Part 2 out of 4
logic, caused him to come to the rescue of his previously expressed
opinions, and we had the satisfaction of hearing him discourse earnestly
Maiden ladies usually have an opinion ready on the subject of masculine
methods, and, conversely, much of the world's logic on the "woman
question" has come from the bachelor brain.
Mr. Ruskin went quite out of his way on several occasions in times past
to attack John Stuart Mill for heresy "in opening up careers for women
other than that of wife and mother."
When Mill did not answer Mr. Ruskin's newspaper letters, the author of
"Sesame and Lilies" called him a "cretinous wretch" and referred to him
as "the man of no imagination." Mr. Mill may have been a cretinous wretch
(I do not exactly understand the phrase), but the preface to "On Liberty"
is at once the tenderest, highest and most sincere compliment paid to a
woman, of which I know.
The life of Mr. and Mrs. John Stuart Mill shows that perfect mating is
possible; yet Mr. Ruskin has only scorn for the opinions of Mr. Mill on a
subject which Mill came as near personally solving in a matrimonial
"experiment" as any other public man of modern times, not excepting even
Robert Browning. Therefore we might suppose Mr. Mill entitled to speak on
the woman question, and I intimated as much to Mr. Ruskin.
"He might know all about one woman, and if he should regard her as a
sample of all womankind, would he not make a great mistake?"
I was silenced.
In "Fors Clavigera," Letter LIX, the author says: "I never wrote a letter
in my life which all the world is not welcome to read." From this one
might imagine that Mr. Ruskin never loved--no pressed flowers in books;
no passages of poetry double-marked and scored; no bundles of letters
faded and yellow, sacred for his own eye, tied with white or dainty blue
ribbon; no little nothings hidden away in the bottom of a trunk. And yet
Mr. Ruskin has his ideas on the woman question, and very positive ideas
they are too--often sweetly sympathetic and wisely helpful.
I see that one of the encyclopedias mentions Ruskin as a bachelor, which
is giving rather an extended meaning to the word, for although Mr. Ruskin
married, he was not mated. According to Collingwood's account, this
marriage was a quiet arrangement between parents. Anyway, the genius is
like the profligate in this: when he marries he generally makes a woman
miserable. And misery is reactionary as well as infectious. Ruskin is a
Genius is unique. No satisfactory analysis of it has yet been given. We
know a few of its indications--that's all. First among these is ability
No seed can sow genius; no soil can grow it: its quality is inborn and
defies both cultivation and extermination. To be surpassed is never
pleasant; to feel your inferiority is to feel a pang. Seldom is there a
person great enough to find satisfaction in the success of a friend. The
pleasure that excellence gives is oft tainted by resentment; and so the
woman who marries a genius is usually unhappy.
Genius is excess: it is obstructive to little plans. It is difficult to
warm yourself at a conflagration; the tempest may blow you away; the sun
dazzles; lightning seldom strikes gently; the Nile overflows. Genius has
its times of straying off into the infinite--and then what is the good
wife to do for companionship? Does she protest, and find fault? It could
not be otherwise, for genius is dictatorial without knowing it,
obstructive without wishing to be, intolerant unawares, and unsocial
because it can not help it.
The wife of a genius sometimes takes his fits of abstraction for
stupidity, and having the man's interests at heart she endeavors to
arouse him from his lethargy by chiding him. Occasionally he arouses
enough to chide back; and so it has become an axiom that genius is not
A short period of mismated life told the wife of Ruskin their mistake,
and she told him. But Mrs. Grundy was at the keyhole, ready to tell the
world, and so Mr. and Mrs. Ruskin sought to deceive society by pretending
to live together. They kept up this appearance for six sorrowful years,
and then the lady simplified the situation by packing her trunks and
deliberately leaving her genius to his chimeras; her soul doubtless
softened by the knowledge that she was bestowing a benefit on him by
going away. The lady afterwards became the happy wife and helpmeet of a
Ruskin's father was a prosperous importer of wines. He left his son a
fortune equal to a little more than one million dollars. But that vast
fortune has gone---principal and interest--gone in bequests, gifts and
experiments; and today Mr. Ruskin has no income save that derived from
the sale of his books. Talk about "Distribution of Wealth"! Here we have
The bread-and-butter question has never troubled John Ruskin except in
his ever-ardent desire that others should be fed. His days have been
given to study and writing from his very boyhood; he has made money, but
he has had no time to save it.
He has expressed himself on every theme that interests mankind, except
perhaps "housemaid's knee." He has written more letters to the newspapers
than "Old Subscriber," "Fiat Justitia," "Indignant Reader" and "Veritas"
combined. His opinions have carried much weight and directed attention
into necessary lines; but perhaps his success as an inspirer of thought
lies in the fact that his sense of humor exists only as a trace, as the
chemist might say. Men who perceive the ridiculous would never have
voiced many of the things which he has said.
Surely those Sioux Indians who stretched a hay lariat across the Union
Pacific Railroad in order to stop the running of trains had small sense
of the ridiculous. But it looks as if they were apostles of Ruskin, every
Some one has said that no man can appreciate the beautiful who has not a
keen sense of humor. For the beautiful is the harmonious, and the
laughable is the absence of fit adjustment.
Mr. Ruskin disproves the maxim.
But let no hasty soul imagine that John Ruskin's opinions on practical
themes are not useful. He brings to bear an energy on every subject he
touches (and what subject has he not touched?) that is sure to make the
sparks of thought fly. His independent and fearless attitude awakens from
slumber a deal of dozing intellect, and out of this strife of opinion
On account of Mr. Ruskin's refusing at times to see visitors, reports
have gone abroad that his mind was giving way. Not so, for although he is
seventy-four he is as serenely stubborn as he ever was. His opposition to
new inventions in machinery has not relaxed a single pulley's turn. You
grant his premises and in his conclusions you will find that his belt
never slips, and that his logic never jumps a cog. His life is as
regular and exact as the trains on the Great Western, and his days are
more peaceful than ever before. He has regular hours for writing, study,
walking, reading, eating, and working out of doors, superintending the
cultivation of his hundred acres. He told me that he had not varied a
half-hour in two years from a certain time of going to bed or getting up
in the morning. Although his form is bowed, this regularity of life has
borne fruit in the rich russet of his complexion, the mild, clear eye,
and the pleasure in living in spite of occasional pain, which you know
the man feels. His hair is thick and nearly white; the beard is now worn
quite long and gives a patriarchal appearance to the fine face.
When we arose to take our leave, Mr. Ruskin took a white felt hat from
the elk-antlers in the hallway and a stout stick from the corner, and
offered to show us a nearer way back to the village. We walked down a
footpath through the tall grass to the lake, where he called our
attention to various varieties of ferns that he had transplanted there.
We shook hands with the old gentleman and thanked him for the pleasure he
had given us. He was still examining the ferns when we lifted our hats
and bade him good-day.
He evidently did not hear us, for I heard him mutter: "I verily believe
those miserable Cook's tourists that were down here yesterday picked some
of my ferns."
WILLIAM E. GLADSTONE
As the aloe is said to flower only once in a hundred years, so it
seems to be but once in a thousand years that Nature blossoms
into this unrivaled product and produces such a man as we have
--_Gladstone, "Lecture on Homer_"
[Illustration: WILLIAM E. GLADSTONE]
American travelers in England are said to accumulate
sometimes large and unique assortments of lisps, drawls and other very
peculiar things. Of the value of these acquirements as regards their use
and beauty, I have not room here to speak. But there is one adjunct which
England has that we positively need, and that is "Boots." It may be that
Boots is indigenous to England's soil, and that when transplanted he
withers and dies; perhaps there is a quality in our atmosphere that kills
him. Anyway, we have no Boots.
When trouble, adversity or bewilderment comes to the homesick traveler in
an American hotel, to whom can he turn for consolation? Alas, the porter
is afraid of the "guest," and all guests are afraid of the clerk, and the
proprietor is never seen, and the Afro-Americans in the dining-room are
stupid, and the chambermaid does not answer the ring, and at last the
weary wanderer hies him to the barroom and soon discovers that the worthy
"barkeep" has nothing to recommend him but his diamond-pin. How
different, yes, how different, this would all be if Boots were only here!
At the quaint old city of Chester I was met at the "sti-shun" by the
Boots of that excellent though modest hotel which stands only a block
away. Boots picked out my baggage without my looking for it, took me
across to the Inn, and showed me to the daintiest, most homelike little
room I had seen for weeks. On the table was a tastefully decorated "jug,"
evidently just placed there in anticipation of my arrival, and in this
jug was a large bunch of gorgeous roses, the morning dew still on them.
When Boots had brought me hot water for shaving he disappeared and did
not come back until, by the use of telepathy (for Boots is always
psychic), I had sent him a message that he was needed. In the afternoon
he went with me to get a draft cashed, then he identified me at the
post-office, and introduced me to a dignitary at the cathedral whose
courtesy added greatly to my enjoyment of the visit.
The next morning after breakfast, when I returned to my room, everything
was put to rights and a fresh bouquet of cut flowers was on the mantel. A
good breakfast adds much to one's inward peace: I sat down before the
open window and looked out at the great oaks dotting the green meadows
that stretched away to the north, and listened to the drowsy tinkle of
sheep-bells as the sound came floating in on the perfumed breeze. I was
thinking how good it was to be here, when the step of Boots was heard in
the doorway. I turned and saw that mine own familiar friend had lost a
little of his calm self-reliance--in fact, he was a bit agitated, but he
soon recovered his breath.
"Mr. Gladstone and 'is Lady 'ave just arrived, sir--they will be 'ere for
an hour before taking the train for Lunnon, sir. I told 'is clark there
was a party of Americans 'ere that were very anxious to meet 'im, and he
will receive you in the parlor in fifteen minutes, sir."
Then it was my turn to be agitated. But Boots reassured me by explaining
that the Grand Old Man was just the plainest, most unpretentious
gentleman one could imagine; that it was not at all necessary that I
should change my suit; that I should pronounce it Gladstun, not
Glad-stone, and that it was Harden, not Ha-war-den. Then he stood me up,
looked me over, and declared that I was all right.
On going downstairs I found that Boots had gotten together five Americans
who happened to be in the hotel. He introduced us to a bright little man
who seemed to be the companion or secretary of the Prime Minister; he, in
turn, took us into the parlor where Mr. Gladstone sat reading the morning
paper, and presented us one by one to the great man. We were each greeted
with a pleasant word and a firm grasp of the hand, and then the old
gentleman turned and with a courtly flourish said, "Gentlemen, allow me
to present you to Mrs. Gladstone."
Mr. Gladstone was wise: he remained standing; this was sure to shorten
the interview. A clergyman in our party who had an impressive cough and
bushy whiskers, acted as spokesman, and said several pleasant things,
closing his little speech by informing Mr. Gladstone that Americans held
him in great esteem, and that we only regretted that Fate had not decreed
that he should have been born in the United States.
