THE ADVENTURE OF LIVING
A Subjective Autobiography (1860-1922)
By John St. Loe Strachey Editor of The Spectator
"We carry with us the wonders we seek without us; there is all Africa and her prodigies in us; we are that bold and adventurous piece of Nature, which he that studies wisely learns in a compendium what others labour at in a divided piece and endless volume." SIR THOMAS BROWNE
TO MY WIFE
You who know something of the irony of life in general, and still more of it in the present particular, will not be surprised that, having made two strict rules for my guidance in the writing of this book, I break them both in the first page! Indeed, I can hear you say, though without any touch of the satirical, that it was only natural that I should do so.
The first of my two rules, heartily approved by you, let me add, is that I should not mention you in my autobiography.—We both deem it foolish as well as unseemly to violate in print the freemasonry of marriage.— The second, not unlike the first, is not to write about living people. And here am I hard at it in both cases!
Yet, after all, I have kept to my resolve in the spirit, if not in the letter:—and this though it has cost me some very good "copy,"—copy, too, which would have afforded me the pleasantest of memories. There are things seen by us together which I much regret to leave unchronicled, but these must wait for another occasion. Many of them are quite suitable to be recorded in one's lifetime. For example, I should dearly like to set forth our ride from Jerusalem to Damascus, together with some circumstances, as an old-fashioned traveller might have said, concerning the Garden of the Jews at Jahoni, and the strange and beautiful creature we found therein.
I count myself happy indeed to have seen half the delightful and notable things I have seen during my life, in your company. Do you remember the turbulent magnificence of our winter passage of the Splgen, not in a snowstorm, but in something much more thrilling—a fierce windstorm in a great frost? The whirling, stinging, white dust darkened the air and coated our sledges, our horses, and our faces. We shall neither of us ever forget how just below the Hospice your sledge was actually blown over by the mere fury of the blizzard; how we tramped through the drifts, and how all ended in "the welcome of an inn" on the summit; the hot soup and the Ctelettes de Veau. It was together, too, that we watched the sunrise from the Citadel at Cairo and saw the Pyramids tipped with rose and saffron. Ours, too, was the desert mirage that, in spite of reason and experience, almost betrayed us in our ride to the Fayum. You shared with me what was certainly an adventure of the spirit, though not of the body, when for the first time we saw the fateful and well-loved shores of America. The lights danced like fireflies in the great towers of New York, while behind them glowed in sombre splendour the fiery Bastions of a November sunset.
But, of course, none of all this affords the reason why I dedicate my book to you. That reason will perhaps be fully understood only by me and by our children. It can also be found in certain wise and cunning little hearts, inscrutable as those of kings, in a London nursery. Susan, Charlotte, and Christopher could tell if they would.
If that sounds inconsequent, or, at any rate, incomprehensible, may I not plead that so do the ineffable Mysteries of Life and Death.
J. ST. LOE STRACHEY.
PREFACE TO THE AMERICAN EDITION
It is with great pleasure that I accept Major Putnam's suggestion that I should write a special preface to the American edition of my autobiography. Major Putnam, I, and the Spectator, are a triumvirate of old friends, and I should not be likely to refuse a request made by him, even if its fulfilment was a much less agreeable task than that of addressing an American audience.
I was born with a mind which might well be described as Anima naturaliter Americana. I have always loved America and the Americans, and, though I cannot expect them to feel for me as I feel for them, I cherish the belief that, at any rate, they do not dislike me instinctively. That many of them regard me as somewhat wild and injudicious in my praise of their country I am well aware. They hold that I often praise America not only too much, but that I praise her for the wrong things,—praise, indeed, where I ought to censure, and so "spoil" their countrymen. Well, if that is a true bill, all I can say is that it is too late to expect me to mend my ways.
During my boyhood people here understood America much less than they do now. Though I should be exaggerating if I said that there was anything approaching dislike of America or Americans, there were certain intellectual people in England who were apt to parade a kind of conscious and supercilious patronage of the wilder products of American life and literature. I heard exaggerated stories about Americans, and especially about the Americans of the Far West,—heard them, that is, represented as semi-barbarians, coarse, rash, and boastful, with bad manners and no feeling for the reticences of life. Such legends exasperated me beyond words. I felt as did the author of Ionica on re-reading the play of Ajax.
The world may like, for all I care, The gentler voice, the cooler head, That bows a rival to despair, And cheaply compliments the dead.
That smiles at all that's coarse and rash, Yet wins the trophies of the fight, Unscathed in honour's wreck and crash, Heartless, but always in the right.
* * * * *
There were my superior persons drawn to the life!
When the complaisant judge would not acknowledge the rights of the noble Ajax, but gave to another what was due to him, the poet touched me even more nearly:—
Thanked, and self-pleased: ay, let him wear What to that noble breast was due; And I, dear passionate Teucer, dare Go through the homeless world with you.
The poem I admit does not sound very apposite in the year 1922, but it well reflected my indignation some fifty years ago. The West might then be regarded as the Ajax of the Nations. Nowadays, not even the youngest of enthusiasts could think it necessary to show his devotion by wanting to "go through the homeless world" with the richest and the most powerful community on the face of the earth.
I am not going to make any show of false modesty by suggesting that Americans may not care to read about the intimate details of my life and opinions, or to follow "the adventure of living" of a journalist and a public writer whose life, judged superficially, has been quite uneventful. I read with pleasure the lives of American men and women when they were not people of action, and I daresay people across the Atlantic will pay me a similar compliment.
Yet—I should like to give a word or two of explanation as to the way in which I have treated my subject. At first sight I expect that my book will seem chaotic and bewildering, a mighty maze and quite without a plan. As a matter of fact, however, the work was very carefully planned. My sins of omission and of commission were deliberate and, as our forefathers would have said, matters of art.
My first object was a negative one; that is, to avoid the kind of autobiography in which the author waddles painfully, diligently, and conscientiously along an arid path, which he has strewn, not with flowers and fruits of joy, but with the cinders of the commonplace. My readers know such autobiographies only too well. They are usually based upon copious diaries and letters. The author, as soon as he gets to maturity, spares us nothing. We look down endless vistas of dinners and luncheon parties and of stories of how he met the celebrated Mr. Jones at the house of the hardly less celebrated Mr. Smith and how they talked about Mr. Robinson, the most celebrated of all of them. If I have done nothing else worthy of gratitude, I have, at any rate, avoided such predestinated dullness.
What I have made my prime object is the description of the influences that have affected my life and, for good or evil, made me what I am. The interesting thing about a human being is not only what he is, but how he came to be what he is.
The main influence of my life has been The Spectator, and, therefore, as will be seen, I have made The Spectator the pivot of my book, or, shall I say, the centre from which in telling my story I have worked backwards and forwards. But this is not all. Though I pay a certain homage to chronology and let my chapters mainly follow the years, I am in this matter not too strict. Throughout, I obey the instinct of the journalist and take good copy wherever I can find it. I follow the scent while it is hot and do not say to myself or to my readers that this or that would be out-of-place here, and must be deferred to such and such a chapter, or to some portion of the book giving an account of later years, devoted to miscellaneous anecdotes! In a word, I am discursive not by accident, but by design.
If I am asked why I make this apologia, I shall have no difficulty in replying. I desire to leave nothing unsaid which may bring me into intimate touch with the greatest reading public that the world has ever seen-and, to my mind, a public as worthy as it is great.
J. ST. LOE STRACHEY.
May 5, 1922
POSTSCRIPT TO AMERICAN PREFACE
_While this book and preface is going through the press, I cannot resist adding a Postscript on a point suggested by my publisher. It is that I should say something which may inform the new generation as to "The Spectator's" position during the Civil War.
"The Spectator" was as strong a friend of America in past years as it is at present, and in those past years its friendship was the more useful because the need for a true understanding between all parts of the English-speaking race was not realised by nearly so many people as it is now. That there was ever any essential bitterness of feeling here or in America I will not admit for a moment, but that there was ignorance, pig-headedness, and want of vision, is beyond all doubt. This want of vision was specially illustrated during the Civil War. "The Spectator," however, I am proud to say, without being unjust to the South, or failing to note its gallantry, and its noble sacrifices even in a wrong cause, was consistently on the side of the North. Moreover, it realised that the North was going to win, and ought to win, and so would abolish slavery. There is a special tradition at the "Spectator" office of which we are very proud. It is that the military critic of "The Spectator," at that time Mr. Hooper, a civilian but with an extraordinary flair for strategy, divined exactly what Sherman was doing when he started on his famous march. Many years afterwards General Sherman, either in a speech or on the written page, for I cannot now verify the fact, though I am perfectly certain of it, said that when he started with the wires cut behind him, there were only two people in the world who knew what his objective was. One was himself and the other, as he said, "an anonymous writer in the London 'Spectator.'" My American readers will understand why I and all connected with "The Spectator" are intensely proud of this fact. The fate, not only of America but of the whole English-speaking race, hung upon the success of Sherman's feat of daring. In turn that success hung upon the fact that Sherman's objective was the sea. To have divined that was a notable achievement in the art of publicity._
J. ST. L. S.
I.—HOW I CAME TO The Spectator
II.—HOW I CAME TO The Spectator (Continued)
III.—MY PHYSICAL HOME, MY FAMILY, AND MY GOOD FORTUNE THEREIN
V.—MY FATHER'S STORIES OF THE STRACHEY FAMILY
VI.—MY CHILDHOOD AND SOME PSYCHOLOGICAL INCIDENTS
VII.—MY CHILDHOOD (Continued)
VIII.—THE FAMILY NURSE
IX.—BOYHOOD: POETRY AND METRE
XI.—A CLASSICAL EDUCATION
XII.—AN OXFORD FRIENDSHIP
XIV.—PRESS WORK IN LONDON
XVII.—MEREDITH TOWNSEND (Continued)
XVIII.—MY LIFE IN LONDON IN THE 'NINETIES
XIX.—MY LIFE IN LONDON IN THE 'NINETIES (Continued)
XX.—THE ETHICS OF JOURNALISM
XXI.—THE PLACE OF THE JOURNALIST IN MODERN LIFE
XXII.—A WAR EPISODE—MY AMERICAN TEA-PARTIES
XXIII.—IDYLLS OF THE WAR
XXIV.—FIVE GREAT MEN
XXV.—FIVE GREAT MEN (Continued)
XXVI.—MY POLITICAL OPINIONS
XXVII.—MY POLITICAL OPINIONS (Continued)
ST. LOE STRACHEY [Frontispiece] From a drawing by W. Rothenstein.
