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Adventures among Books by Andrew Lang

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was less than we had hoped. A cold settled on his lungs, and, in
spite of the most affectionate nursing, he grew rapidly weaker. He
had little suffering at the end, and his mind remained unclouded.
No man of letters could be more widely regretted, for he was the
friend of all who read his books, as, even to people who only met
him once or twice in life, he seemed to become dear and familiar.

In one of his very latest writings, "On Thackeray's Death," Dr.
Brown told people (what some of them needed, and still need to be
told) how good, kind, and thoughtful for others was our great
writer--our greatest master of fiction, I venture to think, since
Scott. Some of the lines Dr. Brown wrote of Thackerary might be
applied to himself: "He looked always fresh, with that abounding
silvery hair, and his young, almost infantile face"--a face very
pale, and yet radiant, in his last years, and mildly lit up with
eyes full of kindness, and softened by sorrow. In his last year,
Mr. Swinburne wrote to Dr. Brown this sonnet, in which there seems
something of the poet's prophetic gift, and a voice sounds as of a
welcome home:-

"Beyond the north wind lay the land of old,
Where men dwelt blithe and blameless, clothed and fed
With joy's bright raiment, and with love's sweet bread, -
The whitest flock of earth's maternal fold,
None there might wear about his brows enrolled
A light of lovelier fame than rings your head,
Whose lovesome love of children and the dead
All men give thanks for; I, far off, behold
A dear dead hand that links us, and a light
The blithest and benignest of the night, -
The night of death's sweet sleep, wherein may be
A star to show your spirit in present sight
Some happier isle in the Elysian sea
Where Rab may lick the hand of Marjorie."


Never but once did I enjoy the privilege of meeting the author of
"Elsie Venner"--Oliver Wendell Holmes. It was at a dinner given by
Mr. Lowell, and of conversation with Dr. Holmes I had very little.
He struck me as being wonderfully erect, active, and vivacious for
his great age. He spoke (perhaps I should not chronicle this
impression)--he spoke much, and freely, but rather as if he were
wound up to speak, so to say--wound up, I mean, by a sense of duty
to himself and kindness to strangers, who were naturally curious
about so well-known a man. In his aspect there was a certain
dryness, and, altogether, his vivacity, his ceaselessness, and a
kind of equability of tone in his voice, reminded me of what Homer
says concerning the old men around Priam, above the gate of Troy,
how they "chirped like cicalas on a summer day." About the matter
of his talk I remember nothing, only the manner remains with me,
and mine may have been a false impression, or the manner may have
been accidental, and of the moment: or, again, a manner
appropriate for conversation with strangers, each coming up one
after the other, to view respectfully so great a lion. Among his
friends and intimates he was probably a different man, with a tone
other and more reposeful.

He had a long, weary task before him, then, to talk his way, ever
courteous, alert, attentive, through part of a London season. Yet,
when it was all over, he seems to have enjoyed it, being a man who
took pleasure in most sorts of experience. He did not affect me,
for that one time, with such a sense of pleasure as Mr. Lowell did-
-Mr. Lowell, whom I knew so much better, and who was so big,
strong, humorous, kind, learned, friendly, and delightfully

Dr. Holmes, too, was a delightful companion, and I have merely
tried to make a sort of photographic "snap-shot" at him, in a
single casual moment, one of myriads of such moments. Turning to
Dr. Holmes's popular, as distinct from his professional writings,
one is reminded, as one often is, of the change which seems to come
over some books as the reader grows older. Many books are to one
now what they always were; some, like the Waverley novels and
Shakespeare, grow better on every fresh reading. There are books
which filled me, in boyhood or in youth, with a sort of admiring
rapture, and a delighted wonder at their novelty, their
strangeness, freshness, greatness. Thus Homer, and the best novels
of Thackeray, and of Fielding, the plays of Moliere and
Shakespeare, the poems of--well, of all the real poets, moved this
astonishment of admiration, and being read again, they move it
still. On a different level, one may say as much about books so
unlike each other, as those of Poe and of Sir Thomas Browne, of
Swift and of Charles Lamb.

There are, again, other books which caused this happy emotion of
wonder, when first perused, long since, but which do so no longer.
I am not much surprised to find Charles Kingsley's novels among

In the case of Dr. Holmes's books, I am very sensible of this
disenchanting effect of time and experience. "The Professor at the
Breakfast Table" and the novels came into my hands when I was very
young, in "green, unknowing youth." They seemed extraordinary,
new, fantasies of wisdom and wit; the reflections were such as
surprised me by their depth, the illustrations dazzled by their
novelty and brilliance. Probably they will still be as fortunate
with young readers, and I am to be pitied, I hope, rather than
blamed, if I cannot, like the wise thrush -

The first fine careless rapture."

By this time, of course, one understands many of the constituents
of Dr. Holmes's genius, the social, historical, ancestral, and
professional elements thereof. Now, it is the business of
criticism to search out and illustrate these antecedents, and it
seems a very odd and unlucky thing, that the results of this
knowledge when acquired, should sometimes be a partial
disenchantment. But we are not disenchanted at all by this kind of
science, when the author whom we are examining is a great natural
genius, like Shakespeare or Shelley, Keats or Scott. Such natures
bring to the world far more than they receive, as far as our means
of knowing what they receive are concerned. The wind of the spirit
that is not of this earth, nor limited by time and space, breathes
through their words, and thoughts, and deeds. They are not mere
combinations, however deft and subtle, of KNOWN atoms. They must
continually delight, and continually surprise; custom cannot stale
them; like the heaven-born Laws in Sophocles, age can never lull
them to sleep. Their works, when they are authors, never lose hold
on our fancy and our interest.

As far as my own feelings and admiration can inform me, Dr. Holmes,
though a most interesting and amiable and kindly man and writer,
was not of this class. As an essayist, a delineator of men and
morals, an unassuming philosopher, with a light, friendly wit, he
certainly does not hold one as, for example, Addison does. The old
Spectator makes me smile, pleases, tickles, diverts me now, even
more than when I lay on the grass and read it by Tweedside, as a
boy, when the trout were sluggish, in the early afternoon. It is
only a personal fact that Dr. Holmes, read in the same old seasons,
with so much pleasure and admiration and surprise, no longer
affects me in the old way. Carlyle, on the other hand, in his
"Frederick," which used to seem rather long, now entertains me far
more than ever. But I am well aware that this is a mere subjective
estimate; that Dr. Holmes may really be as great a genius as I was
wont to think him, for criticism is only a part of our impressions.
The opinion of mature experience, as a rule, ought to be sounder
than that of youth; in this case I cannot but think that it is

Dr. Holmes was a New Englander, and born in what he calls "the
Brahmin caste," the class which, in England, before the sailing of
the May Flower, and ever since, had always been literary and highly
educated. "I like books; I was born and bred among them," he says,
"and have the easy feeling, when I get into their presence, that a
stable-boy has among horses." He is fond of books, and, above all,
of old books--strange, old medical works, for example--full of
portents and prodigies, such as those of Wierus.

New England, owing to its famous college, Harvard, and its steady
maintenance of the literary and learned tradition among the clergy,
was, naturally, the home of the earliest great American school of
writers. These men--Longfellow, Lowell, Ticknor, Prescott,
Hawthorne, and so many others--had all received the same sort of
education as Europeans of letters used to receive. They had not
started as printers' devils, or newspaper reporters, or playwrights
for the stage, but were academic. It does not matter much how a
genius begins--as a rural butcher, or an apothecary, or a clerk of
a Writer to the Signet. Still, the New Englanders were academic
and classical. New England has, by this time, established a
tradition of its literary origin and character. Her children are
sons of the Puritans, with their independence, their narrowness,
their appreciation of comfort, their hardiness in doing without it,
their singular scruples of conscience, their sense of the awfulness
of sin, their accessibility to superstition. We can read of the
later New Englanders in the making, among the works of Cotton
Mather, his father Increase Mather, and the witch-burning, periwig-
hating, doctrinal Judge Sewall, who so manfully confessed and
atoned for his mistake about the Salem witches. These men, or many
of them, were deeply-learned Calvinists, according to the standard
of their day, a day lasting from, say, the Restoration to 1730.
Cotton Mather, in particular, is erudite, literary--nay, full of
literary vanity--mystical, visionary, credulous to an amusing

But he is really as British as Baxter, or his Scottish
correspondent and counterpart, Wodrow. The sons or grandsons of
these men gained the War of Independence. Of this they are
naturally proud, and the circumstance is not infrequently mentioned
in Dr. Holmes's works. Their democracy is not roaring modern
democracy, but that of the cultivated middle classes. Their stern
Calvinism slackened into many "isms," but left a kind of
religiosity behind it. One of Dr. Holmes's mouthpieces sums up his
whole creed in the two words Pater Noster. All these hereditary
influences are consciously made conspicuous in Dr. Holmes's
writings, as in Hawthorne's. In Hawthorne you see the old horror
of sin, the old terror of conscience, the old dread of witchcraft,
the old concern about conduct, converted into aesthetic sources of
literary pleasure, of literary effects.

As a physician and a man of science, Dr. Holmes added abundant
knowledge of the new sort; and apt, unexpected bits of science made
popular, analogies and illustrations afforded by science are
frequent in his works. Thus, in "Elsie Venner," and in "The
Guardian Angel," "heredity" is his theme. He is always brooding
over the thought that each of us is so much made up of earlier
people, our ancestors, who bequeath to us so many disagreeable
things--vice, madness, disease, emotions, tricks of gesture. No
doubt these things are bequeathed, but all in such new proportions
and relations, that each of us is himself and nobody else, and
therefore had better make up his mind to BE himself, and for
himself responsible.

All this doctrine of heredity, still so dimly understood, Dr.
Holmes derives from science. But, in passing through his mind,
that of a New Englander conscious of New England's past, science
takes a stain of romance and superstition. Elsie Venner, through
an experience of her mother's, inherits the nature of the serpent,
so the novel is as far from common life as the tale of "Melusine,"
or any other echidna. The fantasy has its setting in a commonplace
New England environment, and thus recalls a Hawthorne less subtle
and concentrated, but much more humorous. The heroine of the
"Guardian Angel," again, exposes a character in layers, as it were,
each stratum of consciousness being inherited from a different
ancestor--among others, a red Indian. She has many personalities,
like the queer women we read about in French treatises on hysterics
and nervous diseases. These stories are "fairy tales of science,"
by a man of science, who is also a humourist, and has a touch of
the poet, and of the old fathers who were afraid of witches. The
"blend" is singular enough, and not without its originality of

Though a man of science Dr. Holmes apparently took an imaginative
pleasure in all shapes of superstition that he could muster. I
must quote a passage from "The Professor at the Breakfast Table,"
as peculiarly illustrative of his method, and his ways of half
accepting the abnormally romantic--accepting just enough for
pleasure, like Sir Walter Scott. Connected with the extract is a
curious anecdote.

