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Letters to Dead Authors by Andrew Lang

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LETTER--To Alexandre Dumas

Sir,--There are moments when the wheels of life, even of such a life
as yours, run slow, and when mistrust and doubt overshadow even the
most intrepid disposition. In such a moment, towards the ending of
your days, you said to your son, M. Alexandre Dumas, "I seem to see
myself set on a pedestal which trembles as if it were founded on the
sands." These sands, your uncounted volumes, are all of gold, and
make a foundation more solid than the rock. As well might the
singer of Odysseus, or the authors of the "Arabian Nights," or the
first inventors of the stories of Boccaccio, believe that their
works were perishable (their names, indeed, have perished), as the
creator of "Les Trois Mousquetaires" alarm himself with the thought
that the world could ever forget Alexandre Dumas.

Than yours there has been no greater nor more kindly and beneficent
force in modern letters. To Scott, indeed, you owed the first
impulse of your genius; but, once set in motion, what miracles could
it not accomplish? Our dear Porthos was overcome, at last, by a
super-human burden; but your imaginative strength never found a task
too great for it. What an extraordinary vigour, what health, what
an overflow of force was yours! It is good, in a day of small and
laborious ingenuities, to breathe the free air of your books, and
dwell in the company of Dumas's men--so gallant, so frank, so
indomitable, such swordsmen, and such trenchermen. Like M. de
Rochefort in "Vingt Ans Apres," like that prisoner of the Bastille,
your genius "n'est que d'un parti, c'est du parti du grand air."

There seems to radiate from you a still persistent energy and
enjoyment; in that current of strength not only your characters
live, frolic, kindly, and sane, but even your very collaborators
were animated by the virtue which went out of you. How else can we
explain it, the dreary charge which feeble and envious tongues have
brought against you, in England and at home? They say you employed
in your novels and dramas that vicarious aid which, in the slang of
the studio, the "sculptor's ghost" is fabled to afford.

Well, let it be so; these ghosts, when uninspired by you, were faint
and impotent as "the strengthless tribes of the dead" in Homer's
Hades, before Odysseus had poured forth the blood that gave them a
momentary valour. It was from you and your inexhaustible vitality
that these collaborating spectres drew what life they possessed; and
when they parted from you they shuddered back into their
nothingness. Where are the plays, where the romances which Maquet
and the rest wrote in their own strength? They are forgotten with
last year's snows; they have passed into the wide waste-paper basket
of the world. You say of D'Artagnan, when severed from his three
friends--from Porthos, Athos, and Aramis--"he felt that he could do
nothing, save on the condition that each of these companions yielded
to him, if one may so speak, a share of that electric fluid which
was his gift from heaven."

No man of letters ever had so great a measure of that gift as you;
none gave of it more freely to all who came--to the chance associate
of the hour, as to the characters, all so burly and full-blooded,
who flocked from your brain. Thus it was that you failed when you
approached the supernatural. Your ghosts had too much flesh and
blood, more than the living persons of feebler fancies. A writer so
fertile, so rapid, so masterly in the ease with which he worked,
could not escape the reproaches of barren envy. Because you
overflowed with wit, you could not be "serious;" because you created
with a word, you were said to scamp your work; because you were
never dull, never pedantic, incapable of greed, you were to be
censured as desultory, inaccurate, and prodigal.

A generation suffering from mental and physical anaemia--a
generation devoted to the "chiselled phrase," to accumulated
"documents," to microscopic porings over human baseness, to minute
and disgustful records of what in humanity is least human--may
readily bring these unregarded and railing accusations. Like one of
the great and good-humoured Giants of Rabelais, you may hear the
murmurs from afar, and smile with disdain. To you, who can amuse
the world--to you who offer it the fresh air of the highway, the
battlefield, and the sea--the world must always return: escaping
gladly from the boudoirs and the bouges, from the surgeries and
hospitals, and dead rooms, of M. Daudet and M. Zola and of the
wearisome De Goncourt.

With all your frankness, and with that queer morality of the Camp
which, if it swallows a camel now and again, never strains at a
gnat, how healthy and wholesome, and even pure, are your romances!
You never gloat over sin, nor dabble with an ugly curiosity in the
corruptions of sense. The passions in your tales are honourable and
brave, the motives are clearly human. Honour, Love, Friendship make
the threefold cord, the clue your knights and dames follow through
how delightful a labyrinth of adventures! Your greatest books, I
take the liberty to maintain, are the Cycle of the Valois ("La Reine
Margot," "La Dame de Montsoreau," "Les Quarante-cinq"), and the
Cycle of Louis Treize and Louis Quatorze ("Les Trois Mousquetaires,"
"Vingt Ans Apres," "Le Vicomte de Bragelonne"); and, beside these
two trilogies--a lonely monument, like the sphinx hard by the three
pyramids--"Monte Cristo."

In these romances how easy it would have been for you to burn
incense to that great goddess, Lubricity, whom our critic says your
people worship. You had Brantome, you had Tallemant, you had Retif,
and a dozen others, to furnish materials for scenes of
voluptuousness and of blood that would have outdone even the present
naturalistes. From these alcoves of "Les Dames Galantes," and from
the torture chambers (M. Zola would not have spared us one starting
sinew of brave La Mole on the rack) you turned, as Scott would have
turned, without a thought of their profitable literary uses. You
had other metal to work on: you gave us that superstitious and
tragical true love of La Mole's, that devotion--how tender and how
pure!--of Bussy for the Dame de Montsoreau. You gave us the valour
of D'Artagnan, the strength of Porthos, the melancholy nobility of
Athos: Honour, Chivalry, and Friendship. I declare your characters
are real people to me and old friends. I cannot bear to read the
end of "Bragelonne," and to part with them for ever. "Suppose
Porthos, Athos, and Aramis should enter with a noiseless swagger,
curling their moustaches." How we would welcome them, forgiving
D'Artagnan even his hateful fourberie in the case of Milady. The
brilliance of your dialogue has never been approached: there is wit
everywhere; repartees glitter and ring like the flash and clink of
small-swords. Then what duels are yours! and what inimitable
battle-pieces! I know four good fights of one against a multitude,
in literature. These are the Death of Gretir the Strong, the Death
of Gunnar of Lithend, the Death of Hereward the Wake, the Death of
Bussy d'Amboise. We can compare the strokes of the heroic fighting-
times with those described in later days; and, upon my word, I do
not know that the short sword of Gretir, or the bill of Skarphedin,
or the bow of Gunnar was better wielded than the rapier of your
Bussy or the sword and shield of Kingsley's Hereward.

They say your fencing is unhistorical; no doubt it is so, and you
knew it. La Mole could not have lunged on Coconnas "after deceiving
circle;" for the parry was not invented except by your immortal
Chicot, a genius in advance of his time. Even so Hamlet and Laertes
would have fought with shields and axes, not with small swords. But
what matters this pedantry? In your works we hear the Homeric Muse
again, rejoicing in the clash of steel; and even, at times, your
very phrases are unconsciously Homeric.

Look at these men of murder, on the Eve of St. Bartholomew, who flee
in terror from the Queen's chamber, and "find the door too narrow
for their flight:" the very words were anticipated in a line of the
"Odyssey" concerning the massacre of the Wooers. And the picture of
Catherine de Medicis, prowling "like a wolf among the bodies and the
blood," in a passage of the Louvre--the picture is taken unwittingly
from the "Iliad." There was in you that reserve of primitive force,
that epic grandeur and simplicity of diction. This is the force
that animates "Monte Cristo," the earlier chapters, the prison, and
the escape. In later volumes of that romance, methinks, you stoop
your wing. Of your dramas I have little room, and less skill, to
speak. "Antony," they tell me, was "the greatest literary event of
its time," was a restoration of the stage. "While Victor Hugo needs
the cast-off clothes of history, the wardrobe and costume, the
sepulchre of Charlemagne, the ghost of Barbarossa, the coffins of
Lucretia Borgia, Alexandre Dumas requires no more than a room in an
inn, where people meet in riding cloaks, to move the soul with the
last degree of terror and of pity."

The reproach of being amusing has somewhat dimmed your fame--for a
moment. The shadow of this tyranny will soon be overpast; and when
"La Curee" and "Pot-Bouille" are more forgotten than "Le Grand
Cyrus," men and women--and, above all, boys--will laugh and weep
over the page of Alexandre Dumas. Like Scott himself, you take us
captive in our childhood. I remember a very idle little boy who was
busy with the "Three Musketeers" when he should have been occupied
with "Wilkins's Latin Prose." "Twenty years after" (alas! and more)
he is still constant to that gallant company; and, at this very
moment, is breathlessly wondering whether Grimaud will steal M. de
Beaufort out of the Cardinal's prison.

LETTER--To Theocritus

"Sweet, methinks, is the whispering sound of yonder pine-tree," so,
Theocritus, with that sweet word [Greek text], didst thou begin and
strike the keynote of thy songs. "Sweet," and didst thou find aught
of sweet, when thou, like thy Daphnis, didst "go down the stream,
when the whirling wave closed over the man the Muses loved, the man
not hated of the Nymphs"? Perchance below those waters of death
thou didst find, like thine own Hylas, the lovely Nereids waiting
thee, Eunice, and Malis, and Nycheia with her April eyes. In the
House of Hades, Theocritus, doth there dwell aught that is fair, and
can the low light on the fields of asphodel make thee forget thy
Sicily? Nay, methinks thou hast not forgotten, and perchance for
poets dead there is prepared a place more beautiful than their
dreams. It was well for the later minstrels of another day, it was
well for Ronsard and Du Bellay to desire a dim Elysium of their own,
where the sunlight comes faintly through the shadow of the earth,
where the poplars are duskier, and the waters more pale than in the
meadows of Anjou.

There, in that restful twilight, far remote from war and plot, from
sword and fire, and from religions that sharpened the steel and lit
the torch, there these learned singers would fain have wandered with
their learned ladies, satiated with life and in love with an
unearthly quiet. But to thee, Theocritus, no twilight of the Hollow
Land was dear, but the high suns of Sicily and the brown cheeks of
the country maidens were happiness enough. For thee, therefore,
methinks, surely is reserved an Elysium beneath the summer of a far-
off system, with stars not ours and alien seasons. There, as Bion
prayed, shall Spring, the thrice desirable, be with thee the whole
year through, where there is neither frost, nor is the heat so heavy
on men, but all is fruitful, and all sweet things blossom, and
evenly meted are darkness and dawn. Space is wide, and there be
many worlds, and suns enow, and the Sun-god surely has had a care of
his own. Little didst thou need, in thy native land, the isle of
the three capes, little didst thou need but sunlight on land and
sea. Death can have shown thee naught dearer than the fragrant
shadow of the pines, where the dry needles of the fir are strewn, or
glades where feathered ferns make "a couch more soft than Sleep."
The short grass of the cliffs, too, thou didst love, where thou
wouldst lie, and watch, with the tunny watcher till the deep blue
sea was broken by the burnished sides of the tunny shoal, and afoam
with their gambols in the brine. There the Muses met thee, and the
Nymphs, and there Apollo, remembering his old thraldom with Admetus,
would lead once more a mortal's flocks, and listen and learn,
Theocritus, while thou, like thine own Comatas, "didst sweetly
sing."

