SOME DIVERSIONS OF A MAN OF LETTERS
BY EDMUND GOSSE, C.B.
LONDON WILLIAM HEINEMANN 1920
First published October 1919 New Impressions November 1919; February 1920
OTHER WORKS BY MR. EDMUND GOSSE
Northern Studies. 1879.
Life of Gray. 1882.
Seventeenth-Century Studies. 1883.
Life of Congreve. 1888.
A History of Eighteenth-Century Literature. 1889.
Life of Philip Henry Gosse, F.R.S. 1890.
Gossip in a Library. 1891.
The Secret of Narcisse: A Romance. 1892.
Questions at Issue. 1893.
Critical Kit-Kats. 1896.
A Short History of Modern English Literature. 1897.
Life and Letters of John Donne. 1899.
Life of Jeremy Taylor. 1904.
French Profiles. 1904.
Life of Sir Thomas Browne. 1905.
Father and Son. 1907.
Life of Ibsen. 1908.
Two Visits to Denmark. 1911.
Collected Poems. 1911.
Portraits and Sketches. 1912.
Inter Arma. 1916.
Three French Moralists. 1918.
Preface: On Fluctuations of Taste 1
The Shepherd of the Ocean 13
The Songs of Shakespeare 29
Catharine Trotter, the Precursor of the Bluestockings 37
The Message of the Wartons 63
The Charm of Sterne 91
The Centenary of Edgar Allen Poe 101
The Author of "Pelham" 115
The Challenge of the Brontes 139
Disraeli's Novels 151
Three Experiments in Portraiture— I. Lady Dorothy Nevill 181 II. Lord Cromer 196 III. The Last Days of Lord Redesdale 216
The Lyrical Poetry of Thomas Hardy 231
Some Soldier Poets 259
The Future of English Poetry 287
The Agony of the Victorian Age 311
ON FLUCTUATIONS OF TASTE
When Voltaire sat down to write a book on Epic Poetry, he dedicated his first chapter to "Differences of Taste in Nations." A critic of to-day might well find it necessary, on the threshold of a general inquiry, to expatiate on "Differences of Taste in Generations." Changes of standard in the arts are always taking place, but it is only with advancing years, perhaps, that we begin to be embarrassed by the recurrence of them. In early youth we fight for the new forms of art, for the new aesthetic shibboleths, and in that happy ardour of battle we have no time or inclination to regret the demigods whom we dispossess. But the years glide on, and, behold! one morning, we wake up to find our own predilections treated with contempt, and the objects of our own idolatry consigned to the waste-paper basket. Then the matter becomes serious, and we must either go on struggling for a cause inevitably lost, or we must give up the whole matter in indifference. This week I read, over the signature of a very clever and very popular literary character of our day, the remark that Wordsworth's was "a genteel mind of the third rank." I put down the newspaper in which this airy dictum was printed, and, for the first time, I was glad that poor Mr. Matthew Arnold was no longer with us. But, of course, the evolutions of taste must go on, whether they hurt the living and the dead, or no.
Is there, then, no such thing as a permanent element of poetic beauty? The curious fact is that leading critics in each successive generation are united in believing that there is, and that the reigning favourite conforms to it. The life of a reputation is like the life of a plant, and seems, in these days, to be like the life of an annual. We watch the seed, admiration for Wordsworth, planted about 1795, shoot obscurely from the ground, and gradually clothe itself with leaves till about 1840; then it bursts into blossom of rapturous praise, and about 1870 is hung with clusters of the fruit of "permanent" appreciation. In 1919, little more than a century from its first evolution in obscurity, it recedes again in the raggedness of obloquy, and cumbers the earth, as dim old "genteel" Wordsworth, whom we are assured that nobody reads. But why were "the best judges" scornful in 1800 and again in 1919 of what gave the noblest and the most inspiriting pleasure to "the best judges" in 1870? The execution of the verse has not altered, the conditions of imagination seem the same, why then is the estimate always changing? Is every form of poetic taste, is all trained enjoyment of poetry, merely a graduated illusion which goes up and down like a wave of the sea and carries "the best judges" with it? If not, who is right, and who is wrong, and what is the use of dogmatising? Let us unite to quit all vain ambition, and prefer the jangle of the music-halls, with its direct "aesthetic thrill."
So far as I know, the only philosopher who has dared to face this problem is Mr. Balfour, in the brilliant second chapter of his "Foundations of Belief." He has there asked, "Is there any fixed and permanent element in beauty?" The result of his inquiry is disconcerting; after much discussion he decides that there is not. Mr. Balfour deals, in particular, with only two forms of art, Music and Dress, but he tacitly includes the others with them. It is certain that the result of his investigations is the singularly stultifying one that we are not permitted to expect "permanent relations" in or behind the feeling of poetic beauty, which may be indifferently awakened by Blake to-day and by Hayley to-morrow. If the critic says that the verse of Blake is beautiful and that of Hayley is not, he merely "expounds case-made law." The result seems to be that no canons of taste exist; that what are called "laws" of style are enacted only for those who make them, and for those whom the makers can bully into accepting their legislation, a new generation of lawbreakers being perfectly free to repeal the code. Southey yesterday and Keats to-day; why not Southey again to-morrow, or perhaps Tupper? Such is the cynical cul-de-sac into which the logic of a philosopher drives us.
We have had in France an example of volte-face in taste which I confess has left me gasping. I imagine that if Mr. Balfour was able to spare a moment from the consideration of fiscal reform, he must have spent it in triumphing over the fate of M. Sully-Prudhomme. In the month of September 1906 this poet closed, after a protracted agony, "that long disease, his life." He had compelled respect by his courage in the face of hopeless pain, and, one might suppose, some gratitude by the abundance of his benefactions. His career was more than blameless, it was singularly exemplary. Half-blind, half-paralysed, for a long time very poor, pious without fanaticism, patient, laborious, devoted to his friends, he seems to have been one of those extraordinary beings whose fortitude in the face of affliction knows no abatement. It would be ridiculous to quote any of these virtues as a reason for admiring the poetry of Sully-Prudhomme. I mention them merely to show that there was nothing in his personal temperament to arouse hatred or in his personal conditions to excuse envy. Nothing to account for the, doubtless, entirely sincere detestation which his poetry seemed to awaken in all "the best minds" directly he was dead.
As every one knows, from about 1870 to 1890, Sully-Prudhomme was, without a rival, the favourite living poet of the French. Victor Hugo was there, of course, until 1885—and posthumously until much later—but he was a god, and the object of idolatry. All who loved human poetry, the poetry of sweetness and light, took Sully-Prudhomme to their heart of hearts. The Stances et Poemes of 1865 had perhaps the warmest welcome that ever the work of a new poet had in France. Theophile Gautier instantly pounced upon Le Vase Brise (since too-famous) and introduced it to a thousand school-girls. Sainte-Beuve, though grown old and languid, waked up to celebrate the psychology and the music of this new poetry, so delicate, fresh and transparent. An unknown beauty of extreme refinement seemed to have been created in it, a beauty made up of lucidity, pathos and sobriety. Readers who are now approaching seventy will not forget with what emotion they listened, for instance, to that dialogue between the long-dead father and the newly-buried son, which closes:—
"J' ai laisse ma soeur et ma mere Et les beaux livres que j' ai lus; Vous n'avez pas de bru, mon pere, On m'a blesse, je n'aime plus."
"De tes aieux compte le nombre, Va baiser leurs fronts inconnus, Et viens faire ton lit dans l'ombre A cote des derniers venus.
"Ne pleure pas, dors dans l'argile En esperant le grand reveit." "O pere, qu'il est difficile De ne plus penser au soleil!"
This body of verse, to which was presently added fresh collections—Les Epreuves (1886), Les Vaines Tendresses (1875), Le Prisme (1886),—was welcomed by the elder Sanhedrim, and still more vociferously and unanimously by the younger priesthood of criticism. It pleased the superfine amateurs of poetry, it was accepted with enthusiasm by the thousands who enjoy without analysing their enjoyment. In 1880, to have questioned that Sully-Prudhomme was a very noble poet would have been like challenging Tennyson in 1870, or Cowley in 1660. Jules Lemaitre claimed that he was the greatest artist in symbols that France had ever produced. Brunetiere, so seldom moved by modern literature, celebrated with ardour the author of Les Vaines Tendresses as having succeeded better than any other writer who had ever lived in translating into perfect language the dawn and the twilight of emotion. That Gaston Paris and M. Anatole France competed in lofty praise of the lyrics of Sully-Prudhomme, is perhaps less remarkable than that Paul Verlaine, whom all the younger schools still look upon as their apostle and guide, declared, in reviewing Les Ecuries d'Augias, that the force of style of Sully-Prudhomme was excelled only by the beauty of his detail. It is needless to multiply examples of the unanimous praise given by the divers schools of criticism to Sully-Prudhomme up to about 1890. His was, perhaps, the least contested literary glory of France.
His death startlingly reminded us that this state of things had to be entirely reversed. It is true that the peculiar talent of Sully-Prudhomme, being almost exclusively lyrical, scarcely survived his youth, and that he cumbered his moon of sands with two huge and clumsy wrecks, La Justice (1878) and Le Bonheur (1898), round which the feet of the fairies could hardly be expected to trip. One must be an academician and hopelessly famous before one dares to inflict two elephantine didactic epics on one's admirers. Unfortunately, too, the poet undertook to teach the art of verse in his Reflexions (1892) and his Testament Poetique (1901), brochures which greatly irritated the young. It is probably wise for academicians, whether poets or the reverse, to sit beside their nectar, and not to hurl bolts down into the valley. But, behind these errors of judgment, there they remain—those early volumes, which seemed to us all so full of exquisite little masterpieces. Why is it that nobody, except a few elderly persons, any longer delights in them? The notices which Sully-Prudhomme's death awakened in the Paris Press were either stamped with the mark of old contemporary affection, or else, when they were not abusive, were as frigid as the tomb itself. "Ses tendresses sucrees, sirupeuses, sont vaines en effet," said a critic of importance! Indeed, it would appear so; and where are the laurels of yester-year?
