The Project Gutenberg EBook of Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great, Vol. 1 of 14, by Elbert Hubbard This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net Title: Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great, Vol. 1 of 14 Little Journeys to the Homes of Good Men and Great Author: Elbert Hubbard Release Date: July 18, 2004 [EBook #12933] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK LITTLE JOURNEYS TO THE HOMES *** Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Beginners Projects, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net.
Elbert Hubbard is dead, or should we say, has gone on his last Little Journey to the Great Beyond. But the children of his fertile brain still live and will continue to live and keep fresh the memory of their illustrious forebear.
Fourteen years were consumed in the preparation of the work that ranks today as Elbert Hubbard's masterpiece. In Eighteen Hundred Ninety-four, the series of Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great was begun, and once a month for fourteen years, without a break, one of these little pilgrimages was given to the world. These little gems have been accepted as classics and will live. In all there are one hundred eighty Little Journeys that take us to the homes of the men and women who transformed the thought of their time, changed the course of empire, and marked the destiny of civilization. Through him, the ideas, the deeds, the achievements of these immortals have been given to the living present and will be sent echoing down the centuries.
Hubbard's Little Journeys to the homes of these men and women have not been equaled since Plutarch wrote his forty-six parallel lives of the Greeks and Romans. And these were given to the world before the first rosy dawn of modern civilization had risen to the horizon. Without dwelling upon their achievements, Plutarch, with a trifling incident, a simple word or an innocent jest, showed the virtues and failings of his subject. As a result, no other books from classical literature have come down through the ages to us with so great an influence upon the lives of the leading men of the world. Who can recount the innumerable biographies that begin thus: "In his youth, our subject had for his constant reading, Plutarch's Lives, etc."? Emerson must have had in mind this silent, irresistible force that shaped the lives of the great men of these twenty centuries when he declared, "All history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons."
Plutarch lived in the time of Saint Paul, and wrote of the early Greeks and Romans. After two thousand years Hubbard appeared, to bridge the centuries from Athens, in the golden age of Pericles, to America, in the wondrous age of Edison. With the magic wand of genius he touched the buried mummies of all time, and from each tomb gushed forth a geyser of inspiration.
Hugh Chalmers once remarked that, if he were getting out a Blue Book of America, he would publish Elbert Hubbard's subscription-lists. Whether we accept this authoritative statement or not, there is no doubt that the pen of this immortal did more to stimulate the best minds of the country than any other American writer, living or dead. Eminent writers study Hubbard for style, while at the same time thousands of the tired men and women who do the world's work read him for inspiration. Truly, this man wielded his pen like an archangel.
Not only as a writer does this many-sided genius command our admiration, but in many chosen fields, in all of which he excelled. As an institution, the Roycroft Shops would reflect credit upon the business acumen of the ablest men that America has produced in the field of achievement. The industry, it would seem, was launched to demonstrate the practicality of the high principles and philosophy preached by its founder, not only by the printed page, but from the platform. Right here let it be noted that, as a public speaker, Hubbard appeared before more audiences than any other lecturer of his time who gave the platform his undivided attention. Where, one asks in amazement, did this remarkable man find the inspiration for carrying forward his great work? It is no secret. It was drawn from his own little pilgrimages to the haunts of the great. Again like Plutarch, these miniature biographies were composed for the personal benefit of the writer. It was his own satisfaction and moral improvement that inspired the work.
Following Hubbard's tragic death, the announcement was made from East Aurora that "The Philistine" Magazine would be discontinued—Hubbard had gone on a long journey and might need his "Philistine." Besides, who was there to take up his pen? It was also a beautiful tribute to the father from the son.
The same spirit of devotion has prompted The Roycrofters to issue their Memorial Edition of the "Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great." In no other way could they so fittingly perpetuate the memory of the founder of their institution as to liberate the influence that was such an important factor in molding the career of his genius. If he should cast a backward glance, he would nod his approval. If there is to be a memorial, certainly let it be a service to mankind. He would have us all tap the same source from which he drew his inspiration.
I have been asked to write an article about myself and the work in which I am engaged. I think I am honest enough to sink self, to stand outside my own personality, and answer the proposition.
Let me begin by telling what I am not, and thus reach the vital issue by elimination.
First, I am not popular in "Society," and those who champion my cause in my own town are plain, unpretentious people.
Second, I am not a popular writer, since my name has never been mentioned in the "Atlantic," "Scribner's," "Harper's," "The Century" or the "Ladies' Home Journal." But as a matter of truth, it may not be amiss for me to say that I have waited long hours in the entryway of each of the magazines just named, in days agone, and then been handed the frappe.
Third, I am not rich, as the world counts wealth.
Fourth, as an orator I am without the graces, and do scant justice to the double-breasted Prince Albert.
Fifth, the Roycroft Shop, to the welfare of which my life is dedicated, is not so large as to be conspicuous on account of size.
Sixth, personally, I am no ten-thousand-dollar beauty: the glass of fashion and the mold of form are far from mine.
Then what have I done concerning which the public wishes to know? Simply this:
In one obscure country village I have had something to do with stopping the mad desire on the part of the young people to get out of the country and flock to the cities. In this town and vicinity the tide has been turned from city to country. We have made one country village an attractive place for growing youth by supplying congenial employment, opportunity for education and healthful recreation, and an outlook into the world of art and beauty.
All boys and girls want to make things with their hands, and they want to make beautiful things, they want to "get along," and I've simply given them a chance to get along here, instead of seeking their fortunes in Buffalo, New York or Chicago. They have helped me and I have helped them; and through this mutual help we have made head, gained ground upon the whole.
By myself I could have done nothing, and if I have succeeded, it is simply because I have had the aid and co-operation of cheerful, willing, loyal and loving helpers. Even now as I am writing this in my cabin in the woods, four miles from the village, they are down there at the Shop, quietly, patiently, cheerfully doing my work—which work is also theirs.
No man liveth unto himself alone: our interests are all bound up together, and there is no such thing as a man going off by himself and corraling the good.
When I came to this town there was not a house in the place that had a lavatory with hot and cold water attachments. Those who bathed, swam in the creek in the Summer or used the family wash tub in the kitchen in Winter. My good old partner, Ali Baba, has always prided himself on his personal cleanliness He is arrayed in rags, but underneath, his hide is clean, and better still, his heart is right. Yet when he first became a member of my household, he was obliged to take his Saturday-night tub out in the orchard, from Spring until Autumn came with withered leaves.
He used to make quite an ado in the kitchen, heating the water in the wash-boiler. Six pails of cistern-water, a gourd of soft soap, and a gunny-sack for friction were required in the operation. Of course, the Baba waited until after dark before performing his ablutions. But finally his plans were more or less disturbed by certain rising youth, who timed his habits and awaited his disrobing with o'erripe tomatoes. The bombardment, and the inability to pursue the enemy, turned the genial current of the Baba's life awry until I put a bathroom in my house, with a lock on the door.
This bit of history I have mentioned for the dual purpose of shedding light on former bathing facilities in East Aurora, and more especially to show that once we had the hoodlum with us.
Hoodlumism is born of idleness; it is useful energy gone to seed. In small towns hoodlumism is rife, and the hoodlums are usually the children of the best citizens. Hoodlumism is the first step in the direction of crime. The hoodlum is very often a good boy who does not know what to do; and so he does the wrong thing. He bombards with tomatoes a good man taking a bath, puts ticktacks on windows, ties a tin can to the dog's tail, takes the burs off your carriage-wheels, steals your chickens, annexes your horse-blankets, and scares old ladies into fits by appearing at windows wrapped in a white sheet. To wear a mask, walk in and demand the money in the family ginger-jar is the next and natural evolution.
To a great degree the Roycroft Shop has done away with hoodlumism in this village, and a stranger wearing a silk hat, or an artist with a white umbrella, is now quite safe upon our streets. Very naturally, the Oldest Inhabitant will deny what I have said about East Aurora—he will tell you that the order, cleanliness and beauty of the place have always existed. The change has come about so naturally, and so entirely without his assistance, that he knows nothing about it.
Truth when first presented is always denied, but later there comes a stage when the man says, "I always believed it." And so the good old citizens are induced to say that these things have always been, or else they gently pooh-pooh them. However, the truth remains that I introduced the first heating-furnace into the town; bought the first lawn-mower; was among the first to use electricity for lights and natural gas for fuel; and so far, am the only one in town to use natural gas for power.
Until the starting of the Roycroft Shop, there were no industries here, aside from the regulation country store, grocery, tavern, blacksmith-shop and sawmill—none of which enterprises attempted to supply more than local wants.
There was Hamlin's stock-farm, devoted to raising trotting-horses, that gave employment to some of the boys; but for the girls there was nothing. They got married at the first chance; some became "hired girls," or, if they had ambitions, fixed their hearts on the Buffalo Normal School, raised turkeys, picked berries, and turned every honest penny towards the desire to get an education so as to become teachers. Comparatively, this class was small in number. Most of the others simply followed that undefined desire to get away out of the dull, monotonous, gossiping village; and so, craving excitement, they went away to the cities, and the cities swallowed them. A wise man has said that God made the country, man the city, and the devil the small towns.
The country supplies the city its best and its worst. We hear of the few who succeed, but of the many who are lost in the maelstrom we know nothing. Sometimes in country homes it is even forbidden to mention certain names. "She went to the city," you are told—and there the history abruptly stops.
And so, to swing back to the place of beginning, I think the chief reason many good folks are interested in the Roycroft Shop is because here country boys and girls are given work at which they not only earn their living, but can get an education while doing it. Next to this is the natural curiosity to know how a large and successful business can be built up in a plain, humdrum village by simply using the talent and materials that are at hand, and so I am going to tell now how the Roycroft Shop came to start; a little about what it has done; what it is trying to do; and what it hopes to become. And since modesty is only egotism turned wrong side out, I will make no special endeavor to conceal the fact that I have had something to do with the venture.
In London, from about Sixteen Hundred Fifty to Sixteen Hundred Ninety, Samuel and Thomas Roycroft printed and made very beautiful books. In choosing the name "Roycroft" for our Shop we had these men in mind, but beyond this the word has a special significance, meaning King's Craft—King's craftsmen being a term used in the Guilds of the olden times for men who had achieved a high degree of skill—men who made things for the King. So a Roycrofter is a person who makes beautiful things, and makes them as well as he can. "The Roycrofters" is the legal name of our institution. It is a corporation, and the shares are distributed among the workers. No shares are held by any one but Roycrofters, and it is agreed that any worker who quits the Shop shall sell his shares back to the concern. This co-operative plan, it has been found, begets a high degree of personal diligence, a loyalty to the institution, a sentiment of fraternity and a feeling of permanency among the workers that is very beneficial to all concerned. Each worker, even the most humble, calls it "Our Shop," and feels that he is an integral and necessary part of the Whole. Possibly there are a few who consider themselves more than necessary. Ali Baba, for instance, it is said, has referred to himself, at times, as the Whole Thing. And this is all right, too—I would never chide an excess of zeal: the pride of a worker in his worth and work is a thing to foster.
It's the man who "doesn't give a damn" who is really troublesome. The artistic big-head is not half so bad as apathy.
In the month of December, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-four, I printed the first "Little Journeys" in booklet form, at the local printing-office, having become discouraged in trying to find a publisher. But before offering the publication to the public, I decided to lay the matter again before G.P. Putnam's Sons, although they had declined the matter in manuscript form. Mr. George H. Putnam rather liked the matter, and was induced to issue the periodical as a venture for one year. The scheme seemed to meet with success, the novel form of the publication being in its favor. The subscription reached nearly a thousand in six months; the newspapers were kind, and the success of the plan suggested printing a pamphlet modeled on similar lines, telling what we thought about things in general, and publishers and magazine-editors in particular.
There was no intention at first of issuing more than one number of this pamphlet, but to get it through the mails at magazine rates we made up a little subscription list and asked that it be entered at the post office at East Aurora as second-class matter. The postmaster adjusted his brass-rimmed spectacles, read the pamphlet, and decided that it surely was second class matter.
We called it "The Philistine" because we were going after the "Chosen People" in literature. It was Leslie Stephen who said, "The term Philistine is a word used by prigs to designate people they do not like." When you call a man a bad name, you are that thing—not he. The Smug and Snugly Ensconced Denizens of Union Square called me a Philistine, and I said, "Yes, I am one, if a Philistine is something different from you."
My helpers, the printers, were about to go away to pastures new; they were in debt, the town was small, they could not make a living. So they offered me their outfit for a thousand dollars. I accepted the proposition.
I decided to run "The Philistine" Magazine for a year—to keep faith with the misguided and hopeful parties who had subscribed—and then quit. To fill in the time, we printed a book: we printed it like a William Morris book—printed it just as well as we could. It was cold in the old barn where we first set up "The Philistine," so I built a little building like an old English chapel right alongside of my house. There was one basement and a room upstairs. I wanted it to be comfortable and pretty, and so we furnished our little shop cozily. We had four girls and three boys working for us then. The Shop was never locked, and the boys and girls used to come around evenings. It was really more pleasant than at home.
I brought over a shelf of books from the library. Then I brought the piano, because the youngsters wanted to dance.
The girls brought flowers and birds, and the boys put up curtains at the windows. We were having a lot o' fun, with new subscriptions coming in almost every day, and once in a while an order for a book.
The place got too small when we began to bind books, so we built a wing on one side; then a wing on the other side. To keep the three carpenters busy who had been building the wings, I set them to making furniture for the place. They made the furniture as good as they could—folks came along and bought it.
The boys picked up field-stones and built a great, splendid fireplace and chimney at one end of the Shop. The work came out so well that I said, "Boys, here is a great scheme—these hardheads are splendid building material." So I advertised we would pay a dollar a load for niggerheads. The farmers began to haul stones; they hauled more stones, and at last they had hauled four thousand loads. We bought all the stone in the dollar limit, bulling the market on boulders.
Three stone buildings have been built, another is in progress, and our plans are made to build an art-gallery of the same material—the stones that the builders rejected.
An artist blew in on the way to Nowhere, his baggage a tomato-can. He thought he would stop over for a day or two—he is with us yet, and three years have gone by since he came, and now we could not do without him. Then we have a few Remittance-Men, sent to us from a distance, without return-tickets. Some of these men were willing to do anything but work—they offered to run things, to preach, to advise, to make love to the girls.
We bought them tickets to Chicago, and without violence conducted them to the Four-o'Clock train.
We have boys who have been expelled from school, blind people, deaf people, old people, jailbirds and mental defectives, and have managed to set them all at useful work; but the Remittance-Man of Good Family who smokes cigarettes in bed has proved too much for us—so we have given him the Four-o'Clock without ruth.
We do not encourage people from a distance who want work to come on—they are apt to expect too much. They look for Utopia, when work is work, here as elsewhere. There is just as much need for patience, gentleness, loyalty and love here as anywhere. Application, desire to do the right thing, a willingness to help, and a well-curbed tongue are as necessary in East Aurora as in Tuskegee.
We do our work as well as we can, live one day at a time, and try to be kind.
The village of East Aurora, Erie County, New York, the home of The Roycrofters, is eighteen miles southeast of the city of Buffalo. The place has a population of about three thousand people.
There is no wealth in the town and no poverty. In East Aurora there are six churches, with pastors' salaries varying from three hundred to one thousand dollars a year; and we have a most excellent school. The place is not especially picturesque or attractive, being simply a representative New York State village. Lake Erie is ten miles distant, and Cazenovia Creek winds its lazy way along by the village.
The land around East Aurora is poor, and so reduced in purse are the farmers that no insurance-company will insure farm property in Erie County under any conditions unless the farmer has some business outside of agriculture—the experience of the underwriters being that when a man is poor enough, he is also dishonest; insure a farmer's barn in New York State, and there is a strong probability that he will soon invest in kerosene.
However, there is no real destitution, for a farmer can always raise enough produce to feed his family, and in a wooded country he can get fuel, even if he has to lift it between the dawn and the day.
Most of the workers in the Roycroft Shop are children of farming folk, and it is needless to add that they are not college-bred, nor have they had the advantages of foreign travel. One of our best helpers, Uncle Billy Bushnell, has never been to Niagara Falls, and does not care to go. Uncle Billy says if you stay at home and do your work well enough, the world will come to you; which aphorism the old man backs up with another, probably derived from experience, to the effect that a man is a fool to chase after women, because, if he doesn't, the women will chase after him.
The wisdom of this hard-headed old son of the soil—who abandoned agriculture for art at seventy—is exemplified in the fact that during the year just past, over twenty-eight thousand pilgrims have visited the Roycroft Shop—representing every State and Territory of the Union and every civilized country on the globe, even far-off Iceland, New Zealand and the Isle of Guam.
Three hundred ten people are on the payroll at the present writing. The principal work is printing, illuminating and binding books. We also have a furniture shop, where Mission furniture of the highest grade is made; a modeled-leather shop, where the most wonderful creations in calfskin are to be seen; and a smithy, where copper utensils of great beauty are hammered out by hand.
Quite as important as the printing and binding is the illuminating of initials and title-pages. This is a revival of a lost art, gone with so much of the artistic work done by the monks of the olden time. Yet there is a demand for such work; and so far as I know, we are the first concern in America to take up the hand-illumination of books as a business. Of course we have had to train our helpers, and from very crude attempts at decoration we have attained to a point where the British Museum and the "Bibliotheke" at The Hague have deigned to order and pay good golden guineas for specimens of our handicraft. Very naturally we want to do the best work possible, and so self-interest prompts us to be on the lookout for budding genius. The Roycroft is a quest for talent.
There is a market for the best, and the surest way, we think, to get away from competition is to do your work a little better than the other fellow. The old tendency to make things cheaper, instead of better, in the book line is a fallacy, as shown in the fact that within ten years there have been a dozen failures of big publishing-houses in the United States. The liabilities of these bankrupt concerns footed the fine total of fourteen million dollars. The man who made more books and cheaper books than any one concern ever made, had the felicity to fail very shortly, with liabilities of something over a million dollars. He overdid the thing in matter of cheapness—mistook his market. Our motto is, "Not How Cheap, But How Good."
This is the richest country the world has ever known, far richer per capita than England—lending money to Europe. Once Americans were all shoddy—pioneers have to be, I'm told—but now only a part of us are shoddy. As men and women increase in culture and refinement, they want fewer things, and they want better things. The cheap article, I will admit, ministers to a certain grade of intellect; but if the man grows, there will come a time when, instead of a great many cheap and shoddy things, he will want a few good things. He will want things that symbol solidity, truth, genuineness and beauty.
The Roycrofters have many opportunities for improvement not the least of which is the seeing, hearing and meeting distinguished people. We have a public dining-room, and not a day passes but men and women of note sit at meat with us. At the evening meal, if our visitors are so inclined, and are of the right fiber, I ask them to talk. And if there is no one else to speak, I sometimes read a little from William Morris, Shakespeare, Walt Whitman or Ruskin. David Bispham has sung for us. Maude Adams and Minnie Maddern Fiske have also favored us with a taste of their quality. Judge Lindsey, Alfred Henry Lewis, Richard Le Gallienne, Robert Barr, have visited us; but to give a list of all the eminent men and women who have spoken, sung or played for us would lay me liable for infringement in printing "Who's Who." However, let me name one typical incident. The Boston Ideal Opera Company was playing in Buffalo, and Henry Clay Barnabee and half a dozen of his players took a run out to East Aurora. They were shown through the Shop by one of the girls whose work it is to receive visitors. A young woman of the company sat down at one of the pianos and played. I chanced to be near and asked Mr. Barnabee if he would not sing, and graciously he answered, "Fra Elbertus, I'll do anything that you say." I gave the signal that all the workers should quit their tasks and meet at the Chapel. In five minutes we had an audience of three hundred—men in blouses and overalls, girls in big aprons—a very jolly, kindly, receptive company.
Mr. Barnabee was at his best—I never saw him so funny. He sang, danced, recited, and told stories for forty minutes. The Roycrofters were, of course, delighted.
One girl whispered to me as she went out, "I wonder what great sorrow is gnawing at Barnabee's heart, that he is so wondrous gay!" Need I say that the girl who made the remark just quoted had drunk of life's cup to the very lees? We have a few such with us—and several of them are among our most loyal helpers.
One fortuitous event that has worked to our decided advantage was "A Message to Garcia."
This article, not much more than a paragraph, covering only fifteen hundred words, was written one evening after supper in a single hour. It was the Twenty-second of February, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-Nine, Washington's Birthday, and we were just going to press with the March "Philistine." The thing leaped hot from my heart, written after a rather trying day, when I had been endeavoring to train some rather delinquent helpers in the way they should go.
The immediate suggestion, though, came from a little argument over the teacups when my son Bert suggested that Rowan was the real hero of the Cuban war. Rowan had gone alone and done the thing—carried the message to Garcia.
It came to me like a flash! Yes, the boy is right, the hero is the man who does the thing—does his work—carries the message.
I got up from the table and wrote "A Message to Garcia."
I thought so little of it that we ran it in without a heading. The edition went out, and soon orders began to come for extra March "Philistines," a dozen, fifty, a hundred; and when the American News Company ordered a thousand I asked one of my helpers which article it was that had stirred things up.
"It's that stuff about Garcia," he said.
The next day a telegram came from George H. Daniels, of the New York Central Railroad, thus: "Give price on one hundred thousand Rowan article in pamphlet form—Empire State Express advertisement on back—also state how soon can ship."
I replied giving price and stated we could supply the pamphlets in two years. Our facilities were small, and a hundred thousand pamphlets looked like an awful undertaking.
The result was that I gave Mr. Daniels permission to reprint the article in his own way. He issued it in booklet form in editions of one hundred thousand each. Five editions were sent out, and then he got out an edition of half a million. Two or three of these half-million lots were sent out by Mr. Daniels, and in addition the article was reprinted in over two hundred magazines and newspapers. It has been translated into eleven languages, and been given a total circulation of over twenty-two million copies. It has attained, I believe, a larger circulation in the same length of time than any written article has ever before reached.
Of course, we can not tell just how much good "A Message to Garcia" has done the Shop, but it probably doubled the circulation of "The Philistine." I do not consider it by any means my best piece of writing; but it was opportune—the time was ripe. Truth demands a certain expression, and too much had been said on the other side about the downtrodden, honest man, looking for work and not being able to find it. The article in question states the other side. Men are needed—loyal, honest men who will do their work. "The world cries out for him—the man who can carry a message to Garcia."
The man who sent the message and the man who received it are dead. The man who carried it is still carrying other messages. The combination of theme, condition of the country, and method of circulation was so favorable that their conjunction will probably never occur again. Other men will write better articles, but they may go a-begging for lack of a Daniels to bring them to judgment.
Concerning my own personal history, I'll not tarry long to tell. It has been too much like the career of many another born in the semi-pioneer times of the Middle West, to attract much attention, unless one should go into the psychology of the thing with intent to show the evolution of a soul. But that will require a book—and some day I'll write it, after the manner of Saint Augustine or Jean Jacques.
But just now I 'll only say that I was born in Illinois, June Nineteenth, Eighteen Hundred Fifty-six. My father was a country doctor, whose income never exceeded five hundred dollars a year. I left school at fifteen, with a fair hold on the three R's, and beyond this my education in "manual training" had been good. I knew all the forest-trees, all wild animals thereabout, every kind of fish, frog, fowl or bird that swam, ran or flew. I knew every kind of grain or vegetable, and its comparative value. I knew the different breeds of cattle, horses, sheep and swine.
I could teach wild cows to stand while being milked; break horses to saddle or harness; could sow, plow and reap; knew the mysteries of apple-butter, pumpkin pie pickled beef, smoked side-meat, and could make lye at a leach and formulate soft soap.
That is to say, I was a bright, strong, active country boy who had been brought up to help his father and mother get a living for a large family.
I was not so densely ignorant—don't feel sorry for country boys: God is often on their side.
At fifteen I worked on a farm and did a man's work for a boy's pay. I did not like it and told the man so. He replied, "You know what you can do."
And I replied, "Yes." I went westward like the course of empire and became a cowboy; tired of this and went to Chicago; worked in a printing-office; peddled soap from house to house; shoved lumber on the docks; read all the books I could find; wrote letters back to country newspapers and became a reporter; next got a job as traveling salesman; taught in a district school; read Emerson, Carlyle and Macaulay; worked in a soap factory; read Shakespeare and committed most of "Hamlet" to memory with an eye on the stage; became manager of the soap-factory, then partner; evolved an Idea for the concern and put it on the track of making millions—knew it was going to make millions—did not want them; sold out my interest for seventy-five thousand dollars and went to Harvard College; tramped through Europe; wrote for sundry newspapers; penned two books (couldn't find a publisher); taught night school in Buffalo; tramped through Europe some more and met William Morris (caught it); came back to East Aurora and started "Chautauqua Circles"; studied Greek and Latin with a local clergyman; raised trotting-horses; wrote "Little Journeys to the Homes of Good Men and Great."
So that is how I got my education, such as it is. I am a graduate of the University of Hard Knocks, and I've taken several postgraduate courses. I have worked at five different trades enough to be familiar with the tools. In Eighteen Hundred Ninety-nine, Tufts College bestowed on me the degree of Master of Arts; but since I did not earn the degree, it really does not count.
I have never been sick a day, never lost a meal through disinclination to eat, never consulted a doctor, never used tobacco or intoxicants. My work has never been regulated by the eight-hour clause.
Horses have been my only extravagance, and I ride horseback daily now: a horse that I broke myself, that has never been saddled by another, and that has never been harnessed.
My best friends have been workingmen, homely women and children. My father and mother are members of my household, and they work in the Shop when they are so inclined. My mother's business now is mostly to care for the flowers, and my father we call "Physician to The Roycrofters," as he gives free advice and attendance to all who desire his services. Needless to say, his medicine is mostly a matter of the mind. Unfortunately for him, we do not enjoy poor health, so there is very seldom any one sick to be cured. Fresh air is free, and outdoor exercise is not discouraged.
The Roycroft Shop and belongings represent an investment of about three hundred thousand dollars. We have no liabilities, making it a strict business policy to sign no notes or other instruments of debt that may in the future prove inopportune and tend to disturb digestion. Fortune has favored us.
First, the country has grown tired of soft platitude, silly truism and undisputed things said in such a solemn way. So when "The Philistine" stepped into the ring and voiced in no uncertain tones what its editor thought, thinking men and women stopped and listened. Editors of magazines refused my manuscript because they said it was too plain, too blunt, sometimes indelicate—it would give offense, subscribers would cancel, et cetera. To get my thoughts published I had to publish them myself; and people bought for the very reason for which the editors said they would cancel. The readers wanted brevity and plain statement—the editors said they didn't.
The editors were wrong. They failed to properly diagnose a demand. I saw the demand and supplied it—for a consideration.
Next I believed the American public. A portion of it, at least, wanted a few good and beautiful books instead of a great many cheap books. The truth came to me in the early Nineties, when John B. Alden and half a dozen other publishers of cheap books went to the wall. I read the R.G. Dun & Company bulletin and I said, "The publishers have mistaken their public—we want better books, not cheaper." In Eighteen Hundred Ninety-two, I met William Morris, and after that I was sure I was right.
Again I had gauged the public correctly—the publishers were wrong, as wrong as the editors. There was a market for the best, and the problem was to supply it. At first I bound my books in paper covers and simple boards. Men wrote to me wanting fine bindings. I said, "There is a market in America for the best—cheap boards, covered with cloth, stamped by machinery in gaudy tinsel and gilt, are not enough." I discovered that nearly all the bookbinders were dead. I found five hundred people in a book-factory in Chicago binding books, but not a bookbinder among them. They simply fed the books into hoppers and shot them out of chutes, and said they were bound.
Next the public wanted to know about this thing—"What are you folks doing out there in that buckwheat town?" Since my twentieth year I have had one eye on the histrionic stage. I could talk in public a bit, had made political speeches, given entertainments in crossroads schoolhouses, made temperance harangues, was always called upon to introduce the speaker of the evening, and several times had given readings from my own amusing works for the modest stipend of ten dollars and keep. I would have taken the lecture platform had it not been nailed down.
In Eighteen Hundred Ninety-eight, my friend Major Pond wanted to book me on a partnership deal at the Waldorf-Astoria. I didn't want to speak there—I had been saying unkind things in "The Philistine" about the Waldorf-Astoria folks. But the Major went ahead and made arrangements. I expected to be mobbed.
But Mr. Boldt, the manager of the hotel, had placed a suite of rooms at my disposal without money and without price. He treated me most cordially; never referred to the outrageous things I had said about his tavern; assured me that he enjoyed my writings, and told me of the pleasure he had in welcoming me.
Thus did he heap hot cinders upon my occiput. The Astor gallery seats eight hundred people. Major Pond had packed in nine hundred at one dollar each—three hundred were turned away. After the lecture the Major awaited me in the anteroom, fell on my neck and rained Pond's Extract down my back, crying: "Oh! Oh! Oh! Why didn't we charge them two dollars apiece!"
The next move was to make a tour of the principal cities under Major Pond's management. Neither of us lost money—the Major surely did not.
Last season I gave eighty-one lectures, with a net profit to myself of a little over ten thousand dollars. I spoke at Tremont Temple in Boston, to twenty-two hundred people; at Carnegie Hall, New York; at Central Music Hall, Chicago. I spoke to all the house would hold; at Chautauqua, my audience was five thousand people. It will be noted by the Discerning that my lectures have been of double importance, in that they have given an income and at the same time advertised the Roycroft Wares.
The success of the Roycroft Shop has not been brought about by any one scheme or plan. The business is really a combination of several ideas, any one of which would make a paying enterprise in itself. So it stands about thus:
First, the printing and publication of three magazines.
Second, the printing of books (it being well known that some of the largest publishers in America—Scribner and Appleton, for instance—have no printing-plants, but have the work done for them).
Third, the publication of books.
Fourth, the artistic binding of books.
Fifth, authorship. Since I began printing my own manuscript, there is quite an eager demand for my writing, so I do a little of Class B for various publishers and editors.
Sixth, the Lecture Lyceum.
Seventh, blacksmithing, carpenter-work and basket-weaving. These industries have sprung up under the Roycroft care as a necessity. Men and women in the village came to us and wanted work, and we simply gave them opportunity to do the things they could do best. We have found a market for all our wares, so no line of work has ever been a bill of expense.
I want no better clothing, no better food, no more comforts and conveniences than my helpers and fellow-workers have. I would be ashamed to monopolize a luxury—to take a beautiful work of art, say a painting or a marble statue, and keep it for my own pleasure and for the select few I might invite to see my beautiful things. Art is for all—beauty is for all. Harmony in all of its manifold forms should be like a sunset—free to all who can drink it in. The Roycroft Shop is for The Roycrofters, and each is limited only by his capacity to absorb.
Art is the expression of man's joy in his work, and all the joy and love that you can weave into a fabric comes out again and belongs to the individual who has the soul to appreciate it. Art is beauty; and beauty is a gratification, a peace and a solace to every normal man and woman. Beautiful sounds, beautiful colors, beautiful proportions, beautiful thoughts—how our souls hunger for them! Matter is only mind in an opaque condition; and all beauty is but a symbol of spirit. You can not get joy from feeding things all day into a machine. You must let the man work with hand and brain, and then out of the joy of this marriage of hand and brain, beauty will be born. It tells of a desire for harmony, peace, beauty, wholeness—holiness.
Art is the expression of man's joy in his work.
When you read a beautiful poem that makes your heart throb with gladness and gratitude, you are simply partaking of the emotion that the author felt when he wrote it. To possess a piece of work that the workman made in joyous animation is a source of joy to the possessor.
And this love of the work done by the marriage of hand and brain can never quite go out of fashion—for we are men and women, and our hopes and aims and final destiny are at last one. Where one enjoys, all enjoy; where one suffers, all suffer.
Say what you will of the coldness and selfishness of men, at the last we long for companionship and the fellowship of our kind. We are lost children, and when alone and the darkness gathers, we long for the close relationship of the brothers and sisters we knew in our childhood, and cry for the gentle arms that once rocked us to sleep. Men are homesick amid this sad, mad rush for wealth and place and power. The calm of the country invites, and we would fain do with less things, and go back to simplicity, and rest our tired heads in the lap of Mother Nature.
Life is expression. Life is a movement outward, an unfolding, a development. To be tied down, pinned to a task that is repugnant, and to have the shrill voice of Necessity whistling eternally in your ears, "Do this or starve," is to starve; for it starves the heart, the soul, and all the higher aspirations of your being pine away and die.
At the Roycroft Shop the workers are getting an education by doing things. Work should be the spontaneous expression of a man's best impulses. We grow only through exercise, and every faculty that is exercised becomes strong, and those not used atrophy and die. Thus how necessary it is that we should exercise our highest and best! To develop the brain we have to exercise the body. Every muscle, every organ, has its corresponding convolution in the brain. To develop the mind, we must use the body. Manual training is essentially moral training; and physical work is, at its best, mental, moral and spiritual—and these are truths so great and yet so simple that until yesterday many wise men did not recognize them.
At the Roycroft Shop we are reaching out for an all-round development through work and right living.
And we have found it a good expedient—a wise business policy. Sweat-shop methods can never succeed in producing beautiful things. And so the management of the Roycroft Shop surrounds the workers with beauty, allows many liberties, encourages cheerfulness and tries to promote kind thoughts, simply because it has been found that these things are transmuted into good, and come out again at the finger-tips of the workers in beautiful results. So we have pictures, statuary, flowers, ferns, palms, birds, and a piano in every room. We have the best sanitary appliances that money can buy; we have bathrooms, shower-baths, library, rest-rooms. Every week we have concerts, dances, lectures.
Besides being a workshop, the Roycroft is a School. We are following out a dozen distinct lines of study, and every worker in the place is enrolled as a member of one or more classes. There are no fees to pupils, but each pupil purchases his own books—the care of his books and belongings being considered a part of one's education. All the teachers are workers in the Shop, and are volunteers, teaching without pay, beyond what each receives for his regular labor.
The idea of teaching we have found is a great benefit—to the teacher. The teacher gets most out of the lessons. Once a week there is a faculty meeting, when each teacher gives in a verbal report of his stewardship. It is responsibility that develops one, and to know that your pupils expect you to know is a great incentive to study. Then teaching demands that you shall give—give yourself—and he who gives most receives most. We deepen our impressions by recounting them, and he who teaches others teaches himself. I am never quite so proud as when some one addresses me as "teacher." We try to find out what each person can do best, what he wants to do, and then we encourage him to put his best into it—also to do something else besides his specialty, finding rest in change.
The thing that pays should be the expedient thing, and the expedient thing should be the proper and right thing. That which began with us as a matter of expediency is often referred to as a "philanthropy." I do not like the word, and wish to state here that the Roycroft is in no sense a charity—I do not believe in giving any man something for nothing. You give a man a dollar and the man will think less of you because he thinks less of himself; but if you give him a chance to earn a dollar, he will think more of himself and more of you. The only way to help people is to give them a chance to help themselves. So the Roycroft Idea is one of reciprocity—you help me and I'll help you. We will not be here forever, anyway; soon Death, the kind old Nurse, will come and rock us all to sleep, and we had better help one another while we may: we are going the same way—let's go hand in hand!
Warwickshire gave to the world William Shakespeare. It also gave Mary Ann Evans. No one will question that Shakespeare's is the greatest name in English literature; and among writers living or dead, in England or out of it, no woman has ever shown us power equal to that of George Eliot, in the subtle clairvoyance which divines the inmost play of passions, the experience that shows human capacity for contradiction, and the indulgence that is merciful because it understands.
Shakespeare lived three hundred years ago. According to the records, his father, in Fifteen Hundred Sixty-three, owned a certain house in Henley Street, Stratford-on-Avon. Hence we infer that William Shakespeare was born there. And in all our knowledge of Shakespeare's early life (or later) we prefix the words, "Hence we infer."
That the man knew all the sciences of his day, and had such a knowledge of each of the learned professions that all have claimed him as their own, we realize.
He evidently was acquainted with five different languages, and the range of his intellect was worldwide; but where did he get this vast erudition? We do not know, and we excuse ourselves by saying that he lived three hundred years ago.
George Eliot lived—yesterday, and we know no more about her youthful days than we do of that other child of Warwickshire.
One biographer tells us that she was born in Eighteen Hundred Nineteen, another in Eighteen Hundred Twenty, and neither state the day; whereas a recent writer in the "Pall Mall Budget" graciously bestows on us the useful information that "William Shakespeare was born on the Twenty-first day of April, Fifteen Hundred Sixty-three, at fifteen minutes of two on a stormy morning."
Concise statements of facts are always valuable, but we have none such concerning the early life of George Eliot. There is even a shadow over her parentage, for no less an authority than the "American Cyclopedia Annual," for Eighteen Hundred Eighty, boldly proclaims that she was not a foundling and, moreover, that she was not adopted by a rich retired clergyman who gave her a splendid schooling. Then the writer dives into obscurity, but presently reappears and adds that he does not know where she got her education. For all of which we are very grateful.
Shakespeare left five signatures, each written in a different way, and now there is a goodly crew who spell it "Bacon."
And likewise we do not know whether it is Mary Ann Evans, Mary Anne Evans or Marian Evans, for she herself is said to have used each form at various times. William Winter—gentle critic, poet, scholar—tells us that the Sonnets show a dark spot in Shakespeare's moral record. And if I remember rightly, similar things have been hinted at in sewing-circles concerning George Eliot. Then they each found the dew and sunshine in London that caused the flowers of genius to blossom. The early productions of both were published anonymously, and lastly they both knew how to transmute thought into gold, for they died rich.
Lady Godiva rode through the streets of Coventry, but I walked—walked all the way from Stratford, by way of Warwick (call it Warrick, please) and Kenilworth Castle.
I stopped overnight at that quaint and curious little inn just across from the castle entrance. The good landlady gave me the same apartment that was occupied by Sir Walter Scott when he came here and wrote the first chapter of "Kenilworth."
The little room had pretty, white chintz curtains tied with blue ribbon, and similar stuff draped the mirror. The bed was a big canopy affair—I had to stand on a chair in order to dive off into its feathery depths—everything was very neat and clean, and the dainty linen had a sweet smell of lavender. I took one parting look out through the open window at the ivy-mantled towers of the old castle, which were all sprinkled with silver by the rising moon, and then I fell into gentlest sleep.
I dreamed of playing "I-spy" through Kenilworth Castle with Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Mary Ann Evans and a youth I used to know in boyhood by the name of Bill Hursey. We chased each other across the drawbridge, through the portcullis, down the slippery stones into the donjon-keep, around the moat, and up the stone steps to the topmost turret of the towers. Finally Shakespeare was "it," but he got mad and refused to play. Walter Scott said it was "no fair," and Bill Hursey thrust out the knuckle of one middle finger in a very threatening way and offered to "do" the boy from Stratford. Then Mary Ann rushed in to still the tempest. There's no telling what would have happened had not the landlady just then rapped at my door and asked if I had called. I awoke with a start and with the guilty feeling that I had been shouting in my sleep. I saw it was morning. "No—that is, yes; my shaving-water, please."