"I think I am a little superstitious. There were two things, when
I was a boy, that diabolised my imagination,--I mean, that gave me
a distinct apprehension of a formidable bodily shape which prowled
round the neighbourhood where I was born and bred. The first was a
series of marks called the 'Devil's footsteps.' These were patches
of sand in the pastures, where no grass grew, where even the low-
bush blackberry, the "dewberry," as our Southern neighbours call
it, in prettier and more Shakespearian language, did not spread its
clinging creepers, where even the pale, dry, sadly-sweet
'everlasting' could not grow, but all was bare and blasted. The
second was a mark in one of the public buildings near my home,--the
college dormitory named after a Colonial Governor. I do not think
many persons are aware of the existence of this mark,--little
having been said about the story in print, as it was considered
very desirable, for the sake of the Institution, to hush it up. In
the north-west corner, and on the level of the third or fourth
storey, there are signs of a breach in the walls, mended pretty
well, but not to be mistaken. A considerable portion of that
corner must have been carried away, from within outward. It was an
unpleasant affair, and I do not care to repeat the particulars; but
some young men had been using sacred things in a profane and
unlawful way, when the occurrence, which was variously explained,
took place. The story of the Appearance in the chamber was, I
suppose, invented afterwards; but of the injury to the building
there could be no question; and the zigzag line, where the mortar
is a little thicker than before, is still distinctly visible.

"The queer burnt spots, called the 'Devil's footsteps,' had never
attracted attention before this time, though there is no evidence
that they had not existed previously, except that of the late Miss
M., a 'Goody,' so called, who was positive on the subject, but had
a strange horror of referring to an affair of which she was thought
to know something . . . I tell you it was not so pleasant for a
little boy of impressible nature to go up to bed in an old gambrel-
roofed house, with untenanted locked upper chambers, and a most
ghostly garret,--with 'Devil's footsteps' in the fields behind the
house, and in front of it the patched dormitory, where the
unexplained occurrence had taken place which startled those godless
youths at their mock devotions, so that one of them was epileptic
from that day forward, and another, after a dreadful season of
mental conflict, took to religion, and became renowned for his
ascetic sanctity."

It is a pity that Dr. Holmes does not give the whole story, instead
of hinting at it, for a similar tale is told at Brazenose College,
and elsewhere. Now take, along with Dr. Holmes's confession to a
grain of superstition, this remark on, and explanation of, the
curious coincidences which thrust themselves on the notice of most

"Excuse me,--I return to my story of the Commonstable. Young
fellows being always hungry, and tea and dry toast being the meagre
fare of the evening meal, it was a trick of some of the boys to
impale a slice of meat upon a fork, at dinner-time, and stick the
fork, holding it, beneath the table, so that they could get it at
tea-time. The dragons that guarded this table of the Hesperides
found out the trick at last, and kept a sharp look-out for missing
forks;--they knew where to find one, if it was not in its place.
Now the odd thing was, that, after waiting so many years to hear of
this College trick, I should hear it mentioned a SECOND TIME within
the same twenty-four hours by a College youth of the present
generation. Strange, but true. And so it has happened to me and
to every person, often and often, to be hit in rapid succession by
these twinned facts or thoughts, as if they were linked like chain-

"I was going to leave the simple reader to wonder over this, taking
it as an unexplained marvel. I think, however, I will turn over a
furrow of subsoil in it. The explanation is, of course, that in a
great many thoughts there must be a few coincidences, and these
instantly arrest our attention. Now we shall probably never have
the least idea of the enormous number of impressions which pass
through our consciousness, until in some future life we see the
photographic record of our thoughts and the stereoscopic picture of
our actions.

"Now, my dear friends, who are putting your hands to your
foreheads, and saying to yourselves that you feel a little
confused, as if you had been waltzing until things began to whirl
slightly round you, is it possible that you do not clearly
apprehend the exact connection of all I have been saying, and its
bearing on what is now to come? Listen, then. The number of these
living elements in our bodies illustrates the incalculable
multitude of our thoughts; the number of our thoughts accounts for
those frequent coincidences spoken of; these coincidences in the
world of thought illustrate those which we constantly observe in
the world of outward events."

Now for the anecdote--one of Mark Twain's.

Some years ago, Mark Twain published in Harper's Magazine an
article on "Mental Telegraphy." He illustrated his meaning by a
story of how he once wrote a long letter on a complicated subject,
which had popped into his head between asleep and awake, to a
friend on the other side of America. He did not send the letter,
but, by return of post, received one from his friend. "Now, I'll
tell you what he is going to say," said Mark Twain, read his own
unsent epistle aloud, and then, opening his friend's despatch,
proved that they were essentially identical. This is what he calls
"Mental Telegraphy"; others call it "Telepathy," and the term is
merely descriptive.

Now, on his own showing, in our second extract, Dr. Holmes should
have explained coincidences like this as purely the work of chance,
and I rather incline to think that he would have been right. But
Mark Twain, in his article on "Mental Telegraphy," cites Dr. Holmes
for a story of how he once, after dinner, as his letters came in,
felt constrained to tell, a propos des bottes, the story of the
last challenge to judicial combat in England (1817). He then
opened a newspaper directed to him from England, the Sporting
Times, and therein his eyes lighted on an account of this very
affair--Abraham Thornton's challenge to battle when he was accused
of murder, in 1817. According to Mark Twain, Dr. Holmes was
disposed to accept "Mental Telegraphy" rather than mere chance as
the cause of this coincidence. Yet the anecdote of the challenge
seems to have been a favourite of his. It occurs in, "The
Professor," in the fifth section. Perhaps he told it pretty
frequently; probably that is why the printed version was sent to
him; still, he was a little staggered by the coincidence. There
was enough of Cotton Mather in the man of science to give him

The form of Dr. Holmes's best known books, the set concerned with
the breakfast-table and "Over the Teacups," is not very fortunate.
Much conversation at breakfast is a weariness of the flesh. We
want to eat what is necessary, and then to go about our work or
play. If American citizens in a boarding-house could endure these
long palavers, they must have been very unlike the hasty feeders
caricatured in "Martin Chuzzlewit." Macaulay may have monologuised
thus at his breakfast parties in the Albany; but breakfast parties
are obsolete--an unregrettable parcel of things lost. The
monologues, or dialogues, were published serially in the Atlantic
Monthly, but they have had a vitality and a vogue far beyond those
of the magazine causerie. Some of their popularity they may owe to
the description of the other boarders, and to the kind of novel
which connects the fortunes of these personages. But it is
impossible for an Englishman to know whether these American types
are exactly drawn or not. Their fortunes do not strongly interest
one, though the "Sculpin"--the patriotic, deformed Bostonian, with
his great-great-grandmother's ring (she was hanged for a witch)--is
a very original and singular creation. The real interest lies in
the wit, wisdom, and learning. The wit, now and then, seems to-day
rather in the nature of a "goak." One might give examples, but to
do so seems ill-natured and ungrateful.

There are some very perishable puns. The learning is not so
recherche as it appeared when we knew nothing of Cotton Mather and
Robert Calef, the author of a book against the persecution of
witches. Calef, of course, was in the right, but I cannot forgive
him for refusing to see a lady, known to Mr. Mather, who floated
about in the air. That she did so was no good reason for hanging
or burning a number of parishioners; but, did she float, and, if
so, how? Mr. Calef said it would be a miracle, so he declined to
view the performance. His logic was thin, though of a familiar
description. Of all old things, at all events, Dr. Holmes was
fond. He found America scarcely aired, new and raw, devoid of
history and of associations. "The Tiber has a voice for me, as it
whispers to the piers of the Pons AElius, even more full of meaning
than my well-beloved Charles, eddying round the piles of West
Boston Bridge." No doubt this is a common sentiment among

Occasionally, like Hawthorne, they sigh for an historical
atmosphere, and then, when they come to Europe and get it, they do
not like it, and think Schenectady, New York, "a better place." It
is not easy to understand what ailed Hawthorne with Europe; he was
extremely caustic in his writings about that continent, and
discontented. Our matrons were so stout and placid that they
irritated him. Indeed, they are a little heavy in hand, still
there are examples of agreeable slimness, even in this poor old
country. Fond as he was of the historical past, Mr. Holmes
remained loyal to the historical present. He was not one of those
Americans who are always censuring England, and always hankering
after her. He had none of that irritable feeling, which made a
great contemporary of his angrily declare that HE could endure to
hear "Ye Mariners of England" sung, because of his own country's
successes, some time ago. They were gallant and conspicuous
victories of the American frigates; we do not grudge them. A fair
fight should leave no rancour, above all in the victors, and Dr.
Holmes's withers would have been unwrung by Campbell's ditty.

He visited England in youth, and fifty years later. On the
anniversary of the American defeat at Bunker's Hill (June 17), Dr.
Holmes got his degree in the OLD Cambridge. He received degrees at
Edinburgh and at Oxford, in his "Hundred Days in Europe" he says
very little about these historic cities. The men at Oxford asked,
"Did he come in the 'One Hoss Shay'?" the name of his most familiar
poem in the lighter vein. The whole visit to England pleased and
wearied him. He likened it to the shass caffy of Mr. Henry Foker--
the fillip at the end of the long banquet of life. He went to see
the Derby, for he was fond of horses, of racing, and, in a
sportsmanlike way, of boxing. He had the great boldness once,
audax juventa, to write a song in praise of that comfortable
creature--wine. The prudery of many Americans about the juice of
the grape is a thing very astonishing to a temperate Briton. An
admirable author, who wrote an account of the old convivial days of
an American city, found that reputable magazines could not accept
such a degrading historical record. There was no nonsense about
Dr. Holmes. His poems were mainly "occasional" verses for friendly
meetings; or humorous, like the celebrated "One Horse Shay." Of
his serious verses, the "Nautilus" is probably too familiar to need
quotation; a noble fancy is nobly and tunefully "moralised."
Pleasing, cultivated, and so forth, are adjectives not dear to
poets. To say "sublime," or "magical," or "strenuous," of Dr.
Holmes's muse, would be to exaggerate. How far he maintained his
scholarship, I am not certain; but it is odd that, in his preface
to "The Guardian Angel," he should quote from "Jonathan Edwards the
younger," a story for which he might have cited Aristotle.