VIEW OF NORTH FRONT OF SUTTON COURT, IN THE COUNTY OF SOMERSET, THE FAMILY HOUSE OF THE STRACHEYS
SIR EDWARD STRACHEY IN THE HALL AT SUTTON COURT, WITH HIS FAVOURITE CAT From a picture by his son Henry Strachey.
JOHN STRACHEY, THE FRIEND OF LOCKE
THE CLOSE, SUTTON COURT, SOMERSET
SUTTON COURT, SOMERSET
SUTTON COURT, SOMERSET
MRS. SALOME LEAKER,—"THE FAMILY NURSE"
J. ST. LOE STRACHEY,—TAT 16 From a photograph done at Cannes, about 1876.
J. ST. LOE STRACHEY AS AN OXFORD FRESHMAN, TAT 18 MEREDITH TOWNSEND, EDITOR OF THE "FRIEND OF INDIA," AND HIS MOONSHEE, THE PUNDIT OOMACANTO MUKAJI, DOCTOR OF LOGIC IN THE MUDDEH UNIVERSITY Taken at Serampore, Bengal, in 1849.
J. ST. LOE STRACHEY, TAT. 32
J. ST. LOE STRACHEY AT NEWLANDS CORNER, TAT. 45
THE ADVENTURE OF LIVING
HOW I CAME TO "THE SPECTATOR"
Sir Thomas Browne gave his son an admirable piece of literary advice. The young son had been travelling in Hungary and proposed to write an account of what he had seen. His father approved the project, but urged him strongly not to trouble himself about the methods of extracting iron and copper from the ores, or with a multitude of facts and statistics. These were matters in which there was no need to be particular. But, he added, his son must on no account forget to give a full description of the "Roman alabaster tomb in the barber's shop at Pesth."
In writing my recollections I mean to keep always before me the alabaster tomb in the barber's shop rather than a view of life which is based on high politics, or even high literature. At first sight it may seem as if the life of an editor is not likely to contain very much of the alabaster tomb element. In truth, however, every life is an adventure, and if a sense of this adventure cannot be communicated to the reader, one may feel sure that it is the fault of the writer, not of the facts. A dull man might make a dull thing of his autobiography even if he had lived through the French Revolution; whereas a country curate might thrill the world with his story, provided that his mind were cast in the right mould and that he found a quickening interest in its delineation. Barbellion's Diary provides the proof. The interest of that supremely interesting book lies in the way of telling.
But how is one to know what will interest one's readers? That is a difficult question. Clearly it is no use to put up a man of straw, call him the Public, and then try to play down to him or up to him and his alleged and purely hypothetical opinions and tastes. Those who attempt to fawn upon the puppet of their own creation are as likely as not to end by interesting nobody. At any rate, try and please yourself, then at least one person's liking is engaged. That is the autobiographer's simple secret.
All the same there is a better reason than that. Pleasure is contagious. He who writes with zest will infect his readers. The man who argues, "This seems stupid and tedious to me, but I expect it is what the public likes," is certain to make shipwreck of his endeavour.
The pivot of my life has been The Spectator, and so The Spectator must be the pivot of my book—the point upon which it and I and all that is mine turn. I therefore make no apology for beginning this book with the story of how I came to The Spectator.
My father, a friend of both the joint editors, Mr. Hutton and Mr. Townsend, was a frequent contributor to the paper. In a sense, therefore, I was brought up in a "Spectator" atmosphere. Indeed, the first contributions ever made by me to the press were two sonnets which appeared in its pages, one in the year 1875 and the other in 1876. I did not, however, begin serious journalistic work in The Spectator, but, curiously enough, in its rival, The Saturday Review. While I was at Oxford I sent several middle articles to The Saturday, got them accepted, and later, to my great delight, received novels and poems for review. I also wrote occasionally in The Pall Mall, in the days in which it was edited by Lord Morley, and in The Academy. It was not until I settled down in London to read for the Bar, a year and a half after I had left Oxford, that I made any attempt to write for The Spectator. In the last few days of 1885 I got my father to give me a formal introduction to the editors, and went to see them in Wellington Street. They told me, as in my turn I have had to tell so many would-be reviewers, what no doubt was perfectly true, namely that they had already got more outside reviewers than they could possibly find work for, and that they were sorry to say I must not count upon their being able to give me books. All the same, they would like me to take away a couple of volumes to notice,—making it clear, however, that they did this out of friendship for my father.
I was given my choice of books, and the two I chose were a new edition of Gulliver's Travels, well illustrated in colour by a French artist, and, if I remember rightly, the Memoirs of Henry Greville, the brother of the great Greville. I will not say that I departed from the old Spectator offices at 1 Wellington Street—a building destined to play so great a part in my life—in dudgeon or even in disappointment. I had not expected very much. Still, no man, young or old, cares to have it made quite clear that a door at which he wishes to enter is permanently shut against him.
However, I was not likely to be depressed for long at so small a matter as this; I was much too full of enjoyment in my new London life. The wide world affords nothing to equal one's first year in London—at least, that was my feeling. My first year at Oxford had been delightful, as were also the three following, but there was to me something in the throb of the great pulse of London which, as a stimulant, nay, an excitant, of the mind, even Oxford could not rival.
For once I had plenty of leisure to enjoy the thrilling drama of life—a drama too often dimmed by the cares, the business, or even the pleasures of the onlooker. A Bar student is not overworked, and if he is not rich, or socially sought after, he can find, as I did, plenty of time in which to look around him and enjoy the scene. That exhilaration, that luxury of leisurely circumspection may never return, or only, as happily in my own case, with the grand climacteric. Once more I see and enjoy the gorgeous drama by the Thames.
To walk every morning to the Temple or to Lincoln's Inn, where I was reading in Chambers, was a feast. Then there were theatres, balls, dances, dinners, and a thousand splendid sights to be enjoyed, for I was then, as I have always been and am now, an indefatigable sightseer. I would, I confess, to this day go miles to see the least promising of curiosities or antiquities. "Who knows? it may be one of the wonders of the world" has always been my order of the day.
I was aware of my good fortune. I remember thinking how much more delightful it must be to come fresh to London than to be like so many of my friends, Londoners born and bred. They could not be thrilled as I was by the sight of St. Paul's or Westminster Abbey, or by the scimitar curve of the Thames from Blackfriars to Westminster. Through the National Gallery or the British Museum I paced a king. The vista of the London River as I went to Greenwich intoxicated me like heady wine. And Hampton Court in the spring, Ut vidi ut perii—"How I saw, how I perished." It was all a pageant of pure pleasure, and I walked on air, eating the fruit of the Hesperides.
But though I was so fully convinced that the doors of The Spectator were shut against me, I was, of course, determined that my two reviews should, if possible, make the editors feel what a huge mistake they had made and what a loss they were incurring. But, alas! here I encountered a great disappointment. When I had written my reviews they appeared to me to be total failures! I was living at the time in an "upper part" in South Molton Street, in which I, my younger brother, Henry Strachey, and two of my greatest friends, the present Sir Bernard Mallet and his younger brother Stephen Mallet, had set up house. I remember to this day owning to my brother that though I had intended my review of Gulliver's Travels to be epoch-making, it had turned out a horrible fiasco. However, I somehow felt I should only flounder deeper into the quagmire of my own creation if I rewrote the two reviews. Accordingly, they were sent off in the usual way. Knowing my father's experience in such matters, I did not expect to get them back in type for many weeks. As a matter of fact, they came back quite quickly. I corrected the proofs and returned them. To my astonishment the review of Swift appeared almost at once. I supposed, in the luxury of depression, that they wished to cast the rubbish out of the way as quickly as possible.
My first intention was not to go again to The Spectator office, the place where I was so obviously not wanted, but I remembered that my father had told me that it was always the custom to return books as soon as the proofs were corrected or the articles had appeared. I determined, therefore, that I would do the proper thing, though I felt rather shy, and feared I might be looked upon as "cadging" for work.