After breakfast the landlady's boy offered for five shillings to take me in his donkey-cart to the birthplace of George Eliot. He explained that the house was just seven miles north; but Baalam's express is always slow, so I concluded to walk. At Coventry a cab-owner proposed to show me the house, which he declared was near Kenilworth, for twelve shillings. The advantages of seeing Kenilworth at the same time were dwelt upon at great length by cabby, but I harkened not to the voice of the siren. I got a good lunch at the hotel, and asked the innkeeper if he could tell me where George Eliot was born. He did not know, but said he could show me a house around the corner where a family of Eliots lived.
Then I walked on to Nuneaton. A charming walk it was; past quaint old houses, some with straw-thatched roofs, others tile—roses clambering over the doors and flowering hedgerows white with hawthorn-flowers.
Occasionally, I met a farmer's cart drawn by one of those great, fat, gentle Shire horses that George Eliot has described so well. All spoke of peace and plenty, quiet and rest. The green fields and the flowers, the lark-song and the sunshine, the dipping willows by the stream, and the arch of the old stone bridge as I approached the village—all these I had seen and known and felt before from "Mill on the Floss."
I found the house where they say the novelist was born. A plain, whitewashed, stone structure, built two hundred years ago; two stories, the upper chambers low, with gable-windows; a little garden at the side bright with flowers, where sweet marjoram vied with onions and beets; all spoke of humble thrift and homely cares. In front was a great chestnut-tree, and in the roadway near were two ancient elms where saucy crows were building a nest.
Here, after her mother died, Mary Ann Evans was housekeeper. Little more than a child—tall, timid, and far from strong—she cooked and scrubbed and washed, and was herself the mother to brothers and sisters. Her father was a carpenter by trade and agent for a rich landowner. He was a stern man—orderly, earnest, industrious, studious. On rides about the country he would take the tall, hollow-eyed girl with him, and at such times he would talk to her of the great outside world where wondrous things were done. The child toiled hard, but found time to read and question—and there is always time to think. Soon she had outgrown some of her good father's beliefs, and this grieved him greatly; so much, indeed, that her extra-loving attention to his needs, in a hope to neutralize his displeasure, only irritated him the more. And if there is soft, subdued sadness in much of George Eliot's writing we can guess the reason. The onward and upward march ever means sad separation.
When Mary Ann was blossoming into womanhood her father moved over near Coventry, and here the ambitious girl first found companionship in her intellectual desires. Here she met men and women, older than herself, who were animated, earnest thinkers. They read and then they discussed, and then they spoke the things that they felt were true. Those eight years at Coventry transformed the awkward country girl into a woman of intellect and purpose. She knew somewhat of all sciences, all philosophies, and she had become a proficient scholar in German and French. How did she acquire this knowledge? How is any education acquired if not through effort prompted by desire?
She had already translated Strauss's "Life of Jesus" in a manner that was acceptable to the author. When Ralph Waldo Emerson came to Coventry to lecture, he was entertained at the same house where Miss Evans was stopping. Her brilliant conversation pleased him, and when she questioned the wisdom of a certain passage in one of his essays the gentle philosopher turned, smiled, and said that he had not seen it in that light before; perhaps she was right.
"What is your favorite book?" asked Emerson.
"Rousseau's 'Confessions,'" answered Mary instantly.
It was Emerson's favorite, too; but such honesty from a young woman! It was queer.
Mr. Emerson never forgot Miss Evans of Coventry, and ten years after, when a zealous reviewer proclaimed her the greatest novelist in England, the sage of Concord said something that sounded like "I told you so."
Miss Evans had made visits to London from time to time with her Coventry friends. When twenty-eight years old, after one such visit to London, she came back to the country tired and weary, and wrote this most womanly wish: "My only ardent desire is to find some feminine task to discharge; some possibility of devoting myself to some one and making that one purely and calmly happy."
But now her father was dead and her income was very scanty. She did translating, and tried the magazines with articles that generally came back respectfully declined.
Then an offer came as sub-editor of the "Westminster Review." It was steady work and plenty of it, and this was what she desired. She went to London and lived in the household of her employer, Mr. Chapman. Here she had the opportunity of meeting many brilliant people: Carlyle and his "Jeannie Welsh," the Martineaus, Grote, Mr. and Mrs. Mill, Huxley, Mazzini, Louis Blanc. Besides these were two young men who must not be left out when we sum up the influences that evolved this woman's genius.
She was attracted to Herbert Spencer at once. He was about her age, and their admiration for each other was mutual. Miss Evans, writing to a friend in Eighteen Hundred Fifty-two, says, "Spencer is kind, he is delightful, and I always feel better after being with him, and we have agreed together that there is no reason why we should not see each other as often as we wish." And then later she again writes: "The bright side of my life, after the affection for my old friends, is the new and delightful friendship which I have found in Herbert Spencer. We see each other every day, and in everything we enjoy a delightful comradeship. If it were not for him my life would be singularly arid."
But about this time another man appeared on the scene, and were it not for this other man, who was introduced to Miss Evans by Spencer, the author of "Synthetic Philosophy" might not now be spoken of in the biographical dictionaries as having been "wedded to science."
It was not love at first sight, for George Henry Lewes made a decidedly unfavorable impression on Miss Evans at their first meeting. He was small, his features were insignificant, he had whiskers like an anarchist and a mouthful of crooked teeth; his personal habits were far from pleasant. It was this sort of thing, Dickens said, that caused his first wife to desert him and finally drove her into insanity.
But Lewes had a brilliant mind. He was a linguist, a scientist, a novelist, a poet and a wit. He had written biography, philosophy and a play. He had been a journalist, a lecturer and even an actor. Thackeray declared that if he should see Lewes perched on a white elephant in Piccadilly he should not be in the least surprised.
After having met Miss Evans several times, Mr. Lewes saw the calm depths of her mind and he asked her to correct proofs for him. She did so and discovered that there was merit in his work. She corrected more proofs, and when a woman begins to assist a man the danger-line is being approached. Close observers noted that a change was coming over the bohemian Lewes. He had his whiskers trimmed, his hair was combed, and the bright yellow necktie had been discarded for a clean one of modest brown, and, sometimes, his boots were blacked. In July, Eighteen Hundred Fifty-four, Mr. Chapman received a letter from his sub-editor resigning her position, and Miss Evans notified some of her closest friends that hereafter she wished to be considered the wife of Mr. Lewes. She was then in her thirty-sixth year.
The couple disappeared, having gone to Germany.
Many people were shocked. Some said, "We knew it all the time," and when Herbert Spencer was informed of the fact he exclaimed, "Goodness me!" and said—nothing.
After six months spent at Weimar and other literary centers, Mr. and Mrs. Lewes returned to England and began housekeeping at Richmond. Any one who views their old quarters there will see how very plainly and economically they were forced to live. But they worked hard, and at this time the future novelist's desire seemed only to assist her husband. That she developed the manly side of his nature none can deny. They were very happy, these two, as they wrote, and copied, and studied, and toiled.
Three years passed, and Mrs. Lewes wrote to a friend:
"I am very happy; happy with the greatest happiness that life can give—the complete sympathy and affection of a man whose mind stimulates mine and keeps up in me a wholesome activity."
Mr. Lewes knew the greatness of his helpmeet. She herself did not. He urged her to write a story; she hesitated, and at last attempted it. They read the first chapter together and cried over it. Then she wrote more and always read her husband the chapters as they were turned off. He corrected, encouraged, and found a publisher. But why should I tell about it here? It's all in the "Britannica"—how the gentle beauty and sympathetic insight of her work touched the hearts of great and lowly alike, and of how riches began flowing in upon her. For one book she received forty thousand dollars, and her income after fortune smiled upon her was never less than ten thousand dollars a year.
Lewes was her secretary, her protector, her slave and her inspiration. He kept at bay the public that would steal her time, and put out of her reach, at her request, all reviews, good or bad, and shielded her from the interviewer, the curiosity-seeker, and the greedy financier.
The reason why she at first wrote under a nom de plume is plain. To the great, wallowing world she was neither Miss Evans nor Mrs. Lewes, so she dropped both names as far as title-pages were concerned and used a man's name instead—hoping better to elude the pack.
When "Adam Bede" came out, a resident of Nuneaton purchased a copy and at once discovered local earmarks. The scenes described, the flowers, the stone walls, the bridges, the barns, the people—all was Nuneaton. Who wrote it? No one knew, but it was surely some one in Nuneaton. So they picked out a Mr. Liggins, a solemn-faced preacher, who was always about to do something great, and they said "Liggins." Soon all London said "Liggins." As for Liggins, he looked wise and smiled knowingly. Then articles began to appear in the periodicals purporting to have been written by the author of "Adam Bede." A book came out called "Adam Bede, Jr.," and to protect her publisher, the public and herself, George Eliot had to reveal her identity.
Many men have written good books and never tasted fame; but few, like Liggins of Nuneaton, have become famous by doing nothing. It only proves that some things can be done as well as others. This breed of men has long dwelt in Warwickshire; Shakespeare had them in mind when he wrote, "There be men who do a wilful stillness entertain with purpose to be dressed in an opinion of wisdom, gravity and profound conceit."
Lord Acton in an able article in the "Nineteenth Century" makes this statement:
"George Eliot paid high for happiness with Lewes. She forfeited freedom of speech, the first place among English women, and a tomb in Westminster Abbey."
The original dedication in "Adam Bede" reads thus:
"To my dear husband, George Henry Lewes, I give the manuscript of a work which would never have been written but for the happiness which his love has conferred on my life."
Lord Acton of course assumes that this book would have been written, dedication and all, just the same had Miss Evans never met Mr. Lewes.
Once there was a child called Romola. She said to her father one day, as she sat on his knee: "Papa, who would take care of me—give me my bath and put me to bed nights—if you had never happened to meet Mamma?"
The days I spent in Warwickshire were very pleasant.
The serene beauty of the country and the kindly courtesy of the people impressed me greatly. Having beheld the scenes of George Eliot's childhood, I desired to view the place where her last days were spent. It was a fine May day when I took the little steamer from London Bridge for Chelsea.
A bird-call from the dingy brick building where Turner died, and two blocks from the old home of Carlyle, is Cheyne Walk—a broad avenue facing the river. The houses are old, but they have a look of gracious gentility that speaks of ease and plenty. High iron fences are in front, but they do not shut off from view the climbing clematis and clusters of roses that gather over the windows and doors.
I stood at the gate of Number 4 Cheyne Walk and admired the pretty flowers, planted in such artistic carelessness as to beds and rows; then I rang the bell—an old pull-out affair with polished knob.
Presently a butler opened the door—a pompous, tall and awful butler in serious black and with side-whiskers. He approached; came down the walk swinging a bunch of keys, looking me over as he came, to see what sort of wares I had to sell.
"Did George Eliot live here?" I asked through the bars.
"Mrs. Cross lived 'ere and died 'ere, sir," came the solemn and rebuking answer.
"I mean Mrs. Cross," I added meekly; "I only wished to see the little garden where she worked."
Jeemes was softened. As he unlocked the gate he said:
"We 'ave many wisiters, sir; a great bother, sir; still, I always knows a gentleman when I sees one. P'r'aps you would like to see the 'ouse, too, sir. The missus does not like it much, but I will take 'er your card, sir."
I gave him the card and slipped a shilling into his hand as he gave me a seat in the hallway.
He disappeared upstairs and soon returned with the pleasing information that I was to be shown the whole house and garden. So I pardoned him the myth about the missus, happening to know that at that particular moment she was at Brighton, sixty miles away.
A goodly, comfortable house, four stories, well kept, and much fine old carved oak in the dining-room and hallways; fantastic ancient balusters, and a peculiar bay window in the second-story rear that looked out over the little garden. Off to the north could be seen the green of Kensington Gardens and wavy suggestions of Hyde Park. This was George Eliot's workshop. There was a table in the center of the room and three low bookcases with pretty ornaments above. In the bay window was the most conspicuous object in the room—a fine marble bust of Goethe. This, I was assured, had been the property of Mrs. Cross, as well as all the books and furniture in the room. In one corner was a revolving case containing a set of the "Century Dictionary" which Jeemes assured me had been purchased by Mr. Cross as a present for his wife a short time before she died. This caused my faith to waver a trifle and put to flight a fine bit of literary frenzy that might have found form soon in a sonnet.
In the front parlor, I saw a portrait of the former occupant that showed "the face that looked like a horse." But that is better than to have the face of any other animal of which I know. Surely one would not want to look like a dog! Shakespeare hated dogs, but spoke forty-eight times in his plays in terms of respect and affection for a horse. Who would not resent the imputation that one's face was like that of a sheep or a goat or an ox, and much gore has been shed because men have referred to other men as asses—but a horse! God bless you, yes!
No one has ever accused George Eliot of being handsome, but this portrait tells of a woman of fifty: calm, gentle, and the strong features speak of a soul in which to confide.
At Highgate, by the side of the grave of Lewes, rests the dust of this great and loving woman. As the pilgrim enters that famous old cemetery, the first imposing monument seen is a pyramid of rare, costly porphyry. As you draw near, you read this inscription:
Beneath these tender lines is a bas-relief of as vicious-looking a cur as ever evaded the dog-tax.
Continuing up the avenue, past this monument just noted, the kind old gardener will show you another that stands amid others much more pretentious—a small gray-granite column, and on it, carved in small letters, you read:
One comfort is that great men taken up in any way are profitable
company. We can not look, however imperfectly, upon a great man
without gaining something by it. He is the living fountain of
life, which it is pleasant to be near. On any terms whatsoever
you will not grudge to wander in his neighborhood for a while.
—Heroes and Hero-Worship
While on my way to Dumfries I stopped overnight at Gretna Green, which, as all fair maidens know, is in Scotland just over the border from England.
To my delight I found that the coming of runaway couples to Gretna Green was not entirely a matter of the past, for the very evening I arrived a blushing pair came to the inn and inquired for a "meenister." The ladye faire was a little stout and the worthy swain several years older than my fancy might have wished, but still I did not complain.
The landlord's boy was dispatched to the rectory around the corner and soon returned with the reverend gentleman.
I was an uninvited guest in the little parlor, but no one observed that my wedding-garment was only a cycling costume, and I was not challenged.
After the ceremony, the several other witnesses filed past the happy couple, congratulating them and kissing the bride.
I did likewise, and was greeted with a resounding smack which surprised me a bit, but I managed to ask, "Did you run away?"
"Noo," said the groom; "noo, her was a widdie—we just coom over fram Ecclefechan"; then, lowering his voice to a confidential whisper, "We're goin' baack on the morrow. It's cheaper thaan to ha' a big, spread weddin'."
This answer banished all tender sentiment from me and made useless my plans for a dainty love-story, but I seized upon the name of the place whence they came.
"Ecclefechan! Ecclefechan! Why that's where Carlyle was born!"
"Aye, sir, and he's buried there; a great mon he was—but an infideel."
Ten miles beyond Gretna Green is Ecclefechan—a little village of stucco houses all stretched out on one street. Plain, homely, rocky and unromantic is the country round about, and plain, homely and unromantic is the little house where Carlyle was born. The place is shown the visitor by a good old dame who takes one from room to room, giving a little lecture meanwhile in a mixture of Gaelic and English which was quite beyond my ken. Several relics of interest are shown, and although the house is almost precisely like all others in the vicinity, imagination throws round it all a roseate wreath of fancies.
It has been left on record that up to the year when Carlyle was married, his "most pleasurable times were those when he enjoyed a quiet pipe with his mother."
To few men indeed is this felicity vouchsafed. But for those who have eaten oatmeal porridge in the wayside cottages of bonny Scotland, or who love to linger over "The Cotter's Saturday Night," there is a touch of tender pathos in the picture. The stone floor, the bare, whitewashed walls, the peat smoldering on the hearth, sending out long, fitful streaks that dance among the rafters overhead, and the mother and son sitting there watching the coal—silent. The woman takes a small twig from a bundle of sticks, reaches over, lights it, applies it to her pipe, takes a few whiffs and passes the light to her son. Then they talk in low, earnest tones of man's duty to man and man's duty to God.
And it was this mother who first applied the spark that fired Carlyle's ambition; it was from her that he got the germ of those talents which have made his name illustrious.
Yet this woman could barely read and did not learn to write until her firstborn had gone away from the home nest. Then it was that she sharpened a gray goose-quill and labored long and patiently, practising with this instrument (said to be mightier than the sword) and with ink she herself had mixed—all that she might write a letter to her boy; and how sweetly, tenderly homely, and loving are these letters as we read them today!
James Carlyle with his own hands built, in Seventeen Hundred Ninety, this house at Ecclefechan. The same year he married an excellent woman, a second cousin, by name Janet Carlyle. She lived but a year. The poor husband was heartbroken, and declared, as many men under like conditions had done before and have done since, that his sorrow was inconsolable. And he vowed that he would walk through life and down to his death alone.
But it is a matter for congratulation that he broke his vow.
In two years he married Margaret Aitken—a serving-woman. She bore nine children. Thomas was the eldest and the only one who proved recreant to the religious faith of his fathers.
One of the brothers moved to Shiawassee County, Michigan, where I had the pleasure of calling on him, some years ago. A hard-headed man, he was: sensible, earnest, honest, with a stubby beard and a rich brogue. He held the office of school trustee, also that of pound-master, and I was told that he served his township loyally and well.
This worthy man looked with small favor on the literary pretensions of his brother Tammas, and twice wrote him long letters expostulating with him on his religious vagaries. "I knew no good could come of it," sorrowfully said he, and so I left him.
But I inquired of several of the neighbors what they thought of Thomas Carlyle, and I found that they did not think of him at all. And I mounted my beast and rode away.
Thomas Carlyle was educated for the Kirk, and it was a cause of much sorrow to his parents that he could not accept its beliefs. He has been spoken of as England's chief philosopher, yet he subscribed to no creed, nor did he formulate one. However, in "Latter-Day Pamphlets" he partially prepares a catechism for a part of the brute creation. He supposes that all swine of superior logical powers have a "belief," and as they are unable to express it he essays the task for them.
The following are a few of the postulates in this creed of The Brotherhood of Latter-Day Swine:
"Question. Who made the Pig?
"Answer. The Pork-Butcher.
"Question. What is the Whole Duty of Pigs?
"Answer. It is the mission of Universal Pighood; and the duty of all Pigs, at all times, is to diminish the quantity of attainable swill and increase the unattainable. This is the Whole Duty of Pigs.
"Question. What is Pig Poetry?
"Answer. It is the universal recognition of Pig's wash and ground barley, and the felicity of Pigs whose trough has been set in order and who have enough.
"Question, What is justice in Pigdom?
"Answer. It is the sentiment in Pig nature sometimes called revenge, indignation, etc., which if one Pig provoke, another comes out in more or less destructive manner; hence laws are necessary—amazing quantities of laws—defining what Pigs shall not do.
"Question. What do you mean by equity?
"Question. What is meant by 'your share'?"
"Answer. My share is getting whatever I can contrive to seize without being made up into Side-Meat."
I have slightly abridged this little extract and inserted it here to show the sympathy which Mr. Carlyle had for the dumb brute.
One of America's great men, in a speech delivered not long ago, said, "From Scotch manners, Scotch religion and Scotch whisky, good Lord deliver us!"
My experience with these three articles has been somewhat limited; but Scotch manners remind me of chestnut-burs—not handsome without, but good within. For when you have gotten beyond the rough exterior of Sandy you generally find a heart warm, tender and generous.
Scotch religion is only another chestnut-bur, but then you need not eat the shuck if you fear it will not agree with your inward state. Nevertheless, if the example of royalty is of value, the fact can be stated that Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Empress of India, is a Presbyterian. That is, she is a Presbyterian about one-half the time—when she is in Scotland, for she is the head of the Scottish Kirk. When in England, of course she is an Episcopalian. We have often been told that religion is largely a matter of geography, and here is a bit of something that looks like proof.
Of Scotch whisky I am not competent to speak, so that subject must be left to the experts. But a Kentucky colonel at my elbow declares that it can not be compared with the Blue-Grass article; though I trust that no one will be prejudiced against it on that account.
Scotch intellect, however, is worthy of our serious consideration. It is a bold, rocky headland, standing out into the tossing sea of the Unknown. Assertive? Yes. Stubborn? Most surely. Proud? By all means. Twice as many pilgrims visit the grave of Burns as that of Shakespeare. Buckle declares Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" has had a greater influence on civilization than any other book ever writ—save none; and the average Scotchman knows his Carlyle a deal better than the average American knows his Emerson: in fact, four times as many of Carlyle's books have been printed.
When Carlyle took time to bring the ponderous machinery of his intellect to bear on a theme, he saw it through and through. The vividness of his imagination gives us a true insight into times long since gone by; it shows virtue her own feature, vice her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure. In history he goes beyond the political and conventional—showing us the thought, the hope, the fear, the passion of the soul.
His was the masculine mind. The divination and subtle intuitions which are to be found scattered through his pages, like violets growing among the rank swale of the prairies—all these sweet, odorous things came from his wife. She gave him of her best thought, and he greedily absorbed it and unconsciously wrote it down as his own.
There are those who blame and berate; volumes have been written to show the inconsiderateness of this man toward the gentle lady who was his intellectual comrade. But they know not life who do this thing.
It is a fact that Carlyle never rushed to pick up Jeannie's handkerchief. I admit that he could not bow gracefully; that he could not sing tenor, nor waltz, nor tell funny stories, nor play the mandolin; and if I had been his neighbor I would not have attempted to teach him any of these accomplishments.
Once he took his wife to the theater; and after the performance he accidentally became separated from her in the crowd and trudged off home alone and went to bed forgetting all about her—-but even for this I do not indict him. Mrs. Carlyle never upbraided him for this forgetfulness, neither did she relate the incident to any one, and for these things I to her now reverently lift my hat.
Jeannie Welsh Carlyle had capacity for pain, as it seems all great souls have. She suffered—but then suffering is not all suffering and pain is not all pain.
Life is often dark, but then there are rifts in the clouds when we behold the glorious deep blue of the sky. Not a day passes but that the birds sing in the branches, and the tree-tops poise backward and forward in restful, rhythmic harmony, and never an hour goes by but that hope bears us up on her wings as the eagle does her young. And ever just before the year dies and the frost comes, the leaves take on a gorgeous hue and the color of the flowers then puts to shame for brilliancy all the plainer petals of Springtime.
And I know Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle were happy, so happy, at times, that they laughed and cried for joy. Jeannie gave all, and she saw her best thought used—carried further, written out and given to the world as that of another—but she uttered no protest.
Xantippe lives in history only because she sought to worry a great philosopher; we remember the daughter of Herodias because she demanded the head (not the heart) of a good man; Goneril and Regan because they trod upon the withered soul of their sire; Lady Macbeth because she lured her liege to murder; Charlotte Corday for her dagger-thrust; Lucrezia Borgia for her poison; Sapphira for her untruth; Jael because she pierced the brain of Sisera with a rusty nail (instead of an idea); Delilah for the reason that she deprived Samson of his source of strength; and in the "Westminster Review" for May, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-four, Ouida makes the flat statement that for every man of genius who has been helped by a woman, ten have been dragged down.
But Jeannie Welsh Carlyle lives in the hearts of all who reverence the sweet, the gentle, the patient, the earnest, the loving spirit of the womanly woman: lives because she ministered to the needs of a great man.
She was ever a frail body. Several long illnesses kept her to her bed for weeks, but she recovered from these, even in spite of the doctors, who thoroughly impressed both herself and her husband with the thought of her frailty.
On April the Twenty-first, Eighteen Hundred Sixty-six, she called her carriage, as was her custom, and directed the driver to go through the park. She carried a book in her hands, and smiled a greeting to a friend as the brougham moved away from the little street where they lived. The driver drove slowly—drove for an hour—two. He got down from his box to receive the orders of his mistress, touched his hat as he opened the carriage-door, but no kindly eyes looked into his. She sat back in the corner as if resting; the shapely head a little thrown forward, the book held gently in the delicate hands, but the fingers were cold and stiff—Jeannie Welsh was dead—and Thomas Carlyle was alone.
Along the Thames, at Chelsea, opposite the rows of quiet and well-kept houses of Cheyne Walk, is the "Embankment." A parkway it is of narrow green, with graveled walks, bushes and trees, that here and there grow lush and lusty as if to hide the unsightly river from the good people who live across the street.
Following this pleasant bit of breathing space, with its walks that wind in and out among the bushes, one comes unexpectedly upon a bronze statue. You need not read the inscription: a glance at that shaggy head, the grave, sober, earnest look, and you exclaim under your breath, "Carlyle!"
In this statue the artist has caught with rare skill the look of reverie and repose. One can imagine that on a certain night, as the mists and shadows of evening were gathering along the dark river, the gaunt form, wrapped in its accustomed cloak, came stalking down the little street to the park, just as he did thousands of times, and taking his seat in the big chair fell asleep. In the morning the children that came to play along the river found the form in cold, enduring bronze.
At the play we have seen the marble transformed by love into beauteous life. How much easier the reverse—here where souls stay only a day!
Cheyne Row is a little, alley-like street, running only a block, with fifteen houses on one side, and twelve on the other.
These houses are all brick and built right up to the sidewalk. On the north side they are all in one block, and one at first sees no touch of individuality in any of them.
They are old, and solid, and plain—built for revenue only. On closer view I thought one or two had been painted, and on one there was a cornice that set it off from the rest. As I stood on the opposite side and looked at this row of houses, I observed that Number Five was the dingiest and plainest of them all. For there were dark shutters instead of blinds, and these shutters were closed, all save one rebel that swung and creaked in the breeze. Over the doorway, sparrows had made their nests and were fighting and scolding. Swallows hovered above the chimney; dust, cobwebs, neglect were all about.
And as I looked there came to me the words of Ursa Thomas:
"Brief, brawling day, with its noisy phantoms, its paper crowns, tinsel-gilt, is gone; and divine, everlasting night, with her star diadems, with her silences and her verities, is come."
Here walked Thomas and Jeannie one fair May morning in Eighteen Hundred Thirty-four. Thomas was thirty-nine, tall and swarthy, strong; with set mouth and three wrinkles on his forehead that told of care and dyspepsia. Jeannie was younger; her face winsome, just a trifle anxious, with luminous, gentle eyes, suggestive of patience, truth and loyalty. They looked like country folks, did these two. They examined the surroundings, consulted together—sixty pounds rent a year seemed very high! But they took the house, and T. Carlyle, son of James Carlyle, stone-mason, paid rent for it every month for half a century, lacking three years.
I walked across the street and read the inscription on the marble tablet inserted in the front of the house above the lower windows. It informs the stranger that Thomas Carlyle lived here from Eighteen Hundred Thirty-four to Eighteen Hundred Eighty-one, and that the tablet was erected by the Carlyle Society of London.
I ascended the stone steps and scraped my boots on the well-worn scraper, made long, long ago by a blacksmith who is now dust, and who must have been a very awkward mechanic, for I saw where he had made a misstroke with his hammer, probably as he discussed theology with a caller. Then I rang the bell and plied the knocker and waited there on the steps for Jeannie Welsh to come bid me welcome, just as she did Emerson when he, too, used the scraper and plied the knocker and stood where I did then.
And my knock was answered—answered by a very sour and peevish woman next door, who thrust her head out of the window, and exclaimed in a shrill voice:
"Look 'ere, sir, you might as well go rap on the curb-stone, don't you know; there's nobody livin' there, sir, don't you know!"
"Yes, madam, that is why I knocked!"
"Beggin' your pardon, sir, if you use your heyes you'll see there's nobody livin' there, don't you know!"
"I knocked lest offense be given. How can I get in?"
"You might go in through the keyhole, sir, or down the chimney. You seem to be a little daft, sir, don't you know! But if you must get in, perhaps it would be as well to go over to Mrs. Brown's and brang the key," and she slammed down the window.
Across the street Mrs. Brown's sign smiled at me.
Mrs. Brown keeps a little grocery and bakeshop and was very willing to show me the house. She fumbled in a black bag for the keys, all the time telling me of three Americans who came last week to see Carlyle's house, and "as how" they each gave her a shilling. I took the hint.
"Only Americans care now for Mr. Carlyle," plaintively added the old lady as she fished out the keys; "soon we will all be forgot."
We walked across the street and after several ineffectual attempts the rusty lock was made to turn. I entered. Cold, bare and bleak was the sight of those empty rooms. The old lady had a touch of rheumatism, so she waited for me on the doorstep as I climbed the stairs to the third floor. The noise-proof back room where "The French Revolution" was writ, twice over, was so dark that I had to grope my way across to the window. The sash stuck and seemed to have a will of its own, like him who so often had raised it. But at last it gave way and I flung wide the shutter and looked down at the little arbor where Teufelsdrockh sat so often and wooed wisdom with the weed brought from Virginia.
Then I stood before the fireplace, where he of the Eternities had so often sat and watched the flickering embers. Here he lived in his loneliness and cursed curses that were prayers, and here for near five decades he read and thought and dreamed and wrote. Here the spirits of Cromwell and Frederick hovered; here that pitiful and pitiable long line of ghostly partakers in the Revolution answered to his roll-call.
The wind whistled down the chimney gruesomely as my footfalls echoed through the silent chambers, and I thought I heard a sepulchral voice say:
"Thy future life! Thy fate is it, indeed! Whilst thou makest that thy chief question, thy life to me and to thyself and to thy God is worthless. What is incredible to thee thou shalt not, at thy soul's peril, pretend to believe. Elsewhither for a refuge! Away! Go to perdition if thou wilt, but not with a lie in thy mouth—by the Eternal Maker, No!!"
I was startled at first, but stood still listening; then I thought I saw a faint blue cloud of mist curling up in the fireplace. Watching this smoke and sitting before it in gloomy abstraction was the form of an old man. I swept my hand through the apparition, but still it stayed. My lips moved in spite of myself and I said:
"Hail! hard-headed man of granite outcrop and heather, of fen and crag, of moor and mountain, and of bleak East wind, hail! Eighty-six years didst thou live. One hundred years lacking fourteen didst thou suffer, enjoy, weep, dream, groan, pray and strike thy rugged breast! And yet methinks that in those years there was much quiet peace and sweet content; for constant pain benumbs, and worry destroys, and vain unrest summons the grim messenger of death. But thou didst live and work and love; howbeit, thy touch was not always gentle, nor thy voice low; but on thy lips was no lie, in thy thought no concealment, in thy heart no pollution. But mark! thou didst come out of poverty and obscurity: on thy battered shield there was no crest and thou didst leave all to follow truth. And verily she did lead thee a merry chase!
"Thou hadst no Past, but thou hast a Future. Thou didst say: 'Bury me in Westminster, never! where the mob surges, cursed with idle curiosity to see the graves of kings and nobodies? No! Take me back to rugged Scotland and lay my tired form to rest by the side of an honest man—my father.'
"Thou didst refuse the Knighthood offered thee by royalty, saying, 'I am not the founder of the house of Carlyle and I have no sons to be pauperized by a title,' True, thou didst leave no sons after the flesh to mourn thy loss, nor fair daughters to bedeck thy grave with garlands, but thou didst reproduce thyself in thought, and on the minds of men thou didst leave thy impress. And thy ten thousand sons will keep thy memory green so long as men shall work, and toil, and strive, and hope."
The wind still howled. I looked out and saw watery clouds scudding athwart the face of the murky sky. The shutters banged, and shut me in the dark. I made haste to find the door, reached the stairway—slid down the banisters to where Mrs. Brown was waiting for me at the threshold.
We locked the door. She went across to her little bakeshop and I stopped a passing policeman to ask the way to Westminster. He told me.
"Did you visit Carlyle's 'ouse?" he asked.
"With old Mrs. Brown?"
"Yes, she waited for me in the doorway—she had the rheumatism so she could not climb the stairs."
"Rheumatism? Huh!—you couldn't 'ire 'er to go inside. Why, don't you know? They say the 'ouse is 'aunted!"
Put roses in their hair, put precious stones on their breasts;
see that they are clothed in purple and scarlet, with other
delights; that they also learn to read the gilded heraldry of the
sky; and upon the earth be taught not only the labors of it but
At Windermere, a good friend, told me that I must abandon all hope of seeing Mr. Ruskin; for I had no special business with him, no letters of introduction, and then the fact that I am an American made it final. Americans in England are supposed to pick flowers in private gardens, cut their names on trees, laugh boisterously at trifles, and often to make invidious comparisons. Very properly, Mr. Ruskin does not admire these things.
Then Mr. Ruskin is a very busy man. Occasionally he issues a printed manifesto to his friends requesting them to give him peace. A copy of one such circular was shown to me. It runs, "Mr. J. Ruskin is about to begin a work of great importance, and therefore begs that in reference to calls and correspondence you will consider him dead for the next two months." A similar notice is reproduced in "Arrows of the Chace," and this one thing, I think, illustrates as forcibly as anything in Mr. Ruskin's work the self-contained characteristics of the man himself.
Surely if a man is pleased to be considered "dead" occasionally, even to his kinsmen and friends, he should not be expected to receive with open arms an enemy to steal away his time. This is assuming, of course, that all individuals who pick flowers in other folks' gardens, cut their names on trees, and laugh boisterously at trifles, are enemies. I therefore decided that I would simply walk over to Brantwood, view it from a distance, tramp over its hills, row across the lake, and at nightfall take a swim in its waters. Then I would rest at the Inn for a space and go my way.
Lake Coniston is ten miles from Grasmere, and even alone the walk is not long. If, however, you are delightfully attended by "King's Daughters" with whom you sit and commune now and then on the bankside, the distance will seem to be much less. Then there is a pleasant little break in the journey at Hawkshead. Here one may see the quaint old schoolhouse where Wordsworth when a boy dangled his feet from a bench and proved his humanity by carving his initials on the seat.
The Inn at the head of Coniston Water appeared very inviting and restful when I saw it that afternoon. Built in sections from generation to generation, half-covered with ivy and embowered in climbing roses, it is an institution entirely different from the "Grand Palace Hotel" at Oshkosh. In America we have gongs that are fiercely beaten at stated times by gentlemen of color, just as they are supposed to do in their native Congo jungles. This din proclaims to the "guests" and to the public at large that it is time to come in and be fed. But this refinement of civilization is not yet in Coniston, and the Inn is quiet and homelike. You may go to bed when you are tired, get up when you choose, and eat when you are hungry.
There were no visitors about when I arrived, and I thought I would have the coffeeroom all to myself at luncheon-time; but presently there came in a pleasant-faced old gentleman in knickerbockers. He bowed to me and then took a place at the table. He said that it was a fine day and I agreed with him, adding that the mountains were very beautiful. He assented, putting in a codicil to the effect that the lake was very pretty.
Then the waiter came for our orders.
"Together, I s'pose?" remarked Thomas, inquiringly, as he halted at the door and balanced the tray on his finger-tips.
"Yes, serve lunch for us together," said the ruddy old gentleman as he looked at me and smiled; "to eat alone is bad for the digestion."
I nodded assent.
"Can you tell me how far it is to Brantwood?" I asked.
"Oh, not far—just across the lake."
He arose and flung the shutter open so I could see the old, yellow house about a mile across the water, nestling in its wealth of green on the hillside. Soon the waiter brought our lunch, and while we discussed the chops and new potatoes we talked Ruskiniana.
The old gentleman knew a deal more of "Stones of Venice" and "Modern Painters" than I; but I told him how Thoreau introduced Ruskin to America and how Concord was the first place in the New World to recognize this star in the East. And upon my saying this, the old gentleman brought his knife-handle down on the table, declaring that Thoreau and Whitman were the only two men of genius that America had produced. I begged him to make it three and include Emerson, which he finally consented to do.
By and by the waiter cleared the table preparatory to bringing in the coffee. The old gentleman pushed his chair back, took the napkin from under his double chin, brushed the crumbs from his goodly front, and remarked:
"I'm going over to Brantwood this afternoon to call on Mr. Ruskin—just to pay my respects to him, as I always do when I come here. Can't you go with me?"
I think this was about the most pleasing question I ever had asked me. I was going to request him to "come again" just for the joy of hearing the words, but I pulled my dignity together, straightened up, swallowed my coffee red-hot, pushed my chair back, flourished my napkin, and said, "I shall be very pleased to go."
So we went—we two—he in his knickerbockers and I in my checks and outing-shirt. I congratulated myself on looking no worse than he, and as for him, he never seemed to think that our costumes were not exactly what they should be; and after all it matters little how you dress when you call on one of Nature's noblemen—they demand no livery.
We walked around the northern end of Coniston Water, along the eastern edge, past Tent House, where Tennyson once lived (and found it "outrageous quiet"), and a mile farther on we came to Brantwood.
The road curves in to the back of the house—which, by the way, is the front—and the driveway is lined with great trees that form a complete archway. There is no lodge-keeper, no flowerbeds laid out with square and compass, no trees trimmed to appear like elephants, no cast-iron dogs, nor terra-cotta deer, and, strangest of all, no sign of the lawn-mower. There is nothing, in fact, to give forth a sign that the great Apostle of Beauty lives in this very old-fashioned spot. Big boulders are to be seen here and there where Nature left them, tangles of vines running over old stumps, part of the meadow cut close with a scythe, and part growing up as if the owner knew the price of hay. Then there are flowerbeds, where grow clusters of poppies and hollyhocks (purple, and scarlet, and white), prosaic gooseberry-bushes, plain Yankee pieplant (from which the English make tarts), rue and sweet marjoram, with patches of fennel, sage, thyme and catnip, all lined off with boxwood, making me think of my grandmother's garden at Roxbury.
On the hillside above the garden we saw the entrance to the cave that Mr. Ruskin once filled with ice, just to show the world how to keep its head cool at small expense. He even wrote a letter to the papers giving the bright idea to humanity—that the way to utilize caves was to fill them with ice. Then he forgot all about the matter. But the following June, when the cook, wishing to make some ice-cream as a glad surprise for the Sunday dinner, opened the natural ice-chest, she found only a pool of muddy water, and exclaimed, "Botheration!" Then they had custard instead of ice-cream.
We walked up the steps, and my friend let the brass knocker drop just once, for only Americans give a rat-a-tat-tat, and the door was opened by a white-whiskered butler, who took our cards and ushered us into the library. My heart beat a trifle fast as I took inventory of the room; for I never before had called on a man who was believed to have refused the poet-laureateship. A dimly lighted room was this library—walls painted brown, running up to mellow yellow at the ceiling, high bookshelves, with a stepladder, and only five pictures on the walls, and of these three were etchings, and two water-colors of a very simple sort; leather-covered chairs; a long table in the center, on which were strewn sundry magazines and papers, also several photographs; and at one end of the room a big fireplace, where a yew log smoldered. Here my inventory was cut short by a cheery voice behind:
"Ah! now, gentlemen, I am glad to see you."
There was no time nor necessity for a formal introduction. The great man took my hand as if he had always known me, as perhaps he thought he had. Then he greeted my friend in the same way, stirred up the fire, for it was a North of England summer day, and took a seat by the table. We were all silent for a space—a silence without embarrassment.
"You are looking at the etching over the fireplace—it was sent to me by a young lady in America," said Mr. Ruskin, "and I placed it there to get acquainted with it. I like it more and more. Do you know the scene?" I knew the scene and explained somewhat about it.
Mr. Ruskin has the faculty of making his interviewer do most of the talking. He is a rare listener, and leans forward, putting a hand behind his right ear to get each word you say. He was particularly interested in the industrial conditions of America, and I soon found myself "occupying the time," while an occasional word of interrogation from Mr. Ruskin gave me no chance to stop. I came to hear him, not to defend our "republican experiment," as he was pleased to call the United States of America. Yet Mr. Ruskin was so gentle and respectful in his manner, and so complimentary in his attitude of listener, that my impatience at his want of sympathy for our "experiment" only caused me to feel a little heated.
