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  • 1914
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excluded from his counsels, but we are asked to attribute a certain authority to him, master of the craft as he is, master of that art of seeing pictorially which is the beginning and not far from the end–not far short of the whole–of the art of painting. So little indeed are we shut out from the mysteries of a great Impressionist’s impression that Velasquez requires us to be in some degree his colleagues. Thus may each of us to whom he appeals take praise from the praised: he leaves my educated eyes to do a little of the work. He respects my responsibility no less–though he respects it less explicitly–than I do his. What he allows me would not be granted by a meaner master. If he does not hold himself bound to prove his own truth, he returns thanks for my trust. It is as though he used his countrymen’s courteous hyperbole and called his house my own. In a sense of the most noble hostship he does me the honours of his picture.

Because Impressionism with all its extreme–let us hope its ultimate–derivatives is so free, therefore is it doubly bound. Because there is none to arraign it, it is a thousand times responsible. To undertake this art for the sake of its privileges without confessing its obligations–or at least without confessing them up to the point of honour–is to take a vulgar freedom: to see immunities precisely where there are duties, and an advantage where there is a bond. A very mob of men have taken Impressionism upon themselves, in several forms and under a succession of names, in this our later day. It is against all probabilities that more than a few among these have within them the point of honour. In their galleries we are beset with a dim distrust. And to distrust is more humiliating than to be distrusted. How many of these landscape- painters, deliberately rash, are painting the truth of their own impressions? An ethical question as to loyalty is easily answered; truth and falsehood as to fact are, happily for the intelligence of the common conscience, not hard to divide. But when the dubium concerns not fact but artistic truth, can the many be sure that their sensitiveness, their candour, their scruple, their delicate equipoise of perceptions, the vigilance of their apprehension, are enough? Now Impressionists have told us things as to their impressions–as to the effect of things upon the temperament of this man and upon the mood of that–which should not be asserted except on the artistic point of honour. The majority can tell ordinary truth, but should not trust themselves for truth extraordinary. They can face the general judgement, but they should hesitate to produce work that appeals to the last judgement, which is the judgement within. There is too much reason to divine that a certain number of those who aspire to differ from the greatest of masters have no temperaments worth speaking of, no point of view worth seizing, no vigilance worth awaiting, no mood worth waylaying. And to be, de parti pris, an Impressionist without these! O Velasquez! Nor is literature quite free from a like reproach in her own things. An author, here and there, will make as though he had a word worth hearing–nay, worth over-hearing–a word that seeks to withdraw even while it is uttered; and yet what it seems to dissemble is all too probably a platitude. But obviously, literature is not–as is the craft and mystery of painting–so at the mercy of a half-imposture, so guarded by unprovable honour. For the art of painting is reserved that shadowy risk, that undefined salvation. If the artistic temperament–tedious word!–with all its grotesque privileges, becomes yet more common than it is, there will be yet less responsibility; for the point of honour is the simple secret of the few.


Red has been praised for its nobility as the colour of life. But the true colour of life is not red. Red is the colour of violence, or of life broken open, edited, and published. Or if red is indeed the colour of life, it is so only on condition that it is not seen. Once fully visible, red is the colour of life violated, and in the act of betrayal and of waste. Red is the secret of life, and not the manifestation thereof. It is one of the things the value of which is secrecy, one of the talents that are to be hidden in a napkin. The true colour of life is the colour of the body, the colour of the covered red, the implicit and not explicit red of the living heart and the pulses. It is the modest colour of the unpublished blood.

So bright, so light, so soft, so mingled, the gentle colour of life is outdone by all the colours of the world. Its very beauty is that it is white, but less white than milk; brown, but less brown than earth; red, but less red than sunset or dawn. It is lucid, but less lucid than the colour of lilies. It has the hint of gold that is in all fine colour; but in our latitudes the hint is almost elusive. Under Sicilian skies, indeed, it is deeper than old ivory; but under the misty blue of the English zenith, and the warm grey of the London horizon, it is as delicately flushed as the paler wild roses, out to their utmost, flat as stars, in the hedges of the end of June.

For months together London does not see the colour of life in any mass. The human face does not give much of it, what with features, and beards, and the shadow of the top-hat and chapeau melon of man, and of the veils of woman. Besides, the colour of the face is subject to a thousand injuries and accidents. The popular face of the Londoner has soon lost its gold, its white, and the delicacy of its red and brown. We miss little beauty by the fact that it is never seen freely in great numbers out-of-doors. You get it in some quantity when all the heads of a great indoor meeting are turned at once upon a speaker; but it is only in the open air, needless to say, that the colour of life is in perfection, in the open air, “clothed with the sun,” whether the sunshine be golden and direct, or dazzlingly diffused in grey.

The little figure of the London boy it is that has restored to the landscape the human colour of life. He is allowed to come out of all his ignominies, and to take the late colour of the midsummer north-west evening, on the borders of the Serpentine. At the stroke of eight he sheds the slough of nameless colours–all allied to the hues of dust, soot, and fog, which are the colours the world has chosen for its boys–and he makes, in his hundreds, a bright and delicate flush between the grey-blue water and the grey-blue sky. Clothed now with the sun, he is crowned by-and-by with twelve stars as he goes to bathe, and the reflection of an early moon is under his feet.

So little stands between a gamin and all the dignities of Nature. They are so quickly restored. There seems to be nothing to do, but only a little thing to undo. It is like the art of Eleonora Duse. The last and most finished action of her intellect, passion, and knowledge is, as it were, the flicking away of some insignificant thing mistaken for art by other actors, some little obstacle to the way and liberty of Nature.

All the squalor is gone in a moment, kicked off with the second boot, and the child goes shouting to complete the landscape with the lacking colour of life. You are inclined to wonder that, even undressed, he still shouts with a Cockney accent. You half expect pure vowels and elastic syllables from his restoration, his spring, his slenderness, his brightness, and his glow. Old ivory and wild rose in the deepening midsummer sun, he gives his colours to his world again.

It is easy to replace man, and it will take no great time, where Nature has lapsed, to replace Nature. It is always to do, by the happily easy way of doing nothing. The grass is always ready to grow in the streets–and no streets could ask for a more charming finish than your green grass. The gasometer even must fall to pieces unless it is renewed; but the grass renews itself. There is nothing so remediable as the work of modern man–“a thought which is also,” as Mr Pecksniff said, “very soothing.” And by remediable I mean, of course, destructible. As the bathing child shuffles off his garments–they are few, and one brace suffices him–so the land might always, in reasonable time, shuffle off its yellow brick and purple slate, and all the things that collect about railway stations. A single night almost clears the air of London.

But if the colour of life looks so well in the rather sham scenery of Hyde Park, it looks brilliant and grave indeed on a real sea- coast. To have once seen it there should be enough to make a colourist. O memorable little picture! The sun was gaining colour as it neared setting, and it set not over the sea, but over the land. The sea had the dark and rather stern, but not cold, blue of that aspect–the dark and not the opal tints. The sky was also deep. Everything was very definite, without mystery, and exceedingly simple. The most luminous thing was the shining white of an edge of foam, which did not cease to be white because it was a little golden and a little rosy in the sunshine. It was still the whitest thing imaginable. And the next most luminous thing was the little child, also invested with the sun and the colour of life.

In the case of women, it is of the living and unpublished blood that the violent world has professed to be delicate and ashamed. See the curious history of the political rights of woman under the Revolution. On the scaffold she enjoyed an ungrudged share in the fortunes of party. Political life might be denied her, but that seems a trifle when you consider how generously she was permitted political death. She was to spin and cook for her citizen in the obscurity of her living hours; but to the hour of her death was granted a part in the largest interests, social, national, international. The blood wherewith she should, according to Robespierre, have blushed to be seen or heard in the tribune, was exposed in the public sight unsheltered by her veins.

Against this there was no modesty. Of all privacies, the last and the innermost–the privacy of death–was never allowed to put obstacles in the way of public action for a public cause. Women might be, and were, duly suppressed when, by the mouth of Olympe de Gouges, they claimed a “right to concur in the choice of representatives for the formation of the laws”; but in her person, too, they were liberally allowed to bear political responsibility to the Republic. Olympe de Gouges was guillotined. Robespierre thus made her public and complete amends.


To mount a hill is to lift with you something lighter and brighter than yourself or than any meaner burden. You lift the world, you raise the horizon; you give a signal for the distance to stand up. It is like the scene in the Vatican when a Cardinal, with his dramatic Italian hands, bids the kneeling groups to arise. He does more than bid them. He lifts them, he gathers them up, far and near, with the upward gesture of both arms; he takes them to their feet with the compulsion of his expressive force. Or it is as when a conductor takes his players to successive heights of music. You summon the sea, you bring the mountains, the distances unfold unlooked-for wings and take an even flight. You are but a man lifting his weight upon the upward road, but as you climb the circle of the world goes up to face you.

Not here or there, but with a definite continuity, the unseen unfolds. This distant hill outsoars that less distant, but all are on the wing, and the plain raises its verge. All things follow and wait upon your eyes. You lift these up, not by the raising of your eyelids, but by the pilgrimage of your body. “Lift thine eyes to the mountains.” It is then that other mountains lift themselves to your human eyes.

It is the law whereby the eye and the horizon answer one another that makes the way up a hill so full of universal movement. All the landscape is on pilgrimage. The town gathers itself closer, and its inner harbours literally come to light; the headlands repeat themselves; little cups within the treeless hills open and show their farms. In the sea are many regions. A breeze is at play for a mile or two, and the surface is turned. There are roads and curves in the blue and in the white. Not a step of your journey up the height that has not its replies in the steady motion of land and sea. Things rise together like a flock of many-feathered birds.

But it is the horizon, more than all else, you have come in search of. That is your chief companion on your way. It is to uplift the horizon to the equality of your sight that you go high. You give it a distance worthy of the skies. There is no distance, except the distance in the sky, to be seen from the level earth; but from the height is to be seen the distance of this world. The line is sent back into the remoteness of light, the verge is removed beyond verge, into a distance that is enormous and minute.

So delicate and so slender is the distant horizon that nothing less near than Queen Mab and her chariot can equal its fineness. Here on the edges of the eyelids, or there on the edges of the world–we know no other place for things so exquisitely made, so thin, so small and tender. The touches of her passing, as close as dreams, or the utmost vanishing of the forest or the ocean in the white light between the earth and the air; nothing else is quite so intimate and fine. The extremities of a mountain view have just such tiny touches as the closeness of closed eyes shuts in.

On the horizon is the sweetest light. Elsewhere colour mars the simplicity of light; but there colour is effaced, not as men efface it, by a blur or darkness, but by mere light. The bluest sky disappears on that shining edge; there is not substance enough for colour. The rim of the hill, of the woodland, of the meadow-land, of the sea–let it only be far enough–has the same absorption of colour; and even the dark things drawn upon the bright edges of the sky are lucid, the light is among them, and they are mingled with it. The horizon has its own way of making bright the pencilled figures of forests, which are black but luminous.