Mr. Gladstone replied, "Fate is often unkind." Then he asked if we were
going to London. On being told that we were, he spoke for five minutes
about the things we should see in the Metropolis. His style was not
conversational, but after the manner of a man who was much used to
speaking in public or to receiving delegations. The sentences were
stately, the voice rather loud and declamatory. His closing words were:
"Yes, gentlemen, the way to see London is from the top of a 'bus--from
the top of a 'bus, gentlemen." Then there was an almost imperceptible
wave of the hand, and we knew that the interview was ended. In a moment
we were outside and the door was closed.
The five Americans who made up our little company had never met before,
but now we were as brothers; we adjourned to a side-room to talk it over
and tell of the things we intended to say but didn't. We all talked and
talked at once, just as people do who have recently preserved an enforced
"How ill-fitting was that gray suit!"
"Yes, the sleeves too long."
"Did you notice the absence of the forefinger of his left hand--shot off
in Eighteen Hundred Forty-five while hunting, they say."
"But how strong his voice is!"
"He looks like a farmer."
"Eighty-five years of age! Think of it, and how vigorous!"
Then the preacher spoke and his voice was sorrowful:
"Oh, but I made a botch of it--was it sarcasm or was it not?"
"Was what sarcasm?"
"When Mr. Gladstone said that Fate was unkind in not having him born in
the United States!"
And we were all silent. Then Boots came in, and we put the question to
Boots, who decided it was not sarcasm.
The next day, when we went away, we rewarded Boots bountifully.
* * * * *
William Gladstone is England's glory. Yet there is no
English blood in his veins; his parents were Scotch. Aside from Lord
Brougham, he is the only Scotchman who has ever taken a prominent part in
British statecraft. The name as we first find it is Gled-stane, "gled"
being a hawk--literally, a hawk that lives among the stones. Surely the
hawk is fully as respectable a bird as the eagle, and a goodly amount of
granite in the clay that is used to make a man is no disadvantage. The
There are deep-rooted theories in the minds of many men (and still more
women) that bad boys make good men, and that a dash of the pirate, even
in a prelate, does not disqualify. But I wish to come to the defense of
the Sunday-school story-books and show that their very prominent moral is
right after all: it pays to be "good."
William Ewart Gladstone was sent to Eton when twelve years of age. From
the first, his conduct was a model of propriety. He attended every chapel
service, and said his prayers in the morning and before going to bed at
night; he could repeat the catechism backwards or forwards, and recite
more verses of Scripture than any other boy in school.
He always spoke the truth. He never played "hookey"; nor, as he grew
older, would he tell stories of doubtful flavor, or allow others to
relate such in his presence. His influence was for good, and Cardinal
Manning has said that there was less wine drunk at Oxford during the
Forties than would have been the case if Gladstone had not been there in
He graduated from Christchurch with the highest possible honors the
college could bestow, and at twenty-two he seemed like one who had sprung
into life full-armed.
At that time he had magnificent health, a fine form, vast and varied
knowledge, and a command of language so great that he was a master of
forensics. His speeches were fully equal to his later splendid efforts.
In feature he was handsome: the face bold and masculine; eyes of piercing
luster; and hair, which he tossed when in debate, like a lion's mane. He
could speak five languages, sing tenor, dance gracefully, and was on more
than speaking terms with many of the best and greatest men in England.
Besides all this he was rich in British gold.
Now, here is a combination of good things that would send most young men
straight to perdition--not so Gladstone. He took the best care of his
health, systematized his time as a miser might, listened not to the
flatterers, and used his money only for good purposes. His intention was
to enter the Church, but his father said, "Not yet," and half-forced him
into politics. So, at this early age of twenty-two, he ran for
Parliament, was elected, and has practically never been out of the shadow
of Westminster Palace during these sixty-odd years.
At thirty-three, he was a member of the Cabinet. At thirty-six, his
absolute honesty compelled him for conscience' sake to resign from the
Ministry. His opponents then said, "Gladstone is an extinct volcano," and
they have said this again and again; but somehow the volcano always
breaks out in a new place, stronger and brighter than ever. It is
difficult to subdue a volcano.
When twenty-nine, he married Catherine Glynne, sister and heir of Sir
Stephen Glynne, Baronet. The marriage was most fortunate in every way.
For over fifty years this most excellent woman has been his comrade,
counselor, consolation, friend--his wife.
"How can any adversity come to him who hath a wife?" said Chaucer.
If this splendid woman had died, then his opponents might truthfully have
said, "Gladstone is an extinct volcano"; but she is still with him, and a
short time ago, when he had to undergo an operation for cataract, this
woman of eighty was his only nurse.
The influence of Gladstone has been of untold value to England. His
ideals for national action have been high. To the material prosperity of
the country he has added millions upon millions; he has made education
popular, and schooling easy; his policy in the main has been such as to
command the admiration of the good and great. But there are spots on the
On reading Mr. Gladstone's books I find he has vigorously defended
certain measures that seem unworthy of his genius. He has palliated
human slavery as a "necessary evil"; has maintained the visibility and
divine authority of the Church; has asserted the mathematical certainty
of the historic episcopate, the mystical efficacy of the sacraments; and
has vindicated the Church of England as the God-appointed guardian of
He has fought bitterly any attempt to improve the divorce-laws of
England. Much has been done in this line, even in spite of his earnest
opposition, but we now owe it to Mr. Gladstone that there is on England's
law-books a statute providing that if a wife leaves her husband he can
invoke a magistrate, whose duty it will then be to issue a writ and give
it to an officer, who will bring her back. More than this, when the
officer has returned the woman, the loving husband has the legal right to
"reprove" her. Just what reprove means the courts have not yet
determined; for, in a recent decision, when a costermonger admitted
having given his lady "a taste of the cat," the prisoner was discharged
on the ground that it was only needed reproof.
I would not complain of this law if it worked both ways; but no wife can
demand that the State shall return her "man" willy-nilly. And if she
administers reproof to her mate, she does it without the sanction of the
However, in justice to Englishmen, it should be stated that while this
unique law still stands on the statute-books, it is very seldom that a
man in recent years has stooped to invoke it.
On all the questions I have named, from slavery to divorce, Mr. Gladstone
has used the "Bible argument." But as the years have gone by, his mind
has become liberalized, and on many points where he was before zealous he
is now silent. In Eighteen Hundred Forty-one, he argued with much skill
and ingenuity that Jews were not entitled to full rights of citizenship,
but in Eighteen Hundred Forty-seven, acknowledging his error, he took the
During the War of Secession the sympathies of England's Chancellor of the
Exchequer were with the South. Speaking at Newcastle on October Ninth,
Eighteen Hundred Sixty-two, he said, "Jefferson Davis has undoubtedly
founded a new nation." But five years passed, and he publicly confessed
that he was wrong.
Here is a man who, if he should err deeply, is yet so great that, like
Cotton Mather, he might not hesitate to stand uncovered on the
street-corners and ask the forgiveness of mankind. Such men are saved by
their enemies. Their own good and the good of humanity require that their
balance of power shall not be too great. Had the North gone down,
Gladstone might never have seen his mistake. In this instance and in many
others, he has not been the leader of progress, but its echo: truth has
been forced upon him. His passionate earnestness, his intense volition,
his insensibility to moral perspective, his blindness to the sense of
proportion, might have led him into dangerous excess and frightful
fanatical error, if it were not for the fact that such men create an
opposition that is their salvation.
To analyze a character so complex as Mr. Gladstone's requires the grasp
of genius. We speak of "the duality of the human mind," but here are half
a dozen spirits in one. They rule in turn, and occasionally several of
them struggle for the mastery.
When the Fisk Jubilee Singers visited England, we find Gladstone dropping
the affairs of State to hear their music. He invited them to Hawarden,
where he sang with them. So impressed was he with the negro melodies that
he anticipated that idea which has since been materialized: the founding
of a national school of music that would seek to perfect in a scientific
way these soul-stirring strains.
He might have made a poet of no mean order; for his devotion to spiritual
and physical beauty has made him a lifelong admirer of Homer and Dante.
Those who have met him when the mood was upon him have heard him recite
by the hour from the "Iliad" in the original. And yet the theology of
Homer belongs to the realm of natural religion with which Mr. Gladstone
has little patience.
A prominent member of the House of Commons once said, "The only two
things that the Prime Minister really cares for are religion and
finance." The statement comes near truth; for the chief element in Mr.
Gladstone's character is his devotion to religion; and his signal
successes have been in the line of economics. He believes in Free Trade
as the gospel of social salvation. He revels in figures; he has price,
value, consumption, distribution, import, export, fluctuation, all at his
tongue's end, ready to hurl at any one who ventures on a hasty
And it is a significant fact that in his strong appeal for the
disestablishment of the Irish Church, the stress of his argument was put
on the point that the Irish Church was not in the line of the apostolic
Mr. Gladstone is grave, sober, earnest, proud, passionate, and at times
romantic to a rare degree. He rebukes, refutes, contradicts, defies, and
has a magnificent capacity for indignation. He will roar you like a lion,
his eyes will flash, and his clenched fist will shake as he denounces
that which he believes to be error. And yet among inferiors he will
consult, defer, inquire, and show a humility, a forced suavity, that has
given the caricaturist excuse.
In his home he is gentle, amiable, always kind, social and hospitable. He
loves deeply, and his friends revere him to a point that is but little
this side of idolatry. And surely their affection is not misplaced.
Some day a Plutarch without a Plutarch's prejudice will arise, and with
malice toward none, but with charity for all, he will write the life of
the statesman, Gladstone. Over against this he will write the life of an
American statesman. The name he will choose will be that of one born in a
log hut in the forest; who was rocked by the foot of a mother whose
hands meanwhile were busy at her wheel; who had no schooling, no wise and
influential friends; who had few books and little time to read; who knew
no formal religion; who never traveled out of his own country; who had no
helpmeet, but who walked solitary--alone, a man of sorrows; down whose
homely, furrowed face the tears of pity often ran, and yet whose name,
strange paradox! stands in many minds as a symbol of mirth.
And when the master comes, who has the power to portray with absolute
fidelity the greatness of these two men, will it be to the disadvantage
of the American?
* * * * *
The village of Hawarden is in Flintshire, North Wales. It
is seven miles from Chester. I walked the distance one fine June
morning--out across the battlefield where Cromwell's army crushed that of
Charles; and on past old stone walls and stately elms.
There had been a shower the night before, but the morning sun came out
bright and warm and made the raindrops glisten like beads as they clung
to each leaf and flower. Larks sang and soared, and great flocks of crows
called and cawed as they flew lazily across the sky. It was a time for
silent peace, and quiet joy, and serene thankfulness for life and health.
I walked leisurely, and in a little over two hours reached Hawarden--a
cluster of plain stone houses with climbing vines and flowers and
gardens, which told of homely thrift and simple tastes. I went straight
to the old stone church, which is always open, and rested for half an
hour, listening to the organ on which a young girl was practising,
instructed by a white-haired old gentleman.
