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Vanishing Roads and Other Essays by Richard Le Gallienne

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street corners too will stand great books in which weeping maidens will
sign their names, swearing before high heaven, to wear nothing but
gingham and bed-ticking for the dreary remainder of their lives. Such a
day may well come, as it has often come before, and certainly will, if
women persist in being so deliberately beautiful as they are at present.

It is curious how, from time immemorial, man seems to have associated
the idea of evil with beauty, shrunk from it with a sort of ghostly
fear, while, at the same time drawn to it by force of its hypnotic
attraction. Strangely enough, beauty has been regarded as the most
dangerous enemy of the soul, and the powers of darkness that are
supposed to lie in wait for that frail and fluttering psyche, so
precious and apparently so perishable, are usually represented as taking
shapes of beguiling loveliness--lamias, loreleis, wood nymphs, and
witches with blue flowers for their eyes. Lurking in its most innocent
forms, the grim ascetic has affected to find a leaven of concupiscence,
and whenever any reformation is afoot, it is always beauty that is made
the first victim, whether it take the form of a statue, a stained-glass
window, or a hair-ribbon. "Homeliness is next to Godliness," though not
officially stated as an article of the Christian creed, has been one of
the most active of all Christian tenets. It has always been easier far
for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than a gloriously
beautiful woman. Presumably such a one might be in danger of corrupting
the saints, somewhat unaccustomed to such apparitions.

In this Christian fear and hatred of beauty the democratic origin of the
Christian religion is suggestively illustrated, for beauty, wherever
found, is always mysteriously aristocratic, and thus instinctively
excites the fear and jealousy of the common people. When, in the third
century, Christian mobs set about their vandalistic work of destroying
the "Pagan" temples, tearing down the beautiful calm gods and goddesses
from their pedestals, and breaking their exquisite marble limbs with
brutish mallets, it was not, we may be sure, of the danger to their
precious souls they were thinking, but of their patrician masters who
had worshipped these fair images, and paid great sums to famous
sculptors for such adornment of their sanctuaries. Perhaps it was human
enough, for to those mobs beauty had long been associated with
oppression. Yet how painful to picture those golden marbles, in all
their immortal fairness, confronted with the hideousness of those
fanatic ill-smelling multitudes. Wonderful religionists, forsooth, that
thus break with foolish hands and trample with swinish hoofs the sacred
vessels of divine dreams. Who would not

rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,--
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

One can imagine the priest of such a violated sanctuary stealing back in
the quiet moonlight, when all the mob fury had passed away, seeking amid
all the wrack of fallen columns, and shattered carvings, for any poor
fragments of god or goddess at whose tranquil fair-ordered altar he had
ministered so long; and gathering such as he might find,--maybe a mighty
hand, still the hand of a god, albeit in overthrow, or some marble curls
of the sculptured ambrosial locks, or maybe the bruised breast of the
goddess, white as a water-lily in the moon. Then, seeking out some
secret corner of the sacred grove, how reverently he would bury the
precious fragments away from profane eyes, and go forth homeless into a
mysterious changing world, from which glory and loveliness were thus
surely passing away. Other priests, as we know, more fortunate than he,
had forewarnings of such impending sacrilege, and were able to
anticipate the mob, and bury their beautiful images in safe and secret
places, there to await, after the lapse of twelve centuries, the
glorious resurrection of the Renaissance. A resurrection, however, by no
means free from danger, even in that resplendent dawn of intelligence;
for Christianity was still the enemy of beauty, save in the Vatican, and
the ignorant priest of the remote village where the spade of the peasant
had revealed the sleeping marble was certain to declare the beautiful
image an evil spirit, and have it broken up forthwith and ground for
mortar, unless some influential scholar, or powerful lord touched with
"the new learning," chanced to be on hand to save it from destruction.
Yes! even at that time when beauty was being victoriously born again,
the mad fear of her raged with such panic in certain minds that, when
Savonarola lit his great bonfire so subtle a servant of beauty as
Botticelli, fallen into a sort of religious dotage, cast his own
paintings into the flames--to the lugubrious rejoicings of the
sanctimonious Piagnoni--as Savonarola's followers were called;
predecessors of those still gloomier zealots who, two centuries later,
were to turn England into a sort of whitewashed prison, with crop-headed
psalm-singing religious maniacs for gaolers. When Charles the First

bow'd his comely head
Down, as upon a bed,

at Whitehall, Beauty also laid her head upon the block at his side.
Ugliness, parading as piety, took her place, and once more the breaking
of images began, the banishment of music, the excommunication of grace,
and gentle manners, and personal adornments. Gaiety became penal, and a
happy heart or a beautiful smile was of the devil,--something like
hanging matters--but happy hearts and beautiful smiles must have been
rare things in England during the Puritan Commonwealth. Such as were
left had taken refuge in France, where men might worship God and Beauty
in the same church, and where it was not necessary, as at Oxford, to
bury your stained-glass windows out of the reach of the mob--those

Storied windows richly dight
Casting a dim religious light,

which even the Puritan Milton could thus celebrate. Doubtless, that
English Puritan persecution was the severest that Beauty has been called
upon to endure. She still suffers from it, need one say, to this day,
particularly in New England, where if the sculptured images of goddess
and nymph are not exactly broken to pieces by the populace, it is from
no goodwill towards them, but rather from an ingrained reverence for
any form of property, even though it be nude, and where, at all events,
they are under the strict surveillance of a highly proper and
respectable police, those distinguished guardians of American morals.

It is worth while to try and get at the reason for this wide-spread,
deep-rooted, fear of beauty: for some reason there must surely be. Such
instinctive feelings, on so broad a scale, are not accidental. And so
soon as one begins to analyse the attitude of religion towards beauty,
the reason is not far to seek.

All religions are made up of a spiritual element and a moral element,
the moral element being the temporary, practical, so to say, working
side of religion, concerned with this present world, and the limitations
and necessities of the various societies that compose it. The spiritual
element, the really important part of religion, has no concern with Time
and Space, temporary mundane laws, or conduct. It concerns itself only
with the eternal properties of things. Its business is the contemplation
and worship of the mystery of life, "the mystery we make darker with a

Now, great popular religions, designed as they are for the discipline
and control of the great brute masses of humanity, are almost entirely
occupied with morality, and what passes in them for spirituality is
merely mythology, an element of picturesque supernaturalism calculated
to enforce the morality with the multitude. Christianity is such a
religion. It is mostly a matter of conduct here and now upon the earth.
Its mystic side does not properly belong to it, and is foreign to, not
to speak of its being practically ignored by, the average "Christian."
It is a religion designed to work hand in hand with a given state of
society, making for the preservation of such laws and manners and
customs as are best fitted to make that society a success here and now,
a worldly success in the best sense of the term. Mohammedanism is a
similar religion calculated for the needs of a different society.
Whatever the words or intentions of the founders of such religions,
their kingdoms are essentially of this world. They are not mystic, or
spiritual, or in anyway concerned with infinite and eternal things.
Their business is the moral policing of humanity. Morality, as of course
its name implies, is a mere matter of custom, and therefore varies with
the variations of races and climates. It has nothing to do with
spirituality, and, in fact, the best morals are often the least
spiritual, and _vice versa_. It will be understood then that any force
which is apt to disturb this moral, or more exactly speaking social,
order will meet at once with the opposition of organized "religions" so
called, and the more spiritual it is, the greater will be the
opposition, for it will thus be the more dangerous.

Now one begins to see why Beauty is necessarily the bugbear, more or
less, of all religions, or, as I prefer to regard them, "organized
moralities"; for Beauty is neither moral nor immoral, being as she is a
purely spiritual force, with no relations to man's little schemes of
being good and making money and being knighted and so forth. For those
who have eyes to see, she is the supreme spiritual vision vouchsafed to
us upon the earth--and, as that, she is necessarily the supreme danger
to that materialistic use and wont by which alone a materialistic
society remains possible. For this reason our young men and
maidens--particularly our young men--must be guarded against her, for
her beauty sets us adream, prevents our doing our day's work, makes us
forget the soulless occupations in which we wither away our lives. The
man who loves beauty will never be mayor of his city, or even sit on the
Board of Aldermen. Nor is he likely to own a railroad, or be a captain
of industry. Nor will he marry, for her money, a woman he does not love.
The face of beauty makes all such achievements seem small and absurd.
Such so-called successes seem to him the dreariest forms of failure. In
short, Beauty has made him divinely discontented with the limited human
world about him, divinely incapable of taking it seriously, or heeding
its standards or conditions. No wonder society should look upon Beauty
as dangerous, for she is constantly upsetting its equilibrium and
playing havoc with its smooth schemes and smug conventions. She outrages
the "proprieties" with "the innocence of nature," and disintegrates
"select" and "exclusive" circles with the wand of Romance. For earthly
possessions or rewards she has no heed. For her they are meaningless
things, mere idle dust and withered leaves. Her only real estate is in
the moon, and the one article of her simple creed--"Love is enough."

Love is enough: though the world be a-waning
And the woods have no voice but the voice of complaining,
Though the sky be too dark for dim eyes to discover
The gold-cups and daisies fair blooming thereunder,
Though the hills beheld shadows, and the sea a dark wonder
And this day draw a veil over all deeds passed over,
Yet their hands shall not tremble, their feet shall not falter;
The void shall not weary, the fear shall not alter
These lips and these eyes of the loved and the lover.

Those who have looked into her eyes see limitless horizons undreamed of
by those who know her not, horizons summoning the soul to radiant
adventures beyond the bounds of Space and Time. The world is so far
right in regarding beauty with a sort of superstitious dread, as a
presence almost uncanny among our mere mortal concerns, a daemonic
thing,--which is what the world has meant when it has, not unnaturally,
confused it with the spirits of evil; for surely it is a supernatural
stranger in our midst, a fairy element, and, like the lorelei and the
lamia, it does beckon its votaries to enchanted realms away and afar
from "all the uses of the world." Therefore, to them also it brings the
thrill of a different and nobler fear--the thrill of the mortal in
presence of the immortal. A strange feeling of destiny seems to come
over us as we first look into the beautiful face we were born to love.
It seems veritably an apparition from another and lovelier world, to
which it summons us to go with it. That is what we mean when we say that
Love and Death are one; for Death, to the thought of Love, is but one of
the gates to that other world, a gate to which we instinctively feel
Love has the key. That surely is the meaning of the old fairy-stories of
men who have come upon the white woman in the woodland, and followed
her, never to be seen again of their fellows, or of those who, like
Hylas, have met the water-nymph by the lilied spring, and sunk with her
down into the crystal deeps. The strange earth on which we live is just
such a place of enchantment, neither more nor less, and some of us have
met that fair face, with a strange suddenness of joy and fear, and
followed and followed it on till it vanished beyond the limits of the
world. But our failure was that we did not follow that last white
beckoning of the hand--

And I awoke and found me here
On the cold hill's side.



Among the many advantages of being very young is one's absolute
certainty that there is only one type of beautiful girl in the world.
That type we make a religion. We are its pugnacious champions, and the
idea of our falling in love with any other is too preposterous even for
discussion. If our tastes happen to be for blondness, brunettes simply
do not exist for us; and if we affect the slim and willowy in figure,
our contempt for the plump and rounded is too sincere for expression.
Usually the type we choose is one whose beauty is somewhat esoteric to
other eyes. We are well aware that photographs do it no justice, and
that the man in the street--who, strangely enough, we conceive as having
no eye for beauty--can see nothing in it. Thank Heaven, she is not the
type that any common eye can see. Heads are not turned in her wake as
she passes along. Her beauty is not "obvious." On the contrary, it is of
that rare and exquisite quality which only a few favoured ones can
apprehend--like the beauty of a Whistler or a Corot, and we have been
chosen to be its high-priest and evangelist. It is our secret, this
beautiful face that we love, and we wonder how any one can be found to
love the other faces. We even pity them, those rosy, rounded faces, with
their bright unmysterious eyes and straight noses and dimpled chins. How
fortunate for them that the secret of the beauty we love has been hidden
from their lovers. Sheer Bouguereau! Neither more nor less.

