Part 6 out of 6
There is little doubt Burton had gipsy blood in his veins;
there was something Oriental in his temperament, and even in
One summer's day I found him reading the paper in the
Athenaeum. He was dressed in a complete suit of white -
white trousers, a white linen coat, and a very shabby old
white hat. People would have stared at him anywhere.
'Hullo, Burton!' I exclaimed, touching his linen coat, 'Do
you find it so hot - DEJA?'
Said he: 'I don't want to be mistaken for other people.'
'There's not much fear of that, even without your clothes,' I
Such an impromptu answer as his would, from any other, have
implied vanity. Yet no man could have been less vain, or
more free from affectation. It probably concealed regret at
finding himself conspicuous.
After dinner at the Birds' one evening we fell to talking of
garrotters. About this time the police reports were full of
cases of garrotting. The victim was seized from behind, one
man gagged or burked him, while another picked his pocket.
'What should you do, Burton?' the Doctor asked, 'if they
tried to garrotte you?'
'I'm quite ready for 'em,' was the answer; and turning up his
sleeve he partially pulled out a dagger, and shoved it back
We tried to make him tell us what became of the Arab boy who
accompanied him to Mecca, and whose suspicions threatened
Burton's betrayal, and, of consequence, his life. I don't
think anyone was present except us two, both of whom he well
knew to be quite shock-proof, but he held his tongue.
'You would have been perfectly justified in saving your own
life at any cost. You would hardly have broken the sixth
commandment by doing so in this case,' I suggested.
'No,' said he gravely, 'and as I had broken all the ten
before, it wouldn't have so much mattered.'
The Doctor roared. It should, however, be stated that Burton
took no less delight in his host's boyish simplicity, than
the other in what he deemed his guest's superb candour.
'Come, tell us,' said Bird, 'how many men have you killed?'
'How many have you, Doctor?' was the answer.
Richard Burton was probably the most extraordinary linguist
of his day. Lady Burton mentions, I think, in his Life, the
number of languages and dialects her husband knew. That
Mahometans should seek instruction from him in the Koran,
speaks of itself for his astonishing mastery of the greatest
linguistic difficulties. With Indian languages and their
variations, he was as completely at home as Miss Youghal's
Sais; and, one may suppose, could have played the ROLE of a
fakir as perfectly as he did that of a Mecca pilgrim. I
asked him what his method was in learning a fresh language.
He said he wrote down as many new words as he could learn and
remember each day; and learnt the construction of the
language colloquially, before he looked at a grammar.
Lady Burton was hardly less abnormal in her way than Sir
Richard. She had shared his wanderings, and was intimate, as
no one else was, with the eccentricities of his thoughts and
deeds. Whatever these might happen to be, she worshipped her
husband notwithstanding. For her he was the standard of
excellence; all other men were departures from it. And the
singularity is, her religious faith was never for an instant
shaken - she remained as strict a Roman Catholic as when he
married her from a convent. Her enthusiasm and
cosmopolitanism, her NAIVETE and the sweetness of her
disposition made her the best of company. She had lived so
much the life of a Bedouin, that her dress and her habits had
an Eastern glow. When staying with the Birds, she was
attended by an Arab girl, one of whose duties it was to
prepare her mistress' chibouk, which was regularly brought in
with the coffee. On one occasion, when several other ladies
were dining there, some of them yielded to Lady Burton's
persuasion to satisfy their curiosity. The Arab girl soon
provided the means; and it was not long before there were
four or five faces as white as Mrs. Alfred Wigan's, under
similar circumstances, in the 'Nabob.'
Alfred Wigan's father was an unforgettable man. To describe
him in a word, he was Falstag REDIVIVUS. In bulk and
stature, in age, in wit and humour, and morality, he was
Falstaff. He knew it and gloried in it. He would complain
with zest of 'larding the lean earth' as he walked along. He
was as partial to whisky as his prototype to sack. He would
exhaust a Johnsonian vocabulary in describing his ailments;
and would appeal pathetically to Miss Bird, as though at his
last gasp, for 'just a tea-spoonful' of the grateful
stimulant. She served him with a liberal hand, till he cried
'Stop!' But if she then stayed, he would softly insinuate 'I
didn't mean it, my dear.' Yet he was no Costigan. His brain
was stronger than casks of whisky. And his powers of
digestion were in keeping. Indeed, to borrow the well-known
words applied to a great man whom we all love, 'He tore his
dinner like a famished wolf, with the veins swelling in his
forehead, and the perspiration running down his cheeks.' The
trend of his thoughts, though he was eminently a man of
intellect, followed the dictates of his senses. Walk with
him in the fields and, from the full stores of a prodigious
memory, he would pour forth pages of the choicest poetry.
But if you paused to watch the lambs play, or disturbed a
young calf in your path, he would almost involuntarily
exclaim: 'How deliciously you smell of mint, my pet!' or
'Bless your innocent face! What sweetbreads you will
James Wigan had kept a school once. The late Serjeant
Ballantine, who was one of his pupils, mentions him in his
autobiography. He was a good scholar, and when I first knew
him, used to teach elocution. Many actors went to him, and
not a few members of both Houses of Parliament. He could
recite nearly the whole of several of Shakespeare's plays;
and, with a dramatic art I have never known equalled by any
His later years were passed at Sevenoaks, where he kept an
establishment for imbeciles, or weak-minded youths. I often
stayed with him (not as a patient), and a very comfortable
and pretty place it was. Now and then he would call on me in
London; and, with a face full of theatrical woe, tell me,
with elaborate circumlocution, how the Earl of This, or the
Marquis of That, had implored him to take charge of young
Lord So-and-So, his son; who, as all the world knew, had -
well, had 'no guts in his brains.' Was there ever such a
chance? Just consider what it must lead to! Everybody knew
- no, nobody knew - the enormous number of idiots there were
in noble families. And, such a case as that of young Lord
Dash - though of course his residence at Sevenoaks would be a
profound secret, would be patent to the whole peerage; and,
my dear sir, a fortune to your humble servant, if - ah! if he
could only secure it!'
'But I thought you said you had been implored to take him?'
'I did say so. I repeat it. His Lordship's father came to
me with tears in his eyes. "My dear Wigan," were that
nobleman's words, "do me this one favour and trust me, you
will never regret it!" But - ' he paused to remove the
dramatic tear, 'but, I hardly dare go on. Yes - yes, I know
your kindness' (seizing my hand) 'I know how ready you are to
help me' - (I hadn't said a word) - 'but - '
'How much is it this time? and what is it for?'
'For? I have told you what it is for. The merest trifle
will suffice. I have the room - a beautiful room, the best
aspect in the house. It is now occupied by young Rumagee
Bumagee the great Bombay millionaire's son. Of course he can
be moved. But a bed - there positively is not a spare bed in
the house. This is all I want - a bed, and perhaps a
tuppenny ha'penny strip of carpet, a couple of chairs, a -
let me see; if you give me a slip of paper I can make out in
a minute what it will come to.'
'Never mind that. Will a ten-pound note serve your
'Dear boy! Dear boy! But on one condition, on one condition
only, can I accept it - this is a loan, a loan mind! and not
a gift. No, no - it is useless to protest; my pride, my
sense of honour, forbids my acceptance upon any other terms.'
A day or two afterwards I would learn from George Bird that
he and Miss Alice had accepted an invitation to meet me at
Sevenoaks. Mr. Donovan, the famous phrenologist, was to be
of the party; the Rector of Sevenoaks, and one or two local
magnates, had also been invited to dine. We Londoners were
to occupy the spare rooms, for this was in the coaching days.
We all knew what we had to expect - a most enjoyable banquet
of conviviality. Young Mrs. Wigan, his second wife, was an
admirable housekeeper, and nothing could have been better
done. The turbot and the haunch of venison were the pick of
Grove's shop, the champagne was iced to perfection, and there
was enough of it, as Mr. Donovan whispered to me, casting his
eyes to the ceiling, 'to wash an omnibus, bedad.' Mr.
Donovan, though he never refused Mr. Wigan's hospitality,
balanced the account by vilipending his friend's extravagant
habits. While Mr. Wigan, probably giving him full credit for
his gratitude, always spoke of him as 'Poor old Paddy
With Alfred Wigan, the eldest son, I was on very friendly
terms. Nothing could be more unlike his father. His manner
in his own house was exactly what it was on the stage.
Albany Fonblanque, whose experiences began nearly forty years
before mine, and who was not given to waste his praise, told
me he considered Alfred Wigan the best 'gentleman' he had
ever seen on the stage. I think this impression was due in a
great measure to Wigan's entire absence of affectation, and
to his persistent appeal to the 'judicious' but never to the
'groundlings.' Mrs. Alfred Wigan was also a consummate
THROUGH George Bird I made the acquaintance of the leading
surgeons and physicians of the North London Hospital, where I
frequently attended the operations of Erichsen, John
Marshall, and Sir Henry Thompson, following them afterwards
in their clinical rounds. Amongst the physicians, Professor
Sydney Ringer remains one of my oldest friends. Both surgery
and therapeutics interested me deeply. With regard to the
first, curiosity was supplemented by the incidental desire to
overcome the natural repugnance we all feel to the mere sight
Chemistry I studied in the laboratory of a professional
friend of Dr. Bird's. After a while my teacher would leave
me to carry out small commissions of a simple character which
had been put into his hands, such as the analysis of water,
bread, or other food-stuffs. He himself often had
engagements elsewhere, and would leave me in possession of
the laboratory, with a small urchin whom he had taught to be
useful. This boy was of the meekest and mildest disposition.
Whether his master had frightened him or not I do not know.
He always spoke in a whisper, and with downcast eyes. He
handled everything as if it was about to annihilate him, or
he it, and looked as if he wouldn't bite - even a tartlet.
