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The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft by George Gissing

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words sing to me, and life is illumined with soft glory, like that
of the autumn sunset yonder. "Consider how man's life is but for a
very moment of time, and so depart meek and contented: even as if a
ripe olive falling should praise the ground that bare her, and give
thanks to the tree that begat her." So would I fain think, when the
moment comes. It is the mood of strenuous endeavour, but also the
mood of rest. Better than the calm of achieved indifference (if
that, indeed, is possible to man); better than the ecstasy which
contemns the travail of earth in contemplation of bliss to come.
But, by no effort attainable. An influence of the unknown powers; a
peace that falleth upon the soul like dew at evening.


I have had one of my savage headaches. For a day and a night I was
in blind torment. Have at it, now, with the stoic remedy. Sickness
of the body is no evil. With a little resolution and considering it
as a natural issue of certain natural processes, pain may well be
borne. One's solace is, to remember that it cannot affect the soul,
which partakes of the eternal nature. This body is but as "the
clothing, or the cottage, of the mind." Let flesh be racked; I, the
very I, will stand apart, lord of myself.

Meanwhile, memory, reason, every faculty of my intellectual part, is
being whelmed in muddy oblivion. Is the soul something other than
the mind? If so, I have lost all consciousness of its existence.
For me, mind and soul are one, and, as I am too feelingly reminded,
that element of my being is HERE, where the brain throbs and
anguishes. A little more of such suffering, and I were myself no
longer; the body representing me would gesticulate and rave, but I
should know nothing of its motives, its fantasies. The very I, it
is too plain, consists but with a certain balance of my physical
elements, which we call health. Even in the light beginnings of my
headache, I was already not myself; my thoughts followed no normal
course, and I was aware of the abnormality. A few hours later, I
was but a walking disease; my mind--if one could use the word--had
become a barrel-organ, grinding in endless repetition a bar or two
of idle music.

What trust shall I repose in the soul that serves me thus? Just as
much, one would say, as in the senses, through which I know all that
I can know of the world in which I live, and which, for all I can
tell, may deceive me even more grossly in their common use than they
do on certain occasions where I have power to test them; just as
much, and no more--if I am right in concluding that mind and soul
are merely subtle functions of body. If I chance to become deranged
in certain parts of my physical mechanism, I shall straightway be
deranged in my wits; and behold that Something in me which "partakes
of the eternal" prompting me to pranks which savour little of the
infinite wisdom. Even in its normal condition (if I can determine
what that is) my mind is obviously the slave of trivial accidents; I
eat something that disagrees with me, and of a sudden the whole
aspect of life is changed; this impulse has lost its force, and
another which before I should not for a moment have entertained, is
all-powerful over me. In short, I know just as little about myself
as I do about the Eternal Essence, and I have a haunting suspicion
that I may be a mere automaton, my every thought and act due to some
power which uses and deceives me.

Why am I meditating thus, instead of enjoying the life of the
natural man, at peace with himself and the world, as I was a day or
two ago? Merely, it is evident, because my health has suffered a
temporary disorder. It has passed; I have thought enough about the
unthinkable; I feel my quiet returning. Is it any merit of mine
that I begin to be in health once more? Could I, by any effort of
the will, have shunned this pitfall?


Blackberries hanging thick upon the hedge bring to my memory
something of long ago. I had somehow escaped into the country, and
on a long walk began to feel mid-day hunger. The wayside brambles
were fruiting; I picked and ate, and ate on, until I had come within
sight of an inn where I might have made a meal. But my hunger was
satisfied; I had no need of anything more, and, as I thought of it,
a strange feeling of surprise, a sort of bewilderment, came upon me.
What! Could it be that I had eaten, and eaten sufficiently, WITHOUT
PAYING? It struck me as an extraordinary thing. At that time, my
ceaseless preoccupation was how to obtain money to keep myself
alive. Many a day I had suffered hunger because I durst not spend
the few coins I possessed; the food I could buy was in any case
unsatisfactory, unvaried. But here Nature had given me a feast,
which seemed delicious, and I had eaten all I wanted. The wonder
held me for a long time, and to this day I can recall it, understand

I think there could be no better illustration of what it means to be
very poor in a great town. And I am glad to have been through it.
To those days of misery I owe much of the contentment which I now
enjoy; not by mere force of contrast, but because I have been better
taught than most men the facts which condition our day to day
existence. To the ordinary educated person, freedom from anxiety as
to how he shall merely be fed and clothed is a matter of course;
questioned, he would admit it to be an agreeable state of things,
but it is no more a source of conscious joy to him than physical
health to the thoroughly sound man. For me, were I to live another
fifty years, this security would be a delightful surprise renewed
with every renewal of day. I know, as only one with my experience
can, all that is involved in the possession of means to live. The
average educated man has never stood alone, utterly alone, just clad
and nothing more than that, with the problem before him of wresting
his next meal from a world that cares not whether he live or die.
There is no such school of political economy. Go through that
course of lectures, and you will never again become confused as to
the meaning of elementary terms in that sorry science.

I understand, far better than most men, what I owe to the labour of
others. This money which I "draw" at the four quarters of the year,
in a sense falls to me from heaven; but I know very well that every
drachm is sweated from human pores. Not, thank goodness, with the
declared tyranny of basest capitalism; I mean only that it is the
product of human labour; perhaps wholesome, but none the less
compulsory. Look far enough, and it means muscular toil, that
swinking of the ruder man which supports all the complex structure
of our life. When I think of him thus, the man of the people earns
my gratitude. That it is gratitude from afar, that I never was, and
never shall be, capable of democratic fervour, is a characteristic
of my mind which I long ago accepted as final. I have known revolt
against the privilege of wealth (can I not remember spots in London
where I have stood, savage with misery, looking at the prosperous
folk who passed?), but I could never feel myself at one with the
native poor among whom I dwelt. And for the simplest reason; I came
to know them too well. He who cultivates his enthusiasm amid graces
and comforts may nourish an illusion with regard to the world below
him all his life long, and I do not deny that he may be the better
for it; for me, no illusion was possible. I knew the poor, and I
knew that their aims were not mine. I knew that the kind of life
(such a modest life!) which I should have accepted as little short
of the ideal, would have been to them--if they could have been made
to understand it--a weariness and a contempt. To ally myself with
them against the "upper world" would have been mere dishonesty, or
sheer despair. What they at heart desired, was to me barren; what I
coveted, was to them for ever incomprehensible.

That my own aim indicated an ideal which is the best for all to
pursue, I am far from maintaining. It may be so, or not; I have
long known the idleness of advocating reform on a basis of personal
predilection. Enough to set my own thoughts in order, without
seeking to devise a new economy for the world. But it is much to
see clearly from one's point of view, and therein the evil days I
have treasured are of no little help to me. If my knowledge be only
subjective, why, it only concerns myself; I preach to no one. Upon
another man, of origin and education like to mine, a like experience
of hardship might have a totally different effect; he might identify
himself with the poor, burn to the end of his life with the noblest
humanitarianism. I should no further criticize him than to say that
he saw with other eyes than mine. A vision, perhaps, larger and
more just. But in one respect he resembles me. If ever such a man
arises, let him be questioned; it will be found that he once made a
meal of blackberries--and mused upon it.


I stood to-day watching harvesters at work, and a foolish envy took
hold upon me. To be one of those brawny, brown-necked men, who can
string their muscles from dawn to sundown, and go home without an
ache to the sound slumber which will make them fresh again for to-
morrow's toil! I am a man in the middle years, with limbs shaped as
those of another, and subject to no prostrating malady, yet I doubt
whether I could endure the lightest part of this field labour even
for half an hour. Is that indeed to be a man? Could I feel
surprised if one of these stalwart fellows turned upon me a look of
good-natured contempt? Yet he would never dream that I envied him;
he would think it as probable, no doubt, that I should compare
myself unfavourably with one of the farm horses.

There comes the old idle dream: balance of mind and body, perfect
physical health combined with the fulness of intellectual vigour.
Why should I not be there in the harvest field, if so it pleased me,
yet none the less live for thought? Many a theorist holds the thing
possible, and looks to its coming in a better time. If so, two
changes must needs come before it; there will no longer exist a
profession of literature, and all but the whole of every library
will be destroyed, leaving only the few books which are universally
recognized as national treasures. Thus, and thus only, can mental
and physical equilibrium ever be brought about.

It is idle to talk to us of "the Greeks." The people we mean when
so naming them were a few little communities, living under very
peculiar conditions, and endowed by Nature with most exceptional
characteristics. The sporadic civilization which we are too much in
the habit of regarding as if it had been no less stable than
brilliant, was a succession of the briefest splendours, gleaming
here and there from the coasts of the Aegean to those of the western
Mediterranean. Our heritage of Greek literature and art is
priceless; the example of Greek life possesses for us not the
slightest value. The Greeks had nothing alien to study--not even a
foreign or a dead language. They read hardly at all, preferring to
listen. They were a slave-holding people, much given to social
amusement, and hardly knowing what we call industry. Their
ignorance was vast, their wisdom a grace of the gods. Together with
their fair intelligence, they had grave moral weaknesses. If we
could see and speak with an average Athenian of the Periclean age,
he would cause no little disappointment--there would be so much more
of the barbarian in him, and at the same time of the decadent, than
we had anticipated. More than possibly, even his physique would be
a disillusion. Leave him in that old world, which is precious to
the imagination of a few, but to the business and bosoms of the
modern multitude irrelevant as Memphis or Babylon.

The man of thought, as we understand him, is all but necessarily the
man of impaired health. The rare exception will be found to come of
a stock which may, indeed, have been distinguished by intelligence,
but represented in all its members the active rather than the
studious or contemplative life; whilst the children of such
fortunate thinkers are sure either to revert to the active type or
to exhibit the familiar sacrifice of body to mind. I am not denying
the possibility of mens sana in corpore sano; that is another thing.
Nor do I speak of the healthy people (happily still numerous) who
are at the same time bright-witted and fond of books. The man I
have in view is he who pursues the things of the mind with passion,
who turns impatiently from all common interests or cares which
encroach upon his sacred time, who is haunted by a sense of the
infinity of thought and learning, who, sadly aware of the conditions
on which he holds his mental vitality, cannot resist the hourly
temptation to ignore them. Add to these native characteristics the
frequent fact that such a man must make merchandise of his
attainments, must toil under the perpetual menace of destitution;
and what hope remains that his blood will keep the true rhythm, that
his nerves will play as Nature bade them, that his sinews will bide
the strain of exceptional task? Such a man may gaze with envy at
those who "sweat in the eye of Phoebus," but he knows that no choice
was offered him. And if life has so far been benignant as to grant
him frequent tranquillity of studious hours, let him look from the
reapers to the golden harvest, and fare on in thankfulness.


