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Memories and Portraits by Robert Louis Stevenson

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And I know not which is the more strange, that I should carry about
with me some fibres of my minister-grandfather; or that in him, as
he sat in his cool study, grave, reverend, contented gentleman,
there was an aboriginal frisking of the blood that was not his;
tree-top memories, like undeveloped negatives, lay dormant in his
mind; tree-top instincts awoke and were trod down; and Probably
Arboreal (scarce to be distinguished from a monkey) gambolled and
chattered in the brain of the old divine.


THOSE who try to be artists use, time after time, the matter of
their recollections, setting and resetting little coloured memories
of men and scenes, rigging up (it may be) some especial friend in
the attire of a buccaneer, and decreeing armies to manoeuvre, or
murder to be done, on the playground of their youth. But the
memories are a fairy gift which cannot be worn out in using. After
a dozen services in various tales, the little sunbright pictures of
the past still shine in the mind's eye with not a lineament
defaced, not a tint impaired. GLUCK UND UNGLUCK WIRD GESANG, if
Goethe pleases; yet only by endless avatars, the original re-
embodying after each. So that a writer, in time, begins to wonder
at the perdurable life of these impressions; begins, perhaps, to
fancy that he wrongs them when he weaves them in with fiction; and
looking back on them with ever-growing kindness, puts them at last,
substantive jewels, in a setting of their own.

One or two of these pleasant spectres I think I have laid. I used
one but the other day: a little eyot of dense, freshwater sand,
where I once waded deep in butterburrs, delighting to hear the song
of the river on both sides, and to tell myself that I was indeed
and at last upon an island. Two of my puppets lay there a summer's
day, hearkening to the shearers at work in riverside fields and to
the drums of the gray old garrison upon the neighbouring hill. And
this was, I think, done rightly: the place was rightly peopled -
and now belongs not to me but to my puppets - for a time at least.
In time, perhaps, the puppets will grow faint; the original memory
swim up instant as ever; and I shall once more lie in bed, and see
the little sandy isle in Allan Water as it is in nature, and the
child (that once was me) wading there in butterburrs; and wonder at
the instancy and virgin freshness of that memory; and be pricked
again, in season and out of season, by the desire to weave it into

There is another isle in my collection, the memory of which
besieges me. I put a whole family there, in one of my tales; and
later on, threw upon its shores, and condemned to several days of
rain and shellfish on its tumbled boulders, the hero of another.
The ink is not yet faded; the sound of the sentences is still in my
mind's ear; and I am under a spell to write of that island again.


The little isle of Earraid lies close in to the south-west corner
of the Ross of Mull: the sound of Iona on one side, across which
you may see the isle and church of Columba; the open sea to the
other, where you shall be able to mark, on a clear, surfy day, the
breakers running white on many sunken rocks. I first saw it, or
first remembered seeing it, framed in the round bull's-eye of a
cabin port, the sea lying smooth along its shores like the waters
of a lake, the colourless clear light of the early morning making
plain its heathery and rocky hummocks. There stood upon it, in
these days, a single rude house of uncemented stones, approached by
a pier of wreckwood. It must have been very early, for it was then
summer, and in summer, in that latitude, day scarcely withdraws;
but even at that hour the house was making a sweet smoke of peats
which came to me over the bay, and the bare-legged daughters of the
cotter were wading by the pier. The same day we visited the shores
of the isle in the ship's boats; rowed deep into Fiddler's Hole,
sounding as we went; and having taken stock of all possible
accommodation, pitched on the northern inlet as the scene of
operations. For it was no accident that had brought the lighthouse
steamer to anchor in the Bay of Earraid. Fifteen miles away to
seaward, a certain black rock stood environed by the Atlantic
rollers, the outpost of the Torran reefs. Here was a tower to be
built, and a star lighted, for the conduct of seamen. But as the
rock was small, and hard of access, and far from land, the work
would be one of years; and my father was now looking for a shore
station, where the stones might be quarried and dressed, the men
live, and the tender, with some degree of safety, lie at anchor.

I saw Earraid next from the stern thwart of an Iona lugger, Sam
Bough and I sitting there cheek by jowl, with our feet upon our
baggage, in a beautiful, clear, northern summer eve. And behold!
there was now a pier of stone, there were rows of sheds, railways,
travelling-cranes, a street of cottages, an iron house for the
resident engineer, wooden bothies for the men, a stage where the
courses of the tower were put together experimentally, and behind
the settlement a great gash in the hillside where granite was
quarried. In the bay, the steamer lay at her moorings. All day
long there hung about the place the music of chinking tools; and
even in the dead of night, the watchman carried his lantern to and
fro in the dark settlement and could light the pipe of any midnight
muser. It was, above all, strange to see Earraid on the Sunday,
when the sound of the tools ceased and there fell a crystal quiet.
All about the green compound men would be sauntering in their
Sunday's best, walking with those lax joints of the reposing
toiler, thoughtfully smoking, talking small, as if in honour of the
stillness, or hearkening to the wailing of the gulls. And it was
strange to see our Sabbath services, held, as they were, in one of
the bothies, with Mr. Brebner reading at a table, and the
congregation perched about in the double tier of sleeping bunks;
and to hear the singing of the psalms, "the chapters," the
inevitable Spurgeon's sermon, and the old, eloquent lighthouse

In fine weather, when by the spy-glass on the hill the sea was
observed to run low upon the reef, there would be a sound of
preparation in the very early morning; and before the sun had risen
from behind Ben More, the tender would steam out of the bay. Over
fifteen sea-miles of the great blue Atlantic rollers she ploughed
her way, trailing at her tail a brace of wallowing stone-lighters.
The open ocean widened upon either board, and the hills of the
mainland began to go down on the horizon, before she came to her
unhomely destination, and lay-to at last where the rock clapped its
black head above the swell, with the tall iron barrack on its
spider legs, and the truncated tower, and the cranes waving their
arms, and the smoke of the engine-fire rising in the mid-sea. An
ugly reef is this of the Dhu Heartach; no pleasant assemblage of
shelves, and pools, and creeks, about which a child might play for
a whole summer without weariness, like the Bell Rock or the
Skerryvore, but one oval nodule of black-trap, sparsely bedabbled
with an inconspicuous fucus, and alive in every crevice with a
dingy insect between a slater and a bug. No other life was there
but that of sea-birds, and of the sea itself, that here ran like a
mill-race, and growled about the outer reef for ever, and ever and
again, in the calmest weather, roared and spouted on the rock
itself. Times were different upon Dhu-Heartach when it blew, and
the night fell dark, and the neighbour lights of Skerryvore and
Rhu-val were quenched in fog, and the men sat prisoned high up in
their iron drum, that then resounded with the lashing of the
sprays. Fear sat with them in their sea-beleaguered dwelling; and
the colour changed in anxious faces when some greater billow struck
the barrack, and its pillars quivered and sprang under the blow.
It was then that the foreman builder, Mr. Goodwillie, whom I see
before me still in his rock-habit of undecipherable rags, would get
his fiddle down and strike up human minstrelsy amid the music of
the storm. But it was in sunshine only that I saw Dhu-Heartach;
and it was in sunshine, or the yet lovelier summer afterglow, that
the steamer would return to Earraid, ploughing an enchanted sea;
the obedient lighters, relieved of their deck cargo, riding in her
wake more quietly; and the steersman upon each, as she rose on the
long swell, standing tall and dark against the shining west.

But it was in Earraid itself that I delighted chiefly. The
lighthouse settlement scarce encroached beyond its fences; over the
top of the first brae the ground was all virgin, the world all shut
out, the face of things unchanged by any of man's doings. Here was
no living presence, save for the limpets on the rocks, for some
old, gray, rain-beaten ram that I might rouse out of a ferny den
betwixt two boulders, or for the haunting and the piping of the
gulls. It was older than man; it was found so by incoming Celts,
and seafaring Norsemen, and Columba's priests. The earthy savour
of the bog-plants, the rude disorder of the boulders, the
inimitable seaside brightness of the air, the brine and the iodine,
the lap of the billows among the weedy reefs, the sudden springing
up of a great run of dashing surf along the sea-front of the isle,
all that I saw and felt my predecessors must have seen and felt
with scarce a difference. I steeped myself in open air and in past

"Delightful would it be to me to be in UCHD AILIUN
On the pinnacle of a rock,
That I might often see
The face of the ocean;
That I might hear the song of the wonderful birds,
Source of happiness;
That I might hear the thunder of the crowding waves
Upon the rocks:
At times at work without compulsion -
This would be delightful;
At times plucking dulse from the rocks
At times at fishing."

So, about the next island of Iona, sang Columba himself twelve
hundred years before. And so might I have sung of Earraid.

And all the while I was aware that this life of sea-bathing and
sun-burning was for me but a holiday. In that year cannon were
roaring for days together on French battlefields; and I would sit
in my isle (I call it mine, after the use of lovers) and think upon
the war, and the loudness of these far-away battles, and the pain
of the men's wounds, and the weariness of their marching. And I
would think too of that other war which is as old as mankind, and
is indeed the life of man: the unsparing war, the grinding slavery
of competition; the toil of seventy years, dear-bought bread,
precarious honour, the perils and pitfalls, and the poor rewards.
It was a long look forward; the future summoned me as with trumpet
calls, it warned me back as with a voice of weeping and beseeching;
and I thrilled and trembled on the brink of life, like a childish
bather on the beach.

There was another young man on Earraid in these days, and we were
much together, bathing, clambering on the boulders, trying to sail
a boat and spinning round instead in the oily whirlpools of the
roost. But the most part of the time we spoke of the great
uncharted desert of our futures; wondering together what should
there befall us; hearing with surprise the sound of our own voices
in the empty vestibule of youth. As far, and as hard, as it seemed
then to look forward to the grave, so far it seems now to look
backward upon these emotions; so hard to recall justly that loath
submission, as of the sacrificial bull, with which we stooped our
necks under the yoke of destiny. I met my old companion but the
other day; I cannot tell of course what he was thinking; but, upon
my part, I was wondering to see us both so much at home, and so
composed and sedentary in the world; and how much we had gained,
and how much we had lost, to attain to that composure; and which
had been upon the whole our best estate: when we sat there prating
sensibly like men of some experience, or when we shared our
timorous and hopeful counsels in a western islet.


THE death of Thomas Stevenson will mean not very much to the
general reader. His service to mankind took on forms of which the
public knows little and understands less. He came seldom to
London, and then only as a task, remaining always a stranger and a
convinced provincial; putting up for years at the same hotel where
his father had gone before him; faithful for long to the same
restaurant, the same church, and the same theatre, chosen simply
for propinquity; steadfastly refusing to dine out. He had a circle
of his own, indeed, at home; few men were more beloved in
Edinburgh, where he breathed an air that pleased him; and wherever
he went, in railway carriages or hotel smoking-rooms, his strange,
humorous vein of talk, and his transparent honesty, raised him up
friends and admirers. But to the general public and the world of
London, except about the parliamentary committee-rooms, he remained
unknown. All the time, his lights were in every part of the world,
guiding the mariner; his firm were consulting engineers to the
Indian, the New Zealand, and the Japanese Lighthouse Boards, so
that Edinburgh was a world centre for that branch of applied
science; in Germany, he had been called "the Nestor of lighthouse
illumination"; even in France, where his claims were long denied,
he was at last, on the occasion of the late Exposition, recognised
and medalled. And to show by one instance the inverted nature of
his reputation, comparatively small at home, yet filling the world,
a friend of mine was this winter on a visit to the Spanish main,
and was asked by a Peruvian if he "knew Mr. Stevenson the author,
because his works were much esteemed in Peru?" My friend supposed
the reference was to the writer of tales; but the Peruvian had
never heard of DR. JEKYLL; what he had in his eye, what was
esteemed in Peru, where the volumes of the engineer.