One day when I had finished my task, and we were alone, I
bethought me of making some laughing gas, and trying the
effect of it on the gentle youth. I offered him a shilling
for the experiment, which, however, proved more expensive
than I had bargained for. I filled a bladder with the gas,
and putting a bit of broken pipe-stem in its neck for a
mouthpiece, gave it to the boy to suck - and suck he did. In
a few seconds his eyes dilated, his face became lividly
white, and I had some trouble to tear the intoxicating
bladder from his clutches. The moment I had done so, the
true nature of the gutter-snipe exhibited itself. He began
by cutting flip-flaps and turning windmills all round the
room; then, before I could stop him, swept an armful of
valuable apparatus from the tables, till the whole floor was
strewn with wreck and poisonous solutions. The dismay of the
chemist when he returned may be more easily imagined than
Some years ago, there was a well-known band of amateur
musicians called the 'Wandering Minstrels.' This band
originated in my rooms in Dean's Yard. Its nucleus was
composed of the following members: Seymour Egerton,
afterwards Lord Wilton, Sir Archibald Macdonald my brother-
in-law, Fred Clay, Bertie Mitford (the present Lord Redesdale
- perhaps the finest amateur cornet and trumpet player of the
day), and Lord Gerald Fitzgerald. Our concerts were given in
the Hanover Square Rooms, and we played for charities all
over the country.
To turn from the musical art to the art - or science is it
called? - of self-defence, once so patronised by the highest
fashion, there was at this time a famous pugilistic battle -
the last of the old kind - fought between the English
champion, Tom Sayers, and the American champion, Heenan.
Bertie Mitford and I agreed to go and see it.
The Wandering Minstrels had given a concert in the Hanover
Square Rooms. The fight was to take place on the following
morning. When the concert was over, Mitford and I went to
some public-house where the 'Ring' had assembled, and where
tickets were to be bought, and instructions received. Fights
when gloves were not used, and which, especially in this
case, might end fatally, were of course illegal; and every
precaution had been taken by the police to prevent it. A
special train was to leave London Bridge Station about 6 A.M.
We sat up all night in my room, and had to wait an hour in
the train before the men with their backers arrived. As soon
as it was daylight, we saw mounted police galloping on the
roads adjacent to the line. No one knew where the train
would pull up. Ten minutes after it did so, a ring was
formed in a meadow close at hand. The men stripped, and
tossed for places. Heenan won the toss, and with it a
considerable advantage. He was nearly a head taller than
Sayers, and the ground not being quite level, he chose the
higher side of the ring. But this was by no means his only
'pull.' Just as the men took their places the sun began to
rise. It was in Heenan's back, and right in the other's
Heenan began the attack at once with scornful confidence; and
in a few minutes Sayers received a blow on the forehead above
his guard which sent him slithering under the ropes; his head
and neck, in fact, were outside the ring. He lay perfectly
still, and in my ignorance, I thought he was done for. Not a
bit of it. He was merely reposing quietly till his seconds
put him on his legs. He came up smiling, but not a jot the
worse. But in the course of another round or two, down he
went again. The fight was going all one way. The Englishman
seemed to be completely at the mercy of the giant. I was so
disgusted that I said to my companion: 'Come along, Bertie,
the game's up. Sayers is good for nothing.'
But now the luck changed. The bull-dog tenacity and splendid
condition of Sayers were proof against these violent shocks.
The sun was out of his eyes, and there was not a mark of a
blow either on his face or his body. His temper, his
presence of mind, his defence, and the rapidity of his
movements, were perfect. The opening he had watched for came
at last. He sprang off his legs, and with his whole weight
at close quarters, struck Heenan's cheek just under the eye.
It was like the kick of a cart-horse. The shouts might have
been heard half-a-mile off. Up till now, the betting called
after each round had come to 'ten to one on Heenan'; it fell
at once to evens.
Heenan was completely staggered. He stood for a minute as if
he did not know where he was or what had happened. And then,
an unprecedented thing occurred. While he thus stood, Sayers
put both hands behind his back, and coolly walked up to his
foe to inspect the damage he had inflicted. I had hold of
the ropes in Heenan's corner, consequently could not see his
face without leaning over them. When I did so, and before
time was called, one eye was completely closed. What kind of
generosity prevented Sayers from closing the other during the
pause, is difficult to conjecture. But his forbearance did
not make much difference. Heenan became more fierce, Sayers
more daring. The same tactics were repeated; and now, no
longer to the astonishment of the crowd, the same success
rewarded them. Another sledge-hammer blow from the
Englishman closed the remaining eye. The difference in the
condition of the two men must have been enormous, for in five
minutes Heenan was completely sightless.
Sayers, however, had not escaped scot-free. In countering
the last attack, Heenan had broken one of the bones of
Sayers' right arm. Still the fight went on. It was now a
brutal scene. The blind man could not defend himself from
the other's terrible punishment. His whole face was so
swollen and distorted, that not a feature was recognisable.
But he evidently had his design. Each time Sayers struck him
and ducked, Heenan made a swoop with his long arms, and at
last he caught his enemy. With gigantic force he got Sayers'
head down, and heedless of his captive's pounding, backed
step by step to the ring. When there, he forced Sayers' neck
on to the rope, and, with all his weight, leant upon the
Englishman's shoulders. In a few moments the face of the
strangled man was black, his tongue was forced out of his
mouth, and his eyes from their sockets. His arms fell
powerless, and in a second or two more he would have been a
corpse. With a wild yell the crowd rushed to the rescue.
Warning cries of 'The police! The police!' mingled with the
shouts. The ropes were cut, and a general scamper for the
waiting train ended this last of the greatest prize-fights.
We two took it easily, and as the mob were scuttling away
from the police, we saw Sayers with his backers, who were
helping him to dress. His arm seemed to hurt him a little,
but otherwise, for all the damage he had received, he might
have been playing at football or lawn tennis.
We were quietly getting into a first-class carriage, when I
was seized by the shoulder and roughly spun out of the way.
Turning to resent the rudeness, I found myself face to face
with Heenan. One of his seconds had pushed me on one side to
let the gladiator get in. So completely blind was he, that
the friend had to place his foot upon the step. And yet
neither man had won the fight.
We still think - profess to think - the barbarism of the
'Iliad' the highest flight of epic poetry; if Homer had sung
this great battle, how glorious we should have thought it!
Beyond a doubt, man 'yet partially retains the
characteristics that adapted him to an antecedent state.'
THROUGH the Cayley family, I became very intimate with their
near relatives the Worsleys of Hovingham, near York.
Hovingham has now become known to the musical world through
its festivals, annually held at the Hall under the patronage
of its late owner, Sir William Worsley. It was in his
father's time that this fine place, with its delightful
family, was for many years a home to me. Here I met the
Alisons, and at the kind invitation of Sir Archibald, paid
the great historian a visit at Possil, his seat in Scotland.
As men who had achieved scientific or literary distinction
inspired me with far greater awe than those of the highest
rank - of whom from my childhood I had seen abundance -
Alison's celebrity, his courteous manner, his oracular
speech, his voluminous works, and his voluminous dimensions,
filled me with too much diffidence and respect to admit of
any freedom of approach. One listened to him, as he held
forth of an evening when surrounded by his family, with
reverential silence. He had a strong Scotch accent; and, if
a wee bit prosy at times, it was sententious and polished
prose that he talked; he talked invariably like a book. His
family were devoted to him; and I felt that no one who knew
him could help liking him.
When Thackeray was giving readings from 'The Four Georges,' I
dined with Lady Grey and Landseer, and we three went to hear
him. I had heard Dickens read 'The Trial of Bardell against
Pickwick,' and it was curious to compare the style of the two
great novelists. With Thackeray, there was an entire absence
of either tone or colour. Of course the historical nature of
his subject precluded the dramatic suggestion to be looked
for in the Pickwick trial, thus rendering comparison
inapposite. Nevertheless one was bound to contrast them.
Thackeray's features were impassive, and his voice knew no
inflection. But his elocution in other respects was perfect,
admirably distinct and impressive from its complete
obliteration of the reader.
The selection was from the reign of George the Third; and no
part of it was more attentively listened to than his passing
allusion to himself. 'I came,' he says, 'from India as a
child, and our ship touched at an island on the way home,
where my black servant took me a long walk over rocks and
hills until we reached a garden, where we saw a man walking.
"That is he," said the black man, "that is Bonaparte! He
eats three sheep every day, and all the little children he
can lay hands on!"' One went to hear Thackeray, to see
Thackeray; and the child and the black man and the ogre were
there on the stage before one. But so well did the lecturer
perform his part, that ten minutes later one had forgotten
him, and saw only George Selwyn and his friend Horace
Walpole, and Horace's friend, Miss Berry - whom by the way I
too knew and remember. One saw the 'poor society ghastly in
its pleasures, its loves, its revelries,' and the redeeming
vision of 'her father's darling, the Princess Amelia,
pathetic for her beauty, her sweetness, her early death, and
for the extreme passionate tenderness with which her father
loved her.' The story told, as Thackeray told it, was as
delightful to listen to as to read.
Not so with Dickens. He disappointed me. He made no attempt
to represent the different characters by varied utterance;
but whenever something unusually comic was said, or about to
be said, he had a habit of turning his eyes up to the
ceiling; so that, knowing what was coming, one nervously
anticipated the upcast look, and for the moment lost the
illusion. In both entertainments, the reader was naturally
the central point of interest. But in the case of Dickens,
when curiosity was satisfied, he alone possessed one;
Pickwick and Mrs. Bardell were put out of court.
Was it not Charles Lamb, or was it Hazlitt, that could not
bear to see Shakespeare upon the stage? I agree with him. I
have never seen a Falstaff that did not make me miserable.
He is even more impossible to impersonate than Hamlet. A
player will spoil you the character of Hamlet, but he cannot
spoil his thoughts. Depend upon it, we are fortunate not to
have seen Shakespeare in his ghost of Royal Denmark.
In 1861 I married Lady Katharine Egerton, second daughter of
Lord Wilton, and we took up our abode in Warwick Square,
which, by the way, I had seen a few years before as a turnip
field. My wife was an accomplished pianiste, so we had a
great deal of music, and saw much of the artist world. I may
mention one artistic dinner amongst our early efforts at
housekeeping, which nearly ended with a catastrophe.
Millais and Dicky Doyle were of the party; music was
represented by Joachim, Piatti, and Halle. The late Lord and
Lady de Ros were also of the number. Lady de Ros, who was a
daughter of the Duke of Richmond, had danced at the ball
given by her father at Brussels the night before Waterloo.
