Etext preparer's note: This text was first published anonymously in 1886.
MEMOIRS OF ARTHUR HAMILTON, B.A. OF TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE
Extracted from his letters and diaries, with reminiscences of his conversation by his friend CHRISTOPHER CARR of the same college
By Arthur Christopher Benson
"Pro jucundis aptissima quaeque dabunt di; Carior est illis homo quam sibi." Juvenal
To H. L. M.
My dear Friend,
When you were kind enough to allow me to dedicate this book to you—you, to whose frank discussion of sacred things and kindly indifference to exaggerations of expression I owe so much—I felt you were only adding another to the long list of delicate benefits for which a friend can not be directly repaid.
My object has throughout been this: I have seen so much of what may be called the dissidence of religious thought and religious organization among those of my own generation at the Universities, and the unhappy results of such a separation, that I felt bound to contribute what I could to a settlement of this division, existing so much more in word than in fact—a point which you helped me very greatly to grasp.
I have been fortunate enough to have seen and known both sides of the battle. I have seen men in the position of teachers, both anxious and competent to position of teachers, both anxious and competent to settle differences, when brought into contact with men of serious God-seeking souls, with the nominal intention of dropping the bandying of words and cries and of attacking principles, meet and argue and part, almost unconscious that they have never touched the root of the matter at all, yet dissatisfied with the efforts which only seem to widen the breach they are intended to fill.
And why? Both sides are to blame, no doubt: the teachers, for being more anxious to expound systems than to listen to difficulties, to make their theories plain than to analyse the theories of their—I will not say adversaries—but opponents; the would-be learners, for hasty generalization; for bringing to the conflict a deliberate prejudice against all traditional authority, a want of patience in translating dogmas into life, a tendency to flatly deny that such a transmutation is possible.
Fortunately, the constructive side is in no want of an exponent; but I have tried to give a true portrait in this arrangement, or rather selection, of realities, of what a serious and thoughtful soul-history may in these days be: to depict the career of a character for which no one can fail to have the profoundest sympathy, being as it is, by the nature of its case, condemned to a sadder sterner view of life than its uprightness justifies, and deprived of the helpful encouragement of so many sweet natures, whose single aim in life is to help other souls, if they only knew how.
And so, as I said before, it is with a most grateful remembrance of certain gracious words of yours, let fall in the stately house of God where we have worshipped together, in lecture-rooms where I have sat to hear you, and in conversations held in quiet college rooms or studious gardens, that I place your name at the head of these pages, the first I have sent out to shift for themselves, or rather to pass whither the Inspirer of all earnest endeavour may appoint.
I remain ever affectionately yours, Christopher Carr. Ashdon, Hants.
There are several forms of temperament. The kind that mostly issues in biography is the practical temperament. Poets have the shortest memoirs, and the most uninteresting. The politician, the philanthropist, the general, make the best, the most graphic Lives. The fact remains, however, that the question, "What has he done?" though a specious, is an unsatisfactory test of greatness.
But there is a temperament called the Reflective, which works slowly, and with little apparent result. The very gift of expression is a practical gift: with the gift of expression the reflective man becomes a writer, a poet, an artist; without it, he is unknown.
The reflective temperament, existing without any particular gift of expression, wants an exponent in these times. Reflection is lost sight of; philanthropy is all the rage. I assert that for a man to devote himself to a reflective life, that is, in the eyes of the world, an indolent one, is often a great sacrifice, and even on that account, if not essentially, valuable. Philanthropy is generally distressing, often offensive, sometimes disastrous.
Nothing, in this predetermined world, fails of its effect, as nothing is without its cause. There is a call to reflection which a man must follow, and his life then becomes an integral link in the chain of circumstance. Any intentional life affects the world; it is only the vague drifting existences that pass it by.
The subject of this memoir was, as the world counts reputation, unknown. His only public appearance, as far as I know, besides the announcement of his birth, is the fact that his initials stand in a dedication on the title-page of a noble work of fiction.
Arthur Hamilton left me his manuscripts, papers, and letters; from these, and casual conversations I have had with him in old days, this little volume is constructed.
He was born November 2, 1852. He was the second son of a retired cavalry officer, who lived in Hampshire. Besides his elder brother, there were three sisters, one of whom died. His father was a wealthy man, and had built himself a small country house, and planted the few acres of ground round it very skillfully. Major Hamilton was a very religious man, of the self-sufficient, puritanical, and evangelical type, that issues from discipline; a martinet in his regiment, a domestic tyrant, without intending to be. He did not marry till rather late in life; and at the time when Arthur was growing up—the time when memory intwines itself most lingeringly with its surroundings, the time which comes back to us at ecstatic moments in later, sadder days—all the entourage of the place was at its loveliest. Nothing ever equalled the thrill, he has told me, of finding the first thrush's nest in the laurels by the gate, or of catching the first smell of the lilac bushes in spring, or the pungent scent of the chamomile and wild celery down by the little stream.
The boy acquired a great love for Nature, though not of the intimate kind that poets have by instinct. "In moments of grief and despair," he wrote in later life, "I do not, as some do, crouch back to the bosom of the great Mother; she has, it seems, no heart for me when I am sorry, though she smiles with me when I am glad." But he has told me that he is able to enjoy a simple village scene in a way that others can not easily understand: a chestnut crowded with pink spires, the clack of a mill-wheel, the gush of a green sluice out of a mantled pool, a little stream surrounded by flags and water lobelias, gave him all his life a keen satisfaction in his happy moments. "I always gravitate to water," he writes. "I could stop and look at a little wayside stream for hours; and a pool—I never tire of it, though it awes me when I am alone."
The boy was afraid of trees, as many children are. If he had to go out alone he always crossed the fields, and never went by the wood; wandering in a wood at night was a childish nightmare of a peculiarly horrible kind.
I quote a few childish stories about him, selecting them out of a large number.
His mother saying to him one day that the gardener was dead, he burst out laughing (with that curious hysteria so common in children), and then after a little asked if they were going to bury him.
His mother, wishing to familiarize him with the idea of continued existence after death, dwelt on the fact that it was only his body that was going to be buried: his soul was in heaven.
The boy said presently, "If his body is in the churchyard, and his soul in heaven, where is David?"
Upon which his mother sent him down to the farm.
He was often singularly old-fashioned in his ways. If he was kept indoors by a childish ailment, he would draw his chair up to the fire, by his nurse, and say, "Now that the children are gone out, nurse, we can have a quiet talk." And he always returned first of all his brothers and sisters, if they were playing in the garden, that he might have the pleasure of clapping his hands from the nursery window to summon them in. "Children, children, come in," he used to say.
A curious little dialogue is preserved by his aunt in a diary. He laughed so immoderately at something that was said at lunch by one of his elders, that when his father inquired what the joke was, he was unable to answer. "It must be something very funny," said his mother in explanation. "Arthur never laughs unless there is a joke." The little boy became grave at once, and said severely, "There's hardly ever anything to laugh at in what you say; but I always laugh for fear people should be disappointed."
He was very sensitive to rebuke. "I am not so sensitive as I am always supposed to be," he said to me once. "I am one of those people who cry when they are spoken to, and do it again."
For instance, he told me that, being very fond of music when he was small, he stole down one morning at six to play the piano. His father, a very early riser, was disturbed by the gentle tinkling, and coming out of his study, asked him rather sharply why he couldn't do something useful—read some Shakespeare. He never played on the piano again for months, and for years never until he had ascertained that his father was out. "It was a mistake," he told me once, apropos of it. "If he had said that it disturbed him, but that I might do it later, I should have been delighted to stop. I always liked feeling that I was obliging people."
He disliked his father, and feared him. The tall, handsome gentleman, accustomed to be obeyed, in reality passionately fond of his children, dismayed him. He once wrote on a piece of paper the words, "I hate papa," and buried it in the garden.
For the rest, he was an ordinary, rather clever, secretive child, speaking very little of his feelings, and caring, as he has told me since, very little for anybody except his nurse. "I cared about her in a curious way. I enjoyed the sensation of crying over imaginary evils; and I should not like to say how often in bed at night I used to act over in my mind an imaginary death-bed scene of my nurse, and the pathetic remarks she was to make about Master Arthur, and the edifying bearing I was to show. This was calculated within a given time to produce tears, and then I was content."