To those who were young when Sully-Prudhomme entered into his immortality it seems impossible to realise that the glory has already departed. Gaston Paris celebrated "the penetrating sincerity and the exquisite expression of feeling" which distinguished Sully-Prudhomme above all other poets. He was the bard of the inner life, sincere and dignified, full of melancholy reverie. A great critic compared La Vote Lactic and Les Stalactites with the far-off sound of bells heard down some lovely valley in a golden afternoon. Yet the images and the language were precise; Sully-Prudhomme was a mathematician, and if he was reproached with anything like a fault, it was that his style was slightly geometrical. It would be otiose to collect any more tributes to his genius, as it appeared to all Frenchmen, cultivated or semi-cultivated, about the year 1880. With an analysis of Sully-Prudhomme's poetry I am not here concerned, but with the question of why it is that such an authority as Remy de Gourmont could, in 1907, without awakening any protest among persons under fifty say that it was a "sort of social crime" to impose such balderdash as the verse of Sully-Prudhomme on the public.
It is not needful to quote other living critics, who may think such prolongation of their severities ungraceful. But a single contrast will suffice. When, in 1881, Sully-Prudhomme was elected to the French Academy, expert opinion throughout the Press was unanimous in admitting that this was an honour deservedly given to the best lyric poet of the age. In 1906, when a literary journal sent out this question, "Who is the poet you love best?" and was answered by more than two hundred writers of verse, the diversity of opinion was indeed excessive; such poets as Sainte-Beuve, as Brizeux, as Rodenbach, received votes, all the great masters received many. But Sully-Prudhomme, alone, received not one vote. A new generation had arisen, and one of its leaders, with cruel wit, transferred to the reputation of the author his own most famous line:—"N'y touchez pas, il est brise."
It is necessary to recollect that we are not dealing with the phenomenon of the inability of very astute literary people to recognise at once a startling new sort of beauty. When Robert Browning lent the best poems of Keats to Mrs. Carlyle, she read them and returned them with the remark that "almost any young gentleman with a sweet tooth might be expected to write such things." Mrs. Carlyle was a very clever woman, but she was not quite "educated up to" Keats. The history of letters is full of these grotesque limitations of taste, in the presence of great art which has not yet been "classed." But we are here considering the much stranger and indeed extremely disconcerting case of a product which has been accepted, with acclamation, by the judges of one generation, and is contemptuously hooted out of court by the next. It is not, on this occasion, Sully-Prudhomme whom we are considering, but his critics. If Theophile Gautier was right in 1867, Remy de Gourmont must have been wrong in 1907; yet they both were honourable men in the world of criticism. Nor is it merely the dictum of a single man, which, however ingenious, may be paradoxical. It is worse than that; it is the fact that one whole generation seems to have agreed with Gautier, and that another whole generation is of the same mind as Remy de Gourmont.
Then it is that Mr. Balfour, like Galuppi with his "cold music," comes in and tells us that this is precisely what we have to expect. All beauty consists in the possession of certain relations, which being withdrawn, beauty disappears from the object that seemed to possess it. There is no permanent element in poetic excellence. We are not to demand any settled opinion about poetry. So Mr. Balfour seems to creak it, and we want the heart to scold. But is it quite so certain that there is no fixed norm of beauty imaginable? Is it the fact that poetic pleasure cannot "be supposed to last any longer than the transient reaction between it" and the temporary prejudice of our senses? If this be true, then are critics of all men most miserable.
Yet, deeply dejected as it leaves me to know that very clever people despise the "genteel third-rate mind" of Wordsworth, I am not quite certain that I yield to Mr. Balfour's brilliant and paralysing logic. That eminent philosopher seems to say "you find the poets, whom you revered in your youth, treated with contempt in your old age. Well! It is very sad, and perhaps it would annoy me too, if I were not a philosopher. But it only shows how right I was to tell, you not to expect permanent relations behind the feeling of beauty, since all is illusion, and there is no such thing as a principle of taste, but only a variation of fashion."
Is it, however, quite so certain, after all, that there is no standard? It must be admitted that there seems to be no fixed rule of taste, not even a uniformity of practice or general tendency to agreement in particular cases. But the whole study of the fine arts would lead to despair if we allowed ourselves to accept this admission as implying that no conceivable principle of taste exists. We may not be able to produce it, like a yard-measure, and submit works of imagination to it, once and for all, in the eyes of a consternated public. But when we observe, as we must allow, that art is no better at one age than at another, but only different; that it is subject to modification, but certainly not to development; may we not safely accept this stationary quality as a proof that there does exist, out of sight, unattained and unattainable, a positive norm of poetic beauty? We cannot define it, but in each generation all excellence must be the result of a relation to it. It is the moon, heavily wrapt up in clouds, and impossible exactly to locate, yet revealed by the light it throws on distant portions of the sky. At all events, it appears to me that this is the only theory by which we can justify a continued interest in literature when it is attacked, now on one side, now on another, by the vicissitudes of fashion.
The essays which are here collected deal, for the most part, with figures in the history of English literature which have suffered from the changes of fortune and the instability of taste. In every case, there has been something which is calculated to attract the sympathy and interest of one who, like myself, has been closely concerned with two distinct but not unrelated branches of his subject, the literary character and the literary craft. More than fifty years have passed—like a cloud, like a dream!—since I first saw my name printed below a passage of critical opinion. How many reputations, within that half-century, have not been exalted, how many have not been depressed! We have seen Tennyson advanced beyond Virgil and Victor Hugo beyond Homer. We have seen the latest freak of futurism preferred to The Lotus Eaters, and the first Legende des Siecles rejected as unreadable. In face of this whirlwind of doctrine the public ceases to know whether it is on its head or its feet—"its trembling tent all topsy-turvy wheels," as an Elizabethan has it. To me it seems that security can only be found in an incessant exploration of the by-ways of literary history and analysis of the vagaries of literary character. To pursue this analysis and this exploration without bewilderment and without prejudice is to sum up the pleasures of a life devoted to books.
THE SHEPHERD OF THE OCEAN
Three hundred years have gone by to-day since Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded, in presence of a vast throng of spectators, on the scaffold of Old Palace Yard in Westminster. General Gordon said that England is what her adventurers have made her, and there is not in all English history a more shining and violent specimen of the adventurous type than Raleigh. I am desired to deliver a brief panegyric on this celebrated freebooter, and I go behind the modern definition of the word "panegyric" (as a pompous and ornamented piece of rhetoric) to its original significance, which was, as I take it, the reminder, to a great assembly of persons, of the reason why they have been brought together in the name of a man long dead. Therefore I shall endeavour, in the short space of time allotted to me, not so much to eulogise as to explain and to define what Sir Walter Raleigh was and represents.
I suggest, therefore, before we touch upon any of the details of his career and character, that the central feature of Raleigh, as he appears to us after three hundred years, is his unflinching determination to see the name of England written across the forehead of the world. Others before him had been patriots of the purest order, but Raleigh was the first man who laid it down, as a formula, that "England shall by the favour of God resist, repel and confound all whatsoever attempts against her sacred kingdom." He had no political sense nor skill in statecraft. For that we go to the Burghleys or the Cecils, crafty men of experience and judgment. But he understood that England had enemies and that those enemies must be humbled and confounded. He understood that the road of England's greatness, which was more to him than all other good things, lay across the sea. The time was ripe for the assertion of English liberty, of English ascendancy, too; and the opportunity of the moment lay in "those happy hands which the Holy Ghost hath guided," the fortunate adventurers. Of these Raleigh was the most eminent as he was also, in a sense, the most unfortunate.
A heavy shadow lay all over the Western world, the shadow of a fierce bird of prey hovering over its victim. Ever since Ferdinand expelled the Moors out of Granada, Spain had been nursing insensate dreams of universal empire. She was endeavouring to destroy the infant system of European civilisation by every means of brutality and intrigue which the activity of her arrogance could devise. The Kings of Spain, in their ruthless ambition, encouraged their people in a dream of Spanish world-dominion. Their bulletins had long "filled the earth with their vainglorious vaunts, making great appearance of victories"; they had spread their propaganda "in sundry languages in print," distributing braggart pamphlets in which they boasted, for the benefit of neutrals, of their successes against England, France, and Italy. They had "abused and tormented" the wretched inhabitants of the Low Countries, and they held that the force of arms which they brandished would weigh against justice, humanity, and freedom in the servitude which they meant to inflict upon Europe. It was to be Spanien ueber alles.
But there was one particular nation against which the malignity of the great enemy blazed most fiercely. The King of Spain blasphemously regarded himself as the instrument of God, and there was one country which more than the rest frustrated his pious designs. This was England, and for that reason England was more bitterly hated than any other enemy. The Spaniards did "more greedily thirst after English blood than after the lives of any other people of Europe." The avowed purpose of Castile was to destroy that maritime supremacy of England on which the very existence of the English State depends. The significance of Sir Walter Raleigh consists in the clairvoyance with which he perceived and the energy with which he combated this monstrous assumption. Other noble Englishmen of his time, and before his time, had been clear-sighted and had struck hard against the evil tyranny of Spanish dynastic militarism, but no other man before or since was so luminously identified with resistance. He struts upon the stage of battle with the limelight full upon him. The classic writing of the crisis is contained in the Last Fight of the Revenge at Sea of 1591, where the splendid defiance and warning of the Preface are like trumpets blown to the four quarters of the globe. Raleigh stands out as the man who above all others laboured, as he said, "against the ambitious and bloody pretences of the Spaniards, who, seeking to devour all nations, shall be themselves devoured."