As Lord de Ros was then Governor of the Tower, it will be
understood that he was a veteran of some standing. The great
musical trio were enchanting all ears with their faultless
performance, when the sweet and soul-stirring notes of the
Adagio were suddenly interrupted by a loud crash and a
shriek. Old Lord de Ros was listening to the music on a sofa
at the further end of the room. Over his head was a large
picture in a heavy frame. What vibrations, what careless
hanging, what mischievous Ate or Discord was at the bottom of
it, who knows? Down came the picture on the top of the poor
old General's head, and knocked him senseless on the floor.
He had to be carried upstairs and laid upon a bed. Happily
he recovered without serious injury. There were many
exclamations of regret, but the only one I remember was
Millais'. All he said was: 'And it is a good picture too.'
Sir Arthur Sullivan was one of our musical favourites. My
wife had known him as a chorister boy in the Chapel Royal;
and to the end of his days we were on terms of the closest
intimacy and friendship. Through him we made the
acquaintance of the Scott Russells. Mr. Scott Russell was
the builder of the Crystal Palace. He had a delightful
residence at Sydenham, the grounds of which adjoined those of
the Crystal Palace, and were beautifully laid out by his
friend Sir Joseph Paxton. One of the daughters, Miss Rachel
Russell, was a pupil of Arthur Sullivan's. She had great
musical talent, she was remarkably handsome, exceedingly
clever and well-informed, and altogether exceptionally
fascinating. Quite apart from Sullivan's genius, he was in
every way a charming fellow. The teacher fell in love with
the pupil; and, as naturally, his love was returned.
Sullivan was but a youth, a poor and struggling music-master.
And, very naturally again, Mrs. Scott Russell, who could not
be expected to know what magic baton the young maestro
carried in his knapsack, thought her brilliant daughter might
do better. The music lessons were put a stop to, and
correspondence between the lovers was prohibited.
Once a week or so, either the young lady or the young
gentleman would, quite unexpectedly, pay us a visit about tea
or luncheon time. And, by the strangest coincidence, the
other would be sure to drop in while the one was there. This
went on for a year or two. But destiny forbade the banns.
In spite of the large fortune acquired by Mr. Scott Russell -
he was the builder of the 'Great Eastern' as well as the
Crystal Palace - ill-advised or unsuccessful ventures robbed
him of his well-earned wealth. His beautiful place at
Sydenham had to be sold; and the marriage of Miss Rachel with
young Arthur Sullivan was abandoned. She ultimately married
an Indian official.
Her story may here be told to the end. Some years later she
returned to England to bring her two children home for their
education, going back to India without them, as Indian
mothers have to do. The day before she sailed, she called to
take leave of us in London. She was terribly depressed, but
fought bravely with her trial. She never broke down, but
shunted the subject, talking and laughing with flashes of her
old vivacity, about music, books, friends, and 'dear old
dirty London,' as she called it. When she left, I opened the
street-door for her, and with both her hands in mine, bade
her 'Farewell.' Then the tears fell, and her parting words
were: 'I am leaving England never to see it again.' She was
seized with cholera the night she reached Bombay, and died
the following day.
To return to her father, the eminent engineer. He was
distinctly a man of genius, and what is called 'a character.'
He was always in the clouds - not in the vapour of his
engine-rooms, nor busy inventing machines for extracting
sunbeams from cucumbers, but musing on metaphysical problems
and abstract speculations about the universe generally. In
other respects a perfectly simple-minded man.
It was in his palmy days that he invited me to run down to
Sheerness with him, and go over the 'Great Eastern' before
she left with the Atlantic cable. This was in 1865. The
largest ship in the world, and the first Atlantic cable, were
both objects of the greatest interest. The builder did not
know the captain - Anderson - nor did the captain know the
builder. But clearly, each would be glad to meet the other.
As the leviathan was to leave in a couple of days, everything
on board her was in the wildest confusion. Russell could not
find anyone who could find the Captain; so he began poking
about with me, till we accidentally stumbled on the
Commander. He merely said that he was come to take a parting
glance at his 'child,' which did not seem of much concern to
the over-busy captain. He never mentioned his own name, but
introduced me as 'my friend Captain Cole.' Now, in those
days, Captain Cole was well known as a distinguished naval
officer. To Russell's absent and engineering mind, 'Coke'
had suggested 'Cole,' and 'Captain' was inseparable from the
latter. It was a name to conjure with. Captain Anderson
took off his cap, shook me warmly by the hand, expressed his
pleasure at making my acquaintance, and hoped I, and my
friend Mr. - ahem - would come into his cabin and have
luncheon, and then allow him to show me over his ship. Scott
Russell was far too deeply absorbed in his surroundings to
note any peculiarity in this neglect of himself and marked
respect for 'Captain Cole.' We made the round of the decks,
then explored the engine room. Here the designer found
himself in an earthly paradise. He button-holed the engineer
and inquired into every crank, and piston, and valve, and
every bolt, as it seemed to me, till the officer in charge
unconsciously began to ask opinions instead of offering
explanations. By degrees the captain was equally astonished
at the visitor's knowledge, and when at last my friend asked
what had become of some fixture or other which he missed,
Captain Anderson turned to him and exclaimed, 'Why, you seem
to know more about the ship than I do.'
'Well, so I ought,' says my friend, never for a moment
supposing that Anderson was in ignorance of his identity.
'Indeed! Who then are you, pray?'
'Who? Why, Scott Russell of course, the builder!'
There was a hearty laugh over it all. I managed to spare the
captain's feelings by preserving my incognito, and so ended a
IN November, 1862, my wife and I received an invitation to
spend a week at Compiegne with their Majesties the Emperor
and Empress of the French. This was due to the circumstance
that my wife's father, Lord Wilton, as Commodore of the Royal
Yacht Squadron, had entertained the Emperor during his visit
We found an express train with the imperial carriages
awaiting the arrival of the English guests at the station du
Nord. The only other English besides ourselves were Lord and
Lady Winchilsea with Lady Florence Paget, and Lord and Lady
Castlerosse, now Lord and Lady Kenmare. These, however, had
preceded us, so that with the exception of M. Drouyn de
Lhuys, we had the saloon carriage to ourselves.
The party was a very large one, including the Walewskis, the
Persignys, the Metternichs - he, the Austrian Ambassador -
Prince Henri VII. of Reuss, Prussian Ambassador, the Prince
de la Moskowa, son of Marshal Ney, and the Labedoyeres,
amongst the historical names. Amongst those of art and
literature, of whom there were many, the only one whom I made
the acquaintance of was Octave Feuillet. I happened to have
brought his 'Comedies et Proverbes' and another of his books
with me, never expecting to meet him; this so pleased him
that we became allies. I was surprised to find that he could
not even read English, which I begged him to learn for the
sake of Shakespeare alone.
We did not see their Majesties till dinner-time. When the
guests were assembled, the women and the men were arranged
separately on opposite sides of the room. The Emperor and
Empress then entered, each respectively welcoming those of
their own sex, shaking hands and saying some conventional
word in passing. Me, he asked whether I had brought my guns,
and hoped we should have a good week's sport. To each one a
word. Every night during the week we sat down over a hundred
to dinner. The Army was largely represented. For the first
time I tasted here the national frog, which is neither fish
nor flesh. The wine was, of course, supreme; but after every
dish a different wine was handed round. The evening
entertainments were varied. There was the theatre in the
Palace, and some of the best of the Paris artistes were
requisitioned for the occasion. With them came Dejazet, then
nearly seventy, who had played before Buonaparte.
Almost every night there was dancing. Sometimes the Emperor
would walk through a quadrille, but as a rule he would retire
with one of his ministers, though only to a smaller boudoir
at the end of the suite, where a couple of whist-tables were
ready for the more sedate of the party. Here one evening I
found Prince Metternich showing his Majesty a chess problem,
of which he was the proud inventor. The Emperor asked
whether I was fond of chess. I was very fond of chess, was
one of the regular HABITUES of St. George's Chess Club, and
had made a study of the game for years. The Prince
challenged me to solve his problem in four moves. It was not
a very profound one. I had the hardihood to discover that
three, rather obvious moves, were sufficient. But as I was
not Gil Blas, and the Prince was not the Archbishop of
Grenada, it did not much matter. Like the famous prelate,
his Excellency proffered his felicitations, and doubtless
also wished me 'un peu plus de gout' with the addition of 'un
peu moins de perspicacite.'
One of the evening performances was an exhibition of POSES-
PLASTIQUES, the subjects being chosen from celebrated
pictures in the Louvre. Theatrical costumiers, under the
command of a noted painter, were brought from Paris. The
ladies of the court were carefully rehearsed, and the whole
thing was very perfectly and very beautifully done. All the
English ladies were assigned parts. But, as nearly all these
depended less upon the beauties of drapery than upon those of
nature, the English ladies were more than a little staggered
by the demands of the painter and of the - UNdressers. To
the young and handsome Lady Castlerosse, then just married,
was allotted the figure of Diana. But when informed that, in
accordance with the original, the drapery of one leg would
have to be looped up above the knee, her ladyship used very
firm language; and, though of course perfectly ladylike,
would, rendered into masculine terms, have signified that she
would 'see the painter d-d first.' The celebrated 'Cruche
cassee' of Greuze, was represented by the reigning beauty,
the Marquise de Gallifet, with complete fidelity and success.
There was one stage of the performance which neither I nor
Lord Castlerosse, both of us newly married, at all
appreciated. This was the privileges of the Green-room, or
rather of the dressing-rooms. The exhibition was given in
the ball-room. On one side of this, until the night of the
performances, an enclosure was boarded off. Within it, were
compartments in which the ladies dressed and - undressed. At
this operation, as we young husbands discovered, certain
young gentlemen of the court were permitted to assist - I
think I am not mistaken in saying that his Majesty was of the
number. What kind of assistance was offered or accepted,
Castlerosse and I, being on the wrong side of the boarding,
were not in a position to know.
There was a door in the boarding, over which one expected to
see, 'No admittance except on business,' or perhaps, 'on
pleasure.' At this door I rapped, and rapped again
impatiently. It was opened, only as wide as her face, by the
'What do you want, sir?' was the angry demand.
'To see my wife, madame,' was the submissive reply.
