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- The Sceptic and the Infidel. (
Concluded.) . .
- Cavalay. A Chapter of a Life. Part II. . . .
- The Druid and the Maiden . . . . .
- Carlyle as a Writer. Chapter IV. . . . .
- The Blessed Damozel . . . . .
- Childhood . . . .
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To the profound and eloquent remarks of M. Montégut, quoted in the last article on the Scepticism of Lassitude, it may be objected
persons that faith, of its nature, should be fixed. But the question is, whether the faith of finite beings ever has been,
or ever can be, fixed. The man who paces a deck may
think that he walks straight and upright, when he really follows every oscillation of the deck he paces. So if a man lives,
as he must live, on the billows of the age, his
faith must partake of the mobility of the flood on which he steers his course. Those who plead for the immutability of truth
forget, that the
are, mutable, and in this the whole question lies. Are not the Heavens one? Their constitution who can date? Since man first
raised his eyes they have
enthralled, consoled, terrified, or delighted the human race. Such as they were 6000 years ago so in the main are they now.
But we have changed. For who will say that Moses or
Homer saw the Heavens as Herschel sees? The Heavens, indeed, are one and the same,
but our apprehensions concerning them often contradictory in every particular to those
of the ancient, including the inspired, writers.
The anonymous writer of the “Restoration of Belief” proposes “Christianity or Atheism as the only
alternative now in front of the cultured branches of the human family.” He grounds his argument on the very partial assumption, “that the Atheism,
partly, and the Theism, entirely, of the present time is full of Christian sap.” But an author apparently so well read should not omit to state that
Christian theology has been inoculated by almost every successive doctrine of philosophy, from Plato downwards. Theism was
long antecedent to Christianity, and if, with the
author, we should suppose “the Gospel” (for argument’s sake) “to have breathed its last,” the alternative would still
remain between Atheism and Theism to the end of time, Theism being the natural belief of mankind, and Atheism but the
temporary malady of a certain small
of minds, since so long as the idea of cause and effect forms the groundwork of the human intellect, the bulk of men will
in a prime cause, and endow it with attributes, sound in proportion to their general progress. And if, as he says, no one
“philosophic Theism can maintain its ground,” it is simply because the attributes given to the Godhead in one age will vary according
to the amount of light acquired in another. The dark, though un-sensual and legal, Jehovah of Moses, is altogether a different
being from the God of the later Jews, or of Mr.
Kingsley, for instance, in his sermon on the “Divine Life:” and the progress is inevitable. None but an idiot ever grew up to
consider his father in manhood what he did as a child. If then theisms are subject to those periods of “fermentation” which
our author very properly
ascribes to and defends in the case of Christianity, the argument is exactly equal for and against both. Nay, it is no trifle
ground; for Christianity did not usher in, but only developed, the belief in one God; and if that constitution of men’s minds
should cease, which after a proper
amount of experience recognises, with whatever attributes, one prime and sole cause, the fate of Christianity will have become
a matter of very small moment indeed, and thus
much perhaps the author allows, with apparent inconsistency, elsewhere. Again he says, “Natural theology cannot lay the foundation for a worship, nor give
fixed support to an ethical doctrine.”
The stress here lies on the word “fixed;” and
of worship, judging
by the diversity of Christian worships, Christianity has failed to give. Moreover, whatever is common to all the various Christian
worships is really common to mankind, and,
therefore, as mankind, shifting. And as for the ethical doctrines founded on Christianity they too are diverse, and not only
so, but in many cases that diversity has actually
been accepted and derived from Grecian, purely natural, sources, unaided by divine revelation, except
so much of revelation as people may be disposed to imagine implanted
in man’s original constitution. If, therefore, the absence of fixed support given to worships and moral systems be any argument
against Natural Theology, it would
avail equally against Christianity also.
But the truth appears to be that
ethical doctrine, ever can be fixed, so long as humanity is not fixed, but
progressive; for even such as it is, the fixity of any worship is only apparent; if, instead of judging by the letter of creeds
and formularies, we judge by the spirit of the
men who own them. For in their hearts probably no two individuals ever did worship in the same way, though they uttered the
same words with their lips. And to express the
difference which Omniscience beholds between their prayers in spite of the common form, would actually require a different
form of words. And this is true of the purely
intellectual part of a creed or prayer. But it is still more true, when applied to the emotional part of worship, that namely
which regards the feelings, such as love,
devotion, adoration, sincerity, and the like. For as no two children award exactly the same feelings to one parent, neither
do two men to God. And as the reverence of the child
differs from that of the matured man, so will the inner worship of even one and the same individual vary at two different
periods. Thus, however durable liturgies and
doxologies may be, when once established, yet the spirit breathed into the words by succeeding tides of worshippers, not to
say by each individual at different
periods—the spirit, I say, gives the real meaning to the form. The same chalice will hold holy water and
The form indeed may remain, but those who watch human progress know that the essence and spirit below the form not only will,
but must change. The
infidel and the scholar both acknowledge this
change; but, while the former attributes it to blind chance, the latter believes in certain laws of transition, even when
unable to trace them.
But when, in a period of intellectual “ferment,” the author of the “Restoration of Belief” expresses
a fervent desire to go back to “that Christianity, whole and entire, which, filling as it did the mind and the heart of the early Church, carried it through
its day of trial,” that seems no better than if a man cutting his wisdom tooth should wish himself back in his mother’s womb.
So much for the impossibility of having fixed worships. And as for ethical systems they are subject to every kind of “fermentations,”
to use the
author’s own word, incident to religious schemes. They are not, and so long as human morality is not, never can be fixed.
Are the ten commandments fixed? In
themselves no doubt as fast as the Heavens. But the Commandments themselves,
ipsissimæ leges, have no influence on men. It is the interpretation for the time being of each commandment that really sways them, and this
fluctuates, or rather systematically
progresses with the whole tide of hermeneutics, with the whole history of a country’s laws, and with the whole stream of its
And should this be used as an argument against all reforms and all changes, since “any form may do for any spirit,” that is
more than the scholar
affirms. He advocates the doctrine, that all outward forms and institutions are but the incrustations and exponents of an
organic life within; that they grew out of that life
originally, and in course of time will begin to hang on more and more loosely as a new shell, so to speak, grows hidden by
the old one from the
outward eye, until this
older and outer covering, effete and worn out, finally drops off. This is pretty well acknowledged by all but the most violent
and antiquated Tories for all
institutions. It only remains to apply the same principle to all matters of opinion in religion. But, unfortunately, though
change does gradually and daily take
place before men’s eyes in matters of religion, they fear to allow it, and disclaim what they see, ceasing, in fact, to see
it, because they are haunted by the
fallacy that a religion, as to be true, it must be divine, so to be divine must be immutable. But in that case humanity ought
to be an immutable thing, because that also is
divine, being created of God; whereas, by his very creation, humanity is mutable, and, being mutable, everything, including
religion, adapted to its mutable nature, must
partake of a mutability, not indeed subject to chance, but, whether or not they are known, to fixed laws.* The temper of the
constitutional sceptic, while it leads him to suspect in general, will, in the case of his neighbours, often lead him to be
confiding in particular. His general suspicion often
arises from an excess of confidence having been early deceived and abused; but, in particular things and men he is still too
often trusting, loving, and sincere, and in himself
trustworthy. The man who, against the tide of the world’s contempt, speaks out his doubts, must have, unless he be a cynic,
a singular fund of trustworthiness. And
experience shows, that few men have been more blameless and trustworthy in their privacy than the avowed greater sceptics.
Thence, too, the sceptic is often severe in general,
lenient in particular; a general accuser, a particular excuser.
Transcribed Footnote (page 647):
* I am not aware that these remarks agree with Dr. Newman’s doctrine of Development, for he, if I mistake not, intended to
make the full
grown man return to the antics and exaggerations of the child; whereas the marks of affection of the man are ever colder,
and his conceptions of man and God more sober,
in comparison with the boiling fervour of the youth; and this, rightly understood, seems a sufficient answer to Dr. Newman’s
practical application to worships of a
theory sound in itself.
And this of itself might go a long way to account for the general hostility awarded to him on the part of the world and the
friendship of his more intimate acquaintances.
It may be interesting to consider how it should so often happen that those who are in reality above their age, not only fail
of the sympathies of their fellows, incurring
even their positive hatred, but should themselves, which is more extraordinary, look coldly on the general tide of progress.
The first efforts of superior minds are generally
directed to earn a certain independence of ideas, more or less adapted to the state of things around them, a principality
of thought, which they may still consider more
especially their own.
Of the original systems, which have startled or delighted mankind, perhaps most may be traced to the early discomforts of
men, whose tender or proud consciences, rudely
jostled in the crowd of conflicting ideas, have led them to yearn for a vista of their own, and to strive after some commanding
peak, whence to overlook in peace the turmoil
But, as every age is in travail of the next, thousands remain striving and fighting along the valleys, up the hills in which,
the efforts of the few have enabled them to
escape. The consequences of the separation are often as deplorable as they might have been foretold. Looking down, those who
have crowned the heights behold
aghast the tide of battle at their feet. So long as they were in the press themselves, elbowing and panting, they had neither
power nor time to survey the rolling flood. But
the confusion from which they have fled they now see thrice confounded. At rest themselves they forget their recent plight,
and exaggerating the efforts of each unit by the
agitation of the sum total, they are smitten with the panic and dread of universal anarchy. With angry pity they retort upon
the reproaches of apathy and selfishness or godless
hurled at them from beneath, and from the height of their elevation, as they see far ahead how the path of progress must
lie, they cannot understand the restless
impatience of those below, and view with melancholy disgust the desperate contortions of men striving in vain to look beyond
their neighbour. Hence it so often happens that
they to whom the many might reasonably have looked for guidance and encouragement throw ice on burning zeal, and reap unexpected
hatred, suspicion, or contempt, instead of the
honour due to their loftier position.
Such among other men is the fate of eminent sceptics. And yet, in the words of Emerson,
“The right ground of the Sceptic is not at all of unbelief, not at all of universal denying; nor of universal doubting; least
of all, of scoffing, and
profligate jeering at all that is stable and good. He is the considerer, the prudent, taking in sail, counting stock, husbanding
his means, believing that a man has too
many enemies than that he can afford to be his own…. . It is a position taken up for better defence, as of more safety, and
one that can be maintained, and
it is one of more opportunity and range; as when we build a house the rule is to set it not too high nor too low, under the
but out of the
Again he says,
“Though we are natural conservers and causationists, and reject a sour, dumpish unbelief, the sceptical class have reason,
and every man, at some time, belongs to it.
Every superior mind will pass through this domain of equilibration—I should rather say, will know how to avail himself of
the checks and
balances in Nature, as a natural weapon against the exaggeration and formalism of bigots and blockheads
“Scepticism is the attitude assumed by the student in relation to the particulars which society adores, but which he sees
to be reverend only in their
tendency and spirit. Society does not like to have any breath of question blown upon the existing order. But the interrogation
of custom at all points is an inevitable
stage in the growth of every superior mind, and is the evidence of its perception of the flowing power which remains itself
in all changes. The superior mind will find
itself equally at odds with the evils of society and with the projects that are offered
to relieve them. The wise sceptic is a bad citizen; no conservative; he sees the selfishness of property, and the drowsiness
of institutions. But neither is he fit to work with any democratic party that ever was constituted; for parties wish every
one implicated, and he penetrates the popular
egotism. His politics are those of the ‘Soul’s Errand’ of Sir Walter Raleigh; or of Krishna in the
Bhagavat;—‘There is none who is worthy of my love or hatred;’ whilst he sentences law, physic, divinity, commerce, and custom.
He is a
reformer; yet he is no better member of the philanthropic association. It turns out that he is not the champion of the operative,
the pauper, the prisoner, the slave.
It stands in his mind that our life in this world is not of quite so easy interpretation as churches and school-books say.
He does not wish to play the part of
Devil’s attorney, and blazon every doubt and sneer that darkens the sun for him: but he says, ‘
there are doubts.’
This picture of the Constitutional Sceptic of all times, the type of minor modifications, or exaggerations, vigorously drawn
by an eminent American pen, is rendered still
more interesting, perhaps, coming after the more abstract and refined description of general phases quoted from the distinguished
French Publicist. Surely a little scepticism
would be a vast blessing to those, who, in Jeremy Taylor’s words,
“read, study, pray, search records, and use all the means of art and
industry, in the pursuit of truth,—not with a resolution to follow that which shall seem truth to them, but to confirm what
before they did believe: and if any
arguments shall seem unanswerable against any article of their Church, they are to take it for a temptation, not for an illumination,
and they are to use it accordingly;
which makes them make the devil to be the author of that which God’s Spirit hath assisted them to find in the use of lawful
means and search of
Much is said of the tendency of the positive sciences to disturb religious truth; and it is indeed curious to observe the
bye-play which accompanies the progress of
knowledge. “What is sure” says the author of Restoration of Belief, in a very remarkable passage,
sure will be pressing upon what is uncertain, whether or not the two be brought designedly into collision or comparison. What
is well defined
weighs upon, and against, what is ill defined. Nothing stops the continuous involuntary operation of
science, in dislodging
from the minds of those who are conversant with both.”
And so true does this appear, that every orthodoxy, from the time of those who impeached Anaxagoras for being guilty of the
“re-ification of the
sun,” down to our own people, who thought to stay the strides of geology,—every orthodoxy bristles all over at the birth of
a new fact, as if it never
knew exactly what was going to happen to it next. But against this nameless jealousy, the latent axiom of the
unity of truth is perpetually obtruding itself.
Under a polytheism twenty contradictory truths might have co-existed, all equally true, as emanating from distinct divinities;
but as emanating from one sole prime and perfect
cause they are not conceivable. Thus the unity, coherence, and harmony of truth is forced upon its often most unwilling champions,
who are reduced to lament in secret that they
have no corner of their own secure from intrusion, and that some unlucky discovery in chymistry or the stars may penetrate
into the darkest corner of divinity, because,
forsooth, all truth hangs together, and man, having but one mind, is subject to the same laws of thought in religion as in
science. And thus it comes that the positive sciences
have often been spoken of with but cold consideration, if not open abuse.
But it required little sagacity to discover that the language of the Bible being the natural and idiomatic language of a section
of mankind, would yield with the
elasticity of every untechnical tongue to the progressive requirements of science, as indeed it actually turned out. For at
first it was denied that the earth turned round the
sun, because the Bible said the
sun turned round the earth. But when it became certain that the earth actually did turn round the sun, it was discovered
Bible had never meant to say whether it did or not, but had merely adopted the daily language of the Jews for the time being.
To this method of interpretation, with good will,
patience, and very moderate ingenuity, there is hardly any limit, and thus the more sagacious party have ceased to fear any
danger from that quarter. What they fear and dislike
are the stubborn, patient, and conscientious habits of thought and enquiry fostered by scientific pursuits.
There is hope of an enthusiast, for any vagary: but experience shows how little of the experimentalist. They confine themselves,
therefore, in a general way to calling
independence of thought towards
man hostility towards
God; and, in a word, adopt the very Christian warfare of giving a dog a bad name. The
Churches, we may be thankful, have many nobler spirits: but they belong to those whose faith rises beyond the fictions of
a day,—less defined, perhaps, but more
palpitating,—less precise, but more kind; who penetrate beyond the husk of institutions to the diviner essence of life and
charity, the true bond of human
brotherhood; who care for universal truth more than for their own; whose hearts, not centred in one spot, embrace both earth
and heaven: the Gamaliels of a land. And they would
be more numerous in every church, if the insane notion of the essential criminality of religious heterodoxy, dogging their
every thought, did not warp so many of their best
sons into silent bitterness or loud hostility.
It is not, then, by tightening the bonds of mutual toleration
only, that infidelity seems likely to be checked, but by establishing
the true, proper, and lawful foundation of human forbearance. Chickens are not made for egg-shells; but eggshells for chickens.
Men are not made
for churches; but
churches for men. We seem perpetually in danger of mistaking the fly for the coach—the effect of an institution for the great
tide and temper of the times, on which
the institution is afloat. Church discipline is improved, says Mr. Conybeare. But if Church discipline is improved, is it
not because the temper of the times is improved? If
the “tribe of Hoadlies” has vanished, is it not because even doubt has learnt to respect itself, and to know its own place
and value in the economy of
truth? And is not this, perhaps, as it ought to be? For since the present generation has had such triumphant and multifarious
proof and experience of the power of true
knowledge, and so many more students, jostled much against their will into independence of thought, on looking back have seen
how often honestly to doubt once was to believe
for ever; being no other, in fact, than the evidence of that spirit of childlike humility, necessary to enter into the kingdom
of truth; no wonder if even Doubt should have
learnt to esteem itself, and refuse to accept a portion with infidels and dogs.
There is a class of men not easy to describe, whom possibly Mr. Conybeare would include in the Broad Church,—a class of men
who, if sifted by a higher power,
might, for ought we know, be found to have no opinions at all, only the knack of believing that they do believe; but what,
they will not tell, and of course nobody else can.
“They are Anglican.” But if asked what Anglican is, they look at you with dignity and calm politeness, and (for your sake,
no doubt) change the
subject. If you are of a gentle turn, you immediately suspect yourself of being guilty of some shocking enormity—of having
forgotten your Catechism or the ten
Commandments, God knows, of never having learnt them at all; you feel humble and repentant; you are dumb-stricken by the silent
reproof of an all but august self-possession. If you are of a hot and generous nature, you curse yourself for your own imprudence,
and them for their coldness and unkindness. But if you pique yourself on sagacity, and are sufficiently ill-natured, you feel
quite sure, somehow, that they are infidels in
disguise, and you are half consoled by the discovery for their impudence. You are mistaken, however. They are not infidels.
They do not belong to the chosen band of
“twenty” in the Church, who, “under the mask of impenetrable hypocrisy,” escape even Mr. Conybeare’s practised eye. They
really do believe that they believe. Their lot is indeed most fortunate. They live in the happy consciousness of faith. They
occupy the loftiest ground. They are unassailable.
They are not, like the miser, for ever counting their articles.
bags are sealed, labelled, duly shelved, properly aired and dusted, and never opened. To
the wealth of such men there is really no limit. It is untold, fabulous. Their credit is unbounded. Of their neighbours’ affairs
can afford to
talk. They do not live in glass houses. Hence they are not the shallow, illiterate pedants of any school. They look at everything,
scan everything. They are familiar with every
system, every creed, with every virtue and every enormity. At college they discussed them hotly or cynically. Perhaps some
were not without the hearty and specific convictions
of youth. But youth grows into manhood. What they discussed hotly, they now discuss calmly. The absence of all inconvenient
personal allusions or reference to past times has
become a tacit freemasonry. They look at opinions in general with godlike dispassion, each man living in a circle of his own,
a circle magic and unseen, from which all
particular opinion provokingly and pertinaciously recoils. Does not every one of my readers know ten such men? Now all this
very well. In daily life they are often
most useful and exemplary men—often excellent friends, most charming companions. But why confine the freemasonry of
to a personal clique?
If they look so calmly on systems, why not a little more kindly on the authors of systems? if merciful to abstractions, why
not to living life?
“Honeymans” and Hoadlies, Recordites and Mark-of-the-Beast men, with the whole tribe of quacks, I give up to their withering
contempt; but why are they
more Anglican than human, more Christian than Christ? Whether or not Mr. Conybeare himself belongs to this party, I do not
for a moment decide. But while on the one hand he
would, I think, have us understand that he, for his part, does not answer for the salvation of the un-Anglican “thinker,”
on the other hand he has
pointedly attacked Carlyle and Miss Martineau; the latter, perhaps, in some sense inhumanly. The sincerity, the long labours,
the deep philanthropy, whatever the temper and the
faults, of this extraordinary woman, are well known. Have Christians no tempers, no faults? Are they always sincere, laborious,
and humane? She is now on her deathbed, and,
after a long life spent as a Unitarian, she has, it appears, made in her last days a formal profession of Atheism. Now Atheism
is a very revolting thing, if it proceeds from
the hostility of vice: a very melancholy state of mind, if, in the inscrutable designs of Providence, it should proceed from
lengthened labours and lassitude of thought, as we
may charitably suppose. But if a daughter should have spent a long and lonely life in search of her father, and worn out in
body and soul, should breathe her last by the way,
exclaiming in the madness of her heart, “I have no father!”—would such an exclamation, such a delusion, alter the bowels of
compassion, and would a father sympathize with him, who, on passing by and hearing the
agonizing words of a death-swoon, could point the finger of scorn and cry “ha, ha! you could not find him?”
With Mr. Kingsley may we not ask, if we shall attribute to God in heaven less mercy than to fathers on Earth?
With regard to Carlyle, whom Mr. Conybeare accuses of designing tactics in the conduct of his writings, of having first veiled
his tendencies under scriptural
phraseology, and then unmasked his batteries against the truth, I need only give M. Montégut’s masterly and charitable explanation.
He remarks, that
“The Anglican church would see far smaller inroads into the ranks of her faithful, if she possessed the gifts by which Carlyle
has moved so many minds, that
is, his warmth and sympathy, and above all his marvellous faculty of expressing the secret thought and hidden travail of the
generations whom he addresses. If the young
men, and the women themselves have read with so much enthusiasm the writings of Carlyle, it is because he has called the loudest
sursum corda that England has heard in this century. Those dithyrambics of a living and impassioned heart have acted on new generations
like a religious note. And what indeed
are the active forces of religion, if not impassioned feeling and life? Carlyle happened to possess precisely those gifts
of proselytism which are necessary to the
chiefs of churches, and there lies the principal cause of his success. The moral consequences which may flow from the writings
of the man, whom it is impossible to read
without esteem and to know without respect, are not such as Mr. Conybeare would insinuate. Mr. Charles Bampton could never
find in them any theories of sentimental
indulgence, nor could the odious Archer ever find any arguments in them to warrant his crimes. If, with respect to systems,
Carlyle may be looked upon as a pantheist
(which is disputed; for pantheism was never with him a profession of faith, but only a note of interrogation, if we may call
it so), on the other hand, with respect to
morality, he has remained an intractable dualist. Instead of identifying in one single and suspected unity the two principles
of good and of evil, he has never failed
to mark the impassable gulf between them. As a moralist he remains as austere as ever, and condemns as irrevocably the vicious
and guilty as ever Calvin or John Knox.
Nor is he in the habit of trifling with the deleterious influences that slowly enervate the mind. No one has more energetically
denounced, than he has, the
sentimentality of the eighteenth century, the modern
indulge genio, and the religions of sensuality which he has had the honest cynicism to call by their true name: “phallus worship.” But
above all, in
subjects of practical morality, the solid good sense of the man breaks out, who, while he admires Goethe and opposes Bentham,
is not the more disposed, on that account,
to admit the poetry of vice, than its utility.”
M. Montégut then proceeds to observe, that
“Mr. Conybeare embodies an accusation against Carlyle, which the most superficial knowledge of his writings refutes: he accuses
him of tactics and strategy.
According to him, he first insinuated himself into public notice in sheep’s clothing to deceive the flock better, and once
in threw off the mask, and
appeared in his true character of a wolf. He made use of Christian phraseology to express philosophical ideas, and affected
a mystical gait to play the part of a
rationalist; then, having made his way under ground, and sheltered from attack secured a strong position, he then unmasked
all his batteries. The difference, it is
true, between his earlier and later writings is, as every one knows, sufficiently palpable; but this difference is explained
by age and common life. In his youth he was
more of a mystic. As he grew older, the religious ideal held less place in his mind, until at length he was seized with that
fury of terrestrial justice, practical and
political, which in his later years has become his war-cry. Give him justice; he will have it at any price; impose it by whatever
means, and force men to be just by the
sword! He who shall accomplish this revolution will be sure of his obedience, and do not talk to him of scruples of conscience,
of evangelical mildness, of moral
persuasion, &c.! Bottled Moonshine all that! A good government, strenuous and just, that is now his ideal. Where is there
a shadow of tactics in all this? To
him who can read, the metamorphosis was preparing long ago, and the work on Cromwell forms the appropriate transition between
Carlyle the mystic, the believer in a
supernal ideal as a means of action on man, and Carlyle the worshipper of Frederic the Second, the king practical, atheistic,
A very common method of argument is to assume that, because one set of
objections to orthodoxy have been triumphantly disposed of, we are at liberty to take one victory gained as a general answer
objections for ever. But this would have held equally good in favour of any of the errors in science, which in spite of almost
preternatural longevity have given way at last,
and the assumption is so injurious in the minds of many men to the cause of the Christian Religion that it may be worth while
to dwell on its futility.
If every religion must have its phases and crises, it will of course have to combat corresponding phases and crises of objection.
And this would suffice in a general way.
But it may be thought of greater moment to enumerate particularly some of the principal theological problems of the day, more
especially as they are too often buried in
foolish silence, while mock elephants of infidelity are elegantly trumped up to be elegantly demolished. It will thus appear
how grave and reasonable the doubts of honest men
may be. Those who advocate fearless discussion, and who believe that truth will prevail, will find no fault with me for calling
attention to difficulties which must be answered
sooner or later.