The church is dingy and stained inside and out by time. The pews are
irregular, some curiously carved, and all stiff and uncomfortable. I
walked around and read the inscriptions on the walls, and all the time
the young girl played and the old gentleman beat time, and neither
noticed my presence. One brass tablet I saw was to a woman "who for long
years was a faithful servant at Hawarden Castle--erected in gratitude by
Near this was a memorial to W.H. Gladstone, son of the Premier, who died
in Eighteen Hundred Ninety-one. Then there were inscriptions to various
Glynnes and several others whose names appear in English history. I stood
at the reading-desk, where the great man has so often read, and marked
the spot where William Ewart Gladstone and Catherine Glynne knelt when
they were married here in July, Eighteen Hundred Thirty-nine.
A short distance from the church is the entrance to Hawarden Park. This
fine property was the inheritance of Mrs. Gladstone; the park itself
seems to belong to the public. If Mr. Gladstone were a plain citizen,
people, of course, would not come by hundreds and picnic on his preserve,
but serving the State, he and his possessions belong to the people, and
this democratic familiarity is rather pleasing than otherwise. So great
has been the throng in times past, that an iron fence had to be placed
about the ivy-covered ruins of the ancient castle, to protect it from
those who threatened to carry it away by the pocketful. A wall has also
been put around the present "castle" (more properly, house). This was
done some years ago, I was told by the butler, after a torchlight
procession of a thousand enthusiastic admirers had come down from
Liverpool and trampled Mrs. Gladstone's flowers into "smithereens."
The park contains many hundred acres, and is as beautiful as an English
park can be, and this is praise superlative. Flocks of sheep wander over
the soft, green turf, and beneath the spreading trees are sleek cows
which seem used to visitors, and with big, open eyes come up to be
Occasional signs are seen: "Please spare the trees." Some people suppose
that this is an injunction which Mr. Gladstone himself has never
observed. But when in his tree-cutting days, no monarch of the forest was
ever felled without its case being fully tried by the entire household.
Ruskin, once, visiting at Hawarden, sat as judge, and after listening to
the evidence gave sentence against several trees that were rotten at the
core or overshadowing their betters. Then the Prime Minister shouldered
his faithful "snickersnee" and went forth as executioner.
I looked in vain for stumps, and on inquiry was told that they were all
dug out, and the ground leveled so no trace was left of the offender.
The "lady of the house" at Hawarden is the second daughter of Mr. and
Mrs. Gladstone. All accounts agree that she is a most capable and
excellent woman. She is her father's "home secretary" and confidante, and
in his absence takes full charge of the mail and looks after important
business affairs. Her husband, the Reverend Harry Drew, is rector of
Hawarden Church. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Drew and found him
very cordial and perfectly willing to talk about the great man who is
grandfather to his baby. We also talked of America, and I soon surmised
that Mr. Drew's ideas of "The States" were largely derived from a visit
to the Wild West Show. So I put the question to him direct:
"Did you see Buffalo Bill?"
"And did Mr. Gladstone go?"
"Not only once, but three times, and he cheered as loudly as any boy."
The Gladstone residence is a great, rambling, stone structure to which
additions have been made from one generation to another. The towers and
battlements are merely architectural appendiculae, but the effect of the
whole, when viewed from a distance, rising out of its wealth of green and
backed by the forest, is very imposing.
I entered only the spacious front hallway and one room--the library.
Bookshelves and books and more books were everywhere; several desks of
different designs (one an American roll-top), as if the owner transacted
business at one, translated Homer at another, and wrote social letters
from a third. Then there were several large Japanese vases, a tiger-skin,
beautiful rugs, a few large paintings, and in a rack a full dozen axes
and twice as many "sticks."
The whole place has an air of easy luxury that speaks of peace and
plenty, of quiet and rest, of gentle thoughts and calm desires.
As I walked across toward the village, the church-bell slowly pealed the
hour; over the distant valley, night hovered; a streak of white mist,
trailing like a thin veil, marked the passage of the murmuring brook. I
thought of the grand old man over whose domain I was now treading, and my
wonder was, not that one should live so long and still be vigorous, but
that a man should live in such an idyllic spot, with love and books to
keep him company, and yet grow old.
I believe that these works of Turner's are at their first
appearing as perfect as those of Phidias or Leonardo, that is to
say, incapable of any improvement conceivable by human mind.
[Illustration: J.M.W. TURNER]
The beauty of the upper Thames with its fairy house-boats
and green banks has been sung by poets, but rash is the minstrel who
tunes his lyre to sound the praises of this muddy stream in the vicinity
of Chelsea. As yellow as the Tiber and thick as the Missouri after a
flood, it comes twice a day bearing upon its tossing tide a unique
assortment of uncanny sights and sickening smells from the swarming city
of men below.
Chelsea was once a country village six miles from London Bridge. Now the
far-reaching arms of the metropolis have taken it as her own.
Chelsea may be likened to some rare spinster, grown old with years and
good works, and now having a safe home with a rich and powerful
benefactress. Yet Chelsea is not handsome in her old age, and Chelsea was
not pretty in youth, nor fair to view in middle life; but Chelsea has
been the foster-mother of several of the rarest and fairest souls who
have ever made the earth pilgrimage.
And the greatness of genius still rests upon Chelsea. As we walk slowly
through its winding ways, by the edge of its troubled waters, among dark
and crooked turns, through curious courts, by old gateways and piles of
steepled stone, where flocks of pigeons wheel, and bells chime, and
organs peal, and winds sigh, we know that all has been sanctified by
their presence. And their spirits abide with us, and the splendid beauty
of their visions is about us. For the stones beneath our feet have been
hallowed by their tread, and the walls have borne their shadows; so all
mean things are transfigured and over all these plain and narrow streets
their glory gleams.
And it is the great men and they alone that can render a place sacred.
Chelsea is now to the lovers of the Beautiful a sacred name, a sacred
soil; a place of pilgrimage where certain gods of Art once lived, and
loved, and worked, and died.
Sir Thomas More lived here and had for a frequent guest Erasmus. Hans
Sloane began in Chelsea the collection of curiosities which has now
developed into the British Museum. Bishop Atterbury (who claimed that
Dryden was a greater poet than Shakespeare), Dean Swift and Doctor
Arbuthnot, all lived in Church Street; Richard Steele just around the
corner and Leigh Hunt in Cheyne Row; but it was from another name that
the little street was to be immortalized.
If France constantly has forty Immortals in the flesh, surely it is a
modest claim to say that Chelsea has three for all time: Thomas Carlyle,
George Eliot and Joseph Mallord William Turner.
Turner's father was a barber. His youth was passed in poverty and his
advantages for education were very slight. And all this in the crowded
city of London, where merit may knock long and still not be heard, and in
a country where wealth and title count for much.
When a boy, barefoot and ragged, he would wander away alone on the banks
of the river and dream dreams about wonderful palaces and beautiful
scenes; and then he would trace with a stick in the sands, endeavoring,
with mud, to make plain to the eye the things that his soul saw.
His mother was quite sure that no good could come from this vagabondish
nature, and she did not spare the rod, for she feared that the desire to
scrawl and daub would spoil the child. But he was a stubborn lad, with a
pug-nose and big, dreamy, wondering eyes, and a heavy jaw; and when
parents see that they have such a son, they had better hang up the rod
behind the kitchen-door and lay aside force and cease scolding. For love
is better than a cat-o'-nine-tails, and sympathy saves more souls than
The elder Turner considered that the proper use of a brush was to lather
chins. But the boy thought differently, and once surreptitiously took one
of his father's brushes to paint a picture; the brush on being returned
to its cup was used the next day upon a worthy haberdasher, whose cheeks
were shortly colored a vermilion that matched his nose. This lost the
barber a customer and secured the boy a thrashing.
Young Turner did not always wash his father's shop-windows well, nor
sweep off the sidewalk properly. Like all boys he would rather work for
some one else than for "his folks."
He used to run errands for an engraver by the name of Smith--John Raphael
Smith. Once, when Smith sent the barber's boy with a letter to a certain
art-gallery with orders to "get the answer and hurry back, mind you!" the
boy forgot to get the answer and to hurry back. Then another boy was
dispatched after the first, and boy Number Two found boy Number One
sitting, with staring eyes and open mouth, in the art-gallery before a
painting of Claude Lorraine's. When boy Number One was at last forcibly
dragged away, and reached the shop of his master, he got his ears well
cuffed for his forgetfulness. But from that day forth he was not the same
being that he had been before his eyes fell on that Claude Lorraine.
He was transformed, as much so as was Lazarus after he was called from
beyond the portals of death and had come back to earth, bearing in his
heart the secrets of the grave.
From that time Turner thought of Claude Lorraine during the day and
dreamed of him at night, and he stole his way into every exhibition where
a Claude was to be seen. And now I wish that Claude Lorraine was the
subject of this sketch, as well as Turner, for his life is a picture full
of sweetest poetry, framed in a world of dullest prose.
The eyes of this boy, whom they had thought dreamy, dull and listless,
now shone with a different light. He thirsted to achieve, to do, to
become--yes, to become a greater painter than Claude Lorraine. His
employer saw the change and smiled at it, but he allowed the lad to put
in backgrounds and add the skies to cheap prints, just because the
youngster teased to do it.
Then one day a certain patron of the shop came and looked over the
shoulder of the Turner boy, and he said, "He has skill--perhaps talent."
And I think the recording angel should give this man a separate page in
the Book of Remembrance and write his name in illuminated colors, for he
gave young Turner access to his own collection and to his library, and he
never cuffed him nor kicked him nor called him dunce--whereat the boy was
much surprised. But he encouraged the youth to sketch a picture in
water-colors and then he bought the picture and paid him ten shillings
for it; and the name of this man was Doctor Munro.
The next year, when young Turner was fourteen, Doctor Munro had him
admitted to the Royal Academy as a student, and in Seventeen Hundred
Ninety he exhibited a water-color of the Archbishop's palace at Lambeth.
The picture took no prize, and doubtless was not worthy of one, but from
now on Joseph M.W. Turner was an artist, and other hands had to sweep the
But he sold few pictures--they were not popular. Other artists scorned
him, possibly intuitively fearing him, for mediocrity always fears when
the ghost of genius does not down at its bidding.
Then Turner was accounted unsociable; besides, he was ragged, uncouth,
independent, and did not conform to the ways of society; so the select
circle cast him out--more properly speaking, did not let him in.
Still he worked on, and exhibited at every Academy Exhibition, yet he was
often hungry, and the London fog crept cold and damp through his
threadbare clothes. But he toiled on, for Claude Lorraine was ever before
In Eighteen Hundred Two, when twenty-seven years of age, he visited
France and made a tour through Switzerland, tramping over many long miles
with his painting-kit on his back, and he brought back rich treasures in
way of sketches and quickened imagination.
