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Essays From 'The Guardian' by Walter Horatio Pater

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Produced by Alfred J. Drake, Ph.D.

ESSAYS FROM 'THE GUARDIAN'

By WALTER HORATIO PATER

E-text Editor: Alfred J. Drake, Ph.D.
Electronic Version 1.0 / Date 10-12-01

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ESSAYS FROM 'THE GUARDIAN'

NOTES BY THE E-TEXT EDITOR:

Reliability: Although I have done my best to ensure that the text you
read is error-free in comparison with an exact reprint of the
standard edition--Macmillan's 1910 Library Edition--please exercise
scholarly caution in using it. It is not intended as a substitute
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Pagination and Paragraphing: To avoid an unwieldy electronic copy, I
have transferred original pagination to brackets. A bracketed
numeral such as [22] indicates that the material immediately
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have preserved paragraph structure except for first-line indentation.

Hyphenation: I have not preserved original hyphenation since an e-
text does not require line-end or page-end hyphenation.

Greek typeface: For this full-text edition, I have transliterated
Pater's Greek quotations. If there is a need for the original Greek,
it can be viewed at my site, http://www.ajdrake.com/etexts, a
Victorianist archive that contains the complete works of Walter Pater
and many other nineteenth-century texts, mostly in first editions.

CONTENTS

1. English Literature: 1-16

2. Amiel's "Journal Intime": 17-37

3. Browning: 39-51

4. "Robert Elsmere": 53-70

5. Their Majesties' Servants: 71-88

6. Wordsworth: 89-104

7. Mr. Gosse's Poems: 105-118

8. Ferdinand Fabre: 119-134

9. The "Contes" of M. Augustin Filon: 135-149

ESSAYS FROM 'THE GUARDIAN'

WALTER HORATIO PATER

E-text Editor: Alfred J. Drake, Ph.D.
Electronic Version 1.0 / Date 10-12-01

PATER'S NOTE: The nine papers contained in the following volume
originally appeared anonymously in The Guardian newspaper.

E-TEXT EDITOR'S NOTE: I have not preserved the title pages of this
volume, but have instead moved dates to each essay's end and included
any necessary title-page material in the heading area of the first
substantive page.

I. ENGLISH LITERATURE

FOUR BOOKS FOR STUDENTS OF ENGLISH LITERATURE

[3] THE making of an anthology of English prose is what must have
occurred to many of its students, by way of pleasure to themselves,
or of profit to other persons. Such an anthology, the compass and
variety of our prose literature being considered, might well follow
exclusively some special line of interest in it; exhibiting, for
instance, what is so obviously striking, its imaginative power, or
its (legitimately) poetic beauty, or again, its philosophical
capacity. Mr. Saintsbury's well-considered Specimens of English
Prose Style, from Malory to Macaulay (Kegan Paul), a volume, as we
think, which bears fresh witness to the truth of the old remark that
it takes a scholar indeed to make a [4] good literary selection, has
its motive sufficiently indicated in the very original "introductory
essay," which might well stand, along with the best of these extracts
from a hundred or more deceased masters of English, as itself a
document or standard, in the matter of prose style. The essential
difference between poetry and prose--"that other beauty of prose"--in
the words of the motto he has chosen from Dryden, the first master of
the sort of prose he prefers:--that is Mr. Saintsbury's burden. It
is a consideration, undoubtedly, of great importance both for the
writer and the critic; in England especially, where, although (as Mr.
Saintsbury rightly points out, in correction of an imperfectly
informed French critic of our literature) the radical distinction
between poetry and prose has ever been recognized by its students,
yet the imaginative impulse, which is perhaps the richest of our
purely intellectual gifts, has been apt to invade the province of
that tact and good judgment, alike as to matter and manner, in which
we are not richer than other people. Great poetry and great prose,
it might be found, have most of their qualities in common. But [5]
their indispensable qualities are different, or even opposed; and it
is just the indispensable qualities of prose and poetry respectively,
which it is so necessary for those who have to do with either to bear
ever in mind. Order, precision, directness, are the radical merits
of prose thought; and it is more than merely legitimate that they
should form the criterion of prose style, because within the scope of
those qualities, according to Mr. Saintsbury, there is more than just
the quiet, unpretending usefulness of the bare sermo pedestris.
Acting on language, those qualities generate a specific and unique
beauty--"that other beauty of prose"--fitly illustrated by these
specimens, which the reader needs hardly be told, after what has been
now said, are far from being a collection of "purple patches."

Whether or not he admits their practical cogency, an attentive reader
will not fail to be interested in the attempt Mr. Saintsbury has made
to give technical rules of metre for the production of the true prose
rhythm. Any one who cares to do so might test the validity of those
rules in the nearest possible way, by applying them to the varied
examples in this wide [6] survey of what has been actually well done
in English prose, here exhibited on the side of their strictly
prosaic merit--their conformity, before all other aims, to laws of a
structure primarily reasonable. Not that that reasonable prose
structure, or architecture, as Mr. Saintsbury conceives it, has been
always, or even generally, the ideal, even of those chosen writers
here in evidence. Elizabethan prose, all too chaotic in the beauty
and force which overflowed into it from Elizabethan poetry, and
incorrect with an incorrectness which leaves it scarcely legitimate
prose at all: then, in reaction against that, the correctness of
Dryden, and his followers through the eighteenth century, determining
the standard of a prose in the proper sense, not inferior to the
prose of the Augustan age in Latin, or of the "great age in France":
and, again in reaction against this, the wild mixture of poetry and
prose, in our wild nineteenth century, under the influence of such
writers as Dickens and Carlyle: such are the three periods into which
the story of our prose literature divides itself. And Mr. Saintsbury
has his well-timed, practical suggestions, upon a survey of them.

[7] If the invasion of the legitimate sphere of prose in England by
the spirit of poetry, weaker or stronger, has been something far
deeper than is indicated by that tendency to write unconscious blank
verse, which has made it feasible to transcribe about one-half of
Dickens's otherwise so admirable Barnaby Rudge in blank-verse lines,
a tendency (outdoing our old friend M. Jourdain) commoner than Mr.
Saintsbury admits, such lines being frequent in his favourite Dryden;
yet, on the other hand, it might be maintained, and would be
maintained by its French critics, that our English poetry has been
too apt to dispense with those prose qualities, which, though not the
indispensable qualities of poetry, go, nevertheless, to the making of
all first-rate poetry--the qualities, namely, of orderly structure,
and such qualities generally as depend upon second thoughts. A
collection of specimens of English poetry, for the purpose of
exhibiting the achievement of prose excellences by it (in their
legitimate measure) is a desideratum we commend to Mr. Saintsbury.
It is the assertion, the development, the product of those very
different indispensable qualities of poetry, in the presence [8] of
which the English is equal or superior to all other modern
literature--the native, sublime, and beautiful, but often wild and
irregular, imaginative power in English poetry from Chaucer to
Shakespeare, with which Professor Minto deals, in his Characteristics
of English Poets (Blackwood), lately reprinted. That his book should
have found many readers we can well understand, in the light of the
excellent qualities which, in high degree, have gone to the making of
it: a tasteful learning, never deserted by that hold upon
contemporary literature which is so animating an influence in the
study of what belongs to the past. Beginning with an elaborate
notice of Chaucer, full of the minute scholarship of our day, he
never forgets that his subject is, after all, poetry. The followers
of Chaucer, and the precursors of Shakespeare, are alike real persons
to him--old Langland reminding him of Carlyle's "Gospel of Labour."
The product of a large store of reading has been here secreted anew
for the reader who desires to see, in bird's-eye view, the light and
shade of a long and varied period of poetic literature, by way of
preparation for Shakespeare, [9] (with a full essay upon whom the
volume closes,) explaining Shakespeare, so far as he can be explained
by literary antecedents.

That powerful poetry was twin-brother to a prose, of more varied, but
certainly of wilder and more irregular power than the admirable, the
typical, prose of Dryden. In Dryden, and his followers through the
eighteenth century, we see the reaction against the exuberance and
irregularity of that prose, no longer justified by power, but
cognizable rather as bad taste. But such reaction was effective only
because an age had come--the age of a negative, or agnostic
philosophy--in which men's minds must needs be limited to the
superficialities of things, with a kind of narrowness amounting to a
positive gift. What that mental attitude was capable of, in the way
of an elegant, yet plain-spoken, and life-like delineation of men's
moods and manners, as also in the way of determining those moods and
manners themselves to all that was lively, unaffected, and
harmonious, can be seen nowhere better than in Mr. Austin Dobson's
Selections from Steele (Clarendon Press) prefaced by his careful
"Life." The well-known qualities of [10] Mr. Dobson's own original
work are a sufficient guarantee of the taste and discrimination we
may look for in a collection like this, in which the random
lightnings of the first of the essayists are grouped under certain
heads--"Character Sketches," "Tales and Incidents," "Manners and
Fashions," and the like--so as to diminish, for the general reader,
the scattered effect of short essays on a hundred various subjects,
and give a connected, book-like character to the specimens.

Steele, for one, had certainly succeeded in putting himself, and his
way of taking the world--for this pioneer of an everybody's
literature had his subjectivities--into books. What a survival of
one long-past day, for instance, in "A Ramble from Richmond to
London"! What truth to the surface of common things, to their direct
claim on our interest! yet with what originality of effect in that
truthfulness, when he writes, for instance:

"I went to my lodgings, led by a light, whom I put into the discourse
of his private economy, and made him give me an account of the
charge, hazard, profit, and loss of a family that depended upon a
link."

[11] It was one of his peculiarities, he tells us, to live by the eye
far more than by any other sense (a peculiarity, perhaps, in an
Englishman), and this is what he sees at the early daily service then
common in some City churches. Among those who were come only to see
or be seen, "there were indeed a few in whose looks there appeared a
heavenly joy and gladness upon the entrance of a new day, as if they
had gone to sleep with expectation of it."

The industrious reader, indeed, might select out of these specimens
from Steele, a picture, in minute detail, of the characteristic
manners of that time. Still, beside, or only a little way beneath,
such a picture of passing fashion, what Steele and his fellows really
deal with is the least transitory aspects of life, though still
merely aspects--those points in which all human nature, great or
little, finds what it has in common, and directly shows itself up.
The natural strength of such literature will, of course, be in the
line of its tendencies; in transparency, variety, and directness. To
the unembarrassing matter, the unembarrassed style! Steele is,
perhaps, the most impulsive writer of the school [12] to which he
belongs; he abounds in felicities of impulse. Yet who can help
feeling that his style is regular because the matter he deals with is
the somewhat uncontentious, even, limited soul, of an age not
imaginative, and unambitious in its speculative flight? Even in
Steele himself we may observe with what sureness of instinct the men
of that age turned aside at the contact of anything likely to make
them, in any sense, forget themselves.

No one indicates better than Charles Lamb, to whose memory Mr. Alfred
Ainger has done such good service, the great and peculiar change
which was begun at the end of the last century, and dominates our
own; that sudden increase of the width, the depth, the complexity of
intellectual interest, which has many times torn and distorted
literary style, even with those best able to comprehend its laws. In
Mrs. Leicester's School, with other Writings in Prose and Verse
(Macmillan), Mr. Ainger has collected and annotated certain remains
of Charles and Mary Lamb, too good to lie unknown to the present
generation, in forgotten periodicals or inaccessible reprints. The
story of the Odyssey, abbreviated [13] in very simple prose, for
children--of all ages--will speak for itself. But the garland of
graceful stories which gives name to the volume, told by a party of
girls on the evening of their assembling at school, are in the
highest degree characteristic of the brother and sister who were ever
so successful in imparting to others their own enjoyment of books and
people. The tragic circumstance which strengthened and consecrated
their natural community of interest had, one might think, something
to do with the far-reaching pensiveness even of their most humorous
writing, touching often the deepest springs of pity and awe, as the
way of the highest humour is--a way, however, very different from
that of the humorists of the eighteenth century. But one cannot
forget also that Lamb was early an enthusiastic admirer of
Wordsworth: of Wordsworth, the first characteristic power of the
nineteenth century, his essay on whom, in the Quarterly Review, Mr.
Ainger here reprints. Would that he could have reprinted it as
originally composed, and ungarbled by Gifford, the editor! Lamb,
like Wordsworth, still kept the charm of a serenity, [14] a
precision, unsurpassed by the quietest essayist of the preceding age.
But it might have been foreseen that the rising tide of thought and
feeling, on the strength of which they too are borne upward, would
sometimes overflow barriers. And so it happens that these simple
stories are touched, much as Wordsworth's verse-stories were, with
tragic power. Dealing with the beginnings of imagination in the
minds of children, they record, with the reality which a very
delicate touch preserves from anything lugubrious, not those merely
preventible miseries of childhood over which some writers have been
apt to gloat, but the contact of childhood with the great and
inevitable sorrows of life, into which children can enter with depth,
with dignity, and sometimes with a kind of simple, pathetic
greatness, to the discipline of the heart. Let the reader begin with
the "Sea Voyage," which is by Charles Lamb; and, what Mr. Ainger
especially recommends, the "Father's Wedding-Day," by his sister
Mary.

The ever-increasing intellectual burden of our age is hardly likely
to adapt itself to the exquisite, but perhaps too delicate and
limited, [15] literary instruments of the age of Queen Anne. Yet Mr.
Saintsbury is certainly right in thinking that, as regards style,
English literature has much to do. Well, the good quality of an age,
the defect of which lies in the direction of intellectual anarchy and
confusion, may well be eclecticism: in style, as in other things, it
is well always to aim at the combination of as many excellences as
possible--opposite excellences, it may be--those other beauties of
prose. A busy age will hardly educate its writers in correctness.
Let its writers make time to write English more as a learned
language; and completing that correction of style which had only gone
a certain way in the last century, raise the general level of
language towards their own. If there be a weakness in Mr.
Saintsbury's view, it is perhaps in a tendency to regard style a
little too independently of matter. And there are still some who
think that, after all, the style is the man; justified, in very great
varieties, by the simple consideration of what he himself has to say,
quite independently of any real or supposed connection with this or
that literary age or school. Let us close with the words of a most
[16] versatile master of English--happily not yet included in Mr.
Saintsbury's book--a writer who has dealt with all the perturbing
influences of our century in a manner as classical, as idiomatic, as
easy and elegant, as Steele's:

"I wish you to observe," says Cardinal Newman, "that the mere dealer
in words cares little or nothing for the subject which he is
embellishing, but can paint and gild anything whatever to order;
whereas the artist, whom I am acknowledging, has his great or rich
visions before him, and his only aim is to bring out what he thinks
or what he feels in a way adequate to the thing spoken of, and
appropriate to the speaker."