Were I to choose one character out of Dr. Holmes's creations as my
favourite, it would be "a frequent correspondent of his," and of
mine--the immortal Gifted Hopkins. Never was minor poet more
kindly and genially portrayed. And if one had to pick out three of
his books, as the best worth reading, they would be "The
Professor," "Elsie Venner," and "The Guardian Angel." They have
not the impeccable art and distinction of "The House of the Seven
Gables" and "The Scarlet Letter," but they combine fantasy with
living human interest, and with humour. With Sir Thomas Browne,
and Dr. John Brown, and--may we not add Dr. Weir Mitchell?--Dr.
Holmes excellently represents the physician in humane letters. He
has left a blameless and most amiable memory, unspotted by the
world. His works are full of the savour of his native soil,
naturally, without straining after "Americanism;" and they are
national, not local or provincial. He crossed the great gulf of
years, between the central age of American literary production--the
time of Hawthorne and Poe--to our own time, and, like Nestor, he
reigned among the third generation. As far as the world knows, the
shadow of a literary quarrel never fell on him; he was without envy
or jealousy, incurious of his own place, never vain, petulant, or
severe. He was even too good-humoured, and the worst thing I have
heard of him is that he could never say "no" to an autograph


"Enough," said the pupil of the wise Imlac, "you have convinced me
that no man can be a poet." The study of Mr. William Morris's
poems, in the new collected edition, {5} has convinced me that no
man, or, at least, no middle-aged man, can be a critic. I read Mr.
Morris's poems (thanks to the knightly honours conferred on the
Bard of Penrhyn, there is now no ambiguity as to 'Mr. Morris'), but
it is not the book only that I read. The scroll of my youth is
unfolded. I see the dear place where first I perused "The Blue
Closet"; the old faces of old friends flock around me; old chaff,
old laughter, old happiness re-echo and revive. St. Andrews,
Oxford, come before the mind's eye, with

"Many a place
That's in sad case
Where joy was wont afore, oh!"

as Minstrel Burne sings. These voices, faces, landscapes mingle
with the music and blur the pictures of the poet who enchanted for
us certain hours passed in the paradise of youth. A reviewer who
finds himself in this case may as well frankly confess that he can
no more criticise Mr. Morris dispassionately than he could
criticise his old self and the friends whom he shall never see
again, till he meets them

"Beyond the sphere of time,
And sin, and grief's control,
Serene in changeless prime
Of body and of soul."

To write of one's own "adventures among books" may be to provide
anecdotage more or less trivial, more or less futile, but, at
least, it is to write historically. We know how books have
affected, and do affect ourselves, our bundle of prejudices and
tastes, of old impressions and revived sensations. To judge books
dispassionately and impersonally, is much more difficult--indeed,
it is practically impossible, for our own tastes and experiences
must, more or less, modify our verdicts, do what we will. However,
the effort must be made, for to say that, at a certain age, in
certain circumstances, an individual took much pleasure in "The
Life and Death of Jason," the present of a college friend, is
certainly not to criticise "The Life and Death of Jason."

There have been three blossoming times in the English poetry of the
nineteenth century. The first dates from Wordsworth, Coleridge,
Scott, and, later, from Shelley, Byron, Keats. By 1822 the
blossoming time was over, and the second blossoming time began in
1830-1833, with young Mr. Tennyson and Mr. Browning. It broke
forth again, in 1842 and did not practically cease till England's
greatest laureate sang of the "Crossing of the Bar." But while
Tennyson put out his full strength in 1842, and Mr. Browning rather
later, in "Bells and Pomegranates" ("Men and Women"), the third
spring came in 1858, with Mr. Morris's "Defence of Guenevere," and
flowered till Mr. Swinburne's "Atalanta in Calydon" appeared in
1865, followed by his poems of 1866. Mr. Rossetti's book of 1870
belonged, in date of composition, mainly to this period.

In 1858, when "The Defence of Guenevere" came out, Mr. Morris must
have been but a year or two from his undergraduateship. Every one
has heard enough about his companions, Mr. Burne Jones, Mr.
Rossetti, Canon Dixon, and the others of the old Oxford and
Cambridge Magazine, where Mr. Morris's wonderful prose fantasies
are buried. Why should they not be revived, these strangely
coloured and magical dreams? As literature, I prefer them vastly
above Mr. Morris's later romances in prose--"The Hollow Land" above
"News from Nowhere!" Mr. Morris and his friends were active in the
fresh dawn of a new romanticism, a mediaeval and Catholic revival,
with very little Catholicism in it for the most part. This revival
is more "innerly," as the Scotch say, more intimate, more "earnest"
than the larger and more genial, if more superficial, restoration
by Scott. The painful doubt, the scepticism of the Ages of Faith,
the dark hours of that epoch, its fantasy, cruelty, luxury, no less
than its colour and passion, inform Mr. Morris's first poems. The
fourteenth and the early fifteenth century is his "period." In
"The Defence of Guenevere" he is not under the influence of
Chaucer, whose narrative manner, without one grain of his humour,
inspires "The Life and Death of Jason" and "The Earthly Paradise."
In the early book the rugged style of Mr. Browning has left a mark.
There are cockney rhymes, too, such as "short" rhyming to
"thought." But, on the whole, Mr. Morris's early manner was all
his own, nor has he ever returned to it. In the first poem, "The
Queen's Apology," is this passage:-

"Listen: suppose your time were come to die,
And you were quite alone and very weak;
Yea, laid a-dying, while very mightily

"The wind was ruffling up the narrow streak
Of river through your broad lands running well:
Suppose a hush should come, then some one speak:

"'One of these cloths is heaven, and one is hell,
Now choose one cloth for ever, which they be,
I will not tell you, you must somehow tell

"'Of your own strength and mightiness; here, see!'
Yea, yea, my lord, and you to ope your eyes,
At foot of your familiar bed to see

"A great God's angel standing, with such dyes,
Not known on earth, on his great wings, and hands,
Held out two ways, light from the inner skies

"Showing him well, and making his commands
Seem to be God's commands, moreover, too,
Holding within his hands the cloths on wands;

"And one of these strange choosing-cloths was blue,
Wavy and long, and one cut short and red;
No man could tell the better of the two.

"After a shivering half-hour you said,
'God help! heaven's colour, the blue;' and he said, 'Hell.'
Perhaps you then would roll upon your bed,

"And cry to all good men that loved you well,
'Ah, Christ! if only I had known, known, known.'"

There was nothing like that before in English poetry; it has the
bizarrerie of a new thing in beauty. How far it is really
beautiful how can I tell? How can I discount the "personal bias"?
Only I know that it is unforgettable. Again (Galahad speaks):-

"I saw
One sitting on the altar as a throne,
Whose face no man could say he did not know,
And, though the bell still rang, he sat alone,
With raiment half blood-red, half white as snow."

Such things made their own special ineffaceable impact.

Leaving the Arthurian cycle, Mr. Morris entered on his especially
sympathetic period--the gloom and sad sunset glory of the late
fourteenth century, the age of Froissart and wicked, wasteful wars.
To Froissart it all seemed one magnificent pageant of knightly and
kingly fortunes; he only murmurs a "great pity" for the death of a
knight or the massacre of a town. It is rather the pity of it that
Mr. Morris sees: the hearts broken in a corner, as in "Sir Peter
Harpedon's End," or beside "The Haystack in the Floods." Here is a
picture like life of what befell a hundred times. Lady Alice de la
Barde hears of the death of her knight:-


"Can you talk faster, sir?
Get over all this quicker? fix your eyes
On mine, I pray you, and whate'er you see
Still go on talking fast, unless I fall,
Or bid you stop.


"I pray your pardon then,
And looking in your eyes, fair lady, say
I am unhappy that your knight is dead.
Take heart, and listen! let me tell you all.
We were five thousand goodly men-at-arms,
And scant five hundred had he in that hold;
His rotten sandstone walls were wet with rain,
And fell in lumps wherever a stone hit;
Yet for three days about the barriers there
The deadly glaives were gather'd, laid across,
And push'd and pull'd; the fourth our engines came;
But still amid the crash of falling walls,
And roar of bombards, rattle of hard bolts,
The steady bow-strings flash'd, and still stream'd out
St. George's banner, and the seven swords,
And still they cried, 'St. George Guienne,' until
Their walls were flat as Jericho's of old,
And our rush came, and cut them from the keep."

The astonishing vividness, again, of the tragedy told in "Geffray
Teste Noire" is like that of a vision in a magic mirror or a
crystal ball, rather than like a picture suggested by printed
words. "Shameful Death" has the same enchanted kind of
presentment. We look through a "magic casement opening on the
foam" of the old waves of war. Poems of a pure fantasy, unequalled
out of Coleridge and Poe, are "The Wind" and "The Blue Closet."
Each only lives in fantasy. Motives, and facts, and "story" are
unimportant and out of view. The pictures arise distinct,
unsummoned, spontaneous, like the faces and places which are
flashed on our eyes between sleeping and waking. Fantastic, too,
but with more of a recognisable human setting, is "Golden Wings,"
which to a slight degree reminds one of Theophile Gautier's Chateau
de Souvenir.

"The apples now grow green and sour
Upon the mouldering castle wall,
Before they ripen there they fall:
There are no banners on the tower,

The draggled swans most eagerly eat
The green weeds trailing in the moat;
Inside the rotting leaky boat
You see a slain man's stiffen'd feet."

These, with "The Sailing of the Sword," are my own old favourites.
There was nothing like them before, nor will be again, for Mr.
Morris, after several years of silence, abandoned his early manner.
No doubt it was not a manner to persevere in, but happily, in a
mood and a moment never to be re-born or return, Mr. Morris did
fill a fresh page in English poetry with these imperishable
fantasies. They were absolutely neglected by "the reading public,"
but they found a few staunch friends. Indeed, I think of
"Guenevere" as FitzGerald did of Tennyson's poems before 1842. But
this, of course, is a purely personal, probably a purely
capricious, estimate. Criticism may aver that the influence of Mr.
Rossetti was strong on Mr. Morris before 1858. Perhaps so, but we
read Mr. Morris first (as the world read the "Lay" before
"Christabel"), and my own preference is for Mr. Morris.

It was after eight or nine years of silence that Mr. Morris
produced, in 1866 or 1867, "The Life and Death of Jason." Young
men who had read "Guenevere" hastened to purchase it, and, of
course, found themselves in contact with something very unlike
their old favourite. Mr. Morris had told a classical tale in
decasyllabic couplets of the Chaucerian sort, and he regarded the
heroic age from a mediaeval point of view; at all events, not from
an historical and archaeological point of view. It was natural in
Mr. Morris to "envisage" the Greek heroic age in this way, but it
would not be natural in most other writers. The poem is not much
shorter than the "Odyssey," and long narrative poems had been out
of fashion since "The Lord of the Isles" (1814).

All this was a little disconcerting. We read "Jason," and read it
with pleasure, but without much of the more essential pleasure
which comes from magic and distinction of style. The peculiar
qualities of Keats, and Tennyson, and Virgil are not among the
gifts of Mr. Morris. As people say of Scott in his long poems, so
it may be said of Mr. Morris--that he does not furnish many
quotations, does not glitter in "jewels five words long."

