Part 1 out of 3
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A MERE ACCIDENT.
AUTHOR OF "A MUMMER'S WIFE," "A MODERN LOVER,"
"A DRAMA IN MUSLIN," "SPRING DAYS," ETC.
My Friends at Buckingham.
Nearly twenty years have gone since first we met, dear friends; time has
but strengthened our early affections, so for love token, for sign of
the years, I bring you this book--these views of your beautiful house
and hills where I have spent so many happy days, these last perhaps the
happiest of all.
Three hundred yards of smooth, broad, white road leading from Henfield,
a small town in Sussex. The grasses are lush, and the hedges are tall
and luxuriant. Restless boys scramble to and fro, quiet nursemaids
loiter, and a vagrant has sat down to rest though the bank is dripping
with autumn rain. How fair a prospect of southern England! Land of
exquisite homeliness and order; land of town that is country, of country
that is town; land of a hundred classes all deftly interwoven and all
waxing to one class--England. Land encrowned with the gifts of peaceful
days--days that live in thy face and the faces of thy children.
See it. The outlying villas with their porches and laurels, the red
tiled farm houses, and the brown barns, clustering beneath the wings of
beautiful trees--elm trees; see the flat plots of ground of the market
gardens, with figures bending over baskets of roots; see the factory
chimney; there are trees and gables everywhere; see the end of the
terrace, the gleam of glass, the flower vase, the flitting white of the
tennis players; see the long fields with the long team ploughing, see
the parish church, see the embowering woods, see the squire's house, see
everything and love it, for everything here is England.
* * * * *
Three hundred yards of smooth, broad, white road, leading from Henfield,
a small town in Sussex. It disappears in the woods which lean across the
fields towards the downs. The great bluff heights can be seen, and at
the point where the roads cross, where the tall trunks are listed with
golden light, stands a large wooden gate and a small box-like lodge. A
lonely place in a densely-populated county. The gatekeeper is blind, and
his flute sounds doleful and strange, and the leaves are falling.
The private road is short and stony. Apparently space was found for it
with difficulty, and it got wedged between an enormous holly hedge and a
stiff wooden paling. But overhead the great branches fight upwards
through a tortuous growth to the sky, and, as you advance, Thornby Place
continues to puzzle you with its medley of curious and contradictory
aspects. For as the second gate, which is in iron, is approached, your
thoughts of rural things are rudely scattered by sight of what seems a
London mews. Reason with yourself. This very urban feature is occasioned
by the high brick wall which runs parallel with the stables, and this,
as you pass round to the front of the house, is hidden in the clothing
foliage of a line of evergreen oaks; continuing along the lawn, the
trees bend about the house--a wash of Naples-yellow, a few sharp Italian
lines and angles. To complete the sketch, indicate the wings of the
blown rooks on the sullen sky.
But our purpose lies deeper than that which inspires a water-colour
sketch. We must learn when and why that house was built; we must see how
the facts reconcile its somewhat tawdry, its somewhat suburban aspect,
with the richer and more romantic aspects of the park. The park is even
now, though it be the middle of autumn, full of blowing green, and the
brown circling woods, full of England and English home life. That single
tree in the foreground is a lime; what a splendour of leafage it will be
in the summer! Those four on the right are chestnuts, and those far
away, lying between us and the imperial downs, are elms; through that
vista you can see the grand line, the abrupt hollows, and the bit of
chalk road cut zig-zag out of the steep side. Then why the anomaly of
Italian urns and pilasters; why not red Elizabethan gables and diamond
Why not? Because at the beginning of the century, when Brighton was
being built, fragments of architectural gossip were flying about Sussex,
and one of these had found its way to, and had rested in, the heart of
the grandfather of the present owner: in a simple and bucolic way he had
been seized by a desire for taste and style, and the present building
was the result. Therefore it will be well to examine in detail the house
which young John Norton of '86 was so fond of declaring he could never
see without becoming instantly conscious of a sense of dislike, a hatred
that he was fond of describing as a sort of constitutional complaint
which he was never quite free from, and which any view of the Rockery,
or the pilasters of the French bow-window, or indeed of anything
pertaining to Thornby Place, called at once into an active existence.
Thornby Place is but two stories high, and its spruce walls of Portland
stone and ashlar work rise sheer out of the green sward; in front, Doric
columns support a heavy entablature, and there are urns at the corners
of the building. The six windows on the ground floor are topped with
round arches, and coming up the drive the house seems a perfect square.
But this regularity of structure has on the east side been somewhat
interfered with by a projection of some thirty or forty feet--a billiard
room, in fine, which during John's minority Mrs Norton had thought
proper to add. But she had lived to rue her experiment, for to this
young man, with his fretful craving for beauty and exactness of
proportion, it is an ever present source of complaint; and he had once
in a half humorous, half serious way, gone so far as to avail himself of
the "eyesore," as he called it, to excuse his constant absence from
home, and as a pretence for shutting himself up in his dear college,
with his cherished Latin authors. It was partly for the sake of avenging
himself on his mother, whose decisive practicality jarred the delicate
music of a nature extravagantly ideal, that he so severely criticised
all that she held sacred; and his strictures fell heaviest on the bow
window, looking somewhat like a temple with its small pilasters
supporting the rich cornice from which the dwarf vaulting springs. The
loggia, he admitted, although painfully out of keeping with the
surrounding country, was not wholly wanting in design, and he admired
its columns of a Doric order, and likewise the cornice that like a crown
encompasses the house. The entrance is under the loggia; there are round
arched windows on either side, a square window under the roof, and the
hall door is in solid oak studded with ornamental nails.
On entering you find yourself in a common white-painted passage, and on
either side of the drawing-room and dining-room are four allegorical
female heads: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Further on is the
hall, with its short polished oak stairway sloping gently to a balcony;
and there are white painted pillars that support the low roof, and these
pillars make a kind of entrance to the passage which traverses the
house from end to end. England--England clear and spotless! Nowhere do
you find a trace of dust or disorder. The arrangement of things is
somewhat mechanical. The curtains and wall-paper in the bedrooms are
suggestive of trades people and housemaids; no hastily laid aside book
or shawl breaks the excessive orderliness. Every piece of furniture is
in its appointed place, and nothing testifies to the voluntariness of
the occupant, or the impulse prompted by the need of the moment. On the
presses at the ends of the passages, where is stored the house linen,
cards are hung bearing this inscription: "When washing the woodwork the
servants are requested to use no soda without first obtaining permission
from Mrs Norton." This detail was especially distasteful to John; he
often thought of it when away, and it was one of the many irritating
impressions which went to make up the sum of his dislike of Thornby
Mrs Norton is now crying her last orders to the servants; and although
dressed elaborately as if to receive visitors, she has not yet laid
aside her basket of keys. She is in her forty-fifth year. Her figure is
square and strong, and not devoid of matronly charm. It approves a
healthy mode of life, and her quick movements are indicative of her
sharp determined mind. Her face is somewhat small for her shoulders, the
temples are narrow and high, the nose is long and thin, the cheek bones
are prominent, the chin is small, but unsuggestive of weakness, the lips
are pinched, the complexion is flushed, and the eyes set close above the
long thin nose are an icy grey. Mrs Norton is a handsome woman. Her
fashionably-cut silk fits her perfectly; the skirt is draped with grace
and precision, and the glossy shawl with the long soft fringe is elegant
and delightfully mundane. She raises her double gold eyeglasses, and,
contracting her forehead, stares pryingly about her; and so fashionable
is she, and her modernity is so picturesque, that for a moment you think
of the entrance of a duchess in the first act of a piece by Augier
played on the stage of the Francais.
Still holding her gold-rimmed glasses to her eyes, she descended the
broad stairs to the hall, and from thence she went into the library.
There are two small bookcases filled with sombre volumes, and the busts
of Moliere and Shakespeare attempt to justify the appellation. But there
is in the character, I was almost going to say in the atmosphere of the
room, that same undefinable, easily recognizable something which
proclaims the presence of non-readers. The traces of three or four days,
at the most a week, which John occasionally spent at Thornby Place, were
necessarily ephemeral, and the weakness of Mrs Norton's sight rendered
continuous reading impossible. Sometimes Kitty Hare brought a novel from
the circulating library to read aloud, and sometimes John forgot one of
his books, and a volume of Browning still lay on the table. The room was
filled with shadow and mournfulness, and in a dusty grate the fire
Between this room and the drawing-room, in a recess formed by the bow
window, Mrs Norton kept her birds, and still peering through her
gold-rimmed glasses, she examined their seed-troughs and water-glasses,
and, having satisfied herself as to their state, she entered the
drawing-room. There is little in this room; no pictures relieve the
widths of grey colourless wall paper, and the sombre oak floor is spaced
with a few pieces of furniture--heavy furniture enshrouded in grey linen
cloths. Three French cabinets, gaudy with vile veneer and bright brass,
are nailed against the walls, and the empty room is reflected dismally
in the great gold mirror which faces the vivid green of the sward and
the duller green of the encircling elms of the park.
Mrs Norton let her eyes wander, and sighing she went into the
dining-room. The dining-room is always the most human of rooms, and the
dining-room in Thornby Place, although allied to the other rooms in an
absence of fancy in its arrangement, shows prettily in contrast to them
with its white cloth cheerful with flowers and ferns. The floor is
covered with a tightly stretched red cloth, the chairs are set in
symmetrical rows; with the exception of a black clock there is no
ornament on the chimney-piece, and a red cloth screen conceals the door
used by the servants.
Mrs Norton walked with her quiet decisive step to the window, and
holding the gold-rimmed glasses to her eyes, she looked into the
landscape as if she were expecting someone to appear. The day was grimy
with clouds; mist had risen, and it hung out of the branches of the elms
like a veil of white gauze. Withdrawing her eye from the vague prospect
before her, Mrs Norton played listlessly with the tassel of one of the
blinds. "Surely," she thought, "he cannot have been foolish enough to
have walked over the downs such a day as this;" then, raising her
glasses again she looked out at the smallest angle with the wall of the
house, so that she should get sight of a vista through which any one
coming from Shoreham would have to pass. Presently a silhouette
appeared on the sullen sky. Mrs Norton moved precipitately from the
window, and she rang the bell sharply.
"John," she said, "Mr Hare has been going in for one of his long walks.
I see him now coming across the park. I am sure he has walked over the
downs; if so he must be wet through. Have a fire lighted in Mr Norton's
room, put up a pair of slippers for him: here is the key of Mr Norton's
wardrobe; let Mr Hare have what he wants."
And having detached one from the many bunches which filled her basket,
she went herself to open the door to her visitor. He was however still
some distance away, and standing in the shelter of the loggia she waited
for him, watched the vague silhouette resolving itself into colour and
line. But it was not until he climbed the iron fence which separated
the park from the garden grounds that the figure grew into its
individuality. Then you saw a man of about forty, about the medium
height and inclined to stoutness. His face was round and florid, and it
was set with sandy whiskers. His white necktie proclaimed him a parson,
and the grey mud with which his boots were bespattered told of his long
walk. As is generally the case with those of his profession, he spoke
fluently, his voice was melodious, and his rapid answers and his bright
eyes saved him from appearing commonplace. In addressing Mrs Norton he
used her Christian name.
"You are quite right, Lizzie, you are quite right; I shouldn't have done
it: had I known what a state the roads were in, I wouldn't have
"What is the use of talking like that, as if you didn't know what these
roads were like! For twenty years you have been making use of them, and
if you don't know what they are like in winter by this time, all I can
say is that you never will."
