested he write a play. "Strafford" was the result, and we know it was stillborn, and caused a very frosty feeling to exist for many a year between the author and the actor. When a play fails, the author blames the actor and the actor damns the author. These men were human. Of course Browning's kinsmen all considered him a failure, and when the father paid over the weekly allowance he often rubbed it in a bit. Lizzie Flower had modified her prophecy as to the Laureateship, but was still loyal. They had tiffed occasionally, and broken off the friendship, and once I believe returned letters. To marry was out of the question—he couldn't support himself—and besides that, they were old, demnition old; he was past thirty and she was forty—Gramercy!

They tiffed.

Then they made up.

In the meantime Browning had formed a friendship, very firm and frank, but strictly Platonic, of course, for Fanny Haworth. Miss Haworth had seen more of the world than Miss Flower—she was an artist, a writer, and moved in the best society. Browning and Miss Haworth wrote letters to each other for a while most every day, and he called on her every Wednesday and Saturday evening.

Miss Haworth bought and gave away many copies of "Pauline," "Sordello" and "Paracelsus"; and informed her friends that "Pippa Passes" and "Two in a Gondola" were great quality.

About this time we find Edward Moxon, the publisher (who married the adopted daughter of Charles and Mary Lamb), saying to Browning: "Your verse is all right, Browning, but a book of it is too much: people are appalled; they can not digest it. And when it goes into a magazine it is lost in the mass. Now just let me get out your work in little monthly instalments, in booklet form, and I think it will go."

Browning jumped at the idea.

The booklets were gotten out in paper covers and offered at a moderate price.

They sold, and sold well. The literary elite bought them by the dozen to give away.

People began to talk about Browning—he was getting a foothold. His royalties now amounted to as much as the weekly allowance from his father, and Pater was talking of cutting off the stipend entirely. Finances being easy, Browning thought it a good time to take another look at Italy. Some of the best things he had written had been inspired by Venice and Asolo—he would go again. And so he engaged passage on a sailing-ship for Naples.

* * * * *

Shortly after Browning's return to London, in Eighteen Hundred Forty-four, he dined at Sergeant Talfourd's. After the dinner a well-dressed and sprightly old gentleman introduced himself and begged that Browning would inscribe a copy of "Bells and Pomegranates," that he had gotten specially bound. There is an ancient myth about writers being harassed by autograph-fiends and all that; but the simple fact is, nothing so warms the cockles of an author's heart as to be asked for his autograph. Of course Browning graciously complied with the gentleman's request, and in order that he might insert the owner's name in the inscription, asked:

"What name, please?"

And the answer was, "John Kenyon."

Then Mr. Browning and Mr. Kenyon had a nice little visit, talking about books and art. And Mr. Kenyon told Mr. Browning that Miss Elizabeth Barrett, the poetess, was a cousin of his—he was a bit boastful of the fact.

And Mr. Browning nodded and said he had often heard of her, and admired her work.

Then Mr. Kenyon suggested that Mr. Browning write and tell her so—"You see she has just gotten out a new book, and we are all a little nervous about how it is going to take. Miss Barrett lives in a darkened room, you know—sees no one—and a letter from a man like you would encourage her greatly."

Mr. Kenyon wrote the address of Miss Barrett on a card and pushed it across the table.

Mr. Browning took the card, put it in his pocketbook and promised to write Miss Barrett, as Mr. Kenyon requested.

And he did.

Miss Barrett replied.

Mr. Browning answered, and soon several letters a week were going in each direction.

Not quite so many missives were being received by Fanny Haworth; and as for Lizzie Flower, I fear she was quite forgotten. She fell into a decline, drooped and died in a year.

Mr. Browning asked for permission to call on Miss Barrett.

Miss Barrett explained that her father would not allow it, neither would the doctor or nurse, and added: "There is nothing to see in me. I am a weed fit for the ground and darkness."