When Hume propounded his argument against miracles, he inferred that Christ and his Apostles were impostors. Divers scientific
answers, with various success, were
returned to the general argument; but his inference fell to the ground before the overwhelming conviction of most reasonable
men, that the New Testament writers and early
Christians were sincere, and had in many cases sealed their sincerity with their lives. But the study of history, aided by
the immense increase of European discussion, the
fruits of which in this country have been far more generally felt during the last ten years, owing to the causes already suggested,
has disposed men to be more sparing of the
hypothesis of “impostorship.” The
belief, that Cromwell was a genuine Puritan and a sincere man has gained ground. It is no longer the fashion among
scholars to speak of Mahomet as an impostor. He was mistaken perhaps; but sincere. He was the “representative man,” to use
of an Oriental phase. Further, the whole downward stream of Grecian and Roman history has been set forth in a blaze of light,
explored by all the scholars and philosophers of
the Continent, and arranged in order by distinguished countrymen of our own more fitted for the latter task by the practical
habits derived from a more advanced national and
political experience. It used to be thought indeed, however vaguely, that the heathens had no religion, or no religion worthy
of much consideration. Despising their errors, we
neglected to enquire into their frames of mind, or how their religious beliefs had arisen. But recent historical labours have
done much to dispel such indifference. To take
Greece, we are compelled to abandon the opinion too commonly received at one time, and even now lingering, that the works
of Homer were the mere pleasing fictions of an idle
and imaginative race. We now see that the early books of the Jews were not held in higher religious reverence by the Hebrews
than were the books of Homer by the Greeks. Homer,
we now know, was the Bible of the Greeks. We never loved ours more than they did theirs, and when Socrates was put to death
for canvassing the Gods, his doom was but the index
of the struggle between the orthodox and critical parties, to the latter of which we even owe the germs of almost every modern
science, and of ethics so called Christian. The
Athenians, who voted the death of the philosopher, were not perverse or inhuman; they were orthodox, and convinced of the
truth and importance of their faith. Now the evidence,
, in favour of the inspiration of the early books of the
Jews is not one whit greater than that in favour of the early books and oracles of the Greeks; both resting on the affirmation
the respective nations, or of individuals of those nations. The faith of each was equally undoubting, no “undesigned coincidences”
are required to prove
it, and the earnest student may be excused for asking in what respect, taken all in all, the Jews had greater antecedent claims
on posterity than the Greeks. If later miracles
are appealed to, we know now that men may believe in fictitious miracles without a grain of insincerity or imposition. If
the superior morality of the Gospel is pleaded, we
know that, as a science, ethics were founded in Greece, and that too by the sceptical party of their day. And those who have
read Plato’s Dialogues know that
Socrates went the length of inculcating forgiveness of our enemies in the midst of the most cruel and vindictive of peoples,
and that to have proceeded one step farther to the
love of our enemies, judging from the whole tenour of his views, would have been a very easy transition.
But moreover, there are more obscurities in Jewish history than in Grecian, and the doubts they occasion are not removed by
the knowledge on the part of the scholar of
the paucity of materials, which, he knows, has lent too great a handle to party feelings, for violent distortion or enforced
conventional silence. When a few years ago Dr.
Milman published a History of the Jews, written in a manly, universal spirit, he was immediately taxed with latitudinarianism
and neology. Owing to such jealousies, and to the
fact, that Hebrew is not generally studied at school like Greek and Latin, while immense strides have been made in the history
of the Greeks and Romans, and the minds of
educated men prepared for the results, the history of the Jews has
treatment at all, and any attempts at it in
England are viewed
with distrust and ill will, and easily misrepresented by fanatics and hypocrites.
The enlightened sceptic pleads, that if the Jews believed in one God, and that be urged in favour of their antecedent superiority,
that very superiority should not be set
aside on the question of their trustworthiness, when they rejected the claims of the Christ. On
purely historical grounds, which it must be remembered, he
says, are the proper and primary grounds of evidence, it does not easily appear that the career of the Saviour on earth differed
more from that of Socrates than might have been
expected from national differences. Socrates resisted the Aristophanites, or old orthodox party on one side, and the infidel
sophists on the other. He too had his demon; his
heavenly inspiration. The Saviour, on the other hand, resisted the Pharisees or orthodox party on the one hand, and the infidels
or Sadducees on the other. And when it is
remembered how vast a difference there is between the mystic depth and oriental fervour of the Jews and the cold, bright intellect
of the Greeks, if many a man, accustomed to
weigh delicate evidences, is loth after the history of human delusions to do unnecessary violence to those universal and primary
laws of nature, which to the scientific student
are the highest glory of the Creator, it need not be wondered at that he should hesitate in attributing supernatural agency
to an historical phase, the counterpart of which he
thinks he sees clearly in the life of other nations.
here really lies with the orthodox party, for they, not the sceptics, are the innovators, since the latter appeal to the
and primary principle of “greater simplicity,” which is, that of two or more possible suppositions the simplest in order should
be taken until it can be
shown not to be the true one. Now,
, it is the simplest hypothesis
to suppose Jewish history to have been amenable to the same or similar phases, the same or similar
“fermentations,” as other nations have been found to be subject to. And when on actual trial it seems likely to turn out that
not only are the various
phases highly analogous, but even the very differences such as might have been expected, the sceptic is only more philosophical
in assuming one comprehensive law to include
both nations, until churchmen of the old school can prove the hypothesis insufficient.
Such an argument and assumption is not of an infidel hostile to religion, but of a sincere and highly cultivated man, who
is more devoted to truth than to opinion. It is
not the argument of the eighteenth century, neither of Hume nor yet of the more recent and more visionary Strauss. So far
from being elated by the pride of knowledge, as he is
malignantly represented, his doubts proceed from very humility and fidelity to the Creator whom he reveres.
Again, another question of great import, hinging on to the former, is that of the inherent natural depravity of man. The philosophical
moralist argues, that men are
observed, until perverted by habit, to do some good actions for the sake only of doing good actions, whereas they do no bad
actions for the sake only of doing bad actions, but
in reality only to compass some imaginary good. That it should be an imaginary good argues no natural depravity, only frailty
Appealing to “Bishop Butler’s Sermons on Human Nature,” he maintains that no crime, much less a minor fault,
can be pointed out, into which frail and ignorant men might not have fallen without any inherent natural depravity; and that
since, on the natural hypothesis of the frailty of
mankind it can be shown, by the easiest steps, that the gold of civilization would have been accompanied by all the dross
which has actually accompanied
artificial hypothesis is unnecessary, savouring too much of the dark fears of a fervid people in its infancy, analogous to
the feelings which gave rise to the Promethean myths
of other countries, myths which only represent the craving of all tribes to explain the apparent hostility between the heavenly
powers and man in tribulation.
According to Emerson,
“The word Fate or Destiny expresses the sense of mankind in all ages that the laws of the world do not always befriend, but
often hurt and crush us. Fate, in
the shape of
Kinde or Nature, grows over us like grass. We paint Time with a scythe; Love and Fortune blind; and Destiny deaf. We have too little
power of resistance against this ferocity, which champs us up.”
This feeling decreases with the growth of light; yet Mr. Kingsley, in his Sermons for the Times, still finds it
necessary to combat it in his most forcible language. Eclipses are taken by rude tribes as marks of divine wrath, and the
same spirit will seek to exculpate itself from sin by
the legend, sincerely believed, of an original fall. Fichte observes, that there is a universal tendency in mankind to place
the golden age behind them, which in reality is the
ideal of a golden age to come. From such a golden age the whole apparent tendency of history, past and cotemporary, goes,
he thinks, to prove that no nation ever did start;
while, if the whole known cycle of nations be taken in, humanity seems plainly to tend to it, Christianity being only the
most perfect hitherto of moral evolutions of the
world. “They have not understood me,” said the noble old man, when he was banished from Saxony on the charge of atheism:
“they have not understood me.” The sceptic who entertains, and whose attainments warrant such doubts, by his devoted love of truth, and
by his impartiality above all bribe from hope or fear, is not the least sincere friend of
civilization; and to class him with the enemies of God and the Church, is either childish injustice or conscious weakness,
the most fiendish iniquity. Such a man has no notion of overturning the Church and unsettling the weak. He views infidelity
(truly, not vulgarly so called) with pity and almost
divine compassion. He would rather a millstone were hung about his own neck, than that he should tamper with the faith of
the simplest “little one.” He
does not wish, he would be grieved, that any one should entertain his doubts, who has not also trodden his most laborious
grounds. He believes in and patiently contributes his
mite towards the gradual unfolding, the final ascendancy, of truth, be that
what it may
On the other hand, it too often happens
“that the people’s questions are not his; their methods are not his.” … “Even the doctrines dear to the hope of
man—of divine Providence, and of the immortality of the soul,—his neighbours cannot put the statement so that he shall affirm
it. But he denies out of
more faith, not less: he denies out of honesty. He had rather stand charged with the imbecility of scepticism than with untruth.
I believe, he says, in the moral design of
the universe: it exists hospitably for the weal of souls: but your dogmas seem to me caricatures. Why should I make-believe
them? Will any say, this is cold and infidel?
The wise and magnanimous will not say so. They will exult in his farsighted goodwill, which can abandon to the adversary all
the ground of tradition and common belief,
without losing a jot of strength. It sees to the end of transgression … Now shall he, because a good nature inclines him
to virtue’s side, say, There
are no doubts, and lie for the right? Is the name of virtue to be a barrier to that which is virtue?”
These words, put into the mouth of the sceptic in Emerson’s Lecture on Montaigne, express the feelings of many men who may
be pardoned a feeling of indignation
and bitterness, when foolishly reviled with infidelity, and secretly looked upon as the enemies of truth.
Any criticism of ordinary novels written to adorn a text must be a secondary consideration. It may not, therefore, perhaps
be deemed necessary to review the story before
us in the character of a novel. As a novelist, the author of “Perversion” is what might have been expected from his other writings: sharp, shrewd, dextrous and observant; accurate, but in haste;
without hurry, but lacking the
first requisite of art, repose. The impression left is of the well-trained Senate-house writer, who, even should he fail of
great excellence in any, is sure of moderate success
in every task to which he may turn his hand.
Such passages as the following, though certainly not of frequent occurrence throughout the one thousand odd pages with which
we are favoured, may not betoken any very
high artistic power.
A poor old clergyman is represented as receiving his younger friends in the following style:
“Young gentlemen,” he said, “I am obliged to you by the honour you have done myself and my family,
I am. It is very
good of you to come and meet us in this unceremonious manner,
it is. I have the honour of introducing to you my son Thomas, I
and I hope he will do his duty as a member of the illustrious college to which you belong,
But Mr. Conybeare’s essays will probably be thought, generally speaking, very far superior to his novel, Cambridge honours
being now, perhaps, more conducive
to criticism than to works of fiction. But considering the apparent hostility of Mr. Conybeare to originality and independence
of thought, out of a certain limited sphere, he
would hardly be expected to attain to the ethereal touches of a Thackeray or Lesage, a Dickens or Cervantes. He would probably
deprecate the world-wide impartiality necessary
for such eminence, content to ruin those of whom he would be rid. To kindle the flame of sympathy in that world, whose great
heart “knows no long injustice,”
and burns from age to age with love of all things true, holy, excellent and great, requires a spark more catholic than he
in whom the Church has swallowed up the man. On the other hand, the cleverness, the information, the keen perception, the
apparent candour and admirable suppression of
everything calculated to injure the text of his sermon, are subjects of praise to which the author of “Perversion” is clearly well entitled.
Mr. Conybeare, who seems to agree with Arnold, that the Visible Church, though one universal commonwealth, is not restricted
to any single form of outward
, naturally thinks, therefore, that the dissenters may as well stay at home, and seems displeased that the sons of dissenting
ministers should consent to
adorn and encumber the livings of the Establishment. There is much that is natural and reasonable in this. But he reserves
all his severity for the religious Irish
fortune-hunter. Perhaps the following passage is in his best style:
“When the ladies withdrew this exhibition terminated, and was followed by a languid interval of dulness in the dining-room.
Mr. Moony had no longer the same
stimulus from the rapt attention of his audience; Charles and the Admiral conversed apart, and the other gentlemen drank their
wine in silence. At last the quantity
which he had imbibed began to tell on Murphy,”
an Irish travelling representative of the Millenarian Society,
“who waxed loquacious in his native brogue, which grew thicker and thicker as the wine mounted to his head. He edified the
company by an account of a clever
exploit he had performed in the last railway journey he undertook on behalf of the society he represented. He found his carpet-bag
missing (he said) at the terminus;
and where he expected it to be, saw a leathern portmanteau which seemed without an owner.
“And said I to myself, sure then exchange is no robbery: most likely the man who lost this leathern convanience has got me
carpet-bag, bad luck to him; so I
took the trunk home with me instead, and it has never been claimed since.”
“And did you open it, sir?” asked Charles. “Open, is it,” said Murphy, “and what for should’nt I?
Indeed but I did open it, and have worn the clothes in it ever since; and mighty convanient I have found them, for the man
that lost them must have been just me own
size, barring that he was a thought bigger: and with the fault of the tailor that fault is aisy cured.”
Presently they adjourn to the drawing-room, on reaching which they find a precocious young Recordite, petted by the ladies.
“Clara was asking him whether he knew little Rubric, the son of another clergyman in Summerham?”
“No,” cried the child, “I hate him; he is a nasty Tractarian.”
“Why, my dear boy,” said Charles, “what do you know about Tractarians? Do you know what the word Tractarian means?”
“Oh yes,” said the precocious controversialist, “I pick up little things from what papa says at luncheon. I know very well.
means the same as an infidel.”
“Quite right, you darling!” cried Miss Hawser; “how delightful to see clear views firmly impressed on the mind of such a
One feels quite unexpectedly indebted to Mr. Conybeare for giving society such an excellent lesson on the common use of the
If one should attempt to conceive Mr. Conybeare’s sentiments from his writings, however erroneous I hope the impression to
be, he would appear either to love
nothing and nobody, or to disguise that he loves anything and anybody, save, perhaps, under the limited idea of churchmanship.
And, therefore, while I think his photographical
exhibitions of many absurdities and vices—Tractarian, Recordite, and Infidel—will be as useful in their way as they are often
highly finished and amusing,
I feel convinced that he will convert few, call forth sympathy from few, living the life of him in whom the man does not also
contain the critic by the way, but in whom the
critic, keen, clear, and deft, embodies the whole man. What men
want now-a-days is love, that devotion of man to man, which in the pacific calm consequent on many convulsions, seems to
in the iron tread of business, dies within itself, ashamed to show its own face, when, with all the high and most substantial
blessings of greater freedom and equality, we
still must feel, that men are now so much alike—with agreements and disagreements so minutely subdivided and interwoven, that
it is toss up, whom we may like and
dislike, and from whom, being bound to-day, to-morrow we may drift. But that love they will not purchase at the expense of
their freedom, dearly bought, their principles, and
understandings. Such is the hidden sore of the present time, a sore which Mr. Conybeare’s writings are not calculated to heal
He speaks, indeed, with respect of Arnold and Dr. Hare, of Maurice, Wilson, Dawes and Perry. He patronises and reclaims his
own weak and amiable creation, Charles
Bampton, and seems to admit, that even unbelievers, like Socrates, may be good. But even Socrates he thinks will be admitted
into heaven, not to glorified humanity, but the
church. Whence it may be inferred, that man is for the church; not the church for man.
He walks with neat and businesslike step down the opposing ranks, marshalled for his criticism, and plunges the probing knife
unflinchingly in all. But when a victim is
not backed by a powerful party to support him, he is not prone to stop with the kind word and look to raise some little gem
of truth out of the dust at his victim’s
feet, and console him with an acknowledgment of it; there it is, there let it lie; it is covered with dust, something dirty.
A highly tempting opportunity occurs, for instance, in his Essay on Mormonism, of insinuating that Mormonism seems exactly to realize the ideal
of a distinguished controversialist, because in stating it as his chief objection
to the Christian system, that it discourages the love of earthly things, he proposed to
amend the precept of St. John—“Love not the world and the things of the world: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes
and the pride of
life,”—by simply leaving out the word
. Who this
controversialist may be is little to the purpose.
But so bold an insinuation, without note or comment, highly clever on the part of a determined partizan, would seem foolish
from one who has really truth at heart. Mr.
Conybeare need not be told that no doctrine has been and is more perverted by Christian preachers than that of “not loving
the world.” Historical critics
like Arnold, Hare, and Stanley,—and with these champions of the Broad Church Mr. Conybeare does not forbid his readers to
rank him,—men of such learning,
good faith, and temper, would be the last to deny, what any school-boy now knows, that the New Testament writers were influenced
not more by their own individual characters and
antecedents than by the various tendencies of their time. Now, the essential sin of matter is an opinion at all times highly
characteristic of eastern creeds, and one which has
filtered down in different proportions through all the successive Christian orthodoxies to our own time, where it forms the
often obscure root of those inconsistent and
visionary Philippics against the
, (meaning everything or nothing according to the ignorance or design of the preachers,) which are thundered or sighed
from so many of the pulpits, stigmatised by Mr. Conybeare himself. Perhaps four-fifths of the religious extravagances of the
day are either caused in the origin or aggravated
in the end by confused notions on what ought and what ought not to be condemned as love of the world. And it will generally
be found, that so many people have no connected
ideas of morality, save what they are taught
by daily life and by a jumble of texts, that when anything disturbs the even tenour of their lives, they fall a prey to the
sonorous voice they may hear declaiming against “the love of the world.”
But the precept “love not the world” must receive a vast amount of qualification indeed before students of nature will prefer
a doubtful text to
certain truth, while the world appears every day a more glorious confirmation of the greatness and wisdom of the Creator,
and they lament the poverty of their faculties to
fathom, and of their senses to relish, its most ineffable marvels. There is, in fact, a constant antagonism on this subject
between the practical sense of straightforward men
and these essential sin-of-matter-ite declaimers—an antagonism which has risen until the common sense of the former became
so fully established that they could
afford to put up with the latter as a mastiff will bear with the yelping of curs. On the other hand, we can scarcely hope
for a complete cessation of hostilities so long as
weak minds are, like strong minds, subject to disappointments, and, unlike strong minds, subject to turn round and kick a
chair because they ran up against it. True love of the
world is but the manifestation of all those rational excellences which make a civilized man what he ought to be, and what
eastern asceticism, too capable of conceiving, and too
hopeless of realizing, finally condemned. When Macduff breaks into that wonderful paroxysm of grief over the fate of his family,
he displays no more than that “love
of the world” which every good Englishman would only think himself and others too honoured in feeling as the most dignified
expression of the might of family
affection, the most elementary bond of Christian civilization.
But all this in favour of an antagonist seems not in Mr. Conybeare’s temper to have said. With Roman
fortitude he combats a host, and crushes a handful.
Thus, in dealing with the Recordites and Tractarians, he begins by doing full justice to their normal types, for two reasons,
perhaps. Firstly, because as he says
himself, the triple cord of the three church parties cannot well be unbound; but, secondly, also, as he does not say, because
those parties are powerful enough, in spite of
him, to do justice to themselves. But in the case of sceptics, (whom by the way he is careful to confound with infidels, actual
or potential,) and against whom he is secure of
the support of Recordite, Tractarian, and Broad Churchman, of Roman Catholic and Dissenter, knowing as he does, “the power
of names over things,” he seems
to think himself absolved from doing them any justice at all, and thus his account of scepticism and infidelity is but a caricature;
and, to use his own expression, one
Infidelity and vice, which, as every one knows, are
possible “exaggerations” of scepticism, he has very cleverly described. But
why not also the normal types of scepticism?
In the persons of the Oxonian Jones and Brown, Mr. Conybeare cleverly ridicules the use which
dilettante sceptics make of flimsy scientific and
historical attainments. So far good. But it is as well to add, that natural philosophy and critical history in those who really
do generally lay
the foundation for a delicate love of speculative truth in its minutest points, sought in vain from other pursuits: and to
such persons the amount of insincerity and the greedy
haste of assumption displayed in all dogmatic disputes, would appear ludicrous, were they not so often shocking and disgusting
on the part of men, with whom truth ought to be
not only the
sine quâ non, but the
ne plus ultra, the alpha and omega, of religion.
It is quite painful to such persons, and, in their opinion, does the champions
of orthodoxy more damage than anything, to see how often people otherwise high-minded, generous, and just, think nothing
apparently, of evading the laws of truth and morality to serve an opinion, (which, ought, if true, to serve itself,) or to
save a soul, as they think, from perdition, thereby
sacrificing virtue to its shadow, and falling into one ditch, while busy cudgelling their neighbour out of another.
If Mr. Conybeare had only meant to ridicule infidelity in its absurdities, and to brand it in its wickedness, every good and
decent man, orthodox, and heterodox, would
have been on his side. But he has done more. Instead of making infidelity the exaggeration of legitimate doubt, he has made
it the normal type. And he has adroitly thrown
discredit on every kind of scepticism by representing scepticism mainly not as the growth of honest enquiry, “of the degrees
of light and degrees of
understanding,” but as the tool of designing wickedness. All this is very clever; but, like all sleight-of-hand, it will die
its own death, or return on the
Of course there is some faint and contemptuous allowance made “for the doubts of a sceptical understanding, and the difficulties
inherent in the substance or
the documents of the Christian Religion.” We are then told “that the consequences which result from infidelity are, moral
deterioration and the loss of
happiness and peace.”
But then we ask ourselves, what infidelity is? What does Mr. Conybeare mean by infidelity? Does he mean doubts about any of
the cardinal doctrines of the Christian
Religion? Does he mean doubts about its evidences? Does he mean honest or dishonest doubt of any kind, or both?
On turning to his story we find a powerful delineation of sheer wickedness making a tool of doubts in general, and of friends
in particular, and a few
characters only fit to be made tools and fools of.
The moral of which story is simply this: “that the consequences, which result from
wickedness on the one hand, and
on the other, are moral deterioration and the loss of happiness and peace,” which is very true, and not new, leaving all the
real problems of the day unsolved, and,
save for the infusion of another grain or two of polemical venom, untouched.
“Out of the Church, no salvation,” is a very old maxim; older than the Inquisition, being the spirit of the first inarticulate
note of human
intolerance from the beginning.
But, “out of the Church, no morality,” is an implied doctrine of Mr. Conybeare, which, in the light of history, both sacred
and profane, will, I
trust, satisfy the largest appetite for novelty.
“Indifference to truth naturally leads to sensualism,” he says; “and the sensualist is naturally indifferent to
Both equally true, and equally false. For the gross belief in pleasure of the sensualist often prevents him from being indifferent
to dogmatic truths, and he loves
absolution even more than other men. If there is no priest to bestow it, he will divide himself into two, and is too much
in want of a
deus ex machinâ to be a sceptic at all. The most fervent sensualist is often also the most fervent believer,
in the vulgar sense of the word.
On the other hand, the sceptic—that is, the honest and calm doubter and enquirer—is not “indifferent to truth;” only more
faithful, and, strange though it may seem, only less firm, because more faithful. Moreover it is notorious, that real scepticism
has the effect of diminishing a
man’s faith in and capacity for “pleasure” more perhaps than anything else, because it inclines to consider the cost and vanity
of all things;
more certainly than religious restraints, if we may judge by
the mortifications and penances submitted to by such men as Pascal. It is a mere random shot, then, to say “the idolater
of pleasure has no faith in God;” while the assertion that “the most universal sceptic believes in pleasure” is contrary to
we define pleasure in such a way as to leave no importance to the statement.
In point of “morality, peace and happiness,” David Hume lived a happy, a contented, an independent, a pure, a most honourable
life, and died with a
serenity which many most excellent and most troubled Christians might well applaud and envy.
If however Mr. Conybeare has in his eye the malady which accompanies almost any change of opinions,—that moulting of the soul,
which for a time leaves the
moral sense weak, vacillating and erratic, exposed to every wind,—a blight and stagnation, or an excess of feeling, which
often in a high degree will accompany even
the passage from one locality to another, from one set of friends to another,—what then? It proves absolutely nothing.
“That is only another manœuvre” (says M. Montégut) “of all religious polemical writers, which consists in the
undue generalization of certain details and certain moral phenomena, which accompany this or that phase of unbelief. The experience
both of history and common life
teaches, for instance, that, when a man passes from faith to doubt, or, when he simply passes from one religious creed to
another, his morality for a time runs very
great perils. Nothing is more easy to explain than this fact, which is, so to speak, a phenomenon of natural morality. When
a man passes from one conviction to another,
there is a moment when his moral health is impaired; his soul loses its equilibrium, his principles are relaxed, his mental
eyesight is obscured. Like the nervous
system, when the blood no longer regulates it, his moral nature falls a prey to contractions and involuntary movements. A
certain time must elapse before the
equilibrium is re-established, and before the natural strength is restored.
“This passing malady, experienced by many a man, often in history follows in the wake of great revolutions. The most
austere reform is always
accompanied by the most shameful excesses. Thus companies of flagellators and Jumpers will bring up the rear-guard of Waldensian
Protestantism; a sect of Adamites
accompany the reforms of John Huss, and Anabaptist excesses follow closely on the labours of Luther. The departure then from
orthodoxy, whatever it may be, entails a
dangerous disease—nothing more true, or better proved;—what is false, is to represent this disease as mortal, or incurable,
or even as constant,
and above all, to assimilate a phenomenon, purely transient, with unbelief itself.”
As for all that Mr. Conybeare gravely relates of modern life and youthful scepticism in Oxford, M. Montégut sees in it but
the pranks of emancipated boyhood
rather than any positive tendencies to immorality. They are the freaks of young blood, philosophical buffooneries, in which
more than half is drollery and fun.
But however unfairly the author of Perversion may be thought to have dealt with the true philosophy of scepticism, in one
respect it is highly indebted to him. Although
he has recognized no good in it, the keen contempt with which he has deservedly stamped some of the possible exaggerations
of scepticism, cannot but tend to keep honest doubt
and enquiry (σκέψις) to their true foundations, cleared of vanity, frivolity
and wickedness. In which, let me attempt to do him the justice of observing, that he would, I trust, sympathize more openly
in “the doubts of a sceptical
understanding” could he but realize, or cease, in fact, to be an infidel on the proper sphere and virtues of doubt as the
prime lever in enquiry.
I fear I have already trespassed too long on my reader’s patience. But let me venture to observe, in drawing to a close, how
hardly it can be an accidental
circumstance, that all the
people in Perversion have weak lungs. Or if a casual exception occurs, it may be to save those who are afflicted with sounder organs from absolute despair. Mr.
Williamson has weak
lungs. Mrs.Williamson has weak lungs. Charles Bampton has weak lungs, and who can tell, that Hawkins would not have had weak
but for the timely loss of his fortune. Even Hawkins, however, had the cholera before it could be safely pronounced, that
“henceforward Charles Bampton was a
Christian.” What delicate speculations generations yet unborn may raise upon this, we can only guess at; but one thing is clear, that
the first step in
the overthrow of infidelity, and the progress of sound religion, will be to get rid of cod-liver oil.