That a labourer in the fields should stand very much on the level of
the beast that toils with him, can be neither desirable nor
necessary. He does so, as a matter of fact, and one hears that only
the dullest-witted peasant will nowadays consent to the peasant
life; his children, taught to read the newspaper, make what haste
they can to the land of promise--where newspapers are printed. That
here is something altogether wrong it needs no evangelist to tell
us; the remedy no prophet has as yet even indicated. Husbandry has
in our time been glorified in eloquence which for the most part is
vain, endeavouring, as it does, to prove a falsity--that the
agricultural life is, in itself, favourable to gentle emotions, to
sweet thoughtfulness, and to all the human virtues. Agriculture is
one of the most exhausting forms of toil, and, in itself, by no
means conducive to spiritual development; that it played a
civilizing part in the history of the world is merely due to the
fact that, by creating wealth, it freed a portion of mankind from
the labour of the plough. Enthusiasts have tried the experiment of
turning husbandman; one of them writes of his experience in notable

"Oh, labour is the curse of the world, and nobody can meddle with it
without becoming proportionately brutified. Is it a praiseworthy
matter that I have spent five golden months in providing food for
cows and horses? It is not so."

Thus Nathaniel Hawthorne, at Brook Farm. In the bitterness of his
disillusion he went too far. Labour may be, and very often is, an
accursed and a brutalizing thing, but assuredly, it is not the curse
of the world; nay, it is the world's supreme blessing. Hawthorne
had committed a folly, and he paid for it in loss of mental balance.
For him, plainly, it was no suitable task to feed cows and horses;
yet many a man would perceive the nobler side of such occupation,
for it signifies, of course, providing food for mankind. The
interest of this quotation lies in the fact that, all unconsciously,
so intelligent a man as Hawthorne had been reduced to the mental
state of our agricultural labourers in revolt against the country
life. Not only is his intellect in abeyance, but his emotions have
ceased to be a true guide. The worst feature of the rustic mind in
our day, is not its ignorance or grossness, but its rebellious
discontent. Like all other evils, this is seen to be an inevitable
outcome of the condition of things; one understands it only too
well. The bucolic wants to "better" himself. He is sick of feeding
cows and horses; he imagines that, on the pavement of London, he
would walk with a manlier tread.

There is no help in visions of Arcadia; yet it is plain fact that in
days gone by the peasantry found life more than endurable, and yet
were more intelligent than our clod-hoppers who still hold by the
plough. They had their folk-songs, now utterly forgotten. They had
romances and fairy lore, which their descendants could no more
appreciate than an idyll of Theocritus. Ah, but let it be
remembered that they had also a HOME, and this is the illumining
word. If your peasant love the fields which give him bread, he will
not think it hard to labour in them; his toil will no longer be as
that of the beast, but upward-looking and touched with a light from
other than the visible heavens. No use to blink the hard and dull
features of rustic existence; let them rather be insisted upon, that
those who own and derive profit from the land may be constant in
human care for the lives which make it fruitful. Such care may
perchance avail, in some degree, to counteract the restless tendency
of the time; the dweller in a pleasant cottage is not so likely to
wish to wander from it as he who shelters himself in a hovel. Well-
meaning folk talk about reawakening love of the country by means of
deliberate instruction. Lies any hope that way? Does it seem to
promise a return of the time when the old English names of all our
flowers were common on rustic lips--by which, indeed, they were
first uttered? The fact that flowers and birds are well-nigh
forgotten, together with the songs and the elves, shows how advanced
is the process of rural degeneration. Most likely it is foolishness
to hope for the revival of any bygone social virtue. The husbandman
of the future will be, I daresay, a well-paid mechanic, of the
engine-driver species; as he goes about his work he will sing the
last refrain of the music-hall, and his oft-recurring holidays will
be spent in the nearest great town. For him, I fancy, there will be
little attraction in ever such melodious talk about "common objects
of the country." Flowers, perhaps, at all events those of tilth and
pasture, will have been all but improved away. And, as likely as
not, the word Home will have only a special significance, indicating
the common abode of retired labourers who are drawing old-age


I cannot close my eyes upon this day without setting down some
record of it; yet the foolish insufficiency of words! At sunrise I
looked forth; nowhere could I discern a cloud the size of a man's
hand; the leaves quivered gently, as if with joy in the divine
morning which glistened upon their dew. At sunset I stood in the
meadow above my house, and watched the red orb sink into purple
mist, whilst in the violet heaven behind me rose the perfect moon.
All between, through the soft circling of the dial's shadow, was
loveliness and quiet unutterable. Never, I could fancy, did autumn
clothe in such magnificence the elms and beeches; never, I should
think, did the leafage on my walls blaze in such royal crimson. It
was no day for wandering; under a canopy of blue or gold, where the
eye could fall on nothing that was not beautiful, enough to be at
one with Nature in dreamy rest. From stubble fields sounded the
long caw of rooks; a sleepy crowing ever and anon told of the
neighbour farm; my doves cooed above their cot. Was it for five
minutes, or was it for an hour, that I watched the yellow butterfly
wafted as by an insensible tremor of the air amid the garden
glintings? In every autumn there comes one such flawless day. None
that I have known brought me a mind so touched to the fitting mood
of welcome, and so fulfilled the promise of its peace.


I was at ramble in the lanes, when, from somewhere at a distance,
there sounded the voice of a countryman--strange to say--singing.
The notes were indistinct, but they rose, to my ear, with a moment's
musical sadness, and of a sudden my heart was stricken with a memory
so keen that I knew not whether it was pain or delight. For the
sound seemed to me that of a peasant's song which I once heard
whilst sitting among the ruins of Paestum. The English landscape
faded before my eyes. I saw great Doric columns of honey-golden
travertine; between them, as I looked one way, a deep strip of sea;
when I turned, the purple gorges of the Apennine; and all about the
temple, where I sat in solitude, a wilderness dead and still but for
that long note of wailing melody. I had not thought it possible
that here, in my beloved home, where regret and desire are all but
unknown to me, I could have been so deeply troubled by a thought of
things far off. I returned with head bent, that voice singing in my
memory. All the delight I have known in Italian travel burned again
within my heart. The old spell has not lost its power. Never, I
know, will it again draw me away from England; but the Southern
sunlight cannot fade from my imagination, and to dream of its glow
upon the ruins of old time wakes in me the voiceless desire which
once was anguish.

In his Italienische Reise, Goethe tells that at one moment of his
life the desire for Italy became to him a scarce endurable
suffering; at length he could not bear to hear or to read of things
Italian, even the sight of a Latin book so tortured him that he
turned away from it; and the day arrived when, in spite of every
obstacle, he yielded to the sickness of longing, and in secret stole
away southward. When first I read that passage, it represented
exactly the state of my own mind; to think of Italy was to feel
myself goaded by a longing which, at times, made me literally ill;
I, too, had put aside my Latin books, simply because I could not
endure the torment of imagination they caused me. And I had so
little hope (nay, for years no shadow of reasonable hope) that I
should ever be able to appease my desire. I taught myself to read
Italian; that was something. I worked (half-heartedly) at a
colloquial phrase-book. But my sickness only grew towards despair.

Then came into my hands a sum of money (such a poor little sum) for
a book I had written. It was early autumn. I chanced to hear some
one speak of Naples--and only death would have held me back.


Truly, I grow aged. I have no longer much delight in wine.

But then, no wine ever much rejoiced me save that of Italy. Wine-
drinking in England is, after all, only make-believe, a mere playing
with an exotic inspiration. Tennyson had his port, whereto clings a
good old tradition; sherris sack belongs to a nobler age; these
drinks are not for us. Let him who will, toy with dubious Bordeaux
or Burgundy; to get good of them, soul's good, you must be on the
green side of thirty. Once or twice they have plucked me from
despair; I would not speak unkindly of anything in cask or bottle
which bears the great name of wine. But for me it is a thing of
days gone by. Never again shall I know the mellow hour cum regnat
rosa, cum madent capilli. Yet how it lives in memory!

"What call you this wine?" I asked of the temple-guardian at
Paestum, when he ministered to my thirst. "Vino di Calabria," he
answered, and what a glow in the name! There I drank it, seated
against the column of Poseidon's temple. There I drank it, my feet
resting on acanthus, my eyes wandering from sea to mountain, or
peering at little shells niched in the crumbling surface of the
sacred stone. The autumn day declined; a breeze of evening
whispered about the forsaken shore; on the far summit lay a long,
still cloud, and its hue was that of my Calabrian wine.

How many such moments come back to me as my thoughts wander! Dim
little trattorie in city byways, inns smelling of the sun in
forgotten valleys, on the mountain side, or by the tideless shore,
where the grape has given me of its blood, and made life a rapture.
Who but the veriest fanatic of teetotalism would grudge me those
hours so gloriously redeemed? No draught of wine amid the old tombs
under the violet sky but made me for the time a better man, larger
of brain, more courageous, more gentle. 'Twas a revelry whereon
came no repentance. Could I but live for ever in thoughts and
feelings such as those born to me in the shadow of the Italian vine!
There I listened to the sacred poets; there I walked with the wise
of old; there did the gods reveal to me the secret of their eternal
calm. I hear the red rillet as it flows into the rustic glass; I
see the purple light upon the hills. Fill to me again, thou of the
Roman visage and all but Roman speech! Is not yonder the long
gleaming of the Appian Way? Chant in the old measure, the song

"dum Capitolium
Scandet cum tacita virgine pontifex--"

aye, and for how many an age when Pontiff and Vestal sleep in the
eternal silence. Let the slave of the iron gods chatter what he
will; for him flows no Falernian, for him the Muses have no smile,
no melody. Ere the sun set, and the darkness fall about us, fill


Is there, at this moment, any boy of twenty, fairly educated, but
without means, without help, with nothing but the glow in his brain
and steadfast courage in his heart, who sits in a London garret, and
writes for dear life? There must be, I suppose; yet all that I have
read and heard of late years about young writers, shows them in a
very different aspect. No garretteers, these novelists and
journalists awaiting their promotion. They eat--and entertain their
critics--at fashionable restaurants; they are seen in expensive
seats at the theatre; they inhabit handsome flats--photographed for
an illustrated paper on the first excuse. At the worst, they belong
to a reputable club, and have garments which permit them to attend a
garden party or an evening "at home" without attracting unpleasant
notice. Many biographical sketches have I read, during the last
decade, making personal introduction of young Mr. This or young Miss
That, whose book was--as the sweet language of the day will have it-
-"booming"; but never one in which there was a hint of stern
struggle, of the pinched stomach and frozen fingers. I surmise that
the path of "literature" is being made too easy. Doubtless it is a
rare thing nowadays for a lad whose education ranks him with the
upper middle class to find himself utterly without resources, should
he wish to devote himself to the profession of letters. And there
is the root of the matter; writing has come to be recognized as a
profession, almost as cut-and-dried as church or law; a lad may go
into it with full parental approval, with ready avuncular support.
I heard not long ago of an eminent lawyer, who had paid a couple of
hundred per annum for his son's instruction in the art of fiction--
yea, the art of fiction--by a not very brilliant professor of that
art. Really, when one comes to think of it, an astonishing fact, a
fact vastly significant. Starvation, it is true, does not
necessarily produce fine literature; but one feels uneasy about
these carpet-authors. To the two or three who have a measure of
conscience and vision, I could wish, as the best thing, some
calamity which would leave them friendless in the streets. They
would perish, perhaps. But set that possibility against the all but
certainty of their present prospect--fatty degeneration of the soul;
and is it not acceptable?

