Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Across The Plains by Robert Louis Stevenson

Across The Plains by Robert Louis Stevenson
I. Across The Plains
II. The Old Pacific Capital
III. Fontainebleau
IV. Epilogue to "An Inland Voyage"
V. Random Memories
VI. Random Memories Continued
VII. The Lantern-bearers
VIII. A Chapter on Dreams
IX. Beggars
X. Letter to a Young Gentleman
XI. Pulvis et Umbra
XII. A Christmas Sermon
MONDAY. - It was, if I remember rightly, five o'clock when we were
all signalled to be present at the Ferry Depot of the railroad. An
emigrant ship had arrived at New York on the Saturday night,
another on the Sunday morning, our own on Sunday afternoon, a
fourth early on Monday; and as there is no emigrant train on Sunday
a great part of the passengers from these four ships was
concentrated on the train by which I was to travel. There was a
babel of bewildered men, women, and children. The wretched little
booking-office, and the baggage-room, which was not much larger,
were crowded thick with emigrants, and were heavy and rank with the
atmosphere of dripping clothes. Open carts full of bedding stood
by the half-hour in the rain. The officials loaded each other with
recriminations. A bearded, mildewed little man, whom I take to
have been an emigrant agent, was all over the place, his mouth full
of brimstone, blustering and interfering. It was plain that the
whole system, if system there was, had utterly broken down under
the strain of so many passengers.
My own ticket was given me at once, and an oldish man, who
preserved his head in the midst of this turmoil, got my baggage
registered, and counselled me to stay quietly where I was till he
should give me the word to move. I had taken along with me a small
valise, a knapsack, which I carried on my shoulders, and in the bag
of my railway rug the whole of BANCROFT'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED
STATES, in six fat volumes. It was as much as I could carry with
convenience even for short distances, but it insured me plenty of
clothing, and the valise was at that moment, and often after,
useful for a stool. I am sure I sat for an hour in the baggageroom,
and wretched enough it was; yet, when at last the word was
passed to me and I picked up my bundles and got under way, it was
only to exchange discomfort for downright misery and danger.
I followed the porters into a long shed reaching downhill from West
Street to the river. It was dark, the wind blew clean through it
from end to end; and here I found a great block of passengers and
baggage, hundreds of one and tons of the other. I feel I shall
have a difficulty to make myself believed; and certainly the scene
must have been exceptional, for it was too dangerous for daily
repetition. It was a tight jam; there was no fair way through the
mingled mass of brute and living obstruction. Into the upper
skirts of the crowd porters, infuriated by hurry and overwork,
clove their way with shouts. I may say that we stood like sheep,
and that the porters charged among us like so many maddened sheepdogs;
and I believe these men were no longer answerable for their
acts. It mattered not what they were carrying, they drove straight
into the press, and when they could get no farther, blindly
discharged their barrowful. With my own hand, for instance, I
saved the life of a child as it sat upon its mother's knee, she
sitting on a box; and since I heard of no accident, I must suppose
that there were many similar interpositions in the course of the
evening. It will give some idea of the state of mind to which we
were reduced if I tell you that neither the porter nor the mother
of the child paid the least attention to my act. It was not till
some time after that I understood what I had done myself, for to
ward off heavy boxes seemed at the moment a natural incident of
human life. Cold, wet, clamour, dead opposition to progress, such
as one encounters in an evil dream, had utterly daunted the
spirits. We had accepted this purgatory as a child accepts the
conditions of the world. For my part, I shivered a little, and my
back ached wearily; but I believe I had neither a hope nor a fear,
and all the activities of my nature had become tributary to one
massive sensation of discomfort.
At length, and after how long an interval I hesitate to guess, the
crowd began to move, heavily straining through itself. About the
same time some lamps were lighted, and threw a sudden flare over
the shed. We were being filtered out into the river boat for
Jersey City. You may imagine how slowly this filtering proceeded,
through the dense, choking crush, every one overladen with packages
or children, and yet under the necessity of fishing out his ticket
by the way; but it ended at length for me, and I found myself on
deck under a flimsy awning and with a trifle of elbow-room to
stretch and breathe in. This was on the starboard; for the bulk of
the emigrants stuck hopelessly on the port side, by which we had
entered. In vain the seamen shouted to them to move on, and
threatened them with shipwreck. These poor people were under a
spell of stupor, and did not stir a foot. It rained as heavily as
ever, but the wind now came in sudden claps and capfuls, not
without danger to a boat so badly ballasted as ours; and we crept
over the river in the darkness, trailing one paddle in the water
like a wounded duck, and passed ever and again by huge, illuminated
steamers running many knots, and heralding their approach by
strains of music. The contrast between these pleasure embarkations
and our own grim vessel, with her list to port and her freight of
wet and silent emigrants, was of that glaring description which we
count too obvious for the purposes of art.
The landing at Jersey City was done in a stampede. I had a fixed
sense of calamity, and to judge by conduct, the same persuasion was
common to us all. A panic selfishness, like that produced by fear,
presided over the disorder of our landing. People pushed, and
elbowed, and ran, their families following how they could.
Children fell, and were picked up to be rewarded by a blow. One
child, who had lost her parents, screamed steadily and with
increasing shrillness, as though verging towards a fit; an official
kept her by him, but no one else seemed so much as to remark her
distress; and I am ashamed to say that I ran among the rest. I was
so weary that I had twice to make a halt and set down my bundles in
the hundred yards or so between the pier and the railway station,
so that I was quite wet by the time that I got under cover. There
was no waiting-room, no refreshment room; the cars were locked; and
for at least another hour, or so it seemed, we had to camp upon the
draughty, gaslit platform. I sat on my valise, too crushed to
observe my neighbours; but as they were all cold, and wet, and
weary, and driven stupidly crazy by the mismanagement to which we
had been subjected, I believe they can have been no happier than
myself. I bought half-a-dozen oranges from a boy, for oranges and
nuts were the only refection to be had. As only two of them had
even a pretence of juice, I threw the other four under the cars,
and beheld, as in a dream, grown people and children groping on the
track after my leavings.
At last we were admitted into the cars, utterly dejected, and far
from dry. For my own part, I got out a clothes-brush, and brushed
my trousers as hard as I could till I had dried them and warmed my
blood into the bargain; but no one else, except my next neighbour
to whom I lent the brush, appeared to take the least precaution.
As they were, they composed themselves to sleep. I had seen the
lights of Philadelphia, and been twice ordered to change carriages
and twice countermanded, before I allowed myself to follow their
TUESDAY. - When I awoke, it was already day; the train was standing
idle; I was in the last carriage, and, seeing some others strolling
to and fro about the lines, I opened the door and stepped forth, as
from a caravan by the wayside. We were near no station, nor even,
as far as I could see, within reach of any signal. A green, open,
undulating country stretched away upon all sides. Locust trees and
a single field of Indian corn gave it a foreign grace and interest;
but the contours of the land were soft and English. It was not
quite England, neither was it quite France; yet like enough either
to seem natural in my eyes. And it was in the sky, and not upon
the earth, that I was surprised to find a change. Explain it how
you may, and for my part I cannot explain it at all, the sun rises
with a different splendour in America and Europe. There is more
clear gold and scarlet in our old country mornings; more purple,
brown, and smoky orange in those of the new. It may be from habit,
but to me the coming of day is less fresh and inspiriting in the
latter; it has a duskier glory, and more nearly resembles sunset;
it seems to fit some subsequential, evening epoch of the world, as
though America were in fact, and not merely in fancy, farther from
the orient of Aurora and the springs of day. I thought so then, by
the railroad side in Pennsylvania, and I have thought so a dozen
times since in far distant parts of the continent. If it be an
illusion it is one very deeply rooted, and in which my eyesight is
Soon after a train whisked by, announcing and accompanying its
passage by the swift beating of a sort of chapel bell upon the
engine; and as it was for this we had been waiting, we were
summoned by the cry of "All aboard!" and went on again upon our
way. The whole line, it appeared, was topsy-turvy; an accident at
midnight having thrown all the traffic hours into arrear. We paid
for this in the flesh, for we had no meals all that day. Fruit we
could buy upon the cars; and now and then we had a few minutes at
some station with a meagre show of rolls and sandwiches for sale;
but we were so many and so ravenous that, though I tried at every
opportunity, the coffee was always exhausted before I could elbow
my way to the counter.
Our American sunrise had ushered in a noble summer's day. There
was not a cloud; the sunshine was baking; yet in the woody river
valleys among which we wound our way, the atmosphere preserved a
sparkling freshness till late in the afternoon. It had an inland
sweetness and variety to one newly from the sea; it smelt of woods,
rivers, and the delved earth. These, though in so far a country,
were airs from home. I stood on the platform by the hour; and as I
saw, one after another, pleasant villages, carts upon the highway
and fishers by the stream, and heard cockcrows and cheery voices in
the distance, and beheld the sun, no longer shining blankly on the
plains of ocean, but striking among shapely hills and his light
dispersed and coloured by a thousand accidents of form and surface,
I began to exult with myself upon this rise in life like a man who
had come into a rich estate. And when I had asked the name of a
river from the brakesman, and heard that it was called the
Susquehanna, the beauty of the name seemed to be part and parcel of
the beauty of the land. As when Adam with divine fitness named the
creatures, so this word Susquehanna was at once accepted by the
fancy. That was the name, as no other could be, for that shining
river and desirable valley.
None can care for literature in itself who do not take a special
pleasure in the sound of names; and there is no part of the world
where nomenclature is so rich, poetical, humorous, and picturesque
as the United States of America. All times, races, and languages
have brought their contribution. Pekin is in the same State with
Euclid, with Bellefontaine, and with Sandusky. Chelsea, with its
London associations of red brick, Sloane Square, and the King's
Road, is own suburb to stately and primeval Memphis; there they
have their seat, translated names of cities, where the Mississippi
runs by Tennessee and Arkansas; and both, while I was crossing the
continent, lay, watched by armed men, in the horror and isolation
of a plague. Old, red Manhattan lies, like an Indian arrowhead
under a steam factory, below anglified New York. The names of the
States and Territories themselves form a chorus of sweet and most
romantic vocables: Delaware, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Dakota, Iowa,
Wyoming, Minnesota, and the Carolinas; there are few poems with a
nobler music for the ear: a songful, tuneful land; and if the new
Homer shall arise from the Western continent, his verse will be
enriched, his pages sing spontaneously, with the names of states
and cities that would strike the fancy in a business circular.
Late in the evening we were landed in a waiting-room at Pittsburg.
I had now under my charge a young and sprightly Dutch widow with
her children; these I was to watch over providentially for a
certain distance farther on the way; but as I found she was
furnished with a basket of eatables, I left her in the waiting-room
to seek a dinner for myself. I mention this meal, not only because
it was the first of which I had partaken for about thirty hours,
but because it was the means of my first introduction to a coloured
gentleman. He did me the honour to wait upon me after a fashion,
while I was eating; and with every word, look, and gesture marched
me farther into the country of surprise. He was indeed strikingly
unlike the negroes of Mrs. Beecher Stowe, or the Christy Minstrels
of my youth. Imagine a gentleman, certainly somewhat dark, but of
a pleasant warm hue, speaking English with a slight and rather odd
foreign accent, every inch a man of the world, and armed with
manners so patronisingly superior that I am at a loss to name their
parallel in England. A butler perhaps rides as high over the
unbutlered, but then he sets you right with a reserve and a sort of
sighing patience which one is often moved to admire. And again,
the abstract butler never stoops to familiarity. But the coloured
gentleman will pass you a wink at a time; he is familiar like an
upper form boy to a fag; he unbends to you like Prince Hal with
Poins and Falstaff. He makes himself at home and welcome. Indeed,
I may say, this waiter behaved himself to me throughout that supper
much as, with us, a young, free, and not very self-respecting
master might behave to a good-looking chambermaid. I had come
prepared to pity the poor negro, to put him at his ease, to prove
in a thousand condescensions that I was no sharer in the prejudice
of race; but I assure you I put my patronage away for another
occasion, and had the grace to be pleased with that result.
Seeing he was a very honest fellow, I consulted him upon a point of
etiquette: if one should offer to tip the American waiter?
Certainly not, he told me. Never. It would not do. They
considered themselves too highly to accept. They would even resent
the offer. As for him and me, we had enjoyed a very pleasant
conversation; he, in particular, had found much pleasure in my
society; I was a stranger; this was exactly one of those rare
conjunctures.... Without being very clear seeing, I can still
perceive the sun at noonday; and the coloured gentleman deftly
pocketed a quarter.
WEDNESDAY. - A little after midnight I convoyed my widow and
orphans on board the train; and morning found us far into Ohio.
This had early been a favourite home of my imagination; I have
played at being in Ohio by the week, and enjoyed some capital sport
there with a dummy gun, my person being still unbreeched. My
preference was founded on a work which appeared in CASSELL'S FAMILY
PAPER, and was read aloud to me by my nurse. It narrated the
doings of one Custaloga, an Indian brave, who, in the last chapter,
very obligingly washed the paint off his face and became Sir
Reginald Somebody-or-other; a trick I never forgave him. The idea
of a man being an Indian brave, and then giving that up to be a
baronet, was one which my mind rejected. It offended
verisimilitude, like the pretended anxiety of Robinson Crusoe and
others to escape from uninhabited islands.
But Ohio was not at all as I had pictured it. We were now on those
great plains which stretch unbroken to the Rocky Mountains. The
country was flat like Holland, but far from being dull. All
through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, or for as much as I saw
of them from the train and in my waking moments, it was rich and
various, and breathed an elegance peculiar to itself. The tall
corn pleased the eye; the trees were graceful in themselves, and
framed the plain into long, aerial vistas; and the clean, bright,
gardened townships spoke of country fare and pleasant summer
evenings on the stoop. It was a sort of flat paradise; but, I am
afraid, not unfrequented by the devil. That morning dawned with
such a freezing chill as I have rarely felt; a chill that was not
perhaps so measurable by instrument, as it struck home upon the
heart and seemed to travel with the blood. Day came in with a
shudder. White mists lay thinly over the surface of the plain, as
we see them more often on a lake; and though the sun had soon
dispersed and drunk them up, leaving an atmosphere of fever heat
and crystal pureness from horizon to horizon, the mists had still
been there, and we knew that this paradise was haunted by killing
damps and foul malaria. The fences along the line bore but two
descriptions of advertisement; one to recommend tobaccos, and the
other to vaunt remedies against the ague. At the point of day, and
while we were all in the grasp of that first chill, a native of the
state, who had got in at some way station, pronounced it, with a
doctoral air, "a fever and ague morning."
The Dutch widow was a person of some character. She had conceived
at first sight a great aversion for the present writer, which she
was at no pains to conceal. But being a woman of a practical
spirit, she made no difficulty about accepting my attentions, and
encouraged me to buy her children fruits and candies, to carry all
her parcels, and even to sleep upon the floor that she might profit
by my empty seat. Nay, she was such a rattle by nature, and, so
powerfully moved to autobiographical talk, that she was forced, for
want of a better, to take me into confidence and tell me the story
of her life. I heard about her late husband, who seemed to have
made his chief impression by taking her out pleasuring on Sundays.
I could tell you her prospects, her hopes, the amount of her
fortune, the cost of her housekeeping by the week, and a variety of
particular matters that are not usually disclosed except to
friends. At one station, she shook up her children to look at a
man on the platform and say if he were not like Mr. Z.; while to me
she explained how she had been keeping company with this Mr. Z.,
how far matters had proceeded, and how it was because of his
desistance that she was now travelling to the West. Then, when I
was thus put in possession of the facts, she asked my judgment on
that type of manly beauty. I admired it to her heart's content.
She was not, I think, remarkably veracious in talk, but broidered
as fancy prompted, and built castles in the air out of her past;
yet she had that sort of candour, to keep me, in spite of all these
confidences, steadily aware of her aversion. Her parting words
were ingeniously honest. "I am sure," said she, "we all OUGHT to
be very much obliged to you." I cannot pretend that she put me at
my ease; but I had a certain respect for such a genuine dislike. A
poor nature would have slipped, in the course of these
familiarities, into a sort of worthless toleration for me.
We reached Chicago in the evening. I was turned out of the cars,
bundled into an omnibus, and driven off through the streets to the
station of a different railroad. Chicago seemed a great and gloomy
city. I remember having subscribed, let us say sixpence, towards
its restoration at the period of the fire; and now when I beheld
street after street of ponderous houses and crowds of comfortable
burghers, I thought it would be a graceful act for the corporation
to refund that sixpence, or, at the least, to entertain me to a
cheerful dinner. But there was no word of restitution. I was that
city's benefactor, yet I was received in a third-class waitingroom,
and the best dinner I could get was a dish of ham and eggs at
my own expense.
I can safely say, I have never been so dog-tired as that night in
Chicago. When it was time to start, I descended the platform like
a man in a dream. It was a long train, lighted from end to end;
and car after car, as I came up with it, was not only filled but
overflowing. My valise, my knapsack, my rug, with those six
ponderous tomes of Bancroft, weighed me double; I was hot,
feverish, painfully athirst; and there was a great darkness over
me, an internal darkness, not to be dispelled by gas. When at last
I found an empty bench, I sank into it like a bundle of rags, the
world seemed to swim away into the distance, and my consciousness
dwindled within me to a mere pin's head, like a taper on a foggy
When I came a little more to myself, I found that there had sat
down beside me a very cheerful, rosy little German gentleman,
somewhat gone in drink, who was talking away to me, nineteen to the
dozen, as they say. I did my best to keep up the conversation; for
it seemed to me dimly as if something depended upon that. I heard
him relate, among many other things, that there were pickpockets on
the train, who had already robbed a man of forty dollars and a
return ticket; but though I caught the words, I do not think I
properly understood the sense until next morning; and I believe I
replied at the time that I was very glad to hear it. What else he
talked about I have no guess; I remember a gabbling sound of words,
his profuse gesticulation, and his smile, which was highly
explanatory: but no more. And I suppose I must have shown my
confusion very plainly; for, first, I saw him knit his brows at me
like one who has conceived a doubt; next, he tried me in German,
supposing perhaps that I was unfamiliar with the English tongue;
and finally, in despair, he rose and left me. I felt chagrined;
but my fatigue was too crushing for delay, and, stretching myself
as far as that was possible upon the bench, I was received at once
into a dreamless stupor.
The little German gentleman was only going a little way into the
suburbs after a DINER FIN, and was bent on entertainment while the
journey lasted. Having failed with me, he pitched next upon
another emigrant, who had come through from Canada, and was not one
jot less weary than myself. Nay, even in a natural state, as I
found next morning when we scraped acquaintance, he was a heavy,
uncommunicative man. After trying him on different topics, it
appears that the little German gentleman flounced into a temper,
swore an oath or two, and departed from that car in quest of
livelier society. Poor little gentleman! I suppose he thought an
emigrant should be a rollicking, free-hearted blade, with a flask
of foreign brandy and a long, comical story to beguile the moments
of digestion.
THURSDAY. - I suppose there must be a cycle in the fatigue of
travelling, for when I awoke next morning, I was entirely renewed
in spirits and ate a hearty breakfast of porridge, with sweet milk,
and coffee and hot cakes, at Burlington upon the Mississippi.
Another long day's ride followed, with but one feature worthy of
remark. At a place called Creston, a drunken man got in. He was
aggressively friendly, but, according to English notions, not at
all unpresentable upon a train. For one stage he eluded the notice
of the officials; but just as we were beginning to move out of the
next station, Cromwell by name, by came the conductor. There was a
word or two of talk; and then the official had the man by the
shoulders, twitched him from his seat, marched him through the car,
and sent him flying on to the track. It was done in three motions,
as exact as a piece of drill. The train was still moving slowly,
although beginning to mend her pace, and the drunkard got his feet
without a fall. He carried a red bundle, though not so red as his
cheeks; and he shook this menacingly in the air with one hand,
while the other stole behind him to the region of the kidneys. It
was the first indication that I had come among revolvers, and I
observed it with some emotion. The conductor stood on the steps
with one hand on his hip, looking back at him; and perhaps this
attitude imposed upon the creature, for he turned without further
ado, and went off staggering along the track towards Cromwell
followed by a peal of laughter from the cars. They were speaking
English all about me, but I knew I was in a foreign land.
Twenty minutes before nine that night, we were deposited at the
Pacific Transfer Station near Council Bluffs, on the eastern bank
of the Missouri river. Here we were to stay the night at a kind of
caravanserai, set apart for emigrants. But I gave way to a thirst
for luxury, separated myself from my companions, and marched with
my effects into the Union Pacific Hotel. A white clerk and a
coloured gentleman whom, in my plain European way, I should call
the boots, were installed behind a counter like bank tellers. They
took my name, assigned me a number, and proceeded to deal with my
packages. And here came the tug of war. I wished to give up my
packages into safe keeping; but I did not wish to go to bed. And
this, it appeared, was impossible in an American hotel.
It was, of course, some inane misunderstanding, and sprang from my
unfamiliarity with the language. For although two nations use the
same words and read the same books, intercourse is not conducted by
the dictionary. The business of life is not carried on by words,
but in set phrases, each with a special and almost a slang
signification. Some international obscurity prevailed between me
and the coloured gentleman at Council Bluffs; so that what I was
asking, which seemed very natural to me, appeared to him a
monstrous exigency. He refused, and that with the plainness of the
West. This American manner of conducting matters of business is,
at first, highly unpalatable to the European. When we approach a
man in the way of his calling, and for those services by which he
earns his bread, we consider him for the time being our hired
servant. But in the American opinion, two gentlemen meet and have
a friendly talk with a view to exchanging favours if they shall
agree to please. I know not which is the more convenient, nor even
which is the more truly courteous. The English stiffness
unfortunately tends to be continued after the particular
transaction is at an end, and thus favours class separations. But
on the other hand, these equalitarian plainnesses leave an open
field for the insolence of Jack-in-office.
I was nettled by the coloured gentleman's refusal, and unbuttoned
my wrath under the similitude of ironical submission. I knew
nothing, I said, of the ways of American hotels; but I had no
desire to give trouble. If there was nothing for it but to get to
bed immediately, let him say the word, and though it was not my
habit, I should cheerfully obey.
He burst into a shout of laughter. "Ah!" said he, "you do not know
about America. They are fine people in America. Oh! you will like
them very well. But you mustn't get mad. I know what you want.
You come along with me."
And issuing from behind the counter, and taking me by the arm like
an old acquaintance, he led me to the bar of the hotel.
"There," said he, pushing me from him by the shoulder, "go and have
a drink!"
All this while I had been travelling by mixed trains, where I might
meet with Dutch widows and little German gentry fresh from table.
I had been but a latent emigrant; now I was to be branded once
more, and put apart with my fellows. It was about two in the
afternoon of Friday that I found myself in front of the Emigrant
House, with more than a hundred others, to be sorted and boxed for
the journey. A white-haired official, with a stick under one arm,
and a list in the other hand, stood apart in front of us, and
called name after name in the tone of a command. At each name you
would see a family gather up its brats and bundles and run for the
hindmost of the three cars that stood awaiting us, and I soon
concluded that this was to be set apart for the women and children.
The second or central car, it turned out, was devoted to men
travelling alone, and the third to the Chinese. The official was
easily moved to anger at the least delay; but the emigrants were
both quick at answering their names, and speedy in getting
themselves and their effects on board.
The families once housed, we men carried the second car without
ceremony by simultaneous assault. I suppose the reader has some
notion of an American railroad-car, that long, narrow wooden box,
like a flat-roofed Noah's ark, with a stove and a convenience, one
at either end, a passage down the middle, and transverse benches
upon either hand. Those destined for emigrants on the Union
Pacific are only remarkable for their extreme plainness, nothing
but wood entering in any part into their constitution, and for the
usual inefficacy of the lamps, which often went out and shed but a
dying glimmer even while they burned. The benches are too short
for anything but a young child. Where there is scarce elbow-room
for two to sit, there will not be space enough for one to lie.
Hence the company, or rather, as it appears from certain bills
about the Transfer Station, the company's servants, have conceived
a plan for the better accommodation of travellers. They prevail on
every two to chum together. To each of the chums they sell a board
and three square cushions stuffed with straw, and covered with thin
cotton. The benches can be made to face each other in pairs, for
the backs are reversible. On the approach of night the boards are
laid from bench to bench, making a couch wide enough for two, and
long enough for a man of the middle height; and the chums lie down
side by side upon the cushions with the head to the conductor's van
and the feet to the engine. When the train is full, of course this
plan is impossible, for there must not be more than one to every
bench, neither can it be carried out unless the chums agree. It
was to bring about this last condition that our white-haired
official now bestirred himself. He made a most active master of
ceremonies, introducing likely couples, and even guaranteeing the
amiability and honesty of each. The greater the number of happy
couples the better for his pocket, for it was he who sold the raw
material of the beds. His price for one board and three straw
cushions began with two dollars and a half; but before the train
left, and, I am sorry to say, long after I had purchased mine, it
had fallen to one dollar and a half.
The match-maker had a difficulty with me; perhaps, like some
ladies, I showed myself too eager for union at any price; but
certainly the first who was picked out to be my bedfellow, declined
the honour without thanks. He was an old, heavy, slow-spoken man,
I think from Yankeeland, looked me all over with great timidity,
and then began to excuse himself in broken phrases. He didn't know
the young man, he said. The young man might be very honest, but
how was he to know that? There was another young man whom he had
met already in the train; he guessed he was honest, and would
prefer to chum with him upon the whole. All this without any sort
of excuse, as though I had been inanimate or absent. I began to
tremble lest every one should refuse my company, and I be left
rejected. But the next in turn was a tall, strapping, long-limbed,
small-headed, curly-haired Pennsylvania Dutchman, with a soldierly
smartness in his manner. To be exact, he had acquired it in the
navy. But that was all one; he had at least been trained to
desperate resolves, so he accepted the match, and the white-haired
swindler pronounced the connubial benediction, and pocketed his
The rest of the afternoon was spent in making up the train. I am
afraid to say how many baggage-waggons followed the engine,
certainly a score; then came the Chinese, then we, then the
families, and the rear was brought up by the conductor in what, if
I have it rightly, is called his caboose. The class to which I
belonged was of course far the largest, and we ran over, so to
speak, to both sides; so that there were some Caucasians among the
Chinamen, and some bachelors among the families. But our own car
was pure from admixture, save for one little boy of eight or nine
who had the whooping-cough. At last, about six, the long train
crawled out of the Transfer Station and across the wide Missouri
river to Omaha, westward bound.
It was a troubled uncomfortable evening in the cars. There was
thunder in the air, which helped to keep us restless. A man played
many airs upon the cornet, and none of them were much attended to,
until he came to "Home, sweet home." It was truly strange to note
how the talk ceased at that, and the faces began to lengthen. I
have no idea whether musically this air is to be considered good or
bad; but it belongs to that class of art which may be best
described as a brutal assault upon the feelings. Pathos must be
relieved by dignity of treatment. If you wallow naked in the
pathetic, like the author of "Home, sweet home," you make your
hearers weep in an unmanly fashion; and even while yet they are
moved, they despise themselves and hate the occasion of their
weakness. It did not come to tears that night, for the experiment
was interrupted. An elderly, hard-looking man, with a goatee beard
and about as much appearance of sentiment an you would expect from
a retired slaver, turned with a start and bade the performer stop
that "damned thing." "I've heard about enough of that," he added;
"give us something about the good country we're going to." A
murmur of adhesion ran round the car; the performer took the
instrument from his lips, laughed and nodded, and then struck into
a dancing measure; and, like a new Timotheus, stilled immediately
the emotion he had raised.
The day faded; the lamps were lit; a party of wild young men, who
got off next evening at North Platte, stood together on the stern
platform, singing "The Sweet By-and-bye" with very tuneful voices;
the chums began to put up their beds; and it seemed as if the
business of the day were at an end. But it was not so; for, the
train stopping at some station, the cars were instantly thronged
with the natives, wives and fathers, young men and maidens, some of
them in little more than nightgear, some with stable lanterns, and
all offering beds for sale. Their charge began with twenty-five
cents a cushion, but fell, before the train went on again, to
fifteen, with the bed-board gratis, or less than one-fifth of what
I had paid for mine at the Transfer. This is my contribution to
the economy of future emigrants.
A great personage on an American train is the newsboy. He sells
books (such books!), papers, fruit, lollipops, and cigars; and on
emigrant journeys, soap, towels, tin washing dishes, tin coffee
pitchers, coffee, tea, sugar, and tinned eatables, mostly hash or
beans and bacon. Early next morning the newsboy went around the
cars, and chumming on a more extended principle became the order of
the hour. It requires but a copartnery of two to manage beds; but
washing and eating can be carried on most economically by a
syndicate of three. I myself entered a little after sunrise into
articles of agreement, and became one of the firm of Pennsylvania,
Shakespeare, and Dubuque. Shakespeare was my own nickname on the
cars; Pennsylvania that of my bedfellow; and Dubuque, the name of a
place in the State of Iowa, that of an amiable young fellow going
west to cure an asthma, and retarding his recovery by incessantly
chewing or smoking, and sometimes chewing and smoking together. I
have never seen tobacco so sillily abused. Shakespeare bought a
tin washing-dish, Dubuque a towel, and Pennsylvania a brick of
soap. The partners used these instruments, one after another,
according to the order of their first awaking; and when the firm
had finished there was no want of borrowers. Each filled the tin
dish at the water filter opposite the stove, and retired with the
whole stock in trade to the platform of the car. There he knelt
down, supporting himself by a shoulder against the woodwork or one
elbow crooked about the railing, and made a shift to wash his face
and neck and hands; a cold, an insufficient, and, if the train is
moving rapidly, a somewhat dangerous toilet.
On a similar division of expense, the firm of Pennsylvania,
Shakespeare, and Dubuque supplied themselves with coffee, sugar,
and necessary vessels; and their operations are a type of what went
on through all the cars. Before the sun was up the stove would be
brightly burning; at the first station the natives would come on
board with milk and eggs and coffee cakes; and soon from end to end
the car would be filled with little parties breakfasting upon the
bed-boards. It was the pleasantest hour of the day.
There were meals to be had, however, by the wayside: a breakfast
in the morning, a dinner somewhere between eleven and two, and
supper from five to eight or nine at night. We had rarely less
than twenty minutes for each; and if we had not spent many another
twenty minutes waiting for some express upon a side track among
miles of desert, we might have taken an hour to each repast and
arrived at San Francisco up to time. For haste is not the foible
of an emigrant train. It gets through on sufferance, running the
gauntlet among its more considerable brethren; should there be a
block, it is unhesitatingly sacrificed; and they cannot, in
consequence, predict the length of the passage within a day or so.
Civility is the main comfort that you miss. Equality, though
conceived very largely in America, does not extend so low down as
to an emigrant. Thus in all other trains, a warning cry of "All
aboard!" recalls the passengers to take their seats; but as soon as
I was alone with emigrants, and from the Transfer all the way to
San Francisco, I found this ceremony was pretermitted; the train
stole from the station without note of warning, and you had to keep
an eye upon it even while you ate. The annoyance is considerable,
and the disrespect both wanton and petty.
Many conductors, again, will hold no communication with an
emigrant. I asked a conductor one day at what time the train would
stop for dinner; as he made no answer I repeated the question, with
a like result; a third time I returned to the charge, and then
Jack-in-office looked me coolly in the face for several seconds and
turned ostentatiously away. I believe he was half ashamed of his
brutality; for when another person made the same inquiry, although
he still refused the information, he condescended to answer, and
even to justify his reticence in a voice loud enough for me to
hear. It was, he said, his principle not to tell people where they
were to dine; for one answer led to many other questions, as what
o'clock it was? or, how soon should we be there? and he could not
afford to be eternally worried.
As you are thus cut off from the superior authorities, a great deal
of your comfort depends on the character of the newsboy. He has it
in his power indefinitely to better and brighten the emigrant's
lot. The newsboy with whom we started from the Transfer was a
dark, bullying, contemptuous, insolent scoundrel, who treated us
like dogs. Indeed, in his case, matters came nearly to a fight.
It happened thus: he was going his rounds through the cars with
some commodities for sale, and coming to a party who were at SEVENUP
or CASCINO (our two games), upon a bed-board, slung down a
cigar-box in the middle of the cards, knocking one man's hand to
the floor. It was the last straw. In a moment the whole party
were upon their feet, the cigars were upset, and he was ordered to
"get out of that directly, or he would get more than he reckoned
for." The fellow grumbled and muttered, but ended by making off,
and was less openly insulting in the future. On the other hand,
the lad who rode with us in this capacity from Ogden to Sacramento
made himself the friend of all, and helped us with information,
attention, assistance, and a kind countenance. He told us where
and when we should have our meals, and how long the train would
stop; kept seats at table for those who were delayed, and watched
that we should neither be left behind nor yet unnecessarily
hurried. You, who live at home at ease, can hardly realise the
greatness of this service, even had it stood alone. When I think
of that lad coming and going, train after train, with his bright
face and civil words, I see how easily a good man may become the
benefactor of his kind. Perhaps he is discontented with himself,
perhaps troubled with ambitions; why, if he but knew it, he is a
hero of the old Greek stamp; and while he thinks he is only earning
a profit of a few cents, and that perhaps exorbitant, he is doing a
man's work, and bettering the world.
I must tell here an experience of mine with another newsboy. I
tell it because it gives so good an example of that uncivil
kindness of the American, which is perhaps their most bewildering
character to one newly landed. It was immediately after I had left
the emigrant train; and I am told I looked like a man at death's
door, so much had this long journey shaken me. I sat at the end of
a car, and the catch being broken, and myself feverish and sick, I
had to hold the door open with my foot for the sake of air. In
this attitude my leg debarred the newsboy from his box of
merchandise. I made haste to let him pass when I observed that he
was coming; but I was busy with a book, and so once or twice he
came upon me unawares. On these occasions he most rudely struck my
foot aside; and though I myself apologised, as if to show him the
way, he answered me never a word. I chafed furiously, and I fear
the next time it would have come to words. But suddenly I felt a
touch upon my shoulder, and a large juicy pear was put into my
hand. It was the newsboy, who had observed that I was looking ill,
and so made me this present out of a tender heart. For the rest of
the journey I was petted like a sick child; he lent me newspapers,
thus depriving himself of his legitimate profit on their sale, and
came repeatedly to sit by me and cheer me up.