17th February 1886

II. AMIEL'S "JOURNAL INTIME"

Amiel's Journal. The Journal Intime of Henri-Frédéric Amiel.
Translated, with an Introduction and Notes, by Mrs. Humphry Ward.
Two vols. Macmillans.

[19] CERTAIN influential expressions of opinion have attracted much
curiosity to Amiel's Journal Intime, both in France, where the book
has already made its mark, and in England, where Mrs. Humphry Ward's
translation is likely to make it widely known among all serious
lovers of good literature. Easy, idiomatic, correct, this English
version reads like an excellent original English work, and gives
fresh proof that the work of translation, if it is to be done with
effect, must be done by those who, possessing, like Mrs. Ward,
original literary gifts, are willing to make a long act of self-
denial or self-effacement [20] for the benefit of the public. In
this case, indeed, the work is not wholly one of self-effacement, for
the accomplished translator has prefaced Amiel's Journal by an able
and interesting essay of seventy pages on Amiel's life and
intellectual position. And certainly there is much in the book, thus
effectively presented to the English reader, to attract those who
interest themselves in the study of the finer types of human nature,
of literary expression, of metaphysical and practical philosophy; to
attract, above all, those interested in such philosophy, at points
where it touches upon questions of religion, and especially at the
present day.

Henri-Frédéric Amiel was born at Geneva in 1821. Orphaned of both
his parents at the age of twelve, his youth was necessarily "a little
bare and forlorn," and a deep interest in religion became fixed in
him early. His student days coming to an end, the years which
followed, from 1842 to 1848--Wanderjahre, in which he visited
Holland, Italy, Sicily, and the principal towns of Germany--seem to
have been the happiest of his life. In 1849 he became a Professor at
Geneva, and there is little more to tell of him in [21] the way of
outward events. He published some volumes of verse; to the last
apparently still only feeling after his true literary métier. Those
last seven years were a long struggle against the disease which ended
his life, consumption, at the age of fifty-three. The first entry in
his Journal is in 1848. From that date to his death, a period of
over twenty-five years, this Journal was the real object of all the
energies of his richly-endowed nature: and from its voluminous sheets
his literary executors have selected the deeply interesting volumes
now presented in English.

With all its gifts and opportunities it was a melancholy life--
melancholy with something not altogether explained by the somewhat
pessimistic philosophy exposed in the Journal, nor by the consumptive
tendency of Amiel's physical constitution, causing him from a very
early date to be much preoccupied with the effort to reconcile
himself with the prospect of death, and reinforcing the far from
sanguine temperament of one intellectually also a poitrinaire.

You might think him at first sight only an admirable specimen of a
thoroughly well-educated [22] man, full, of course, of the modern
spirit; stimulated and formed by the influences of the varied
intellectual world around him; and competing, in his turn, with many
very various types of contemporary ability. The use of his book to
cultivated people might lie in its affording a kind of standard by
which they might take measure of the maturity and producible quality
of their own thoughts on a hundred important subjects. He will write
a page or two, giving evidence of that accumulated power and
attainment which, with a more strenuous temperament, might have
sufficed for an effective volume. Continually, in the Journal, we
pause over things that would rank for beauties among widely differing
models of the best French prose. He has said some things in Pascal's
vein not unworthy of Pascal. He had a right to compose "Thoughts":
they have the force in them which makes up for their unavoidable want
of continuity.

But if, as Amiel himself challenges us to do, we look below the
surface of a very equable and even smoothly accomplished literary
manner, we discover, in high degree of development, that perplexity
or complexity of soul, the expression [23] of which, so it be with an
adequate literary gift, has its legitimate, because inevitable,
interest for the modern reader. Senancour and Maurice de Guérin in
one, seem to have been supplemented here by a larger experience, a
far greater education, than either of them had attained to. So
multiplex is the result that minds of quite opposite type might well
discover in these pages their own special thought or humour, happily
expressed at last (they might think) in precisely that just shade of
language themselves had searched for in vain. And with a writer so
vivid and impressive as Amiel, those varieties of tendency are apt to
present themselves as so many contending persons. The perplexed
experience gets the apparent clearness, as it gets also the
animation, of a long dialogue; only, the disputants never part
company, and there is no real conclusion. "This nature," he
observes, of one of the many phases of character he has discovered in
himself, "is, as it were, only one of the men which exist in me. It
is one of my departments. It is not the whole of my territory, the
whole of my inner kingdom"; and again, "there are ten men in me,
according to time, place, surrounding, [24] and occasion; and, in my
restless diversity, I am for ever escaping myself."

Yet, in truth, there are but two men in Amiel--two sufficiently
opposed personalities, which the attentive reader may define for
himself; compare with, and try by each other--as we think, correct
also by each other. There is the man, in him and in these pages, who
would be "the man of disillusion," only that he has never really been
"the man of desires"; and who seems, therefore, to have a double
weariness about him. He is akin, of course, to Obermann, to René,
even to Werther, and, on our first introduction to him, we might
think that we had to do only with one more of the vague
"renunciants," who in real life followed those creations of fiction,
and who, however delicate, interesting as a study, and as it were
picturesque on the stage of life, are themselves, after all,
essentially passive, uncreative, and therefore necessarily not of
first-rate importance in literature. Taken for what it is worth, the
expression of this mood--the culture of ennui for its own sake--is
certainly carried to its ideal of negation by Amiel. But the
completer, the positive, soul, which will merely take [25] that mood
into its service (its proper service, as we hold, is in counteraction
to the vulgarity of purely positive natures) is also certainly in
evidence in Amiel's "Thoughts"--that other, and far stronger person,
in the long dialogue; the man, in short, possessed of gifts, not for
the renunciation, but for the reception and use, of all that is
puissant, goodly, and effective in life, and for the varied and
adequate literary reproduction of it; who, under favourable
circumstances, or even without them, will become critic, or poet, and
in either case a creative force; and if he be religious (as Amiel was
deeply religious) will make the most of "evidence," and almost
certainly find a Church.

The sort of purely poetic tendency in his mind, which made Amiel
known in his own lifetime chiefly as a writer of verse, seems to be
represented in these volumes by certain passages of natural
description, always sincere, and sometimes rising to real
distinction. In Switzerland it is easy to be pleased with scenery.
But the record of such pleasure becomes really worth while when, as
happens with Amiel, we feel that there has been, and with success, an
intellectual [26] effort to get at the secret, the precise motive,
of the pleasure; to define feeling, in this matter. Here is a good
description of an effect of fog, which we commend to foreigners
resident in London:

"Fog has certainly a poetry of its own--a grace, a dreamy charm. It
does for the daylight what a lamp does for us at night; it turns the
mind towards meditation; it throws the soul back on itself. The sun,
as it were, sheds us abroad in nature, scatters and disperses us;
mist draws us together and concentrates us--it is cordial, homely,
charged with feeling. The poetry of the sun has something of the
epic in it; that of fog and mist is elegiac and religious. Pantheism
is the child of light; mist engenders faith in near protectors. When
the great world is shut off from us, the house becomes itself a small
universe. Shrouded in perpetual mist, men love each other better;
for the only reality then is the family, and, within the family, the
heart; and the greatest thoughts come from the heart--so says the
moralist."

It is of Swiss fog, however, that he is speaking, as, in what
follows, of Swiss frost:

[27] "Three snowstorms this afternoon. Poor blossoming plum-trees
and peach-trees! What a difference from six years ago, when the
cherry-trees, adorned in their green spring dress and laden with
their bridal flowers, smiled at my departure along the Vaudois
fields, and the lilacs of Burgundy threw great gusts of perfume into
my face!" The weather is seldom talked of with so much real
sensitiveness to it as in this:

"The weather is rainy, the whole atmosphere grey; it is a time
favourable to thought and meditation. I have a liking for such days
as these; they revive one's converse with oneself and make it
possible to live the inner life: they are quiet and peaceful, like a
song in a minor key. We are nothing but thought, but we feel our
life to its very centre. Our very sensations turn to reverie. It is
a strange state of mind; it is like those silences in worship which
are not the empty moments of devotion, but the full moments, and
which are so because at such times the soul, instead of being
polarized, dispersed, localized, in a single impression or thought,
feels her own totality and is conscious of herself."

[28] "Every landscape," he writes, "is, as it were, a state of the
soul": and again, "At bottom there is but one subject of study; the
forms and metamorphoses of mind: all other subjects may be reduced to
that; all other studies bring us back to this study." And, in truth,
if he was occupied with the aspects of nature to such an excellent
literary result, still, it was with nature only as a phenomenon of
the moral order. His interest, after all, is, consistently, that of
the moralist (in no narrow sense) who deals, from predilection, with
the sort of literary work which stirs men--stirs their intellect--
through feeling; and with that literature, especially, as looked at
through the means by which it became capable of thus commanding men.
The powers, the culture, of the literary producer: there, is the
centre of Amiel's curiosity.

And if we take Amiel at his own word, we must suppose that but for
causes, the chief of which were bad health and a not long life, he
too would have produced monumental work, whose scope and character he
would wish us to conjecture from his "Thoughts." Such indications
there certainly are in them. He was [29] meant--we see it in the
variety, the high level both of matter and style, the animation, the
gravity, of one after another of these thoughts--on religion, on
poetry, on politics in the highest sense; on their most abstract
principles, and on the authors who have given them a personal colour;
on the genius of those authors, as well as on their concrete works;
on outlying isolated subjects, such as music, and special musical
composers--he was meant, if people ever are meant for special lines
of activity, for the best sort of criticism, the imaginative
criticism; that criticism which is itself a kind of construction, or
creation, as it penetrates, through the given literary or artistic
product, into the mental and inner constitution of the producer,
shaping his work. Of such critical skill, cultivated with all the
resources of Geneva in the nineteenth century, he has given in this
Journal abundant proofs. Corneille, Cherbuliez; Rousseau, Sismondi;
Victor Hugo, and Joubert; Mozart and Wagner--all who are interested
in these men will find a value in what Amiel has to say of them.
Often, as for instance in his excellent criticism of Quinet, he has
to make large exceptions [30]; limitations, skilfully effected by
the way, in the course of a really appreciative estimate. Still,
through all, what we feel is that we have to do with one who
criticises in this fearlessly equitable manner only because he is
convinced that his subject is of a real literary importance. A
powerful, intellectual analysis of some well-marked subject, in such
form as makes literature enduring, is indeed what the world might
have looked for from him: those institutes of aesthetics, for
instance, which might exist, after Lessing and Hegel, but which
certainly do not exist yet. "Construction," he says--artistic or
literary construction--"rests upon feeling, instinct, and," alas!
also, "upon will." The instinct, at all events, was certainly his.
And over and above that he had possessed himself of the art of
expressing, in quite natural language, very difficult thoughts; those
abstract and metaphysical conceptions especially, in which German
mind has been rich, which are bad masters, but very useful ministers
towards the understanding, towards an analytical survey, of all that
the intellect has produced.

But something held him back: not so much [31] a reluctancy of
temperament, or of physical constitution (common enough cause why men
of undeniable gifts fail of commensurate production) but a cause
purely intellectual--the presence in him, namely, of a certain vein
of opinion; that other, constituent but contending, person, in his
complex nature. "The relation of thought to action," he writes,
"filled my mind on waking, and I found myself carried towards a
bizarre formula, which seems to have something of the night still
clinging about it. Action is but coarsened thought." That is but an
ingenious metaphysical point, as he goes on to show. But, including
in "action" that literary production in which the line of his own
proper activity lay, he followed--followed often--that fastidious
utterance to a cynical and pessimistic conclusion.

Maia, as he calls it, the empty "Absolute" of the Buddhist, the
"Infinite," the "All," of which those German metaphysicians he loved
only too well have had so much to say: this was for ever to give the
go-by to all positive, finite, limited interests whatever. The vague
pretensions of an abstract expression acted on him with all the force
of a prejudice. "The ideal," he admits, [32] "poisons for me all
imperfect possession"; and again, "The Buddhist tendency in me blunts
the faculty of free self-government, and weakens the power of action.
I feel a terror of action and am only at ease in the impersonal,
disinterested, and objective line of thought." But then, again, with
him "action" meant chiefly literary production. He quotes with
approval those admirable words from Goethe, "In der Beschrankung
zeigt sich erst der Meister"; yet still always finds himself wavering
between "frittering myself away on the infinitely little, and longing
after what is unknown and distant." There is, doubtless, over and
above the physical consumptive tendency, an instinctive turn of
sentiment in this touching confession. Still, what strengthened both
tendencies was that metaphysical prejudice for the "Absolute," the
false intellectual conscience. "I have always avoided what attracted
me, and turned my back upon the point where secretly I desired to
be"; and, of course, that is not the way to a free and generous
productivity, in literature, or in anything else; though in
literature, with Amiel at all events, it meant the fastidiousness
which [33] is incompatible with any but the very best sort of
production.

And as that abstract condition of Maia, to the kind and quantity of
concrete literary production we hold to have been originally possible
for him; so was the religion he actually attained, to what might have
been the development of his profoundly religious spirit, had he been
able to see that the old-fashioned Christianity is itself but the
proper historic development of the true "essence" of the New
Testament. There, again, is the constitutional shrinking, through a
kind of metaphysical prejudice, from the concrete--that fear of the
actual--in this case, of the Church of history; to which the
admissions, which form so large a part of these volumes, naturally
lead. Assenting, on probable evidence, to so many of the judgments
of the religious sense, he failed to see the equally probable
evidence there is for the beliefs, the peculiar direction of men's
hopes, which complete those judgments harmoniously, and bring them
into connection with the facts, the venerable institutions of the
past--with the lives of the saints. By failure, as we think, of that
historic sense, of [34] which he could speak so well, he got no
further in this direction than the glacial condition of rationalistic
Geneva. "Philosophy," he says, "can never replace religion." Only,
one cannot see why it might not replace a religion such as his: a
religion, after all, much like Seneca's.

"I miss something," he himself confesses, "common worship, a positive
religion, shared with other people. Ah! when will the Church to
which I belong in heart rise into being?" To many at least of those
who can detect the ideal through the disturbing circumstances which
belong to all actual institutions in the world, it was already there.
Pascal, from considerations to which Amiel was no stranger, came to
the large hopes of the Catholic Church; Amiel stopped short at a
faith almost hopeless; and by stopping short just there he really
failed, as we think, of intellectual consistency, and missed that
appeasing influence which his nature demanded as the condition of its
full activity, as a force, an intellectual force, in the world--in
the special business of his life. "Welcome the unforeseen," he says
again, by way of a counsel of perfection in the matter of culture,
"but give to [35] your life unity, and bring the unforeseen within
the lines of your plan." Bring, we should add, the Great Possibility
at least within the lines of your plan--your plan of action or
production; of morality; especially of your conceptions of religion.
And still, Amiel too, be it remembered (we are not afraid to repeat
it), has said some things in Pascal's vein not unworthy of Pascal.

