Transcribed from the December 1909 Arthur L. Humphreys edition by David Price, email firstname.lastname@example.org
MASQUES & PHASES
BY ROBERT ROSS
LONDON: ARTHUR L. HUMPHREYS 187 PICCADILLY, W. 1909
The author wishes to express his indebtedness, to Messrs. Smith, Elder for leave to reproduce 'A Case at the Museum,' which appeared in the Cornhill of October, 1900; to the Editor of the Westminster Gazette, which first published the account of Simeon Solomon; and to the former proprietors of the Wilsford Press, for kindly allowing other articles to be here reissued. 'How we Lost the Book of Jasher' and 'The Brand of Isis' were contributed to two undergraduate publications, The Spirit Lamp and The Oxford Point of View.
To HAROLD CHILD, ESQ.
MY DEAR CHILD,
It is not often the privilege of a contributor to address his former editor in so fatherly a fashion; yet it is appropriate because you justified an old proverb in becoming, if I may say so, my literary parent. Though I had enjoyed the hospitality, I dare not say the welcome, of more than one London editor, you were the first who took off the bearing-rein from my frivolity. You allowed me that freedom, of manner and matter, which I have only experienced in undergraduate periodicals. It is not any lack of gratitude to such distinguished editors as the late Mr. Henley; or Mr. Walter Pollock, who first accorded me the courtesies of print in a periodical not distinguished for its courtesy; or Professor C. J. Holmes, who has occasionally endured me with patience in the Burlington Magazine; or Mr. Edmund Gosse, to whom I am under special obligations; that I address myself particularly to you. But I, who am not frightened of many things, have always been frightened of editors. I am filled with awe when I think of the ultramarine pencil that is to delete my ultramontane views. You were, as I have hinted, the first to abrogate its use in my favour. When you, if not Consul, were at least Plancus, I think the only thing you ever rejected of mine was an essay entitled 'Editors, their Cause and Cure.' It is not included, for obvious reasons, in the present volume, of which you will recognise most of the contents. These may seem even to your indulgent eyes a trifle miscellaneous and disconnected. Still there is a thread common to all, though I cannot claim for them uniformity. There is no strict adherence to those artificial divisions of literature into fiction, essay, criticism, and poetry. Count Tolstoy, however, has shown us that a novel may be an essay rather than a story. No less a writer than Swift used the medium of fiction for his most brilliant criticism of life; his fables, apart from their satire, are often mere essays. Plato, Sir Thomas More, William Morris, and Mr. H. G. Wells have not disdained to transmit their philosophy under the domino of romance or myth. Some of the greatest poets—Ruskin and Pater for example—have chosen prose for their instrument of expression. If that theory is true of literature—and I ask you to accept it as true—how much truer is it of journalism, at least such journalism as mine; though I see a great gulf between literature and journalism far greater than that between fiction and essay- writing. The line, too, dividing the poetry of Keats from the prose of Sir Thomas Browne is far narrower, in my opinion, than the line dividing Pope from Tennyson. And I say this mindful of Byron's scornful couplet and the recent animadversions of Lord Morley.
There are essays in my book cast in the form of fiction; criticism cast in the form of parody; and a vein of high seriousness sufficiently obvious, I hope, behind the masques and phases of my jesting. The psychological effects produced by works of art and archaeology, by drama and books, on men and situations—such are the themes of these passing observations.
And though you find them like an old patchwork quilt I hope you will laugh, in token of your acceptance, if not of the book at least of my lasting regard and friendship for yourself.
Ever yours, ROBERT ROSS.
5 Hertford Street, Mayfair, W.
A CASE AT THE MUSEUM.
It is a common error to confuse the archaeologist with the mere collector of ignoble trifles, equally pleased with an unusual postage stamp or a scarce example of an Italian primitive. Nor should the impertinent curiosity of local antiquaries, which sees in every disused chalk-pit traces of Roman civilisation, be compared with the rare predilection requisite for a nobler pursuit. The archaeologist preserves for us those objects which time has forgotten and passing fashion rejected; in the museums he buries our ancient eikons, where they become impervious to neglect, praise, or criticism; while the collector—a malicious atavist unless he possess accidental perceptions—merely rescues the mistakes of his forefathers, to crowd public galleries with an inconsequent lumber which a better taste has taught as to despise.
In the magic of escaped conventions surely none is more powerful than the Greek, and even now, though we yawn over the enthusiasm of the Renaissance mirrored in our more cadenced prose, there are some who can still catch the delightful contagion which seized the princes and philosophers of Europe in that Martin's Summer of Middle Age.
Of the New Learning already become old, Professor Lachsyrma is reputed a master. Scarcely any one in England holds a like position. He is sixty, and, though his youth is said to have been eventful, he hardly looks his age. He speaks English with a delightful accent, and there always hangs about his presence a melancholy halo of mystery and Italy. His quiet unassumed familiarity with every museum and library on the Continent astonishes even the most erudite Teuton. Among archaeologists he is thought a pre-eminent palaeographer, among palaeographers a great archaeologist. I have heard him called the Furtwangler of Britain. His facsimiles and collated texts of the classics are familiar throughout the world. He has independent means, and from time to time entertains English and foreign cognoscenti with elegant simplicity at his wonderful house in Kensington. His conversation is more informing than brilliant. Yet you may detect an unaccountable melancholy in his voice and manner, attributed by the irreverent to his constant visits to the Museum. Religious people, of course, refer to his loss of faith at Oxford; for I regret to say the Professor has been an habitual freethinker these many years.
However it may be, Professor Lachsyrma is sad, and has not yet issued his edition of the newly discovered poems of Sappho unearthed in Egypt some time since—an edition awaited so impatiently by poets and scholars.
Some years ago, on retiring from his official appointment, Professor Lachsyrma, being a married man, searched for some apartment remote from his home, where he might work undisturbed at labours long since become important pleasures. You cannot grapple with uncials, cursives, and the like in a domestic environment. The preparation of facsimiles, transcripts, and palaeographical observations, reports of excavations and catalogues, demands isolation and complete immunity from the trivialities of social existence.
In a large Bloomsbury studio he found a retreat suitable to his requirements. The uninviting entrance, up a stone staircase leading immediately from the street, was open till nightfall, the rest of the house being used for storage by second-hand dealers in Portland Street. No one slept on the premises, but a caretaker came at stated intervals to light fires and close the front door; for which, however, the Professor owned a pass-key, each room having, as in modern flats, an independent door that might be locked at pleasure. The general gloom of the building never tempted casual callers. The Professor purposely abstained from the decoration or even ordinary furnishing of his chamber. The whitewashed walls were covered with dust-bitten maps, casts of bas-reliefs, engravings of ruins. Behind the door were stacked huge packing-cases containing the harvest of a recent journey to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. Along one wall mutilated statues and torsos were promiscuously mounted on trestles or temporary pedestals made of inverted wooden boxes. Above them a large series of shelves bulging with folios, manuscript notebooks, pamphlets, and catalogues ran up to the window, which faced north-east, admitting a strong top-light through panes of ground glass; the lower sash was hidden by permanent blinds in order to shut out all view of the opposite houses and the street below. A long narrow table occupied the centre of the room. It was always strewn with magnifying-glasses, proofs, printers' slips, negatives—the litter of a palaeographic student. There were three or four wooden chairs for the benefit of scholarly friends, and an armchair upholstered in green rep near the stove. In a corner stood the most striking, perhaps the only striking, object in the room—a huge mummy from the Fayyum. The canopic jars and outer coffins belonging to it were still unpacked in the freight cases. It had been purchased from a bankrupt Armenian dealer in Cairo along with a number of Graeco-Egyptian antiquities and papyri, of far greater interest to the Professor than the mummy itself. As soon as the interior was examined it was to be presented to the Museum; but more entertaining and important studies delayed its removal. For many months, with a curious grave smile, the face on the shell seemed to look down with amused and permanent interest on Professor Lachsyrma struggling with the orthography of some forgotten scribe, and arguing with a friend on mutilated or corrupt passages in a Greek palimpsest.
