THE UPTON LETTERS
ARTHUR CHRISTOPHER BENSON
aedae muri' eseidon oneirata, koudepo aos.
These letters were returned to me, shortly after the death of the friend to whom they were written, by his widow. It seems that he had been sorting and destroying letters and papers a few days before his wholly unexpected end. "We won't destroy these," he had said to her, holding the bulky packet of my letters in his hand; "we will keep them together. T—— ought to publish them, and, some day, I hope he will." This was not, of course, a deliberate judgement; but his sudden death, a few days later, gives the unconsidered wish a certain sanctity, and I have determined to obey it. Moreover, she who has the best right to decide, desires it. A few merely personal matters and casual details have been omitted; but the main substance is there, and the letters are just as they were written. Such hurried compositions, of course, abound in literary shortcomings, but perhaps they have a certain spontaneity which more deliberate writings do not always possess. I wrote my best, frankest, and liveliest in the letters, because I knew that Herbert would value both the thought and the expression of the thought. And, further, if it is necessary to excuse so speedy a publication, I feel that they are not letters which would gain by being kept. Their interest arises from the time, the circumstance, the occasion that gave them birth, from the books read and criticised, the educational problems discussed; and thus they may form a species of comment on a certain aspect of modern life, and from a definite point of view. But, after all, it is enough for me that he appreciated them, and, if he wished that they should go out to the world, well, let them go! In publishing them I am but obeying a last message of love.
T. B. MONK'S ORCHARD, UPTON, Feb. 20, 1905.
THE UPTON LETTERS
MONK'S ORCHARD, UPTON, Jan. 23, 1904.
MY DEAR HERBERT,—I have just heard the disheartening news, and I write to say that I am sorry toto corde. I don't yet know the full extent of the calamity, the length of your exile, the place, or the conditions under which you will have to live. Perhaps you or Nelly can find time to let me have a few lines about it all? But I suppose there is a good side to it. I imagine that when the place is once fixed, you will be able to live a much freer life than you have of late been obliged to live in England, with less risk and less overshadowing of anxiety. If you can find the right region, renovabitur ut acquila juventus tua; and you will be able to carry out some of the plans which have been so often interrupted here. Of course there will be drawbacks. Books, society, equal talk, the English countryside which you love so well, and, if I may use the expression, so intelligently; they will all have to be foregone in a measure. But fortunately there is no difficulty about money, and money will give you back some of these delights. You will still see your real friends; and they will come to you with the intention of giving and getting the best of themselves and of you, not in the purposeless way in which one drifts into a visit here. You will be able, too, to view things with a certain detachment—and that is a real advantage; for I have sometimes thought that your literary work has suffered from the variety of your interests, and from your being rather too close to them to form a philosophical view. Your love of characteristic points of natural scenery will help you. When you have once grown familiar with the new surroundings, you will penetrate the secret of their charm, as you have done here. You will be able, too, to live a more undisturbed life, not fretted by all the cross-currents which distract a man in his own land, when he has a large variety of ties. I declare I did not know I was so good a rhetorician; I shall end by convincing myself that there is no real happiness to be found except in expatriation!
Seriously, my dear Herbert, I do understand the sadness of the change; but one gets no good by dwelling on the darker side; there are and will be times, I know, of depression. When one lies awake in the morning, before the nerves are braced by contact with the wholesome day; when one has done a tiring piece of work, and is alone, and in that frame of mind when one needs occupation but yet is not brisk enough to turn to the work one loves; in those dreary intervals between one's work, when one is off with the old and not yet on with the new—well I know all the corners of the road, the shadowy cavernous places where the demons lie in wait for one, as they do for the wayfarer (do you remember?), in Bewick, who, desiring to rest by the roadside, finds the dingle all alive with ambushed fiends, horned and heavy-limbed, swollen with the oppressive clumsiness of nightmare. But you are not inexperienced or weak. You have enough philosophy to wait until the frozen mood thaws, and the old thrill comes back. That is one of the real compensations of middle age. When one is young, one imagines that any depression will be continuous; and one sees the dreary, uncomforted road winding ahead over bare hills, till it falls to the dark valley. But later on one can believe that "the roadside dells of rest" are there, even if one cannot see them; and, after all, you have a home which goes with you; and it would seem to be fortunate, or to speak more truly, tenderly prepared, that you have only daughters—a son, who would have to go back to England to be educated, would be a source of anxiety. Yet I find myself even wishing that you had a son, that I might have the care of him over here. You don't know the heart-hunger I sometimes have for young things of my own to watch over; to try to guard their happiness. You would say that I had plenty of opportunities in my profession; it is true in a sense, and I think I am perhaps a better schoolmaster for being unmarried. But these boys are not one's own; they drift away; they come back dutifully and affectionately to talk to their old tutor; and we are both of us painfully conscious that we have lost hold of the thread, and that the nearness of the tie that once existed exists no more.
Well, I did not mean in this letter to begin bemoaning my own sorrows, but rather to try and help you to bear your own. Tell me as soon as you can what your plans are, and I will come down and see you for the last time under the old conditions; perhaps the new will be happier. God bless you, my old friend! Perhaps the light which has hitherto shone (though fitfully) ON your life will now begin to shine THROUGH it instead; and let me add one word. My assurance grows firmer, from day to day, that we are in stronger hands than our own. It is true that I see things in other lives which look as if those hands were wantonly cruel, hard, unloving; but I reflect that I cannot see all the conditions; I can only humbly fall back upon my own experience, and testify that even the most daunting and humiliating things have a purifying effect; and I can perceive enough at all events to encourage me to send my heart a little farther than my eyes, and to believe that a deep and urgent love is there.—Ever affectionately yours,
UPTON, Jan. 26, 1904.
DEAR HERBERT,—So it is to be Madeira at present? Well, I know Madeira a little, and I can honestly congratulate you. I had feared it might be Switzerland. I could not LIVE in Switzerland. It does me good to go there, to be iced and baked and washed clean with pure air. But the terrible mountains, so cold and unchanged, with their immemorial patience, their frozen tranquillity; the high hamlets, perched on their lonely shelves; the bleak pine-trees, with their indomitable strength—all these depress me. Of course there is much homely beauty among the lower slopes; the thickets, the falling streams, the flowers. But the grim black peaks look over everywhere; and there is seldom a feeling of the rich and comfortable peace such as one gets in England. Madeira is very different. I have been there, and must truthfully confess that it does not suit me altogether—the warm air, the paradisal luxuriance, the greenhouse fragrance, are not a fit setting for a blond, lymphatic man, who pants for Northern winds. But it will suit you; and you will be one of those people, spare and compact as you are, who find themselves vigorous and full of energy there. I have many exquisite vignettes from Madeira which linger in my mind. The high hill-villages, full of leafy trees; the grassy downs at the top; the droop of creepers, full of flower and fragrance, over white walls; the sapphire sea, under huge red cliffs. You will perhaps take one of those embowered Quintas high above the town, in a garden full of shelter and fountains. And I am much mistaken if you do not find yourself in a very short time passionately attached to the place. Then the people are simple, courteous, unaffected, full of personal interest. Housekeeping has few difficulties and no terrors.
I can't get away for a night; but I will come and dine with you one day this week, if you can keep an evening free.
And one thing I will promise—when you are away, I will write to you as often as I can. I shall not attempt any formal letters, but I shall begin with anything that is in my mind, and stop when I feel disposed; and you must do the same. We won't feel bound to ANSWER each other's letters; one wastes time over that. What I shall want to know is what you are thinking and doing, and I shall take for granted you desire the same.
You will be happier, now that you KNOW; I need not add that if I can be of any use to you in making suggestions, it will be a real pleasure.—Ever yours,
UPTON, Feb. 3, 1904.
MY DEAR HERBERT,—It seems ages since we said good-bye—yet it is not a week ago. And now I have been at work all day correcting exercises, teaching, talking. I have had supper with the boys, and I have been walking about since and talking to them—the nicest part of my work. They are at this time of the day, as a rule, in good spirits, charitable, sensible. What an odd thing it is that boys are so delightful when they are alone, and so tiresome (not always) when they are together. They seem, in public, to want to show their worst side, to be ashamed of being supposed to be good, or interested, or thoughtful, or tender-hearted. They are so afraid of seeming better than they are, and pleased to appear worse than they are. I wonder why this is? It is the same more or less with most people; but one sees instincts at their nakedest among boys. As I go on in life, the one thing I desire is simplicity and reality; pose is the one fatal thing. The dullest person becomes interesting if you feel that he is really himself, that he is not holding up some absurd shield or other in front of his shivering soul. And yet how hard it is, even when one appreciates the benefits and beauty of sincerity, to say what one really thinks, without reference to what one supposes the person one is talking to would like or expect one to think—and to do it, too, without brusqueness or rudeness or self-assertion.