Clara (not her letters) is a delightful creation, with just that
soupçon of a manly devil (a female devil is something too awful) in the
gentlest soul to make her truly dear. I love and pity her with all my heart. It is grievous to think she fell into Archer’s
hands, but still more painful that she
should have fallen under Mr. Conybeare’s ruthless pen. I can conceive no greater cruelty, than to make a sweet creature put
an end to herself because you have made
her unhappy. Mrs. Williamson is a very noble character. As Charles says, “I am sure Mrs. Williamson’s kindness is the natural growth of her loving
heart.” Thank God, there
are a few such in England.
But “Life in Barracks,” and “Prophets Unveiled” are chapters told with a zest and relish, a genuine gusto and smack of the
lips, from which, once embarked, you may venture to defy any ordinary reader to escape. After ten o’clock, keep your hair
down if you can. As for me, Pantheism
pursued me to bed like a panther, and I never was more overjoyed, awaking next morning, than to discover I had actually slept.
As I passed my hand over the cold dews of my
brow, involuntarily my lips broke into the beautiful motto of our novel,
- “……Hail! holy light;
- …Escaped the Stygian pool
- Thee I revisit safe.”
I had almost forgotten Homer, and
Shakespeare, and last, not least, the Bible. But I recovered my memory and am alive again.
The heavens embrace me; the sun shines; the birds sing; the flowers smile; and so will come to-morrow’s
da capo,—heavens the same, over different and differing eyes.
To quote another of Mr. Conybeare’s quotations, not perhaps without some trifling resentment, for having given me such a fright:
- “See the wretch, who long has toss’d
- On the thorny bed of pain,
- At length repair his vigour lost
- And, &c., &c., &c.”
To those who would look more particularly into what appear to be the true sceptical problems of the day, I venture to recommend
neither Hume nor Strauss, but the
Sixteenth Chapter of the first volume of Mr. Grote’s “History of Greece;” his account of the
Sophists; the three first Sermons of Butler on “Human Nature;” the introduction in Plato’s “Phædrus;” and Samuel Bailey’s admirable treatise “On the Formation
In conclusion, I will only ask permission to quote at length, a passage from Mr. Hallam’s “History of the
Literature of Europe,” to which I have already referred, believing it to deserve a far wider publicity than, coming from so eminent a pen, it
would seem to have obtained.
“ Mademoiselle de Duras, a Protestant lady, like most others of her rank at that time, was wavering about religion, and in
her presence the dispute was
carried on. It entirely turned on Church Authority. The arguments of Bossuet differ from those which have often been adduced
only by the spirit and conciseness with
which he pressed them. We have his own account, which of course gives himself the victory. It was almost as much of course
that the lady was converted, for it is seldom
that a woman can withstand the popular argument on that side, when she has once gone far enough to admit the possibility of
its truth, by giving it a hearing. Yet
Bossuet deals in sophisms, which though always in the mouths of those who call themselves orthodox are
contemptible to such as know facts or logic. ‘I urged,’ he says, ‘in a few words, what
presumption it was to believe that we can better understand the Word of God than all the rest of the Church, and that nothing
would thus prevent there being as many
religions as persons.’ But there can be no presumption in supposing that we may understand anything better than one who has
never examined at all; and if
rest of the Church, so magnificently brought forward, have commonly acted on Bossuet’s principle, and thought it presumptuous to judge
for themselves; if out of many millions of persons, a few only have deliberately reasoned on religion and the rest have been,
like true zeros, nothing in
themselves and much in sequence
; .…we can only scorn the emptiness, as well as resent the effrontery, of this common-place that rings so often in
our ears. Certainly, reason is so far from condemning a deference to the judgment of the wise and the good, that nothing is
more irrational than to neglect it; but when
this is claimed for those
whom we need not believe to have been wiser and better than ourselves, nay, sometimes whom without vainglory we may esteem
less, and that so as to set aside the
real authority of the most philosophical, unbiassed and judicious of mankind, it is not pride or presumption,
but a sober use of our faculties, that rejects the jurisdiction.”
Again he says:
“The main point, as Bossuet contends it to be, that the Protestant churches (for he does not confine this to persons) fluctuated
much in the sixteenth
century, is sufficiently proved; but it remained to show
that it was a reproach. Those who have taken a different view from Bossuet, may perhaps think
that a little
more of this censure would have been well incurred; that they have varied too little rather than too much; and that it is far
difficult, even in controversy with the Church of Rome, to withstand the inference, which their long creeds and confessions,
as well as the language too common with
their theologians, have furnished to her more ancient and catholic claim of infallibility, than to vindicate
those successive variations which are
analogous to the necessary course of human reason on all other subjects
. The essential fallacy of Romanism, that
truth must ever exist
visibly on earth, is implied in the whole strain of Bossuet’s attack on the variances of Protestantism: it is evident that variance
proves error somewhere; but unless it can be shown that we have any certain method of excluding it, this should only lead
us to be more indulgent towards the judgment
of others, and less confident of our own.
The notion of an intrinsic moral criminality in religious error is at the root of the whole argument; and
till Protestants are well rid of this, there seems no secure mode of withstanding the effect which the vast weight of authority
asserted by the Latin Church, even where
it has not the weight of the Eastern, must produce on timid and scrupulous minds.”
These noble sentiments of Mr. Hallam are capable of a far wider application than only to church authority. May they sink into
thousands of hearts, and enshrine him there
long after he has reaped the crown of his long, pure and most distinguished labours.
One word more.
It may be asked, “Why take so much pains to throw light on the position of the sceptic, unless you would advocate infidelity?”
Any defence of
infidelity, or unreasonable doubt, is very far from my thoughts; for if we believe truth to be the nature of things, so long
as truth exists, infidelity can never be the normal
nor durable condition of men’s minds. But true scepticism is not infidelity; and to consider and treat sceptics as infidels
and wild beasts, rebels to God and us, is
to invite them to behave as such; whereas, to recognise their just and lawful claims is to bind them over to keep the peace,
and to reap for ourselves that legitimate fruit of
their constitutional and honest peculiarities which Providence, we may believe, intended we should reap from every necessary
ingredient of human life.
- “Nourishing a youth sublime
- With the fairy tales of science and the long result of Time;
- When the centuries behind me like a fruitful land reposed;
- When I clung to all the present for the promise that it closed;
- When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see;
- Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that could be.
- Love took up the glass of Time, and turn’d it in his glowing hands;
- Every moment, lightly shaken, ran itself in golden sands.”
Editorial Note (page ornament): Initial C is ornamental.
Cavalay promised Isabel to read hard for his University examinations; a promise which was little needed, for life, with Isabel Carlwood
to love and
be loved by, was very different from what it had been when he seemed to stand alone in the world. He took lodgings in the
middle of London; a somewhat strange place, it may
appear, for a man to study in, but he chose it for its very stir and bustle, that he might feel animated by the constant sight
and sound of human labour around him. The
time between his engagement and the end of the long vacation was two months, and this period, as my readers will easily believe,
was perhaps the very happiest and most
active in all his life. Never had his mind made so much progress in so short a space, never had the problem of life come so
near solution. He now began to see life as it
really is, that the ideal is founded upon the actual, or rather is only another side of the same thing. His University reading,
to which he was now content, for the time,
to devote himself exclusively, was exactly suited to draw out, strengthen, and expand his intellect; though of course it was
his love for Isabel that, far more than all
other things, made the world a happy reality to him. It was that which gave meaning and value to all other things: without
love all things are as
a vain babbling, poetry a tinkling cymbal.
- “A web is woven across the sky,
- From out waste places comes a cry,
- And murmurs from the dying sun.
- And all the phantom, Nature, stands,
- A hollow form with empty hands.”
To say that his visits at Mr. Carlwood’s were happy, would be to speak of them most feebly; to both the lovers they were times
of complete, unalloyed
rapture;—there is such a thing even in this world, though, perhaps, to be felt only by two young hearts filled with mutual
love. She was advancing in mind scarce
less than he; every week he found her more beautiful, more glorious; more kind, too, and gentle and tender, growing in moral
grace not less than in intellectual power. And
thus their love reached that consummation, so rarely attained, except for a very short time, and even then, perhaps, only
by a false process, through some illusive medium
of idealization, which a little closer acquaintance easily undoes;—that highest form of love that each worshipped the other;—no
idolatry:—ye that truly love, search your own hearts for answer:—each was to the other the impersonation of all that was noblest
in humanity, she
being to him what his man’s nature most craved, the ideal of woman; he to her what her womanhood most needed and desired,
the ideal of man. And, deep and intense
as this love was, it was no less calm and constant; without passion, tumult, or caprice; like that perfect enthusiasm, which,
burning like fire within the heart, is yet held in absolute subjection under the will. Not that there were no seasons of sadness
and foreboding amid all this glory and
happiness; life can never be wholly happy and glorious, except for some fleeting day or hour; and the brightest happiness,
if only from contrast, is most surely followed by
the darkness or dimness of sorrow and fear. And thus our lovers, Cavalay especially, from his sadder disposition and experience,
could not but sometimes feel too
thoughtful, if not sorrowful, fearful, or doubtful of what they knew not,—perhaps only because they seemed at the very height
of bliss, and knew that in this
world of chances and changes, no condition can ever for long remain unaltered. Yet these feelings were not lasting, and might
almost be called a subdued happiness, arising,
as they did, from no definite cause, unless it were excess of joy. They were like clouds in a sky that elsewhere is pure blue,
which do not threaten present storm, but show
that storms have been and still must be. Yet once or twice sadness came upon them even when they were together. How could
it be otherwise? Had there been no other reason,
the summer soon began to fade into autumn, that lovely (to many the loveliest in all the year) but mournful season, when the
earth once more begins to die, and first the
limes and chestnuts, and before long the rest of the trees, lost their verdure little by little, and the ground was saddened
with discoloured, withering leaves. The skies
too were less brilliant and gorgeous, subdued and pensive, though as beautiful as before, and the garden where they had so
often lingered during the long, slow evenings,
changed flower after flower, the rose and the white lily and the heart’s-ease giving place to the hollyhock and the sunflower
and the marigold.
So no wonder if sorrow and fear stole into the hearts of the lovers once or twice even when they were together. One evening
she had been playing to him, chiefly from
Mozart’s “Twelfth Mass,” the “Qui Tollis,” many times, he listening with all his soul, in perfect silence, almost
motionless, with his head bowed down before the solemnity of its pathos. They were sitting in a room which led into the garden,—their
Eden, where they had first
known the joy of avowed love. She played till the dusk had made all things dim and solemn; and, in the sober, somewhat mournful
twilight they stept out into the garden, and
walked round it, arm closely linked in arm. They walked in silence for some time, till they came to a chestnut tree, beneath
which were lying a few leaves, the first sign
which they had observed of the coming of autumn. The passing away of the lovely summertime, especially of that summer which
had been so happy to them, saddened them, filled
them with dim fears, which they durst not confess, or even give shape to, lest it might be an omen of the quick fading of
that love which seemed too bright to last long.
And it was not until darkness had veiled the earth from their sight, and the stars had come out, pure and happy in a cloudless
sky, that they felt completely reassured and
tranquil. But as I said, their happiness was interrupted or chastened thus,—by some vague pain, some dim foreboding,—only
once or twice during the
whole two months; and in all London, perhaps, there was no happier man than Cavalay. I say perhaps, for I am not quite sure
of it. Yet what did he want? In love, his love
returned, the course of true love for once running smooth, for him,—working and taking pleasure in his work,—may we not call
him perfectly happy? It
was delight to him merely to walk along the streets, and watch the ever active industry on all sides around him; men ever
labouring to bring humanity nearer to its greater
goal,—how far off?
some seemed to say, “scarce a league:” he himself would help the good cause, a worker, perhaps not the
least, among workers. Oh! how different had life become to him since he had loved Isabel! No more weariness, no more despondence,
no more restlessness and vexation of
spirit; glad hope and faith, and untiring strength.
But in the streets was it all vigorous labour? Were there none weak, none suffering; none to relieve and pity, beside those
to take comfort from and emulate? Such
there were, doubtless, many such; he had once been struck, very painfully, by their number: but now he saw them not, or, if
he saw them, did not heed them, too busy and
happy to pause over helpless wretchedness. And was it not natural? nay, expedient, or even necessary? Why burden his free,
ardent spirit with the sense of misery which he
could do little or nothing to alleviate? Let him work and be happy. If the strong are to wait till they have lifted up the
weak and the fallen, they may stand still for
ever. The eyes must be closed against too sorrowful sights, and the heart shut upon too curious thoughts, that the hands may
labour in peace.
When Cavalay returned to Oxford, his friends were astonished to learn that he had been working so hard, were still more astonished,
as they well might be, to learn how
much he had done in those busy weeks, in which he had laboured like a young giant, rejoicing in his strength.
I think most men could point to some comparatively few seasons when their mind was more active, when they learnt more, and
taught more, and took more pleasure therein,
than at all other seasons of their life, in which study for the most part has been weariness of flesh. Some, perhaps, could
point out one single period, probably a very
short one, during which their intellect advanced with giant strides,—an era, which will never be forgotten, and round which
all their life will seem to centre.
may this be true of creative minds; of the poet when he first finds words to utter the thoughts which had before lain within
him unspeakable, the thoughts
themselves now coming to him far more rapidly, more spontaneously, more palpably,—so that it seems not so much as if his own
mind had developed suddenly and
swiftly, but rather as if some external spirit had seized him, and were using his faculties at its own will and for its own
purposes. Of the painter, too, when more and
more he sees deep meaning, such as no spoken language may declare, in the fair forms and colours which lie ever and in all
places before his sight, and feels that to his
hand at length has come the power to set them visibly forth to delight and teach the eyes and hearts of men. In the life of
the philosopher, also, will stand out seasons
when the great truths of the universe grow clear; when faith, if not knowledge, drives back doubt; when the riddle of the
earth becomes plain, and earth and heaven are
united. In such a happy mental state was Cavalay now. The wings of his soul were growing fast; for Love had opened his eyes
to see the supreme Beauty.
Meanwhile Love had been busy elsewhere. Wilton had intended to go from Wales straight to Cambridge, but, as the tour had ended
sooner than had been planned, he was
induced by Hartle to take his father’s house in the way, and, when once there, to remain two or three weeks. He easily renewed
his intimacy with Mary, and passed
a considerable part of his time alone with her. Both sketched, and this gave them opportunities for walking out together unaccompanied:
or, if May went out with them, she
soon found their society dull, and strayed off by herself. Clarence hated walking, and never left the house except for some
definite purpose. The gentleness and
affectionate truthfulness of Mary won fast upon Wilton’s heart; while he, in his turn, gained more and more her esteem and
they grew gradually and imperceptibly into a warmer feeling, which made her often lonely, she durst not ask why, when he
returned to Cambridge. He too found himself much less contented with Cambridge than he had been hitherto, and had no little
difficulty in keeping to his books. He could not
doubt what was the cause of this; and accordingly, about three weeks after
his return, wrote to Mary declaring his love. An early answer made him happy, with his
happiness, however, alloyed by the prospect of not seeing her again till Christmas. He wrote to Cavalay to inform him of his
engagement; who replied to congratulate him,
though, by the side of his own bright happiness, all other happiness appeared to him poor and worthless.
- “Life and Thought have gone away
- Side by side,
- Leaving door and windows wide:
- Careless tenants they!
- “All within is dark as night:
- In the windows is no light;
- And no murmur at the door,
- So frequent on its hinge before.
- “Close the door, the shutters close,
10Or through the windows we shall see
- The nakedness and vacancy
- Of the dark deserted house.
- “Come away: no more of mirth
- Is here, or merry-making sound.
- The house was builded of the earth,
- And shall fall again to ground.”
One day, in the middle of the term, in the early part of the afternoon, Cavalay was standing in Marlowe’s room, talking gaily
to him and
some half-dozen others. He was in unusually good spirits; his examination was very near, and he had good hopes of passing
it well, having been reading steadily ever since
his engagement. The messenger of the college entered with letters.
“Any for me?” he asked carelessly, for he did not expect any, not having had leisure for much correspondence during the last
“There is one, sir,” said the messenger.
He took it, and opened it, whistling. But he had not read three lines before he turned pale, and staggered against the mantel-piece.
The rest looked astonished, and
eagerly enquired what was the matter. He made no answer, but putting on his cap, walked out of
the room. When he reached his own room, he sat down and read the letter
to the end. It was from Mr. Carlwood. Isabel was very ill, it was feared dying; and they begged him to come to their house
at once. In ten minutes he was walking to the
Railway Station with his carpet-bag in his hand. He had even forgotten to obtain leave of absence from the Head of his college.
He enquired of a porter when the next train
would start for London, and was told, in three quarters of an hour. He sat down on a bench on the platform, and once more
read the letter. He could not yet believe its
dreadful news. When he had read it over slowly, word by word, till every phrase had firmly fixed itself in his mind, he tore
it up into small pieces, and then rose and
paced up and down along the platform. The train seemed to him neither a long time nor a short time in arriving; for, somewhat
he did not yet feel any impatience to reach London, though, when he was within twenty miles of it, his impatience was torturing.
Fortunately the train was an Express; and in a little more than two hours he was at the door of Mr. Carlwood’s house. The
blinds were down.—In the
hall stood Mr. Carlwood.—They shook hands in silence,—Mr. Carlwood led him to the dining-room, where were his wife, and their
younger, now their
, daughter, Emily, sobbing. The former could scarcely say,
“Oh, James! we were afraid you would come too late: but it has been all so sudden: John didn’t like to alarm you, and the
change the last two
days has been so rapid.”
Presently she grew a little calmer, and then continued,
“We had hoped that she would get better till yesterday morning, when all at once she grew very much worse, and then John immediately
wrote to you. She
continued sensible almost to the last. She asked several times if you were come, and said she should so much like to see you
before—.” Her voice was
choked with sobs, but Cavalay made no reply; and, when she recovered, she went on, “But she was so patient: we told her when
we wrote to you, and she said she
knew you would come as soon as you possibly could.”
But he seemed little interested in the particulars of her illness, engrossed and overwhelmed by the result. Neither, however
strange it may appear, did he once ask to
see her. He had a horror of the outward signs of death: and least of all could he have borne to look upon that face animated
no longer by the soul which he had so loved and
reverenced. He stayed at her father’s house till after the funeral; but scarcely ever spoke of her, indeed seldom talked at
all. He would remain for hours
sitting with his hand over his eyes, or with a book before him which it was evident he was not reading,—seeming absorbed in
they could have penetrated into his mind, they would have found that one thought alone possessed it: that thought was “Isabel
is dead:” it seemed as
if he could never sound the depths of the woe of those words. Mr. and Mrs. Carlwood did not care to disturb his reveries;
even in the midst of their own grief they felt
awed by a sorrow that seemed unutterable. But Emily, who had been a great favourite with him for her gentleness and liveliness,
would seat herself quietly upon his knee,
and, taking his hand, would softly kiss him under the eyes, and try to get him to talk with her as he had been used to do.
He gave her short replies, sometimes none at all;
but he received her caresses, and felt from them that comfort which children’s endearments often bring, when the sympathy
of their elders, as kind and as
sincere, is powerless.
He looked round, and saw here the piano upon which Isabel had played to him, the songs she had sung to him, the books he had
read to her; there the fields where they
had strolled together in the summer evenings, the garden in which they had first felt, and first made known, that they loved
each other. And of all this love and happiness
this was the end, death and misery. Why was it thus? Had she not, by making him happier, made him better? What remained to
him now? A dreary, bare wilderness, or a thicket
overgrown with sharp briars and poisonous plants; that was his road through the world to death. And on this desolate pilgrimage
who was to cheer and support him? Why had
she not lived, the only one who could win him from evil, and guide and strengthen him in good? But he would learn the lesson,
however bitter; never, never again would he
love; he could not reach happiness, but he might at least attain to indifference. Indifference! Had he not known it of old?
Had he not tried it, and proved it an
illusion?—that there is no such thing
as indifference,—that what is called so is only dull, instead of keen, misery? No; wretchedness,—heavy,
dreary, monotonous wretchedness,—that was his portion through life.—Nay, it seemed as if the actual present would never end,—as
would always have died a few days ago, always be lying up stairs in that fearful chamber, waiting to be carried to the cold,
dark grave. An eternity of this present. Oh
insupportable despair and horror of grief! He was utterly broken by it, cast down utterly prostrate. Not a single glimpse
of hope in the whole horizon; everywhere nothing
but horror, blackness, desolation.
The blinds drawn down, sound hushed, scarcely any motion, the house seemed a tomb. The dull, muffled light lingered through
the slow hours of day, till at length it
grew slightly dimmer, and the twilight came; then for a few minutes darkness settled on the room, till candles were lighted,
bringing a sudden relief, which died away
almost as rapidly as it sprang up; and they sat round the fire, but could not talk,—and every book they tried to read was
saddened to them for months after,
bearing the mark of those sorrowful, gloomy nights. Often during the first three days Mrs. Carlwood would leave the room,
and her footsteps would be heard softly creaking
up the stairs, and presently the ear would catch the distant, but distinct, sound of the key turning slowly in the lock of
the room in which Isabel lay. How Cavalay longed
to accompany her! But he could not, he durst not; it was no fear that could be overcome, no fear that he could shame himself
out of, that dread of the terrible chamber of
death. On the third day, when by that awful marvel of death the full beauty of the dead girl came out, to delight and awe
and sadden them for that one last day, Mrs.
Carlwood pressed him much to go with her into the room. He yearned to see his beloved once again, especially
now, when she was more beautiful than ever, though with
the beauty of death: but the day passed, and the fearful word “changed” told the time was come when the mortal body should
be rendered to the earth
from which it was taken. And she was going to the grave, and he had not beheld her for two months, that seemed ten times two
years; and he should never look upon her again;
for ever, for ever he had looked his last. For ever parted, without hope of meeting again, even for an instant, to utter the
farewell that had been left unspoken on earth.
And their old song rang in his ears, like a prophecy at length understood, hitherto only felt as a dark foreboding.
- No more, no more, O never more!
- Parted without a parting.
Yet how tenderly, with what an absorbing agony of tenderness, he loved her, though with this blind, hopeless love that could
not see beyond the present. Neither on
to the future, nor back to the past; even remembrance of her seemed entirely lost; nothing remained but the terrible knowledge
that she was dead. Dead, dead. How different
death seemed to him now, and then when he had been used to speak of it, even think of it, with hope and longing, as the passage
from lower to higher life. Did it seem this
to him now? Or did it seem, what the mouth of the grave was but a feeble emblem of, the entrance to total, final darkness
But at length, after a weary time, the last day itself, the day of the funeral came, and the dismal, mocking foppery of a
modern English funeral jarred upon the
passionate grief of the mourners, the father and brother and lover, who stood side by side round the grave, feeling more despair
from the sound of the earth dropping upon
the coffin-lid than hope from the words of the Service for the Dead. The father and brother wept abundantly; but Cavalay shed
no tears, though his eyes were dry and hot to
- “Come away: for Life and Thought
- Here no longer dwell;
- But in a city glorious—
- A great and distant city—have bought
- A mansion incorruptible.
- Would they could have stay’d with us!”
When the funeral was over, Cavalay left Mr. Carlwood’s house, and took lodgings in the west of London. Too restless to remain
doors, he passed the greater part of the day in wandering listlessly about the town, but avoiding all acquaintances, in particular
never going to Mr. Carlwood’s.
At first they took this as unkind neglect, but after a while they understood him, and pardoned him, and even pitied him the
It is the general effect of such domestic sorrow as is unembittered by disgrace,—perhaps scarcely less than of domestic happiness,—to
place in which it befell us. The memory of the happy olden time, of affection that grew stronger in the sorrowful after time,
wipes away little by little, as the months
and years go on, the painful recollections of sickness, death and parting, and gives the home a mingled interest far more
strong and lasting than if it had been merely the
scene of eating and sleeping in quiet, of talking and reading round the fire, with the household circle undiminished. And
thus the generality of men cling, all the more
fondly it may be, to places where they have lost those whom they loved. But there are some minds so morbidly sensitive that
a death will make gloomy and intolerable the
room, or even the whole house and neighbourhood, in which it happened; so that, if it is in their power, they leave it, or
avoid it, and even force it wholly out of their
remembrance; or, if they are compelled to live in it, or to visit it, or to pass by it, they feel a fear and horror which
all their courage can lessen but little,
which time only can take entirely away. Of this sort was Cavalay: for some weeks the sight of the house in which Isabel died
would have been torture to him.
All his old sociability was gone; nay, his very compassion and sympathy seemed to be lost also. As he walked along the streets,
and saw the sights of various misery
that met him almost at every step, he not only felt no desire to relieve them, but absolutely felt no pity for them. He could
only compare the lot of the wretches around
him with his own, which seemed to him still more miserable. Not one of them could have suffered so great a loss as he had
suffered, not one could have lost an Isabel
Carlwood. Compared to such a loss, poverty, disease, even crime, appeared to him trifling evils. It was strange logic, truly;
but it seemed sound to his passion of grief.
And so from day to day he grew more and more selfish, and the sorrow which should have taught him sympathy with the sorrows
of others only made him shut his heart more
closely upon them. Was this to be the end of his fascination, his sociability? Alas, they had been only garments, and, while
he wore them, inwardly he had been a mere
pleasure-seeker. And now, if left to himself, he had no power to help himself: but he was not so given over, and another was
about to open his eyes, that he might read the
lesson which lay before him. One afternoon, about a month after the death of Isabel, he was surprised by a visit from Hartle,
whom he had not seen since their tour in
Wales. Hartle had known of his engagement with Miss
Carlwood, and had heard of her death, but he was astonished and shocked to find so great an alteration in the appearance
whom he recollected so gay and full of life. But he was soon far more shocked to discover the state of torpid selfishness
into which Cavalay had sunk. He himself had taken
Orders, and was now a curate in a parish in the east of London, and thus had witnessed in the homes of the poor much of that
wretchedness, of which the other had seen a
small part in the streets. Very different from Cavalay’s was his estimate of the comparative lots of him and such people.
He tried to point out the truth to him,
but he could not, or would not see it, till Hartle said,
“Will you go round with me in my visits to-morrow afternoon? If you will, I will call for you at half-past two, and by this
time to-morrow I am sure you
will have greatly altered your opinion.”