Here, late one afternoon, Professor Lachsyrma was deciphering some yellow leaves of papyrus. The dusk was falling, and he laid down the pen with which he was delicately transcribing uncials on sheets of foolscap, in order to light a lamp on the table. It was 6.30 by an irritating little American clock recently presented him by one of his children, noisy symbol and only indication that he held commune with a modern life he so heartily despised. As the housekeeper entered with some tea he took up a copy of a morning paper (a violent transition from uncials), and glanced at the first lines of the leader:
The Trustees of the British Museum announce one of the most sensational literary discoveries in recent years, a discovery which must startle the world of scholars, and even the apathetic public at large. This is none other than the recovery of the long-lost poems of Sappho, manuscripts of which were last heard of in the tenth century, when they were burnt at Rome and Byzantium. We shall have to go back to the fifteenth century, to the Fall of Constantinople, to the Revival of Learning, ere we can find a fitting parallel to match the importance of this recent find. Not since the spade of the excavator uncovered from its shroud of earth the flawless beauty of the Olympian Hermes has such a delightful acquisition been made to our knowledge of Greek literature. The name of Professor Lachsyrma has long been one to conjure with, and all of us should experience pleasure (where surprise in his case is out of the question) on learning that his recent tour to Egypt, besides greatly benefiting his health, was the means of restoring to eager posterity one of the most precious monuments of Hellenic culture.
'Dear me, I had no idea the press could be so entertaining,' thought the Professor, as a smile of satisfaction spread over his well-chiselled face. Archaeologists are not above reading personal paragraphs and leaders about themselves, though current events do not interest them. So absorbing is their pursuit of antiquity that they are obliged to affect a plausible indifference and a refined ignorance about modern affairs. Nor are they very generous members of the community. Perhaps dealing in dead gods, perpetually handling precious objects which have ceased to have any relation to life, or quarrelling about languages no one ever uses, blunts their sensibilities. At all events, they have none of that loyalty distinguishing members of other learned professions. The canker of jealousy eats perpetually at their hearts.
Professor Lachsyrma was too well endowed by fortune to grudge his former colleagues their little incomes or inadequate salaries at the Museum. Still, his recent discovery would not only enhance his fame in the learned world and his reputed flair for manuscripts—it would irritate those rivals in England and Germany who, in the more solemn reviews, resisted some of his conclusions, canvassed his facts, and occasionally found glaring errors in his texts. How jealous the discovery would make young Fairleigh, for all his unholy knowledge of Greek vases, his handsome profile, and his predilection for going too frequently into society!—a taste not approved by other officials. How it would anger old Gully! Professor Lachsyrma drank some more tea with further satisfaction. Sappho herself could not have felt more elated on the completion of one of her odes; we know she was poignant and sensitive. Thus for a whole hour he idled with his thoughts—rare occupation for so industrious a man. He was startled from the reverie by a slight knock at his door.
'Come in,' he said coldly. There was a touch of annoyance in his tone. Visitors, frequent enough in the morning, rarely disturbed him in the afternoon.
'To whom have I the—duty of speaking?' He raised his well-preserved spare form to its full height. The long loose alpaca coat, velvet skull- cap, and pointed beard gave him the appearance of an eminent ecclesiastic.
The subdued light in the room presented only a dim figure on the threshold, and the piercing eyes of the Professor could only see a blurred white face against the black frame of the open door. A strange voice replied:
'I am sorry to disturb you, Professor Lachsyrma. I shall not detain you for more than—an hour.'
'If you will kindly write and state the nature of your business, I can give you an appointment to-morrow or the day after. At the present moment, you will observe, I am busy. I never see visitors except by appointment.'
'I am sorry to inconvenience you. Necessity compels me to choose my own hours for interviewing any one.'
The Professor then suddenly removed the green cardboard shade from the lamp. The discourteous intruder was now visible for his inspection.
He was a fair man of uncertain age, but could not be more than twenty- eight. He wore his flaxen hair rather long and ill-kempt; his face might have been handsome, but the flesh was white and flaccid; the features, though regular, devoid of character; the blue eyes had so little expression that a professed physiognomist would have found difficulty in 'placing' their possessor. His black clothes were shiny with age; his gait was shuffling and awkward.
'My name, though it will not convey very much to you, is Frank Carrel. I am a scholar, an archaeologist, a palaeographer, and—other things besides.'
'A beggar and a British Museum reader,' was the mental observation of the Professor. The other seemed to read his thoughts.
'You think I want pecuniary assistance; well, I do.'
'I fear you have come to the wrong person, at the wrong time, and if I may say so, in the wrong way. I do not like to be disturbed at this hour. Will you kindly leave me this instant?'
Carrel's manner changed and became more deferential.
'If you will allow me to show you something on which I want your opinion, something I can leave with you, I will go away at once and come back to- morrow at any time you name.'
'Very well,' said the Professor, wearily, ready to compromise the matter for the moment.
From a small bag he was carrying Carrel produced a roll of papyrus. The Professor's eyes gleamed; he held out his hands greedily to receive it, fixing a searching, suspicious glance on Carrel.
'Where did you get this, may I ask?'
'I want your opinion first, and then I will tell you.'
The Professor moved towards the lamp, replaced the cardboard green shade, sat down, and with a strong magnifying-glass examined the papyrus with evident interest. Carrel, appreciating the interest he was exciting, talked on in rapid jerky sentences.
'Yes. I think you will be able to help me. I am sure you will do so. Like yourself, I am a scholar, and might have occupied a position in Europe similar to your own.'
The Professor smiled grimly, but did not look up from the table as Carrel continued:
'Mine has been a strange career. I was educated abroad. I became a scholar at Cambridge. There was no prize I did not carry off. I knew more Greek than both Universities put together. Then I was cursed not only with inclination for vices, but with capacity and courage to practise them—liquor, extravagance, gambling—amusements for rich people; but I was poor.'
'It is a very sad and a very common story,' said the Professor sententiously, but without looking up from the table. 'I myself was an Oxford man. Your name is quite unfamiliar to me.'
'I fancy if you asked them at Cambridge they would certainly remember me.'
'I shall make a point of doing so,' said the professor drily. He affected to be giving only partial attention to the narrative; but though he seemed to be sedulous in his examination of the papyrus, he was listening intently.
'I was a great disappointment to the Dons,' Carrel said with a short laugh, and he lit a cigarette with all the swagger of an undergraduate.
'And to your parents?' queried Lachsyrma.
'My mother was dead. I don't exactly know who my father was. I fear these details bore you, however. To-morrow—' he added satirically.
'A very romantic story, no doubt,' said the Professor, rising from his chair, 'and it interests me—moderately; but before we go on any further, I will be candid with you. That papyrus is a forgery—a very clever forgery, too. I wonder why the writer tried Euripides; we have almost enough of him.'
'So do I sometimes,' returned Carrel cheerfully. The Professor arched his eyebrows in surprise.
He removed the green cardboard lampshade to keep his equivocal visitor under strict observation.
'If you knew it was a forgery, why did you waste my time and your own in bringing it here? In order to tell me a long story about yourself, which if true is extraordinarily dull?'
It is almost an established convention for experts to be rude when they have given an adverse opinion on anything submitted to them. It gives weight to their statements. In the present case, however, the Professor was really annoyed.
'I wanted to know if you recognised the papyrus,' said Carrel, and he smiled disingenuously. The Professor was startled.
'Yes; it was offered to me in Cairo last winter by a German dealer in antiquities. I recognised it at once. May I felicitate the talented author?'
'No. You would have been taken in if I were the author.'
Professor Lachsyrma waved a white hand, loaded with scarabs and gems, in a deprecatory, patronising manner towards Carrel.
'I must apologise if I have wronged you. I am hardened to these little amenities between brother palaeographers. Envy, jealousy, call it what you will, attacks those in high places. There may be unrecognised artists, mute inglorious Miltons, Chattertons, starving in garrets, Shakespeares in the workhouse, while dull modern productions are applauded on the silly English stage, and poetasters are crowned by the Academies; but believe me that in Archaeology, in the deciphering of manuscripts, the quack is detected immediately. The science has been carried to such a state of perfection that, if our knowledge is still unhappily imperfect, our materials inadequate, the public recognition of our services quite out of proportion to our labours, there is now no permanent place for the charlatan or the forger. The first would do better as an art critic for the daily papers; the other might turn his attention to the simple necessary cheque, or the safer and more enticing Bank of England note. If you are an honest expert, there is a wide field for your talents; and if I do not believe you to be anything of the kind, you have yourself to blame for my scepticism. You came here without an introduction, without any warning of your arrival. You refuse to leave my room. You inform me that you want money with a candour unusual among beggars. You then ask me to inspect a forged manuscript which you either know or suspect me to have seen before. Should you have no explanation to offer for this outrageous intrusion, may I ask you to leave the premises immediately?'
As he finished this somewhat pompous harangue he pointed menacingly towards the door. He was slightly nervous, for Carrel, who was sitting down, remained seated, his hands folded, gazing up with an insolent childish stare. He might have been listening to an eloquent preacher whom he thoroughly despised.
'Professor Lachsyrma,' Carrel said in a sweet winning voice, 'I will go away if you like now, but I have nearly finished my errand and we may as well dispatch an affair tiresome to both of us, this evening, instead of postponing it. I want you to give me 1000l.'