Boys are generally ashamed of saying anything that is good about each other; and yet they are as a rule intensely anxious to be POPULAR, and pathetically unaware that the shortest cut to popularity is to see the good points in every one and not to shrink from mentioning them. I once had a pupil, a simple-minded, serene, ordinary creature, who attained to extraordinary popularity. I often wondered why; after he had left, I asked a boy to tell me; he thought for a moment, and then he said, "I suppose, sir, it was because when we were all talking about other chaps—and one does that nearly all the time—he used to be as much down on them as any one else, and he never jawed—but he always had something nice to say about them, not made up, but as if it just came into his head."
Well, I must stop; I suppose you are forging out over the Bay, and sleeping, I hope, like a top. There is no sleep like the sleep on a steamer—profound, deep, so that one wakes up hardly knowing where or who one is, and in the morning you will see the great purple league-long rollers. I remember them; I generally felt very unwell; but there was something tranquillising about them, all the same—and then the mysterious steamers that used to appear alongside, pitching and tumbling, with the little people moving about on the decks; and a mile away in a minute. Then the water in the wake, like marble, with its white-veined sapphire, and the hiss and smell of the foam; all that is very pleasant. Good night, Herbert!—Ever yours,
UPTON, Feb. 9, 1904.
MY DEAR HERBERT,—I hope you have got Lockhart's Life of Scott with you; if not, I will send it out to you. I have been reading it lately, and I have a strong wish that you should do the same. It has not all the same value; the earlier part, the account of the prosperous years, is rather tiresome in places. There is something boisterous, undignified—even, I could think, vulgar—about the aims and ambitions depicted. It suggests a prosperous person, seated at a well-filled table, and consuming his meat with a hearty appetite. The desire to stand well with prominent persons, to found a family, to take a place in the county, is a perfectly natural and wholesome desire; but it is a commonplace ambition. There is a charm in the simplicity, the geniality, the childlike zest of the man; but there is nothing great about it. Then comes the crash; and suddenly, as though a curtain drew up, one is confronted with the spectacle of an indomitable and unselfish soul, bearing a heavy burden with magnificent tranquillity, and settling down with splendid courage to an almost intolerable task. The energy displayed by our hero in attempting to write off the load of debt that hung round his neck is superhuman, august. We see him completing in a single day what would take many writers a week to finish, and doing it day by day, with bereavements, sorrows, ill-health, all closing in upon him. The quality of the work he thus did matters little; it was done, indeed, at a time of life when under normal circumstances he would probably have laid his pen down. But the spectacle of the man's patient energy and divine courage is one that goes straight to the heart. It is then that one realises that the earlier and more prosperous life has all the value of contrast; one recognises that here was a truly unspoilt nature; and that, if we can dare to look upon life as an educative process, the tragic sorrows that overwhelmed him were not the mere reversal of the wheel of fortune, but gifts from the very hand of the Father—to purify a noble soul from the dross that was mingled with it; to give a great man the opportunity of living in a way that should furnish an eternal and imperishable example.
I do not believe that in the whole of literature there is a more noble and beautiful document of its kind than the diary of these later years. The simplicity, the sincerity of the man stand out on every page. There are no illusions about himself or his work. He hears that Southey has been speaking of him and his misfortunes with tears, and he says plainly that such tears would be impossible to himself in a parallel case; that his own sympathy has always been practical rather than emotional; his own tendency has been to help rather than to console. Again, speaking of his own writings, he says that he realises that if there is anything good about his poetry or prose, "It is a hurried frankness of composition, which pleases soldiers, sailors, and young people of bold and active disposition." He adds, indeed, a contemptuous touch to the above, which he was great enough to have spared: "I have been no sigher in shades—no writer of
Songs and sonnets and rustical roundelays Framed on fancies and whistled on reeds."
A few days later, speaking of Thomas Campbell, the poet, he says that "he has suffered by being too careful a corrector of his work."
That is a little ungenerous, a little complacent; noble and large as Scott's own unconsidered writings are, he ought to have been aware that methods differ. What, for instance, could be more extraordinary than the contrast between Scott and Wordsworth—Scott with his "You know I don't care a curse about what I write;" and Wordsworth, whose chief reading in later days was his own poetry. Whenever the two are brought into actual juxtaposition, Wordsworth is all pose and self-absorption; Scott all simplicity and disregard of fame. Wordsworth staying at Abbotsford declines to join an expedition of pleasure, and stays at home with his daughter. When the party return, they find Wordsworth sitting and being read to by his daughter, the book his own Excursion. A party of travellers arrive, and Wordsworth steals down to the chaise, to see if there are any of his own volumes among the books they have with them. When the two are together, Scott is all courteous deference; he quotes Wordsworth's poems, he pays him stately compliments, which the bard receives as a matter of course, with stiff, complacent bows. But, during the whole of the time, Wordsworth never lets fall a single syllable from which one could gather that he was aware that his host had ever put pen to paper.
Yet, while one desires to shake Wordsworth to get some of his pomposity out of him, one half desires that Scott had felt a little more deeply the dignity of his vocation. One would wish to have infused Wordsworth with a little of Scott's unselfish simplicity, and to have put just a little stiffening into Scott. He ought to have felt—and he did not—that to be a great writer was a more dignified thing than to be a sham seigneur.
But through the darkening scene, when the woods whisper together, and Tweed runs hoarsely below, the simple spirit holds uncomplaining and undaunted on his way: "I did not like them to think that I could ever be beaten by anything," he says. But at length the hand, tired with the pen, falls, and twilight creeps upon the darkening mind.
I paid a pious pilgrimage last summer, as you perhaps remember, to Abbotsford. I don't think I ever described it to you. My first feeling was one of astonishment at the size and stateliness of the place, testifying to a certain imprudent prosperity. But the sight of the rooms themselves; the desk, the chair, the book-lined library, the little staircase by which, early or late, Scott could steal back to his hard and solitary work; the death-mask, with its pathetic smile; the clothes, with hat and shoes, giving, as it were, a sense of the very shape and stature of the man—these brought the whole thing up with a strange reality.
Of course, there is much that is pompous, affected, unreal about the place; the plaster beams, painted to look like oak; the ugly emblazonries; the cruel painted glass; the laboriously collected objects—all these reveal the childish side of Scott, the superficial self which slipped from him so easily when he entered into the cloud.
And then the sight of his last resting-place; the ruined abbey, so deeply embowered in trees that the three dim Eildon peaks are invisible; the birds singing in the thickets that clothe the ruined cloisters—all this made a parable, and brought before one with an intensity of mystery the wonder of it all. The brief life, so full of plans for permanence; the sombre valley of grief; the quiet end, when with failing lips he murmured that the only comfort for the dying heart was the thought that it had desired goodness, however falteringly, above everything.
I can't describe to you how deeply all this affects me—with what a hunger of the heart, what tenderness, what admiration, what wonder. The very frankness of the surprise with which, over and over again, the brave spirit confesses that he does not miss the delights of life as much as he expected, nor find the burden as heavy as he had feared, is a very noble and beautiful thing. I can conceive of no book more likely to make a spirit in the grip of sorrow and failure more gentle, hopeful, and brave; because it brings before one, with quiet and pathetic dignity, the fact that no fame, no success, no recognition, can be weighed for a moment in the balance with those simple qualities of human nature which the humblest being may admire, win, and display.—Ever yours,
UPTON, Shrove Tuesday, Feb. 16, 1904.
DEAR HERBERT,—One of those incredible incidents has just happened here, an incident that makes one feel how little one knows of human beings, and that truth, in spite of the conscientious toil of Mr. H. G. Wells, does still continue to keep ahead of fiction. Here is the story. Some money is missed in a master's house; circumstances seem to point to its having been abstracted by one of the boys. A good-natured, flighty boy is suspected, absolutely without reason, as it turns out; though he is the sort of boy to mislay his own books and other portable property to any extent, and to make no great difficulty under pressure of immediate need, and at the last moment, about borrowing some one else's chattels. On this occasion the small boys in the house, of whom he is one, solemnly accuse him of the theft, and the despoiled owner entreats that the money may be returned. He protests that he has not taken it. The matter comes to the ears of the house-master, who investigates the matter in the course of the evening, and interviews the supposed culprit. The boy denies it again quite unconcernedly and frankly, goes away from the interview, and wandering about, finds the small boys of the house assembled in one of the studies discussing a matter with great interest. "What has happened?" says our suspected friend. "Haven't you heard?" says one of them; "Campbell's grandmother" (Campbell is another of the set) "has sent him a tip of L2." "Oh, has she?" says the boy, with a smile of intense meaning; "I shall have to go my rounds again." This astonishing confession of his guilt is received with the interest it deserves, and Campbell is advised to lock up his money, or to hand it over to the custody of the house-master. In the course of the evening another amazing event occurs; the boy whose money was stolen finds the whole of it, quite intact, in the pocket of his cricketing flannels, where he now remembers having put it. The supposed culprit is restored to favour, and becomes a reliable member of society. One of the small boys tells the matron the story of our hero's amazing remark on the subject, in his presence. The matron stares at him, bewildered, and asks him what made him say it. "Oh, only to rag them," says the boy; "they were all so excited about it." "But don't you see, you silly boy," says the kind old dame, "that if the money had not been found, you would have been convicted out of your own mouth of having been the thief?" "Oh yes," says the boy cheerfully; "but I couldn't help it—it came into my head."