"I never saw them in the state they are now; such a slush of chalk and
clay was never seen."
"What can you expect after a month of heavy rain? You are wringing wet."
"Yes, I was caught in a heavy shower as I was crossing over by
Fresh-Combe-bottom. I am certainly not in a fit state to come into your
"I should think not indeed! I really believe if I were to allow it,
you would sit the whole afternoon in your wet clothes. You'll find
everything ready for you in John's room. I'll give you ten minutes. I'll
tell them to bring up lunch in ten minutes. Stay, will you have a glass
of wine before going upstairs?"
"I am afraid of spoiling your carpet."
"Yes, indeed! not one step further! I'll fetch it for you."
When the parson had drunk the wine, and was following the butler
upstairs, Mrs Norton returned to the dining-room with the empty glass in
her hand. She placed it on the chimney piece; she stirred the fire, and
her thoughts flowed pleasantly as she dwelt on the kindness of her old
friend. "He only got my note this morning," she mused. "I wonder if he
will be able to persuade John to return home." Mrs Norton, in her own
hard, cold way, loved her son, but in truth she thought more of the
power of which he was the representative than of the man himself: the
power to take to himself a wife--a wife who would give an heir to
Thornby Place. This was to be the achievement of Mrs Norton's life, and
the difficulties that intervened were too absorbing for her to think
much whether her son would find happiness in marriage; nor was it
natural to her to set much store on the refining charm and the uniting
influences of mental sympathies. Had she not passed the age when the
sentimental emotions are liveliest? And the fibre was wanting in her to
take into much account the whispering or the silence of passion.
Mrs Norton saw in marriage nothing but the child, and in the child
nothing but an heir--that is to say, a male who would continue the name
and traditions of Thornby Place. This would seem to indicate a material
nature, but such a misapprehension arises from the common habit of
confusing pure thought--thought which proceeds direct from the brain
and lives uncoloured by the material wants of life--with instincts whose
complexity often causes them to appear as mental potentialities, whereas
they are but instincts, inherited promptings, and aversions more or less
modified by physical constitution and the material forces of the life in
which the constitution has grown up; and yet, though pure thought, that
is to say the power of detaching oneself from the webs of life and
viewing men and things from a height, is the rarest of gifts, many are
possessed of sufficient intellectuality to enjoy with the brain apart
from the senses. Mrs Norton was such an one. After five o'clock tea she
would ask Kitty to read to her, and drawing her shawl about her
shoulders, would readily abandon the intellectual side of her nature to
the seductive charm of the romantic story of James of Scotland; and
while to the girl the heroism and chivalry were a little clouded by the
quaint turns of Rossetti's verse, to the woman these were added
delights, which her quiet penetrating understanding followed and took
instant note of.
"Were mother and son ever so different?" was the common remark. The
artistic was the side of Mrs Norton's character that was unaffectedly
kept out of sight, just as young John Norton was careful to hide from
public knowledge his strict business habits, and to expose, perhaps a
little ostentatiously, the spiritual impulses in which he was so deeply
concerned: the subtle refinement of sacred places, from the mystery of
the great window with its mitres and croziers to the sunlit path between
the tombs where the children play, the curious and yet natural charm
that attendance in the sacristy had for him, the arrangement of the
large oak presses, wherein are stored the fine altar linen and the
chalices, the distributing of the wine and water that were not for
bodily need, and the wearing of the flowing surplices, the murmuring of
the Latin responses that helped so wonderfully to enforce the impression
of beautiful and refined life which was his, and which he lived beyond
the gross influences of the wholly temporal life which he knew was
raging almost but not quite out of hearing. But, however marked may be
the accidental variations of character, hereditary instincts are
irresistible, and in obedience to them John neglected nothing that
concerned his pecuniary instincts. He was in daily communication with
his agent, and the financial position of every farmer, and the state of
every farm on his property, were not only known to him but were
constantly borne in mind, and influenced him in that progressive
ordering of things which marked the administration of his property. He
was furnished quarterly with an account of all monies paid, to which
were joined descriptive notes of each farm, showing what alterations the
past three months had brought, and setting forth the agricultural
intentions and abilities of the occupier.
John Norton waited the arrival of these accounts with a keen interest:
they were a relish to his life; and without experiencing any revulsion
of feeling, he would lay down a portfolio filled with photographs of
drawings by Leonardo da Vinci--studies of drapery, studies of hands and
feet, realistic studies of thin-lipped women and ecstatic angels with
the light upon their high foreheads--and cheerfully, and even with a
sense of satisfaction, he would untie the bald, prosaic roll of paper,
and seating himself at his window overlooking the long terrace, he would
add up the figures submitted to him, detecting the smallest arithmetical
error, making note of the least delay in payment of any money due, and
questioning the slightest overpayment for work done. The morning hours
fled as he pursued his congenial task; and from time to time he would
let his thoughts wander from the teasing computation of the money that
would be required to make the repairs that a certain farmer had
demanded, to the unworldly quiet of the sacristy; he would think, and
his thoughts contained an evanescent sense of the paradox, of the altar
linen he would have to fold and put away, and of the altar breads he
would presently have to write to London for; and meanwhile his eyes
would follow in delight the black figures of the Jesuits, who, with
cassocks blowing and berrettas set firmly on their heads, walked up and
down the long gravel walks reading their breviaries.
And living thus, half in the persuasive charm of ceremonial, half in
the hard procession of account books, the last three years of John's
life had passed. On coming of age he had spent a few weeks at Thornby
Place, but the place, and especially the country, had appeared to
him so grossly protestant--so entirely occupied with the material
well-to-doness of life--that he declared he longed to breathe again the
breath of his beloved sacristy, that he must away from that close and
oppressive atmosphere of the flesh. Since then, with the exception of a
few visits of a few days he had lived at Stanton College, writing to his
mother not of the business which concerned his property, but of mental
problems and artistic impulses. On business matters he never consulted
her; but he thought it fortunate that she should choose to spend her
jointure on Thornby Place, and so save him a great deal of expense in
keeping up the house, which, although he disliked it with a dislike that
had grown inveterate, he was still unwilling to allow to fall to ruins.
Mrs Norton, as has been said, was capable of understanding much in the
abstract; so long as things, and ideas of things, did not come within
the circle of her practical life, they were judged from a liberal
standpoint, but so soon as they touched any personal consideration,
they were judged by a moral code that in no way corresponded to her
intellectual comprehension of the matter she so unhesitatingly
condemned. But by this it must by no means be understood that Mrs Norton
wore her conscience easily--that it was a garment that could be
shortened or lengthened to suit all weathers. Our diagnosis of Mrs
Norton's character involves no accusation of laxity of principle. Mrs
Norton was a woman with an intelligence, who had inherited in all its
primary force a code of morals that had grown up in the narrower minds
of less gifted generations. In talking to her you were conscious of two
active and opposing principles: reason and hereditary morality. I use
"opposing" as being descriptive of the state of soul that would
generally follow from such mental contradiction, but in Mrs Norton no
shocking conflict of thought was possible, her mind being always
strictly subservient to her instinctive standard of right and wrong.
And John had inherited the moral temperament of his mother's family, and
with it his mother's intelligence, nor had the equipoise been disturbed
in the transmitting; his father's delicate constitution in inflicting
germs of disease had merely determined the variation represented by the
marked artistic impulses which John presented to the normal type of
either his father's or his mother's family. It would therefore seem that
any too sudden corrective of defect will result in anomaly, and, in
the case under notice, direct mingling of perfect health with spinal
weakness had germinated into a marked yearning for the heroic ages, for
the supernatural as contrasted with the meanness of the routine of
existence. And now before closing this psychical investigation, and
picking up the thread of the story, which will of course be no more than
an experimental demonstration of the working of the brain into which we
are looking, we must take note of two curious mental traits both living
side by side, and both apparently negative of the other's existence: an
intense and ever pulsatory horror of death, a sullen contempt and often
a ferocious hatred of life. The stress of mind engendered by the
alternating of these themes of suffering would have rendered life an
unbearable burden to John, had he not found anchorage in an invincible
belief in God, a belief which set in stormily for the pomp and opulence
of Catholic ceremonial, for the solemn Gothic arch and the jewelled joy
of painted panes, for the grace and the elegance and the order of
In a being whose soul is but the shadow of yours, a second soul looking
towards the same end as your soul, or in a being whose soul differs
radically, and is concerned with other satisfactions and other ideals,
you will most probably find some part of the happiness of your dreams,
but in intercourse with one who is grossly like you, but who is
absolutely different when the upper ways of character are taken into
account, there will be--no matter how inexorable are the ties that
bind--much fret and irritation and noisy clashing. It was so with John
Norton and his mother; even in the exercise of faculties that had been
directly transmitted from one to the other there had been angry
collision. For example:--their talents for business were identical; but
while she thought the admirable conduct of her affairs was a thing to be
proud of, he would affect an air of negligence, and would willingly
have it believed that he lived independent of such gross necessities.
Then his malady--for intense depression of the spirits was a malady with
him--offered an ever-recurring cause of misunderstanding. How irritating
it was when he lay shut up in his room, his soul looking down with
murderous eyes on the poor worm that writhed out its life in view of the
pitiless stars, and longing with a fierce wild longing to shake off the
burning garment of consciousness, and plunge into the black happiness of
the grave, to hear Mrs Norton on the threshold uttering from time to
time admonitory remarks.
"You should not give way to such feelings, sir; you should not allow
yourself to be unhappy. Look at me, am I unhappy? and I have more to
bear with than you, but I am not always thinking of myself.... I am in
fairly good health, and I am always cheerful! Why are you not the same?
You bring it all upon yourself; I have no pity for you.... You should
cease to think of yourself, and try to do your duty."
John groaned when he heard this last word. He knew very well what his
mother meant. He should buy three hunters, he should marry. These were
the anodynes that were offered to him in and out of season. "Bad enough
that I should exist! Why precipitate another into the gulf of being?"
"Consort with men whose ideal hovers between a stable boy and a
veterinary surgeon;" and then, amused by the paradox, John, to whom the
chase was evocative of forests, pageantry, spears, would quote some
stirring verses of an old ballad, and allude to certain pictures by
Rubens, Wouvermans, and Snyders. "Why do you talk in that way?" "Why do
you seek to make yourself ridiculous?" Mrs Norton would retort.
Smiling just a little sorrowfully, John would withdraw, and on the
following day he would leave for Stanton College. And it was thus that
Mrs Norton's temper scarred with deep wounds a nature so pale and
delicate, so exposed that it seemed as if wanting an outer skin; and as
Thornby Place appeared to him little more than a comprehensive symbol
of what he held mean, even obscene in life, his visits had grown shorter
and fewer, until now his absence extended to the verge of the second
year, and besieged by the belief that he was contemplating priesthood,
Mrs Norton had written to her old friend, saying that she wanted to
speak to him on matters of great importance. Now maturing her plans for
getting her boy back, she stood by the bare black mantel-piece, her head
leaning on her hand. She uttered an exclamation when Mr Hare entered.
"What," she said, "you haven't changed your things, and I told you you
would find a suit of John's clothes. I must insist--"
"My dear Lizzie, no amount of insistance would get me into a pair of
John's trousers. I am thirteen stone and a half, and he is not much over
"Ah! I had forgotten, but what are you to do? Something must be done,
you will catch your death of cold if you remain in your wet clothes....