In the years following he took many such trips, and came to know Venice,
Rome, Florence and Paris as perfectly as his own London.
When thirty-three years of age he was still worshiping at the shrine of
Claude Lorraine. His pictures painted at this time are evidence of his
ideal, and his book, "Liber Studiorum," issued in Eighteen Hundred Eight,
is modeled after the "Liber Veritatis." But the book surpasses Claude's,
and Turner knew it, and this may have led him to burst his shackles and
cast loose from his idol. For, in Eighteen Hundred Fifteen, we find him
working according to his own ideas, showing an originality and audacity
in conception and execution that made him the butt of the critics, and
caused consternation to rage through the studios of competitors.
Gradually, it dawned upon a few scattered collectors that things so
strongly condemned must have merit, for why should the pack bay so loudly
if there were no quarry! So to have a Turner was at least something for
your friends to discuss.
Then carriages began to stop before the dingy building at Forty-seven
Queen Anne Street, and broadcloth and satin mounted the creaking stairs
to the studio. It happened about this time that Turner's prices began to
increase. Like the sibyl of old, if a customer said, "I do not want it,"
the painter put an extra ten pounds on the price. For "Dido Building
Carthage," Turner's original price was five hundred pounds. People came
to see the picture and they said, "The price is too high." Next day
Turner's price for the "Carthage" was one thousand pounds. Finally, Sir
Robert Peel offered the painter five thousand pounds for the picture, but
Turner said he had decided to keep it for himself, and he did.
In the forepart of his career he sold few pictures--for the simple reason
that no one wanted them. And he sold few pictures during the latter years
of his life, for the reason that his prices were so high that none but
the very rich could buy. First, the public scorned Turner. Next, Turner
scorned the public. In the beginning it would not buy his pictures, and
later it could not.
A frivolous public and a shallow press, from his first exhibition, when
fifteen years of age, to his last, when seventy, made sport of his
originalities. But for merit there is a recompense in sneers, and a
benefit in sarcasms, and a compensation in hate; for when these things
get too pronounced a champion appears. And so it was with Turner. Next to
having a Boswell write one's life, what is better than a Ruskin to uphold
Success came slowly; his wants were few, but his ambition never
slackened, and finally the dreams of his youth became the realities of
At twenty, Turner loved a beautiful girl--they became engaged. He went
away on a tramp sketching-tour and wrote his ladylove just one short
letter each month. He believed that "absence only makes the heart grow
fonder," not knowing that this statement is only the vagary of a poet.
When he returned the lady was betrothed to another. He gave the pair his
blessing, and remained a bachelor--a very confirmed bachelor.
Perhaps, however, the reason his fiancee proved untrue was not through
lack of the epistles he wrote her, but on account of them. In the British
Museum I examined several letters written by Turner. They appeared very
much like copy for a Josh Billings Almanac. Such originality in spelling,
punctuation and use of capitals! It was admirable in its uniqueness.
Turner did not think in words--he could only think in paint. But the
young lady did not know this, and when a letter came from her homely
little lover she was shocked, then she laughed, then she showed these
letters to a nice young man who was clerk to a fishmonger and he laughed,
then they both laughed. Then this nice young man and this beautiful young
lady became engaged, and they were married at Saint Andrew's on a lovely
May morning. And they lived happily ever afterward.
Turner was small, and in appearance plain. Yet he was big enough to paint
a big picture, and he was not so homely as to frighten away all beautiful
women. But Philip Gilbert Hamerton tells us, "Fortunate in many things,
Turner was lamentably unfortunate in this: that throughout his whole life
he never came under the ennobling and refining influence of a good
Like Plato, Michelangelo, Sir Isaac Newton and his own Claude Lorraine,
he was wedded to his art. But at sixty-five his genius suddenly burst
forth afresh, and his work, Mr. Ruskin says, at that time exceeded in
daring brilliancy and in the rich flowering of imagination, anything that
he had previously done. Mr. Ruskin could give no reason, but rumor says,
The one weakness of our hero, that hung to him for life, was the idea
that he could write poetry. The tragedian always thinks he can succeed in
comedy; the comedian spends hours in his garret rehearsing tragedy; most
preachers have an idea that they could have made a quick fortune in
business, and many businessmen are very sure that if they had taken to
the pulpit there would now be fewer empty pews. So the greatest
landscape-painter of recent times imagined himself a poet. Hamerton says
that for remarkable specimens of grammar, spelling and construction
Turner's verse would serve well to be given to little boys to correct.
One spot in Turner's life over which I like to linger is his friendship
with Sir Walter Scott. They collaborated in the production of "Provincial
Antiquities," and spent many happy hours together tramping over Scottish
moors and mountains. Sir Walter lived out his days in happy ignorance
concerning the art of painting, and although he liked the society of
Turner, he confessed that it was quite beyond his ken why people bought
"And as for your books," said Turner, "the covers of some are certainly
Yet these men took a satisfaction in each other's society, such as
brothers might enjoy, but without either man appreciating the greatness
of the other.
Turner's temperament was audacious, self-centered, self-reliant, eager
for success and fame, yet at the same time scorning public opinion--a
paradox often found in the artistic mind of the first class; silent
always--with a bitter silence, disdaining to tell his meaning when the
critics could not perceive it.
He was above all things always the artist, never the realist. The realist
pictures the things he sees; the artist expresses that which he feels.
Children, and all simple folk who use pen, pencil or brush, describe the
things they behold. As intellect develops and goes more in partnership
with hand, imagination soars, and things are outlined that no man can see
except he be able to perceive the invisible. To appreciate a work of art
you must feel as the artist felt.
Now, it is very plain that the vast majority of people are not capable of
this high sense of sublimity which the creative artist feels; and
therefore they do not understand, and not understanding, they wax merry,
or cynical, or sarcastic, or wrathful, or envious; or they pass by
unmoved. And I maintain that those who pass by unmoved are more righteous
than they who scoff.
If I should attempt to explain to my little girl the awe I feel when I
contemplate the miracle of maternity, she would probably change the
subject by prattling to me about a kitten she saw lapping milk from a
blue saucer. If I should attempt to explain to some men what I feel when
I contemplate the miracle of maternity, they would smile and turn it all
into an unspeakable jest. Is not the child nearer to God than the man?
We thus see why to many Browning is only a joke, Whitman an eccentric,
Dante insane and Turner a pretender. These have all sought to express
things which the many can not feel, and consequently they have been, and
are, the butt of jokes and jibes innumerable. "Except ye become as little
children," etc.--and yet the scoffers are often people of worth. Nothing
so shows the limitation of humanity as this: genius often does not
appreciate genius. The inspired, strangely enough, are like the fools,
they do not recognize inspiration.
An Englishman called on Voltaire and found him in bed reading
"What are you reading?" asked the visitor.
"Your Shakespeare!" said the philosopher; and as he answered he flung the
book across the room.
"He's not my Shakespeare," said the Englishman.
Greene, Rymer, Dryden, Warburton and Doctor Johnson used collectively or
individually the following expressions in describing the work of the
author of "Hamlet": conceit, overreach, word-play, extravagance,
overdone, absurdity, obscurity, puerility, bombast, idiocy, untruth,
Byron wrote from Florence to Murray:
"I know nothing of painting, and I abhor and spit upon all saints and
so-called spiritual subjects that I see portrayed in these churches."
But the past is so crowded with vituperation that it is difficult to
select--besides that, we do not wish to--but let us take a sample of
arrogance from yesterday to prove our point, and then drop the theme for
Pew and pulpit have fallen over each other for the privilege of hitting
Darwin; a Bishop warns his congregation that Emerson is "dangerous";
Spurgeon calls Shelley a sensualist; Doctor Buckley speaks of Susan B.
Anthony as the leader of "the short-haired"; Talmage cracks jokes about
evolution, referring feelingly to "monkey ancestry"; and a prominent
divine of England writes the World's Congress of Religions down as "pious
waxworks." These things being true, and all the sentiments quoted coming
from "good" but blindly zealous men, is it a wonder that the Artist is
A brilliant picture, called "Cologne--Evening," attracted much attention
at the Academy Exhibition of Eighteen Hundred Twenty-six. One day the
people who so often collected around Turner's work were shocked to see
that the beautiful canvas had lost its brilliancy, and evidently had been
tampered with by some miscreant. A friend ran to inform Turner of the bad
news. "Don't say anything. I only smirched it with lampblack. It was
spoiling the effect of Laurence's picture that hung next to it. The black
will all wash off after the Exhibition."
And his tender treatment of his aged father shows the gentle side of his
nature. The old barber, whose trembling hand could no longer hold a
razor, wished to remain under his son's roof in guise of a servant; but
the son said, "No; we fought the world together, and now that it seeks to
do me honor, you shall share all the benefits." And Turner never smiled
when the little, wizened, old man would whisper to some visitor, "Yes,
yes; Joseph is the greatest artist in England, and I am his father."
Turner had a way of sending ten-pound notes in blank envelopes to artists
in distress, and he did this so frequently that the news got out finally,
but never through Turner's telling, and then he had to adopt other
methods of doing good by stealth.
I do not contend that Turner's character was immaculate, but still it is
very probable that worldlings do not appreciate what a small part of this
great genius touched the mire.
To prove the sordidness of the man, one critic tells, with visage awfully
solemn, how Turner once gave an engraving to a friend and then, after a
year, sent demanding it back. But to a person with a groat's worth of wit
the matter is plain: the dreamy, abstracted artist, who bumped into his
next-door neighbors on the street and never knew them, forgot he had
given the picture and believed he had only loaned it. This is made still
more apparent by the fact that, when he sent for the engraving in
question, he administered a rebuke to the man for keeping it so long. The
poor dullard who received the note flew into a rage--returned the
picture--sent his compliments and begged the great artist to "take your
picture and go to the devil."
Then certain scribblers, who through mental disease had lost the capacity
for mirth, dipped their pen in aqua fortis and wrote of the "innate
meanness," the "malice prepense" and the "Old Adam" which dwelt in the
heart of Turner. No one laughed except a few Irishmen, and an American
or two, who chanced to hear of the story.
Of Turner's many pictures I will mention in detail but two, both of which
are to be seen on the walls of the National Gallery. First, "The Old
Temeraire." This warship had been sold out of service and was being towed
away to be broken up. The scene was photographed on Turner's brain, and
he immortalized it on canvas. We can not do better than borrow the words
of Mr. Ruskin:
"Of all pictures not visibly involving human pain, this is the most
pathetic ever painted.
"The utmost pensiveness which can ordinarily be given to a landscape
depends on adjuncts of ruin, but no ruin was ever so affecting as the
gliding of this ship to her grave. This particular ship, crowned in the
Trafalgar hour of trial with chief victory--surely, if ever anything
without a soul deserved honor or affection we owe them here. Surely, some
sacred care might have been left in our thoughts for her; some quiet
space amid the lapse of English waters! Nay, not so. We have stern
keepers to trust her glory to--the fire and the worm. Nevermore shall
sunset lay golden robe upon her, nor starlight tremble on the waves that
part at her gliding. Perhaps where the low gate opens to some cottage
garden, the tired traveler may ask, idly, why the moss grows so green on
the rugged wood; and even the sailor's child may not know that the night
dew lies deep in the warrents of the old Temeraire."
