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Across The Plains by Robert Louis Stevenson

Part 3 out of 3

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the links where the wind might whistle overhead. There the coats
would be unbuttoned and the bull's-eyes discovered; and in the
chequering glimmer, under the huge windy hall of the night, and
cheered by a rich steam of toasting tinware, these fortunate young
gentlemen would crouch together in the cold sand of the links or on
the scaly bilges of the fishing-boat, and delight themselves with
inappropriate talk. Woe is me that I may not give some specimens -
some of their foresights of life, or deep inquiries into the
rudiments of man and nature, these were so fiery and so innocent,
they were so richly silly, so romantically young. But the talk, at
any rate, was but a condiment; and these gatherings themselves only
accidents in the career of the lantern-bearer. The essence of this
bliss was to walk by yourself in the black night; the slide shut,
the top-coat buttoned; not a ray escaping, whether to conduct your
footsteps or to make your glory public: a mere pillar of darkness
in the dark; and all the while, deep down in the privacy of your
fool's heart, to know you had a bull's-eye at your belt, and to
exult and sing over the knowledge.

II

It is said that a poet has died young in the breast of the most
stolid. It may be contended, rather, that this (somewhat minor)
bard in almost every case survives, and is the spice of life to his
possessor. Justice is not done to the versatility and the
unplumbed childishness of man's imagination. His life from without
may seem but a rude mound of mud; there will be some golden chamber
at the heart of it, in which he dwells delighted; and for as dark
as his pathway seems to the observer, he will have some kind of a
bull's-eye at his belt.

It would be hard to pick out a career more cheerless than that of
Dancer, the miser, as he figures in the "Old Bailey Reports," a
prey to the most sordid persecutions, the butt of his
neighbourhood, betrayed by his hired man, his house beleaguered by
the impish schoolboy, and he himself grinding and fuming and
impotently fleeing to the law against these pin-pricks. You marvel
at first that any one should willingly prolong a life so destitute
of charm and dignity; and then you call to memory that had he
chosen, had he ceased to be a miser, he could have been freed at
once from these trials, and might have built himself a castle and
gone escorted by a squadron. For the love of more recondite joys,
which we cannot estimate, which, it may be, we should envy, the man
had willingly forgone both comfort and consideration. "His mind to
him a kingdom was"; and sure enough, digging into that mind, which
seems at first a dust-heap, we unearth some priceless jewels. For
Dancer must have had the love of power and the disdain of using it,
a noble character in itself; disdain of many pleasures, a chief
part of what is commonly called wisdom; disdain of the inevitable
end, that finest trait of mankind; scorn of men's opinions, another
element of virtue; and at the back of all, a conscience just like
yours and mine, whining like a cur, swindling like a thimble-
rigger, but still pointing (there or there-about) to some
conventional standard. Here were a cabinet portrait to which
Hawthorne perhaps had done justice; and yet not Hawthorne either,
for he was mildly minded, and it lay not in him to create for us
that throb of the miser's pulse, his fretful energy of gusto, his
vast arms of ambition clutching in he knows not what: insatiable,
insane, a god with a muck-rake. Thus, at least, looking in the
bosom of the miser, consideration detects the poet in the full tide
of life, with more, indeed, of the poetic fire than usually goes to
epics; and tracing that mean man about his cold hearth, and to and
fro in his discomfortable house, spies within him a blazing bonfire
of delight. And so with others, who do not live by bread alone,
but by some cherished and perhaps fantastic pleasure; who are meat
salesmen to the external eye, and possibly to themselves are
Shakespeares, Napoleons, or Beethovens; who have not one virtue to
rub against another in the field of active life, and yet perhaps,
in the life of contemplation, sit with the saints. We see them on
the street, and we can count their buttons; but heaven knows in
what they pride themselves! heaven knows where they have set their
treasure!

There is one fable that touches very near the quick of life: the
fable of the monk who passed into the woods, heard a bird break
into song, hearkened for a trill or two, and found himself on his
return a stranger at his convent gates; for he had been absent
fifty years, and of all his comrades there survived but one to
recognise him. It is not only in the woods that this enchanter
carols, though perhaps he is native there. He sings in the most
doleful places. The miser hears him and chuckles, and the days are
moments. With no more apparatus than an ill-smelling lantern I
have evoked him on the naked links. All life that is not merely
mechanical is spun out of two strands: seeking for that bird and
hearing him. And it is just this that makes life so hard to value,
and the delight of each so incommunicable. And just a knowledge of
this, and a remembrance of those fortunate hours in which the bird
has sung to us, that fills us with such wonder when we turn the
pages of the realist. There, to be sure, we find a picture of life
in so far as it consists of mud and of old iron, cheap desires and
cheap fears, that which we are ashamed to remember and that which
we are careless whether we forget; but of the note of that time-
devouring nightingale we hear no news.

The case of these writers of romance is most obscure. They have
been boys and youths; they have lingered outside the window of the
beloved, who was then most probably writing to some one else; they
have sat before a sheet of paper, and felt themselves mere
continents of congested poetry, not one line of which would flow;
they have walked alone in the woods, they have walked in cities
under the countless lamps; they have been to sea, they have hated,
they have feared, they have longed to knife a man, and maybe done
it; the wild taste of life has stung their palate. Or, if you deny
them all the rest, one pleasure at least they have tasted to the
full - their books are there to prove it - the keen pleasure of
successful literary composition. And yet they fill the globe with
volumes, whose cleverness inspires me with despairing admiration,
and whose consistent falsity to all I care to call existence, with
despairing wrath. If I had no better hope than to continue to
revolve among the dreary and petty businesses, and to be moved by
the paltry hopes and fears with which they surround and animate
their heroes, I declare I would die now. But there has never an
hour of mine gone quite so dully yet; if it were spent waiting at a
railway junction, I would have some scattering thoughts, I could
count some grains of memory, compared to which the whole of one of
these romances seems but dross.

These writers would retort (if I take them properly) that this was
very true; that it was the same with themselves and other persons
of (what they call) the artistic temperament; that in this we were
exceptional, and should apparently be ashamed of ourselves; but
that our works must deal exclusively with (what they call) the
average man, who was a prodigious dull fellow, and quite dead to
all but the paltriest considerations. I accept the issue. We can
only know others by ourselves. The artistic temperament (a plague
on the expression!) does not make us different from our fellowmen,
or it would make us incapable of writing novels; and the average
man (a murrain on the word!) is just like you and me, or he would
not be average. It was Whitman who stamped a kind of Birmingham
sacredness upon the latter phrase; but Whitman knew very well, and
showed very nobly, that the average man was full of joys and full
of a poetry of his own. And this harping on life's dulness and
man's meanness is a loud profession of incompetence; it is one of
two things: the cry of the blind eye, I CANNOT SEE, or the
complaint of the dumb tongue, I CANNOT UTTER. To draw a life
without delights is to prove I have not realised it. To picture a
man without some sort of poetry - well, it goes near to prove my
case, for it shows an author may have little enough. To see Dancer
only as a dirty, old, small-minded, impotently fuming man, in a
dirty house, besieged by Harrow boys, and probably beset by small
attorneys, is to show myself as keen an observer as . . . the
Harrow boys. But these young gentlemen (with a more becoming
modesty) were content to pluck Dancer by the coat-tails; they did
not suppose they had surprised his secret or could put him living
in a book: and it is there my error would have lain. Or say that
in the same romance - I continue to call these books romances, in
the hope of giving pain - say that in the same romance, which now
begins really to take shape, I should leave to speak of Dancer, and
follow instead the Harrow boys; and say that I came on some such
business as that of my lantern-bearers on the links; and described
the boys as very cold, spat upon by flurries of rain, and drearily
surrounded, all of which they were; and their talk as silly and
indecent, which it certainly was. I might upon these lines, and
had I Zola's genius, turn out, in a page or so, a gem of literary
art, render the lantern-light with the touches of a master, and lay
on the indecency with the ungrudging hand of love; and when all was
done, what a triumph would my picture be of shallowness and
dulness! how it would have missed the point! how it would have
belied the boys! To the ear of the stenographer, the talk is
merely silly and indecent; but ask the boys themselves, and they
are discussing (as it is highly proper they should) the
possibilities of existence. To the eye of the observer they are
wet and cold and drearily surrounded; but ask themselves, and they
are in the heaven of a recondite pleasure, the ground of which is
an ill-smelling lantern.

III

For, to repeat, the ground of a man's joy is often hard to hit. It
may hinge at times upon a mere accessory, like the lantern; it may
reside, like Dancer's, in the mysterious inwards of psychology. It
may consist with perpetual failure, and find exercise in the
continued chase. It has so little bond with externals (such as the
observer scribbles in his note-book) that it may even touch them
not; and the man's true life, for which he consents to live, lie
altogether in the field of fancy. The clergyman, in his spare
hours, may be winning battles, the farmer sailing ships, the banker
reaping triumph in the arts: all leading another life, plying
another trade from that they chose; like the poet's housebuilder,
who, after all, is cased in stone,

"By his fireside, as impotent fancy prompts.
Rebuilds it to his liking."

In such a case the poetry runs underground. The observer (poor
soul, with his documents!) is all abroad. For to look at the man
is but to court deception. We shall see the trunk from which he
draws his nourishment; but he himself is above and abroad in the
green dome of foliage, hummed through by winds and nested in by
nightingales. And the true realism were that of the poets, to
climb up after him like a squirrel, and catch some glimpse of the
heaven for which he lives.

And, the true realism, always and everywhere, is that of the poets:
to find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond
singing.

For to miss the joy is to miss all. In the joy of the actors lies
the sense of any action. That is the explanation, that the excuse.
To one who has not the secret of the lanterns, the scene upon the
links is meaningless. And hence the haunting and truly spectral
unreality of realistic books. Hence, when we read the English
realists, the incredulous wonder with which we observe the hero's
constancy under the submerging tide of dulness, and how he bears up
with his jibbing sweetheart, and endures the chatter of idiot
girls, and stands by his whole unfeatured wilderness of an
existence, instead of seeking relief in drink or foreign travel.
Hence in the French, in that meat-market of middle-aged sensuality,
the disgusted surprise with which we see the hero drift sidelong,
and practically quite untempted, into every description of
misconduct and dishonour. In each, we miss the personal poetry,
the enchanted atmosphere, that rainbow work of fancy that clothes
what is naked and seems to ennoble what is base; in each, life
falls dead like dough, instead of soaring away like a balloon into
the colours of the sunset; each is true, each inconceivable; for no
man lives in the external truth, among salts and acids, but in the
warm, phantasmagoric chamber of his brain, with the painted windows
and the storied walls.

Of this falsity we have had a recent example from a man who knows
far better - Tolstoi's POWERS OF DARKNESS. Here is a piece full of
force and truth, yet quite untrue. For before Mikita was led into
so dire a situation he was tempted, and temptations are beautiful
at least in part; and a work which dwells on the ugliness of crime
and gives no hint of any loveliness in the temptation, sins against
the modesty of life, and even when a Tolstoi writes it, sinks to
melodrama. The peasants are not understood; they saw their life in
fairer colours; even the deaf girl was clothed in poetry for
Mikita, or he had never fallen. And so, once again, even an Old
Bailey melodrama, without some brightness of poetry and lustre of
existence, falls into the inconceivable and ranks with fairy tales.

