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Vanishing Roads and Other Essays by Richard Le Gallienne

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presently, in some strange indefinable way, made intensely conscious of
a curious overwhelming sense of life in the air, as though the crystal
atmosphere was, so to say, ecstatically charged with the invisible
energy of spiritual forces. In the enchanted stillness of the snow, we
seem to hear the very breathing of the spirit of life. The cessation of
all the myriad little sounds that rise so merrily and so musically from
the summer surface of the earth seems to allow us to hear the solemn
beat of the very heart of earth itself. We seem very near to the sacred
mystery of being, nearer than at any other season of the year, for in
other seasons we are distracted by its pleasurable phenomena, but in
winter we seem close to the very mystery itself; for the world seems to
have put on robes of pure spirit and ascended into a diviner ether.

The very phenomena of winter have a spiritual air which those of summer
lack, a phantom-like strangeness. How mysterious this ice, how ghostly
this snow, and all the beautiful fantastic shapes taken by both; the
dream-like foliage, and feathers and furs of the snow, the Gothic
diablerie of icicled eaves, all the fairy fancies of the frost, the
fretted crystal shapes that hang the brook-side with rarer than Venetian
glass, the strange flowers that stealthily overlay the windows, even
while we watch in vain for the unseen hand! No flowers of summer seem so
strange as these, make us feel so weirdly conscious of the mystery of
life. As the ghostly artist covers the pane, is it not as though a
spirit passed?

As we walk on through the shining morning, we ourselves seem to grow
rarefied as the air. Our senses seem to grow finer, purged to a keener
sensitiveness. Our eyes and ears seem to become spiritual rather than
physical organs, and an exquisite elation, as though we were walking on
shining air, or winging through celestial space, fills all our being.
The material earth and our material selves seem to grow joyously
transparent, and while we are conscious of our earthly shoe-leather
ringing out on the iron-bound highway, we seem, nevertheless, to be
spirits moving without effort, in a world of spirit. Seldom, if ever,
in summer are we thus made conscious of, so to say, our own ghosts,
thus lifted up out of our material selves with a happy sense of

There would, indeed, seem to be some relation between temperature and
the soul, and something literally purifying about cold. Certain it is
that we return from our winter's walk with something sacred in our
hearts and something shining in our faces, which we seldom, if ever,
bring back with us in summer. Without understanding the process, we seem
to have been brought nearer to the invisible mystery, and a solemn peace
of happy insight seems for a little while at least to possess our souls.
Our white walk in the snow-bright air has in some way quickened the
half-torpid immortal within us, revived awhile our sluggish sense of our
spiritual significance and destiny, made us once more, if only for a
little, attractively mysterious to ourselves. Yes! there is what one
might call a certain monastic discipline about winter which impels the
least spiritual minded to meditation on his mortal lot and its immortal
meanings; and thus, as I said, the Church has done wisely to choose
winter for its most Christian festival. The heart of man, thus prepared
by the very elements, is the more open to the message of the miraculous
love, and the more ready to translate it into terms of human goodness.
And thus, I hope, the ghostly significance of mince-pie is made clear.

But enough of ghostly, grown-up thoughts. Let us end with a song for
the children:

O the big red sun,
And the wide white world,
And the nursery window

And the houses all
In hoods of snow,
And the mince-pies,
And the mistletoe;

And Christmas pudding,
And berries red,
And stockings hung
At the foot of the bed;

And carol-singers,
And nothing but play--
O baby, this is
Christmas Day!



It is with no small satisfaction, and with a sense of reassurance of
which one may, in moods of misgiving, have felt the need during
two decades of the Literature of Noise, that one sees a writer so
pre-eminently a master of the Literature of Meditation coming, for all
the captains and the shouting, so surely into his own. The acceptance
of Walter Pater is not merely widening all the time, but it is more
and more becoming an acceptance such as he himself would have most
valued, an acceptance in accordance with the full significance of his
work rather than a one-sided appreciation of some of its Corinthian
characteristics. The Doric qualities of his work are becoming recognized
also, and he is being read, as he has always been read by his true
disciples--so not inappropriately to name those who have come under his
graver spell--not merely as a _prosateur_ of purple patches, or a
sophist of honeyed counsels tragically easy to misapply, but as an
artist of the interpretative imagination of rare insight and magic, a
writer of deep humanity as well as aesthetic beauty, and the teacher of
a way of life at once ennobling and exquisite. It is no longer possible
to parody him--after the fashion of Mr. Mallock's brilliancy in _The New
Republic_--as a writer of "all manner and no matter," nor is it possible
any longer to confuse his philosophy with those gospels of unrestrained
libertinism which have taken in vain the name of Epicurus. His highly
wrought, sensitively coloured, and musically expressive style is seen to
be what it is because of its truth to a matter profound and delicate and
intensely meditated, and such faults as it has come rather of too much
matter than too little; while his teaching, far from being that of
a facile "Epicureanism," is seen, properly understood, to involve
something like the austerity of a fastidious Puritanism, and to result
in a jealous asceticism of the senses rather than in their indulgence.
"Slight as was the burden of positive moral obligation with which he had
entered Rome," he writes of Marius, as on his first evening in Rome the
murmur comes to him of "the lively, reckless call to 'play,' from the
sons and daughters of foolishness," "it was to no wasteful and vagrant
affections, such as these, that his Epicureanism had committed him."
Such warnings against misunderstanding Pater is careful to place, at, so
to say, all the cross-roads in his books, so scrupulously concerned is
he lest any reader should take the wrong turning. Few writers, indeed,
manifest so constant a consideration for, and, in minor matters,
such a sensitive courtesy toward, their readers, while in matters
of conscience Pater seems to feel for them an actual pastoral
responsibility. His well-known withdrawal of the "Conclusion" to _The
Renaissance_ from its second edition, from a fear that "it might
possibly mislead some of those young men into whose hands it might
fall," is but one of many examples of his solicitude; and surely such as
have gone astray after such painstaking guidance have but their own
natures to blame. As he justly says, again of Marius, "in the reception
of metaphysical _formula_, all depends, as regards their actual and
ulterior result, on the pre-existent qualities of that soil of human
nature into which they fall--the company they find already present
there, on their admission into the house of thought."

That Pater's philosophy could ever have been misunderstood is not to be
entertained with patience by any one who has read him with even ordinary
attention; that it may have been misapplied, in spite of all his care,
is, of course, possible; but if a writer is to be called to account for
all the misapplications, or distortions, of his philosophy, writing may
as well come to an end. Yet, inconceivable as it may sound, a critic
very properly held in popular esteem recently gave it as his opinion
that the teaching of Walter Pater was responsible for the tragic career
of the author of _The Picture of Dorian Gray_. Certainly that remarkable
man was an "epicurean"--but one, to quote Meredith, "whom Epicurus would
have scourged out of his garden"; and the statement made by the critic
in question that _The Renaissance_ is the book referred to in _The
Picture of Dorian Gray_ as having had a sinister influence over its hero
is so easily disposed of by a reference to that romance itself that it
is hard to understand its ever having been made. Here is the passage
describing the demoralizing book in question:

His eye fell on the yellow book that Lord Henry had sent him.... It
was the strangest book he had ever read. It seemed to him that in
exquisite raiment, and to the delicate sound of flutes, the sins of
the world were passing in dumb show before him. Things that he had
dimly dreamed of were suddenly made real to him. Things of which he
had never dreamed were gradually revealed.

It was a novel without a plot, and with only one character, being,
indeed, simply a psychological study of a certain young Parisian who
spent his life trying to realize in the nineteenth century all the
passions and modes of thought that belonged to every century except
his own, and to sum up, as it were, in himself the various moods
through which the world-spirit had ever passed, loving for their
mere artificiality those renunciations that men have unwisely called
virtue, as much as those natural rebellions that wise men still call
sin. The style in which it was written was that curious jewelled
style, vivid and obscure at once, full of _argot_ and of archaisms,
of technical expressions and of elaborate paraphrases, that
characterizes the work of some of the finest artists of the French
school of _Decandents._ There were in it metaphors as monstrous as
orchids, and as evil in colour. The life of the senses was described
in the terms of mystical philosophy. One hardly knew at times
whether one was reading the spiritual ecstasies of some medieval
saint or the morbid confessions of a modern sinner. It was a
poisonous book. The heavy odour of incense seemed to cling about its
pages and to trouble the brain. The mere cadence of the sentences,
the subtle monotony of their music, so full as it was of complex
refrains and movements elaborately repeated, produced in the mind of
the lad, as he passed from chapter to chapter, a form of reverie, a
malady of dreaming, that made him unconscious of the falling day and
the creeping shadows....

For years Dorian Gray could not free himself from the memory of this
book. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he never
sought to free himself from it. He procured from Paris no less than
five large paper copies of the first edition, and had them bound in
different colours, so that they might suit his various moods and the
changing fancies of a nature over which he seemed, at times, to have
almost entirely lost control.

The book thus characterized is obviously by a French writer--I have
good reason for thinking that it was _A Rebours_ by Huysmans--and how
any responsible reader can have imagined that Walter Pater's _The
Renaissance_ answers to this description passes all understanding. A
critic guilty of so patent a misstatement must either never have read
_The Picture of Dorian Gray_, or never have read _The Renaissance_. On
the other hand, if on other more reliable evidence it can be found that
Oscar Wilde was one of those "young men" misled by Pater's book, for
whose spiritual safety Pater, as we have seen, was so solicitous, one
can only remind oneself again of the phrase quoted above in regard to
"that soil of human nature" into which a writer casts his seed. If that
which was sown a lily comes up a toadstool, there is evidently something
wrong with the soil.

Let us briefly recall what this apparently so "dangerous" philosophy
of Pater's is, and we cannot do better than examine it in its most
concentrated and famous utterance, this oft-quoted passage from that
once-suppressed "Conclusion" to _The Renaissance_:

Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end. A
counted number of pulses only is given to us of a variegated
dramatic life. How may we see in them all that there is to be seen
in them by the finest senses? How shall we pass most swiftly from
point to point, and be present always at the focus where the
greatest number of vital forces unite in their purest energy? To
burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this
ecstasy, is success in life.... While all melts under our feet, we
may well grasp at any exquisite passion, or any contribution to
knowledge that seems by a lifted horizon to set the spirit free for
a moment, or any stirring of the senses, strange dyes, strange
colours, and curious odours, or work of the artist's hands, or the
face of one's friend. With this sense of the splendor of our
experience and of its awful brevity, gathering all we are into one
desperate effort to see and touch, we shall hardly have time to make
theories about the things we see and touch.... Well! we are all
_condamnes_, as Victor Hugo says; we are all under sentence of
death, but with a sort of indefinite reprieve--_les hommes sont tous
condamnes a mort avec des sursis indefinis_: we have an interval,
and then our place knows us no more. Some spend this interval in
listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, at least among "the
children of this world," in art and song. For our one chance lies in
expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible
into the given time. Great passions may give us this quickened
sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of
enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which come
naturally to many of us. Only be sure it is passion--that it does
yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness. Of
such wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of
art for its own sake, has most. For art comes to you proposing
frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as
they pass, and simply for those moments' sake.

Now, if it be true that the application, or rather the misapplication,
of this philosophy led Oscar Wilde to Reading Gaol, it is none the
less true that another application of it led Marius to something like
Christian martyrdom, and Walter Pater himself along an ever loftier and
serener path of spiritual vision.