"The Burial of Sir David Wilkie at Sea" has brought tears to many eyes.
Yet there is no burial. The ship is far away in the gloom of the offing;
you can not distinguish a single figure on her decks; but you behold her
great sails standing out against the leaden blackness of the night and
you feel that out there a certain scene is being enacted. And if you
listen closely you can hear the solemn voice of the captain as he reads
the burial service. Then there is a pause--a swift, sliding sound--a
splash, and all is over.
Turner left to the British Nation by his will nineteen thousand pencil
and water-color sketches and one hundred large canvases. These pictures
are now to be seen in the National Gallery in rooms set apart and sacred
to Turner's work. For fear it may be thought that the number of sketches
mentioned above is a misprint, let us say that if he had produced one
picture a day for fifty years it would not equal the number of pieces
bestowed by his will on the Nation.
This of course takes no account of the pictures sold during his lifetime,
and, as he left a fortune of one hundred forty-four thousand pounds
(seven hundred twenty thousand dollars), we may infer that not all his
pictures were given away.
At Chelsea I stood in the little room where he breathed his last, that
bleak day in Eighteen-Hundred Fifty-one. The unlettered but motherly old
woman who took care of him in those last days never guessed his
greatness; none in the house or the neighborhood knew.
To them he was only Mr. Booth, an eccentric old man of moderate means,
who liked to muse, read, and play with children. He had no callers, no
friends; he went to the city every day and came back at night. He talked
but little, he was absent-minded, he smoked and thought and smiled and
muttered to himself. He never went to church; but once one of the lodgers
asked him what he thought of God.
"God, God--what do I know of God, what does any one! He is our life--He
is the All, but we need not fear Him--all we can do is to speak the truth
and do our work. Tomorrow we go--where? I know not, but I am not afraid."
Of art, to these strangers he would never speak. Once they urged him to
go with them to an exhibition at Kensington, but he smiled feebly as he
lit his pipe and said, "An Art Exhibition? No, no; a man can show on a
canvas so little of what he feels, it is not worth the while."
At last he died--passed peacefully away--and his attorney came and took
charge of his remains.
Many are the hard words that have been flung off by heedless tongues
about Turner's taking an assumed name and living in obscurity, but "what
you call fault I call accent." Surely, if a great man and world-famous
desires to escape the flatterers and the silken mesh of so-called society
and live the life of simplicity, he has a right to do so. Again, Turner
was a very rich man in his old age; he did much for struggling artists
and assisted aspiring merit in many ways. So it came about that his mail
was burdened with begging letters, and his life made miserable by appeals
from impecunious persons, good and bad, and from churches, societies and
associations without number. He decided to flee them all; and he did.
The "Carthage" already mentioned is one of his finest works, and he
esteemed it so highly that he requested that when death came, his body
should be buried, wrapped in its magnificent folds. But the wish was
His remains rest in the crypt of Saint Paul's, beside the dust of
Reynolds. His statue, in marble, adorns a niche in the great cathedral,
and his name is secure high on the roll of honor.
And if for no other reason, the name and fame of Chelsea should be
deathless as the home of Turner.
They are but few and meanspirited that live in peace with all
--_Tale of a Tub_
[Illustration: JONATHAN SWIFT]
Birrell, the great English essayist, remarks that, "Of
writing books about Dean Swift there is no end." The reason is plain: of
no other prominent writer who has lived during the past two hundred years
do we know so much. His life lies open to us in many books. Boswell did
not write his biography, but Johnson did. Then followed whole schools of
little fishes, some of whom wrote like whales. But among the works of
genuine worth and merit, with Swift for a subject, we have Sir Walter
Scott's nineteen volumes, and lives by Craik, Mitford, Forster, Collins
and Leslie Stephen.
The positive elements in Swift's character make him a most interesting
subject to men and women who are yet on earth, for he was essentially of
the earth, earthy. And until we are shown that the earth is wholly bad,
we shall find much to amuse, much to instruct, much to admire--aye, much
to pity--in the life of Jonathan Swift.
His father married at twenty. His income matched his years--it was just
twenty pounds per annum. His wife was a young girl, bright, animated,
In a few short months this girl carried in her arms a baby. This baby was
wrapped in a tattered shawl and cried piteously from hunger, for the
mother had not enough to eat. She was cold, and sick, and in disgrace.
Her husband, too, was ill, and sorely in debt. It was Midwinter.
When Spring came, and the flowers blossomed, and the birds mated, and
warm breezes came whispering softly from the South, and all the earth was
glad, the husband of this child-wife was in his grave, and she was alone.
Alone? No; she carried in her tired arms the hungry babe, and beneath her
heart she felt the faint flutter of another life.
But to be in trouble and in Ireland is not so bad after all, for the
Irish people have great and tender hearts; and even if they have not much
to bestow in a material way, they can give sympathy, and they do.
So the girl was cared for by kind kindred, and on November Thirtieth,
Sixteen Hundred Sixty-seven, at Number Seven, Hoey's Court, Dublin, the
second baby was born.
Only a little way from Hoey's Court is Saint Patrick's Cathedral. On that
November day, as the tones from the clanging chimes fell on the weary
senses of the young mother, there in her darkened room, little did she
think that the puny bantling she held to her breast would yet be the Dean
of the great church whose bells she heard; and how could she anticipate a
whisper coming to her from the far-off future: "Of writing books about
your babe there is no end!"
* * * * *
The man-child was given to an old woman to care for, and
he had the ability, even then, it seems, to win affection. The
foster-mother loved him and she stole him away, carrying him off to
Charity ministered to his needs; charity gave him his education. When
Swift was twenty-one years old he went to see his mother. Her means were
scanty to the point of hardship, but so buoyant was her mind that she
used to declare that she was both rich and happy--and being happy she was
certainly rich. She was a rare woman. Her spirit was independent, her
mind cultivated, her manner gentle and refined, and she was endowed with
a keen sense of humor.
From her, the son derived those qualities which have made him famous. No
man is greater than his mother; but the sons of brave women do not always
make brave men. In one quality Swift was lamentably inferior to his
mother--he did not have her capacity for happiness. He had wit; she had
We have seen how Swift's father sickened and died. The world was too
severe for him, its buffets too abrupt, its burden too heavy, and he gave
up the fight before the battle had really begun. This lack of courage and
extreme sensitiveness are seen in the son. But so peculiar, complex and
wonderful is this web of life, that our very blunders, weaknesses and
mistakes are woven in and make the fabric stronger. If Swift had
possessed only his mother's merits, without his father's faults, he
would never have shaken the world with laughter, and we should never have
heard of him.
In her lowliness and simplicity the mother of Swift was content. She did
her work in her own little way. She smiled at folly, and each day she
thanked Heaven that her lot was no worse. Not so her son. He brooded in
sullen silence; he cursed Fate for making him a dependent, and even in
his youth he scorned those who benefited him. This was a very human
Many hate, but few have a fine capacity for scorn. Their hate is so
vehement that when hurled it falls short. Swift's scorn was a beautifully
winged arrow, with a poisoned tip. Some who were struck did not at the
time know it.
His misanthropy defeated his purpose, thwarted his ambition, ruined his
aims, and--made his name illustrious.
Swift wished for churchly preferment, but he had not the patience to
wait. He imagined that others were standing in his way, and of course
they were; for under the calm exterior of things ecclesiastic, there is
often a strife, a jealousy and a competition more rabid than in commerce.
To succeed in winning a bishopric requires a sagacity as keen as that
required to become a Senator of Massachusetts or the Governor of New
York. The man bides his time, makes himself popular, secures advocates,
lubricates the way, pulls the wires, and slides noiselessly into place.
Swift lacked diplomacy. When matters did not seem to progress he grew
wrathful, seized his pen and stabbed with it. But as he wrote, the
ludicrousness of the whole situation came over him and, instead of
cursing plain curses, he held his adversary up to ridicule! And this
ridicule is so active, the scorn so mixed with wit, the shafts so finely
feathered with truth, that it is the admiration of mankind. Vitriol mixed
with ink is volatile. Then what? We just run Swift through a coarse sieve
to take out the lumps of Seventeenth Century refuse, and then we give him
to children to make them laugh. Surely no better use can be made of
pessimists. Verily, the author of Gulliver wrote for one purpose, and we
use his work for another. He wished for office, he got contempt; he tried
to subdue his enemies, they subdued him; he worked for the present, and
he won immortality.
Said Heinrich Heine, prone on his bed in Paris: "The wittiest sarcasms of
mortals are only an attempt at jesting when compared with those of the
great Author of the Universe--the Aristophanes of Heaven!"
Wise men over and over have wasted good ink and paper in bewailing
Swift's malice and coarseness. But without these very elements which the
wise men bemoan, Swift would be for us a cipher. Yet love is life and
hate is death, so how can spite benefit? The answer is that, in certain
forms of germination, frost is as necessary as sunshine: so some men have
qualities that lie dormant until the coldness of hate bursts the coarse
husk of indifference.
But while hate may animate, only love inspires. Swift might have stood at
the head of the Church of England; but even so, he would be only a unit
in a long list of names, and as it is, there is only one Swift. Mr.
Talmage averred that not ten men in America knew the name of the
Archbishop of Canterbury until his son wrote a certain book entitled
"Dodo." In putting out this volume, young Benson not only gave us the
strongest possible argument favoring the celibacy of the clergy, but at
the same time, if Talmage's statement is correct, he made known his
In all Swift's work, save "The Journal to Stella," the animating motive
seems to have been to confound his enemies; and according to the
well-known line in that hymn sung wherever the Union Jack flies, we must
believe this to be a perfectly justifiable ambition. But occasionally on
his pages we find gentle words of wisdom that were meant evidently for
love's eyes alone. There is much that is pure boyish frolic, and again
and again there are clever strokes directed at folly. He has shot certain
superstitions through with doubt, and in his manner of dealing with error
he has proved to us a thing it were well not to forget: that pleasantry
is more efficacious than vehemence.
Let me name one incident by way of proof--the well-known one of
Partridge, the almanac-maker. This worthy cobbler was an astrologer of
no mean repute. He foretold events with much discretion. The ignorant
bought his almanacs, and many believed in them as a Bible--in fact,
astrology was enjoying a "boom."