There, methinks, I see thee as in thy happy days, "reclined on deep
beds of fragrant lentisk, lowly strewn, and rejoicing in new stript
leaves of the vine, while far above thy head waved many a poplar,
many an elm-tree, and close at hand the sacred waters sang from the
mouth of the cavern of the nymphs." And when night came, methinks
thou wouldst flee from the merry company and the dancing girls, from
the fading crowns of roses or white violets, from the cottabos, and
the minstrelsy, and the Bibline wine, from these thou wouldst slip
away into the summer night. Then the beauty of life and of the
summer would keep thee from thy couch, and wandering away from
Syracuse by the sandhills and the sea, thou wouldst watch the low
cabin, roofed with grass, where the fishing-rods of reed were
leaning against the door, while the Mediterranean floated up her
waves, and filled the waste with sound. There didst thou see thine
ancient fishermen rising ere the dawn from their bed of dry seaweed,
and heardst them stirring, drowsy, among their fishing gear, and
heardst them tell their dreams.

Or again thou wouldst wander with dusty feet through the ways that
the dust makes silent, while the breath of the kine, as they were
driven forth with the morning, came fresh to thee, and the trailing
dewy branch of honeysuckle struck sudden on thy cheek. Thou wouldst
see the Dawn awake in rose and saffron across the waters, and Etna,
grey and pale against the sky, and the setting crescent would dip
strangely in the glow, on her way to the sea. Then, methinks, thou
wouldst murmur, like thine own Simaetha, the love-lorn witch,
"Farewell, Selene, bright and fair; farewell, ye other stars, that
follow the wheels of the quiet Night." Nay, surely it was in such
an hour that thou didst behold the girl as she burned the laurel
leaves and the barley grain, and melted the waxen image, and called
on Selene to bring her lover home. Even so, even now, in the
islands of Greece, the setting Moon may listen to the prayers of
maidens. "Bright golden Moon, that now art near the waters, go thou
and salute my lover, he that stole my love, and that kissed me,
saying "Never will I leave thee." And lo, he hath left me as men
leave a field reaped and gleaned, like a church where none cometh to
pray, like a city desolate."

So the girls still sing in Greece, for though the Temples have
fallen, and the wandering shepherds sleep beneath the broken columns
of the god's house in Selinus, yet these ancient fires burn still to
the old divinities in the shrines of the hearths of the peasants.
It is none of the new creeds that cry, in the dirge of the Sicilian
shepherds of our time, "Ah, light of mine eyes, what gift shall I
send thee, what offering to the other world? The apple fadeth, the
quince decayeth, and one by one they perish, the petals of the rose.
I will send thee my tears shed on a napkin, and what though it
burneth in the flame, if my tears reach thee at the last."

Yes, little is altered, Theocritus, on these shores beneath the sun,
where thou didst wear a tawny skin stripped from the roughest of he-
goats, and about thy breast an old cloak buckled with a plaited
belt. Thou wert happier there, in Sicily, methinks, and among vines
and shadowy lime-trees of Cos, than in the dust, and heat, and noise
of Alexandria. What love of fame, what lust of gold tempted thee
away from the red cliffs, and grey olives, and wells of black water
wreathed with maidenhair?

The music of thy rustic flute
Kept not for long its happy country tone;
Lost it too soon, and learned a stormy note
Of men contention tost, of men who groan,
Which tasked thy pipe too sore, and tired thy throat -
It failed, and thou wast mute!

What hadst thou to make in cities, and what could Ptolemies and
Princes give thee better than the goat-milk cheese and the Ptelean
wine? Thy Muses were meant to be the delight of peaceful men, not
of tyrants and wealthy merchants, to whom they vainly went on a
begging errand. "Who will open his door and gladly receive our
Muses within his house, who is there that will not send them back
again without a gift? And they with naked feet and looks askance
come homewards, and sorely they upbraid me when they have gone on a
vain journey, and listless again in the bottom of their empty coffer
they dwell with heads bowed over their chilly knees, where is their
drear abode, when portionless they return." How far happier was the
prisoned goat-herd, Comatas, in the fragrant cedar chest where the
blunt-faced bees from the meadow fed him with food of tender
flowers, because still the Muse dropped sweet nectar on his lips!

Thou didst leave the neat-herds and the kine, and the oaks of
Himera, the galingale hummed over by the bees, and the pine that
dropped her cones, and Amaryllis in her cave, and Bombyca with her
feet of carven ivory. Thou soughtest the City, and strife with
other singers, and the learned write still on thy quarrels with
Apollonius and Callimachus, and Antagoras of Rhodes. So ancient are
the hatreds of poets, envy, jealousy, and all unkindness.

Not to the wits of Courts couldst thou teach thy rural song, though
all these centuries, more than two thousand years, they have
laboured to vie with thee. There has come no new pastoral poet,
though Virgil copied thee, and Pope, and Phillips, and all the
buckram band of the teacup time; and all the modish swains of France
have sung against thee, as the SOW CHALLENGED ATHENE. They never
knew the shepherd's life, the long winter nights on dried heather by
the fire, the long summer days, when over the parched grass all is
quiet, and only the insects hum, and the shrunken burn whispers a
silver tune. Swains in high-heeled shoon, and lace, shepherdesses
in rouge and diamonds, the world is weary of all concerning them,
save their images in porcelain, effigies how unlike thy golden
figures, dedicate to Aphrodite, of Bombyca and Battus! Somewhat,
Theocritus, thou hast to answer for, thou that first of men brought
the shepherd to Court, and made courtiers wild to go a Maying with
the shepherds.

LETTER--To Edgar Allan Poe

Sir,--Your English readers, better acquainted with your poems and
romances than with your criticisms, have long wondered at the
indefatigable hatred which pursues your memory. You, who knew the
men, will not marvel that certain microbes of letters, the survivors
of your own generation, still harass your name with their
malevolence, while old women twitter out their incredible and
unheeded slanders in the literary papers of New York. But their
persistent animosity does not quite suffice to explain the dislike
with which many American critics regard the greatest poet, perhaps
the greatest literary genius, of their country. With a commendable
patriotism, they are not apt to rate native merit too low; and you,
I think, are the only example of an American prophet almost without
honour in his own country.

The recent publication of a cold, careful, and in many respects
admirable study of your career ("Edgar Allan Poe," by George
Woodberry: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., Boston) reminds English
readers who have forgotten it, and teaches those who never knew it,
that you were, unfortunately, a Reviewer. How unhappy were the
necessities, how deplorable the vein, that compelled or seduced a
man of your eminence into the dusty and stony ways of contemporary
criticism! About the writers of his own generation a leader of that
generation should hold his peace. He should neither praise nor
blame nor defend his equals; he should not strike one blow at the
buzzing ephemerae of letters. The breath of their life is in the
columns of "Literary Gossip;" and they should be allowed to perish
with the weekly advertisements on which they pasture. Reviewing, of
course, there must needs be; but great minds should only criticise
the great who have passed beyond the reach of eulogy or fault-
finding.

Unhappily, taste and circumstances combined to make you a censor;
you vexed a continent, and you are still unforgiven. What
"irritation of a sensitive nature, chafed by some indefinite sense
of wrong," drove you (in Mr. Longfellow's own words) to attack his
pure and beneficent Muse we may never ascertain. But Mr. Longfellow
forgave you easily; for pardon comes easily to the great. It was
the smaller men, the Daweses, Griswolds, and the like, that knew not
how to forget. "The New Yorkers never forgave him," says your
latest biographer; and one scarcely marvels at the inveteracy of
their malice. It was not individual vanity alone, but the whole
literary class that you assailed. "As a literary people," you
wrote, "we are one vast perambulating humbug." After that
declaration of war you died, and left your reputation to the
vanities yet writhing beneath your scorn. They are writhing and
writing still. He who knows them need not linger over the attacks
and defences of your personal character; he will not waste time on
calumnies, tale-bearing, private letters, and all the noisome dust
which takes so long in settling above your tomb.

For us it is enough to know that you were compelled to live by your
pen, and that in an age when the author of "To Helen" and "The Cask
of Amontillado" was paid at the rate of a dollar a column. When
such poverty was the mate of such pride as yours, a misery more deep
than that of Burns, an agony longer than Chatterton's, were
inevitable and assured. No man was less fortunate than you in the
moment of his birth--infelix opportunitate vitae. Had you lived a
generation later, honour, wealth, applause, success in Europe and at
home, would all have been yours. Within thirty years so great a
change has passed over the profession of letters in America; and it
is impossible to estimate the rewards which would have fallen to
Edgar Poe, had chance made him the contemporary of Mark Twain and of
"Called Back." It may be that your criticisms helped to bring in
the new era, and to lift letters out of the reach of quite
unlettered scribblers. Though not a scholar, at least you had a
respect for scholarship. You might still marvel over such words as
"objectional" in the new biography of yourself, and might ask what
is meant by such a sentence as "his connection with it had inured to
his own benefit by the frequent puffs of himself," and so forth.

Best known in your own day as a critic, it is as a poet and a writer
of short tales that you must live. But to discuss your few and
elaborate poems is a waste of time, so completely does your own
brief definition of poetry, "the rhythmic creation of the
beautiful," exhaust your theory, and so perfectly is the theory
illustrated by the poems. Natural bent, and reaction against the
example of Mr. Longfellow, combined to make you too intolerant of
what you call the "didactic" element in verse. Even if morality be
not seven-eighths of our life (the exact proportion as at present
estimated), there was a place even on the Hellenic Parnassus for
gnomic bards, and theirs in the nature of the case must always be
the largest public.

"Music is the perfection of the soul or the idea of poetry," so you
wrote; "the vagueness of exaltation aroused by a sweet air (which
should be indefinite and never too strongly suggestive) is precisely
what we should aim at in poetry." You aimed at that mark, and
struck it again and again, notably in "Helen, thy beauty is to me,"
in "The Haunted Palace," "The Valley of Unrest," and "The City in
the Sea." But by some Nemesis which might, perhaps, have been
foreseen, you are, to the world, the poet of one poem--"The Raven:"
a piece in which the music is highly artificial, and the
"exaltation" (what there is of it) by no means particularly "vague."
So a portion of the public know little of Shelley but the "Skylark,"
and those two incongruous birds, the lark and the raven, bear each
of them a poet's name, vivu' per ora virum. Your theory of poetry,
if accepted, would make you (after the author of "Kubla Khan") the
foremost of the poets of the world; at no long distance would come
Mr. William Morris as he was when he wrote "Golden Wings," "The Blue
Closet," and "The Sailing of the Sword;" and, close up, Mr. Lear,
the author of "The Yongi Bongi Bo," an the lay of the "Jumblies."