IV

In nobler books we are moved with something like the emotions of
life; and this emotion is very variously provoked. We are so moved
when Levine labours in the field, when Andre sinks beyond emotion,
when Richard Feverel and Lucy Desborough meet beside the river,
when Antony, "not cowardly, puts off his helmet," when Kent has
infinite pity on the dying Lear, when, in Dostoieffky's DESPISED
AND REJECTED, the uncomplaining hero drains his cup of suffering
and virtue. These are notes that please the great heart of man.
Not only love, and the fields, and the bright face of danger, but
sacrifice and death and unmerited suffering humbly supported, touch
in us the vein of the poetic. We love to think of them, we long to
try them, we are humbly hopeful that we may prove heroes also.

We have heard, perhaps, too much of lesser matters. Here is the
door, here is the open air. ITUR IN ANTIQUAM SILVAM.

CHAPTER VIII - A CHAPTER ON DREAMS

THE past is all of one texture - whether feigned or suffered -
whether acted out in three dimensions, or only witnessed in that
small theatre of the brain which we keep brightly lighted all night
long, after the jets are down, and darkness and sleep reign
undisturbed in the remainder of the body. There is no distinction
on the face of our experiences; one is vivid indeed, and one dull,
and one pleasant, and another agonising to remember; but which of
them is what we call true, and which a dream, there is not one hair
to prove. The past stands on a precarious footing; another straw
split in the field of metaphysic, and behold us robbed of it.
There is scarce a family that can count four generations but lays a
claim to some dormant title or some castle and estate: a claim not
prosecutable in any court of law, but flattering to the fancy and a
great alleviation of idle hours. A man's claim to his own past is
yet less valid. A paper might turn up (in proper story-book
fashion) in the secret drawer of an old ebony secretary, and
restore your family to its ancient honours, and reinstate mine in a
certain West Indian islet (not far from St. Kitt's, as beloved
tradition hummed in my young ears) which was once ours, and is now
unjustly some one else's, and for that matter (in the state of the
sugar trade) is not worth anything to anybody. I do not say that
these revolutions are likely; only no man can deny that they are
possible; and the past, on the other baud, is, lost for ever: our
old days and deeds, our old selves, too, and the very world in
which these scenes were acted, all brought down to the same faint
residuum as a last night's dream, to some incontinuous images, and
an echo in the chambers of the brain. Not an hour, not a mood, not
a glance of the eye, can we revoke; it is all gone, past conjuring.
And yet conceive us robbed of it, conceive that little thread of
memory that we trail behind us broken at the pocket's edge; and in
what naked nullity should we be left! for we only guide ourselves,
and only know ourselves, by these air-painted pictures of the past.

Upon these grounds, there are some among us who claim to have lived
longer and more richly than their neighbours; when they lay asleep
they claim they were still active; and among the treasures of
memory that all men review for their amusement, these count in no
second place the harvests of their dreams. There is one of this
kind whom I have in my eye, and whose case is perhaps unusual
enough to be described. He was from a child an ardent and
uncomfortable dreamer. When he had a touch of fever at night, and
the room swelled and shrank, and his clothes, hanging on a nail,
now loomed up instant to the bigness of a church, and now drew away
into a horror of infinite distance and infinite littleness, the
poor soul was very well aware of what must follow, and struggled
hard against the approaches of that slumber which was the beginning
of sorrows.

But his struggles were in vain; sooner or later the night-hag would
have him by the throat, and pluck him strangling and screaming,
from his sleep. His dreams were at times commonplace enough, at
times very strange, at times they were almost formless: he would
be haunted, for instance, by nothing more definite than a certain
hue of brown, which he did not mind in the least while he was
awake, but feared and loathed while he was dreaming; at times,
again, they took on every detail of circumstance, as when once he
supposed he must swallow the populous world, and awoke screaming
with the horror of the thought. The two chief troubles of his very
narrow existence - the practical and everyday trouble of school
tasks and the ultimate and airy one of hell and judgment - were
often confounded together into one appalling nightmare. He seemed
to himself to stand before the Great White Throne; he was called
on, poor little devil, to recite some form of words, on which his
destiny depended; his tongue stuck, his memory was blank, hell
gaped for him; and he would awake, clinging to the curtain-rod with
his knees to his chin.

These were extremely poor experiences, on the whole; and at that
time of life my dreamer would have very willingly parted with his
power of dreams. But presently, in the course of his growth, the
cries and physical contortions passed away, seemingly for ever; his
visions were still for the most part miserable, but they were more
constantly supported; and he would awake with no more extreme
symptom than a flying heart, a freezing scalp, cold sweats, and the
speechless midnight fear. His dreams, too, as befitted a mind
better stocked with particulars, became more circumstantial, and
had more the air and continuity of life. The look of the world
beginning to take hold on his attention, scenery came to play a
part in his sleeping as well as in his waking thoughts, so that he
would take long, uneventful journeys and see strange towns and
beautiful places as he lay in bed. And, what is more significant,
an odd taste that he had for the Georgian costume and for stories
laid in that period of English history, began to rule the features
of his dreams; so that he masqueraded there in a three-cornered hat
and was much engaged with Jacobite conspiracy between the hour for
bed and that for breakfast. About the same time, he began to read
in his dreams - tales, for the most part, and for the most part
after the manner of G. P. R. James, but so incredibly more vivid
and moving than any printed book, that he has ever since been
malcontent with literature.

And then, while he was yet a student, there came to him a dream-
adventure which he has no anxiety to repeat; he began, that is to
say, to dream in sequence and thus to lead a double life - one of
the day, one of the night - one that he had every reason to believe
was the true one, another that he had no means of proving to be
false. I should have said he studied, or was by way of studying,
at Edinburgh College, which (it may be supposed) was how I came to
know him. Well, in his dream-life, he passed a long day in the
surgical theatre, his heart in his mouth, his teeth on edge, seeing
monstrous malformations and the abhorred dexterity of surgeons. In
a heavy, rainy, foggy evening he came forth into the South Bridge,
turned up the High Street, and entered the door of a tall LAND, at
the top of which he supposed himself to lodge. All night long, in
his wet clothes, he climbed the stairs, stair after stair in
endless series, and at every second flight a flaring lamp with a
reflector. All night long, he brushed by single persons passing
downward - beggarly women of the street, great, weary, muddy
labourers, poor scarecrows of men, pale parodies of women - but all
drowsy and weary like himself, and all single, and all brushing
against him as they passed. In the end, out of a northern window,
he would see day beginning to whiten over the Firth, give up the
ascent, turn to descend, and in a breath be back again upon the
streets, in his wet clothes, in the wet, haggard dawn, trudging to
another day of monstrosities and operations. Time went quicker in
the life of dreams, some seven hours (as near as he can guess) to
one; and it went, besides, more intensely, so that the gloom of
these fancied experiences clouded the day, and he had not shaken
off their shadow ere it was time to lie down and to renew them. I
cannot tell how long it was that he endured this discipline; but it
was long enough to leave a great black blot upon his memory, long
enough to send him, trembling for his reason, to the doors of a
certain doctor; whereupon with a simple draught he was restored to
the common lot of man.

The poor gentleman has since been troubled by nothing of the sort;
indeed, his nights were for some while like other men's, now blank,
now chequered with dreams, and these sometimes charming, sometimes
appalling, but except for an occasional vividness, of no
extraordinary kind. I will just note one of these occasions, ere I
pass on to what makes my dreamer truly interesting. It seemed to
him that he was in the first floor of a rough hill-farm. The room
showed some poor efforts at gentility, a carpet on the floor, a
piano, I think, against the wall; but, for all these refinements,
there was no mistaking he was in a moorland place, among hillside
people, and set in miles of heather. He looked down from the
window upon a bare farmyard, that seemed to have been long disused.
A great, uneasy stillness lay upon the world. There was no sign of
the farm-folk or of any live stock, save for an old, brown, curly
dog of the retriever breed, who sat close in against the wall of
the house and seemed to be dozing. Something about this dog
disquieted the dreamer; it was quite a nameless feeling, for the
beast looked right enough - indeed, he was so old and dull and
dusty and broken-down, that he should rather have awakened pity;
and yet the conviction came and grew upon the dreamer that this was
no proper dog at all, but something hellish. A great many dozing
summer flies hummed about the yard; and presently the dog thrust
forth his paw, caught a fly in his open palm, carried it to his
mouth like an ape, and looking suddenly up at the dreamer in the
window, winked to him with one eye. The dream went on, it matters
not how it went; it was a good dream as dreams go; but there was
nothing in the sequel worthy of that devilish brown dog. And the
point of interest for me lies partly in that very fact: that
having found so singular an incident, my imperfect dreamer should
prove unable to carry the tale to a fit end and fall back on
indescribable noises and indiscriminate horrors. It would be
different now; he knows his business better!

For, to approach at last the point: This honest fellow had long
been in the custom of setting himself to sleep with tales, and so
had his father before him; but these were irresponsible inventions,
told for the teller's pleasure, with no eye to the crass public or
the thwart reviewer: tales where a thread might be dropped, or one
adventure quitted for another, on fancy's least suggestion. So
that the little people who manage man's internal theatre had not as
yet received a very rigorous training; and played upon their stage
like children who should have slipped into the house and found it
empty, rather than like drilled actors performing a set piece to a
huge hall of faces. But presently my dreamer began to turn his
former amusement of story-telling to (what is called) account; by
which I mean that he began to write and sell his tales. Here was
he, and here were the little people who did that part of his
business, in quite new conditions. The stories must now be trimmed
and pared and set upon all fours, they must run from a beginning to
an end and fit (after a manner) with the laws of life; the
pleasure, in one word, had become a business; and that not only for
the dreamer, but for the little people of his theatre. These
understood the change as well as he. When he lay down to prepare
himself for sleep, he no longer sought amusement, but printable and
profitable tales; and after he had dozed off in his box-seat, his
little people continued their evolutions with the same mercantile
designs. All other forms of dream deserted him but two: he still
occasionally reads the most delightful books, he still visits at
times the most delightful places; and it is perhaps worthy of note
that to these same places, and to one in particular, he returns at
intervals of months and years, finding new field-paths, visiting
new neighbours, beholding that happy valley under new effects of
noon and dawn and sunset. But all the rest of the family of
visions is quite lost to him: the common, mangled version of
yesterday's affairs, the raw-head-and-bloody-bones nightmare,
rumoured to be the child of toasted cheese - these and their like
are gone; and, for the most part, whether awake or asleep, he is
simply occupied - he or his little people - in consciously making
stories for the market. This dreamer (like many other persons) has
encountered some trifling vicissitudes of fortune. When the bank
begins to send letters and the butcher to linger at the back gate,
he sets to belabouring his brains after a story, for that is his
readiest money-winner; and, behold! at once the little people begin
to bestir themselves in the same quest, and labour all night long,
and all night long set before him truncheons of tales upon their
lighted theatre. No fear of his being frightened now; the flying
heart and the frozen scalp are things by-gone; applause, growing
applause, growing interest, growing exultation in his own
cleverness (for he takes all the credit), and at last a jubilant
leap to wakefulness, with the cry, "I have it, that'll do!" upon
his lips: with such and similar emotions he sits at these
nocturnal dramas, with such outbreaks, like Claudius in the play,
he scatters the performance in the midst. Often enough the waking
is a disappointment: he has been too deep asleep, as I explain the
thing; drowsiness has gained his little people, they have gone
stumbling and maundering through their parts; and the play, to the
awakened mind, is seen to be a tissue of absurdities. And yet how
often have these sleepless Brownies done him honest service, and
given him, as he sat idly taking his pleasure in the boxes, better
tales than he could fashion for himself.