Swift came to London and found that Partridge's predictions were the
theme at the coffeehouses. He saw men argue and wax wroth, grow red in
the face as they talked loud and long about nothing--just nothing. The
whole thing struck Swift as being very funny; and he wrote an
announcement of his intention to publish a rival almanac. He explained
that he, too, was an astrologer, but an honest one, while Partridge was
an impostor and a cheat; in fact, Partridge foretold only things which
every one knew would come true. As for himself, he could discern the
future with absolute certainty, and to prove to the world his power he
would now make a prophecy. In substance, it was as follows: "My first
prediction is but a trifle; it relates to Partridge, the almanac-maker. I
have consulted the star of his nativity, and find that he will die on the
Twenty-ninth day of March, next." This was signed, "Isaac Bickerstaff,"
and duly issued in pamphlet form. It had such an air of sincerity that
both the believers and the scoffers read it with interest.
The Thirtieth of March came, and another pamphlet from "Isaac
Bickerstaff" appeared, announcing the fulfilment of the prophecy. It
related how toward the end of March Partridge began to languish; how he
grew ill and at last took to his bed, and, his conscience then smiting
him, he confessed to the world that he was a fraud and a rogue, that all
his prophecies were impositions; he then passed away.
Partridge was wild with rage, and immediately replied in a manifesto
declaring that he was alive and well, and moreover was alive on March
To this "Bickerstaff" replied in a pamphlet more seriously humorous than
ever, reaffirming that Partridge was dead, and closing with the statement
that, "If an uninformed carcass still walks about calling itself
Partridge, I do not in any way consider myself responsible for that."
The joke set all London on a grin. Wherever Partridge went he was met
with smiles and jeers, and astrology became only a jest to a vast number
of people who had formerly believed in it seriously.
When Benjamin Franklin started his "Poor Richard's Almanac," twenty-five
years later, in the first issue he prophesied the death of one Dart who
set the pace at that time as almanac-maker in America. The man was to
expire on the afternoon of October Seventeenth, Seventeen Hundred
Thirty-eight, at three twenty-nine o'clock.
Dart, being somewhat of a joker himself, came out with an announcement
that he, too, had consulted the oracle, and found he would live until
October Twenty-sixth, and possibly longer.
On October Eighteenth, Franklin announced Dart's death, and explained
that it occurred promptly on time, all as prophesied.
Yet Dart lived to publish many almanacs; but Poor Richard got his
advertisement, and many staid, broad-brimmed Philadelphians smiled who
had never smiled before--not only smiled but subscribed.
Benjamin Franklin was a great and good man, as any man must be who
fathers another's jokes, introducing these orphaned children to the world
as his own.
Perhaps no one who has written of Swift knew him so well as Delany. And
this writer, who seems to have possessed a judicial quality far beyond
most men, has told us that Swift was moral in conduct to the point of
asceticism. His deportment was grave and dignified, and his duties as a
priest were always performed with exemplary diligence. He visited the
sick, regularly administered the sacraments, and was never known to
absent himself from morning prayers.
When Harley was Lord Treasurer, Swift seems to have been on the topmost
crest of the wave of popularity. Invitations from nobility flowed in upon
him, beautiful women deigned to go in search of his society, royalty
recognized him. And yet all this time he was only a country priest with a
liking for literature.
Collins tells us that the reason for his popularity is plain: "Swift was
one of the kings of the earth. Like Pope Innocent the Third, like
Chatham, he was one to whom the world involuntarily pays tribute."
His will was a will of adamant; his intellect so keen that it impressed
every one who approached him; his temper singularly stern, dauntless and
haughty. But his wit was never filled with gaiety: he was never known to
laugh. Amid the wildest uproar that his sallies caused, he would sit with
Personally, Swift was a gentleman. When he was scurrilous, abusive,
ribald, malicious, it was anonymously. Is this to his credit? I should
not say so, but if a man is indecent and he hides behind a "nom de
plume," it is at least presumptive proof that he is not dead to shame.
Leslie Stephen tells us that Swift was a Churchman to the backbone. No
man who is a "Churchman to the backbone" is ever very pious: the spirit
maketh alive, but the letter killeth. One looks in vain for traces of
spirituality in the Dean. His sermons are models of churchly commonplace
and full of the stock phrases of a formal religion. He never bursts into
flame. Yet he most thoroughly and sincerely believed in religion. "I
believe in religion, it keeps the masses in check. And then I uphold
Christianity because if it is abolished the stability of the Church might
be endangered," he said.
Philip asked the eunuch a needless question when he inquired,
"Understandest thou what thou readest?" No one so poorly sexed as Swift
can comprehend spiritual truth: spirituality and sexuality are elements
that are never separated. Swift was as incapable of spirituality as he
was of the "grand passion."
The Dean had affection; he was a warm friend; he was capable even of a
degree of love, but his sexual and spiritual nature was so cold and
calculating that he did not hesitate to sacrifice love to churchly
He argued that the celibacy of the Catholic clergy is a wise expediency.
The bachelor physician and the unmarried priest have an influence among
gentle womankind, young or old, married or single, that a benedict can
never hope for. Why this is so might be difficult to explain, but
discerning men know the fact. In truth, when a priest marries he should
at once take a new charge, for if he remains with his old flock a goodly
number of his "lady parishioners," in ages varying from seventeen to
seventy, will with fierce indignation rend his reputation.
Swift was as wise as a serpent, but not always as harmless as a dove. He
was making every effort to secure his miter and crosier: he had many
women friends in London and elsewhere who had influence. Rather than run
the risk of losing this influence he never acknowledged Stella as his
wife. Choosing fame rather than love, he withered at the heart, then died
at the top.
The life of every man is a seamless garment--its woof his thoughts, its
warp his deeds. When for him the roaring loom of time stops and the
thread is broken, foolish people sometimes point to certain spots in the
robe and say, "Oh, why did he not leave that out!" not knowing that
every action of man is a sequence from off Fate's spindle.
Let us accept the work of genius as we find it; not bemoaning because it
is not better, but giving thanks because it is so good.
* * * * *
Well-fed, rollicking priest is Father O'Toole of Dublin,
with a big, round face, a double chin, and a brogue that you can cut with
My letter of introduction from Monseigneur Satolli caused him at once to
bring in a large, suspicious, black bottle and two glasses. Then we
talked--talked of Ireland's wrongs and woman's rights, and of all the
Irishmen in America whom I was supposed to know. We spoke of the
illustrious Irishmen who had passed on, and I mentioned a name that
caused the holy father to spring from his chair in indignation.
"Shwift is it! Shwift! No, me lad, don't go near him! He was the divil's
own, the very worsht that ever followed the swish of a petticoat. No, no;
if ye go to his grave it'll bring ye bad luck for a year. It's Tom Moore
ye want--Tom was the bye. Arrah! now, and it's meself phat'll go wid ye."
And so the reverend father put on a long, black coat and his Saint
Patrick's Day hat, and we started. We were met at the gate by a
delegation of "shpalpeens" that had located me on the inside of the house
and were lying in wait.
All American travelers in Ireland are supposed to be millionaires, and
this may possibly explain the lavish attention that is often tendered
them. At any rate, various members of the delegation wished "long life to
the iligant 'merican gintleman," and hinted in terms unmistakable that
pence would be acceptable. The holy father applied his cane vigorously to
the ragged rears of the more presumptuous, and bade them begone, but
still they followed and pressed close about.
"Here, I'll show you how to get rid of the dirty gang," said his
holiness. "Have ye a penny, I don't know?"
I produced a handful of small change, which the father immediately took
and tossed into the street. Instantly there was a heterogeneous mass of
young Hibernians piled up in the dirt in a grand struggle for spoils. It
reminded me of football incidents I had seen at fair Harvard. In the
meantime, we escaped down a convenient alley and crossed the River Liffey
to Old Dublin; inside the walls of the old city, through crooked lanes
and winding streets that here and there showed signs of departed
gentility, where now was only squalor, want and vice, until we came to
Number Twelve Angier Street, a quaint, three-story brick building now
used as a "public." In the wall above the door is a marble slab with this
inscription: "Here was born Thomas Moore, on the Twenty-eighth day of
May, Seventeen Hundred Seventy-eight." Above this in a niche is a bust of
Tom's father was a worthy greengrocer who, according to the author of
"Lalla Rookh," always gave good measure and full count. It was ever a
cause of regret to the elder Moore that his son did not show sufficient
capacity to be trusted safely with the business.
The upper rooms of the house were shown to us by an obliging landlady.
Father O'Toole had been here before, and led the way to a snug little
chamber and explained that in this room the future poet of Ireland was
found under one of his father's cabbage-leaves.
We descended to the neat little barroom with its sanded floor and
polished glassware and shining brass. The holy father ordered
'arf-and-'arf at my expense and recited one of Moore's ballads. The
landlady then gave us Byron's "Here's a Health to Thee, Tom Moore." A
neighbor came in. Then we had more ballads, more 'arf-and-'arf, a
selection from "Lalla Rookh," and various tales of the poet's early life,
which possibly would be hard to verify.
And as the tumult raged, the smoke of battle gave me opportunity to slip
away. I crossed the street, turned down one block, and entered Saint
Great, roomy, gloomy, solemn temple, where the rumble of city traffic is
deadened to a faint hum:
"Without, the world's unceasing noises rise,
Turmoil, disquietude and busy fears;
Within, there are the sounds of other years,
Thoughts full of prayer and solemn harmonies
Which imitate on earth the peaceful skies."
Other worshipers were there. Standing beside a great stone pillar I could
make them out kneeling on the tiled floor. Gradually, my eyes became
accustomed to the subdued light, and right at my feet I saw a large
brass plate set in the floor and on it only this:
Died Oct. 19, 1745
On the wall near is a bronze tablet, the inscription of which, in Latin,
was dictated by Swift himself:
"Here lies the body of Jonathan Swift, Dean of this Cathedral, where
fierce indignation can no longer rend his heart. Go! wayfarer, and
imitate, if thou canst, one who, as far as in him lay, was an earnest
champion of liberty----"
Above this is a fine bust of the Dean, and to the right is another
"Underneath lie interred the mortal remains of Mrs. Hester Johnson,
better known to the world as 'Stella,' under which she is celebrated in
the writings of Doctor Jonathan Swift, Dean of this Cathedral. She was a
person of extraordinary endowments and accomplishments, in body, mind and
behavior; justly admired and respected by all who knew her, on account of
her eminent virtues as well as for her great natural and acquired
These were suffering souls and great. Would they have been so great had
they not suffered? Who can tell? Were the waters troubled in order that
they might heal the people?
Did Swift misuse this excellent woman, is a question that has been asked
and answered again and again.
A great author has written:
"A woman, a tender, noble, excellent woman, has a dog's heart. She licks
the hand that strikes her. And wrong nor cruelty nor injustice nor
disloyalty can cause her to turn."
Death in pity took Stella first; took her in the loyalty of love and the
fulness of faith from a world which for love has little recompense, and
for faith small fulfilment.
Stella was buried by torchlight, at midnight, on the Thirtieth day of
January, Seventeen Hundred Twenty-eight. Swift was sick at the time, and
wrote in his journal: "This is the night of her funeral, and I am removed
to another apartment that I may not see the light in the church which is
just over against my window." But in his imagination he saw the gleaming
torches as their dull light shone through the colored windows, and he
said, "They will soon do as much for me."
