HotFreeBooks.com
Old Familiar Faces
by Theodore Watts-Dunton
1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

OLD FAMILIAR FACES

BY THEODORE WATTS-DUNTON

AUTHOR OF AYLWIN

NEW YORK E. P. DUTTON AND COMPANY MCMXVI

THE ATHENÆUM PRESS, LONDON, ENGLAND.

[Picture: Mrs. William Morris. She was the most lovely woman I have ever known, her beauty was incredible.Theodore Watts-Dunton]



INTRODUCTION.

For some years before his death it was the intention of Theodore Watts-Dunton to publish in volume form under the title of Old Familiar Faces, the recollections of his friends that he had from time to time contributed to The Athenæum. Had his range of interests been less wide he might have found the time in which to further this and many other literary projects he had formed; but he was, unfortunately, very slow to write, and slower still to publish. His long life produced in published works a number of critical and biographical essays contributed to periodicals and encyclopædias, a romance (Aylwin), a sheaf of poems (The Coming of Love), two of the most stimulating critical pronouncements that his century produced (Poetry and The Renascence of Wonder), a handful of introductions to classicsand that is all.

Only those who were frequent visitors at The Pines can form any idea of his keen interest in life and affairs, which seemed to grow rather than to diminish with the passage of each year, even when 81 had passed him by. At his charmingly situated house at the foot of Putney Hill, he lived a life of as little seclusion as he would have lived in Fleet Street. Here he received his friends and acquaintances, and there was little happening in the world outside with which he was unacquainted.

He was a tremendous worker, and only a few months before his death he wrote of the enormous pressure of work that was upon him, telling his correspondent that he had no idea, no one can have any idea, what it is. I am an early riser and breakfast at seven, and from that hour until seven in the evening, I am in full swing of my labours with the aid of two most intelligent secretaries.

To outlive his generation is, perhaps, the worst fate that can befall a man; but this cannot truly be said of Theodore Watts-Dunton, who seemed to be of no generation in particular. His interest in the life of the twentieth century, a life so different from that of his own youth and early manhood, was strangely keen and insistent. Sometimes in talking of his great contemporaries, Tennyson, Meredith, Swinburne, Rossetti, Morris, Matthew Arnold, Borrow, there would creep into his voice a note of reminiscent sadness; but it always seemed poetic rather than personal. It may be said that he never really grew up, that his spirit never tired. His laugh was as youthful as the hearty My dear fellow, with which he would address his friends.

His most remarkable quality was his youth. His body had aged, his voice had shrunk; but once launched into the subject of literature, Greek verse in particular (he regarded the Attic tongue as the peculiar vehicle for poetic expression), he seemed immediately to become a young man. When quoting his favourite passage from Keats, his voice would falter with emotion.

Charmd magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

These lines he regarded as the finest in English poetry.

He possessed the great gift of conversation. Every subject seemed to develope quite naturally out of that which had preceded it, and although in a single hour he would have passed from Æschylus and Sophocles to twentieth-century publishers, there was never any break or suspicion of a change of topic. Seated on the sofa in the middle of his study, with reminders of his friendship with Rossetti gazing down upon him from the walls, he welcomed his friends with that almost boyish cordiality that so endeared him to their hearts. If they had been doing anything of which the world knew, he would be sure to have heard all about it. His mind was as alert as his memory was remarkable; but above all he was possessed of a very real charm, a charm that did not vanish before the on-coming years. It was this quality of interesting himself in the doings of others that retained for him the friendships that his personality and cordiality had created.

Few men have been so richly endowed with great friendships as Theodore Watts-Dunton: Swinburne, the Rossettis, William Morris, Matthew Arnold, Tennyson, Borrow, Lowell, Latham, men of vastly dissimilar temperaments; yet he was on terms of intimacy with them all, and as they one by one passed away, to him was left the sad duty of giving to the world by far the most intimate picture of their various personalities. There was obviously some subtle quality in Watts-Duntons nature that not only attracted to him great minds in the world of art and letters; but which seemed to hold captive their affection for a lifetime. Even an instinctive recluse such as Borrow, a man almost too sensitive for friendship, found in Watts-Dunton one whose capacity for friendship was so great as to override all other considerations. Watts-Dunton was the friend of friends to Rossetti, who wished to make him his heir, and was dissuaded only when he saw that to do so would pain his friend, who regarded it as an act of injustice to Rossettis own family. During his lifetime Swinburne desired to make over to him his entire fortune. The man to whom these tributes were paid was undoubtedly possessed of some rare and strange gift.

[Picture: Algernon Charles Swinburne]

The greatest among his many great friendships was with Swinburne. For thirty years they lived together at The Pines in the closest unity and accord. They would take their walks together, discuss the hundred and one things in which they were both interested, living, not as great men sometimes live, a frigid existence of intellectual loneliness; but showing the keenest interest in the affairs of the everyday, as well as of the literary, world. When death at last severed the link that it had taken upwards of thirty years to forge, it is not strange that there should be no reminiscences written of the man who had been to Watts-Dunton more than a brother.

It was not always easy to get Watts-Dunton to talk of those he had known so intimately; but when he did so it was frankly and freely. Once when telling of some characteristic act of generosity on the part of that strangely composite being, half genius, half schoolboy, William Morris, he remarked, Yes, Morris was a very dear friend of mine; but he had strange limitations. Swinburne had the utmost contempt for the narrowness of his outlook. It was incredible! Outside his own domain he was unintelligent in his narrowness, and frequently bored and irritated his friends.

As artist, poet, and craftsman, however, Watts-Dunton spoke with enthusiasm of Morris; but intellectually he regarded him as inferior to Mrs. Morris. On the day following the announcement of her death, the present writer happened to be taking tea at The Pines, and the conversation not unnaturally turned upon the Morrises. Watts-Dunton called attention to the large number of magnificent Rossetti portraits of her that hung from the walls of his study. A remarkable woman, he said, a most remarkable woman; superior to Morris intellectually, she reached a greater mental height than he was capable of, yet few knew it. Then he proceeded to tell how she had acquired French and Italian with the greatest ease and facility. When Morris had met her she possessed very few educational advantages; yet she very quickly made good her shortcomings. When reminded that Mr. H. Buxton Forman had recently written that he had seen beautiful women in all quarters of the globe, but never one so strangely lovely and majestic as Mrs. Morris, Watts-Dunton remarked, She was the most lovely woman I have ever known, her beauty was incredible.

In answer to a question he went on to say that Rossetti painted her lips with the utmost faithfulness. In spite of her beauty and her high mental qualities, she was very shy and retiring, almost fearful, in her attitude towards others.

In literature and criticism Watts-Dunton stood for enthusiasm. His gospel as a critic was to seek for the good that is to be found in most things, literary or otherwise; and what is, perhaps, most remarkable in one who has known so many great men, he never seemed to draw invidious comparisons between the writers and artists of to-day and those of the great Victorian Era.

Life at The Pines was as bright as naturally cheerful and bright people could make it, people who were not only attracted to and interested in each other; but found the world an exceedingly good place in which to live. The home circle was composed of Swinburne, Watts-Dunton, his two sisters, Miss Watts and Mrs. Mason. To these must be added Mr. Thomas Hake, for many years Watts-Duntons friend and secretary, who was in daily attendance. Later the circle was enlarged by the entry into it of the young and accomplished bride, the present Mrs. Watts-Dunton.

The Pines would have seemed a strange place without the Colonel, as Watts-Dunton always called Mr. Hake, adopting a family name given to him when a boy on account of his likeness to his cousin, General, then Colonel, Gordon. Nothing amused Watts-Dunton more than for some caller to start discussing army matters with the supposed ex-officer. He would watch with a mischievous glee Mr. Hakes endeavours to carry on a conversation in which he had no special interest. Watts-Dunton never informed callers of their mistake, and to this day there is one friend of twenty-five years standing, a man keenly interested in National Defence, who regards Mr. Hake as an authority upon army matters.

No living man knew Borrow so well as Thomas Hake, Watts-Dunton once remarked to a friend. To the young Hakes Lavengro was a great joy, and they would often accompany him part of his way home from Coombe End. On one occasion Borrow said to the youngest boy, Do you know how to fight a man bigger than yourself? The lad confessed that he did not. Well, said Borrow, You challenge him to fight, and when he is taking off his coat, you hit him in the stomach as hard as you can and run for your life.

Swinburne and Watts-Dunton had first met in 1872. In 1879 they went to live together at The Pines, and from that date were never parted until Swinburnes death thirty years later. In no literary friendship has the bond been closer. Watts-Duntons first act each morning was to visit Swinburne in his own room, where the poet breakfasted alone with the morning newspapers. During the morning the two would take their daily walk together, a practice continued for many years. There is no time like the morning for a walk, Swinburne would say, The sparkle, the exhilaration of it. I walk every morning of my life, no matter what the weather, pelting along all the time as fast as I can go. His perfect health he attributed entirely to this habit.

In later years he would take his walks alone. It was during one of these that he met with an adventure that seemed to cause him some irritation. A young artist hearing that the master walked each day up Putney Hill lay in wait for him. After several unsuccessful ventures he at length saw a figure approaching which he instantly recognized. Crossing the road the youth went boldly up and said:

If you are Mr. Swinburne, may I shake hands with you?

Eh? remarked the astonished poet.

The young man repeated his request in a louder voice, remembering Swinburnes deafness, adding:

It is my ambition to shake hands with you, sir.

Oh! very well, was the response, as Swinburne half-heartedly extended his hand, Im not accustomed to this sort of thing.