“I have nothing better to do,” was the listless answer; “so I may as well do this as anything else.”
No, I will not describe the scenes of diverse misery which they visited that afternoon;—alas, the newspapers teem daily with
will tell only of the effect which these sights produced upon Cavalay. All the evening (which he spent with Hartle) he was
thoughtful, and talked
little, every now and then enquiring about some of the people whom they had visited. When they were about to separate, he
asked Hartle if he might accompany him the next
day. The day after that also he went with him; and then returned to his own rooms very sad, and absorbed in thought. Hartle,
who possessed a considerable knowledge of his
character, had said little to him, leaving his own thoughts and feelings to work their way. And they were working, strongly
and rapidly, and no less surely. A new light had
burst upon him,—a light which had shone upon him before,
though at most times dimly enough; but now, with irresistible brightness, it scattered the
darkness from his mind, and set before him the truth, the stern, startling, imperious truth. He stood bewildered and appalled
in this fearful lightning of conscience, which
unveiled to him distinctly and all at once his past life with its one great sin leavening the whole. He had lived hitherto
a totally mistaken life, no matter what
particulars of good had made part of it; he had lived in, and for, himself,—in his own thoughts and feelings—for his own happiness.
He had sought by
turns beauty, pleasure, admiration; but the one object of life he had never sought.
Now, as he walked along the streets, and looked on the men, women and children before him, how different were his reflections
from what they had been so short a time
before! How forcibly and startlingly it rushed upon him that with all this swarming mass of life he had scarcely any sympathy;
their tastes, their habits, their thoughts
were alien to his, were even unknown to him. Every man lives in some lesser world of his own, most men in very small worlds—for
narrow-mindedness is one of the
prime faults of human nature, making a true catholic and charitable spirit among the rarest, as among the most precious things
under the sun. But Cavalay had contracted his
world within the narrowest bounds. His remedy clearly was, to go out of himself; not merely, indeed not primarily, to enter,
what is often, with proud and selfish
exclusiveness termed society, but rather to go among these teeming thousands in the streets, if not at present as an actor,
at least as an observer,—for
observation may in due time bring action. They are human like himself, and have much to teach him, though they are themselves
so miserable and ignorant.
And now his thoughts again turned to the Carlwoods. He had not called upon them since the day of Isabel’s
funeral, and he hesitated some time before he durst resolve to visit them, and, as he drew near the house, felt painful doubts
that they might receive him coldly. Harry he knew was not at home, having just been informed in a letter from him that he
should stay in Oxford till Christmas Eve. The door
was opened by little Emily, who had seen him from the sitting-room, and ran to be the first to welcome back her favourite.
The instant she opened the door, she sprang up to
him, threw her arms round his neck, and kissed him with eager fondness many times; then rushed into the room where her mother
was sitting,—clapping her hands,
and crying joyfully, “Mamma, mamma, here’s James come again.” Mrs. Carlwood was almost equally rejoiced to see him, for he
had entirely won
the love of the whole family, and they had long guessed, if not fully understood, the reason of his absence.
“I am so glad you have come to us again,” she said. “You must have been very lonely the last month. But you must come here
lay. Poor Emily has been dying to see you, and Harry will be at home by Christmas Eve.”
“I have not deserved this kind reception,” he replied; “you must have thought me very, very unkind and ungrateful to keep
you so long. But I could not bear to come here till to-day. But now, if you will let me, I will see you very often; for I
do feel very, very lonely.” And he
kissed the little girl tenderly and held her very close to him. “And you, Emily,” he went on, “will you love me like Harry,
and be my
Mrs. Carlwood could not speak a moment or two for tears, and when she did speak it was very brokenly.
“James, James, you shall be my son still.”
And at those words, as a year before, when Mary Hartle offered him a sister’s
love, a strange joy shot through his heart, stranger and deeper almost
than any he had ever felt before,—so strong and real are those mysterious ties of blood, of which we so often speak and think
And on Christmas day, a day which a good custom has set apart for the union of relatives, Mr. and Mrs. Carlwood, and Harry
and Emily, and Cavalay, met as one family.
There were sorrowful—there could not but be many sorrowful thoughts at this their first complete re-union after Isabel’s death;
and it was sad indeed
for father and mother, and brother and sister, to miss upon this day of all days her from whom they had never been separated
on a Christmas day before. Yet now, for the
first time since her death, all really felt that she was not gone from them for ever—under the influence of the holy festival
that brought peace on earth and
goodwill towards men really felt the serenity, however mixed with sadness, that with clear eye can pierce through the darkness
of the grave, and see the dead still living.
At church, as is not uncommon, the organ pieces were all from the Messiah: in the morning, “But thou didst not leave his soul
in hell,” and
“Glory to God in the highest;” in the evening, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” and “the Hallelujah
Chorus.” All observed upon this coincidence, if chance it was,—as surely it was not, but one of the myriad acts of that special
Providence that marks
even a sparrow’s fall. Neither without effect was the evergreen holly set round the church and in their house—so cheery and
joyful, with its shining
leaves and burning berries, while so many of the trees were mourning, in the blank winter time, for the departed life of their
leafage, till the resurrection of the spring
should come. And the ground—even the churchyard—was covered with pure, newly fallen snow.
The air was quite still, so that it seemed as if, with the hushed earth
beneath and the silent heavens above,
- “Over all things brooding slept
- The quiet sense of something lost.”
Lost, but not for ever; the snow that lay so softly on the grave was as the white garment that clothes the saints in heaven.
So when they returned home in the
evening, Isabel seemed in
some manner again with them; and their talk, still about the dead, was no longer wholly mournful, but full of sweet hope
assurance, though mixed with longing for the time when they should again behold her face to face.
- “I found Him not in world or sun,
- Or eagle’s wing or insect’s eye;
- Nor through the questions men may try,
- The petty cobwebs we have spun.
- If e’er, when faith had fallen asleep,
- I heard a voice,‘believe no more,’
- And heard an ever-breaking shore,
- That tumbled in the Godless deep,
- A warmth within the breast would melt
10The freezing reason’s colder part,
- And, like a man in wrath, the heart
- Stood up and answer’d, ‘I have felt.’ ”
About this time Cavalay received a letter from his adopted sister, Mary, so full of pity, of sympathy, of love, so fearful of opening
wounds of his sorrow, yet yearning so tenderly to heal or relieve them, that the tears streamed down his cheeks as he read,
and his withered heart felt some of its former
freshness, watered by the “gentle rain” of kindness. In a little while he went down to her father’s, where he found Wilton;
but she spared
time from her own happiness to comfort the grief which had so suddenly supplanted a happiness that had been even more intense
than her own. How changed he was from the time
of his first visit, though little more than a year ago! A year ago? It seemed ages. But how shall we reckon by time the growth
of a spirit? or how measure by days and years
the working of Love, the infinite?
Wilton and Mary went back with Cavalay to Mr. Carlwood’s, and the next morning the adopted brother and sister stood together,
hand in hand, by
Isabel’s grave. Mary shed tears fast, but Cavalay’s eyes were again dry.
Indeed he seemed not so much sad as thoughtful: it was no new thing to
him to stand by the grave; since Christmas day he had visited it daily many times. Little was spoken: what could words tell
of the sympathy that filled the heart of the
one, or the sorrow and hope that divided the heart of the other? Their speech was purposely feeble; neither made any attempt
to utter in their depth and fulness the
feelings which no mortal language can declare.
“James, here is a snowdrop growing in the grass,” Mary said, in a soft, hushed voice.
“I have been looking at it,” he answered, in a tone as low as hers. “The snowdrop has come early this year.”
“You come here often, they tell me.”
“Every day, and many times in the day. Once I should have dreaded this place, but now I love it.—Do you know the meaning of
“No; tell me.”
“It means ‘Sleeping-place.’ You remember the German God’s Acre. I
think the ‘Sleeping-place’ is quite as beautiful.”
He went on in a still lower tone:
- “Sleep till the end, true soul and sweet;
- Nothing comes to thee new or strange.
- Sleep, full of rest from head to feet.”
“Full of rest—full of rest,” he murmured over to himself.
“You must feel very lonely now, James,” Mary said, after a rather long pause.
“Not very, now, Mary—that is usually. I have many friends still on earth; and besides, I feel now so fully that Isabel is
gone only for a short
is a short time—and when I am here, or in the garden, or any other place where we have been together, she still seems,
somehow—not exactly with me—but near me—watching over me. But I must not let you stay here longer now, it is too cold; in
the afternoon we
will come again, and perhaps Wilton will come with us. I should have asked him this morning, but I wished to come alone with
you the first time.”
Wilton and Mary stayed three days at Mr. Carlwood’s, and every day they went with Cavalay to the grave where Isabel slept
So now Cavalay stood in the world, again not alone, but with these at least to love and be loved by, the Carlwoods, (Isabel
still infinitely beyond all others,) Mary,
and May, and Clarence Hartle; and upon his love for them, as upon a sure foundation, may he build love for all mankind. For
he felt that it was a mere delusion, sometimes
mere hypocrisy, to profess to love all, yet to have no strong personal affection for any. He had said long ago, and now still
more surely felt it to be true,
“there is no such thing as unimpassioned benevolence.” He was much more ready, also, than he had been to profess regard and
make demonstration of
affection; for he saw that this is as real a part of love as the performance of great services; often a more important part;
services can be rendered very
rarely, but kind words and kind looks can be given every hour. And side by side with this increased love had been springing
up in his mind, growing, though slowly, stronger
day by day, a principle which he had never before taken for his guide, or even set steadily before him, however much unconsciously,
or rather in the manner of instinct, he
might have been influenced by it. This principle was Duty, which rose upon his soul, like the sun upon the earth, giving light
and life to it. He now, for the first time,
began really to feel security, now when he was no longer aiming at it, but sternly and uncompromisingly resolved to follow
his guide, into whatever danger it might lead it.
While he worshipped beauty, he was continually shocked by deformity. He seemed grasping at a phantom, perhaps a reality once,
but now no longer existent in this ruined
world. While he sought for pleasure, he was in continual fear lest a morrow should dawn in which it should be said to his
heart, “thou shalt never rejoice
more.” And so he had been a moral coward. Yes, with all his physical courage, his high spirits, his practical philosophy—even
the love of right,
which, however blind and imperfect, really was in him, he had yet been a coward; he had been afraid of pain, of disgrace;
he had shrunk from labour and hardship; he had
been deterred from attempting to live a noble life by the fear of failure. In a word, he had feared to live. He had looked
forward with undefined dread, at times almost
with despair, to the years which seemed to stretch out before him, dimly longing for death, thinking of it sometimes as the
gate to a better life, but usually as a rest, a
sleep. Fear! what meaning lies in that word! the shadow which darkens our brightest hopes, the “sad, monotonous under-tone”
which runs through all the
music of our happiness; worse still, too often the canker of truthfulness
and love. But to Cavalay how was all this changed, or rather changing. Pain, he began to see, is nothing but that which shall
perfect us: disgrace is not possible to him who in all cases resolutely holds to the right: labour is a delight to them that
“see the end and know the
What liberty too, what real liberty, this new principle brought him! There is a service which is perfect freedom. Our wills
are ours only that we may make them
Another’s. Following in fancied liberty, Pleasure, Ambition, Beauty, Cavalay had been a slave; a slave to circumstances which
he could not alter, to his own
passions, which he could not control. Free to walk wheresoever he would, he had found all paths dreary: whichsoever he chose,
how often soever he changed them, all alike
wearied him. But now the path he was trying to walk in was so narrow he could not turn aside to the right hand or to the left;
nowhither, but straightforward. Yet in it
alone was liberty. This strait way, this rigorous confinement, was his own free choice. To the good man there is no constraint
in goodness; those absolute moral laws are
the laws of his own nature. Evil alone is coercive to him; he then begins to be a slave when he begins to sin.
Lastly, what happiness, even, Cavalay soon began to find in this new life. To be happy is not the end of man in this world;
it is not his end, in a strict sense, even
in the world to come. But together with his proper end, it is granted him almost always in a greater or less degree to be
happy. For to attain the end of our life requires
that we live according to our nature, that we use those faculties, the right use of which we find has been made pleasant to
us. The path of duty is often overgrown with
thorns; at any rate has few flowers and a dull prospect, only springs of water to refresh and herbs to heal. But even on such
a journey, green oases cheer us in the desert;
and, at least, beyond lie the glorious city and the happy plains.
It was by now some months after the death of Isabel, and Cavalay could look back upon the past calmly, and judge of it truly.
As he looked and judged thus, did his
love seem lost? I do not mean had he lost remembrance of Isabel? Nor yet, were the effects of his love passed away? those
were needless questions indeed. But was Isabel
herself lost to him? Did she not still seem to live to him; not wholly taken from him, though removed so far? Did he not still
communicate with her, in some manner, though
no longer “in dear words of human speech?” Ah, do not mistake me: do not think I wish to underrate his loss; she was dead;
her body was in the grave,
and her spirit was far away, drawn up to the blue skies; eyes and hands could meet no more, voice could no more reply to voice.
It was a grievous, a fearful loss still,
that left a void in his heart which seemed as if it could never be filled till death, which, perhaps, till then, never will
be filled: a loss that still often made the
world for the time a blank wilderness to him. But these seasons became continually more rare and transient, while ever more
and more he really felt her still with him, near
him,—consoling him, strengthening him, with the hope of meeting her again face to face growing ever more sure and patient.
And ah! that joy of meeting again in heaven! I have often tried to realize it. After the weary years of separation, weary
and long, borne with what patience
soever,—the loneliness and continual aching of the one left on earth; all faith at times worn out, all hope broken down by
the delay that maketh the heart
sick—the incompleteness of bliss—how can it be otherwise?—of the one taken up to heaven—to meet again, face to face, with
close embrace that cannot unlock itself, with showers of burning
kisses that cannot come fast enough; no word spoken, save the name which for so long has been so seldom on the lips, but
the heart. Ye that mourn those whom ye loved and love, will ye not be comforted and be patient? It is but a little while,
and these desolate years shall seem a speck in the
infinite space of the blue heavens—a weary dream of the darkness which the happy morning light hath driven away.
Do any think the picture I have drawn too sensuous, too earthly? Are not heavenly things the pattern of things on earth? And
shall not the body, no less than the
spirit, live again at the great day, when the trumpet shall send forth its summons throughout the sepulchres of the nations,
and Death and Nature shall be astonished with a
great astonishment, because
man shall rise again from the dust to which his body had turned, and in his flesh shall see God, or be cast into the lake
that burneth with
fire for ever?
And here I must end. I have undertaken, not to write a life, but a chapter of a life. That chapter is now closed. My hero
has passed through a sore trial, and has
come forth purified and strengthened. It cannot but be that many trials more await him, some, it may be, as fiery as this
through which he has just passed. But the conquest
over this is the earnest of victory over all, if only he be true to himself. In all, he will have the remembrance of this
to comfort and uphold him, and to teach him that
virtue which, in this world of changes and chances, seems often the highest and holiest, Patience.
“The voices of the past say, wait.”
Editorial Note (page ornament): Initial I is ornamental.
“It is a wild corner of earth, this Brittany. It lies like a dead branch on a green elm, or a burial-ground in the middle of
a huge city, the
great fossil of the past in the very lap of the civilized world. And how is it that Brittany seems scarcely to have altered
since the days of Caesar? how is it that it has
defied canals and railroads, that the vulgar slang of the nineteenth century—that paragon of progress!—has not polluted its
hills and vales, that it is
useless, manufactureless, unheeded in your exhibitions and annual reports, uncared for by the speculator, and spurned by the
hack traveller? Is it not that the Present with all
its achievements, its men turned to machines, and its machine-turned men—with all its powers of motion and creation, this
newspaper present that sings its own
hoarse in the throat—blushes before the long-forgotten, unknown Past, which in one thing at least has outdone it? Is it not
ashamed to bring its
patent-leather boots over the ground, where a wondrous race once trod,—a race which possessed a mighty secret we cannot solve,
unless forsooth it was a race of
giants, of Anakim—and has left its mighty works to stand, not for ages only, but as long as Earth shall last? Thank Heaven,
there is at least one spot of Earth left,
and that, too, no distant desert, but within a day’s journey, where this vile, fresh-paint odour of the new age cannot reach
Thus I mused, as with knapsack on my back, and a railing misanthropy in my heart, I wandered over the wild hills of Brittany.
I had just left Carnac—wonderful
Carnac!—that petrified army—those rows of a thousand stones, brought no one knows whence,
no one knows how, no one now knows why, and set upright in long, straight ranks, by a people who flourished some two thousand
gone, of whose existence and glory nought now remains but a few wild legends and these huge unmeaning stones.
I had caught my first view of the Atlantic, that eternity of waves, the boundary of the ancient, the highway of the modern,
world,—and stretching far away into
it I had seen the long, bleak spit of Quiberon, where a little faithful band of Royalists had once landed, full of hope, full
of courage, full of confidence in English
protection, and little dreaming of English mismanagement, to be cut to pieces by a band of ruthless revolutionists. I passed
on to Locmariaquer.
From the hill above the little desolate village, I looked down on the bright inland sea of Morbihan, rushing fiercely in from
the Atlantic through a gate of rocks, and
studded with a hundred islands. Nay, the fishermen declare that there are as many rocky isles within it as the days of the
year. It was a bright sunset. The cloudlets circled
golden around the sinking day-god, like angels round a dying man, and the last red beams purpled the cliffs of the foremost
islands, with the breakers of the Atlantic dashing
at their feet.
In a few minutes I rushed down the hill into the village of fishermen’s huts, and ere long had hired a sailing-boat to take
me over to Gavr Inis, or the
Two honest Breton sailors were all the crew of the little bark.
“We must make the best of our time,” said one of them to me; “for, fair as it is now, there will be a breeze up before the
sun is down. We
can run over in half an hour, for the wind is with us, but when you have seen the cave, we shall have barely time to weather
I leapt into the boat, the broad sail
was hoisted, and away we went, heaving and dashing through the blue waves. The men sat down and pulled out their pipes. I
the same, and offered them some English tobacco, which was much finer than their own, and thus paved the way to a lively conversation.
“It’s a good country, is England, sir,” said one of them in a large tarpaulin hat. “I spent a long time at Southampton, in
last war. I was on board a French corvette that was cruising in the Channel, and we all got taken prisoners. But I never spent
a better time in my life. They treated me
wondrous well, and I like your beer a deal better than our cider here.”
He was a weather-beaten man of about sixty. The other, who was younger, listened to him with respect.
“ Tell the gentleman,” said he, “how it was you made friends over there.”
“Ay, ay, that was a curious business. I was only a boy then, and we were being marched up to Southampton, and there were a
couple of others from these parts
with me. We were laughing and talking a good deal together in Gallic, and making a pretty good noise, when up comes the sergeant
of the escort and calls out something to the
soldiers who were with us, meaning to keep us quiet. ‘Agh,’ cried I in Breton, ‘it’s a shame that we should not be allowed
freedom of tongue, when every other kind of freedom is taken from us.’ The sergeant turned round, and looked quite astonished:
he, in my own language, ‘you’re not from Ireland, my lads, are ye?’ ‘That we’re not, indeed, God be praised,’
answered I; ‘but it seems you’re from Brittany, for you speak the same as we do.’ And sure enough he turned in and had a long
chat with us, and
that’s the first time I found out that the Irish people talked Gallic.”
“But surely,” said I, “there is a
great difference between Breton and Irish.”
“Not so much tho’, sir. They have many words that we could not understand, and some of our words they pronounce differently,
but we could understand
each other well enough; and the sergeant, who was the only Irishman in the company, and was glad to talk a bit in his own
tongue, was our friend ever afterwards, and many a
good turn he served us.”
“And what kind of a cave is this on Gavr Inis?” I asked.
“Well, sir, it’s a wonderful place. It was cut, so they say, many a hundred year ago by our forefathers, who, I’ve heard tell,
kings of France, and England too,—right into the living rock. You go in by a little hole, that a fox might make, and climb
down into a long passage quite in the
middle of the hill, where you could not see your hand before you without a light.”
“Then you have brought lights with you, I suppose?”
“Oh yes, sir, a candle a-piece. You’ll see a hole cut out in the stone of one of the sides, where they say they used to tie
a man’s hands
behind his back, and sacrifice him to some of their gods, sir; for it seems they were not Christians at that time.”
There was a short silence. I was thinking whether any reliance could be placed on this local legend, whether the nature-worship
of the Druid had ever descended to human
sacrifice, as their enemies indeed have averred, but which we have so little reliable authority for believing.
My train of thought was suddenly interrupted by a loud cry in Breton, and the next moment the sail swung round, the beam struck
me on the back of the head and threw me
into the bottom of the boat. When I had scrambled up again, I saw the two men anxiously labouring to manage the sail. We were
in a whirlwind; the
waves were rising higher
and higher, and a huge cloud, which five minutes before had been scarcely noticed in the distance, was driving rapidly towards
us, and covering the whole heavens with its black
“We shall have a bit of a squall,” cried one of the men to me. “But it will not last. Will you take the rudder, sir, a moment
while we manage to tack about?”
“Don’t you think we could run back again to Locmariaquer?” I replied, going to the stern. “We can give up the attempt to reach
the island to-night, and try again to-morrow morning.”
“It’s impossible, sir,” answered the sailor. “We should only be running into the thick of the storm, and we can reach the
island in five minutes, if we can only manage the wind. You see it there, sir? well, steer right at that white point, and——”
Whatever he might have said, was lost in the hurricane that came down upon us. The rain rushed pelting down; the whole air
was black around us; in another minute the sail
was down, and the two men were working lustily at the oars against wave and wind.
I could just see the white speck through the darkness, and I steered straight ahead towards it. We were making some way, and
the white rock, or such it seemed to be, was
nearer and nearer. But the waves broke in upon the boat, heavy tub though it was, and completed the wetting that the rain
had already given me.
“Steer out, steer out, sir, a bit, not too much. Out, out, sir, quick. There are hidden rocks here: ah!—.”
At this instant a huge wave broke right upon us. For a moment I was blinded by the water, and when I recovered my sight I
saw that we were close in upon a shore, girt
with a bed of low rocks, just peeping above the retiring waves. The next moment there was a crack, and the handle of
the rudder was torn from my hand, while the boat nearly capsized. I got on my knees with the speed of lightning to try and
my hold of the rudder, when to my utter discomfiture I saw it a yard or two behind us dashed about in the foam of a huge breaker.
“The rudder is gone,” I cried, turning round, and saw the younger of the men leap from the boat upon the rocks with the painter
in his hand, while
the other was endeavouring to keep the boat clear with an oar.
The young man leapt fearlessly from rock to rock in the surge. He must have known the spot well, for it was quite dark, and
by dragging the boat along, he at last brought
us to a steep bank of shingle. The elder man put the two oars into the water, and with one strong pull brought the boat’s
head on to the bank. Two or three rapidly
succeeding waves drove us with violent shocks up the stones. The old man leapt out into the shallow surge; I followed his
example, and in a few minutes our united efforts had
dragged the skiff high and dry up the shingle.
“Well, now,’” said I, when the boat was secured, “we must look out for a place of shelter, for this rain will last several
hours yet, in spite of the wind. Which is the way up to the cave?”
The old man, to whom I put this question, looked confused.
“Monsieur does not wish to see the cave to-night?”
“Why not? I intend to sleep there for an hour or two, so as to be out of the wet.”
The two men looked at one another oddly.
“Monsieur will not sleep much, I am thinking,” said the younger one.
“Not sleep? what do you mean? I am sure I am tired enough.”
The old man scratched his head and looked perplexed.
“There was never anybody slept in that cave yet,” he resumed.
“Ah! I see, you have some stories about it, eh?”
The old fellow looked down obliquely.
“Well,” I continued, “we shall be three together. We can’t come to much harm. Come, a stout old fellow like you!”
The old man only looked foolish.
“No, sir,” said the younger one, “I don’t mind showing you the way up there, but I and my partner here will sleep outside,
you please. We shall get shelter enough under the shrubs about there.”
“Move on, then,” I said, internally grumbling at their obstinate superstitions, and rather gloating over the prospect of doing
what they said nobody
had ever done before, and so proving to them that they were wrong.
We had to climb a long way in the dark, up a steep, winding path, where my hands came into as frequent use as my feet. We
were nearly half an hour getting up, and I was
not a little torn and bruised, when we reached a kind of landing-place some yards below the top of the rocky hill.
Short, thick shrubs surrounded this place on every side. The sailors advanced slowly together towards a place where the gorse
and the shrubs were thickest, and beckoned
to me to follow them.
“Here, sir,” said the old man, “put these in your pocket: you may want them.” So saying, he gave me a short piece of a tallow
candle, and a small iron box full of lucifers.
I crept in on hands and knees through the opening which they made by holding the shrubs back, and soon found I was able to
stand upright on a hard pavement of stone.
I struck one of my lucifers and lit the candle. The light was dim and illumined a space of about a yard round me, not more.
Beyond this, the darkness seemed even thicker
than before. I was in a kind of passage,
about six feet high and seven broad. The walls consisted of large flat stones, and as I passed the candle along them, I saw
astonishment a series of the most elegant serpentine designs, graven in single lines over the whole surface. On each stone
the pattern was different, but still in each there
was a certain resemblance to the twisted form of the snake, which I remembered was an animal of deep symbolical import among
the old Druids.
I sang out “
Bon soir” before I passed on, imagining that the sailors would hear me. But my voice rang like a bell from wall to wall with a hollow
ding-dong noise, and I waited in
vain for an answer.
I confess that this feeling of loneliness, and the terror of the two Bretons, had an effect on me as I groped along, and this
increased when, after some yards of the
passage, I found myself within a loftier hall. It was not large, it is true. There was room perhaps for some dozen people
to stand, but the strange devices on the walls seemed
to call up the Past to people it with shades.
I groped round it. The cave ended here, and the only thing that broke the monotony of the graven stones above, below, and
around me, was a curious double niche cut out on
one side. It was so managed as to leave a strong stone bar in the middle.