The Professor rubbed his eyes. Was he dreaming? Was this some elaborate practical joke? Was it the confidence trick? He seemed to lose his self- possession, gaped on Carrel for some seconds, then controlled himself.
'And why should I give you 1000l.?'
'I am a blackmailer. I am a forger of manuscripts. I have more Greek in my little finger than you have in your long body. I began to tell you my history. I thought it might interest you. I do not propose to burden you with it any further. To-night I ask you for 1000l., to-morrow I shall ask you for 2000l., and the day after—'
'The Sibyl was scarcely so extortionate when she offered the Tarquin literary wares that no subsequent research with which I am acquainted has proved to be spurious. And you, Mr. Carrel, offer me forgeries—merely forgeries.'
Fear expressed itself in clumsy satire. He was thoroughly alarmed. He began rapidly to review his own antecedents, and to scrape his memory for discreditable incidents. He could think of nothing he need feel ashamed of, nothing the world might not thoroughly investigate. There were mean actions, but many generous ones to balance in the scale.
His knowledge of life was really slight, as his intimacy with Archaeology (so he told himself) was profound. One foolish incident, a midsummer madness, before he went to Oxford, was all he had to blush for. This, he frequently confessed, not without certain pride, to his wife, the daughter of a respectable man of letters from Massachusetts. He firmly and privately believed an omission in a catalogue a far greater sin than a breach of the Decalogue. But ethics are of little consequence where conduct is above reproach. When buying antiquities he would come across odd people from time to time, but never any one who openly avowed himself a blackmailer and a forger. The novel experience was embarrassing and unpleasant, but there was really little to fear. In all the delight of a clear conscience, since Carrel vouchsafed no reply to his sardonic Sibylline allusion, he said:
'You have advanced no reason why I should hand you to-day or to-morrow these modest sums you demand.'
'Then I will tell you,' said Carrel, standing up suddenly. 'I fabricated the poems of Sappho,—yes, the manuscript from which you are reaping so much credit'—he took up the newspaper—'from the morning press. When I take to art criticism, as you kindly suggested a dishonest man might do, it will be of a livelier description than any to which you are usually accustomed. Vain dupe, you think yourself impeccable. Infallible ass, there is hardly a museum in Europe where my manuscripts are not carefully preserved for the greatest and rarest treasures by senile curators, too ignorant to know their errors or too vain to acknowledge them. I fancied you clever; until now I do not know that I ever caught you out, though you may have bought many of my wares for all I know. I find you, however, like the rest—dull, pedantic, and Pecksniffian. At Cambridge we were not taught pretty manners, but we knew enough not to give fellowships to pretentious charlatans like yourself.'
The room swam round Professor Lachsyrma, and the mummy behind the door grinned. The plaster casts and the statues seemed to wave their mutilated limbs with the joy of demoniacal possession. Dead things were startled into life. Sick giddiness permeated his brain. It was some horrible nightmare. Yet his soul's tempest was entirely subjective; outwardly his demeanour suffered no change. His tormentor noted with astonishment and admiration his apparent self-control. There was merely a slight falter in his speech.
'What proofs have you? A blackmailer must have some token—something on which to base a ridiculous libel.'
'A few minutes ago I handed you a spurious papyrus, which you tell me you recognise. In the same lot of rubbish, purporting to come from the Fayyum, were the alleged poems of Sappho. You swallowed the bait which has waited for you so long, and, if it is any consolation to you, I will admit that in the opinion of the profession, to continue my piscatorial simile, I have landed the largest salmon.'
'I am deeply sensible of the compliment, but I must point out to you, my friend, that your coming to tell me that a papyrus I happen to have purchased from one of your shady friends is counterfeit, does not necessarily prove it to be so.'
The Professor realised that he must act cautiously, and consider his position quietly. Each word must be charged with suppressed meaning. His eyes wandered over the room, resting now and again on the majestic, impassive smile of the mummy. It seemed to restore his nerve. He found himself unconsciously looking towards it over Carrel's head each time he spoke. While the blackmailer, seated once more, gazed up to his face with a defiant, insolent stare, swinging his chair backwards and forwards, unconcerned at the length of the interview, apparently careless of its issue. The Professor brooded on the terrible chagrin, the wounded vanity of discovering himself the victim of an obviously long-contrived hoax. At his asking for a proof, Carrel laughed.
'You are sceptical at last,' he sneered. 'I have the missing portions of the papyrus here with me. You can have them for a song. I was afraid to leave the roll too complete, lest I should invite detection. It would be a pity to let them go to some other museum. Berlin is longing for a new acquisition.'
Then he produced from his bag damning evidence of the truth of his story—deftly confected sheets of papyrus, brown with the months it had taken to fabricate them, and cracked with forger's inks and acids—ghastly replicas of the former purchase. Nervously the Professor replaced the green cardboard shade over the lamp, as though the glare affected his eyes.
'But how do you know I have not discovered the forgery already?' he said, craftily. Carrel started. 'And see what I am sending to the press this evening,' he added.
Walking to the end of the table, he picked up a sheet of paper where there was writing, and another object which Carrel could not see in the gloom, so quickly and adroitly was the action accomplished.
'Shall I read it to you, or will you read it yourself?'
He advanced again towards the lamp, held the paper in the light, and beckoned to Carrel, who leant over the table to see what was written. Then Professor Lachsyrma plunged a long Greek knife into his back. A toreador could hardly have done it more skilfully; the bull was pinned through the heart, and expired instantaneously.
* * * * *
Now he paced the room in deep thought. For the first time he found himself an actor in modern life, which hitherto for him meant digging among excavations, or making romantic restoration for jaded connoisseurs, of some faultless work of art described by Pausanias and hidden for centuries beneath the rubbish of modern Greece. The entire absence of horror appalled him. Even the dignity of tragedy was not there. He was wrestling with hideous melodrama, often described to him by patrons of Thespian art at transpontine theatres. The vulgarity—the anachronism—made him shudder. Having till now ignored the issue of the present, he began to be sceptical about the virtues of antiquity. Antiquity, his only religion, his god, whose mangled incompleteness endeared it to him, was crumbling away. He wondered if there were friends with whom he might share his ugly secret. There was young Fairleigh, who was always so modern, and actually read modern books. He might have coped with the blackmailer alive, but hardly with his corpse. You cannot run round and ask neighbours for coffins, false beards, and rope in the delightful convention of the Arabian Nights, because you have grazed modern life at a sharp angle, without exciting suspicion or running the risk of positive refusal. There was his wife, to whom he confided everything; but she was a lady from Massachusetts, and her father was European correspondent to many American papers of the highest repute. How could their pure ears be soiled with so sordid a confidence? Poor Irene! she was to have an 'At Home' the following afternoon. It would have to be postponed. Professor Lachsyrma fell to thinking of such trivial matters, contemptible in their unimportance, as we do at the terrible moments of our lives. He wondered if they would wait dinner for him. He often remained at his club—the Serapeum—to finish a discussion with some erudite antagonist. His absence would therefore cause no alarm. He consulted the little American clock; it had stopped. How like America! The only recorded instance, he would explain to Irene, of an export from that country being required—the commodity proved inadequate. No, that would make Irene cry. . . . The folly of hopeless, futile thoughts jingled on. Suddenly he heard the cry of a belated newsvendor, howling some British victory, some horrible scandal in Paris. Scandal, exposure, publicity—there was the horror. He could almost hear the journalists stropping their pens. If his thoughts drifted towards any potential expiation demanded by officialism, he put them aside. A social debacle was more fearful and vivid than the dock and its inevitable consequence. . . . Presently his eyes rested again on the mummy case. A brilliant inspiration! Here, at all events, was a temporary hiding-place for the corpse of the blackmailer. If it was putting new wine into old bottles, circumstances surely justified a violation of the proverb. Till now a severe unromantic Hellenist, he held Egyptology in some contempt; and for Egypt, except in so far as it illustrated the art of Greece or remained a treasure-house for Greek manuscripts, his distaste was only surpassed by that of the Prophet Isaiah. A bias so striking in the immortal Herodotus is hardly shared by your modern encyclopaedist. While the science of Egyptology and its adepts command rather awe and wonder than sympathy from the uninitiated, who keep their praises for the more attractive study of Greek art. Yet some of us still turn with relief from the serene material masterpieces of Greece, soulless in their very realism and truth of expression, to the vague and happily unexplained monsters, the rigid gods and hieratic princes, who are given new names by each succeeding generation. A knowledge that behind painted masks and gilded, tawdry gew-gaws are the remains of a once living person gives even the mummy a human interest denied to the most exquisite handiwork of Pheidias.
