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The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft by George Gissing

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intercourse with his fellows; he is by nature self-assertive,
commonly aggressive, always critical in a more or less hostile
spirit of any characteristic which seems strange to him. That he is
capable of profound affections merely modifies here and there his
natural contentiousness, and subdues its expression. Even love, in
the largest and purest sense of the word, is no safeguard against
perilous irritation and sensibilities inborn. And what were the
durability of love without the powerful alliance of habit?

Suppose yourself endowed with such power of hearing that all the
talk going on at any moment beneath the domestic roofs of any town
became clearly audible to you; the dominant note would be that of
moods, tempers, opinions at jar. Who but the most amiable dreamer
can doubt it? This, mind you, is not the same thing as saying that
angry emotion is the ruling force in human life; the facts of our
civilization prove the contrary. Just because, and only because,
the natural spirit of conflict finds such frequent scope, does human
society hold together, and, on the whole, present a pacific aspect.
In the course of ages (one would like to know how many) man has
attained a remarkable degree of self-control; dire experience has
forced upon him the necessity of compromise, and habit has inclined
him (the individual) to prefer a quiet, orderly life. But by
instinct he is still a quarrelsome creature, and he gives vent to
the impulse as far as it is compatible with his reasoned interests--
often, to be sure, without regard for that limit. The average man
or woman is always at open discord with some one; the great majority
could not live without oft-recurrent squabble. Speak in confidence
with any one you like, and get him to tell you how many cases of
coldness, alienation, or downright enmity, between friends and
kinsfolk, his memory registers; the number will be considerable, and
what a vastly greater number of everyday "misunderstandings" may be
thence inferred! Verbal contention is, of course, commoner among
the poor and the vulgar than in the class of well-bred people living
at their ease, but I doubt whether the lower ranks of society find
personal association much more difficult than the refined minority
above them. High cultivation may help to self-command, but it
multiplies the chances of irritative contact. In mansion, as in
hovel, the strain of life is perpetually felt--between the married,
between parents and children, between relatives of every degree,
between employers and employed. They debate, they dispute, they
wrangle, they explode--then nerves are relieved, and they are ready
to begin over again. Quit the home and quarrelling is less obvious,
but it goes on all about one. What proportion of the letters
delivered any morning would be found to be written in displeasure,
in petulance, in wrath? The postbag shrieks insults or bursts with
suppressed malice. Is it not wonderful--nay, is it not the marvel
of marvels--that human life has reached such a high point of public
and private organization?

And gentle idealists utter their indignant wonder at the continuance
of war! Why, it passes the wit of man to explain how it is that
nations are ever at peace! For, if only by the rarest good fortune
do individuals associate harmoniously, there would seem to be much
less likelihood of mutual understanding and good-will between the
peoples of alien lands. As a matter of fact, no two nations are
ever friendly, in the sense of truly liking each other; with the
reciprocal criticism of countries there always mingles a sentiment
of animosity. The original meaning of hostis is merely stranger,
and a stranger who is likewise a foreigner will only by curious
exception fail to stir antipathy in the average human being. Add to
this that a great number of persons in every country find their
delight and their business in exasperating international disrelish,
and with what vestige of common sense can one feel surprise that war
is ceaselessly talked of, often enough declared. In days gone by,
distance and rarity of communication assured peace between many
realms. Now that every country is in proximity to every other, what
need is there to elaborate explanations of the distrust, the fear,
the hatred, which are a perpetual theme of journalists and
statesmen? By approximation, all countries have entered the sphere
of natural quarrel. That they find plenty of things to quarrel
about is no cause for astonishment. A hundred years hence there
will be some possibility of perceiving whether international
relations are likely to obey the law which has acted with such
beneficence in the life of each civilized people; whether this
country and that will be content to ease their tempers with
bloodless squabbling, subduing the more violent promptings for the
common good. Yet I suspect that a century is a very short time to
allow for even justifiable surmise of such an outcome. If by any
chance newspapers ceased to exist . . .

Talk of war, and one gets involved in such utopian musings!


I have been reading one of those prognostic articles on
international politics which every now and then appear in the
reviews. Why I should so waste my time it would be hard to say; I
suppose the fascination of disgust and fear gets the better of me in
a moment's idleness. This writer, who is horribly perspicacious and
vigorous, demonstrates the certainty of a great European war, and
regards it with the peculiar satisfaction excited by such things in
a certain order of mind. His phrases about "dire calamity" and so
on mean nothing; the whole tenor of his writing proves that he
represents, and consciously, one of the forces which go to bring war
about; his part in the business is a fluent irresponsibility, which
casts scorn on all who reluct at the "inevitable." Persistent
prophecy is a familiar way of assuring the event.

But I will read no more such writing. This resolution I make and
will keep. Why set my nerves quivering with rage, and spoil the
calm of a whole day, when no good of any sort can come of it? What
is it to me if nations fall a-slaughtering each other? Let the
fools go to it! Why should they not please themselves? Peace,
after all, is the aspiration of the few; so it always; was, and ever
will be. But have done with the nauseous cant about "dire
calamity." The leaders and the multitude hold no such view; either
they see in war a direct and tangible profit, or they are driven to
it, with heads down, by the brute that is in them. Let them rend
and be rent; let them paddle in blood and viscera till--if that
would ever happen--their stomachs turn. Let them blast the
cornfield and the orchard, fire the home. For all that, there will
yet be found some silent few, who go their way amid the still
meadows, who bend to the flower and watch the sunset; and these
alone are worth a thought.


In this hot weather I like to walk at times amid the full glow of
the sun. Our island sun is never hot beyond endurance, and there is
a magnificence in the triumph of high summer which exalts one's
mind. Among streets it is hard to bear, yet even there, for those
who have eyes to see it, the splendour of the sky lends beauty to
things in themselves mean or hideous. I remember an August bank-
holiday, when, having for some reason to walk all across London, I
unexpectedly found myself enjoying the strange desertion of great
streets, and from that passed to surprise in the sense of something
beautiful, a charm in the vulgar vista, in the dull architecture,
which I had never known. Deep and clear-marked shadows, such as one
only sees on a few days of summer, are in themselves very
impressive, and become more so when they fall upon highways devoid
of folk. I remember observing, as something new, the shape of
familiar edifices, of spires, monuments. And when at length I sat
down, somewhere on the Embankment, it was rather to gaze at leisure
than to rest, for I felt no weariness, and the sun, still pouring
upon me its noontide radiance, seemed to fill my veins with life.

That sense I shall never know again. For me Nature has comforts,
raptures, but no more invigoration. The sun keeps me alive, but
cannot, as in the old days, renew my being. I would fain learn to
enjoy without reflecting.

My walk in the golden hours leads me to a great horse-chestnut,
whose root offers a convenient seat in the shadow of its foliage.
At that resting-place I have no wide view before me, but what I see
is enough--a corner of waste land, over-flowered with poppies and
charlock, on the edge of a field of corn. The brilliant red and
yellow harmonize with the glory of the day. Near by, too, is a
hedge covered with great white blooms of the bindweed. My eyes do
not soon grow weary.

A little plant of which I am very fond is the rest-harrow. When the
sun is hot upon it, the flower gives forth a strangely aromatic
scent, very delightful to me. I know the cause of this peculiar
pleasure. The rest-harrow sometimes grows in sandy ground above the
seashore. In my childhood I have many a time lain in such a spot
under the glowing sky, and, though I scarce thought of it, perceived
the odour of the little rose-pink flower when it touched my face.
Now I have but to smell it, and those hours come back again. I see
the shore of Cumberland, running north to St. Bee's Head; on the sea
horizon a faint shape which is the Isle of Man; inland, the
mountains, which for me at that time guarded a region of unknown
wonder. Ah, how long ago!


I read much less than I used to do; I think much more. Yet what is
the use of thought which can no longer serve to direct life?
Better, perhaps, to read and read incessantly, losing one's futile
self in the activity of other minds.

This summer I have taken up no new book, but have renewed my
acquaintance with several old ones which I had not opened for many a
year. One or two have been books such as mature men rarely read at
all--books which it is one's habit to "take as read"; to presume
sufficiently known to speak of, but never to open. Thus, one day my
hand fell upon the Anabasis, the little Oxford edition which I used
at school, with its boyish sign-manual on the fly-leaf, its blots
and underlinings and marginal scrawls. To my shame I possess no
other edition; yet this is a book one would like to have in
beautiful form. I opened it, I began to read--a ghost of boyhood
stirring in my heart--and from chapter to chapter was led on, until
after a few days I had read the whole.

I am glad this happened in the summer-time, I like to link childhood
with these latter days, and no better way could I have found than
this return to a school-book, which, even as a school-book, was my
great delight.

By some trick of memory I always associate school-boy work on the
classics with a sense of warm and sunny days; rain and gloom and a
chilly atmosphere must have been far the more frequent conditions,
but these things are forgotten. My old Liddell and Scott still
serves me, and if, in opening it, I bend close enough to catch the
SCENT of the leaves, I am back again at that day of boyhood (noted
on the fly-leaf by the hand of one long dead) when the book was new
and I used it for the first time. It was a day of summer, and
perhaps there fell upon the unfamiliar page, viewed with childish
tremor, half apprehension and half delight, a mellow sunshine, which
was to linger for ever in my mind.

But I am thinking of the Anabasis. Were this the sole book existing
in Greek, it would be abundantly worth while to learn the language
in order to read it. The Anabasis is an admirable work of art,
unique in its combination of concise and rapid narrative with colour
and picturesqueness. Herodotus wrote a prose epic, in which the
author's personality is ever before us. Xenophon, with curiosity
and love of adventure which mark him of the same race, but self-
forgetful in the pursuit of a new artistic virtue, created the
historical romance. What a world of wonders in this little book,
all aglow with ambitions and conflicts, with marvels of strange
lands; full of perils and rescues, fresh with the air of mountain
and of sea! Think of it for a moment by the side of Caesar's
Commentaries; not to compare things incomparable, but in order to
appreciate the perfect art which shines through Xenophon's mastery
of language, his brevity achieving a result so different from that
of the like characteristic in the Roman writer. Caesar's
conciseness comes of strength and pride; Xenophon's, of a vivid
imagination. Many a single line of the Anabasis presents a picture
which deeply stirs the emotions. A good instance occurs in the
fourth book, where a delightful passage of unsurpassable narrative
tells how the Greeks rewarded and dismissed a guide who had led them
through dangerous country. The man himself was in peril of his
life; laden with valuable things which the soldiers had given him in
their gratitude, he turned to make his way through the hostile
region. [Greek text which cannot be reproduced]. "When evening
came he took leave of us, and went his way by night." To my mind,
words of wonderful suggestiveness. You see the wild, eastern
landscape, upon which the sun has set. There are the Hellenes, safe
for the moment on their long march, and there the mountain
tribesman, the serviceable barbarian, going away, alone, with his
tempting guerdon, into the hazards of the darkness.

Also in the fourth book, another picture moves one in another way.
Among the Carduchian Hills two men were seized, and information was
sought from them about the track to be followed. "One of them would
say nothing, and kept silence in spite of every threat; so, in the
presence of his companion, he was slain. Thereupon that other made
known the man's reason for refusing to point out the way; in the
direction the Greeks must take there dwelt a daughter of his, who
was married."