You are wringing wet."
"No, I assure you I am not. My feet were a little wet, but I have
changed my stockings and shoes. And now, tell me, Lizzie, what there is
for lunch," he said, speaking rapidly to silence Mrs Norton, whom he saw
was going to protest again.
"Well, you know it is difficult to get much at this season of the year.
There are some chickens and some curried rabbit, but I am afraid you
will suffer for it if you remain the whole of the afternoon in those wet
clothes; I really cannot, I will not allow it."
"My dear Lizzie, my dear Lizzie," cried the parson, laughing all over
his rosy skinned and sandy whiskered face, "I must beg of you not
to excite yourself. I have no intention of committing any of the
imprudences you anticipate. I will trouble you for a wing of that
chicken. James, I'll take a glass of sherry,... and while I am eating it
you shall explain as succinctly as possible the matter you are minded
to consult me on, and when I have mastered the subject in all its
various details, I will advise you to the best of my power, and having
done so I will start on my walk across the hills."
"What! you mean to say you are going to walk home?... We shall have
another downpour presently."
"Even so. I cannot come to much harm so long as I am walking, whereas if
I drove home in your carriage I might catch a chill.... It is at least
ten miles to Shoreham by the road, while across the hills it is not more
"Six! it is eight if it is a yard!"
"Well, perhaps it is; but tell me, I am curious to hear what you want to
talk to me about.... Something about John, is it not?"
"Of course it is, what else have I to think about; what else concerns
middle-aged people like you and me but our children? Of course I want to
talk to you about John. Something must be done, things cannot go on as
they are. Why, it is nearly two years since he has been home. Oh, that
boy is breaking my heart, and none suspects it. If you knew how it
annoys me when the Gardiners and the Prestons congratulate me on having
a son so well behaved. They know he looks after his property sharp
enough, no drinking, no bad company, no debts. Ah! they little know....
I would much sooner he were wild and foolish: young men get over those
kind of faults, but he will never get over his."
Mr Hare felt these views to be of a doubtful orthodoxy, but he did not
press his opinion, and contented himself with murmuring gently that for
the moment he did not see that John's faults were of a particularly
"You do not see that his faults should cause me any uneasiness! Perhaps
it is very lucky he is not here, or you might encourage him in them. I
suppose you think he is doing quite right in spending his life at
Stanton College, aping a priest and talking about Gothic arches. Is it a
proper thing to transact all his business through a solicitor, and
never to see his tenants? Why does he not come and live at his own
beautiful place? Why does he not take up his position in the county? He
is not a magistrate. Why does he not get married?... he is the last;
there is no one to follow him. But he never thinks of that--he is afraid
that a woman might prove a disturbing influence in his life ... he feels
that he must live in an atmosphere of higher emotions. That's the way he
talks, and he is meditating, I assure you, a book on the literature of
the Middle Ages, on the works of bishops and monks who wrote Latin in
the early centuries. His mind, he says, is full of the cadences of that
language. That's the way he writes. He never asks me about his property,
never consults me in anything. Here is a letter I received yesterday.
"'The poverty of spiritual life amid the western pagans could not fail to
encourage the growth of new religious tendencies. An epoch of great
spiritual activity had been succeeded by one of complete stagnation. A
glance at the literary progress of Rome since Tiberius will show this
emancipation from national and political considerations, the influence
of cosmopolitanism gave to the best specimens of Latin prose of the
silver age such riches and variety of substance and such individuality
of expression, that Seneca and Tacitus and the letters of Pliny are
marked with many modern characteristics. Form and language appear in
these writers only as the instrument and the matter wherewith men of
genius would express their intimate personality. Here antique culture
rises above itself, but, mark you, at the expense of all that is proper
to the Roman nation. Cosmopolitan Hellenism forces and breaks down the
bars of classical traditions, and, weary of restrictions these writers
first sought personal satisfaction, and then addressed themselves to
scholars rather than the people.
"'But Hellenism found its medium in the Greek language, rich to
satiety, and possessing a syntax of such extraordinary flexibility, that
it could follow all evolutions without being shaken in its organism. It
was in vain that the Latin literature sought to maintain its position by
harking back to the writers anterior to Cicero, those that Hellenism had
not touched, and presenting them as models of style; and thus a new
school very fain of antiquity had sprung up, with Fronto for its
acknowledged chief--a school pre-occupied above all things by the form;
obsolete words set in a new setting, modern words introduced into old
cadences to freshen them with a bright and delightful varnish, in a
word, a language under visible sign of decay ... yet how full of dim idea
and evanescent music--a sort of Indian summer, a season of dependency
that looked back on the splendours of Augustan yesterdays--an autumn
"Did you ever hear such rubbish, or affectation, whichever you like to
call it? I should like to know what all that's to do with mediaeval
Latin. And then he goes on to complain of the architecture of Stanton
College.... It is, he says, base Tudor of the vilest kind. 'Practical
cookery' he calls it, 'antique sauce, sold by all chemists and grocers.'
Do you know what he means? I don't. And worst news of all, he is, would
you believe it? putting a magnificent thirteen century window into the
chapel, and he wants me to go up to London to make enquiries about
organs. He is prepared to go as far as a thousand pounds. Did you ever
hear of such a thing? Those Jesuits are encouraging him. Of course it
would just suit them if he became a priest; nothing would suit them
better; the whole property would fall into their hands. Now, what I want
you to do, my dear friend, is to go to Stanton College to-morrow, or
next day, as soon as you possibly can, and to talk to John. You must
tell him how unwise it is to spend fifteen hundred pounds in one year,
building organs and putting up windows. His intentions are excellent,
but his estate won't bear such extravagances: and everybody here thinks
he is such a miser. I want you to tell him that he should marry. Just
fancy what a terrible thing it would be if the estate passed away to
distant relatives--to those terrible cousins of ours."
"Very well, Lizzie, I will do what I can. I will go to-morrow. I have
not seen him for five years. The last time he was here I was away. I
don't think it would be a bad notion to suggest that the Jesuits are
after his money, that they are endeavouring to inveigle him into the
priesthood in order that they may get hold of his property."
"No, no; you must not say such a thing. I will not have you say anything
against his religion. I was very wrong to suggest such a thing. I am
sure no such idea ever entered the Jesuits' heads. Perhaps I am wrong to
send you to them.... Now I depend on you not to speak to him on
Mrs Norton had known William Hare all her life. She was the youngest
daughter, he the youngest son of equal Yorkshire families. Separated by
about a mile of pasture and woodland, these families had for generations
lived unanimous lives. In England the hunting field, the grouse moor,
the croquet and tennis lawn, with its charming adjunct the five-o'clock
tea-table, have made life in certain classes almost communal; and Mrs
Norton and William Hare had stood in white frocks under Christmas trees
and shared sweetmeats. He often thought of the first time he saw her,
wearing a skirt that fell below her ankles, with her hair done up. And
she remembered his first appearance in evening clothes, and how
surprised and delighted she was to hear him ask her if he might have the
pleasure of a waltz.
He went to Oxford to take his degree; she was taken to London for the
season, and towards the end of the third year she married Mr Norton, and
went to live at Thornby Place. Through the excitement of the marriage
arrangements, and the rapid impressions of her honeymoon, the thought of
having for neighbour the playmate of her youth had flitted across, but
had not rested in, her mind, and she did not realize the charm that it
was for her until one afternoon, now more than twenty years ago, a young
curate, bespattered with the grey mud of the downs, had startled her and
her husband by addressing her as Lizzie. Lizzie she had remained to him,
he was William to her, and henceforth their lives had been indissolubly
linked. Not a week had passed without their seeing each other. There
were visits to pay, there was hunting, and then habit intervened; and
for many years, in suffering, in joy, in hope, their thoughts had
instinctively looked to each other for reflective sympathy, and every
remembrable event was full of mutual associations. He had sat by her
when, after the birth of her first and only child, she lay pale,
beautiful, and weak on a sofa by a window blown by the tide of summer
scent; and the autumn of that same year he had walked with her in the
garden, where the leaves fell like the last illusion of youth under the
tears of an incurable grief; and staying in their walk they looked on
the house which was to be for evermore one of widowhood.
Had she ever loved him? Had he ever loved her? In moments of passionate
loneliness she had yearned for his protection; in moments of deep
dejection he had dreamed of the happiness he might have found with her;
but in the broad day of their lives they had ever thought of each other
as friends. He had advised her on the management of her estate, on the
education of her son; and in his afflictions--in his widowerhood--when
his children quickly followed their mother to the grave, Mrs Norton's
form, face, and words had steadied him, and had helped him to bear with
a life of crumbling ruin. Kitty was now the only one that remained to
Mrs Norton had had projects of wealth and title for her son, but his
continued disdain of women and the love of women had long since forced
her to abandon her hopes, and now any one he might select she would
gladly welcome; but she whom Mrs Norton would have preferred to all
others was the daughter of her old friend. Her son had deserted her, and
now all her affections were centred in Kitty. Kitty was as much at
Thornby Place as at the Rectory, and in the gaiety of her bright eyes,
and in the shine of her gold-brown hair--for ever slipping from the gold
hair-pins in frizzed masses--Mrs Norton continued her dreams of her
Mr Hare thought it harsh that his daughter should be so constantly taken
from him, but the parsonage was so lonely for Kitty, and there were
luncheon and tennis parties at Thornby Place, and Mrs Norton took the
girl out for drives, and together they visited all the county families.
A suspicion of matchmaking sometimes crossed Mr Hare's mind, but it
faded in the knowledge that John was always at Stanton College; and to
send this fair flower to his great--to his only--friend, was a joy, and
the bitterness of temporary loss was forgotten in the sweetness of the
sharing. He had suffered much; but these last years had been quiet, free
from despair at least, and he wished to drift a little longer with the
tide of this time. Why strive to hasten events? If this thing was to be,
it would be. So he had thought of his daughter's marriage. Fancies had
long hung about the confines of his mind, but nothing had struck him
with the full force of a thought until suddenly he understood the exact
purport of his mission to Stanton College. He leaned forward as if he
were going to tell the driver to return, but before he could do so the
lodge-keeper opened the great gate, and the hansom cab rattled under the
Then he viewed the scheme in general outline and in remote detail. It
was very simple. Lizzie had been to Shoreham, and had taken Kitty away
with her; he had been sent to Stanton College to beg John Norton to
return to Thornby Place, and to say what he could in favour of marriage
generally. This was very compromising. He had been deceived; Lizzie had
deceived him. She had no right to do such a thing; and, striving to
determine on a line of conduct, Mr Hare examined abstractedly the place
he was passing through.
In large and serpentine curves the road wound through a wood of small
beech trees--so small that in the November dishevelment the plantations
were like so much brushwood; and, lying behind the wind-swept opening,
gravel walks appeared in grey fragments, and the green spaces of the
cricket field with a solitary divine reading his breviary. The drive
turned and turned again in great sloping curves; more divines were
passed, and then there came a long terrace with a balustrade and a view
of the open country, now full of mist. And to see the sharp spire of
the distant church you had to look closely, and slanting slowly upwards
the great plain drew a long and melancholy line across the sky. The
lower terrace was approached by an imposing flight of steps, there were
myriads of leaves in the air, and the college bell rang in its high red
The high red walls of the college faced the dismal terraces, and the
triple line of diamond-paned and iron-barred windows stared upon the
ugly Staffordshire landscape. A square tower squatted in the middle of
the building, and out of it rose the octagon of the bell tower, and in
the tower wall was the great oak door studded with great nails.