Meal times at The Pines were occasions when there was much talk and laughter; for in both Swinburne and Watts-Dunton the mischievous spirit of boyhood had not been entirely disciplined by life, and in the other members of the household the same unconquerable spirit of youth was manifest. Sometimes there were great discussions and arguments. Watts-Dunton had more than a passing interest in science, whereas, to Swinburne it was anathema, although his father was strongly scientific in his learning. The libraries of the two men clearly showed how different were their tastes; for that of Watts-Dunton was all-embracing, Swinburnes was as exclusive as his circle of personal friends. The one was the library of a critic, the other that of a poet.

Swinburne enjoyed nothing better than a discussion, and he was a foe who wielded a stout blade. He fought, however, with scrupulous fairness, never interrupting an adversary; but listening to him with a deliberate patience that was almost disconcerting. Then when his turn came he would overwhelm his opponent and destroy his most weighty arguments in what a friend once described as a lava torrent of burning words. He possessed many of the qualities necessary to debate: concentration, the power of pouncing upon the weak spot in his adversarys argument, and above all a wonderful memory. What he lacked was that calm and calculating frigidity so necessary to the successful debater. Instead of freezing his opponent to silence with deliberate logic, he would strive rather by the tempestuous quality of his rhetoric to hurl him into the next parish.

There were times when he would work himself up into a passion of denunciation, when, trembling and quivering in every limb, he would in a fine frenzy of scorn annihilate those whom he conceived to be his enemies, and in scathing periods pour ridicule upon their works. But if he were merciless in his onslaughts upon his foes, he was correspondingly loyal in the defence of his friends. He seemed as incapable of seeing the weakness of a friend as of appreciating the strength of an enemy.

The things and the people who did not interest him he had the fortunate capacity of entirely forgetting. A friend {15} tells of how on one occasion he happened to mention in the course of conversation a book by a certain author whom he knew had been a visitor at The Pines on several occasions, and as such was personally known to Swinburne.

Oh! really, Swinburne remarked, Yes, now that you mention it, I believe someone of that name has been so good as to come and see us. I seem to recall him, and I seem to remember hearing someone say that he had written something, though I dont remember exactly what. So he has published a book upon the subject of which we are talking. Really? I did not know.

All this was said with perfect courtesy and without the least intention of administering a snub or belittling the writer in question. Swinburne had merely forgotten because there was nothing in that authors personality that had impressed itself upon him. On the other hand, he would remember the minutest details of conversations in which he had been interested.

In spite of his capacity for passionate outbursts and inspired invective, Swinburne was a most attentive listener, provided there were things being said to which it was worth listening. At meal times when his attention became engaged he would forget everything but the conversation. Indifferent as to what stage of the meal he was at, he would turn to whoever it might be that had introduced the subject, and would talk or listen oblivious of the fact that food might be spoiling. Fortunately, he was a small eater.

On one occasion when lunching at The Pines Mr. Coulson Kernahan happened to remark that he had in his pocket a copy of Christina Rossettis then unpublished poem, The Death of a First-born, written in memory of the Duke of Clarence. Down went knife and fork as Swinburne half rose from his chair to reach across the table for the manuscript. She is as a god to mortals when compared to most other living women poets, he exclaimed. Then, in his thin-high-pitched, but exquisitely modulated voice he half read, half chanted, two stanzas of the poem.

One young life lost, two happy young lives blighted With earthward eyes we see: With eyes uplifted, keener, farther sighted We look, O Lord to thee.

Grief hears a funeral knell: hope hears the ringing Of birthday bells on high. Faith, Hope and Love make answer with soft singing, Half carol and half cry.

He stopped abruptly refusing to read the third and last stanza because it was unequal, and the poem was stronger and finer by its omission. Then he said in a hushed voice, For the happy folk who are able to think as she thinks, who believe as she believes, the poem is of its kind perfect.

With glowing eyes and with hand that marked time to the music, he read once more the second verse, repeating the line, half carol and half cry three times, lowering his voice with each repetition until it became little more than a whisper. Laying the manuscript reverently beside him, he sat perfectly still for a space with brooding eyes, then rising silently left the room with short swift strides. {17}

Many of Swinburnes friends have testified to his personal charm and courtliness of bearing. Unmistakably an aristocrat, and with all the ease and polish which one associates with high breeding, there was, even in the cordiality with which he would rise and come forward to welcome a visitor a suspicion of the shy nervousness of the introspective man and of the recluse on first facing a stranger. Mr. Coulson Kernahan has said, I have seen him angry, I have heard him furiously dissent from, and even denounce the views put forward by others, but never once was what, for want of a better word, I must call his personal deference to those others relaxed.

To no one would he defer quite so graciously and readily, to no one was he so scrupulously courtly in bearing as to those who constituted his own household.

If he felt that he had monopolized the conversation he would turn to Watts-Dunton and apologize, and for a time become transformed into an attentive listener.

Lord Ronald Gower writes of Swinburnes remarkable powers as a talker. Telling of a luncheon at The Pines in 1879, he writes:Swinburnes talk after luncheon was wonderful . . . What, far beyond the wonderful flow of words of the poet, struck me, was his real diffidence and modesty; while fully aware of the divine gifts within him, he is as simple and unaffected as a child. {18}

[Picture: Theodore Watts-Dunton]

But conversation at The Pines was not always of the serious things of life. It very frequently partook of the playful, when the hearers would be kept amused with a humour and whimsicality, cauterized now and then with some biting touch of satire which showed that neither Swinburne nor Watts-Dunton had entirely grown up.

Reading aloud was also a greatly favoured form of entertainment. Swinburne was a sympathetic reader, possessed of a voice of remarkable quality and power of expression, and he would read for the hour together from Dickens, Lamb, Charles Reade, and Thackeray. To Mrs. Masons little boy he was a wizard who could open many magic casements. He would carry off the lad to his own room, and there read to him the stories which caused the hour of bedtime to be dreaded. When the nurse arrived to fetch the child to bed he would imperiously wave her away, hoping that Swinburne would not notice the action and so bring the evenings entertainment to a close. On one occasion the child stole down to Swinburnes room after he had been safely put to bed, where the interrupted story was renewed. When eventually discovered both seemed to regard the incident as a huge joke, and Swinburne carried the child to the nursery and tucked him up for the night.

A great capacity for friendship involves an equally great meed of sorrow. At last the hour arrived when the friend who was nearer to him than a brother followed those who one by one he had mourned, and of the old familiar faces there were left to him only the two sisters, whose love and devotion had contributed so much to his domestic happiness, and his friend, Mr. Thomas Hake, who for seventeen years had acted as confidential secretary.



CONTENTS

PAGE.

INTRODUCTION 5

I. GEORGE BORROW 25

II. DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI 69

III. ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON 120

IV. CHRISTINA GEORGINA ROSSETTI 177

V. DR. GORDON HAKE 207

VI. JOHN LEICESTER WARREN, LORD DE TABLEY 219

VII. WILLIAM MORRIS 240

VIII. FRANCIS HINDES GROOME 277

ILLUSTRATIONS

MRS. WILLIAM MORRIS Frontispiece

A. C. SWINBURNE to face page 8

THEODORE WATTS-DUNTON 18

DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI 70

ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON, ÆT 80, 120

CHRISTINA ROSSETTI 178

MRS. ROSSETTI 182

DR. GORDON HAKE 208

WILLIAM MORRIS 240

FRANCIS HINDES GROOME 278

I. GEORGE BORROW. 18031881.

I.

I have been reading those charming reminiscences of George Borrow which appeared in The Athenæum. {25} I have been reading them, I may add, under the happiest conditions for enjoying themamid the self-same heather and bracken where I have so often listened to Lavengros quaint talk of all the wondrous things he saw and heard in his wondrous life. So graphically has Mr. Hake depicted him, that as I walked and read his paper I seemed to hear the fine East-Anglian accent of the well-remembered voiceI seemed to see the mighty figure, strengthened by the years rather than stricken by them, striding along between the whin bushes or through the quags, now stooping over the water to pluck the wild mint he loved, whose lilac-coloured blossoms perfumed the air as he crushed them, now stopping to watch the water-wagtail by the ponds as he descanted upon the powers of that enchanted birdpowers, like many human endowments, more glorious than pleasant, if it is sober truth, as Borrow would gravely tell, that the gipsy lad who knocks a water-wagtail on the head with a stone gains for a bride a ladye from a far countrie, and dazzles with his good luck all the other black-eyed young urchins of the dingle.

Though my own intimacy with Borrow did not begin till he was considerably advanced in years, and ended on his finally quitting London for Oulton, there were circumstances in our intercoursecircumstances, I mean, connected partly with temperament and partly with mutual experiencewhich make me doubt whether any one understood him better than I did, or broke more thoroughly through that exclusiveness of temper which isolated him from all but a few. However, be this as it may, no one at least realized more fully than I how lovable was his nature, with all his angularitieshow simple and courageous, how manly and noble. His shyness, his apparent coldness, his crotchety obstinacy, repelled people, and consequently those who at any time during his life really understood him must have been very few. How was it, then, that such a man wandered about over Europe and fraternized so completely with a race so suspicious and intractable as the gipsies? A natural enough question, which I have often been asked, and this is my reply:

Those who know the gipsies will understand me when I say that this suspicious and wary race of wandererssuspicious and wary from an instinct transmitted through ages of dire persecutions from the Children of the Roofwill readily fraternize with a blunt, single-minded, and shy eccentric like Borrow, while perhaps the skilful man of the world may find all his tact and savoir faire useless and, indeed, in the way. And the reason of this is not far to seek, perhaps. What a gipsy most dislikes is the feeling that his gorgio interlocutor is thinking about him; for, alas! to be the object of gorgio thoughtshas it not been a most dangerous and mischievous honour to every gipsy since first his mysterious race was driven to accept the grudging hospitality of the Western world? A gipsy hates to be watched, and knows at once when he is being watched; for in tremulous delicacy of apprehension his organization is far beyond that of an Englishman, or, indeed, of any member of any of the thick-fingered races of Europe. One of the results of this excessive delicacy is that a gipsy can always tell to a surety whether a gorgio companion is thinking about him, or whether the gorgios thoughts are really and genuinely occupied with the fishing rod, the net, the gin, the gun, or whatsoever may be the common source of interest that has drawn them together.