And so we get only the Journal. Watching in it, in the way we have
suggested, the contention of those two men, those two minds in him,
and observing how the one might have ascertained and corrected the
shortcomings of the other, we certainly understand, and can
sympathize with Amiel's despondency in the retrospect of a life which
seemed to have been but imperfectly occupied. But, then, how
excellent a literary product, after all, the Journal is. And already
we have found that it improves also on second reading. A book of
"thoughts" should be a book that may be fairly dipped into, and yield
good quotable sayings. Here are some of its random offerings:

Look twice, if what you want is a just [36] conception; look once, if
what you want is a sense of beauty."

"It is not history which teaches conscience to be honest; it is the
conscience which educates history. Fact is corrupting--it is we who
correct it by the persistence of our ideal."

"To do easily what is difficult for others is the mark of talent. To
do what is impossible for talent is the mark of genius."

"Duty has the virtue of making us feel the reality of a positive
world, while at the same time detaching us from it."

"As it is impossible to be outside God, the best is consciously to
dwell in Him."

"He also (the Son of Man), He above all, is the great Misunderstood,
the least comprehended."

"The pensée writer is to the philosopher what the dilettante is to
the artist."

There are some, we know, who hold that genius cannot, in the nature
of things, be "sterile"; that there are no "mute" Miltons, or the
like. Well! genius, or only a very distinguished talent, the gift
which Amiel nursed so jealously did come into evidence. And the [37]
reader, we hope, sees also already how well his English translator
has done her work. She may justly feel, as part at least of the
reward of a labour which must have occupied much time, so many of the
freshest hours of mind and spirit, that she has done something to
help her author in the achievement of his, however discouraged still
irrepressible, desire, by giving additional currency to a book which
the best sort of readers will recognize as an excellent and certainly
very versatile companion, not to be forgotten.

17th March 1886

III. BROWNING

An Introduction to the Study of Browning.
By Arthur Symons. Cassells.

[41] WHETHER it be true or not that Mr. Browning is justly chargeable
with "obscurity"--with a difficulty of manner, that is, beyond the
intrinsic difficulty of his matter--it is very probable that an
Introduction to the study of his works, such as this of Mr. Symons,
will add to the number of his readers. Mr. Symons's opening essay on
the general characteristics of Mr. Browning is a just and acceptable
appreciation of his poetry as a whole, well worth reading, even at
this late day. We find in Mr. Symons the thoughtful and practised
yet enthusiastic student in literature--in intellectual problems;
always quiet and sane, praising Mr. Browning with tact, with a real
refinement and grace; saying well many [42] things which every
competent reader of the great poet must feel to be true; devoting to
the subject he loves a critical gift so considerable as to make us
wish for work from his hands of larger scope than this small volume.
His book is, according to his intention, before all things a useful
one. Appreciating Mr. Browning fairly, as we think, in all his
various efforts, his aim is to point his readers to the best, the
indisputable, rather than to the dubious portions of his author's
work. Not content with his own excellent general criticism of Mr.
Browning, he guides the reader to his works, or division of work,
seriatim, making of each a distinct and special study, and giving a
great deal of welcome information about the poems, the circumstances
of their composition, and the like, with delightful quotations.
Incidentally, his Introduction has the interest of a brief but
effective selection from Mr. Browning's poems; and he has added an
excellent biography.

Certainly we shall not quarrel with Mr. Symons for reckoning Mr.
Browning, among English poets, second to Shakespeare alone--"He comes
very near the gigantic total of [43] Shakespeare." The quantity of
his work? Yes! that too, in spite of a considerable unevenness, is a
sign of genius. "So large, indeed, appear to be his natural
endowments that we cannot feel as if even thirty volumes would have
come near to exhausting them." Imaginatively, indeed, Mr. Browning
has been a multitude of persons; only (as Shakespeare's only untried
style was the simple one) almost never simple ones; and certainly he
has controlled them all to profoundly interesting artistic ends by
his own powerful personality. The world and all its action, as a
show of thought, that is the scope of his work. It makes him pre-
eminently a modern poet--a poet of the self-pondering, perfectly
educated, modern world, which, having come to the end of all direct
and purely external experiences, must necessarily turn for its
entertainment to the world within:--

"The men and women who live and move in that new world of his
creation are as varied as life itself; they are kings and beggars,
saints and lovers, great captains, poets, painters, musicians,
priests and Popes, Jews, gipsies and dervishes, street-girls,
princesses, dancers with the wicked [44] witchery of the daughter of
Herodias, wives with the devotion of the wife of Brutus, joyous girls
and malevolent grey-beards, statesmen, cavaliers, soldiers of
humanity, tyrants and bigots, ancient sages and modern spiritualists,
heretics, scholars, scoundrels, devotees, rabbis, persons of quality
and men of low estate--men and women as multiform as nature or
society has made them."

The individual, the personal, the concrete, as distinguished from,
yet revealing in its fulness, the general, the universal--that is Mr.
Browning's chosen subject-matter: "Every man is for him an epitome of
the universe, a centre of creation." It is always the particular
soul, and the particular act or episode, as the flower of the
particular soul--the act or episode by which its quality comes to the
test--in which he interests us. With him it is always "a drama of
the interior, a tragedy or comedy of the soul, to see thereby how
each soul becomes conscious of itself." In the Preface to the later
edition of Sordello, Mr. Browning himself told us that to him little
else seems worth study except the development of a soul, the
incidents, the story, of that. And, [45] in fact, the intellectual
public generally agrees with him. It is because he has ministered
with such marvellous vigour, and variety, and fine skill to this
interest, that he is the most modern, to modern people the most
important, of poets.

So much for Mr. Browning's matter; for his manner, we hold Mr. Symons
right in thinking him a master of all the arts of poetry. "These
extraordinary little poems," says Mr. Symons of "Johannes Agricola"
and "Porphyria's Lover"--

"Reveal not only an imagination of intense fire and heat, but an
almost finished art--a power of conceiving subtle mental complexities
with clearness and of expressing them in a picturesque form and in
perfect lyric language. Each poem renders a single mood, and renders
it completely."

Well, after all, that is true of a large portion of Mr. Browning's
work. A curious, an erudite artist, certainly, he is to some extent
an experimenter in rhyme or metre, often hazardous. But in spite of
the dramatic rudeness which is sometimes of the idiosyncrasy, the
true and native colour of his multitudinous dramatis personae, or
monologists, Mr. Symons is right in [46] laying emphasis on the
grace, the finished skill, the music, native and ever ready to the
poet himself--tender, manly, humorous, awe-stricken--when speaking in
his own proper person. Music herself, the analysis of the musical
soul, in the characteristic episodes of its development is a wholly
new range of poetic subject in which Mr. Browning is simply unique.
Mr. Symons tells us:--

"When Mr. Browning was a mere boy, it is recorded that he debated
within himself whether he should not become a painter or a musician
as well as a poet. Finally, though not, I believe, for a good many
years, he decided in the negative. But the latent qualities of
painter and musician had developed themselves in his poetry, and much
of his finest and very much of his most original verse is that which
speaks the language of painter and musician as it had never before
been spoken. No English poet before him has ever excelled his
utterances on music, none has so much as rivalled his utterances on
art. 'Abt Vogler' is the richest, deepest, fullest poem on music in
the language. It is not the theories of the poet, but the instincts
of the [47] musician, that it speaks. 'Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha,'
another special poem on music, is unparalleled for ingenuity of
technical interpretation: 'A Toccata of Galuppi's' is as rare a
rendering as can anywhere be found of the impressions and sensations
caused by a musical piece; but 'Abt Vogler' is a very glimpse into
the heaven where music is born."

It is true that "when the head has to be exercised before the heart
there is chilling of sympathy." Of course, so intellectual a poet
(and only the intellectual poet, as we have pointed out, can be
adequate to modern demands) will have his difficulties. They were a
part of the poet's choice of vocation, and he was fully aware of
them:--

"Mr. Browning might say, as his wife said in an early preface, I
never mistook pleasure for the final cause of poetry, nor leisure for
the hour of the poet--as indeed he has himself said, to much the same
effect, in a letter printed many years ago: I never pretended to
offer such literature as should be a substitute for a cigar or a game
at dominoes to an idle man."

"Moreover, while a writer who deals with [48] easy themes has no
excuse if he is not pellucid to a glance, one who employs his
intellect and imagination on high and hard questions has a right to
demand a corresponding closeness of attention, and a right to say
with Bishop Butler, in answer to a similar complaint: 'It must be
acknowledged that some of the following discourses are very abstruse
and difficult, or, if you please, obscure; but I must take leave to
add that those alone are judges whether or no, and how far this is a
fault, who are judges whether or no, and how far it might have been
avoided--those only who will be at the trouble to understand what is
here said, and to see how far the things here insisted upon, and not
other things, might have been put in a plainer manner.'"

In Mr. Symons's opinion Pippa Passes is Mr. Browning's most perfect
piece of work, for pregnancy of intellect, combined with faultless
expression in a perfectly novel yet symmetrical outline: and he is
very likely right. He is certainly right in thinking Mas they
formerly stood, Mr. Browning's most delightful volumes. It is only
to be regretted [49] that in the later collected edition of the works
those two magical old volumes are broken up and scattered under other
headings. We think also that Mr. Symons in his high praise does no
more than justice to The Ring and the Book. The Ring and the Book is
at once the largest and the greatest of Mr. Browning's works, the
culmination of his dramatic method, and the turning-point more
decisively than Dramatis Personae of his style. Yet just here he
rightly marks a change in Mr. Browning's manner:--

"Not merely the manner of presentment, the substance, and also the
style and versification have undergone a change. I might point to
the profound intellectual depth of certain pieces as its
characteristic, or, equally, to the traces here and there of an
apparent carelessness of workmanship; or, yet again, to the new and
very marked partiality for scenes and situations of English and
modern rather than mediæval and foreign life."

Noble as much of Mr. Browning's later work is, full of intellect,
alive with excellent passages (in the first volume of the Dramatic
Idyls [50] perhaps more powerful than in any earlier work);
notwithstanding all that, we think the change here indicated matter
of regret. After all, we have to conjure up ideal poets for
ourselves out of those who stand in or behind the range of volumes on
our book-shelves; and our ideal Browning would have for his entire
structural type those two volumes of Men and Women with Pippa Passes.

Certainly, it is a delightful world to which Mr. Browning has given
us the key, and those volumes a delightful gift to our age-record of
so much that is richest in the world of things, and men, and their
works--all so much the richer by the great intellect, the great
imagination, which has made the record, transmuted them into
imperishable things of art:--

"'With souls should souls have place'--this, with Mr. Browning, is
something more than a mere poetical conceit. It is the condensed
expression of an experience, a philosophy, and an art. Like the
lovers of his lyric, Mr. Browning has renounced the selfish
serenities of wild-wood and dream-palace; he has fared up and down
among men, listening to the music of humanity, [51] observing the
acts of men, and he has sung what he has heard, and he has painted
what he has seen. Will the work live? we ask; and we can answer only
in his own words--

It lives,
If precious be the soul of man to man."

9th November 1887

IV. "ROBERT ELSMERE"

[55] THOSE who, in this bustling age, turn to fiction not merely for
a little passing amusement, but for profit, for the higher sort of
pleasure, will do well, we think (after a conscientious perusal on
our own part) to bestow careful reading on Robert Elsmere. A chef
d'oeuvre of that kind of quiet evolution of character through
circumstance, introduced into English literature by Miss Austen, and
carried to perfection in France by George Sand (who is more to the
point, because, like Mrs. Ward, she was not afraid to challenge
novel-readers to an interest in religious questions), it abounds in
sympathy with people as we find them, in aspiration towards something
better--towards a certain ideal--in a refreshing sense of second
thoughts everywhere. The author clearly has developed a remarkable
natural aptitude for literature by liberal reading and most patient
care [56] in composition--composition in that narrower sense which is
concerned with the building of a good sentence; as also in that wider
sense, which ensures, in a work like this, with so many joints, so
many currents of interest, a final unity of impression an the part of
the reader, and easy transition by him from one to the other. Well-
used to works of fiction which tell all they have to tell in one thin
volume, we have read Mrs. Ward's three volumes with unflagging
readiness.

For, in truth, that quiet method of evolution, which she pursues
undismayed to the end, requires a certain lengthiness; and the
reader's reward will be in a secure sense that he has been in
intercourse with no mere flighty remnants, but with typical forms, of
character, firmly and fully conceived. We are persuaded that the
author might have written a novel which should have been all shrewd
impressions of society, or all humorous impressions of country life,
or all quiet fun and genial caricature. Actually she has chosen to
combine something of each of these with a very sincerely felt
religious interest; and who will deny that to trace the influence of
religion upon human character is one of the [57] legitimate functions
of the novel? In truth, the modern "novel of character" needs some
such interest, to lift it sufficiently above the humdrum of life; as
men's horizons are enlarged by religion, of whatever type it may be--
and we may say at once that the religious type which is dear to Mrs.
Ward, though avowedly "broad," is not really the broadest. Having
conceived her work thus, she has brought a rare instinct for
probability and nature to the difficult task of combining this
religious motive and all the learned thought it involves, with a very
genuine interest in many varieties of average mundane life.

We should say that the author's special ethical gift lay in a
delicately intuitive sympathy, not, perhaps, with all phases of
character, but certainly with the very varied class of persons
represented in these volumes. It may be congruous with this,
perhaps, that her success should be more assured in dealing with the
characters of women than with those of men. The men who pass before
us in her pages, though real and tangible and effective enough, seem,
nevertheless, from time to time to reveal their joinings. They are
composite of many different men we seem to have [58] known, and fancy
we could detach again from the ensemble and from each other. And
their goodness, when they are good, is--well! a little conventional;
the kind of goodness that men themselves discount rather largely in
their estimates of each other. Robert himself is certainly worth
knowing--a really attractive union of manliness and saintliness, of
shrewd sense and unworldly aims, and withal with that kindness and
pity the absence of which so often abates the actual value of those
other gifts. Mrs. Ward's literary power is sometimes seen at its
best (it is a proof of her high cultivation of this power that so it
should be) in the analysis of minor characters, both male and female.
Richard Leyburn, deceased before the story begins, but warm in the
memory of the few who had known him, above all of his great-souled
daughter Catherine, strikes us, with his religious mysticism, as
being in this way one of the best things in the book:--

"Poor Richard Leyburn! Yet where had the defeat lain?