Thomas Stevenson was born at Edinburgh in the year 1818, the
grandson of Thomas Smith, first engineer to the Board of Northern
Lights, son of Robert Stevenson, brother of Alan and David; so that
his nephew, David Alan Stevenson, joined with him at the time of
his death in the engineership, is the sixth of the family who has
held, successively or conjointly, that office. The Bell Rock, his
father's great triumph, was finished before he was born; but he
served under his brother Alan in the building of Skerryvore, the
noblest of all extant deep-sea lights; and, in conjunction with his
brother David, he added two - the Chickens and Dhu Heartach - to
that small number of man's extreme outposts in the ocean. Of shore
lights, the two brothers last named erected no fewer than twenty-
seven; of beacons, (4) about twenty-five. Many harbours were
successfully carried out: one, the harbour of Wick, the chief
disaster of my father's life, was a failure; the sea proved too
strong for man's arts; and after expedients hitherto unthought of,
and on a scale hyper-cyclopean, the work must be deserted, and now
stands a ruin in that bleak, God-forsaken bay, ten miles from John-
o'-Groat's. In the improvement of rivers the brothers were
likewise in a large way of practice over both England and Scotland,
nor had any British engineer anything approaching their experience.

It was about this nucleus of his professional labours that all my
father's scientific inquiries and inventions centred; these
proceeded from, and acted back upon, his daily business. Thus it
was as a harbour engineer that he became interested in the
propagation and reduction of waves; a difficult subject in regard
to which he has left behind him much suggestive matter and some
valuable approximate results. Storms were his sworn adversaries,
and it was through the study of storms that he approached that of
meteorology at large. Many who knew him not otherwise, knew -
perhaps have in their gardens - his louvre-boarded screen for
instruments. But the great achievement of his life was, of course,
in optics as applied to lighthouse illumination. Fresnel had done
much; Fresnel had settled the fixed light apparatus on a principle
that still seems unimprovable; and when Thomas Stevenson stepped in
and brought to a comparable perfection the revolving light, a not
unnatural jealousy and much painful controversy rose in France. It
had its hour; and, as I have told already, even in France it has
blown by. Had it not, it would have mattered the less, since all
through his life my father continued to justify his claim by fresh
advances. New apparatus for lights in new situations was
continually being designed with the same unwearied search after
perfection, the same nice ingenuity of means; and though the
holophotal revolving light perhaps still remains his most elegant
contrivance, it is difficult to give it the palm over the much
later condensing system, with its thousand possible modifications.
The number and the value of these improvements entitle their author
to the name of one of mankind's benefactors. In all parts of the
world a safer landfall awaits the mariner. Two things must be
said: and, first, that Thomas Stevenson was no mathematician.
Natural shrewdness, a sentiment of optical laws, and a great
intensity of consideration led him to just conclusions; but to
calculate the necessary formulae for the instruments he had
conceived was often beyond him, and he must fall back on the help
of others, notably on that of his cousin and lifelong intimate
friend, EMERITUS Professor Swan, of St. Andrews, and his later
friend, Professor P. G. Tait. It is a curious enough circumstance,
and a great encouragement to others, that a man so ill equipped
should have succeeded in one of the most abstract and arduous walks
of applied science. The second remark is one that applies to the
whole family, and only particularly to Thomas Stevenson from the
great number and importance of his inventions: holding as the
Stevensons did a Government appointment they regarded their
original work as something due already to the nation, and none of
them has ever taken out a patent. It is another cause of the
comparative obscurity of the name: for a patent not only brings in
money, it infallibly spreads reputation; and my father's
instruments enter anonymously into a hundred light-rooms, and are
passed anonymously over in a hundred reports, where the least
considerable patent would stand out and tell its author's story.

But the life-work of Thomas Stevenson remains; what we have lost,
what we now rather try to recall, is the friend and companion. He
was a man of a somewhat antique strain: with a blended sternness
and softness that was wholly Scottish and at first somewhat
bewildering; with a profound essential melancholy of disposition
and (what often accompanies it) the most humorous geniality in
company; shrewd and childish; passionately attached, passionately
prejudiced; a man of many extremes, many faults of temper, and no
very stable foothold for himself among life's troubles. Yet he was
a wise adviser; many men, and these not inconsiderable, took
counsel with him habitually. "I sat at his feet," writes one of
these, "when I asked his advice, and when the broad brow was set in
thought and the firm mouth said his say, I always knew that no man
could add to the worth of the conclusion." He had excellent taste,
though whimsical and partial; collected old furniture and delighted
specially in sunflowers long before the days of Mr. Wilde; took a
lasting pleasure in prints and pictures; was a devout admirer of
Thomson of Duddingston at a time when few shared the taste; and
though he read little, was constant to his favourite books. He had
never any Greek; Latin he happily re-taught himself after he had
left school, where he was a mere consistent idler: happily, I say,
for Lactantius, Vossius, and Cardinal Bona were his chief authors.
The first he must have read for twenty years uninterruptedly,
keeping it near him in his study, and carrying it in his bag on
journeys. Another old theologian, Brown of Wamphray, was often in
his hands. When he was indisposed, he had two books, GUY MANNERING
and THE PARENT'S ASSISTANT, of which he never wearied. He was a
strong Conservative, or, as he preferred to call himself, a Tory;
except in so far as his views were modified by a hot-headed
chivalrous sentiment for women. He was actually in favour of a
marriage law under which any woman might have a divorce for the
asking, and no man on any ground whatever; and the same sentiment
found another expression in a Magdalen Mission in Edinburgh,
founded and largely supported by himself. This was but one of the
many channels of his public generosity; his private was equally
unstrained. The Church of Scotland, of which he held the doctrines
(though in a sense of his own) and to which he bore a clansman's
loyalty, profited often by his time and money; and though, from a
morbid sense of his own unworthiness, he would never consent to be
an office-bearer, his advice was often sought, and he served the
Church on many committees. What he perhaps valued highest in his
work were his contributions to the defence of Christianity; one of
which, in particular, was praised by Hutchinson Stirling and
reprinted at the request of Professor Crawford.

His sense of his own unworthiness I have called morbid; morbid,
too, were his sense of the fleetingness of life and his concern for
death. He had never accepted the conditions of man's life or his
own character; and his inmost thoughts were ever tinged with the
Celtic melancholy. Cases of conscience were sometimes grievous to
him, and that delicate employment of a scientific witness cost him
many qualms. But he found respite from these troublesome humours
in his work, in his lifelong study of natural science, in the
society of those he loved, and in his daily walks, which now would
carry him far into the country with some congenial friend, and now
keep him dangling about the town from one old book-shop to another,
and scraping romantic acquaintance with every dog that passed. His
talk, compounded of so much sterling sense and so much freakish
humour, and clothed in language so apt, droll, and emphatic, was a
perpetual delight to all who knew him before the clouds began to
settle on his mind. His use of language was both just and
picturesque; and when at the beginning of his illness he began to
feel the ebbing of this power, it was strange and painful to hear
him reject one word after another as inadequate, and at length
desist from the search and leave his phrase unfinished rather than
finish it without propriety. It was perhaps another Celtic trait
that his affections and emotions, passionate as these were, and
liable to passionate ups and downs, found the most eloquent
expression both in words and gestures. Love, anger, and
indignation shone through him and broke forth in imagery, like what
we read of Southern races. For all these emotional extremes, and
in spite of the melancholy ground of his character, he had upon the
whole a happy life; nor was he less fortunate in his death, which
at the last came to him unaware.


Sir, we had a good talk. - JOHNSON.

As we must account for every idle word, so we must for every idle
silence. - FRANKLIN.

THERE can be no fairer ambition than to excel in talk; to be
affable, gay, ready, clear and welcome; to have a fact, a thought,
or an illustration, pat to every subject; and not only to cheer the
flight of time among our intimates, but bear our part in that great
international congress, always sitting, where public wrongs are
first declared, public errors first corrected, and the course of
public opinion shaped, day by day, a little nearer to the right.
No measure comes before Parliament but it has been long ago
prepared by the grand jury of the talkers; no book is written that
has not been largely composed by their assistance. Literature in
many of its branches is no other than the shadow of good talk; but
the imitation falls far short of the original in life, freedom and
effect. There are always two to a talk, giving and taking,
comparing experience and according conclusions. Talk is fluid,
tentative, continually "in further search and progress"; while
written words remain fixed, become idols even to the writer, found
wooden dogmatisms, and preserve flies of obvious error in the amber
of the truth. Last and chief, while literature, gagged with
linsey-woolsey, can only deal with a fraction of the life of man,
talk goes fancy free and may call a spade a spade. Talk has none
of the freezing immunities of the pulpit. It cannot, even if it
would, become merely aesthetic or merely classical like literature.
A jest intervenes, the solemn humbug is dissolved in laughter, and
speech runs forth out of the contemporary groove into the open
fields of nature, cheery and cheering, like schoolboys out of
school. And it is in talk alone that we can learn our period and
ourselves. In short, the first duty of a man is to speak; that is
his chief business in this world; and talk, which is the harmonious
speech of two or more, is by far the most accessible of pleasures.
It costs nothing in money; it is all profit; it completes our
education, founds and fosters our friendships, and can be enjoyed
at any age and in almost any state of health.

The spice of life is battle; the friendliest relations are still a
kind of contest; and if we would not forego all that is valuable in
our lot, we must continually face some other person, eye to eye,
and wrestle a fall whether in love or enmity. It is still by force
of body, or power of character or intellect, that we attain to
worthy pleasures. Men and women contend for each other in the
lists of love, like rival mesmerists; the active and adroit decide
their challenges in the sports of the body; and the sedentary sit
down to chess or conversation. All sluggish and pacific pleasures
are, to the same degree, solitary and selfish; and every durable
band between human beings is founded in or heightened by some
element of competition. Now, the relation that has the least root
in matter is undoubtedly that airy one of friendship; and hence, I
suppose, it is that good talk most commonly arises among friends.
Talk is, indeed, both the scene and instrument of friendship. It
is in talk alone that the friends can measure strength, and enjoy
that amicable counter-assertion of personality which is the gauge
of relations and the sport of life.

A good talk is not to be had for the asking. Humours must first be
accorded in a kind of overture or prologue; hour, company and
circumstance be suited; and then, at a fit juncture, the subject,
the quarry of two heated minds, spring up like a deer out of the
wood. Not that the talker has any of the hunter's pride, though he
has all and more than all his ardour. The genuine artist follows
the stream of conversation as an angler follows the windings of a
brook, not dallying where he fails to "kill." He trusts implicitly
to hazard; and he is rewarded by continual variety, continual
pleasure, and those changing prospects of the truth that are the
best of education. There is nothing in a subject, so called, that
we should regard it as an idol, or follow it beyond the promptings
of desire. Indeed, there are few subjects; and so far as they are
truly talkable, more than the half of them may be reduced to three:
that I am I, that you are you, and that there are other people
dimly understood to be not quite the same as either. Wherever talk
may range, it still runs half the time on these eternal lines. The
theme being set, each plays on himself as on an instrument; asserts
and justifies himself; ransacks his brain for instances and
opinions, and brings them forth new-minted, to his own surprise and
the admiration of his adversary. All natural talk is a festival of
ostentation; and by the laws of the game each accepts and fans the
vanity of the other. It is from that reason that we venture to lay
ourselves so open, that we dare to be so warmly eloquent, and that
we swell in each other's eyes to such a vast proportion. For
talkers, once launched, begin to overflow the limits of their
ordinary selves, tower up to the height of their secret
pretensions, and give themselves out for the heroes, brave, pious,
musical and wise, that in their most shining moments they aspire to
be. So they weave for themselves with words and for a while
inhabit a palace of delights, temple at once and theatre, where
they fill the round of the world's dignities, and feast with the
gods, exulting in Kudos. And when the talk is over, each goes his
way, still flushed with vanity and admiration, still trailing
clouds of glory; each declines from the height of his ideal orgie,
not in a moment, but by slow declension. I remember, in the
ENTR'ACTE of an afternoon performance, coming forth into the
sunshine, in a beautiful green, gardened corner of a romantic city;
and as I sat and smoked, the music moving in my blood, I seemed to
sit there and evaporate THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (for it was that I had
been hearing) with a wonderful sense of life, warmth, well-being
and pride; and the noises of the city, voices, bells and marching
feet, fell together in my ears like a symphonious orchestra. In
the same way, the excitement of a good talk lives for a long while
after in the blood, the heart still hot within you, the brain still
simmering, and the physical earth swimming around you with the
colours of the sunset.