'You can't see her; she is rehearsing.'
'But, madame, other gentlemen - '
'Ah! Mais, c'est un enfantillage! Allez-vous-en.'
And the door was slammed in my face.
'Well,' thought I, 'the right woman is in the right place
there, at all events.'
Another little incident at the performance itself also
recalled the days and manners of the court of Louis XV.
Between each tableau, which was lighted solely from the
raised stage, the lights were put out, and the whole room
left in complete darkness. Whenever this happened, the
sounds of immoderate kissing broke out in all directions,
accompanied by little cries of resistance and protestation.
Until then, I had always been under the impression that
humour of this kind was confined to the servants' hall. One
could not help thinking of another court, where things were
But the truth is, these trivial episodes were symptomatic of
a pervading tone. A no inconsiderable portion of the ladies
seemed to an outsider to have been invited for the sake of
their personal charms. After what has just been related, one
could not help fancying that there were some amongst them who
had availed themselves of the privilege which, according to
Tacitus, was claimed by Vistilia before the AEdiles. So far,
however, from any of these noble ladies being banished to the
Isle of Seriphos, they seemed as much attached to the court
as the court to them; and whatever the Roman Emperor might
have done, the Emperor of the French was all that was most
There were two days' shooting, one day's stag hunting, an
expedition to Pierrefonds, and a couple of days spent in
riding and skating. The shooting was very much after the
fashion of that already described at Prince Esterhazy's,
though of a much more Imperial character. As in Hungary, the
game had been driven into coverts cut down to the height of
the waist, with paths thirty to forty yards apart, for the
The weather was cold, with snow on the ground, but it was a
beautifully sunny day. This was the party: the two
ambassadors, the Prince de la Moskowa, Persigny, Walewski -
Bonaparte's natural son, and the image of his father - the
Marquis de Toulongeon, Master of the Horse, and we three
Englishmen. We met punctually at eleven in the grand saloon.
Here the Emperor joined us, with his cigarette in his mouth,
shook hands with each, and bade us take our places in the
char-a-bancs. Four splendid Normandy greys, with postilions
in the picturesque old costume, glazed hats and huge jack-
boots, took us through the forest at full gallop, and in half
an hour we were at the covert side. The Emperor was very
cheery all the way. He cautioned me not to shoot back for
the beaters' sakes, and asked me how many guns I had brought.
'Two only? that's not enough, I will lend you some of mine.'
Arrived at our beat - 'Tire de Royallieu,' we found a
squadron of dismounted cavalry drawn up in line, ready to
commence operations. They were in stable dress, with canvas
trousers and spurs to their boots. Several officers were
galloping about giving orders, the whole being under the
command of a mounted chief in green uniform and cocked hat!
The place of each shooter had been settled by M. de
Toulongeon. I, being the only Nobody of the lot, was put on
the extreme outside. The Emperor was in the middle; and
although, as I noticed, he made some beautiful shots at
rocketers, he was engaged much of the time in talking to
ministers who walked behind, or beside, him.
Our servants were already in the places allotted to their
masters, and each of us had two keepers to carry spare guns
(the Emperor had not forgotten to send me two of his, which I
could not shoot with, and never used), and a sergeant with a
large card to prick off each head of game, not as it fell to
the gun, but only after it was picked up. This conscientious
scoring amused me greatly; for, as it chanced, my bag was a
heavy one, and the Emperor's marker sent constant messages to
mine to compare notes, and so arrange, as it transpired, to
keep His Majesty at the top of the score.
About half-past one we reached a clearing where DEJEUNER was
awaiting us. The scene presented was striking. Around a
tent in which every delicacy was spread out were numbers of
little charcoal fires, where a still greater number of cooks
in white caps and jackets were preparing dainty dishes; while
the Imperial footmen bustling about brightened the picture
with colour. After coffee all the cards were brought to his
Majesty. When he had scanned them, he said to me across the
'I congratulate you, Mr. Coke, upon having killed the most.'
My answer was, 'After you, Sir.'
'Yes,' said he, giving his moustache an upward twist, but
with perfect gravity, 'I always kill the most.'
Just then the Empress and the whole court drove up.
Presently she came into the tent and, addressing her husband,
'Avez-vous bientot fini, vous autres? Ah! que vous etes des
Till the finish, she and the rest walked with the shooters.
By four it was over. The total score was 1,387 head. Mine
was 182, which included thirty-six partridges, two woodcocks,
and four roedeer. This, in three and a half hours' shooting,
with two muzzle-loaders (breech-loaders were not then in
use), was an unusually good bag.
Fashion is capricious. When lunch was over I went to one of
the charcoal fires, quite in the background, to light a
cigarette. An aide-de-camp immediately pounced upon me, with
the information that this was not permitted in company with
the Empress. It reminded one at once of the ejaculation at
Oliver Twist's bedside, 'Ladies is present, Mr. Giles.'
After the shooting, I was told to go to tea with the Empress
- a terrible ordeal, for one had to face the entire feminine
force of the palace, nearly every one of whom, from the
highest to the lowest, was provided with her own CAVALIERE
The following night, when we assembled for dinner, I received
orders to sit next to the Empress. This was still more
embarrassing. It is true, one does not speak to a sovereign
unless one is spoken to; but still one is permitted to make
the initiative easy. I found that I was expected to take my
share of the task; and by a happy inspiration, introduced the
subject of the Prince Imperial, then a child of eight years
old. The MONDAINE Empress was at once merged in the adoring
mother; her whole soul was wrapped up in the boy. It was
easy enough then to speculate on his career, at least so far
as the building of castles in the air for fantasies to roam
in. What a future he had before him! - to consolidate the
Empire! to perfect the great achievement of his father, and
render permanent the foundation of the Napoleonic dynasty! to
build a superstructure as transcendent for the glories of
Peace, as those of his immortal ancestor had been for War!
It was not difficult to play the game with such court cards
in one's hand. Nor was it easy to coin these PHRASES DE
SUCRECANDI without sober and earnest reflections on the
import of their contents. What, indeed, might or might not
be the consequences to millions, of the wise or unwise or
evil development of the life of that bright and handsome
little fellow, now trotting around the dessert table, with
the long curls tumbling over his velvet jacket, and the
flowers in his hand for some pretty lady who was privileged
to kiss him? Who could foretell the cruel doom - heedless of
such favours and such splendid promises - that awaited the
pretty child? Who could hear the brave young soldier's last
shrieks of solitary agony? Who could see the forsaken body
slashed with knives and assegais? Ah! who could dream of
that fond mother's heart, when the end came, which eclipsed
even the disasters of a nation!
One by-day, when my wife and I were riding with the Emperor
through the forest of Compiegne, a rough-looking man in a
blouse, with a red comforter round his neck, sprang out from
behind a tree; and before he could be stopped, seized the
Emperor's bridle. In an instant the Emperor struck his hand
with a heavy hunting stock; and being free, touched his horse
with the spur and cantered on. I took particular notice of
his features and his demeanour, from the very first moment of
the surprise. Nothing happened but what I have described.
The man seemed fierce and reckless. The Emperor showed not
the faintest signs of discomposure. All he said was, turning
to my wife, 'Comme il avait l'air sournois, cet homme!' and
resumed the conversation at the point where it was
Before we had gone a hundred yards I looked back to see what
had become of the offender. He was in the hands of two GENS
D'ARMES, who had been invisible till then.
'Poor devil,' thought I, 'this spells dungeon for you.'
Now, with Kinglake's acrimonious charge of the Emperor's
personal cowardice running in my head, I felt that this
exhibition of SANG FROID, when taken completely unawares,
went far to refute the imputation. What happened later in
the day strongly confirmed this opinion.
After dark, about six o'clock, I took a stroll by myself
through the town of Compiegne. Coming home, when crossing
the bridge below the Palace, I met the Emperor arm-in-arm
with Walewski. Not ten minutes afterwards, whom should I
stumble upon but the ruffian who had seized the Emperor's
bridle? The same red comforter was round his neck, the same
wild look was in his face. I turned after he had passed, and
at the same moment he turned to look at me.
Would this man have been at large but for the Emperor's
orders? Assuredly not. For, supposing he were crazy, who
could have answered for his deeds? Most likely he was
shadowed; and to a certainty the Emperor would be so. Still,
what could save the latter from a pistol-shot? Yet, here he
was, sauntering about the badly lighted streets of a town
where his kenspeckle figure was familiar to every inhabitant.
Call this fatalism if you will; but these were not the acts
of a coward. I told this story to a friend who was well
'posted' in the club gossip of the day. He laughed.
'Don't you know the meaning of Kinglake's spite against the
Emperor?' said he. 'CHERCHEZ LA FEMME. Both of them were in
love with Mrs. - '
This is the way we write our histories.
Wishing to explore the grounds about the palace before anyone
was astir, I went out one morning about half-past eight.
Seeing what I took to be a mausoleum, I walked up to it,
found the door opened, and peeped in. It turned out to be a
museum of Roman antiquities, and the Emperor was inside,
arranging them. I immediately withdrew, but he called to me
to come in.
He was at this time busy with his Life of Caesar; and, in his
enthusiasm, seemed pleased to have a listener to his
instructive explanations; he even encouraged the curiosity
which the valuable collection and his own remarks could not
fail to awaken.
Not long ago, I saw some correspondence in the Times' and
other papers about what Heine calls 'Das kleine
welthistorische Hutchen,' which the whole of Europe knew so
well, to its cost. Some six or seven of the Buonaparte hats,
so it appears, are still in existence. But I noticed, that
though all were located, no mention was made of the one in
When we left Compiegne for Paris we were magnificently
furnished with orders for royal boxes at theatres, and for
admission to places of interest not open to the public. Thus
provided, we had access to many objects of historical
interest and of art - amongst the former, the relics of the
great conqueror. In one glass case, under lock and key, was
the 'world-historical little hat.' The official who
accompanied us, having stated that we were the Emperor's
guests, requested the keeper to take it out and show it to
us. I hope no Frenchman will know it, but, I put the hat
upon my head. In one sense it was a 'little' hat - that is
to say, it fitted a man with a moderate sized skull - but the
flaps were much larger than pictures would lead one to think,
and such was the weight that I am sure it would give any
ordinary man accustomed to our head-gear a still neck to wear
it for an hour. What has become of this hat if it is not
still in the Luxembourg?