"The fact of women being elected to mayoralties in Kansas makes me think of certain African tribes that exalt their women into warriors—you want your women to fight your political battles!"
"You evidently hold the same opinion on the subject of equal rights that you expressed some years ago," interposed my companion.
"What did I say—really I have forgotten?"
"You replied to a correspondent, saying: 'You are certainly right as to my views respecting the female franchise. So far from wishing to give votes to women, I would fain take them away from most men.'"
"Surely that was a sensible answer. My respect for woman is too great to force on her increased responsibilities. Then as for restricting the franchise with men, I am of the firm conviction that no man should be allowed to vote who does not own property, or who can not do considerably more than read and write. The voter makes the laws, and why should the laws regulating the holding of property be made by a man who has no interest in property beyond a covetous desire; or why should he legislate on education when he possesses none! Then again, women do not bear arms to protect the State."
"But what do you say to Mrs. Carlock, who answers that inasmuch as men do not bear children, they have no right to vote: going to war possibly being necessary and possibly not, but the perpetuity of the State demanding that some one bear children?"
"The lady's argument is ingenious, but lacks force when we consider that the bearing of arms is a matter relating to statecraft, while the baby question is Dame Nature's own, and is not to be regulated even by the sovereign."
Then Mr. Ruskin talked for nearly fifteen minutes on the duty of the State to the individual—talked very deliberately, but with the clearness and force of a man who believes what he says and says what he believes.
Thus, my friend, by a gentle thrust under the fifth rib of Mr. Ruskin's logic, caused him to come to the rescue of his previously expressed opinions, and we had the satisfaction of hearing him discourse earnestly and eloquently.
Maiden ladies usually have an opinion ready on the subject of masculine methods, and, conversely, much of the world's logic on the "woman question" has come from the bachelor brain.
Mr. Ruskin went quite out of his way on several occasions in times past to attack John Stuart Mill for heresy "in opening up careers for women other than that of wife and mother."
When Mill did not answer Mr. Ruskin's newspaper letters, the author of "Sesame and Lilies" called him a "cretinous wretch" and referred to him as "the man of no imagination." Mr. Mill may have been a cretinous wretch (I do not exactly understand the phrase), but the preface to "On Liberty" is at once the tenderest, highest and most sincere compliment paid to a woman, of which I know.
The life of Mr. and Mrs. John Stuart Mill shows that perfect mating is possible; yet Mr. Ruskin has only scorn for the opinions of Mr. Mill on a subject which Mill came as near personally solving in a matrimonial "experiment" as any other public man of modern times, not excepting even Robert Browning. Therefore we might suppose Mr. Mill entitled to speak on the woman question, and I intimated as much to Mr. Ruskin.
"He might know all about one woman, and if he should regard her as a sample of all womankind, would he not make a great mistake?"
I was silenced.
In "Fors Clavigera," Letter LIX, the author says: "I never wrote a letter in my life which all the world is not welcome to read." From this one might imagine that Mr. Ruskin never loved—no pressed flowers in books; no passages of poetry double-marked and scored; no bundles of letters faded and yellow, sacred for his own eye, tied with white or dainty blue ribbon; no little nothings hidden away in the bottom of a trunk. And yet Mr. Ruskin has his ideas on the woman question, and very positive ideas they are too—often sweetly sympathetic and wisely helpful.
I see that one of the encyclopedias mentions Ruskin as a bachelor, which is giving rather an extended meaning to the word, for although Mr. Ruskin married, he was not mated. According to Collingwood's account, this marriage was a quiet arrangement between parents. Anyway, the genius is like the profligate in this: when he marries he generally makes a woman miserable. And misery is reactionary as well as infectious. Ruskin is a genius.
Genius is unique. No satisfactory analysis of it has yet been given. We know a few of its indications—that's all. First among these is ability to concentrate.
No seed can sow genius; no soil can grow it: its quality is inborn and defies both cultivation and extermination. To be surpassed is never pleasant; to feel your inferiority is to feel a pang. Seldom is there a person great enough to find satisfaction in the success of a friend. The pleasure that excellence gives is oft tainted by resentment; and so the woman who marries a genius is usually unhappy.
Genius is excess: it is obstructive to little plans. It is difficult to warm yourself at a conflagration; the tempest may blow you away; the sun dazzles; lightning seldom strikes gently; the Nile overflows. Genius has its times of straying off into the infinite—and then what is the good wife to do for companionship? Does she protest, and find fault? It could not be otherwise, for genius is dictatorial without knowing it, obstructive without wishing to be, intolerant unawares, and unsocial because it can not help it.
The wife of a genius sometimes takes his fits of abstraction for stupidity, and having the man's interests at heart she endeavors to arouse him from his lethargy by chiding him. Occasionally he arouses enough to chide back; and so it has become an axiom that genius is not domestic.
A short period of mismated life told the wife of Ruskin their mistake, and she told him. But Mrs. Grundy was at the keyhole, ready to tell the world, and so Mr. and Mrs. Ruskin sought to deceive society by pretending to live together. They kept up this appearance for six sorrowful years, and then the lady simplified the situation by packing her trunks and deliberately leaving her genius to his chimeras; her soul doubtless softened by the knowledge that she was bestowing a benefit on him by going away. The lady afterwards became the happy wife and helpmeet of a great artist.
Ruskin's father was a prosperous importer of wines. He left his son a fortune equal to a little more than one million dollars. But that vast fortune has gone—-principal and interest—gone in bequests, gifts and experiments; and today Mr. Ruskin has no income save that derived from the sale of his books. Talk about "Distribution of Wealth"! Here we have it.
The bread-and-butter question has never troubled John Ruskin except in his ever-ardent desire that others should be fed. His days have been given to study and writing from his very boyhood; he has made money, but he has had no time to save it.
He has expressed himself on every theme that interests mankind, except perhaps "housemaid's knee." He has written more letters to the newspapers than "Old Subscriber," "Fiat Justitia," "Indignant Reader" and "Veritas" combined. His opinions have carried much weight and directed attention into necessary lines; but perhaps his success as an inspirer of thought lies in the fact that his sense of humor exists only as a trace, as the chemist might say. Men who perceive the ridiculous would never have voiced many of the things which he has said.
Surely those Sioux Indians who stretched a hay lariat across the Union Pacific Railroad in order to stop the running of trains had small sense of the ridiculous. But it looks as if they were apostles of Ruskin, every one.
Some one has said that no man can appreciate the beautiful who has not a keen sense of humor. For the beautiful is the harmonious, and the laughable is the absence of fit adjustment.
Mr. Ruskin disproves the maxim.
But let no hasty soul imagine that John Ruskin's opinions on practical themes are not useful. He brings to bear an energy on every subject he touches (and what subject has he not touched?) that is sure to make the sparks of thought fly. His independent and fearless attitude awakens from slumber a deal of dozing intellect, and out of this strife of opinion comes truth.
On account of Mr. Ruskin's refusing at times to see visitors, reports have gone abroad that his mind was giving way. Not so, for although he is seventy-four he is as serenely stubborn as he ever was. His opposition to new inventions in machinery has not relaxed a single pulley's turn. You grant his premises and in his conclusions you will find that his belt never slips, and that his logic never jumps a cog. His life is as regular and exact as the trains on the Great Western, and his days are more peaceful than ever before. He has regular hours for writing, study, walking, reading, eating, and working out of doors, superintending the cultivation of his hundred acres. He told me that he had not varied a half-hour in two years from a certain time of going to bed or getting up in the morning. Although his form is bowed, this regularity of life has borne fruit in the rich russet of his complexion, the mild, clear eye, and the pleasure in living in spite of occasional pain, which you know the man feels. His hair is thick and nearly white; the beard is now worn quite long and gives a patriarchal appearance to the fine face.
When we arose to take our leave, Mr. Ruskin took a white felt hat from the elk-antlers in the hallway and a stout stick from the corner, and offered to show us a nearer way back to the village. We walked down a footpath through the tall grass to the lake, where he called our attention to various varieties of ferns that he had transplanted there.
We shook hands with the old gentleman and thanked him for the pleasure he had given us. He was still examining the ferns when we lifted our hats and bade him good-day.
He evidently did not hear us, for I heard him mutter: "I verily believe those miserable Cook's tourists that were down here yesterday picked some of my ferns."
As the aloe is said to flower only once in a hundred years, so it
seems to be but once in a thousand years that Nature blossoms
into this unrivaled product and produces such a man as we have
—Gladstone, "Lecture on Homer"
WILLIAM E. GLADSTONE
American travelers in England are said to accumulate sometimes large and unique assortments of lisps, drawls and other very peculiar things. Of the value of these acquirements as regards their use and beauty, I have not room here to speak. But there is one adjunct which England has that we positively need, and that is "Boots." It may be that Boots is indigenous to England's soil, and that when transplanted he withers and dies; perhaps there is a quality in our atmosphere that kills him. Anyway, we have no Boots.
When trouble, adversity or bewilderment comes to the homesick traveler in an American hotel, to whom can he turn for consolation? Alas, the porter is afraid of the "guest," and all guests are afraid of the clerk, and the proprietor is never seen, and the Afro-Americans in the dining-room are stupid, and the chambermaid does not answer the ring, and at last the weary wanderer hies him to the barroom and soon discovers that the worthy "barkeep" has nothing to recommend him but his diamond-pin. How different, yes, how different, this would all be if Boots were only here! At the quaint old city of Chester I was met at the "sti-shun" by the Boots of that excellent though modest hotel which stands only a block away. Boots picked out my baggage without my looking for it, took me across to the Inn, and showed me to the daintiest, most homelike little room I had seen for weeks. On the table was a tastefully decorated "jug," evidently just placed there in anticipation of my arrival, and in this jug was a large bunch of gorgeous roses, the morning dew still on them.
When Boots had brought me hot water for shaving he disappeared and did not come back until, by the use of telepathy (for Boots is always psychic), I had sent him a message that he was needed. In the afternoon he went with me to get a draft cashed, then he identified me at the post-office, and introduced me to a dignitary at the cathedral whose courtesy added greatly to my enjoyment of the visit.
The next morning after breakfast, when I returned to my room, everything was put to rights and a fresh bouquet of cut flowers was on the mantel. A good breakfast adds much to one's inward peace: I sat down before the open window and looked out at the great oaks dotting the green meadows that stretched away to the north, and listened to the drowsy tinkle of sheep-bells as the sound came floating in on the perfumed breeze. I was thinking how good it was to be here, when the step of Boots was heard in the doorway. I turned and saw that mine own familiar friend had lost a little of his calm self-reliance—in fact, he was a bit agitated, but he soon recovered his breath.
"Mr. Gladstone and 'is Lady 'ave just arrived, sir—they will be 'ere for an hour before taking the train for Lunnon, sir. I told 'is clark there was a party of Americans 'ere that were very anxious to meet 'im, and he will receive you in the parlor in fifteen minutes, sir."
Then it was my turn to be agitated. But Boots reassured me by explaining that the Grand Old Man was just the plainest, most unpretentious gentleman one could imagine; that it was not at all necessary that I should change my suit; that I should pronounce it Gladstun, not Glad-stone, and that it was Harden, not Ha-war-den. Then he stood me up, looked me over, and declared that I was all right.
On going downstairs I found that Boots had gotten together five Americans who happened to be in the hotel. He introduced us to a bright little man who seemed to be the companion or secretary of the Prime Minister; he, in turn, took us into the parlor where Mr. Gladstone sat reading the morning paper, and presented us one by one to the great man. We were each greeted with a pleasant word and a firm grasp of the hand, and then the old gentleman turned and with a courtly flourish said, "Gentlemen, allow me to present you to Mrs. Gladstone."
Mr. Gladstone was wise: he remained standing; this was sure to shorten the interview. A clergyman in our party who had an impressive cough and bushy whiskers, acted as spokesman, and said several pleasant things, closing his little speech by informing Mr. Gladstone that Americans held him in great esteem, and that we only regretted that Fate had not decreed that he should have been born in the United States.
Mr. Gladstone replied, "Fate is often unkind." Then he asked if we were going to London. On being told that we were, he spoke for five minutes about the things we should see in the Metropolis. His style was not conversational, but after the manner of a man who was much used to speaking in public or to receiving delegations. The sentences were stately, the voice rather loud and declamatory. His closing words were: "Yes, gentlemen, the way to see London is from the top of a 'bus—from the top of a 'bus, gentlemen." Then there was an almost imperceptible wave of the hand, and we knew that the interview was ended. In a moment we were outside and the door was closed.
The five Americans who made up our little company had never met before, but now we were as brothers; we adjourned to a side-room to talk it over and tell of the things we intended to say but didn't. We all talked and talked at once, just as people do who have recently preserved an enforced silence.
"How ill-fitting was that gray suit!"
"Yes, the sleeves too long."
"Did you notice the absence of the forefinger of his left hand—shot off in Eighteen Hundred Forty-five while hunting, they say."
"But how strong his voice is!"
"He looks like a farmer."
"Eighty-five years of age! Think of it, and how vigorous!"
Then the preacher spoke and his voice was sorrowful:
"Oh, but I made a botch of it—was it sarcasm or was it not?"
"Was what sarcasm?"
"When Mr. Gladstone said that Fate was unkind in not having him born in the United States!"
And we were all silent. Then Boots came in, and we put the question to Boots, who decided it was not sarcasm.
The next day, when we went away, we rewarded Boots bountifully.
William Gladstone is England's glory. Yet there is no English blood in his veins; his parents were Scotch. Aside from Lord Brougham, he is the only Scotchman who has ever taken a prominent part in British statecraft. The name as we first find it is Gled-stane, "gled" being a hawk—literally, a hawk that lives among the stones. Surely the hawk is fully as respectable a bird as the eagle, and a goodly amount of granite in the clay that is used to make a man is no disadvantage. The name fits.
There are deep-rooted theories in the minds of many men (and still more women) that bad boys make good men, and that a dash of the pirate, even in a prelate, does not disqualify. But I wish to come to the defense of the Sunday-school story-books and show that their very prominent moral is right after all: it pays to be "good."
William Ewart Gladstone was sent to Eton when twelve years of age. From the first, his conduct was a model of propriety. He attended every chapel service, and said his prayers in the morning and before going to bed at night; he could repeat the catechism backwards or forwards, and recite more verses of Scripture than any other boy in school.
He always spoke the truth. He never played "hookey"; nor, as he grew older, would he tell stories of doubtful flavor, or allow others to relate such in his presence. His influence was for good, and Cardinal Manning has said that there was less wine drunk at Oxford during the Forties than would have been the case if Gladstone had not been there in the Thirties.
He graduated from Christchurch with the highest possible honors the college could bestow, and at twenty-two he seemed like one who had sprung into life full-armed.
At that time he had magnificent health, a fine form, vast and varied knowledge, and a command of language so great that he was a master of forensics. His speeches were fully equal to his later splendid efforts. In feature he was handsome: the face bold and masculine; eyes of piercing luster; and hair, which he tossed when in debate, like a lion's mane. He could speak five languages, sing tenor, dance gracefully, and was on more than speaking terms with many of the best and greatest men in England. Besides all this he was rich in British gold.
Now, here is a combination of good things that would send most young men straight to perdition—not so Gladstone. He took the best care of his health, systematized his time as a miser might, listened not to the flatterers, and used his money only for good purposes. His intention was to enter the Church, but his father said, "Not yet," and half-forced him into politics. So, at this early age of twenty-two, he ran for Parliament, was elected, and has practically never been out of the shadow of Westminster Palace during these sixty-odd years.
At thirty-three, he was a member of the Cabinet. At thirty-six, his absolute honesty compelled him for conscience' sake to resign from the Ministry. His opponents then said, "Gladstone is an extinct volcano," and they have said this again and again; but somehow the volcano always breaks out in a new place, stronger and brighter than ever. It is difficult to subdue a volcano.
When twenty-nine, he married Catherine Glynne, sister and heir of Sir Stephen Glynne, Baronet. The marriage was most fortunate in every way. For over fifty years this most excellent woman has been his comrade, counselor, consolation, friend—his wife.
"How can any adversity come to him who hath a wife?" said Chaucer.
If this splendid woman had died, then his opponents might truthfully have said, "Gladstone is an extinct volcano"; but she is still with him, and a short time ago, when he had to undergo an operation for cataract, this woman of eighty was his only nurse.
The influence of Gladstone has been of untold value to England. His ideals for national action have been high. To the material prosperity of the country he has added millions upon millions; he has made education popular, and schooling easy; his policy in the main has been such as to command the admiration of the good and great. But there are spots on the sun.
On reading Mr. Gladstone's books I find he has vigorously defended certain measures that seem unworthy of his genius. He has palliated human slavery as a "necessary evil"; has maintained the visibility and divine authority of the Church; has asserted the mathematical certainty of the historic episcopate, the mystical efficacy of the sacraments; and has vindicated the Church of England as the God-appointed guardian of truth.
He has fought bitterly any attempt to improve the divorce-laws of England. Much has been done in this line, even in spite of his earnest opposition, but we now owe it to Mr. Gladstone that there is on England's law-books a statute providing that if a wife leaves her husband he can invoke a magistrate, whose duty it will then be to issue a writ and give it to an officer, who will bring her back. More than this, when the officer has returned the woman, the loving husband has the legal right to "reprove" her. Just what reprove means the courts have not yet determined; for, in a recent decision, when a costermonger admitted having given his lady "a taste of the cat," the prisoner was discharged on the ground that it was only needed reproof.
I would not complain of this law if it worked both ways; but no wife can demand that the State shall return her "man" willy-nilly. And if she administers reproof to her mate, she does it without the sanction of the Sovereign.
However, in justice to Englishmen, it should be stated that while this unique law still stands on the statute-books, it is very seldom that a man in recent years has stooped to invoke it.
On all the questions I have named, from slavery to divorce, Mr. Gladstone has used the "Bible argument." But as the years have gone by, his mind has become liberalized, and on many points where he was before zealous he is now silent. In Eighteen Hundred Forty-one, he argued with much skill and ingenuity that Jews were not entitled to full rights of citizenship, but in Eighteen Hundred Forty-seven, acknowledging his error, he took the other side.
During the War of Secession the sympathies of England's Chancellor of the Exchequer were with the South. Speaking at Newcastle on October Ninth, Eighteen Hundred Sixty-two, he said, "Jefferson Davis has undoubtedly founded a new nation." But five years passed, and he publicly confessed that he was wrong.
Here is a man who, if he should err deeply, is yet so great that, like Cotton Mather, he might not hesitate to stand uncovered on the street-corners and ask the forgiveness of mankind. Such men are saved by their enemies. Their own good and the good of humanity require that their balance of power shall not be too great. Had the North gone down, Gladstone might never have seen his mistake. In this instance and in many others, he has not been the leader of progress, but its echo: truth has been forced upon him. His passionate earnestness, his intense volition, his insensibility to moral perspective, his blindness to the sense of proportion, might have led him into dangerous excess and frightful fanatical error, if it were not for the fact that such men create an opposition that is their salvation.
To analyze a character so complex as Mr. Gladstone's requires the grasp of genius. We speak of "the duality of the human mind," but here are half a dozen spirits in one. They rule in turn, and occasionally several of them struggle for the mastery.
When the Fisk Jubilee Singers visited England, we find Gladstone dropping the affairs of State to hear their music. He invited them to Hawarden, where he sang with them. So impressed was he with the negro melodies that he anticipated that idea which has since been materialized: the founding of a national school of music that would seek to perfect in a scientific way these soul-stirring strains.
He might have made a poet of no mean order; for his devotion to spiritual and physical beauty has made him a lifelong admirer of Homer and Dante. Those who have met him when the mood was upon him have heard him recite by the hour from the "Iliad" in the original. And yet the theology of Homer belongs to the realm of natural religion with which Mr. Gladstone has little patience.
A prominent member of the House of Commons once said, "The only two things that the Prime Minister really cares for are religion and finance." The statement comes near truth; for the chief element in Mr. Gladstone's character is his devotion to religion; and his signal successes have been in the line of economics. He believes in Free Trade as the gospel of social salvation. He revels in figures; he has price, value, consumption, distribution, import, export, fluctuation, all at his tongue's end, ready to hurl at any one who ventures on a hasty generalization.
And it is a significant fact that in his strong appeal for the disestablishment of the Irish Church, the stress of his argument was put on the point that the Irish Church was not in the line of the apostolic succession.
Mr. Gladstone is grave, sober, earnest, proud, passionate, and at times romantic to a rare degree. He rebukes, refutes, contradicts, defies, and has a magnificent capacity for indignation. He will roar you like a lion, his eyes will flash, and his clenched fist will shake as he denounces that which he believes to be error. And yet among inferiors he will consult, defer, inquire, and show a humility, a forced suavity, that has given the caricaturist excuse.
In his home he is gentle, amiable, always kind, social and hospitable. He loves deeply, and his friends revere him to a point that is but little this side of idolatry. And surely their affection is not misplaced.
Some day a Plutarch without a Plutarch's prejudice will arise, and with malice toward none, but with charity for all, he will write the life of the statesman, Gladstone. Over against this he will write the life of an American statesman. The name he will choose will be that of one born in a log hut in the forest; who was rocked by the foot of a mother whose hands meanwhile were busy at her wheel; who had no schooling, no wise and influential friends; who had few books and little time to read; who knew no formal religion; who never traveled out of his own country; who had no helpmeet, but who walked solitary—alone, a man of sorrows; down whose homely, furrowed face the tears of pity often ran, and yet whose name, strange paradox! stands in many minds as a symbol of mirth.
And when the master comes, who has the power to portray with absolute fidelity the greatness of these two men, will it be to the disadvantage of the American?
The village of Hawarden is in Flintshire, North Wales. It is seven miles from Chester. I walked the distance one fine June morning—out across the battlefield where Cromwell's army crushed that of Charles; and on past old stone walls and stately elms.
There had been a shower the night before, but the morning sun came out bright and warm and made the raindrops glisten like beads as they clung to each leaf and flower. Larks sang and soared, and great flocks of crows called and cawed as they flew lazily across the sky. It was a time for silent peace, and quiet joy, and serene thankfulness for life and health.
I walked leisurely, and in a little over two hours reached Hawarden—a cluster of plain stone houses with climbing vines and flowers and gardens, which told of homely thrift and simple tastes. I went straight to the old stone church, which is always open, and rested for half an hour, listening to the organ on which a young girl was practising, instructed by a white-haired old gentleman.
The church is dingy and stained inside and out by time. The pews are irregular, some curiously carved, and all stiff and uncomfortable. I walked around and read the inscriptions on the walls, and all the time the young girl played and the old gentleman beat time, and neither noticed my presence. One brass tablet I saw was to a woman "who for long years was a faithful servant at Hawarden Castle—erected in gratitude by W.E.G."
Near this was a memorial to W.H. Gladstone, son of the Premier, who died in Eighteen Hundred Ninety-one. Then there were inscriptions to various Glynnes and several others whose names appear in English history. I stood at the reading-desk, where the great man has so often read, and marked the spot where William Ewart Gladstone and Catherine Glynne knelt when they were married here in July, Eighteen Hundred Thirty-nine.
A short distance from the church is the entrance to Hawarden Park. This fine property was the inheritance of Mrs. Gladstone; the park itself seems to belong to the public. If Mr. Gladstone were a plain citizen, people, of course, would not come by hundreds and picnic on his preserve, but serving the State, he and his possessions belong to the people, and this democratic familiarity is rather pleasing than otherwise. So great has been the throng in times past, that an iron fence had to be placed about the ivy-covered ruins of the ancient castle, to protect it from those who threatened to carry it away by the pocketful. A wall has also been put around the present "castle" (more properly, house). This was done some years ago, I was told by the butler, after a torchlight procession of a thousand enthusiastic admirers had come down from Liverpool and trampled Mrs. Gladstone's flowers into "smithereens."
The park contains many hundred acres, and is as beautiful as an English park can be, and this is praise superlative. Flocks of sheep wander over the soft, green turf, and beneath the spreading trees are sleek cows which seem used to visitors, and with big, open eyes come up to be petted.
Occasional signs are seen: "Please spare the trees." Some people suppose that this is an injunction which Mr. Gladstone himself has never observed. But when in his tree-cutting days, no monarch of the forest was ever felled without its case being fully tried by the entire household. Ruskin, once, visiting at Hawarden, sat as judge, and after listening to the evidence gave sentence against several trees that were rotten at the core or overshadowing their betters. Then the Prime Minister shouldered his faithful "snickersnee" and went forth as executioner.
I looked in vain for stumps, and on inquiry was told that they were all dug out, and the ground leveled so no trace was left of the offender.
The "lady of the house" at Hawarden is the second daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone. All accounts agree that she is a most capable and excellent woman. She is her father's "home secretary" and confidante, and in his absence takes full charge of the mail and looks after important business affairs. Her husband, the Reverend Harry Drew, is rector of Hawarden Church. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Drew and found him very cordial and perfectly willing to talk about the great man who is grandfather to his baby. We also talked of America, and I soon surmised that Mr. Drew's ideas of "The States" were largely derived from a visit to the Wild West Show. So I put the question to him direct:
"Did you see Buffalo Bill?"
"And did Mr. Gladstone go?"
"Not only once, but three times, and he cheered as loudly as any boy."
The Gladstone residence is a great, rambling, stone structure to which additions have been made from one generation to another. The towers and battlements are merely architectural appendiculæ, but the effect of the whole, when viewed from a distance, rising out of its wealth of green and backed by the forest, is very imposing.
I entered only the spacious front hallway and one room—the library. Bookshelves and books and more books were everywhere; several desks of different designs (one an American roll-top), as if the owner transacted business at one, translated Homer at another, and wrote social letters from a third. Then there were several large Japanese vases, a tiger-skin, beautiful rugs, a few large paintings, and in a rack a full dozen axes and twice as many "sticks."
The whole place has an air of easy luxury that speaks of peace and plenty, of quiet and rest, of gentle thoughts and calm desires.
As I walked across toward the village, the church-bell slowly pealed the hour; over the distant valley, night hovered; a streak of white mist, trailing like a thin veil, marked the passage of the murmuring brook. I thought of the grand old man over whose domain I was now treading, and my wonder was, not that one should live so long and still be vigorous, but that a man should live in such an idyllic spot, with love and books to keep him company, and yet grow old.
I believe that these works of Turner's are at their first
appearing as perfect as those of Phidias or Leonardo, that is to
say, incapable of any improvement conceivable by human mind.
The beauty of the upper Thames with its fairy house-boats and green banks has been sung by poets, but rash is the minstrel who tunes his lyre to sound the praises of this muddy stream in the vicinity of Chelsea. As yellow as the Tiber and thick as the Missouri after a flood, it comes twice a day bearing upon its tossing tide a unique assortment of uncanny sights and sickening smells from the swarming city of men below.
Chelsea was once a country village six miles from London Bridge. Now the far-reaching arms of the metropolis have taken it as her own.
Chelsea may be likened to some rare spinster, grown old with years and good works, and now having a safe home with a rich and powerful benefactress. Yet Chelsea is not handsome in her old age, and Chelsea was not pretty in youth, nor fair to view in middle life; but Chelsea has been the foster-mother of several of the rarest and fairest souls who have ever made the earth pilgrimage.
And the greatness of genius still rests upon Chelsea. As we walk slowly through its winding ways, by the edge of its troubled waters, among dark and crooked turns, through curious courts, by old gateways and piles of steepled stone, where flocks of pigeons wheel, and bells chime, and organs peal, and winds sigh, we know that all has been sanctified by their presence. And their spirits abide with us, and the splendid beauty of their visions is about us. For the stones beneath our feet have been hallowed by their tread, and the walls have borne their shadows; so all mean things are transfigured and over all these plain and narrow streets their glory gleams.
And it is the great men and they alone that can render a place sacred. Chelsea is now to the lovers of the Beautiful a sacred name, a sacred soil; a place of pilgrimage where certain gods of Art once lived, and loved, and worked, and died.
Sir Thomas More lived here and had for a frequent guest Erasmus. Hans Sloane began in Chelsea the collection of curiosities which has now developed into the British Museum. Bishop Atterbury (who claimed that Dryden was a greater poet than Shakespeare), Dean Swift and Doctor Arbuthnot, all lived in Church Street; Richard Steele just around the corner and Leigh Hunt in Cheyne Row; but it was from another name that the little street was to be immortalized.
If France constantly has forty Immortals in the flesh, surely it is a modest claim to say that Chelsea has three for all time: Thomas Carlyle, George Eliot and Joseph Mallord William Turner.
Turner's father was a barber. His youth was passed in poverty and his advantages for education were very slight. And all this in the crowded city of London, where merit may knock long and still not be heard, and in a country where wealth and title count for much.
When a boy, barefoot and ragged, he would wander away alone on the banks of the river and dream dreams about wonderful palaces and beautiful scenes; and then he would trace with a stick in the sands, endeavoring, with mud, to make plain to the eye the things that his soul saw.
His mother was quite sure that no good could come from this vagabondish nature, and she did not spare the rod, for she feared that the desire to scrawl and daub would spoil the child. But he was a stubborn lad, with a pug-nose and big, dreamy, wondering eyes, and a heavy jaw; and when parents see that they have such a son, they had better hang up the rod behind the kitchen-door and lay aside force and cease scolding. For love is better than a cat-o'-nine-tails, and sympathy saves more souls than threats.
The elder Turner considered that the proper use of a brush was to lather chins. But the boy thought differently, and once surreptitiously took one of his father's brushes to paint a picture; the brush on being returned to its cup was used the next day upon a worthy haberdasher, whose cheeks were shortly colored a vermilion that matched his nose. This lost the barber a customer and secured the boy a thrashing.
Young Turner did not always wash his father's shop-windows well, nor sweep off the sidewalk properly. Like all boys he would rather work for some one else than for "his folks."
He used to run errands for an engraver by the name of Smith—John Raphael Smith. Once, when Smith sent the barber's boy with a letter to a certain art-gallery with orders to "get the answer and hurry back, mind you!" the boy forgot to get the answer and to hurry back. Then another boy was dispatched after the first, and boy Number Two found boy Number One sitting, with staring eyes and open mouth, in the art-gallery before a painting of Claude Lorraine's. When boy Number One was at last forcibly dragged away, and reached the shop of his master, he got his ears well cuffed for his forgetfulness. But from that day forth he was not the same being that he had been before his eyes fell on that Claude Lorraine.
He was transformed, as much so as was Lazarus after he was called from beyond the portals of death and had come back to earth, bearing in his heart the secrets of the grave.
From that time Turner thought of Claude Lorraine during the day and dreamed of him at night, and he stole his way into every exhibition where a Claude was to be seen. And now I wish that Claude Lorraine was the subject of this sketch, as well as Turner, for his life is a picture full of sweetest poetry, framed in a world of dullest prose.
The eyes of this boy, whom they had thought dreamy, dull and listless, now shone with a different light. He thirsted to achieve, to do, to become—yes, to become a greater painter than Claude Lorraine. His employer saw the change and smiled at it, but he allowed the lad to put in backgrounds and add the skies to cheap prints, just because the youngster teased to do it.
Then one day a certain patron of the shop came and looked over the shoulder of the Turner boy, and he said, "He has skill—perhaps talent."
And I think the recording angel should give this man a separate page in the Book of Remembrance and write his name in illuminated colors, for he gave young Turner access to his own collection and to his library, and he never cuffed him nor kicked him nor called him dunce—whereat the boy was much surprised. But he encouraged the youth to sketch a picture in water-colors and then he bought the picture and paid him ten shillings for it; and the name of this man was Doctor Munro.
The next year, when young Turner was fourteen, Doctor Munro had him admitted to the Royal Academy as a student, and in Seventeen Hundred Ninety he exhibited a water-color of the Archbishop's palace at Lambeth.
The picture took no prize, and doubtless was not worthy of one, but from now on Joseph M.W. Turner was an artist, and other hands had to sweep the barber-shop.
But he sold few pictures—they were not popular. Other artists scorned him, possibly intuitively fearing him, for mediocrity always fears when the ghost of genius does not down at its bidding.
Then Turner was accounted unsociable; besides, he was ragged, uncouth, independent, and did not conform to the ways of society; so the select circle cast him out—more properly speaking, did not let him in.
Still he worked on, and exhibited at every Academy Exhibition, yet he was often hungry, and the London fog crept cold and damp through his threadbare clothes. But he toiled on, for Claude Lorraine was ever before him.
In Eighteen Hundred Two, when twenty-seven years of age, he visited France and made a tour through Switzerland, tramping over many long miles with his painting-kit on his back, and he brought back rich treasures in way of sketches and quickened imagination.
In the years following he took many such trips, and came to know Venice, Rome, Florence and Paris as perfectly as his own London.
When thirty-three years of age he was still worshiping at the shrine of Claude Lorraine. His pictures painted at this time are evidence of his ideal, and his book, "Liber Studiorum," issued in Eighteen Hundred Eight, is modeled after the "Liber Veritatis." But the book surpasses Claude's, and Turner knew it, and this may have led him to burst his shackles and cast loose from his idol. For, in Eighteen Hundred Fifteen, we find him working according to his own ideas, showing an originality and audacity in conception and execution that made him the butt of the critics, and caused consternation to rage through the studios of competitors.
Gradually, it dawned upon a few scattered collectors that things so strongly condemned must have merit, for why should the pack bay so loudly if there were no quarry! So to have a Turner was at least something for your friends to discuss.
Then carriages began to stop before the dingy building at Forty-seven Queen Anne Street, and broadcloth and satin mounted the creaking stairs to the studio. It happened about this time that Turner's prices began to increase. Like the sibyl of old, if a customer said, "I do not want it," the painter put an extra ten pounds on the price. For "Dido Building Carthage," Turner's original price was five hundred pounds. People came to see the picture and they said, "The price is too high." Next day Turner's price for the "Carthage" was one thousand pounds. Finally, Sir Robert Peel offered the painter five thousand pounds for the picture, but Turner said he had decided to keep it for himself, and he did.
In the forepart of his career he sold few pictures—for the simple reason that no one wanted them. And he sold few pictures during the latter years of his life, for the reason that his prices were so high that none but the very rich could buy. First, the public scorned Turner. Next, Turner scorned the public. In the beginning it would not buy his pictures, and later it could not.
A frivolous public and a shallow press, from his first exhibition, when fifteen years of age, to his last, when seventy, made sport of his originalities. But for merit there is a recompense in sneers, and a benefit in sarcasms, and a compensation in hate; for when these things get too pronounced a champion appears. And so it was with Turner. Next to having a Boswell write one's life, what is better than a Ruskin to uphold one's cause!
Success came slowly; his wants were few, but his ambition never slackened, and finally the dreams of his youth became the realities of his manhood.
At twenty, Turner loved a beautiful girl—they became engaged. He went away on a tramp sketching-tour and wrote his ladylove just one short letter each month. He believed that "absence only makes the heart grow fonder," not knowing that this statement is only the vagary of a poet. When he returned the lady was betrothed to another. He gave the pair his blessing, and remained a bachelor—a very confirmed bachelor.
Perhaps, however, the reason his fiancee proved untrue was not through lack of the epistles he wrote her, but on account of them. In the British Museum I examined several letters written by Turner. They appeared very much like copy for a Josh Billings Almanac. Such originality in spelling, punctuation and use of capitals! It was admirable in its uniqueness. Turner did not think in words—he could only think in paint. But the young lady did not know this, and when a letter came from her homely little lover she was shocked, then she laughed, then she showed these letters to a nice young man who was clerk to a fishmonger and he laughed, then they both laughed. Then this nice young man and this beautiful young lady became engaged, and they were married at Saint Andrew's on a lovely May morning. And they lived happily ever afterward.
Turner was small, and in appearance plain. Yet he was big enough to paint a big picture, and he was not so homely as to frighten away all beautiful women. But Philip Gilbert Hamerton tells us, "Fortunate in many things, Turner was lamentably unfortunate in this: that throughout his whole life he never came under the ennobling and refining influence of a good woman."
Like Plato, Michelangelo, Sir Isaac Newton and his own Claude Lorraine, he was wedded to his art. But at sixty-five his genius suddenly burst forth afresh, and his work, Mr. Ruskin says, at that time exceeded in daring brilliancy and in the rich flowering of imagination, anything that he had previously done. Mr. Ruskin could give no reason, but rumor says, "A woman."
The one weakness of our hero, that hung to him for life, was the idea that he could write poetry. The tragedian always thinks he can succeed in comedy; the comedian spends hours in his garret rehearsing tragedy; most preachers have an idea that they could have made a quick fortune in business, and many businessmen are very sure that if they had taken to the pulpit there would now be fewer empty pews. So the greatest landscape-painter of recent times imagined himself a poet. Hamerton says that for remarkable specimens of grammar, spelling and construction Turner's verse would serve well to be given to little boys to correct.
One spot in Turner's life over which I like to linger is his friendship with Sir Walter Scott. They collaborated in the production of "Provincial Antiquities," and spent many happy hours together tramping over Scottish moors and mountains. Sir Walter lived out his days in happy ignorance concerning the art of painting, and although he liked the society of Turner, he confessed that it was quite beyond his ken why people bought his pictures.
"And as for your books," said Turner, "the covers of some are certainly very pretty."
Yet these men took a satisfaction in each other's society, such as brothers might enjoy, but without either man appreciating the greatness of the other.
Turner's temperament was audacious, self-centered, self-reliant, eager for success and fame, yet at the same time scorning public opinion—a paradox often found in the artistic mind of the first class; silent always—with a bitter silence, disdaining to tell his meaning when the critics could not perceive it.
He was above all things always the artist, never the realist. The realist pictures the things he sees; the artist expresses that which he feels. Children, and all simple folk who use pen, pencil or brush, describe the things they behold. As intellect develops and goes more in partnership with hand, imagination soars, and things are outlined that no man can see except he be able to perceive the invisible. To appreciate a work of art you must feel as the artist felt.
Now, it is very plain that the vast majority of people are not capable of this high sense of sublimity which the creative artist feels; and therefore they do not understand, and not understanding, they wax merry, or cynical, or sarcastic, or wrathful, or envious; or they pass by unmoved. And I maintain that those who pass by unmoved are more righteous than they who scoff.
If I should attempt to explain to my little girl the awe I feel when I contemplate the miracle of maternity, she would probably change the subject by prattling to me about a kitten she saw lapping milk from a blue saucer. If I should attempt to explain to some men what I feel when I contemplate the miracle of maternity, they would smile and turn it all into an unspeakable jest. Is not the child nearer to God than the man?
We thus see why to many Browning is only a joke, Whitman an eccentric, Dante insane and Turner a pretender. These have all sought to express things which the many can not feel, and consequently they have been, and are, the butt of jokes and jibes innumerable. "Except ye become as little children," etc.—and yet the scoffers are often people of worth. Nothing so shows the limitation of humanity as this: genius often does not appreciate genius. The inspired, strangely enough, are like the fools, they do not recognize inspiration.
An Englishman called on Voltaire and found him in bed reading Shakespeare.
"What are you reading?" asked the visitor.
"Your Shakespeare!" said the philosopher; and as he answered he flung the book across the room.
"He's not my Shakespeare," said the Englishman.