Professor Lachsyrma at present felt only the impossibility of a situation that would have been difficult for many a weaker man to face. Humiliation overwhelms the strongest. Modern agencies for the concealment of a body having failed to suggest themselves, he must needs fall back on the despised expedient of Egypt. Palaeography and Greek art were obviously useless in the present instance. He understood at last why deplorable people wanted to abolish Greek from the University curriculum.
The coffin was of varnished sycamore wood, ornamented on the outside with gods in their shrines and inscriptions relating to the name and titles of the deceased, painted in red and green. The face was carved out of a separate piece of wood, with the conventional beard attached to the chin; the eyelids were of bronze; the eyes of obsidian; wooden hands were crossed on the breast. Inside the lid were pictures of apes in yellow on a purple background, symbolising the Spirits of the East adoring the Gods of the Morning and Evening. The mummy itself was enclosed in a handsome cartonnage case laced up the back. The Professor lifted it gently out on the table, and substituted Carrel's body. He staunched as he best could the blood which trickled on to the glaring pictures of the Judgment of Osiris and the goddess Nut imparting the Waters of Life; then he turned to examine the former occupant, whom two thousand years, even at such a moment endowed with a greater interest than could attach to the corpse of a defunct blackmailer. It now occurred to him that he might profitably utilise the mummy cerements along with the coffin for more effectually concealing Carrel's body until he could arrange for its final disposal. He hastened to carry his idea into effect.
The cartonnage case, composed of waste papyrus fragments glued together, was painted with figures of deities. The face was a gilded mask, on the headdress were lotus flowers, and the collar was studded to imitate precious stones. Over the breast were representations of Horus, Apis, and Thoth, and lower down the dead man was seen on his bier attended by Anubis and the children of Horus, while the soul in the form of a hawk hovered above. The Professor observed that an earlier method had been employed for the preservation and protection of the body than is usually found among Ptolemaic mummies.
Beneath a network of blue porcelain bugles and a row of sepulchral gods suspended by a wire to the neck was a dusky, red-hued sheet, sewn at the head and feet and fastened with brown strips of linen. Under this last shroud were the bandages which swathed the actual corpse, inscribed with passages from the Book of the Dead, the mysterious fantastic directions for the life hereafter. The symbolism requisite for the external decoration of the mummy had been scrupulously executed by skilful artists, and the conscientious method of wrapping again indicated the pristine mode of embalmment practised when the craft was at its zenith, long before the Greek conquest of Egypt.
A considerable time was occupied in unrolling the three or four hundred yards of linen. Meanwhile a strange fragrance of myrrh, cassia, cinnamon, the sweet spices and aromatic unguents used in embalming, filled the room. Gradually the yellow skin preserved by the natron began to appear through the cross-hatchings of the bandages. Attached to a thick gold wire round the neck and placed over the heart was a scarab of green basalt, mounted in a gold setting; and on the henna-stained little finger of the left hand was another of steatite. As the right arm was freed from its artificially tightened grasp a peculiar wooden cylinder rolled on to the floor into the heap of scented mummy dust and bandages.
Languidly inquisitive, Professor Lachsyrma groped for it. Such objects are generally found beneath the head. There was a seal at each end, both of which he broke. A roll of papyrus was inside. He trembled, and with forced deliberation made for the table, his knees tottering from exhaustion. Excitement at this unexpected discovery made him forget Carrel. The ghastly events of the evening were for the moment blotted from his memory. After all, he was a palaeographer—an archaeologist first, a murderer afterwards. Eagerly, painfully, he began to read, adjusting his spectacles from time to time, the muscles of his face twitching with anxiety and expectation. For a long time the words were strange to him. Suddenly his glasses became dim. There were tears in his eyes; he was reading aloud, unconsciously to himself, the beautiful verses familiar to all students of Greek poetry:—
and to students of English, in the marvellous, rendering of them by the late Mr. Rossetti:
'Like the sweet apple which reddens upon the topmost bough, A-top on the topmost twig,—which the pluckers forgot, somehow,— Forgot it not, nay, but got it not, for none could get it till now.'
The papyrus was of great length, and contained the poems of Sappho in a cursive literary handwriting of the third century—the real poems, lost to the world for over eight hundred years. It was morning now—a London spring morning; dawn was creeping through the great north-east light of the studio; birds were twittering outside. The murderer sobbed hysterically.
* * * * *
On referring to 'Euterpe,' the second book of the Histories of Herodotus, Professor Lachsyrma selected the second method of embalming as less troublesome and more expeditious. The whole matter lasted little longer than the seventy prescribed days. At the end of which time he was able, in accordance with his original intention, to deposit in a handsome glass case at the British Museum the Mummy of Heliodorus, a Greek settler in Egypt who held some official appointment at the Court of Ptolemy Philadelphus. It is described in the catalogue as one of the best examples of its kind in Europe. Indeed, it is probably unique.
Professor Lachsyrma often pauses before the case when visiting our gaunt House of Art. Even the policeman on duty has noticed this peculiarity, and smiles respectfully. The Professor has ceased to ridicule Egyptology; and his confidence in the resources and sufficiency of antiquity, so rudely shaken for one long evening, is completely re-established.
To S. S. SPRIGGE, ESQ., M.D.
THE BRAND OF ISIS.
'Videant irreligiosi videant et errorem suum recognoscant. En ecce pristinis aerumnis absolutus, Isidis magnae providentia gaudens Lucius de sua fortuna triumphat.' APULEIUS.
'Her image comes into the gloom With her pale features moulded fair, Her breathing beauty, morning bloom, My heart's delight, my tongue's despair.' BINYON.
'An Oxford scholar of family and fortune; but quaint and opinionated, despising every one who has not had the benefit of an University education.' RICHARDSON.
[Greek text]. HERODOTUS.
I once had the good fortune to take down to dinner a young American lady of some personal attractions. Her vivacity and shrewdness were racial; her charm peculiar to herself. Her conversation consisted in a rather fierce denunciation of Englishmen, young Oxford Englishmen in particular. Their thoughts, their dress, their speech, their airs of superiority offended one brought up with that Batavian type of humanity, the American youth, to whom we have nothing exactly corresponding in this country except among drawing-room conjurors. But I was startled at her keen observation when I inquired with a smile how she knew I was not an Oxford man myself.
'Had you been one, you would never have listened to what I have been saying,' she retorted. Rather nettled, I challenged her to pick out from the other guests those on whom she detected the brand of Isis. A pair of gloves was the prize for each successful guess. She won seven; in fact all the stakes during the course of the evening. Over one only she hesitated, and when he mentioned that he had neither the curiosity nor the energy to cross the Atlantic, she knew he came from Oxford.
Yes, there is something in that manner after all. It irritates others besides Americans. Novelists try to describe it. We all know the hero who talks English with a Balliol accent—that great creature who is sometimes bow and sometimes cox of his boat on alternate evenings; who puts the weight at the University Sports and conducts the lady home from a College wine without a stain on her character; is rusticated for a year or so; returns to win the Newdigate and leaves without taking a degree. Or that other delightful abstraction—he has a Balliol accent too—with literary tastes and artistic rooms, where gambling takes place. He is invariably a coward, but dreadfully fascinating all the same; though he scorns women he has an hypnotic influence over them; something in his polished Oxford manner is irresistible. Throughout a career of crime his wonderful execution on the piano, his knowledge of Italian painting, and his Oxford manner never seem to desert him. We feel, not for the first time, how dangerous it must be to allow our simple perky unspoiled Colonials to associate with such deleterious exotic beings, who, though in fiction horsewhipped or (if heroes) shot in the last chapter, in real life are so apt to become prosperous city men or respected college officials.
The Oxford manner is, alas, indefinable; I was going to say indefensible. Perhaps it is an attitude—a mental attitude that finds physical expression in the voice, the gesture, the behaviour. Oxford, not conduct, is three-fourths of life to those who acquire the distemper. Without becoming personal it is not easy to discuss purely social aspects, and we must seek chiefly in literature for manifestations of the phenomenon: in the prose of Matthew Arnold for instance—in the poems of Mr. Laurence Binyon, typical examples where every thought seems a mental reservation. Enemies rail at the voice, and the voice counts for something. Any one having the privilege of hearing Mr. Andrew Lang speak in public will know at once what I mean—a pleasure, let me hasten to say, only equalled by the enjoyment of his inimitable writing, so pre- eminently Oxonian when the subject is not St. Andrews, Folk Lore, or cricket. Though Oxford men have their Cambridge moments, and beneath their haughty exterior there sometimes beats a Cambridge heart. Behind such reserve you would never suspect any passions at all save one of pride. Even frankly irreligious Oxford men acquire an ecclesiastical pre- Reformation aloofness which must have piqued Thackeray quite as much as the refusal of the city to send him to Westminster. He complains somewhere that the undergraduates wear kid gloves and drink less wine than their jolly brethren of the Cam. He was thoroughly Cambridge in his attitude towards life, as you may see when he writes of his favourite eighteenth century in his own fascinating style. How angry he becomes with the vices and corruption of a dead past! Now no Oxford essayist would dream of being angry with the past. How annoyed the sentimental author of The Four Georges would be with Mr. Street's genial treatment of the same epoch! It would, however, be the annoyance of a father for his eldest son, whom he sent to Oxford perhaps to show that an old slight was forgiven and forgotten.