There is a blessing upon the meek of the earth, but I do not present Raleigh to you as a humble-minded man. In that wonderful Elizabethan age there were blossoming, side by side, the meekness of Hooker, the subtlety of Bacon, the platonic dream of Spenser, the imperturbable wisdom of Shakespeare. Raleigh had no part in any of these, and to complain of that would be to grumble because a hollyhock is neither a violet nor a rose. He had his enemies during his life and his detractors ever since, and we may go so far as to admit that he deserves them. He was a typical man of that heroic age in that he possessed, even to excess, all its tropic irregularity of ethics. He lived in a perpetual alternation of thunderstorm and blazing sunshine. He admitted himself that his "reason," by which he meant his judgment, "was exceeding weak," and his tactlessness constantly precluded a due appreciation of his courage and nobility. For long years his violent and haughty temper made him the most unpopular man in England, except in Devonshire, where everybody doted on him. He was "a man of desperate fortunes," and he did not shrink from violent methods. In studying his life we are amused, we are almost scandalised, at his snake-like quality. He moves with serpentine undulations, and the beautiful hard head is lifted from ambush to strike the unsuspecting enemy at sight. With his protestations, his volubility, his torrent of excuses, his evasive pertinacity, Sir Walter Raleigh is the very opposite of the "strong silent" type of soldier which the nineteenth century invented for exclusive British consumption.
In judging his character we must take into consideration not only the times in which he lived, but the leaders of English policy with whom he came into collision. He was not thirty years of age, and still at the height of his vivacity, when he was taken into the close favour of Queen Elizabeth. There can be no question that he found in the temper of the monarch something to which his own nature intimately responded. The Queen was an adventurer at heart, as he was, and she was an Englishman of Englishmen. We are accustomed to laugh at the extravagance of the homage which Raleigh paid to a woman old enough to be his mother, at the bravado which made him fling his new plush cloak across a puddle for the Queen to tread over gently, as Fuller tells us, "rewarding him afterwards with many suits for his so free and seasonable tender of so fair a footcloth," or at the story of the rhymes the couple cut on the glass with their diamond rings. In all this, no doubt, there was the fashion of the time, and on Raleigh's part there was ambition and the desire to push his fortunes without scruple. But there was, you may be sure, more than that; there was the instinctive sympathy between the two who hated with the most unflagging and the most burning hate the wicked aggression of Spain. We may be sure that Elizabeth never for a day forgot that Pope Alexander VI. had generously bestowed the Western world on the Crown of Spain. Raleigh spoke a language which might be extravagant and which might be exasperating, which might, in fact, lead to outrageous quarrels between his Cynthia and himself, but which, at least, that Cynthia understood.
But in 1602, when Raleigh was fifty years of age and had his splendours behind him, there came another Pharaoh who knew not Joseph. James I. was the type of the cautious man who only looks to the present, who hopes by staving off a crisis till Tuesday that something fresh will "turn up" by Wednesday. He was disposed, from the very first, to distrust and to waylay the plans of Raleigh. We are told, and can well believe it, that he was "diffident" of Sir Walter's designs. He was uncomfortable in the presence of that breezy "man of desperate fortunes." A very excellent example of the opposition of the two types is offered by the discussion about the golden city of Manoa. Raleigh believed, and after all disappointments continued to be sure, that in the heart of the swamps of the Orinoco there existed a citadel of magnificent wealth, an emporium of diamonds and gold, from which Spain was secretly drawing the riches with which she proposed to overwhelm civilisation. He struggled for nearly a quarter of a century to win this marvellous city for England. James I. chopped in with his cold logic, and declined to believe that any golden mine existed in Guiana "anywhere in nature," as he craftily said. When Raleigh returned after his last miserable failure in May 1617, the monarch spared no sneer and no reproof to the pirate of the seas. Of course, the King was right; there was no mine of diamonds, no golden city. But the immense treasures that haunted Raleigh's dreams were more real than reality; they existed in the future; he looked far ahead, and our sympathies to-day, and our gratitude also, are all for the noble and valorous knight who sailed out into the West searching for an unknown El Dorado.
It is not so easy to defend the character of our hero against those who, like Hume, have objected to his methods in the prosecution of his designs. To Hume, as to many others before and since, Raleigh seemed "extremely defective either in solid understanding, or morals, or both." The excellent historians of the eighteenth century could not make up their minds whether he was a hero or an impostor. Did he believe in the Guiana mine, or was he, through all those strenuous years, hoodwinking the world? Had he any purpose, save to plunder the Spaniard? Perhaps his own family doubted his sanity, for his son Walter, when he charged the Spanish settlement at San Thome, pointed to the house of the little colony and shouted to his men: "Come on, this is the true mine, and none but fools would look for any other!" Accusations of bad faith, of factious behaviour, of disloyal intrigue, were brought up against Sir Walter over and over again during the "day of his tempestuous life, drawn on into an evening" of ignominy and blood. These charges were the "inmost and soul-piercing wounds" of which he spoke, still "aching," still "uncured."
There is no need to recount to you the incidents of his life, but I may remind you that after the failure of the latest expedition to South America the Privy Council, under pressure from the Spanish Ambassador, gave orders to Sir Lewis Stukeley to bring the body of Sir Walter Raleigh speedily to London. This was the culmination of his fall, since, three days after Raleigh landed at Plymouth, the King had assured Spain that "not all those who have given security for Raleigh can save him from the gallows." His examination followed, and the publication of the Apology for the Voyage to Guiana. The trial dragged on, while James I., in a manner almost inconceivable, allowed himself to be hurried and bullied by the insolent tyrant Philip II. If the English King did not make haste to execute Raleigh the Spaniards would fetch him away and hang him in Madrid. In these conditions, and clutching at life as a man clutches at roots and branches when he is sliding down a precipice, the conduct of Raleigh has given cause to his critics to blaspheme. He wriggled like an eel, he pretended to be sick, he pretended to be mad, in order to protract his examination. He prevaricated about his mine, about the French alliance, about the Spanish treaties, about his stores and instruments. Did he believe, or did he not believe, in the Empire of the Inca, in the Amazons or Republic of Women, in the gold lying hidden in the hard white spar of El Dorado? We do not know, and his own latest efforts at explanation only cloud our counsel. He was perhaps really a little mad at last, his feverish brain half-crazed by the movement on land and sea of the triumphant wealth of Spain.
Let us never overlook that the master-passion of his whole career was hatred of this tyrannous prosperity of England's most formidable rival. He acted impulsively, and even unjustly; there was much in his methods that a cool judgment must condemn; but he was fighting, with his back to the wall, in order that the British race should not be crowded out of existence by "the proud Iberian." He saw that if Spain were permitted to extend her military and commercial supremacy unchecked, there would be an end to civilisation. Democracy was a thing as yet undeveloped, but the seeds of it were lying in the warm soil of English liberty, and Raleigh perceived, more vehemently than any other living man, that the complete victory of Spain would involve the shipwreck of England's hopes of future prosperity. Nor was he exclusively interested in England, though all his best hopes were ours. When he had been a lad at Oxford he had broken away from his studies in 1569 to help the Protestant princes as a gentleman volunteer in France, and he took part in the famous battle of Jarnac. He is supposed to have fought in France for six years. From early youth his mind was "bent on military glory," and always in opposition to Spain. His escape from the bloody Vespers of Saint Bartholomew had given him a deep distrust of the policy of Rome. The Spaniard had "abused and tormented" the wretched inhabitants of Flanders. Sir Walter Raleigh dreamed that by the combination in arms of England, France, and the Low Countries, the Spaniards "might not only be persuaded to live in peace, but all their swelling and overflowing streams might be brought back into their natural channels and old banks."
Raleigh stood out, as he put it himself, against "the continuance of this boundless ambition in mortal men." The rulers in Madrid, transported by their own arrogance, had determined to impose their religion, their culture, their form of government, on the world. It was a question whether the vastly superior moral and intellectual energy of England and France would not be crushed beneath the heel of Spain. Raleigh was ready to sacrifice everything, to imperil his own soul, to prevent that. He says you might as well "root out the Christian religion altogether" as join "the rest of all Europe to Spain." In his zeal to prevent "the continuance of this boundless ambition in mortal men," he lent himself to acts which we must not attempt to condone. There is no use in trying to explain away the facts of his cruel and even savage fanaticism in Ireland when he was governor of Munster. He was always apt to be abruptly brutal to a man who crossed his path. But even his Irish career offers aspects on which we may dwell with pure pleasure. Nothing could be more romantic than those adventures, like the feats of a paladin of the Faerie Queen, which he encountered in the great wood of Lismore; while the story of how he carried off Lord and Lady Roche from their breakfast-table in their own castle of Ballyinharsh, and how he rode with them up ravines and round precipices in that mad flight from their retainers, is as rousing as any scene ever imagined by Dumas pere.
Raleigh called himself the Shepherd of the Ocean, and the name fits him well, even though his flock were less like sheep than like a leash of hunting leopards. His theory was that with a pack of small and active pinnaces he could successfully hunt the lumbering Spanish galleons without their being able to hit back. He was, in contradistinction to many preceding English admirals, a cautious fighter at sea, and he says, in a striking passage of the History of the World, written towards the end of his career, "to clap ships together without any consideration belongs rather to a madman than to a man of war." He must have taken the keenest interest in the gigantic failure of the Felicissima Armada in 1588, but, tantalisingly enough, we have no record of his part in it. On the other hand, the two finest of his prose pamphlets, the Relation of the Action in Cadiz Harbour and the incomparable Report on the Fight in the Revenge, supply us with ample materials for forming an idea of his value as a naval strategist. Raleigh's earliest biographer, Oldys the antiquary, speaks of him as "raising a grove of laurels out of the sea," and it is certainly upon that element that he reaches his highest effect of prominence. It was at sea that he could give fullest scope to his hatred of the tyrannous prosperity of Spain. He had to be at once a gamekeeper and a poacher; he had to protect the legitimate interests of English shipping against privateers and pirates, while he was persuaded to be, or felt himself called upon to become, no little of a pirate himself. He was a passionate advocate of the freedom of the seas, and those who look upon Raleigh as a mere hot-brained enthusiast should read his little book called Observations on Trade and Commerce, written in the Tower, and see what sensible views he had about the causes of the depression of trade. These sage opinions did not check him, or his fleets of hunting-pinnaces, from lying in wait for the heavy wallowing plate-ships, laden with Indian carpets and rubies and sandalwood and ebony, which came swinging up to the equator from Ceylon or Malabar. The "freedom of the seas" was for Raleigh's ship, the Roebuck; it was by no means for the Madre de Dios. We find these moral inconsistencies in the mind of the best of adventurers.