With my books under my arm I walked off to Wellington Street, on a Tuesday morning, and went up to Mr. Hutton's room, where on that day the two editors used to spend the greater part of the morning discussing the coming issue of the paper. I had prepared a nice little impromptu speech, which was to convey in unmistakable terms that I had not come to ask for more books; "I fully realise and fully acquiesce in your inability to use my work." When I went in I was most cordially received, and almost immediately Mr. Hutton asked me to look over a pile of new books and see if there was anything there I would like. This appeared to be my cue, and I accordingly proceeded to explain that I had not come to ask for more books but only to bring back the two books I had already reviewed and to thank the editors. I quite understood that there was no more work for me.
Then, to my amazement, Mr. Townsend, with that vividness of expression which was his, said something to the effect that they had only said that when they didn't know that I could write. The position, it appeared, had been entirely changed by the review of Gulliver's Travels and they hoped very much that I should be able to do regular work for The Spectator. Mr. Hutton chimed in with equally kind and appreciative words, and I can well remember the pleasant confusion caused in my mind by the evident satisfaction of my future chiefs. I was actually hailed as "a writer and critic of the first force."
To say that I returned home elated would not be exactly true. Bewildered would more accurately describe my state of mind. I had genuinely believed that my attempt to give the final word of criticism upon Gulliver's Travels—that is what a young man always thinks, and ought to think, he is doing in the matter of literary criticism—had been a total failure. Surely I couldn't be wrong about my own work. Yet The Spectator editors were evidently not mad or pulling my leg or even flattering me! It was a violent mystery.
Of course I was pleased at heart, but I tried to unload some of my liabilities to Nemesis by the thought that my new patrons would probably get tired of my manner of writing before very long. What had captured them for the moment was merely a certain novelty of style. They would very soon see through it, as I had done in my poignant self-criticism. But this prudent view was before long, in a couple of days, to be exact, knocked on the head by a delightful letter which Mr. Townsend wrote to my father. In it he expressed himself even more strongly in regard to the review than he had done in speaking to me.
I honestly think that what I liked best in the whole business was the element of adventure. There was something thrilling and, so, intensely delightful to me in the thought, that I had walked down to Wellington Street, like a character in a novel, prepared for a setback, only to find that Fate was there, "hid in an auger-hole," ready to rush and seize me. Somehow or other I felt, though I would not admit it even to myself, that the incident had been written in the Book of Destiny, and that it was one which was going to affect my whole life. Of course, being, like other young men, a creature governed wholly by reason and good sense, I scouted the notion of a destined day as sentimental and ridiculous. Still, the facts were "as stated," and could not be altogether denied.
Looking back at the lucky accident which brought the right book, the right reviewer, and the properly-tuned editors together, I am bound to say that I think that the editors were right and that I had produced good copy. At any rate, their view being what it was, I have no sort of doubt that they were quite right to express it as plainly and as generously as they did to me. To have followed the conventional rule of not puffing up a young man with praise and to have guarded their true opinion as a kind of guilty secret would have been distinctly unfair to me, nay, prejudicial. There are, I suppose, a certain number of young people to whom it would be unsafe to give a full measure of eulogy. But these are a small minority. The ordinary young man or young woman is much more likely to be encouraged or sometimes even alarmed by unstinted praise. Generous encouragement is the necessary mental nourishment of youth, and those who withhold it from them are not only foolish but cruel. They are keeping food from the hungry.
If my editors had told me that they thought the review rather a poor piece of work, I should, by "the law of reversed effort," have been almost certain to have taken up a combative line and have convinced myself that it was epoch-making. When a man thinks himself overpraised, if he has anything in him at all, he begins to get anxious about his next step. He is put very much on his mettle not to lose what he has gained.
It may amuse my readers, if I quote a few sentences from the article, and allow them to see whether their judgment coincides with that of my chiefs at The Spectator on a matter which was for me fraught with the decrees of Destiny. This is how I began my review of Swift and his masterpiece:
"Never anyone living thought like you," said to Swift the woman who loved him with a passion that had caught some of his own fierceness and despair. The love which great natures inspire had endowed Vanessa with a rare inspiration. Half-consciously she has touched the notes that help us to resolve the discord in Swift's life. Truly, the mind of living man never worked as Swift's worked. That this is so is visible in every line, in every word he ever wrote. No phrase of his is like any other man's; no conception of his is ever cast in the common mould. It is this that lends something so dreadful and mysterious to all Swift's writings.
From this time I began to get books regularly from The Spectator and to pay periodical visits to the office, where I learned to understand and to appreciate my chiefs. But more of them later. The year 1886 was one of political convulsion, the year of the great split in the Liberal Party; the year in which Lord Hartington and Mr. Chamberlain finally severed themselves from Mr. Gladstone and began that co- operation with the Conservatives which resulted in the formation of the Unionist Party. I do not, however, want to deal here with the Unionist crisis, except so far as it affected me and The Spectator. While my father and my elder brother remained Liberals and followed Mr. Gladstone, I followed Lord Hartington, Mr. Chamberlain, and Mr. Goschen. My conversion was not in any way sought by my new friends and chiefs at The Spectator office, though they at once took the Unionist side. I have no doubt, however, that my intercourse with Hutton and Townsend had its effect, though I also think that my mind was naturally Unionist in politics. I was already a Lincoln worshipper in American history and desired closer union with the Dominions, not separation. I was for concentration, not dispersion, in the Empire. In any case, I took the plunge, one which might have been painful if my father had not been the most just, the most fair-minded, and the most kind-hearted of men. Although he was an intense, nay, a fierce Gladstonian, I never had the slightest feeling of estrangement from him or he from me. It happened, however, that the break-up of the Liberal Party affected me greatly at The Spectator. When the election of 1886 took place, I was asked by a friend and Somersetshire neighbour, Mr. Henry Hobhouse, who had become, like me, a Liberal Unionist, to act as his election agent. This I did, though, as a matter of fact, he was unopposed. The moment he was declared elected I made out my return as election agent and went straight back to my work in London. Almost at once I received a letter which surprised me enormously. It was from Mr. Hutton, telling me that Mr. Townsend had gone away for his usual summer holiday, and that he wanted someone to come and help him by writing a couple of leaders a week and some of the notes. I, of course, was delighted at the prospect, for my mind was full of politics and I was longing to have my say. Here again, though it did not consciously occur to me that I was in for anything big, I seem to have had some sort of subconscious premonition. At any rate, I accepted with delight and well remember my talk at the office before taking up my duties. My editor explained to me that Mr. Asquith, who had been up till the end of 1885 the writer of a weekly leader in The Spectator and also a holiday writer, had now severed his connection with the paper, owing to his entry into active politics. It did not occur to me, however, that I was likely to get the post of regular leader-writer in his stead, though this was what actually happened.
I left the office, I remember, greatly pleased with the two subjects upon which I was to write. The first article was to be an exhortation to the Conservative side of the Unionist Party not to be led into thinking that they were necessarily a minority in the country and that they could not expect any but a minute fraction of working-men to be on their side. With all the daring of twenty-six I set out to teach the Conservative party their business. This is how I began my article which appeared on the 24th of July, 1886.
In their hearts the Conservatives cannot really believe that anyone with less than 100 a year willingly votes on their side. A victory in a popular constituency always astonishes them. They cannot restrain a feeling that by all the rules of reason and logic they ought to have lost. What inducement, they wonder, can the working-men have to vote for them? Lord Beaconsfield, of course, never shared such notions as these.... Yet his party never sincerely believed what he told them, and only followed him because they saw no other escape from their difficulties. The last extension of the franchise has again shown that he was right, and that in no conditions of life do Englishmen vote as a herd.
Here is how I ended it:
Conciliation or Coercion was the cry everywhere. And yet the majority of the new voters, to their eternal honour, proved their political infancy so full of sense and patriotism that they let go by unheeded the appeals to their class-prejudices and to their emotions, and chose, instead, the harder and seemingly less generous policy, based on reason rather than on sentiment, on conviction rather than on despair. As the trial was severe, so is the honour due to the new voters lasting and conspicuous.
The length of the quotation is justified by its effect on—my life. For me it has another interest. In re-reading it, I note that, right or wrong, it takes exactly the view of the English democracy which I have always taken and which I hold today as strongly as I did forty years ago.
The article had an instant reaction. It delighted Mr. Townsend, who, though he did not know it was by me, guessed that it was mine, and wrote at once to ask me whether, when Mr. Hutton went on his holiday, I could remain at work as his assistant. Very soon after, he suggested, with a swift generosity that still warms my heart, that if I liked to give up the Bar, for which I was still supposing myself to be reading, I could have a permanent place at The Spectator, and even, if I remember rightly, hinted that I might look forward to succeeding the first of the two partners who died or retired, and so to becoming joint editor or joint proprietor. That prospect I do admit took away my breath. With the solemn caution of youth, or at any rate with youth's delight in irony in action, I almost felt that I should have to go and make representations to my chief about his juvenile impetuosity and want of care and prudence. Surely he must see that he had not had enough experience of me yet to make so large a proposition, that it was absurd, and so forth. O sancta simplicitas!
