RICHARD LE GALLIENNE
LONDON: JOHN LANE
CHICAGO: H.S. STONE AND CO.
MAGGIE LE GALLIENNE
Poor are the gifts of the poet— Nothing but words! The gifts of kings are gold, Silver, and flocks and herds, Garments of strange soft silk, Feathers of wonderful birds, Jewels and precious stones, And horses white as the milk— These are the gifts of kings: But the gifts that the poet brings Are nothing but words.
Forty thousand words! Take them—a gift of flies! Words that should have been birds, Words that should have been flowers, Words that should have been stars In the eternal skies. Forty thousand words! Forty thousand tears— All out of two sad eyes.
A SEVENTH-STORY HEAVEN, 1 SPRING BY PARCEL POST, 20 THE GREAT MERRY-GO-ROUND, 27 THE BURIAL OF ROMEO AND JULIET, 39 VARIATIONS UPON WHITEBAIT, 49 THE ANSWER OF THE ROSE, 58 ABOUT THE SECURITIES, 67 THE BOOM IN YELLOW, 79 LETTER TO AN UNSUCCESSFUL LITERARY MAN, 90 A POET IN THE CITY, 98 BROWN ROSES, 108 THE DONKEY THAT LOVED A STAR, 112 ON LOVING ONE'S ENEMIES, 119 THE DRAMATIC ART OF LIFE, 125 THE ARBITRARY CLASSIFICATION OF SEX, 135 THE FALLACY OF A NATION, 145 THE GREATNESS OF MAN, 154 DEATH AND TWO FRIENDS, 171 A SEAPORT IN THE MOON, 187
A SEVENTH-STORY HEAVEN
At one end of the city that I love there is a tall, dingy pile of offices that has evidently seen more prosperous fortunes. It is not the aristocratic end. It is remote from the lordly street of the fine shops of the fair women, where in the summer afternoons the gay bank clerks parade arm-in-arm in the wake of the tempestuous petticoat. It lies aside from the great exchange which looks like a scene from Romeo and Juliet in the moonlight, from the town-hall from whose clocked and gilded cupola ring sweet chimes at midnight, and whence, throned above the city, a golden Britannia, in the sight of all men, is seen visibly ruling the waves—while in the square below the death of Nelson is played all day in stone, with a frieze of his noble words about the pedestal. England expects! What an influence that stirring challenge has yet upon the hearts of men may be seen by any one who will study the faces of the busy, imaginative cotton-brokers, who, in the thronged and humming mornings, sell what they have never seen to a customer they will never see.
In fact, the end I mean is just the very opposite end to that. It is the end where the cotton that everybody sells and nobody buys is seen, piled in great white stacks, or swinging in the air from the necks of mighty cranes, cranes that could nip up an elephant with as little ado, and set him down on the wharf, with a box on his ugly ears for his cowardly trumpeting. It is the end that smells of tar, the domain of the harbourmasters, where the sailor finds a 'home,'—not too sweet, and where the wild sea is tamed in a maze of granite squares and basins; the end where the riggings and buildings rise side by side, and a clerk might swing himself out upon the yards from his top-floor desk. Here is the Custom House, and the conversation that shines is full of freightage and dock dues; here are the shops that sell nothing but oilskins, sextants, and parrots, and here the taverns do a mighty trade in rum.
It was in this quarter, for a brief sweet time, that Love and Beauty made their strange home, as though a pair of halcyons should choose to nest in the masthead of a cattleship. Love and Beauty chose this quarter, as, alas! Love and Beauty must choose so many things—for its cheapness. Love and Beauty were poor, and office rents in this quarter were exceptionally low. But what should Love and Beauty do with an office? Love was a poor poet in need of a room for his bed and his rhymes, and Beauty was a little blue-eyed girl who loved him.
It was a shabby, forbidding place, gloomy and comfortless as a warehouse on the banks of Styx. No one but Love and Beauty would have dared to choose it for their home. But Love and Beauty have a great confidence in themselves—a confidence curiously supported by history,—and they never had a moment's doubt that this place was as good as another for an earthly Paradise. So Love signed an agreement for one great room at the very top, the very masthead of the building, and Beauty made it pretty with muslin curtains, flowers, and dainty makeshifts of furniture, but chiefly with the light of her own heavenly face. A stroke of luck coming one day to the poet, the lovers, with that extravagance which the poor alone have the courage to enjoy, procured a piano on the kind-hearted hire-purchase system, a system specially conceived for lovers. Then, indeed, for many a wonderful night that room was not only on the seventh floor, but in the seventh heaven; and as Beauty would sit at the piano, with her long hair flying loose, and her soul like a whirl of starlight about her brows, a stranger peering in across the soft lamplight, seeing her face, hearing her voice, would deem that the long climb, flight after flight of dreary stair, had been appropriately rewarded by a glimpse of heaven.
Certainly it must have seemed a strange contrast from the life about and below it. The foot of that infernal stair plunged in the warm rum-and-thick-twist atmosphere of a sailor's tavern—and 'The Jolly Shipmates' was a house of entertainment by no means to be despised. Often have I sat there with the poet, drinking the whisky from which Scotland takes its name, among wondering sea-boots and sou'-westers, who could make nothing of that wild hair and that still wilder talk.
From the kingdom of rum and tar you mounted into a zone of commission agents fund shipbrokers, a chill, unoccupied region, in which every small office bore the names of half a dozen different firms, and yet somehow could not contrive to look busy. Finally came an airy echoing landing, a region of empty rooms, which the landlords in vain recommended as studios to a city that loved not art. Here dwelt the keeper and his kind-hearted little wife, and no one besides save Love and Beauty. There was thus a feeling of rarefaction in the atmosphere, as though at this height it was only the Alpine flora of humanity that could find root and breathing. But once along the bare passage and through a certain door, and what a sudden translation it was into a gracious world of books and flowers and the peace they always bring.
Once upon a time, in that enchanted past where dwell all the dreams we love best, precisely, with loving punctuality, at five in the afternoon, a pretty, girlish figure, like Persephone escaping from the shades, stole through the rough sailors at the foot of that sordid Jacob's ladder and made her way to the little heaven at the top.
I shall not describe her, for the good reason that I cannot. Leonardo, ever curious of the beauty that was most strangely exquisite, once in an inspired hour painted such a face, a face wrought of the porcelain of earth with the art of heaven. But, whoever should paint it, God certainly made it—must have been the comment of any one who caught a glimpse of that little figure vanishing heavenwards up that stair, like an Assumption of Fra Angelico's—that is, any one interested in art and angels.
She had not long to wait outside the door she sought, for the poet, who had listened all day for the sound, had ears for the whisper of her skirts as she came down the corridor, and before she had time to knock had already folded her in his arms. The two babes in that thieves' wood of commission agents and shipbrokers stood silent together for a moment, in the deep security of a kiss such as the richest millionaire could never buy—and then they fell to comparing notes of their day's work. The poet had had one of his rare good days. He had made no money, his post had been even more disappointing than usual,—but he had written a poem, the best he had ever written, he said, as he always said of his last new thing. He had been burning to read it to somebody all afternoon—had with difficulty refrained from reading it to the loquacious little keeper's wife as she brought him some coals—so it was not to be expected that he should wait a minute before reading it to her whom indeed it strove to celebrate. With arms round each other's necks, they bent over the table littered with the new-born poem, all blots and dashes like the first draft of a composer's score, and the poet, deftly picking his way among the erasures and interlineations, read aloud the beautiful words—with a full sense of their beauty!—to ears that deemed them more beautiful even than they were. The owners of this now valuable copyright allow me to irradiate my prose with three of the verses.
'Ah! what,' half-chanted, half-crooned the poet—
'Ah! what a garden is your hair!— Such treasure as the kings of old, In coffers of the beaten gold, Laid up on earth—and left it there.'
So tender a reference to hair whose beauty others beside the poet had loved must needs make a tender interruption—the only kind of interruption the poet could have forgiven—and 'Who,' he continued—
'Who was the artist of your mouth? What master out of old Japan Wrought it so dangerous to man ...'
And here it was but natural that laughter and kisses should once more interrupt—
'Those strange blue jewels of your eyes, Painting the lily of your face, What goldsmith set them in their place— Forget-me-nots of Paradise?
'And that blest river of your voice, Whose merry silver stirs the rest Of water-lilies in your breast ...'
At last, in spite of more interruptions, the poem came to an end—whereupon, of course, the poet immediately read it through once more from the beginning, its personal and emotional elements, he felt, having been done more justice on a first reading than its artistic excellences.
'Why, darling, it is splendid,' was his little sweetheart's comment; 'you know how happy it makes me to think it was written for me, don't you?' And she took his hands and looked up at him with eyes like the morning sky.
Romance in poetry is almost exclusively associated with very refined ethereal matters, stars and flowers and such like—happily, in actual life it is often associated with much humbler objects. Lovers, like children, can make their paradises out of the quaintest materials. Indeed, our paradises, if we only knew, are always cheap enough; it is our hells that are so expensive. Now these lovers—like, if I mistake not, many other true lovers before and since—when they were particularly happy, when some special piece of good luck had befallen them, could think of no better paradise than a little dinner together in their seventh-story heaven. 'Ah! wilderness were Paradise enow!'
To-night was obviously such an occasion. But, alas! where was the money to come from? They didn't need much—for it is wonderful how happy you can be on five shillings, if you only know how. At the same time it is difficult to be happy on ninepence—which was the entire fortune of the lovers at the moment. Beauty laughingly suggested that her celebrated hair might prove worth the price of their dinner. The poet thought a pawnbroker might surely be found to advance ten shillings on his poem—the original MS. too,—else had they nothing to pawn, save a few gold and silver dreams which they couldn't spare. What was to be done? Sell some books, of course! It made them shudder to think how many poets they had eaten in this fashion. It was sheer cannibalism—but what was to be done? Their slender stock of books had been reduced entirely to poetry. If there had only been a philosopher or a modern novelist, the sacrifice wouldn't have seemed so unnatural. And then Beauty's eyes fell upon a very fat informing-looking volume on the poet's desk.