He went to a private school, which he hated, and then to Winchester, which he grew to love. The interesting earnest little boy merged into the clumsy loose-jointed schoolboy, silent and languid. There are hardly any records of this time.
"My younger sister died," he told me, "when I was at school. I experienced about ten minutes of grief; my parents were overwhelmed with anguish, and I can remember that, like a quick, rather clever child, I soon came to comprehend the sort of remark that cheered them, and almost overdid it in my zeal. I am overwhelmed with shame," he said, "whenever I look at my mother's letters about that time when she speaks of the comfort I was to them. It was a fraus pia, but it was a most downright fraus."
I think I may relate one other curious incident among his public school experiences: it may seem very incredible, but I have his word for it that it is true.
"A sixth-form boy took a fancy to me, and let me sit in his room, and helped me in my work. The night before he left the school I was sitting there, and just before I went away, being rather overcome with regretful sentiments, he caught hold of me by the arm and said, among other things, 'And now that I am going away, and shall probably never see you again, I don't believe you care one bit.' I don't know how I came to do it," he said, "because I was never demonstrative; but I bent down and kissed him on the cheek, and then blushed up to my ears. He let me go at once; he was very much astonished, and I think not a little pleased; but it was certainly a curious incident."
During this time his intellectual development was proceeding slowly. "I went through three phases," he said. "I began by a curious love for pastoral and descriptive poetry. I read Thomson and Cowper, similes from 'Paradise Lost,' and other selections of my own; I read Tennyson, and revelled in the music of the lines and words. I intended to be a poet.
"Then I became omnivorous, and read everything, whether I understood it or not, especially biographies. I spent all my spare time in the school library; one only valuable thing have I derived from that—a capacity for taking in the sense of a page at a glance, and having a verbal memory of a skimmed book for an hour or two superior to any one that I ever met."
Then there came an ebb, and he read nothing, but loafed all day, and tried to talk. He had a notion he said, that he could argue Socratically; and he was always trying to introduce metaphors into his conversation. But his remarks in a much later letter to a friend on childish reading are so pertinent that I introduce them here.
"Never take a book away from a child unless it is positively vicious; that they should learn how to read a book and read it quickly is the great point; that they should get a habit of reading, and feel a void without it, is what should be cultivated. Never mind if it is trash now; their tastes will insensibly alter. I like a boy to cram himself with novels; a day will come when he is sick of them, and rejects them for the study of facts. What we want to give a child is 'bookmindedness,' as some one calls it. They will read a good deal that is bad, of course; but innocence is as slippery as a duck's back; a boy really fond of reading is generally pure-minded enough. When you see a robust, active, out-of-door boy deeply engrossed in a book, then you may suspect it if you like, and ask him what he has got; it will probably have an animal bearing."
Friendships more or less ardent, butterfly-hunting, school games, constant visits to the cathedral for service, to which he was always keenly devoted, uneventful holidays, filled up most of his school life. His letters at this date are very ordinary; his early precocity seemed, rather to the delight of his parents, to have vanished. He was not a prig, though rather exclusive; not ungenial, though retiring. "A dreadful boy," he writes of himself, "who is as mum as a mouse with his elders, and then makes his school friends roar with laughter in the passage: dumb at home, a chatterbox at school."
"I had no religion at that time," he writes, "with the exception of six months, when I got interested in it by forming a friendship with an attractive ritualistic curate; but my confirmation made no impression on me, and I think I had no moral feelings that I could distinguish. I had no inherent hatred of wrong, or love for right; but I was fastidious, and that kept me from being riotous, and undemonstrative, which made me pure."
Arthur went up to the University, Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1870; he did not distinguish himself there, or acquire more than he had done at Winchester: "The one thing I learnt at Winchester that has been useful to me since, was how to tie up old letters: my house-master taught me how to do that—it was about all he was fit for. The thing I learnt at Cambridge was to smoke: my cousin Fred taught me that, and he was hardly fit for that."
As it was at Cambridge that I first met him, I will give a short description of him as far as I can remember.
He was a tall, lounging fellow, rather clumsy in his movements, but with a kind of stateliness about him; he looked, and was, old for his years. He was a little short-sighted and wore glasses; without them his brow had that puzzled, slightly bothered look often seen in weak-sighted people. His face was not unattractive, though rather heavy; his hair was dark and curly—he let it grow somewhat long from indolence—and he had a drooping moustache. He was one of the men who, without the slightest idea of doing so, always managed to create rather an impression. As he lounged along the street with his hands in his pockets, generally alone, people used to turn and look at him. If he had taken a line of any kind he would have been known everywhere—but he did nothing.
The occasion on which I met him first was in the rooms of a common friend; there was a small gathering of men. He was sitting in a low chair, smoking intently. It was the one occupation he loved; he hardly said anything, though the conversation was very animated; silence was his latest phase; but as it was his first term, and he was not very well acquainted with the party, it appeared natural; not that being surrounded by dukes and bishops would have made the slightest difference to him if he had been disposed to talk, but he was not talkative, and held his tongue.
There had been some discussion about careers and their relative merits. One rather cynical man had broken in upon the ambitious projects that were being advanced with, "Well, we must remember that we are after all only average men."
"Yes," said Arthur, slowly, from the depths of his chair, "no doubt; only not quite so average."
The gentleman addressed, who was a senior man, stared for a moment at the freshman who had ventured to correct him, to whom he had not even been introduced; but Arthur was staring meditatively at the smoke rising from his pipe, and did not seem inclined to move or be moved, so he concluded not to continue the discussion.
The only other thing I heard him say that night was as follows. An ardent enthusiast on the subject of missions was present, who, speaking of an Indian mission lately started and apparently wholly ineffective, said, "But we must expect discouragement at first. The Church has always met with that."
"Yes," said Arthur; "but we must also remember, what people are very apt to forget, that ill success is not an absolute proof that God is on our side."
These two remarks, slight as they were, struck me; and, indeed, I have never quite forgotten that indefinable first impression of the man. There was a feeling about him of holding great things in reserve, an utter absence of self-consciousness, a sensation that he did not value the opinions of other people, that he did not regulate his conduct by them, which is very refreshing in these social days, when everybody's doings and sayings are ventilated and discussed so freely. He had none of the ordinary ambitions; he did not want a reputation, I thought, on ordinary grounds; he struck me as liking to observe and consider, not to do or say.
I am fond of guessing at character and forming impressions; and I very soon found out that these were not mistaken. My way that night lay with him as far as the gate of his college. We struck up a kind of acquaintanceship, though I felt conscious that he did not in the least care about doing so, that he probably would not give me another thought. It seems strange, reflecting on that evening, that I should now come to be his biographer.
However, I was interested in the type of character he displayed, and did not let the acquaintance drop. I invited him to my rooms. He would not come of his own accord at first, but by-and-by he got habituated to me, and not unfrequently strolled in.
He never let any one into the secret of his motives; he never confessed to any plans for the future, or to taking any interest in one line of life more than another. He was well off and did not spend much, except on his books, which were splendid. His rooms were untidy to the last degree, but liberally supplied with the most varied contrivances for obtaining a comfortable posture. Deep chairs and sofas, with devices for books and light, and for writing in any position. "When my mind is at work," he said to me once, "I don't like to be reminded of my body at all. I want to forget that I have one; and so I always say my prayers lying down."
He dressed badly, or rather carelessly, for he never gave the subject a moment's thought. If his friends told him that a suit was shabby, he appeared in a day or two in a new one, till that was similarly noticed; then it was discarded altogether. He always wore one suit till he had worn it out, never varying it. But he consulted fashion to a certain extent. "My object," he said, "is to escape notice, to look like every one else. I think of all despicable people, the people who try to attract attention by a marked style of dress, are perhaps the lowest."
His life at Cambridge was very monotonous, for he enjoyed monotony; he used to say that he liked to reflect on getting up in the morning, that his day was going to be filled by ordinary familiar things. He got up rather late, read his subjects for an hour or two, strolled about to see one or two friends, lunched with them or at home, strolled in the afternoon, often dropping in to King's for the anthem, went back to his rooms for tea, the one time at which he liked to see his friends, read or talked till hall, and finally settled down to his books again at ten, reading till one or two in the morning.