A sketch of Raleigh's character would be imperfect indeed if it contained no word concerning his genius as a coloniser. One of his main determinations, early in life, was "to discover and conquer unknown lands, and take possession of them in the Queen's name." We celebrate in Sir Walter Raleigh one of the most intelligent and imaginative of the founders of our colonial empire. The English merchantmen before his time had been satisfied with the determination to grasp the wealth of the New World as it came home to Spain; it had not occurred to them to compete with the great rival at the fountain-head of riches. Even men like Drake and Frobisher had been content with a policy of forbidding Spain, as the poet Wither said, "to check our ships from sailing where they please." South America was already mainly in Spanish hands, but North America was still open to invasion. It was Raleigh's half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, who first thought of planting an English settlement in what is now the United States, in 1578. But Gilbert had "no luck at sea," as Queen Elizabeth observed, and it was Raleigh who, in 1584, took up the scheme of colonisation. He did not drop it until the death of Elizabeth, when, under the east wind of the new regime, the blossom of his colonial enterprises flagged.
The motion for the ceremony of to-day originated with the authorities of an important American city, which proudly bears the name of our adventurer. The earliest settlement in what are now the United States was made at Roanoke, in Virginia, on a day which must always be prominent in the annals of civilisation, August 17th, 1585. But this colony lasted only ten months, and it was not until nearly two years later that the fourth expedition which Raleigh sent out succeeded in maintaining a perilous foothold in the new country. This was the little trembling taper to which his own name was given, the twinkling spark which is now the flourishing city of Raleigh in North Carolina. We may well marvel at the pertinacity with which Sir Walter persisted, in the face of innumerable difficulties, in sending out one colonising fleet after another, although, contrary to common legend, he himself never set foot in North America. It was fortunate that at this period of his career he was wealthy, for the attempts to plant settlements in the vast region which he named Virginia cost him more than L40,000. We note at all turns of his fortune his extraordinary tenacity of purpose, which he illustrated, as though by a motto, in the verses he addressed to a comrade towards the end of his imprisonment in the Tower:—
"Change not! to change thy fortune 'tis too late; Who with a manly faith resolves to die May promise to himself a lasting State, Though not so great, yet free from infamy."
So we may think of him in his prime, as he stood on the Hoe of Plymouth twenty years before, a gallant figure of a man, bedizened with precious stones, velvets, and embroidered damasks, shouting his commands to his captains in a strong Devonshire accent. We think of him resolutely gazing westward always, with the light of the sea in his eyes.
We come to the final scene which we are here to-day to commemorate. Little honour to the rulers of England in 1618 redounds from it, and yet we may feel that it completed and even redeemed from decay the character of Raleigh. This tragedy, which was almost a murder, was needed to round off the accomplishment of so strange and frantic a career of romantic violence, and to stamp it with meaning. If Raleigh had been thrown from his horse or had died of the ague in his bed, we should have been depressed by the squalid circumstances, we should have been less conscious than we are now of his unbroken magnanimity. His failures and his excesses had made him unpopular throughout England, and he was both proud and peevish in his recognition of the fact. He declared that he was "nothing indebted" to the world, and again that, "the common people are evil judges of honest things." But the thirteen years of his imprisonment caused a reaction. People forgot how troublesome he had been and only recollected his magnificence. They remembered nothing but that he had spent his whole energy and fortune in resisting the brutality and avarice of the Spaniard.
Then came the disgraceful scene of his cross-examination at Westminster, and the condemnation by his venal judges at the order of a paltry king. It became known, or shrewdly guessed, that Spain had sent to James I. a hectoring alternative that Raleigh must be executed in London or sent alive for a like purpose to Madrid. The trial was a cowardly and ignominious submission of the English Government to the insolence of England's hereditary enemy. Raleigh seemed for the moment to have failed completely, yet it was really like the act of Samson, who slew more men at his death than in all his life. Samuel Pepys, who had some fine intuitions at a time when the national moral was very low, spoke of Raleigh as being "given over, as a sacrifice," to our enemies. This has been, in truth, the secret of his unfailing romantic popularity, and it is the reason of the emotion which has called us together here three hundred years after his death upon the scaffold.
[Footnote 1: Address delivered at the Mansion House, October 29th, 1918, on occasion of the Tercentenary of Sir Walter Raleigh's death.]
THE SONGS OF SHAKESPEARE
Among the "co-supremes and stars of love" which form the constellated glory of our greatest poet there is one small splendour which we are apt to overlook in our general survey. But, if we isolate it from other considerations, it is surely no small thing that Shakespeare created and introduced into our literature the Dramatic Song. If with statistical finger we turn the pages of all his plays, we shall discover, not perhaps without surprise, that these contain not fewer than fifty strains of lyrical measure. Some of the fifty, to be sure, are mere star-dust, but others include some of the very jewels of our tongue. They range in form from the sophisticated quatorzains of The Two Gentlemen of Verona (where, however, comes "Who is Silvia?") to the reckless snatches of melody in Hamlet. But all have a character which is Shakespearean, and this regardless of the question so often raised, and so incapable of reply, as to whether some of the wilder ones are Shakespeare's composition or no. Whoever originally may have written such scraps as "They bore him bare-faced on the bier" and "Come o'er the bourne, Bessy, to me," the spirit of Shakespeare now pervades and possesses them.
Our poet was a prodigious innovator in this as in so many other matters. Of course, the idea and practice of musical interludes in plays was not quite novel. In Shakespeare's early youth that remarkable artist in language, John Lyly, had presented songs in several of his plays, and these were notable for what his contemporary, Henry Upchear, called "their labouring beauty." We may notice that Lyly's songs were not printed till long after Shakespeare's death, but doubtless he had listened to them. Peele and Greene had brilliant lyrical gifts, but they did not exercise them in their dramas, nor did Lodge, whose novel of Rosalynde (1590) contains the only two precedent songs which we could willingly add to Shakespeare's juvenile repertory. But while I think it would be rash to deny that the lyrics of Lodge and Lyly had their direct influence on the style of Shakespeare, neither of those admirable precursors conceived the possibility of making the Song an integral part of the development of the drama. This was Shakespeare's invention, and he applied it with a technical adroitness which had never been dreamed of before and was never rivalled after.
This was not apprehended by the early critics of our divine poet, and has never yet, perhaps, received all the attention it deserves. We may find ourselves bewildered if we glance at what the eighteenth-century commentators said, for instance, about the songs in Twelfth Night. They called the adorable rhapsodies of the Clown "absurd" and "unintelligible"; "O Mistress mine" was in their ears "meaningless"; "When that I was" appeared to them "degraded buffoonery." They did not perceive the close and indispensable connection between the Clown's song and the action of the piece, although the poet had been careful to point out that it was a moral song "dulcet in contagion," and too good, except for sarcasm, to be wasted on Sir Andrew and Sir Toby. The critics neglected to note what the Duke says about "Come away, come away, Death," and they prattled in their blindness as to whether this must not really have been sung by Viola, all the while insensible to the poignant dramatic value of it as warbled by the ironic Clown in the presence of the blinded pair. But indeed the whole of Twelfth Night is burdened with melody; behind every garden-door a lute is tinkling, and at each change of scene some unseen hand is overheard touching a harp-string. The lovely, infatuated lyrics arrive, dramatically, to relieve this musical tension at its height.
Rather different, and perhaps still more subtle, is the case of A Winter's Tale, where the musical obsession is less prominent, and where the songs are all delivered from the fantastic lips of Autolycus. Here again the old critics were very wonderful. Dr. Burney puts "When daffodils begin to peer" and "Lawn as white as driven snow" into one bag, and flings it upon the dust-heap, as "two nonsensical songs" sung by "a pickpocket." Dr. Warburton blushed to think that such "nonsense" could be foisted on Shakespeare's text. Strange that those learned men were unable to see, not merely that the rogue-songs are intensely human and pointedly Shakespearean, but that they are an integral part of the drama. They complete the revelation of the complex temperament of Autolycus, with his passion for flowers and millinery, his hysterical balancing between laughter and tears, his impish mendacity, his sudden sentimentality, like the Clown's
"Not a friend, not a friend greet My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown!"
It is in these subtle lyrical amalgams of humour and tenderness that the firm hand of the creator of character reveals itself.
But it is in The Tempest that Shakespeare's supremacy as a writer of songs is most brilliantly developed. Here are seven or eight lyrics, and among them are some of the loveliest things that any man has written. What was ever composed more liquid, more elastic, more delicately fairy-like than Ariel's First Song?
"Come unto these yellow sands, And then take hands: Curtsied when you have, and kiss'd,— The wild waves whist."
That is, not "kissed the wild waves," as ingenious punctuators pretend, but, parenthetically, "kissed one another,—the wild waves being silent the while." Even fairies do not kiss waves, than which no embrace could be conceived less rewarding. Has any one remarked the echo of Marlowe here, from Hero and Leander,
"when all is whist and still, Save that the sea playing on yellow sand Sends forth a rattling murmur to the land!"
But Marlowe, with all his gifts, could never have written the lyrical parts of The Tempest. This song is in emotional sympathy with Ferdinand, and in the truest sense dramatic, not a piece of pretty verse foisted in to add to the entertainment.