"How Birmingham the whole place does look," thought Mr Hare, as he laid
his hand on an imitation mediaeval bell-pull.
"Is Mr John Norton at home?" he asked when the servant came. "Will you
give him my card, and say that I should like to see him."
On entering, Mr Hare found himself in a tiled hall, around which was
built a staircase in varnished oak. There was a quadrangle, and from
three sides the interminable latticed windows looked down on the green
sward; on the fourth there was an open corridor, with arches to imitate
a cloister. All was strong and barren, and only about the varnished
staircase was there any sign of comfort. There a virgin in bright blue
stood on a crescent moon; above her the ceiling was panelled in oak, and
the banisters, the cocoa nut matting, the bit of stained glass, and the
religious prints, suggested a mock air of hieratic dignity. And the room
Mr Hare was shown into continued this impression. Cabinets in carved oak
harmonised with high-backed chairs glowing with red Utrecht velvet, and
a massive table, on which lay a folio edition of St Augustine's "City of
God" and the "Epistolae Consolitoriae" of St Jerome.
The bell continued to clang, and through the latticed windows Mr Hare
watched the divines hurrying along the windy terrace, and the tramp of
the boys going to their class-rooms could be heard in passages below.
Then a young man entered. He was thin, and he was dressed in black. His
face was very Roman, the profile especially was what you might expect to
find on a Roman coin--a high nose, a high cheek-bone, a strong chin, and
a large ear. The eyes were prominent and luminous, and the lower part of
the face was expressive of resolution and intelligence, but above the
eyes there were many indications of cerebral distortions. The forehead
was broad, but the temples retreated rapidly to the brown hair which
grew luxuriantly on the top of the head, leaving what the phrenologists
call the bumps of ideality curiously exposed, and this, taken in
conjunction with the yearning of the large prominent eyes, suggested at
once a clear, delightful intelligence,--a mind timid, fearing, and
doubting, such a one as would seek support in mysticism and dogma, that
would rise instantly to a certain point, but to drop as suddenly as if
sickened by the too intense light of the cold, pure heaven of reason to
the gloom of the sanctuary and the consolations of Faith. Let us turn to
the mouth for a further indication of character. It was large, the lips
were thick, but without a trace of sensuality. They were dim in colour,
they were undefined in shape, they were a little meaningless--no, not
meaningless, for they confirmed the psychological revelations of the
receding temples. The hands were large, powerful, and grasping; they
were earthly hands; they were hands that could take and could hold, and
their materialism was curiously opposed to the ideality of the eyes--an
ideality that touched the confines of frenzy. The shoulders were square
and carried well back, the head was round, with close-cut hair, the
straight-falling coat was buttoned high, and the fashionable collar,
with a black satin cravat, beautifully tied and relieved with a rich
pearl pin, set another unexpected but singularly charmful detail to an
aggregate of apparently irreconcilable characteristics.
"And how do you do, my dear Mr Hare? and who would have expected to see
you here? I am so glad to see you."
These words were spoken frankly and cordially, and there was a note of
mundane cheerfulness in the voice which did not quite correspond with
the sacerdotal elegance of this young man. Then he added quickly, as if
to save himself from asking the reason of this very unexpected visit--
"But you have never been here before; this is the first time you have
seen our college. And seeing it as it now is, you would not believe all
the delightful detail that a ray of sunlight awakens in that hideous
brown monotony, soaked with rain and bedimmed with mist."
"Yes, I can quite understand that the college is not looking its best on
a day like this. We have had very wet weather lately."
"No doubt, and I am afraid these late rains have interfered with the
harvest. The accounts from the North are very alarming, but in Sussex, I
suppose, everything was over at least two months ago. Still even there
the farmers have been losing money for some time back. I have had to
make some very heavy reductions. Pearson declared he could not possibly
continue at the present rent with corn as low as eight pounds a load.
This is very serious, but it is very difficult to arrive at the truth. I
want to talk to you; but we shall have plenty of time presently; you'll
stay and dine? And I'll show you over the college: you have never been
here before, and now I come to reckon it up, I find I have not seen you
for nearly five years."
"It must be very nearly that; I missed you the last time you were at
Thornby Place, and that was three years ago."
"Three years! It sounds very shocking, doesn't it? to have a beautiful
place in Sussex and not to live there: to prefer an ugly red-brick
college--Birmingham Tudor; my mother invented the expression. When she
is in a passion she hits on the very happiest concurrence of words; and
I must say she is right,--the architecture here is appallingly ugly;
and I don't think anything could be done to improve it, do you?"
"I can't say that I can suggest anything for the moment, but I thought
it was for the sake of the architecture, which I frankly confess I don't
in the least admire, that you lived here."
"You thought it was for the sake of the architecture...."
"Then why do you not come home and spend Christmas with your mother!"
"Christmas! Well, I suppose I ought to. But it will be hard to bear with
the plain Protestantism, the smug materialism of Sussex at such a
season; and when one thinks what the day is commemorative of--"
"You surely do not mean that you would prefer to see the people
starving? If your dislike of Protestantism rests only on roast beef and
"No, you don't understand. But I beg your pardon--I had really
"Never mind," said Mr Hare smiling; "continue: we were talking of roast
beef and plum pudding--"
"Well, roast beef and plum pudding, say what you like, is a very
complete figuration of the Protestant ideal. Now let us think of
Sussex.... The villas with their gables, and railings, and laurels, the
snug farm-houses, the market-gardening, but especially the villas, so
representative of a sleepy smug materialism.... Oh, it is horrible; I
cannot think of Sussex without a revulsion of feeling. Sussex is utterly
opposed to the monastic spirit. Why, even the downs are easy, yes, easy
as one of the upholsterer's armchairs of the villa residences. And the
aspect of the county tallies exactly with the state of soul of its
people. In that southern county all is soft and lascivious; there is no
wildness, none of that scenical grandeur which we find in Scotland and
Ireland, and which is emblematic of the yearning of man's soul for
something higher than this mean and temporal life."
There was rapture in John's eyes. With a quick movement of his hands he
seemed to spurn the entire materialism of Sussex. After a pause, he
"There is no asceticism in Sussex, there is no yearning for anything
higher or better. You--yes, you and the whole place are, in every sense
of the word, Conservative--that is to say, brutally satisfied with the
present ordering of things."
"Now, now, my dear John, by your own account Pearson is not by any means
so satisfied with the present condition of things as you yourself would
wish him to be."
John laughed loudly, and it was clear that the paradox in no way
"But we were speaking," he continued, "not of temporal, but of spiritual
pains and penalties. Now, anyone who did not know me--and none will ever
know me--would think that I had not a care in the world. Well, I have
suffered as horribly, I have been tortured as cruelly, as ever poor
mortal was.... I have lain on the floor of my room, my heart dead
within me, and moaned and shrieked with horror."
"Horror of what?"
"Horror of death and a worse horror of life. Few amongst men ever
realise the truth of things, but there are rare occasions, moments of
supernatural understanding or suffering (which are two words for one and
the same thing), when we see life in all its worm-like meanness, and
death in its plain, stupid loathsomeness. Two days out of this year live
like fire in my mind. I went to my uncle Richard's funeral. There was
cold meat and sherry on the table; a dreadful servant asked me if I
would go up to the corpse-room. (Mark the expression.) I went. It lay
swollen and featureless, and two busy hags lifted it up and packed it
tight with wisps of hay, and mechanically uttered shrieks and moans.
"But, though the funeral was painfully obscene, it was not so obscene as
the view of life I was treated to last week....
"Last week I was in London; I went to a place they call the 'Colonies.'
Till then I had never realised the foulness of the human animal, but
there even his foulness was overshadowed by his stupidity. The masses,
yes, I saw the masses, and I fed with them in their huge intellectual
stye. The air was filled with lines of the most inconceivable flags,
lines upon lines of pale yellow, and there were glass cases filled with
pickle bottles, and there were piles of ropes and a machine in motion,
and in nooks there were some dreadful lay figures, and written
underneath them, 'Indian corn-seller,' 'Indian fish-seller.' And there
was the Prince of Wales on horseback, three times larger than life; and
there were stuffed deer upon a rock, and a Polar bear, and the Marquis
of Lome underneath. In another room there were Indian houses, things in
carved wood, and over each large placards announcing the popular dinner,
the _buffet_, the _table d'hote_, at half-a-crown; and there were oceans
of tea, and thousands of rolls of butter, and in the gardens the band
played 'Thine alone' and 'Mine again.'
"It seemed as if all the back-kitchens and staircases in England had
that day been emptied out--life-tattered housewives, girls grown stout
on porter, pretty-faced babies, heavy-handed fathers, whistling boys in
their sloppy clothes, and attitudes curiously evidencing an odious
"In the Greek and Roman life there was an ideal, and there was a great
ideal in the monastic life of the Middle Ages; but an ideal is wholly
wanting in nineteenth century life. I am not of these later days. I am
striving to come to terms with life."
"And you think you can do that best by folding vestments and reviling
humanity. I do not see how you reconcile these opinions with the
teaching of Christ--with the life of Christ."
"Oh, of course, if you are going to use those arguments against me, I
have done; I can say no more."
Mr Hare did not answer, and at the end of a long silence John said:
"But, what do you say, supposing I show you over the college now, and
when that's done you will come up to my room and we'll have a smoke
Mr Hare raised no objection, and the two men descended the staircase
into the long stony corridor. The quadrangle filled the diamond panes
of the latticed windows with green, and the divine walking to and fro
was a spot of black. There were pictures along the walls of the
corridor--pictures of upturned faces and clasped hands--and these drew
words of commiseration for the artistic ignorance of the College
authorities from John's lips.
"And they actually believe that that dreadful monk with the skull is a
real Ribera.... The chapel is on the right, the refectory on the left.
Come, let us see the chapel; I am anxious to hear what you think of my
"It ought to be very handsome; it cost five hundred, did it not?"
"No, not quite so much as that," John answered abruptly; and then,
passing through the communion rails, they stood under the multi-coloured
glory of three bishops. Mr Hare felt that a good deal of rapture was
expected of him; but in his efforts to praise, he felt he was exposing
his ignorance. John called attention to the transparency of the
green-watered skies; and turning their backs on the bishops, the blue
ceiling with the gold stars was declared, all things considered, to be
in excellent taste. The benches in the body of the church were for boys;
the carved chairs set along both walls between the communion rails and
the first steps of the altar were for the divines. The president and
vice-president knelt facing each other. The priests, deacons, and
sub-deacons followed according to their rank. There were slenderer
benches, and these were for the choir; and from a music-book placed on
wings of the great golden eagle, the leader conducted the singing.
The side altar, with the rich Turkey carpet spread over the steps, was
St George's, and further on, in an addition made lately, there were two
more altars, dedicated respectively to the Virgin and St Joseph.
"The maid-servants kneel in that corner. I have often suggested
that they should be moved out of sight. You do not understand me.
Protestantism has always been more reconciled to the presence of women
in sacred places than we. We would wish them beyond the precincts. And
it is easy to imagine how the unspeakable feminality of those
maid-servants jars a beautiful impression--the altar towering white with
wax candles, the benedictive odour of incense, the richness of the
vestments, treble voices of boys floating, and the sweetness of a long
day spent about the sanctuary with flowers and chalices in my hands,
fade in a sense of sullen disgust, in a revulsion of feeling which I
will not attempt to justify."