But this repulse only made Mr. Browning want to see her the more. He appealed to Mr. Kenyon, who was the only person allowed to call, besides Miss Mitford—Mr. Kenyon was her cousin.

Mr. Kenyon arranged it—he was an expert at arranging anything of a delicate nature. He timed the hour when Mr. Barrett was down town, and the nurse and doctor safely out of the way, and they called on the invalid prisoner in the darkened room.

They did not stay long, but when they went away Robert Browning trod on air. The beautiful girl-like face, in its frame of dark curls, lying back among the pillows, haunted him like a shadow. He was thirty-three, she was thirty-five. She looked like a child, but the mind—the subtle, appreciative, receptive mind! The mind that caught every allusion, that knew his thought before he voiced it, that found nothing obscure in his work, and that put a high and holy construction on his every sentence—it was divine! divinity incarnated in a woman.

Robert Browning tramped the streets forgetful of meat, drink or rest.

He would give this woman freedom. He would devote himself to restoring her to the air and sunshine. What nobler ambition! He was an idler, he had never done anything for anybody. He was only a killer of time, a vagrant, but now was his opportunity—he would do for this beautiful soul what no one else on earth could do. She was slipping away as it was—the world would soon lose her. Was there none to save?

Here was the finest intellect ever given to a woman—so sure, so vital, so tender and yet so strong!

He would love her back to life and light!

And so Robert Browning told her all this shortly after, but before he told, she had divined his thought. For solitude and loneliness and heart-hunger had given her the power of an astral being; she was in communication with all the finer forces that pervade our ether. He would love her back to life and light—he told her so. She grew better.

And soon we find her getting up and throwing wide the shutters. It was no longer the darkened room, for the sunlight came dancing through the apartment, driving out all the dark shadows that lurked therein.

The doctor was indignant; the nurse resigned.

Of course, Mr. Barrett was not taken into confidence and no one asked his consent. Why should they?—he was the man who could never understand.

So one fine day when the coast was clear, the couple went over to Saint Marylebone Church and were married. The bride went home alone—could walk all right now—and it was a week before her husband saw her, because he would not be a hypocrite and go ring the doorbell and ask if Miss Barrett was home; and of course if he had asked for Mrs. Robert Browning, no one would have known whom he wanted to see.

But at the end of a week, the bride stole down the stairs, while the family was at dinner, leading her dog Flush by a string, and all the time, with throbbing heart, she prayed the dog not to bark. I have oft wondered in the stilly night season what the effect on English Letters would have been, had the dog really barked! But the dog did not bark; and Elizabeth met her lover-husband there on the corner where the mail-box is. No one missed the runaways until the next day, and then the bride and groom were safely in France, writing letters back from Dieppe, asking forgiveness and craving blessings.

* * * * *

"She is the Genius and I am the Clever Person," Browning used to say. And this I believe will be the world's final judgment.

Browning knew the world in its every phase—good and bad, high and low, society and commerce, the shop and gypsy camp. He absorbed things, assimilated them, compared and wrote it out.

Elizabeth Barrett had never traveled, her opportunities for meeting people had been few, her experiences limited, and yet she evolved truth: she secreted beauty from within.

For two years after their elopement they did not write—how could they? goodness me! They were on their wedding-tour. They lived in Florence and Rome and in various mountain villages in Italy.

Health came back, and joy and peace and perfect love were theirs. But it was joy bought with a price—Elizabeth Barrett Browning had forfeited the love of her father. Her letters written him came back unopened, books inscribed to him were returned—he declared she was dead.

Her brothers, too, discarded her, and when her two sisters wrote, they did so by stealth, and their letters, meant to be kind, were steel for her heart. Then her father was rich; and she had always known every comfort that money could buy. Now, she had taken up with a poor poet, and every penny had to be counted—absolute economy was demanded.

And Robert Browning, with a certain sense of guilt upon him, for depriving her of all the creature comforts she had known, sought by tenderness and love to make her forget the insults her father heaped upon her.