On the other hand Homer would sink into the limbo to which you
consigned Moliere. If we may judge a theory by its results, when
compared with the deliberate verdict of the world, your aesthetic
does not seem to hold water. The "Odyssey" is not really inferior
to "Ulalume," as it ought to be if your doctrine of poetry were
correct, nor "Le Festin de Pierre" to "Undine." Yet you deserve the
praise of having been constant, in your poetic practice, to your
poetic principles--principles commonly deserted by poets who, like
Wordsworth, have published their aesthetic system. Your pieces are
few; and Dr. Johnson would have called you, like Fielding, "a barren
rascal." But how can a writer's verses be numerous if with him, as
with you, "poetry is not a pursuit but a passion . . . which cannot
at will be excited with an eye to the paltry compensations or the
more paltry commendations of mankind!" Of you it may be said, more
truly than Shelley said it of himself, that "to ask you for anything
human, is like asking at a gin-shop for a leg of mutton."

Humanity must always be, to the majority of men, the true stuff of
poetry; and only a minority will thank you for that rare music which
(like the strains of the fiddler in the story) is touched on a
single string, and on an instrument fashioned from the spoils of the
grave. You chose, or you were destined

To vary from the kindly race of men;

and the consequences, which wasted your life, pursue your
reputation.

For your stories has been reserved a boundless popularity, and that
highest success--the success of a perfectly sympathetic translation.
By this time, of course, you have made the acquaintance of your
translator, M. Charles Baudelaire, who so strenuously shared your
views about Mr. Emerson and the Transcendentalists, and who so
energetically resisted all those ideas of "progress" which "came
from Hell or Boston." On this point, however, the world continues
to differ from you and M. Baudelaire, and perhaps there is only the
choice between our optimism and universal suicide or universal
opium-eating. But to discuss your ultimate ideas is perhaps a
profitless digression from the topic of your prose romances.

An English critic (probably a Northerner at heart) has described
them as "Hawthorne and delirium tremens." I am not aware that
extreme orderliness, masterly elaboration, and unchecked progress
towards a predetermined effect are characteristics of the visions of
delirium. If they be, then there is a deal of truth in the
criticism, and a good deal of delirium tremens in your style. But
your ingenuity, your completeness, your occasional luxuriance of
fancy and wealth of jewel-like words, are not, perhaps, gifts which
Mr. Hawthorne had at his command. He was a great writer--the
greatest writer in prose fiction whom America has produced. But you
and he have not much in common, except a certain mortuary turn of
mind and a taste for gloomy allegories about the workings of
conscience.

I forbear to anticipate your verdict about the latest essays of
American fiction. These by no means follow in the lines which you
laid down about brevity and the steady working to one single effect.
Probably you would not be very tolerant (tolerance was not your
leading virtue) of Mr. Roe, now your countrymen's favourite
novelist. He is long, he is didactic, he is eminently uninspired.
In the works of one who is, what you were called yourself, a
Bostonian, you would admire, at least, the acute observation, the
subtlety, and the unfailing distinction. But, destitute of humour
as you unhappily but undeniably were, you would miss, I fear, the
charm of "Daisy Miller." You would admit the unity of effect
secured in "Washington Square," though that effect is as remote as
possible from the terror of "The House of Usher" or the vindictive
triumph of "The Cask of Amontillado."

Farewell, farewell, thou sombre and solitary spirit: a genius
tethered to the hack-work of the press, a gentleman among canaille,
a poet among poetasters, dowered with a scholar's taste without a
scholar's training, embittered by his sensitive scorn, and all
unsupported by his consolations.

LETTER--To Sir Walter Scott, Bart.

Rodono, St. Mary's Loch:
Sept. 8, 1885.

Sir,--In your biography it is recorded that you not only won the
favour of all men and women; but that a domestic fowl conceived an
affection for you, and that a pig, by his will, had never been
severed from your company. If some Circe had repeated in my case
her favourite miracle of turning mortals into swine, and had given
me a choice, into that fortunate pig, blessed among his race, would
I have been converted! You, almost alone among men of letters,
still, like a living friend, win and charm us out of the past; and
if one might call up a poet, as the scholiast tried to call Homer,
from the shades, who would not, out of all the rest, demand some
hours of your society? Who that ever meddled with letters, what
child of the irritable race, possessed even a tithe of your simple
manliness, of the heart that never knew a touch of jealousy, that
envied no man his laurels, that took honour and wealth as they came,
but never would have deplored them had you missed both and remained
but the Border sportsman and the Border antiquary?

Were the word "genial" not so much profaned, were it not misused in
easy good-nature, to extenuate lettered and sensual indolence, that
worn old term might be applied, above all men, to "the Shirra." But
perhaps we scarcely need a word (it would be seldom in use) for a
character so rare, or rather so lonely, in its nobility and charm as
that of Walter Scott. Here, in the heart of your own country, among
your own grey round-shouldered hills (each so like the other that
the shadow of one falling on its neighbour exactly outlines that
neighbour's shape), it is of you and of your works that a native of
the Forest is most frequently brought in mind. All the spirits of
the river and the hill, all the dying refrains of ballad and the
fading echoes of story, all the memory of the wild past, each legend
of burn and loch, seem to have combined to inform your spirit, and
to secure themselves an immortal life in your song. It is through
you that we remember them; and in recalling them, as in treading
each hillside in this land, we again remember you and bless you.

It is not, "Sixty Years Since" the echo of Tweed among his pebbles
fell for the last time on your ear; not sixty years since, and how
much is altered! But two generations have passed; the lad who used
to ride from Edinburgh to Abbotsford, carrying new books for you,
and old, is still vending, in George Street, old books and new. Of
politics I have not the heart to speak. Little joy would you have
had in most that has befallen since the Reform Bill was passed, to
the chivalrous cry of "burke Sir Walter." We are still very Radical
in the Forest, and you were taken away from many evils to come. How
would the cheek of Walter Scott, or of Leyden, have blushed at the
names of Majuba, The Soudan, Maiwand, and many others that recall
political cowardice or military incapacity! On the other hand, who
but you could have sung the dirge of Gordon, or wedded with immortal
verse the names of Hamilton (who fell with Cavagnari), of the two
Stewarts, of many another clansman, brave among the bravest! Only
he who told how

The stubborn spearmen still made good
Their dark impenetrable wood

could have fitly rhymed a score of feats of arms in which, as at
M'Neill's Zareba and at Abu Klea,

Groom fought like noble, squire like knight,
As fearlessly and well.

Ah, Sir, the hearts of the rulers may wax faint, and the voting
classes may forget that they are Britons; but when it comes to blows
our fighting men might cry, with Leyden,

My name is little Jock Elliot,
And wha daur meddle wi' me!

Much is changed, in the countryside as well as in the country; but
much remains. The little towns of your time are populous and
excessively black with the smoke of factories--not, I fear, at
present very flourishing. In Galashiels you still see the little
change-house and the cluster of cottages round the Laird's lodge,
like the clachan of Tully Veolan. But these plain remnants of the
old Scotch towns are almost buried in a multitude of "smoky dwarf
houses"--a living poet, Mr. Matthew Arnold, has found the fitting
phrase for these dwellings, once for all. All over the Forest the
waters are dirty and poisoned: I think they are filthiest below
Hawick; but this may be mere local prejudice in a Selkirk man. To
keep them clean costs money; and, though improvements are often
promised, I cannot see much change--for the better. Abbotsford,
luckily, is above Galashiels, and only receives the dirt and dyes of
Selkirk, Peebles, Walkerburn, and Innerleithen. On the other hand,
your ill-omened later dwelling, "the unhappy palace of your race,"
is overlooked by villas that prick a cockney ear among their
larches, hotels of the future. Ah, Sir, Scotland is a strange
place. Whisky is exiled from some of our caravanserais, and they
have banished Sir John Barleycorn. It seems as if the views of the
excellent critic (who wrote your life lately, and said you had left
no descendants, le pauvre homme!) were beginning to prevail. This
pious biographer was greatly shocked by that capital story about the
keg of whisky that arrived at the Liddesdale farmer's during family
prayers. Your Toryism also was an offence to him.

Among these vicissitudes of things and the overthrow of customs, let
us be thankful that, beyond the reach of the manufacturers, the
Border country remains as kind and homely as ever. I looked at
Ashiestiel some days ago: the house seemed just as it may have been
when you left it for Abbotsford, only there was a lawn-tennis net on
the lawn, the hill on the opposite bank of the Tweed was covered to
the crest with turnips, and the burn did not sing below the little
bridge, for in this arid summer the burn was dry. But there was
still a grilse that rose to a big March brown in the shrunken stream
below Elibank. This may not interest you, who styled yourself

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

Still, as when you were thinking over Marmion, a man might have
"grand gallops among the hills"--those grave wastes of heather and
bent that sever all the watercourses and roll their sheep-covered
pastures from Dollar Law to White Combe, and from White Combe to the
Three Brethren Cairn and the Windburg and Skelf-hill Pen. Yes,
Teviotdale is pleasant still, and there is not a drop of dye in the
water, purior electro, of Yarrow. St. Mary's Loch lies beneath me,
smitten with wind and rain--the St. Mary's of North and of the
Shepherd. Only the trout, that see a myriad of artificial flies,
are shyer than of yore. The Shepherd could no longer fill a cart up
Meggat with trout so much of a size that the country people took
them for herrings.

The grave of Piers Cockburn is still not desecrated: hard by it
lies, within a little wood; and beneath that slab of old sandstone,
and the graven letters, and the sword and shield, sleep "Piers
Cockburn and Marjory his wife." Not a hundred yards off was the
castle-door where they hanged him; this is the tomb of the ballad,
and the lady that buried him rests now with her wild lord.

Oh, wat ye no my heart was sair,
When I happit the mouls on his yellow hair;
Oh, wat ye no my heart was wae,
When I turned about and went my way! {7}

Here too hearts have broken, and there is a sacredness in the shadow
and beneath these clustering berries of the rowan-trees. That
sacredness, that reverent memory of our old land, it is always and
inextricably blended with our memories, with our thoughts, with our
love of you. Scotchmen, methinks, who owe so much to you, owe you
most for the example you gave of the beauty of a life of honour,
showing them what, by heaven's blessing, a Scotchman still might be.