It would not be easy to express more pathos than is conveyed in
these few words. Xenophon himself, one may be sure, did not feel it
quite as we do, but he preserved the incident for its own sake, and
there, in a line or two, shines something of human love and
sacrifice, significant for all time.


I sometimes think I will go and spend the sunny half of a
twelvemonth in wandering about the British Isles. There is so much
of beauty and interest that I have not seen, and I grudge to close
my eyes on this beloved home of ours, leaving any corner of it
unvisited. Often I wander in fancy over all the parts I know, and
grow restless with desire at familiar names which bring no picture
to memory. My array of county guide-books (they have always been
irresistible to me on the stalls) sets me roaming; the only dull
pages in them are those that treat of manufacturing towns. Yet I
shall never start on that pilgrimage. I am too old, too fixed in
habits. I dislike the railway; I dislike hotels. I should grow
homesick for my library, my garden, the view from my windows. And
then--I have such a fear of dying anywhere but under my own roof.

As a rule, it is better to re-visit only in imagination the places
which have greatly charmed us, or which, in the retrospect, seem to
have done so. Seem to have charmed us, I say; for the memory we
form, after a certain lapse of time, of places where we lingered,
often bears but a faint resemblance to the impression received at
the time; what in truth may have been very moderate enjoyment, or
enjoyment greatly disturbed by inner or outer circumstances, shows
in the distance as a keen delight, or as deep, still happiness. On
the other hand, if memory creates no illusion, and the name of a
certain place is associated with one of the golden moments of life,
it were rash to hope that another visit would repeat the experience
of a by-gone day. For it was not merely the sights that one beheld
which were the cause of joy and peace; however lovely the spot,
however gracious the sky, these things external would not have
availed, but for contributory movements of mind and heart and blood,
the essentials of the man as then he was.

Whilst I was reading this afternoon my thoughts strayed, and I found
myself recalling a hillside in Suffolk, where, after a long walk I
rested drowsily one midsummer day twenty years ago. A great longing
seized me; I was tempted to set off at once, and find again that
spot under the high elm trees, where, as I smoked a delicious pipe,
I heard about me the crack, crack, crack of broom-pods bursting in
the glorious heat of the noontide sun. Had I acted upon the
impulse, what chance was there of my enjoying such another hour as
that which my memory cherished? No, no; it is not the PLACE that I
remember; it is the time of life, the circumstances, the mood, which
at that moment fell so happily together. Can I dream that a pipe
smoked on that same hillside, under the same glowing sky, would
taste as it then did, or bring me the same solace? Would the turf
be so soft beneath me? Would the great elm-branches temper so
delightfully the noontide rays beating upon them? And, when the
hour of rest was over, should I spring to my feet as then I did,
eager to put forth my strength again? No, no; what I remember is
just one moment of my earlier life, linked by accident with that
picture of the Suffolk landscape. The place no longer exists; it
never existed save for me. For it is the mind which creates the
world about us, and, even though we stand side by side in the same
meadow, my eyes will never see what is beheld by yours, my heart
will never stir to the emotions with which yours is touched.


I awoke a little after four o'clock. There was sunlight upon the
blind, that pure gold of the earliest beam which always makes me
think of Dante's angels. I had slept unusually well, without a
dream, and felt the blessing of rest through all my frame; my head
was clear, my pulse beat temperately. And, when I had lain thus for
a few minutes, asking myself what book I should reach from the shelf
that hangs near my pillow, there came upon me a desire to rise and
go forth into the early morning. On the moment I bestirred myself.
The drawing up of the blind, the opening of the window, only
increased my zeal, and I was soon in the garden, then out in the
road, walking light-heartedly I cared not whither.

How long is it since I went forth at the hour of summer sunrise? It
is one of the greatest pleasures, physical and mental, that any man
in moderate health can grant himself; yet hardly once in a year do
mood and circumstance combine to put it within one's reach. The
habit of lying in bed hours after broad daylight is strange enough,
if one thinks of it; a habit entirely evil; one of the most foolish
changes made by modern system in the healthier life of the old time.
But that my energies are not equal to such great innovation, I would
begin going to bed at sunset and rising with the beam of day; ten to
one, it would vastly improve my health, and undoubtedly it would add
to the pleasures of my existence.

When travelling, I have now and then watched the sunrise, and always
with an exultation unlike anything produced in me by other aspects
of nature. I remember daybreak on the Mediterranean; the shapes of
islands growing in hue after hue of tenderest light, until they
floated amid a sea of glory. And among the mountains--that crowning
height, one moment a cold pallor, the next soft-glowing under the
touch of the rosy-fingered goddess. These are the things I shall
never see again; things, indeed, so perfect in memory that I should
dread to blur them by a newer experience. My senses are so much
duller; they do not show me what once they did.

How far away is that school-boy time, when I found a pleasure in
getting up and escaping from the dormitory whilst all the others
were still asleep. My purpose was innocent enough; I got up early
only to do my lessons. I can see the long school-room, lighted by
the early sun; I can smell the school-room odour--a blend of books
and slates and wall-maps and I know not what. It was a mental
peculiarity of mine that at five o'clock in the morning I could
apply myself with gusto to mathematics, a subject loathsome to me at
any other time of the day. Opening the book at some section which
was wont to scare me, I used to say to myself: "Come now, I'm going
to tackle this this morning! If other boys can understand it, why
shouldn't I?" And in a measure I succeeded. In a measure only;
there was always a limit at which my powers failed me, strive as I

In my garret-days it was seldom that I rose early: with the
exception of one year--or the greater part of a twelvemonth--during
which I was regularly up at half-past five for a special reason. I
had undertaken to "coach" a man for the London matriculation; he was
in business, and the only time he could conveniently give to his
studies was before breakfast. I, just then, had my lodgings near
Hampstead Road; my pupil lived at Knightsbridge; I engaged to be
with him every morning at half-past six, and the walk, at a brisk
pace, took me just about an hour. At that time I saw no severity in
the arrangement, and I was delighted to earn the modest fee which
enabled me to write all day long without fear of hunger; but one
inconvenience attached to it. I had no watch, and my only means of
knowing the time was to hear the striking of a clock in the
neighbourhood. As a rule, I awoke just when I should have done; the
clock struck five, and up I sprang. But occasionally--and this when
the mornings had grown dark--my punctual habit failed me; I would
hear the clock chime some fraction of the hour, and could not know
whether I had awoke too soon or slept too long. The horror of
unpunctuality, which has always been a craze with me, made it
impossible to lie waiting; more than once I dressed and went out
into the street to discover as best I could what time it was, and
one such expedition, I well remember, took place between two and
three o'clock on a morning of foggy rain.

It happened now and then that, on reaching the house at
Knightsbridge, I was informed that Mr.--felt too tired to rise.
This concerned me little, for it meant no deduction of fee; I had
the two hours' walk, and was all the better for it. Then the
appetite with which I sat down to breakfast, whether I had done my
coaching or not! Bread and butter and coffee--such coffee!--made
the meal, and I ate like a navvy. I was in magnificent spirits.
All the way home I had been thinking of my day's work, and the
morning brain, clarified and whipped to vigour by that brisk
exercise, by that wholesome hunger, wrought its best. The last
mouthful swallowed, I was seated at my writing-table; aye, and there
I sat for seven or eight hours, with a short munching interval,
working as only few men worked in all London, with pleasure, zeal,
hope. . . .

Yes, yes, those were the good days. They did not last long; before
and after them were cares, miseries, endurance multiform. I have
always felt grateful to Mr.--of Knightsbridge; he gave me a year of
health, and almost of peace.


A whole day's walk yesterday with no plan; just a long ramble of
hour after hour, entirely enjoyable. It ended at Topsham, where I
sat on the little churchyard terrace, and watched the evening tide
come up the broad estuary. I have a great liking for Topsham, and
that churchyard, overlooking what is not quite sea, yet more than
river, is one of the most restful spots I know. Of course the
association with old Chaucer, who speaks of Topsham sailors, helps
my mood. I came home very tired; but I am not yet decrepit, and for
that I must be thankful.

The unspeakable blessedness of having a HOME! Much as my
imagination has dwelt upon it for thirty years, I never knew how
deep and exquisite a joy could lie in the assurance that one is AT
HOME for ever. Again and again I come back upon this thought;
nothing but Death can oust me from my abiding place. And Death I
would fain learn to regard as a friend, who will but intensify the
peace I now relish.

When one is at home, how one's affections grow about everything in
the neighbourhood! I always thought with fondness of this corner of
Devon, but what was that compared with the love which now
strengthens in me day by day! Beginning with my house, every stick
and stone of it is dear to me as my heart's blood; I find myself
laying an affectionate hand on the door-post, giving a pat, as I go
by, to the garden gate. Every tree and shrub in the garden is my
beloved friend; I touch them, when need is, very tenderly, as though
carelessness might pain, or roughness injure them. If I pull up a
weed in the walk, I look at it with a certain sadness before
throwing it away; it belongs to my home.

And all the country round about. These villages, how delightful are
their names to my ear! I find myself reading with interest all the
local news in the Exeter paper. Not that I care about the people;
with barely one or two exceptions, the people are nothing to me, and
the less I see of them the better I am pleased. But the PLACES grow
ever more dear to me. I like to know of anything that has happened
at Heavitree, or Brampford Speke, or Newton St. Cyres. I begin to
pride myself on knowing every road and lane, every bridle path and
foot-way for miles about. I like to learn the names of farms and of
fields. And all this because here is my abiding place, because I am
home for ever.

It seems to me that the very clouds that pass above my house are
more interesting and beautiful than clouds elsewhere.

And to think that at one time I called myself a socialist,
communist, anything you like of the revolutionary kind! Not for
long, to be sure, and I suspect that there was always something in
me that scoffed when my lips uttered such things. Why, no man
living has a more profound sense of property than I; no man ever
lived, who was, in every fibre, more vehemently an individualist.


In this high summertide, I remember with a strange feeling that
there are people who, of their free choice, spend day and night in
cities, who throng to the gabble of drawing-rooms, make festival in
public eating-houses, sweat in the glare of the theatre. They call
it life; they call it enjoyment. Why, so it is, for them; they are
so made. The folly is mine, to wonder that they fulfil their

But with what deep and quiet thanksgiving do I remind myself that
never shall I mingle with that well-millinered and tailored herd!
Happily, I never saw much of them. Certain occasions I recall when
a supposed necessity took me into their dismal precincts; a sick
buzzing in the brain, a languor as of exhausted limbs, comes upon me
with the memory. The relief with which I stepped out into the
street again, when all was over! Dear to me then was poverty, which
for the moment seemed to make me a free man. Dear to me was the
labour at my desk, which, by comparison, enabled me to respect

Never again shall I shake hands with man or woman who is not in
truth my friend. Never again shall I go to see acquaintances with
whom I have no acquaintance. All men my brothers? Nay, thank
Heaven, that they are not! I will do harm, if I can help it, to no
one; I will wish good to all; but I will make no pretence of
personal kindliness where, in the nature of things, it cannot be
felt. I have grimaced a smile and pattered unmeaning words to many
a person whom I despised or from whom in heart I shrank; I did so
because I had not courage to do otherwise. For a man conscious of
such weakness, the best is to live apart from the world. Brave
Samuel Johnson! One such truth-teller is worth all the moralists
and preachers who ever laboured to humanise mankind. Had HE
withdrawn into solitude, it would have been a national loss. Every
one of his blunt, fearless words had more value than a whole evangel
on the lips of a timidly good man. It is thus that the commonalty,
however well clad, should be treated. So seldom does the fool or
the ruffian in broadcloth hear his just designation; so seldom is
the man found who has a right to address him by it. By the bandying
of insults we profit nothing; there can be no useful rebuke which is
exposed to a tu quoque. But, as the world is, an honest and wise
man should have a rough tongue. Let him speak and spare not!