In fact, the beauty we affect is aggressively spiritual, and in so far
as beauty is demonstrably physical we dismiss it with disdain. Our
ideal, indeed, might be said to consist in a beauty which is beautiful
in spite of the body rather than by means of it; a beauty defiantly
clothed, so to say, in the dowdiest of fleshly garments--radiantly
independent of such carnal conditions as features or complexion. Our
ideal of figure might be said to be negative rather than positive, and
that "little sister" mentioned in Solomon's Song would bring us no

We are often heard to say that beauty consists chiefly, if not entirely,
in expression, that it is a transfiguration from within rather than a
gracious condition of the surface, that the shape of a nose is no
matter, and that a beautifully rounded chin or a fine throat has nothing
to do with it--indeed, is rather in the way than otherwise. We point
to the fact--which is true enough--that the most famous beauties
of antiquity were plain women--plain, that is, according to the
conventional standards.

We also maintain--again with perfect truth--that mystery is more than
half of beauty, the element of strangeness that stirs the senses through
the imagination. These and other perfectly true truths about beauty we
discover through our devotion to the one face that we love--and we
should hardly have discovered them had we begun with the merely
cherry-ripe. It is with faces much as it is with books. There is no way
of attaining a vital catholic taste in literature so good as to begin by
mastering some difficult beautiful classic, by devoting ourselves in the
ardent receptive period of youth to one or two masterpieces which will
serve as touchstones for us in all our subsequent reading. Some books
engage all our faculties for their appreciation, and through the keen
attentiveness we are compelled to give them we make personal discovery
of those principles and qualities of all fine literature which otherwise
we might never have apprehended, or in which, at all events, we should
have been less securely grounded.

So with faces: it is through the absorbed worship, the jealous study, of
one face that we best learn to see the beauty in all the other
faces--though the mere thought that our apprehension of its beauty could
ever lead us to so infidel a conclusion would seem heresy indeed during
the period of our dedication. The subtler the type, the more caviare it
is to the general, the more we learn from it. We become in a sense
discoverers, original thinkers, of beauty, taking nothing on authority,
but making trial and investigation always for ourselves. Such beauty
brings us nearer than the more explicit types to that mysterious
threshold over which beauty steps down to earth and dwells among us;
that well-spring of its wonder; the point where first its shining
essence pours its radiance into the earthly vessel.

The perfect physical type hides no little of its own miracle through its
sheer perfection, as in the case of those masterpieces which, as we say,
conceal their art. It is often through the face externally less perfect,
faces, so to say, in process of becoming beautiful, that we get glimpses
of the interior light in its divine operation. We seem to look into the
very alembic of beauty, and see all the precious elements in the act of
combination. No wonder we should deem these faces the most beautiful of
all, for through them we see, not beauty made flesh, but beauty while it
is still spirit. In our eager fanaticism, indeed, we cannot conceive
that there can be beauty in any other types as well. Yet, because we
chance to have fallen under the spell of Botticelli, shall there be no
more Titian? Our taste is for a beauty of dim silver and faded stars, a
wistful twilight beauty made of sorrow and dreams, a beauty always half
in the shadow, a white flower in the moonlight. We cannot conceive how
beauty, for others, can be a thing of the hot sun, a thing of purple and
orange and the hot sun, a thing of firm outlines, superbly concrete,
marmoreal, sumptuous, magnificently animal.

The beauty we love is very silent. It smiles softly to itself, but never
speaks. How should we understand a beauty that is vociferously gay, a
beauty of dash and dance, a beauty of swift and brilliant ways,
victoriously alive?

Perhaps it were well for us that we should never understand, well for us
that we should preserve our singleness of taste through life. Some
contrive to do this, and never as long as they live are unfaithful to
the angel-blue eyes of their boyish love. Moralists have perhaps not
realized how much continence is due to a narrowness of aesthetic taste.
Obviously the man who sees beauty only in blue eyes is securer from
temptation than the man who can see beauty in brown or green eyes as
well; and how perilous is his state for whom danger lurks in all
beautiful eyes, irrespective of shape, size, or colour! And, alas! it is
to this state of eclecticism that most of us are led step by step by the
Mephistopheles of experience.

As great politicians in their maturity are usually found in the exact
opposite party to that which they espoused in their youth, so men who
loved blondness in boyhood are almost certain to be found at the feet of
the raven-haired in their middle age, and _vice versa_. The change is
but a part of that general change which overtakes us with the years,
substituting in us a catholic appreciation of the world as it is for
idealist notions of the world as we see it, or desire it to be. It is a
part of that gradual abdication of the ego which comes of the slow
realization that other people are quite as interesting as ourselves--in
fact, a little more so,--and their tastes and ways of looking at things
may be worth pondering, after all. But, O when we have arrived at this
stage, what a bewildering world of seductive new impressions spreads for
us its multitudinous snares! No longer mere individuals, we have not
merely an individual's temptations to guard against, but the temptations
of all the world. Instead of being able to see only that one type of
beauty which first appealed to us, our eyes have become so instructed
that we now see the beauty of all the other types as well; and we no
longer scorn as Philistine the taste of the man in the street for the
beauty that is robustly vital and flamboyantly contoured. Once we called
it obvious. Now we say it is "barbaric," and call attention to its
perfection of type.

The remembrance of our former injustice to it may even awaken a certain
tenderness towards it in our hearts, and soon we find ourselves making
love to it, partly from a vague desire to make reparation to a slighted
type, and partly from the experimental pleasure of loving a beauty the
attraction of which it was once impossible for us to imagine. So we feel
when the charm of some old master, hitherto unsympathetic, is suddenly
revealed to us. Ah! it was this they saw. How blind they must have
thought us!

Brown eyes that I love, will you forgive me that I once looked into blue
eyes as I am looking now into yours? Hair black as Erebus, will you
forgive these hands that once loved to bathe in a brook of rippled gold?
Ah! they did not know. It was in ignorance they sinned. They did not

O my beautiful cypress, stately queen of the garden of the world,
forgive me that once I gave to the little shrub-like women the worship
that is rightly yours!

Lady, whose loveliness is like white velvet, a vineyard heavy with
golden grapes, abundant as an orchard of apple blossoms, forgive that
once I loved the shadow women, the sad wreathing mists of beauty, the
silvery uncorseted phantoms of womanhood. It was in ignorance I sinned.
I did not know.

Ah! That Mephistopheles of experience! How he has led us from one fair
face to another, teaching us, one by one, the beauty of all. No longer
lonely sectarians of beauty, pale prophets of one lovely face, there is
now no type whose secret is hidden from us. The world has become a
garden of beautiful faces. The flowers are different, but they are all
beautiful. How is it possible for us, now that we know the charm of each
one, to be indifferent to any, or to set the beauty of one above the
other? We have learned the beauty of the orchid, but surely we have not
unlearned the rose; and would you say that orchid or rose is more
beautiful than the lily? Surely not. They are differently beautiful,
that is all.

Are blue eyes more beautiful than brown? I thought so once, but now I
see that they are differently beautiful, that is all. Nor is gold hair
more beautiful than black any more, or black than gold. They are
differently beautiful, that is all. Nor is thy white skin, O Saxon lady,
more beautiful than hers of tropic bronze.

Come sad, or come with laughter, beautiful faces; come like stars in
dreams, or come vivid as fruit upon the bough; come softly like a timid
fawn, or terrible as an army with banners; come silent, come singing ...
you are all beautiful, and none is fairer than another--only differently

And yet ... and yet ... Experience is indeed Mephistopheles in this: We
must pay him for all this wisdom. Is it the old price? Is it our souls?
I wonder.

This at least is true: that, while indeed he has opened our eyes to all
this beauty that was hidden to us, shown us beauty, indeed, where we
could see but evil before, we miss something from our delight in these
faces. We can appreciate more beauty, but do we appreciate any quite as
much as in those old days when we were such passionate monotheists of
the beautiful? Alas! We are priests no more, are we even lovers? But we
are wonderful connoisseurs.

It is our souls.



_Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?_ As I transcribe once more that
ancient sigh, perhaps the most real sigh in all literature, it is high
mid-summer, and the woodland surrounding the little cabin in which I am
writing lies in a trance of green and gold, hot and fragrant and dizzy
with the whirring of cicadas, under the might of the July sun. Bees buzz
in and out through my door, and sometimes a butterfly flits in, flutters
a while about my bookshelves, and presently is gone again, in search of
sweets more to his taste than those of the muses, though Catullus is
there, with

Songs sweeter than wild honey dripping down,
Which once in Rome to Lesbia he sang.

As I am caught by the dream-drowsy spell of the hot murmuring afternoon,
and my eyes rest on the thick vines clustering over the rocks, and the
lush grasses and innumerable underbrush, so spendthrift in their
crowding luxuriance, I try to imagine the ground as it was but four
months ago still in the grasp of winter, when the tiniest blade of
grass, or smallest speck of creeping green leaf, seemed like a miracle,
and it was impossible to realize that under the broad snowdrifts a
million seeds, like hidden treasure, were waiting to reveal their
painted jewels to the April winds. Snow was plentiful then, to be had by
the ton--but now, the thought suddenly strikes me, and brings home with
new illuminating force Villon's old refrain, that though I sought the
woodland from end to end, ransacked its most secret places, not one
vestige of that snow, so lately here in such plenty, would it be
possible to find. Though you were to offer me a million dollars for as
much as would fill the cup of a wild rose, say even a hundred million, I
should have to see all that money pass me by. I can think of hardly
anything that it couldn't buy--but such a simple thing as last year's

Could there be a more poignant symbol of irreclaimable vanished things
than that so happily hit on by the old ballade-maker:

Nay, never ask this week, fair lord,
Where they are gone, nor yet this year,
Save with thus much for an overword--
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Villon, as we know, has a melancholy fondness for asking these sad,
hopeless questions of snow and wind. He muses not only of the drift of
fair faces, but of the passing of mighty princes and all the arrogant
pride and pomp of the earth--"pursuivants, trumpeters, heralds, hey!"
"Ah! where is the doughty Charlemagne?" They, even as the humblest, "the
wind has carried them all away." They have vanished utterly as the snow,
gone--who knows where?--on the wind. "'Dead and gone'--a sorry burden of
the Ballad of Life," as Thomas Lowell Beddoes has it in his _Death's
Jest Book_. "Dead and gone!" as Andrew Lang re-echoes in a sweetly
mournful ballade:

Through the mad world's scene
We are drifting on,
To this tune, I ween,
"They are dead and gone!"

"Nought so sweet as melancholy," sings an old poet, and, while the
melancholy of the exercise is undoubted, there is at the same time an
undeniable charm attaching to those moods of imaginative retrospect in
which we summon up shapes and happenings of the vanished past, a tragic
charm indeed similar to that we experience in mournful music or elegiac

For, it is impossible to turn our eyes on any point of the starlit vista
of human history, without being overwhelmed with a heart-breaking sense
of the immense treasure of radiant human lives that has gone to its
making, the innumerable dramatic careers now shrunk to a mere mention,
the divinely passionate destinies, once all wild dream and dancing
blood, now nought but a name huddled with a thousand such in some dusty
index, seldom turned to even by the scholar, and as unknown to the world
at large as the moss-grown name on some sunken headstone in a country
churchyard. What an appallingly exuberant and spendthrift universe it
seems, pouring out its multitudinous generations of men and women with
the same wasteful hand as it has filled this woodland with millions of
exquisite lives, marvellously devised, patterned with inexhaustible
fancy, mysteriously furnished with subtle organs after their needs,
crowned with fairy blossoms, and ripening with magic seeds,--such a vast
treasure of fragrant sunlit leafage, all produced with such elaborate
care, and long travail, and all so soon to vanish utterly away!