Words, empty and unavailing--for what words of ours can speak our
thoughts or interpret our affections! From you first, as we
followed the deer with King James, or rode with William of Deloraine
on his midnight errand, did we learn what Poetry means and all the
happiness that is in the gift of song. This and more than may be
told you gave us, that are not forgetful, not ungrateful, though our
praise be unequal to our gratitude. Fungor inani munere!

LETTER--To Eusebius of Caesarea (Concerning the gods of the heathen)

Touching the Gods of the Heathen, most reverend Father, thou art not
ignorant that even now, as in the time of thy probation on earth,
there is great dissension. That these feigned Deities and idols,
the work of men's hands, are no longer worshipped thou knowest;
neither do men eat meat offered to idols. Even as spake that last
Oracle which murmured forth, the latest and the only true voice from
Delphi, even so "the fair-wrought court divine hath fallen; no more
hath Phoebus his home, no more his laurel-bough, nor the singing
well of water; nay, the sweet-voiced water is silent." The fane is
ruinous, and the images of men's idolatry are dust.

Nevertheless, most worshipful, men do still dispute about the
beginnings of those sinful Gods: such as Zeus, Athene, and
Dionysus: and marvel how first they won their dominion over the
souls of the foolish peoples. Now, concerning these things there is
not one belief, but many; howbeit, there are two main kinds of
opinion. One sect of philosophers believes--as thyself, with
heavenly learning, didst not vainly persuade--that the Gods were the
inventions of wild and bestial folk, who, long before cities were
builded or life was honourably ordained, fashioned forth evil
spirits in their own savage likeness; ay, or in the likeness of the
very beasts that perish. To this judgment, as it is set forth in
thy Book of the Preparation for the Gospel, I, humble as I am, do
give my consent. But on the other side are many and learned men,
chiefly of the tribes of the Alemanni, who have almost conquered the
whole inhabited world. These, being unwilling to suppose that the
Hellenes were in bondage to superstitions handed down from times of
utter darkness and a bestial life, do chiefly hold with the heathen
philosophers, even with the writers whom thou, most venerable, didst
confound with thy wisdom and chasten with the scourge of small cords
of thy wit.

Thus, like the heathen, our doctors and teachers maintain that the
gods of the nations were, in the beginning, such pure natural
creatures as the blue sky, the sun, the air, the bright dawn, and
the fire; but, as time went on, men, forgetting the meaning of their
own speech and no longer understanding the tongue of their own
fathers, were misled and beguiled into fashioning all those
lamentable tales: as that Zeus, for love of mortal women, took the
shape of a bull, a ram, a serpent, an ant, an eagle, and sinned in
such wise as it is a shame even to speak of.

Behold, then, most worshipful, how these doctors and learned men
argue, even like the philosophers of the heathen whom thou didst
confound. For they declare the gods to have been natural elements,
sun and sky and storm, even as did thy opponents; and, like them, as
thou saidst, "they are nowise at one with each other in their
explanations." For of old some boasted that Hera was the Air; and
some that she signified the love of woman and man; and some that she
was the waters above the Earth; and others that she was the Earth
beneath the waters; and yet others that she was the Night, for that
Night is the shadow of Earth: as if, forsooth, the men who first
worshipped Hera had understanding of these things! And when Hera
and Zeus quarrel unseemly (as Homer declareth), this meant (said the
learned in thy days) no more than the strife and confusion of the
elements, and was not in the beginning an idle slanderous tale.

To all which, most worshipful, thou didst answer wisely: saying
that Hera could not be both night, and earth, and water, and air,
and the love of sexes, and the confusion of the elements; but that
all these opinions were vain dreams, and the guesses of the learned.
And why--thou saidst--even if the Gods were pure natural creatures,
are such foul things told of them in the Mysteries as it is not
fitting for me to declare. "These wanderings, and drinkings, and
loves, and seductions, that would be shameful in men, why," thou
saidst, "were they attributed to the natural elements; and wherefore
did the Gods constantly show themselves, like the sorcerers called
werewolves, in the shape of the perishable beasts?" But, mainly,
thou didst argue that, till the philosophers of the heathen were
agreed among themselves, not all contradicting each the other, they
had no semblance of a sure foundation for their doctrine.

To all this and more, most worshipful Father, I know not what the
heathen answered thee. But, in our time, the learned men who stand
to it that the heathen Gods were in the beginning the pure elements,
and that the nations, forgetting their first love and the
significance of their own speech, became confused and were betrayed
into foul stories about the pure Gods--these learned men, I say,
agree no whit among themselves. Nay, they differ one from another,
not less than did Plutarch and Porphyry and Theagenes, and the rest
whom thou didst laugh to scorn. Bear with me, Father, while I tell
thee how the new Plutarchs and Porphyrys do contend among
themselves; and yet these differences of theirs they call "Science"!

Consider the goddess Athene, who sprang armed from the head of Zeus,
even as--among the fables of the poor heathen folk of seas thou
never knewest--goddesses are fabled to leap out from the armpits or
feet of their fathers. Thou must know that what Plato, in the
"Cratylus," made Socrates say in jest, the learned among us practise
in sad earnest. For, when they wish to explain the nature of any
God, they first examine his name, and torment the letters thereof,
arranging and altering them according to their will, and flying off
to the speech of the Indians and Medes and Chaldeans, and other
Barbarians, if Greek will not serve their turn. How saith Socrates?
"I bethink me of a very new and ingenious idea that occurs to me;
and, if I do not mind, I shall be wiser than I should be by to-
morrow's dawn. My notion is that we may put in and pull out letters
at pleasure and alter the accents."

Even so do the learned--not at pleasure, maybe, but according to
certain fixed laws (so they declare); yet none the more do they
agree among themselves. And I deny not that they discover many
things true and good to be known; but, as touching the names of the
Gods, their learning, as it standeth, is confusion. Look, then, at
the goddess Athene: taking one example out of hundreds. We have
dwelling in our coasts Muellerus, the most erudite of the doctors of
the Alemanni, and the most golden-mouthed. Concerning Athene, he
saith that her name is none other than, in the ancient tongue of the
Brachmanae, Ahana, which, being interpreted, means the Dawn. "And
that the morning light," saith he, "offers the best starting-point
for the later growth of Athene has been proved, I believe, beyond
the reach of doubt or even cavil." {8}

Yet this same doctor candidly lets us know that another of his
nation, the witty Benfeius, hath devised another sense and origin of
Athene, taken from the speech of the old Medes. But Muellerus
declares to us that whosoever shall examine the contention of
Benfeius "will be bound, in common honesty, to confess that it is
untenable." This, Father, is "one for Benfeius," as the saying
goes. And as Muellerus holds that these matters "admit of almost
mathematical precision," it would seem that Benfeius is but a
Dummkopf, as the Alemanni say, in their own language, when they
would be pleasant among themselves.

Now, wouldst thou credit it? despite the mathematical plainness of
the facts, other Alemanni agree neither with Muellerus, nor yet with
Benfeius, and will neither hear that Athene was the Dawn, nor yet
that she is "the feminine of the Zend Thraetana athwyana." Lo, you!
how Prellerus goes about to show that her name is drawn not from
Ahana and the old Brachmanae, nor athwyana and the old Medes, but
from "the root [Greek text], whence [Greek text], the air, or [Greek
text], whence [Greek text], a flower." Yea, and Prellerus will have
it that no man knows the verity of this matter. None the less he is
very bold, and will none of the Dawn; but holds to it that Athene
was, from the first, "the clear pure height of the Air, which is
exceeding pure in Attica."

Now, Father, as if all this were not enough, comes one Roscherus in,
with a mighty great volume on the Gods, and Furtwaenglerus, among
others, for his ally. And these doctors will neither with
Rueckertus and Hermannus, take Athene for "wisdom in person;" nor
with Welckerus and Prellerus, for "the goddess of air;" nor even,
with Muellerus and mathematical certainty, for "the Morning-Red:"
but they say that Athene is the "black thunder-cloud, and the
lightning that leapeth therefrom"! I make no doubt that other
Alemanni are of other minds: quot Alemanni tot sententiae.

Yea, as thou saidst of the learned heathen, [Greek text]. Yet these
disputes of theirs they call "Science"! But if any man says to the
learned: "Best of men, you are erudite, and laborious and witty;
but, till you are more of the same mind, your opinions cannot be
styled knowledge. Nay, they are at present of no avail whereon to
found any doctrine concerning the Gods"--that man is railed at for
his "mean" and "weak" arguments.

Was it thus, Father, that the heathen railed against thee? But I
must still believe, with thee, that these evil tales of the Gods
were invented "when man's life was yet brutish and wandering" (as is
the life of many tribes that even now tell like tales), and were
maintained in honour by the later Greeks "because none dared alter
the ancient beliefs of his ancestors." Farewell, Father; and all
good be with thee, wishes thy well-wisher and thy disciple.

LETTER--To Percy Bysshe Shelley

Sir,--In your lifetime on earth you were not more than commonly
curious as to what was said by "the herd of mankind," if I may quote
your own phrase. It was that of one who loved his fellow-men, but
did not in his less enthusiastic moments overestimate their virtues
and their discretion. Removed so far away from our hubbub, and that
world where, as you say, we "pursue our serious folly as of old,"
you are, one may guess, but moderately concerned about the fate of
your writings and your reputation. As to the first, you have
somewhere said, in one of your letters, that the final judgment on
your merits as a poet is in the hands of posterity, and that you
fear the verdict will be "Guilty," and the sentence "Death." Such
apprehensions cannot have been fixed or frequent in the mind of one
whose genius burned always with a clearer and steadier flame to the
last. The jury of which you spoke has met: a mixed jury and a
merciful. The verdict is "Well done," and the sentence Immortality
of Fame. There have been, there are, dissenters; yet probably they
will be less and less heard as the years go on.

One judge, or juryman, has made up his mind that prose was your true
province, and that your letters will out-live your lays. I know not
whether it was the same or an equally well-inspired critic, who
spoke of your most perfect lyrics (so Beau Brummell spoke of his
ill-tied cravats) as "a gallery of your failures." But the general
voice does not echo these utterances of a too subtle intellect. At
a famous University (not your own) once existed a band of men known
as "The Trinity Sniffers." Perhaps the spirit of the sniffer may
still inspire some of the jurors who from time to time make
themselves heard in your case. The "Quarterly Review," I fear, is
still unreconciled. It regards your attempts as tainted by the
spirit of "The Liberal Movement in English Literature;" and it is
impossible, alas! to maintain with any success that you were a
Throne and Altar Tory. At Oxford you are forgiven; and the old
rooms where you let the oysters burn (was not your founder, King
Alfred, once guilty of similar negligence?) are now shown to pious
pilgrims.