Ariel's Second Song has been compared with Webster's "Call for the robin redbreast" in The White Devil, but solemn as Webster's dirge is, it tolls, it docs not sing to us. Shakespeare's "ditty," as Ferdinand calls it, is like a breath of the west wind over an aeolian harp. Where, in any language, has ease of metre triumphed more adorably than in Ariel's Fourth Song,—"Where the bee sucks"? Dowden saw in Ariel the imaginative genius of English poetry, recently delivered from Sycorax. If we glance at Dry den's recension of The Tempest we may be inclined to think that the "wicked dam" soon won back her mastery. With all respect to Dryden, what are we to think of his discretion in eking out Shakespeare's insufficiencies with such staves as this:—
"Upon the floods we'll sing and play And celebrate a halcyon day; Great Nephew Aeolus make no noise, Muzzle your roaring boys."
and so forth? What had happened to the ear of England in seventy years?
As a matter of fact the perfection of dramatic song scarcely survived Shakespeare himself. The early Jacobeans, Heywood, Ford, and Dekker in particular, broke out occasionally in delicate ditties. But most playwrights, like Massinger, were persistently pedestrian. The only man who came at all close to Shakespeare as a lyrist was John Fletcher, whose "Lay a garland on my hearse" nobody could challenge if it were found printed first in a Shakespeare quarto. The three great songs in "Valentinian" have almost more splendour than any of Shakespeare's, though never quite the intimate beauty, the singing spontaneity of "Under the greenwood tree" or "Hark, hark, the lark." It has grown to be the habit of anthologists to assert Shakespeare's right to "Roses, their sharp spikes being gone." The mere fact of its loveliness and perfection gives them no authority to do so; and to my ear the rather stately procession of syllables is reminiscent of Fletcher. We shall never be certain; and who would not swear that "Hear, ye ladies that are coy" was by the same hand that wrote "Sigh no more, ladies," if we were not sure of the contrary? But the most effective test, even in the case of Fletcher, is to see whether the trill of song is, or is not, an inherent portion of the dramatic structure of the play. This is the hall-mark of Shakespeare, and perhaps of him alone.
THE PRECURSOR OF THE BLUESTOCKINGS
The practically complete absence of the Woman of Letters from our tropical and profuse literature of the early and middle seventeenth century has often been observed with wonder. While France had her Madeleine de Scudery and her Mlle. de Gournay and her Mere Angelique Arnauld, Englishwomen of the Stuart age ventured upon no incursions into philosophy, fiction, or theology. More and more eagerly, however, they read books; and as a consequence of reading, they began at last to write. The precious Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle, hob-a-nobbed with every Muse in her amazing divagations. But the earliest professional woman of letters was Aphra Behn, the novelist and playwright, to whose genius justice has only quite lately been done by Mr. Montague Summers. Mrs. Behn died in 1689, and it seemed at first that she had left no heritage to her sex. But there presently appeared a set of female writers, who enlivened the last years of the century, but who were soon eclipsed by the wits of the age of Anne, and who have been entirely forgotten. It is to the most interesting of these "transient phantoms" that I wish to draw attention.
The extreme precocity of Catharine Trotter makes her seem to belong to the age of Dryden, but she was in reality younger than Addison and most of the other contemporaries of Pope. She was born on August 16th, 1679, the younger daughter of a naval officer, Captain David Trotter, R.N.; her mother's maiden name had been Sarah Ballenden, probably of the well-known Catholic family of that ilk. She "had the honour of being nearly related to the illustrious families of Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale and Drummond, Earl of Perth." The Jacobite fourth Earl of Perth seems to have been the patron of Captain Trotter, of whom he wrote in 1684 that he was "an ornament to his country." Apparently the gallant captain was attached to Trinity House, where his probity and integrity earned him the epithet of "honest David," and where he attracted the notice of George, first Lord Dartmouth, when that rising statesman was appointed Master. Captain Trotter had served the Crown from his youth, "with great gallantry and fidelity, both by land and sea," and had been very successful in the Dutch wars. He had a brother who was a commander in the Navy. We get an impression of high respectability in the outer, but not outermost, circles of influential Scottish society. Doubtless the infancy of Catharine was spent in conditions of dependent prosperity. These conditions were not to last. When she was four years old Lord Dartmouth started on the famous expedition to demolish Tangier, and he took Captain Trotter with him as his commodore. In this affair, as before, the captain distinguished himself by his ability, and instead of returning to London after Tangier he was recommended to King Charles II. as the proper person to convoy the fleet of the Turkey Company to its destination. Apparently it was understood that this would be the final reward of his services and that he was to "make his fortune" out of the Turks. Unhappily, after convoying his charge safely to Scanderoon, he fell sick of the plague that was raging there, and died, in the course of January 1684, in company with all the other officers of his ship. Every misfortune now ensued; the purser, who was thus left to his own devices, helped himself to the money destined for the expenses of the voyage, while, to crown all, the London goldsmith in whose hands the captain had left his private fortune took this occasion to go bankrupt. The King, in these melancholy circumstances, granted an Admiralty pension to the widow, but when he died early in the following year this was no longer paid, and the unfortunate ladies of the Trotter family might well murmur:—
"One mischief brings another on his neck, As mighty billows tumble in the seas."
From the beginning of her fifth year, then, Catharine experienced the precarious lot of those who depend for a livelihood on the charity of more or less distant relatives. We dimly see a presentable mother piteously gathering up such crumbs as fell from the tables of the illustrious families with whom she was remotely connected. But the Duke of Lauderdale himself was now dead, and the Earl of Perth had passed the zenith of his power. No doubt in the seventeenth century the protection of poor relations was carried on more systematically than it is to-day, and certainly Mrs. Trotter contrived to live and to bring up her two daughters genteelly. The first years were the worst; the accession of William III. brought back to England and to favour Gilbert Burnet, who became Bishop of Salisbury in 1688, when Catharine was nine years old. Mrs. Trotter found a patron and perhaps an employer in the Bishop, and when Queen Anne came to the throne her little pension was renewed.
There is frequent reference to money in Catharine Trotter's writings, and the lack of it was the rock upon which her gifts were finally wrecked. With a competency she might have achieved a much more prominent place in English literature than she could ever afford to reach. She offers a curious instance of the depressing effect of poverty, and we get the impression that she was never, during her long and virtuous career, lifted above the carking anxiety which deadens the imagination. As a child, however, she seems to have awakened hopes of a high order. She was a prodigy, and while little more than an infant she displayed an illumination in literature which was looked upon, in that age of female darkness, as quite a portent. She taught herself French, "by her own application without any instructor," but was obliged to accept some assistance in acquiring Latin and logic. The last-mentioned subject became her particular delight, and at a very tender age she drew up "an abstract" of that science "for her own use." Thus she prepared for her future communion with Locke and with Leibnitz. When she was very small, in spite of frequent conferences with learned members of the Church of England, she became persuaded of the truth of Catholicism and joined the Roman communion. We may conjecture that this coincided with the conversion of her kinsman, Lord Chancellor Perth, but as events turned out it cannot but have added to the sorrows of that much-tried woman, her mother. (It should be stated that Catharine resumed the Anglican faith when she was twenty-eight years of age.)
She was in her tenth year when the unhappy reign of James II. came to a close. Mrs. Trotter's connections were now in a poor plight. The new Earl of Lauderdale was in great distress for money; Lord Dartmouth, abandoned by the King in his flight, was thrown into the Tower, where he died on October 25th, 1691, in which year the estates of the Earl of Perth were sequestered and he himself hunted out of the country. Ruin simultaneously fell on all the fine friends of our infant prodigy, and we can but guess how it affected her. Yet there were plenty of other Jacobites left in London, and Catharine's first public appearance shows that she cultivated their friendship. She published in 1693 a copy of verses addressed to Mr. Bevil Higgons on the occasion of his recovery from the smallpox; she was then fourteen years of age. Higgons was a young man of twenty-three, who had lately returned from the exiled court in France, where he had distinguished himself by his agreeable manners, and who had just made a name for himself by poems addressed to Dryden and by a prologue to Congreve's Old Batchelor. He was afterwards to become famous for a little while as a political historian. Catharine Trotter's verses are bad, but she addresses Higgons as "lovely youth," and claims his gratitude for her tribute in terms which are almost boisterous. This poem was not only her introduction to the public, but, through Bevil Higgons, was probably the channel of her acquaintance with Congreve and Dryden.
Throughout her life she was fond of writing letters to celebrated people; she now certainly wrote to Congreve and doubtless to Dryden. A freedom in correspondence ran in the family. Her poor mother is revealed to us as always "renewing her application" to somebody or other. We next find the youthful poet in relation with the Earl of Dorset, from whom she must have concealed her Jacobite propensities. Dorset was the great public patron of poetry under William III., and Catharine Trotter, aged sixteen, having composed a tragedy, appealed to him for support. It was very graciously granted, and Agnes de Castro, in five acts and in blank verse, "written by a young lady," was produced at the Theatre Royal in 1695, under the "protection" of Charles Earl of Dorset and Middlesex, Lord Chamberlain of His Majesty's Household. The event caused a considerable commotion. No woman had written for the English stage since the death of Mrs. Behn, and curiosity was much excited. Mrs. Verbruggen, that enchanting actress, but in male attire, recited a clever, ranting epilogue at the close of the performance, in which she said:—
"'tis whispered here Our Poetess is virtuous, young and fair,"
but the secret was an open one. Wycherley, who contributed verses, knew all about it, and so did Mrs. Manley, while Powell and Colley Cibber were among the actors. We may be sure that little Mistress Trotter's surprising talents were the subjects of much discussion at Will's Coffee House, and that the question of securing her for the rival theatre was anxiously debated at Lincoln's Inn Fields. Her success in Agnes de Castro was the principal asset which Drury Lane had to set that season against Congreve's splendid adventure with Love for Love.