As for Browning, the bank-clerk, he was vexed that his son should show so little caution as to load himself up with an invalid wife, and he cut off the allowance, declaring that if a man was old enough to marry, he was also old enough to care for himself. He did, however, make his son several "loans"; and finally came to "bless the day that his son had sense enough to marry the best and most talented woman on earth."

Browning's poems were selling slowly, and Mrs. Browning's books brought her a little royalty, thanks to the loyal management of John Kenyon, and so absolute want and biting poverty did not overtake the runaways.

After the birth of her son, in Eighteen Hundred Forty-nine, Mrs. Browning's health seemed to have fully returned. She used to ride horseback up and down the mountain passes, and wrote home to Miss Mitford that love had turned the dial backward and the joyousness of girlhood had come again to her.

When John Kenyon died and left them ten thousand pounds, all their own, it placed them forever beyond the apprehension of want, and also enabled them to do for others; for they pensioned old Walter Savage Landor, and established him in comfortable quarters around the corner from Casa Guidi.

I intimated a moment ago that their honeymoon continued for two years. This was a mistake, for it continued for just fifteen years, when the beautiful girl-like form, with her head of flowing curls upon her husband's shoulder, ceased to breathe. Painlessly and without apprehension or premonition, the spirit had taken its flight.

That letter of Miss Blagdon's, written some weeks after, telling of how the stricken man paced the echoing hallways at night crying, "I want her! I want her!" touches us like a great, strange sorrow that once pierced our hearts.

But Robert Browning's nature was too strong to be subdued by grief. He remembered that others, too, had buried their dead, and that sorrow had been man's portion since the world began. He would live for his boy—for Her child.

But Florence was no longer his Florence, and he made haste to settle up his affairs and go back to England. He never returned to Florence, and never saw the beautiful monument, designed by his lifelong friend, Frederick Leighton.

When you visit the little English Cemetery at Florence, the slim little girl that comes down the path, swinging the big bunch of keys, opens the high iron gate and leads you, without word or question, straight to the grave of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Browning was forty-nine when Mrs. Browning died.

And by the time he had reached his fiftieth meridian, England, harkening to America's suggestion, was awakening to the fact that he was one of the world's great poets.

Honors came slowly, but surely: Oxford with a degree; Saint Andrew's with a Lord-Rectorship; publishers with advance payments. And when Smith and Elder paid one hundred pounds for the poem of "Herve Riel," it seemed that at last Browning's worth was being recognized. Not, of course, that money is the infallible test, but even poetry has its Rialto, where the extent of appreciation is shown by prices current.

Browning's best work was done after his wife's death; and in that love he ever lived and breathed. In his seventy-fifth year, it filled his days and dreams as though it were a thing of yesterday, singing in his heart a perpetual eucharist.

"The Ring and the Book" must be regarded as Browning's crowning work. Offhand critics have disposed of it, but the great minds go back to it again and again. In the character of Pompilia the author sought to pay tribute to the woman whose memory was ever in his mind; yet he was too sensitive and shrinking to fully picture her. He sought to mask his inspiration; but tender, loving recollections of "Ba" are interlaced and interwoven through it all.

When Robert Browning died, in Eighteen Hundred Eighty-nine, the world of literature and art uncovered in token of honor to one who had lived long and well and had done a deathless work. And the doors of storied Westminster opened wide to receive his dust.


Not of the sunlight, Not of the moonlight, Nor of the starlight! O young Mariner, Down to the haven, Call your companions, Launch your vessel, And crowd your canvas, And ere it vanishes Over the margin, After it, follow it, Follow the Gleam. —Merlin

The grandfather of Tennyson had two sons, the elder boy, according to Clement Scott, being "both wilful and commonplace." Now, of course, the property and honors and titles, according to the law of England, would all gravitate to the commonplace boy; and the second son, who was competent, dutiful and worthy, would be out in the cold world—simply because he was accidentally born second and not first. It was not his fault that he was born second, and it was in no wise to the credit of the other that he was born first.