'Wouldn't this do?' she said.
'Why, of course!' he exclaimed; 'the very thing. A new history of socialism just sent me for review. Hang the review; we want our dinner, don't we, little one? And then I've read the preface, and looked through the index—quite enough to make a column of, with a plentiful supply of general principles thrown in! Why, of course, there's our dinner for certain, dull and indigestible as it looks. It's worth fifty minor poets at old Moser's. Come along....'
So off went the happy pair—ah! how much happier was Beauty than ever so many fine ladies one knows who have only, so to say, to rub their wedding-rings for a banquet to rise out of the ground, with the most distinguished guests around the table, champagne of the best, and conversation of the worst.
Old Moser found histories of socialism profitable, more profitable perhaps than socialism, and he actually gave five-and-sixpence for the volume. With the ninepence already in their pockets, you will see that they were now possessors of quite a small fortune. Six-and-threepence! It wouldn't pay for one's lunch nowadays. Ah! but that is because the poor alone know the art of dining.
You needn't wish to be happier and merrier than those two lovers, as they gaily hastened to that bright and cosy corner of the town where those lovely ham-and-beef shops make glad the faces of the passers-by. O those hams with their honest shining faces, polished like mahogany—and the man inside so happy all day slicing them with those wonderful long knives (which, of course, the superior class of reader has never seen) worn away to a veritable thread, a mere wire, but keen as Excalibur. Beauty used to calculate in her quaint way how much steel was worn away with each pound of ham, and how much therefore went to the sandwich. And what an artist was the carver! What a true eye! what a firm, flexible wrist! never a shaving of fat too much—he was too great an artist for that. Then there were those dear little cream cheeses, and those little brown jugs of yellow cream come all the way from Devonshire—you could hear the cows lowing across the rich pasture, and hear the milkmaids singing and the milk whizzing into the pail, as you looked at them.
And then those perfectly lovely sausages—I beg the reader's pardon! I forgot that the very mention of the word smacks of vulgarity. Yet, all the same, I venture to think that a secret taste for sausages among the upper classes is more widespread than we have any idea of. I confess that Beauty and her poet were at first ashamed of admitting their vulgar frailty to each other. They needed to know each other very well first. Yet there is nothing, when once confessed, that brings two people so close as—a taste for sausages.
'You darling!' exclaimed Beauty, with something like tears in her voice, when her poet first admitted this touch of nature—and then next moment they were in fits of laughter that a common taste for a very 'low' food should bring tears to their eyes! But such are the vagaries of love—as you will know, if you know anything about it—'vulgar,' no doubt, though only the vulgar would so describe them—for it is only vulgarity that is always 'refined.'
Then there was the florist's to visit. What beautiful trades some people ply! To sell flowers is surely like dealing in fairies. Beautiful must grow the hands that wire them, and sweet the flower-girl's every thought!
There remained but the wine merchant's, or, had we not better say at once, the grocer's, for our lovers could afford no rarer vintages than Tintara or the golden burgundy of Australia; and it is wonderful to think what a sense of festivity one of those portly colonial flagons lent to their little dining-table. Sometimes, I may confide, when they wanted to feel very dissipated, and were very rich, they would allow themselves a small bottle of Benedictine—and you should have seen Beauty's eyes as she luxuriously sipped at her green little liqueur glass; for, like most innocent people, she enjoyed to the full the delight of feeling occasionally wicked. However, these were rare occasions, and this night was not one of them.
Half a pound of black grapes completed their shopping, and then, with their arms full of their purchases, they made their way home again, the two happiest people in what is, after all, a not unhappy world.
Then came the cooking and the laying of the table. For all her Leonardo face, Beauty was a great cook—like all good women, she was as earthly in some respects as she was heavenly in others, which I hold to be a wise combination—and, indeed, both were excellent cooks; and the poet was unrivalled at 'washing up,' which, I may say, is the only skeleton at these Bohemian feasts.
You should have seen the gusto with which Beauty pricked those sausages—I had better explain to the un-Bohemian reader that to attempt to cook a sausage without first pricking it vigorously with a fork, to allow for the expansion of its juicy gases, is like trying to smoke a cigar without first cutting off the end—and oh! to hear again their merry song as they writhed in torment in the hissing pan, like Christian martyrs raising hymns of praise from the very core of Smithfield fires.
Meanwhile, the poet would be surpassing himself in the setting-out of the little table, cutting up the bread reverently as though it were for an altar—as indeed it was,—studying the effect of the dish of tomatoes, now at this corner, now at that, arranging the flowers with much more care than he arranged the adjectives in his sonnets, and making ever so sumptuous an effect with that half a pound of grapes.
And then at last the little feast would begin, with a long grace of eyes meeting and hands clasping: true eyes that said, 'How good it is to behold you, to be awake together in this dream of life!' true hands that said, 'I will hold you fast for ever—not death even shall pluck you from my hand, shall loose this bond of you and me'; true eyes, true hands, that had immortal meanings far beyond the speech of mortal words.
And it had all come out of that dull history of socialism, and had cost little more than a crown! What lovely things can be made out of money! Strange to think that a little silver coin of no possible use or beauty in itself can be exchanged for so much tangible, beautiful pleasure. A piece of money is like a piece of opium, for in it lie locked up the most wonderful dreams—if you have only the brains and hearts to dream them.
When at last the little feast grew near its end, Love and Beauty would smoke their cigarettes together; and it was a favourite trick of theirs to lower the lamp a moment, so that they might see the stars rush down upon them through the skylight which hung above their table. It gave them a sense of great sentinels, far away out in the lonely universe, standing guard over them, seemed to say that their love was safe in the tender keeping of great forces. They were poor, but then they had the stars and the flowers and the great poets for their servants and friends; and, best of all, they had each other. Do you call that being poor?
And then, in the corner, stood that magical box with the ivory keys, whose strings waited ready night and day—strange media through which the myriad voices, the inner-sweet thoughts, of the great world-soul found speech, messengers of the stars to the heart, and of the heart to the stars.
Beauty's songs were very simple. She got little practice, for her poet only cared to have her sing over and over again the same sweet songs; and perhaps if you had heard her sing 'Ask nothing more of me, sweet,' or 'Darby and Joan,' you would have understood his indifference to variety.
At last the little feast is quite, quite finished. Beauty has gone home; her lover still carries her face in his heart as she waved and waved and waved to him from the rattling lighted tramcar; long he sits and sits thinking of her, gazing up at those lonely ancient stars; the air is still bright with her presence, sweet with her thoughts, warm with her kisses, and as he turns to the shut piano, he can still see her white hands on the keys and her girlish face raised in an ecstasy—Beata Beatrix—above the music.
'O love, my love! if I no more should see Thyself, nor on the earth the shadow of thee, Nor image of thine eyes in any spring— How then should sound upon Life's darkening slope The ground-whirl of the perished leaves of Hope, The wind of Death's imperishable wing!'
And then ... he would throw himself upon his bed, and burst into tears.
* * * * *
'And they are gone: aye, ages long ago These lovers fled away into the storm.'
That seventh-story heaven once more leads a dull life as the office of a ship-chandler, and harsh voices grate the air where Beauty sang. The books and the flowers and the lovers' faces are gone for ever. I suppose the stars are the same, and perhaps they sometimes look down through that roof-window, and wonder what has become of those two lovers who used to look up at them so fearlessly long ago.
But friends of mine who believe in God say that He has given His angels charge concerning that dingy old seventh-floor heaven, and that, for those who have eyes to see, there is no place where a great dream has been dreamed that is not thus watched over by the guardian angels of memory.
For M. Le G., 25 September 1895.
SPRING BY PARCEL POST
They've taken all the spring from the country to the town— Like the butter and the eggs, and the milk from the cow....
So began to jig and jingle my thoughts as in my letters and newspapers this morning I read, buried alive among the solitary fastnesses of the Surrey hills, the last news from town. The news I envied most was that spring had already reached London. 'Now,' ran a pretty article on spring fashions, 'the sunshine makes bright the streets, and the flower-baskets, like huge bouquets, announce the gay arrival of spring.' I looked up and out through my hillside window. The black ridge on the other side of the valley stood a grim wall of burnt heather against the sky—which sky, like the bullets in the nursery rhyme, was made unmistakably of lead; a close rain was falling methodically, and, generally speaking, the world looked like a soaked mackintosh. It wasn't much like the gay arrival of spring, and grimly I mused on the advantages of life in town.
Certainly, it did seem hard, I reflected, that town should be ahead of us even in such a country matter as spring. Flower-baskets indeed! Why, we haven't as much as a daisy for miles around. It is true that on the terrace there the crocuses blaze like a street on fire, that the primroses thicken into clumps, lying among their green leaves like pounds of country butter; it is true that the blue cones of the little grape hyacinth are there, quaintly formal as a child's toy-flowers; yes! and the big Dutch hyacinths are already shamelessly enceinte with their buxom waxen blooms, so fat and fragrant—(one is already delivered of a fine blossom. Well, that is a fine baby, to be sure! say the other hyacinths, with babes no less bonny under their own green aprons—all waiting for the doctor sun). Then among the blue-green blades of the narcissus, here and there you see a stem topped with a creamish chrysalis-like envelope, from which will soon emerge a beautiful eye, rayed round with white wings, looking as though it were meant to fly, but remaining rooted—a butterfly on a stalk; while all the beds are crowded with indeterminate beak and blade, pushing and elbowing each other for a look at the sun, which, however, sulkily declines to look at them. It is true there is spring on the terrace, but even so it is spring imported from the town—spring bought in Holborn, spring delivered free by parcel post; for where would the terrace have been but for the city seedsman—that magician who sends you strangely spotted beans and mysterious bulbs in shrivelled cerements, weird little flower-mummies that suggest centuries of forgotten silence in painted Egyptian tombs. This strange and shrivelled thing can surely never live again, we say, as we hold it in our hands, seeing not the glowing circles of colour, tiny rings of Saturn, packed so carefully inside this flower-egg, the folds of green and silver silk wound round and round the precious life within.