SOME few years later, while travelling with my family in
Switzerland, we happened to be staying at Baveno on Lago
Maggiore at the same time, and in the same hotel, as the
Crown Prince and Princess of Germany. Their Imperial
Highnesses occupied a suite of apartments on the first floor.
Our rooms were immediately above them. As my wife was known
to the Princess, occasional greetings passed from balcony to
One evening while watching two lads rowing from the shore in
the direction of Isola Bella, I was aroused from my
contemplation of a gathering storm by angry vociferations
beneath me. These were addressed to the youths in the boat.
The anxious father had noted the coming tempest; and, with
hands to his mouth, was shouting orders to the young
gentlemen to return. Loud and angry as cracked the thunder,
the imperial voice o'ertopped it. Commands succeeded
admonitions, and as the only effect on the rowers was obvious
recalcitrancy, oaths succeeded both: all in those throat-
clearing tones to which the German language so consonantly
lends itself. In a few minutes the boat was immersed in the
down-pour which concealed it.
The elder of the two oarsmen was no other than the future
firebrand peacemaker, Miching Mallecho, our fierce little
Tartarin de Berlin. One wondered how he, who would not be
ruled, would come in turn to rule? That question is a
burning one; and may yet set the world in flames to solve it.
A comic little incident happened here to my own children.
There was but one bathing-machine. This, the two - a
schoolboy and his sister - used in the early morning. Being
rather late one day, they found it engaged; and growing
impatient the boy banged at the door of the machine, with a
shout in schoolboy's vernacular: 'Come, hurry up; we want to
dip.' Much to the surprise of the guilty pair, an answer,
also in the best of English, came from the inside: 'Go away,
you naughty boy.' The occupant was the Imperial Princess.
Needless to say the children bolted with a mingled sense of
mischief and alarm.
About this time I joined a society for the relief of
distress, of which Bromley Davenport was the nominal leader.
The 'managing director,' so to speak, was Dr. Gilbert, father
of Mr. W. S. Gilbert. To him I went for instructions. I
told him I wanted to see the worst. He accordingly sent me
to Bethnal Green. For two winters and part of a third I
visited this district twice a week regularly. What I saw in
the course of those two years was matter for a thoughtful -
ay, or a thoughtless - man to think of for the rest of his
My system was to call first upon the clergyman of the parish,
and obtain from him a guide to the severest cases of
destitution. The guide would be a Scripture reader, and, as
far as I remember, always a woman. I do not know whether the
labours of these good creatures were gratuitous - they
themselves were certainly poor, yet singularly earnest and
sympathetic. The society supplied tickets for coal,
blankets, and food. Needless to say, had these supplies been
a thousand-fold as great, they would have done as little
permanent good as those at my command.
In Bethnal Green the principal industry is, or was, silk-
weaving by hand looms. Nearly all the houses were ancient
and dilapidated. A weaver and his family would occupy part
of a flat, consisting of two rooms perhaps, one of which
would contain his loom. The room might be about seven feet
high, nearly dark, lighted only by a lattice window, half of
the panes of which would be replaced by dirty rags or old
newspaper. As the loom was placed against the window the
light was practically excluded. The foulness of the air and
filth which this entailed may be too easily imagined. A
couple of cases, taken almost at random, will sample scores
It is one of the darkest days of December. The Thames is
nearly frozen at Waterloo Bridge. On the second floor of an
old house in - Lane, in an unusually spacious room (or does
it only look spacious because there is nothing in it save
four human beings?) are a father, a mother, and a grown-up
son and daughter. They scowl at the visitor as the Scripture
reader opens the door. What is the meaning of the intrusion?
Is he too come with a Bible instead of bread? The four are
seated side by side on the floor, leaning against the wall,
waiting for - death. Bedsteads, chairs, table, and looms
have been burnt this week or more for fuel. The grate is
empty now, and lets the freezing draught blow down the
chimney. The temporary relief is accepted, but not with
thanks. These four stubbornly prefer death to the work-
One other case. It is the same hard winter. The scene: a
small garret in the roof, a low slanting little skylight, now
covered six inches deep in snow. No fireplace here, no
ventilation, so put your scented cambric to your nose, my
noble Dives. The only furniture a scanty armful of - what
shall we call it? It was straw once. A starving woman and a
baby are lying on it, notwithstanding. The baby surely will
not be there to-morrow. It has a very bad cold - and the
mucus, and the - pah! The woman in a few rags - just a few -
is gnawing a raw carrot. The picture is complete. There's
nothing more to paint. The rest - the whole indeed, that is
the consciousness of it - was, and remains, with the Unseen.
You will say, 'Such things cannot be'; you will say, 'There
are relieving officers, whose duty, etc., etc.' May be. I
am only telling you what I myself have seen. There is more
goes on in big cities than even relieving officers can cope
with. And who shall grapple with the causes? That's the
Here is something else that I have seen. I have seen a
family of six in one room. Of these, four were brothers and
sisters, all within, none over, their teens. There were
three beds between the six. When I came upon them they were
out of work, - the young ones in bed to keep warm. I took
them for very young married couples. It was the Scripture
reader who undeceived me. This is not the exception to the
rule, look you, but the rule itself. How will you deal with
it? It is with Nature, immoral Nature and her heedless
instincts that you have to deal. With what kind of fork will
you expel her? It is with Nature's wretched children, the
Quos venerem incertam rapientes more ferarum,
that your account lies. Will they cease to listen to her
maddening whispers: 'Unissez-vous, multipliez, il n'est
d'autre loi, d'autre but, que l'amour?' What care they for
her aside - 'Et durez apres, si vous le pouvez; cela ne me
regarde plus'? It doesn't regard them either.
The infallible panacea, so the 'Progressive' tell us, is
education - lessons on the piano, perhaps? Doctor Malthus
would be more to the purpose; but how shall we administer his
prescriptions? One thing we might try to teach to advantage,
and that is the elementary principles of hygiene. I am heart
and soul with the Progressive as to the ultimate remedial
powers of education. Moral advancement depends absolutely on
the humanising influences of intellectual advancement. The
foreseeing of consequences is a question of intelligence.
And the appreciation of consequences which follow is the
basis of morality. But we must not begin at the wrong end.
The true foundation and condition of intellectual and moral
progress postulates material and physical improvement. The
growth of artificial wants is as much the cause as the effect
of civilisation: they proceed PARI PASSU. A taste of
comfort begets a love of comfort. And this kind of love
militates, not impotently, against the other; for self-
interest is a persuasive counsellor, and gets a hearing when
the blood is cool. Life must be more than possible, it must
be endurable; man must have some leisure, some repose, before
his brain-needs have a chance with those of his belly. He
must have a coat to his back before he can stick a rose in
its button-hole. The worst of it is, he begins - in Bethnal
Green at least - with the rose-bud; and indulges, poor devil!
in a luxury which is just the most expensive, and - in our
Bethnal Greens - the most suicidal he could resort to.
There was one method I adopted with a show of temporary
success now and then. It frequently happens that a man
succumbs to difficulties for which he is not responsible, and
which timely aid may enable him to overcome. An artisan may
have to pawn or sell the tools by which he earns his living.
The redemption of these, if the man is good for anything,
will often set him on his legs. Thus, for example, I found a
cobbler one day surrounded by a starving family. His story
was common enough, severe illness being the burden of it. He
was an intelligent little fellow, and, as far as one could
judge, full of good intentions. His wife seemed devoted to
him, and this was the best of vouchers. 'If he had but a
shilling or two to redeem his tools, and buy two or three old
cast-off shoes in the rag-market which he could patch up and
sell, he wouldn't ask anyone for a copper.'
We went together to the pawnbroker's, then to the rag-market,
and the little man trotted home with an armful of old boots
and shoes, some without soles, some without uppers; all, as I
should have thought, picked out of dust-bins and rubbish
heaps, his sunken eyes sparkling with eagerness and renovated
hope. I looked in upon him about three weeks later. The
family were sitting round a well provided tea-table, close to
a glowing fire, the cheeks of the children smeared with jam,
and the little cobbler hammering away at his last, too busy
to partake of the bowl of hot tea which his wife had placed
The same sort of treatment was sometimes very successful with
a skilful workman - like a carpenter, for instance. Here a
double purpose might be served. Nothing more common in
Bethnal Green than broken looms, and consequent disaster.
There you had the ready-made job for the reinstated
carpenter; and good could be done in a small way, at very
little cost. Of coarse much discretion is needed; still, the
Scripture readers or the relieving officers would know the
characters of the destitute, and the visitor himself would
soon learn to discriminate.
A system similar to this was the basis of the aid rendered by
the Royal Society for the Assistance of Discharged Prisoners,
which was started by my friend, Mr. Whitbread, the present
owner of Southill, and which I joined in its early days at
his instigation. The earnings of the prisoner were handed
over by the gaols to the Society, and the Society employed
them for his advantage - always, in the case of an artisan,
by supplying him with the needful implements of his trade.
But relief in which the pauper has no productive share, of
which he is but a mere consumer, is of no avail.
One cannot but think that if instead of the selfish
principles which govern our trades-unions, and which are
driving their industries out of the country, trade-schools
could be provided - such, for instance, as the cheap carving
schools to be met with in many parts of Germany and the Tyrol
- much might be done to help the bread-earners. Why could
not schools be organised for the instruction of shoemakers,
tailors, carpenters, smiths of all kinds, and the scores of
other trades which in former days were learnt by compulsory
apprenticeship? Under our present system of education the
greater part of what the poor man's children learn is clean
forgotten in a few years; and if not, serves mainly to create
and foster discontent, which vents itself in a passion for
mass-meetings and the fuliginous oratory of our Hyde Parks.
The emigration scheme for poor-law children as advocated by
Mrs. Close is the most promising, in its way, yet brought
before the public, and is deserving of every support.
In the absence of any such projects as these, the
hopelessness of the task, and the depressing effect of the
contact with much wretchedness, wore me out. I had a nursery
of my own, and was not justified in risking infectious
diseases. A saint would have been more heroic, and could
besides have promised that sweetest of consolations to
suffering millions - the compensation of Eternal Happiness.