Now, George Borrow, after the first one or two awkward interviews were well over, would lapse into a kind of unconscious ruminating bluntness, a pronounced and angular self-dependence, which might well disarm the suspiciousness of the most wary gipsy, from the simple fact that it was genuine. Hence, as I say, among the few who understood Borrow his gipsy friends very likely stood firstoutside, of course, his family circle. And surely this is an honour to Borrow; for the gipsies, notwithstanding certain undeniable obliquities in matters of morals and cusine, are the only people left in the island who are still free from British vulgarity (perhaps because they are not British). It is no less an honour to them, for while he lived the island did not contain a nobler English gentleman than him they called the Romany Rye.

Borrows descriptions of gipsy life are, no doubt, too deeply charged with the rich lights shed from his own personality entirely to satisfy a more matter-of-fact observer, and I am not going to say that he is anything like so photographic as F. H. Groome, for instance, or so trustworthy. But then it should never be forgotten that Borrow was, before everything else, a poet. If this statement should be challenged by the present time, let me tell the present time that by poet I do not mean merely a man who is skilled in writing lyrics and sonnets and that kind of thing, but primarily a man who has the poetic gift of seeing through the shows of things and knowing where he isthe gift of drinking deeply of the waters of life and of feeling grateful to Nature for so sweet a draught; a man who, while acutely feeling the ineffable pathos of human life, can also feel how sweet a thing it is to live, having so great and rich a queen as Nature for his mother, and for companions any number of such amusing creatures as men and women. In this sense I cannot but set Borrow, with his love of nature and his love of adventure, very high among poetsas high, perhaps, as I place another dweller in tents, Sylvester Boswell himself, the well-known and popalated gipsy of Codling Gap, who, like Borrow, is famous for his great knowledge in grammaring one of the ancientist langeges on record, and whose touching preference of a gipsy tent to a roof, on the accent of health, sweetness of the air, and for enjoying the pleasure of Natures life, is expressed with a poetical feeling such as Chaucer might have known had he not, as a court poet, been too genteel. Enjoying the pleasure of Natures life! That is what Borrow did; and how few there are that understand it.

The self-consciousness which in the presence of man produces that kind of shyness which was Borrows characteristic left him at once when he was with Nature alone or in the company of an intimate friend. At her, no mans gaze was more frank and childlike than his. Hence the charm of his books. No mans writing can take you into the country as Borrows can: it makes you feel the sunshine, see the meadows, smell the flowers, hear the skylark sing and the grasshopper chirrup. Who else can do it? I know of none. And as to personal intercourse with him, if I were asked what was the chief delight of this, I should say that it was the delight of bracingness. A walking tour with a self-conscious lover of the picturesquean interviewer of Nature with a note-bookworrying you to admire him for admiring Nature so much, is one of those occasional calamities of life which a gentleman and a Christian must sometimes heroically bear, but the very thought of which will paralyze with fear the sturdiest Nature-worshipper, whom no crevasse or avalanche or treacherous mist can appal. But a walk and talk with Borrow as he strode through the bracken on an autumn morning had the exhilarating effect upon his companion of a draught of the brightest mountain air. And this was the result not, assuredly, of any exuberance of animal spirits (Borrow, indeed, was subject to fits of serious depression), but rather of a feeling he induced that between himself and all nature, from the clouds floating lazily over head to the scented heather, crisp and purple, under foot, there was an entire fitness and harmonya sort of mutual understanding, indeed. There was, I say, something bracing in the very look of this silvery-haired giant as he strode along with a kind of easy sloping movement, like that of a St. Bernard dog (the most deceptive of all movements as regards pace), his beardless face (quite matchless for symmetrical beauty) beaded with the healthy perspiration drops of strong exercise, and glowing and rosy in the sun.

As a vigorous old man Borrow never had an equal, I think. There has been much talk of the vigour of Shelleys friend, E. J. Trelawny. I knew that splendid old corsair, and admired his agility of limb and brain; but at seventy Borrow could have walked off with Trelawny under his arm. At seventy years of age, after breakfasting at eight oclock in Hereford Square, he would walk to Putney, meet one or more of us at Roehampton, roam about Wimbledon and Richmond Park with us, bathe in the Fen Ponds with a north-east wind cutting across the icy water like a razor, run about the grass afterwards like a boy to shake off some of the water-drops, stride about the park for hours, and then, after fasting for twelve hours, eat a dinner at Roehampton that would have done Sir Walter Scotts eyes good to see. Finally, he would walk back to Hereford Square, getting home late at night.

And if the physique of the man was bracing, his conversation, unless he happened to be suffering from one of his occasional fits of depression, was still more so. Its freshness, raciness, and eccentric whim no pen could describe. There is a kind of humour the delight of which is that while you smile at the pictures it draws, you smile quite as much or more to think that there is a mind so whimsical, crotchety, and odd as to draw them. This was the humour of Borrow. His command of facial expressionthough he seemed to exercise it almost involuntarily and unconsciouslyhad, no doubt, much to do with this charm. Once, when he was talking to me about the men of Charles Lambs dayThe London Magazine setI asked him what kind of a man was the notorious and infamous Griffiths Wainewright. {32} In a moment Borrows face changed: his mouth broke into a Carker-like smile, his eyes became elongated to an expression that was at once fawning and sinister, as he said, Wainewright! He used to sit in an armchair close to the fire and smile all the evening like this. He made me see Wainewright and hear his voice as plainly as though I had seen him and heard him in the publishers parlour.

His vocabulary, rich in picturesque words of the high road and dingle, his quaint countrified phrases, might also have added to the effect of this kind of eccentric humour. A duncie bookof course its duncieits only duncie books that sell nowadays, he would shout when some new immortal poem or greatest work of the age was mentioned. Tennyson, I fear, was the representative duncie poet of the time; but that was because nothing could ever make Borrow realize the fact that Tennyson was not the latest juvenile representative of a duncie age; for although, according to Leland, {33} the author of Sordello is (as is natural, perhaps) the only bard known in the gipsy tent, it is doubtful whether even his name was more than a name to Borrow; indeed, I think that people who had no knowledge of Romany, Welsh, and Armenian were all more or less duncie. As a trap to catch the foaming vipers, his critics, he in Lavengro purposely misspelt certain Armenian and Welsh words, just to have the triumph of saying in another volume that they who had attacked him on so many points had failed to discover that he had wrongly given zhats as the nominative of the Armenian noun for bread, while everybody in England, especially every critic, ought to know that zhats is the accusative form.

I will try, however, to give the reader an idea of the whim of Borrows conversation, by giving it in something like a dramatic form. Let the reader suppose himself on a summers evening at that delightful old roadside inn the Bald-Faced Stag, in the Roehampton Valley, near Richmond Park, where are sitting, over a cup (to use Borrows word) of foaming ale, Lavengro himself, one of his oldest friends, and a new acquaintance, a certain student of things in general lately introduced to Borrow and nearly, but not quite, admitted behind the hedge of Borrows shyness, as may be seen by the initiated from a certain rather constrained, half-resentful expression on his face. Jerry Abershaws {34} sword (the chief trophy of mine host) has been introduced, and Borrows old friend has been craftily endeavouring to turn the conversation upon that ever fresh and fruitful topic, but in vain. Suddenly the song of a nightingale, perched on a tree not far off, rings pleasantly through the open window and fills the room with a new atmosphere of poetry and romance. That nightingale has as fine a voice, says Borrow, as though he were born and bred in the Eastern Counties. Borrow is proud of being an East-Anglian, of which the student has already been made aware and which he now turns to good account in the important business he has set himself, of melting Lavengros frost and being admitted a member of the Open-Air Club. Ah! says the wily-student, I know the Eastern Counties; no nightingales like those, especially Norfolk nightingales. Borrows face begins to brighten slightly, but still he does not direct his attention to the stranger, who proceeds to remark that although the southern counties are so much warmer than Norfolk, some of them, such as Cornwall and Devon, are without nightingales. Borrows face begins to get brighter still, and he looks out of the window with a smile, as though he were being suddenly carried back to the green lanes of his beloved Norfolk.

From which well-known fact of ornithology, continues the student, I am driven to infer that in their choice of habitat nightingales are guided not so much by considerations of latitude as of good taste. Borrows anger is evidently melting away. The talk runs still upon nightingales, and the student mentions the attempt to settle them in Scotland once made by Sir John Sinclair, who introduced nightingales eggs from England into robins nests in Scotland, in the hope that the young nightingales, after enjoying a Scotch summer, would return to the place of their birth, after the custom of English nightingales. And did they return? says Borrow, with as much interest as if the honour of his country were involved in the question. Return to Scotland? says the student quietly; the entire animal kingdom are agreed, you know, in never returning to Scotland. Besides, the nightingales eggs in question were laid in Norfolk. Conquered at last, Borrow extends the hand of brotherhood to the impudent student (whose own private opinion, no doubt, is that Norfolk is more successful in producing Nelsons than nightingales), and proceeds without more ado to tell how poor Jerry Abershaw, on being captured by the Bow Street runners, had left his good sword behind him as a memento of highway glories soon to be ended on the gallows tree. (By-the-bye, I wonder where that sword is now; it was bought by Mr. Adolphus Levy, of Alton Lodge, at the closing of the Bald-Faced Stag.)