But, of course, this is all the seedsman's cunning, and no credit to Nature; and I repeat, that were it not for railways and the parcel post—goodness knows whether we should ever get any spring at all in the country! Think of the days when it had to travel down by stage-coach. For, left to herself, what is the best Nature can do for you with March well on the way? Personally, I find the face of the country practically unchanged. It is, to all intents and purposes, the same as it has been for the last three or four months—as grim, as unadorned, as bleak, as draughty, and generally as comfortless as ever. There isn't a flower to be seen, hardly a bird worth listening to, not a tree that is not winter-naked, and not a chair to sit down upon. If you want flowers on your walks you must bring them with you; songs, you must take a poet under your arm; and if you want to rest, lean laboriously on your stick—or take your chance of rheumatism.
Of course your specialists, your botanists, your nature-detectives, will tell you otherwise. They have surprised a violet in the act of blossoming; after long and excited chase have discovered a clump of primroses in their wild state; seen one butterfly, heard one cuckoo. But as one swallow does not make a summer, it takes more than one cuckoo to make a spring. I confess that only yesterday I saw three sulphur butterflies, with my own eyes; I admit the catkins, and the silver-notched palm; and I am told on good colour-authority that there is a lovely purplish bloom, almost like plum-bloom, over certain copses in the valley; by taking thought, I have observed the long horizontal arms of the beech growing spurred with little forked branches of spear-shaped buds, and I see little green nipples pushing out through the wolf-coloured rind of the dwarf fir-trees. Spring is arming in secret to attack the winter—that is sure enough, but spring in secret is no spring for me. I want to see her marching gaily with green pennons, and flashing sun-blades, and a good band.
I want butterflies as they have them at the Lyceum—'butterflies all white,' 'butterflies all blue,' 'butterflies of gold,' and I should particularly fancy 'butterflies all black.' But there, again, you see,—you must go to town, within hearing of Mrs. Patrick Campbell's voix d'or. I want the meadows thickly inlaid with buttercups and daisies; I want the trees thick with green leaves, the sky all larks and sunshine; I want hawthorn and wild roses—both at once; I want some go, some colour, some warmth in the world. Oh, where are the pipes of Pan?
The pipes of Pan are in town, playing at street corners and in the centres of crowded circuses, piled high with flower-baskets blazing with refulgent flowery masses of white and gold. Here are the flowers you can only buy in town; simple flowers enough, but only to be had in town. Here are fragrant banks of violets every few yards, conflagrations of daffodils at every crossing, and narcissus in scented starry garlands for your hair.
You wander through the Strand, or along Regent Street, as through the meadows of Enna—sweet scents, sweet sounds, sweet shapes, are all about you; the town-butterflies, white, blue, and gold, 'wheel and shine' and flutter from shop to shop, suddenly resurgent from their winter wardrobes as from a chrysalis; bright eyes flash and flirt along the merry, jostling street, while the sun pours out his golden wine overhead, splashing it about from gilded domes and bright-faced windows—and ever are the voices at the corners and the crossings calling out the sweet flower-names of the spring!
* * * * *
But here in the country it is still all rain and iron. I am tired of waiting for this slow-moving provincial spring. Let us to the town to meet the spring—for:
They've taken all the spring from the country to the town— Like the butter and the eggs, and the milk from the cow; And if you want a primrose, you write to London now, And if you need a nightingale, well,—Whiteley sends it down.
THE GREAT MERRY-GO-ROUND
In an age curious of new pleasures, the merry-go-round seems still to maintain its ancient popularity. I was the other day the delighted, indeed the fascinated, spectator of one in full swing in an old Thames-side town. It was a very superior example, with a central musical engine of extraordinary splendour, and horses that actually curveted, as they swirled maddeningly round to the strains of 'The Man that Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.' How I longed to join the wild riders! But though I am a brave man, I confess that to ride a merry-go-round in front of a laughter-loving Cockney public is more than I can dare. I had to content myself with watching the faces of the riders. I noticed particularly one bright-eyed little girl, whose whole passionate young soul seemed to be on fire with ecstasy, and for whom it was not difficult to prophesy trouble when time should bring her within reach of more dangerous excitements. Then there was a stolid little boy, dull and unmoved in expression, as though he were in church. Life, one felt sure, would be safe enough, and stupid enough, for him; the world would have no music to stir or draw him. The fifes would go down the street with a sweet sound of marching feet, and the eyes of other men would brighten and their blood be all glancing spears and streaming banners, but he would remain behind his counter; from the strange hill beyond the town the dear, unholy music, so lovely in the ears of other men and maids, would call to him in vain, and morning and evening the stars would sing above his draper's shop, but he never hear a word.
What particularly struck me was the number of quite grown-up, even elderly, people who came and had their pennyworth of horse-exercise. Now it was a grave young workman quietly smoking his pipe as he revolved; now it was a stout middle-aged woman returning from marketing, on whom the Zulu music and the whirling horses laid their irresistible spells. Unless ye become as little children!
Is the Kingdom of Heaven really at hand? For, indeed, men and women, and perhaps particularly literary men and women, are once more becoming as little children in their pleasures.
Seriously, one of the most curious and significant of recent literary phenomena is the sudden return of the literary man to physical, and so-called 'Philistine,' pleasures and modes of recreation. Perhaps Stevenson set the fashion with his canoe and his donkey. But at the moment that he was valiantly daring any one to tell him whether there was anything better worth doing 'than fooling among boats,' Edward Fitzgerald, all unconscious and careless of literary fashions, was giving still more practical expression to the physical faith that was in him, by going shares in a Lowestoft herring-lugger, and throwing his heart as well as his money into the fortunes of its noble skipper 'Posh.' A literary man par excellence, Mr. Lang reproaches his sires for his present way of life—
'Why lay your gipsy freedom down And doom your child to pen and ink?'
and by steady and persistent golfing, and writing about angling and cricket, comes as near to the noble savage as is possible to so incorrigibly civilised a man. Mr. Henley—that Berserker of the pen—sings the sword with a vigour that makes one curious to see him using it, and we all know Mr. Kipling's views on the matter. Then Mr. Bernard Shaw rides a bicycle!
Those men of letters whose inclinations or opportunities do not lead them to these out-of-door, and more or less ferocious, pleasures seek to forget themselves at the music-hall, the Aquarium, or the numerous Earl's Court exhibitions. They become amateurs of foreign dancing, connoisseurs of the trapeze, or they leave their great minds at home and go up the Great Wheel. Earl's Court, particularly, is becoming quite a modern Vauxhall—Tan-ta-ra-ra! Earl's Court! Earl's Court!—and Mr. Imre Kiralfy, with his conceptions and designs, is to our generation what Albert Smith was to the age of Dickens and Edmund Yates.
It takes some experience of life to realise how right this is; to realise that, after all our fine philosophies and cocksure sciences, there is no better answer to the riddle of things than a good game of cricket or an exciting spin on one's 'bike.' The real inner significance of Earl's Court—Mr. Kiralfy will no doubt be prepared to hear—is the failure of science as an answer to life. We give up the riddle, and enjoy ourselves with our wiser children. Simple pleasures, no doubt, for the profound! But what is simple, and what is profound?
The simple joy we get from 'fooling among boats' on a summer day, the thrill of a well-hit ball, the rapture of a skilful dive, are no more easy to explain than the more complicated pleasures of literature, or art, or religion. And why is it—to come closer to our theme—that the round or the whirling have such attraction for us? What is the secret of the fascination of the circle? Why is it that the turning of anything, be it but a barrel-organ or a phrase, holds one as with an hypnotic power? I confess that I can never genuinely pity a knife-grinder, however needy. Think of the pleasure of driving that wheel all day, the merry chirp of the knife on the stone, and the crisp, bright spray of the flying sparks! Why, he does 'what some men dream of all their lives'! Wheels of all kinds have the same strange charm; mill-wheels, colliery-wheels, spinning-wheels, water-wheels, and wheeling waters: there may—who knows?—have been a certain pleasure in being broken on the wheel, and, at all events, that hideous punishment is another curious example of the fascination of the circle. It would take a whole volume to illustrate the prevalence of the circle in external nature, in history, and, even more significant, in language. We all know, or think we know, that the world is round—
'This orb—this round Of sight and sound,'
as Mr. Quiller Couch sings—though I remember a porter at school who was sure that it was flat, and who used to say that Hamlet's
'How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world!'
was a cryptic reference to Shakespeare's secret belief in his theory. Many of the things we love most are round. Is not money, according to the proverb, made round that it may go round, and are not the men most in demand described as 'all-round men'? Nor are all-round women without their admirers. Events, we know, move in a circle, as time moves in cycles—though, alas! not on them. The ballet and the bicycle are popular forms of the circle, and it is the charm of the essay to be 'roundabout.'
Again, how is it that that which on a small scale does not impress us at all, when on a large scale impresses us so much? What is the secret of the impressiveness of size, bulk, height, depth, speed, and mileage? Philosophically, a mountain is no more wonderful than a molehill, yet no man is knighted for climbing a molehill. One little drop of water and one little grain of sand are essentially as wonderful as 'the mighty ocean' or 'the beauteous land' to which they contribute. A balloon is no more wonderful than an air-bubble, and were you to build an Atlantic liner as big as the Isle of Wight it would really be no more remarkable than an average steam-launch. Nobody marvels at the speed of a snail, yet, given a snail's pace to start with, an express train follows as a matter of course. Movement, not the rate of movement, is the mystery. Precisely the same materials, the same forces, the same methods, are employed in the little as in the big of these examples. Why should mere accumulation, reiteration, and magnification make the difference? We may ask why? But it does, for all that. If we answer that these mammoth multiplications impress us because they are so much bigger, taller, fatter, faster, etc., than we are, the question arises—How many times bigger than a man must a mountain be before it impresses us? Perhaps the problem has already been tackled by the schoolman who pondered how many angels could dance on the point of a needle.