So the father, seeing that the elder boy had small executive capacity, and no appreciation of a Good Thing, disinherited him, giving him, however, a generous allowance, but letting the titles go to the second boy, who was bright and brave and withal a right manly fellow.

Personally, I'm glad the honors went to the best man. But Hallam Tennyson, son of the poet, sees only rank injustice in the action of his ancestor, who deliberately set his own opinion of right and justice against precedent as embodied in English Law. As a matter of strictest justice, we might argue that neither boy was entitled to anything which he had not earned, and that, in dividing the property between them, instead of allowing it all to drift into the hands of the one accidentally born first, the father acted wisely and well.

But neither Alfred nor Hallam Tennyson thought so. How much their opinions were biased by the fact that they were descendants of the firstborn son, we can not say. Anyway, the descendants of the second son, the Honorable Charles Tennyson d'Eyncourt, have made no protest of which I can learn, about justice having been defeated.

Considering this subject of the Law of Entail one step further, we find that Hallam, the present Lord Tennyson, is a Peer of the Realm simply because his father was a great poet, and honors were given him on that account by the Queen. These honors go to Hallam, who, as all men agree, is in many ways singularly like his grandfather.

Genius is not hereditary, but titles are. Hallam is eminently pleased with the English Law of Entail, save that he questions whether any father has the divine right to divert his titles and wealth from the eldest son. Lord Hallam's arguments are earnest and well expressed, but they seem to show that he is lacking in what Herbert Spencer calls the "value sense"—in other words, the sense of humor.

Hallam's lack of perspective is further demonstrated by his patient efforts to explain who the various Tennysons were. In my boyhood days I thought there was but one Tennyson. On reading Hallam's book, however, one would think there were dozens of them. To keep these various men, bearing one name, from being confused in the mind of the reader, is quite a task; and to better identify one particular Tennyson, Hallam always refers to him as "Father," or "My Father." In the course of a recent interview with W.H. Seward, of Auburn, New York, I was impressed by his dignified, respectful, and affectionate references to "Seward." "This belonged to Seward," and "Seward told me"—as though there were but one. In these pages I will speak of Tennyson—there has been but one—there will never be another.

* * * * *

I think Clement Scott is a little severe in his estimate of the character of Tennyson's father, although the main facts are doubtless as he states them. The Reverend George Clayton Tennyson, Rector of Somersby and Wood Enderby parishes, was a typical English parson. As a boy he was simply big, fat and lazy. His health was so perfect that it overtopped all ambition, and having no nerves to speak of, his sensibilities were very slight.

When he was disinherited in favor of his younger brother, a keen, nervous, forceful fellow, he accepted it as a matter of course. His career was planned for him: he "took orders," married the young woman his folks selected, and slipped easily into his proper niche—his adipose serving as a buffer for his feelings. In his intellect there was no flash, and his insight into the heart of things was small.

Being happily married to a discreet woman who managed him without ever letting him be aware of it, and having a sure and sufficient income, and never knowing that he had a stomach, he did his clerical work (with the help of a curate), and lived out the measure of his days, no wiser at the last than he was at thirty.

In passing, we may call attention to the fact that the average man is a victim of Arrested Development, and that the fleeting years bring an increase of knowledge only in very exceptional cases. Health and prosperity are not pure blessings—a certain element of discontent is necessary to spur men on to a higher life.

The Reverend George Clayton Tennyson had income enough to meet his wants, but not enough to embarrass him with the responsibility of taking care of it. Each quarterly stipend was spent before it arrived, and the family lived on credit until another three months rolled around. They had roast beef as often as they wanted it; in the cellar were puncheons, kegs and barrels, and as there was no rent to pay nor landlords to appease, care sat lightly on the Rector.