Here is one, exactly as it came to him. It seemed he was the son
of a very rich and wicked man, the owner of broad acres and a most
damnable temper. The dreamer (and that was the son) had lived much
abroad, on purpose to avoid his parent; and when at length he
returned to England, it was to find him married again to a young
wife, who was supposed to suffer cruelly and to loathe her yoke.
Because of this marriage (as the dreamer indistinctly understood)
it was desirable for father and son to have a meeting; and yet both
being proud and both angry, neither would condescend upon a visit.
Meet they did accordingly, in a desolate, sandy country by the sea;
and there they quarrelled, and the son, stung by some intolerable
insult, struck down the father dead. No suspicion was aroused; the
dead man was found and buried, and the dreamer succeeded to the
broad estates, and found himself installed under the same roof with
his father's widow, for whom no provision had been made. These two
lived very much alone, as people may after a bereavement, sat down
to table together, shared the long evenings, and grew daily better
friends; until it seemed to him of a sudden that she was prying
about dangerous matters, that she had conceived a notion of his
guilt, that she watched him and tried him with questions. He drew
back from her company as men draw back from a precipice suddenly
discovered; and yet so strong was the attraction that he would
drift again and again into the old intimacy, and again and again be
startled back by some suggestive question or some inexplicable
meaning in her eye. So they lived at cross purposes, a life full
of broken dialogue, challenging glances, and suppressed passion;
until, one day, he saw the woman slipping from the house in a veil,
followed her to the station, followed her in the train to the
seaside country, and out over the sandhills to the very place where
the murder was done. There she began to grope among the bents, he
watching her, flat upon his face; and presently she had something
in her hand - I cannot remember what it was, but it was deadly
evidence against the dreamer - and as she held it up to look at it,
perhaps from the shock of the discovery, her foot slipped, and she
hung at some peril on the brink of the tall sand-wreaths. He had
no thought but to spring up and rescue her; and there they stood
face to face, she with that deadly matter openly in her hand - his
very presence on the spot another link of proof. It was plain she
was about to speak, but this was more than he could bear - he could
bear to be lost, but not to talk of it with his destroyer; and he
cut her short with trivial conversation. Arm in arm, they returned
together to the train, talking he knew not what, made the journey
back in the same carriage, sat down to dinner, and passed the
evening in the drawing-room as in the past. But suspense and fear
drummed in the dreamer's bosom. "She has not denounced me yet" -
so his thoughts ran - "when will she denounce me? Will it be to-
morrow?" And it was not to-morrow, nor the next day, nor the next;
and their life settled back on the old terms, only that she seemed
kinder than before, and that, as for him, the burthen of his
suspense and wonder grew daily more unbearable, so that he wasted
away like a man with a disease. Once, indeed, he broke all bounds
of decency, seized an occasion when she was abroad, ransacked her
room, and at last, hidden away among her jewels, found the damning
evidence. There he stood, holding this thing, which was his life,
in the hollow of his hand, and marvelling at her inconsequent
behaviour, that she should seek, and keep, and yet not use it; and
then the door opened, and behold herself. So, once more, they
stood, eye to eye, with the evidence between them; and once more
she raised to him a face brimming with some communication; and once
more he shied away from speech and cut her off. But before he left
the room, which he had turned upside down, he laid back his death-
warrant where he had found it; and at that, her face lighted up.
The next thing he heard, she was explaining to her maid, with some
ingenious falsehood, the disorder of her things. Flesh and blood
could bear the strain no longer; and I think it was the next
morning (though chronology is always hazy in the theatre of the
mind) that he burst from his reserve. They had been breakfasting
together in one corner of a great, parqueted, sparely-furnished
room of many windows; all the time of the meal she had tortured him
with sly allusions; and no sooner were the servants gone, and these
two protagonists alone together, than he leaped to his feet. She
too sprang up, with a pale face; with a pale face, she heard him as
he raved out his complaint: Why did she torture him so? she knew
all, she knew he was no enemy to her; why did she not denounce him
at once? what signified her whole behaviour? why did she torture
him? and yet again, why did she torture him? And when he had done,
she fell upon her knees, and with outstretched hands: "Do you not
understand?" she cried. "I love you!"

Hereupon, with a pang of wonder and mercantile delight, the dreamer
awoke. His mercantile delight was not of long endurance; for it
soon became plain that in this spirited tale there were
unmarketable elements; which is just the reason why you have it
here so briefly told. But his wonder has still kept growing; and I
think the reader's will also, if he consider it ripely. For now he
sees why I speak of the little people as of substantive inventors
and performers. To the end they had kept their secret. I will go
bail for the dreamer (having excellent grounds for valuing his
candour) that he had no guess whatever at the motive of the woman -
the hinge of the whole well-invented plot - until the instant of
that highly dramatic declaration. It was not his tale; it was the
little people's! And observe: not only was the secret kept, the
story was told with really guileful craftsmanship. The conduct of
both actors is (in the cant phrase) psychologically correct, and
the emotion aptly graduated up to the surprising climax. I am
awake now, and I know this trade; and yet I cannot better it. I am
awake, and I live by this business; and yet I could not outdo -
could not perhaps equal - that crafty artifice (as of some old,
experienced carpenter of plays, some Dennery or Sardou) by which
the same situation is twice presented and the two actors twice
brought face to face over the evidence, only once it is in her
hand, once in his - and these in their due order, the least
dramatic first. The more I think of it, the more I am moved to
press upon the world my question: Who are the Little People? They
are near connections of the dreamer's, beyond doubt; they share in
his financial worries and have an eye to the bank-book; they share
plainly in his training; they have plainly learned like him to
build the scheme of a considerate story and to arrange emotion in
progressive order; only I think they have more talent; and one
thing is beyond doubt, they can tell him a story piece by piece,
like a serial, and keep him all the while in ignorance of where
they aim. Who are they, then? and who is the dreamer?

Well, as regards the dreamer, I can answer that, for he is no less
a person than myself; - as I might have told you from the
beginning, only that the critics murmur over my consistent egotism;
- and as I am positively forced to tell you now, or I could advance
but little farther with my story. And for the Little People, what
shall I say they are but just my Brownies, God bless them! who do
one-half my work for me while I am fast asleep, and in all human
likelihood, do the rest for me as well, when I am wide awake and
fondly suppose I do it for myself. That part which is done while I
am sleeping is the Brownies' part beyond contention; but that which
is done when I am up and about is by no means necessarily mine,
since all goes to show the Brownies have a hand in it even then.
Here is a doubt that much concerns my conscience. For myself -
what I call I, my conscious ego, the denizen of the pineal gland
unless he has changed his residence since Descartes, the man with
the conscience and the variable bank-account, the man with the hat
and the boots, and the privilege of voting and not carrying his
candidate at the general elections - I am sometimes tempted to
suppose he is no story-teller at all, but a creature as matter of
fact as any cheesemonger or any cheese, and a realist bemired up to
the ears in actuality; so that, by that account, the whole of my
published fiction should be the single-handed product of some
Brownie, some Familiar, some unseen collaborator, whom I keep
locked in a back garret, while I get all the praise and he but a
share (which I cannot prevent him getting) of the pudding. I am an
excellent adviser, something like Moliere's servant; I pull back
and I cut down; and I dress the whole in the best words and
sentences that I can find and make; I hold the pen, too; and I do
the sitting at the table, which is about the worst of it; and when
all is done, I make up the manuscript and pay for the registration;
so that, on the whole, I have some claim to share, though not so
largely as I do, in the profits of our common enterprise.

I can but give an instance or so of what part is done sleeping and
what part awake, and leave the reader to share what laurels there
are, at his own nod, between myself and my collaborators; and to do
this I will first take a book that a number of persons have been
polite enough to read, the STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE.
I had long been trying to write a story on this subject, to find a
body, a vehicle, for that strong sense of man's double being which
must at times come in upon and overwhelm the mind of every thinking
creature. I had even written one, THE TRAVELLING COMPANION, which
was returned by an editor on the plea that it was a work of genius
and indecent, and which I burned the other day on the ground that
it was not a work of genius, and that JEKYLL had supplanted it.
Then came one of those financial fluctuations to which (with an
elegant modesty) I have hitherto referred in the third person. For
two days I went about racking my brains for a plot of any sort; and
on the second night I dreamed the scene at the window, and a scene
afterward split in two, in which Hyde, pursued for some crime, took
the powder and underwent the change in the presence of his
pursuers. All the rest was made awake, and consciously, although I
think I can trace in much of it the manner of my Brownies. The
meaning of the tale is therefore mine, and had long pre-existed in
my garden of Adonis, and tried one body after another in vain;
indeed, I do most of the morality, worse luck! and my Brownies have
not a rudiment of what we call a conscience. Mine, too, is the
setting, mine the characters. All that was given me was the matter
of three scenes, and the central idea of a voluntary change
becoming involuntary. Will it be thought ungenerous, after I have
been so liberally ladling out praise to my unseen collaborators, if
I here toss them over, bound hand and foot, into the arena of the
critics? For the business of the powders, which so many have
censured, is, I am relieved to say, not mine at all but the
Brownies'. Of another tale, in case the reader should have glanced
at it, I may say a word: the not very defensible story of OLALLA.
Here the court, the mother, the mother's niche, Olalla, Olalla's
chamber, the meetings on the stair, the broken window, the ugly
scene of the bite, were all given me in bulk and detail as I have
tried to write them; to this I added only the external scenery (for
in my dream I never was beyond the court), the portrait, the
characters of Felipe and the priest, the moral, such as it is, and
the last pages, such as, alas! they are. And I may even say that
in this case the moral itself was given me; for it arose
immediately on a comparison of the mother and the daughter, and
from the hideous trick of atavism in the first. Sometimes a
parabolic sense is still more undeniably present in a dream;
sometimes I cannot but suppose my Brownies have been aping Bunyan,
and yet in no case with what would possibly be called a moral in a
tract; never with the ethical narrowness; conveying hints instead
of life's larger limitations and that sort of sense which we seem
to perceive in the arabesque of time and space.

For the most part, it will be seen, my Brownies are somewhat
fantastic, like their stories hot and hot, full of passion and the
picturesque, alive with animating incident; and they have no
prejudice against the supernatural. But the other day they gave me
a surprise, entertaining me with a love-story, a little April
comedy, which I ought certainly to hand over to the author of A
CHANCE ACQUAINTANCE, for he could write it as it should be written,
and I am sure (although I mean to try) that I cannot. - But who
would have supposed that a Brownie of mine should invent a tale for
Mr. Howells?

CHAPTER IX - BEGGARS

IN a pleasant, airy, up-hill country, it was my fortune when I was
young to make the acquaintance of a certain beggar. I call him
beggar, though he usually allowed his coat and his shoes (which
were open-mouthed, indeed) to beg for him. He was the wreck of an
athletic man, tall, gaunt, and bronzed; far gone in consumption,
with that disquieting smile of the mortally stricken on his face;
but still active afoot, still with the brisk military carriage, the
ready military salute. Three ways led through this piece of
country; and as I was inconstant in my choice, I believe he must
often have awaited me in vain. But often enough, he caught me;
often enough, from some place of ambush by the roadside, he would
spring suddenly forth in the regulation attitude, and launching at
once into his inconsequential talk, fall into step with me upon my
farther course. "A fine morning, sir, though perhaps a trifle
inclining to rain. I hope I see you well, sir. Why, no, sir, I
don't feel as hearty myself as I could wish, but I am keeping about
my ordinary. I am pleased to meet you on the road, sir. I assure
you I quite look forward to one of our little conversations." He
loved the sound of his own voice inordinately, and though (with
something too off-hand to call servility) he would always hasten to
agree with anything you said, yet he could never suffer you to say
it to an end. By what transition he slid to his favourite subject
I have no memory; but we had never been long together on the way
before he was dealing, in a very military manner, with the English
poets. "Shelley was a fine poet, sir, though a trifle atheistical
in his opinions. His Queen Mab, sir, is quite an atheistical work.
Scott, sir, is not so poetical a writer. With the works of
Shakespeare I am not so well acquainted, but he was a fine poet.
Keats - John Keats, sir - he was a very fine poet." With such
references, such trivial criticism, such loving parade of his own
knowledge, he would beguile the road, striding forward uphill, his
staff now clapped to the ribs of his deep, resonant chest, now
swinging in the air with the remembered jauntiness of the private
soldier; and all the while his toes looking out of his boots, and
his shirt looking out of his elbows, and death looking out of his
smile, and his big, crazy frame shaken by accesses of cough.

He would often go the whole way home with me: often to borrow a
book, and that book always a poet. Off he would march, to continue
his mendicant rounds, with the volume slipped into the pocket of
his ragged coat; and although he would sometimes keep it quite a
while, yet it came always back again at last, not much the worse
for its travels into beggardom. And in this way, doubtless, his
knowledge grew and his glib, random criticism took a wider range.
But my library was not the first he had drawn upon: at our first
encounter, he was already brimful of Shelley and the atheistical
Queen Mab, and "Keats - John Keats, sir." And I have often
wondered how he came by these acquirements; just as I often
wondered how he fell to be a beggar. He had served through the
Mutiny - of which (like so many people) he could tell practically
nothing beyond the names of places, and that it was "difficult
work, sir," and very hot, or that so-and-so was "a very fine
commander, sir." He was far too smart a man to have remained a
private; in the nature of things, he must have won his stripes.
And yet here he was without a pension. When I touched on this
problem, he would content himself with diffidently offering me
advice. "A man should be very careful when he is young, sir. If
you'll excuse me saying so, a spirited young gentleman like
yourself, sir, should be very careful. I was perhaps a trifle
inclined to atheistical opinions myself." For (perhaps with a
deeper wisdom than we are inclined in these days to admit) he
plainly bracketed agnosticism with beer and skittles.

Keats - John Keats, sir - and Shelley were his favourite bards. I
cannot remember if I tried him with Rossetti; but I know his taste
to a hair, and if ever I did, he must have doted on that author.
What took him was a richness in the speech; he loved the exotic,
the unexpected word; the moving cadence of a phrase; a vague sense
of emotion (about nothing) in the very letters of the alphabet:
the romance of language. His honest head was very nearly empty,
his intellect like a child's; and when he read his favourite
authors, he can almost never have understood what he was reading.
Yet the taste was not only genuine, it was exclusive; I tried in
vain to offer him novels; he would none of them, he cared for
nothing but romantic language that he could not understand. The
case may be commoner than we suppose. I am reminded of a lad who
was laid in the next cot to a friend of mine in a public hospital
and who was no sooner installed than he sent out (perhaps with his
last pence) for a cheap Shakespeare. My friend pricked up his
ears; fell at once in talk with his new neighbour, and was ready,
when the book arrived, to make a singular discovery. For this
lover of great literature understood not one sentence out of
twelve, and his favourite part was that of which he understood the
least - the inimitable, mouth-filling rodomontade of the ghost in
HAMLET. It was a bright day in hospital when my friend expounded
the sense of this beloved jargon: a task for which I am willing to
believe my friend was very fit, though I can never regard it as an
easy one. I know indeed a point or two, on which I would gladly
question Mr. Shakespeare, that lover of big words, could he revisit
the glimpses of the moon, or could I myself climb backward to the
spacious days of Elizabeth. But in the second case, I should most
likely pretermit these questionings, and take my place instead in
the pit at the Blackfriars, to hear the actor in his favourite
part, playing up to Mr. Burbage, and rolling out - as I seem to
hear him - with a ponderous gusto-

"Unhousel'd, disappointed, unanel'd."

What a pleasant chance, if we could go there in a party I and what
a surprise for Mr. Burbage, when the ghost received the honours of
the evening!

As for my old soldier, like Mr. Burbage and Mr. Shakespeare, he is
long since dead; and now lies buried, I suppose, and nameless and
quite forgotten, in some poor city graveyard. - But not for me, you
brave heart, have you been buried! For me, you are still afoot,
tasting the sun and air, and striding southward. By the groves of
Comiston and beside the Hermitage of Braid, by the Hunters' Tryst,
and where the curlews and plovers cry around Fairmilehead, I see
and hear you, stalwartly carrying your deadly sickness, cheerfully
discoursing of uncomprehended poets.

II

The thought of the old soldier recalls that of another tramp, his
counterpart. This was a little, lean, and fiery man, with the eyes
of a dog and the face of a gipsy; whom I found one morning encamped
with his wife and children and his grinder's wheel, beside the burn
of Kinnaird. To this beloved dell I went, at that time, daily; and
daily the knife-grinder and I (for as long as his tent continued
pleasantly to interrupt my little wilderness) sat on two stones,
and smoked, and plucked grass, and talked to the tune of the brown
water. His children were mere whelps, they fought and bit among
the fern like vermin. His wife was a mere squaw; I saw her gather
brush and tend the kettle, but she never ventured to address her
lord while I was present. The tent was a mere gipsy hovel, like a
sty for pigs. But the grinder himself had the fine self-
sufficiency and grave politeness of the hunter and the savage; he
did me the honours of this dell, which had been mine but the day
before, took me far into the secrets of his life, and used me (I am
proud to remember) as a friend.

Like my old soldier, he was far gone in the national complaint.
Unlike him, he had a vulgar taste in letters; scarce flying higher
than the story papers; probably finding no difference, certainly
seeking none, between Tannahill and Burns; his noblest thoughts,
whether of poetry or music, adequately embodied in that somewhat
obvious ditty,

"Will ye gang, lassie, gang
To the braes o' Balquidder."

- which is indeed apt to echo in the ears of Scottish children, and
to him, in view of his experience, must have found a special
directness of address. But if he had no fine sense of poetry in
letters, he felt with a deep joy the poetry of life. You should
have heard him speak of what he loved; of the tent pitched beside
the talking water; of the stars overhead at night; of the blest
return of morning, the peep of day over the moors, the awaking
birds among the birches; how he abhorred the long winter shut in
cities; and with what delight, at the return of the spring, he once
more pitched his camp in the living out-of-doors. But we were a
pair of tramps; and to you, who are doubtless sedentary and a
consistent first-class passenger in life, he would scarce have laid
himself so open; - to you, he might have been content to tell his
story of a ghost - that of a buccaneer with his pistols as he lived
- whom he had once encountered in a seaside cave near Buckie; and
that would have been enough, for that would have shown you the
mettle of the man. Here was a piece of experience solidly and
livingly built up in words, here was a story created, TERES ATQUE
ROTUNDUS.

And to think of the old soldier, that lover of the literary bards!
He had visited stranger spots than any seaside cave; encountered
men more terrible than any spirit; done and dared and suffered in
that incredible, unsung epic of the Mutiny War; played his part
with the field force of Delhi, beleaguering and beleaguered; shared
in that enduring, savage anger and contempt of death and decency
that, for long months together, bedevil'd and inspired the army;
was hurled to and fro in the battle-smoke of the assault; was
there, perhaps, where Nicholson fell; was there when the attacking
column, with hell upon every side, found the soldier's enemy -
strong drink, and the lives of tens of thousands trembled in the
scale, and the fate of the flag of England staggered. And of all
this he had no more to say than "hot work, sir," or "the army
suffered a great deal, sir," or "I believe General Wilson, sir, was
not very highly thought of in the papers." His life was naught to
him, the vivid pages of experience quite blank: in words his
pleasure lay - melodious, agitated words - printed words, about
that which he had never seen and was connatally incapable of
comprehending. We have here two temperaments face to face; both
untrained, unsophisticated, surprised (we may say) in the egg; both
boldly charactered: - that of the artist, the lover and artificer
of words; that of the maker, the seeer, the lover and forger of
experience. If the one had a daughter and the other had a son, and
these married, might not some illustrious writer count descent from
the beggar-soldier and the needy knife-grinder?

III

Every one lives by selling something, whatever be his right to it.
The burglar sells at the same time his own skill and courage and my
silver plate (the whole at the most moderate figure) to a Jew
receiver. The bandit sells the traveller an article of prime
necessity: that traveller's life. And as for the old soldier, who
stands for central mark to my capricious figures of eight, he dealt
in a specially; for he was the only beggar in the world who ever
gave me pleasure for my money. He had learned a school of manners
in the barracks and had the sense to cling to it, accosting
strangers with a regimental freedom, thanking patrons with a merely
regimental difference, sparing you at once the tragedy of his
position and the embarrassment of yours. There was not one hint
about him of the beggar's emphasis, the outburst of revolting
gratitude, the rant and cant, the "God bless you, Kind, Kind
gentleman," which insults the smallness of your alms by
disproportionate vehemence, which is so notably false, which would
be so unbearable if it were true. I am sometimes tempted to
suppose this reading of the beggar's part, a survival of the old
days when Shakespeare was intoned upon the stage and mourners
keened beside the death-bed; to think that we cannot now accept
these strong emotions unless they be uttered in the just note of
life; nor (save in the pulpit) endure these gross conventions.
They wound us, I am tempted to say, like mockery; the high voice of
keening (as it yet lingers on) strikes in the face of sorrow like a
buffet; and the rant and cant of the staled beggar stirs in us a
shudder of disgust. But the fact disproves these amateur opinions.
The beggar lives by his knowledge of the average man. He knows
what he is about when he bandages his head, and hires and drugs a
babe, and poisons life with POOR MARY ANN or LONG, LONG AGO; he
knows what he is about when he loads the critical ear and sickens
the nice conscience with intolerable thanks; they know what they
are about, he and his crew, when they pervade the slums of cities,
ghastly parodies of suffering, hateful parodies of gratitude. This
trade can scarce be called an imposition; it has been so blown upon
with exposures; it flaunts its fraudulence so nakedly. We pay them
as we pay those who show us, in huge exaggeration, the monsters of
our drinking-water; or those who daily predict the fall of Britain.
We pay them for the pain they inflict, pay them, and wince, and
hurry on. And truly there is nothing that can shake the conscience
like a beggar's thanks; and that polity in which such protestations
can be purchased for a shilling, seems no scene for an honest man.

Are there, then, we may be asked, no genuine beggars? And the
answer is, Not one. My old soldier was a humbug like the rest; his
ragged boots were, in the stage phrase, properties; whole boots
were given him again and again, and always gladly accepted; and the
next day, there he was on the road as usual, with toes exposed.
His boots were his method; they were the man's trade; without his
boots he would have starved; he did not live by charity, but by
appealing to a gross taste in the public, which loves the limelight
on the actor's face, and the toes out of the beggar's boots. There
is a true poverty, which no one sees: a false and merely mimetic
poverty, which usurps its place and dress, and lives and above all
drinks, on the fruits of the usurpation. The true poverty does not
go into the streets; the banker may rest assured, he has never put
a penny in its hand. The self-respecting poor beg from each other;
never from the rich. To live in the frock-coated ranks of life, to
hear canting scenes of gratitude rehearsed for twopence, a man
might suppose that giving was a thing gone out of fashion; yet it
goes forward on a scale so great as to fill me with surprise. In
the houses of the working class, all day long there will be a foot
upon the stair; all day long there will be a knocking at the doors;
beggars come, beggars go, without stint, hardly with intermission,
from morning till night; and meanwhile, in the same city and but a
few streets off, the castles of the rich stand unsummoned. Get the
tale of any honest tramp, you will find it was always the poor who
helped him; get the truth from any workman who has met misfortunes,
it was always next door that he would go for help, or only with
such exceptions as are said to prove a rule; look at the course of
the mimetic beggar, it is through the poor quarters that he trails
his passage, showing his bandages to every window, piercing even to
the attics with his nasal song. Here is a remarkable state of
things in our Christian commonwealths, that the poor only should be
asked to give.

IV

There is a pleasant tale of some worthless, phrasing Frenchman, who
was taxed with ingratitude: "IL FAUT SAVOIR GARDER L'INDEPENDANCE
DU COEUR," cried he. I own I feel with him. Gratitude without
familarity, gratitude otherwise than as a nameless element in a
friendship, is a thing so near to hatred that I do not care to
split the difference. Until I find a man who is pleased to receive
obligations, I shall continue to question the tact of those who are
eager to confer them. What an art it is, to give, even to our
nearest friends! and what a test of manners, to receive! How, upon
either side, we smuggle away the obligation, blushing for each
other; how bluff and dull we make the giver; how hasty, how falsely
cheerful, the receiver! And yet an act of such difficulty and
distress between near friends, it is supposed we can perform to a
total stranger and leave the man transfixed with grateful emotions.
The last thing you can do to a man is to burthen him with an
obligation, and it is what we propose to begin with! But let us
not be deceived: unless he is totally degraded to his trade, anger
jars in his inside, and he grates his teeth at our gratuity.

We should wipe two words from our vocabulary: gratitude and
charity. In real life, help is given out of friendship, or it is
not valued; it is received from the hand of friendship, or it is
resented. We are all too proud to take a naked gift: we must seem
to pay it, if in nothing else, then with the delights of our
society. Here, then, is the pitiful fix of the rich man; here is
that needle's eye in which he stuck already in the days of Christ,
and still sticks to-day, firmer, if possible, than ever: that he
has the money and lacks the love which should make his money
acceptable. Here and now, just as of old in Palestine, he has the
rich to dinner, it is with the rich that he takes his pleasure:
and when his turn comes to be charitable, he looks in vain for a
recipient. His friends are not poor, they do not want; the poor
are not his friends, they will not take. To whom is he to give?
Where to find - note this phase - the Deserving Poor? Charity is
(what they call) centralised; offices are hired; societies founded,
with secretaries paid or unpaid: the hunt of the Deserving Poor
goes merrily forward. I think it will take more than a merely
human secretary to disinter that character. What! a class that is
to be in want from no fault of its own, and yet greedily eager to
receive from strangers; and to be quite respectable, and at the
same time quite devoid of self-respect; and play the most delicate
part of friendship, and yet never be seen; and wear the form of
man, and yet fly in the face of all the laws of human nature: -
and all this, in the hope of getting a belly-god Burgess through a
needle's eye! O, let him stick, by all means: and let his polity
tumble in the dust; and let his epitaph and all his literature (of
which my own works begin to form no inconsiderable part) be
abolished even from the history of man! For a fool of this
monstrosity of dulness, there can be no salvation: and the fool
who looked for the elixir of life was an angel of reason to the
fool who looks for the Deserving Poor!

V

And yet there is one course which the unfortunate gentleman may
take. He may subscribe to pay the taxes. There were the true
charity, impartial and impersonal, cumbering none with obligation,
helping all. There were a destination for loveless gifts; there
were the way to reach the pocket of the deserving poor, and yet
save the time of secretaries! But, alas! there is no colour of
romance in such a course; and people nowhere demand the picturesque
so much as in their virtues.

CHAPTER X - LETTER TO A YOUNG GENTLEMAN WHO PROPOSES TO EMBRACE THE
CAREER OF ART

WITH the agreeable frankness of youth, you address me on a point of
some practical importance to yourself and (it is even conceivable)
of some gravity to the world: Should you or should you not become
an artist? It is one which you must decide entirely for yourself;
all that I can do is to bring under your notice some of the
materials of that decision; and I will begin, as I shall probably
conclude also, by assuring you that all depends on the vocation.

To know what you like is the beginning of wisdom and of old age.
Youth is wholly experimental. The essence and charm of that
unquiet and delightful epoch is ignorance of self as well as
ignorance of life. These two unknowns the young man brings
together again and again, now in the airiest touch, now with a
bitter hug; now with exquisite pleasure, now with cutting pain; but
never with indifference, to which he is a total stranger, and never
with that near kinsman of indifference, contentment. If he be a
youth of dainty senses or a brain easily heated, the interest of
this series of experiments grows upon him out of all proportion to
the pleasure he receives. It is not beauty that he loves, nor
pleasure that he seeks, though he may think so; his design and his
sufficient reward is to verify his own existence and taste the
variety of human fate. To him, before the razor-edge of curiosity
is dulled, all that is not actual living and the hot chase of
experience wears a face of a disgusting dryness difficult to recall
in later days; or if there be any exception - and here destiny
steps in - it is in those moments when, wearied or surfeited of the
primary activity of the senses, he calls up before memory the image
of transacted pains and pleasures. Thus it is that such an one
shies from all cut-and-dry professions, and inclines insensibly
toward that career of art which consists only in the tasting and
recording of experience.

This, which is not so much a vocation for art as an impatience of
all other honest trades, frequently exists alone; and so existing,
it will pass gently away in the course of years. Emphatically, it
is not to be regarded; it is not a vocation, but a temptation; and
when your father the other day so fiercely and (in my view) so
properly discouraged your ambition, he was recalling not improbably
some similar passage in his own experience. For the temptation is
perhaps nearly as common as the vocation is rare. But again we
have vocations which are imperfect; we have men whose minds are
bound up, not so much in any art, as in the general ARS ARTIUM and
common base of all creative work; who will now dip into painting,
and now study counterpoint, and anon will be inditing a sonnet:
all these with equal interest, all often with genuine knowledge.
And of this temper, when it stands alone, I find it difficult to
speak; but I should counsel such an one to take to letters, for in
literature (which drags with so wide a net) all his information may
be found some day useful, and if he should go on as he has begun,
and turn at last into the critic, he will have learned to use the
necessary tools. Lastly we come to those vocations which are at
once decisive and precise; to the men who are born with the love of
pigments, the passion of drawing, the gift of music, or the impulse
to create with words, just as other and perhaps the same men are
born with the love of hunting, or the sea, or horses, or the
turning-lathe. These are predestined; if a man love the labour of
any trade, apart from any question of success or fame, the gods
have called him. He may have the general vocation too: he may
have a taste for all the arts, and I think he often has; but the
mark of his calling is this laborious partiality for one, this
inextinguishable zest in its technical successes, and (perhaps
above all) a certain candour of mind to take his very trifling
enterprise with a gravity that would befit the cares of empire, and
to think the smallest improvement worth accomplishing at any
expense of time and industry. The book, the statue, the sonata,
must be gone upon with the unreasoning good faith and the
unflagging spirit of children at their play. IS IT WORTH DOING? -
when it shall have occurred to any artist to ask himself that
question, it is implicitly answered in the negative. It does not
occur to the child as he plays at being a pirate on the dining-room
sofa, nor to the hunter as he pursues his quarry; and the candour
of the one and the ardour of the other should be united in the
bosom of the artist.

If you recognise in yourself some such decisive taste, there is no
room for hesitation: follow your bent. And observe (lest I should
too much discourage you) that the disposition does not usually burn
so brightly at the first, or rather not so constantly. Habit and
practice sharpen gifts; the necessity of toil grows less
disgusting, grows even welcome, in the course of years; a small
taste (if it be only genuine) waxes with indulgence into an
exclusive passion. Enough, just now, if you can look back over a
fair interval, and see that your chosen art has a little more than
held its own among the thronging interests of youth. Time will do
the rest, if devotion help it; and soon your every thought will be
engrossed in that beloved occupation.

But even with devotion, you may remind me, even with unfaltering
and delighted industry, many thousand artists spend their lives, if
the result be regarded, utterly in vain: a thousand artists, and
never one work of art. But the vast mass of mankind are incapable
of doing anything reasonably well, art among the rest. The
worthless artist would not improbably have been a quite incompetent
baker. And the artist, even if he does not amuse the public,
amuses himself; so that there will always be one man the happier
for his vigils. This is the practical side of art: its
inexpugnable fortress for the true practitioner. The direct
returns - the wages of the trade are small, but the indirect - the
wages of the life - are incalculably great. No other business
offers a man his daily bread upon such joyful terms. The soldier
and the explorer have moments of a worthier excitement, but they
are purchased by cruel hardships and periods of tedium that beggar
language. In the life of the artist there need be no hour without
its pleasure. I take the author, with whose career I am best
acquainted; and it is true he works in a rebellious material, and
that the act of writing is cramped and trying both to the eyes and
the temper; but remark him in his study, when matter crowds upon
him and words are not wanting - in what a continual series of small
successes time flows by; with what a sense of power as of one
moving mountains, he marshals his petty characters; with what
pleasures, both of the ear and eye, he sees his airy structure
growing on the page; and how he labours in a craft to which the
whole material of his life is tributary, and which opens a door to
all his tastes, his loves, his hatreds, and his convictions, so
that what he writes is only what he longed to utter. He may have
enjoyed many things in this big, tragic playground of the world;
but what shall he have enjoyed more fully than a morning of
successful work? Suppose it ill paid: the wonder is it should be
paid at all. Other men pay, and pay dearly, for pleasures less
desirable.

Nor will the practice of art afford you pleasure only; it affords
besides an admirable training. For the artist works entirely upon
honour. The public knows little or nothing of those merits in the
quest of which you are condemned to spend the bulk of your
endeavours. Merits of design, the merit of first-hand energy, the
merit of a certain cheap accomplishment which a man of the artistic
temper easily acquires - these they can recognise, and these they
value. But to those more exquisite refinements of proficiency and
finish, which the artist so ardently desires and so keenly feels,
for which (in the vigorous words of Balzac) he must toil "like a
miner buried in a landslip," for which, day after day, he recasts
and revises and rejects - the gross mass of the public must be ever
blind. To those lost pains, suppose you attain the highest pitch
of merit, posterity may possibly do justice; suppose, as is so
probable, you fall by even a hair's breadth of the highest, rest
certain they shall never be observed. Under the shadow of this
cold thought, alone in his studio, the artist must preserve from
day to day his constancy to the ideal. It is this which makes his
life noble; it is by this that the practice of his craft
strengthens and matures his character; it is for this that even the
serious countenance of the great emperor was turned approvingly (if
only for a moment) on the followers of Apollo, and that sternly
gentle voice bade the artist cherish his art.

And here there fall two warnings to be made. First, if you are to
continue to be a law to yourself, you must beware of the first
signs of laziness. This idealism in honesty can only be supported
by perpetual effort; the standard is easily lowered, the artist who
says "IT WILL DO," is on the downward path; three or four pot-
boilers are enough at times (above all at wrong times) to falsify a
talent, and by the practice of journalism a man runs the risk of
becoming wedded to cheap finish. This is the danger on the one
side; there is not less upon the other. The consciousness of how
much the artist is (and must be) a law to himself, debauches the
small heads. Perceiving recondite merits very hard to attain,
making or swallowing artistic formulae, or perhaps falling in love
with some particular proficiency of his own, many artists forget
the end of all art: to please. It is doubtless tempting to
exclaim against the ignorant bourgeois; yet it should not be
forgotten, it is he who is to pay us, and that (surely on the face
of it) for services that he shall desire to have performed. Here
also, if properly considered, there is a question of transcendental
honesty. To give the public what they do not want, and yet expect
to be supported: we have there a strange pretension, and yet not
uncommon, above all with painters. The first duty in this world is
for a man to pay his way; when that is quite accomplished, he may
plunge into what eccentricity he likes; but emphatically not till
then. Till then, he must pay assiduous court to the bourgeois who
carries the purse. And if in the course of these capitulations he
shall falsify his talent, it can never have been a strong one, and
he will have preserved a better thing than talent - character. Or
if he be of a mind so independent that he cannot stoop to this
necessity, one course is yet open: he can desist from art, and
follow some more manly way of life.

I speak of a more manly way of life, it is a point on which I must
be frank. To live by a pleasure is not a high calling; it involves
patronage, however veiled; it numbers the artist, however
ambitious, along with dancing girls and billiard markers. The
French have a romantic evasion for one employment, and call its
practitioners the Daughters of Joy. The artist is of the same
family, he is of the Sons of Joy, chose his trade to please
himself, gains his livelihood by pleasing others, and has parted
with something of the sterner dignity of man. Journals but a
little while ago declaimed against the Tennyson peerage; and this
Son of Joy was blamed for condescension when he followed the
example of Lord Lawrence and Lord Cairns and Lord Clyde. The poet
was more happily inspired; with a better modesty he accepted the
honour; and anonymous journalists have not yet (if I am to believe
them) recovered the vicarious disgrace to their profession. When
it comes to their turn, these gentlemen can do themselves more
justice; and I shall be glad to think of it; for to my barbarian
eyesight, even Lord Tennyson looks somewhat out of place in that
assembly. There should be no honours for the artist; he has
already, in the practice of his art, more than his share of the
rewards of life; the honours are pre-empted for other trades, less
agreeable and perhaps more useful.

But the devil in these trades of pleasing is to fail to please. In
ordinary occupations, a man offers to do a certain thing or to
produce a certain article with a merely conventional
accomplishment, a design in which (we may almost say) it is
difficult to fail. But the artist steps forth out of the crowd and
proposes to delight: an impudent design, in which it is impossible
to fail without odious circumstances. The poor Daughter of Joy,
carrying her smiles and finery quite unregarded through the crowd,
makes a figure which it is impossible to recall without a wounding
pity. She is the type of the unsuccessful artist. The actor, the
dancer, and the singer must appear like her in person, and drain
publicly the cup of failure. But though the rest of us escape this
crowning bitterness of the pillory, we all court in essence the
same humiliation. We all profess to be able to delight. And how
few of us are! We all pledge ourselves to be able to continue to
delight. And the day will come to each, and even to the most
admired, when the ardour shall have declined and the cunning shall
be lost, and he shall sit by his deserted booth ashamed. Then
shall he see himself condemned to do work for which he blushes to
take payment. Then (as if his lot were not already cruel) he must
lie exposed to the gibes of the wreckers of the press, who earn a
little bitter bread by the condemnation of trash which they have
not read, and the praise of excellence which they cannot
understand.

And observe that this seems almost the necessary end at least of
writers. LES BLANCS ET LES BLEUS (for instance) is of an order of
merit very different from LE VICOMTE DE BRAGLONNE; and if any
gentleman can bear to spy upon the nakedness of CASTLE DANGEROUS,
his name I think is Ham: let it be enough for the rest of us to
read of it (not without tears) in the pages of Lockhart. Thus in
old age, when occupation and comfort are most needful, the writer
must lay aside at once his pastime and his breadwinner. The
painter indeed, if he succeed at all in engaging the attention of
the public, gains great sums and can stand to his easel until a
great age without dishonourable failure. The writer has the double
misfortune to be ill-paid while he can work, and to be incapable of
working when he is old. It is thus a way of life which conducts
directly to a false position.

For the writer (in spite of notorious examples to the contrary)
must look to be ill-paid. Tennyson and Montepin make handsome
livelihoods; but we cannot all hope to be Tennyson, and we do not
all perhaps desire to be Montepin. If you adopt an art to be your
trade, weed your mind at the outset of all desire of money. What
you may decently expect, if you have some talent and much industry,
is such an income as a clerk will earn with a tenth or perhaps a
twentieth of your nervous output. Nor have you the right to look
for more; in the wages of the life, not in the wages of the trade,
lies your reward; the work is here the wages. It will be seen I
have little sympathy with the common lamentations of the artist
class. Perhaps they do not remember the hire of the field
labourer; or do they think no parallel will lie? Perhaps they have
never observed what is the retiring allowance of a field officer;
or do they suppose their contributions to the arts of pleasing more
important than the services of a colonel? Perhaps they forget on
how little Millet was content to live; or do they think, because
they have less genius, they stand excused from the display of equal
virtues? But upon one point there should be no dubiety: if a man
be not frugal, he has no business in the arts. If he be not
frugal, he steers directly for that last tragic scene of LE VIEUX
SALTIMBANQUE; if he be not frugal, he will find it hard to continue
to be honest. Some day, when the butcher is knocking at the door,
he may be tempted, he may be obliged, to turn out and sell a
slovenly piece of work. If the obligation shall have arisen
through no wantonness of his own, he is even to be commanded; for
words cannot describe how far more necessary it is that a man
should support his family, than that he should attain to - or
preserve - distinction in the arts. But if the pressure comes,
through his own fault, he has stolen, and stolen under trust, and
stolen (which is the worst of all) in such a way that no law can
reach him.

And now you may perhaps ask me, if the debutant artist is to have
no thought of money, and if (as is implied) he is to expect no
honours from the State, he may not at least look forward to the
delights of popularity? Praise, you will tell me, is a savoury
dish. And in so far as you may mean the countenance of other
artists you would put your finger on one of the most essential and
enduring pleasures of the career of art. But in so far as you
should have an eye to the commendations of the public or the notice
of the newspapers, be sure you would but be cherishing a dream. It
is true that in certain esoteric journals the author (for instance)
is duly criticised, and that he is often praised a great deal more
than he deserves, sometimes for qualities which he prided himself
on eschewing, and sometimes by ladies and gentlemen who have denied
themselves the privilege of reading his work. But if a man be
sensitive to this wild praise, we must suppose him equally alive to
that which often accompanies and always follows it - wild ridicule.
A man may have done well for years, and then he may fail; he will
hear of his failure. Or he may have done well for years, and still
do well, but the critics may have tired of praising him, or there
may have sprung up some new idol of the instant, some "dust a
little gilt," to whom they now prefer to offer sacrifice. Here is
the obverse and the reverse of that empty and ugly thing called
popularity. Will any man suppose it worth the gaining?

CHAPTER XI - PULVIS ET UMBRA

We look for some reward of our endeavours and are disappointed; not
success, not happiness, not even peace of conscience, crowns our
ineffectual efforts to do well. Our frailties are invincible, our
virtues barren; the battle goes sore against us to the going down
of the sun. The canting moralist tells us of right and wrong; and
we look abroad, even on the face of our small earth, and find them
change with every climate, and no country where some action is not
honoured for a virtue and none where it is not branded for a vice;
and we look in our experience, and find no vital congruity in the
wisest rules, but at the best a municipal fitness. It is not
strange if we are tempted to despair of good. We ask too much.
Our religions and moralities have been trimmed to flatter us, till
they are all emasculate and sentimentalised, and only please and
weaken. Truth is of a rougher strain. In the harsh face of life,
faith can read a bracing gospel. The human race is a thing more
ancient than the ten commandments; and the bones and revolutions of
the Kosmos, in whose joints we are but moss and fungus, more
ancient still.

I

Of the Kosmos in the last resort, science reports many doubtful
things and all of them appalling. There seems no substance to this
solid globe on which we stamp: nothing but symbols and ratios.
Symbols and ratios carry us and bring us forth and beat us down;
gravity that swings the incommensurable suns and worlds through
space, is but a figment varying inversely as the squares of
distances; and the suns and worlds themselves, imponderable figures
of abstraction, NH3, and H2O. Consideration dares not dwell upon
this view; that way madness lies; science carries us into zones of
speculation, where there is no habitable city for the mind of man.

But take the Kosmos with a grosser faith, as our senses give it us.
We behold space sown with rotatory islands, suns and worlds and the
shards and wrecks of systems: some, like the sun, still blazing;
some rotting, like the earth; others, like the moon, stable in
desolation. All of these we take to be made of something we call
matter: a thing which no analysis can help us to conceive; to
whose incredible properties no familiarity can reconcile our minds.
This stuff, when not purified by the lustration of fire, rots
uncleanly into something we call life; seized through all its atoms
with a pediculous malady; swelling in tumours that become
independent, sometimes even (by an abhorrent prodigy) locomotory;
one splitting into millions, millions cohering into one, as the
malady proceeds through varying stages. This vital putrescence of
the dust, used as we are to it, yet strikes us with occasional
disgust, and the profusion of worms in a piece of ancient turf, or
the air of a marsh darkened with insects, will sometimes check our
breathing so that we aspire for cleaner places. But none is clean:
the moving sand is infected with lice; the pure spring, where it
bursts out of the mountain, is a mere issue of worms; even in the
hard rock the crystal is forming.

In two main shapes this eruption covers the countenance of the
earth: the animal and the vegetable: one in some degree the
inversion of the other: the second rooted to the spot; the first
coming detached out of its natal mud, and scurrying abroad with the
myriad feet of insects or towering into the heavens on the wings of
birds: a thing so inconceivable that, if it be well considered,
the heart stops. To what passes with the anchored vermin, we have
little clue, doubtless they have their joys and sorrows, their
delights and killing agonies: it appears not how. But of the
locomotory, to which we ourselves belong, we can tell more. These
share with us a thousand miracles: the miracles of sight, of
hearing, of the projection of sound, things that bridge space; the
miracles of memory and reason, by which the present is conceived,
and when it is gone, its image kept living in the brains of man and
brute; the miracle of reproduction, with its imperious desires and
staggering consequences. And to put the last touch upon this
mountain mass of the revolting and the inconceivable, all these
prey upon each other, lives tearing other lives in pieces, cramming
them inside themselves, and by that summary process, growing fat:
the vegetarian, the whale, perhaps the tree, not less than the lion
of the desert; for the vegetarian is only the eater of the dumb.

Meanwhile our rotatory island loaded with predatory life, and more
drenched with blood, both animal and vegetable, than ever mutinied
ship, scuds through space with unimaginable speed, and turns
alternate cheeks to the reverberation of a blazing world, ninety
million miles away.

II

What a monstrous spectre is this man, the disease of the
agglutinated dust, lifting alternate feet or lying drugged with
slumber; killing, feeding, growing, bringing forth small copies of
himself; grown upon with hair like grass, fitted with eyes that
move and glitter in his face; a thing to set children screaming; -
and yet looked at nearlier, known as his fellows know him, how
surprising are his attributes! Poor soul, here for so little, cast
among so many hardships, filled with desires so incommensurate and
so inconsistent, savagely surrounded, savagely descended,
irremediably condemned to prey upon his fellow lives: who should
have blamed him had he been of a piece with his destiny and a being
merely barbarous? And we look and behold him instead filled with
imperfect virtues: infinitely childish, often admirably valiant,
often touchingly kind; sitting down, amidst his momentary life, to
debate of right and wrong and the attributes of the deity; rising
up to do battle for an egg or die for an idea; singling out his
friends and his mate with cordial affection; bringing forth in
pain, rearing with long-suffering solicitude, his young. To touch
the heart of his mystery, we find, in him one thought, strange to
the point of lunacy: the thought of duty; the thought of something
owing to himself, to his neighbour, to his God: an ideal of
decency, to which he would rise if it were possible; a limit of
shame, below which, if it be possible, he will not stoop. The
design in most men is one of conformity; here and there, in picked
natures, it transcends itself and soars on the other side, arming
martyrs with independence; but in all, in their degrees, it is a
bosom thought: - Not in man alone, for we trace it in dogs and
cats whom we know fairly well, and doubtless some similar point of
honour sways the elephant, the oyster, and the louse, of whom we
know so little: - But in man, at least, it sways with so complete
an empire that merely selfish things come second, even with the
selfish: that appetites are starved, fears are conquered, pains
supported; that almost the dullest shrinks from the reproof of a
glance, although it were a child's; and all but the most cowardly
stand amid the risks of war; and the more noble, having strongly
conceived an act as due to their ideal, affront and embrace death.
Strange enough if, with their singular origin and perverted
practice, they think they are to be rewarded in some future life:
stranger still, if they are persuaded of the contrary, and think
this blow, which they solicit, will strike them senseless for
eternity. I shall be reminded what a tragedy of misconception and
misconduct man at large presents: of organised injustice, cowardly
violence and treacherous crime; and of the damning imperfections of
the best. They cannot be too darkly drawn. Man is indeed marked
for failure in his efforts to do right. But where the best
consistently miscarry, how tenfold more remarkable that all should
continue to strive; and surely we should find it both touching and
inspiriting, that in a field from which success is banished, our
race should not cease to labour.

If the first view of this creature, stalking in his rotatory isle,
be a thing to shake the courage of the stoutest, on this nearer
sight, he startles us with an admiring wonder. It matters not
where we look, under what climate we observe him, in what stage of
society, in what depth of ignorance, burthened with what erroneous
morality; by camp-fires in Assiniboia, the snow powdering his
shoulders, the wind plucking his blanket, as he sits, passing the
ceremonial calumet and uttering his grave opinions like a Roman
senator; in ships at sea, a man inured to hardship and vile
pleasures, his brightest hope a fiddle in a tavern and a bedizened
trull who sells herself to rob him, and he for all that simple,
innocent, cheerful, kindly like a child, constant to toil, brave to
drown, for others; in the slums of cities, moving among indifferent
millions to mechanical employments, without hope of change in the
future, with scarce a pleasure in the present, and yet true to his
virtues, honest up to his lights, kind to his neighbours, tempted
perhaps in vain by the bright gin-palace, perhaps long-suffering
with the drunken wife that ruins him; in India (a woman this time)
kneeling with broken cries and streaming tears, as she drowns her
child in the sacred river; in the brothel, the discard of society,
living mainly on strong drink, fed with affronts, a fool, a thief,
the comrade of thieves, and even here keeping the point of honour
and the touch of pity, often repaying the world's scorn with
service, often standing firm upon a scruple, and at a certain cost,
rejecting riches: - everywhere some virtue cherished or affected,
everywhere some decency of thought and carriage, everywhere the
ensign of man's ineffectual goodness: - ah! if I could show you
this! if I could show you these men and women, all the world over,
in every stage of history, under every abuse of error, under every
circumstance of failure, without hope, without help, without
thanks, still obscurely fighting the lost fight of virtue, still
clinging, in the brothel or on the scaffold, to some rag of honour,
the poor jewel of their souls! They may seek to escape, and yet
they cannot; it is not alone their privilege and glory, but their
doom; they are condemned to some nobility; all their lives long,
the desire of good is at their heels, the implacable hunter.

Of all earth's meteors, here at least is the most strange and
consoling: that this ennobled lemur, this hair-crowned bubble of
the dust, this inheritor of a few years and sorrows, should yet
deny himself his rare delights, and add to his frequent pains, and
live for an ideal, however misconceived. Nor can we stop with man.
A new doctrine, received with screams a little while ago by canting
moralists, and still not properly worked into the body of our
thoughts, lights us a step farther into the heart of this rough but
noble universe. For nowadays the pride of man denies in vain his
kinship with the original dust. He stands no longer like a thing
apart. Close at his heels we see the dog, prince of another genus:
and in him too, we see dumbly testified the same cultus of an
unattainable ideal, the same constancy in failure. Does it stop
with the dog? We look at our feet where the ground is blackened
with the swarming ant: a creature so small, so far from us in the
hierarchy of brutes, that we can scarce trace and scarce comprehend
his doings; and here also, in his ordered politics and rigorous
justice, we see confessed the law of duty and the fact of
individual sin. Does it stop, then, with the ant? Rather this
desire of well-doing and this doom of frailty run through all the
grades of life: rather is this earth, from the frosty top of
Everest to the next margin of the internal fire, one stage of
ineffectual virtues and one temple of pious tears and perseverance.
The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together. It is the
common and the god-like law of life. The browsers, the biters, the
barkers, the hairy coats of field and forest, the squirrel in the
oak, the thousand-footed creeper in the dust, as they share with us
the gift of life, share with us the love of an ideal: strive like
us - like us are tempted to grow weary of the struggle - to do
well; like us receive at times unmerited refreshment, visitings of
support, returns of courage; and are condemned like us to be
crucified between that double law of the members and the will. Are
they like us, I wonder, in the timid hope of some reward, some
sugar with the drug? do they, too, stand aghast at unrewarded
virtues, at the sufferings of those whom, in our partiality, we
take to be just, and the prosperity of such as, in our blindness,
we call wicked? It may be, and yet God knows what they should look
for. Even while they look, even while they repent, the foot of man
treads them by thousands in the dust, the yelping hounds burst upon
their trail, the bullet speeds, the knives are heating in the den
of the vivisectionist; or the dew falls, and the generation of a
day is blotted out. For these are creatures, compared with whom
our weakness is strength, our ignorance wisdom, our brief span
eternity.

And as we dwell, we living things, in our isle of terror and under
the imminent hand of death, God forbid it should be man the
erected, the reasoner, the wise in his own eyes - God forbid it
should be man that wearies in well-doing, that despairs of
unrewarded effort, or utters the language of complaint. Let it be
enough for faith, that the whole creation groans in mortal frailty,
strives with unconquerable constancy: Surely not all in vain.

CHAPTER XII - A CHRISTMAS SERMON

BY the time this paper appears, I shall have been talking for
twelve months; and it is thought I should take my leave in a formal
and seasonable manner. Valedictory eloquence is rare, and death-
bed sayings have not often hit the mark of the occasion. Charles
Second, wit and sceptic, a man whose life had been one long lesson
in human incredulity, an easy-going comrade, a manoeuvring king -
remembered and embodied all his wit and scepticism along with more
than his usual good humour in the famous "I am afraid, gentlemen, I
am an unconscionable time a-dying."

I

An unconscionable time a-dying - there is the picture ("I am
afraid, gentlemen,") of your life and of mine. The sands run out,
and the hours are "numbered and imputed," and the days go by; and
when the last of these finds us, we have been a long time dying,
and what else? The very length is something, if we reach that hour
of separation undishonoured; and to have lived at all is doubtless
(in the soldierly expression) to have served.

There is a tale in Ticitus of how the veterans mutinied in the
German wilderness; of how they mobbed Germanicus, clamouing go
home; and of how, seizing their general's hand, these old, war-worn
exiles passed his finger along their toothless gums. SUNT LACRYMAE
RERUM: this was the most eloquent of the songs of Simeon. And
when a man has lived to a fair age, he bears his marks of service.
He may have never been remarked upon the breach at the head of the
army; at least he shall have lost his teeth on the camp bread.

The idealism of serious people in this age of ours is of a noble
character. It never seems to them that they have served enough;
they have a fine impatience of their virtues. It were perhaps more
modest to be singly thankful that we are no worse. It is not only
our enemies, those desperate characters - it is we ourselves who
know not what we do, - thence springs the glimmering hope that
perhaps we do better than we think: that to scramble through this
random business with hands reasonably clean to have played the part
of a man or woman with some reasonable fulness, to have often
resisted the diabolic, and at the end to be still resisting it, is
for the poor human soldier to have done right well. To ask to see
some fruit of our endeavour is but a transcendental way of serving
for reward; and what we take to be contempt of self is only greed
of hire.

And again if we require so much of ourselves, shall we not require
much of others? If we do not genially judge our own deficiencies,
is it not to be feared we shall be even stern to the trespasses of
others? And he who (looking back upon his own life) can see no
more than that he has been unconscionably long a-dying, will he not
be tempted to think his neighbour unconscionably long of getting
hanged? It is probable that nearly all who think of conduct at
all, think of it too much; it is certain we all think too much of
sin. We are not damned for doing wrong, but for not doing right;
Christ would never hear of negative morality; THOU SHALT was ever
his word, with which he superseded THOU SHALT NOT. To make our
idea of morality centre on forbidden acts is to defile the
imagination and to introduce into our judgments of our fellow-men a
secret element of gusto. If a thing is wrong for us, we should not
dwell upon the thought of it; or we shall soon dwell upon it with
inverted pleasure. If we cannot drive it from our minds - one
thing of two: either our creed is in the wrong and we must more
indulgently remodel it; or else, if our morality be in the right,
we are criminal lunatics and should place our persons in restraint.
A mark of such unwholesomely divided minds is the passion for
interference with others: the Fox without the Tail was of this
breed, but had (if his biographer is to be trusted) a certain
antique civility now out of date. A man may have a flaw, a
weakness, that unfits him for the duties of life, that spoils his
temper, that threatens his integrity, or that betrays him into
cruelty. It has to be conquered; but it must never he suffered to
engross his thoughts. The true duties lie all upon the farther
side, and must be attended to with a whole mind so soon as this
preliminary clearing of the decks has been effected. In order that
he may be kind and honest, it may be needful he should become a
total abstainer; let him become so then, and the next day let him
forget the circumstance. Trying to be kind and honest will require
all his thoughts; a mortified appetite is never a wise companion;
in so far as he has had to mortify an appetite, he will still be
the worse man; and of such an one a great deal of cheerfulness will
be required in judging life, and a great deal of humility in
judging others.

It may be argued again that dissatisfaction with our life's
endeavour springs in some degree from dulness. We require higher
tasks, because we do not recognise the height of those we have.
Trying to be kind and honest seems an affair too simple and too
inconsequential for gentlemen of our heroic mould; we had rather
set ourselves to something bold, arduous, and conclusive; we had
rather found a schism or suppress a heresy, cut off a hand or
mortify an appetite. But the task before us, which is to co-endure
with our existence, is rather one of microscopic fineness, and the
heroism required is that of patience. There is no cutting of the
Gordian knots of life; each must be smilingly unravelled.

To be honest, to be kind - to earn a little and to spend a little
less, to make upon the whole a family happier for his presence, to
renounce when that shall be necessary and not be embittered, to
keep a few friends, but these without capitulation - above all, on
the same grim condition, to keep friends with himself - here is a
task for all that a man has of fortitude and delicacy. He has an
ambitious soul who would ask more; he has a hopeful spirit who
should look in such an enterprise to be successful. There is
indeed one element in human destiny that not blindness itself can
controvert: whatever else we are intended to do, we are not
intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. It is so in
every art and study; it is so above all in the continent art of
living well. Here is a pleasant thought for the year's end or for
the end of life. Only self-deception will be satisfied, and there
need be no despair for the despairer.

II

But Christmas is not only the mile-mark of another year, moving us
to thoughts of self-examination: it is a season, from all its
associations, whether domestic or religious, suggesting thoughts of
joy. A man dissatisfied with his endeavours is a man tempted to
sadness. And in the midst of the winter, when his life runs lowest
and he is reminded of the empty chairs of his beloved, it is well
he should be condemned to this fashion of the smiling face. Noble
disappointment, noble self-denial, are not to be admired, not even
to be pardoned, if they bring bitterness. It is one thing to enter
the kingdom of heaven maim; another to maim yourself and stay
without. And the kingdom of heaven is of the child-like, of those
who are easy to please, who love and who give pleasure. Mighty men
of their hands, the smiters and the builders and the judges, have
lived long and done sternly and yet preserved this lovely
character; and among our carpet interests and twopenny concerns,
the shame were indelible if WE should lose it. Gentleness and
cheerfulness, these come before all morality; they are the perfect
duties. And it is the trouble with moral men that they have
neither one nor other. It was the moral man, the Pharisee, whom
Christ could not away with. If your morals make you dreary, depend
upon it they are wrong. I do not say "give them up," for they may
be all you have; but conceal them like a vice, lest they should
spoil the lives of better and simpler people.

A strange temptation attends upon man: to keep his eye on
pleasures, even when he will not share in them; to aim all his
morals against them. This very year a lady (singular iconoclast!)
proclaimed a crusade against dolls; and the racy sermon against
lust is a feature of the age. I venture to call such moralists
insincere. At any excess or perversion of a natural appetite,
their lyre sounds of itself with relishing denunciations; but for
all displays of the truly diabolic - envy, malice, the mean lie,
the mean silence, the calumnious truth, the back-biter, the petty
tyrant, the peevish poisoner of family life - their standard is
quite different. These are wrong, they will admit, yet somehow not
so wrong; there is no zeal in their assault on them, no secret
element of gusto warms up the sermon; it is for things not wrong in
themselves that they reserve the choicest of their indignation. A
man may naturally disclaim all moral kinship with the Reverend Mr.
Zola or the hobgoblin old lady of the dolls; for these are gross
and naked instances. And yet in each of us some similar element
resides. The sight of a pleasure in which we cannot or else will
not share moves us to a particular impatience. It may be because
we are envious, or because we are sad, or because we dislike noise
and romping - being so refined, or because - being so philosophic -
we have an over-weighing sense of life's gravity: at least, as we
go on in years, we are all tempted to frown upon our neighbour's
pleasures. People are nowadays so fond of resisting temptations;
here is one to be resisted. They are fond of self-denial; here is
a propensity that cannot be too peremptorily denied. There is an
idea abroad among moral people that they should make their
neighbours good. One person I have to make good: myself. But my
duty to my neighbour is much more nearly expressed by saying that I
have to make him happy - if I may.

III

Happiness and goodness, according to canting moralists, stand in
the relation of effect and cause. There was never anything less
proved or less probable: our happiness is never in our own hands;
we inherit our constitution; we stand buffet among friends and
enemies; we may be so built as to feel a sneer or an aspersion with
unusual keenness, and so circumstanced as to be unusually exposed
to them; we may have nerves very sensitive to pain, and be
afflicted with a disease very painful. Virtue will not help us,
and it is not meant to help us. It is not even its own reward,
except for the self-centred and - I had almost said - the
unamiable. No man can pacify his conscience; if quiet be what he
want, he shall do better to let that organ perish from disuse. And
to avoid the penalties of the law, and the minor CAPITIS DIMINUTIO
of social ostracism, is an affair of wisdom - of cunning, if you
will - and not of virtue.

In his own life, then, a man is not to expect happiness, only to
profit by it gladly when it shall arise; he is on duty here; he
knows not how or why, and does not need to know; he knows not for
what hire, and must not ask. Somehow or other, though he does not
know what goodness is, he must try to be good; somehow or other,
though he cannot tell what will do it, he must try to give
happiness to others. And no doubt there comes in here a frequent
clash of duties. How far is he to make his neighbour happy? How
far must he respect that smiling face, so easy to cloud, so hard to
brighten again? And how far, on the other side, is he bound to be
his brother's keeper and the prophet of his own morality? How far
must he resent evil?

The difficulty is that we have little guidance; Christ's sayings on
the point being hard to reconcile with each other, and (the most of
them) hard to accept. But the truth of his teaching would seem to
be this: in our own person and fortune, we should be ready to
accept and to pardon all; it is OUR cheek we are to turn, OUR coat
that we are to give away to the man who has taken OUR cloak. But
when another's face is buffeted, perhaps a little of the lion will
become us best. That we are to suffer others to be injured, and
stand by, is not conceivable and surely not desirable. Revenge,
says Bacon, is a kind of wild justice; its judgments at least are
delivered by an insane judge; and in our own quarrel we can see
nothing truly and do nothing wisely. But in the quarrel of our
neighbour, let us be more bold. One person's happiness is as
sacred as another's; when we cannot defend both, let us defend one
with a stout heart. It is only in so far as we are doing this,
that we have any right to interfere: the defence of B is our only
ground of action against A. A has as good a right to go to the
devil, as we to go to glory; and neither knows what he does.

The truth is that all these interventions and denunciations and
militant mongerings of moral half-truths, though they be sometimes
needful, though they are often enjoyable, do yet belong to an
inferior grade of duties. Ill-temper and envy and revenge find
here an arsenal of pious disguises; this is the playground of
inverted lusts. With a little more patience and a little less
temper, a gentler and wiser method might be found in almost every
case; and the knot that we cut by some fine heady quarrel-scene in
private life, or, in public affairs, by some denunciatory act
against what we are pleased to call our neighbour's vices, might
yet have been unwoven by the hand of sympathy.

IV

To look back upon the past year, and see how little we have striven
and to what small purpose; and how often we have been cowardly and
hung back, or temerarious and rushed unwisely in; and how every day
and all day long we have transgressed the law of kindness; - it may
seem a paradox, but in the bitterness of these discoveries, a
certain consolation resides. Life is not designed to minister to a
man's vanity. He goes upon his long business most of the time with
a hanging head, and all the time like a blind child. Full of
rewards and pleasures as it is - so that to see the day break or
the moon rise, or to meet a friend, or to hear the dinner-call when
he is hungry, fills him with surprising joys - this world is yet
for him no abiding city. Friendships fall through, health fails,
weariness assails him; year after year, he must thumb the hardly
varying record of his own weakness and folly. It is a friendly
process of detachment. When the time comes that he should go,
there need be few illusions left about himself. HERE LIES ONE WHO
MEANT WELL, TRIED A LITTLE, FAILED MUCH: - surely that may be his
epitaph, of which he need not be ashamed. Nor will he complain at
the summons which calls a defeated soldier from the field:
defeated, ay, if he were Paul or Marcus Aurelius! - but if there is
still one inch of fight in his old spirit, undishonoured. The
faith which sustained him in his life-long blindness and life-long
disappointment will scarce even be required in this last formality
of laying down his arms. Give him a march with his old bones;
there, out of the glorious sun-coloured earth, out of the day and
the dust and the ecstasy - there goes another Faithful Failure!

From a recent book of verse, where there is more than one such
beautiful and manly poem, I take this memorial piece: it says
better than I can, what I love to think; let it be our parting
word.

"A late lark twitters from the quiet skies;
And from the west,
Where the sun, his day's work ended,
Lingers as in content,
There falls on the old, gray city
An influence luminous and serene,
A shining peace.

"The smoke ascends
In a rosy-and-golden haze. The spires
Shine, and are changed. In the valley
Shadows rise. The lark sings on. The sun,
Closing his benediction,
Sinks, and the darkening air
Thrills with a sense of the triumphing night -
Night, with her train of stars
And her great gift of sleep.

"So be my passing!
My task accomplished and the long day done,
My wages taken, and in my heart
Some late lark singing,
Let me be gathered to the quiet west,
The sundown splendid and serene,
Death."

[1888.]

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