In "Jason" he entered on his long career as a narrator; a poet
retelling the immortal primeval stories of the human race. In one
guise or another the legend of Jason is the most widely distributed
of romances; the North American Indians have it, and the Samoans
and the Samoyeds, as well as all Indo-European peoples. This tale,
told briefly by Pindar, and at greater length by Apollonius
Rhodius, and in the "Orphica," Mr. Morris took up and handled in a
single and objective way. His art was always pictorial, but, in
"Jason" and later, he described more, and was less apt, as it were,
to flash a picture on the reader, in some incommunicable way.

In the covers of the first edition were announcements of the
"Earthly Paradise": that vast collection of the world's old tales
retold. One might almost conjecture that "Jason" had originally
been intended for a part of the "Earthly Paradise," and had
outgrown its limits. The tone is much the same, though the
"criticism of life" is less formally and explicitly stated.

For Mr. Morris came at last to a "criticism of life." It would not
have satisfied Mr. Matthew Arnold, and it did not satisfy Mr.
Morris! The burden of these long narrative poems is vanitas
vanitatum: the fleeting, perishable, unsatisfying nature of human
existence, the dream "rounded by a sleep." The lesson drawn is to
make life as full and as beautiful as may be, by love, and
adventure, and art. The hideousness of modern industrialism was
oppressing to Mr. Morris; that hideousness he was doing his best to
relieve and redeem, by poetry, and by all the many arts and crafts
in which he was a master. His narrative poems are, indeed, part of
his industry in this field. He was not born to slay monsters, he
says, "the idle singer of an empty day." Later, he set about
slaying monsters, like Jason, or unlike Jason, scattering dragon's
teeth to raise forces which he could not lay, and could not direct.

I shall go no further into politics or agitation, and I say this
much only to prove that Mr. Morris's "criticism of life," and
prolonged, wistful dwelling on the thought of death, ceased to
satisfy himself. His own later part, as a poet and an ally of
Socialism, proved this to be true. It seems to follow that the
peculiarly level, lifeless, decorative effect of his narratives,
which remind us rather of glorious tapestries than of pictures, was
no longer wholly satisfactory to himself. There is plenty of
charmed and delightful reading--"Jason" and the "Earthly Paradise"
are literature for The Castle of Indolence, but we do miss a
strenuous rendering of action and passion. These Mr. Morris had
rendered in "The Defence of Guinevere": now he gave us something
different, something beautiful, but something deficient in dramatic
vigour. Apollonius Rhodius is, no doubt, much of a pedant, a
literary writer of epic, in an age of Criticism. He dealt with the
tale of "Jason," and conceivably he may have borrowed from older
minstrels. But the Medea of Apollonius Rhodius, in her love, her
tenderness, her regret for home, in all her maiden words and ways,
is undeniably a character more living, more human, more passionate,
and more sympathetic, than the Medea of Mr. Morris. I could almost
wish that he had closely followed that classical original, the
first true love story in literature. In the same way I prefer
Apollonius's spell for soothing the dragon, as much terser and more
somniferous than the spell put by Mr. Morris into the lips of
Medea. Scholars will find it pleasant to compare these passages of
the Alexandrine and of the London poets. As a brick out of the
vast palace of "Jason" we may select the song of the Nereid to
Hylas--Mr. Morris is always happy with his Nymphs and Nereids:-

"I know a little garden-close
Set thick with lily and with rose,
Where I would wander if I might
From dewy dawn to dewy night,
And have one with me wandering.
And though within it no birds sing,
And though no pillared house is there,
And though the apple boughs are bare
Of fruit and blossom, would to God,
Her feet upon the green grass trod,
And I beheld them as before.
There comes a murmur from the shore,
And in the place two fair streams are,
Drawn from the purple hills afar,
Drawn down unto the restless sea;
The hills whose flowers ne'er fed the bee,
The shore no ship has ever seen,
Still beaten by the billows green,
Whose murmur comes unceasingly
Unto the place for which I cry.
For which I cry both day and night,
For which I let slip all delight,
That maketh me both deaf and blind,
Careless to win, unskilled to find,
And quick to lose what all men seek.
Yet tottering as I am, and weak,
Still have I left a little breath
To seek within the jaws of death
An entrance to that happy place,
To seek the unforgotten face
Once seen, once kissed, once rest from me
Anigh the murmuring of the sea."

"Jason" is, practically, a very long tale from the "Earthly
Paradise," as the "Earthly Paradise" is an immense treasure of
shorter tales in the manner of "Jason." Mr. Morris reverted for an
hour to his fourteenth century, a period when London was "clean."
This is a poetic license; many a plague found mediaeval London
abominably dirty! A Celt himself, no doubt, with the Celt's
proverbial way of being impossibilium cupitor, Mr. Morris was in
full sympathy with his Breton Squire, who, in the reign of Edward
III., sets forth to seek the Earthly Paradise, and the land where
Death never comes. Much more dramatic, I venture to think, than
any passage of "Jason," is that where the dreamy seekers of
dreamland, Breton and Northman, encounter the stout King Edward
III., whose kingdom is of this world. Action and fantasy are met,
and the wanderers explain the nature of their quest. One of them
speaks of death in many a form, and of the flight from death:-

"His words nigh made me weep, but while he spoke
I noted how a mocking smile just broke
The thin line of the Prince's lips, and he
Who carried the afore-named armoury
Puffed out his wind-beat cheeks and whistled low:
But the King smiled, and said, 'Can it be so?
I know not, and ye twain are such as find
The things whereto old kings must needs be blind.
For you the world is wide--but not for me,
Who once had dreams of one great victory
Wherein that world lay vanquished by my throne,
And now, the victor in so many an one,
Find that in Asia Alexander died
And will not live again; the world is wide
For you I say,--for me a narrow space
Betwixt the four walls of a fighting place.
Poor man, why should I stay thee? live thy fill
Of that fair life, wherein thou seest no ill
But fear of that fair rest I hope to win
One day, when I have purged me of my sin.
Farewell, it yet may hap that I a king
Shall be remembered but by this one thing,
That on the morn before ye crossed the sea
Ye gave and took in common talk with me;
But with this ring keep memory with the morn,
O Breton, and thou Northman, by this horn
Remember me, who am of Odin's blood.'"

All this encounter is a passage of high invention. The adventures
in Anahuac are such as Bishop Erie may have achieved when he set
out to find Vinland the Good, and came back no more, whether he was
or was not remembered by the Aztecs as Quetzalcoatl. The tale of
the wanderers was Mr. Morris's own; all the rest are of the
dateless heritage of our race, fairy tales coming to us, now
"softly breathed through the flutes of the Grecians," now told by
Sagamen of Iceland. The whole performance is astonishingly
equable; we move on a high tableland, where no tall peaks of
Parnassus are to be climbed. Once more literature has a narrator,
on the whole much more akin to Spenser than to Chaucer, Homer, or
Sir Walter. Humour and action are not so prominent as
contemplation of a pageant reflected in a fairy mirror. But Mr.
Morris has said himself, about his poem, what I am trying to say:-

"Death have we hated, knowing not what it meant;
Life have we loved, through green leaf and through sere,
Though still the less we knew of its intent;
The Earth and Heaven through countless year on year,
Slow changing, were to us but curtains fair,
Hung round about a little room, where play
Weeping and laughter of man's empty day."

Mr. Morris had shown, in various ways, the strength of his sympathy
with the heroic sagas of Iceland. He had rendered one into verse,
in "The Earthly Paradise," above all, "Grettir the Strong" and "The
Volsunga" he had done into English prose. His next great poem was
"The Story of Sigurd," a poetic rendering of the theme which is, to
the North, what the Tale of Troy is to Greece, and to all the
world. Mr. Morris took the form of the story which is most
archaic, and bears most birthmarks of its savage origin--the
version of the "Volsunga," not the German shape of the
"Nibelungenlied." He showed extraordinary skill, especially in
making human and intelligible the story of Regin, Otter, Fafnir,
and the Dwarf Andvari's Hoard.

"It was Reidmar the Ancient begat me; and now was he waxen old,
And a covetous man and a king; and he bade, and I built him a hall,
And a golden glorious house; and thereto his sons did he call,
And he bade them be evil and wise, that his will through them might
be wrought.
Then he gave unto Fafnir my brother the soul that feareth nought,
And the brow of the hardened iron, and the hand that may never
And the greedy heart of a king, and the ear that hears no wail.

"But next unto Otter my brother he gave the snare and the net,
And the longing to wend through the wild-wood, and wade the
highways wet;
And the foot that never resteth, while aught be left alive
That hath cunning to match man's cunning or might with his might to

"And to me, the least and the youngest, what gift for the slaying
of ease?
Save the grief that remembers the past, and the fear that the
future sees;
And the hammer and fashioning-iron, and the living coal of fire;
And the craft that createth a semblance, and fails of the heart's
And the toil that each dawning quickens, and the task that is never
And the heart that longeth ever, nor will look to the deed that is

"Thus gave my father the gifts that might never be taken again;
Far worse were we now than the Gods, and but little better than
But yet of our ancient might one thing had we left us still:
We had craft to change our semblance, and could shift us at our
Into bodies of the beast-kind, or fowl, or fishes cold;
For belike no fixed semblance we had in the days of old,
Till the Gods were waxen busy, and all things their form must take
That knew of good and evil, and longed to gather and make."

But when we turn to the passage of the eclaircissement between
Sigurd and Brynhild, that most dramatic and most MODERN moment in
the ancient tragedy, the moment where the clouds of savage fancy
scatter in the light of a hopeless human love, then, I must
confess, I prefer the simple, brief prose of Mr. Morris's
translation of the "Volsunga" to his rather periphrastic
paraphrase. Every student of poetry may make the comparison for
himself, and decide for himself whether the old or the new is
better. Again, in the final fight and massacre in the hall of
Atli, I cannot but prefer the Slaying of the Wooers, at the close
of the "Odyssey," or the last fight of Roland at Roncesvaux, or the
prose version of the "Volsunga." All these are the work of men who
were war-smiths as well as song-smiths. Here is a passage from the
"murder grim and great":-

"So he saith in the midst of the foemen with his war-flame reared
on high,
But all about and around him goes up a bitter cry
From the iron men of Atli, and the bickering of the steel
Sends a roar up to the roof-ridge, and the Niblung war-ranks reel
Behind the steadfast Gunnar: but lo, have ye seen the corn,
While yet men grind the sickle, by the wind streak overborne
When the sudden rain sweeps downward, and summer groweth black,
And the smitten wood-side roareth 'neath the driving thunder-wrack?
So before the wise-heart Hogni shrank the champions of the East
As his great voice shook the timbers in the hall of Atli's feast,
There he smote and beheld not the smitten, and by nought were his
edges stopped;
He smote and the dead were thrust from him; a hand with its shield
he lopped;
There met him Atli's marshal, and his arm at the shoulder he shred;
Three swords were upreared against him of the best of the kin of
the dead;
And he struck off a head to the rightward, and his sword through a
throat he thrust,
But the third stroke fell on his helm-crest, and he stooped to the
ruddy dust,
And uprose as the ancient Giant, and both his hands were wet:
Red then was the world to his eyen, as his hand to the labour he
Swords shook and fell in his pathway, huge bodies leapt and fell;
Harsh grided shield and war-helm like the tempest-smitten bell,
And the war-cries ran together, and no man his brother knew,
And the dead men loaded the living, as he went the war-wood
And man 'gainst man was huddled, till no sword rose to smite,
And clear stood the glorious Hogni in an island of the fight,
And there ran a river of death 'twixt the Niblung and his foes,
And therefrom the terror of men and the wrath of the Gods arose."