On the horizon, moreover, closes the long perspective of the sky. There you perceive that an ordinary sky of clouds–not a thunder sky–is not a wall but the underside of a floor. You see the clouds that repeat each other grow smaller by distance; and you find a new unity in the sky and earth that gather alike the great lines of their designs to the same distant close. There is no longer an alien sky, tossed up in unintelligible heights above a world that is subject to intelligible perspective.

Of all the things that London has foregone, the most to be regretted is the horizon. Not the bark of the trees in its right colour; not the spirit of the growing grass, which has in some way escaped from the parks; not the smell of the earth unmingled with the odour of soot; but rather the mere horizon. No doubt the sun makes a beautiful thing of the London smoke at times, and in some places of the sky; but not there, not where the soft sharp distance ought to shine. To be dull there is to put all relations and comparisons in the wrong, and to make the sky lawless.

A horizon dark with storm is another thing. The weather darkens the line and defines it, or mingles it with the raining cloud; or softly dims it, or blackens it against a gleam of narrow sunshine in the sky. The stormy horizon will take wing, and the sunny. Go high enough, and you can raise the light from beyond the shower, and the shadow from behind the ray. Only the shapeless and lifeless smoke disobeys and defeats the summer of the eyes.

Up at the top of the seaward hill your first thought is one of some compassion for sailors, inasmuch as they see but little of their sea. A child on a mere Channel cliff looks upon spaces and sizes that they cannot see in the Pacific, on the ocean side of the world. Never in the solitude of the blue water, never between the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, never between the Islands and the West, has the seaman seen anything but a little circle of sea. The Ancient Mariner, when he was alone, did but drift through a thousand narrow solitudes. The sailor has nothing but his mast, indeed. And but for his mast he would be isolated in as small a world as that of a traveller through the plains.

Round the plains the horizon lies with folded wings. It keeps them so perpetually for man, and opens them only for the bird, replying to flight with flight.

A close circlet of waves is the sailor’s famous offing. His offing hardly deserves the name of horizon. To hear him you might think something of his offing, but you do not so when you sit down in the centre of it.

As the upspringing of all things at your going up the heights, so steady, so swift, is the subsidence at your descent. The further sea lies away, hill folds down behind hill. The whole upstanding world, with its looks serene and alert, its distant replies, its signals of many miles, its signs and communications of light, gathers down and pauses. This flock of birds which is the mobile landscape wheels and goes to earth. The Cardinal weighs down the audience with his downward hands. Farewell to the most delicate horizon.


One has the leisure of July for perceiving all the differences of the green of leaves. It is no longer a difference in degrees of maturity, for all the trees have darkened to their final tone, and stand in their differences of character and not of mere date. Almost all the green is grave, not sad and not dull. It has a darkened and a daily colour, in majestic but not obvious harmony with dark grey skies, and might look, to inconstant eyes, as prosaic after spring as eleven o’clock looks after the dawn.

Gravity is the word–not solemnity as towards evening, nor menace as at night. The daylight trees of July are signs of common beauty, common freshness, and a mystery familiar and abiding as night and day. In childhood we all have a more exalted sense of dawn and summer sunrise than we ever fully retain or quite recover; and also a far higher sensibility for April and April evenings–a heartache for them, which in riper years is gradually and irretrievably consoled.

But, on the other hand, childhood has so quickly learned to find daily things tedious, and familiar things importunate, that it has no great delight in the mere middle of the day, and feels weariness of the summer that has ceased to change visibly. The poetry of mere day and of late summer becomes perceptible to mature eyes that have long ceased to be sated, have taken leave of weariness, and cannot now find anything in nature too familiar; eyes which have, indeed, lost sight of the further awe of midsummer daybreak, and no longer see so much of the past in April twilight as they saw when they had no past; but which look freshly at the dailiness of green summer, of early afternoon, of every sky of any form that comes to pass, and of the darkened elms.

Not unbeloved is this serious tree, the elm, with its leaf sitting close, unthrilled. Its stature gives it a dark gold head when it looks alone to a late sun. But if one could go by all the woods, across all the old forests that are now meadowlands set with trees, and could walk a county gathering trees of a single kind in the mind, as one walks a garden collecting flowers of a single kind in the hand, would not the harvest be a harvest of poplars? A veritable passion for poplars is a most intelligible passion. The eyes do gather them, far and near, on a whole day’s journey. Not one is unperceived, even though great timber should be passed, and hill-sides dense and deep with trees. The fancy makes a poplar day of it. Immediately the country looks alive with signals; for the poplars everywhere reply to the glance. The woods may be all various, but the poplars are separate.

All their many kinds (and aspens, their kin, must be counted with them) shake themselves perpetually free of the motionless forest. It is easy to gather them. Glances sent into the far distance pay them a flash of recognition of their gentle flashes; and as you journey you are suddenly aware of them close by. Light and the breezes are as quick as the eyes of a poplar-lover to find the willing tree that dances to be seen.

No lurking for them, no reluctance. One could never make for oneself an oak day so well. The oaks would wait to be found, and many would be missed from the gathering. But the poplars are alert enough for a traveller by express; they have an alarum aloft, and do not sleep. From within some little grove of other trees a single poplar makes a slight sign; or a long row of poplars suddenly sweep the wind. They are salient everywhere, and full of replies. They are as fresh as streams.

It is difficult to realize a drought where there are many poplars. And yet their green is not rich; the coolest have a colour much mingled with a cloud-grey. It does but need fresh and simple eyes to recognize their unfaded life. When the other trees grow dark and keep still, the poplar and the aspen do not darken–or hardly–and the deepest summer will not find a day in which they do not keep awake. No waters are so vigilant, even where a lake is bare to the wind.

When Keats said of his Dian that she fastened up her hair “with fingers cool as aspen leaves,” he knew the coolest thing in the world. It is a coolness of colour, as well as of a leaf which the breeze takes on both sides–the greenish and the greyish. The poplar green has no glows, no gold; it is an austere colour, as little rich as the colour of willows, and less silvery than theirs. The sun can hardly gild it; but he can shine between. Poplars and aspens let the sun through with the wind. You may have the sky sprinkled through them in high midsummer, when all the woods are close.

Sending your fancy poplar-gathering, then, you ensnare wild trees, beating with life. No fisher’s net ever took such glancing fishes, nor did the net of a constellation’s shape ever enclose more vibrating Pleiades.


During a part of the year London does not see the clouds. Not to see the clear sky might seem her chief loss, but that is shared by the rest of England, and is, besides, but a slight privation. Not to see the clear sky is, elsewhere, to see the cloud. But not so in London. You may go for a week or two at a time, even though you hold your head up as you walk, and even though you have windows that really open, and yet you shall see no cloud, or but a single edge, the fragment of a form.

Guillotine windows never wholly open, but are filled with a doubled glass towards the sky when you open them towards the street. They are, therefore, a sure sign that for all the years when no other windows were used in London, nobody there cared much for the sky, or even knew so much as whether there were a sky.

But the privation of cloud is indeed a graver loss than the world knows. Terrestrial scenery is much, but it is not all. Men go in search of it; but the celestial scenery journeys to them. It goes its way round the world. It has no nation, it costs no weariness, it knows no bonds. The terrestrial scenery–the tourist’s–is a prisoner compared with this. The tourist’s scenery moves indeed, but only like Wordsworth’s maiden, with earth’s diurnal course; it is made as fast as its own graves. And for its changes it depends upon the mobility of the skies. The mere green flushing of its own sap makes only the least of its varieties; for the greater it must wait upon the visits of the light. Spring and autumn are inconsiderable events in a landscape compared with the shadows of a cloud.

The cloud controls the light, and the mountains on earth appear or fade according to its passage; they wear so simply, from head to foot, the luminous grey or the emphatic purple, as the cloud permits, that their own local colour and their own local season are lost and cease, effaced before the all-important mood of the cloud.

The sea has no mood except that of the sky and of its winds. It is the cloud that, holding the sun’s rays in a sheaf as a giant holds a handful of spears, strikes the horizon, touches the extreme edge with a delicate revelation of light, or suddenly puts it out and makes the foreground shine.

Every one knows the manifest work of the cloud when it descends and partakes in the landscape obviously, lies half-way across the mountain slope, stoops to rain heavily upon the lake, and blots out part of the view by the rough method of standing in front of it. But its greatest things are done from its own place, aloft. Thence does it distribute the sun.

Thence does it lock away between the hills and valleys more mysteries than a poet conceals, but, like him, not by interception. Thence it writes out and cancels all the tracery of Monte Rosa, or lets the pencils of the sun renew them. Thence, hiding nothing, and yet making dark, it sheds deep colour upon the forest land of Sussex, so that, seen from the hills, all the country is divided between grave blue and graver sunlight.

And all this is but its influence, its secondary work upon the world. Its own beauty is unaltered when it has no earthly beauty to improve. It is always great: above the street, above the suburbs, above the gas-works and the stucco, above the faces of painted white houses–the painted surfaces that have been devised as the only things able to vulgarise light, as they catch it and reflect it grotesquely from their importunate gloss. This is to be well seen on a sunny evening in Regent Street.

Even here the cloud is not so victorious as when it towers above some little landscape of rather paltry interest–a conventional river heavy with water, gardens with their little evergreens, walks, and shrubberies; and thick trees impervious to the light, touched, as the novelists always have it, with “autumn tints.” High over these rises, in the enormous scale of the scenery of clouds, what no man expected–an heroic sky. Few of the things that were ever done upon earth are great enough to be done under such a heaven. It was surely designed for other days. It is for an epic world. Your eyes sweep a thousand miles of cloud. What are the distances of earth to these, and what are the distances of the clear and cloudless sky? The very horizons of the landscape are near, for the round world dips so soon; and the distances of the mere clear sky are unmeasured–you rest upon nothing until you come to a star, and the star itself is immeasurable.

But in the sky of “sunny Alps” of clouds the sight goes farther, with conscious flight, than it could ever have journeyed otherwise. Man would not have known distance veritably without the clouds. There are mountains indeed, precipices and deeps, to which those of the earth are pigmy. Yet the sky-heights, being so far off, are not overpowering by disproportion, like some futile building fatuously made too big for the human measure. The cloud in its majestic place composes with a little Perugino tree. For you stand or stray in the futile building, while the cloud is no mansion for man, and out of reach of his limitations.

The cloud, moreover, controls the sun, not merely by keeping the custody of his rays, but by becoming the counsellor of his temper. The cloud veils an angry sun, or, more terribly, lets fly an angry ray, suddenly bright upon tree and tower, with iron-grey storm for a background. Or when anger had but threatened, the cloud reveals him, gentle beyond hope. It makes peace, constantly, just before sunset.

It is in the confidence of the winds, and wears their colours. There is a heavenly game, on south-west wind days, when the clouds are bowled by a breeze from behind the evening. They are round and brilliant, and come leaping up from the horizon for hours. This is a frolic and haphazard sky.