Elizabeth, this man's wife, is worthy of more than a passing note. She was the daughter of the Reverend Stephen Fytche, vicar of Louth. Her family was not so high in rank as the Tennysons, because the Tennysons belonged to the gentry. But she was intelligent, amiable, fairly good-looking, and being the daughter of a clergyman, had beyond doubt a knowledge of clerical needs; so it was thought she would make a good wife for the newly appointed incumbent of Somersby.

The parents arranged it, the young folks were willing, and so they were married—and the bridegroom was happy ever afterward.

And why shouldn't he have been happy? Surely no man was ever blessed with a better wife! He had made a reach into the matrimonial grab-bag and drawn forth a jewel. This jewel was many-faceted. Without affectation or silly pride, the clergyman's wife did the work that God sent her to do. The sense of duty was strong upon her. Babies came, once each two years, and in one case two in one year, and there was careful planning required to make the income reach, and to keep the household in order. Then she visited the poor and sick of the parish, and received the many visitors. And with it all she found time to read. Her mind was open and alert for all good things. I am not sure that she was so very happy, but no complaints escaped her. In all she bore twelve children—eight sons and four daughters. Ten of these children lived to be over seventy-five years of age. The fourth child that came to her they named Alfred.

* * * * *

Tennyson's education in early youth was very slight. His father laid down rules and gave out lessons, but the strictness of discipline never lasted more than two days at a time. The children ran wild and roamed the woods of Lincolnshire in search of all the curious things that the woods hold in store for boys. The father occasionally made stern efforts to "correct" his sons. In the use of the birch he was ambidextrous. But I have noticed that in households where a strap hangs behind the kitchen-door, for ready use, it is not utilized so much for pure discipline as to ease the feelings of the parent. They say that expression is a need of the human heart; and I am also convinced that in many hearts there is a very strong desire at times to "thrash" some one. Who it is makes little difference, but children being helpless and the law giving us the right, we find gratification by falling upon them with straps, birch-rods, slippers, ferules, hairbrushes or apple-tree sprouts.

No student of pedagogics now believes that the free use of the rod ever made a child "good"; but all agree that it has often served as a safety-valve for a pent-up emotion in the parent or teacher.

The father of Alfred Tennyson applied the birch, and the boy took to the woods, moody, resentful, solitary. There was good in this, for the lad learned to live within himself, and to be self-sufficient: to love the solitude, and feel a kinship with all the life that makes the groves and fields melodious.

In Eighteen Hundred Twenty-eight, when nineteen years of age, Alfred was sent to Trinity College, Cambridge. He remained there three years, but left without a degree, and what was worse, with the ill-will of his teachers, who seemed to regard his as a hopeless case. He wouldn't study the books they wanted him to, and was never a candidate for academic distinctions.

College life, however, has much to recommend it beside the curriculum. At Cambridge, Tennyson made the acquaintance of a group of young men who influenced his life profoundly. Kemble, Milnes, Brookfield and Spedding remained his lifelong friends; and as all good is reciprocal, no man can say how much these eminent men owe to the moody and melancholy Tennyson, or how much he owes to them.

* * * * *

Tennyson began to write verse very young. His first line is said to have been written at five, and he has told of going when thirteen years of age to visit his grandfather, and of presenting him a poem. The old gentleman gave him half a guinea with the remark, "This is the first money you ever made by writing poetry, and take my word for it, it will be the last!" When eighteen years of age, with his brother, Charles, he produced a thin book of thin verses.

We have the opinion of Coleridge to the effect that the only lines which have any merit in the book are those signed C.T. Charles became a clergyman of marked ability, married rich, and changed his name from Tennyson to Turner for economic and domestic reasons. Years afterward, when Alfred had become Poet Laureate, rumor has it he thought of changing the "Turner" back to "Tennyson," but was unable to bring it about.

The only honor captured by Alfred at Cambridge was a prize for his poem, "Timbuctoo." The encouragement that this brought him, backed up by Arthur Hallam's declaiming the piece in public—as a sort of defi to detractors—caused him to fix his attention more assiduously on verse. He could write—it was the only thing he could do—and so he wrote.