I thought of this as I stood yesterday watching a noble sunset,
which brought back to my memory the sunsets of a London autumn,
thirty years ago; more glorious, it seems to me, than any I have
since beheld. It happened that, on one such evening, I was by the
river at Chelsea, with nothing to do except to feel that I was
hungry, and to reflect that, before morning, I should be hungrier
still. I loitered upon Battersea Bridge--the old picturesque wooden
bridge, and there the western sky took hold upon me. Half an hour
later, I was speeding home. I sat down, and wrote a description of
what I had seen, and straightway sent it to an evening newspaper,
which, to my astonishment, published the thing next day--"On
Battersea Bridge." How proud I was of that little bit of writing!
I should not much like to see it again, for I thought it then so
good that I am sure it would give me an unpleasant sensation now.
Still, I wrote it because I enjoyed doing so, quite as much as
because I was hungry; and the couple of guineas it brought me had as
pleasant a ring as any money I ever earned.


I wonder whether it be really true, as I have more than once seen
suggested, that the publication of Anthony Trollope's autobiography
in some degree accounts for the neglect into which he and his works
fell so soon after his death. I should like to believe it, for such
a fact would be, from one point of view, a credit to "the great big
stupid public." Only, of course, from one point of view; the
notable merits of Trollope's work are unaffected by one's knowledge
of how that work was produced; at his best he is an admirable writer
of the pedestrian school, and this disappearance of his name does
not mean final oblivion. Like every other novelist of note, he had
two classes of admirers--those who read him for the sake of that
excellence which here and there he achieved, and the
undistinguishing crowd which found in him a level entertainment.
But it would be a satisfaction to think that "the great big stupid"
was really, somewhere in its secret economy, offended by that
revelation of mechanical methods which made the autobiography either
a disgusting or an amusing book to those who read it more
intelligently. A man with a watch before his eyes, penning exactly
so many words every quarter of an hour--one imagines that this
picture might haunt disagreeably the thoughts even of Mudie's
steadiest subscriber, that it might come between him or her and any
Trollopean work that lay upon the counter.

The surprise was so cynically sprung upon a yet innocent public. At
that happy time (already it seems so long ago) the literary news set
before ordinary readers mostly had reference to literary work, in a
reputable sense of the term, and not, as now, to the processes of
"literary" manufacture and the ups and downs of the "literary"
market. Trollope himself tells how he surprised the editor of a
periodical, who wanted a serial from him, by asking how many
thousand words it should run to; an anecdote savouring indeed of
good old days. Since then, readers have grown accustomed to
revelations of "literary" method, and nothing in that kind can shock
them. There has come into existence a school of journalism which
would seem to have deliberately set itself the task of degrading
authorship and everything connected with it; and these pernicious
scribblers (or typists, to be more accurate) have found the authors
of a fretful age only too receptive of their mercantile suggestions.
Yes, yes; I know as well as any man that reforms were needed in the
relations between author and publisher. Who knows better than I
that your representative author face to face with your
representative publisher was, is, and ever will be, at a ludicrous
disadvantage? And there is no reason in the nature and the decency
of things why this wrong should not by some contrivance be remedied.
A big, blusterous, genial brute of a Trollope could very fairly hold
his own, and exact at all events an acceptable share in the profits
of his work. A shrewd and vigorous man of business such as Dickens,
aided by a lawyer who was his devoted friend, could do even better,
and, in reaping sometimes more than his publisher, redress the
ancient injustice. But pray, what of Charlotte Bronte? Think of
that grey, pinched life, the latter years of which would have been
so brightened had Charlotte Bronte received but, let us say, one
third of what, in the same space of time, the publisher gained by
her books. I know all about this; alas! no man better. None the
less do I loathe and sicken at the manifold baseness, the vulgarity
unutterable, which, as a result of the new order, is blighting our
literary life. It is not easy to see how, in such an atmosphere,
great and noble books can ever again come into being. May it,
perhaps, be hoped that once again the multitude will be somehow
touched with disgust?--that the market for "literary" news of this
costermonger sort will some day fail?

Dickens. Why, there too was a disclosure of literary methods. Did
not Forster make known to all and sundry exactly how Dickens' work
was done, and how the bargains for its production were made? The
multitudinous public saw him at his desk, learnt how long he sat
there, were told that he could not get on without having certain
little ornaments before his eyes, and that blue ink and a quill pen
were indispensable to his writing; and did all this information ever
chill the loyalty of a single reader? There was a difference, in
truth, between the picture of Charles Dickens sitting down to a
chapter of his current novel, and that of the broad-based Trollope
doing his so many words to the fifteen minutes. Trollope, we know,
wronged himself by the tone and manner of his reminiscences; but
that tone and manner indicated an inferiority of mind, of nature.
Dickens--though he died in the endeavour to increase (not for
himself) an already ample fortune, disastrous influence of his time
and class--wrought with an artistic ingenuousness and fervour such
as Trollope could not even conceive. Methodical, of course, he was;
no long work of prose fiction was ever brought into existence save
by methodical labour; but we know that there was no measuring of so
many words to the hour. The picture of him at work which is seen in
his own letters is one of the most bracing and inspiring in the
history of literature. It has had, and will always have, a great
part in maintaining Dickens' place in the love and reverence of
those who understand.


As I walked to-day in the golden sunlight--this warm, still day on
the far verge of autumn--there suddenly came to me a thought which
checked my step, and for the moment half bewildered me. I said to
myself: My life is over. Surely I ought to have been aware of that
simple fact; certainly it has made part of my meditation, has often
coloured my mood; but the thing had never definitely shaped itself,
ready in words for the tongue. My life is over. I uttered the
sentence once or twice, that my ear might test its truth. Truth
undeniable, however strange; undeniable as the figure of my age last

My age? At this time of life, many a man is bracing himself for new
efforts, is calculating on a decade or two of pursuit and
attainment. I, too, may perhaps live for some years; but for me
there is no more activity, no ambition. I have had my chance--and I
see what I made of it.

The thought was for an instant all but dreadful. What! I, who only
yesterday was a young man, planning, hoping, looking forward to life
as to a practically endless career, I, who was so vigorous and
scornful, have come to this day of definite retrospect? How is it
possible? But, I have done nothing; I have had no time; I have only
been preparing myself--a mere apprentice to life. My brain is at
some prank; I am suffering a momentary delusion; I shall shake
myself, and return to common sense--to my schemes and activities and
eager enjoyments.

Nevertheless, my life is over.

What a little thing! I knew how the philosophers had spoken; I
repeated their musical phrases about the mortal span--yet never till
now believed them. And this is all? A man's life can be so brief
and so vain? Idly would I persuade myself that life, in the true
sense, is only now beginning; that the time of sweat and fear was
not life at all, and that it now only depends upon my will to lead a
worthy existence. That may be a sort of consolation, but it does
not obscure the truth that I shall never again see possibilities and
promises opening before me. I have "retired," and for me as truly
as for the retired tradesman, life is over. I can look back upon
its completed course, and what a little thing! I am tempted to
laugh; I hold myself within the limit of a smile.

And that is best, to smile, not in scorn, but in all forbearance,
without too much self-compassion. After all, that dreadful aspect
of the thing never really took hold of me; I could put it by without
much effort. Life is done--and what matter? Whether it has been,
in sum, painful or enjoyable, even now I cannot say--a fact which in
itself should prevent me from taking the loss too seriously. What
does it matter? Destiny with the hidden face decreed that I should
come into being, play my little part, and pass again into silence;
is it mine either to approve or to rebel? Let me be grateful that I
have suffered no intolerable wrong, no terrible woe of flesh or
spirit, such as others--alas! alas!--have found in their lot. Is it
not much to have accomplished so large a part of the mortal journey
with so much ease? If I find myself astonished at its brevity and
small significance, why, that is my own fault; the voices of those
gone before had sufficiently warned me. Better to see the truth
now, and accept it, than to fall into dread surprise on some day of
weakness, and foolishly to cry against fate. I will be glad rather
than sorry, and think of the thing no more.


Waking at early dawn used to be one of the things I most dreaded.
The night which made me capable of resuming labour had brought no
such calm as should follow upon repose; I woke to a vision of the
darkest miseries and lay through the hours of daybreak--too often--
in very anguish. But that is past. Sometimes, ere yet I know
myself, the mind struggles as with an evil spirit on the confines of
sleep; then the light at my window, the pictures on my walls,
restore me to happy consciousness, happier for the miserable dream.
Now, when I lie thinking, my worst trouble is wonder at the common
life of man. I see it as a thing so incredible that it oppresses
the mind like a haunting illusion. Is it the truth that men are
fretting, raving, killing each other, for matters so trivial that I,
even I, so far from saint or philosopher, must needs fall into
amazement when I consider them? I could imagine a man who, by
living alone and at peace, came to regard the everyday world as not
really existent, but a creation of his own fancy in unsound moments.
What lunatic ever dreamt of things less consonant with the calm
reason than those which are thought and done every minute in every
community of men called sane? But I put aside this reflection as
soon as may be; it perturbs me fruitlessly. Then I listen to the
sounds about my cottage, always soft, soothing, such as lead the
mind to gentle thoughts. Sometimes I can hear nothing; not the
rustle of a leaf, not the buzz of a fly, and then I think that utter
silence is best of all.

This morning I was awakened by a continuous sound which presently
shaped itself to my ear as a multitudinous shrilling of bird voices.
I knew what it meant. For the last few days I have seen the
swallows gathering, now they were ranged upon my roof, perhaps in
the last council before their setting forth upon the great journey.
I know better than to talk about animal instinct, and to wonder in a
pitying way at its resemblance to reason. I know that these birds
show to us a life far more reasonable, and infinitely more
beautiful, than that of the masses of mankind. They talk with each
other, and in their talk is neither malice nor folly. Could one but
interpret the converse in which they make their plans for the long
and perilous flight--and then compare it with that of numberless
respectable persons who even now are projecting their winter in the


Yesterday I passed by an elm avenue, leading to a beautiful old
house. The road between the trees was covered in all its length and
breadth with fallen leaves--a carpet of pale gold. Further on, I
came to a plantation, mostly of larches; it shone in the richest
aureate hue, with here and there a splash of blood-red, which was a
young beech in its moment of autumnal glory.

I looked at an alder, laden with brown catkins, its blunt foliage
stained with innumerable shades of lovely colour. Near it was a
horse-chestnut, with but a few leaves hanging on its branches, and
those a deep orange. The limes, I see, are already bare.

To-night the wind is loud, and rain dashes against my casement; to-
morrow I shall awake to a sky of winter.



Blasts from the Channel, with raining scud, and spume of mist
breaking upon the hills, have kept me indoors all day. Yet not for
a moment have I been dull or idle, and now, by the latter end of a
sea-coal fire, I feel such enjoyment of my ease and tranquillity
that I must needs word it before going up to bed.

Of course one ought to be able to breast weather such as this of to-
day, and to find one's pleasure in the strife with it. For the man
sound in body and serene of mind there is no such thing as bad
weather; every sky has its beauty, and storms which whip the blood
do but make it pulse more vigorously. I remember the time when I
would have set out with gusto for a tramp along the wind-swept and
rain-beaten roads; nowadays, I should perhaps pay for the experiment
with my life. All the more do I prize the shelter of these good
walls, the honest workmanship which makes my doors and windows proof
against the assailing blast. In all England, the land of comfort,
there is no room more comfortable than this in which I sit.
Comfortable in the good old sense of the word, giving solace to the
mind no less than ease to the body. And never does it look more
homely, more a refuge and a sanctuary, than on winter nights.