Nothing short of wilful misconstruction can make of the counsel thus
offered, with so priestly a concern that the writer's exact meaning be
brought home to his reader, other than an inspiration toward a noble
employment of that mysterious opportunity we call life. For those of us,
perhaps more than a few, who have no assurance of the leisure of an
eternity for idleness or experiment, this expansion and elevation of the
doctrine of the moment, carrying a merely sensual and trivial moral in
the Horatian maxim of _carpe diem_, is one thrillingly charged with
exhilaration and sounding a solemn and yet seductive challenge to us to
make the most indeed, but also to make the best, of our little day. To
make the most, and to make the best of life! Those who misinterpret or
misapply Pater forget his constant insistence on the second half of that
precept. We are to get "as many pulsations as possible into the given
time," but we are to be very careful that our use of those pulsations
shall be the finest. Whether or not it is "simply for those moments'
sake," our attempt must be to give "_the highest quality_," remember, to
those "moments as they pass." And who can fail to remark the fastidious
care with which Pater selects various typical interests which he deems
most worthy of dignifying the moment? The senses are, indeed, of natural
right, to have their part; but those interests on which the accent of
Pater's pleading most persuasively falls are not so much the "strange
dyes, strange colours, and curious odours," but rather "the face of
one's friend," ending his subtly musical sentence with a characteristic
shock of simplicity, almost incongruity--or "some mood of passion or
insight or intellectual excitement," or "any contribution to knowledge
that seems by a lifted horizon to set the spirit free for a moment."
There is surely a great gulf fixed between this lofty preoccupation with
great human emotions and high spiritual and intellectual excitements,
and a vulgar gospel of "eat, drink, for tomorrow we die," whether or not
both counsels start out from a realization of "the awful brevity" of our
mortal day. That realization may prompt certain natures to unbridled
sensuality. Doomed to perish as the beasts, they choose, it would seem
with no marked reluctance, to live the life of the beast, a life
apparently not without its satisfactions. But it is as stupid as it is
infamous to pretend that such natures as these find any warrant for
their tragic libertinism in Walter Pater. They may, indeed, have found
aesthetic pleasure in the reading of his prose, but the truth of which
that prose is but the beautiful garment has passed them by. For such
it can hardly be claimed that they have translated into action the
aspiration of this tenderly religious passage:

Given the hardest terms, supposing our days are indeed but a shadow,
even so we may well adorn and beautify, in scrupulous self-respect,
our souls and whatever our souls touch upon--these wonderful bodies,
these material dwelling-places through which the shadows pass
together for a while, the very raiment we wear, our very pastimes,
and the intercourse of society.

Here in this passage from _Marius_ we find, to use Pater's own words
once more, "the spectacle of one of the happiest temperaments coming,
so to speak, to an understanding with the most depressing of theories."
That theory, of course, was the doctrine of the perpetual flux of things
as taught by Aristippus of Cyrene, making a man of the world's practical
application of the old Heraclitean formula, his influence depending on
this, "that in him an abstract doctrine, originally somewhat acrid, had
fallen upon a rich and genial nature well fitted to transform it into a
theory of practice of considerable stimulative power toward a fair
life." Such, too, was Pater's nature, and such his practical usefulness
as what one might call a philosophical artist. Meredith, Emerson,
Browning, and even Carlyle were artists so far related to him and each
other in that each of them wrought a certain optimism, or, at all
events, a courageous and even blithe working theory of life and conduct,
out of the unrelenting facts of existence unflinchingly faced, rather
than ecclesiastically smoothed over--the facts of death and pain and
struggle, and even the cruel mystery that surrounds with darkness and
terror our mortal lot. Each one of them deliberately faced the worst,
and with each, after his own nature, the worst returned to laughter. The
force of all these men was in their artistic or poetic embodiment of
philosophical conceptions, but, had they not been artists and poets,
their philosophical conceptions would have made but little way. And it
is time to recall, what critics preoccupied with his "message" leave
unduly in the background, that Pater was an artist of remarkable power
and fascination, a maker of beautiful things, which, whatever their
philosophical content, have for our spirits the refreshment and
edification which all beauty mysteriously brings us, merely because it
is beauty. _Marius the Epicurean_ is a great and wonderful book, not
merely on account of its teaching, but because it is simply one of the
most _beautiful_ books, perhaps the most beautiful book, written in
English. It is beautiful in many ways. It is beautiful, first of all, in
the uniquely personal quality of its prose, prose which is at once
austere and sensuous, simple at once and elaborate, scientifically exact
and yet mystically suggestive, cool and hushed as sanctuary marble,
sweet-smelling as sanctuary incense; prose that has at once the
qualities of painting and of music, rich in firmly visualized pictures,
yet moving to subtle, half-submerged rhythms, and expressive with every
delicate accent and cadence; prose highly wrought, and yet singularly
surprising one at times with, so to say, sudden innocencies, artless and
instinctive beneath all its sedulous art. It is no longer necessary, as
I hinted above, to fight the battle of this prose. Whether it appeal to
one not, no critic worth attention any longer disparages it as mere
ornate and perfumed verbiage, the elaborate mannerism of a writer hiding
the poverty of his thought beneath a pretentious raiment of decorated
expression. It is understood to be the organic utterance of one with a
vision of the world all his own striving through words, as he best can,
to make that vision visible to others as nearly as possible as he
himself sees it. Pater himself has expounded his theory and practice of
prose, doubtless with a side-thought of self-justification, in various
places up and down his writings, notably in his pregnant essay on
"Style," and perhaps even more persuasively in the chapter called
"Euphuism" in _Marius_. In this last he thus goes to the root of the

That preoccupation of the _dilettante_ with what might seem mere
details of form, after all, did but serve the purpose of bringing
to the surface, sincerely and in their integrity, certain strong
personal intuitions, a certain vision or apprehension of things
as really being, with important results, thus, rather than
thus--intuitions which the artistic or literary faculty was called
upon to follow, with the exactness of wax or clay, clothing the
model within.

This striving to express the truth that is in him has resulted in a
beauty of prose which for individual quality must be ranked with the
prose of such masters as De Quincey and Lamb, and, to make a not
irrelevant comparison, above the very fine prose of his contemporary
Stevenson, by virtue of its greater personal sincerity.

There is neither space here, nor need, to illustrate this opinion by
quotation, though it may not be amiss, the musical and decorative
qualities of Pater's prose having been so generally dwelt upon, to
remind the reader of the magical simplicities by which it is no less
frequently characterized. Some of his quietest, simplest phrases have a
wonderful evocative power: "the long reign of these quiet Antonines,"
for example; "the thunder which had sounded all day among the hills";
"far into the night, when heavy rain-drops had driven the last lingerers
home"; "Flavian was no more. The little marble chest with its dust and
tears lay cold among the faded flowers." What could be simpler than
these brief sentences, yet how peculiarly suggestive they are;
what immediate pictures they make! And this magical simplicity is
particularly successful in his descriptive passages, notably of natural
effects, effects caught with an instinctively selected touch or two,
an expressive detail, a grey or coloured word. How lightly sketched,
and yet how clearly realized in the imagination, is the ancestral
country-house of Marius's boyhood, "White-Nights," "that exquisite
fragment of a once large and sumptuous villa"--"Two centuries of the
play of the sea-wind were in the velvet of the mosses which lay along
its inaccessible ledges and angles." Take again this picture:

The cottagers still lingered at their doors for a few minutes as the
shadows grew larger, and went to rest early; though there was still
a glow along the road through the shorn corn-fields, and the birds
were still awake about the crumbling grey heights of an old temple.

And again this picture of a wayside inn:

The room in which he sat down to supper, unlike the ordinary
Roman inns at that day, was trim and sweet. The firelight danced
cheerfully upon the polished three-wicked _lucernae_ burning cleanly
with the best oil, upon the whitewashed walls, and the bunches of
scarlet carnations set in glass goblets. The white wine of the place
put before him, of the true colour and flavour of the grape, and
with a ring of delicate foam as it mounted in the cup, had a
reviving edge or freshness he had found in no other wine.

Those who judge of Pater's writing by a few purple passages such as the
famous rhapsody on the _Mona Lisa_, conceiving it as always thus heavy
with narcotic perfume, know but one side of him, and miss his gift
for conveying freshness, his constant happiness in light and air and
particularly running water, "green fields--or children's faces." His
lovely chapter on the temple of Aesculapius seems to be made entirely
of morning light, bubbling springs, and pure mountain air; and the
religious influence of these lustral elements is his constant theme.
For him they have a natural sacramental value, and it is through
them and such other influences that Pater seeks for his hero the
sanctification of the senses and the evolution of the spirit. In his
preoccupation with them, and all things lovely to the eye and to the
intelligence, it is that the secret lies of the singular purity of
atmosphere which pervades his _Marius_, an atmosphere which might be
termed the soul-beauty of the book, as distinct from its, so to say,
body-beauty as beautiful prose.

Considering _Marius_ as a story, a work of imagination, one finds the
same evocative method used in the telling of it, and in the portrayal
of character, as Pater employs in its descriptive passages. Owing
to certain violent, cinematographic methods of story-telling and
character-drawing to which we have become accustomed, it is too often
assumed that stories cannot be told or characters drawn in any other
way. Actually, of course, as many an old masterpiece admonishes us,
there is no one canon in this matter, but, on the contrary, no limit to
the variety of method and manner a creative artist is at liberty to
employ in his imaginative treatment of human life. All one asks is that
the work should live, the characters and scenes appear real to us, and
the story be told. And Pater's _Marius_ entirely satisfies this demand
for those to whom such a pilgrimage of the soul will alone appeal. It is
a real story, no mere German scholar's attempt to animate the dry bones
of his erudition; and the personages and the scenes do actually live
for us, as by some delicate magic of hint and suggestion; and, though at
first they may seem shadowy, they have a curious way of persisting, and,
as it were, growing more and more alive in our memories. The figure of
Marcus Aurelius, for example, though so delicately sketched, is a
masterpiece of historical portraiture, as the pictures of Roman life,
done with so little, seem to me far more convincing than the like
over-elaborated pictures of antiquity, so choked with learned detail,
of Flaubert and of Gautier. Swinburne's famous praise of Gautier's
_Mademoiselle de Maupin_ applies with far greater fitness to Pater's
masterpiece; for, if ever a book deserved to be described as

The golden book of spirit and sense,
The holy writ of beauty,

it is _Marius the Epicurean_.

It has been natural to dwell so long on this "golden book," because
Pater's various gifts are concentrated in it, to make what is, of
course, his masterpiece; though some one or other of these gifts is to
be found employed with greater mastery in other of his writings, notably
that delicate dramatic gift of embodying in a symbolic story certain
subtle states of mind and refinements of temperament which reaches its
perfection in _Imaginary Portraits_, to which the later "Apollo in
Picardy" and "Hippolytus Veiled" properly belong. It is only necessary
to recall the exquisitely austere "Sebastian Van Storck" and the
strangely contrasting Dionysiac "Denys L'Auxerrois" to justify one's
claim for Pater as a creative artist of a rare kind, with a singular and
fascinating power of incarnating a philosophic formula, a formula no
less dry than Spinoza's, or a mood of the human spirit, in living,
breathing types and persuasive tragic fables. This genius for creative
interpretation is the soul and significance of all his criticism. It
gives their value to the studies of _The Renaissance_, but perhaps its
finest flower is to be found in the later _Greek Studies_. To Flavian,
Pater had said in _Marius_, "old mythology seemed as full of untried,
unexpressed motives and interest as human life itself," and with what
marvellous skill and evocative application of learning, he himself later
developed sundry of those "untried, unexpressed motives," as in his
studies of the myths of Dionysus--"The spirit of fire and dew, alive and
leaping in a thousand vines"--and Demeter and Persephone--"the peculiar
creation of country people of a high impressibility, dreaming over their
work in spring or autumn, half consciously touched by a sense of its
sacredness, and a sort of mystery about it"--no reader of Pater needs to
be told. This same creative interpretation gives a like value to his
studies of Plato; and so by virtue of this gift, active throughout the
ten volumes which constitute his collected work, Pater proved himself
to be of the company of the great humanists.