At Cambridge he was in the habit of reading his poetry to a little coterie called "The Apostles," and he always premised his reading with the statement that no criticism would be acceptable.

The year he was twenty-one he published a small book called, "Poems, Chiefly Lyrical." The books went a-begging for many years; but times change, for a copy of this edition was sold by Quaritch in Eighteen Hundred Ninety-five for one hundred eighty pounds. The only piece in the book that seems to show genuine merit is "Mariana."

Two years afterward a second edition, revised and enlarged, was brought out. This book contains "The Lady of Shalott," "The May Queen," "A Dream of Fair Women" and "The Lotus-Eaters."

Beyond a few fulsome reviews from personal friends and a little surly mention from the tribe of Jeffrey, the volume attracted little or no attention. This coldness on the part of the public shot an atrabilarian tint through the ambition of our poet, and the fond hope of a success in literature faded from his mind.

And then began what Stopford Brooke has called "the ten fallow years in the life of Tennyson." But fallow years are not all fallow. The dark brooding night is as necessary for our life as the garish day. Great crops of wheat that feed the nations grow only where the winter's snow covers all as with a garment. And ever behind the mystery of sleep, and beneath the silence of the snow, Nature slumbers not nor sleeps.

The withholding of quick recognition gave the mind of Tennyson an opportunity to ripen. Fate held him in leash that he might be saved for a masterly work, and all the time that he lived in semi-solitude and read and thought and tramped the fields, his soul was growing strong and his spirit was taking on the silken self-sufficient strength that marked his later days. This hiatus of ten years in the life of our poet is very similar to the thirteen fallow years in the career of Browning. These men crossed and recrossed each other's pathway, but did not meet for many years. What a help they might have been to each other in those years of doubt and seeming defeat! But each was to make his way alone.

Browning seemed to grow through society and travel, but solitude served the needs of Tennyson.

"There must be a man behind every sentence," said Emerson. After ten years of silence, when Tennyson issued his book, the literary world recognized the man behind it. Tennyson had grown as a writer, but more as a man. And after all, it is more to be a man than a poet. All who knew Tennyson, and have written of him, especially during those early years, begin with a description of his appearance. His looks did not belie the man. In intellect and in stature he was a giant. The tall, athletic form, the great shaggy head, the classic features, and the look of untried strength were all thrown into fine relief by the modesty, the half-embarrassment, of his manner.

To meet the poet was to acknowledge his power. No man can talk as wise as he can look, and Tennyson never tried to. His words were few and simple.

Those who met him went away ready to back his lightest word. They felt there was a man behind the sentence.

Carlyle, who was a hero-worshiper, but who usually limited his worship to those well dead and long gone hence, wrote of Tennyson to Emerson: "One of the finest-looking men in the world. A great shock of dusky hair; bright, laughing, hazel eyes; massive aquiline face, most massive, yet most delicate; of sallow brown complexion, almost Indian-looking, clothes cynically loose, free and easy, smokes infinite tobacco. His voice is musical, metallic, fit for loud laughter and piercing wail, and all that may lie between; speech and speculation free and plenteous; I do not meet in these late decades such company over a pipe! We shall see what he will grow to."

And then again, writing to his brother John: "Some weeks ago, one night, the poet Tennyson and Matthew Arnold were discovered here sitting smoking in the garden. Tennyson had been here before, but was still new to Jane—who was alone for the first hour or two of it. A fine, large-featured, dim-eyed, bronze-colored, shaggy-headed man is Alfred; dusty, smoky, free and easy; who swims outwardly and inwardly, with great composure, in an articulate element as of tranquil chaos and tobacco-smoke; great now and then when he does emerge; a most restful, brotherly, solid-hearted man."