Along with this crushing sense of cosmic prodigality, and somewhat
lighting up its melancholy, comes the inspiring realization of the
splendid spectacle of human achievement, the bewildering array of all
the glorious lives that have been lived, of all the glorious happenings,
under the sun. Ah! what men this world has seen, and--what women! What
divine actors have trod this old stage, and in what tremendous dramas
have they taken part! And how strange it is, reading some great dramatic
career, of Caesar, say, or Luther, or Napoleon, or Byron, to realize
that there was a time when they were not, then a time when they were
beginning to be strange new names in men's ears, then all the romantic
excitement of their developing destinies, and the thunder and lightning
of the great resounding moments of their lives--moments made out of
real, actual, prosaic time, just as our own moments are made, yet once
so splendidly shining on the top of the world, as though to stay there
forever, moments so glorious that it would seem that Time must have
paused to watch and prolong them, jealous that they should ever pass and
give place to lesser moments!

Think too of those other fateful moments of history, moments not
confined to a few godlike individuals, but participated in by whole
nations, such moments as that of the great Armada, the French
Revolution, or the Declaration of American Independence. How strangely
it comes upon one that these past happenings were once only just taking
place, just as at the moment of my writing other things are taking
place, and clocks were ticking and water flowing, just as they are doing
now! How wonderful, it seems to us, to have been alive then, as we are
alive now, to have shared in those vast national enthusiasms, "in those
great deeds to have had some little part"; and is it not a sort of poor
anti-climax for a world that has gone through such noble excitement to
have sunk back to this level of every day! Alas! all those lava-like
moments of human exaltation--what are they now, but, so to say, the
pumice-stone of history. They have passed as the summer flowers are
passing, they are gone with last year's snow.

But the last year's snow of our personal lives--what a wistful business
it is, when we get thinking of that! To recall certain magic moments out
of the past is to run a risk of making the happiest present seem like a
desert; and for most men, I imagine, such retrospect is usually busied
with some fair face, or perhaps--being men--with several fair faces,
once so near and dear, and now so far. How poignantly and unprofitably
real memory can make them--all but bring them back--how vividly
reconstruct immortal occasions of happiness that we said could not, must
not, pass away; while all the time our hearts were aching with the sure
knowledge that they were even then, as we wildly clutched at them,
slipping from our grasp!

That summer afternoon,--do you too still remember it, Miranda?--when,
under the whispering woodland, we ate our lunch together with such
prodigious appetite, and O! such happy laughter, yet never took our eyes
from each other; and, when the meal was ended, how we wandered along the
stream-side down the rocky glen, till we came to an enchanted pool among
the boulders, all hushed with moss and ferns and overhanging boughs--do
you remember what happened then, Miranda? Ah! nymphs of the forest
pools, it is no use asking me to forget.

And, all the time, my heart was saying to my eyes:--"This fairy hour--so
real, so magical, now--some day will be in the far past; you will sit
right away on the lonely outside of it, and recall it only with the
anguish of beautiful vanished things." And here I am today surely
enough, years away from it, solitary on its lonely outside!

I suppose that the river, this summer day, is making the same music
along its rocky bed, and the leafy boughs are rustling over that haunted
pool just the same as when--but where are the laughing ripples--ah!
Miranda--that broke with laughter over the divinely troubled water, and
the broken reflections, as of startled water-lilies, that rocked to and
fro in a panic of dazzling alabaster?

They are with last year's snow.

Meriel of the solemn eyes, with the heart and the laughter of a child,
and soul like the starlit sky, where should one look for the snows of
yester-year if not in your bosom, fairy girl my eyes shall never see
again. Wherever you are, lost to me somewhere among the winding paths of
this strange wood of the world, do you ever, as the moonlight falls over
the sea, give a thought to that night when we sat together by a window
overlooking the ocean, veiled in a haze of moonlit pearl, and, dimly
seen near shore, a boat was floating, like some mystic barge, as we
said, in our happy childishness, waiting to take us to the _Land East of
the Sun and West of the Moon_? Ah! how was it we lingered and lingered
till the boat was no more there, and it was too late? Perhaps it was
that we seemed to be already there, as you turned and placed your hand
in mine and said: "My life is in your hand." And we both believed it
true. Yes! wherever we went together in those days, we were always in
that enchanted land--whether we rode side by side through London streets
in a hansom--"a two-wheeled heaven" we called it--(for our dream
stretches as far back as that prehistoric day--How old one of us seems
to be growing! You, dear face, can never grow old)--or sat and laughed
at clowns in London music halls, or wandered in Surrey lanes, or gazed
at each other, as if our hearts would break for joy, over the snow-white
napery of some country inn, and maybe quoted Omar to each other, as we
drank his red wine to the immortality of our love. Perhaps we were
right, after all. Perhaps it could never die, and Time and Distance are
perhaps merely illusions, and you and I have never been apart. Who knows
but that you are looking over my shoulder as I write, though you seem so
far away, lost in that starlit silence that you loved. Ah! Meriel, is it
well with you, this summer day? A sigh seems to pass through the sunlit
grasses. They are waving and whispering as I have seen them waving and
whispering over graves.

Such moments as these I have recalled all men have had in their lives,
moments when life seemed to have come to miraculous flower, attained
that perfect fulfilment of its promise which else we find only in
dreams. Beyond doubt there is something in the flawless blessedness of
such moments that links our mortality with super-terrestrial states of
being. We do, in very deed, gaze through invisible doors into the ether
of eternal existences, and, for the brief hour, live as they, drinking
deep of that music of the infinite which is the divine food of the
enfranchised soul. Thence comes our exaltation, and our wild longing to
hold the moment for ever; for, while it is with us, we have literally
escaped from the everyday earth, and have found the way into some other
dimension of being, and its passing means our sad return to the
prison-house of Time, the place of meetings and partings, of distance
and death.

Part of the pang of recalling such moments is a remorseful sense that
perhaps we might have held them fast, after all. If only we might bring
them back, surely we would find some way to dwell in them for ever. They
came upon us so suddenly out of heaven, like some dazzling bird, and we
were so bewildered with the wonder of their coming that we stretched out
our hands to seize them, only when they were already spreading their
wings for flight. But O if the divine bird would but visit us again!
What golden nets we would spread for him! What a golden cage of worship
we would make ready! Our eyes would never leave his strange plumage, nor
would we miss one note of his strange song. But alas! now that we are
grown wise and watchful, that "moment eternal" comes to us no more.
Perhaps too that sad wisdom which has come to us with the years would
least of all avail us, should such moments by some magic chance suddenly
return. For it is one of the dangers of the retrospective habit that it
incapacitates us for the realization of the present hour. Much dwelling
on last year's snow will make us forget the summer flowers. Dreaming of
fair faces that are gone, we will look with unseeing eyes into the fair
faces that companion us still. To the Spring we say: "What of all your
blossom, and all your singing! Autumn is already at your heels, like a
shadow; and Winter waits for you like a marble tomb." To the hope that
still may beckon we say: "Well, what though you be fulfilled, you will
pass, like the rest. I shall see you come. We shall dwell together for a
while, and then you will go; and all will be as it was before, all as if
you had never come at all." For the retrospective mood, of necessity,
begets the anticipatory; we see everything finished before it is begun,
and welcome and valediction blend together on our lips. "That which hath
been is now; and that which is to be hath already been."

In every kiss sealed fast
To feel the first kiss and forebode the last--

that is the shadow that haunts every joy, and sicklies o'er every action
of him whom life has thus taught to look before and after.

Youth is not like that, and therein, for older eyes, lies its tragic
pathos. Superficial--or, if you prefer it, more normal--observers are
made happy by the spectacle of eager and confident young lives, all
abloom and adream, turning towards the future with plumed impatient
feet. But for some of us there is nothing quite so sad as young joy. The
playing of children is perhaps the most unbearably sad thing in the
world. Who can look on young lovers, without tears in their eyes? With
what innocent faith they are taking in all the radiant lies of life! But
perhaps a young mother with her new-born babe on her breast is the most
tragical of all pictures of unsuspecting joy, for none of all the
trusting sons and daughters of men is destined in the end to find
herself so tragically, one might say cynically, fooled.

Cynically, I said; for indeed sometimes, as one ponders the lavish
heartless use life seems to make of all its divinely precious
material--were it but the flowers in one meadow, or the butterflies of a
single summer day--it does seem as though a cruel cynicism inhered
somewhere in the scheme of things, delighting to destroy and
disillusionize, to create loveliness in order to scatter it to the
winds, and inspire joy in order to mock it with desolation. Sometimes it
seems as though the mysterious spirit of life was hardly worthy of the
vessels it has called into being, hardly treats them fairly, uses them
with an ignoble disdain. For, how generously we give ourselves up to
life, how innocently we put our trust in it, do its bidding with such
fine ardours, striving after beauty and goodness, fain to be heroic and
clean of heart--yet "what hath man of all his labours, and of the
vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun." Yea,
dust, and fallen rose-leaves, and last year's snow.

And yet and yet, for all this drift and dishonoured decay of things,
that retrospective mood of ours will sometimes take another turn, and,
so rare and precious in the memory seem the treasure that it has lost,
and yet in imagination still holds, that it will not resign itself to
mortal thoughts of such manifest immortalities. The snows of
yester-year! Who knows if, after all, they have so utterly vanished as
they seem. Who can say but that there may be somewhere in the universe
secret treasuries where all that has ever been precious is precious
still, safely garnered and guarded for us against some wonderful moment
which shall gather up for us in one transfiguring apocalypse all the
wonderful moments that have but preceded us into eternity. Perhaps, as
nothing is lost in the world, so-called, of matter, nothing is lost too
in the world of love and dream.

O vanished loveliness of flowers and faces,
Treasure of hair, and great immortal eyes,
Are there for these no safe and secret places?
And is it true that beauty never dies?
Soldiers and saints, haughty and lovely names,
Women who set the whole wide world in flames,
Poets who sang their passion to the skies,
And lovers wild and wise:
Fought they and prayed for some poor flitting gleam
Was all they loved and worshipped but a dream?
Is Love a lie and fame indeed a breath?
And is there no sure thing in life--but death?

Ah! perhaps we shall find all such lost and lovely things when we come
at length to the Land of Last Year's Snow.



According to the old Scandinavian fable of the cosmos, the whole world
is encircled in the coils of a vast serpent. The ancient name for it was
the Midgard serpent, and doubtless, for the old myth-maker, it had
another significance. Today, however, the symbol may still hold good of
a certain terrible and hideous reality.

Still, as of old, the world is encircled in the coils of a vast serpent;
and the name of the serpent is Gossip. Wherever man is, there may you
hear its sibilant whisper, and its foul spawn squirm and sting and
poison in nests of hidden noisomeness, myriad as the spores of
corruption in a putrefying carcass, varying in size from some
hydra-headed infamy endangering whole nations and even races with its
deadly breath, to the microscopic wrigglers that multiply, a million a
minute, in the covered cesspools of private life.