All unlike this is the sky that has a centre, and stands composed about it. As the clouds marshalled the earthly mountains, so the clouds in turn are now ranged. The tops of all the celestial Andes aloft are swept at once by a single ray, warmed with a single colour. Promontory after league-long promontory of a stiller Mediterranean in the sky is called out of mist and grey by the same finger. The cloudland is very great, but a sunbeam makes all its nations and continents sudden with light.

All this is for the untravelled. All the winds bring him this scenery. It is only in London, for part of the autumn and part of the winter, that the unnatural smoke-fog comes between. And for many and many a day no London eye can see the horizon, or the first threat of the cloud like a man’s hand. There never was a great painter who had not exquisite horizons, and if Corot and Crome were right, the Londoner loses a great thing.

He loses the coming of the cloud, and when it is high in air he loses its shape. A cloud-lover is not content to see a snowy and rosy head piling into the top of the heavens; he wants to see the base and the altitude. The perspective of a cloud is a great part of its design–whether it lies so that you can look along the immense horizontal distances of its floor, or whether it rears so upright a pillar that you look up its mountain steeps in the sky as you look at the rising heights of a mountain that stands, with you, on the earth.

The cloud has a name suggesting darkness; nevertheless, it is not merely the guardian of the sun’s rays and their director. It is the sun’s treasurer; it holds the light that the world has lost. We talk of sunshine and moonshine, but not of cloud-shine, which is yet one of the illuminations of our skies. A shining cloud is one of the most majestic of all secondary lights. If the reflecting moon is the bride, this is the friend of the bridegroom.

Needless to say, the cloud of a thunderous summer is the most beautiful of all. It has spaces of a grey for which there is no name, and no other cloud looks over at a vanishing sun from such heights of blue air. The shower-cloud, too, with its thin edges, comes across the sky with so influential a flight that no ship going out to sea can be better worth watching. The dullest thing perhaps in the London streets is that people take their rain there without knowing anything of the cloud that drops it. It is merely rain, and means wetness. The shower-cloud there has limits of time, but no limits of form, and no history whatever. It has not come from the clear edge of the plain to the south, and will not shoulder anon the hill to the north. The rain, for this city, hardly comes or goes; it does but begin and stop. No one looks after it on the path of its retreat.


Another good reason that we ought to leave blank, unvexed, and unencumbered with paper patterns the ceiling and walls of a simple house is that the plain surface may be visited by the unique designs of shadows. The opportunity is so fine a thing that it ought oftener to be offered to the light and to yonder handful of long sedges and rushes in a vase. Their slender grey design of shadows upon white walls is better than a tedious, trivial, or anxious device from the shop.

The shadow has all intricacies of perspective simply translated into line and intersecting curve, and pictorially presented to the eyes, not to the mind. The shadow knows nothing except its flat designs. It is single; it draws a decoration that was never seen before, and will never be seen again, and that, untouched, varies with the journey of the sun, shifts the interrelation of a score of delicate lines at the mere passing of time, though all the room be motionless. Why will design insist upon its importunate immortality? Wiser is the drama, and wiser the dance, that do not pause upon an attitude. But these walk with passion or pleasure, while the shadow walks with the earth. It alters as the hours wheel.

Moreover, while the habit of your sunward thoughts is still flowing southward, after the winter and the spring, it surprises you in the sudden gleam of a north-westering sun. It decks a new wall; it is shed by a late sunset through a window unvisited for a year past; it betrays the flitting of the sun into unwonted skies–a sun that takes the midsummer world in the rear, and shows his head at a sally-porte, and is about to alight on an unused horizon. So does the grey drawing, with which you have allowed the sun and your pot of rushes to adorn your room, play the stealthy game of the year.

You need not stint yourself of shadows, for an occasion. It needs but four candles to make a hanging Oriental bell play the most buoyant jugglery overhead. Two lamps make of one palm-branch a symmetrical countercharge of shadows, and here two palm-branches close with one another in shadow, their arches flowing together, and their paler greys darkening. It is hard to believe that there are many to prefer a “repeating pattern.”

It must be granted to them that a grey day robs of their decoration the walls that should be sprinkled with shadows. Let, then, a plaque or a picture be kept for hanging on shadowless clays. To dress a room once for all, and to give it no more heed, is to neglect the units of the days.

Shadows within doors are yet only messages from that world of shadows which is the landscape of sunshine. Facing a May sun you see little except an infinite number of shadows. Atoms of shadow– be the day bright enough–compose the very air through which you see the light. The trees show you a shadow for every leaf, and the poplars are sprinkled upon the shining sky with little shadows that look translucent. The liveliness of every shadow is that some light is reflected into it; shade and shine have been entangled as though by some wild wind through their million molecules.

The coolness and the dark of night are interlocked with the unclouded sun. Turn sunward from the north, and shadows come to life, and are themselves the life, the action, and the transparence of their day.

To eyes tired and retired all day within lowered blinds, the light looks still and changeless. So many squares of sunshine abide for so many hours, and when the sun has circled away they pass and are extinguished. Him who lies alone there the outer world touches less by this long sunshine than by the haste and passage of a shadow. Although there may be no tree to stand between his window and the south, and although no noonday wind may blow a branch of roses across the blind, shadows and their life will be carried across by a brilliant bird.

To the sick man a cloud-shadow is nothing but an eclipse; he cannot see its shape, its color, its approach, or its flight. It does but darken his window as it darkens the day, and is gone again; he does not see it pluck and snatch the sun. But the flying bird shows him wings. What flash of light could be more bright for him than such a flash of darkness?

It is the pulse of life, where all change had seemed to be charmed. If he had seen the bird itself he would have seen less–the bird’s shadow was a message from the sun.

There are two separated flights for the fancy to follow, the flight of the bird in the air, and the flight of its shadow on earth. This goes across the window blind, across the wood, where it is astray for a while in the shades; it dips into the valley, growing vaguer and larger, runs, quicker than the wind, uphill, smaller and darker on the soft and dry grass, and rushes to meet its bird when the bird swoops to a branch and clings.

In the great bird country of the north-eastern littoral of England, about Holy Island and the basaltic rocks, the shadows of the high birds are the movement and the pulse of the solitude. Where there are no woods to make a shade, the sun suffers the brilliant eclipse of flocks of pearl-white sea birds, or of the solitary creature driving on the wind. Theirs is always a surprise of flight. The clouds go one way, but the birds go all ways: in from the sea or out, across the sands, inland to high northern fields, where the crops are late by a month. They fly so high that though they have the shadow of the sun under their wings, they have the light of the earth there also. The waves and the coast shine up to them, and they fly between lights.

Black flocks and white they gather their delicate shadows up, “swift as dreams,” at the end of their flight into the clefts, platforms, and ledges of harbourless rocks dominating the North Sea. They subside by degrees, with lessening and shortening volleys of wings and cries until there comes the general shadow of night wherewith the little shadows close, complete.

The evening is the shadow of another flight. All the birds have traced wild and innumerable paths across the mid-May earth; their shadows have fled all day faster than her streams, and have overtaken all the movement of her wingless creatures. But now it is the flight of the very earth that carries her clasped shadow from the sun.


All Englishmen know the name of Lucy Hutchinson; and of her calling and election to the most wifely of all wifehoods–that of a soldier’s wife–history has made her countrymen aware. Inasmuch as Colonel Hutchinson was a political soldier, moreover, she is something more than his biographer–his historian. And she convinces her reader that her Puritan principles kept abreast of her affections. There is no self-abandonment; she is not precipitate; keeps her own footing; wife of a soldier as she is, would not have armed him without her own previous indignation against the enemy. She is a soldier at his orders, but she had warily and freely chosen her captain.

Briefly, and with the dignity that the language of her day kept unmarred for her use, she relates her own childhood and youth. She was a child such as those serious times desired that a child should be; that is, she was as slightly a child, and for as brief a time, as might be. Childhood, as an age of progress, was not to be delayed, as an age of imperfection was to be improved, as an age of inability was not to be exposed except when precocity distinguished it. It must at any rate be shortened. Lucy Apsley, at four years old, read English perfectly, and was “carried to sermons, and could remember and repeat them exactly.” “At seven she had eight tutors in several qualities.” She outstripped her brothers in Latin, albeit they were at school and she had no teacher except her father’s chaplain, who, poor gentleman, was “a pitiful dull fellow.” She was not companionable. Her many friends were indulged with “babies” (that is, dolls) and these she pulled to pieces. She exhorted the maids, she owned, “much.” But she also heard much of their love stories, and acquired a taste for sonnets.

It was a sonnet, and indeed one of her own writing, that brought about her acquaintance with Mr. Hutchinson. The sonnet was read to him, and discussed amongst his friends, with guesses at the authorship; for a young woman did not, in that world, write a sonnet without a feint of hiding its origin. One gentleman believed a woman had made it. Another said, if so, there were but two women capable of making it; but he owned, later, that he said “two” out of civility (very good civility of a kind that is not now practised) to a lady who chanced to be present; but that he knew well there was but one; and he named her. From her future husband Lucy Apsley received that praise of exceptions wherewith women are now, and always will be, praised: “Mr. Hutchinson, she says, “fancying something of rationality in the sonnet beyond the customary reach of a she-wit, could scarcely believe it was a woman’s.”

He sought her acquaintance, and they were married. Her treasured conscience did not prevent her from noting the jealousy of her young friends. A generous mind, perhaps, would rather itself suffer jealousy than be quick in suspecting, or complacent in causing, or precise in setting it down. But Mrs. Hutchinson doubtless offered up the envy of her companions in homage to her Puritan lover’s splendour. His austerity did not hinder him from wearing his “fine, thick-set head of hair” in long locks that were an offence to many of his own sect, but, she says, “a great ornament to him.” But for herself she has some dissimulated vanities. She was negligent of dress, and when, after much waiting and many devices, her suitor first saw her, she was “not ugly in a careless riding-habit.” As for him, “in spite of all her indifference, she was surprised (she writes) with some unusual liking in her soul when she saw this gentleman, who had hair, eyes, shape, and countenance enough to beget love in any one.” He married her as soon as she could leave her chamber, when she was so deformed by small-pox that “the priest and all that saw her were affrighted to look at her; but God recompensed his justice and constancy by restoring her.”

The following are some of the admirable sentences that prove Lucy Hutchinson a woman of letters in a far more serious sense than our own time uses. One phrase has a Stevenson-like character, a kind of gesture of language; this is where she praises her husband’s “handsome management of love.” {1} She thus prefaces her description of her honoured lord: “If my treacherous memory have not lost the dearest treasure that ever I committed to its trust -.” She boasts of her country in lofty phrase: “God hath, as it were, enclosed a people here, out of the waste common of the world.” And again of her husband: “It will be as hard to say which was the predominant virtue in him as which is so in its own nature.” “He had made up his accounts with life and death, and fixed his purpose to entertain both honourably.” “The heat of his youth a little inclined him to the passion of anger, and the goodness of his nature to those of love and grief; but reason was never dethroned by them, but continued governor and moderator of his soul.”