The "English Idylls," put forth in Eighteen Hundred Forty-two, contained all the poems, heretofore published, that Tennyson cared to retain. It must be stated to the credit, or discredit, of America, that the only complete editions of Tennyson were issued by New York and Boston publishers. These men seized upon the immature early poems of Tennyson, and combining them with his later books, issued the whole in a style that tried men's eyes—very proud of the fact that "this is the only complete edition," etc. Of course they paid the author no royalty, neither did they heed his protests, and possibly all this prepared the way for frosty receptions of daughters of quick machine-made American millionaires, who journeyed to the Isle of Wight in after-days. Soon after the publication of "English Idylls," Alfred Tennyson moved gracefully, like a ship that is safely launched, into the first place among living poets. He was then thirty-three years of age, with just half a century, lacking a few months, yet to live. In all that half-century, with its many conflicting literary judgments, his title to first place was never seriously questioned. Up to Eighteen Hundred Forty-two, in his various letters, and through his close friends, we learn that Tennyson was sore pressed for funds. He hadn't money to buy books, and when he traveled it was through the munificence of some kind kinsman. He even excuses himself from attending certain social functions on account of his lack of suitable raiment—probably with a certain satisfaction.

But when he tells of his poverty to Emily Sellwood, the woman of his choice, there is anguish in his cry. In fact, her parents succeeded in breaking off her relations with Tennyson for a time, on account of his very uncertain prospects. His brothers, even those younger than he, had slipped into snug positions—"but Alfred dreams on with nothing special in sight." Poetry, in way of a financial return, is not to be commended. Honors were coming Tennyson's way as early as Eighteen Hundred Forty-two, but it was not until Eighteen Hundred Forty-five, when a pension of two hundred pounds a year was granted him by the Government, that he began to feel easy. Even then there were various old scores to liquidate.

The year Eighteen Hundred Fifty, when he was forty-one, has been called his "golden year," for in it occurred the publication of "In Memoriam," his appointment to the post of Poet Laureate, and his marriage.

Emily Sellwood had waited for him all these years. She had been sought after, and had refused several good offers from eligible widowers and others who pitied her sad plight and looked upon her as an old maid forlorn. But she was true to her love for Alfred. Possibly she had not been courted quite so assiduously as Tennyson's mother had been. When that dear old lady was past eighty she became very deaf, and the family often ventured to carry on conversations in her presence which possibly would have been modified had the old lady been in full possession of her faculties. On a day as she sat knitting in the chimney-corner, one of her daughters in a burst of confidence to a visitor, said, "Why, before Mamma married Papa she had received twenty-three offers of marriage!"

"Twenty-four, my dear—twenty-four," corrected the old lady as she shifted the needles.

No one has ever claimed that Tennyson was an ideal lover. Surely he never could have been tempted to do what Browning did—break up the peace of a household by an elopement. His love was a thing of the head, weighed carefully in the scales of his judgment. His caution and good sense saved him from all Byronic excesses, or foolish alliances such as took Shelley captive. He believed in law and order, and early saw that his interests lay in that direction. He belonged to the Church of England, and doubtless thought as he pleased, but ever expressed himself with caution.

It is easy to accuse Tennyson of being insular—to say that he is merely "the poet of England." Had he been more he would have been less. World-poets have usually been revolutionists, and dangerous men who exploded at an unknown extent of concussion. None of them has been a safe man—none respectable. Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Hugo and Whitman were outcasts.

Tennyson is always serene, sane and safe—his lines breathe purity and excellence. He is the poet of religion, of the home and fireside, of established order, of truth, justice and mercy as embodied in law.

Very early he became a close personal friend of Queen Victoria, and many of his lines ministered to her personal consolation. For fifty years Tennyson's life was one steady, triumphal march. He acquired wealth, such as no other English poet before him had ever gained; his name was known in every corner of the earth where white men journeyed, and at home he was beloved and honored. He died October Sixth, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-two, aged eighty-three, and for him the Nation mourned, and with deep sincerity the Queen spoke of his demise as a poignant, personal sorrow.