From Jerry Abershaw Borrow gets upon other equally interesting topics, such as the decadence of beer and pugilism, and the nobility of the now neglected British bruiser, as exampled especially in the case of the noble Pearce, who lost his life through rushing up a staircase and rescuing a woman from a burning house after having on a previous occasion rescued another woman by blacking the eyes of six gamekeepers, who had been set upon her by some noble lord or another. Then, while the ale sparkles with a richer colour as the evening lights grow deeper, the talk gets naturally upon lords in general, gentility nonsense, and hoity-toityism as the canker at the heart of modern civilization.



II.

Borrow could look at Nature without thinking of himselfa rare gift, for Nature, as I have said, has been disappointed in man. Her great desire from the first has been to grow an organism so conscious that it can turn round and look at her with intelligent eyes. She has done so at last, but the consciousness is so high as to be self-conscious, and man cannot for egotism look at his mother after all. Borrow was a great exception. Thoreaus self-consciousness showed itself in presence of Nature, Borrows in presence of man. The very basis of Borrows nature was reverence. His unswerving belief in the beneficence of God was most beautiful, most touching. In his life Borrow had suffered much: a temperament such as his must needs suffer muchso shy it was, so proud, and yet yearning for a close sympathy such as no creature and only solitary communing with Nature can give. Under any circumstances, I say, Borrow would have known how sharp and cruel are the flints along the roadhow tender are a poets feet; but his road at one time was rough indeed; not when he was with his gipsy friends (for a tent is freer than a roof, according to the grammarian of Codling Gap, and roast hedgehog is the daintiest of viands), but when he was toiling in London, his fine gifts unrecognized and uselessthat was when Borrow passed through the fire. Yet every sorrow and every disaster of his life he traced to the kindly hand of a benevolent and wise Father, who sometimes will use a whip of scorpions, but only to chastise into a right and happy course the children he loves.

Apart from the instinctive rectitude of his nature, it was with Borrow a deep-rooted conviction that sin never goes, and never can go, unpunished. His doctrine, indeed, was something like the Buddhist doctrine of Karmait was based on an instinctive apprehension of the sacredness of law in the most universal acceptation of that word. Sylvester Boswells definition of a free man, in that fine, self-respective certificate of his, as one who is free from all cares or fears of law that may come against him, is, indeed, the gospel of every true nature-worshipper. The moment Thoreau spurned the legal tax-gatherer the law locked the nature-worshipper in gaol. To enjoy nature the soul must be freefree not only from tax-gatherers, but from sin; for every wrongful act awakes, out of the mysterious bosom of Nature herself, its own peculiar serpent, having its own peculiar stare, but always hungry and bloody-fanged, which follows the delinquents feet whithersoever they go, gliding through the dewy grass on the brightest morning, dodging round the trees on the calmest eve, wriggling across the brook where the wrongdoer would fain linger on the stepping-stones to soothe his soul with the sight of the happy minnows shooting between the water-weedsfollowing him everywhere, in short, till at last, in sheer desperation, he must needs stop and turn, and bare his breast to the fangs; when, having yielded up to the thing its fill of atoning blood, Nature breaks into her old smile again, and he goes on his way in peace.

All this Borrow understood better than any man I have ever met. Yet even into his doctrine of Providence Borrow imported such an element of whim that it was impossible to listen to him sometimes without a smile. For instance, having arrived at the conclusion that a certain lieutenant had been cruelly ill used by genteel magnates high in office, Borrow discovered that since that iniquity Providence had frowned on the British arms, and went on to trace the disastrous blunder of Balaklava to this cause. Again, having decided that Sir Walter Scotts worship of gentility and Jacobitism had been the main cause of the revival of flunkeyism and Popery in England, Borrow saw in the dreadful monetary disasters which overclouded Scotts last days the hand of God, whose plan was to deprive him of the worldly position Scott worshipped at the very moment when his literary fame (which he misprized) was dazzling the world.

And now as to the gipsy wanderings. As I have said, no man has been more entirely misunderstood than Borrow. That a man who certainly did (as F. H. Groome says) look like a colossal clergyman should have joined the gipsies, that he should have wandered over England and Europe, content often to have the grass for his bed and the sky for his hostry-roof, has astonished very much (and I believe scandalized very much) this age. My explanation of the matter is this: Among the myriads of children born into a world of brick and mortar there appears now and then one who is meant for better thingsone who exhibits unmistakable signs that he inherits the blood of those remote children of the open air who, according to the old Sabæan notion, on the plains of Asia lived with Nature, loved Nature and were loved by her, and from whom all men are descended. George Borrow was one of those who show the olden strain. Now, for such a man, born in a country like England, where the modern fanaticism of house-worship has reached a condition which can only be called maniacal, what is there left but to try for a time the gipsys tent? On the Continent house-worship is strong enough in all conscience; but in France, in Spain, in Italy, even in Germany, people do think of something beyond the house. But here, where there are no romantic crimes, to get a genteel house, to keep (or run) a genteel house, or to pretend to keep (or run) a genteel house, is the great first cause of almost every British delinquency, from envy and malignant slander up to forgery, robbery, and murder. And yet it is a fact, as Borrow discovered (when a mere lad in a solicitors office), that to men in health the house need not, and should not, be the all-absorbing consideration, but should be quite secondary to considerations of honesty and sweet air, pure water, clean linen, good manners, freedom to migrate at will, and, above all, freedom from all cares or fears of law that may come against a man in the shape of debts, duns, and tax-gatherers.

Against this folly of softening our bodies by snugness and degrading our souls by flunkeyism, Borrows early life was a protest. He saw that if it were really unwholesome for man to be shone upon by the sun, blown upon by the winds, and rained upon by the rain, like all the other animals, man would never have existed at all, for sun and wind and rain have produced him and everything that lives. He saw that for the cultivation of health, honesty, and good behaviour every man born in the temperate zone ought, unless King Circumstance says No, to spend in the open air eight or nine hours at least out of the twenty-four, and ought to court rather than to shun Natures sweet shower-bath the rain, unless, of course, his chest is weak.

The evanescence of literary fame is strikingly illustrated by recalling at this moment my first sight of Borrow. I could not have been much more than a boy, for I and a friend had gone down to Yarmouth in March to enjoy the luxury of bathing in a Yarmouth sea, and it is certainly a good whileto use Borrows phrasesince I considered that a luxury suitable to March. On the morning after our arrival, having walked some distance out of Yarmouth, we threw down our clothes and towels upon the sand some few yards from another heap of clothes, which indicated, to our surprise, that we were not, after all, the only people in Yarmouth who could bathe in a biting wind; and soon we perceived, ducking in an immense billow that came curving and curling towards the shore, such a pair of shoulders as I had not seen for a long time, crowned by a head white and glistening as burnished silver. (Borrows hair was white I believe, when he was quite a young man.) When the wave had broken upon the sand, there was the bather wallowing on the top of the water like a Polar bear disporting in an Arctic sun. In swimming Borrow clawed the water like a dog. I had plunged into the surf and got very close to the swimmer, whom I perceived to be a man of almost gigantic proportions, when suddenly an instinct told me that it was Lavengro himself, who lived thereabouts, and the feeling that it was he so entirely stopped the action of my heart that I sank for a moment like a stone, soon to rise again, however, in glow of pleasure and excitement: so august a presence was Lavengros then!

I ought to say, however, that Borrow was at that time my hero. From my childhood I had taken the deepest interest in proscribed races such as the Cagots, but especially in the persecuted children of Roma. I had read accounts of whole families being executed in past times for no other crime than that of their being born gipsies, and tears, childish and yet bitter, had I shed over their woes. Now Borrow was the recognized champion of the gipsiesthe friend companion, indeed, of the proscribed and persecuted races of the world. Nor was this all: I saw in him more of the true Nature instinct than in any other writeror so, at least, I imagined. To walk out from a snug house at Rydal Mount for the purpose of making poetical sketches for publication seemed to me a very different thing from having no home but a tent in a dingle, or rather from Borrows fashion of making all Nature your home. Although I would have given worlds to go up and speak to him as he was tossing his clothes upon his back, I could not do it. Morning after morning did I see him undress, wallow in the sea, come out again, give me a somewhat sour look, dress, and then stride away inland at a tremendous pace, but never could I speak to him; and many years passed before I saw him again. He was then half forgotten.

For an introduction to him at last I was indebted to Dr. Gordon Hake, the poet, who had known Borrow for many years, and whose friendship Borrow cherished above most thingsas was usual, indeed, with the friends of Dr. Hake. This was done with some difficulty, for, in calling at Roehampton for a walk through Richmond Park and about the Common, Borrows first question was always, Are you alone? and no persuasion could induce him to stay unless it could be satisfactorily shown that he would not be pestered by strangers. On a certain morning, however, he called, and suddenly coming upon me, there was no retreating, and we were introduced. He tried to be as civil as possible, but evidently he was much annoyed. Yet there was something in the very tone of his voice that drew my heart to him, for to me he was the Lavengro of my boyhood still. My own shyness had been long before fingered off by the rough handling of the world, but his retained all the bloom of youth, and a terrible barrier it was, yet I attacked it manfully. I knew that Borrow had read but little except in his own out-of-the-way directions; but then unfortunately, like all specialists, he considered that in these his own special directions lay all the knowledge that was of any value. Accordingly, what appeared to Borrow as the most striking characteristic of the present age was its ignorance.