Printed history is so infested with this vermin, in the form of secret
memoirs, back-stairs diarists, and boudoir eavesdroppers, that it is
almost impossible to feel sure of the actual fact of any history
whatsoever. The fame of great personages may be literally compared to
the heroic figures in the well-known group of the Laocooen, battling in
vain with the strangling coils of the sea-serpent of Poseidon. We
scarcely know what to believe of the dead; and for the living, is it not
true, as Tennyson puts it, that "each man walks with his head in a cloud
of poisonous flies"?

What is this evil leaven that seems to have been mixed in with man's
clay at the very beginning, making one almost ready to believe in the
old Manichean heresy of a principle of evil operating through nature,
everywhere doing battle with the good? Even from the courts of heaven,
as we learn from the Book of Job, the gossip was not excluded; and how
eternally true to the methods of the gossip in all ages was Satan's way
of going to work in that immortal allegory! Let us recall the familiar
scene with a quoted verse or two:

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves
before the Lord, and Satan [otherwise, the Adversary] came also
among them.

And the Lord said unto Satan, "Whence comest thou?" Then Satan
answered the Lord, and said: "From going to and fro in the earth,
and from walking up and down in it."

And the Lord said unto Satan: "Hast thou considered my servant Job,
that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright
man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?"

Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, "Doth Job fear God for

Here we have in a nutshell the whole _modus operandi_ of the gossip in
all ages, and as he may be observed at any hour of the day or night,
slimily engaged in his cowardly business. "Going to and fro in the
earth, walking up and down in it," everywhere peering and listening,
smiling and shrugging, here and there dropping a hint, sowing a seed,
leering an innuendo; seldom saying, only implying; leaving everywhere
trails of slime, yet trails too vague and broken to track him by, secure
in his very cowardice.

"Doth Job fear God for nought?" He only asks, observe. Affirms nothing.
Only innocently wonders. Sows a doubt, that's all--and leaves it to

The victim may possibly be set right in the end, as was Job; but
meanwhile he has lost his flocks and his herds, his sons and his
daughters, and suffered no little inconvenience from a loathsome plague
of boils. Actually--life not being, like the Book of Job, an
allegory--he very seldom is set right, but must bear his losses and his
boils with what philosophy he can master till the end of the chapter.

The race to which Job belonged presents perhaps the most conspicuous
example of a whole people burdened throughout its history with a
heritage of malignant gossip. In the town of Lincoln, in England, there
exists to this day, as one of its show places, the famous "Jew's House,"
associated with the gruesome legend of "the boy of Lincoln"--a child,
it was whispered, sacrificed by the Jews at one of their pastoral
feasts. Such a wild belief in child-sacrifice by the Jews was widespread
in the Middle Ages, and is largely responsible, I understand, even at
the present day, for the Jewish massacres in Russia.

Think of the wild liar who first put that fearful thought into the mind
of Europe! Think of the holocausts of human lives, and all the attendant
agony of which his diabolical invention has been the cause! What
criminal in history compares in infamy with that unknown--gossip?

A similar madness of superstition, responsible for a like cruel
sacrifice of innocent lives, was the terrible belief in witchcraft.
Having its origin in ignorance and fear, it was chiefly the creation of
hearsay carried from lip to lip, beginning with the deliberate invention
of lying tongues, delighting in evil for its own sake, or taking
advantage of a ready weapon to pay off scores of personal enmity. At any
time to a period as near to our own day as the early eighteenth century,
nothing was easier than to rid oneself of an enemy by starting a whisper
going that he or she held secret commerce with evil spirits, was a
reader of magical books, and could at will cast spells of disease and
death upon the neighbours or their cattle.

You had but to be recluse in your habits and eccentric in your
appearance, with perhaps a little more wisdom in your head and your
conversation than your fellows, to be at the mercy of the first fool or
knave who could gather a mob at his heels, and hale you to the nearest
horse-pond. Statement and proof were one, and how ready, and indeed
eager, human nature was to believe the wildest nonsense told by witless
fool or unscrupulous liar, the records of such manias as the famous
Salem trials appallingly evidence. Men high in the state, as well as
helpless old women in their dotage, disfigured with "witch-moles" or
incriminating beards on their withered faces, were equally vulnerable to
this most fearful of weapons ever placed by ignorance in the hands of
the malignant gossip.

In such epidemics of tragic gossip we see plainly that, whatever
individuals are originally responsible, society at large is all too
culpably _particeps criminis_ in this phenomenon under consideration. If
the prosperity of a jest be in the ears that hear it, the like is
certainly true of any piece of gossip. Whoever it may be that sows the
evil seed of slander, the human soil is all too evilly ready to receive
it, to give it nurture, and to reproduce it in crops persistent as the
wild carrot and flamboyant as the wild mustard.

There is something mean in human nature that prefers to think evil, that
gives a willing ear and a ready welcome to calumny, a sort of jealousy
of goodness and greatness and things of good report.

Races and nations are thus ever ready to believe the worst of one
another. In all times it has been in this field of inter-racial and
international prejudice that the gossip has found the widest scope for
his gleeful activity, sowing broadcast dissensions and misunderstandings
which have persisted for centuries. They are the fruitful cause of wars,
insuperable barriers to progress, fabulous growths which the
enlightenment of the world painfully labours to weed out, but will
perhaps never entirely eradicate.

Race-hatred is undoubtedly nine-tenths the heritage of ancient gossip.
Think of the generations of ill-feeling that kept England and France,
though divided but by a narrow strait, "natural enemies" and
misunderstood monsters to each other. In a less degree, the friendship
of England and America has been retarded by international gossips on
both sides. And as for races and nations more widely separated by
distance or customs, no lies have been bad enough for them to believe
about one another.

It is only of late years that Europe has come to regard the peoples of
the Orient as human beings at all. And all this misunderstanding has
largely been the work of gossip acting upon ignorance.

It is easy to see how in the days of difficult communication, before
nations were able to get about in really representative numbers to make
mutual acquaintance, they were completely at the mercy of a few
irresponsible travellers, who said or wrote what they pleased, and had
no compunction about lying in the interests of entertainment. The
proverbial "gaiety of nations" has always, in a great degree, consisted
in each nation believing that it was superior to all others, and that
the natives of other countries were invariably hopelessly dirty and
immoral, to say the least. Such reports the traveller was expected to
bring home with him, and such he seldom failed to bring.

Even at the present time, when intercourse is so cosmopolitan, and some
approach to a sense of human brotherhood has been arrived at, the old
misconceptions die hard. Nations need still to be constantly on their
guard in believing all that the telegraph or the wireless is willing to
tell them about other countries. Electricity, many as are its advantages
for cosmopolitan _rapprochements_, is not invariably employed in the
interests of truth, and newspaper correspondents, if not watched, are
liable to be an even more dangerous form of international gossip than
the more leisurely fabulist of ancient time.

When we come to consider the operation of gossip in the lives of
individuals, the disposition of human nature to relish discrediting
rumour is pitifully conspicuous. We know _Hamlet's_ opinion on the

Let Hercules himself do what he may,
The cat will mew, and dog will have his day.

And again:

Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow,
Thou shalt not escape calumny.

This, it is to be feared, is merely the sad truth, for mankind, while it
admires both greatness and goodness, would seem to resent the one and
only half believe in the other. At all events, nothing is more to its
taste than the rumour that detracts from the great or sullies the good;
and so long as the rumour be entertaining, it has little concern for its

Froude, in writing of Caesar, has this to say admirably to our purpose:

In ages which we call heroic, the saint works miracles, the warrior
performs exploits beyond the strength of natural man. In ages less
visionary, which are given to ease and enjoyment, the tendency is to
bring a great man down to the common level, and to discover or
invent faults which shall show that he is or was but a little man
after all. Our vanity is soothed by evidence that those who have
eclipsed us in the race of life are no better than ourselves, or in
some respects worse than ourselves; and if to these general impulses
be added political or personal animosity, accusations of depravity
are circulated as surely about such men, and are credited as readily
as under other influences are the marvellous achievements of a Cid
or a St. Francis.

The absurdity of a calumny may be as evident as the absurdity of a
miracle; the ground for belief may be no more than a lightness of
mind, and a less pardonable wish that it may be true. But the idle
tale floats in society, and by and by is written down in books and
passes into the region of established realities.

The proportion of such idle tales seriously printed as history can
never, of course, be computed. Sometimes one is tempted to think that
history is mainly "whole cloth." Certainly the lives of such men as
Caesar are largely made up of what one might term illustrative fictions
rather than actual facts. The story of Caesar and Cleopatra is probably
such an "illustrative fiction," representing something that might very
well have happened to Caesar, whether it did so or not. At all events,
it does his fame no great harm, unlike another calumny, which, as it
does not seem "illustrative"--that is, not in keeping with his general
character--we are at liberty to reject. Both alike, however, were
the product of the gossip, the embodied littleness of human nature
endeavouring then, as always, to minimize and discredit the strong man,
who, whatever his actual faults, at least strenuously shoulders for his
fellows the hard work of the world.

The great have usually been strong enough to smile contempt on their
traducers--Caesar's answer to an infamous epigram of the poet Catullus
was to ask him to dinner--but even so, at what extra cost, what "expense
of spirit in a waste of shame," have their achievements been bought,
because of these curs that bark forever at the heels of fame!

And not always have they thus prevailed against the pack. Too often has
the sorry spectacle been seen of greatness and goodness going down
before the poisonous tongues and the licking jaws. Even Caesar himself
had to fall at last, his strong soul perhaps not sorry to escape through
his dagger-wounds from so pitiably small a world; and the poison in the
death-cup of Socrates was not so much the juice of the hemlock as the
venom of the gossips of Athens.

In later times, no service to his country, no greatness of character,
can save the noble Raleigh from the tongues determined to bring him to
the block; and, when the haughty head of Marie Antoinette must bow at
last upon the scaffold, the true guillotine was the guillotine of
gossip. It was such lying tales as that of the diamond necklace that had
brought her there. All Queen Elizabeth's popularity could not save her
from the ribaldry of scandal, nor Shakespeare's genius protect his name
from the foulest of stains.

In our own time, the mere mention of the name of Dreyfus suffices to
remind us of the terrible nets woven by this dark spinner. Within the
last year or two, have we not seen the loved king of a great nation
driven to seek protection from the spectre of innuendo in the courts of
law? But gossip laughs at such tribunals. It knows that where once it
has affixed its foul stain, the mark remains forever, indelible as that
imaginary stain which not all the multitudinous seas could wash from the
little hand of Lady Macbeth. The more the stain is washed, the more
persistently it reappears, like Rizzio's blood, as they say, in Holyrood
Palace. To deny a rumour is but to spread it. An action for libel,
however it may be decided, has at least the one inevitable result of
perpetuating it.

Take the historical case of the Man with the Iron Mask. Out of pure
deviltry, it would appear, Voltaire started the story, as mere a fiction
as one of his written romances, that the mysterious prisoner was no less
than a half-brother of Louis XIV; and Dumas, seeing the dramatic
possibilities of the legend, picturesquely elaborates it in _Le Vicomte
de Bragelonne_. Never, probably, was so impudent an invention, and
surely never one so successful; for it is in vain that historians expose
it over and over again. Learned editors have proved with no shadow of a
doubt that the real man of the mask was an obscure Italian political
adventurer; but though scholars may be convinced, the world will have
nothing of your Count Matthioli, and will probably go on believing
Voltaire's story to the end of time.

"At least there must have been something in it" is always the last word
on such debatable matters; and the curious thing is that, whenever a
doubt of the truth is expressed, it is never the victim, but always the
scandal, to which the benefit of the doubt is extended. Whatever the
proven fact, the world always prefers to hold fast by the disreputable

All that is necessary is to find the dog a bad name. The world will see
that he never loses it. In this regard the oft-reiterated confidence of
the dead in the justice of posterity is one of the most pathetic of
illusions. "Posterity will see me righted," cries some poor victim of
human wrong, as he goes down into the darkness; but of all appeals, the
appeal to posterity is the most hopeless.