I admit that this does not affect me as does the figure of Odysseus
raining his darts of doom, or the courtesy of Roland when the
blinded Oliver smites him by mischance, and, indeed, the Keeping of
the Stair by Umslopogaas appeals to me more vigorously as a
strenuous picture of war. To be just to Mr. Morris, let us give
his rendering of part of the Slaying of the Wooers, from his
translation of the "Odyssey":-

"And e'en as the word he uttered, he drew his keen sword out
Brazen, on each side shearing, and with a fearful shout
Rushed on him; but Odysseus that very while let fly
And smote him with the arrow in the breast, the pap hard by,
And drove the swift shaft to the liver, and adown to the ground
fell the sword
From out of his hand, and doubled he hung above the board,
And staggered; and whirling he fell, and the meat was scattered
And the double cup moreover, and his forehead smote the ground;
And his heart was wrung with torment, and with both feet spurning
he smote
The high-seat; and over his eyen did the cloud of darkness float.

"And then it was Amphinomus, who drew his whetted sword
And fell on, making his onrush 'gainst Odysseus the glorious lord,
If perchance he might get him out-doors: but Telemachus him
And a cast of the brazen war-spear from behind him therewith sent
Amidmost of his shoulders, that drave through his breast and out,
And clattering he fell, and the earth all the breadth of his
forehead smote."

There is no need to say more of Mr. Morris's "Odysseus." Close to
the letter of the Greek he usually keeps, but where are the surge
and thunder of Homer? Apparently we must accent the penultimate in
"Amphinomus" if the line is to scan. I select a passage of
peaceful beauty from Book V.:-

"But all about that cavern there grew a blossoming wood,
Of alder and of poplar and of cypress savouring good;
And fowl therein wing-spreading were wont to roost and be,
For owls were there and falcons, and long-tongued crows of the sea,
And deeds of the sea they deal with and thereof they have a care
But round the hollow cavern there spread and flourished fair
A vine of garden breeding, and in its grapes was glad;
And four wells of the white water their heads together had,
And flowing on in order four ways they thence did get;
And soft were the meadows blooming with parsley and violet.
Yea, if thither indeed had come e'en one of the Deathless, e'en he
Had wondered and gladdened his heart with all that was there to
And there in sooth stood wondering the Flitter, the Argus-bane.
But when o'er all these matters in his soul he had marvelled amain,
Then into the wide cave went he, and Calypso, Godhead's Grace,
Failed nowise there to know him as she looked upon his face;
For never unknown to each other are the Deathless Gods, though they
Apart from one another may be dwelling far away.
But Odysseus the mighty-hearted within he met not there,
Who on the beach sat weeping, as oft he was wont to wear
His soul with grief and groaning, and weeping; yea, and he
As the tears he was pouring downward yet gazed o'er the untilled

This is close enough to the Greek, but

"And flowing on in order four ways they thence did get"

is not precisely musical. Why is Hermes "The Flitter"? But I have
often ventured to remonstrate against these archaistic
peculiarities, which to some extent mar our pleasure in Mr.
Morris's translations. In his version of the rich Virgilian
measure they are especially out of place. The "AEneid" is rendered
with a roughness which might better befit a translation of Ennius.
Thus the reader of Mr. Morris's poetical translations has in his
hands versions of almost literal closeness, and (what is extremely
rare) versions of poetry by a poet. But his acquaintance with
Early English and Icelandic has added to the poet a strain of the
philologist, and his English in the "Odyssey," still more in the
"AEneid," is occasionally more ARCHAIC than the Greek of 900 B.C.
So at least it seems to a reader not unversed in attempts to fit
the classical poets with an English rendering. But the true test
is in the appreciation of the lovers of poetry in general.

To them, as to all who desire the restoration of beauty in modern
life, Mr. Morris has been a benefactor almost without example.
Indeed, were adequate knowledge mine, Mr. Morris's poetry should
have been criticised as only a part of the vast industry of his
life in many crafts and many arts. His place in English life and
literature is unique as it is honourable. He did what he desired
to do--he made vast additions to simple and stainless pleasures.


Does any one now read Mrs. Radcliffe, or am I the only wanderer in
her windy corridors, listening timidly to groans and hollow voices,
and shielding the flame of a lamp, which, I fear, will presently
flicker out, and leave me in darkness? People know the name of
"The Mysteries of Udolpho;" they know that boys would say to
Thackeray, at school, "Old fellow, draw us Vivaldi in the
Inquisition." But have they penetrated into the chill galleries of
the Castle of Udolpho? Have they shuddered for Vivaldi in face of
the sable-clad and masked Inquisition? Certainly Mrs. Radcliffe,
within the memory of man, has been extremely popular. The thick
double-columned volume in which I peruse the works of the
Enchantress belongs to a public library. It is quite the dirtiest,
greasiest, most dog's-eared, and most bescribbled tome in the
collection. Many of the books have remained, during the last
hundred years, uncut, even to this day, and I have had to apply the
paper knife to many an author, from Alciphron (1790) to Mr. Max
Muller, and Dr. Birkbeck Hill's edition of Bozzy's "Life of Dr.
Johnson." But Mrs. Radcliffe has been read diligently, and
copiously annotated.

This lady was, in a literary sense, and though, like the sire of
Evelina, he cast her off, the daughter of Horace Walpole. Just
when King Romance seemed as dead as Queen Anne, Walpole produced
that Gothic tale, "The Castle of Otranto," in 1764. In that very
year was born Anne Ward, who, in 1787, married William Radcliffe,
Esq., M.A., Oxon. In 1789 she published "The Castles of Athlin and
Dunbayne." The scene, she tells us, is laid in "the most romantic
part of the Highlands, the north-east coast of Scotland." On
castles, anywhere, she doted. Walpole, not Smollett or Miss
Burney, inspired her with a passion for these homes of old romance.
But the north-east coast of Scotland is hardly part of the
Highlands at all, and is far from being very romantic. The period
is "the dark ages" in general. Yet the captive Earl, when "the
sweet tranquillity of evening threw an air of tender melancholy
over his mind . . . composed the following sonnet, which (having
committed it to paper) he the next evening dropped upon the
terrace. He had the pleasure to observe that the paper was taken
up by the ladies, who immediately retired into the castle." These
were not the manners of the local Mackays, of the Sinclairs, and of
"the small but fierce clan of Gunn," in the dark ages.

But this was Mrs. Radcliffe's way. She delighted in descriptions
of scenery, the more romantic the better, and usually drawn
entirely from her inner consciousness. Her heroines write sonnets
(which never but once ARE sonnets) and other lyrics, on every
occasion. With his usual generosity Scott praised her landscape
and her lyrics, but, indeed, they are, as Sir Walter said of Mrs.
Hemans, "too poetical," and probably they were skipped, even by her
contemporary devotees. "The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne"
frankly do not permit themselves to be read, and it was not till
1790, with "A Sicilian Romance," that Mrs. Radcliffe "found
herself," and her public. After reading, with breathless haste,
through, "A Sicilian Romance," and "The Romance of the Forest," in
a single day, it would ill become me to speak lightly of Mrs.
Radcliffe. Like Catherine Morland, I love this lady's tender yet
terrific fancy.

Mrs. Radcliffe does not always keep on her highest level, but we
must remember that her last romance, "The Italian," is by far her
best. She had been feeling her way to this pitch of excellence,
and, when she had attained to it, she published no more. The
reason is uncertain. She became a Woman's Rights woman, and wrote
"The Female Advocate," not a novel! Scott thinks that she may have
been annoyed by her imitators, or by her critics, against whom he
defends her in an admirable passage, to be cited later. Meanwhile
let us follow Mrs. Radcliffe in her upward course.

The "Sicilian Romance" appeared in 1790, when the author's age was
twenty-six. The book has a treble attraction, for it contains the
germ of "Northanger Abbey," and the germ of "Jane Eyre," and--the
germ of Byron! Like "Joseph Andrews," "Northanger Abbey" began as
a parody (of Mrs. Radcliffe) and developed into a real novel of
character. So too Byron's gloomy scowling adventurers, with their
darkling past, are mere repetitions in rhyme of Mrs. Radcliffe's
Schedoni. This is so obvious that, when discussing Mrs.
Radcliffe's Schedoni, Scott adds, in a note, parallel passages from
Byron's "Giaour." Sir Walter did not mean to mock, he merely
compared two kindred spirits. "The noble poet" "kept on the
business still," and broke into octosyllabics, borrowed from Scott,
his descriptions of miscreants borrowed from Mrs. Radcliffe.

"A Sicilian Romance" has its scene in the palace of Ferdinand,
fifth Marquis of Mazzini, on the northern coast of Sicily. The
time is about 1580, but there is nothing in the manners or costume
to indicate that, or any other period. Such "local colour" was
unknown to Mrs. Radcliffe, as to Clara Reeve. In Horace Walpole,
however, a character goes so far in the mediaeval way as to say "by
my halidome."

The Marquis Mazzini had one son and two daughters by his first
amiable consort, supposed to be long dead when the story opens.
The son is the original of Henry Tilney in "Northanger Abbey," and
in General Tilney does Catherine Morland recognise a modern Marquis
of Mazzini. But the Marquis's wife, to be sure, is NOT dead; like
the first Mrs. Rochester she is concealed about the back premises,
and, as in "Jane Eyre," it is her movements, and those of her
gaolers, that produce mystery, and make the reader suppose that
"the place is haunted." It is, of course, only the mystery and the
"machinery" of Mrs. Radcliffe that Miss Bronte adapted. These
passages in "Jane Eyre" have been censured, but it is not easy to
see how the novel could do without them. Mrs. Radcliffe's tale
entirely depends on its machinery. Her wicked Marquis, having
secretly immured Number One, has now a new and beautiful Number
Two, whose character does not bear inspection. This domestic
position, as Number Two, we know, was declined by the austere
virtue of Jane Eyre.