Greene, Rymer, Dryden, Warburton and Doctor Johnson used collectively or individually the following expressions in describing the work of the author of "Hamlet": conceit, overreach, word-play, extravagance, overdone, absurdity, obscurity, puerility, bombast, idiocy, untruth, improbability, drivel.
Byron wrote from Florence to Murray:
"I know nothing of painting, and I abhor and spit upon all saints and so-called spiritual subjects that I see portrayed in these churches."
But the past is so crowded with vituperation that it is difficult to select—besides that, we do not wish to—but let us take a sample of arrogance from yesterday to prove our point, and then drop the theme for something pleasanter.
Pew and pulpit have fallen over each other for the privilege of hitting Darwin; a Bishop warns his congregation that Emerson is "dangerous"; Spurgeon calls Shelley a sensualist; Doctor Buckley speaks of Susan B. Anthony as the leader of "the short-haired"; Talmage cracks jokes about evolution, referring feelingly to "monkey ancestry"; and a prominent divine of England writes the World's Congress of Religions down as "pious waxworks." These things being true, and all the sentiments quoted coming from "good" but blindly zealous men, is it a wonder that the Artist is not understood?
A brilliant picture, called "Cologne—Evening," attracted much attention at the Academy Exhibition of Eighteen Hundred Twenty-six. One day the people who so often collected around Turner's work were shocked to see that the beautiful canvas had lost its brilliancy, and evidently had been tampered with by some miscreant. A friend ran to inform Turner of the bad news. "Don't say anything. I only smirched it with lampblack. It was spoiling the effect of Laurence's picture that hung next to it. The black will all wash off after the Exhibition."
And his tender treatment of his aged father shows the gentle side of his nature. The old barber, whose trembling hand could no longer hold a razor, wished to remain under his son's roof in guise of a servant; but the son said, "No; we fought the world together, and now that it seeks to do me honor, you shall share all the benefits." And Turner never smiled when the little, wizened, old man would whisper to some visitor, "Yes, yes; Joseph is the greatest artist in England, and I am his father."
Turner had a way of sending ten-pound notes in blank envelopes to artists in distress, and he did this so frequently that the news got out finally, but never through Turner's telling, and then he had to adopt other methods of doing good by stealth.
I do not contend that Turner's character was immaculate, but still it is very probable that worldlings do not appreciate what a small part of this great genius touched the mire.
To prove the sordidness of the man, one critic tells, with visage awfully solemn, how Turner once gave an engraving to a friend and then, after a year, sent demanding it back. But to a person with a groat's worth of wit the matter is plain: the dreamy, abstracted artist, who bumped into his next-door neighbors on the street and never knew them, forgot he had given the picture and believed he had only loaned it. This is made still more apparent by the fact that, when he sent for the engraving in question, he administered a rebuke to the man for keeping it so long. The poor dullard who received the note flew into a rage—returned the picture—sent his compliments and begged the great artist to "take your picture and go to the devil."
Then certain scribblers, who through mental disease had lost the capacity for mirth, dipped their pen in aqua fortis and wrote of the "innate meanness," the "malice prepense" and the "Old Adam" which dwelt in the heart of Turner. No one laughed except a few Irishmen, and an American or two, who chanced to hear of the story.
Of Turner's many pictures I will mention in detail but two, both of which are to be seen on the walls of the National Gallery. First, "The Old Temeraire." This warship had been sold out of service and was being towed away to be broken up. The scene was photographed on Turner's brain, and he immortalized it on canvas. We can not do better than borrow the words of Mr. Ruskin:
"Of all pictures not visibly involving human pain, this is the most pathetic ever painted.
"The utmost pensiveness which can ordinarily be given to a landscape depends on adjuncts of ruin, but no ruin was ever so affecting as the gliding of this ship to her grave. This particular ship, crowned in the Trafalgar hour of trial with chief victory—surely, if ever anything without a soul deserved honor or affection we owe them here. Surely, some sacred care might have been left in our thoughts for her; some quiet space amid the lapse of English waters! Nay, not so. We have stern keepers to trust her glory to—the fire and the worm. Nevermore shall sunset lay golden robe upon her, nor starlight tremble on the waves that part at her gliding. Perhaps where the low gate opens to some cottage garden, the tired traveler may ask, idly, why the moss grows so green on the rugged wood; and even the sailor's child may not know that the night dew lies deep in the warrents of the old Temeraire."
"The Burial of Sir David Wilkie at Sea" has brought tears to many eyes. Yet there is no burial. The ship is far away in the gloom of the offing; you can not distinguish a single figure on her decks; but you behold her great sails standing out against the leaden blackness of the night and you feel that out there a certain scene is being enacted. And if you listen closely you can hear the solemn voice of the captain as he reads the burial service. Then there is a pause—a swift, sliding sound—a splash, and all is over.
Turner left to the British Nation by his will nineteen thousand pencil and water-color sketches and one hundred large canvases. These pictures are now to be seen in the National Gallery in rooms set apart and sacred to Turner's work. For fear it may be thought that the number of sketches mentioned above is a misprint, let us say that if he had produced one picture a day for fifty years it would not equal the number of pieces bestowed by his will on the Nation.
This of course takes no account of the pictures sold during his lifetime, and, as he left a fortune of one hundred forty-four thousand pounds (seven hundred twenty thousand dollars), we may infer that not all his pictures were given away.
At Chelsea I stood in the little room where he breathed his last, that bleak day in Eighteen-Hundred Fifty-one. The unlettered but motherly old woman who took care of him in those last days never guessed his greatness; none in the house or the neighborhood knew.
To them he was only Mr. Booth, an eccentric old man of moderate means, who liked to muse, read, and play with children. He had no callers, no friends; he went to the city every day and came back at night. He talked but little, he was absent-minded, he smoked and thought and smiled and muttered to himself. He never went to church; but once one of the lodgers asked him what he thought of God.
"God, God—what do I know of God, what does any one! He is our life—He is the All, but we need not fear Him—all we can do is to speak the truth and do our work. Tomorrow we go—where? I know not, but I am not afraid."
Of art, to these strangers he would never speak. Once they urged him to go with them to an exhibition at Kensington, but he smiled feebly as he lit his pipe and said, "An Art Exhibition? No, no; a man can show on a canvas so little of what he feels, it is not worth the while."
At last he died—passed peacefully away—and his attorney came and took charge of his remains.
Many are the hard words that have been flung off by heedless tongues about Turner's taking an assumed name and living in obscurity, but "what you call fault I call accent." Surely, if a great man and world-famous desires to escape the flatterers and the silken mesh of so-called society and live the life of simplicity, he has a right to do so. Again, Turner was a very rich man in his old age; he did much for struggling artists and assisted aspiring merit in many ways. So it came about that his mail was burdened with begging letters, and his life made miserable by appeals from impecunious persons, good and bad, and from churches, societies and associations without number. He decided to flee them all; and he did.
The "Carthage" already mentioned is one of his finest works, and he esteemed it so highly that he requested that when death came, his body should be buried, wrapped in its magnificent folds. But the wish was disregarded.
His remains rest in the crypt of Saint Paul's, beside the dust of Reynolds. His statue, in marble, adorns a niche in the great cathedral, and his name is secure high on the roll of honor.
And if for no other reason, the name and fame of Chelsea should be deathless as the home of Turner.
They are but few and meanspirited that live in peace with all
—Tale of a Tub
Birrell, the great English essayist, remarks that, "Of writing books about Dean Swift there is no end." The reason is plain: of no other prominent writer who has lived during the past two hundred years do we know so much. His life lies open to us in many books. Boswell did not write his biography, but Johnson did. Then followed whole schools of little fishes, some of whom wrote like whales. But among the works of genuine worth and merit, with Swift for a subject, we have Sir Walter Scott's nineteen volumes, and lives by Craik, Mitford, Forster, Collins and Leslie Stephen.
The positive elements in Swift's character make him a most interesting subject to men and women who are yet on earth, for he was essentially of the earth, earthy. And until we are shown that the earth is wholly bad, we shall find much to amuse, much to instruct, much to admire—aye, much to pity—in the life of Jonathan Swift.
His father married at twenty. His income matched his years—it was just twenty pounds per annum. His wife was a young girl, bright, animated, intelligent.
In a few short months this girl carried in her arms a baby. This baby was wrapped in a tattered shawl and cried piteously from hunger, for the mother had not enough to eat. She was cold, and sick, and in disgrace. Her husband, too, was ill, and sorely in debt. It was Midwinter.
When Spring came, and the flowers blossomed, and the birds mated, and warm breezes came whispering softly from the South, and all the earth was glad, the husband of this child-wife was in his grave, and she was alone. Alone? No; she carried in her tired arms the hungry babe, and beneath her heart she felt the faint flutter of another life.
But to be in trouble and in Ireland is not so bad after all, for the Irish people have great and tender hearts; and even if they have not much to bestow in a material way, they can give sympathy, and they do.
So the girl was cared for by kind kindred, and on November Thirtieth, Sixteen Hundred Sixty-seven, at Number Seven, Hoey's Court, Dublin, the second baby was born.
Only a little way from Hoey's Court is Saint Patrick's Cathedral. On that November day, as the tones from the clanging chimes fell on the weary senses of the young mother, there in her darkened room, little did she think that the puny bantling she held to her breast would yet be the Dean of the great church whose bells she heard; and how could she anticipate a whisper coming to her from the far-off future: "Of writing books about your babe there is no end!"
The man-child was given to an old woman to care for, and he had the ability, even then, it seems, to win affection. The foster-mother loved him and she stole him away, carrying him off to England.
Charity ministered to his needs; charity gave him his education. When Swift was twenty-one years old he went to see his mother. Her means were scanty to the point of hardship, but so buoyant was her mind that she used to declare that she was both rich and happy—and being happy she was certainly rich. She was a rare woman. Her spirit was independent, her mind cultivated, her manner gentle and refined, and she was endowed with a keen sense of humor.
From her, the son derived those qualities which have made him famous. No man is greater than his mother; but the sons of brave women do not always make brave men. In one quality Swift was lamentably inferior to his mother—he did not have her capacity for happiness. He had wit; she had humor.
We have seen how Swift's father sickened and died. The world was too severe for him, its buffets too abrupt, its burden too heavy, and he gave up the fight before the battle had really begun. This lack of courage and extreme sensitiveness are seen in the son. But so peculiar, complex and wonderful is this web of life, that our very blunders, weaknesses and mistakes are woven in and make the fabric stronger. If Swift had possessed only his mother's merits, without his father's faults, he would never have shaken the world with laughter, and we should never have heard of him.
In her lowliness and simplicity the mother of Swift was content. She did her work in her own little way. She smiled at folly, and each day she thanked Heaven that her lot was no worse. Not so her son. He brooded in sullen silence; he cursed Fate for making him a dependent, and even in his youth he scorned those who benefited him. This was a very human proceeding.
Many hate, but few have a fine capacity for scorn. Their hate is so vehement that when hurled it falls short. Swift's scorn was a beautifully winged arrow, with a poisoned tip. Some who were struck did not at the time know it.
His misanthropy defeated his purpose, thwarted his ambition, ruined his aims, and—made his name illustrious.
Swift wished for churchly preferment, but he had not the patience to wait. He imagined that others were standing in his way, and of course they were; for under the calm exterior of things ecclesiastic, there is often a strife, a jealousy and a competition more rabid than in commerce. To succeed in winning a bishopric requires a sagacity as keen as that required to become a Senator of Massachusetts or the Governor of New York. The man bides his time, makes himself popular, secures advocates, lubricates the way, pulls the wires, and slides noiselessly into place.
Swift lacked diplomacy. When matters did not seem to progress he grew wrathful, seized his pen and stabbed with it. But as he wrote, the ludicrousness of the whole situation came over him and, instead of cursing plain curses, he held his adversary up to ridicule! And this ridicule is so active, the scorn so mixed with wit, the shafts so finely feathered with truth, that it is the admiration of mankind. Vitriol mixed with ink is volatile. Then what? We just run Swift through a coarse sieve to take out the lumps of Seventeenth Century refuse, and then we give him to children to make them laugh. Surely no better use can be made of pessimists. Verily, the author of Gulliver wrote for one purpose, and we use his work for another. He wished for office, he got contempt; he tried to subdue his enemies, they subdued him; he worked for the present, and he won immortality.
Said Heinrich Heine, prone on his bed in Paris: "The wittiest sarcasms of mortals are only an attempt at jesting when compared with those of the great Author of the Universe—the Aristophanes of Heaven!"
Wise men over and over have wasted good ink and paper in bewailing Swift's malice and coarseness. But without these very elements which the wise men bemoan, Swift would be for us a cipher. Yet love is life and hate is death, so how can spite benefit? The answer is that, in certain forms of germination, frost is as necessary as sunshine: so some men have qualities that lie dormant until the coldness of hate bursts the coarse husk of indifference.
But while hate may animate, only love inspires. Swift might have stood at the head of the Church of England; but even so, he would be only a unit in a long list of names, and as it is, there is only one Swift. Mr. Talmage averred that not ten men in America knew the name of the Archbishop of Canterbury until his son wrote a certain book entitled "Dodo." In putting out this volume, young Benson not only gave us the strongest possible argument favoring the celibacy of the clergy, but at the same time, if Talmage's statement is correct, he made known his father's name.
In all Swift's work, save "The Journal to Stella," the animating motive seems to have been to confound his enemies; and according to the well-known line in that hymn sung wherever the Union Jack flies, we must believe this to be a perfectly justifiable ambition. But occasionally on his pages we find gentle words of wisdom that were meant evidently for love's eyes alone. There is much that is pure boyish frolic, and again and again there are clever strokes directed at folly. He has shot certain superstitions through with doubt, and in his manner of dealing with error he has proved to us a thing it were well not to forget: that pleasantry is more efficacious than vehemence.
Let me name one incident by way of proof—the well-known one of Partridge, the almanac-maker. This worthy cobbler was an astrologer of no mean repute. He foretold events with much discretion. The ignorant bought his almanacs, and many believed in them as a Bible—in fact, astrology was enjoying a "boom."
Swift came to London and found that Partridge's predictions were the theme at the coffeehouses. He saw men argue and wax wroth, grow red in the face as they talked loud and long about nothing—just nothing. The whole thing struck Swift as being very funny; and he wrote an announcement of his intention to publish a rival almanac. He explained that he, too, was an astrologer, but an honest one, while Partridge was an impostor and a cheat; in fact, Partridge foretold only things which every one knew would come true. As for himself, he could discern the future with absolute certainty, and to prove to the world his power he would now make a prophecy. In substance, it was as follows: "My first prediction is but a trifle; it relates to Partridge, the almanac-maker. I have consulted the star of his nativity, and find that he will die on the Twenty-ninth day of March, next." This was signed, "Isaac Bickerstaff," and duly issued in pamphlet form. It had such an air of sincerity that both the believers and the scoffers read it with interest.
The Thirtieth of March came, and another pamphlet from "Isaac Bickerstaff" appeared, announcing the fulfilment of the prophecy. It related how toward the end of March Partridge began to languish; how he grew ill and at last took to his bed, and, his conscience then smiting him, he confessed to the world that he was a fraud and a rogue, that all his prophecies were impositions; he then passed away.
Partridge was wild with rage, and immediately replied in a manifesto declaring that he was alive and well, and moreover was alive on March Twenty-ninth.
To this "Bickerstaff" replied in a pamphlet more seriously humorous than ever, reaffirming that Partridge was dead, and closing with the statement that, "If an uninformed carcass still walks about calling itself Partridge, I do not in any way consider myself responsible for that."
The joke set all London on a grin. Wherever Partridge went he was met with smiles and jeers, and astrology became only a jest to a vast number of people who had formerly believed in it seriously.
When Benjamin Franklin started his "Poor Richard's Almanac," twenty-five years later, in the first issue he prophesied the death of one Dart who set the pace at that time as almanac-maker in America. The man was to expire on the afternoon of October Seventeenth, Seventeen Hundred Thirty-eight, at three twenty-nine o'clock.
Dart, being somewhat of a joker himself, came out with an announcement that he, too, had consulted the oracle, and found he would live until October Twenty-sixth, and possibly longer.
On October Eighteenth, Franklin announced Dart's death, and explained that it occurred promptly on time, all as prophesied.
Yet Dart lived to publish many almanacs; but Poor Richard got his advertisement, and many staid, broad-brimmed Philadelphians smiled who had never smiled before—not only smiled but subscribed.
Benjamin Franklin was a great and good man, as any man must be who fathers another's jokes, introducing these orphaned children to the world as his own.
Perhaps no one who has written of Swift knew him so well as Delany. And this writer, who seems to have possessed a judicial quality far beyond most men, has told us that Swift was moral in conduct to the point of asceticism. His deportment was grave and dignified, and his duties as a priest were always performed with exemplary diligence. He visited the sick, regularly administered the sacraments, and was never known to absent himself from morning prayers.
When Harley was Lord Treasurer, Swift seems to have been on the topmost crest of the wave of popularity. Invitations from nobility flowed in upon him, beautiful women deigned to go in search of his society, royalty recognized him. And yet all this time he was only a country priest with a liking for literature.
Collins tells us that the reason for his popularity is plain: "Swift was one of the kings of the earth. Like Pope Innocent the Third, like Chatham, he was one to whom the world involuntarily pays tribute."
His will was a will of adamant; his intellect so keen that it impressed every one who approached him; his temper singularly stern, dauntless and haughty. But his wit was never filled with gaiety: he was never known to laugh. Amid the wildest uproar that his sallies caused, he would sit with face austere—unmoved.
Personally, Swift was a gentleman. When he was scurrilous, abusive, ribald, malicious, it was anonymously. Is this to his credit? I should not say so, but if a man is indecent and he hides behind a "nom de plume," it is at least presumptive proof that he is not dead to shame.
Leslie Stephen tells us that Swift was a Churchman to the backbone. No man who is a "Churchman to the backbone" is ever very pious: the spirit maketh alive, but the letter killeth. One looks in vain for traces of spirituality in the Dean. His sermons are models of churchly commonplace and full of the stock phrases of a formal religion. He never bursts into flame. Yet he most thoroughly and sincerely believed in religion. "I believe in religion, it keeps the masses in check. And then I uphold Christianity because if it is abolished the stability of the Church might be endangered," he said.
Philip asked the eunuch a needless question when he inquired, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" No one so poorly sexed as Swift can comprehend spiritual truth: spirituality and sexuality are elements that are never separated. Swift was as incapable of spirituality as he was of the "grand passion."
The Dean had affection; he was a warm friend; he was capable even of a degree of love, but his sexual and spiritual nature was so cold and calculating that he did not hesitate to sacrifice love to churchly ambition.
He argued that the celibacy of the Catholic clergy is a wise expediency. The bachelor physician and the unmarried priest have an influence among gentle womankind, young or old, married or single, that a benedict can never hope for. Why this is so might be difficult to explain, but discerning men know the fact. In truth, when a priest marries he should at once take a new charge, for if he remains with his old flock a goodly number of his "lady parishioners," in ages varying from seventeen to seventy, will with fierce indignation rend his reputation.
Swift was as wise as a serpent, but not always as harmless as a dove. He was making every effort to secure his miter and crosier: he had many women friends in London and elsewhere who had influence. Rather than run the risk of losing this influence he never acknowledged Stella as his wife. Choosing fame rather than love, he withered at the heart, then died at the top.
The life of every man is a seamless garment—its woof his thoughts, its warp his deeds. When for him the roaring loom of time stops and the thread is broken, foolish people sometimes point to certain spots in the robe and say, "Oh, why did he not leave that out!" not knowing that every action of man is a sequence from off Fate's spindle.
Let us accept the work of genius as we find it; not bemoaning because it is not better, but giving thanks because it is so good.
Well-fed, rollicking priest is Father O'Toole of Dublin, with a big, round face, a double chin, and a brogue that you can cut with a knife.
My letter of introduction from Monseigneur Satolli caused him at once to bring in a large, suspicious, black bottle and two glasses. Then we talked—talked of Ireland's wrongs and woman's rights, and of all the Irishmen in America whom I was supposed to know. We spoke of the illustrious Irishmen who had passed on, and I mentioned a name that caused the holy father to spring from his chair in indignation.
"Shwift is it! Shwift! No, me lad, don't go near him! He was the divil's own, the very worsht that ever followed the swish of a petticoat. No, no; if ye go to his grave it'll bring ye bad luck for a year. It's Tom Moore ye want—Tom was the bye. Arrah! now, and it's meself phat'll go wid ye."
And so the reverend father put on a long, black coat and his Saint Patrick's Day hat, and we started. We were met at the gate by a delegation of "shpalpeens" that had located me on the inside of the house and were lying in wait.
All American travelers in Ireland are supposed to be millionaires, and this may possibly explain the lavish attention that is often tendered them. At any rate, various members of the delegation wished "long life to the iligant 'merican gintleman," and hinted in terms unmistakable that pence would be acceptable. The holy father applied his cane vigorously to the ragged rears of the more presumptuous, and bade them begone, but still they followed and pressed close about.
"Here, I'll show you how to get rid of the dirty gang," said his holiness. "Have ye a penny, I don't know?"
I produced a handful of small change, which the father immediately took and tossed into the street. Instantly there was a heterogeneous mass of young Hibernians piled up in the dirt in a grand struggle for spoils. It reminded me of football incidents I had seen at fair Harvard. In the meantime, we escaped down a convenient alley and crossed the River Liffey to Old Dublin; inside the walls of the old city, through crooked lanes and winding streets that here and there showed signs of departed gentility, where now was only squalor, want and vice, until we came to Number Twelve Angier Street, a quaint, three-story brick building now used as a "public." In the wall above the door is a marble slab with this inscription: "Here was born Thomas Moore, on the Twenty-eighth day of May, Seventeen Hundred Seventy-eight." Above this in a niche is a bust of the poet.
Tom's father was a worthy greengrocer who, according to the author of "Lalla Rookh," always gave good measure and full count. It was ever a cause of regret to the elder Moore that his son did not show sufficient capacity to be trusted safely with the business.
The upper rooms of the house were shown to us by an obliging landlady. Father O'Toole had been here before, and led the way to a snug little chamber and explained that in this room the future poet of Ireland was found under one of his father's cabbage-leaves.
We descended to the neat little barroom with its sanded floor and polished glassware and shining brass. The holy father ordered 'arf-and-'arf at my expense and recited one of Moore's ballads. The landlady then gave us Byron's "Here's a Health to Thee, Tom Moore." A neighbor came in. Then we had more ballads, more 'arf-and-'arf, a selection from "Lalla Rookh," and various tales of the poet's early life, which possibly would be hard to verify.
And as the tumult raged, the smoke of battle gave me opportunity to slip away. I crossed the street, turned down one block, and entered Saint Patrick's Cathedral.
Great, roomy, gloomy, solemn temple, where the rumble of city traffic is deadened to a faint hum:
Other worshipers were there. Standing beside a great stone pillar I could make them out kneeling on the tiled floor. Gradually, my eyes became accustomed to the subdued light, and right at my feet I saw a large brass plate set in the floor and on it only this:
On the wall near is a bronze tablet, the inscription of which, in Latin, was dictated by Swift himself:
"Here lies the body of Jonathan Swift, Dean of this Cathedral, where fierce indignation can no longer rend his heart. Go! wayfarer, and imitate, if thou canst, one who, as far as in him lay, was an earnest champion of liberty——"
Above this is a fine bust of the Dean, and to the right is another tablet:
"Underneath lie interred the mortal remains of Mrs. Hester Johnson, better known to the world as 'Stella,' under which she is celebrated in the writings of Doctor Jonathan Swift, Dean of this Cathedral. She was a person of extraordinary endowments and accomplishments, in body, mind and behavior; justly admired and respected by all who knew her, on account of her eminent virtues as well as for her great natural and acquired perfections."
These were suffering souls and great. Would they have been so great had they not suffered? Who can tell? Were the waters troubled in order that they might heal the people?
Did Swift misuse this excellent woman, is a question that has been asked and answered again and again.
A great author has written:
"A woman, a tender, noble, excellent woman, has a dog's heart. She licks the hand that strikes her. And wrong nor cruelty nor injustice nor disloyalty can cause her to turn."
Death in pity took Stella first; took her in the loyalty of love and the fulness of faith from a world which for love has little recompense, and for faith small fulfilment.
Stella was buried by torchlight, at midnight, on the Thirtieth day of January, Seventeen Hundred Twenty-eight. Swift was sick at the time, and wrote in his journal: "This is the night of her funeral, and I am removed to another apartment that I may not see the light in the church which is just over against my window." But in his imagination he saw the gleaming torches as their dull light shone through the colored windows, and he said, "They will soon do as much for me."
But seventeen years came crawling by before the torches flared, smoked and gleamed as the mourners chanted a requiem, and the clods fell on the coffin, and their echoes intermingled with the solemn voice of the priest as he said, "Dust to dust, ashes to ashes."
In Eighteen Hundred Thirty-five, the graves were opened and casts taken of the skulls. The top of Swift's skull had been sawed off at the autopsy, and a bottle in which was a parchment setting forth the facts was inserted in the head that had conceived "Gulliver's Travels."
I examined the casts. The woman's head is square and shapely. Swift's head is a refutation of phrenology, being small, sloping and ordinary.
The bones of Swift and Stella were placed in one coffin, and now rest under three feet of concrete, beneath the floor of Saint Patrick's.
So sleep the lovers joined in death.
Max Nordau wrote a book—wrote it with his tongue in his cheek, a dash of vitriol in the ink, and with a pen that scratched.
And the first critic who seemed to place a just estimate on the work was Mr. Zangwill (he who has no Christian name). Mr. Zangwill made an attempt to swear out a "writ de lunatico inquirendo" against his Jewish brother, on the ground that the first symptom of insanity is often the delusion that others are insane; and this being so, Doctor Nordau was not a safe subject to be at large. But the Assize of Public Opinion denied the petition, and the dear people bought the book at from three to five dollars a copy. Printed in several languages, its sales have mounted to a hundred thousand volumes, and the author's net profit is full forty thousand dollars. No wonder is it that, with pockets full to bursting, Doctor Nordau goes out behind the house and laughs uproariously whenever he thinks of how he has worked the world!
If Doctor Talmage is the Barnum of Theology, surely we may call Doctor Nordau the Barnum of Science. His agility in manipulating facts is equal to Hermann's now-you-see-it and now-you-don't, with pocket-handkerchiefs. Yet Hermann's exhibition is worth the admittance fee, and Nordau's book (seemingly written in collaboration with Jules Verne and Mark Twain) would be cheap for a dollar. But what I object to is Professor Hermann's disciples posing as Sure-Enough Materializing Mediums, and Professor Lombroso's followers calling themselves Scientists, when each goes forth without scrip or purse with no other purpose than to supply themselves with both.
Yet it was Barnum himself who said that the public delights in being humbugged, and strange it is that we will not allow ourselves to be thimblerigged without paying for the privilege.
Nordau's success hinged on his audacious assumption that the public knew nothing of the Law of Antithesis. Yet Plato explained that the opposites of things look alike, and sometimes are alike—and that was quite a while ago.
The multitude answered, "Thou hast a devil." Many of them said, "He hath a devil and is mad." Festus said with a loud voice, "Paul, thou art beside thyself." And Nordau shouts in a voice more heady than that of Pilate, more throaty than that of Festus, "Mad—Whitman was—mad beyond the cavil of a doubt!"
In Eighteen Hundred Sixty-two, Lincoln, looking out of a window (before lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed) on one of the streets of Washington, saw a workingman in shirt-sleeves go by. Turning to a friend, the President said, "There goes a MAN!" The exclamation sounds singularly like that of Napoleon on meeting Goethe. But the Corsican's remark was intended for the poet's ear, while Lincoln did not know who his man was, although he came to know him afterward.
Lincoln in his early days was a workingman and an athlete, and he never quite got the idea out of his head (and I am glad) that he was still a hewer of wood. He once told George William Curtis that he more than half expected yet to go back to the farm and earn his daily bread by the work that his hands found to do; he dreamed of it nights, and whenever he saw a splendid toiler, he felt like hailing the man as brother and striking hands with him. When Lincoln saw Whitman strolling majestically past, he took him for a stevedore or possibly the foreman of a construction gang.
Whitman was fifty-one years old then. His long, flowing beard was snow-white, and the shock that covered his Jove-like head was iron-gray. His form was that of an Apollo who had arrived at years of discretion. He weighed an even two hundred pounds and was just six feet high. His plain, check, cotton shirt was open at the throat to the breast; and he had an independence, a self-sufficiency, and withal a cleanliness, a sweetness and a gentleness, that told that, although he had a giant's strength, he did not use it like a giant. Whitman used no tobacco, neither did he apply hot and rebellious liquors to his blood and with unblushing forehead woo the means of debility and disease. Up to his fifty-third year he had never known a sick day, although at thirty his hair had begun to whiten. He had the look of age in his youth and the look of youth in his age that often marks the exceptional man.
But at fifty-three his splendid health was crowded to the breaking strain. How? Through caring for wounded, sick and dying men, hour after hour, day after day, through the long, silent watches of the night. From Eighteen Hundred Sixty-four to the day of his death in Eighteen Hundred Ninety-two, he was, physically, a man in ruins. But he did not wither at the top. Through it all he held the healthy optimism of boyhood, carrying with him the perfume of the morning and the lavish heart of youth.
Doctor Bucke, who was superintendent of a hospital for the insane for fifteen years, and the intimate friend of Whitman all the time, has said: "His build, his stature, his exceptional health of mind and body, the size and form of his features, his cleanliness of mind and body, the grace of his movements and gestures, the grandeur, and especially the magnetism, of his presence; the charm of his voice, his genial, kindly humor; the simplicity of his habits and tastes, his freedom from convention, the largeness and the beauty of his manner; his calmness and majesty; his charity and forbearance—his entire unresentfulness under whatever provocation; his liberality, his universal sympathy with humanity in all ages and lands, his broad tolerance, his catholic friendliness, and his unexampled faculty of attracting affection, all prove his perfectly proportioned manliness."
But Whitman differed from the disciple of Lombroso in two notable particulars: He had no quarrel with the world, and he did not wax rich. "One thing thou lackest, O Walt Whitman!" we might have said to the poet; "you are not a financier." He died poor. But this is no proof of degeneracy, save on 'Change. When the children of Count Tolstoy endeavored to have him adjudged insane, the Court denied the application and voiced the wisest decision that ever came out of Russia: A man who gives away his money is not necessarily more foolish than he who saves it.
And with Horace L. Traubel I assert that Whitman was the sanest man I ever saw.
Some men make themselves homes; and others there be who rent rooms. Walt Whitman was essentially a citizen of the world: the world was his home and mankind were his friends. There was a quality in the man peculiarly universal: a strong, virile poise that asked for nothing, but took what it needed.
He loved men as brothers, yet his brothers after the flesh understood him not; he loved children—they turned to him instinctively—but he had no children of his own; he loved women, and yet this strongly sexed and manly man never loved a woman. And I might here say as Philip Gilbert Hamerton said of Turner, "He was lamentably unfortunate in this: throughout his whole life he never came under the ennobling and refining influence of a good woman."
It requires two to make a home. The first home was made when a woman, cradling in her loving arms a baby, crooned a lullaby. All the tender sentimentality we throw around a place is the result of the sacred thought that we live there with some one else. It is "our" home. The home is a tryst—the place where we retire and shut the world out. Lovers make a home, just as birds make a nest, and unless a man knows the spell of the divine passion I hardly see how he can have a home at all. He only rents a room.
Camden is separated from the city of Philadelphia by the Delaware River. Camden lies low and flat—a great, sandy, monotonous waste of straggling buildings. Here and there are straight rows of cheap houses, evidently erected by staid, broad-brimmed speculators from across the river, with eyes on the main chance. But they reckoned ill, for the town did not boom. Some of these houses have marble steps and white, barn-like shutters, that might withstand a siege. When a funeral takes place in one of these houses, the shutters are tied with strips of mournful, black alpaca for a year and a day. Engineers, dockmen, express-drivers and mechanics largely make up the citizens of Camden. Of course, Camden has its smug corner where prosperous merchants most do congregate: where they play croquet in the front yards, and have window-boxes, and a piano and veranda-chairs and terra-cotta statuary; but for the most part the houses of Camden are rented, and rented cheap.
Many of the domiciles are frame and have the happy tumbledown look of the back streets in Charleston or Richmond—those streets where the white trash merges off into prosperous colored aristocracy. Old hats do duty in keeping out the fresh air where Providence has interfered and broken out a pane; blinds hang by a single hinge; bricks on the chimney-tops threaten the passersby; stringers and posts mark the place where proud picket fences once stood—the pickets having gone for kindling long ago. In the warm, Summer evenings, men in shirt-sleeves sit on the front steps and stolidly smoke, while children pile up sand in the streets and play in the gutters.
Parallel with Mickle Street, a block away, are railway-tracks. There noisy switch-engines that never keep Sabbath, puff back and forth, day and night, sending showers of soot and smoke when the wind is right (and it usually is) straight over Number 328, where, according to John Addington Symonds and William Michael Rossetti, lived the mightiest seer of the century—the man whom they rank with Socrates, Epictetus, Saint Paul, Michelangelo and Dante.
It was in August of Eighteen Hundred Eighty-three that I first walked up that little street—a hot, sultry Summer evening. There had been a shower that turned the dust of the unpaved roadway to mud. The air was close and muggy. The houses, built right up to the sidewalks, over which, in little gutters, the steaming sewage ran, seemed to have discharged their occupants into the street to enjoy the cool of the day. Barefooted children by the score paddled in the mud. All the steps were filled with loungers; some of the men had discarded not only coats but shirts as well, and now sat in flaming red underwear, holding babies.
They say that "woman's work is never done," but to the women of Mickle Street this does not apply—but stay! perhaps their work IS never done. Anyway, I remember that women sat on the curbs in calico dresses or leaned out of the windows, and all seemed supremely free from care.
"Can you tell me where Mr. Whitman lives?" I asked a portly dame who was resting her elbows on a windowsill.
"You mean Walt Whitman?"
"Show the gentleman, Molly; he'll give you a nickel, I'm sure!"
I had not seen Molly. She stood behind me, but as her mother spoke she seized tight hold of one of my fingers, claiming me as her lawful prey, and all the other children looked on with envious eyes as little Molly threw at them glances of scorn and marched me off. Molly was five, going on six, she told me. She had bright-red hair, a grimy face and little chapped feet that made not a sound as we walked. She got her nickel and carried it in her mouth, and this made conversation difficult. After going one block she suddenly stopped, squared me around and pointing said, "Them is he!" and disappeared.
In a wheeled rattan chair, in the hallway, a little back from the door of a plain, weather-beaten house, sat the coatless philosopher, his face and head wreathed in a tumult of snow-white hair.
I had a little speech, all prepared weeks before and committed to memory, that I intended to repeat, telling him how I had read his poems and admired them. And further I had stored away in my mind a few blades from "Leaves of Grass" that I purposed to bring out at the right time as a sort of certificate of character. But when that little girl jerked me right-about-face and heartlessly deserted me, I stared dumbly at the man whom I had come a hundred miles to see. I began angling for my little speech, but could not fetch it.
"Hello!" called the philosopher, out of the white aureole. "Hello! come here, boy!"
He held out his hand and as I took it there was a grasp with meaning in it.
"Don't go yet, Joe," he said to a man seated on the step smoking a cob-pipe.
"The old woman's calling me," said the swarthy Joe.
Joe evidently held truth lightly. "So long, Walt!"
"Good-by, Joe. Sit down, lad; sit down!"
I sat in the doorway at his feet.
"Now isn't it queer—that fellow is a regular philosopher and works out some great problems, but he's ashamed to express 'em. He could no more give you his best than he could fly. Ashamed, I s'pose, ashamed of the best that is in him. We are all a little that way—all but me—I try to write my best, regardless of whether the thing sounds ridiculous or not—regardless of what others think or say or have said. Ashamed of our holiest, truest and best! Is it not too bad?
"You are twenty-five now? Well, boy, you may grow until you are thirty and then you will be as wise as you ever will be. Haven't you noticed that men of sixty have no clearer vision than men of forty? One reason is that we have been taught that we know all about life and death and the mysteries of the grave. But the main reason is that we are ashamed to shove out and be ourselves. Jesus expressed His own individuality perhaps more than any other man we know of, and so He wields a wider influence than any other. And this though we only have a record of just twenty-seven days of His life. Now that fellow that just left is an engineer, and he dreams some beautiful dreams; but he never expresses them to any one—only hints them to me, and this only at twilight. He is like a weasel or a mink or a whippoorwill—he comes out only at night.
"'If the weather was like this all the time, people would never learn to read and write,' said Joe to me just as you arrived. And isn't that so? Here we can count a hundred people up and down this street, and not one is reading, not one but that is just lolling about, except the children—and they are happy only when playing in the dirt. Why, if this tropical weather should continue we would all slip back into South Sea Islanders! You can raise good men only in a little strip around the North Temperate Zone—when you get out of the track of a glacier, a tender-hearted, sympathetic man of brains is an accident."
Then the old man suddenly ceased and I imagined that he was following the thought out in his own mind. We sat silent for a space. The twilight fell, and a lamplighter lit the street lamp on the corner. He stopped an instant to salute the poet cheerily as he passed. The man sitting on the doorstep, across the street, smoking, knocked the ashes out of his pipe on his boot-heel and went indoors. Women called their children, who did not respond, but still played on. Then the creepers were carried in, to be fed their bread-and-milk and put to bed; and, shortly, shrill feminine voices ordered the other children indoors, and some obeyed.
The night crept slowly on.
I heard Old Walt chuckle behind me, talking incoherently to himself, and then he said, "You are wondering why I live in such a place as this?"
"Yes; that is exactly what I was thinking of!"
"You think I belong in the country, in some quiet, shady place. But all I have to do is to shut my eyes and go there. No man loves the woods more than I—I was born within sound of the sea—down on Long Island, and I know all the songs that the seashell sings. But this babble and babel of voices pleases me better, especially since my legs went on a strike, for although I can't walk, you see I can still mix with the throng, so I suffer no loss.
"In the woods, a man must be all hands and feet. I like the folks, the plain, ignorant, unpretentious folks; and the youngsters that come and slide on my cellar-door do not disturb me a bit. I'm different from Carlyle—you know he had a noise-proof room where he locked himself in. Now, when a huckster goes by, crying his wares, I open the blinds, and often wrangle with the fellow over the price of things. But the rogues have got into a way lately of leaving truck for me and refusing pay. Today an Irishman passed in three quarts of berries and walked off pretending to be mad because I offered to pay. When he was gone, I beckoned to the babies over the way—they came over and we had a feast.
"Yes, I like the folks around here; I like the women, and I like the men, and I like the babies, and I like the youngsters that play in the alley and make mud pies on my steps. I expect to stay here until I die."
"You speak of death as a matter of course—you are not afraid to die?"
"Oh, no, my boy; death is as natural as life, and a deal kinder. But it is all good—I accept it all and give thanks—you have not forgotten my chant to death?"
I repeated a few lines from "Drum-Taps."
He followed me, rapping gently with his cane on the floor, and with little interjectory remarks of "That's so!" "Very true!" "Good, good!" And when I faltered and lost the lines he picked them up where "The voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird."
In a strong, clear voice, but a voice full of sublime feeling, he repeated those immortal lines, beginning, "Come, lovely and soothing Death."