It had thundered on the Friday night, but the sun rose on Saturday
without a cloud. We were at sea - there is no other adequate
expression - on the plains of Nebraska. I made my observatory on
the top of a fruit-waggon, and sat by the hour upon that perch to
spy about me, and to spy in vain for something new. It was a world
almost without a feature; an empty sky, an empty earth; front and
back, the line of railway stretched from horizon to horizon, like a
cue across a billiard-board; on either hand, the green plain ran
till it touched the skirts of heaven. Along the track innumerable
wild sunflowers, no bigger than a crown-piece, bloomed in a
continuous flower-bed; grazing beasts were seen upon the prairie at
all degrees of distance and diminution; and now and again we might
perceive a few dots beside the railroad which grew more and more
distinct as we drew nearer till they turned into wooden cabins, and
then dwindled and dwindled in our wake until they melted into their
surroundings, and we were once more alone upon the billiard-board.
The train toiled over this infinity like a snail; and being the one
thing moving, it was wonderful what huge proportions it began to
assume in our regard. It seemed miles in length, and either end of
it within but a step of the horizon. Even my own body or my own
head seemed a great thing in that emptiness. I note the feeling
the more readily as it is the contrary of what I have read of in
the experience of others. Day and night, above the roar of the
train, our ears were kept busy with the incessant chirp of
grasshoppers - a noise like the winding up of countless clocks and
watches, which began after a while to seem proper to that land.
To one hurrying through by steam there was a certain exhilaration
in this spacious vacancy, this greatness of the air, this discovery
of the whole arch of heaven, this straight, unbroken, prison-line
of the horizon. Yet one could not but reflect upon the weariness
of those who passed by there in old days, at the foot's pace of
oxen, painfully urging their teams, and with no landmark but that
unattainable evening sun for which they steered, and which daily
fled them by an equal stride. They had nothing, it would seem, to
overtake; nothing by which to reckon their advance; no sight for
repose or for encouragement; but stage after stage, only the dead
green waste under foot, and the mocking, fugitive horizon. But the
eye, as I have been told, found differences even here; and at the
worst the emigrant came, by perseverance, to the end of his toil.
It is the settlers, after all, at whom we have a right to marvel.
Our consciousness, by which we live, is itself but the creature of
variety. Upon what food does it subsist in such a land? What
livelihood can repay a human creature for a life spent in this huge
sameness? He is cut off from books, from news, from company, from
all that can relieve existence but the prosecution of his affairs.
A sky full of stars is the most varied spectacle that he can hope.
He may walk five miles and see nothing; ten, and it is as though he
had not moved; twenty, and still he is in the midst of the same
great level, and has approached no nearer to the one object within
view, the flat horizon which keeps pace with his advance. We are
full at home of the question of agreeable wall-papers, and wise
people are of opinion that the temper may be quieted by sedative
surroundings. But what is to be said of the Nebraskan settler?
His is a wall-paper with a vengeance - one quarter of the universe
laid bare in all its gauntness.
His eye must embrace at every glance the whole seeming concave of
the visible world; it quails before so vast an outlook, it is
tortured by distance; yet there is no rest or shelter till the man
runs into his cabin, and can repose his sight upon things near at
hand. Hence, I am told, a sickness of the vision peculiar to these
empty plains.
Yet perhaps with sunflowers and cicadae, summer and winter, cattle,
wife and family, the settler may create a full and various
existence. One person at least I saw upon the plains who seemed in
every way superior to her lot. This was a woman who boarded us at
a way station, selling milk. She was largely formed; her features
were more than comely; she had that great rarity - a fine
complexion which became her; and her eyes were kind, dark, and
steady. She sold milk with patriarchal grace. There was not a
line in her countenance, not a note in her soft and sleepy voice,
but spoke of an entire contentment with her life. It would have
been fatuous arrogance to pity such a woman. Yet the place where
she lived was to me almost ghastly. Less than a dozen wooden
houses, all of a shape and all nearly of a size, stood planted
along the railway lines. Each stood apart in its own lot. Each
opened direct off the billiard-board, as if it were a billiardboard
indeed, and these only models that had been set down upon it
ready made. Her own, into which I looked, was clean but very
empty, and showed nothing homelike but the burning fire. This
extreme newness, above all in so naked and flat a country, gives a
strong impression of artificiality. With none of the litter and
discoloration of human life; with the paths unworn, and the houses
still sweating from the axe, such a settlement as this seems purely
scenic. The mind is loth to accept it for a piece of reality; and
it seems incredible that life can go on with so few properties, or
the great child, man, find entertainment in so bare a playroom.
And truly it is as yet an incomplete society in some points; or at
least it contained, as I passed through, one person incompletely
civilised. At North Platte, where we supped that evening, one man
asked another to pass the milk-jug. This other was well-dressed
and of what we should call a respectable appearance; a darkish man,
high spoken, eating as though he had some usage of society; but he
turned upon the first speaker with extraordinary vehemence of tone
"There's a waiter here!" he cried.
"I only asked you to pass the milk," explained the first.
Here is the retort verbatim -
"Pass! Hell! I'm not paid for that business; the waiter's paid
for it. You should use civility at table, and, by God, I'll show
you how!"
The other man very wisely made no answer, and the bully went on
with his supper as though nothing had occurred. It pleases me to
think that some day soon he will meet with one of his own kidney;
and that perhaps both may fall.
To cross such a plain is to grow homesick for the mountains. I
longed for the Black Hills of Wyoming, which I knew we were soon to
enter, like an ice-bound whaler for the spring. Alas! and it was a
worse country than the other. All Sunday and Monday we travelled
through these sad mountains, or over the main ridge of the Rockies,
which is a fair match to them for misery of aspect. Hour after
hour it was the same unhomely and unkindly world about our onward
path; tumbled boulders, cliffs that drearily imitate the shape of
monuments and fortifications - how drearily, how tamely, none can
tell who has not seen them; not a tree, not a patch of sward, not
one shapely or commanding mountain form; sage-brush, eternal sagebrush;
over all, the same weariful and gloomy colouring, grays
warming into brown, grays darkening towards black; and for sole
sign of life, here and there a few fleeing antelopes; here and
there, but at incredible intervals, a creek running in a canon.
The plains have a grandeur of their own; but here there is nothing
but a contorted smallness. Except for the air, which was light and
stimulating, there was not one good circumstance in that Godforsaken
I had been suffering in my health a good deal all the way; and at
last, whether I was exhausted by my complaint or poisoned in some
wayside eating-house, the evening we left Laramie, I fell sick
outright. That was a night which I shall not readily forget. The
lamps did not go out; each made a faint shining in its own
neighbourhood, and the shadows were confounded together in the
long, hollow box of the car. The sleepers lay in uneasy attitudes;
here two chums alongside, flat upon their backs like dead folk;
there a man sprawling on the floor, with his face upon his arm;
there another half seated with his head and shoulders on the bench.
The most passive were continually and roughly shaken by the
movement of the train; others stirred, turned, or stretched out
their arms like children; it was surprising how many groaned and
murmured in their sleep; and as I passed to and fro, stepping
across the prostrate, and caught now a snore, now a gasp, now a
half-formed word, it gave me a measure of the worthlessness of rest
in that unresting vehicle. Although it was chill, I was obliged to
open my window, for the degradation of the air soon became
intolerable to one who was awake and using the full supply of life.
Outside, in a glimmering night, I saw the black, amorphous hills
shoot by unweariedly into our wake. They that long for morning
have never longed for it more earnestly than I.
And yet when day came, it was to shine upon the same broken and
unsightly quarter of the world. Mile upon mile, and not a tree, a
bird, or a river. Only down the long, sterile canons, the train
shot hooting and awoke the resting echo. That train was the one
piece of life in all the deadly land; it was the one actor, the one
spectacle fit to be observed in this paralysis of man and nature.
And when I think how the railroad has been pushed through this
unwatered wilderness and haunt of savage tribes, and now will bear
an emigrant for some 12 pounds from the Atlantic to the Golden
Gates; how at each stage of the construction, roaring, impromptu
cities, full of gold and lust and death, sprang up and then died
away again, and are now but wayside stations in the desert; how in
these uncouth places pig-tailed Chinese pirates worked side by side
with border ruffians and broken men from Europe, talking together
in a mixed dialect, mostly oaths, gambling, drinking, quarrelling
and murdering like wolves; how the plumed hereditary lord of all
America heard, in this last fastness, the scream of the "bad
medicine waggon" charioting his foes; and then when I go on to
remember that all this epical turmoil was conducted by gentlemen in
frock coats, and with a view to nothing more extraordinary than a
fortune and a subsequent visit to Paris, it seems to me, I own, as
if this railway were the one typical achievement of the age in
which we live, as if it brought together into one plot all the ends
of the world and all the degrees of social rank, and offered to
some great writer the busiest, the most extended, and the most
varied subject for an enduring literary work. If it be romance, if
it be contrast, if it be heroism that we require, what was Troy
town to this? But, alas! it is not these things that are necessary
- it is only Homer.
Here also we are grateful to the train, as to some god who conducts
us swiftly through these shades and by so many hidden perils.
Thirst, hunger, the sleight and ferocity of Indians are all no more
feared, so lightly do we skim these horrible lands; as the gull,
who wings safely through the hurricane and past the shark. Yet we
should not be forgetful of these hardships of the past; and to keep
the balance true, since I have complained of the trifling
discomforts of my journey, perhaps more than was enough, let me add
an original document. It was not written by Homer, but by a boy of
eleven, long since dead, and is dated only twenty years ago. I
shall punctuate, to make things clearer, but not change the
"My dear Sister Mary, - I am afraid you will go nearly crazy when
you read my letter. If Jerry" (the writer's eldest brother) "has
not written to you before now, you will be surprised to heare that
we are in California, and that poor Thomas" (another brother, of
fifteen) "is dead. We started from - in July, with plenly of
provisions and too yoke oxen. We went along very well till we got
within six or seven hundred miles of California, when the Indians
attacked us. We found places where they had killed the emigrants.
We had one passenger with us, too guns, and one revolver; so we ran
all the lead We had into bullets (and) hung the guns up in the
wagon so that we could get at them in a minit. It was about two
o'clock in the afternoon; droave the cattel a little way; when a
prairie chicken alited a little way from the wagon.
"Jerry took out one of the guns to shoot it, and told Tom drive the
oxen. Tom and I drove the oxen, and Jerry and the passenger went
on. Then, after a little, I left Tom and caught up with Jerry and
the other man. Jerry stopped Tom to come up; me and the man went
on and sit down by a little stream. In a few minutes, we heard
some noise; then three shots (they all struck poor Tom, I suppose);
then they gave the war hoop, and as many as twenty of the redskins
came down upon us. The three that shot Tom was hid by the side of
the road in the bushes.
"I thought the Tom and Jerry were shot; so I told the other man
that Tom and Jerry were dead, and that we had better try to escape,
if possible. I had no shoes on; having a sore foot, I thought I
would not put them on. The man and me run down the road, but We
was soon stopped by an Indian on a pony. We then turend the other
way, and run up the side of the Mountain, and hid behind some cedar
trees, and stayed there till dark. The Indians hunted all over
after us, and verry close to us, so close that we could here there
tomyhawks Jingle. At dark the man and me started on, I stubing my
toes against sticks and stones. We traveld on all night; and next
morning, just as it was getting gray, we saw something in the shape
of a man. It layed Down in the grass. We went up to it, and it
was Jerry. He thought we ware Indians. You can imagine how glad
he was to see me. He thought we was all dead but him, and we
thought him and Tom was dead. He had the gun that he took out of
the wagon to shoot the prairie Chicken; all he had was the load
that was in it.
"We traveld on till about eight o'clock, We caught up with one
wagon with too men with it. We had traveld with them before one
day; we stopt and they Drove on; we knew that they was ahead of us,
unless they had been killed to. My feet was so sore when we caught
up with them that I had to ride; I could not step. We traveld on
for too days, when the men that owned the cattle said they would
(could) not drive them another inch. We unyoked the oxen; we had
about seventy pounds of flour; we took it out and divided it into
four packs. Each of the men took about 18 pounds apiece and a
blanket. I carried a little bacon, dried meat, and little quilt; I
had in all about twelve pounds. We had one pint of flour a day for
our alloyance. Sometimes we made soup of it; sometimes we (made)
pancakes; and sometimes mixed it up with cold water and eat it that
way. We traveld twelve or fourteen days. The time came at last
when we should have to reach some place or starve. We saw fresh
horse and cattle tracks. The morning come, we scraped all the
flour out of the sack, mixed it up, and baked it into bread, and
made some soup, and eat everything we had. We traveld on all day
without anything to eat, and that evening we Caught up with a sheep
train of eight wagons. We traveld with them till we arrived at the
settlements; and know I am safe in California, and got to good
home, and going to school.
"Jerry is working in - . It is a good country. You can get from
50 to 60 and 75 Dollars for cooking. Tell me all about the affairs
in the States, and how all the folks get along."
And so ends this artless narrative. The little man was at school
again, God bless him, while his brother lay scalped upon the
At Ogden we changed cars from the Union Pacific to the Central
Pacific line of railroad. The change was doubly welcome; for,
first, we had better cars on the new line; and, second, those in
which we had been cooped for more than ninety hours had begun to
stink abominably. Several yards away, as we returned, let us say
from dinner, our nostrils were assailed by rancid air. I have
stood on a platform while the whole train was shunting; and as the
dwelling-cars drew near, there would come a whiff of pure
menagerie, only a little sourer, as from men instead of monkeys. I
think we are human only in virtue of open windows. Without fresh
air, you only require a bad heart, and a remarkable command of the
Queen's English, to become such another as Dean Swift; a kind of
leering, human goat, leaping and wagging your scut on mountains of
offence. I do my best to keep my head the other way, and look for
the human rather than the bestial in this Yahoo-like business of
the emigrant train. But one thing I must say, the car of the
Chinese was notably the least offensive.
The cars on the Central Pacific were nearly twice as high, and so
proportionally airier; they were freshly varnished, which gave us
all a sense of cleanliness an though we had bathed; the seats drew
out and joined in the centre, so that there was no more need for
bed boards; and there was an upper tier of berths which could be
closed by day and opened at night.
I had by this time some opportunity of seeing the people whom I was
among. They were in rather marked contrast to the emigrants I had
met on board ship while crossing the Atlantic. They were mostly
lumpish fellows, silent and noisy, a common combination; somewhat
sad, I should say, with an extraordinary poor taste in humour, and
little interest in their fellow-creatures beyond that of a cheap
and merely external curiosity. If they heard a man's name and
business, they seemed to think they had the heart of that mystery;
but they were as eager to know that much as they were indifferent
to the rest. Some of them were on nettles till they learned your
name was Dickson and you a journeyman baker; but beyond that,
whether you were Catholic or Mormon, dull or clever, fierce or
friendly, was all one to them. Others who were not so stupid,
gossiped a little, and, I am bound to say, unkindly. A favourite
witticism was for some lout to raise the alarm of "All aboard!"
while the rest of us were dining, thus contributing his mite to the
general discomfort. Such a one was always much applauded for his
high spirits. When I was ill coming through Wyoming, I was
astonished - fresh from the eager humanity on board ship - to meet
with little but laughter. One of the young men even amused himself
by incommoding me, as was then very easy; and that not from illnature,
but mere clodlike incapacity to think, for he expected me
to join the laugh. I did so, but it was phantom merriment. Later
on, a man from Kansas had three violent epileptic fits, and though,
of course, there were not wanting some to help him, it was rather
superstitious terror than sympathy that his case evoked among his
fellow-passengers. "Oh, I hope he's not going to die!" cried a
woman; "it would be terrible to have a dead body!" And there was a
very general movement to leave the man behind at the next station.
This, by good fortune, the conductor negatived.
There was a good deal of story-telling in some quarters; in others,
little but silence. In this society, more than any other that ever
I was in, it was the narrator alone who seemed to enjoy the
narrative. It was rarely that any one listened for the listening.
If he lent an ear to another man's story, it was because he was in
immediate want of a hearer for one of his own. Food and the
progress of the train were the subjects most generally treated;
many joined to discuss these who otherwise would hold their
tongues. One small knot had no better occupation than to worm out
of me my name; and the more they tried, the more obstinately fixed
I grew to baffle them. They assailed me with artful questions and
insidious offers of correspondence in the future; but I was
perpetually on my guard, and parried their assaults with inward
laughter. I am sure Dubuque would have given me ten dollars for
the secret. He owed me far more, had he understood life, for thus
preserving him a lively interest throughout the journey. I met one
of my fellow-passengers months after, driving a street tramway car
in San Francisco; and, as the joke was now out of season, told him
my name without subterfuge. You never saw a man more chapfallen.
But had my name been Demogorgon, after so prolonged a mystery he
had still been disappointed.
There were no emigrants direct from Europe - save one German family
and a knot of Cornish miners who kept grimly by themselves, one
reading the New Testament all day long through steel spectacles,
the rest discussing privately the secrets of their old-world,
mysterious race. Lady Hester Stanhope believed she could make
something great of the Cornish; for my part, I can make nothing of
them at all. A division of races, older and more original than
that of Babel, keeps this close, esoteric family apart from
neighbouring Englishmen. Not even a Red Indian seems more foreign
in my eyes. This is one of the lessons of travel - that some of
the strangest races dwell next door to you at home.
The rest were all American born, but they came from almost every
quarter of that Continent. All the States of the North had sent
out a fugitive to cross the plains with me. From Virginia, from
Pennsylvania, from New York, from far western Iowa and Kansas, from
Maime that borders on the Canadas, and from the Canadas themselves
- some one or two were fleeing in quest of a better land and better
wages. The talk in the train, like the talk I heard on the
steamer, ran upon hard times, short commons, and hope that moves
ever westward. I thought of my shipful from Great Britain with a
feeling of despair. They had come 3000 miles, and yet not far
enough. Hard times bowed them out of the Clyde, and stood to
welcome them at Sandy Hook. Where were they to go? Pennsylvania,
Maine, Iowa, Kansas? These were not places for immigration, but
for emigration, it appeared; not one of them, but I knew a man who
had lifted up his heel and left it for an ungrateful country. And
it was still westward that they ran. Hunger, you would have
thought, came out of the east like the sun, and the evening was
made of edible gold. And, meantime, in the car in front of me,
were there not half a hundred emigrants from the opposite quarter?
Hungry Europe and hungry China, each pouring from their gates in
search of provender, had here come face to face. The two waves had
met; east and west had alike failed; the whole round world had been
prospected and condemned; there was no El Dorado anywhere; and till
one could emigrate to the moon, it seemed as well to stay patiently
at home. Nor was there wanting another sign, at once more
picturesque and more disheartening; for, as we continued to steam
westward toward the land of gold, we were continually passing other
emigrant trains upon the journey east; and these were as crowded as
our own. Had all these return voyagers made a fortune in the
mines? Were they all bound for Paris, and to be in Rome by Easter?
It would seem not, for, whenever we met them, the passengers ran on
the platform and cried to us through the windows, in a kind of
wailing chorus, to "come back." On the plains of Nebraska, in the
mountains of Wyoming, it was still the same cry, and dismal to my
heart, "Come back!" That was what we heard by the way "about the
good country we were going to." And at that very hour the Sand-lot
of San Francisco was crowded with the unemployed, and the echo from
the other side of Market Street was repeating the rant of
If, in truth, it were only for the sake of wages that men emigrate,
how many thousands would regret the bargain! But wages, indeed,
are only one consideration out of many; for we are a race of
gipsies, and love change and travel for themselves.
Of all stupid ill-feelings, the sentiment of my fellow Caucasians
towards our companions in the Chinese car was the most stupid and
the worst. They seemed never to have looked at them, listened to
them, or thought of them, but hated them A PRIORI. The Mongols
were their enemies in that cruel and treacherous battle-field of
money. They could work better and cheaper in half a hundred
industries, and hence there was no calumny too idle for the
Caucasians to repeat, and even to believe. They declared them
hideous vermin, and affected a kind of choking in the throat when
they beheld them. Now, as a matter of fact, the young Chinese man
is so like a large class of European women, that on raising my head
and suddenly catching sight of one at a considerable distance, I
have for an instant been deceived by the resemblance. I do not say
it is the most attractive class of our women, but for all that many
a man's wife is less pleasantly favoured. Again, my emigrants
declared that the Chinese were dirty. I cannot say they were
clean, for that was impossible upon the journey; but in their
efforts after cleanliness they put the rest of us to shame. We all
pigged and stewed in one infamy, wet our hands and faces for half a
minute daily on the platform, and were unashamed. But the Chinese
never lost an opportunity, and you would see them washing their
feet - an act not dreamed of among ourselves - and going as far as
decency permitted to wash their whole bodies. I may remark by the
way that the dirtier people are in their persons the more delicate
is their sense of modesty. A clean man strips in a crowded
boathouse; but he who is unwashed slinks in and out of bed without
uncovering an inch of skin. Lastly, these very foul and malodorous
Caucasians entertained the surprising illusion that it was the
Chinese waggon, and that alone, which stank. I have said already
that it was the exceptions and notably the freshest of the three.
These judgments are typical of the feeling in all Western America.
The Chinese are considered stupid, because they are imperfectly
acquainted with English. They are held to be base, because their
dexterity and frugality enable them to underbid the lazy, luxurious
Caucasian. They are said to be thieves; I am sure they have no
monopoly of that. They are called cruel; the Anglo-Saxon and the
cheerful Irishman may each reflect before he bears the accusation.
I am told, again, that they are of the race of river pirates, and
belong to the most despised and dangerous class in the Celestial
Empire. But if this be so, what remarkable pirates have we here!
and what must be the virtues, the industry, the education, and the
intelligence of their superiors at home!
Awhile ago it was the Irish, now it is the Chinese that must go.
Such is the cry. It seems, after all, that no country is bound to
submit to immigration any more than to invasion; each is war to the
knife, and resistance to either but legitimate defence. Yet we may
regret the free tradition of the republic, which loved to depict
herself with open arms, welcoming all unfortunates. And certainly,
as a man who believes that he loves freedom, I may be excused some
bitterness when I find her sacred name misused in the contention.
It was but the other day that I heard a vulgar fellow in the Sandlot,
the popular tribune of San Francisco, roaring for arms and
butchery. "At the call of Abraham Lincoln," said the orator, "ye
rose in the name of freedom to set free the negroes; can ye not
rise and liberate yourselves from a few dirty Mongolians?"
For my own part, I could not look but with wonder and respect on
the Chinese. Their forefathers watched the stars before mine had
begun to keep pigs. Gun-powder and printing, which the other day
we imitated, and a school of manners which we never had the
delicacy so much as to desire to imitate, were theirs in a longpast
antiquity. They walk the earth with us, but it seems they
must be of different clay. They hear the clock strike the same
hour, yet surely of a different epoch. They travel by steam
conveyance, yet with such a baggage of old Asiatic thoughts and
superstitions as might check the locomotive in its course.
Whatever is thought within the circuit of the Great Wall; what the
wry-eyed, spectacled schoolmaster teaches in the hamlets round
Pekin; religions so old that our language looks a halfing boy
alongside; philosophy so wise that our best philosophers find
things therein to wonder at; all this travelled alongside of me for
thousands of miles over plain and mountain. Heaven knows if we had
one common thought or fancy all that way, or whether our eyes,
which yet were formed upon the same design, beheld the same world
out of the railway windows. And when either of us turned his
thoughts to home and childhood, what a strange dissimilarity must
there not have been in these pictures of the mind - when I beheld
that old, gray, castled city, high throned above the firth, with
the flag of Britain flying, and the red-coat sentry pacing over
all; and the man in the next car to me would conjure up some junks
and a pagoda and a fort of porcelain, and call it, with the same
affection, home.
Another race shared among my fellow-passengers in the disfavour of
the Chinese; and that, it is hardly necessary to say, was the noble
red man of old story - over whose own hereditary continent we had
been steaming all these days. I saw no wild or independent Indian;
indeed, I hear that such avoid the neighbourhood of the train; but
now and again at way stations, a husband and wife and a few
children, disgracefully dressed out with the sweepings of
civilisation, came forth and stared upon the emigrants. The silent
stoicism of their conduct, and the pathetic degradation of their
appearance, would have touched any thinking creature, but my
fellow-passengers danced and jested round them with a truly Cockney
baseness. I was ashamed for the thing we call civilisation. We
should carry upon our consciences so much, at least, of our
forefathers' misconduct as we continue to profit by ourselves.
If oppression drives a wise man mad, what should be raging in the
hearts of these poor tribes, who have been driven back and back,
step after step, their promised reservations torn from them one
after another as the States extended westward, until at length they
are shut up into these hideous mountain deserts of the centre - and
even there find themselves invaded, insulted, and hunted out by
ruffianly diggers? The eviction of the Cherokees (to name but an
instance), the extortion of Indian agents, the outrages of the
wicked, the ill-faith of all, nay, down to the ridicule of such
poor beings as were here with me upon the train, make up a chapter
of injustice and indignity such as a man must be in some ways base
if his heart will suffer him to pardon or forget. These old, wellfounded,
historical hatreds have a savour of nobility for the
independent. That the Jew should not love the Christian, nor the
Irishman love the English, nor the Indian brave tolerate the
thought of the American, is not disgraceful to the nature of man;
rather, indeed, honourable, since it depends on wrongs ancient like
the race, and not personal to him who cherishes the indignation.
A little corner of Utah is soon traversed, and leaves no particular
impressions on the mind. By an early hour on Wednesday morning we
stopped to breakfast at Toano, a little station on a bleak, highlying
plateau in Nevada. The man who kept the station eating-house
was a Scot, and learning that I was the same, he grew very
friendly, and gave me some advice on the country I was now
entering. "You see," said he, "I tell you this, because I come
from your country." Hail, brither Scots!
His most important hint was on the moneys of this part of the
world. There is something in the simplicity of a decimal coinage
which is revolting to the human mind; thus the French, in small
affairs, reckon strictly by halfpence; and you have to solve, by a
spasm of mental arithmetic, such posers as thirty-two, forty-five,
or even a hundred halfpence. In the Pacific States they have made
a bolder push for complexity, and settle their affairs by a coin
that no longer that no longer exists - the BIT, or old Mexican
real. The supposed value of the bit is twelve and a half cents,
eight to the dollar. When it comes to two bits, the quarter-dollar
stands for the required amount. But how about an odd bit? The
nearest coin to it is a dime, which is, short by a fifth. That,
then, is called a SHORT bit. If you have one, you lay it
triumphantly down, and save two and a half cents. But if you have
not, and lay down a quarter, the bar-keeper or shopman calmly
tenders you a dime by way of change; and thus you have paid what is
called a LONG BIT, and lost two and a half cents, or even, by
comparison with a short bit, five cents. In country places all
over the Pacific coast, nothing lower than a bit is ever asked or
taken, which vastly increases the cost of life; as even for a glass
of beer you must pay fivepence or sevenpence-halfpenny, as the case
may be. You would say that this system of mutual robbery was as
broad as it was long; but I have discovered a plan to make it
broader, with which I here endow the public. It is brief and
simple - radiantly simple. There is one place where five cents are
recognised, and that is the post-office. A quarter is only worth
two bits, a short and a long. Whenever you have a quarter, go to
the post-office and buy five cents worth of postage-stamps; you
will receive in change two dimes, that is, two short bits. The
purchasing power of your money is undiminished. You can go and
have your two glasses of beer all the same; and you have made
yourself a present of five cents worth of postage-stamps into the
bargain. Benjamin Franklin would have patted me on the head for
this discovery.
From Toano we travelled all day through deserts of alkali and sand,
horrible to man, and bare sage-brush country that seemed little
kindlier, and came by supper-time to Elko. As we were standing,
after our manner, outside the station, I saw two men whip suddenly
from underneath the cars, and take to their heels across country.
They were tramps, it appeared, who had been riding on the beams
since eleven of the night before; and several of my fellowpassengers
had already seen and conversed with them while we broke
our fast at Toano. These land stowaways play a great part over
here in America, and I should have liked dearly to become
acquainted with them.
At Elko an odd circumstance befell me. I was coming out from
supper, when I was stopped by a small, stout, ruddy man, followed
by two others taller and ruddier than himself.
"Excuse me, sir," he said, "but do you happen to be going on?"
I said I was, whereupon he said he hoped to persuade me to desist
from that intention. He had a situation to offer me, and if we
could come to terms, why, good and well. "You see," he continued,
"I'm running a theatre here, and we're a little short in the
orchestra. You're a musician, I guess?"
I assured him that, beyond a rudimentary acquaintance with "Auld
Lang Syne" and "The Wearing of the Green," I had no pretension
whatever to that style. He seemed much put out of countenance; and
one of his taller companions asked him, on the nail, for five
"You see, sir," added the latter to me, "he bet you were a
musician; I bet you weren't. No offence, I hope?"
"None whatever," I said, and the two withdrew to the bar, where I
presume the debt was liquidated.
This little adventure woke bright hopes in my fellow-travellers,
who thought they had now come to a country where situations went abegging.
But I am not so sure that the offer was in good faith.
Indeed, I am more than half persuaded it was but a feeler to decide
the bet.
Of all the next day I will tell you nothing, for the best of all
reasons, that I remember no more than that we continued through
desolate and desert scenes, fiery hot and deadly weary. But some
time after I had fallen asleep that night, I was awakened by one of
my companions. It was in vain that I resisted. A fire of
enthusiasm and whisky burned in his eyes; and he declared we were
in a new country, and I must come forth upon the platform and see
with my own eyes. The train was then, in its patient way, standing
halted in a by-track. It was a clear, moonlit night; but the
valley was too narrow to admit the moonshine direct, and only a
diffused glimmer whitened the tall rocks and relieved the blackness
of the pines. A hoarse clamour filled the air; it was the
continuous plunge of a cascade somewhere near at hand among the
mountains. The air struck chill, but tasted good and vigorous in
the nostrils - a fine, dry, old mountain atmosphere. I was dead
sleepy, but I returned to roost with a grateful mountain feeling at
my heart.
When I awoke next morning, I was puzzled for a while to know if it
were day or night, for the illumination was unusual. I sat up at
last, and found we were grading slowly downward through a long
snowshed; and suddenly we shot into an open; and before we were
swallowed into the next length of wooden tunnel, I had one glimpse
of a huge pine-forested ravine upon my left, a foaming river, and a
sky already coloured with the fires of dawn. I am usually very
calm over the displays of nature; but you will scarce believe how
my heart leaped at this. It was like meeting one's wife. I had
come home again - home from unsightly deserts to the green and
habitable corners of the earth. Every spire of pine along the
hill-top, every trouty pool along that mountain river, was more
dear to me than a blood relation. Few people have praised God more
happily than I did. And thenceforward, down by Blue Canon, Alta,
Dutch Flat, and all the old mining camps, through a sea of mountain
forests, dropping thousands of feet toward the far sea-level as we
went, not I only, but all the passengers on board, threw off their
sense of dirt and heat and weariness, and bawled like schoolboys,
and thronged with shining eyes upon the platform and became new
creatures within and without. The sun no longer oppressed us with
heat, it only shone laughingly along the mountain-side, until we
were fain to laugh ourselves for glee. At every turn we could see
farther into the land and our own happy futures. At every town the
cocks were tossing their clear notes into the golden air, and
crowing for the new day and the new country. For this was indeed
our destination; this was "the good country" we had been going to
so long.
By afternoon we were at Sacramento, the city of gardens in a plain
of corn; and the next day before the dawn we were lying to upon the
Oakland side of San Francisco Bay. The day was breaking as we
crossed the ferry; the fog was rising over the citied hills of San
Francisco; the bay was perfect - not a ripple, scarce a stain, upon
its blue expanse; everything was waiting, breathless, for the sun.
A spot of cloudy gold lit first upon the head of Tamalpais, and
then widened downward on its shapely shoulder; the air seemed to
awaken, and began to sparkle; and suddenly
"The tall hills Titan discovered,"
and the city of San Francisco, and the bay of gold and corn, were
lit from end to end with summer daylight.
THE Bay of Monterey has been compared by no less a person than
General Sherman to a bent fishing-hook; and the comparison, if less
important than the march through Georgia, still shows the eye of a
soldier for topography. Santa Cruz sits exposed at the shank; the
mouth of the Salinas river is at the middle of the bend; and
Monterey itself is cosily ensconced beside the barb. Thus the
ancient capital of California faces across the bay, while the
Pacific Ocean, though hidden by low hills and forest, bombards her
left flank and rear with never-dying surf. In front of the town,
the long line of sea-beach trends north and north-west, and then
westward to enclose the bay. The waves which lap so quietly about
the jetties of Monterey grow louder and larger in the distance; you
can see the breakers leaping high and white by day; at night, the
outline of the shore is traced in transparent silver by the
moonlight and the flying foam; and from all round, even in quiet
weather, the distant, thrilling roar of the Pacific hangs over the
coast and the adjacent country like smoke above a battle.
These long beaches are enticing to the idle man. It would be hard
to find a walk more solitary and at the same time more exciting to
the mind. Crowds of ducks and sea-gulls hover over the sea.
Sandpipers trot in and out by troops after the retiring waves,
trilling together in a chorus of infinitesimal song. Strange seatangles,
new to the European eye, the bones of whales, or sometimes
a whole whale's carcase, white with carrion-gulls and poisoning the
wind, lie scattered here and there along the sands. The waves come
in slowly, vast and green, curve their translucent necks, and burst
with a surprising uproar, that runs, waxing and waning, up and down
the long key-board of the beach. The foam of these great ruins
mounts in an instant to the ridge of the sand glacis, swiftly
fleets back again, and is met and buried by the next breaker. The
interest is perpetually fresh. On no other coast that I know shall
you enjoy, in calm, sunny weather, such a spectacle of Ocean's
greatness, such beauty of changing colour, or such degrees of
thunder in the sound. The very air is more than usually salt by
this Homeric deep.
Inshore, a tract of sand-hills borders on the beach. Here and
there a lagoon, more or less brackish, attracts the birds and
hunters. A rough, undergrowth partially conceals the sand. The
crouching, hardy live-oaks flourish singly or in thickets - the
kind of wood for murderers to crawl among - and here and there the
skirts of the forest extend downward from the hills with a floor of
turf and long aisles of pine-trees hung with Spaniard's Beard.