Unfortunately, too, I knew that for strangers to talk of his own published books or of gipsies appeared to him to be prying, though there I should have been quite at home. I knew, however, that in the obscure English pamphlet literature of the last century, recording the sayings and doings of eccentric people and strange adventurers, Borrow was very learned, and I too chanced to be far from ignorant in that direction. I touched on Bamfylde Moore Carew, but without effect. Borrow evidently considered that every properly educated man was familiar with the story of Bamfylde Moore Carew in its every detail. Then I touched upon beer, the British bruiser, gentility-nonsense, the trumpery great; then upon etymology, traced hoity-toityism to toit, a roof,but only to have my shallow philology dismissed with a withering smile. I tried other subjects in the same direction, but with small success, till in a lucky moment I bethought myself of Ambrose Gwinett. There is a very scarce eighteenth-century pamphlet narrating the story of Ambrose Gwinett, the man who, after having been hanged and gibbeted for murdering a traveller with whom he had shared a double-bedded room at a seaside inn, revived in the night, escaped from the gibbet irons, went to sea as a common sailor, and afterwards met on a British man-of-war the very man he had been hanged for murdering. The truth was that Gwinetts supposed victim, having been attacked on the night in question by a violent bleeding at the nose, had risen and left the house for a few minutes walk in the sea-breeze, when the press-gang captured him and bore him off to sea, where he had been in service ever since. The story is true, and the pamphlet, Borrow afterwards told me (I know not on what authority), was written by Goldsmith from Gwinetts dictation for a platter of cowheel.

To the bewilderment of Dr. Hake, I introduced the subject of Ambrose Gwinett in the same manner as I might have introduced the story of Achilles wrath, and appealed to Dr. Hake (who, of course, had never heard of the book or the man) as to whether a certain incident in the pamphlet had gained or lost by the dramatist who, at one of the minor theatres, had many years ago dramatized the story. Borrow was caught at last. What? said he, you know that pamphlet about Ambrose Gwinett? Know it? said I, in a hurt tone, as though he had asked me if I knew Macbeth; of course I know Ambrose Gwinett, Mr. Borrow, dont you? And you know the play? said he. Of course I do, Mr. Borrow? I said, in a tone that was now a little angry at such an insinuation of crass ignorance. Why, said he, its years and years since it was acted; I never was much of a theatre man, but I did go to see that. Well, I should rather think you did, Mr. Borrow, said I. But, said he, staring hard at me, youyou were not born! And I was not born, said I, when the Agamemnon was produced, and yet one reads the Agamemnon, Mr. Borrow. I have read the drama of Ambrose Gwinett. I have it bound in morocco with some more of Douglas Jerrolds early transpontine plays, and some Æschylean dramas by Mr. Fitzball. I will lend it to you, Mr. Borrow, if you like. He was completely conquered. Hake! he cried, in a loud voice, regardless of my presence. Hake! your friend knows everything. Then he murmured to himself, Wonderful man! Knows Ambrose Gwinett!

It is such delightful reminiscences as these that will cause me to have as long as I live a very warm place in my heart for the memory of George Borrow.

From that time I used to see Borrow often at Roehampton, sometimes at Putney, and sometimes, but not often, in London. I could have seen much more of him than I did had not the whirlpool of London, into which I plunged for a time, borne me away from this most original of men; and this is what I so greatly lament now: for of Borrow it may be said, as it was said of a greater man still, that after Nature made him she forthwith broke the mould. The last time I ever saw him was shortly before he left London to live in the country. It was, I remember well, on Waterloo Bridge, where I had stopped to gaze at a sunset of singular and striking splendour, whose gorgeous clouds and ruddy mists were reeling and boiling over the West-End. Borrow came up and stood leaning over the parapet, entranced by the sight, as well he might be. Like most people born in flat districts, he had a passion for sunsets. Turner could not have painted that one, I think, and certainly my pen could not describe it; for the London smoke was flushed by the sinking sun and had lost its dunness, and, reddening every moment as it rose above the roofs, steeples, and towers, it went curling round the sinking sun in a rosy vapour, leaving, however, just a segment of a golden rim, which gleamed as dazzlingly as in the thinnest and clearest aira peculiar effect which struck Borrow deeply. I never saw such a sunset before or since, not even on Waterloo Bridge; and from its association with the last of Borrow I shall never forget it.



III.

Students of Borrow will be as much surprised as pleased to find what a large collection of documents Dr. Knapp has been able to use in compiling this long-expected biography. {50} Indeed, the collection might have been larger and richer still. For instance, in the original manuscript of Zincali (in the possession of the present writer) there are some variations from the printed text; but, what is of very much more importance, the wholeor nearly the wholeof Borrows letters to the Bible Society, which Dr. Knapp believed to be lost, have been discovered in the crypt of the Bible House in which the records of the Society are stored. But even without these materials two massive volumes crammed with documents throwing light upon the life and career of a man like George Borrow must needs be interesting to the student of English literature. For among all the remarkable characters that during the middle of the present century figured in the world of letters, the most eccentric, the most whimsical, and in every way the most extraordinary was surely the man whom Dr. Knapp calls, appropriately enough, his hero.

It is no exaggeration to say that there was not a single point in which Borrow resembled any other writing man of his time; indeed, we cannot, at the moment, recall any really important writer of any period whose eccentricity of character can be compared with his. At the basis of the artistic temperament is generally that sweet reasonableness the lack of which we excuse in Borrow and in almost no one else. As to literary whim, it must not be supposed that this quality is necessarily and always the outcome of temperament. There are some authors of whom it may be said that the moment they take pen in hand they pass into their literary mood, a mood that in their cases does not seem to be born of temperament, but to spring from some fantastic movement of the intellect. Sterne, for instance, the greatest of all masters of whim (not excluding Rabelais), passed when in the act of writing into a literary mood which, as Yorick, he tried to live up to in his private lifetried in vain. With regard to Charles Lamb, his temperament, no doubt, was whimsical enough, and yet how many rich and rare passages in his writings are informed by a whim of a purely intellectual kinda whim which could only have sprung from that delicious literary mood of his, engendered by much study of quaint old writers, into which he passed when at his desk! But whatsoever is whimsical, whatsoever is eccentric and angular, in Borrows writings is the natural, the inevitable growth of a nature more whimsical, more eccentric, more angular still.

That such a man should have had an extraordinary life-experience was to be expected. And an extraordinary life-experience Borrows was, to be sure! This alone would lend an especial interest to Borrows biographythe fact, we mean, of his life having been extraordinary. For in these days no lives, as a rule, are less adventurous, none, as a rule, less tinged with romance, than the lives of those who attain eminence in the world of letters. No doubt they nowadays move about from place to place a good deal; not a few of them may even be called travellers, or at least globe-trotters; but, alas! in globe-trotting who shall hope to meet with adventures of a more romantic kind than those connected with a railway collision or a storm at sea? And this was so in days that preceded ours. It was so with Scott, it was so with Dickens, it was so with even Dumas, who, chained to his desk for months and months at a stretch, could only be seen by his friends during the intervals of work. Nay, even with regard to the writing men of the far past, the more time a man gave to literary production the less time he had to drink the rich wine of life, to see the world, to study nature and natures enigma man.

Perhaps one reason why we have almost no record of what the greatest of all writing men was doing in the world is that while his friends were elbowing the tide of life in the streets of London, or fighting in the Low Countries, or carousing at the Mermaid Tavern, or at the Apollo Saloon, he was filling every moment with workwork which enabled him, before he reached his fifty-second year, to build up that literary monument of his, that edifice which made the monuments of the others, his contemporaries, seem like the handiwork of pigmies. But as regards Borrow, student though he was, it is not as an author that we think of him; it is as the adventurer, it is as the great Romany Rye, who discovered the most interesting people in Europe, and as a brother vagabond lived with themlived with them on the accont of health, sweetness of the air, and for enjoying the pleasure of Natures life, to quote the testimonial of the prose-poet Sylvester Boswell.

Even by his personal appearance Borrow was marked off from his fellow-men. As a gipsy girl once remarked, Nobody as ever seed the white-headed Romany Rye ever forgot him. Standing considerably above six feet in height, he was built as perfectly as a Greek statue, and his practice of athletic exercises gave his every movement the easy elasticity of an athlete under training. As to his countenance, noble is the only word that can be used to describe it. The silvery whiteness of the thick crop of hair seemed to add in a remarkable way to the beauty of the hairless face, but also it gave a strangeness to it, and this strangeness was intensified by a certain incongruity between the features (perfect Roman-Greek in type) and the Scandinavian complexion, luminous and sometimes rosy as an English girls. An increased intensity was lent by the fair skin to the dark lustre of the eyes. What struck the observer, therefore, was not the beauty but the strangeness of the mans appearance. It was not this feature or that which struck the eye, it was the expression of the face as a whole. If it were possible to describe this expression in a word or two, it might, perhaps, be called a shy self-consciousness.

How did it come about, then, that a man shy, self-conscious, and sensitive to the last degree, became the Ulysses of the writing fraternity, wandering among strangers all over Europe, and consorting on intimate terms with that race who, more than all others, are repelled by shy self-consciousnessthe gipsies? This, perhaps, is how the puzzle may be explained. When Borrow was talking to people in his own class of life there was always in his bearing a kind of shy, defiant egotism. What Carlyle calls the armed neutrality of social intercourse oppressed him. He felt himself to be in the enemys camp. In his eyes there was always a kind of watchfulness, as if he were taking stock of his interlocutor and weighing him against himself. He seemed to be observing what effect his words were having, and this attitude repelled people at first. But the moment he approached a gipsy on the heath, or a poor Jew in Houndsditch, or a homeless wanderer by the wayside, he became another man. He threw off the burden of restraint. The feeling of the armed neutrality was left behind, and he seemed to be at last enjoying the only social intercourse that could give him pleasure. This it was that enabled him to make friends so entirely with the gipsies. Notwithstanding what is called Romany guile (which is the growth of ages of oppression), the basis of the Romany character is a joyous frankness. Once let the isolating wall which shuts off the Romany from the Gorgio be broken through, and the communicativeness of the Romany temperament begins to show itself. The gipsies are extremely close observers; they were very quick to notice how different was Borrows bearing towards themselves from his bearing towards people of his own race, and Borrow used to say that old Mrs. Herne and Leonora were the only gipsies who suspected and disliked him.