The last playing youngster had silently disappeared from the streets. The doorsteps were deserted—save where across the way a young man and maiden sat in the gloaming, conversing in low monotone.
The clouds had drifted away.
A great, yellow star shone out above the chimney-tops in the East.
I arose to go.
"I wish you'd come oftener—I see you so seldom, lad," said the old man, half-plaintively.
I did not explain that we had never met before—that I had come from New York purposely to see him. He thought he knew me. And so he did—as much as I could impart. The rest was irrelevant. As to my occupation or name, what booted it!—he had no curiosity concerning me. I grasped his outstretched hand in both of my own.
He said not a word; neither did I.
I turned and made my way to the ferry—past the whispering lovers on the doorsteps, and over the railway-tracks where the noisy engines puffed. As I walked on board the boat, the wind blew up cool and fresh from the West. The star in the East grew brighter, and other stars came out, reflecting themselves like gems in the dark blue of the Delaware.
There was a soft sublimity in the sound of the bells that came echoing over the waters. My heart was very full, for I had felt the thrill of being in the presence of a great and loving soul.
It was the first time and the last that I ever saw Walt Whitman.
A good many writers bear no message: they carry no torch. Sometimes they excite wonder, or they amuse and divert—divert us from our work. To be diverted to a certain degree may be well, but there is a point where earth ends and cloud-land begins, and even great poets occasionally befog the things they would reveal.
Homer was seemingly blind to much simple truth; Vergil carries you away from earth; Horace was undone without his Mæcenas; Dante makes you an exile; Shakespeare was singularly silent concerning the doubts, difficulties and common lives of common people; Byron's corsair life does not help you in your toil, and in his fight with English Bards and Scotch Reviewers we crave neutrality; to be caught in the meshes of Pope's "Dunciad" is not pleasant; and Lowell's "Fable for Critics" is only another "Dunciad." But above all other poets who have ever lived, the author of "Leaves of Grass" was the poet of humanity.
Milton knew all about Heaven, and Dante conducts us through Hell, but it was left for Whitman to show us Earth. His voice never goes so high that it breaks into an impotent falsetto, neither does it growl and snarl at things it does not understand and not understanding does not like. He was so great that he had no envy, and his insight was so sure that he had no prejudice. He never boasted that he was higher, nor claimed to be less than any of the other sons of men. He met all on terms of absolute equality, mixing with the poor, the lowly, the fallen, the oppressed, the cultured, the rich—simply as brother with brother. And when he said to an outcast, "Not till the sun excludes you will I exclude you," he voiced a sentiment worthy of a god.
He was brother to the elements, the mountains, the seas, the clouds, the sky. He loved them all and partook of them all in his large, free, unselfish, untrammeled nature. His heart knew no limits, and feeling his feet mortised in granite and his footsteps tenoned in infinity he knew the amplitude of time.
Only the great are generous; only the strong are forgiving. Like Lot's wife, most poets look back over their shoulders; and those who are not looking backward insist that we shall look into the future, and the vast majority of the whole scribbling rabble accept the precept, "Man never is, but always to be blest."
We grieve for childhood's happy days, and long for sweet rest in Heaven and sigh for mansions in the skies. And the people about us seem so indifferent, and our friends so lukewarm; and really no one understands us, and our environment queers our budding spirituality, and the frost of jealousy nips our aspirations: "O Paradise, O Paradise, the world is growing old; who would not be at rest and free where love is never cold." So sing the fearsome dyspeptics of the stylus. O anemic he, you bloodless she, nipping at crackers, sipping at tea, why not consider that, although evolutionists tell us where we came from, and theologians inform us where we are going to, yet the only thing we are really sure of is that we are here!
The present is the perpetually moving spot where history ends and prophecy begins. It is our only possession: the past we reach through lapsing memory, halting recollection, hearsay and belief; we pierce the future by wistful faith or anxious hope; but the present is beneath our feet.
Whitman sings the beauty and the glory of the present. He rebukes our groans and sighs—bids us look about on every side at the wonders of creation, and at the miracles within our grasp. He lifts us up, restores us to our own, introduces us to man and to Nature, and thus infuses into us courage, manly pride, self-reliance, and the strong faith that comes when we feel our kinship with God.
He was so mixed with the universe that his voice took on the sway of elemental integrity and candor. Absolutely honest, this man was unafraid and unashamed, for Nature has neither apprehension, shame nor vainglory. In "Leaves of Grass" Whitman speaks as all men have ever spoken who believe in God and in themselves—oracular, without apology or abasement—fearlessly. He tells of the powers and mysteries that pervade and guide all life, all death, all purpose. His work is masculine, as the sun is masculine; for the Prophetic Voice is as surely masculine as the lullaby and lyric cry are feminine.
Whitman brings the warmth of the sun to the buds of the heart, so that they open and bring forth form, color, perfume. He becomes for them aliment and dew; so these buds become blossoms, fruits, tall branches and stately trees that cast refreshing shadows.
There are men who are to other men as the shadow of a mighty rock in a weary land—such is Walt Whitman.
Man is neither master of his life nor of his fate. He can but
offer to his fellowmen his efforts to diminish human suffering;
he can but offer to God his indomitable faith in the growth of
The father of Victor Hugo was a general in the army of Napoleon, his mother a woman of rare grace and brave good sense. Victor was the third of three sons. Six weeks before the birth of her youngest boy, the mother wrote to a very dear friend of her husband, this letter:"To General Victor Lahorie,
"Soon to become the mother of a third child, it would be very agreeable to me if you would act as its godfather. Its name shall be yours—one which you have not belied and one which you have so well honored: Victor or Victorine. Your consent will be a testimonial of your friendship for us.
"Please accept, Citizen-General, the assurance of our sincere attachment.
Victorine was expected, Victor came. General Lahorie acted as sponsor for the infant.
A soldier's family lives here or there, everywhere or anywhere. In Eighteen Hundred Eight, General Hugo was with Joseph Bonaparte in Spain. Victor was then six years old. His mother had taken as a residence a quaint house in the Impasse of the Feullantines, Paris.
It was one of those peculiar old places occasionally seen in France. The environs of London have a few; America none of which I know. This house, roomy, comfortable and antiquated, was surrounded with trees and a tangle of shrubbery, vines and flowers; above it all was a high stone wall, and in front a picket iron gate. It was a mosaic—a sample of the Sixteenth Century inlaid in this; solitary as the woods; quiet as a convent; sacred as a forest; a place for dreams, and reverie, and rest. At the back of the house was a dilapidated little chapel. Here an aged priest counted his beads, said daily mass, and endeavored to keep moth, rust and ruin from the house of prayer. This priest was a scholar, a man of learning: he taught the children of Madame Hugo.
Another man lived in this chapel. He never went outside the gate and used to take exercise at night. He had a cot-bed in the shelter of the altar; beneath his pillow were a pair of pistols and a copy of Tacitus. This man lived there Summer and Winter, although there was no warmth save the scanty sunshine that stole in through the shattered windows. He, too, taught the children and gave them little lectures on history. He loved the youngest boy and would carry him on his shoulder and tell him stories of deeds of valor.
One day a file of soldiers came. They took this man and manacled him. The mother sought to keep her children inside the house so that they should not witness the scene, but she did not succeed. The boys fought their mother and the servants in a mad frenzy trying to rescue the old man. The soldiers formed in columns of four and marched their prisoner away.
Not long after, Madame Hugo was passing the church of Saint Jacques du Haut Pas: her youngest boy's hand was in hers. She saw a large placard posted in front of the church. She paused and pointing to it said, "Victor, read that!" The boy read. It was a notice that General Lahorie had been shot that day on the plains of Grenville by order of a court martial.
General Lahorie was a gentleman of Brittany. He was a Republican, and five years before had grievously offended the Emperor. A charge of conspiracy being proved against him, a price was placed upon his head, and he found a temporary refuge with the mother of his godson.
That tragic incident of the arrest, and the placard announcing General Lahorie's death, burned deep into the soul of the manling, and who shall say to what extent it colored his future life?
When Napoleon met his downfall, it was also a Waterloo for General Hugo. His property was confiscated, and penury took the place of plenty.
When Victor was nineteen, his mother having died, the family life was broken up. In "Les Miserables" the early struggles of Marius are described; and this, the author has told us, may be considered autobiography. He has related how the young man lived in a garret; how he would sweep this barren room; how he would buy a pennyworth of cheese, waiting until dusk to get a loaf of bread, and slink home as furtively as if he had stolen it; how carrying his book under his arm he would enter the butcher's shop, and after being elbowed by jeering servants till he felt the cold sweat standing out on his forehead, he would take off his hat to the astonished butcher and ask for a single mutton-chop. This he would carry to his garret, and cooking it himself it would be made to last for three days.
In this way he managed to live on less than two hundred dollars a year, derived from the proceeds of poems, pamphlets and essays. At this time he was already an "Academy Laureate," having received honorable mention for a poem submitted in a competition.
In his twentieth year, fortune came to him in triple form: he brought out a book of poems that netted him seven hundred francs; soon after the publication of this book, Louis the Eighteenth, who knew the value of having friends who were ready writers, bestowed on him a pension of one thousand francs a year; then these two pieces of good fortune made possible a third—his marriage.
Early marriages are like late ones: they may be wise and they may not. Victor Hugo's marriage with Adele Foucher was a most happy event.
A man with a mind as independent as Victor Hugo's is sure to make enemies. The "Classics" were positive that he was defiling the well of Classic French, and they sought to write him down. But by writing a man up you can not write him down; the only thing that can smother a literary aspirant is silence.
Victor Hugo coined the word when he could not find it, transposed phrases, inverted sentences, and never called a spade an agricultural implement. Not content with this, he put the spade on exhibition and this often at unnecessary times, and occasionally prefaced the word with an adjective. Had he been let alone he would not have done this.
The censors told him he must not use the name of Deity, nor should he refer so often to kings. At once, he doubled his Topseys and put on his stage three Uncle Toms when one might have answered. Like Shakespeare, he used idioms and slang with profusion—anything to express the idea. Will this convey the thought? If so, it was written down, and, once written, Beelzebub and all his hosts could not make him change it. But in the interest of truth let me note one exception:
"I do not like that word," said Mademoiselle Mars to Victor Hugo at a rehearsal of "Hernani"; "can I not change it?"
"I wrote it so and it must stand," was the answer.
Mademoiselle Mars used another expression instead of the author's, and he promptly asked her to resign her part. She wept, and upon agreeing to adhere to the text was reinstated in favor.
Rehearsal after rehearsal occurred, and the words were repeated as written. The night of the performance came. Superb was the stage-setting, splendid the audience. The play went forward amid loud applause. The scene was reached where came the objectionable word. Did Mademoiselle Mars use it? Of course not; she used the word she chose—she was a woman. Fifty-three times she played the part, and not once did she use the author's pet phrase; and he was wise enough not to note the fact. The moral of this is that not even a strong man can cope with a small woman who weeps at the right time.
The censorship forbade the placing of "Marion Delorme" on the stage until a certain historical episode in it had been changed. Would the author be so kind as to change it? Not he.
"Then it shall not be played," said M. de Martignac.
The author hastened to interview the minister in person. He got a North Pole reception. In fact, M. de Martignac said that it was his busy day, and that playwriting was foolish business anyway; but if a man were bound to write, he should write to amuse, not to instruct. And young Hugo was bowed out.
When he found himself well outside the door he was furious. He would see the King himself. And he did see the King. His Majesty was gracious and very patient. He listened to the young author's plea, talked book-lore, recited poetry, showed that he knew Hugo's verses, asked after the author's wife, then the baby, and—said that the play could not go on. Hugo turned to go. Charles the Tenth called him back, and said that he was glad the author had called—in fact, he was about to send for him. His pension thereafter should be six thousand francs a year.
Victor Hugo declined to receive it. Of course, the papers were full of the subject. All cafedom took sides: Paris had a topic for gesticulation, and Paris improved the opportunity.
Conservatism having stopped this play, there was only one thing to do: write another; for a play of Victor Hugo's must be put upon the stage. All his friends said so; his honor was at stake.
In three weeks another play was ready. The censors read it and gave their report. They said that "Hernani" was whimsical in conception, defective in execution, a tissue of extravagances, generally trivial and often coarse. But they advised that it be put upon the stage, just to show the public to what extent of folly an author could go. In order to preserve the dignity of their office, they drew up a list of six places where the text should be changed.
Both sides were afraid, so each was willing to give in a point. The text was changed, and the important day for the presentation was drawing nigh. The Romanticists were, of course, anxious that the play should be a great success; the Classics were quite willing that it should be otherwise; in fact, they had bought up the claque and were making arrangements to hiss it down. But the author's friends were numerous; they were young and lusty; they held meetings behind locked doors, and swore terrible oaths that the play should go.
On the day of the initial performance, five hours before the curtain rose, they were on hand, having taken the best seats in the house. They also took the worst, wherever a hisser might hide. These advocates of liberal art wore coats of green or red or blue, costumes like bullfighters, trousers and hats to match or not to match—anything to defy tradition. All during the performance there was an uproar. Theophile Gautier has described the event in most entertaining style, and in "L'Historie de Romanticisme" the record of it is found in detail.
Several American writers have touched upon this particular theme, and all who have seen fit to write of it seem to have stood under umbrellas when God rained humor. One writer calls it "the outburst of a tremendous revolution in literature." He speaks of "smoldering flames," "the hordes that furiously fought entrenched behind prestige, age, caste, wealth and tradition," "suppression and extermination of heresy," "those who sought to stop the onward march of civilization," etc. Let us be sensible. A "cane-rush" is not a revolution, and "Bloody Monday" at Harvard is not "a decisive battle in the onward and upward march."
If "Hernani" had been hissed down, Victor Hugo would have lived just as long and might have written better.
Civilization is not held in place by noisy youths in flaming waistcoats; and even if every cabbage had hit its mark, and every egg bespattered its target, the morning stars would still sing together.
"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" was next turned out—written in five months—and was a great success. Publishers besieged the author for another story, but he preferred poetry. It was thirty years before his next novel, "Les Miserables," appeared. But all the time he wrote—plays, verses, essays, pamphlets. Everything that he penned was widely read. Amid storms of opposition and cries of bravo, continually making friends, he moved steadily forward.
Men like Victor Hugo can be killed or they may be banished, but they can not be bought; neither can they be intimidated into silence. He resigned his pension and boldly expressed himself in his own way.
He knew history by heart and toyed with it; politics was his delight. But it is a mistake to call him a statesman. He was bold to rashness, impulsive, impatient and vehement. Because a man is great is no reason why he should be proclaimed perfect. Such men as Victor Hugo need no veneer—the truth will answer: he would explode a keg of powder to kill a fly. He was an agitator. But these zealous souls are needed—not to govern or to be blindly followed, but rather to make other men think for themselves. Yet to do this in a monarchy is not safe.
The years passed, and the time came for either Hugo or Royalty to go; France was not large enough for both. It proved to be Hugo; a bounty of twenty-five thousand francs was offered for his body, dead or alive. Through a woman's devotion he escaped to Brussels. He was driven from there to Jersey, then to Guernsey.
It was nineteen years before he returned to Paris—years of banishment, but years of glory. Exiled by Fate that he might do his work!
Each day a steamer starts from Southampton for Guernsey, Alderney and Jersey. These are names known to countless farmers' boys the wide world over.
You can not mistake the Channel Island boats—they smell like a county fair, and though you be blind and deaf it is impossible to board the wrong craft. Every time one of these staunch little steamers lands in England, crates containing mild-eyed, lusty calves are slid down the gangplank, marked for Maine, Iowa, California, or some uttermost part of the earth. There his vealship (worth his weight in gold) is going to found a kingdom.
I stood on the dock watching the bovine passengers disembark, and furtively listened the while to an animated argument between two rather rough-looking, red-faced men, clothed in corduroys and carrying long, stout staffs. Mixed up in their conversation I caught the names of royalty, then of celebrities great, and artists famous—warriors, orators, philanthropists and musicians. Could it be possible that these rustics were poets? It must be so. And there came to me thoughts of Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Joaquin Miller, and all that sublime company of singers in shirt-sleeves.
Suddenly the wind veered and the veil fell; all the sacred names so freely bandied about were those of "families" with mighty milk-records.
When we went on board and the good ship was slipping down The Solent, I made the acquaintance of these men and was regaled with more cow-talk than I had heard since I left Texas.
We saw the island of Portsea, where Dickens was born, and got a glimpse of the spires of Portsmouth as we passed; then came the Isle of Wight and the quaint town of Cowes. I made a bright joke on the latter place as it was pointed out to me by my Jersey friend, but it went for naught.
A pleasant sail of eight hours and the towering cliffs of Guernsey came in sight. Foam-dashed and spray-covered they rise right out of the sea at the south, to the height of two hundred seventy feet. About them great flocks of sea-fowl hover, swirl and soar. Wild, rugged and romantic is the scene.
The Isle of Guernsey is nine miles long and six wide. Its principal town is Saint Peter Port, a place of about sixteen thousand inhabitants, where a full dozen hotel porters meet the incoming steamer and struggle for your baggage.
Hotels and boarding-houses here are numerous and good. Guernsey is a favorite resort for invalids and those who desire to flee the busy world for a space. In fact, the author of "Les Miserables" has made exile popular.
Emerging from my hotel at Saint Peter Port I was accosted by a small edition of Gavroche, all in tatters, who proposed showing me the way to Hauteville House for a penny. I already knew the route, but accepted the offer on Gavroche's promise to reveal to me a secret about the place. The secret is this: The house is haunted, and when the wind is east, and the setting moon shows only a narrow rim above the rocks, ghosts come and dance a solemn minuet on the glass roof above the study.
Had Gavroche ever seen them? No, but he knew a boy who had. Years and years—ever so many years ago—long before there were any steamboats, and when only a schooner came to Guernsey once a week, a woman was murdered in Hauteville House. Her ghost came back with other ghosts and drove the folks away. So the big house remained vacant—save for the spooks, who paid no rent.
Then after a great, long time Victor Hugo came and lived in the house. The ghosts did not bother him. Faith! they had been keeping the place just a' purpose for him. He rented the house first, and liked it so well that he bought it—got it at half-price on account of the ghosts. Here, every Christmas, Victor Hugo gave a big dinner in the great oak hall to all the children in Guernsey: hundreds of them—all the way from babies that could barely creep, to "boys" with whiskers. They were all fed on turkey, tarts, apples, oranges and figs; and when they went away, each was given a bag of candy to take home.
Climbing a narrow, crooked street we came to the great, dark, gloomy edifice situated at the top of a cliff. The house was painted black by some strange whim of a former occupant.
"We will leave it so," said Victor Hugo; "liberty is dead, and we are in mourning for her."
But the gloom of Hauteville House is only on the outside. Within all is warm and homelike. The furnishings are almost as the poet left them, and the marks of his individuality are on every side.
In the outer hall stands an elegant column of carved oak, its panels showing scenes from "The Hunchback." In the dining-room there is fantastic wainscoting with plaques and porcelain tiles inlaid here and there. Many of these ornaments were presents, sent by unknown admirers in all parts of the world.
In "Les Miserables" there is a chance line revealing the author's love for the beautiful as shown in the grain of woods. The result was an influx of polished panels, slabs, chips, hewings, carvings, and in one instance a log sent "collect." Samples of redwood, ebony, calamander, hamamelis, suradanni, tamarind, satinwood, mahogany, walnut, maples of many kinds and oaks without limit—all are there. A mammoth ax-helve I noticed on the wall was labeled, "Shagbark-hickory from Missouri."
These specimens of wood were sometimes made up into hatracks, chairs, canes, or panels for doors, and are seen in odd corners of these rambling rooms. Charles Hugo once facetiously wrote to a friend: "We have bought no kindling for three years." At another time he writes:
"Father still is sure he can sketch and positive he can carve. He has several jackknives, and whittles names, dates and emblems on sticks and furniture—we tremble for the piano."
In the dining-room, I noticed a huge oaken chair fastened to the wall with a chain. On the mantel was a statuette of the Virgin; on the pedestal Victor Hugo had engraved lines speaking of her as "Freedom's Goddess." This dining-room affords a sunny view out into the garden; on this floor are also a reception-room, library and a smoking-room.
On the next floor are various sleeping-apartments, and two cozy parlors, known respectively as the red room and the blue. Both are rich in curious draperies, a little more pronounced in color than some folks admire.
The next floor contains the "Oak Gallery": a ballroom we should call it. Five large windows furnish a flood of light. In the center of this fine room is an enormous candelabrum with many branches, at the top a statue of wood, the whole carved by Victor Hugo's own hands.
The Oak Gallery is a regular museum of curiosities of every sort—books, paintings, carvings, busts, firearms, musical instruments. A long glass case contains a large number of autograph-letters from the world's celebrities, written to Hugo in exile.
At the top of the house and built on its flat roof is the most interesting apartment of Hauteville House—the study and workroom of Victor Hugo. Three of its sides and the roof are of glass. The floor, too, is one immense slab of sea-green glass. Sliding curtains worked by pulleys cut off the light as desired. "More light, more light," said the great man again and again. He gloried and reveled in the sunshine.
Here, in the Winter, with no warmth but the sun's rays, his eyes shaded by his felt hat, he wrote, always standing at a shelf fixed in the wall. On this shelf were written all "The Toilers," "The Man Who Laughs," "Shakespeare" and much of "Les Miserables." The leaves of manuscript were numbered and fell on the floor, to remain perhaps for days before being gathered up.
When Victor Hugo went to Guernsey he went to liberty, not to banishment. He arrived at Hauteville House poor in purse and broken in health. Here the fire of his youth came back, and his pen retrieved the fortune that royalty had confiscated. The forenoons were given to earnest work. The daughter composed music; the sons translated Shakespeare and acted as their father's faithful helpers; Madame Hugo collected the notes of her husband's life and cheerfully looked after her household affairs.
Several hours of each afternoon were given to romp and play; the evenings were sacred to music, reading and conversation.
Horace Greeley was once a prisoner in Paris. From his cell he wrote, "The Saint Peter who holds the keys of this place has kindly locked the world out; and for once, thank Heaven, I am free from intrusion."
Lovers of truth must thank exile for some of our richest and ripest literature. Exile is not all exile. Imagination can not be imprisoned. Amid the winding bastions of the brain, thought roams free and untrammeled.
Liberty is only a comparative term, and Victor Hugo at Guernsey enjoyed a thousand times more freedom than ever ruling monarch knew.
Standing at the shelf-desk where this "Gentleman of France" stood for so many happy hours, I inscribed my name in the "visitors' book."
I thanked the good woman who had shown me the place, and told me so much of interest—thanked her in words that seemed but a feeble echo of all that my heart would say.
I went down the stairs—out at the great carved doorway—and descended the well-worn steps.
Perched on a crag waiting for me was little Gavroche, his rags fluttering in the breeze. He offered to show me the great stone chair where Gilliatt sat when the tide came up and carried him away. And did I want to buy a bull calf? Gavroche knew where there was a fine one that could be bought cheap. Gavroche would show me both the calf and the stone chair for threepence.
I accepted the offer, and we went down the stony street toward the sea, hand in hand.
On the Twenty-eighth day of June, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-four, I took my place in the long line and passed slowly through the Pantheon at Paris and viewed the body of President Carnot.
The same look of proud dignity that I had seen in life was there—calm, composed, serene. The inanimate clay was clothed in the simple black of a citizen of the Republic; the only mark of office being the red silken sash that covered the spot in the breast where the stiletto-stroke of hate had gone home.
Amid bursts of applause, surrounded by loving friends and loyal adherents, he was stricken down and passed out into the Unknown. Happy fate! to die before the fickle populace had taken up a new idol; to step in an instant beyond the reach of malice—to leave behind the self-seekers that pursue, the hungry horde that follows, the zealots who defame; to escape the dagger-thrust of calumny and receive only the glittering steel that at the same time wrote his name indelibly on the roll of honor.
Carnot, thrice happy thou! Thy name is secure on history's page, and thy dust now resting beneath the dome of the Pantheon is bedewed with the tears of thy countrymen.
Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, died in Five Hundred Twelve. She was buried on a hilltop, the highest point in Paris, on the left bank of the Seine. Over the grave was erected a chapel which for many years was a shrine for the faithful. This chapel with its additions remained until Seventeen Hundred Fifty, when a church was designed which in beauty of style and solidity of structure has rarely been equaled. The object of the architect was to make the most enduring edifice possible, and still not sacrifice proportion.
Louis the Fifteenth laid the cornerstone of this church in Seventeen Hundred Sixty-four, and in Seventeen Hundred Ninety the edifice was dedicated by the Roman Catholics with great pomp. But the spirit of revolution was at work; and in one year after, a mob sacked this beautiful building, burned its pews, destroyed its altar, and wrought havoc with its ecclesiastical furniture.
The Convention converted the structure into a memorial temple, inscribing on its front the words, "Aux grandes Hommes la patrie reconnaisante," and they named the building the Pantheon.
In Eighteen Hundred Six, the Catholics had gotten such influence with the government that the building was restored to them. After the revolution of Eighteen Hundred Thirty, the church of Saint Genevieve was again taken from the priests. It was held until Eighteen Hundred Fifty-one, when the Romanists in the Assembly succeeded in having it again reconsecrated. In the meantime, many of the great men of France had been buried there.
The first interment in the Pantheon was Mirabeau. Next came Marat—stabbed while in the bath by Charlotte Corday. Both bodies were removed by order of the Convention when the church was given back to Rome.
In the Pantheon, the visitor now sees the elaborate tombs of Voltaire and Rousseau. In the dim twilight he reads the glowing inscriptions, and from the tomb of Rousseau he sees the hand thrust forth bearing a torch—but the bones of these men are not here.
While robed priests chanted the litany, as the great organ pealed, and swinging censers gave off their perfume, visitors came, bringing children, and they stopped at the arches where Rousseau and Voltaire slept side by side, and they said, "It is here." And so the dust of infidel greatness seemed to interfere with the rites. A change was made. Let Victor Hugo tell:
"One night in May, Eighteen Hundred Fourteen, about two o'clock in the morning, a cab stopped near the city gate of La Gare at an opening in a board fence. This fence surrounded a large, vacant piece of ground belonging to the city of Paris. The cab had come from the Pantheon, and the coachman had been ordered to take the most deserted streets. Three men alighted from the cab and crawled into the enclosure. Two carried a sack between them. Other men, some in cassocks, awaited them. They proceeded towards a hole dug in the middle of the field. At the bottom of the hole was quicklime. These men said nothing, they had no lanterns. The wan daybreak gave a ghastly light; the sack was opened. It was full of bones. These were the bones of Jean Jacques and of Voltaire, which had been withdrawn from the Pantheon.
"The mouth of the sack was brought close to the hole, and the bones rattled down into that black pit. The two skulls struck against each other; a spark, not likely to be seen by those standing near, was doubtless exchanged between the head that made 'The Philosophical Dictionary' and the head that made 'The Social Contract,' When that was done, when the sack was shaken, when Voltaire and Rousseau had been emptied into that hole, a digger seized a spade, threw into the opening the heap of earth, and filled up the grave. The others stamped with their feet upon the ground, so as to remove from it the appearance of having been freshly disturbed. One of the assistants took for his trouble the sack—as the hangman takes the clothing of his victim—they left the enclosure, got into the cab without saying a word, and, hastily, before the sun had risen, these men got away."
The ashes of the man who wrote these vivid words now rest next to the empty tombs of Voltaire and Rousseau. But a step away is the grave of Sadi-Carnot.
When the visitor is conducted to the crypt of the Pantheon, he is first taken to the tomb of Victor Hugo. The sarcophagus on each side is draped with the red, white and blue of France and the stars and stripes of America. With uncovered heads, we behold the mass of flowers and wreaths, and our minds go back to Eighteen Hundred Eighty-five, when the body of the chief citizen of Paris lay in state at the Pantheon and five hundred thousand people passed by and laid the tribute of silence or of tears on his bier.
The Pantheon is now given over as a memorial to the men of France who have enriched the world with their lives. Over the portals of this beautiful temple are the words, "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite." Across its floors of rarest mosaic echo only the feet of pilgrims and those of the courteous and kindly old soldiers who have the place in charge. On the walls color revels in beautiful paintings, and in the niches and on the pedestals is marble that speaks of greatness which lives in lives made better.
The history of the Pantheon is one of strife. As late as Eighteen Hundred Seventy the Commune made it a stronghold, and the streets on every side were called upon to contribute their paving-stones for a barricade. Yet it seems meet that Victor Hugo's dust should lie here amid the scenes he loved and knew, and where he struggled, worked, toiled, achieved; from whence he was banished, and to which he returned in triumph, to receive at last the complete approbation so long withheld.
Certainly not in the quiet of a mossy graveyard, nor in a church where priests mumble unmeaning words at fixed times, nor yet alone on the mountain-side—for he chafed at solitude—but he should have been buried at sea. In the midst of storm and driving sleet, at midnight, the sails should have been lowered, the great engines stopped, and with no requiem but the sobbing of the night-wind and the sighing of the breeze through the shrouds, and the moaning of the waves as they surged about the great, black ship, the plank should have been run out, and the body wrapped in the red, white and blue of the Republic: the sea, the infinite mother of all, beloved and sung by him, should have taken his tired form to her arms, and there he would rest.
If not this, then the Pantheon.
Some one has told us that Heaven is not a place but a condition of mind, and it is possible that he is right.
But if Heaven is a place, surely it is not unlike Grasmere. Such loveliness of landscape—such sylvan stretches of crystal water—peace and quiet and rest!
Great, green hills lift their heads to the skies, and all the old stone walls and hedgerows are covered with trailing vines and blooming flowers. The air is rich with song of birds, sweet with perfume, and the blossoms gaily shower their petals on the passer-by. Overhead, white, billowy clouds float lazily over their background of ethereal blue. Cool June breezes fan the cheek. Distant knolls are dotted with flocks of sheep whose bells tinkle dreamily; and drowsy hum of beetle makes the bass, while lark song forms the air of the sweet symphony that Nature plays. Such was Grasmere as I first saw it.
To love the plain, homely, common, simple things of earth, of these to sing; to make the familiar beautiful and the commonplace enchanting; to cause each bush to burn with the actual presence of the living God: this is the poet's office. And if the poet lives near Grasmere, his task does not seem difficult.
From Seventeen Hundred Ninety-nine to Eighteen Hundred Eight, Wordsworth lived at Dove Cottage. Thanks to a few earnest souls, the place is now secured to the people of England and the lovers of poetry wherever they may be. A good old woman has charge of the cottage, and for a slight fee shows you the house and garden and little orchard and objects of interest, all the while talking: and you are glad, for, although unlettered, she is reverent and honest. She was born here, and all she knows is Wordsworth and the people and the things he loved. Is not this enough?
Here Wordsworth lived before anything he wrote was published in book form: here his best work was done, and here Dorothy—splendid, sympathetic Dorothy—-was inspiration, critic, friend. But who inspired Dorothy? Coleridge perhaps more than all others, and we know somewhat of their relationship as told in Dorothy's diary. There is a little Wordsworth Library in Dove Cottage, and I sat at the window of "De Quincey's room" and read for an hour. Says Dorothy:
"Sat until four o'clock reading dear Coleridge's letters."
"We paced the garden until moonrise at one o'clock—we three, brother, Coleridge and I." "I read Spenser to him aloud and then we had a midnight tea."
Here in this little, terraced garden, behind the stone cottage with its low ceilings and wide window-seats and little, diamond panes, she in her misery wrote:
"Oh, the pity of it all! Yet there is recompense; every sight reminds me of Coleridge, dear, dear fellow; of our walks and talks by day and night; of all the bright and witty, and sad sweet things of which we spoke and read. I was melancholy and could not talk, and at last I eased my heart by weeping."
Alas, too often there is competition between brother and sister, then follow misunderstandings; but here the brotherly and sisterly love stands out clear and strong after these hundred years have passed, and we contemplate it with delight. Was ever woman more honestly and better praised than Dorothy?
And so in a dozen or more poems, we see Dorothy reflected. She was the steel on which he tried his flint. Everything he wrote was read to her, then she read it alone, balancing the sentences in the delicate scales of her womanly judgment. "Heart of my heart, is this well done?" When she said, "This will do," it was no matter who said otherwise.
Back of the house on the rising hillside is the little garden. Hewn out of the solid rock is "Dorothy's seat." There I rested while Mrs. Dixon discoursed of poet lore, and told me of how, many times, Coleridge and Dorothy had sat in the same seat and watched the stars.
Then I drank from "the well," which is more properly a spring; the stones that curb it were placed in their present position by the hand that wrote "The Prelude." Above the garden is the orchard, where the green linnet still sings, for the birds never grow old.
There, too, are the circling swallows; and in a snug little alcove of the cottage you can read "The Butterfly" from a first edition; and then you can go sit in the orchard, white with blossoms, and see the butterflies that suggested the poem. And if your eye is good you can discover down by the lakeside the daffodils, and listen the while to the cuckoo call.
Then in the orchard you can see not only "the daisy," but many of them, and, if you wish, Mrs. Dixon will let you dig a bunch of the daisies to take back to America; and if you do, I hope that yours will prosper as have mine, and that Wordsworth's flowers, like Wordsworth's verse, will gladden your heart when the blue sky of your life threatens to be o'ercast with gray.
Here Southey came, and "Thalaber" was read aloud in this little garden. Here, too, came Clarkson, the man with a fine feminine carelessness, as Dorothy said. Charles Lloyd sat here and discoursed with William Calvert. Sir George Beaumont forgot his title and rapped often at the quaint, hinged door. An artist was Beaumont, but his best picture they say is not equal to the lines that Wordsworth wrote about it. Sir George was not only a gentleman according to law, but one in heart, for he was a friend, kind, gentle and generous. With such a friend Wordsworth was rich indeed. But perhaps the friends we have are only our other selves, and we get what we deserve.
We must not forget the kindly face of Humphry Davy, whose gracious playfulness was ever a charm to the Wordsworths. The safety-lamp was then only an unspoken word, and perhaps few foresaw the sweetness and light that these two men would yet give to earth.
Walter Scott and his wife came to Dove Cottage in Eighteen Hundred Five. He did not bring his title, for it, like Humphry Davy's, was as yet unpacked down in London town. They slept in the little cubby-hole of a room in the upper southwest corner. One can imagine Dorothy taking Sir Walter's shaving-water up to him in the morning; and the savory smell of breakfast as Mistress Mary poured the tea, while England's future laureate served the toast and eggs: Mr. Scott eating everything in sight and talking a torrent the while about art and philosophy as he passed his cup back, to the consternation of the hostess, whose frugal ways were not used to such ravages of appetite. Of course she did not know that a combined novelist and rhymster ate twice as much as a simple poet.
Afterwards Mrs. Scott tucked up her dress, putting on one of Dorothy's aprons, and helped do the dishes.
Then Coleridge came over and they all climbed to the summit of Helm Crag. Shy little De Quincey had read some of Wordsworth's poems, and knew from their flavor that the man who penned them was a noble soul. He came to Grasmere to call on him: he walked past Dove Cottage twice, but his heart failed him and he went away unannounced. Later, he returned and found the occupants as simple folks as himself.
Happiness was there and good society; few books, but fine culture; plain living and high thinking.
Wordsworth lived at Rydal Mount for thirty-three years, yet the sweetest flowers of his life blossomed at Dove Cottage. For difficulty, toil, struggle, obscurity, poverty, mixed with aspiration and ambition—-all these were here. Success came later, but this is naught; for the achievement is more than the public acknowledgment of the deed.
After Wordsworth moved away, De Quincey rented Dove Cottage and lived in it for twenty-seven years. He acquired a library of more than five thousand volumes, making bookshelves on four sides of the little rooms from floor to ceiling. Some of these shelves still remain. Here he turned night into day and dreamed the dreams of "The Opium-Eater."
And all these are some of the things that Mrs. Dixon told me on that bright Summer day. What if I had heard them before! no difference. Dear old lady, I salute you and at your feet I lay my gratitude for a day of rare and quiet joy.
At places of pleasure and entertainment in the Far West, are often found functionaries known as "bouncers." It is the duty of the bouncer to give hints to objectionable visitors that their presence is not desired. And inasmuch as there are many men who can never take a hint without a kick, the bouncer is a person selected on account of his peculiar fitness—psychic and otherwise—for the place. We all have special talents, and these faculties should be used in a manner that will help our fellowmen on their way.
My acquaintanceship with the bouncer has been only general, not particular. Yet I have admired him from a distance, and the skill and eclat that he sometimes shows in a professional way has often excited my admiration.
In social usages, America borrows constantly from the mother country. But like all borrowing it seems to be one-sided, for seldom, very, very seldom, in point of etiquette and manners does England borrow from us. Yet there are exceptions.
It is a beautiful highway that skirts Lake Windermere and follows up through Ambleside. We get a glimpse of the old home of Harriet Martineau, and "Fox Howe," the home of Matthew Arnold. Just before Rydal Water is reached comes Rydal Road, running straight up the hillside, off from the turnpike. Rydal Mount is the third house up on the left-hand side, I knew the location, for I had read of it many times, and in my pocketbook I carried a picture taken from an old "Frank Leslie's," showing the house.
My heart beat fast as I climbed the hill. To visit the old home of one who was Poet Laureate of England is no small event in the life of a book-lover. I was full of poetry and murmured lines from "The Excursion" as I walked. Soon rare old Rydal Mount came in sight among the wealth of green. I stopped and sighed. Yes, yes, Wordsworth lived here for thirty-three years, and here he died; the spot whereon I then stood had been pressed many times by his feet. I walked slowly, with uncovered head, and approached the gate. It was locked. I fumbled at the latch; and just as there came a prospect of its opening, a loud, deep, guttural voice dashed over me like a wave:
"There—you! now, wot you want?"
The owner of this voice was not ten feet away, but he was standing up close to the wall and I had not seen him. I was somewhat startled at first. The man did not move. I stepped to one side to get a better view of my interlocutor, and saw him to be a large, red man of perhaps fifty. A handkerchief was knotted around his thick neck, and he held a heavy hoe in his hand. A genuine beefeater he was, only he ate too much beef and the ale he drank was evidently Extra XXX.
His scowl was so needlessly severe and his manner so belligerent that I—thrice armed, knowing my cause was just—could not restrain a smile. I touched my hat and said, "Ah, excuse me, Mr. Falstaff, you are the bouncer?"
"Never mind wot I am, sir—'oo are you?"
"I am a great admirer of Wordsworth——"
"That's the way they all begins. Cawn't ye hadmire 'im on that side of the wall as well as this?"
There is no use of wasting argument with a man of this stamp; besides that, his question was to the point. But there are several ways of overcoming one's adversary: I began feeling in my pocket for pence. My enemy ceased glaring, stepped up to the locked gate as though he half-wished to be friendly, and there was sorrow in his voice: "Don't tempt me, sir; don't do ut! The Missus is peekin' out of the shutters at us now."
"And do you never admit visitors, even to the grounds?"
"No, sir, never, God 'elp me! and there's many an honest bob I could turn by ut, and no one 'urt. But I've lost my place twic't by ut. They took me back though. The Guv'ner 'ud never forgive me again. 'It's three times and out, Mister 'Opkins,' says 'ee, only last Whitsuntide."
"But visitors do come?"