What posterity relishes is rather new scandals about its immortals than
tiresome belated justifications. It prefers its villains to grow blacker
with time, and welcomes proof of fallibility and frailty in its immortal
exemplars. For rehabilitation it has neither time nor inclination,
and it pursues certain luckless reputations beyond the grave with a
mysterious malignity.

Such a reputation is that of Edgar Allan Poe. One would have thought
that posterity would be eager to make up to his shade for the criminal
animus of Rufus Griswold, his first biographer. On the contrary, it
prefers to perpetuate the lying portrait; and no consideration of the
bequests of Poe's genius, or of his tragic struggles with adverse
conditions, no editorial advocacy, or documentary evidence in his
favour, has persuaded posterity to reverse the unduly harsh judgment of
his fatuous contemporaries.

Fortunately, it all matters nothing to Poe now. It is only to us that it

Saddening, surely, it is, to say the least, to realize that the humanity
of which we are a part is tainted with so subtle a disease of lying, and
so depraved an appetite for lies. Under such conditions, it is
surprising that greatness and goodness are ever found willing to serve
humanity at all, and that any but scoundrels can be found to dare the
risks of the high places of the world. For this social disease of gossip
resembles that distemper which, at the present moment, threatens the
chestnut forests of America. It first attacks the noblest trees. Like
it, too, it would seem to baffle all remedies, and like it, it would
seem to be the work of indestructible microscopic worms.

It is this vermicular insignificance of the gossip that makes his
detection so difficult, and gives him his security. A great reputation
may feel itself worm-eaten, and may suddenly go down with a crash, but
it will look around in vain for the social vermin that have brought
about its fall. It is the cowardice of gossip that its victims have
seldom an opportunity of coming face to face with their destroyers; for
the gossip is as small as he is ubiquitous--

Not half so big as a round little worm
Prick'd from the lazy finger of a maid.

In all societies, there are men and women who are vaguely known as
gossips; but they are seldom caught red-handed. For one thing, they do
not often speak at first hand. They profess only to repeat something
that they have heard--something, they are careful to add, which is
probably quite untrue, and which they themselves do not believe for a

Then the fact stated or hinted is probably no concern of ours. It is not
for us to sift its truth, or to bring it to the attention of the
individual it tarnishes. Obviously, society would become altogether
impossible if each one of us were to constitute ourselves a sort of
social police to arraign every accuser before the accused. We should
thus, it is to be feared, only make things worse, and involuntarily play
the gossip's own game. The best we can do is as far as possible to
banish the tattle from our minds, and, at all events, to keep our own
mouths shut.

Even so, however, some harm will have been done. We shall never be quite
sure but that the rumour was true, and when we next meet the person
concerned, it will probably in some degree colour our attitude toward

And with others, less high-minded than ourselves, the gossip will have
had greater success. Not, of course, meaning any harm, they will inquire
of someone else if what So-and-so hinted of So-and-so can possibly be
true. And so it will go on _ad infinitum_. The formula is simple, and it
is only a matter of arithmetical progression for a private lie, once
started on its journey, to become a public scandal, with a reputation
gone, and no one visibly responsible.

Of course, not all gossip is purposely harmful in its intention. The
deliberate, creative gossip is probably rare. In fact, gossip usually
represents the need of a bored world to be entertained at any price, the
restless _ennui_ that must be forever talking or listening to fill the
vacuity of its existence, to supply its lack of really vital interests.
This demand naturally creates a supply of idle talkers, whose social
existence depends on their ability to provide the entertainment desired;
and nothing would seem to be so well-pleasing to the idle human ear as
the whisper that discredits, or the story that ridicules, the
distinction it envies, and the goodness it cannot understand.

The mystery of gossip is bound up with the mysterious human need of
talking. Talk we must, though we say nothing, or talk evil from sheer
lack of subject-matter. When we know why man talks so much, apparently
for the mere sake of talking, we shall probably be nearer to knowing why
he prefers to speak and hear evil rather than good of his fellows.

Possibly the gossip would be just as ready to speak well of his victims,
to circulate stories to their credit rather than the reverse, but for
the melancholy fact that he would thus be left without an audience. For
the world has no anxiety to hear good of its neighbour, and there is no
piquancy in the disclosure of hidden virtues.

'Tis true, 'tis pity; pity 'tis, 'tis true; and the only poor
consolation to be got out of it is that the victims of gossip may, if
they feel so inclined, feel flattered rather than angered by its
attentions; for, at all events, it argues their possession of gifts
and qualities transcending the common. At least it presupposes
individuality; and, all things considered, it may be held as true that
those most gossiped about are usually those who can best afford to pay
this tax levied by society on any form of distinction.

After all, the great and good man has his greatness and goodness to
support him, though the world should unite in depreciating him. The
artist has his genius, the beautiful woman has her beauty. 'Tis in
ourselves that we are thus and thus; and if fame must have gossip for
its seamy side, there are some satisfactions that cannot be stolen away,
and some laurels that defy the worm.



The word "editor" as applied to the conductors of magazines and
newspapers is rapidly becoming a mere courtesy title; for the powers and
functions formerly exercised by editors, properly so called, are being
more and more usurped by the capitalist proprietor. There are not a few
magazines where the "editor" has hardly more say in the acceptance of a
manuscript than the contributor who sends it in. Few are the editors
left who uphold the magisterial dignity and awe with which the name of
editor was wont to be invested. These survive owing chiefly to the
prestige of long service, and even they are not always free from the
encroachments of the new method. The proprietor still feels the irksome
necessity of treating their editorial policies with respect, though
secretly chafing for the moment when they shall give place to more
manageable, modern tools.

The "new" editor, in fact, is little more than a clerk doing the bidding
of his proprietor, and the proprietor's idea of editing is slavishly to
truckle to the public taste--or rather to his crude conception of the
public taste. The only real editors of today are the capitalist and the
public. The nominal editor is merely an office-boy of larger growth, and
slightly larger salary.

Innocent souls still, of course, imagine him clothed with divine powers,
and letters of introduction to him are still sought after by the
superstitious beginner. Alas! the chances are that the better he thinks
of your MS. the less likely is it to be accepted by--the proprietor; for
Mr. Snooks, the proprietor, has decided tastes of his own, and a
peculiar distaste for anything remotely savouring of the "literary." His
broad editorial axiom is that a popular magazine should be everything
and anything but--"literature." For any signs of the literary taint he
keeps open a stern and ever-watchful eye, and the "editor" or "editorial
assistant"--to make a distinction without a difference--whom he should
suspect of literary leanings has but a short shrift. Mr. Snooks is
seldom much of a reader himself. His activities have been exclusively
financial, and he has drifted into the magazine business as he might
have drifted into pork or theatres--from purely financial reasons. His
literary needs are bounded on the north by a detective story, and on the
south by a scientific article. The old masters of literature are as much
foolishness to him as the old masters of painting. In short, he is just
a common, ignorant man with money invested in a magazine; and who shall
blame him if he goes on the principle that he who pays the piper calls
the tune. When he starts in he not infrequently begins by entrusting
his magazine to some young man with real editorial ability and ambition
to make a really good thing. This young man gathers about him a group of
kindred spirits, and the result is that after the publication of the
second number Mr. Snooks decides to edit the magazine himself, with the
aid of a secretary and a few typewriters. His bright young men hadn't
understood "what the public wants" at all. They were too high-toned, too
"literary." What the public wants is short stories and pictures of
actresses; and the short stories, like the actresses, must be no better
than they should be. Even short stories when they are masterpieces are
not "what the public wants." So the bright young men go into outer
darkness, sadly looking for new jobs, and with its third number
_Snooks's Monthly_ has fallen into line with the indistinguishable ruck
of monthly magazines, only indeed distinguishable one from the other by
the euphonious names of their proprietors.

Now, a proprietor's right to have his property managed according to his
own ideas needs no emphasizing. The sad thing is that such proprietors
should get hold of such property. It all comes, of course, of the
modern vulgarization of wealth. Time was when even mere wealth was
aristocratic, and its possession, more or less implied in its possessors
the possession, too, of refinement and culture. The rich men of the past
knew enough to encourage and support the finer arts of life, and were
interested in maintaining high standards of public taste and feeling.
Thus they were capable of sparing some of their wealth for investment in
objects which brought them a finer kind of reward than the financial.
Among other things, they understood and respected the dignity of
literature, and would not have expected an editor to run a literary
venture in the interests of the illiterate. The further degradation of
the public taste was not then the avowed object of popular magazines.
Indeed--strange as it sounds nowadays--it was rather the education than
the degradation of the public taste at which the editor aimed, and in
that aim he found the support of intelligent proprietors.

Today, however, all this is changed. Wealth has become democratic, and
it is only here and there, in its traditional possessors, that it
retains its traditional aristocracy of taste. As the commonest man can
be a multi-millionaire, so the commonest man can own a magazine, and
have it edited in the commonest fashion for the common good.

As a result, the editor's occupation, in the true sense, will soon be
gone. There is, need one say, no lack today of men with real editorial
individuality--but editorial individuality is the last thing the
capitalist proprietors want. It is just that they are determined to
stamp out. Therefore, your real editor must either swallow his pride and
submit to ignorant dictation, or make way for the little band of
automatic sorters of manuscript, which, as nine tailors make a man,
nowadays constitute a sort of composite editor under the direction of
the proprietor.

With the elimination of editorial individuality necessarily follows
elimination of individuality in the magazine. More and more, every day,
magazines are conforming to the same monotonous type; so that, except
for name and cover, it is impossible to tell one magazine from another.
Happily one or two--_rari nantes in gurgito vasto_--survive amid the
democratic welter; and all who have at heart not only the interests of
literature, but the true interests of the public taste, will pray that
they will have the courage to maintain their distinction, unseduced by
the moneyed voice of the mob--a distinction to which, after all, they
have owed, and will continue to owe, their success. The names of these
magazines will readily occur to the reader, and, as they occur, he
cannot but reflect that it was just editorial individuality and a high
standard of policy that made them what they are, and what, it is
ardently to be hoped, they will still continue to be. Plutus and Demos
are the worst possible editors for a magazine; and in the end, even, it
is the best magazine that always makes the most money.



I often think, as I sit here in my green office in the woodland--too
often diverted from some serious literary business with the moon or the
morning stars, or a red squirrel who is the familiar spirit of my
wood-pile, or having my thoughts carried out to sea by the river which
runs so freshly and so truantly, with so strong a current of temptation,
a hundred yards away from my window--I often think that the strong
necessity that compelled me to do my work, to ply my pen and inkpot out
here in the leafy, blue-eyed wilderness, instead of doing it by
typewriter in some forty-two-storey building in the city, is one of
those encouraging signs of the times which links one with the great
brotherhood of men and women that have heard the call of the great god
Pan, as he sits by the river--

Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan!
Piercing sweet by the river!
Blinding sweet, O great god Pan!

And I go on thinking to this effect: that this impulse that has come to
so many of us, and has, incidentally, wrought such a harmony in our
lives, is something more than duck-shooting, trout-fishing,
butterfly-collecting, or a sentimental passion for sunsets, but is
indeed something not so very far removed from religion, romantic
religion. At all events, it is something that makes us happy, and keeps
us straight. That combination of results can only come by the
satisfaction of the undeniable religious instinct in all of us: an
instinct that seeks goodness, but seeks happiness too. Now, there are
creeds by which you can be good without being happy; and creeds by which
you can be happy without being good. But, perhaps, there is only one
creed by which you can be both at once--the creed of the growing grass,
and the blue sky and the running river, the creed of the dog-wood and
the skunk-cabbage, the creed of the red-wing and the blue heron--the
creed of the great god Pan.