In my first winter here, I tried fires of wood, having had my hearth
arranged for the purpose; but that was a mistake. One cannot burn
logs successfully in a small room; either the fire, being kept
moderate, needs constant attention, or its triumphant blaze makes
the room too hot. A fire is a delightful thing, a companion and an
inspiration. If my room were kept warm by some wretched modern
contrivance of water-pipes or heated air, would it be the same to me
as that beautiful core of glowing fuel, which, if I sit and gaze
into it, becomes a world of wonders? Let science warm the heaven-
forsaken inhabitants of flats and hotels as effectually and
economically as it may; if the choice were forced upon me, I had
rather sit, like an Italian, wrapped in my mantle, softly stirring
with a key the silver-grey surface of the brasier's charcoal. They
tell me we are burning all our coal, and with wicked wastefulness.
I am sorry for it, but I cannot on that account make cheerless
perhaps the last winter of my life. There may be waste on domestic
hearths, but the wickedness is elsewhere--too blatant to call for
indication. Use common sense, by all means, in the construction of
grates; that more than half the heat of the kindly coal should be
blown up the chimney is desired by no one; but hold by the open fire
as you hold by whatever else is best in England. Because, in the
course of nature, it will be some day a thing of the past (like most
other things that are worth living for), is that a reason why it
should not be enjoyed as long as possible? Human beings may ere
long take their nourishment in the form of pills; the prevision of
that happy economy causes me no reproach when I sit down to a joint
of meat.

See how friendly together are the fire and the shaded lamp; both
have their part alike in the illumining and warming of the room. As
the fire purrs and softly crackles, so does my lamp at intervals
utter a little gurgling sound when the oil flows to the wick, and
custom has made this a pleasure to me. Another sound, blending with
both, is the gentle ticking of the clock. I could not endure one of
those bustling little clocks which tick like a fever pulse, and are
only fit for a stockbroker's office; mine hums very slowly, as
though it savoured the minutes no less than I do; and when it
strikes, the little voice is silver-sweet, telling me without
sadness that another hour of life is reckoned, another of the
priceless hours -

"Quae nobis pereunt et imputantur."

After extinguishing the lamp, and when I have reached the door, I
always turn to look back; my room is so cosily alluring in the light
of the last gleeds, that I do not easily move away. The warm glow
is reflected on shining wood, on my chair, my writing-table, on the
bookcases, and from the gilt title of some stately volume; it
illumes this picture, it half disperses the gloom on that. I could
imagine that, as in a fairy tale, the books do but await my
departure to begin talking among themselves. A little tongue of
flame shoots up from a dying ember; shadows shift upon the ceiling
and the walls. With a sigh of utter contentment, I go forth, and
shut the door softly.


I came home this afternoon just at twilight, and, feeling tired
after my walk, a little cold too, I first crouched before the fire,
then let myself drop lazily upon the hearthrug. I had a book in my
hand, and began to read it by the firelight. Rising in a few
minutes, I found the open page still legible by the pale glimmer of
day. This sudden change of illumination had an odd effect upon me;
it was so unexpected, for I had forgotten that dark had not yet
fallen. And I saw in the queer little experience an intellectual
symbol. The book was verse. Might not the warm rays from the fire
exhibit the page as it appears to an imaginative and kindred mind,
whilst that cold, dull light from the window showed it as it is
beheld by eyes to which poetry has but a poor, literal meaning, or
none at all?


It is a pleasant thing enough to be able to spend a little money
without fear when the desire for some indulgence is strong upon one;
but how much pleasanter the ability to give money away! Greatly as
I relish the comforts of my wonderful new life, no joy it has
brought me equals that of coming in aid to another's necessity. The
man for ever pinched in circumstances can live only for himself. It
is all very well to talk about doing moral good; in practice, there
is little scope or hope for anything of that kind in a state of
material hardship. To-day I have sent S- a cheque for fifty pounds;
it will come as a very boon of heaven, and assuredly blesseth him
that gives as much as him that takes. A poor fifty pounds, which
the wealthy fool throws away upon some idle or base fantasy, and
never thinks of it; yet to S- it will mean life and light. And I,
to whom this power of benefaction is such a new thing, sign the
cheque with a hand trembling, so glad and proud I am. In the days
gone by, I have sometimes given money, but with trembling of another
kind; it was as likely as not that I myself, some black foggy
morning, might have to go begging for my own dire needs. That is
one of the bitter curses of poverty; it leaves no right to be
generous. Of my abundance--abundance to me, though starveling
pittance in the view of everyday prosperity--I can give with
happiest freedom; I feel myself a man, and no crouching slave with
his back ever ready for the lash of circumstance. There are those,
I know, who thank the gods amiss, and most easily does this happen
in the matter of wealth. But oh, how good it is to desire little,
and to have a little more than enough!


After two or three days of unseasonable and depressing warmth, with
lowering but not rainy sky, I woke this morning to find the land
covered with a dense mist. There was no daybreak, and, till long
after the due hour, no light save a pale, sad glimmer at the window;
now, at mid-day, I begin dimly to descry gaunt shapes of trees,
whilst a haunting drip, drip on the garden soil tells me that the
vapour has begun to condense, and will pass in rain. But for my
fire, I should be in indifferent spirits on such a day as this; the
flame sings and leaps, and its red beauty is reflected in the
window-glass. I cannot give my thoughts to reading; if I sat
unoccupied, they would brood with melancholy fixedness on I know not
what. Better to betake myself to the old mechanic exercise of the
pen, which cheats my sense of time wasted.

I think of fogs in London, fogs of murky yellow or of sheer black,
such as have often made all work impossible to me, and held me, a
sort of dyspeptic owl, in moping and blinking idleness. On such a
day, I remember, I once found myself at an end both of coal and of
lamp-oil, with no money to purchase either; all I could do was to go
to bed, meaning to lie there till the sky once more became visible.
But a second day found the fog dense as ever. I rose in darkness; I
stood at the window of my garret, and saw that the street was
illumined as at night, lamps and shop-fronts perfectly visible, with
folk going about their business. The fog, in fact, had risen, but
still hung above the house-tops, impermeable by any heavenly beam.
My solitude being no longer endurable, I went out, and walked the
town for hours. When I returned, it was with a few coins which
permitted me to buy warmth and light. I had sold to a second-hand
bookseller a volume which I prized, and was so much the poorer for
the money in my pocket.

Years after that, I recall another black morning. As usual at such
times, I was suffering from a bad cold. After a sleepless night, I
fell into a torpor, which held me unconscious for an hour or two.
Hideous cries aroused me; sitting up in the dark, I heard men going
along the street, roaring news of a hanging that had just taken
place. "Execution of Mrs."--I forget the name of the murderess.
"Scene on the scaffold!" It was a little after nine o'clock; the
enterprising paper had promptly got out its gibbet edition. A
morning of midwinter, roofs and ways covered with soot-grimed snow
under the ghastly fog-pall; and, whilst I lay there in my bed, that
woman had been led out and hanged--hanged. I thought with horror of
the possibility that I might sicken and die in that wilderness of
houses, nothing above me but "a foul and pestilent congregation of
vapours." Overcome with dread, I rose and bestirred myself. Blinds
drawn, lamp lit, and by a blazing fire, I tried to make believe that
it was kindly night.


Walking along the road after nightfall, I thought all at once of
London streets, and, by a freak of mind, wished I were there. I saw
the shining of shop-fronts, the yellow glistening of a wet pavement,
the hurrying people, the cabs, the omnibuses--and I wished I were
amid it all.

What did it mean, but that I wished I were young again? Not seldom
I have a sudden vision of a London street, perhaps the dreariest and
ugliest, which for a moment gives me a feeling of home-sickness.
Often it is the High Street of Islington, which I have not seen for
a quarter of a century, at least; no thoroughfare in all London less
attractive to the imagination, one would say; but I see myself
walking there--walking with the quick, light step of youth, and
there, of course, is the charm. I see myself, after a long day of
work and loneliness, setting forth from my lodging. For the weather
I care nothing; rain, wind, fog--what does it matter! The fresh air
fills my lungs; my blood circles rapidly; I feel my muscles, and
have a pleasure in the hardness of the stone I tread upon. Perhaps
I have money in my pocket; I am going to the theatre, and,
afterwards, I shall treat myself to supper--sausage and mashed
potatoes, with a pint of foaming ale. The gusto with which I look
forward to each and every enjoyment! At the pit-door, I shall roll
and hustle amid the throng, and find it amusing. Nothing tires me.
Late at night, I shall walk all the way back to Islington, most
likely singing as I go. Not because I am happy--nay, I am anything
but that; but my age is something and twenty; I am strong and well.

Put me in a London street this chill, damp night, and I should be
lost in barren discomfort. But in those old days, if I am not
mistaken, I rather preferred the seasons of bad weather; I had, in
fact, the true instinct of townsfolk, which finds pleasure in the
triumph of artificial circumstance over natural conditions,
delighting in a glare and tumult of busy life under hostile heavens
which, elsewhere, would mean shivering ill-content. The theatre, at
such a time, is doubly warm and bright; every shop is a happy
harbour of refuge--there, behind the counter, stand persons quite at
their ease, ready to chat as they serve you; the supper bars make
tempting display under their many gas-jets; the public houses are
full of people who all have money to spend. Then clangs out the
piano-organ--and what could be cheerier!

I have much ado to believe that I really felt so. But then, if life
had not somehow made itself tolerable to me, how should I have lived
through those many years? Human creatures have a marvellous power
of adapting themselves to necessity. Were I, even now, thrown back
into squalid London, with no choice but to abide and work there--
should I not abide and work? Notwithstanding thoughts of the
chemist's shop, I suppose I should.


One of the shining moments of my day is that when, having returned a
little weary from an afternoon walk, I exchange boots for slippers,
out-of-doors coat for easy, familiar, shabby jacket, and, in my
deep, soft-elbowed chair, await the tea-tray. Perhaps it is while
drinking tea that I most of all enjoy the sense of leisure. In days
gone by, I could but gulp down the refreshment, hurried, often
harassed, by the thought of the work I had before me; often I was
quite insensible of the aroma, the flavour, of what I drank. Now,
how delicious is the soft yet penetrating odour which floats into my
study, with the appearance of the teapot! What solace in the first
cup, what deliberate sipping of that which follows! What a glow
does it bring after a walk in chilly rain! The while, I look around
at my books and pictures, tasting the happiness of their tranquil
possession. I cast an eye towards my pipe; perhaps I prepare it,
with seeming thoughtfulness, for the reception of tobacco. And
never, surely, is tobacco more soothing, more suggestive of humane
thoughts, than when it comes just after tea--itself a bland

In nothing is the English genius for domesticity more notably
declared than in the institution of this festival--almost one may
call it so--of afternoon tea. Beneath simple roofs, the hour of tea
has something in it of sacred; for it marks the end of domestic work
and worry, the beginning of restful, sociable evening. The mere
chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose. I care
nothing for your five o'clock tea of modish drawing-rooms, idle and
wearisome like all else in which that world has part; I speak of tea
where one is at home in quite another than the worldly sense. To
admit mere strangers to your tea-table is profanation; on the other
hand, English hospitality has here its kindliest aspect; never is
friend more welcome than when he drops in for a cup of tea. Where
tea is really a meal, with nothing between it and nine o'clock
supper, it is--again in the true sense--the homeliest meal of the
day. Is it believable that the Chinese, in who knows how many
centuries, have derived from tea a millionth part of the pleasure or
the good which it has brought to England in the past one hundred

I like to look at my housekeeper when she carries in the tray. Her
mien is festal, yet in her smile there is a certain gravity, as
though she performed an office which honoured her. She has dressed
for the evening; that is to say, her clean and seemly attire of
working hours is exchanged for garments suitable to fireside
leisure; her cheeks are warm, for she has been making fragrant
toast. Quickly her eye glances about my room, but only to have the
pleasure of noting that all is in order; inconceivable that anything
serious should need doing at this hour of the day. She brings the
little table within the glow of the hearth, so that I can help
myself without changing my easy position. If she speaks, it will
only be a pleasant word or two; should she have anything important
to say, the moment will be AFTER tea, not before it; this she knows
by instinct. Perchance she may just stoop to sweep back a cinder
which has fallen since, in my absence, she looked after the fire; it
is done quickly and silently. Then, still smiling, she withdraws,
and I know that she is going to enjoy her own tea, her own toast, in
the warm, comfortable, sweet-smelling kitchen.