Along with all the other constituents of his work, its sacerdotalism,
its subtle reverie, its sensuous colour and perfume, its marmoreal
austerity, its honeyed music, its frequent preoccupation with the
haunted recesses of thought, there go an endearing homeliness and
simplicity, a deep human tenderness, a gentle friendliness, a something
childlike. He has written of her, "the presence that rose thus so
strangely beside the waters," to whom all experience had been "but as
the sound of lyres and flutes," and he has written of "The Child in the
House." Among all "the strange dyes, strange colours, and curious
odours, and work of the artist's hands," one never misses "the face of
one's friend"; and, in all its wanderings, the soul never strays far
from the white temples of the gods and the sound of running water.

It is by virtue of this combination of humanity, edification, and
aesthetic delight that Walter Pater is unique among the great teachers
and artists of our time.



[1]_William Sharp (Fiona Macleod)_. A Memoir, compiled
by his wife, Elizabeth A. Sharp. (Duffield & Co.)
_The Writings of Fiona Macleod_. Uniform edition. Arranged
by Mrs. William Sharp. (Duffield & Co.)

In the fascinating memoir of her husband, which Mrs. William Sharp has
written with so much dignity and tact, and general biographic skill, she
dwells with particular fondness of recollection on the two years of
their life at Phenice Croft, a charming cottage they had taken in the
summer of 1892 at Rudgwick in Sussex, seven miles from Horsham, the
birthplace of Shelley. Still fresh in my memory is a delightful visit I
paid them there, and I was soon afterwards to recall with special
significance a conversation I had with Mrs. Sharp, as four of us walked
out one evening after dinner in a somewhat melancholy twilight, the
glow-worms here and there trimming their ghostly lamps by the wayside,
and the nightjar churring its hoarse lovesong somewhere in the
thickening dusk.

"Will," Mrs. Sharp confided to me, was soon to have a surprise for his
friends in a fuller and truer expression of himself than his work had
so far attained, but the nature of that expression Mrs. Sharp did not
confide--more than to hint that there were powers and qualities in her
husband's make-up that had hitherto lain dormant, or had, at all events,
been but little drawn upon.

Mrs. Sharp was thus vaguely hinting at the future "Fiona Macleod,"
for it was at Rudgwick, we learn, that that so long mysterious
literary entity sprang into imaginative being with _Pharais_. _Pharais_
was published in 1894, and I remember that early copies of it came
simultaneously to myself and Grant Allen, with whom I was then staying,
and how we were both somewhat _intrigue_ by a certain air of mystery
which seemed to attach to the little volume. We were both intimate
friends of William Sharp, but I was better acquainted with Sharp's
earlier poetry than Grant Allen, and it was my detection in _Pharais_
of one or two subtly observed natural images, the use of which had
previously struck me in one of his _Romantic Ballads and Poems of
Phantasy_, that brought to my mind in a flash of understanding that
Rudgwick conversation with Mrs. Sharp, and thus made me doubly certain
that "Fiona Macleod" and William Sharp were one, if not the same.
Conceiving no reason for secrecy, and only too happy to find that my
friend had fulfilled his wife's prophecy by such fuller and finer
expression of himself, I stated my belief as to its authorship in a
review I wrote for the London _Star_. My review brought me an urgent
telegram from Sharp, begging me, for God's sake, to shut my mouth--or
words to that effect. Needless to say, I did my best to atone for
having thus put my foot in it, by a subsequent severe silence till
now unbroken; though I was often hard driven by curious inquirers to
preserve the secret which my friend afterwards confided to me.

When I say "confided to me," I must add that in the many confidences
William Sharp made to me on the matter, I was always aware of a reserve
of fanciful mystification, and I am by no means sure, even now, that I,
or any of us--with the possible exception of Mrs. Sharp--know the whole
truth about "Fiona Macleod." Indeed it is clear from Mrs. Sharp's
interesting revelations of her husband's temperament that "the whole
truth" could hardly be known even to William Sharp himself; for, very
evidently in "Fiona Macleod" we have to deal not merely with a literary
mystification, but with a psychological mystery. Here it is pertinent to
quote the message written to be delivered to certain of his friends
after his death: "This will reach you," he says, "after my death. You
will think I have wholly deceived you about Fiona Macleod. But, in an
intimate sense this is not so, though (and inevitably) in certain
details I have misled you. Only, it is a mystery. I cannot explain.
Perhaps you will intuitively understand or may come to understand. 'The
rest is silence.' Farewell. WILLIAM SHARP."

"It is only right, however, to add that I, and I only, was the
author--in the literal and literary sense--of all written under the
name of 'Fiona Macleod.'"

"Only, it is a mystery. I cannot explain." Does "I cannot explain" mean
"I must not explain," or merely just what it says? I am inclined to
think it means both; but, if so, the "must not" would refer to the
purely personal mystification on which, of course, none would desire to
intrude, and the "cannot" would refer to that psychological mystery
which we are at liberty to investigate.

William Sharp's explanation to myself--as I believe to others of his
friends--was to the same tenor as this posthumous statement. He and he
only had actually _written_ the "Fiona Macleod" fantasies and poems,
but--yes! there was a real "Fiona Macleod" as well. She was a beautiful
cousin of his, living much in solitude and dreams, and seldom visiting
cities. Between her and him there was a singular spiritual kinship,
which by some inexplicable process, so to say, of psychic collaboration,
had resulted in the writings to which he had given her name. They were
hers as well as his, his as well as hers. Several times he even went so
far as to say that Miss Macleod was contemplating a visit to London, but
that her visit was to be kept a profound secret, and that he intended
introducing her to three of his friends and no more--George Meredith,
W.B. Yeats, and myself. Probably he made the same mock-confidence to
other friends, as a part of his general scheme of mystification. On one
occasion, when I was sitting with him in his study, he pointed to the
framed portrait of a beautiful woman which stood on top of a revolving
book-case, and said "That is Fiona!" I affected belief, but, rightly or
wrongly, it was my strong impression that the portrait thus labelled was
that of a well-known Irish lady prominently identified with Home Rule
politics, and I smiled to myself at the audacious white lie. Mrs. Sharp,
whose remembrance of her husband goes back to "a merry, mischievous
little boy in his eighth year, with light-brown curly hair, blue-grey
eyes, and a laughing face, and dressed in a tweed kilt," tells us that
this "love not only of mystery for its own sake, but of mystification
also," was a marked characteristic of his nature--a characteristic
developed even in childhood by the necessity he always felt of hiding
away from his companions that visionary side of his life which was
almost painfully vivid with him, and the sacredness of which in late
years he felt compelled to screen under his pseudonym.

That William Sharp's affirmation of an actual living and breathing
"Fiona Macleod" was, however, virtually true is confided by this
significant and illuminating passage in Mrs. Sharp's biography. Mrs.
Sharp is speaking of a sojourn together in Rome during the spring of
1891, in which her husband had experienced an unusual exaltation and
exuberance of vital and creative energy.

There, at last [she says], he had found the desired incentive
towards a true expression of himself, in the stimulus and
sympathetic understanding of the friend to whom he dedicated the
first of the books published under his pseudonym. This friendship
began in Rome and lasted throughout the remainder of his life. And
though this new phase of his work was at no time the result of
collaboration, as certain of his critics have suggested, he was
deeply conscious of his indebtedness to this friend, for--as he
stated to me in a letter of instructions, written before he went to
America in 1896, concerning his wishes in the event of his death--he
realized that it was "to her I owe my development as 'Fiona
Macleod,' though in a sense of course that began long before I
knew her, and indeed while I was still a child," and that, as he
believed, "without her there would have been no 'Fiona Macleod.'"
Because of her beauty, her strong sense of life and of the joy of
life; because of her keen intuitions and mental alertness, her
personality stood for him as a symbol of the heroic women of Greek
and Celtic days, a symbol that, as he expressed it, unlocked new
doors in his mind and put him "in touch with ancestral memories" of
his race. So, for a time, he stilled the critical, intellectual mood
of William Sharp, to give play to the development of this new-found
expression of subtle emotions, towards which he had been moving with
all the ardour of his nature.

From this statement of Mrs. Sharp one naturally turns to the dedication
of _Pharais_ to which she refers, finding a dedicatory letter
to "E.W.R." dealing for the most part with "Celtic" matters, but
containing these more personal passages:

Dear friend [the letter begins], while you gratify me by your
pleasure in this inscription, you modestly deprecate the dedication
to you of this study of alien life--of that unfamiliar island-life
so alien in all ways from the life of cities, and, let me add, from
that of the great mass of the nation to which, in the communal
sense, we both belong. But in the Domhan-Toir of friendship there
are resting-places where all barriers of race, training, and
circumstances fall away in dust. At one of these places we met, a
long while ago, and found that we loved the same things, and in the
same way.

The letter ends with this: "There is another Paras (Paradise) than that
seen of Alastair of Innisron--the Tir-Nan-Oigh of friendship. Therein we
both have seen beautiful visions and dreamed dreams. Take, then, out of
my heart, this book of vision and dream."

"Fiona Macleod," then, would appear to be the collective name given to
a sort of collaborative Three-in-One mysteriously working together: an
inspiring Muse with the initials E.W.R.; that psychical "other self"
of whose existence and struggle for expression William Sharp had been
conscious all his life; and William Sharp, general _litterateur_, as
known to his friends and reading public. "Fiona Macleod" would seem to
have always existed as a sort of spiritual prisoner within that comely
and magnetic earthly tenement of clay known as William Sharp, but
whom William Sharp had been powerless to free in words, till, at
the wand-like touch of E.W.R.--the creative stimulus of a profound
imaginative friendship--a new power of expression had been given to
him--a power of expression strangely missing from William Sharp's
previous acknowledged writings.

To speak faithfully, it was the comparative mediocrity, and occasional
even positive badness, of the work done over his own name that formed
one of the stumbling-blocks to the acceptance of the theory that William
Sharp _could_ be "Fiona Macleod." Of course, his work had been that of
an accomplished widely-read man of letters, his life of Heine being
perhaps his most notable achievement in prose; and his verse had not
been without intermittent flashes and felicities, suggestive of
smouldering poetic fires, particularly in his _Sospiri di Roma_; but,
for the most part, it had lacked any personal force or savour, and was
entirely devoid of that magnetism with which William Sharp, the man, was
so generously endowed. In fact, its disappointing inadequacy was a
secret source of distress to the innumerable friends who loved him
with a deep attachment, to which the many letters making one of the
delightful features of Mrs. Sharp's biography bear witness. In himself
William Sharp was so prodigiously a personality, so conquering in the
romantic flamboyance of his sun-like vitality, so overflowing with the
charm of a finely sensitive, richly nurtured temperament, so essentially
a poet in all he felt and did and said, that it was impossible patiently
to accept his writings as any fair expression of himself. He was, as we
say, so much more than his books--so immeasurably and delightfully
more--that, compared with himself, his books practically amounted to
nothing; and one was inclined to say of him in one's heart, as one does
sometimes say of such imperfectly articulate artistic natures: "What
a pity he troubles to write at all! Why not be satisfied with being
William Sharp? Why spoil 'William Sharp' by this inadequate and
misleading translation?"