Pan, being one of the oldest of the gods, might well, in an age eager
for novelty, expect to be the latest fashion; but the revival of his
worship is something far more than a mere vogue. It was rumoured, as, of
course, we all know, early in the Christian era, that he was dead. The
pilot Thomas, ran the legend, as told by Plutarch, sailing near Pascos,
with a boatful of merchants, heard in the twilight a mighty voice
calling from the land, bidding him proclaim to all the world that Pan
was dead. "Pan is dead!"--three times ran the strange shuddering cry
through the darkness, as though the very earth itself wailed the passing
of the god.

But Pan, of course, could only die with the earth itself, and so long as
the lichen and the moss keep quietly at their work on the grey boulder,
and the lightning zigzags down through the hemlocks, and the arrowhead
guards its waxen blossom in the streams; so long as the earth shakes
with the thunder of hoofs, or pours out its heart in the song of the
veery-thrush, or bares its bosom in the wild rose, so long will there be
little chapels to Pan in the woodland--chapels on the lintels of which
you shall read, as Virgil wrote: _Happy is he who knows the rural gods,
Pan, and old Sylvanus, and the sister nymphs_.

It is strange to see how in every country, but more particularly in
America and in England, the modern man is finding his religion as it was
found by those first worshippers of the beautiful mystery of the visible
universe, those who first caught glimpses of

Nymphs in the coppice, Naiads in the fountain,
Gods on the craggy height and roaring sea.

First thoughts are proverbially the best; at all events, they are the
bravest. And man's first thoughts of the world and the strangely
romantic life he is suddenly called up, out of nothingness, to live,
unconsulted, uninstructed, left to feel his way in the blinding
radiance up into which he has been mysteriously thrust; those first
thoughts of his are nowadays being corroborated in every direction by
the last thoughts of the latest thinker. Mr. Jack London, one of
Nature's own writers, one of those writers too, through whom the Future
speaks, has given a name to this stirring of the human soul--"The Call
of the Wild." Following his lead, others have written of "The Lure," of
this and that in nature, and all mean the same thing: that the salvation
of man is to be found on, and by means of, the green earth out of which
he was born, and that, as there is no ill of his body which may not be
healed by the magic juices of herb and flower, or the stern potency of
minerals, so there is no sickness of his soul that may not be cured by
the sound of the sea, the rustle of leaves, or the songs of birds.

Thirty or forty years ago the soul of the world was very sick. It had
lost religion in a night of misunderstood "materialism," so-called. But
since then that mere "matter" which seemed to eclipse the soul has grown
strangely radiant to deep-seeing eyes, and, whereas then one had to
doubt everything, dupes of superficial disillusionment, now there is no
old dream that has not the look of coming true, no hope too wild and
strange and beautiful to be confidently entertained. Even, if you wish
to believe in fairies, science will hardly say you nay. Those dryads and
fauns, which Keats saw "frightened away" by the prosaic times in which
it was his misfortune to be alive and unrecognized, are trooping back in
every American woodland, and the god whose name I have invoked has
become more than ever

the leaven
That spreading in this dull and clodded earth
Gives it a touch ethereal.

His worship is all the more sincere because it is not self-conscious.
If you were to tell the trout-fisher, or the duck-shooter, or the
camper-out, that he is a worshipper of Pan, he would look at you in a
kindly bewilderment. He would seem a little anxious about you, but it
would be only a verbal misunderstanding. It would not take him long to
realize that you were only putting in terms of a creed the intuitive and
inarticulate faith of his heart. Perhaps the most convincing sign of
this new-old faith in nature is the unconsciousness of the believer. He
has no idea that he is believing or having faith in anything. He is
simply loving the green earth and the blue sea, and the ways of birds
and fish and animals; but he is so happy in his innocent, ignorant joy
that he seems almost to shine with his happiness. There is, literally, a
light about him--that light which edges with brightness all sincere
action. The trout, or the wild duck, or the sea bass is only an innocent
excuse to be alone with the Infinite. To be alone. To be afar. Men sail
precarious craft in perilous waters for no reason they could tell
of. They may think that trawling, or dredging, or whaling is the
explanation: the real reason is the mystery we call the Sea.

Ostensibly, of course, the angler is a man who goes out to catch fish;
yet there is a great difference between an angler and a fishmonger.
Though the angler catches no fish, though his creel be empty as he
returns home at evening, there is a curious happiness and peace about
him which a mere fishmonger would be at a loss to explain. Fish, as I
said, were merely an excuse; and, as he vainly waited for fish, without
knowing it, he was learning the rhythm of the stream, and the silence of
ferns was entering into his soul, and the calm and patience of meadows
were dreamily becoming a part of him. Suddenly, too, in the silence,
maybe he caught sight of a strange, hairy, masterful presence, sitting
by the stream, whittling reeds, and blowing his breath into them here
and there, and finally binding them together with rushes, till he had
made out of the empty reeds and rushes an instrument that sang
everything that can be sung and told you everything that can be told.

The sun on the hill forgot to die.
And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly
Came back to dream on the river.

Do you really think that the huntsman hunts only the deer? He, himself,
doubtless thinks that the trophy of the antlers was all he went out
into the woods to win. But there came a day to him when he missed the
deer, and caught a glimpse instead of the divine huntress, Diana,
high-buskined, short-kirtled, speeding with her hounds through the
lonely woodland, and his thoughts ran no more on venison for that day.

The same truth is true of all men who go out into the green, blue-eyed
wilderness, whether they go there in pursuit of game or butterflies.
They find something stranger and better than what they went out to seek,
and, if they come home disappointed in the day's bag or catch, there is
yet something in their eyes, and across their brows, a light of peace,
an enchanted calm, which tells those who understand that they, at all
events, have seen the great god Pan, and heard the music he can make out
of the pipy hemlocks or the lonely pines.



The charm of an old canal is one which every one seems to feel. Men who
care nothing about ruined castles or Gothic cathedrals light up with
romantic enthusiasm if you tell them of some old disused or seldom-used
canal, grass-grown and tree-shaded, along which, hardly oftener than
once a week, a leisurely barge--towed by an equally leisurely mule, with
its fellow there on deck taking his rest, preparatory to his next
eight-mile "shift"--sleepily dreams its way, presumably on some errand
and to some destination, yet indeed hinting of no purpose or object
other than its loitering passage through a summer afternoon. I have even
heard millionaires express envy of the life lived by the little family
hanging out its washing and smoking its pipe and cultivating its
floating garden of nasturtiums and geraniums, with children playing and
a house-dog to keep guard, all in that toy house of a dozen or so feet,
whose foundations are played about by fishes, and whose sides are
brushed by whispering reeds. But the charm of an old canal is perhaps
yet more its own when even so tranquil a happening as the passage of a
barge is no longer looked for, and the quiet water is called upon for no
more arduous usefulness than the reflection of the willows or the
ferrying across of summer clouds. Nature herself seems to wield a new
peculiar spell in such association--old quarries, the rusting tramways
choked with fern; forgotten mines with the wild vine twining tenderly
about the old iron of dismantled pit-tackle, grown as green as itself
with the summer rains; roads once dusty with haste over which only the
moss and the trailing arbutus now leisurely travel. Wherever Nature is
thus seen to be taking to herself, making her own, what man has first
made and grown tired of, she is twice an enchantress, strangely
combining in one charm the magic of a wistful, all but forgotten, past
with her own sibyl-line mystery.

The symbol of that combined charm is that poppy of oblivion of which Sir
Thomas Browne so movingly wrote: but, though along that old canal of
which I am thinking and by which I walked a summer day, no poppies were
growing, the freshest grass, the bluest flowers, the new-born rustling
leafage of the innumerable trees, all alike seemed to whisper of
forgetfulness, to be brooding, even thus in the very heyday of the mad
young year, over time past. And this eloquently retrospective air of
Nature made me realize, with something of the sense of discovery, how
much of what we call antiquity is really a trick of Nature. She is as
clever at the manufacture of antiques as some expert of "old masters."
A little moss here and there, a network of ivy, a judicious use of ferns
and grass, a careless display of weeds and wild flowers, and in twenty
years Nature can make a modern building look as if it dated from the
Norman Conquest. I came upon this reflection because, actually, my canal
is not very old, though from the way it impressed me, and from the
manner in which I have introduced it, the reader might well imagine it
as old as Venice and no younger than Holland, and may find it as hard to
believe as I did that its age is but some eighty years, and that it has
its romantic being between Newark Bay and Phillipsburg, on the Delaware

One has always to be careful not to give too much importance to one's
own associative fancies in regard to the names of places. To me, for
instance, "Perth Amboy" has always had a romantic sound, and I believe
that a certain majesty in the collocation of the two noble words would
survive that visit to the place itself which I have been told is all
that is necessary for disillusionment. On the other hand, for reasons
less explainable, Hackensack, Paterson, Newark, and even Passaic are
names that had touched me with no such romantic thrill. Wrongfully, no
doubt, I had associated them with absurdity, anarchy, and railroads.
Never having visited them, it was perhaps not surprising that I should
not have associated them with such loveliness and luxury of Nature as I
now unforgettably recall; and I cannot help feeling that in the case of
places thus unfortunately named, Nature might well bring an action for
damages, robbed as she thus undoubtedly is of a flock of worshippers.

At all events, I believe that my surprise and even incredulity will be
understood when an artist friend of mine told me that by taking the Fort
Lee ferry, and trolleying from the Palisades through Hackensack to
Paterson, I might find--a dream canal. It was as though he had said that
I had but to cross over to Hoboken to find the Well at the World's End.
But it was true, for all that--quite fairy-tale true. It was one of
those surprises of peace, deep, ancient peace, in America, of which
there are many, and of which more needs to be told. I can conceive of no
more suggestive and piquant contrast than that of the old canal gliding
through water-lilies and spreading pastures, in the bosom of hills
clothed with trees that scatter the sunshine or gather the darkness, the
haunt of every bird that sings or flashes strange plumage and is gone,
gliding past flowering rushes and blue dragon-flies, not

Flowing down to Camelot,

as one might well believe, but between Newark and Phillipsburg, touching
Paterson midway with its dreaming hand.

Following my friend's directions, we had met at Paterson, and, desirous
of finding our green pasture and still waters with the least possible
delay, we took a trolley running in the Newark direction, and were
presently dropped at a quaint, quiet little village called Little Falls,
the last we were to see of the modern work-a-day world for several
miles. A hundred yards or so beyond, and it is as though you had entered
some secret green door into a pastoral dream-land. Great trees, like
rustling walls of verdure, enclose an apparently endless roadway of
gleaming water, a narrow strip of tow-path keeping it company,
buttressed in from the surrounding fields with thickets of every species
of bush and luxurious undergrowth, and starred with every summer flower.

Presently, by the side of the path, one comes to an object which seems
romantically in keeping with the general character of the scene--a long
block of stone, lying among the grasses and the wild geraniums, on
which, as one nears it, one descries carved scroll-work and quaint,
deep-cut lettering. Is it the tomb of dead lovers, the memorial of some
great deed, or an altar to the _genius loci_? The willows whisper about
it, and the great elms and maples sway and murmur no less impressively
than if the inscription were in Latin of two thousand years ago. Nor is
it in me to regret that the stone and its inscription, instead of
celebrating the rural Pan, commemorate the men to whom I owe this lane
of dreaming water and all its marginal green solitude: to wit--the
"MORRIS CANAL AND BANKING CO., A.D. 1829," represented by its
president, its cashier, its canal commissioner, and a score of other
names of directors, engineers, and builders. Peace, therefore, to the
souls of those dead directors, who, having only in mind their banking
and engineering project, yet unconsciously wrought, nearly a century
ago, so poetic a thing, and may their rest be lulled by such leafy
murmurs and swaying of tendrilled shadows as all the day through stir
and sway along the old canal!