"'Was he happy in his school life?' Robert asked gently. 'Was
teaching what he liked?'

[59] "'Oh! yes, only--' and then added hurriedly, as though drawn on
in spite of herself by the grave sympathy of his look, 'I never knew
anybody so good who thought himself of so little account. He always
believed that he had missed everything, wasted everything, and that
anybody else would have made infinitely more out of his life. He vas
always blaming, scourging himself. And all the time he was the
noblest, purest, most devoted--'

"She stopped. Her voice had passed beyond her control. Elsmere was
startled by the feeling she showed. Evidently he had touched one of
the few sore places in this pure heart. It was as though her memory
of her father had in it elements of almost intolerable pathos, as
though the child's brooding love and loyalty were in perpetual
protest even now after this lapse of years against the verdict which
an over-scrupulous, despondent soul had pronounced upon itself. Did
she feel that he had gone uncomforted out of life--even by her--even
by religion? Was that the sting?"

A little later she gives the record of his last hours:--

[60] "'Catherine! Life is harder, the narrower way narrower than
ever. I die--and memory caught still the piteous long-drawn breath
by which the voice was broken--'in much--much perplexity about many
things. You have a clear soul, an iron will. Strengthen the others.
Bring them safe to the day of account.'"

And then the smaller--some of them, ethically, very small--women;
Lady Wynnstay, Mrs. Fleming, Mrs. Thornburgh; above all, Robert's
delightful Irish mother, and Mrs. Darcy; how excellent they are!
Mrs. Darcy we seem to have known, yet cannot have enough of, rejoiced
to catch sight of her capital letter on the page, as we read on. In
truth, if a high and ideal purpose, really learned in the school of
Wordsworth and among the Westmorland hills which Mrs. Ward describes
so sympathetically, with fitting dignity and truth of style, has
accompanied the author throughout; no less plain, perhaps more
pleasing to some readers, is the quiet humour which never fails her,
and tests, while it relieves, the sincerity of her more serious
thinking:--

"At last Mrs. Darcy fluttered off, only, however, to come hurrying
back with little, short, [61] scudding steps, to implore them all to
come to tea with her as soon as possible in the garden that was her
special hobby, and in her last new summer-house.

"'I build two or three every summer,' she said; 'now there are
twenty-one! Roger laughs at me,' and there was a momentary
bitterness in the little eerie face; 'but how can one live without
hobbies? That's one--then I've two more. My album--oh, you will all
write in my album, won't you? When I was young--when I was Maid of
Honour'--and she drew herself up slightly--'everybody had albums.
Even the dear Queen herself! I remember how she made M. Guizot write
in it; something quite stupid, after all. Those hobbies--the garden
and the album--are quite harmless, aren't they? They hurt nobody, do
they?' Her voice dropped a little, with a pathetic expostulating
intonation in it, as of one accustomed to be rebuked."

Mrs. Ward's women, as we have said, are more organic, sympathetic,
and really creative, than her men, and make their vitality evident by
becoming, quite naturally, the centres of very [62] life-like and
dramatic groups of people, family or social; while her men are the
very genii of isolation and division. It is depressing to see so
really noble a character as Catherine soured, as we feel, and
lowered, as time goes on, from the happy resignation of the first
volume (in which solemn, beautiful, and entire, and so very real, she
is like a poem of Wordsworth) down to the mere passivity of the third
volume, and the closing scene of Robert Elsmere's days, very
exquisitely as this episode of unbelieving yet saintly biography has
been conceived and executed. Catherine certainly, for one, has no
profit in the development of Robert's improved gospel. The "stray
sheep," we think, has by no means always the best of the argument,
and her story is really a sadder, more testing one than his. Though
both alike, we admit it cordially, have a genuine sense of the
eternal moral charm of "renunciation," something even of the thirst
for martyrdom, for those wonderful, inaccessible, cold heights of the
Imitation, eternal also in their aesthetic charm.

These characters and situations, pleasant or profoundly interesting,
which it is good to have [63] come across, are worked out, not in
rapid sketches, nor by hazardous epigram, but more securely by
patient analysis; and though we have said that Mrs. Ward is most
successful in female portraiture, her own mind and culture have an
unmistakable virility and grasp and scientific firmness. This
indispensable intellectual process, which will be relished by
admirers of George Eliot, is relieved constantly by the sense of a
charming landscape background, for the most part English. Mrs. Ward
has been a true disciple in the school of Wordsworth, and really
undergone its influence. Her Westmorland scenery is more than a mere
background; its spiritual and, as it were, personal hold on persons,
as understood by the great poet of the Lakes, is seen actually at
work, in the formation, in the refining, of character. It has been a
stormy day:--

"Before him the great hollow of High Fell was just coming out from
the white mists surging round it. A shaft of sunlight lay across its
upper end, and he caught a marvellous apparition of a sunlit valley
hung in air, a pale strip of blue above it, a white thread of stream
wavering [64] through it, and all around it and below it the rolling
rain-clouds."

There is surely something of "natural magic" in that! The wilder
capacity of the mountains is brought out especially in a weird story
of a haunted girl, an episode well illustrating the writer's more
imaginative psychological power; for, in spite of its quiet general
tenour, the book has its adroitly managed elements of sensation--
witness the ghost, in which the average human susceptibility to
supernatural terrors takes revenge on the sceptical Mr. Wendover, and
the love-scene with Madame de Netteville, which, like those other
exciting passages, really furthers the development of the proper
ethical interests of the book. The Oxford episodes strike us as
being not the author's strongest work, as being comparatively
conventional, coming, as they do, in a book whose predominant note is
reality. Yet her sympathetic command over, her power of evoking, the
genius of places, is clearly shown in the touches by which she brings
out the so well-known grey and green of college and garden--touches
which bring the real Oxford to the mind's eye better than any
elaborate description [65] --for the beauty of the place itself
resides also in delicate touches. The book passes indeed,
successively, through distinct, broadly conceived phases of scenery,
which, becoming veritable parts of its texture, take hold on the
reader, as if in an actual sojourn in the places described. Surrey--
its genuine though almost suburban wildness, with the vicarage and
the wonderful abode, above all, the ancient library of Mr. Wendover,
all is admirably done, the landscape naturally counting for a good
deal in the development of the profoundly meditative, country-loving
souls of Mrs. Ward's favourite characters.

Well! Mrs. Ward has chosen to use all these varied gifts and
accomplishments for a certain purpose. Briefly, Robert Elsmere, a
priest of the Anglican Church, marries a very religious woman; there
is the perfection of "mutual love"; at length he has doubts about
"historic Christianity"; he gives up his orders; carries his
learning, his fine intellect, his goodness, nay, his saintliness,
into a kind of Unitarianism; the wife becomes more intolerant than
ever; there is a long and faithful effort on both sides, eventually
successful, on the part of these mentally [66] divided people, to
hold together; ending with the hero's death, the genuine piety and
resignation of which is the crowning touch in the author's able,
learned, and thoroughly sincere apology for Robert Elsmere's
position.

For good or evil, the sort of doubts which troubled Robert Elsmere
are no novelty in literature, and we think the main issue of the
"religious question" is not precisely where Mrs. Ward supposes--that
it has advanced, in more senses than one, beyond the point raised by
Renan's Vie de Jésus. Of course, a man such as Robert Elsmere came
to be ought not to be a clergyman of the Anglican Church. The priest
is still, and will, we think, remain, one of the necessary types of
humanity; and he is untrue to his type, unless, with whatever
inevitable doubts in this doubting age, he feels, on the whole, the
preponderance in it of those influences which make for faith. It is
his triumph to achieve as much faith as possible in an age of
negation. Doubtless, it is part of the ideal of the Anglican Church
that, under certain safeguards, it should find room for
latitudinarians even among its clergy. Still, with these, as [67]
with all other genuine priests, it is the positive not the negative
result that justifies the position. We have little patience with
those liberal clergy who dwell on nothing else than the difficulties
of faith and the propriety of concession to the opposite force. Yes!
Robert Elsmere was certainly right in ceasing to be a clergyman. But
it strikes us as a blot on his philosophical pretensions that he
should have been both so late in perceiving the difficulty, and then
so sudden and trenchant in dealing with so great and complex a
question. Had he possessed a perfectly philosophic or scientific
temper he would have hesitated. This is not the place to discuss in
detail the theological position very ably and seriously argued by
Mrs. Ward. All we can say is that, one by one, Elsmere's objections
may be met by considerations of the same genus, and not less equal
weight, relatively to a world so obscure, in its origin and issues,
as that in which we live.

Robert Elsmere was a type of a large class of minds which cannot be
sure that the sacred story is true. It is philosophical, doubtless,
and a duty to the intellect to recognize our doubts, [68] to locate
them, perhaps to give them practical effect. It may be also a moral
duty to do this. But then there is also a large class of minds which
cannot be sure it is false--minds of very various degrees of
conscientiousness and intellectual power, up to the highest. They
will think those who are quite sure it is false unphilosophical
through lack of doubt. For their part, they make allowance in their
scheme of life for a great possibility, and with some of them that
bare concession of possibility (the subject of it being what it is)
becomes the most important fact in the world.

The recognition of it straightway opens wide the door to hope and
love; and such persons are, as we fancy they always will be, the
nucleus of a Church. Their particular phase of doubt, of philosophic
uncertainty, has been the secret of millions of good Christians,
multitudes of worthy priests. They knit themselves to believers, in
various degrees, of all ages. As against the purely negative action
of the scientific spirit, the high-pitched Grey, the theistic
Elsmere, the "ritualistic priest," the quaint Methodist Fleming, both
so admirably sketched, present [69] perhaps no unconquerable
differences. The question of the day is not between one and another
of these, but in another sort of opposition, well defined by Mrs.
Ward herself, between--

"Two estimates of life--the estimate which is the offspring of the
scientific spirit, and which is for ever making the visible world
fairer and more desirable in mortal eyes; and the estimate of Saint
Augustine."

To us, the belief in God, in goodness at all, in the story of
Bethlehem, does not rest on evidence so diverse in character and
force as Mrs. Ward supposes. At his death Elsmere has started what
to us would be a most unattractive place of worship, where he
preaches an admirable sermon on the purely human aspect of the life
of Christ. But we think there would be very few such sermons in the
new church or chapel, for the interest of that life could hardly be
very varied, when all such sayings as that "though He was rich, for
our sakes He became poor" have ceased to be applicable to it. It is
the infinite nature of Christ which has led to such diversities of
genius in preaching as St. Francis, and Taylor, and Wesley.

[70] And after all we fear we have been unjust to Mrs. Ward's work.
If so, we should read once more, and advise our readers to read, the
profoundly thought and delicately felt chapter--chapter forty-three
in her third volume--in which she describes the final spiritual
reunion, on a basis of honestly diverse opinion, of the husband and
wife. Her view, we think, could hardly have been presented more
attractively. For ourselves we can only thank her for pleasure and
profit in the reading of her book, which has refreshed actually the
first and deepest springs of feeling, while it has charmed the
literary sense.

28th March 1888

V. THEIR MAJESTIES' SERVANTS

Annals of the English Stage, from Thomas Betterton to Edmund Kean.
By Dr. Doran, F.S.A. Edited and revised by Robert W. Lowe. John C.
Nimmo.

[73] THOSE who care for the history of the drama as a branch of
literature, or for the history of that general development of human
manners of which the stage has been always an element and a very
lively measure or index, will be grateful to Mr. Lowe for this
revised and charmingly illustrated edition of Dr. Doran's pleasant
old book. Three hundred years and more of a singularly varied and
vivacious sort of history!--it was a bold thing to undertake; and Dr.
Doran did his work well--did it with adequate "love." These Annals
of the English Stage, from Thomas Betterton to Edmund [74] Kean, are
full of the colours of life in their most emphatic and motley
contrasts, as is natural in proportion as the stage itself
concentrates and artificially intensifies the character and
conditions of ordinary life. The long story of "Their Majesties'
Servants," treated thus, becomes from age to age an agreeable
addition to those personal memoirs--Evelyn's, and the like--which
bring the influence and charm of a visible countenance to the dry
tenour of ordinary history, and the critic's work upon it naturally
becomes, in the first place, a mere gathering of some of the flowers
which lie so abundantly scattered here and there.

A history of the English stage must necessarily be in part a history
of one of the most delightful of subjects--old London, of which from
time to time we catch extraordinary glimpses in Dr. Doran's pages.
From 1682 to 1695, as if the Restoration had not come, there was but
one theatre in London. In Charles I.'s time Shoreditch was the
dramatic quarter of London par excellence.--

"The popular taste was not only there directed towards the stage, but
it was a district [75] wherein many actors dwelt, and consequently
died. The baptismal register of St. Leonard's, Shoreditch, contains
Christian names which appear to have been chosen with reference to
the heroines of Shakespeare; and the record of burials bears the name
of many an old actor of mark whose remains now lie within the
churchyard."

Earlier and later, the Surrey side of the Thames was the favourite
locality for play-houses. The Globe was there, and the Bear-garden,
represented in Mr. Lowe's luxurious new edition by delightful
woodcuts. For this new edition adds to the original merits of the
work the very substantial charm of abundant illustrations, first-rate
in subject and execution, and of three kinds--copper-plate likenesses
of actors and other personages connected with theatrical history; a
series of delicate, picturesque, highly detailed woodcuts of
theatrical topography, chiefly the little old theatres; and, by way
of tail-pieces to the chapters, a second series of woodcuts of a
vigour and reality of information, within very limited compass, which
make one think of Callot and the German [76] "little masters,"
depicting Garrick and other famous actors in their favourite scenes.

In the vignettes of the Bear-garden and the Swan Theatre, for
instance, the artist has managed to throw over his minute plate a
wonderful air of pleasantness, a light which, though very delicate,
is very theatrical. The river and its tiny craft, the little gabled
houses of the neighbourhood, with a garden or two dropped in, tell
delightfully in the general effect. They are worthy to rank with
Cruikshank's illustrations of Jack Sheppard and The Tower of London,
as mementoes of the little old smokeless London before the century of
Johnson, though that, too, as Dr. Doran bears witness, knew what fogs
could be. Then there is the Fortune Theatre near Cripplegate, and,
most charming of all, two views--street and river fronts--the Duke's
Theatre, Dorset Garden, in Fleet Street, designed by Wren, decorated
by Gibbons--graceful, naïve, dainty, like the work of a very refined
Palladio, working minutely, perhaps more delicately than at Vicenza,
in the already crowded city on the Thames side.