"Yes, sir; but they never gets in. Mostly 'mer'cans; they don't know no better, sir. They picks all the ivy orf the outside of the wall, and you sees yourself there's no leaves on the lower branches of that tree. Then they carries away so many pebbles from out there that I've to dump in a fresh weelbarrel full o' gravel every week, sir, don't you know."
He thrust a pudgy, freckled hand through the bars of the gate to show that he bore me no ill-will, and also, I suppose, to mollify my disappointment. For although I had come too late to see the great poet himself and had even failed to see the inside of his house, yet I had at least been greeted at the gate by his proxy. I pressed the hand firmly, pocketed a handful of gravel as a memento, then turned and went my way.
And all there is to tell about my visit to Rydal Mount is this interview with the bouncer.
Wordsworth lived eighty years. His habitation, except for short periods, was never more than a few miles from his birthplace. His education was not extensive, his learning not profound. He lacked humor and passion; in his character there was little personal magnetism, and in his work there is small dramatic power.
He traveled more or less and knew humanity, but he did not know man. His experience in so-called practical things was slight, his judgment not accurate. So he lived—quietly, modestly, dreamily.
His dust rests in a country churchyard, the grave marked by a simple slab. A gnarled, old yew-tree stands guard above the grass-grown mound. The nearest railroad is fifteen miles away.
As a poet, Wordsworth stands in the front rank of the second class. Shelley, Browning, Mrs. Browning, Tennyson, far surpass him; and the sweet singer of Michigan, even in uninspired moments, never "threw off" anything worse than this:
Jove may nod, but when he makes a move it counts.
Yet the influence of Wordsworth upon the thought and feeling of the world has been very great. He himself said, "The young will read my poems and be better for their truth." Many of his lines pass as current coin: "The child is father of the man," "The light that never was on land nor sea," "Not too bright and good for human nature's daily food," "Thoughts that do lie too deep for tears," "The mighty stream of tendency," and many others. "Plain living and high thinking" is generally given to Emerson, but he discovered it in Wordsworth, and recognizing it as his own he took it. In a certain book of quotations, "The still sad music of humanity" is given to Shakespeare; but to equalize matters we sometimes attribute to Wordsworth "The Old Oaken Bucket."
The men who win are those who correct an abuse. Wordsworth's work was a protest—mild yet firm—against the bombastic and artificial school of the Eighteenth Century. Before his day the "timber" used by poets consisted of angels, devils, ghosts, gods; onslaught, tourneys, jousts, tempests of hate and torrents of wrath, always of course with a very beautiful and very susceptible young lady just around the corner. The women in those days were always young and ever beautiful, but seldom wise and not often good. The men were saints or else "bad," generally bad. Like the cats of Kilkenny, they fought on slight cause.
Our young man at Hawkshead School saw this: it pleased him not, and he made a list of the things on which he would write poems. This list includes: sunset, moonrise, starlight, mist, brooks, shells, stones, butterflies, moths, swallows, linnets, thrushes, wagoners, babies, bark of trees, leaves, nests, fishes, rushes, leeches, cobwebs, clouds, deer, music, shade, swans, crags and snow. He kept his vow and "went it one better," for among his verses I find the following titles: "Lines Left Upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree," "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey," "To a Wounded Butterfly," "To Dora's Portrait," "To the Cuckoo," "On Seeing a Needlebook Made in the Shape of a Harp," etc.
Wordsworth's service to humanity consists in the fact that he has shown us old truth in a new light, and has made plain the close relationship that exists between physical nature and the soul of man. Is this much or little? I think it is much. When we realize that we are a part of all that we see, or hear, or feel, we are not lonely. But to feel a sense of separation is to feel the chill of death.
Wordsworth taught that the earth is the universal Mother and that the life of the flower has its source in the same universal life from whence ours is derived. To know this truth is to feel a tenderness, a kindliness, a spirit of fraternalism, toward every manifestation of this universal life. No attempt was made to say the last word, only a wish to express the truth that the spirit of God is manifest on every hand.
Now this is a very simple philosophy. No far-reaching, syllogistic logic is required to prove it; no miracle, nor special dispensation is needed; you just feel that it is so, that's all, and it gives you peace. Children, foolish folks, old men, whose sands of life are nearly run, comprehend it. But heaven bless you! you can't prove any such foolishness. Jeffrey saw the ridiculousness of these assumptions and so he declared, "This will never do," and for twenty years "The Edinburgh Review" never ceased to fling off fleers and jeers—and to criticize and scoff. That a great periodical, rich and influential, in the city which was the very center of learning, should go so much out of its way to attack a quiet countryman living in a four-roomed cottage, away off in the hills of Cumberland, seems a little queer.
Then, this countryman did not seek to found a kingdom, nor to revolutionize society, nor did he force upon the world his pattypan rhymes about linnets, and larks, and daffodils. Far from it: he was very modest—diffident, in fact—and his song was quite in the minor key, but still the chain-shot and bombs of literary warfare were sent hissing in his direction.
There is a little story about a certain general who figured as division-commander in the War of Secession: this warrior had his headquarters, for a time, in a typical Southern home in the Tennessee Mountains. The house had a large fireplace and chimney; in this chimney, swallows had nests. One day, as the great man was busy at his maps, working out a plan of campaign against the enemy, the swallows made quite an uproar. Perhaps some of the eggs were hatching; anyway, the birds were needlessly noisy in their domestic affairs, and it disturbed the great man—he grew nervous. He called his adjutant. "Sir," said the mighty warrior, "dislodge those damn pests in the chimney, without delay."
Two soldiers were ordered to climb the roof and dislodge the enemy. Yet the swallows were not dislodged, for the soldiers could not reach them.
So Jeffrey's tirades were unavailing, and Wordsworth was not dislodged.
"He might as well try to crush Skiddaw," said Southey.
TO MR. BROOKFIELD
September 16, 1849
Have you read Dickens? Oh, it is charming! Brave Dickens! "David Copperfield" has some of his prettiest touches, and the reading of the book has done another author a great deal of good.
There are certain good old ladies in every community who wear perennial mourning. They attend every funeral, carrying black-bordered handkerchiefs, and weep gently at the right time. I have made it a point to hunt out these ancient dames at their homes, and, over the teacups, I have discovered that invariably they enjoy a sweet peace—a happiness with contentment—that is a great gain. They seem to be civilization's rudimentary relic of the Irish keeners and the paid mourners of the Orient.
And there is just a little of this tendency to mourn with those who mourn in all mankind. It is not difficult to bear another's woe—and then there is always a grain of mitigation, even in the sorrow of the afflicted, that makes their tribulation bearable.
Burke affirms, in "On the Sublime," that all men take a certain satisfaction in the disasters of others. Just as Frenchmen lift their hats when a funeral passes and thank God that they are not in the hearse, so do we in the presence of calamity thank Heaven that it is not ours.
Perhaps this is why I get a strange delight from walking through a graveyard by night. All about are the white monuments that glisten in the ghostly starlight, the night-wind sighs softly among the grassy mounds—all else is silent—still.
This is the city of the dead, and of all the hundreds or thousands who have traveled to this spot over long and weary miles, I, only I, have the power to leave at will. Their ears are stopped, their eyes are closed, their hands are folded—but I am alive.
One of the first places I visited on reaching London was Kensal Green Cemetery. I quickly made the acquaintance of the First Gravedigger, a rare wit, over whose gray head have passed full seventy pleasant summers. I presented him a copy of "The Shroud," the organ of the American Undertakers' Association, published at Syracuse, New York. I subscribe for "The Shroud" because it has a bright wit-and-humor column, and also for the sweet satisfaction of knowing that there is still virtue left in Syracuse.
The First Gravedigger greeted me courteously, and when I explained briefly my posthumous predilections we grasped hands across an open grave (that he had just digged) and were fast friends.
"Do you believe in cremation, sir?" he asked.
"No, never; it's pagan."
"Aye, you are a gentleman—and about burying folks in churches?"
"Never! A grave should be out under the open sky, where the sun by day and the moon and stars——"
"Right you are. How Shakespeare can ever stand it to have his grave walked over by a boy choir is more than I can understand. If I had him here I could look after him right. Come, I'll show you the company I keep!"
Not twenty feet from where we stood was a fine but plain granite block to the memory of the second wife of James Russell Lowell.
"Just Mr. Lowell and one friend stood by the grave when we lowered the coffin—just two men and no one else but the young clergyman who belongs here. Mr. Lowell shook hands with me when he went away. He gave me a guinea and wrote me two letters afterward from America; the last was sent only a week before he died. I'll show 'em to you when we go to the office. Say, did you know him?"
He pointed to a slab, on which I read the name of Sydney Smith. Then we went to the graves of Mulready, the painter; Kemble, the actor; Sir Charles Eastlake, the artist. Next came the resting-place of Buckle—immortal for writing a preface—dead at thirty-seven, with his history unwrit; Leigh Hunt sleeps near, and above his dust a column that explains how it was erected by friends. In life he asked for bread; when dead they gave him a costly pile of stone.
Here are also the graves of Madame Tietjens; of Charles Mathews, the actor; and of Admiral Sir John Ross, the Arctic explorer.
"And just down the hill aways another big man is buried. I knew him well; he used to come and visit us often. The last time I saw him I said as he was going away, 'Come again, sir; you are always welcome!'
"'Thank you, Mr. First Gravedigger,' says he; 'I will come again before long, and make you an extended visit.' In less than a year the hearse brought him. That's his grave—push that ivy away and you can read the inscription. Did you ever hear of him?"
It was a plain, heavy slab placed horizontally, and the ivy had so run over it that the white of the marble was nearly obscured. But I made out this inscription:
The unpoetic exactness of that pedigree gave me a slight chill. But here they sleep—mother and son in one grave. She who gave him his first caress also gave him his last; and when he was found dead in his bed, his mother, who lived under the same roof, was the first one called. He was the child of her girlhood—she was scarcely twenty when she bore him. In life they were never separated, and in death they are not divided. It is as both desired.
Thackeray was born in India, and was brought to England on the death of his father, when he was six years of age. On the way from Calcutta the ship touched at the Island of Saint Helena. A servant took the lad ashore and they walked up the rocky heights to Longwood, and there, pacing back and forth in a garden, they saw a short, stout man.
"Lookee, lad, lookee quick—that's him! He eats three sheep every day and all the children he can get!"
"And that's all I had to do with the Battle of Waterloo," said "Old Thack," forty years after. But you will never believe it after reading those masterly touches concerning the battle, in "Vanity Fair."
Young Thackeray was sent to the Charterhouse School, where he was considered rather a dull boy. He was big and good-natured, and read novels when he should have studied arithmetic. This tendency to "play off" stuck to him at Cambridge—where he did not remain long enough to get a degree, but to the relief of his tutors went off on a tour through Europe.
Travel as a means of education is a very seductive bit of sophistry. Invalids whom the doctors can not cure, and scholars whom teachers can not teach, are often advised to take "a change." Still there is reason in it.
In England Thackeray was intent on law; at Paris he received a strong bent toward art; but when he reached Weimar and was introduced at the Court of Letters and came into the living presence of Goethe, he caught the infection and made a plan for translating Schiller.
Schiller dead was considered in Germany a greater man than Goethe living, as if it were an offense to live and a virtue to die. And young William Makepeace wrote home to his mother that Schiller was the greatest man that ever lived and that he was going to translate his books and give them to England.
No doubt there are certain people born with a tendency to infectiousness in regard to certain diseases; so there are those who catch the literary mania on slight exposure.
"I've got it," said Thackeray, and so he had.
He went back to England and made groggy efforts at Blackstone, and Somebody's Digest, and What's-His-Name's Compendium, but all the time he scribbled and sketched.
The young man had come into possession of a goodly fortune from his father's estate—enough to yield him an income of over two thousand dollars a year. But bad investments and signing security for friends took the money the way that money usually goes when held by a man who has not earned it.
"Talk about riches having wings," said Thackeray; "my fortune had pinions like a condor, and flew like a carrier-pigeon."
When Thackeray was thirty he was eking out a meager income writing poems, reviews, criticisms and editorials. His wife was a confirmed invalid, a victim of mental darkness, and his sorrows and anxieties were many.
He was known as a bright writer, yet London is full of clever, unsuccessful men. But in Thackeray's thirty-eighth year "Vanity Fair" came out, and it was a success from the first.
In "Yesterdays With Authors," Mr. Fields says: "I once made a pilgrimage with Thackeray to the various houses where his books had been written; and I remember when we came to Young Street, Kensington, he said, with mock gravity, 'Down on your knees, you rogue, for here "Vanity Fair" was penned; and I will go down with you, for I have a high opinion of that little production myself.'"
Young Street is only a block from the Kensington Metropolitan Railway-Station. It is a little street running off Kensington Road. At Number Sixteen (formerly Number Thirteen), I saw a card in the window, "Rooms to Rent to Single Gentlemen."
I rang the bell, and was shown a room that the landlady offered me for twelve shillings a week if I paid in advance; or if I would take another room one flight up with a "gent who was studying hart" it would be only eight and six. I suggested that we go up and see the "gent." We did so, and I found the young man very courteous and polite.
He told me that he had never heard Thackeray's name in connection with the house. The landlady protested that "no man by the name o' Thack'ry has had rooms here since I rented the place; leastwise, if he has been here he called hisself by sumpthink else, which was like o'nuff the case, as most ev'rybody is crooked now'days—but surely no decent person can blame me for that!"
I assured her that she was in no wise to blame.
From this house in Young Street the author of "Vanity Fair" moved to Number Thirty-six Onslow Square, where he wrote "The Virginians." On the south side of the Square there is a row of three-storied brick houses. Thackeray lived in one of these houses for nine years. They were the years when honors and wealth were being heaped upon him; and he was worldling enough to let his wants keep pace with his ability to gratify them. He was made of the same sort of clay as other men, for his standard of life conformed to his pocketbook and he always felt poor.
From this fine house on Onslow Square he moved to a veritable palace, which he built to suit his own taste, at Number Two Palace Green, Kensington. But mansions on earth are seldom for long—he died here on Christmas Eve, Eighteen Hundred Sixty-three. And Charles Dickens, Mark Lemon, Millais, Trollope, Robert Browning, Cruikshank, Tom Taylor, Louis Blanc, Charles Mathews and Shirley Brooks were among the friends who carried him to his rest.
To take one's self too seriously is a great mistake. Complacency is the unpardonable sin, and the man who says, "Now I'm sure of it," has at that moment lost it.
Villagers who have lived in one little place until they think themselves great, having lost the sense of proportion through lack of comparison, are generally "in dead earnest."
Surely they are often intellectually dead, and I do not dispute the fact that they are in earnest. All those excellent gentlemen in the days gone by who could not contemplate a celestial bliss that did not involve the damnation of those who disagreed with them were in dead earnest.
Cotton Mather once saw a black cat perched on the shoulder of an innocent, chattering old gran'ma. The next day a neighbor had a convulsion; and Cotton Mather went forth and exorcised Tabby with a hymn-book, and hanged gran'ma by the neck, high on Gallows Hill, until she was dead.
Had the Reverend Mr. Mather possessed but a mere modicum of humor he might have exorcised the cat, but I am sure he would never have troubled old gran'ma. But alas, Cotton Mather's conversation was limited to yea, yea, and nay, nay—generally, nay, nay—and he was in dead earnest.
In the Boston Public Library is a book written in Sixteen Hundred Eighty-five by Cotton Mather, entitled, "Wonders of the Invisible World." This book received the endorsement of the Governor of the Province and also of the President of Harvard College. The author cites many cases of persons who were bewitched; and also makes the interesting statement that the Devil knows Greek, Latin and Hebrew, but speaks English with an accent. These facts were long used at Harvard as an argument in favor of the Classics. And when Greek was at last made optional, the Devil was supposed to have filed a protest with the Dean of the Faculty.
The Reverend Francis Gastrell, who razed New Place, and cut down the poet's mulberry-tree to escape the importunities of visitors, was in dead earnest. Attila, and Herod, and John Calvin were in dead earnest. And were it not for the fact that Luther had lucid intervals when he went about with his tongue in his cheek he surely would have worked grievous wrong.
Recent discoveries in Egyptian archeology show that in his lifetime Moses was esteemed more as a wit than as a lawmaker. His jokes were posted upon the walls and explained to the populace, who it seems were a bit slow.
Job was a humorist of a high order, and when he said to the wise men, "No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you," he struck twelve. When the sons of Jacob went down into Egypt and Joseph put up the price of corn, took their money, and then secretly replaced the coin in the sacks, he showed his artless love of a quiet joke.
Shakespeare's fools were the wisest and kindliest men at court. When the master decked a character in cap and bells, it was as though he had given bonds for the man's humanity. Touchstone followed his master into exile; and when all seemed to have forsaken King Lear the fool bared himself to the storm and covered the shaking old man with his own cloak. And if Costard, Trinculo, Touchstone, Jaques and Mercutio had lived in Salem in Sixteen Hundred Ninety-two, there would have been not only a flashing of merry jests, but a flashing of rapiers as well, and every gray hair of every old dame's head would have been safe so long as there was a striped leg on which to stand.
Lincoln, liberator of men, loved the motley. In fact, the individual who is incapable of viewing the world from a jocular basis is unsafe, and can be trusted only when the opposition is strong enough to laugh him into line.
In the realm of English letters, Thackeray is prince of humorists. He could see right through a brick wall, and never mistook a hawk for a hernshaw. He had a just estimate of values, and the temperament that can laugh at all trivial misfits. And he had, too, that dread capacity for pain which every true humorist possesses, for the true essence of humor is sensibility.
In all literature that lives there is mingled like pollen an indefinable element of the author's personality. In Thackeray's "Lectures on English Humorists" this subtle quality is particularly apparent. Elusive, delicate, alluring—it is the actinic ray that imparts vitality.
When wit plays skittles with dulness, dulness gets revenge by taking wit at his word. Vast numbers of people taking Thackeray at his word consider him a bitter pessimist.
He even disconcerted bright little Charlotte Bronte, who went down to London to see him, and then wrote back to Haworth that "the great man talked steadily with never a smile. I could not tell when to laugh and when to cry, for I did not know what was fun and what fact."
But finally the author of "Jane Eyre" found the combination, and she saw that beneath the brusk exterior of that bulky form there was a woman's tender sympathy.
Thackeray has told us what he thought of the author of "Jane Eyre," and the author of "Jane Eyre" has told us what she thought of the author of "Vanity Fair." One was big and whimsical, the other was little and sincere, but both were alike in this: their hearts were wrung at the sight of suffering, and both had tears for the erring, the groping, and the oppressed.
A Frenchman can not comprehend a joke that is not accompanied by grimace and gesticulation; and so M. Taine chases Thackeray through sixty solid pages, berating him for what he is pleased to term "bottled hate."
Taine is a cynic who charges Thackeray with cynicism, all in the choicest of biting phrase. It is a beautiful example of sinners calling the righteous to repentance—a thing that is often done, but seldom with artistic finish.
The fun is too deep for Monsieur, or mayhap the brand is not the yellow label to which his palate is accustomed, so he spews it all. Yet Taine's criticism is charming reading, although he is only hot after an aniseed trail of his own dragging. But the chase is a deal more exciting than most men would lead, were there real live game to capture.
If pushed, I might suggest several points in this man's make-up where God could have bettered His work. But accepting Thackeray as we find him, we see a singer whose cage Fate had overhung with black until he had caught the tune. The "Ballad of Boullabaisse" shows a tender side of his spirit that he often sought to conceal. His heart vibrated to all finer thrills of mercy; and his love for all created things was so delicately strung that he would, in childish shame, sometimes issue a growl to drown its rising, tearful tones.
In the character of Becky Sharp, he has marshaled some of his own weak points and then lashed them with scorn. He looked into the mirror and seeing a potential snob he straightway inveighed against snobbery. The punishment does not always fit the crime—it is excess. But I still contest that where his ridicule is most severe, it is Thackeray's own back that is bared to the knout.
The primal recipe for roguery in art is, "Know Thyself." When a writer portrays a villain and does it well—make no mistake, he poses for the character himself. Said gentle Ralph Waldo Emerson, "I have capacity in me for every crime."
The man of imagination knows those mystic spores of possibility that lie dormant, and like the magicians of the East who grow mango-trees in an hour, he develops the "inward potential" at will. The mere artisan in letters goes forth and finds a villain and then describes him, but the artist knows a better way: "I am that man."
One of the very sweetest, gentlest characters in literature is Colonel Newcome. The stepfather of Thackeray, Major Carmichael Smyth, was made to stand for the portrait of the lovable Colonel; and when that all-round athlete, F. Hopkinson Smith, gave us that other lovable old Colonel he paid high tribute to "The Newcomes."
Thackeray was a poet, and as such was often caught in the toils of doubt—the crux of the inquiring spirit. He aspired for better things, and at times his imperfections stood out before him in monstrous shape, and he sought to hiss them down.
In the heart of the artist-poet there is an Inmost Self that sits over against the acting, breathing man and passes judgment on his every deed. To satisfy the world is little; to please the populace is naught; fame is vapor; gold is dross; and every love that has not the sanction of that Inmost Self is a viper's sting. To satisfy the demands of the God within is the poet's prayer.
What doubts beset, what taunting fears surround, what crouching sorrows lie in wait, what dead hopes drag, what hot desires pursue, and what kindly lights do beckon on—ah! "'tis we musicians know."
Thackeray came to America to get a pot of money, and was in a fair way of securing it, when he chanced to pick up a paper in which a steamer was announced to sail that evening for England. A wave of homesickness swept over the big boy—he could not stand it. He hastily packed up his effects and without saying good-by to any one, and forgetting all his engagements, he hastened to the dock, leaving this note for the kindest of kind friends: "Good-by, Fields; good-by, Mrs. Fields—God bless everybody, says W.M.T."
I hope for the enlargement of my mind, and for the improvement of
my understanding. If I have done but little good, I trust I have
done less harm, and that none of my adventures will be other than
a source of amusing and pleasant recollection. God bless you all!
The path of progress in certain problems seems barred as by a flaming sword.
More than a thousand years before Christ, an Arab chief asked, "If a man die shall he live again?" Every man who ever lived has asked the same question, but we know no more today about the subject than did Job.
There are one hundred five boy babies born to every one hundred girls. The law holds in every land where vital statistics have been kept; and Sairey Gamp knew just as much about the cause why as Brown-Sequard, Pasteur, Agnew or Austin Flint.
There is still a third question that every parent, since Adam and Eve, has sought to solve: "How can I educate this child so that he will attain eminence?" And even in spite of shelves that groan beneath tomes and tomes, and advice from a million preachers, the answer is: Nobody knows.
Moses was sent adrift, but the tide carried him into power. The brethren of Joseph "deposited him into a cavity," but you can not dispose of genius that way!
Demosthenes was weighted (or blessed) with every disadvantage; Shakespeare got into difficulty with a woman eight years his senior, stole deer, ran away, and—became the very first among English poets; Erasmus was a foundling.
Once there was a woman by the name of Nancy Hanks; she was thin-breasted, gaunt, yellow and sad. At last, living in poverty, overworked, she was stricken by death. She called her son—homely as herself—and pointing to the lad's sister said, "Be good to her, Abe," and died—died, having no expectation for her boy beyond the hope that he might prosper in worldly affairs so as to care for himself and his sister. The boy became a man who wielded wisely a power mightier than that ever given to any other American. Seven college-bred men composed his cabinet; and Proctor Knott once said that "if a teeter were evenly balanced, and the members of the cabinet were all placed on one end, and the President on the other, he would send the seven wise men flying into space."
On the other hand, Marcus Aurelius wrote his "Meditations" for a son who did not read them, and whose name is a symbol of profligacy; Charles Kingsley penned "Greek Heroes" for offspring who have never shown their father's heroism; and Charles Dickens wrote "A Child's History of England" for his children—none of whom has proven his proficiency in historiology.
Charles Dickens himself received his education at the University of Hard Knocks. Very early in life he was cast upon the rocks and suckled by the she-wolf. Yet he became the most popular author the world has ever known, and up to the present time no writer of books has approached him in point of number of readers and of financial returns. These are facts—facts so hard and true that they would be the delight of Mr. Gradgrind.
At twelve years of age, Charles Dickens was pasting labels on blacking-boxes; his father was in prison. At sixteen, he was spending odd hours in the reading-room of the British Museum. At nineteen, he was Parliamentary reporter; at twenty-one, a writer of sketches; at twenty-three, he was getting a salary of thirty-five dollars a week, and the next year his pay was doubled. When twenty-five, he wrote a play that ran for seventy nights at Drury Lane Theater. About the same time he received seven hundred dollars for a series of sketches written in two weeks. At twenty-six, publishers were at his feet.
When Dickens was at the flood-tide of prosperity, Thackeray, one year his senior, waited on his doorstep with pictures to illustrate "Pickwick."
He worked steadily, and made from eight to twenty-five thousand dollars a year. His fame increased, and the "New York Ledger" paid him ten thousand dollars for one story which he wrote in a fortnight. His collected works fill forty volumes. There are more of Dickens' books sold every year now than in any year in which he lived. There were more of Dickens' books sold last year than any previous year.
"I am glad that the public buy his books," said Macready; "for if they did not he would take to the stage and eclipse us all."
"Not So Bad As We Seem," by Bulwer-Lytton, was played at Devonshire House in the presence of the Queen, Dickens taking the principal part. He gave theatrical performances in London, Liverpool and Manchester, for the benefit of Leigh Hunt, Sheridan Knowles and various other needy authors and actors. He wrote a dozen plays, and twice as many more have been constructed from his plots.
He gave public readings through England, Scotland and Ireland, where the people fought for seats. The average receipts for these entertainments were eight hundred dollars per night.
In Eighteen Hundred Sixty-three, he made a six months' tour of the United States, giving a series of readings. The prices of admission were placed at extravagant figures, but the box-office was always besieged until the ticket-seller put out his lights and hung out a sign: "The standing-room is all taken."
The gross receipts of these readings were two hundred twenty-nine thousand dollars; the expenses thirty-nine thousand dollars; net profit, one hundred ninety thousand dollars.
Charles Dickens died of brain-rupture in Eighteen Hundred Seventy, aged fifty-eight. His dust rests in Westminster Abbey.
"To know the London of Dickens is a liberal education," once said James T. Fields, who was affectionately referred to by Charles Dickens as "Massachusetts Jemmy." And I am aware of no better way to become acquainted with the greatest city in the world than to follow the winding footsteps of the author of "David Copperfield."
Beginning his London life when ten years of age, he shifted from one lodging to another, zigzag, tacking back and forth from place to place, but all the time making head, and finally dwelling in palaces of which nobility might be proud. It took him forty-eight years to travel from the squalor of Camden Town to Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.
He lodged first in Bayham Street. "A washerwoman lived next door, and a Bow Street officer over the way." It was a shabby district, chosen by the elder Dickens because the rent was low. As he neglected to pay the rent, one wonders why he did not take quarters in Piccadilly.
I looked in vain for a sign reading, "Washin dun Heer," but I found a Bow Street orf'cer who told me that Bayham Street had long since disappeared.
Yet there is always a recompense in prowling about London, because if you do not find the thing you are looking for, you find something else equally interesting. My Bow Street friend proved to be a regular magazine of rare and useful information—historical, archeological and biographical.
A Lunnun Bobby has his clothes cut after a pattern a hundred years old, and he always carries his gloves in his hand—never wearing them—because this was a habit of William the Conqueror.
But never mind; he is intelligent, courteous and obliging, and I am perfectly willing that he should wear skirts like a ballet-dancer and a helmet too small, if it is his humor.
My perliceman knew an older orf'cer who was acquainted with Mr. Dickens. Mr. Dickens 'ad a full perliceman's suit 'imself, issued to 'im on an order from Scotland Yard, and he used to do patrol duty at night, carrying 'is bloomin' gloves in 'is 'and and 'is chinstrap in place. This was told me by my new-found friend, who volunteered to show me the way to North Gower Street.
It's only Gower Street now and the houses have been renumbered, so Number Four is a matter of conjecture; but my guide showed me a door where were the marks of a full-grown plate that evidently had long since disappeared. Some days afterward I found this identical brass plate at an old bookshop in Cheapside. The plate read: "Mrs. Dickens' Establishment." The man who kept the place advertised himself as a "Bibliopole." He offered to sell me the plate for one pun ten; but I did not purchase, for I knew where I could get its mate with a deal more verdigris—all for six and eight.
Dickens has recorded that he can not recollect of any pupils coming to the Establishment. But he remembers when his father was taken, like Mr. Dorrit, to the Debtors' Prison. He was lodged in the top story but one, in the very same room where his son afterwards put the Dorrits. It's a queer thing to know that a book-writer can imprison folks without a warrant and even kill them and yet go unpunished—which thought was suggested to me by my philosophic guide.
From this house in Gower Street, Charles used to go daily to the Marshalsea to visit Micawber, who not so many years later was to act as the proud amanuensis of his son.
The next morning after I first met Bobby he was off duty. I met him by appointment at the Three Jolly Beggars (a place pernicious snug). He was dressed in a fashionable, light-colored suit, the coat a trifle short, and a high silk hat. His large, red neckscarf—set off by his bright, brick-dust complexion—caused me to mistake him at first for a friend of mine who drives a Holborn bus.
Mr. 'Awkins (for it was he) greeted me cordially, pulled gently at his neck-whiskers, and, when he addressed me as Me Lud, the barmaid served us with much alacrity and things.
We went first to the church of Saint George; then we found Angel Court leading to Bermondsey, also Marshalsea Place. Here is the site of the prison, where the crowded ghosts of misery still hover; but small trace could we find of the prison itself, neither did we see the ghosts. We, however, saw a very pretty barmaid at the public in Angel Court. I think she is still prettier than the one to whom Bobby introduced me at the Sign of the Meat-Axe, which is saying a good deal. Angel Court is rightly named.
The blacking-warehouse at Old Hungerford Stairs, Strand, in which Charles Dickens was shown by Bob Fagin how to tie up the pots of paste, has rotted down and been carted away. The coal-barges in the muddy river are still there, just as they were when Charles, Poll Green and Bob Fagin played on them during the dinner-hour. I saw Bob and several other boys, grimy with blacking, chasing each other across the flatboats, but Dickens was not there.
Down the river aways there is a crazy, old warehouse with a rotten wharf of its own, abutting on the water when the tide is in, and on the mud when the tide is out—the whole place literally overrun with rats that scuffle and squeal on the moldy stairs. I asked Bobby if it could not be that this was the blacking-factory; but he said, No, for this one allus wuz.
Dickens found lodgings in Lant Street while his father was awaiting in the Marshalsea for something to turn up. Bob Sawyer afterward had the same quarters. When Sawyer invited Mr. Pickwick "and the other chaps" to dine with him, he failed to give his number, so we can not locate the house. But I found the street and saw a big, wooden Pickwick on wheels standing as a sign for a tobacco-shop. The old gentleman who runs the place, and runs the sign in every night, assured me that Bob Sawyer's room was the first floor back. I looked in at it, but seeing no one there whom I knew, I bought tuppence worth of pigtail in lieu of fee, and came away.
If a man wished to abstract himself from the world, to remove himself from temptation, to place himself beyond the possibility of desire to look out of the window, he should live in Lant Street, said a great novelist. David Copperfield lodged here when he ordered that glass of Genuine Stunning Ale at the Red Lion and excited the sympathy of the landlord, winning a motherly kiss from his wife.
The Red Lion still crouches (under another name) at the corner of Derby and Parliament Streets, Westminster. I daydreamed there for an hour one morning, pretending the while to read a newspaper. I can not, however, recommend their ale as particularly stunning.
As there are authors of one book, so are there readers of one author—more than we wist. Children want the same bear story over and over, preferring it to a new one; so "grown-ups" often prefer the dog-eared book to uncut leaves.
Mr. Hawkins preferred the dog-eared, and at the station-house, where many times he had long hours to wait in anticipation of a hurry-up call, he whiled away the time by browsing in his Dickens. He knew no other author, neither did he wish to. His epidermis was soaked with Dickensology, and when inspired by gin and bitters he emitted information at every pore. To him all these bodiless beings of Dickens' brain were living creatures. An anachronism was nothing to Hawkins. Charley Bates was still at large, Quilp was just around the corner, and Gaffer Hexam's boat was moored in the muddy river below.
Dickens used to haunt the publics, those curious resting-places where all sorts and conditions of thirsty philosophers meet to discuss all sorts of themes. My guide took me to many of these inns which the great novelist frequented, and we always had one legend with every drink. After we had called at three or four different snuggeries, Hawkins would begin to shake out the facts.
Now, it is not generally known that the so-called stories of Dickens are simply records of historic events, like What-do-you-call-um's plays! F'r instance, Dombey and Son was a well-known firm, who carried over into a joint stock company only a few years ago. The concern is now known as The Dombey Trading Company; they occupy the same quarters that were used by their illustrious predecessors.
I signified a desire to see the counting-house so minutely described by Dickens, and Mr. Hawkins agreed to pilot me thither on our way to Tavistock Square. We twisted down to the first turning, then up three, then straight ahead to the first right-hand turn, where we cut to the left until we came to a stuffed dog, which is the sign of a glover. Just beyond this my guide plucked me by the sleeve; we halted, and he silently and solemnly pointed across the street. Sure enough! There it was, the warehouse with a great stretch of dirty windows in front, through which we could see dozens of clerks bending over ledgers, just as though Mr. Dombey were momentarily expected. Over the door was a gilt sign, "The Bombay Trading Co."
Bobby explained that it was all the same.
I did not care to go in; but at my request Hawkins entered and asked for Mister Carker, the Junior, but no one knew him.
Then we dropped in at The Silver Shark, a little inn about the size of a large dustbin of two compartments and a sifter. Here we rested a bit, as we had walked a long way.
The barmaid who waited upon us was in curl-papers, but she was even then as pretty if not prettier than the barmaid at the public in Angel Court, and that is saying a good deal. She was about as tall as Trilby or as Ellen Terry, which is a very nice height, I think.
As we rested, Mr. Hawkins told the barmaid and me how Rogue Riderhood came to this very public, through that same doorway, just after he had his Alfred David took down by the Governors Both. He was a slouching dog, was the Rogue. He wore an old, sodden fur cap, Winter and Summer, formless and mangy; it looked like a drowned cat. His hands were always in his pockets up to his elbows, when they were not reaching for something, and when he was out after game his walk was a half-shuffle and run.
Hawkins saw him starting off this way one night and followed him—knowing there was mischief on hand—followed him for two hours through the fog and rain. It was midnight and the last stroke of the bells that tolled the hour had ceased, and their echo was dying away, when all at once——
But the story is too long to relate here. It is so long that when Mr. Hawkins had finished it was too late to reach Tavistock Square before dark. Mr. Hawkins explained that as bats and owls and rats come out only when the sun has disappeared, so there are other things that can be seen best by night. And as he did not go on until the next day at one, he proposed that we should go down to The Cheshire Cheese and get a bite of summat and then sally forth.
So we hailed a bus and climbed to the top.
"She rolls like a scow in the wake of a liner," said Bobby, as we tumbled into seats. When the bus man came up the little winding ladder and jingled his punch, Hawkins paid our fares with a heavy wink, and the guard said, "Thank you, sir," and passed on.
We got off at The Cheese and settled ourselves comfortably in a corner.
The same seats are there, running along the wall, where Doctor Johnson, "Goldy" and Boswell so often sat and waked the echoes with their laughter. We had chops and tomato-sauce in recollection of Jingle and Trotter. The chops were of that delicious kind unknown outside of England. I supplied the legend this time, for my messmate had never heard of Boswell.
Hawkins introduced me to "the cove in the white apron" who waited upon us, and then explained that I was the man who wrote "Martin Chuzzlewit."
He kissed his hand to the elderly woman who presided behind the nickel-plated American cash-register. The only thing that rang false about the place was that register, perked up there spick-span new. Hawkins insisted that it was a typewriter, and as we passed out he took a handful of matches (thinking them toothpicks) and asked the cashier to play a tune on the thingumabob, but she declined.
We made our way to London Bridge as the night was settling down. No stars came out, but flickering, fluttering gaslights appeared, and around each post was a great, gray, fluffy aureole of mist. Just at the entrance to the bridge we saw Nancy dogged by Noah Claypole. They turned down towards Billingsgate Fish-Market, and as the fog swallowed them, Hawkins answered my question as to the language used at Billingsgate.
"It's not so bloomin' bad, you know; why, I'll take you to a market in Islington where they talk twice as vile."
He started to go into technicalities, but I excused him.
Then he leaned over the parapet and spat down at a rowboat that was passing below. As the boat moved out into the glimmering light we made out Lizzie Hexam at the oars, while Gaffer sat in the stern on the lookout.
The Marchioness went by as we stood there, a bit of tattered shawl over her frowsy head, one stocking down around her shoetop. She had a penny loaf under her arm, and was breaking off bits, eating as she went.
Soon came Snagsby, then Mr. Vincent Crummels, Mr. Sleary, the horseback-rider, followed by Chops, the dwarf, and Pickleson, the giant. Hawkins said there were two Picklesons, but I saw only one. Just below was the Stone pier and there stood Mrs. Gamp, and I heard her ask:
"And which of all them smoking monsters is the Anxworks boat, I wonder? Goodness me!"
"Which boat do you want?" asked Ruth.
"The Anxworks package—I will not deceive you, Sweet; why should I?"
"Why, that is the Antwerp packet, in the middle," said Ruth.
"And I wish it was in Jonidge's belly, I do," cried Mrs. Gamp.
We came down from the bridge, moved over toward Billingsgate, past the Custom-House, where curious old sea-captains wait for ships that never come. Captain Cuttle lifted his hook to the brim of his glazed hat as we passed. We returned the salute and moved on toward the Tower.
"It's a rum place; let's not stop," said Hawkins. Thoughts of the ghosts of Raleigh, of Mary Queen of Scots and of Lady Jane Grey seemed to steady his gait and to hasten his footsteps.
In a few moments we saw just ahead of us David Copperfield and Mr. Peggotty following a woman whom we could make out walking excitedly a block ahead. It was Martha, intent on suicide.
"We'll get to the dock first and 'ead 'er orf," said 'Awkins. We ran down a side street. But a bright light in a little brick cottage caught our attention—men can't run arm in arm anyway. We forgot our errand of mercy and stood still with open mouths looking in at the window at little Jenny Wren hard at work dressing her dolls and stopping now and then to stab the air with her needle. Bradley Headstone and Charlie and Lizzie Hexam came in, and we then passed on, not wishing to attract attention.
There was an old smoke-stained tree on the corner which I felt sorry for, as I do for every city tree. Just beyond was a blacksmith's forge and a timber-yard behind, where a dealer in old iron had a shop, in front of which was a rusty boiler and a gigantic flywheel half buried in the sand.
There were no crowds to be seen now, but we walked on and on—generally in the middle of the narrow streets, turning up or down or across, through arches where tramps slept, by doorways where children crouched; passing drunken men, and women with shawls over their heads.
Now and again the screech of a fiddle could be heard or the lazy music of an accordion, coming from some "Sailors' Home." Steps of dancing with rattle of iron-shod boot-heels clicking over sanded floors, the hoarse shout of the "caller-off," and now and again angry tones with cracked feminine falsettos broke on the air; and all the time the soft rain fell and the steam seemed to rise from the sewage-laden streets.