Then his thoughts, straying back to sudden recollections of monastic
usages and habits, he said:
"I should like to scourge them out of this place." And then, half
playfully, half seriously, and wholly conscious of the grotesqueness,
"Yes, I am not at all sure that a good whipping would not do them good.
They should be well whipped. I believe that there is much to be said in
favour of whipping."
Mr Hare did not answer. He listened like one in a dark and unknown
place. But, as if unconscious of the embarrassment he was creating, John
told of the number of masses that were said daily, and of the eagerness
shown by the boys to obtain an altar. Altar service was rewarded by a
large piece of toast for breakfast. Handsome lads of sixteen were chosen
for acolytes, the torch-bearers were selected from the smallest boys,
the office of censer was filled by John Norton, and he was also the
chief sacristan, and had charge of the altar plate and linen and the
vestments. He spoke of the organ, and he depreciated the present
instrument, and enlarged upon some technical details anent the latest
modern improvements in keys and stops.
They went up to the organ loft. John would play his setting of St
Ambrose's hymn, "Veni redemptor gentium," if Mr Hare would go to the
bellows, and feeling as if he were being turned into ridicule, Mr Hare
took his place at the handle; and he found it even more embarrassing
to give an opinion on the religiosity of the music, than on the
archaeological colouration of the bishops in the window. But John did
not court any very detailed criticism on his hymn, and alluding to the
fact that even in the fourth century accent was beginning to replace
quantity, he led the way to the sacristy.
And it was impossible to avoid noticing that the opening of the carved
oaken presses, smelling sweet and benignly of orris root and lavender,
acted on John almost as a physical pleasure, and also that his hands
seemed nervous with delight as he unfolded the jewelled embroideries,
and smoothed out the fine linen of the under vestments; and his voice,
too, seemed to gain a sharp tenderness and emotive force, as he told how
these were the gold vestments worn by the bishop, and only on certain
great feast-days, and that these were the white vestments worn on days
especially commemorative of the Virgin. The consideration of the
censers, candlesticks, chalices, and albs took some time, and John was a
little aggressive in his explanation of Catholic ceremonial, and its
grace and comeliness compared with the stiffness and materialism of the
From the sacristy they went to the boys' library. John pointed out the
excellent supply of light literature that the bookcases contained.
"We take travels, history, fairy-tales--romances of all kinds, so long
as sensual passion is not touched upon at any length. Of course we
don't object to a book in which just towards the end the young man falls
in love and proposes; but there must not be much of that sort of thing.
Here are Robert Louis Stevenson's works, 'Treasure Island,' 'Kidnapped,'
&c., charming writer--a neat pretty style, with a pleasant souvenir of
Edgar Poe running through it all. You have no idea how the boys enjoy
"And don't you?"
"Oh no; I have just glanced at him: for my own reading, I can admit none
who does not write in the first instance for scholars, and then to the
scholarly instincts in readers generally. Here is Walter Pater. We have
his Renaissance; studies in art and poetry--I gave it myself to the
library. We were so sorry we could not include that most beautiful book,
'Marius the Epicurean.' We have some young men here of twenty and three
and twenty, and it would be delightful to see them reading it, so
exquisite is its hopeful idealism; but we were obliged to bar it on
account of the story of Psyche, sweetly though it be told, and sweetly
though it be removed from any taint of realistic suggestion. Do you know
"I can't say I do."
"Then read it at once. It is a breath of delicious fragrance blown back
to us from the antique world; nothing is lost or faded, the bloom of
that glad bright world is upon every page; the wide temples, the lustral
water--the youths apportioned out for divine service, and already happy
with a sense of dedication, the altars gay with garlands of wool and the
more sumptuous sort of flowers, the colour of the open air, with the
scent of the beanfields, mingling with the cloud of incense."
"But I thought you denied any value to the external world, that the
spirit alone was worth considering."
"The antique world knew how to idealise, and if they delighted in the
outward form, they did not leave it gross and vile as we do when we
touch it; they raised it, they invested it with a sense of aloofness
that we know not of. Flesh or spirit, idealise one or both, and I will
accept them. But you do not know the book. You must read it. Never did I
read with such rapture of being, of growing to spiritual birth. It
seemed to me that for the first time I was made known to myself; for the
first time the false veil of my grosser nature was withdrawn, and I
looked into the true ethereal eyes, pale as wan water and sunset skies,
of my higher self. Marius was to me an awakening; the rapture of
knowledge came upon me that even our temporal life might be beautiful;
that, in a word, it was possible to somehow come to terms with life....
You must read it. For instance, can anyone conceive anything more
perfectly beautiful than the death of Flavian, and all that youthful
companionship, and Marius' admiration for his friend's poetry?... that
delightful language of the third century--a new Latin, a season of
dependency, an Indian summer full of strange and varied cadences, so
different from the monotonous sing-song of the Augustan age; the school
of which Fronto was the head. Indeed, it was Pater's book that first
suggested to me the idea of the book I am writing. But perhaps you do
not know I am writing a book.... Did my mother tell you anything about
"Yes; she told me you were writing the history of Christian Latin."
"Yes; that is to say, of the language that was the literary, the
scientific, and the theological language of Europe for more than a
And talking of his book rapidly, and with much boyish enthusiasm, John
opened the doors of the refectory. The long, oaken tables, the great
fireplace, and the stained glass seemed to delight him, and he alluded
to the art classes of monastic life. The class-rooms were peeped into,
the playground was viewed through the lattice windows, and they went to
John's room, up a staircase curiously carpeted with lead.
John's rooms! a wide, bright space of green painted wood and straw
matting. The walls were panelled from floor to ceiling. In the centre of
the floor there was an oak table--a table made of sharp slabs of oak
laid upon a frame that was evidently of ancient design, probably early
German, a great, gold screen sheltered a high canonical chair with
elaborate carvings, and on a reading-stand close by lay the manuscript
of a Latin poem.
"And what is this?" said Mr Hare.
"Oh! that is a poem by Milo, his 'De Sobricate.' I heard that the
manuscript was still preserved in the convent of Saint Amand, near
Tournai, and I sent and had a copy made for me. That was the simplest
way. You have no idea how difficult it is to buy the works of any Latin
authors except those of the Augustan age. Milo was a monk, and he lived
in the eighth century. He was a man of very considerable attainments,
if he were not a very great poet. He was a contemporary of Floras, who,
by the way, was a real poet. Some of his verses are delightful, full of
delicate cadence and colour. The MS. under your hand is a poem by him--
"'Montes et colles, silvaeque et flumina, fontes,
Praeruptaeque rupes, pariter vallesque profondae
Francorum lugete genus: quod munere christi,
Imperio celsum jacet ecce in pulvere mersum.'
"That was written in the eighth century when the language was becoming
terribly corrupt; when it was hideous with popular idiom barbarously and
recklessly employed. But even in that time of autumnal decay and pallid
bloom, a real poet such as Walahfrid Strabat could weave a garland of
grace and beauty; one, indeed, that lived through the chance of
centuries in the minds of men. It found numberless imitators and favour
even with the Humanists, and it was reprinted eight times in the
seventeenth century. This poem is of especial interest to me on account
of the illustration it affords of a theory of my own concerning the
unconsciousness of the true artist. For breaking away from the literary
habitudes of his time, which were to do the gospels or the life of
a favourite saint into hexameters, he wrote a poem, 'Hortulus,'
descriptive of the garden of the monastery. The garden was all the world
to the monks; it furnished them at once with the pleasures and the
necessaries of their lives. Walahfrid felt this; he described his
feelings, and he produced a chef d'oeuvre." Going over to the bookcase,
John took down a volume. He read:--
"'Hoc nemus umbriferum pingit viridissima Rutae
Silvula coeruleae, foliis quae praedita parvis,
Umbellas jaculata brevis, spiramina venti
Et radios Phoebi caules transmittit ad imos,
Attactuque graves leni dispergit odores,
Haec cum multiplici vigeat virtute medelae,
Dicitur occultis apprime obstare venenis,
Toxicaque invasis incommoda pellere fibris.'
"Now, can anything be more charming? True it is that pingit in the first
line does not seem to construe satisfactorily, and I am not certain that
the poet may not have written _fingit_. Fingit would not be pure Latin,
but that is beside the question."
"Indeed it is. I must say I prefer the Georgics. I have known many
strange tastes, but your fancy for bad Latin is the strangest of all."
"Classical Latin, with the exception of Tacitus, is cold-blooded and
self-satisfied. There is no agitation, no fever; to me it is utterly
To the books and manuscripts the pictures on the walls afforded an
abrupt contrast. No. 1. "A Japanese Girl," by Monet. A poppy in the pale
green walls; a wonderful macaw! Why does it not speak in strange
dialect? It trails lengths of red silk. Such red! The pigment is twirled
and heaped with quaint device, until it seems to be beautiful embroidery
rather than painting; and the straw-coloured hair, and the blond light
on the face, and the unimaginable coquetting of that fan....
No. 2. "The Drop Curtain," by Degas. The drop curtain is fast
descending; only a yard of space remains. What a yardful of curious
comment, what satirical note on the preposterousness of human
existence! what life there is in every line; and the painter has made
meaning with every blot of colour! Look at the two principal dancers!
They are down on their knees, arms raised, bosoms advanced, skirts
extended, a hundred coryphees are clustered about them. Leaning hands,
uplifted necks, painted eyes, scarlet mouths, a piece of thigh, arched
insteps, and all is blurred; vanity, animalism, indecency, absurdity,
and all to be whelmed into oblivion in a moment. Wonderful life;
No. 3. "A Suburb," by Monet. Snow! the world is white. The furry fluff
has ceased to fall, and the sky is darkling and the night advances,
dragging the horizon up with it like a heavy, deadly curtain. But the
roof of the villa is white, and the green of the laurels shaken free of
the snow shines through the railings, and the shadows that lie across
the road leading to town are blue--yes, as blue as the slates under the
No. 4. "The Cliff's Edge," by Monet. Blue? purple the sea is; no, it is
violet; 'tis striped with violet and flooded with purple; there are
living greens, it is full of fading blues. The dazzling sky deepens as
it rises to breathless azure, and the soul pines for and is fain of God.
White sails show aloft; a line of dissolving horizon; a fragment of
overhanging cliff wild with coarse grass and bright with poppies, and
musical with the lapsing of the summer waves.
There were in all six pictures--a tall glass filled with pale roses, by
Renoir; a girl tying up her garter, by Monet.
Through the bedroom door Mr Hare saw a narrow iron bed, an iron
washhand-stand, and a prie-dieu. A curious three-cornered wardrobe stood
in one corner, and facing it, in front of the prie-dieu, a life-size
Christ hung with outstretched arms. The parson looked round for a seat,
but the chairs were like cottage stools on high legs, and the angular
backs looked terribly knife-like.
"Sit in the arm-chair. Shall I get you a pillow from the next room?
Personally I cannot bear upholstery; I cannot conceive anything more
hideous than a padded arm-chair. All design is lost in that infamous
stuffing. Stuffing is a vicious excuse for the absence of design. If
upholstery was forbidden by law to-morrow, in ten years we should have
a school of design. Then the necessity of composition would be
"I daresay there is a good deal in what you say; but tell me, don't you
find these chairs very uncomfortable. Don't you think that you would
find a good comfortable arm-chair very useful for reading purposes?"