[77] The portraits of actors and other theatrical celebrities range
from Elizabeth, from the melodramatic costumes and faces of the
contemporaries of Shakespeare, to the conventional costumes, the
rotund expression, of the age of the Georges, masking a power of
imaginative impersonation probably unknown in Shakespeare's day.
Edward Burbage, like Shakespeare's own portrait, is, we venture to
think, a trifle stolid. Field--Nathaniel Field, author of The Fatal
Dowry, and an actor of reputation--in his singular costume, and with
a face of perhaps not quite reassuring subtlety, might pass for the
original of those Italian, or Italianized, voluptuaries in sin which
pleased the fancy of Shakespeare's age. Mixed up with many striking,
thoroughly dramatic physiognomies, it must be confessed that some of
these portraits scarcely help at all to explain the power of the
players to whom they belonged. That, perhaps, is what we might
naturally expect; the more, in proportion as the dramatic art is a
matter in which many very subtle and indirect channels to men's
sympathy are called into play. Edward Alleyn, from the portrait
preserved at [78] his noble foundation at Dulwich, like a fine
Holbein, figures, in blent strength and delicacy, as a genial, or
perhaps jovial, soul, finding time for sentiment,--Prynne (included,
we suppose, in this company, like the skull at the feast) as a
likable if somewhat melancholic young man; while Garrick and his wife
playing cards, after Zoffany, present a pair of just very nice young
people. On the other hand, the tail-pieces, chiefly devoted to
Garrick, prove what a wonderful natural variety there was in
Garrick's soul, and are well worth comparative study. Noticeable
again, among the whole-plate portraits, is the thoroughly reassuring
countenance of Steele, the singularly fine heads of John, Charles,
and Fanny Kemble, while the certainly plain, pinched countenance of
William Davenant reminds one of Charles Kean, and might well have
lighted up, as did his, when the soul came into it, into power and
charm, as the speaking eyes assure us even in its repose.

The Renaissance inherited the old foolish prejudice of Roman times,
when, although the writers of plays were the intimate friends of
emperors, the actors were thought infamous. [79] Still, on the whole,
actors fared better in England than in Romanist France, where Molière
was buried with less ceremony than a favourite dog. Very different
was the treatment of the eminent Mrs. Oldfield, who died in 1730:--

"Poor 'Narcissa' after death (says Walpole) was attired in a Holland
nightdress, with tucker and double ruffles of Brunswick lace, of
which latter material she also wore a headdress, and a pair of new
kid gloves. In this dress the deceased actress received such honour
as actress never received before, nor has ever received since. The
lady lay in state in the Jerusalem Chamber. Had she been really a
queen the public could not have thronged more eagerly to the
spectacle; and after the lying in state there was a funeral of as
much ceremony as has been observed at the obsequies of many a queen.
There were anthems and prayers and a sermon; and Dr. Parker, who
officiated, remarked, when all was over, to a few particular friends,
and with some equivocation, as it seems to me, that he 'buried her
very willingly, and with much satisfaction.'"

Yet even in England players had need of [80] powerful protectors.
"Wit," said Chesterfield, opposing an unjust licensing Act, "Wit, my
lords! is the property of those who have it, and too often the only
property they have to depend on." Wit, indeed, with the other gifts
that make good company, has largely gone with theatrical talents, too
often little to the benefit of the gifted persons. Theatrical
society, rather than the theatre, has made the lives of actors as we
see them in these volumes, in many cases so tragic, even sordidly
tragic.

If misery and madness abound in stage life, so also does an
indomitable cheerfulness, always at least a cheerful countenance.
Dr. Doran's book abounds, as might be expected, with admirable
impromptus and the like; one might collect a large posy of them.
Foote, seeing a sweep on a blood-horse, remarked, "There goes
Warburton on Shakespeare!" When he heard that the Rockingham Cabinet
was fatigued to death and at its wits' end, he exclaimed that it
could not have been the length of the journey which had tired it.
Again, when Lord Carmarthen, at a party, told him his handkerchief
was hanging from his pocket, Foote replaced [81] it with a "Thank
you, my lord; you know the company better than I." Jevon, a century
earlier, was in the habit of taking great liberties with authors and
audience. He made Settle half mad and the house ecstatic when
having, as Lycurgus, Prince of China, to "fall on his sword," he
placed it flat on the stage, and, falling over it, "died," according
to the direction of the acting copy. Quaint enough, but certainly no
instance of anybody's wit, is the account of how a French translation
of a play of Vanbrugh--not architect of Blenheim only, but
accomplished in many other ways--appeared at the Odéon, in 1862, with
all fitting raptures, as a posthumous work of Voltaire recently
discovered. The Voltairean wit vas found as "delightful in this as
in the last century."

Of Shakespeare on the stage Dr. Doran has a hundred curious things to
note:--that Richard the Third, for instance, who has retained a so
unflattering possession of the stage, was its "first practically
useful patron." We see Queen Elizabeth full of misgiving at a
difficult time at the popularity of Richard the Second:--"The
deposition and death of King Richard the [82] Second." "Tongues
whisper to the Queen that this play is part of a great plot to teach
her subjects how to murder kings." It is perhaps not generally known
that Charles Shakespeare, William's brother, survived till the
Restoration.

Oldys says, à propos of the restoration of the stage at that time:--

"The actors were greedily inquisitive into every little circumstance,
more especially in Shakespeare's dramatic character, which his
brother could relate of him. But he, it seems, was so stricken in
years, and possibly his memory so weakened by infirmities, that he
could give them but little light into their inquiries; and all that
could be recollected from him of his brother Will in that station was
the faint, general, and almost lost ideas he had of having once seen
him act a part in one of his own comedies, wherein being present to
personate a decrepit old man, he wore a long beard, and appeared so
weak and drooping and unable to walk, that he was forced to be
supported and carried by another person to a table, at which he was
seated among some company who were eating, and one of them sang a
song."

[83] This description applies to old Adam in As You Like It. Many
are the evidences that Shakespeare's reputation had from time to time
a struggle to maintain itself. James Howard, in Pepys's day--

"Belonged to the faction which affected to believe that there was no
popular love for Shakespeare, to render whom palatable he arranged
Romeo and Juliet for the stage, with a double dénouement--one
serious, the other hilarious. If your heart were too sensitive to
bear the deaths of the loving pair, you had only to go on the
succeeding afternoon to see them wedded, and set upon the way of a
well-assured domestic felicity."

In 1678 Rymer asserted (was it undesignedly a true testimony to the
acting of his time?) that Shakespeare had depicted Brutus and Cassius
as "Jack Puddins."

Here, as in many another detail, we are reminded, of course, of the
difference between our own and past times in mimic as in real life.
For Prynne one of the great horrors of the stage was the introduction
of actresses from France by Henrietta Maria, to take the place of
young [84] male actors of whom Dr. Doran has some interesting
notices. Who the lady was who first trod the stage as a professional
actress is not known, but her part was Desdemona. And yet it was
long after that--

"Edward Kynaston died (in 1712). He lies buried in the churchyard of
St. Paul's, Covent Garden. If not the greatest actor of his day,
Kynaston was the greatest of the 'boy-actresses.' So exalted was his
reputation 'that,' says Downes, 'it has since been disputable among
the judicious, whether any woman that succeeded him so sensibly
touched the audience as he.'"

In Charles II.'s time it was a custom to return the price of
admission to all persons who left the theatre before the close of the
first act. Consequently, many shabby persons were wont to force
their way in without paying, on the plea that they did not intend to
remain beyond the time limited. Hence much noisy contention, to the
great discomfort even of Royalty. The brawling, drinking habits of
the time were even more discomforting. An angry word, passed one
April evening of 1682 between the son of Sir Edward Dering and a hot-
blooded young [85] Welshman, led to recrimination and sword-drawing.
The two young fellows not having elbow-room in the pit, clambered on
to the stage, and fought there, to the greater comfort of the
audience, and with a more excited fury on the part of the combatants.
The mingling of the public with the players was a practice which so
annoyed the haughty French actor, Baron, that to suggest to the
audience the absurdity of it, he would turn his back on them for a
whole act, and play to the audience on the stage. Sometimes the
noise was so loud that an actor's voice would scarcely be heard. It
was about 1710 that the word encore was introduced at the operatic
performances in the Haymarket, and very much objected to by plain-
going Englishmen. It was also the custom of some who desired the
repetition of a song to cry Altra volta! Altra volta!

Even indirectly the history of the stage illustrates life, and
affords many unexpected lights on historical characters. Oliver
Cromwell, though he despised the stage, could condescend to laugh at,
and with, men of less dignity than actors. Buffoonery was not
entirely expelled [86] from his otherwise grave court. Oxford and
Drury Lane itself dispute the dignity of giving birth to Nell Gwynne
with Hereford, where a mean house is still pointed out as the first
home of this mother of a line of dukes, whose great-grandson was to
occupy the neighbouring palace as Bishop of Hereford for forty years.
At her burial in St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, Archbishop Tenison
preached the sermon. When this was subsequently made the ground of
exposing him to the reproof of Queen Mary, she remarked that the good
doctor, no doubt, had said nothing but what the facts authorized.

"Who should act genteel comedy perfectly," asks Walpole, "but people
of fashion, that have sense?" And, in truth, the seventeenth century
gave many ladies to the stage, Mrs. Barry being the most famous of
them. Like many eminent actors, she was famous for the way in which
she would utter one single expression in a play. Dr. Doran gives
some curious instances from later actors. "What mean my grieving
subjects?" uttered in the character of Queen Elizabeth, was invested
by her with such emphatic grace and dignity as to call up murmurs of
approbation [87] which swelled into thunders of applause. Her noble
head is here engraved after Kneller, like the head of a magnificent
visionary man.

Should we really care for the greatest actors of the past could we
have them before us? Should we find them too different from our
accent of thought, of feeling, of speech, in a thousand minute
particulars which are of the essence of all three? Dr. Doran's long
and interesting records of the triumphs of Garrick, and other less
familiar, but in their day hardly less astonishing, players, do not
relieve one of the doubt. Garrick himself, as sometimes happens with
people who have been the subject of much anecdote and other
conversation, here as elsewhere, bears no very distinct figure. One
hardly sees the wood for the trees. On the other hand, the account
of Betterton, "perhaps the greatest of English actors," is
delightfully fresh. That intimate friend of Dryden, Tillatson, Pope,
who executed a copy of the actor's portrait by Kneller which is still
extant, was worthy of their friendship; his career brings out the
best elements in stage life. The stage in these volumes presents
itself indeed not merely [88] as a mirror of life, but as an
illustration of the utmost intensity of life, in the fortunes and
characters of the players. Ups and downs, generosity, dark fates,
the most delicate goodness, have nowhere been more prominent than in
the private existence of those devoted to the public mimicry of men
and women. Contact with the stage, almost throughout its history,
presents itself as a kind of touchstone, to bring out the bizarrerie,
the theatrical tricks and contrasts, of the actual world.

27th June 1888

VI. WORDSWORTH

The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. With an
Introduction by John Morley. Macmillans.

The Recluse. By William Wordsworth. Macmillans.

Selections from Wordsworth. By William Knight and other Members of
the Wordsworth Society. With Preface and Notes. Kegan Paul.

[91] THE appearance, so close to each other, of Professor Knight's
careful and elaborately annotated Selections from William Wordsworth,
of Messrs. Macmillan's collected edition of the poet's works, with the
first book of The Recluse, now published for the first time, and of
an excellent introductory essay by Mr. John Morley, forms a welcome
proof that the study of the [92] most philosophic of English poets is
increasing among us. Surely nothing could be better, hardly anything
more directly fitted than careful reading of Wordsworth, to counter
the faults and offences of our busy generation, in regard both to
thought and taste, and to remind people, amid the enormous expansion,
at the present time, of all that is material and mechanical in life,
of the essential value, the permanent ends, of life itself. In the
collected edition the poems are printed with the dates, so far as can
be ascertained, in the order of their composition--an arrangement
which has indisputable recommendations for the student of
Wordsworth's genius; though the former method of distributing his
work into large groups of subject had its value, as throwing light
upon his poetic motives, and more especially as coming from himself.

In his introductory essay Mr. Morley has dwelt strongly on the
circumstance of Wordsworth's remarkable personal happiness, as having
had much to do with the physiognomy of his poetic creation--a calm,
irresistible, well-being--almost mystic in character, and yet
doubtless [93] connected with physical conditions. Long ago De
Quincey noted it as a strongly determinant fact in Wordsworth's
literary career, pointing, at the same time, to his remarkable good
luck also, on the material side of life. The poet's own flawless
temperament, his fine mountain atmosphere of mind (so to express it),
had no doubt a good deal to do with that. What a store of good
fortune, what a goodly contribution to happiness, in the very best
sense of that term, is really involved in a cheerful, grateful,
physical temperament; especially, in the case of a poet--a great
poet--who will, of course, have to face the appropriate trials of a
great poet.

Coleridge and other English critics at the beginning of the present
century had a great deal to say concerning a psychological
distinction of much importance (as it appeared to them) between the
fancy and the imagination. Stripped of a great deal of somewhat
obscure metaphysical theory, this distinction reduced itself to the
certainly vital one, with which all true criticism more or less
directly has to do, between the lower and higher degrees of intensity
in the [94] poet's conception of his subject, and his concentration
of himself upon his work. It was Wordsworth who made most of this
distinction, assuming it as the basis for the final classification
(abandoned, as we said, in the new edition) of his poetical writings.
And nowhere is the distinction more realizable than in Wordsworth's
own work. For though what may be called professed Wordsworthians,
including Matthew Arnold, found a value in all that remains of him--
could read anything he wrote, "even the 'Thanksgiving Ode,'--
everything, I think, except 'Vaudracour and Julia,'"--yet still the
decisiveness of such selections as those made by Arnold himself, and
now by Professor Knight, hint at a certain very obvious difference of
level in his poetic work.