He read very desultorily and widely. Thus he would read books on Arctic voyages for ten days and talk of nothing else, then read novels till he sickened for facts and fact till he sickened for fiction; biographies, elementary science, poetry, general philosophy, particularly delighting in any ideal theories of life and discipline in state or association, but with a unique devotion to "Hamlet" and "As You Like It," the "Pilgrim's Progress," and Emerson's "Representative Men." He rarely read the Bible, he told me, and then only in great masses at a sitting; and the one thing that he disliked with an utter hatred was theology of a settled and orthodox type, though next to the four books I have mentioned, "The Christian Year" and "Ecce Homo" were his constant companions.
He did not care for history; he used to lament it. "I have but a languid interest in facts, qua facts," he said; "and I try to arrive at history through biography. I like to disentangle the separate strands, one at a time; the fabric is too complex for me."
He had the greatest delight in topography. "That is why," he used to say, "I delight in a flat country. The idea of space is what I want. I like to see miles at a glance. I like to see clouds league-long rolling up in great masses from the horizon—cloud perspective. I rejoice in seeing the fields, hedgerow after hedgerow, farm after farm, push into the blue distance. It makes me feel the unity and the diversity of life; a city bewilders and confuses me, but a great tract of placid country gives me a broad glow of satisfaction."
He went for a walking tour in the fens, and returned enchanted. "By Ely," he said, "the line crosses a gigantic fen—Whittlesea mere in old days—and on a clear day you can see at least fifteen miles either way. As we crossed it a great skein of starlings rose out of a little holt, and streamed north; the herons or quiet cattle stood along the huge dykes. You could see the scattered figures of old labourers in the fields, and then for miles and miles the squat towers, at which you were making, staring over the flat, giving you a thrill every time you sighted them, and right away west the low hills that must have been the sandy downs that blocked the restless plunging sea; they must have looked for centuries over rollers and salt marsh and lagoon, felt the tread of strange herds and beasts about them till they have become the quiet slopes of a sunny park or the simple appendages of a remote hill farm."
But his greatest delight was in music. He knew a smattering of it scientifically, enough to follow up subjects and to a certain extent to recognize chords. There occurs in one of his letters to me the following passage, which I venture to quote. He is speaking of the delight of pure sound as apart from melody:
"I remember once," he writes, "being with a great organist in a cathedral organ-loft, sitting upon the bench at his side. He was playing a Mass of Schubert's, and close to the end, at the last chord but two—he was dying to a very soft close, sliding in handles all over the banks of stops—he nodded with his head to the rows of pedal stops with their red labels, as though to indicate where danger lay. 'Put your hand on the thirty-two foot,' he said. There it was 'Double open wood 32 ft.' And just as his fingers slid on to the last chord, 'Now,' he said.
"Ah! that was it; the great wooden pipe close to my ear began to blow and quiver; and hark! not sound, but sensation—the great rapturous stir of the air; a drowsy thunder in the roof of nave and choir; the grim saints stirred and rattled ill their leaded casements, while the melodious roar died away as softly as it had begun, sinking to silence with many a murmurous pulsation, many a throb of sighing sound."
Organ-playing, organ music, was the one subject on which I have heard him wax enthusiastic. His talk and his letters always become rhetorical when he deals with music; his musical metaphors are always carefully worked out; he compares a man of settled purpose, in whose life the "motive was very apparent," to "the great lazy horns, that you can always hear in the orchestra pouring out their notes hollow and sweet, however loud the violins shiver or the trumpets cry." He often went up to London to hear music. The St. James's Hall Concerts were his especial delight. I find later a description of the effect produced on him by Wagner.
"I have just come back from the Albert Hall, from hearing the 'Meistersanger,' Wagner himself conducting. I may safely say I think that I never experienced such absolute artistic rapture before as at certain parts of this; for instance, in the overture, at one place where the strings suddenly cease and there comes a peculiar chromatic waft of wind instruments, like a ghostly voice rushing across. I have never felt anything like it; it swept one right away, and gave one a sense of deep ineffable satisfaction. I shall always feel for the future that there is an existent region, into which I have now actually penetrated, in which that entire satisfaction is possible, a fact which I have always hitherto doubted. It is like an initiation.
"But I can not bear the 'Tannhauser;' it seems to paint with a fatal fascination the beauty of wickedness, the rightness, so to speak, of sensuality. I feel after it as if I had been yielding to a luscious temptation; unnerved, not inspired."
In another letter he writes, "Music is the most hopeful of the arts; she does not hint only, like other expressions of beauty—she takes you straight into a world of peace, a world where law and beauty are the same, and where an ordered discord, that is discord working by definite laws, is the origin of the keenest pleasure."
I remember, during the one London season which he subsequently went through, his settling himself at a Richter concert next me with an air of delight upon his face. "Now," he said, "let us try and remember for an hour or two that we have souls."
I must here record one curious circumstance which I have never explained even to my own satisfaction.
He had been at Cambridge about two years, when, in the common consent of all his friends, his habits and behaviour seemed to undergo a complete and radical change.
I have never discovered what the incident was that occasioned this change; all I know is that suddenly, for several weeks, his geniality of manner and speech, his hilarity, his cheerfulness, entirely disappeared; a curious look of haunting sadness, not defined, but vague, came over his face; and though he gradually returned to his old ways, yet I am conscious myself, and others would support me in this, that he was never quite the same again; he was no longer young.
The only two traces that I can discover in his journals, or letters, or elsewhere, of the facts are these.
He always in later diaries vaguely alludes to a certain event which changed his view of things in general; "ever since," "since that November," "for now nearly five years I have felt." These and similar phrases constantly occur in his diary. I will speak in a moment of what nature I should conjecture it to have been.
A packet of letters in his desk were marked "to be burnt unopened;" but at the same time carefully docketed with dates: these dates were all immediately after that time, extending over ten days.
The exact day was November 8, 1872. It is engraved in a small silver locket that hung on his watch-chain, where he was accustomed to have important days in his life marked, such as the day he adopted his boy, his mother's death. It is preceded by the Greek letters [Greek: BP], which from a certain entry in his diary I conceive to be [Greek: baptisma pyros], "the baptism of fire."
Lastly, in a diary for that year, kept with fair regularity up till November 8, there here intervenes a long blank, the only entry being November 9: "Salvum me fac, Dne."
I took the trouble, incidentally, to hunt up the files of a Cambridge journal of that date, to see if I could link it on to any event, and I found there recorded, in the course of that week, what I at first imagined to be the explanation of the incidents, and own I was a good deal surprised.
I found recorded some Revivalist Mission Services, which were then held in Cambridge with great success. I at once concluded that he underwent some remarkable spiritual experience, some religious fright, some so-called conversion, the effects of which only gradually disappeared. The contagion of a Revivalist meeting is a very mysterious thing. Like a man going to a mesmerist, an individual may go, announcing his firm intention not to be influenced in the smallest degree by anything said or done. Nay more, he may think himself, and have the reputation of being, a strong, unyielding character, and yet these are the very men who are often most hopelessly mesmerized, the very men whom the Revival most absolutely—for the occasion—enslaves. And thus, knowing that one could form no prima facie judgments on the probabilities in such a matter, I came to the conclusion that he had fallen, in some degree, under the influence of these meetings.
But in revising this book, and carefully recalling my own and studying others' impressions, I came to the conclusion that it was impossible that this should be the case.
1. In the first place, he was more free than any man I ever saw from the influence of contagious emotions; he dissembled his own emotions, and contemned the public display of them in other people.
2. He had, I remember, a strange repugnance, even abhorrence, to public meetings in the later days at Cambridge. I can now recall that he would accompany people to the door, but never be induced to enter. A passage which I will quote from one of his letters illustrates this.
"The presence of a large number of people has a strange, repulsive physical effect on me. I feel crushed and overwhelmed, not stimulated and vivified, as is so often described. I can't listen to a concert comfortably if there is a great throng, unless the music is so good as to wrap one altogether away. There is undoubtedly a force abroad among large masses of people, the force which forms the basis of the principle of public prayer, and I am conscious of it too, only it distresses me; moreover, the worst and most afflicting nightmare I have is the sensation of standing sightless and motionless, but with all the other senses alert and apprehensive, in the presence of a vast and hostile crowd."