"No, I should feel far more uncomfortable on a cushion than I do on this
bit of hard oak. Our ancestors had an innate sense of form that we have
not. Look at these chairs, nothing can be plainer; a cottage stool is
hardly more simple, and yet they are not offensive to the eye. I had
them made from a picture by Albert Durer. But tell me, what will you
take to drink? Will you have a glass of champagne, or a brandy and
soda, or what do you say to an absinthe?"
"'Pon my word, you seem to look after yourself. You don't forget the
"I always keep a good supply of liquor; have a cigar?" And John passed
to him a box of fragrant and richly coloured Havanas.... Mr Hare took a
cigar, and glanced at the table on which John was mixing the drinks. It
was a slip of marble, rested, cafe fashion, on iron supports.
"But that table is modern, surely?--quite modern!"
"Quite; it is a cafe table, but it does not offend my eye. You surely
would not have me collect a lot of old-fashioned furniture and pile it
up in my rooms, Turkey carpets and Japaneseries of all sorts; a room
such as Sir Fred. Leighton would declare was intended to be merely
Striving vainly to understand, Mr Hare drank his brandy and soda in
silence. Presently he walked over to the bookcases. There were two: one
was filled with learned-looking volumes bearing the names of Latin
authors; and the parson, who prided himself on his Latinity, was
surprised, and a little nettled, to find so much ignorance proved upon
him. With Tertullian, St Jerome, and St Augustine he was of course
acquainted, but of Lactantius, Prudentius, Sedulius, St Fortunatus, Duns
Scotus, Hibernicus exul, Angilbert, Milo, &c., he was obliged to admit
he knew nothing--even the names were unknown to him.
In the bookcase on the opposite side of the room there were complete
editions of Landor and Swift, then came two large volumes on Leonardo da
Vinci. Raising his eyes, the parson read through the titles of Mr
Browning's work. Tennyson was in a cheap seven-and-six edition; then
came Swinburne, Pater, Rossetti, Morris, two novels by Rhoda Broughton,
Dickens, Thackeray, Fielding, and Smollett; the complete works of
Balzac, Gautier's Emaux et Camees, Salammbo, L'Assommoir; add to this
Carlyle, Byron, Shelley, Keats, &c.
At the end of a long silence, Mr Hare said, glancing once again at the
Latin authors, and walking towards the fire:
"Tell me, John, are those the books you are writing about? Supposing you
explain to me in a few words the line you are taking. Your mother tells
me that you intend to call your book the History of Christian Latin."
"Yes, I had thought of using that title, but I am afraid it is a little
too ambitious. To write the history of a literature extending over at
least eight centuries would entail an appalling amount of reading; and
besides only a few, say a couple of dozen writers out of some hundreds,
are of the slightest literary interest, and very few indeed of any real
aesthetic value. I have been hard at work lately, and I think I know
enough of the literature of the Middle Ages to enable me to make a
selection that will comprise everything of interest to ordinary
scholarship, and enough to form a sound basis to rest my own literary
theories upon. I begin by stating that there existed in the Middle Ages
a universal language such as Goethe predicted the future would again
bring to us....
"Before the formation of the limbs, that is to say before the German and
Roman languages were developed up to the point of literary usage, the
Latin language was the language of all nations of the western world.
But the day came, in some countries a little earlier, in some a little
later, when it was replaced by the national idioms. The different
literatures of the West had therefore been preceded by a Latin
literature that had for a long time held out a supporting hand to each.
The language of this literature was not a dead language, It was the
language of government, of science, of religion; and a little
dislocated, a little barbarised, it had penetrated to the minds of the
people, and found expression in drinking songs and street ditties.
"Such is the theme of my book; and it seems to me that a language that
has played so important a part in the world's history is well worthy of
"I show how Christianity, coming as it did with a new philosophy, and a
new motive for life, invigorated and saved the Latin language in a time
of decline and decrepitude. For centuries it had given expression, even
to satiety, to a naive joy in the present; on this theme, all that
could be said had been said, all that could be sung had been sung,
and the Rhetoricians were at work with alliteration and refrain when
Christianity came, and impetuously forced the language to speak the
desire of the soul. In a word, I want to trace the effect that such a
radical alteration in the music, if I may so speak, had upon the
instrument--the Latin language."
"And with whom do you begin?"
"With Tertullian, of course."
"And what do you think of him?"
"Tertullian, one of the most fascinating characters of ancient or modern
times. In my study of his writings I have worked out a psychological
study of the man himself as revealed through them. His realism, I might
say materialism, is entirely foreign to my own nature, but I cannot
help being attracted by that wild African spirit, so full of savage
contradictions, so full of energy that it never knew repose: in him you
find all the imperialism of ancient times. When you consider that he
lived in a time when the church was struggling for utterance amid the
horrors of persecution, his mad Christianity becomes singularly
attractive; a passionate fear of beauty for reason of its temptations, a
fear that turned to hatred, and forced him at last into the belief that
Christ was an ugly man."
"I know nothing of the monks of the eighth century and their poetry,
but I do know something of Tertullian, and you mean to tell me that
you admire his style--those harsh chopped-up phrases and strained
"I should think I did. Phrases set boldly one against the other; quaint,
curious, and full of colour, the reader supplies with delight the
connecting link, though the passion and the force of the description
lives and reels along. Listen:
"'Quae tunc spectaculi latitudo! quid admirer? quid rideam? ubi gaudeam?
ubi exultem, spectans tot ac tantos reges, qui in coelum recepti
nuntiabantur, cum ipso Jove et ipsis suis testibus in imis tenebris
congemiscentes!--Tunc magis tragoedi audiendi, magis scilicet vocales in
sua propria calamitate; tunc histriones cognoscendi, solutiores multo
per ignem; tunc spectandus auriga, in flammea rota totus rubens, &c.'
"Show me a passage in Livy equal to that for sheer force and glittering
colour. The phrases are not all dove-tailed one into the other and
smoothed away; they stand out."
"Indeed they do. And whom do you speak of next?"
"I pass on to St Cyprian and Lactantius; to the latter I attribute the
beautiful poem of the Phoenix."
"What! Claudian's poem?"
"No, but one infinitely superior. After Lactantius comes St Ambrose, St
Jerome, and St Augustine. The second does not interest me, and my notice
of him is brief; but I make special studies of the first and last. It
was St Ambrose who introduced singing into the Catholic service. He took
the idea from the Arians. He saw the effect it had upon the vulgar mind,
and he resolved to combat the heresy with its own weapons. He composed a
vast number of hymns. Only four have come down to us, and they are as
perfect in form as in matter. You will scarcely find anywhere a false
quantity or a hiatus. The Ambrosian hymns remained the type of all the
hymnic poetry of succeeding centuries. Even Prudentius, great poet as he
was, was manifestly influenced in the choice of metre and the
composition of the strophe by the Deus Creator omnium....
"St Ambrose did more than any other writer of his time to establish
certain latent tendencies as characteristics of the Catholic spirit.
His pleading in favour of ascetic life and of virginity, that entirely
Christian virtue, was very influential. He lauds the virgin above the
wife, and, indeed, he goes so far as to tell parents that they can
obtain pardon of their sins by offering their daughters to God. His
teaching in this respect was productive of very serious rebellion
against what some are pleased to term the laws of Nature. But St Ambrose
did not hesitate to uphold the repugnance of girls to marriage as not
only lawful but praiseworthy."
"I am afraid you let your thoughts dwell very much on such subjects."
"Really, do you think I do?" John's eyes brightened for a moment, and he
lapsed into what seemed an examination of conscience. Then he said,
somewhat abruptly, "St Jerome I speak of, or rather I allude to him, and
pass on at once to the study of St Augustine--the great prose writer, as
Prudentius was the great poet, of the Middle Ages.
"Now, talking of style, I will admit that the eternal apostrophising of
God and the incessant quoting from the New Testament is tiresome to the
last degree, and seriously prejudices the value of the 'Confessions' as
considered from the artistic standpoint. But when he bemoans the loss of
the friend of his youth, when he tells of his resolution to embrace an
ascetic life, he is nervously animated, and is as psychologically
dramatic as Balzac."
"I have taken great pains with my study of St Augustine, because in him
the special genius of Christianity for the first time found a voice. All
that had gone before was a scanty flowerage--he was the perfect fruit. I
am speaking from a purely artistic standpoint: all that could be done
for the life of the senses had been done, but heretofore the life of the
soul had been lived in silence--none had come to speak of its suffering,
its uses, its tribulation. In the time of Horace it was enough to sit in
Lalage's bower and weave roses; of the communion of souls none had ever
thought. Let us speak of the soul! This is the great dividing line
between the pagan and Christian world, and St Augustine is the great
landmark. In literature he discovered that man had a soul, and that man
had grown interested in its story, had grown tired of the exquisite
externality of the nymph-haunted forest and the waves where the Triton
blows his plaintive blast.
"The whole theory and practice of modern literature is found in the
'Confessions of St Augustine;' and from hence flows the great current of
psychological analysis which, with the development of the modern novel,
grows daily greater in volume and more penetrating in essence.... Is not
the fretful desire of the Balzac novel to tell of the soul's anguish an
obvious development of the 'Confessions'?"
"In like manner I trace the origin of the ballad, most particularly the
English ballad, to Prudentius, a contemporary of Claudian."
"You don't mean to say that you trace back our north-country ballads
to, what do you call him?"
"Prudentius. I show that there is much in his hymns that recalls the
"In his hymns?"
"Yes; in the poems that come under such denomination. I confess it is
not a little puzzling to find a narrative poem of some five hundred
lines or more included under the heading of hymns; it would seem that
nearly all lyric poetry of an essentially Christian character was so
designated, to separate it from secular or pagan poetry. In Prudentius'
first published work, 'Liber Cathemerinon,' we find hymns composed
absolutely after the manner of St Ambrose, in the same or in similar
metres, but with this difference, the hymns of Prudentius are three,
four, and sometimes seven times longer than those of St Ambrose. The
Spanish poet did not consider, or he lost sight of, the practical usages
of poetry. He sang more from an artistic than a religious impulse. That
he delighted in the song for the song's own sake is manifest; and this
is shown in the variety of his treatment, and the delicate sense of
music which determined his choice of metre. His descriptive writing is
full of picturesque expression. The fifth hymn, 'Ad Incensum Lucernae,'
is glorious with passionate colour and felicitous cadence, be he
describing with precious solicitude for Christian archaeology the
different means of artistic lighting, flambeaux, candles, lamps, or
dreaming with all the rapture of a southern dream of the balmy garden
"But his best book to my thinking is by far, 'Peristephanon,' that is
to say, the hymns celebrating the glory of the martyrs.
"I was saying just now that the hymns of Prudentius, by the dramatic
rapidity of the narrative, by the composition of the strophe, and by
their wit, remind me very forcibly of our English ballads. Let us take
the story of St Laurence, written in iambics, in verses of four lines
each. In the time of the persecutions of Valerian, the Roman prefect,
devoured by greed, summoned St Laurence, the treasurer of the church,
before him, and on the plea that parents were making away with their
fortunes to the detriment of their children, demanded that the sacred
vessels should be given up to him. 'Upon all coins is found the head of
the Emperor and not that of Christ, therefore obey the order of the
latter, and give to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor.'