But Conservatives, 'tis rumoured, are still averse to your opinions,
and are believed to prefer to yours the works of the Reverend Mr.
Keble, and, indeed, of the clergy in general. But, in spite of all
this, your poems, like the affections of the true lovers in
Theocritus, are yet "in the mouths of all, and chiefly on the lips
of the young." It is in your lyrics that you live, and I do not
mean that every one could pass an examination in the plot of
"Prometheus Unbound." Talking of this piece, by the way, a
Cambridge critic finds that it reveals in you a hankering after life
in a cave--doubtless an unconsciously inherited memory from cave-
man. Speaking of cave-man reminds me that you once spoke of
deserting song for prose, and of producing a history of the moral,
intellectual, and political elements in human society, which, we now
agree, began, as Asia would fain have ended, in a cave.

Fortunately you gave us "Adonais" and "Hellas" instead of this
treatise, and we have now successfully written the natural history
of Man for ourselves. Science tells us that before becoming a cave-
dweller he was a Brute; Experience daily proclaims that he
constantly reverts to his original condition. L'homme est un
mechant animal, in spite of your boyish efforts to add pretty girls
"to the list of the good, the disinterested, and the free."

Ah, not in the wastes of Speculation, nor the sterile din of
Politics, were "the haunts meet for thee." Watching the yellow bees
in the ivy bloom, and the reflected pine forest in the water-pools,
watching the sunset as it faded, and the dawn as it fired, and
weaving all fair and fleeting things into a tissue where light and
music were at one, that was the task of Shelley! "To ask you for
anything human," you said, "was like asking for a leg of mutton at a
gin-shop." Nay, rather, like asking Apollo and Hebe, in the
Olympian abodes, to give us beef for ambrosia, and port for nectar.
Each poet gives what he has, and what he can offer; you spread
before us fairy bread, and enchanted wine, and shall we turn away,
with a sneer, because, out of all the multitudes of singers, one is
spiritual and strange, one has seen Artemis unveiled? One, like
Anchises, has been beloved of the Goddess, and his eyes, when he
looks on the common world of common men, are, like the eyes of
Anchises, blind with excess of light. Let Shelley sing of what he
saw, what none saw but Shelley!

Notwithstanding the popularity of your poems (the most romantic of
things didactic), our world is no better than the world you knew.
This will disappoint you, who had "a passion for reforming it."
Kings and priests are very much where you left them. True, we have
a poet who assails them, at large, frequently and fearlessly; yet
Mr. Swinburne has never, like "kind Hunt," been in prison, nor do we
fear for him a charge of treason. Moreover, chemical science has
discovered new and ingenious ways of destroying principalities and
powers. You would be interested in the methods, but your peaceful
Revolutionism, which disdained physical force, would regret their
application.

Our foreign affairs are not in a state which even you would consider
satisfactory; for we have just had to contend with a Revolt of
Islam, and we still find in Russia exactly the qualities which you
recognised and described. We have a great statesman whose methods
and eloquence somewhat resemble those you attribute to Laon and
Prince Athanase. Alas! he is a youth of more than seventy summers;
and not in his time will Prometheus retire to a cavern and pass a
peaceful millennium in twining buds and beams.

In domestic affairs most of the Reforms you desired to see have been
carried. Ireland has received Emancipation, and almost everything
else she can ask for. I regret to say that she is still unhappy;
her wounds unstanched, her wrongs unforgiven. At home we have
enfranchised the paupers, and expect the most happy results.
Paupers (as Mr. Gladstone says) are "our own flesh and blood," and,
as we compel them to be vaccinated, so we should permit them to
vote. Is it a dream that Mr. Jesse Collings (how you would have
loved that man!) has a Bill for extending the priceless boon of the
vote to inmates of Pauper Lunatic Asylums? This may prove that last
element in the Elixir of political happiness which we have long
sought in vain. Atheists, you will regret to hear, are still
unpopular; but the new Parliament has done something for Mr.
Bradlaugh. You should have known our Charles while you were in the
"Queen Mab" stage. I fear you wandered, later, from his robust
condition of intellectual development.

As to your private life, many biographers contrive to make public as
much of it as possible. Your name, even in life, was, alas! a kind
of ducdame to bring people of no very great sense into your circle.
This curious fascination has attracted round your memory a feeble
folk of commentators, biographers, anecdotists, and others of the
tribe. They swarm round you like carrion-flies round a sensitive
plant, like night-birds bewildered by the sun. Men of sense and
taste have written on you, indeed; but your weaker admirers are now
disputing as to whether it was your heart, or a less dignified and
most troublesome organ, which escaped the flames of the funeral
pyre. These biographers fight terribly among themselves, and vainly
prolong the memory of "old unhappy far-off things, and sorrows long
ago." Let us leave them and their squabbles over what is
unessential, their raking up of old letters and old stories.

The town has lately yawned a weary laugh over an enemy of yours, who
has produced two heavy volumes, styled by him "The Real Shelley."
The real Shelley, it appears, was Shelley as conceived of by a
worthy gentleman so prejudiced and so skilled in taking up things by
the wrong handle that I wonder he has not made a name in the exact
science of Comparative Mythology. He criticises you in the spirit
of that Christian Apologist, the Englishman who called you "a damned
Atheist" in the post-office at Pisa. He finds that you had "a
little turned-up nose," a feature no less important in his system
than was the nose of Cleopatra (according to Pascal) in the history
of the world. To be in harmony with your nose, you were a
"phenomenal" liar, an ill-bred, ill-born, profligate, partly insane,
an evil-tempered monster, a self-righteous person, full of self-
approbation--in fact you were the Beast of this pious Apocalypse.
Your friend Dr. Lind was an embittered and scurrilous apothecary, "a
bad old man." But enough of this inopportune brawler.

For Humanity, of which you hoped such great things, Science predicts
extinction in a night of Frost. The sun will grow cold, slowly--as
slowly as doom came on Jupiter in your "Prometheus," but as surely.
If this nightmare be fulfilled, perhaps the Last Man, in some fetid
hut on the ice-bound Equator, will read, by a fading lamp charged
with the dregs of the oil in his cruse, the poetry of Shelley. So
reading, he, the latest of his race, will not wholly be deprived of
those sights which alone (says the nameless Greek) make life worth
enduring. In your verse he will have sight of sky, and sea, and
cloud, the gold of dawn and the gloom of earthquake and eclipse. He
will be face to face, in fancy, with the great powers that are dead,
sun, and ocean, and the illimitable azure of the heavens. In
Shelley's poetry, while Man endures, all those will survive; for
your "voice is as the voice of winds and tides," and perhaps more
deathless than all of these, and only perishable with the perishing
of the human spirit.

LETTER--To Monsieur de Moliere, Valet de Chambre du Roi

Monsieur,--With what awe does a writer venture into the presence of
the great Moliere! As a courtier in your time would scratch humbly
(with his comb!) at the door of the Grand Monarch, so I presume to
draw near your dwelling among the Immortals. You, like the king
who, among all his titles, has now none so proud as that of the
friend of Moliere--you found your dominions small, humble, and
distracted; you raised them to the dignity of an empire: what Louis
XIV. did for France you achieved for French comedy; and the baton of
Scapin still wields its sway though the sword of Louis was broken at
Blenheim. For the King the Pyrenees, or so he fancied, ceased to
exist; by a more magnificent conquest you overcame the Channel. If
England vanquished your country's arms, it was through you that
France ferum victorem cepit, and restored the dynasty of Comedy to
the land whence she had been driven. Ever since Dryden borrowed
"L'Etourdi," our tardy apish nation has lived (in matters
theatrical) on the spoils of the wits of France.

In one respect, to be sure, times and manners have altered. While
you lived, taste kept the French drama pure; and it was the
congenial business of English playwrights to foist their rustic
grossness and their large Fescennine jests into the urban page of
Moliere. Now they are diversely occupied; and it is their affair to
lend modesty where they borrow wit, and to spare a blush to the
cheek of the Lord Chamberlain. But still, as has ever been our wont
since Etherege saw, and envied, and imitated your successes--still
we pilfer the plays of France, and take our bien, as you said in
your lordly manner, wherever we can find it. We are the privateers
of the stage; and it is rarely, to be sure, that a comedy pleases
the town which has not first been "cut out" from the countrymen of
Moliere. Why this should be, and what "tenebriferous star" (as
Paracelsus, your companion in the "Dialogues des Morts," would have
believed) thus darkens the sun of English humour, we know not; but
certainly our dependence on France is the sincerest tribute to you.
Without you, neither Rotrou, nor Corneille, nor "a wilderness of
monkeys" like Scarron, could ever have given Comedy to France and
restored her to Europe.

While we owe to you, Monsieur, the beautiful advent of Comedy, fair
and beneficent as Peace in the play of Aristophanes, it is still to
you that we must turn when of comedies we desire the best. If you
studied with daily and nightly care the works of Plautus and
Terence, if you "let no musty bouquin escape you" (so your enemies
declared), it was to some purpose that you laboured. Shakespeare
excepted, you eclipsed all who came before you; and from those that
follow, however fresh, we turn: we turn from Regnard and
Beaumarchais, from Sheridan and Goldsmith, from Musset and Pailleron
and Labiche, to that crowded world of your creations. "Creations"
one may well say, for you anticipated Nature herself: you gave us,
before she did, in Alceste a Rousseau who was a gentleman not a
lacquey; in a mot of Don Juan's, the secret of the new Religion and
the watchword of Comte, l'amour de l'humanite.

Before you where can we find, save in Rabelais, a Frenchman with
humour; and where, unless it be in Montaigne, the wise philosophy of
a secular civilisation? With a heart the most tender, delicate,
loving, and generous, a heart often in agony and torment, you had to
make life endurable (we cannot doubt it) without any whisper of
promise, or hope, or warning from Religion. Yes, in an age when the
greatest mind of all, the mind of Pascal, proclaimed that the only
help was in voluntary blindness, that the only chance was to hazard
all on a bet at evens, you, Monsieur, refused to be blinded, or to
pretend to see what you found invisible.

In Religion you beheld no promise of help. When the Jesuits and
Jansenists of your time saw, each of them, in Tartufe the portrait
of their rivals (as each of the laughable Marquises in your play
conceived that you were girding at his neighbour), you all the while
were mocking every credulous excess of Faith. In the sermons
preached to Agnes we surely hear your private laughter; in the
arguments for credulity which are presented to Don Juan by his valet
we listen to the eternal self-defence of superstition. Thus,
desolate of belief, you sought for the permanent element of life--
precisely where Pascal recognised all that was most fleeting and
unsubstantial--in divertissement; in the pleasure of looking on, a
spectator of the accidents of existence, an observer of the follies
of mankind. Like the Gods of the Epicurean, you seem to regard our
life as a play that is played, as a comedy; yet how often the tragic
note comes in! What pity, and in the laughter what an accent of
tears, as of rain in the wind! No comedian has been so kindly and
human as you; none has had a heart, like you, to feel for his butts,
and to leave them sometimes, in a sense, superior to their
tormentors. Sganarelle, M. de Pourceaugnac, George Dandin, and the
rest--our sympathy, somehow, is with them, after all; and M. de
Pourceaugnac is a gentleman, despite his misadventures.