However, these and similar first principles, it will readily be seen, are far from being irrelevant for the visitor at the Earl's Court Exhibition. No doubt they are continually discussed by the thousands who daily and nightly throng that very charming dream-world which Mr. Kiralfy has built 'midmost the beating' of our 'steely sea.'
To an age that is over-read and over-fed Mr. Kiralfy brings the message: 'Leave your great minds at home, and go up the Great Wheel!' and I heard his voice and obeyed. The sensation is, I should say, something between going up in a balloon and being upon shipboard—a sensation compounded, maybe, of the creaking of the circular rigging, the pleasure of rising in the air, the freshening of the air as you ascend, the strange feeling of the earth receding and spreading out beneath you, the curious diminution of the people below—to their proper size. You will hear original minds all about you comparing them to ants, and it is curious to notice the involuntary feeling of contempt that possesses you as you watch them. I believe one has a half-defined illusion that we are growing greater as they are growing smaller. Ants and flies! ants and flies! with here and there a fiery centipede in the shape of a District train dashing in and out amongst them. We lose the power of understanding their motions, and their throngs and movements do indeed seem as purposeless at this height as the hurry-scurrying about an anthill. At this height, indeed, one seems to understand how small a matter a bank smash may seem to the Almighty; though, as a lady said to me—as we clung tightly together in terror 'a-top of the topmost bough'—it must be gratifying to see so many churches.
Those who would keep their illusions about the beauty of London had better stay below, at least in the daytime, for it makes one's heart sink to look on those miles and miles of sordid grey roofs huddled in meaningless rows and crescents, just for all the world like a huge child's box of wooden bricks waiting to be arranged into some intelligible pattern. Of course, this is not London proper. Were the Great Wheel set up in Trafalgar Square, one is fain to hope that the view from it would be less disheartening—though it might be better not to try.
By night, except for the bright oases of the Indian Exhibition, the view is little more than a black blank, a great inky plain with faint sparks and rows of light here and there, as though the world had been made of saltpetre paper, and had lately been set fire to. Were you a traveller from Mars you would say that the world was very badly lighted. But, for all that, night is the time for the Great Wheel, for the conflagration of pleasure at our feet makes us forget the void dark beyond. Then the Wheel seems like a great revolving spider's web, with fireflies entangled in it at every turn, and the little engine-house at the centre, with its two electric lights, seems like the great lord spider, with monstrous pearls for his eyes. And, as in the daytime the height robs the depth of its significance, strips poor humanity of any semblance of impressive or attractive meaning, at night the effect is just the reverse. What a fairy-world is this opening out beneath our feet, with its golden glowing squares and circles and palaces, with its lamplit gardens and pagodas! and who are these gay and beautiful beings flitting hither and thither, and passing from one bright garden to another on the stream of pleasure? If this many-coloured, passionate dream be really human life, let us hasten to be down amongst it once more! And, after all, is not this flattering night aspect of the world more true than that disheartening countenance of it in the daylight? Those golden squares and glowing gardens and flashing waters are, of course, an illusion of the magician Kiralfy's, yet what power could the illusion have upon us without the realities of beauty and love and pleasure it attracts there?
THE BURIAL OF ROMEO AND JULIET
One morning of all mornings the citizens of Verona were startled by strange news. Tragic forces, to which they had been accustomed to pay little heed, had been at work in their city during the dark hours, and young Romeo of the Montagues, handsome, devil-may-care lad as they had known him, and little Juliet of the Capulets, that madcap, merry, gentle young mistress, lay dead, side by side in the church of Santa Maria.
Death! surely they were used to death! and Love, flower of the clove! they were used to love. But here were love and death, that somehow they could not understand. So they hurried in wondering groups to Santa Maria, that they might gaze at the dead lovers, and thus perhaps come to understand.
Romeo and Juliet lay receiving their guests in the vault of the Capulets, with a strange smile of welcome for all who came. And their presence-chamber was bright with candles and flowers, and sweet with the sweet smell of death. The air that had drunk in their wild words and their last long looks of heavenly love still hung about the dark corners, as the air where a rose has been holds a little while the memory of its breath. Yes! that morning, in that dank but shining tomb, you might draw into you the very breath of love. The air you breathed had passed through the sweet lungs of Juliet, it had been etherealised with her holy passion, and washed clean with her lovely words. And now, for a little while yet, it feasted on the fair peace of their glad young faces. To-morrow, or the next day, or the next week, they would belong to the unvisited treasure-house of the past, but now this morning of all mornings, this day that could never come again, they still belonged to the real and radiant present.
Flowers there are that bloom but once in a hundred years, but here in this tomb had blossomed one of those marvellous flowers that bloom but once throughout eternity. Poets and kings in after-times, O men of Verona, will yearn to have seen what you look upon to-day. For you, you thick and greasy citizens, are chosen out of all time to behold this beauty. There were once in the world thousands of men and women who had heard the very words of Christ as they fell from His lips, words that we may only read. There have been men, actual living, foolish men, who have looked on at the valour of Horatius, men who from the crowded banks of the Nile have watched the living body of Cleopatra step into her gilded barge, men who, standing idle in the streets of Florence, have seen the love-light start in the great Dante's eyes, seen his hand move to his laden heart, as the little Beatrice passed him by among her maidens. Base men of the past, by the indulgent accident of time, have been granted to behold these wonders, and now for you, O men of Verona, a like wonder has been born.
* * * * *
Romeo and Juliet lay receiving their guests in the vault of the Capulets, with a strange smile of welcome for all who came.
It had been an innocent little desire, yet had all the world come against it. It had been a simple little desire, yet too strong for all the world to break.
Strange this enmity of the world to love, as though men should take arms against the song of a bird, or plot against the opening of a flower.
But now, what was this strange homage to a love that a few hours ago had no friend in all the daylight, a fearful bliss beneath the secret moon? But yesterday a stupid old nurse, a herb-gathering friar, a rascally apothecary, had been their only friends, and now was all the world come here to do their bidding.
No need to steal again beneath the shade of orchard walls, no need again to heed if lark or nightingale sang in the reddening east. For the world had grown all warm to love, warm and kind as June to the rose.
* * * * *
Three days lay Romeo and Juliet receiving their guests in the vault of the Capulets, with that strange smile of welcome for all who came. Three days the world worshipped the love it could not understand, but still came dense and denser throngs to worship. For the news of the wonderful flower that had blossomed in Verona had gone far and wide, and travellers from distant cities kept pouring in to look at those strange young lovers, who had deemed the world well lost so that they might leave it together.
Then the governor of the city decreed, as the time drew near when the two lovers must be left to their peace, and it was ill that any should lose the sight of this marvel, that on the fourth day they should be carried through the streets in the eyes of all the people, and then be buried together in the vault of the Capulets—for by this burial in the same tomb, says the old chronicler who was first honoured with the telling of their sweet story, the governor hoped to bring about a peace between the Montagues and Capulets, at least for a little while.
Meanwhile, though Verona was a city of many trades and professions, and love and death were idle things, yet was there little said of business all these days, and little else done but talk of the two lovers, of whom, indeed, it was true, as it has seldom been true out of Holy Writ, that death was swallowed up in victory. During these days also there stole a strange sweetness over the city, as though the very spirit of love had nested there, and was filling the air with its soft breathing—as when in the first days of spring the birds sing so sweetly that broken hearts must hide away, and hard hearts grow a little kind. Men once more spoke kindly to their wives, and even coarse faces wore a gentle light,—just as sometimes at evening the setting sun will turn to tenderness even black rocks and frowning towers.
There were many wild stories afloat about the end of the lovers. Some said one way and some another. By some the story went that Romeo was already dead before Juliet had awakened from her swoon, but others declared that the poison had not worked upon him until Juliet's awakening had made him awhile forget that he was to die. There were those who professed to know the very words of their wild farewell, and in fact there had been several witnesses of Juliet's agony over the body of her lord. These had told how first she had raved and clung to him, and called him 'Romeo,' 'Sweet Sir Romeo,' 'Husband,' and many flower-like names, and had petted him and wooed him to come back. Then on a sudden she had cried, God-a-mercy—how cold thou art!' and looked at him long and strangely. Then had she grown stern, and anon soft. 'Canst thou not come back, my love? Then must I follow thee. Not so far art thou on the way of death, but that I shall overtake thee, and together shall we go to Pluto's realm, and seek a kinder world.'
Thereat she had plunged Romeo's dagger into her side, though some said she had stopped her heart's beating by the strong will of her great love. Yea—such were the distracted rumours—some averred that at the last she had curst Christ and His saints, and called upon Venus, who, it was rumoured in awestruck whispers, was being worshipped once more in secret corners of the world.
It was strong noon when, on the fourth day, Romeo and Juliet were carried through the bright and solemn streets, that the world might be saved; saved as ever by the spectacle and the worship of a mysterious nobility, [comma added by transcriber] an uncomprehended greatness, a beauty which haunts not its daily dreams, lifted up by the humble gaze of devout eyes into the empyrean of greater souls, stirred to an unfamiliar passion, and fired with glimpses of a strange unworldly truth.
In the light of the sun the faces of the two lovers, as they lay amid their flowers, seemed to have grown a little weary, but they still wore their sweet and royal smile, and their laurelled brows were very white and proud.
And in the faces that looked upon them, as they moved slowly by, with sweet death music, and the hushed marching of feet, and the wafted odour of lilies, there was to be seen strangely blent a great pity for their tragedy and a heavenly tenderness for their love. It was like a dream passing down the streets of a dream, so deep and tender was the silence, for only the hearts of men were speaking; though here and there a girl sobbed, or a young man buried his face in his sleeve, and the sternest eyes were dashed with the holy water of tears. And with the pity and tenderness, who shall say but that in all that silent heart-speech there was no little envy of the two who had loved so truly and died in the springtide of their love, before the ways of love had grown dusty with its summer, or dreary with its autumn, before its dreams had petrified into duties, and its passion deadened into use?