Vituperation of the English climate is foolish. A better climate
does not exist--for healthy people; and it is always as regards the
average native in sound health that a climate must be judged.
Invalids have no right whatever to talk petulantly of the natural
changes of the sky; Nature has not THEM in view; let them (if they
can) seek exceptional conditions for their exceptional state,
leaving behind them many a million of sound, hearty men and women
who take the seasons as they come, and profit by each in turn. In
its freedom from extremes, in its common clemency, even in its
caprice, which at the worst time holds out hope, our island weather
compares well with that of other lands. Who enjoys the fine day of
spring, summer, autumn, or winter so much as an Englishman? His
perpetual talk of the weather is testimony to his keen relish for
most of what it offers him; in lands of blue monotony, even as where
climatic conditions are plainly evil, such talk does not go on. So,
granting that we have bad days not a few, that the east wind takes
us by the throat, that the mists get at our joints, that the sun
hides his glory too often and too long, it is plain that the result
of all comes to good, that it engenders a mood of zest under the
most various aspects of heaven, keeps an edge on our appetite for
open-air life.

I, of course, am one of the weaklings who, in grumbling at the
weather, merely invite compassion. July, this year, is clouded and
windy, very cheerless even here in Devon; I fret and shiver and
mutter to myself something about southern skies. Pshaw! Were I the
average man of my years, I should be striding over Haldon, caring
not a jot for the heavy sky, finding a score of compensations for
the lack of sun. Can I not have patience? Do I not know that, some
morning, the east will open like a bursting bud into warmth and
splendour, and the azure depths above will have only the more solace
for my starved anatomy because of this protracted disappointment?


I have been at the seaside--enjoying it, yes, but in what a
doddering, senile sort of way! Is it I who used to drink the strong
wind like wine, who ran exultingly along the wet sands and leapt
from rock to rock, barefoot, on the slippery seaweed, who breasted
the swelling breaker, and shouted with joy as it buried me in
gleaming foam? At the seaside I knew no such thing as bad weather;
there were but changes of eager mood and full-blooded life. Now, if
the breeze blow too roughly, if there come a pelting shower, I must
look for shelter, and sit with my cloak about me. It is but a new
reminder that I do best to stay at home, travelling only in

At Weymouth I enjoyed a hearty laugh, one of the good things not
easy to get after middle age. There was a notice of steamboats
which ply along the coast, steamboats recommended to the public as
many people read this without a chuckle!


In the last ten years I have seen a good deal of English inns in
many parts of the country, and it astonishes me to find how bad they
are. Only once or twice have I chanced upon an inn (or, if you
like, hotel) where I enjoyed any sort of comfort. More often than
not, even the beds are unsatisfactory--either pretentiously huge and
choked with drapery, or hard and thinly accoutred. Furnishing is
uniformly hideous, and there is either no attempt at ornament (the
safest thing) or a villainous taste thrusts itself upon one at every
turn. The meals, in general, are coarse and poor in quality, and
served with gross slovenliness.

I have often heard it said that the touring cyclist has caused the
revival of wayside inns. It may be so, but the touring cyclist
seems to be very easily satisfied. Unless we are greatly deceived
by the old writers, an English inn used to be a delightful resort,
abounding in comfort, and supplied with the best of food; a place,
too, where one was sure of welcome at once hearty and courteous.
The inns of to-day, in country towns and villages, are not in that
good old sense inns at all; they are merely public-houses. The
landlord's chief interest is the sale of liquor. Under his roof you
may, if you choose, eat and sleep, but what you are expected to do
is to drink. Yet, even for drinking, there is no decent
accommodation. You will find what is called a bar-parlour, a stuffy
and dirty room, with crazy chairs, where only the sodden dram-gulper
could imagine himself at ease. Should you wish to write a letter,
only the worst pen and the vilest ink is forthcoming; this, even in
the "commercial room" of many an inn which seems to depend upon the
custom of travelling tradesmen. Indeed, this whole business of
innkeeping is incredibly mismanaged. Most of all does the common
ineptitude or brutality enrage one when it has possession of an old
and picturesque house, such as reminds you of the best tradition, a
house which might be made as comfortable as house can be, a place of
rest and mirth.

At a public-house you expect public-house manners, and nothing
better will meet you at most of the so-called inns or hotels. It
surprises me to think in how few instances I have found even the
pretence of civility. As a rule, the landlord and landlady are
either contemptuously superior or boorishly familiar; the waiters
and chambermaids do their work with an indifference which only
softens to a condescending interest at the moment of your departure,
when, if the tip be thought insufficient, a sneer or a muttered
insult speeds you on your way. One inn I remember, where, having to
go in and out two or three times in a morning, I always found the
front door blocked by the portly forms of two women, the landlady
and the barmaid, who stood there chatting and surveying the street.
Coming from within the house, I had to call out a request for
passage; it was granted with all deliberation, and with not a
syllable of apology. This was the best "hotel" in a Sussex market

And the food. Here, beyond doubt, there is grave degeneracy. It is
impossible to suppose that the old travellers by coach were
contented with entertainment such as one gets nowadays at the table
of a country hotel. The cooking is wont to be wretched; the quality
of the meat and vegetables worse than mediocre. What! Shall one
ask in vain at an English inn for an honest chop or steak? Again
and again has my appetite been frustrated with an offer of mere
sinew and scrag. At a hotel where the charge for lunch was five
shillings, I have been sickened with pulpy potatoes and stringy
cabbage. The very joint--ribs or sirloin, leg or shoulder--is
commonly a poor, underfed, sapless thing, scorched in an oven; and
as for the round of beef, it has as good as disappeared--probably
because it asks too much skill in the salting. Then again one's
breakfast bacon; what intolerable stuff, smelling of saltpetre, has
been set before me when I paid the price of the best smoked
Wiltshire! It would be mere indulgence of the spirit of grumbling
to talk about poisonous tea and washy coffee; every one knows that
these drinks cannot be had at public tables; but what if there be
real reason for discontent with one's pint of ale? Often, still,
that draught from the local brewery is sound and invigorating, but
there are grievous exceptions, and no doubt the tendency is here, as
in other things--a falling off, a carelessness, if not a calculating
dishonesty. I foresee the day when Englishmen will have forgotten
how to brew beer; when one's only safety will lie in the draught
imported from Munich.


I was taking a meal once at a London restaurant--not one of the
great eating-places to which men most resort, but a small
establishment on the same model in a quiet neighbourhood--when there
entered, and sat down at the next table, a young man of the working
class, whose dress betokened holiday. A glance told me that he felt
anything but at ease; his mind misgave him as he looked about the
long room and at the table before him; and when a waiter came to
offer him the card, he stared blankly in sheepish confusion. Some
strange windfall, no doubt, had emboldened him to enter for the
first time such a place as this, and now that he was here, he
heartily wished himself out in the street again. However, aided by
the waiter's suggestions, he gave an order for a beef-steak and
vegetables. When the dish was served, the poor fellow simply could
not make a start upon it; he was embarrassed by the display of
knives and forks, by the arrangement of the dishes, by the sauce
bottles and the cruet-stand, above all, no doubt, by the assembly of
people not of his class, and the unwonted experience of being waited
upon by a man with a long shirt-front. He grew red; he made the
clumsiest and most futile efforts to transport the meat to his
plate; food was there before him, but, like a very Tantalus, he was
forbidden to enjoy it. Observing with all discretion, I at length
saw him pull out his pocket handkerchief, spread it on the table,
and, with a sudden effort, fork the meat off the dish into this
receptacle. The waiter, aware by this time of the customer's
difficulty, came up and spoke a word to him. Abashed into anger,
the young man roughly asked what he had to pay. It ended in the
waiter's bringing a newspaper, wherein he helped to wrap up meat and
vegetables. Money was flung down, and the victim of a mistaken
ambition hurriedly departed, to satisfy his hunger amid less
unfamiliar surroundings.

It was a striking and unpleasant illustration of social differences.
Could such a thing happen in any country but England? I doubt it.
The sufferer was of decent appearance, and, with ordinary self-
command, might have taken his meal in the restaurant like any one
else, quite unnoticed. But he belonged to a class which, among all
classes in the world, is distinguished by native clownishness and by
unpliability to novel circumstance. The English lower ranks had
need be marked by certain peculiar virtues to atone for their
deficiencies in other respects.


It is easy to understand that common judgment of foreigners
regarding the English people. Go about in England as a stranger,
travel by rail, live at hotels, see nothing but the broadly public
aspect of things, and the impression left upon you will be one of
hard egoism, of gruffness and sullenness; in a word, of everything
that contrasts most strongly with the ideal of social and civic
life. And yet, as a matter of fact, no nation possesses in so high
a degree the social and civic virtues. The unsociable Englishman,
quotha? Why, what country in the world can show such multifarious,
vigorous and cordial co-operation, in all ranks, but especially, of
course, among the intelligent, for ends which concern the common
good? Unsociable! Why, go where you will in England you can hardly
find a man--nowadays, indeed, scarce an educated woman--who does not
belong to some alliance, for study or sport, for municipal or
national benefit, and who will not be seen, in leisure time, doing
his best as a social being. Take the so-called sleepy market-town;
it is bubbling with all manner of associated activities, and these
of the quite voluntary kind, forms of zealously united effort such
as are never dreamt of in the countries supposed to be eminently
"social." Sociability does not consist in a readiness to talk at
large with the first comer. It is not dependent upon natural grace
and suavity; it is compatible, indeed, with thoroughly awkward and
all but brutal manners. The English have never (at all events, for
some two centuries past) inclined to the purely ceremonial or
mirthful forms of sociability; but as regards every prime interest
of the community--health and comfort, well-being of body and of
soul--their social instinct is supreme.

Yet it is so difficult to reconcile this indisputable fact with that
other fact, no less obvious, that your common Englishman seems to
have no geniality. From the one point of view, I admire and laud my
fellow countryman; from the other, I heartily dislike him and wish
to see as little of him as possible. One is wont to think of the
English as a genial folk. Have they lost in this respect? Has the
century of science and money-making sensibly affected the national
character? I think always of my experience at the English inn,
where it is impossible not to feel a brutal indifference to the
humane features of life; where food is bolted without attention,
liquor swallowed out of mere habit, where even good-natured accost
is a thing so rare as to be remarkable.

Two things have to be borne in mind: the extraordinary difference
of demeanour which exists between the refined and the vulgar
English, and the natural difficulty of an Englishman in revealing
his true self save under the most favourable circumstances.