Though triumphant Youth and malicious Love in your plays may batter
and defeat Jealousy and Old Age, yet they have not all the victory,
or you did not mean that they should win it. They go off with
laughter, and their victim with a grimace; but in him we, that are
past our youth, behold an actor in an unending tragedy, the defeat
of a generation. Your sympathy is not wholly with the dogs that are
having their day; you can throw a bone or a crust to the dog that
has had his, and has been taught that it is over and ended.
Yourself not unlearned in shame, in jealousy, in endurance of the
wanton pride of men (how could the poor player and the husband of
Celimene be untaught in that experience?), you never sided quite
heartily, as other comedians have done, with young prosperity and
rank and power.

I am not the first who has dared to approach you in the Shades; for
just after your own death the author of "Les Dialogues des Morts"
gave you Paracelsus as a companion, and the author of "Le Jugement
de Pluton" made the "mighty warder" decide that "Moliere should not
talk philosophy." These writers, like most of us, feel that, after
all, the comedies of the Contemplateur, of the translator of
Lucretius, are a philosophy of life in themselves, and that in them
we read the lessons of human experience writ small and clear.

What comedian but Moliere has combined with such depths--with the
indignation of Alceste, the self-deception of Tartufe, the blasphemy
of Don Juan--such wildness of irresponsible mirth, such humour, such
wit! Even now, when more than two hundred years have sped by, when
so much water has flowed under the bridges and has borne away so
many trifles of contemporary mirth (cetera fluminis ritu feruntur),
even now we never laugh so well as when Mascarille and Vadius and M.
Jourdain tread the boards in the Maison de Moliere. Since those
mobile dark brows of yours ceased to make men laugh, since your
voice denounced the "demoniac" manner of contemporary tragedians, I
take leave to think that no player has been more worthy to wear the
canons of Mascarille or the gown of Vadius than M. Coquelin of the
Comedie Francaise. In him you have a successor to your Mascarille
so perfect, that the ghosts of playgoers of your date might cry,
could they see him, that Moliere had come again. But, with all
respect to the efforts of the fair, I doubt if Mdlle. Barthet, or
Mdme. Croizette herself, would reconcile the town to the loss of the
fair De Brie, and Madeleine, and the first, the true Celimene,
Armande. Yet had you ever so merry a soubrette as Mdme. Samary, so
exquisite a Nicole?

Denounced, persecuted, and buried hugger-mugger two hundred years
ago, you are now not over-praised, but more worshipped, with more
servility and ostentation, studied with more prying curiosity than
you may approve. Are not the Molieristes a body who carry adoration
to fanaticism? Any scrap of your handwriting (so few are these),
any anecdote even remotely touching on your life, any fact that may
prove your house was numbered 15 not 22, is eagerly seized and
discussed by your too minute historians. Concerning your private
life, these men often speak more like malicious enemies than
friends; repeating the fabulous scandals of Le Boulanger, and trying
vainly to support them by grubbing in dusty parish registers. It is
most necessary to defend you from your friends--from such friends as
the veteran and inveterate M. Arsene Houssaye, or the industrious
but puzzle-headed M. Loiseleur. Truly they seek the living among
the dead, and the immortal Moliere among the sweepings of attorneys'
offices. As I regard them (for I have tarried in their tents) and
as I behold their trivialities--the exercises of men who neglect
Moliere's works to gossip about Moliere's great-grand-mother's
second-best bed--I sometimes wish that Moliere were here to write on
his devotees a new comedy, "Les Molieristes." How fortunate were
they, Monsieur, who lived and worked with you, who saw you day by
day, who were attached, as Lagrange tells us, by the kindest loyalty
to the best and most honourable of men, the most open-handed in
friendship, in charity the most delicate, of the heartiest sympathy!
Ah, that for one day I could behold you, writing in the study,
rehearsing on the stage, musing in the lace-seller's shop, strolling
through the Palais, turning over the new books at Billaine's,
dusting your ruffles among the old volumes on the sunny stalls.
Would that, through the ages, we could hear you after supper, merry
with Boileau, and with Racine,--not yet a traitor,--laughing over
Chapelain, combining to gird at him in an epigram, or mocking at
Cotin, or talking your favourite philosophy, mindful of Descartes.
Surely of all the wits none was ever so good a man, none ever made
life so rich with humour and friendship.

LETTER--To Robert Burns

Sir,--Among men of Genius, and especially among Poets, there are
some to whom we turn with a peculiar and unfeigned affection; there
are others whom we admire rather than love. By some we are won with
our will, by others conquered against our desire. It has been your
peculiar fortune to capture the hearts of a whole people--a people
not usually prone to praise, but devoted with a personal and
patriotic loyalty to you and to your reputation. In you every Scot
who IS a Scot sees, admires, and compliments Himself, his ideal
self--independent, fond of whisky, fonder of the lassies; you are
the true representative of him and of his nation. Next year will be
the hundredth since the press of Kilmarnock brought to light its
solitary masterpiece, your Poems; and next year, therefore,
methinks, the revenue will receive a welcome accession from the
abundance of whisky drunk in your honour. It is a cruel thing for
any of your countrymen to feel that, where all the rest love, he can
only admire; where all the rest are idolators, he may not bend the
knee; but stands apart and beats upon his breast, observing, not
adoring--a critic. Yet to some of us--petty souls, perhaps, and
envious--that loud indiscriminating praise of "Robbie Burns" (for so
they style you in their Change-house familiarity) has long been
ungrateful; and, among the treasures of your songs, we venture to
select and even to reject. So it must be! We cannot all love
Haggis, nor "painch, tripe, and thairm," and all those rural
dainties which you celebrate as "warm-reekin, rich!" "Rather too
rich," as the Young Lady said on an occasion recorded by Sam Weller.

Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

You HAVE given her a Haggis, with a vengeance, and her "gratefu'
prayer" is yours for ever. But if even an eternity of partridge may
pall on the epicure, so of Haggis too, as of all earthly delights,
cometh satiety at last. And yet what a glorious Haggis it is--the
more emphatically rustic and even Fescennine part of your verse! We
have had many a rural bard since Theocritus "watched the visionary
flocks," but you are the only one of them all who has spoken the
sincere Doric. Yours is the talk of the byre and the plough-tail;
yours is that large utterance of the early hinds. Even Theocritus
minces matters, save where Lacon and Comatas quite out-do the swains
of Ayrshire. "But thee, Theocritus, wha matches?" you ask, and
yourself out-match him in this wide rude region, trodden only by the
rural Muse. "THY rural loves are nature's sel';" and the wooer of
Jean Armour speaks more like a true shepherd than the elegant
Daphnis of the "Oaristys."

Indeed it is with this that moral critics of your life reproach you,
forgetting, perhaps, that in your amours you were but as other
Scotch ploughmen and shepherds of the past and present. Ettrick may
still, with Afghanistan, offer matter for idylls, as Mr. Carlyle
(your antithesis, and the complement of the Scotch character)
supposed; but the morals of Ettrick are those of rural Sicily in old
days, or of Mossgiel in your days. Over these matters the Kirk,
with all her power, and the Free Kirk too, have had absolutely no
influence whatever. To leave so delicate a topic, you were but as
other swains, or, as "that Birkie ca'd a lord," Lord Byron; only you
combined (in certain of your letters) a libertine theory with your
practice; you poured out in song your audacious raptures, your half-
hearted repentance, your shame and your scorn. You spoke the truth
about rural lives and loves. We may like it or dislike it but we
cannot deny the verity.

Was it not as unhappy a thing, Sir, for you, as it was fortunate for
Letters and for Scotland, that you were born at the meeting of two
ages and of two worlds--precisely in the moment when bookish
literature was beginning to reach the people, and when Society was
first learning to admit the low-born to her Minor Mysteries? Before
you how many singers not less truly poets than yourself--though less
versatile not less passionate, though less sensuous not less simple-
-had been born and had died in poor men's cottages! There abides
not even the shadow of a name of the old Scotch song-smiths, of the
old ballad-makers. The authors of "Clerk Saunders," of "The Wife of
Usher's Well," of "Fair Annie," and "Sir Patrick Spens," and "The
Bonny Hind," are as unknown to us as Homer, whom in their directness
and force they resemble. They never, perhaps, gave their poems to
writing; certainly they never gave them to the press. On the lips
and in the hearts of the people they have their lives; and the
singers, after a life obscure and untroubled by society or by fame,
are forgotten. "The Iniquity of Oblivion blindly scattereth his
Poppy."

Had you been born some years earlier you would have been even as
these unnamed Immortals, leaving great verses to a little clan--
verses retained only by Memory. You would have been but the
minstrel of your native valley: the wider world would not have
known you, nor you the world. Great thoughts of independence and
revolt would never have burned in you; indignation would not have
vexed you. Society would not have given and denied her caresses.
You would have been happy. Your songs would have lingered in all
"the circle of the summer hills;" and your scorn, your satire, your
narrative verse, would have been unwritten or unknown. To the world
what a loss! and what a gain to you! We should have possessed but a
few of your lyrics, as

When o'er the hill the eastern star
Tells bughtin-time is near, my jo;
And owsen frae the furrowed field,
Return sae dowf and wearie O!

How noble that is, how natural, how unconsciously Greek! You found,
oddly, in good Mrs. Barbauld, the merits of the Tenth Muse:

In thy sweet sang, Barbauld, survives
Even Sappho's flame!

But how unconsciously you remind us both of Sappho and of Homer in
these strains about the Evening Star and the hour when the Day
[Greek text]? Had you lived and died the pastoral poet of some
silent glen, such lyrics could not but have survived; free, too, of
all that in your songs reminds us of the Poet's Corner in the
"Kirkcudbright Advertiser." We should not have read how

Phoebus, gilding the brow o' morning,
Banishes ilk darksome shade!

Still we might keep a love-poem unexcelled by Catullus,

Had we never loved sae kindly,
Had we never loved sae blindly,
Never met--or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.

But the letters to Clarinda would have been unwritten, and the
thrush would have been untaught in "the style of the Bird of
Paradise."