The curious thing, too, was that the work he did over his own name,
after "Fiona Macleod" had escaped into the freedom of her own beautiful
individual utterance, showed no improvement in quality, no marks of
having sprung from the same mental womb where it had lain side by side
with so fair a sister. But, of course, one can readily understand that
such work would naturally lack spontaneity of impulse, having to be
done, more or less, against the grain, from reasons of expediency: so
long as "Fiona Macleod" must remain a secret, William Sharp must produce
something to show for himself, in order to go on protecting that secret,
which would, also, be all the better kept by William Sharp continuing in
his original mediocrity. Of this dual activity, Mrs. Sharp thus writes
with much insight:

From then till the end of his life [she says] there was a continual
play of the two forces in him, or of the two sides of his nature: of
the intellectually observant, reasoning mind--the actor, and of the
intuitively observant, spiritual mind--the dreamer, which
differentiated more and more one from the other, and required
different conditions, different environment, different stimuli,
until he seemed to be two personalities in one. It was a development
which, as it proceeded, produced a tremendous strain on his physical
and mental resources, and at one time between 1897-8 threatened him
with a complete nervous collapse. And there was for a time distinct
opposition between those two natures which made it extremely
difficult for him to adjust his life, for the two conditions were
equally imperative in their demands upon him.

His preference, naturally, was for the intimate creative work which
he knew grew out of his inner self; though the exigencies of life,
his dependence on his pen for his livelihood, and, moreover, the
keen active interest "William Sharp" took in all the movements of
the day, literary and political, at home and abroad, required of
him a great amount of applied study and work.

The strain must indeed have been enormous, and one cannot but feel that
much of it was a needless, even trivial "expense of spirit," and regret
that, when "Fiona Macleod" had so manifestly come into her own, William
Sharp should have continued to keep up the mystification, entailing as
it did such an elaborate machinery of concealment, not the least taxing
of which must have been the necessity of keeping up "Fiona Macleod's"
correspondence as well as his own. Better, so to say, to have thrown
William Sharp overboard, and to have reserved the energies of a
temperament almost abnormally active, but physically delusive and
precarious, for the finer productiveness of "Fiona Macleod." But William
Sharp deemed otherwise. He was wont to say, "Should the secret be found
out, Fiona dies," and in a letter to Mrs. Thomas A. Janvier--she and her
husband being among the earliest confidants of his secret--he makes this
interesting statement: "I can write out of my heart in a way I could
not do as William Sharp, and indeed I could not do so if I were the
woman Fiona Macleod is supposed to be, unless veiled in scrupulous
anonymity.... This rapt sense of oneness with nature, this _cosmic
ecstasy_ and elation, this wayfaring along the extreme verges of the
common world, all this is so wrought up with the romance of life that
I could not bring myself to expression by my outer self, insistent and
tyrannical as that need is.... My truest self, the self who is below
all other selves, and my most intimate life and joys and sufferings,
thoughts, emotions, and dreams, _must_ find expression, yet I cannot
save in this hidden way...."

Later he wrote: "Sometimes I am tempted to believe I am half a woman,
and so far saved as I am by the hazard of chance from what a woman can
be made to suffer if one let the light of the common day illuminate the
avenues and vistas of her heart...."

At one time, I thought that William Sharp's assumption of a feminine
pseudonym was a quite legitimate device to steal a march on his critics,
and to win from them, thus disguised, that recognition which he must
have been aware he had failed to win in his own person. Indeed, it is
doubtful whether, if he had published the "Fiona Macleod" writings under
his own name, they would have received fair critical treatment. I am
very sure that they would not; for there is quite a considerable amount
of so-called "criticism" which is really foregone conclusion based on
personal prejudice, or biassed preconception, and the refusal to admit
(employing a homely image) that an old dog does occasionally learn new
tricks. Many well-known writers have resorted to this device, sometimes
with considerable success. Since reading Mrs. Sharp's biography,
however, I conclude that this motive had but little, if any, influence
on William Sharp, and that his statement to Mrs. Janvier must be taken
as virtually sincere.

A certain histrionism, which was one of his charms, and is perhaps
inseparable from imaginative temperaments, doubtless had its share in
his consciousness of that "dual nature" of which we hear so much,
and which it is difficult sometimes to take with Sharp's "Celtic"
seriousness. Take, for example, this letter to his wife, when, having
left London, precipitately, in response to the call of the Isles, he
wrote: "The following morning we (for a kinswoman was with me) stood on
the Greenock pier waiting for the Hebridean steamer, and before long
were landed on an island, almost the nearest we could reach, that I
loved so well." Mrs. Sharp dutifully comments: "The 'we' who stood on
the pier at Greenock is himself in his dual capacity; his 'kinswoman' is
his other self." Later he writes, on his arrival in the Isle of Arran:
"There is something of a strange excitement in the knowledge that two
people are here: so intimate and yet so far off. For it is with me as
though Fiona were asleep in another room. I catch myself listening
for her step sometimes, for the sudden opening of a door. It is
unawaredly that she whispers to me. I am eager to see what she will
do--particularly in _The Mountain Lovers_. It seems passing strange
to be here with her alone at last...." I confess that this strikes
me disagreeably. It is one thing to be conscious of a "dual
personality"--after all, consciousness of dual personality is by no
means uncommon, and it is a commonplace that, spiritually, men of genius
are largely feminine--but it is another to dramatize one's consciousness
in this rather childish fashion. There seems more than a suspicion of
pose in such writing: though one cannot but feel that William Sharp was
right in thinking that the real "Fiona Macleod" was asleep at the
moment. At the same time, William Sharp seems unmistakably to have been
endowed with what I suppose one has to call "psychic" powers--though the
word has been "soiled with all ignoble use"--and to be the possessor
in a considerable degree of that mysterious "sight" or sixth sense
attributed to men and women of Gaelic blood. Mrs. Sharp tells a curious
story of his mood immediately preceding that flight to the Isles of
which I have been writing. He had been haunted the night before by the
sound of the sea. It seemed to him that he heard it splashing in the
night against the walls of his London dwelling. So real it had seemed
that he had risen from his bed and looked out of the window, and even in
the following afternoon, in his study, he could still hear the waves
dashing against the house. "A telegram had come for him that morning,"
writes Mrs. Sharp, "and I took it to his study. I could get no answer.
I knocked, louder, then louder,--at last he opened the door with a
curiously dazed look in his face. I explained. He answered: 'Ah, I
could not hear you for the sound of the waves!'"

His last spoken words have an eerie suggestiveness in this connection.
Writing of his death on the 12th of December, 1905, Mrs. Sharp says:
"About three o'clock, with his devoted friend Alec Hood by his side, he
suddenly leant forward with shining eyes and exclaimed in a tone of
joyous recognition, 'Oh, the beautiful "Green Life," again!' and the
next moment sank back in my arms with the contented sigh, 'Ah, all is

"The green life" was a phrase often on Sharp's lips, and stood for him
for that mysterious life of elemental things to which he was almost
uncannily sensitive, and into which he seemed able strangely to merge
himself, of which too his writings as "Fiona Macleod" prove him to have
had "invisible keys." It is this, so to say, conscious pantheism,
this kinship with the secret forces and subtle moods of nature, this
responsiveness to her mystic spiritual "intimations," that give to those
writings their peculiar significance and value. In the external lore of
nature William Sharp was exceptionally learned. Probably no writer in
English, with the exceptions of George Meredith and Grant Allen, was his
equal here, and his knowledge had been gained, as such knowledge can
only be gained, in that receptive period of an adventurous boyhood of
which he has thus written: "From fifteen to eighteen I sailed up every
loch, fjord, and inlet in the Western Highlands and islands, from Arran
and Colonsay to Skye and the Northern Hebrides, from the Rhinns of
Galloway to the Ord of Sutherland. Wherever I went I eagerly associated
myself with fishermen, sailors, shepherds, gamekeepers, poachers,
gypsies, wandering pipers, and other musicians." For two months he had
"taken the heather" with, and had been "star-brother" and "sun-brother"
to, a tribe of gypsies, and in later years he had wandered variously in
many lands, absorbing the wonder and the beauty of the world. Well
might he write to Mrs. Janvier: "I have had a very varied, and, to use a
much abused word, a very romantic life in its internal as well as in its
external aspects." Few men have drunk so deep of the cup of life, and
from such pure sky-reflecting springs, and if it be true, in the words
of his friend Walter Pater, that "to burn ever with this hard gem-like
flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life," then indeed the
life of William Sharp was a nobly joyous success.

And to those who loved him it is a great happiness to know that he was
able to crown this ecstasy of living with that victory of expression for
which his soul had so long travailed, and to leave behind him not only a
lovely monument of star-lit words, but a spiritual legacy of perennial
refreshment, a fragrant treasure-house of recaptured dreams, and
hallowed secrets of the winds of time: for such are _The Writings of
"Fiona Macleod"_.



The voluntary abdication of power in its zenith has always fascinated
and "intrigued" the imagination of mankind. We are so accustomed to
kings and other gifted persons holding on to their sceptres with a
desperate tenacity, even through those waning years when younger men,
beholding their present feebleness, wonder whether their previous might
was not a fancy of their fathers, whether, in fact, they were ever
really kings or gifted persons at all. In so many cases we have to rely
on a legend of past accomplishment to preserve our reverence. Therefore,
when a Sulla or a Charles V. or a Mary Anderson, leave their thrones at
the moment when their sway over us is most assured and brilliant, we
wonder--wonder at a phenomenon rare in humanity, and suggestive of
romantic reserves of power which seal not only our allegiance to them,
but that of posterity. The mystery which resides in all greatness, in
all charm, is not violated by the cynical explanations of decay. They
remain fortunate as those whom the gods loved, wearing the aureoles of
immortal promise.

Few artists have been wise in this respect; poets, for example, very
seldom. Thus we find the works of most of them encumbered with the
debris of their senility. Coventry Patmore was a rare example of a poet
who laid down his pen deliberately, not merely as an artist in words,
but as an artist in life, having, as he said in the memorable preface to
the collected edition of his poems, completed that work which in his
youth he had set before him. His readers, therefore, are not saddened by
any pathetic gleanings from a once-rich harvest-field, or the carefully
picked-up shakings of November boughs.

Forbes-Robertson is one of those artists who has chosen to bid farewell
to his art while he is still indisputably its master. One or two other
distinguished actors before him have thus chosen, and a greater number
have bade us, those professional "farewells" that remind one of that
dream of De Quincey in which he heard reverberated "Everlasting
farewells! and again and yet again reverberated--everlasting farewells!"
In Forbes-Robertson's case, however, apart from our courteous taking the
word of his management, we know that the news is sadly true. There is
a curious personal honour and sincerity breathing through all his
impersonations that make us feel, so to say, that not only would we take
the ghost's word for a thousand pounds, but that between him and his art
is such an austere compact that he would be incapable of humiliating it
by any mere advertising devices; and beyond that, those who have seen
him play this time (1914) in New York must have been aware that in the
very texture of all his performances was woven like a sigh the word
"farewell." His very art, as I shall have later to emphasize, is an art
of farewell; but, apart from that general quality, it seemed to me,
though, indeed, it may have been mere sympathetic fancy, that in these
last New York performances, as in the performances last spring in
London, I heard a personal valedictory note. Forbes-Robertson seemed to
be saying good-by at once to his audience and to his art.

In doing this, along with the inevitable sadness that must accompany
such a step, one cannot but think there will be a certain private
whimsical satisfaction for him in being able to go about the world in
after years with his great gift still his, hidden away, but still his to
use at any moment, and to know not only that he has been, but still is,
as it were, in secret, the supreme Hamlet of his time. Something
like that, one may imagine, must be the private fun of abdication.
Forbes-Robertson, as he himself has told us, lays down one art only to
take up another to which he has long been devoted, and of his early
affiliation to which the figure of Love Kissing Beatrice in Rossetti's
"Dante's Dream" bears illustrious and significant witness. As, one
recalls that he was the model for that figure one realizes that even
then he was the young lord Hamlet, born to be _par excellence_ the actor
of sorrow and renunciation.