Natural talk, like ploughing, should turn up a large surface of
life, rather than dig mines into geological strata. Masses of
experience, anecdote, incident, cross-lights, quotation, historical
instances, the whole flotsam and jetsam of two minds forced in and
in upon the matter in hand from every point of the compass, and
from every degree of mental elevation and abasement - these are the
material with which talk is fortified, the food on which the
talkers thrive. Such argument as is proper to the exercise should
still be brief and seizing. Talk should proceed by instances; by
the apposite, not the expository. It should keep close along the
lines of humanity, near the bosoms and businesses of men, at the
level where history, fiction and experience intersect and
illuminate each other. I am I, and You are You, with all my heart;
but conceive how these lean propositions change and brighten when,
instead of words, the actual you and I sit cheek by jowl, the
spirit housed in the live body, and the very clothes uttering
voices to corroborate the story in the face. Not less surprising
is the change when we leave off to speak of generalities - the bad,
the good, the miser, and all the characters of Theophrastus - and
call up other men, by anecdote or instance, in their very trick and
feature; or trading on a common knowledge, toss each other famous
names, still glowing with the hues of life. Communication is no
longer by words, but by the instancing of whole biographies, epics,
systems of philosophy, and epochs of history, in bulk. That which
is understood excels that which is spoken in quantity and quality
alike; ideas thus figured and personified, change hands, as we may
say, like coin; and the speakers imply without effort the most
obscure and intricate thoughts. Strangers who have a large common
ground of reading will, for this reason, come the sooner to the
grapple of genuine converse. If they know Othello and Napoleon,
Consuelo and Clarissa Harlowe, Vautrin and Steenie Steenson, they
can leave generalities and begin at once to speak by figures.

Conduct and art are the two subjects that arise most frequently and
that embrace the widest range of facts. A few pleasures bear
discussion for their own sake, but only those which are most social
or most radically human; and even these can only be discussed among
their devotees. A technicality is always welcome to the expert,
whether in athletics, art or law; I have heard the best kind of
talk on technicalities from such rare and happy persons as both
know and love their business. No human being ever spoke of scenery
for above two minutes at a time, which makes me suspect we hear too
much of it in literature. The weather is regarded as the very
nadir and scoff of conversational topics. And yet the weather, the
dramatic element in scenery, is far more tractable in language, and
far more human both in import and suggestion than the stable
features of the landscape. Sailors and shepherds, and the people
generally of coast and mountain, talk well of it; and it is often
excitingly presented in literature. But the tendency of all living
talk draws it back and back into the common focus of humanity.
Talk is a creature of the street and market-place, feeding on
gossip; and its last resort is still in a discussion on morals.
That is the heroic form of gossip; heroic in virtue of its high
pretensions; but still gossip, because it turns on personalities.
You can keep no men long, nor Scotchmen at all, off moral or
theological discussion. These are to all the world what law is to
lawyers; they are everybody's technicalities; the medium through
which all consider life, and the dialect in which they express
their judgments. I knew three young men who walked together daily
for some two months in a solemn and beautiful forest and in
cloudless summer weather; daily they talked with unabated zest, and
yet scarce wandered that whole time beyond two subjects - theology
and love. And perhaps neither a court of love nor an assembly of
divines would have granted their premisses or welcomed their

Conclusions, indeed, are not often reached by talk any more than by
private thinking. That is not the profit. The profit is in the
exercise, and above all in the experience; for when we reason at
large on any subject, we review our state and history in life.
From time to time, however, and specially, I think, in talking art,
talk becomes elective, conquering like war, widening the boundaries
of knowledge like an exploration. A point arises; the question
takes a problematical, a baffling, yet a likely air; the talkers
begin to feel lively presentiments of some conclusion near at hand;
towards this they strive with emulous ardour, each by his own path,
and struggling for first utterance; and then one leaps upon the
summit of that matter with a shout, and almost at the same moment
the other is beside him; and behold they are agreed. Like enough,
the progress is illusory, a mere cat's cradle having been wound and
unwound out of words. But the sense of joint discovery is none the
less giddy and inspiriting. And in the life of the talker such
triumphs, though imaginary, are neither few nor far apart; they are
attained with speed and pleasure, in the hour of mirth; and by the
nature of the process, they are always worthily shared.

There is a certain attitude, combative at once and deferential,
eager to fight yet most averse to quarrel, which marks out at once
the talkable man. It is not eloquence, not fairness, not
obstinacy, but a certain proportion of all of these that I love to
encounter in my amicable adversaries. They must not be pontiffs
holding doctrine, but huntsmen questing after elements of truth.
Neither must they be boys to be instructed, but fellow-teachers
with whom I may wrangle and agree on equal terms. We must reach
some solution, some shadow of consent; for without that, eager talk
becomes a torture. But we do not wish to reach it cheaply, or
quickly, or without the tussle and effort wherein pleasure lies.

The very best talker, with me, is one whom I shall call Spring-
Heel'd Jack. I say so, because I never knew any one who mingled so
largely the possible ingredients of converse. In the Spanish
proverb, the fourth man necessary to compound a salad, is a madman
to mix it: Jack is that madman. I know not which is more
remarkable; the insane lucidity of his conclusions the humorous
eloquence of his language, or his power of method, bringing the
whole of life into the focus of the subject treated, mixing the
conversational salad like a drunken god. He doubles like the
serpent, changes and flashes like the shaken kaleidoscope,
transmigrates bodily into the views of others, and so, in the
twinkling of an eye and with a heady rapture, turns questions
inside out and flings them empty before you on the ground, like a
triumphant conjuror. It is my common practice when a piece of
conduct puzzles me, to attack it in the presence of Jack with such
grossness, such partiality and such wearing iteration, as at length
shall spur him up in its defence. In a moment he transmigrates,
dons the required character, and with moonstruck philosophy
justifies the act in question. I can fancy nothing to compare with
the VIM of these impersonations, the strange scale of language,
flying from Shakespeare to Kant, and from Kant to Major Dyngwell -

"As fast as a musician scatters sounds
Out of an instrument"

the sudden, sweeping generalisations, the absurd irrelevant
particularities, the wit, wisdom, folly, humour, eloquence and
bathos, each startling in its kind, and yet all luminous in the
admired disorder of their combination. A talker of a different
calibre, though belonging to the same school, is Burly. Burly is a
man of a great presence; he commands a larger atmosphere, gives the
impression of a grosser mass of character than most men. It has
been said of him that his presence could be felt in a room you
entered blindfold; and the same, I think, has been said of other
powerful constitutions condemned to much physical inaction. There
is something boisterous and piratic in Burly's manner of talk which
suits well enough with this impression. He will roar you down, he
will bury his face in his hands, he will undergo passions of revolt
and agony; and meanwhile his attitude of mind is really both
conciliatory and receptive; and after Pistol has been out Pistol'd,
and the welkin rung for hours, you begin to perceive a certain
subsidence in these spring torrents, points of agreement issue, and
you end arm-in-arm, and in a glow of mutual admiration. The outcry
only serves to make your final union the more unexpected and
precious. Throughout there has been perfect sincerity, perfect
intelligence, a desire to hear although not always to listen, and
an unaffected eagerness to meet concessions. You have, with Burly,
none of the dangers that attend debate with Spring-Heel'd Jack; who
may at any moment turn his powers of transmigration on yourself,
create for you a view you never held, and then furiously fall on
you for holding it. These, at least, are my two favourites, and
both are loud, copious, intolerant talkers. This argues that I
myself am in the same category; for if we love talking at all, we
love a bright, fierce adversary, who will hold his ground, foot by
foot, in much our own manner, sell his attention dearly, and give
us our full measure of the dust and exertion of battle. Both these
men can be beat from a position, but it takes six hours to do it; a
high and hard adventure, worth attempting. With both you can pass
days in an enchanted country of the mind, with people, scenery and
manners of its own; live a life apart, more arduous, active and
glowing than any real existence; and come forth again when the talk
is over, as out of a theatre or a dream, to find the east wind
still blowing and the chimney-pots of the old battered city still
around you. Jack has the far finer mind, Burly the far more
honest; Jack gives us the animated poetry, Burly the romantic
prose, of similar themes; the one glances high like a meteor and
makes a light in darkness; the other, with many changing hues of
fire, burns at the sea-level, like a conflagration; but both have
the same humour and artistic interests, the same unquenched ardour
in pursuit, the same gusts of talk and thunderclaps of

Cockshot (5) is a different article, but vastly entertaining, and
has been meat and drink to me for many a long evening. His manner
is dry, brisk and pertinacious, and the choice of words not much.
The point about him is his extraordinary readiness and spirit. You
can propound nothing but he has either a theory about it ready-
made, or will have one instantly on the stocks, and proceed to lay
its timbers and launch it in your presence. "Let me see," he will
say. "Give me a moment. I SHOULD have some theory for that." A
blither spectacle than the vigour with which he sets about the
task, it were hard to fancy. He is possessed by a demoniac energy,
welding the elements for his life, and bending ideas, as an athlete
bends a horse-shoe, with a visible and lively effort. He has, in
theorising, a compass, an art; what I would call the synthetic
gusto; something of a Herbert Spencer, who should see the fun of
the thing. You are not bound, and no more is he, to place your
faith in these brand-new opinions. But some of them are right
enough, durable even for life; and the poorest serve for a cock shy
- as when idle people, after picnics, float a bottle on a pond and
have an hour's diversion ere it sinks. Whichever they are, serious
opinions or humours of the moment, he still defends his ventures
with indefatigable wit and spirit, hitting savagely himself, but
taking punishment like a man. He knows and never forgets that
people talk, first of all, for the sake of talking; conducts
himself in the ring, to use the old slang, like a thorough
"glutton," and honestly enjoys a telling facer from his adversary.
Cockshot is bottled effervescency, the sworn foe of sleep. Three-
in-the-morning Cockshot, says a victim. His talk is like the
driest of all imaginable dry champagnes. Sleight of hand and
inimitable quickness are the qualities by which he lives.
Athelred, on the other hand, presents you with the spectacle of a
sincere and somewhat slow nature thinking aloud. He is the most
unready man I ever knew to shine in conversation. You may see him
sometimes wrestle with a refractory jest for a minute or two
together, and perhaps fail to throw it in the end. And there is
something singularly engaging, often instructive, in the simplicity
with which he thus exposes the process as well as the result, the
works as well as the dial of the clock. Withal he has his hours of
inspiration. Apt words come to him as if by accident, and, coming
from deeper down, they smack the more personally, they have the
more of fine old crusted humanity, rich in sediment and humour.
There are sayings of his in which he has stamped himself into the
very grain of the language; you would think he must have worn the
words next his skin and slept with them. Yet it is not as a sayer
of particular good things that Athelred is most to he regarded,
rather as the stalwart woodman of thought. I have pulled on a
light cord often enough, while he has been wielding the broad-axe;
and between us, on this unequal division, many a specious fallacy
has fallen. I have known him to battle the same question night
after night for years, keeping it in the reign of talk, constantly
applying it and re-applying it to life with humorous or grave
intention, and all the while, never hurrying, nor flagging, nor
taking an unfair advantage of the facts. Jack at a given moment,
when arising, as it were, from the tripod, can be more radiantly
just to those from whom he differs; but then the tenor of his
thoughts is even calumnious; while Athelred, slower to forge
excuses, is yet slower to condemn, and sits over the welter of the
world, vacillating but still judicial, and still faithfully
contending with his doubts.

Both the last talkers deal much in points of conduct and religion
studied in the "dry light" of prose. Indirectly and as if against
his will the same elements from time to time appear in the troubled
and poetic talk of Opalstein. His various and exotic knowledge,
complete although unready sympathies, and fine, full,
discriminative flow of language, fit him out to be the best of
talkers; so perhaps he is with some, not quite with me - PROXIME
ACCESSIT, I should say. He sings the praises of the earth and the
arts, flowers and jewels, wine and music, in a moonlight,
serenading manner, as to the light guitar; even wisdom comes from
his tongue like singing; no one is, indeed, more tuneful in the
upper notes. But even while he sings the song of the Sirens, he
still hearkens to the barking of the Sphinx. Jarring Byronic notes
interrupt the flow of his Horatian humours. His mirth has
something of the tragedy of the world for its perpetual background;
and he feasts like Don Giovanni to a double orchestra, one lightly
sounding for the dance, one pealing Beethoven in the distance. He
is not truly reconciled either with life or with himself; and this
instant war in his members sometimes divides the man's attention.
He does not always, perhaps not often, frankly surrender himself in
conversation. He brings into the talk other thoughts than those
which he expresses; you are conscious that he keeps an eye on
something else, that he does not shake off the world, nor quite
forget himself. Hence arise occasional disappointments; even an
occasional unfairness for his companions, who find themselves one
day giving too much, and the next, when they are wary out of
season, giving perhaps too little. Purcel is in another class from
any I have mentioned. He is no debater, but appears in
conversation, as occasion rises, in two distinct characters, one of
which I admire and fear, and the other love. In the first, he is
radiantly civil and rather silent, sits on a high, courtly hilltop,
and from that vantage-ground drops you his remarks like favours.
He seems not to share in our sublunary contentions; he wears no
sign of interest; when on a sudden there falls in a crystal of wit,
so polished that the dull do not perceive it, but so right that the
sensitive are silenced. True talk should have more body and blood,
should be louder, vainer and more declaratory of the man; the true
talker should not hold so steady an advantage over whom he speaks
with; and that is one reason out of a score why I prefer my Purcel
in his second character, when he unbends into a strain of graceful
gossip, singing like the fireside kettle. In these moods he has an
elegant homeliness that rings of the true Queen Anne. I know
another person who attains, in his moments, to the insolence of a
Restoration comedy, speaking, I declare, as Congreve wrote; but
that is a sport of nature, and scarce falls under the rubric, for
there is none, alas! to give him answer.