"Phenomena" begin in the first chapter of "A Sicilian Romance,"
mysterious lights wander about uninhabited parts of the castle, and
are vainly investigated by young Ferdinand, son of the Marquis.
This Hippolytus the Chaste, loved all in vain by the reigning
Marchioness, is adored by, and adores, her stepdaughter, Julia.
Jealousy and revenge are clearly indicated. But, in chasing
mysterious lights and figures through mouldering towers, Ferdinand
gets into the very undesirable position of David Balfour, when he
climbs, in the dark, the broken turret stair in his uncle's house
of Shaws (in "Kidnapped"). Here is a FOURTH author indebted to
Mrs. Radcliffe: her disciples are Miss Austen, Byron, Miss Bronte,
and Mr. Louis Stevenson! Ferdinand "began the ascent. He had not
proceeded very far, when the stones of a step which his foot had
just quitted gave way, and, dragging with them those adjoining,
formed a chasm in the staircase that terrified even Ferdinand, who
was left tottering on the suspended half of the steps, in momentary
expectation of falling to the bottom with the stone on which he
rested. In the terror which this occasioned, he attempted to save
himself by catching at a kind of beam which suspended over the
stairs, when the lamp dropped from his hand, and he was left in
total darkness."

Can anything be more "amazing horrid," above all as there are
mysterious figures in and about the tower? Mrs. Radcliffe's lamps
always fall, or are blown out, in the nick of time, an expedient
already used by Clara Reeve in that very mild but once popular
ghost story, "The Old English Baron" (1777). All authors have such
favourite devices, and I wonder how many fights Mr. Stanley
Weyman's heroes have fought, from the cellar to their favourite
tilting ground, the roof of a strange house!

Ferdinand hung on to the beam for an hour, when the ladies came
with a light, and he scrambled back to solid earth. In his next
nocturnal research, "a sullen groan arose from beneath where he
stood," and when he tried to force a door (there are scores of such
weird doors in Mrs. Radcliffe) "a groan was repeated, more hollow
and dreadful than the first. His courage forsook him"--and no
wonder! Of course he could not know that the author of the groans
was, in fact, his long-lost mother, immured by his father, the
wicked Marquis. We need not follow the narrative through the
darkling crimes and crumbling galleries of this terrible castle on
the north coast of Sicily. Everybody is always "gazing in silent
terror," and all the locks are rusty. "A savage and dexterous
banditti" play a prominent part, and the imprisoned Ferdinand "did
not hesitate to believe that the moans he heard came from the
restless spirit of the murdered della Campo." No working
hypothesis could seem more plausible, but it was erroneous. Mrs.
Radcliffe does not deal in a single avowed ghost. She finally
explains away, by normal causes, everything that she does not
forget to explain. At the most, she indulges herself in a
premonitory dream. On this point she is true to common sense,
without quite adopting the philosophy of David Hume. "I do not say
that spirits have appeared," she remarks, "but if several discreet
unprejudiced persons were to assure me that they had seen one--I
should not be bold or proud enough to reply, it is impossible!"
But Hume WAS bold and proud enough: he went further than Mrs.

Scott censures Mrs. Radcliffe's employment of explanations. He is
in favour of "boldly avowing the use of supernatural machinery," or
of leaving the matter in the vague, as in the appearance of the
wraith of the dying Alice to Ravenswood. But, in Mrs. Radcliffe's
day, common sense was so tyrannical, that the poor lady's romances
would have been excluded from families, if she had not provided
normal explanations of her groans, moans, voices, lights, and
wandering figures. The ghost-hunt in the castle finally brings
Julia to a door, whose bolts, "strengthened by desperation, she
forced back." There was a middle-aged lady in the room, who, after
steadily gazing on Julia, "suddenly exclaimed, 'My daughter!' and
fainted away." Julia being about seventeen, and Madame Mazzini,
her mamma, having been immured for fifteen years, we observe, in
this recognition, the force of the maternal instinct.

The wicked Marquis was poisoned by the partner of his iniquities,
who anon stabbed herself with a poniard. The virtuous Julia
marries the chaste Hippolytus, and, says the author, "in reviewing
this story, we perceive a singular and striking instance of moral

We also remark the futility of locking up an inconvenient wife,
fabled to be defunct, in one's own country house. Had Mr.
Rochester, in "Jane Eyre," studied the "Sicilian Romance," he would
have shunned an obsolete system, inconvenient at best, and apt, in
the long run, to be disastrous.

In the "Romance of the Forest" (1791), Mrs. Radcliffe remained true
to Mr. Stanley Weyman's favourite period, the end of the sixteenth
century. But there are no historical characters or costumes in the
story, and all the persons, as far as language and dress go, might
have been alive in 1791.

The story runs thus: one de la Motte, who appears to have fallen
from dissipation to swindling, is, on the first page, discovered
flying from Paris and the law, with his wife, in a carriage. Lost
in the dark on a moor, he follows a light, and enters an old lonely
house. He is seized by ruffians, locked in, and expects to be
murdered, which he knows that he cannot stand, for he is timid by
nature. In fact, a ruffian puts a pistol to La Motte's breast with
one hand, while with the other he drags along a beautiful girl of
eighteen. "Swear that you will convey this girl where I may never
see her more," exclaims the bully, and La Motte, with the young
lady, is taken back to his carriage. "If you return within an hour
you will be welcomed with a brace of bullets," is the ruffian's
parting threat.

So La Motte, Madame La Motte, and the beautiful girl drive away, La
Motte's one desire being to find a retreat safe from the police of
an offended justice.

Is this not a very original, striking, and affecting situation;
provocative, too, of the utmost curiosity? A fugitive from
justice, in a strange, small, dark, ancient house, is seized,
threatened, and presented with a young and lovely female stranger.
In this opening we recognise the hand of a master genius. There
MUST be an explanation of proceedings so highly unconventional, and
what can the reason be? The reader is empoigne in the first page,
and eagerly follows the flight of La Motte, also of Peter, his
coachman, an attached, comic, and familiar domestic. After a few
days, the party observe, in the recesses of a gloomy forest, the
remains of a Gothic abbey. They enter; by the light of a
flickering lamp they penetrate "horrible recesses," discover a room
handsomely provided with a trapdoor, and determine to reside in a
dwelling so congenial, though, as La Motte judiciously remarks,
"not in all respects strictly Gothic." After a few days, La Motte
finds that somebody is inquiring for him in the nearest town. He
seeks for a hiding-place, and explores the chambers under the
trapdoor. Here he finds, in a large chest--what do you suppose he
finds? It was a human skeleton! Yet in this awful vicinity he and
his wife, with Adeline (the fair stranger) conceal themselves. The
brave Adeline, when footsteps are heard, and a figure is beheld in
the upper rooms, accosts the stranger. His keen eye presently
detects the practicable trapdoor, he raises it, and the cowering La
Motte recognises in the dreaded visitor--his own son, who had
sought him out of filial affection.

Already Madame La Motte has become jealous of Adeline, especially
as her husband is oddly melancholy, and apt to withdraw into a
glade, where he mysteriously disappears into the recesses of a
genuine Gothic sepulchre. This, to the watchful eyes of a wife, is
proof of faithlessness on the part of a husband. As the son,
Louis, really falls in love with Adeline, Madame La Motte becomes
doubly unkind to her, and Adeline now composes quantities of poems
to Night, to Sunset, to the Nocturnal Gale, and so on.

In this uncomfortable situation, two strangers arrive in a terrific
thunderstorm. One is young, the other is a Marquis. On seeing
this nobleman, "La Motte's limbs trembled, and a ghastly paleness
overspread his countenance. The Marquis was little less agitated,"
and was, at first, decidedly hostile. La Motte implored
forgiveness--for what?--and the Marquis (who, in fact, owned the
Abbey, and had a shooting lodge not far off) was mollified. They
all became rather friendly, and Adeline asked La Motte about the
stories of hauntings, and a murder said to have been, at some time,
committed in the Abbey. La Motte said that the Marquis could have
no connection with such fables; still, there WAS the skeleton.

Meanwhile, Adeline had conceived a flame for Theodore, the young
officer who accompanied his colonel, the Marquis, on their first
visit to the family. Theodore, who returned her passion, had
vaguely warned her of an impending danger, and then had failed to
keep tryst with her, one evening, and had mysteriously disappeared.
Then unhappy Adeline dreamed about a prisoner, a dying man, a
coffin, a voice from the coffin, and the appearance within it of
the dying man, amidst torrents of blood. The chamber in which she
saw these visions was most vividly represented. Next day the
Marquis came to dinner, and, THOUGH RELUCTANTLY, consented to pass
the night: Adeline, therefore, was put in a new bedroom.
Disturbed by the wind shaking the mouldering tapestry, she found a
concealed door behind the arras and a suite of rooms, ONE OF WHICH
WAS THE CHAMBER OF HER DREAM! On the floor lay a rusty dagger!
The bedstead, being touched, crumbled, and disclosed a small roll
of manuscripts. They were not washing bills, like those discovered
by Catherine Morland in "Northanger Abbey." Returning to her own
chamber, Adeline heard the Marquis professing to La Motte a passion
for herself. Conceive her horror! Silence then reigned, till all
was sudden noise and confusion; the Marquis flying in terror from
his room, and insisting on instant departure. His emotion was
powerfully displayed.

What had occurred? Mrs. Radcliffe does not say, but horror,
whether caused by a conscience ill at ease, or by events of a
terrific and supernatural kind, is plainly indicated. In daylight,
the Marquis audaciously pressed his unholy suit, and even offered
marriage, a hollow mockery, for he was well known to be already a
married man. The scenes of Adeline's flight, capture, retention in
an elegant villa of the licentious noble, renewed flight, rescue by
Theodore, with Theodore's arrest, and wounding of the tyrannical
Marquis, are all of breathless interest. Mrs. Radcliffe excels in
narratives of romantic escapes, a topic always thrilling when well
handled. Adeline herself is carried back to the Abbey, but La
Motte, who had rather not be a villain if he could avoid it,
enables her again to secure her freedom. He is clearly in the
power of the Marquis, and his life has been unscrupulous, but he
retains traces of better things. Adeline is now secretly conveyed
to a peaceful valley in Savoy, the home of the honest Peter (the
coachman), who accompanies her. Here she learns to know and value
the family of La Luc, the kindred of her Theodore (by a romantic
coincidence), and, in the adorable scenery of Savoy, she throws
many a ballad to the Moon.

La Motte, on the discovery of Adeline's flight, was cast into
prison by the revengeful Marquis, for, in fact, soon after settling
in the Abbey, it had occurred to La Motte to commence highwayman.
His very first victim had been the Marquis, and, during his
mysterious retreats to a tomb in a glade in the forest, he had, in
short, been contemplating his booty, jewels which he could not
convert into ready money. Consequently, when the Marquis first
entered the Abbey, La Motte had every reason for alarm, and only
pacified the vindictive aristocrat by yielding to his cruel schemes
against the virtue of Adeline.