Here then was the place to which the sailor had referred. Here it was, to this stone bar, that the human victim was tied,
and between those stones in the floor his blood
must have flowed away.
I set my candle in this niche, took off my cloak, laid it upon the ground, and prepared to make myself as cozy as possible,
by divesting my shivering limbs of their
dripping nether garments. I kept the rest of my clothes on to guard against the cold, and lying down, covered my legs with
The candle was already burning low, for there was not much of it, and the darkness grew closer and closer about me, as I thought
dreamily on all the old tales I had ever
heard of the Druids and the Celts in general. I was rather excited by the events of the evening, and it was evident that I
could not sleep soundly.
From time to time I dozed a little, while the light still burned, and was annoyed with those funny dreams one has now and
then, of being at a large party in my actual
costume, and not discovering till I had waltzed once or twice, that my lower limbs were bereft of the garments which society
requires to be worn. I would wake up at the moment
of a desperate attempt to put on my trowsers, which always proved futile.
At length the last flicker of the candle blazed up, and the next moment I was left to doze in utter darkness. Whether I was
awake or not I knew not, but my ears, at
least, were not shut, and the sound of a wild distant song came up the passage. It seemed to be the mingled voices of men
and women. It grew nearer and nearer, and at last
resounded in the passage itself. I remembered turning on my side, and then I felt cold drops of sweat rise at the roots of
my hair, my flesh crept, my arm clung powerless to my
side, and my legs bent up under me.
Two tapers were dimly glittering at the bottom of the passage, and behind them two shadowy figures, clothed in long white
robes, slowly and solemnly moved towards me.
My heart stopped beating; my breath hovered in my throat. The figures moved on, and behind them I could see some dozen others,
all in long white robes.
They came and came, nearer and nearer, and at last filled the chamber where I lay. Then the low wild music ceased, and one
of the two foremost raised his lank arms and
fell flat on
his face before me. My eyes closed, and again all was dark.
When I opened them again the forms were gone.
For some minutes I scarcely dared to move. I am one of those strong-minded people who will never believe in “humbugs” of this
kind. I had been
accustomed to run down everything in which imagination seemed to play any prominent part. But this was the first trial my
principles had received, and I must confess it
converted me for the moment even in spite of myself. I knew not what to believe, but I perfectly knew what I felt. And yet
surely, I thought, it must be a dream, or an
hallucination—of course it must. So I rubbed my eyes to see whether I was awake or not, and certainly believed that I was
At last I summoned courage to turn my eyes round in their sockets, (for hitherto they had remained paralyzed with an undefined
fear,) and as I did so I started to see
almost close to my side something long and white upon the floor. This time I was less frightened, for I had got accustomed
to unwonted sights.
But whatever the prostrate mass might be, it was not content to remain prostrate. It rose slowly and stood at last before
me, by my side, almost over me. It was the form
of a man in his thirtieth year, tall, majestic, handsome. A loose dress of white linen fell from his neck to his feet, and
was girt at the waist with a band of twisted tender
oak sprigs. The robe was sleeveless, and his bare arms were muscular, though white. His face was handsome, with high intellectual,
almost noble, features; but there was an
expression about his eyes of cunning foiled and shamed, ambition disappointed, and selfish intrigue worked up to the crisis
The reader will be wondering—though, for my part, I had no wonder
to spare on such a trifle
—how in the thick darkness
of the cave I could manage to see all these details. This question would pose me. Gentle reader, have you ever seen a ghost?
Have you ever passed a night with the shade of a
reanimated Druid priest? No? well then, I cannot help it. I must wait till your turn comes, when you will perfectly appreciate
the kind of invisible halo that surrounds an
incorporeal being, and fully understand what I cannot, for the life of me, explain.
I have described the phantom’s expression, that is, the expression which his character had imprinted on his features; but
I have not added, that at this moment
he wore one of intense melancholy besides.
He was turned towards me, and was looking at me. This did not now disquiet me; but still my tongue refused to move and demand,
as I longed to do, who it was that I spoke
to. He saved me the trouble, however, by quietly sitting down beside me, which sent a new thrill of agitation through my body.
“Does he sleep?” he muttered low, though in what language I cannot say. I only know that I understood him very well, so that
it must have been
either French or English.
“And who,” he continued, “is brave enough to break upon my solitude, to seek the Druid in his den, and bring the vulgar Present
shadows of the Past? Is not the temple which my own father built, the shrine I hallowed with his blood”—here he buried his face in his
hands, and was silent a moment—“is not this of right our own? Why then does the stranger, rather than our own descendants,
who speak our tongue, seek our
haunts to lay his head in? Stranger!”
I muttered a trembling “Yes.”
“So you are come to see the famous Gavr Inis, the beautiful island? Well, you do well to come by night, for its glory is departed.”
“Ichabod, Ichabod,” I murmured instinctively.
“But,” he continued, not heeding my little remark, “it once merited its name. It once
was the beautiful island indeed,
the loveliest of three hundred and sixty-five that spring within this inland sea. Here the oak forest was thicker, here the
mistletoe more luxurious—”
“So that you might have had Christmas twice a year,” I thought, with a little chuckle, but said nothing.
“—The wood-flowers bore a fresher bloom, the shepherd warriors were stouter and more terrible, and the shepherd maidens fairer
to look upon than in
all the land of the Celts. But now, alas! how changed!—”
By this time I had become quite myself again. But it was with a frightful effort that I brought my voice to my lips.
“May I ask”—again I paused—“are you—a—a Druid?”
“I was a Druid. I am now what you see me.”
“And that is?—”
“A Spirit of the Past.”
There was such a solemnity in the voice with which he uttered these words that a strong desire to laugh, which my “common
sense” roused in me, was
nipped in the bud.
I looked at the strange being with respect and awe.
“What brings you here to-night?” I asked, timidly.
“A crime committed on this day nineteen centuries ago. For twenty centuries I was condemned to revisit the spot where I had
shed innocent blood, once a year,
and to pass my night in the torture of memory. Every circumstance of my life on earth is now recalled; its neglected opportunities,
its happiness too soon blighted,
I raised myself on my elbow. I felt an interest in, almost a sympathy for, the man of so strange a fate.
“It might perhaps soften this pain
of recollection, to tell your tale to an interested listener.”
His eyes turned obliquely towards me, with a slight look of suspicion. Then he smiled a melancholy smile.
“There was a time,” he said, “when I should have suspected some latent motive in your suggestion. Now, how can you, how can
harm me? What are my confidences now—known as they are in heaven? It would relieve my sorrow. I will tell you my tale.
“My father was the Arch-Druid of the province. Carnac, even then, had passed into a mystery. The Dolar Marchant, as you now
call it, was the great resort of
the members of the college, because the great menhir—alas! alas! thrown down and shivered now into three huge pieces—was close
to it. My father lived at
yonder village, Cœr-Bhelen, we called it, and now ’tis named Locmariaquer. Yes, Bhelen, the great, the noble, had given place
to a woman!
“At my birth, a wandering bard came from the south. He struck his lyre of the triple chord and sang:
- “Woe to the child when the Eagle’s wings
- Shall darken the skies of the north;
- Woe to the child when Venetan kings
- To battle shall march forth.
- An eaglet’s blood shall stain his hand,
- A woman lead the host,
- A maiden’s death-shriek fill the land,
- And the Druid’s rule be lost.”
“My father loved me none the less for the evil omen. I was his only child, and at an early age he taught me all the awful
legends of the truth. I was a silent
wondering boy, and I grasped eagerly after knowledge. The science of the stars, the science of the world, the science of the
great invisible soul of nature,—such
were my early studies.
“He sent me, at fifteen, to Alesia. At the Sacred College I was marked as the student who knew most, and learned most: and
when I left it,
proud in my honours, I stood before the whole college of Druids, and swore by Esus, by Bhelen and by Thiutath—what oath
could have been greater?—that I would never forsake its cause, and that day and night I would strive to preserve the great
“I returned home with the oak-wreath on my brows—a priest. I took ship at Wenedh (Venetum), to cross to Cœr-Bhelen. A storm
arose, and we
put in at this very island. From a child I knew it well. I had often sought it in my father’s boat with its red sails of hide.
“The next day I learnt that the gathering of the Vervain was to take place on the island. I felt a natural pride to show the
inhabitants my newly-won
oak-wreath, and I stayed for it. For this ceremony a company of virgins is chosen, and the youngest maiden culls the little
“Beneath the spreading oaks they came. A lovelier band was never gathered on green sward, and yet she who led them was lovelier
than all the rest. She was a
girl of fifteen summers, and still looked a child in form and bearing. She came on, timid as a young fawn, and blushing at
every step. It was a lovely sight, such as I may
never see again—alas! Each maiden wore a robe of flowing white linen, girt below the breast, and sweeping, not clinging, around
her form. In their long locks were
woven bands of spring flowers, and their hair, each one’s silkier than the other’s, each one’s of another hue, flowed down
shoulders, and courted the sunbeams with their gloss. Their white arms were bare, and a gold bracelet, pliable, and simple,
clasped the tender flesh above the elbow.
“But she—ah! Dona!—she, lovelier in her childish form, lovelier in her modest face, lovelier in her timid gait—with the young
knowledge struggling with the child’s innocence in her tender bosom—than all the rest, came on through the thick wood, with
leaf and forsaking another, brightening one lock of hair, and deepening the shade of the next, and chequering the briary ground
beneath her bare feet, small and tender as young
rosebuds—and looked from right to left to find the sacred herb. A young Druid, whom I knew well, bore the basket before the
troop, and on either side the islanders
“Suddenly, she started from the path, and darting with the fire of heaven in her soul among the briars and brambles which
tore her white feet, she burst out
with the first note of the holy hymn. All the voices took it up. An old bard stepped from the crowd and struck his lyre to
“Then, as they sang, she stooped. With her left hand she put back the long brown locks that fell across her shoulders, and
curving the little finger of the
right hand, she culled the sacred herb with it alone. No other finger touched it, as she rose and dropped it into the basket
of the young Druid.
“The ceremony was over, and we returned to the village. As we went, I asked the Druid, my friend, who the maiden was.”
“You,” he answered, “you, newly come, pride-laden from Alesia, know all that the Roman is doing in the South. I need not tell
Cæsar is driving all before him, northwards. Well, this maid, who is indeed a gem of beauty, has fled from the neighbourhood
of Bibracte with her aged mother. She
tells how her life—her honour even—was saved by a Roman knight, and how she staid not till they reached these hills, whither
the southron will find it
hard to penetrate.”
“Need I tell you that I fell enamoured of this damsel? Need I say how often I spread the red hide-sail to the northern breeze,
and sought Gavr Inis and the
smile of the lovely Dona?
“But I found her cold. My honours seemed little in her sight—myself
nothing. Still I hoped. She was young, and I had nought but a student’s glory to recommend me. I was fired with the
ambition of love. I resolved to win a name in the province, for I saw that she loved the great and noble.
“A year passed, and the Roman Eagle again darkened the land with his huge wings. Julius Cæsar was a name which all had heard,
and heard with
horror. I became popular by my working. I laboured hard among the people. I kept up the falling faith. I incited them to prepare
for war. I collected the priests and the
chieftains, and we trained the people to the bow and the axe. Everywhere I exclaimed proudly, ‘the Celt shall never be a slave.’
“But the sky was dark. Another year and Vercingetorix was the name which resounded louder than that of Cæsar in our hills.
The news came that
Alesia was besieged. All trusted to the noble band of Vercingetorix. But how was it that a melancholy silence fell on Dona
when she heard the tidings? What was she meditating
in that maiden breast? These two years had altered her. She was no longer the timid girl, she was rising to ambitious womanhood;
she was reserved and pensive.
“At last my ambition called me to Wenedh, and I was parted for many a month from Dona.
“One day a man rode headlong into Wenedh, covered from heel to head with dirt and dust. His horse dropped dead beneath him.
“The townsmen crowded round him, and then, with sad voice, he declared that Alesia was fallen, and Vercingetorix was lost.
“The news flew like wildfire. My father came among the first from Locmariaquer. In every quarter we sent for every bowman
that could still fix an arrow.
Wenedh was crowded. The capital of our hill country, it was always the trysting place in times of
danger. And now the whole country poured into it; some to see their
friends depart for the war, some from curiosity, some to hear the news, and some even to offer their arms in their country’s
“A motley crowd assembled in the little market-place. The wild woodcutters from the hills, with their axes across their swarthy
arms; the peasant from the
plains, with nought but a hide to cover him; the priest and the Druid in his long flowing garment of white linen; and the
herdsman from the island, in his rough breeks of
sheep-skin. Some from the neighbourhood still held a yoke of oxen by the horns, in such haste had they come; and others from
hunting the wolf, had rushed hurriedly in with the
heavy hang-jawed hounds still prancing on before them. All were asking, all stupidly waiting to see what would happen, all
thinking that, because the capital was taken, the
Roman must of course be on their threshold. Poor things, they knew not whether Alesia were one or ten days’ journey from them.
“But the market-place was thronged the day after the news had come. The noise of oxen, horses, dogs and men was terrific.
A large body of Druids had
assembled, and my father had consulted with them what was to be done, and had agreed to harangue the people.
“We formed in procession and walked slowly, and with the sound of the mournful lyre, to the market-place. The crowd opened
and knelt as we passed, and my
father passed his thin white hands to and fro to bless them.
“He was very old, and his white hair danced about his temples like flakes of snow. Mounting a large stone in the middle of
the place, he called on the folk to
pray with him to Bhelen.
“He rose to address them, when the prayer was done, but, whether from age, or the excitement, his voice faltered and clung
to his jaws. The
people murmured, and looked down, and I was just going to come forward and lend the old man my voice, when I saw the farthermost
the crowd turning round, and looking up the road. The next moment I heard the hard rattle of hoof and stone. All the crowd
turned to the quarter whence the noise came. A moment
more, and the women were shrieking, and pulling back their children; the crowd opened and three horsemen dashed madly up to
the stone where we stood.
“There was a moment’s silence. Each man was straining his ears. Then the foremost of the three horsemen standing up in his
stirrups, took his lance
in his hand and brandished it furiously over his head.
“ ‘Men of Wenedh,’ he cried in a voice of thunder, ‘the Roman is coming. A Roman legion has crossed the Sechen. Their van
even now only five days hence. The chieftains have fallen back on the hills, and they call on you in the name of Thiutath,
of Bhelen, of Esus to march out to their
aid—ye and all the land. Men of Wenedh, arise!’
“A deathlike silence hung upon these words; they had taken the breath of all away. It lasted a minute, and then one wild shriek,
one bitter wail from all the
women, one mass of shouting, and loud defiant talking from the men filled the whole air.
“ ‘The Roman coming here? Cæsar? the Eagle? the black Eagle with its talons and jaws streaming already with our blood? oh!
“A panic had fallen on all. Alesia was gone, the country had lost its corner-stone. Still they had hoped to stand. They had
thought that the Roman would have
been sated with the pillage of the capital, and the autumn was coming on. Another month, and the careful Romans would have
been gathering into winter-quarters. ‘But,
oh! oh! they are coming hither; death, slavery, pillage; our wives, our children slain or dishonoured
before our eyes, our hearths polluted, our homes destroyed,
ourselves in bondage!’
“Such was the thought of each, the thought that overpowered them, for they knew how terrible the Roman was, and shrank from
the awful vision of Death.
“I saw that now was my moment. I rose upon the broad stone, flung my hands forward, and summoning all my voice, I cried, ‘Celts,
are ye ready to
defend the land?’
“A murmur,—I had expected a loud reply of ‘Yes,’—but only a murmur, low, grumbling, and wretched, followed my
words. Then I know not what I said. I conjured them by all that was most holy, most dear, by their very name of Celt, to rise
and strike for home, for life. But, oh! when fear
possesses a whole crowd, there is no rousing them. I called them cowards. There was a low murmur, but nothing more. Just then
my eyes fell on a distant corner, whither they had
not wandered before.
“I saw a lovely face with blue eyes strained in anxious stare, the dark brown locks low hanging on the back, the slender neck
stretching forward, the curved
nostril of the high nose dilating with passion,—one hand resting on the stone on which she sat, the other seeming each moment
to clutch at some visionary thing at
her side, the little bosom heaving, throbbing, swelling quick and warm,—and this was Dona.
“Her eyes were on me, and seemed to call me. I gathered up my whole force and cried, ‘Once more I call you, brothers—once
more, and then
your blood, your children’s, wives’ and mothers’ blood be on your own heads,’ and sank down, filled with the gaze of Dona.
eyes bright with ambition, glittering with her people’s love, wild with suppressed indignation, called me, inspired me, pleaded
, whom she had almost scorned. I was drowning in my reverie, when
I heard the deep vibration of the harp beside me. I turned, and Cervorix, the bard who had chanted the evil omen at my birth,
spreading his broad hand and branching fingers over the chords.
- “ ‘Celt, is the war-axe whetted,
- Celt, is the arrow bright,
- To pierce the Southern Eagle’s heart?
- Rise, Celt, march on and fight.
- Fight for thy land, thy home, thy wife;
- Wield strong the glittering glaive;
- Shed the warm blood, fling down the life;
- But scorn to be a slave!
- What! shall the Roman triumph,
10 And trample on the name
- Which echoed once from sea to sea,
- The Gallic warrior’s fame?
- Shall your sons curse the cowards
- That dared not meet the foe?
- And bondsmen, rattling chains, mock out,
- ‘They fear’d to brace the bow?’
- No! Celts, it never shall be, no!
- The Gaul shall turn the day;
- Gird on the quiver, brace the bow;
20Up! Celts, strike home and slay.’ ”
“The chords were strong and wild as the flight of the sea-gull, and the voice deep and rolling as the blue waves it skims
o’er; but oh! for the
coward heart of man, these shepherds and woodcutters, even the armed men we had trained, were moved a moment, murmured a faint
applause—one or two shouting for the
bard, and crying ‘to arms,’—and then sank back into their old fears.
“ ‘What can we do against the Romans?’ cried one.
“ ‘We have no arms, no provisions,’ shouted another.
“ ‘No discipline,’ sneered a third.
“ ‘We shall go out to be cut to pieces,’ murmured a shepherd.
“ ‘Like calves in the shambles,’ cried a cowardly cowherd.
“ ‘And our hills are better defences than our arms.’
“So they went on, while we were quiet. I was trembling in every limb. The people were before me, still obstinate, still immoveable,
and if they held out, if
they still refused, then not our glory, and honour only were gone,
but our land, our freedom, all that we loved. I trembled, for the will of a whole people is a dire
antagonist for one man. But I felt power in myself. I despised the illiterate mob. All I feared was the stubbornness of the
mass, in which each clown supported his brother
blockhead. Should I speak to them again, and in a tone of authority? should I, if it were necessary, even invent some message
from Heaven, some divine inspiration of Bhelen? I
looked instinctively towards those blue eyes of Dona for an answer. But they were no longer turned towards me. She was looking
indignantly, almost angrily around her. I could
see her bosom heaving yet more rapidly, her eyes gliding continually from one to another, her hand nervously drawing the long
brown tresses from her brow.
“For a moment there was another awful stillness. The crowd seemed still to hesitate; still to look for somebody to reassure
them. I should have sprung up
then, I should have caught them in the nick of time, but all my thought, all my soul was riveted on that lovely face, working
with all the passion of indignant shame.
“Suddenly I saw her stretch her arm beside her, still looking forward, and grasp a battle-axe that lay neglected by her side.
One second I saw her rise,
proud, furious, carried away,—the next and she had mounted beside me, and was flourishing the glittering axe above her head,
with all the strength of her
“ ‘Cowards,’ she cried, throwing back her fine head, and gasping with emotion. ‘Cowards, for I cannot call you men: a woman
shall put you to shame, a woman shall do what no warrior amongst you dares. Cowards to-day, you were not so once. What shall
your fathers say in the Heaven of Bhelen? Shall
your dead mothers own that they have suckled dastards? Shame, shame. I have seen the Roman, and I fear him not. I will march
on to meet him; with this axe, this
woman’s hand, I will strike the first blow for my country, and let him follow who dares.’
“She flung the axe once more round her head, and as she did so a thousand voices leapt up, ‘We will, we will! lead us on!’
“Her beauty had done what all my eloquence had not done. Her weakness, her woman’s courage had shamed the young men. The older
ones followed in the
wake. She leapt down from the stone, and walked stately as a queen through the opening crowd. The young men clutched their
weapons, and pushed forward after her. Shouting and
shouting, they formed in rank. I pressed my father’s hand, I called on the other Druids to follow me, and rushing on one with
another, we closed behind her, and with
one voice raised the war-chant of Bhelen.
“ ‘On! on!’ she cried, in shrill accents, that rang above our hundred voices. The impulse was given. With one accord all closed
her. Children and wives were greeted with hurried kisses; we turned with one accord, and with one voice bade adieu to the
old and the feeble, and our own loved homes, and then
marched rapidly from the town. The women followed us for a long way. Dona still marched at our head, waving us forward with
her white arm, and her dark tresses floating in the
air. On, on, with tears and cries and hopes all mingled around us, on, on, for half-an-hour across the hills, and then all
again was silent. We marched steadily to death or
“Three days we travelled onwards to meet the awful foe. Three nights we camped beneath the starry heaven, gathering our food
from the villages we passed, and
joined at every step by fresher hearts and stouter arms. Three days Dona still marched at our head, adored by all, our woman-general,
stronger in her will and her ambition than
any of us.
“The third night we camped behind a range of low hills, with the Roman, unconscious, in fancied security, in the valley on
the other side.
“None slept. All knew that ere morning the fatal hour would come. All thought of their wives, their children, their sisters,
their fathers, and their homes,
that they had left. And amid all that throng, Dona was the only woman.
“Three hours after midnight the word passed in silence to prepare.
“Then there was a slight noise in the camp, if camp it could be called, with nought but bushes for our tents. The bowman was
seeing to his lock and the buckle
of his quiver; the woodcutter felt the edge of his axe, and sharpened it stealthily on the nearest stone; the trained warrior
girded on his glaive, and took his buckler of hide
on the left arm. And amid the stealthy business a light footstep woke me from thought, and Dona stood by my side.
“ ‘Friend,’ she said to me, more warmly than she had ever spoken, ‘friend,
you are to win the fight. To you
the honour of rousing the Roman.’
“I looked in wonder at her. I, a Druid, to wield the sword?
“ ‘Yes,’ she answered to my look. ‘The frighted eagle soars not straight towards the sun, but flutters his huge pinions till
the huntsman’s aim is taken. Up, friend, take a Druid band with you, climb yon ridge, and wait in long line till the first
beams of morning gild the hill-tops. Then
with one throat pour out the war-hymn. I will do the rest.’
“I would have seized her hand, I would have fallen and worshipped her as a heroine worthy of Nehallenia’s court,—but she was
in silence I led my band up the heather.
“We had scarcely formed, when the first grey light twinkled in the east. In a minute or two we could see the sleeping camp
beneath us, and
hear the heavy footfalls of the night-watch.
“Clothed all in white, and stretched along the ridge of the dark hill, we were a strange sight in that early morning.
“Then a long, low cry from behind was the signal. I raised my hand, and a hundred hill-trained throats poured out the wild
hymn, while Cervorix, the bard,
struck the ringing chords.
“A clatter in the valley; the night-guards moving rapidly, a trumpet-call, a rush to arms, and the next moment the glitter
of a brandished axe on a distant
hill-top, the white robe of a maiden fluttering in the chill morning breeze, dark bands closing rapidly after it, and then,
still in doubtful silence, a downward rush upon the
“For one second we heard nothing but the clatter of arms down the distant hill, the next, a huge, wild shout that rent the
air, the next, the din of close,
bloody strife. We saw nothing but a huge black mass, moving unsteadily in the dark valley, but we heard the terrible cries,
the axe shivering the helmet, the arrows rattling
like hail upon the armour, the shouts of vengeance, hatred, wounds, death, all mingled.
“I understood it all. We had been placed there to divert attention, and our warriors had thus secured the flank attack.
“Wild with excitement, I could not endure our stillness. I bounded almost headlong from rock to rock, and rushed shouting
and throwing up my arms into the
fight. Everywhere the Roman, utterly surprised, was yielding ground, crying quarter, or being struck to the earth. Everywhere
the axe of the Briton glittered above the invader,
and everywhere I thought I saw the white robe of the warrior-maiden.
“That was my real lure. I thought fearfully of her danger, and dreamed wildly of saving her, and I rushed
madly to where the white robe glittered. I saw
her—saw her turn, followed her. A band of some twenty of my countrymen had surrounded three or four Southrons, who were fighting
desperately with the sword. The
tallest of them was cutting down his assailants right and left. I saw Dona pass her hand across her brow. I saw her waver
a moment, and in that moment I saw an axe gleam above
the head of the Roman knight. The next, and Dona had struck its bearer to the ground.
“The Roman stepped back at the sight of his deliverer. She swung her axe wildly round and cleared the space about him.
“ ‘Away, away!’ she cried furiously. ‘Go, Celts, and drive your foes down elsewhere. This man is my prisoner.’
“The assailants shrank back amazed, and Dona turned to the Roman and stretched her white hand to his arm.
“ ‘You saved me once,’ she said, ‘and now I save your life in quittance of my debt. That done, I am still your foe, and I
claim you as my prisoner.’
“The Roman stooped. I bounded forward in my agony, and caught his words, ‘Lady, your captive would I ever be.’
Cæsar recalled his forces into winter quarters. The war had ended that summer with his defeat, and the Roman soldier blushed
to hear that a woman had been the
general in his rout. Half the legion had been cut to pieces; the other half had either fled or been taken.
“The Roman warrior lay wounded and captive in the home of Dona’s mother, and I,—I, who had hoped against hope itself, roamed,
deeply wounded in my love, pierced to the heart, and fostering yellow jealousy in my bosom.
“To Dona I never went—how could I?
“To the gods, to the temple, I went as a sneak. I felt that my heart was not with them. I shunned the mild gaze of my old
father, I hated the honours that the
people poured upon me. I was the most popular Druid in all the country. They coupled my name with Dona’s as their deliverer.
All said that the song of the Druids had
saved the land. But I felt like a fiend at their praises, and when they praised Dona I rejoiced with a bitter joy.