It is not my province to write here of Forbes-Robertson from the point
of view of the reminiscent playgoer or of the technical critic of
acting. Others, obviously, are far better qualified to undertake those
offices for his fame. I would merely offer him the tribute of one to
whom for many years his acting has been something more than acting, as
usually understood, something to class with great poetry, and all the
spiritual exaltation which "great poetry" implies. From first to last,
however associated with that whimsical comedy of which, too, he is
appropriately a master, he has struck for me that note of almost
heartbreaking spiritual intensity which, under all its superficial
materialism and cynicism, is the key-note of the modern world.

When I say "first," I am thinking of the first time I saw him, on the
first night of _The Profligate_ by Pinero, in its day one of the plays
that blazed the trail for that social, or, rather, I should say,
sociological, drama since become even more deadly in earnest, though
perhaps less deadly in skill. Incidentally, I remember that Miss Olga
Nethersole, then quite unknown, made a striking impression of evil,
though playing only a small part. It was Forbes-Robertson, however, for
me, and I think for all the playgoing London of the time, that gave the
play its chief value by making us startlingly aware, through the
poignancy of his personality, of what one might call the voice of the
modern conscience. To associate that thrillingly beautiful and profound
voice of his with anything that sounds so prosaic as a "modern
conscience" may seem unkind, but actually our modern conscience is
anything but prosaic, and combines within it something at once poetic
and prophetic, of which that something ghostly in Forbes-Robertson's
acting is peculiarly expressive. That quality of other-worldliness which
at once scared and fascinated the lodgers in _The Passing of the Third
Floor Back_ is present in all Forbes-Robertson's acting. It was that
which strangely stirred us, that first night of _The Profligate_. We
meet it again with the blind Dick Heldar in _The Light That Failed_, and
of course we meet it supremely in _Hamlet_. In fact, it is that quality
which, chief among others, makes Forbes-Robertson's Hamlet the classical
Hamlet of his time.

Forbes-Robertson has of course played innumerable parts. Years before
_The Profligate_, he had won distinction as the colleague of Irving and
Mary Anderson. He may be said to have played everything under the sun.
His merely theatric experience has thus enriched and equipped his
temperament with a superb technique. It would probably be impossible for
him to play any part badly, and of the various successes he has made, to
which his present repertoire bears insufficient witness, others, as I
have said, can point out the excellences. My concern here is with his
art in its fullest and finest expression, in its essence; and therefore
it is unnecessary for me to dwell upon any other of his impersonations
than that of Hamlet. When a man can play _Hamlet_ so supremely, it may
be taken for granted, I presume, that he can play _Mice and Men_, or
even that masterpiece of all masterpieces, _Caesar and Cleopatra_. I
trust that it is no disrespect to the distinguished authors of these two
plays to say that such plays in a great actor's repertoire represent
less his versatility than his responsibilities, that pot-boiling
necessity which hampers every art, and that of the actor, perhaps, most
of all.

To my thinking, the chief interest of all Forbes-Robertson's other parts
is that they have "fed" his Hamlet; and, indeed, many of his best parts
may be said to be studies for various sides of Hamlet, his fine _Romeo_,
for example, which, unfortunately, he no longer plays. In _Hamlet_ all
his qualities converge, and in him the tradition of the stage that all
an ambitious actor's experience is only to fit him to play Hamlet is for
once justified. But, of course, the chief reason of that success is that
nature meant Forbes-Robertson to play Hamlet. Temperament, personality,
experience, and training have so worked together that he does not merely
play, but _is_, Hamlet. Such, at all events, is the complete illusion he
is able to produce.

Of course, one has heard from them of old time that an actor's
personality must have nothing to do with the part he is playing; that he
only is an actor who can most successfully play the exact opposite of
himself. That is the academic theory of "character-acting," and of
course the half-truth of it is obvious. It represents the weariness
induced in audiences by handsome persons who merely, in the stage
phrase, "bring their bodies on"; yet it would go hard with some of our
most delightful comedians were it the whole truth about acting. As a
matter of fact, of course, a great actor includes a multiplicity of
selves, so that he may play many parts, yet always be playing himself.
Beyond himself no artist, whatever his art, has ever gone.

What reduplication of personality is necessary for the man who plays
Hamlet need hardly be said, what wide range of humanity and variety of
accomplishment; for, as Anatole France has finely said of Hamlet, "He is
a man, he is man, he is the whole of man."

Time was when _Hamlet_ was little more than an opportunity for some
robustious periwig-pated fellow, or it gave the semi-learned actor the
chance to conceal his imaginative incapacity by a display of "new
readings." For example, instead of saying:

The air bites shrewdly; it is very cold,

you diverted attention from your acting by an appeal to the literary
antiquarianism of your audience, and, out of one or other of the
quartos, read the line:

The air bites shrewdly; _is_ it very cold?

with the implication that there was a whole world of suggestion in the

One has known actors, far from unillustrious, who staked their whole
performance on some such learned triviality or some trifling novelty of
business, when, for example, in Hamlet's scene with his mother, the
prince comes to:

Look here upon this picture, and on this.

An actor who deserves better than he has yet received in the tradition
of the acted _Hamlet_--I mean Wilson Barrett--used to make much of
taking a miniature of his father from his bosom to point the contrast.

But all such things in the end are of no account. New readings, new
business, avail less and less. Nor does painstaking archaeology of
scenery or dresses any longer throw dust in our eyes. We are for the
play, the living soul of the play. Give us that, and your properties may
be no more elaborate than those of a _guignol_ in the Champs-Elysees.

Forbes-Robertson's acting is so imaginative, creating the scene about
him as he plays, that one almost resents any stage-settings for him at
all, however learnedly accurate and beautifully painted.

His soul seems to do so much for us that we almost wish it could be
left to do it all, and he act for us as they acted in Elizabeth's day,
with only a curtain for scenery, and a placard at the side of the stage
saying, "This is Elsinore."

One could hardly say more for one's sense of the reality of
Forbes-Robertson's acting, as, naturally, one is not unaware that
distressing experiments have been made to reproduce the Elizabethan
theatre by actors who, on the other hand, were sadly in need of all
that scenery, archaeology, or orchestra could do for them.

With a world overcrowded with treatises on the theme, from, and before,
Gervinus, with the commentary of _Wilhelm Meister_ in our minds, not to
speak of the starlit text ever there for our reading, there is surely no
need to traverse the character of Hamlet. He has meant so much to our
fathers--though he can never have meant so much to them as he does to us
of today--that he is, so to say, in our blood. He is strangely near to
our hearts by sheer inheritance. And perhaps the most beautiful thing
Forbes-Robertson's Hamlet does for us is that it commands our love for a
great gentleman doing his gentlest and bravest and noblest with a sad
smile and a gay humour, in not merely a complicated, wicked, absurd, and
tiresome, but, also, a ghostly world.

When we think of Hamlet, we think of him as two who knew him very well
thought of him,--Ophelia and Horatio,--and as one who saw him only as he
sat at last on his throne, dead, with the crown of Denmark on his


Courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue, sword,
The expectancy and rose of the fair state;

the "sweet prince" of Horatio's "good-night"--the soldier for whose
passage Fortinbras commanded

The soldier's music and the rites of war.

We think of him, too, as the haunted son of a dear father murdered, a
philosophic spectator of the grotesque brutality of life, suddenly by a
ghostly summons called on to take part in it; a prince, a philosopher, a
lover, a soldier, a sad humourist.

Were one asked what aspects of Hamlet does Forbes-Robertson specially
embody, I should say, in the first place, his princeliness, his
ghostliness, then his cynical and occasionally madcap humour, as where,
at the end of the play-scene, he capers behind the throne in a terrible
boyish glee. No actor that I have seen expresses so well that scholarly
irony of the Renaissance permeating the whole play. His scene with
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and the recorders is masterly: the silken
sternness of it, the fine hauteur, the half-appeal as of lost ideals
still pleading with the vulgarity of life, the fierce humour of its
disillusion, and behind, as always, the heartbreak--that side of which
comes of the recognition of what it is to be a gentleman in such a

In this scene, too, as in others, Forbes-Robertson makes it clear that
that final tribute of Fortinbras was fairly won.

The soldier--if necessary, the fighter--is there as supple and strong as
a Damascus blade. One is always aware of the "something dangerous," for
all his princely manners and scholarly ways. One is never left in doubt
as to how this Hamlet will play the man. It is all too easy for him to
draw his sword and make an end of the whole fantastic business. Because
this philosophic swordsman holds the sword, let no one think that he
knows not how to wield it. All this gentleness--have a care!--is that of
an unusually masculine restraint.

In the scene with Ophelia, Forbes-Robertson's tenderness was almost
terrible. It came from such a height of pity upon that little
uncomprehending flower!

"I never gave you aught," as Forbes-Robertson said it, seemed to mean:
"I gave you all--all that you could not understand." "Yet are not you
and I in the toils of that destiny there that moves the arras. _Is_ it
your father?"

Along with Forbes-Robertson's spiritual interpretation of Shakespeare
goes pre-eminently, and doubtless as a contributive part of it, his
imaginative revitalization of the great old lines--lines worn like a
highway with the passage of the generations. As a friend of mine
graphically phrased it, "How he revives for us the splendour of the

The splendour of the text! It is a good phrase, and how splendid the
text is we, of course, all know--know so well that we take it for
granted, and so fall into forgetfulness of its significance; forgetting
what central fires of soul and intellect must have gone to the creation
of such a world of transcendent words.

Yet how living the lines still are, though the generations have almost
quoted the life out of them, no man who has spoken them on the stage in
our day, except Forbes-Robertson, has had the gift to show.

It is more than elocution, masterly elocution as it is, more than the
superbly modulated voice: the power comes of spiritual springs welling
up beneath the voice--springs fed from those infinite sources which "lie
beyond the reaches of our souls."

Merely to take the phrase I have just quoted, how few actors--or readers
of Shakespeare, or members of any Shakespearian audience, for that
matter--have any personal conception of what it means! They may make a
fine crescendo with it, but that is all. They have never stood,
shrinking and appalled, yet drawn with a divine temptation, upon the
brink of that vastness along the margin of which, it is evident, that
Hamlet often wandered. It is in vain they tell their audiences and

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

We are quite sure that they know nothing of what they are saying; and
that, as a matter of fact, there are few things for them in heaven or
earth except the theatre they are playing in, their actors' club, and,
generally, their genial mundane lives; and, of course, one rather
congratulates them on the simplicity of their lives, congratulates them
on their ignorance of such haunted regions of the mind. Yet, all the
same, that simplicity seems to disqualify them from playing _Hamlet_.

Few Shakespearian actors seem to remember what they are
playing--Shakespeare. One would think that to be held a worthy
interpreter of so great a dramatist, so mysterious a mind, and so
golden a poet, were enough distinction. Oscar Wilde, in a fine
sonnet, addressed Henry Irving as

Thou trumpet set for Shakespeare's lips to blow,

and we may be sure that Irving appreciated the honour thus paid him, he
who so wonderfully interpreted so many of Shakespeare's moods, so well
understood the irony of his intellect, even the breadth of his humanity,
yet in _Hamlet_, at all events, so strangely missed his soul.

Most of us have seen many Hamlets die. We have watched them squirming
through those scientific contortions of dissolution, to copy which they
had very evidently walked the hospitals in a businesslike quest of
death-agonies, as certain histrionic connoisseurs of madness in France
lovingly haunt the Saltpetriere. As I look back, I wonder how we
tolerated their wriggling absurdity. I suppose it was that the hand of
tradition was still upon us, as upon them. And, let us not forget, the
words were there, the immortal words, and an atmosphere of tragic death
and immortality that only such words could create:

Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in the harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To hear my story ...
The rest is silence....