One has heard much condemnation of the English kitchen. Our typical
cook is spoken of as a gross, unimaginative creature, capable only
of roasting or seething. Our table is said to be such as would
weary or revolt any but gobbet-bolting carnivores. We are told that
our bread is the worst in Europe, an indigestible paste; that our
vegetables are diet rather for the hungry animal than for
discriminative man; that our warm beverages, called coffee and tea,
are so carelessly or ignorantly brewed that they preserve no simple
virtue of the drink as it is known in other lands. To be sure,
there is no lack of evidence to explain such censure. The class
which provides our servants is undeniably coarse and stupid, and its
handiwork of every kind too often bears the native stamp. For all
that, English victuals are, in quality, the best in the world, and
English cookery is the wholesomest and the most appetizing known to
any temperate clime.

As in so many other of our good points, we have achieved this thing
unconsciously. Your ordinary Englishwoman engaged in cooking
probably has no other thought than to make the food masticable; but
reflect on the results, when the thing is well done, and there
appears a culinary principle. Nothing could be simpler, yet nothing
more right and reasonable. The aim of English cooking is so to deal
with the raw material of man's nourishment as to bring out, for the
healthy palate, all its natural juices and savours. And in this,
when the cook has any measure of natural or acquired skill, we most
notably succeed. Our beef is veritably beef; at its best, such beef
as can be eaten in no other country under the sun; our mutton is
mutton in its purest essence--think of a shoulder of Southdown at
the moment when the first jet of gravy starts under the carving
knife! Each of our vegetables yields its separate and
characteristic sweetness. It never occurs to us to disguise the
genuine flavour of food; if such a process be necessary, then
something is wrong with the food itself. Some wiseacre scoffed at
us as the people with only one sauce. The fact is, we have as many
sauces as we have kinds of meat; each, in the process of cookery,
yields its native sap, and this is the best of all sauces
conceivable. Only English folk know what is meant by GRAVY;
consequently, the English alone are competent to speak on the
question of sauce.

To be sure, this culinary principle presupposes food of the finest
quality. If your beef and your mutton have flavours scarcely
distinguishable, whilst both this and that might conceivably be
veal, you will go to work in quite a different way; your object must
then be to disguise, to counterfeit, to add an alien relish--in
short, to do anything EXCEPT insist upon the natural quality of the
viand. Happily, the English have never been driven to these
expedients. Be it flesh, fowl, or fish, each comes to table so
distinctly and eminently itself that by no possibility could it be
confused with anything else. Give your average cook a bit of cod,
and tell her to dress it in her own way. The good creature will
carefully boil it, and there an end of the matter; and by no
exercise of art could she have so treated the fish as to make more
manifest and enjoyable that special savour which heaven has bestowed
upon cod. Think of our array of joints; how royal is each in its
own way, and how utterly unlike any of the others. Picture a boiled
leg of mutton. It is mutton, yes, and mutton of the best; nature
has bestowed upon man no sweeter morsel; but the same joint roasted
is mutton too, and how divinely different! The point is that these
differences are natural; that, in eliciting them, we obey the
eternal law of things, and no human caprice. Your artificial relish
is here not only needless, but offensive.

In the case of veal, we demand "stuffing." Yes, for veal is a
somewhat insipid meat, and by experience we have discovered the best
method of throwing into relief such inherent goodness as it has.
The stuffing does not disguise, nor seek to disguise; it
accentuates. Good veal stuffing--reflect!--is in itself a triumph
of culinary instinct; so bland it is, and yet so powerful upon the
gastric juices.

Did I call veal insipid? I must add that it is only so in
comparison with English beef and mutton. When I think of the
"brown" on the edge of a really fine cut of veal--!


As so often when my thought has gone forth in praise of things
English, I find myself tormented by an after-thought--the reflection
that I have praised a time gone by. Now, in this matter of English
meat. A newspaper tells me that English beef is non-existent; that
the best meat bearing that name has merely been fed up in England
for a short time before killing. Well, well; we can only be
thankful that the quality is still so good. Real English mutton
still exists, I suppose. It would surprise me if any other country
could produce the shoulder I had yesterday.

Who knows? Perhaps even our own cookery has seen its best days. It
is a lamentable fact that the multitude of English people nowadays
never taste roasted meat; what they call by that name is baked in
the oven--a totally different thing, though it may, I admit, be
inferior only to the right roast. Oh, the sirloin of old times, the
sirloin which I can remember, thirty or forty years ago! That was
English, and no mistake, and all the history of civilization could
show nothing on the table of mankind to equal it. To clap that
joint into a steamy oven would have been a crime unpardonable by
gods and man. Have I not with my own eyes seen it turning, turning
on the spit? The scent it diffused was in itself a cure for

It is very long since I tasted a slice of boiled beef; I have a
suspicion that the thing is becoming rare. In a household such as
mine, the "round" is impracticable; of necessity it must be large,
altogether too large for our requirements. But what exquisite
memories does my mind preserve! The very colouring of a round, how
rich it is, yet how delicate, and how subtly varied! The odour is
totally distinct from that of roast beef, and yet it is beef
incontestable. Hot, of course with carrots, it is a dish for a
king; but cold it is nobler. Oh, the thin broad slice, with just
its fringe of consistent fat!

We are sparing of condiments, but such as we use are the best that
man has invented. And we know HOW to use them. I have heard an
impatient innovator scoff at the English law on the subject of
mustard, and demand why, in the nature of things, mustard should not
be eaten with mutton. The answer is very simple; this law has been
made by the English palate--which is impeccable. I maintain it is
impeccable! Your educated Englishman is an infallible guide in all
that relates to the table. "The man of superior intellect," said
Tennyson--justifying his love of boiled beef and new potatoes--
"knows what is good to eat"; and I would extend it to all civilized
natives of our country. We are content with nothing but the finest
savours, the truest combinations; our wealth, and happy natural
circumstances, have allowed us an education of the palate of which
our natural aptitude was worthy. Think, by the bye, of those new
potatoes, just mentioned. Our cook, when dressing them, puts into
the saucepan a sprig of mint. This is genius. No otherwise could
the flavour of the vegetable be so perfectly, yet so delicately,
emphasized. The mint is there, and we know it; yet our palate knows
only the young potato.


There is to me an odd pathos in the literature of vegetarianism. I
remember the day when I read these periodicals and pamphlets with
all the zest of hunger and poverty, vigorously seeking to persuade
myself that flesh was an altogether superfluous, and even a
repulsive, food. If ever such things fall under my eyes nowadays, I
am touched with a half humorous compassion for the people whose
necessity, not their will, consents to this chemical view of diet.
There comes before me a vision of certain vegetarian restaurants,
where, at a minim outlay, I have often enough made believe to
satisfy my craving stomach; where I have swallowed "savoury cutlet,"
"vegetable steak," and I know not what windy insufficiencies tricked
up under specious names. One place do I recall where you had a
complete dinner for sixpence--I dare not try to remember the items.
But well indeed do I see the faces of the guests--poor clerks and
shopboys, bloodless girls and women of many sorts--all endeavouring
to find a relish in lentil soup and haricot something-or-other. It
was a grotesquely heart-breaking sight.

I hate with a bitter hatred the names of lentils and haricots--those
pretentious cheats of the appetite, those tabulated humbugs, those
certificated aridities calling themselves human food! An ounce of
either, we are told, is equivalent to--how many pounds?--of the best
rump-steak. There are not many ounces of common sense in the brain
of him who proves it, or of him who believes it. In some countries,
this stuff is eaten by choice; in England only dire need can compel
to its consumption. Lentils and haricots are not merely insipid;
frequent use of them causes something like nausea. Preach and
tabulate as you will, the English palate--which is the supreme
judge--rejects this farinaceous makeshift. Even as it rejects
vegetables without the natural concomitant of meat; as it rejects
oatmeal-porridge and griddle-cakes for a mid-day meal; as it rejects
lemonade and ginger-ale offered as substitutes for honest beer.

What is the intellectual and moral state of that man who really
believes that chemical analysis can be an equivalent for natural
gusto?--I will get more nourishment out of an inch of right
Cambridge sausage; aye, out of a couple of ounces of honest tripe;
than can be yielded me by half a hundredweight of the best lentils
ever grown.


Talking of vegetables, can the inhabited globe offer anything to vie
with the English potato justly steamed? I do not say that it is
always--or often--to be seen on our tables, for the steaming of a
potato is one of the great achievements of culinary art; but, when
it IS set before you, how flesh and spirit exult! A modest palate
will find more than simple comfort in your boiled potato of every
day, as served in the decent household. New or old, it is beyond
challenge delectable. Try to think that civilized nations exist to
whom this food is unknown--nay, who speak of it, on hearsay, with
contempt! Such critics, little as they suspect it, never ate a
potato in their lives. What they have swallowed under that name was
the vegetable with all its exquisite characteristics vulgarized or
destroyed. Picture the "ball of flour" (as old-fashioned housewives
call it) lying in the dish, diffusing the softest, subtlest aroma,
ready to crumble, all but to melt, as soon as it is touched; recall
its gust and its after-gust, blending so consummately with that of
the joint, hot or cold. Then think of the same potato cooked in any
other way, and what sadness will come upon you!


It angers me to pass a grocer's shop, and see in the window a
display of foreign butter. This is the kind of thing that makes one
gloom over the prospects of England. The deterioration of English
butter is one of the worst signs of the moral state of our people.
Naturally, this article of food would at once betray a decline in
the virtues of its maker; butter must be a subject of the dairyman's
honest pride, or there is no hope of its goodness. Begin to save
your labour, to aim at dishonest profits, to feel disgust or
contempt for your work--and the churn declares every one of these
vices. They must be very prevalent, for it is getting to be a rare
thing to eat English butter which is even tolerable. What! England
dependent for dairy-produce upon France, Denmark, America? Had we
but one true statesman--but one genuine leader of the people--the
ears of English landowners and farmers would ring and tingle with
this proof of their imbecility.