Of course this is an exceptional case; but it illustrates a curious thing about boys—I mentioned it the other day—which is, their extraordinary willingness and even anxiety to be thought worse than they are. Even boys of unexceptionable principle will talk as if they were not only not particular, but positively vicious. They don't like aspersions on their moral character to be made by others, but they rejoice to blacken themselves; and not even the most virtuous boys can bear to be accused of virtue, or thought to be what is called "Pi." This does not happen when boys are by themselves; they will then talk unaffectedly about their principles and practice, if their interlocutor is also unaffected. But when they are together, a kind of disease of self-accusation attacks them. I suppose that it is the perversion of a wholesome instinct, the desire not to be thought better than they are; but part of the exaggerated stories that one hears about the low moral tone of public schools arises from the fact that innocent boys coming to a public school infer, and not unreasonably, from the talk of their companions that they are by no means averse to evil, even when, as is often the case, they are wholly untainted by it.
The same thing seems to me to prevail very widely nowadays. The old-fashioned canting hypocrisy, like that of the old servant in the Master of Ballantrae, who, suffering under the effects of drink, bears himself like a Christian martyr, has gone out; just as the kind of pride is extinct against which the early Victorian books used to warn children, and which was manifested by sitting in a carriage surveying a beggar with a curling lip—a course of action which was invariably followed by the breaking of a Bank, or by some mysterious financial operation involving an entire loss of fortune and respectability.
Nowadays the parable of the Pharisee and the publican is reversed. The Pharisee tells his friends that he is in reality far worse than the publican, while the publican thanks God that he is not a Pharisee. It is only, after all, a different kind of affectation, and perhaps even more dangerous, because it passes under the disguise of a virtue. We are all miserable sinners, of course; but it is no encouragement to goodness if we try to reduce ourselves all to the same level of conscious corruption. The only advantage would be if, by our humility, we avoided censoriousness. Let us frankly admit that our virtues are inherited, and that any one who had had our chances would have done as well or better than ourselves; neither ought we to be afraid of expressing our admiration of virtue, and, if necessary, our abhorrence of vice, so long as that abhorrence is genuine. The cure for the present state of things is a greater naturalness. Perhaps it would end in a certain increase of priggishness; but I honestly confess that nowadays our horror of priggishness, and even of seriousness, has grown out of all proportion; the command not to be a prig has almost taken its place in the Decalogue. After all, priggishness is often little more than a failure in tact, a breach of good manners; it is priggish to be superior, and it is vulgar to let a consciousness of superiority escape you. But it is not priggish to be virtuous, or to have a high artistic standard, or to care more for masterpieces of literature than for second-rate books, any more than it is priggish to be rich or well-connected. The priggishness comes in when you begin to compare yourself with others, and to draw distinctions. The Pharisee in the parable was a prig; and just as I have known priggish hunting men, and priggish golfers, and even priggish card-players, so I have known people who were priggish about having a low standard of private virtue, because they disapproved of people whose standard was higher. The only cure is frankness and simplicity; and one should practise the art of talking simply and directly among congenial people of what one admires and believes in.
How I run on! But it is a comfort to write about these things to some one who will understand; to "cleanse the stuff'd bosom of the perilous stuff that weighs upon the heart." By the way, how careless the repetition of "stuff'd" "stuff" is in that line! And yet it can't be unintentional, I suppose?
I enjoy your letters very much; and I am glad to hear that you are beginning to "take interest," and are already feeling better. Your views of the unchangeableness of personality are very surprising; but I must think them over for a little; I will write about them before long. Meanwhile, my love to you all.—Ever yours,
UPTON, Feb. 25, 1904.
DEAR HERBERT,—You ask what I have been reading. Well, I have been going through Newman's Apologia for the twentieth time, and as usual have fallen completely under the magical spell of that incomparable style; its perfect lucidity, showing the very shape of the thought within, its simplicity (not, in Newman's case, I think, the result of labour, but of pure instinctive grace), its appositeness, its dignity, its music. I oscillate between supreme contentment as a reader, and envious despair as a writer; it fills one's mind up slowly and richly, as honey fills a vase from some gently tilted bowl. There is no sense of elaborateness about the book; it was written swiftly and easily out of a full heart; then it is such a revelation of a human spirit, a spirit so innocent and devoted and tender, and, moreover, charged with a sweet naive egotism as of a child. It was written, as Newman himself said, IN TEARS; but I do not think they were tears of bitterness, but a half-luxurious sorrow, the pathos of the past and its heavinesses, viewed from a quiet haven. I have no sympathy whatever with the intellectual attitude it reveals, but as Roderick Hudson says, I don't always heed the sense: it is indeed a somewhat melancholy spectacle of a beautiful mind converted in reality by purely aesthetic considerations, by the dignity, the far-off, holy, and venerable associations of the great Church which drew him quietly in, while all the time he is under the impression that it is a logical clue which he is following. And what logic! leaping lightly over difficult places, taking flowery by-paths among the fields, the very stairs on which he treads based on all kinds of wide assumptions and unverifiable hypotheses. Then it is distressing to see his horror of Liberalism, of speculation, of development, of all the things that constitute the primal essence of the very religion that he blindly followed. One cannot help feeling that had Newman been a Pharisee, he would have been, with his love of precedent, and antiquity, and tradition, one of the most determined and deadly opponents of the spirit of Christ. For the spirit of Christ is the spirit of freedom, of elasticity, of unconventionality. Newman would have upheld in the Sanhedrim with pathetic and exquisite eloquence that it was not time to break with the old, that it was miserable treachery to throw over the ancient safeguards of faith, to part with the rich inheritance of the national faith delivered by Abraham and Moses to the saints. Newman was a true fanatic, and the most dangerous of fanatics, because his character was based on innocence and tenderness and instinctive virtue. It is rather pathetic than distressing to see Newman again and again deluded by the antiquity of some petty human logician into believing his utterance to be the very voice of God. The struggle with Newman was not the struggle of faith with scepticism, but the struggle between two kinds of loyalty, the personal loyalty to his own past and his own friends and the Church of his nativity, and the loyalty to the infinitely more ancient and venerable tradition of the Roman Church. It was, as I have said, an aesthetic conversion; he had the mind of a poet, and the particular kind of beauty which appealed to him was not the beauty of nature or art, but the beauty of old tradition and the far-off dim figures of saints and prelates reaching back into the dark and remote past.
He had, too, the sublime egotism of the poet. His own salvation—"Shall I be safe if I die to-night?"—that, he confesses, was the thought which eventually outweighed all others. He had little of the priestly hunger to save souls; the way in which others trusted him, confided in him, watched his movements, followed him, was always something of a terror to him, and yet in another mood it ministered to his self-absorption. He had not the stern sense of being absolutely in the right, which is the characteristic of the true leaders of men, but he had a deep sense of his own importance, combined with a perfectly real sense of weakness and humility, which even disguised, I would think, his own egotism from himself.
Again his extraordinary forensic power, his verbal logic, his exquisite lucidity of statement, all these concealed from him, as they have concealed from others, his lack of mental independence. He had an astonishing power of submitting to his imagination, a power of believing the impossible, because the exercise of faith seemed to him so beautiful a virtue. It is not a case of a noble mind overthrown, but of the victory of a certain kind of poetical feeling over all rational inquiry.
To revert to Newman's literary genius, he seems to me to be one of the few masters of English prose. I used to think, in old University days, that Newman's style was best tested by the fact that if one had a piece of his writing to turn into Latin prose, the more one studied it, turned it over, and penetrated it, the more masterly did it become; because it was not so much the expression of a thought as the thought itself taking shape in a perfectly pure medium of language. Bunyan had the same gift; of later authors Ruskin had it very strongly, and Matthew Arnold in a lesser degree. There is another species of beautiful prose, the prose of Jeremy Taylor, of Pater, even of Stevenson; but this is a slow and elaborate construction, pinched and pulled this way and that; and it is like some gorgeous picture, of stately persons in seemly and resplendent dress, with magnificently wrought backgrounds of great buildings and curious gardens. But the work of Newman and of Ruskin is a white art, like the art of sculpture.