How different it is when Forbes-Robertson's Hamlet dies! All my life I
seem to have been asking my friends, those I loved best, those who
valued the dearest, the kindest, the greatest, and the strongest in our
strange human life, to come with me and see Forbes-Robertson die in
_Hamlet_. I asked them because, as that strange young dead king sat
upon his throne, there was something, whatever it meant--death, life,
immortality, what you will--of a surpassing loveliness, something
transfiguring the poor passing moment of trivial, brutal murder into a
beauty to which it was quite natural that that stern Northern warrior,
with his winged helmet, should bend the knee. I would not exchange
anything I have ever read or seen for Forbes-Robertson as he sits there
so still and starlit upon the throne of Denmark.

Forbes-Robertson is not merely a great Shakespearian actor; he is a
great spiritual actor. The one doubtless implies the other, though the
implication has not always appeared to be obvious.

He is prophetic of what the stage will some day be, and what we can see
it here and there preparing to become. In all the welter of the dramatic
conditions of the moment there emerges one fact, that of the growing
importance of the stage as a vehicle for what one may term general
culture. The stage, with its half-sister, the cinema, is strangely,
by how long and circuitous a route, returning of course, with an
immeasurably developed equipment, to its starting-point, ending
curiously where it began as the handmaid of the church. As with the old
moralities or miracle-plays, it is becoming once more our teacher. The
lessons of truth and beauty, as those of plain gaiety and delight, are
relying more and more upon the actor for their expression, and less on
the accredited doctors of divinity or literature. Even the dancers are
doing much for our souls. Our duties as citizens are being taught us by
well-advertised plays, and if we wish to abolish Tammany or change our
police commissioner, we enforce our desire by the object-lesson of a
play. The great new plays may not yet be here, but the public once more
is going to the theatre, as it went long ago in Athens, to be delighted
and amused, of course, but also to be instructed in national and civic
affairs, and, most important of all, to be purified by pity and terror.



There are many signs that poetry is coming into its own again--even
here in America, which, while actually one of the most romantic and
sentimental of countries, fondly imagines itself the most prosaic.

Kipling, to name but one instance, has, by his clarion-tongued
quickening of the British Empire, shown so convincingly what dynamic
force still belongs to the right kind of singing, and the poet in
general seems to be winning back some of that serious respect from his
fellow-citizens which, under a misapprehension of his effeminacy and
general uselessness, he had lost awhile. The poet is not so much a joke
to the multitude as he was a few years ago, and the term "minor poet"
seems to have fallen into desuetude.

Still for all this, I doubt if it is in the Anglo-Saxon blood, nowadays
at all events, to make a national hero of a poet, one might say a
veritable king, such as Frederic Mistral is today in Provence. In our
time, Bjoernson in Norway was perhaps the only parallel figure, and he
held his position as actual "father of his people" for very much the
same reasons. At once a commanding and lovable personality, he and his
work were absolutely identified with his country and his countrymen. He
was simply Norway incarnate.

So, today in Provence, it is with Frederic Mistral. He is not only a
poet of Provence. He is Provence incarnate, and, apart from the noble
quality of his work, his position as the foremost representative of his
compatriots is romantically unique. No other country today, pointing to
its greatest man, would point out--a poet; whereas Mistral, were he not
as unspoiled as he is laurelled, might, with literal truth, say:

"_Provence--c'est moi!_"

We had hardly set foot in Provence this last spring, my wife and I,
before we realized, with grateful wonder, that we had come to a country
that has a poet for a king.

On arriving at Marseilles almost the first word we heard was
"Mistral"--not the bitter wind of the same name, but the name of the
honey-tongued "Master." Our innkeeper--O the delightful innkeepers of
France!--on our consulting him as to our project of a walking trip
through the Midi--as Frenchmen usually speak of Provence--said, for his
first aid to the traveller: "Then, of course, you will see our great
poet, Mistral." And he promptly produced a copy of _Mireio_, which he
begged me to use till I had bought a copy for myself.

"Ah! Mistral," he cried, with Gallic enthusiasm, using the words I have
borrowed from his lips, "Mistral is the King of Provence!"

Marseilles had not always been so enthusiastic over Mistral and his
fellows. And Mistral, in his memoirs, gives an amusing account of a
philological battle fought over the letter "s" in a room behind one of
the Marseilles bookshops between "the amateurs of trivialities, the
rhymers of the white beard, the jealous, the grumblers," and the young
innovators of the "felibrige."

But that was over fifty years ago, and the battle of those young
enthusiasts has long since been won. What that battle was and what an
extraordinary victory came of it must needs be told for the significance
of Mistral in Provence to be properly understood.

The story is one of the most romantic in the history of literature.
Briefly, it is this:

The Provencal language, the "langue d'oc," was, of course, once the
courtly and lettered language of Europe, the language of the great
troubadours, and through them the vehicle of the culture and refinement
of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. From it may be said to have
sprung the beginnings of Italian literature.

But, owing to various historical vicissitudes, the language of Northern
France, the "langue d'oil," gradually took its place, and when Mistral
was born, in 1830, Provencal had long been regarded as little more than
a _patois_.

Now it was the young Mistral's dream, as a school-boy in the old convent
school of Saint Michael de Frigolet, at Avignon, to restore his native
tongue to its former high estate, to make it once more a literary
language, and it chanced that one of his masters, Joseph Roumanille, was
secretly cherishing the same dream.

The master, looking over his pupil's shoulder one day, found that,
instead of working at his prescribed task, he was busily engaged in
translating the Penitential Psalms into Provencal. Instead of punishing
him, the master gratefully hailed a kindred spirit, and presently
confided Provencal verses of his own making. From that moment, though
there was a dozen years' difference between their ages, Mistral and
Roumanille began a friendship which was to last till Roumanille's death,
a friendship of half a century.

Soon their dream attracted other recruits, and presently seven friends,
whose names are all famous now, and most of whom have statues in Arles
or in Avignon--Roumanille, Mistral, Aubanel, Mathieu, Giera, Brunet, and
Tavan--after the manner of Ronsard's "Pleiade," and Rossetti's
"P.R.B."--formed themselves into a brotherhood to carry on the great
work of regeneration.

They needed a name to call themselves by. They had all met together to
talk things over in the old castle of Font-Segugne, or, as Mistral more
picturesquely puts it: "It was written in heaven that one blossoming
Sunday, the twenty-first of May, 1854, in the full springtide of life
and of the year, seven poets should come to meet together in the castle
of Font-Segugne." Several suggestions were made for a name for this
brotherhood, but presently Mistral announced that in an old folk-story
he had collected at his birthplace, Maillane, he believed that he had
found the word they were in search of. In this folk-story the boy Christ
is represented as discoursing in the temple with "the seven felibres of
the Law."

"Why, that is us!" exclaimed the enthusiastic young men as Mistral
finished, and there on the spot "felibre" was adopted as the password of
their order, Mistral coining the word "felibrige" to represent the work
they aimed to do, and also their association. The name stuck, and has
now for many years been the banner-word for the vigorous school of
Provencal literature and the allied arts of painting and sculpture which
has responded with such eager vitality to Mistral's rallying cry.

But, excellent as are the other poets which the school has produced--and
one need only glance through a recent _Anthologie du Felibrige_ to
realize what a wealth of true poetry the word "felibrige" now stands
for--there can be no question that its greatest asset still remains
Mistral's own work, as it was his first great poem, _Mireio_, which
first drew the eyes of literary Paris, more than inclined to be
contemptuous, to the Provencal renaissance.

Adolphe Dumas had been sent to Provence in the year 1856 by the Minister
of Public Instruction to collect the folk-songs of the people, and
calling on Mistral (then twenty-six), living quietly with his widowed
mother at Maillane, he had found him at work on _Mireio_. Mistral read
some passages to him, with the result that the generous Dumas returned
to Paris excitedly to proclaim the advent of a new poet. Presently,
Mistral accepted his invitation to visit Paris, was introduced to the
great Lamartine--who has left some charming pages descriptive of his
visit,--read some of _Mireio_ to him, and was hailed by him as "the
Homer of Provence."

The press, however, had its little fling at the new-comer. "The Mistral
it appears," said one pitiful punster, "has been incarnated in a poem.
We shall soon see whether it is anything else but wind." Such has been
the invariable welcome of great men in a small world.

But Mistral had no taste for Paris, either as a lion or a butt, and,
after a few days' stay, we find him once more quietly at home at
Maillane. Yet he had brought back with him one precious trophy--the
praise of Lamartine; and when, in the course of a year or two (1859),
_Mireio_ came to be published at Avignon, it bore, as it still bears,
this heart-felt dedication to Lamartine:

"To thee I dedicate _Mireio_; it is my heart and my soul; it is the
flower of my years; it is a bunch of grapes from Crau with all its
leaves--a rustic's offering."

With the publication of _Mireio_ Mistral instantly "arrived," instantly
found himself on that throne which, as year has followed year, has
become more securely his own. Since then he has written much noble
poetry, all embodying and vitalizing the legendary lore of his native
land, a land richer in momentous history, perhaps, than any other
section of Europe. But in addition to his poetry he has, single-handed,
carried through the tremendous scholarly task of compiling a dictionary
of the Provencal language--a _Thesaurus of the Felibrige_, for which
work the Institute awarded him a prize of ten thousand francs.

In 1904, he was awarded the Nobel prize of 100,000 francs, but such is
his devotion to his fellow-countrymen that he did not keep that prize
for himself, but used it to found the Musee Arlesien at Arles, a museum
designed as a treasure house of anything and everything pertaining to
the history and life of Provence--antiquities, furniture, costumes,
paintings, and so forth.

It was in Arles in 1909, the fiftieth birthday of _Mireio_, that
Mistral, then seventy-nine years old, may be said to have reached the
summit of his romantic fame. A great festival was held in his honour, in
which the most distinguished men of France took part. A dramatized
version of his _Mireio_ was played in the old Roman amphitheatre, and a
striking statue of him was unveiled in the antique public square, the
Place du Forum, with the shade of Constantine looking on, one might
feel, from his mouldering palace hard by.

In Arles Mistral is a well-known, beloved figure, for it is his custom,
every Saturday, to come there from Maillane, to cast his eye over the
progress of his museum, the pet scheme of his old age. One wonders how
it must seem to pass that figure of himself, pedestaled high in the old
square. To few men is it given to pass by their own statues in the
street. Sang a very different poet--

They grind us to the dust with poverty,
And build us statues when we come to die.

But poor Villon had the misfortune to be a poet of the "langue d'oil,"
and the Montfaucon gibbet was the only monument of which he stood in
daily expectation. Could the lines of two poets offer a greater
contrast? Blessed indeed is he who serves the rural gods, Pan and Old
Sylvanus and the sister nymphs--as Virgil sang; and Virgilian indeed has
been the golden calm, and sunlit fortunes, as Virgilian, rather than
Homeric, is the gracious art, of the poet whom his first Parisian
admirer, Adolphe Dumas, called "the Homer of Provence"--as Virgilian,
too, seemed the landscape through which at length, one April afternoon,
we found ourselves on pilgrimage to the home of him whose name had been
on the lips of every innkeeper, shopkeeper, and peasant, all the way
from Marseilles to Tarascon.

Yes! the same golden peace that lies like a charm across every page
of his greatest poem lay across that sun-steeped, fertile plain,
with its walls of cypress trees, its lines of poplars, its delicate,
tapestry-like designs of almond trees in blossom, on a sombre background
of formal olive orchards, its green meadows, lit up with singing
water-courses, or gleaming irrigation canals, starred here and there
with the awakening kingcup, or sweet with the returning violet--here
and there a farmhouse ("mas," as they call them in Provence) snugly
sheltered from the mistral by their screens of foliage--and far aloft in
the distance, floating like a silver dream, the snow-white shoulder of
Mont Ventoux--the Fuji Yama of Provence.