We were in Stepney, that curious parish so minutely described by Walter Besant in "All Sorts and Conditions of Men"—the parish where all children born at sea were considered to belong. We saw Brig Place, where Walter Gay visited Captain Cuttle. Then we went with Pip in search of Mrs. Wimple's house, at Mill-Pond Bank, Chink's Basin, Old Green Copper Rope Walk; where lived old Bill Barley and his daughter Clara, and where Magwitch was hidden. It was the dingiest collection of shabby buildings ever squeezed together in a dark corner as a club for tomcats.
Then, standing out in the gloom, we saw Limehouse Church, where John Rokesmith prowled about on a 'tective scent; and where John Harmon waited for the third mate Radfoot, intending to murder him. Next we reached Limehouse Hole, where Rogue Riderhood took the plunge down the steps of Leaving Shop.
Hawkins thought he saw the Artful Dodger ahead of us on the dock. He went over and looked up and down and under an old upturned rowboat, then peered over the dock and swore a harmless oath that if we could catch him we would run him in without a warrant. Yes, we'd clap the nippers on 'im and march 'im orf.
"Not if I can help it," I said; "I like the fellow too well." Fortunately Hawkins failed to find him.
Here it was that the Uncommercial Traveler did patrol duty on many sleepless nights. Here it was that Esther Summerson and Mr. Bucket came. And by the light of a match held under my hat we read a handbill on the brick wall: "Found Drowned!" The heading stood out in big, fat letters, but the print below was too damp to read, yet there is no doubt it is the same bill that Gaffer Hexam, Eugene Wrayburn and Mortimer Lightwood read, for Mr. Hawkins said so.
As we stood there we heard the gentle gurgle of the tide running under the pier, then a dip of oars coming from out the murky darkness of the muddy river: a challenge from the shore with orders to row in, a hoarse, defiant answer and a watchman's rattle.
A policeman passed us running and called back, "I say, Hawkins, is that you? There's murder broke loose in Whitechapel again! The reserves have been ordered out!"
Hawkins stopped and seemed to pull himself together— his height increased three inches. A moment before I thought he was a candidate for fatty degeneration of the cerebrum, but now his sturdy frame was all atremble with life.
"Another murder! I knew it. Bill Sykes has killed Nancy at last. There 's fifty pun for the man who puts the irons on 'im—I must make for the nearest stishun."
He gave my hand a twist, shot down a narrow courtway—and I was left to fight the fog, and mayhap this Bill Sykes and all the other wild phantoms of Dickens' brain, alone.
A certain great general once said that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. Just why the maxim should be limited to aborigines I know not, for when one reads obituaries he is discouraged at the thoughts of competing in virtue with those who have gone hence.
Let us extend the remark—plagiarize a bit—and say that the only perfect men are those whom we find in books. The receipt for making them is simple, yet well worth pasting in your scrapbook. Take the virtues of all the best men you ever knew or heard of, leave out the faults, then mix.
In the hands of "the lady novelist" this composition, well molded, makes a scarecrow, in the hair of which the birds of the air come and build their nests. But manipulated by an expert a figure may appear that starts and moves and seems to feel the thrill of life. It may even take its place on a pedestal and be exhibited with other waxworks and thus become confounded with the historic And though these things make the unskilful laugh, yet the judicious say, "Dickens made it, therefore let it pass for a man."
Dear old M. Taine, ever glad to score a point against the British, and willing to take Dickens at his word, says, "We have no such men in France as Scrooge and Squeers!"
But, God bless you, M. Taine, England has no such men either.
The novelist takes the men and women he has known, and from life, plus imagination, he creates. If he sticks too close to nature he describes, not depicts: this is "veritism." If imagination's wing is too strong, it lifts the luckless writer off from earth and carries him to an unknown land. You may then fall down and worship his characters, and there is no violation of the First Commandment.
Nothing can be imagined that has not been seen; but imagination can assort, omit, sift, select, construct. Given a horse, an eagle, an elephant, and the "creative artist" can make an animal that is neither a horse, an eagle, nor an elephant, yet resembles each. This animal may have eight legs (or forty) with hoofs, claws and toes alternating; a beak, a trunk, a mane; and the whole can be feathered and given the power of rapid flight and also the ability to run like the East Wind. It can neigh, roar or scream by turn, or can do all in concert, with a vibratory force multiplied by one thousand.
The novelist must have lived, and the novelist must have imagination. But this is not enough. He must have power to analyze and separate, and then he should have the good taste to select and group, forming his parts into a harmonious whole.
Yet he must build large. Life-size will not do: the statue must be heroic, and the artist's genius must breathe into its nostrils the breath of life.
The men who live in history are those whose lives have been skilfully written. "Plutarch is the most charming writer of fiction the world has ever known," said Emerson.
Dickens' characters are personifications of traits, not men and women. Yet they are a deal funnier—they are as funny as a box of monkeys, as entertaining as a Punch-and-Judy show, as interesting as a "fifteen puzzle," and sometimes as pretty as chromos. Quilp munching the eggs, shells and all, to scare his wife, makes one shiver as though a Jack-in-the-box had been popped out at him. Mr. Mould, the undertaker, and Jaggers, the lawyer, are as amusing as Humpty-Dumpty and Pantaloon. I am sure that no live lawyer ever gave me half the enjoyment that Jaggers has, and Doctor Slammers' talk is better medicine than the pills of any living M.D. Because the burnt-cork minstrel pleases me more than a real "nigger" is no reason why I should find fault!
Dickens takes the horse, the eagle and the elephant and makes an animal of his own. He rubs up the feathers, places the tail at a fierce angle, makes the glass eyes glare, and you are ready to swear that the thing is alive.
By rummaging over the commercial world you can collect the harshness, greed, avarice, selfishness and vanity from a thousand men. With these sins you can, if you are very skilful, construct a Ralph Nickleby, a Scrooge, a Jonas Chuzzlewit, an Alderman Cute, a Mr. Murdstone, a Bounderby or a Gradgrind at will.
A little more pride, a trifle less hypocrisy, a molecule extra of untruth, and flavor with this fault or that, and your man is ready to place up against the fence to dry.
Then you can make a collection of all the ridiculous traits—the whims, silly pride, foibles, hopes founded on nothing and dreams touched with moonshine—and you make a Micawber. Put in a dash of assurance and a good thimbleful of hypocrisy, and Pecksniff is the product. Leave out the assurance, replacing it with cowardice, and the result is Doctor Chillip or Uriah Heap. Muddle the whole with stupidity, and Bumble comes forth.
Then, for the good people, collect the virtues and season to suit the taste and we have the Cheeryble Brothers, Paul Dombey or Little Nell. They have no development, therefore no history—the circumstances under which you meet them vary, that's all. They are people the like of whom are never seen on land or sea.
Little Nell is good all day long, while live children are good for only five minutes at a time. The recurrence with which these five-minute periods return determines whether the child is "good" or "bad." In the intervals the restless little feet stray into flowerbeds; stand on chairs so that grimy, dimpled hands may reach forbidden jam; run and romp in pure joyous innocence, or kick spitefully at authority. Then the little fellow may go to sleep, smile in his dreams so that mamma says angels are talking to him (nurse says wind on the stomach); when he awakens the five-minute good spell returns.
Men are only grown-up children. They are cheerful after breakfast, cross at night. Houses, lands, barns, railroads, churches, books, racetracks are the playthings with which they amuse themselves until they grow tired, and Death, the kind old nurse, puts them to sleep.
So a man on earth is good or bad as mood moves him; in color his acts are seldom pure white, neither are they wholly black, but generally of a steel-gray. Caprice, temper, accident, all act upon him. The North Wind of hate, the Simoon of Jealousy, the Cyclone of Passion beat and buffet him. Pilots strong and pilots cowardly stand at the helm by turn. But sometimes the South Wind softly blows, the sun comes out by day, the stars at night: friendship holds the rudder firm, and love makes all secure.
Such is the life of man—a voyage on life's unresting sea; but Dickens knows it not. Esther is always good, Fagin is always bad, Bumble is always pompous, and Scrooge is always—Scrooge. At no Dickens' party do you ever mistake Cheeryble for Carker; yet in real life Carker is Carker one day and Cheeryble the next—yes, Carker in the morning and Cheeryble after dinner.
There is no doubt that a dummy so ridiculous as Pecksniff has reduced the number of hypocrites; and the domineering and unjust are not quite so popular since Dickens painted their picture with a broom.
From the yeasty deep of his imagination he conjured forth his strutting spirits; and the names he gave to each are as fitting and as funny as the absurd smallclothes and fluttering ribbons which they wear.
Shakespeare has his Gobbo, Touchstone, Simpcox, Sly, Grumio, Mopsa, Pinch, Nym, Simple, Quickly, Overdone, Elbow, Froth, Dogberry, Puck, Peablossom, Taurus, Bottom, Bushy, Hotspur, Scroop, Wall, Flute, Snout, Starveling, Moonshine, Mouldy, Shallow, Wart, Bullcalf, Feeble, Quince, Snag, Dull, Mustardseed, Fang, Snare, Rumor, Tearsheet, Cobweb, Costard and Moth; but in names as well as in plot "the father of Pickwick" has distanced the Master. In fact, to give all the odd and whimsical names invented by Dickens would be to publish a book, for he compiled an indexed volume of names from which he drew at will. He used, however, but a fraction of his list. The rest are wisely kept from the public, else, forsooth, the fledgling writers of penny-shockers would seize upon them for raw stock.
Dickens has a watch that starts and stops in a way of its own—never mind the sun. He lets you see the wheels go round, but he never tells you why the wheels go round. He knows little of psychology—that curious, unseen thing that stands behind every act. He knows not the highest love, therefore he never depicts the highest joy. Nowhere does he show the gradual awakening in man of Godlike passion—nowhere does he show the evolution of a soul; very, very seldom does he touch the sublime.
But he has given the Athenians a day of pleasure, and for this let us all reverently give thanks.
Jarvis: A few of our usual cards of compliments—that's all. This bill from your tailor; this from your mercer; and this from the little broker in Crooked Lane. He says he has been at a great deal of trouble to get back the money you borrowed.
Honeydew: But I am sure we were at a great deal of trouble in getting him to lend it.
Jarvis: He has lost all patience.
Honeydew: Then he has lost a good thing.
Jarvis: There's that ten guineas you were sending to the poor man and his children in the Fleet. I believe that would stop his mouth for a while.
Honeydew: Ay, Jarvis; but what will fill their mouths in the meantime?
The Isle of Erin has the same number of square miles as the State of Indiana; it also has more kindness to the acre than any other country on earth.
Ireland has five million inhabitants; once it had eight. Three millions have gone away, and when one thinks of landlordism he wonders why the five millions did not go, too. But the Irish are a poetic people and love the land of their fathers with a childlike love, and their hearts are all bound up in sweet memories, rooted by song and legend into nooks and curious corners, so the tendrils of affection hold them fast.
Ireland is very beautiful. Its pasture-lands and meadow-lands, blossom-decked and water-fed, crossed and recrossed by never-ending hedgerows, that stretch away and lose themselves in misty nothingness, are fair as a poet's dream. Birds carol in the white hawthorn and the yellow furze all day long, and the fragrant summer winds that blow lazily across the fields are laden with the perfume of fairest flowers.
It is like crossing the dark river called Death, to many, to think of leaving Ireland—besides that, even if they wanted to go they haven't money to buy a steerage ticket.
From across the dark river called Death come no remittances; but from America many dollars are sent back to Ireland. This often supplies the obolus that secures the necessary bit of Cunard passport.
Whenever an Irishman embarks at Queenstown, part of the five million inhabitants go down to the waterside to see him off. Not long ago I stood with the crowd and watched two fine lads go up the gangplank, each carrying a red handkerchief containing his worldly goods. As the good ship moved away we lifted a wild wail of woe that drowned the sobbing of the waves. Everybody cried—I wept, too—and as the great, black ship became but a speck on the Western horizon we embraced each other in frenzied grief.
There is beauty in Ireland—physical beauty of so rare and radiant a type that it makes the heart of an artist ache to think that it can not endure. On country roads, at fair time, the traveler will see barefoot girls who are women, and just suspecting it, who have cheeks like ripe pippins; laughing eyes with long, dark, wicked lashes; teeth like ivory; necks of perfect poise; and waists that, never having known a corset, are pure Greek.
Of course, these girls are aware that we admire them—how could they help it? They carry big baskets on either shapely arm, bundles balanced on their heads, and we, suddenly grown tired, sit on the bankside as they pass by, and feign indifference to their charms.
Once safely past, we admiringly examine their tracks in the soft mud (for there has been a shower during the night), and we vow that such footprints were never before left upon the sands of time.
The typical young woman in Ireland is Juno before she was married; the old woman is Sycorax after Caliban was weaned. Wrinkled, toothless, yellow old hags are seen sitting by the roadside, rocking back and forth, crooning a song that is mate to the chant of the witches in "Macbeth" when they brew the hellbroth.
See that wizened, scarred and cruel old face—how it speaks of a seared and bitter heart! so dull yet so alert, so changeful yet so impassive, so immobile yet so cunning—a paradox in wrinkles, where half-stifled desperation has clawed at the soul until it has fled, and only dead indifference or greedy expectation is left to tell the tragic tale.
"In the name of God, charity, kind gentlemen, charity!" and the old crone stretches forth a long, bony claw. Should you pass on she calls down curses on your head. If you are wise, you go back and fling her a copper to stop the cold streaks that are shooting up your spine. And these old women were the most trying sights I saw in Ireland.
"Pshaw!" said a friend of mine when I told him this; "these old creatures are actors, and if you would sit down and talk to them, as I have done, they will laugh and joke, and tell you of sons in America who are policemen, and then they will fill black 'dhudeens' out of your tobacco and ask if you know Mike McGuire who lives in She-ka-gy."
The last trace of comeliness has long left the faces of these repulsive beggars, but there is a type of feminine beauty that comes with years. It is found only where intellect and affection keep step with spiritual desire; and in Ireland, where it is often a crime to think, where superstition stalks, and avarice rules, and hunger crouches, it is very, very rare.
But I met one woman in the Emerald Isle whose hair was snow-white, and whose face seemed to beam a benediction. It was a countenance refined by sorrow, purified by aspiration, made peaceful by right intellectual employment, strong through self-reliance, and gentle by an earnest faith in things unseen. It proved the possible.
When the nations are disarmed, Ireland will take first place, for in fistiana she is supreme.
James Russell Lowell once said that where the "code duello" exists, men lift their hats to ladies, and say "Excuse me" and "If you please." And if Lowell was so bold as to say a good word for the gentlemen who hold themselves "personally responsible," I may venture the remark that men who strike from the shoulder are almost universally polite to strangers.
A woman can do Ireland afoot and alone with perfect safety. Everywhere one finds courtesy, kindness and bubbling good-cheer.
Nineteen-twentieths of all lawlessness in Ireland during the past two hundred years has been directed against the landlord's agent. This is a very Irish-like proceeding—to punish the agent for the sins of the principal. When the landlord himself comes over from England he affects a fatherly interest in "his people." He gives out presents and cheap favors, and the people treat him with humble deference. When the landlord's agent goes to America he gets a place as first mate on a Mississippi River Steamboat; and before the War he was in demand in the South as overseer. He it is who has taught the "byes" the villainy that they execute; and it sometimes goes hard, for they better the instruction.
But there is one other character that the boys occasionally look after in Ireland, and that is the "Squire." He is a merry wight in tight breeches, red coat, and a number-six hat. He has yellow side-whiskers and 'unts to 'ounds, riding over the wheatfields of honest men. The genuine landlord lives in London; the squire would like to but can not afford it. Of course, there are squires and squires, but the kind I have in mind is an Irishman who tries to pass for an Englishman. He is that curious thing—a man without a country.
There is a theory to the effect that the Universal Mother in giving out happiness bestows on each and all an equal portion—that the beggar trudging along the stony road is as happy as the king who rides by in his carriage. This is a very old belief, and it has been held by many learned men. From the time I first heard it, it appealed to me as truth.
Yet recently my faith has been shaken; for not long ago in New York I climbed the marble steps of a splendid mansion and was admitted by a servant in livery who carried my card on a silver tray to his master. This master had a son in the "Keeley Institute," a daughter in her grave, and a wife who shrank from his presence. His heart was as lonely as a winter night at sea. Fate had sent him a coachman, a butler, a gardener and a footman, but she took his happiness and passed it through a hole in the thatch of a mud-plastered cottage in Ireland, where, each night, six rosy children soundly slept in one straw bed.
In that cottage I stayed two days. There was a stone floor and bare, whitewashed walls; but there was a rosebush climbing over the door, and within health and sunny temper that made mirth with a meal of herbs, and a tenderness that touched to poetry the prose of daily duties.
But it is well to bear in mind that an Irishman in America and an Irishman in Ireland are not necessarily the same thing. Often the first effect of a higher civilization is degeneration. Just as the Chinaman quickly learns big swear-words, and the Indian takes to drink, and certain young men on first reading Emerson's essay on "Self-Reliance" go about with a chip on their shoulders, so sometimes does the first full breath of freedom's air develop the worst in Paddy instead of the best.
As one tramps through Ireland and makes the acquaintance of a blue-eyed "broth of a bye," who weighs one hundred and ninety, and measures forty-four inches around the chest, he catches glimpses of noble traits and hints of mystic possibilities. There are actions that look like rudiments of greatness gone, and you think of the days when Olympian games were played, and finger meanwhile the silver in your pocket and inwardly place it on this twenty-year-old, pink-faced, six-foot "boy" that stands before you.
In Ireland there are no forests, but in the peat-bogs are found remains of mighty trees that once lifted their outstretched branches to the sun. Are these remains of stately forests symbols of a race of men that, too, have passed away?
In any wayside village of Leinster you can pick you a model for an Apollo. He is in rags, is this giant, and can not read, but he can dance and sing and fight. He has an eye for color, an ear for music, a taste for rhyme, a love of novelty and a thirst for fun. And withal he has blundering sympathy and a pity whose tears are near the surface.
Now, will this fine savage be a victim of arrested development, and sink gradually through weight of years into mere animal stupidity and sodden superstition?
The chances are that this is just what he will do, and that at twenty he will be in his intellectual zenith. Summer does not fulfil the promise of Spring.
But as occasionally there is one of those beautiful, glowing Irish girls who leaves footsteps that endure (in bettered lives), instead of merely transient tracks in mud, so there has been a Burke, a Wellington, an O'Connell, a Sheridan, a Tom Moore and an Oliver Goldsmith.
While Goldsmith was an Irishman, Swift was an Englishman who chanced to be born of Irish parents in Dublin. In comparing these men Thackeray says: "I think I would rather have had a cold potato and a friendly word from Goldsmith than to have been beholden to the Dean for a guinea and a dinner. No; the Dean was not an Irishman, for no Irishman ever gave but with a kind word and a kind heart."
Charles Goldsmith was a clergyman, passing rich on forty pounds a year. He had a nice little family of eight children, and what became of the seven who went not astray I do not know. But the smallest and homeliest one of the brood became the best-loved man in London. These sickly boys who have been educated only because they were too weak to work—what a record their lives make!
Little Oliver had a pug-nose and bandy legs, and fists not big enough to fight, but he had a large head, and because he was absent-minded, lots of folks thought him dull and stupid, and others were sure he was very bad. In fact, let us admit it, he did steal apples and rifle birds' nests, and on "the straggling fence that skirts the way," he drew pictures of Paddy Byrne, the schoolmaster, who amazed the rustics by the amount of knowledge he carried in one small head. But Paddy Byrne did not love art for art's sake, so he applied the ferule vigorously to little Goldsmith's anatomy, with a hope of diverting the lad's inclinations from art to arithmetic. I do not think the plan was very successful, for the pockmarked youngster was often adorned with the dunce-cap.
"And, Sir," said Doctor Johnson, many years after, "it must have been very becoming."
It seems that Paddy Byrne "boarded round," and part of the time was under the roof of the rectory. Now we all know that schoolmasters are dual creatures, and that once away from the schoolyard, and having laid aside the robe of office, are often good, honest, simple folks. In his official capacity Paddy Byrne made things very uncomfortable for the pug-nosed little boy, but, like the true Irishman that he was, when he got away from the schoolhouse he was sorry for it. Whether dignity is the mask we wear to hide ignorance, I am not sure, yet when Paddy Byrne was the schoolmaster he was a man severe and stern to view; but when he was plain Paddy Byrne he was a first-rate good fellow.
Evenings he would hold little Oliver on his knee, and instead of helping him in his lessons would tell him tales of robbers, pirates, smugglers—everything and anything in fact that boys like: stories of fairies, goblins, ghosts; lion-hunts and tiger-killing in which the redoubtable Paddy was supposed to have taken a chief part. The schoolmaster had been a soldier and a sailor. He had been in many lands, and when he related his adventures, no doubt he often mistook imagination for memory. But the stories had the effect of choking the desire in Oliver for useful knowledge, and gave instead a thirst for wandering and adventure.
Byrne also had a taste for poetry, and taught the lad to scribble rhymes. Very proud was the boy's mother, and very carefully did she preserve these foolish lines.
All this was in the village of Lissoy, County Westmeath; yet if you look on the map you will look in vain for Lissoy. But six miles northeast from Athlone and three miles from Ballymahon is the village of Auburn.
When Goldsmith was a boy Lissoy was:
In America, when a "city" is to be started, the first thing is to divide up the land into town-lots and then sell these lots to whoever will buy. This is a very modern scheme. But in Ireland whole villages belong to one man, and every one in the place pays tribute. Then villages are passed down from generation to generation, and sometimes sold outright, but there is no wish to dispose of corner lots. For when a man lives in your house and you can put him out at any time, he is, of course, much more likely to be civil than if he owns the place.
But it has happened many times that the inhabitants of Irish villages have all packed up and deserted the place, leaving no one but the village squire and that nice man, the landlord's agent. The cottages then are turned into sheep-pens or hay-barns. They may be pulled down, or, if they are left standing, the weather looks after that. And these are common sights to the tourist.
Now the landlord, who owned every rood of the village of Lissoy, lived in London. He lived well. He gambled a little, and as the cards did not run his way he got into debt. So he wrote to his agent in Lissoy to raise the rents. He did so, threatened, applied the screws, and—the inhabitants packed up and let the landlord have his village all to himself. Let Goldsmith tell:
A titled gentleman by the name of Napier was the owner of the estate at that time, and as his tenantry had left, he in wrath pulled down their rows of pretty white cottages, demolished the schoolhouse, blew up the mill, and took all the material and built a splendid mansion on the hillside.
The cards had evidently turned in his direction, but anyway, he owned several other villages, so although he toiled not neither did he spin, yet he was well clothed and always fed. But my lord Napier was not immortal, for he died, and was buried; and over his grave they erected a monument, and on it are these words: "He was the friend of the oppressed."
The records of literature, so far as I know, show no such moving force in a simple poem as the re-birth of the village of Auburn. No man can live in a village and illuminate it by his genius. His fellow townsmen and neighbors are not to be influenced by his eloquence except in a very limited way. His presence creates an opposition, for the "personal touch" repels as well as attracts. Dying, seven cities may contend for the honor of his birthplace; or after his departure, knowledge of his fame may travel back across the scenes that he has known, and move to better things.
The years went by and the Napier estate got into a bad way and was sold. Captain Hogan became the owner of the site of the village of Lissoy. Now, Captain Hogan was a poet in feeling, and he set about to replace the village that Goldsmith had loved and immortalized. He adopted the name that Goldsmith supplied, and Auburn it is even unto this day.
In the village-green is the original spreading hawthorn-tree, all enclosed in a stone wall to preserve it. And on the wall is a sign requesting you not to break off branches.
Around the trees are seats. I sat there one evening with "talking age" and "whispering lovers." The mirth that night was of a quiet sort, and I listened to an old man who recited all "The Deserted Village" to the little group that was present. It cost me sixpence, but was cheap for the money, for the brogue was very choice. I was the only stranger present, and quickly guessed that the entertainment was for my sole benefit, as I saw that I was being furtively watched to see how I took my medicine.
A young fellow sitting near me offered a little Goldsmith information, then a woman on the other side did the same, and the old man who had recited suggested that we go over and see the alehouse "where the justly celebhrated Docther Goldsmith so often played his harp so feelin'ly." So we adjourned to The Three Jolly Pigeons—a dozen of us, including the lovers, whom I personally invited.
"And did Oliver Goldsmith really play his harp in this very room?" I asked.
"Aye, indade he did, yer honor, an' ef ye don't belave it, ye kin sit in the same chair that was his."
So they led me to the big chair that stood on a little raised platform, and I sat in the great oaken seat which was surely made before Goldsmith was born. Then we all took ale (at my expense). The lovers sat in one corner, drinking from one glass, and very particular to drink from the same side, and giggling to themselves.
The old man wanted to again recite "The Deserted Village," but was forcibly restrained. And instead, by invitation of himself, the landlord sang a song composed by Goldsmith, but which I have failed to find in Goldsmith's works, entitled, "When Ireland Is Free." There were thirteen stanzas in this song, and a chorus and refrain in which the words of the title are repeated. After each stanza we all came in strong on the chorus, keeping time by tapping our glasses on the tables.
Then we all drank perdition to English landlords, had our glasses refilled, and I was called on for a speech. I responded in a few words that were loudly cheered, and the very good health of "the 'Merican Nobleman" was drunk with much fervor.
The Three Jolly Pigeons is arranged exactly to the letter:
And behold, there on the wall behind the big oak chair are "the twelve good rules."
The next morning I saw the modest mansion of the village preacher "whose house was known to all the vagrant train," then the little stone church, and beyond I came to the blossoming furze, unprofitably gay, where the village master taught his little school. A bright young woman teaches there now, and it is certain that she can write and cipher too, for I saw "sums" on the blackboard, and I also saw where she had written some very pretty mottoes on the wall with colored chalk, a thing I am sure that Paddy Byrne never thought to do.
Below the schoolhouse is a pretty little stream that dances over pebbles and untiringly turns the wheel in the old mill; and not far away I saw the round top of Knockrue hill, where Goldsmith said he would rather sit with a book in hand than mingle with the throng at the court of royalty.
Goldsmith's verse is all clean, sweet and wholesome, and I do not wonder that he was everywhere a favorite with women. This was true in his very babyhood. For he was the pet of several good old dames, one of whom taught him to count by using cards as object-lessons He proudly said that when he was three years of age he could pick out the "ten-spot." This love of pasteboard was not exactly an advantage, for when he was sixteen he went to Dublin to attend college, and carried fifty pounds and a deck of cards in his pocket. The first day in Dublin he met a man who thought he knew more about cards than Oliver did—and the man did: in three days Oliver arrived back in Sweet Auburn penniless, but wonderfully glad to get home and everybody glad to see him. "It seemed as if I 'd been away a year," he said.
But in a few weeks he started out with no baggage but a harp, and he played in the villages and the inns, and sometimes at the homes of the rich. And his melodies won all hearts.
The author of "Vanity Fair" says: "You come hot and tired from the day's battle, and this sweet minstrel sings to you. Who could harm the kind vagrant harper? Whom did he ever hurt? He carries no weapon—only the harp on which he plays to you; and with which he delights great and humble, young and old, the captains in the tent or the soldiers round the fire, or the women and children in the villages at whose porches he stops and sings his simple songs of love and beauty."
When Goldsmith arrived in London in Seventeen Hundred Fifty-six, he was ragged, penniless, friendless and forlorn. In the country he could always make his way, but the city to him was new and strange. For several days he begged a crust here and there, sleeping in the doorways at night and dreaming of the flowery wealth of gentle Lissoy, where even the poorest had enough to eat and a warm place to huddle when the sun went down.
He at length found work as clerk or porter in a chemist's shop, where he remained until he got money enough to buy a velvet coat and a ruffled shirt, and then he moved to the Bankside and hung out a surgeon's sign. The neighbors thought the little doctor funny, and the women would call to him out of the second-story window that it was a fine day, but when they were ill they sent for some one else to attend them.
Goldsmith was twenty-eight, and the thought that he could make a living with his pen had never come to him. Yet he loved books, and he would loiter about bookshops, pricing first editions, and talking poetry to the patrons. He chanced in this way to meet Samuel Richardson, who, because he wrote the first English romance, has earned the title of Father of Lies. In order to get a very necessary loaf of bread, Doctor Goldsmith asked Richardson to let him read proof. So Richardson gave him employment, and in correcting proof the discovery was made that the Irish doctor could turn a sentence, too.
He became affected with literary eczema, and wrote a tragedy which he read to Richardson and a few assembled friends. They voted it "vile, demnition vile." But one man thought it wasn't so bad as it might be, and this man found a market for some of the little doctor's book reviews, but the tragedy was fed to the fireplace. With the money for his book reviews the doctor bought goose quills and ink, and inspiration in bottles.
Grub Street dropped in, shabby, seedy, empty of pocket but full of hope, and little suppers were given in dingy coffeehouses where success to English letters was drunk.
Then we find Goldsmith making a bold stand for reform. He hired out to write magazine articles by the day; going to work in the morning when the bell rang, an hour off at noon, and then at it again until nightfall. Mr. Griffiths, publisher of the "Monthly Review," was his employer. And in order to hold his newly captured prize, the publisher boarded the pockmarked Irishman in his own house. Mrs. Griffiths looked after him closely, spurring him on when he lagged, correcting his copy, striking out such portions as showed too much genius and inserting a word here and there in order to make a purely neutral decoction, which it seems is what magazine readers have always desired.
Occasionally these articles were duly fathered by great men, as this gave them the required specific gravity.
It is said that even in our day there are editors who employ convict labor in this way. But I am sure that this is not so, for we live in an age of competition, and it is just as cheap to hire the great men to supply twaddle direct as it is to employ foreign paupers to turn it out with the extra expense of elderly women to revise.
After working in the Griffith literary mill for five months, Goldsmith scaled the barricade one dark night, leaving behind, pasted on the wall, a ballad not only to Mrs. Griffiths' eyebrow, but to her wig as well.
Soon after this, when Goldsmith was thirty years of age, his first book, "Enquiry Into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe," was published. It brought him a little money and tuppence worth of fame, so he took better lodgings, in Green Arbor Court, proposing to do great things.
Half a century after the death of Goldsmith, Irving visited Green Arbor Court:
"At length we came upon Fleet Market, and traversing it, turned up a narrow street to the bottom of a long, steep flight of stone steps called Breakneck Stairs. These led to Green Arbor Court, and down them Goldsmith many a time risked his neck. When we entered the Court, I could not but smile to think in what out of the way corners Genius produces her bantlings. The Court I found to be a small square surrounded by tall, miserable houses, with old garments and frippery fluttering from every window. It appeared to be a region of washerwomen, and lines were stretched about the square on which clothes were dangling to dry. Poor Goldsmith! What a time he must have had of it, with his quiet disposition and nervous habits, penned up in this den of noise and vulgarity."
One can imagine Goldsmith running the whole gamut of possible jokes on Breakneck Stairs, and Green Arbor Court, which, by the way, was never green and where there was no arbor.
"I've been admitted to Court, gentlemen!" said Goldsmith proudly, one day at The Mitre Tavern.
"Ah, yes, Doctor, we know—Green Arbor Court! and any man who has climbed Breakneck Stairs has surely achieved," said Tom Davies.
In Seventeen Hundred Sixty, Goldsmith moved to Number Six Wine-Office Court, where he wrote the "Vicar of Wakefield." Boswell reports Doctor Johnson's account of visiting him there:
"I received, one morning, a message from poor Goldsmith that he was in great distress, and, as it was not in his power to come to me, begging that I would come to him as soon as possible. I sent him a guinea and promised to come to him directly. I accordingly went to him as soon as I was dressed, and found that his landlady had arrested him for his rent, at which he was in a violent passion. I perceived that he had already changed my guinea, and had half a bottle of Madeira and a glass before him. I put the cork in the bottle, desired he would be calm, and began to talk to him of the means by which he might be extricated. He then told me he had a novel ready for the press, which he produced for me. I looked into it and saw its merits; told the landlady I would soon return, and having gone to a bookseller, sold it for sixty pounds. I brought Goldsmith the money, and he discharged the rent, not without rating his landlady for having used him so ill."
For the play of "The Good-Natured Man" Goldsmith received five hundred pounds. And he immediately expended four hundred in mahogany furniture, easy chairs, lace curtains and Wilton carpets. Then he called in his friends. This was at Number Two Brick Court, Middle Temple. Blackstone had chambers just below, and was working as hard over his Commentaries as many a lawyer's clerk has done since. He complained of the abominable noise and racket of "those fellows upstairs," but was asked to come in and listen to wit while he had the chance.
I believe the bailiffs eventually captured the mahogany furniture, but Goldsmith held the quarters. They are today in good repair, and the people who occupy the house are very courteous, and obligingly show the rooms to the curious. No attempt at a museum is made, but there are to be seen various articles which belonged to Goldsmith and a collection of portraits that are interesting.
When "The Traveler" was published Goldsmith's fame was made secure. As long as he wrote plays, reviews, history and criticism he was working for hire. People said it was "clever," "brilliant," and all that, but their hearts were not won until the poet had poured out his soul to his brother in that gentlest of all sweet rhymes. I pity the man who can read the opening lines of "The Traveler" without a misty something coming over his vision:
This is the earliest English poem which I can recall that makes use of our American Indian names:
Indeed, we came near having Goldsmith for an adopted citizen. According to his own report he once secured passage to Boston, and after carrying his baggage aboard the ship he went back to town to say a last hurried word of farewell to a fair lady, and when he got back to the dock the ship had sailed away with his luggage.
His earnest wish was to spend his last days in Sweet Auburn.
But he never saw Ireland after he left it in Seventeen Hundred Fifty-four. He died in London in Seventeen Hundred Seventy-four, aged forty-six. On the plain little monument in Temple Church where he was buried are only these words:
Here Lies Oliver Goldsmith.
Hawkins once called on the Earl of Northumberland and found Goldsmith waiting in an outer room, having come in response to an invitation from the nobleman. Hawkins, having finished his business, waited until Goldsmith came out, as he had a curiosity to know why the Earl had sent for him.
"Well," said Hawkins, "what did he say to you?"
"His lordship told me that he had read 'The Traveler,' and that he was pleased with it, and that inasmuch as he was soon to be Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and knowing I was an Irishman, asked what he could do for me!"
"And what did you tell him?" inquired the eager Hawkins.
"Why, there was nothing for me to say, but that I was glad he liked my poem, and—that I had a brother in Ireland, a clergyman, who stood in need of help——"
"Enough!" cried Hawkins, and left him.
To Hawkins himself are we indebted for the incident, and after relating it Hawkins adds:
"And thus did this idiot in the affairs of the world trifle with his fortunes!"
Let him who wishes preach a sermon on this story. But there you have it! "A brother in Ireland who needs help——"
The brother in London, the brother in America, the brother in Ireland who needs help! All men were his brothers, and those who needed help were first in his mind.
Dear little Doctor Goldsmith, you were not a hustler, but when I get to the Spirit World, I'll surely hunt you up!
It is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples,
extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation
of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most
—As You Like It
I have on several occasions been to the Shakespeare country, approaching it from different directions, but each time I am set down at Leamington. Perhaps this is by some Act of Parliament—I really do not know; anyway, I have ceased to kick against the pricks and now meekly accept my fate.
Leamington seems largely under subjection to that triumvirate of despots—the Butler, the Coachman and the Gardener. You hear the jingle of keys, the flick of the whip and the rattle of the lawnmower; and a cold, secret fear takes possession of you—a sort of half-frenzied impulse to flee, before smug modernity takes you captive and whisks you off to play tiddledywinks or to dance the racquet.
But the tram is at the door—the outside fare is a penny, inside it's two—and we are soon safe, for we have reached the point where the Leam and the Avon meet.
Warwick is worth our while. For here we see scenes such as Shakespeare saw, and our delight is in the things that his eyes beheld.
At the foot of Mill Street are the ruins of the old Gothic bridge that leads off to Banbury. Oft have I ridden to Banbury Cross on my mother's foot, and when I saw that sign and pointing finger I felt like leaving all and flying thence. Just beyond the bridge, settled snugly in a forest of waving branches, we see storied old Warwick Castle, with Cæsar's Tower lifting itself from the mass of green.
All about are quaint old houses and shops, with red-tiled roofs, and little windows, with diamond panes, hung on hinges, where maidens fair have looked down on brave men in coats of mail. These narrow, stony streets have rung with the clang and echo of hurrying hoofs; the tramp of Royalist and Parliamentarian, horse and foot, drum and banner; the stir of princely visits, of mail-coach, market, assize and kingly court. Colbrand, armed with giant club; Sir Guy; Richard Neville, kingmaker, and his barbaric train, all trod these streets, watered their horses in this river, camped on yonder bank, or huddled in this castle yard. And again they came back when Will Shakespeare, a youth from Stratford, eight miles away, came here and waved his magic wand.
Warwick Castle is probably in better condition now than it was in the Sixteenth Century. But practically it is the same. It is the only castle in England where the portcullis is lowered at ten o'clock every night and raised in the morning (if the coast happens to be clear) to tap of drum.
It costs a shilling to visit the castle. A fine old soldier in spotless uniform, with waxed white moustache and dangling sword, conducts the visitors. He imparts full two shillings' worth of facts as we go, all with a fierce roll of r's, as becomes a man of war.
The long line of battlements, the massive buttresses, the angular entrance cut through solid rock, crooked, abrupt, with places where fighting men can lie in ambush, all is as Shakespeare knew it.
There are the cedars of Lebanon, brought by Crusaders from the East, and the screaming peacocks in the paved courtway: and in the Great Hall are to be seen the sword and accouterments of the fabled Guy, the mace of the "Kingmaker," the helmet of Cromwell, and the armor of Lord Brooke, killed at Litchfield.
And that Shakespeare saw these things there is no doubt. But he saw them as a countryman who came on certain fete-days, and stared with open mouth. We know this, because he has covered all with the glamour of his rich, boyish imagination that failed to perceive the cruel mockery of such selfish pageantry. Had his view been from the inside he would not have made his kings noble nor his princes generous; for the stress of strife would have stilled his laughter, and from his brain the dazzling pictures would have fled. Yet his fancies serve us better than the facts.
Shakespeare shows us many castles, but they are always different views of Warwick or Kenilworth. When he pictures Macbeth's castle he has Warwick in his inward eye:
Five miles from Warwick (ten, if you believe the cab-drivers) are the ruins of Kenilworth Castle.
In Fifteen Hundred Seventy-five, when Shakespeare was eleven years of age, Queen Elizabeth came to Kenilworth. Whether her ticket was by way of Leamington I do not know. But she remained from July Ninth to July Twenty-seventh, and there were great doings 'most every day, to which the yeomanry were oft invited. John Shakespeare was a worthy citizen of Warwickshire, and it is very probable that he received an invitation, and that he drove over with Mary Arden, his wife, sitting on the front seat holding the baby, and all the other seven children sitting on the straw behind. And we may be sure that the eldest boy in that brood never forgot the day. In fact, in "Midsummer Night's Dream" he has called on his memory for certain features of the show. Elizabeth was forty-one years old then, but apparently very attractive and glib of tongue. No doubt Kenilworth was stupendous in its magnificence, and it will pay you to take down from its shelf Sir Walter's novel and read about it. But today it is all a crumbling heap; ivy, rooks and daws hold the place in fee, each pushing hard for sole possession.