3. He never showed the least sign of being influenced in the direction of spiritual or even religious life by this crisis. He certainly spoke very little at all for some time to any one on any subject; he was distrait and absent-minded in society—for the alteration was much observed from its suddenness—but when he gradually began to converse as usual, he did not, as is so often the case in similar circumstances, do what is called "bearing witness to the truth." His attitude toward all enthusiastic forms of religion had been one, in old days, of good-natured, even amused tolerance. He was now not so good-natured in his criticisms, and less sparing of them, though his religious-mindedness, his seriousness, was undoubtedly increased by the experience, whatever it was.
On the whole, then, I should say that the coincidence of the revival is merely fortuitous. It remains to seek what the cause was.
We must look for it, in a character so dignified as Arthur's, in some worthy cause, some emotional failure, some moral wound. I believe the following to be the clew; I can not develop it without treading some rather delicate ground.
He had formed, in his last year at school, a very devoted friendship with a younger boy; such friendships like the [Greek: eispnelas] and the [Greek: aitas] of Sparta, when they are truly chivalrous and absolutely pure, are above all other loves, noble, refining, true; passion at white heat without taint, confidence of so intimate a kind as can not even exist between husband and wife, trust such as can not be shadowed, are its characteristics. I speak from my own experience, and others will, I know, at heart confirm me, when I say that these things are infinitely rewarding, unutterably dear.
Arthur left Winchester. A correspondence ensued between the two friends. I have three letters of Arthur's, so passionate in expression, that for fear of even causing uneasiness, not to speak of suspicion, I will not quote them. I have seen, though I have destroyed, at request, the letters of the other.
This friend, a weak, but singularly attractive boy, got into a bad set at Winchester, and came to grief in more than one way; he came to Cambridge in three years, and fell in with a thoroughly bad set there. Arthur seems not to have suspected it at first, and to have delighted in his friend's society; but such things as habits betray themselves, and my belief is that disclosures were made on November 8, which revealed to Arthur the state of the case. What passed I can not say. I can hardly picture to myself the agony, disgust, and rage (his words and feelings about sensuality of any kind were strangely keen and bitter), loyalty fighting with the sense of repulsion, pity struggling with honour, which must have convulsed him when he discovered that his friend was not only yielding, but deliberately impure.
The other's was an unworthy and brutal nature, utterly corrupted at bottom. He used to speak jestingly of the occurrence. "Oh yes!" I have heard him say; "we were great friends once, but he cuts me now; he had to give me up, you see, because he didn't approve of me. Justice, mercy, and truth, and all the rest of it."
It was certainly true; their friendship ended. I find it hard to realize that Arthur would voluntarily have abandoned him; and yet I find passages in his letters, and occasional entries in his diaries, which seem to point to some great stress put upon him, some enormous burden indicated, which he had not strength to attempt and adopt. "May God forgive me for my unutterable selfishness; it is irreparable now," is one of the latest entries on that day in his diary. I conceive, perhaps, that his outraged ideal was too strong for his power of forgiveness. He was very fastidious, always.
How deep the blow cut will be shown by these following extracts:
"I once had my faith in human nature rudely wrecked, and it has never attempted a long voyage again. I hug the coast and look regretfully out to sea; perhaps the day may come when I may strike into it ... believe in it always if you can; I do not say it is vanity ... the shock blinded me; I can not see if I would."
"Moral wounds never heal; they may be torn open by a chance word, by a fragment of print, by a sentence from a letter; and there we have to sit with pale face and shuddering heart, to bleed in silence and dissemble it. Then, too, there is that constant dismal feeling which the Greeks called [Greek: upoulos]: the horrible conviction, the grim memory lurking deep down, perhaps almost out of sight, thrust away by circumstance and action, but always ready to rise noiselessly up and draw you to itself."
"'A good life, and therefore a happy one,' says my old aunt, writing to me this morning; it is marvellous and yet sustaining what one can pass through, and yet those about you—those who suppose that they have the key, if any, to your heart—be absolutely ignorant of it. 'He looks a little tired and worn: he has been sitting up late;' 'all young men are melancholy: leave him alone and he will be better in a year or two,' was all that was said when I was actually meditating suicide—when I believe I was on the brink of insanity."
All these extracts are from letters to myself at different periods. Taking them together, and thus arranged, my case seems irresistible; still I must concede that it is all theory—all inference: I do not wholly know the facts, and never shall.
I found the first hint that occurs to indicate the lines of his later life, in a letter to his father, written in his last week at Cambridge. In the Classical Tripos Arthur contrived to secure a second; in the translations, notably Greek, we heard he did as well as anybody; but history and other detailed subjects dragged him down: it was an extraordinarily unequal performance.
His father, being ambitious for his sons, and knowing to a certain extent Arthur's ability, was altogether a good deal disappointed. He had accepted Arthur's failure to get a scholarship or exhibition, not with equanimity, but with a resolute silence, knowing that strict scholarship was not his son's strong point, but still hoping that he would at least do well enough in his Tripos to give him a possibility of a Fellowship.
Arthur would himself have been happier with a Fellowship than with any other position, but the possibility did not stimulate him to work with that aim in view. He wrote: "Existence generally is so extremely problematical, that I can not consent to throw away three birds in the hand for one which I do not believe to be in the bush—my present life for a doubtful future provision. I think I am ambitious after the event. Every normal human being ought to be capable either of strong expectation or strong disappointment, according as the character lives most in the future or in the past. Those capable of both generally succeed and are unhappy men; but an entire want of ambition argues a low vitality. If a man tells me loftily he has no ambition, I tell him I am very sorry for him, and say that it is almost as common an experience as having no principles, and often accompanying it, only that people are generally ashamed to confess the latter."
On his appearing in the second class, his father wrote him rather an indignant letter, saying that he had suspected all along that he was misusing his time and wasting his opportunities, but that he had refrained from saying so because he had trusted him; that his one prayer for his children was that they might not turn out useless, dilettante, or frivolous, selfish men. "I had hoped that whatever they engaged in my sons would say, 'If this is worth doing, it is worth doing well.' I did not want them to say, 'I mean to work in order to be first in this or that, to beat other people, to court success'—I do not suspect you of that—but to say, 'I mean to do my best, and if I am rewarded with honours to accept them gratefully, as a sign that my endeavours have been blest.' I fear that in your case you have done what pleased yourself—sucked the honey of the work, or tried to; that always ends in bitterness. You were capable of taking the higher ground; it seems to me that you have taken neither—and indecision in such matters is the one thing that does not succeed either in this world or the next; the one thing which the children of this world unanimously agree with the children of light in despising and censuring.
"P.S.—You used to speak of possibly taking orders; set to work seriously on that if you haven't changed your mind; for that is what I have always hoped and prayed for you. Let me see that you are capable of executing as well as planning a high resolve finely."
Arthur's behaviour on receiving this letter was very characteristic. He did not answer it.
It was a habit he had which got him into considerable odium with people. Whenever a letter entailed making up his mind—an invitation which had two sides to it—a decision—a request for advice or immediate action—these rarely extorted an answer from him. "It did not seem to me to be very important," he used to say. Neither would he be dictated to. A friend who had asked him to form one of a football eleven, receiving no reply, inclosed two post-cards addressed to himself, on one of which was written "Yes," and on the other "No." Arthur posted them both.
But a casual letter, implying friendliness, a statement of mental or moral difficulties, criticisms on an interesting book, requests involving principles, drew out immediate, full, and interesting replies, of apparently almost unnecessary urgency and affection. A boy who wrote to him from school about a long and difficult moral case, infinitely complicated by side issues and unsatisfactory action, got back the following day an exhaustive, imperative, and yet pleading reply, indicating the proper action to take. It is far too private to quote; but for pathos and lucidity and persuasiveness it is a wonderful document.
But this letter of his father's he did not answer for ten days, till the last day but one before his leaving Cambridge, neither did he mention the subject. I do not think he gave it a thought, except as one might consider an unpleasant matter of detail which required to be finished sometime.
On that day there arrived another note from his father, recapitulating what he had said, and saying that he supposed from his silence that he had not received the former letter.