Nobody cares. Who cares for anything but the show and bluster which
are threatening our ruin? English food, not long ago the best in
the world, is falling off in quality, and even our national genius
for cooking shows a decline; to anyone who knows England, these are
facts significant enough. Foolish persons have prated about "our
insular cuisine," demanding its reform on Continental models, and
they have found too many like unto themselves who were ready to
listen; the result will be, before long, that our excellence will be
forgotten, and paltry methods be universally introduced, together
with the indifferent viands to which they are suited. Yet, if any
generality at all be true, it is a plain fact that English diet and
English virtue--in the largest sense of the word--are inseparably
bound together.

Our supremacy in this matter of the table came with little taking of
thought; what we should now do is to reflect upon the things which
used to be instinctive, perceive the reasons of our excellence, and
set to work to re-establish it. Of course the vilest cooking in the
kingdom is found in London; is it not with the exorbitant growth of
London that many an ill has spread over the land? London is the
antithesis of the domestic ideal; a social reformer would not even
glance in that direction, but would turn all his zeal upon small
towns and country districts, where blight may perhaps be arrested,
and whence, some day, a reconstituted national life may act upon the
great centre of corruption. I had far rather see England covered
with schools of cookery than with schools of the ordinary kind; the
issue would be infinitely more hopeful. Little girls should be
taught cooking and baking more assiduously than they are taught to
read. But with ever in view the great English principle--that food
is only cooked aright when it yields the utmost of its native and
characteristic savour. Let sauces be utterly forbidden--save the
natural sauce made of gravy. In the same way with sweets; keep in
view the insurpassable English ideals of baked tarts (or pies, if so
you call them), and boiled puddings; as they are the wholesomest, so
are they the most delicious of sweet cakes yet invented; it is
merely a question of having them well made and cooked. Bread,
again; we are getting used to bread of poor quality, and ill-made,
but the English loaf at its best--such as you were once sure of
getting in every village--is the faultless form of the staff of
life. Think of the glorious revolution that could be wrought in our
troubled England if it could be ordained that no maid, of whatever
rank, might become a wife unless she had proved her ability to make
and bake a perfect loaf of bread.


The good S- writes me a kindly letter. He is troubled by the
thought of my loneliness. That I should choose to live in such a
place as this through the summer, he can understand; but surely I
should do better to come to town for the winter? How on earth do I
spend the dark days and the long evenings?

I chuckle over the good S-'s sympathy. Dark days are few in happy
Devon, and such as befall have never brought me a moment's tedium.
The long, wild winter of the north would try my spirits; but here,
the season that follows autumn is merely one of rest, Nature's
annual slumber. And I share in the restful influence. Often enough
I pass an hour in mere drowsing by the fireside; frequently I let my
book drop, satisfied to muse. But more often than not the winter
day is blest with sunshine--the soft beam which is Nature's smile in
dreaming. I go forth, and wander far. It pleases me to note
changes of landscape when the leaves have fallen; I see streams and
ponds which during summer were hidden; my favourite lanes have an
unfamiliar aspect, and I become better acquainted with them. Then,
there is a rare beauty in the structure of trees ungarmented; and if
perchance snow or frost have silvered their tracery against the
sober sky, it becomes a marvel which never tires.

Day by day I look at the coral buds on the lime-tree. Something of
regret will mingle with my joy when they begin to break.

In the middle years of my life--those years that were the worst of
all--I used to dread the sound of a winter storm which woke me in
the night. Wind and rain lashing the house filled me with miserable
memories and apprehensions; I lay thinking of the savage struggle of
man with man, and often saw before me no better fate than to be
trampled down into the mud of life. The wind's wail seemed to me
the voice of a world in anguish; rain was the weeping of the feeble
and the oppressed. But nowadays I can lie and listen to a night-
storm with no intolerable thoughts; at worst, I fall into a
compassionate sadness as I remember those I loved and whom I shall
see no more. For myself, there is even comfort in the roaring dark;
for I feel the strength of the good walls about me, and my safety
from squalid peril such as pursued me through all my labouring life.
"Blow, blow, thou winter wind!" Thou canst not blow away the modest
wealth which makes my security. Nor can any "rain upon the roof"
put my soul to question; for life has given me all I ever asked--
infinitely more than I ever hoped--and in no corner of my mind does
there lurk a coward fear of death.


If some stranger from abroad asked me to point out to him the most
noteworthy things in England, I should first of all consider his
intellect. Were he a man of everyday level, I might indicate for
his wonder and admiration Greater London, the Black Country, South
Lancashire, and other features of our civilization which, despite
eager rivalry, still maintain our modern pre-eminence in the
creation of ugliness. If, on the other hand, he seemed a man of
brains, it would be my pleasure to take him to one of those old
villages, in the midlands or the west, which lie at some distance
from a railway station, and in aspect are still untouched by the
baser tendencies of the time. Here, I would tell my traveller, he
saw something which England alone can show. The simple beauty of
the architecture, its perfect adaptation to the natural
surroundings, the neatness of everything though without formality,
the general cleanness and good repair, the grace of cottage gardens,
that tranquillity and security which make a music in the mind of him
who gazes--these are what a man must see and feel if he would
appreciate the worth and the power of England. The people which has
made for itself such homes as these is distinguished, above all
things, by its love of order; it has understood, as no other people,
the truth that "order is heaven's first law." With order it is
natural to find stability, and the combination of these qualities,
as seen in domestic life, results in that peculiarly English
product, our name for which--though but a pale shadow of the thing
itself--has been borrowed by other countries: comfort.

Then Englishman's need of "comfort" is one of his best
characteristics; the possibility that he may change in this respect,
and become indifferent to his old ideal of physical and mental ease,
is the gravest danger manifest in our day. For "comfort," mind you,
does not concern the body alone; the beauty and orderliness of an
Englishman's home derive their value, nay, their very existence,
from the spirit which directs his whole life. Walk from the village
to the noble's mansion. It, too, is perfect of its kind; it has the
dignity of age, its walls are beautiful, the gardens, the park about
it are such as can be found only in England, lovely beyond compare;
and all this represents the same moral characteristics as the
English cottage, but with greater activities and responsibilities.
If the noble grow tired of his mansion, and, letting it to some
crude owner of millions, go to live in hotels and hired villas; if
the cottager sicken of his village roof, and transport himself to
the sixth floor of a "block" in Shoreditch; one sees but too well
that the one and the other have lost the old English sense of
comfort, and, in losing it, have suffered degradation alike as men
and as citizens. It is not a question of exchanging one form of
comfort for another; the instinct which made an Englishman has in
these cases perished. Perhaps it is perishing from among us
altogether, killed by new social and political conditions; one who
looks at villages of the new type, at the working-class quarters of
towns, at the rising of "flats" among the dwellings of the wealthy,
has little choice but to think so. There may soon come a day when,
though the word "comfort" continues to be used in many languages,
the thing it signifies will be discoverable nowhere at all.


If the ingenious foreigner found himself in some village of
manufacturing Lancashire, he would be otherwise impressed. Here
something of the power of England might be revealed to him, but of
England's worth, little enough. Hard ugliness would everywhere
assail his eyes; the visages and voices of the people would seem to
him thoroughly akin to their surroundings. Scarcely could one find,
in any civilized nation, a more notable contrast than that between
these two English villages and their inhabitants.

Yet Lancashire is English, and there among the mill chimneys, in the
hideous little street, folk are living whose domestic thoughts claim
undeniable kindred with those of the villagers of the kinder south.
But to understand how "comfort," and the virtues it implies, can
exist amid such conditions, one must penetrate to the hearthside;
the door must be shut, the curtain drawn; here "home" does not
extend beyond the threshold. After all, this grimy row of houses,
ugliest that man ever conceived, is more representative of England
to-day than the lovely village among the trees and meadows. More
than a hundred years ago, power passed from the south of England to
the north. The vigorous race on the other side of Trent only found
its opportunity when the age of machinery began; its civilization,
long delayed, differs in obvious respects from that of older
England. In Sussex or in Somerset, however dull and clownish the
typical inhabitant, he plainly belongs to an ancient order of
things, represents an immemorial subordination. The rude man of the
north is--by comparison--but just emerged from barbarism, and under
any circumstances would show less smooth a front. By great
misfortune, he has fallen under the harshest lordship the modern
world has known--that of scientific industrialism, and all his
vigorous qualities are subdued to a scheme of life based upon the
harsh, the ugly, the sordid. His racial heritage, of course, marks
him to the eye; even as ploughman or shepherd, he differs notably
from him of the same calling in the weald or on the downs. But the
frank brutality of the man in all externals has been encouraged,
rather than mitigated, by the course his civilization has taken, and
hence it is that, unless one knows him well enough to respect him,
he seems even yet stamped with the half-savagery of his folk as they
were a century and a half ago. His fierce shyness, his arrogant
self-regard, are notes of a primitive state. Naturally, he never
learnt to house himself as did the Southerner, for climate, as well
as social circumstance, was unfavourable to all the graces of life.
And now one can only watch the encroachment of his rule upon that
old, that true England whose strength and virtue were so differently
manifested. This fair broad land of the lovely villages signifies
little save to the antiquary, the poet, the painter. Vainly,
indeed, should I show its beauty and its peace to the observant
foreigner; he would but smile, and, with a glance at the traction-
engine just coming along the road, indicate the direction of his


Nothing in all Homer pleases me more than the bedstead of Odysseus.
I have tried to turn the passage describing it into English verse,

Here in my garth a goodly olive grew;
Thick was the noble leafage of its prime,
And like a carven column rose the trunk.
This tree about I built my chamber walls,
Laying great stone on stone, and roofed them well,
And in the portal set a comely door,
Stout-hinged and tightly closing. Then with axe
I lopped the leafy olive's branching head,
And hewed the bole to four-square shapeliness,
And smoothed it, craftsmanlike, and grooved and pierced,
Making the rooted timber, where it grew,
A corner of my couch. Labouring on,
I fashioned all the bed-frame; which complete,
The wood I overlaid with shining gear
Of gold, of silver, and of ivory.
And last, between the endlong beams I stretched
Stout thongs of ox-hide, dipped in purple dye.

Odyssey, xxiii. 190-201.