A quiet life of song, fallentis semita vitae, was not to be yours.
Fate otherwise decreed it. The touch of a lettered society, the
strife with the Kirk, discontent with the State, poverty and pride,
neglect and success, were needed to make your Genius what it was,
and to endow the world with "Tam o' Shanter," the "Jolly Beggars,"
and "Holy Willie's Prayer." Who can praise them too highly--who
admire in them too much the humour, the scorn, the wisdom, the
unsurpassed energy and courage? So powerful, so commanding, is the
movement of that Beggars' Chorus, that, methinks, it unconsciously
echoed in the brain of our greatest living poet when he conceived
the "Vision of Sin." You shall judge for yourself. Recall:

Here's to budgets, bags, and wallets!
Here's to all the wandering train!
Here's our ragged bairns and callets!
One and all cry out, Amen!

A fig for those by law protected!
Liberty's a glorious feast!
Courts for cowards were erected!
Churches built to please the priest!

Then read this:

Drink to lofty hopes that cool -
Visions of a perfect state:
Drink we, last, the public fool,
Frantic love and frantic hate.

* * *

Drink to Fortune, drink to Chance,
While we keep a little breath!
Drink to heavy Ignorance,
Hob and nob with brother Death!

Is not the movement the same, though the modern speaks a wilder
recklessness?

So in the best company we leave you, who were the life and soul of
so much company, good and bad. No poet, since the Psalmist of
Israel, ever gave the world more assurance of a man; none lived a
life more strenuous, engaged in an eternal conflict of the passions,
and by them overcome--"mighty and mightily fallen." When we think
of you, Byron seems, as Plato would have said, remote by one degree
from actual truth, and Musset by a degree more remote than Byron.

LETTER--To Lord Byron

My Lord,

(Do you remember how Leigh Hunt
Enraged you once by writing MY DEAR BYRON?)
Books have their fates,--as mortals have who punt,
And YOURS have entered on an age of iron.
Critics there be who think your satire blunt,
Your pathos, fudge; such perils must environ
Poets who in their time were quite the rage,
Though now there's not a soul to turn their page.
Yes, there is much dispute about your worth,
And much is said which you might like to know
By modern poets here upon the earth,
Where poets live, and love each other so;
And, in Elysium, it may move your mirth
To hear of bards that pitch your praises low,
Though there be some that for your credit stickle,
As--Glorious Mat,--and not inglorious Nichol.

(This kind of writing is my pet aversion,
I hate the slang, I hate the personalities,
I loathe the aimless, reckless, loose dispersion,
Of every rhyme that in the singer's wallet is,
I hate it as you hated the EXCURSION,
But, while no man a hero to his valet is,
The hero's still the model; I indite
The kind of rhymes that Byron oft would write.)

There's a Swiss critic whom I cannot rhyme to,
One Scherer, dry as sawdust, grim and prim.
Of him there's much to say, if I had time to
Concern myself in any wise with HIM.
He seems to hate the heights he cannot climb to,
He thinks your poetry a coxcomb's whim,
A good deal of his sawdust he has spilt on
Shakespeare, and Moliere, and you, and Milton.

Ay, much his temper is like Vivien's mood,
Which found not Galahad pure, nor Lancelot brave;
Cold as a hailstorm on an April wood,
He buries poets in an icy grave,
His Essays--he of the Genevan hood!
Nothing so fine, but better doth he crave.
So stupid and so solemn in his spite
He dares to print that Moliere could not write!

Enough of these excursions; I was saying
That half our English Bards are turned Reviewers,
And Arnold was discussing and assaying
The weight and value of that work of yours,
Examining and testing it and weighing,
And proved, the gems are pure, the gold endures.
While Swinburne cries with an exceeding joy,
The stones are paste, and half the gold, alloy.

In Byron, Arnold finds the greatest force,
Poetic, in this later age of ours;
His song, a torrent from a mountain source,
Clear as the crystal, singing with the showers,
Sweeps to the sea in unrestricted course
Through banks o'erhung with rocks and sweet with flowers;
None of your brooks that modestly meander,
But swift as Awe along the Pass of Brander.

And when our century has clomb its crest,
And backward gazes o'er the plains of Time,
And counts its harvest, yours is still the best,
The richest garner in the field of rhyme
(The metaphoric mixture, 'tis comfest,
Is all my own, and is not quite sublime).
But fame's not yours alone; you must divide all
The plums and pudding with the Bard of Rydal!

WORDSWORTH and BYRON, these the lordly names
And these the gods to whom most incense burns.
"Absurd!" cries Swinburne, and in anger flames,
And in an AEschylean fury spurns
With impious foot your altar, and exclaims
And wreathes his laurels on the golden urns
Where Coleridge's and Shelley's ashes lie,
Deaf to the din and heedless of the cry.

For Byron (Swinburne shouts) has never woven
One honest thread of life within his song;
As Offenbach is to divine Beethoven
So Byron is to Shelley (THIS is strong!),
And on Parnassus' peak, divinely cloven,
He may not stand, or stands by cruel wrong;
For Byron's rank (the examiner has reckoned)
Is in the third class or a feeble second.

"A Bernesque poet" at the very most,
And "never earnest save in politics,"
The Pegasus that he was wont to boast
A blundering, floundering hackney, full of tricks,
A beast that must be driven to the post
By whips and spurs and oaths and kicks and sticks,
A gasping, ranting, broken-winded brute,
That any judge of Pegasi would shoot;

In sooth, a half-bred Pegasus, and far gone
In spavin, curb, and half a hundred woes.
And Byron's style is "jolter-headed jargon;"
His verse is "only bearable in prose."
So living poets write of those that ARE gone,
And o'er the Eagle thus the Bantam crows;
And Swinburne ends where Verisopht began,
By owning you "a very clever man."

Or rather does not end: he still must utter
A quantity of the unkindest things.
Ah! were you here, I marvel, would you flutter
O'er such a foe the tempest of your wings?
'Tis "rant and cant and glare and splash and splutter"
That rend the modest air when Byron sings.
There Swinburne stops: a critic rather fiery.
Animis caelestibus tantaene irae?

But whether he or Arnold in the right is,
Long is the argument, the quarrel long;
Non nobis est to settle tantas lites;
No poet I, to judge of right or wrong:
But of all things I always think a fight is
The MOST unpleasant in the lists of song;
When Marsyas of old was flayed, Apollo
Set an example which we need not follow.

The fashion changes! Maidens do not wear,
As once they wore, in necklaces and lockets
A curl ambrosial of Lord Byron's hair;
"Don Juan" is not always in our pockets -
Nay, a New Writer's readers do not care
Much for your verse, but are inclined to mock its
Manners and morals. Ay, and most young ladies
To yours prefer the "Epic" called "of Hades"!

I do not blame them; I'm inclined to think
That with the reigning taste 'tis vain to quarrel,
And Burns might teach his votaries to drink,
And Byron never meant to make them moral.
You yet have lovers true, who will not shrink
From lauding you and giving you the laurel;
The Germans too, those men of blood and iron,
Of all our poets chiefly swear by Byron.

Farewell, thou Titan fairer than the Gods!
Farewell, farewell, thou swift and lovely spirit,
Thou splendid warrior with the world at odds,
Unpraised, unpraisable, beyond thy merit;
Chased, like Orestes, by the Furies' rods,
Like him at length thy peace dost thou inherit;
Beholding whom, men think how fairer far
Than all the steadfast stars the wandering star! {9}

LETTER--To Omar Khayyam

Wise Omar, do the Southern Breezes fling
Above your Grave, at ending of the Spring,
The Snowdrift of the Petals of the Rose,
The wild white Roses you were wont to sing?

Far in the South I know a Land divine, {10}
And there is many a Saint and many a Shrine,
And over all the Shrines the Blossom blows
Of Roses that were dear to you as Wine.

You were a Saint of unbelieving Days,
Liking your Life and happy in Men's Praise;
Enough for you the Shade beneath the Bough,
Enough to watch the wild World go its Ways.

Dreadless and hopeless thou of Heaven or Hell,
Careless of Words thou hadst not Skill to spell,
Content to know not all thou knowest now,
What's Death? Doth any Pitcher dread the Well?

The Pitchers we, whose Maker makes them ill,
Shall He torment them if they chance to spill?
Nay, like the broken Potsherds are we cast
Forth and forgotten,--and what will be will!

So still were we, before the Months began
That rounded us and shaped us into Man.
So still we SHALL be, surely, at the last,
Dreamless, untouched of Blessing or of Ban!

Ah, strange it seems that this thy common Thought -
How all Things have been, ay, and shall be nought -
Was ancient Wisdom in thine ancient East,
In those old Days when Senlac Fight was fought,

Which gave our England for a captive Land
To pious Chiefs of a believing Band,
A gift to the Believer from the Priest,
Tossed from the holy to the blood-red Hand! {11}

Yea, thou wert singing when that Arrow clave
Through Helm and Brain of him who could not save
His England, even of Harold Godwin's son;
The high Tide murmurs by the Hero's Grave! {12}

And THOU wert wreathing Roses--who can tell? -
Or chanting for some Girl that pleased thee well,
Or satst at Wine in Nashapur, when dun
The twilight veiled the Field where Harold fell!

The salt Sea-waves above him rage and roam!
Along the white Walls of his guarded Home
No Zephyr stirs the Rose, but o'er the Wave
The wild Wind beats the Breakers into Foam!

And dear to him, as Roses were to thee,
Rings the long Roar of Onset of the Sea;
The SWAN'S PATH of his Fathers is his Grave:
His Sleep, methinks, is sound as thine can be.

His was the Age of Faith, when all the West
Looked to the Priest for Torment or for Rest;
And thou wert living then, and didst not heed
The Saint who banned thee or the Saint who blessed!

Ages of Progress! These eight hundred Years
Hath Europe shuddered with her Hopes or Fears,
And now!--she listens in the Wilderness
To THEE, and half believeth what she hears!

Hadst THOU THE SECRET? Ah, and who may tell?
"An Hour we have," thou saidst; "Ah, waste it well!"
An Hour we have, and yet Eternity
Looms o'er us, and the Thought of Heaven or Hell!

Nay, we can never be as wise as thou,
O idle Singer 'neath the blossomed Bough.
Nay, and we cannot be content to die.
WE cannot shirk the Questions "Where?" and "How?"

Ah, not from learned Peace and gay Content
Shall we of England go the way HE went -
The Singer of the Red Wine and the Rose -
Nay, otherwise than HIS our Day is spent!

Serene he dwelt in fragrant Nashapur,
But we must wander while the Stars endure.
HE knew THE SECRET: we have none that knows,
No Man so sure as Omar once was sure!

LETTER--To Q. Horatius Flaccus

In what manner of Paradise are we to conceive that you, Horace, are
dwelling, or what region of immortality can give you such pleasures
as this life afforded? The country and the town, nature and men,
who knew them so well as you, or who ever so wisely made the best of
those two worlds? Truly here you had good things, nor do you ever,
in all your poems, look for more delight in the life beyond; you
never expect consolation for present sorrow, and when you once have
shaken hands with a friend the parting seems to you eternal.