“Over the wild hills of heather, through the thick, dark forests, I roamed half-mad. The image of my beloved one grew brighter
and brighter, as I dwelt upon
it. She was far more beautiful, far more a heroine—nay, she was scarcely a woman, she must be some goddess. And that
her heart, her’s,
the deliverer of her race, should be given to its direst foe! Oh! it was terrible.
“But the dark night of the forest blackened my darkening soul. First came the thought of ambition. I was already a great man.
I would be the greatest in the
kingdom. I was a Druid—I would be a warrior too. I would take the sword and the field against the Roman, and rival Vercingetorix
himself. She loved honour and glory.
These would I gain. But the winter came apace. There was no fighting the Roman then; and in the frozen glades, and the deep
snow, my jealous love was all that burned.
“Then it was that in despair I bethought me of slaying the southern knight. If he were once away, she might sorrow awhile,
but her love would die with its
“Through the long, cold winter I cherished this thought. Scheme after scheme passed through my heated brain. I tutored myself
to cruelty. I grew exacting and
harsh to the people, who yet seemed to love me all the more. It was the business of the Arch-Druid to decide all the difficult
points of quarrel between the people.
was the chief magistrate, and held the appeal from the petty chieftains.
“I became my father’s adviser, and privily urged him to punishments of intense cruelty, which the old man abhorred in his
soul, but in which he
yielded to my stronger will. Thus I became a tyrant.
“Meanwhile my father was building this temple in which you lie. He had been about it for a year. The stones were graven with
the mystic signs; the cave was
dug out slowly. It was nearing its completion, and when the first spring sun turned the frosts to water, the work was recommenced.
“One day he begged me to go and see the first stones placed against the walls. I came to Gavr Inis, and when my work was done
I strolled down the island,
drawn by an irresistible impulse towards the cottage of Dona.
“As I trod the wet rotting leaves of the oak forest, I caught the sound of coming footsteps. Instinctively I hid myself in
the hollow of an oak. On they came,
and then from my lurking place I saw the Roman Knight circling his stout arm round Dona’s gentle form. I felt my brows meet,
I felt my breath choking me, I felt the
hot blood rush into my head, as they passed. I longed to dart out and strangle him with these hands, but a spirit within me
“They came, each pouring love into the other’s lips; and Dona, she I loved and longed for, gazing into his eyes with burning
passion. And thus they
passed, and I held back my vengeance.
“The spring came, and again the land was roused. The Roman was alive again, and again his dreaded arms were turning to the
west. All were mad with fear. They
sought Dona, and implored her to lead them on again, and she only shook her head, and said nought. They sought me, and I assembled
“My dreadful purpose was made up.
“ ‘Celts,’ I cried to the assembly,
‘the gods are wroth with us. Our faith is tottering, our temples are deserted, our sacrifices are not what they once
were, and for this Bhelen sends the Roman upon our land. If you would be saved you must make one grand propitiation.’
“ ‘Speak, speak,’ cried a hundred voices, ‘we are ready to do anything. Our cattle, our flocks, are Bhelen’s. Let
the god command.’
“ ‘No,’ I answered, smiling bitterly, ‘the blood of oxen and the blood of sheep are stale to the offended god. Think you a
common offering can appease him? No. Last night I stood beneath Bhelen’s holy oak, and whispered my prayer in the bark. The
leaves fluttered, and they answered me.
‘A man, a man,’ was the oracle. ‘One man must die for the many.’
“The people and the chieftains, and the Druids, all stood aghast. How long had it been since a man had been slain in sacrifice?
Never since the days of their
“ ‘Yes,’ I cried again, ‘ye are fostering in your very bosom an enemy of our land and our gods. A Roman dwells among us in
safety, and a Roman is an insult to the Holy Bhelen.’
“The assembly breathed again. All knew who was meant, and now none feared for himself.
“ ’It is good,’ they cried, ‘the offering shall be made.’
“I turned to my father, who stood pale and trembling—not with age, but horror—at my side.
“ ‘Father,’ I said, ‘your new temple is all but finished. This will be fine blood to hallow it, better than that of bulls
“ ‘Horrible, horrible,’ muttered the old man, turning from me in disgust, ‘and that Bhelen should have asked for human
“ ‘And yet,’ I answered humbly, ‘it is Bhelen’s will, father; it must be done.’
“He said nothing, but hurried away.
“I passed a horrible night. My
father’s disgust at me—he, always so fond, so proud of his son,—had struck me deeply,
and now set me thinking. I now saw that my last friend had been undeceived in me. One by one my links to life had dropped
away. There seemed to be no hope of Dona’s
love, which had once been the constant companion of my mind. Though I dreamed at times of such a hope, though that was the
excuse I made to my own conscience for the deed I was
preparing to do, I knew well that there was really none. Then the people too had found me out. I had tyrannised, I had become
brutal, and though they respected my talents, and
the divine communications which I pretended were made to me, there was not one who loved me—not one. And now even my father
seemed to loathe my cruelty, for this
last act was dreadful.
“I confess that for a moment I was weak, when these thoughts oppressed me; for a moment I wavered. I said to myself, ‘What
right hast thou to this
man’s blood? Why shouldst thou hate him for an accident. He does not even dream that he has a rival. Thou hast no right even
to be his rival, for thou hast never
told thy love. What! wilt thou make these two wretched that are now so happy? Thou yearnest thyself for Love, for something
on which to lean thy soul, as a head on the pillow.
Thou yearnest for some soft beauty to rest thy cheek on her warm breast, that thou mayest gaze up into her eyes for sympathy,
and feel her bosom heaving in her love. Thou
longest for all this, and thou knowest that they have found it. Canst thou be so cruel, so remorseless as to tear them from
“But then as I raised to myself this picture of perfect Love, that other picture which I had seen from the hollow of the oak
flashed back upon me. It was a
demon’s doing, and I writhed with hatred, with wounded self-love.
“ ‘I will not only have his blood,’ I cried, ‘but I will make her—yes
take it. He shall die by the white hand that fondles him.’
“The resolution was grand, and I spent a night of heat and fury, tossing on my bed of hide and straw, and planning the affair.
“I rose a little before the sun, and bent my steps in the direction of a distant village, called Cœr-Brachd. Once arrived
there, I marched straight
to the house of a Druid whom I knew.
“ ‘Friend,’ I said, when the ordinary greetings were over, ‘you have two Roman prisoners among your slaves; you find them
troublesome, I hear, and difficult to bring to work. Say what value you put upon them and I will give it you.’
“The Druid clasped my hand.
“ ‘Last night,’ he said hurriedly, ‘the news came here from Cœr-Bhelen, that some Roman prisoner was to be
sacrificed. These men heard it, and fearful lest the lot should fall on them, they attempted to escape for the ninth time
this winter, but my trusty Britons again foiled their
essay. But you see how I am troubled with them. Besides, they refuse to draw water or hew wood. I would far sooner have some
dozen sheep, or a new set of arms for my
“ ‘You shall have both,’ I said.
“He called a witness, who brought a javelin, which I broke on my knee, as a sign of a firm contract.
“An hour after my Romans were receiving their lesson from me. I told them that the people had demanded the blood of the Roman
Knight, and that I, for my own
reasons, and for friendship’s sake, was willing to save him; that I had bought them up for the purpose of aiding me, and that
if they did my bidding their liberty
was secure, but not otherwise.
“The night before had been very stormy, and the wind was still blowing furiously. It was very early too, and so I felt certain
that the news of my assembly
had not yet reached Gavr Inis. I therefore took my own boat,
spread the red sail, and carried the two Romans privily over.
“I fixed a trysting place for them in the forest near Wenedh, and sent them to Dona herself. They were to tell her that the
people had resolved to slay her
lover in sacrifice, but that
I—I whom she had always respected, who was ever her friend, had thus schemed to save the Knight and the man she was
affianced to. I could not doubt that Dona would at once relinquish her prisoner.
“I landed them at Gavr Inis, and sped back in my bark to Cœr-Bhelen. Here I rushed madly along the street, calling loudly
for help. The people
poured from their houses in sad alarm.
“ ‘This morn,’ I cried, ‘I went to Cœr-Brachd, and bought two Roman slaves of the Druid Grosna. I wished that they
too should be led in triumph to the sacrifice of propitiation, and be humbled by the sight of their Knight’s slaughter. It
seems that they had learnt our intention,
and as we came along by the water’s edge they saw my boat. Suddenly one of them seized me by the neck, threw me down, and
held me there by the throat, while the
other jumped into the skiff and spread the sail; then the first leapt up and jumped into the boat after his companion, before
I could prevent it, and I saw them steer their way
to the forest of Wenedh. Up friends and after them, seek them in the forest and bring them back, for if they escape they will
reveal all to the Romans, and we are lost.
Meanwhile I will go and secure the other on Gavr Inis.’
“A score of stout forms sprang into their boats, and some five or six sails were soon wafting them across the sea.
“I stretched my hide towards Gavr Inis, for I knew that they would take much longer to reach the forest than I should to gain
the island. Like a wild horse, I
bounded through the oaken groves on he island, and when I reached Dona’s hut the two Romans
were just preparing the boat, and Dona and the Knight were standing on the shore.
“ ‘No,’ I heard her cry from my hiding-place, ‘no, I will not weep. It is better that you should go alone, without me, and
yet I seem to fear some mishap. But what matter? you are fleeing from a frightful death here, and in the forest and across
the hills you will have to meet, at worst, a foe that
you can combat. Now I will bind on your sword, and for my sake use it nobly.’
She stooped, took up his sword, which was lying beside him, and girt it round his hips.
“Yes,” she continued, “I shall follow you. You will await me in the forest, and ere sundown I shall see you again—and then
longer a captive, but a free citizen of hateful Rome. Yes, for I do hate Rome—and love it too—for your sake. But you will
remember your vow—you
will turn the Roman from our land. You will tell them how barren, how wretched it is. But ah! I shall be with you then—and
“She threw her arms around his neck, and hung upon his lips, and I exulted in my awful secret, for I knew that that embrace
was the last.
“He tore himself away, and leapt into the boat. And she stood with clasped hands upon the beach, and I could see that she
was pressing down her tears.
“The boat dashed wildly over the foam, and was borne away farther and farther. Still she stood and watched it, till the red
sail was but a speck between
heaven and the ocean. Then she fell upon her knees, and threw her hands to heaven, and the hot tears rolled in a torrent down
her pale, pale cheeks.
“She rose again, and looked in vain for the distant boat. Then, dashing her hand across her eyes, she turned into the hut,
slowly and sorrowfully. At that
moment my heart smote me.
I longed to spring to her side, to tell her all—to bid her despise me—to rescue her lover, and to undo my wretched deed. But
this time, the demon
within me was stronger still, and I nestled in my own hatred.
“She came out again, with a large grey woollen cloak over her shoulders. I watched her set the sail of her little skiff; and
then, bounding back through the
forest, I steered my own towards the wood of Wenedh.
“I followed her at some distance for a time, and then turning the helm, reached another part of the mainland, and made for
the trysting-place. I saw that she
had steered round an island which was in the way, and that she could not reach the shore till some time after me.
“The forest of Wenedh was cut about with paths and ox-tracks in different directions, but all met at one spot. It was there
that I had appointed the
trysting-place. I mounted the wooded steeps rapidly, and turning, after a time, I saw, through an open glen, the distant sea,
and the five sails of the pursuers spread towards
Cœr-Bhelen. Was he among them?
“I sped on, and reached the trysting-place. I saw the marks of a skirmish. I traced them over the rotting leaves, and presently
came upon the body of one of
the Romans, lying dead in a pool of blood. A little farther on the other was pinioned to a tree by a javelin.
“In a moment my plans were formed. I carried both the bodies to a distance, and covered them with brushwood and dry leaves.
“Then I returned to the trysting-place and sat down.
“In a few minutes I heard a rustling behind me. Though I knew it was Dona, I started like a guilty thief. She was coming on
quickly and hopefully. The moment
she saw me, she rushed towards me.
“ ‘Where is he?” she cried, ‘Oh! tell me where he is.’ ”
“I looked up with a face of well-feigned grief. I exulted in this moment of triumph.
“ ‘Dona,’ I said, “sit down, while I tell you all.’
“ ‘Is he alive? is he safe? Tell me, tell me.’
“ ‘Patience,’ I answered, ‘Listen to me, and you shall hear where he is. You know my hopes of saving him. You know that I
brought the two Romans to Gavr Inis—’
“ ‘Yes, yes, but tell me all.’
“ ‘I will. But listen. I sailed back when I had landed them. I found Cœr-Bhelen in an uproar. I was surrounded,
“ ‘And you betrayed him?’ She looked at me with eyes of hate.
“ ‘No, no, never. They had seen me leave the shore with the Romans. They accused me of a plot to release the knight. I denied
all—everything. I told them that the two Romans had gone straight to Wenedh, for I thought to put them off the track, and
I sailed hastily back to Gavr Inis, to stop
“ ‘Yes, yes—my beloved—’
“ ‘From going to the forest. But they must have discovered all. I sailed once more from Gavr Inis to the forest, still hoping
to warn the
fugitives, and as I touched the shore I met their pursuers coming back with three bodies borne among them, which they threw
into the sea. The knight was one of
“Her expression had changed, as I spoke, from anxiety to a fearful calm. She looked me sternly in the face, as a lioness might
look, and I could not meet her
“ ‘You lie,’ she said, calmly and firmly. ‘You lie, he cannot be dead.’
“ ‘Would to heaven I lied,’ I answered, with tears in my voice—sham tears. ‘Follow me and I will show
“I broke through the brushwood, and she followed to the spot where I had found the first body.
“ ‘That is his blood,’ I said, pointing to the red pool.
“She gathered herself together, her eyes turned up, then closed, and with a long loud shriek, she threw herself into the pool
“I stood above her, laughing in my sleeve at her credulity, laughing at the pangs, which I had power to inflict, and did inflict.
It was better
this— than bullying peasants, or wringing the innocent with tortures. It was a keener, more intellectual pleasure. But still
I feared I felt what did not amount to
trembling, but had all the pain of a guilty horror.
“Then I sat down on a ledge of stone, and coolly watched her. The grey cloak had half slipt off, and left her white shoulders
bare. I saw that their whiteness
now was not that of healthful beauty, but a bloodless pallor. Once or twice I saw the flesh quiver, as she lay with her face
on the ground, and seemed to kiss what she believed
was his blood.
“I sat for at least half-an-hour, while she remained motionless.
“I did not care now to go after my other captive. This enjoyment was enough for the day, and I revelled in the imagination
of what her thoughts must be as she
lay there; if, at least, she did think, but perhaps she had swooned. I cared not, but I watched her till the setting sun reminded
me of the evening chill, which I had not felt
“Beyond her form the hill shelved rapidly down, and the pines, those sombre giants, who alone seemed to favour this gloomy
spot, stretched up in tall, thin
ranks, with leaves and brushwood crowding round their feet. Far, far behind them, I could catch a glimpse of the ocean, and
the slant rays were gilding the alternate leaves,
and now played fitfully on my victim at my feet.
“But dark clouds gathered round the sun, and the shadows seemed to close me in behind. I felt frightened
at my own wickedness, I shuddered, got up, and touched Dona’s arm.
“ ‘Dona.’ I spoke in a tone of well-feigned sympathy.
“She did not move, nor answer. I circled her waist with my arm, and raised her up. The drops of blood fell off her face and
bosom, and she stood up before
me—changed—utterly changed; and yet she had not shed a single tear. Gently, almost imperceptibly, she glided from my grasp,—a
grasp in which
there was no guilty longing—and turning her pale face, covered with the cold blood, from me, stretched me her hand.
“ ‘Thank you, thank you,’ she said, in a hoarse low whisper. ‘Thank you for all you have done, or wished to do. Now, leave
“ ‘No, Dona,’ I answered, still in a voice full of false tears, ‘I may not leave you here. You know the Briton well. You know
his vengeance, and his thirst of blood. Now, that they have slain the knight—’
“She trembled visibly.
“ ‘They will seek you. You must not return to Gavr Inis. They will devour you.’
“ ‘And what matter, if they do?’ she said, calmly, and drew her hand across her brow.
“ ‘It must not be. You would not tempt these dogs to another murder.’ She was silent, and again trembled slightly.
“ ‘I know your heart too well. Besides, remember your mother.’ She uttered a bitter ‘Ah!’
“I will secure her. I will secure you too. There is a hut at the border of the forest, far from Wenedh, far from Gavr Inis,
where you must remain a day or
two, till all is calm again, till these blood-lappers have forgotten the murder of your lover.’
“How I delighted to remind her of that! But this time she betrayed no feeling of it.
“ ‘I will lead you there now, and to-morrow I will come to you, give you
news of your mother, and hopes for the future. There is an old woman
at the hut, who will take good core of you. Come.’’
“Still she did not move. She was looking down at the blood on the ground.
“ ‘Come,’ I repeated, taking her arm in my hand, ‘the sun is down. Ere long the night will come on, and the wolf will steal
from his lair. Come, Dona.’
“She walked passively beside me, but still she turned her face away. Presently we passed a running stream. She stopped, and
thought a moment. Then stooping
down, she washed the blood from her face and robe, looked silently up to heaven, and then followed me.
“The old woman was a hag, who lived alone and watched the stars. I drew her aside, promised her two sheep, and told her to
be kind to her charge, but never
leave her side for a moment.
“ ‘Three days hence,’ I said to her, ‘a woodcutter will come to the house and ask for food. Give him some, and talk to him.
He will tell you that the Romans have had a battle with some of the chieftains. That they are marching this way. That two
or three prisoners have been taken and brought to
Cœr-Bhelen, and that all the folk are in terror. It will be a lie, mother, but you must believe it, and take care that the
maiden hears it.
“I left them, and returned across the sea to Cœr-Bhelen.
“I found the people in high glee. They had had a fight for their prisoner, killed the two Romans and captured the knight.
“ ‘Good,’I said, ‘in seven days he shall be offered to Bhelen.’
“I visited my prisoner, but only once. There was so deep a reproach to me in his quiet, contemptuous smile, that I could not
triumph over him, if indeed my
mind had been vulgar enough to do so. But, it was not. My triumph
was in my own heart. I exulted in causing misery where I could not myself enjoy. Besides these cruelties were grown a habit,
least in mind.
“The knight did not thank me. Probably he suspected me, knowing more of man’s villany than poor Dona did. On my side I took
no trouble to explain
anything. I came there simply to tell him that he was destined to replace the ox and the ram at the sacrifice, and to enjoy
his horror at the news.
“He turned very pale for a moment, and then I noticed a kind of swallowing in his throat, as he said, ‘Sir, a Roman citizen
“I left him in his chains, and sailed again across to the opposite shore. Dona had lain upon the straw, so the hag told me,
but had not seemed to sleep. In
the morning she had refused all food, and sat at the door, looking at the forest near at hand.
“I was very kind to her in my mockery. I talked to her about becoming a Druidess, about dedicating her virgin form to Nehallenia.
She seemed to listen, but
“Day after day I went. I persuaded a wood-cutter to play the part I had arranged, and the same day I rushed breathless into
the hut, to confirm the false
news. I added that some prisoners had been taken, and that the people had decided on a human sacrifice.
“She only shuddered.
“The next day I came to tell her that the people were calling for her. That they protested she alone was fit to strike the
blow; that Bhelen had revealed to
me in the quivering of the oak-leaves that no sacrifice would be accepted, unless a warrior maiden slew the victim.
“Her fixed eyes turned to me for the first time, and looked through me, till I trembled beneath them. But I made a grand effort.
I rose, still answering her
gaze, and said, ‘What Bhelen bids us, no one dare refuse.’
“Then for the first time she spoke.
“ ‘Will Bhelen save the Land if this is done?’
“ ‘He will.’
“ ‘Then I will do it. I am ready.’
“I was myself again. The next two days I passed in preparing the procession.
“On the night of the third day, a mighty crowd was brought together on Gavr Inis. The stars were bright and numberless. The
sky was moonless and doubly blue.
“A wild air thrilled along the branches of the oaks; and three bards, with Cervorix at their head, trod slowly up towards
“They were followed by a band of maidens, and Dona led them, holding in her falling arm a bright, sharp dagger. The music
thrilled again wild and melancholy,
and voices caught it up behind. A hundred white-clad Druids, their brows wreathed with oak-leaves, and branches of the ash
in their hands, chanted the hymn of penitence. Then
came two figures. Over one was thrown a long white cloth, that covered his head, and hid his naked body. This was the victim,
and I led him by the hand.
“My father followed, with his silvery locks bent down as if in shame. And last, a band of Druidesses bore the glittering torches,
streaming in the light
breeze, and glaring on the ghostlike trunks of the huge oaks. The warriors and the people followed in a motley crowd.
“At the foot of the hill the long train stopped and turned. All were at last assembled, and as I came up, I saw Dona, calm,
white as death, but yet with a
look of quiet contentment on her sunken face. I saw her turn a glance full of pity at my victim, but it was clear she suspected
nothing, and I had so arranged that she arrived
only at the moment of the procession setting off: and as it was forbidden to speak when once it had begun, she could scarcely
have discovered who the
victim really was. She seemed to be happy again for a moment in the hope of saving her people, for in this strange being
the love of
her country seemed stronger than even that other love.
“The whole mass knelt at the foot of the hill. Here at least was true grief; the Roman was coming, and they knelt in real
fear, real prayer for their hearths
and homes. The bards mounted to midway up the hill, and Cervorix, strange bard, sang again,
- “ ‘An Eaglet’s blood shall stain his hand,
- A woman lead the host,
- A maiden’s death-shriek fill the land,
- And the Druid’s rule be lost.’
“I trembled as the words swam down clear and ringing into my very brain. I had counted for all this, but still I trembled.
“Then regaining my firmness in the strength of my hatred, I led the victim up the hill. Dona followed near, but now alone.
Behind her came my father,
stooping, sinking more than ever. One Druid bore the vase to catch his blood, another bore a torch, and that was all.
“My father turned midway and blessed the kneeling people. At last we entered the low mouth of the temple. The two Druids marched
first, and I thanked the
darkness that covered at last my guilty pallor. I passed behind the smoking torch, still holding the prisoner’s hand. Dona
was next, and my tottering father came
“In the temple all knelt, but my victim and I. I took a cord from the hand of one of the Druids, turned the knights back to
this hole that you see, and taking
his hands, bound them firmly to this shaft. Then I drew the ends of the white cloth over his shoulders, laying bare his hairy
chest, but not his head.
“I looked at Dona, as I did so. She was bowed in fervent prayer.
“Then my father rose, and in a smothered voice, and raising his hands to heaven, he murmured:—‘Oh!
wrathful God, Oh! mighty
formless Bhelen, will this appease thee? Oh! wash our sins out with this Roman blood.’
“The knight was motionless still. Then the torch-bearer drew near. The other Druid came to the left of the victim, and held
his vase beneath the heart. I
stood at the right, holding with my hands the ends of the white cloth that covered him.
“Then I motioned to Dona to draw near. She rose, she sighed slightly, and stood before the victim. She raised the dagger,
with the point to his heart. Again I
motioned with my head. She cried,
“ ‘I strike for my people.’
“I felt the victim start, I heard him cry bitterly ‘Dona,’ as he caught her voice. I quivered, for I thought all was lost,
but the same
instant I saw the blood spurt from his heart, and jerked the cloth from his head.
“Dona had started back. She had seized the torch from the Druid’s hand, she had passed it before the dead man’s face, her
from their sockets, her hair streaming wildly behind. She had thrown the torch down again, she glared fearfully into the victim’s
face, she passed her thin hands
across his brow, parted his hair asunder, and even while I looked at her with bitter exultation, snatched the dagger from
his heart, and with a fierce, long, awful shriek that
shook the very stones, plunged it reeking into her own. I fled.
“ ‘And what did you do?’ I asked, when the terrible scene was over. ‘Whither did you flee?’
“ ‘To the Romans,’ he muttered. ‘I became their spy, and led them to devour my own father’s house.
He laid his heavy hand on my shoulder. I started, for I knew it was a murderer’s. I jumped up, and as I did so, a bluff harsh
voice at my side,
cried: “Monsieur must get up. This wind won’t last, and we had better be off before it changes.”
I rubbed my eyes. The old sailor of last night was before me. The daylight was struggling dimly into the cave, and I saw clearly
that he was not a Druid. I also noticed
that my nether garments lay just in the place where the Druid had thrown himself on his face, and that they now caught the
stray beam of day, and looked white.
I rubbed my eyes again and looked round the temple.
“Come, sir,” said the sailor, in a hurry, “my wife will be tired of waiting for me. Have you had a good night?”
“Pretty well,” I answered, as I gazed round the strange place. “I must have dreamed a good deal.”
“Perhaps it was not all dreaming, sir,” replied the other, doubtfully.
“By the way,” I said as we were getting into the boat, “I heard some strange music last night. Were you singing?”
The two sailors looked blank at one another. “We heard it too,” said the younger one, rather pale, “and thought it was
The boat dashed over the waves, and I lay in the bottom, thinking of Dona and the Druid. At last the keel grated on the shingle.
“Already at Caer-Bhelen?” I cried, jumping up.
“Caer-Bhelen!” answered the sailors, staring at one another in amazement. “This is Locmariaquer.” “Ah,”
rejoined the elder one, “Monsieur
has seen the man in white, then.”
Editorial Note (page ornament): Initial T is ornamental
The consideration of this part of my subject should of right perhaps follow rather than precede an examination of the substance
which Carlyle has
written concerning modern English affairs; but it may stand here. For in truth it belongs to the whole subject: the manner
of a man is part of the man
himself. The manner in which a man speaks that which he has to speak to us tells us much of his character; shows us what force,
what moderation, what clearness and sincerity
are in him, especially what tendencies: the very tones of his voice are not without meaning. And if in reading written words
we lose that directness of impression which comes
from personal presence, and its quick deep influences on eye and ear, yet we lose not all; for it was a Man that wrote the
nay we gain as well as lose; in that we
have no longer thoughts uttered in haste to consider, but a work deliberately fashioned, and can study it as completely and
narrowly as we care to do: we have a Book, or better
still, we have Books.