This perpetual suggestion of an absolute duality between his lower
and higher moods, and the poetic work produced in them, stimulating
the reader to look below the immediate surface of his poetry, makes
the study of Wordsworth an excellent exercise for the training of
those mental powers in us, which partake both of thought and
imagination. It begets in those [95] who fall in with him at the
right moment of their spiritual development, a habit of reading
between the lines, a faith in the effect of concentration and
collectedness of mind on the right appreciation of poetry, the
expectation that what is really worth having in the poetic order will
involve, on their part, a certain discipline of the temper not less
than of the intellect. Wordsworth meets them with the assurance that
he has much to give them, and of a very peculiar kind, if they will
follow a certain difficult way, and seems to possess the secret of
some special mental illumination. To follow that way is an
initiation, by which they will become able to distinguish, in art,
speech, feeling, manners, in men and life generally, what is genuine,
animated, and expressive from what is only conventional and
derivative, and therefore inexpressive.

A very intimate sense of the expressiveness of outward things, which
ponders, listens, penetrates, where the earlier, less developed
consciousness passed lightly by, is an important element in the
general temper of our modern poetry. Critics of literary history
have again [96] and again remarked upon it; it is a characteristic
which reveals itself in many different forms, but is strongest and
most sympathetic in what is strongest and most serious in modern
literature; it is exemplified by writers as unlike Wordsworth as the
French romanticist poets. As a curious chapter in the history of the
human mind, its growth might be traced from Rousseau and St. Pierre
to Chateaubriand, from Chateaubriand to Victor Hugo; it has no doubt
some obscure relationship to those pantheistic theories which have
greatly occupied people's minds in many modern readings of
philosophy; it makes as much difference between the modern and the
earlier landscape art as there is between the roughly outlined masks
of a Byzantine mosaic and a portrait by Reynolds or Romney. Of this
new landscape sense the poetry of Wordsworth is the elementary and
central exposition; he is more exclusively occupied with its
development than any other poet. Wordsworth's own character, as we
have already observed, was dominated by a certain contentment, a sort
of naturally religious placidity, not often found in union with a
poetic sensibility so [97] active as his; and this gentle sense of
well-being was favourable to the quiet, habitual observation of the
inanimate, or imperfectly animate, world. His life of eighty placid
years was almost without what, with most human beings, count for
incidents. His flight from the active world, so genially celebrated
in this newly published poem of The Recluse; his flight to the Vale
of Grasmere, like that of some pious youth to the Chartreuse, is the
most marked event of his existence. His life's changes are almost
entirely inward ones; it falls into broad, untroubled, perhaps
somewhat monotonous, spaces; his biographers have very little to
tell. What it really most resembles, different as its superficies
may look, is the career of those early mediaeval religious artists,
who, precisely because their souls swarmed with heavenly visions,
passed their fifty or sixty years in tranquil, systematic industry,
seemingly with no thoughts beyond it. This placid life developed in
Wordsworth, to an extraordinary degree, an innate sensibility to
natural sights and sounds--the flower and its shadow on the stone,
the cuckoo and its echo. The poem of [98] "Resolution and
Independence" is a storehouse of such records; for its fulness of
lovely imagery it may be compared to Keats's "Saint Agnes' Eve." To
read one of his greater pastoral poems for the first time is like a
day spent in a new country; the memory is crowded for a while with
its precise and vivid incidents:--

The pliant harebell swinging in the breeze,
On some grey rock:
The single sheep, and the one blasted tree,
And the bleak music from that old stone wall:--
In the meadows and the lower ground,
Was all the sweetness of a common dawn:--
And that green corn all day is rustling in thine ears!

Clear and delicate at once as he is in the outlining of visible
imagery, he is more finely scrupulous still in the noting of sounds;
he conceives of noble sound as even moulding the human countenance to
nobler types, and as something actually "profaned" by visible form or
colour. He has a power likewise of realizing and conveying to the
consciousness of his reader abstract and elementary impressions,
silence, darkness, absolute motionlessness, or, again, the whole
complex sentiment of a particular place, the abstract expression of
desolation in the long [99] white road, of peacefulness in a
particular folding of the hills.

That sense of a life in natural objects, which in most poetry is but
a rhetorical artifice, was, then, in Wordsworth the assertion of what
was for him almost literal fact. To him every natural object seemed
to possess something of moral or spiritual life, to be really capable
of a companionship with man, full of fine intimacies. An emanation,
a particular spirit, belonged not to the moving leaves or water only,
but to the distant peak arising suddenly, by some change of
perspective, above the nearer horizon of the hills, to the passing
space of light across the plain, to the lichened Druidic stone even,
for a certain weird fellowship in it with the moods of men. That he
awakened "a sort of thought in sense" is Shelley's just estimate of
this element in Wordsworth's poetry.

It was through nature, ennobled in this way by the semblance of
passion and thought, that the poet approached the spectacle of human
life. For him, indeed, human life is, in the first instance, only an
additional, and as it were incidental grace, upon this expressive
landscape.

[100] When he thought of men and women, it was of men and women as in
the presence and under the influence of those effective natural
objects, and linked to them by many associations. Such influences
have sometimes seemed to belittle those who are the subject of them,
at the least to be likely to narrow the range of their sympathies.
To Wordsworth, on the contrary, they seemed directly to dignify human
nature, as tending to tranquillize it. He raises physical nature to
the level of human thought, giving it thereby a mystic power and
expression; he subdues man to the level of nature, but gives him
therewith a certain breadth and vastness and solemnity.

Religious sentiment, consecrating the natural affections and rights
of the human heart, above all that pitiful care and awe for the
perishing human clay of which relic-worship is but the corruption,
has always had much to do with localities, with the thoughts which
attach themselves to definite scenes and places. And what is true of
it everywhere is truest in those secluded valleys, where one
generation after another maintains the same abiding-place; and [101]
it was on this side that Wordsworth apprehended religion most
strongly. Having so much to do with the recognition of local
sanctities, the habit of connecting the very trees and stones of a
particular spot of earth with the great events of life, till the low
walls, the green mounds, the half-obliterated epitaphs, seemed full
of oracular voices, even the religion of those people of the dales
appeared but as another link between them and the solemn imageries of
the natural world. And, again, this too tranquillized them, by
bringing them under the rule of traditional, narrowly localized
observances. "Grave livers," they seemed to him under this aspect,
of stately speech, and something of that natural dignity of manners
which underlies the highest courtesy.

And, seeing man thus as a part of nature, elevated and solemnized in
proportion as his daily life and occupations brought him into
companionship with permanent natural objects, he was able to
appreciate passion in the lowly. He chooses to depict people from
humble life, because, being nearer to nature than others, they are on
the whole more impassioned, certainly [102] more direct in their
expression of passion, than other men; it is for this direct
expression of passion that he values their humble words. In much
that he said in exaltation of rural life he was but pleading
indirectly for that sincerity, that perfect fidelity to one's own
inward presentations, to the precise features of the picture within,
without which any profound poetry is impossible. It was not for
their tameness, but for their impassioned sincerity, that he chose
incidents and situations from common life, "related in a selection of
language really used by men." He constantly endeavours to bring his
language nearer to the real language of men; but it is to the real
language of men, not on the dead level of their ordinary intercourse,
but in certain select moments of vivid sensation, when this language
is winnowed and ennobled by sentiment. There are poets who have
chosen rural life for their subject for the sake of its passionless
repose; and there are times when Wordsworth himself extols the mere
calm and dispassionate survey of things as the highest aim of
poetical culture. But it was not for such passionless calm that he
preferred the scenes of [103] pastoral life; and the meditative poet,
sheltering himself from the agitations of the outward world, is in
reality only clearing the scene for the exhibition of great emotions,
and what he values most is the almost elementary expression of
elementary feelings.

In Wordsworth's prefatory advertisement to the first edition of The
Prelude, published in 1850, it is stated that that work was intended
to be introductory to The Recluse: and that The Recluse, if
completed, would have consisted of three parts. The second part is
The Excursion. The third part was only planned; but the first book
of the first part was left in manuscript by Wordsworth--though in
manuscript, it is said, in no great condition of forwardness for the
printers. This book, now for the first time printed in extenso (a
very noble passage from it found place in that prose advertisement to
The Excursion), is the great novelty of this latest edition of
Wordsworth's poetic works. It was well worth adding to the poet's
great bequest to English literature. The true student of his work,
who has formulated for himself what he supposes to be the leading
characteristics [104] of Wordsworth's genius, will feel, we think, a
lively interest in putting them to test by the many and various
striking passages in what is there presented for the first time.

17th February 1889

VII. MR. GOSSE'S POEMS

On Viol and Flute. By Edmund Gosse.

[107] PERHAPS no age of literature, certainly no age of literature in
England, has been so rich as ours in excellent secondary poetry; and
it is with our poetry (in a measure) as with our architecture,
constrained by the nature of the case to be imitative. Our
generation, quite reasonably, is not very proud of its architectural
creations; confesses that it knows too much--knows, but cannot do.
And yet we could name certain modern churches in London, for
instance, to which posterity may well look back puzzled.--Could these
exquisitely pondered buildings have been indeed works of the
nineteenth century? Were they not the subtlest creations of the age
in which Gothic art was spontaneous? In truth, we have had instances
of workmen, who, through long, large, [108] devoted study of the
handiwork of the past, have done the thing better, with a more fully
enlightened consciousness, with full intelligence of what those early
workmen only guessed at. And something like this is true of some of
our best secondary poetry. It is the least that is true--the least
that can fairly be said in praise of the poetic work of Mr. Edmund
Gosse.

Of course there can be no exact parallel between arts so different as
architecture and poetic composition: But certainly in the poetry of
our day also, though it has been in some instances powerfully
initiative and original, there is great scholarship, a large
comparative acquaintance with the poetic methods of earlier workmen,
and a very subtle intelligence of their charm. Of that fine
scholarship in this matter there is no truer example than Mr. Gosse.
It is manifested especially in the even finish of his varied work, in
the equality of his level--a high level--in species of composition so
varied as the three specimens which follow.

Far away, in late spring, "by the sea in the south," the swallows are
still lingering around "white Algiers." In Mr. Gosse's "Return of
[109] the Swallows," the northern birds--lark and thrush--have long
been calling to them:--

And something awoke in the slumbering heart
Of the alien birds in their African air,
And they paused, and alighted, and twittered apart,
And met in the broad white dreamy square,
And the sad slave woman, who lifted up
From the fountain her broad-lipped earthen cup,
Said to herself, with a weary sigh,
"To-morrow the swallows will northward fly."

Compare the following stanzas, from a kind of palinode, "1870-1871,"
years of the Franco-German war and the Parisian Commune:--

The men who sang that pain was sweet
Shuddered to see the mask of death
Storm by with myriad thundering feet;
The sudden truth caught up our breath
Our throats like pulses beat.

The songs of pale emaciate hours,
The fungus-growth of years of peace,
Withered before us like mown flowers;
We found no pleasure more in these
When bullets fell in showers.

For men whose robes are dashed with blood,
What joy to dream of gorgeous stairs,
Stained with the torturing interlude
That soothed a Sultan's midday prayers,
In old days harsh and rude?

[110]

For men whose lips are blanched and white,
With aching wounds and torturing thirst,
What charm in canvas shot with light,
And pale with faces cleft and curst,
Past life and life's delight?

And then Mr. Gosse's purely descriptive power, his aptitude for
still-life and landscape, is unmistakably vivid and sound. Take, for
an instance, this description of high-northern summer:--

The ice-white mountains clustered all around us,
But arctic summer blossomed at our feet;
The perfume of the creeping sallows found us,
The cranberry-flowers were sweet.

Below us through the valley crept a river,
Cleft round an island where the Lap-men lay;
Its sluggish water dragged with slow endeavour
The mountain snows away.

There is no night-time in the northern summer,
But golden shimmer fills the hours of sleep,
And sunset fades not, till the bright new-comer,
Red sunrise, smites the deep.

But when the blue snow-shadows grew intenser
Across the peaks against the golden sky,
And on the hills the knots of deer grew denser,
And raised their tender cry,

[111]

And wandered downward to the Lap-men's dwelling,
We knew our long sweet day was nearly spent,
And slowly, with our hearts within us swelling,
Our homeward steps we bent.

"Sunshine before Sunrise!" There's a novelty in that, for poetic use
at least, so far as we know, though we remember one fine paragraph
about it in Sartor Resartus. The grim poetic sage of Chelsea,
however, had never seen what he describes: not so Mr. Gosse, whose
acquaintance with northern lands and northern literature is special.
We have indeed picked out those stanzas from a quiet personal record
of certain amorous hours of early youth in that quaint arctic land,
Mr. Gosse's description of which, like his pretty poem on Lübeck,
made one think that what the accomplished group of poets to which he
belongs requires is, above all, novelty of motive, of subject.

He takes, indeed, the old themes, and manages them better than their
old masters, with more delicate cadences, more delicate transitions
of thought, through long dwelling on earlier practice. He seems to
possess complete command of the technique of poetry--every form of
what may be called skill of hand in it; and what marks in [112] him
the final achievement of poetic scholarship is the perfect balance
his work presents of so many and varied effects, as regards both
matter and form. The memories of a large range of poetic reading are
blent into one methodical music so perfectly that at times the notes
seem almost simple. Sounding almost all the harmonies of the modern
lyre, he has, perhaps as a matter of course, some of the faults also,
the "spasmodic" and other lapses, which from age to age, in
successive changes of taste, have been the "defects" of excellent
good "qualities." He is certainly not the--

Pathetic singer, with no strength to sing,

as he says of the white-throat on the tulip-tree,

Whose leaves unfinished ape her faulty song.

In effect, a large compass of beautiful thought and expression, from
poetry old and new, have become to him matter malleable anew for a
further and finer reach of literary art. And with the perfect grace
of an intaglio, he shows, as in truth the minute intaglio may do, the
faculty of structure, the logic of poetry. "The New Endymion" is a
good instance of such sustained [113] power. Poetic scholar!--If we
must reserve the sacred name of "poet" to a very small number, that
humbler but perhaps still rarer title is due indisputably to Mr.
Gosse. His work is like exquisite modern Latin verse, into the
academic shape of which, discreet and coy, comes a sincere, deeply
felt consciousness of modern life, of the modern world as it is. His
poetry, according with the best intellectual instincts of our
critical age, is as pointed out recently by a clever writer in the
Nineteenth Century, itself a kind of exquisite, finally revised
criticism.