* * * * *

It was at Cambridge he met Arthur Hallam—Arthur Hallam, immortal and remembered alone for being the comrade and friend of Tennyson.

Alfred took his friend Arthur to his home in Lincolnshire one vacation, and we know how Arthur became enamored of Tennyson's sister Emily, and they were betrothed. Together, Tennyson and Hallam made a trip through France and the Pyrenees.

Carlyle and Milburn, the blind preacher, once sat smoking in the little arbor back of the house in Cheyne Row. They had been talking of Tennyson, and after a long silence Carlyle knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and with a grunt said: "Ha! Death is a great blessing—the joyousest blessing of all! Without death there would ha' been no 'In Memoriam,' no Hallam, and like enough no Tennyson!" It is futile to figure what would have occurred had this or that not happened, since every act of life is a sequence. But that Carlyle and many others believed that the death of Hallam was the making of Tennyson, there is no doubt. Possibly his soul needed just this particular amount of bruising in order to make it burst into undying song—who knows! When Charles Kingsley was asked for the secret of his exquisite sympathy and fine imagination, he paused a space, and then answered—"I had a friend." The desire for friendship is strong in every human heart. We crave the companionship of those who can understand. The nostalgia of life presses, we sigh for "home," and long for the presence of one who sympathizes with our aspirations, comprehends our hopes and is able to partake of our joys. A thought is not our own until we impart it to another, and the confessional seems a crying need of every human soul.

One can bear grief, but it takes two to be glad.

We reach the Divine through some one, and by dividing our joy with this one we double it, and come in touch with the Universal. The sky is never so blue, the birds never sing so blithely, our acquaintances are never so gracious, as when we are filled with love for some one.

Being in harmony with one we are in harmony with all.

The lover idealizes and clothes the beloved with virtues that exist only in his imagination. The beloved is consciously or unconsciously aware of this, and endeavors to fulfil the high ideal; and in the contemplation of the transcendent qualities that his mind has created, the lover is raised to heights otherwise unattainable.

Should the beloved pass from the earth while this condition of exaltation endures, the conception is indelibly impressed upon the soul, just as the last earthly view is said to be photographed upon the retina of the dead. The highest earthly relationship is, in its very essence, fleeting, for men are fallible, and living in a world where material wants jostle, and time and change play their ceaseless parts, gradual obliteration comes and disillusion enters. But the memory of a sweet affinity once fully possessed, and snapped by Fate at its supremest moment, can never die from out the heart. All other troubles are swallowed up in this, and if the individual is of too stern a fiber to be completely crushed into the dust, time will come bearing healing, and the memory of that once ideal condition will chant in the heart a perpetual eucharist.

And I hope the world has passed forever from the nightmare of pity for the dead: they have ceased from their labors and are at rest.

But for the living, when death has entered and removed the best friend, Fate has done her worst; the plummet has sounded the depths of grief, and thereafter nothing can inspire terror. At one fell stroke all petty annoyances and corroding cares are sunk into nothingness. The memory of a great love lives enshrined in undying amber. It affords a ballast 'gainst all the storms that blow, and although it lends an unutterable sadness, it imparts an unspeakable peace. Where there is this haunting memory of a great love lost, there are always forgiveness, charity and a sympathy that makes the man brother to all who suffer and endure. The individual himself is nothing: he has nothing to hope for, nothing to lose, nothing to win, and this constant memory of the high and exalted friendship that once was his is a nourishing source of strength; it constantly purifies the mind and inspires the heart to nobler living and diviner thinking. The man is in communication with Elemental Conditions.

To know an ideal friendship and to have it fade from your grasp and flee as a shadow before it is touched with the sordid breath of selfishness, or sullied by misunderstandings, is the highest good. And the constant dwelling in sweet, sad recollection on the exalted virtues of the one that has gone, tends to crystallize these very virtues in the heart of him who meditates them. The beauty with which love adorns its object becomes at last the possession of the one who loves.

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