I could not give them even hope, for I had none to spare.
The root-evil I felt to be the overcrowding due to the
reckless intercourse of the sexes; and what had Providence to
do with a law of Nature, obedience to which entailed
IN the autumn following the end of the Franco-German war, Dr.
Bird and I visited all the principal battlefields. In
England the impression was that the bloodiest battle was
fought at Gravelotte. The error was due, I believe, to our
having no war correspondent on the spot. Compared with that
on the plains between St. Marie and St. Privat, Gravelotte
was but a cavalry skirmish. We were fortunate enough to meet
a German artillery officer at St. Marie who had been in the
action, and who kindly explained the distribution of the
forces. Large square mounds were scattered about the plain
where the German dead were buried, little wooden crosses
being stuck into them to denote the regiment they had
belonged to. At Gravelotte we saw the dogs unearthing the
bodies from the shallow graves. The officer told us he did
not think there was a family in Germany unrepresented in the
plains of St. Privat.
It was interesting so soon after the event, to sit quietly in
the little summer-house of the Chateau de Bellevue,
commanding a view of Sedan, where Bismarck and Moltke and
General de Wimpfen held their memorable Council. 'Un
terrible homme,' says the story of the 'Debacle,' 'ce general
de Moltke, qui gagnait des batailles du fond de son cabinet a
We afterwards made a walking tour through the Tyrol, and down
to Venice. On our way home, while staying at Lucerne, we
went up the Rigi. Soon after leaving the Kulm, on our
descent to the railway, which was then uncompleted, we lost
each other in the mist. I did not get to Vitznau till late
at night, but luckily found a steamer just starting for
Lucerne. The cabin was crammed with German students, each
one smoking his pipe and roaring choruses to alternate
singers. All of a sudden, those who were on their legs were
knocked off them. The panic was instantaneous, for every one
of us knew it was a collision. But the immediate peril was
in the rush for the deck. Violent with terror, rough by
nature, and full of beer, these wild young savages were
formidable to themselves and others. Having arrived late, I
had not got further than the cabin door, and was up the
companion ladder at a bound. It was pitch dark, and piteous
screams came up from the surrounding waters. At first it was
impossible to guess what had happened. Were we rammed, or
were we rammers? I pulled off my coats ready for a swim.
But it soon became apparent that we had run into and sunk
The next morning the doctor and I went on to England. A week
after I took up the 'Illustrated News.' There was an account
of the accident, with an illustration of the cabin of the
sunken boat. The bodies of passengers were depicted as the
divers had found them.
On the very day the peace was signed I chanced to call on Sir
Anthony Rothschild in New Court. He took me across the court
to see his brother Lionel, the head of the firm. Sir Anthony
bowed before him as though the great man were Plutus himself.
He sat at a table alone, not in his own room, but in the
immense counting-room, surrounded by a brigade of clerks.
This was my first introduction to him. He took no notice of
his brother, but received me as Napoleon received the
emperors and kings at Erfurt - in other words, as he would
have received his slippers from his valet, or as he did
receive the telegrams which were handed to him at the rate of
about one a minute.
The King of Kings was in difficulties with a little slip of
black sticking-plaster. The thought of Gumpelino's
Hyacinthos, ALIAS Hirsch, flashed upon me. Behold! the
mighty Baron Nathan come to life again; but instead of
Hyacinthos paring his mightiness's HUHNERAUGEN, he himself,
in paring his own nails, had contrived to cut his finger.
'Come to buy Spanish?' he asked, with eyes intent upon the
'Oh no,' said I, 'I've no money to gamble with.'
'Hasn't Lord Leicester bought Spanish?' - never looking off
the sticking-plaster, nor taking the smallest notice of the
'Not that I know of. Are they good things?'
'I don't know; some people think so.'
Here a message was handed in, and something was whispered in
'Very well, put it down.'
'From Paris,' said Sir Anthony, guessing perhaps at its
But not until the plaster was comfortably adjusted did Plutus
read the message. He smiled and pushed it over to me. It
was the terms of peace, and the German bill of costs.
'200,000,000 pounds!' I exclaimed. 'That's a heavy
reckoning. Will France ever be able to pay it?'
'Pay it? Yes. If it had been twice as much!' And Plutus
returned to his sticking-plaster. That was of real
Last autumn - 1904, the literary world was not a little
gratified by an announcement in the 'Times' that the British
Museum had obtained possession of the original manuscript of
Keats's 'Hyperion.' Let me tell the story of its discovery.
During the summer of last year, my friend Miss Alice Bird,
who was paying me a visit at Longford, gave me this account
When Leigh Hunt's memoirs were being edited by his son
Thornton in 1861, he engaged the services of three intimate
friends of the family to read and collate the enormous mass
of his father's correspondence. Miss Alice Bird was one of
the chosen three. The arduous task completed, Thornton Hunt
presented each of his three friends with a number of
autographic letters, which, according to Miss Bird's
description, he took almost at random from the eliminated
pile. Amongst the lot that fell to Miss Bird's share was a
roll of stained paper tied up with tape. This she was led to
suppose - she never carefully examined it - might be either a
copy or a draft of some friend's unpublished poem.
The unknown treasure was put away in a drawer with the rest.
Here it remained undisturbed for forty-three years. Having
now occasion to remove these papers, she opened the forgotten
scroll, and was at once struck both with the words of the
'Hyperion,' and with the resemblance of the writing to
She forthwith consulted the Keepers of the Manuscripts in the
British Museum, with the result that her TROUVAILLE was
immediately identified as the poet's own draft of the
'Hyperion.' The responsible authorities soon after, offered
the fortunate possessor five hundred guineas for the
manuscript, but courteously and honestly informed her that,
were it put up to auction, some American collector would be
almost sure to give a much larger sum for it.
Miss Bird's patriotism prevailed over every other
consideration. She expressed her wish that the poem should
be retained in England; and generously accepted what was
indubitably less than its market value.
A MAN whom I had known from my school-days, Frederick
Thistlethwayte, coming into a huge fortune when a subaltern
in a marching regiment, had impulsively married a certain
Miss Laura Bell. In her early days, when she made her first
appearance in London and in Paris, Laura Bell's extraordinary
beauty was as much admired by painters as by men of the
world. Amongst her reputed lovers were Dhuleep Singh, the
famous Marquis of Hertford, and Prince Louis Napoleon. She
was the daughter of an Irish constable, and began life on the
stage at Dublin. Her Irish wit and sparkling merriment, her
cajolery, her good nature and her feminine artifice, were
attractions which, in the eyes of the male sex, fully atoned
for her youthful indiscretions.
My intimacy with both Mr. and Mrs. Thistlethwayte extended
over many years; and it is but justice to her memory to aver
that, to the best of my belief, no wife was ever more
faithful to her husband. I speak of the Thistlethwaytes here
for two reasons - absolutely unconnected in themselves, yet
both interesting in their own way. The first is, that at my
friend's house in Grosvenor Square I used frequently to meet
Mr. Gladstone, sometimes alone, sometimes at dinner. As may
be supposed, the dinner parties were of men, but mostly of
men eminent in public life. The last time I met Mr.
Gladstone there the Duke of Devonshire and Sir W. Harcourt
were both present. I once dined with Mrs. Thistlethwayte in
the absence of her husband, when the only others were Munro
of Novar - the friend of Turner, and the envied possessor of
a splendid gallery of his pictures - and the Duke of
Newcastle - then a Cabinet Minister. Such were the
notabilities whom the famous beauty gathered about her.
But it is of Mr. Gladstone that I would say a word. The
fascination which he exercised over most of those who came
into contact with him is incontestable; and everyone is
entitled to his own opinion, even though unable to account
for it. This, at least, must be my plea, for to me, Mr.
Gladstone was more or less a Dr. Fell. Neither in his public
nor in his private capacity had I any liking for him. Nobody
cares a button for what a 'man in the street' like me says or
thinks on subject matters upon which they have made up their
minds. I should not venture, even as one of the crowd, to
deprecate a popularity which I believe to be fast passing
away, were it not that better judges and wiser men think as I
do, and have represented opinions which I sincerely share.
'He was born,' says Huxley, 'to be a leader of men, and he
has debased himself to be a follower of the masses. If
working men were to-day to vote by a majority that two and
two made five, to-morrow Gladstone would believe it, and find
them reasons for it which they had never dreamt of.' Could
any words be truer? Yes; he was not born to be a leader of
men. He was born to be, what he was - a misleader of men.
Huxley says he could be made to believe that two and two made
five. He would try to make others believe it; but would he
himself believe it? His friends will plead, 'he might
deceive himself by the excessive subtlety of his mind.' This
is the charitable view to take. But some who knew him long
and well put another construction upon this facile self-
deception. There were, and are, honourable men of the
highest standing who failed to ascribe disinterested motives
to the man who suddenly and secretly betrayed his colleagues,
his party, and his closest friends, and tried to break up the
Empire to satisfy an inordinate ambition, and an insatiable
craving for power. 'He might have been mistaken, but he
acted for the best'? Was he acting conscientiously for the
best in persuading the 'masses' to look upon the 'classes' -
the war cries are of his coining - as their natural enemies,
and worthy only of their envy and hatred? Is this the part
of a statesman, of a patriot?
And for what else shall we admire Mr. Gladstone? Walter
Bagehot, alluding to his egotism, wrote of him in his
lifetime, 'He longs to pour forth his own belief; he cannot
rest till he has contradicted everyone else.' And what was
that belief worth? 'He has scarcely,' says the same writer,
'given us a sentence that lives in the memory.'
Even his eloquent advocate, Mr. Morley, confesses surprise at
his indifference to the teaching of evolution; in other
words, his ignorance of, and disbelief in, a scientific
theory of nature which has modified the theological and moral
creeds of the civilised world more profoundly than did the
Copernican system of the Universe.
The truth is, Mr. Gladstone was half a century behind the age
in everything that most deeply concerned the destiny of man.
He was a politician, and nothing but a politician; and had it
not been for his extraordinary gift of speech, we should
never have heard of him save as a writer of scholia, or as a
college don, perhaps. Not for such is the temple of Fame.
Fama di loro il mondo esser non lassa.