'Would it were thou and I,' said many wedded eyes one to the other, delusively warm and soft for a moment, but all cold and hard again on the morrow.
And maybe some poet would say in his heart—
'If you loved her living, my Romeo, what were your love could you but see her dead!' for indeed life has no beauty so wonderful as the beauty of death.
And, as in all places and times, there was a base remnant that gaped and worshipped not, and in their hearts resented all this distinction paid to a nobility they could not recognise, as the like had grumbled when Cimabue's Madonna had been carried through the streets in glory. But of these there is no need that we should take account, any more than of the beasts that moved head down amid the pastures outside the town, knowing not of the wonder that was passing within. For the ass will munch his thistles though the Son of Man be his rider, nor will the sheep look aside from his grazing though Apollo be the herdsman.
* * * * *
At length the sacred pageant was ended, gone like the passing of an aerial music, and the people went to their homes silent, with haunted eyes; while the Earth, which had given this beauty, took it back to herself, and one more Persephone of human loveliness was shut within the gates of the forgetful grave.
VARIATIONS UPON WHITEBAIT
A very Pre-Raphaelite friend of mine came to me one day and said a propos of his having designed a very Early English chair: 'After all, if one has anything to say one might as well put it into a chair!'
I thought the remark rather delicious, as also his other remark when one day in a curiosity-shop we were looking at another chair, which the dealer declared to be Norman. My friend seated himself in it very gravely, and after softly moving about from side to side, testing it, it would appear, by the sensation it imparted to the sitting portion of his limbs, he solemnly decided: 'I don't think the flavour of this chair is Norman!'
I thought of this Pre-Raphaelite brother as the Sphinx and I were seated a few evenings ago at our usual little dinner, in our usual little sheltered corner, on the Lover's Gallery of one of the great London restaurants. The Sphinx says that there is only one place in Europe where one can really dine, but as it is impossible to be always within reasonable train service of that Montsalvat of cookery, she consents to eat with me—she cannot call it dine—at the restaurant of which I speak. I being very simple-minded, untravelled, and unlanguaged, think it, in my Cockney heart, a very fine place indeed, with its white marble pillars surrounding the spacious peristyle, and flashing with a thousand brilliant lights and colours; with its stately cooks, clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful, ranged behind a great altar loaded with big silver dishes, and the sacred musicians of the temple ranged behind them—while in and out go the waiters, clothed in white and black, waiters so good and kind that I am compelled to think of Elijah being waited on by angels.
They have such an eye for a romance, too, and really take it personally to heart if it should befall that our little table is usurped by others that know not love. I like them, too, because they really seem to have an eye for the strange beauty and charm of the Sphinx, quite an unexpected taste for Botticelli. They ill conceal their envy of my lot, and sometimes, in the meditative pauses between the courses, I see them romantically reckoning how it might be possible by desperately saving up, by prodigious windfalls of tips, from unexampled despatch and sweetness in their ministrations, how it might be possible in ten years' time, perhaps even in five—the lady would wait five years! and her present lover could be artistically poisoned meanwhile!—how it might be possible to come and sue for her beautiful hand. Then a harsh British cry for 'waiter' comes like a rattle and scares away that beautiful dream-bird, though, as the poor dreamer speeds on the quest of roast beef for four, you can see it still circling with its wonderful blue feathers around his pomatumed head.
Ah, yes, the waiters know that the Sphinx is no ordinary woman. She cannot conceal even from them the mystical star of her face, they too catch far echoes of the strange music of her brain, they too grow dreamy with dropped hints of fragrance from the rose of her wonderful heart.
How reverently do they help her doff her little cloak of silk and lace! with what a worshipful inclination of the head, as in the presence of a deity, do they await her verdict of choice between rival soups—shall it be 'clear or thick'? And when she decides on 'thick,' how relieved they seem to be, as if—well, some few matters remain undecided in the universe, but never mind, this is settled for ever—no more doubts possible on one portentous issue, at any rate—Madame will take her soup 'thick.'
'On such a night' our talk fell upon whitebait.
As the Sphinx's silver fork rustled among the withered silver upon her plate, she turned to me and said:
'Have you ever thought what beautiful little things these whitebait are?'
'Oh, yes,' I replied, 'they are the daisies of the deep sea, the threepenny-pieces of the ocean.'
'You dear!' said the Sphinx, who is alone in the world in thinking me awfully clever. 'Go on, say something else, something pretty about whitebait—there's a subject for you!'
Then it was that, fortunately, I remembered my Pre-Raphaelite friend, and I sententiously remarked: 'Of course, if one has anything to say one cannot do better than say it about whitebait.... Well, whitebait....'
But here, providentially, the band of the beef—that is, the band behind the beef; that is, the band that nightly hymns the beef (the phrase is to be had in three qualities)—struck up the overture from Tannhaeuser, which is not the only music that makes the Sphinx forget my existence; and thus, forgetting me, she momentarily forgot the whitebait. But I remembered, remembered hard—worked at pretty things, as metal-workers punch out their flowers of brass and copper. The music swirled about us like golden waves, in which swam myriad whitebait, like showers of tiny stars, like falling snow. To me it was one grand processional of whitebait, silver ripples upon streams of gold.
The music stopped. The Sphinx turned to me with the soul of Wagner in her eyes, and then she turned to the waiter: 'Would it be possible,' she said, 'to persuade the bandmaster to play that wonderful thing over again?'
The waiter seemed a little doubtful, even for the Sphinx, but he went off to the bandmaster with the air of a man who has at last an opportunity to show that he can dare all for love. Personally, I have a suspicion that he poured his month's savings at the bandmaster's feet, and begged him to do this thing for the most wonderful lady in the world; or perhaps the bandmaster was really a musician, and his musician's heart was touched—lonely there amid the beef—to think that there was really some one, invisible though she were to him, some shrouded silver presence, up there among the beefeaters, who really loved to hear great music. Perhaps it was thus made a night he has never forgotten; perhaps it changed the whole course of his life—who knows? The sweet reassuring request may have come to him at a moment when, sick at heart, he was deciding to abandon real music for ever, and settle down amid the beef and the beef-music of Old England.
Well, however it was, the waiter came back radiant with a 'Yes' on every shining part of him, and if the Tannhaeuser had been played well at first, certainly the orchestra surpassed themselves this second time.
When the great jinnee of music had once more swept out of the hall, the Sphinx turned with shining eyes to the waiter:
'Take,' she said, 'take these tears to the bandmaster. He has indeed earned them.'
'Tears, little one!' I said. 'See how they swim like whitebait in the fishpools of your eyes!'
'Oh, yes, the whitebait,' rejoined the Sphinx, glad of a subject to hide her emotion. 'Now tell me something nice about them, though the poor little things have long since disappeared. Tell me, for instance, how they get their beautiful little silver waterproofs?'
'Electric Light of the World,' I said, 'it is like this. While they are still quite young and full of dreams, their mother takes them out in picnic parties of a billion or so at a time to where the spring moon is shining, scattering silver from its purse of pearl far over the wide waters,—silver, silver, for every little whitebait that cares to swim and pick it up. The mother, who has a contract with some such big restaurateur as ours, chooses a convenient area of moonlight, and then at a given sign they all turn over on their sides, and bask and bask in the rays, little fin pressed lovingly against little fin—for this is the happiest time in the young whitebait's life: it is at these silvering parties that matches are made and future consignments of whitebait arranged for. Well, night after night, they thus lie in the moonlight, first on one side, then on the other, till by degrees, tiny scale by scale, they have become completely lunar-plated. Ah! how sad they are when the end of that happy time has come!'
'And what happens to them after that?' asked the Sphinx.
'One night when the moon is hidden their mother comes to them with treacherous wile, and suggests that they should go off on a holiday again to seek the moon—the moon that for a moment seems captured by the pearl-fishers of the sky. And so off they go merrily, but, alas! no moon appears; and presently they are aware of unwieldy bumping presences upon the surface of the sea, presences as of huge dolphins; and rough voices call across the water, till, scared, the little whitebaits turn home in flight—to find themselves somehow meshed in an invisible prison, a net as fine and strong as air, into which, O agony! they are presently hauled, lovely banks of silver, shining like opened coffers beneath the coarse and ragged flares of yellow torches. The rest is silence.'
'What sad little lives! and what a cruel world it is!' said the Sphinx—as she crunched with her knife through the body of a lark, that but yesterday had been singing in the blue sky. Its spirit sang just above our heads as she ate, and the air was thick with the grey ghosts of all the whitebait she had eaten that night.
But there were no longer any tears in her eyes.
THE ANSWER OF THE ROSE
The Sphinx and I sat in our little box at Romeo and Juliet. It was the first time she had seen that fairy-tale of passion upon the stage. I had seen it played once before—in Paradise. Therefore, I rather trembled to see it again in an earthly play-house, and as much as possible kept my eyes from the stage. All I knew of the performance—but how much was that!—was two lovely voices making love like angels; and when there were no words, the music told me what was going on. Love speaks so many languages.
One might as well look. It was as clear as moonlight to the tragic eye within the heart. The Sphinx was gazing on it all with those eyes that will never grow old, neither for years nor tears; but though I seemed to be seeing nothing but an advertisement of Paderewski pianos on the programme, I saw it—oh, didn't I see it?—all. The house had grown dark, and the music low and passionate, and for a moment no one was speaking. Only, deep in the thickets of my heart there sang a tragic nightingale that, happily, only I could hear; and I said to myself, 'Now the young fool is climbing the orchard wall! Yes, there go Benvolio and Mercutio calling him; and now,—"he jests at scars who never felt a wound"—the other young fool is coming out on to the balcony. God help them both! They have no eyes—no eyes—or surely they would see the shadow that sings "Love! Love! Love!" like a fountain in the moonlight, and then shrinks away to chuckle "Death! Death! Death!" in the darkness!'