She describes sweetly certain three damsels who had “conceived a kindness” for her lord, their susceptibility, their willingness, their “admirable tempting beauty,” and “such excellent good-nature as would have thawed a rock of ice”; but she adds no less beautifully, “It was not his time to love.” In her widowhood she remembered that she had been commanded “not to grieve at the common rate of women”; and this is the lovely phrase of her grief: “As his shadow, she waited on him everywhere, till he was taken to that region of light which admits of none, and then she vanished into nothing.”

She has an invincible anger against the enemies of her husband and of the cause. The fevers, “little less than plagues,” that were common in that age carry them off exemplarily by families at a time. An adversary is “the devil’s exquisite solicitor.” All Royalists are of “the wicked faction.” She suspected his warders of poisoning Colonel Hutchinson in the prison wherein he died. The keeper had given him, under pretence of kindness, a bottle of excellent wine, and the two gentlemen who drank of it died within four months. A poison of strange operation! “We must leave it to the great day, when all crimes, how secret soever, will be made manifest, whether they added poison to all their other iniquity, whereby they certainly murdered this guiltless servant of God.” When he was near death, she adds, “a gentlewoman of the Castle came up and asked him how he did. He told her, Incomparably well, and full of faith.”

On the subject of politics, Mrs. Hutchinson writes, it must be owned, platitudes; but all are simple, and some are stated with dignity. Her power, her integrity, her tenderness, her pomp, the liberal and public interests of her life, her good breeding, her education, her exquisite diction, are such as may well make a reader ask how and why the literature of England declined upon the vulgarity, ignorance, cowardice, foolishness, that became “feminine” in the estimation of a later age; that is, in the character of women succeeding her, and in the estimation of men succeeding her lord. The noble graces of Lucy Hutchinson, I say, may well make us marvel at the downfall following–at Goldsmith’s invention of the women of “The Vicar or Wakefield” in one age, and at Thackeray’s invention of the women of “Esmond” in another.

Mrs. Hutchinson has little leisure for much praise of the natural beauty of sky and landscape, but now and then in her work there appears an abiding sense of the pleasantness of the rural world–in her day an implicit feeling rather than an explicit. “The happiness of the soil and air contribute all things that are necessary to the use or delight of man’s life.” “He had an opportunity of conversing with her in those pleasant walks which, at the sweet season of the spring, invited all the neighbouring inhabitants to seek their joys.” And she describes a dream whereof the scene was in the green fields of Southwark. What an England was hers! And what an English! A memorable vintage of our literature and speech was granted in her day; we owe much to those who–as she did–gathered it in.


We cannot do her honour by her Christian name. {2} All we have to call her by more tenderly is the mere D, the D that ties her to Stella, with whom she made the two-in-one whom Swift loved “better a thousand times than life, as hope saved.” MD, without full stops, Swift writes it eight times in a line for the pleasure of writing it. “MD sometimes means Stella alone,” says one of many editors. “The letters were written nominally to Stella and Mrs. Dingley,” says another, “but it does not require to be said that it was really for Stella’s sake alone that they were penned.” Not so. “MD” never stands for Stella alone. And the editor does not yet live who shall persuade one honest reader, against the word of Swift, that Swift loved Stella only, with an ordinary love, and not, by a most delicate exception, Stella and Dingley, so joined that they make the “she” and “her” of every letter. And this shall be a paper of reparation to Mrs. Dingley.

No one else in literary history has been so defrauded of her honours. In love “to divide is not to take away,” as Shelley says; and Dingley’s half of the tender things said to MD is equal to any whole, and takes nothing from the whole of Stella’s half. But the sentimentalist has fought against Mrs. Dingley from the outset. He has disliked her, shirked her, misconceived her, and effaced her. Sly sentimentalist–he finds her irksome. Through one of his most modern representatives he has but lately called her a “chaperon.” A chaperon!

MD was not a sentimentalist. Stella was not so, though she has been pressed into that character; D certainly was not, and has in this respect been spared by the chronicler; and MD together were “saucy charming MD,” “saucy little, pretty, dear rogues,” “little monkeys mine,” “little mischievous girls,” “nautinautinautidear girls,” “brats,” “huzzies both,” “impudence and saucy-face,” “saucy noses,” “my dearest lives and delights,” “dear little young women,” “good dallars, not crying dallars” (which means “girls”), “ten thousand times dearest MD,” and so forth in a hundred repetitions. They are, every now and then, “poor MD,” but obviously not because of their own complaining. Swift called them so because they were mortal; and he, like all great souls, lived and loved, conscious every day of the price, which is death.

The two were joined by love, not without solemnity, though man, with his summary and wholesale ready-made sentiment, has thus obstinately put them asunder. No wholesale sentiment can do otherwise than foolishly play havoc with such a relation. To Swift it was the most secluded thing in the world. “I am weary of friends, and friendships are all monsters, except MD’s;” “I ought to read these letters I write after I have done. But I hope it does not puzzle little Dingley to read, for I think I mend: but methinks,” he adds, “when I write plain, I do not know how, but we are not alone, all the world can see us. A bad scrawl is so snug; it looks like PMD.” Again: “I do not like women so much as I did. MD, you must know, are not women.” “God Almighty preserve you both and make us happy together.” “I say Amen with all my heart and vitals, that we may never be asunder ten days together while poor Presto lives.” “Farewell, dearest beloved MD, and love poor, poor Presto, who has not had one happy day since he left you, as hope saved.”

With them–with her–he hid himself in the world, at Court, at the bar of St. James’s coffee-house, whither he went on the Irish mail- day, and was “in pain except he saw MD’s little handwriting.” He hid with them in the long labours of these exquisite letters every night and morning. If no letter came, he comforted himself with thinking that “he had it yet to be happy with.” And the world has agreed to hide under its own manifold and lachrymose blunders the grace and singularity–the distinction–of this sweet romance. “Little, sequestered pleasure-house”–it seemed as though “the many could not miss it,” but not even the few have found it.

It is part of the scheme of the sympathetic historian that Stella should be the victim of hope deferred, watching for letters from Swift. But day and night Presto complains of the scantiness of MD’s little letters; he waits upon “her” will: “I shall make a sort of journal, and when it is full I will send it whether MD writes or not; and so that will be pretty.” “Naughty girls that will not write to a body!” “I wish you were whipped for forgetting to send. Go, be far enough, negligent baggages.” “You, Mistress Stella, shall write your share, and then comes Dingley altogether, and then Stella a little crumb at the end; and then conclude with something handsome and genteel, as ‘your most humble cumdumble.'” But Scott and Macaulay and Thackeray are all exceedingly sorry for Stella.

Swift is most charming when he is feigning to complain of his task: “Here is such a stir and bustle with this little MD of ours; I must be writing every night; O Lord, O Lord!” “I must go write idle things, and twittle twattle.” “These saucy jades take up so much of my time with writing to them in the morning.” Is it not a stealthy wrong done upon Mrs. Dingley that she should be stripped of all these ornaments to her name and memory? When Swift tells a woman in a letter that there he is “writing in bed, like a tiger,” she should go gay in the eyes of all generations.

They will not let Stella go gay, because of sentiment; and they will not let Mrs. Dingley go gay, because of sentiment for Stella. Marry come up! Why did not the historians assign all the tender passages (taken very seriously) to Stella, and let Dingley have the jokes, then? That would have been no ill share for Dingley. But no, forsooth, Dingley is allowed nothing.

There are passages, nevertheless, which can hardly be taken from her. For now and then Swift parts his dear MD. When he does so he invariably drops those initials and writes “Stella” or “Ppt” for the one, and “D” or “Dingley” for the other. There is no exception to this anywhere. He is anxious about Stella’s “little eyes,” and about her health generally; whereas Dingley is strong. Poor Ppt, he thinks, will not catch the “new fever,” because she is not well; “but why should D escape it, pray?” And Mrs. Dingley is rebuked for her tale of a journey from Dublin to Wexford. “I doubt, Madam Dingley, you are apt to lie in your travels, though not so bad as Stella; she tells thumpers.” Stella is often reproved for her spelling, and Mrs. Dingley writes much the better hand. But she is a puzzle-headed woman, like another. “What do you mean by my fourth letter, Madam Dinglibus? Does not Stella say you had my fifth, goody Blunder?” “Now, Mistress Dingley, are you not an impudent slut to except a letter next packet? Unreasonable baggage! No, little Dingley, I am always in bed by twelve, and I take great care of myself.” “You are a pretending slut, indeed, with your ‘fourth’ and ‘fifth’ in the margin, and your ‘journal’ and everything. O Lord, never saw the like, we shall never have done.” “I never saw such a letter, so saucy, so journalish, so everything.” Swift is insistently grateful for their inquiries for his health. He pauses seriously to thank them in the midst of his prattle. Both women– MD–are rallied on their politics: “I have a fancy that Ppt is a Tory, I fancy she looks like one, and D a sort of trimmer.”

But it is for Dingley separately that Swift endured a wild bird in his lodgings. His man Patrick had got one to take over to her in Ireland. “He keeps it in a closet, where it makes a terrible litter; but I say nothing; I am as tame as a clout.”

Forgotten Dingley, happy in this, has not had to endure the ignominy, in a hundred essays, to be retrospectively offered to Swift as an unclaimed wife; so far so good. But two hundred years is long for her to have gone stripped of so radiant a glory as is hers by right. “Better, thanks to MD’s prayers,” wrote the immortal man who loved her, in a private fragment of a journal, never meant for Dingley’s eyes, nor for Ppt’s, nor for any human eyes; and the rogue Stella has for two centuries stolen all the credit of those prayers, and all the thanks of that pious benediction.


Through the long history of human relations, which is the history of the life of our race, there sounds at intervals the clamour of a single voice which has not the tone of oratory, but asks, answers, interrupts itself, interrupts–what else? Whatever else it interrupts is silence; there are pauses, but no answers. There is the jest without the laugh, and again the laugh without the jest. And this is because the letters written by Madame de Sevigne were all saved, and not many written to her; because Swift burnt the letters that were the dearest things in life to him, while “MD” both made a treasury of his; and because Prue kept all the letters which Steele wrote to her from their marriage-day onwards, and Steele kept none of hers.

In Swift’s case the silence is full of echoes; that is to say, his letters repeat the phrases of Stella’s and Dingley’s, to play with them, flout them, and toss them back against the two silenced voices. He never lets the word of these two women fall to the ground; and when they have but blundered with it, and aimed it wide, and sent it weakly, he will catch it, and play you twenty delicate and expert juggling pranks with it as he sends it back into their innocent faces. So we have something of MD’s letters in the “journal,” and this in the only form in which we desire them, to tell the truth; for when Swift gravely saves us some specimens of Stella’s wit, after her death, as she spoke them, and not as he mimicked them, they make a sorry show.

In many correspondences, where one voice remains and the other is gone, the retort is enough for two. It is as when, the other day, the half of a pretty quarrel between nurse and child came down from an upper floor to the ears of a mother who decided that she need not interfere. The voice of the undaunted child it was that was audible alone, and it replied, “I’m not; YOU are”; and anon, “I’ll tell YOURS.” Nothing was really missing there.