Through this quaint desert the railway cars drew near to Monterey
from the junction at Salinas City - though that and so many other
things are now for ever altered - and it was from here that you had
the first view of the old township lying in the sands, its white
windmills bickering in the chill, perpetual wind, and the first
fogs of the evening drawing drearily around it from the sea.
The one common note of all this country is the haunting presence of
the ocean. A great faint sound of breakers follows you high up
into the inland canons; the roar of water dwells in the clean,
empty rooms of Monterey as in a shell upon the chimney; go where
you will, you have but to pause and listen to hear the voice of the
Pacific. You pass out of the town to the south-west, and mount the
hill among pine-woods. Glade, thicket, and grove surround you.
You follow winding sandy tracks that lead nowhither. You see a
deer; a multitude of quail arises. But the sound of the sea still
follows you as you advance, like that of wind among the trees, only
harsher and stranger to the ear; and when at length you gain the
summit, out breaks on every hand and with freshened vigour that
same unending, distant, whispering rumble of the ocean; for now you
are on the top of Monterey peninsula, and the noise no longer only
mounts to you from behind along the beach towards Santa Cruz, but
from your right also, round by Chinatown and Pinos lighthouse, and
from down before you to the mouth of the Carmello river. The whole
woodland is begirt with thundering surges. The silence that
immediately surrounds you where you stand is not so much broken as
it is haunted by this distant, circling rumour. It sets your
senses upon edge; you strain your attention; you are clearly and
unusually conscious of small sounds near at hand; you walk
listening like an Indian hunter; and that voice of the Pacific is a
sort of disquieting company to you in your walk.
When once I was in these woods I found it difficult to turn
homeward. All woods lure a rambler onward; but in those of
Monterey it was the surf that particularly invited me to prolong my
walks. I would push straight for the shore where I thought it to
be nearest. Indeed, there was scarce a direction that would not,
sooner or later, have brought me forth on the Pacific. The
emptiness of the woods gave me a sense of freedom and discovery in
these excursions. I never in all my visits met but one man. He
was a Mexican, very dark of hue, but smiling and fat, and he
carried an axe, though his true business at that moment was to seek
for straying cattle. I asked him what o'clock it was, but he
seemed neither to know nor care; and when he in his turn asked me
for news of his cattle, I showed myself equally indifferent. We
stood and smiled upon each other for a few seconds, and then turned
without a word and took our several ways across the forest.
One day - I shall never forget it - I had taken a trail that was
new to me. After a while the woods began to open, the sea to sound
nearer hand. I came upon a road, and, to my surprise, a stile. A
step or two farther, and, without leaving the woods, I found myself
among trim houses. I walked through street after street, parallel
and at right angles, paved with sward and dotted with trees, but
still undeniable streets, and each with its name posted at the
corner, as in a real town. Facing down the main thoroughfare -
"Central Avenue," as it was ticketed - I saw an open-air temple,
with benches and sounding-board, as though for an orchestra. The
houses were all tightly shuttered; there was no smoke, no sound but
of the waves, no moving thing. I have never been in any place that
seemed so dreamlike. Pompeii is all in a bustle with visitors, and
its antiquity and strangeness deceive the imagination; but this
town had plainly not been built above a year or two, and perhaps
had been deserted overnight. Indeed, it was not so much like a
deserted town as like a scene upon the stage by daylight, and with
no one on the boards. The barking of a dog led me at last to the
only house still occupied, where a Scotch pastor and his wife pass
the winter alone in this empty theatre. The place was "The Pacific
Camp Grounds, the Christian Seaside Resort." Thither, in the warm
season, crowds come to enjoy a life of teetotalism, religion, and
flirtation, which I am willing to think blameless and agreeable.
The neighbourhood at least is well selected. The Pacific booms in
front. Westward is Point Pinos, with the lighthouse in a
wilderness of sand, where you will find the lightkeeper playing the
piano, making models and bows and arrows, studying dawn and sunrise
in amateur oil-painting, and with a dozen other elegant pursuits
and interests to surprise his brave, old-country rivals. To the
east, and still nearer, you will come upon a space of open down, a
hamlet, a haven among rocks, a world of surge and screaming seagulls.
Such scenes are very similar in different climates; they
appear homely to the eyes of all; to me this was like a dozen spots
in Scotland. And yet the boats that ride in the haven are of
strange outlandish design; and, if you walk into the hamlet, you
will behold costumes and faces and hear a tongue that are
unfamiliar to the memory. The joss-stick burns, the opium pipe is
smoked, the floors are strewn with slips of coloured paper -
prayers, you would say, that had somehow missed their destination -
and a man guiding his upright pencil from right to left across the
sheet, writes home the news of Monterey to the Celestial Empire.
The woods and the Pacific rule between them the climate of this
seaboard region. On the streets of Monterey, when the air does not
smell salt from the one, it will be blowing perfumed from the
resinous tree-tops of the other. For days together a hot, dry air
will overhang the town, close as from an oven, yet healthful and
aromatic in the nostrils. The cause is not far to seek, for the
woods are afire, and the hot wind is blowing from the hills. These
fires are one of the great dangers of California. I have seen from
Monterey as many as three at the same time, by day a cloud of
smoke, by night a red coal of conflagration in the distance. A
little thing will start them, and, if the wind be favourable, they
gallop over miles of country faster than a horse. The inhabitants
must turn out and work like demons, for it is not only the pleasant
groves that are destroyed; the climate and the soil are equally at
stake, and these fires prevent the rains of the next winter and dry
up perennial fountains. California has been a land of promise in
its time, like Palestine; but if the woods continue so swiftly to
perish, it may become, like Palestine, a land of desolation.
To visit the woods while they are languidly burning is a strange
piece of experience. The fire passes through the underbrush at a
run. Every here and there a tree flares up instantaneously from
root to summit, scattering tufts of flame, and is quenched, it
seems, as quickly. But this last is only in semblance. For after
this first squib-like conflagration of the dry moss and twigs,
there remains behind a deep-rooted and consuming fire in the very
entrails of the tree. The resin of the pitch-pine is principally
condensed at the base of the bole and in the spreading roots.
Thus, after the light, showy, skirmishing flames, which are only as
the match to the explosion, have already scampered down the wind
into the distance, the true harm is but beginning for this giant of
the woods. You may approach the tree from one side, and see it
scorched indeed from top to bottom, but apparently survivor of the
peril. Make the circuit, and there, on the other side of the
column, is a clear mass of living coal, spreading like an ulcer;
while underground, to their most extended fibre, the roots are
being eaten out by fire, and the smoke is rising through the
fissures to the surface. A little while, and, without a nod of
warning, the huge pine-tree snaps off short across the ground and
falls prostrate with a crash. Meanwhile the fire continues its
silent business; the roots are reduced to a fine ash; and long
afterwards, if you pass by, you will find the earth pierced with
radiating galleries, and preserving the design of all these
subterranean spurs, as though it were the mould for a new tree
instead of the print of an old one. These pitch-pines of Monterey
are, with the single exception of the Monterey cypress, the most
fantastic of forest trees. No words can give an idea of the
contortion of their growth; they might figure without change in a
circle of the nether hell as Dante pictured it; and at the rate at
which trees grow, and at which forest fires spring up and gallop
through the hills of California, we may look forward to a time when
there will not be one of them left standing in that land of their
nativity. At least they have not so much to fear from the axe, but
perish by what may be called a natural although a violent death;
while it is man in his short-sighted greed that robs the country of
the nobler redwood. Yet a little while and perhaps all the hills
of seaboard California may be as bald as Tamalpais.
I have an interest of my own in these forest fires, for I came so
near to lynching on one occasion, that a braver man might have
retained a thrill from the experience. I wished to be certain
whether it was the moss, that quaint funereal ornament of
Californian forests, which blazed up so rapidly when the flame
first touched the tree. I suppose I must have been under the
influence of Satan, for instead of plucking off a piece for my
experiment what should I do but walk up to a great pine-tree in a
portion of the wood which had escaped so much as scorching, strike
a match, and apply the flame gingerly to one of the tassels. The
tree went off simply like a rocket; in three seconds it was a
roaring pillar of fire. Close by I could hear the shouts of those
who were at work combating the original conflagration. I could see
the waggon that had brought them tied to a live oak in a piece of
open; I could even catch the flash of an axe as it swung up through
the underwood into the sunlight. Had any one observed the result
of my experiment my neck was literally not worth a pinch of snuff;
after a few minutes of passionate expostulation I should have been
run up to convenient bough.
To die for faction is a common evil;
But to be hanged for nonsense is the devil.
I have run repeatedly, but never as I ran that day. At night I
went out of town, and there was my own particular fire, quite
distinct from the other, and burning as I thought with even greater
But it is the Pacific that exercises the most direct and obvious
power upon the climate. At sunset, for months together, vast, wet,
melancholy fogs arise and come shoreward from the ocean. From the
hill-top above Monterey the scene is often noble, although it is
always sad. The upper air is still bright with sunlight; a glow
still rests upon the Gabelano Peak; but the fogs are in possession
of the lower levels; they crawl in scarves among the sandhills;
they float, a little higher, in clouds of a gigantic size and often
of a wild configuration; to the south, where they have struck the
seaward shoulder of the mountains of Santa Lucia, they double back
and spire up skyward like smoke. Where their shadow touches,
colour dies out of the world. The air grows chill and deadly as
they advance. The trade-wind freshens, the trees begin to sigh,
and all the windmills in Monterey are whirling and creaking and
filling their cisterns with the brackish water of the sands. It
takes but a little while till the invasion is complete. The sea,
in its lighter order, has submerged the earth. Monterey is
curtained in for the night in thick, wet, salt, and frigid clouds,
so to remain till day returns; and before the sun's rays they
slowly disperse and retreat in broken squadrons to the bosom of the
sea. And yet often when the fog is thickest and most chill, a few
steps out of the town and up the slope, the night will be dry and
warm and full of inland perfume.
The history of Monterey has yet to be written. Founded by Catholic
missionaries, a place of wise beneficence to Indians, a place of
arms, a Mexican capital continually wrested by one faction from
another, an American capital when the first House of
Representatives held its deliberations, and then falling lower and
lower from the capital of the State to the capital of a county, and
from that again, by the loss of its charter and town lands, to a
mere bankrupt village, its rise and decline is typical of that of
all Mexican institutions and even Mexican families in California.
Nothing is stranger in that strange State than the rapidity with
which the soil has changed-hands. The Mexicans, you may say, are
all poor and landless, like their former capital; and yet both it
and they hold themselves apart and preserve their ancient customs
and something of their ancient air.
The town, when I was there, was a place of two or three streets,
economically paved with sea-sand, and two or three lanes, which
were watercourses in the rainy season, and were, at all times, rent
up by fissures four or five feet deep. There were no street
lights. Short sections of wooden sidewalk only added to the
dangers of the night, for they were often high above the level of
the roadway, and no one could tell where they would be likely to
begin or end. The houses were, for the most part, built of unbaked
adobe brick, many of them old for so new a country, some of very
elegant proportions, with low, spacious, shapely rooms, and walls
so thick that the heat of summer never dried them to the heart. At
the approach of the rainy season a deathly chill and a graveyard
smell began to hang about the lower floors; and diseases of the
chest are common and fatal among house-keeping people of either
There was no activity but in and around the saloons, where people
sat almost all day long playing cards. The smallest excursion was
made on horseback. You would scarcely ever see the main street
without a horse or two tied to posts, and making a fine figure with
their Mexican housings. It struck me oddly to come across some of
the CORNHILL illustrations to Mr. Blackmore's EREMA, and see all
the characters astride on English saddles. As a matter of fact, an
English saddle is a rarity even in San Francisco, and, you may say,
a thing unknown in all the rest of California. In a place so
exclusively Mexican as Monterey, you saw not only Mexican saddles
but true Vaquero riding - men always at the hand-gallop up hill and
down dale, and round the sharpest corner, urging their horses with
cries and gesticulations and cruel rotatory spurs, checking them
dead with a touch, or wheeling them right-about-face in a square
yard. The type of face and character of bearing are surprisingly
un-American. The first ranged from something like the pure
Spanish, to something, in its sad fixity, not unlike the pure
Indian, although I do not suppose there was one pure blood of
either race in all the country. As for the second, it was a matter
of perpetual surprise to find, in that world of absolutely
mannerless Americans, a people full of deportment, solemnly
courteous, and doing all things with grace and decorum. In dress
they ran to colour and bright sashes. Not even the most
Americanised could always resist the temptation to stick a red rose
into his hat-band. Not even the most Americanised would descend to
wear the vile dress hat of civilisation. Spanish was the language
of the streets. It was difficult to get along without a word or
two of that language for an occasion. The only communications in
which the population joined were with a view to amusement. A
weekly public ball took place with great etiquette, in addition to
the numerous fandangoes in private houses. There was a really fair
amateur brass band. Night after night serenaders would be going
about the street, sometimes in a company and with several
instruments and voice together, sometimes severally, each guitar
before a different window. It was a strange thing to lie awake in
nineteenth-century America, and hear the guitar accompany, and one
of these old, heart-breaking Spanish love-songs mount into the
night air, perhaps in a deep baritone, perhaps in that highpitched,
pathetic, womanish alto which is so common among Mexican
men, and which strikes on the unaccustomed ear as something not
entirely human but altogether sad.
The town, then, was essentially and wholly Mexican; and yet almost
all the land in the neighbourhood was held by Americans, and it was
from the same class, numerically so small, that the principal
officials were selected. This Mexican and that Mexican would
describe to you his old family estates, not one rood of which
remained to him. You would ask him how that came about, and elicit
some tangled story back-foremost, from which you gathered that the
Americans had been greedy like designing men, and the Mexicans
greedy like children, but no other certain fact. Their merits and
their faults contributed alike to the ruin of the former
landholders. It is true they were improvident, and easily dazzled
with the sight of ready money; but they were gentlefolk besides,
and that in a way which curiously unfitted them to combat Yankee
craft. Suppose they have a paper to sign, they would think it a
reflection on the other party to examine the terms with any great
minuteness; nay, suppose them to observe some doubtful clause, it
is ten to one they would refuse from delicacy to object to it. I
know I am speaking within the mark, for I have seen such a case
occur, and the Mexican, in spite of the advice of his lawyer, has
signed the imperfect paper like a lamb. To have spoken in the
matter, he said, above all to have let the other party guess that
he had seen a lawyer, would have "been like doubting his word."
The scruple sounds oddly to one of ourselves, who have been brought
up to understand all business as a competition in fraud, and
honesty itself to be a virtue which regards the carrying out but
not the creation of agreements. This single unworldly trait will
account for much of that revolution of which we are speaking. The
Mexicans have the name of being great swindlers, but certainly the
accusation cuts both ways. In a contest of this sort, the entire
booty would scarcely have passed into the hands of the more
scupulous race.
Physically the Americans have triumphed; but it is not entirely
seen how far they have themselves been morally conquered. This is,
of course, but a part of a part of an extraordinary problem now in
the course of being solved in the various States of the American
Union. I am reminded of an anecdote. Some years ago, at a great
sale of wine, all the odd lots were purchased by a grocer in a
small way in the old town of Edinburgh. The agent had the
curiosity to visit him some time after and inquire what possible
use he could have for such material. He was shown, by way of
answer, a huge vat where all the liquors, from humble Gladstone to
imperial Tokay, were fermenting together. "And what," he asked,
"do you propose to call this?" "I'm no very sure," replied the
grocer, "but I think it's going to turn out port." In the older
Eastern States, I think we may say that this hotch-potch of races
in going to turn out English, or thereabout. But the problem is
indefinitely varied in other zones. The elements are differently
mingled in the south, in what we may call the Territorial belt and
in the group of States on the Pacific coast. Above all, in these
last, we may look to see some monstrous hybrid - Whether good or
evil, who shall forecast? but certainly original and all their own.
In my little restaurant at Monterey, we have sat down to table day
after day, a Frenchman, two Portuguese, an Italian, a Mexican, and
a Scotchman: we had for common visitors an American from Illinois,
a nearly pure blood Indian woman, and a naturalised Chinese; and
from time to time a Switzer and a German came down from country
ranches for the night. No wonder that the Pacific coast is a
foreign land to visitors from the Eastern States, for each race
contributes something of its own. Even the despised Chinese have
taught the youth of California, none indeed of their virtues, but
the debasing use of opium. And chief among these influences is
that of the Mexicans.
The Mexicans although in the State are out of it. They still
preserve a sort of international independence, and keep their
affairs snug to themselves. Only four or five years ago Vasquez,
the bandit, his troops being dispersed and the hunt too hot for him
in other parts of California, returned to his native Monterey, and
was seen publicly in her streets and saloons, fearing no man. The
year that I was there, there occurred two reputed murders. As the
Montereyans are exceptionally vile speakers of each other and of
every one behind his back, it is not possible for me to judge how
much truth there may have been in these reports; but in the one
case every one believed, and in the other some suspected, that
there had been foul play; and nobody dreamed for an instant of
taking the authorities into their counsel. Now this is, of course,
characteristic enough of the Mexicans; but it is a noteworthy
feature that all the Americans in Monterey acquiesced without a
word in this inaction. Even when I spoke to them upon the subject,
they seemed not to understand my surprise; they had forgotten the
traditions of their own race and upbringing, and become, in a word,
wholly Mexicanised.
Again, the Mexicans, having no ready money to speak of, rely almost
entirely in their business transactions upon each other's worthless
paper. Pedro the penniless pays you with an I O U from the equally
penniless Miguel. It is a sort of local currency by courtesy.
Credit in these parts has passed into a superstition. I have seen
a strong, violent man struggling for months to recover a debt, and
getting nothing but an exchange of waste paper. The very
storekeepers are averse to asking for cash payments, and are more
surprised than pleased when they are offered. They fear there must
be something under it, and that you mean to withdraw your custom
from them. I have seen the enterprising chemist and stationer
begging me with fervour to let my account run on, although I had my
purse open in my hand; and partly from the commonness of the case,
partly from some remains of that generous old Mexican tradition
which made all men welcome to their tables, a person may be
notoriously both unwilling and unable to pay, and still find credit
for the necessaries of life in the stores of Monterey. Now this
villainous habit of living upon "tick" has grown into Californian
nature. I do not mean that the American and European storekeepers
of Monterey are as lax as Mexicans; I mean that American farmers in
many parts of the State expect unlimited credit, and profit by it
in the meanwhile, without a thought for consequences. Jew
storekeepers have already learned the advantage to be gained from
this; they lead on the farmer into irretrievable indebtedness, and
keep him ever after as their bond-slave hopelessly grinding in the
mill. So the whirligig of time brings in its revenges, and except
that the Jew knows better than to foreclose, you may see Americans
bound in the same chains with which they themselves had formerly
bound the Mexican. It seems as if certain sorts of follies, like
certain sorts of grain, were natural to the soil rather than to the
race that holds and tills it for the moment.
In the meantime, however, the Americans rule in Monterey County.
The new county seat, Salinas City, in the bald, corn-bearing plain
under the Gabelano Peak, is a town of a purely American character.
The land is held, for the most part, in those enormous tracts which
are another legacy of Mexican days, and form the present chief
danger and disgrace of California; and the holders are mostly of
American or British birth. We have here in England no idea of the
troubles and inconveniences which flow from the existence of these
large landholders - land-thieves, land-sharks, or land-grabbers,
they are more commonly and plainly called. Thus the townlands of
Monterey are all in the hands of a single man. How they came there
is an obscure, vexatious question, and, rightly or wrongly, the man
is hated with a great hatred. His life has been repeatedly in
danger. Not very long ago, I was told, the stage was stopped and
examined three evenings in succession by disguised horsemen
thirsting for his blood. A certain house on the Salinas road, they
say, he always passes in his buggy at full speed, for the squatter
sent him warning long ago. But a year since he was publicly
pointed out for death by no less a man than Mr. Dennis Kearney.
Kearney is a man too well known in California, but a word of
explanation is required for English readers. Originally an Irish
dray-man, he rose, by his command of bad language, to almost
dictatorial authority in the State; throned it there for six months
or so, his mouth full of oaths, gallowses, and conflagrations; was
first snuffed out last winter by Mr. Coleman, backed by his San
Francisco Vigilantes and three gatling guns; completed his own ruin
by throwing in his lot with the grotesque Green-backer party; and
had at last to be rescued by his old enemies, the police, out of
the hands of his rebellious followers. It was while he was at the
top of his fortune that Kearney visited Monterey with his battlecry
against Chinese labour, the railroad monopolists, and the landthieves;
and his one articulate counsel to the Montereyans was to
"hang David Jacks." Had the town been American, in my private
opinion, this would have been done years ago. Land is a subject on
which there is no jesting in the West, and I have seen my friend
the lawyer drive out of Monterey to adjust a competition of titles
with the face of a captain going into battle and his Smith-and-
Wesson convenient to his hand.
On the ranche of another of these landholders you may find our old
friend, the truck system, in full operation. Men live there, year
in year out, to cut timber for a nominal wage, which is all
consumed in supplies. The longer they remain in this desirable
service the deeper they will fall in debt - a burlesque injustice
in a new country, where labour should be precious, and one of those
typical instances which explains the prevailing discontent and the
success of the demagogue Kearney.
In a comparison between what was and what is in California, the
praisers of times past will fix upon the Indians of Carmel. The
valley drained by the river so named is a true Californian valley,
bare, dotted with chaparal, overlooked by quaint, unfinished hills.
The Carmel runs by many pleasant farms, a clear and shallow river,
loved by wading kine; and at last, as it is falling towards a
quicksand and the great Pacific, passes a ruined mission on a hill.
From the mission church the eye embraces a great field of ocean,
and the ear is filled with a continuous sound of distant breakers
on the shore. But the day of the Jesuit has gone by, the day of
the Yankee has succeeded, and there is no one left to care for the
converted savage. The church is roofless and ruinous, sea-breezes
and sea-fogs, and the alternation of the rain and sunshine, daily
widening the breaches and casting the crockets from the wall. As
an antiquity in this new land, a quaint specimen of missionary
architecture, and a memorial of good deeds, it had a triple claim
to preservation from all thinking people; but neglect and abuse
have been its portion. There is no sign of American interference,
save where a headboard has been torn from a grave to be a mark for
pistol bullets. So it is with the Indians for whom it was erected.
Their lands, I was told, are being yearly encroached upon by the
neighbouring American proprietor, and with that exception no man
troubles his head for the Indians of Carmel. Only one day in the
year, the day before our Guy Fawkes, the PADRE drives over the hill
from Monterey; the little sacristy, which is the only covered
portion of the church, is filled with seats and decorated for the
service; the Indians troop together, their bright dresses
contrasting with their dark and melancholy faces; and there, among
a crowd of somewhat unsympathetic holiday-makers, you may hear God
served with perhaps more touching circumstances than in any other
temple under heaven. An Indian, stone-blind and about eighty years
of age, conducts the singing; other Indians compose the choir; yet
they have the Gregorian music at their finger ends, and pronounce
the Latin so correctly that I could follow the meaning as they
sang. The pronunciation was odd and nasal, the singing hurried and
staccato. "In saecula saeculoho-horum," they went, with a vigorous
aspirate to every additional syllable. I have never seen faces
more vividly lit up with joy than the faces of these Indian
singers. It was to them not only the worship of God, nor an act by
which they recalled and commemorated better days, but was besides
an exercise of culture, where all they knew of art and letters was
united and expressed. And it made a man's heart sorry for the good
fathers of yore who had taught them to dig and to reap, to read and
to sing, who had given them European mass-books which they still
preserve and study in their cottages, and who had now passed away
from all authority and influence in that land - to be succeeded by
greedy land-thieves and sacrilegious pistol-shots. So ugly a thing
may our Anglo-Saxon Protestantism appear beside the doings of the
Society of Jesus.
But revolution in this world succeeds to revolution. All that I
say in this paper is in a paulo-past tense. The Monterey of last
year exists no longer. A huge hotel has sprung up in the desert by
the railway. Three sets of diners sit down successively to table.
Invaluable toilettes figure along the beach and between the live
oaks; and Monterey is advertised in the newspapers, and posted in
the waiting-rooms at railway stations, as a resort for wealth and
fashion. Alas for the little town! it is not strong enough to
resist the influence of the flaunting caravanserai, and the poor,
quaint, penniless native gentlemen of Monterey must perish, like a
lower race, before the millionaire vulgarians of the Big Bonanza.
THE charm of Fontainebleau is a thing apart. It is a place that
people love even more than they admire. The vigorous forest air,
the silence, the majestic avenues of highway, the wilderness of
tumbled boulders, the great age and dignity of certain groves -
these are but ingredients, they are not the secret of the philtre.
The place is sanative; the air, the light, the perfumes, and the
shapes of things concord in happy harmony. The artist may be idle
and not fear the "blues." He may dally with his life. Mirth,
lyric mirth, and a vivacious classical contentment are of the very
essence of the better kind of art; and these, in that most smiling
forest, he has the chance to learn or to remember. Even on the
plain of Biere, where the Angelus of Millet still tolls upon the
ear of fancy, a larger air, a higher heaven, something ancient and
healthy in the face of nature, purify the mind alike from dulness
and hysteria. There is no place where the young are more gladly
conscious of their youth, or the old better contented with their
The fact of its great and special beauty further recommends this
country to the artist. The field was chosen by men in whose blood
there still raced some of the gleeful or solemn exultation of great
art - Millet who loved dignity like Michelangelo, Rousseau whose
modern brush was dipped in the glamour of the ancients. It was
chosen before the day of that strange turn in the history of art,
of which we now perceive the culmination in impressionistic tales
and pictures - that voluntary aversion of the eye from all
speciously strong and beautiful effects - that disinterested love
of dulness which has set so many Peter Bells to paint the riverside
primrose. It was then chosen for its proximity to Paris. And
for the same cause, and by the force of tradition, the painter of
to-day continues to inhabit and to paint it. There is in France
scenery incomparable for romance and harmony. Provence, and the
valley of the Rhone from Vienne to Tarascon, are one succession of
masterpieces waiting for the brush. The beauty is not merely
beauty; it tells, besides, a tale to the imagination, and surprises
while it charms. Here you shall see castellated towns that would
befit the scenery of dreamland; streets that glow with colour like
cathedral windows; hills of the most exquisite proportions; flowers
of every precious colour, growing thick like grass. All these, by
the grace of railway travel, are brought to the very door of the
modern painter; yet he does not seek them; he remains faithful to
Fontainebleau, to the eternal bridge of Gretz, to the watering-pot
cascade in Cernay valley. Even Fontainebleau was chosen for him;
even in Fontainebleau he shrinks from what is sharply charactered.
But one thing, at least, is certain, whatever he may choose to
paint and in whatever manner, it is good for the artist to dwell
among graceful shapes. Fontainebleau, if it be but quiet scenery,
is classically graceful; and though the student may look for
different qualities, this quality, silently present, will educate
his hand and eye.
But, before all its other advantages - charm, loveliness, or
proximity to Paris - comes the great fact that it is already
colonised. The institution of a painters' colony is a work of time
and tact. The population must be conquered. The innkeeper has to
be taught, and he soon learns, the lesson of unlimited credit; he
must be taught to welcome as a favoured guest a young gentleman in
a very greasy coat, and with little baggage beyond a box of colours
and a canvas; and he must learn to preserve his faith in customers
who will eat heartily and drink of the best, borrow money to buy
tobacco, and perhaps not pay a stiver for a year. A colour
merchant has next to be attracted. A certain vogue must be given
to the place, lest the painter, most gregarious of animals, should
find himself alone. And no sooner are these first difficulties
overcome, than fresh perils spring up upon the other side; and the
bourgeois and the tourist are knocking at the gate. This is the
crucial moment for the colony. If these intruders gain a footing,
they not only banish freedom and amenity; pretty soon, by means of
their long purses, they will have undone the education of the
innkeeper; prices will rise and credit shorten; and the poor
painter must fare farther on and find another hamlet. "Not here, O
Apollo!" will become his song. Thus Trouville and, the other day,
St. Raphael were lost to the arts. Curious and not always edifying
are the shifts that the French student uses to defend his lair;
like the cuttlefish, he must sometimes blacken the waters of his
chosen pool; but at such a time and for so practical a purpose Mrs.
Grundy must allow him licence. Where his own purse and credit are
not threatened, he will do the honours of his village generously.
Any artist is made welcome, through whatever medium he may seek
expression; science is respected; even the idler, if he prove, as
he so rarely does, a gentleman, will soon begin to find himself at
home. And when that essentially modern creature, the English or
American girl-student, began to walk calmly into his favourite inns
as if into a drawing-room at home, the French painter owned himself
defenceless; he submitted or he fled. His French respectability,
quite as precise as ours, though covering different provinces of
life, recoiled aghast before the innovation. But the girls were
painters; there was nothing to be done; and Barbizon, when I last
saw it and for the time at least, was practically ceded to the fair
invader. Paterfamilias, on the other hand, the common tourist, the
holiday shopman, and the cheap young gentleman upon the spree, he
hounded from his villages with every circumstance of contumely.
This purely artistic society is excellent for the young artist.
The lads are mostly fools; they hold the latest orthodoxy in its
crudeness; they are at that stage of education, for the most part,
when a man is too much occupied with style to be aware of the
necessity for any matter; and this, above all for the Englishman,
is excellent. To work grossly at the trade, to forget sentiment,
to think of his material and nothing else, is, for awhile at least,
the king's highway of progress. Here, in England, too many
painters and writers dwell dispersed, unshielded, among the
intelligent bourgeois. These, when they are not merely
indifferent, prate to him about the lofty aims and moral influence
of art. And this is the lad's ruin. For art is, first of all and
last of all, a trade. The love of words and not a desire to
publish new discoveries, the love of form and not a novel reading
of historical events, mark the vocation of the writer and the
painter. The arabesque, properly speaking, and even in literature,
is the first fancy of the artist; he first plays with his material
as a child plays with a kaleidoscope; and he is already in a second
stage when he begins to use his pretty counters for the end of
representation. In that, he must pause long and toil faithfully;
that is his apprenticeship; and it is only the few who will really
grow beyond it, and go forward, fully equipped, to do the business
of real art - to give life to abstractions and significance and
charm to facts. In the meanwhile, let him dwell much among his
fellow-craftsmen. They alone can take a serious interest in the
childish tasks and pitiful successes of these years. They alone
can behold with equanimity this fingering of the dumb keyboard,
this polishing of empty sentences, this dull and literal painting
of dull and insignificant subjects. Outsiders will spur him on.
They will say, "Why do you not write a great book? paint a great
picture?" If his guardian angel fail him, they may even persuade
him to the attempt, and, ten to one, his hand is coarsened and his
style falsified for life.
And this brings me to a warning. The life of the apprentice to any
art is both unstrained and pleasing; it is strewn with small
successes in the midst of a career of failure, patiently supported;
the heaviest scholar is conscious of a certain progress; and if he
come not appreciably nearer to the art of Shakespeare, grows
letter-perfect in the domain of A-B, ab. But the time comes when a
man should cease prelusory gymnastic, stand up, put a violence upon
his will, and, for better or worse, begin the business of creation.
This evil day there is a tendency continually to postpone: above
all with painters. They have made so many studies that it has
become a habit; they make more, the walls of exhibitions blush with
them; and death finds these aged students still busy with their
horn-book. This class of man finds a congenial home in artist
villages; in the slang of the English colony at Barbizon we used to
call them "Snoozers." Continual returns to the city, the society
of men farther advanced, the study of great works, a sense of
humour or, if such a thing is to be had, a little religion or
philosophy, are the means of treatment. It will be time enough to
think of curing the malady after it has been caught; for to catch
it is the very thing for which you seek that dream-land of the
painters' village. "Snoozing" is a part of the artistic education;
and the rudiments must be learned stupidly, all else being
forgotten, as if they were an object in themselves.
Lastly, there is something, or there seems to be something, in the
very air of France that communicates the love of style. Precision,
clarity, the cleanly and crafty employment of material, a grace in
the handling, apart from any value in the thought, seem to be
acquired by the mere residence; or if not acquired, become at least
the more appreciated. The air of Paris is alive with this
technical inspiration. And to leave that airy city and awake next
day upon the borders of the forest is but to change externals. The
same spirit of dexterity and finish breathes from the long alleys
and the lofty groves, from the wildernesses that are still pretty
in their confusion, and the great plain that contrives to be
decorative in its emptiness.
In spite of its really considerable extent, the forest of
Fontainebleau is hardly anywhere tedious. I know the whole western
side of it with what, I suppose, I may call thoroughness; well
enough at least to testify that there is no square mile without
some special character and charm. Such quarters, for instance, as
the Long Rocher, the Bas-Breau, and the Reine Blanche, might be a
hundred miles apart; they have scarce a point in common beyond the
silence of the birds. The two last are really conterminous; and in
both are tall and ancient trees that have outlived a thousand
political vicissitudes. But in the one the great oaks prosper
placidly upon an even floor; they beshadow a great field; and the
air and the light are very free below their stretching boughs. In
the other the trees find difficult footing; castles of white rock
lie tumbled one upon another, the foot slips, the crooked viper
slumbers, the moss clings in the crevice; and above it all the
great beech goes spiring and casting forth her arms, and, with a
grace beyond church architecture, canopies this rugged chaos.
Meanwhile, dividing the two cantons, the broad white causeway of
the Paris road runs in an avenue: a road conceived for pageantry
and for triumphal marches, an avenue for an army; but, its days of
glory over, it now lies grilling in the sun between cool groves,
and only at intervals the vehicle of the cruising tourist is seen
far away and faintly audible along its ample sweep. A little upon
one side, and you find a district of sand and birch and boulder; a
little upon the other lies the valley of Apremont, all juniper and
heather; and close beyond that you may walk into a zone of pine
trees. So artfully are the ingredients mingled. Nor must it be
forgotten that, in all this part, you come continually forth upon a
hill-top, and behold the plain, northward and westward, like an
unrefulgent sea; nor that all day long the shadows keep changing;
and at last, to the red fires of sunset, night succeeds, and with
the night a new forest, full of whisper, gloom, and fragrance.
There are few things more renovating than to leave Paris, the
lamplit arches of the Carrousel, and the long alignment of the
glittering streets, and to bathe the senses in this fragrant
darkness of the wood.