I find myself every year desiring and admiring this kind of lucidity and purity more and more. It seems to me that the only function of a writer is to express obscure, difficult, and subtle thoughts easily. But there are writers, like Browning and George Meredith, who seem to hold it a virtue to express simple thoughts obscurely. Such writers have a wide vogue, because so many people do not value a thought unless they can feel a certain glow of satisfaction in having grasped it; and to have disentangled a web of words, and to find the bright thing lying within, gives them a pleasing feeling of conquest, and, moreover, stamps the thought in their memory. But such readers have not the root of the matter in them; the true attitude is the attitude of desiring to apprehend, to progress, to feel. The readers who delight in obscurity, to whom obscurity seems to enhance the value of the thing apprehended, are mixing with the intellectual process a sort of acquisitive and commercial instinct very dear to the British heart. These bewildering and bewildered Browning societies who fling themselves upon Sordello, are infected unconsciously with a virtuous craving for "taking higher ground." Sordello contains many beautiful things, but by omitting the necessary steps in argument, and by speaking of one thing allusively in terms of another, and by a profound desultoriness of thought, the poet produces a blurred and tangled impression. The beauties of Sordello would not lose by being expressed coherently and connectedly.
This is the one thing that I try with all my might to impress on boys; that the essence of all style is to say what you mean as forcibly as possible; the bane of classical teaching is that the essence of successful composition is held to be to "get in" words and phrases; it is not a bad training, so long as it is realised to be only a training, in obtaining a rich and flexible vocabulary, so that the writer has a choice of words and the right word comes at call. But this is not made clear in education, and the result on many minds is that they suppose that the essence of good writing is to search diligently for sparkling words and sonorous phrases, and then to patch them into a duller fabric.
But I stray from my point: all paths in a schoolmaster's mind lead out upon the educational plain.
All that you tell me of your new surroundings is intensely interesting. I am thankful that you feel the characteristic charm of the place, and that the climate seems to suit you. You say nothing of your work; but I suppose that you have had no time as yet. The mere absorbing of new impressions is a fatiguing thing, and no good work can be done until a scene has become familiar. I will discharge your commissions punctually; don't hesitate to tell me what you want. I don't do it from a sense of duty, but it is a positive pleasure for me to have anything to do for you. I long for letters; as soon as possible send me photographs, and not merely inanimate photographs of scenes and places, but be sure that you make a part of them yourself. I want to see you standing, sitting, reading in the new house; and give me an exact and detailed account of your day, please; the food you eat, the clothes you wear; you know my insatiable appetite for trifles.—Ever yours,
UPTON, March 5, 1904.
MY DEAR HERBERT,—I have been thinking over your last letter: and by the merest chance I stumbled yesterday on an old diary; it was in 1890—a time, do you remember, when our paths had drifted somewhat apart; you had just married, and I find a rather bitter entry, which it amuses me to tell you of now, to the effect that the marriage of a friend, which ought to give one a new friend, often simply deprives one of an old one—"nec carus aeque nec superstes integer," I add. Then I was, I suppose, hopelessly absorbed in my profession; it was at the time when I had just taken a boarding-house, and suffered much from the dejection which arises from feeling unequal to the new claims.
It amuses me now to think that I could ever have thought of losing your friendship; and it was only temporary; it was only that we were fully occupied; you had to learn camaraderie with your wife, for want of which one sees dryness creep into married lives, when the first divine ardours of passion have died away, and when life has to be lived in the common light of day. Well, all that soon adjusted itself; and then I, too, found in your wife a true and congenial friend, so that I can honestly say that your marriage has been one of the most fortunate events of my life.
But that was not what I meant to write to you about; the point is this. You say that personality is a stubborn thing. It is indeed. I find myself reflecting and considering how much one's character really changes as life goes on; in reading this diary of fourteen years ago, though I have altered in some superficial respects, I was confronted with my unalterable self. I have acquired certain aptitudes; I have learnt, for instance, to understand boys better, to sympathise with them, to put myself in their place, to manage them. I don't think I could enunciate my technique, such as it is. If a young master, just entering upon the work of a boarding-house, asked my advice, I could utter several maxims which he would believe (and rightly) to be the flattest and most obvious truisms; but the value of them to me is that they are deduced from experience, and not stated as assumptions. The whole secret lies in the combination of them, the application of them to a particular case; it is not that one sees a thing differently, but that one knows instinctively the sort of thing to say, the kind of line to pursue, the kind of statement that appeals to a boy as sensible and memorable, the sort of precautions to take, the delicate adjustment of principles to a particular case, and so forth. It is, I suppose, something like the skill of an artist; he does not see nature more clearly, if indeed as clearly, as he did when he began, but he knows better what kind of stroke and what kind of tint will best produce the effect which he wishes to record. Of course both artist and schoolmaster get mannerised; and I should be inclined to say in the latter case that a schoolmaster's success (in the best sense) depends almost entirely upon his being able to arrive at sound principles and at the same time to avoid mannerism in applying them. For instance, it is of no use to hold up for a boy's consideration a principle which is quite outside his horizon; what one has to do is to try and give him a principle which is just a little ahead of his practice, which he can admire and also believe to be within his reach.
Besides this experience which I have acquired, I have acquired a similar experience in the direction of teaching—I know now the sort of statement which arrests the attention and arouses the interest of boys; I know how to put a piece of knowledge so that it appears both intelligible and also desirable to acquire.
Then I have learnt, in literary matters, the art of expression to a certain extent. I can speak to you with entire frankness and unaffectedness, and I will say that I am conscious that I can now express lucidly, and to a certain extent attractively, an idea. My deficiency is now in ideas and not in the power of expressing them. I have quality though not quantity. It amuses me to read this old diary and see how impossible I found it to put certain thoughts into words.
But apart from these definite acquirements, I cannot see that my character has altered in the smallest degree. I detect the same little, hard, repellent core of self, sitting enthroned, cold, unchanging, and unchanged, "like a toad within a stone," to borrow Rossetti's great simile. I see exactly the same weaknesses, the same pitiful ambitions, the same faults. I have learnt, I think, to conceal them a little better; but they are not eradicated, nor even modified. Even with regard to their concealment, I have a terrible theory. I believe that the faults of which one is conscious, which one admits, and even the faults of which one faintly suspects oneself, and yet supposes that one conceals from the world at large, are the very faults that are absolutely patent to every one else. If one dimly suspects that one is a liar, a coward, or a snob, and gratefully believes that one has not been placed in a position which inevitably reveals these characteristics in their full nakedness, one may be fairly certain that other people know that one is so tainted.
The discouraging point is that one is not similarly conscious of one's virtues. I take for granted that I have some virtues, because I see that most of the people whom I meet have some sprinkling of them, but I declare that I am quite unable to say what they are. A fault is patent and unmistakable. The old temptation comes upon one, and one yields as usual; but with one's virtues, if they ever manifest themselves, one's own feeling is that one might have done better. Moreover, if one tries deliberately to take stock of one's good points, they seem to be only natural and instinctive ways of behaving; to which no credit can possibly attach, because by temperament one is incapable of acting otherwise.
Another melancholy fact which I believe to be true is this—that the only good work one does is work which one finds easy and likes. I have one or two patiently acquired virtues which are not natural to me, such as a certain methodical way of dealing with business; but I never find myself credited with it by others, because it is done, I suppose, painfully and with effort, and therefore unimpressively.
I look round, and the same phenomenon meets me everywhere. I do not know any instance among my friends where I can trace any radical change of character. "Sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper et in saecula saeculorum."
Indeed the only line upon which improvement is possible seems to me to be this—that a man shall definitely commit himself to a course of life in which he shall be compelled to exercise virtues which are foreign to his character, and any lapses of which will be penalised in a straightforward, professional way. If a man, for instance, is irritable, impatient, unpunctual, let him take up some line where he is bound to be professionally bland, patient, methodical. That would be the act of a philosopher; but, alas, how few of us choose our profession from philosophical motives!
And even so I should fear that the tendencies of temperament are only temporarily imprisoned, and not radically cured; after all, it fits in with the Darwinian theory. The bird of paradise, condemned to live in a country of marshes, cannot hope to become a heron. The most he can hope is that, by meditating on the advantages which a heron would enjoy, and by pressing the same consideration on his offspring, the time may come in the dim procession of years when the beaks of his descendants will grow long and sharp, their necks pliant, their legs attenuated.
And anyhow, one is bound in honour to have a try; and the hopefulness of my creed (you may be puzzled to detect it) lies in the fact that one HAS a sense of honour about it all; that one's faults are repugnant, and that missing virtues are desirable—possunt quia posse videntur!
Thank you for the photographs. I begin to realise your house; but I want some interiors as well; and let me have the view from your terrace, though I daresay it is only sea and sky.—Ever yours,
UPTON, March 15, 1904.
DEAR HERBERT,—You say I am not ambitious enough; well, I wish I could make up my mind clearly on the subject of ambition; it has been brought before me rather acutely lately. A post here has just fallen vacant—a post to which I should have desired to succeed. I have no doubt that if I had frankly expressed my wishes on the subject, if I had even told a leaky, gossipy colleague what I desired, and begged him to keep it to himself, the thing would have got out, and the probability is that the post would have been offered to me. But I held my tongue, not, I confess, from any very high motive, but merely from a natural dislike of being importunate—it does not seem to me consistent with good manners.
Well, I made no sign; and another man was appointed. I have no doubt that a man of the world would say frankly that I was a fool, and, though I am rather inclined to agree with him, I don't think I could have acted otherwise.
I am inclined to encourage ambition of every kind among the boys. I think it is an appropriate virtue for their age and temperament. It is not a Christian virtue; for it is certain that, if one person succeeds in an ambitious prospect, there must be a dozen who are disappointed. But though I don't approve of it on abstract grounds, yet I think it is so tremendous a motive for activity and keenness that it seems to me that boys are the better for it. I don't believe that in education the highest motive is always the best; indeed, the most effective motive, in dealing with immature minds, is the thing which we have to discover and use.
I mean, for instance, that I think it is probably more effective to say to a boy who is disposed to be physically indolent, "You have a chance of getting your colours this half, and I should like to see you get them," than to say, "I don't want you to think about colours. I want you to play football for the glory of God, because it makes you into a stronger, more wholesome, more cheerful man." It seems to me that boys should learn for themselves that there are often better and bigger reasons for having done a thing than the reason that made them do it.
What makes an object seem desirable to a boy is that others desire to have it too, and that he should be the fortunate person to get it. I don't see how the sense of other people's envy and disappointment can be altogether subtracted from the situation—it certainly is one of the elements which makes success seem desirable to many boys—though a generous nature will not indulge the thought.
But I am equally sure that, as one gets older, one ought to put aside such thoughts altogether. That one ought to trample down ambitious desires and even hopes. That glory, according to the old commonplace, ought to follow and not to be followed.
I think one ought to pursue one's own line, to do one's own business to the best of one's ability, and leave the rest to God. If He means one to be in a big place, to do a big work, it will be clearly enough indicated; and the only chance of doing it in a big way is to be simple-minded, sincere, generous, and contented.
The worst of that theory is this. One sees people in later life who have just missed big chances; some over-subtle delicacy of mind, some untimely reticence or frankness, some indolent hanging-back, some scrupulousness, has just checked them from taking a bold step forward when it was needed. And one sees them with large powers, noble capacities, wise thoughts, relegated to the crowd of unconsidered and inconsiderable persons whose opinion has no weight, whose suggestions have no effectiveness. Are they to be blamed? Or has one humbly and faithfully to take it as an indication that they are just not fit, from some secret weakness, some fibre of feebleness, to take the tiller?
I am speaking with entire sincerity when I say to you that I think I am myself rather cast in that mould. I have always just missed getting what used to be called "situations of dignity and emolument," and I have often been condoled with as the person who ought to have had them.
Well, I expect that this is probably a very wholesome discipline for me, but I cannot say that it is pleasant, or that use has made it easier.
The worst of it is that I have an odd mixture of practicality and mysticism within me, and I have sometimes thought that one has damaged the other. My mysticism has pulled me back when I ought to have taken a decided step, urging "Leave it to God"—and then, when I have failed to get what I wanted, my mysticism has failed to comfort me, and the practical side of me has said, "The decided step was what God clearly indicated to you was needed; and you were lazy and would not take it."
I have a highly practical friend, the most absolutely and admirably worldly person I know. In talk he sometimes lets fall very profound maxims. We were talking the other day about this very point, and he said musingly, "It is a very good rule in this world not to ask for anything unless you are pretty sure to get it." That is the cream of the worldly attitude. Such a man is not going to make himself tiresome by importunity. He knows what he desires, he works for it, and, when the moment comes, he just gives the little push that is needed, and steps into his kingdom.
That is exactly what I cannot do. It is not a sign of high-mindedness, for I am by nature greedy, acquisitive, and ambitious. But it is a want of firmness, I suppose. Anyhow, there it is, and one cannot alter one's temperament.
The conclusion which I come to for myself and for all like-minded persons—not a very happy class, I fear—is that one should absolutely steel oneself against disappointment, not allow oneself to indulge in pleasing visions, not form plans or count chickens, but try to lay hold of the things which do bring one tranquillity, the simple joys of ordinary and uneventful life. One may thus arrive at a certain degree of independence. And though the heart may ache a little at the chances missed, yet one may console oneself by thinking that it is happier not to realise an ambition and be disappointed, than to realise it and be disappointed.
It all comes from over-estimating one's own powers, after all. If one is decently humble, no disappointment is possible; and such little successes as one does attain are like gleams of sunlight on a misty day.—Ever yours,
UPTON, March 25, 1904.
DEAR HERBERT,—You are quite right about conventionality in education.
One of my perennial preoccupations here is how to encourage originality and independence among my boys. The great danger of public-school education nowadays, as you say, is the development of a type. It is not at all a bad type in many ways; the best specimens of the public-school type are young men who are generous, genial, unembarrassed, courageous, sensible, and active; but our system all tends to level character, and I do not feel sure whether it levels it up or levels it down. In old days the masters concerned themselves with the work of the boys only, and did not trouble their heads about how the boys amused themselves out of school. Vigorous boys organised games for themselves, and indolent boys loafed. Then it came home to school authorities that there was a good deal of danger in the method; that lack of employment was an undesirable thing. Thereupon work was increased, and, at the same time, the masters laid hands upon athletics and organised them. Side by side with this came a great increase of wealth and leisure in England, and there sprang up that astonishing and disproportionate interest in athletic matters, which is nowadays a real problem for all sensible men. But the result of it all has been that there has grown up a stereotyped code among the boys as to what is the right thing to do. They are far less wilful and undisciplined than they used to be; they submit to work, as a necessary evil, far more cheerfully than they used to do; and they base their ideas of social success entirely on athletics. And no wonder! They find plenty of masters who are just as serious about games as they are themselves; who spend all their spare time in looking on at games, and discuss the athletic prospects of particular boys in a tone of perfectly unaffected seriousness. The only two regions which masters have not organised are the intellectual and moral regions. The first has been tacitly and inevitably extruded. A good deal more work is required from the boys, and unless a boy's ability happens to be of a definite academical order—in which case he is well looked after—there is no loop-hole through which intellectual interest can creep in. A boy's time is so much occupied by definite work and definite games that there is neither leisure nor, indeed, vigour left to follow his own pursuits. Life is lived so much more in public that it becomes increasingly difficult for SETS to exist; small associations of boys with literary tastes used to do a good deal in the direction of fostering the germs of intellectual life; the net result is, that there is now far less interest abroad in intellectual things, and such interests as do exist, exist in a solitary way, and generally mean an intellectual home in the background.
In the moral region, I think we have much to answer for; there is a code of morals among boys which, if it is not actively corrupting, is at least undeniably low. The standard of purity is low; a vicious boy doesn't find his vicious tendencies by any means a bar to social success. Then the code of honesty is low; a boy who is habitually dishonest in the matter of work is not in the least reprobated. I do not mean to say that there are not many boys who are both pure-minded and honest; but they treat such virtues as a secret preference of their own, and do not consider that it is in the least necessary to interfere with the practice of others, or even to disapprove of it. And then comes the perennial difficulty of schoolboy honour; the one unforgivable offence is to communicate anything to masters; and an innocent-minded boy whose natural inclination to purity gave way before perpetual temptation and even compulsion might be thought to have erred, but would have scanty, if any, expression of either sympathy or pity from other boys; while if he breathed the least hint of his miserable position to a master and the fact came out, he would be universally scouted.
This is a horrible fact to contemplate; yet it cannot be cured by enactment, only from within. It is strange that in this respect it is entirely unlike the code of the world. No girl or woman would be scouted for appealing to police protection in similar circumstances; no man would be required to submit to violence or even to burglary; no reprobation would fall upon him if he appealed to the law to help him.
Is it not possible to encourage something of this feeling in a school? Is it not possible, without violating schoolboy honour, which is in many ways a fine and admirable thing, to allow the possibility of an appeal to protection for the young and weak against vile temptations? It seems to me that it would be best if we could get the boys to organise such a system among themselves. But to take no steps to arrive at such an organisation, and to leave matters severely alone, is a very dark responsibility to bear.
It is curious to note that in the matter of bullying and cruelty, which used to be so rife at schools, public opinion among boys does seem to have undergone a change. The vice has practically disappeared, and the good feeling of a school would be generally against any case of gross bullying; but the far more deadly and insidious temptation of impurity has, as far as one can learn, increased. One hears of simply heart-rending cases where a boy dare not even tell his parents of what he endures. Then, too, a boy's relations will tend to encourage him to hold out, rather than to invoke a master's aid, because they are afraid of the boy falling under the social ban.
This is the heaviest burden a schoolmaster has to bear; to be responsible for his boys, and to be held responsible, and yet to be probably the very last person to whom the information of what is happening can possibly come.
One great difficulty seems to be that boys will only, as a rule, combine for purposes of evil. In matters of virtue a boy has to act for himself; and I confess, too, with a sigh, that a set of virtuous boys banding themselves together to resist evil and put it down has an alarmingly priggish sound.
The most that a man can do at present, it seems to me, is to have good sensible servants; to be vigilant and discreet; to try and cultivate a paternal relation with all his boys; to try and make the bigger boys feel some responsibility in the matter; but the worst of it is that the subject is so unpleasant that many masters dare not speak of it at all; and excuse themselves by saying that they don't want to put ideas into boys' heads. I cannot conscientiously believe that a man who has been through a big public school himself can honestly be afraid of that. But we all seem to be so much afraid of each other, of public opinion, of possible unpopularity, that we find excuses for letting a painful thing alone.
But to leave this part of the subject, which is often a kind of nightmare to me, and to return to my former point; I do honestly think it a great misfortune that we tend to produce a type. It seems to me that to aim at independence, to know one's own mind, to form one's own ideas—liberty, in short—is one of the most sacred duties in life. It is not only a luxury in which a few can indulge, it ought to be a quality which every one should be encouraged to cultivate. I declare that it makes me very sad sometimes to see these well-groomed, well-mannered, rational, manly boys all taking the same view of things, all doing the same things, smiling politely at the eccentricity of any one who finds matter for serious interest in books, in art or music: all splendidly reticent about their inner thoughts, with a courteous respect for the formalities of religion and the formalities of work; perfectly correct, perfectly complacent, with no irregularities or angular preferences of their own; with no admiration for anything but athletic success, and no contempt for anything but originality of ideas. They are so nice, so gentlemanly, so easy to get on with; and yet, in another region, they are so dull, so unimaginative, so narrow-minded. They cannot all, of course, be intellectual or cultivated; but they ought to be more tolerant, more just, more wise. They ought to be able to admire vigour and enthusiasm in every department instead of in one or two; and it is we who ought to make them feel so, and we have already got too much to do—though I am afraid that you will think, after reading this vast document, that I, at all events, have plenty of spare time. But it is not the case; only the end of the half is at hand; we have finished our regular work, and I have done my reports, and am waiting for a paper. When you next hear I shall be a free man. I shall spend Easter quietly here; but I have so much to do and clear off that I probably shall not be able to write until I have set off on my travels.—Ever yours,
THE RED DRAGON, COMPTON FEREDAY, April 10, 1904.
DEAR HERBERT,—I was really too busy to write last week, but I am going to try and make up for it. This letter is going to be a diary. Expect more of it.—T. B.
April 7.—I find myself, after all, compelled to begin my walking tour alone. At the last moment Murchison has thrown me over. His father is ill, and he is compelled to spend his holidays at home. I do not altogether like to set off by myself, but it is too late to try and arrange for another companion. I had rather, however, go by myself than with some one who is not absolutely congenial. One requires on these occasions to have a companion whose horizon is the same as one's own. I daresay I could find an old friend, who is not also a colleague, to go with me, but it would mean a certain amount of talk to bring us into line. Then, too, I have had a very busy term; besides my form work, I have had a good deal of extra teaching to do with the Army Class boys. It is interesting work, for the boys are interested, not in the subjects so much, as in mastering them for examination purposes. Yet it matters little how the interest is obtained, as long as the boys believe in the usefulness of what they are doing. But the result is that I am tired out. I have lived with boys from morning to night, and my spare time has been taken up with working at my subjects. I have had hardly any exercise, and but a scanty allowance of sleep. Now I mean to have both. I shall spend my days in the open air, and I shall sleep, I hope, like a top at nights. Gradually I shall recover my power of enjoyment; for the worst of such weeks as I have been passing through is that they leave one dreary and jaded; one finds oneself in that dull mood when one cannot even realise beautiful things. I hear a thrush sing in a bush, or the sunset flames broadly behind the elms, and I say to myself, "That is very beautiful if only I could feel it to be so!" Boys are exhausting companions—they are so restless, so full-blooded, so pitilessly indifferent, so desperately interested in the narrow round of school life; and I have the sort of temperament that will efface itself to any extent, if only the people that I am concerned with will be content. I suppose it is a feeble trait, and that the best schoolmasters have a magnetic influence over boys which makes the boys interested in the master's subjects, or at least hypnotises them into an appearance of interest. I cannot do that. It is like a leaden weight upon me if I feel that a class is bored; the result is that I arrive at the same end in my own way. I have learnt a kind of sympathy with boys; I know by instinct what will interest them, or how to put a tiresome thing in an interesting way.
But I shudder to think how sick I am of it all! I want a long bath of silence and recollection and repose. I want to fill my cistern again with my own thoughts and my own dreams, instead of pumping up the muddy waters of irrigation. I don't think my colleagues are like that. I sate with half-a-dozen of them last night at supper. They were full of all they meant to do. Two of the most energetic were going off to play golf, and the chief pleasure of the place they were going to was that it was possible to get a round on Sundays; they were going to fill the evening with bridge, and one of them said with heart-felt satisfaction, "I am only going to take two books away with me—one on golf and the other on bridge—and I am going to cure some of my radical faults." I thought to myself that if he had forborne to mention the subjects of his books, one might have supposed that they would be a Thomas-a-Kempis and a Taylor's Holy Living, and then how well it would have seemed! Two more were going for a rapid tour abroad in a steamer chartered for assistant masters. That seemed to me to be almost more depressing. They were going to ancient historical places, full of grave and beautiful associations; places to go to, it seemed to me, with some single like-minded associate, places to approach with leisurely and untroubled mind, with no feeling of a programme or a time-table—and least of all in the company of busy professional people with an academical cicerone.
Still, I suppose that this is true devotion to one's profession. They will be able, they think, to discourse easily and, God help us, picturesquely about what they have seen, to intersperse a Thucydides lesson with local colour, and to describe the site of the temple of Delphi to boys beginning the Eumenides. It is very right and proper, no doubt, but it produces in me a species of mental nausea to think of the conditions under which these impressions will be absorbed. The arrangements for luncheon, the brisk interchange of shop, the cheery comments of fellow-tradesmen, the horrible publicity and banality of the whole affair!
My two other colleagues were going, one to spend a holiday at Brighton—which he said was very bracing at Easter, adding that he expected to fall in with some fellows he knew. They will all stroll on the Parade, smoke cigarettes together, and adjourn for a game of billiards. No doubt a very harmless way of passing the time, but not to me enlivening. But Walters is a conventional person, and, as long as he is doing what he would call "the correct thing," he is perfectly and serenely content. The sixth and last is going to Surbiton to spend the holidays with a mother and three sisters, and I think he is the most virtuously employed of all. He will walk out alone, with a terrier dog, before lunch; and after lunch he will go out with his sisters; and perhaps the vicar will come to tea. But then it will be home, and the girls will be proud of their brother, and will have the dishes he likes, and he will have his father's old study to smoke in. I am not sure that he is not the happiest of all, because he is not only pursuing his own happiness.
But I have no such duties before me. I might, I suppose, go down to my sister Helen at the Somersetshire vicarage where she lives so full a life. But the house is small, there are four children, and not much money, and I should only be in the way. Charles would do his best to welcome me, but he will be in a great fuss over his Easter services; and he will ask me to use his study as though it was my own room, which will necessitate a number of hurried interviews in the drawing-room, my sister will take her letters up to her bedroom, and the doors will have to be carefully closed to exclude my tobacco smoke.
This is all very sordid, no doubt, but I am confronted with sordid things to-day. The boys have just cleared off, and they are beginning to sweep out the schoolrooms. The inky, dreary desks, the ragged books, the odd fives-shoes in the pigeon-holes, the wheelbarrows full of festering orange-peel and broken-down fives-balls: this is not a place for a self-respecting person to be in. I want to be mooning about country lanes, with the smell of spring woods blowing down the valley. I want to be holding slow converse with leisurely rustic persons, to be surveying from the side of a high grassy hill the rich plain below, to hear the song of birds in the thickets, to try and feel myself one with the life of the world instead of a sordid sweeper of a corner of it. This is all very ungrateful to my profession, which I love, but it is a necessary reaction; and what at this moment chiefly makes me grateful to it is that my pocket is full enough to let me have a holiday on a liberal scale, without thinking of small economies. I may give pennies to tramps or children, or a shilling to a sexton for showing me a church. I may travel what class I choose, and put up at a hotel without counting the cost; and oh! the blessedness of that. I would rather have a three-days' holiday thus than three weeks with an anxious calculation of resources.
April 8.—I am really off to the Cotswolds. I packed my beloved knapsack yesterday afternoon. I put in it—precision is the essence of diarising—a spare shirt, which will have to serve if necessary as a nightgown, a pair of socks, a pair of slippers, a toothbrush, a small comb, and a sponge; that is sufficient for a philosopher. A pocket volume of poetry—Matthew Arnold this time—and a map completed my outfit. And I sent a bag containing a more liberal wardrobe to a distant station, which I calculated it would take me three days to reach. Then I went off by an afternoon train, and, by sunset, I found myself in a little town, Hinton Perevale, of stone-built houses, with an old bridge. I had no sense of freedom as yet, only a blessed feeling of repose. I took an early supper in a small low-roofed parlour with mullioned windows. By great good fortune I found myself the only guest at the inn, and had the room to myself; then I went early and gratefully to bed, utterly sleepy and content, with just enough sense left to pray for a fine day.
My prayer is answered this morning. I slept a dreamless sleep, and was roused by the cheerful crowing of cocks, which picked about the back yard of the inn. I dressed quickly, only suspending my task to watch the little dramas of the inn yard—the fowls on the pig-sty wall; the horse waiting meekly, with knotted traces hanging round it, to be harnessed; the cat, on some grave business of its own, squeezing gracefully under a closed barn door; the weary, flat-footed duck, nuzzling the mud of a small pool as delicately as though it were a rich custard. I was utterly free; I might go and come as I liked. Time had ceased to exist for me, and it was pleasant to reflect, as I finished my simple breakfast, that I should under professional conditions have been hurrying briskly into school for an hour of Latin Prose. The incredible absurdity and futility of it all came home to me. Half the boys that I teach so elaborately would be both more wholesomely and happily employed if they were going out to farm-work for the day. But they are gentlemen's sons, and so must enter what are called the liberal professions, to retire at the age of sixty with a poor digestion, a peevish wife, and a family of impossible children. But it is only in such inconsequent moments that I allow myself to think thus slightingly of Latin Prose. It is a valuable accomplishment, and, when I have repaired the breaches made by professional work in the mental equilibrium, I shall rejoin my colleagues with a full sense of its paramount importance.
I scribble this diary with a vile pen, and ink like blacking, on the corner of my breakfast-table. I have packed my knapsack, and in a few minutes I shall set out upon my march.
April 9.—I spent an almost perfect day yesterday. It was a cool bright day, with a few clouds like cotton-wool moving sedately in a blue sky. I first walked quietly about my little town, which was full of delicate beauties. The houses are all built of a soft yellow stone, which weathers into a species of rich orange. Heaven knows where the designers came from, but no two houses seem alike; some of them are gabled, buttressed, stone-mullioned, irregular in outline, but yet with a wonderful sense of proportion. Some are Georgian, with classical pilasters and pediments. Yet they are all for use and not for show; and the weak modern shop-windows, which some would think disfigure the delicate house-fronts, seem to me just to give the requisite sense of contrast. At the end of the street stands the church, with a stately Perpendicular tower, and a resonant bell which tells the hour. This overlooks a pile of irregular buildings, now a farm, but once a great manor-house, with a dovecote and pavilions; but the old terrace is now an orchard, and the fine oriel of the house looks straight into the byre. Inside the church—it is open and well-kept—you can trace the history of the manor and its occupants, from Job Best, a rich mercer of London, whose monument, with marble pillars and obelisks, adorns the south aisle; his son was ennobled, whose effigy—more majestic still, robed and coroneted, with his Viscountess by his side, and her dog (with his name, Jakke, engraven on his shoulder)—lies smiling, the slender hands crossed in prayer. But the house was not destined to survive. The Viscount's only daughter, the Lady Penelope, looks down from the wall, a fair and delicate lady, the last of her brief race, who, as the old inscription says with a tender simplicity, "dyed a mayd." I cannot help wondering, my pretty lady, what your story was; and it will do you no hurt if one, who looks upon your gentle face, sends a wondering message of tenderness behind the veil to your pure spirit, regret for your vanished charm, and the fragrance of your soft bloom, and sadness for all sweet things that fade.
The manor, so I learn, was burnt wantonly by the Roundheads—there was a battle hereabouts—on the charge that it had harboured some followers of the king; and so our dreams of greatness and permanence are fulfilled.
The whole church was very neat and spruce; it had suffered a restoration lately. The walls were stripped of their old plaster and pointed, so that the inside is now rougher than the outside, a thing the ancient builders never intended. The altar is fairly draped with good hangings behind, and the chancel fitted with new oak stalls and seats, all as neat as a new pin. As I lingered in the church, reading the simple monuments, a rosy, burly vicar came briskly in, and seeing me there, courteously showed me all the treasures of his house, like Hezekiah. He took me into the belfry, and there, piled up against the wall, were some splendid Georgian columns and architraves, richly carved in dark brown wood. I asked what it was. "Oh, a horrible pompous thing," he said; "it was behind the altar—most pagan and unsuitable; we had it all out as soon as I came. The first moment I entered the church, I said to myself, 'THAT must go,' and I have succeeded, though it was hard enough to collect the money, and actually some of the old people here objected." I did not feel it was worth while to cast cold water on the good man's satisfaction—but the pity of it! I do not suppose that a couple of thousand pounds could have reproduced it; and it is simply heart-rending to see such a noble monument of piety and careful love sacrificed to a wave of so-called ecclesiastical taste. The vicar's chief pride was a new window, by a fashionable modern firm; quite unobjectionable in design, and with good colour, but desperately uninteresting. It represented some mild, unemphatic, attenuated saints, all exactly alike, languidly and decorously conversing together, weighed down by heavy drapery, as though wrapped in bales of carpets. In the lower compartments knelt some dignified persons, similarly habited, in face exactly like the saints above, except that they were fitted out with unaccountable beards—all pretty and correct, but with no character or force. I suppose that fifty years hence, when our taste has broadened somewhat, this window will probably be condemned as impossible too. There can be no absolute canon of beauty; the only principle ought to be to spare everything that is of careful and solid workmanship, to give it a chance, to let time and age have their perfect work. It is the utter conventionality of the whole thing that is so distressing; the same thing is going on all over the country, the attempt to put back the clock, and to try and restore things as they were; history, tradition, association, are not considered. The old builders were equally ruthless, it is true; they would sweep away a Norman choir to build a Decorated one; but at all events they were advancing and expanding, not feebly recurring to a past period of taste, and trying to obliterate the progress of the centuries.
About noon I left the little town, and struck out up a winding lane to the hills. The copses were full of anemones and primroses; birds sang sharply in the bushes which were gemmed with fresh green; now and then I heard the woodpecker laugh as if at some secret jest among the thickets. Presently the little town was at my feet, looking small and tranquil in the golden noon; and soon I came to the top. It was grassy, open down-land up here, and in an instant the wide view of a rich wooded and watered plain spread before me, with shadowy hills on the horizon. In the middle distance I saw the red roofs of a great town, the smoke going peacefully up; here was a shining river-reach, like a crescent of silver. It was England indeed—tranquil, healthy, prosperous England.
The rest of the day I need not record. It was full of delicate impressions—an old, gabled, mullioned house among its pastures; a hamlet by a stream, admirably grouped; a dingle set with primroses; and over all, the long, pure lines of upland, with here and there, through a gap, the purple, wealthy plain.
I write this in the evening, at a little wayside inn, in a hamlet under the hill. The name alone, Wenge Grandmain, is worth a shilling. It is very simple, but clean, and the people are kind; not with the professional manner of those who bow, smiling, to a paying guest, but of those who welcome a wanderer and try to make him a home. And so, in a dark-panelled little parlour, with a sedate-ticking clock, I sit while the sounds of life grow fainter and rarer in the little street.
THE CROSSFOXES INN, BOURTON-ON-THE-WOLD, April 16, 1904.
DEAR HERBERT,—I have now been ten days on my travels, but for the last week I have pitched my moving tent at Bourton. Do you shudder with the fear that I am going to give you pages of description of scenery? It is not a SHUDDER with me when I get a landscape-letter; it is merely that leaden dulness which falls upon the spirit when it is confronted with statements which produce no impression upon the mind. I always, for instance, skip the letters of travel which appear about the third chapter of great biographies, when the young gentleman goes for the Grand Tour after taking his degree.
But imagine this: a great, rich, wooded, watered plain; on the far horizon the shadowy forms of hills; behind you, gently rising heights, with dingles and folds full of copsewood, rising to soft green downs. There, on the skirts of the upland, above the plain, below the hill, sits the little village, with a stately Perpendicular church tower. The village itself of stone houses, no two alike, all with character; gabled, mullioned, weathered to a delicate ochre—some standing back, some on the street. Intermingled with these are fine Georgian houses, with great pilasters, all of stone too; in the centre of the street a wall, with two tall gate-posts, crowned with stone balls; a short lime avenue leads to a stately, gabled manor-house, which you can see through great iron gates. The whole scene incredibly romantic, exquisitely beautiful.
My favourite walk is this. I leave the little town by a road which winds along the base of the hill. I pass round a shoulder, wooded and covered to the base with tangled thickets, where the birds sing shrilly. I turn up to the left into a kind of "combe." At the very farthest end of the little valley, at the base of the steeper slopes but now high above the plain, stands an ancient church among yews. On one side of it is a long, low-fronted, irregular manor-house, with a formal garden in front, approached by a little arched gate-house which stands on the road; on the other side of the church, and below it, a no less ancient rectory, with a large Perpendicular window, anciently a chapel, in the gable. In the warm, sheltered air the laurels grow luxuriantly; a bickering stream, running in a deep channel, makes a delicate music of its own; a little farther on stands a farm, with barn and byre; in the midst of the buildings is a high, stone-tiled dovecote. The roo-hooing of the pigeons fills the whole place with a slumberous sound. I wind up the hill by a little path, now among thickets, now crossing a tilted pasture. I emerge on the top of a down; in front of me lie the long slopes of the wold, with that purity and tranquillity of outline which only down-land possesses. Here on a spur stands a grass-grown camp, with ancient thorn-trees growing in it. Turning round, the great plain runs for miles, with here and there a glint of water, where the slow-moving Avon wanders. Hamlets, roads, towers lie out like a map at my feet—all wearing that secluded, peaceful air which tempts me to think that life would be easy and happy if it could only be lived among those quiet fields, with the golden light and lengthening shadows.
I find myself wondering in these quiet hours—I walk alone as a rule—what this haunting, incommunicable sense of beauty is. Is it a mere matter of temperament, of inner happiness, of physical well-being; or has it an absolute existence? It comes and goes like the wind. Some days one is acutely, almost painfully, alive to it—painfully, because it makes such constant and insistent demands upon one's attention. Some days, again, it is almost unheeded, and one passes through it blind and indifferent. It is an expression, I cannot help feeling, of the very mind of God; and yet the ancient earthwork in which I stand, bears witness to the fact that in far-off days men lived in danger and anxiety, fighting and striving for bare existence. We have established by law and custom a certain personal security nowadays; is our sense of beauty born of that security? I cannot help wondering whether the old warriors who built this place cared at all for the beauty of the earth; and yet over it all hangs the gentle sadness of all sweet things that have an end. All those warriors are dust; the boys and girls who wandered a century ago where I wander to-day, they are at rest too in the little churchyard that lies at my feet; and my heart goes out to all who have loved and suffered, and to those who shall hereafter love and suffer here. An idle sympathy, perhaps, but none the less strong and real.
But now for a little human experience that befell me here. I found the other day, not far from the church, an old artist sketching. A refined, sad-looking old fellow, sunburned and active, with white hair and pointed beard, and a certain pathetic attempt, of a faded kind, to dress for his part—low collar, a red tie, rough shooting-jacket, and so forth. He seemed in a sociable mood, and I sate down beside him. How it came about I hardly know, but he was soon telling me the story of his life. He was the tenant, I found, of the old manor-house, which he held at a ridiculous rent, and he had lived here nearly forty years. He had found the place as a young man, wandering about in search of the picturesque. I gathered that he had bright dreams and wide ambitions. He had a small independence, and he had meant to paint great pictures and make a name for himself. He had married; his wife was long dead, his children out in the world, and he was living on alone, painting the same pictures, bought, so far as I could make out, mostly by American visitors. His drawing was old-fashioned and deeply mannerised. He was painting not what was there, but some old and faded conception of his own as to what it was like—missing, I think, half the beauty of the place. He seemed horribly desolate. I tried, for his consolation and my own, to draw out a picture of the beautiful refined life he led; and the old fellow began to wear a certain jaunty air of dignity and distinction, which would have amused me if it had not made me feel inclined to cry. But he soon fell back into what is, I suppose, a habitual melancholy. "Ah, if you had known what my dreams were!" he said once. He went on to say that he now wished that he had taken up some simple and straightforward profession, had made money, and had his grandchildren about him. "I am more ghost than man," he said, shaking his dejected head.
I despair of expressing to you the profound pathos that seemed to me to surround this old despondent creature, with his broken dreams and his regretful memories. Where was the mistake he made? I suppose that he over-estimated his powers; but it was a generous mistake after all; and he has had to bear the slow sad disillusionment, the crushing burden of futility. He set out to win glory, and he is a forgotten, shabby, irresolute figure, subsisting on the charity of wealthy visitors! And yet he seems to have missed happiness by so little. To live as he does might be a serene and beautiful thing. If such a man had large reserves of hope and tenderness and patience; if he could but be content with the tranquil beauty of the wholesome earth, spread so richly before his eyes, it would be a life to be envied.
It has been a gentle lesson to me, that one must resolutely practise one's heart and spirit for the closing hours. In the case of successful men, as they grow older, it often strikes me with a sense of pain how passionately they cling to their ambitions and activities. How many people there are who work too long, and try to prolong the energies of morning into the afternoon, and the toil of afternoon into the peace of evening. I earnestly desire to grow old gracefully; to know when to stop, when to slip into a wise and kindly passivity, with sympathy for those who are in the forefront of the race. And yet if one does not practise wonder and receptivity and hope, one cannot expect them to come suddenly and swiftly to one's call. There comes a day when a man ought to be able to see that his best work is behind him, that his active influence is on the wane, that he is losing his hold on the machine. There ought to come a patient, beautiful, and kindly dignity, a love of young things and fresh flowers; not an envious and regretful unhappiness at the loss of the eager life and its brisk sensations, which betrays itself too often in a trickle of exaggerated reminiscences, a "weary, day-long chirping."
This is a harder task, I suppose, for an old bachelor than for a father of children. I have sometimes felt that adoption, with all its risks, of some young creature that you can call your own, would be a solution for many loveless lives, because it would stir them out of the comfortable selfishness that is the bane of the barren heart.
Of course, a schoolmaster suffers from this less than most professional men; but, even so, it is melancholy to reflect how the boys one has cared for, and tried to help, drift out of one's sight and ken. I have no touch of the feeling which they say was characteristic of Jowett—and indeed is amply evidenced by his correspondence—that once a man's tutor he was always his tutor, even though his pupil became grey-headed and a grandfather. One must do the best for the boys and look for no gratitude; it often comes, indeed, in rich measure, but the schoolmaster who craves for it is lost.
Well, it is time to stop. I sit in a little, low raftered parlour of the old inn; the fire in the big hearth flickers into ash, and my candles flare to their sockets. I leave the place to-morrow; and such is the instinct for permanence in the human mind, that I feel depressed and melancholy, as though I were leaving home.—Ever your affectionate,
THE BLUE BOAR, STANTON HARDWICK, April 21, 1904.
DEAR HERBERT,—I have made a pilgrimage to Stratford-on-Avon. I now feel overwhelmed with shame to reflect that, though my chief preoccupations apart from my profession have been literary, I have never visited the sacred place before. For an Englishman who cares for literature not to have been to Stratford-on-Avon is as gross a neglect as for an Englishman who has any sense of patriotism not to have visited Westminster Abbey.
And now that I have been there and returned, and have leisure to think it all over, I feel that I have been standing on the threshold of a mystery. Who, when all is said and done, was this extraordinary man? What were his thoughts, his aims, his views of himself and of the world? If Shakespeare was Shakespeare, he seems, to speak frankly, to have had a humanity distinct and apart from his genius. Here we have the son of a busy, quarrelsome, enterprising tradesman—who eventually indeed came to grief in trade—of a yeoman stock, and bearing a common name. His mother could not write her own signature. Of his youth we hear little that is not disreputable. He married under unpleasant circumstances, after an entanglement which took place at a very early age; he was addicted to poaching, or, at all events, to the illegal pursuit of other people's game. Then he drifts up to London and joins a theatrical company—then a rascally kind of trade—deserting his wife and family. His life in London is full of secrets. He is a man of mysterious passions and dangerous friendships. He writes plays of incomparable depth and breadth, touching every chord of humour, tragedy and pathos; certain rather elaborate poems of a precieux type, and strange sonnets, revealing a singular poignancy of unconventional feelings. But here, again, it is difficult to conceive that the writer of the Sonnets, who touched life so intensely at one feverish point, should have had the amazing detachment and complexity of mind and soul that the plays reveal. The notices of his talk and character are few and unenlightening, and testify to a certain easy brilliance of wit, but no more. Before he is thirty he is spoken of as both "upright" and "facetious"—a singular combination.