HOW I CAME TO "THE SPECTATOR" (Continued)
Even the success chronicled in the preceding chapter did not exhaust the store of good luck destined for my first appearance as a political leader-writer. Fate again showed its determination to force me upon The Spectator. When I arrived at the office on the Tuesday morning following the publication of the number of the paper in which my first two leaders appeared, I found that the second leader had done even better than the first. Its title seemed appallingly dull, and, I remember, called forth a protest from Mr. Hutton when I suggested writing it. It was entitled "The Privy Council and the Colonies." I had always been an ardent Imperialist, and I had taken to Constitutional Law like a duck to the water, and felt strongly, like so many young men before me, the intellectual attraction of legal problems and still more the majesty and picturesqueness of our great Tribunals. Especially had I been fascinated by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and its world-wide jurisdiction. I had even helped to draw some pleadings in a Judicial Committee case when in Chambers. Accordingly, though with some difficulty, I persuaded Mr. Hutton to let me have my say and show what a potent bond of Empire was to be found therein. I also wanted to emphasise how further ties of Imperial unity might be developed on similar lines—a fact, I may say, which was not discovered by the practical politicians till about the year 1912, or twenty-seven years later.
Now it happened that Mr. Gladstone's Ministry, though beaten at the elections, had not yet gone out of office. It also happened that Lord Granville, then Colonial Secretary, was to receive the Agents-General of the self-governing Colonies, as they were then called, on the Saturday; and finally, that Lord Granville had a fit of the gout. The result of the last fact was that he had to put off preparing his speech till the last possible moment. When he had been wheeled in a chair into the reception-room—his foot was too painful to allow him to walk—he began his address to the Deputation in these terms:
In a very remarkable article which appears in this week's Spectator it is pointed out "that people are apt to overlook the importance of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as one of the bonds that unite the Colonies and the Mother Country."
He then went on to use the article as the foundation for his speech. I had talked about the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council being a body which "binds without friction and links without strain," and Lord Granville did the same.
But of this speech I knew nothing when I entered The Spectator office on my fateful second Tuesday. I was only intent to get instructions for new leaders. Besides, I had been away on a country- house visit from the Saturday to the Monday, and had missed Monday's Times. I was therefore immensely surprised when Mr. Hutton, from the depths of his beard, asked me in deep tones whether I had seen The Times of Monday, and what was said therein about my Privy Council article. I admit that for a moment I thought I had been guilty of some appalling blunder and that, as the soldiers say, I was "for it" However, I saw that I must face the music as best I could, and admitted that I had not seen the paper. "Then you ought to have," was Mr. Hutton's not very reassuring reply. He got up, went to a side-table, and, after much digging into a huge heap of papers, extracted Monday's Times and with his usual gruff good-temper read out the opening words of Lord Granville's speech. He was, in fact, greatly delighted, and almost said in so many words that it wasn't every day that the Editors of The Spectator could draw Cabinet Ministers to advertise their paper.
Certainly it was astonishingly good luck for a "commencing journalist" to bring down two birds with two articles, i.e., to hit one of his own editors with one article, and to bag a Cabinet Minister with the other.
No doubt the perfectly cautious man would have said, "This is an accident, a mere coincidence, it means nothing and will never happen again." Fortunately people do not argue in that rational and statistical spirit. All my chiefs knew or cared was that I had written good stuff and on a very technical subject, and that I had caught the ear of the man who, considering the subject, most mattered—the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
Anyway, my two first trial leaders had done the trick and I was from that moment free of The Spectator. Townsend's holiday succeeded to Hutton's, and when the holidays were over, including my own, which not unnaturally took me to Venice,—"Italiam petimus" should always be the motto of an English youth,—I returned to take up the position of a weekly leader-writer and holiday-understudy, a mixed post which by the irony of fate, as I have already said, had just been vacated by Mr. Asquith. Here was an adventure indeed, and I can say again with perfect sincerity that for me the greatest delight of the whole thing was this element of the Romantic.
I was quite sensible that I had had the devil's own luck in my capture of a post on The Spectator. Indeed, I very much preferred that, to the thought that the good fortune that was mine was the reward of a grinding and ignoble perseverance. I was in no mood for the drab virtues. I hugged the thought that it was not through my merits but because I possessed a conquering star that I had got where I was.
Curiously enough, I had never dreamed of joining The Spectator staff or even of becoming its Editor. I had imagined every other sort of strange and sudden preferment, of frantic proprietors asking me at a moment's notice to edit their papers, or of taking up some great and responsible position, but never of carrying by assault 1 Wellington Street. But that, of course, made it all the more delightful. No one could have prepared me a greater or a more grateful surprise.
It is strange to look back and see how at this moment that mystery which we barbarously call "the force of circumstances" seemed to have determined not merely to drive in my nail but to hammer it up to the head. It happened that both Mr. Hutton and Mr. Townsend had great belief in the literary judgment of Canon Ainger, a man, it is to be feared, now almost forgotten, but whose opinion was looked upon in the 'eighties and 'nineties with something approaching reverence.
In 1886—my "Spectator" year, as I may call it—when I was acting as election-agent to Mr. Henry Hobhouse, I happened to be searching in the old library at Hadspen House for something to read, something with which to occupy the time of waiting between the issue of the writ and nomination-day. If there was to be no opposition it did not seem worth while to get too busy over the electorate. We remained, therefore, in a kind of enchanter's circle until nomination-day was over. It was a time in which everybody whispered mysteriously that a very strong candidate, name unknown, would suddenly appear at Yeovil, Langport, or Chard—I forget which of these pleasant little towns was the place of nomination —and imperil our chances. As was natural to me then, and, I must confess, would be natural to me now, my search for a book took me straight to that part of the library in which the poets congregated. My eye wandered over the shelves, and lighted upon Poems in the Dorsetshire Dialect by the Rev. William Barnes. Hadspen House was quite close to the Dorset border. I was interested and I took down the volume. I don't think I had ever heard of Barnes before, but being very fond of the Somersetshire dialect and proud of my ability to speak in it, my first impulse was rather to turn up my nose at the vernacular of a neighbouring county. It was, then, with a decided inclination to look a gift-horse in the mouth that I retired with Barnes to my den. Yet, as Hafiz says, "by this a world was affected." I opened the poems at the enchanting stanzas, "Lonesome woodlands! zunny woodlands!" and was transported. In a moment I realised that for me a new foot was on the earth, a new name come down from Heaven. I read and read, and can still remember how the exquisite rhythm of "Woak Hill" was swept into my mind, to make there an impression which will never be obliterated while life lives in my brain. I did not know, in that delirium of exaltation which a poetic discovery always makes in the heart of a youth, whether most to admire the bold artifice of the man who had adapted an unrhymed Persian metre—the Pearl—to the needs of a poem in the broadest Dorsetshire dialect, or the deep intensity of the emotion with which he had clothed a glorious piece of prosodiac scholarship.
I recognised at once that the poem was fraught with a pathos as magnificent as anything in the whole range of classic literature—and also that this pathos had that touch of stableness in sorrow which we associate, and rightly associate, with the classics. Miserably bad scholar as I was, and am, I knew enough to see that the Dorsetshire schoolmaster and village parson had dared to challenge the deified Virgil himself. The depth of feeling in the lines—
An' took her wi' air-reachen arm To my zide at Woak Hill
is not exceeded even by those which tell how neas filled his arms with the empty air when he stretched them to enfold the dead Creusa.
Upon the last two stanzas in "Woak Hill" I may as truly be said to have lived for a month as Charles Lamb lived upon "Rose Aylmer."
An' that's why folk thought, for a season, My mind were a-wandren Wi' sorrow, when I wer so sorely A-tried at Woak Hill.
But no; that my Mary mid never Behold herzelf slighted, I wanted to think that I guided My guide from Woak Hill.
Equally potent was the spell cast by what is hardly less great a poem than "Woak Hill," the enchanting "Evenen, an' Maids out at Door." There the Theocritus of the West dares to use not merely the words of common speech and primitive origin, but words drawn from Low Latin and of administrative connotation. Barnes achieves this triumph in words with perfect ease. He can use a word like "parish" not, as Crabbe did, for purposes of pure narration but in a passage of heightened rhetoric:
But when you be a-lost vrom the parish, zome more Will come on in your pleazen to bloom an' to die; An' the zummer will always have maidens avore Their doors, vor to chatty an' zee volk goo by.
For daughters ha' mornen when mothers ha' night, An' there's beauty alive when the fairest is dead; As when one sparklen wave do zink down from the light, Another do come up an' catch it instead.
Rightly did the Edinburgh reviewer of the 'thirties, in noticing Barnes's poems—the very edition from which I was reading, perfect, by the way, in its ribbed paper and clear print—declare "there has been no such art since Horace." And here I may interpolate that the reviewer in question was Mr. George Venables, who was within a year to become a friend of mine. He and his family were close friends of my wife's people, and when after my marriage I met him, a common love of Barnes brought together the ardent worshipper of the new schools of poetry, for such I was, and the old and distinguished lawyer who was Thackeray's contemporary at the Charterhouse. Barnes was for us both a sign of literary freemasonry which at once made us recognise each other as fellow-craftsmen.