In this continual variety the mind is kept vividly alive. It is a
changeful place to paint, a stirring place to live in. As fast as
your foot carries you, you pass from scene to scene, each
vigorously painted in the colours of the sun, each endeared by that
hereditary spell of forests on the mind of man who still remembers
and salutes the ancient refuge of his race.
And yet the forest has been civilised throughout. The most savage
corners bear a name, and have been cherished like antiquities; in
the most remote, Nature has prepared and balanced her effects as if
with conscious art; and man, with his guiding arrows of blue paint,
has countersigned the picture. After your farthest wandering, you
are never surprised to come forth upon the vast avenue of highway,
to strike the centre point of branching alleys, or to find the
aqueduct trailing, thousand-footed, through the brush. It is not a
wilderness; it is rather a preserve. And, fitly enough, the centre
of the maze is not a hermit's cavern. In the midst, a little
mirthful town lies sunlit, humming with the business of pleasure;
and the palace, breathing distinction and peopled by historic
names, stands smokeless among gardens.
Perhaps the last attempt at savage life was that of the harmless
humbug who called himself the hermit. In a great tree, close by
the highroad, he had built himself a little cabin after the manner
of the Swiss Family Robinson; thither he mounted at night, by the
romantic aid of a rope ladder; and if dirt be any proof of
sincerity, the man was savage as a Sioux. I had the pleasure of
his acquaintance; he appeared grossly stupid, not in his perfect
wits, and interested in nothing but small change; for that he had a
great avidity. In the course of time he proved to be a chickenstealer,
and vanished from his perch; and perhaps from the first he
was no true votary of forest freedom, but an ingenious,
theatrically-minded beggar, and his cabin in the tree was only
stock-in-trade to beg withal. The choice of his position would
seem to indicate so much; for if in the forest there are no places
still to be discovered, there are many that have been forgotten,
and that lie unvisited. There, to be sure, are the blue arrows
waiting to reconduct you, now blazed upon a tree, now posted in the
corner of a rock. But your security from interruption is complete;
you might camp for weeks, if there were only water, and not a soul
suspect your presence; and if I may suppose the reader to have
committed some great crime and come to me for aid, I think I could
still find my way to a small cavern, fitted with a hearth and
chimney, where he might lie perfectly concealed. A confederate
landscape-painter might daily supply him with food; for water, he
would have to make a nightly tramp as far as to the nearest pond;
and at last, when the hue and cry began to blow over, he might get
gently on the train at some side station, work round by a series of
junctions, and be quietly captured at the frontier.
Thus Fontainebleau, although it is truly but a pleasure-ground, and
although, in favourable weather, and in the more celebrated
quarters, it literally buzzes with the tourist, yet has some of the
immunities and offers some of the repose of natural forests. And
the solitary, although he must return at night to his frequented
inn, may yet pass the day with his own thoughts in the
companionable silence of the trees. The demands of the imagination
vary; some can be alone in a back garden looked upon by windows;
others, like the ostrich, are content with a solitude that meets
the eye; and others, again, expand in fancy to the very borders of
their desert, and are irritably conscious of a hunter's camp in an
adjacent county. To these last, of course, Fontainebleau will seem
but an extended tea-garden: a Rosherville on a by-day. But to the
plain man it offers solitude: an excellent thing in itself, and a
good whet for company.
I was for some time a consistent Barbizonian; ET EGO IN ARCADIA
VIXI, it was a pleasant season; and that noiseless hamlet lying
close among the borders of the wood is for me, as for so many
others, a green spot in memory. The great Millet was just dead,
the green shutters of his modest house were closed; his daughters
were in mourning. The date of my first visit was thus an epoch in
the history of art: in a lesser way, it was an epoch in the
history of the Latin Quarter. The PETIT CENACLE was dead and
buried; Murger and his crew of sponging vagabonds were all at rest
from their expedients; the tradition of their real life was nearly
lost; and the petrified legend of the VIE DE BOHEME had become a
sort of gospel, and still gave the cue to zealous imitators. But
if the book be written in rose-water, the imitation was still
farther expurgated; honesty was the rule; the innkeepers gave, as I
have said, almost unlimited credit; they suffered the seediest
painter to depart, to take all his belongings, and to leave his
bill unpaid; and if they sometimes lost, it was by English and
Americans alone. At the same time, the great influx of Anglo-
Saxons had begun to affect the life of the studious. There had
been disputes; and, in one instance at least, the English and the
Americans had made common cause to prevent a cruel pleasantry. It
would be well if nations and races could communicate their
qualities; but in practice when they look upon each other, they
have an eye to nothing but defects. The Anglo-Saxon is essentially
dishonest; the French is devoid by nature of the principle that we
call "Fair Play." The Frenchman marvelled at the scruples of his
guest, and, when that defender of innocence retired over-seas and
left his bills unpaid, he marvelled once again; the good and evil
were, in his eyes, part and parcel of the same eccentricity; a
shrug expressed his judgment upon both.
At Barbizon there was no master, no pontiff in the arts. Palizzi
bore rule at Gretz - urbane, superior rule - his memory rich in
anecdotes of the great men of yore, his mind fertile in theories;
sceptical, composed, and venerable to the eye; and yet beneath
these outworks, all twittering with Italian superstition, his eye
scouting for omens, and the whole fabric of his manners giving way
on the appearance of a hunchback. Cernay had Pelouse, the
admirable, placid Pelouse, smilingly critical of youth, who, when a
full-blown commercial traveller, suddenly threw down his samples,
bought a colour-box, and became the master whom we have all
admired. Marlotte, for a central figure, boasted Olivier de Penne.
Only Barbizon, since the death of Millet, was a headless
commonwealth. Even its secondary lights, and those who in my day
made the stranger welcome, have since deserted it. The good
Lachevre has departed, carrying his household gods; and long before
that Gaston Lafenestre was taken from our midst by an untimely
death. He died before he had deserved success; it may be, he would
never have deserved it; but his kind, comely, modest countenance
still haunts the memory of all who knew him. Another - whom I will
not name - has moved farther on, pursuing the strange Odyssey of
his decadence. His days of royal favour had departed even then;
but he still retained, in his narrower life at Barbizon, a certain
stamp of conscious importance, hearty, friendly, filling the room,
the occupant of several chairs; nor had he yet ceased his losing
battle, still labouring upon great canvases that none would buy,
still waiting the return of fortune. But these days also were too
good to last; and the former favourite of two sovereigns fled, if I
heard the truth, by night. There was a time when he was counted a
great man, and Millet but a dauber; behold, how the whirligig of
time brings in his revenges! To pity Millet is a piece of
arrogance; if life be hard for such resolute and pious spirits, it
is harder still for us, had we the wit to understand it; but we may
pity his unhappier rival, who, for no apparent merit, was raised to
opulence and momentary fame, and, through no apparent fault was
suffered step by step to sink again to nothing. No misfortune can
exceed the bitterness of such back-foremost progress, even bravely
supported as it was; but to those also who were taken early from
the easel, a regret is due. From all the young men of this period,
one stood out by the vigour of his promise; he was in the age of
fermentation, enamoured of eccentricities. "Il faut faire de la
peinture nouvelle," was his watchword; but if time and experience
had continued his education, if he had been granted health to
return from these excursions to the steady and the central, I must
believe that the name of Hills had become famous.
Siron's inn, that excellent artists' barrack, was managed upon easy
principles. At any hour of the night, when you returned from
wandering in the forest, you went to the billiard-room and helped
yourself to liquors, or descended to the cellar and returned laden
with beer or wine. The Sirons were all locked in slumber; there
was none to check your inroads; only at the week's end a
computation was made, the gross sum was divided, and a varying
share set down to every lodger's name under the rubric: ESTRATS.
Upon the more long-suffering the larger tax was levied; and your
bill lengthened in a direct proportion to the easiness of your
disposition. At any hour of the morning, again, you could get your
coffee or cold milk, and set forth into the forest. The doves had
perhaps wakened you, fluttering into your chamber; and on the
threshold of the inn you were met by the aroma of the forest.
Close by were the great aisles, the mossy boulders, the
interminable field of forest shadow. There you were free to dream
and wander. And at noon, and again at six o'clock, a good meal
awaited you on Siron's table. The whole of your accommodation, set
aside that varying item of the ESTRALS, cost you five francs a day;
your bill was never offered you until you asked it; and if you were
out of luck's way, you might depart for where you pleased and leave
it pending.
Theoretically, the house was open to all corners; practically, it
was a kind of club. The guests protected themselves, and, in so
doing, they protected Siron. Formal manners being laid aside,
essential courtesy was the more rigidly exacted; the new arrival
had to feel the pulse of the society; and a breach of its undefined
observances was promptly punished. A man might be as plain, as
dull, as slovenly, as free of speech as he desired; but to a touch
of presumption or a word of hectoring these free Barbizonians were
as sensitive as a tea-party of maiden ladies. I have seen people
driven forth from Barbizon; it would be difficult to say in words
what they had done, but they deserved their fate. They had shown
themselves unworthy to enjoy these corporate freedoms; they had
pushed themselves; they had "made their head"; they wanted tact to
appreciate the "fine shades" of Barbizonian etiquette. And once
they were condemned, the process of extrusion was ruthless in its
cruelty; after one evening with the formidable Bodmer, the Baily of
our commonwealth, the erring stranger was beheld no more; he rose
exceeding early the next day, and the first coach conveyed him from
the scene of his discomfiture. These sentences of banishment were
never, in my knowledge, delivered against an artist; such would, I
believe, have been illegal; but the odd and pleasant fact is this,
that they were never needed. Painters, sculptors, writers,
singers, I have seen all of these in Barbizon; and some were sulky,
and some blatant and inane; but one and all entered at once into
the spirit of the association. This singular society is purely
French, a creature of French virtues, and possibly of French
defects. It cannot be imitated by the English. The roughness, the
impatience, the more obvious selfishness, and even the more ardent
friendships of the Anglo-Saxon, speedily dismember such a
commonwealth. But this random gathering of young French painters,
with neither apparatus nor parade of government, yet kept the life
of the place upon a certain footing, insensibly imposed their
etiquette upon the docile, and by caustic speech enforced their
edicts against the unwelcome. To think of it is to wonder the more
at the strange failure of their race upon the larger theatre. This
inbred civility - to use the word in its completest meaning - this
natural and facile adjustment of contending liberties, seems all
that is required to make a governable nation and a just and
prosperous country.
Our society, thus purged and guarded, was full of high spirits, of
laughter, and of the initiative of youth. The few elder men who
joined us were still young at heart, and took the key from their
companions. We returned from long stations in the fortifying air,
our blood renewed by the sunshine, our spirits refreshed by the
silence of the forest; the Babel of loud voices sounded good; we
fell to eat and play like the natural man; and in the high inn
chamber, panelled with indifferent pictures and lit by candles
guttering in the night air, the talk and laughter sounded far into
the night. It was a good place and a good life for any naturallyminded
youth; better yet for the student of painting, and perhaps
best of all for the student of letters. He, too, was saturated in
this atmosphere of style; he was shut out from the disturbing
currents of the world, he might forget that there existed other and
more pressing interests than that of art. But, in such a place, it
was hardly possible to write; he could not drug his conscience,
like the painter, by the production of listless studies; he saw
himself idle among many who were apparently, and some who were
really, employed; and what with the impulse of increasing health
and the continual provocation of romantic scenes, he became
tormented with the desire to work. He enjoyed a strenuous idleness
full of visions, hearty meals, long, sweltering walks, mirth among
companions; and still floating like music through his brain,
foresights of great works that Shakespeare might be proud to have
conceived, headless epics, glorious torsos of dramas, and words
that were alive with import. So in youth, like Moses from the
mountain, we have sights of that House Beautiful of art which we
shall never enter. They are dreams and unsubstantial; visions of
style that repose upon no base of human meaning; the last heartthrobs
of that excited amateur who has to die in all of us before
the artist can be born. But they come to us in such a rainbow of
glory that all subsequent achievement appears dull and earthly in
comparison. We were all artists; almost all in the age of
illusion, cultivating an imaginary genius, and walking to the
strains of some deceiving Ariel; small wonder, indeed, if we were
happy! But art, of whatever nature, is a kind mistress; and though
these dreams of youth fall by their own baselessness, others
succeed, graver and more substantial; the symptoms change, the
amiable malady endures; and still, at an equal distance, the House
Beautiful shines upon its hill-top.
Gretz lies out of the forest, down by the bright river. It boasts
a mill, an ancient church, a castle, and a bridge of many
sterlings. And the bridge is a piece of public property;
anonymously famous; beaming on the incurious dilettante from the
walls of a hundred exhibitions. I have seen it in the Salon; I
have seen it in the Academy; I have seen it in the last French
Exposition, excellently done by Bloomer; in a black-and-white by
Mr. A. Henley, it once adorned this essay in the pages of the
MAGAZINE OF ART. Long-suffering bridge! And if you visit Gretz
to-morrow, you shall find another generation, camped at the bottom
of Chevillon's garden under their white umbrellas, and doggedly
painting it again.
The bridge taken for granted, Gretz is a less inspiring place than
Barbizon. I give it the palm over Cernay. There is something
ghastly in the great empty village square of Cernay, with the inn
tables standing in one corner, as though the stage were set for
rustic opera, and in the early morning all the painters breaking
their fast upon white wine under the windows of the villagers. It
is vastly different to awake in Gretz, to go down the green inngarden,
to find the river streaming through the bridge, and to see
the dawn begin across the poplared level. The meals are laid in
the cool arbour, under fluttering leaves. The splash of oars and
bathers, the bathing costumes out to dry, the trim canoes beside
the jetty, tell of a society that has an eye to pleasure. There is
"something to do" at Gretz. Perhaps, for that very reason, I can
recall no such enduring ardours, no such glories of exhilaration,
as among the solemn groves and uneventful hours of Barbizon. This
"something to do" is a great enemy to joy; it is a way out of it;
you wreak your high spirits on some cut-and-dry employment, and
behold them gone! But Gretz is a merry place after its kind:
pretty to see, merry to inhabit. The course of its pellucid river,
whether up or down, is full of gentle attractions for the
navigator: islanded reed-mazes where, in autumn, the red berries
cluster; the mirrored and inverted images of trees, lilies, and
mills, and the foam and thunder of weirs. And of all noble sweeps
of roadway, none is nobler, on a windy dusk, than the highroad to
Nemours between its lines of talking poplar.
But even Gretz is changed. The old inn, long shored and trussed
and buttressed, fell at length under the mere weight of years, and
the place as it was is but a fading image in the memory of former
guests. They, indeed, recall the ancient wooden stair; they recall
the rainy evening, the wide hearth, the blaze of the twig fire, and
the company that gathered round the pillar in the kitchen. But the
material fabric is now dust; soon, with the last of its
inhabitants, its very memory shall follow; and they, in their turn,
shall suffer the same law, and, both in name and lineament, vanish
from the world of men. "For remembrance of the old house' sake,"
as Pepys once quaintly put it, let me tell one story. When the
tide of invasion swept over France, two foreign painters were left
stranded and penniless in Gretz; and there, until the war was over,
the Chevillons ungrudgingly harboured them. It was difficult to
obtain supplies; but the two waifs were still welcome to the best,
sat down daily with the family to table, and at the due intervals
were supplied with clean napkins, which they scrupled to employ.
Madame Chevillon observed the fact and reprimanded them. But they
stood firm; eat they must, but having no money they would soil no
Nemours and Moret, for all they are so picturesque, have been
little visited by painters. They are, indeed, too populous; they
have manners of their own, and might resist the drastic process of
colonisation. Montigny has been somewhat strangely neglected, I
never knew it inhabited but once, when Will H. Low installed
himself there with a barrel of PIQUETTE, and entertained his
friends in a leafy trellis above the weir, in sight of the green
country and to the music of the falling water. It was a most airy,
quaint, and pleasant place of residence, just too rustic to be
stagey; and from my memories of the place in general, and that
garden trellis in particular - at morning, visited by birds, or at
night, when the dew fell and the stars were of the party - I am
inclined to think perhaps too favourably of the future of Montigny.
Chailly-en-Biere has outlived all things, and lies dustily
slumbering in the plain - the cemetery of itself. The great road
remains to testify of its former bustle of postilions and carriage
bells; and, like memorial tablets, there still hang in the inn room
the paintings of a former generation, dead or decorated long ago.
In my time, one man only, greatly daring, dwelt there. From time
to time he would walk over to Barbizon like a shade revisiting the
glimpses of the moon, and after some communication with flesh and
blood return to his austere hermitage. But even he, when I last
revisited the forest, had come to Barbizon for good, and closed the
roll of Chaillyites. It may revive - but I much doubt it. Acheres
and Recloses still wait a pioneer; Bourron is out of the question,
being merely Gretz over again, without the river, the bridge, or
the beauty; and of all the possible places on the western side,
Marlotte alone remains to be discussed. I scarcely know Marlotte,
and, very likely for that reason, am not much in love with it. It
seems a glaring and unsightly hamlet. The inn of Mother Antonie is
unattractive; and its more reputable rival, though comfortable
enough, is commonplace. Marlotte has a name; it is famous; if I
were the young painter I would leave it alone in its glory.
These are the words of an old stager; and though time is a good
conservative in forest places, much may be untrue to-day. Many of
us have passed Arcadian days there and moved on, but yet left a
portion of our souls behind us buried in the woods. I would not
dig for these reliquiae; they are incommunicable treasures that
will not enrich the finder; and yet there may lie, interred below
great oaks or scattered along forest paths, stores of youth's
dynamite and dear remembrances. And as one generation passes on
and renovates the field of tillage for the next, I entertain a
fancy that when the young men of to-day go forth into the forest
they shall find the air still vitalised by the spirits of their
predecessors, and, like those "unheard melodies" that are the
sweetest of all, the memory of our laughter shall still haunt the
field of trees. Those merry voices that in woods call the wanderer
farther, those thrilling silences and whispers of the groves,
surely in Fontainebleau they must be vocal of me and my companions?
We are not content to pass away entirely from the scenes of our
delight; we would leave, if but in gratitude, a pillar and a
One generation after another fall like honey-bees upon this
memorable forest, rifle its sweets, pack themselves with vital
memories, and when the theft is consummated depart again into life
richer, but poorer also. The forest, indeed, they have possessed,
from that day forward it is theirs indissolubly, and they will
return to walk in it at night in the fondest of their dreams, and
use it for ever in their books and pictures. Yet when they made
their packets, and put up their notes and sketches, something, it
should seem, had been forgotten. A projection of themselves shall
appear to haunt unfriended these scenes of happiness, a natural
child of fancy, begotten and forgotten unawares. Over the whole
field of our wanderings such fetches are still travelling like
indefatigable bagmen; but the imps of Fontainebleau, as of all
beloved spots, are very long of life, and memory is piously
unwilling to forget their orphanage. If anywhere about that wood
you meet my airy bantling, greet him with tenderness. He was a
pleasant lad, though now abandoned. And when it comes to your own
turn to quit the forest, may you leave behind you such another; no
Antony or Werther, let us hope, no tearful whipster, but, as
becomes this not uncheerful and most active age in which we figure,
the child of happy hours.
No art, it may be said, was ever perfect, and not many noble, that
has not been mirthfully conceived.
And no man, it may be added, was ever anything but a wet blanket
and a cross to his companions who boasted not a copious spirit of
enjoyment. Whether as man or artist let the youth make haste to
Fontainebleau, and once there let him address himself to the spirit
of the place; he will learn more from exercise than from studies,
although both are necessary; and if he can get into his heart the
gaiety and inspiration of the woods he will have gone far to undo
the evil of his sketches. A spirit once well strung up to the
concert-pitch of the primeval out-of-doors will hardly dare to
finish a study and magniloquently ticket it a picture. The
incommunicable thrill of things, that is the tuning-fork by which
we test the flatness of our art. Here it is that Nature teaches
and condemns, and still spurs up to further effort and new failure.
Thus it is that she sets us blushing at our ignorant and tepid
works; and the more we find of these inspiring shocks the less
shall we be apt to love the literal in our productions. In all
sciences and senses the letter kills; and to-day, when cackling
human geese express their ignorant condemnation of all studio
pictures, it is a lesson most useful to be learnt. Let the young
painter go to Fontainebleau, and while he stupefies himself with
studies that teach him the mechanical side of his trade, let him
walk in the great air, and be a servant of mirth, and not pick and
botanise, but wait upon the moods of nature. So he will learn - or
learn not to forget - the poetry of life and earth, which, when he
has acquired his track, will save him from joyless reproduction.
THE country where they journeyed, that green, breezy valley of the
Loing, is one very attractive to cheerful and solitary people. The
weather was superb; all night it thundered and lightened, and the
rain fell in sheets; by day, the heavens were cloudless, the sun
fervent, the air vigorous and pure. They walked separate: the
Cigarette plodding behind with some philosophy, the lean Arethusa
posting on ahead. Thus each enjoyed his own reflections by the
way; each had perhaps time to tire of them before he met his
comrade at the designated inn; and the pleasures of society and
solitude combined to fill the day. The Arethusa carried in his
knapsack the works of Charles of Orleans, and employed some of the
hours of travel in the concoction of English roundels. In this
path, he must thus have preceded Mr. Lang, Mr. Dobson, Mr. Henley,
and all contemporary roundeleers; but for good reasons, he will be
the last to publish the result. The Cigarette walked burthened
with a volume of Michelet. And both these books, it will be seen,
played a part in the subsequent adventure.
The Arethusa was unwisely dressed. He is no precisian in attire;
but by all accounts, he was never so ill-inspired as on that tramp;
having set forth indeed, upon a moment's notice, from the most
unfashionable spot in Europe, Barbizon. On his head he wore a
smoking-cap of Indian work, the gold lace pitifully frayed and
tarnished. A flannel shirt of an agreeable dark hue, which the
satirical called black; a light tweed coat made by a good English
tailor; ready-made cheap linen trousers and leathern gaiters
completed his array. In person, he is exceptionally lean; and his
face is not, like those of happier mortals, a certificate. For
years he could not pass a frontier or visit a bank without
suspicion; the police everywhere, but in his native city, looked
askance upon him; and (though I am sure it will not be credited) he
is actually denied admittance to the casino of Monte Carlo. If you
will imagine him, dressed as above, stooping under his knapsack,
walking nearly five miles an hour with the folds of the ready-made
trousers fluttering about his spindle shanks, and still looking
eagerly round him as if in terror of pursuit - the figure, when
realised, is far from reassuring. When Villon journeyed (perhaps
by the same pleasant valley) to his exile at Roussillon, I wonder
if he had not something of the same appearance. Something of the
same preoccupation he had beyond a doubt, for he too must have
tinkered verses as he walked, with more success than his successor.
And if he had anything like the same inspiring weather, the same
nights of uproar, men in armour rolling and resounding down the
stairs of heaven, the rain hissing on the village streets, the wild
bull's-eye of the storm flashing all night long into the bare innchamber
- the same sweet return of day, the same unfathomable blue
of noon, the same high-coloured, halcyon eves - and above all, if
he had anything like as good a comrade, anything like as keen a
relish for what he saw, and what he ate, and the rivers that he
bathed in, and the rubbish that he wrote, I would exchange estates
to-day with the poor exile, and count myself a gainer.
But there was another point of similarity between the two journeys,
for which the Arethusa was to pay dear: both were gone upon in
days of incomplete security. It was not long after the FrancoPrussian
war. Swiftly as men forget, that country-side was still
alive with tales of uhlans, and outlying sentries, and hairbreadth
'scapes from the ignominious cord, and pleasant momentary
friendships between invader and invaded. A year, at the most two
years later, you might have tramped all that country over and not
heard one anecdote. And a year or two later, you would - if you
were a rather ill-looking young man in nondescript array - have
gone your rounds in greater safety; for along with more interesting
matter, the Prussian spy would have somewhat faded from men's
For all that, our voyager had got beyond Chateau Renard before he
was conscious of arousing wonder. On the road between that place
and Chatillon-sur-Loing, however, he encountered a rural postman;
they fell together in talk, and spoke of a variety of subjects; but
through one and all, the postman was still visibly preoccupied, and
his eyes were faithful to the Arethusa's knapsack. At last, with
mysterious roguishness, he inquired what it contained, and on being
answered, shook his head with kindly incredulity. "NON," said he,
"NON, VOUS AVEZ DES PORTRAITS." And then with a languishing
appeal, "VOYONS, show me the portraits!" It was some little while
before the Arethusa, with a shout of laughter, recognised his
drift. By portraits he meant indecent photographs; and in the
Arethusa, an austere and rising author, he thought to have
identified a pornographic colporteur. When countryfolk in France
have made up their minds as to a person's calling, argument is
fruitless. Along all the rest of the way, the postman piped and
fluted meltingly to get a sight of the collection; now he would
upbraid, now he would reason - "VOYONS, I will tell nobody"; then
he tried corruption, and insisted on paying for a glass of wine;
and, at last when their ways separated - "NON," said he, "CE N'EST
his head with quite a sentimental sense of injury, he departed
On certain little difficulties encountered by the Arethusa at
Chatillon-sur-Loing, I have not space to dwell; another Chatillon,
of grislier memory, looms too near at hand. But the next day, in a
certain hamlet called La Jussiere, he stopped to drink a glass of
syrup in a very poor, bare drinking shop. The hostess, a comely
woman, suckling a child, examined the traveller with kindly and
pitying eyes. "You are not of this department?" she asked. The
Arethusa told her he was English. "Ah!" she said, surprised. "We
have no English. We have many Italians, however, and they do very
well; they do not complain of the people of hereabouts. An
Englishman may do very well also; it will be something new." Here
was a dark saying, over which the Arethusa pondered as he drank his
grenadine; but when he rose and asked what was to pay, the light
came upon him in a flash. "O, POUR VOUS," replied the landlady,
"a halfpenny!" POUR VOUS? By heaven, she took him for a beggar!
He paid his halfpenny, feeling that it were ungracious to correct
her. But when he was forth again upon the road, he became vexed in
spirit. The conscience is no gentleman, he is a rabbinical fellow;
and his conscience told him he had stolen the syrup.
That night the travellers slept in Gien; the next day they passed
the river and set forth (severally, as their custom was) on a short
stage through the green plain upon the Berry side, to Chatillonsur-
Loire. It was the first day of the shooting; and the air rang
with the report of firearms and the admiring cries of sportsmen.
Overhead the birds were in consternation, wheeling in clouds,
settling and re-arising. And yet with all this bustle on either
hand, the road itself lay solitary. The Arethusa smoked a pipe
beside a milestone, and I remember he laid down very exactly all he
was to do at Chatillon: how he was to enjoy a cold plunge, to
change his shirt, and to await the Cigarette's arrival, in sublime
inaction, by the margin of the Loire. Fired by these ideas, he
pushed the more rapidly forward, and came, early in the afternoon
and in a breathing heat, to the entering-in of that ill-fated town.
Childe Roland to the dark tower came.
A polite gendarme threw his shadow on the path.
And the Arethusa, strong in his innocence, forgetful of his vile
attire, replied - I had almost said with gaiety: "So it would
"His papers are in order?" said the gendarme. And when the
Arethusa, with a slight change of voice, admitted he had none, he
was informed (politely enough) that he must appear before the
The Commissary sat at a table in his bedroom, stripped to the shirt
and trousers, but still copiously perspiring; and when he turned
upon the prisoner a large meaningless countenance, that was (like
Bardolph's) "all whelks and bubuckles," the dullest might have been
prepared for grief. Here was a stupid man, sleepy with the heat
and fretful at the interruption, whom neither appeal nor argument
could reach.
THE COMMISSARY. You have no papers?
THE ARETHUSA. I have left them behind in my valise.
THE COMMISSARY. You know, however, that it is forbidden to
circulate without papers?
THE ARETHUSA. Pardon me: I am convinced of the contrary. I am
here on my rights as an English subject by international treaty.
THE COMMISSARY (WITH SCORN). You call yourself an Englishman?
THE COMMISSARY. Humph. - What is your trade?
THE ARETHUSA. I am a Scotch advocate.
you then pretend to support yourself by that in this department?
The Arethusa modestly disclaimed the pretension. The Commissary
had scored a point.
THE COMMISSARY. Why, then, do you travel?
THE ARETHUSA. I travel for pleasure.
(With that? Look here, I am a person of intelligence!)
The culprit remaining silent under this home thrust, the Commissary
relished his triumph for a while, and then demanded (like the
postman, but with what different expectations!) to see the contents
of the knapsack. And here the Arethusa, not yet sufficiently awake
to his position, fell into a grave mistake. There was little or no
furniture in the room except the Commissary's chair and table; and
to facilitate matters, the Arethusa (with all the innocence on
earth) leant the knapsack on a corner of the bed. The Commissary
fairly bounded from his seat; his face and neck flushed past
purple, almost into blue; and he screamed to lay the desecrating
object on the floor.
The knapsack proved to contain a change of shirts, of shoes, of
socks, and of linen trousers, a small dressing-case, a piece of
soap in one of the shoes, two volumes of the COLLECTION JANNET
lettered POESIES DE CHARLES D'ORLEANS, a map, and a version book
containing divers notes in prose and the remarkable English
roundels of the voyager, still to this day unpublished: the
Commissary of Chatillon is the only living man who has clapped an
eye on these artistic trifles. He turned the assortment over with
a contumelious finger; it was plain from his daintiness that he
regarded the Arethusa and all his belongings as the very temple of
infection. Still there was nothing suspicious about the map,
nothing really criminal except the roundels; as for Charles of
Orleans, to the ignorant mind of the prisoner, he seemed as good as
a certificate; and it was supposed the farce was nearly over.
The inquisitor resumed his seat.
(Well, then, I will tell you what you are. You are a German and
have come to sing at the fair.)
THE ARETHUSA. Would you like to hear me sing? I believe I could
convince you of the contrary.
THE ARETHUSA. Well, sir, oblige me at least by looking at this
book. Here, I open it with my eyes shut. Read one of these songs
- read this one - and tell me, you who are a man of intelligence,
if it would be possible to sing it at a fair?
THE ARETHUSA. COMMENT, MONSIEUR! What! But do you not observe it
is antique. It is difficult to understand, even for you and me;
but for the audience at a fair, it would be meaningless.
your name?
ENGLISH). Robert-Louis-Stev'ns'n.
without the name: it is unspellable.)
The above is a rough summary of this momentous conversation, in
which I have been chiefly careful to preserve the plums of the
Commissary; but the remainder of the scene, perhaps because of his
rising anger, has left but little definite in the memory of the
Arethusa. The Commissary was not, I think, a practised literary
man; no sooner, at least, had he taken pen in hand and embarked on
the composition of the PROCES-VERBAL, than he became distinctly
more uncivil and began to show a predilection for that simplest of
all forms of repartee: "You lie!" Several times the Arethusa let
it pass, and then suddenly flared up, refused to accept more
insults or to answer further questions, defied the Commissary to do
his worst, and promised him, if he did, that he should bitterly
repent it. Perhaps if he had worn this proud front from the first,
instead of beginning with a sense of entertainment and then going
on to argue, the thing might have turned otherwise; for even at
this eleventh hour the Commissary was visibly staggered. But it
was too late; he had been challenged the PROCES-VERBAL was begun;
and he again squared his elbows over his writing, and the Arethusa
was led forth a prisoner.
A step or two down the hot road stood the gendarmerie. Thither was
our unfortunate conducted, and there he was bidden to empty forth
the contents of his pockets. A handkerchief, a pen, a pencil, a
pipe and tobacco, matches, and some ten francs of change: that was
all. Not a file, not a cipher, not a scrap of writing whether to
identify or to condemn. The very gendarme was appalled before such
"I regret," he said, "that I arrested you, for I see that you are
no VOYOU." And he promised him every indulgence.
The Arethusa, thus encouraged, asked for his pipe. That he was
told was impossible, but if he chewed, he might have some tobacco.
He did not chew, however, and asked instead to have his
SE SONT PENDUS." (No, we have had histories of people who hanged
"What," cried the Arethusa. "And is it for that you refuse me my
handkerchief? But see how much more easily I could hang myself in
my trousers!"
The man was struck by the novelty of the idea; but he stuck to his
colours, and only continued to repeat vague offers of service.
"At least," said the Arethusa, "be sure that you arrest my comrade;
he will follow me ere long on the same road, and you can tell him
by the sack upon his shoulders."
This promised, the prisoner was led round into the back court of
the building, a cellar door was opened, he was motioned down the
stair, and bolts grated and chains clanged behind his descending
The philosophic and still more the imaginative mind is apt to
suppose itself prepared for any mortal accident. Prison, among
other ills, was one that had been often faced by the undaunted
Arethusa. Even as he went down the stairs, he was telling himself
that here was a famous occasion for a roundel, and that like the
committed linnets of the tuneful cavalier, he too would make his
prison musical. I will tell the truth at once: the roundel was
never written, or it should be printed in this place, to raise a
smile. Two reasons interfered: the first moral, the second
It is one of the curiosities of human nature, that although all men
are liars, they can none of them bear to be told so of themselves.
To get and take the lie with equanimity is a stretch beyond the
stoic; and the Arethusa, who had been surfeited upon that insult,
was blazing inwardly with a white heat of smothered wrath. But the
physical had also its part. The cellar in which he was confined
was some feet underground, and it was only lighted by an unglazed,
narrow aperture high up in the wall and smothered in the leaves of
a green vine. The walls were of naked masonry, the floor of bare
earth; by way of furniture there was an earthenware basin, a waterjug,
and a wooden bedstead with a blue-gray cloak for bedding. To
be taken from the hot air of a summer's afternoon, the
reverberation of the road and the stir of rapid exercise, and
plunged into the gloom and damp of this receptacle for vagabonds,
struck an instant chill upon the Arethusa's blood. Now see in how
small a matter a hardship may consist: the floor was exceedingly
uneven underfoot, with the very spade-marks, I suppose, of the
labourers who dug the foundations of the barrack; and what with the
poor twilight and the irregular surface, walking was impossible.
The caged author resisted for a good while; but the chill of the
place struck deeper and deeper; and at length, with such reluctance
as you may fancy, he was driven to climb upon the bed and wrap
himself in the public covering. There, then, he lay upon the verge
of shivering, plunged in semi-darkness, wound in a garment whose
touch he dreaded like the plague, and (in a spirit far removed from
resignation) telling the roll of the insults he had just received.