A few yards beyond this monumental stone, there comes a great opening in
the sky, a sense of depth and height and spacious freshness in the air,
such as we feel on approaching the gorge of a great river; and in fact
the canal has arrived at the Passaic and is about to be carried across
it in a sort of long, wooden trough, supported by a noble bridge that
might well pass for a genuine antique, owing to that collaborating hand
of Nature which has filled the interstices of its massive masonry with
fern, and so loosened it here and there that some of the canal escapes
in long, ribbon-like cascades into the rocky bed of the river below. An
aqueduct has always seemed to me, though it would be hard to say why, a
most romantic thing. The idea of carrying running water across a bridge
in this way--water which it is so hard to think of as imprisoned or
controlled, and which, too, however shallow, one always associates with
mysterious depth--the idea of thus carrying it across a valley high up
in the air, so that one may look underneath it, underneath the bed in
which it runs, and think of the fishes and the water-weeds and the
waterbugs all being carried across with it, too--this, I confess, has
always seemed to me engagingly marvellous. And I like, too, to think
that the canal, whose daily business is to be a "common carrier" of
others, thus occasionally tastes the luxury of being carried itself; as
sometimes one sees on a freight car a new buggy, or automobile, or
sometimes a locomotive, being luxuriously ridden along--as though out
for a holiday--instead of riding others.

And talking of freight-cars, it came to me with a sense of illumination
how different the word "Passaic" looks printed in white letters on the
grey sides of grim produce-vans in begrimed procession, from the way it
looks as it writes its name in wonderful white waterfalls, or murmurs it
through corridors of that strange pillared and cake-shaped rock, amid
the golden pomp of a perfect summer day. For a short distance the
Passaic and the canal run side by side, but presently they part company,
and mile after mile the canal seems to have the world to itself, once in
a great while finding human companionship in a shingled cottage half
hidden among willows, a sleepy brick-field run on principles as ancient
as itself, shy little girls picking flowers on its banks, or saucy boys
disporting themselves in the old swimming-hole; and

Sometimes an angler comes and drops his hook
Within its hidden depths, and 'gainst a tree
Leaning his rod, reads in some pleasant book,
Forgetting soon his pride of fishery;
And dreams or falls asleep,
While curious fishes peep
About his nibbled bait or scornfully
Dart off and rise and leap.

Once a year, indeed, every one goes a-fishing along the old canal--men,
women, boys, and girls. That is in spring, when the canal is emptied for
repairs, the patching up of leaks, and so forth. Then the fish lie
glittering in the shallow pools, as good as caught, and happy children
go home with strings of sunfish,--"pumpkin-seeds" they call
them,--cat-fish, and the like picturesque unprofitable spoils, while
graver fisher-folk take count of pickerel and bream. This merry festival
was over and gone, and the canal was all brimming with the lustral
renewal of its waters, its depths flashing now and again with the
passage of wary survivors of that spring _battue_.

It is essential to the appreciation of an old canal that one should not
expect it to provide excitement, that it be understood between it and
its fellow-pilgrim that there is very little to say and nothing to
record. Along the old tow-path you must be content with a few simple,
elemental, mysterious things. To enter into its spirit you must be
somewhat of a monastic turn of mind, and have spiritual affiliations,
above all, with La Trappe. For the presiding muse of an old canal is
Silence; yet, as at La Trappe, a silence far indeed from being a dumb
silence, but a silence that contains all speech. My friend and I spoke
hardly at all as we walked along, easily obedient to the spirit of the
hour and the place. For there were so few of those little gossipy
accidents and occurrences by the way that make those interruptions we
call conversation, and such overwhelming golden-handed presences of
sunlit woodlands, flashing water-meadows, shining, singing air, and
distant purple hills--all the blowing, rippling, leafy glory and mighty
laughter of a summer day--that we were glad enough to let the birds do
such talking as Nature deemed necessary; and I seem never to have heard
or seen so many birds, of so many varieties, as haunt that old canal.

As we chose our momentary camping-place under a buttonwood-tree, from
out an exuberant swamp of yellow water-lilies and the rearing
sword-blades of the coming cat-tail, a swamp blackbird, on his glossy
black orange-tipped wings, flung us defiance with his long, keen, full,
saucy note; and as we sat down under our buttonwood and spread upon the
sward our pastoral meal, the veery-thrush--sadder and stranger than any
nightingale--played for us, unseen, on an instrument like those old
water-organs played on by the flow and ebb of the tide, a flute of
silver in which some strange magician has somewhere hidden tears. I
wondered, as he sang, if the veery was the thrush that, to Walt
Whitman's fancy, "in the swamp in secluded recesses" mourned the death
of Lincoln:

Solitary the thrush,
The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings to himself a song.

But when the veery had flown with his heart-break to some distant copse,
two song-sparrows came to persuade us with their blithe melody that life
was worth living, after all; and cheerful little domestic birds, like
the jenny-wren and the chipping-sparrow, pecked about and put in between
whiles their little chit-chat across the boughs, while the bobolink
called to us like a comrade, and the phoebe-bird gave us a series of
imitations, and the scarlet tanager and the wild canary put in a vivid
appearance, to show what can be done with colour, though they have no

Yet, while one was grateful for such long, green silence as we found
along that old canal, one could not help feeling how hard it would be
to put into words an experience so infinite and yet so undramatic. Birds
and birds, and trees and trees, and the long, silent water! Prose has
seldom been adequate for such moments. So, as my friend and I took up
our walk again, I sang him this little song of the Silence of the Way:

Silence, whose drowsy eyelids are soft leaves,
And whose half-sleeping eyes are the blue flowers,
On whose still breast the water-lily heaves,
And all her speech the whisper of the showers.

Made of all things that in the water sway,
The quiet reed kissing the arrowhead,
The willows murmuring, all a summer day,
"Silence"--sweet word, and ne'er so softly said

As here along this path of brooding peace,
Where all things dream, and nothing else is done
But all such gentle businesses as these
Of leaves and rippling wind, and setting sun

Turning the stream to a long lane of gold,
Where the young moon shall walk with feet of pearl,
And, framed in sleeping lilies, fold on fold.
Gaze at herself like any mortal girl.

But, after all, trees are perhaps the best expression of silence, massed
as they are with the merest hint of movement, and breathing the merest
suggestion of a sigh; and seldom have I seen such abundance and variety
of trees as along our old canal--cedars and hemlocks and hickory
dominating green slopes of rocky pasture, with here and there a clump of
silver birches bent over with the strain of last year's snow; and all
along, near by the water, beech and basswood, blue-gum and pin-oak, ash,
and even chestnut flourishing still, in defiance of blight. Nor have I
ever seen such sheets of water-lilies as starred the swampy thickets, in
which elder and hazels and every conceivable bush and shrub and giant
grass and cane make wildernesses pathless indeed save to the mink and
the water-snake, and the imagination that would fain explore their
glimmering recesses.

No, nothing except birds and trees, water-lilies and such like
happenings, ever happens along the old canal; and our nearest to a human
event was our meeting with a lonely, melancholy man, sitting near a
moss-grown water-wheel, smoking a corn-cob pipe, and gazing wistfully
across at the Ramapo Hills, over which great sunlit clouds were
billowing and casting slow-moving shadows. Stopping, we passed him the
time of day and inquired when the next barge was due. For answer he took
a long draw at his corn-cob, and, taking his eyes for a moment from the
landscape, said in a far-away manner that it might be due any time now,
as the spring had come and gone, and implying, with a sort of sad humour
in his eyes, that spring makes all things possible, brings all things
back, even an old slow-moving barge along the old canal.

"What do they carry on the canal?" I asked the melancholy man, the
romantic green hush and the gleaming water not irrelevantly flashing on
my fancy that far-away immortal picture of the lily-maid of Astolat on
her strange journey, with a letter in her hand for Lancelot.

"Coal," was his answer; and, again drawing at his corn-cob, he added,
with a sad and understanding smile, "once in a great while." Like most
melancholy men, he seemed to have brains, in his way, and to have no
particular work on hand, except, like ourselves, to dream.

"Suppose," said I, "that a barge should come along, and need to be drawn
up this 'plane'--would the old machinery work?" and I pointed to six
hundred feet of sloping grass, down which a tramway stretches and a
cable runs on little wheels--technically known, it appeared, as a

Then the honour of the ancient company for which he had once worked
seemed to stir his blood, and he awakened to something like enthusiasm
as he explained the antique, picturesque device by which it is still
really possible for a barge to climb six hundred feet of grass and
fern--drawn up in a long "cradle," instead of being raised by locks in
the customary way.

Then he took us into the old building where, in the mossed and dripping
darkness, we could discern the great water-wheels that work this
fascinating piece of ancient engineering; and added that there would
probably be a barge coming along in three or four days, if we should
happen to be in the neighbourhood. He might have added that the old
canal is one of the few places where "time and tide" wait for any one
and everybody--but alas! on this occasion we could not wait for them.

Our walk was nearing its end when we came upon a pathetic reminder that,
though the old canal is so far from being a stormy sea, there have been
wrecks even in those quiet waters. In a backwater whispered over by
willows and sung over by birds, a sort of water-side graveyard, eleven
old barges were ingloriously rotting, unwept and unhonoured. The hulks
of old men-of-war, forgotten as they may seem, have still their annual
days of bunting and the salutes of cannon; but to these old servitors of
peace come no such memorial recognitions.

"Unwept and unhonoured, may be," said I to my friend, "but they shall
not go all unsung, though humble be the rhyme"; so here is the rhyme I
affixed to an old nail on the mouldering side of the _Janita C.

You who have done your work and asked no praise,
Mouldering in these unhonoured waterways,
Carrying but simple peace and quiet fire,
Doing a small day's work for a small hire--
You need not praise, nor guns, nor flags unfurled,
Nor all such cloudy glories of the world;
The laurel of a simple duty done
Is the best laurel underneath the sun,
Yet would two strangers passing by this spot
Whisper, "Old boat--you are not all forgot!"



We were neither of us fox-hunting ourselves, but chanced both to be out
on our morning walk and to be crossing a breezy Surrey common at the
same moment, when the huntsmen and huntresses of the Slumberfold Hunt
were blithely congregating for a day's run. A meet is always an
attractive sight, and we had both come to a halt within a yard or two of
each other, and stood watching the gallant company of fine ladies and
gentlemen on their beautiful, impatient mounts, keeping up a prancing
conversation, till the exciting moment should arrive when the cry would
go up that the fox had been started, and the whole field would sweep
away, a cataract of hounds, red-coats, riding habits, and dog-carts.

The moment came. The fox had been found in a spinney running down to
Withy Brook, and his race for life had begun. With a happy shout, the
hunt was up and off in a twinkling, and the stranger and I were left
alone on the broad common.

I had scanned him furtively as he stood near me; a tall, slightly build
man of about fifty, with perfectly white hair, and strangely gentle
blue eyes. There was a curious, sad distinction over him, and he had
watched the scene with a smile of blended humour and pity.