To this Arthur returned the following letter:
"Trinity College, Cambridge, Thursday evening (early in 1874).
"My Dear Father:
"I don't wish you to be under any misapprehension about your former letter. I did receive it and have been carefully considering the subject; it seemed to me that I could better say what I wished in a personal interview, and I therefore refrained from writing till I came home; but you seem to wish me to make an immediate statement, which I will briefly do.
"You must not think that what I am going to say is in the least disrespectful. I assure you that I gave your letter, as coming from you, a consideration that I should not have thought of extending for a moment to any other man except one or two friends for whose opinion I have the highest respect; but it is a subject upon which, though I can not exactly say that my mind is made up, yet I see so distinctly which way my disposition lies and in what direction my opinions are capable of undergoing change, that I may say I have very little doubt—it is, in short, almost a fixed conviction.
"The moment when any one finds himself in radical opposition to the traditions in which he was brought up is very painful—I can assure you of that—to himself, as I fear it is painful to those from whom he dissents; and nothing but a desire for absolute sincerity would induce me to enter upon it. But knowing and trusting you as I do, with a firm and filial confidence in your loving thoughts and candid open-mindedness, I venture to say exactly what I think, believing that it would be a far more essential disrespect to endeavour to blink those opinions.
"Shortly, I do not believe that practical usefulness of a direct kind is the end of life. I do not believe that success is either a test of greatness nor, as you suggest, an adequate aim for it, though you will perhaps excuse me if I say that the reasons you give seem to me to be only the material view skillfully veiled.
"I do not feel in my own mind assured that the highest call in my case is to engage in a practical life. In fact, I feel fairly well assured that it is not. I do not know that I intend deliberately to shirk the responsibilities of moral action which fall in every feeling man's way. I rather mean that I shall face them from the ordinary standpoint, and not thrust myself into any position where helping my fellow-creatures is merely an official act. I think shortly that by the plan I have vague thoughts of pursuing I may gain an influence among minds which will certainly be, if I win it, of a very high kind. I dare not risk the possibilities by flying at lower game.
"Besides, I do not feel nearly enough assured of my ground to say that active work, as you describe it, is either advisable or necessary. I want to examine and consider, to turn life and thought inside out, to see if I can piece together in the least the enormous problem of which God has flung us the fragments. I do not despair of arriving at some inkling of that truth. I shall try, if I gain it, to communicate that glimmering to others, if that is God's will for me; if not, perhaps I shall be a little wiser or a little happier, at least a little more capable of receiving my illumination, when the time for that comes.
"I don't feel as if I understood at all clearly what is God's purpose for individuals. I can't take public opinion for granted. I will not let it overwhelm me. I want to stand aside and think; and my own prayer for my own children, if I had them, would rather be that they might be saved from being effective, when I see all the evils which success and mere effectiveness bring.
"What I had thought of doing was of going abroad for a year or two; but in that matter I am entirely in your hands, because I am dependent on you. I consider travel not a luxury, but a necessity. If you will make me an allowance for that purpose I shall very gladly accept it. If not, I shall endeavour to get some post where I may make enough money to take me where I wish to go. I shall throw myself upon the power 'who providently caters for the sparrows' after that.
"I propose to come home on Friday for a week or two. This letter contains only a draft of what I should have preferred to say there in words.
"I am your affectionate son, "Arthur Hamilton."
His father curtly acknowledged this letter, but nothing more; and left the discussion of the subject to be a personal one. They came to the following compromise.
Arthur was to engage for one year in some active profession, business, the law, medicine, schoolmastering, taking pupils; at the end of that time he was to make his choice; if he decided not to take up any profession, his father promised to allow him L350 a year as long as he lived, and to secure him the same sum after his own death. This occupation was to extend from August till the August following. He was allowed three days for his decision.
He at once decided on schoolmastering, and without much difficulty secured a post at an upper-class private school, being a substantial suburban house, in fine timbered grounds, the boys being all destined for public schools.
He wrote me several letters from that place, but during that time our correspondence waned, as we were both very busy. He was interested in his work, and very popular with the boys.
"My experience of life generally gives me a strong impulse in favour of Determinism; that is to say, the system which considers the histories of nations, the lives of individuals, their very deeds and words, to be all part of a vast unalterable design: and whose dealing with the past, with each event, indeed, as it occurs, is thus nothing but interpretation, an earnest endeavour to exclude regret or disappointment, and to see how best to link each fact in our past on with what we know of ourselves, to see its bearing on our individual case. Of course this will operate with our view of the future too, but only in a general way, to minimize ambition and anxiety. It produces, in fact, exactly the same effect as a perfect 'faith;' indeed, it is hard to distinguish the two, except that faith is the instinctive practice of the theory of Determinism.
"Now, the more I work at education, the more I am driven into Determinism; it seems that we can hardly regulate tendency, in fact as if the schoolmaster's only duty was to register change. A boy comes to a place like this, [Greek: mnemonikos] and [Greek: philomathes], and [Greek: euphyes], as Ascham calls it, in other respects; he is not exposed, let us say, to any of the temptations which extraordinary charms of face or manner seem always to entail upon their possessors, and he leaves it just the same, except that the natural propensities are naturally developed; whereas a boy with precisely the same educational and social advantages but without a predisposition to profit by them leaves school hardly altered in person or mind. It is true that circumstances alter character—that can not be disputed; but circumstances are precisely what we can not touch. A boy, [Greek: euphyes] as I have described, brought up as a street-arab, would only so far profit by it as to be slightly less vicious and disgusting than his companions. But education, which we speak of as a panacea for all ills, only deals with what it finds, and does not, as we ought to claim, rub down bad points and accentuate good, and it is this, that perhaps more than anything else has made me a Determinist, that the very capacity for change and improvement is so native to some characters, and so utterly lacking to others. A man can in real truth do nothing of himself, though there are all possible varieties—from the man who can see his deficiencies and make them up, through the man who sees his weak points and can not strengthen them, to the spiritually blind who can not even see them. I may of course belong to the latter class myself—it is the one thing about which no one can decide for himself—but an inherent contempt for certain parts of my character seems to hint to me that it is not so."
It will be seen from the last two letters that his ethical position was settling itself.
I therefore think, before I go any further, it will be as well to give a short account of his religious opinions at this time, as they were very much bound up with his life. He told me not unfrequently that religion had been nothing whatever to him at school, and he came up to the University impressionable, ardent, like a clean paper ready for any writing.
It is well known that at the Universities there is a good deal of proselytizing; that it is customary for men of marked religious views and high position to have a large clientele of younger men whom they influence and mould; schools of the prophets.
Arthur was not drawn into any one of these completely, though I fancy that he was to a certain extent influenced by the teaching of one of these men. The living original of these words will pardon me if I here insert the words of my friend relating to him; many Cambridge men have been and are everlastingly grateful for his simple noble influence and example.
"Why are there certain people in this world, who whenever they enter a room have a strange power of galvanizing everybody there into connection with themselves? what mysterious currents do they set in motion to and from them, so that those who do not talk to them or at them, begin to talk with reference to them, hedged about as they are with an atmosphere of desire and command?
"There is one of these at Cambridge now, a man for whom I not only have the profoundest respect, but whose personal presence exercises on me just the fascination I describe; and influential as he is, it is influence more utterly unconscious of its own power than any I have seen—a rare quality. He finds all societies into which he enters, stung by his words and looks, serious, sweet, interested in, if not torn by moral and social problems of the deepest import; yet he always fancies that it is they, not he, that are thus potent. He is not aware that it is he who is saintly; he thinks it is they that are good; and all this, not for want of telling him, for he must be weary of genuine praise and thanks."
To write thus of any one must imply a deep attraction. I do not think, however, that the admiration ever extended itself to imitation in matters theoretical or religious. Arthur was not one of those indiscriminate admirers, blinded by a single radiant quality to accept the whole body as full of light.
Very slowly his convictions crystallized; he had a period of very earnest thought—during the time of which I have just been speaking—in which he shunned the subject in conversation; but I have reason to believe from the books he read, and from two or three letters to his friend, the curate of whom I have been speaking, that he was thinking deeply upon revealed religion.