There have been, of course, plenty of men unravaged by the blithe contagion. Mr. Gladstone intellectually always seemed to me a Cambridge man in his energy, his enthusiasm, his political outlook. Only in his High Church proclivities is he suspect. The poet Shelley was an obvious Cantab. He was, we are told, a man of high moral character. Well, principles and human weakness are common to all Universities, and others besides Shelley have deserted their wives: but to desert your wife on principle seems to me callous, calculating, and Cambridge-like.
A painful but interesting case came under my personal observation, and it illustrates the other side of the question. A clever young graduate of my acquaintance, after four years of distinguished scholarship at Oxford, came up to the metropolis and entered the dangerous lists of literature. It is not indiscreet if I say that he belonged to what was quite a brilliant little period—the days of Mr. Eric Parker, Mr. Max Beerbohm, and Mr. Reginald Turner. So there was nothing surprising in his literary tastes, though I believe he was unknown to those masters of prose. He was tall, good-looking, and prepossessing, but his Oxford manner was unusually pronounced. He never expressed disgust—no Oxford man does—only pained surprise at what displeased him; he never censured the morals or manners of people as a Cambridge man might have done. Out of the University pulpit no Oxford man would dream of scolding people for their morals. After a year of failure he fell into a decline. His parents became alarmed. They hinted that his ill success was due to his damned condescension (the father was of course a Cambridge man). I too suggested in a mild way that a more ingratiating manner might produce better luck with editors. At last his health broke down, and a wise family physician was called in. After studying the case for some months, Aesculapius (he was M.B. of Cambridge) divined that ill success rather than ill health was the provocative; and he related to the patient (this is becoming like an Arabian Night) the following story:
'A certain self-made man, confiding to a friend plans for his son's education, remarked: "Of course I shall send him to Eton." "Why Eton?" said the friend. "Because he is to be a barrister, and if he did not go to Eton no one would speak to him if they knew his poor old father was a self-made man. Then he will go to Cambridge." "Why not Oxford?" said the friend, who was a self-made Oxford tradesman. "Because then he would never speak to me," replied the first self-made man.'
My friend from that moment recovered. He became more tolerant; he became successful. He became a distinguished dramatist. He justified his early promise.
There is in this little story perhaps a charge of snobbishness from which Oxford men are really entirely free. They are too conscious of their own superiority to be tuft-hunters, and I believe miss some of the prizes of life by their indifference towards those who have already 'arrived.' Yet they appear snobbish to others who have not had the benefit of a University education, and in this little essay I endeavour to hold up the mirror to their ill-nature—the fault to which I am unduly attached. Writers besides Richardson have referred to it. I might quote many eloquent tributes from Dryden to Wordsworth and Byron, all Cambridge men, who have felt the charm and acknowledged a weakness for the step-sister University. Cambridge has never been fortunate in having the compliment reciprocated. Neither Oxford men nor her own sons have been over-generous in her praises: you remember Ruskin on King's Chapel. And I, the obscurest of her children, who cast this laurel on the Isis, will content myself with admitting that I sincerely believe you can obtain a cheaper and better education at Cambridge, though it has always been my ambition to be mistaken for an Oxford man.
I often wonder whether Mr. Cecil Rhodes, while he had the English Government in one pocket, the English Press in the other, and South Africa in the hollow of his hand, felt a certain impotency before Oxford. He had to acknowledge its influence over himself—an influence stronger than Dr. Jameson or the Afrikander Bond. He was never quite sure whether he admired more the loneliness of the Matoppos or the rather over-crowded diamond mines of Kimberley. On the grey veld he used to read Marius the Epicurean, and sought in Mr. Pater the key to the mystery he was unable to solve. He turned to the Thirty-nine Articles (more tampered with at Oxford than in any other cathedral city) with the same want of success. That always seems to me a real touch of Oxford in what some one well said, was an 'ugly life.' What a wonderful subject for the brush of a Royal Academician! no ordinary artist could ever do it justice: the great South African statesman on the lonely rocks where he had chosen his tomb; a book has fallen from his hand (Mr. Pater's no doubt); his eyes are gazing from canvas into the future he has peopled with his dreams. By some clever device of art or nature the clouds in the sky have shaped themselves into Magdalen Tower—into harmony with his thoughts, and the setting sun makes a mandorla behind him. He is thinking of Oxford, and round his head Oriel clings as in 'The Blessed Damozel.'
He could terrorise the Colonial Secretary, he could foment a war and add a new empire to England; he could not overcome his love of Oxford, the antithesis of all sordid financial intrigue and political marauding. Athens was after all a dearer name than Groot-Schuurr. He set fire to both.
I speculate sometimes whether the University was aware of his testamentary dispositions before it conferred on him an honorary degree. I hope not. He deserved it as the greatest son of Oxford, the greatest Englishman of his time. Imre Kiralfy, who has done for a whole district of London what Mr. Rhodes tried to do for the empire, is but an impresario beside him. A French critic says we cannot admire greatness in England; and this was shown by the timid way a large number of Imperialists, while professing to believe the war a righteous one, thought they would seem independent if they disclaimed approval of Mr. Rhodes, by not having the pluck to admit the same motives though ready enough to share the plunder. You may compare the ungrateful half-unfriendly obituaries in the press with the leaders a few days later, after the will was opened.
But what immediately concerns us here is the intention of Mr. Rhodes. Was it entirely benevolence, or some wish to test the strength of Oxford—to bring undergraduates into contact with something coarser, some terrific impermeable force that would be manner-proof against Oxford? Would he conquer from the grave? Several Americans have been known to go through the University retaining the Massachusetts patina. What if a number of these savages were grafted on Oxford? How would they alter the tone? We shall see. It will be an interesting struggle. Shall we hear of six- shooters in the High?—of hominy and flannel cake for breakfast?—will undergrads look 'spry?'—will they 'voice' public opinion? . . . I forbear: my American vocabulary is limited. Outre mer, outres moeurs, as Mr. Walkley might say in some guarded allusion to Paul Bourget. . . . I shall be sorry to see poker take the place of roulette, and the Christ Church meadows turned into a ranch for priggish cowboys, or Addison's Walk re-named the Cake Walk. But no, I believe Mr. Rhodes, if there was just a touch of malice in his testament, realised that Oxford manners were stronger than the American want of them. Oxford may be wounded, but I have complete confidence in the issue. These Boeotian invaders must succumb, as nobler stock before them. They will form an interesting subject for some exquisite study by Mr. Henry James, who will deal with their gradual civilisation. Preserved in the amber of his art they will become immortal.
I have been able to clip only the fringe of a great theme. Athletes require an essay to themselves. In later age they seem to me more melancholy than their Cambridge peers and less successful. These splendid creatures are really works of art, and form our only substitute for sculpture in the absence of any native plastic talent. From the collector's point of view they belong to the best period, while the graceful convention of isocephaly, which has raised the standard of height, renders them inapt for the 'battles' of life, however well equipped for those of their College where the cuisine is at all tolerable.
I am not enough of an antiquary to conjecture if there was ever a temple to Isis during the Roman occupation of Britain on the site of the now illustrious University. But I like to imagine that there existed a cultus of the venerable goddess in the green fields where the purple fritillaries, so reminiscent of the lotus, blossom in the early spring. In the curious formal pattern of their petals I see a symbol of the Oxford manner—something archaic, rigid, severe. The Oxford Don may well be a reversion to some earlier type, learned, mystic, and romantic as those priests of whom Herodotus has given us so vivid a picture. The worship of Apis, as Mr. Frazer or Mr. Lang would tell us, becomes then merely the hieroglyph for a social standard, a manner of life. This, I think, will explain the name Oxford on the Isis—the Ford of Apis, the ox- god at this one place able to pass over the benign deity. You remember, too, the horrid blasphemy of Cambyses (his very name suggests Cambridge), and the vengeance of the gods. So be it to any sacrilegious reformer who would transmute either the Oxford Don or the Oxford undergraduate—the most august of human counsellors, the most delightful of friends.