But seventeen years came crawling by before the torches flared, smoked
and gleamed as the mourners chanted a requiem, and the clods fell on the
coffin, and their echoes intermingled with the solemn voice of the priest
as he said, "Dust to dust, ashes to ashes."
In Eighteen Hundred Thirty-five, the graves were opened and casts taken
of the skulls. The top of Swift's skull had been sawed off at the
autopsy, and a bottle in which was a parchment setting forth the facts
was inserted in the head that had conceived "Gulliver's Travels."
I examined the casts. The woman's head is square and shapely. Swift's
head is a refutation of phrenology, being small, sloping and ordinary.
The bones of Swift and Stella were placed in one coffin, and now rest
under three feet of concrete, beneath the floor of Saint Patrick's.
So sleep the lovers joined in death.
All seems beautiful to me.
I can repeat over to men and women, You have done
such good to me I would do the same to you,
I will recruit for myself and you as I go.
I will scatter myself among men and women as I go,
I will toss a new gladness and roughness among them.
--_Song of the Open Road_
[Illustration: WALT WHITMAN]
Max Nordau wrote a book--wrote it with his tongue in his
cheek, a dash of vitriol in the ink, and with a pen that scratched.
And the first critic who seemed to place a just estimate on the work was
Mr. Zangwill (he who has no Christian name). Mr. Zangwill made an attempt
to swear out a "writ de lunatico inquirendo" against his Jewish brother,
on the ground that the first symptom of insanity is often the delusion
that others are insane; and this being so, Doctor Nordau was not a safe
subject to be at large. But the Assize of Public Opinion denied the
petition, and the dear people bought the book at from three to five
dollars a copy. Printed in several languages, its sales have mounted to a
hundred thousand volumes, and the author's net profit is full forty
thousand dollars. No wonder is it that, with pockets full to bursting,
Doctor Nordau goes out behind the house and laughs uproariously whenever
he thinks of how he has worked the world!
If Doctor Talmage is the Barnum of Theology, surely we may call Doctor
Nordau the Barnum of Science. His agility in manipulating facts is equal
to Hermann's now-you-see-it and now-you-don't, with pocket-handkerchiefs.
Yet Hermann's exhibition is worth the admittance fee, and Nordau's book
(seemingly written in collaboration with Jules Verne and Mark Twain)
would be cheap for a dollar. But what I object to is Professor Hermann's
disciples posing as Sure-Enough Materializing Mediums, and Professor
Lombroso's followers calling themselves Scientists, when each goes forth
without scrip or purse with no other purpose than to supply themselves
Yet it was Barnum himself who said that the public delights in being
humbugged, and strange it is that we will not allow ourselves to be
thimblerigged without paying for the privilege.
Nordau's success hinged on his audacious assumption that the public knew
nothing of the Law of Antithesis. Yet Plato explained that the opposites
of things look alike, and sometimes are alike--and that was quite a while
The multitude answered, "Thou hast a devil." Many of them said, "He hath
a devil and is mad." Festus said with a loud voice, "Paul, thou art
beside thyself." And Nordau shouts in a voice more heady than that of
Pilate, more throaty than that of Festus, "Mad--Whitman was--mad beyond
the cavil of a doubt!"
In Eighteen Hundred Sixty-two, Lincoln, looking out of a window (before
lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed) on one of the streets of Washington,
saw a workingman in shirt-sleeves go by. Turning to a friend, the
President said, "There goes a MAN!" The exclamation sounds singularly
like that of Napoleon on meeting Goethe. But the Corsican's remark was
intended for the poet's ear, while Lincoln did not know who his man was,
although he came to know him afterward.
Lincoln in his early days was a workingman and an athlete, and he never
quite got the idea out of his head (and I am glad) that he was still a
hewer of wood. He once told George William Curtis that he more than half
expected yet to go back to the farm and earn his daily bread by the work
that his hands found to do; he dreamed of it nights, and whenever he saw
a splendid toiler, he felt like hailing the man as brother and striking
hands with him. When Lincoln saw Whitman strolling majestically past, he
took him for a stevedore or possibly the foreman of a construction gang.
Whitman was fifty-one years old then. His long, flowing beard was
snow-white, and the shock that covered his Jove-like head was iron-gray.
His form was that of an Apollo who had arrived at years of discretion. He
weighed an even two hundred pounds and was just six feet high. His plain,
check, cotton shirt was open at the throat to the breast; and he had an
independence, a self-sufficiency, and withal a cleanliness, a sweetness
and a gentleness, that told that, although he had a giant's strength, he
did not use it like a giant. Whitman used no tobacco, neither did he
apply hot and rebellious liquors to his blood and with unblushing
forehead woo the means of debility and disease. Up to his fifty-third
year he had never known a sick day, although at thirty his hair had
begun to whiten. He had the look of age in his youth and the look of
youth in his age that often marks the exceptional man.
But at fifty-three his splendid health was crowded to the breaking
strain. How? Through caring for wounded, sick and dying men, hour after
hour, day after day, through the long, silent watches of the night. From
Eighteen Hundred Sixty-four to the day of his death in Eighteen Hundred
Ninety-two, he was, physically, a man in ruins. But he did not wither at
the top. Through it all he held the healthy optimism of boyhood, carrying
with him the perfume of the morning and the lavish heart of youth.
Doctor Bucke, who was superintendent of a hospital for the insane for
fifteen years, and the intimate friend of Whitman all the time, has said:
"His build, his stature, his exceptional health of mind and body, the
size and form of his features, his cleanliness of mind and body, the
grace of his movements and gestures, the grandeur, and especially the
magnetism, of his presence; the charm of his voice, his genial, kindly
humor; the simplicity of his habits and tastes, his freedom from
convention, the largeness and the beauty of his manner; his calmness and
majesty; his charity and forbearance--his entire unresentfulness under
whatever provocation; his liberality, his universal sympathy with
humanity in all ages and lands, his broad tolerance, his catholic
friendliness, and his unexampled faculty of attracting affection, all
prove his perfectly proportioned manliness."
But Whitman differed from the disciple of Lombroso in two notable
particulars: He had no quarrel with the world, and he did not wax rich.
"One thing thou lackest, O Walt Whitman!" we might have said to the poet;
"you are not a financier." He died poor. But this is no proof of
degeneracy, save on 'Change. When the children of Count Tolstoy
endeavored to have him adjudged insane, the Court denied the application
and voiced the wisest decision that ever came out of Russia: A man who
gives away his money is not necessarily more foolish than he who saves
And with Horace L. Traubel I assert that Whitman was the sanest man I
* * * * *
Some men make themselves homes; and others there be who
rent rooms. Walt Whitman was essentially a citizen of the world: the
world was his home and mankind were his friends. There was a quality in
the man peculiarly universal: a strong, virile poise that asked for
nothing, but took what it needed.
He loved men as brothers, yet his brothers after the flesh understood him
not; he loved children--they turned to him instinctively--but he had no
children of his own; he loved women, and yet this strongly sexed and
manly man never loved a woman. And I might here say as Philip Gilbert
Hamerton said of Turner, "He was lamentably unfortunate in this:
throughout his whole life he never came under the ennobling and refining
influence of a good woman."
It requires two to make a home. The first home was made when a woman,
cradling in her loving arms a baby, crooned a lullaby. All the tender
sentimentality we throw around a place is the result of the sacred
thought that we live there with some one else. It is "our" home. The home
is a tryst--the place where we retire and shut the world out. Lovers make
a home, just as birds make a nest, and unless a man knows the spell of
the divine passion I hardly see how he can have a home at all. He only
rents a room.
Camden is separated from the city of Philadelphia by the Delaware River.
Camden lies low and flat--a great, sandy, monotonous waste of straggling
buildings. Here and there are straight rows of cheap houses, evidently
erected by staid, broad-brimmed speculators from across the river, with
eyes on the main chance. But they reckoned ill, for the town did not
boom. Some of these houses have marble steps and white, barn-like
shutters, that might withstand a siege. When a funeral takes place in one
of these houses, the shutters are tied with strips of mournful, black
alpaca for a year and a day. Engineers, dockmen, express-drivers and
mechanics largely make up the citizens of Camden. Of course, Camden has
its smug corner where prosperous merchants most do congregate: where they
play croquet in the front yards, and have window-boxes, and a piano and
veranda-chairs and terra-cotta statuary; but for the most part the houses
of Camden are rented, and rented cheap.
Many of the domiciles are frame and have the happy tumbledown look of the
back streets in Charleston or Richmond--those streets where the white
trash merges off into prosperous colored aristocracy. Old hats do duty in
keeping out the fresh air where Providence has interfered and broken out
a pane; blinds hang by a single hinge; bricks on the chimney-tops
threaten the passersby; stringers and posts mark the place where proud
picket fences once stood--the pickets having gone for kindling long ago.
In the warm, Summer evenings, men in shirt-sleeves sit on the front steps
and stolidly smoke, while children pile up sand in the streets and play
in the gutters.
Parallel with Mickle Street, a block away, are railway-tracks. There
noisy switch-engines that never keep Sabbath, puff back and forth, day
and night, sending showers of soot and smoke when the wind is right (and
it usually is) straight over Number 328, where, according to John
Addington Symonds and William Michael Rossetti, lived the mightiest seer
of the century--the man whom they rank with Socrates, Epictetus, Saint
Paul, Michelangelo and Dante.
It was in August of Eighteen Hundred Eighty-three that I first walked up
that little street--a hot, sultry Summer evening. There had been a shower
that turned the dust of the unpaved roadway to mud. The air was close and
muggy. The houses, built right up to the sidewalks, over which, in little
gutters, the steaming sewage ran, seemed to have discharged their
occupants into the street to enjoy the cool of the day. Barefooted
children by the score paddled in the mud. All the steps were filled with
loungers; some of the men had discarded not only coats but shirts as
well, and now sat in flaming red underwear, holding babies.
They say that "woman's work is never done," but to the women of Mickle
Street this does not apply--but stay! perhaps their work IS never done.
Anyway, I remember that women sat on the curbs in calico dresses or
leaned out of the windows, and all seemed supremely free from care.
"Can you tell me where Mr. Whitman lives?" I asked a portly dame who was
resting her elbows on a windowsill.
"You mean Walt Whitman?"
"Show the gentleman, Molly; he'll give you a nickel, I'm sure!"
I had not seen Molly. She stood behind me, but as her mother spoke she
seized tight hold of one of my fingers, claiming me as her lawful prey,
and all the other children looked on with envious eyes as little Molly
threw at them glances of scorn and marched me off. Molly was five, going
on six, she told me. She had bright-red hair, a grimy face and little
chapped feet that made not a sound as we walked. She got her nickel and
carried it in her mouth, and this made conversation difficult. After
going one block she suddenly stopped, squared me around and pointing
said, "Them is he!" and disappeared.