Quis desiderio sit pudor aut modus
Tam cari capitis?

So you sing, for the dear head you mourn has sunk, for ever, beneath
the wave. Virgil might wander forth bearing the golden branch "the
Sibyl doth to singing men allow," and might visit, as one not wholly
without hope, the dim dwellings of the dead and the unborn. To him
was it permitted to see and sing "mothers and men, and the bodies
outworn of mighty heroes, boys and unwedded maids, and young men
borne to the funeral fire before their parent's eyes." The endless
caravan swept past him--"many as fluttering leaves that drop and
fall in autumn woods when the first frost begins; many as birds that
flock landward from the great sea when now the chill year drives
them o'er the deep and leads them to sunnier lands." Such things
was it given to the sacred poet to behold, and "the happy seats and
sweet pleasances of fortunate souls, where the larger light clothes
all the plains and dips them in a rosier gleam, plains with their
own new sun and stars before unknown." Ah, not frustra pius was
Virgil, as you say, Horace, in your melancholy song. In him, we
fancy, there was a happier mood than your melancholy patience.
"Not, though thou wert sweeter of song than Thracian Orpheus, with
that lyre whose lay led the dancing trees, not so would the blood
return to the empty shade of him whom once with dread wand, the
inexorable God hath folded with his shadowy flocks; but patience
lighteneth what heaven forbids us to undo."

Durum, sed levius fit patietia!

It was all your philosophy in that last sad resort to which we are
pushed so often -

"With close-lipped Patience for our only friend,
Sad Patience, too near neighbour of Despair."

The Epicurean is at one with the Stoic at last, and Horace with
Marcus Aurelius. "To go away from among men, if there are Gods, is
not a thing to be afraid of; but if indeed they do not exist, or if
they have no concern about human affairs, what is it to me to live
in a universe devoid of gods or devoid of providence?"

An excellent philosophy, but easier to those for whom no Hope had
dawned or seemed to set. Yes! it is harder than common, Horace, for
us to think of YOU, still glad somewhere, among rivers like Liris
and plains and vine-clad hills, that

Solemque suum, sua sidera norunt.

It is hard, for you looked for no such thing.

Omnes una manet nox
Et calcanda semel via leti.

You could not tell Maecenas that you would meet him again; you could
only promise to tread the dark path with him.

Ibimus, ibimus,
Utcunque praecedes, supremum
Carpere iter comites parati.

Enough, Horace, of these mortuary musings. You loved the lesson of
the roses, and now and again would speak somewhat like a death's
head over your temperate cups of Sabine ordinaire. Your melancholy
moral was but meant to heighten the joy of your pleasant life, when
wearied Italy, after all her wars and civic bloodshed, had won a
peaceful haven. The harbour might be treacherous; the prince might
turn to the tyrant; far away on the wide Roman marches might be
heard, as it were, the endless, ceaseless monotone of beating
horses' hoofs and marching feet of men. They were coming, they were
nearing, like footsteps heard on wool; there was a sound of
multitudes and millions of barbarians, all the North, officina
gentium, mustering and marshalling her peoples. But their coming
was not to be to-day, nor to-morrow, nor to-day was the budding
Empire to blossom into the blood-red flower of Nero. In the lull
between the two tempests of Republic and Empire your odes sound
"like linnets in the pauses of the wind."

What joy there is in these songs! what delight of life, what an
exquisite Hellenic grace of art, what a manly nature to endure, what
tenderness and constancy of friendship, what a sense of all that is
fair in the glittering stream, the music of the waterfall, the hum
of bees, the silvery grey of the olive woods on the hillside! How
human are all your verses, Horace! what a pleasure is yours in the
straining poplars, swaying in the wind! what gladness you gain from
the white crest of Soracte, beheld through the fluttering snowflakes
while the logs are being piled higher on the hearth. You sing of
women and wine--not all wholehearted in your praise of them,
perhaps, for passion frightens you, and 'tis pleasure more than love
that you commend to the young. Lydia and Glycera, and the others,
are but passing guests of a heart at ease in itself, and happy
enough when their facile reign is ended. You seem to me like a man
who welcomes middle age, and is more glad than Sophocles was to
"flee from these hard masters" the passions. In the fallow leisure
of life you glance round contented, and find all very good save the
need to leave all behind. Even that you take with an Italian good-
humour, as the folk of your sunny country bear poverty and hunger.

Durum, sed levius fit patientia!

To them, to you, the loveliness of your land is, and was, a thing to
live for. None of the Latin poets your fellows, or none but Virgil,
seem to me to have known so well as you, Horace, how happy and
fortunate a thing it was to be born in Italy. You do not say so,
like your Virgil, in one splendid passage, numbering the glories of
the land as a lover might count the perfections of his mistress.
But the sentiment is ever in your heart and often on your lips.

Me nec tam patiens Lacedaemon,
Nec tam Larissae percussit campus opimae,
Quam domus Albuneae resonantis
Et praeceps Anio, ac Tiburni lucus, et uda
Mobilibus pomaria rivis. {13}

So a poet should speak, and to every singer his own land should be
dearest. Beautiful is Italy with the grave and delicate outlines of
her sacred hills, her dark groves, her little cities perched like
eyries on the crags, her rivers gliding under ancient walls;
beautiful is Italy, her seas, and her suns: but dearer to me the
long grey wave that bites the rock below the minster in the north;
dearer are the barren moor and black peat-water swirling in tauny
foam, and the scent of bog myrtle and the bloom of heather, and,
watching over the lochs, the green round-shouldered hills.

In affection for your native land, Horace, certainly the pride in
great Romans dead and gone made part, and you were, in all senses, a
lover of your country, your country's heroes, your country's gods.
None but a patriot could have sung that ode on Regulus, who died, as
our own hero died on an evil day, for the honour of Rome, as Gordon
for the honour of England.

Fertur pudicae conjugis osculum,
Parvosque natos, ut capitis minor,
Ab se removisse, et virilem
Torvus humi posuisse voltum:

Donec labantes consilio patres
Firmaret auctor nunquam alias dato,
Interque maerentes amicos
Egregius properaret exul.

Atqui sciebat, quae sibi barbarus
Tortor pararet: non aliter tamen
Dimovit obstantes propinquos,
Et populum reditus morantem,

Quam si clientum longa negotia
Dijudicata lite relinqueret,
Tendens Venafranos in agros
Aut Lacedaemonium Tarentum. {14}

We talk of the Greeks as your teachers. Your teachers they were,
but that poem could only have been written by a Roman! The
strength, the tenderness, the noble and monumental resolution and
resignation--these are the gifts of the lords of human things, the
masters of the world.

Your country's heroes are dear to you, Horace, but you did not sing
them better than your country's Gods, the pious protecting spirits
of the hearth, the farm, the field; kindly ghosts, it may be, of
Latin fathers dead or Gods framed in the image of these. What you
actually believed we know not, YOU knew not. Who knows what he
believes? Parcus Deorum cultor you bowed not often, it may be, in
the temples of the state religion and before the statues of the
great Olympians; but the pure and pious worship of rustic tradition,
the faith handed down by the homely elders, with THAT you never
broke. Clean hands and a pure heart, these, with a sacred cake and
shining grains of salt, you could offer to the Lares. It was a
benignant religion, uniting old times and new, men living and men
long dead and gone, in a kind of service and sacrifice solemn yet
familiar.

Te nihil attinet
Tentare multa caede bidentium
Parvos coronantem marino
Rore deos fragilique myrto.

Immunis aram si tetigit manus,
Non sumptuosa blandior hostia
Mellivit aversos Penates
Farre pio et saliente mica, {15}

Farewell, dear Horace; farewell, thou wise and kindly heathen; of
mortals the most human, the friend of my friends and of so many
generations of men,

Ave atque Vale!

Footnotes:

{1} I am informed that the Natural History of Young Ladies is
attributed, by some writers, to another philosopher, the author of
The Art of Pluck.

{2} Rape of the Lock.

{3} In Mr. Hogarth's Caricatura.

{4} Elwin's Pope, ii. 15.

{5} "Poor Pope was always a hand-to-mouth liar."--Pope, by Leslie
Stephen, 139.

{6} The Greek [Greek text which cannot be reproduced], mentioned by
Lucian and Theocritus, was the magical weapon of the Australians--
the turndun.

{7} Lord Napier and Ettrick points out to me that, unluckily, the
tradition is erroneous. Piers was not executed at all. William
Cockburn suffered in Edinburgh. But the Border Minstrelsy overrides
history.

Criminal Trials in Scotland, by Robert Pitcairn, Esq. Vol. i. part
i. p. 144, A.D. 1530. 17 Jac. V.

May 16. William Cokburne of Henderland, convicted (in presence of
the King) of high treason committed by him in bringing Alexander
Forestare and his son, Englishmen, to the plundering of Archibald
Somervile; and for treasonably bringing certain Englishmen to the
lands of Glenquhome; and for common theft, common reset of theft,
out-putting and in-putting thereof. Sentence. For which causes and
crimes he has forfeited his life, lands, and goods, movable and
immovable; which shall be escheated to the King. Beheaded.

{8} "The Lesson of Jupiter."--Nineteenth Century, October 1885.

{9} Mr. Swinburne's and Mr. Arnold's diverse views of Byron will be
found in the Selections by Mr. Arnold and in the Nineteenth Century.

{10} The hills above San Remo, where rose-bushes are planted by the
shrines. Omar desired that his grave might be where the wind would
scatter rose-leaves over it.

{11} Omar was contemporary with the battle of Hastings.

{12} Per mandata Ducis, Rex hic, Heralde, quiescis,
Ut custos maneas littoris et pelagi.

{13} "Me neither resolute Sparta nor the rich Larissaean plain so
enraptures as the fane of echoing Albunea, the headlong Anio, the
grove of Tibur, the orchards watered by the wandering rills."

{14} "They say he put aside from him the pure lips of his wife and
his little children, like a man unfree, and with his brave face
bowed earthward sternly he waited till with such counsel as never
mortal gave he might strengthen the hearts of the Fathers, and
through his mourning friends go forth, a hero, into exile. Yet well
he knew what things were being prepared for him at the hands of the
tormentors, who, none the less, put aside the kinsmen that barred
his path and the people that would fain have delayed his return,
passing through their midst as he might have done if, his retainers'
weary business ended and the suits adjudged, he were faring to his
Venafran lands or to Dorian Tarentum."

{15} "Thou, Phidyle, hast no need to besiege the gods with
slaughter so great of sheep, thou who crownest thy tiny deities with
myrtle rare and rosemary. If but the hand be clean that touches the
altar, then richest sacrifice will not more appease the angered
Penates than the duteous cake and salt that crackles in the blaze."

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