HOW WE LOST THE BOOK OF JASHER.
Everyone who knows anything about art, archaeology, or science has heard of the famous FitzTaylor Museum at Oxbridge. And even outsiders who care for none of these things have heard of the quarrels and internal dissensions that have disturbed that usual calm which ought to reign within the walls of a museum. The illustrious founder, to whose munificence we owe this justly famous institution, provided in his will for the support of four curators, who govern the two separate departments of science and art. The University has been in the habit of making grants of money from time to time to these separate departments for the acquisition of scientific or archaeological curiosities and MSS. I suppose there was something wrong in the system, but whatever it may be, it led to notorious jealousies and disputes. At the time of which I write, the principal curators of the art section were Professor Girdelstone and Mr. Monteagle, of Prince's College. I looked after the scientific welfare of the museum with Lowestoft as my understudy—he was practically a nonentity and an authority on lepidoptera. Now, whenever a grant was made to the left wing of the building, as I call it, I always used to say that science was being sacrificed to archaeology. I mocked at the illuminated MSS. over which Girdelstone grew enthusiastic, and the musty theological folios purchased by Monteagle. They heaped abuse upon me, of course, when my turn came, and cracked many a quip on my splendid skeleton of the ichthyosaurus, the only known specimen from Greenland. At one time the strife broke into print, and the London press animadverted on our conduct. It became a positive scandal. We were advised, I remember, to wash our dirty linen at home, and though I have often wondered why the press should act as a voluntary laundress on such occasions, I suppose the remark is a just one.
There came a day when we took the advice of the press, and from then until now science and art have gone hand in hand at the University of Oxbridge. How the breach was healed forms the subject of the present leaf from my memoirs.
America, it has been wisely said, is the great land of fraud. It is the Egypt of the modern world. From America came the spiritualists, from America bogus goods, and cheap ideas and pirated editions, and from America I have every reason to believe came Dr. Groschen. But if his ancestors came from Rhine or Jordan, that he received his education on the other side of the Atlantic I have no doubt. Why he came to Oxbridge I cannot say. He appeared quite suddenly, like a comet. He brought introductions from various parts of the world—from the British Embassy at Constantinople, from the British and German Schools of Archaeology at Athens, from certain French Egyptologists at Alexandria, and a holograph letter from Archbishop Sarpedon, Patriarch of Hermaphroditopolis, Curator of the MSS. in the Monastery of St. Basil, at Mount Olympus. It was this last that endeared him, I believe, to the High Church party in Oxbridge. Dr. Groschen was already the talk of the University, the lion of the hour, before I met him. There was rumour of an honorary degree before I saw him in the flesh, at the high table of my college, a guest of the Provost. If Dr. Groschen did not inspire me with any confidence, I cannot say that he excited any feeling of distrust. He was a small, black, commonplace-looking little man, very neat in his attire, without the alchemical look of most archaeologists. Had I known then, as I know now, that he presented his first credentials to Professor Girdelstone, I might have suspected him. Of course, I took it for granted they were friends. When the University was ringing with praises of the generosity of Dr. Groschen in transferring his splendid collections of Greek inscriptions to the FitzTaylor Museum, I rejoiced; the next grant would be devoted to science, in consideration of the recently enriched galleries of the art and archaeological section. I only pitied the fatuity of the authorities for being grateful. Dr. Groschen now wound himself into everybody's good wishes, and the University degree was already conferred. He was offered a fine set of rooms in a college famous for culture. He became a well-known figure on the Q.P. But he was not always with us; he went to Greece or the East sometimes, for the purpose, it was said, of adding to the Groschen collection, now the glory of the FitzTaylor.
It was after a rather prolonged period of absence that he wrote to Girdelstone privately, announcing a great discovery. On his return he was bringing home, he said, some MSS. recently unearthed by himself in the monastic library of St. Basil, and bought for an enormous sum from Sarpedon, the Patriarch of Hermaphroditopolis. He was willing to sell them to 'some public institution' for very little over the original price. Girdelstone told several of us in confidence. It was public news next day. Scholars grew excited. There were hints at the recovery of a lost MS., which was to 'add to our knowledge of the antique world and materially alter accepted views of the early state of Roman and Greek society.' On hearing the news I smiled. 'Some institution,' that was suspicious—MSS.—they meant forgery. The new treasure was described as a palimpsest, consisting of fifty or sixty leaves of papyrus. On one side was a portion of the Lost Book of Jasher, of a date not later than the fourth century; on the other, in cursive characters, the too notorious work of Aulus Gellius—De moribus Romanorum, concealed under the life of a saint.
But why should I go over old history? Every one remembers the excitement that the discovery caused—the leaders in the Times and the Telegraph, the doubts of the sceptical, the enthusiasm of the archaeologists, the jealousy of the Berlin authorities, the offers from all the libraries of Europe, the aspersions of the British Museum. 'Why,' asked indignant critics, 'did Dr. Groschen offer his MS. to the authorities at Oxbridge?' 'Because Oxbridge had been the first to recognise his genius,' was the crushing reply. And Professor Girdelstone said that should the FitzTaylor fail to acquire the MS. by any false economy on the part of the University authorities, the prestige of the museum would be gone. But this is all old history. I only remind the reader of what he knows already. I began to bring all my powers, and the force of the scientific world in Oxbridge, to bear in opposition to the purchase of the MS. I pulled every wire I knew, and execration was heaped on me as a vandal, though I only said the University money should be devoted to other channels than the purchase of doubtful MSS. I was doing all this, when I was startled by the intelligence that Dr. Groschen had suddenly come to the conclusion that his find was after all only a forgery.
The Book of Jasher was a Byzantine fake, and he ascribed the date at the very earliest to the reign of Alexis Comnenus. Theologians became fierce on the subject. They had seen the MS.; they knew it was genuine. And when Dr. Groschen began to have doubts on Aulus Gellius, suggesting it was a sixteenth-century fabrication, the classical world 'morally and physically rose and denounced' him. Dr. Groschen, who had something of the early Christian in his character, bore this shower of opprobrium like a martyr. 'I may be mistaken,' he said, 'but I believe I have been deceived. I have been taken in before, and I would not like the MS. offered to any library before two of the very highest experts could decide as to its authenticity.' People had long learnt to regard Dr. Groschen himself as quite the highest expert in the world. They thought he was out of his senses, though the press commended him for his honesty, and one daily journal, loudest in declaring its authenticity, said it was glad Dr. Groschen had detected the forgery long recognised by their special correspondent. Dr. Groschen was furthermore asked to what experts he would submit his MS., and by whose decision he would abide. After some delay and correspondence, he could think of only two—Professor Girdelstone and Monteagle. They possessed great opportunities, he said, of judging on such matters. Their erudition was of a steadier and more solid nature than his own. Then the world and Oxbridge joined again in a chorus of praise. What could be more honest, more straightforward, than submitting the MS. to a final examination at the hands of the two curators of the FitzTaylor, who were to have the first refusal of the MS. if it was considered authentic? No museum was ever given such an opportunity. Professor Girdelstone and his colleague soon came to a conclusion. They decided that there could be no doubt as to the authenticity of the Aulus Gellius. In portions it was true that between the lines other characters were partly legible; but this threw no slur on the MS. itself. Of the commentary on the book of Jasher, it will be remembered, they gave no decisive opinion, and it is still an open question. They expressed their belief that the Aulus Gellius was alone worth the price asked by Dr. Groschen. It only remained now for the University to advance a sum to the FitzTaylor for the purchase of this treasure. The curators, rather prematurely perhaps, wrote privately to Dr. Groschen making him an offer for his MS., and paid him half the amount out of their own pockets, so as to close the bargain once and for all.
The delay of the University in making the grant caused a good deal of apprehension in the hearts of Professor Girdelstone and Monteagle. They feared that the enormous sums offered by the Berlin Museum would tempt even the simple-minded Dr. Groschen, though the interests of the FitzTaylor were so near his heart. These suspicions proved unfounded as they were ungenerous. The savant was contented with his degree and college rooms, and showed no hurry for the remainder of the sum to be paid.
One night, when I was seated in my rooms beside the fire, preparing lectures on the ichthyosaurus, I was startled by a knock at my door. It was a hurried, jerky rap. I shouted, 'Come in.' The door burst open, and on the threshold I saw Monteagle, with a white face, on which the beads of perspiration glittered. At first I thought it was the rain which had drenched his cap and gown, but in a moment I saw that the perspiration was the result of terror or anxiety (cf. my lectures on Mental Equilibrium). Monteagle and I in our undergraduate days had been friends; but like many University friendships, ours proved evanescent; our paths had lain in different directions.