It is eight miles from Warwick to Stratford by the direct road, but ten by the river. I have walked both routes and consider the latter the shorter.
Two miles down the river is Barford, and a mile farther is Wasperton, with its quaint old stone church. It is a good place to rest: for nothing is so soothing as a cool church where the dim light streams through colored windows, and out of sight somewhere an organ softly plays. Soon after leaving the church a rustic swain hailed me and asked for a match. The pipe and the Virginia weed—they mean amity the world over. If I had questions to ask, now was the time! So I asked, and Rusticus informed me that Hampton Lucy was only a mile beyond and that Shakespeare never stole deer at all; so I hope we shall hear no more of that libelous accusation.
"But did Shakespeare run away?" I demanded.
"Ave coorse he deed, sir; 'most all good men 'ave roon away sometime!"
And come to think of it Rusticus is right.
Most great men have at some time departed hastily without leaving orders where to forward their mail. Indeed, it seems necessary that a man should have "run away" at least once, in order afterward to attain eminence. Moses, Lot, Tarquin, Pericles, Demosthenes, Saint Paul, Shakespeare, Rousseau, Voltaire, Goldsmith, Hugo—but the list is too long to give.
But just suppose that Shakespeare had not run away! And to whom do we owe it that he did leave—Justice Shallow or Ann Hathaway, or both? I should say to Ann first and His Honor second. I think if Shakespeare could write an article for "The Ladies' Home Journal" on "Women Who Have Helped Me," and tell the whole truth (as no man ever will in print), he would put Ann Hathaway first.
He signed a bond when eighteen years old agreeing to marry her; she was twenty-six. No record is found of the marriage. But we should think of her gratefully, for no doubt it was she who started the lad off for London.
That's the way I expressed it to my new-found friend, and he agreed with me, so we shook hands and parted.
Charlcote is as fair as a dream of Paradise. The winding Avon, full to its banks, strays lazily through rich fields and across green meadows, past the bright red-brick pile of Charlcote Mansion. The river-bank is lined with rushes, and in one place I saw the prongs of antlers shaking the elders. I sent a shrill whistle and a stick that way, and out ran four fine deer that loped gracefully across the turf. The sight brought my poacher instincts to the surface, but I bottled them, and trudged on until I came to the little church that stands at the entrance to the park.
All mansions, castles and prisons in England have chapels or churches attached. And this is well, for in the good old days it seemed wise to keep in close communication with the other world. For often, on short notice, the proud scion of royalty was compelled hastily to pack a ghostly valise and his him hence with his battered soul; or if he did not go himself he compelled others to do so, and who but a brute would kill a man without benefit of the clergy! So each estate hired its priests by the year, just as men with a taste for litigation hold attorneys in constant retainer.
In Charlcote Church is a memorial to Sir Thomas Lucy; and there is a glowing epitaph that quite upsets any of those taunting and defaming allusions in "The Merry Wives." At the foot of the monument is a line to the effect that the inscription thereon was written by the only one in possession of the facts, Sir Thomas himself.
Several epitaphs in the churchyard are worthy of space in your commonplace book, but the lines on the slab to John Gibbs and wife struck me as having the true ring:
When the Charlcote Mansion was built, there was a housewarming, and Good Queen Bess (who was not so awful good) came in great state; so we see that she had various calling acquaintances in these parts. But we have no proof that she ever knew that any such person as W. Shakespeare lived. However, she came to Charlcote and dined on venison, and what a pity it is that she and Shakespeare did not meet in London afterward and talk it over!
Some hasty individual has put forth a statement to the effect that poets can only be bred in a mountainous country, where they could lift up their eyes to the hills. Rock and ravine, beetling crag, singing cascade, and the heights where the lightning plays and the mists hover are certainly good timber for poetry—after you have caught your poet—but Nature eludes all formula. Again, it is the human interest that adds vitality to art—they reckon ill to leave man out.
Drayton before Shakespeare's time called Warwick "the heart of England," and the heart of England it is today—rich, luxuriant, slow. The great colonies of rabbits that I saw at Charlcote seemed too fat to frolic, save more than to play a trick or two on the hounds that blinked in the sun. Down toward Stratford there are flat islands covered with sedge, long rows of weeping-willows, low hazel, hawthorn, and places where "Green Grow the Rushes, O." Then, if the farmer leaves a spot untilled, the dogrose pre-empts the place and showers its petals on the vagrant winds. Meadowsweet, forget-me-nots and wild geranium snuggle themselves below the boughs of the sturdy yews.
The first glimpse we get of Stratford is the spire of Holy Trinity; then comes the tower of the new Memorial Theater, which, by the way, is exactly like the city hall at Dead Horse, Colorado.
Stratford is just another village of Niagara Falls. The same shops, the same guides, the same hackmen—all are there, save poor Lo, with his beadwork and sassafras. In fact, a "cabby" just outside of New Place offered to take me to the Whirlpool and the Canada side for a dollar. At least, this is what I thought he said. Of course, it is barely possible that I was daydreaming, but I think the facts are that it was he who dozed, and waking suddenly as I passed gave me the wrong cue.
There is a Macbeth livery-stable, a Falstaff bakery, and all the shops and stores keep Othello this and Hamlet that. I saw briarwood pipes with Shakespeare's face carved on the bowl, all for one-and-six; feather fans with advice to the players printed across the folds; the "Seven Ages" on handkerchiefs; and souvenir-spoons galore, all warranted Gorham's best.
The visitor at the birthplace is given a cheerful little lecture on the various relics and curiosities as they are shown. The young ladies who perform this office are clever women with pleasant voices and big, starched, white aprons. I was at Stratford four days and went just four times to the old curiosity-shop. Each day the same bright British damsel conducted me through, and told her tale, but it was always with animation, and a certain sweet satisfaction in her mission and starched apron that was very charming.
No man can tell the same story over and over without soon reaching a point where he betrays his weariness, and then he flavors the whole with a dash of contempt; but a good woman, heaven bless her! is ever eager to please. Each time when we came to that document certified to by
I was told that it was very probable that Judith could write, but that she affixed her name thus in merry jest.
John Shakespeare could not write, we have no reason to suppose that Ann Hathaway could, and this little explanation about the daughter is so very good that it deserves to rank with that other pleasant subterfuge, "The age of miracles is past"; or that bit of jolly claptrap concerning the sacred baboons that are seen about certain temples in India: "They can talk," explain the priests, "but being wise they never do."
Judith married Thomas Quiney. The only letter addressed to Shakespeare that can be found is one from the happy father of Thomas, Mr. Richard Quiney, wherein he asks for a loan of thirty pounds. Whether he was accommodated we can not say; and if he was, did he pay it back, is a question that has caused much hot debate. But it is worthy of note that, although considerable doubt as to authenticity has smooched the other Shakespearian relics, yet the fact of the poet having been "struck" for a loan by Richard Quiney stands out in a solemn way as the one undisputed thing in the master's career. Little did Mr. Quiney think, when he wrote that letter, that he was writing for the ages. Philanthropists have won all by giving money, but who save Quiney has reaped immortality by asking for it!
The inscription over Shakespeare's grave is an offer of reward if you do, and a threat of punishment if you don't, all in choice doggerel. Why did he not learn at the feet of Sir Thomas Lucy and write his own epitaph?
But I rather guess I know why his grave was not marked with his name. He was a play-actor, and the church people would have been outraged at the thought of burying a "strolling player" in that sacred chancel. But his son-in-law, Doctor John Hall, honored the great man and was bound he should have a worthy resting-place; so at midnight, with the help of a few trusted friends, he dug the grave and lowered the dust of England's greatest son.
Then they hastily replaced the stones, and over the grave they placed the slab that they had brought:
A threat from a ghost! Ah, no one dare molest that grave—besides they didn't know who was buried there—neither are we quite sure. Long years after the interment, some one set a bust of the poet, and a tablet, on the wall over against the grave.
Under certain circumstances, if occasion demands, I might muster a sublime conceit; but considering the fact that ten thousand Americans visit Stratford every year, and all write descriptions of the place, I dare not in the face of Baedeker do it. Further than that, in every library there are Washington Irving, Hawthorne, and William Winter's three lacrimose but charming volumes.
And I am glad to remember that the Columbus who discovered Stratford and gave it to the people was an American: I am proud to think that Americans have written so charmingly of Shakespeare: I am proud to know that at Stratford no man besides the master is as honored as Irving, and while I can not restrain a blush for our English cousins, I am proud that over half the visitors at the birthplace are Americans, and prouder still am I to remember that they all write letters to the newspapers at home about Stratford-on-Avon.
In England poets are relegated to a "Corner." The earth and the fulness thereof belongs to the men who can kill; on this rock have the English State and Church been built.
As the tourist approaches the city of London for the first time, there are four monuments that probably will attract his attention. They lift themselves out of the fog and smoke and soot, and seem to struggle toward the blue.
One of these monuments is to commemorate a calamity—the conflagration of Sixteen Hundred Sixty-six—and the others are in honor of deeds of war.
The finest memorial in Saint Paul's is to a certain eminent Irishman, Arthur Wellesley. The mines and quarries of earth have been called on for their richest contributions; and talent and skill have given their all to produce this enduring work of beauty, that tells posterity of the mighty acts of this mighty man. The rare richness and lavish beauty of the Wellington mausoleum are only surpassed by a certain tomb in France.
As an exploiter, the Corsican overdid the thing a bit—so the world arose and put him down; but safely dead, his shade can boast a grave so sumptuous that Englishmen in Paris refuse to look upon it.
But England need not be ashamed. Her land is spiked with glistening monuments to greatness gone. And on these monuments one often gets the epitomized life of the man whose dust lies below.
On the carved marble to Lord Cornwallis I read that, "He defeated the Americans with great slaughter." And so, wherever in England I see a beautiful monument, I know that probably the inscription will tell how "he defeated" somebody. And one grows to the belief that, while woman's glory is her hair, man's glory is to defeat some one. And if he can "defeat with great slaughter" his monument is twice as high as if he had only visited on his brother man a plain undoing.
In truth, I am told by a friend who has a bias for statistics, that all monuments above fifty feet high in England are to the honor of men who have defeated other men "with great slaughter." The only exceptions to this rule are the Albert Memorial—which is a tribute of wifely affection rather than a public testimonial, so therefore need not be considered here—and a monument to a worthy brewer who died and left three hundred thousand pounds to charity. I mentioned this fact to my friend, but he unhorsed me by declaring that modesty forbade carving truth on monuments, yet it was a fact that the brewer, too, had brought defeat to vast numbers and had, like Saul, slaughtered his thousands.
When I visited the site of the Globe Theater and found thereon a brewery, whose shares are warranted to make the owner rich beyond the dream of avarice, I was depressed. In my boyhood I had supposed that if ever I should reach this spot where Shakespeare's plays were first produced, I should see a beautiful park and a splendid monument; while some white-haired old patriarch would greet me, and give a little lecture to the assembled pilgrims on the great man whose footsteps had made sacred the soil beneath our feet.
But there is no park, and no monument, and no white-haired old poet to give you welcome—only a brewery.
"Ay, mon, but ain't ut a big un?" protested an Englishman who heard my murmurs.
Yes, yes, I must be truthful—it is a big brewery, and there are four big bulldogs in the courtway; and there are big vats, and big workmen in big aprons. And each of these workmen is allowed to drink six quarts of beer each day, without charge, which proves that kindliness is not dead. Then there are big horses that draw the big wagons, and on the corner there is a big taproom where the thirsty are served with big glasses. The founder of this brewery became rich; and if my statistical friend is right, the owners of these mighty vats have defeated mankind with "great slaughter."
We have seen that, although Napoleon, the defeated, has a more gorgeous tomb than Wellington, who defeated him, yet there is consolation in the thought that although England has no monument to Shakespeare he now has the freedom of Elysium; while the present address of the British worthies who have battened and fattened on poor humanity's thirst for strong drink, since Samuel Johnson was executor of Thrale's estate, is unknown.
We have this on the authority of a solid Englishman, who says: "The virtues essential and peculiar to the exalted station of British Worthy debar the unfortunate possessor from entering Paradise. There is not a Lord Chancellor, or Lord Mayor, or Lord of the Chamber, or Master of the Hounds, or Beefeater in Ordinary, or any sort of British bigwig, out of the whole of British Beadledom, upon which the sun never sets, in Elysium. This is the only dignity beyond their reach."
The writer quoted is an honorable man, and I am sure he would not make this assertion if he did not have proof of the fact. So, for the present, I will allow him to go on his own recognizance, believing that he will adduce his documents at the proper time.
But still, should not England have a fitting monument to Shakespeare? He is her one universal citizen. His name is honored in every school or college of earth where books are prized. There is no scholar in any clime who is not his debtor.
He was born in England; he never was out of England; his ashes rest in England. But England's Budget has never been ballasted with a single pound to help preserve inviolate the memory of her one son to whom the world uncovers.
Victor Hugo has said something on this subject which runs about like this:
Why a monument to Shakespeare?
He is his own monument and England is its pedestal. Shakespeare has no need of a pyramid; he has his work.
What can bronze or marble do for him? Malachite and alabaster are of no avail; jasper, serpentine, basalt, porphyry, granite: stones from Paros and marble from Carrara—they are all a waste of pains: genius can do without them.
What is as indestructible as these: "The Tempest," "The Winter's Tale," "Julius Cæsar," "Coriolanus"? What monument sublimer than "Lear," sterner than "The Merchant of Venice," more dazzling than "Romeo and Juliet," more amazing than "Richard III"?
What moon could shed about the pile a light more mystic than that of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"? What capital, were it even in London, could rumble around it as tumultuously as Macbeth's perturbed soul? What framework of cedar or oak will last as long as "Othello"? What bronze can equal the bronze of "Hamlet"?
No construction of lime, or rock, of iron and of cement is worth the deep breath of genius, which is the respiration of God through man. What edifice can equal thought? Babel is less lofty than Isaiah; Cheops is smaller than Homer; the Colosseum is inferior to Juvenal; the Giralda of Seville is dwarfish by the side of Cervantes; Saint Peter's of Rome does not reach to the ankle of Dante.
What architect has the skill to build a tower so high as the name of Shakespeare? Add anything if you can to mind! Then why a monument to Shakespeare?
I answer, not for the glory of Shakespeare, but for the honor of England!
THOMAS A. EDISON—Photogravure from drawing by Gaspard
Some years ago, a law was passed out in Ohio, making any man ineligible to act as a magistrate who had not studied law and been duly admitted to the bar. Men who had not studied law were deemed lacking in the sense of justice. This law was designed purely for one man—Samuel M. Jones of Toledo. Was ever a Jones so honored before?
In Athens, of old, a law was once passed declaring that every man, either of whose parents was an alien, was not a citizen and therefore ineligible to hold office.
This law was aimed at the head of one man—Themistocles.
"And so you are an alien?" was the taunting remark flung at the mother of Themistocles.
And the Greek matron proudly answered, "Yes, I am an alien—but my son is Themistocles."
Down at Lilly Dale the other day, a woman told me that she had talked with the mother of Edison, and the spirit-voice had said: "It is true I was a Canadian schoolteacher, and this at a time when very few women taught, but I am the mother of him you call Thomas A. Edison. I studied and read and wrote and in degree I educated myself. I had great ambition—I thirsted to know, to do, to become. But I was hampered and chained in an uncongenial atmosphere. My body struggled with its bonds, so that I grew weak, worried, sick, and died, leaving my boy to struggle his way alone. My only regret at death was the thought that I was leaving my boy. I thought that through my marriage I had killed my career—sacrificed myself. But my boy became heir to all my hunger for knowledge, and he has accomplished what I dimly dreamed. He has made plain what I only guessed. From my position here I have whispered secrets to him that only the freed spirits knew. I once thought my life was a failure, but now I know that the word 'failure' is a term used only by foolish mortals. In the universal sense there is no such thing as failure."
Just here it seems to me that some one once said that we get no mind without brain. But we had here the brain of the medium, otherwise this alleged message from the spirit realm would not be ours. So we will not now tarry to discuss psychic phenomena, but go on to other things. But the woman from Lilly Dale said something, just the same.
Edison was born at the little village of Milan, Ohio, which lies six miles from Norwalk on the road between Cleveland and Toledo.
On the breaking out of the Civil War the boy was fourteen years old. His parents had moved to Sarnia, Canada, and then across to Port Huron.
Young Edison used to ride up and down from Detroit on the passenger-boats and sell newspapers. His standing with the Detroit "Free Press," backed up by his good-cheer and readiness to help the passengers with their babies and bundles, gave him free passage on all railroads and steamboat-lines.
There was a public library at Detroit where any one could read, but books could not be taken away.
All Edison's spare time was spent at the library, which to him was a gold-mine. All his mother's books had been sold, stolen or given away.
And ahoy there, all you folks who have books! Do you not know what books are to a child hungry for truth, that has no books?
Of course you do not!
Books to a boy like young Edison are treasures-trove, in which is stored the learning of all great and good and wise who have ever lived.
And the boy has to read, and read for a decade, in order to find that books are not much after all.
When Edison saw the inside of that library and was told he could read any or all of the books, he said, "If you please, Mister, I'll begin here." And he tackled the first shelf, mentally deciding that he would go through the books ten feet at a time.
A little later he bought at an auction fifty volumes of the "North American Review," and moving the books up to his home at Port Huron proceeded to read them.
The war was on—papers sold for ten cents each and business was good.
Edison was making money—and saving it. He only plunged on books.
Over at Mount Clemens, at the Springs, folks congregated, and there young Edison took weekly trips selling papers.
On one such visit he rescued the little son of the station-agent from in front of a moving train. In gratitude, the man took the boy to his house and told him he must make it his home while in Mount Clemens; and then after supper the youngster went down to the station; and what was more, the station-agent took him in behind the ticket-window, where the telegraph-instrument clicked off dots and dashes on a long strip of paper.
Edison looked on with open mouth.
"Would you like to become a telegraph-operator?" asked the agent.
"Sure!" was the reply.
Already the boy had read up on the subject in his library of the "North American Review," and he really knew the history of the thing better than did the agent.
Edison was now a newsboy on the Grand Trunk, and he arranged his route so as to spend every other night at Mount Clemens.
In a few months he could handle the key about as well as the station-agent.
About this time the ice had carried out the telegraph-line between Port Huron and Sarnia. The telegraph people were in sore straits. Edison happened along and said to the local operator, "Come out here, Bill, on this switch-engine and we'll fix things!" By short snorts of the whistle for dots and long ones for dashes, they soon caught the ear of the operator on the other side. He answered back, "What t'ell is the matter with you fellows?" And Edison and the other operator roared with laughter, so that the engineer thought their think-boxes needed re-babbitting.
And that scheme of telegraphy with a steam-whistle was Edison's first invention.
Instead of going to college Edison started a newspaper—a kind of amateur affair, in which he himself wrote editorials, news-items and advertisements—this when he was seventeen years old.
The best way to become a skilled writer is to write; and if there is a better way to learn than by doing, the world has not yet discovered it.
Also, if there is a finer advantage for a youth who would be a financier than to have a shiftless father, it has not been recorded.
When nineteen, Edison had two thousand dollars in cash—more money than his father had ever seen at any one time.
The Grand Trunk folks found that their ex-trainboy could operate, and so they called on him to help them out, up and down the line. Then the Western Union wanted extra good men, and young Edison was given double pay to go to New Orleans, where there was a pitiful dearth of operators, the Southern operators being mostly dead, and Northern men not caring to live in the South.
So Edison traveled North and South and East and West, gathering gear. He had studied the science of telegraphy closely enough to see that it could be improved upon. One message at a time for one wire was absurd—why not two, or four, and why not send messages both ways at once!
It was the general idea then that electricity traveled: Edison knew better—electricity merely rendered the wire sensitive.
Edison was getting a reputation among his associates. He had read everything, and when his key was not busy, there was in his hand a copy of Gibbon's "Decline and Fall."
He wrote a hand like copperplate and could "take" as fast as the best could send. And when it came to "sending," he had made the pride of Chicago cry quits.
The Western Union had need of a specially good man at Albany while the Legislature was in session, and Edison was sent there. He took the key and never looked at the clock—he cleaned up the stuff. He sat glued to his chair for ten hours, straight.
At one time, the line suddenly became blocked between Albany and New York. The manager was in distress, and after exhausting all known expedients went to Edison. The lanky youth called up a friend of his in Pittsburgh and ordered that New York give the Pittsburgh man the Albany wire. "Feel your way up the river until you find me," were the orders.
Edison started feeling his way down the river.
In twenty minutes he called to the manager, "The break is two miles below Poughkeepsie—I've ordered the section-boss at Poughkeepsie to take a repairer on his handcar and go and fix it!"
Of course, this plain telegraph-operator had no right to order out a section-boss; but nevertheless he did it. He shouldered responsibility like Tom Potter of the C., B. & Q.
Not long after the Albany experience, Edison was in New York, not looking for work as some say, but nosing around Wall Street investigating the "Laws Automatic Ticker." The machine he was looking at suddenly stopped, and this blocked all the tickers on the line. An expert was sent for, but he could not start it.
"I'll fix it," said a tall, awkward volunteer, the same which was Edison.
History is not yet clear as to whether Edison had not originally "fixed" it, and Edison so far has not confessed.
And there being no one else to start the machine, Edison was given a chance, and soon the tickers were going again. This gave him an introduction to the stock-ticker folks, and the Western Union people he already knew.
This was in Eighteen Hundred Seventy, and Edison was then twenty-three years old.
He studied out how stock-reporting could be bettered and invented a plan which he duly patented, and then laid his scheme before the Western Union managers.
A stock company was formed, and young Edison, aged twenty-four, was paid exactly forty thousand dollars for his patent, and retained by the Company as Electrical Adviser at three hundred dollars a month.
In Eighteen Hundred Seventy-four, when he was twenty-seven, he had perfected his duplex telegraph apparatus and had a factory turning out telegraph-instruments and appliances at Newark, New Jersey, where three hundred men were employed.
In Eighteen Hundred Seventy-six, the year of the Centennial Exposition, Edison told the Exposition Managers that if they would wait a year or so he would light their show with electricity.
He moved to the then secluded spot of Menlo Park to devote himself to experiments, spending an even hundred thousand dollars in equipment as a starter. Results followed fast, and soon we had the incandescent lamp, trolley-car, electric pen and many other inventions. It was on the night of October the Twenty-third, Eighteen Hundred Seventy-nine, that Edison first turned the current through an incandescent burner and got the perfect light. He sat and looked at the soft, mild, beautiful light and laughed a joyous peal of laughter that was heard in the adjoining rooms. "We've got it, boys!" he cried, and the boys, a dozen of them, came tumbling in. Arguments started as to how long it would last. One said an hour. "Twenty-four hours," said Edison. They all vowed they would watch it without sleep until the carbon film was destroyed and the light went out. It lasted just forty hours.
Around Edison grew up a group of great workers—proud to be called "Edison Men"—and some of these went out and made for themselves names and fortunes.
Edison was born in Eighteen Hundred Forty-seven. Consequently, at this writing he is sixty-three years old. He is big and looks awkward, because his dusty-gray clothes do not fit, and he walks with a slight stoop. When he wants clothes he telephones for them. His necktie is worn by the right oblique, his iron-gray hair is combed by the wind. On his cherubic face usually sits a half-quizzical, pleased smile, that fades into a look plaintive and very gentle. The face is that of a man who has borne burdens and known sorrow, of one who has overcome only after mighty effort. I was going to say that Edison looks like a Roman Emperor, but I recall that no Roman Emperor deserves to rank with him—not even Julius Cæsar! The face is that of Napoleon at Saint Helena, unsubdued.
The predominant characteristics of the man are his faith, hope, good-cheer and courage. But at all times his humor is apt to be near the surface.
Had Edison been as keen a businessman as Rockefeller, and kept his own in his own hands, he would today be as rich as Rockefeller.
But Edison is worth, oh, say, two million dollars, and that is all any man should be worth—it is all he needs. Yet there are at least a hundred men in the world today, far richer than Edison, who have made their fortunes wholly and solely by appropriating his ideas.
Edison has trusted people, and some of them have taken advantage of his great, big, generous, boyish spirit to do him grievous wrong. But the nearest I ever heard him come to making a complaint was when he said to me, "Fra Elbertus, you never wrote but one really true thing!"
"Well, what was that, Mr. Edison?"
"You said, 'There is one thing worse than to be deceived by men, and that is to distrust them.' Now people say I have been successful, and so I have, in degree, and it has been through trusting men. There are a few fellows who always know just what I am doing—I confide in them—I explain things to them just to straighten the matter out in my own mind."
But of the men who have used Edison's money and ideas, who have made it a life business to study his patents and then use them, evading the law, not a word!
From Eighteen Hundred Seventy to Eighteen Hundred Ninety, Edison secured over nine hundred patents, or at the rate of one patent every ten days. Very few indeed of these patents ever brought him any direct return, and now his plan is to invent and keep the matter a secret in his "family."
"The value of an idea lies in the using of it," he said to me. "You patent a thing and the other fellow starts even with you. Keep it to yourself and you have the machinery going before the other fellow is awake. Patents may protect some things, and still others they only advertise. Up in Buffalo you have a great lawyer who says he can drive a coach and four through any will that was ever made—and I guess he can. All good lawyers know how to break wills and contracts, and there are now specialists who secure goodly fees for busting patents. If you have an idea, go ahead and invent a way to use it and keep your process secret."
The Edison factories at West Orange cover a space of about thirty acres, all fenced in with high pickets and barb-wire. Over two thousand people are employed inside that fence. There are guards at the gates, and the would-be visitor is challenged as if he were an enemy. If you want to see any particular person, you do not go in and see him—he comes to you and you sit in a place like the visitors' dock at Sing-Sing.
With me it was different: I had a note that made the gates swing wide. However, one gatekeeper scrutinized the note and scrutinized me, and then went back into a maze of buildings for advice. When he came back, the General Manager was with him and was reproving him. In a voice full of defense the County Down watchman said: "Ah, now, and how did I know but that it was a forgery? And anyhow, I'd never let in a man what looks like that, even if he had an order from Bill Taft."
The Edison factories, all enclosed in the high fence and under guard, include four separate and distinct corporations, each with its own set of offices. Edison himself owns a controlling interest in each corporation, and the rest of the stock is owned by the managers or "family." With his few trusted helpers he is most liberal. Not only do they draw goodly salaries, but they have an interest in the profits that is no small matter.
The secrets of the place are protected by having each workman stick right to one thing and work in one room. No running around is allowed—each employee goes to a certain place and remains there all day. To be found elsewhere is a misdemeanor, and while spies at the Edison factory are not shot, they have been known to disappear into space with great velocity.
To make amends for the close restrictions on workers, an extra wage is paid and the eight-hour day prevails, so help is never wanting.
Ninety-nine workers out of a hundred want their wages, and nothing else. Promotion, advancement and education are things that never occur to them. But for the few that have the stuff in them, Edison is always on the lookout. His place is really a college, for to know the man is an education. He radiates good-cheer and his animation is catching.
To a woman who wanted him to write a motto for her son, Edison wrote, "Never look at the clock!" The argument is plain—get the thing done.
And around the Edison laboratory there is no use of looking at the clock, for none of them runs. That is the classic joke of the place. Years ago Edison expressed his contempt for the man who watched the clock, and now every Christmas his office family take up a collection and buy him a clock, and present it with great ceremony. He replies in a speech on the nebular hypothesis and all are very happy. One year the present assumed the form of an Ingersoll Dollar Watch, which the Wizard showed to me with great pride. In the stockade is a beautiful library building and here you see clocks galore, some of which must have cost a thousand dollars a piece, all silent. One clock had a neatly printed card attached, "Don't look at this clock—it has stopped." And another, "You may look at this clock, for you can't stop it!" It was already stopped.
One very elegant clock had a solid block of wood where the works should have been, but the face and golden hands were all complete.
However, one clock was running, with a tick needlessly loud, but this clock had no hands.
The Edison Library is a gigantic affair, with two balconies and bookstacks limitless.
The intent was to have a scientific library right at hand that would compass the knowledge of the world. The Laboratory is quite as complete, for in it is every chemical substance known to man, all labeled, classified and indexed. Seemingly, Edison is the most careless, indifferent and slipshod of men, but the real fact is that such a thorough business general the world has seldom seen. If he wants, say, the "Electrical Review" for March, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-One, he hands a boy a slip of paper and the book is in his hands in five minutes. Edison of all men understands that knowledge consists in having a clerk who can quickly find the thing. In his hands the card-index has reached perfection.
Edison has no private office, and his desk in the great library has not had a letter written on it since Eighteen Hundred Ninety-five. "I hate to disturb the mice," he said as he pointed it out indifferently.
He arrives at the stockade early—often by seven o'clock, and makes his way direct to the Laboratory, which stands in the center of the campus. All around are high factory buildings, vibrating with the suppressed roar and hum of industry.
In the Laboratory, Edison works, secure and free from interruption unless he invites it. Much of his time is spent in the Chemical Building, a low, one-story structure, lighted from the top. It has a cement floor and very simple furniture, the shelves and tables being mostly of iron. "We are always prepared for fires and explosions here," said Edison in half-apology for the barrenness of the rooms.
The place is a maze of retorts, kettles, tubes, siphons and tiny brass machinery. In the midst of the mess stood two old-fashioned armchairs—both sacred to Edison. One he sits in, and the other is for his feet, his books, pads and paper.
Here he sits and thinks, reads or muses or tells stories or shuffles about with his hands in his pockets. Edison is a man of infinite leisure. He has the faculty of throwing details upon others. At his elbow, shod in sneakers silent, is always a stenographer. Then there is a bookkeeper who does nothing but record the result of every experiment, and these experiments are going on constantly, attended to by half a dozen quiet and alert men, who work like automatons. "I have tried a million schemes that will not work—I know everything that is no good. I work by elimination," says Edison.
When hot on the trail of an idea he may work here for three days and nights without going home, and his wife is good enough and great enough to leave him absolutely to himself. In a little room in the corner of the Laboratory is a little iron cot and three gray army blankets. He can sleep at any time, and half an hour's rest will enable him to go on. When he can't quite catch the idea, he closes up his brain-cells for ten minutes and sleeps, then up and after it again.
Mrs. Edison occasionally sends meals down for the Wizard when he is on the trail of a thought and does not want to take time to go home.
One day the dinner arrived when Edison was just putting salt on the tail of an idea. There was no time to eat, but it occurred to the inventor that if he would just quit thinking for ten minutes and sleep, he could awaken with enough brain-power to throw the lariat successfully. So he just leaned back, put his feet in the other chair and went to sleep.
The General Manager came in and saw the dinner on the table and Edison sleeping, so he just sat down and began to eat the dinner. He ate it all, and tiptoed out.
Edison slept twenty minutes, awoke, looked at the empty dishes, pulled down his vest, took out his regular after-dinner cigar, lighted it and smoked away in sweet satisfaction, fully believing that he had had his dinner; and even after the General Manager had come in and offered to bet him a dollar he hadn't, he was still of the same mind.
This spirit of sly joking fills the place, set afloat by the master himself. Edison dearly loves a joke, and will quit work any time to hear one. It is the five minutes' sleep and the good laugh that keep his brain from becoming a hotbox—he gets his rest!
"When do you take your vacation, Mr. Edison?" a lady asked him.
"Election night every November," was the reply. And this is literally true, for on that night there is a special wire run into the Orange Clubhouse, and Edison takes the key and sits there until daylight taking the returns, writing them out carefully in that copperplate Western Union hand. He is as careful about his handwriting now as if he were writing out train-orders.
"If I wanted to live a hundred years I would use neither tobacco nor coffee," said Edison as we sat at lunch. "But you see I'd rather get a little really good work done than live long and do nothing to speak of. And so I spur what I am pleased to call my mind, at times with coffee and a good cigar—just pass the matches, thank you! Some day some fellow will invent a way of concentrating and storing up sunshine to use instead of this old, absurd Prometheus scheme of fire. I'll do the trick myself if some one else doesn't get at it. Why, that is all there is about my work in electricity—you know, I never claimed to have invented electricity—that is a campaign lie—nail it!"
"Sunshine is spread out thin and so is electricity. Perhaps they are the same, but we will take that up later. Now the trick was, you see, to concentrate the juice and liberate it as you needed it. The old-fashioned way inaugurated by Jove, of letting it off in a clap of thunder, is dangerous, disconcerting and wasteful. It doesn't fetch up anywhere. My task was to subdivide the current and use it in a great number of little lights, and to do this I had to store it. And we haven't really found out how to store it yet and let it off real easy-like and cheap. Why, we have just begun to commence to get ready to find out about electricity. This scheme of combustion to get power makes me sick to think of—it is so wasteful. It is just the old, foolish Prometheus idea, and the father of Prometheus was a baboon."
"When we learn how to store electricity, we will cease being apes ourselves; until then we are tailless orangutans. You see, we should utilize natural forces and thus get all of our power. Sunshine is a form of energy, and the winds and the tides are manifestations of energy."
"Do we use them? Oh, no! We burn up wood and coal, as renters burn up the front fence for fuel. We live like squatters, not as if we owned the property.
"There must surely come a time when heat and power will be stored in unlimited quantities in every community, all gathered by natural forces. Electricity ought to be as cheap as oxygen, for it can not be destroyed.
"Now, I am not sure but that my new storage-battery is the thing. I'd tell you about that, but I don't want to bore you. Of course, I know that nothing is more interesting to the public than a good lie. You see, I have been a newspaperman myself—used to run a newspaper—in fact, Veritas and Old Subscriber once took exception to one of my editorials and threw me into the Detroit River—that is where I got my little deafness—what's that? No, I did not say my deftness—I got that in another way. But about lies, you have heard that one about my smoking big, black cigars! Well, the story is that the boys in the office used to steal my cigars, and so I got a cigarmaker to make me up a box that looked just like my favorite brand, only I had 'em filled with hemp, horsehair and a touch of asafetida. Then I just left the box where the boys would be sure to dip into it; but it seems the cigarman put them on, and so they just put that box into my own private stock and I smoked the fumigators and never knew the difference.
"That whole story is a pernicious malrepresentation invented by the enemy of mankind in order to throw obloquy over a virtuous old telegraph-operator—brand it!"
Witness, therefore, that I have branded it, forevermore!
Once upon a day I wrote an article on Alexander Humboldt. And in that article among other things I said, "This world of ours, round like an orange and slightly flattened at the Poles, has produced but five educated men."
And ironical ladies and gents from all parts of the United States wrote me on postal cards, begging that I should name the other four. Let us leave the cynics to their little pleasantries, and make our appeal to people who think.
Education means evolution, development, growth. Education is comparative, for there is no fixed standard—all men know more than some men, and some men know more than some other men. "Every man I meet is my master in some particular," said Emerson. But there are five men in history who had minds so developed, and evolved beyond the rest of mankind so far, that they form a class by themselves, and deserve to be called Educated Men.
The men I have in mind were the following: Pericles, Builder of Athens.
Aristotle, tutor of Alexander, and the world's first naturalist.
Leonardo, the all-round man—the man who could do more things, and do them well, than any other man who every lived.
Sir Isaac Newton, the mathematician, who analyzed light and discovered the law of gravitation.
Alexander von Humboldt, explorer and naturalist, who compassed the entire scientific knowledge of the world, issued his books in deluxe limited editions at his own expense, and sold them for three thousand dollars a set.
Newton and Humboldt each wore a seven and three-fourths hat. Leonardo and Aristotle went untaped, but Pericles had a head so high and so big that he looked like a caricature, and Aristophanes, a nice man who lived at the same time, said that the head of Pericles looked like a pumpkin that had been sat upon. All the busts of Pericles represent him wearing a helmet—this to avoid what the artists thought an abnormality, the average Greek having a round, smooth chucklehead like that of a Bowery bartender.
America has produced two men who stand out so far beyond the rest of mankind that they form a class by themselves: Benjamin Franklin and Thomas A. Edison.
Franklin wore a seven and a half hat; Edison wears a seven and three-fourths.
The difference in men is the difference in brain-power. And while size does not always token quality, yet size and surface are necessary to get power, and there is no record of a man with a six and a half head ever making a ripple on the intellectual sea. Without the cells you get no mind, and if mind exists without the cells, it has not yet been proven. The brain is a storage-battery made up of millions of minute cells.
The weight of an average man's brain is forty-nine ounces. Now, Humboldt's brain weighed fifty-six ounces, and Newton's and Franklin's weighed fifty-seven. Let us hope the autopsist will not have a chance to weigh Edison's brain for many years, but when he does the mark will register fifty-seven ounces.
An orang-utan weighs about the same as a man, but its brain weighs only a pound, against three pounds for a man. Give a gorilla a brain weighing fifty ounces, and he would be a Methodist Presiding Elder. Give him a brain the same size of Edison's, say fifty-seven ounces, and instead of spending life in hunting for snakes and heaving cocoanuts at monkeys as respectable gorillas are wont, he would be weighing the world in scales of his own invention and making, and measuring the distances of the stars.
Pericles was taught by the gentle Anaxagoras, who gave all his money to the State in order that he might be free. The State reciprocated by cutting off his head, for republics are always ungrateful.
Aristotle was a pupil of Plato and worked his way through college, sifting ashes, washing windows and sweeping sidewalks.
Leonardo was self-taught and gathered knowledge as a bee gathers honey, although honey isn't honey until the bee digests it.
Sir Isaac Newton was a Cambridge man. He held the office of Master of the Mint, and to relieve himself of the charge of atheism he anticipated the enemy and wrote a book on the Hebrew Prophets, which gave the scientists the laugh on him, but made his position with the State secure. Newton is the only man herein mentioned who knew anything about theology, all the others being "infidels" in their day, devoting themselves strictly to this world. Humboldt was taught by the "natural method," and never took a college degree.
Franklin was a graduate of the University of Hard Knocks, and Edison's Alma Mater is the same.
There is one special characteristic manifested by the Seven Educated men I have named—good-cheer, a great welling sense of happiness! They were all good animals: they gloried in life; they loved the men and women who were still on earth; they feasted on the good things in life; breathed deeply; slept soundly and did not bother about the future. Their working motto was, "One world at a time."
They were all able to laugh.
Genius is a great fund of joyousness.
Each and all of these men influenced the world profoundly. We are different people because they lived. Every house, school, library and workshop in Christendom is touched by their presence.
All are dead but Edison, yet their influence can never die. And no one in the list has influenced civilization so profoundly as Edison. You can not look out of a window in any city in Europe or America without beholding the influence of his thought. You may say that the science of electricity has gone past him, but all the Sons of Jove have built on him.
He gave us the electric light and the electric car and pointed the way to the telephone—three things that have revolutionized society. As Athens at her height was the Age of Pericles, so will our time be known as the Age of Edison.
SO HERE ENDETH "LITTLE JOURNEYS TO THE HOMES OF GOOD MEN AND GREAT," BEING VOLUME ONE OF THE SERIES, AS WRITTEN BY ELBERT HUBBARD: EDITED AND ARRANGED BY FRED BANN; BORDERS AND INITIALS BY ROYCROFT ARTISTS AND PRODUCED BY THE ROYCROFTERS, AT THEIR SHOPS, WHICH ARE IN EAST AURORA, ERIE COUNTY, NEW YORK, MCMXXII