"To this speech, peppered with irony and sarcasm, St Laurence replies
that the church is very rich, even richer than the Emperor, and that he
will have much pleasure in offering its wealth to the prefect, and he
asks for three days to classify the treasures. Transported with joy, the
prefect grants the required delay. Laurence collects the infirm who have
been receiving charity from the church; and in picturesque grouping the
poet shows us the blind, the paralytic, the lame, the lepers, advancing
with trembling and hesitating steps. Those are the treasures, the
golden vases and so forth, that the saint has catalogued and is going to
exhibit to the prefect, who is waiting in the sanctuary. The prefect is
dumb with rage; the saint observes that gold is found in dross; that the
disease of the body is to be less feared than that of the soul; and he
developes this idea with a good deal of wit. The boasters suffer from
dropsy, the miser from cramp in the wrist, the ambitious from febrile
heat, the gossipers, who delight in tale-bearing, from the itch; but
you, he says, addressing the prefect, you who govern Rome, suffer
from the _morbus regius_ (you see the pun). In revenge for thus
slighting his dignity, the prefect condemns St Laurence to be roasted on
a slow fire, adding, 'and deny there, if you will, the existence of my
Vulcan.' Even on the gridiron Laurence does not lose his good humour,
and he gets himself turned as a cook would a chop.
"Now, do you not understand what I mean when I say that the hymns of
Prudentius are an anticipation of the form of the English ballad?... And
in the fifth hymn the story of St Vincent is given with that peculiar
dramatic terseness that you find nowhere except in the English ballad.
But the most beautiful poem of all is certainly the fourteenth and last
hymn. In a hundred and thirty-three hendecasyllabic verses the story of
a young virgin condemned to a house of ill-fame is sung with exquisite
sense of grace and melody. She is exposed naked at the corner of a
street. The crowd piously turns away; only one young man looks upon her
with lust in his heart. He is instantly struck blind by lightning, but
at the request of the virgin his sight is restored to him. Then follows
the account of how she suffered martyrdom by the sword--a martyrdom
which the girl salutes with a transport of joy. The poet describes her
ascending to Heaven, and casting one last look upon this miserable
earth, whose miseries seem without end, and whose joys are of such short
"Then his great poem 'Psychomachia' is the first example in mediaeval
literature of allegorical poetry, the most Christian of all forms of
"Faith, her shoulders bare, her hair free, advances, eager for the
fight. The 'cult of the ancient gods,' with forehead chapleted after the
fashion of the pagan priests, dares to attack her, and is overthrown.
The legion of martyrs that Faith has called together cry in triumphant
unison.... Modesty (Pudicitia), a young virgin with brilliant arms, is
attacked by 'the most horrible of the Furies' (Sodomita Libido), who,
with a torch burning with pitch and sulphur, seeks to strike her eyes,
but Modesty disarms him and pierces him with her sword. 'Since the
Virgin without stain gave birth to the Man-God, Lust is without rights
in the world.' Patience watches the fight; she is presently attacked
by Anger, first with violent words, and then with darts, which fall
harmlessly from her armour. Accompanied by Job, Patience retires
triumphant. But at that moment, mounted on a wild and unbridled steed,
and covered with a lionskin, Pride (Superbia), her hair built up like a
tower, menaces Humility (Mens humilis). Under the banner of Humility are
ranged Justice, Frugality, Modesty, pale of face, and likewise
Simplicity. Pride mocks at this miserable army, and would crush it under
the feet of her steed. But she falls in a ditch dug by Fraud. Humility
hesitates to take advantage of her victory; but Hope draws her sword,
cuts off the head of the enemy, and flies away on golden wings to
"Then Lust (Luxuria), the new enemy, appears. She comes from the extreme
East, this wild dancer, with odorous hair, provocative glance and
effeminate voice; she stands in a magnificent chariot drawn by four
horses; she scatters violet and rose leaves; they are her weapons; their
insidious perfumes destroy courage and will, and the army, headed by the
virtues, speaks of surrender. But suddenly Sobriety (Sobrietas) lifts
the standard of the Cross towards the sky. Lust falls from her chariot,
and Sobriety fells her with a stone. Then all her saturnalian army is
scattered. Love casts away his quiver. Pomp strips herself of her
garments, and Voluptuousness (Voluptas) fears not to tread upon thorns,
&c. But Avarice disguises herself in the mask of Economy, and succeeds
in deceiving all hearts until she is overthrown finally by Mercy
(Operatica). All sorts of things happen, but eventually the poem winds
up with a prayer to Christ, in which we learn that the soul shall fall
again and again in the battle, and that this shall continue until the
coming of Christ."
"'Tis very curious, very curious indeed. I know nothing of this
"Very few do."
"And you have, I suppose, translated some of these poems?"
"I give a complete translation of the second hymn, the story of St
Laurence, and I give long extracts from the poem we have been speaking
about, and likewise from 'Hamartigenia,' which, by the way, some
consider as his greatest work. And I show more completely, I think, than
any other commentator, the analogy between it and the 'Divine Comedy,'
and how much Dante owed to it.... Then the 'terza rima' was undoubtedly
borrowed from the fourth hymn of the 'Cathemerinon.'"...
"You said, I think, that Prudentius was a contemporary of Claudian.
Which do you think the greater poet?"
"Prudentius by far. Claudian's Latin was no doubt purer and his verse
was better, that is to say, from the classical standpoint it was more
"Is there any other standpoint?"
"Of course. There is pagan Latin and Christian Latin: Burns' poems are
beautiful, and they are not written in Southern English; Chaucer's
verse is exquisitely melodious, although it will not scan to modern
pronunciation. In the earliest Christian poetry there is a tendency to
write by accent rather than by quantity, but that does not say that
the hymns have not a quaint Gothic music of their own. This is very
noticeable in Sedulius, a poet of the fifth century. His hymn to Christ
is not only full of assonance, but of all kinds of rhyme and even
double rhymes. We find the same thing in Sedonius, and likewise in
Fortunatus--a gay prelate, the morality of whose life is, I am afraid,
open to doubt...
"He had all the qualities of a great poet, but he wasted his genius
writing love verses to Radegonde. The story is a curious one. Radegonde
was the daughter of the King of Thuringia; she was made prisoner by
Clotaire I., son of Clovis, who forced her to become his wife. On the
murder of her father by her husband, she fled and founded a convent at
Poictiers. There she met Fortunatus, who, it appears, loved her. It is
of course humanly possible that their love was not a guilty one, but it
is certain that the poet wasted the greater part of his life writing
verses to her and her adopted daughter Agnes. In a beautiful poem in
praise of virginity, composed in honour of Agnes, he speaks in a very
disgusting way of the love with which nuns regard our Redeemer, and the
recompence that awaits them in Heaven for their chastity. If it had not
been for the great interest attaching to his verse as an example of the
radical alteration that had been effected in the language, I do not
think I should have spoken of this poet. Up to his time rhyme had
slipped only occasionally into the verse, it had been noticed and had
been allowed to remain by poets too idle to remove it, a strange
something not quite understood, and yet not a wholly unwelcome intruder;
but in St Fortunatus we find for the first time rhyme cognate with the
metre, and used with certainty and brilliancy. In the opening lines of
the hymn, 'Vexilla Regis,' rhyme is used with superb effect....
"But for signs of the approaching dissolution of the language, of its
absorption by the national idiom, we must turn to St Gregory of Tours.
He was a man of defective education, and the _lingua rustica_ of France
as it was spoken by the people makes itself felt throughout his
writings. His use of _iscere_ for _escere_, of the accusative for the
ablative, one of St Gregory's favourite forms of speech, _pro or quod_
for _quoniam_, conformable to old French _porceque_, so common for
_parceque_. And while national idiom was oozing through grammatical
construction, national forms of verse were replacing the classical
metres which, so far as syllables were concerned, had hitherto been
adhered to. As we advance into the sixth and seventh centuries, we find
English monks attempting to reproduce the characteristics of Anglo-Saxon
alliterative verse in Latin; and at the Court of Charlemagne we find an
Irish monk writing Latin verse in a long trochaic line, which is native
in Irish poetry.
"Poets were plentiful at the court of Charlemagne. Now, Angilbert was a
poet of exquisite grace, and surprisingly modern is his music, which is
indeed a wonderful anticipation of the lilt of Edgar Poe. I compare it
to Poe. Just listen:--
"'Surge meo Domno dulces fac, fistula versus:
David amat versus, surge et fac fistula versus.
David amat vates, vatorum est gloria David
Qua propter vates cuncti concurrite in unum
Atque meo David dulces cantate camoenas.
David amat vates, vatorum est gloria David.
Dulcis amor David inspirat corda canentum,
Cordibus in nostris faciat amor ipsius odas:
Vates Homerus amat David, fac, fistula, versus.
David amat vates, vatorum est gloria David.'"
"I should have flogged that monk--'ipsius,' oh, oh!--'vatorum.'... It
really is too terrible."
John laughed, and was about to reply, when the clanging of the college
bell was heard.
"I am afraid that is dinner-time."
"Afraid, I am delighted; you don't suppose that every one can live,
chameleon-like, on air, or worse still, on false quantities. Ha, ha, ha!
And those pictures too. That snow is more violet than white."
When dinner was over, John and Mr Hare walked out on the terrace. The
carriage waited in the wet in front of the great oak portal; the grey,
stormy evening descended on the high roofs, smearing the red out of the
walls and buttresses, and melancholy and tall the red college seemed
amid its dwarf plantation, now filled with night wind and drifting
leaves. Shadow and mist had floated out of the shallows above the crests
of the valley, and the lamps of the farm-houses gleamed into a pale
"And now tell me what I am to say to your mother. Will you come home for
"I suppose I must. I suppose it would seem so unkind if I didn't. I
cannot account even to myself for my dislike to the place. I cannot
think of it without a revulsion of feeling that is strangely personal."
"I won't argue that point with you, but I think you ought to come home."
"Why? Why ought I to come to Sussex, and marry my neighbour's daughter?"
"There is no reason that you should marry your neighbour's daughter,
but I take it that you do not propose to pass your life here."
"For the present I am concerned mainly with the problem of how I may
make advances, how I may meet life, as it were, half-way; for if
possible I would not quite lose touch of the world. I would love to live
in its shadow, a spectator whose duty it is to watch and encourage, and
pity the hurrying throng on the stage. The church would approve this
attitude, whereas hate and loathing of humanity are not to be justified.
But I can do nothing to hurry the state of feeling I desire, except of
course to pray. I have passed through some terrible moments of despair
and gloom, but these are now wearing themselves away, and I am feeling
more at rest."
Then, as if from a sudden fear of ridicule, John said, laughing:
"Besides, looking at the question from a purely practical side, it must
be hardly wise for me to return to society for the present. I like
neither fox-hunting, marriage, Robert Louis Stevenson's stories, nor Sir
Frederick Leighton's pictures; I prefer monkish Latin to Virgil, and I
adore Degas, Monet, Manet, and Renoir, and since this is so, and alas, I
am afraid irrevocably so, do you not think that I should do well to keep
outside a world in which I should be the only wrong and vicious being?
Why spoil that charming thing called society by my unlovely presence?
"Selfishness! I know what you are going to say--here is my answer. I
assure you I administer to the best of my ability the fortune God gave
me--I spare myself no trouble. I know the financial position of every
farmer on my estate, the property does not owe fifty pounds;--I keep the
tenants up to the mark; I do not approve of waste and idleness, but when
a little help is wanted I am ready to give it. And then, well, I don't
mind telling you, but it must not go any further. I have made a will
leaving something to all my tenants; I give away a fixed amount in
"I know, my dear John, I know your life is not a dissolute one; but your
mother is very anxious, remember you are the last. Is there no chance
of your ever marrying?"