These are not circumstances favourable to the muse.
Meantime (to look at the upper surface where the sun was still
shining and the guns of sportsmen were still noisy through the
tufted plain) the Cigarette was drawing near at his more
philosophic pace. In those days of liberty and health he was the
constant partner of the Arethusa, and had ample opportunity to
share in that gentleman's disfavour with the police. Many a bitter
bowl had he partaken of with that disastrous comrade. He was
himself a man born to float easily through life, his face and
manner artfully recommending him to all. There was but one
suspicious circumstance he could not carry off, and that was his
companion. He will not readily forget the Commissary in what is
ironically called the free town of Frankfort-on-the-Main ; nor the
Franco-Belgian frontier; nor the inn at La Fere; last, but not
least, he is pretty certain to remember Chatillon-sur-Loire.
At the town entry, the gendarme culled him like a wayside flower;
and a moment later, two persons, in a high state of surprise, were
confronted in the Commissary's office. For if the Cigarette was
surprised to be arrested, the Commissary was no less taken aback by
the appearance and appointments of his captive. Here was a man
about whom there could be no mistake: a man of an unquestionable
and unassailable manner, in apple-pie order, dressed not with
neatness merely but elegance, ready with his passport, at a word,
and well supplied with money: a man the Commissary would have
doffed his hat to on chance upon the highway; and this BEAU
CAVALIER unblushingly claimed the Arethusa for his comrade! The
conclusion of the interview was foregone; of its humours, I
remember only one. "Baronet?" demanded the magistrate, glancing up
BARON?" And when the Cigarette (his one mistake throughout the
interview) denied the soft impeachment, "ALORS," from the
Commissary, "CE N'EST PAS VOTRE PASSEPORT!" But these were
ineffectual thunders; he never dreamed of laying hands upon the
Cigarette; presently he fell into a mood of unrestrained
admiration, gloating over the contents of the knapsack, commanding
our friend's tailor. Ah, what an honoured guest was the Commissary
entertaining! what suitable clothes he wore for the warm weather!
what beautiful maps, what an attractive work of history he carried
in his knapsack! You are to understand there was now but one point
of difference between them: what was to be done with the Arethusa?
the Cigarette demanding his release, the Commissary still claiming
him as the dungeon's own. Now it chanced that the Cigarette had
passed some years of his life in Egypt, where he had made
acquaintance with two very bad things, cholera morbus and pashas;
and in the eye of the Commissary, as he fingered the volume of
Michelet, it seemed to our traveller there was something Turkish.
I pass over this lightly; it is highly possible there was some
misunderstanding, highly possible that the Commissary (charmed with
his visitor) supposed the attraction to be mutual and took for an
act of growing friendship what the Cigarette himself regarded as a
bribe. And at any rate, was there ever a bribe more singular than
an odd volume of Michelet's history? The work was promised him for
the morrow, before our departure; and presently after, either
because he had his price, or to show that he was not the man to be
behind in friendly offices - "EH BIEN," he said, "JE SUPPOSE QU'IL
FAUT LAHER VOIRE CAMARADE." And he tore up that feast of humour,
the unfinished PROCES-VERBAL. Ah, if he had only torn up instead
the Arethusa's roundels! There were many works burnt at
Alexandria, there are many treasured in the British Museum, that I
could better spare than the PROCES-VERBAL of Chatillon. Poor
bubuckled Commissary! I begin to be sorry that he never had his
Michelet: perceiving in him fine human traits, a broad-based
stupidity, a gusto in his magisterial functions, a taste for
letters, a ready admiration for the admirable. And if he did not
admire the Arethusa, he was not alone in that.
To the imprisoned one, shivering under the public covering, there
came suddenly a noise of bolts and chains. He sprang to his feet,
ready to welcome a companion in calamity; and instead of that, the
door was flung wide, the friendly gendarme appeared above in the
strong daylight, and with a magnificent gesture (being probably a
student of the drama) - "VOUS ETES LIBRE!" he said. None too soon
for the Arethusa. I doubt if he had been half-an-hour imprisoned;
but by the watch in a man's brain (which was the only watch he
carried) he should have been eight times longer; and he passed
forth with ecstasy up the cellar stairs into the healing warmth of
the afternoon sun; and the breath of the earth came as sweet as a
cow's into his nostril; and he heard again (and could have laughed
for pleasure) the concord of delicate noises that we call the hum
of life.
And here it might be thought that my history ended; but not so,
this was an act-drop and not the curtain. Upon what followed in
front of the barrack, since there was a lady in the case, I scruple
to expatiate. The wife of the Marechal-des-logis was a handsome
woman, and yet the Arethusa was not sorry to be gone from her
society. Something of her image, cool as a peach on that hot
afternoon, still lingers in his memory: yet more of her
conversation. "You have there a very fine parlour," said the poor
gentleman. - "Ah," said Madame la Marechale (des-logis), "you are
very well acquainted with such parlours!" And you should have seen
with what a hard and scornful eye she measured the vagabond before
her! I do not think he ever hated the Commissary; but before that
interview was at an end, he hated Madame la Marechale. His passion
(as I am led to understand by one who was present) stood confessed
in a burning eye, a pale cheek, and a trembling utterance; Madame
meanwhile tasting the joys of the matador, goading him with barbed
words and staring him coldly down.
It was certainly good to be away from this lady, and better still
to sit down to an excellent dinner in the inn. Here, too, the
despised travellers scraped acquaintance with their next neighbour,
a gentleman of these parts, returned from the day's sport, who had
the good taste to find pleasure in their society. The dinner at an
end, the gentleman proposed the acquaintance should be ripened in
the cafe.
The cafe was crowded with sportsmen conclamantly explaining to each
other and the world the smallness of their bags. About the centre
of the room, the Cigarette and the Arethusa sat with their new
acquaintance; a trio very well pleased, for the travellers (after
their late experience) were greedy of consideration, and their
sportsman rejoiced in a pair of patient listeners. Suddenly the
glass door flew open with a crash; the Marechal-des-logis appeared
in the interval, gorgeously belted and befrogged, entered without
salutation, strode up the room with a clang of spurs and weapons,
and disappeared through a door at the far end. Close at his heels
followed the Arethusa's gendarme of the afternoon, imitating, with
a nice shade of difference, the imperial bearing of his chief;
only, as he passed, he struck lightly with his open hand on the
shoulder of his late captive, and with that ringing, dramatic
utterance of which he had the secret - "SUIVEZ!" said he.
The arrest of the members, the oath of the Tennis Court, the
signing of the declaration of independence, Mark Antony's oration,
all the brave scenes of history, I conceive as having been not
unlike that evening in the cafe at Chatillon. Terror breathed upon
the assembly. A moment later, when the Arethusa had followed his
recaptors into the farther part of the house, the Cigarette found
himself alone with his coffee in a ring of empty chairs and tables,
all the lusty sportsmen huddled into corners, all their clamorous
voices hushed in whispering, all their eyes shooting at him
furtively as at a leper.
And the Arethusa? Well, he had a long, sometimes a trying,
interview in the back kitchen. The Marechal-des-logis, who was a
very handsome man, and I believe both intelligent and honest, had
no clear opinion on the case. He thought the Commissary had done
wrong, but he did not wish to get his subordinates into trouble;
and he proposed this, that, and the other, to all of which the
Arethusa (with a growing sense of his position) demurred.
"In short," suggested the Arethusa, "you want to wash your hands of
further responsibility? Well, then, let me go to Paris."
The Marechal-des-logis looked at his watch.
"You may leave," said he, "by the ten o'clock train for Paris."
And at noon the next day the travellers were telling their
misadventure in the dining-room at Siron's.
MANY writers have vigorously described the pains of the first day
or the first night at school; to a boy of any enterprise, I
believe, they are more often agreeably exciting. Misery - or at
least misery unrelieved - is confined to another period, to the
days of suspense and the "dreadful looking-for" of departure; when
the old life is running to an end, and the new life, with its new
interests, not yet begun: and to the pain of an imminent parting,
there is added the unrest of a state of conscious pre-existence.
The area railings, the beloved shop-window, the smell of semisuburban
tanpits, the song of the church bells upon a Sunday, the
thin, high voices of compatriot children in a playing-field - what
a sudden, what an overpowering pathos breathes to him from each
familiar circumstance! The assaults of sorrow come not from
within, as it seems to him, but from without. I was proud and glad
to go to school; had I been let alone, I could have borne up like
any hero; but there was around me, in all my native town, a
conspiracy of lamentation: "Poor little boy, he is going away -
unkind little boy, he is going to leave us"; so the unspoken
burthen followed me as I went, with yearning and reproach. And at
length, one melancholy afternoon in the early autumn, and at a
place where it seems to me, looking back, it must be always autumn
and generally Sunday, there came suddenly upon the face of all I
saw - the long empty road, the lines of the tall houses, the church
upon the hill, the woody hillside garden - a look of such a
piercing sadness that my heart died; and seating myself on a doorstep,
I shed tears of miserable sympathy. A benevolent cat
cumbered me the while with consolations - we two were alone in all
that was visible of the London Road: two poor waifs who had each
tasted sorrow - and she fawned upon the weeper, and gambolled for
his entertainment, watching the effect it seemed, with motherly
For the sake of the cat, God bless her! I confessed at home the
story of my weakness; and so it comes about that I owed a certain
journey, and the reader owes the present paper, to a cat in the
London Road. It was judged, if I had thus brimmed over on the
public highway, some change of scene was (in the medical sense)
indicated; my father at the time was visiting the harbour lights of
Scotland; and it was decided he should take me along with him
around a portion of the shores of Fife; my first professional tour,
my first journey in the complete character of man, without the help
of petticoats.
The Kingdom of Fife (that royal province) may be observed by the
curious on the map, occupying a tongue of land between the firths
of Forth and Tay. It may be continually seen from many parts of
Edinburgh (among the rest, from the windows of my father's house)
dying away into the distance and the easterly HAAR with one smoky
seaside town beyond another, or in winter printing on the gray
heaven some glittering hill-tops. It has no beauty to recommend
it, being a low, sea-salted, wind-vexed promontory; trees very
rare, except (as common on the east coast) along the dens of
rivers; the fields well cultivated, I understand, but not lovely to
the eye. It is of the coast I speak: the interior may be the
garden of Eden. History broods over that part of the world like
the easterly HAAR. Even on the map, its long row of Gaelic placenames
bear testimony to an old and settled race. Of these little
towns, posted along the shore as close as sedges, each with its bit
of harbour, its old weather-beaten church or public building, its
flavour of decayed prosperity and decaying fish, not one but has
its legend, quaint or tragic: Dunfermline, in whose royal towers
the king may be still observed (in the ballad) drinking the bloodred
wine; somnolent Inverkeithing, once the quarantine of Leith;
Aberdour, hard by the monastic islet of Inchcolm, hard by
Donibristle where the "bonny face was spoiled"; Burntisland where,
when Paul Jones was off the coast, the Reverend Mr. Shirra had a
table carried between tidemarks, and publicly prayed against the
rover at the pitch of his voice and his broad lowland dialect;
Kinghorn, where Alexander "brak's neckbane" and left Scotland to
the English wars; Kirkcaldy, where the witches once prevailed
extremely and sank tall ships and honest mariners in the North Sea;
Dysart, famous - well famous at least to me for the Dutch ships
that lay in its harbour, painted like toys and with pots of flowers
and cages of song-birds in the cabin windows, and for one
particular Dutch skipper who would sit all day in slippers on the
break of the poop, smoking a long German pipe; Wemyss (pronounce
Weems) with its bat-haunted caves, where the Chevalier Johnstone,
on his flight from Culloden, passed a night of superstitious
terrors; Leven, a bald, quite modern place, sacred to summer
visitors, whence there has gone but yesterday the tall figure and
the white locks of the last Englishman in Delhi, my uncle Dr.
Balfour, who was still walking his hospital rounds, while the
troopers from Meerut clattered and cried "Deen Deen" along the
streets of the imperial city, and Willoughby mustered his handful
of heroes at the magazine, and the nameless brave one in the
telegraph office was perhaps already fingering his last despatch;
and just a little beyond Leven, Largo Law and the smoke of Largo
town mounting about its feet, the town of Alexander Selkirk, better
known under the name of Robinson Crusoe. So on, the list might be
pursued (only for private reasons, which the reader will shortly
have an opportunity to guess) by St. Monance, and Pittenweem, and
the two Anstruthers, and Cellardyke, and Crail, where Primate
Sharpe was once a humble and innocent country minister: on to the
heel of the land, to Fife Ness, overlooked by a sea-wood of matted
elders and the quaint old mansion of Balcomie, itself overlooking
but the breach or the quiescence of the deep - the Carr Rock beacon
rising close in front, and as night draws in, the star of the
Inchcape reef springing up on the one hand, and the star of the May
Island on the other, and farther off yet a third and a greater on
the craggy foreland of St. Abb's. And but a little way round the
corner of the land, imminent itself above the sea, stands the gem
of the province and the light of mediaeval Scotland, St. Andrews,
where the great Cardinal Beaton held garrison against the world,
and the second of the name and title perished (as you may read in
Knox's jeering narrative) under the knives of true-blue
Protestants, and to this day (after so many centuries) the current
voice of the professor is not hushed.
Here it was that my first tour of inspection began, early on a
bleak easterly morning. There was a crashing run of sea upon the
shore, I recollect, and my father and the man of the harbour light
must sometimes raise their voices to be audible. Perhaps it is
from this circumstance, that I always imagine St. Andrews to be an
ineffectual seat of learning, and the sound of the east wind and
the bursting surf to linger in its drowsy classrooms and confound
the utterance of the professor, until teacher and taught are alike
drowned in oblivion, and only the sea-gull beats on the windows and
the draught of the sea-air rustles in the pages of the open
lecture. But upon all this, and the romance of St. Andrews in
general, the reader must consult the works of Mr. Andrew Lang; who
has written of it but the other day in his dainty prose and with
his incommunicable humour, and long ago in one of his best poems,
with grace, and local truth, and a note of unaffected pathos. Mr.
Lang knows all about the romance, I say, and the educational
advantages, but I doubt if he had turned his attention to the
harbour lights; and it may be news even to him, that in the year
1863 their case was pitiable. Hanging about with the east wind
humming in my teeth, and my hands (I make no doubt) in my pockets,
I looked for the first time upon that tragi-comedy of the visiting
engineer which I have seen so often re-enacted on a more important
stage. Eighty years ago, I find my grandfather writing: "It is
the most painful thing that can occur to me to have a
correspondence of this kind with any of the keepers, and when I
come to the Light House, instead of having the satisfaction to meet
them with approbation and welcome their Family, it is distressing
when one-is obliged to put on a most angry countenance and
demeanour." This painful obligation has been hereditary in my
race. I have myself, on a perfectly amateur and unauthorised
inspection of Turnberry Point, bent my brows upon the keeper on the
question of storm-panes; and felt a keen pang of self-reproach,
when we went down stairs again and I found he was making a coffin
for his infant child; and then regained my equanimity with the
thought that I had done the man a service, and when the proper
inspector came, he would be readier with his panes. The human race
is perhaps credited with more duplicity than it deserves. The
visitation of a lighthouse at least is a business of the most
transparent nature. As soon as the boat grates on the shore, and
the keepers step forward in their uniformed coats, the very slouch
of the fellows' shoulders tells their story, and the engineer may
begin at once to assume his "angry countenance." Certainly the
brass of the handrail will be clouded; and if the brass be not
immaculate, certainly all will be to match - the reflectors
scratched, the spare lamp unready, the storm-panes in the
storehouse. If a light is not rather more than middling good, it
will be radically bad. Mediocrity (except in literature) appears
to be unattainable by man. But of course the unfortunate of St.
Andrews was only an amateur, he was not in the Service, he had no
uniform coat, he was (I believe) a plumber by his trade and stood
(in the mediaeval phrase) quite out of the danger of my father; but
he had a painful interview for all that, and perspired extremely.
From St. Andrews, we drove over Magus Muir. My father had
announced we were "to post," and the phrase called up in my hopeful
mind visions of top-boots and the pictures in Rowlandson's DANCE OF
DEATH; but it was only a jingling cab that came to the inn door,
such as I had driven in a thousand times at the low price of one
shilling on the streets of Edinburgh. Beyond this disappointment,
I remember nothing of that drive. It is a road I have often
travelled, and of not one of these journeys do I remember any
single trait. The fact has not been suffered to encroach on the
truth of the imagination. I still see Magus Muir two hundred years
ago; a desert place, quite uninclosed; in the midst, the primate's
carriage fleeing at the gallop; the assassins loose-reined in
pursuit, Burley Balfour, pistol in hand, among the first. No scene
of history has ever written itself so deeply on my mind; not
because Balfour, that questionable zealot, was an ancestral cousin
of my own; not because of the pleadings of the victim and his
daughter; not even because of the live bum-bee that flew out of
Sharpe's 'bacco-box, thus clearly indicating his complicity with
Satan; nor merely because, as it was after all a crime of a fine
religious flavour, it figured in Sunday books and afforded a
grateful relief from MINISTERING CHILDREN or the MEMOIRS OF MRS.
KATHATINE WINSLOWE. The figure that always fixed my attention is
that of Hackston of Rathillet, sitting in the saddle with his cloak
about his mouth, and through all that long, bungling, vociferous
hurly-burly, revolving privately a case of conscience. He would
take no hand in the deed, because he had a private spite against
the victim, and "that action" must be sullied with no suggestion of
a worldly motive; on the other hand, "that action," in itself, was
highly justified, he had cast in his lot with "the actors," and he
must stay there, inactive but publicly sharing the responsibility.
"You are a gentleman - you will protect me!" cried the wounded old
man, crawling towards him. "I will never lay a hand on you," said
Hackston, and put his cloak about his mouth. It is an old
temptation with me, to pluck away that cloak and see the face - to
open that bosom and to read the heart. With incomplete romances
about Hackston, the drawers of my youth were lumbered. I read him
up in every printed book that I could lay my hands on. I even dug
among the Wodrow manuscripts, sitting shame-faced in the very room
where my hero had been tortured two centuries before, and keenly
conscious of my youth in the midst of other and (as I fondly
thought) more gifted students. All was vain: that he had passed a
riotous nonage, that he was a zealot, that he twice displayed
(compared with his grotesque companions) some tincture of soldierly
resolution and even of military common sense, and that he figured
memorably in the scene on Magus Muir, so much and no more could I
make out. But whenever I cast my eyes backward, it is to see him
like a landmark on the plains of history, sitting with his cloak
about his mouth, inscrutable. How small a thing creates an
immortality! I do not think he can have been a man entirely
commonplace; but had he not thrown his cloak about his mouth, or
had the witnesses forgot to chronicle the action, he would not thus
have haunted the imagination of my boyhood, and to-day he would
scarce delay me for a paragraph. An incident, at once romantic and
dramatic, which at once awakes the judgment and makes a picture for
the eye, how little do we realise its perdurable power! Perhaps no
one does so but the author, just as none but he appreciates the
influence of jingling words; so that he looks on upon life, with
something of a covert smile, seeing people led by what they fancy
to be thoughts and what are really the accustomed artifices of his
own trade, or roused by what they take to be principles and are
really picturesque effects. In a pleasant book about a schoolclass
club, Colonel Fergusson has recently told a little anecdote.
A "Philosophical Society" was formed by some Academy boys - among
them, Colonel Fergusson himself, Fleeming Jenkin, and Andrew
Wilson, the Christian Buddhist and author of THE ABODE OF SNOW.
Before these learned pundits, one member laid the following
ingenious problem: "What would be the result of putting a pound of
potassium in a pot of porter?" "I should think there would be a
number of interesting bi-products," said a smatterer at my elbow;
but for me the tale itself has a bi-product, and stands as a type
of much that is most human. For this inquirer who conceived
himself to burn with a zeal entirely chemical, was really immersed
in a design of a quite different nature; unconsciously to his own
recently breeched intelligence, he was engaged in literature.
Putting, pound, potassium, pot, porter; initial p, mediant t - that
was his idea, poor little boy! So with politics and that which
excites men in the present, so with history and that which rouses
them in the past: there lie at the root of what appears, most
serious unsuspected elements.
The triple town of Anstruther Wester, Anstruther Easter, and
Cellardyke, all three Royal Burghs - or two Royal Burghs and a less
distinguished suburb, I forget which - lies continuously along the
seaside, and boasts of either two or three separate parish
churches, and either two or three separate harbours. These
ambiguities are painful; but the fact is (although it argue me
uncultured), I am but poorly posted upon Cellardyke. My business
lay in the two Anstruthers. A tricklet of a stream divides them,
spanned by a bridge; and over the bridge at the time of my
knowledge, the celebrated Shell House stood outpost on the west.
This had been the residence of an agreeable eccentric; during his
fond tenancy, he had illustrated the outer walls, as high (if I
remember rightly) as the roof, with elaborate patterns and
pictures, and snatches of verse in the vein of EXEGI MONUMENTUM;
shells and pebbles, artfully contrasted and conjoined, had been his
medium; and I like to think of him standing back upon the bridge,
when all was finished, drinking in the general effect and (like
Gibbon) already lamenting his employment.
The same bridge saw another sight in the seventeenth century. Mr.
Thomson, the "curat" of Anstruther Easter, was a man highly
obnoxious to the devout: in the first place, because he was a
"curat"; in the second place, because he was a person of irregular
and scandalous life; and in the third place, because he was
generally suspected of dealings with the Enemy of Man. These three
disqualifications, in the popular literature of the time, go hand
in hand; but the end of Mr. Thomson was a thing quite by itself,
and in the proper phrase, a manifest judgment. He had been at a
friend's house in Anstruther Wester, where (and elsewhere, I
suspect) he had partaken of the bottle; indeed, to put the thing in
our cold modern way, the reverend gentleman was on the brink of
DELIRIUM TREMENS. It was a dark night, it seems; a little lassie
came carrying a lantern to fetch the curate home; and away they
went down the street of Anstruther Wester, the lantern swinging a
bit in the child's hand, the barred lustre tossing up and down
along the front of slumbering houses, and Mr. Thomson not
altogether steady on his legs nor (to all appearance) easy in his
mind. The pair had reached the middle of the bridge when (as I
conceive the scene) the poor tippler started in some baseless fear
and looked behind him; the child, already shaken by the minister's
strange behaviour, started also; in so doing, she would jerk the
lantern; and for the space of a moment the lights and the shadows
would be all confounded. Then it was that to the unhinged toper
and the twittering child, a huge bulk of blackness seemed to sweep
down, to pass them close by as they stood upon the bridge, and to
vanish on the farther side in the general darkness of the night.
"Plainly the devil come for Mr. Thomson!" thought the child. What
Mr. Thomson thought himself, we have no ground of knowledge; but he
fell upon his knees in the midst of the bridge like a man praying.
On the rest of the journey to the manse, history is silent; but
when they came to the door, the poor caitiff, taking the lantern
from the child, looked upon her with so lost a countenance that her
little courage died within her, and she fled home screaming to her
parents. Not a soul would venture out; all that night, the
minister dwelt alone with his terrors in the manse; and when the
day dawned, and men made bold to go about the streets, they found
the devil had come indeed for Mr. Thomson.
This manse of Anstruther Easter has another and a more cheerful
association. It was early in the morning, about a century before
the days of Mr. Thomson, that his predecessor was called out of bed
to welcome a Grandee of Spain, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, just
landed in the harbour underneath. But sure there was never seen a
more decayed grandee; sure there was never a duke welcomed from a
stranger place of exile. Half-way between Orkney and Shetland,
there lies a certain isle; on the one hand the Atlantic, on the
other the North Sea, bombard its pillared cliffs; sore-eyed, shortliving,
inbred fishers and their families herd in its few huts; in
the graveyard pieces of wreck-wood stand for monuments; there is
nowhere a more inhospitable spot. BELLE-ISLE-EN-MER - Fair-Isleat-
Sea - that is a name that has always rung in my mind's ear like
music; but the only "Fair Isle" on which I ever set my foot, was
this unhomely, rugged turret-top of submarine sierras. Here, when
his ship was broken, my lord Duke joyfully got ashore; here for
long months he and certain of his men were harboured; and it was
from this durance that he landed at last to be welcomed (as well as
such a papist deserved, no doubt) by the godly incumbent of
Anstruther Easter; and after the Fair Isle, what a fine city must
that have appeared! and after the island diet, what a hospitable
spot the minister's table! And yet he must have lived on friendly
terms with his outlandish hosts. For to this day there still
survives a relic of the long winter evenings when the sailors of
the great Armada crouched about the hearths of the Fair-Islanders,
the planks of their own lost galleon perhaps lighting up the scene,
and the gale and the surf that beat about the coast contributing
their melancholy voices. All the folk of the north isles are great
artificers of knitting: the Fair-Islanders alone dye their fabrics
in the Spanish manner. To this day, gloves and nightcaps,
innocently decorated, may be seen for sale in the Shetland
warehouse at Edinburgh, or on the Fair Isle itself in the
catechist's house; and to this day, they tell the story of the Duke
of Medina Sidonia's adventure.
It would seem as if the Fair Isle had some attraction for "persons
of quality." When I landed there myself, an elderly gentleman,
unshaved, poorly attired, his shoulders wrapped in a plaid, was
seen walking to and fro, with a book in his hand, upon the beach.
He paid no heed to our arrival, which we thought a strange thing in
itself; but when one of the officers of the PHAROS, passing
narrowly by him, observed his book to be a Greek Testament, our
wonder and interest took a higher flight. The catechist was crossexamined;
he said the gentleman had been put across some time
before in Mr. Bruce of Sumburgh's schooner, the only link between
the Fair Isle and the rest of the world; and that he held services
and was doing "good." So much came glibly enough; but when pressed
a little farther, the catechist displayed embarrassment. A
singular diffidence appeared upon his face: "They tell me," said
he, in low tones, "that he's a lord." And a lord he was; a peer of
the realm pacing that inhospitable beach with his Greek Testament,
and his plaid about his shoulders, set upon doing good, as he
understood it, worthy man! And his grandson, a good-looking little
boy, much better dressed than the lordly evangelist, and speaking
with a silken English accent very foreign to the scene, accompanied
me for a while in my exploration of the island. I suppose this
little fellow is now my lord, and wonder how much he remembers of
the Fair Isle. Perhaps not much; for he seemed to accept very
quietly his savage situation; and under such guidance, it is like
that this was not his first nor yet his last adventure.
ANSTRUTHER is a place sacred to the Muse; she inspired (really to a
considerable extent) Tennant's vernacular poem ANST'ER FAIR; and I
have there waited upon her myself with much devotion. This was
when I came as a young man to glean engineering experience from the
building of the breakwater. What I gleaned, I am sure I do not
know; but indeed I had already my own private determination to be
an author; I loved the art of words and the appearances of life;
PIERRES PERDUES, and even the thrilling question of the STRINGCOURSE,
interested me only (if they interested me at all) as
properties for some possible romance or as words to add to my
vocabulary. To grow a little catholic is the compensation of
years; youth is one-eyed; and in those days, though I haunted the
breakwater by day, and even loved the place for the sake of the
sunshine, the thrilling seaside air, the wash of waves on the seaface,
the green glimmer of the divers' helmets far below, and the
musical chinking of the masons, my one genuine preoccupation lay
elsewhere, and my only industry was in the hours when I was not on
duty. I lodged with a certain Bailie Brown, a carpenter by trade;
and there, as soon as dinner was despatched, in a chamber scented
with dry rose-leaves, drew in my chair to the table and proceeded
to pour forth literature, at such a speed, and with such
intimations of early death and immortality, as I now look back upon
with wonder. Then it was that I wrote VOCES FIDELIUM, a series of
dramatic monologues in verse; then that I indited the bulk of a
covenanting novel - like so many others, never finished. Late I
sat into the night, toiling (as I thought) under the very dart of
death, toiling to leave a memory behind me. I feel moved to thrust
aside the curtain of the years, to hail that poor feverish idiot,
to bid him go to bed and clap VOCES FIDELIUM on the fire before he
goes; so clear does he appear before me, sitting there between his
candles in the rose-scented room and the late night; so ridiculous
a picture (to my elderly wisdom) does the fool present! But he was
driven to his bed at last without miraculous intervention; and the
manner of his driving sets the last touch upon this eminently
youthful business. The weather was then so warm that I must keep
the windows open; the night without was populous with moths. As
the late darkness deepened, my literary tapers beaconed forth more
brightly; thicker and thicker came the dusty night-fliers, to
gyrate for one brilliant instant round the flame and fall in
agonies upon my paper. Flesh and blood could not endure the
spectacle; to capture immortality was doubtless a noble enterprise,
but not to capture it at such a cost of suffering; and out would go
the candles, and off would I go to bed in the darkness raging to
think that the blow might fall on the morrow, and there was VOCES
FIDELIUM still incomplete. Well, the moths are - all gone, and
VOCES FIDELIUM along with them; only the fool is still on hand and
practises new follies.
Only one thing in connection with the harbour tempted me, and that
was the diving, an experience I burned to taste of. But this was
not to be, at least in Anstruther; and the subject involves a
change of scene to the sub-arctic town of Wick. You can never have
dwelt in a country more unsightly than that part of Caithness, the
land faintly swelling, faintly falling, not a tree, not a hedgerow,
the fields divided by single slate stones set upon their edge, the
wind always singing in your ears and (down the long road that led
nowhere) thrumming in the telegraph wires. Only as you approached
the coast was there anything to stir the heart. The plateau broke
down to the North Sea in formidable cliffs, the tall out-stacks
rose like pillars ringed about with surf, the coves were overbrimmed
with clamorous froth, the sea-birds screamed, the wind sang
in the thyme on the cliff's edge; here and there, small ancient
castles toppled on the brim; here and there, it was possible to dip
into a dell of shelter, where you might lie and tell yourself you
were a little warm, and hear (near at hand) the whin-pods bursting
in the afternoon sun, and (farther off) the rumour of the turbulent
sea. As for Wick itself, it is one of the meanest of man's towns,
and situate certainly on the baldest of God's bays. It lives for
herring, and a strange sight it is to see (of an afternoon) the
heights of Pulteney blackened by seaward-looking fishers, as when a
city crowds to a review - or, as when bees have swarmed, the ground
is horrible with lumps and clusters; and a strange sight, and a
beautiful, to see the fleet put silently out against a rising moon,
the sea-line rough as a wood with sails, and ever and again and one
after another, a boat flitting swiftly by the silver disk. This
mass of fishers, this great fleet of boats, is out of all
proportion to the town itself; and the oars are manned and the nets
hauled by immigrants from the Long Island (as we call the outer
Hebrides), who come for that season only, and depart again, if "the
take" be poor, leaving debts behind them. In a bad year, the end
of the herring fishery is therefore an exciting time; fights are
common, riots often possible; an apple knocked from a child's hand
was once the signal for something like a war; and even when I was
there, a gunboat lay in the bay to assist the authorities. To
contrary interests, it should be observed, the curse of Babel is
here added; the Lews men are Gaelic speakers. Caithness has
adopted English; an odd circumstance, if you reflect that both must
be largely Norsemen by descent. I remember seeing one of the
strongest instances of this division: a thing like a Punch-and-
Judy box erected on the flat grave-stones of the churchyard; from
the hutch or proscenium - I know not what to call it - an eldritchlooking
preacher laying down the law in Gaelic about some one of
the name of POWL, whom I at last divined to be the apostle to the
Gentiles; a large congregation of the Lews men very devoutly
listening; and on the outskirts of the crowd, some of the town's
children (to whom the whole affair was Greek and Hebrew) profanely
playing tigg. The same descent, the same country, the same narrow
sect of the same religion, and all these bonds made very largely
nugatory by an accidental difference of dialect!
Into the bay of Wick stretched the dark length of the unfinished
breakwater, in its cage of open staging; the travellers (like
frames of churches) over-plumbing all; and away at the extreme end,
the divers toiling unseen on the foundation. On a platform of
loose planks, the assistants turned their air-mills; a stone might
be swinging between wind and water; underneath the swell ran gaily;
and from time to time, a mailed dragon with a window-glass snout
came dripping up the ladder. Youth is a blessed season after all;
my stay at Wick was in the year of VOCES FIDELIUM and the rose-leaf
room at Bailie Brown's; and already I did not care two straws for
literary glory. Posthumous ambition perhaps requires an atmosphere
of roses; and the more rugged excitant of Wick east winds had made
another boy of me. To go down in the diving-dress, that was my
absorbing fancy; and with the countenance of a certain handsome
scamp of a diver, Bob Bain by name, I gratified the whim.
It was gray, harsh, easterly weather, the swell ran pretty high,
and out in the open there were "skipper's daughters," when I found
myself at last on the diver's platform, twenty pounds of lead upon
each foot and my whole person swollen with ply and ply of woollen
underclothing. One moment, the salt wind was whistling round my
night-capped head; the next, I was crushed almost double under the
weight of the helmet. As that intolerable burthern was laid upon
me, I could have found it in my heart (only for shame's sake) to
cry off from the whole enterprise. But it was too late. The
attendants began to turn the hurdy-gurdy, and the air to whistle
through the tube; some one screwed in the barred window of the
vizor; and I was cut off in a moment from my fellow-men; standing
there in their midst, but quite divorced from intercourse: a
creature deaf and dumb, pathetically looking forth upon them from a
climate of his own. Except that I could move and feel, I was like
a man fallen in a catalepsy. But time was scarce given me to
realise my isolation; the weights were hung upon my back and
breast, the signal rope was thrust into my unresisting hand; and
setting a twenty-pound foot upon the ladder, I began ponderously to
Some twenty rounds below the platform, twilight fell. Looking up,
I saw a low green heaven mottled with vanishing bells of white;
looking around, except for the weedy spokes and shafts of the
ladder, nothing but a green gloaming, somewhat opaque but very
restful and delicious. Thirty rounds lower, I stepped off on the
PIERRES PERDUES of the foundation; a dumb helmeted figure took me
by the hand, and made a gesture (as I read it) of encouragement;
and looking in at the creature's window, I beheld the face of Bain.
There we were, hand to hand and (when it pleased us) eye to eye;
and either might have burst himself with shouting, and not a
whisper come to his companion's hearing. Each, in his own little
world of air, stood incommunicably separate.