But, soft, what light from yonder window breaks!
The Sphinx turned to me for sympathy—this time it was the soul of Shakespeare in her eyes.
'Yes!' I whispered, 'it is the Opening of the Eternal Rose, sung by the Eternal Nightingale!'
She pressed my hand approvingly; and while the lovely voices made their heavenly love, I slipped out my silver-bound pocket-book of ivory and pressed within it the rose which had just fallen from my lips.
The worst of a great play is that one is so dull between the acts. Wit is sacrilege, and sentiment is bathos. Not another rose fell from my lips during the performance, though that I minded little, as I was the more able to count the pearls that fell from the Sphinx's eyes.
It took quite half a bottle of champagne to pull us up to our usual spirits, as we sat at supper at a window where we could see London spread out beneath us like a huge black velvet flower, dotted with fiery embroideries, sudden flaring stamens, and rows of ant-like fireflies moving in slow zig-zag processions along and across its petals.
'How strange it seems,' said the Sphinx, 'to think that for every two of those moving double-lights, which we know to be the eyes of hansoms, but which seem up here nothing but gold dots in a very barbaric pattern of black and gold, there are two human beings, no doubt at this time of night two lovers, throbbing with the joy of life, and dreaming, heaven knows what dreams!'
'Yes,' I rejoined;' and to them I'm afraid we are even more impersonal. From their little Piccadilly coracles our watch-tower in the skies is merely a radiant facade of glowing windows, and no one of all who glide by realises that the spirited illumination is every bit due to your eyes. You have but to close them, and every one will be asking what has gone wrong with the electric light.'
A little nonsense is a great healer of the heart, and by means of such nonsense as this we grew merry again. And anon we grew sentimental and poetic, but—thank heaven! we were no longer tragic.
Presently I had news for the Sphinx. 'The rose-tree that grows in the garden of my mind,' I said, 'desires to blossom.'
'May it blossom indeed,' she replied; 'for it has been flowerless all this long evening; and bring me a rose fresh with all the dews of inspiration—no florist's flower, wired and artificially scented, no bloom of yesterday's hard-driven brains.'
'I was only thinking,' I said, 'a propos of nightingales and roses, that though all the world has heard the song of the nightingale to the rose, only the nightingale has heard the answer of the rose. You know what I mean?'
'Know what you mean! Of course, that's always easy enough,' retorted the Sphinx, who knows well how to be hard on me.
'I'm so glad,' I ventured to thrust back; 'for lucidity is the first success of expression: to make others see clearly what we ourselves are struggling to see, believe with all their hearts what we are just daring to hope, is—well, the religion of a literary man!'
'Yes! it's a pretty idea,' said the Sphinx, once more pressing the rose of my thought to her brain; 'and indeed it's more than pretty ...'
'Thank you!' I said humbly.
'Yes, it's true—and many a humble little rose will thank you for it. For, your nightingale is a self-advertising bird. He never sings a song without an eye on the critics, sitting up there in their stalls among the stars. He never, or seldom, sings a song for pure love, just because he must sing it or die. Indeed, he has a great fear of death, unless—you will guarantee him immortality. But the rose, the trusting little earth-born rose, that must stay all her life rooted in one spot till some nightingale comes to choose her—some nightingale whose song maybe has been inspired and perfected by a hundred other roses, which are at the moment pot-pourri—ah, the shy bosom-song of the rose ...'
Here the Sphinx paused, and added abruptly—
'Well—there is no nightingale worthy to hear it!'
'It is true,' I agreed, 'O trusting little earth-born rose!'
'Do you know why the rose has thorns?' suddenly asked the Sphinx. Of course I knew, but I always respect a joke, particularly when it is but half-born—humourists always prefer to deliver themselves—so I shook my head.
'To keep off the nightingales, of course,' said the Sphinx, the tone of her voice holding in mocking solution the words 'Donkey' and 'Stupid,'—which I recognised and meekly bore.
'What an excellent idea!' I said. 'I never thought of it before. But don't you think it's a little unkind? For, after all, if there were no nightingales, one shouldn't hear so much about the rose; and there is always the danger that if the rose continues too painfully thorny, the nightingale may go off and seek, say, a more accommodating lily.'
'I have no opinion of lilies,' said the Sphinx.
'Nor have I,' I answered soothingly; 'I much prefer roses—but ... but....'
'But—well, I much prefer roses. Indeed I do.'
'Rose of the World,' I continued with sentiment, 'draw in your thorns. I cannot bear them.'
'Ah!' she answered eagerly, 'that is just it. The nightingale that is worthy of the rose will not only bear, but positively love, her thorns. It is for that reason she wears them. The thorns of the rose properly understood are but the tests of the nightingale. The nightingale that is frightened of the thorns is not worthy of the rose—of that you may be sure....'
'I am not frightened of the thorns,' I managed to interject.
'Sing then once more,' she cried, 'the Song of the Nightingale.'
And it was thus I sang:—
O Rose of the World, a nightingale, A Bird of the World, am I, I have loved all the world and sung all the world, But I come to your side to die.
Tired of the world, as the world of me, I plead for your quiet breast, I have loved all the world and sung all the world— But—where is the nightingale's nest?
In a hundred gardens I sung the rose, Rose of the World, I confess— But for every rose I have sung before I love you the more, not less.
Perfect it grew by each rose that died, Each rose that has died for you, The song that I sing—yea, 'tis no new song, It is tried—and so it is true.
Petal or thorn, yea! I have no care, So that I here abide; Pierce me, my love, or kiss me, my love, But keep me close to your side.
I know not your kiss from your scorn, my love, Your breast from your thorn, my rose, And if you must kill me, well, kill me, my love! But—say 'twas the death I chose.
'Is it true?' asked the Rose.
'As I am a nightingale,' I replied; and as we bade each other good-night, I whispered:
'When may I expect the Answer of the Rose?'
ABOUT THE SECURITIES
When I say that my friend Matthew lay dying, I want you so far as possible to dissociate the statement from any conventional, and certainly from any pictorial, conceptions of death which you may have acquired. Death sometimes shows himself one of those impersonal artists who conceal their art, and, unless you had been told, you could hardly have guessed that Matthew was dying, dying indeed sixty miles an hour, dying of consumption, dying because some one else had died four years before, dying too of debt.
Connoisseurs, of course, would have understood; at a glance would have named the sculptor who was silently chiselling those noble hollows in the finely modelled face,—that Pygmalion who turns all flesh to stone,—at a glance would have named the painter who was cunningly weighting the brows with darkness that the eyes might shine the more with an unaccustomed light. Matthew and I had long been students of the strange wandering artist, had begun by hating his art (it is ever so with an art unfamiliar to us), and had ended by loving it.
'Let us see what the artist has added to the picture since yesterday,' said Matthew, signing to me to hand him the mirror.
'H'm,' he murmured, 'he's had one of his lazy days, I'm afraid. He's hardly added a touch—just a little heightened the chiaroscuro, sharpened the nose a trifle, deepened some little the shadows round the eyes....
'O why,' he presently sighed, 'does he not work a little overtime and get it done? He's been paid handsomely enough....
'Paid,' he continued, 'by a life that is so much undeveloped gold-mine, paid by all my uncashed hopes and dreams....'
'He works fast enough for me, old fellow,' I interrupted; 'there was a time, was there not, when he worked too fast for you and me?'
There are moments, for certain people, when such fantastic unreality as this is the truest realism. Matthew and I talked like this with our brains, because we hadn't the courage to allow our hearts to break in upon the conversation. Had I dared to say some real emotional thing, what effect would it have had but to set poor tired Matthew a-coughing? and it was our aim that he should die with as little to-do as practicable. The emotional in such situations is merely the obvious. There was no need for either of us to state the elementary feelings of our love. I knew that Matthew was going to die, and he knew that—I was going to live, and we pitied each other accordingly; though I confess my feeling for him was rather one of envy,—when it was not congratulation.
Thus, to tell the truth, we never mentioned 'the hereafter.' I don't believe it even occurred to us. Indeed, we spent the few hours that remained of our friendship in retailing the latest gathered of those good stories with which we had been accustomed to salt our intercourse.
One of Matthew's anecdotes was, no doubt, somewhat suggested by the occasion, and I should add that he had always somewhat of an ecclesiastical bias—would, I believe, have ended some day as a Monsignor, a notable 'Bishop Blougram.'
His story was of an evangelistic preacher who desired to impress his congregation with the unmistakable reality of hell-fire. 'You know the Black Country, my friends,' he had declaimed,' you have seen it, at night, flaring with a thousand furnaces, in the lurid incandescence of which myriads of unhappy beings, our fellow-creatures (God forbid!), snatch a precarious existence—you have seen them silhouetted against the yellow glare, running hither and thither, as it seemed from afar, in the very jaws of the awful fire. Have you realised that the burdens with which they thus run hither and thither are molten iron, iron to which such a stupendous heat has been applied that it has melted, melted as though it had been sugar in the sun?—well! returning to hell-fire, let me tell you this, that in hell they eat this fiery molten metal for ice-cream!—yes! and are glad to get anything so cool.'
It was thus we talked while Matthew lay dying, for why should we not talk as we had lived? We both laughed long and heartily over this story; perhaps it would have amused us less had Matthew not been dying; and then his kind old nurse brought in our lunch. We had both excellent appetites, and were far from indifferent to the dainty little meal which was to be our last but one together. I brought my table as close to Matthew's pillow as was possible, and he stroked my hand with tenderness in which there was a touch of gratitude.
'You are not frightened of the bacteria!' he laughed sadly; and then he told me, with huge amusement, how a friend (and a true, dear friend for all that) had come to see him a day or two before, and had hung over the end of the bed to say farewell, daring to approach no nearer, mopping his fear-perspiring brows with a handkerchief soaked in 'Eucalyptus'!