Did anyone ever imitate the admirable precedent? Were I a young
man, and an owner of land, assuredly I would do so. Choose some
goodly tree, straight-soaring; cut away head and branches; leave
just the clean trunk and build your house about it in such manner
that the top of the rooted timber rises a couple of feet above your
bedroom floor. The trunk need not be manifest in the lower part of
the house, but I should prefer to have it so; I am a tree-
worshipper; it should be as the visible presence of a household god.
And how could one more nobly symbolize the sacredness of Home?
There can be no home without the sense of permanence, and without
home there is no civilization--as England will discover when the
greater part of her population have become flat-inhabiting nomads.
In some ideal commonwealth, one can imagine the Odyssean bed a
normal institution, every head of a household, cottager or lord (for
the commonwealth must have its lords, go to!), lying down to rest,
as did his fathers, in the Chamber of the Tree. This, one fancies,
were a somewhat more fitting nuptial chamber than the chance bedroom
of a hotel. Odysseus building his home is man performing a supreme
act of piety; through all the ages that picture must retain its
profound significance. Note the tree he chose, the olive, sacred to
Athena, emblem of peace. When he and the wise goddess meet together
to scheme destruction of the princes, they sit [Greek text]. Their
talk is of bloodshed, true; but in punishment of those who have
outraged the sanctity of the hearth, and to re-establish, after
purification, domestic calm and security. It is one of the dreary
aspects of modern life that natural symbolism has all but perished.
We have no consecrated tree. The oak once held a place in English
hearts, but who now reveres it?--our trust is in gods of iron.
Money is made at Christmas out of holly and mistletoe, but who save
the vendors would greatly care if no green branch were procurable?
One symbol, indeed, has obscured all others--the minted round of
metal. And one may safely say that, of all the ages since a coin
first became the symbol of power, ours is that in which it yields to
the majority of its possessors the poorest return in heart's


I have been dull to-day, haunted by the thought of how much there is
that I would fain know, and how little I can hope to learn. The
scope of knowledge has become so vast. I put aside nearly all
physical investigation; to me it is naught, or only, at moments, a
matter of idle curiosity. This would seem to be a considerable
clearing of the field; but it leaves what is practically the
infinite. To run over a list of only my favourite subjects, those
to which, all my life long, I have more or less applied myself,
studies which hold in my mind the place of hobbies, is to open
vistas of intellectual despair. In an old note-book I jotted down
such a list--"things I hope to know, and to know well." I was then
four and twenty. Reading it with the eyes of fifty-four, I must
needs laugh. There appear such modest items as "The history of the
Christian Church up to the Reformation"--"all Greek poetry"--"The
field of Mediaeval Romance"--"German literature from Lessing to
Heine"--"Dante!" Not one of these shall I ever "know, and know
well"; not any one of them. Yet here I am buying books which lead
me into endless paths of new temptation. What have I to do with
Egypt? Yet I have been beguiled by Flinders Petrie and by Maspero.
How can I pretend to meddle with the ancient geography of Asia
Minor? Yet here have I bought Prof. Ramsay's astonishing book, and
have even read with a sort of troubled enjoyment a good many pages
of it; troubled, because I have but to reflect a moment, and I see
that all this kind of thing is mere futile effort of the intellect
when the time for serious intellectual effort is over.

It all means, of course, that, owing to defective opportunity,
owing, still more perhaps, to lack of method and persistence, a
possibility that was in me has been wasted, lost. My life has been
merely tentative, a broken series of false starts and hopeless new
beginnings. If I allowed myself to indulge that mood, I could
revolt against the ordinance which allows me no second chance. O
mihi praeteritos referat si Jupiter annos! If I could but start
again, with only the experience there gained! I mean, make a new
beginning of my intellectual life; nothing else, O heaven! nothing
else. Even amid poverty, I could do so much better; keeping before
my eyes some definite, some not unattainable, good; sternly
dismissing the impracticable, the wasteful.

And, in doing so, become perhaps an owl-eyed pedant, to whom would
be for ever dead the possibility of such enjoyment as I know in
these final years. Who can say? Perhaps the sole condition of my
progress to this state of mind and heart which make my happiness was
that very stumbling and erring which I so regret.


Why do I give so much of my time to the reading of history? Is it
in any sense profitable to me? What new light can I hope for on the
nature of man? What new guidance for the direction of my own life
through the few years that may remain to me? But it is with no such
purpose that I read these voluminous books; they gratify--or seem to
gratify--a mere curiosity; and scarcely have I closed a volume, when
the greater part of what I have read in it is forgotten.

Heaven forbid that I should remember all! Many a time I have said
to myself that I would close the dreadful record of human life, lay
it for ever aside, and try to forget it. Somebody declares that
history is a manifestation of the triumph of good over evil. The
good prevails now and then, no doubt, but how local and transitory
is such triumph. If historic tomes had a voice, it would sound as
one long moan of anguish. Think steadfastly of the past, and one
sees that only by defect of imaginative power can any man endure to
dwell with it. History is a nightmare of horrors; we relish it,
because we love pictures, and because all that man has suffered is
to man rich in interest. But make real to yourself the vision of
every blood-stained page--stand in the presence of the ravening
conqueror, the savage tyrant--tread the stones of the dungeon and of
the torture-room--feel the fire of the stake--hear the cries of that
multitude which no man can number, the victims of calamity, of
oppression, of fierce injustice in its myriad forms, in every land,
in every age--and what joy have you of your historic reading? One
would need to be a devil to understand it thus, and yet to delight
in it.

Injustice--there is the loathed crime which curses the memory of the
world. The slave doomed by his lord's caprice to perish under
tortures--one feels it a dreadful and intolerable thing; but it is
merely the crude presentment of what has been done and endured a
million times in every stage of civilization. Oh, the last thoughts
of those who have agonized unto death amid wrongs to which no man
would give ear! That appeal of innocence in anguish to the hard,
mute heavens! Were there only one such instance in all the
chronicles of time, it should doom the past to abhorred oblivion.
Yet injustice, the basest, the most ferocious, is inextricable from
warp and woof in the tissue of things gone by. And if anyone
soothes himself with the reflection that such outrages can happen no
more, that mankind has passed beyond such hideous possibility, he is
better acquainted with books than with human nature.

It were wiser to spend my hours with the books which bring no
aftertaste of bitterness--with the great poets whom I love, with the
thinkers, with the gentle writers of pages that soothe and
tranquillize. Many a volume regards me from the shelf as though
reproachfully; shall I never again take it in my hands? Yet the
words are golden, and I would fain treasure them all in my heart's
memory. Perhaps the last fault of which I shall cure myself is that
habit of mind which urges me to seek knowledge. Was I not yesterday
on the point of ordering a huge work of erudition, which I should
certainly never have read through, and which would only have served
to waste precious days? It is the Puritan in my blood, I suppose,
which forbids me to recognise frankly that all I have now to do is
to ENJOY. This is wisdom. The time for acquisition has gone by. I
am not foolish enough to set myself learning a new language; why
should I try to store my memory with useless knowledge of the past?

Come, once more before I die I will read Don Quixote.


Somebody has been making a speech, reported at a couple of columns'
length in the paper. As I glance down the waste of print, one word
catches my eye again and again. It's all about "science"--and
therefore doesn't concern me.

I wonder whether there are many men who have the same feeling with
regard to "science" as I have? It is something more than a
prejudice; often it takes the form of a dread, almost a terror.
Even those branches of science which are concerned with things that
interest me--which deal with plants and animals and the heaven of
stars--even these I cannot contemplate without uneasiness, a
spiritual disaffection; new discoveries, new theories, however they
engage my intelligence, soon weary me, and in some way depress.
When it comes to other kinds of science--the sciences blatant and
ubiquitous--the science by which men become millionaires--I am
possessed with an angry hostility, a resentful apprehension. This
was born in me, no doubt; I cannot trace it to circumstances of my
life, or to any particular moment of my mental growth. My boyish
delight in Carlyle doubtless nourished the temper, but did not
Carlyle so delight me because of what was already in my mind? I
remember, as a lad, looking at complicated machinery with a
shrinking uneasiness which, of course, I did not understand; I
remember the sort of disturbed contemptuousness with which, in my
time of "examinations," I dismissed "science papers." It is
intelligible enough to me, now, that unformed fear: the ground of
my antipathy has grown clear enough. I hate and fear "science"
because of my conviction that, for long to come if not for ever, it
will be the remorseless enemy of mankind. I see it destroying all
simplicity and gentleness of life, all the beauty of the world; I
see it restoring barbarism under a mask of civilization; I see it
darkening men's minds and hardening their hearts; I see it bringing
a time of vast conflicts, which will pale into insignificance "the
thousand wars of old," and, as likely as not, will whelm all the
laborious advances of mankind in blood-drenched chaos.

Yet to rail against it is as idle as to quarrel with any other force
of nature. For myself, I can hold apart, and see as little as
possible of the thing I deem accursed. But I think of some who are
dear to me, whose life will be lived in the hard and fierce new age.
The roaring "Jubilee" of last summer was for me an occasion of
sadness; it meant that so much was over and gone--so much of good
and noble, the like of which the world will not see again, and that
a new time of which only the perils are clearly visible, is rushing
upon us. Oh, the generous hopes and aspirations of forty years ago!
Science, then, was seen as the deliverer; only a few could prophesy
its tyranny, could foresee that it would revive old evils and
trample on the promises of its beginning. This is the course of
things; we must accept it. But it is some comfort to me that I--
poor little mortal--have had no part in bringing the tyrant to his


The Christmas bells drew me forth this morning. With but half-
formed purpose, I walked through soft, hazy sunshine towards the
city, and came into the Cathedral Close, and, after lingering
awhile, heard the first notes of the organ, and so entered. I
believe it is more than thirty years since I was in an English
church on Christmas Day. The old time and the old faces lived again
for me; I saw myself on the far side of the abyss of years--that
self which is not myself at all, though I mark points of kindred
between the beings of then and now. He who in that other world sat
to hear the Christmas gospel, either heeded it not at all--rapt in
his own visions--or listened only as one in whose blood was heresy.
He loved the notes of the organ, but, even in his childish mind,
distinguished clearly between the music and its local motive. More
than that, he could separate the melody of word and of thought from
their dogmatic significance, enjoying the one whilst wholly
rejecting the other. "On earth peace, goodwill to men"--already
that line was among the treasures of his intellect, but only, no
doubt, because of its rhythm, its sonority. Life, to him, was a
half-conscious striving for the harmonic in thought and speech--and
through what a tumult of unmelodious circumstance was he beginning
to fight his way!

To-day, I listen with no heretical promptings. The music, whether
of organ or of word, is more to me than ever; the literal meaning
causes me no restiveness. I felt only glad that I had yielded to
the summons of the Christmas bells. I sat among a congregation of
shadows, not in the great cathedral, but in a little parish church
far from here. When I came forth, it astonished me to see the
softly radiant sky, and to tread on the moist earth; my dream
expected a wind-swept canopy of cold grey, and all beneath it the
gleam of new-fallen snow. It is a piety to turn awhile and live
with the dead, and who can so well indulge it as he whose Christmas
is passed in no unhappy solitude? I would not now, if I might, be
one of a joyous company; it is better to hear the long-silent
voices, and to smile at happy things which I alone can remember.
When I was scarce old enough to understand, I heard read by the
fireside the Christmas stanzas of "In Memoriam." To-night I have
taken down the volume, and the voice of so long ago has read to me
once again--read as no other ever did, that voice which taught me to
know poetry, the voice which never spoke to me but of good and noble
things. Would I have those accents overborne by a living tongue,
however welcome its sound at another time? Jealously I guard my
Christmas solitude.