In a wheeled rattan chair, in the hallway, a little back from the door of
a plain, weather-beaten house, sat the coatless philosopher, his face and
head wreathed in a tumult of snow-white hair.
I had a little speech, all prepared weeks before and committed to memory,
that I intended to repeat, telling him how I had read his poems and
admired them. And further I had stored away in my mind a few blades from
"Leaves of Grass" that I purposed to bring out at the right time as a
sort of certificate of character. But when that little girl jerked me
right-about-face and heartlessly deserted me, I stared dumbly at the man
whom I had come a hundred miles to see. I began angling for my little
speech, but could not fetch it.
"Hello!" called the philosopher, out of the white aureole. "Hello! come
He held out his hand and as I took it there was a grasp with meaning in
"Don't go yet, Joe," he said to a man seated on the step smoking a
"The old woman's calling me," said the swarthy Joe.
Joe evidently held truth lightly. "So long, Walt!"
"Good-by, Joe. Sit down, lad; sit down!"
I sat in the doorway at his feet.
"Now isn't it queer--that fellow is a regular philosopher and works out
some great problems, but he's ashamed to express 'em. He could no more
give you his best than he could fly. Ashamed, I s'pose, ashamed of the
best that is in him. We are all a little that way--all but me--I try to
write my best, regardless of whether the thing sounds ridiculous or
not--regardless of what others think or say or have said. Ashamed of our
holiest, truest and best! Is it not too bad?
"You are twenty-five now? Well, boy, you may grow until you are thirty
and then you will be as wise as you ever will be. Haven't you noticed
that men of sixty have no clearer vision than men of forty? One reason
is that we have been taught that we know all about life and death and the
mysteries of the grave. But the main reason is that we are ashamed to
shove out and be ourselves. Jesus expressed His own individuality perhaps
more than any other man we know of, and so He wields a wider influence
than any other. And this though we only have a record of just
twenty-seven days of His life. Now that fellow that just left is an
engineer, and he dreams some beautiful dreams; but he never expresses
them to any one--only hints them to me, and this only at twilight. He is
like a weasel or a mink or a whippoorwill--he comes out only at night.
"'If the weather was like this all the time, people would never learn to
read and write,' said Joe to me just as you arrived. And isn't that so?
Here we can count a hundred people up and down this street, and not one
is reading, not one but that is just lolling about, except the
children--and they are happy only when playing in the dirt. Why, if this
tropical weather should continue we would all slip back into South Sea
Islanders! You can raise good men only in a little strip around the North
Temperate Zone--when you get out of the track of a glacier, a
tender-hearted, sympathetic man of brains is an accident."
Then the old man suddenly ceased and I imagined that he was following the
thought out in his own mind. We sat silent for a space. The twilight
fell, and a lamplighter lit the street lamp on the corner. He stopped an
instant to salute the poet cheerily as he passed. The man sitting on the
doorstep, across the street, smoking, knocked the ashes out of his pipe
on his boot-heel and went indoors. Women called their children, who did
not respond, but still played on. Then the creepers were carried in, to
be fed their bread-and-milk and put to bed; and, shortly, shrill feminine
voices ordered the other children indoors, and some obeyed.
The night crept slowly on.
I heard Old Walt chuckle behind me, talking incoherently to himself, and
then he said, "You are wondering why I live in such a place as this?"
"Yes; that is exactly what I was thinking of!"
"You think I belong in the country, in some quiet, shady place. But all I
have to do is to shut my eyes and go there. No man loves the woods more
than I--I was born within sound of the sea--down on Long Island, and I
know all the songs that the seashell sings. But this babble and babel of
voices pleases me better, especially since my legs went on a strike, for
although I can't walk, you see I can still mix with the throng, so I
suffer no loss.
"In the woods, a man must be all hands and feet. I like the folks, the
plain, ignorant, unpretentious folks; and the youngsters that come and
slide on my cellar-door do not disturb me a bit. I'm different from
Carlyle--you know he had a noise-proof room where he locked himself in.
Now, when a huckster goes by, crying his wares, I open the blinds, and
often wrangle with the fellow over the price of things. But the rogues
have got into a way lately of leaving truck for me and refusing pay.
Today an Irishman passed in three quarts of berries and walked off
pretending to be mad because I offered to pay. When he was gone, I
beckoned to the babies over the way--they came over and we had a feast.
"Yes, I like the folks around here; I like the women, and I like the men,
and I like the babies, and I like the youngsters that play in the alley
and make mud pies on my steps. I expect to stay here until I die."
"You speak of death as a matter of course--you are not afraid to die?"
"Oh, no, my boy; death is as natural as life, and a deal kinder. But it
is all good--I accept it all and give thanks--you have not forgotten my
chant to death?"
I repeated a few lines from "Drum-Taps."
He followed me, rapping gently with his cane on the floor, and with
little interjectory remarks of "That's so!" "Very true!" "Good, good!"
And when I faltered and lost the lines he picked them up where "The voice
of my spirit tallied the song of the bird."
In a strong, clear voice, but a voice full of sublime feeling, he
repeated those immortal lines, beginning, "Come, lovely and soothing
"Come, lovely and soothing Death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later, delicate Death.
Praised be the fathomless universe
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious,
And for love, sweet love--but praise! praise! praise
For the sure enwinding arms of cool, enfolding Death.
Dark Mother, always gliding near with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
Then I chant for thee, I glorify thee above all,
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.
Approach, strong deliveress,
When it is so, when thou hast taken them
I joyously sing the death,
Lost in the loving, floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss, O Death.
From me to thee glad serenades,
Dances for thee I propose, saluting thee, adornments and feastings for thee,
And the sights of the open landscape and the high spread sky are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.
The night in silence under many a star,
The ocean shore and the husky whispering wave whose voice I know,
And the soul turning to thee, O vast and well-veil'd Death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.
Over the tree-tops I float thee a song,
Over the rising and sinking waves, over the myriad fields and the prairies wide,
Over the dense-packed cities all, and the teeming wharves, and ways,
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee, O Death."
The last playing youngster had silently disappeared from the streets. The
doorsteps were deserted--save where across the way a young man and maiden
sat in the gloaming, conversing in low monotone.
The clouds had drifted away.
A great, yellow star shone out above the chimney-tops in the East.
I arose to go.
"I wish you'd come oftener--I see you so seldom, lad," said the old man,
I did not explain that we had never met before--that I had come from New
York purposely to see him. He thought he knew me. And so he did--as much
as I could impart. The rest was irrelevant. As to my occupation or name,
what booted it!--he had no curiosity concerning me. I grasped his
outstretched hand in both of my own.
He said not a word; neither did I.
I turned and made my way to the ferry--past the whispering lovers on the
doorsteps, and over the railway-tracks where the noisy engines puffed. As
I walked on board the boat, the wind blew up cool and fresh from the
West. The star in the East grew brighter, and other stars came out,
reflecting themselves like gems in the dark blue of the Delaware.
There was a soft sublimity in the sound of the bells that came echoing
over the waters. My heart was very full, for I had felt the thrill of
being in the presence of a great and loving soul.
It was the first time and the last that I ever saw Walt Whitman.
* * * * *
A good many writers bear no message: they carry no torch.
Sometimes they excite wonder, or they amuse and divert--divert us from
our work. To be diverted to a certain degree may be well, but there is a
point where earth ends and cloud-land begins, and even great poets
occasionally befog the things they would reveal.
Homer was seemingly blind to much simple truth; Vergil carries you away
from earth; Horace was undone without his Maecenas; Dante makes you an
exile; Shakespeare was singularly silent concerning the doubts,
difficulties and common lives of common people; Byron's corsair life does
not help you in your toil, and in his fight with English Bards and Scotch
Reviewers we crave neutrality; to be caught in the meshes of Pope's
"Dunciad" is not pleasant; and Lowell's "Fable for Critics" is only
another "Dunciad." But above all other poets who have ever lived, the
author of "Leaves of Grass" was the poet of humanity.
Milton knew all about Heaven, and Dante conducts us through Hell, but it
was left for Whitman to show us Earth. His voice never goes so high that
it breaks into an impotent falsetto, neither does it growl and snarl at
things it does not understand and not understanding does not like. He was
so great that he had no envy, and his insight was so sure that he had no
prejudice. He never boasted that he was higher, nor claimed to be less
than any of the other sons of men. He met all on terms of absolute
equality, mixing with the poor, the lowly, the fallen, the oppressed, the
cultured, the rich--simply as brother with brother. And when he said to
an outcast, "Not till the sun excludes you will I exclude you," he voiced
a sentiment worthy of a god.
He was brother to the elements, the mountains, the seas, the clouds, the
sky. He loved them all and partook of them all in his large, free,
unselfish, untrammeled nature. His heart knew no limits, and feeling his
feet mortised in granite and his footsteps tenoned in infinity he knew
the amplitude of time.
Only the great are generous; only the strong are forgiving. Like Lot's
wife, most poets look back over their shoulders; and those who are not
looking backward insist that we shall look into the future, and the vast
majority of the whole scribbling rabble accept the precept, "Man never
is, but always to be blest."
We grieve for childhood's happy days, and long for sweet rest in Heaven
and sigh for mansions in the skies. And the people about us seem so
indifferent, and our friends so lukewarm; and really no one understands
us, and our environment queers our budding spirituality, and the frost of
jealousy nips our aspirations: "O Paradise, O Paradise, the world is
growing old; who would not be at rest and free where love is never cold."
So sing the fearsome dyspeptics of the stylus. O anemic he, you bloodless
she, nipping at crackers, sipping at tea, why not consider that, although
evolutionists tell us where we came from, and theologians inform us
where we are going to, yet the only thing we are really sure of is that
we are here!
The present is the perpetually moving spot where history ends and
prophecy begins. It is our only possession: the past we reach through
lapsing memory, halting recollection, hearsay and belief; we pierce the
future by wistful faith or anxious hope; but the present is beneath our
Whitman sings the beauty and the glory of the present. He rebukes our
groans and sighs--bids us look about on every side at the wonders of
creation, and at the miracles within our grasp. He lifts us up, restores
us to our own, introduces us to man and to Nature, and thus infuses into
us courage, manly pride, self-reliance, and the strong faith that comes
when we feel our kinship with God.
He was so mixed with the universe that his voice took on the sway of
elemental integrity and candor. Absolutely honest, this man was unafraid
and unashamed, for Nature has neither apprehension, shame nor vainglory.
In "Leaves of Grass" Whitman speaks as all men have ever spoken who
believe in God and in themselves--oracular, without apology or
abasement--fearlessly. He tells of the powers and mysteries that pervade
and guide all life, all death, all purpose. His work is masculine, as the
sun is masculine; for the Prophetic Voice is as surely masculine as the
lullaby and lyric cry are feminine.
Whitman brings the warmth of the sun to the buds of the heart, so that
they open and bring forth form, color, perfume. He becomes for them