'He had brought an anticipatory elegy too,' said my friend, 'written against my burial. I wish you'd read it for me,' and he fidgeted for it in the nervous manner of the dying. Finding it among his pillows, he handed it to me saying, 'You needn't be frightened of it. It is well dosed with Eucalyptus.'
We laughed even more over this poem than over our stories, and then we discussed the terms of three cremation societies to which, at the express request of my friend, I had written a day or two before.
Then having smoked a cigar and drunk a glass of port together (for the assured dying are allowed to 'live well'), Matthew grew sleepy, and, tucking him beneath the counterpane, I left him, for, after all, he was not to die that day.
Circumstances prevented my seeing him again for a week. When I did so, entering the room poignantly redolent of the strange sweet odour of antiseptics, I saw that the great artist had been busy in my absence. Indeed, his work was nearly at an end. Yet to one unfamiliar with his methods there was still little to alarm in Matthew's face. In fact, with the exception of his brain, and his ice-cold feet, he was alive as ever. And even to his brain had come a certain unnatural activity, a life as of the grave, a sort of vampire vitality, which would assuredly have deceived any who had not known him. He still told his stories, laughed and talked with the same unconquerable humour, was in every way alert and practical, with this difference, that he had forgotten he was going to die, that the world in which he exercised his various faculties was another world to that in which, in spite of his delirium, we ate our last boiled fowl, drank our last wine, smoked our last cigar together. His talk was so convincingly rational, dealt with such unreal matters in so every-day a fashion, that you were ready to think that surely it was you and not he whose mind was wandering.
'You might reach that pocket-book, and ring for Mrs. Davies,' he would say in so casual a way that of course you would ring. On Mrs. Davies's appearance he would be fumbling about among the papers in his pocket-book, and presently he would say, with a look of frustration that went to one's heart—'I've got a ten-pound note somewhere here for you, Mrs. Davies, to pay you up till Saturday, but somehow I seem to have lost it. Yet it must be somewhere about. Perhaps you'll find it as you make the bed in the morning. I'm so sorry to have troubled you....'
And then he would grow tired and doze a little on his pillow.
Suddenly he would be alert again, and with a startling vividness tell me strange stories from the dreamland into which he was now passing.
I had promised to see him on Monday, but had been prevented, and had wired to him accordingly. This was Tuesday.
'You needn't have troubled to wire,' he said. 'Didn't you know I was in London from Saturday to Monday?'
'The doctor and Mrs. Davies didn't know,' he continued with the creepy cunning of the dying: 'I managed to slip away to look at a house I think of taking—in fact I've taken it. It's in—in—now, where is it? Now isn't that silly? I can see it as plain as anything—yet I cannot, for the life of me, remember where it is, or the number.... It was somewhere St. John's Wood way ... never mind, you must come and see me there, when we get in....'
I said he was dying in debt, and thus the heaven that lay about his deathbed was one of fantastic Eldorados, sudden colossal legacies, and miraculous windfalls.
'I haven't told you,' he said presently, 'of the piece of good luck that has befallen me. You are not the only person in luck. I can hardly expect you to believe me, it sounds so like the Arabian Nights. However, it's true for all that. Well, one of the little sisters was playing in the garden a few afternoons ago, making mud-pies or something of that sort, and she suddenly scraped up a sovereign. Presently she found two or three more, and our curiosity becoming aroused, a turn or two with the spade revealed quite a bed of gold; and the end of it was, that on further excavating, the whole garden proved to be one mass of sovereigns. Sixty thousand pounds we counted ... and then, what do you think?—it suddenly melted away....'
He paused for a moment, and continued, more in amusement than regret—
'Yes—the Government got wind of it, and claimed the whole lot as treasure-trove!
'But not,' he added slyly, 'before I'd paid off two or three of my biggest bills. Yes—and—you'll keep it quiet, of course,—there's another lot been discovered in the garden, but we shall take good care the Government doesn't get hold of it this time, you bet.'
He told this wild story with such an air of simple conviction that, odd as it may seem, one believed every word of it. But the tale of his sudden good-fortune was not ended.
'You've heard of old Lord Osterley,' he presently began again. 'Well, congratulate me, old man: he has just died and left everything to me. You know what a splendid library he had—to think that that will all be mine—and that grand old park through which we've so often wandered, you and I! Well, we shall need fear no gamekeeper now, and of course, dear old fellow, you'll come and live with me—like a prince—and just write your own books and say farewell to journalism for ever. Of course I can hardly believe it's true yet. It seems too much of a dream, and yet there's no doubt about it. I had a letter from my solicitors this morning, saying that they were engaged in going through the securities, and—and—but the letter's somewhere over there; you might read it. No? can't you find it? It's there somewhere about, I know. Never mind, you can see it again....' he finished wearily.
'Yes!' he presently said, half to himself, 'it will be a wonderful change! a wonderful change!'
* * * * *
At length the time came to say good-bye, a good-bye I knew must be the last, for my affairs were taking me so far away from him that I could not hope to see him for some days.
'I'm afraid, old man,' I said, 'that I mayn't be able to see you for another week.'
'O never mind, old fellow, don't worry about me. I'm much better now—and by the time you come again we shall know all about the securities.'
The securities! My heart had seemed like a stone, incapable of feeling, all those last unreal hours together; but the pathos of that sad phrase, so curiously symbolic, suddenly smote it with overwhelming pity, and the tears sprang to my eyes for the first time. As I bent over him to kiss his poor damp forehead, and press his hand for the last farewell, I murmured—
'Yes—dear, dear old friend. We shall know all about the securities....'
THE BOOM IN YELLOW
Green must always have a large following among artists and art lovers; for, as has been pointed out, an appreciation of it is a sure sign of a subtle artistic temperament. There is something not quite good, something almost sinister, about it—at least, in its more complex forms, though in its simple form, as we find it in outdoor nature, it is innocent enough; and, indeed, is it not used in colloquial metaphor as an adjective for innocence itself? Innocence has but two colours, white or green. But Becky Sharp's eyes also were green, and the green of the aesthete does not suggest innocence. There will always be wearers of the green carnation; but the popular vogue which green has enjoyed for the last ten or fifteen years is probably passing. Even the aesthete himself would seem to be growing a little weary of its indefinitely divided tones, and to be anxious for a colour sensation somewhat more positive than those to be gained from almost imperceptible nuances, of green. Jaded with over-refinements and super-subtleties, we seem in many directions to be harking back to the primary colours of life. Blue, crude and unsoftened, and a form of magenta, have recently had a short innings; and now the triumph of yellow is imminent. Of course, a love for green implies some regard for yellow, and in our so-called aesthetic renaissance the sunflower went before the green carnation—which is, indeed, the badge of but a small schism of aesthetes, and not worn by the great body of the more catholic lovers of beauty.
Yellow is becoming more and more dominant in decoration—in wall-papers, and flowers cultivated with decorative intention, such as chrysanthemums. And one can easily understand why: seeing that, after white, yellow reflects more light than any other colour, and thus ministers to the growing preference for light and joyous rooms. A few yellow chrysanthemums will make a small room look twice its size, and when the sun comes out upon a yellow wall-paper the whole room seems suddenly to expand, to open like a flower. When it falls upon the pot of yellow chrysanthemums, and sets them ablaze, it seems as though one had an angel in the room. Bill-posters are beginning to discover the attractive qualities of the colour. Who can ever forget meeting for the first time upon a hoarding Mr. Dudley Hardy's wonderful Yellow Girl, the pretty advance-guard of To-Day? But I suppose the honour of the discovery of the colour for advertising purposes rests with Mr. Colman; though its recent boom comes from the publishers, and particularly from the Bodley Head. The Yellow Book with any other colour would hardly have sold as well—the first private edition of Mr. Arthur Benson's poems, by the way, came caparisoned in yellow, and with the identical name, Le Cahier Jaune; and no doubt it was largely its title that made the success of The Yellow Aster. In literature, indeed, yellow has long been the colour of romance. The word 'yellow-back' witnesses its close association with fiction; and in France, as we know, it is the all but universal custom to bind books in yellow paper. Mr. Heinemann and Mr. Unwin have endeavoured to naturalise the custom here; but, though in cloth yellow has emphatically 'caught on,' in paper it still hangs fire. The ABC Railway Guide is probably the only exception, and that, it is to be hoped, is not fiction. Mr. Lang has recently followed the fashion with his Yellow Fairy Book; and, indeed, one of the best known figures in fairydom is yellow—namely, the Yellow Dwarf. Yellow, always a prominent Oriental colour, was but lately of peculiar significance in the Far East; for were not the sorrows of a certain high Chinese official intimately connected with the fatal colour? The Yellow Book, the Yellow Aster, the Yellow Jacket!—and the Yellow Fever, like 'Orion' Home's sunshine, is always with us' somewhere in the world.' The same applies also, I suppose, to the Yellow Sea.
Till one comes to think of it, one hardly realises how many important and pleasant things in life are yellow. Blue and green, no doubt, contract for the colouring of vast departments of the physical world. 'Blue!' sings Keats, in a fine but too little known sonnet—
'... 'Tis the life of heaven—the domain Of Cynthia—the wide palace of the sun— The tent of Hesperus, and all his train— The bosomer of clouds, gold, grey, and dun. Blue! 'Tis the life of waters ... Blue! Gentle cousin of the forest green, Married to green in all the sweetest flowers.'