Thus it came about that the gipsies and the wanderers generally were almost the only people in any country who saw the winsome side of Borrow. A truly winsome side he had. Yes, notwithstanding all that has been said about him to the contrary, Borrow was a most interesting and charming companion. We all have our angularities; we all have unpleasant facets of character when occasion offers for showing them. But there are some unfortunate people whose angularities are for ever chafing and irritating their friends. Borrow was one of these. It is very rarely indeed that one meets a friend or an acquaintance of Borrows who speaks of him with the kindness he deserved. When a friend or an acquaintance relates an anecdote of him the asperity with which he does so is really remarkable and quite painful. It wasit must have beenfar from Dr. Gordon Hakes wish to speak unkindly of his old friend who remained to the last deeply attached to him. And yet few things have done more to prejudice the public against Borrow than the Doctors tale of Lavengros outrage at Rougham Rookery, the residence of the banker Bevan, one of the kindest and most benevolent men in Suffolk.

This story, often told by Hake, appeared at last in print in his memoirs. Invited to dinner by Mr. Bevan, Borrow accepted the invitation and, according to the anecdote, thus behaved: During dinner Mrs. Bevan, thinking to please him, said, Oh, Mr. Borrow, I have read your books with so much pleasure! On which Borrow exclaimed, Pray what books do you mean, maamdo you mean my account books? Then, rising from the table, he walked up and down among the servants during the whole dinner, and afterwards wandered about the rooms and passages till the carriage could be ordered for his return home. A monstrous proceeding truly, and not to be condoned by any circumstances. Yet some part of its violence may, perhaps, thus be explained. Borrows loyalty to a friend was proverbialuntil he and the friend quarrelled. A man who dared say an ungenerous word against a friend of Borrows ran the risk of being knocked down. Borrow on this occasion had been driven half mad with rageunreasoning, ignorant rageagainst the Bury banking-house, because it had struck the docket against a friend of Borrows, the heir to a considerable estate, who had got into difficulties. What Borrow yearned to do was, as he told the present writer, to cane the banker. He had, as far as his own reputation went, far better have done this and taken the consequences than have insulted the bankers wifeone of the most gentle, amiable, and unassuming ladies in Suffolk. Dr. Knapp speaks very sharply of Miss Cobbs remarks upon Borrow, and certainly these remarks are made with a great deal too much acidity. But if the Borrovian is to lose temper with every one who girds at Borrow he will lead a not very comfortable life.

Dr. Knapp has no doubt whatever that Lavengro is in the main an autobiography. We have none. The only question is how much Dichtung is mingled with the Wahrheit. Had it not been for the amazingly clumsy pieces of fiction which he threw into the narrativesuch incidents as that of his meeting on the road the sailor son of the old apple-woman of London Bridge, and the exaggerated description of the man sent to sleep by reading Wordsworthfew readers would have doubted the autobiographical nature of Lavengro and The Romany Rye. Such incidents as these shed an air of unreality over the whole.

All writers upon Borrow fall into the mistake of considering him to have been an East Anglian. They might as well call Charlotte Brontë a Yorkshirewoman as call Borrow an East Anglian. He was, of course, no more an East Anglian than an Irishman born in London is an Englishman. He had at bottom no East Anglian characteristics. He inherited nothing from Norfolk save his accent and his love of leg of mutton and turnips. Yet he is a striking illustration of the way in which the locality that has given birth to a man influences him throughout his life. The fact of Borrows having been born in East Anglia was the result of accident. His father, a Cornishman of a good middle-class family, had been obliged, owing to a youthful escapade, to leave his native place and enlist as a common soldier. Afterwards he became a recruiting officer, and moved about from one part of Great Britain and Ireland to another. It so chanced that while staying at East Dereham, in Norfolk, he met and fell in love with a lady of French extraction. Not one drop of East Anglian blood was in the veins of Borrows father, and very little in the veins of his mother. Borrows ancestry was pure Cornish on one side, and on the other mainly French. But such was the sublime egotism of Borrowperhaps we should have said such is the sublime egotism of human naturethat the fact of his having been born in East Anglia made him look upon that part of the world as the very hub of the universe.

There is, it must be confessed, something to us very agreeable in Dr. Knapps single-minded hero-worship. A scholar and a philologist himself, he seems to have devoted a large portion of his life to the study of Borrowfollowing in Lavengros footsteps from one country to another with unflagging enthusiasm. Now and again, undoubtedly, this hero-worship runs to excess: the faults of style and of method in Borrows writings are condoned or are passed by unobserved by Dr. Knapp, while the most unanswerable strictures upon them by others are resented. For instance, at the end of the following extract from the report of the gentleman who read Zincali for Mr. Murray, he appends a note of exclamation, as though he considers the admirable advice given to be eccentric or bad:

The Dialogues are amongst the best parts of the book; but in several of them the tone of the speakers, of those especially who are in humble life, is too correct and elevated, and therefore out of character. This takes away from their effect. I think it would be very advisable that Mr. Borrow should go over them with reference to this point, simplifying a few of the terms of expression and introducing a few contractionsdonts, cants, &c. This would improve them greatly.

Now the truth is that Mr. Murrays reader, whoever he was, {60} pointed out the one great blemish in all Borrows dramatic pictures of gipsy life, wheresoever the scene may be laid. Take his pictures of English gipsies. The reader has only to compare the dialogue between gipsies given in that photographic study of Romany life In Gipsy Tents with the dialogues in Lavengro to see how the illusion in Borrows narrative is disturbed by the uncolloquial vocabulary of the speakers. After all allowance is made for the Romanys love of high-sounding words, it considerably weakens our belief in Mr. and Mrs. Petulengro, Ursula, and the rest, to find them using complex sentences and bookish words which, even among English people, are rarely heard in conversation.

Dr. Knapp says emphatically that Borrow never created a character, and that the originals are easily recognizable to one who thoroughly knows the times and Borrows writings. This is true, no doubt, as regards people with whom he was brought into contact at Norwich, and, indeed, generally before the period of his gipsy wanderings. It must not be supposed, however, that such characters as the man who touched to avert the evil chance and the man who taught himself Chinese are in any sense portraits. They have so many of Borrows own peculiarities that they might rather be called portraits of himself. There was nothing that Borrow strove against with more energy than the curious impulse, which he seems to have shared with Dr. Johnson, to touch the objects along his path in order to save himself from the evil chance. He never conquered the superstition. In walking through Richmond Park he would step out of his way constantly to touch a tree, and he was offended if the friend he was with seemed to observe it. Many of the peculiarities of the man who taught himself Chinese were also Borrows own.

But what about Isopel Berners? the reader will ask. How much of truth and how much of fiction went to the presentation of this most interesting character? Seeing that Dr. Knapp has at his command such an immense amount of material in manuscript, the reader will feel some disappointment at discovering that the book tells us nothing new about her. The character he names Isopel Berners was just the sort of girl in every way to attract Borrow, and if he had had the feeblest spark of the love-passion in his constitution one could almost imagine his falling in love with her. Yet even the portrait of Isopel is marred by Borrows impulse towards exaggeration. He must needs describe her as being taller than himself, and as he certainly stood six feet three Isopel would have been far better suited to sit by the side of Borrows friend the Norfolk giant, Hales, in the little London public-house where he latterly resided, than to become famous as a fighting woman who could conquer the Flaming Tinman. Few indeed have been the women who could stand up for long before a trained boxer, and these must needs be not too tall, and moreover they must have their breasts padded after the manner of a well-known gipsy girl who excelled in this once fashionable accomplishment. Even then a womans instinct impels her to guard her chest more carefully than she guards her face, and this leads to disaster. Altogether Borrow, by his wilful exaggeration, makes the reader a little sceptical about Isopel, who was really an East Anglian road-girl of the finest type, known to the Boswells, and remembered not many years ago. All that Dr. Knapp has derived from the documents in his possession concerning her is the following extraordinary passage from the original manuscript, which Borrow struck out of Lavengro. He says:

As to the remarkable character introduced into Lavengro and Romany Rye under the name of Isopel Berners, I have no light from the MSS. of George Borrow, save the following fragment, which perhaps I ought to have suppressed. I am sorry if it dispel any illusions:

(Loquitur Petulengro) My mind at present rather inclines towards two wives. I have heard that King Pharaoh had two, if not more. Now, I think myself as good a man as he; and if he had more wives than one, why should not I, whose name is Petulengro?

But what would Mrs. Petulengro say?

Why, to tell you the truth, brother, it was she who first put the thought into my mind. She has always, you know, had strange notions in her head, gorgiko notions, I suppose we may call them, about gentility and the like, and reading and writing. Now, though she can neither read nor write herself, she thinks that she is lost among our people and that they are no society for her. So says she to me one day, Pharaoh, says she, I wish you would take another wife, that I might have a little pleasant company. As for these here, I am their betters. I have no objection, said I; who shall it be? Shall it be a Cooper or a Stanley? A Cooper or a Stanley! said she, with a toss of her head, I might as well keep my present company as theirs; none of your rubbish; let it be a gorgie, one that I can speak an idea withthat was her word, I think. Now I am thinking that this here Bess of yours would be just the kind of person both for my wife and myself. My wife wants something gorgiko, something genteel. Now Bess is of blood gorgious; if you doubt it, look in her face, all full of pawno ratter, white blood, brother; and as for gentility, nobody can make exceptions to Besss gentility, seeing she was born in the workhouse of Melford the Short, where she learned to read and write. She is no Irish woman, brother, but English pure, and her father was a farmer.