Happily for La Motte, a witness appeared at his trial, who cast a
lurid light on the character of the Marquis. That villain, to be
plain, had murdered his elder brother (the skeleton of the Abbey),
and had been anxious to murder, it was added, his own natural
daughter--that is, Adeline! His hired felons, however, placed her
in a convent, and, later (rather than kill her, on which the
Marquis insisted), simply thrust her into the hands of La Motte,
who happened to pass by that way, as we saw in the opening of this
romance. Thus, in making love to Adeline, his daughter, the
Marquis was, unconsciously, in an awkward position. On further
examination of evidence, however, things proved otherwise. Adeline
was NOT the natural daughter of the Marquis, but his niece, the
legitimate daughter and heiress of his brother (the skeleton of the
Abbey). The MS. found by Adeline in the room of the rusty dagger
added documentary evidence, for it was a narrative of the
sufferings of her father (later the skeleton), written by him in
the Abbey where he was imprisoned and stabbed, and where his bones
were discovered by La Motte. The hasty nocturnal flight of the
Marquis from the Abbey is thus accounted for: he had probably been
the victim of a terrific hallucination representing his murdered
brother; whether it was veridical or merely subjective Mrs.
Radcliffe does not decide. Rather than face the outraged justice
of his country, the Marquis, after these revelations, took poison.
La Motte was banished; and Adeline, now mistress of the Abbey,
removed the paternal skeleton to "the vault of his ancestors."
Theodore and Adeline were united, and virtuously resided in a villa
on the beautiful banks of the Lake of Geneva.

Such is the "Romance of the Forest," a fiction in which character
is subordinate to plot and incident. There is an attempt at
character drawing in La Motte, and in his wife; the hero and
heroine are not distinguishable from Julia and Hippolytus. But
Mrs. Radcliffe does not aim at psychological niceties, and we must
not blame her for withholding what it was no part of her purpose to
give. "The Romance of the Forest" was, so far, infinitely the most
thrilling of modern English works of fiction. "Every reader felt
the force," says Scott, "from the sage in his study, to the family
group in middle life," and nobody felt it more than Scott himself,
then a young gentleman of nineteen, who, when asked how his time
was employed, answered, "I read no Civil Law." He did read Mrs.
Radcliffe, and, in "The Betrothed," followed her example in the
story of the haunted chamber where the heroine faces the spectre
attached to her ancient family.

"The Mysteries of Udolpho," Mrs. Radcliffe's next and most
celebrated work, is not (in the judgment of this reader, at least)
her masterpiece. The booksellers paid her what Scott, erroneously,
calls "the unprecedented sum of 500 pounds" for the romance, and they
must have made a profitable bargain. "The public," says Scott,
"rushed upon it with all the eagerness of curiosity, and rose from
it with unsated appetite." I arise with a thoroughly sated
appetite from the "Mysteries of Udolpho." The book, as Sir Walter
saw, is "The Romance of the Forest" raised to a higher power. We
have a similar and similarly situated heroine, cruelly detached
from her young man, and immured in a howling wilderness of a
brigand castle in the Apennines. In place of the Marquis is a
miscreant on a larger and more ferocious scale. The usual
mysteries of voices, lights, secret passages, and innumerable doors
are provided regardless of economy. The great question, which I
shall not answer, is, WHAT DID THE BLACK VEIL CONCEAL? NOT "the
bones of Laurentina," as Catherine Morland supposed.

Here is Emily's adventure with the veil. "She paused again, and
then, with a timid hand, lifted the veil; but instantly let it
fall--perceiving that what it had concealed was no picture, and
before she could leave the chamber she dropped senseless on the
floor. When she recovered her recollection, . . . horror occupied
her mind." Countless mysteries coagulate around this veil, and the
reader is apt to be disappointed when the awful curtain is
withdrawn. But he has enjoyed, for several hundred pages, the
pleasures of anticipation. A pedantic censor may remark that,
while the date of the story is 1580, all the virtuous people live
in an idyllic fashion, like creatures of Rousseau, existing solely
for landscape and the affections, writing poetry on Nature, animate
and inanimate, including the common Bat, and drawing in water
colours. In those elegant avocations began, and in these, after an
interval of adventures "amazing horrid," concluded the career of

Mrs. Radcliffe keeps the many entangled threads of her complex web
well in hand, and incidents which puzzle you at the beginning fall
naturally into place before the end. The character of the
heroine's silly, vain, unkind, and unreasonable aunt is vividly
designed (that Emily should mistake the corse of a moustached
bandit for that of her aunt is an incident hard to defend).
Valancourt is not an ordinary spotless hero, but sows his wild
oats, and reaps the usual harvest; and Annette is a good sample of
the usual soubrette. When one has said that the landscapes and
bandits of this romance are worthy of Poussin and Salvator Rosa,
from whom they were probably translated into words, not much
remains to be added. Sir Walter, after repeated perusals,
considered "Udolpho" "a step beyond Mrs. Radcliffe's former work,
high as that had justly advanced her." But he admits that "persons
of no mean judgment" preferred "The Romance of the Forest." With
these amateurs I would be ranked. The ingenuity and originality of
the "Romance" are greater: our friend the skeleton is better than
that Thing which was behind the Black Veil, the escapes of Adeline
are more thrilling than the escape of Emily, and the "Romance" is
not nearly so long, not nearly so prolix as "Udolpho."

The roof and crown of Mrs. Radcliffe's work is "The Italian"
(1797), for which she received 800 pounds. {6} The scene is Naples, the
date about 1764; the topic is the thwarted loves of Vivaldi and
Ellena; the villain is the admirable Schedoni, the prototype of
Byron's lurid characters.

"The Italian" is an excellent novel. The Prelude, "the dark and
vaulted gateway," is not unworthy of Hawthorne, who, I suspect, had
studied Mrs. Radcliffe. The theme is more like a theme of this
world than usual. The parents of a young noble might well try to
prevent him from marrying an unknown and penniless girl. The
Marchese Vivaldi only adopts the ordinary paternal measures; the
Marchesa, and her confessor the dark-souled Schedoni, go farther--
as far as assassination. The casuistry by which Schedoni brings
the lady to this pass, while representing her as the originator of
the scheme, is really subtle, and the scenes between the pair show
an extraordinary advance on Mrs. Radcliffe's earlier art. The
mysterious Monk who counteracts Schedoni remains an unsolved
mystery to me, but of that I do not complain. He is as good as the
Dweller in the Catacombs who haunts Miriam in Hawthorne's "Marble
Faun." The Inquisition, its cells, and its tribunals are coloured

"As when some great painter dips
His pencil in the gloom of earthquake and eclipse."

The comic valet, Paulo, who insists on being locked up in the
dungeons of the Inquisition merely because his master is there,
reminds one of Samuel Weller, he is a Neapolitan Samivel. The
escapes are Mrs. Radcliffe's most exciting escapes, and to say that
is to say a good deal. Poetry is not written, or not often, by the
heroine. The scene in which Schedoni has his dagger raised to
murder Ellena, when he discovers that she is his daughter, "is of a
new, grand, and powerful character" (Scott), while it is even more
satisfactory to learn later that Ellena was NOT Schedoni's daughter
after all.

Why Mrs. Radcliffe, having reached such a pitch of success, never
again published a novel, remains more mysterious than any of her
Mysteries. Scott justly remarks that her censors attacked her "by
showing that she does not possess the excellences proper to a style
of composition totally different from that which she has
attempted." This is the usual way of reviewers. Tales that
fascinated Scott, Fox, and Sheridan, "which possess charms for the
learned and unlearned, the grave and gay, the gentleman and clown,"
do not deserve to be dismissed with a sneer by people who have
never read them. Following Horace Walpole in some degree, Mrs.
Radcliffe paved the way for Scott, Byron, Maturin, Lewis, and
Charlotte Bronte, just as Miss Burney filled the gap between
Smollett and Miss Austen. Mrs. Radcliffe, in short, kept the Lamp
of Romance burning much more steadily than the lamps which, in her
novels, are always blown out, in the moment of excited
apprehension, by the night wind walking in the dank corridors of
haunted abbeys. But mark the cruelty of an intellectual parent!
Horace Walpole was Mrs. Radcliffe's father in the spirit. Yet, on
September 4, 1794, he wrote to Lady Ossory: "I have read some of
the descriptive verbose tales, of which your Ladyship says I was
the patriarch by several mothers" (Miss Reeve and Mrs. Radcliffe?).
"All I can say for myself is that I do not think my concubines have
produced issue more natural for excluding the aid of anything


The finding of a rare book that you have wanted long is one of the
happier moments in life. Whatever we may think of life when we
contemplate it as a whole, it is a delight to discover what one has
sought for years, especially if the book be a book which you really
want to read, and not a thing whose value is given by the fashion
of collecting. Perhaps nobody ever collected before


In Three Chimeras


"Is't like that lead contains her? -
It were too gross
To rib her cerecloth in the obscure grave." -

Printed for HENRY CONSTABLE, Edinburgh,
And HURST, CHANCE, & CO., London.

This is my rare book, and it is rare for an excellent good reason,
as will be shown. But first of the author. Mr. Thomas Tod
Stoddart was born in 1810. He died in 1880. Through all his
pilgrimage of three-score years and ten, his "rod and staff did
comfort him," as the Scottish version of the Psalms has it; nay,
his staff was his rod. He "was an angler," as he remarked when a
friend asked: "Well, Tom, what are you doing now." He was the
patriarch, the Father Izaak, of Scottish fishers, and he sleeps,
according to his desire, like Scott, within hearing of the Tweed.
His memoir, published by his daughter, in "Stoddart's Angling
Songs" (Blackwood), is an admirable biography, quo fit ut omnis
Votiva pateat veluti descripta tabella Vita senis.

But it is with the "young Tom Stoddart," the poet of twenty, not
with the old angling sage, that we have to do. Miss Stoddart has
discreetly republished only the Angling Songs of her father, the
pick of them being classical in their way. Now, as Mr. Arnold

"Two desires toss about
The poet's feverish blood,
One drives him to the world without,
And one to solitude."

The young Stoddart's two desires were poetry and fishing. He began
with poetry. "At the age of ten his whole desire was to produce an
immortal tragedy . . . Blood and battle were the powers with which
he worked, and with no meaner tool. Every other dramatic form he
despised." It is curious to think of the schoolboy, the born
Romanticist, labouring at these things, while Gerard de Nerval, and
Victor Hugo, and Theophile Gautier, and Petrus Borel were boys
also--boys of the same ambitions, and with much the same romantic
tastes. Stoddart had, luckily, another love besides the Muse.
"With the spring and the May fly, the dagger dipped in gore paled
before the supple rod, and the dainty midge." Finally, the rod and
midge prevailed.

"Wee dour-looking hooks are the thing,
Mouse body and laverock wing."