So striking is the difference of manner between class and class that
the hasty observer might well imagine a corresponding and radical
difference of mind and character. In Russia, I suppose, the social
extremities are seen to be pretty far apart, but, with that possible
exception, I should think no European country can show such a gap as
yawns to the eye between the English gentleman and the English boor.
The boor, of course, is the multitude; the boor impresses himself
upon the traveller. When relieved from his presence, one can be
just to him; one can remember that his virtues--though elementary,
and strictly in need of direction--are the same, to a great extent,
as those of the well-bred man. He does not represent--though
seeming to do so--a nation apart. To understand this multitude, you
must get below its insufferable manners, and learn that very fine
civic qualities can consist with a personal bearing almost wholly

Then, as to the dogged reserve of the educated man, why, I have only
to look into myself. I, it is true, am not quite a representative
Englishman; my self-consciousness, my meditative habit of mind,
rather dim my national and social characteristics; but set me among
a few specimens of the multitude, and am I not at once aware of that
instinctive antipathy, that shrinking into myself, that something
like unto scorn, of which the Englishman is accused by foreigners
who casually meet him? Peculiar to me is the effort to overcome
this first impulse--an effort which often enough succeeds. If I
know myself at all, I am not an ungenial man; and yet I am quite
sure that many people who have known me casually would say that my
fault is a lack of geniality. To show my true self, I must be in
the right mood and the right circumstances--which, after all, is
merely as much as saying that I am decidedly English.


On my breakfast table there is a pot of honey. Not the manufactured
stuff sold under that name in shops, but honey of the hive, brought
to me by a neighbouring cottager whose bees often hum in my garden.
It gives, I confess, more pleasure to my eye than to my palate; but
I like to taste of it, because it is honey.

There is as much difference, said Johnson, between a lettered and an
unlettered man as between the living and the dead; and, in a way, it
was no extravagance. Think merely how one's view of common things
is affected by literary association. What were honey to me if I
knew nothing of Hymettus and Hybla?--if my mind had no stores of
poetry, no memories of romance? Suppose me town-pent, the name
might bring with it some pleasantness of rustic odour; but of what
poor significance even that, if the country were to me mere grass
and corn and vegetables, as to the man who has never read nor wished
to read. For the Poet is indeed a Maker: above the world of sense,
trodden by hidebound humanity, he builds that world of his own
whereto is summoned the unfettered spirit. Why does it delight me
to see the bat flitting at dusk before my window, or to hear the
hoot of the owl when all the ways are dark? I might regard the bat
with disgust, and the owl either with vague superstition or not heed
it at all. But these have their place in the poet's world, and
carry me above this idle present.

I once passed a night in a little market-town where I had arrived
tired and went to bed early. I slept forthwith, but was presently
awakened by I knew not what; in the darkness there sounded a sort of
music, and, as my brain cleared, I was aware of the soft chiming of
church bells. Why, what hour could it be? I struck a light and
looked at my watch. Midnight. Then a glow came over me. "We have
heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow!" Never till then had
I heard them. And the town in which I slept was Evesham, but a few
miles from Stratford-on-Avon. What if those midnight bells had been
to me but as any other, and I had reviled them for breaking my
sleep?--Johnson did not much exaggerate.


It is the second Jubilee. Bonfires blaze upon the hills, making one
think of the watchman on Agamemnon's citadel. (It were more germane
to the matter to think of Queen Elizabeth and the Armada.) Though
wishing the uproar happily over, I can see the good in it as well as
another man. English monarchy, as we know it, is a triumph of
English common sense. Grant that men cannot do without an overlord;
how to make that over-lordship consist with the largest practical
measure of national and individual liberty? We, at all events, have
for a time solved the question. For a time only, of course; but
consider the history of Europe, and our jubilation is perhaps

For sixty years has the British Republic held on its way under one
President. It is wide of the mark to object that other Republics,
which change their President more frequently, support the semblance
of over-lordship at considerably less cost to the people. Britons
are minded for the present that the Head of their State shall be
called King or Queen; the name is pleasant to them; it corresponds
to a popular sentiment, vaguely understood, but still operative,
which is called loyalty. The majority thinking thus, and the system
being found to work more than tolerably well, what purpose could be
served by an attempt at novas res? The nation is content to pay the
price; it is the nation's affair. Moreover, who can feel the least
assurance that a change to one of the common forms of Republicanism
would be for the general advantage? Do we find that countries which
have made the experiment are so very much better off than our own in
point of stable, quiet government and of national welfare? The
theorist scoffs at forms which have survived their meaning, at
privilege which will bear no examination, at compromises which sound
ludicrous, at submissions which seem contemptible; but let him put
forward his practical scheme for making all men rational,
consistent, just. Englishmen, I imagine, are not endowed with these
qualities in any extraordinary degree. Their strength, politically
speaking, lies in a recognition of expediency, complemented by
respect for the established fact. One of the facts particularly
clear to them is the suitability to their minds, their tempers,
their habits, of a system of polity which has been established by
the slow effort of generations within this sea-girt realm. They
have nothing to do with ideals: they never trouble themselves to
think about the Rights of Man. If you talk to them (long enough)
about the rights of the shopman, or the ploughman, or the cat's-
meat-man, they will lend ear, and, when the facts of any such case
have been examined, they will find a way of dealing with them. This
characteristic of theirs they call Common Sense. To them, all
things considered, it has been of vast service; one may even say
that the rest of the world has profited by it not a little. That
Uncommon Sense might now and then have stood them even in better
stead is nothing to the point. The Englishman deals with things as
they are, and first and foremost accepts his own being.

This Jubilee declares a legitimate triumph of the average man. Look
back for threescore years, and who shall affect to doubt that the
time has been marked by many improvements in the material life of
the English people? Often have they been at loggerheads among
themselves, but they have never flown at each other's throats, and
from every grave dispute has resulted some substantial gain. They
are a cleaner people and a more sober; in every class there is a
diminution of brutality; education--stand for what it may--has
notably extended; certain forms of tyranny have been abolished;
certain forms of suffering, due to heedlessness or ignorance, have
been abated. True, these are mere details; whether they indicate a
solid advance in civilization cannot yet be determined. But
assuredly the average Briton has cause to jubilate; for the
progressive features of the epoch are such as he can understand and
approve, whereas the doubt which may be cast upon its ethical
complexion is for him either non-existent or unintelligible. So let
cressets flare into the night from all the hills! It is no
purchased exultation, no servile flattery. The People acclaims
itself, yet not without genuine gratitude and affection towards the
Representative of its glory and its power. The Constitutional
Compact has been well preserved. Review the record of kingdoms, and
say how often it has come to pass that sovereign and people rejoiced
together over bloodless victories.


At an inn in the north I once heard three men talking at their
breakfast on the question of diet. They agreed that most people ate
too much meat, and one of them went so far as to declare that, for
his part, he rather preferred vegetables and fruit. "Why," he said,
"will you believe me that I sometimes make a breakfast of apples?"
This announcement was received in silence; evidently the two
listeners didn't quite know what to think of it. Thereupon the
speaker, in rather a blustering tone, cried out, "Yes, I can make a
very good breakfast on TWO OR THREE POUNDS OF APPLES."

Wasn't it amusing? And wasn't it characteristic? This honest
Briton had gone too far in frankness. 'Tis all very well to like
vegetables and fruits up to a certain point; but to breakfast on
apples! His companions' silence proved that they were just a little
ashamed of him; his confession savoured of poverty or meanness; to
right himself in their opinion, nothing better occurred to the man
than to protest that he ate apples, yes, but not merely one or two;
he ate them largely, BY THE POUND! I laughed at the fellow, but I
thoroughly understood him; so would every Englishman; for at the
root of our being is a hatred of parsimony. This manifests itself
in all sorts of ludicrous or contemptible forms, but no less is it
the source of our finest qualities. An Englishman desires, above
all, to live largely; on that account he not only dreads, but hates
and despises, poverty. His virtues are those of the free-handed and
warm-hearted opulent man; his weaknesses come of the sense of
inferiority (intensely painful and humiliating) which attaches in
his mind to one who cannot spend and give; his vices, for the most
part, originate in loss of self-respect due to loss of secure


For a nation of this temper, the movement towards democracy is
fraught with peculiar dangers. Profoundly aristocratic in his
sympathies, the Englishman has always seen in the patrician class
not merely a social, but a moral, superiority; the man of blue blood
was to him a living representative of those potencies and virtues
which made his ideal of the worthy life. Very significant is the
cordial alliance from old time between nobles and people; free,
proud homage on one side answering to gallant championship on the
other; both classes working together in the cause of liberty.
However great the sacrifices of the common folk for the maintenance
of aristocratic power and splendour, they were gladly made; this was
the Englishman's religion, his inborn pietas; in the depths of the
dullest soul moved a perception of the ethic meaning attached to
lordship. Your Lord was the privileged being endowed by descent
with generous instincts, and possessed of means to show them forth
in act. A poor noble was a contradiction in terms; if such a person
existed, he could only be spoken of with wondering sadness, as
though he were the victim of some freak of nature. The Lord was
Honourable, Right Honourable; his acts, his words virtually
constituted the code of honour whereby the nation lived.

In a new world, beyond the ocean, there grew up a new race, a scion
of England, which shaped its life without regard to the principle of
hereditary lordship; and in course of time this triumphant Republic
began to shake the ideals of the Motherland. Its civilization,
spite of superficial resemblances, is not English; let him who will
think it superior; all one cares to say is that it has already shown
in a broad picture the natural tendencies of English blood when
emancipated from the old cult. Easy to understand that some there
are who see nothing but evil in the influence of that vast
commonwealth. If it has done us good, assuredly the fact is not yet
demonstrable. In old England, democracy is a thing so alien to our
traditions and rooted sentiment that the line of its progress seems
hitherto a mere track of ruin. In the very word is something from
which we shrink; it seems to signify nothing less than a national
apostasy, a denial of the faith in which we won our glory. The
democratic Englishman is, by the laws of his own nature, in parlous
case; he has lost the ideal by which he guided his rude, prodigal,
domineering instincts; in place of the Right Honourable, born to
noble things, he has set up the mere Plebs, born, more likely than
not, for all manner of baseness. And, amid all his show of loud
self-confidence, the man is haunted with misgiving.

The task before us is no light one. Can we, whilst losing the
class, retain the idea it embodied? Can we English, ever so subject
to the material, liberate ourselves from that old association, yet
guard its meaning in the sphere of spiritual life? Can we, with
eyes which have ceased to look reverently on worn-out symbols, learn
to select from among the grey-coated multitude, and place in
reverence even higher him who "holds his patent of nobility straight
from Almighty God"? Upon that depends the future of England. In
days gone by, our very Snob bore testimony after his fashion to our
scorn of meanness; he at all events imagined himself to be imitating
those who were incapable of a sordid transaction, of a plebeian
compliance. But the Snob, one notes, is in the way of degeneracy;
he has new exemplars; he speaks a ruder language. Him, be sure, in
one form or another, we shall have always with us, and to observe
his habits is to note the tenor of the time. If he have at the back
of his dim mind no living ideal which lends his foolishness a
generous significance, then indeed--videant consules.