But Steele’s letters to Prue, his wife, are no such simple matter. The turn we shall give them depends upon the unheard tone whereto they reply. And there is room for conjecture. It has pleased the more modern of the many spirits of banter to supply Prue’s eternal silence with the voice of a scold. It is painful to me to complain of Thackeray; but see what a figure he makes of Prue in “Esmond.” It is, says the nineteenth-century humourist, in defence against the pursuit of a jealous, exacting, neglected, or evaded wife that poor Dick Steele sends those little notes of excuse: “Dearest Being on earth, pardon me if you do not see me till eleven o’clock, having met a schoolfellow from India”; “My dear, dear wife, I write to let you know I do not come home to dinner, being obliged to attend some business abroad, of which I shall give you an account (when I see you in the evening), as becomes your dutiful and obedient husband”; “Dear Prue, I cannot come home to dinner. I languish for your welfare”; “I stay here in order to get Tonson to discount a bill for me, and shall dine with him to that end”; and so forth. Once only does Steele really afford the recent humourist the suggestion that is apparently always so welcome. It is when he writes that he is invited to supper to Mr. Boyle’s, and adds: “Dear Prue, do not send after me, for I shall be ridiculous.” But even this is to be read not ungracefully by a well-graced reader. Prue was young and unused to the world. Her husband, by the way, had been already married; and his greater age makes his constant deference all the more charming.

But with this one exception, Steele’s little notes, kept by his wife while she lived, and treasured after her death by her daughter and his, are no record of the watchings and dodgings of a London farce. It is worth while to remember that Steele’s dinner, which it was so often difficult to eat at home, was a thing of midday, and therefore of mid-business. But that is a detail. What is desirable is that a reasonable degree of sweetness should be attributed to Prue; for it is no more than just. To her Steele wrote in a dedication: “How often has your tenderness removed pain from my aching head, how often anguish from my afflicted heart. If there are such beings as guardian angels, they are thus employed. I cannot believe one of them to be more good in inclination, or more charming in form, than my wife.”

True, this was for the public; but not so were these daily notes; and these carry to her his assurance that she is “the beautifullest object in the world. I know no happiness in this life in any degree comparable to the pleasure I have in your person and society.” “But indeed, though you have every perfection, you have an extravagant fault, which almost frustrates the good in you to me; and that is, that you do not love to dress, to appear, to shine out, even at my request, and to make me proud of you, or rather to indulge the pride I have that you are mine.” The correction of the phrase is finely considerate.

Prue cannot have been a dull wife, for this last compliment is a reply, full of polite alacrity, to a letter from her asking for a little flattery. How assiduously, and with what a civilized absence of uncouthness, of shame-facedness, and of slang of the mind, with what simplicity, alertness, and finish, does he step out at her invitation, and perform! She wanted a compliment, though they had been long married then, and he immediately turned it. This was no dowdy Prue.

Her request, by the way, which he repeats in obeying it, is one of the few instances of the other side of the correspondence–one of the few direct echoes of that one of the two voices which is silent.

The ceremony of the letters and the deferent method of address and signature are never dropped in this most intimate of letter-writing. It is not a little depressing to think that in this very form and state is supposed, by the modern reader, to lurk the stealthiness of the husband of farce, the “rogue.” One does not like the word. Is it not clownish to apply it with intention to the husband of Prue? He did not pay, he was always in difficulties, he hid from bailiffs, he did many other things that tarnish honour, more or less, and things for which he had to beg Prue’s special pardon; but yet he is not a fit subject for the unhandsome incredulity which is proud to be always at hand with an ironic commentary on such letters as his.

I have no wish to bowdlerize Sir Richard Steele, his ways and words. He wrote to Prue at night when the burgundy had been too much for him, and in the morning after. He announces that he is coming to her “within a pint of wine.” One of his gayest letters–a love- letter before the marriage, addressed to “dear lovely Mrs. Scurlock”–confesses candidly that he had been pledging her too well: “I have been in very good company, where your health, under the character of the woman I loved best, has been often drunk; so that I may say that I am dead drunk for your sake, which is more than I DIE FOR YOU.”

Steele obviously drank burgundy wildly, as did his “good company”; as did also the admirable Addison, who was so solitary in character and so serene in temperament. But no one has, for this fault, the right to put a railing accusation into the mouth of Prue. Every woman has a right to her own silence, whether her silence be hers of set purpose or by accident. And every creature has a right to security from the banterings peculiar to the humourists of a succeeding age. To every century its own ironies, to every century its own vulgarities. In Steele’s time they had theirs. They might have rallied Prue more coarsely, but it would have been with a different rallying. Writers of the nineteenth century went about to rob her of her grace.

She kept some four hundred of these little letters of her lord’s. It was a loyal keeping. But what does Thackeray call it? His word is “thrifty.” He says: “There are four hundred letters of Dick Steele’s to his wife, which that thrifty woman preserved accurately.”

“Thrifty” is a hard word to apply to her whom Steele styled, in the year before her death, his “charming little insolent.” She was ill in Wales, and he, at home, wept upon her pillow, and “took it to be a sin to go to sleep.” Thrifty they may call her, and accurate if they will; but she lies in Westminster Abbey, and Steele called her “your Prueship.”


This paper shall not be headed “Tetty.” What may be a graceful enough freedom with the wives of other men shall be prohibited in the case of Johnson’s, she with whose name no writer until now has scrupled to take freedoms whereto all graces were lacking. “Tetty” it should not be, if for no other reason, for this–that the chance of writing “Tetty” as a title is a kind of facile literary opportunity; it shall be denied. The Essay owes thus much amends of deliberate care to Dr. Johnson’s wife. But, indeed, the reason is graver. What wish would he have had but that the language in the making whereof he took no ignoble part should somewhere, at some time, treat his only friend with ordinary honour?

Men who would trust Dr. Johnson with their orthodoxy, with their vocabulary, and with the most intimate vanity of their human wishes, refuse, with every mark of insolence, to trust him in regard to his wife. On that one point no reverence is paid to him, no deference, no respect, not so much as the credit due to our common sanity. Yet he is not reviled on account of his Thrale–nor, indeed, is his Thrale now seriously reproached for her Piozzi. It is true that Macaulay, preparing himself and his reader “in his well-known way” (as a rustic of Mr. Hardy’s might have it) for the recital of her second marriage, says that it would have been well if she had been laid beside the kind and generous Thrale when, in the prime of her life, he died. But Macaulay has not left us heirs to his indignation. His well-known way was to exhaust those possibilities of effect in which the commonplace is so rich. And he was permitted to point his paragraphs as he would, not only by calling Mrs. Thrale’s attachment to her second husband “a degrading passion,” but by summoning a chorus of “all London” to the same purpose. She fled, he tells us, from the laughter and hisses of her countrymen and countrywomen to a land where she was unknown. Thus when Macaulay chastises Mrs. Elizabeth Porter for marrying Johnson, he is not inconsistent, for he pursues Mrs. Thrale with equal rigour for her audacity in keeping gaiety and grace in her mind and manners longer than Macaulay liked to see such ornaments added to the charm of twice “married brows.”

It is not so with succeeding essayists. One of these minor biographers is so gentle as to call the attachment of Mrs. Thrale and Piozzi “a mutual affection.” He adds, “No one who has had some experience of life will be inclined to condemn Mrs. Thrale.” But there is no such courtesy, even from him, for Mrs. Johnson. Neither to him nor to any other writer has it yet occurred that if England loves her great Englishman’s memory, she owes not only courtesy, but gratitude, to the only woman who loved him while there was yet time.

Not a thought of that debt has stayed the alacrity with which a caricature has been acclaimed as the only possible portrait of Mrs. Johnson. Garrick’s school reminiscences would probably have made a much more charming woman grotesque. Garrick is welcome to his remembrances; we may even reserve for ourselves the liberty of envying those who heard him. But honest laughter should not fall into that tone of common antithesis which seems to say, “See what are the absurdities of the great! Such is life! On this one point we, even we, are wiser than Dr. Johnson–we know how grotesque was his wife. We know something of the privacies of her toilet-table. We are able to compare her figure with the figures we, unlike him in his youth, have had the opportunity of admiring–the figures of the well-bred and well-dressed.” It is a sorry success to be able to say so much.

But in fact such a triumph belongs to no man. When Samuel Johnson, at twenty-six, married his wife, he gave the dull an advantage over himself which none but the dullest will take. He chose, for love, a woman who had the wit to admire him at first meeting, and in spite of first sight. “That,” she said to her daughter, “is the most sensible man I ever met.” He was penniless. She had what was no mean portion for those times and those conditions; and, granted that she was affected, and provincial, and short, and all the rest with which she is charged, she was probably not without suitors; nor do her defects or faults seem to have been those of an unadmired or neglected woman. Next, let us remember what was the aspect of Johnson’s form and face, even in his twenties, and how little he could have touched the senses of a widow fond of externals. This one loved him, accepted him, made him happy, gave to one of the noblest of all English hearts the one love of its sombre life. And English literature has had no better phrase for her than Macaulay’s- -“She accepted, with a readiness which did her little honour, the addresses of a suitor who might have been her son.”

Her readiness did her incalculable honour. But it is at last worth remembering that Johnson had first done her incalculable honour. No one has given to man or woman the right to judge as to the worthiness of her who received it. The meanest man is generally allowed his own counsel as to his own wife; one of the greatest of men has been denied it. “The lover,” says Macaulay, “continued to be under the illusions of the wedding day till the lady died.” What is so graciously said is not enough. He was under those “illusions” until he too died, when he had long passed her latest age, and was therefore able to set right that balance of years which has so much irritated the impertinent. Johnson passed from this life twelve years older than she, and so for twelve years his constant eyes had to turn backwards to dwell upon her. Time gave him a younger wife.

And here I will put into Mrs. Johnson’s mouth, that mouth to which no one else has ever attributed any beautiful sayings, the words of Marceline Desbordes-Valmore to the young husband she loved: “Older than thou! Let me never see thou knowest it. Forget it! I will remember it, to die before thy death.”

Macaulay, in his unerring effectiveness, uses Johnson’s short sight for an added affront to Mrs. Johnson. The bridegroom was too weak of eyesight “to distinguish ceruse from natural bloom.” Nevertheless, he saw well enough, when he was old, to distinguish Mrs. Thrale’s dresses. He reproved her for wearing a dark dress; it was unsuitable, he said, for her size; a little creature should show gay colours “like an insect.” We are not called upon to admire his wife; why, then, our taste being thus uncompromised, do we not suffer him to admire her? It is the most gratuitous kind of intrusion. Moreover, the biographers are eager to permit that touch of romance and grace in his relations to Mrs. Thrale, which they officially deny in the case of Mrs. Johnson. But the difference is all on the other side. He would not have bidden his wife dress like an insect. Mrs. Thrale was to him “the first of womankind” only because his wife was dead.