Bewildered readers will ask how my discovery of Barnes affected my position at The Spectator. It happened in this way. A couple of weeks after I had been established at The Spectator as a "verus socius" Barnes died, at a very great age. It was one of those cases in which death suddenly makes a man visible to the generation into which he has survived. Barnes had outlived not only his contemporaries but his renown, and most of the journalists detailed to write his obituary notice had evidently found it a hard task to say why he should be held in remembrance.
But by a pure accident here was I, in the high tide of my enthusiasm for my new poet. Needless to say I was only too glad to have a chance to let myself go on Barnes, and so was entrusted with the Barnes Obituary article for The Spectator.
The result was that the next week my chiefs showed me a letter one of them had received from Canon Ainger, asking for the name of the "evidently new hand" who had written on Barnes, and making some very complimentary remarks on his work. It was eminently characteristic of them that instead of being a little annoyed at being told that an article had appeared in The Spectator with an unexpected literary charm, they were as genuinely delighted as I was.
In any case, the incident served, as I have said, to drive the nail up to the head and to make Mr. Hutton and Mr. Townsend feel that they had not been rash in their choice, and had got a man who could do literature as well as politics.
Not being without a sense of superstition, at any rate where cats are concerned, and a devout lover of "the furred serpent," I may record the last, the complete rite of my initiation at The Spectator office. While I was one day during my novitiate talking over articles and waiting for instructions—or, rather, finding articles for my chiefs to write about, for that very soon became the routine—a large, consequential, not to say stout black Tom-cat slowly entered the room, walked round me, sniffed at my legs in a suspicious manner, and then, to my intense amazement and amusement, hurled himself from the floor with some difficulty and alighted upon my shoulder. Mr. Townsend, who loved anything dramatic, though he did not love animals as Mr. Hutton did, pointed to the cat and muttered dramatically, "Hutton, just look at that!"
He went on to declare that the cat very seldom honoured "upstairs" with his presence, but kept himself, as a rule, strictly to himself, in the basement. Apparently, however, the sagacious beast had realised that there was a new element in the office, and had come to inspect it and see whether he could give it his approval or not. When it was given, it was conceded by all concerned that the appointment had received its consecration. Like "the Senior Fellow" in Sir Frederick Pollock's poem on the College Cat, I was passed by the highest authority in the office.
One said, "The Senior Fellow's vote!" The Senior Fellow, black of coat, Save where his front was white, Arose and sniffed the stranger's shoes With critic nose, as ancients use To judge mankind aright.
I—for 'twas I who tell the tale— Conscious of fortune's trembling scale, Awaited the decree; But Tom had judged: "He loves our race," And, as to his ancestral place, He leapt upon my knee.
Thenceforth, in common-room and hall, A verus socius known to all, I came and went and sat, Far from cross fate's or envy's reach; For none a title could impeach Accepted by the cat.
It was at this time that Mr. Townsend wrote me, on behalf of himself and his partner, a letter stating definitely that if I would devote myself to The Spectator, he and Hutton would guarantee me at once a certain salary, though I might still take any work I liked outside. But this was not all. The letter went on to say that the first of the partners who died or retired would offer me a half-share of the paper. It was pointed out that, of course, that might conceivably mean a fairly long apprenticeship, but that it was far more likely to mean a short one. It proved to be neither the one nor the other, but what might be called a compromise period of some ten years.
And so in the course of a very few weeks my fate had been decided for me and the question I had so often put to myself: Should I stick to the Bar or throw in my lot with journalism? was answered. A great wave had seized me and cast me up upon the shore of 1 Wellington Street. I felt breathless but happy. Though I did not fully realise how deeply my life had been affected by the decision or how strange in some ways was the course that lay before me, I had an instinctive feeling that I must follow wholeheartedly the path of Destiny. I determined to free my mind from all thoughts of a return to the Bar. I shut my eyes for ever to the vision of myself as Lord Chancellor or Lord Chief Justice—a vision that has haunted every young man who has ever embarked upon the study of English Law;—the vision of which Dr. Johnson, even at the end of his life, could not speak without profound emotion.
I acted promptly. I at once gave up my nice little room in the Temple. It was about eight foot square, furnished with one table, one arm-chair, one cane chair, and a bookcase, and dignified by the name of Chambers. I sometimes wonder now whether, if I could have looked down the long avenue of the years and seen the crowded, turbulent series of events which, as Professor Einstein has taught us, was rushing upon me like a tiger on its prey, I should have been alarmed or not. I should have seen many things exciting, many things sad, many things difficult, but above all I should have seen what could only have been described as a veritable snowstorm of written and printed pages.
I have sometimes, as every man will, reversed the process, looked back and reviewed the past. On such occasions I have been half inclined to make the reflection, common to all journalists, when they survey the monumental works of our brethren in the superior ranks of the literary profession: "Have I not cast my life and energy away on things ephemeral and unworthy? Have not I preferred a kind of glorified pot-boiling to the service of the spirit?" In the end, however, like the painter with the journalist's heart in Robert Browning's poem, I console myself for having enlisted among the tradesmen of literature rather than among the artists:
For I have done some service in my time, And not been paid profusely. Let some great soul write my six thousand leaders!
It is, I admit, an appalling thought to have covered so much paper and used so much ink. But, after all, an apology may be made for mere volume in journalism analogous to that made for it by Dr. Johnson when he said that poets must to some extent be judged by their quantity as well as their quality. Anyway, I am inclined to be proud of my output. When an occasion like the present makes me turn back to my old articles, I am glad to say that my attitude, far from being one of shame, is more like that of the Duke of Wellington. When quite an old man, somebody brought him his Indian Despatches to look over. As he read he is recorded to have muttered: "Damned good! I don't know how the devil I ever managed to write 'em."
The tale of how I came to The Spectator is finished. I must now describe what sort of a youth it was who got there, and what were the influences that had gone to his making.
MY PHYSICAL HOME, MY FAMILY, AND MY GOOD FORTUNE THEREIN
The autobiographer, or at any rate the writer of the type of autobiography on which I am engaged, need not apologise for being egotistical. If he is not that he is nothing. He must start with the assumption that people want to hear about him and to hear it from himself. Further, he must be genuinely and actively interested in his own life and therefore write about it willingly and with zest. If you get anywhere near the position of an autobiographer, "invitus," addressing a reader, "invitum," the game is up.
It would, then, be an absurdity to pretend to avoid egotism.
It would be almost as futile to apologise for being trivial. All details of human life are interesting, or can be made interesting, especially if they can be shown to be contributory to the development of the subject on the Anatomy-table. The elements that contributed to the building up of the man under observation are sure to be worth recording.
The autobiographer who is going to succeed with his task must set down whatever he believes went to the making of his mind and soul, and of that highly composite product which constitutes a human being. Nothing is too small or too unimportant to be worthy of record. But people to whom criticism is a passion and who love it even more than life, and they are often very valuable people, will say, "Are we not, then, to be allowed to dub your book trivial, if we think so?" Of course they must have that license, but they must make good the plea of triviality, not in the facts but in the exposition. There no man has a right to be trivial, or empty, or commonplace. Whatever is recorded must be recorded worthily.
Take a plain example. If I set forth to describe my crossing Waterloo Bridge on a particular day in a particular year, I must not merely on that ground be attacked for triviality. I may be able to show, in the first place, that the crossing by that bridge and not, let us say, by using Hungerford Bridge or Blackfriars Bridge, affected my life. I may also be able to describe my walk or drive in such a way that it will make a deep impress upon the reader's mind. In a word, to get judgment against me, the critic must demur, not on my facts but on a point of literature, that is, on my method of presentation.
In considering the multitude of things which have gone to make me what I am, which have drawn into a single strand the innumerable threads that the Fates have been spinning for me ever since they began their dread business, what strikes me most of all and first of all is my good fortune. I may, on a future occasion, complain that in middle life and in later life I did not have good luck, but bad luck, but I should be an ingrate to Destiny if I did not admit that nothing could have been more happy than the circumstances with which I was surrounded at my birth— the circumstances which made the boy, who made the youth, who made the man.
Above all, I was fortunate in my father and my mother. Though I must put them first in honour on my record, as first in time and in memory, I can show them best by touching in a preliminary study on those surroundings, moral and intellectual, into which I was born.
In the first place, I count myself specially happy in that my parents were people of moderate fortune. They were not too poor to give me the pleasures and the freedoms of a liberal education, and of all that used to be included in the phrase "easy circumstances." Ours was a pleasant and leisurely way of life, undisturbed by the major worries and anxieties of narrow means.
On the other hand, my home surroundings were not of the pompous, luxurious kind which makes nothing moral or physical matter very much, which drowns a man in security. I knew what it was to want a thing, and to be told that it was much too expensive to be thought of. I knew I should have to make my way in life like my ancestors before me, for not only was my family in no sense a rich one, but I was a second son, who could only look forward to a second son's portion,—an honourable distinction, this, and one of which my father and my mother were often wont to speak.
I had, in a word, all the pride of a second son, a creature devoted to carving his own way to fame and fortune. I will not say that my parents wanted to console me for being a second son and for seeing my elder brother inherit the estate and Sutton the beloved, for that was never thought of or dreamt of by them, or by me. On the contrary, I was told in all sincerity, and firmly believe now, as I did then, that though somebody must keep the flame alight on the family altar, where it was lighted so long ago, and though this duty fell to the eldest son, I need not envy him. He was tied. I as a younger son was left free, untrammelled, the world before me. If I was worthy of my fate, the ball was at my feet. Such was the policy of younger sons, and so it was handed on to me.