Perhaps it is in this minor capacity of Writer rather than of Teacher that Carlyle has received most notice, as is most natural;
the outward aspect of a man is known
before his inward character, more especially if he does not carry his heart pinned upon his sleeve. Thoughtful readers have
learnt much from his peculiar methods of speech, as
is visible in almost all recent books of superior worth, which treat of History and practical Politics; on the other hand,
readers that run or promenade have stared at the
writer called Carlyle very considerably as a wild grotesque phenomenon in literature,
very much as they would if they met any strange figure in Regent Street; stared and passed on, vacantly wondering, as if
“Who the d—l is this?” For indeed the dress which his thoughts wear is very curious, and in many little particulars has been
cut out and
stitched together by himself; it is different from any preceding fashion in English prose, and a wide departure, almost one
may say, a revolution from the literary fashion
lately and still very prevalent, which like modern bodily raiment, is if not uncomfortable through long use, colourless, uninteresting,
and mere tailor’s-work.
Curious as this style of his is, it is however by no means, as many say, adopted out of affectation of singularity or mere
wilful caprice; on the contrary, when examined, it
will prove to be singular, chiefly—almost entirely—because it is very truthful to the motions of a most singular mind within;
to be full of studied
practical purpose in details, and as a whole inspired with a remarkable sympathy for the subjects to which it is applied,
subjects as many-sided almost as Life itself.
Two leading habits of Carlyle’s mind are: Observation of the aspect of facts in human activity and strife, and meditation
on their inward meaning, by which I
mean the laws which determine their nature and prescribe man’s relation to them.—Commerce with earth, commerce with heaven!
These must belong in greater
or less degree to every writer on human conduct; but the common sort will look chiefly to secondary truths, to maxims of practice
rather than principles of belief, and are apt
to repeat them secondhand without bestowing real thought on them; and in the department of facts they show but a feeble grasp
of things, and incline to hurry to single
conclusions and immediate results (often drawing on some narrow theory), rather than ponder the facts themselves in their
reality and fulness. Carlyle is very different from
these, as different as the free royal eagle is from the caged magpie. The eagle soars high, can poise aloft as fixed as a
twinkling star, or if he will, fly his hundred
miles in the hour; he scans a vast range of country, yet can swoop with a sure aim on his prey beneath him; the magpie patrols
up and down his single perch, chatters riot
without self-complacency, and eats nothing but what is given to it. That these eagle-like properties of breadth and keenness
of vision, lofty flight and resolute purpose do
belong to Carlyle, I here assume, having pointed them out in former chapters, and intending to do so further in the one that
follows this: here it is to be shown, how like a
true man he makes them serviceable to others.
For as to discern the secret laws of things, and especially of many things taken together, requires close, patient, and devout
thinking, so the truths which result demand
affirmation in compact and faithful words, for these give unity, strength, authority: they demand this, and from Carlyle they
procure it. None strives to say, none can say a
thing in fewer words than he. He knows how to lay down a law; in simple words and strong. As for instance this: “I tell you again and again; he or she that
will not work, and cannot be compelled to work, shall die.” Due zeal, is not wanting; he will tell us, if need be, “again and
again.” Elsewhere he will take the truth for granted, (as every day we assume that the sun is in the sky,) and then he will break
forth into passionate
imperative, as of a Captain at the breach-foot; or may be with a dear familiar “Thou” whisper quiet words of exhortation to
the inmost heart of the
reader. Like Moses in the camp of Israel, he pronounces blessings and curses; like Elijah on Mount Carmel he knows how to
mock the false idols of his countrymen. Often too
while trudging along in homely prose among the outward shows of things, with one
penetrating word, perhaps a mere epithet, he will pierce into the very heaven and hell which lie concealed beneath
them,—beneath them, but surely there. And it is very noticeable how this tone of Commander, of Authoritative Teacher, was
characteristic of him almost from the very
first. No matter whether writing from the wild far away moorlands of Dumfries an unknown man, or from London a well known
man, in a great book, or a Magazine article, he speaks
as Master. It is pleasant to think how the readers of the Edinburgh review must have started to find great imperative moods
even there! They positively abound in his
histories;—where from experience of other historians one would not expect to find them at all. English literature has felt
the influence of this spirit and manner;
especially since they have proceeded from an author writing on secular subjects and in prose. To Carlyle (amongst others)
we owe that growing seriousness of tone, which has now
won a place even in novels, and from kindred minds (for example Kingsley’s) receives an expression only less ardent than his
own. But in whom shall we find a
deep reflection, and comprehension of Fact?
For on the other hand, Carlyle has the manly instinct to love Facts, small and great, he rejoices in them, cleaves to them,
will wheresoever possible, express himself by
them. Abstractions are terms often ill-fitting, too large or too small for the meaning intended; and they receive life only
from the effort of thought which refers them to the
original facts—that effort ceasing they become lifeless phrases: Carlyle dislikes and avoids them, as also he does nouns of
multitude. He resorts to Nature; to the
individual facts, which whether old or new can tell the living truth, to him who knows how to read them; “the concrete smacks of the
perennial.” Hence his feeling for history as a record not of fact only,
but of truth, and the noble use he makes of it in his political writings; hence
too his perpetual appeal to the visible realities of modern experience. Great events and small, heroic and unheroic, all bear
their part in supporting the utterance of his
belief; the French Revolution, the story of Abbot Samson the ancient Monk, the boast of Ramdass, the Hindoo fanatic, that
“he had that in his belly which
could burn up the sins of the whole world,” the advertising Hat seven feet high, which in 1844 traversed the streets of London, Hudson’s
statue; these and a profusion of others. And more than this, his general statements seem in their very outward structure to
be built of solid tangible facts, so closely and
skilfully are facts wrought into the body of them. His eloquence is like the prismatic light which sparkles in the diamond;
every spark shoots forth from a surface of
As thus, in his conclusion respecting fears of Over-Population. “True, thou Gold, Hofrath,” cries the Professor elsewhere:
“too crowded indeed! Meanwhile what portion of this in considerable terraqueous Globe have ye actually tilled and delved, till
it will grow no more? How
thick stands your Population in the Pampas and Savannas of America; round ancient Carthage, and in the interior of Africa;
on both slopes of the Altaic Chain, in the
central Platform of Asia; in Spain, Greece, Turkey, Crim Tartary, the Curragh of Kildare? One man, in one year, as I have
understood it, if you lend him Earth, will feed
himself and nine others. Alas, where now are the Hengists and Alarics of our still glowing, still expanding Europe; who, when
their home is grown too narrow, will enlist,
and like Fire-pillars guide onwards those superfluous masses of indomitable living Valour; equipped, not now with the battle-axe
and war-chariot, but with the steam engine
Where are they?—Preserving their Game.”
With his words we are in perpetual company with facts. We recognise them with joy, we feel their inevitable strength. Nor
is it a single impression only, but a conviction
gains root in our minds that he who speaks to us has already confronted his beliefs with Life, and is ever willing to confront
them. This loyal adhesion to facts, this masterly
understanding of them is the source of Carlyle’s power, literary as well as practical. Surely also in this he is spiritually
leagued with all the greatest men of our
modern time, our poets, our painters, our men of science, our novelists, their characteristic tendency being a return to the
faithful study of Nature.
These qualities of Meditation and Observation, are they not, when granted in full measure, inspired with passion, and directed
to Life, precisely those which mark the
Poet? And now add to these a third quality, which is the product of these two, and though scarcely essential, is nevertheless
the unfailing property of the Poet—that
power of perceiving harmony in things of diverse aspect, which finds its expression in abounding imagery. Looking out upon
the wide and varied world of Existence, the poet
feels the brotherhood of things, sees all beneath his ken as one family, animated by one spirit and obeying one law, and he
is irresistibly constrained to bring the near and
the far-away together, that their lineaments may set off and explain one another. This is most true of Carlyle; he has infused
this poetical element into prose with a fulness
and freedom that our English literature has never witnessed before: he is for ever typifying, comparing, illustrating. His
imagery, though in one sense far-fetched, as from a
wide panorama, is in another sense near at hand: it is gathered from the field in which he labours. As he writes of men toiling
in the crowd, amid the press of social
life, so he draws his imagery from just such objects as would meet the eye of these men, or rather which meet his own, as
he watches the life and
“environment” of these men. From the grand features of Nature which surround them, from sun and stars, ocean and mountains,
clouds, trees, beasts, birds:
from her simple universal operations of birth, growth, decay, and death (seen always with
eye); and, more frequently than all else, from the works of
men, not even rejecting the very homeliest, talking, fighting, bricklaying, carpentering, tailoring, coopering, paving, draining,
and what not? As may be at once felt, such an
assemblage of figures is a very motley one; some are glorious, solemn, sublime, others sorrowful, others grim and hideous;
many are exceedingly grotesque. This, however, is to
be noted of all; that they are seriously chosen, and not for ornament’s sake or mirth’s sake primarily, but for truth’s sake;
they have no mere
accidental resemblance to the thing figured, but an inward, vital one, as may be inferred from the habit Carlyle has of following
his figure out, and finding in it continual
fresh harmonies with that which it is meant to typify. Thus tempered by a spirit of truth, this disposition to constant imagery
plays a most happy and happy-making part.
And now, as the crown of these qualities, and the manifestation of them in their highest associated working, comes this master
spirit of Imagination; the tendency to conceive all facts as part of a living whole, which has been, is, and will be—the History
of Man. Accordingly, it is not
criticism that Carlyle chiefly likes, nor description (though he is great in both of these), for he feels them to be partial
and lifeless; he delights in Narrative, for that
asserts progress and action, and joins all things to all. His method, as far as the Past is concerned, is the daring one of
it, so fully as means allow, as once it did exist; then, by a series of pictures exhibiting chosen sections of it. He will
moving and walking on the earth, their souls throbbing with multitudinous thoughts and passions within wondrously active,
wondrously passive bodies, a body and a soul to each
man. The sky shall be felt to be above them, the ground to be under their feet, about them other men, and the fruit of past
labours, and ten thousand present activities; over
all a Great Presence, invisible, eternal, watching and guiding. Was not such, and no less, the real Fact? Carlyle, I say,
strives to see and to feel all this; and he employs
every art to transport us back into the old time, that we may see and feel it too. He studies the portraits of men,* the
places in which they lived, and takes care that if we choose we shall understand what they looked like; far oftener than others,
he tells us when the sun was shining, and when
rain was falling; we are no longer here but there, nor mewed up in palaces and senate-halls, but in men’s houses, in their
hearts, in the fields, in the open air of
God’s creation! He uses the present tense, not the past, to mark events then taking place, the future tense to announce events,
hoped for, feared for, or that
actually come to pass afterwards. He uses the direct forms “of him,” “of it,” rather than
the possessive pronoun, and the
adjective agreeing with the subject, rather than the adverb tacked to the verb, that the reader’s eye may continually return
from the accessory to the principal
fact. He gesticulates on paper with such words as There! Here! Behold! Hark! He calls his men by familiar names, Bozzy, Oliver,
Brave old Samuel; he speaks to them,
“thou”ing them, whispers words of courage or warning, like a Pallas to her Greek heroes: sometimes, nay most constantly, in
the fervour of his sympathy,
he will not suffer himself or us to remain cold spectators, he identifies us with the men doing and suffering; so that not
they, but “we,” we ourselves,
ride in the Dunbar Charge, parade as revolutionists in the streets of Paris, and do many wondrous things. This is the true
magic of his history, that it has the sense of life.
life! Life which sets forth the fulness of that sublime, that tragic mystery, the struggle between good and evil, the progress
God’s will in the world. Most of all do we rejoice, even to tears, when following his divine ecstasy, we are carried up in
spirit, transfigured as it were, and given
to see the ancient servants of God face to face, the Prophet and the Leader of victorious men, and to feel conscious of
benign presence overshadowing them
and us; then it is that we most love and
Transcribed Footnote (page 701):
* And we are told
lives among them when he is writing history, a screen surrounding him, placarded all over with them. In a letter
to some Edinburgh Society respecting an Historical portrait gallery, he has written thus: “First of all, then, I have to tell you as a fact of
personal experience, that in all my poor historical investigations it has been, and always is, one of the most primary wants
to procure a bodily likeness of the
personage inquired after—a good portrait if such exists; failing that, even an indifferent, if sincere one. In short, any
representation made by a
faithful human creature of that face and figure which he saw with his eyes, and which I can never see with mine, is now valuable
to me, and much better than none at
all. This, which is my own deep experience, I believe to be in a deeper or less deep degree the universal one, and that every
student and reader of history who
strives earnestly to conceive for himself what manner of fact and man this or the other vague historical name can have been,
will, as the first and directest
indication of all, search eagerly for a portrait—for all the reasonable portraits there are; and will never rest till he have
made out, if possible, what
the man’s natural face was like. Often have I found a portrait superior in real instruction to half-a-dozen written biographies,
as biographies are
written; or, rather let me say, I have found that the portrait was as a small lighted candle, by which the biographies could
for the first time be read, and some
human interpretation be made of them.
honour our Teacher. But again he descends to earth, where commoner men move, and the confused strife of mortality renews
day to day. Here also he is at home, in a friendly, cheery, brotherly way; like a true son of earth, he can enter into all
that is going on, little purposes, little theories,
little doings, little hopes and fears, little joys and sorrows, knowing that they once were great in the sight of those whose
they were. He does not act the judge, or rather
does not seem to do so (is not the company of a censorious man a bore everywhere?), does not quarrel with what he sees, either
on this side or that, only desires to see it
clearly, finds it interesting, and makes it interesting. His manner can throw itself with true sympathy with this heterogeneous
element that he has to deal with; it is full of
brisk life, angular and knotty with hard fact, charged with vivid colour and sharp contrast. Each page is full of movement,
of sights and sounds: has in it the look and roar of
some Fleet Street. Yet withal none knows better than he where his Fleet Street leads to, and whither those men are walking.
Aye, and lower still. Where need calls, his brave
pure eye can look upon evil men and evil things unblenched; and we are privileged to look with him; nor with paroxysms of
rage, rather in a spirit of settled thoughtful
composure. This too was part of human existence, and
part! And it is past now, and anger is in vain; our present need is to know and understand it. And
so he can fearlessly exhibit even that foulest, vilest element which festers subterraneously under the surface, which good
men now-a-days flinch from approaching, except by the
most distant terms. Who else but he could have so written that life of Cagliostro, “the biography of the most perfect scoundrel that in these latter days has
marked the world’s history?”
Here, however, and indeed everywhere, comes to his aid his all-daring humour, to us perhaps the most characteristic
and wonderful of all his gifts. It can compass
the whole of this panorama of human existence, from Divinity down to Devil, and finds some good to do everywhere to mortals,
for whose special benefit it certainly was
ordained. With all its grotesqueness it is most serious humour, for it springs from love; it is like “sunshine on the deep sea.” It
elevates and endears the lowly to us, it renders us familiar with the very highest; with one bound it springs from one to
the other, like a merry-footed Mercury, the
interpreter between gods and men; it helps us to look on the most tragic sights with grim composure, upon the saddest with
a cheerful smile, upon the round of common life with
a sense of wonder; everywhere it reveals the mysterious law by which things and thoughts the most opposite lie in juxta-position,
nay exist and blend together. In this way it
exhibits the many-sidedness, the unity of Nature, and so disciplines our minds to form large and charitable judgments. Except
perhaps to Jean Paul Richter the like faculty was
never bestowed in such measure upon man; it is found in Shakespeare and Goethe, but rarely; it is the favourite key of Carlyle.
It is a most glorious gift.
One branch of this humour is a certain earnest and sarcastic irony, very common; this also is founded, strange as it may sound,
on a true sympathy. It consists not merely
in a catching of the words of any fool or knave, or little man fancying himself and his projects great, or good man deluded,
but a reading of the thoughts by which he tries to
impose upon himself and others—a task which requires the effort of real, which must be affectionate study. Echoed in another’s
voice they show their
hollowness, their true littleness. This irony is a most effective resource, for it assumes a friendly not an antagonistic
position, and relieves the strain which prolonged
directness of speech cannot but produce. It is a setting fire to the enemy’s magazine by some secret slow match, instead of
battering his walls with moral cannon-balls.
In the works of a didactic political kind the dramatic imagination and humour appear likewise. The first necessarily much
seldomer; chiefly in the thought so constantly
enforced, directly and indirectly, that it is Men who are acting here: who are doing or not doing their prescribed duty: but
the dramatic impulse peeps out more plainly in the
creation of fictitious personages (Bobus, the mammon-seeking sausage-maker!), to serve as types of classes; and the device,
so often employed by the author to hide his own
personality, of speaking under the mask of some other name. He loves to play this trick most when he has deeply-considered
thoughts to deliver himself of, in which case, out of
gratitude to his German friends, he for the most part adopts the cap and gown and title of a German Professor. Instances of
this are very numerous; all the utterances of Herr
Teufelsdrock are of this kind; and most especially ingenious and pleasant is the skill with which he interweaves his own words
with those of the learned friend he pretends to
quote. A very happy example occurs in the little piece entitled “Goethe’s Portrait.”
In these works also his humour is exuberant, accompanying him, wheresoever his thoughts wander, tempering his joy, his rage,
his enthusiasm (for there is always a tone of
mighty passion in him), making them all human and credible, keeping the key of pure seriousness as a master force in reserve.
Surely also it effects another not unimportant
object, that of making the books entertaining. We all like amusement! and here we find it. As we read, and read on and on,
a continual smile hovers upon our
lips—presently comes an audible chuckle of pleasure; and now an outright peal of laughter, such as does a human soul good!
Most true is it that
- “A merry heart goes all the day,
- Your sad tires in a mile-a.”
Nevertheless it must be mentioned, that here the humour is not always so loving as might be wished; it is apt sometimes to
degenerate into coarse and unworthy banter,
such as is never to be found in his histories. This is painfully felt in the Latter Day Pamphlets and the discourse on the
Nigger Question. And the irony, no less, seems to me
often misplaced; it is not the knave only or fool, or pure delusionist that is exposed to mockery, but the well-meaning and
even well-doing man, who pushes his principles too
far; a kind of man who deserves more kindly and respectful treatment.
My readers will by this time (if not long before) have recognised Carlyle as entitled to the name of Poet, or Artist; but
it is no less true that he is an excellent
workman; well versed in the mysteries of his craft of authorship, and able to inspire his very mechanism with poetic force.
Genius as he is, he has a genius for practice. Any
book that proceeds from his hand, what an admirable piece of work it is, considered as mere work! A solid book, you may depend
upon it, produced not only by good thinking
powers, but by much honest diligence, sometimes (as in histories) by no less than prodigious diligence; carefully written
also from the title-page to the end; the meaning
clearly, forcibly expressed, the whole orderly, without cumbrous notes or appendices; and finally, very carefully printed.
Everywhere, moreover, may be felt the presence of a
keen practical judgment. Thus, was it not wise to write in small chapters to pacify our modern shortness of patience? This
is a small thing: but his judgment can do great
things; among others this continually, it knows where to begin and where to end. Who is there that does not feel this in the
history of the French Revolution?—its
beginning, the deathbed of Louis XV., its close, “a whiff of grapeshot;”—Napoleon! This is judgment of the highest kind. And
on the whole I
reckon that a sure proof of Carlyle’s varied merits is this fact,
(which is the experience certainly of one, and probably of many,) that he can be always read; always read again and again;
the most part read aloud.
Two methods of workmanship in very favourite use with Carlyle are Contrast and Repetition. Of his contrasts I will only say,
that they do not consist
of mere verbal antitheses, the framing of which is at best only a skilful mechanism, and one offering constant temptation
to be dishonestly applied; they are contrasts of
Thought, of wide fields of thought, supplementary rather than purely antagonistic to one another, and are not only elaborated
by exposition, but often suggested through the
imaginative or humorous power by the naming of one little fact. One instance of its magic influence will make this plain.
In his description of the assault of the Bastille, in
the chapter called “Storm and Victory,” occurs this remark: “How the great Bastille clock ticks (inaudible) in its Inner Court there, at
its ease, hour after hour, as if nothing special for it, or the world, were passing!” Order and Strife, Time and Eternity, Man’s fretful life
and God’s restful one, seem brought together in this single sentence.—Repetition, on the other hand, Carlyle uses to fix in
the reader’s mind
whatsoever he thinks most worthy to be remembered. Is it a Law, say the Law of Obedience, the Law of Labour: a law which is
calling for fulfilment every day in every place? It
will bear repeating; it shall be repeated. So like a herald, he publishes the King’s Proclamation at Exeter ’Change, at Charing
Cross, and wherever he is
like to gain a hearing. And yet not altogether like a herald, who is for the most part only a superior trumpet; rather as
a trusty messenger, who knows only the purport of what
he has to deliver. There will be found enough variety, enough life in his language, to show that he is a thinking, a
believing Man. Or again, is it a name, or descriptive
title of man or thing? If it be well chosen, characteristic, and close fitting, this too will bear repeating. Carlyle recurs
to his names with evident faith and pleasure, in
this respect (as in many others) resembling Homer, who we know does not mind calling Achilles “swift of foot,” twice in the
same page. The reader, too,
will welcome them, for he feels that he thus perpetually renews his acquaintance with old valuable thoughts and finds them
unchanged; he becomes familiar with them, makes them
part of his knowledge and belief, perhaps of his affections. Undoubtedly this is one secret of that power to win a place in
our memory, which all who have read
Carlyle’s works in anywise carefully must have felt to be his.
It seems, at first, a mere trick, this Repetition; but it is quite otherwise: its whole efficacy depends on the right choice
of the thing to be repeated; and for this a
Homer or Carlyle is necessary. A great grasp is wanted; to compass things in their entireness, to know what is supreme and
characteristic, and cleave with iron grip to that. It
is thus that Homer works; thus also that Carlyle works, as is evinced not in their repetition only, but their whole method
of treatment. They paint men and the environment of
their lives; but they chiefly regard men, not the “environment,” and of men they speak most of heroes. They both love detail
too, none more so, but detail
of a peculiar kind—detail that meets the eye at once, proclaiming its existence by its marked character, not that which is
discovered by minute and subtle study. And
ever they return to the first look of things, dwelling affectionately on that. This style of art is not the highest, and its
excellences are very different from the excellences
of the best modern art; but it has perfection of its own kind, a manly completeness, a manly breadth and boldness of judgment,
and a joyful energy and simplicity of heart, which are most invigorating, most refreshing. This sort of workmanship will
even in the critical essays of Carlyle; he always devotes his chief consideration to the man and the general habits and tendencies
of his mind. But pre-eminently in his
histories. Of the men their aspect inward and outward is always delineated in a few bold and decisive strokes, highly coloured,
never realized in subtle detail; and the
landscape is given in the same way. Take for instance, the opening lines of his description of Dunbar battleground, followed
in due time by relation of the battle itself; how
“the musketeer with a wooden arm and some iron hook at the end of it” conducted himself; and how Lambert and Major Hodgson, the praying
cornet, and the Lord General conducted themselves—they are what he most cares for!
“ The small Town of Dunbar stands, high and windy, looking down over its herring boats, over its grim old Castle now much
honey-combed, on one
of those projecting rock-promontories with which that shore of the Frith of Forth is niched and vandyked, as far as the eye
can reach. A beautiful sea; good land too,
now that the plougher understands his trade; a grim niched barrier of whinstone sheltering it from the chafings and tumblings
of the big blue German
Ocean……His Ships lie in the offing, with biscuit and
transport for him; but visible elsewhere in the Earth no hope.”*
With this compare the treatment which the same subject would have received from Turner. We should have had rocks and sea and
clouds and moorland painted with exquisite
finish and beauty; tents and confused masses of struggling men just visible in the distance, Oliver himself lost in the crowd,
or recognisable only on careful inspection by his
peculiar figure. I say not this to disparage Turner, who had his own work to do, and did it nobly; but only to exhibit by
contrast the character of Carlyle’s
pictorial art. It yet remains to be seen how far it is possible, without destroying the central interest of action, to infuse
into History, as already has been infused to our
great profit and delight into Poetry and figure-painting, our modern knowledge of the loveliness of landscape and the subtler
expressions of the human countenance which
correspond to the finer motions of the mind. Meanwhile Carlyle, according to the measure of his simpler power, has done much
to further the advent of such an achievement, for
by precept and example he has restored the old belief that History should be pictorial, and has taught us that it is the historian’s
duty to conceive all that
have been as well as all that is actually recorded,† and to intertwine the two
Transcribed Footnote (page 705):
* How Homeric this is, judge classical reader, from the following, furnished by a friendly accomplished hand:—
- Αίπεινόν δέ
μάλ’ εστι καί
- Πολλ‘ έπρϖν
- Δήιμ’ άνδρων
δέ τε πολλοί
- ”Ενθα καί ένθ’
όσον άν τις·
- Καλός τοι
γ’ είδοτι έργ
- “Ορμου δέ
είλαρ έμέν ότε
- Πρηές κΰμα
- ”Ενθ’ άέκων
αί δέ τε νήες
- ”Αλκαρ δ
έην έπί γαϊαν
Transcribed Footnote (page 705):
† Carlyle even invents
probable phenomena (as in the notes to Cromwell’s speeches); but he always manages to
show that they are inventions.
together; and no less has he enforced the great Law of subordination in treatment (which there were much danger of forgetting),
law which prescribes that Men shall be held principal, supreme, and all else whatsoever only accessory.
It is the fashion to abuse Carlyle’s English, and even to deny that it is English; chiefly on account of the privileges he
has taken, privileges which shock
the common-place critic, who will acknowledge no higher law than Use-and-Wont. But the English is a living language; and the
royal man shall have privileges! Carlyle looking
with his own eye upon things, as a man newly born into the world, often finds the old stock of words in common circulation
not adequate to express the new fact (for it is new
to him) that appears before his mind, still less adequate to express the new combinations of facts; so he coins words to his
need. This is a royal prerogative, not to be
assumed by the many, whoso duty and necessity is obedience: but by the original thinker it may, it must be, and it always
has been. Shakespeare coined words enough; so did
Jeremy Bentham, so do most discoverers, but especially poets, whose business, as Carlyle has elsewhere defined, is that of
rightly seeing, rightly naming. This impulse to
naming is perpetually working in Carlyle: he names everything he can, his books, his chapters, his persons of the first rank,
his persons of the second rank, and many of the
leading social phenomena of modern life—like our first Adam among the fowl of the air and beasts of the field.