Beauclerc, we learn, was wont to cap Garrick’s mimicry of Johnson’s love-making by repeating the words of Johnson himself in after- years–“It was a love-match on both sides.” And obviously he was as strange a lover as they said. Who doubted it? Was there any other woman in England to give such a suitor the opportunity of an eternal love? “A life radically wretched,” was the life of this master of Letters; but she, who has received nothing in return except ignominy from these unthankful Letters, had been alone to make it otherwise. Well for him that he married so young as to earn the ridicule of all the biographers in England; for by doing so he, most happily, possessed his wife for nearly twenty years. I have called her his only friend. So indeed she was, though he had followers, disciples, rivals, competitors, and companions, many degrees of admirers, a biographer, a patron, and a public. He had also the houseful of sad old women who quarrelled under his beneficent protection. But what friend had he? He was “solitary” from the day she died.

Let us consider under what solemn conditions and in what immortal phrase the word “solitary” stands. He wrote it, all Englishmen know where. He wrote it in the hour of that melancholy triumph when he had been at last set free from the dependence upon hope. He hoped no more, and he needed not to hope. The “notice” of Lord Chesterfield had been too long deferred; it was granted at last, when it was a flattery which Johnson’s court of friends would applaud. But not for their sake was it welcome. To no living ear would he bring it and report it with delight.

He was indifferent, he was known. The sensitiveness to pleasure was gone, and the sensitiveness to pain, slights, and neglect would thenceforth be suffered to rest; no man in England would put that to proof again. No man in England, did I say? But, indeed, that is not so. No slight to him, to his person, or to his fame could have had power to cause him pain more sensibly than the customary, habitual, ready-made ridicule that has been cast by posterity upon her whom he loved for twenty years, prayed for during thirty-two years more, who satisfied one of the saddest human hearts, but to whom the world, assiduous to admire him, hardly accords human dignity. He wrote praises of her manners and of her person for her tomb. But her epitaph, that does not name her, is in the greatest of English prose. What was favour to him? “I am indifferent . . . I am known . . . I am solitary, and cannot impart it.”


The articulate heroine has her reward of appreciation and her dues of praise; it is her appropriate fortune to have it definitely measured, and generally on equal terms. She takes pains to explain herself, and is understood, and pitied, when need is, on the right occasions. For instance, Madame Roland, a woman of merit, who knew her “merit’s name and place,” addressed her memoirs, her studies in contemporary history, her autobiography, her many speeches, and her last phrase at the foot of the undaunting scaffold, to a great audience of her equals (more or less) then living and to live in the ages then to come–her equals and those she raises to her own level, as the heroic example has authority to do.

Another woman–the Queen–suffered at that time, and suffered without the command of language, the exactitude of phrase, the precision of judgement, the proffer of prophecy, the explicit sense of Innocence and Moderation oppressed in her person. These were Madame Roland’s; but the other woman, without eloquence, without literature, and without any judicial sense of history, addresses no mere congregation of readers. Marie Antoinette’s unrecorded pangs pass into the treasuries of the experience of the whole human family. All that are human have some part there; genius itself may lean in contemplation over that abyss of woe; the great poets themselves may look into its distances and solitudes. Compassion here has no measure and no language. Madame Roland speaks neither to genius nor to complete simplicity; Marie Antoinette holds her peace in the presence of each, dumb in her presence.

Madame Roland had no dumbness of the spirit, as history, prompted by her own musical voice, presents her to a world well prepared to do her justice. Of that justice she had full expectation; justice here, justice in the world–the world that even when universal philosophy should reign would be inevitably the world of mediocrity; justice that would come of enlightened views; justice that would be the lesson learnt by the nations widely educated up to some point generally accessible; justice well within earthly sight and competence. This confidence was also her reward. For what justice did the Queen look? Here it is the “abyss that appeals to the abyss.”

Twice only in the life of Madame Roland is there a lapse into silence, and for the record of these two poor failures of that long, indomitable, reasonable, temperate, explicit utterance which expressed her life and mind we are debtors to her friends. She herself has not confessed them. Nowhere else, whether in her candid history of herself, or in her wise history of her country, or in her judicial history of her contemporaries, whose spirit she discerned, whose powers she appraised, whose errors she foresaw; hardly in her thought, and never in her word, is a break to be perceived; she is not silent and she hardly stammers; and when she tells us of her tears–the tears of youth only–her record is voluble and all complete. For the dignity of her style, of her force, and of her balanced character, Madame Roland would doubtless have effaced the two imperfections which, to us who would be glad to admire in silence her heroic figure, if that heroic figure would but cease to talk, are finer and more noble than her well-placed language and the high successes of her decision and her endurance. More than this, the two failures of this unfailing woman are two little doors opened suddenly into those wider spaces and into that dominion of solitude which, after all, do doubtless exist even in the most garrulous soul. By these two outlets Manon Roland also reaches the region of Marie Antoinette. But they befell her at the close of her life, and they shall be named at the end of this brief study.

Madame Roland may seem the more heroic to those whose suffrages she seeks in all times and nations because of the fact that she manifestly suppresses in her self-descriptions any signs of a natural gaiety. Her memoirs give evidence of no such thing; it is only in her letters, not intended for the world, that we are aware of the inadvertence of moments. We may overhear a laugh at times, but not in those consciously sprightly hours that she spent with her convent-school friend gathering fruit and counting eggs at the farm. She pursued these country tasks not without offering herself the cultivated congratulation of one whom cities had failed to allure, and who bore in mind the examples of Antiquity. She did not forget the death of Socrates. Or, rather, she finds an occasion to reproach herself with having once forgotten it, and with having omitted what another might have considered the tedious recollection of the condemnation of Phocion. She never wearied of these examples. But it is her inexhaustible freshness in these things that has helped other writers of her time to weary us.

In her manner of telling her story there is an absence of all exaggeration, which gives the reader a constant sense of security. That virtue of style and thought was one she proposed to herself and attained with exact consciousness of success. It would be almost enough (in the perfection of her practice) to make a great writer; even a measure of it goes far to make a fair one. Her moderation of statement is never shaken; and if she now and then glances aside from her direct narrative road to hazard a conjecture, the error she may make is on the generous side of hope and faith. For instance, she is too sure that her Friends (so she always calls the Girondins, using no nicknames) are safe, whereas they were then all doomed; a young man who had carried a harmless message for her–a mere notification to her family of her arrest–receives her cheerful commendation for his good feeling; from a note we learn that for this action he suffered on the scaffold and that his father soon thereafter died of grief. But Madame Roland never matched such a delirious event as this by any delirium of her own imagination. The delirium was in things and in the acts of men; her mind was never hurried from its sane self-possession, when the facts raved.

It was only when she used the rhetoric ready to her hand that she stooped to verbal violence; et encore! References to the banishment of Aristides and the hemlock of Socrates had become toy daggers and bending swords in the hands of her compatriots, and she is hardly to be accused of violence in brandishing those weapons. Sometimes, refuse rhetoric being all too ready, she takes it on her pen, in honest haste, as though it were honest speech, and stands committed to such a phrase as this: “The dregs of the nation placed such a one at the helm of affairs.”

But her manner was not generally to write anything but a clear and efficient French language. She never wrote for the love of art, but without some measure of art she did not write; and her simplicity is somewhat altered by that importunate love of the Antique. In “Bleak House” there is an old lady who insisted that the name “Mr. Turveydrop,” as it appeared polished on the door-plate of the dancing master, was the name of the pretentious father and not of the industrious son–albeit, needless to say, one name was common to them. With equal severity I aver that when Madame Roland wrote to her husband in the second person singular she was using the TU of Rome and not the TU of Paris. French was indeed the language; but had it been French in spirit she would (in spite of the growing Republican fashion) have said VOUS to this “homme eclaire, de moeurs pures, e qui l’on ne peut reprocher que sa grande admiration pour les anciens aux depens des modernes qu’il meprise, et le faible de trop aimer e parler de lui.” There was no French TU in her relations with this husband, gravely esteemed and appraised, discreetly rebuked, the best passages of whose Ministerial reports she wrote, and whom she observed as he slowly began to think he himself had composed them. She loved him with a loyal, obedient, and discriminating affection, and when she had been put to death, he, still at liberty, fell upon his sword.

This last letter was written at a moment when, in order to prevent the exposure of a public death, Madame Roland had intended to take opium in the end of her cruel imprisonment. A little later she chose that those who oppressed her country should have their way with her to the last. But, while still intending self-destruction, she had written to her husband: “Forgive me, respectable man, for disposing of a life that I had consecrated to thee.” In quoting this I mean to make no too-easy effect with the word “respectable,” grown grotesque by the tedious gibe of our own present fashion of speech.

Madame Roland, I have said, was twice inarticulate; she had two spaces of silence, one when she, pure and selfless patriot, had heard her condemnation to death. Passing out of the court she beckoned to her friends, and signified to them her sentence “by a gesture.” And again there was a pause, in the course of her last days, during which her speeches had not been few, and had been spoken with her beautiful voice unmarred; “she leant,” says Riouffe, “alone against her window, and wept there three hours.”


To attend to a living child is to be baffled in your humour, disappointed of your pathos, and set freshly free from all the preoccupations. You cannot anticipate him. Blackbirds, overheard year by year, do not compose the same phrases; never two leitmotifs alike. Not the tone, but the note alters. So with the uncovenanted ways of a child you keep no tryst. They meet you at another place, after failing you where you tarried; your former experiences, your documents are at fault. You are the fellow traveller of a bird. The bird alights and escapes out of time to your footing.

No man’s fancy could be beforehand, for instance, with a girl of four years old who dictated a letter to a distant cousin, with the sweet and unimaginable message: “I hope you enjoy yourself with your loving dolls.” A boy, still younger, persuading his mother to come down from the heights and play with him on the floor, but sensible, perhaps, that there was a dignity to be observed none the less, entreated her, “Mother, do be a lady frog.” None ever said their good things before these indeliberate authors. Even their own kind–children–have not preceded them. No child in the past ever found the same replies as the girl of five whose father made that appeal to feeling which is doomed to a different, perverse, and unforeseen success. He was rather tired with writing, and had a mind to snare some of the yet uncaptured flock of her sympathies. “Do you know, I have been working hard, darling? I work to buy things for you.” “Do you work,” she asked, “to buy the lovely puddin’s?” Yes, even for these. The subject must have seemed to her to be worth pursuing. “And do you work to buy the fat? I don’t like fat.”

The sympathies, nevertheless, are there. The same child was to be soothed at night after a weeping dream that a skater had been drowned in the Kensington Round Pond. It was suggested to her that she should forget it by thinking about the one unfailing and gay subject–her wishes. “Do you know,” she said, without loss of time, “what I should like best in all the world? A thundred dolls and a whistle!” Her mother was so overcome by this tremendous numeral, that she could make no offer as to the dolls. But the whistle seemed practicable. “It is for me to whistle for cabs,” said the child, with a sudden moderation, “when I go to parties.” Another morning she came down radiant. “Did you hear a great noise in the miggle of the night? That was me crying. I cried because I dreamt that Cuckoo [a brother] had swallowed a bead into his nose.”