Again, I was fortunate in being brought up in the country, and not in London or near some great town;—in being, that is, the inmate of "an English country-house" in the accepted sense, a place to which a certain definite way of life pertains, especially when the house is not bought, but inherited, and is regarded with a peculiar veneration and admiration by all who live in it.
The love of some old "house in the country" constitutes a family freemasonry, of which those who have not actually experienced it can form no conception. It unites those who differ in opinion, in age, in outlook on life, and in circumstances. It is the password of the heart.
Call a dog-kennel Sutton, and I should love it. How much more so when it stands beside its sheltering elms and limes, with its terraces looking to the blue line of Mendip, its battlemented and flower-tufted fortress wall, and its knightly Tower built for security and defence.
In a word, I had the supreme good-luck to be born the second son of a Somersetshire squire and to be brought up in a Somersetshire country- house. If the reader would know what that means to a Somersetshire man, let him turn to Coryat's Crudities and see what the Elizabethan tourist says in his Introduction as to the possession of a Manor in the county aforesaid.
But I must be careful not to give a false impression. Sutton is no palace in miniature, no grandiose expression of the spacious days of Elizabeth, no pompous outcome of Vanbrugh's magnificent mind, no piece of reticent elegance by Adams. Instead, it may well seem to the visiting stranger little more than a fortuitous concourse of mediaeval, Elizabethan, Jacobean, and modern atoms, which time and the country builder, too unlearned to be vulgar, have harmonized into a very moderate, though admittedly attractive, "country seat," of the smaller sort.
Just as the house had nothing grand about it, so the life lived in it was not in the least like that described in the old-fashioned sporting or Society novel, or in the Christmas Number of an Illustrated Paper or Magazine. Neither my home nor my family was by any means "typical," which so often means very untypical. This is specially true of the Family. They were not in my time, and, indeed, never have been, persons "complete with" fox-hounds, racers, cellars of port, mortgages, gaming or elections debts, obsequious tenantry, and a brutal enforcement of the Game Laws, varied by the semi-fraudulent enclosure of the poor man's common. With such rural magnificoes, if they ever existed in that form, which I greatly doubt, we had nothing in common. Even when reduced to reasonable limits, the picture will not fit the majority of English country-houses and country gentlemen.
In the first place, the Stracheys could not afford the type of life depicted by the novelists and satirists, and, in the second place, they had not the opportunity. Their eldest sons always had to do something in the world, and even when in possession of the estate were by no means inclined to spend their lives as nothing but sportsmen. Certainly my ancestors never showed any inclination to vegetate, or to live gun in hand and spaniel at heel, like the squires in the old engravings and colour-prints.
Here I may say parenthetically that we have the good luck to possess many old family papers at Sutton. I used to read long and happily in these as a boy, and early saw the falsehood of the conventional, feudal view of the English squirearchy. When I worked back to the mediaeval possessors of Sutton, I could find nothing to satisfy my youthful dreams of knights in armour doing deeds of prowess, or even of tyranny upon "the villagers crouching at their feet." Instead, I found, with some disappointment, I admit, that the very first record in regard to Sutton was that of a dispute in the law-courts with the local parson—a dispute which is, of course, perennial in all villages and "quiet places by rivers or among woods." It is as active now as it was in the twelfth century.
Whether Sir Walter de Sutton, with half a knight's fee, for that, apparently, was the proper legal description of the Sutton Court estate, got the best of the Vicar, or the Vicar of him, does not seem to have been recorded. Anyway, they went for each other, not with lance in rest, on the one side, and Holy Water, bell, book, and candle on the other, but with attorneys, and writs, and motions in arrest of judgment, and all the formulae which can be seen at work in the Year Books of Edward II, for that was the date of the Tower, and of the aforesaid Walter de Sutton.
As I shall show later, when I come to deal with my ancestry, Sutton was never a "Heartbreak House." In each succeeding generation it held the place which it held when I was young, and which, Heaven be praised! it still holds. A small, comfortable, yet dignified manor-house, surrounded by farmhouses and cottages in which live still just the kind of people who have lived there throughout the period of legal or of literary memory—the period described as that to which "the memory of man runneth not to the contrary."
The village people were poor, but yet not dependent; people not, perhaps, very enterprising, and yet with a culture of their own; and people, above all, with natural dignity and good manners shown to those they like and respect, though often with a conventional set of bad manners to use, if required, as armour against a rough world. These are always produced when they are inclined to suspect strangers of regarding them with patronage, ridicule, or contempt.
At this day I could show a rural labourer living in one of the Sutton Court cottages, aged eighty-three or so, who lived there when I was a boy and looked then, to my eyes, almost exactly as he does now. Tall, distinguished, with not merely good manners but a good manner, and with real refinement of speech, though a strong Somersetshire accent, Israel Veal would show nothing of himself to a stranger. Probably he would speak so little, though quite politely, that he would be put down as "one of those muddle-headed, stupid yokels with little or no mind," who, according to the townsman, "moulder" in country villages "till they become demented."
Yet when, a year ago, I introduced my son to him, though my son was, till then, unknown to him, he at once talked freely. He had got the password and knew all was safe and well. He proceeded at once to tell him what he had often told me—how he had "helped to put Sir Henry" (my father's uncle, whom he succeeded) "into his coffin." He then went on to describe how (in 1858) the coffin was carried on men's shoulders the whole way to Chew Magna to be buried there in the Strachey Chapel. The event set down in cold print does not sound of very great interest or importance. It will seem, indeed, at first hearing to partake a little too much of the countryman of the melodrama, or of the comic papers, who always talks about funerals and corpses. As a matter of fact, however, Israel Veal has so little self-consciousness and possesses such a gift for dignified narration that, told by him, the story, if indeed it can be called a story, always seems of real significance. There is something of the air of the prophet about the narrator, though he indulge in no prophecy. I found myself, indeed, saying to my son, "I am so glad you have heard that as I used to hear it," quite imagining for the moment that it was a piece of family lore of high import which was being sacramentally passed on by the old retainer.
At Sutton, though I was not brought up in a hunting-stable, or amid a crowd of gamekeepers, and so forth, we had the usual establishment of a country-gentleman of moderate means in the 'seventies. My mother had a comfortable, heavy landau, with a pair of quiet horses, still officially and in bills called "coach-horses." My father had a small brougham of his own for doing magistrate's work, drawn by a horse believed to be of a very fiery disposition, and called "Black Bess." I and my brothers had ponies on whose backs we spent many hours. My father had been an invalid most of his life, and, owing to a stiff knee, could not ride. But, though an anxious parent, he wisely realised that an Englishman must if possible know how to use the back of a horse. Ours was a bad riding country, owing to the great number of small fields, but we galloped up and down the roads with a youthful lack of consideration for our horses' legs. Curiously enough, there were no hounds near us, and therefore I never actually rode to hounds till I was forty. Happily, however, I was familiar with the saddle, and, though an exceedingly careless rider, had not, even after nearly twenty years' intermission of riding, to re-learn my grip.
Even now, to get on a horse and ride through woods and lanes and over Downs and Commons is an enormous pleasure, and if a mild jump or two can be added I am transported into the Seventh Heaven. To me the greatest of all physical enjoyments has always been the sensation produced by a horse with all four legs off the ground.
There was another aspect of the country-house, which I am sure was not without its effect. My father, though he knew little or nothing about agriculture, was to a great extent his own agent, and therefore the farmers and the cottage tenants were constantly coming to the house to consult him and to talk over small matters. There also came to him pretty frequently people on police and magistrate's business, to get warrants signed, so that the offenders could be legally held till brought before the Petty Sessions. At these interviews, whether economic, administrative, or constabulary, I and my brothers were permitted to attend. While my father sat at his table in what was called "the magistrate's room," or "Sir Edward's business room," and the other persons of the drama either sat opposite him, if they were merely on business, or stood if they were accompanied by a policeman, we children sat discreetly on a sofa on my father's side of the room and listened with all our ears.
It was always interesting and curious, and occasionally we had a real piece of dramatic "fat," in the shape of charges of witchcraft. Assaults or threatening language "likely to cause breaches of the Peace" were also regarded as highly diverting. Charges of witchcraft were usually levelled by one old lady against another. One might hear accounts of how intrepid men and women nailed down the footsteps of the witch, of how deadly-nightshade was grown over the porch of a cottage to keep off witches, and how evil spirits in the shape of squeaking chickens frequented the woman who was "overlooked." My father did his best to make peace and subdue superstition, but it was quite easy to see that his audiences, especially when they were women, regarded him as a victim of ignorance. "Poor gentleman, he don't understand a word about it." That was their attitude.