So much as far as my wife is concerned. As for myself, I tell you what, brother, I want a strapper; one who can give and take. The Flying Tinker is abroad, vowing vengeance against us all. I know what the Flying Tinker is, so does Tawno. The Flying Tinker came to our camp. Damn you all, says he, Ill fight the best of you for nothing.Done! says Tawno, Ill be ready for you in a minute. So Tawno went into his tent and came out naked. Heres at you, says Tawno. Brother, Tawno fought for two hours with the Flying Tinker, for two whole hours, and its hard to say which had the best of it or the worst. I tell you what, brother, I think Tawno had the worst of it. Night came on. Tawno went into his tent to dress himself and the Flying Tinker went his way.

Now suppose, brother, the Flying Tinker comes upon us when Tawno is away. Who is to fight the Flying Tinker when he says: D—-n you, I will fight the best of you? Brother, I will fight the Flying Tinker for five pounds; but I couldnt for less. The Flying Tinker is a big man, and though he hasnt my science, he weighs five stone heavier. It wouldnt do for me to fight a man like that for nothing. But theres Bess, who can afford to fight the Flying Tinker at any time for what hes got, and thats three hapence. She can beat him, brother; I bet five pounds that Bess can beat the Flying Tinker. Now, if I marry Bess, Im quite easy on his score. He comes to our camp and says his say. I wont dirty my hands with you, says I, at least not under five pounds; but heres Bess wholl fight you for nothing. I tell you what, brother, when he knows that Bess is Mrs. Pharaoh, hell fight shy of our camp; he wont come near it, brother. He knows Bess dont like him, and whats more, that she can lick him. Hell let us alone; at least I think so. If he does come, Ill smoke my pipe whilst Bess is beating the Flying Tinker. Brother, Im dry, and will now take a cup of ale.

Why did Borrow reject this passage? Was it owing to his dread of respectabilitys frowns?or was it not rather because he felt that here his exaggeration, his departure from the true in quest of the striking, did not recommend itself to his cooler judgment? For those who know anything of the gipsies would say at once that it would have been impossible for Mrs. Petulengro to make this suggestion; and that, even if she had made it, Mr. Petulengro would not have dared to broach it to any English road-girl, least of all to a girl like Isopel Berners. The passage, however, is the most interesting document that Dr. Knapp has published.

What may be called the Isopel Berners chapter of Borrows life was soon to be followed by the veiled periodthat is to say, the period between the point where ends The Romany Rye and the point where the Bible Society engages Borrow.

Dr. Knapps mind seems a good deal exercised concerning this period. Borrow having chosen to draw the veil over that period, no one has any right to raise itor, rather, perhaps no one would have had any right to do so had not Borrow himself thrown such a needless mystery around it. In considering any matter in connexion with Borrow it is always necessary to take into account the secretiveness of his disposition, and also his passion for posing. He had a childs fondness for the wonderful. It is through his own love of mystification that students like Dr. Knapp must needs pry into these mattersmust needs ask why Borrow drew the veil over seven yearsmust needs ask whether during the veiled period he led a life of squalid misery, compared with which his sojourn with Isopel Berners in Mumpers Dingle was luxury, or whether he was really travelling, as he pretended to have been, over the world.

By yielding to his instinct as a born showman he excites a curiosity which would otherwise be unjustifiable. Even if Dr. Knapp had been able to approach Borrows stepdaughterwhich he seems not to have been able to doit is pretty certain that she could have told him nothing of that mysterious seven years. For about this subject the people to whom Borrow seems to have been most reticent were his wife and her daughter. Indeed, it was not until after his wifes death that he would allude to this period even to his most intimate friends. One of the very few people to whom he did latterly talk with anything like frankness about this period in his lifeDr. Gordon Hakeis dead; and perhaps there is not more than about one other person now living who had anything of his confidence.

With regard to this veiled period, people who read the idyllic pictures in Lavengro and The Romany Rye of the life of a gipsy gentleman working as a hedge-smith in the dingle or by the roadside seem to forget that Borrow was then working not for amusement, but for bread, and they forget how scant the bread must have been that could be bought for the odd sixpence or the few coppers that he was able to earn. To those, however, who do not forget this it needs no revelation from documents, and none from any surviving friend, to come to the conclusion that as Borrow was mainly living in England during these seven years (continuing for a considerable time his life of a wanderer, and afterwards living as an obscure literary struggler in Norwich), his life was during this period one of privation, disappointment, and gloom. It was for him to decide what he would give to the public and what he would withhold.

The concluding chapter of Dr. Knapps book is not only patheticit is painful. In the summer of 1874 Borrow left London, bade adieu to Mr. Murray and a few friends, and returned to Oultonto die. On the 26th of July, 1881, he was found dead in his home at Oulton, in his seventy-ninth year.



II. DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI, 18281882.

I.

At Birchington-on-Sea one of the most rarely gifted men of our time has just died [April 9th, 1882] after a lingering illness. During the time that his Ballads and Sonnets was passing through the press last autumn his health began to give way, and he left London for Cumberland. A stay of a few weeks in the Vale of St. John, however, did nothing to improve his health, and he returned much shattered. After a time a numbness in the left arm excited fear of paralysis, and he became dangerously ill. It is probable, indeed, that nothing but the skill and unwearied attention of Mr. John Marshall saved his life then, as it had done upon several previous occasions. Such of his friends as were then in LondonW. B. Scott, Burne Jones, Leyland, F. Shields, Mr. Dunn, and othersfeeling the greatest alarm, showed him every affectionate attention, and spared no effort to preserve a life so precious and so beloved. Mr. Seddon having placed at his disposal West Cliff Bungalow, Birchington-on-Sea, he went thither, accompanied by his mother and sister and Mr. Hall Caine, about nine weeks since, but received no benefit from the change, and, gradually sinking from a complication of disorders, he died on Sunday last at 10 P.M.

[Picture: Dante Gabriel Rosette. From a crayon-drawing by himself reproduced by the kind permission of Mrs. W. M. Rossetti]

Were I even competent to enter upon the discussion of Rossettis gifts as a poet and as a painter, it would not be possible to do so here and at this moment. That the quality of romantic imagination informs with more vitality his work than it can be said to inform the work of any of his contemporaries was recognized at first by the few, and is now (judging from the great popularity of his last volume of poetry) being recognized by the many. And the same, I think, may be said of his painting. Those who had the privilege of a personal acquaintance with him knew how of imagination all compact he was. Imagination, indeed, was at once his blessing and his bane. To see too vividlyto love too intenselyto suffer and enjoy too acutelyis the doom, no doubt, of all those lost wanderers from Arden who, according to the Rosicrucian story, sing the worlds songs; and to Rossetti this applies more, perhaps, than to most poets. And when we consider that the one quality in all poetry which really gives it an endurance outlasting the generation of its birth is neither music nor colour, nor even intellectual substance, but the clearness of the seeing; the living breath of imaginationthe very qualities, in short, for which such poems as Sister Helen and Rose Mary are so conspicuouswe are driven to the conclusion that Rossettis poetry has a long and enduring future before it.

A life more devoted to literature and art than his it is impossible to imagine. Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti was born at 38, Charlotte Street, Portland Place, London, on the 12th of May, 1828. He was the first son and second child of Gabriele Rossetti, the patriotic poet, who, born at Vasto in the Abruzzi, settled in Naples, and took an active part in extorting from the Neapolitan king Ferdinand I. the constitution granted in 1820, which constitution being traitorously cancelled by the king in 1821, Rossetti had to escape for his life to Malta with various other persecuted constitutionalists. From Malta Gabriele Rossetti went to England about 1823, where he married in 1826 Frances Polidori, daughter of Alfieris secretary and sister of Byrons Dr. Polidori. He became Professor of Italian in Kings College, London, became also prominent as a commentator on Dante, and died in April, 1854. His children, four in numberMaria Francesca, Dante Gabriel, William Michael, and Christina Georginaall turned to literature or to art, or to both, and all became famous. There can, indeed, be no doubt that the Rossetti family will hold a position quite unique in the literary and artistic annals of our time.

Young Rossetti was first sent to the private school of the Rev. Mr. Paul in Foley Street, Portland Place, where he remained, however, for only three quarters of a year, from the autumn of 1835 to the summer of 1836. He next went to Kings College School in the autumn of 1836, where he remained till the summer of 1843, having reached the fourth class, then conducted by the Rev. Mr. Framley.

Having from early childhood shown a strong propensity for drawing and painting, which had thus been always regarded as his future profession, he now left school for ever and received no more school learning. In Latin he was already fairly proficient for his age; French he knew well; he had spoken Italian from childhood, and had some German lessons about 18445. On leaving school he went at once to the Art Academy of Cary (previously called Sasss) near Bedford Square, and thence obtained admission to the Royal Academy Antique School in 1844 or 1845. To the Royal Academy Life School he never went, and he was a somewhat negligent art student, but always regarded as one who had a future before him.

In 1849 Rossetti exhibited The Girlhood of the Virgin in the so-called Free Exhibition or Portland Gallery. The artist who had perhaps the strongest influence upon Rossettis early tastes was Ford Madox Brown, who, however, refused from the first to join the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood on the ground that coteries had in modern art no proper function. Rossetti was deeply impressed with the power and designing faculty displayed by Madox Browns cartoons exhibited in Westminster Hall. When Rossetti began serious work as a painter he thought of Madox Brown as the one man from whom he would willingly receive practical guidance, and wrote to him at random. From this time Madox Brown became his intimate friend and artistic monitor.