The mere errors of children are unforeseen as nothing is–no, nothing feminine–in this adult world. “I’ve got a lotter than you,” is the word of a very young egotist. An older child says, “I’d better go, bettern’t I, mother?” He calls a little space at the back of a London house, “the backy-garden.” A little creature proffers almost daily the reminder at luncheon–at tart-time: “Father, I hope you will remember that I am the favourite of the crust.” Moreover, if an author set himself to invent the naif things that children might do in their Christmas plays at home, he would hardly light upon the device of the little troupe who, having no footlights, arranged upon the floor a long row of candle-shades.

“It’s JOLLY dull without you, mother,” says a little girl who– gentlest of the gentle–has a dramatic sense of slang, of which she makes no secret. But she drops her voice somewhat to disguise her feats of metathesis, about which she has doubts and which are involuntary: the “stand-wash,” the “sweeping-crosser,” the “sewing chamine.” Genoese peasants have the same prank when they try to speak Italian.

Children forget last year so well that if they are Londoners they should by any means have an impression of the country or the sea annually. A London little girl watches a fly upon the wing, follows it with her pointing finger, and names it “bird.” Her brother, who wants to play with a bronze Japanese lobster, asks “Will you please let me have that tiger?”

At times children give to a word that slight variety which is the most touching kind of newness. Thus, a child of three asks you to save him. How moving a word, and how freshly said! He had heard of the “saving” of other things of interest–especially chocolate creams taken for safe-keeping–and he asks, “Who is going to save me to-day? Nurse is going out, will you save me, mother?” The same little variant upon common use is in another child’s courteous reply to a summons to help in the arrangement of some flowers, “I am quite at your ease.”

A child, unconscious little author of things told in this record, was taken lately to see a fellow author of somewhat different standing from her own, inasmuch as he is, among other things, a Saturday Reviewer. As he dwelt in a part of the South-west of the town unknown to her, she noted with interest the shops of the neighbourhood as she went, for they might be those of the fournisseurs of her friend. “That is his bread shop, and that is his book shop. And that, mother,” she said finally, with even heightened sympathy, pausing before a blooming parterre of confectionery hard by the abode of her man of letters, “that, I suppose, is where he buys his sugar pigs.”

In all her excursions into streets new to her, this same child is intent upon a certain quest–the quest of a genuine collector. We have all heard of collecting butterflies, of collecting china-dogs, of collecting cocked hats, and so forth; but her pursuit gives her a joy that costs her nothing except a sharp look-out upon the proper names over all shop-windows. No hoard was ever lighter than hers. “I began three weeks ago next Monday, mother,” she says with precision, “and I have got thirty-nine.” “Thirty-nine what?” “Smiths.”

The mere gathering of children’s language would be much like collecting together a handful of flowers that should be all unique, single of their kind. In one thing, however, do children agree, and that is the rejection of most of the conventions of the authors who have reported them. They do not, for example, say “me is”; their natural reply to “are you?” is “I are.” One child, pronouncing sweetly and neatly, will have nothing but the nominative pronoun. “Lift I up and let I see it raining,” she bids; and told that it does not rain resumes, “Lift I up and let I see it not raining.”

An elder child had a rooted dislike to a brown corduroy suit ordered for her by maternal authority. She wore the garments under protest, and with some resentment. At the same time it was evident that she took no pleasure in hearing her praises sweetly sung by a poet, her friend. He had imagined the making of this child in the counsels of Heaven, and the decreeing of her soft skin, of her brilliant eyes, and of her hair–“a brown tress.” She had gravely heard the words as “a brown dress,” and she silently bore the poet a grudge for having been the accessory of Providence in the mandate that she should wear the loathed corduroy. The unpractised ear played another little girl a like turn. She had a phrase for snubbing any anecdote that sounded improbable. “That,” she said, more or less after Sterne, “is a cotton-wool story.”

The learning of words is, needless to say, continued long after the years of mere learning to speak. The young child now takes a current word into use, a little at random, and now makes a new one, so as to save the interruption of a pause for search. I have certainly detected, in children old enough to show their motives, a conviction that a word of their own making is as good a communication as another, and as intelligible. There is even a general implicit conviction among them that the grown-up people, too, make words by the wayside as occasion befalls. How otherwise should words be so numerous that every day brings forward some hitherto unheard? The child would be surprised to know how irritably poets are refused the faculty and authority which he thinks to belong to the common world.

There is something very cheerful and courageous in the setting-out of a child on a journey of speech with so small baggage and with so much confidence in the chances of the hedge. He goes free, a simple adventurer. Nor does he make any officious effort to invent anything strange or particularly expressive or descriptive. The child trusts genially to his hearer. A very young boy, excited by his first sight of sunflowers, was eager to describe them, and called them, without allowing himself to be checked for the trifle of a name, “summersets.” This was simple and unexpected; so was the comment of a sister a very little older. “Why does he call those flowers summersets?” their mother said; and the girl, with a darkly brilliant look of humour and penetration, answered, “because they are so big.” There seemed to be no further question possible after an explanation that was presented thus charged with meaning.

To a later phase of life, when a little girl’s vocabulary was, somewhat at random, growing larger, belong a few brave phrases hazarded to express a meaning well realized–a personal matter. Questioned as to the eating of an uncertain number of buns just before lunch, the child averred, “I took them just to appetize my hunger.” As she betrayed a familiar knowledge of the tariff of an attractive confectioner, she was asked whether she and her sisters had been frequenting those little tables on their way from school. “I sometimes go in there, mother,” she confessed; “but I generally speculate outside.”

Children sometimes attempt to cap something perfectly funny with something so flat that you are obliged to turn the conversation. Dryden does the same thing, not with jokes, but with his sublimer passages. But sometimes a child’s deliberate banter is quite intelligible to elders. Take the letter written by a little girl to a mother who had, it seems, allowed her family to see that she was inclined to be satisfied with something of her own writing. The child has a full and gay sense of the sweetest kinds of irony. There was no need for her to write, she and her mother being both at home, but the words must have seemed to her worthy of a pen: –“My dear mother, I really wonder how you can be proud of that article, if it is worthy to be called a article, which I doubt. Such a unletterary article. I cannot call it letterature. I hope you will not write any more such unconventionan trash.”

This is the saying of a little boy who admired his much younger sister, and thought her forward for her age: “I wish people knew just how old she is, mother, then they would know she is onward. They can see she is pretty, but they can’t know she is such a onward baby.”

Thus speak the naturally unreluclant; but there are other children who in time betray a little consciousness and a slight mefiance as to where the adult sense of humour may be lurking in wait for them, obscure. These children may not be shy enough to suffer any self- checking in their talk, but they are now and then to be heard slurring a word of which they do not feel too sure. A little girl whose sensitiveness was barely enough to cause her to stop to choose between two words, was wont to bring a cup of tea to the writing- table of her mother, who had often feigned indignation at the weakness of what her Irish maid always called “the infusion.” “I’m afraid it’s bosh again, mother,” said the child; and then, in a half-whisper, “Is bosh right, or wash, mother?” She was not told, and decided for herself, with doubts, for bosh. The afternoon cup left the kitchen an infusion, and reached the library “bosh” thenceforward.


A poppy bud, packed into tight bundles by so hard and resolute a hand that the petals of the flower never afterwards lose the creases, is a type of the child. Nothing but the unfolding, which is as yet in the non-existing future, can explain the manner of the close folding of character. In both flower and child it looks much as though the process had been the reverse of what it was–as though a finished and open thing had been folded up into the bud–so plainly and certainly is the future implied, and the intention of compressing and folding-close made manifest.

With the other incidents of childish character, the crowd of impulses called “naughtiness” is perfectly perceptible–it would seem heartless to say how soon. The naughty child (who is often an angel of tenderness and charm, affectionate beyond the capacity of his fellows, and a very ascetic of penitence when the time comes) opens early his brief campaigns and raises the standard of revolt as soon as he is capable of the desperate joys of disobedience.

But even the naughty child is an individual, and must not be treated in the mass. He is numerous indeed, but not general, and to describe him you must take the unit, with all his incidents and his organic qualities as they are. Take then, for instance, one naughty child in the reality of his life. He is but six years old, slender and masculine, and not wronged by long hair, curls, or effeminate dress. His face is delicate and too often haggard with tears of penitence that Justice herself would be glad to spare him. Some beauty he has, and his mouth especially is so lovely as to seem not only angelic but itself an angel. He has absolutely no self-control and his passions find him without defence. They come upon him in the midst of his usual brilliant gaiety and cut short the frolic comedy of his fine spirits.

Then for a wild hour he is the enemy of the laws. If you imprison him, you may hear his resounding voice as he takes a running kick at the door, shouting his justification in unconquerable rage. “I’m good now!” is made as emphatic as a shot by the blow of his heel upon the panel. But if the moment of forgiveness is deferred, in the hope of a more promising repentance, it is only too likely that he will betake himself to a hostile silence and use all the revenge yet known to his imagination. “Darling mother, open the door!” cries his touching voice at last; but if the answer should be “I must leave you for a short time, for punishment,” the storm suddenly thunders again. “There (crash!) I have broken a plate, and I’m glad it is broken into such little pieces that you can’t mend it. I’m going to break the ‘lectric light.” When things are at this pass there is one way, and only one, to bring the child to an overwhelming change of mind; but it is a way that would be cruel, used more than twice or thrice in his whole career of tempest and defiance. This is to let him see that his mother is troubled. “Oh, don’t cry! Oh, don’t be sad!” he roars, unable still to deal with his own passionate anger, which is still dealing with him. With his kicks of rage he suddenly mingles a dance of apprehension lest his mother should have tears in her eyes. Even while he is still explicitly impenitent and defiant he tries to pull her round to the light that he may see her face. It is but a moment before the other passion of remorse comes to make havoc of the helpless child, and the first passion of anger is quelled outright.

Only to a trivial eye is there nothing tragic in the sight of these great passions within the small frame, the small will, and, in a word, the small nature. When a large and sombre fate befalls a little nature, and the stage is too narrow for the action of a tragedy, the disproportion has sometimes made a mute and unexpressed history of actual life or sometimes a famous book; it is the manifest core of George Eliot’s story of Adam Bede, where the suffering of Hetty is, as it were, the eye of the storm. All is expressive around her, but she is hardly articulate; the book is full of words–preachings, speeches, daily talk, aphorisms, but a space of silence remains about her in the midst of the story. And the disproportion of passion–the inner disproportion–is at least as tragic as that disproportion of fate and action; it is less intelligible, and leads into the intricacies of nature which are more difficult than the turn of events.