A visit from N-. He stayed with me two days, and I wish he could
have stayed a third. (Beyond the third day, I am not sure that any
man would be wholly welcome. My strength will bear but a certain
amount of conversation, even the pleasantest, and before long I
desire solitude, which is rest.)

The mere sight of N-, to say nothing of his talk, did me good. If
appearances can ever be trusted, there are few men who get more
enjoyment out of life. His hardships were never excessive; they did
not affect his health or touch his spirits; probably he is in every
way a better man for having--as he says--"gone through the mill."
His recollection of the time when he had to work hard for a five-
pound note, and was not always sure of getting it, obviously lends
gusto to his present state of ease. I persuaded him to talk about
his successes, and to give me a glimpse of their meaning in solid
cash. Last Midsummer day, his receipts for the twelvemonth were
more than two thousand pounds. Nothing wonderful, of course,
bearing in mind what some men are making by their pen; but very good
for a writer who does not address the baser throng. Two thousand
pounds in a year! I gazed at him with wonder and admiration.

I have known very few prosperous men of letters; N- represents for
me the best and brightest side of literary success. Say what one
will after a lifetime of disillusion, the author who earns largely
by honest and capable work is among the few enviable mortals. Think
of N-'s existence. No other man could do what he is doing, and he
does it with ease. Two, or at most three, hours' work a day--and
that by no means every day--suffices to him. Like all who write, he
has his unfruitful times, his mental worries, his disappointments,
but these bear no proportion to the hours of happy and effective
labour. Every time I see him he looks in better health, for of late
years he has taken much more exercise, and he is often travelling.
He is happy in his wife and children; the thought of all the
comforts and pleasures he is able to give them must be a constant
joy to him; were he to die, his family is safe from want. He has
friends and acquaintances as many as he desires; congenial folk
gather at his table; he is welcome in pleasant houses near and far;
his praise is upon the lips of all whose praise is worth having.
With all this, he has the good sense to avoid manifest dangers; he
has not abandoned his privacy, and he seems to be in no danger of
being spoilt by good fortune. His work is more to him than a means
of earning money; he talks about a book he has in hand almost as
freshly and keenly as in the old days, when his annual income was
barely a couple of hundred. I note, too, that his leisure is not
swamped with the publications of the day; he reads as many old books
as new, and keeps many of his early enthusiasms.

He is one of the men I heartily like. That he greatly cares for me
I do not suppose, but this has nothing to do with the matter; enough
that he likes my society well enough to make a special journey down
into Devon. I represent to him, of course, the days gone by, and
for their sake he will always feel an interest in me. Being ten
years my junior, he must naturally regard me as an old buffer; I
notice, indeed, that he is just a little too deferential at moments.
He feels a certain respect for some of my work, but thinks, I am
sure, that I ceased writing none too soon--which is very true. If I
had not been such a lucky fellow--if at this moment I were still
toiling for bread--it is probable that he and I would see each other
very seldom; for N- has delicacy, and would shrink from bringing his
high-spirited affluence face to face with Grub Street squalor and
gloom; whilst I, on the other hand, should hate to think that he
kept up my acquaintance from a sense of decency. As it is we are
very good friends, quite unembarrassed, and--for a couple of days--
really enjoy the sight and hearing of each other. That I am able to
give him a comfortable bedroom, and set before him an eatable
dinner, flatters my pride. If I chose at any time to accept his
hearty invitation, I can do so without moral twinges.

Two thousand pounds! If, at N-'s age, I had achieved that income,
what would have been the result upon me? Nothing but good, I know;
but what form would the good have taken? Should I have become a
social man, a giver of dinners, a member of clubs? Or should I
merely have begun, ten years sooner, the life I am living now? That
is more likely.

In my twenties I used to say to myself: what a splendid thing it
will be WHEN I am the possessor of a thousand pounds! Well, I have
never possessed that sum--never anything like it--and now never
shall. Yet it was not an extravagant ambition, methinks, however

As we sat in the garden dusk, the scent of our pipes mingling with
that of roses, N- said to me in a laughing tone: "Come now, tell me
how you felt when you first heard of your legacy?" And I could not
tell him; I had nothing to say; no vivid recollection of the moment
would come back to me. I am afraid N- thought he had been
indiscreet, for he passed quickly to another subject. Thinking it
over now, I see, of course, that it would be impossible to put into
words the feeling of that supreme moment of life. It was not joy
that possessed me; I did not exult; I did not lose control of myself
in any way. But I remember drawing one or two deep sighs, as if all
at once relieved of some distressing burden or constraint. Only
some hours after did I begin to feel any kind of agitation. That
night I did not close my eyes; the night after I slept longer and
more soundly than I remember to have done for a score of years.
Once or twice in the first week I had a hysterical feeling; I scarce
kept myself from shedding tears. And the strange thing is that it
seems to have happened so long ago; I seem to have been a free man
for many a twelvemonth, instead of only for two. Indeed, that is
what I have often thought about forms of true happiness; the brief
are quite as satisfying as those that last long. I wanted, before
my death, to enjoy liberty from care, and repose in a place I love.
That was granted me; and, had I known it only for one whole year,
the sum of my enjoyment would have been no whit less than if I live
to savour it for a decade.


The honest fellow who comes to dig in my garden is puzzled to
account for my peculiarities; I often catch a look of wondering
speculation in his eye when it turns upon me. It is all because I
will not let him lay out flower-beds in the usual way, and make the
bit of ground in front of the house really neat and ornamental. At
first he put it down to meanness, but he knows by now that that
cannot be the explanation. That I really prefer a garden so poor
and plain that every cottager would be ashamed of it, he cannot
bring himself to believe, and of course I have long since given up
trying to explain myself. The good man probably concludes that too
many books and the habit of solitude have somewhat affected what he
would call my "reasons."

The only garden flowers I care for are the quite old-fashioned
roses, sunflowers, hollyhocks, lilies and so on, and these I like to
see growing as much as possible as if they were wild. Trim and
symmetrical beds are my abhorrence, and most of the flowers which
are put into them--hybrids with some grotesque name--Jonesia,
Snooksia--hurt my eyes. On the other hand, a garden is a garden,
and I would not try to introduce into it the flowers which are my
solace in lanes and fields. Foxgloves, for instance--it would pain
me to see them thus transplanted.

I think of foxgloves, for it is the moment of their glory.
Yesterday I went to the lane which I visit every year at this time,
the deep, rutty cart-track, descending between banks covered with
giant fronds of the polypodium, and overhung with wych-elm and
hazel, to that cool, grassy nook where the noble flowers hang on
stems all but of my own height. Nowhere have I seen finer
foxgloves. I suppose they rejoice me so because of early memories--
to a child it is the most impressive of wild flowers; I would walk
miles any day to see a fine cluster, as I would to see the shining
of purple loosestrife by the water edge, or white lilies floating
upon the still depth.

But the gardener and I understand each other as soon as we go to the
back of the house, and get among the vegetables. On that ground he
finds me perfectly sane. And indeed I am not sure that the kitchen
garden does not give me more pleasure than the domain of flowers.
Every morning I step round before breakfast to see how things are
"coming on." It is happiness to note the swelling of pods, the
healthy vigour of potato plants, aye, even the shooting up of
radishes and cress. This year I have a grove of Jerusalem
artichokes; they are seven or eight feet high, and I seem to get
vigour as I look at the stems which are all but trunks, at the great
beautiful leaves. Delightful, too, are the scarlet runners, which
have to be propped again and again, or they would break down under
the abundance of their yield. It is a treat to me to go among them
with a basket, gathering; I feel as though Nature herself showed
kindness to me, in giving me such abundant food. How fresh and
wholesome are the odours--especially if a shower has fallen not long

I have some magnificent carrots this year--straight, clean,
tapering, the colour a joy to look upon.


For two things do my thoughts turn now and then to London. I should
like to hear the long note of a master's violin, or the faultless
cadence of an exquisite voice, and I should like to see pictures.
Music and painting have always meant much to me; here I can enjoy
them only in memory.

Of course there is the discomfort of concert-hall and exhibition-
rooms. My pleasure in the finest music would be greatly spoilt by
having to sit amid a crowd, with some idiot audible on right hand or
left, and the show of pictures would give me a headache in the first
quarter of an hour. Non sum qualis eram when I waited several hours
at the gallery door to hear Patti, and knew not a moment's fatigue
to the end of the concert; or when, at the Academy, I was astonished
to find that it was four o'clock, and I had forgotten food since
breakfast. The truth is, I do not much enjoy anything nowadays
which I cannot enjoy ALONE. It sounds morose; I imagine the comment
of good people if they overheard such a confession. Ought I, in
truth, to be ashamed of it?

I always read the newspaper articles on exhibitions of pictures, and
with most pleasure when the pictures are landscapes. The mere names
of paintings often gladden me for a whole day--those names which
bring before the mind a bit of seashore, a riverside, a glimpse of
moorland or of woods. However feeble his criticism, the journalist
generally writes with appreciation of these subjects; his
descriptions carry me away to all sorts of places which I shall
never see again with the bodily eye, and I thank him for his
unconscious magic. Much better this, after all, than really going
to London and seeing the pictures themselves. They would not
disappoint me; I love and honour even the least of English landscape
painters; but I should try to see too many at once, and fall back
into my old mood of tired grumbling at the conditions of modern
life. For a year or two I have grumbled little--all the better for


Of late, I have been wishing for music. An odd chance gratified my

I had to go into Exeter yesterday. I got there about sunset,
transacted my business, and turned to walk home again through the
warm twilight. In Southernhay, as I was passing a house of which
the ground-floor windows stood open, there sounded the notes of a
piano--chords touched by a skilful hand. I checked my step, hoping,
and in a minute or two the musician began to play that nocturne of
Chopin which I love best--I don't know how to name it. My heart
leapt. There I stood in the thickening dusk, the glorious sounds
floating about me; and I trembled with very ecstasy of enjoyment.
When silence came, I waited in the hope of another piece, but
nothing followed, and so I went my way.

It is well for me that I cannot hear music when I will; assuredly I
should not have such intense pleasure as comes to me now and then by
haphazard. As I walked on, forgetting all about the distance, and
reaching home before I knew I was half way there, I felt gratitude
to my unknown benefactor--a state of mind I have often experienced
in the days long gone by. It happened at times--not in my barest
days, but in those of decent poverty--that some one in the house
where I lodged played the piano--and how it rejoiced me when this
came to pass! I say "played the piano"--a phrase that covers much.
For my own part, I was very tolerant; anything that could by the
largest interpretation be called music, I welcomed and was thankful;
for even "five-finger exercises" I found, at moments, better than
nothing. For it was when I was labouring at my desk that the notes
of the instrument were grateful and helpful to me. Some men, I
believe, would have been driven frantic under the circumstances; to
me, anything like a musical sound always came as a godsend; it tuned
my thoughts; it made the words flow. Even the street organs put me
in a happy mood; I owe many a page to them--written when I should
else have been sunk in bilious gloom.

More than once, too, when I was walking London streets by night,
penniless and miserable, music from an open window has stayed my
step, even as yesterday. Very well can I remember such a moment in
Eaton Square, one night when I was going back to Chelsea, tired,
hungry, racked by frustrate passions. I had tramped miles and
miles, in the hope of wearying myself so that I could sleep and
forget. Then came the piano notes--I saw that there was festival in
the house--and for an hour or so I revelled as none of the bidden
guests could possibly be doing. And when I reached my poor
lodgings, I was no longer envious nor mad with desires, but as I
fell asleep I thanked the unknown mortal who had played for me, and
given me peace.