Lastly, my country home had what so many English country-houses have, a largish library. The hoary tradition that English squires are as a class illiterate, which they are not even when inordinately given to sport, has no foundation. In the Great Parlour, for so it was called, there were plenty of good books, and I was early turned loose among them. My father would have thought it a crime to keep books from a boy on the plea that he might injure the bindings or lose the volumes or get harm from unlicensed reading. I did exactly what I liked in the library and browsed about with a splendid incoherence which would have shocked a pedant, but delighted a true man of letters. Now I would open the folio edition of Ben Jonson, now Congreve's plays and poems printed by Baskerville; now a volume of "Counsel's Brief delivered in the defence of Warren Hastings Esqre. at his impeachment," which we happened to possess; now Travels to the Court of Ashanti; now Chinese Punishments; now Flaxman's Illustrations to the Iliad, the Odyssey, or Dante.
Those were glorious days, for one had real leisure. One varied the turning over of books in the Great Parlour with a scamper on one's pony, with visits to the strawberry bed, and with stretching oneself full- length on a sofa, or the hearth-rug in the Hall, reading four or five books at a time. In such an atmosphere it was easy to forget one's proper lessons and the abhorred dexterity of Greek and Latin grammarians.
If the physical "aura" of Sutton Court was delightful and stimulating to mind and body, still more stimulating and of still happier chance was the mental atmosphere. I may class myself as thrice-blessed in being brought up in Whig ideas, in a Whig family, with Whig traditions, for in spite of the stones, intellectual and political, that have been thrown at them, salvation is of the Whigs. When I speak thus of the Whigs I do not, of course, mean Whiggism of the Whig aristocracy as represented by modern Tory historians, or by the parasitic sycophants of a militant Proletariat. I mean true Whig principles—the principles of Halifax, of Somers, of Locke, of Addison, and of Steele—the principles of the Bill of Rights and of "the Glorious Revolution of 1688";—the Whiggism which had its origin in the party of Cromwell and of the Independents, of John Milton and of Richard Baxter, the party which even in its decadence flowered in England in Chatham and William Pitt, and in America in Washington, John Adams, and the founders of the Republic. Whig principles to me mean that the will of the majority of the nation as a whole must prevail, and not the will of any section, even if it is a large section and does manual work. These are the principles which are in deadly opposition to Jacobinism and Bolshevism. Under Jacobinism and Bolshevism, as their inventors proclaim, true policy must be made to prevail by force, or fraud, if necessary. Privilege is claimed for the minority. Oligarchy, and a very militant form of oligarchy, thus takes the place of true democracy.
But though the will of the people, be it what it may be, must prevail, the Whig claims absolute liberty in all matters of personal opinion and of conscience, and advocates the greatest amount of liberty procurable in social action. He will not sanction direct action in order to secure even these things, but he asserts the right of free speech in order to convert the majority, when it needs converting, to his views, and will not rest till he obtains it. Never persecute a man for his opinions as long as he does not proceed to lawless action. Maintain freedom against a lawless crowd as steadfastly as against a lawless crown. Never refuse a man an impartial hearing, and never judge a man guilty till he has been proved so. These are the true Whig principles, and in these I was brought up.
It is true that my father, yielding not unnaturally to the fashion of his day,—the fashion of decrying the Whigs—would always call himself a Liberal rather than a Whig, and, indeed, Whiggism in his youth was often little better than a specially bad type of Toryism. As soon, however, as I began to study history in any detail, that is not in handbooks, but in the originals, I soon saw that he was one of the best of Whigs, whether in matters of State or Church. Moderation, justice, freedom, sympathy with suffering, tolerance, yielded not in the form of patronage but in obedience to a claim of right which could not be gainsaid—these were the pillars of his mind.
Who will deny that it was good fortune to be brought up in these views and by such an expounder? As I looked at the pictures that hung on the walls in the Great Hall (not very great, in fact, though bearing that name), I remembered with a glow of pride that it was on these principles that my family had been nourished. William Strachey, the first Secretary to the Colony of Virginia, would, I felt, have been a true Whig if Whig principles had been enunciated in his time, for the Virginia Company was a Liberal movement. John Strachey, his son, stood at the very cradle of Whiggism, for was he not the intimate friend of John Locke? Locke in his letters from exile and in his formative period writes to Strachey with affection and admiration.
To my glowing imagination John Strachey thus became the unknown inspirer of Locke, and therefore, perhaps, the inspirer and founder of the Whig philosophy. The son of Locke's friend, though the West Country was, as a rule, hopelessly Tory and full of Squire Westerns, stood firm by William and Mary and George I. As a Fellow of the Royal Society, the second John Strachey must have been a friend of Sir Isaac Newton, the mighty Whig of Science.
There were also Cromwellian ancestors on the distaff side. Indeed, though once more not in the ordinary conventional sense, the aura of Sutton was a Whig aura.
Though the aura of Sutton Court had a strong effect upon me morally and intellectually, the emotional side of me was even more deeply touched. The beauty and fascination of the house, its walls, its trees, and its memories, made, as I have already said, so deep an impression upon me that to this hour I love the place, the thought of it, and even the very name of it, as I love no other material thing. By nature I am not among those who become permanently attached to objects. It is true that I love my own home in Surrey, a house which I built, as it were, with my own hands. I love the scenery; I love it also as the place where my wife and I went as young people, and as the place where my children were born, but the thought of it does not touch me emotionally as does the thought of Sutton. What I have felt about Sutton all my life, I shall feel till I feel no more on earth. But that will not be all. I am convinced that I shall in some sense or other feel it in some other place. The indent on my soul will not be effaced.
I have touched on some of the chief things, natal and prenatal, which went to the making of my mind before I began to shape that mind for myself. Every man must do this, for whatever be the stars in his horoscope or the good fairies who preside over his cradle, they can only give, as it were, "useful instructions" and a good plan of the route. They leave him also plenty of opportunities for muddling those instructions and plunging into every kind of folly that they showed him how to avoid. In the last resort, a man is his own star and must make his own soul, though, of course, he has a right, nay, a duty, to give thanks for all good chances and happy circumstances. At any rate, I must now approach the time at which I took control of myself, and of the magic boat that had been built and equipped for me by others. Had I been fully conscious when I started on my own voyage, it should have been with a devout gratitude that my ship, at any rate, had not been rigged in the eclipse, and that I set sail under so bright a sky and with so prosperous a gale behind me.
I delay too long the picture of my father. Perhaps unconsciously I have been trying to avoid describing him, for I know the difficulty of the task and dread producing something unworthy. Important as were our home and traditions, our family, our friends, and our mode of life, they are as nothing in my making when compared to the influence of such a man as he was.
I shall not attempt to describe my father's physical appearance, for that has been done with sympathy, felicity, and power of presentation in my brother's portrait here reproduced. I will say only that he was slight of build and short of stature. He is standing in the little Great Hall at Sutton, in his black overcoat and hat, ready for one of those walks on the terrace which he took from his earliest childhood. He was born in the old house in 1812. It was not, however, till the year 1819 that he first came to live at Sutton. His earliest recollection was, as he used to tell us, playing on the terrace with the great ginger- coloured tom-cat, "King George." We always supposed this feline magnifico to have derived from some stock imported by the first Sir Henry when he was Master of the Household to George III. As my readers will see, King George's successor, in the true "mode" of his race, sits in a purely detached manner in the middle of the polished oak floor near, but in no special relation to his master, or rather, dependent, for no cat has a master though many have dependents.
But unstinted, unconditional eulogy is bound to end in flattery, and my father was much too good a man and too simple a man to be exposed to even the hint of such a taint. Though he would take sincere praise and sympathy with the pleasure of a wholly unaffected nature, the best courtier in the world would have found it impossible to flatter him.
I shall, therefore, be particular to draw clearly such faults as he had. Also I shall tell them first, though I know they will have a tendency to change into eulogy as I proceed. In truth, his faults, such as they were, endeared him only the more to people who understood him.
He did not always show complete equity in judgment, though I admit, and I think the majority of mankind would admit, that there was something essentially noble, if unpractical, in the way in which this want of equity was shown. So tender was his heart, so passionate his hatred of cruelty, so profound his chivalry, that he was apt to have his intellectual balance unduly affected by any tale of suffering inflicted by the strong on the weak, or by any accusation of wrong done to women or to children. When he heard such a tale he was too little inclined to show the worldly wisdom of the man who says, "Let us wait and hear all the facts. It may be a mere cock-and-bull story."
Instead, his attitude always reminded me of that of some eager knight- errant, on fire to accomplish his duty and to succour helpless damsels and all persons in distress. He always assumed that a call for succour came from a deserving object, if only it was agonising enough. He would post off, as it were, lance in rest and vizor down, upon the slightest rumour of wrong or cruelty. No woman suffering, or alleged to be suffering, from the cruelty of a husband, would ever call for his sympathy in vain. It was, however, cases of cruelty to little children that most tended to overwhelm his judgment. His burning horror at the mere idea of such deeds knew no bounds. A wife might to some extent be able to protect herself from the brutalities of her husband, but what chance had a helpless, friendless, terrified child, incapable even of running away from its tormentors, or of making an appeal for protection to outsiders? Those who have lived on unkindness and terror ever since they became conscious, cannot even console their poor little hearts with imaginary visions of happiness.
The unhappiness of a tortured child is a thing not to be thought of. It scorches the mind like a blast of sulphur.