Agnes de Castro is an immature production, and shows a juvenile insensibility to plagiarism, since the subject and treatment are borrowed implicitly from a French novel by Mlle. de Brillac, published in Paris and London a few years before. The conception of court life at Coimbra in the fourteenth century is that of this French lady, and is innocent of Portuguese local colour. But, as the dramatic work of a girl of sixteen, the play is rather extraordinary for nimble movement and adroit theatrical arrangements. It is evident that Catharine Trotter was well versed in the stage traditions of her own day, and we may wonder how a highly respectable girl of sixteen found her opportunity. The English playhouse under William III. was no place for a very young lady, even if she wore a mask. There is a good deal of meritorious character-drawing in Agnes de Castro. The conception of a benevolent and tenderly forgiving Princess is well contrasted with the fierce purity of Agnes and the infatuation of the Prince. Towards the close of the first act there is a capital scene of exquisite confusion between this generous and distracted trio. The opening of the third act, between Elvira and her brother Alvaro, is not at all young-ladyish, and has some strong turns of feeling. The end of the play, with the stabbing of the Princess and the accusation of Agnes by Elvira, is puerile, but was doubtless welcome to a sentimental audience. It is a bad play, but not at all an unpromising one.
Early in 1696 Agnes de Castro, still anonymous, was published as a book, and for the next five or six years we find Catharine Trotter habitually occupied in writing for the stage. Without question she did so professionally, though in what way dramatists at the close of the seventeenth century lived by their pens is difficult to conjecture. A very rare play, The Female Wits; or, the Triumvirate of Poets, the authorship of which has hitherto defied conjecture, was acted at Drury Lane after Catharine Trotter had been tempted across to Lincoln's Inn Fields, and is evidently inspired by the intense jealousy which smouldered between the two great houses. The success of Miss Trotter incited two older ladies to compete with her; these were Mrs. Delariviere Manley, who was a discarded favourite of Barbara Villiers, and fat Mrs. Mary Pix, the stage-struck consort of a tailor. These rather ridiculous women professed themselves followers of Catharine, and they produced plays of their own not without some success. With her they formed the trio of Female Wits who were mocked in the lively but, on the whole, rather disappointing play I have just mentioned, in the course of which it is spitefully remarked of Calista—who is Miss Trotter—that she has "made no small struggle in the world to get into print," and is "now in such a state of wedlock to pen and ink that it will be very difficult" for her "to get out of it."
In acting The Female Wits Mrs. Temple, who had played the Princess in Agnes de Castro, took the part of Calista, and doubtless, in the coarse fashion of those days, made up exactly like poor Catharine Trotter, who was described as "a Lady who pretends to the learned Languages, and assumes to herself the name of a Critic." This was a character, however, which she would not have protested against with much vigour, for she had now quite definitely taken up the position of a reformer and a pioneer. She posed as the champion of women's intellectual rights, and she was accepted as representing in active literary work the movement which Mary Astell had recently foreshadowed in her remarkable Serious Proposal to Ladies of 1694. We turn again to The Female Wits, and we find Marsilia (Mrs. Manley) describing Calista to Mrs. Wellfed (Mrs. Fix) as "the vainest, proudest, senseless Thing! She pretends to grammar! writes in mood and figure! does everything methodically!" Yet when Calista appears on the stage, Mrs. Manley rushes across to fling her arms around her and to murmur: "O charmingest Nymph of all Apollo's Train, let me embrace thee!" Later on Calista says to Mrs. Pix, the fat tailoress, "I cannot but remind you, Madam ... I read Aristotle in his own language"; and of a certain tirade in a play of Ben Jonson she insists: "I know it so well, as to have turn'd it into Latin." Mrs. Pix admits her own ignorance of all these things; she "can go no further than the eight parts of speech." This brings down upon her an icy reproof from Calista: "Then I cannot but take the Freedom to say ... you impose upon the Town." We get the impression of a preciseness of manner and purpose which must have given Catharine a certain air of priggishness, not entirely unbecoming, perhaps, but very strange in that loose theatre of William III.
Accordingly, in her next appearance, we find her complaining to the Princess (afterwards Queen Anne) that she has become "the mark of ill Nature" through recommending herself "by what the other Sex think their peculiar Prerogative"—that is, intellectual distinction. Catharine Trotter was still only nineteen years of age when she produced her tragedy of Fatal Friendship, the published copy of which (1698) is all begarlanded with evidences of her high moral purpose in the shape of a succession of "applausive copies" of verses. In these we are told that she had "checked the rage of reigning vice that had debauched the stage." This was an allusion to the great controversy then just raised by Jeremy Collier in his famous Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the Stage, in which all the dramatists of the day were violently attacked for their indecency. Catharine Trotter has the courage to side with Collier, and the tact to do so without quarrelling with her male colleagues. She takes the side of the decent women.
"You as your Sex's champion art come forth To fight their quarrel and assert their worth,"
one of her admirers exclaims, and another adds:—
"You stand the first of stage-reformers too."
The young poetess aimed at reconciling the stage with virtue and at vindicating the right of woman to assume "the tragic laurel."
This was the most brilliant moment in the public career of our bluestocking. Fatal Friendship enjoyed a success which Catharine Trotter was not to taste again, and of all her plays it is the only one which has ever been reprinted. It is very long and extremely sentimental, and written in rather prosy blank verse. Contemporaries said that it placed Miss Trotter in the forefront of British drama, in company with Congreve and Granville "the polite," who had written a She-Gallants, which was everything that Miss Trotter did not wish her plays to be. Fatal Friendship has an ingenious plot, in which the question of money takes a prominence very unusual in tragedy. Almost every character in the piece is in reduced circumstances. Felicia, sister to Belgard (who is too poor to maintain her), is wooed by the wealthy Roquelaure, although she is secretly married to Gramont, who is also too poor to support a wife. Belgard, afraid that Gramont will make love to Felicia (that is, to his own secret wife), persuades him—in order that his best friend, Castalio, may be released from a debtor's prison—bigamously to many Lamira, a wealthy widow. But Castalio is in love with Lamira, and is driven to frenzy by Gramont's illegal marriage. It all depends upon income in a manner comically untragical. The quarrel between the friends in the fifth act is an effective piece of stage-craft, but the action is spoiled by a ridiculous general butchery at the close of all. However, the audience was charmed, and even "the stubbornest could scarce deny their Tears."
Fatal Friendship was played at the Lincoln's Inn Theatre, and no doubt it was Congreve who brought Miss Trotter over from Drury Lane. His warm friendship for her had unquestionably a great deal to do with her success and with the jealousy of her rivals. A letter exists in which the great dramatist acknowledges, in 1697, the congratulations of his young admirer, and it breathes an eager cordiality. Congreve requested Betterton to present him to Catharine Trotter, and his partiality for her company is mentioned by several writers. The spiteful author of The Female Wits insinuates that Congreve made the looking-over of Catharine's scenes "his pretence for daily visits." Another satirist, in 1698, describes Congreve sitting very gravely with his hat over his eyes, "together with the two she-things called Poetesses which write for his house," half-hidden from the public in a little side-box. Farquhar, too, seeing the celebrated writer of Fatal Friendship in the theatre on the third night of the performance of his Love and a Bottle, had "his passions wrought so high" by a sight of the beautiful author that he wrote her a letter in which he called her "one of the fairest of the sex, and the best judge." If Catharine Trotter, as the cynosure of delicacy, at the age of nineteen, sat through Love and a Bottle without a blush, even her standard of decency was not very exacting. But in all this rough, coarse world of wit her reputation never suffered a rebuff.
Encouraged by so much public and private attention, our young dramatist continued to work with energy and conscientiousness. But her efforts were forestalled by an event, or rather a condition of the national temper, of which too little notice has been taken by literary historians. The attacks on the stage for its indecency and blasphemy had been flippantly met by the theatrical agents, but they had sunk deeply into the conscience of the people. There followed with alarming abruptness a general public repulsion against the playhouses, and to this, early in 1699, a roughly worded Royal Proclamation gave voice. During the whole of that year the stage was almost in abeyance, and even Congreve, with The Way of the World, was unable to woo his audience back to Lincoln's Inn. During this time of depression Catharine Trotter composed at least two tragedies, which she was unable to get performed, while the retirement of Congreve in a paroxysm of annoyance must have been a very serious disadvantage to her.
On May 1st, 1700, Dryden died, and with him a dramatic age passed away. What Miss Trotter's exact relations with the great poet had been is uncertain; she not only celebrated his death in a long elegy, in which she speaks on behalf of the Muses, but wrote another and more important poem, in which she gives very sound advice to the poetical beginner, who is to take Dryden as a model, and to be particularly careful to disdain Settle, Durfey, and Blackmore, typical poetasters of the period. She recommends social satire to the playwright:—
"Let the nice well-bred beau himself perceive The most accomplished, useless thing alive; Expose the bottle-sparks that range the town,— Shaming themselves with follies not their own,— But chief these foes to virgin innocence, Who, while they make to honour vain pretence, With all that's base and impious can dispense."
Honour to those who aim high and execute boldly!
"If Shakespeare's spirit, with transporting fire, The animated scene throughout inspire; If in the piercing wit of Vanbrugh drest, Each sees his darling folly made a jest; If Garth's and Dryden's genius, through each line, In artful praise and well-turn'd satire shine,— To us ascribe the immortal sacred flame."
In this dead period of the stage Catharine Trotter found a warm friend and doubtless an efficient patron in a Lady Piers, of whom we should be glad to know more. Sir George Piers, the husband of this lady, was an officer of rank under the Duke of Marlborough, later to become useful to Catharine Trotter. Meanwhile the latter returned to the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, where, in 1701, under the patronage of Lord Halifax—Pope's "Bufo"—she produced her third tragedy, The Unhappy Penitent. The dedication of this play to Halifax is a long and interesting essay on the poetry of the age. The author passes Dryden, Otway, Congreve, and Lee under examination, and finds technical blemishes in them all:—
"The inimitable Shakespeare seems alone secure on every side from an attack. I speak not here of faults against the rules of poetry, but against the natural Genius. He had all the images of nature present to him, studied her thoroughly, and boldly copied all her various features, for though he has chiefly exerted himself on the more masculine passions, 'tis as the choice of his judgment, not the restraint of his genius, and he has given us as a proof he could be every way equally admirable."
Lady Piers wrote the prologue to The Unhappy Penitent in verses better turned than might have been expected. She did not stint praise to her young friend, whom she compares to the rising sun:—
"Like him, bright Maid, Thy great perfections shine As awful, as resplendent, as divine!... Minerva and Diana guard your soul!"
The Unhappy Penitent is not a pleasing performance: it is amorous and violent, but yet dull. Catharine's theory was better than her practice. Nevertheless, it seems to have been successful, for the author some time afterwards, speaking of the town's former discouragement of her dramas, remarks that "the taste is mended." Later in 1701 she brought out at Drury Lane her only comedy, Love at a Loss, dedicated in most enthusiastic terms to Lady Piers, to whom "I owe the greatest Blessing of my Fate," the privilege of a share in her friendship. Love at a Loss was made up of the comic scenes introduced into an old tragedy which the author had failed to get acted. This is not a fortunate method of construction, and the town showed no favour to Love at a Loss. The first and only public section of Catharine Trotter's career was now over, and she withdrew, a wayworn veteran at the age of twenty-two, to more elevated studies.
When Love at a Loss was published the author had already left town, and after a visit to Lady Piers in Kent she now settled at Salisbury, at the house of a physician, Dr. Inglis, who had married her only sister. Her growing intimacy with the family of Bishop Burnet may have had something to do with her determination to make this city her home. She formed a very enthusiastic friendship with the Bishop's second lady, who was an active theologian and a very intelligent woman. Our poetess was fascinated by Mrs. Burnet. "I have not met," she writes in 1701, "such perfection in any of our sex." She now visited in the best Wiltshire society. When the famous singer, John Abell, was in Salisbury, he gave a concert at the palace, and Catharine Trotter was so enchanted that she rode out after him six miles to Tisbury to hear him sing again at Lord Arundell of Wardour's house. She had a great appreciation of the Bishop's "volatile activity." It is now that the name of Locke first occurs in her correspondence, and we gather that she came into some personal contact with him through a member of the Bishop's family—George Burnet of Kemney, in Aberdeenshire—probably a cousin, with whom she now cultivated an ardent intellectual friendship. He left England on a mission which occupied him from the middle of 1701 until 1708, and this absence, as we may suspect, alone prevented their acquaintance from ripening into a warmer feeling. The romance and tragedy of Catharine Trotter's life gather, it is plain, around this George Burnet, who was a man of brilliant accomplishments and interested, like herself, in philosophical studies.
These, it would appear, Catharine Trotter had never abandoned, but she applied herself to them closely at Salisbury, where she made some superior acquaintances. One of these was John Norris of Bemerton, whose Theory of an Ideal and Intelligible World had just made some sensation. By the intermediary of George Burnet she came in touch with some of the leading French writers of the moment, such as Malebranche and Madame Dacier. There is a French poet, unnamed, who understands English, but he is gone to Rome before he can be made to read The Fatal Friendship. Meanwhile, Catharine Trotter's obsession with the ideas of Locke was giving some anxiety to her friends. That philosopher had published his famous Essay on the Human Understanding in 1690, and it had taken several years for the opposition to his views, and in particular to his theological toleration, to take effect. But in 1697 there were made a number of almost simultaneous attacks on Locke's position. The circle at Salisbury was involved in them, for one of these was written by Norris of Bemerton, and another is attributed to a member of the Burnet family. Catharine Trotter, who had studied Locke's later works with enthusiastic approval, was scandalised by the attacks, and sat down to refute them. This must have been in 1701.
Although the intellectual society of Salisbury was prominent in taking the conservative view of Locke, our bluestocking could not refrain from telling Mrs. Burnet what she had done, nor from showing her treatise to that friend under vows of confidence. But Mrs. Burnet, who was impulsive and generous, could not keep the secret; she spoke about it to the Bishop, and then to Norris of Bemerton, and finally (in June 1702) to Locke himself. Locke was at Oates, confined by his asthma; he was old and suffering, but still full of benevolence and curiosity, and he was graciously interested in his remarkable defender at Salisbury. As he could not himself travel, he sent his adopted son to call on Catharine Trotter, with a present of books; this was Peter King, still a young man, but already M.P. for Beer Alston, and later to become Lord Chancellor and the first Lord King of Ockham. George Burnet, writing from Paris, had been very insistent that Catharine should not publish her treatise, but she overruled his objections, and her Defence of Mr. Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding appeared anonymously in May 1702. People were wonderfully polite in those days, and Locke himself wrote to his "protectress" a charming letter in which he told her that her "Defence was the greatest honour my Essay could have procured me."
She sent her Defence to Leibnitz, who criticised it at considerable length:—
"J'ai lu livre de Mlle. Trotter. Dans la dedicace elle exhorte M. Locke a donner des demonstrations de morale. Je crois qu'il aurait eu de la peine a y reussir. L'art de demontrer n'est pas son fait. Je tiens que nous nous appercevons sans raisonnement de ce qui est juste et injuste, comme nous nous appercevons sans raison de quelques theoremes de Geometrie; mais il est tousjours bon de venir a la demonstration. Justice et injustice ne dependent seulement de la nature humaine, mais de la nature de la substance intelligente en general; et Mlle. Trotter remarque fort bien qu'elle vient de la nature de Dieu et n'est point arbitraire. La nature de Dieu est tousjours fondee en raison."
Notwithstanding all this, the commentators of Locke appear, without exception, to ignore the Defence, and it was probably never much read outside the cultivated Salisbury circle.
In this year, 1702, the health of Catharine Trotter began to give her uneasiness, and it was for this reason that she left Salisbury for a while. She was once more living in that city, however, from May 1703 to March 1704, making a special study of geography. "My strength," she writes to George Burnet, "is very much impaired, and God knows whether I shall ever retrieve it." Her thoughts turned again to the stage, and in the early months of 1703 she composed her fifth and last play, the tragedy of The Revolution in Sweden; "but it will not be ready for the stage," she says, "till next winter." Her interest in philosophy did not flag. She was gratified by some communications, through Burnet, with Leibnitz, and she would have liked to be the intermediary between Locke and some philosophical "gentlemen" on the Continent, probably Malebranche and Leibnitz, in a controversy. But this was hopeless, and she writes (March 16th, 1704):—
"Mr. Locke is unwilling to engage in controversy with the gentlemen you mention; for, I am informed, his infirmities have obliged him, for some time past, to desist from his serious studies, and only employ himself in lighter things, which serve to amuse and unbend the mind."
Locke, indeed, had but six months more to live, and though he retained his charming serenity of spirit he was well aware that the end approached. Never contentious or desirous of making a sensation, he was least of all, in his present precarious state, likely to enter into discussion with foreign philosophers. It does not appear that Catharine Trotter ever enjoyed the felicity of seeing in the flesh the greatest object of her homage; but he occupied most of her thoughts. She was rendered highly indignant by the efforts made by the reactionaries at Oxford and elsewhere to discourage the writings of Locke and to throw suspicion on their influence. She read over and over again his philosophical, educational, and religious treatises, and ever found them more completely to her taste. If she had enjoyed the power to do so she would have proclaimed the wisdom and majesty of Locke from every housetop, and she envied Lady Masham her free and constant intercourse with so beautiful a mind. Catharine Trotter watched, but from a distance, the extinction of a life thus honoured, which came to a peaceful end at Oates on October 28th, 1704. The following passage does not appear—or I am much mistaken—to have attracted the attention of Locke's biographers:—
"I was very sensibly touched with the news of Mr. Locke's death. All the particulars I hear of it are that he retained his perfect senses to the last, and spoke with the same composedness and indifference on affairs as usual. His discourse was much on the different views a dying man has of worldly things; and that nothing gives him any satisfaction, but the reflection of what good he has done in his life. Lady Masham went to his chamber to speak to him on some, business; when he had answered in the same manner he was accustomed to speak, he desired her to leave the room, and, immediately after she was gone, turned about and died."
She records that, after the death of Locke, Lady Masham communicated with Leibnitz, and Catharine is very indignant because a doubt had been suggested as to whether the writer's thoughts and expressions were her own. This was calculated to infuriate Catharine Trotter, who outpours in forcible terms her just indignation:—
"Women are as capable of penetrating into the grounds of things, and reasoning justly, as men are, who certainly have no advantage of us, but in their opportunities of knowledge. As Lady Masham is allowed by everybody to have great natural endowments, she has taken pains to improve them; and no doubt profited much by a long intimate society with so extraordinary a man as Mr. Locke. So that I see no reason to suspect a woman of her character would pretend to write anything that was not entirely her own. I pray, be more equitable to her sex than the generality of your's are, who, when anything is written by a woman that they cannot deny their approbation to, are sure to rob us of the glory of it by concluding 'tis not her own."
This is the real voice of Catharine Trotter, raised to defend her sex, and conscious of the many intellectual indignities and disabilities which they suffered.
The first draft of The Revolution in Sweden being now completed, she sent it to Congreve, who was living very quietly in lodgings in Arundell Street. He allowed some time to go by before, on November 2nd, 1703, he acknowledged it. His criticism, which is extremely kind, is also penetrating and full. "I think the design in general," he says, "very great and noble; the conduct of it very artful, if not too full of business which may run into length and obscurity." He warns her against having too much noise of fighting on the stage in her second act, and against offending probability in the third. The fourth act is confused, and in the fifth there are too many harangues. Catharine Trotter has asked him to be frank, and so he is, but his criticism is practical and encouraging. This excellent letter deserves to be better known.
To continue the history of Miss Trotter's fifth and last play, The Revolution in Sweden was at length brought out at the Queen's Theatre in the Haymarket, towards the close of 1704. It had every advantage which popular acting could give it, since the part of the hero, Count Arwide, was played by Betterton; that of Constantia, the heroine, by Mrs. Barry; Gustavus by Booth; and Christina by Mrs. Harcourt. In spite of this galaxy of talent, the reception of the play was unfavourable. The Duchess of Marlborough "and all her beauteous family" graced the theatre on the first night, but the public was cold and inattentive. Some passages of a particularly lofty moral tone provoked laughter. The Revolution in Sweden, in fact, was shown to suffer from the ineradicable faults which Congreve had gently but justly suggested. It was very long, and very dull, and very wordy, and we could scarcely find a more deadly specimen of virtuous and didactic tragedy. Catharine was dreadfully disappointed, nor was she completely consoled by being styled—by no less a person than Sophia Charlotte, Queen of Prussia—"The Sappho of Scotland." She determined, however, to appeal to readers against auditors, and when, two years later, after still further revision, she published The Revolution in Sweden, she dedicated it in most grateful terms to the Duke of Marlborough's eldest daughter, Henrietta Godolphin.
How Miss Trotter came to be favoured by the Churchills appears from various sources to be this. Her brother-in-law, Dr. Inglis, was now physician-general in the army, and was in personal relations with the General. When the victory at Blenheim (August 1704) was announced, Catharine Trotter wrote a poem of welcome back to England. It is to be supposed that a manuscript copy of it was shown by Inglis to the Duke, with whose permission it was published about a month later. The poem enjoyed a tremendous success, for the Duke and Duchess and Lord Treasurer Godolphin "and several others" all liked the verses and said they were better than any other which had been written on the subject. George Burnet, who saw the Duke in Germany, reported him highly pleased with her—"the wisest virgin I ever knew," he writes. She now hoped, with the Duke's protection, to recover her father's fortune and be no longer a burden to her brother-in-law. A pension of L20 from Queen Anne gave her mother now a shadow of independence, but Catharine herself was wholly disappointed at that "settlement for my life" which she was ardently hoping for. I think that, if she had secured it, George Burnet would have come back from Germany to marry her. Instead of that he sent her learned messages from Bayle and from Leibnitz, who calls her "une Demoiselle fort spirituelle."
Catharine Trotter now left London and Salisbury, and took up her abode at Ockham Mills, close to Ripley, in Surrey, as companion to an invalid, Mrs. De Vere. She probably chose this place on account of the Locke connection and the friendship of Peter King, since there is now much in her correspondence about Damaris, Lady Masham, and others in that circle in which George Burnet himself was intimate. But great changes were imminent. Although her correspondence at this time is copious it is not always very intelligible, and it is very carelessly edited. Her constant interchange of letters with George Burnet leaves the real position between them on many points obscure. In 1704, when he thought that he was dying in Berlin, he wrote to Catharine Trotter that he had left her L100 in his will, and added: "Pray God I might live to give you much more myself." He regrets that he had so easily "pulled himself from her company," and suggests that if she had not left London to settle in Salisbury he would have stayed in England. Years after they had parted we find him begging her to continue writing to him "at least once a week." She, on her part, tells him that he well knows that there is but one person she could ever think of marrying. He seems to have made her want of vivid religious conviction the excuse for not proposing to her, but it is not easy to put aside the conviction that it was her want of a fortune which actuated him most strongly. Finally, he tries to pique her by telling her that he "knows of parties" in the city of Hanover "who might bring him much honour and comfort" were he "not afraid of losing (Catharine Trotter's) friendship." They write to one another with extreme formality, but that proves nothing. A young woman, passionately in love with a man whom she had just accepted as her future husband, was expected, in 1705, to close her letter by describing herself as "Sir, your very humble servant."
If George Burnet hinted of "parties" in Hanover, Catharine Trotter on her side could boast of Mr. Fenn, "a young clergyman of excellent character," who now laid an ardent siege to her heart. Embarrassed by these attentions, she took the bold step of placing the matter before Mr. Cockburn, a still younger clergyman, of even more excellent character. The letter in which she makes this ingenuous declaration as to a father confessor is one of the tenderest examples extant of the "Why don't you speak for yourself, John?" form of correspondence. Mr. Cockburn, one of the minor clergy of the Salisbury set, did speak for himself, and George Burnet having at length announced his own projected marriage with a lady of old acquaintance, Catharine Trotter hesitated no longer but accepted the hand of Mr. Cockburn. They were married early in 1708. Thackeray could have created an amusing romance out of the relations of these four people to one another, and in particular it would have been very interesting to see what he would have made of the character of George Burnet.
Catharine Cockburn was now, after so eventful a life of emotional and intellectual experience, still a young woman, not far past her twenty-eighth birthday. She was to survive for more than forty-three years, during which time she was to correspond much, to write persistently, and to publish whenever opportunity offered. But I do not propose to accompany her much further on her blameless career. All through her married life, which was spent at various places far from London, she existed almost like a plant in a Leyden jar. Constant genteel poverty, making it difficult for her to buy books and impossible to travel was supported by her with dignity and patience, but it dwarfed her powers. Her later writings, on philosophy, on morality, on the principles of the Christian religion, are so dull that merely to think of them brings tears into one's eyes. She who had sparkled as a girl with Congreve and exchanged polite amenities with Locke lived on to see modern criticism begin with Samuel Johnson and the modern novel start with Samuel Richardson, but without observing that any change had come into the world of letters. Her husband, owing to his having fallen "into a scruple about the oath of abjuration," lost his curacy and "was reduced to great difficulties in the support of his family." Nevertheless—a perfect gentleman at heart—he "always prayed for the King and Royal family by name." Meanwhile, to uplift his spirits in this dreadful condition, he is discovered engaged upon a treatise on the Mosaic deluge, which he could persuade no publisher to print. He reminds us of Dr. Primrose in The Vicar of Wakefield, and, like him, Mr. Cockburn probably had strong views on the Whistonian doctrine.
So little mark did poor Mrs. Cockburn make on her younger contemporaries that she disappeared forthwith from literary history. Her works, especially her plays, have become so excessively rare as to be almost unprocurable. The brief narrative of her life and her activities which I have taken the liberty of presenting to-day would be hopelessly engulfed in obscurity, and we should know as little of Catharine Trotter as we do of Mary Pix, and Delariviere Manley, and many late seventeenth-century authors more eminent than they, had it not been that in 1751, two years after her death, all her papers were placed in the hands of an ingenious clergyman, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Birch, who printed them for subscribers in two thick and singularly unpleasing volumes. This private edition was never reissued, and is now itself a rare book. It is the sort of book that for two hundred and fifty years must fatally have been destroyed as lumber whenever an old country mansion that contained it has been cleared out.
During all that time no one, so far as I can discover, has evinced the smallest interest in Catharine Trotter. We gain an idea of the blackness of her obscurity when we say that even Mr. Austin Dobson appears to have never heard of her. The champion of Locke and Clarke, the correspondent of Leibnitz and Pope, the friend of Congreve, the patroness of Farquhar, she seems to have slipped between two ages and to have lost her hold on time. But I hope her thin little lady-like ghost, still hovering in a phantom-like transparence round the recognised seats of learning, will be a little comforted at last by the polite attention of a few of my readers.
[Footnote 2: Around the story of Agnes de Castro there gathered a whole literature of fiction, which Mr. Montague Summers has investigated in his Works of Aphra Behn, Vol. V. pp. 211-212.]
[Footnote 3: Printed in Otto Klopp's Correspondance de Leibnitz avec l'Electrice Sophie. Hanover, 1875.]
TWO PIONEERS OF ROMANTICISM:
JOSEPH AND THOMAS WARTON
The origins of the Romantic Movement in literature have been examined so closely and so often that it might be supposed that the subject must be by this time exhausted. But no subject of any importance in literature is ever exhausted, because the products of literature grow or decay, burgeon or wither, as the generations of men apply their ever-varying organs of perception to them. I intend, with your permission, to present to you a familiar phase of the literary life of the eighteenth century from a fresh point of view, and in relation to two men whose surname warrants a peculiar emphasis of respect in the mouth of a Warton Lecturer. It is well, perhaps, to indicate exactly what it is which a lecturer proposes to himself to achieve during the brief hour in which you indulge him with your attention; it certainly makes his task the easier if he does so. I propose, therefore, to endeavour to divine for you, by scanty signs and indications, what it was in poetry, as it existed up to the period of their childhood, which was stimulating to the Wartons, and what they disapproved of in the verse which was fashionable and popular among the best readers in their day.
There is an advantage, which I think that our critics are apt to neglect, in analysing the character and causes of poetic pleasure experienced by any sincere and enthusiastic reader, at any epoch of history. We are far too much in the habit of supposing that what we—that is the most instructed and sensitive of us—admire now must always have been admired by people of a like condition. This has been one of the fallacies of Romantic criticism, and has led people as illustrious as Keats into blaming the taste of foregoing generations as if it were not only heretical, but despicable as well. Young men to-day speak of those who fifty years ago expatiated in admiration of Tennyson as though they were not merely stupid, but vulgar and almost wicked, neglectful of the fact that it was by persons exactly analogous to themselves that those portions of Tennyson were adored which the young repudiate to-day. Not to expand too largely this question of the oscillation of taste—which, however, demands more careful examination than it has hitherto received—it is always important to discover what was honestly admired at a given date by the most enthusiastic and intelligent, in other words by the most poetic, students of poetry. But to do this we must cultivate a little of that catholicity of heart which perceives technical merit wherever it has been recognised at an earlier date, and not merely where the current generation finds it.
Joseph and Thomas Warton were the sons of an Oxford professor of poetry, an old Jacobite of no observable merit beyond that of surrounding his family with an atmosphere of the study of verse. The elder brother was born in 1722, the younger in 1728. I must be forgiven if I dwell a little tediously on dates, for our inquiry depends upon the use of them. Without dates the whole point of that precedency of the Wartons, which I desire to bring out, is lost. The brothers began very early to devote themselves to the study of poetry, and in spite of the six years which divided them, they appear to have meditated in unison. Their writings bear a close resemblance to one another, and their merits and their failures are alike identical. We have to form what broken impression we can of their early habits. Joseph is presented to us as wandering in the woodlands, lost in a melancholy fit, or waking out of it to note with ecstasy all the effects of light and colour around him, the flight of birds, the flutter of foliage, the panorama of cloudland. He and Thomas were alike in their "extreme thirst after ancient things." They avoided, with a certain disdain, the affectation of vague and conventional reference to definite objects.