At last the old, time-worn village came in sight--it lies about ten
miles north-east of Tartarin's Tarascon--and we entered it, as was
proper, with the "Master's" words on our lips: "Maillane is beautiful,
well-pleasing is Maillane; and it grows more and more beautiful every
day. Maillane is the honour of the countryside, and takes its name from
the month of May.

"Who would be in Paris or in Rome? Poor conscripts! There is nothing to
charm one there; but Maillane has its equal nowhere--and one would
rather eat an apple in Maillane than a partridge in Paris."

It was Sunday afternoon, and the streets were full of young people in
their Sunday finery, the girls wearing the pretty Arlesien caps. At
first sight of us, with our knapsacks, they were prepared to be amused,
and saucy lads called out things in mock English; but when it was
understood that we were seeking the house of the "Master" we inspired
immediate respect, and a dozen eager volunteers put themselves at our
service and accompanied us in a body to where, at the eastern edge of
the village, there stands an unpretentious square stone house of no
great antiquity, surrounded by a garden and half hidden with trees.

We stood silently looking at the house for a few minutes, trying to
realize that there a great poet had gone on living and working, in
single-minded devotion to his art and his people, for full fifty
years--there in that green, out-of-the-way corner of the world. The
idea of a life so rooted in contentment, so continuously happy in the
lifelong prosecution of a task set to itself in boyhood, and so
independent of change, is one not readily grasped by the hurrying
American mind.

Then we pushed open the iron gate and passed into the garden. A paved
walk led up to the front door, but that had an unused look, and, gaining
no response there, we walked through a shrubbery around the side of the
house, and as we turned the corner came on what was evidently the real
entrance, facing a sunny slope of garden where hyacinths and violets
told of the coming of spring. Here we were greeted by some half a dozen
friendly dogs, whose demonstrations brought to the door a neat little,
keen-eyed peasant woman, with an expression in her face that suggested
that she was the real watch dog, on behalf of her master, standing
between him and an intrusive world. As a matter of fact, as we afterward
learned, that is one of her many self-imposed offices, for, having been
in the Mistral household for many years, she has long since been as much
a family friend as a servant, and generally looks after the Master and
Mme. Mistral as if they were her children, nursing and "bossing" them by
turns. "Elise"--I think her name is--is a "character" almost as well
known in Provence as the Master himself.

So she looked sharply at us, while I produced a letter to M. Mistral
which had been given me by a humble associate of the "felibres," a
delightful _chansonnier_ we had met at Les Baux. With this she went
indoors, presently to return with a face of still cautious welcome, and
invited us in to a little square hall hung with photographs of various
distinguished friends of the poet and two bronze medallions of himself,
one representing him with his favourite dog.

Then a door to the right opened, revealing a typical scholar's study,
lined with books from ceiling to floor, books and papers on tables and
chairs, and framed photographs again on the free wall space. The spring
sunshine poured in through long windows, and in this characteristic
setting stood a tall old man, astonishingly erect, his distinguished
head, with its sparse white locks, its keen eyes, and strong yet
delicate aquiline features, pointed white beard and mustache,
suggesting pictures of some military grand seigneur of old time. His
carriage had the same blending of soldier and nobleman, and the stately
kindliness with which he bade us welcome belonged, alas! to another day.

At his side stood a tall, handsome lady, with remarkable, dark, kind
eyes, evidently many years his junior. This was Mme. Mistral, in her day
one of those "queens of beauty" whom the "felibres" elect every seven
years at their floral fetes. Mme. Mistral was no less gracious to us
than her husband, and joined in the talk that followed with much
animation and charm.

We had a little feared that M. Mistral, as he declines to write in
anything but Provencal, might carry his artistic creed into his
conversation too. To our relief, however, he spoke in the most polished
French--for you may know French very well, but be quite unable to
understand Provencal, either printed or spoken. This had sometimes made
our journeying difficult, as we inquired our way of peasants along the

It was natural to talk first to Mistral of literature. We inquired
whether he read much English. He shook his head, smiling. No! outside of
one or two of the great classics, Shakespeare and Milton, for example,
he had read little. Yes! he had read one American author--Fenimore
Cooper. _Le Feu-Follet_ had been a favourite book of his boyhood. This
we identified as _The Fire-Fly_.

He seemed to wish to talk about America rather than literature, and
seemed immensely interested in the fact that we were Americans, and he
raised his eyes, with an expression of French wonderment, at the fact
of our walking our way through the country--as also at the length of
the journey from America. Evidently it seemed to him a tremendous

"You Americans," he said, "are a wonderful people. You think nothing of
going around the world."

We were surprised to find that he took the keenest interest in American

"It must be a terribly difficult country to govern," he said. And then
he asked us eagerly for news of our "extraordinary President." We
suggested Mr. Wilson.

"Oh, no! no!" he explained. "The extraordinary man who was President
before him."

"Colonel Roosevelt?"

Yes, that was the man--a most remarkable man that! So Colonel Roosevelt
may be interested to hear that the poet-king of Provence is an
enthusiastic Bull Mooser.

Of course, we talked too of the "felibrige," and it was beautiful to see
how M. Mistral's face softened at the mention of his friend Joseph
Roumanille, and with what generosity he attributed the origin of the
great movement to his dead friend.

"But you must by all means call on Mme. Roumanille," said he, "when you
go to Avignon, and say that I sent you"--for Roumanille's widow still
lives, one of the most honoured muses of the "felibrige."

When it was time for us to go on our way, nothing would satisfy M. and
Mme. Mistral but that we drink a glass of a cordial which is made by
"Elise" from Mistral's own recipe; and as we raised the tiny glasses of
the innocent liqueur in our hands, Mistral drank "A l'Amerique!"

Then, taking a great slouch hat from a rack in the hall, and looking as
though it was his statue from Aries accompanying us, the stately old man
led us out into the road, and pointed us the way to Avignon.

On the 30th of this coming September that great old man--the memory of
whose noble presence and beautiful courtesy will remain with us
forever--will be eighty-three.

February, 1913.



The longevity of trees is said to be in proportion to the slowness of
their growth. It has to do no little as well with the depth and area of
their roots and the richness of the soil in which they find themselves.
When the sower went forth to sow, it will be remembered, that which soon
sprang up as soon withered away. It was the seed that was content to
"bring forth fruit with patience" that finally won out and survived the

These humble, old-fashioned illustrations occur to me as I apply myself
to the consideration of the question provoked by the lightning
over-production of modern fiction and modern literature generally: the
question of the flourishing longevity of the fiction of the past as
compared with the swift oblivion which seems almost invariably to
over-take the much-advertised "masterpieces" of the present.

I read somewhere a ballade asking--where are the "best sellers" of
yesteryear? The ballad-maker might well ask, and one might re-echo with
Villon: "Mother of God, ah! where are they?" During the last twenty
years they have been as the sands on the seashore for multitude, yet I
think one would be hard set to name a dozen of them whose titles even
are still on the lips of men--whereas several quieter books published
during that same period, unheralded by trumpet or fire-balloon, are seen
serenely to be ascending to a sure place in the literary firmament.

What can be the reason? Can the decay of these forgotten phenomena of
modern fiction, so lavishly crowned with laurels manufactured in the
offices of their own publishers, have anything to do with the hectic
rapidity of their growth, and may there be some truth in the supposition
that the novels, and books generally, that live longest are those that
took the longest to write, or, at all events underwent the longest
periods of gestation?

Some fifteen years or so ago one of the most successful manufacturers of
best sellers was Guy Boothby, whose _Dr. Nikola_ is perhaps still
remembered. Unhappily he did not live long to enjoy the fruits of his
industrious dexterity. I bring his case to mind as typical of the modern
machine-made methods.

I had read in a newspaper that he did his "writing" by phonograph, and
chancing to meet him somewhere, asked him about it. His response was to
invite me to come down to his charming country house on the Thames and
see how he did it. Boothby was a fine, manly fellow, utterly without
"side" or any illusions as to the quality of his work. He loved good
literature too well--Walter Pater, incongruously enough, was one of his
idols--to dream that he could make it. Nor was the making of literature
by any means his first preoccupation, as he made clear, with winning
frankness, within a few moments of my arriving at his home.

Taking me out into his grounds, he brought me to some extensive kennels,
where he showed me with pride some fifty or so prize dogs; then he took
me to his stables, his face shining with pleasure in his thoroughbreds;
and again he led the way to a vast hennery, populated with innumerable
prize fowls.

"These are the things I care about," he said, "and I write the stuff for
which it appears I have a certain knack only because it enables me to
buy them!"

Would that all writers of best sellers were as engagingly honest. No few
of them, however, write no better and affect the airs of genius into the

Then Boothby took me into his "study," the entire literary apparatus of
which consisted of three phonographs; and he explained that, when he had
dictated a certain amount of a novel into one of them, he handed it over
to his secretary in another room, who set it going and transcribed what
he had spoken into the machine; he, meanwhile, proceeding to fill up
another record. And he concluded airily by saying with a laugh that he
had a novel of 60,000 words to deliver in ten days, and was just on the
point of beginning it!

Boothby's method was, I believe, somewhat unusual in those days. Since
then it has become something like the rule. Not so much as regards
the phonograph, perhaps, but with respect to the breathless speed of

I am informed by an editor, associated with magazines that use no less
than a million and a half words of fiction a month, that he has among
his contributors more than one writer on whom he can rely to turn off a
novel of 60,000 words in six days, and that he can put his finger on
twenty novelists who think nothing of writing a novel of a hundred
thousand words in anywhere from sixty to ninety days. He recalled to me,
too, the case of a well-known novelist who has recently contracted to
supply a publisher with four novels in one year, each novel to run to
not less than a hundred thousand words. One thinks of the Scotsman with
his "Where's your Willie Shakespeare now?"

Even Balzac's titanic industry must hide its diminished head before such
appalling fecundity; and what would Horace have to say to such frog-like
verbal spawning, with his famous "labour of the file" and his counsel to
writers "to take a subject equal to your powers, and consider long what
your shoulders refuse, what they are able to bear." It is to be feared
that "the monument more enduring than brass" is not erected with such
rapidity. The only brass associated with the modern best seller is to
be found in the advertisements; and, indeed, all that both purveyor and
consumer seem to care about may well be summed up in the publisher's
recommendation quoted by Professor Phelps: "This book goes with a rush
and ends with a smash." Such, one might add, is the beginning and ending
of all literary rockets.

Now let us recall some fiction that has been in the world anywhere from,
say, three hundred years to fifty years and is yet vigorously alive,
and, in many instances, to be classed still with the best sellers.

_Don Quixote_, for example, was published in 1605, but is still actively
selling. Why? May it perhaps be that it was some six years in the
writing, and that a great man, who was soldier as well as writer,
charged it with the vitality of all his blood and tears and laughter,
all the hard-won humanity of years of manful living, those five years as
a slave in Algiers (actually beginning it in prison once more at La
Mancha), and all the stern struggle of a storm-tossed life faced with
heroic steadfastness and gaiety of heart?

Take another book which, if it is not read as much as it used to be, and
still deserves to be, is certainly far from being forgotten--_Gil Blas_.
Published in 1715--that is, its first two parts--it has now two
centuries of popularity to its credit, and is still as racy with
humanity as ever; but, though Le Sage was a rapid and voluminous writer,
over this one book which alone the world remembers it is significant to
note that he expended unusual time and pains. He was forty-seven years
old when the first two parts were published. The third part was not
published till 1724, and eleven years more were to elapse before the
issue of the fourth and final part in 1735.