One last remark occurs: It is the mark of genuine conversation that
the sayings can scarce be quoted with their full effect beyond the
circle of common friends. To have their proper weight they should
appear in a biography, and with the portrait of the speaker. Good
talk is dramatic; it is like an impromptu piece of acting where
each should represent himself to the greatest advantage; and that
is the best kind of talk where each speaker is most fully and
candidly himself, and where, if you were to shift the speeches
round from one to another, there would be the greatest loss in
significance and perspicuity. It is for this reason that talk
depends so wholly on our company. We should like to introduce
Falstaff and Mercutio, or Falstaff and Sir Toby; but Falstaff in
talk with Cordelia seems even painful. Most of us, by the Protean
quality of man, can talk to some degree with all; but the true
talk, that strikes out all the slumbering best of us, comes only
with the peculiar brethren of our spirits, is founded as deep as
love in the constitution of our being, and is a thing to relish
with all our energy, while yet we have it, and to be grateful for



IN the last paper there was perhaps too much about mere debate; and
there was nothing said at all about that kind of talk which is
merely luminous and restful, a higher power of silence, the quiet
of the evening shared by ruminating friends. There is something,
aside from personal preference, to be alleged in support of this
omission. Those who are no chimney-cornerers, who rejoice in the
social thunderstorm, have a ground in reason for their choice.
They get little rest indeed; but restfulness is a quality for
cattle; the virtues are all active, life is alert, and it is in
repose that men prepare themselves for evil. On the other hand,
they are bruised into a knowledge of themselves and others; they
have in a high degree the fencer's pleasure in dexterity displayed
and proved; what they get they get upon life's terms, paying for it
as they go; and once the talk is launched, they are assured of
honest dealing from an adversary eager like themselves. The
aboriginal man within us, the cave-dweller, still lusty as when he
fought tooth and nail for roots and berries, scents this kind of
equal battle from afar; it is like his old primaeval days upon the
crags, a return to the sincerity of savage life from the
comfortable fictions of the civilised. And if it be delightful to
the Old Man, it is none the less profitable to his younger brother,
the conscientious gentleman I feel never quite sure of your urbane
and smiling coteries; I fear they indulge a man's vanities in
silence, suffer him to encroach, encourage him on to be an ass, and
send him forth again, not merely contemned for the moment, but
radically more contemptible than when he entered. But if I have a
flushed, blustering fellow for my opposite, bent on carrying a
point, my vanity is sure to have its ears rubbed, once at least, in
the course of the debate. He will not spare me when we differ; he
will not fear to demonstrate my folly to my face.

For many natures there is not much charm in the still, chambered
society, the circle of bland countenances, the digestive silence,
the admired remark, the flutter of affectionate approval. They
demand more atmosphere and exercise; "a gale upon their spirits,"
as our pious ancestors would phrase it; to have their wits well
breathed in an uproarious Valhalla. And I suspect that the choice,
given their character and faults, is one to be defended. The
purely wise are silenced by facts; they talk in a clear atmosphere,
problems lying around them like a view in nature; if they can be
shown to be somewhat in the wrong, they digest the reproof like a
thrashing, and make better intellectual blood. They stand
corrected by a whisper; a word or a glance reminds them of the
great eternal law. But it is not so with all. Others in
conversation seek rather contact with their fellow-men than
increase of knowledge or clarity of thought. The drama, not the
philosophy, of life is the sphere of their intellectual activity.
Even when they pursue truth, they desire as much as possible of
what we may call human scenery along the road they follow. They
dwell in the heart of life; the blood sounding in their ears, their
eyes laying hold of what delights them with a brutal avidity that
makes them blind to all besides, their interest riveted on people,
living, loving, talking, tangible people. To a man of this
description, the sphere of argument seems very pale and ghostly.
By a strong expression, a perturbed countenance, floods of tears,
an insult which his conscience obliges him to swallow, he is
brought round to knowledge which no syllogism would have conveyed
to him. His own experience is so vivid, he is so superlatively
conscious of himself, that if, day after day, he is allowed to
hector and hear nothing but approving echoes, he will lose his hold
on the soberness of things and take himself in earnest for a god.
Talk might be to such an one the very way of moral ruin; the school
where he might learn to be at once intolerable and ridiculous.

This character is perhaps commoner than philosophers suppose. And
for persons of that stamp to learn much by conversation, they must
speak with their superiors, not in intellect, for that is a
superiority that must be proved, but in station. If they cannot
find a friend to bully them for their good, they must find either
an old man, a woman, or some one so far below them in the
artificial order of society, that courtesy may he particularly

The best teachers are the aged. To the old our mouths are always
partly closed; we must swallow our obvious retorts and listen.
They sit above our heads, on life's raised dais, and appeal at once
to our respect and pity. A flavour of the old school, a touch of
something different in their manner - which is freer and rounder,
if they come of what is called a good family, and often more timid
and precise if they are of the middle class - serves, in these
days, to accentuate the difference of age and add a distinction to
gray hairs. But their superiority is founded more deeply than by
outward marks or gestures. They are before us in the march of man;
they have more or less solved the irking problem; they have battled
through the equinox of life; in good and evil they have held their
course; and now, without open shame, they near the crown and
harbour. It may be we have been struck with one of fortune's
darts; we can scarce be civil, so cruelly is our spirit tossed.
Yet long before we were so much as thought upon, the like calamity
befell the old man or woman that now, with pleasant humour, rallies
us upon our inattention, sitting composed in the holy evening of
man's life, in the clear shining after rain. We grow ashamed of
our distresses, new and hot and coarse, like villainous roadside
brandy; we see life in aerial perspective, under the heavens of
faith; and out of the worst, in the mere presence of contented
elders, look forward and take patience. Fear shrinks before them
"like a thing reproved," not the flitting and ineffectual fear of
death, but the instant, dwelling terror of the responsibilities and
revenges of life. Their speech, indeed, is timid; they report
lions in the path; they counsel a meticulous footing; but their
serene, marred faces are more eloquent and tell another story.
Where they have gone, we will go also, not very greatly fearing;
what they have endured unbroken, we also, God helping us, will make
a shift to bear.

Not only is the presence of the aged in itself remedial, but their
minds are stored with antidotes, wisdom's simples, plain
considerations overlooked by youth. They have matter to
communicate, be they never so stupid. Their talk is not merely
literature, it is great literature; classic in virtue of the
speaker's detachment, studded, like a book of travel, with things
we should not otherwise have learnt. In virtue, I have said, of
the speaker's detachment, - and this is why, of two old men, the
one who is not your father speaks to you with the more sensible
authority; for in the paternal relation the oldest have lively
interests and remain still young. Thus I have known two young men
great friends; each swore by the other's father; the father of each
swore by the other lad; and yet each pair of parent and child were
perpetually by the ears. This is typical: it reads like the germ
of some kindly comedy.

The old appear in conversation in two characters: the critically
silent and the garrulous anecdotic. The last is perhaps what we
look for; it is perhaps the more instructive. An old gentleman,
well on in years, sits handsomely and naturally in the bow-window
of his age, scanning experience with reverted eye; and chirping and
smiling, communicates the accidents and reads the lesson of his
long career. Opinions are strengthened, indeed, but they are also
weeded out in the course of years. What remains steadily present
to the eye of the retired veteran in his hermitage, what still
ministers to his content, what still quickens his old honest heart
- these are "the real long-lived things" that Whitman tells us to
prefer. Where youth agrees with age, not where they differ, wisdom
lies; and it is when the young disciple finds his heart to beat in
tune with his gray-bearded teacher's that a lesson may be learned.
I have known one old gentleman, whom I may name, for he in now
gathered to his stock - Robert Hunter, Sheriff of Dumbarton, and
author of an excellent law-book still re-edited and republished.
Whether he was originally big or little is more than I can guess.
When I knew him he was all fallen away and fallen in; crooked and
shrunken; buckled into a stiff waistcoat for support; troubled by
ailments, which kept him hobbling in and out of the room; one foot
gouty; a wig for decency, not for deception, on his head; close
shaved, except under his chin - and for that he never failed to
apologise, for it went sore against the traditions of his life.
You can imagine how he would fare in a novel by Miss Mather; yet
this rag of a Chelsea veteran lived to his last year in the
plenitude of all that is best in man, brimming with human kindness,
and staunch as a Roman soldier under his manifold infirmities. You
could not say that he had lost his memory, for he would repeat
Shakespeare and Webster and Jeremy Taylor and Burke by the page
together; but the parchment was filled up, there was no room for
fresh inscriptions, and he was capable of repeating the same
anecdote on many successive visits. His voice survived in its full
power, and he took a pride in using it. On his last voyage as
Commissioner of lighthouses, he hailed a ship at sea and made
himself clearly audible without a speaking trumpet, ruffling the
while with a proper vanity in his achievement. He had a habit of
eking out his words with interrogative hems, which was puzzling and
a little wearisome, suited ill with his appearance, and seemed a
survival from some former stage of bodily portliness. Of yore,
when he was a great pedestrian and no enemy to good claret, he may
have pointed with these minute guns his allocutions to the bench.
His humour was perfectly equable, set beyond the reach of fate;
gout, rheumatism, stone and gravel might have combined their forces
against that frail tabernacle, but when I came round on Sunday
evening, he would lay aside Jeremy Taylor's LIFE OF CHRIST and
greet me with the same open brow, the same kind formality of
manner. His opinions and sympathies dated the man almost to a
decade. He had begun life, under his mother's influence, as an
admirer of Junius, but on maturer knowledge had transferred his
admiration to Burke. He cautioned me, with entire gravity, to be
punctilious in writing English; never to forget that I was a
Scotchman, that English was a foreign tongue, and that if I
attempted the colloquial, I should certainly, be shamed: the remark
was apposite, I suppose, in the days of David Hume. Scott was too
new for him; he had known the author - known him, too, for a Tory;
and to the genuine classic a contemporary is always something of a
trouble. He had the old, serious love of the play; had even, as he
was proud to tell, played a certain part in the history of
Shakespearian revivals, for he had successfully pressed on Murray,
of the old Edinburgh Theatre, the idea of producing Shakespeare's
fairy pieces with great scenic display. A moderate in religion, he
was much struck in the last years of his life by a conversation
with two young lads, revivalists "H'm," he would say - "new to me.
I have had - h'm - no such experience." It struck him, not with
pain, rather with a solemn philosophic interest, that he, a
Christian as he hoped, and a Christian of so old a standing, should
hear these young fellows talking of his own subject, his own
weapons that he had fought the battle of life with, - "and - h'm -
not understand." In this wise and graceful attitude he did justice
to himself and others, reposed unshaken in his old beliefs, and
recognised their limits without anger or alarm. His last recorded
remark, on the last night of his life, was after he had been
arguing against Calvinism with his minister and was interrupted by
an intolerable pang. "After all," he said, "of all the 'isms, I
know none so bad as rheumatism." My own last sight of him was some
time before, when we dined together at an inn; he had been on
circuit, for he stuck to his duties like a chief part of his
existence; and I remember it as the only occasion on which he ever
soiled his lips with slang - a thing he loathed. We were both
Roberts; and as we took our places at table, he addressed me with a
twinkle: "We are just what you would call two bob." He offered me
port, I remember, as the proper milk of youth; spoke of "twenty-
shilling notes"; and throughout the meal was full of old-world
pleasantry and quaintness, like an ancient boy on a holiday. But
what I recall chiefly was his confession that he had never read
OTHELLO to an end. Shakespeare was his continual study. He loved
nothing better than to display his knowledge and memory by adducing
parallel passages from Shakespeare, passages where the same word
was employed, or the same idea differently treated. But OTHELLO
had beaten him. "That noble gentleman and that noble lady - h'm -
too painful for me." The same night the hoardings were covered
with posters, "Burlesque of OTHELLO," and the contrast blazed up in
my mind like a bonfire. An unforgettable look it gave me into that
kind man's soul. His acquaintance was indeed a liberal and pious
education. All the humanities were taught in that bare dining-room
beside his gouty footstool. He was a piece of good advice; he was
himself the instance that pointed and adorned his various talk.
Nor could a young man have found elsewhere a place so set apart
from envy, fear, discontent, or any of the passions that debase; a
life so honest and composed; a soul like an ancient violin, so
subdued to harmony, responding to a touch in music - as in that
dining-room, with Mr. Hunter chatting at the eleventh hour, under
the shadow of eternity, fearless and gentle.