But before he quite abandoned all poetry save fishing ditties, he
wrote and published the volume whose title-page we have printed,
"The Death Wake." The lad who drove home from an angling
expedition in a hearse had an odd way of combining his amusements.
He lived among poets and critics who were anglers--Hogg, the
Ettrick Shepherd (who cast but a heavy line, they say, in Yarrow),
Aytoun, Christopher North, De Quincey -

"No fisher
But a well-wisher
To the game,"

as Scott has it--these were his companions, older or younger. None
of these, certainly not Wilson, nor Hogg, nor Aytoun, were friends
of the Romantic school, as illustrated by Keats and Shelley. None
of them probably knew much of Gautier, De Nerval, Borel, le
lycanthrope, and the other boys in that boyish movement of 1830.
It was only Stoddart, unconsciously in sympathy with Paris, and
censured by his literary friends, who produced the one British
Romantic work of 1830. The title itself shows that he was partly
laughing at his own performance; he has the mockery of Les Jeunes
France in him, as well as the wormy and obituary joys of La Comedie
de la Mort. The little book came out, inspired by "all the
poetasters." Christopher North wrote, four years later, in
Blackwood's Magazine, a tardy review. He styled it "an ingeniously
absurd poem, with an ingeniously absurd title, written in a
strange, namby-pamby sort of style, between the weakest of Shelley
and the strongest of Barry Cornwall." The book "fell dead from the
Press," far more dead than "Omar Khayyam." Nay, misfortune pursued
it, Miss Stoddart kindly informs me, and it was doomed to the
flames. The "remainder," the bulk of the edition, was returned to
the poet in sheets, and by him was deposited in a garret. The
family had a cook, one Betty, a descendant, perhaps, of "that
unhappy Betty or Elizabeth Barnes, cook of Mr. Warburton, Somerset
Herald," who burned, among other quartos, Shakespeare's "Henry I.,"
"Henry II.," and "King Stephen." True to her inherited instincts,
Mr. Stoddart's Betty, slowly, relentlessly, through forty years,
used "The Death Wake" for the needs and processes of her art. The
whole of the edition, except probably a few "presentation copies,"
perished in the kitchen. As for that fell cook, let us hope that

"The Biblioclastic Dead
Have diverse pains to brook,
They break Affliction's bread
With Betty Barnes, the Cook,"

as the author of "The Bird Bride" sings.

Miss Stoddart had just informed me of this disaster, which left one
almost hopeless of ever owning a copy of "The Death Wake," when I
found a brown paper parcel among many that contained to-day's minor
poetry "with the author's compliments," and lo, in this unpromising
parcel was the long-sought volume! Ever since one was a small boy,
reading Stoddart's "Scottish Angler," and old Blackwood's, one had
pined for a sight of "The Necromaunt," and here, clean in its "pure
purple mantle" of smooth cloth, lay the desired one!

"Like Dian's kiss, unasked, unsought,
It gave itself, and was not bought,"

being, indeed, the discovery and gift of a friend who fishes and
studies the Lacustrine Muses.

The copy has a peculiar interest; it once belonged to Aytoun, the
writer of "The Scottish Cavaliers," of "The Bon Gaultier Ballads,"
and of "Firmilian," the scourge of the Spasmodic School. Mr.
Aytoun has adorned the margins with notes and with caricatures of
skulls and cross-bones, while the fly-leaves bear a sonnet to the
author, and a lyric in doggerel. Surely this is, indeed, a
literary curiosity. The sonnet runs thus:-

"O wormy Thomas Stoddart, who inheritest
Rich thoughts and loathsome, nauseous words and rare,
Tell me, my friend, why is it that thou ferretest
And gropest in each death-corrupted lair?
Seek'st thou for maggots such as have affinity
With those in thine own brain, or dost thou think
That all is sweet which hath a horrid stink?
Why dost thou make Haut-gout thy sole divinity?
Here is enough of genius to convert
Vile dung to precious diamonds and to spare,
Then why transform the diamond into dirt,
And change thy mind, which should be rich and fair,
Into a medley of creations foul,
As if a Seraph would become a Ghoul?"

No doubt Mr. Stoddart's other passion for angling, in which he used
a Scottish latitude concerning bait, {7} impelled him to search for
"worms and maggots":-

"Fire and faggots,
Worms and maggots,"

as Aytoun writes on the other fly-leaf, are indeed the matter of
"The Death Wake."

Then, why, some one may ask, write about "The Death Wake" at all?
Why rouse again the nightmare of a boy of twenty? Certainly I am
not to say that "The Death Wake" is a pearl of great price, but it
does contain passages of poetry--of poetry very curious because it
is full of the new note, the new melody which young Mr. Tennyson
was beginning to waken. It anticipates Beddoes, it coincides with
Gautier and Les Chimeres of Gerard, it answers the accents, then
unheard in England, of Poe. Some American who read out of the way
things, and was not too scrupulous, recognised, and robbed, a
brother in Tom Stoddart. Eleven years after "The Death Wake"
appeared in England, it was published in Graham's Magazine, as
"Agatha, a Necromaunt in Three Chimeras," by Louis Fitzgerald
Tasistro. Now Poe was closely connected with Graham's Magazine,
and after "Arthur Gordon Pym," "Louis Fitzgerald Tasistro" does
suggest Edgar Allen Poe. But Poe was not Tasistro.

So much for the literary history of the Lunacy.

The poem begins--Chimera I. begins:-

"An anthem of a sister choristry!
And, like a windward murmur of the sea,
O'er silver shells, so solemnly it falls!"

The anthem accompanies a procession of holy fathers towards a bier;

Was on the lid--a name. And who? No more!
'Twas only Agathe."

A solitary monk is prowling around in the moonlit cathedral; he has
a brow of stony marble, he has raven hair, and he falters out the
name of Agathe. He has said adieu to that fair one, and to her
sister Peace, that lieth in her grave. He has loved, and loves,
the silent Agathe. He was the son of a Crusader,

"And Julio had fain
Have been a warrior, but his very brain
Grew fevered at the sickly thought of death,
And to be stricken with a want of breath."

On the whole he did well not to enter the service. Mr. Aytoun has
here written--"A rum Cove for a hussar."

"And he would say
A curse be on their laurels.
And anon
Was Julio forgotten and his line -
No wonder for this frenzied tale of mine."

How? asks Aytoun, nor has the grammatical enigma yet been

"Oh! he was wearied of this passing scene!
But loved not Death; his purpose was between
Life and the grave; and it would vibrate there
Like a wild bird that floated far and fair
Betwixt the sun and sea!"

So "he became monk," and was sorry he had done so, especially when
he met a pretty maid,

"And this was Agathe, young Agathe,
A motherless fair girl,"

whose father was a kind of Dombey, for

"When she smiled
He bade no father's welcome to the child,
But even told his wish, and will'd it done,
For her to be sad-hearted, and a nun!"

So she "took the dreary veil."

They met like a blighted Isabella and Lorenzo:

"They met many a time
In the lone chapels after vesper chime,
They met in love and fear."

Then, one day,

"He heard it said:
Poor Julio, thy Agathe is dead."

She died

"Like to a star within the twilight hours
Of morning, and she was not! Some have thought
The Lady Abbess gave her a mad draught."

Here Mr. Aytoun, with sympathy, writes "Damn her!" (the Lady
Abbess, that is) and suggests that thought must be read "thaft."

Through "the arras of the gloom" (arras is good), the pale breezes
are moaning, and Julio is wan as stars unseen for paleness.
However, he lifts the tombstone "as it were lightsome as a summer
gladness." "A summer gladness," remarks Mr. Aytoun, "may possibly
weigh about half-an-ounce." Julio came on a skull, a haggard one,
in the grave, and Mr. Aytoun kindly designs a skeleton, ringing a
bell, and crying "Dust ho!"

Now go, and give your poems to your friends!

Finally Julio unburies Agathe:-

"Thou must go,
My sweet betrothed, with me, but not below,
Where there is darkness, dream, and solitude,
But where is light, and life, and one to brood
Above thee, till thou wakest. Ha, I fear
Thou wilt not wake for ever, sleeping here,
Where there are none but the winds to visit thee.
And Convent fathers, and a choristry
Of sisters saying Hush! But I will sing
Rare songs to thy pure spirit, wandering
Down on the dews to hear me; I will tune
The instrument of the ethereal moon,
And all the choir of stars, to rise and fall
In harmony and beauty musical."

Is this not melodious madness, and is this picture of the
distraught priest, setting forth to sail the seas with his dead
lady, not an invention that Nanteuil might have illustrated, and
the clan of Bousingots approved?

The Second Chimera opens nobly:-

"A curse! a curse! {8} the beautiful pale wing
Of a sea-bird was worn with wandering,
And, on a sunny rock beside the shore,
It stood, the golden waters gazing o'er;
And they were nearing a brown amber flow
Of weeds, that glittered gloriously below!"

Julio appears with Agathe in his arms, and what ensues is excellent
of its kind:-

"He dropt upon a rock, and by him placed,
Over a bed of sea-pinks growing waste,
The silent ladye, and he mutter'd wild,
Strange words about a mother and no child.
"And I shall wed thee, Agathe! although
Ours be no God-blest bridal--even so!"
And from the sand he took a silver shell,
That had been wasted by the fall and swell
Of many a moon-borne tide into a ring -
A rude, rude ring; it was a snow-white thing,
Where a lone hermit limpet slept and died
In ages far away. 'Thou art a bride,
Sweet Agathe! Wake up; we must not linger!'
He press'd the ring upon her chilly finger,
And to the sea-bird on its sunny stone
Shouted, 'Pale priest that liest all alone
Upon thy ocean altar, rise, away
To our glad bridal!' and its wings of gray
All lazily it spread, and hover'd by
With a wild shriek--a melancholy cry!
Then, swooping slowly o'er the heaving breast
Of the blue ocean, vanished in the west."

Julio sang a mad song of a mad priest to a dead maid:-

. . .
"A rosary of stars, love! a prayer as we glide,
And a whisper on the wind, and a murmur on the tide,
And we'll say a fair adieu to the flowers that are seen,
With shells of silver sown in radiancy between.

"A rosary of stars, love! the purest they shall be,
Like spirits of pale pearls in the bosom of the sea;
Now help thee, {9} Virgin Mother, with a blessing as we go,
Upon the laughing waters that are wandering below."

One can readily believe that Poe admired this musical sad song, if,
indeed, he ever saw the poem.

One may give too many extracts, and there is scant room for the
extraordinary witchery of the midnight sea and sky, where the dead
and the distraught drift wandering,

"And the great ocean, like the holy hall,
Where slept a Seraph host maritimal,
Was gorgeous with wings of diamond" -

it was a sea

"Of radiant and moon-breasted emerald."

There follows another song -

"'Tis light to love thee living, girl, when hope is full and fair,
In the springtide of thy beauty, when there is no sorrow there
No sorrow on thy brow, and no shadow on thy heart,
When, like a floating sea-bird, bright and beautiful thou art

. . .

"But when the brow is blighted, like a star at morning tide
And faded is the crimson blush upon the cheek beside,
It is to love as seldom love the brightest and the best,
When our love lies like a dew upon the one that is at rest."

We ought to distrust our own admiration of what is rare, odd, novel
to us, found by us in a sense, and especially one must distrust

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