It seems, then, that this passionate play is acted within the narrow limits of a child’s nature far oftener than in those of an adult and finally formed nature. And this, evidently, because there is unequal force at work within a child, unequal growth and a jostling of powers and energies that are hurrying to their development and pressing for exercise and life. It is this helpless inequality– this untimeliness–that makes the guileless comedy mingling with the tragedies of a poor child’s day. He knows thus much–that life is troubled around him and that the fates are strong. He implicitly confesses “the strong hours” of antique song. This same boy–the tempestuous child of passion and revolt–went out with quiet cheerfulness for a walk lately, saying as his cap was put on, “Now, mother, you are going to have a little peace.” This way of accepting his own conditions is shared by a sister, a very little older, who, being of an equal and gentle temper, indisposed to violence of every kind and tender to all without disquiet, observes the boy’s brief frenzies as a citizen observes the climate. She knows the signs quite well and can at any time give the explanation of some particular outburst, but without any attempt to go in search of further or more original causes. Still less is she moved by the virtuous indignation that is the least charming of the ways of some little girls. Elle ne fait que constater. Her equanimity has never been overset by the wildest of his moments, and she has witnessed them all. It is needless to say that she is not frightened by his drama, for Nature takes care that her young creatures shall not be injured by sympathies. Nature encloses them in the innocent indifference that preserves their brains from the more harassing kinds of distress.

Even the very frenzy of rage does not long dim or depress the boy. It is his repentance that makes him pale, and Nature here has been rather forced, perhaps–with no very good result. Often must a mother wish that she might for a few years govern her child (as far as he is governable) by the lowest motives–trivial punishments and paltry rewards–rather than by any kind of appeal to his sensibilities. She would wish to keep the words “right” and “wrong” away from his childish ears, but in this she is not seconded by her lieutenants. The child himself is quite willing to close with her plans, in so far as he is able, and is reasonably interested in the results of her experiments. He wishes her attempts in his regard to have a fair chance. “Let’s hope I’ll be good all to-morrow,” he says with the peculiar cheerfulness of his ordinary voice. “I do hope so, old man.” “Then I’ll get my penny. Mother, I was only naughty once yesterday; if I have only one naughtiness to-morrow, will you give me a halfpenny?” “No reward except for real goodness all day long.” “All right.”

It is only too probable that this system (adopted only after the failure of other ways of reform) will be greatly disapproved as one of bribery. It may, however, be curiously inquired whether all kinds of reward might not equally be burlesqued by that word, and whether any government, spiritual or civil, has ever even professed to deny rewards. Moreover, those who would not give a child a penny for being good will not hesitate to fine him a penny for being naughty, and rewards and punishments must stand or fall together. The more logical objection will be that goodness is ideally the normal condition, and that it should have, therefore, no explicit extraordinary result, whereas naughtiness, being abnormal, should have a visible and unusual sequel. To this the rewarding mother may reply that it is not reasonable to take “goodness” in a little child of strong passions as the normal condition. The natural thing for him is to give full sway to impulses that are so violent as to overbear his powers.

But, after all, the controversy returns to the point of practice. What is the thought, or threat, or promise that will stimulate the weak will of the child, in the moment of rage and anger, to make a sufficient resistance? If the will were naturally as well developed as the passions, the stand would be soon made and soon successful; but as it is there must needs be a bracing by the suggestion of joy or fear. Let, then, the stimulus be of a mild and strong kind at once, and mingled with the thought of distant pleasure. To meet the suffering of rage and frenzy by the suffering of fear is assuredly to make of the little unquiet mind a battle-place of feelings too hurtfully tragic. The penny is mild and strong at once, with its still distant but certain joys of purchase; the promise and hope break the mood of misery, and the will takes heart to resist and conquer.

It is only in the lesser naughtiness that he is master of himself. The lesser the evil fit the more deliberate. So that his mother, knowing herself to be not greatly feared, once tried to mimic the father’s voice with a menacing, “What’s that noise?” The child was persistently crying and roaring on an upper floor, in contumacy against his French nurse, when the baritone and threatening question was sent pealing up the stairs. The child was heard to pause and listen and then to say to his nurse, “Ce n’est pas Monsieur; c’est Madame,” and then, without further loss of time, to resume the interrupted clamours.

Obviously, with a little creature of six years, there are two things mainly to be done–to keep the delicate brain from the evil of the present excitement, especially the excitement of painful feeling, and to break the habit of passion. Now that we know how certainly the special cells of the brain which are locally affected by pain and anger become hypertrophied by so much use, and all too ready for use in the future at the slightest stimulus, we can no longer slight the importance of habit. Any means, then, that can succeed in separating a little child from the habit of anger does fruitful work for him in the helpless time of his childhood. The work is not easy, but a little thought should make it easy for the elders to avoid the provocation which they–who should ward off provocations– are apt to bring about by sheer carelessness. It is only in childhood that our race knows such physical abandonment to sorrow and tears, as a child’s despair; and the theatre with us must needs copy childhood if it would catch the note and action of a creature without hope.


There is a certain year that is winged, as it were, against the flight of time; it does so move, and yet withstands time’s movement. It is full of pauses that are due to the energy of change, has bounds and rebounds, and when it is most active then it is longest. It is not long with languor. It has room for remoteness, and leisure for oblivion. It takes great excursions against time, and travels so as to enlarge its hours. This certain year is any one of the early years of fully conscious life, and therefore it is of all the dates. The child of Tumult has been living amply and changefully through such a year–his eighth. It is difficult to believe that his is a year of the self-same date as that of the adult, the men who do not breast their days.

For them is the inelastic, or but slightly elastic, movement of things. Month matched with month shows a fairly equal length. Men and women never travel far from yesterday; nor is their morrow in a distant light. There is recognition and familiarity between their seasons. But the Child of Tumult has infinite prospects in his year. Forgetfulness and surprise set his east and his west at immeasurable distance. His Lethe runs in the cheerful sun. You look on your own little adult year, and in imagination enlarge it, because you know it to be the contemporary of his. Even she who is quite old, if she have a vital fancy, may face a strange and great extent of a few years of her life still to come–his years, the years she is to live at his side.

Reason seems to be making good her rule in this little boy’s life, not so much by slow degrees as by sudden and fitful accessions. His speech is yet so childish that he chooses, for a toy, with blushes of pleasure, “a little duck what can walk”; but with a beautifully clear accent he greets his mother with the colloquial question, “Well, darling, do you know the latest?” “The WHAT?” “The latest: do you know the latest?” And then he tells his news, generally, it must be owned, with some reference to his own wrongs. On another occasion the unexpected little phrase was varied; the news of the war then raging distressed him; a thousand of the side he favoured had fallen. The child then came to his mother’s room with the question: “Have you heard the saddest?” Moreover the “saddest” caused him several fits of perfectly silent tears, which seized him during the day, on his walks or at other moments of recollection. From such great causes arise such little things! Some of his grief was for the nation he admired, and some was for the triumph of his brother, whose sympathies were on the other side, and who perhaps did not spare his sensibilities.

The tumults of a little child’s passions of anger and grief, growing fewer as he grows older, rather increase than lessen in their painfulness. There is a fuller consciousness of complete capitulation of all the childish powers to the overwhelming compulsion of anger. This is not temptation; the word is too weak for the assault of a child’s passion upon his will. That little will is taken captive entirely, and before the child was seven he knew that it was so. Such a consciousness leaves all babyhood behind and condemns the child to suffer. For a certain passage of his life he is neither unconscious of evil, as he was, nor strong enough to resist it, as he will be. The time of the subsiding of the tumult is by no means the least pitiable of the phases of human life. Happily the recovery from each trouble is ready and sure; so that the child who had been abandoned to naughtiness with all his will in an entire consent to the gloomy possession of his anger, and who had later undergone a haggard repentance, has his captivity suddenly turned again, “like rivers in the south.” “Forget it,” he had wept, in a kind of extremity of remorse; “forget it, darling, and don’t, don’t be sad;” and it is he, happily, who forgets. The wasted look of his pale face is effaced by the touch of a single cheerful thought, and five short minutes can restore the ruin, as though a broken little German town should in the twinkling of an eye be restored as no architect could restore it–should be made fresh, strong, and tight again, looking like a full box of toys, as a town was wont to look in the new days of old.

When his ruthless angers are not in possession the child shows the growth of this tardy reason that–quickened–is hereafter to do so much for his peace and dignity, by the sweetest consideration. Denied a second handful of strawberries, and seeing quite clearly that the denial was enforced reluctantly, he makes haste to reply, “It doesn’t matter, darling.” At any sudden noise in the house his beautiful voice, with all its little difficulties of pronunciation, is heard with the sedulous reassurance: “It’s all right, mother, nobody hurted ourselves!” He is not surprised so as to forget this gentle little duty, which was never required of him, but is of his own devising.

According to the opinion of his dear and admired American friend, he says all these things, good and evil, with an English accent; and at the American play his English accent was irrepressible. “It’s too comic; no, it’s too comic,” he called in his enjoyment; being the only perfectly fearless child in the world, he will not consent to the conventional shyness in public, whether he be the member of an audience or of a congregation, but makes himself perceptible. And even when he has a desperate thing to say, in the moment of absolute revolt–such a thing as “I CAN’T like you, mother,” which anon he will recant with convulsions of distress–he has to “speak the thing he will,” and when he recants it is not for fear.

If such a child could be ruled (or approximately ruled, for inquisitorial government could hardly be so much as attempted) by some small means adapted to his size and to his physical aspect, it would be well for his health, but that seems at times impossible. By no effort can his elders altogether succeed in keeping tragedy out of the life that is so unready for it. Against great emotions no one can defend him by any forethought. He is their subject; and to see him thus devoted and thus wrung, thus wrecked by tempests inwardly, so that you feel grief has him actually by the heart, recalls the reluctance–the question–wherewith you perceive the interior grief of poetry or of a devout life. Cannot the Muse, cannot the Saint, you ask, live with something less than this? If this is the truer life, it seems hardly supportable. In like manner it should be possible for a child of seven to come through his childhood with griefs that should not so closely involve him, but should deal with the easier sentiments.

Despite all his simplicity, the child has (by way of inheritance, for he has never heard them) the self-excusing fictions of our race. Accused of certain acts of violence, and unable to rebut the charge with any effect, he flies to the old convention: “I didn’t know what I was doing,” he avers, using a great deal of gesticulation to express the temporary distraction of his mind. “Darling, after nurse slapped me as hard as she could, I didn’t know what I was doing, so I suppose I pushed her with my foot.” His mother knows as well as does Tolstoi that men and children know what they are doing, and are the more intently aware as the stress of feeling makes the moments more tense; and she will not admit a plea which her child might have learned from the undramatic authors he has never read.

Far from repenting of her old system of rewards, and far from taking fright at the name of a bribe, the mother of the Child of Tumult has only to wish she had at command rewards ample and varied enough to give the shock of hope and promise to the heart of the little boy, and change his passion at its height.


It is rashly said that the senses of children are quick. They are, on the contrary, unwieldy in turning, unready in reporting, until advancing age teaches them agility. This is not lack of sensitiveness, but mere length of process. For instance, a child