The second class of old people are not anecdotic; they are rather
hearers than talkers, listening to the young with an amused and
critical attention. To have this sort of intercourse to
perfection, I think we must go to old ladies. Women are better
hearers than men, to begin with; they learn, I fear in anguish, to
bear with the tedious and infantile vanity of the other sex; and we
will take more from a woman than even from the oldest man in the
way of biting comment. Biting comment is the chief part, whether
for profit or amusement, in this business. The old lady that I
have in my eye is a very caustic speaker, her tongue, after years
of practice, in absolute command, whether for silence or attack.
If she chance to dislike you, you will be tempted to curse the
malignity of age. But if you chance to please even slightly, you
will be listened to with a particular laughing grace of sympathy,
and from time to time chastised, as if in play, with a parasol as
heavy as a pole-axe. It requires a singular art, as well as the
vantage-ground of age, to deal these stunning corrections among the
coxcombs of the young. The pill is disguised in sugar of wit; it
is administered as a compliment - if you had not pleased, you would
not have been censured; it is a personal affair - a hyphen, A TRAIT
D'UNION, between you and your censor; age's philandering, for her
pleasure and your good. Incontestably the young man feels very
much of a fool; but he must be a perfect Malvolio, sick with self-
love, if he cannot take an open buffet and still smile. The
correction of silence is what kills; when you know you have
transgressed, and your friend says nothing and avoids your eye. If
a man were made of gutta-percha, his heart would quail at such a
moment. But when the word is out, the worst is over; and a fellow
with any good-humour at all may pass through a perfect hail of
witty criticism, every bare place on his soul hit to the quick with
a shrewd missile, and reappear, as if after a dive, tingling with a
fine moral reaction, and ready, with a shrinking readiness, one-
third loath, for a repetition of the discipline.

There are few women, not well sunned and ripened, and perhaps
toughened, who can thus stand apart from a man and say the true
thing with a kind of genial cruelty. Still there are some - and I
doubt if there be any man who can return the compliment. The class
of man represented by Vernon Whitford in THE EGOIST says, indeed,
the true thing, but he says it stockishly. Vernon is a noble
fellow, and makes, by the way, a noble and instructive contrast to
Daniel Deronda; his conduct is the conduct of a man of honour; but
we agree with him, against our consciences, when he remorsefully
considers "its astonishing dryness." He is the best of men, but
the best of women manage to combine all that and something more.
Their very faults assist them; they are helped even by the
falseness of their position in life. They can retire into the
fortified camp of the proprieties. They can touch a subject and
suppress it. The most adroit employ a somewhat elaborate reserve
as a means to be frank, much as they wear gloves when they shake
hands. But a man has the full responsibility of his freedom,
cannot evade a question, can scarce be silent without rudeness,
must answer for his words upon the moment, and is not seldom left
face to face with a damning choice, between the more or less
dishonourable wriggling of Deronda and the downright woodenness of
Vernon Whitford.

But the superiority of women is perpetually menaced; they do not
sit throned on infirmities like the old; they are suitors as well
as sovereigns; their vanity is engaged, their affections are too
apt to follow; and hence much of the talk between the sexes
degenerates into something unworthy of the name. The desire to
please, to shine with a certain softness of lustre and to draw a
fascinating picture of oneself, banishes from conversation all that
is sterling and most of what is humorous. As soon as a strong
current of mutual admiration begins to flow, the human interest
triumphs entirely over the intellectual, and the commerce of words,
consciously or not, becomes secondary to the commencing of eyes.
But even where this ridiculous danger is avoided, and a man and
woman converse equally and honestly, something in their nature or
their education falsifies the strain. An instinct prompts them to
agree; and where that is impossible, to agree to differ. Should
they neglect the warning, at the first suspicion of an argument,
they find themselves in different hemispheres. About any point of
business or conduct, any actual affair demanding settlement, a
woman will speak and listen, hear and answer arguments, not only
with natural wisdom, but with candour and logical honesty. But if
the subject of debate be something in the air, an abstraction, an
excuse for talk, a logical Aunt Sally, then may the male debater
instantly abandon hope; he may employ reason, adduce facts, be
supple, be smiling, be angry, all shall avail him nothing; what the
woman said first, that (unless she has forgotten it) she will
repeat at the end. Hence, at the very junctures when a talk
between men grows brighter and quicker and begins to promise to
bear fruit, talk between the sexes is menaced with dissolution.
The point of difference, the point of interest, is evaded by the
brilliant woman, under a shower of irrelevant conversational
rockets; it is bridged by the discreet woman with a rustle of silk,
as she passes smoothly forward to the nearest point of safety. And
this sort of prestidigitation, juggling the dangerous topic out of
sight until it can be reintroduced with safety in an altered shape,
is a piece of tactics among the true drawing-room queens.

The drawing-room is, indeed, an artificial place; it is so by our
choice and for our sins. The subjection of women; the ideal
imposed upon them from the cradle, and worn, like a hair-shirt,
with so much constancy; their motherly, superior tenderness to
man's vanity and self-importance; their managing arts - the arts of
a civilised slave among good-natured barbarians - are all painful
ingredients and all help to falsify relations. It is not till we
get clear of that amusing artificial scene that genuine relations
are founded, or ideas honestly compared. In the garden, on the
road or the hillside, or TETE-A-TETE and apart from interruptions,
occasions arise when we may learn much from any single woman; and
nowhere more often than in married life. Marriage is one long
conversation, chequered by disputes. The disputes are valueless;
they but ingrain the difference; the heroic heart of woman
prompting her at once to nail her colours to the mast. But in the
intervals, almost unconsciously and with no desire to shine, the
whole material of life is turned over and over, ideas are struck
out and shared, the two persons more and more adapt their notions
one to suit the other, and in process of time, without sound of
trumpet, they conduct each other into new worlds of thought.


THE civilisation, the manners, and the morals of dog-kind are to a
great extent subordinated to those of his ancestral master, man.
This animal, in many ways so superior, has accepted a position of
inferiority, shares the domestic life, and humours the caprices of
the tyrant. But the potentate, like the British in India, pays
small regard to the character of his willing client, judges him
with listless glances, and condemns him in a byword. Listless have
been the looks of his admirers, who have exhausted idle terms of
praise, and buried the poor soul below exaggerations. And yet more
idle and, if possible, more unintelligent has been the attitude of
his express detractors; those who are very fond of dogs "but in
their proper place"; who say "poo' fellow, poo' fellow," and are
themselves far poorer; who whet the knife of the vivisectionist or
heat his oven; who are not ashamed to admire "the creature's
instinct"; and flying far beyond folly, have dared to resuscitate
the theory of animal machines. The "dog's instinct" and the
"automaton-dog," in this age of psychology and science, sound like
strange anachronisms. An automaton he certainly is; a machine
working independently of his control, the heart, like the mill-
wheel, keeping all in motion, and the consciousness, like a person
shut in the mill garret, enjoying the view out of the window and
shaken by the thunder of the stones; an automaton in one corner of
which a living spirit is confined: an automaton like man. Instinct
again he certainly possesses. Inherited aptitudes are his,
inherited frailties. Some things he at once views and understands,
as though he were awakened from a sleep, as though he came
"trailing clouds of glory." But with him, as with man, the field
of instinct is limited; its utterances are obscure and occasional;
and about the far larger part of life both the dog and his master
must conduct their steps by deduction and observation.

The leading distinction between dog and man, after and perhaps
before the different duration of their lives, is that the one can
speak and that the other cannot. The absence of the power of
speech confines the dog in the development of his intellect. It
hinders him from many speculations, for words are the beginning of
meta-physic. At the same blow it saves him from many
superstitions, and his silence has won for him a higher name for
virtue than his conduct justifies. The faults of the dog are many.
He is vainer than man, singularly greedy of notice, singularly
intolerant of ridicule, suspicious like the deaf, jealous to the
degree of frenzy, and radically devoid of truth. The day of an
intelligent small dog is passed in the manufacture and the
laborious communication of falsehood; he lies with his tail, he
lies with his eye, he lies with his protesting paw; and when he
rattles his dish or scratches at the door his purpose is other than
appears. But he has some apology to offer for the vice. Many of
the signs which form his dialect have come to bear an arbitrary
meaning, clearly understood both by his master and himself; yet
when a new want arises he must either invent a new vehicle of
meaning or wrest an old one to a different purpose; and this
necessity frequently recurring must tend to lessen his idea of the
sanctity of symbols. Meanwhile the dog is clear in his own
conscience, and draws, with a human nicety, the distinction between
formal and essential truth. Of his punning perversions, his
legitimate dexterity with symbols, he is even vain; but when he has
told and been detected in a lie, there is not a hair upon his body
but confesses guilt. To a dog of gentlemanly feeling theft and
falsehood are disgraceful vices. The canine, like the human,
gentleman demands in his misdemeanours Montaigne's "JE NE SAIS QUOI
DE GENEREUX." He is never more than half ashamed of having barked
or bitten; and for those faults into which he has been led by the
desire to shine before a lady of his race, he retains, even under
physical correction, a share of pride. But to be caught lying, if
he understands it, instantly uncurls his fleece.

Just as among dull observers he preserves a name for truth, the dog
has been credited with modesty. It is amazing how the use of
language blunts the faculties of man - that because vain glory
finds no vent in words, creatures supplied with eyes have been
unable to detect a fault so gross and obvious. If a small spoiled
dog were suddenly to be endowed with speech, he would prate
interminably, and still about himself; when we had friends, we
should be forced to lock him in a garret; and what with his whining
jealousies and his foible for falsehood, in a year's time he would
have gone far to weary out our love. I was about to compare him to
Sir Willoughby Patterne, but the Patternes have a manlier sense of
their own merits; and the parallel, besides, is ready. Hans
Christian Andersen, as we behold him in his startling memoirs,
thrilling from top to toe with an excruciating vanity, and scouting
even along the street for shadows of offence - here was the talking

It is just this rage for consideration that has betrayed the dog
into his satellite position as the friend of man. The cat, an
animal of franker appetites, preserves his independence. But the
dog, with one eye ever on the audience, has been wheedled into
slavery, and praised and patted into the renunciation of his
nature. Once he ceased hunting and became man's plate-licker, the
Rubicon was crossed. Thenceforth he was a gentleman of leisure;
and except the few whom we keep working, the whole race grew more
and more self-conscious, mannered and affected. The number of
things that a small dog does naturally is strangely small.
Enjoying better spirits and not crushed under material cares, he is
far more theatrical than average man. His whole life, if he be a
dog of any pretension to gallantry, is spent in a vain show, and in
the hot pursuit of admiration. Take out your puppy for a walk, and
you will find the little ball of fur clumsy, stupid, bewildered,
but natural. Let but a few months pass, and when you repeat the
process you will find nature buried in convention. He will do
nothing plainly; but the simplest processes of our material life
will all be bent into the forms of an elaborate and mysterious
etiquette. Instinct, says the fool, has awakened. But it is not
so. Some dogs - some, at the very least - if they be kept separate
from others, remain quite natural; and these, when at length they
meet with a companion of experience, and have the game explained to
them, distinguish themselves by the severity of their devotion to
its rules. I wish I were allowed to tell a story which would
radiantly illuminate the point; but men, like dogs, have an
elaborate and mysterious etiquette. It is their bond of sympathy
that both are the children of convention.