Is it true that the English are deeply branded with the vice of
hypocrisy? The accusation, of course, dates from the time of the
Round-heads; before that, nothing in the national character could
have suggested it. The England of Chaucer, the England of
Shakespeare, assuredly was not hypocrite. The change wrought by
Puritanism introduced into the life of the people that new element
which ever since, more or less notably, has suggested to the
observer a habit of double-dealing in morality and religion. The
scorn of the Cavalier is easily understood; it created a traditional
Cromwell, who, till Carlyle arose, figured before the world as our
arch-dissembler. With the decline of genuine Puritanism came that
peculiarly English manifestation of piety and virtue which is
represented by Mr. Pecksniff--a being so utterly different from
Tartufe, and perhaps impossible to be understood save by Englishmen
themselves. But it is in our own time that the familiar reproach
has been persistently levelled at us. It often sounds upon the lips
of our emancipated youth; it is stereotyped for daily impression in
the offices of Continental newspapers. And for the reason one has
not far to look. When Napoleon called us a "nation of shop-
keepers," we were nothing of the kind; since his day we have become
so, in the strictest sense of the word; and consider the spectacle
of a flourishing tradesman, anything but scrupulous in his methods
of business, who loses no opportunity of bidding all mankind to
regard him as a religious and moral exemplar. This is the actual
show of things with us; this is the England seen by our bitterest
censors. There is an excuse for those who charge us with

But the word is ill-chosen, and indicates a misconception. The
characteristic of your true hypocrite is the assumption of a virtue
which not only he has not, but which he is incapable of possessing,
and in which he does not believe. The hypocrite may have, most
likely has, (for he is a man of brains,) a conscious rule of life,
but it is never that of the person to whom his hypocrisy is
directed. Tartufe incarnates him once for all. Tartufe is by
conviction an atheist and a sensualist; he despises all who regard
life from the contrasted point of view. But among Englishmen such
an attitude of mind has always been extremely rare; to presume it in
our typical money-maker who has edifying sentiments on his lips is
to fall into a grotesque error of judgment. No doubt that error is
committed by the ordinary foreign journalist, a man who knows less
than little of English civilization. More enlightened critics, if
they use the word at all, do so carelessly; when speaking with more
precision, they call the English "pharisaic"--and come nearer the

Our vice is self-righteousness. We are essentially an Old Testament
people; Christianity has never entered into our soul we see
ourselves as the Chosen, and by no effort of spiritual aspiration
can attain unto humility. In this there is nothing hypocritic. The
blatant upstart who builds a church, lays out his money in that way
not merely to win social consideration; in his curious little soul
he believes (so far as he can believe anything) that what he has
done is pleasing to God and beneficial to mankind. He may have lied
and cheated for every sovereign he possesses; he may have polluted
his life with uncleanness; he may have perpetrated many kinds of
cruelty and baseness--but all these things has he done against his
conscience, and, as soon as the opportunity comes, he will make
atonement for them in the way suggested by such faith as he has, the
way approved by public opinion. His religion, strictly defined, is
he holds as birthright the true Piety, the true Morals. That he has
"gone wrong" is, alas, undeniable, but never--even when leering most
satirically--did he deny his creed. When, at public dinners and
elsewhere, he tuned his voice to the note of edification, this man
did not utter the lie of the hypocrite he MEANT EVERY WORD HE SAID.
Uttering high sentiments, he spoke, not as an individual, but as an
Englishman, and most thoroughly did he believe that all who heard
him owed in their hearts allegiance to the same faith. He is, if
you like, a Pharisee--but do not misunderstand; his Pharisaism has
nothing personal. That would be quite another kind of man;
existing, to be sure, in England, but not as a national type. No;
he is a Pharisee in the minor degree with regard to those of his
countrymen who differ from him in dogma; he is Pharisee absolute
with regard to the foreigner. And there he stands, representing an

The word hypocrisy is perhaps most of all applied to our behaviour
in matters of sexual morality, and here with specially flagrant
misuse. Multitudes of Englishmen have thrown aside the national
religious dogma, but very few indeed have abandoned the conviction
that the rules of morality publicly upheld in England are the best
known in the world. Any one interested in doing so can but too
easily demonstrate that English social life is no purer than that of
most other countries. Scandals of peculiar grossness, at no long
intervals, give rich opportunity to the scoffer. The streets of our
great towns nightly present an exhibition the like of which cannot
be seen elsewhere in the world. Despite all this, your average
Englishman takes for granted his country's moral superiority, and
loses no chance of proclaiming it at the expense of other peoples.
To call him hypocrite, is simply not to know the man. He may, for
his own part, be gross-minded and lax of life; that has nothing to
do with the matter; HE BELIEVES IN VIRTUE. Tell him that English
morality is mere lip-service, and he will blaze with as honest anger
as man ever felt. He is a monument of self-righteousness, again not
personal but national.


I make use of the present tense, but am I speaking truly of present
England? Such powerful agencies of change have been at work during
the last thirty years; and it is difficult, nay impossible, to
ascertain in what degree they have affected the national character,
thus far. One notes the obvious: decline of conventional religion,
free discussion of the old moral standards; therewith, a growth of
materialism which favours every anarchic tendency. Is it to be
feared that self-righteousness may be degenerating into the darker
vice of true hypocrisy? For the English to lose belief in
themselves--not merely in their potential goodness, but in their
pre-eminence as examples and agents of good--would mean as hopeless
a national corruption as any recorded in history. To doubt their
genuine worship, in the past, of a very high (though not, of course,
the highest) ethical ideal, is impossible for any one born and bred
in England; no less impossible to deny that those who are rightly
deemed "best" among us, the men and women of gentle or humble birth
who are not infected by the evils of the new spirit, still lead, in
a very true sense, "honest, sober, and godly" lives. Such folk, one
knows, were never in a majority, but of old they had a power which
made them veritable representatives of the English ETHOS. If they
thought highly of themselves, why, the fact justified them; if they
spoke, at times, as Pharisees, it was a fault of temper which
carried with it no grave condemnation. Hypocrisy was, of all forms
of baseness, that which they most abhorred. So is it still with
their descendants. Whether these continue to speak among us with
authority, no man can certainly say. If their power is lost, and
those who talk of English hypocrisy no longer use the word amiss, we
shall soon know it.


It is time that we gave a second thought to Puritanism. In the
heyday of release from forms which had lost their meaning, it was
natural to look back on that period of our history with eyes that
saw in it nothing but fanatical excess; we approved the picturesque
phrase which showed the English mind going into prison and having
the key turned upon it. Now, when the peril of emancipation becomes
as manifest as was the hardship of restraint, we shall do well to
remember all the good that lay in that stern Puritan discipline, how
it renewed the spiritual vitality of our race, and made for the
civic freedom which is our highest national privilege. An age of
intellectual glory is wont to be paid for in the general decline of
that which follows. Imagine England under Stuart rule, with no
faith but the Protestantism of the Tudor. Imagine (not to think of
worse) English literature represented by Cowley, and the name of
Milton unknown. The Puritan came as the physician; he brought his
tonic at the moment when lassitude and supineness would naturally
have followed upon a supreme display of racial vitality. Regret, if
you will, that England turned for her religion to the books of
Israel; this suddenly revealed sympathy of our race with a fierce
Oriental theocracy is perhaps not difficult to explain, but one
cannot help wishing that its piety had taken another form; later,
there had to come the "exodus from Houndsditch," with how much
conflict and misery! Such, however, was the price of the soul's
health; we must accept the fact, and be content to see its better
meaning. Health, of course, in speaking of mankind, is always a
relative term. From the point of view of a conceivable
civilization, Puritan England was lamentably ailing; but we must
always ask, not how much better off a people might be, but how much
worse. Of all theological systems, the most convincing is
Manicheism, which, of course, under another name, was held by the
Puritans themselves. What we call Restoration morality--the
morality, that is to say, of a king and court--might well have
become that of the nation at large under a Stuart dynasty safe from
religious revolution.

The political services of Puritanism were inestimable; they will be
more feelingly remembered when England has once more to face the
danger of political tyranny. I am thinking now of its effects upon
social life. To it we owe the characteristic which, in some other
countries, is expressed by the term English prudery, the accusation
implied being part of the general charge of hypocrisy. It is said
by observers among ourselves that the prudish habit of mind is dying
out, and this is looked upon as a satisfactory thing, as a sign of
healthy emancipation. If by prude be meant a secretly vicious
person who affects an excessive decorum, by all means let the prude
disappear, even at the cost of some shamelessness. If, on the other
hand, a prude is one who, living a decent life, cultivates, either
by bent or principle, a somewhat extreme delicacy of thought and
speech with regard to elementary facts of human nature, then I say
that this is most emphatically a fault in the right direction, and I
have no desire to see its prevalence diminish. On the whole, it is
the latter meaning which certain foreigners have in mind when they
speak of English prudery--at all events, as exhibited by women; it
being, not so much an imputation on chastity, as a charge of
conceited foolishness. An English woman who typifies the begueule
may be spotless as snow; but she is presumed to have snow's other
quality, and at the same time to be a thoroughly absurd and
intolerable creature. Well, here is the point of difference.
Fastidiousness of speech is not a direct outcome of Puritanism, as
our literature sufficiently proves; it is a refinement of
civilization following upon absorption into the national life of all
the best things which Puritanism had to teach. We who know English
women by the experience of a lifetime are well aware that their
careful choice of language betokens, far more often than not, a
corresponding delicacy of mind. Landor saw it as a ridiculous trait
that English people were so mealy-mouthed in speaking of their
bodies; De Quincey, taking him to task for this remark, declared it
a proof of blunted sensibility due to long residence in Italy; and,
whether the particular explanation held good or not, as regards the
question at issue, De Quincey was perfectly right. It is very good
to be mealy-mouthed with respect to everything that reminds us of
the animal in man. Verbal delicacy in itself will not prove an
advanced civilization, but civilization, as it advances, assuredly
tends that way.


All through the morning, the air was held in an ominous stillness.
Sitting over my books, I seemed to feel the silence; when I turned
my look to the window, I saw nothing but the broad, grey sky, a
featureless expanse, cold, melancholy. Later, just as I was
bestirring myself to go out for an afternoon walk, something white
fell softly across my vision. A few minutes more, and all was
hidden with a descending veil of silent snow.

It is a disappointment. Yesterday I half believed that the winter
drew to its end; the breath of the hills was soft; spaces of limpid
azure shone amid slow-drifting clouds, and seemed the promise of
spring. Idle by the fireside, in the gathering dusk, I began to
long for the days of light and warmth. My fancy wandered, leading
me far and wide in a dream of summer England. . . .

This is the valley of the Blythe. The stream ripples and glances
over its brown bed warmed with sunbeams; by its bank the green flags
wave and rustle, and, all about, the meadows shine in pure gold of
buttercups. The hawthorn hedges are a mass of gleaming blossom,
which scents the breeze. There above rises the heath, yellow-
mantled with gorse, and beyond, if I walk for an hour or two, I
shall come out upon the sandy cliffs of Suffolk, and look over the
northern sea. . . .

I am in Wensleydale, climbing from the rocky river that leaps amid
broad pastures up to the rolling moor. Up and up, till my feet
brush through heather, and the grouse whirrs away before me. Under
a glowing sky of summer, this air of the uplands has still a life
which spurs to movement, which makes the heart bound. The dale is
hidden; I see only the brown and purple wilderness, cutting against
the blue with great round shoulders, and, far away to the west, an
horizon of sombre heights. . . .

I ramble through a village in Gloucestershire, a village which seems
forsaken in this drowsy warmth of the afternoon. The houses of grey
stone are old and beautiful, telling of a time when Englishmen knew
how to build whether for rich or poor; the gardens glow with
flowers, and the air is delicately sweet. At the village end, I
come into a lane, which winds upwards between grassy slopes, to turf
and bracken and woods of noble beech. Here I am upon a spur of the
Cotswolds, and before me spreads the wide vale of Evesham, with its
ripening crops, its fruiting orchards, watered by sacred Avon.
Beyond, softly blue, the hills of Malvern. On the branch hard by
warbles a little bird, glad in his leafy solitude. A rabbit jumps
through the fern. There sounds the laugh of a woodpecker from the
copse in yonder hollow. . . .

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