Bob had told me ere this a little tale, a five minutes' drama at
the bottom of the sea, which at that moment possibly shot across my
mind. He was down with another, settling a stone of the sea-wall.
They had it well adjusted, Bob gave the signal, the scissors were
slipped, the stone set home; and it was time to turn to something
else. But still his companion remained bowed over the block like a
mourner on a tomb, or only raised himself to make absurd
contortions and mysterious signs unknown to the vocabulary of the
diver. There, then, these two stood for awhile, like the dead and
the living; till there flashed a fortunate thought into Bob's mind,
and he stooped, peered through the window of that other world, and
beheld the face of its inhabitant wet with streaming tears. Ah!
the man was in pain! And Bob, glancing downward, saw what was the
trouble: the block had been lowered on the foot of that
unfortunate - he was caught alive at the bottom of the sea under
fifteen tons of rock.
That two men should handle a stone so heavy, even swinging in the
scissors, may appear strange to the inexpert. These must bear in
mind the great density of the water of the sea, and the surprising
results of transplantation to that medium. To understand a little
what these are, and how a man's weight, so far from being an
encumbrance, is the very ground of his agility, was the chief
lesson of my submarine experience. The knowledge came upon me by
degrees. As I began to go forward with the hand of my estranged
companion, a world of tumbled stones was visible, pillared with the
weedy uprights of the staging: overhead, a flat roof of green: a
little in front, the sea-wall, like an unfinished rampart. And
presently in our upward progress, Bob motioned me to leap upon a
stone; I looked to see if he were possibly in earnest, and he only
signed to me the more imperiously. Now the block stood six feet
high; it would have been quite a leap to me unencumbered; with the
breast and back weights, and the twenty pounds upon each foot, and
the staggering load of the helmet, the thing was out of reason. I
laughed aloud in my tomb; and to prove to Bob how far he was
astray, I gave a little impulse from my toes. Up I soared like a
bird, my companion soaring at my side. As high as to the stone,
and then higher, I pursued my impotent and empty flight. Even when
the strong arm of Bob had checked my shoulders, my heels continued
their ascent; so that I blew out sideways like an autumn leaf, and
must be hauled in, hand over hand, as sailors haul in the slack of
a sail, and propped upon my feet again like an intoxicated sparrow.
Yet a little higher on the foundation, and we began to be affected
by the bottom of the swell, running there like a strong breeze of
wind. Or so I must suppose; for, safe in my cushion of air, I was
conscious of no impact; only swayed idly like a weed, and was now
borne helplessly abroad, and now swiftly - and yet with dream-like
gentleness - impelled against my guide. So does a child's balloon
divagate upon the currents of the air, and touch, and slide off
again from every obstacle. So must have ineffectually swung, so
resented their inefficiency, those light crowds that followed the
Star of Hades, and uttered exiguous voices in the land beyond
There was something strangely exasperating, as well as strangely
wearying, in these uncommanded evolutions. It is bitter to return
to infancy, to be supported, and directed, and perpetually set upon
your feet, by the hand of some one else. The air besides, as it is
supplied to you by the busy millers on the platform, closes the
eustachian tubes and keeps the neophyte perpetually swallowing,
till his throat is grown so dry that he can swallow no longer. And
for all these reasons-although I had a fine, dizzy, muddle-headed
joy in my surroundings, and longed, and tried, and always failed,
to lay hands on the fish that darted here and there about me, swift
as humming-birds - yet I fancy I was rather relieved than otherwise
when Bain brought me back to the ladder and signed to me to mount.
And there was one more experience before me even then. Of a
sudden, my ascending head passed into the trough of a swell. Out
of the green, I shot at once into a glory of rosy, almost of
sanguine light - the multitudinous seas incarnadined, the heaven
above a vault of crimson. And then the glory faded into the hard,
ugly daylight of a Caithness autumn, with a low sky, a gray sea,
and a whistling wind.
Bob Bain had five shillings for his trouble, and I had done what I
desired. It was one of the best things I got from my education as
an engineer: of which, however, as a way of life, I wish to speak
with sympathy. It takes a man into the open air; it keeps him
hanging about harbour-sides, which is the richest form of idling;
it carries him to wild islands; it gives him a taste of the genial
dangers of the sea; it supplies him with dexterities to exercise;
it makes demands upon his ingenuity; it will go far to cure him of
any taste (if ever he had one) for the miserable life of cities.
And when it has done so, it carries him back and shuts him in an
office! From the roaring skerry and the wet thwart of the tossing
boat, he passes to the stool and desk; and with a memory full of
ships, and seas, and perilous headlands, and the shining pharos, he
must apply his long-sighted eyes to the petty niceties of drawing,
or measure his inaccurate mind with several pages of consecutive
figures. He is a wise youth, to be sure, who can balance one part
of genuine life against two parts of drudgery between four walls,
and for the sake of the one, manfully accept the other.
Wick was scarce an eligible place of stay. But how much better it
was to hang in the cold wind upon the pier, to go down with Bob
Bain among the roots of the staging, to be all day in a boat
coiling a wet rope and shouting orders - not always very wise -
than to be warm and dry, and dull, and dead-alive, in the most
comfortable office. And Wick itself had in those days a note of
originality. It may have still, but I misdoubt it much. The old
minister of Keiss would not preach, in these degenerate times, for
an hour and a half upon the clock. The gipsies must be gone from
their cavern; where you might see, from the mouth, the women
tending their fire, like Meg Merrilies, and the men sleeping off
their coarse potations; and where, in winter gales, the surf would
beleaguer them closely, bursting in their very door. A traveller
to-day upon the Thurso coach would scarce observe a little cloud of
smoke among the moorlands, and be told, quite openly, it marked a
private still. He would not indeed make that journey, for there is
now no Thurso coach. And even if he could, one little thing that
happened to me could never happen to him, or not with the same
trenchancy of contrast.
We had been upon the road all evening; the coach-top was crowded
with Lews fishers going home, scarce anything but Gaelic had
sounded in my ears; and our way had lain throughout over a moorish
country very northern to behold. Latish at night, though it was
still broad day in our subarctic latitude, we came down upon the
shores of the roaring Pentland Firth, that grave of mariners; on
one hand, the cliffs of Dunnet Head ran seaward; in front was the
little bare, white town of Castleton, its streets full of blowing
sand; nothing beyond, but the North Islands, the great deep, and
the perennial ice-fields of the Pole. And here, in the last
imaginable place, there sprang up young outlandish voices and a
chatter of some foreign speech; and I saw, pursuing the coach with
its load of Hebridean fishers - as they had pursued VETTURINI up
the passes of the Apennines or perhaps along the grotto under
Virgil's tomb - two little dark-eyed, white-toothed Italian
vagabonds, of twelve to fourteen years of age, one with a hurdygurdy,
the other with a cage of white mice. The coach passed on,
and their small Italian chatter died in the distance; and I was
left to marvel how they had wandered into that country, and how
they fared in it, and what they thought of it, and when (if ever)
they should see again the silver wind-breaks run among the olives,
and the stone-pine stand guard upon Etruscan sepulchres.
Upon any American, the strangeness of this incident is somewhat
lost. For as far back as he goes in his own land, he will find
some alien camping there; the Cornish miner, the French or Mexican
half-blood, the negro in the South, these are deep in the woods and
far among the mountains. But in an old, cold, and rugged country
such as mine, the days of immigration are long at an end; and away
up there, which was at that time far beyond the northernmost
extreme of railways, hard upon the shore of that ill-omened strait
of whirlpools, in a land of moors where no stranger came, unless it
should be a sportsman to shoot grouse or an antiquary to decipher
runes, the presence of these small pedestrians struck the mind as
though a bird-of-paradise had risen from the heather or an
albatross come fishing in the bay of Wick. They were as strange to
their surroundings as my lordly evangelist or the old Spanish
grandee on the Fair Isle.
THESE boys congregated every autumn about a certain easterly
fisher-village, where they tasted in a high degree the glory of
existence. The place was created seemingly on purpose for the
diversion of young gentlemen. A street or two of houses, mostly
red and many of, them tiled; a number of fine trees clustered about
the manse and the kirkyard, and turning the chief street into a
shady alley; many little gardens more than usually bright with
flowers; nets a-drying, and fisher-wives scolding in the backward
parts; a smell of fish, a genial smell of seaweed; whiffs of
blowing sand at the street-corners; shops with golf-balls and
bottled lollipops; another shop with penny pickwicks (that
remarkable cigar) and the LONDON JOURNAL, dear to me for its
startling pictures, and a few novels, dear for their suggestive
names: such, as well as memory serves me, were the ingredients of
the town. These, you are to conceive posted on a spit between two
sandy bays, and sparsely flanked with villas enough for the boys to
lodge in with their subsidiary parents, not enough (not yet enough)
to cocknify the scene: a haven in the rocks in front: in front of
that, a file of gray islets: to the left, endless links and sand
wreaths, a wilderness of hiding-holes, alive with popping rabbits
and soaring gulls: to the right, a range of seaward crags, one
rugged brow beyond another; the ruins of a mighty and ancient
fortress on the brink of one; coves between - now charmed into
sunshine quiet, now whistling with wind and clamorous with bursting
surges; the dens and sheltered hollows redolent of thyme and
southernwood, the air at the cliff's edge brisk and clean and
pungent of the sea - in front of all, the Bass Rock, tilted seaward
like a doubtful bather, the surf ringing it with white, the solangeese
hanging round its summit like a great and glittering smoke.
This choice piece of seaboard was sacred, besides, to the wrecker;
and the Bass, in the eye of fancy, still flew the colours of King
James; and in the ear of fancy the arches of Tantallon still rang
with horse-shoe iron, and echoed to the commands of Bell-the-Cat.
There was nothing to mar your days, if you were a boy summering in
that part, but the embarrassment of pleasure. You might golf if
you wanted; but I seem to have been better employed. You might
secrete yourself in the Lady's Walk, a certain sunless dingle of
elders, all mossed over by the damp as green as grass, and dotted
here and there by the stream-side with roofless walls, the cold
homes of anchorites. To fit themselves for life, and with a
special eye to acquire the art of smoking, it was even common for
the boys to harbour there; and you might have seen a single penny
pickwick, honestly shared in lengths with a blunt knife, bestrew
the glen with these apprentices. Again, you might join our fishing
parties, where we sat perched as thick as solan-geese, a covey of
little anglers, boy and girl, angling over each other's heads, to
the to the much entanglement of lines and loss of podleys and
consequent shrill recrimination - shrill as the geese themselves.
Indeed, had that been all, you might have done this often; but
though fishing be a fine pastime, the podley is scarce to be
regarded as a dainty for the table; and it was a point of honour
that a boy should eat all that he had taken. Or again, you might
climb the Law, where the whale's jawbone stood landmark in the
buzzing wind, and behold the face of many counties, and the smoke
and spires of many towns, and the sails of distant ships. You
might bathe, now in the flaws of fine weather, that we pathetically
call our summer, now in a gale of wind, with the sand scourging
your bare hide, your clothes thrashing abroad from underneath their
guardian stone, the froth of the great breakers casting you
headlong ere it had drowned your knees. Or you might explore the
tidal rocks, above all in the ebb of springs, when the very roots
of the hills were for the nonce discovered; following my leader
from one group to another, groping in slippery tangle for the wreck
of ships, wading in pools after the abominable creatures of the
sea, and ever with an eye cast backward on the march off the tide
and the menaced line of your retreat. And then you might go
Crusoeing, a word that covers all extempore eating in the open air:
digging perhaps a house under the margin of the links, kindling a
fire of the sea-ware, and cooking apples there - if they were truly
apples, for I sometimes suppose the merchant must have played us
off with some inferior and quite local fruit capable of resolving,
in the neighbourhood of fire, into mere sand and smoke and iodine;
or perhaps pushing to Tantallon, you might lunch on sandwiches and
visions in the grassy court, while the wind hummed in the crumbling
turrets; or clambering along the coast, eat geans (the worst, I
must suppose, in Christendom) from an adventurous gean tree that
had taken root under a cliff, where it was shaken with an ague of
east wind, and silvered after gales with salt, and grew so foreign
among its bleak surroundings that to eat of its produce was an
adventure in itself.
There are mingled some dismal memories with so many that were
joyous. Of the fisher-wife, for instance, who had cut her throat
at Canty Bay; and of how I ran with the other children to the top
of the Quadrant, and beheld a posse of silent people escorting a
cart, and on the cart, bound in a chair, her throat bandaged, and
the bandage all bloody - horror! - the fisher-wife herself, who
continued thenceforth to hag-ride my thoughts, and even to-day (as
I recall the scene) darkens daylight. She was lodged in the little
old jail in the chief street; but whether or no she died there,
with a wise terror of the worst, I never inquired. She had been
tippling; it was but a dingy tragedy; and it seems strange and hard
that, after all these years, the poor crazy sinner should be still
pilloried on her cart in the scrap-book of my memory. Nor shall I
readily forget a certain house in the Quadrant where a visitor
died, and a dark old woman continued to dwell alone with the dead
body; nor how this old woman conceived a hatred to myself and one
of my cousins, and in the dread hour of the dusk, as we were
clambering on the garden-walls, opened a window in that house of
mortality and cursed us in a shrill voice and with a marrowy choice
of language. It was a pair of very colourless urchins that fled
down the lane from this remarkable experience! But I recall with a
more doubtful sentiment, compounded out of fear and exultation, the
coil of equinoctial tempests; trumpeting squalls, scouring flaws of
rain; the boats with their reefed lugsails scudding for the harbour
mouth, where danger lay, for it was hard to make when the wind had
any east in it; the wives clustered with blowing shawls at the
pier-head, where (if fate was against them) they might see boat and
husband and sons - their whole wealth and their whole family -
engulfed under their eyes; and (what I saw but once) a troop of
neighbours forcing such an unfortunate homeward, and she squalling
and battling in their midst, a figure scarcely human, a tragic
These are things that I recall with interest; but what my memory
dwells upon the most, I have been all this while withholding. It
was a sport peculiar to the place, and indeed to a week or so of
our two months' holiday there. Maybe it still flourishes in its
native spot; for boys and their pastimes are swayed by periodic
forces inscrutable to man; so that tops and marbles reappear in
their due season, regular like the sun and moon; and the harmless
art of knucklebones has seen the fall of the Roman empire and the
rise of the United States. It may still flourish in its native
spot, but nowhere else, I am persuaded; for I tried myself to
introduce it on Tweedside, and was defeated lamentably; its charm
being quite local, like a country wine that cannot be exported.
The idle manner of it was this:-
Toward the end of September, when school-time was drawing near and
the nights were already black, we would begin to sally from ourrespective
villas, each equipped with a tin bull's-eye lantern.
The thing was so well known that it had worn a rut in the commerce
of Great Britain; and the grocers, about the due time, began to
garnish their windows with our particular brand of luminary. We
wore them buckled to the waist upon a cricket belt, and over them,
such was the rigour of the game, a buttoned top-coat. They smelled
noisomely of blistered tin; they never burned aright, though they
would always burn our fingers; their use was naught; the pleasure
of them merely fanciful; and yet a boy with a bull's-eye under his
top-coat asked for nothing more. The fishermen used lanterns about
their boats, and it was from them, I suppose, that we had got the
hint; but theirs were not bull's-eyes, nor did we ever play at
being fishermen. The police carried them at their belts, and we
had plainly copied them in that; yet we did not pretend to be
policemen. Burglars, indeed, we may have had some haunting
thoughts of; and we had certainly an eye to past ages when lanterns
were more common, and to certain story-books in which we had found
them to figure very largely. But take it for all in all, the
pleasure of the thing was substantive; and to be a boy with a
bull's-eye under his top-coat was good enough for us.
When two of these asses met, there would be an anxious "Have you
got your lantern?" and a gratified "Yes!" That was the shibboleth,
and very needful too; for, as it was the rule to keep our glory
contained, none could recognise a lantern-bearer, unless (like the
polecat) by the smell. Four or five would sometimes climb into the
belly of a ten-man lugger, with nothing but the thwarts above them
- for the cabin was usually locked, or choose out some hollow of
the links where the wind might whistle overhead. There the coats
would be unbuttoned and the bull's-eyes discovered; and in the
chequering glimmer, under the huge windy hall of the night, and
cheered by a rich steam of toasting tinware, these fortunate young
gentlemen would crouch together in the cold sand of the links or on
the scaly bilges of the fishing-boat, and delight themselves with
inappropriate talk. Woe is me that I may not give some specimens -
some of their foresights of life, or deep inquiries into the
rudiments of man and nature, these were so fiery and so innocent,
they were so richly silly, so romantically young. But the talk, at
any rate, was but a condiment; and these gatherings themselves only
accidents in the career of the lantern-bearer. The essence of this
bliss was to walk by yourself in the black night; the slide shut,
the top-coat buttoned; not a ray escaping, whether to conduct your
footsteps or to make your glory public: a mere pillar of darkness
in the dark; and all the while, deep down in the privacy of your
fool's heart, to know you had a bull's-eye at your belt, and to
exult and sing over the knowledge.
It is said that a poet has died young in the breast of the most
stolid. It may be contended, rather, that this (somewhat minor)
bard in almost every case survives, and is the spice of life to his
possessor. Justice is not done to the versatility and the
unplumbed childishness of man's imagination. His life from without
may seem but a rude mound of mud; there will be some golden chamber
at the heart of it, in which he dwells delighted; and for as dark
as his pathway seems to the observer, he will have some kind of a
bull's-eye at his belt.
It would be hard to pick out a career more cheerless than that of
Dancer, the miser, as he figures in the "Old Bailey Reports," a
prey to the most sordid persecutions, the butt of his
neighbourhood, betrayed by his hired man, his house beleaguered by
the impish schoolboy, and he himself grinding and fuming and
impotently fleeing to the law against these pin-pricks. You marvel
at first that any one should willingly prolong a life so destitute
of charm and dignity; and then you call to memory that had he
chosen, had he ceased to be a miser, he could have been freed at
once from these trials, and might have built himself a castle and
gone escorted by a squadron. For the love of more recondite joys,
which we cannot estimate, which, it may be, we should envy, the man
had willingly forgone both comfort and consideration. "His mind to
him a kingdom was"; and sure enough, digging into that mind, which
seems at first a dust-heap, we unearth some priceless jewels. For
Dancer must have had the love of power and the disdain of using it,
a noble character in itself; disdain of many pleasures, a chief
part of what is commonly called wisdom; disdain of the inevitable
end, that finest trait of mankind; scorn of men's opinions, another
element of virtue; and at the back of all, a conscience just like
yours and mine, whining like a cur, swindling like a thimblerigger,
but still pointing (there or there-about) to some
conventional standard. Here were a cabinet portrait to which
Hawthorne perhaps had done justice; and yet not Hawthorne either,
for he was mildly minded, and it lay not in him to create for us
that throb of the miser's pulse, his fretful energy of gusto, his
vast arms of ambition clutching in he knows not what: insatiable,
insane, a god with a muck-rake. Thus, at least, looking in the
bosom of the miser, consideration detects the poet in the full tide
of life, with more, indeed, of the poetic fire than usually goes to
epics; and tracing that mean man about his cold hearth, and to and
fro in his discomfortable house, spies within him a blazing bonfire
of delight. And so with others, who do not live by bread alone,
but by some cherished and perhaps fantastic pleasure; who are meat
salesmen to the external eye, and possibly to themselves are
Shakespeares, Napoleons, or Beethovens; who have not one virtue to
rub against another in the field of active life, and yet perhaps,
in the life of contemplation, sit with the saints. We see them on
the street, and we can count their buttons; but heaven knows in
what they pride themselves! heaven knows where they have set their
There is one fable that touches very near the quick of life: the
fable of the monk who passed into the woods, heard a bird break
into song, hearkened for a trill or two, and found himself on his
return a stranger at his convent gates; for he had been absent
fifty years, and of all his comrades there survived but one to
recognise him. It is not only in the woods that this enchanter
carols, though perhaps he is native there. He sings in the most
doleful places. The miser hears him and chuckles, and the days are
moments. With no more apparatus than an ill-smelling lantern I
have evoked him on the naked links. All life that is not merely
mechanical is spun out of two strands: seeking for that bird and
hearing him. And it is just this that makes life so hard to value,
and the delight of each so incommunicable. And just a knowledge of
this, and a remembrance of those fortunate hours in which the bird
has sung to us, that fills us with such wonder when we turn the
pages of the realist. There, to be sure, we find a picture of life
in so far as it consists of mud and of old iron, cheap desires and
cheap fears, that which we are ashamed to remember and that which
we are careless whether we forget; but of the note of that timedevouring
nightingale we hear no news.
The case of these writers of romance is most obscure. They have
been boys and youths; they have lingered outside the window of the
beloved, who was then most probably writing to some one else; they
have sat before a sheet of paper, and felt themselves mere
continents of congested poetry, not one line of which would flow;
they have walked alone in the woods, they have walked in cities
under the countless lamps; they have been to sea, they have hated,
they have feared, they have longed to knife a man, and maybe done
it; the wild taste of life has stung their palate. Or, if you deny
them all the rest, one pleasure at least they have tasted to the
full - their books are there to prove it - the keen pleasure of
successful literary composition. And yet they fill the globe with
volumes, whose cleverness inspires me with despairing admiration,
and whose consistent falsity to all I care to call existence, with
despairing wrath. If I had no better hope than to continue to
revolve among the dreary and petty businesses, and to be moved by
the paltry hopes and fears with which they surround and animate
their heroes, I declare I would die now. But there has never an
hour of mine gone quite so dully yet; if it were spent waiting at a
railway junction, I would have some scattering thoughts, I could
count some grains of memory, compared to which the whole of one of
these romances seems but dross.
These writers would retort (if I take them properly) that this was
very true; that it was the same with themselves and other persons
of (what they call) the artistic temperament; that in this we were
exceptional, and should apparently be ashamed of ourselves; but
that our works must deal exclusively with (what they call) the
average man, who was a prodigious dull fellow, and quite dead to
all but the paltriest considerations. I accept the issue. We can
only know others by ourselves. The artistic temperament (a plague
on the expression!) does not make us different from our fellowmen,
or it would make us incapable of writing novels; and the average
man (a murrain on the word!) is just like you and me, or he would
not be average. It was Whitman who stamped a kind of Birmingham
sacredness upon the latter phrase; but Whitman knew very well, and
showed very nobly, that the average man was full of joys and full
of a poetry of his own. And this harping on life's dulness and
man's meanness is a loud profession of incompetence; it is one of
two things: the cry of the blind eye, I CANNOT SEE, or the
complaint of the dumb tongue, I CANNOT UTTER. To draw a life
without delights is to prove I have not realised it. To picture a
man without some sort of poetry - well, it goes near to prove my
case, for it shows an author may have little enough. To see Dancer
only as a dirty, old, small-minded, impotently fuming man, in a
dirty house, besieged by Harrow boys, and probably beset by small
attorneys, is to show myself as keen an observer as . . . the
Harrow boys. But these young gentlemen (with a more becoming
modesty) were content to pluck Dancer by the coat-tails; they did
not suppose they had surprised his secret or could put him living
in a book: and it is there my error would have lain. Or say that
in the same romance - I continue to call these books romances, in
the hope of giving pain - say that in the same romance, which now
begins really to take shape, I should leave to speak of Dancer, and
follow instead the Harrow boys; and say that I came on some such
business as that of my lantern-bearers on the links; and described
the boys as very cold, spat upon by flurries of rain, and drearily
surrounded, all of which they were; and their talk as silly and
indecent, which it certainly was. I might upon these lines, and
had I Zola's genius, turn out, in a page or so, a gem of literary
art, render the lantern-light with the touches of a master, and lay
on the indecency with the ungrudging hand of love; and when all was
done, what a triumph would my picture be of shallowness and
dulness! how it would have missed the point! how it would have
belied the boys! To the ear of the stenographer, the talk is
merely silly and indecent; but ask the boys themselves, and they
are discussing (as it is highly proper they should) the
possibilities of existence. To the eye of the observer they are
wet and cold and drearily surrounded; but ask themselves, and they
are in the heaven of a recondite pleasure, the ground of which is
an ill-smelling lantern.
For, to repeat, the ground of a man's joy is often hard to hit. It
may hinge at times upon a mere accessory, like the lantern; it may
reside, like Dancer's, in the mysterious inwards of psychology. It
may consist with perpetual failure, and find exercise in the
continued chase. It has so little bond with externals (such as the
observer scribbles in his note-book) that it may even touch them
not; and the man's true life, for which he consents to live, lie
altogether in the field of fancy. The clergyman, in his spare
hours, may be winning battles, the farmer sailing ships, the banker
reaping triumph in the arts: all leading another life, plying
another trade from that they chose; like the poet's housebuilder,
who, after all, is cased in stone,
"By his fireside, as impotent fancy prompts.
Rebuilds it to his liking."
In such a case the poetry runs underground. The observer (poor
soul, with his documents!) is all abroad. For to look at the man
is but to court deception. We shall see the trunk from which he
draws his nourishment; but he himself is above and abroad in the
green dome of foliage, hummed through by winds and nested in by
nightingales. And the true realism were that of the poets, to
climb up after him like a squirrel, and catch some glimpse of the
heaven for which he lives.
And, the true realism, always and everywhere, is that of the poets:
to find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond
For to miss the joy is to miss all. In the joy of the actors lies
the sense of any action. That is the explanation, that the excuse.
To one who has not the secret of the lanterns, the scene upon the
links is meaningless. And hence the haunting and truly spectral
unreality of realistic books. Hence, when we read the English
realists, the incredulous wonder with which we observe the hero's
constancy under the submerging tide of dulness, and how he bears up
with his jibbing sweetheart, and endures the chatter of idiot
girls, and stands by his whole unfeatured wilderness of an
existence, instead of seeking relief in drink or foreign travel.
Hence in the French, in that meat-market of middle-aged sensuality,
the disgusted surprise with which we see the hero drift sidelong,
and practically quite untempted, into every description of
misconduct and dishonour. In each, we miss the personal poetry,
the enchanted atmosphere, that rainbow work of fancy that clothes
what is naked and seems to ennoble what is base; in each, life
falls dead like dough, instead of soaring away like a balloon into
the colours of the sunset; each is true, each inconceivable; for no
man lives in the external truth, among salts and acids, but in the
warm, phantasmagoric chamber of his brain, with the painted windows
and the storied walls.
Of this falsity we have had a recent example from a man who knows
far better - Tolstoi's POWERS OF DARKNESS. Here is a piece full of
force and truth, yet quite untrue. For before Mikita was led into
so dire a situation he was tempted, and temptations are beautiful
at least in part; and a work which dwells on the ugliness of crime
and gives no hint of any loveliness in the temptation, sins against
the modesty of life, and even when a Tolstoi writes it, sinks to
melodrama. The peasants are not understood; they saw their life in
fairer colours; even the deaf girl was clothed in poetry for
Mikita, or he had never fallen. And so, once again, even an Old
Bailey melodrama, without some brightness of poetry and lustre of
existence, falls into the inconceivable and ranks with fairy tales.
In nobler books we are moved with something like the emotions of
life; and this emotion is very variously provoked. We are so moved
when Levine labours in the field, when Andre sinks beyond emotion,
when Richard Feverel and Lucy Desborough meet beside the river,
when Antony, "not cowardly, puts off his helmet," when Kent has
infinite pity on the dying Lear, when, in Dostoieffky's DESPISED
AND REJECTED, the uncomplaining hero drains his cup of suffering
and virtue. These are notes that please the great heart of man.
Not only love, and the fields, and the bright face of danger, but
sacrifice and death and unmerited suffering humbly supported, touch
in us the vein of the poetic. We love to think of them, we long to
try them, we are humbly hopeful that we may prove heroes also.
We have heard, perhaps, too much of lesser matters. Here is the
door, here is the open air. ITUR IN ANTIQUAM SILVAM.
THE past is all of one texture - whether feigned or suffered -
whether acted out in three dimensions, or only witnessed in that
small theatre of the brain which we keep brightly lighted all night
long, after the jets are down, and darkness and sleep reign
undisturbed in the remainder of the body. There is no distinction
on the face of our experiences; one is vivid indeed, and one dull,
and one pleasant, and another agonising to remember; but which of
them is what we call true, and which a dream, there is not one hair
to prove. The past stands on a precarious footing; another straw
split in the field of metaphysic, and behold us robbed of it.
There is scarce a family that can count four generations but lays a
claim to some dormant title or some castle and estate: a claim not
prosecutable in any court of law, but flattering to the fancy and a
great alleviation of idle hours. A man's claim to his own past is
yet less valid. A paper might turn up (in proper story-book
fashion) in the secret drawer of an old ebony secretary, and
restore your family to its ancient honours, and reinstate mine in a
certain West Indian islet (not far from St. Kitt's, as beloved
tradition hummed in my young ears) which was once ours, and is now
unjustly some one else's, and for that matter (in the state of the
sugar trade) is not worth anything to anybody. I do not say that
these revolutions are likely; only no man can deny that they are
possible; and the past, on the other baud, is, lost for ever: our
old days and deeds, our old selves, too, and the very world in
which these scenes were acted, all brought down to the same faint
residuum as a last night's dream, to some incontinuous images, and
an echo in the chambers of the brain. Not an hour, not a mood, not
a glance of the eye, can we revoke; it is all gone, past conjuring.
And yet conceive us robbed of it, conceive that little thread of
memory that we trail behind us broken at the pocket's edge; and in
what naked nullity should we be left! for we only guide ourselves,
and only know ourselves, by these air-painted pictures of the past.
Upon these grounds, there are some among us who claim to have lived
longer and more richly than their neighbours; when they lay asleep
they claim they were still active; and among the treasures of
memory that all men review for their amusement, these count in no
second place the harvests of their dreams. There is one of this
kind whom I have in my eye, and whose case is perhaps unusual
enough to be described. He was from a child an ardent and
uncomfortable dreamer. When he had a touch of fever at night, and
the room swelled and shrank, and his clothes, hanging on a nail,
now loomed up instant to the bigness of a church, and now drew away
into a horror of infinite distance and infinite littleness, the
poor soul was very well aware of what must follow, and struggled
hard against the approaches of that slumber which was the beginning
of sorrows.
But his struggles were in vain; sooner or later the night-hag would
have him by the throat, and pluck him strangling and screaming,
from his sleep. His dreams were at times commonplace enough, at
times very strange, at times they were almost formless: he would
be haunted, for instance, by nothing more definite than a certain
hue of brown, which he did not mind in the least while he was
awake, but feared and loathed while he was dreaming; at times,
again, they took on every detail of circumstance, as when once he
supposed he must swallow the populous world, and awoke screaming
with the horror of the thought. The two chief troubles of his very
narrow existence - the practical and everyday trouble of school
tasks and the ultimate and airy one of hell and judgment - were
often confounded together into one appalling nightmare. He seemed
to himself to stand before the Great White Throne; he was called
on, poor little devil, to recite some form of words, on which his
destiny depended; his tongue stuck, his memory was blank, hell
gaped for him; and he would awake, clinging to the curtain-rod with
his knees to his chin.
These were extremely poor experiences, on the whole; and at that
time of life my dreamer would have very willingly parted with his
power of dreams. But presently, in the course of his growth, the
cries and physical contortions passed away, seemingly for ever; his
visions were still for the most part miserable, but they were more
constantly supported; and he would awake with no more extreme
symptom than a flying heart, a freezing scalp, cold sweats, and the
speechless midnight fear. His dreams, too, as befitted a mind
better stocked with particulars, became more circumstantial, and
had more the air and continuity of life. The look of the world
beginning to take hold on his attention, scenery came to play a
part in his sleeping as well as in his waking thoughts, so that he
would take long, uneventful journeys and see strange towns and
beautiful places as he lay in bed. And, what is more significant,
an odd taste that he had for the Georgian costume and for stories
laid in that period of English history, began to rule the features
of his dreams; so that he masqueraded there in a three-cornered hat
and was much engaged with Jacobite conspiracy between the hour for
bed and that for breakfast. About the same time, he began to read
in his dreams - tales, for the most part, and for the most part
after the manner of G. P. R. James, but so incredibly more vivid
and moving than any printed book, that he has ever since been
malcontent with literature.
And then, while he was yet a student, there came to him a dreamadventure
which he has no anxiety to repeat; he began, that is to
say, to dream in sequence and thus to lead a double life - one of
the day, one of the night - one that he had every reason to believe
was the true one, another that he had no means of proving to be
false. I should have said he studied, or was by way of studying,
at Edinburgh College, which (it may be supposed) was how I came to
know him. Well, in his dream-life, he passed a long day in the
surgical theatre, his heart in his mouth, his teeth on edge, seeing
monstrous malformations and the abhorred dexterity of surgeons. In
a heavy, rainy, foggy evening he came forth into the South Bridge,
turned up the High Street, and entered the door of a tall LAND, at
the top of which he supposed himself to lodge. All night long, in
his wet clothes, he climbed the stairs, stair after stair in
endless series, and at every second flight a flaring lamp with a
reflector. All night long, he brushed by single persons passing
downward - beggarly women of the street, great, weary, muddy
labourers, poor scarecrows of men, pale parodies of women - but all
drowsy and weary like himself, and all single, and all brushing
against him as they passed. In the end, out of a northern window,
he would see day beginning to whiten over the Firth, give up the
ascent, turn to descend, and in a breath be back again upon the
streets, in his wet clothes, in the wet, haggard dawn, trudging to
another day of monstrosities and operations. Time went quicker in
the life of dreams, some seven hours (as near as he can guess) to
one; and it went, besides, more intensely, so that the gloom of
these fancied experiences clouded the day, and he had not shaken
off their shadow ere it was time to lie down and to renew them. I
cannot tell how long it was that he endured this discipline; but it
was long enough to leave a great black blot upon his memory, long
enough to send him, trembling for his reason, to the doors of a
certain doctor; whereupon with a simple draught he was restored to
the common lot of man.