It must, however, be remembered that he never went through that period of agonized uprooting of venerated and cherished sentiment that many whose faith has been very keen and integral in their lives pass through, the dark valley of doubt. His religion had not intwined itself into his life; it was not shrined among his sacred memories or laid away in secret storehouses of thought.
"I have never felt the agony of a dying faith," he wrote to a friend who was sorely troubled, "so you will forgive me if I do not seem to sympathize very delicately with you, or if I seem not to understand the darkness you are in. But I have been in deep waters myself, though of another kind. I have seen an old ideal foully shattered in a moment, and a hope that I had held and that had consecrated my life for many years, not only crushed in an instant—that would have been bad enough—but its place filled by an image of despair ... so you will see that I can feel for you, as I do.
"Leading to the light is a sad, terribly sad, and wearying process; I have not won it yet, but I have seen glimpses which have dispelled a gloom which I thought was hopeless. My dear friend, I know that God will bring you out into a place of liberty, as He has brought me; in the day when you come and tell me that He has done so, the smile that will be on your face will be no sort of symbol, I know, of the unutterable content within. Expertus novi, you have my thoughts and hopes."
The letters I shall now quote are taken out of a considerable period, and give a fair picture of what he believed. Tolerance was his great characteristic.
Below all principles of his own was a deep resolve not to interfere in any way with the principles of others, however erroneous he deemed them.
With his definition of sincerity that comes out in the following extracts I have myself often found fault in conversation and by letter, but I never produced any change. I thought, and still think, that it is sophistical in tone, and tampers with one of the most sacred of our instincts. It never in his case, I think, made any difference to his presentment of the truth, but it is a principle that I should not dare to advocate; however, it was so integral a part of his faith that in this delineation, which shall be as accurate as I can make it, I dare not omit it.
His convictions were then a steady accumulation, not the shreds of one system worked into the fabric by the overmastering new impulse communicated by another, as is so often the case. He writes:
"The strong man's house entered by the stronger, and his goods despoiled, is a parable more frequently true of the conversion of a 'believer' into a sceptic than vice versa. The habit of firm adherence to principle, the capacity for trust, the adaptation of intellectual resources to uphold a theory—all these go to swell the new emotion; no man is so effective a sceptic as the man who has been a fervent believer.
"But in the rare cases of the conversion of an intellectual man from scepticism into belief (like Augustine and a very few others) the spirit suffers by the change. A great deal of cultivation, of logical readiness, of eloquence, seem to be essentially secular, to belong essentially to the old life, and to need imperatively putting away together with the garment spotted by the flesh. Augustine suffered less perhaps than others; but some diminution of force seems an inevitable result.
"I never had a great change of that kind to make. I had a moral awakening, which was rude but effective, never a conversion; I had not to strike my old colours."
Thus, though he was a strong Determinist, his capacity for idealism, and a natural enthusiasm, saved him from the paralysis which in some cases results from such speculations.
"I look upon all philosophical theories as explanations of an ontological problem, not as a basis of action. The appearance of free-will in adopting or discontinuing a course of action is a deception, but it is a complete deception—so complete as not to affect in the slightest my interest in what is going to happen, nor my unconscious posing as a factor in that result. Though I am only a cogwheel in a vast machine, yet I am conscious of my cogs, interested in my motions and the motions of the whole machine, though ignorant of who is turning, why he began, and whether he will stop, and why.
"If I saw the slightest loophole at which free-will might creep in, I would rush to it, but I do not; if man was created with a free will, he was also created with predispositions which made the acting of that will a matter of mathematical certainty.
"But the idea that it diminishes my interest in life or its issues is preposterous; I am inclined to credit God with larger ideas than my own, and His why and wherefore, and the part I bear in it, is extraordinarily fascinating to me because it is so hidden; and the least indication of law that I can seize upon—such as this law of necessity—is an entrancing glimpse into reality. It may not be quite so delightful as some other theories, but it is true, and real, and therefore has an actual working in you and me and every one else, which can not fail to attach a certain interest to it which other systems lack."
He gives a very graphic illustration of the phenomena of free-will. He says—
"It seems to me closely to resemble a very ordinary phenomenon: the principle that things as they are farther off appear to us to be smaller. Logical reflection assures us that they are not so, but the effect upon our senses is completely illusive; and, what is more, we act as though they were smaller; we act as if what they gained in distance they lost in size; we aim at a target which is many feet high and broad as if it was but a few inches; we say the sun is about as big as a soup-plate, and having once made these allowances the knowledge does not affect our conduct of life at all.
"Just so with free-will; we know by our reason that the thing is impossible; we act as though it were a prevailing possibility."
His position with regard to Christianity was shortly as follows; it is settled by an extract from his diary:
"I have often puzzled over this: Why in the Gospels did Christ say nothing about the whole fabric of nature which in His capacity as Creator ('through whom He made all things') He must have had the moulding of? All His teaching was personal and individual, dealing with man alone, an infinitesimal part of His creation ... for compare the shred, the span of being which man's existence represents with the countless aeons of animal and vegetable life which have preceded, and surround, and will in all probability succeed it—and not a word of all this from the Being who gave and supported their life, calling it out of the abyss for inscrutable and useless ends—to minister, as the theologians tell us, to the wants and animal cravings of pitiful mankind.
"Why is it that He there takes no cognizance of the whole frame of things of which I am a part, but only deals with human feelings and emotions as if they were the end of all these gigantic works—the Milky Way, the blazing sun, the teeming earth—only to raise thoughts of reverence in the heart of this pitiful being, and failing too, so hopelessly, so constantly to do so?...
"'I will accept Christ,' said Herbert, 'as my superior, yes! as my master, yes! but not as my God.'" One sees, I think, where the difficulty lies; it must be felt by any man whose idea of God is very high, whose belief in humanity very low.
"I believe in a revelation which is coming, which may be among us now, though we do not suspect it, in the words and deeds of some simple-minded heroic man.
"No one who preceded the Christian revelation could possibly, from the fabric of the world as it then was, have anticipated the form it was about to take. This revelation, too, will be as unexpected as it will be new—it will come in the night as a thief; the 'quo modo' I can not even attempt to guess, except that it will take the form of some vast simplification of the myriad and complicated issues of human life."
But such entries as these were left to his diaries and most private correspondence; he never attempted a crusade against ordinary forms of belief, mistaken though he deemed them, often putting a strong constraint upon himself in conversation. If he was pressed to give an account of his religious principles he used smilingly to say that he belonged to the great Johnsonian sect, who practised the religion of all sensible men, and who kept what it was to themselves.
There were two views of life with which he had no patience only—the men who preached the open confession of agnosticism, "if you have anything to tell us for goodness sake let us have it, but if you have not, hold your tongue; you are like a clock that has gone wrong, but insists on chiming to show everybody that it hasn't the least idea of the time;" and secondly, the men who "took no interest" in the problems of religion and morals; for a deliberate avoidance of them he had some respect, but for a professional moralist who took everything for granted, and for feeble materialists who did not "trouble their head" about such things, he had a profound contempt.
The following remarks that he gave vent to on the subject of orthodox Christianity and an Established Church are very striking, and after what has preceded might appear paradoxical and ridiculous. But they are in reality absolutely consistent.
"When people tell me," he said, "as you have been doing, that the old methods are passes, and compare the crude new ideas with them for effectiveness, as working theories, I snap my fingers mentally in their face.
"These new ideas may, and doubtless do, contain all the good of the world's future, all the seed of progress in them—but as working ideas! A system that has been mellowed and coloured, that has insinuated itself year by year into all the irregularities and whimsical, capricious, unexpected chinks and crannies of human nature, accommodating itself gradually to all, to be torn out and have the bleeding sensitive gap filled with a hard angular heavy object thrust straight in from an intellectual workshop—the idea is absolutely preposterous!"
A friend wrote to him once in great perplexity about the following problem: as to whether, taking as he did, a purely agnostic view of life, he should continue to receive the Communion with his parents when at home; as to whether it was not a base concession to his own weakness; as to whether he should not stand by his principles.