This coining of words is a new and most efficient power, if the coiner can but command acceptance of his new issue; which
will always follow if the metal be true or the
bank note issued correspond to value in hand; though it may well be that the aim be not general circulation, but only special.
In Carlyle’s case, the note is for the
most part only specially indorsed; intended
for commerce between him and his readers, not between them and the world. But his note of hand will always be found to be
true, and so receive prompt payment in fact. His fresh names are remarkable for their pithy, irresistible meaning; they are
names, only of the
highest sort, for they express, not the outward, so much as the inward characteristics of their object. Often in one word
is brought before the reader’s eye a whole
tribe of scattered phenomena, persons, or things, habits of act, or habits of thought, and their secret nature revealed. Even
the very form of the name is often expressive of
much. Thus those lawless, monstrous, and at first sight most offensive concatenations of words, strung like onions on a string,
and without further connection than a hyphen,
which occur so frequently in his denunciations of modern society, have in this very lawlessness, monstrosity, and incoherence
a special sympathy in his mind with the object
described—a lump of Chaos. Over unruly giants shall not Pelion be heaped upon Ossa?
As in these strange names there lies a peculiar strength, so strength is characteristic of all his other specialties in style.
His style is not only masculine, it is
muscular: the muscles of thought are all “a ripple,” each separately swelling with inner force; the living blood seems visibly
striving in the blue veins.
It is not the fairest and most civilized to look upon; but there is might in it, native barbaric might, grim and stalwart;
trained to no mean skill by fighting and earnest
sporting; add to this a keen eye, a proud self-confidence, and a most determined purpose. There is the true Norse genius in
it. The necessary laws of fighting, the laws of
Syntax, Carlyle instinctively obeys; but the conventional rules he discards, finding them hamper his movements, and perceiving
that novel tactics are an effective method of
surprise: he seeks only how to plant a downright blow by the
speediest, surest method. Hence he omits all needless forms, all needless words—casts aside conjunctions, articles,
auxiliary verbs, wherever he can—piles up his epithets without ‘and’s,’ uses the Saxon genitive, applies his negative to the
old simple fashion—and delivers his words in the order which seems most impressive. He is particularly fond of placing his
predicate in the forefront of his
sentence, as it were to win the battle at the first blow. It may be that in some of these manœuvres he has outstepped the
modesty of nature, and done violence to his
material the English language, but on the other hand he has certainly shown more than any other writer in our tongue what
resources of terseness and decisive force lie in it.
And for the rest, as to this matter of his language, taking a general view of it, we may say that it is what men prize most,
eminently Saxon; homely, hearty, truthful Saxon;
full of the dear ancient words, so tried in love and war, in work and in mirth, that have moved many English hearts, and still
carry with them a thousand dreamy memories, which
utter no voice, but silently move before us in a mist of many blended colours. Carlyle has borne his full share in restoring
the English tongue to that pristine strength and
capacity, which were withering under the shade of godless thinking, utilitarian philosophy and practice, and their inevitable
accompaniment a sickly sentimentalism.
Even in the very stops and the other devices of his written speech there is a life and power, such as cannot elsewhere be
matched; the variety of them is remarkable, but
no less their significance. They lead his path over hill and dale, a wild glorious road, instead of along macadamised highway,
or through dreary stagnant fen. These stops would
of course be
of no value of themselves, unless they had a corresponding thought underlying and animating them; they would be of less than
proclamations. But the thought is there. Carlyle’s manner of thinking is full of strange ways, and finds a voice howsoever
it can. He employs his stops not merely as
the commonplace speaker does his pauses, as necessary breathing spaces, but like a skilful one, with a special aim making
them tell; and he has a rise and fall of voice, with
tones of startling emphasis. Capital letters serve as symbols of rank to distinguish words in importance. Sometimes a word
is printed entirely in capitals to mark the entire
supremacy of the thought it names, over the matter in consideration; arrayed as it were in royal (or perhaps sham-royal) robes.
Italics serve the same purpose of force, but are
symbols, expressive less of dignity than of practical business; accordingly they are in still more frequent use. Then we have
abundant points of interrogation and exclamation.
The former is chiefly a device of humour, which instead of employing plain statement, which is apt to provoke hostility by
its dogmatism, slily chooses to take the fact or
truth for granted, and cries “Why not?” or “Don’t you remember?” or else ironically, as if half persuaded of the
contrary, “Do you really think so?” The latter is a most favourite servant, and does many offices; gives prophetic certainty
“shalls” and “musts;” shrill eagerness to vocative cases; the very tone of authority to lordly imperatives; startling force
holloas, outcries, and even oaths which the author in his zeal loves to flurt forth; and most frequently, of all emphasises
the insulation of some single thought or fact, which
we are to reflect upon by itself, with undivided attention.* So also we have ironical parentheses—
Transcribed Footnote (page 707):
- *“Fair as a star, when only one
- Is shining in the sky!”
kings as it were in disguise of page or beggar; dashes most numerous and varied,—sentence-snapping, word-snapping, and
even syllable-snapping, intended to leave the reader on the brink of some precipice of thought, or may be at the bottom of
one, there to recover himself after his fall: these
and combinations of these, many of them very unusual; who for instance has ever seen such an apparition as —!— in book before?
Even colon and semicolon do
no mere drudgery, but a highly intelligent work. They often stay the reader, and invite him to reflect on what has just been
said, suspending him as it were, until the writer
to continue; perhaps mildly, perhaps far otherwise, bringing the sentence to a sudden close with some shock of surprise,
sometimes touching, sometimes terrible. These minor sources of expression have never been turned to such extensive use by
any other writer in English, that I am aware of. They
are indeed most lively presences, and in their multitude help much to produce this excellent effect, the conviction, namely,
that there is a Man in the book—that
undoubtedly “this is a Spirit addressing Spirits:—whoso hath ears let him hear.”* And they have a wider influence. Taken in conjunction with other symptoms of Carlyle’s free will, they have helped to
emancipate English literature from the despotism of a dull formality, and inspired other writers to go boldly forth and fulfil
their own nature, as best they may.
“The Divine Silences:” does the reader remember these? Carlyle is fond of praising them; he also shows in practice what they are. It is good to
see what he habitually leaves
unsaid. In the loud babble and squabbling strife of Opinions, which fizzes and blusters all around, he fixedly refuses
to controvert, he will not controvert on any terms.
He leaves the little greedy disputants, the border-ruffians and thieves to worry one another, and himself keeps in the heart
of his great kingdom, diligently ploughing, sowing,
reaping, continually building up and fortifying Belief; or if he sally forth in war, it is against all border cattle-stealers,
to seize their land, and sweep hosts of them
before him in one confusion and discomfiture. No provocation will induce him to spend time in single combats. Of this there
is a marked illustration in his Essay on Boswell and Johnson, first published in
: it is in reality an answer to the well-known article by Macaulay, on the same subject in the
, which had appeared just before, and is indeed a most convincing reply to its most unjust judgments: yet it does not appear
such; no reference is made to the
at all; and the whole piece reads only as a loving exposition of the Right and the True. Again, though perhaps no one has
been so constantly misunderstood and ignorantly
reviewed, Carlyle never condescends to make any explanation of his literary conduct, by writing apologetic or angry preface,
appendix or notes; never this: taught by the
example of Goethe, and the impulse of his own free nature, he keeps resolutely to the path he has deliberately chosen, and
says his say, caring little what reviewers may think
of it. Nor will he bribe any votes of the public by promises true or false; he will not employ or suffer to be employed for
him any unworthy arts to win circulation for his
books. In no publisher’s flysheet, no advertising column of any newspaper will adulatory extracts from reviews be found tacked
to the name of any work of his: the
title only of the book is announced, with the desirable information who wrote it, and
Transcribed Footnote (page 708):
* Sartor Resartus, p. 12.
the necessary information where it is to be procured. As custom goes, this is an honourable distinction.*
There are other symptoms of the same self-restraint in Carlyle’s writing. Most rarely does he satirize or denounce particular
living persons. Two instances
only of any importance I can recollect; the Railway King in the pamphlet called Hudson’s Statue, and a certain Anti-Corn-Law Duke in “The New Downing Street;” and this, notwithstanding the temptation of the subject, and the far greater temptation of his own natural disposition.
These two instances, his many
imaginary personages created only to be bullied into better men, and many of his historic ones, show what Carlyle might do
in this direction, if he were to try: but he stays
his pen and will not try. His encomiums also are sparing; the most remarkable one is the personal appeal in “New Downing Street” to Sir Robert Peel, to take charge of Governmental Reform. In his histories much excellent self-denial is noticeable in
his refusal to dwell on subjects of
popular declamation, or to break the thread of his narrative by any except necessary digressions. In Cromwell’s Life (we may
well call it such) John Milton receives
no more notice than can be contained in a single page. And generally events pass before us and vanish without loss of time;
and persons, even interesting persons, are ushered
in and ushered out with little ceremony; may be just “marked down” in the distance, or dismissed with a word of blessing.
But this self-imposed silence goes much further than this: his whole method rests on trustfulness in his reader, whom he assumes
to be intelligent, moral, even
fairly-read, above all candid; altogether a superior man of the nineteenth century. This being
assumed, much of usual preliminary, adjunct, conclusion becomes needless,
and being needless is rejected; Carlyle rejoicing to reject it that thereby the special matter he has to say may receive a
free and intense expression. If he has a truth to
tell he seldom couples with it any of the many modifications which it needs in practice (though, on occasion, none can slip
in a modification more neatly); he affirms it
absolutely. Elsewhere the counter-truth, or truths, will be found stated in the same simple way. Hence the charge of self-contradiction
so often brought against him, as against
other great writers, even against the writers of the Scriptures. For this is the very manner of a self-denying truthfulness,
and a profoundly practical wisdom. It is thus that
all the highest truths have been and must be communicated to men; it is thus that the most intimate bond of union is fashioned
between speaker and hearer. It is thus that God
speaks to men by His universe: He speaks to the faithful receiving heart and is understood; to the fool also He speaks, but
the fool understands Him not. How should he, when
the little knowledge he has, if knowledge it can be called, is only a hindrance to him?—So also, in his relation of fact,
Carlyle, relying on his reader, tells the
story plainly, generally without comment at all, letting the facts sink deeply into the imagination, there to witness not
to one, but to many truths, nay, to all Truth: or
omitting the direct moral, he suggests the opposite one, which is precisely the one most likely to be forgotten. Most welcome,
most inspiring to some is this
spirit—the Faith that dares to trust; but like all heroism, it has its dark fortunes, and long striving before it meets its
due reward. Carlyle accepts the danger,
and takes his present
Transcribed Footnote (page 709):
Thackeray, Dickens, Tennyson, Browning, and other first class writers have abandoned this dishonest practice of puffing, no
doubt have forbidden it to their publishers;
why do not Maurice, Kingsley, Ruskin? They ought.
reward, the heroic one of joy
sorrow. Joy he cannot but feel in the reception of discerning sympathy, atbeit from a few; neither can he escape sorrow, when
he perceives how much that he has written in brave
simplicity of heart is by many quite misinterpreted. How many reading that history of the French Revolution (or, as is more
likely dipping into it) conceive that the writer
sanctions the barbarities he records, just because he does not explicitly and on every opportunity denounce them! Alas! the
many, if unguided, are unreasonable. They are like
helpless, lazy schoolboys, who want to be told everything. It is not enough for them to be shown, as it were in very life,
men thinking and acting; they must have the thoughts,
and deeds, and characters, analysed like dead things, and weighed one by one in the puny scales of the morality of the day;
and because the master-author will not do this for
them, they call him hard names. The master has other and better things to do. Oh, if they only failed to understand him, one
could not blame them; nay such are to be pitied and
helped by all literary ushers, which reviewers are; but it is the stupidity of them taking airs and making haste to condemn—it
knows not what! It would be scarcely
less unreasonable to doubt the morality of the Old Testament (as many without avowing it do), because it too records frightful
crimes without word of censure; or (citing
Galileo as authority) to accuse Coleridge of propagating scientific falsehoods, because he wrote this stanza;
- “The sun came up upon our left,
- Out of the sea came he!
- And he shone bright, and on the right
- Went down into the sea.”
It must be again repeated that Carlyle by reason of his very greatness both in matter and manner, must be read with an open
mind, or wrong will be done him; his whole
purpose will be misjudged; than which scarce any
greater wrong can be done by one man to another.
The result which we gather from this lengthened enquiry is, that at every turn of Carlyle’s writings, there is to be recognised
some sign of prodigious
Strength. His resolute speech, his resolute silence, his passionate earnestness, his daring humour, his hammer strokes of
repetition, his swift changefulness of tone, all
witness to a strength of individual character, always rare among men and writers, and perhaps never more rare than in the
present epoch, where though our boast be freedom,
there is not wanting a tyrant, a watchful, jealous, many-headed-monster, called Public Opinion. Here therefore in this strength
lies the supreme excellence of this great man;
and hard by (as must needs be), what excesses and defects belong to him. As in the “Sartor” he says himself, his style
(Teufelsdrock’s) “glows in the flush of health and vigorous self-growth—not without an apoplectic tendency.” In a
sense he is
too strong: in the intensity of his immediate apprehension, he writes too powerfully in words, in sentences, in paragraphs, in
books, to represent
always the just relation, which their subject-matter holds to the great Universe, which exists (and keeps going on) without;
so that he fails to leave that final impression of
repose and harmony, which belongs to a work of the highest art, and makes it a part of Nature—Nature, who busy as she is in
every corner, by infinite gradations
tones all her loud-warring elements into a great calm. Carlyle is too vehement, too wayward, too abrupt, pays too little consideration
to the literary customs of the world, and
to the weaknesses of poor mankind for whom he writes.
All which may be traced, I think, to this radical defect in his mind, which circumstances and self-education have not enriched,
but rather obdurated;
an insensibility to Beauty of Form both in Nature and Art. No doubt this arises chiefly from his peculiar zeal for practical
righteousness and downright honest industry, as opposed to the dreamy pleasures of eye and ear, which so many vain folk affect
to care for, more than they really do, to the
great damage of their sincerity, and which refined minds are apt to pursue until their life’s theory and practice become little
better than that of Tennyson’s Lotus-Eaters. And if this were all, one could only approve; and as it is, we owe a debt of deep gratitude to him who has warned us against
this modern temptation, so subtle and so
deadly; and exhibited to us the true nobility of soul which lay housed in the rough shell of the Norse Heroes, Oliver Cromwell,
Samuel Johnson, and the worth even of such men
as Danton; above all to him who by word and deed commands us to strive with heart-sincerity, as our first and last object,
to see and speak the Truth. But now if he go further,
(were it never so little) this Beauty of Form; holding a love for it to be a frivolity, treacherous and condemnable; what
shall we say? Why, that
he treats lightly a very precious gift; one that is
to be a crown of joy to all true men; one
to attune their hearts to peace
and worship, be a rebuke to their pride, a comfort (as from heaven) to them in distress, nay, to inspire them with a steady
strength for the rough tasks of
life;—that he does injustice to some of Heaven’s most faithful servants in old time and in the present—his own friends and
helpers of his
cause, did he know it!—and himself rejects for his own work the seal of perfection. Hence, though he sympathizes gloriously
with the might and majesty of Nature and
of men, and has an unspeakable tenderness for the sorrows of men, he is wanting in that other tenderness which comes from
purest joy, and from sympathy with the purest joys of
others. And thus, is it
not true, that Poet as he is, he lacks that poet’s gift, which is the bloom and crown of all others, the gift of Song? Of
sweetness he is clearly incapable, as may be observed from his translations of Goethe’s verses, and the few published verses
of his own; but scarcely less of that
feeling for harmonious cadence which cannot but possess the prose writer, when his thoughts are brimming full of joy. In his
earlier time, when he looked forth on the world
with rejoicing hope, and poured forth his voice of reverent love for the great minds, who had been a light and a blessing
to his own; and when with a humility that became his
youth, he was content to submit his mighty impulses to the more harmless conventions of literary practice, his words could
flow, could not help flowing, with melody; as witness
that “Death of Goethe,” and the love story in the Sartor called “Romance!” In later times he has chosen wider, sadder, noisier subjects; which have indeed
gloriously developed his magnificent faculties; but he cannot so altogether conquer those, or rule these, so as to possess
his own soul in patience, in all, and through all;
especially for this reason that the consideration of the social evils existing around him haunts him too perpetually and too
domineeringly, infecting even his histories with a
spirit of antagonism, and his political discourses with excessive bitterness. In the later of these works there is an aspect
of Unrest; visible in increased license of
mannerism; in mockery unduly prolonged; in intemperate vehemence; in a wilful indulgence in a hubbub of words. Nor least in
his choice of imagery, now no longer or very rarely
taken from the majestic life of Nature, such as he once rejoiced in, but the revolting objects of her decay;—“dead cats,”
dogs,” “universal slush,” “guano mountains,” “owl-droppings,” and other hideous things; in their
way brave and powerful expressions, but in their frequent repetition, unmixed by joy fuller ones,
not a little offensive. He is songless now; like a Bird of Prey he has no song!—only a screech of fierce warfare. Most
painfully is this the case in the Latter Day Pamphlets. In these there is far too much bawling, gesticulation, and execration.—They are not in harmony with Nature; Nature does
not use her thunder and lightning
so: she uses them rarely; leads up to them by gathering clouds, and follows them with a serene clearance and calm. Carlyle
carries on in these harangues as some officers do
(ah! he is an officer still), by perpetual swearing—a very “d—n your eyes” style; and this to all England; a method of address
experience shows is not the most effectual way of getting work done. The reader feels the difference. There is not the old
bond of affection between him and the writer. To be
taken, as it were, by the button-hole by a wise man, led into a quiet corner, and be told by him of the noble men and deeds
of other days, be shown the like worthy impulses
still going on; to be urged to help them, head and heart and hand, nay, to be informed of one’s temptations and weaknesses—this
is the true method by
which a brother man may be inspired, and one which Carlyle once followed to our extreme delight. But this other method, whereby
the reader finds himself in a sort of
gaol-chapel, surrounded by knaves and poltroons, greedy Bobus, foolish Peter, Pandarus Dogdraught; and there screeched at,
howled at, and committed to the Devil’s
keeping as our proper Master—this is not so pleasant; and they who feel that the world is still lovely to them; that they
know good men still living, many good men;
and are themselves striving, through many difficulties without and worse treasons within, to become such themselves, shrink
from it as unjust. With sorrow they perhaps recall
these earlier words of him who
now speaks to them so savagely:
“Where thou findest a Lie that is oppressing thee, extinguish it. Lies exist there only to be extinguished; they wait and
cry earnestly for
extinction. Think well, meanwhile, in what spirit thou wilt do it; not with hatred, with headlong selfish violence; but in
clearness of heart, with holy zeal, gently,
almost with pity. Thou wouldst not
replace such extinct Lie by a new Lie, which a new Injustice of thy own were the parent of still other Lies?
Whereby the latter end of that business were worse than the beginning.”*
After making every allowance which our unceasing love and reverence for the writer constrains, we cannot say that the Latter Day Pamphlets are conceived in this spirit; and consequently, with all the might and wisdom that is in them, we cannot altogether love
them. No! and our sorrow is the more, when we
remember that they are the words of one now waxing in years, of one almost in the evening of his days, “the still hour of thinking, feeling,
loving.” Alas! is it a curse of our adulterous generation that in the house of our prophets there shall not be “an old
Mankind will pardon many things, even gross things, in a man; but one thing not so easily, Loss of Temper. They are quick
to find that out, and finding it out, give it no
mercy—for they hold good humour to be the condition of a man living happily with his friends and acting handsomely (no matter
how severely) by his enemies. Carlyle
has lost his temper in these later utterances of his; and the world has found it out, and would revenge itself by mockery
A foolish world, for all its wisdom! to treat thus a faithful, long, well-tried friend. There is something else besides temper
in these his words, as I hope to show in
another chapter. Those words are, nevertheless, “A Lamp for the New Years.”
Transcribed Footnote (page 712): *French Revolution, i. 48.
Editorial Note (page ornament): Initial T is ornamental
Note: Though the rest of the periodical is printed in two columns, poems are printed in a single column, centered.
- The blessed Damozel lean’d out
- From the gold bar of Heaven;
- Her eyes knew more of rest and shade
- Than waters still’d at even;
- She had three lilies in her hand,
- And the stars in her hair were seven.
- Her robe, ungirt from clasp to hem,
- No wrought flowers did adorn,
- But a white rose of Mary’s gift,
10 For service meetly worn;
- And her hair lying down her back
- Was yellow like ripe corn.
- Her seem’d she scarce had been a day
- One of God’s choristers;
- The wonder was not yet quite gone
- From that still look of hers;
- Albeit, to them she left, her day
- Had counted as ten years.
one, it is ten years of years.
20 . . . . . . . Yet now, and in this place,
- Surely she lean’d o’er me—her hair
- Fell all about my face . . . . . . . .
- Nothing: the autumn fall of leaves.
- The whole year sets apace.)
- It was the rampart of God’s house
- That she was standing on;
- By God built over the sheer depth
- The which is Space begun;
- So high, that looking downward thence
30 She scarce could see the sun.
- It lies in Heaven, across the flood
- Of ether, as a bridge.
- Beneath, the tides of day and night
- With flame and blackness ridge
- The void, as low as where this earth
- Spins like a fretful midge.
- She scarcely heard her sweet new friends:
- Playing at holy games,
- Softly they spake among themselves
40 Their virginal chaste names;
- And the souls, mounting up to God,
- Went by her like thin flames.
- And still she bow’d above the vast
- Waste sea of worlds that swarm;
- Until her bosom must have made
- The bar she lean’d on warm,
- And the lilies lay as if asleep
- Along her bended arm.
- From the fix’d place of Heaven, she saw
50 Time like a pulse shake fierce
- Through all the worlds. Her gaze still strove
- Within the gulf to pierce
- Its path; and now she spoke, as when
- The stars sung in their spheres.
- The sun was gone now. The curl’d moon
- Was like a little feather
- Fluttering far down the gulf. And now
- She spoke through the still weather.
- Her voice was like the voice the stars
60 Had when they sung together.
- “I wish that he were come to me,
- For he will come,” she said.
- “Have I not pray’d in Heaven?—on earth,
- Lord, Lord, has he not pray’d?
- Are not two prayers a perfect strength?
- And shall I feel afraid?
- “When round his head the aureole clings,
- And he is clothed in white,
- I’ll take his hand and go with him
70 To the deep wells of light,
- And we will step down as to a stream,
- And bathe there in God’s sight.
- “We two will stand beside that shrine,
- Occult, withheld, untrod,
- Whose lamps are stirr’d continually
- With prayers sent up to God;
- And see our old prayers, granted, melt
- Each like a little cloud.
- “We two will lie i’ the shadow of
80 That living mystic tree,
- Within whose secret growth the Dove
- Is sometimes felt to be,
- While every leaf that His plumes touch
- Saith His Name audibly.
- “And I myself will teach to him,
- I myself, lying so,
- The songs I sing here; which his voice
- Shall pause in, hush’d and slow,
- And find some knowledge at each pause,
90 Or some new thing to know.”
- (Ah sweet! Just now, in that bird’s song,
- Strove not her accents there
- Fain to be hearken’d? When those bells
- Possess’d the midday air,
- Was she not stepping to my side
- Down all the trembling stair?)
- “We two,” she said, “will seek the groves
- Where the Lady Mary is,
- With her five handmaidens, whose names
100 Are five sweet symphonies,
- Cecily, Gertrude, Magdalen,
- Margaret, and Rosalys.
- “Circlewise sit they, with bound locks
- And foreheads garlanded;
- Into the fine cloth white like flame
- Weaving the golden thread,
- To fashion the birth-robes for them
- Who are just born, being dead.
- “He shall fear, haply, and be dumb;
110 Then I will lay my cheek
- To his, and tell about our love,
- Not once abash’d or weak:
- And the dear Mother will approve
- My pride, and let me speak.
- “Herself shall bring us, hand in hand,
- To Him round whom all souls
- Kneel, the unnumber’d ransom’d heads
- Bow’d with their aureoles:
- And angels meeting us shall sing
120 To their citherns and citoles.
- “There will I ask of Christ the Lord
- Thus much for him and me:—
- Only to live as once on earth
- At peace—only to be
- As then awhile, for ever now
- Together, I and he.”
- She gazed, and listen’d, and then said,
- Less sad of speech than mild,
- “All this is when he comes.” She ceased.
130 The light thrill’d past her, fill’d
- With angels in strong level lapse.
- Her eyes pray’d, and she smiled.
- (I saw her smile.) But soon their flight
- Was vague in distant spheres;
- And then she laid her arms along
- The golden barriers,
- And laid her face between her hands,
- And wept. (I heard her tears.)
Editorial Note (page ornament): Initial O is ornamental
Note: Though the periodical is printed in two columns, poems are printed in a single column, centered.
- Oh far and faint and sweet my childish years,
- Farther and fainter ever, day by day!
- Oh were my manhood wise to frame a spell
- To master Time, or charm him, turning back
- His onward steps, to take me in his arms
- And bear me gently to the gate of life;
- Then lead me wondering through remember’d fields!
- Or come ye back, come ye, my childish thoughts,
- Leaving a little while the Paradise
10Whence ye departed, whither ye return’d!
- Oh steal my heart with dim half-memories;—
- Broken reflections of my infant mind;—
- And give me back the heart that beat against
- My mother’s bosom with instinctive love!
- O love! too early lost, my childish friends
- Dying or parted! ah, no love like yours!
- Quench’d eye, that thou couldst brighten into life!
- Hand, clasp’d but for so long, one grasp, though far—
- Tender and fast and lingering as of old!
20Oh that I rested with you in your grave,
- Or wander’d with you, wandering wheresoe’er!
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