The poor gentleman has since been troubled by nothing of the sort;
indeed, his nights were for some while like other men's, now blank,
now chequered with dreams, and these sometimes charming, sometimes
appalling, but except for an occasional vividness, of no
extraordinary kind. I will just note one of these occasions, ere I
pass on to what makes my dreamer truly interesting. It seemed to
him that he was in the first floor of a rough hill-farm. The room
showed some poor efforts at gentility, a carpet on the floor, a
piano, I think, against the wall; but, for all these refinements,
there was no mistaking he was in a moorland place, among hillside
people, and set in miles of heather. He looked down from the
window upon a bare farmyard, that seemed to have been long disused.
A great, uneasy stillness lay upon the world. There was no sign of
the farm-folk or of any live stock, save for an old, brown, curly
dog of the retriever breed, who sat close in against the wall of
the house and seemed to be dozing. Something about this dog
disquieted the dreamer; it was quite a nameless feeling, for the
beast looked right enough - indeed, he was so old and dull and
dusty and broken-down, that he should rather have awakened pity;
and yet the conviction came and grew upon the dreamer that this was
no proper dog at all, but something hellish. A great many dozing
summer flies hummed about the yard; and presently the dog thrust
forth his paw, caught a fly in his open palm, carried it to his
mouth like an ape, and looking suddenly up at the dreamer in the
window, winked to him with one eye. The dream went on, it matters
not how it went; it was a good dream as dreams go; but there was
nothing in the sequel worthy of that devilish brown dog. And the
point of interest for me lies partly in that very fact: that
having found so singular an incident, my imperfect dreamer should
prove unable to carry the tale to a fit end and fall back on
indescribable noises and indiscriminate horrors. It would be
different now; he knows his business better!
For, to approach at last the point: This honest fellow had long
been in the custom of setting himself to sleep with tales, and so
had his father before him; but these were irresponsible inventions,
told for the teller's pleasure, with no eye to the crass public or
the thwart reviewer: tales where a thread might be dropped, or one
adventure quitted for another, on fancy's least suggestion. So
that the little people who manage man's internal theatre had not as
yet received a very rigorous training; and played upon their stage
like children who should have slipped into the house and found it
empty, rather than like drilled actors performing a set piece to a
huge hall of faces. But presently my dreamer began to turn his
former amusement of story-telling to (what is called) account; by
which I mean that he began to write and sell his tales. Here was
he, and here were the little people who did that part of his
business, in quite new conditions. The stories must now be trimmed
and pared and set upon all fours, they must run from a beginning to
an end and fit (after a manner) with the laws of life; the
pleasure, in one word, had become a business; and that not only for
the dreamer, but for the little people of his theatre. These
understood the change as well as he. When he lay down to prepare
himself for sleep, he no longer sought amusement, but printable and
profitable tales; and after he had dozed off in his box-seat, his
little people continued their evolutions with the same mercantile
designs. All other forms of dream deserted him but two: he still
occasionally reads the most delightful books, he still visits at
times the most delightful places; and it is perhaps worthy of note
that to these same places, and to one in particular, he returns at
intervals of months and years, finding new field-paths, visiting
new neighbours, beholding that happy valley under new effects of
noon and dawn and sunset. But all the rest of the family of
visions is quite lost to him: the common, mangled version of
yesterday's affairs, the raw-head-and-bloody-bones nightmare,
rumoured to be the child of toasted cheese - these and their like
are gone; and, for the most part, whether awake or asleep, he is
simply occupied - he or his little people - in consciously making
stories for the market. This dreamer (like many other persons) has
encountered some trifling vicissitudes of fortune. When the bank
begins to send letters and the butcher to linger at the back gate,
he sets to belabouring his brains after a story, for that is his
readiest money-winner; and, behold! at once the little people begin
to bestir themselves in the same quest, and labour all night long,
and all night long set before him truncheons of tales upon their
lighted theatre. No fear of his being frightened now; the flying
heart and the frozen scalp are things by-gone; applause, growing
applause, growing interest, growing exultation in his own
cleverness (for he takes all the credit), and at last a jubilant
leap to wakefulness, with the cry, "I have it, that'll do!" upon
his lips: with such and similar emotions he sits at these
nocturnal dramas, with such outbreaks, like Claudius in the play,
he scatters the performance in the midst. Often enough the waking
is a disappointment: he has been too deep asleep, as I explain the
thing; drowsiness has gained his little people, they have gone
stumbling and maundering through their parts; and the play, to the
awakened mind, is seen to be a tissue of absurdities. And yet how
often have these sleepless Brownies done him honest service, and
given him, as he sat idly taking his pleasure in the boxes, better
tales than he could fashion for himself.
Here is one, exactly as it came to him. It seemed he was the son
of a very rich and wicked man, the owner of broad acres and a most
damnable temper. The dreamer (and that was the son) had lived much
abroad, on purpose to avoid his parent; and when at length he
returned to England, it was to find him married again to a young
wife, who was supposed to suffer cruelly and to loathe her yoke.
Because of this marriage (as the dreamer indistinctly understood)
it was desirable for father and son to have a meeting; and yet both
being proud and both angry, neither would condescend upon a visit.
Meet they did accordingly, in a desolate, sandy country by the sea;
and there they quarrelled, and the son, stung by some intolerable
insult, struck down the father dead. No suspicion was aroused; the
dead man was found and buried, and the dreamer succeeded to the
broad estates, and found himself installed under the same roof with
his father's widow, for whom no provision had been made. These two
lived very much alone, as people may after a bereavement, sat down
to table together, shared the long evenings, and grew daily better
friends; until it seemed to him of a sudden that she was prying
about dangerous matters, that she had conceived a notion of his
guilt, that she watched him and tried him with questions. He drew
back from her company as men draw back from a precipice suddenly
discovered; and yet so strong was the attraction that he would
drift again and again into the old intimacy, and again and again be
startled back by some suggestive question or some inexplicable
meaning in her eye. So they lived at cross purposes, a life full
of broken dialogue, challenging glances, and suppressed passion;
until, one day, he saw the woman slipping from the house in a veil,
followed her to the station, followed her in the train to the
seaside country, and out over the sandhills to the very place where
the murder was done. There she began to grope among the bents, he
watching her, flat upon his face; and presently she had something
in her hand - I cannot remember what it was, but it was deadly
evidence against the dreamer - and as she held it up to look at it,
perhaps from the shock of the discovery, her foot slipped, and she
hung at some peril on the brink of the tall sand-wreaths. He had
no thought but to spring up and rescue her; and there they stood
face to face, she with that deadly matter openly in her hand - his
very presence on the spot another link of proof. It was plain she
was about to speak, but this was more than he could bear - he could
bear to be lost, but not to talk of it with his destroyer; and he
cut her short with trivial conversation. Arm in arm, they returned
together to the train, talking he knew not what, made the journey
back in the same carriage, sat down to dinner, and passed the
evening in the drawing-room as in the past. But suspense and fear
drummed in the dreamer's bosom. "She has not denounced me yet" -
so his thoughts ran - "when will she denounce me? Will it be tomorrow?"
And it was not to-morrow, nor the next day, nor the next;
and their life settled back on the old terms, only that she seemed
kinder than before, and that, as for him, the burthen of his
suspense and wonder grew daily more unbearable, so that he wasted
away like a man with a disease. Once, indeed, he broke all bounds
of decency, seized an occasion when she was abroad, ransacked her
room, and at last, hidden away among her jewels, found the damning
evidence. There he stood, holding this thing, which was his life,
in the hollow of his hand, and marvelling at her inconsequent
behaviour, that she should seek, and keep, and yet not use it; and
then the door opened, and behold herself. So, once more, they
stood, eye to eye, with the evidence between them; and once more
she raised to him a face brimming with some communication; and once
more he shied away from speech and cut her off. But before he left
the room, which he had turned upside down, he laid back his deathwarrant
where he had found it; and at that, her face lighted up.
The next thing he heard, she was explaining to her maid, with some
ingenious falsehood, the disorder of her things. Flesh and blood
could bear the strain no longer; and I think it was the next
morning (though chronology is always hazy in the theatre of the
mind) that he burst from his reserve. They had been breakfasting
together in one corner of a great, parqueted, sparely-furnished
room of many windows; all the time of the meal she had tortured him
with sly allusions; and no sooner were the servants gone, and these
two protagonists alone together, than he leaped to his feet. She
too sprang up, with a pale face; with a pale face, she heard him as
he raved out his complaint: Why did she torture him so? she knew
all, she knew he was no enemy to her; why did she not denounce him
at once? what signified her whole behaviour? why did she torture
him? and yet again, why did she torture him? And when he had done,
she fell upon her knees, and with outstretched hands: "Do you not
understand?" she cried. "I love you!"
Hereupon, with a pang of wonder and mercantile delight, the dreamer
awoke. His mercantile delight was not of long endurance; for it
soon became plain that in this spirited tale there were
unmarketable elements; which is just the reason why you have it
here so briefly told. But his wonder has still kept growing; and I
think the reader's will also, if he consider it ripely. For now he
sees why I speak of the little people as of substantive inventors
and performers. To the end they had kept their secret. I will go
bail for the dreamer (having excellent grounds for valuing his
candour) that he had no guess whatever at the motive of the woman -
the hinge of the whole well-invented plot - until the instant of
that highly dramatic declaration. It was not his tale; it was the
little people's! And observe: not only was the secret kept, the
story was told with really guileful craftsmanship. The conduct of
both actors is (in the cant phrase) psychologically correct, and
the emotion aptly graduated up to the surprising climax. I am
awake now, and I know this trade; and yet I cannot better it. I am
awake, and I live by this business; and yet I could not outdo -
could not perhaps equal - that crafty artifice (as of some old,
experienced carpenter of plays, some Dennery or Sardou) by which
the same situation is twice presented and the two actors twice
brought face to face over the evidence, only once it is in her
hand, once in his - and these in their due order, the least
dramatic first. The more I think of it, the more I am moved to
press upon the world my question: Who are the Little People? They
are near connections of the dreamer's, beyond doubt; they share in
his financial worries and have an eye to the bank-book; they share
plainly in his training; they have plainly learned like him to
build the scheme of a considerate story and to arrange emotion in
progressive order; only I think they have more talent; and one
thing is beyond doubt, they can tell him a story piece by piece,
like a serial, and keep him all the while in ignorance of where
they aim. Who are they, then? and who is the dreamer?
Well, as regards the dreamer, I can answer that, for he is no less
a person than myself; - as I might have told you from the
beginning, only that the critics murmur over my consistent egotism;
- and as I am positively forced to tell you now, or I could advance
but little farther with my story. And for the Little People, what
shall I say they are but just my Brownies, God bless them! who do
one-half my work for me while I am fast asleep, and in all human
likelihood, do the rest for me as well, when I am wide awake and
fondly suppose I do it for myself. That part which is done while I
am sleeping is the Brownies' part beyond contention; but that which
is done when I am up and about is by no means necessarily mine,
since all goes to show the Brownies have a hand in it even then.
Here is a doubt that much concerns my conscience. For myself -
what I call I, my conscious ego, the denizen of the pineal gland
unless he has changed his residence since Descartes, the man with
the conscience and the variable bank-account, the man with the hat
and the boots, and the privilege of voting and not carrying his
candidate at the general elections - I am sometimes tempted to
suppose he is no story-teller at all, but a creature as matter of
fact as any cheesemonger or any cheese, and a realist bemired up to
the ears in actuality; so that, by that account, the whole of my
published fiction should be the single-handed product of some
Brownie, some Familiar, some unseen collaborator, whom I keep
locked in a back garret, while I get all the praise and he but a
share (which I cannot prevent him getting) of the pudding. I am an
excellent adviser, something like Moliere's servant; I pull back
and I cut down; and I dress the whole in the best words and
sentences that I can find and make; I hold the pen, too; and I do
the sitting at the table, which is about the worst of it; and when
all is done, I make up the manuscript and pay for the registration;
so that, on the whole, I have some claim to share, though not so
largely as I do, in the profits of our common enterprise.
I can but give an instance or so of what part is done sleeping and
what part awake, and leave the reader to share what laurels there
are, at his own nod, between myself and my collaborators; and to do
this I will first take a book that a number of persons have been
polite enough to read, the STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE.
I had long been trying to write a story on this subject, to find a
body, a vehicle, for that strong sense of man's double being which
must at times come in upon and overwhelm the mind of every thinking
creature. I had even written one, THE TRAVELLING COMPANION, which
was returned by an editor on the plea that it was a work of genius
and indecent, and which I burned the other day on the ground that
it was not a work of genius, and that JEKYLL had supplanted it.
Then came one of those financial fluctuations to which (with an
elegant modesty) I have hitherto referred in the third person. For
two days I went about racking my brains for a plot of any sort; and
on the second night I dreamed the scene at the window, and a scene
afterward split in two, in which Hyde, pursued for some crime, took
the powder and underwent the change in the presence of his
pursuers. All the rest was made awake, and consciously, although I
think I can trace in much of it the manner of my Brownies. The
meaning of the tale is therefore mine, and had long pre-existed in
my garden of Adonis, and tried one body after another in vain;
indeed, I do most of the morality, worse luck! and my Brownies have
not a rudiment of what we call a conscience. Mine, too, is the
setting, mine the characters. All that was given me was the matter
of three scenes, and the central idea of a voluntary change
becoming involuntary. Will it be thought ungenerous, after I have
been so liberally ladling out praise to my unseen collaborators, if
I here toss them over, bound hand and foot, into the arena of the
critics? For the business of the powders, which so many have
censured, is, I am relieved to say, not mine at all but the
Brownies'. Of another tale, in case the reader should have glanced
at it, I may say a word: the not very defensible story of OLALLA.
Here the court, the mother, the mother's niche, Olalla, Olalla's
chamber, the meetings on the stair, the broken window, the ugly
scene of the bite, were all given me in bulk and detail as I have
tried to write them; to this I added only the external scenery (for
in my dream I never was beyond the court), the portrait, the
characters of Felipe and the priest, the moral, such as it is, and
the last pages, such as, alas! they are. And I may even say that
in this case the moral itself was given me; for it arose
immediately on a comparison of the mother and the daughter, and
from the hideous trick of atavism in the first. Sometimes a
parabolic sense is still more undeniably present in a dream;
sometimes I cannot but suppose my Brownies have been aping Bunyan,
and yet in no case with what would possibly be called a moral in a
tract; never with the ethical narrowness; conveying hints instead
of life's larger limitations and that sort of sense which we seem
to perceive in the arabesque of time and space.
For the most part, it will be seen, my Brownies are somewhat
fantastic, like their stories hot and hot, full of passion and the
picturesque, alive with animating incident; and they have no
prejudice against the supernatural. But the other day they gave me
a surprise, entertaining me with a love-story, a little April
comedy, which I ought certainly to hand over to the author of A
CHANCE ACQUAINTANCE, for he could write it as it should be written,
and I am sure (although I mean to try) that I cannot. - But who
would have supposed that a Brownie of mine should invent a tale for
Mr. Howells?
IN a pleasant, airy, up-hill country, it was my fortune when I was
young to make the acquaintance of a certain beggar. I call him
beggar, though he usually allowed his coat and his shoes (which
were open-mouthed, indeed) to beg for him. He was the wreck of an
athletic man, tall, gaunt, and bronzed; far gone in consumption,
with that disquieting smile of the mortally stricken on his face;
but still active afoot, still with the brisk military carriage, the
ready military salute. Three ways led through this piece of
country; and as I was inconstant in my choice, I believe he must
often have awaited me in vain. But often enough, he caught me;
often enough, from some place of ambush by the roadside, he would
spring suddenly forth in the regulation attitude, and launching at
once into his inconsequential talk, fall into step with me upon my
farther course. "A fine morning, sir, though perhaps a trifle
inclining to rain. I hope I see you well, sir. Why, no, sir, I
don't feel as hearty myself as I could wish, but I am keeping about
my ordinary. I am pleased to meet you on the road, sir. I assure
you I quite look forward to one of our little conversations." He
loved the sound of his own voice inordinately, and though (with
something too off-hand to call servility) he would always hasten to
agree with anything you said, yet he could never suffer you to say
it to an end. By what transition he slid to his favourite subject
I have no memory; but we had never been long together on the way
before he was dealing, in a very military manner, with the English
poets. "Shelley was a fine poet, sir, though a trifle atheistical
in his opinions. His Queen Mab, sir, is quite an atheistical work.
Scott, sir, is not so poetical a writer. With the works of
Shakespeare I am not so well acquainted, but he was a fine poet.
Keats - John Keats, sir - he was a very fine poet." With such
references, such trivial criticism, such loving parade of his own
knowledge, he would beguile the road, striding forward uphill, his
staff now clapped to the ribs of his deep, resonant chest, now
swinging in the air with the remembered jauntiness of the private
soldier; and all the while his toes looking out of his boots, and
his shirt looking out of his elbows, and death looking out of his
smile, and his big, crazy frame shaken by accesses of cough.
He would often go the whole way home with me: often to borrow a
book, and that book always a poet. Off he would march, to continue
his mendicant rounds, with the volume slipped into the pocket of
his ragged coat; and although he would sometimes keep it quite a
while, yet it came always back again at last, not much the worse
for its travels into beggardom. And in this way, doubtless, his
knowledge grew and his glib, random criticism took a wider range.
But my library was not the first he had drawn upon: at our first
encounter, he was already brimful of Shelley and the atheistical
Queen Mab, and "Keats - John Keats, sir." And I have often
wondered how he came by these acquirements; just as I often
wondered how he fell to be a beggar. He had served through the
Mutiny - of which (like so many people) he could tell practically
nothing beyond the names of places, and that it was "difficult
work, sir," and very hot, or that so-and-so was "a very fine
commander, sir." He was far too smart a man to have remained a
private; in the nature of things, he must have won his stripes.
And yet here he was without a pension. When I touched on this
problem, he would content himself with diffidently offering me
advice. "A man should be very careful when he is young, sir. If
you'll excuse me saying so, a spirited young gentleman like
yourself, sir, should be very careful. I was perhaps a trifle
inclined to atheistical opinions myself." For (perhaps with a
deeper wisdom than we are inclined in these days to admit) he
plainly bracketed agnosticism with beer and skittles.
Keats - John Keats, sir - and Shelley were his favourite bards. I
cannot remember if I tried him with Rossetti; but I know his taste
to a hair, and if ever I did, he must have doted on that author.
What took him was a richness in the speech; he loved the exotic,
the unexpected word; the moving cadence of a phrase; a vague sense
of emotion (about nothing) in the very letters of the alphabet:
the romance of language. His honest head was very nearly empty,
his intellect like a child's; and when he read his favourite
authors, he can almost never have understood what he was reading.
Yet the taste was not only genuine, it was exclusive; I tried in
vain to offer him novels; he would none of them, he cared for
nothing but romantic language that he could not understand. The
case may be commoner than we suppose. I am reminded of a lad who
was laid in the next cot to a friend of mine in a public hospital
and who was no sooner installed than he sent out (perhaps with his
last pence) for a cheap Shakespeare. My friend pricked up his
ears; fell at once in talk with his new neighbour, and was ready,
when the book arrived, to make a singular discovery. For this
lover of great literature understood not one sentence out of
twelve, and his favourite part was that of which he understood the
least - the inimitable, mouth-filling rodomontade of the ghost in
HAMLET. It was a bright day in hospital when my friend expounded
the sense of this beloved jargon: a task for which I am willing to
believe my friend was very fit, though I can never regard it as an
easy one. I know indeed a point or two, on which I would gladly
question Mr. Shakespeare, that lover of big words, could he revisit
the glimpses of the moon, or could I myself climb backward to the
spacious days of Elizabeth. But in the second case, I should most
likely pretermit these questionings, and take my place instead in
the pit at the Blackfriars, to hear the actor in his favourite
part, playing up to Mr. Burbage, and rolling out - as I seem to
hear him - with a ponderous gusto-
"Unhousel'd, disappointed, unanel'd."
What a pleasant chance, if we could go there in a party I and what
a surprise for Mr. Burbage, when the ghost received the honours of
the evening!
As for my old soldier, like Mr. Burbage and Mr. Shakespeare, he is
long since dead; and now lies buried, I suppose, and nameless and
quite forgotten, in some poor city graveyard. - But not for me, you
brave heart, have you been buried! For me, you are still afoot,
tasting the sun and air, and striding southward. By the groves of
Comiston and beside the Hermitage of Braid, by the Hunters' Tryst,
and where the curlews and plovers cry around Fairmilehead, I see
and hear you, stalwartly carrying your deadly sickness, cheerfully
discoursing of uncomprehended poets.
The thought of the old soldier recalls that of another tramp, his
counterpart. This was a little, lean, and fiery man, with the eyes
of a dog and the face of a gipsy; whom I found one morning encamped
with his wife and children and his grinder's wheel, beside the burn
of Kinnaird. To this beloved dell I went, at that time, daily; and
daily the knife-grinder and I (for as long as his tent continued
pleasantly to interrupt my little wilderness) sat on two stones,
and smoked, and plucked grass, and talked to the tune of the brown
water. His children were mere whelps, they fought and bit among
the fern like vermin. His wife was a mere squaw; I saw her gather
brush and tend the kettle, but she never ventured to address her
lord while I was present. The tent was a mere gipsy hovel, like a
sty for pigs. But the grinder himself had the fine selfsufficiency
and grave politeness of the hunter and the savage; he
did me the honours of this dell, which had been mine but the day
before, took me far into the secrets of his life, and used me (I am
proud to remember) as a friend.
Like my old soldier, he was far gone in the national complaint.
Unlike him, he had a vulgar taste in letters; scarce flying higher
than the story papers; probably finding no difference, certainly
seeking none, between Tannahill and Burns; his noblest thoughts,
whether of poetry or music, adequately embodied in that somewhat
obvious ditty,
"Will ye gang, lassie, gang
To the braes o' Balquidder."
- which is indeed apt to echo in the ears of Scottish children, and
to him, in view of his experience, must have found a special
directness of address. But if he had no fine sense of poetry in
letters, he felt with a deep joy the poetry of life. You should
have heard him speak of what he loved; of the tent pitched beside
the talking water; of the stars overhead at night; of the blest
return of morning, the peep of day over the moors, the awaking
birds among the birches; how he abhorred the long winter shut in
cities; and with what delight, at the return of the spring, he once
more pitched his camp in the living out-of-doors. But we were a
pair of tramps; and to you, who are doubtless sedentary and a
consistent first-class passenger in life, he would scarce have laid
himself so open; - to you, he might have been content to tell his
story of a ghost - that of a buccaneer with his pistols as he lived
- whom he had once encountered in a seaside cave near Buckie; and
that would have been enough, for that would have shown you the
mettle of the man. Here was a piece of experience solidly and
livingly built up in words, here was a story created, TERES ATQUE
And to think of the old soldier, that lover of the literary bards!
He had visited stranger spots than any seaside cave; encountered
men more terrible than any spirit; done and dared and suffered in
that incredible, unsung epic of the Mutiny War; played his part
with the field force of Delhi, beleaguering and beleaguered; shared
in that enduring, savage anger and contempt of death and decency
that, for long months together, bedevil'd and inspired the army;
was hurled to and fro in the battle-smoke of the assault; was
there, perhaps, where Nicholson fell; was there when the attacking
column, with hell upon every side, found the soldier's enemy -
strong drink, and the lives of tens of thousands trembled in the
scale, and the fate of the flag of England staggered. And of all
this he had no more to say than "hot work, sir," or "the army
suffered a great deal, sir," or "I believe General Wilson, sir, was
not very highly thought of in the papers." His life was naught to
him, the vivid pages of experience quite blank: in words his
pleasure lay - melodious, agitated words - printed words, about
that which he had never seen and was connatally incapable of
comprehending. We have here two temperaments face to face; both
untrained, unsophisticated, surprised (we may say) in the egg; both
boldly charactered: - that of the artist, the lover and artificer
of words; that of the maker, the seeer, the lover and forger of
experience. If the one had a daughter and the other had a son, and
these married, might not some illustrious writer count descent from
the beggar-soldier and the needy knife-grinder?
Every one lives by selling something, whatever be his right to it.
The burglar sells at the same time his own skill and courage and my
silver plate (the whole at the most moderate figure) to a Jew
receiver. The bandit sells the traveller an article of prime
necessity: that traveller's life. And as for the old soldier, who
stands for central mark to my capricious figures of eight, he dealt
in a specially; for he was the only beggar in the world who ever
gave me pleasure for my money. He had learned a school of manners
in the barracks and had the sense to cling to it, accosting
strangers with a regimental freedom, thanking patrons with a merely
regimental difference, sparing you at once the tragedy of his
position and the embarrassment of yours. There was not one hint
about him of the beggar's emphasis, the outburst of revolting
gratitude, the rant and cant, the "God bless you, Kind, Kind
gentleman," which insults the smallness of your alms by
disproportionate vehemence, which is so notably false, which would
be so unbearable if it were true. I am sometimes tempted to
suppose this reading of the beggar's part, a survival of the old
days when Shakespeare was intoned upon the stage and mourners
keened beside the death-bed; to think that we cannot now accept
these strong emotions unless they be uttered in the just note of
life; nor (save in the pulpit) endure these gross conventions.
They wound us, I am tempted to say, like mockery; the high voice of
keening (as it yet lingers on) strikes in the face of sorrow like a
buffet; and the rant and cant of the staled beggar stirs in us a
shudder of disgust. But the fact disproves these amateur opinions.
The beggar lives by his knowledge of the average man. He knows
what he is about when he bandages his head, and hires and drugs a
babe, and poisons life with POOR MARY ANN or LONG, LONG AGO; he
knows what he is about when he loads the critical ear and sickens
the nice conscience with intolerable thanks; they know what they
are about, he and his crew, when they pervade the slums of cities,
ghastly parodies of suffering, hateful parodies of gratitude. This
trade can scarce be called an imposition; it has been so blown upon
with exposures; it flaunts its fraudulence so nakedly. We pay them
as we pay those who show us, in huge exaggeration, the monsters of
our drinking-water; or those who daily predict the fall of Britain.
We pay them for the pain they inflict, pay them, and wince, and
hurry on. And truly there is nothing that can shake the conscience
like a beggar's thanks; and that polity in which such protestations
can be purchased for a shilling, seems no scene for an honest man.
Are there, then, we may be asked, no genuine beggars? And the
answer is, Not one. My old soldier was a humbug like the rest; his
ragged boots were, in the stage phrase, properties; whole boots
were given him again and again, and always gladly accepted; and the
next day, there he was on the road as usual, with toes exposed.
His boots were his method; they were the man's trade; without his
boots he would have starved; he did not live by charity, but by
appealing to a gross taste in the public, which loves the limelight
on the actor's face, and the toes out of the beggar's boots. There
is a true poverty, which no one sees: a false and merely mimetic
poverty, which usurps its place and dress, and lives and above all
drinks, on the fruits of the usurpation. The true poverty does not
go into the streets; the banker may rest assured, he has never put
a penny in its hand. The self-respecting poor beg from each other;
never from the rich. To live in the frock-coated ranks of life, to
hear canting scenes of gratitude rehearsed for twopence, a man
might suppose that giving was a thing gone out of fashion; yet it
goes forward on a scale so great as to fill me with surprise. In
the houses of the working class, all day long there will be a foot
upon the stair; all day long there will be a knocking at the doors;
beggars come, beggars go, without stint, hardly with intermission,
from morning till night; and meanwhile, in the same city and but a
few streets off, the castles of the rich stand unsummoned. Get the
tale of any honest tramp, you will find it was always the poor who
helped him; get the truth from any workman who has met misfortunes,
it was always next door that he would go for help, or only with
such exceptions as are said to prove a rule; look at the course of
the mimetic beggar, it is through the poor quarters that he trails
his passage, showing his bandages to every window, piercing even to
the attics with his nasal song. Here is a remarkable state of
things in our Christian commonwealths, that the poor only should be
asked to give.
There is a pleasant tale of some worthless, phrasing Frenchman, who
was taxed with ingratitude: "IL FAUT SAVOIR GARDER L'INDEPENDANCE
DU COEUR," cried he. I own I feel with him. Gratitude without
familarity, gratitude otherwise than as a nameless element in a
friendship, is a thing so near to hatred that I do not care to
split the difference. Until I find a man who is pleased to receive
obligations, I shall continue to question the tact of those who are
eager to confer them. What an art it is, to give, even to our
nearest friends! and what a test of manners, to receive! How, upon
either side, we smuggle away the obligation, blushing for each
other; how bluff and dull we make the giver; how hasty, how falsely
cheerful, the receiver! And yet an act of such difficulty and
distress between near friends, it is supposed we can perform to a
total stranger and leave the man transfixed with grateful emotions.
The last thing you can do to a man is to burthen him with an
obligation, and it is what we propose to begin with! But let us
not be deceived: unless he is totally degraded to his trade, anger
jars in his inside, and he grates his teeth at our gratuity.
We should wipe two words from our vocabulary: gratitude and
charity. In real life, help is given out of friendship, or it is
not valued; it is received from the hand of friendship, or it is
resented. We are all too proud to take a naked gift: we must seem
to pay it, if in nothing else, then with the delights of our
society. Here, then, is the pitiful fix of the rich man; here is
that needle's eye in which he stuck already in the days of Christ,
and still sticks to-day, firmer, if possible, than ever: that he
has the money and lacks the love which should make his money
acceptable. Here and now, just as of old in Palestine, he has the
rich to dinner, it is with the rich that he takes his pleasure:
and when his turn comes to be charitable, he looks in vain for a
recipient. His friends are not poor, they do not want; the poor
are not his friends, they will not take. To whom is he to give?
Where to find - note this phase - the Deserving Poor? Charity is
(what they call) centralised; offices are hired; societies founded,
with secretaries paid or unpaid: the hunt of the Deserving Poor
goes merrily forward. I think it will take more than a merely
human secretary to disinter that character. What! a class that is
to be in want from no fault of its own, and yet greedily eager to
receive from strangers; and to be quite respectable, and at the
same time quite devoid of self-respect; and play the most delicate
part of friendship, and yet never be seen; and wear the form of
man, and yet fly in the face of all the laws of human nature: -
and all this, in the hope of getting a belly-god Burgess through a
needle's eye! O, let him stick, by all means: and let his polity
tumble in the dust; and let his epitaph and all his literature (of
which my own works begin to form no inconsiderable part) be
abolished even from the history of man! For a fool of this
monstrosity of dulness, there can be no salvation: and the fool
who looked for the elixir of life was an angel of reason to the
fool who looks for the Deserving Poor!
And yet there is one course which the unfortunate gentleman may
take. He may subscribe to pay the taxes. There were the true
charity, impartial and impersonal, cumbering none with obligation,
helping all. There were a destination for loveless gifts; there
were the way to reach the pocket of the deserving poor, and yet
save the time of secretaries! But, alas! there is no colour of
romance in such a course; and people nowhere demand the picturesque
so much as in their virtues.
WITH the agreeable frankness of youth, you address me on a point of
some practical importance to yourself and (it is even conceivable)
of some gravity to the world: Should you or should you not become
an artist? It is one which you must decide entirely for yourself;
all that I can do is to bring under your notice some of the
materials of that decision; and I will begin, as I shall probably
conclude also, by assuring you that all depends on the vocation.
To know what you like is the beginning of wisdom and of old age.
Youth is wholly experimental. The essence and charm of that
unquiet and delightful epoch is ignorance of self as well as
ignorance of life. These two unknowns the young man brings
together again and again, now in the airiest touch, now with a
bitter hug; now with exquisite pleasure, now with cutting pain; but
never with indifference, to which he is a total stranger, and never
with that near kinsman of indifference, contentment. If he be a
youth of dainty senses or a brain easily heated, the interest of
this series of experiments grows upon him out of all proportion to
the pleasure he receives. It is not beauty that he loves, nor
pleasure that he seeks, though he may think so; his design and his
sufficient reward is to verify his own existence and taste the
variety of human fate. To him, before the razor-edge of curiosity
is dulled, all that is not actual living and the hot chase of
experience wears a face of a disgusting dryness difficult to recall
in later days; or if there be any exception - and here destiny
steps in - it is in those moments when, wearied or surfeited of the
primary activity of the senses, he calls up before memory the image
of transacted pains and pleasures. Thus it is that such an one
shies from all cut-and-dry professions, and inclines insensibly
toward that career of art which consists only in the tasting and
recording of experience.
This, which is not so much a vocation for art as an impatience of
all other honest trades, frequently exists alone; and so existing,
it will pass gently away in the course of years. Emphatically, it
is not to be regarded; it is not a vocation, but a temptation; and
when your father the other day so fiercely and (in my view) so
properly discouraged your ambition, he was recalling not improbably
some similar passage in his own experience. For the temptation is
perhaps nearly as common as the vocation is rare. But again we
have vocations which are imperfect; we have men whose minds are
bound up, not so much in any art, as in the general ARS ARTIUM and
common base of all creative work; who will now dip into painting,
and now study counterpoint, and anon will be inditing a sonnet:
all these with equal interest, all often with genuine knowledge.
And of this temper, when it stands alone, I find it difficult to
speak; but I should counsel such an one to take to letters, for in
literature (which drags with so wide a net) all his information may
be found some day useful, and if he should go on as he has begun,
and turn at last into the critic, he will have learned to use the
necessary tools. Lastly we come to those vocations which are at
once decisive and precise; to the men who are born with the love of
pigments, the passion of drawing, the gift of music, or the impulse
to create with words, just as other and perhaps the same men are
born with the love of hunting, or the sea, or horses, or the
turning-lathe. These are predestined; if a man love the labour of
any trade, apart from any question of success or fame, the gods
have called him. He may have the general vocation too: he may
have a taste for all the arts, and I think he often has; but the
mark of his calling is this laborious partiality for one, this
inextinguishable zest in its technical successes, and (perhaps
above all) a certain candour of mind to take his very trifling
enterprise with a gravity that would befit the cares of empire, and
to think the smallest improvement worth accomplishing at any
expense of time and industry. The book, the statue, the sonata,
must be gone upon with the unreasoning good faith and the
unflagging spirit of children at their play. IS IT WORTH DOING? -
when it shall have occurred to any artist to ask himself that
question, it is implicitly answered in the negative. It does not
occur to the child as he plays at being a pirate on the dining-room
sofa, nor to the hunter as he pursues his quarry; and the candour
of the one and the ardour of the other should be united in the
bosom of the artist.