Yellow might retort by quoting Mr. Grant Allen, in his book on The Colour Sense, to the effect that the blueness of sea and sky is mainly poetical illusion or inaccuracy, and that sea and sky are found blue only in one experiment out of fourteen. At morning and evening they are usually in great part stained golden. Blue certainly has one advantage over yellow, in that it has the privilege of colouring some of the prettiest eyes in the world. Yellow has a chance only in cases of jaundice and liver complaint, and his colour scheme in such cases is seldom appreciated. Again, green has the contract for the greater bulk of the vegetable life of the globe; but his is a monotonous business, like the painting of miles and miles of palings: grass, grass, grass, trees, trees, trees, ad infinitum; whereas yellow leads a roving, versatile life, and is seldom called upon for such monotonous labour. The sands of Sahara are probably the only conspicuous instance of yellow thus working by the piece. It is in the quality, in the diversity of the things it colours, rather than in their mileage or tonnage, that yellow is distinguished; though, for that matter, we suppose, the sun is as big and heavy as most things, and that is yellow. Of course, when we say yellow we include golden, and all varieties of the colour—saffron, orange, flaxen, tawny, blonde, topaz, citron, etc.
If the sun may reasonably be described as the most important object in the world, surely money is the next. That, as we know, is, in its most potent metallic form, yellow also. The 'yellow gold' is a favourite phrase in certain forms of poetry; and 'yellow-boys' is a term of natural affection among sailors. Following the example of their lord the sun, most fires and lights are yellow or golden, and it is only in times of danger or superstition that they burn red or blue. And, if yellow be denied entrance to beautiful eyes, it enjoys a privilege which—except in the case of certain indigo-staining African tribes, who cannot be said to count—blue has never claimed: that of colouring perhaps the loveliest thing in the world, the hair of woman. Hair is naturally golden—unnaturally also. When Browning sings pathetically of 'dear dead women—with such hair too!' he continues:—
'What's become of all the gold Used to hang and brush their bosoms'—
not 'all the blue' or 'all the brown,' though some of us, it is true, are condemned to wear our hair brown or blue-black. But such are only unhappy exceptions. Yellow or gold is the rule. The bravest men and the fairest women have had golden hair, and, we may add, in reference to another distinction of the colour we are celebrating, golden hearts. Hair at the present time is doing its best to conform to its normal conditions of colour. Numerous instances might be adduced of its changing from black to gold, in obedience to chemical law. 'Peroxide of hydrogen!' says the cynic. 'Beauty!' says the lover of art.
And it might be argued, in a world of inevitable compromise, that the damage done to the physical health and texture of the hair thus playing the chameleon may well be overbalanced by the happiness, and consequent increased effectiveness, of the person thus dyeing for the sake of beauty. Thaumaturgists lay much stress on the mystic influence of colours; and who knows but that, if we were only allowed to dye our hair what colour we chose, we might be different men and women? Strange things are told of women who have dyed their hair the colour of blood or of wine, and we know from Christina Rossetti that golden hair is negotiable in fairyland—
'"You have much gold upon your head," They answered all together: "Buy from us with a golden curl."'
Whether Laura could have done business with the goblin merchantmen with an oxidised curl is a difficult point, for fairies have sharp eyes; and, though it be impossible for a mortal to tell the real gold from the false gold hair, the fairies may be able to do so, and might reject the curl as counterfeit.
Again, if in the vegetable world green almost universally colours the leaves, yellow has more to do with the flowers. The flowers we love best are yellow: the cowslip, the daffodil, the crocus, the buttercup, half the daisy, the honeysuckle, and the loveliest rose. Yellow, too, has its turn even with the leaves; and what an artist he shows himself when, in autumn, he 'lays his fiery finger' upon them, lighting up the forlorn woodland with splashes—pure palette-colour of audacious gold! He hangs the mulberry with heart-shaped yellow shields—which reminds one of the heraldic importance of 'or,'—and he lines the banks of the Seine with phantasmal yellow poplars. And other leaves still dearer to the heart are yellow likewise; leaves of those sweet old poets whose thoughts seem to have turned the pages gold. Let us dream of this: a maid with yellow hair, clad in a yellow gown, seated in a yellow room, at the window a yellow sunset, in the grate a yellow fire, at her side a yellow lamplight, on her knee a Yellow Book. And the letters we love best to read—when we dare—are they not yellow too? No doubt some disagreeable things are reported of yellow. We have had the yellow-fever, and we have had pea-soup. The eyes of lions are said to be yellow, and the ugliest cats—the cats that infest one's garden—are always yellow. Some medicines are yellow, and no doubt there are many other yellow disagreeables; but we prefer to dwell upon the yellow blessings. I had almost forgotten that the gayest wines are yellow. Nor has religion forgotten yellow. It is to be hoped yellow will not forget religion. The sacred robe of the second greatest religion of the world is yellow, 'the yellow robe' of the Buddhist friar; and when the sacred harlots of Hindustan walk in lovely procession through the streets, they too, like the friars, are clad in yellow. Amber is yellow; so is the orange; and so were stage-coaches and many dashing things of the old time; and pink is yellow by lamplight. But gold-mines, it has been proved, are not so yellow as is popularly supposed. Hymen's robe is Miltonically 'saffron,' and the dearest petticoat in all literature—not forgetting the 'tempestuous' garment of Herrick's Julia—was 'yaller.' Yes!—
''Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green, An' er name was Supi-yaw-lat, jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen.'
Is it possible to say anything prettier for yellow than that?
LETTER TO AN UNSUCCESSFUL LITERARY MAN
My Dear Sir,—I agree with every word you say. You have my entire sympathy. The world is indeed hard, hard to the sad—particularly hard to the unsuccessful. A sure five hundred a year covers a multitude of sorrows. It is ever an ill wind for the shorn lamb. If it be true that nothing succeeds like success, it is no less sadly true that nothing fails like failure. And when one thinks of it, it is only natural, for every failure is an obstruction in the stream of life. Metaphorical writers are fond of saying that the successful ride to success on the back of the failures. It is true that many rise on stepping-stones of their dead relations—but that is because their relations have been financial successes. In truth, instead of the failure making the fortune of the successful, it is just the reverse. A very successful man would be the more successful were it not for the failures—on whom he has either to spend his money to support, or his time to advise. The strong are said to be impatient towards the weak—and is it to be wondered at, in a world where even the strongest need all their strength, in a sea where the best swimmer needs all his wind and muscle and skill to keep afloat? If success is sometimes 'unfeeling' towards failure, failure is often unfair to success. Of course, 'it is He that hath made us and not we ourselves,' but that is a text that cuts both ways; and when all is said and done, the failure detracts from the force in the universe; he is the clog on the wheel of fortune. To say that the successful man benefits by the failure of others is as true as it would be to say that the ratepayer benefits by the poor-rates. You use the word 'charlatan' somewhat profusely of several successful writers, and no doubt you are right. But you must remember that it is a favourite charge against the gifted and the fortunate. Because we have failed by fair means, we are sure the other fellows have succeeded by foul. And, moreover, one is apt to forget how much talent is needed to be a charlatan. Never look down upon a charlatan. Courage, skill, personal force or charm, great knowledge of human nature, dramatic instinct, and industry—few charlatans succeed (and no one is called a charlatan till he does succeed, be his success as low or high as you please) without possessing a majority of these qualities; how many of which—it would be interesting to know—do you possess?
Indeed, it would seem to need more gifts to be a rogue than an honest man, and there is a sense in which every great man may be described as a charlatan—plus greatness; greatness being an almost indefinable quality, a quality, at any rate, on which there is a bewildering diversity of opinion.
You seem a little cross with publishers and editors. They have not proved the distinguished, brilliant, and sympathetic beings you imagined them in your boyish dreams. No doubt, publishers and editors enter hardly into the kingdom of heaven. But then, you see, they don't care so much about that; they are much more interested in the next election at certain fashionable clubs. It is really a little hard on them that they should suffer from the ignorant misconception of the literary amateur. It is only those who have had no dealings with them who would be unfair enough to expect publishers or editors to be literary men. They are business men—business men par excellence—and a good thing, too, for their papers and their authors. You lament their mercenary view of life; but, judging by your letter, even you are not disposed to regard money as the root of all evil.
You cannot understand why you have failed where others have succeeded. You have far more Greek than Keats, more history than Scott, and you know nineteen languages—ten of them to speak. With so many accomplishments, it must indeed be hard to fail—though you do not seem to have found it difficult. You have travelled too—have been twice round the world, and have a thorough knowledge of the worst hotels. Certainly, it is singular. Nevertheless, I must confess that the dullest men I have ever met have been professors of history; the worst poets have not only known Greek, but French as well; and, generally speaking the most tiresome of my acquaintances have more degrees than I have Latin to name them in. Alas! it is not experience, or travel, or language, but the use we make of them, that makes literary success, which, one may add, is particularly dependent—perhaps not unnaturally—on the use we make of language. A book may be a book, although there is neither Latin nor Greek, nor travel, nor experience—in fact 'nothing' in it; and though, like myself, you may pay an Oxford professor a thousand a year to correct your proofs, you may still miss immortality.
To these intellectual and general equipments you add goodness of heart, sincerity of conviction, and martyrdom for your opinions; you are, it would seem, like many others of us, the best fellow and greatest man of your acquaintance. Permit me to remind you that we are not talking of goodness of heart, of strength or beauty of character, but of success, which is a thing apart, a fine art in itself.
You confess that you are somewhat unpractical: you expect others—hard-worked journalists who never met you—to tell you what to read, how to form your style, and how 'to get into the magazines.' You are, you say, with something of pride, but a poor business man. That is a pity, for nearly every successful literary man of the day, and particularly the novelists, are excellent business men. Indeed, the history of literature all round has proved that the men who have been masters of words have also been masters of things—masters of the facts of life for which those words stand. Many writers have mismanaged their affairs from idleness and indifference, but few from incapacity. Leigh Hunt boasted that he could never master the multiplication-table. Perhaps that accounts for his comparative failure as a writer. Incompetence in one art is far from being a guarantee of competency in another, and a man is all the more likely to make a name if he is able to make a living—though, judging from Coleridge, it seems a good plan to let another hard-worked man support one's wife and children. On the other hand, though business faculty is a great deal, it is not everything: for a man may be as punctual and methodical as Southey, and yet miss the prize of his high calling, or as generally 'impossible' as Blake, and yet win his place among the immortals.