To-day I have read The Tempest. It is perhaps the play that I love
best, and, because I seem to myself to know it so well, I commonly
pass it over in opening the book. Yet, as always in regard to
Shakespeare, having read it once more, I find that my knowledge was
less complete than I supposed. So it would be, live as long as one
might; so it would ever be, whilst one had strength to turn the
pages and a mind left to read them.

I like to believe that this was the poet's last work, that he wrote
it in his home at Stratford, walking day by day in the fields which
had taught his boyhood to love rural England. It is ripe fruit of
the supreme imagination, perfect craft of the master hand. For a
man whose life's business it has been to study the English tongue,
what joy can equal that of marking the happy ease wherewith
Shakespeare surpasses, in mere command of words, every achievement
of those even who, apart from him, are great? I could fancy that,
in The Tempest, he wrought with a peculiar consciousness of this
power, smiling as the word of inimitable felicity, the phrase of
incomparable cadence, was whispered to him by the Ariel that was his
genius. He seems to sport with language, to amuse himself with new
discovery of its resources. From king to beggar, men of every rank
and every order of mind have spoken with his lips; he has uttered
the lore of fairyland; now it pleases him to create a being neither
man nor fairy, a something between brute and human nature, and to
endow its purposes with words. These words, how they smack of the
moist and spawning earth, of the life of creatures that cannot rise
above the soil! We do not think of it enough; we stint our wonder
because we fall short in appreciation. A miracle is worked before
us, and we scarce give heed; it has become familiar to our minds as
any other of nature's marvels, which we rarely pause to reflect

The Tempest contains the noblest meditative passage in all the
plays; that which embodies Shakespeare's final view of life, and is
the inevitable quotation of all who would sum the teachings of
philosophy. It contains his most exquisite lyrics, his tenderest
love passages, and one glimpse of fairyland which--I cannot but
think--outshines the utmost beauty of A Midsummer Night's Dream:
Prospero's farewell to the "elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes,
and groves." Again a miracle; these are things which cannot be
staled by repetition. Come to them often as you will, they are ever
fresh as though new minted from the brain of the poet. Being
perfect, they can never droop under that satiety which arises from
the perception of fault; their virtue can never be so entirely
savoured as to leave no pungency of gusto for the next approach.

Among the many reasons which make me glad to have been born in
England, one of the first is that I read Shakespeare in my mother
tongue. If I try to imagine myself as one who cannot know him face
to face, who hears him only speaking from afar, and that in accents
which only through the labouring intelligence can touch the living
soul, there comes upon me a sense of chill discouragement, of dreary
deprivation. I am wont to think that I can read Homer, and,
assuredly, if any man enjoys him, it is I; but can I for a moment
dream that Homer yields me all his music, that his word is to me as
to him who walked by the Hellenic shore when Hellas lived? I know
that there reaches me across the vast of time no more than a faint
and broken echo; I know that it would be fainter still, but for its
blending with those memories of youth which are as a glimmer of the
world's primeval glory. Let every land have joy of its poet; for
the poet is the land itself, all its greatness and its sweetness,
all that incommunicable heritage for which men live and die. As I
close the book, love and reverence possess me. Whether does my full
heart turn to the great Enchanter, or to the Island upon which he
has laid his spell? I know not. I cannot think of them apart. In
the love and reverence awakened by that voice of voices, Shakespeare
and England are but one.



This has been a year of long sunshine. Month has followed upon
month with little unkindness of the sky; I scarcely marked when July
passed into August, August into September. I should think it summer
still, but that I see the lanes yellow-purfled with flowers of

I am busy with the hawkweeds; that is to say, I am learning to
distinguish and to name as many as I can. For scientific
classification I have little mind; it does not happen to fall in
with my habits of thought; but I like to be able to give its name
(the "trivial" by choice) to every flower I meet in my walks. Why
should I be content to say, "Oh, it's a hawkweed"? That is but one
degree less ungracious than if I dismissed all the yellow-rayed as
"dandelions." I feel as if the flower were pleased by my
recognition of its personality. Seeing how much I owe them, one and
all, the least I can do is to greet them severally. For the same
reason I had rather say "hawkweed" than "hieracium"; the homelier
word has more of kindly friendship.


How the mood for a book sometimes rushes upon one, either one knows
not why, or in consequence, perhaps, of some most trifling
suggestion. Yesterday I was walking at dusk. I came to an old
farmhouse; at the garden gate a vehicle stood waiting, and I saw it
was our doctor's gig. Having passed, I turned to look back. There
was a faint afterglow in the sky beyond the chimneys; a light
twinkled at one of the upper windows. I said to myself, "Tristram
Shandy," and hurried home to plunge into a book which I have not
opened for I dare say twenty years.

Not long ago, I awoke one morning and suddenly thought of the
Correspondence between Goethe and Schiller; and so impatient did I
become to open the book that I got up an hour earlier than usual. A
book worth rising for; much better worth than old Burton, who pulled
Johnson out of bed. A book which helps one to forget the idle or
venomous chatter going on everywhere about us, and bids us cherish
hope for a world "which has such people in't."

These volumes I had at hand; I could reach them down from my shelves
at the moment when I hungered for them. But it often happens that
the book which comes into my mind could only be procured with
trouble and delay; I breathe regretfully and put aside the thought.
Ah! the books that one will never read again. They gave delight,
perchance something more; they left a perfume in the memory; but
life has passed them by for ever. I have but to muse, and one after
another they rise before me. Books gentle and quieting; books noble
and inspiring; books that well merit to be pored over, not once but
many a time. Yet never again shall I hold them in my hand; the
years fly too quickly, and are too few. Perhaps when I lie waiting
for the end, some of those lost books will come into my wandering
thoughts, and I shall remember them as friends to whom I owed a
kindness--friends passed upon the way. What regret in that last


Every one, I suppose, is subject to a trick of mind which often
puzzles me. I am reading or thinking, and at a moment, without any
association or suggestion that I can discover, there rises before me
the vision of a place I know. Impossible to explain why that
particular spot should show itself to my mind's eye; the cerebral
impulse is so subtle that no search may trace its origin. If I am
reading, doubtless a thought, a phrase, possibly a mere word, on the
page before me serves to awaken memory. If I am otherwise occupied,
it must be an object seen, an odour, a touch; perhaps even a posture
of the body suffices to recall something in the past. Sometimes the
vision passes, and there an end; sometimes, however, it has
successors, the memory working quite independently of my will, and
no link appearing between one scene and the next.

Ten minutes ago I was talking with my gardener. Our topic was the
nature of the soil, whether or not it would suit a certain kind of
vegetable. Of a sudden I found myself gazing at--the Bay of Avlona.
Quite certainly my thoughts had not strayed in that direction. The
picture that came before me caused me a shock of surprise, and I am
still vainly trying to discover how I came to behold it.

A happy chance that I ever saw Avlona. I was on my way from Corfu
to Brindisi. The steamer sailed late in the afternoon; there was a
little wind, and as the December night became chilly, I soon turned
in. With the first daylight I was on deck, expecting to find that
we were near the Italian port; to my surprise, I saw a mountainous
shore, towards which the ship was making at full speed. On inquiry,
I learnt that this was the coast of Albania; our vessel not being
very seaworthy, and the wind still blowing a little (though not
enough to make any passenger uncomfortable), the captain had turned
back when nearly half across the Adriatic, and was seeking a haven
in the shelter of the snow-topped hills. Presently we steamed into
a great bay, in the narrow mouth of which lay an island. My map
showed me where we were, and with no small interest I discovered
that the long line of heights guarding the bay on its southern side
formed the Acroceraunian Promontory. A little town visible high up
on the inner shore was the ancient Aulon.

Here we anchored, and lay all day long. Provisions running short, a
boat had to be sent to land, and the sailors purchased, among other
things, some peculiarly detestable bread--according to them, cotto
al sole. There was not a cloud in the sky; till evening, the wind
whistled above our heads, but the sea about us was blue and smooth.
I sat in hot sunshine, feasting my eyes on the beautiful cliffs and
valleys of the thickly-wooded shore. Then came a noble sunset; then
night crept gently into the hollows of the hills, which now were
coloured the deepest, richest green. A little lighthouse began to
shine. In the perfect calm that had fallen, I heard breakers
murmuring softly upon the beach.

At sunrise we entered the port of Brindisi.


The characteristic motive of English poetry is love of nature,
especially of nature as seen in the English rural landscape. From
the "Cuckoo Song" of our language in its beginnings to the perfect
loveliness of Tennyson's best verse, this note is ever sounding. It
is persistent even amid the triumph of the drama. Take away from
Shakespeare all his bits of natural description, all his casual
allusions to the life and aspects of the country, and what a loss
were there! The reign of the iambic couplet confined, but could not
suppress, this native music; Pope notwithstanding, there came the
"Ode to Evening" and that "Elegy" which, unsurpassed for beauty of
thought and nobility of utterance in all the treasury of our lyrics,
remains perhaps the most essentially English poem ever written.

This attribute of our national mind availed even to give rise to an
English school of painting. It came late; that it ever came at all
is remarkable enough. A people apparently less apt for that kind of
achievement never existed. So profound is the English joy in meadow
and stream and hill, that, unsatisfied at last with vocal
expression, it took up the brush, the pencil, the etching tool, and
created a new form of art. The National Gallery represents only in
a very imperfect way the richness and variety of our landscape work.
Were it possible to collect, and suitably to display, the very best
of such work in every vehicle, I know not which would be the
stronger emotion in an English heart, pride or rapture.

One obvious reason for the long neglect of Turner lies in the fact
that his genius does not seem to be truly English. Turner's
landscape, even when it presents familiar scenes, does not show them
in the familiar light. Neither the artist nor the intelligent
layman is satisfied. He gives us glorious visions; we admit the
glory--but we miss something which we deem essential. I doubt
whether Turner tasted rural England; I doubt whether the spirit of
English poetry was in him; I doubt whether the essential
significance of the common things which we call beautiful was
revealed to his soul. Such doubt does not affect his greatness as a
poet in colour and in form, but I suspect that it has always been
the cause why England could not love him. If any man whom I knew to
be a man of brains confessed to me that he preferred Birket Foster,
I should smile--but I should understand.


A long time since I wrote in this book. In September I caught a
cold, which meant three weeks' illness.

I have not been suffering; merely feverish and weak and unable to
use my mind for anything but a daily hour or two of the lightest
reading. The weather has not favoured my recovery, wet winds often
blowing, and not much sun. Lying in bed, I have watched the sky,
studied the clouds, which--so long as they are clouds indeed, and
not a mere waste of grey vapour--always have their beauty.
Inability to read has always been my horror; once, a trouble of the
eyes all but drove me mad with fear of blindness; but I find that in
my present circumstances, in my own still house, with no intrusion
to be dreaded, with no task or care to worry me, I can fleet the
time not unpleasantly even without help of books. Reverie, unknown
to me in the days of bondage, has brought me solace; I hope it has a
little advanced me in wisdom.