A still older book that is still one of the world's best sellers, _The
Pilgrim's Progress_, can hardly be conceived as being dashed off in
sixty or ninety days, and would hardly have endured so long had not
Bunyan put into it those twelve years of soul torment in Bedford gaol.
_Robinson Crusoe_ still sells its annual thousands, whereas others of
its author's books no less skilfully written are practically forgotten,
doubtless because Defoe, fifty-eight years old at its publication, had
concentrated in it the ripe experience of a lifetime. Though a boy's
book to us, he clearly intended it for an allegory of his own arduous,
solitary life.

"I, Robinson Crusoe," we read, "do affirm that the story, though
allegorical, is also historical, and that it is the beautiful
representation of a life of unexampled misfortune, and of a variety
not to be met with in this world."

_The Vicar of Wakefield_, as we know, was no hurried piece of work.
Indeed, Goldsmith went about it in so leisurely a fashion as to leave it
neglected in a drawer of his desk, till Johnson rescued it, according to
the proverbial anecdote; and even then its publisher, Newbery, was in
no hurry, for he kept it by him another two years before giving it to
the printer and to immortality. It was certainly one of those fruits
"brought forth with patience" all round.

_Tom Jones_ is another such slow-growing masterpiece. Written in the
sad years immediately following the death of his dearly loved wife,
Fielding, dedicating it to Lord Lyttelton, says: "I here present you
with the labours of some years of my life"; and it need scarcely
be added that the book, as in the case of all real masterpieces,
represented not merely the time expended on it, but all the accumulated
experience of Fielding's very human history.

Yes! Whistler's famous answer to Ruskin's counsel holds good of all
imperishable literature. Had he the assurance to ask two hundred guineas
for a picture that only took a day to paint? No, replied Whistler, he
asked it for "the training of a lifetime"; and it is this training of a
lifetime, in addition to the actual time expended on composition, that
constitutes the reserve force of all great works of fiction, and is
entirely lacking in most modern novels, however superficially brilliant
be their workmanship.

For this reason books like George Borrow's _Lavengro_ and _Romany Rye_,
failures on their publication, grow greater rather than less with the
passage of time. Their writers, out of the sheer sincerity of their
natures, furnished them, as by magic, with an inexhaustible provision of
life-giving "ichor." To quote from Milton, "a good book is the precious
life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a
life beyond life."

Of this immortality principle in literature Milton himself, it need
hardly be said, is one of the great exemplars. He was but thirty-two
when he first projected _Paradise Lost_, and through all the intervening
years of hazardous political industry he had kept the seed warm in his
heart, its fruit only to be brought forth with tragic patience in those
seven years of blindness and imminent peril of the scaffold which
followed his fiftieth birthday.

The case of poets is not irrelevant to our theme, for the conditions of
all great literature, whatever its nature, are the same. Therefore,
we may recall Dante, whose _Divine Comedy_ was with him from his
thirty-fifth year till the year of his death, the bitter-sweet companion
of twenty years of exile. Goethe, again, finished at eighty the _Faust_
he had conceived at twenty.

Spenser was at work on his _Faerie Queene_, alongside his preoccupation
with state business, for nearly twenty years. Pope was twelve years
translating Homer, and I think there is little doubt that Gray's _Elegy_
owes much of its staying power to the Horatian deliberation with which
Gray polished and repolished it through eight years.

If we are to believe Poe's _Philosophy of Composition_, and there is, I
think, more truth in it than is generally allowed, the vitality of _The
Raven_, as that, too, of his genuinely imperishable fictions, is less
due to inspiration than to the mathematical painstaking of their

But, perhaps, of all poets, the story of Virgil is most instructive for
an age of "get-rich-quick" _litterateurs_. On his _Georgics_ alone he
worked seven years, and, after working eleven years on the _Aeneid_, he
was still so dissatisfied with it that on his death-bed he besought his
friends to burn it, and on their refusal, commanded his servants to
bring the manuscript that he might burn it himself. But, fortunately,
Augustus had heard portions of it, and the imperial veto overpowered the
poet's infanticidal desire.

But, to return to the novelists, it may at first sight seem that the
great writer who, with the Waverley Novels, inaugurated the modern era
of cyclonic booms and mammoth sales, was an exception to the classic
formula of creation which we are endeavouring to make good. Stevenson,
we have been told, used to despair as he thought of Scott's "immense
fecundity of invention" and "careless, masterly ease."

"I cannot compete with that," he says--"what makes me sick is to think
of Scott turning out _Guy Mannering_ in three weeks."

Scott's speed is, indeed, one of the marvels of literary history, yet
in his case, perhaps more than in that of any other novelist, it must
be remembered that this speed had, in an unusual degree, that "training
of a lifetime" to rely upon; as from his earliest boyhood all Scott's
faculties had been consciously as well as unconsciously engaged in
absorbing and, by the aid of his astonishing memory, preserving the
vast materials on which he was able thus carelessly to draw.

Moreover, those who have read his manly autobiography know that this
speed was by no means all "ease," as witness the almost tragic
composition of _The Bride of Lammermoor_. If ever a writer scorned
delights and lived laborious days, it was Walter Scott. At the same time
the condition of his fame in the present day bears out the general truth
of my contention, for there is little doubt that he would be more widely
read than he is were it not for those too frequent _longueurs_ and inert
paddings which resulted from his too hurried workmanship.

Jane Austen is another example of comparatively rapid creation, writing
three of her best-known novels, _Pride and Prejudice_, _Sense and
Sensibility_, and _Northanger Abbey_ between the ages of twenty-one and
twenty-three. Yet _Pride and Prejudice_, which practically survives the
others, took her ten months to complete, and all her writings, it has
again to be said, had first been deeply and intimately "lived."

Charlotte Bronte was a year in writing _Jane Eyre_, spurred on to new
effort by the recent rejection of _The Professor_; but to write such a
book in a year cannot be called over-hasty production when one considers
how much of _Jane Eyre_ was drawn from Charlotte Bronte's own life, and
also how she and her sisters had been experimenting with literature from
their earliest childhood.

Thackeray considered an allowance of two years sufficient for the
writing of a good novel, but that seems little enough when one takes
into account the length of his best-known books, not to mention the
perfection of their craftsmanship. Dickens, for all the prodigious bulk
of his output, was rather a steady than a rapid writer. "He considered,"
says Forster, "three of his not very large manuscript pages a good, and
four an excellent, day's work."

_David Copperfield_ was about a year and nine months in the writing,
having been begun in the opening of 1849 and completed in October, 1850.
_Bleak House_ took a little longer, having been begun in November, 1851,
and completed in August, 1853. _Hard Times_ was a hasty piece of work,
written between the winter of 1853, and the summer of 1854, and it
cannot be considered one of Dickens's notable successes.

George Meredith wrote four of his greatest novels in seven years,
_Richard Feverel_, _Evan Harrington_, _Sandra Belloni_, and _Rhoda
Fleming_ being produced between 1859 and 1866. His poem, _Modern Love_,
was also written during that period.

George Eliot was a much-meditating, painstaking writer, though _Adam
Bede_ cost her little more than a year's work. Her novels, however, as
a rule, did not come forth without prayer and fasting, and, in the
course of their creation, she used often to suffer from "hopelessness
and melancholy." _Romola_, to which she devoted long and studious
preparation, she was often on the point of giving up, and in regard to
it she gives expression to a literary ideal to which the gentleman with
the contract for four novels a year, referred to in the outset of this
paper, is probably a stranger.

It may turn out [she says], that I can't work freely and fully
enough in the medium I have chosen, and in that case I must give
it up; for I will never write anything to which my whole heart,
mind, and conscience don't consent; so that I may feel it was
something--however small--which wanted to be done in this world,
and that I am just the organ for that small bit of work.

Charles Kingsley who, if not a great novelist, has to his credit in
_Westward Ho!_ one romance at least which, in the old phrase, "the world
will not willingly let die," was as conscientious in his work as he was

Says a friend who was with him while he was writing _Hypatia_:

"He took extraordinary pains to be accurate. We spent one whole day in
searching the four folio volumes of Synesius for a fact he thought was
there, and which was found there at last."

The writer of perhaps the greatest historical novel in the English
language, _The Cloister and the Hearth_, was what one might call a
glutton for thoroughness. Of himself Charles Reade has said: "I studied
the great art of fiction closely for fifteen years before I presumed
to write a line. I was a ripe critic before I became an artist." His
commonplace books, on the entries in which and the indexing he was
accustomed to spend one whole day out of each week, cataloguing the
notes of his multifarious reading and pasting in cuttings from
newspapers likely to be useful in novel-building, completely filled
one of the rooms in his house. In his will he left these open to the
inspection of literary students who cared to study the methods which
he had found so serviceable.

To name one or two more English novelists: Thomas Hardy's novels would
seem to have the slow growth of deep-rooted things. His greatest work,
_The Return of the Native_, was on the stocks for four years, though a
year seems to have sufficed for _Far from the Madding Crowd_.

The meticulous practice of Stevenson is proverbial, but this glimpse of
his method is worth catching again.

The first draft of a story [records Mr. Charles D. Lanier],
Stevenson wrote out roughly, or dictated to Lloyd Osbourne. When all
the colours were in hand for the complete picture, he invariably
penned it himself, with exceeding care.... If the first copy did not
please him, he patiently made a second or a third draft. In his
stern, self-imposed apprenticeship of phrase-making he had prepared
himself for these workmanlike methods by the practice of rewriting
his trial stories into dramas and then reworking them into stories

Nathaniel Hawthorne brought the devoted, one might say, the devotional,
spirit of the true artist to all his work, but _The Scarlet Letter_ was
written at a good pace when once started, though, as usual, the germ
had been in Hawthorne's mind for many years. The story of its beginning
is one of the many touching anecdotes in that history of authorship
which Carlyle compared to the Newgate Calendar. Incidentally, too, it
witnesses that an author occasionally meets with a good wife.

One wintry autumn day in Salem, Hawthorne returned home earlier than
usual from the custom-house. With pale lips, he said to his wife: "I am
turned out of office." To which she--God bless her!--cheerily replied:
"Very well! now you can write your book!" and immediately set about
lighting his study fire and generally making things comfortable for his

The book was _The Scarlet Letter_, and was completed by the following
February, Hawthorne, as his wife said, writing "immensely" on it day
after day, nine hours a day. When finished, Hawthorne seems to have been
dispirited about the story, and put it away in a drawer; but the good
James T. Fields chanced soon to call on him, and asked him if he had
anything for him to publish.

"Who," asked Hawthorne gloomily, "would risk publishing a book from me,
the most unpopular writer in America?"

"I would," was Field's rejoinder, and after some further sparring,
Hawthorne owned up.

"As you have found me out," said he, "take what I have written and tell
me if it is good for anything"; and Fields went away with the manuscript
of what is, without any question, America's greatest novel.

Turning to the great novelists of France, with one or two exceptions,
they all bear out the theory of longevity in literature which I have
been endeavouring to support. It must reluctantly be confessed that one
of the most fascinatingly vital of them all, Alexandre Dumas, is one of
the exceptions, born improvisator as he was; yet immense research, it
needs hardly be said, went to the making of his enormous library of
romance--even though, it be allowed, that much of that work was done for
him by his "disciples."

George Sand was another facile, all too facile, writer. Here is a
description of her method:

To write novels was to her only a process of nature. She seated
herself before her table at ten o'clock, with scarcely a plot and
only the slightest acquaintance with her characters, and until five
in the evening, while her hand guided a pen, the novel wrote itself.
Next day, and the next, it was the same. By and by the novel had
written itself in full and another was unfolding.

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