Not only as a magistrate was my father's voice always raised on the side of the women and children. He would always listen to any mother who came to protest against the cruelty of the village schoolmistress to her offspring. The cruelty of the teacher was almost as unendurable to him as that of a bad father or husband. He would not hear of any justification for rapping school-children over the knuckles with a ruler. If one ventured to say that there were such things as demon- children and that they had a power to probe and prod even the best of good people into a kind of frenzy in which they were hardly accountable for their acts, the plea roused his deepest indignation. Indeed, it was only at some sort of suggestion like this that I ever saw my father really angry. Then, and only then, he would flare up and reply that this was the sort of excuse that people always made to cover cruelty, wickedness, and injustice. Grown-up people were much too ready to invent plausible grounds for the oppression of children. "Serve you right," was never heard to fall from his lips by any child.
That he was justified in the general, if not in the particular, case, I fully realise. Indeed, I and all his children, I think, look back now with the sense that even if we sometimes criticised him (I admit, only very slightly) on this point, we were and remain proud that he was splendide in-judex.
Let no one suppose that because my father was a saint, as undoubtedly he was, his general attitude towards life was of the priggish or puritanical kind. It was nothing of the sort. Was not one of his favourite characters in Shakespeare the immortal Mrs. Quickly?
He was a very fastidious and reticent man in matters of the spirit, unless you approached him definitely and in earnest on a particular point. Then he would talk freely, and showed a marked liberality of soul. A courtly eighteenth century divine, though probably nobody would in reality have had less in common with my father, might have described him as "a thoroughly well-bred man in matters of religion." In spite of the fact that he was brought up amongst the Evangelicals and understood them and shared their better side, nothing, I feel sure, disgusted him more than their way of living in their spiritual shirtsleeves.
I can imagine his horror at the habit of the Clapham sect of "engaging" (i.e., engaging in prayer), in season and out of season. "Shall we engage?" the Evangelical Pietist, whether a clergyman or a layman, would say at the end of some buttered-toast-and-pound-cake tea-party, and then everyone would be expected to flop down on their knees and listen to an extemporary appeal to their Maker!
My father was full of stories of the men of his own time and of the men of former times, of historical allusions and analogies. He abounded in pregnant sayings culled from English, from Greek and Latin, and also from Persian, for he had learned the French of the East when he was at Haileybury studying for the Civil Service of the Honourable East India Company. Also he was fairly well-read in some branches of French literature and knew enough Italian to translate a quotation from Dante or from Tasso. He was also deeply read and deeply interested in Biblical criticism and in the statecraft of the Old Testament. His book on "Hebrew Politics" was hailed by theological students of liberal views as a real contribution to Biblical exegesis.
This all sounds like the record of a scholar. Yet he was not a scholar but a man with a most active and creative interest in his own world and his own time. Politics was his master-passion in things secular, and he followed every turn of the political wheel, not merely with the interest of a spectator, but with that of a man whose heart and mind were both deeply concerned. He was a Party Liberal, and also a liberal in the very best sense, and full of the most earnest zeal for the people's cause. My only quarrel with him here—if it was a quarrel—was that in his anxiety to support what he believed to be the cause of the people he was in effect anti-democratic.
On this point I was wont to chaff him, for there was no man with whom you could more easily argue without hurting his feelings. I would put it like this:
You think of the people and your duty to them in too much of a grand seigneur manner for me. You seem to want to find out what they want, and then do it, whether it is right or wrong, out of a patronising sense of moral benevolence. I, on the other hand, am a true democrat because I regard myself as one of the people—a creature with just as many rights as they have. Their opinion, if it is the opinion of the majority, will of course prevail, and ought to prevail, and I shall loyally acquiesce in it. But I am not going to do what I think unwise, as you appear to think I should, because somebody has put a ticket on the back of a certain view and declared it to be the popular view. It may quite well turn out that the alleged popular view is not popular at all, but is scouted by the majority.
That, of course, was, and was meant to be, a parody of his attitude, but it was one which he never resented, though he would not admit its nearness to the truth.
I shall not give the supreme characteristic impression of the man if I do not tell something about his stories, and give some specimens of his table-talk, especially as I have felt very strongly, though it may be difficult to transfer the impression, that his general talk, quite apart from his example and direct teaching, had a potent influence upon my character, and so upon my life.
To begin with, he was an ideal talker to children and young people, because, besides leisure, he had an innate kindliness and sympathy with the young which made him always anxious to put himself and his mind and heart at their disposal. He was in a perpetual mood to answer any questions, however tiresome and however often repeated. As he was a man of wide reading, of good memory, and almost an expert in many kinds of knowledge, we as children had something of that incomparable advantage for which I have always envied royalty. They are able to learn by the simple process of talking to people who know. That is not only the easiest road to knowledge, but if your teacher is no charlatan a more vivid impression is made upon the mind than is made by books.
If you went to my father and asked him who Aurungzebe was, or Hereward the Wake, or Masaniello, or Edward Keen, or Callimachus, or Titus Oates, or Dr. Chalmers, or Saint Januarius, he would tell you at once something vivid and stimulating about each of them, something which remained in your mind. Often his answer would lead to other fascinating and delightful discoveries for the questioner. I will take a couple of examples at random. When I asked him about Masaniello, he not only told the story of the insurrection among the lazzaroni at Naples, but he launched out into accounts of his own experience of Naples in the 'forties and of the crowds of picturesque and starving beggars and banditti who in those days still infested the city and its horrible and putrescent lanes and alleys. The Naples of the Bombas, in which he had spent two or more winters, was always a delightful source of anecdote. I could fill a book with his talk about Neapolitan nobles who let two apartments in their Palaces with only one set of furniture, and of the Neapolitan boatmen who formed the crew of the boat which he kept in the Bay, for he was too great an invalid to walk. Especially did we love to hear of how he was carried up Mount Vesuvius in a "litter"—a word which he always used. It thrilled me. It seemed to make the whole scene Roman and magnificent. One thought of Pliny going to observe the great eruption, of Cicero, of Pompey, of Seneca, carried down to Bai in their curtained chairs. My other example is Callimachus, the Greek, or rather, Alexandrine poet of the Decadence. The mention of his name brought in its train an excellent story derived from my father's uncle, the second Sir Henry Strachey, the squire whom he succeeded at Sutton. The story runs as follows. When the said great-uncle, as a boy just come out to India, went to dine with the great Orientalist, Sir William Jones, in his house in Calcutta (circa 1793), Sir William quoted to him a couple of lines out of Callimachus' Hymn to Apollo, which he had hurled at the head of Burke when the great Whig tribune threatened that he would get him (Sir William Jones) recalled if he continued to support Warren Hastings. The lines quoted from the obscure Greek poet he translated to the young civilian, Henry Strachey. "In reply, I reminded Burke," he said, "of the lines in the Hymn to Apollo: 'The Euphrates is a noble river, but it rolls down all the dead dogs of Babylon to the sea.'"
My father was wont to point out that, as a matter of fact, Jones's memory was not quite accurate. If you look at the Burke correspondence, you will see the dignified letter in which Jones replied to Burke. In it he makes no direct reference to the orator's threat, and only uses the first line of Callimachus, which he turns into a compliment. He is sure, he declares, that the mighty torrent of Burke's eloquence will always be used in the defence of a friend. Perhaps he thought that, if Burke looked up the passage, he would be snubbed as it were automatically.
When, however, Jones told the story twelve years afterwards he did what we are all inclined to do in such circumstances. He imagined himself much more valiant and much more ready to take a great man by the scruff of his neck and shake him, than he really was. We are all heroes in our memories. By the way, it was Callimachus who wrote the epigram on the death of Heraclitus which was made immortal by the translation of the author of "Ionica." It is, I hold, the best poetic translation in the English tongue.
Of the distinguished people with whom my father was personally acquainted in his earlier days, among the most memorable were Carlyle and Edward Irving. Carlyle was tutor to my father's first cousin, Charles Buller, later to be known as "the young Marcellus of the Whig Party." Of Carlyle he had many stories. Curiously enough, I might have seen Carlyle myself, for when I was about fifteen or sixteen he was still alive, and my father offered to take me to see him in Chelsea. With the cheery insolence of youth, I weighed the question in the balance and decided that I did not want to trouble myself with the generation that was passing away. I can still remember, however, that what almost moved me to accept my father's proposal was the fact that Carlyle was actually born in the 18th century, and before Keats. Edward Irving had made a vivid impression upon my father, though he only saw him, I believe, at the age of seven or eight. He could distinctly remember Irving taking him upon his knee, holding him at arm's length, looking into his face, and saying, in his deep, vibrant orator's voice: "Edward, don't ye long to be a mon?" Evidently the impression made upon my father by the words, or rather the way in which they were spoken, was profound. The incident always reminded me of that wonderful story told by Crabbe Robinson the Diarist. As a young man, Crabbe Robinson went to see one of the trials in which Erskine was engaged as Counsel. All he could remember of the speech was Erskine leaning over the jury-box and in low tones, full of meaning and tremulous with passion, uttering the commonplace words: "Gentlemen of the Jury, if you give a verdict against my client I shall leave this court a miserable man!" So profound was the influence of the orator that Crabbe Robinson tells us that for weeks afterwards he used to wake with a start in the middle of the night, saying over to himself the words: "I shall leave this court a miserable man."