For not, surely, by deliberate effort of thought does a man grow
wise. The truths of life are not discovered by us. At moments
unforeseen, some gracious influence descends upon the soul, touching
it to an emotion which, we know not how, the mind transmutes into
thought. This can happen only in a calm of the senses, a surrender
of the whole being to passionless contemplation. I understand, now,
the intellectual mood of the quietist.

Of course my good housekeeper has tended me perfectly, with the
minimum of needless talk. Wonderful woman!

If the evidence of a well-spent life is necessarily seen in "honour,
love, obedience, troops of friends," mine, it is clear, has fallen
short of a moderate ideal. Friends I have had, and have; but very
few. Honour and obedience--why, by a stretch, Mrs. M- may perchance
represent these blessings. As for love--?

Let me tell myself the truth. Do I really believe that at any time
of my life I have been the kind of man who merits affection? I
think not. I have always been much too self-absorbed; too critical
of all about me; too unreasonably proud. Such men as I live and die
alone, however much in appearance accompanied. I do not repine at
it; nay, lying day after day in solitude and silence, I have felt
glad that it was so. At least I give no one trouble, and that is
much. Most solemnly do I hope that in the latter days no long
illness awaits me. May I pass quickly from this life of quiet
enjoyment to the final peace. So shall no one think of me with
pained sympathy or with weariness. One--two--even three may
possibly feel regret, come the end how it may, but I do not flatter
myself that to them I am more than an object of kindly thought at
long intervals. It is enough; it signifies that I have not erred
wholly. And when I think that my daily life testifies to an act of
kindness such as I could never have dreamt of meriting from the man
who performed it, may I not be much more than content?


How I envy those who become prudent without thwackings of
experience! Such men seem to be not uncommon. I don't mean cold-
blooded calculators of profit and loss in life's possibilities; nor
yet the plodding dull, who never have imagination enough to quit the
beaten track of security; but bright-witted and large-hearted
fellows who seem always to be led by common sense, who go steadily
from stage to stage of life, doing the right, the prudent things,
guilty of no vagaries, winning respect by natural progress, seldom
needing aid themselves, often helpful to others, and, through all,
good-tempered, deliberate, happy. How I envy them!

For of myself it might be said that whatever folly is possible to a
moneyless man, that folly I have at one time or another committed.
Within my nature there seemed to be no faculty of rational self-
guidance. Boy and man, I blundered into every ditch and bog which
lay within sight of my way. Never did silly mortal reap such
harvest of experience; never had any one so many bruises to show for
it. Thwack, thwack! No sooner had I recovered from one sound
drubbing than I put myself in the way of another. "Unpractical" I
was called by those who spoke mildly; "idiot"--I am sure--by many a
ruder tongue. And idiot I see myself, whenever I glance back over
the long, devious road. Something, obviously, I lacked from the
beginning, some balancing principle granted to most men in one or
another degree. I had brains, but they were no help to me in the
common circumstances of life. But for the good fortune which
plucked me out of my mazes and set me in paradise, I should no doubt
have blundered on to the end. The last thwack of experience would
have laid me low just when I was becoming really a prudent man.


This morning's sunshine faded amid slow-gathering clouds, but
something of its light seems still to linger in the air, and to
touch the rain which is falling softly. I hear a pattering upon the
still leafage of the garden; it is a sound which lulls, and tunes
the mind to calm thoughtfulness.

I have a letter to-day from my old friend in Germany, E. B. For
many and many a year these letters have made a pleasant incident in
my life; more than that, they have often brought me help and
comfort. It must be a rare thing for friendly correspondence to go
on during the greater part of a lifetime between men of different
nationalities who see each other not twice in two decades. We were
young men when we first met in London, poor, struggling, full of
hopes and ideals; now we look back upon those far memories from the
autumn of life. B. writes to-day in a vein of quiet contentment,
which does me good. He quotes Goethe: "Was man in der Jugend
begehrt hat man im Alter die Fulle."

These words of Goethe's were once a hope to me; later, they made me
shake my head incredulously; now I smile to think how true they have
proved in my own case. But what, exactly, do they mean? Are they
merely an expression of the optimistic spirit? If so, optimism has
to content itself with rather doubtful generalities. Can it truly
be said that most men find the wishes of their youth satisfied in
later life? Ten years ago, I should have utterly denied it, and
could have brought what seemed to me abundant evidence in its
disproof. And as regards myself, is it not by mere happy accident
that I pass my latter years in such enjoyment of all I most desired?
Accident--but there is no such thing. I might just as well have
called it an accident had I succeeded in earning the money on which
now I live.

From the beginning of my manhood, it is true, I longed for bookish
leisure; that, assuredly, is seldom even one of the desires in a
young man's heart, but perhaps it is one of those which may most
reasonably look for gratification later on. What, however, of the
multitudes who aim only at wealth, for the power and the pride and
the material pleasures which it represents? We know very well that
few indeed are successful in that aim; and, missing it, do they not
miss everything? For them, are not Goethe's words mere mockery?

Apply them to mankind at large, and perhaps, after all, they are
true. The fact of national prosperity and contentment implies,
necessarily, the prosperity and contentment of the greater number of
the individuals of which the nation consists. In other words, the
average man who is past middle life has obtained what he strove for-
-success in his calling. As a young man, he would not, perhaps,
have set forth his aspirations so moderately, but do they not, as a
fact, amount to this? In defence of the optimistic view, one may
urge how rare it is to meet with an elderly man who harbours a
repining spirit. True; but I have always regarded as a fact of
infinite pathos the ability men have to subdue themselves to the
conditions of life. Contentment so often means resignation,
abandonment of the hope seen to be forbidden.

I cannot resolve this doubt.


I have been reading Sainte-Beuve's Port Royal, a book I have often
thought of reading, but its length, and my slight interest in that
period, always held me aloof. Happily, chance and mood came
together, and I am richer by a bit of knowledge well worth
acquiring. It is the kind of book which, one may reasonably say,
tends to edification. One is better for having lived a while with
"Messieurs de Port-Royal"; the best of them were, surely, not far
from the Kingdom of Heaven.

Theirs is not, indeed, the Christianity of the first age; we are
among theologians, and the shadow of dogma has dimmed those divine
hues of the early morning, yet ever and anon there comes a cool,
sweet air, which seems not to have blown across man's common world,
which bears no taint of mortality.

A gallery of impressive and touching portraits. The great-souled M.
de Saint-Cyran, with his vision of Christ restored; M. Le Maitre,
who, at the summit of a brilliant career, turned from the world to
meditation and penitence; Pascal, with his genius and his triumphs,
his conflicts of soul and fleshly martyrdom; Lancelot, the good
Lancelot, ideal schoolmaster, who wrote grammar and edited classical
books; the vigorous Arnauld, doctoral rather than saintly, but long-
suffering for the faith that was in him; and all the smaller names--
Walon de Beaupuis, Nicole, Hamon--spirits of exquisite humility and
sweetness--a perfume rises from the page as one reads about them.
But best of all I like M. de Tillemont; I could have wished for
myself even such a life as his; wrapped in silence and calm, a life
of gentle devotion and zealous study. From the age of fourteen, he
said, his intellect had occupied itself with but one subject, that
of ecclesiastical history. Rising at four o'clock, he read and
wrote until half-past nine in the evening, interrupting his work
only to say the Offices of the Church, and for a couple of hours'
breathing at mid-day. Few were his absences. When he had to make a
journey, he set forth on foot, staff in hand, and lightened the way
by singing to himself a psalm or canticle. This man of profound
erudition had as pure and simple a heart as ever dwelt in mortal.
He loved to stop by the road and talk with children, and knew how to
hold their attention whilst teaching them a lesson. Seeing boy or
girl in charge of a cow, he would ask: "How is it that you, a
little child, are able to control that animal, so much bigger and
stronger?" And he would show the reason, speaking of the human
soul. All this about Tillemont is new to me; well as I knew his
name (from the pages of Gibbon), I thought of him merely as the
laborious and accurate compiler of historical materials. Admirable
as was his work, the spirit in which he performed it is the thing to
dwell upon; he studied for study's sake, and with no aim but truth;
to him it was a matter of indifference whether his learning ever
became known among men, and at any moment he would have given the
fruits of his labour to any one capable of making use of them.

Think of the world in which the Jansenists were living; the world of
the Fronde, of Richelieu and Mazarin, of his refulgent Majesty Louis
XIV. Contrast Port-Royal with Versailles, and--whatever one's
judgment of their religious and ecclesiastical aims--one must needs
say that these men lived with dignity. The Great Monarch is, in
comparison, a poor, sordid creature. One thinks of Moliere refused
burial--the king's contemptuous indifference for one who could do no
more to amuse him being a true measure of the royal greatness. Face
to face with even the least of these grave and pious men, how paltry
and unclean are all those courtly figures; not THERE was dignity, in
the palace chambers and the stately gardens, but in the poor rooms
where the solitaries of Port-Royal prayed and studied and taught.
Whether or not the ideal for mankind, their life was worthy of man.
And what is rarer than a life to which that praise can be given?


It is amusing to note the superficial forms of reaction against
scientific positivism. The triumph of Darwin was signalized by the
invention of that happy word Agnostic, which had great vogue. But
agnosticism, as a fashion, was far too reasonable to endure. There
came a rumour of Oriental magic, (how the world repeats itself!) and
presently every one who had nothing better to do gossipped about
"esoteric Buddhism"--the saving adjective sounded well in a drawing-
room. It did not hold very long, even with the novelists; for the
English taste this esotericism was too exotic. Somebody suggested
that the old table-turning and spirit-rapping, which had homely
associations, might be re-considered in a scientific light, and the
idea was seized upon. Superstition pranked in the professor's
spectacles, it set up a laboratory, and printed grave reports. Day
by day its sphere widened. Hypnotism brought matter for the marvel-
mongers, and there followed a long procession of words in limping
Greek--a little difficult till practice had made perfect. Another
fortunate terminologist hit upon the word "psychical"--the P might
be sounded or not, according to the taste and fancy of the
pronouncer--and the fashionable children of a scientific age were
thoroughly at ease. "There MUST be something, you know; one always
felt that there MUST be something." And now, if one may judge from
what one reads, psychical "science" is comfortably joining hands
with the sorcery of the Middle Ages. It is said to be a lucrative
moment for wizards that peep and that mutter. If the law against
fortune-telling were as strictly enforced in the polite world as it
occasionally is in slums and hamlets, we should have a merry time.
But it is difficult to prosecute a Professor of Telepathy--and how
he would welcome the advertisement!

Of course I know very well that all that make use of these words are
not in one and the same category. There is a study of the human
mind, in health and in disease, which calls for as much respect as
any other study conscientiously and capably pursued; that it lends
occasion to fribbles and knaves is no argument against any honest
tendency of thought. Men whom one cannot but esteem are deeply
engaged in psychical investigations, and have convinced themselves
that they are brought into touch with phenomena inexplicable by the
commonly accepted laws of life. Be it so. They may be on the point
of making discoveries in the world beyond sense. For my own part,
everything of this kind not only does not interest me; I turn from
it with the strongest distaste. If every wonder-story examined by
the Psychical Society were set before me with irresistible evidence
of its truth, my feeling (call it my prejudice) would undergo no
change whatever. No whit the less should I yawn over the next
batch, and lay the narratives aside with--yes, with a sort of
disgust. "An ounce of civet, good apothecary!" Why it should be so
with me I cannot say. I am as indifferent to the facts or fancies
of spiritualism as I am, for instance, to the latest mechanical
application of electricity. Edisons and Marconis may thrill the
world with astounding novelties; they astound me, as every one else,
but straightway I forget my astonishment, and am in every respect
the man I was before. The thing has simply no concern for me, and I
care not a volt if to-morrow the proclaimed discovery be proved a
journalist's mistake or invention.