"I don't think I could live with a woman; there is something very
degrading, something very gross in such relations. There is a better and
a purer life to lead ... an inner life, coloured and permeated with
feelings and tones that are, oh, how intensely our own, and he who may
have this life, shrinks from any adventitious presence that might jar or
destroy it. To keep oneself unspotted, to feel conscious of no sense of
stain, to know, yes, to hear the heart repeat that this self--hands,
face, mouth and skin--is free from all befouling touch, is all one's
own. I have always been strongly attracted to the colour white, and I
can so well and so acutely understand the legend that tells that the
ermine dies of gentle loathing of its own self, should a stain come upon
its immaculate fur.... I should not say a legend, for that implies that
the story is untrue, and it is not untrue--so beautiful a thought could
not be untrue."
[Footnote 1: Qui Romam regis.]
"Urns on corner walls, pilasters, circular windows, flowerage and
loggia. What horrible taste, and quite out of keeping with the
landscape!" He rang the bell.
"How do you do, Master John!" cried the tottering old butler who had
known him since babyhood. "Very glad, indeed, we all are to see you home
Neither the appellation of Master John, nor the sight of the four
paintings, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, which decorated the walls
of the passage, found favour with John, and the effusiveness of Mrs
Norton, who rushed out of the drawing-room, followed by Kitty, and
embraced her son, at once set on edge all his curious antipathies. Why
this kissing, this approachment of flesh? Of course she was his
mother.... Then this smiling girl in the background! He would have to
amuse her and talk to her; what infinite boredom it would be! He trusted
fervently that her visit would not be a long one.
Then through what seemed to him the pollution of triumph, he was led
into the library; and he noticed, notwithstanding the presiding busts of
Shakespeare and Milton, that there was but one wretched stand full of
books in the room, and that in the gloom of a far corner. His mother sat
down, and there was a resoluteness in her look and attitude that seemed
to proclaim, "Now I hold you captive;" but she said:
"I was very much alarmed, my dear John, about your not sleeping. Mr Hare
told me you said that you went two and three nights without closing your
eyes, and that you had to have recourse to sleeping draughts."
"Not at all, mother, I never took a sleeping draught but twice in my
"Well, you don't sleep well, and I am sure it is those college beds.
But you will be far more comfortable here. You are in the best bedroom
in the house, the one in front of the staircase, the bridal chamber; and
I have selected the largest and softest feather-bed in the house."
"My dear mother, if there is one thing more than another I dislike, it
is a feather-bed. I should not be able to close my eyes; I beg of you to
have it taken away."
Mrs Norton's face flushed. "I cannot understand, John; it is absurd to
say that you cannot sleep on a feather-bed. Mr Hare told me you
complained of insomnia, and there is no surer way of losing your health.
It is owing to the hardness of those college mattresses, whereas in a
"There is no use in our arguing that point, mother, I say I cannot sleep
on a feather-bed...."
"But you have not tried one; I don't believe you ever slept on a
feather-bed in your life."
"Well, I am not going to begin now."
"We haven't another bed aired in the house, and it is really too late
to ask the servants to change your room."
"Well, then, I shall be obliged to sleep at the hotel in Henfield."
"You should not speak to your mother in that way; I will not have it."
"There! you see we are quarrelling already; I did wrong to come home."
"I am speaking to you for your own good, my dear John, and I think it is
very stubborn of you to refuse to sleep on a feather-bed; if you don't
like it, you can change it to-morrow."
The conversation fell, and in silence the speakers strove to master
their irritation. Then John, for politeness' sake, spoke of when he had
last seen Kitty. It was about five years ago. She had ridden her pony
over to see them.
Mrs Norton talked of some people who had left the county, of a marriage,
of an engagement, of a mooted engagement; and she jerked in a
suggestion that if John were to apply at once, he would be placed
on the list of deputy-lieutenants. Enumeration of the family
influence--Lord So-and-so, the cousin, was the Lord Lieutenant's most
"You are not even a J.P., but there will be no difficulty about that;
and you have not seen any of the county people for years. We will have
the carriage out some day this week, and we'll pay a round of visits."
"We'll do nothing of the kind. I have no time for visiting; I must get
on with my book. I hope to finish my study of St Augustine before I
leave here. I have my books to unpack, and a great deal of reading to
get through. I have done no more than glance at the Anglo-Latin.
Literature died in France with Gregory of Tours at the end of the sixth
century; with St Gregory the Great, in Italy, at the commencement of the
seventh century; in Spain about the same time. And then the Anglo-Saxons
became the representatives of the universal literature. All this is
most important. I must re-read St Aldhelm and the Venerable Bede....
Now, I ask, do you expect me--me, with my head full of Aldhelm's
"'Turbo terram teretibus
Quae catervatim coelitus
Neque coelorum culmina
Crebrantur nigris nubibus
Carent nocturna nebula--'
"a letter descriptive of a great storm which he was caught in as he was
returning home one night...."
"Now, sir, we have had quite enough of that, and I would advise you not
to go on with any of that nonsense here; you will be turned into
"That's just why I wish to avoid them ... but you have no pity for me.
Just fancy my having to listen to them! How I have suffered.... What is
the use of growing wheat when we are only getting eight pounds ten a
load?... But we must grow something, and there is nothing else but
wheat. We must procure a certain amount of straw, or we'd have no
manure, and you can't work a farm without manure. I don't believe in the
fish manure. But there is market gardening, and if we kept shops in
Brighton, we could grow our own stuff and sell it at retail price....
And then there is a great deal to be done with flowers."
"Now, sir, that will do, that will do.... How dare you speak to me so! I
will not allow it." And then relapsing into an angry silence, Mrs Norton
drew her shawl about her shoulders.
One of a thousand quarrels. The basis of each nature was common
sense--shrewd common sense--but such similarity of structure is in
itself apt to lead to much violent shocking of opinion; and to this end
an adjuvant was found in the dose of fantasy, mysticism, idealism which
was inherent in John's character. "Why is he not like other people? Why
will he waste his time with a lot of rubbishy Latin authors? Why will he
not take up his position in the county?" Mrs Norton asked herself these
questions as she fumed on the sofa.
"I wonder why she will continue to try to impose her will upon mine. I
wonder why she has not found out by this time the uselessness of her
effort. But no; she still keeps on hoping at last to wear me down. She
wants me to live the life she has marked out for me to live--to take up
my position in the county, and, above all, to marry and give an heir to
the property. I see it all; that is why she wanted me to spend Christmas
with her; that is why she has Kitty Hare here to meet me. How cunning,
how mean women are: a man would not do that. Had I known it.... I have a
mind to leave to-morrow. I wonder if the girl is in the little
conspiracy." And turning his head he looked at her.
Tall and slight, a grey dress, pale as the wet sky, fell from her waist
outward in the manner of a child's frock, and there was a lightness,
there was brightness in the clear eyes. The intense youth of her heart
was evanescent; it seemed constantly rising upwards like the breath of
a spring morning--a morning when the birds are trilling. The face
sharpened to a tiny chin, and the face was pale, although there was
bloom on the cheeks. The forehead was shadowed by a sparkling cloud of
brown hair, the nose was straight, and each little nostril was pink
tinted. The ears were like shells. There was a rigidity in her attitude.
She laughed abruptly, perhaps a little nervously, and the abrupt laugh
revealed the line of tiny white teeth. Thin arms fell straight to the
translucent hands, and there was a recollection of puritan England in
look and in gesture.
Her picturesqueness calmed John's ebullient discontent; he decided that
she knew nothing of, and was not an accomplice in, his mother's scheme:
For the sake of his guest he strove to make himself agreeable during
dinner, but it was clear that he missed the hierarchy of the college
table. The conversation fell repeatedly. Mrs Norton and Kitty spoke of
making syrup for the bees; and their discussion of the illness of poor
Dr ----, who would no longer be able to get through the work of the
parish single-handed, and would require a curate, was continued till the
ladies rose from table. Nor did matters mend in the library. John's
thoughts went back to his book; the room seemed to him intolerably
uncomfortable and ugly. He went to the billiard-room to smoke a cigar.
It was not clear to him if he would be able to spend two months in this
odious place. He might offer them to God as penance for his sins; if
every evening passed like the present, it were a modern martyrdom.
But had they removed that horrid feather-bed? He went upstairs. The
feather-bed had been removed.
The room was large and ample, and it was draped with many curtains--pale
curtains covered with walking birds and falling petals, a sort of Indian
pattern. There was a sofa at the foot of the bed, and the toilette-table
hung out its skirts in the wavering light of the fire. John tossed to
and fro staring at the birds and petals. He thought of his ascetic
college bed, of the great Christ upon the wall, of the prie-dieu with
the great rosary hanging, but in vain; he could not rid his mind of the
distasteful feminine influences which had filled the day, and which now
haunted the night.
After breakfast next morning Mrs Norton stopped John as he was going
upstairs to unpack his books. "Now," she said, "you must go out for a
walk with Kitty Hare, and I hope you will make yourself agreeable. I
want you to see the new greenhouse I have put up; she'll show it to you.
And I told the bailiff to meet you in the yard. I thought you might like
to see him."
"I wish, mother, you would not interfere in my business; had I wanted to
see Burnes I should have sent for him."
"If you don't want to see him, he wants to see you. There are some
cottages on the farm that must be put into repair at once. As for
interfering in your business, I don't know how you can talk like that;
were it not for me the whole place would be falling to pieces."
"Quite true; I know you save me a great deal of expense; but really ..."
"Really what? You won't go out to walk with Kitty Hare?"
"I did not say I wouldn't, but I must say that I am very busy just now.
I had thought of doing a little reading, for I have an appointment with
my solicitor in the afternoon."
"That man charges you L200 a-year for collecting the rents; now, if you
were to do it yourself, you would save the money, and it would give you
something to do."
"Something to do! I have too much to do as it is.... But if I am going
out with Kitty.... Where is she?"
"I saw her go into the library a moment ago."
And as it was preferable to go for a walk with Kitty than to continue
the interview with his mother, John seized his hat and called Kitty,
Kitty, Kitty! Presently she appeared, and they walked towards the
garden, talking. She told him she had been at Thornby Place the whole
time the greenhouse was being built, and when they opened the door they
were greeted by Sammy. He sprang instantly on her shoulder.
"This is my cat," she said. "I've fed him since he was a little kitten;
isn't he sweet?"
The girl was beautiful on the brilliant flower background; she stroked
the great caressing creature, and when she put him down he mewed
reproachfully. Further on her two tame rooks cawed joyously, and
alighted on her shoulder.
"I wonder they don't fly away, and join the others in the trees."
"One did go away, and he came back nearly dead with hunger. But he is
all right now, aren't you, dear?" And the bird cawed, and rubbed its
black head against its mistress' cheek. "Poor little things, they fell
out of the nest before they could fly, and I brought them up. But you
don't care for pets, do you, John?"
"I don't like birds!"
"Don't like birds! Why, that seems as strange as if you said that you
didn't like flowers."
"Mrs Norton told me, sir, that you would like to speak to me about them
cottages on the Erringham Farm," said the bailiff.
"Yes, yes, I must go over and see them to-morrow morning at ten o'clock.
I intend to go thoroughly into everything. How are they getting on with
the cottages that were burnt down?"
"Rather slow, sir, the weather is so bad."