He had chosen archaeology. We failed to convert one another to each other's views. When he became a member of 'The Disciples,' a mystic Oxbridge society, the fissure between us widened to a gulf. We nodded when we met, but that was all. With Girdelstone I was not on speaking terms. So when I found Monteagle on my threshold I confess I was startled.
'May I come in?' he asked.
'Certainly, certainly,' I said cordially. 'But what is the matter?'
'Good God! Newall,' he cried, 'that MS. after all is a forgery.'
This expression I thought unbecoming in a 'Disciple,' but I only smiled and said, 'Really, you think so?' Monteagle then made reference to our old friendship, our unfortunate dissensions. He asked for my help, and then really excited my pity. Some member of the High Church party in Oxbridge had apparently been to Greece to attend a Conference on the Union of the Greek and Anglican Churches. While there he met Sarpedon, Patriarch of Hermaphroditopolis, and in course of conversation told him of the renowned Dr. Groschen. Sarpedon became distant at mention of the Doctor's name. He denied all knowledge of the famous letter of introduction, and said the only thing he knew of the Professor was, that he was usually supposed to have been the thief who had made off with a large chest of parchments from the monastery of St. Basil.
The Greek Patriarch refused to give any further information. The English clergyman reported the incident privately to Girdelstone.
Dr. Groschen's other letters were examined, and found to be fabrications. The Book of Jasher and Aulus Gellius were submitted to a like scrutiny. Girdelstone and Monteagle came reluctantly to the conclusion that they were also vulgar and palpable forgeries. At the end of his story Monteagle almost burst into tears. I endeavoured to cheer him, although I was shrieking with laughter at the whole story.
Of course it was dreadful for him. If he exposed Dr. Groschen, his own reputation as an expert would be gone, and the Doctor was already paid half the purchase money. Monteagle was so agitated that it was with difficulty I could get his story out of him, and to this day I have never quite learned the truth. Controlling my laughter, I sent a note round to Professor Girdelstone, asking him to come to my rooms. In about ten minutes he appeared, looking as draggled and sheepish as poor Monteagle. In his bosom he carried the fateful MS., which I now saw for the first time. If it was a forgery (and I have never been convinced) it was certainly a masterpiece. From what Girdelstone said to me, then and since, I think that the Aulus Gellius portion was genuine enough, and the Book of Jasher possibly the invention of Groschen; however, it will never be discovered if one or neither was genuine. Monteagle thought the ink used was a compound of tea and charcoal, but both he and Girdelstone were too suspicious to believe even each other by this time.
I tried to console them, and promised all help in my power. They were rather startled and alarmed when I laid out my plan of campaign. In the first place, I was to withdraw all opposition to the purchase of the MS. Girdelstone and Monteagle, meanwhile, were to set about having the Aulus Gellius printed and facsimiled; for I thought it was a pity such a work should be lost to the world. The facsimile was only to be announced; and publication by the University Press to be put in hand at once. The text of Aulus Gellius can still be obtained, and a translation of those portions which can be rendered into English forms a volume of Mr. Bohn's excellent classical library, which will satisfy the curious, who are unacquainted with Latin. Professor Girdelstone was to write a preface in very guarded terms. This will be familiar to all classical scholars.
It was with great difficulty that I could persuade Girdelstone and Monteagle of the sincerity of my actions; but the poor fellows were ready to catch at any straw for hope from exposure, and they listened to every word I said. As the whole University knew I was not on speaking terms with Girdelstone, I told him to adopt a Nicodemus-like attitude, and to come to me in the night-time, when we could hold consultation. To the outer world, during these anxious evenings, when I would see no one, I was supposed to be preparing my great syllabus of lectures on the ichthyosaurus. I communicated to my fellow-curators my plans bit by bit only, for I thought it would be better for their nerves. I made Monteagle send round a notice to the press:—'That the MS. about to become the property of the University Museum was being facsimiled prior to publication, and at the earliest possible date would be on view in the Galleries where Dr. Groschen's collections are now exhibited.' This was to quiet the complaints already being made by scholars and commentators about the difficulty of obtaining access to the MS. The importunities of several religious societies to examine the Book of Jasher became intolerable. The Dean of Rothbury, an old friend of Girdelstone's, came from the north on purpose to collate the new-found work. With permission he intended, he said, to write a small brochure for the S.P.C.K. on the Book of Jasher, though I believe that he also felt some curiosity in regard to Aulus Gellius. I may be wronging him. The subterfuges, lies, and devices to which we resorted were not very creditable to ourselves. Girdelstone gave him a dinner, and Monteagle and I persuaded the Senate to confer on him an honorary degree. We amused him with advance sheets of the commentary. He was quite a month at Oxbridge, but at last was recalled on business to the north by some lucky domestic family bereavement. Our next difficulty was the news that Sarpedon, Patriarch of Hermaphroditopolis, was about to visit England to attend an Anglican Synod. I thought Girdelstone would go off his head. Monteagle's hair became grey in a few weeks. Sarpedon was sure to be invited to Oxbridge. He would meet Dr. Groschen and then expose him. Our fears, I soon found out, were shared by the savant, who left suddenly on one of those mysterious visits to the East. I saw that our action must be prompt; or Girdelstone and Monteagle would be lost. They were horrified when I told them I proposed placing the MS. on public view in the museum immediately. A large plate-glass case was made by my orders, in which Girdelstone and Monteagle, who obeyed me like lambs, deposited their precious burden. It was placed in the Groschen Hall of the FitzTaylor. The crush that afternoon was terrible. All the University came to peer at the new acquisition. I must tell you that Dr. Groschen's antiquities occupied a temporary and fire-proof erection built of wood and tin, at the back of the museum, with which it was connected by a long stone gallery, adorned with plaster casts.
I mingled with the crowd, and heard the remarks; though I advised Girdelstone and Monteagle to keep out of the way, as it would only upset them. Various dons came up and chaffed me about the opposition I made to the MS. being purchased. A little man of dark, sallow complexion asked me if I was Professor Girdelstone. He wanted to obtain leave to examine the MS. I gave him my card, and asked him to call on me, when I would arrange a suitable day. He told me he was a Lutheran pastor from Pomerania.
I was the last to leave the museum that afternoon. I often remained in the library long after five, the usual closing hour. So I dismissed the attendants who locked up everything with the exception of a small door in the stone gallery always used on such occasions. I waited till six, and as I went out opened near this door a sash window, having removed the iron shutters. After dinner I went round to Monteagle's rooms. He and Girdelstone were sitting in a despondent way on each side of the fire, sipping weak coffee and nibbling Albert biscuits. They were startled at my entrance.
'What have you decided?' asked Girdelstone, hoarsely.
'All is arranged. Monteagle and I set fire to the museum to-night,' I said, quietly.
Girdelstone buried his face in his hands and began to sob.
'Anything but that—anything but that!' he cried. And Monteagle turned a little pale. At first they protested, but I overcame their scruples by saying they might get out of the mess how they liked. I advised Girdelstone to go to bed and plead illness for the next few days, for he really wanted rest. At eleven o'clock that night, Monteagle and myself crossed the meadows at the back of our college, and by a circuitous route reached the grounds surrounding the museum, which were planted with rhododendrons and other shrubs. The pouring rain was, unfortunately, not favourable for our enterprise. I brought however a small box of combustibles from the University Laboratories, and a dark lantern. When we climbed over the low wall not far from the stone gallery, I saw, to my horror, a light emerging from the Groschen Hall. Monteagle, who is fearfully superstitious, began chattering his teeth. When we reached the small door I saw it was open. A thief had evidently forestalled us. Monteagle suggested going back, and leaving the thief to make off with the MS.; but I would not hear of such a proposal.
The door opening to the Groschen Hall at the end of the gallery was open, and beyond, a man, whom I at once recognised as the little Lutheran, was busily engaged in picking the lock of the case where were deposited the Book of Jasher and Aulus Gellius. Telling Monteagle to guard the door, I approached very softly, keeping behind the plaster casts. I was within a yard of him before he heard my boots creak. Then he turned round, and I found myself face to face with Dr. Groschen. I have never seen such a look of terror on any one's face.
'You scoundrel!' I cried, collecting myself, 'drop those things at once!' and I made for him with my fist. He dodged me. I ran after him; but he threaded his way like a rat through the statues and cases of antiquities, and bolted down the passage out of the door, where he upset Monteagle and the lantern, and disappeared in the darkness and rain. I then returned to the scene of his labours. Monteagle was too frightened, owing to the rather ghostly appearance of the museum by the light of a feeble oil-lamp. In a small cupboard there was some dry sacking I had deposited there for the purpose some days before. This I ignited, along with certain native curiosities of straw and skin, wicker-work, and other ethnographical treasures.