The person, man or dog, who has a conscience is eternally condemned
to some degree of humbug; the sense of the law in their members
fatally precipitates either towards a frozen and affected bearing.
And the converse is true; and in the elaborate and conscious
manners of the dog, moral opinions and the love of the ideal stand
confessed. To follow for ten minutes in the street some
swaggering, canine cavalier, is to receive a lesson in dramatic art
and the cultured conduct of the body; in every act and gesture you
see him true to a refined conception; and the dullest cur,
beholding him, pricks up his ear and proceeds to imitate and parody
that charming ease. For to be a high-mannered and high-minded
gentleman, careless, affable, and gay, is the inborn pretension of
the dog. The large dog, so much lazier, so much more weighed upon
with matter, so majestic in repose, so beautiful in effort, is born
with the dramatic means to wholly represent the part. And it is
more pathetic and perhaps more instructive to consider the small
dog in his conscientious and imperfect efforts to outdo Sir Philip
Sidney. For the ideal of the dog is feudal and religious; the
ever-present polytheism, the whip-bearing Olympus of mankind, rules
them on the one hand; on the other, their singular difference of
size and strength among themselves effectually prevents the
appearance of the democratic notion. Or we might more exactly
compare their society to the curious spectacle presented by a
school - ushers, monitors, and big and little boys - qualified by
one circumstance, the introduction of the other sex. In each, we
should observe a somewhat similar tension of manner, and somewhat
similar points of honour. In each the larger animal keeps a
contemptuous good humour; in each the smaller annoys him with wasp-
like impudence, certain of practical immunity; in each we shall
find a double life producing double characters, and an excursive
and noisy heroism combined with a fair amount of practical
timidity. I have known dogs, and I have known school heroes that,
set aside the fur, could hardly have been told apart; and if we
desire to understand the chivalry of old, we must turn to the
school playfields or the dungheap where the dogs are trooping.

Woman, with the dog, has been long enfranchised. Incessant
massacre of female innocents has changed the proportions of the
sexes and perverted their relations. Thus, when we regard the
manners of the dog, we see a romantic and monogamous animal, once
perhaps as delicate as the cat, at war with impossible conditions.
Man has much to answer for; and the part he plays is yet more
damnable and parlous than Corin's in the eyes of Touchstone. But
his intervention has at least created an imperial situation for the
rare surviving ladies. In that society they reign without a rival:
conscious queens; and in the only instance of a canine wife-beater
that has ever fallen under my notice, the criminal was somewhat
excused by the circumstances of his story. He is a little, very
alert, well-bred, intelligent Skye, as black as a hat, with a wet
bramble for a nose and two cairngorms for eyes. To the human
observer, he is decidedly well-looking; but to the ladies of his
race he seems abhorrent. A thorough elaborate gentleman, of the
plume and sword-knot order, he was born with a nice sense of
gallantry to women. He took at their hands the most outrageous
treatment; I have heard him bleating like a sheep, I have seen him
streaming blood, and his ear tattered like a regimental banner; and
yet he would scorn to make reprisals. Nay more, when a human lady
upraised the contumelious whip against the very dame who had been
so cruelly misusing him, my little great-heart gave but one hoarse
cry and fell upon the tyrant tooth and nail. This is the tale of a
soul's tragedy. After three years of unavailing chivalry, he
suddenly, in one hour, threw off the yoke of obligation; had he
been Shakespeare he would then have written TROILUS AND CRESSIDA to
brand the offending sex; but being only a little dog, he began to
bite them. The surprise of the ladies whom he attacked indicated
the monstrosity of his offence; but he had fairly beaten off his
better angel, fairly committed moral suicide; for almost in the
same hour, throwing aside the last rags of decency, he proceeded to
attack the aged also. The fact is worth remark, showing, as it
does, that ethical laws are common both to dogs and men; and that
with both a single deliberate violation of the conscience loosens
all. "But while the lamp holds on to burn," says the paraphrase,
"the greatest sinner may return." I have been cheered to see
symptoms of effectual penitence in my sweet ruffian; and by the
handling that he accepted uncomplainingly the other day from an
indignant fair one, I begin to hope the period of STURM UND DRANG
is closed.

All these little gentlemen are subtle casuists. The duty to the
female dog is plain; but where competing duties rise, down they
will sit and study them out, like Jesuit confessors. I knew
another little Skye, somewhat plain in manner and appearance, but a
creature compact of amiability and solid wisdom. His family going
abroad for a winter, he was received for that period by an uncle in
the same city. The winter over, his own family home again, and his
own house (of which he was very proud) reopened, he found himself
in a dilemma between two conflicting duties of loyalty and
gratitude. His old friends were not to be neglected, but it seemed
hardly decent to desert the new. This was how he solved the
problem. Every morning, as soon as the door was opened, of posted
Coolin to his uncle's, visited the children in the nursery, saluted
the whole family, and was back at home in time for breakfast and
his bit of fish. Nor was this done without a sacrifice on his
part, sharply felt; for he had to forego the particular honour and
jewel of his day - his morning's walk with my father. And, perhaps
from this cause, he gradually wearied of and relaxed the practice,
and at length returned entirely to his ancient habits. But the
same decision served him in another and more distressing case of
divided duty, which happened not long after. He was not at all a
kitchen dog, but the cook had nursed him with unusual kindness
during the distemper; and though he did not adore her as he adored
my father - although (born snob) he was critically conscious of her
position as "only a servant" - he still cherished for her a special
gratitude. Well, the cook left, and retired some streets away to
lodgings of her own; and there was Coolin in precisely the same
situation with any young gentleman who has had the inestimable
benefit of a faithful nurse. The canine conscience did not solve
the problem with a pound of tea at Christmas. No longer content to
pay a flying visit, it was the whole forenoon that he dedicated to
his solitary friend. And so, day by day, he continued to comfort
her solitude until (for some reason which I could never understand
and cannot approve) he was kept locked up to break him of the
graceful habit. Here, it is not the similarity, it is the
difference, that is worthy of remark; the clearly marked degrees of
gratitude and the proportional duration of his visits. Anything
further removed from instinct it were hard to fancy; and one is
even stirred to a certain impatience with a character so destitute
of spontaneity, so passionless in justice, and so priggishly
obedient to the voice of reason.

There are not many dogs like this good Coolin, and not many people.
But the type is one well marked, both in the human and the canine
family. Gallantry was not his aim, but a solid and somewhat
oppressive respectability. He was a sworn foe to the unusual and
the conspicuous, a praiser of the golden mean, a kind of city uncle
modified by Cheeryble. And as he was precise and conscientious in
all the steps of his own blameless course, he looked for the same
precision and an even greater gravity in the bearing of his deity,
my father. It was no sinecure to be Coolin's idol: he was exacting
like a rigid parent; and at every sign of levity in the man whom he
respected, he announced loudly the death of virtue and the
proximate fall of the pillars of the earth.

I have called him a snob; but all dogs are so, though in varying
degrees. It is hard to follow their snobbery among themselves; for
though I think we can perceive distinctions of rank, we cannot
grasp what is the criterion. Thus in Edinburgh, in a good part of
the town, there were several distinct societies or clubs that met
in the morning to - the phrase is technical - to "rake the backets"
in a troop. A friend of mine, the master of three dogs, was one
day surprised to observe that they had left one club and joined
another; but whether it was a rise or a fall, and the result of an
invitation or an expulsion, was more than he could guess. And this
illustrates pointedly our ignorance of the real life of dogs, their
social ambitions and their social hierarchies. At least, in their
dealings with men they are not only conscious of sex, but of the
difference of station. And that in the most snobbish manner; for
the poor man's dog is not offended by the notice of the rich, and
keeps all his ugly feeling for those poorer or more ragged than his
master. And again, for every station they have an ideal of
behaviour, to which the master, under pain of derogation, will do
wisely to conform. How often has not a cold glance of an eye
informed me that my dog was disappointed; and how much more gladly
would he not have taken a beating than to be thus wounded in the
seat of piety!

I knew one disrespectable dog. He was far liker a cat; cared
little or nothing for men, with whom he merely coexisted as we do
with cattle, and was entirely devoted to the art of poaching. A
house would not hold him, and to live in a town was what he

He led, I believe, a life of troubled but genuine pleasure, and
perished beyond all question in a trap. But this was an exception,
a marked reversion to the ancestral type; like the hairy human
infant. The true dog of the nineteenth century, to judge by the
remainder of my fairly large acquaintance, is in love with
respectability. A street-dog was once adopted by a lady. While
still an Arab, he had done as Arabs do, gambolling in the mud,
charging into butchers' stalls, a cat-hunter, a sturdy beggar, a
common rogue and vagabond; but with his rise into society he laid
aside these inconsistent pleasures. He stole no more, he hunted no
more cats; and conscious of his collar, he ignored his old
companions. Yet the canine upper class was never brought to
recognise the upstart, and from that hour, except for human
countenance, he was alone. Friendless, shorn of his sports and the
habits of a lifetime, he still lived in a glory of happiness,
content with his acquired respectability, and with no care but to
support it solemnly. Are we to condemn or praise this self-made
dog? We praise his human brother. And thus to conquer vicious
habits is as rare with dogs as with men. With the more part, for
all their scruple-mongering and moral thought, the vices that are
born with them remain invincible throughout; and they live all
their years, glorying in their virtues, but still the slaves of
their defects. Thus the sage Coolin was a thief to the last; among
a thousand peccadilloes, a whole goose and a whole cold leg of
mutton lay upon his conscience; but Woggs, (7) whose soul's
shipwreck in the matter of gallantry I have recounted above, has
only twice been known to steal, and has often nobly conquered the
temptation. The eighth is his favourite commandment. There is
something painfully human in these unequal virtues and mortal
frailties of the best. Still more painful is the bearing of those
"stammering professors" in the house of sickness and under the
terror of death. It is beyond a doubt to me that, somehow or
other, the dog connects together, or confounds, the uneasiness of
sickness and the consciousness of guilt. To the pains of the body
he often adds the tortures of the conscience; and at these times
his haggard protestations form, in regard to the human deathbed, a
dreadful parody or parallel.

I once supposed that I had found an inverse relation between the
double etiquette which dogs obey; and that those who were most
addicted to the showy street life among other dogs were less
careful in the practice of home virtues for the tyrant man. But
the female dog, that mass of carneying affectations, shines equally
in either sphere; rules her rough posse of attendant swains with
unwearying tact and gusto; and with her master and mistress pushes
the arts of insinuation to their crowning point. The attention of
man and the regard of other dogs flatter (it would thus appear) the
same sensibility; but perhaps, if we could read the canine heart,
they would be found to flatter it in very different degrees. Dogs
live with man as courtiers round a monarch, steeped in the flattery
of his notice and enriched with sinecures. To push their favour in
this world of pickings and caresses is, perhaps, the business of
their lives; and their joys may lie outside. I am in despair at
our persistent ignorance. I read in the lives of our companions
the same processes of reason, the same antique and fatal conflicts
of the right against the wrong, and of unbitted nature with too
rigid custom; I see them with our weaknesses, vain, false,
inconstant against appetite, and with our one stalk of virtue,
devoted to the dream of an ideal; and yet, as they hurry by me on
the street with tail in air, or come singly to solicit my regard, I
must own the secret purport of their lives is still inscrutable to
man. Is man the friend, or is he the patron only? Have they
indeed forgotten nature's voice? or are those moments snatched from
courtiership when they touch noses with the tinker's mongrel, the
brief reward and pleasure of their artificial lives? Doubtless,
when man shares with his dog the toils of a profession and the
pleasures of an art, as with the shepherd or the poacher, the
affection warms and strengthens till it fills the soul. But
doubtless, also, the masters are, in many cases, the object of a
merely interested cultus, sitting aloft like Louis Quatorze, giving
and receiving flattery and favour; and the dogs, like the majority
of men, have but foregone their true existence and become the dupes
of their ambition.