Am I, then, a hidebound materialist? If I know myself, hardly that.
Once, in conversation with G. A., I referred to his position as that
of the agnostic. He corrected me. "The agnostic grants that there
MAY be something beyond the sphere of man's knowledge; I can make no
such admission. For me, what is called the unknowable is simply the
non-existent. We see what is, and we see all." Now this gave me a
sort of shock; it seemed incredible to me that a man of so much
intelligence could hold such a view. So far am I from feeling
satisfied with any explanation, scientific or other, of myself and
of the world about me, that not a day goes by but I fall a-
marvelling before the mystery of the universe. To trumpet the
triumphs of human knowledge seems to me worse than childishness;
now, as of old, we know but one thing--that we know nothing. What!
Can I pluck the flower by the wayside, and, as I gaze at it, feel
that, if I knew all the teachings of histology, morphology, and so
on, with regard to it, I should have exhausted its meanings? What
is all this but words, words, words? Interesting, yes, as
observation; but, the more interesting, so much the more provocative
of wonder and of hopeless questioning. One may gaze and think till
the brain whirls--till the little blossom in one's hand becomes as
overwhelming a miracle as the very sun in heaven. Nothing to be
known? The flower simply a flower, and there an end on't? The man
simply a product of evolutionary law, his senses and his intellect
merely availing him to take account of the natural mechanism of
which he forms a part? I find it very hard to believe that this is
the conviction of any human mind. Rather I would think that despair
at an insoluble problem, and perhaps impatience with those who
pretend to solve it, bring about a resolute disregard of everything
beyond the physical fact, and so at length a self-deception which
seems obtuseness.


It may well be that what we call the unknowable will be for ever the
unknown. In that thought is there not a pathos beyond words? It
may be that the human race will live and pass away; all mankind,
from him who in the world's dawn first shaped to his fearful mind an
image of the Lord of Life, to him who, in the dusking twilight of
the last age, shall crouch before a deity of stone or wood; and
never one of that long lineage have learnt the wherefore of his
being. The prophets, the martyrs, their noble anguish vain and
meaningless; the wise whose thought strove to eternity, and was but
an idle dream; the pure in heart whose life was a vision of the
living God, the suffering and the mourners whose solace was in a
world to come, the victims of injustice who cried to the Judge
Supreme--all gone down into silence, and the globe that bare them
circling dead and cold through soundless space. The most tragic
aspect of such a tragedy is that it is not unthinkable. The soul
revolts, but dare not see in this revolt the assurance of its higher
destiny. Viewing our life thus, is it not easier to believe that
the tragedy is played with no spectator? And of a truth, of a
truth, what spectator can there be? The day may come when, to all
who live, the Name of Names will be but an empty symbol, rejected by
reason and by faith. Yet the tragedy will be played on.

It is not, I say, unthinkable; but that is not the same thing as to
declare that life has no meaning beyond the sense it bears to human
intelligence. The intelligence itself rejects such a supposition;
in my case, with impatience and scorn. No theory of the world which
ever came to my knowledge is to me for one moment acceptable; the
possibility of an explanation which would set my mind at rest is to
me inconceivable; no whit the less am I convinced that there is a
Reason of the All; one which transcends my understanding, one no
glimmer of which will ever touch my apprehension; a Reason which
must imply a creative power, and therefore, even whilst a necessity
of my thought, is by the same criticized into nothing. A like
antinomy with that which affects our conception of the infinite in
time and space. Whether the rational processes have reached their
final development, who shall say? Perhaps what seem to us the
impassable limits of thought are but the conditions of a yet early
stage in the history of man. Those who make them a proof of a
"future state" must necessarily suppose gradations in that futurity;
does the savage, scarce risen above the brute, enter upon the same
"new life" as the man of highest civilization? Such gropings of the
mind certify our ignorance; the strange thing is that they can be
held by any one to demonstrate that our ignorance is final


Yet that, perhaps, will be the mind of coming man; if not the final
attainment of his intellectual progress, at all events a long period
of self-satisfaction, assumed as finality. We talk of the "ever
aspiring soul"; we take for granted that if one religion passes
away, another must arise. But what if man presently find himself
without spiritual needs? Such modification of his being cannot be
deemed impossible; many signs of our life to-day seem to point
towards it. If the habits of thought favoured by physical science
do but sink deep enough, and no vast calamity come to check mankind
in its advance to material contentment, the age of true positivism
may arise. Then it will be the common privilege, "rerum cognoscere
causas"; the word supernatural will have no sense; superstition will
be a dimly understood trait of the early race; and where now we
perceive an appalling Mystery, everything will be lucid and serene
as a geometric demonstration. Such an epoch of Reason might be the
happiest the world could know. Indeed, it would either be that, or
it would never come about at all. For suffering and sorrow are the
great Doctors of Metaphysic; and, remembering this, one cannot count
very surely upon the rationalist millennium.


The free man, says Spinoza, thinks of nothing less often than of
death. Free, in his sense of the word, I may not call myself. I
think of death very often; the thought, indeed, is ever in the
background of my mind; yet free in another sense I assuredly am, for
death inspires me with no fear. There was a time when I dreaded it;
but that, merely because it meant disaster to others who depended
upon my labour; the cessation of being has never in itself had power
to afflict me. Pain I cannot well endure, and I do indeed think
with apprehension of being subjected to the trial of long deathbed
torments. It is a sorry thing that the man who has fronted destiny
with something of manly calm throughout a life of stress and of
striving, may, when he nears the end, be dishonoured by a weakness
which is mere disease. But happily I am not often troubled by that
dark anticipation.

I always turn out of my way to walk through a country churchyard;
these rural resting-places are as attractive to me as a town
cemetery is repugnant. I read the names upon the stones, and find a
deep solace in thinking that for all these the fret and the fear of
life are over. There comes to me no touch of sadness; whether it be
a little child or an aged man, I have the same sense of happy
accomplishment; the end having come, and with it the eternal peace,
what matter if it came late or soon? There is no such gratulation
as Hic jacet. There is no such dignity as that of death. In the
path trodden by the noblest of mankind these have followed; that
which of all who live is the utmost thing demanded, these have
achieved. I cannot sorrow for them, but the thought of their
vanished life moves me to a brotherly tenderness. The dead, amid
this leafy silence, seem to whisper encouragement to him whose fate
yet lingers: As we are, so shalt thou be; and behold our quiet!


Many a time, when life went hard with me, I have betaken myself to
the Stoics, and not all in vain. Marcus Aurelius has often been one
of my bedside books; I have read him in the night watches, when I
could not sleep for misery, and when assuredly I could have read
nothing else. He did not remove my burden; his proofs of the vanity
of earthly troubles availed me nothing; but there was a soothing
harmony in his thought which partly lulled my mind, and the mere
wish that I could find strength to emulate that high example (though
I knew that I never should) was in itself a safeguard against the
baser impulses of wretchedness. I read him still, but with no
turbid emotion, thinking rather of the man than of the philosophy,
and holding his image dear in my heart of hearts.

Of course the intellectual assumption which makes his system
untenable by the thinker of our time is: that we possess a
knowledge of the absolute. Noble is the belief that by exercise of
his reason a man may enter into communion with that Rational Essence
which is the soul of the world; but precisely because of our
inability to find within ourselves any such sure and certain
guidance do we of to-day accept the barren doom of scepticism.
Otherwise, the Stoic's sense of man's subordination in the universal
scheme, and of the all-ruling destiny, brings him into touch with
our own philosophical views, and his doctrine concerning the
"sociable" nature of man, of the reciprocal obligations which exist
between all who live, are entirely congenial to the better spirit of
our day. His fatalism is not mere resignation; one has not only to
accept one's lot, whatever it is, as inevitable, but to accept it
with joy, with praises. Why are we here? For the same reason that
has brought about the existence of a horse, or of a vine, to play
the part allotted to us by Nature. As it is within our power to
understand the order of things, so are we capable of guiding
ourselves in accordance therewith; the will, powerless over
circumstance, is free to determine the habits of the soul. The
first duty is self-discipline; its correspondent first privilege is
an inborn knowledge of the law of life.

But we are fronted by that persistent questioner who will accept no
a priori assumption, however noble in its character and beneficent
in its tendency. How do we know that the reason of the Stoic is at
harmony with the world's law? I, perhaps, may see life from a very
different point of view; to me reason may dictate, not self-subdual,
but self-indulgence; I may find in the free exercise of all my
passions an existence far more consonant with what seems to me the
dictate of Nature. I am proud; Nature has made me so; let my pride
assert itself to justification. I am strong; let me put forth my
strength, it is the destiny of the feeble to fall before me. On the
other hand, I am weak and I suffer; what avails a mere assertion
that fate is just, to bring about my calm and glad acceptance of
this down-trodden doom? Nay, for there is that within my soul which
bids me revolt, and cry against the iniquity of some power I know
not. Granting that I am compelled to acknowledge a scheme of things
which constrains me to this or that, whether I will or no, how can I
be sure that wisdom or moral duty lies in acquiescence? Thus the
unceasing questioner; to whom, indeed, there is no reply. For our
philosophy sees no longer a supreme sanction, and no longer hears a
harmony of the universe.

"He that is unjust is also impious. For the Nature of the Universe,
having made all reasonable creatures one for another, to the end
that they should do one another good; more or less, according to the
several persons and occasions; but in no wise hurt one another; it
is manifest that he that doth transgress against this her will, is
guilty of impiety towards the most ancient and venerable of all the
Deities." How gladly would I believe this! That injustice is
impiety, and indeed the supreme impiety, I will hold with my last
breath; but it were the merest affectation of a noble sentiment if I
supported my faith by such a reasoning. I see no single piece of
strong testimony that justice is the law of the universe; I see
suggestions incalculable tending to prove that it is not. Rather
must I apprehend that man, in some inconceivable way, may at his
best moments represent a Principle darkly at strife with that which
prevails throughout the world as known to us. If the just man be in
truth a worshipper of the most ancient of Deities, he must needs
suppose, either that the object of his worship belongs to a fallen
dynasty, or--what from of old has been his refuge--that the sacred
fire which burns within him is an "evidence of things not seen."
What if I am incapable of either supposition? There remains the
dignity of a hopeless cause--"sed victa Catoni." But how can there
sound the hymn of praise?

"That is best for everyone, which the common Nature of all doth send
unto everyone, and then is it best, when she doth send it." The
optimism of Necessity, and perhaps, the highest wisdom man can
attain unto. "Remember that unto reasonable creatures only is it
granted that they may willingly and freely submit." No one could be
more sensible than I of the persuasiveness of this high theme. The

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