Some new unpacked cases left by the attendants the previous afternoon materially assisted the conflagration.
It was an impressive scene, to witness the flames playing round the pedestals of the torsos, statues, and cases. I only waited for a few moments to make sure that my work was complete. I shut the iron door between the gallery and the hall to avoid the possibility of the fire spreading to the rest of the building. Then I seized Monteagle by the arm and hurried him through the rhododendrons, over the wall, into the meadows. I turned back once, and just caught a glimpse of red flame bursting through the windows. Having seen Monteagle half-way back to the college, I returned to see if any alarm was given. Already a small crowd was collecting. A fire-engine arrived, and a local pump was almost set going. I returned to college, where I found the porter standing in the gateway.
'The FitzTaylor is burning,' he said. 'I have been looking out for you, sir.'
* * * * *
There is nothing more to tell. To this day no one suspects that the fire was the work of an incendiary. The Professor has returned from the East, but lives in great retirement. His friends say he has never quite recovered the shock occasioned by the loss of his collection. The rest of the museum was uninjured.
The death of Sarpedon, Patriarch of Hermaphroditopolis, at Naples, was a sudden and melancholy catastrophe, which people think affected Dr. Groschen more than the fire. Strangely enough, he had just been dining with the Doctor the evening before. They met at Naples purposely to bury the hatchet. Sometimes I ask myself if I did right in setting fire to the museum. You see, it was for the sake of others, not myself, and Monteagle was an old friend.
THE HOOTAWA VANDYCK.
'My own experience,' said an expert to a group of mostly middle-aged men, who spent their whole life in investigating spiritual phenomena, 'is a peculiar one.
'It was in the early autumn of 1900. I was at Rome, where I went to investigate the relative artistic affinity between Pietro Cavallini and Giotto (whose position, I think, will have to be adjusted). There were as yet only a few visitors at the Hotel Russie, chiefly maiden ladies and casual tourists, besides a certain Scotch family and myself. Colonel Brodie, formerly of the 69th Highlanders, was a retired officer of that rather peppery type which always seems to belong to the stage rather than real life, though you meet so many examples on the Continent. He possessed an extraordinary topographical knowledge of modern Rome, the tramway system, and the hours at which churches and galleries were open. He would waylay you in the entrance-hall and inquire severely if you had been to the Catacombs. In the case of an affirmative answer he would describe an unvisited tomb or ruin, far better worth seeing; in that of a negative, he would smile, tell you the shortest and cheapest route, and the amount which should be tendered to the Trappist Father. Later on in the evening, over coffee, if he was pleased with you, he would mention in a very impressive manner, "I am, as you probably know, Colonel Brodie, of Hootawa." His wife, beside whom I sat at table d'hote, retained traces of former beauty. She was thin, and still tight-laced; was somewhat acid in manner; censorious concerning the other visitors; singularly devoted to her tedious husband, and fretfully attached to the beautiful daughter, for whose pleasure and education they were visiting Rome. I gathered that they were fairly well-to-do.
It was Mrs. Brodie who first broke the ice by asking if I was interested in pictures. Miss Brodie, who sat between her parents, turned very red, and said, "Oh, mamma, you are talking to one of the greatest experts in Europe!" I was surprised and somewhat gratified by her knowledge (indeed, it chilled me some days later when she confessed to having learnt the information only that day by overhearing an argument between myself and a friend at the Colonna Gallery on Stefano de Zevio, and the indebtedness of Northern Italian art to Teutonic influences).
Mrs. Brodie took the intelligence quite calmly, and merely inspected me through her lorgnettes as if I were an object in a museum.
"Ah, you must talk to Flora about pictures. I have no doubt that she will tell you a good deal that even you do not know. We have some very interesting pictures up in Scotland. My husband is Colonel Brodie of Hootawa (no relation to the Brodie of Brodie). His grandfather was a great collector, and originally we possessed seven Raphaels."
"Indeed," I replied, eagerly, "might I ask the names of the pictures? I should know them at once."
"I have never seen them," said Mrs. Brodie; "they were not left to my husband, who quarrelled with his father. Fortunately none of us cared for Raphaels; but the most valuable pictures, including a Vandyck, were entailed. Flora is particularly attached to Vandyck. He is always so romantic, I think."
Flora, embarrassed by her mother's eulogy of family heirlooms, leaned across, as if to address me, and said, "Oh, mamma, I don't think they really were Raphaels; they were probably only by pupils—Giulio Romano, Perino del Vaga, or Luca Penni."
"As you never saw them, my dear," said Mrs. Brodie, severely, "I don't think you can possibly tell. Your grandfather" (she glared at me) "was considered the greatest expert in Europe, and described them in his will as Raphaels. It would be impious to suggest that they are by any one else. There were two Holy Families. One of them was given to your grandfather by the King of Holland in recognition of his services; and a third was purchased direct from the Queen of Naples. But your father is getting impatient for his cigar."
They rose, and bowed sweetly. I joined them in the glass winter-garden a few minutes later.
"Have you been to the Pincio? But I forgot, of course you know Rome. I do love the Pincio," sighed Mrs. Brodie over some needlework, and then, as an afterthought, "Do you know the two things that have impressed me most since I came here?"
"I could not dare to guess any more than I dare tell you what has impressed me most," I replied, gazing softly at Flora.
"The two things which have really and truly impressed me most," continued Mrs. Brodie, "more than anything else, more than the Pantheon, or the Forum, are—St. Peter's and the Colosseum." She almost looked young again.
The next day we visited the Borghese; and I was able to explain to Flora why the circular "Madonna and Angels" was not by Botticelli. And, indeed, there was hardly a picture in Rome I was unable to reattribute to its rightful owner. In the apt Flora I found a receptive pupil. She even grew suspicious about the great Velasquez at the Doria, in which she fancied, with all the enthusiasm of youth, that she detected the handling of Mazo. I soon found that it was better for her training to discourage her from looking at pictures at all—we confined ourselves to photographs. In a photograph you are not disturbed by colour, or by impasto. You are able to study the morphic values in a picture, by which means you arrive at the attribution without any disturbing aesthetic considerations.
One afternoon, returning from some church ceremony, Flora said to me, "Oh, Aleister" (we were already engaged secretly), "papa is going to ask you next winter to stay at Hootawa. Before I forget, I want to warn you never to criticise the pictures. They are mostly of the Dutch and English School, and I dare say you will find a great many of the names wrong; but, you know, papa is irritable, and it would offend him if you said that the 'Terborch' was really by Pieter de Hooghe. You can easily avoid saying anything—and then, you will really admire the Vandyck."
"Darling Flora, of course I promise. By the way, you never speak of your family ghost, although Mrs. Brodie always refers to it as if I knew all about it; and the Colonel has often told me of Sir Rupert's military achievements."
"Oh, Aleister, I don't know whether you believe in ghosts: it is very extraordinary. Whenever any disaster, or any good fortune happens to our family, Sir Rupert Brodie's figure, just as he appears in the Vandyck, is seen walking in the Long Gallery; and every night he appears at twelve o'clock in the green spare bedroom; but only guests and servants ever see him there. We have a saying at Hootawa, that servants will not stay unless they are able to see Sir Rupert the first month after their arrival. Only members of the family are able to see him in the Long Gallery, and, of course, we never know whether he betokens good or ill luck. The last time he appeared there, papa was so nervous that he sold out of Consols, which went down an eighth the day after. We were all very much relieved. But he invested the money in some concern called "The Imperial Federation Stylograph Pen Company," and lost most of it; so it was not of much use."
"Tell me, darling, of your father's other investments," I asked anxiously.
"Oh, you must ask papa about them, I don't understand business; but I want to tell you about Sir Rupert. The Society for Psychical Research sent down a Committee to inquire into the credibility of the ghost, and recorded four authentic apparitions in the spare bedroom; and on family evidence accepted at least three events in the Long Gallery. It was just after their report was issued that papa was invited to lease the house to some Americans for the summer. He always gets a good price for it now, simply on account of the ghost. I always think that rather horrid. I don't believe poor Sir Rupert would like it."
"Perhaps he doesn't know," I suggested.
"Of course, you don't believe in him," she said in rather an offended way.
"My darling, of course I do; I have always believed in ghosts. Most of the pictures in the world, as I am always saying, were painted by ghosts."
"Oh, no, Aleister, you're laughing at me; but when you see Sir Rupert, as you will, in the spare bedroom, you will believe too."