Not that he fails in originality; only, the graces, inborn certainly,
but so carefully educated, strike one more. The sense of his
originality comes to one as but an after-thought; and certainly one
sign of his vocation is that he has made no conscious effort to be
original. In his beautiful opening poem of the "White-throat,"
giving his book its key-note, he seems, indeed, to accept that
position, reasons on and justifies it. Yet there is a clear note of
originality (so it seems to us) in the peculiar charm of his strictly
personal compositions; and, generally, in such touches as he gives us
of the soul, the life, of the [114] nineteenth century. Far greater,
we think, than the charm of poems strictly classic in interest, such
as the "Praise of Dionysus," exquisite as that is, is the charm of
those pieces in which, so to speak, he transforms, by a kind of
colour-change, classic forms and associations into those--say! of
Thames-side--pieces which, though in manner or subject promising a
classic entertainment, almost unaware bring you home.--No! after all,
it is not imagined Greece, dreamy, antique Sicily, but the present
world about us, though mistakable for a moment, delightfully, for the
land, the age, of Sappho, of Theocritus:--

There is no amaranth, no pomegranate here,
But can your heart forget the Christmas rose,
The crocuses and snowdrops once so dear?

Quite congruously with the placid, erudite, quality of his culture,
although, like other poets, he sings much of youth, he is often most
successful in the forecast, the expression, of the humours, the
considerations, that in truth are more proper to old age:--

When age comes by and lays his frosty hands
So lightly on mine eyes, that, scarce aware

[115]

Of what an endless weight of gloom they bear,
I pause, unstirred, and wait for his commands.
When time has bound these limbs of mine with bands,
And hushed mine ears, and silvered all my hair,
May sorrow come not, nor a vain despair
Trouble my soul that meekly girdled stands.

As silent rivers into silent lakes,
Through hush of reeds that not a murmur breaks,
Wind, mindful of the poppies whence they came,
So may my life, and calmly burn away,
As ceases in a lamp at break of day
The flagrant remnant of memorial flame.

Euthanasia!--Yet Mr. Gosse, with all his accomplishment, is still a
young man. His youthful confidence in the perpetuity of poetry, of
the poetical interests in life, creed-less as he may otherwise seem
to be, is, we think, a token, though certainly an unconscious token,
of the spontaneous originality of his muse. For a writer of his
peculiar philosophic tenets, at all events, the world itself, in
truth, must seem irretrievably old or even decadent.

Old, decadent, indeed, it would seem with Mr. Gosse to be also
returning to the thoughts, the fears, the consolations, of its youth
in Greece, in Italy:--

[116]

Nor seems it strange indeed
To hold the happy creed
That all fair things that bloom and die
Have conscious life as well as I.

Then let me joy to be
Alive with bird and tree,
And have no haughtier aim than this,
To be a partner in their bliss.

Convinced, eloquent,--again and again the notes of Epicurean
philosophy fall almost unconsciously from his lips. With poetry at
hand, he appears to feel no misgivings. A large faith he might seem
to have in what is called "natural optimism," the beauty and
benignity of nature, if let alone, in her mechanical round of changes
with man and beast and flower. Her method, however, certainly
involves forgetfulness for the individual; and to this, to the
prospect of oblivion, poetry, too, may help to brace us, if, unlike
so genial and cheerful a poet as Mr. Gosse, we need bracing thereto:-
-

Now, giant-like, the tall young ploughmen go
Between me and the sunset, footing slow;
My spirit, as an uninvited guest,
Goes with them, wondering what desire, what aim,
May stir their hearts and mine with common flame,
Or, thoughtless, do their hands suffice their soul?

[117]

I know not, care not, for I deem no shame
To hold men, flowers, and trees and stars the same,
Myself, as these, one atom in the whole.

That is from one of those half-Greek, half-English idylls, reminding
one of Frederick Walker's "Ploughman," of Mason's "Evening Hymn," in
which Mr. Gosse is at his best. A favourite motive, he has treated
it even more melodiously in "Lying in the Grass":--

I do not hunger for a well-stored mind,
I only wish to live my life, and find
My heart in unison with all mankind.

My life is like the single dewy star
That trembles on the horizon's primrose-bar,--
A microcosm where all things living are.

And if, among the noiseless grasses, Death
Should come behind and take away my breath,
I should not rise as one who sorroweth;

For I should pass, but all the world would be
Full of desire and young delight and glee,
And why should men be sad through loss of me?

The light is flying; in the silver-blue
The young moon shines from her bright window through:
The mowers are all gone, and I go too.

A vein of thought as modern as it is old! More not less depressing,
certainly, to our over-meditative [118], susceptible, nervous,
modern age, than to that antiquity which was indeed the genial youth
of the world, but, sweetly attuned by his skill of touch, it is the
sum of what Mr. Gosse has to tell us of the experience of life. Or
is it, after all, to quote him once more, that beyond those ever-
recurring pagan misgivings, those pale pagan consolations, our
generation feels yet cannot adequately express--

The passion and the stress
Of thoughts too tender and too sad to be
Enshrined in any melody she knows?

29th October 1890

VIII. FERDINAND FABRE

[NORINE]: AN IDYLL OF THE CEVENNES

[121] A FRENCH novelist who, with much of Zola's undoubted power,
writes always in the interest of that high type of Catholicism which
still prevails in the remote provinces of France, of that high type of
morality of which the French clergy have nobly maintained the ideal,
is worth recommending to the more serious class of English readers.
Something of the gift of François Millet, whose peasants are
veritable priests, of those older religious painters who could
portray saintly heads so sweetly and their merely human protégés so
truly, seems indeed to have descended to M. Ferdinand Fabre. In the
Abbé Tigrane, in Lucifer, and elsewhere, he has delineated, with
wonderful power and patience, a strictly ecclesiastical portraiture--
[122] shrewd, passionate, somewhat melancholy heads, which, though
they are often of peasant origin, are never by any chance
undignified. The passions he treats of in priests are, indeed,
strictly clerical, most often their ambitions--not the errant humours
of the mere man in the priest, but movements of spirit properly
incidental to the clerical type itself. Turning to the secular
brothers and sisters of these peasant ecclesiastics, at first sight
so strongly contrasted with them, M. Fabre shows a great acquaintance
with the sources, the effects, of average human feeling; but still in
contact--in contact, as its conscience, its better mind, its ideal--
with the institutions of religion. What constitutes his
distinguishing note as a writer is the recognition of the religious,
the Catholic, ideal, intervening masterfully throughout the picture
he presents of life, as the only mode of poetry realizable by the
poor; and although, of course, it does a great deal more beside,
certainly doing the high work of poetry effectively. For his
background he has chosen, has made his own and conveys very vividly
to his readers, a district of France, gloomy, in spite of its
almonds, its [123] oil and wine, but certainly grandiose. The large
towns, the sparse hamlets, the wide landscape of the Cevennes, are
for his books what the Rhineland is to those delightful authors,
Messrs. Erckmann-Chatrian. In Les Courbezon, the French Vicar of
Wakefield, as Sainte-Beuve declared, with this imposing background,
the Church and the world, as they shape themselves in the Cevennes,
the priest and the peasant, occupy about an equal share of interest.
Sometimes, as in the charming little book we wish now to introduce,
unclerical human nature occupies the foreground almost exclusively;
though priestly faces will still be found gazing upon us from time to
time.

In form, the book is a bundle of letters from a Parisian littérateur
to the friend of his boyhood, now the curé of one of those mountain
villages. He is refreshing himself, in the midst of dusty,
sophisticated Paris, with memories of their old, delightful
existence--vagabonde, libre, agreste, pastorale--in their upland
valley. He can appeal safely to the aged curé's friendly justice,
even in exposing delicacies of sentiment which most men conceal:--

[124] "As for you, frank, certain of your own mind, joyous of heart,
methinks scarce understanding those whose religion makes their souls
tremble instead of fortifying them--you, I am sure, take things by
the large and kindly side of human life."

The story our Parisian has to tell is simple enough, and we have no
intention of betraying it, but only to note some of the faces, the
scenes, that peep out in the course of it.

The gloom of the Cevennes is the impression M. Fabre most commonly
conveys. In this book it is rather the cheerful aspect of summer,
those upland valleys of the Cevennes presenting then a symphony in
red, so to call it--as in a land of cherries and goldfinches; and he
has a genial power certainly of making you really feel the sun on the
backs of the two boys out early for a long ramble, of old peasants
resting themselves a little, with spare enjoyment, ere the end:--

"As we turned a sharp elbow of the stream the aspect of the country
changed. It seemed to me entirely red. Cherries in enormous bunches
were hanging everywhere over our heads....

[125] "It was a hut, rather low, rather dark. A log of chestnut was
smouldering in a heap of ashes. Every object was in its place: the
table, the chairs, the plates ranged on the dresser. A fairy, in
truth, reigned there, and, by the touch of her wand, brought
cleanliness and order on every side.

"'Is it you, Norine?' asked a voice from a dark corner, three steps
from the fireplace.

"'Yes, mon grand, it is I! The heat was growing greater every
moment, and I have taken in the goats.'

"Norine unclosed the window. A broad light spread over the floor of
beaten earth, like a white cloth. The cottage was illuminated. I
saw an old man seated on a wooden stool in a recess, where an ample
serge curtain concealed a bed. He held himself slightly bent, the
two hands held forth, one over the other, on the knob of a knotty
staff, highly polished. In spite of eighty years, Norine's
grandfather--le grand, as they say up there--had not lost a hair:
beautiful white locks fell over his shoulders--crisp, thick,
outspread. I thought of those fine wigs of tow or hemp with which
the distaff of [126] our Prudence was always entangled. He was close
shaved, after the manner of our peasants; and the entire mask was to
be seen disengaged, all its admirable lines free, commanded by a
full-sized nose, below which the good, thick lips were smiling, full
of kindness. The eyes, however, though still clear and soft in
expression, had a certain fixity which startled me. He raised
himself. His stature seemed to me beyond proportion. He was really
beautiful, with the contentment of his face, straight as the trunk of
a chestnut, his old velvet coat thrown back, his shirt of coarse
cloth open at the breast, so that one saw the play of the ribs.

"'Monsieur le neveu!' he cried; 'where are you? Come to me! I am
blind.'

"I approached. He felt me, with ten fingers, laying aside his staff.

"'And you would not take offence if a poor peasant like me embraced
you?'

"'Quick, Jalaguier!' I cried, throwing myself into his arms.
'Quick!' He pressed me till the joints started. Leaned upon his
broad chest, I heard the beating of his heart. It beat under my ears
with a burden like our bell at [126] Camplong. What powerful
vitality in Norine's grand! 'It does an old man good:--a good hug!'
he said, letting me go."

The boyish visitors are quite ready to sit down there to dinner:--

"With the peasant of the Cevennes (M. Fabre tells us) the meal is
what nature meant it to be--a few moments for self-recovery after
fatigue, a short space of silence of a quite elevated character,
almost sacred. The poor human creature has given the sweat of his
brow to extort from an ungrateful soil his daily bread; and now he
eats that well-savoured bread in silent self-respect.

"'It is a weary thing to be thinking always of one's work (says the
grand to the somewhat sparing Norine). We must also think of our
sustenance. You are too enduring, my child! it is a mistake to
demand so much of your arms. In truth, le bon Dieu has cut you out
after the pattern of your dead father. Every morning, in my prayers,
I put in my complaint thereanent. My poor boy died from going too
fast. He could never sit still when it was a question of gathering a
few sous from the [128] fields; and those fields took and consumed
him.'"

The boy fancies that the blind eyes are turned towards a particular
spot in the landscape, as if they saw:--

"'I often turn my eyes in that direction (the old man explains) from
habit. One might suppose that a peasant had the scent of the earth
on which he has laboured. I have given so much of the sweat of my
brow--there--towards Rocaillet! Angélique, my dead wife, was of
Rocaillet; and when she married me, brought a few morsels of land in
her apron. What a state they're in now!--those poor morsels of land
we used to weed and rake and hoe, my boy and I! What superb crops of
vetches we mowed then, for feeding, in due time, our lambs, our
calves! All is gone to ruin since my blindness, and especially since
Angélique left me for the churchyard, never to come back.' He paused
to my great relief. For every one of those phrases he modulated
under the fig-trees more sadly than the Lamentations of Jeremiah on
Jeudi Saint overset me--was like death."

[129] That is good drawing, in its simple and quiet way! The actual
scene, however, is cheerful enough on this early summer day--a
symphony, as we said, in cherries and goldfinches, in which the
higher valleys of the Cevennes abound. In fact, the boys witness the
accordailles, the engagement, of Norine and Justin Lebasset. The
latter is calling the birds to sing good luck to the event:--

"He had a long steady look towards the fruit-trees, and then
whistled, on a note at once extremely clear and extremely soft. He
paused, watched awhile, recommenced. The note became more rapid,
more sonorous. What an astounding man he was, this Justin Lebasset!
Upright, his red beard forward, his forehead thrown back, his eyes on
the thick foliage of the cherry-trees, his hands on his haunches, in
an attitude of repose, easy, superb, he was like some youthful pagan
god, gilded with red gold, on his way across the country--like Pan,
if he chose to amuse himself by charming birds. You should have seen
the enthusiastic glances with which Norine watched him. Upright--she
too, slim, at full height, inclining from [130] time to time towards
Justin with a movement of irresistible fascination, she followed the
notes of her mate; and sometimes, her, lips half opening, added
thereto a sigh--something of a sigh, an aspiration, a prayer, towards
the goldfinch, withdrawn into the shadows.

"The leaves were shaken in the clear, burning green; and, on a
sudden, a multitude of goldfinches, the heads red in the wind, the
wings half spread, were fluttering from branch to branch. I could
have fancied, amid the quivering of the great bunches of fruit, that
they were cherries on the wing. Justin suffered his pipe to die
away: the birds were come at his invitation, and performed their
prelude."

It is forty years afterwards that the narrator, now a man of letters
in Paris, writes to his old friend, with tidings of Justin and
Norine:--

"In 1842 (he observes) you were close on fifteen; I scarcely twelve.
In my eyes your age made you my superior. And then, you were so
strong, so tender, so amiteux, to use a word from up there--a
charming word. And so God, Who had His designs for you, whereas I,
in spite of my pious childhood, wandered on [131] my way as chance
bade me, led you by the hand, attached, ended by keeping you for
Himself. He did well truly when He chose you and rejected me!"

His finding the pair in the wilds of Paris is an adventure, in which,
in fact, a goldfinch again takes an important part--a goldfinch who
is found to understand the Cevenol dialect:--

"The goldfinch (escaped from its cage somewhere, into the dreary
court of the Institute) has seen me: is looking at me. If he chose
to make his way into my apartment, he would be very welcome. I feel
a strong impulse to try him with that unique patois word, which,
whistled after a peculiar manner, when I was a boy never failed to
succeed in the mountains of Orb--Béni! Béni! Viens! Viens! I dare
not! He might take fright and fly away altogether."

In effect, the Cevenol bird, true to call, introduces Norine, his
rightful owner, whose husband Justin is slowly dying. Towards the
end of a hard life, faithful to their mountain ideal, they have not
lost their dignity, though in a comparatively sordid medium: [132]

"As for me, my dear Arribas, I remained in deep agitation, an
attentive spectator of the scene; and while Justin and Norine, set
both alike in the winepress of sorrow, le pressoir de la douleur, as
your good books express it, murmured to each other their broken
consoling words, I saw them again, in thought, young, handsome, in
the full flower of life, under the cherry-trees, the swarming
goldfinches, of blind Barthélemy Jalaguier. Ah me! It was thus
that, five-and-forty years after, in this dark street of Paris, that
festive day was finishing, blessed, in the plenitude of nature, by
that august old man, celebrated by the alternate song of all the
birds of Rocaillet."

Justin's one remaining hope is to go home to those native mountains,
if it may be, with the dead body of his boy, dead "the very morning
on which he should have received the tonsure from the hands of Mgr.
l'Archevêque," and buried now temporarily at the cemetery of
Montparnasse:--

Theodore calls me. I saw him distinctly to-night. He gave me a
sign. After all said, life is heavy, sans le fillot, and but [133]
for you it were well to be released from it....'

"I have seen Justin Lebasset die, dear Arribas, and was touched,
edified, to the bottom of my soul. God grant, when my hour comes, I
may find that calm, that force, in the last struggle with life. Not
a complaint! not a sigh! Once only he gave Norine a sorrowful,
heartrending look; then, from lips already cold, breathed that one
word, 'Theodore!' Marcus Aurelius used to say: 'A man should leave
the world as a ripe olive falls from the tree that bore it, and with
a kiss for the earth that nourished it.' Well! the peasant of
Rocaillet had the beautiful, noble, simple death of the fruit of the
earth, going to the common receptacle of all mortal beings, with no
sense that he was torn away. Pardon, I pray, my quotation from
Marcus Aurelius, who persecuted the Christians. I give it with the
same respect with which you would quote some holy writer. Ah! my
dear Arribas! not all the saints have received canonization."

It is to the priestly character, in truth, that M. Fabre always comes
back for tranquillizing [134] effect; and if his peasants have
something akin to Wordsworth's, his priests may remind one of those
solemn ecclesiastical heads familiar in the paintings and etchings of
M. Alphonse Legros. The reader travelling in Italy, or Belgium
perhaps, has doubtless visited one or more of those spacious
sacristies, introduced to which for the inspection of some more than
usually recherché work of art, one is presently dominated by their
reverend quiet: simple people coming and going there, devout, or at
least on devout business, with half-pitched voices, not without
touches of kindly humour, in what seems to express like a picture the
most genial side, midway between the altar and the home, of the
ecclesiastical life. Just such interiors we seem to visit under the
magic of M. Fabre's well-trained pen. He has a real power of taking
one from Paris, or from London, to places and people certainly very
different from either, to the satisfaction of those who seek in
fiction an escape.

12th June 1889

IX. THE "CONTES" OF M. AUGUSTIN FILON

TALES OF A HUNDRED YEARS SINCE
["CONTES DU CENTENAIRE." PAR AUGUSTIN FILON. PARIS: HACHETTE ET
CIE. ]

[137] IT was a happy thought of M. Filon to put into the mouth of an
imaginary centenarian a series of delightfully picturesque studies
which aim at the minute presentment of life in France under the old
régime, and end for the most part with the Revolution. A genial
centenarian, whose years have told happily on him, he appreciates not
only those humanities of feeling and habit which were peculiar to the
last century and passed away with it, but also that permanent
humanity which has but undergone a change of surface in the new world
of our own, wholly different though it may look. With a sympathetic
sense of life as it is always, [138] M. Filon has transplanted the
creations of his fancy into an age certainly at a greater distance
from ourselves than can be estimated by mere lapse of time, and where
a fully detailed antiquarian knowledge, used with admirable tact and
economy, is indeed serviceable in giving reality of effect to scene
and character. In truth, M. Filon's very lively antiquarianism
carries with it a genuine air of personal memory. With him, as
happens so rarely, an intimate knowledge of historic detail is the
secret of life, of the impression of life; puts his own imagination
on the wing; secures the imaginative cooperation of the reader. A
stately age--to us, perhaps, in the company of the historic muse,
seeming even more stately than it actually was--it is pleasant to
find it, as we do now and again on these pages, in graceful
déshabille. With perfect lightness of touch, M. Filon seems to have
a complete command of all the physiognomic details of old France, of
old Paris and its people--how they made a holiday; how they got at
the news; the fashions. Did the English reader ever hear before of
the beautifully dressed doll which came once a month [139] from Paris
to Soho to teach an expectant world of fashion how to dress itself?
Old Paris! For young lovers at their windows; for every one
fortunate enough to have seen it: "Qu'il est joli ce paysage du Paris
nocturne d'il y a cent ans!" We think we shall best do justice to an
unusually pretty book by taking one of M. Filon's stories (not
because we are quite sure it is the cleverest of them) with a view to
the more definite illustration of his method, therein.

Christopher Marteau was a warden of the corporation of Luthiers. He
dealt in musical instruments, as his father and grandfather had done
before him, at the sign of Saint Cecilia. With his wife, his only
child Phlipote, and Claude his apprentice, who was to marry Phlipote,
he occupied a good house of his own. Of course the disposition of
the young people, bred together from their childhood, does not at
first entirely concur with the parental arrangements. But the story
tells, reassuringly, how--to some extent how sadly--they came
heartily to do so. M. Marteau was no ordinary shopkeeper. The
various distinguished people who had fingered his clavecins, and
turned over the [140] folios of music, for half a century past, had
left their memories behind them; M. de Voltaire, for instance, who
had caressed the head of Phlipote with an aged, skeleton hand,
leaving, apparently, no very agreeable impression on the child,
though her father delighted to recall the incident, being himself a
demi-philosophe. He went to church, that is to say, only twice a
year, on the Feast of St. Cecilia and on the Sunday when the Luthiers
offered the pain bénit. It was his opinion that everything in the
State needed reform except the Corporations. The relations of the
husband to his affectionate, satiric, pleasure-seeking wife, who knew
so well all the eighteen theatres which then existed in Paris, are
treated with much quiet humour. On Sundays the four set forth
together for a country holiday. At such times Phlipote would walk
half-a-dozen paces in advance of her father and mother, side by side
with her intended. But they never talked to each other: the hands,
the eyes, never met. Of what was Phlipote dreaming? and what was in
the thoughts of Claude?

It happened one day that, like sister and brother, the lovers
exchanged confidences. "It [141] is not always," observes Phlipote,
whom every one excepting Claude on those occasions sought with
admiring eyes--

"'It is not always one loves those one is told to love.'

"'What, have you, too, a secret, my little Phlipote?'

"'I too, Claude! Then what may be yours?'

"'Listen, Phlipote!' he answered. 'We don't wish to be husband and
wife, but we can be friends--good and faithful friends, helping each
other to change the decision of our parents.'

"'Were I but sure you would not betray me--'

"'Would you like me to confess first? The woman I love--Ah! but you
will laugh at my folly!'

"'No, Claude! I shall not laugh. I know too well what one suffers.'

"'Especially when love is hopeless.'

"'Hopeless?'

"'Alas! I have never spoken to her. Perhaps never shall!'

[142] "'Well! as for me, I don't even know the name of him to whom my
heart is given!'

"'Ah! poor Phlipote!'

"'Poor Claude!'

"They had approached each other. The young man took the tiny hand of
his friend, pressing it in his own.

"'The woman I adore is Mademoiselle Guimard!'

"'What! Guimard of the Opera?--the fiancée of Despréaux?'"

Claude still held the hands of Phlipote, who was trembling now, and
almost on fire at the story of this ambitious love. In return she
reveals her own. It was Good Friday. She had come with her mother
to the Sainte Chapelle to hear Mademoiselle Coupain play the organ
and witness the extraordinary spectacle of the convulsionnaires,
brought thither to be touched by the relic of the True Cross. In the
press of the crowd at this exciting scene Phlipote faints, or nearly
faints, when a young man comes kindly to their aid. "She is so
young!" he explains to the mother, "she seems so delicate!" "He
looked at me," she tells Claude--"he looked at [143] me, through his
half-closed eyelids; and his words were like a caress."--

"'And have you seen him no More?' asks Claude, full of sympathy.

"'Yes! once again. He pretended to be looking at the window of the
Little Dunkirk, over the way, but with cautious glances towards our
house. Only, as he did not know what storey we live on, he failed to
discover me behind my curtain, where I was but half visible.'

"'You should have shown yourself.'

"'Oh, Claude!' she cried, with a delicious gesture of timidity, of
shame.

"So they prattled for a long time; he talking of the great Guimard,
she of her unknown lover, scarce listening to, but completely
understanding each other.

"'Holloa!'cries the loud voice of Christopher Marteau. 'What are you
doing out there?'

"The young people arose. Phlipote linked her arm gaily in that of
Claude. 'How contented I feel!' she says; 'how good it is to have a
friend--to have you whom I used to detest, because I thought you were
in love with me. Now, when I know you can't bear me, I [144] shall
be nicely in love with you.' The soft warmth of her arm seemed to
pass through Claude, and gave him strange sensations. He resumed
naïvely, 'Yes! and how odd it is after all that I am not in love with
you. You are so pretty!' Phlipote raised her finger coquettishly,
'No compliments, monsieur. Since we are not to marry each other, it
is forbidden to pay court to me!'"

From that day a close intimacy established itself between the
formerly affianced pair, now become accomplices in defeating the good
intentions of their elders. In long conversations, they talked in
turn, or both together, of their respective loves. Phlipote allows
Claude entrance to her chamber, full of admiration for its graceful
arrangements, its virgin cleanliness. He inspects slowly all the
familiar objects daily touched by her, her books, her girlish
ornaments. One day she cried with an air of mischief, "If she were
here in my place, what would you do?" and no sooner were the words
uttered than his arms were round her neck. "'Tis but to teach you
what I would do were she here." They were a little troubled by this
adventure.

[145] And the next day was a memorable one. By the kind contrivance
of Phlipote herself, Claude gains the much-desired access to the
object of his affections, but to his immense disillusion. If he
could but speak to her, he fancies he should find the courage, the
skill, to bend her. Breathless, Phlipote comes in secret with the
good news. The great actress desires some one to tune her clavecin:-
-

"'Papa would have gone; but I begged him so earnestly to take me to
the Théâtre Français that he could not refuse; and it is yourself
will go this evening to tune the clavecin of your beloved.'

"'Phlipote, you've a better heart than I! This morning I saw a
gentleman, who resembled point by point your description of the
unknown at the Sainte Chapelle, prowling about our shop.'

"'And you didn't tell me!'

"Claude hung his head.

"'But why not?' the young girl asks imperiously. 'Why not?'

"'In truth I could hardly say, hardly understand, myself. Do you
forgive me, Phlipote?'

"'I suppose I must. So make yourself as smart as you can, to please
your goddess.'"

[146] Next day she hears the story of Claude's grievous
disappointment on seeing the great actress at home--plain, five-and-
forty, ill-tempered. He had tuned the clavecin and taken flight.

And now for Phlipote's idol! It was agreed that Whitsunday should be
spent at Versailles. On that day the royal apartments were open to
the public, and at the hour of High Mass the crowd flowed back
towards the vestibule of the chapel to witness what was called the
procession of the Cordons Bleus. The "Blue Ribbons" were the knights
of the Order Du Saint-Esprit in their robes of ceremony, who came to
range themselves in the choir according to the date of their
creation. The press was so great that the parents were separated
from the young people. Claude, however, at the side of Phlipote,
realized the ideal of a faithful and jealous guardian. The
hallebardes of the Suisses rang on the marble pavement of the
gallery. Royalty, now unconsciously presenting its ceremonies for
the last time, advanced through a cloud of splendour; but before the
Queen appeared it was necessary that all the knights of the order
down to the youngest should pass by, slow, solemn, majestic.

[147] They wore, besides their ribbons of blue moiré, the silver dove
on the shoulder, and the long mantle of sombre blue velvet lined with
yellow satin. Phlipote watched mechanically the double file of
haughty figures passing before them: then, on a sudden, with a feeble
cry, falls fainting into the arms of Claude.

Recovered after a while, under shelter of the great staircase, she
wept as those weep whose heart is broken by a great blow. Claude,
without a word, sustained, soothed her. A sentiment of gratitude
mingled itself with her distress. "How good he is!" she thought.

"It was a pity," says her mother a little later "a pity you did not
see the Cordons Bleus. Fancy! You will laugh at me! But in one of
the handsomest of the Chevaliers I felt sure I recognized the
stranger who helped us at the Sainte Chapelle, and was so gallant
with you."

Phlipote did not laugh. "You are deceived, mother!" she said in a
faint voice. "Pardi!" cries the father. "'Tis what I always say.
Your stranger was some young fellow from a shop."

Two months later the young people receive [148] the nuptial
benediction, and continue the musical business when the elders retire
to the country. At first a passionate lover, Claude was afterwards a
good and devoted husband. Phlipote never again opened her lips
regarding the vague love which for a moment had flowered in her
heart: only sometimes, a cloud of reverie veiled her eyes, which
seemed to seek sadly, beyond the circle of her slow, calm life, a
brilliant but chimeric image visible for her alone.

And once again she saw him. It was in the terrible year 1794. She
knew the hour at which the tumbril with those condemned to die passed
the windows; and at the first signal would close them and draw the
curtain. But on this day some invincible fascination nailed her to
her place. There were ten faces; but she had eyes for one alone.
She had not forgotten, could not mistake, him--that pale head, so
proud and fine, but now thin with suffering; the beautiful mobile
eyes, now encircled with the signs of sorrow and watching. The
convict's shirt, open in large, broad folds, left bare the neck,
delicate as a woman's, and made for that youthful face an aureole, of
innocence, of martyrdom. His looks [149] met hers. Did he recognize
her? She could not have said. She remained there, paralyzed with
emotion, till the moment when the vision disappeared.

Then she flung herself into her chamber, fell on her knees, lost
herself in prayer. There was a distant roll of drums. The man to
whom she had given her maiden soul was gone.

"Cursed be their anger, for it was cruel!" says the reader. But
Monsieur Filon's stories sometimes end as merrily as they begin; and
always he is all delicacy--a delicacy which keeps his large yet
minute antiquarian knowledge of that vanished time ever in service to
a direct interest in humanity as it is permanently, alike before and
after '93. His book is certainly one well worth possessing.

THE END

16th July 1890

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