If you recognise in yourself some such decisive taste, there is no
room for hesitation: follow your bent. And observe (lest I should
too much discourage you) that the disposition does not usually burn
so brightly at the first, or rather not so constantly. Habit and
practice sharpen gifts; the necessity of toil grows less
disgusting, grows even welcome, in the course of years; a small
taste (if it be only genuine) waxes with indulgence into an
exclusive passion. Enough, just now, if you can look back over a
fair interval, and see that your chosen art has a little more than
held its own among the thronging interests of youth. Time will do
the rest, if devotion help it; and soon your every thought will be
engrossed in that beloved occupation.
But even with devotion, you may remind me, even with unfaltering
and delighted industry, many thousand artists spend their lives, if
the result be regarded, utterly in vain: a thousand artists, and
never one work of art. But the vast mass of mankind are incapable
of doing anything reasonably well, art among the rest. The
worthless artist would not improbably have been a quite incompetent
baker. And the artist, even if he does not amuse the public,
amuses himself; so that there will always be one man the happier
for his vigils. This is the practical side of art: its
inexpugnable fortress for the true practitioner. The direct
returns - the wages of the trade are small, but the indirect - the
wages of the life - are incalculably great. No other business
offers a man his daily bread upon such joyful terms. The soldier
and the explorer have moments of a worthier excitement, but they
are purchased by cruel hardships and periods of tedium that beggar
language. In the life of the artist there need be no hour without
its pleasure. I take the author, with whose career I am best
acquainted; and it is true he works in a rebellious material, and
that the act of writing is cramped and trying both to the eyes and
the temper; but remark him in his study, when matter crowds upon
him and words are not wanting - in what a continual series of small
successes time flows by; with what a sense of power as of one
moving mountains, he marshals his petty characters; with what
pleasures, both of the ear and eye, he sees his airy structure
growing on the page; and how he labours in a craft to which the
whole material of his life is tributary, and which opens a door to
all his tastes, his loves, his hatreds, and his convictions, so
that what he writes is only what he longed to utter. He may have
enjoyed many things in this big, tragic playground of the world;
but what shall he have enjoyed more fully than a morning of
successful work? Suppose it ill paid: the wonder is it should be
paid at all. Other men pay, and pay dearly, for pleasures less
Nor will the practice of art afford you pleasure only; it affords
besides an admirable training. For the artist works entirely upon
honour. The public knows little or nothing of those merits in the
quest of which you are condemned to spend the bulk of your
endeavours. Merits of design, the merit of first-hand energy, the
merit of a certain cheap accomplishment which a man of the artistic
temper easily acquires - these they can recognise, and these they
value. But to those more exquisite refinements of proficiency and
finish, which the artist so ardently desires and so keenly feels,
for which (in the vigorous words of Balzac) he must toil "like a
miner buried in a landslip," for which, day after day, he recasts
and revises and rejects - the gross mass of the public must be ever
blind. To those lost pains, suppose you attain the highest pitch
of merit, posterity may possibly do justice; suppose, as is so
probable, you fall by even a hair's breadth of the highest, rest
certain they shall never be observed. Under the shadow of this
cold thought, alone in his studio, the artist must preserve from
day to day his constancy to the ideal. It is this which makes his
life noble; it is by this that the practice of his craft
strengthens and matures his character; it is for this that even the
serious countenance of the great emperor was turned approvingly (if
only for a moment) on the followers of Apollo, and that sternly
gentle voice bade the artist cherish his art.
And here there fall two warnings to be made. First, if you are to
continue to be a law to yourself, you must beware of the first
signs of laziness. This idealism in honesty can only be supported
by perpetual effort; the standard is easily lowered, the artist who
says "IT WILL DO," is on the downward path; three or four potboilers
are enough at times (above all at wrong times) to falsify a
talent, and by the practice of journalism a man runs the risk of
becoming wedded to cheap finish. This is the danger on the one
side; there is not less upon the other. The consciousness of how
much the artist is (and must be) a law to himself, debauches the
small heads. Perceiving recondite merits very hard to attain,
making or swallowing artistic formulae, or perhaps falling in love
with some particular proficiency of his own, many artists forget
the end of all art: to please. It is doubtless tempting to
exclaim against the ignorant bourgeois; yet it should not be
forgotten, it is he who is to pay us, and that (surely on the face
of it) for services that he shall desire to have performed. Here
also, if properly considered, there is a question of transcendental
honesty. To give the public what they do not want, and yet expect
to be supported: we have there a strange pretension, and yet not
uncommon, above all with painters. The first duty in this world is
for a man to pay his way; when that is quite accomplished, he may
plunge into what eccentricity he likes; but emphatically not till
then. Till then, he must pay assiduous court to the bourgeois who
carries the purse. And if in the course of these capitulations he
shall falsify his talent, it can never have been a strong one, and
he will have preserved a better thing than talent - character. Or
if he be of a mind so independent that he cannot stoop to this
necessity, one course is yet open: he can desist from art, and
follow some more manly way of life.
I speak of a more manly way of life, it is a point on which I must
be frank. To live by a pleasure is not a high calling; it involves
patronage, however veiled; it numbers the artist, however
ambitious, along with dancing girls and billiard markers. The
French have a romantic evasion for one employment, and call its
practitioners the Daughters of Joy. The artist is of the same
family, he is of the Sons of Joy, chose his trade to please
himself, gains his livelihood by pleasing others, and has parted
with something of the sterner dignity of man. Journals but a
little while ago declaimed against the Tennyson peerage; and this
Son of Joy was blamed for condescension when he followed the
example of Lord Lawrence and Lord Cairns and Lord Clyde. The poet
was more happily inspired; with a better modesty he accepted the
honour; and anonymous journalists have not yet (if I am to believe
them) recovered the vicarious disgrace to their profession. When
it comes to their turn, these gentlemen can do themselves more
justice; and I shall be glad to think of it; for to my barbarian
eyesight, even Lord Tennyson looks somewhat out of place in that
assembly. There should be no honours for the artist; he has
already, in the practice of his art, more than his share of the
rewards of life; the honours are pre-empted for other trades, less
agreeable and perhaps more useful.
But the devil in these trades of pleasing is to fail to please. In
ordinary occupations, a man offers to do a certain thing or to
produce a certain article with a merely conventional
accomplishment, a design in which (we may almost say) it is
difficult to fail. But the artist steps forth out of the crowd and
proposes to delight: an impudent design, in which it is impossible
to fail without odious circumstances. The poor Daughter of Joy,
carrying her smiles and finery quite unregarded through the crowd,
makes a figure which it is impossible to recall without a wounding
pity. She is the type of the unsuccessful artist. The actor, the
dancer, and the singer must appear like her in person, and drain
publicly the cup of failure. But though the rest of us escape this
crowning bitterness of the pillory, we all court in essence the
same humiliation. We all profess to be able to delight. And how
few of us are! We all pledge ourselves to be able to continue to
delight. And the day will come to each, and even to the most
admired, when the ardour shall have declined and the cunning shall
be lost, and he shall sit by his deserted booth ashamed. Then
shall he see himself condemned to do work for which he blushes to
take payment. Then (as if his lot were not already cruel) he must
lie exposed to the gibes of the wreckers of the press, who earn a
little bitter bread by the condemnation of trash which they have
not read, and the praise of excellence which they cannot
And observe that this seems almost the necessary end at least of
writers. LES BLANCS ET LES BLEUS (for instance) is of an order of
merit very different from LE VICOMTE DE BRAGLONNE; and if any
gentleman can bear to spy upon the nakedness of CASTLE DANGEROUS,
his name I think is Ham: let it be enough for the rest of us to
read of it (not without tears) in the pages of Lockhart. Thus in
old age, when occupation and comfort are most needful, the writer
must lay aside at once his pastime and his breadwinner. The
painter indeed, if he succeed at all in engaging the attention of
the public, gains great sums and can stand to his easel until a
great age without dishonourable failure. The writer has the double
misfortune to be ill-paid while he can work, and to be incapable of
working when he is old. It is thus a way of life which conducts
directly to a false position.
For the writer (in spite of notorious examples to the contrary)
must look to be ill-paid. Tennyson and Montepin make handsome
livelihoods; but we cannot all hope to be Tennyson, and we do not
all perhaps desire to be Montepin. If you adopt an art to be your
trade, weed your mind at the outset of all desire of money. What
you may decently expect, if you have some talent and much industry,
is such an income as a clerk will earn with a tenth or perhaps a
twentieth of your nervous output. Nor have you the right to look
for more; in the wages of the life, not in the wages of the trade,
lies your reward; the work is here the wages. It will be seen I
have little sympathy with the common lamentations of the artist
class. Perhaps they do not remember the hire of the field
labourer; or do they think no parallel will lie? Perhaps they have
never observed what is the retiring allowance of a field officer;
or do they suppose their contributions to the arts of pleasing more
important than the services of a colonel? Perhaps they forget on
how little Millet was content to live; or do they think, because
they have less genius, they stand excused from the display of equal
virtues? But upon one point there should be no dubiety: if a man
be not frugal, he has no business in the arts. If he be not
frugal, he steers directly for that last tragic scene of LE VIEUX
SALTIMBANQUE; if he be not frugal, he will find it hard to continue
to be honest. Some day, when the butcher is knocking at the door,
he may be tempted, he may be obliged, to turn out and sell a
slovenly piece of work. If the obligation shall have arisen
through no wantonness of his own, he is even to be commanded; for
words cannot describe how far more necessary it is that a man
should support his family, than that he should attain to - or
preserve - distinction in the arts. But if the pressure comes,
through his own fault, he has stolen, and stolen under trust, and
stolen (which is the worst of all) in such a way that no law can
reach him.
And now you may perhaps ask me, if the debutant artist is to have
no thought of money, and if (as is implied) he is to expect no
honours from the State, he may not at least look forward to the
delights of popularity? Praise, you will tell me, is a savoury
dish. And in so far as you may mean the countenance of other
artists you would put your finger on one of the most essential and
enduring pleasures of the career of art. But in so far as you
should have an eye to the commendations of the public or the notice
of the newspapers, be sure you would but be cherishing a dream. It
is true that in certain esoteric journals the author (for instance)
is duly criticised, and that he is often praised a great deal more
than he deserves, sometimes for qualities which he prided himself
on eschewing, and sometimes by ladies and gentlemen who have denied
themselves the privilege of reading his work. But if a man be
sensitive to this wild praise, we must suppose him equally alive to
that which often accompanies and always follows it - wild ridicule.
A man may have done well for years, and then he may fail; he will
hear of his failure. Or he may have done well for years, and still
do well, but the critics may have tired of praising him, or there
may have sprung up some new idol of the instant, some "dust a
little gilt," to whom they now prefer to offer sacrifice. Here is
the obverse and the reverse of that empty and ugly thing called
popularity. Will any man suppose it worth the gaining?
We look for some reward of our endeavours and are disappointed; not
success, not happiness, not even peace of conscience, crowns our
ineffectual efforts to do well. Our frailties are invincible, our
virtues barren; the battle goes sore against us to the going down
of the sun. The canting moralist tells us of right and wrong; and
we look abroad, even on the face of our small earth, and find them
change with every climate, and no country where some action is not
honoured for a virtue and none where it is not branded for a vice;
and we look in our experience, and find no vital congruity in the
wisest rules, but at the best a municipal fitness. It is not
strange if we are tempted to despair of good. We ask too much.
Our religions and moralities have been trimmed to flatter us, till
they are all emasculate and sentimentalised, and only please and
weaken. Truth is of a rougher strain. In the harsh face of life,
faith can read a bracing gospel. The human race is a thing more
ancient than the ten commandments; and the bones and revolutions of
the Kosmos, in whose joints we are but moss and fungus, more
ancient still.
Of the Kosmos in the last resort, science reports many doubtful
things and all of them appalling. There seems no substance to this
solid globe on which we stamp: nothing but symbols and ratios.
Symbols and ratios carry us and bring us forth and beat us down;
gravity that swings the incommensurable suns and worlds through
space, is but a figment varying inversely as the squares of
distances; and the suns and worlds themselves, imponderable figures
of abstraction, NH3, and H2O. Consideration dares not dwell upon
this view; that way madness lies; science carries us into zones of
speculation, where there is no habitable city for the mind of man.
But take the Kosmos with a grosser faith, as our senses give it us.
We behold space sown with rotatory islands, suns and worlds and the
shards and wrecks of systems: some, like the sun, still blazing;
some rotting, like the earth; others, like the moon, stable in
desolation. All of these we take to be made of something we call
matter: a thing which no analysis can help us to conceive; to
whose incredible properties no familiarity can reconcile our minds.
This stuff, when not purified by the lustration of fire, rots
uncleanly into something we call life; seized through all its atoms
with a pediculous malady; swelling in tumours that become
independent, sometimes even (by an abhorrent prodigy) locomotory;
one splitting into millions, millions cohering into one, as the
malady proceeds through varying stages. This vital putrescence of
the dust, used as we are to it, yet strikes us with occasional
disgust, and the profusion of worms in a piece of ancient turf, or
the air of a marsh darkened with insects, will sometimes check our
breathing so that we aspire for cleaner places. But none is clean:
the moving sand is infected with lice; the pure spring, where it
bursts out of the mountain, is a mere issue of worms; even in the
hard rock the crystal is forming.
In two main shapes this eruption covers the countenance of the
earth: the animal and the vegetable: one in some degree the
inversion of the other: the second rooted to the spot; the first
coming detached out of its natal mud, and scurrying abroad with the
myriad feet of insects or towering into the heavens on the wings of
birds: a thing so inconceivable that, if it be well considered,
the heart stops. To what passes with the anchored vermin, we have
little clue, doubtless they have their joys and sorrows, their
delights and killing agonies: it appears not how. But of the
locomotory, to which we ourselves belong, we can tell more. These
share with us a thousand miracles: the miracles of sight, of
hearing, of the projection of sound, things that bridge space; the
miracles of memory and reason, by which the present is conceived,
and when it is gone, its image kept living in the brains of man and
brute; the miracle of reproduction, with its imperious desires and
staggering consequences. And to put the last touch upon this
mountain mass of the revolting and the inconceivable, all these
prey upon each other, lives tearing other lives in pieces, cramming
them inside themselves, and by that summary process, growing fat:
the vegetarian, the whale, perhaps the tree, not less than the lion
of the desert; for the vegetarian is only the eater of the dumb.
Meanwhile our rotatory island loaded with predatory life, and more
drenched with blood, both animal and vegetable, than ever mutinied
ship, scuds through space with unimaginable speed, and turns
alternate cheeks to the reverberation of a blazing world, ninety
million miles away.
What a monstrous spectre is this man, the disease of the
agglutinated dust, lifting alternate feet or lying drugged with
slumber; killing, feeding, growing, bringing forth small copies of
himself; grown upon with hair like grass, fitted with eyes that
move and glitter in his face; a thing to set children screaming; -
and yet looked at nearlier, known as his fellows know him, how
surprising are his attributes! Poor soul, here for so little, cast
among so many hardships, filled with desires so incommensurate and
so inconsistent, savagely surrounded, savagely descended,
irremediably condemned to prey upon his fellow lives: who should
have blamed him had he been of a piece with his destiny and a being
merely barbarous? And we look and behold him instead filled with
imperfect virtues: infinitely childish, often admirably valiant,
often touchingly kind; sitting down, amidst his momentary life, to
debate of right and wrong and the attributes of the deity; rising
up to do battle for an egg or die for an idea; singling out his
friends and his mate with cordial affection; bringing forth in
pain, rearing with long-suffering solicitude, his young. To touch
the heart of his mystery, we find, in him one thought, strange to
the point of lunacy: the thought of duty; the thought of something
owing to himself, to his neighbour, to his God: an ideal of
decency, to which he would rise if it were possible; a limit of
shame, below which, if it be possible, he will not stoop. The
design in most men is one of conformity; here and there, in picked
natures, it transcends itself and soars on the other side, arming
martyrs with independence; but in all, in their degrees, it is a
bosom thought: - Not in man alone, for we trace it in dogs and
cats whom we know fairly well, and doubtless some similar point of
honour sways the elephant, the oyster, and the louse, of whom we
know so little: - But in man, at least, it sways with so complete
an empire that merely selfish things come second, even with the
selfish: that appetites are starved, fears are conquered, pains
supported; that almost the dullest shrinks from the reproof of a
glance, although it were a child's; and all but the most cowardly
stand amid the risks of war; and the more noble, having strongly
conceived an act as due to their ideal, affront and embrace death.
Strange enough if, with their singular origin and perverted
practice, they think they are to be rewarded in some future life:
stranger still, if they are persuaded of the contrary, and think
this blow, which they solicit, will strike them senseless for
eternity. I shall be reminded what a tragedy of misconception and
misconduct man at large presents: of organised injustice, cowardly
violence and treacherous crime; and of the damning imperfections of
the best. They cannot be too darkly drawn. Man is indeed marked
for failure in his efforts to do right. But where the best
consistently miscarry, how tenfold more remarkable that all should
continue to strive; and surely we should find it both touching and
inspiriting, that in a field from which success is banished, our
race should not cease to labour.
If the first view of this creature, stalking in his rotatory isle,
be a thing to shake the courage of the stoutest, on this nearer
sight, he startles us with an admiring wonder. It matters not
where we look, under what climate we observe him, in what stage of
society, in what depth of ignorance, burthened with what erroneous
morality; by camp-fires in Assiniboia, the snow powdering his
shoulders, the wind plucking his blanket, as he sits, passing the
ceremonial calumet and uttering his grave opinions like a Roman
senator; in ships at sea, a man inured to hardship and vile
pleasures, his brightest hope a fiddle in a tavern and a bedizened
trull who sells herself to rob him, and he for all that simple,
innocent, cheerful, kindly like a child, constant to toil, brave to
drown, for others; in the slums of cities, moving among indifferent
millions to mechanical employments, without hope of change in the
future, with scarce a pleasure in the present, and yet true to his
virtues, honest up to his lights, kind to his neighbours, tempted
perhaps in vain by the bright gin-palace, perhaps long-suffering
with the drunken wife that ruins him; in India (a woman this time)
kneeling with broken cries and streaming tears, as she drowns her
child in the sacred river; in the brothel, the discard of society,
living mainly on strong drink, fed with affronts, a fool, a thief,
the comrade of thieves, and even here keeping the point of honour
and the touch of pity, often repaying the world's scorn with
service, often standing firm upon a scruple, and at a certain cost,
rejecting riches: - everywhere some virtue cherished or affected,
everywhere some decency of thought and carriage, everywhere the
ensign of man's ineffectual goodness: - ah! if I could show you
this! if I could show you these men and women, all the world over,
in every stage of history, under every abuse of error, under every
circumstance of failure, without hope, without help, without
thanks, still obscurely fighting the lost fight of virtue, still
clinging, in the brothel or on the scaffold, to some rag of honour,
the poor jewel of their souls! They may seek to escape, and yet
they cannot; it is not alone their privilege and glory, but their
doom; they are condemned to some nobility; all their lives long,
the desire of good is at their heels, the implacable hunter.
Of all earth's meteors, here at least is the most strange and
consoling: that this ennobled lemur, this hair-crowned bubble of
the dust, this inheritor of a few years and sorrows, should yet
deny himself his rare delights, and add to his frequent pains, and
live for an ideal, however misconceived. Nor can we stop with man.
A new doctrine, received with screams a little while ago by canting
moralists, and still not properly worked into the body of our
thoughts, lights us a step farther into the heart of this rough but
noble universe. For nowadays the pride of man denies in vain his
kinship with the original dust. He stands no longer like a thing
apart. Close at his heels we see the dog, prince of another genus:
and in him too, we see dumbly testified the same cultus of an
unattainable ideal, the same constancy in failure. Does it stop
with the dog? We look at our feet where the ground is blackened
with the swarming ant: a creature so small, so far from us in the
hierarchy of brutes, that we can scarce trace and scarce comprehend
his doings; and here also, in his ordered politics and rigorous
justice, we see confessed the law of duty and the fact of
individual sin. Does it stop, then, with the ant? Rather this
desire of well-doing and this doom of frailty run through all the
grades of life: rather is this earth, from the frosty top of
Everest to the next margin of the internal fire, one stage of
ineffectual virtues and one temple of pious tears and perseverance.
The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together. It is the
common and the god-like law of life. The browsers, the biters, the
barkers, the hairy coats of field and forest, the squirrel in the
oak, the thousand-footed creeper in the dust, as they share with us
the gift of life, share with us the love of an ideal: strive like
us - like us are tempted to grow weary of the struggle - to do
well; like us receive at times unmerited refreshment, visitings of
support, returns of courage; and are condemned like us to be
crucified between that double law of the members and the will. Are
they like us, I wonder, in the timid hope of some reward, some
sugar with the drug? do they, too, stand aghast at unrewarded
virtues, at the sufferings of those whom, in our partiality, we
take to be just, and the prosperity of such as, in our blindness,
we call wicked? It may be, and yet God knows what they should look
for. Even while they look, even while they repent, the foot of man
treads them by thousands in the dust, the yelping hounds burst upon
their trail, the bullet speeds, the knives are heating in the den
of the vivisectionist; or the dew falls, and the generation of a
day is blotted out. For these are creatures, compared with whom
our weakness is strength, our ignorance wisdom, our brief span
And as we dwell, we living things, in our isle of terror and under
the imminent hand of death, God forbid it should be man the
erected, the reasoner, the wise in his own eyes - God forbid it
should be man that wearies in well-doing, that despairs of
unrewarded effort, or utters the language of complaint. Let it be
enough for faith, that the whole creation groans in mortal frailty,
strives with unconquerable constancy: Surely not all in vain.
BY the time this paper appears, I shall have been talking for
twelve months; and it is thought I should take my leave in a formal
and seasonable manner. Valedictory eloquence is rare, and deathbed
sayings have not often hit the mark of the occasion. Charles
Second, wit and sceptic, a man whose life had been one long lesson
in human incredulity, an easy-going comrade, a manoeuvring king -
remembered and embodied all his wit and scepticism along with more
than his usual good humour in the famous "I am afraid, gentlemen, I
am an unconscionable time a-dying."
An unconscionable time a-dying - there is the picture ("I am
afraid, gentlemen,") of your life and of mine. The sands run out,
and the hours are "numbered and imputed," and the days go by; and
when the last of these finds us, we have been a long time dying,
and what else? The very length is something, if we reach that hour
of separation undishonoured; and to have lived at all is doubtless
(in the soldierly expression) to have served.
There is a tale in Ticitus of how the veterans mutinied in the
German wilderness; of how they mobbed Germanicus, clamouing go
home; and of how, seizing their general's hand, these old, war-worn
exiles passed his finger along their toothless gums. SUNT LACRYMAE
RERUM: this was the most eloquent of the songs of Simeon. And
when a man has lived to a fair age, he bears his marks of service.
He may have never been remarked upon the breach at the head of the
army; at least he shall have lost his teeth on the camp bread.
The idealism of serious people in this age of ours is of a noble
character. It never seems to them that they have served enough;
they have a fine impatience of their virtues. It were perhaps more
modest to be singly thankful that we are no worse. It is not only
our enemies, those desperate characters - it is we ourselves who
know not what we do, - thence springs the glimmering hope that
perhaps we do better than we think: that to scramble through this
random business with hands reasonably clean to have played the part
of a man or woman with some reasonable fulness, to have often
resisted the diabolic, and at the end to be still resisting it, is
for the poor human soldier to have done right well. To ask to see
some fruit of our endeavour is but a transcendental way of serving
for reward; and what we take to be contempt of self is only greed
of hire.
And again if we require so much of ourselves, shall we not require
much of others? If we do not genially judge our own deficiencies,
is it not to be feared we shall be even stern to the trespasses of
others? And he who (looking back upon his own life) can see no
more than that he has been unconscionably long a-dying, will he not
be tempted to think his neighbour unconscionably long of getting
hanged? It is probable that nearly all who think of conduct at
all, think of it too much; it is certain we all think too much of
sin. We are not damned for doing wrong, but for not doing right;
Christ would never hear of negative morality; THOU SHALT was ever
his word, with which he superseded THOU SHALT NOT. To make our
idea of morality centre on forbidden acts is to defile the
imagination and to introduce into our judgments of our fellow-men a
secret element of gusto. If a thing is wrong for us, we should not
dwell upon the thought of it; or we shall soon dwell upon it with
inverted pleasure. If we cannot drive it from our minds - one
thing of two: either our creed is in the wrong and we must more
indulgently remodel it; or else, if our morality be in the right,
we are criminal lunatics and should place our persons in restraint.
A mark of such unwholesomely divided minds is the passion for
interference with others: the Fox without the Tail was of this
breed, but had (if his biographer is to be trusted) a certain
antique civility now out of date. A man may have a flaw, a
weakness, that unfits him for the duties of life, that spoils his
temper, that threatens his integrity, or that betrays him into
cruelty. It has to be conquered; but it must never he suffered to
engross his thoughts. The true duties lie all upon the farther
side, and must be attended to with a whole mind so soon as this
preliminary clearing of the decks has been effected. In order that
he may be kind and honest, it may be needful he should become a
total abstainer; let him become so then, and the next day let him
forget the circumstance. Trying to be kind and honest will require
all his thoughts; a mortified appetite is never a wise companion;
in so far as he has had to mortify an appetite, he will still be
the worse man; and of such an one a great deal of cheerfulness will
be required in judging life, and a great deal of humility in
judging others.
It may be argued again that dissatisfaction with our life's
endeavour springs in some degree from dulness. We require higher
tasks, because we do not recognise the height of those we have.
Trying to be kind and honest seems an affair too simple and too
inconsequential for gentlemen of our heroic mould; we had rather
set ourselves to something bold, arduous, and conclusive; we had
rather found a schism or suppress a heresy, cut off a hand or
mortify an appetite. But the task before us, which is to co-endure
with our existence, is rather one of microscopic fineness, and the
heroism required is that of patience. There is no cutting of the
Gordian knots of life; each must be smilingly unravelled.
To be honest, to be kind - to earn a little and to spend a little
less, to make upon the whole a family happier for his presence, to
renounce when that shall be necessary and not be embittered, to
keep a few friends, but these without capitulation - above all, on
the same grim condition, to keep friends with himself - here is a
task for all that a man has of fortitude and delicacy. He has an
ambitious soul who would ask more; he has a hopeful spirit who
should look in such an enterprise to be successful. There is
indeed one element in human destiny that not blindness itself can
controvert: whatever else we are intended to do, we are not
intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. It is so in
every art and study; it is so above all in the continent art of
living well. Here is a pleasant thought for the year's end or for
the end of life. Only self-deception will be satisfied, and there
need be no despair for the despairer.
But Christmas is not only the mile-mark of another year, moving us
to thoughts of self-examination: it is a season, from all its
associations, whether domestic or religious, suggesting thoughts of
joy. A man dissatisfied with his endeavours is a man tempted to
sadness. And in the midst of the winter, when his life runs lowest
and he is reminded of the empty chairs of his beloved, it is well
he should be condemned to this fashion of the smiling face. Noble
disappointment, noble self-denial, are not to be admired, not even
to be pardoned, if they bring bitterness. It is one thing to enter
the kingdom of heaven maim; another to maim yourself and stay
without. And the kingdom of heaven is of the child-like, of those
who are easy to please, who love and who give pleasure. Mighty men
of their hands, the smiters and the builders and the judges, have
lived long and done sternly and yet preserved this lovely
character; and among our carpet interests and twopenny concerns,
the shame were indelible if WE should lose it. Gentleness and
cheerfulness, these come before all morality; they are the perfect
duties. And it is the trouble with moral men that they have
neither one nor other. It was the moral man, the Pharisee, whom
Christ could not away with. If your morals make you dreary, depend
upon it they are wrong. I do not say "give them up," for they may
be all you have; but conceal them like a vice, lest they should
spoil the lives of better and simpler people.
A strange temptation attends upon man: to keep his eye on
pleasures, even when he will not share in them; to aim all his
morals against them. This very year a lady (singular iconoclast!)
proclaimed a crusade against dolls; and the racy sermon against
lust is a feature of the age. I venture to call such moralists
insincere. At any excess or perversion of a natural appetite,
their lyre sounds of itself with relishing denunciations; but for
all displays of the truly diabolic - envy, malice, the mean lie,
the mean silence, the calumnious truth, the back-biter, the petty
tyrant, the peevish poisoner of family life - their standard is
quite different. These are wrong, they will admit, yet somehow not
so wrong; there is no zeal in their assault on them, no secret
element of gusto warms up the sermon; it is for things not wrong in
themselves that they reserve the choicest of their indignation. A
man may naturally disclaim all moral kinship with the Reverend Mr.
Zola or the hobgoblin old lady of the dolls; for these are gross
and naked instances. And yet in each of us some similar element
resides. The sight of a pleasure in which we cannot or else will
not share moves us to a particular impatience. It may be because
we are envious, or because we are sad, or because we dislike noise
and romping - being so refined, or because - being so philosophic -
we have an over-weighing sense of life's gravity: at least, as we
go on in years, we are all tempted to frown upon our neighbour's
pleasures. People are nowadays so fond of resisting temptations;
here is one to be resisted. They are fond of self-denial; here is
a propensity that cannot be too peremptorily denied. There is an
idea abroad among moral people that they should make their
neighbours good. One person I have to make good: myself. But my
duty to my neighbour is much more nearly expressed by saying that I
have to make him happy - if I may.
Happiness and goodness, according to canting moralists, stand in
the relation of effect and cause. There was never anything less
proved or less probable: our happiness is never in our own hands;
we inherit our constitution; we stand buffet among friends and
enemies; we may be so built as to feel a sneer or an aspersion with
unusual keenness, and so circumstanced as to be unusually exposed
to them; we may have nerves very sensitive to pain, and be
afflicted with a disease very painful. Virtue will not help us,
and it is not meant to help us. It is not even its own reward,
except for the self-centred and - I had almost said - the
unamiable. No man can pacify his conscience; if quiet be what he
want, he shall do better to let that organ perish from disuse. And
to avoid the penalties of the law, and the minor CAPITIS DIMINUTIO
of social ostracism, is an affair of wisdom - of cunning, if you
will - and not of virtue.
In his own life, then, a man is not to expect happiness, only to
profit by it gladly when it shall arise; he is on duty here; he
knows not how or why, and does not need to know; he knows not for
what hire, and must not ask. Somehow or other, though he does not
know what goodness is, he must try to be good; somehow or other,
though he cannot tell what will do it, he must try to give
happiness to others. And no doubt there comes in here a frequent
clash of duties. How far is he to make his neighbour happy? How
far must he respect that smiling face, so easy to cloud, so hard to
brighten again? And how far, on the other side, is he bound to be
his brother's keeper and the prophet of his own morality? How far
must he resent evil?
The difficulty is that we have little guidance; Christ's sayings on
the point being hard to reconcile with each other, and (the most of
them) hard to accept. But the truth of his teaching would seem to
be this: in our own person and fortune, we should be ready to
accept and to pardon all; it is OUR cheek we are to turn, OUR coat
that we are to give away to the man who has taken OUR cloak. But
when another's face is buffeted, perhaps a little of the lion will
become us best. That we are to suffer others to be injured, and
stand by, is not conceivable and surely not desirable. Revenge,
says Bacon, is a kind of wild justice; its judgments at least are
delivered by an insane judge; and in our own quarrel we can see
nothing truly and do nothing wisely. But in the quarrel of our
neighbour, let us be more bold. One person's happiness is as
sacred as another's; when we cannot defend both, let us defend one
with a stout heart. It is only in so far as we are doing this,
that we have any right to interfere: the defence of B is our only
ground of action against A. A has as good a right to go to the
devil, as we to go to glory; and neither knows what he does.
The truth is that all these interventions and denunciations and
militant mongerings of moral half-truths, though they be sometimes
needful, though they are often enjoyable, do yet belong to an
inferior grade of duties. Ill-temper and envy and revenge find
here an arsenal of pious disguises; this is the playground of
inverted lusts. With a little more patience and a little less
temper, a gentler and wiser method might be found in almost every
case; and the knot that we cut by some fine heady quarrel-scene in
private life, or, in public affairs, by some denunciatory act
against what we are pleased to call our neighbour's vices, might
yet have been unwoven by the hand of sympathy.
To look back upon the past year, and see how little we have striven
and to what small purpose; and how often we have been cowardly and
hung back, or temerarious and rushed unwisely in; and how every day
and all day long we have transgressed the law of kindness; - it may
seem a paradox, but in the bitterness of these discoveries, a
certain consolation resides. Life is not designed to minister to a
man's vanity. He goes upon his long business most of the time with
a hanging head, and all the time like a blind child. Full of
rewards and pleasures as it is - so that to see the day break or
the moon rise, or to meet a friend, or to hear the dinner-call when
he is hungry, fills him with surprising joys - this world is yet
for him no abiding city. Friendships fall through, health fails,
weariness assails him; year after year, he must thumb the hardly
varying record of his own weakness and folly. It is a friendly
process of detachment. When the time comes that he should go,
there need be few illusions left about himself. HERE LIES ONE WHO
MEANT WELL, TRIED A LITTLE, FAILED MUCH: - surely that may be his
epitaph, of which he need not be ashamed. Nor will he complain at
the summons which calls a defeated soldier from the field:
defeated, ay, if he were Paul or Marcus Aurelius! - but if there is
still one inch of fight in his old spirit, undishonoured. The
faith which sustained him in his life-long blindness and life-long
disappointment will scarce even be required in this last formality
of laying down his arms. Give him a march with his old bones;
there, out of the glorious sun-coloured earth, out of the day and
the dust and the ecstasy - there goes another Faithful Failure!
From a recent book of verse, where there is more than one such
beautiful and manly poem, I take this memorial piece: it says
better than I can, what I love to think; let it be our parting
"A late lark twitters from the quiet skies;
And from the west,
Where the sun, his day's work ended,
Lingers as in content,
There falls on the old, gray city
An influence luminous and serene,
A shining peace.
"The smoke ascends
In a rosy-and-golden haze. The spires
Shine, and are changed. In the valley
Shadows rise. The lark sings on. The sun,
Closing his benediction,
Sinks, and the darkening air
Thrills with a sense of the triumphing night -
Night, with her train of stars
And her great gift of sleep.
"So be my passing!
My task accomplished and the long day done,
My wages taken, and in my heart
Some late lark singing,
Let me be gathered to the quiet west,
The sundown splendid and serene,

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