"If you have any principles to stand by," he wrote, "by all means stand by them; but if all you mean is throwing cold water on other people's principles, my advice is to make no move. Dissembling your own uneasiness in the matter and quieting their anxious scruples is one of those matters which seem so simple that heroism appears to have no part in it. It would be so much nobler (we are tempted to think) to stand up and protest and denunciate; to throw gloom and dissension into a happy home and wreck (if you are the affectionate son I believe you to be) your own happiness, not to speak of usefulness. It would be more arduous, I admit; not therefore nobler. Your duty is most plain; you have no right to cause acute distress to several people, because you can not take exactly such an exalted view as they do, of an institution which, from the lowest point of view, is the dying request of a great and loving soul, to all who can feel his beauty or listen to his call, a beautiful pledge of family and national unity, and a touching symbol of all good things."
To another friend, who wrote to him to say that his principles, though still religious, and faithful in general idea to the Christian creed, were in so many points different from the principles taught and demanded by the Church of England, that he felt he ought to take some definite step to show his state of mind, he wrote as follows:
"The being born into an institution is a thing which must not be lightly considered: it imposes certain duties upon you—the quiet examination of its tenets, for example—and unless you are convinced of its utter inutility, not to say immorality, it is your duty to bear such a part in relation to it as shall not mar its usefulness; and you may no more throw it away through caprice or indifferentism than you may throw away your own life, simply because you did not agree to be in the world, and it is through no will of your own that you are there. Similarly, you can not justify murder because you were not present to give an assent to the framing of the laws which condemn it and provide for its restraint.
"In fact, by taking such a step you are incurring a very heavy responsibility, and it is at any rate worth while to give it the closest consideration.
"And therefore I should suggest that the philosopher who wishes in any way to affect humanity for the better, should not begin his crusade by storming one of its chief defences because its title to that position is not quite so secure as the governor alleges; but rather accept his religion together with his life, his circumstances, his disposition, as a condition under which he is born: tacitly [Greek: syneidos eauto] that it may not be absolute truth, from which no appeal is possible, but yet fight his best under its colours, though they may not be quite red enough to suit his own fancy.
"For what is there ignoble in this concealment? Is it not rather ignoble to demolish a hope on which others build because it does not appear to us to be quite satisfactory, though we have nothing to offer in its stead? It is like plucking down a savage's wattled cabin. 'First-rate stone houses, if you please, or none at all,'—and, on being questioned as to where the materials are to come from, point for answer to the eternal hills.
"These are general considerations; but you, in particular, my dear C——, ought to be very cautious, considering who you are." His father was a high dignitary of the church. "A secession like yours will carry far more weight than it ought to from your own and your father's position. People will say, Mr. C—— ought to know; he has had opportunities of judging from the inside which other people have not—whereas you have really less opportunity because your horizon is far more limited because you have only seen it from the inside. You are rather in the position of the valet. No gossip and gabble of yours about braces and sock-suspenders will make your hero less a hero: you will only establish your title to be considered an unperceptive and low-minded creature among the only people whose opinion is worth having."
He was always very decided on what he called "mock sincerity," the people whom he described as "professional crystals," who always "speak their mind about a thing." "The art of life," he said, "consists in knowing exactly what to keep out of sight at any given moment, and what to produce; when to play hearts and diamonds, ugly clubs or flat spades; and you must remember that every suit is trumps in turn."
The following passage from a letter about a leading politician will illustrate this:
"I have always admired him intensely," he writes, as an instance of a public man who has succeeded by sheer adherence to principles.
"You can't ensure success; three parts is luck, the genius of time and place. The only thing you can do seems to me to work hard, and always take the highest line about things. The highest line, that is to say, not the line you may feel to be highest, but the line that you recognize to be so. Not what your fluctuating emotions may commend, but that which the best moral tact seems to pronounce best. You can't always expect to feel enthusiasm for the best, so be true not to your sensations, but your deliberate ideals—that is the highest sincerity; all the higher because it is so often called hypocrisy."
But his Determinist, almost Calvinistic, views were mellowed and tempered by a serene and deep belief in a providence moving to good, and ordering life down to the smallest details with special reference to each man's case; in fact, as he said, the two were so closely connected that they were like the convex and concave sides of a lens.
He wrote to me, "I often feel, when straining after happiness, just like the child who, anxious to get home, pushes against the side of the railway carriage which is carrying him so smoothly and serenely to the haven where he would be, while all he effects is a temporary disarrangement of particles.
"Life shows me more and more every day that there is something watching us and working with us, so that now and then in unexpected moments when I have felt particularly independent for some time back, I come upon a little fact or incident that reveals to me that I am like a mouse in the grasp of a cat, allowed sometimes to run a few inches alone—or more truly like a baby walking along, very proud of its performance, with a couple of anxious, loving arms poised to catch it. The extraordinary apportionment not only in balance but in kind of punishment to sin—long-continued, secret, base desires, punished by long-hidden suffering—the sharp stress of temptation yielded to, requited by the sharp pang—the glorious feeling which I have once or twice felt—the sin once sinned and the punishment once over, as one is assured supremely sometimes that it is without doubt—of trustful freedom, and fresh fitness for battling one's self and helping others to battle—a mood that is soon broken, but is an earnest while it lasts of infinite satisfaction. The extraordinary delicacy with which the screw of pain and mental suffering is adjusted, just lifted when we can bear no more (not when we think we can bear no more, but when God knows it) and resolutely applied again when we have gained strength which we propose to devote to enjoyment, but which God intends us to devote to suffering. The very beauty, too, of pain itself—the strange flushes of joy that it gives us, which can only thus be won—the certainty that this is reality, this is what we are meant to do and be—happiness of different kinds, art, friends, books, are delusive; they play over the surface; in suffering we dip below it." This latter thought expanded is the subject of a passage of a letter to myself that gave me wonderful comfort.
We know how sickness or sorrow comes down heavily on us, crushing in what we are pleased to call our "plans," and "interrupting," as we say, "our opportunities for usefulness," spoiling our life.
"My dear friend, this is life itself. It is this very 'interruption' that we live for. What does God care about the wretched books you intend to write, the petty occupations you think you discharge so gracefully? He means to teach you a great high truth, worth knowing; and, thank Heaven, He will, however much you shrink and writhe. Do not pick and choose among events: try and interpret each as it comes."
At the expiration of the year of work—Easter, 1875—he was unchanged in his plan of travel; in fact, it had become a resolve by that time. He confessed that he did not personally at all like giving up the school work; he had got very much interested in some of the boys, and in the whole process of the education of character. But there was also another reason, which the following letter will explain:
"You know, perhaps, that I have been acting as usher here for a year; it is to be a kind of probation. That is to say, I have promised to try what it is like for a year, and see if I feel inclined to adopt it as my profession.
"Now, I am in a very curious position. I do feel inclined, very much inclined indeed, to stick permanently to the work; it interests, amuses, occupies me. I hate the want of occupation. I hate making occupations for myself, and this provides me with regular work at stated hours, leaving other stated hours free, and free in the best way; that is to say, it works the vapours off. My brain feels clear and steady; I can talk, think, write, read better, in those intervals than I ever can when all my time is my own, and yet—I must, I believe, give it up.
"You know I pretend to a kind of familiar; like Socrates, I am forbidden to do certain things by a kind of distant inward voice—not conscience, for it is not limited to moral choice. I don't mean to say I do not or have not disobeyed it, but it is always the worse for me in the end; it is like taking a short cut in the mountains; you get to your end in time, but far more tired and shaky than if you had followed the right road, which started so much to the left among the pines, and moreover, you get there very much behind your party.
"This time it tells me that I am not equal to the direct responsibility; that I can not, with my habits of mind and temper, impress a permanent enough mark upon the lads. It is like beginning a system of education that is to take, say, thirty years, giving them a year of it, and then taking to another; you not only lose your year, but you unfit them for other systems. That is what I should do; my methods do not prepare them for other normal education; it is only the beginning of a preparation for what I believe to be a higher and more complete education, but that wouldn't justify my keeping on.
"I do not believe that I have done any harm; in fact, my theory would forbid me to think so; but it also informs me that my role is not to be that of a schoolmaster.
"I shall be a poor man, of course; poor, that is, for an independent gentleman. I wish I were a Fellow of a College at Cambridge; I would try and be as ideal as Gray in that position."