THESE words will be familiar to all students of Skelt's Juvenile
Drama. That national monument, after having changed its name to
Park's, to Webb's, to Redington's, and last of all to Pollock's,
has now become, for the most part, a memory. Some of its pillars,
like Stonehenge, are still afoot, the rest clean vanished. It may
be the Museum numbers a full set; and Mr. Ionides perhaps, or else
her gracious Majesty, may boast their great collections; but to the
plain private person they are become, like Raphaels, unattainable.
I have, at different times, possessed ALADDIN, THE RED ROVER, THE
TERROR OF JAMAICA; and I have assisted others in the illumination
of MAID OF THE INN and THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO. In this roll-call
of stirring names you read the evidences of a happy childhood; and
though not half of them are still to be procured of any living
stationer, in the mind of their once happy owner all survive,
kaleidoscopes of changing pictures, echoes of the past.

There stands, I fancy, to this day (but now how fallen!) a certain
stationer's shop at a corner of the wide thoroughfare that joins
the city of my childhood with the sea. When, upon any Saturday, we
made a party to behold the ships, we passed that corner; and since
in those days I loved a ship as a man loves Burgundy or daybreak,
this of itself had been enough to hallow it. But there was more
than that. In the Leith Walk window, all the year round, there
stood displayed a theatre in working order, with a "forest set," a
"combat," and a few "robbers carousing" in the slides; and below
and about, dearer tenfold to me! the plays themselves, those
budgets of romance, lay tumbled one upon another. Long and often
have I lingered there with empty pockets. One figure, we shall
say, was visible in the first plate of characters, bearded, pistol
in hand, or drawing to his ear the clothyard arrow; I would spell
the name: was it Macaire, or Long Tom Coffin, or Grindoff, 2d
dress? O, how I would long to see the rest! how - if the name by
chance were hidden - I would wonder in what play he figured, and
what immortal legend justified his attitude and strange apparel!
And then to go within, to announce yourself as an intending
purchaser, and, closely watched, be suffered to undo those bundles
and breathlessly devour those pages of gesticulating villains,
epileptic combats, bosky forests, palaces and war-ships, frowning
fortresses and prison vaults - it was a giddy joy. That shop,
which was dark and smelt of Bibles, was a loadstone rock for all
that bore the name of boy. They could not pass it by, nor, having
entered, leave it. It was a place besieged; the shopmen, like the
Jews rebuilding Salem, had a double task. They kept us at the
stick's end, frowned us down, snatched each play out of our hand
ere we were trusted with another, and, increditable as it may
sound, used to demand of us upon our entrance, like banditti, if we
came with money or with empty hand. Old Mr. Smith himself, worn
out with my eternal vacillation, once swept the treasures from
before me, with the cry: "I do not believe, child, that you are an
intending purchaser at all!" These were the dragons of the garden;
but for such joys of paradise we could have faced the Terror of
Jamaica himself. Every sheet we fingered was another lightning
glance into obscure, delicious story; it was like wallowing in the
raw stuff of story-books. I know nothing to compare with it save
now and then in dreams, when I am privileged to read in certain
unwrit stories of adventure, from which I awake to find the world
all vanity. The CRUX of Buridan's donkey was as nothing to the
uncertainty of the boy as he handled and lingered and doated on
these bundles of delight; there was a physical pleasure in the
sight and touch of them which he would jealously prolong; and when
at length the deed was done, the play selected, and the impatient
shopman had brushed the rest into the gray portfolio, and the boy
was forth again, a little late for dinner, the lamps springing into
light in the blue winter's even, and THE MILLER, or THE ROVER, or
some kindred drama clutched against his side - on what gay feet he
ran, and how he laughed aloud in exultation! I can hear that
laughter still. Out of all the years of my life, I can recall but
one home-coming to compare with these, and that was on the night
when I brought back with me the ARABIAN ENTERTAINMENTS in the fat,
old, double-columned volume with the prints. I was just well into
the story of the Hunchback, I remember, when my clergyman-
grandfather (a man we counted pretty stiff) came in behind me. I
grew blind with terror. But instead of ordering the book away, he
said he envied me. Ah, well he might!

The purchase and the first half-hour at home, that was the summit.
Thenceforth the interest declined by little and little. The fable,
as set forth in the play-book, proved to be not worthy of the
scenes and characters: what fable would not? Such passages as:
"Scene 6. The Hermitage. Night set scene. Place back of scene 1,
No. 2, at back of stage and hermitage, Fig. 2, out of set piece, R.
H. in a slanting direction" - such passages, I say, though very
practical, are hardly to be called good reading. Indeed, as
literature, these dramas did not much appeal to me. I forget the
very outline of the plots. Of THE BLIND BOY, beyond the fact that
he was a most injured prince and once, I think, abducted, I know
nothing. And THE OLD OAK CHEST, what was it all about? that
proscript (1st dress), that prodigious number of banditti, that old
woman with the broom, and the magnificent kitchen in the third act
(was it in the third?) - they are all fallen in a deliquium, swim
faintly in my brain, and mix and vanish.

I cannot deny that joy attended the illumination; nor can I quite
forget that child who, wilfully foregoing pleasure, stoops to
"twopence coloured." With crimson lake (hark to the sound of it -
crimson lake! - the horns of elf-land are not richer on the ear) -
with crimson lake and Prussian blue a certain purple is to be
compounded which, for cloaks especially, Titian could not equal.

The latter colour with gamboge, a hated name although an exquisite
pigment, supplied a green of such a savoury greenness that to-day
my heart regrets it. Nor can I recall without a tender weakness
the very aspect of the water where I dipped my brush. Yes, there
was pleasure in the painting. But when all was painted, it is
needless to deny it, all was spoiled. You might, indeed, set up a
scene or two to look at; but to cut the figures out was simply
sacrilege; nor could any child twice court the tedium, the worry,
and the long-drawn disenchantment of an actual performance. Two
days after the purchase the honey had been sucked. Parents used to
complain; they thought I wearied of my play. It was not so: no
more than a person can be said to have wearied of his dinner when
he leaves the bones and dishes; I had got the marrow of it and said

Then was the time to turn to the back of the play-book and to study
that enticing double file of names, where poetry, for the true
child of Skelt, reigned happy and glorious like her Majesty the
Queen. Much as I have travelled in these realms of gold, I have
yet seen, upon that map or abstract, names of El Dorados that still
haunt the ear of memory, and are still but names. THE FLOATING
BEACON - why was that denied me? or THE WRECK ASHORE? SIXTEEN-
STRING JACK whom I did not even guess to be a highwayman, troubled
me awake and haunted my slumbers; and there is one sequence of
three from that enchanted calender that I still at times recall,
like a loved verse of poetry: LODOISKA, SILVER PALACE, ECHO OF
WESTMINSTER BRIDGE. Names, bare names, are surely more to children
than we poor, grown-up, obliterated fools remember.

The name of Skelt itself has always seemed a part and parcel of the
charm of his productions. It may be different with the rose, but
the attraction of this paper drama sensibly declined when Webb had
crept into the rubric: a poor cuckoo, flaunting in Skelt's nest.
And now we have reached Pollock, sounding deeper gulfs. Indeed,
this name of Skelt appears so stagey and piratic, that I will adopt
it boldly to design these qualities. Skeltery, then, is a quality
of much art. It is even to be found, with reverence be it said,
among the works of nature. The stagey is its generic name; but it
is an old, insular, home-bred staginess; not French, domestically
British; not of to-day, but smacking of O. Smith, Fitzball, and the
great age of melodrama: a peculiar fragrance haunting it; uttering
its unimportant message in a tone of voice that has the charm of
fresh antiquity. I will not insist upon the art of Skelt's
purveyors. These wonderful characters that once so thrilled our
soul with their bold attitude, array of deadly engines and
incomparable costume, to-day look somewhat pallidly; the extreme
hard favour of the heroine strikes me, I had almost said with pain;
the villain's scowl no longer thrills me like a trumpet; and the
scenes themselves, those once unparalleled landscapes, seem the
efforts of a prentice hand. So much of fault we find; but on the
other side the impartial critic rejoices to remark the presence of
a great unity of gusto; of those direct clap-trap appeals, which a
man is dead and buriable when he fails to answer; of the footlight
glamour, the ready-made, bare-faced, transpontine picturesque, a
thing not one with cold reality, but how much dearer to the mind!

The scenery of Skeltdom - or, shall we say, the kingdom of
Transpontus? - had a prevailing character. Whether it set forth
Poland as in THE BLIND BOY, or Bohemia with THE MILLER AND HIS MEN,
or Italy with THE OLD OAK CHEST, still it was Transpontus. A
botanist could tell it by the plants. The hollyhock was all
pervasive, running wild in deserts; the dock was common, and the
bending reed; and overshadowing these were poplar, palm, potato
tree, and QUERCUS SKELTICA - brave growths. The caves were all
embowelled in the Surreyside formation; the soil was all betrodden
by the light pump of T. P. Cooke. Skelt, to be sure, had yet
another, an oriental string: he held the gorgeous east in fee; and
in the new quarter of Hyeres, say, in the garden of the Hotel des
Iles d'Or, you may behold these blessed visions realised. But on
these I will not dwell; they were an outwork; it was in the
accidental scenery that Skelt was all himself. It had a strong
flavour of England; it was a sort of indigestion of England and
drop-scenes, and I am bound to say was charming. How the roads
wander, how the castle sits upon the hill, how the sun eradiates
from behind the cloud, and how the congregated clouds themselves
up-roll, as stiff as bolsters! Here is the cottage interior, the
usual first flat, with the cloak upon the nail, the rosaries of
onions, the gun and powder-horn and corner-cupboard; here is the
inn (this drama must be nautical, I foresee Captain Luff and Bold
Bob Bowsprit) with the red curtain, pipes, spittoons, and eight-day
clock; and there again is that impressive dungeon with the chains,
which was so dull to colour. England, the hedgerow elms, the thin
brick houses, windmills, glimpses of the navigable Thames -
England, when at last I came to visit it, was only Skelt made
evident: to cross the border was, for the Scotsman, to come home to
Skelt; there was the inn-sign and there the horse-trough, all
foreshadowed in the faithful Skelt. If, at the ripe age of
fourteen years, I bought a certain cudgel, got a friend to load it,
and thenceforward walked the tame ways of the earth my own ideal,
radiating pure romance - still I was but a puppet in the hand of
Skelt; the original of that regretted bludgeon, and surely the
antitype of all the bludgeon kind, greatly improved from
Cruikshank, had adorned the hand of Jonathan Wild, pl. I. "This is
mastering me," as Whitman cries, upon some lesser provocation.
What am I? what are life, art, letters, the world, but what my
Skelt has made them? He stamped himself upon my immaturity. The
world was plain before I knew him, a poor penny world; but soon it
was all coloured with romance. If I go to the theatre to see a
good old melodrama, 'tis but Skelt a little faded. If I visit a
bold scene in nature, Skelt would have been bolder; there had been
certainly a castle on that mountain, and the hollow tree - that set
piece - I seem to miss it in the foreground. Indeed, out of this
cut-and-dry, dull, swaggering, obtrusive, and infantile art, I seem
to have learned the very spirit of my life's enjoyment; met there
the shadows of the characters I was to read about and love in a
late future; got the romance of DER FREISCHUTZ long ere I was to
hear of Weber or the mighty Formes; acquired a gallery of scenes
and characters with which, in the silent theatre of the brain, I
might enact all novels and romances; and took from these rude cuts
an enduring and transforming pleasure. Reader - and yourself?

A word of moral: it appears that B. Pollock, late J. Redington, No.
73 Hoxton Street, not only publishes twenty-three of these old
stage favourites, but owns the necessary plates and displays a
modest readiness to issue other thirty-three. If you love art,
folly, or the bright eyes of children, speed to Pollock's, or to
Clarke's of Garrick Street. In Pollock's list of publicanda I
perceive a pair of my ancient aspirations: WRECK ASHORE and
SIXTEEN-STRING JACK; and I cherish the belief that when these shall
see once more the light of day, B. Pollock will remember this
apologist. But, indeed, I have a dream at times that is not all a
dream. I seem to myself to wander in a ghostly street - E. W., I
think, the postal district - close below the fool's-cap of St.
Paul's, and yet within easy hearing of the echo of the Abbey
bridge. There in a dim shop, low in the roof and smelling strong
of glue and footlights, I find myself in quaking treaty with great
Skelt himself, the aboriginal all dusty from the tomb. I buy, with
what a choking heart - I buy them all, all but the pantomimes; I
pay my mental money, and go forth; and lo! the packets are dust.