Whatever may be thought now, Mr. Gladstone is not the man
whom posterity will ennoble with the title of either 'great'
My second reason for mentioning Frederick Thistlethwayte was
one which at first sight may seem trivial, and yet, when we
look into it, is of more importance than the renown of an ex-
Prime Minister. If these pages are ever read, what follows
will be as distasteful to some of my own friends as the above
remarks to Mr. Gladstone's.
Pardon a word about the writer himself - it is needed to
emphasise and justify these OBITER DICTA. I was brought up
as a sportsman: I cannot remember the days when I began to
shoot. I had a passion for all kinds of sport, and have had
opportunities of gratifying it such as fall to the lot of
few. After the shootings of Glenquoich and Invergarry were
lost to me through the death of Mr. Ellice, I became almost
the sole guest of Mr. Thistlethwayte for twelve years at his
Highland shooting of Kinlochmohr, not very far from Fort
William. He rented the splendid deer forest of Mamore,
extensive grouse moors, and a salmon river within ten
minutes' walk of the lodge. His marriage and his
eccentricities of mind and temper led him to shun all
society. We often lived in bothies at opposite ends of the
forest, returning to the lodge on Saturday till Monday
morning. For a sportsman, no life could be more enjoyable.
I was my own stalker, taking a couple of gillies for the
ponies, but finding the deer for myself - always the most
difficult part of the sport - and stalking them for myself.
I may here observe that, not very long after I married,
qualms of conscience smote me as to the justifiability of
killing, AND WOUNDING, animals for amusement's sake. The
more I thought of it, the less it bore thinking about.
Finally I gave it up altogether. But I went on several years
after this with the deer-stalking; the true explanation of
this inconsistency would, I fear, be that I had had enough of
the one, but would never have enough of the other - one's
conscience adapts itself without much difficulty to one's
Between my host and myself, there was a certain amount of
rivalry; and as the head forester was his stalker, the
rivalry between our men aroused rancorous jealousy. I think
the gillies on either side would have spoilt the others'
sport, could they have done so with impunity. For two
seasons, a very big stag used occasionally to find its way
into our forest from the Black Mount, where it was also
known. Thistlethwayte had had a chance, and missed it; then
my turn came. I got a long snap-shot end on at the galloping
stag. It was an unsportsmanlike thing to do, but considering
the rivalry and other temptations I fired, and hit the beast
in the haunch. It was late in the day, and the wounded
Nine days later I spied the 'big stag' again. He was nearly
in the middle of a herd of about twenty, mostly hinds, on the
look-out. They were on a large open moss at the bottom of a
corrie, whence they could see a moving object on every side
of them. A stalk where they were was out of the question. I
made up my mind to wait and watch.
Now comes the moral of my story. For hours I watched that
stag. Though three hundred yards or so away from me, I could
through my glass see almost the expression of his face. Not
once did he rise or attempt to feed, but lay restlessly
beating his head upon the ground for hour after hour. I knew
well enough what that meant. I could not hear his groans.
His plaints could not reach my ears, but they reached my
heart. The refrain varied little: 'How long shall I cry and
Thou wilt not hear?' - that was the monotonous burden of the
moans, though sometimes I fancied it changed to: 'Lord how
long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph?'
The evening came, and then, as is their habit, the deer began
to feed up wind. The wounded stag seemed loth to stir. By
degrees the last watchful hind fed quietly out of sight.
With throbbing pulse and with the instincts of a fox - or
prehistoric man, 'tis all the same - I crawled and dragged
myself through the peat bog and the pools of water. But
nearer than two hundred yards it was impossible to get; even
to raise my head or find a tussock whereon to rest the rifle
would have started any deer but this one. From the hollow I
was in, the most I could see of him was the outline of his
back and his head and neck. I put up the 200 yards sight and
A vivid description of the body is not desirable. It was
almost fleshless, wasted away, except his wounded haunch.
That was nearly twice its normal size; about one half of it
was maggots. The stench drove us all away. This I had done,
and I had done it for my pleasure!
After that year I went no more to Scotland. I blame no one
for his pursuit of sport. But I submit that he must follow
it, if at all, with Reason's eyes shut. Happily, your true
sportsman does not violate his conscience. As a friend of
mine said to me the other day, 'Unless you give a man of that
kind something to kill, his own life is not worth having.'
This, to be sure, is all he has to think about.
FOR eight or nine years, while my sons were at school, I
lived at Rickmansworth. Unfortunately the Leweses had just
left it. Moor Park belonged to Lord Ebury, my wife's uncle,
and the beauties of its magnificent park and the amenities of
its charming house were at all times open to us, and freely
taken advantage of. During those nine years I lived the life
of a student, and wrote and published the book I have
elsewhere spoken of, the 'Creeds of the Day.'
Of the visitors of note whose acquaintance I made while I was
staying at Moor Park, by far the most illustrious was Froude.
He was too reserved a man to lavish his intimacy when taken
unawares; and if he suspected, as he might have done by my
probing, that one wanted to draw him out, he was much too
shrewd to commit himself to definite expressions of any kind
until he knew something of his interviewer. Reticence of
this kind, on the part of such a man, is both prudent and
commendable. But is not this habit of cautiousness sometimes
carried to the extent of ambiguity in his 'Short Studies on
Great Subjects'? The careful reader is left in no sort of
doubt as to Froude's own views upon Biblical criticism, as to
his theological dogmas, or his speculative opinions. But the
conviction is only reached by comparing him with himself in
different moods, by collating essay with essay, and one part
of an essay with another part of the same essay. Sometimes
we have an astute defence of doctrines worthy at least of a
temperate apologist, and a few pages further on we wonder
whether the writer was not masking his disdain for the
credulity which he now exposes and laughs at. Neither
excessive caution nor timidity are implied by his editing of
the Carlyle papers; and he may have failed - who that has
done so much has not? - in keeping his balance on the swaying
slack-rope between the judicious and the injudicious. In his
own line, however, he is, to my taste, the most scholarly,
the most refined, and the most suggestive, of our recent
essayists. The man himself in manner and in appearance was
in perfect keeping with these attractive qualities.
While speaking of Moor Park and its kind owner I may avail
myself of this opportunity to mention an early reminiscence
of Lord Ebury's concerning the Grosvenor estate in London.
Mr. Gladstone was wont to amuse himself with speculations as
to the future dimensions of London; what had been its growth
within his memory; what causes might arise to cheek its
increase. After listening to his remarks on the subject one
day at dinner, I observed that I had heard Lord Ebury talk of
shooting over ground which is now Eaton Square. Mr.
Gladstone of course did not doubt it; but some of the young
men smiled incredulously. I afterwards wrote to Lord Ebury
to make sure that I had not erred. Here is his reply:
'Moor Park, Rickmansworth: January 9, 1883.
'MY dear Henry, - What you said I had told you about snipe-
shooting is quite true, though I think I ought to have
mentioned a space rather nearer the river than Eaton Square.
In the year 1815, when the battle of Waterloo was fought,
there was nothing behind Grosvenor Place but the (-?) fields
- so called, a place something like the Scrubbs, where the
household troops drilled. That part of Grosvenor Place where
the Grosvenor Place houses now stand was occupied by the Lock
Hospital and Chapel, and it ended where the small houses are
now to be found. A little farther, a somewhat tortuous lane
called the King's Road led to Chelsea, and, I think, where
now St. Peter's, Pimlico, was afterwards built. I remember
going to a breakfast at a villa belonging to Lady
Buckinghamshire. The Chelsea Waterworks Company had a sort
of marshy place with canals and osier beds, now, I suppose,
Ebury Street, and here it was that I was permitted to go and
try my hand at snipe-shooting, a special privilege given to
the son of the freeholder.
'The successful fox-hunt terminating in either Bedford or
Russell Square is very strange, but quite appropriate,
commemorated, I suppose, by the statue there erected.
The successful 'fox-hunt ' was an event of which I told Lord
Ebury as even more remarkable than his snipe-shooting in
Belgravia. As it is still more indicative of the growth of
London in recent times it may be here recorded.
In connection with Mr. Gladstone's forecasts, I had written
to the last Lord Digby, who was a grandson of my father's,
stating that I had heard - whether from my father or not I
could not say - that he had killed a fox where now is Bedford
Square, with his own hounds.
Lord Digby replied:
'Minterne, Dorset: January 7, 1883.
'My dear Henry, - My grandfather killed a fox with his hounds
either in Bedford or Russell Square. Old Jones, the
huntsman, who died at Holkham when you were a child, was my
informant. I asked my grandfather if it was correct. He
said "Yes" - he had kennels at Epping Place, and hunted the
roodings of Essex, which, he said, was the best scenting-
ground in England.
(My father was born in 1754.)
Mr. W. S. Gilbert had been a much valued friend of ours
before we lived at Rickmansworth. We had been his guests for
the 'first night' of almost every one of his plays - plays
that may have a thousand imitators, but the speciality of
whose excellence will remain unrivalled and inimitable. His
visits to us introduced him, I think, to the picturesque
country which he has now made his home. When Mr. Gilbert
built his house in Harrington Gardens he easily persuaded us
to build next door to him. This led to my acquaintance with
his neighbour on the other side, Mr. Walter Cassels, now well
known as the author of 'Supernatural Religion.'
When first published in 1874, this learned work, summarising
and elaborately examining the higher criticism of the four
Gospels up to date, created a sensation throughout the
theological world, which was not a little intensified by the
anonymity of its author. The virulence with which it was
attacked by Dr. Lightfoot, the most erudite bishop on the
bench, at once demonstrated its weighty significance and its
destructive force; while Mr. Morley's high commendation of
its literary merits and the scrupulous equity of its tone,
placed it far above the level of controversial diatribes.
In my 'Creeds of the Day' I had made frequent references to
the anonymous book; and soon after my introduction to Mr.
Cassels spoke to him of its importance, and asked him whether
he had read it. He hesitated for a moment, then said:
'We are very much of the same way of thinking on these
subjects. I will tell you a secret which I kept for some
time even from my publishers - I am the author of
From that time forth, we became the closest of allies. I
know no man whose tastes and opinions and interests are more
completely in accord with my own than those of Mr. Walter
Cassels. It is one of my greatest pleasures to meet him
every summer at the beautiful place of our mutual and
sympathetic friend, Mrs. Robertson, on the skirts of the
Ashtead forest, in Surrey.
The winter of 1888 I spent at Cairo under the roof of General
Sir Frederick Stephenson, then commanding the English forces
in Egypt. I had known Sir Frederick as an ensign in the
Guards. He was adjutant of his regiment at the Alma, and at
Inkerman. He is now Colonel of the Coldstreams and Governor
of the Tower. He has often been given a still higher title,
that of 'the most popular man in the army.'
Everybody in these days has seen the Pyramids, and has been
up the Nile. There is only one name I have to mention here,
and that is one of the best-known in the world. Mr. Thomas
Cook was the son of the original inventor of the 'Globe-
trotter.' But it was the extraordinary energy and powers of
organisation of the son that enabled him to develop to its
present efficiency the initial scheme of the father.
Shortly before the General's term expired, he invited Mr.
Cook to dinner. The Nile share of the Gordon Relief
Expedition had been handed over to Cook. The boats, the
provisioning of them, and the river transport service up to
Wady Halfa, were contracted for and undertaken by Cook.
A most entertaining account he gave of the whole affair. He
told us how the Mudir of Dongola, who was by way of rendering
every possible assistance, had offered him an enormous bribe
to wreck the most valuable cargoes on their passage through
Before Mr. Cook took leave of the General, he expressed the
regret felt by the British residents in Cairo at the
termination of Sir Frederick's command; and wound up a pretty
little speech by a sincere request that he might be allowed
to furnish Sir Frederick GRATIS with all the means at his
disposal for a tour through the Holy Land. The liberal and
highly complimentary offer was gratefully acknowledged, but
at once emphatically declined. The old soldier, (at least,
this was my guess,) brave in all else, had not the courage to
face the tourists' profanation of such sacred scenes.
Dr. Bird told me a nice story, a pendant to this, of Mr.
Thomas Cook's liberality. One day, before the Gordon
Expedition, which was then in the air, Dr. Bird was smoking
his cigarette on the terrace in front of Shepherd's Hotel, in
company with four or five other men, strangers to him and to
one another. A discussion arose as to the best means of
relieving Gordon. Each had his own favourite general.
Presently the doctor exclaimed: 'Why don't they put the
thing into the hands of Cook? I'll be bound to say he would
undertake it, and do the job better than anyone else.'
'Do you know Cook, sir?' asked one of the smokers who had
hitherto been silent.
'No, I never saw him, but everybody knows he has a genius for
organisation; and I don't believe there is a general in the
British Army to match him.'
When the company broke up, the silent stranger asked the
doctor his name and address, and introduced himself as Thomas
Cook. The following winter Dr. Bird received a letter
enclosing tickets for himself and Miss Bird for a trip to
Egypt and back, free of expense, 'in return for his good
opinion and good wishes.'
After my General's departure, and a month up the Nile, I -
already disillusioned, alas! - rode through Syria, following
the beaten track from Jerusalem to Damascus. On my way from
Alexandria to Jaffa I had the good fortune to make the
acquaintance of an agreeable fellow-traveller, Mr. Henry
Lopes, afterwards member for Northampton, also bound for
Palestine. We went to Constantinople and to the Crimea
together, then through Greece, and only parted at Charing
It was easy to understand Sir Frederick Stephenson's
(supposed) unwillingness to visit Jerusalem. It was probably
far from being what it is now, or even what it was when
Pierre Loti saw it, for there was no railway from Jaffa in
our time. Still, what Loti pathetically describes as 'une
banalite de banlieue parisienne,' was even then too painfully
casting its vulgar shadows before it. And it was rather with
the forlorn eyes of the sentimental Frenchman than with the
veneration of Dean Stanley, that we wandered about the ever-
sacred Aceldama of mortally wounded and dying Christianity.
One dares not, one could never, speak irreverently of
Jerusalem. One cannot think heartlessly of a disappointed
love. One cannot tear out creeds interwoven with the
tenderest fibres of one's heart. It is better to be silent.
Yet is it a place for unwept tears, for the deep sadness and
hard resignation borne in upon us by the eternal loss of
something dearer once than life. All we who are weary and
heavy laden, in whom now shall we seek the rest which is not
My story is told, but I fain would take my leave with words
less sorrowful. If a man has no better legacy to bequeath
than bid his fellow-beings despair, he had better take it
with him to his grave.
We know all this, we know!
But it is in what we do not know that our hope and our
religion lies. Thrice blessed are we in the certainty that
here our range is infinite. This infinite that makes our
brains reel, that begets the feeling that makes us 'shrink,'
is perhaps the most portentous argument in the logic of the
sceptic. Since the days of Laplace, we have been haunted in
some form or other with the ghost of the MECANIQUE CELESTE.
Take one or two commonplaces from the text-books of
Every half-hour we are about ten thousand miles nearer to the
constellation of Lyra. 'The sun and his system must travel
at his present rate for far more than a million years (divide
this into half-hours) before we have crossed the abyss
between our present position and the frontiers of Lyra'
(Ball's 'Story of the Heavens').
'Sirius is about one million times as far from us as the sun.
If we take the distance of Sirius from the earth and
subdivide it into one million equal parts, each of these
parts would be long enough to span the great distance of
92,700,000 miles from the earth to the sun,' yet Sirius is
one of the NEAREST of the stars to us.
The velocity with which light traverses space is 186,300
miles a second, at which rate it has taken the rays from
Sirius which we may see to-night, nine years to reach us.
The proper motion of Sirius through space is about one
thousand miles a minute. Yet 'careful alignment of the eye
would hardly detect that Sirius was moving, in . . . even
three or four centuries.'
'There may be, and probably are, stars from which Noah might
be seen stepping into the Ark, Eve listening to the
temptation of the serpent, or that older race, eating the
oysters and leaving the shell-heaps behind them, when the
Baltic was an open sea' (Froude's 'Science of History').
Facts and figures such as these simply stupefy us. They
vaguely convey the idea of something immeasurably great, but
nothing further. They have no more effect upon us than words
addressed to some poor 'bewildered creature, stunned and
paralysed by awe; no more than the sentence of death to the
terror-stricken wretch at the bar. Indeed, it is in this
sense that the sceptic uses them for our warning.
'Seit Kopernikus,' says Schopenhauer, 'kommen die Theologen
mit dem lieben Gott in Verlegenheit.' 'No one,' he adds,
'has so damaged Theism as Copernicus.' As if limitation and
imperfection in the celestial mechanism would make for the
belief in God; or, as if immortality were incompatible with
dependence. Des Cartes, for one, (and he counts for many,)
held just the opposite opinion.
Our sun and all the millions upon millions of suns whose
light will never reach us are but the aggregation of atoms
drawn together by the same force that governs their orbit,
and which makes the apple fall. When their heat, however
generated, is expended, they die to frozen cinders; possibly
to be again diffused as nebulae, to begin again the eternal
round of change.
What is life amidst this change? 'When I consider the work
of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast
ordained, what is man that Thou art mindful of him?'
But is He mindful of us? That is what the sceptic asks. Is
He mindful of life here or anywhere in all this boundless
space? We have no ground for supposing (so we are told) that
life, if it exists at all elsewhere, in the solar system at
least, is any better than it is here? 'Analogy compels us to
think,' says M. France, one of the most thoughtful of living
writers, 'that our entire solar system is a gehenna where the
animal is born for suffering. . . . This alone would suffice
to disgust me with the universe.' But M. France is too deep
a thinker to abide by such a verdict. There must be
something 'behind the veil.' 'Je sens que ces immensites ne
sont rien, et qu'enfin, s'il y a quelque chose, ce quelque
chose n'est pas ce que nous voyons.' That is it. All these
immensities are not 'rien,' but they are assuredly not what
we take them to be. They are the veil of the Infinite,
behind which we are not permitted to see.
It were the seeing Him, no flesh shall dare.
The very greatness proves our impotence to grasp it, proves
the futility of our speculations, and should help us best of
all though outwardly so appalling, to stand calm while the
snake of unbelief writhes beneath our feet. The unutterable
insignificance of man and his little world connotes the
infinity which leaves his possibilities as limitless as
Spectrology informs us that the chemical elements of matter
are everywhere the same; and in a boundless universe where
such unity is manifested there must be conditions similar to
those which support life here. It is impossible to doubt, on
these grounds alone, that life does exist elsewhere. Were we
rashly to assume from scientific data that no form of animal
life could obtain except under conditions similar to our own,
would not reason rebel at such an inference, on the mere
ground that to assume that there is no conscious being in the
universe save man, is incomparably more unwarrantable, and in
Admitting, then, the hypothesis of the universal distribution
of life, has anyone the hardihood to believe that this is
either the best or worst of worlds? Must we not suppose that
life exists in every stage of progress, in every state of
imperfection, and, conversely, of advancement? Have we still
the audacity to believe with the ancient Israelites, or as
the Church of Rome believed only three centuries ago, that
the universe was made for us, and we its centre? Or must we
not believe that - infinity given - the stages and degrees of
life are infinite as their conditions? And where is this to
stop? There is no halting place for imagination till we
reach the ANIMA MUNDI, the infinite and eternal Spirit from
which all Being emanates.
The materialist and the sceptic have forcible arguments on
their side. They appeal to experience and to common sense,
and ask pathetically, yet triumphantly, whether aspiration,
however fervid, is a pledge for its validity, 'or does being
weary prove that he hath where to rest?' They smile at the
flights of poetry and imagination, and love to repeat:
Fools! that so often here
Happiness mocked our prayer,
I think might make us fear
A like event elsewhere;
Make us not fly to dreams, but moderate desire.
But then, if the other view is true, the Elsewhere is not the
Here, nor is there any conceivable likeness between the two.
It is not mere repugnance to truths, or speculations rather,
which we dread, that makes us shrink from a creed so shallow,
so palpably inept, as atheism. There are many sides to our
nature, and I see not that reason, doubtless our trustiest
guide, has one syllable to utter against our loftiest hopes.
Our higher instincts are just as much a part of us as any
that we listen to; and reason, to the end, can never
dogmatise with what it is not conversant.