In April he was released from his engagement, and he immediately went abroad, alone. He travelled through Normandy into Brittany, spending two months at a little village called Chanteuil, not far from the Point du Sillon. Here he wandered about mostly alone, dressed in the roughest possible costume, and allowing his beard to grow. "At Chanteuil I first learnt how to think, or rather how to converse with myself as I had before done with other persons; I also found for the first time that I did not dislike my own company."
In June he went south, sailing from Brest to Bordeaux, and then descending by land into Spain, where he remained till August. Here he spent a long time in exploring the table-land between the Asturian Mountains and the sea, and then from Burgos visiting Madrid, Toledo, Ciudad, and Seville, and so to Gibraltar. From Gibraltar he sailed up the south-east coast, and settled himself for another month at a little village called Benigarcia, about five miles east of Sorrion, on the river Mijares. In November he sailed by Minorca, starting from Barcelona, to Sicily, and spent the rest of the year in the north of Italy, sailing from Sicily to Genoa, and settling at a village called Riviglio, not very far from Verona. He was obliged to adopt this plan of settling, as his exchequer was not large. From this place he visited Venice on foot, and early in the year visited Rome and Florence, sailing from Ancona in March for Spalatro, and worked up through Hungary to a little place called Bochnia, on the Vistula, down which river he went by boat to Konigsberg, staying in Warsaw a few weeks. Once on the Baltic, he hired a fishing-boat, and spent a month in cruising about, during which time he discovered, or rather unearthed, an island, which formed the subject of the only letter he wrote to me during his entire absence.
"Copenhagen, June, 1876.
"My dear Carr,
"I am writing this on board the fishing-smack Paradys, which is at this moment lying in Copenhagen Roads, being myself owner by hire and supercargo of the same. The first object of my note is to assure you of my existence, as your letter which was forwarded after me to Danzig seemed to imply uncertainty on that point, and moreover expressed a strange solicitude as to my well-being which was by no means unpleasing to me; then to request you to perform several small commissions for me....
"Lastly, to tell you of a very curious adventure I met with. Some weeks ago I was cruising not very far from Danzig, when we sighted a low wooded island about seven miles off land. I discovered by dint of arduous questioning, for the lingo of these fellows is very uncouth, that it was uninhabited, because its owner, a Danish nobleman, devoted it to the growing of wood for firewood, etc.; a poor speculation, I should say, as the wind blows very fresh from the sea and stunts the trees; and also partly because of a bad name attaching to it, and many horrid superstitions—what, they could not tell me. It was a curious-looking place, not very large, but with deep indented bays all round running very far inland, so as to give it somewhat the shape of a starfish with seven or eight irregular arms; the woods come down very close to the sea and are mostly fir or larch. I could see a few trees further inland of a lighter green, but could not make out to what species they belonged. Between the woods and the sea there are sands loosely overgrown with that spiky grass that covers sand-hills, and at the extremity of two of the valleys a marsh formed by a freshwater spring. The place is frequented by birds, mostly pigeons, and a good many waterfowl of different kinds.
"We spent a hot oppressive day with very little wind in cruising leisurely round it as close in shore as we could get. I should guess that it was about eleven miles round, measuring from the ends of the promontories. We saw no signs whatever of habitation except the three or four old boats on props in one of the creeks used by the woodcutters as cabins when they come. I found out from my men that so great was the horror of the place, that even smugglers, when hard pressed, have been known to risk capture rather than put in to the island; and on my inquiring the cause of these rumours, they gave me various vague and grotesque stories about dead men and women, and a figure which sat on the seaward cape and wept, with long hair drooping all over her; and, worst of all, of two boys, dressed in an antique dress, whom to see was certain disaster, and to speak with certain death.
"Toward evening the breeze freshened; and as it was getting dark I proposed casting anchor in one of the creeks. My men manifested the greatest alarm; but as the channel is full of shoals and sands between the island and the mainland (which is at that place very much deserted), and we were not acquainted with the lie of them, and as I bound myself by the most solemn promises not to send any of them ashore, they at last reluctantly consented. However, as none of them would stir an inch, but crowded together in the most disgusting proximity into their hole of a cabin, I was left the sole patrol of the place.
"It was an oppressive evening, and I walked about a long time up and down, and finally sat down to smoke. The place was curiously silent, except that every now and then it was broken by those strange woodland sounds, like smothered cries or groans, seeming to proceed out of the heart of the wood at a great distance. We lay in a sandy creek with banks of pines on each side, rising up very black against the sky, which had that still green enamelled look that it gets on a very quiet evening. At the far end of the creek was a large marsh covered with the white cotton rush then in bloom; it caused a strange glimmering which I could see till it got quite dark. The only other sound was the wash of the short waves on the sands outside, and the gurgle and cluck of the water as it crept past the boat and out to sea.
"Toward midnight I saw a sight that I have never seen before nor expect to see again. I was surprised to see a light, apparently on the shore, in the direction of the marsh. It looked exactly like a lantern carried by a man. It was very indistinct, but wavered about, always floating about a foot or two from the surface, sometimes standing still as though he was looking for something on the ground, and sometimes moving very quickly. It was a will-o'-the-wisp—a phosphorescent exhalation.
"It was a foul pestilential place, there is no doubt. The mist was all about us by midnight, and smelt very heavy and cold. I awoke shivering in the morning, and not feeling by any means as fresh or vigorous as usual; but nevertheless I determined to explore the island—singly, if none of the men would accompany me.
"Straight up in front of me, apparently about a mile inland, was a very marked clump of trees projecting above the other foliage. I had noticed it several times from the sea the day before. You could see the red stems clearly above the other trees. It evidently marked a knoll or rising ground of some kind, and I determined to make that the object of my journey, and scale, if possible, the trees to get a bird's-eye view of the place.
"As I had expected, I could not get a single member of the crew to accompany me further than the shore, and they were frightened at that. Two of them, who were very much attached to me, implored me most earnestly not to go, but seeing that I was bent upon it, shrugged their shoulders and were silent. The instant I was deposited with my gun on shore, they turned back to the boat and immured themselves. I arranged that at twelve o'clock, if I did not return, they should leave the creek and go round the island within hailing distance, so as to pick me up at any point. I started along the shore, skirting the marsh which wound through the pines.
"The first thing that I came upon was a heronry. I had noticed several of these magnificent birds the day before sailing over the island, and this creek was evidently their settlement; up they went, floating away in all directions with a marvellous, almost magical rapidity and silence of flight. This persuaded me more than anything else that the island was unfrequented, as they are a very shy bird, and distrustful of human beings. I then left the stream and struck straight up into the woods, as nearly as possible toward the clump.
"I put up a few rabbits and a great many pigeons. I also saw an animal that I believe to have been a wolf, but it retreated with such rapidity that I lost sight of it among the tree stems. There was very little undergrowth, as often happens under pines, but the boughs overhead formed a close screen, and the heat was very oppressive. After about an hour's walking I emerged on a cliff above the sea, having mistaken my direction, and crossed the island diagonally. On getting clear of the trees I could again see the goal of my walk, the clump, this time a good deal nearer; and now resolutely plunging into the wood, and keeping always slightly to the right, for I saw that my bias was to the left, I came at last to a place where I could see the sides of a mound through the trees rather indistinctly.
"All of a sudden I came to a low wall among the trees, overgrown in some places, but opposite me almost entirely clear. It was built of large stones carefully fitted together, like the architecture that I remembered to have seen called Cyclopean in architectural histories of Greece. It was easily climbed, and I saw that it surrounded the mound at the distance of about fifty yards, in an irregular circle.
"The space which intervened between it and the mound was partially filled with great hewn stones planted all about, some of them lying on their side, some upright, many of them broken. Going through these I came upon the mound itself. It was crowned with a group of firs, which I could see at once to be much older than the surrounding trees. They were far larger and taller, for the height of the mound did not entirely account for the extraordinary way in which they overtopped the rest of the trees. The mound was very steep, and was apparently constructed of stones built carefully together; but only very small portions of the masonry were visible, it was so overgrown and hidden.
"Wandering round it I found a rude flight of steps leading to the top, also much overgrown. I ascended hastily, and found myself on the top of a smooth plateau, about fifty by thirty yards, surrounded by the gigantic firs; but what immediately arrested my attention was a strange rude altar in the middle, ornamented with uncouth figures and other ornaments. It was covered with moss at the top, and very much cracked and splintered in places.