Turning to me, as we were left alone, and speaking almost as though to
himself: "It is a strange sight," he said with a sigh. "I wonder if it
seems as strange to you? Think of all those grown-up, so-called
civilized people being so ferociously intent on chasing one poor little
animal for its life--and feeling, when at last the huntsman holds up his
poor brush, with absurd pride (if indeed the fox is not too sly for
them), that they have really done something clever, in that with so many
horses and dogs and so much noise, they have actually contrived to catch
and kill one fox!"

"It is strange!" I said, for I had been thinking just that very thing.

"Of course, they always tell you," he continued, as we took the road
together, "that the fox really enjoys being hunted, and that he feels
his occupation gone if there are no hounds to track him, and finally to
tear him to pieces. What wonderful stories human nature will tell itself
in its own justification! Can one imagine any created thing _enjoying_
being pursued for its life, with all that loud terror of men and horses
and savage dogs at its heels? No doubt--if we can imagine even a fox so
self-conscious--it would take a certain pride in its own cunning and
skill, if the whole thing were a game; but a race with death is too
deadly in earnest for a fox even to relish his own stratagems. Happily
for the fox, it is probable that he does not feel so much for himself as
some of us feel for him; but any one who knows the wild things knows too
what terror they are capable of feeling, and how the fear of death is
always with them. No! you may be sure that a fox prefers a cosy
hen-roost to the finest run with the hounds ever made."

"But even if he should enjoy being hunted," I added, "the even stranger
thing to me is that civilized men and women should enjoy hunting him."

"Isn't it strange?" answered my companion eagerly, his face lighting up
at finding a sympathizer. "When will people realize that there is so
much more fun in studying wild things than in killing them!..."

He stopped suddenly in his walk, to gather a small weed which had
caught his quick eye by the roadside, and which he examined for a
moment through a little pocket microscope which I noticed, hanging
like an eyeglass round his neck, and which I learned afterward quite
affectionately to associate with him. Then, as we walked on, he

"But, of course, we are yet very imperfectly civilized. Humanity is a
lesson learned very slowly by the human race. Yet we are learning it by
degrees, yes! we are learning it," and he threw out his long stride more
emphatically--the stride of one accustomed to long daily tramps on the

"Strange, that principle of cruelty in the universe!" he resumed, after
a pause in which he had walked on in silence. "Very strange. To me it is
the most mysterious of all things--though, I suppose, after all, it is
no more mysterious than pity. When, I wonder, did pity begin? Who was
the first human being to pity another? How strange he must have seemed
to the others, how incomprehensible and ridiculous--not to say
dangerous! There can be little doubt that he was promptly dispatched
with stone axes as an enemy of a respectable murderous society."

"I expect," said I "that our friends the fox-hunters would take a
similar view of our remarks on their sport."

"No doubt--and perhaps turn their hounds on us! A man hunt! 'Give me the
hunting of man!' as a brutal young poet we know of recently sang."

"How different was the spirit of Emerson's old verse," I said:

"Hast thou named all the birds without a gun?
Loved the wood-rose, and left it on its stalk?...
O be my friend, and teach me to be thine!"

"That is one of my mottoes!" cried my companion with evident pleasure.
"Let us go and quote it to our fox-hunters!"

"I wonder how the fox is getting on," I said.

"If he is any sort of fox, he is safe enough as yet, we may be sure.
They are wonderful creatures. It is not surprising that mankind has
always looked upon Reynard as almost a human being--if not more--for
there is something quite uncanny in his instincts, and the cool,
calculating way in which he uses them. He is come and gone like a ghost.
One moment you were sure you saw him clearly close by and the next he is
gone--who knows where? He can run almost as swiftly as light, and as
softly as a shadow; and in his wildest dash, what a sure judgment he has
for the lie of the ground, how unerringly--and at a moment when a
mistake is death--he selects his cover! How learned, too, he is in
his knowledge of the countryside! There is not a dry ditch, or a
water-course, or an old drain, or a hole in a bank for miles around that
is not mysteriously set down in the map he carries in his graceful,
clever head; and one need hardly say that all the suitable hiding-places
in and around farm-yards are equally well known to him. Then withal he
is so brave. How splendidly, when wearied out, and hopelessly tracked
down, with the game quite up, he will turn on his pursuers, and die with
his teeth fast in his enemy's throat!"

"I believe you are a fox-hunter in disguise," I laughed.

"Well, I have hunted as a boy," he said, "and I know something of what
those red-coated gentlemen are feeling. But soon I got more interested
in studying nature than killing it, and when I became a naturalist I
ceased to be a hunter. You get to love the things so that it seems like
killing little children. They come so close to you, are so beautiful and
so clever; and sometimes there seems such a curious pathos about them.
How any one can kill a deer with that woman's look in its eyes, I don't
know. I should always expect the deer to change into a fairy princess,
and die in my arms with the red blood running from her white breast. And
pigeons, too, with their soft sunny coo all the summer afternoon, or the
sudden lapping of sleepy wings round the chimneys--how can any one trap
or shoot them with blood-curdling rapidity, and not expect to see

"Of course, there is this difference about the fox," I said, "that it is
really in a sense born to be hunted. For not only is it a fierce hunter
itself, but it would not be allowed to exist at all, so to say, unless
it consented to being hunted. Like a gladiator it accepts a comfortable
living for a certain time, on condition of its providing at last a
spirited exhibition of dying. In other words, it is preserved entirely
for the purpose of being hunted. It must accept life on that condition
or be extirpated as destructive vermin by the plundered farmer. Life is
sweet, after all, and to be a kind of protected highwayman of the
poultry-yard, for a few sweet toothsome years, taking one's chances of
being surely brought to book at last, may perhaps seem worth while."

"Yes! but how does your image of the protected gladiator reflect on
those who protect him? There, of course, is the point. The gladiator, as
you say, is willing to take his chances in exchange for fat living and
idleness, as long as he lives. You may even say that his profession is
good for him, develops fine qualities of mind even as well as body--but
what of the people who crowd with blood-thirsty eagerness to watch those
qualities exhibited in so tragic a fashion for their amusement? Do they
gain any of his qualities of skill and courage, and strength and
fearlessness in the face of death? No, they are merely brutalized by
cruel excitement--and while they applaud his skill and admire his
courage, they long most to watch him die. So--is it not?--with our
friend the fox. The huntsman invariably compliments him on his spirit
and his cunning, but what he wants is--the brush. He wants the
excitement of hunting the living thing to its death; and, let huntsmen
say what they will about the exhilaration of the horse exercise across
country as being the main thing, they know better--and, if it be true,
why don't they take it without the fox?"

"They do in America, as, of course, you know. There a man walks across
country trailing a stick, at the end of which is a piece of cloth
impregnated with some pungent scent which hounds love and mistake for
the real thing."

"Hard on the poor hounds!" smiled my friend. "Even worse than a red
herring. You could hardly blame the dogs if they mistook the man for
Actaeon and tore him to pieces."

"And I suspect that the huntsmen are no better satisfied."

"Yet, as we were saying, if the secret spring of their sport is not the
cruel delight of pursuing a living thing to its death, that American
plan should serve all the purposes, and give all the satisfaction for
which they claim to follow the hounds: the keen pleasure of a gallop
across country, the excitement of its danger, the pluck and pride of
taking a bad fence, and equally, too, the pleasure of watching the
hounds cleverly at work with their mysterious gift of scent. All the
same, I suspect there are few sportsmen who would not vote it a tame
substitute. Without something being killed, the zest, the 'snap,' is
gone. It is as depressing as a sham fight."

"Yes, that mysterious shedding of blood! what a part it has played in
human history! Even religion countenances it, and war glorifies it. Men
are never in higher spirits than when they are going to kill, or be
killed themselves, or see something else killed. Tennyson's 'ape and
tiger' die very hard in the tamest of us."

"Alas, indeed they do!" said my friend with a sigh. "But I do believe
that they are dying none the less. Just of late there has been a
reaction in favour of brute force, and people like you and me have been
ridiculed as old-fashioned sentimentalists. But reaction is one of the
laws of advance. Human progress always takes a step backwards after it
has taken two forward. And so it must be here too. In the end, it is the
highest type among men and nations that count, and the highest types
among both today are those which show most humanity, shrink most from
the infliction of pain. When one thinks of the horrible cruelties that
were the legal punishment of criminals, even within the last two hundred
years, and not merely brutal criminals, but also political offenders or
so-called heretics--how every one thought it the natural and proper
thing to break a man on the wheel for a difference of opinion, or
torture him with hideous ingenuity into a better frame of mind, and
how the pettiest larcenies were punished by death; it seems as if we
of today, even the least sensitive of us, cannot belong to the same
race--and it is impossible to deny that the heart of the world has grown
softer and that pity is becoming more and more a natural instinct in
human nature. I believe that some day it will have thrust out cruelty
altogether, and that the voluntary infliction of pain upon another will
be unknown. The idea of any one killing for pleasure will seem too
preposterous to be believed, and soldiers and fox-hunters and
pigeon-shooters will be spoken of as nowadays we speak of cannibals.
But, of course, I am a dreamer," he concluded, his face shining with his
gentle dream, as though he had been a veritable saint of the calendar.

"Yes, a dream," he added presently, "and yet--" In that "and yet"
there was a world of invincible faith that made it impossible not to
share his dream, even see it building before one's eyes--such is the
magnetic power of a passionate personal conviction.

"Of course," he went on again, "we all know that 'nature is one with
rapine, a harm no preacher can heal.' But because the fox runs off with
the goose, or the hawk swoops down on the chicken, and 'yon whole little
wood is a world of plunder and prey'--is that any reason why we should
be content to plunder and prey too? And after all, the cruelty of Nature
is only one-sided. There is lots of pity in Nature too. These strange
little wild lives around us are not entirely bent on killing and eating
each other. They know the tenderness of motherhood, the sweetness of
building a home together, and I believe there is far more comradeship
and mutual help amongst them than we know of. Yes, even in wild Nature
there is a principle of love working no less than a principle of hate.
Nature is not all-devouring and destroying. She is loving and building
too. Nature is more constructive than destructive, and she is ever at
work evolving and evolving a higher dream. Surely it is not for man, to
whom, so far as we know, Nature has entrusted the working out of her
finest impulses, and whom she has endowed with all the fairy apparatus
of the soul; it is not for him, whose eyes--of all her children--Nature
has opened, the one child she has taken into her confidence and to whom
she has whispered her secret hopes and purposes; surely it is not for
man voluntarily to deny his higher lot, and, because the wolf and he
have come from the same great mother, say: 'I am no better than the
wolf. Why should I not live the life of a wolf--and kill and devour like
my brother?' Surely it is not for the cruel things in Nature to teach
man cruelty--rather, if it were possible," and the saint smiled at his
fancy, "would it be the mission of man to teach them kindness: rather
should he preach pity to the hawk and peace between the panther and the
bear. It is not the bad lessons of Nature, but the good, that are meant
for man--though, as you must have noticed, man seldom appeals to the
precedents of Nature except to excuse that in him which is Nature at her
worst. When we say, 'it is only natural,' we almost invariably refer to
that in Nature of which Nature herself has entrusted the refinement or
the elimination to man. It is Nature's bad we copy, not Nature's good;
and always we forget that we ourselves are a part of Nature--Nature's
vicegerent, so to say, upon the earth--"

As we talked, we had been approaching a house built high among the
heather, with windows looking over all the surrounding country.
Presently, the saint stopped in front of it.

"This is my house," he said. "Won't you come in and see me some
time?--and, by the way, I am going to talk to some of the village
children about the wild things, bird's nesting, and so forth, up at the
schoolhouse on Thursday. I wish you'd come and help me. One's only hope
is with the children. The grown-up are too far gone. Mind you come."

So we parted, and, as I walked across the hill homeward, haunted by that

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