THE books that we re-read the oftenest are not always those that we
admire the most; we choose and we re-visit them for many and
various reasons, as we choose and revisit human friends. One or
two of Scott's novels, Shakespeare, Moliere, Montaigne, THE EGOIST,
and the VICOMTE DE BRAGELONNE, form the inner circle of my
intimates. Behind these comes a good troop of dear acquaintances;
far behind. There are besides a certain number that look at me
with reproach as I pass them by on my shelves: books that I once
thumbed and studied: houses which were once like home to me, but
where I now rarely visit. I am on these sad terms (and blush to
confess it) with Wordsworth, Horace, Burns and Hazlitt. Last of
all, there is the class of book that has its hour of brilliancy -
glows, sings, charms, and then fades again into insignificance
until the fit return. Chief of those who thus smile and frown on
me by turns, I must name Virgil and Herrick, who, were they but

"Their sometime selves the same throughout the year,"

must have stood in the first company with the six names of my
continual literary intimates. To these six, incongruous as they
seem, I have long been faithful, and hope to be faithful to the day
of death. I have never read the whole of Montaigne, but I do not
like to be long without reading some of him, and my delight in what
I do read never lessens. Of Shakespeare I have read all but
WELL; and these, having already made all suitable endeavour, I now
know that I shall never read - to make up for which unfaithfulness
I could read much of the rest for ever. Of Moliere - surely the
next greatest name of Christendom - I could tell a very similar
story; but in a little corner of a little essay these princes are
too much out of place, and I prefer to pay my fealty and pass on.
have no means of guessing, having begun young. But it is either
four or five times that I have read THE EGOIST, and either five or
six that I have read the VICOMTE DE BRAGELONNE.

Some, who would accept the others, may wonder that I should have
spent so much of this brief life of ours over a work so little
famous as the last. And, indeed, I am surprised myself; not at my
own devotion, but the coldness of the world. My acquaintance with
the VICOMTE began, somewhat indirectly, in the year of grace 1863,
when I had the advantage of studying certain illustrated dessert
plates in a hotel at Nice. The name of d'Artagnan in the legends I
already saluted like an old friend, for I had met it the year
before in a work of Miss Yonge's. My first perusal was in one of
those pirated editions that swarmed at that time out of Brussels,
and ran to such a troop of neat and dwarfish volumes. I understood
but little of the merits of the book; my strongest memory is of the
execution of d'Eymeric and Lyodot - a strange testimony to the
dulness of a boy, who could enjoy the rough-and-tumble in the Place
de Greve, and forget d'Artagnan's visits to the two financiers. My
next reading was in winter-time, when I lived alone upon the
Pentlands. I would return in the early night from one of my
patrols with the shepherd; a friendly face would meet me in the
door, a friendly retriever scurry upstairs to fetch my slippers;
and I would sit down with the VICOMTE for a long, silent, solitary
lamp-light evening by the fire. And yet I know not why I call it
silent, when it was enlivened with such a clatter of horse-shoes,
and such a rattle of musketry, and such a stir of talk; or why I
call those evenings solitary in which I gained so many friends. I
would rise from my book and pull the blind aside, and see the snow
and the glittering hollies chequer a Scotch garden, and the winter
moonlight brighten the white hills. Thence I would turn again to
that crowded and sunny field of life in which it was so easy to
forget myself, my cares, and my surroundings: a place busy as a
city, bright as a theatre, thronged with memorable faces, and
sounding with delightful speech. I carried the thread of that epic
into my slumbers, I woke with it unbroken, I rejoiced to plunge
into the book again at breakfast, it was with a pang that I must
lay it down and turn to my own labours; for no part of the world
has ever seemed to me so charming as these pages, and not even my
friends are quite so real, perhaps quite so dear, as d'Artagnan.

Since then I have been going to and fro at very brief intervals in
my favourite book; and I have now just risen from my last (let me
call it my fifth) perusal, having liked it better and admired it
more seriously than ever. Perhaps I have a sense of ownership,
being so well known in these six volumes. Perhaps I think that
d'Artagnan delights to have me read of him, and Louis Quatorze is
gratified, and Fouquet throws me a look, and Aramis, although he
knows I do not love him, yet plays to me with his best graces, as
to an old patron of the show. Perhaps, if I am not careful,
something may befall me like what befell George IV. about the
battle of Waterloo, and I may come to fancy the VICOMTE one of the
first, and Heaven knows the best, of my own works. At least, I
avow myself a partisan; and when I compare the popularity of the
VICOMTE with that of MONTRO CRISTO, or its own elder brother, the
TROIS MOUSQUETAIRES, I confess I am both pained and puzzled.

To those who have already made acquaintance with the titular hero
in the pages of VINGT ANS APRES, perhaps the name may act as a
deterrent. A man might, well stand back if he supposed he were to
follow, for six volumes, so well-conducted, so fine-spoken, and
withal so dreary a cavalier as Bragelonne. But the fear is idle.
I may be said to have passed the best years of my life in these six
volumes, and my acquaintance with Raoul has never gone beyond a
bow; and when he, who has so long pretended to be alive, is at last
suffered to pretend to be dead, I am sometimes reminded of a saying
in an earlier volume: "ENFIN, DIT MISS STEWART," - and it was of
Bragelonne she spoke - "ENFIN IL A FAIL QUELQUECHOSE: C'EST, MA
FOI! BIEN HEUREUX." I am reminded of it, as I say; and the next
moment, when Athos dies of his death, and my dear d'Artagnan bursts
into his storm of sobbing, I can but deplore my flippancy.

Or perhaps it is La Valliere that the reader of VINGT ANS APRES is
inclined to flee. Well, he is right there too, though not so
right. Louise is no success. Her creator has spared no pains; she
is well-meant, not ill-designed, sometimes has a word that rings
out true; sometimes, if only for a breath, she may even engage our
sympathies. But I have never envied the King his triumph. And so
far from pitying Bragelonne for his defeat, I could wish him no
worse (not for lack of malice, but imagination) than to be wedded
to that lady. Madame enchants me; I can forgive that royal minx
her most serious offences; I can thrill and soften with the King on
that memorable occasion when he goes to upbraid and remains to
flirt; and when it comes to the "ALLONS, AIMEZ-MOI DONC," it is my
heart that melts in the bosom of de Guiche. Not so with Louise.
Readers cannot fail to have remarked that what an author tells us
of the beauty or the charm of his creatures goes for nought; that
we know instantly better; that the heroine cannot open her mouth
but what, all in a moment, the fine phrases of preparation fall
from round her like the robes from Cinderella, and she stands
before us, self-betrayed, as a poor, ugly, sickly wench, or perhaps
a strapping market-woman. Authors, at least, know it well; a
heroine will too often start the trick of "getting ugly;" and no
disease is more difficult to cure. I said authors; but indeed I
had a side eye to one author in particular, with whose works I am
very well acquainted, though I cannot read them, and who has spent
many vigils in this cause, sitting beside his ailing puppets and
(like a magician) wearying his art to restore them to youth and
beauty. There are others who ride too high for these misfortunes.
Who doubts the loveliness of Rosalind? Arden itself was not more
lovely. Who ever questioned the perennial charm of Rose Jocelyn,
Lucy Desborough, or Clara Middleton? fair women with fair names,
the daughters of George Meredith. Elizabeth Bennet has but to
speak, and I am at her knees. Ah! these are the creators of
desirable women. They would never have fallen in the mud with
Dumas and poor La Valliere. It is my only consolation that not one
of all of them, except the first, could have plucked at the
moustache of d'Artagnan.

Or perhaps, again, a proportion of readers stumble at the
threshold. In so vast a mansion there were sure to be back stairs
and kitchen offices where no one would delight to linger; but it
was at least unhappy that the vestibule should be so badly lighted;
and until, in the seventeenth chapter, d'Artagnan sets off to seek
his friends, I must confess, the book goes heavily enough. But,
from thenceforward, what a feast is spread! Monk kidnapped;
d'Artagnan enriched; Mazarin's death; the ever delectable adventure
of Belle Isle, wherein Aramis outwits d'Artagnan, with its epilogue
(vol. v. chap. xxviii.), where d'Artagnan regains the moral
superiority; the love adventures at Fontainebleau, with St.
Aignan's story of the dryad and the business of de Guiche, de
Wardes, and Manicamp; Aramis made general of the Jesuits; Aramis at
the bastille; the night talk in the forest of Senart; Belle Isle
again, with the death of Porthos; and last, but not least, the
taming of d'Artagnan the untamable, under the lash of the young
King. What other novel has such epic variety and nobility of
incident? often, if you will, impossible; often of the order of an
Arabian story; and yet all based in human nature. For if you come
to that, what novel has more human nature? not studied with the
microscope, but seen largely, in plain daylight, with the natural
eye? What novel has more good sense, and gaiety, and wit, and
unflagging, admirable literary skill? Good souls, I suppose, must
sometimes read it in the blackguard travesty of a translation. But
there is no style so untranslatable; light as a whipped trifle,
strong as silk; wordy like a village tale; pat like a general's
despatch; with every fault, yet never tedious; with no merit, yet
inimitably right. And, once more, to make an end of commendations,
what novel is inspired with a more unstained or a more wholesome

Yes; in spite of Miss Yonge, who introduced me to the name of
d'Artagnan only to dissuade me from a nearer knowledge of the man,
I have to add morality. There is no quite good book without a good
morality; but the world is wide, and so are morals. Out of two
people who have dipped into Sir Richard Burton's THOUSAND AND ONE
NIGHTS, one shall have been offended by the animal details; another
to whom these were harmless, perhaps even pleasing, shall yet have
been shocked in his turn by the rascality and cruelty of all the
characters. Of two readers, again, one shall have been pained by
the morality of a religious memoir, one by that of the VICOMTE DE
BRAGELONNE. And the point is that neither need be wrong. We shall
always shock each other both in life and art; we cannot get the sun
into our pictures, nor the abstract right (if there be such a
thing) into our books; enough if, in the one, there glimmer some
hint of the great light that blinds us from heaven; enough if, in
the other, there shine, even upon foul details, a spirit of
magnanimity. I would scarce send to the VICOMTE a reader who was
in quest of what we may call puritan morality. The ventripotent
mulatto, the great cater, worker, earner and waster, the man of
much and witty laughter, the man of the great heart and alas! of
the doubtful honesty, is a figure not yet clearly set before the
world; he still awaits a sober and yet genial portrait; but with
whatever art that may be touched, and whatever indulgence, it will
not be the portrait of a precision. Dumas was certainly not
thinking of himself, but of Planchet, when he put into the mouth of
d'Artagnan's old servant this excellent profession: "MONSIEUR,
thinking, as I say, of Planchet, to whom the words are aptly
fitted; but they were fitted also to Planchet's creator; and
perhaps this struck him as he wrote, for observe what follows:
all things good, you will scarce expect much zeal for negative
virtues: the active alone will have a charm for him; abstinence,
however wise, however kind, will always seem to such a judge
entirely mean and partly impious. So with Dumas. Chastity is not
near his heart; nor yet, to his own sore cost, that virtue of
frugality which is the armour of the artist. Now, in the VICOMTE,
he had much to do with the contest of Fouquet and Colbert.
Historic justice should be all upon the side of Colbert, of
official honesty, and fiscal competence.

And Dumas knew it well: three times at least he shows his
knowledge; once it is but flashed upon us and received with the
laughter of Fouquet himself, in the jesting controversy in the
gardens of Saint Mande; once it is touched on by Aramis in the
forest of Senart; in the end, it is set before us clearly in one
dignified speech of the triumphant Colbert. But in Fouquet, the
waster, the lover of good cheer and wit and art, the swift
transactor of much business, "L'HOMME DE BRUIT, L'HOMME DE PLAISIR,
something of himself and drew the figure the more tenderly. It is
to me even touching to see how he insists on Fouquet's honour; not
seeing, you might think, that unflawed honour is impossible to
spendthrifts; but rather, perhaps, in the light of his own life,
seeing it too well, and clinging the more to what was left. Honour
can survive a wound; it can live and thrive without a member. The
man rebounds from his disgrace; he begins fresh foundations on the
ruins of the old; and when his sword is broken, he will do
valiantly with his dagger. So it is with Fouquet in the book; so
it was with Dumas on the battlefield of life.

To cling to what is left of any damaged quality is virtue in the
man; but perhaps to sing its praises is scarcely to be called
morality in the writer. And it is elsewhere, it is in the
character of d'Artagnan, that we must look for that spirit of

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