In painting, however, Rossetti was during this time exercising only half his genius. From his childhood it became evident that he was a poet. At the age of five he wrote a sort of play called The Slave, which, as may be imagined, showed no noteworthy characteristic save precocity. This was followed by the poem called Sir Hugh Heron, which was written about 1844, and some translations of German poetry. The Blessed Damozel and Sister Helen were produced in their original form so early as 1846 or 1847. The latter of these has undergone more modifications than any other first-class poem of our time. To take even the new edition of the Poems which appeared last year [1881], the stanzas introducing the wife of the luckless hero appealing to the sorceress for mercy are so important in the glamour they shed back over the stanzas that have gone before, that their introduction may almost be characterized as a rewriting of every previous line.

The translations from the early Italian poets also began as far back as 1845 or 1846, and may have been mainly completed by 1849. Rossettis gifts as a translator were, no doubt, of the highest. And this arose from his deep sympathy with literature as a medium of human expression: he could enter into the temperaments of other writers, and by sympathy criticize the literary form from the authors own inner standpoint, supposing always that there was a certain racial kinship with the author. Many who write well themselves have less sympathy with the expressional forms adopted by other writers than is displayed by men who have neither the impulse nor the power to write themselves. But this sympathy betrayed him sometimes into a free rendering of locutions such as a translator should be chary of indulging in. Materials for a volume accumulated slowly, but all the important portions of the Poems published in 1870 had been in existence some years before that date. The prose story of Hand and Soul was also written as early as 1848 or 1849.

In the spring of 1860 he married Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall, who being very beautiful was constantly painted and drawn by him. She had one still-born child in 1861, and died in February, 1862. He felt her death very acutely, and for a time ceased to write or to take any interest in his own poetry. Like Prospero, indeed, he literally buried his wand, but for a time only. From this time to his death he continued to produce pictures, all of them showing, as far as technical skill goes, an unfaltering advance in his art.

Yet wonderful as was Rossetti as an artist and poet, he was still more wonderful, I think, as a man. The chief characteristic of his conversation was an incisiveness so perfect and clear as to have often the pleasurable surprise of wit. It is so well known that Rossetti has been for a long time the most retired man of genius of our day, and so many absurd causes for this retirement have been spoken of, that there is nothing indecorous in the true cause of it being made public by one who of late years has known more of him, perhaps, than has any other person. About 1868 the curse of the artistic and poetic temperamentinsomniaattacked him, and one of the most distressing effects of insomnia is a nervous shrinking from personal contact with any save a few intimate friends. This peculiar kind of nervousness may be aggravated by the use of sleeping draughts, and in his case was thus aggravated.

But, although Rossetti lived thus secluded, he did not lose the affectionate regard of the illustrious men with whom he started in his artistic life. Nor, assuredly, did he deserve to lose it, for no man ever lived, I think, who was so generous as he in sympathizing with other mens work, save only when the cruel fumes of chloral turned him against everything. And his sympathy was as wide as generous. It was only necessary to mention the name of Leighton or Millais or Madox Brown or Burne Jones or G. F. Watts, or, indeed, of any contemporary painter, to get from him a glowing disquisition upon the merits of eacha disquisition full of the subtlest distinctions, and illuminated by the brilliant lights of his matchless fancy. And it was the same in poetry.

But those who loved Rossetti (that is to say, those who knew him) can realize how difficult it is for me, a friend, to pursue just now such reminiscences as these.



II.

In his preface Mr. W. M. Rossetti says:

I have not attempted to write a biographical account of my brother, nor to estimate the range or value of his powers and performances in fine art and in literature. I agree with those who think that a brother is not the proper person to undertake a work of this sort. An outsider can do it dispassionately, though with imperfect knowledge of the facts; a friend can do it with mastery, and without much undue bias; but a brother, however equitably he may address himself to the task, cannot perform it so as to secure the prompt and cordial assent of his readers.

These words will serve as a good example of the dignified modesty which is a characteristic of Mr. W. M. Rossettis, and is one of the best features of this volume. {77} In these days of empty pretence it is always refreshing to come upon a page written in the spirit of scholarly self-suppression which informs every line this patient and admirable critic writes. And as to the interesting question glanced at in the passage above quoted, though the contents of this volume will, no doubt, form valuable material for the future biography of Rossetti, we wonder whether the time is even yet at hand when that biography, whether written by brother, by friend, or by outsider, is needed. That mysterious entity the public, would, no doubt, like to get one; but we have always shared Rossettis own opinion that a man of genius is no more the property of the public than is any private gentleman; and we have always felt with him that the prevalence in our time of the opposite opinion has fashioned so intolerable a yoke for the neck of any one who has had the misfortune to pass from the sweet paradise of obscurity into the vulgar purgatory of Fame, that it almost behoves a man of genius to avoid, if he can, passing into that purgatory at all.

Can any biography, by whomsoever written, be other than inchoate and illusorynay, can it fail to be fraught with danger to the memory of the dead, with danger to the peace of the living, until years have fully calmed the air around the dead mans grave? So long as the man to be portrayed cannot be separated from his surroundings, so long as his portrait cannot be fully and honestly limned without peril to the peace of those among whom he movedin a word, so long as there remains any throb of vitality in those delicate filaments of social life by which he was enlinked to those with whom he played his partthat brother, or that friend, or that outsider who shall attempt the portraiture must feel what heavy responsibilities are hismust not forget that with him to trip is to sin against the head. And how shall he decide when the time has at last come for making the attempt? Before the incidents of a mans life can be exploited without any risk of mischief, how much time should elapse? A month, say the publishers, each one of whom runs his own special biographical series, and keeps his own special bevy of recording angels writing against time and against each other. Thirty years, said one whose life-wisdom was so perfect as to be in a world like ours almost an adequate substitute for the morality he lackedTalleyrand.

Of all forms of literary art biography demands from the artist not only the greatest courage, but also the happiest combination of the highest gifts. To succeed in painting the portrait of Achilles or of Priam, of Hamlet or of Othello, may be difficult, but is it as difficult as to succeed in painting the portrait of Browning or Rossetti? Surely not. In the one case an intense dramatic imagination is needed, and nothing more. If Homers Achaian and Trojan heroes were falsely limned, not they, but Homers art, would suffer the injury. If for the purposes of art the poet unduly exalted this one or unduly abased thatif he misread one incident in the mythical life of Achilles, and another in the mythical life of Hectorhe did wrong to his art undoubtedly, but none to the memory of a dead man, and none to the peace of a living one. But with him who would paint the portrait of Browning or Rossetti how different is the case! Although he requires the poets vision before he can paint a living picture of his subject, the task he has set himself to do is something more than artistic: before everything else it is fiduciary.

A trustee whose trust fund is biographical truth, he has, after collecting and marshalling all the facts that come to his hand, to decide what is truth as indicated by those generalized facts. But having done this, he has to decide what is the proper time for giving the world the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truthwhat is the proper time? In the biographers relation to the dead man on the one-hand and to the public on the other should he be so unhappy as to forget that time is of the very essence of the contractshould he forget that so inwoven is human life that truth spoken at the wrong moment may be a greater mischief-worker than errorhe may, if conscientious, have to remember that forgetfulness of his during the remainder of his days. He who thinks that truth may not be sometimes as mischievous as a pestilence knows but little of this mysterious and wonderful net of human life. But if this is so with regard to truth, how much more is it so with regard to mere matter of fact? Fact-worship, document-worship, is at once the crowning folly and the crowning vice of our time. To mistake a fact for a truth, and to give the world that; to throw facts about and documents about heedless of the mischief they may workwronging the dead and wronging the livingthis is actually paraded as a virtue in these days.

Here is a case in point. Down to the very last moment of his life Rossettis feeling towards his great contemporary Tennyson was that of the deepest admiration, and yet what says the documentary evidence as given to the world by Rossettis brother? It shows that Rossetti used an extremely unpleasant phrase concerning a letter from Tennyson acknowledging the receipt of Rossettis first volume of poems in 1870. Those who have heard Tennyson speak of Rossetti know that to use this phrase in relation to any letter of his dealing with Rossettis poetry was to misunderstand it. Yet here are the unpleasant words of a hasty mood, rather shabby, in print. And why? Because the public has become so demoralized that its feast of facts, its feast of documents it must have, come what will. But even supposing that the public had any rights whatsoever in regard to a man of genius, which we deny, what are letters as indications of a mans character? Of all modes of expression is not the epistolary mode that in which mans instinct for using language to disguise his thought is most likely to exercise itself? There is likely to be far more deep sincerity in a sonnet than in a letter. It is no exaggeration to say that the common courtesies of life demand a certain amount of what is called blarney in a letterespecially in an eminent mans letterwhich would ruin a sonnet. And this must be steadily borne in mind at a time like ours, when private letters are bought and sold like any other article of merchandise, not only immediately after a mans death, but during his lifetime.

With regard to literary men, their letters in former times were simply artistic compositions; hence as indications of character they must be judged by the same canons as literary essays would be judged. In both cases the writer had full space and full time to qualify his statements of opinion; in both cases he was without excuse for throwing out anything heedlessly. Not only in Walpoles case and Grays, but also in Charles Lambs, we apply the same rules of criticism to the letters as we apply to the published utterances that appeared in the writers lifetime. But now, when letters are just the hurried expression of the moment, when ill-considered thingsoften rash thingsare said which either in literary compositions or in conversation would have been, if said at all, greatly qualifiedthe greatest injustice that can be done to a writer is to print his letters indiscriminately. Especially is this the case with Rossetti. All who knew him speak of him as being a superb critic, and a superb critic he was. But his printed letters show nothing of the kind. On literary subjects they are often full of over-statement and of biased judgment. Here is the explanation: in conversation he had a way of perpetrating a brilliant critical paradox for the very purpose of qualifying it, turning it about, colouring it by the lights of his wonderful fancy, until at last it became something quite different from the original paradox, and full of truth and wisdom. But when such a paradox went off in a letter, there it remained unqualified; and they who, not having known him, scoff at his friends who claim for him the honours of a great critic, seem to scoff with reason.

1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse