HotFreeBooks.com
Stories of Authors, British and American
by Edwin Watts Chubb
1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

* * * * *

- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -

* * * * *







Stories of Authors

British and American

BY EDWIN WATTS CHUBB Professor of English Literature in the Ohio University.

ILLUSTRATED

New York STURGIS & WALTON COMPANY 1910

All rights reserved



Copyright, 1910 BY STURGIS & WALTON COMPANY

Set up and electrotyped. Published February, 1910

Reprinted May, 1910



PREFACE

The purpose of this book is to help in making literature and the makers of literature alive and interesting. Few schools have libraries including the bound volumes of the magazines of the past quarter of a century. But what an aid such a collection is to the appreciation of literature! The dignified and abbreviated history of literature cannot indulge in such delightful gossip as is found in the freer essay and fuller biography. To show the excellences of the art and the lovableness of the artist rather than to hunt for defects is the duty and the delight of the teacher of literature. This does not mean, however, that one dare never see the weaker side, the foibles and eccentricities of the man of genius.

I like Macaulay none the less because his cock-sureness and loquacity came dangerously near to making him a bore; Dr. Johnson grows in interest when I learn that he found it a continual and almost hopeless struggle to become an early riser, that he feared death, and could drink tea as long as the housekeeper could brew it; that Tennyson was a slave to tobacco and acted like a yokel when the newly-wedded Muellers entertained him at breakfast does not detract from my enjoyment of the exquisite pathos of Tears, Idle Tears; that the marriage of the Brownings was a runaway romance is a whole commentary of explanation when I read their poems of romantic love; that Longfellow is said to have declined an invitation to the Adirondacks because he was told that Emerson was to carry a gun is really far more delightful, and I may add valuable, information than to know the exact date of the birth of either. Of knowledge such as this is the kingdom of literary interest. It is not well to place our literary lights upon a pedestal so lofty that the radiating warmth and light never reach our hearts.

While many of the articles may be somewhat gossipy in tone, the serious phase has not been overlooked. The sketches have been gathered from many sources. Some have been written by myself, others have been gathered from magazines and books. I wish to acknowledge the kindness of Scribners' Magazine, of the Bookman, and of the New England Magazine in permitting me to use articles originally appearing in these respective magazines. To all who have wittingly or unwittingly made it possible for me to gather my material I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness. Every article has been written, selected, or adapted because of some special value. In these pages the reader may find what Lamb earned during the years of his famous clerkship, or the exciting details of Shelley's death. How many times have we heard of Sir Philip Sidney's immortal act of chivalry as he lay on the field at Zutphen! But definite information has it otherwise. To learn of the prodigious industry of the youthful Mill, the perseverance of Darwin, the heroic struggle of Scott, the gentleness of Stevenson, the modesty of Browning, the lifelong consecration of Motley,—is not the leaven of inspiration made of knowledge such as this?

I have an unshaken conviction that the highest art of the teacher is manifested in the awakening of such an interest that the pupil shall forever after be an eager learner. Am I wrong in hoping that no one, though with but a meager knowledge of literature, can read these sketches without a desire to know more of the men and women who are the glory of England and America? Here is but a taste of a more sumptuous feast.

Dreams, books are each a world; and books, we know, Are a substantial world, both pure and good: Round these, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood, Our pastime and our happiness will grow.

EDWIN WATTS CHUBB.



CONTENTS

ENGLISH WRITERS

CHAPTER PAGE

I. The Ancient Tabard Inn 1

II. Sir Philip Sidney at Zutphen 4

III. About Shakspere 9

IV. John Milton 17

V. Charles Lamb, the Clerk of the India House 24

VI. Dr. Johnson and Charles Lamb 28

VII. The Death of Dr. Johnson 33

VIII. Gray Writes the Elegy 37

IX. Cowper as a Letter Writer 42

X. Gibbon and His Visit to Rome 46

XI. Burns Falls in Love 50

XII. Burns' First Book of Poems 54

XIII. Samuel Taylor Coleridge in School and College 59

XIV. Byron as Swimmer and Feaster 64

XV. Shelley as a Freshman 71

XVI. The Death of Shelley 76

XVII. The School-days of John Keats 82

XVIII. The Heroism of Sir Walter Scott 88

XIX. Walter Savage Landor 93

XX. Leigh Hunt's Business Ability 100

XXI. De Quincey Runs Away 102

XXII. Macaulay's Childhood 108

XXIII. Macaulay Becomes Famous 114

XXIV. Dickens Writes the Pickwick Papers 119

XXV. Charles Dickens as Reader 123

XXVI. On the Death of Dickens 126

XXVII. Ruskin's Childhood 130

XXVIII. The Marriage of the Brownings 135

XXIX. Robert Browning 140

XXX. Knight's Reminiscences of Tennyson 145

XXXI. Emerson on Carlyle and Tennyson 150

XXXII. Literary Recollections of Max Mueller 156

XXXIII. The Early Education of John Stuart Mill 162

XXXIV. Carlyle Goes to the University 167

XXXV. Carlyle and His Wife 170

XXXVI. Carlyle as Lecturer 175

XXXVII. Carlyle on Wordsworth and Browning 180

XXXVIII. The Author of "Jane Eyre" 184

XXXIX. Thackery in America 189

XL. George Eliot Becomes a Writer of Fiction 194

XLI. The Author of "Alice in WonderLand" 200

XLII. About Darwin 203

XLIII. Anecdotes of Huxley 209

XLIV. Stevenson at Vailima 214

XLV. Kipling in India 221

AMERICAN WRITERS

XLVI. Benjamin Franklin Runs Away 226

XLVII. Washington Irving 234

XLVIII. Cooper and "The Spy" 242

XLIX. John Lothrop Motley and Bismarck 249

L. The Youth of George Ticknor 254

LI. Fitz-Greene Halleck 259

LII. The Author of Thanatopsis 262

LIII. Curtis and Hawthorne at the Brook Farm 266

LIV. Hawthorne and the Scarlet Letter 270

LV. Max Mueller's Recollections of Emerson, Lowell and Holmes 279

LVI. Howells Calls on Emerson, and Describes Longfellow 284

LVII. Longfellow, the Universal Poet 290

LVIII. Henry David Thoreau 297

LIX. The Last Days of Edgar Allan Poe 303

LX. Artemus Ward 313

LXI. Edmund Gosse Visits Whittier 317

LXII. Personal Recollections of Whittier 320

LXIII. Henry Ward Beecher 329

LXIV. The London "Times" on Lowell 333

LXV. The Writing of "America" 338

LXVI. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps and her First Story 340

LXVII. Sidney Lanier 344

LXVIII. The Story of Mark Twain's Debts 349

LXIX. Hamlin Garland's Literary Beginning 358

LXX. Stephen Crane: A "Wonderful Boy" 361

LXXI. Eugene Field 364



ILLUSTRATIONS

Geoffrey Chaucer Frontispiece

FACING PAGE

The Old Tabard Inn 2

William Shakspere 8

John Milton 16

Robert Burns 50

Lord Byron 64

Percy Bysshe Shelley 70

Charles Dickens 122

Robert Browning 134

Alfred Tennyson 144

Ralph Waldo Emerson 150

Thomas Carlyle 175

Benjamin Franklin 226

William Cullen Bryant 262

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 290

John Greenleaf Whittier 320



STORIES OF AUTHORS



I

THE ANCIENT TABARD INN

The picture we see here is that of an inn whose fame is as widespread as the love of English poetry, for it is at the Tabard Inn that Chaucer more than five hundred years ago assembled his nine and twenty pilgrims who were preparing to visit the tomb of Thomas a Becket at Canterbury. The witchery of the springtime had stirred the blood of these Londoners who, perhaps, were enticed from home more by the soft April showers and the melody of the birds than by their need of spiritual consolation. This, at least, is the impression we receive as in imagination we join these immortal pilgrims at the Tabard. Our guide is

Dan Chaucer, the first warbler, whose sweet breath Preluded those melodious bursts that fill The spacious times of great Elizabeth With sounds that echo still,—

and as he moves among his motley group, let us take a glance at the Tabard.

The picture we have is that of the typical old English inn. "As late as 1870 the ruins of the famous Tabard could be found. It was near St. Saviour in the Borough High Street. Turning from the street into one of those courtyards which abound in the east of London, the visitor comes upon the ruins of the once famous inn the very name of which has been transformed by time. It is now known as the 'Talbot,' but the inscription above the doorway contradicts the modern signboard and proclaims the house to be 'The Ancient Tabard Inn.' The whole yard is redolent of dilapidation. Facing the visitor on entering is an interesting block of old buildings, forming part of the left side, and the bottom of what once was an ample courtyard. This part of the building contains not improbably the shell of the corresponding portion of the original inn. The doors of the first floor all open into one of the wide balustraded galleries or verandas so common in the genuine old English hostelry. Until recently the landlord of the Talbot, then a small public-house, and still forming part of the modern mass of brick building that blocks up the right side and part of the center of the courtyard, rented the rooms by which this balustraded gallery was, and still is, surrounded. They were then let as bedrooms, and kept in good repair; and are supposed to occupy the site of the very rooms once tenanted by the Canterbury pilgrims; the gallery probably differing but little in appearance from what it was when Chaucer frequented it in search of good wine. The landlord eventually became insolvent; the paltry tavern was shut up, and the bedrooms were dismantled. In that plight they might be seen some years ago, may still possibly be seen—empty, dusty, dreary—ranged above ground-floor premises which do duty as a parcels' conveyance office, and abutting on a mean, ill-kept yard. Until within the last few years the coigne of the old balustraded gallery was connected on the right with the modern brick mass by an ancient wood-work bridge, coeval at least with the oldest portion of the building as it stands. But the bridge is gone, and the lust of gold and the pride of life have so destroyed that spirit of reverence and refined superstitious love for the venerable which should characterize an advanced civilization, that it is greatly to be feared the rest of the structure will soon follow. Yet it was in this courtyard, and before this very inn, that Chaucer and his nine-and-twenty pilgrims stood in picturesque confusion in the early dawn of that spring morning, long, long ago; and agreed for their common amusement on the road each one of them should tell at least one tale in going to, and another in returning from Canterbury; the best story teller to be treated to a supper by his fellow travelers on their return to the Tabard Inn. The company comprises representatives from all classes of society except the two extremes; there is neither a prince nor a beggar. The characters are taken from middle-class life, of which they may be accepted as fair and truthful types; being described with a vigorous fidelity which has never been surpassed in the whole range of art. Every figure stands out from the canvas sharp and clear like pictures seen through a stereoscope. Not a touch, not a line is wanting; each trick of speech and peculiarity of feature or of dress, is photographed with Preraphaelite fidelity."





II

SIR PHILIP SIDNEY AT ZUTPHEN

Whenever the name of Sir Philip Sidney is mentioned one involuntarily thinks of noble generosity and knightly gentleness and self-sacrifice. And here is the story of the act that forever united his name with the highest ideals of chivalry:

In August, 1586, Leicester assembled his troops at Arnheim, which he made his headquarters. After reducing Doesburg, he prepared to besiege Zutphen, an important town on the Yssel. The garrison was in sore need of provisions, which Parma, before marching to its relief, determined to supply. A convoy of corn, meat, and other necessaries, sufficient to victual the place for three months, was accordingly collected, and on the twenty-second of September left the Spanish camp. So high was Parma's estimate of the importance of preserving Zutphen, that the escort despatched with the convoy numbered twenty-nine hundred foot and six hundred horse. Leicester was informed of the enemy's movement, but not of the force which protected it. An ambuscade of five hundred men, under Sir John Norris, was held sufficient to intercept the convoy. About fifty young officers volunteered to add their services. This gallant band was composed of the flower of the English army.... It was indeed "an incredible extravagance to send a handful of such heroes against such an army," but Leicester can scarcely be blamed for failing to restrain the impulsive ardor which animated his entire staff. Sidney's characteristic magnanimity betrayed him that day into a fatal excess. He had risen at the first sound of the trumpet and left his tent completely armed, but observing that Sir William Pelham, an older soldier, had not protected his legs with cuishes, returned and threw off his own. The morning was cold and densely foggy, as the little company galloped forth to join their comrades in ambush. Just as they came up, Sir John Norris had caught the first sounds of the approaching convoy. Almost at the same moment the fog cleared off and revealed at what terrible odds the battle was to be fought that day. Mounted arquebusiers, pikemen and musketeers on foot, Spaniards, Italians, and even, it is said, Albanians, to the number of thirty-five hundred, guarded the wagons before and behind. The English were but five hundred and fifty men. Yet among them all, the historian has the right of blood to say with confidence, "There was no thought of retreat." The indomitable national spirit embodied itself in the war-cry of young Essex: "Follow me, good fellows, for the honor of England and England's queen!" At the word a hundred horsemen, Sidney in the midst, with lance in hand and curtel-axe at saddle-bow, spurred to the charge. The enemy's cavalry broke, but the musketeers in the rear fired a deadly volley, under cover of which it formed anew. A second charge re-broke it. In the onset Sidney's horse was killed, but he remounted and rode forward. Lord Willoughby, after unhorsing and capturing the Albanian leader, lost his own horse. Attacked on all sides, he must have fallen and yielded, when Sidney came to the rescue and struck down his assailants. Individual valor, however, proved unavailing against the might of numbers. After nearly two hours' desperate opposition, the convoy still made way. Charge succeeded charge in the vain effort to prevent its effecting a junction with the garrison, two thousand of whom were waiting for the right moment to sally forth. In the last of these onsets, Sir Philip's impetuosity carried him within musket-shot of the camp. A bullet struck his unprotected leg, just above the knee, and shattered the bone. He endeavored to remain on the field, but his horse became unmanageable, and in agonies of pain and thirst he rode back to the English quarters, a mile and a half distant. An incident of that ride, as told in the quaint language of Lord Brooke, retains the immortal charm of pathos which commands our tears, how often soever repeated:

In which sad progress, passing along by the rest of the army, where his uncle the general was, and being thirsty with excess of bleeding, he called for drink, which was presently brought him, but as he was putting the bottle to his mouth, he saw a poor soldier carried along who had eaten his last at that same feast, ghastly, casting up his eyes at the bottle, which Sir Philip perceiving, took it from his head before he drank, and delivered it to the poor man with these words, "Thy necessity is greater than mine." And when he had pledged this poor soldier, he was presently carried to Arnheim.

The golden chain of heroic actions, Christian and pagan, may contain examples of self-denial sublimer and more absolute than this; but in the blended grace and tenderness of its knightly courtesy, we know not where to find its parallel.

Leicester met his nephew as he was borne back to the camp, and burst into a genuine passion of sorrow. Many a rough soldier among those who, in returning from the failure of their impossible enterprise, now came up with their comrade, was unmanned for the first time that day. Sir William Russell, as tender-hearted as he was daring, embraced him weeping, and kissed his hand amid broken words of admiration and sympathy. But Sidney needed no consolation. "I would," said Leicester, in a letter to Sir Thomas Heneage, "you had stood by to hear his most loyal speeches to her Majesty, his constant mind to the cause, his loving care over me, and his most resolute determination for death; not one jot appalled for his blow, which is the most grievous that ever I saw with such a bullet."

The English surgeons at first gave hopes of his speedy restoration to health, and the favorable news was sent to England. Lady Sidney, who had followed him to Flushing some months before, at once hastened to him, but with no idea of his danger. The nation at large thought him convalescent. He himself, however, never expected to recover, although submitting with fortitude to whatever systems of treatment were proposed. Nothing was left untried that affection could suggest or the imperfect science of the age effect. His wife tenderly nursed him, and his two younger brothers were constantly at his side. His quondam foe, Count Hohenlo, though himself dangerously wounded, sent off his own physician, Adrian Van den Spiegel, to his aid. After examining the injuries Adrian pronounced them mortal, and then hastened back to the Count, whose case was not so desperate. "Away, villain!" cried the generous soldier in a transport of wrath; "never see my face again till thou bring better news of that man's recovery, for whose redemption many such as I were happily lost!"

From the first to the last moment of his suffering Sir Philip's temper was calm and cheerful. During the three weeks that he lingered at Arnheim he occupied himself with the thoughts befitting a death-bed.... On the 17th of October he felt himself dying, and summoned his friends to say farewell. His latest words were addressed to his brother Robert: "Love my memory; cherish my friends; their faith to me may assure you they are honest. But, above all things, govern your will and affections by the will and word of your Creator; in me beholding the end of this world with all her vanities." When powerless to speak, he replied to the entreaty of friends, who desired some token of his trust in God, by clasping his hands in the attitude of prayer, and a few moments afterwards had ceased to breathe.

—Adapted from the Edinburgh Review.





III

ABOUT SHAKSPERE

What would we not give to be able to relate a half-dozen good anecdotes about Shakspere? It is true there are traditions, the best known of which is the story that he poached deer in the park of Sir Thomas Lucy. Men have discussed the pros and cons of this deer-stealing tradition with a gravity and fulness worthy of a weightier cause. Suppose he did engage in the exciting sport of worrying a nobleman who had a game preserve. Does that fact blacken the youth's character? It is said the students at Oxford were the most notorious poachers in the kingdom, although expulsion was the penalty. Dr. Forman relates how a student who afterwards became a bishop was more given to poaching than to study.

What do we know about the life of Shakspere? We know that he was born at Stratford-on-Avon in 1564, that he died there in 1616, April 23. Some years ago I stood in the house which is reputed to be the place of his birth; over 20,000 pilgrims from all lands each year pay their shilling for the privilege of going through that house; the town corporation has purchased the property and controls it; the place has been photographed until the reading world is familiar with the picture,—and yet we do not positively know that Shakspere was born in that house. For Shakspere's father owned two houses at the time of the son's birth; in which of the two he lived at this time we can but guess. We suppose he lived in the Henley Street house, for it was the better of the two houses and the Shakspere family was prospering when William was born. The house itself has been remodeled. I think it is Sidney Lee who says that the only thing that remains as it was in Shakspere's time is the cellar. We do not know the day of Shakspere's birth. In Holy Trinity Church one may look into the book containing the baptismal record of the babe, William. He was baptized on April 26 and as children were usually baptized three days after their birth we infer he was born April 23. We know that he married Anne Hathaway, a woman eight years his senior; that in early manhood he went to London; that he became an actor, dramatist, manager of a theater; that in 1597 he bought New Place, the stateliest residence in Stratford; that he lived in Stratford during the last years of his life as a highly esteemed and worthy man, and that he died in 1616 and was buried in Trinity Church. These are the facts in the records of Shakspere's life. They, however, are not the important facts. The main fact in his life is his work, the matchless collection of literary masterpieces that bear the imprint of his genius. It is also well to keep in mind that our paucity of definite documentary records is not characteristic of Shakspere alone. We may know little of Shakspere, but we know less of Marlowe, his most brilliant competitor.

It is because we know so little of fact in the life of Shakspere that we delight to let fancy paint its charming pictures. We are led into the old Grammar School which Shakspere in all probability attended. Tradition points out the desk at which he used to sit. We can infer what he studied. The name of the Latin grammar then used we can deduce from his quoting a Latin sentence just as it was misquoted in Lilly's grammar. Artists have painted from imagination the picture of the boy Shakspere. Poets have wandered over the Warwickshire region and in their mind's eye have seen the youthful bard as he walked over the same picturesque region. In Midsummer-Night's Dream we read

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.—

and we see the young Shakspere, keen-eyed, observant, reveling in the beauty of nature. In Macbeth we read

This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself Unto our gentle senses.—

and we recall that Kenilworth and Warwick Castles are near Stratford and we see the boyish Shakspere as he walks about these magnificent testimonies to the might and power of feudal England, or perhaps mingling with the crowd when Royalty has come to Kenilworth to be entertained by the lavish Leicester. So, too, when we find in Much Ado About Nothing

The pleasant'st angling is to see the fish Cut with her golden oars the silver stream, And greedily devour the treacherous bait,—

we have a picture before us of the boy standing on the banks of the placid Avon, enjoying the sports of boyhood and unconsciously receiving impressions that shall later be reproduced to adorn with freshest imagery the poetry of the world's greatest genius.

After years of labor the scholars of the world have scraped together enough definite information to make the Life of Shakspere, as Mr. Raleigh puts it, "assume the appearance of a scrap-heap of respectable size." But to us the great fact in the life of Shakspere is that he has given us his masterpieces. Perhaps it is just as well that we know so little about the facts in his life. We have all the more time to study his works. About their quality there is little of disagreement. Three hundred years ago Ben Jonson wrote

... I confess thy writings to be such As neither man nor muse can praise too much,—

and the critic of to-day is saying the same thing, only he uses two volumes instead of two lines to say it. It is true an occasional voice, like that of Tolstoy's, will be heard in protest, but the protest and the critic are both likely to be forgotten before the consensus of three centuries shall be set aside.

Shakspere lives and shall live as long as the human race shall delight in the study of the human heart, not because of the chastity and clearness of his diction, not because of the supremacy of his imagination, nor because of the variety of his melodious verse,—not even because of the matchless combination of all these charms; but the Bard of Stratford lives and shall live because his sanity enabled him to see the "God of things as they are," and his passion penetrated into the deepest sorrows and rose to the highest aspirations of the human heart,—and throughout all this sympathizing with goodness and while despising the depraved yet pitying with a heart of love.

No system-maker or formula-builder can account for Shakspere. Genius is ever a miracle. However, we can study the environment in which genius moves and has its being. When we ask ourselves how does it happen that the plays of Shakspere breathe such a wholesome and vigorous morality, we are led to two conclusions,—first, that the England of Shakspere's time was a wholesome and vigorous England; second, that the man Shakspere was sound to the core.

The close of the sixteenth century is one of the most remarkable periods in the history of the world. Indeed, so striking is the intellectual activity of this age that lately an eminent scientist advanced the hypothesis that some electric influence, some magnetic current must have let itself loose to work upon the destinies of the world in the production of great men. For in that period in Italy we find Tasso, the greatest of modern epic poets; then too lived Galileo and Kepler, the astronomers; in France we find the philosophic essayist, Montaigne; in Spain the world-renowned Cervantes, the author of the immortal Don Quixote; in England both Bacon and Shakspere, beside a host of other writers, generals, admirals and artists. This same age is the most flourishing period in Mahometan India; so, too, in China, in Japan, and even in far away Persia we find an unusual degree of intellectual activity.

The England of Shakspere! The phrase suggests a train of associations that kindle the imagination. The age of literature, war, conquest, adventure, and achievement. The era of Edmund Spenser, "called from faeryland to struggle 'gainst dark ways;" of Sir Philip Sidney, the scholar, the courtier, the gentleman; of Sir Walter Raleigh, author, knight, and explorer; of Bacon, "the wisest, meanest, brightest of mankind." It is the time when in the Golden Hind Drake is circumnavigating the globe; when Hawkins is exploring the Indies, and Frobisher is becoming the hero of the Northwest passage; the age of marvelous tales told by intrepid explorers and adventurers returning from America, a land whose fountains renewed youth and whose rivers flowed over sands of gold. It is the era of English sea-dogs pillaging Spanish provinces in spite of imperial manifestos,—above all, it is the age of the Spanish Armada.

To recall what this means it is necessary to remember that Spain was the great dominating empire of the sixteenth century. Philip II, the Duke of Alva, the horrors of the Spanish inquisition, condemn Spain's power in this period. But one midsummer morn all England awoke to the glorious news that the Invincible Armada lay at the bottom of the sea. England had triumphed, and now for the first time national life dreamed of the possibility of leadership in the great game of world-politics. The atmosphere was electric with new life. In rural England along lanes flanked with green hedges Englishmen walked with bosoms swelling with new pride, in bustling London vigorous burghers strode the city's streets with hearts pulsating with new warmth, and everywhere the eyes of all Englishmen flashed with new fire.

Could a soul so sensitive as Shakspere's live in such an atmosphere and not be influenced by it? Listen to him as he pays his beautiful, patriotic tribute to England's national glory:

This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself, This precious stone set in the silver sea, This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England, This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land, Dear for her reputation through the world.

And the second cause, we say, is the personality of the man himself. Shakspere wrote pure and lofty poetry because his was a pure and lofty nature. I know the disparagers of Shakspere and the advocates of the Baconian theory make much of the traditional wildness of Shakspere's youth. The common argument is that a man who is charged with the poaching of deer in his youth is too bad to write good poetry, therefore Bacon wrote Shakspere. Was Bacon an angel? By the same process of reasoning Burns could not have written the Cotter's Saturday Night. But I deny that Shakspere was profligate, and in making this denial I need not prove the impeccability of Shakspere. But his life was essentially pure, his heart good, because the influence of the life is sane and wholesome.

Not alone the greatest intellect of his time, of all times, but also the greatest heart, was that possessed by this Warwickshire poet. As a man thinketh in his heart so he is. As Shakspere was, so he wrote. This crystalline wholesome water dashing over this rocky cliff did not have its origin in yonder pool. Pure water does not flow from a mud-puddle. Here is a man who in twenty years writes in round numbers forty productions—the task of Hercules. The product of the man attests the nobility of his soul. No man can labor for twenty years without putting his stamp upon his work. Shakspere was no bar-room brawler, no prodigal spender of time and substance in riotous living. He lived to the mature age of fifty-two and died a well-to-do man. The prodigals of the world do not retire with a competency. I repeat that Shakspere was not impeccable; he was no Puritan; but we cannot think of the creator of Hamlet, Ophelia, Othello, Desdemona, Cordelia, Portia, Rosalind, Miranda, and Prospero as other than a man of a contrite spirit and a pure heart. As he surpassed his contemporaries in breadth and loftiness of intellect, so too he surpassed them in the reach and vigor of his moral feeling.

We cannot believe that this man who penetrated deeper than others into the mystery of life missed the meaning of his own life. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter—the power that moves the world is not brilliancy of intellect; it is purity of heart. Nobility of character is the essence of powerful personality. Lincoln is greater than Webster, Washington than Jefferson, not through greater mental grasp, but because of a purer spiritual essence. The world without takes its meaning and color from the world within. Shakspere saw a world of pure passion and wholesome sanity because his world within was pure and sane.





IV

JOHN MILTON

In 1623, when Milton was a boy of fifteen, John Heminge and Henry Condell, "only to keep the memory of so worthy a friend and fellow alive as was our Shakspere," had given to the world the folio edition of Shakspere's works, very anxious that the said folio might commend itself to "the most noble and incomparable pair of brethern," William, Earl of this, and Philip, Earl of that, and exceedingly unconscious that, next to the production of the works themselves, they were doing the most important thing done, or likely to be done, in the literary history of the world. Milton read Shakspere, and in the lines which he wrote upon him in 1630, there seems to be the due throb of transcendent admiration....

As Shakspere is the supreme name in this order of poets, the men of sympathy and of humor, Milton stands first in that other great order which is too didactic for humor, and of which Schiller is the best recent representative. He was called the lady of his college not only for his beautiful face, but because of the vestal purity and austerity of his virtue. The men of the former class are intuitive, passionate, impulsive; not steadily conscious of their powers; fitful, unsystematic. Their love is ecstasy; their errors are the intoxication of joy; their sorrows are the pangs of death....

Milton, the poet of Puritanism, stands out in bold contrast to these imperfect characters. From his infancy there was nothing unregulated in his life. His father, clearly a superior man, of keen Protestantism, successful in business, well skilled in music, soon perceived that one of the race of immortals had been born in his house. He began, apparently with the conscious and delighted assent of his son, to give the young Apollo such an education as Plato might have prescribed. An eminently good education it proved to be; only not so good, with a view to the production of a world-poet, as that which nature, jealous of the Platos and pedagogues, and apt to tumble them and their grammatical appurtenances out of the window when she has one of her miraculous children in hand, had provided for that Stratford lad who came to London broken in character and probably almost broken in heart, some forty years earlier, to be a hanger-on of the theaters and to mount the intellectual throne of the world. No deer-stealing expeditions late o' nights when the moon silvered the elms of Charlecote chase; no passionate love affairs and wild boy-marriage.

Milton, carefully grounded in the tongues, went in due course to Cambridge University, and during those years when the youthful mind is in its stage of richest recipiency, lived among the kind of men who haunt seats of learning,—on the whole, the most uninteresting men in existence, whose very knowledge is a learned ignorance; not bees of industry, who have hoarded information by experience, but book-worms.... It is important, also, that Milton was never to any distracting extent in love. If Shakspere had been a distinguished university man, would he have told us of a catch that could "draw three souls out of one weaver?" And if the boy of eighteen had not been in a fine frenzy about Anne Hathaway, could he have known how Juliet and Romeo, Othello and Desdemona, loved?

... It is a proof of the fiery and inextinguishable nature of Milton's genius that it triumphed over the artificiality of his training; that there is the pulse of a true poetical life in his most highly wrought poems, and that the whole mountain of his learning glows with the strong internal flame. His inspiration was from within, the inspiration of a profound enthusiasm for beauty and an impassioned devotion to virtue. The district in which he lived during much of his most elaborate self-education is not marked enough to have disturbed, by strong impressions from without, the development of his genius from within. Horton lies where the dead flat of southeastern Buckingham meets the dead flat of southwestern Middlesex. Egham Hill, not quite so high as Hampstead, and the chalk knoll on which Windsor Castle fails to be sublime, are the loftiest ground in the immediate neighborhood. Staines, the Pontes of the Romans, and Runnymede with its associations, are near the parish church of Horton, in which Milton worshiped for five or six years, and in which his mother is buried, has one of the Norman porches common in the district, but is drearily heavy in its general structure, and forms a notable contrast to that fine example of the old English church in which, by the willows of Avon, lie Shakspere's bones. The river Colne breaks itself, a few miles to the north, into a leash of streams, the most considerable of which flows by Horton. The abounding watercourses are veiled with willows, but the tree does not seem to have attracted Milton's attention. It was reserved for the poet-painter of the Liber Studiorum to show what depths of homely pathos, and what exquisite picturesqueness of gnarled and knotted line, could be found in a pollard willow, and for Tennyson to reveal the poetic expressiveness of the tree as denoting a solemn and pensive landscape, such as that amid whose "willowy hills and fields" rose the carol

... mournful, holy, Chaunted loudly, chaunted lowly, Till her blood was frozen slowly, And her eyes were darkened wholly,

of the Lady of Shalott....

Milton's bodily appearance at this time was in brilliant correspondence with the ideal which imagination might form of a youthful poet. Perfect in all bodily proportions, an accomplished fencer, with delicate flowing hair, and beautiful features through which genius, still half in slumber, shed its mystic glow, he was all that the imagination of Greece saw in the young Hyperion or Apollo.

... His three daughters, Anne, Deborah, and Mary, were the children of his first wife. He was twice married after her death in 1653, but had no more children. So early as 1644 his sight began to fail, and when his little girls were left motherless, they could be known to him, as Professor Masson touchingly says, "only as tiny voices of complaint going about in the darkness." The tiny voices did not move him to love or pity. His impatient and imperious nature had doubtless undergone exquisite misery from the moaning discontent of his wife; the daughters took the mother's part so soon as they were able to understand her sorrows; and the grave Puritan displeasure with which Milton regards the mother seems to have been transferred to the children. His austerity as a Puritan and a pedagogue, and the worse than old Hebrew meanness of his estimate of women, appear to the greatest disadvantage in connection with his daughters. Had they been sons, he would have thrown all his ardor into the enterprise of their education. The training of boys was one of his enthusiasms; but his daughters were taught nothing except to read, and were ordered to read aloud to him in languages of which they did not understand a word. Naturally they never loved him; his fame, which they were not able to appreciate, cast on them no ray of comforting light; and they thought probably in sad and scared bewilderment of the relations between their unhappy wraith-like mother, and their Titan father. How different the warm and tender relations between Shakspere and his children! In that instance it was the daughter, the pet Judith, that was the demure sweet Puritan, yet with a touch of her father's wit in her, and able to enjoy all the depth of his smile when he would ask her whether cakes and ale were to be quite abolished when the reign of the saints came in.

... To the man himself we turn, for one brief glance before laying down the pen. In the evil times of the Restoration, in the land of the Philistines, Agonistes but unconquerable, the Puritan Samson ended his days. Serene and strong; conscious that the ambition of his youth had been achieved, he begins the day with the Hebrew Bible, listens reverently to words in which Moses or David or Isaiah spake of God. But he attends no church, belongs to no communion, and has no form of worship in his family; notable circumstances which we may refer, in part at least, to his blindness, but significant of more than that. His religion was of the spirit, and did not take kindly to any form. Though the most Puritan of the Puritan, he had never stopped long in the ranks of any Puritan party, or given satisfaction to Puritan ecclesiastics and theologians. In his youth he loved the night; in his old age he loves the sunlight of early morning as it glimmers on his sightless eyes. The music which had been his delight since childhood has still its charm, and he either sings or plays on the organ or bass-violin every day. In his gray coat, at the door of his house in Bunhill Fields, he sits on clear afternoons; a proud, ruggedly genial old man, with sharp satiric touches in his talk, the untunable fiber in him to the last. Eminent foreigners come to see him; friends approach reverently, drawn by the splendor of his discourse. It would range, one can well imagine, in glittering freedom, like "arabesques of lightning," over all ages and all literatures. He was the prince of scholars; a memory of superlative power waiting, as submissive handmaid, on the queenliest imagination. The whole spectacle of ancient civilization, its cities, its camps, its landscapes, was before him. There he sat in his gray coat, like a statue cut in granite. England had made a sordid failure, but he had not failed. His soul's fellowship was with the great Republicans of Greece and Rome, and with the Psalmist and Isaiah and Oliver Cromwell.

—From Peter Bayne in the Contemporary Review.



V

CHARLES LAMB, THE CLERK OF THE INDIA HOUSE

The author of the Essays of Elia and Tales Founded on the Plays of Shakspere worked for the greater part of his life in the employ of the Honorable East India Company. He received his appointment in 1792, the year of the birth of Shelley. He had been trained at Christ's Hospital for a university career; this gave him a good classical education but not especially good preparation for his new work. Had he been obliged to pass a civil service examination he would hardly have received the appointment. Of geography and arithmetic he knew little. The schoolboy of to-day will be surprised to learn that a boy a hundred and more years ago might reach the age of fifteen in a good grammar school of that period and yet not be able to use the multiplication table. As late as 1823 Lamb writes: "I think I lose a hundred pounds a year owing solely to my want of neatness in making up accounts: how I puzzle 'em out at last is the wonder!" There is no evidence, however, to show that Lamb did not overcome his lack of preparation. The contrary impression sometimes prevails, due, perhaps, to his supposed apology for his late arrival by his representation that he made up for it by a correspondingly early departure. His industry must have been appreciated, for his salary rose from nothing to a fair figure.

The modern young man, desirous of earning a good salary at once, will be surprised at the statement that Lamb worked for nothing at first. He will be still more surprised to learn that in those days a clerk in the employ of the great India Company worked three years for nothing. This period evidently was considered as the apprenticeship. It is true a gratuity of 30 pounds was given, and by extra work one might earn small sums. In April, 1795, three years having ended, he received a salary of 40 pounds a year. The next year it rose to 70. By 1799 it had advanced to 90, and from then on to 1814 he received an increment of ten pounds every two years. He also received a gratuity each year. The gratuity by 1814 had amounted to 80 pounds. After a reorganization of the company in 1815 Lamb seems to have progressed in salary, for he then received 480 pounds, and in 1821 it was 700; and at the time of his retirement it was 730.

On the whole, one can say that Lamb's lot was not a hard one. No doubt, many of his fellow-authors had reason to envy him his assured income. His work was hard and not always pleasant, but he knew, with all his half-pretended grumbling, that it would not be wise to rely on his pen for a livelihood. He once remonstrated with the poetical Quaker, Bernard Barton, who proposed to give up a bank-clerkship, in this wise: "Trust not the public; I bless every star that Providence, not seeing good to make me independent, has seen it next good to settle me down on the stable foundation of Leadenhall.... Henceforth I retract all my fond complaints of mercantile employments; look upon them as lovers' quarrels. I was but half in earnest. Welcome, dead timber of a desk that makes me live! a little grumbling is a wholesome medicine for the spleen; but in my inner heart do I improve and embrace this our close but unharassing way of life."

That his work was no sinecure can be gathered from this letter of about 1815: "On Friday I was at office from ten in the morning (two hours dinner excepted) to eleven at night; last night till nine. My business and office business in general have increased so; I don't mean I am there every night, but I must expect a great deal of it. I never leave till four, and do not keep a holiday now once in ten times, where I used to keep all red-letter days and some five days besides, which I used to dub nature's holidays.... I had formerly little to do.... Hard work and thinking about it taints even the leisure hours—stains Sunday with workday contemplations."

After thirty-three years of service he was granted by his company a pension of 450 pounds. On the minutes of the Court of Directors can be found the following resolution: "that the resignation of Mr. Charles Lamb, of the accountant-general's office, on account of certified ill-health be accepted, and it appearing that he has served the company faithfully for thirty-three years ... he be allowed a pension of 450 pounds annually."

When the resolution was communicated to him he went home to enjoy one long holiday of leisure and literary study and authorship. "I am Retired Leisure.... I have worked task work, and have the rest of the day to myself." But his day did not last many years. "Lamb was but fifty when he quitted the service of the company; yet less than ten years of life were left to him. Not only so, but the happiness he had expected to find proved more and more elusive. The increasing frequency of his sister's aberration was a heavy burden for a back which grew daily less able to bear the strain. The leisure to which he had looked forward so eagerly was spent in listening to incoherent babblings, that rambling chat which was to him 'better than the sense and sanity of this world.' In her lucid intervals they played picquet together, or talked gravely but firmly of the inevitable separation looming nearer and nearer. In 1830 Hazlitt died. Four years later that 'great and dear spirit,' Coleridge, passed away after long suffering. The blow to Lamb was stunning in its severity; and the loss of this earliest and best-loved friend possibly accelerated his own decease. Towards the close of the year a fall while walking caused a trifling wound. No harm was expected to result; but the general feebleness of his health brought on erysipelas, and upon Saturday, January 3, 1835, he was borne to his rest in a quiet corner of Edmonton Church-yard, there to await the coming, twelve years later, of the sister who had been throughout his life at once his greatest joy and his chiefest care."



VI

DR. JOHNSON AND CHARLES LAMB

Between Johnson and Lamb there would seem to be little in common. The ponderous old philosopher, "tearing his meat like a tiger, and swallowing his tea in oceans," presents a picture very dissimilar to that of the stammering Lamb whom Coleridge has well called the "gentle-hearted Lamb." And yet there are many points of similarity.

Perhaps the most striking resemblance is in respect to their generosity. The unfailing testimony of all their friends is that neither could restrain the impulse to give. The celebrated De Quincey is led to characterize Lamb's munificence as princely, while Procter, one of his younger friends, simply says, "he gave away greatly." On the other hand, the testimony in regard to the generosity of Johnson is equally strong. He was so open-hearted that he could not trust himself to go upon the street with much money in his purse. Neither Lamb nor Johnson believed in the modern methods of attending to charitable giving through the mediation of boards and committees. Each violated the commonest precepts of a coldblooded political economy. If want and suffering were depicted upon the face of the mendicant, that was enough to call for the open purse. What if the beggar did look like a thief or drunkard? He might spend the money for gin or tobacco, but what of that? "Why should they be denied such sweeteners of their existence?" was Johnson's indulgent plea. This stern moralist so much enjoyed giving that he doubtless would have regretted the passing of laws prohibiting the beggar from plying his vocation in public. So too would the genial Elia, who obeyed his own precept of "give and ask no questions."

While returning to his lodgings after midnight Johnson would often drop pennies into the hands of poor children sleeping on the thresholds and stalls, to furnish them with the means for a breakfast. This was done at a time when he was living on pennies himself. "Reader," pleads Elia in his Praise of Chimney Sweepers, "if thou meetest one of these small gentry in thy early rambles, it is good to give him a penny—it is better to give him a twopence." And then Lamb describes the choice and fragrant drink, Saloop, the delight of the sweep, a basin of which together with a slice of delicate bread and butter will cost but a twopence. As we read the description we have no hesitancy in believing that the "unpennied sweep" frequently became a pennied sweep after the gentle Elia had passed by.

Goldsmith once remarked that to be miserable was enough to insure the protection of Johnson. This generous quality of mind filled the house of Johnson with a queer assortment of pensioners. Had Lamb's home life permitted, equally full of the needy and homeless would it have been. In 1796 occurred the terrible tragedy that we may permit Lamb himself to describe in his letter to Coleridge,—"White, or some of my friends, or the public papers by this time may have informed you of the terrible calamities that have fallen on our family. I will only give you the outlines: My poor, dear, dearest sister, in a fit of insanity, has been the death of her own mother. I was at hand only time enough to snatch the knife out of her grasp. She is at present in a madhouse, from which I fear she must be moved to an hospital.... My poor father was slightly wounded, and I am left to take care of him and my aunt.... God Almighty have us well in his keeping!" Lamb assumed the tender care of his sister, and his watchfulness and loving care are more beautiful than the most charming essay he ever wrote. But this condition at home prevented that generous open-hearted hospitality so characteristic of Johnson. As it was he contributed to the support of several. For a long period he gave thirty pounds a year to his old schoolmistress. Telfourd relates that when Lamb saw the nurse who had waited on Coleridge during his last illness, he forced five guineas on her. Equally impulsive was his manner toward Procter, whom he one time noticed to be in low spirits and imagined the cause to be lack of money. "My dear boy," said he suddenly turning toward his friend, "I have a quantity of useless things, I have now in my desk a—a hundred pounds—that I don't know what to do with. Take it."

Some years ago when comparing these two men a Mr. Roose wrote in concluding his paper: "We are all familiar with Johnson's huge, ungainly form, arrayed in brown suit more or less dilapidated, singed, bushy wig, black stockings, and mean old shoes. A quaint little figure, Lamb comes before our vision, in costume uncontemporary and as queer as himself, consisting of a suit of black cloth (they both affected dark colors), rusty silk stockings shown from the knees, thick shoes a mile too large, shirt with a wide, ill-plaited frill, and tiny white neckcloth tied in a minute bow."

It is pleasant to fancy these two originals being brought into personal contact. Nor is it hard, for all the tokens to the contrary, to imagine Elia taking the grand, humane old doctor into his embrace (a huger armful than his beloved folios), sitting up with him o' nights, as he did with them, delighting in the humor of his conversation, which was said by a contemporary to be unequaled except by the old comedians, in whom Lamb's spirit found diversion; piercing to heights and depths in his nature which Boswell never revealed to him; while Johnson, it may safely be inferred, would have loved this "poor Charles," in whom Carlyle could perceive but so slender a strain of worth. But had they met at all, it would have been on equal terms. Goldsmith maintained with difficulty, though he did maintain, his attitude of independence towards the colossus of his age. Charles Lamb, without any difficulty and without the show of assertiveness, would have maintained it better. Lamb, who from earliest manhood refused to knock under to the threatening intellectual arrogance of Coleridge; who shook Wordsworth by the nose instead of by the hand with the greeting, "How d'ye do, old Lake Poet!"—his stammering voice might have broken with impunity on the doctor's weightiest utterances with the absurdest quips and twists of speech of which even he was capable. Yet both were of wayward nature, and had they met might not have coalesced.

Lamb would have understood Johnson better than Johnson would have understood the whimsicalities of the witty clerk. At one time while discussing authors with friends Lamb said,—"There is Dr. Johnson: I have no curiosity; no strange uncertainty about him."

Johnson's restraint in the use of alcoholic drinks is in contrast with Lamb's indulgence. But Johnson's intemperate tea-drinking makes him one with Lamb in his struggle with tobacco. In writing to Coleridge for advice on smoking, Lamb asks: "What do you think of smoking? I want your sober average noon opinion of it.... May be the truth is, that one pipe is wholesome, two pipes toothsome, three pipes noisome, four pipes fulsome, five pipes quarrelsome; and that's the sum on't. But that is deciding rather upon rhyme than reason." And Telfourd tells us that when Parr saw Lamb puffing like some furious enchanter, he asked how he had acquired the power of smoking at such a rate. Lamb replied, "I toiled after it, sir, as some men toil after virtue."



VII

THE DEATH OF DR. JOHNSON

By common consent Boswell's Life of Johnson takes first place as a biography. Some critics go so far as to say that the excellence of the biography is to be accounted for by the deficiency in the character of Boswell; that Boswell was such a blind and whole-souled worshiper of Johnson that he exposed the faults of his subject with the same zeal with which he published the virtues. This may be true. Whether true or not, it is not an altogether bad quality. Many of us think that the biographies of our modern men of letters would have more vivacity and lifelikeness were they to contain an occasional glimpse of the hero when he is not on the parade ground. The biography of Tennyson by his son, Lord Hallam, would be far more convincing had the son given us occasional pictures of the poet when he was not at his best. But, perhaps, it is too much to hope that a reverent and admiring son can give the world a vital, impartial, and comprehensive life of his father.

Boswell has given us a full account of Johnson's last days. The gruff old lexicographer had lived a robust life; he had faced many temptations, and had not always retired from the conflict victorious. On the whole, however, he had lived an exemplary life, but like many another good man he had a dread of dying; he feared he might not meet the last foe as worthily as a man of his character and reputation should. But this was a groundless fear. For when the last illness was upon him, he asked his physician to tell him plainly whether there was any hope of his recovery. The doctor first asked his patient whether he could hear the whole truth, whatever it might be. Upon hearing an affirmative reply, the physician declared that in his opinion nothing short of a miracle would restore health.

"Then," said Johnson, "I will take no more physic, not even my opiates; for I have prayed that I may render up my soul unclouded."

A brother of Boswell's wrote the following letter concerning the last hours of Johnson:

"The Doctor, from the time that he was certain his death was near, appeared to be perfectly resigned, was seldom or never fretful or out of temper, and often said to his faithful servant, who gave me this account, 'Attend, Francis, to the salvation of your soul, which is the object of greatest importance:' he also explained to him passages in the Scripture, and seemed to have pleasure in talking upon religious subjects.

"On Monday, the 13th of December, the day on which he died, a Miss Morris, daughter to a particular friend of his, called, and said to Francis, that she begged to be permitted to see the doctor, that she might earnestly request him to give her his blessing. Francis went into the room, followed by the young lady, and delivered the message. The doctor turned himself in the bed, and said, 'God bless you, my dear!' These were the last words he spoke. His difficulty of breathing increased till about seven o'clock in the evening, when Mr. Barber and Mrs. Desmoulins, who were sitting in the room, observed that the noise he made in breathing had ceased, went to the bed, and found he was dead."

This account, together with several others given by various friends, assures us that the death of Johnson was trustful and tranquil. It is another illustration of that beautiful dispensation of nature which, as a rule, makes death a mere slipping away, a falling asleep. The Francis who is mentioned in the letter is the faithful negro servant whom Johnson so generously provided for in his will. In making his will the doctor had asked a friend how much of an annuity gentlemen usually gave to a favorite servant, and was told that in the case of a nobleman fifty pounds a year was considered an adequate reward for many years of faithful service:

"Then," said Johnson, "shall I be nobilissimus, for I mean to leave Frank seventy pounds a year, and I desire you to tell him so."

This generosity was too much for the equanimity of Sir John Hawkins, one of the executors of the will, who, when he found that this negro servant would receive about fifteen hundred pounds, including an annuity of seventy pounds a year, grumbled and muttered "a caveat against ostentatious bounty and favor to negroes." But however much the Sir Johns may grumble, we cannot think the less of Johnson for his kindness in remembering a faithful and deserving servant.

Johnson's refusal to take either wine or opiates recalls that in an age in which the use of alcoholic drinks was very common he was an uncompromising foe to wine, and that he was, in his latter years, loud in his praise of water. "As we drove back to Ashbourne," says Boswell, "Dr. Johnson recommended to me, as he had often done, to drink water only. 'For,' said he, 'you are then sure not to get drunk; whereas if you drink wine, you are never sure.'" And this was not the only matter in which he was in advance of his contemporaries, and of most of ours too. Johnson liked satisfying food, such as a leg of pork, or veal pie well stuffed, with plum pie and sugar, and he devoured enormous quantities of fruit, especially peaches. His inordinate love of tea has almost passed into a proverb,—he has actually been credited with twenty-five cups at a sitting, and he would keep Mrs. Thrale brewing it for him till four o'clock in the morning. The following impromptu, spoken to Miss Reynolds, points its own moral:

For hear, alas, the dreadful truth, Nor hear it with a frown: Thou can'st not make the tea so fast As I can gulp it down.



VIII

GRAY WRITES THE ELEGY

Recently I was conversing with a practical man of affairs who had just returned from his first visit to Europe. Art galleries had proved tiresome and Westminster Abbey had bored him. But there was one place that he had determined to see and see it he did.

"What place was that?" I asked.

"Stoke Pogis," was the reply.

Is not this answer indicative of the attitude of thousands who can never forget the exquisite charm cast over their youth by the melancholy beauty of the Elegy in a Country Church-yard? If fame was the end of General Wolfe's ambition, he was wise in saying that he would rather have written the Elegy than be able to take Quebec on the morrow; for of all English poems the Elegy is the most popular and widely known; it is the flower of the "literature of melancholy." The Elegy is the glorification of the obscure; therein lies its popularity. The most of us are obscure. The Elegy flatters us by suggesting that we might have swayed the rod of empire or "waked to ecstasy the living lyre," if we had had the chance,—or, what we think is more likely the explanation, if we had not had a saner insight into the values of life than the Miltons and Cromwells.

Stoke Pogis is always associated with the name of Gray. It is a village, if such it may be called, between London and Windsor Castle. The church is "on a little level space about four miles north of the Thames at Eton. From the neighborhood of the church no vestige of hamlet or village is visible, and the aspect of the place is slightly artificial, like a rustic church in a park on a stage. The traveler almost expects to see the grateful peasantry of an opera, cheerfully habited, make their appearance, dancing on the greensward."

Gray and his mother, the father having died in 1741, went to Stoke Pogis in 1742. At West End House, a simple farmhouse of two stories, Gray lived for many years. In the autumn of 1742 was begun the Elegy in a Country Church-yard. The common impression is that the whole poem was written at Stoke Pogis, but this is not the truth. It is better to say that it was begun in October or November at Stoke Pogis, continued seven years later at the same place and at Cambridge, and finished at Stoke Pogis on June 12th, 1750. It is interesting to note that in each case an impetus was given to the composition of the poem by the death of a friend. Several months before the poem was begun in 1742, West, a friend whose death made a very deep impression upon the sensitive nature of Gray, had passed away; and on October 31 Jonathan Rogers, an uncle of Gray's, died at Stoke Pogis; and when the poem was next taken up Gray was mourning the death of his aunt. In commenting on this subject Mr. Gosse writes,—"He was a man who had a very slender hold on life himself, who walked habitually in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and whose periods of greatest vitality were those in which bereavement proved to him that, melancholy as he was, even he had something to lose and to regret."

On the 12th of June, 1750, Gray wrote to his friend, Horace Walpole,—"Having put an end to a thing whose beginning you have seen long ago, I immediately send it to you. You will, I hope, look upon it in the light of a thing with an end to it: a merit that most of my writings have wanted, and are like to want." Walpole was naturally delighted with the poem—so delighted, in fact, that he handed it about from friend to friend and even made manuscript copies of it. This caused some embarrassment to the poet. In February, 1751, he was annoyed to find that the publisher of the Magazine of Magazines was actually printing his Elegy in his periodical. So Gray immediately wrote to Walpole: "As I am not at all disposed to be either so indulgent or so correspondent as they desire, I have but one bad way to escape the honor they would inflict upon me: and therefore am obliged to desire you would make Dodsley print it immediately (which may be done in less than a week's time) from your copy, but without my name, in what form is most convenient for him, but on his best paper and character; he must correct the press himself, and print it without any interval between the stanzas, because the sense is in some places continued without them." On the 16th of February, only five days after this letter was received, An Elegy wrote in a Country Church-yard appeared as a large quarto pamphlet, anonymous, price sixpence.

From the very first it achieved great popularity. Magazine after magazine published it without giving the author any compensation. Gray was soon hit upon as the author. Unfortunately, the success of the poem gave no increased income to the poet. Dodsley, the publisher, is said to have made about a thousand pounds from the various poems of Gray, but Gray had the impractical idea that it was not dignified for a poet to make money from poetry.

In view of this lack of compensation for his poetic writings, it is very gratifying to know that during the latter days of his life Gray enjoyed the emolument arising from his holding the chair of Modern Literature and Modern Languages at Cambridge. This paid him 400 pounds a year, and did not require much work, as the office was a sinecure.

One of the biographers points out that this promotion was brought about inadvertently through the riotous living of Gray's great enemy, Lord Sandwich. Professor Lawrence Brockett, the incumbent of the chair of Literature at Cambridge, dined with Lord Sandwich at Hinchinbroke. He became so drunk that in riding home to Cambridge he fell from his horse and broke his neck. At once five obscure dons made brisk application for the vacant place, and Gray, sensitive and lacking the arts of the politician, did not expect the place. But the author of the Elegy was no longer to be neglected. He soon received a letter highly complimenting his work and offering him the professorship. Gray accepted and was summoned to court to kiss the hand of the monarch, George III. The king made several complimentary remarks to Gray. Afterwards when the poet's friends asked Gray to tell them what the king had said he replied that the room was so hot and he so embarrassed that he really did not know what the king had said.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere; Heaven did a recompense as largely send: He gave to misery—all he had—a tear, He gained from Heaven—'twas all he wished—a friend.

No farther seek his merits to disclose, Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,— There they alike in trembling hope repose,— The bosom of his father and his God.



IX

COWPER AS A LETTER WRITER

William Cowper is well known as a poet, having written one of the most popular hymns in the English language, and he is also one of the best of letter writers. It is commonly said that we have lost the gentle art of writing a good letter. When a man can send a postal card from Boston to San Francisco for one cent and one from New York to Paris for two cents, he is not likely to be so choice in his use of language as when he paid a shilling for the privilege of getting a letter. In the first letter which is here quoted we find Cowper writing an urgent invitation to his cousin, Lady Hesketh, to visit him at Olney.

"And now, my dear, let me tell you once more that your kindness in promising us a visit has charmed us both. I shall see you again. I shall hear your voice. We shall take walks together. I will show you my prospects, the hovel, the alcove, the Ouse and its banks, everything that I have described. Talk not of an inn! Mention it not for your life! We have never had so many visitors but we could accommodate them all, though we have received Unwin and his wife, and his sister, and his son, all at once. My dear, I will not let you come till the end of May, or beginning of June, because before that time my greenhouse will not be ready to receive us, and it is the only pleasant room belonging to us. When the plants go out, we go in. I line it with mats, and spread the floor with mats; and there you shall sit with a bed of mignonette at your side, and a hedge of honeysuckles, roses, and jasmine; and I will make you a bouquet of myrtle every day. Sooner than the time I mention the country will not be in complete beauty; and I will tell you what you shall find at your first entrance. Imprimis, as soon as you have entered the vestibule, if you cast a look on either side of you, you shall see on the right hand a box of my making. It is the box in which have been lodged all my hares, and in which lodges Puss (Cowper's pet hare) at present. But he, poor fellow, is worn out with age and promises to die before you can see him. On the right hand stands a cupboard, the work of the same author; it was once a dove-cage, but I transformed it. Opposite to you stands a table, which I also made. But a merciless servant having scrubbed it till it became paralytic, it serves no purpose now but of ornament, and all my clean shoes stand under it. On the left hand, at the farther end of this superb vestibule, you will find the door of the parlor, into which I will conduct you, and where I will introduce you to Mrs. Unwin, unless we should meet her before, and where we will be as happy as the day is long. Order yourself, my cousin, to the Swan at Newport and there you shall find me ready to conduct you to Olney. My dear, I have told Homer what you say about casks and urns, and have asked him whether he is sure that it is a cask in which Jupiter keeps his wine. He swears that it is a cask, and that it will never be anything better than a cask to eternity. So if the god is content with it, we must even wonder at his taste, and be so too.—Adieu! my dearest, dearest cousin,—W.C."

Cowper's letters are not interesting because they treat of the great men and important affairs of his day. They are interesting because he lived a quiet life and was able in his own way to paint a picture treating of the common doings of an apparently unimportant life. Here is a picture of an election in the country, or rather of the candidates' methods in the old days:

"We were sitting yesterday after dinner, the two ladies and myself, very composedly, and without the least apprehension of any such intrusion, in our snug parlor, one lady knitting, the other netting, and the gentleman winding worsted, when, to our unspeakable surprise, a mob appeared before the window, a smart rap was heard at the door, the boys halloed, and the maid announced Mr. Grenville. Puss was unfortunately let out of her box, so that the candidate, with all his good friends at his heels, was refused entrance at the grand entry, and referred to the back door, as the only possible way of approach. Candidates are creatures not very susceptible to affronts, and would rather, I suppose, climb in at a window than be absolutely excluded. In a minute the yard, the kitchen, and the parlor were filled. Mr. Grenville, advancing toward me, shook me by the hand with a degree of cordiality that was extremely seducing. As soon as he and as many more as could find chairs were seated, he began to open the intent of his visit. I told him I had no vote, for which he readily gave me credit. I assured him I had no influence, which he was not equally inclined to believe, and the less, no doubt, because Mr. Ashburner, the drapier, addressing himself to me at that moment, informed me that I had a great deal. Supposing that I could not be possessed of such a treasure without knowing it, I ventured to confirm my first assertion by saying that if I had any I was utterly at a loss to imagine where it could be, or wherein it consisted. Thus ended the conference. Mr. Grenville squeezed me by the hand again, kissed the ladies, and withdrew. He kissed likewise the maid in the kitchen, and seemed upon the whole a most loving, kissing, kind-hearted gentleman."



X

GIBBON AND HIS VISIT TO ROME

In that celebrated literary club founded by Dr. Johnson and Sir Joshua Reynolds were Burke, Goldsmith, Garrick, Fox, Gibbon, and Sheridan. Of these Gibbon is not the least distinguished. He is an illustrious example of what an ordinary personality can accomplish by reason of an extraordinary devotion to one purpose. Some few men achieve fame by their brilliant versatility; some, as in the case of Samuel Johnson, by their commanding personal force; Gibbon has won a permanent place in literary history by spending his life in doing one thing. That one thing he did so well that E.A. Freeman, one of the prominent historians of the nineteenth century, has truthfully said,—"He remains the one historian of the eighteenth century whom modern research has neither set aside nor threatened to set aside."

In his memoirs Gibbon reveals himself as a man with little dignity or heroism. There is a droll story that is apt to suggest itself when one thinks of Gibbon. At one time, when asking a dignified lady for her hand in marriage, he fell upon his knees in proper lover-like manner. Unfortunately Gibbon was so stout that upon her refusal he found himself in the embarrassing need of calling in a servant to help him to his feet again. Memories such as these, however, cannot blind us to the essential worth in the character of the great historian. In the light of his consecration to a worthy purpose his life is not without its heroism. To write The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a monumental achievement. To bend every energy to the fulfilling of a high resolve is heroic. From 1764 to 1787 his one aim in life was to write a scholarly history that should cover the vast field that he had chosen. He may lack that spiritual insight which enables one to estimate world movements in the upper regions of religion, but he did not lack unfaltering devotion to his purpose. So well did he do his work that his six volumes can be found in the library of every student of the past. The story is told of a great German who learned English in order to read Gibbon in the original.

In the following extract from his Autobiography is found his own explanation of the circumstances under which he conceived his vast project "amid the ruins of the Capitol," in 1764:

"My temper is not very susceptible of enthusiasm; and the enthusiasm which I do not feel, I have ever scorned to affect. But, at the distance of twenty-five years, I can neither forget nor express the strong emotions which agitated my mind as I first approached and entered the eternal city. After a sleepless night, I trod, with a lofty step, the ruins of the Forum; each memorable spot where Romulus stood, or Tully spoke, or Caesar fell, was at once present to my eye; and several days of intoxication were lost or enjoyed before I could descend to a cool and minute investigation. My guide was Mr. Byers, a Scotch antiquary of experience and taste; but in the daily labor of eighteen weeks, the powers of attention were sometimes fatigued, till I was myself qualified, in a last review, to select and study the capital works of ancient and modern art. Six weeks were borrowed for my tour of Naples, the most populous of cities, relative to its size, whose luxurious inhabitants seem to dwell on the confines of paradise and hell-fire. I was presented to the boy-king by our new envoy, Sir William Hamilton, who, wisely diverting his correspondence from the Secretary of State to the Royal Society and British Museum, has elucidated a country of such inestimable value to the naturalist and antiquarian. On my return, I fondly embraced, for the last time, the miracles of Rome.... In my pilgrimage from Rome to Loretto I again crossed the Apennine; from the coast of the Adriatic I traversed a fruitful and populous country, which could alone disprove the paradox of Montesquieu, that modern Italy is a desert....

"The use of foreign travel has been often debated as a general question; but the conclusion must be finally applied to the character and circumstances of each individual. With the education of boys, where or how they may pass over some juvenile years with the least mischief to themselves or others, I have no concern. But after supposing the previous and indispensable requisites of age, judgment, a competent knowledge of men and books, and a freedom from domestic prejudices, I will briefly describe the qualifications which I deem most essential to a traveler. He should be endowed with an active, indefatigable vigor of mind and body, which can seize every mode of conveyance, and support, with a careless smile, every hardship of the road, the weather, or the inn. The benefits of foreign travel will correspond with the degrees of these qualifications; but, in this sketch, those to whom I am known will not accuse me of framing my own panegyric. It was at Rome, on the 15th of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the bare-footed friars were singing vespers in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind."



XI

BURNS FALLS IN LOVE

When Robert Burns and his brother were working hard on the Mount Oliphant farm, Robert fell in love. This experience, alas, in after years became too frequent an occurrence to occasion much comment, for the ease with which the poet fell in and out of love was the chief fault in a faulty life. But when this episode occurred the boy was still an innocent country lad in his fifteenth year, a lad perhaps somewhat rude and clownish, at least such is an unfounded tradition. Out of the monotony of this life of prosaic toil and drudgery, Burns is lifted by the romance which fortunately he has himself described.

"You know," he says, "our country custom of coupling a man and woman together as partners in the labors of the harvest. In my fifteenth summer my partner was a bewitching creature, a year younger than myself. My scarcity of English denies me the power of doing her justice in that language, but you know the Scottish idiom. She was a bonnie, sweet, sonsie lass. In short, she, altogether unwittingly to herself, initiated me in that delicious passion, which in spite of acid disappointment, gin-house prudence, and book-worm philosophy, I hold to be the first of human joys here below! How she caught the contagion I cannot tell.... Indeed, I did not know myself why I liked so much to loiter behind with her, when returning in the evening from our labors; why the tones of her voice made my heartstrings thrill like an AEolian harp; and especially why my pulse beat such a furious ratan when I looked and fingered over her little hand, to pick out the cruel nettle-stings and thistles. Among her love-inspiring qualities, she sung sweetly; and it was her favorite reel to which I attempted giving an embodied vehicle in rhyme. I was not so presumptuous as to imagine that I could make verses like printed ones, composed by men who read Greek and Latin; but my girl sung a song which was said to be composed by a country laird's son, on one of his father's maids, with whom he was in love; and I saw no reason why I might not rhyme as well as he; for, excepting that he could shear sheep and cast peats, his father living in the moorlands, he had no more scholar-craft than myself. Thus with me began love and poetry."



The song that was due to this boyish passion is called "Handsome Nell," and is said to be the first he wrote. It can be found in any complete edition of the poet's work. In after years he himself calls it puerile and silly, but, while lacking the exquisite perfection of Burns' later lyrics, it is far superior to the usual first attempts of poets. The last two stanzas run thus:

A gaudy dress and gentle air May slightly touch the heart; But it's Innocence and Modesty That polishes the dart.

'Tis this in Nelly pleases me, 'Tis this enchants my soul! For absolutely in my breast She reigns without control.

"I composed it," says Burns, "in a wild enthusiasm of passion, and to this hour I never recollect it but my heart melts, my blood sallies at the remembrance."

Poor Burns! How much happier he would have been had all his loves been as innocent as this first experience! In one of Tennyson's most vigorous passages in the Idylls we read,

... for indeed I knew Of no more subtle master under heaven Than is the maiden passion for a maid, Not only to keep down the base in man, But teach high thoughts, and amiable words And courtliness, and the desire of fame, And love of truth, and all that makes a man.

Perhaps, if Burns in a later love affair had been successful in his suit, his life and reputation would not have suffered as they have, for the most culpable trait in the character of the famous Scotch poet is the ease with which he abandoned one lover for another. He was forever falling in love, and there is some evidence to the effect that he loved two or three at the same time. There is only too much truth in Burns' own lines,

Where'er I gaed, where'er I rade, A mistress still I had aye.

But perhaps all this would have been different had Ellison Begbie, the daughter of a small farmer, smiled favorably upon the advances of the young farmer from Lochlea. She is said to have been a young woman of great charm and liveliness of mind, though not a beauty. In after years Burns always spoke of her with the greatest of respect and as the one woman, of the many upon whom he had lavished his fickle affection, who most likely would have made a pleasant partner for life.

His love affair with this young lady took place near the close of his twenty-second year. Her refusal seems to have had a malign influence upon the career of our poet. Up to this time his love affairs, although numerous, were innocent. As his brother Gilbert says, they were "governed by the strictest rules of virtue and modesty." But henceforth there is a change in the character of Burns. Shortly after the fair Ellison had turned a deaf ear to the letters and love-songs of the importunate wooer, Robert and his brother Gilbert went to Irvine, hoping that in this flax-dressing center they could increase their income by dressing the flax raised on their own farm. Here Burns, always very susceptible to new influences,—he would not be the poet he is had he not been keenly alive and susceptible,—fell under the malignant charm of a wild sailor-lad whose habits were loose and irregular. "He was," says Burns, "the only man I ever knew who was a greater fool than myself, where woman was the presiding star; but he spoke of lawless love with levity, which hitherto I had regarded with horror. Here his friendship did me a mischief."



XII

BURNS' FIRST BOOK OF POEMS

Burns was in trouble; he had failed as a farmer, and as a young man he had wounded the sensibilities of his family. It seemed best to try a new life in a new land, so he promised a Mr. Douglas to go to Jamaica and become a bookkeeper on his estate there. But where should he get the money to pay his passage? There were the poems lying in his table-drawer—might they not be published and money be raised by the sale? His friends encouraged him to publish them, and what is more to the point, they subscribed in advance for a number of the copies. John Wilson of Kilmarnock was to do the printing. During May, June, and July of 1786 the printer was doing his work. At the end of July the volume appeared, and soon the fame of the Ayrshire Plowman was established. Let us hear Burns himself give his account of the venture:

"I gave up my part of the farm to my brother, and made what little preparation was in my power for Jamaica. But, before leaving my native country forever, I resolved to publish my poems. I weighed my productions as impartially as was in my power; I thought they had merit; and it was a delicious idea that I should be called a clever fellow, even though it should never reach my ears—a poor negro-driver, or perhaps a victim to that inhospitable clime, and gone to the world of spirits! I can truly say that pauvre inconnu as I then was, I had pretty nearly as high an idea of my works as I have at this moment, when the public has decided in their favor....

"I threw off about six hundred copies, of which I got subscriptions for about three hundred and fifty. My vanity was highly gratified by the reception I met with from the public; and besides, I pocketed, all expenses deducted, nearly twenty pounds. This sum came very seasonably, as I was thinking of indenting myself, for want of money, to procure a passage. As soon as I was master of nine guineas, the price of wafting me to the torrid zone, I took a steerage passage in the first ship that was to sail from the Clyde, for

'Hungry ruin had me in the wind.'

"I had been for some days skulking from covert to covert, under all the terrors of a jail, as some ill-advised people had uncoupled the merciless pack of the law at my heels. I had taken the last farewell of my friends; my chest was on the way to Greenock; I had composed the last song I should ever measure in Caledonia, 'The gloomy night is gathering fast,' when a letter from Dr. Blackwood to a friend of mine overthrew all my schemes, by opening up new prospects to my poetic ambition."

The success of the first edition of his poems was so pronounced that Burns soon gave up the idea of going away to Jamaica. Ayrshire was flattered to discover that within its borders lived a genuine poet. Robert Heron, a young literary man living in that neighborhood, gives us an account of the reception of the little book of poems: "Old and young, high and low, grave and gay, learned or ignorant, were alike delighted, agitated, transported. I was at that time resident in Galloway, contiguous to Ayrshire, and I can well remember how even plowboys and maidservants would have gladly bestowed the wages they earned most hardly, and which they wanted to purchase necessary clothing, if they might procure the works of Burns."

When Burns wished a second edition of his poems, he had a very poor offer from his printer. So he went to Edinburgh to see whether he could not make a more advantageous bargain in the Scottish capital. He reached that famous city on the 28th of November, 1786. Here he was feted and banqueted, admired and criticised. In April, 1787, the second edition appeared. The volume was a handsome octavo. The Scottish public had subscribed very liberally, and eventually Burns received 500 pounds, but Creech, his publisher, was so slow in making payments that Burns had to wait a long time before he received his due.

Walter Scott was among the many who met Burns during his stay in Edinburgh. Scott was but a boy of fifteen, but he never forgot the glance of approval bestowed upon him by the poet. We are especially fortunate in having Scott's own account of the incident: "As for Burns, I may truly say, 'Virgilium vidi tantum.' I was a lad of fifteen when he came to Edinburgh. I saw him one day at the late venerable Professor Adam Fergusson's. Of course we youngsters sat silent, looked, and listened. The only thing I remember which was remarkable in Burns' manner, was the effect produced upon him by a print of Bunbury's, representing a soldier lying dead on the snow, his dog sitting in misery on one side—on the other his widow, with her child in her arms. These lines were written beneath:

1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse