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Appreciations, With An Essay on Style by Walter Horatio Pater

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figures in the foreground; one of them, in particular, being more
carefully depicted than the others, and in himself very noticeable--a
portrait with somewhat puzzling manner and expression, which at once
catches the eye irresistibly and keeps it fixed.

Play is often that about which people are most serious; and the
humourist may observe how, under all love of playthings, there is
almost always hidden an appreciation of something really engaging and
delightful. This is true always of the toys of children: it is often
true of the playthings of grown-up people, their vanities, their
fopperies even, their lighter loves; the cynic would add their
pursuit of fame. Certainly, this is true without exception [165] of
the playthings of a past age, which to those who succeed it are
always full of a pensive interest--old manners, old dresses, old
houses. For what is called fashion in these matters occupies, in each
age, much of the care of many of the most discerning people,
furnishing them with a kind of mirror of their real inward
refinements, and their capacity for selection. Such modes or
fashions are, at their best, an example of the artistic predominance
of form over matter; of the manner of the doing of it over the thing
done; and have a beauty of their own. It is so with that old
euphuism of the Elizabethan age--that pride of dainty language and
curious expression, which it is very easy to ridicule, which often
made itself ridiculous, but which had below it a real sense of
fitness and nicety; and which, as we see in this very play, and still
more clearly in the Sonnets, had some fascination for the young
Shakespeare himself. It is this foppery of delicate language, this
fashionable plaything of his time, with which Shakespeare is occupied
in Love's Labours Lost. He shows us the manner in all its stages;
passing from the grotesque and vulgar pedantry of Holofernes, through
the extravagant but polished caricature of Armado, to become the
peculiar characteristic of a real though still quaint poetry in Biron
himself, who is still chargeable even at his best with just a little
affectation. As Shakespeare laughs broadly at it in Holofernes or
Armado, so he [166] is the analyst of its curious charm in Biron; and
this analysis involves a delicate raillery by Shakespeare himself at
his own chosen manner.

This "foppery" of Shakespeare's day had, then, its really delightful
side, a quality in no sense "affected," by which it satisfies a real
instinct in our minds--the fancy so many of us have for an exquisite
and curious skill in the use of words. Biron is the perfect flower
of this manner:

A man of fire-new words, fashion's own knight:

--as he describes Armado, in terms which are really applicable to
himself. In him this manner blends with a true gallantry of nature,
and an affectionate complaisance and grace. He has at times some of
its extravagance or caricature also, but the shades of expression by
which he passes from this to the "golden cadence" of Shakespeare's
own most characteristic verse, are so fine, that it is sometimes
difficult to trace them. What is a vulgarity in Holofernes, and a
caricature in Armado, refines itself with him into the expression of
a nature truly and inwardly bent upon a form of delicate perfection,
and is accompanied by a real insight into the laws which determine
what is exquisite in language, and their root in the nature of
things. He can appreciate quite the opposite style--

In russet yeas, and honest kersey noes;

he knows the first law of pathos, that

Honest plain words best suit the ear of grief.

[167] He delights in his own rapidity of intuition; and, in harmony
with the half-sensuous philosophy of the Sonnets, exalts, a little
scornfully, in many memorable expressions, the judgment of the
senses, above all slower, more toilsome means of knowledge, scorning
some who fail to see things only because they are so clear:

So here you find where light in darkness lies,
Your light grows dark by losing of your eyes:--

as with some German commentators on Shakespeare. Appealing always to
actual sensation from men's affected theories, he might seem to
despise learning; as, indeed, he has taken up his deep studies partly
in sport, and demands always the profit of learning in renewed
enjoyment. Yet he surprises us from time to time by intuitions which
could come only from a deep experience and power of observation; and
men listen to him, old and young, in spite of themselves. He is
quickly impressible to the slightest clouding of the spirits in
social intercourse, and has his moments of extreme seriousness: his
trial-task may well be, as Rosaline puts it--

To enforce the pained impotent to smile.

But still, through all, he is true to his chosen manner: that gloss
of dainty language is a second nature with him: even at his best he
is not without a certain artifice: the trick of playing on words
never deserts him; and [168] Shakespeare, in whose own genius there
is an element of this very quality, shows us in this graceful, and,
as it seems, studied, portrait, his enjoyment of it.

As happens with every true dramatist, Shakespeare is for the most
part hidden behind the persons of his creation. Yet there are
certain of his characters in which we feel that there is something of
self-portraiture. And it is not so much in his grander, more subtle
and ingenious creations that we feel this--in Hamlet and King Lear--
as in those slighter and more spontaneously developed figures, who,
while far from playing principal parts, are yet distinguished by a
peculiar happiness and delicate ease in the drawing of them; figures
which possess, above all, that winning attractiveness which there is
no man but would willingly exercise, and which resemble those works
of art which, though not meant to be very great or imposing, are yet
wrought of the choicest material. Mercutio, in Romeo and Juliet,
belongs to this group of Shakespeare's characters--versatile,
mercurial people, such as make good actors, and in whom the

nimble spirits of the arteries,

the finer but still merely animal elements of great wit, predominate.
A careful delineation of minor, yet expressive traits seems to mark
them out as the characters of his predilection; [169] and it is hard
not to identify him with these more than with others. Biron, in
Love's Labours Lost, is perhaps the most striking member of this
group. In this character, which is never quite in touch, never quite
on a perfect level of understanding, with the other persons of the
play, we see, perhaps, a reflex of Shakespeare himself, when he has
just become able to stand aside from and estimate the first period of
his poetry.

1878.

NOTES

162. *Act V. Scene II. Return.

"MEASURE FOR MEASURE"

[170] IN Measure for Measure, as in some other of his plays,
Shakespeare has remodelled an earlier and somewhat rough composition
to "finer issues," suffering much to remain as it had come from the
less skilful hand, and not raising the whole of his work to an equal
degree of intensity. Hence perhaps some of that depth and
weightiness which make this play so impressive, as with the true seal
of experience, like a fragment of life itself, rough and disjointed
indeed, but forced to yield in places its profounder meaning. In
Measure for Measure, in contrast with the flawless execution of Romeo
and Juliet, Shakespeare has spent his art in just enough modification
of the scheme of the older play to make it exponent of this purpose,
adapting its terrible essential incidents, so that Coleridge found it
the only painful work among Shakespeare's dramas, and leaving for the
reader of to-day more than the usual number of difficult expressions;
but infusing a lavish colour and a profound significance into it, so
that under his [171] touch certain select portions of it rise far
above the level of all but his own best poetry, and working out of it
a morality so characteristic that the play might well pass for the
central expression of his moral judgments. It remains a comedy, as
indeed is congruous with the bland, half-humorous equity which
informs the whole composition, sinking from the heights of sorrow and
terror into the rough scheme of the earlier piece; yet it is hardly
less full of what is really tragic in man's existence than if Claudio
had indeed "stooped to death." Even the humorous concluding scenes
have traits of special grace, retaining in less emphatic passages a
stray lire or word of power, as it seems, so that we watch to the end
for the traces where the nobler hand has glanced along, leaving its
vestiges, as if accidentally or wastefully, in the rising of the
style.

The interest of Measure for Measure, therefore, is partly that of an
old story told over again. We measure with curiosity that variety of
resources which has enabled Shakespeare to refashion the original
material with a higher motive; adding to the intricacy of the piece,
yet so modifying its structure as to give the whole almost the unity
of a single scene; lending, by the light of a philosophy which dwells
much on what is complex and subtle in our nature, a true human
propriety to its strange and unexpected turns of feeling and
character, to incidents so [172] difficult as the fall of Angelo, and
the subsequent reconciliation of Isabella, so that she pleads
successfully for his life. It was from Whetstone, a contemporary
English writer, that Shakespeare derived the outline of Cinthio's
"rare history" of Promos and Cassandra, one of that numerous class of
Italian stories, like Boccaccio's Tancred of Salerno, in which the
mere energy of southern passion has everything its own way, and
which, though they may repel many a northern reader by a certain
crudity in their colouring, seem to have been full of fascination for
the Elizabethan age. This story, as it appears in Whetstone's
endless comedy, is almost as rough as the roughest episode of actual
criminal life. But the play seems never to have been acted, and some
time after its publication Whetstone himself turned the thing into a
tale, included in his Heptameron of Civil Discourses, where it still
figures as a genuine piece, with touches of undesigned poetry, a
quaint field-flower here and there of diction or sentiment, the whole
strung up to an effective brevity, and with the fragrance of that
admirable age of literature all about it. Here, then, there is
something of the original Italian colour: in this narrative
Shakespeare may well have caught the first glimpse of a composition
with nobler proportions; and some artless sketch from his own hand,
perhaps, putting together his first impressions, insinuated itself
between Whetstone's work and the play as we actually read it. Out
[173] of these insignificant sources Shakespeare's play rises, full
of solemn expression, and with a profoundly designed beauty, the new
body of a higher, though sometimes remote and difficult poetry,
escaping from the imperfect relics of the old story, yet not wholly
transformed, and even as it stands but the preparation only, we might
think, of a still more imposing design. For once we have in it a
real example of that sort of writing which is sometimes described as
suggestive, and which by the help of certain subtly calculated hints
only, brings into distinct shape the reader's own half-developed
imaginings. Often the quality is attributed to writing merely vague
and unrealised, but in Measure for Measure, quite certainly,
Shakespeare has directed the attention of sympathetic readers along
certain channels of meditation beyond the immediate scope of his
work.

Measure for Measure, therefore, by the quality of these higher
designs, woven by his strange magic on a texture of poorer quality,
is hardly less indicative than Hamlet even, of Shakespeare's reason,
of his power of moral interpretation. It deals, not like Hamlet with
the problems which beset one of exceptional temperament, but with
mere human nature. It brings before us a group of persons,
attractive, full of desire, vessels of the genial, seed-bearing
powers of nature, a gaudy existence flowering out over the old court
and city of Vienna, a spectacle of the fulness and [174] pride of
life which to some may seem to touch the verge of wantonness. Behind
this group of people, behind their various action, Shakespeare
inspires in us the sense of a strong tyranny of nature and
circumstance. Then what shall there be on this side of it--on our
side, the spectators' side, of this painted screen, with its puppets
who are really glad or sorry all the time? what philosophy of life,
what sort of equity?

Stimulated to read more carefully by Shakespeare's own profounder
touches, the reader will note the vivid reality, the subtle
interchange of light and shade, the strongly contrasted characters of
this group of persons, passing across the stage so quickly. The
slightest of them is at least not ill-natured: the meanest of them
can put forth a plea for existence--Truly, sir, I am a poor fellow
that would live!--they are never sure of themselves, even in the
strong tower of a cold unimpressible nature: they are capable of many
friendships and of a true dignity in danger, giving each other a
sympathetic, if transitory, regret--one sorry that another "should be
foolishly lost at a game of tick-tack." Words which seem to exhaust
man's deepest sentiment concerning death and life are put on the lips
of a gilded, witless youth; and the saintly Isabella feels fire creep
along her, kindling her tongue to eloquence at the suggestion of
shame. In places the shadow deepens: death intrudes itself on the
scene, as among other [175] things "a great disguiser," blanching the
features of youth and spoiling its goodly hair, touching the fine
Claudio even with its disgraceful associations. As in Orcagna's
fresco at Pisa, it comes capriciously, giving many and long reprieves
to Barnardine, who has been waiting for it nine years in prison,
taking another thence by fever, another by mistake of judgment,
embracing others in the midst of their music and song. The little
mirror of existence, which reflects to each for a moment the stage on
which he plays, is broken at last by a capricious accident; while all
alike, in their yearning for untasted enjoyment, are really
discounting their days, grasping so hastily and accepting so
inexactly the precious pieces. The Duke's quaint but excellent
moralising at the beginning of the third act does but express, like
the chorus of a Greek play, the spirit of the passing incidents. To
him in Shakespeare's play, to a few here and there in the actual
world, this strange practical paradox of our life, so unwise in its
eager haste, reveals itself in all its clearness.

The Duke disguised as a friar, with his curious moralising on life
and death, and Isabella in her first mood of renunciation, a thing
"ensky'd and sainted," come with the quiet of the cloister as a
relief to this lust and pride of life: like some grey monastic
picture hung on the wall of a gaudy room, their presence cools the
heated air of the piece. For a moment we [176] are within the placid
conventual walls, whither they fancy at first that the Duke has come
as a man crossed in love, with Friar Thomas and Friar Peter, calling
each other by their homely, English names, or at the nunnery among
the novices, with their little limited privileges, where

If you speak you must not show your face,
Or if you show your face you must not speak.

Not less precious for this relief in the general structure of the
piece, than for its own peculiar graces is the episode of Mariana, a
creature wholly of Shakespeare's invention, told, by way of
interlude, in subdued prose. The moated grange, with its dejected
mistress, its long, listless, discontented days, where we hear only
the voice of a boy broken off suddenly in the midst of one of the
loveliest songs of Shakespeare, or of Shakespeare's school,* is the
pleasantest of many glimpses we get here of pleasant places--the
field without the town, Angelo's garden-house, the consecrated
fountain. Indirectly it has suggested two of the most perfect
compositions among the poetry of our own generation. Again it is a
picture within a picture, but with fainter lines and a greyer
atmosphere: we have here the same passions, the same wrongs, the same
continuance of affection, the same crying out upon death, as in the
nearer and larger piece, though softened, and reduced to the mood of
a more dreamy scene.

[177] Of Angelo we may feel at first sight inclined to say only
guarda e passa! or to ask whether he is indeed psychologically
possible. In the old story, he figures as an embodiment of pure and
unmodified evil, like "Hyliogabalus of Rome or Denis of Sicyll." But
the embodiment of pure evil is no proper subject of art, and
Shakespeare, in the spirit of a philosophy which dwells much on the
complications of outward circumstance with men's inclinations, turns
into a subtle study in casuistry this incident of the austere judge
fallen suddenly into utmost corruption by a momentary contact with
supreme purity. But the main interest in Measure for Measure is not,
as in Promos and Cassandra, in the relation of Isabella and Angelo,
but rather in the relation of Claudio and Isabella.

Greek tragedy in some of its noblest products has taken for its theme
the love of a sister, a sentiment unimpassioned indeed, purifying by
the very spectacle of its passionlessness, but capable of a fierce
and almost animal strength if informed for a moment by pity and
regret. At first Isabella comes upon the scene as a tranquillising
influence in it. But Shakespeare, in the development of the action,
brings quite different and unexpected qualities out of her. It is
his characteristic poetry to expose this cold, chastened personality,
respected even by the worldly Lucio as "something ensky'd and
sainted, and almost an immortal spirit," to two [178] sharp, shameful
trials, and wring out of her a fiery, revealing eloquence. Thrown
into the terrible dilemma of the piece, called upon to sacrifice that
cloistral whiteness to sisterly affection, become in a moment the
ground of strong, contending passions, she develops a new character
and shows herself suddenly of kindred with those strangely conceived
women, like Webster's Vittoria, who unite to a seductive sweetness
something of a dangerous and tigerlike changefulness of feeling. The
swift, vindictive anger leaps, like a white flame, into this white
spirit, and, stripped in a moment of all convention, she stands
before us clear, detached, columnar, among the tender frailties of
the piece. Cassandra, the original of Isabella in Whetstone's tale,
with the purpose of the Roman Lucretia in her mind, yields gracefully
enough to the conditions of her brother's safety; and to the lighter
reader of Shakespeare there may seem something harshly conceived, or
psychologically impossible even, in the suddenness of the change
wrought in her, as Claudio welcomes for a moment the chance of life
through her compliance with Angelo's will, and he may have a sense
here of flagging skill, as in words less finely handled than in the
preceding scene. The play, though still not without traces of nobler
handiwork, sinks down, as we know, at last into almost homely comedy,
and it might be supposed that just here the grander manner [179]
deserted it. But the skill with which Isabella plays upon Claudio's
well-recognised sense of honour, and endeavours by means of that to
insure him beforehand from the acceptance of life on baser terms,
indicates no coming laxity of hand just in this place. It was rather
that there rose in Shakespeare's conception, as there may for the
reader, as there certainly would in any good acting of the part,
something of that terror, the seeking for which is one of the notes
of romanticism in Shakespeare and his circle. The stream of ardent
natural affection, poured as sudden hatred upon the youth condemned
to die, adds an additional note of expression to the horror of the
prison where so much of the scene takes place. It is not here only
that Shakespeare has conceived of such extreme anger and pity as
putting a sort of genius into simple women, so that their "lips drop
eloquence," and their intuitions interpret that which is often too
hard or fine for manlier reason; and it is Isabella with her grand
imaginative diction, and that poetry laid upon the "prone and
speechless dialect" there is in mere youth itself, who gives
utterance to the equity, the finer judgments of the piece on men and
things.

From behind this group with its subtle lights and shades, its poetry,
its impressive contrasts, Shakespeare, as I said, conveys to us a
strong sense of the tyranny of nature and [180] circumstance over
human action. The most powerful expressions of this side of
experience might be found here. The bloodless, impassible
temperament does but wait for its opportunity, for the almost
accidental coherence of time with place, and place with wishing, to
annul its long and patient discipline, and become in a moment the
very opposite of that which under ordinary conditions it seemed to
be, even to itself. The mere resolute self-assertion of the blood
brings to others special temptations, temptations which, as defects
or over-growths, lie in the very qualities which make them otherwise
imposing or attractive; the very advantage of men's gifts of
intellect or sentiment being dependent on a balance in their use so
delicate that men hardly maintain it always. Something also must be
conceded to influences merely physical, to the complexion of the
heavens, the skyey influences, shifting as the stars shift; as
something also to the mere caprice of men exercised over each other
in the dispensations of social or political order, to the chance
which makes the life or death of Claudio dependent on Angelo's will.

The many veins of thought which render the poetry of this play so
weighty and impressive unite in the image of Claudio, a flowerlike
young man, whom, prompted by a few hints from Shakespeare, the
imagination easily clothes with all the bravery of youth, as he
crosses the stage before us on his way to death, coming so [181]
hastily to the end of his pilgrimage. Set in the horrible blackness
of the prison, with its various forms of unsightly death, this flower
seems the braver. Fallen by "prompture of the blood," the victim of
a suddenly revived law against the common fault of youth like his, he
finds his life forfeited as if by the chance of a lottery. With that
instinctive clinging to life, which breaks through the subtlest
casuistries of monk or sage apologising for an early death, he
welcomes for a moment the chance of life through his sister's shame,
though he revolts hardly less from the notion of perpetual
imprisonment so repulsive to the buoyant energy of youth.
Familiarised, by the words alike of friends and the indifferent, to
the thought of death, he becomes gentle and subdued indeed, yet more
perhaps through pride than real resignation, and would go down to
darkness at last hard and unblinded. Called upon suddenly to
encounter his fate, looking with keen and resolute profile straight
before him, he gives utterance to some of the central truths of human
feeling, the sincere, concentrated expression of the recoiling flesh.
Thoughts as profound and poetical as Hamlet's arise in him; and but
for the accidental arrest of sentence he would descend into the dust,
a mere gilded, idle flower of youth indeed, but with what are perhaps
the most eloquent of all Shakespeare's words upon his lips.

As Shakespeare in Measure for Measure has [182] refashioned, after a
nobler pattern, materials already at hand, so that the relics of
other men's poetry are incorporated into his perfect work, so traces
of the old "morality," that early form of dramatic composition which
had for its function the inculcating of some moral theme, survive in
it also, and give it a peculiar ethical interest. This ethical
interest, though it can escape no attentive reader, yet, in
accordance with that artistic law which demands the predominance of
form everywhere over the mere matter or subject handled, is not to be
wholly separated from the special circumstances, necessities,
embarrassments, of these particular dramatic persons. The old
"moralities" exemplified most often some rough-and-ready lesson.
Here the very intricacy and subtlety of the moral world itself, the
difficulty of seizing the true relations of so complex a material,
the difficulty of just judgment, of judgment that shall not be
unjust, are the lessons conveyed. Even in Whetstone's old story this
peculiar vein of moralising comes to the surface: even there, we
notice the tendency to dwell on mixed motives, the contending issues
of action, the presence of virtues and vices alike in unexpected
places, on "the hard choice of two evils," on the "imprisoning" of
men's "real intents." Measure for Measure is full of expressions
drawn from a profound experience of these casuistries, and that
ethical interest becomes predominant in it: it is no longer Promos
and [183] Cassandra, but Measure for Measure, its new name expressly
suggesting the subject of poetical justice. The action of the play,
like the action of life itself for the keener observer, develops in
us the conception of this poetical justice, and the yearning to
realise it, the true justice of which Angelo knows nothing, because
it lies for the most part beyond the limits of any acknowledged law.
The idea of justice involves the idea of rights. But at bottom
rights are equivalent to that which really is, to facts; and the
recognition of his rights therefore, the justice he requires of our
hands, or our thoughts, is the recognition of that which the person,
in his inmost nature, really is; and as sympathy alone can discover
that which really is in matters of feeling and thought, true justice
is in its essence a finer knowledge through love.

'Tis very pregnant:
The jewel that we find we stoop and take it,
Because we see it; but what we do not see
We tread upon, and never think of it.

It is for this finer justice, a justice based on a more delicate
appreciation of the true conditions of men and things, a true respect
of persons in our estimate of actions, that the people in Measure for
Measure cry out as they pass before us; and as the poetry of this
play is full of the peculiarities of Shakespeare's poetry, so in its
ethics it is an epitome of Shakespeare's moral judgments. They are
the moral judgments of [184] an observer, of one who sits as a
spectator, and knows how the threads in the design before him hold
together under the surface: they are the judgments of the humourist
also, who follows with a half-amused but always pitiful sympathy, the
various ways of human disposition, and sees less distance than
ordinary men between what are called respectively great and little
things. It is not always that poetry can be the exponent of
morality; but it is this aspect of morals which it represents most
naturally, for this true justice is dependent on just those finer
appreciations which poetry cultivates in us the power of making,
those peculiar valuations of action and its effect which poetry
actually requires.

1874.

NOTES

176. *Fletcher, in the Bloody Brother, gives the rest of it.
Return.

SHAKESPEARE'S ENGLISH KINGS

[185]

A brittle glory shineth in this face:
As brittle as the glory is the face.

THE English plays of Shakespeare needed but the completion of one
unimportant interval to possess the unity of a popular chronicle from
Richard the Second to Henry the Eighth, and possess, as they actually
stand, the unity of a common motive in the handling of the various
events and persons which they bring before us. Certain of his
historic dramas, not English, display Shakespeare's mastery in the
development of the heroic nature amid heroic circumstances; and had
he chosen, from English history, to deal with Coeur-de-Lion or Edward
the First, the innate quality of his subject would doubtless have
called into play something of that profound and sombre power which in
Julius Caesar and Macbeth has sounded the depths of mighty character.
True, on the whole, to fact, it is another side of kingship which he
has made prominent in his English histories. The irony [186] of
kingship--average human nature, flung with a wonderfully pathetic
effect into the vortex of great events; tragedy of everyday quality
heightened in degree only by the conspicuous scene which does but
make those who play their parts there conspicuously unfortunate; the
utterance of common humanity straight from the heart, but refined
like other common things for kingly uses by Shakespeare's unfailing
eloquence: such, unconsciously for the most part, though palpably
enough to the careful reader, is the conception under which
Shakespeare has arranged the lights and shadows of the story of the
English kings, emphasising merely the light and shadow inherent in
it, and keeping very close to the original authorities, not simply in
the general outline of these dramatic histories but sometimes in
their very expression. Certainly the history itself, as he found it
in Hall, Holinshed, and Stowe, those somewhat picturesque old
chroniclers who had themselves an eye for the dramatic "effects" of
human life, has much of this sentiment already about it. What he did
not find there was the natural prerogative--such justification, in
kingly, that is to say, in exceptional, qualities, of the exceptional
position, as makes it practicable in the result. It is no Henriade
he writes, and no history of the English people, but the sad fortunes
of some English kings as conspicuous examples of the ordinary human
condition. As in a children's [187] story, all princes are in
extremes. Delightful in the sunshine above the wall into which
chance lifts the flower for a season, they can but plead somewhat
more touchingly than others their everyday weakness in the storm.
Such is the motive that gives unity to these unequal and intermittent
contributions toward a slowly evolved dramatic chronicle, which it
would have taken many days to rehearse; a not distant story from real
life still well remembered in its general course, to which people
might listen now and again, as long as they cared, finding human
nature at least wherever their attention struck ground in it.

He begins with John, and allows indeed to the first of these English
kings a kind of greatness, making the development of the play centre
in the counteraction of his natural gifts--that something of heroic
force about him--by a madness which takes the shape of reckless
impiety, forced especially on men's attention by the terrible
circumstances of his end, in the delineation of which Shakespeare
triumphs, setting, with true poetic tact, this incident of the king's
death, in all the horror of a violent one, amid a scene delicately
suggestive of what is perennially peaceful and genial in the outward
world. Like the sensual humours of Falstaff in another play, the
presence of the bastard Faulconbridge, with his physical energy and
his unmistakable family likeness--"those limbs [188] which Sir Robert
never holp to make"* contributes to an almost coarse assertion of the
force of nature, of the somewhat ironic preponderance of nature and
circumstance over men's artificial arrangements, to, the recognition
of a certain potent natural aristocracy, which is far from being
always identical with that more formal, heraldic one. And what is a
coarse fact in the case of Faulconbridge becomes a motive of pathetic
appeal in the wan and babyish Arthur. The magic with which nature
models tiny and delicate children to the likeness of their rough
fathers is nowhere more justly expressed than in the words of King
Philip.--

Look here upon thy brother Geoffrey's face
These eyes, these brows were moulded out of his:
This little abstract doth contain that large
Which died in Geoffrey; and the hand of time
Shall draw this brief into as huge a volume.

It was perhaps something of a boyish memory of the shocking end of
his father that had distorted the piety of Henry the Third into
superstitious terror. A frightened soul, himself touched with the
contrary sort of religious madness, doting on all that was alien from
his father's huge ferocity, on the genialities, the soft gilding, of
life, on the genuine interests of art and poetry, to be credited more
than any other person with the deep religious expression of [189]
Westminster Abbey, Henry the Third, picturesque though useless, but
certainly touching, might have furnished Shakespeare, had he filled
up this interval in his series, with precisely the kind of effect he
tends towards in his English plays. But he found it completer still
in the person and story of Richard the Second, a figure--"that sweet
lovely rose"--which haunts Shakespeare's mind, as it seems long to
have haunted the minds of the English people, as the most touching of
all examples of the irony of kingship.

Henry the Fourth--to look for a moment beyond our immediate subject,
in pursuit of Shakespeare's thought--is presented, of course, in
general outline, as an impersonation of "surviving force:" he has a
certain amount of kingcraft also, a real fitness for great
opportunity. But still true to his leading motive, Shakespeare, in
King Henry the Fourth, has left the high-water mark of his poetry in
the soliloquy which represents royalty longing vainly for the
toiler's sleep; while the popularity, the showy heroism, of Henry the
Fifth, is used to give emphatic point to the old earthy commonplace
about "wild oats." The wealth of homely humour in these plays, the
fun coming straight home to all the world, of Fluellen especially in
his unconscious interview with the king, the boisterous earthiness of
Falstaff and his companions, contribute to the same effect. The
keynote of [190] Shakespeare's treatment is indeed expressed by Henry
the Fifth himself, the greatest of Shakespeare's kings.--"Though I
speak it to you," he says incognito, under cover of night, to a
common soldier on the field, "I think the king is but a man, as I am:
the violet smells to him as it doth to me: all his senses have but
human conditions; and though his affections be higher mounted than
ours yet when they stoop they stoop with like wing." And, in truth,
the really kingly speeches which Shakespeare assigns to him, as to
other kings weak enough in all but speech, are but a kind of flowers,
worn for, and effective only as personal embellishment. They combine
to one result with the merely outward and ceremonial ornaments of
royalty, its pageantries, flaunting so naively, so credulously, in
Shakespeare, as in that old medieval time. And then, the force of
Hotspur is but transient youth, the common heat of youth, in him.
The character of Henry the Sixth again, roi fainéant, with La
Pucelle* for his counterfoil, lay in the direct course of
Shakespeare's design: he has done much to fix the sentiment of the
"holy Henry." Richard the Third, touched, like John, with an effect
of real heroism, is spoiled like him by something of criminal
madness, and reaches his highest level of tragic expression [191]
when circumstances reduce him to terms of mere human nature.--

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!

The Princes in the Tower recall to mind the lot of young Arthur:--

I'll go with thee,
And find the inheritance of this poor child,
His little kingdom of a forced grave.

And when Shakespeare comes to Henry the Eighth, it is not the
superficial though very English splendour of the king himself, but
the really potent and ascendant nature of the butcher's son on the
one hand, and Katharine's subdued reproduction of the sad fortunes of
Richard the Second on the other, that define his central interest.*

With a prescience of the Wars of the Roses, of which his errors were
the original cause, it is Richard who best exposes Shakespeare's own
constant sentiment concerning war, and especially that sort of
civil war which was then recent in English memories. The soul of
Shakespeare, certainly, was not wanting in a sense of the magnanimity
of warriors. The grandiose aspects of war, its magnificent
apparelling, he records [192] monumentally enough--the "dressing of
the lists," the lion's heart, its unfaltering haste thither in all
the freshness of youth and morning.--

Not sick although I have to do with death--
The sun doth gild our armour: Up, my Lords!--
I saw young Harry with his beaver on,
His cuisses on his thighs, gallantly arm'd,
Rise from the ground like feather'd Mercury.

Only, with Shakespeare, the afterthought is immediate:--

They come like sacrifices in their trim.

--Will it never be to-day? I will trot to-morrow a mile, and my
way shall be paved with English faces.

This sentiment Richard reiterates very plaintively, in association
with the delicate sweetness of the English fields, still sweet and
fresh, like London and her other fair towns in that England of
Chaucer, for whose soil the exiled Bolingbroke is made to long so
dangerously, while Richard on his return from Ireland salutes it--

That pale, that white-fac'd shore,--
As a long-parted mother with her child.--
So, weeping, smiling, greet I thee, my earth!
And do thee favour with my royal hands.--

Then (of Bolingbroke)

Ere the crown he looks for live in peace,
Ten thousand bloody crowns of mothers' sons
Shall ill become the flower of England's face;
Change the complexion of her maid-pale peace
To scarlet indignation, and bedew
My pastures' grass with faithful English blood.--

[193]

Why have they dared to march?--

asks York,

So many miles upon her peaceful bosom,
Frighting her pale-fac'd visages with war?--

waking, according to Richard,

Our peace, which in our country's cradle,
Draws the sweet infant breath of gentle sleep:--

bedrenching "with crimson tempest"

The fresh green lap of fair king Richard's land:--

frighting "fair peace" from "our quiet confines," laying

The summer's dust with showers of blood,
Rained from the wounds of slaughter'd Englishmen:

bruising

Her flowerets with the armed hoofs
Of hostile paces.

Perhaps it is not too fanciful to note in this play a peculiar recoil
from the mere instruments of warfare, the contact of the "rude ribs,"
the "flint bosom," of Barkloughly Castle or Pomfret or

Julius Caesar's ill-erected tower:

the

Boisterous untun'd drums
With harsh-resounding trumpets' dreadful bray
And grating shock of wrathful iron arms.

It is as if the lax, soft beauty of the king took effect, at least by
contrast, on everything beside. One gracious prerogative, certainly,
Shakespeare's [194] English kings possess: they are a very eloquent
company, and Richard is the most sweet-tongued of them all. In no
other play perhaps is there such a flush of those gay, fresh,
variegated flowers of speech--colour and figure, not lightly attached
to, but fused into, the very phrase itself--which Shakespeare cannot
help dispensing to his characters, as in this "play of the Deposing
of King Richard the Second," an exquisite poet if he is nothing else,
from first to last, in light and gloom alike, able to see all things
poetically, to give a poetic turn to his conduct of them, and
refreshing with his golden language the tritest aspects of that
ironic contrast between the pretensions of a king and the actual
necessities of his destiny. What a garden of words! With him, blank
verse, infinitely graceful, deliberate, musical in inflexion, becomes
indeed a true "verse royal," that rhyming lapse, which to the
Shakespearian ear, at least in youth, came as the last touch of
refinement on it, being here doubly appropriate. His eloquence
blends with that fatal beauty, of which he was so frankly aware, so
amiable to his friends, to his wife, of the effects of which on the
people his enemies were so much afraid, on which Shakespeare himself
dwells so attentively as the "royal blood" comes and goes in the face
with his rapid changes of temper. As happens with sensitive natures,
it attunes him to a congruous suavity of manners, by which anger
itself became flattering: [195] it blends with his merely youthful
hopefulness and high spirits, his sympathetic love for gay people,
things, apparel--"his cote of gold and stone, valued at thirty
thousand marks," the novel Italian fashions he preferred, as also
with those real amiabilities that made people forget the darker
touches of his character, but never tire of the pathetic rehearsal of
his fall, the meekness of which would have seemed merely abject in a
less graceful performer.

Yet it is only fair to say that in the painstaking "revival" of King
Richard the Second, by the late Charles Kean, those who were very
young thirty years ago were afforded much more than Shakespeare's
play could ever have been before--the very person of the king based
on the stately old portrait in Westminster Abbey, "the earliest
extant contemporary likeness of any English sovereign," the grace,
the winning pathos, the sympathetic voice of the player, the tasteful
archaeology confronting vulgar modern London with a scenic
reproduction, for once really agreeable, of the London of Chaucer.
In the hands of Kean the play became like an exquisite performance on
the violin.

The long agony of one so gaily painted by nature's self, from his
"tragic abdication" till the hour in which he

Sluiced out his innocent soul thro' streams of blood,

was for playwrights a subject ready to hand, and [196] became early
the theme of a popular drama, of which some have fancied surviving
favourite fragments in the rhymed parts of Shakespeare's work.

The king Richard of Yngland
Was in his flowris then regnand:
But his flowris efter sone
Fadyt, and ware all undone:--

says the old chronicle. Strangely enough, Shakespeare supposes him
an over-confident believer in that divine right of kings, of which
people in Shakespeare's time were coming to hear so much; a general
right, sealed to him (so Richard is made to think) as an ineradicable
personal gift by the touch--stream rather, over head and breast and
shoulders--of the "holy oil" of his consecration at Westminster; not,
however, through some oversight, the genuine balm used at the
coronation of his successor, given, according to legend, by the
Blessed Virgin to Saint Thomas of Canterbury. Richard himself found
that, it was said, among other forgotten treasures, at the crisis of
his changing fortunes, and vainly sought reconsecration therewith--
understood, wistfully, that it was reserved for his happier rival.
And yet his coronation, by the pageantry, the amplitude, the learned
care, of its order, so lengthy that the king, then only eleven years
of age, and fasting, as a communicant at the ceremony, was carried
away in a faint, fixed the type under which it has ever [197] since
continued. And nowhere is there so emphatic a reiteration as in
Richard the Second of the sentiment which those singular rites were
calculated to produce.

Not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm from an anointed king,--

as supplementing another, almost supernatural, right.--"Edward's
seven sons," of whom Richard's father was one,

Were as seven phials of his sacred blood.

But this, too, in the hands of Shakespeare, becomes for him, like any
other of those fantastic, ineffectual, easily discredited, personal
graces, as capricious in its operation on men's wills as merely
physical beauty, kindling himself to eloquence indeed, but only
giving double pathos to insults which "barbarism itself" might have
pitied--the dust in his face, as he returns, through the streets of
London, a prisoner in the train of his victorious enemy.

How soon my sorrow hath destroyed my face!

he cries, in that most poetic invention of the mirror scene, which
does but reinforce again that physical charm which all confessed.
The sense of "divine right" in kings is found to act not so much as a
secret of power over others, as of infatuation to themselves. And of
all those personal gifts the one which alone never altogether fails
him is just that royal utterance, his [198] appreciation of the
poetry of his own hapless lot, an eloquent self-pity, infecting
others in spite of themselves, till they too become irresistibly
eloquent about him.

In the Roman Pontifical, of which the order of Coronation is really
a part, there is no form for the inverse process, no rite of
"degradation," such as that by which an offending priest or bishop
may be deprived, if not of the essential quality of "orders," yet,
one by one, of its outward dignities. It is as if Shakespeare had
had in mind some such inverted rite, like those old ecclesiastical or
military ones, by which human hardness, or human justice, adds the
last touch of unkindness to the execution of its sentences, in the
scene where Richard "deposes" himself, as in some long, agonising
ceremony, reflectively drawn out, with an extraordinary refinement of
intelligence and variety of piteous appeal, but also with a felicity
of poetic invention, which puts these pages into a very select class,
with the finest "vermeil and ivory" work of Chatterton or Keats.

Fetch hither Richard that in common view
He may surrender!--

And Richard more than concurs: he throws himself into the part,
realises a type, falls gracefully as on the world's stage.--Why is he
sent for?

To do that office of thine own good will
Which tired majesty did make thee offer.--

Now mark me! how I will undo myself.

[199] "Hath Bolingbroke deposed thine intellect?" the Queen asks him,
on his way to the Tower:--

Hath Bolingbroke
Deposed thine intellect? hath he been in thy heart?

And in truth, but for that adventitious poetic gold, it would be only
"plume-plucked Richard."--

I find myself a traitor with the rest,
For I have given here my soul's consent
To undeck the pompous body of a king.

He is duly reminded, indeed, how

That which in mean men we entitle patience
Is pale cold cowardice in noble breasts.

Yet at least within the poetic bounds of Shakespeare's play, through
Shakespeare's bountiful gifts, his desire seems fulfilled.--

O! that I were as great
As is my grief.

And his grief becomes nothing less than a central expression of all
that in the revolutions of Fortune's wheel goes down in the world.

No! Shakespeare's kings are not, nor are meant to be, great men:
rather, little or quite ordinary humanity, thrust upon greatness,
with those pathetic results, the natural self-pity of the weak
heightened in them into irresistible appeal to others as the net
result of their royal prerogative. One after another, they seem to
lie composed in Shakespeare's embalming pages, with just that touch
of nature about them, [200] making the whole world akin, which has
infused into their tombs at Westminster a rare poetic grace. It is
that irony of kingship, the sense that it is in its happiness child's
play, in its sorrows, after all, but children's grief, which gives
its finer accent to all the changeful feeling of these wonderful
speeches:--the great meekness of the graceful, wild creature, tamed
at last.--

Give Richard leave to live till Richard die!

his somewhat abject fear of death, turning to acquiescence at moments
of extreme weariness:--

My large kingdom for a little grave!
A little little grave, an obscure grave!--

his religious appeal in the last reserve, with its bold reference to
the judgment of Pilate, as he thinks once more of his "anointing."

And as happens with children he attains contentment finally in the
merely passive recognition of superior strength, in the naturalness
of the result of the great battle as a matter of course, and
experiences something of the royal prerogative of poetry to obscure,
or at least to attune and soften men's griefs. As in some sweet
anthem of Handel, the sufferer, who put finger to the organ under the
utmost pressure of mental conflict, extracts a kind of peace at last
from the mere skill with which he sets his distress to music.--

Beshrew thee, Cousin, that didst lead me forth
Of that sweet way I was in to despair!

[201] "With Cain go wander through the shades of night!" cries the
new king to the gaoler Exton, dissimulating his share in the murder
he is thought to have suggested; and in truth there is something of
the murdered Abel about Shakespeare's Richard. The fact seems to be
that he died of "waste and a broken heart:" it was by way of proof
that his end had been a natural one that, stifling a real fear of the
face, the face of Richard, on men's minds, with the added pleading
now of all dead faces, Henry exposed the corpse to general view; and
Shakespeare, in bringing it on the stage, in the last scene of his
play, does but follow out the motive with which he has emphasised
Richard's physical beauty all through it--that "most beauteous inn,"
as the Queen says quaintly, meeting him on the way to death--
residence, then soon to be deserted, of that wayward, frenzied, but
withal so affectionate soul. Though the body did not go to
Westminster immediately, his tomb,

That small model of the barren earth
Which serves as paste and cover to our bones,*

the effigy clasping the hand of his youthful consort, was already
prepared there, with "rich [202] gilding and ornaments," monument of
poetic regret, for Queen Anne of Bohemia, not of course the "Queen"
of Shakespeare, who however seems to have transferred to this second
wife something of Richard's wildly proclaimed affection for the
first. In this way, through the connecting link of that sacred spot,
our thoughts once more associate Richard's two fallacious
prerogatives, his personal beauty and his "anointing."

According to Johnson, Richard the Second is one of those plays which
Shakespeare has "apparently revised;" and how doubly delightful
Shakespeare is where he seems to have revised! "Would that he had
blotted a thousand"--a thousand hasty phrases, we may venture once
more to say with his earlier critic, now that the tiresome German
superstition has passed away which challenged us to a dogmatic faith
in the plenary verbal inspiration of every one of Shakespeare's
clowns. Like some melodiously contending anthem of Handle's, I said,
of Richard's meek "undoing" of himself in the mirror-scene; and, in
fact, the play of Richard the Second does, like a musical
composition, possess a certain concentration of all its parts, a
simple continuity, an evenness in execution, which are rare in the
great dramatist. With Romeo and Juliet, that perfect symphony
(symphony of three independent poetic forms set in a grander one*
which it is the merit of German [203] criticism to have detected) it
belongs to a small group of plays, where, by happy birth and
consistent evolution, dramatic form approaches to something like the
unity of a lyrical ballad, a lyric, a song, a single strain of music.
Which sort of poetry we are to account the highest, is perhaps a
barren question. Yet if, in art generally, unity of impression is a
note of what is perfect, then lyric poetry, which in spite of complex
structure often preserves the unity of a single passionate
ejaculation, would rank higher than dramatic poetry, where,
especially to the reader, as distinguished from the spectator
assisting at a theatrical performance, there must always be a sense
of the effort necessary to keep the various parts from flying
asunder, a sense of imperfect continuity, such as the older criticism
vainly sought to obviate by the rule of the dramatic "unities." It
follows that a play attains artistic perfection just in proportion as
it approaches that unity of lyrical effect, as if a song or ballad
were still lying at the root of it, all the various expression of the
conflict of character and circumstance falling at last into the
compass of a single melody, or musical theme. As, historically, the
earliest classic drama arose out of the chorus, from which this or
that person, this or that episode, detached itself, so, into the
unity of a choric song the perfect drama ever tends to return, its
intellectual scope deepened, complicated, enlarged, but still with an
unmistakable [204] singleness, or identity, in its impression on the
mind. Just there, in that vivid single impression left on the mind
when all is over, not in any mechanical limitation of time and place,
is the secret of the "unities"--the true imaginative unity--of the
drama.

1889.

NOTES

188. *Elinor. Do you not read some tokens of my son (Coeur-de-Lion)
/ In the large composition of this man?

190. *Perhaps the one person of genius in these English plays.

The spirit of deep prophecy she hath,
Exceeding the nine Sibyls of old Rome:
What's past and what's to come she can descry.

191. *Proposing in this paper to trace the leading sentiment in
Shakespeare's English Plays as a sort of popular dramatic chronicle,
I have left untouched the question how much (or, in the case of Henry
the Sixth and Henry the Eighth, how little) of them may be really
his: how far inferior hands have contributed to a result, true on the
whole to the greater, that is to say, the Shakespearian elements in
them.

201. *Perhaps a double entendre:--of any ordinary grave, as
comprising, in effect, the whole small earth now left to its occupant
or, of such a tomb as Richard's in particular, with its actual model,
or effigy, of the clay of him. Both senses are so characteristic
that it would be a pity to lose either.

202. *The Sonnet: the Aubade: the Epithalamium.

DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI

[205] IT was characteristic of a poet who had ever something about
him of mystic isolation, and will still appeal perhaps, though with a
name it may seem now established in English literature, to a special
and limited audience, that some of his poems had won a kind of
exquisite fame before they were in the full sense published. The
Blessed Damozel, although actually printed twice before the year
1870, was eagerly circulated in manuscript; and the volume which it
now opens came at last to satisfy a long-standing curiosity as to the
poet, whose pictures also had become an object of the same peculiar
kind of interest. For those poems were the work of a painter,
understood to belong to, and to be indeed the leader, of a new school
then rising into note; and the reader of to-day may observe already,
in The Blessed Damozel, written at the age of eighteen, a
prefigurement of the chief characteristics of that school, as he will
recognise in it also, in proportion as he really knows Rossetti, many
of the characteristics which are most markedly personal and his own.
Common [206] to that school and to him, and in both alike of primary
significance, was the quality of sincerity, already felt as one of
the charms of that earliest poem--a perfect sincerity, taking effect
in the deliberate use of the most direct and unconventional
expression, for the conveyance of a poetic sense which recognised no
conventional standard of what poetry was called upon to be. At a
time when poetic originality in England might seem to have had its
utmost play, here was certainly one new poet more, with a structure
and music of verse, a vocabulary, an accent, unmistakably novel, yet
felt to be no mere tricks of manner adopted with a view to forcing
attention--an accent which might rather count as the very seal of
reality on one man's own proper speech; as that speech itself was the
wholly natural expression of certain wonderful things he really felt
and saw. Here was one, who had a matter to present to his readers,
to himself at least, in the first instance, so valuable, so real and
definite, that his primary aim, as regards form or expression in his
verse, would be but its exact equivalence to those data within. That
he had this gift of transparency in language--the control of a style
which did but obediently shift and shape itself to the mental motion,
as a well-trained hand can follow on the tracing-paper the outline of
an original drawing below it, was proved afterwards by a volume of
typically perfect translations from the delightful but difficult
[207] "early Italian poets:" such transparency being indeed the
secret of all genuine style, of all such style as can truly belong to
one man and not to another. His own meaning was always personal and
even recondite, in a certain sense learned and casuistical, sometimes
complex or obscure; but the term was always, one could see,
deliberately chosen from many competitors, as the just transcript of
that peculiar phase of soul which he alone knew, precisely as he knew
it.

One of the peculiarities of The Blessed Damozel was a definiteness of
sensible imagery, which seemed almost grotesque to some, and was
strange, above all, in a theme so profoundly visionary. The gold bar
of heaven from which she leaned, her hair yellow like ripe corn, are
but examples of a general treatment, as naively detailed as the
pictures of those early painters contemporary with Dante, who has
shown a similar care for minute and definite imagery in his verse;
there, too, in the very midst of profoundly mystic vision. Such
definition of outline is indeed one among many points in which
Rossetti resembles the great Italian poet, of whom, led to him at
first by family circumstances, he was ever a lover--a "servant and
singer," faithful as Dante, "of Florence and of Beatrice"--with some
close inward conformities of genius also, independent of any mere
circumstances of education. It was said by a critic of the last
century, not wisely though agreeably to the practice of his time,
[208] that poetry rejoices in abstractions. For Rossetti, as for
Dante, without question on his part, the first condition of the
poetic way of seeing and presenting things is particularisation.
"Tell me now," he writes, for Villon's

Dictes-moy où, n'en quel pays,
Est Flora, la belle Romaine--

Tell me now, in what hidden way is
Lady Flora the lovely Roman:

--"way," in which one might actually chance to meet her; the
unmistakably poetic effect of the couplet in English being dependent
on the definiteness of that single word (though actually lighted on
in the search after a difficult double rhyme) for which every one
else would have written, like Villon himself, a more general one,
just equivalent to place or region.

And this delight in concrete definition is allied with another of his
conformities to Dante, the really imaginative vividness, namely, of
his personifications--his hold upon them, or rather their hold upon
him, with the force of a Frankenstein, when once they have taken life
from him. Not Death only and Sleep, for instance, and the winged
spirit of Love, but certain particular aspects of them, a whole
"populace" of special hours and places, "the hour" even "which might
have been, yet might not be," are living creatures, with hands and
eyes and articulate voices.

[209]

Stands it not by the door--
Love's Hour--till she and I shall meet;
With bodiless form and unapparent feet
That cast no shadow yet before,
Though round its head the dawn begins to pour
The breath that makes day sweet?--

Nay, why
Name the dead hours? I mind them well:
Their ghosts in many darkened doorways dwell
With desolate eyes to know them by.

Poetry as a mania--one of Plato's two higher forms of "divine" mania-
-has, in all its species, a mere insanity incidental to it, the
"defect of its quality," into which it may lapse in its moment of
weakness; and the insanity which follows a vivid poetic
anthropomorphism like that of Rossetti may be noted here and there in
his work, in a forced and almost grotesque materialising of
abstractions, as Dante also became at times a mere subject of the
scholastic realism of the Middle Age.

In Love's Nocturn and The Stream's Secret, congruously perhaps with a
certain feverishness of soul in the moods they present, there is at
times a near approach (may it be said?) to such insanity of realism--

Pity and love shall burn
In her pressed cheek and cherishing hands;
And from the living spirit of love that stands
Between her lips to soothe and yearn,
Each separate breath shall clasp me round in turn
And loose my spirit's bands.

[210] But even if we concede this; even if we allow, in the very plan
of those two compositions, something of the literary conceit--what
exquisite, what novel flowers of poetry, we must admit them to be, as
they stand! In the one, what a delight in all the natural beauty of
water, all its details for the eye of a painter; in the other, how
subtle and fine the imaginative hold upon all the secret ways of
sleep and dreams! In both of them, with much the same attitude and
tone, Love--sick and doubtful Love--would fain inquire of what lies
below the surface of sleep, and below the water; stream or dream
being forced to speak by Love's powerful "control"; and the poet
would have it foretell the fortune, issue, and event of his wasting
passion. Such artifices, indeed, were not unknown in the old
Provençal poetry of which Dante had learned something. Only, in
Rossetti at least, they are redeemed by a serious purpose, by that
sincerity of his, which allies itself readily to a serious beauty, a
sort of grandeur of literary workmanship, to a great style. One
seems to hear there a really new kind of poetic utterance, with
effects which have nothing else like them; as there is nothing else,
for instance, like the narrative of Jacob's Dream in Genesis, or
Blake's design of the Singing of the Morning Stars, or Addison's
Nineteenth Psalm.

With him indeed, as in some revival of the old mythopoeic age, common
things--dawn, [211] noon, night--are full of human or personal
expression, full of sentiment. The lovely little sceneries scattered
up and down his poems, glimpses of a landscape, not indeed of broad
open-air effects, but rather that of a painter concentrated upon the
picturesque effect of one or two selected objects at a time--the
"hollow brimmed with mist," or the "ruined weir," as he sees it from
one of the windows, or reflected in one of the mirrors of his "house
of life" (the vignettes for instance seen by Rose Mary in the magic
beryl) attest, by their very freshness and simplicity, to a pictorial
or descriptive power in dealing with the inanimate world, which is
certainly also one half of the charm, in that other, more remote and
mystic, use of it. For with Rossetti this sense of lifeless nature,
after all, is translated to a higher service, in which it does but
incorporate itself with some phase of strong emotion. Every one
understands how this may happen at critical moments of life; what a
weirdly expressive soul may have crept, even in full noonday, into
"the white-flower'd elder-thicket," when Godiva saw it "gleam through
the Gothic archways in the wall," at the end of her terrible ride.
To Rossetti it is so always, because to him life is a crisis at every
moment. A sustained impressibility towards the mysterious conditions
of man's everyday life, towards the very mystery itself in it, gives
a singular gravity to all his work: those matters never became trite
[212] to him. But throughout, it is the ideal intensity of love--of
love based upon a perfect yet peculiar type of physical or material
beauty--which is enthroned in the midst of those mysterious powers;
Youth and Death, Destiny and Fortune, Fame, Poetic Fame, Memory,
Oblivion, and the like. Rossetti is one of those who, in the words
of Mérimée, se passionnent pour la passion, one of Love's lovers.

And yet, again as with Dante, to speak of his ideal type of beauty as
material, is partly misleading. Spirit and matter, indeed, have been
for the most part opposed, with a false contrast or antagonism by
schoolmen, whose artificial creation those abstractions really are.
In our actual concrete experience, the two trains of phenomena which
the words matter and spirit do but roughly distinguish, play
inextricably into each other. Practically, the church of the Middle
Age by its aesthetic worship, its sacramentalism, its real faith in
the resurrection of the flesh, had set itself against that Manichean
opposition of spirit and matter, and its results in men's way of
taking life; and in this, Dante is the central representative of its
spirit. To him, in the vehement and impassioned heat of his
conceptions, the material and the spiritual are fused and blent: if
the spiritual attains the definite visibility of a crystal, what is
material loses its earthiness and impurity. And here again, by force
of instinct, Rossetti [213] is one with him. His chosen type of
beauty is one,

Whose speech Truth knows not from her thought,
Nor Love her body from her soul.

Like Dante, he knows no region of spirit which shall not be sensuous
also, or material. The shadowy world, which he realises so
powerfully, has still the ways and houses, the land and water, the
light and darkness, the fire and flowers, that had so much to do in
the moulding of those bodily powers and aspects which counted for so
large a part of the soul, here.

For Rossetti, then, the great affections of persons to each other,
swayed and determined, in the case of his highly pictorial genius,
mainly by that so-called material loveliness, formed the great
undeniable reality in things, the solid resisting substance, in a
world where all beside might be but shadow. The fortunes of those
affections--of the great love so determined; its casuistries, its
languor sometimes; above all, its sorrows; its fortunate or
unfortunate collisions with those other great matters; how it looks,
as the long day of life goes round, in the light and shadow of them:
all this, conceived with an abundant imagination, and a deep, a
philosophic, reflectiveness, is the matter of his verse, and
especially of what he designed as his chief poetic work, "a work to
be called The House of Life," towards which the majority of his
sonnets and songs were contributions.

[214] The dwelling-place in which one finds oneself by chance or
destiny, yet can partly fashion for oneself; never properly one's own
at all, if it be changed too lightly; in which every object has its
associations--the dim mirrors, the portraits, the lamps, the books,
the hair-tresses of the dead and visionary magic crystals in the
secret drawers, the names and words scratched on the windows, windows
open upon prospects the saddest or the sweetest; the house one must
quit, yet taking perhaps, how much of its quietly active light and
colour along with us!--grown now to be a kind of raiment to one's
body, as the body, according to Swedenborg, is but the raiment of the
soul--under that image, the whole of Rossetti's work might count as a
House of Life, of which he is but the "Interpreter." And it is a
"haunted" house. A sense of power in love, defying distance, and
those barriers which are so much more than physical distance, of
unutterable desire penetrating into the world of sleep, however
"lead-bound," was one of those anticipative notes obscurely struck in
The Blessed Damozel, and, in his later work, makes him speak
sometimes almost like a believer in mesmerism. Dream-land, as we
said, with its "phantoms of the body," deftly coming and going on
love's service, is to him, in no mere fancy or figure of speech, a
real country, a veritable expansion of, or addition to, our waking
life; and he did well perhaps to wait carefully upon sleep, for the
lack [215] of it became mortal disease with him. One may even
recognise a sort of morbid and over-hasty making-ready for death
itself, which increases on him; thoughts concerning it, its
imageries, coming with a frequency and importunity, in excess, one
might think, of even the very saddest, quite wholesome wisdom.

And indeed the publication of his second volume of Ballads and
Sonnets preceded his death by scarcely a twelvemonth. That volume
bears witness to the reverse of any failure of power, or falling-off
from his early standard of literary perfection, in every one of his
then accustomed forms of poetry--the song, the sonnet, and the
ballad. The newly printed sonnets, now completing The House of Life,
certainly advanced beyond those earlier ones, in clearness; his
dramatic power in the ballad, was here at its height; while one
monumental, gnomic piece, Soothsay, testifies, more clearly even than
the Nineveh of his first volume, to the reflective force, the dry
reason, always at work behind his imaginative creations, which at no
time dispensed with a genuine intellectual structure. For in matters
of pure reflection also, Rossetti maintained the painter's sensuous
clearness of conception; and this has something to do with the
capacity, largely illustrated by his ballads, of telling some red-
hearted story of impassioned action with effect.

Have there, in very deed, been ages, in which [216] the external
conditions of poetry such as Rossetti's were of more spontaneous
growth than in our own? The archaic side of Rossetti's work, his
preferences in regard to earlier poetry, connect him with those who
have certainly thought so, who fancied they could have breathed more
largely in the age of Chaucer, or of Ronsard, in one of those ages,
in the words of Stendhal--ces siècles de passions où les âmes
pouvaient se livrer franchement à la plus haute exaltation, quand les
passions qui font la possibilité We may think, perhaps, that such old
time as that has never really existed except in the fancy of poets;
but it was to find it, that Rossetti turned so often from modern life
to the chronicle of the past. Old Scotch history, perhaps beyond any
other, is strong in the matter of heroic and vehement hatreds and
love, the tragic Mary herself being but the perfect blossom of them;
and it is from that history that Rossetti has taken the subjects of
the two longer ballads of his second volume: of the three admirable
ballads in it, The King's Tragedy (in which Rossetti has dexterously
interwoven some relics of James's own exquisite early verse) reaching
the highest level of dramatic success, and marking perfection,
perhaps, in this kind of poetry; which, in the earlier volume, gave
us, among other pieces, Troy Town, Sister Helen, and Eden Bower.

Like those earlier pieces, the ballads of the [217] second volume
bring with them the question of the poetic value of the "refrain"--

Eden bower's in flower:
And O the bower and the hour!

--and the like. Two of those ballads--Troy Town and Eden Bower, are
terrible in theme; and the refrain serves, perhaps, to relieve their
bold aim at the sentiment of terror. In Sister Helen again, the
refrain has a real, and sustained purpose (being here duly varied
also) and performs the part of a chorus, as the story proceeds. Yet
even in these cases, whatever its effect may be in actual recitation,
it may fairly be questioned, whether, to the mere reader their actual
effect is not that of a positive interruption and drawback, at least
in pieces so lengthy; and Rossetti himself, it would seem, came to
think so, for in the shortest of his later ballads, The White Ship--
that old true history of the generosity with which a youth, worthless
in life, flung himself upon death--he was contented with a single
utterance of the refrain, "given out" like the keynote or tune of a
chant.

In The King's Tragedy, Rossetti has worked upon motive, broadly human
(to adopt the phrase of popular criticism) such as one and all may
realise. Rossetti, indeed, with all his self-concentration upon his
own peculiar aim, by no means ignored those general interests which
are external to poetry as he conceived it; as he has [218] shown here
and there, in this poetic, as also in pictorial, work. It was but
that, in a life to be shorter even than the average, he found enough
to occupy him in the fulfilment of a task, plainly "given him to
do." Perhaps, if one had to name a single composition of his to
readers desiring to make acquaintance with him for the first time,
one would select: The King's Tragedy--that poem so moving, so
popularly dramatic, and lifelike. Notwithstanding this, his work, it
must be conceded, certainly through no narrowness or egotism, but in
the faithfulness of a true workman to a vocation so emphatic, was
mainly of the esoteric order. But poetry, at all times, exercises
two distinct functions: it may reveal, it may unveil to every eye,
the ideal aspects of common things, after Gray's way (though Gray
too, it is well to remember, seemed in his own day, seemed even to
Johnson, obscure) or it may actually add to the number of motives
poetic and uncommon in themselves, by the imaginative creation of
things that are ideal from their very birth. Rossetti did something,
something excellent, of the former kind; but his characteristic, his
really revealing work, lay in the adding to poetry of fresh poetic
material, of a new order of phenomena, in the creation of a new
ideal.

1883.

FEUILLET'S "LA MORTE"

[219] IN his latest novel M. Octave Feuillet adds two charming people
to that chosen group of personages in which he loves to trace the
development of the more serious elements of character amid the
refinements and artifices of modern society, and which make such good
company. The proper function of fictitious literature in affording
us a refuge into a world slightly better--better conceived, or better
finished--than the real one, is effected in most instances less
through the imaginary events at which a novelist causes us to assist,
than by the imaginary persons to whom he introduces us. The
situations of M. Feuillet's novels are indeed of a real and intrinsic
importance:--tragic crises, inherent in the general conditions of
human nature itself, or which arise necessarily out of the special
conditions of modern society. Still, with him, in the actual result,
they become subordinate, as it is their tendency to do in real life,
to the characters they help to form. Often, his most attentive
reader will have forgotten the actual details of his plot; while
[220] the soul, tried, enlarged, shaped by it, remains as a well-
fixed type in the memory. He may return a second or third time to
Sibylle, or Le Journal d'une Femme, or Les Amours de Philippe, and
watch, surprised afresh, the clean, dainty, word-sparing literary
operation (word-sparing, yet with no loss of real grace or ease)
which, sometimes in a few pages, with the perfect logic of a problem
of Euclid, complicates and then unravels some moral embarrassment,
really worthy of a trained dramatic expert. But the characters
themselves, the agents in those difficult, revealing situations, such
a reader will recognise as old acquaintances after the first reading,
feeling for them as for some gifted and attractive persons he has
known in the actual world--Raoul de Chalys, Henri de Lerne, Madame de
Técle, Jeanne de la Roche-Ermel, Maurice de Frémeuse, many others; to
whom must now be added Bernard and Aliette de Vaudricourt.

"How I love those people!" cries Mademoiselle de Courteheuse, of
Madame de Sévigné and some other of her literary favourites in the
days of the Grand Monarch. "What good company! What pleasure they
took in high things! How much more worthy they were than the people
who live now!"--What good company! That is precisely what the
admirer of M. Feuillet's books feels as one by one he places them on
his book-shelf, to be sought again. What is proposed here is not to
tell his last story, [221] but to give the English reader specimens
of his most recent effort at characterisation.

It is with the journal of Bernard himself that the story opens,
September 187-. Bernard-Maurice Hugon de Montauret, Vicomte de
Vaudricourt, is on a visit to his uncle, the head of his family, at
La Savinière, a country-house somewhere between Normandy and
Brittany. This uncle, an artificial old Parisian in manner, but
honest in purpose, a good talker, and full of real affection for his
heir Bernard, is one of M. Feuillet's good minor characters--one of
the quietly humorous figures with which he relieves his more serious
company. Bernard, with whom the refinements of a man of fashion in
the Parisian world by no means disguise a powerful intelligence
cultivated by wide reading, has had thoughts during his tedious stay
at La Savinière of writing a history of the reign of Louis the
Fourteenth, the library of a neighbouring château being rich in
memoirs of that period. Finally, he prefers to write his own story,
a story so much more interesting to himself; to write it at a
peculiar crisis in his life, the moment when his uncle, unmarried,
but anxious to perpetuate his race, is bent on providing him with a
wife, and indeed has one in view.

The accomplished Bernard, with many graces of person, by his own
confession, takes nothing seriously. As to that matter of religious
beliefs, "the breeze of the age, and of science, has blown [222] over
him, as it has blown over his contemporaries, and left empty space
there." Still, when he saw his childish religious faith departing
from him, as he thinks it must necessarily depart from all
intelligent male Parisians, he wept. Since that moment, however, a
gaiety, serene and imperturbable, has been the mainstay of his
happily constituted character. The girl to whom his uncle desires to
see him united--odd, quixotic, intelligent, with a sort of pathetic
and delicate grace, and herself very religious--belongs to an old-
fashioned, devout family,. resident at Varaville, near by. M.
Feuillet, with half a dozen fine touches of his admirable pencil
makes us see the place. And the enterprise has at least sufficient
interest to keep Bernard in the country, which the young Parisian
detests. "This piquant episode of my life," he writes, "seems to me
to be really deserving of study; to be worth etching off, day by day,
by an observer well informed on the subject."

Recognising in himself, though as his one real fault, that he can
take nothing seriously in heaven or earth, Bernard de Vaudricourt,
like all M. Feuillet's favourite young men, so often erring or
corrupt, is a man of scrupulous "honour." He has already shown
disinterestedness in wishing his rich uncle to marry again. His
friends at Varaville think so well-mannered a young man more of a
Christian than he really is; and, at all events, he will never owe
his happiness to a falsehood. If he has great faults, [223]
hypocrisy at least is no part of them. In oblique paths he finds
himself ill at ease. Decidedly, as he thinks, he was born for
straight ways, for loyalty in all his enterprises; and he
congratulates himself upon the fact.

In truth, Bernard has merits which he ignores, at least in this first
part of his journal: merits which are necessary to explain the
influence he is able to exercise from the first over such a character
as Mademoiselle de Courteheuse. His charm, in fact, is in the union
of that gay and apparently wanton nature with a genuine power of
appreciating devotion in others, which becomes devotion in himself.
With all the much-cherished elegance and worldly glitter of his
personality, he is capable of apprehending, of understanding and
being touched by the presence of great matters. In spite of that
happy lightness of heart, so jealously fenced about, he is to be
wholly caught at last, as he is worthy to be, by the serious, the
generous influence of things. In proportion to his immense worldly
strength is his capacity for the immense pity which breaks his heart.

In a few life-like touches M. Feuillet brings out, as if it were
indeed a thing of ordinary existence, the simple yet delicate life of
a French country-house, the ideal life in an ideal France. Bernard
is paying a morning visit at the old turreted home of the
"prehistoric" Courteheuse family. Mademoiselle Aliette de
Courteheuse, a studious girl, though a bold and excellent rider [224]
--Mademoiselle de Courteheuse, "with her hair of that strange colour
of fine ashes"--has conducted her visitor to see the library:

One day she took me to see the library, rich in works of the
seventeenth century and in memoirs relating to that time. I
remarked there also a curious collection of engravings of the
same period. "Your father," I observed, "had a strong
predilection for the age of Louis the Fourteenth."

"My father lived in that age," she answered gravely. And as
I looked at her with surprise, and a little embarrassed, she
added, "He made me live there too, in his company."

And then the eyes of this singular girl filled with tears.
She turned away, took a few steps to suppress her emotion, and
returning, pointed me to a chair. Then seating herself on the
step of the book-case, she said, "I must explain my father
to you."

She was half a minute collecting her thoughts: then, speaking
with an expansion of manner not habitual with her, hesitating,
and blushing deeply, whenever she was about to utter a word that
might seem a shade too serious for lips so youthful:--"My
father," she proceeded, "died of the consequences of a wound he
had received at Patay. That may show you that he loved his
country, but he was no lover of his own age. He possessed in
the highest degree the love of order; and order was a thing
nowhere to be seen. He had a horror of disorder; and he saw it
everywhere. In those last years, especially, his reverence,
his beliefs, his tastes, all alike were ruffled to the point of
actual suffering, by whatever was done and said and written
around him. Deeply saddened by the conditions of the present
time, he habituated himself to find a refuge in the past, and
the seventeenth century more particularly offered him the kind
of society in which he would have wished to live--a society,
well-ordered, polished, lettered, believing. More and more he
loved to shut himself up in it. More and more also he loved to
make the moral discipline and the literary tastes of that
favourite age prevail in his own household. You may even have
remarked that he carried his predilection into minute matters of
arrangement and decoration. You can see from this window the
straight paths, the box in [225] patterns, the yew trees and
clipped alleys of our garden. You may notice that in our garden-
beds we have none but flowers of the period--lilies, rose-mallows,
immortelles, rose-pinks, in short what people call parsonage
flowers--des fleurs de curé. Our old silvan tapestries,
similarly, are of that age. You see too that all our furniture,
from presses and sideboards, down to our little tables and our
arm-chairs, is in the severest style of Louis the Fourteenth.
My father did not appreciate the dainty research of our modern
luxury. He maintained that our excessive care for the comforts
of life weakened mind as well as body. That," added the girl
with a laugh,--"that is why you find your chair so hard when
you come to see us."

Then, with resumed gravity--"It was thus that my father
endeavoured, by the very aspect and arrangement of outward
things, to promote in himself the imaginary presence of the
epoch in which his thoughts delighted. As for myself--need I
tell you that I was the confidant of that father, so well-
beloved: a confidant touched by his sorrows, full of
indignation at his disappointments, charmed by his consolations.
Here, precisely--surrounded by those books which we read
together, and which he taught me to love--it is here that I
have passed the pleasantest hours of my youth. In common we
indulged our enthusiasm for those days of faith; of the quiet
life; its blissful hours of leisure well-secured; for the
French language in its beauty and purity; the delicate, the
noble urbanity, which was then the honour and the special mark
of our country, but has ceased to be so."

She paused, with a little confusion, as I thought, at the warmth
of her last words.

And then, just to break the silence, "You have explained," I
said, "an impression which I have experienced again and again
in my visits here, and which has sometimes reached the intensity
of an actual illusion, though a very agreeable one. The look
of your house, its style, its tone and keeping, carried me two
centuries back so completely that I should hardly have been
surprised to hear Monsieur le Prince, Madame de la Fayette,
or Madame de Sévigné herself, announced at your drawing-
room door."

"Would it might be!" said Mademoiselle de Courteheuse. [226]
"Ah! Monsieur, how I love those people! What good company!
What pleasure they took in high things! How much more worthy
they were than the people who live now!" I tried to calm a
little this retrospective enthusiasm, so much to the prejudice
of my contemporaries and of myself. "Most truly,
Mademoiselle," I said, "the age which you regret had its
rare merits--merits which I appreciate as you do. But then,
need one say that that society, so regular, so choice in
appearance, had, like our own, below the surface, its troubles,
its disorders? I see here many of the memoirs of that time.
I can't tell exactly which of them you may or may not have read,
and so I feel a certain difficulty in speaking."

She interrupted me: "Ah!" she said, with entire simplicity, "I
understand you. I have not read all you see here. But I have
read enough of it to know that my friends in that past age had,
like those who live now, their passions, their weaknesses,
their mistakes. But, as my father used to say to me, all that
did but pass over a ground of what was solid and serious, which
always discovered itself again anew. There were great faults
then; but there were also great repentances. There was a
certain higher region to which everything conducted--even what
as evil." She blushed deeply: then rising a little suddenly,
"A long speech!" she said: "Forgive me! I am not usually so
very talkative. It is because my father was in question; and
I should wish his memory to be as dear and as venerable to all
the rest of the world as it is to me."

We pass over the many little dramatic intrigues and misunderstandings,
with the more or less adroit interferences of the uncle, which raise
and lower alternately Bernard's hopes. M. Feuillet has more than once
tried his hand with striking success in the portraiture of French
ecclesiastics. He has drawn none better than the Bishop of Saint-Méen,
uncle of Mademoiselle de Courteheuse, to whose interests he is devoted.
Bernard feels that to gain the influence of this prelate [227] would
be to gain his cause; and the opportunity for an interview comes.

Monseigneur de Courteheuse would seem to be little over fifty
years of age: he is rather tall, and very thin: the eyes, black
and full of life, are encircled by a ring of deep brown. His
speech and gesture are animated, and, at times, as if carried
away. He adopts frequently a sort of furious manner which
on a sudden melts into the smile of an honest man. He has
beautiful silvery hair, flying in vagrant locks over his
forehead, and beautiful bishop's hands. As he becomes calm
he has an imposing way of gently resettling himself in his
sacerdotal dignity. To sum up: his is a physiognomy full of
passion, consumed with zeal, yet still frank and sincere.

I was hardly seated, when with a motion of the hand he invited
me to speak.

"Monseigneur!" I said, "I come to you (you understand me?) as
to my last resource. What I am now doing is almost an act of
despair; for it might seem at first sight that no member of
the family of Mademoiselle de Courteheuse must show himself
more pitiless than yourself towards the faults with which I
am reproached. I am an unbeliever: you are an apostle! And
yet, Monseigneur, it is often at the hands of saintly priests,
such as yourself, that the guilty find most indulgence. And
then, I am not indeed guilty: I have but wandered. I am refused
the hand of your niece because I do not share her faith--your
own faith. But, Monseigneur, unbelief is not a crime, it is
a misfortune. I know people often say, a man denies God when
by his own conduct he has brought himself into a condition in
which he may well desire that God does not exist. In this
way he is made guilty, or, in a sense, responsible for his
incredulity. For myself, Monseigneur, I have consulted my
conscience with an entire sincerity; and although my youth has
been amiss, I am certain that my atheism proceeds from no
sentiment of personal interest. On the contrary, I may tell you
with truth that the day on which I perceived my faith come to
nought, the day on which I lost hope in God, I shed the bitterest
tears of my life. In spite of appearances, I am not so light a
spirit as people think. I am not one of those for whom God,
when He disappears, [228] leaves no sense of a void place.
Believe me!--a man may love sport, his club, his worldly
habits, and yet have his hours of thought, of self-
recollection. Do you suppose that in those hours one does
not feel the frightful discomfort of an existence with no
moral basis, without principles, with no outlook beyond this
world? And yet, what can one do? You would tell me forthwith,
in the goodness, the compassion, which I read in your eyes;
Confide to me your objections to religion, and I will try to
solve them. Monseigneur, I should hardly know how to answer
you. My objections are 'Legion!' They are without number,
like the stars in the sky: they come to us on all sides, from
every quarter of the horizon, as if on the wings of the wind;
and they leave in us, as they pass, ruins only, and darkness.
Such has been my experience, and that of many others; and it
has been as involuntary as it is irreparable."

"And I--Monsieur!" said the bishop, suddenly, casting on me
one of his august looks, "Do you suppose that I am but a
play-actor in my cathedral church?"

"Monseigneur!"

"Yes! Listening to you, one would suppose that we were come
to a period of the world in which one must needs be either an
atheist or a hypocrite! Personally, I claim to be neither
one nor the other."

"Need I defend myself on that point, Monseigneur? Need I say
that I did not come here to give you offence?"

"Doubtless! doubtless! Well, Monsieur, I admit; not without
great reserves, mind! for one is always more or less responsible
for the atmosphere in which he lives, the influences to which
he is subject, for the habitual turn he gives to his thoughts;
still, I admit that you are the victim of the incredulity of the
age, that you are altogether guiltless in your scepticism, your
atheism! since you have no fear of hard words. Is it therefore
any the less certain that the union of a fervent believer, such
as my niece, with a man like yourself would be a moral disorder
of which the consequences might be disastrous? Do you think it
could be my duty, as a relative of Mademoiselle de Courteheuse,
her spiritual father, as a prelate of the Church, to lend my
hands to such disorder, to preside over the shocking union of
two souls separated by the whole width of heaven?"

[229] The bishop, in proposing that question, kept his eyes
fixed ardently on mine.

"Monseigneur," I answered, after a moment's embarrassment, "you
know as well as, and better than I, the condition of the world,
and of our country, at this time. You know that unhappily I
am not an exception: that men of faith are rare in it. And
permit me to tell you my whole mind. If I must needs suffer
the inconsolable misfortune of renouncing the happiness I had
hoped for, are you quite sure that the man to whom one of these
days you will give your niece may not be something more than
a sceptic, or even an atheist?"

"What, Monsieur?"

"A hypocrite, Monseigneur! Mademoiselle de Courteheuse is
beautiful enough, rich enough, to excite the ambition of those
who may be less scrupulous than I. As for me, if you now know
that I am a sceptic, you know also that I am a man of honour:
and there is something in that!"

"A man of honour!" the bishop muttered to himself, with a
little petulance and hesitation. "A man of honour! Yes, I
believe it!" Then, after an interval, "Come, Monsieur," he
said gently, "your case is not as desperate as you suppose.
My Aliette is one of those young enthusiasts through whom
Heaven sometimes works miracles." And Bernard refusing any
encouragement of that hope (the "very roots of faith are
dead" in him for ever) "since you think that," the bishop
answers, "it is honest to say so. But God has His ways!"

Soon after, the journal comes to an end with that peculiar crisis in
Bernard's life which had suggested the writing of it. Aliette, with
the approval of her family, has given him her hand. Bernard accepts
it with the full purpose of doing all he can to make his wife as
happy as she is charming and beloved. The virginal first period of
their married life in their dainty house in Paris--the pure and
beautiful picture of the mother, the father, and at last the child, a
little [230] girl, Jeanne--is presented with M. Feuillet's usual
grace. Certain embarrassments succeed; the development of what was
ill-matched in their union; but still with mutual loyalty. A far-
reaching acquaintance with, and reflection upon, the world and its
ways, especially the Parisian world, has gone into the apparently
slight texture of these pages. The accomplished playwright may be
recognised in the skilful touches with which M. Feuillet, unrivalled,
as his regular readers know, in his power of breathing higher notes
into the frivolous prattle of fashionable French life, develops the
tragic germ in the elegant, youthful household. Amid the
distractions of a society, frivolous, perhaps vulgar, Aliette's mind
is still set on greater things; and, in spite of a thousand rude
discouragements, she maintains her generous hope for Bernard's
restoration to faith. One day, a little roughly, he bids her
relinquish that dream finally. She looks at him with the moist,
suppliant eyes of some weak animal at bay. Then his native goodness
returns. In a softened tone he owns himself wrong.

"As to conversions;--no one must be despaired of. Do you
remember M. de Rancé? He lived in your favourite age;--M. de
Rancé. Well! before he became the reformer of La Trappe he
had been a worldling like me, and a great sceptic--what
people called a libertine. Still he became a saint! It is
true he had a terrible reason for it. Do you know what it
was converted him?"

Aliette gave a sign that she did not know.

"Well! he returned to Paris after a few days' absence. He
[231] ran straight to the lady he loved; Madame Montbazon,
I think: he went up a little staircase of which he had the
key, and the first thing he saw on the table in the middle
of the room was the head of his mistress, of which the
doctors were about to make a post-mortem examination."

"If I were sure," said Aliette, "that my head could have
such power, I would love to die."

She said it in a low voice, but with such an accent of loving
sincerity that her husband had a sensation of a sort of painful
disquiet. He smiled, however, and tapping her cheek softly,
"Folly!" he said. "A head, charming as yours, has no need to
be dead that it may work miracles!"

Certainly M. Feuillet has some weighty charges to bring against the
Parisian society of our day. When Aliette revolts from a world of
gossip, which reduces all minds alike to the same level of vulgar
mediocrity, Bernard, on his side, can perceive there a deterioration
of moral tone which shocks his sense of honour. As a man of honour,
he can hardly trust his wife to the gaieties of a society which
welcomes all the world "to amuse itself in undress."

It happened that at this perplexed period in the youthful
household, one and the same person became the recipient both
of the tearful confidences of Madame de Vaudricourt and those
of her husband. It was the Duchess of Castel-Moret [she is
another of M. Feuillet's admirable minor sketches] an old
friend of the Vaudricourt family, and the only woman with
whom Aliette since her arrival in Paris had formed a kind
of intimacy. The Duchess was far from sharing, on points
of morality, and above all of religion, the severe and
impassioned orthodoxy of her young friend. She had lived,
it is true, an irreproachable life, but less in consequence
of defined principles than by instinct and natural taste.
She admitted to herself that she was an honest woman as a
result of her birth, and had no further merit in the matter.
She was old, very careful of [232] herself, and a pleasant
aroma floated about her, below her silvery hair. People
loved her for her grace--the grace of another time than ours--
for her wit, and her worldly wisdom, which she placed freely
at the disposal of the public. Now and then she made a match:
but her special gift lay rather in the way in which she came
to the rescue when a marriage turned out ill. And she had no
sinecure: the result was that she passed the best part of her
time in repairing family rents. That might "last its time,"
she would say. "And then we know that what has been well
mended sometimes lasts better than what is new."

A little later, Bernard, in the interest of Aliette, has chivalrously
determined to quit Paris. At Valmoutiers, a fine old place in the
neighbourhood of Fontainebleau, they established themselves for a
country life. Here Aliette tastes the happiest days since her
marriage. Bernard, of course, after a little time is greatly bored.
But so far they have never seriously doubted of their great love for
each other. It is here that M. Feuillet brings on the scene a kind
of character new in his books; perhaps hardly worthy of the other
company there; a sort of female Monsieur de Camors, but without his
grace and tenderness, and who actually commits a crime. How would
the morbid charms of M. de Camors have vanished, if, as his wife once
suspected of him, he had ever contemplated crime! And surely, the
showy insolent charms of Sabine de Tallevaut, beautiful,
intellectually gifted, supremely Amazonian, yet withal not drawn with
M. Feuillet's usual fineness, scarcely hold out for the reader, any
more than for [233] Bernard himself, in the long run, against the
vulgarising touch of her cold wickedness. Living in the
neighbourhood of Valmoutiers, in a somewhat melancholy abode (the
mystery of which in the eyes of Bernard adds to her poetic charm)
with her guardian, an old, rich, freethinking doctor, devoted to
research, she comes to Valmoutiers one night in his company on the
occasion of the alarming illness of the only child. They arrive
escorted by Bernard himself. The little Jeanne, wrapped in her
coverlet, was placed upon the table of her play-room, which was
illuminated as if for a party. The illness, the operation (skilfully
performed by the old doctor) which restores her to life, are
described with that seemingly simple pathos in which M. Feuillet's
consummate art hides itself. Sabine remains to watch the child's
recovery, and becomes an intimate. In vain Bernard struggles against
the first real passion of his life;--does everything but send its
object out of his sight. Aliette has divined their secret. In the
fatal illness which follows soon after, Bernard watches over her with
tender solicitude; hoping against hope that the disease may take a
favourable turn.

"My child," he said to her one day, taking the hand which
she abandoned to him, "I have just been scolding old Victoire.
She is losing her head. In spite of the repeated assurances
of the doctors, she is alarmed at seeing you a little worse
than usual to-day, and has had the Curé sent for. Do you
wish to see him?"

"Pray let me see him!"

[234] She sighed heavily, and fixed upon her husband her large
blue eyes, full of anguish--an anguish so sharp and so singular
that he felt frozen to the marrow.

He could not help saying with deep emotion, "Do you love me no
longer, Aliette?"

"For ever!" murmured the poor child.

He leaned over her with a long kiss upon the forehead. She saw
tears stealing from the eyes of her husband, and seemed as if
surprised.

Soon afterwards Aliette is dead, to the profound sorrow of Bernard.
Less than two years later he has become the husband of Mademoiselle
Tallevaut. It was about two years after his marriage with Sabine
that Bernard resumed the journal with which we began. In the pages
which he now adds he seems at first unchanged. How then as to that
story of M. de Rancé, the reformer of La Trappe, finding the head of
his dead mistress; an incident which the reader of La Morte will
surely have taken as a "presentiment"? Aliette had so taken it. "A
head so charming as yours," Bernard had assured her tenderly, "does
not need to be dead that it may work miracles!"--How, in the few
pages that remain, will M. Feuillet justify that, and certain other
delicate touches of presentiment, and at the same time justify the
title of his book?

The journal is recommenced in February. On the twentieth of April
Bernard writes, at Valmoutiers:

Under pretext of certain urgently needed repairs I am come to
pass a week at Valmoutiers, and get a little pure air. By my
orders they have kept Aliette's room under lock and key since
[235] the day when she left it in her coffin. To-day I re-
entered it for the first time. There was a vague odour of her
favourite perfumes. My poor Aliette! why was I unable, as you
so ardently desired, to share your gentle creed, and associate
myself to the life of your dreams, the life of honesty and peace?
Compared with that which is mine to-day, it seems to me like
paradise. What a terrible scene it was, here in this room! What
a memory! I can still see the last look she fixed on me, a look
almost of terror! and how quickly she died! I have taken the room
for my own. But I shall not remain here long. I intend to go
for a few days to Varaville. I want to see my little girl: her
dear angel's face.

VALMOUTIERS, April 22.--What a change there has been in the world
since my childhood: since my youth even! what a surprising change
in so short a period, in the moral atmosphere we are breathing!
Then we were, as it were, impregnated with the thought of God--a
just God, but benevolent and fatherlike. We really lived under
His eyes, as under the eyes of a parent, with respect and fear,
but with confidence. We felt sustained by His invisible but
undoubted presence. We spoke to Him, and it seemed that He
answered. And now we feel ourselves alone--as it were abandoned
in the immensity of the universe. We live in a world, hard,
savage, full of hatred; whose one cruel law is the struggle for
existence, and in which we are no more than those natural elements,
let loose to war with each other in fierce selfishness, without
pity, with no appeal beyond, no hope of final justice. And above
us, in place of the good God of our happy youth, nothing, any
more! or worse than nothing--a deity, barbarous and ironical,
who cares nothing at all about us.

The aged mother of Aliette, hitherto the guardian of his daughter,
is lately dead. Bernard proposes to take the child away with
him to Paris. The child's old nurse objects. On April the twenty-
seventh, Bernard writes:

For a moment--for a few moments--in that room where I have been
shutting myself up with the shadow of my poor [236] dead one, a
horrible thought had come to me. I had driven it away as an
insane fancy. But now, yes! it is becoming a reality. Shall I
write this? Yes! I will write it. It is my duty to do so; for
from this moment the journal, begun in so much gaiety of heart,
is but my last will and testament. If I should disappear from
the world, the secret must not die with me. It must be bequeathed
to the natural protectors of my child. Her interests, if not her
life, are concerned therein.

Here, then, is what passed: I had not arrived in time to render
my last duty to Madame de Courteheuse. The family was already
dispersed. I found here only Aliette's brother. To him I
communicated my plan concerning the child, and he could but
approve. My intention was to bring away with Jeanne her nurse
Victoire, who had brought her up, as she brought up her mother.
But she is old, and in feeble health, and I feared some
difficulties on her part; the more as her attitude towards myself
since the death of my first wife has been marked by an ill grace
approaching to hostility. I took her aside while Jeanne was
playing in the garden.

"My good Victoire," I said, "while Madame de Courteheuse was
living, I considered it a duty to leave her granddaughter in
her keeping. Besides, no one was better fitted to watch over
her education. At present my duty is to watch over it myself.
I propose therefore to take Jeanne with me to Paris; and I hope
that you may be willing to accompany her, and remain in her
service." When she understood my intention, the old woman, in
whose hands I had noticed a faint trembling, became suddenly
very pale. She fixed her firm, grey eyes upon me: "Monsieur
le Comte will not do that!"

"Pardon me, my good Victoire, that I shall do. I appreciate
your good qualities of fidelity and devotion. I shall be very
grateful if you will continue to take care of my daughter, as
you have done so excellently. But for the rest, I intend to
be the only master in my own house, and the only master of my
child." She laid a hand upon my arm: "I implore you, Monsieur,
don't do this!" Her fixed look did not leave my face, and
seemed to be questioning me to the very bottom of my soul.
"I have never believed it," she murmured, "No! I [237] never
could believe it. But if you take the child away I shall."

"Believe what, wretched woman? believe what?"

Her voice sank lower still. "Believe that you knew how her
mother came by her death; and that you mean the daughter to
die as she did."

"Die as her mother did?"

"Yes! by the same hand!"

The sweat came on my forehead. I felt as it were a breathing of
death upon me. But still I thrust away from me that terrible
light on things.

"Victoire!" I said, "take care! You are no fool: you are
something worse. Your hatred of the woman who has taken the
place of my first wife--your blind hatred--has suggested to
you odious, nay! criminal words."

"Ah! Ah! Monsieur", she cried with wild energy. "After
what I have just told you, take your daughter to live with
that woman if you dare."

I walked up and down the room awhile to collect my senses.
Then, returning to the old woman, "Yet how can I believe you?"
I asked. "If you had had the shadow of a proof of what you
give me to understand, how could you have kept silence so long?
How could you have allowed me to contract that hateful marriage?"

She seemed more confident, and her voice grew gentler. "Monsieur,
it is because Madame, before she went to God, made me take oath
on the crucifix to keep that secret for ever."

"Yet not with me, in fact,--not with me!" And I, in turn,
questioned her; my eyes upon hers. She hesitated: then
stammered out, "True! not with you! because she believed, poor
little soul! that..."

"What did she believe? That I knew it? That I was an accomplice?
Tell me!" Her eyes fell, and she made no answer. "Is it
possible, my God, is it possible? But come, sit by me here, and
tell me all you know, all you saw. At what time was it you
noticed anything--the precise moment?" For in truth she had
been suffering for a long time past.

Victoire tells the miserable story of Sabine's [238] crime--we must
pardon what we think a not quite worthy addition to the imaginary
world M. Feuillet has called up round about him, for the sake of
fully knowing Bernard and Aliette. The old nurse had surprised her
in the very act, and did not credit her explanation. "When I
surprised her," she goes on:

"It may already have been too late--be sure it was not the first
time she had been guilty--my first thought was to give you
information. But I had not the courage. Then I told Madame.
I thought I saw plainly that I had nothing to tell she was not
already aware of. Nevertheless she chided me almost harshly.
'You know very well,' she said, 'that my husband is always there
when Mademoiselle prepares the medicines. So that he too would
be guilty. Rather than believe that, I would accept death at
his hands a hundred times over!' And I remember, Monsieur, how
at the very moment when she told me that, you came out from
the little boudoir, and brought her a glass of valerian. She
cast on me a terrible look and drank. A few minutes afterwards
she was so ill that she thought the end was come. She begged
me to give her her crucifix, and made me swear never to utter
a word concerning our suspicions. It was then I sent for the
priest. I have told you, Monsieur, what I know; what I have

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